Category Archives: Opinion

Unitarians and Democrats: Misery Loves Company

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:  NuQum.com, October 17, 2017)

{Feel free to send any comments about this essay to: kkroeger@nuqum.com or kentkroeger3@gmail.com}

Our Unitarian-Universalist (UU) minister was midway through a touching and powerful Sunday sermon celebrating National Coming Out Day.

She had shared a story about the pending arrival of her and her spouse’s second child and how, when telling a stranger about the new arrival, the person assumed her spouse was a man, when, in fact, she is not. It was a funny story about being a same-sex couple in America today.

Then she told a second story about a married, middle-aged man who decided, after a lifetime of hiding his true identity, to tell his dying mother that he was bisexual. In the minister’s telling of the story, the man felt a personal burden had been lifted — he no longer needed to hide who he was to his mother.

As the congregation members around me nodded their heads in approval, and some even shedding tears, the minister’s sermon moved on to other poignant stories.

But I couldn’t let go of the ‘coming out’ story of the middle-aged man. I stewed on it as the minister and congregation had moved on. Something just rubbed me wrong about a man telling his mother, in the last days of her life, about his sexual preferences.

“What a self-indulgent sack of shit he is,” I thought.

Perhaps my wife had the same visceral reaction as I had to his story? But, no, she thought the story was just fine. “We shouldn’t have to go through life hiding from our family about who we love,” she said.

Yeah, but…I just couldn’t articulate why the story felt so off key to me. So, I kept repeating the story in my head…

His mother is on her deathbed and THAT is the time this man decides to inform his poor mother about HIS sexual preferences.

Mother Mary and Joseph! Really? The guy couldn’t let that one resentment towards his mother go unsettled? He HAD to get it off his chest. For whose benefit? Definitely not hers.

The UU minister’s story implied that the man’s mother was not so open-minded about LGBTQ issues. For that reason, this man, in his 50s or 60s and married with adult children, never felt comfortable sharing his sexual identity with his mother — a not uncommon and often sad story repeated all over this world.

I empathize with his struggle and the need to tell his mother; but, presented as it was by the UU minister, the story did not come across to me like an act of liberation or love. It came across as self-serving and even vengeful.

The story glorified a selfish act. That’s only conclusion I could draw from it.

The minister didn’t share the mother’s reaction to her son’s news because that was irrelevant to the story’s purpose. The mother was a stage prop in a man’s vainglorious ‘coming out’ drama.

Cue the congregational choir and their spirited rendition of “Standing on the Side of Love.”

Judge Not, Lest You Be Judged

Why is my judgment so harsh towards this tormented man in my minister’s story?

Insomuch as we are all self-centered, this man’s act felt unusually selfish and senseless; and when presented by the minister as heroic, it became a serious case of rhetorical overreach.

But more upsetting to me was that I could not find anyone else in the congregation that shared my ambivalence with the story. Can someone not empathize with this man’s lifelong identity struggle and still question the way in which he brought his dying mother into the ‘coming out’ process? Apparently not.

As I sat in the Sunday pew, I finished the minister’s story in my head with the mother giving her son a hug and telling him, “Son, I always knew and I love you no matter what.” I needed more closure than what the minister was providing, even if it had to be Disney-fied.

From informal discussions after the church service, I realized that most in the congregation thought the ‘coming out’ story was a perfectly good representation of the sermon’s central narrative: We should not need to hide who we really are.

What could I have possibly misinterpreted in the story to think it was a tale of self-absorption, cruelty and heartlessness? I do not rule out that the problem is with me, and not the story.

Yet, I don’t think so in this case. The minister’s ‘coming out’ story is just one of many similar stories I’ve heard from the pews over the past thirty years. They all underscore a growing disconnect I feel towards my liberal religious community. The identity-centered parables delivered from the pulpit no longer strive for the ideals of inquiry and inclusion, but also serve to exclude and shutdown certain groups and ideas as well.

The UU Church may reject the Christian concept of original sin, but have replaced it with their own original sins called racism, sexism and bigotry. Self-aware or not, we are all sinners in this regard, or so we are told from the UU pulpits and in our Democratic Party’s county committee meetings.

This new assumption of original sin is now part of the Democratic Party’s core orthodoxy, even if it is dishonest and ultimately harmful to the Party’s attempt to regain majority status in the state and national legislatures.

Increasingly, Unitarian sermons are merely lectures telling us that our ascribed characteristics (e.g., sex and race), gender identities and sexual preferences define us. And it is not just Unitarians, of course. Today’s liberal Democrats frenzy feed on the notion that our identities go a long way in explaining all aspects of our lives, including how we vote. The new business school religion called Big Data is built on this deeply flawed supposition.

To Unitarians (and liberal Democrats), we are captives to our identities (even if we have the latitude to change our gender self-identification) and, therefore, not solely responsible for our personal outcomes. Social norms and institutions — built by others in positions of privilege — are the problem. That is why Unitarians take the lead in the drumbeat against privileged groups within mainstream society. In their worldview, ‘mainstream’ equates to ‘oppressor.’ To think of the social dynamic any other way is to condone and reinforce its inherent biases, excesses, and dysfunctions.

The irony, of course, is that most Unitarians are from the most privileged segments in our society. If you are looking for wealthy and/or highly-educated white people, I’d start with any local UU church congregation. Looking for African-Americans, Hispanics, working-class Americans or Muslims? They are as rare in a UU congregation as ‘shit is from a rocking horse,’ as my grandmother might say.

No, it is hard to find undocumented Dreamers or victims of police violence in a UU congregation. But you will nonetheless find lots of suffering, miserable people.

Many religious theologies are founded on guilt and suffering — the Unitarians are not exceptional in that regard. But having spent a few years attending Catholic services (during my first marriage), there is something qualitatively different about how Unitarian theology treats suffering. For Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists, it is a intermutual phenomenon. For Unitarians, it is personal. Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists accept it (mash’ Allah, says the Koran). Unitarians soak in it.

In market research we would say, Unitarians over-index in their miserableness quotient.

We UUs do not adhere to fixed dogmas — so we renamed them principles and covenants.

Fixed dogmas. This is where the UU Church and religious liberals, in general, go completely off course. Their foundational assertion that they are in the constant search for truth and that their principles and covenants are evolving ‘works-in-progress’ is merely a pretense.

The first of the UU Church’s Seven Principles emphasizes “the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” Yet, as so often happens with core religious principles, a simple dictum like this becomes neutered over time.

My UU religious community, while embracing the rights and dignity of all individuals from the pulpit, in fact, acts to enforce the exact opposite approach on a societal level. To UUs, you are a race, ethnicity, sex, and gender (with all of the cross categorizations). What you think, how you interact with others, and even how you vote is largely determined by your identity.

If this sounds like the national Democratic Party’s approach to election campaigns, it is not a coincidence. The religious Left is the conscience and vanguard of the political Left. They go to the same universities, vacation in the same locations, read the same books, and invest their 401ks in the same socially responsible mutual funds.

You may think you are enlightened or open-minded or broadly accepting of others, but to religious liberals, you are a category and, in that inviolable assignment, gain the institutional advantages (or disadvantages) inherent to all people in your category. You may have the approved attitudes, but that doesn’t change who you are.

“Oh, you’re a typical white male,” my wife chides. “Sounds like a Fox News-level analysis to me.”

I did basically steal this rant from Tucker Carlson, but still, I ask her, “What would happen if I stood up one Sunday at our local UU Church and declared that my interpretation of the UU’s First Principlethe inherent worth and dignity of every person — must include the unborn.”

Most UU congregations do not have Tiki torches readily available, but there are usually enough unclaimed potluck dinner bowls and pans in the church kitchen to cause some real damage if thrown in the general direction of someone uttering a heretical statement like that.

The religious Left has zero tolerance for opinion diversity. Zero tolerance.

Ask former Omaha, Nebraska mayoral candidate, Heath Mello, a Catholic Democrat who is marginally pro-life, about the Democratic Party’s tolerance for opinion diversity.

Former Omaha, Nebraska mayoral candidate, Heath Mello.

The Republican candidate ended up winning the race (53 vs. 47 percent) after Democratic National Committee chairman, Tom Perez, withdrew his unqualified support for the Mello candidacy due to the abortion issue. Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential vote in Douglas County (which includes Omaha) by 52 percent to 47 percent, and lost it by a similar margin in 2012.

Mello’s loss is natural product of a fixed dogma.

As Ohio congressman, Tim Ryan (Democrat), puts it: “Requiring everybody to fit some purity test is a recipe for disaster.”

And its not just abortion.

Do you oppose raising the minimum wage to $15-an-hour on the basis that the empirical evidence shows such policies generally have a negative impact on employment levels for unskilled labor? If this is your opinion, do not utter it on UU Church grounds or within earshot of your county Democratic Party headquarters.

What happened to their search for truth? Some might call this hypocrisy.

Yes, but the religious and political Right are no less rigid, you may retort. Maybe. But is that the benchmark goal the UUs want for their church or the Democrats want for their party?

And, for those that prefer empirical data, the evidentiary case actually suggests the political Right’s voters have more opinion diversity than voters on the Left. I highly recommend Lee Drutman’s analysis of the 2016 election which makes this observation — though he draws from it some terribly misguided strategic recommendations for the Democrats, such as: The Democrats do not need working-class whites anymore, so let them go.

Cradle Unitarians of the World, Unite!

I need to be clear on this point. There is no other church for me outside the UU Church. It is my spiritual home port.

I was born into a UU family, which makes me a cradle Unitarian. My parents joined the UU Church in the late 1950s in direct reaction to the McCarthy-era and the rise of an odious form of religious and xenophobic bigotry that settled into places like Iowa (my birth state).

Religious bigotry was not invented in the 1950s, nor was its politicization. What was different was the prosperity spreading across the U.S. at this time. My parents were both college-educated; with the exception of my maternal grandmother, their parents didn’t even complete high school.

My parents openly questioned the religious dogmas of their Midwestern upbringing and soon realized many others in their age and social group feeling similarly unconnected to their traditional religious roots.

My religious journey to the UU Church was second-hand, but I still share my parents’ reasons for choosing this religious community.

Once I moved away from Iowa for work and school, I didn’t attend UU services very often, but I reconnected when needed, particularly after the end of my first marriage and the death of my father. The UU religious community never failed to be there for me at those moments.

I  met my second wife at the Unitarian Church of Montclair (New Jersey) and we have raised our 11-year-old son in the Unitarian Church. There is no other church for us.

So why do I find Unitarians so frustrating? So intolerant? So close-minded?

I fear it reflects our times. We are all more polarized and less open to new ideas. Like dark matter accelerates the expansion of distant galaxies from our own, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter seem to serve that same function here on earth. We are all moving away from each other faster than ever. Sadly, my own church is part of the problem, not the solution.

Unitarians are ‘canaries in the mine’ for American liberals. If liberals are on the verge of collective over-reach, this will first manifest itself, often in extreme form, among Unitarians.

In the mid-70s, when I was entering my teen years, a small but significant number of Unitarians in our congregation embraced (or, literally, flirted with) the idea of open marriages. My parents thankfully resisted the concept. Yet, even as bystanders, their marriage suffered damage.

Open marriage was an awful idea in 1970s and the broken families and psychological carnage this minor movement left in its wake quickly ended its limited popularity. The Unitarians, always willing to question social norms, paid a disproportionate price.

Fast forward to the present, a similar dynamic exists among Unitarians with respect to identity politics, particularly transgender issues. Empathy for the bias transgender individuals experience on a daily basis is one of the admirable features of the UU Church. There is no religious tradition more supportive to those who outside mainstream norms.

However, for most Americans, the transgender issue is relatively new and it draws out many complex attitudes and deeply-held prejudices. It does not surprise me that a Public Religion Research Institute poll in February 2017 found that 53 percent of Americans oppose bathroom laws that disallow transgender individuals from using the bathroom of their choice.

It also doesn’t surprise me that 72 percent of Americans, according to a Rasmussen Poll in February 2017, don’t believe this is an issue for the federal government to address.

Unitarians have the luxury, even an expectation, to stand against mainstream opinion when it stands on the wrong side of an issue. The Democratic Party, however, does not have that freedom.

UUs would rather shame others for not supporting the bathroom rights of transgender Americans (who are about 0.6 percent of the U.S. population), than understand why 47 percent Americans have a problem with transgender individuals with male genitals going into women’s bathrooms.

Unitarians and Democrats share one unfortunate trait: their intellectual arrogance and intolerance for opinion diversity. They speak of empathy for some, but for those holding opinions outside their “green zone,” it is aggressively withheld.

There is someone else many of us think lacks empathy to go along with his likely narcissistic personality disorder. Yes, that’s an provocative comparison to make, but I regret that it fits.  Donald Trump’s personal flaws are well-documented. He is incapable of sharing someone else’s pain — but isn’t identity politics just a group level manifestation of this same pathology? If you are outside an approved group, you are shunned. There is no attempt at finding common ground. That would require listening, constructive dialogue, and…well, empathy.

Dialogue? Empathy? Why bother? Its much easier just to get your people to turn out and vote.

There are other Unitarians and Democrats that lament the emphasis on identity theology. We know from experience that group identities and attitudes are not always tightly bound, and when they are, can still shift rapidly.

We are not all white or uneducated. Some of us may be rich, but most are not. We lurk in the shadows like a secret society and exchange approving winks and nods every now and then. We exist, but we are quiet. We regret the increasingly narrow path we see our religious community going down and fear our preferred political party is not far behind.

But we are not leaving our progressive faith community and still lean towards staying in the Democratic Party, even as both make it increasingly clear that people like us are not welcome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

Trump and Bannon Already Conceding the 2018 Elections

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:  NuQum.com, October 12, 2017)

{Feel free to send any comments about this essay to: kkroeger@nuqum.com or kentkroeger3@gmail.com}

Steve Bannon is a very smart man — always three moves ahead of his opponents.

When Bannon told Sean Hannity on Fox News’ “Hannity” recently that he is looking to challenge every sitting GOP lawmaker except Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), he was laying the groundwork for President Trump’s defense should the Republicans lose the U.S. House in the 2018 midterms.

“There’s a basic agenda that Trump ran on and won. He carried states Republicans haven’t carried in living memory — Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania. This agenda works. The American people voted for it,” Bannon told Hannity.

 

Bannon’s clever but risky move is an implicit concession that the Republicans are going to lose big in the 2018 midterm elections, but he does not want Republicans to blame the losses on President Trump’s weakness, but rather, on Trump’s strength within the Republican Party.

It would be unprecedented in U.S. electoral history for allies of an incumbent president to sabotage the president’s own party during midterm elections.

Yet, that is exactly what Bannon says he will do. By undercutting Republican incumbents now, Bannon is attempting to minimize Trump’s culpability should the GOP lose the U.S. House.

It’s a counter-intuitive strategy, but if anyone can pull it off, it is Bannon.

Unfortunately, this unnecessary intra-party skirmish is merely an attempt to divert the public’s attention from the real story of the Trump administration’s first year in office. There have been no major legislative accomplishments.

Will the media and the public fall for this diversionary tactic? Probably. But will Bannon’s intra-party purge attempt actually replace disloyal Republican incumbents with Trump loyalists?

That’s a more difficult question.

Primary challenges rarely succeed in U.S. House and Senate Races

According to Michael Malbin of the Campaign Finance Institute, as of July 2017, 212 U.S. House and Senate incumbents have a primary challenger who has filed a financial report with the Federal Election Commission.

In the 2014 midterms, there were only 95 incumbents with a challenger at this point in the election cycle. The chart below from OpenSecrets.org compare the number of challengers for the last three midterm elections (as of July in the year prior to the election).

“Defeats of incumbents are rare, and it is very rare for a successful challenger to go on to win the general election,” according to Dr. Robert Boatright of Clark University. “In years with no redistricting, no more than three or four Congressional incumbents are likely to lose their primaries.”

In all likelihood, few Republican incumbents are going to lose in a primary challenge in 2018. But will the Bannon-fueled primary challenges hurt these same incumbents in the general election?

Not likely.

What will happen in the 2018 midterms?

Most analytic models used to predict aggregate midterm election outcomes rely heavily on presidential job approval ratings. That does not bode well for the Republicans given Trump’s current job approval ratings hover around 39 percent job approval.

If Republicans do lose the U.S. House in 2018, it will be because of Donald Trump’s low job approval ratings. The contention that Trump can distance himself from his own party’s electoral fortunes has no analog in U.S. presidential history.

