2018 Year in Review

A couple of weeks ago I came across this 2015 post, “Requiem for Young Adulthood.” Looking toward my approaching 37th birthday and the stage of life beyond it, I mostly drew a big blank:

…ambitions are difficult to establish here. I have some sense that this transition to the middle phase of life is often marked by a realization that one has probably reached one’s station in life, and that while one might achieve more, achieving significant new status in life is long odds. […]

At the moment I can see maybe four, maybe five years out at most. Basically, I’m researching a third book, and I recently had an idea for a different type of large project to pursue whenever “Book Three” is finished. Hopefully it will pan out, because life seems kind of thin these days aside from such pursuits. (Seems kind of thin even with them, actually.)

Life seems very different in some big ways. Certainly I would not describe my life since 2015 as thin.

Thinking back on the year, I completely forgot about attending the March for our Lives until browsing through photos for this post.

Instead it’s busy, and it’s a blur, and I am so very, very, very tired. This year’s holidays were nice but after looking forward much of this year to a break and some rest it was over so quickly and now another year rushes toward me with multiple big projects already underway and who knows what else in store.

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Messaging around Medicare for all

On healthcare, I’m pretty convinced that some kind of single-payer system is by far the optimal policy. I’m less convinced about the politics than are many single-payer proponents. But I’m certainly onboard with efforts to build support.

Amid signs that this is happening, the emerging Republican argument is essentially that “Medicare is awesome… and America just can’t afford that for everyone, so, senior voters, better that others go without so you can keep what you have all to yourself.” In a sense it is a less obviously ridiculous, but more obviously selfish, update of the 2010 “keep the government’s hands off my Medicare” message.

The other day, a suggested response occurred to me: “OK Republican, whom do you want to leave without healthcare? Please be specific.”

Because this seems like the weakness in the “Medicare for all would mean Medicare for none” message: it’s based on activating a fear that America can’t afford for everyone to have healthcare. Doing this has implications.

The implication of a “can’t afford M4A” message is that there just isn’t enough healthcare to go around. Republicans using this message should have to specify whom they think should go without, then.

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Stages of political activism

Throughout “#TheResistance” I have perceived many similarities between it and my own initiation into political activism at a local level, commenced about two years before a nationwide counterpart.

It seems worth examining the possibility of some broad patterns.

A Crisis moment probably launches many political activist careers, unfortunately. Most people, from what I can tell, seem in fact to spend their entire lives largely disconnected from politics and government, not perceiving any compelling reason to get involved. But sometimes, something happens to alarm some minority of a community with the realization that “this can not be right!” An activist is conceived.

The reliance on crisis to spur political activism is depressing, given how much it tends to mean that one only begins playing after falling way behind. One may pick up on it immediately, or only a bit later, but eventually one realizes that during one’s years of political somnolence, bad people consolidated a lot of formal power and laid plans which are probably quite advanced by the time one tries to stop them.

I suppose that the birth of an activist is when some of these people find one another and begin to organize for some form of political activity.

Protest is usually the first stop for organized opposition. In the short term there is little else for most people to do in the kind of crisis situation described above. So: signs, banners, public demonstrations, chants; voicing objections at public meetings, as well as on every other open channel; trying to engage more of the public with leaflets, letters to the editor, social media, etc. Petitions of one sort or another often circulate in this stage, often to little effect.

As a whole, vigorous protest does seem to worry people in power, at least when it’s new. Some times an idea is even withdrawn, more or less completely, in response to protest. More often protest just slows things down, at most.

Meanwhile, organizing usually proceeds along familiar lines. Activists  formalize their pop-up association to some extent, with a name, meetings, leadership, some sort of record-keeping, e-mails and other communication.

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Merry Christmas, Flashbeagle!

As an adult, my interest in Christmas comes and goes, comparing any given year to another. Some years, I just don’t feel it.

This year, I feel relatively positive about (essentially secular eclectic) Christmas. Life, and the world, are in interesting places, about which more can be said another time. But relatively not terrible. Christmas demands upon me are few, and I am pleased with the modest activities that I choose. My cards are coming along. I found some nice things for the small number of people to whom I give presents. I didn’t leap into the task of putting up decorations, but I feel an odd satisfaction this year each time I look at my little Charlie Brown Christmas tree, even though I have changed nothing about the set-up in years.

Speaking of Charlie Brown and Christmas, this weekend I splurged on my own copy of the classic TV special.

I have thought about this over the years, and never quite wanted to spend the money on something which I only want to watch once per year, which is reliably televised for free around that time. But I suppose that 1) I really only want to watch it when I feel like watching it, not within ~10 days of that; 2) ABC’s cutting of scenes in order to squeeze in an extra commercial was really starting to bug me; and 3) the price was pretty reasonable at last.

On balance it was very reasonable, in fact, providing DVD and blu-ray versions of the Charlie Brown Christmas, the forgettable sequel, and Flashbeagle. That last basically made the whole purchase worthwhile, I have now decided.

http://popdose.com/wp-content/uploads/flashbeagle-front-300x296.jpg

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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