Feral Government

Occasionally the founder of Lakewood’s local newspaper makes reference to “feral” government, usually though not always in a local context.

It’s an informal concept, but I think the phrase says enough to be meaningful. Feral government is indifferent to… anything, really, except the desires of the individuals with power. Feral government does whatever it can get away with, which often turns out to be a distressing amount.

The rules and systems which we might like to think prevent governments from going feral depend a lot on voluntary forbearance, on a willingness to respect “norms” and to play fair. The legal system and other formal systems of oversight and enforcement are generally reactionary and slow, at best.

Feral government is related to “Constitutional hardball,” i.e. going to extremes on what can be done within the letter of the law (as interpreted by the most favorable judges one can find and confirm). Feral governments practice such hardball, but may also dispense with rules entirely.

Republicans in Washington have basically been a feral government for the past two years. (Not just the Trump administration, but the McConnell-run Senate as well.) In recent days, Republicans in multiple state governments have gone alarmingly feral, with state legislators ramrodding through bills to e.g. kneecap incoming Democratic governors. Some have even admitted that their actions are nothing more than a refusal to accept election results which don’t leave all power in their party’s hands.

Right now the Republican Party is the major contributor to America’s feral government problem. Overall, there’s no party equivalence there.

But, responsible legitimate government is fundamentally a matter of principle. When a government goes feral it must be resisted and held accountable. I try to uphold that principle, even if the party involved is mine.

Three years ago today was a low point in a period of feral government, here in Lakewood; I opposed it at the time, I have opposed it since, and even as I become more active within the same party as many who were involved, I will continue to call it for what it was.

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Party secretary

Thursday night, the Lakewood Democratic Club* elected me to be secretary for 2019-20.

Thanks everyone who supported my second bid for elected office, ever.

Twenty years ago, I made an almost literally last-minute bid to be president of Harwood House in the residence halls at Iowa State University. I won a plurality in the three-candidate election which followed. I took office at the beginning of my junior year, aged 20, and went on to be probably just about the best president which Harwood ever had. (Not making this out to be a stupendous accomplishment, but for what it’s worth that is my honest non-exaggerated estimate.)

I’m now 40, and in January I will presumably take office as Democratic Club secretary (barring some low-odds circumstance like the club disbanding first). Time flies.

I’m also two-for-two in bids for elected office, and in a sense for asterisks. First time out, as noted I only won with a plurality. This time, I campaigned diligently for members’ votes, only for the other candidate to withdraw 24 hours before the meeting, with the result that I was unopposed and waved in by voice vote.

Oh well. In politics, one is grateful for victories as and where one finds them!

* Now that the club is officially a PAC, it is for practical purposes basically a city party. Thus I title this post “party secretary” because the sound of it amuses me.

Thanksgiving thoughts on Halloween

I think that it sums up a lot of my personal year to say that, on Thanksgiving

  1. I’m just getting mentally caught up to Halloween
  2. At the same time it feels like I have had a more than full year, now, and I’m ready to close the books on 2018

As regards point one, I miss Halloween, or rather I miss being able to enjoy Halloween in much of any way. If you are really active in electoral politics, then it kind of crowds out Halloween.

(Granted, plenty of societies hold general elections at other times of year than our American early November, but since Halloween is still mostly an American holiday as far as I know, this is a meaningful general rule.)

I used to enjoy Halloween rather more, for all that I didn’t really do a whole lot for it as an adult. Living in an apartment one doesn’t have trick-or-treaters, and I have not been invited to a lot of Halloween parties. But I liked the holiday, and the candy, and other trappings. Eight years ago I wrote a whole series of posts on my old blog, and while a content-mill ethic played a part in them, the enthusiasm was mostly still sincere.

Now, Halloween has become really overshadowed by both campaign activities, and by anxiety that judgment draws very close for an effort that has taken up the best part of the whole year.

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Context and Ohio Democrats

Ohio. Something of a disappointing outlier in an election where Democrats did well in neighbors Michigan and Pennsylvania, in addition to the nation as a whole. So for about a week we have been gradually starting a conversation about what this means, and what if anything is to be done.

Here’s the entire conversation for Democrats IMO: This is political party strength in Ohio since 1978, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Democrats in blue

As best I can judge, Ohio Democrats have not had a useful statewide organization since the mid-1980s, at which time presumably the party was coasting toward its early 1990s capsizing.

Since then?

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Post-Election Thoughts Nov. 2018

The Economist examined the question of whether or not America is “ungovernable” nearly nine years ago. At the time they concluded no, and blamed Barack Obama. By four years ago, their tut-tutting confidence had slipped a bit. I have documented that slide before.

Another cycle of presidential and midterm elections has now passed. I don’t know what The Economist may have to say at the moment; I don’t read the site regularly now that it’s tightly paywalled.

I, however, am left with a stronger than ever sense that America is ungovernable, at any rate in the sense of a capacity to organize at large scale and lead a substantive program of reform.