Unless President Trump’s approval ratings improve significantly, many prognosticators say the Republicans are likely to lose control of the U.S. House in 2018. The Huffington Post sees the Republicans losing control of the House by seven seats. FiveThirtyEight.com’s generic U.S. House poll averages show the Democrats about eight points ahead of the Republicans, which is the margin the Democrats will need to take back the House according to their prediction models.

However, there is still reason for cautious optimism among Republicans. The Crosstab blogsite, maintained by G. Elliott Morris, continues to predict the Republicans have a 68 percent chance of maintaining control of the U.S. House, despite the Democrats likely winning 54 percent of votes for the U.S. House in their prediction models.

The futures-based prediction market, PredictIt, also continues to give the Republicans a 55 percent chance of keeping control of the House.

But these predictions are all noise to Bannon’s ears. A lot can change in 13 months. More importantly, Bannon has an enemies list and none of these predictions can account for what Bannon’s offensive against GOP incumbents will mean to the Republican’s chances in 2018.

We are in uncharted waters.

 

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

The American Death Cult

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:  NuQum.com, October 7, 2017)

{Feel free to send any comments about this essay to: kkroeger@nuqum.com or kentkroeger3@gmail.com}

Keith Olbermann was only half right when he tweeted, “@realDonaldTrump, the @GOP and @benshapiro have sold their souls to the NRA and the death cult.”

Not just pro-Second Amendment conservatives belong to this cult, we all belong to the American death cult.

The latest mass shooting in Las Vegas merely reinforces our cultural dependency on violence. And this dynamic is not just coming from the Republicans or the political right. We all participate.

When a Planned Parenthood medical director attending a professional conference openly describes abortion as “violence” and “killing,” it shouldn’t require an undercover conservative journalist to spark the outrage, we should all be saddened this barbaric procedure (regardless of its legal status) is considered an expression of freedom and civil justice by many. We had a presidential nominee hesitate in a debate to even rule out abortions up to the very moment of birth…and was cheered for her brave stance. The theater of the macabre, American presidential campaign style.

While the liberals turn a blind eye to the unborn, the conservatives aren’t occupying the moral high ground either. Their support for the unborn is not matched by a similar respect for the living. From their callous refusal to join the civilized world in ensuring affordable, basic health care for all of its citizens to their tepid condemnations of neo-Nazi marches, conservative America has little empathy for the weak and most vulnerable in our society. Live and Let Die could be their anthem. Its Calvinist theology as public policy.

Why do Americans tolerate such high levels of violence?

Few advanced countries tolerate violence and death like Americans do. Our media and entertainment sources soak us in it. Our politicians nurture it. Our companies package it. Our economic elites profit from it. We all grind on it.

“We have the best military in the world,” crows President Trump, stating the obvious. He even told The Washington Post there should be more military parades with F-16s over Brooklyn and Marines “marching down Pennsylvania Avenue.” And, on cue, the Democrats cry “Fascist!” at Trump’s suggestion.

Democrats, have you been to a football game or NASCAR race in this country? We already do this. Every day. What Trump is saying is not new.

With every mass shooting in the U.S., we confirm our own American exceptionalism. We are different than France, or Germany or Canada by choice. We are not just bad asses to our external enemies, we will put our own people in the rifle scope’s cross hairs.

That is who we are and neither the Democrats or Republicans have any real incentive to change this foundational aspect of American society.

But most Americans want better, more effective gun control — so why hasn’t it happened?

Americans, like most people, want to feel safe. But personal safety has a yin yang quality that gun control advocates don’t seem to understand. Yes, the statistics strongly suggest that bringing a gun into a household increases the chance a household member will die from gun violence (including suicides). But, for many, guns make them feel safe. The overwhelming majority of gun owners have good intentions. Whether motivated by security or sport, their gun ownership poses no proximal threat to society-at-large.

Still, a June 2017 national survey by Pew Research Center shows 84 percent of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, support an expansion of background checks to include private firearm sales and purchases at gun shows.

Gun control advocates rightfully suggest the public understands these types of gun control laws are just good common sense.

Unfortunately, public opinion doesn’t matter in the case of gun control. Why? Because few Democratic politicians are voted out of office for supporting gun rights. In fact, Democrats use their support for gun rights as evidence of their independence from rigid liberal orthodoxy.

Furthermore, politicians raise millions amidst America’s self-inflicted carnage, particularly on the political right.

According to Geoff West of OpenSecrets.org, an campaign finance watchdog group, “Gun rights interests have given about $41.9 million to candidates, parties and outside spending groups since 1989, with 89 percent of the funds contributed to candidates and parties going to Republicans. And in the 2012 and 2014 election cycles, they let loose another $48 million (at least) in outside spending.”

In contrast, gun control interests have given only a fraction of the amount in the same time period. “They’ve given $4.2 million since 1989 (and) 96 percent of their contributions to parties and candidates have gone to Democrats,” says West. “In the 2016 cycle, gun control groups accounted for $3 million in outside spending versus $54.9 million from gun rights organizations, including $54.3 million from the NRA.”

Money is not always a direct measure of political influence. It is, however, a good proxy for influence in this case.

There simply is no stomach for gun control in America. If this country was not compelled to change gun laws after the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings of 20 children, there is no event that will bring about meaningful gun control.

The same media outlets that saturate their mawkish news coverage of each mass shooting with cloying appeals to our worst fears, inevitably remind us that we, as a country, can show our unique strength by going on with life as normal.

“Don’t let the S.O.B. change us,” former Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman told CNN’s Michael Smerconish, after 58 people were senselessly murdered at a concert in his city.

So, there you go gun control advocates. Change our gun laws? Apparently, doing so means the homicidal maniacs win.

In the privacy of our thoughts, many of us know, short of confiscating all guns from the civilian population (which will never happen), no law, new regulation, or enhanced background check will really reduce the gun violence in America. Mass shootings are a by-product of our tolerance for violence. And that is a cultural problem, not a legal one.

The American death cult needs the violence. It nourishes the American exceptionalism narrative that justifies the U.S. spending more on defense than the next eight countries combined. It rationalizes why we, as a society, spend as much money on guns and ammunition as we do on educational tutoring for our children.

We indulge in violence at all levels of our social lives. Our most popular music is violent. Our favorite national sport is violent. Our movies are violent. Even the everyday language we use to talk to each other is laced with profanity and violence, and usually unnecessary given the context of most conversations. Like a nervous tick, we use profanity as the conversational equivalent of Hamburger Helper.

With each mass shooting we remind ourselves that we can care, we can feel compassion, feelings that for many is increasingly hard to find in their daily lives.

We even feel pride and envy when the heroes are inevitably marched out by the media as symbols of our resolve and resilience against inexplicable treachery. It prompts hero fantasies that we play out in our heads.

We are a warrior culture that values the acquisition, use and taming of violence. A modern-day Sparta minus the awesome head gear. Guns are just one element of this social disorder. Mass shootings are just one symptom.

We know, collectively, without the guns and violence, we are just a more populated version of Canada (minus universal health care, of course).

 

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

Climate realists drive U.S. energy policy: Will they do enough?

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:  NuQum.com, October 5, 2017)

{Feel free to send any comments about this essay to: kkroeger@nuqum.com or kentkroeger3@gmail.com}

The alarmists and deniers dominate the climate change debate on the cable news networks, but neither dominate U.S. energy policy.

Climate realists are driving American energy policy and there is little reason to think the Trump administration can reverse the climate change initiatives already in place.

Today’s federal court ruling upholding the Obama-era EPA methane rules punctuates this fact.

Who are the climate realists? They are the forces driving the rise of natural gas for electricity generation concurrently with the development of renewable sources such as wind and solar. They include industry executives in the oil and gas sector, Wall Street investors, environmentalists, government bureaucrats, the courts and the major congressional committees overseeing our nation’s energy policies.

Are the climate realists just another arm of the Deep State? Perhaps. Whoever they are, they are not hindered by our nation’s hyper-partisanship. Instead, a massive realignment of our nation’s energy production and consumption mix is well underway and not even President Trump and EPA Chief Scott Pruitt can stop it.

Since 2000, the U.S. has restructured the nation’s electricity generation mix away from coal and towards cleaner energy sources, such as natural gas and renewables.

Primary Electricity Net Generation in U.S. from 1949 to 2016 (Billion kilowatt hours)
Data source: U.S. Energy Information Agency (July 2017)

Coal peaked at 2 trillion kilowatt hours in 2008 and has been in decline ever since; whereas, natural gas has been rising as a source of electricity generation since the late 1980s. Today, coal and natural gas each account for 33 percent of total U.S. electricity generation.

As for renewable energy sources, no politician receives less credit than George W. Bush for pushing the advance of green energy. As the governor of Texas, Bush signed legislation that created a renewable electricity mandate so that today Texas leads the nation in wind generating capacity.

President George W. Bush more than once pushed Congress to extend the production tax credits for renewable energy sources, particularly wind power. Bush’s policies had the tangible result of increasing renewable energy’s share in U.S. electricity generation from 10 percent in the early 2000s to about 15 percent in 2016.

According to U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) forecasts, by 2050, renewable energy sources will account for about 30 percent of U.S. electricity generation, putting it behind only natural gas (40%) as the largest contributor. Coal will account for around 17 percent.

Data source: EIA (May 2017)

A number of assumptions underlie the EIA U.S. energy forecasts, one of them being the continued implementation of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), which is already under threat from the Trump Administration’s executive order in March telling the EPA to kill it.

Easier said than done. Since the CPP has already gone through the full federal rulemaking process, ending it will require a similarly laborious process. As of today, the CPP still stands, if only barely, and the federal judge hearing the opposition to the CPP by 27 states — including EPA Chief Scott Pruitt’s home state of Oklahoma — has ruled that the Trump administration must offer its new course of action in lieu of the CPP by October 6th.

To CPP advocates, the endless mélange of arcane legal procedures and bureaucratic stodginess may appear impenetrable, but this is what happens when the federal executive and legislative branches stop working together and economic policy is implemented through executive fiat. Throw into this political mosh pit over half of the state attorney generals trying to kill the CPP and it is fair to ask, what chance does the country have at changing its national energy policies on a scale that can possibly address climate change?

It turns out,  the chances are looking pretty good — though three more years (at least) of the Trump administration is likely to sap some of that optimism.

THE U.S. IS RAPIDLY CONVERTING TO A CLEAN(ER) ENERGY ECONOMY

The major trends are undeniable. Coal is rapidly being replaced by natural gas and renewable energy (wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric) as the primary sources of U.S. electricity production. Recent increases in coal electricity production in 2017 are not likely to change these trends as many coal energy plants are scheduled to be shutdown over the next decade.

Along with the decline of coal, there are four other macro trends that will drive U.S. energy production and consumption over the next 30 years:

  1. Natural gas will continue as a stop gap energy source until renewables  become more cost effective and reliable.
  2. Cost decreases in renewable energy generation will continue and spur its future growth
  3. While renewable energy will continue to grow, it will not be fast enough to see the effective end of fossil fuels by 2050 (as required by the Paris Accords) unless major efficiency improvements occur in energy production and use.
  4. The U.S. will not see nuclear power playing a significant role in replacing fossil fuels (but that will not the case in China and India).

How did this all happen? Our elected leaders notwithstanding, the other players in the making U.S. energy policy (Big Oil and Gas companies, federal bureaucrats, regulators, the environmental lobby, and public opinion) have opted for a realist view of global warming.

When the Trump administration decided unilaterally to relax the regulatory requirements for limiting the escape of methane gas during the natural gas extraction process, the environmental lobby weighed in, but did so without undercutting the importance of natural gas in addressing climate change.

“(The Trump administration) listened to a few industry players eager to cut costs and to maximize profits in the short-term, while shirking their responsibility to help America’s booming natural gas industry stay competitive for decades to come,” said Ben Ratner, Director of the Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Corporate Partnership’s Program.”States such as Colorado show that methane leaks, can, in fact, be managed cost-effectively and without harming production.’

So who are the Big Oil and Gas industry players like Exxon-Mobil siding with on this issue? The EDF and the climate change lobby, of course.

What?

“The major multinational oil and gas producers like ExxonMobil and Shell have said they are already following methane pollution rules finalized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year (2016),” says Jon Goldstein, Director for Regulatory and Legislative Affairs at EDF. ‘Better to anticipate future compliance issues today and bake them into your forward planning, than to be caught flatfooted tomorrow.”

That is climate realism as practiced by Big Oil and Gas.

Popular culture views oil executives as derivative forms of Dallas‘ J.R. Ewing. In reality, they are often Ivy League educated business managers with the education and experience  to know that risk must always be managed, not ignored. The geologic and political realities underlying fossil fuels leave just one outcome. Fossil fuels will not be the dominant energy source by the end of this century.

As regressive as the Trump administration has been on climate change policy, there is little they can do to change the global trends. Recent increases in coal electricity generation is illusory. Coal is dead. Instead, the central question facing U.S. policymakers is the extent to which natural gas extraction — including the use of fracking — is going to continue. When does natural gas stop being a stop-gap measure?

Even the most alarmist environmental lobby groups recognize that natural gas has driven the recent reductions in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. But what divides them from climate realists is their long-term view of natural gas. The alarmists will not accept an energy source (natural gas) that is only 50 percent cleaner in its greenhouse gas emissions than coal.

Climate realists, in contrast, consider the economic risks and disruption associated with a crash program to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources. And economists are quick to point out that recent public and private investments in clean energy have been full of fits and starts. Forbes reported in June that “new investment in clean energy fell to $287.5 billion in 2016, 18 percent lower than the record investment of $348.5 billion in 2015 and 9 percent lower than the $315 billion invested in 2014.”

Climate realists want the trends to be in the right direction, while the alarmists want a worldwide “Man on the Moon”-like resolve to see the practical elimination of fossil fuels by 2050.

This is what divides climate alarmists from realists and it represents a mighty big chasm. The good news is that both groups agree (for the most part) on the basic science behind global warming.

ALARMISTS AND REALISTS AGREE: THE EARTH IS WARMING AND HUMANS ARE TO BLAME

Let’s immediately dispense with the scientific nonsense promulgated by those who claim the science is still unsettled. Yes, of course, some aspects of the science is unsettled. But here is what the climatologists are telling us:

The planet’s recent warming is due largely to human activities. This additional warming is not due to natural variation. It is due to the accumulation of greenhouse gases (particularly CO2) in the atmosphere.

Here is a fun little graphic from SkepticalScience.com contrasting the two contradictory views on global warming:

Even many hardcore climate change skeptics (like myself) are moved by the growing empirical evidence.

Climate skeptics are not swayed by peer pressure, which invites bias and herd mentalities. And don’t bother them with the ’97 percent of climatologists’ agree argument. That figure was basically pulled out of Harvard researcher Naomi Oreskes’ ass 17 years ago. Only recently has a meta-analysis of published research found some credence in that ’97 percent’ figure — but only after researchers ignored the majority of climate change research papers that did not take any stand regarding global warming.

Science isn’t a democracy and facts are determined by vote counts. I’m sure at some point 97 percent of physicists ascribed to the Steady State Theory of the Universe. Scientists can get things really wrong sometimes.

Instead, only evidence matters and it has been unequivocal on global warming.

Even under the new administration, NASA’s offers a convincing summary of the data evidence behind the conclusion that recent global warming is anthropogenic (human-caused):

Figure 1:  GLOBAL LAND-OCEAN TEMPERATURE INDEX
Data source: NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). Credit: NASA/GISS

However, the most compelling evidence was offered in 1990, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its first forecast for global temperatures. It was impossible to know at the time, but the report’s forecast for global temperatures was relatively accurate, despite being based on a simple statistical model driven primarily by the increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The 1990 IPCC report forecast an increase global temperatures between 0.10 to 0.35°C per decade. In actuality, global temperatures have risen 0.15°C per decade since the 1st IPCC forecast.

“The IPCC models do an impressive job accurately representing and projecting changes in the global climate, contrary to contrarian claims,” says science writer Dana Nuccitelli. “In fact, the IPCC global surface warming projections have performed much better than predictions made by climate contrarians.”

Figure 2:  SUMMARY OF IPCC REPORT FORECASTS
Source: IPCC AR5. Solid lines and squares represent measured average global surface temperature changes by NASA (blue), NOAA (yellow), and the UK Hadley Centre (green). The colored shading shows the projected range of surface warming in the IPCC First Assessment Report (FAR; yellow), Second (SAR; green), Third (TAR; blue), and Fourth (AR4; red).

