Tag Archives: Politics

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.

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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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.

Teaching leadership: more things we missed

Looking back on whether or not the 1990s were really a missed opportunity, I have concluded that it’s difficult to say that such was more true of that period than of others.

Which doesn’t mean that reexamination offers no lessons. Among those which it suggests, to me, hollowness in our society’s political leadership lessons seems prominent.

In my late 30s, it seems like I’m engaged in a self-study course in political leadership theory and practice, covering a lot of material that should be basic but which I just have not encountered before. It seems also like I’m not alone in this.

Two pieces of personal context also suggest that there is indeed a hole in what our culture teaches: First, I actually paid attention to most of the curriculum throughout my years in school. Second, in this area I even showed interest; in high school I spent a week immersed in something called the National Young Leaders Conference.*

Yet looking back, I nonetheless reached my 30s with an understanding of how democracy works that can’t be called complete even in outline form. If this was the case even for me, is it any wonder that America’s politics seem to have broken down?

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2018 primary results

From my perspective, the 2018 Democratic primary results can be written up as more good than bad, at all events in the local campaigns in which I was most invested.

That is, we did well enough.

I was invested in a number of campaigns, to a greater or lesser extent. My top priority was keeping Mike Skindell in office; he faces a November opponent, but so far so good. It’s also exciting that Nickie Antonio is on her way to the Ohio Senate, an outcome that seemed in serious doubt well into Tuesday evening.

Election night with primary winners Antonio & Skindell

Not all the campaigns that I worked on succeeded, certainly. (Issue 1 succeeded and succeeded big, which is cool, although others certainly worked harder on it the past month or so than I did.) If one counts up the county central committee candidates for whom I created literature (and in one case did some volunteering), six out of 10 have won, and a seventh has tied*. But no matter how you count it, a number of good candidates for whom I did my best still lost.

This stuff is honestly just hard, I think.

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The 1990s: Some things we missed

After nagging at me for years, a 1996 comic book’s suggestion that the 1990s would prove to be a lost opportunity, for humanity, feels like it at last warrants a serious evaluation.

A month after summoning myself to get around to that, though, I wonder now if the moment of opportunity is relatively illusory. It seems like both I, personally, and the concentric circles of groups to which I relate should have done more. Should have responded to a relatively crisis-free and prosperous moment by pursuing ambitious reforms, and deep cultural and institutional renewal. It seems like we might indeed have launched a golden age had more of us been more generous, and more active in trying to solve problems bigger than our own personal concerns.

But it occurs to me that this is less of a special moment than a regular failing of human history. Many eras “might have been the prologue to a golden age” if people were more generous and more engaged in reform.

I look at e.g. today’s high school student activists and compare them with myself and most peers, immersed as we were in comparatively trivial pursuits. We should have done better, attempted more at least. But I’m not sure what prompt we overlooked. I was concerned by problems that seemed to threaten my personal life directly; arguably so are today’s students except that e.g. those problems now include heavily armed crazies shooting them.

Perhaps older people should have been more responsible, perhaps leaders of some sort really did drop the ball. After tossing around various possibilities for how, though, many still seem applicable to broad human history not just the 1990s.

I think it’s possible, though, that a few fundamental errors of the 1990s do represent a “wrong turn” particular to that era. Ironically, it has also occurred to me that another pop-culture artifact that wasn’t even trying to be especially serious might sum them up. From Austin Powers, 1997:

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A letter to our activist community

We have had quite a year or so, in northeast Ohio’s progressive activism community. Marches, die-ins, postcard-writing, collecting signatures, etc.…

We never run out of stuff to do.

On just about any national issue there are demonstrations to be part of, calls to congress and Senator Portman. Our state government is usually busy with plenty of bad ideas, also, which would be just about overwhelming. Except in Lakewood and western Cleveland, we have Nickie Antonio and Mike Skindell.

On every call for activism over a state issue, Antonio and Skindell are always leading the way, without even being asked. Even by the standard of Democrats in the legislature, these two are like an Indivisible Caucus.

Defending Medicaid expansion? Behind it 100%.

Gerrymandering? Both support reform, and I was present in person when Skindell shredded the initial worse-than-we-have-now draft of SJR 5.

Abortion bans? They are stalwart advocates of women’s right to choose, both endorsed by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio & NARAL Ohio.

LGBTQ equality? Antonio has led the years-long effort to build support for the Fairness Act, with Skindell’s active partnership.

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Crowded life, sparse commentary

So much going on. Yet so much of it is political, and taking to my personal blog (which is barely more than a diary) to comment on that seems kind of naive.

Not that I wouldn’t write a long, indulgent post expressing my views on e.g. Lakewood’s political tug-of-war that is now into its fourth consecutive year. But given how much my days are packed with the kind of inelegant campaign activity that actually reaches people, I suppose I just can’t bring myself to expend the effort required by any kind of deep essay.

I’m currently doing… a lot of work for two candidates for state representative, plus some work for another, and for two state senate candidates. I’m writing, for publication, where it makes sense… the latest LO included my promo for next week’s Lakewood Dem Club meeting, and an article encouraging support for Issue 1. (It also includes an ad I designed for one of the rare nonpolitical clients.)

Last week I made a day trip to Detroit for political organizing.

I dream of capturing once more a life beyond all this. But certainly not before May 8, and probably not for some while after that, really.

Oh well. This morning is relatively calm, and I was going to jot down some thoughts about The Infinity War (comic book series) stirred up by recent ballyhoo for the big feature film… then I found that I already wrote such a post three years ago. So.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