What is the point of any of the shouting, struggling, attempted organizing and counter-organizing, etc., etc.? I realize that things take time, but what has been the point of anything during the past 20 years in American politics?

In the 1990s, I can perceive the entrenchment of a neoliberal program, in broad terms. I may not approve of it, but I can at least identify a possible program of reform which (starting some time earlier) was still viable across multiple elections.

Since then…?

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Post-election status

Feeling kind of like the Giving Tree at the end of the story.

https://i.pinimg.com/736x/df/e5/cb/dfe5cb680aa8032de81bce0519e8f8b9.jpg

Profile writing

I’m writing, these days, but it doesn’t involve much fun research or exploration. Much of what I write is for political campaigns and causes. I write most entries for state representative candidate Mike Skindell’s blog, for example.

I have a list of subjects that I have wanted to look into, when time and energy permits, but so far it’s still just a list. Either time or energy have been wanting at most points this year.

Recently, though, inspiration was somehow enough to profile a complete stranger in a satisfying little human-interest article for the local newspaper. It should appear in the printed Lakewood Observer on Wednesday.

Jamie Garrett is a server at Deagan’s Kitchen, an expecting mother, and an aspiring forensics student.

The fact that she’s missing most of one arm is a fact of life, but it doesn’t define her identity.

You can read the rest online also.

Aversion to sitting in front

It fascinates me that, at least in many situations, people seem extremely averse to sitting at the front of a room.

This only seems explicable to me as a conditioned behavior, acquired during school years when they and their peers wanted to sit as far as possible from the front of the classroom, in order to evade the teacher calling on them.

If I’m correct, then this behavior’s persistence throughout adulthood is confounding in multiple ways.

  1. Even in school, did it actually succeed? I wonder. I suspect that teachers might say no, of course not, I’m just as likely to call on a student in the back of the room as one sitting up front. Statistical analysis might reveal otherwise—but I don’t know, perhaps it would not.
  2. At all events, it does not really make sense to continue this behavior as adults. Since graduating college, I may have been in a few situations where a presenter called upon members of the audience who weren’t volunteering for interaction. But these have been vanishingly rare. It doesn’t really happen. There is no need to continue hiding in the back of the room!
  3. Yet people do this even when they are at meetings voluntarily—and presumably wanted to hear at least some of the program. It happens even at meetings when there are nearly endless questions for the speaker, presumably reversing the underlying logic of seating and making the front of the room the first place to fill up.

So many people spend their lives trying to sit as close to the back of the room as possible, though. Does anyone besides me even think about it? Is it just entirely subconscious? What is the deal?

The senator from truthiness

As of late August 2018, American politics has become so debased that people fall over themselves praising the integrity, civility and honor of someone who:

  1. attempted to bring an aggressively know-nothing, say-anything internet troll into the White House before deciding to occasionally criticize another one who actually made it there;
  2. made much fuss about the senate and “regular order” before voting to approve a massive betrayal of serious policymaking;
  3. chuckled at his own “joke” of singing “bomb bomb, bomb bomb-Iran” in response to a serious question about policy.

This isn’t really a record of decency or any of those other things; it’s a record of “decenciness.” As with “truthiness,” it provokes an emotional feeling of genuineness, which large numbers of people happily embrace as being just as good as a substantive, reasoned case, if not better.

Whither Brexit

Answer… it’s ongoing.

Hard to believe two years have passed since the first big shock result of 2016. Especially since little seems to have happened, in this case.

The main reason I feel like revisiting this topic is its useful lessons for national plebiscites, a concept which has been on my mind lately.

It’s increasingly tempting to believe that America’s national politics might benefit from some element of direct democracy. The reasons are mostly variations on the theme of current practices not working very well…

Comparing surveys on issues, and the outcome of votes for elected officials, it seems like there is definitely a disparity, and seems to me like people are less bad at choosing broad policies than they are at choosing leaders to empower. Both my own observations and some studies suggest that contests for elected office have devolved into mindless seesaws of partisan intensity, whereas facts and argument have at least some chance in initiative and referendum campaigns. On certain issues, meanwhile, ideas seem to have hardened and yet there is no apparent hope of settling e.g. the issue of abortion, because on this issue there is no real overlap between the two parties between which government is, over time, divided in America.

I believe that there are issues in which resort to a nationwide plebiscite would offer some hope of an America that is less ungovernable.

Mainly because, at this point, national politics are basically a kind of bastardized pseudo-direct-democracy anyway. In practice, we elect people to make decisions… in reality, ideological party “sorting” is now substantial, and elections are at least as much arguments about known issues as they are about trying to select wise and honorable people to deal with undefined “new business.” At some point, it seems like we need either a better mechanism for resolving long-term disputes… or else we need to admit that we’re in a civil war and respond accordingly.

Plebiscites seem like a possible solution. Yet even setting aside the inevitable constitutional roadblock, just for discussion’s sake, there are reasons for concern. I think the story of Brexit demonstrates some interesting ones besides the obvious.

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