‘Impressive’ may be an over-statement as the 1st IPCC Assessment Report (yellow shaded region in the above graph) over-estimated global warming; however, the 3rd and 4th IPCC projections were better. That is to be expected. Over time, the models should be better.

Global temperatures are rising. And by using ice core data to model climate dynamics over long periods of geologic time, the evidence also supports the connection between rising global temperatures and the increased concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

What is the exact sensitivity of global temperatures to greenhouse gas concentrations?That’s a complicated question well beyond my background, so I will let the climate scientists debate over the answer. For the hopelessly curious, the Skeptical Scientist website offers a layman-friendly discussion of this complex issue: HERE. [My personal fear is that climate scientists exaggerate humankind’s ability to modulate global temperatures through the manipulation of greenhouse gas emissions alone.]

HOW CAN WE MAKE PUBLIC POLICY AROUND GLOBAL WARMING WHEN THERE IS SO MUCH SCIENTIFIC UNCERTAINTY?

One reason we see variations in the global temperature forecast models is that the scientific groups making the forecasts use different specifications and parameterizations of this temperature/greenhouse gases relationship.

Here is the good news: Eventually, climate scientists will determine which models best predict global temperatures…but it will take time…measured in years. But the best models will reveal themselves, that is certain.

In the meantime, does the world have the luxury to wait for the perfect answer. Sometimes (maybe always?) policymakers are forced to work with the 80 percent solution.

We all know the phrase — ‘better being the enemy of the good’ — popularized by Voltaire. But I like John Lennon’s version. When asked by a journalist when he knew if a song he was writing was finished, Lennon replied, “I stop writing when the song is good enough.”

The climate models are far from perfect, but they are good enough to make substantive policy decisions. The problem for climate alarmists however is that those policy decisions may not go far enough for them.

Policy making in a pluralist democracy like ours is driven by a multiplicity of relatively small and autonomous groups. Despite what Bernie Sanders says, no single group of elites dominate our policy process.

Thus, scientists are not empowered to dictate public policy on climate change but must instead fight it out with other political factions and organized interests. Madison, Jay and Hamilton envisioned our system to work that way for good reason.

The structure of our political system has profound implications on policy making. It encourages small changes over large, dramatic changes in policy.

Political scientist Charles Lindblom described the incrementalist predisposition of American policy making in his famous 1959 essay, “The Science of Muddling Through.” Since incrementalism failed to explain large policy shifts, however, Lindblom’s original model was supplanted by the punctuated equilibrium model of policy making which says major policy changes will occur over brief periods of time, followed by longer periods of incremental policy changes.

How the world addresses climate change is the ultimate policy model case study.

THE CHOICE: INCREMENTALIST ACTION VERSUS DRAMATIC POLICY SHIFTS

Collectively, the world has three possible policy approaches to climate change. They are: (1) Do nothing or the ‘wait and see’ approach (Deniers), (2) Incremental decisions as events demand (Realists), or (3) Dramatic policy shifts now in anticipation of the future (Alarmists).

All three approaches have strengths and weaknesses:

Policy ModelStrengthsWeaknesses
Wait and SeeShort-term costs are minimal; policy flexibility (in the short-term, at least)If worst-case scenarios occur, policy flexibility reduced; overall costs extremely high
IncrementalismModest costs in short-term; hedges fiscal bets in case worst-case scenarios don't materialize; maximum policy flexibilityInadequate policy responses in short-term may exacerbate problems in the long-term; high long-term costs under worst-case scenarios
Dramatic Policy ShiftsLower overall costs if worst-case scenarios prove correctHigh costs in short-term; if initial policies inappropriate to the problem, long-term costs at fiscal bankruptcy levels.

As to which policy is adopted will be partially driven by political leaders’ level of confidence in the empirical data. Alarmists accept the scientific evidence as irrefutable and deterministic. There is no need for political debate. Deniers reject the evidence as flawed and driven more by partisan agendas. And realists see the empirical data as credible but probabilistic.

Scientists do not make the policy decisions. That is not their domain of expertise. Policy making is the domain of the political class.

Unfortunately, that’s where the climate change debate becomes contentious. Throw in a healthy serving of Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt (with a dash of Rick Perry), and the debate is dysfunctional.

We can ignore the deniers as their policy goal is the simplest of all — do nothing. However, as already shown, the world’s energy production and consumption has already changed in significant ways and the deniers long ago lost control of policy making process. They are nearly irrelevant (even though control the U.S. executive branch right now).

The other two climate groups are relevant.

Climate alarmists see climate change in binary terms — it is “zero net emissions” soon after 2050 or global calamity. There is no middle solution or outcome. This deterministic view of the world — as in, “I know for fact this is going to happen” — places little value on negotiation and compromise. Climate realists, in contrast, are all about negotiation and compromise.

CLIMATE REALISTS ARE RISK AVERSE BY TRAINING AND EXPERIENCE

Climate realists are creatures of the existing policy making system. They see the world through a lens of probabilistic events where there is always a chance that even the most likely events fail to materialize. Furthermore, in the context of large structural budget deficits within the public sector, climate realists incorporate risk assessments into the policy mix which further discourages dramatic policy shifts.

Climate realists bring a healthy skepticism of the science yet are sensitive to its implications. This more sophisticated understanding of the intersection of science and policy place the realists in a better position to dominate U.S. energy and environmental policy.

CLIMATE ALARMISTS WANT TO IMPLEMENT AN ECONOMIC SHIFT AT A SPEED UNPARALLELED IN HUMAN HISTORY

Climate alarmists desire to end the fossil fuel industry within the next 30 years. In other words, divert $33 trillion of capital and assets from one industry to another.

Good luck.

This plan typically includes a carbon tax system (or some equivalent) that would divert around $3 trillion annually from the fossil fuel economy to government entities. These revenues would be diverted into investments in materials and energy efficiency, renewable energy capacity, and the infrastructure necessary to accommodate a 100 percent renewable energy economy.

Alarmists will quickly note that the $3 trillion annual tax levy would ultimately save more money than it raises. Ecofys estimated the savings around $6 trillion per year by 2050.

It’s a big bet. Nothing like it has ever been attempted in human history.

What if global warming comes in at the low-end of the forecasts? The models by design suggest the real possibility.

What if the higher order effects — such as tropical storm intensities, coastal and river flooding, drought frequency, etc. — do not reach levels predicted by the climate models?

What if relatively small investments in improved building materials, better building codes, and smarter zoning and development laws are fiscally more effective than a $3 trillion annual transfer of wealth to the public sector and the nascent clean energy industry.

For the alarmists to achieve a 100 percent renewable energy economy around 2050, a punctuated equilibrium policy change may not be enough. It may require something more revolutionary and disruptive.

Luckily, the climate realists will be pumping brakes on any attempt by the alarmists to change public policy on such a scale.

CLIMATE ALARMISTS GAVE US THE PARIS ACCORDS, BUT THE REALISTS WILL IMPLEMENT IT

The Paris Accords set an aggressive global goal to have net zero carbon emissions early in the second half of this century. The difference in global temperatures between ‘low carbon emissions’ (blue shaded region) and the status quo (red shaded region) is significant:

If the world keeps energy policies at the status quo, by 2100, global temperatures will rise by 4 °C over 2005 temperatures. If we reach near zero net carbon emissions by 2050 (or soon after), global temperatures will rise only 1 °C over 2005 temperatures.

Of course, these predictions assume the global warming models are accurate. Alarmists assume humans can turn down the global thermostat and the globe will dutifully respond. The comedian George Carlin has a nice bit about this noxious type of hubris: It is just another arrogant attempt by humans to control mother nature.

But let’s play along with the idea that we can control global temperatures like the thermostats we use to control our homes’ temperatures. The only chance it happens is if we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero in a relatively short period of time. [Some scientists fear it may already be too late to prevent the globe’s temperatures from exceeding 2 °C over pre-industrial temperatures.]

From a policy perspective, getting to Paris Accords’ zero net carbon emissions target is problematic given current global reliance on coal and natural gas energy production and existing plans to build new coal and natural power plant.

Forecasts on the mix of energy sources in 2050, not surprisingly, vary significantly depending on what group is making the forecasts.

The following forecasts illustrate this variance.

A PLAN TO GET TO ZERO EMISSIONS BY 2050 (or soon after)

Energy consulting firm Ecofys produced a report in 2011 demonstrating the plausibility of ‘net zero emissions’ by 2050. In their forecast model, half of the ‘net zero emissions’ goal is met by reducing energy demand through increased energy efficiency, and the remaining part of the goal is met by the substitution of traditional energy sources with renewable sources (see chart below).

Ecofys’s forecast is aggressive and predicated on a number of strong assumptions and stretch goals, including:

  • Global energy demand in 2050 will be 15 percent lower than in 2005, despite a growing population and continued economic development in countries like India and China.
  • Create buildings that require almost no conventional energy for heating or cooling and have all new buildings meet this standard by 2030.
  • High growth rates in solar energy production will continue or decline only slightly
  • Growth rates in wind power will also continue so that it will provide one-quarter of the world’s electricity needs by 2050.
  • Scientific and technology breakthroughs will continue to lower the cost and raise the efficiency of renewable energy sources, energy conservation technologies, and energy (battery) storage capabilities.
  • And, finally, the world will collectively accept a carbon tax and levy system that will help raise the money necessary to invest in the other energy goals and milestones.

Not one of these assumptions are likely to hold, much less all of them.

Fueled by economic and population growth, total global energy demand will rise about 33 percent between now and 2050, according to the EIA, and most of this increase will come from outside the U.S. and Europe. To predicate a zero emissions plan on the expectation that American and European policy makers are going to influence domestic energy policies in China and India enough to lower their overall energy demand in 2050 from today’s levels (or 2005!) is laughable.

The safest assumption from the Ecofys plan is that renewables will continue to grow rapidly. British Petroluem’s 2017 Statistical Review of World Energy found that renewable power (excluding hydro power) grew by 14.1 percent in 2016 — which is below the 10-year average, but still robust.

The most promising Ecofys assumption is in solar energy, which recently has seen exponential growth rates. In 2016, there was a 50 percent increase in the amount of new solar power worldwide, bringing its contribution to total worldwide electricity generation to around 1.3 percent.

But Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance Outlook for 2017 is predicting this fast growth in solar power will soon slow down. Luckily for the solar energy industry, the pessimistic predictions on solar’s growth by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and business forecasters like Bloomberg have been notoriously wrong in the past. Of all of the Ecofys zero emissions plan assumptions, continued solar energy growth may be the most likely to materialize.

Where some pieces of the Ecofys zero emissions plan have merit, on the whole, it too dependent on optimism and good intentions. Using the Ecofys plan to represent the ‘zero emissions by 2050’ goal may seem like a straw man argument, but to Ecofys’ credit, the core elements of their forecast includes all of the factors that will need to align in order for the zero emissions goal to be met.

In fairness, Ecofys has removed their 2011 plan for zero emissions from their website, but the assumptions and milestones in the plan are still indicative of the massive challenge the world faces in achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions soon after 2050.

THE FUTURE IS 100% RENEWABLE ENERGY, BUT YOU WON’T BE AROUND TO SEE IT (AND MAYBE NOT YOUR KIDS, EITHER).

The following global energy forecast was published on the website PeakOil.com and is more indicative of the climate realist perspective and shows us why zero emissions is a challenging goal unlikely to occur anywhere near 2050.

Fossil fuel geeks should be familiar with the Hubbert Linearization method for estimating the level of recoverable natural resources under existing technology, economics, and geopolitical trends. Historically, the Hubbert method has typically underestimated the amount of recoverable oil, gas and coal left in the ground. To mitigate this bias, the PeakOil.com forecast is adjusted using EIA’s official projections on world oil and natural gas production from 2016 to 2040.

Their resulting forecast on world carbon dioxide emissions through 2100 makes the idea of a zero carbon emissions planet seem unattainable, in this century at least.

The good news: these forecasts are products of smart people doing a lot of guesswork. On one level, the idea that carbon emissions will peak around 2030 seems plausible given that we are already deep into 2017 and carbon emissions continue to rise with the growth of the world economy.

Where the PeakOil.com forecast may go wrong is on the downside of the fossil fuel life cycle. If renewables become significantly more cost effective than fossil fuels, the move away from fossil fuels will be much more dramatic than what the above graph shows.

That is the optimist in me speaking.

Significant issues remain ahead for renewables however. The biggest is the cost of solar and wind intermittency.

As University of Houston Lecturer and Energy Fellow Earl J. Ritchie warns, “The continuing decrease in wind and solar costs is a very positive development. However, this trend may reverse as the percentage of variable renewable energy (VRE)  energy that isn’t available on-demand but only at specific times, such as when the wind is blowing – reaches high levels.”

At that point, integration costs become more of a factor in the overall cost of renewable energy.

“When variable sources are a small fraction of electricity supply, the cost of integration is low,” says Ritchie. But when these variable sources become a significant fraction, renewable energy costs can increase. Evidence of this can already be seen in Germany, where wind and solar are heavily integrated into the national power grid.

At what fraction do these costs become significant? It depends.

One study using data from Germany and Indiana found integration costs began to become significant when renewables reached 20 percent of total energy generation. As of 2015, only four countries had variable renewable energy over 20 percent. But that number will rise rapidly in the next 10 years.

THE ABSENCE OF NUCLEAR POWER IN THEIR FUTURE ENERGY MIX SUGGESTS ENVIRONMENTALISTS ARE NOT AS SERIOUS ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE AS THEY PRETEND

There is one more aspect of the climate change movement that is puzzling. Where is nuclear energy in all of the scenarios where the planet reaches zero carbon emissions?

The task is daunting enough, why make it harder?

Ideological environmentalists need to take off their ideological blinders and accept that the quickest, most direct path to zero carbon emissions is with significant growth in nuclear energy. If safety or nuclear proliferation concerns keep them from signing on to new nuclear power plants, they need to update their information because molten salt (thorium) nuclear reactors may address both of those concerns while maintaining the low carbon emissions aspect of nuclear energy.

Why weren’t molten salt reactors developed sooner? Because countries with the resources to develop peaceful nuclear power also wanted the ability to retool quickly and develop a nuclear weapons program, which the uranium reactors made easier.

Nuclear power is not intermittent like solar and wind. That is a significant advantage. Furthermore, China, India, Brazil, Argentina, and many other large, growing countries are embracing nuclear power on a level to match what the French have already achieved.

Nuclear power plants generate 75 percent of France’s electricity, though that level may fall to 50 percent by 2025 as other renewable energy sources come online. As of today, France is the world’s largest net exporter of electricity due to the very low cost of nuclear power.

Without nuclear power out of the mix, the ideological environmental lobby is making the goal of zero carbon emissions even more unreachable.

NOW WHAT? ADAPT OR DIE.

The major energy sources that work 24 hours-a-day, 365 days-a-year are coal, natural gas, geothermal, hydroelectric (droughts not withstanding), and nuclear.

Renewable energy is still a supplemental source of power. Without fundamental advancements in energy storage technologies, countries will still need continuous power sources on cloudy and windless days.

And this essay hasn’t even touched transportation.

Throw in combustion engine automobiles likely to be in use in 2050 and the belief that this world can be anywhere close to ‘zero net carbon emissions’ anywhere near 2050 is fantasy.

This means global temperatures are going to come in somewhere in between the ‘status quo’ and ‘zero net emissions’ scenarios. In other words, by 2100, global temperatures may be close to 3 °C above pre-industrial temperature levels. At that level of global warming arrives increases in ice sheet melting and the impact of the slow climate feedback mechanisms which may push the warming to 6 °C above pre-industrial levels, regardless of any carbon emissions reductions that occur after we hit the 3 °C milestone.

At 6 °C above pre-industrial levels, our descendants will be seriously pissed at us for failing to do more to slow global warming.

We may already be witnessing the impact of global warming on tropical storms and flooding in the U.S. Again, that is a question difficult for science to answer definitively. There is not enough data yet. The empirical evidence says we have not seen a perceivable increase in the number or intensity of tropical storms in the Atlantic Ocean — even with Harvey, Irma and Maria included in the dataset.

However, that finding could change in a short period of time. Another year or two like 2017 in the Atlantic and the ‘no impact on tropical storms’ argument gets sent to the scientific dustbin.

On the positive side, if Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria are a precursor of the new normal, we have gained some insight on the financial risk global warming poses to the U.S. and other countries exposed to coastal flooding and hurricanes in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

Puerto Rico will rebuild. The goal should be to ensure that all new construction on the island will pass rigorous building standards designed to survive Category 5 hurricanes. Puerto Rico can be the leading edge of a new urban planning philosophy for coastlines that addresses the realities of the global warming age.

The damages to residences of Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico are tragic. But they are also manageable, particularly if our governments start developing concrete plans to help people migrate from at-risk areas and to improve building and zoning codes to minimize future weather-related risks.

What we don’t need to do is crush the world economy with a crash program of getting to ‘zero net emissions’ by 2050. At this point, such a goal is a castle in the sky built by climate change alarmists that have little to risk and much to gain by scaring policy makers into potentially counter-productive government interventions in the private economy.

Don’t compound the original mistake of recklessly burning fossil fuels in serving economic growth by embarking on an equally reckless path.

The Paris Accord targets were never going to be met. Any time you get that many countries to agree on something, you know it has to be more illusion than substance. Countries were willing to sign on to the Accords because it asked of its signers very little additional sacrifice beyond what they were already doing or planning on doing.

Global warming is real. Humans caused it. And there is a warming threshold (~ 3 °C) that we must avoid. And now we must pursue a series of policies that will adapt to this reality and hopefully mitigate most of global warming’s worst consequences.

 

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

You can disagree with Colin Kaepernick and still respect his courage

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:  NuQum.com, September 25, 2017)

{Feel free to send any comments about this essay to: kkroeger@nuqum.com or kentkroeger3@gmail.com}

At this point, an NFL starting quarterback job would be a demotion for former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Willingly or not, he is now  one of this nation’s most prominent symbols of protest against police brutality towards people of color. And for good reason. He took a visible position while a player in this country’s favorite professional sport — and did so knowing it could (and did) jeopardize his career.

#IMWITHKAP is becoming a mainstay on Twitter’s trending list in part because the core issue being highlighted by Kaepernick — equal treatment under the law by our nation’s police and judicial system — continues to divide this country.

My 11-year-old son, a rabid Washington Redskins football fan, can’t spell Q-U-A-R-T-E-R-B-A-C-K, but he can spell K-A-E-P-E-R-N-I-C-K. His friends are still talking about Kaepernick, over a year removed from last playing a significant down in an NFL game.

On one level, this could be evidence of Kaepernick’s success. Sadly, however, Kaepernick’s original protest seems to be lost in what are now the daily distractions our president and the servile media have chosen to be our next 24-hour obsession.

WHY KAEPERNICK KNELT FOR THE NATIONAL ANTHEM

Kaepernick initially sat down and eventually took a knee instead during the national anthem at NFL games as a protest for the unequal and deadly application of police force in this country towards African-Americans.

We should welcome discussion on this topic whatever the viewpoint. I do not apologize for using both the #BlackLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter hashtag when tweeting on this issue.

The police are put in harms way every day and they don’t always have the luxury to make the best decisions under stressful circumstances. And, yes, young men are increasing their chances of being killed by law enforcement when they do not immediately and unequivocally comply with police commands.

All true but do not abrogate our responsibility as a civil society to find ways to minimize these too frequent deadly force confrontations between law enforcement and citizens.

From a statistical perspective, the evidence is murky on whether African-American men are disproportionately killed by law enforcement. The Washington Post’s 2015 investigation into the issue found that, out of the 995 people killed by police in 2015, less than 4 percent (38 people) involved an unarmed black man and a white police officer. In 2016, only 17 unarmed black men were killed by the police, according to The Post. That is 17 too many.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reported that 64 police officers were killed in firearm-related incidents in 2016 compared to 41 killed in 2015.

These numbers may seem small relative to the amount of news coverage dedicated to police shootings and racial justice, but what the statistics don’t capture are the intense emotions generated within the African-American and law enforcement communities every time a police shooting video is released to the public.

Regardless of your view on whether it is appropriate to kneel during the national anthem, we can all agree that our law enforcement officers work within the most weaponized civilian population in the world. According to the Congressional Research Service, there are 113 guns per 100 residents in the U.S. The next most armed country is Serbia with 76 guns per 100 residents.

Americans arm themselves like Peshmerga rebel fighters and then ask their law enforcement officers to go into dangerous situations where suspects can sometimes have more firepower at their disposal than the police on the scene. Solely judging police officers for making bad decisions in those situations is short-sighted and unproductive. However, how we train our law enforcement officers, particularly with respect to rules of engagement and deescalation training, must be addressed.

Something has to change and that, in my view, is what Kaepernick’s simple and visible protest was always about.

That Kaepernick responded to his fellow 49er teammate and former U.S. Army Green Beret Nate Boyer‘s belief that sitting during the anthem was disrespectful to our military members’ sacrifices, and that kneeling would be more appropriate, confirms the former 49ers quarterback’s intentions. Kaepernick was not trying to disrespect the military, the flag, or the country — his purpose was to keep the issue of the unequal application of justice on the nation’s agenda. That’s all.

But that was when Barack Obama was president. This is a new day and a new president.

The issue of racial injustice now requires the Trump name to be repeated 125 times per hour while discussing any hot topic issue. And while we can admire what many NFL owners and players did this past weekend, we should not forget how the league has manipulated the national anthem for its own purposes, particularly in the last 10 years.

The NFL not only cloaks itself in the American flag, but emphasizes its military symbolism to the neglect of other important aspects the flag embodies (like say, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, equality before the law, justice, and all that other legally do-gooder stuff that can’t be easily represented by things as cool as a B2 Stealth Bomber doing a low stadium flyover). Many will rightfully note the NFL’s extraordinary cynicism given that it once required the U.S. Department of Defense to pay for halftime tributes to our nation’s military members.

After Trump’s incendiary Alabama speech, Roger Goodell said some good things about the players kneeling at NFL games. He’s still a shit head toady for the owners, though.

As for the news media and the political Left, they need to stop posing Trump’s remarks against these NFL player protests as potentially infringing on their right of free speech. Trump’s comments were not a threat to the First Amendment.

The NFL is a private organization run by the team owners. They run an entertainment enterprise and have the legal right to set rules on how their employees behave when they represent the NFL. This is not a First Amendment issue, despite what Megyn “I was a lawyer once” Kelly tells us.

NO ROLE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THAT OF SETTING THE AGENDA

You don’t need to exaggerate Kaepernick’s influence to appreciate how his simple act of protest became something much bigger.

Statistics do not always tell the whole story. The issue of race is one of those cases where the official data we collect fail to reflect the real experience of being a person of color in this country. Numbers are sterile and emotionless. Videos, on the other hand, are visceral.

The latest disturbing video comes Huntington Beach, California where a High School junior was shot dead outside a 7-11 after wrestling with a police officer and grabbing something from the officer’s belt (it appears to have been his walkie-talkie, but it is not clear in the video). This is not suggesting young men should wrestle with police officers with impunity. It is suggesting that some law enforcement officers are not prepared for situations like the one in Huntington Beach.

Police should not be issuing summary death sentences in these circumstances. I don’t understand why the law enforcement community would want its officers making these decisions when legitimate non-lethal forms of defense are available and already in the hands of police officers.

While President Trump spits out needless and impertinent remarks meant only to garner crowd applause, Kaepernick has stayed out of the spotlight. Only his mother’s tweet in response to Trump’s Alabama remarks gives a reminder that her son is still a figure in this protest movement.

Kaepernick’s absence however does not protect him from personal attacks, even among commentators otherwise sympathetic to his cause.

ITS ALWAYS A BULL MARKET ON THE CABLE NEWS NETWORKS FOR EXPERTS TO GIVE STUPID OPINIONS

Perhaps the saddest comments I’ve heard since Trump’s original comments in Alabama came from the elder statesmen of sports broadcasters — NBC’s Bob Costas.

While appearing on one of CNN’s morning shows, Bob Costas gave an awkward and intellectually sloppy dismissal of Kaepernick’s importance in this current controversy. According to Costas, who apparently has the education he considers necessary to judge who should and should not lead racial justice protests, suggested that Kaepernick’s public statements regarding the futility of voting makes him “an imperfect messenger” for this protest movement.

Fair enough, that is Costas’ opinion. And to be truthful, Kaepernick has made some decisions I would not have recommended (i.e., socks showing pigs wearing police uniforms).

But Costas’ citing Kaepernick’s voting cynicism ignores the litany of writers, academics and prominent social activists that have come to similar conclusions.

Costas instead cites Mohammed Ali, Jackie Robinson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Jim Brown as better representatives of what a protest leader should sound and look like. Again, I admire each of those four men for varying reasons, but how Costas determines their qualifications for leadership to be superior to Kaepernick’s is baffling. No, its just stupid.

Here is a quote that is not stupid. It was how Kaepernick explained his reason for kneeling during the national anthem in the first place: This country stands for freedom, liberty, and justice for all. And it’s not happening for all right now.”

Costas’ gripe about Kaepernick’s credentials mirrors similar dismissals made by politicians and media opinion elites about ABC talk show host Jimmy Kimmel’s criticisms of the Graham-Cassidy health care bill. Conservative writer Stephen Moore called Kimmel “uneducated” on the subject. Others mocked his over-simplification of the bill’s effect on Americans. God knows, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News have never put “experts” on their air that over-simplified an issue like health care. I’m so exhausted right now, I’m reduced to offering low-grade sarcasm. Its late in the day and I have little else left in the tank.

Hypocrisy, elitism and occasional idiocy is embedded in our genetic code and I fully expect someday Colin Kaepernick will say something wrong or ill-timed that will require a day of national outrage against him and everything for which he stands.

Until then, he gets my respect for standing against what he perceives to be an injustice. We don’t have to agree with him.

We are a great but imperfect nation and we should all, when we see imperfections, share our concerns with our fellow citizens. That’s not disloyalty or lack of patriotism. It’s our civic duty. And that is why I respect Colin Kaepernick today.

 

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

 

Peer pressure and climate science

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:  NuQum.com, September 21, 2017)

{ Feel free to send any comments about this essay to: kkroeger@nuqum.com or kentkroeger3@gmail.com}

One reason science remains human advancement’s greatest engine is its subjection to empirical evidence for confirmation of its assumptions, models and theories.

Regrettably, since science is conducted and reported by humans — at least for now — it is subject to many analytic biases including measurement error, selection bias, peer pressure, reputation protection, partisan politics, and peer pressure. Scientists are vulnerable. Journalists are vulnerable. Even the Pope and Al Gore aren’t immune.

Moreover, the politicization of science fosters a dysfunctional social dynamic between experts, politicians and stakeholders, each bringing different, sometimes contradictory, motives and interests to the public discourse. Journalists want attention-grabbing headlines, activists need to raise money, scientists are competing for government research grants, and politicians must cater to their constituents.

The resulting stew can bury real science under layers of misinformation, bias, partisanship and deceit.

With the latest minor controversy in the climate science community, we see many of those analytic solecisms and social dynamics in action.

The latest scientific rumpus started with the release of a new climate study, Emission budgets and pathways consistent with limiting warming to 1.5 °C,  by Richard J. Millar, et al., and published in the September 2017 issue of Nature Geoscience.

And what did they find?

In their words: “We show that limiting cumulative post-2015 CO2 emissions to about 200 gigatonnes of carbon (GtC) would limit post-2015 warming to less than 0.6°C in 66% of Earth system model members of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) ensemble with no mitigation of other climate drivers, increasing to 240GtC with ambitious non-CO2 mitigation.”

Using more layman terms, they write, “assuming COemissions peak and decline to below current levels by 2030, and continue thereafter on a much steeper decline, [global temperatures will peak at] 1.2–2.0°C above the mid-nineteenth century [pre-industrial] levels.

No single study is the last word on global warming, and the Millar,et al. study did not find anything contradicting previous warming forecasts, including those reported in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report in 2013. However, the study did report, after 2020, the CMIP5 ensemble-mean human-induced warming is over 0.3 °C warmer than the central estimate for human-induced warming to 2015.

Let the conservative media’s misinterpretations begin. When the study’s results were reported in the UK’s Daily Mail, the headline read:

Now that’s an inconvenient truth: Report shows the world isn’t as warm as the green doom-mongers warned. So will energy bills come down?

The Daily Mail gets a A+ for headline creativity and a D- for headline accuracy. Once the mainstream news outlets took hold of the Millar et al. study, all interpretational control of was lost.

The problem is the Millar et al. results are influenced by the climate model outputs and observational temperature measurements selected in their analyses. Furthermore, the authors did not intend for their paper to be an estimate of current model/observation temperature differences, but was instead focused on global carbon cycle accuracy.

As for the news media, they serve a different master than climate scientists and the rash conclusion (no matter how wrong) that the climate models are exaggerating the extent of global warming was just too “newsworthy” to ignore, at least for the conservative-leaning media. News on the Millar et al. study was nowhere to be found in the liberal-leaning news outlets.

But the ‘models are wrong’ interpretation of Millar et al. is not accurate, even if understandable given the somewhat confusing way Millar et al. summarized their findings.

The website CarbonBrief.org offers an excellent critique of Millar et al. and offers the following, presumably more accurate, conclusion:

The results of model/observation comparisons differ greatly based on the dataset used, the model outputs analysed – model air temperatures or blended model air/ocean temperatures – and the time period examined. While the Millar et al study points out some sizable differences between the HadCRUT record and the model air temperature field, this should not be generalised to conclude that warming projections are unreliable or that warming has been ‘exaggerated by faulty models’. The paper’s real focus is on carbon budgets and carbon cycle accuracy, rather than model/observation comparisons of the warming associated with increased atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, and their results have little bearing on our understanding of climate sensitivity.

As a statistician (and not a climate scientist), I will defer to Carbon Brief’s expertise on the methodological issues regarding the measurement of global temperatures over time. Climate science has a long history of measurement issues and controversies. But the plotting and interpretation of time-series data is an area where I do have some experience, and in this regard, I am puzzled at to why climate scientists repeatedly shutdown public discussions over the uncertainty inherent to global warming models and forecasts.

WE KNOW HOW FAST THE PLANET IS WARMING, BUT THE QUESTION REMAINS: DO WE KNOW HOW SENSITIVE THIS WARMING IS TO THE POLICY OPTIONS AVAILABLE TO US?

The graph below comes from CarbonBrief’s website and shows the time-series plotting of five selected climate observation methods and the average of the forecast models (black line) between 1970-2020 for global temperatures. The gray shaded area indicates the models’ forecast ranges.

Since 1970, global temperatures are rising about 0.18 °C per decade, while model forecasts average about a 0.2 °C increase per decade.

Courtesy of Carbon Brief (www.carbonbrief.org)

When the aggregated forecast models have a yearly error range of ±0.4°C from the mean prediction and a signal-to-noise ratio of around 2.5, the ability to explain short-term temperature anomaly fluctuations is constrained. In other words, it takes multiple years, even decades, to assess trends in global temperatures. To react to a one or two year spike (or decline) in global temperatures is like trying to drive your car but only being able to see one or two feet in front of your car.

Remember the ‘pause’ in global warming often cited by conservatives and global warming skeptics? A simple eyeball scan of the above time-series plot reveals the time period where the ‘pause’ occurred. Global temperatures did not increase between 1998, the year of a major El Niño warming event, and 2014, the year prior to the last strong El Niño event in 2015.

It may look like a pause, but the forecast models’ levels of uncertainty make it difficult to distinguish a genuine warming pause from natural variation. We know this because it is easy to draw a straight line for long time periods within the model forecast ranges (the gray shaded region). Like a lucky streak at a Vegas blackjack table, the so-called ‘pause’ may be random chance.

However, the climate scientists have a similar problem in that even sharp year-to-year increases in average global temperatures also could be a function of natural variation and not an indication of accelerating global warming.

THERE ARE CONSEQUENCES WHEN SCIENCE IS ONLY ALLOWED TO GO IN ONE DIRECTION

Millar et al. may not have proven any systematic bias in global warming models, but the swift reaction by CarbonBrief.org (and other climate scientists) to their paper demonstrates the community’s hyper-sensitivity to any science even slightly optimistic about the rate of global warming or the time we have globally to reduce carbon emissions to zero.

Even more distressing is how climate scientists’ use public forums to police their own over minor professional controversies. In the present example, the lead author of the Millar et al. paper, Dr. Richard Millar, and his co-authors felt so much professional pressure they quickly issued a public statement concerning the misinterpretations of their research paper.

The climate science community’s apparent need to shield the public from even small bouts of climate optimism carries with it significant analytic risks. Yes, Millar et al. paper could have been more precise in their conclusions, but their very public rebuke by their own colleagues sends a chilling message to other climate scientists: Do not challenge the consensus view on global warming and the urgency of our planet’s collective need to reduce carbon emissions to zero within the next 40 years.

I doubt the climate change community would have reacted at all to a similarly flawed research study if its final conclusion were that the earth is warming faster than the current models predict or that the time frame to reduce carbon emissions to zero is shorter than previously asserted.

Its a similar type of peer pressure and shaming the major world religions have been using for centuries.

 

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

 

When will the Hillary Clinton death spiral end?

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:  NuQum.com, September 19, 2017)

{ Feel free to send any comments about this essay to: kkroeger@nuqum.com or kentkroeger3@gmail.com}

Just when we think we can finally move past Hillary Clinton, she finds a way to pull us back in.

Cue Michael Corleone:

The View is a banal and usually harmless syndicated morning talk show that recently had Hillary Clinton on promoting her book, What Happened.

It was painful to watch. But feel free to give it a try:

I resist calling Hillary Clinton a liar anymore as Donald Trump’s post-truth era has rendered the term punchless. Besides, what she does so well, and that she put it on display in front of The View’s fawning hosts and audience, is crafting plausible fables that serve some larger, typically self-serving, political purpose. She is a fabulist, and while she is a joyless politician, she does enjoy (it shows in her eyes) tearing down her enemies…and she has a bushel and a peck of enemies.

IF THIS WERE RUSSIA, BERNIE SANDERS WOULD BE DEAD ALREADY

Her recent book release and subsequent promotional appearances have a clear mission: Destroy Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ credibility and with it the influence of the  progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

She believes (with little empirical merit) that progressive Democrats, led by Sanders, caused her to lose the 2016 election. Sure, Comey and Russians share some blame in her mind, but Bernie came before both of those proximal causes. Bernie is the distal, and most culpable, cause of her defeat and she is not about to forgive and forget…and she is enlisting every mainstream Democrat (i.e., any Democrat who cares about raising money — which is all of them) to join in her dark quest to crush Bernie Sanders and the progressives.

The apparent lurch leftward by congressional Democrats is a chimera meant to sedate the party’s progressives, not embrace them.

Enter Bernie Sanders’ plan for universal health care in the U.S.

It is extraordinary to see how many mainstream Democratic Senators (Al Franken, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker and others) suddenly falling all over themselves praising and endorsing Bernie Sanders’ policy ideas, particularly universal health care.

Democratic leaders can’t say the word “progressive” often enough.

Even Hillary Clinton’s new website — hillaryclinton.com — says “her 2016 campaign for president…laid out a comprehensive progressive vision for America’s future,” and goes on to say she supports “universal, quality, affordable health care for everyone in America.”

She was the true progressive in the 2016 Democratic nomination race, according to her website’s storytelling. Her website even claims: “She worked across the aisle to help pass the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Today, it covers 8 million kids. She has never given up on the fight for universal coverage.”

Hillary is now responsible for working across the aisle to get CHIP passed in 1997?

This is the Art of the Fable Clinton has mastered over a long public career. For the young 20-something and 30-something Hillary supporters today, they have no reason to question her CHIP claim. For those of us working in Washington, D.C. at the time and who followed the CHIP legislative saga, the story is far more complicated and not a wholly positive one for Hillary.

The story must begin with the  titanic failure of the Health Care Reform Task Force led by the First Lady in 1993. It was her first national executive role and it didn’t go well.

Hillary blamed the insurance companies and physician lobbies for the failure to pass a national “managed care” system in 1993 (yes, she’s always loved blaming others), but many policy experts also said her disproportionate penchant for secrecy in the policy process contributed to the insurance companies and physicians taking their grievances public.

The 1993 Health Care Reform Task Force turned into a hot mess, and its impossible not to hold the First Lady partially accountable for her lack of executive skills to manage the process.

“The scheme was fatally over-complicated.,” wrote historian James Fallows a few years after the 1993 health care reform debacle. “The proposed legislation, 1,342 pages long, was hard for congressmen to read and impossible for anyone except the plan’s creators, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Ira C. Magaziner, to understand.”

Enter Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy.

The Massachusetts Senator devoted his career to pushing for a more rational, national health care system, particularly with respect to poor children. Towards the end of his life he would tell people his greatest mistake was not accepting Richard Nixon’s offer to create a universal health insurance system (similar to Obamacare in its focus on mandating and subsidizing the purchase of health insurance, but on a much more comprehensive scale).

However, due to the deep political divide in the country at the time (sound familiar?), Kennedy rejected the Nixon overture. It was not until Bill Clinton’s presidency that the issue was again taken up seriously by Congress.

A fair assessment of Hillary’s role in CHIP must acknowledge that she pushed her husband to keep the CHIP program alive during budget negotiations in the mid-1990s; and though CHIP was dropped out of the 1996 budget during the administration’s negotiations with Trent Lott and the Republicans, it was revived and ultimately passed for the 1997 budget.

Kennedy’s senior health policy adviser, Nick LIttlefield, sums up Hillary’s contribution as such: “She wasn’t a legislator, she didn’t write the law, and she wasn’t the president, so she didn’t make the decisions — but we relied on her, worked with her and she was pivotal in encouraging the White House to do it.”

Basically, she lobbied her own husband.

Credit-grabbing is not uncommon in Washington, D.C. Hillary certainly wasn’t the first politician to take more credit than warranted for a policy success, but she angered the “Lion of the Senate” who felt her arrogance had not been earned.

There is a reason Ted Kennedy did not endorse Hillary’s candidacy in 2008.

As for those Senate Democrats endorsing Bernie’s “Medicare-for-All” plan, can we assume it is genuine? Yes. I believe these Democrats have some affinity with the idea a universal health care system. The Sanders bill proposes an incremental approach to rolling out universal health care, building upon CHIP’s existing administrative structures to cover all U.S. children, and expanding over time to eventually cover all Americans.

Though still lacking explicit funding mechanisms, the Sanders bill has brought genuine optimism to those Democrats that believe a single-payer, universal health care system is the most logical and efficient approach to health care delivery. The Nation details Sanders’ newly-found skill in building support for his bill within the Senate. [For some reason, the media is ignoring Michigan Representative John Conyers who has periodically offered a universal health care plan for over ten years now.]

But don’t believe for minute that this country is on the cusp of supporting and implementing “Medicare-for-All.” The polling data shows growing support, but these survey questions are prone to framing biases. For example, if the potential costs in terms — such as higher taxes or more government control over health care — are included in the question, support for universal health care falls.

[Henry Aaron’s 2010 book, The Problem that Won’t Go Away: Reforming U.S. Health Care Financing, offers some insights this attitude volatility with regards to health care.]

Democratic progressives need to keep their expectations low regarding Sanders’ plan. It will not go anywhere, which is one reason those Senators co-sponsoring it are not putting much at risk (for now). It was very telling that California Senator Kamala Harris’ endorsement of the Sanders plan included the rationale that it “makes sense from a fiscal perspective.” She is smart –which is why she will be the next president — because she has left herself a nice little escape hatch once the funding mechanisms for Sanders’ plan are revealed. When the Republicans start crying about Sanders’ plan not making fiscal sense and putting too much power in the incompetent hands of the government, expect a lot of these Senate co-sponsors to jump ship.

Hillary understands this issue better than anyone in the Democratic Party. That is not hyperbole, nor is it praise. It is her deep knowledge in this policy area that causes her to consider any attempt at a universal health care system in the U.S. to be a fools errand.

Frustrating to congressional Democrats is that, at the moment in history when the Republicans are drowning in political ineptness as they try to repeal Obamacare, and when public support for a more comprehensive health care system is near all-time highs, Hillary is betraying her own party.

Hillary is not a team player. She never was and never will be.

Under the harsh klieg lights of daytime television, Hillary’s book tour is a public shit storm descending on the disloyal progressives in her own party (not to be confused with the loyal progressives in the party –that is, anyone in senior management at Goldman Sachs, Oscar de la Renta, Barbara Streisand, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, CNN’s Jake Tapper, etc.). Hillary is dedicating the end of her public life to calling her opponents “misogynists,” one of the most contemptible acts in politics. Its what politicians do when they have nothing left to offer.

Apparently, it is not acceptable to dislike Hillary Clinton on her merits.

As Hillary undoubtedly knows — she is after all married to the greatest political savant of our generation — the time to kill the unholy progressive wing is now, when they are distracted by that shiny object called Donald Trump. In an ironic way, Clinton’s 2016 defeat may well mark the beginning of the end for the neo-progressive movement in the Democratic Party.

Does Hillary care if a real attempt to pass a national health care system is one of the victims of her new TV thriller, Kill Bernie (Vol 2.). Probably not. Like me, she’s too cynical to think it would pass anyway.

My father once said Bill Clinton was the best Republican president of his lifetime. Working-class Americans are still seeing the negative consequences of Bill Clinton-era policies labor and trade policies.

In terms of economics and foreign policy, Hillary is even farther to the right of Bill and one of the byproducts of her campaign to discredit Bernie will be to keep the corporatist Democrats like her firmly in control.

Progressive America, keep wearing the pussy hats while your party betrays you again courtesy of the Clintons, Wall Street’s investment banks, the insurance industry, the defense/foreign policy establishment and the neoconservatives at the Center for a New American Security — who are already drawing up plans for the next regime change war in the Middle East — probably Syria, but don’t rule out Yemen.

REVENGE IS A DISH BEST SERVED ON THE TALK SHOW CIRCUIT

Hillary is known to like lists. She undoubtedly has a list of people she wants to see suffer for her 2016 loss. You see the blood lust in her eyes when she talks about them: Jim Comey, Trey Gowdy, Matt Lauer, Tulsi Gabbard and, of course, Bernie Sanders. It is starting to border on bat shit crazy.

If her sycophants still believe Hillary could run for the presidency in 2020, they need to let go of that dream. She is making herself toxic to half of the Democratic Party. Deliberately so. And she clearly doesn’t care anymore. The Clinton family has scores to settle..and the family’s business is going to get settled.

Cue Michael Corleone again:

[I am not suggesting Hillary is going to have people killed. Such baseless accusations are what we have Ann Coulter and Joy Reid for.]

IS HILLARY GOING TO PULL A RICHARD NIXON MOVE ON US?

In the September issue of The New Yorker, David Remnick reports Hillary’s closest confidants view her mental state as “angry, confused, bitter and sad.”

The same psychological assessment could have been made about Richard Nixon in 1962 after his defeat in the California gubernatorial race — but Nixon was far from done and he did come back to win the presidency six years later. Nixon was also just 49-years-old in 1962 when he famously said that the press wouldn’t “have Nixon to kick around any more.”

Luckily for the press, Nixon was lying.

If The View is available in hell — and why wouldn’t it be? — Nixon must recognize the many characteristics he shares with Hillary.

Well, let us think about that first. An informal checklist comparison might help:

  1. Intelligent? Yes, both are intelligent.
  2. Trained lawyers? Yep and yep.
  3. Charismatic? Uh….put that down as two ‘No’ answers.
  4. Secretive boardering on unethical? Absolutely, both get an enthusiastic thumbs up.
  5. Criminally corrupt? Nixon gets an A- since, at best, he was only going to get nailed on an obstruction of justice charge; Hillary receives an ‘incomplete.’
  6. Paranoid? Sweet Jesus, do you even have to think about this one? Two more yeses.
  7. Endured a humiliating marriage to a documented sexual predator, and then served as the sword’s point in character assassination campaigns against the spouse’s accusers, while knowing the accusations were mostly true? Hillary wins on this in Crimson Tide versus Troy State fashion.

Hillary is very different from Richard Nixon. Despite all of his other deep personality flaws, Nixon faithfully loved his wife, Pat, to the very end.

HILLARY WILL NOT RUN AGAIN, BUT WHO IS SHE TAKING DOWN WITH HER? THE DARK LORD HIMSELF, BERNIE SANDERS.

Hillary will not be back in 2020 to give it one more go-around. She will, however, play footsie with the nomination process, at one point acting like she might jump in — given the weak candidate choices offered, in her opinion— and then, once the field has been narrowed to two or three candidates, encourage the media to hold watch over who she may or may not endorse for the nomination.

The media attention will make her feel good.  Not good enough to put down the Chardonnay, but good enough to suppress her now autonomic reflex to grab the nearest heavy, sharp object and throw it at Bill’s head when he walks into a room.

Yes, Hillary tells us in her book, What Happened, when it was clear she would lose to Trump, she laid down next to Bill on a bed where they just ‘breathed together” in silence.

Its a heartwarming story. I may even believe it. I wasn’t there. And, to be fair, Bill is the only person Hillary has not blamed for losing the 2016 election. Never mind that Bill’s boneheaded, politically tone deaf tarmac meeting with U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch ignited a genuine media firestorm about possible collusion between the U.S. Justice Department and the Clinton campaign over a criminal investigation into Hillary’s alleged use of a private email server for transmitting classified information.

Don’t worry, I’m not going down that road. If the FBI says there is nothing to look at here, then there’s nothing to look at it. Move along.

What I can’t ignore are the pernicious myths Hillary promotes today to rationalize her failure to win the 2016 election.

There are so many, but I will concentrate on the biggest myth she offered to the uncritical women hosting The Viewbecause it features Hillary’s base, most self-destructive pathology. She is a professional victim, boarding on clinical paranoia. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders identifies the major symptoms of this personality disorder as…

  • A pervasive, long-standing suspiciousness and generalized mistrust of others,
  • Hypersensitive and unable to handle criticism,
  • Vigilant scanning of the environment to validate the paranoia,
  • An eager observer of other’s actions and motives, and
  • Prone to spontaneous violence.

That may describe 50 percent of the people we know (including ourselves), but we see those symptoms on vivid display in Hillary’s appearance on The View. No, she didn’t hit anybody with a lamp, but she has a maniacal need to find more causes than are necessary to explain her 2016 defeat.

The Russians, the Comey letter and Robbie Mook’s awful tactical resource allocation decisions are the biggest non-Hillary factors in her defeat.

(Yes, I understand. If Hillary hadn’t recklessly set up a private, home-based server to handle classified documents there wouldn’t have been a Comey letter. So, assign 50 percent of the Comey letter blame on Hillary, 30 percent on Loretta Lynch for not allowing a genuine investigation, and the rest blame on Comey for losing control of a bad situation.)

A consensus is forming among serious political analysts that the Russian information operation against the 2016 election made it difficult for the Clinton campaign to form a coherent, stable message. It is doubtful definitive evidence will ever exist to quantify the impact of Russian interference, but our gut instincts are probably correct: The Russians interfered and it impacted the race.

As for the Comey letter, its timing was terrible. And while the news on the Obamacare premium hikes may have started Clinton’s late campaign slide, the Comey letter’s appearance in late October exacerbated the decline.

HILLARY IS RIGHT. WE NEED TO KNOW EXACTLY WHAT THE RUSSIANS DID IN 2016. BUT IS GOING ON “THE VIEW ” TO STAB SANDERS IN THE BACK THE WAY TO DO THAT?

Clinton’s friendly-fire approach to party building isn’t going to bring long-term electoral success to the Democrats. She is lashing out at everyone she perceives as either being an enemy or an insufficiently loyal votary. As we are finding out, its a  long list and likely to get longer.

(How did Bill Clinton not make that list? Give it time my friend, give it time.)

This type of over-identification of causal factors is to historical analysis what Dairy Queen’s Blizzard Cake® is to childhood nutrition.

But Hillary Clinton can speak for herself. So here is what she said on The View about Bernie Sanders that launched me out of my shoes:  “I know what it is like to lose because I lost in 2008 to President Obama. As soon as I lost I turned around and I endorsed him, I worked hard for him.”

What the hell was she talking about?

I will be kind and assume she just mis-remembered what happened in 2008. Let me refresh our collective memories on that race.

Hillary’s official suspension of her 2008 campaign occurred on June 7, 2008. The last Democratic primaries were on June 3rd in Montana and South Dakota. Furthermore, any outside chance Hillary had at winning the nomination ended on May 6th with her defeat to Obama in the North Carolina primary.

Why didn’t she concede then? Why did she continue to pressure Democratic super-delegates to rescind their pledges to Obama using the racially charged argument that Obama would not win in the general election?

Hillary targeted white voters with so many dog-whistle attacks on Obama that even former Klansman-turned-U.S.-Senator Robert Byrd (WV) had to step in and tell Hillary to cool her jets.

Hillary doesn’t stop with just attacking Bernie Sanders, who she likes to remind us is “not even a Democrat.” [Which does beg the response, “Forty-three percent of Democratic primary voters preferred a ‘non-Democrat’ to you.” That is not a ringing endorsement of your candidacy. A can of tuna might have garnered 10 percent of 2016 Democratic primary voters.]

But, no, Hillary doesn’t just attack Bernie, she attacks Bernie’s supporters, who she claims disproportionately supported Trump over her in the general election.

The truth? About 1-in-10 Bernie Sanders supporters voted for Trump and another 10 percent voted for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson. Enough in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania to swing the election back to Clinton.

By historical standards, the 2016 Democratic defections to the GOP dark side (or to third parties) were not unusual.

In 2000, 11 percent of Democrats voted for George W. Bush in the general election. A similar percentage of Democrats went to George W. Bush in the 2004 general election.

In fact, the historical outlier case might be Hillary Clinton’s primary supporters in 2008. One study determined that around 25 percent of Clinton primary voters ended up voting for Sen. John McCain in the general election.

Of course, all of this gets muddled due to states with open primaries where ‘independents’ and Republicans can vote in Democratic primaries. Those Democratic primary voters, of course, are much more likely to vote Republican in the general election.

But that is the problem with Hillary’s complaint towards Sanders supporters. That is the game played every four years. As Sanders said in reply to Hillary’s attack, ‘That is what happens in politics.”

Hillary Clinton knows this. If there is one political couple that obsesses about poll numbers and voting patterns, it is the Clintons. At some point, she must have been told a large percentage of her supporters in 2008 bailed on Obama.

It is just numbing how easy it is for Hillary Clinton to tell nuanced fabrications and sometimes, dare I say it, flat out lies. Journalist William Safire famously labeled Hillary a ‘congenital liar.’ He was being kind.

For Clinton to now launch the disloyalty indictment against Sanders and his supporters leaves many us exhausted.

WHEN WILL CLINTON AND THE DEMOCRATS STOP ACTING LIKE THE DONNER PARTY?

Does Hillary want to see the Democrats divided going into 2018 and 2020? If she does, then she needs to keep doing what she is doing.

Even as I agree that intramural disagreements within the Democratic Party should never be shut down out of  party “loyalty” — that would be particularly hypocritical on the part of a Bernie supporter — there is a difference between an intra-party dispute and what Clinton is doing.

Clinton continues to eat her own young. She is slashing through the Democratic Party like Anakin Skywalker did with the Jedi younglings in Revenge of the Sith.

Sorry, gotta take one more movie break (Enjoy!):

“Master Clinton, there are too many Republicans in Congress. What are we going to do?”

Hillary is not engaging in a constructive critique of the current Democratic Party (though she does occasionally offer some valid insights on the fiscal realities constraining Bernie’s Cheesecake Factory menu of policy ideas). Instead, she is telling Bernie’s supporters that they are an invasive species that need to be eradicated from the Democratic body.

And, frankly, many of Bernie’s supporters would reverse the argument and say the neo-liberal corporatists like Clinton are the invasive species.

This argument is unwinnable. Neither side holds the high ground. The progressive far left is trying to convince us that the Democrats are unified in their opinions and attitudes and its only the “process” (such as Democratic National Committee election rigging) that divides the party.

That is weaponized bullshit straight from the same East and West Coast elites that happily looked away when Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns became too beholden to banking, insurance, and high tech corporatist interests.

Today’s Democratic Party is deeply divided (though not as divided as the Republicans!), but now is not the time for a party purge. This isn’t Stalin’s Russia.

The Democrats’ current configuration file is improperly set up to ensure consistent electoral success going forward. That problem list is almost as long as Hillary’s personal hit list. The problems include:

  • Not attracting enough working-class Americans (of any ethnic/racial background)
  • Identity and rights issues used as tools for exclusion, not inclusion
  • The Democratic brand of government-centered solutions and civil rights activism is not built for success in the 21st-century
  • Democratic messaging and themes are confrontational, not aspirational
  • Support base too geographically clustered
  • Current party leaders need to step aside and allow in some new blood
  • Fail to embrace opinion diversity
  • Stop obsessing about Trump and the Russians and focus on Americans

I could go on….

But I need to get back to the Hillary Clinton’s 2017 Slaughterhouse Tour. Its just too much fun to watch. Its like Game of Thrones without the boring dialogue scenes. She’s Darth Vader in the hallway scene at the end of Rogue One.

I hope this Hillary Clinton never goes away…

 

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unsolicited campaign advice for Kamala Harris

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:  NuQum.com, September 13, 2017)

{ Feel free to send any comments about this essay to: kkroeger@nuqum.com or kentkroeger3@gmail.com}

Last I checked my inbox and cell phone voice mail, California Senator Kamala Harris is not asking for my advice on how she can best become the next President of the United States.

I’m sure she’s busy right now lining up donors and manning the anti-Trump barricades in the U.S. Senate. On that assumption, I unilaterally offer some advice should she run for president in 2020.

[Note: This advice is relevant to any Democratic presidential nominee in 2020 as well.]

Presently, we are being treated to a nationwide Hillary Clinton pity party as she softens up the public for the release of her book, “What Happened.”

Predictably, Twitter and Facebook are ablaze with mean-spirited memes and vicious character attacks over Hillary’s book and her take on the 2016 presidential election.

We should all understand by now, she blames former FBI Director Jim Comey for her defeat. I would too if I were her — but I’m not, and in past essays I’ve even made the counter-argument that the Obamacare premium hikes started her electoral decline and the Comey letter simply reinforced her rapidly softening support heading into the final weeks of the 2016 campaign.

Regardless, I am willing concede Hillary has a strong argument on the Comey letter’s impact.

So my first point of advice to Senator Harris is this…

DON’T GO INTO THE DEFENSE OF HILLARY CLINTON BUSINESS

Let Hillary fight her own battle with history. As Senator Harris works to become the Democrats’ 2020 nominee, there is nothing to gain from overly effusive and public statements of confederation with the former Secretary of State.

Polite acknowledgement of Hillary’s significance to the Democratic Party is fine, but much more than that will distract attention from Harris’ own substantive accomplishments. Her demonstration of fealty to feminist ideals does not require excessive obeisance to Hillary, who has a checkered history with respect to defending women victimized by sexual assault. Senator Harris does not have that baggage and there is no reason to take on Hillary’s.

Which leads to my second point of advice…

DO NOT RELY TOO HEAVILY ON HILLARY’S & OBAMA’S BIG MONEY DONOR LIST

To the point of almost being a physical law, there has long been an assumption among political pundits and consultants that the candidate that raises the most money (and endorsements), especially early in a nomination race, is most likely to win. The evidence for the power money is strong but more complex than portrayed in the mainstream media. A few recent research efforts on this question can be found: here, here and here.

Money does matter, though in 2016 we saw strong evidence that “free media” (the media promotes the term “earned media” because it makes them feel more empowered) can help overcome monetary disadvantages. Hillary outspent Trump two-to-one, even when considering Russia’s Facebook advertisement expenditures in support of the Trump candidacy. Trump’s greatest advantage in 2016 was his ability to get free coverage on MSNBC and CNN every time he had a big rally. He was a novelty that was good for ratings.

Hillary out-raised Bernie Sanders by $570 million in the 2016 nomination race ($807 million versus $238 million, respectively), but Sanders still won 43 percent of the popular vote in the primaries. I am not advocating for Senator Harris to raise less money than her fellow nominee candidates, she just doesn’t need the crushing fundraising advantage that Clinton (and Obama) acquired in their successful nomination races.

A Democratic presidential nominee can win the nomination without excessive reliance on money from banking, health care, insurance, pharmaceutical, and Hollywood executives. They will be there for the nominee in the general election.

In the nomination phase the task is to demonstrate a candidate’s deep and substantive connection to average voters (as well as party activists, of course). Hillary was never credible in that effort to connect with average people because she….I don’t think she likes average people. Seriously, it was a vibe I heard from more than a few Iowa Democrats. Hillary never connected with Iowans, who are insecure, quick to judge others and easily insulted.

Having attended a few Hillary rallies while living in Iowa, Hillary was noticeably inaccessible to the crowds. At the last Clinton rally I attended, she shook hands only with the very front row of a small group of rally attendees — mostly Iowa Democratic Party leaders).

She had an anti-charisma charisma, perhaps— but even there she was outflanked by Sanders.

And where has Hillary been since the 2016 campaign? Unless you own your own worldwide fashion label or are willing to stand in line for her latest book, the chances that you will ever meet Hillary Clinton are slim to none.

Kamala Harris is already being labelled the Democrat’s establishment’s candidate (Holding fundraisers in the Hamptons will do that). That is an image fraught with problems and destined to further divide an already divided party.

A transcendent Democratic candidate, like Barack Obama, did not embrace the neo-liberal, establishment label (though it fit him) and Kamala Harris, likewise, cannot afford to do so.

Spending too much visible time with big donors is something she can control and must in order to start shedding the establishment label. Besides, spending significant face time with George Clooney or Barbara Streisand has no proven value to a political candidate outside of the money they raise — certainly not at the presidential level. In my opinion, Kamala should play it safe and avoid the Hollywood crowd altogether.

The third piece of advice is this…

PROMOTE AREAS WHERE YOU HAVE SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCES FROM THE LIBERAL WING OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY

I could fill up a hundred feet of blog space with articles and essays arguing that the Democratic Party needs to move to the left. It is a careless and even dishonest argument predicated almost entirely on survey-based opinion data that are more appropriate for descriptive and retrospective analyses than for prediction.

The data point Harris needs to internalize is the value and status of the Democratic brand within the U.S. electorate. According to a recent YouGov.com poll, 48 percent of registered voters have an unfavorable view of congressional Democrats compared to 36 percent with a favorable view. That is good news only in relationship to congressional Republicans who get a favorable review from only 22 percent of registered voters. No surprise: The ongoing health care debacle is  weighing negatively on the Republicans. If the Republicans fail on tax reform as well, that pretty much hard codes the outcome for the 2018 midterm elections in the Democrats’ favor.

As for 2020, one voter group Harris needs are the 16 percent of registered voters that are “unsure” about the Democrats. And drilling down even farther, I would target the 30 percent of self-described “moderates” who are “unsure” about the Democrats. While they are not a large percentage of the electorate in the aggregate — only around 10 percent in the YouGov.com poll — they are still large enough to change an election outcome in key battleground states. Lets put it this way — if I’m the Russians in 2020, my money is best spent targeting those folks’ Facebook pages with fake news stories.

The idea of standing against your own party’s ideological wing is hardly new. Bill Clinton mastered the art in 1992, highlighted by a still remarkably relevant argument he had with American writer Sister Souljah concerning violence within the African-American community.

Not to open a old wound, but the following exchange in 1992 between Sister Souljah and a Washington Post reporter regarding the 1992 Los Angeles riots sparked the controversy.

WaPo Reporter: “Even the people themselves who were perpetrating that violence, did they think that was wise? Was that a wise reasoned action?”

Souljah: “Yeah, it was wise. I mean, if black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?”

Yeah, that’s gonna get a rise out of a few opportunistic politicians. Enter Bill Clinton.

More seriously, Kamala Harris (or any Democratic nominee) will need to demonstrate independence from the party’s ideologues. It is true for the Republicans as well, but I don’t think it is as important for them.

For Democrats, however, the near constant din from political pundit about how out-of-touch Democrats are with the American voter (whether true or not) can overwhelm an otherwise strong Democratic presidential candidate

I recommend the book, “What it Takes: The Way to the White House,” by Richard Ben Cramer, about the 1988 presidential campaign between Michael Dukakis and George H. W. Bush. The book digs deep into the the success of Bush’s chief campaign strategist, Lee Atwater, in soaking Dukakis with the image of being “too liberal” and “out-of-touch.”

In the 1992 presidential election, employing many of the same Atwater techniques, Bill Clinton returned the favor on the Republicans. [I am a fierce critic of both Clintons, but if God told me I can manage one candidate from American political history to run for president, I pick Bill Clinton. No hesitation. Over Obama. Over JFK. Over FDR. Over Reagan.]

So, in my view, Harris needs to give voters the opportunity to say, “Kamala Harris is no liberal — she believes [insert non-liberal viewpoint on some key issue].”

Of course any pivot to the center has to be genuine (voters are good at smelling fakes) and even then it won’t necessarily change many votes. And it probably won’t bring many new people to the polls. But the effort helps set the table for bigger, more electorally critical arguments…and that represents my fourth piece of advice…

HAVE AT LEAST ONE BIG IDEA TO OFFER THE AMERICAN PEOPLE

Hillary Clinton had no big ideas in 2016.  She still doesn’t. Clinton’s website redux — hillaryclinton.com — says it provides a “comprehensive progressive vision” for America’s challenges, but its endless laundry list of policy proposals is straight off of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign website.

That many figures from the Democrat’s establishment (Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken, Cory Booker, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand) have embraced key elements of Sanders’ progressive agenda — most notably, universal health care — should send chills down every progressive Democrats’ spine.  What the establishment couldn’t kill overtly from from the outside, they may be trying to kill covertly from within.

A tendency towards unnecessary equivocation has already become one of the narratives describing Harris’ political career. While I believe her tenure as California’s AG more than overcomes that argument, as it is impossible to be an active California AG — as Harris was — without taking substantive policy positions. Still, Harris’ critics will rightfully challenge her for not going far enough in holding mortgage banks accountable for the housing crisis, just as an example.

Is Harris cautious? Most good politicians are. But is she Hillary Clinton-level cautious? That is the question Harris needs to answer for the American people and one way to start is by offering big ideas early in her presidential campaign.

Should it be universal health care?

Hillary Clinton’s experience on the issue serves as Harris’ Cassandra. Recall that Clinton’s first significant executive role in national political life was to lead the 1993 Task Force on National Health Care Reform. I will skip to the conclusion: The Task Force effort blew up in her face. Was she to blame? Probably some. Excessive secrecy didn’t help. But this country didn’t hate Hillary Clinton in 1993. We were all hopeful that this holy grail issue for progressive post-FDR Democrats, a national universal health care system, was finally going to happen.

For me, the Task Force’s failure represents the biggest legislative disappointment in my lifetime. That’s not hyperbole. There is a reason Obama pushed so hard on his own administration’s Affordable Care Act. It was always going to be the keystone achievement of his administration (along with getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan).

As Bernie Sanders is offering his universal health care bill to the U.S. Senate for a universal health care plan. As mentioned, along with Harris, Senators Franken, Gillibrand, Booker, and Elizabeth Warren are co-sponsoring the bill. I expect all five (plus Bernie Sanders) to contend for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 and their credibility with the party’s progressive (liberal) wing rides largely on their position with respect to universal health care.

Needless to say, Bernie already has the street cred on this issue.

My own research using 2016 American National Election Study data shows that health care is one three broad issues, along with climate change and the activist role of government in addressing economic inequalities, where the Left currently holds a strategic advantage over the Right (see chart below).

[How to read chart below: The more shading — blue for the Left and red for the Right — indicates higher degrees of disagreement between ideological activists and the average American voter. For example, on immigration, the activist Left is outside mainstream opinion while the activist Right is closer to that norm. Both ideological groups are relatively close to mainstream policy stances related to terrorism and internal (domestic) security.]

When Democrats talk about health care, economic inequality and investment, and climate change, most Americans side with the political Left. That doesn’t mean most Americans are Leftists or that they will agree with the Left on these issues in the future. But, as of today, those issues are strategic opportunities for the Democrats.

Health care is one big issue to consider, but it may not be the issue right for Kamala Harris. Perhaps climate change? Or tax middle-class tax cuts coupled with tax increases on the wealthy? That is a decision for the Kamala Harris campaign to hash out internally.

My advice is to Kamala Harris is to avoid Hillary Clinton’s most glaring mistake in 2016. She didn’t have ANY big ideas and voters were forced to decide whether they distrusted Donald Trump more than they distrusted Clinton. It was an ugly election that the Democrats should not try to repeat.

My final suggestion for Senator Harris is perhaps most difficult to follow…

EMBRACE COMPETITION WITHIN YOUR OWN PARTY FOR THE 2020 NOMINATION

This advice rubs against every  living cell in a politician’s body. There is nothing a politician loves more than going unchallenged in an election. Typically, only the most entrenched incumbents get that privilege.

Democrats need to allow this prediction to start settling in now: The 2020 Democratic nomination race will be an intramural shit storm filled with baseless accusations, misrepresentations, borderline slander, all mixed in with a few tactical dog whistle attacks to activate and divide the party’s many identity group warriors.

As Hyman Roth might say, “That’s the business we’ve chosen.”

Senator Harris needs to do what few politicians do well — including Bill Clinton. Seek and encourage competition. The stronger Harris’ competitors in the 2020 nomination race, the more likely she wins in the general election.

Barack Obama would not have won as decisively in 2008 if Hillary Clinton hadn’t run for the nomination. Joe Biden is tough, but he’s not Hillary Clinton tough. John Edwards brought his deep ties to organized labor to the discussion. Bill Richardson had foreign policy credentials. Together, they all made Barack Obama, a genuinely inexperienced politician, a far better candidate in the fall campaign.

Crushing your primary opponents may seem like the best approach to winning a party’s nomination, but it is potentially the midwife to the harmful narrative of the party nominee being the predetermined handiwork of party elites.

Consider the last three Democrats to win the presidency: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. All were arguably “outsider” candidates, even if they had a few establishment benefactors along their path.

Harris will need to have a credible answer to this question if she is the nominee: Is she the establishment candidate who won only because the party elders rigged the nomination in her favor (if even just subtlety)?

Harris cannot afford to be viewed as simply Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama 2.0. If she wins in 2020 (against, I still assume, Donald Trump), it will be historic on a level perhaps surpassing even Barack Obama’s 2008 win.

To get to that moment, Harris needs to win the nomination in a big, crowded and substantively contentious family brawl that ends with a party nominee ready to take on the dirtiest fighter in American political history.

That’s my advice to Senator Harris.  Good luck.

 

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

Global warming is real and we are preparing for it (mostly)

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:  NuQum.com, September 12,2017)

{ Feel free to send any comments about this essay to: kkroeger@nuqum.com or kentkroeger3@gmail.com}

Along with death and taxes, we should add this: Houston floods and Florida gets hit by hurricanes.

Journalist Daphne Thomspson understands what frequently happens when you build a large metropolitan area on a Texas bayou:  “Founded in 1836, where the Buffalo Bayou met White Oak Bayou, Houston has faced many floods,” she writes.

As Thompson further notes, “In 1929, the Buffalo and White Oak Bayous both left their banks after a foot of rain fell. Downtown (Houston) suffered massive damage. Property damage was estimated at $1.4 million.”

This is a historical reality for Houstonites; but, in covering Hurricane Harvey, the national media has created an impression that the flooding caused by Harvey is without precedent.

Yes, Hurricane Harvey dumped more rain on the Houston area than any other storm in the city’s modern history. But here is just the short list of major Houston floods from the past century.

  • December 6–9, 1935 – A massive flood kills 8 people.
  • September 11, 1961 – Hurricane Carla.
  • August 18, 1983 – Hurricane Alicia.
  • October 15-19, 1994 – Hurricane Rose brings with it The Great Flood of ’94 as it stalled over north Houston for a week and killing 22 people; it dumped over 30 inches of rain in north Houston and still holds the record for the highest flood levels for the San Jacinto basin.
  • June 5 – June 9, 2001 – Tropical Storm Allison floods Houston’s Central Business District and was called a ‘500-year event.’
  • June 19, 2006 – Major flooding in Southeast Houston.
  • September 13, 2008 – Hurricane Ike.
  • May 25 – May 26, 2015 – Flooding from storms is called “historic” and impacts most of the city.
  • April 18, 2016 – This flood affects nine counties in the Houston area.
  • August 2017 – Hurricane Harvey dumps more rain over a week than any storm in Houston’s history.

Houston is built in a low-land area subject to hurricanes, slow-moving storm systems and frequent flooding. Is global warming the cause of Houston’s extreme flooding from Hurricane Harvey? Probably yes but not necessarily.

Yes, the amount of rain deposited by Hurricane Harvey is historic and I wouldn’t want to be on the side arguing against climate change’s role — but Houston is always flooding!

To think we can distinguish the source of Houston’s flooding between its inherent geographic vulnerability and the effects of global warming is analytic dreamweaving.

Houston is not a good place to put a major metropolitan area — but that is what the Texans have done.

Hurricane Irma, likewise, while impressive in size and intensity, was not the most powerful hurricane to ever hit the U.S. or even Florida.

That doesn’t diminish the tragedy or disprove the role climate change may have had in the scope of Irma’s damage. Anyone that’s lived in Miami for the past few decades will tell you that high-tide flooding around downtown Miami is now the new normal.

“The water is here. It’s not that I’m talking about some sci-fi movie here. No. I live it. I see it, it’s tangible,” long-time Miami resident Valerie Navarrete recently told a Yale researcher who studies rising sea levels.

According to Navarrete, her garage now floods about once every other month.

That is what rising sea levels will do. Did global warming cause it? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates sea levels will continue to rise at a rate of about one-eighth of an inch per year. If that doesn’t sound like a lot, its because its not. Yet, Miami residents will tell you that aggregating those small annual sea level changes over decades and you can start to see and feel it, particularly during high tides.

CLIMATE REALISM SUGGESTS ADAPTING TO CLIMATE CHANGE IS OUR MOST EFFECTIVE POLICY TOOL

The recent experiences in Florida and Texas bring to the fore our nation’s need to reconcile the realities of global warming (which includes rising sea levels and increased storm intensities) with the urban planning decisions made many decades before today.

Following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, I offer this conclusion:  We are well down the road in making the necessary adjustments for global warming. Through our forecasting advancements, improved early warning systems, and better coordinated relief efforts, we are seeing a tangible decrease in the human tolls from weather events when compared to the past (see chart below).

Furthermore, the estimated property damage from Harvey and Irma, while historic, was predictable given the economic growth we’ve seen in the past 30 years along our hurricane-vulnerable coastlines.

This does not mean we can ignore climate change as many (but not all) Republicans want to do. More property and people are exposed to the threat of hurricanes and coastal flooding than at any time in our history, according to AIR Worldwide, an insurance analytics firm. The number of Americans living in coastal counties grew by 84% between 1960 and 2008, compared to 64% in non-coastal counties, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Sadly, as evidenced in the tragic death of eight nursing home residents in Hollywood, Florida, our most vulnerable populations — the elderly and the poor — bear a disproportionate share of the risks associated with severe weather events.

Much more needs to be done to secure our coastlines: updating zoning laws, improving building codes, disaster management training, protecting our power grids, insurance reform (including improved fraud detection), and population relocation subsidies.

“The rising level of the oceans, the growing coastal population, the additional development associated with it, and the possible increasing severity of storms mean that people and property are increasingly at risk,” says Dr Tim Doggett, an environmental economist for AIR Worldwide. “Coastal communities have three options when it comes to dealing with this enhanced risk of flooding. Defend the shoreline with man-made or natural barriers, adapt by raising structures and infrastructure above projected flood levels, (or) retreat.”

But, if Texas’ and Florida’s preparations and responses to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are any indication, the U.S. is starting to meet the challenges of climate change and, particularly with respect to protecting human life, appears capable of withstanding its future challenges.

How do we know this?  Lets go to the data.

When looking at the number of fatalities across a wide variety of weather-related events (lightning, tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes), the trend has been downward since the 1970s. The years 2005 and 2012 (Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy) are the obvious deviations from this trend. By comparison, if we annualize the weather-related deaths so far in 2017, even with the fatalities related to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the estimated number of weather-related deaths are consistent with the long-term downward trend.

Americans are better able to withstand the impacts of extreme weather events today than at anytime since 1940. That finding should be no surprise to anyone working at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), NOAA or any other weather and public safety organization in the U.S. We have the tools and technology to predict and prepare for almost any major weather event.

Yet, fatalities are just one simple measure of our ability to confront unpredictable weather events. Weather’s economic costs are also important and, in that regard, the story is more complicated.

NOAA data on weather-related economic costs shows a relatively predictable year-to-year financial impact in the U.S. Since the late 1980s, the U.S. has not seen any substantive increase in damages due to weather events…….until this year (see graph below):

Two Category 4 hurricanes hitting our shores will do that. Damages from Hurricanes Irma and Harvey combined are expected to exceed $115 billion, according to Goldman Sachs. Even controlling for monetary inflation, the economic costs of weather events have increased in the U.S. since 1990, from around $15 billion-a-year to around $30 billion-a-year (see chart below).

But why?

With good reason man-made climate change (anthropogenic global warming) is high on that suspect list and the empirical evidence is growing that global warming is causally linked to the increased probabilities of extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts and flooding.

There will be no effort here to challenge that conclusion as the scientific evidence grows, literally, by the day. However, implicating climate change in the unparalleled economic costs of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma is not necessary.

Indeed, such attribution may distract from this country’s most cost-effective tools for addressing the effects of climate change: improved building standards and materials, strict zoning laws limiting new commercial and residential development in flood prone areas, and subsidies to low-income and elderly Americans to aid in their relocation out of areas prone to extreme weather events.

Our country must also move quickly to balance our national, state and local budgets so that we can start building up “rainy day” funds to address the unpredictable costs of climate change.  If Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have a positive side it is for sounding the alarm that climate change could get very expensive very soon. In fact, it already is expensive.

[Side note: Democrats, thimight not be the time to push universal health care. I’m just suggesting for consideration: if you are going to continue two military occupations in the Middle East AND fund universal health care AND prepare for climate change, our country may have to start making hard choices

…Oh, and this administration is considering a military intervention in North Korea. Just one more potential stressor on a national government debt that is already around 88 percent of annual GDP, according to the International Monetary Fund. That level of debt puts us in the company of the UK, France, Ireland, and Italy. While not an unsustainable level of debt for an economy like ours, it still brings major constraints on any new, big budget items.]

Back to the more immediate issue at hand…

Extreme weather, economic growth, and government spending are closely linked.

The yearly weather-related damage totals in the previous graphic reveal significant variation from year-to-year — which is one reason it is useful to combine annual totals into higher-order aggregates.

If we aggregate weather-related economic costs to the decade-level and compare this to economic growth in Texas and Florida (serving here as proxies for the economic growth of hurricane-vulnerable coastal areas in the U.S.), we see a strong relationship:

Over the past three decades, the increase in total damages from weather events tracks closely to economic growth in the coastal states of Texas and Florida, where wealth and property development increasingly pepper the coastlines.

Going forward, the U.S. can expect around $30 billion in weather-related damages from one year to the next. Without a lot more data, however, we must assume for now the weather-related damages from Irma and Harvey are outliers, not the new normal.

Courtesy of Inside Climate News, we get this fantastic graphic showing new building developments in downtown Ft Lauderdale, FL that are likely to face storm-caused flooding problems in the future. Readers should note, however, that near-term global-warming-caused sea level rises aren’t going to be anywhere the +1, +2…,  or +6 feet shown in the graphic. However, storm surges from hurricanes are more than capable of reaching +6 feet.

In the presence of rising sea levels, Ft. Lauderdale’s urban planning strategy does beg the question: What the hell are they thinking? Building high-density residential buildings on low-elevation tracts of land is just dumb — dumb even for Florida.

SINCE WE ARE ALREADY DOING A GREAT JOB, CAN WE JUST IGNORE GLOBAL WARMING?

I am not a climate change alarmist (as the title of this essay should make obvious), but we cannot ignore global warming either. It is happening. That is not a fiction created by the mainstream media, Al Gore or the Chinese. The first place we can start preparing is in where we place new building developments.

Unlike Ft. Lauderdale, many forward-leaning coastal cities in the U.S. are preparing for rising sea levels. New York City has invested significantly into its flood prevention plan and a coalition of Miami-Dade County, FL leaders are laying out five-year city plans that account for increasing sea levels. Why only five-year plans?

“Nobody knows what things are going to look like in 50 to 100 years,” Nicole Hefty, the head of Miami-Dade County’s Office of Sustainability, told The Atlantic‘s Amy Lieberman. “We can speak for smaller years and adapt in that way.”

Not a bad strategy. Being too ambitious too soon can do more harm than good given finite local, state and national budgets.

Any decisions looking beyond five years can be “rendered irrelevant by the rising seas,” writes Lieberman.

Furthermore, the economic impact of global warming, as measured by dollar damages and deaths, has so far been manageable. Even with the historic nature of Irma and Harvey , the U.S. economy will likely lose only about 0.8 percentage points in 2017 third quarter growth, according to Goldman Sachs. That still leaves the American economy chugging along at a 2-percent growth rate. Not exactly booming, but not recessionary either.

What climate change scientists and media forget to tell us is that global warming is not a planet killer or a human-level extinction event (though New Zealand’s tuatara, a lizard-like reptile whose eggs produce females only when nests are cool, are not so lucky).

Nonetheless, we face an uncertain future as we continue to put more development and economic wealth in the path of future weather events.

AIR Worldwide estimates that the total value of insurable property in ZIP Codes potentially impacted by storm surge is $17 trillion (USD).  If, as a society, we spend the majority of our time and money trying to phase out the oil and automobile industries, we will fail to directly address the real challenges posed by climate change.

Our coastlines will always be a point of destination for Americans for settlement and entertainment, so we need to better control coastal property development. Trying to slow or even reverse global warming may be too expensive or ineffective, and diverts resources away from more effective climate change mitigation tools over which we have more predictable control.

The planet will continue to get warmer — nobody should doubt that. How warm will depend on the extent and quickness with which we convert to renewable energy sources. But politicians and activists need to keep their expectations realistic on that front.

Forecasts on the U.S.’s conversion to renewable energy sources offer little optimism for those expecting all of our country’s energy needs will in their lifetime come from renewables. That is not likely to happen.

By 2050, Energy Innovation, an energy and environmental industry consulting firm, estimates 35 percent of U.S. electricity capacity will come from the combination of solar and wind power, up from about 15 percent today.

While some optimistic forecasts see much more than 50 percent coming from solar and wind power by 2050, they assume capacity growth for solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind will continue at current high rates. Unfortunately, solar and wind’s high growth rates are due in part to the small percentage from which they start (see the yellow and blue shaded areas in the chart below).

U.S. cannot afford building castles in the sky with respect to renewable energy when it has more immediate policy tools at its disposal to combat the effects of climate change.

As the planet warms, and it will, Americans need to make better decisions about where they live and play and how they prepare for future extreme weather events. Though generally ridiculed in the media as just another form of climate denialism, climate realism strikes a balance between the realities of global warming and our economic and social capacities to address it in a substantive way.

Climate realists don’t see the term ‘adaptation’ as a dirty word as does the climate change lobby. Whether we use public policy to adapt to climate change is a political question. If our political leaders don’t see the necessity of adapting that job will be left to us as individuals.

Despite little attention from the media, our cities and states are making significant adaptations along their shorelines and internal waterways necessary to weather climate change (pardon the pun). This will continue with or without our national politicians, who seem incapable of doing anything these days.

Local economics are dictating these adaptations — any maybe that is the best way to do it anyway. Our national politicians are too busy failing us in other areas.

 

 

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

 

 

 

 

 

The Internationalization of U.S. Elections

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, September 8, 2017)

{ Feel free to send any comments about this essay to: kkroeger@nuqum.com or kentkroeger3@gmail.com}

In theory and intent, U.S. law prohibits foreign nationals from participating substantively in U.S. elections.

The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) and Federal Election Commission (FEC) regulations prohibit foreign nationals from:

  • Making any contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, or making any expenditureindependent expenditure, or disbursement in connection with any federal, state or local election in the United States;
  • Making any contribution or donation to any committee or organization of any national, state, district, or local political party (including donations to a party nonfederal account or office building account);
  • Making any disbursement for an electioneering communication.

FECA offers very little wiggle room for allowing foreign actors to interfere in U.S. elections, though “green card” holders are not considered foreign nationals under FECA and have exemption status from the above prohibitions.

One small loophole in FECA does allow foreign nationals to volunteer personal services to a federal candidate or federal political committee without making a contribution. “The Act provides this volunteer exemption as long as the foreign national performing the service is not compensated by anyone,” according to the FECA website. That is why the 2008 Hillary Clinton campaign was comfortable having Elton John perform (for free) at one of her 2008 campaign events.

Yet, there is little doubt anymore that the Russians played a significant role in this past presidential election, and there is evidence the Obama administration knew of Moscow’s plans as early as 2014.

The latest news story regarding the Russians and the 2016 election — this time it is Russians using fake Facebook accounts to buy $100,000 in political ads on Facebook — it begs this simple question: How can we prevent a foreign power from planting “fake news” on the internet or using social media platforms to amplify the impact of this content?

We can’t. We won’t.

So let us just acknowledge that globalization in the internet age has internationalized U.S. elections — because, unless we are willing to erect unprecedented censorship walls around the internet and other media sources, there is little that can be done to stop American voters from reading and distributing news content originally sourced outside U.S. borders.

 

Russian meddling happened. And, despite the Trump team’s dodgy attempts to deny it, collusion with the Russians probably happened too. Though, I refuse to let go of the possibility that the Trump campaign was simply populated by a bunch of hopelessly stupid and naive hacks hat were easily manipulated by the Russians. That’s not illegal, its just sad.

Did the Russians find ways to help finance the Trump campaign? That would be illegal and remains one of the more interesting questions. And, if true, would not likely touch candidate Trump himself — meaning, whatever happens with the Mueller investigation, we probably get to enjoy at least three more years of the Trump presidency.

The one aspect of the Russian meddling that should give us some comfort is that we knew about it long before November 8th.  The Hillary Clinton campaign thought they could leverage that publicly-known fact to their advantage, but the Obama administration refused to completely lift the lid on what they saw going on with the Russians. Hillary will never forgive Obama for that decision — I hope her new book, “What Happened”is indexed so I can go right to the pages where she blames Obama for her election loss — but she should forgive him. Obama didn’t decide the election outcome.

As for Trump, his campaign’s denials about collusion occurred at the same time candidate Trump was begging the Russians to release Clinton’s 30,000+ deleted emails. He didn’t care about suggesting the Russians could help his campaign because 63 million American voters didn’t care.

The 2016 Popular Vote Outcome was Baked into the Cake Before Anyone Read the Russian-hacked DNC emails

The following fact will not be altered by anything Robert Mueller’s investigation finds: Russian electoral meddling and any possible collusion with the Trump campaign was baked into the final results long before November 8th.

There is a reason many of the econometric models predicted the final popular vote outcome months prior to the general election campaign. [If you don’t believe me, check out PollyVote.com’s summary of the 2016 econometric models). While our media and political parties place too much emphasis on political campaigns, factors exogenous to the campaigns themselves — such as economic conditions and incumbency — are far bigger drivers of presidential election outcomes.

Election campaigns are important, however. For one, they inform voters about the relative policy positions of the parties and candidates and help voters align their own issue opinions with those of their preferred party. But, more importantly, in close elections where a shift or 1 or 2 percent can change the outcome, campaigns can have a decisive impact.

The 2016 campaign may be in that latter category. But, given the relatively strong economy in 2016, the popularity of Obama, and the difficulty for one party to win three consecutive presidential elections, Hillary Clinton did about as well as could be expected. She wasn’t a lousy candidate. Donald Trump wasn’t a master manipulator of public opinion. But those will always be the myths.

What do we do now to protect future elections?

How can we protect our elections from foreign influence? The answer is: there is little we can do.

Just prior to Election Day 2016, I argued with my own family about this question. I’ll say now what I said then: “I am not happy about it, but this is our system. Foreign influence in American elections is going to happen this year and every election after. We can’t stop it.”

We all knew about the Russian meddling in 2016. I read about the Russian hacking on Facebook. Between all of the Russian-promoted stories about out-of-control illegal immigration, gays taking over the Boy Scouts and Hillary’s emails, there was an equal deluge of Democratic-sponsored attack news  — I recall one such article suggesting Donald Trump has a secret man-crush on Hitler and keeps Hitler’s best quotes at his bedside.

So, yeah, there’s a lot of bullshit flying around the internet during election time. Who doesn’t know that by now?

That is the election system we have and will have for the rest of our mortal lives.

And why do we have this system? It is one of the by-products of globalization in the internet age.

It also the product of the campaign financing system the Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court has given us.

Dark money is now a formal and approved aspect of our election system.

Dark money is money given to 501(c) nonprofit organizations that can receive unlimited donations from corporations, individuals, and unions, and are not required to disclose their donors.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, “spending by organizations that do not disclose their donors has increased from less than $5.2 million in 2006 to well over $300 million in the 2012 presidential cycle and more than $174 million in the 2014 midterms.”

If you want to keep the Russians and other international interests out of American politics, the current campaign finance system is not the way to do it.

Just as much as Trump and the Republicans are in denial about our country’s ability to “renegotiate” trade deals like NAFTA or deport 12 million illegal aliens, the Democrats are in denial if they think Russian influence in the 2016 elections won’t happen ever again.

It will.

How do we know this? Because this country has been doing it for decades. We don’t even deny it. We put it on the cover of Time magazine in July, 1996.

Do you think that former KGB officer sitting in St. Petersburg (Putin), whose political future was linked to Yeltsin’s biggest opponent in 1996, was going to forget that little bit of meddling by Bill Clinton, et al.? Not likely. And he didn’t.

Furthermore, U.S interference in foreign elections has a long and dark history: Italy 1948, Iran 1953, Guatemala 1954, Chile 1973 , Laos 1957-1973, Greece 1967, Haiti 1986, Russia 1996, Israel 2015).

One researcher estimates the U.S. as interfered in 81 elections between 1946 and 2000.

The attempt by the Obama administration to influence the Israeli 2015 elections was particularly brazen, both in scope and arrogance. While not a fan of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the open attempt by the Obama administration to funnel U.S. taxpayer dollars to Israeli peace groups actively engaged in defeating Netanyahu was shameless — but, apparently, not illegal.

“Some $350,000 was sent to OneVoice, ostensibly to support the group’s efforts to back Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement negotiations,” according to the Washington Times. “But OneVoice used the money to build a voter database, train activists and hire a political consulting firm with ties to President Obama’s campaign .” If someday we learn that Israeli intelligence mucked around in a U.S. election, you can spare me the outrage.

Perhaps it is healthier to view cross-national interference in democratic elections to be the norm, not the exception. The U.S. was doing in Russia (1996) and Israel (2015) exactly what a superpower should do when its interests are affected by election outcomes in far away places. As Frank Sinatra might say, “That’s life!”

Good statecraft requires using state power to influence friends and enemies. What the Russians did to us in 2016 is we did to them in 1996. Its not much more complicated than that.

What is different today, however, is the ability for information — good and bad — to travel very fast in very targeted ways. In a free world, we can’t stop at our borders information we don’t like. If the information source wants the information in the public domain, they will find a way. It is not hard Yet, attempting to stop it would require draconian levels of censorship no free society should tolerate.

We are witnessing the internationalization of our electoral system. Interference from foreign sources has been part of our national elections since the first years of our democratic republic. Ask George Washington, who warned in his 1796 farewell address that the French were trying to meddle in our nation’s upcoming presidential election (and it turns out they were).

Moreover, we should embrace this feature of our elections. The ability to discern accurate, credible information from false, noxious information is a life skill we should all possess.

We should want our citizens to be exposed to different points of view from all parts of the world — even at the risk of some of it (maybe even most of it) being false. That much of the foreign-sourced news and information is deliberately malignant (as it was coming out of Russia this past election) gives, frankly, too much credit to our domestic-sourced news and information.

Our voter registration databases and voting machines are always potential targets, but, as of now, there is no concrete evidence that a single vote or voter registration record was altered by the Russians.

But that doesn’t mean they won’t try.

We should eliminate all unnecessary barriers to voting in this country. If you are an adult U.S. citizen, you are  automatically registered to vote where ever you are living at the time of an election. Period.

Stop pretending that state voter I.D. laws are something other than crass attempts to keep Democrats from voting.

As for the “fake news” phenomenon, education is the only defense we have in today’s free-flowing information environment.

Teach our citizens how to detect bad journalism. Luckily, we have lots of examples to choose from on any given day.

Teach how anonymous sourcing can be used to spread disinformation as easily as it can be used to uncover evidence of political malfeasance.  Why was Woodward and Bernstein’s anonymous sourcing substantively better from how it is generally practiced today? It was.

Educate ourselves about how profit motives can impact the content of our news sources.

We need to better understand how our economic and political system shapes and directs our information streams and how, as informed citizens, we can protect ourselves from rogue actors who attempt to misinform us.

In the age of internationalized U.S. elections, we need to make the American voter the most sophisticated news and information consumer on the planet. (We aren’t.)

That is our only sure defense against future Russian or other country’s meddling in our elections.

 

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

 

The Neutering of the Democrats’ Sanders-wing has Begun

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, August 28, 2017)

{ Feel free to send any comments about this essay to: kkroeger@nuqum.com or kentkroeger3@gmail.com}

The Washington Post’s Ed Rogers just declared that “the Democratic candidates appear to be coalescing around a core set of issues that constitute a dangerous lurch to the left.”

Why?

According to Rogers, “Any Democrat who wants to be taken seriously must support a single payer health care system, a $15 minimum wage, free college tuition, affirmative support for sanctuary cities along with minimal immigration controls and, finally, a contender must completely embrace Black Lives Matter.”

While the surface evidence supporting Rogers’ argument is strong, the exact opposite process may be underway within the Democratic Party.

Democrats may someday look back at the last week of August 2017 as the start of their party’s neutering of its Bernie Sanders-wing.

OK, that’s a bit of hyperbole, but there were two recent events that hint at some complex strategic thinking occurring within the Democratic Party’s leadership. After months of being little more than the “anti-Trump”-party, the Democrats recognize that the far left elements of their party must be exorcised now or risk losing an opportunity in 2018 and 2020 to take back the U.S. House and presidency, respectively.

The first strategic move was a simple and obvious one to take.

On August 29th, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi issued a statement condemning  Antifa , a radical leftist, loosely organized political movement  that tolerates violence (if necessary) against “fascist” opponents they target.

“Our democracy has no room for inciting violence or endangering the public, no matter the ideology of those who commit such acts,” read her statement. “The violent actions of people calling themselves Antifa in Berkeley this weekend deserve unequivocal condemnation, and the perpetrators should be arrested and prosecuted.”

While the condemnation came a little late for some, the statement was evidence that the Democratic Party’s leadership finally understands the blow back risk posed by Antifa’s violent actions at protest rallies across the nation.

When President Trump made his now infamous “many sides” comment regarding the violence at the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” march, the justifiable effort of Democratic leaders to stake out the high ground would have been much easier had Antifa counter-protesters not  bashed in the heads of a few neo-nazis and white supremacists, thereby making it easier for the conservative media to suggest the propensities for violence were equivalent on both sides.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., accompanied by, from left, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y. speaks in a park in Berryville, Va., Monday, July 24, 2017, where they unveiled the Democrats new agenda. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Speaking to the Denver Posts’ editorial board, Pelosi said, “You’re not talking about the far left of the Democratic Party — they’re not even Democrats. A lot of them are socialists or anarchists or whatever.”

As political tactics go, Pelosi’s harsh statements regarding Antifa carry little risk. Nonetheless, as one of the party’s most senior leaders, her rebuke carries significant weight among other Democratic elites.

Time will tell if the Democratic leadership can effectively separate themselves from the violent elements in their ranks that have been energized by the often over-heated, hyperbolic rhetoric coming from congressional Democrats such as Maxine Waters, Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi herself.

Will Single Payer Health Care Finally See Its Day in the U.S.?

The more significant and complex strategic move by the establishment Democrats occurred in Oakland, California later in the week.

During a town hall meeting on August 30th, California Senator Kamala Harris endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders’ proposal to expand the federal Medicare program to all Americans. Sanders intends to introduce the single payer health care bill (often called “Medicare for All”) sometime in September.

“I intend to co-sponsor the ‘Medicare for All’ bill because it’s just the right thing to do,” Harris said during the town hall. “It’s not just about what is morally and ethically right, it also makes sense just from a fiscal standpoint.”

The last sentence is a textbook Clintonian tactical move. Blunt criticism from your left flank by endorsing their holy grail issue — universal health care — but leaving the door open to ultimately reject any specific plan to convert the American health care to a “Medicare-for-All” (MFA) or other type of universal heath care system.

That’s a pretty cynical interpretation of what sounded like a genuine endorsement of the MFA idea by Harris, isn’t it?

Yes, it is — but not without cause.

First, congressional observers do not expect the bill to become law — at least not anytime soon — which makes any support for it now a relatively empty gesture. Three years is an eternity in politics and policy stands taken today can easily be shifted (and even reversed) should events warrant, particularly for a candidate relatively new in the public eye.

Hillary Clinton was too well-known in 2008 and 2016 to be allowed the policy latitude required of a successful presidential candidate. Harris will not have that problem.

Second, while Harris has spoken favorably about MFA in the past, it was always in very general terms and she was never a leader in California’s own effort to implement MFA at the state-level.

This underscores what has been one of the key features of Harris’ young political career, first as a district attorney and later as the state’s Attorney-General: She is a pragmatist more inclined to negotiate deals with vested interests and stakeholders surrounding an issue than to take a strong ideological stand.

The best example of this Harris characteristic is found in how she addressed foreclosure fraud in California at the beginning of this decade. As she likes to reminds us, Harris took California out of the nationwide mortgage settlement talks in 2011 on the grounds that they were too generous to the banks. Instead, she had California negotiate its own deal — partly in response to her biggest political competitor, lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom, calling for such a move.

When the left speaks, Harris listens. That’s not a criticism. It’s often a smart move.

In the end, however, while getting banks to pay over $20 billion in debt relief and financial assistance, the California deal was still criticized by advocacy groups that noted banks themselves would pay only around $5 billion which amounted to between $1,500 and $2,000 of direct debt relief to individual homeowners.

In other words, banks felt little pain from the California deal even as the Democratic Party’s establishment immediately promoted Harris as someone tough on banks and a champion of hard-working families.

“Harris’s actions on the issue in many ways serve as a microcosm of her broader political agenda,” wrote Branko Marcetic for Jacobin Magazine. ” The foreclosure deal, while an impressive and landmark settlement, was also a half-measure that delivered far less to the public than it seems at first glance, ultimately failing to properly take the banks to task for their criminality.

The third reason we should be skeptical of Harris’ endorsement of MFA is also her most distinctive feature since emerging on the national stage. She is the Democratic Party’s best fundraiser not named Bernie. Moreover, she has received formal introductions to and received substantial donations from the crown jewels of the Obama and (Bill and Hillary) Clinton donor base.

Harris’ headliner appearance in the Hamptons for a July 2017 fundraiser hosted by Michael Kempner, a top donor and bundler in the past for Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic Party,  proved to be a hit among some of the Democratic Party’s most important kingmakers. Kempner called her a “star” and Kendall Glazer, granddaughter of billionaire Malcolm Glazer, the late owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football team and the Manchester United soccer team, offered equally effusive praise for the junior California senator.

Why should her ability to raise money among the Democratic Party’s wealthiest donors prove she won’t be faithful in her endorsement of Sander’s universal coverage bill?

It doesn’t — but recent experience suggests healthcare and insurance money matters a lot. When a quarter of this nation’s most prominent healthcare executives, such as Independence Blue Cross CEO Daniel Hilferty, threw their support behind Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016, it surprised few political observers when Hillary declared at a 2016 Iowa caucus event that a single payer system “will never, ever come to pass.”

In fairness, Hillary was more about defending Obamacare at the time than disparaging the single payer concept, but it nonetheless suggested her corer belief — and that of the Democratic establishment — was that the vested interests arrayed against a single payer system were too strong.

An MFA, single payer system will, for all practical purposes, put the private health insurance industry, with over $480 billion dollars in 2015 revenues , out of business. If you think the 859 health insurance companies in the U.S. will let that happen without a major fight, you would be wrong. Furthermore, i don’t see any indication in Harris’ history that she has the inclination or stomach to take on that industry.

In the “Not News” Category: The Democratic Party Remains Deeply Divided

The health care debate within the Democratic Party is driven by its two major leadership factions — the “establishment wing” and the “progressive wing.”

Now, almost a year removed from the 2016 election, these two factions are still not getting along, despite a common belief between them that — at some level — the two sides must reach a truce of some sort. A divided Democratic Party puts at risk the party’s likely gains in the 2018 and 2020 elections.

A Short History of the Democratic Party since 1985

The Democratic Party’s establishment wing, still dominated by associates of the Clintons and Obama, traces its modern origins to the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), founded in the wake of Walter Mondale’s landslide defeat to Ronald Reagan in 1984. The DLC and its affiliated think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), mapped an electoral strategy in the mid-1980s that would lead to the election of two two-term Democratic presidents.

The DLC and PPI’s central premise was that, since the 1960s, the Democratic Party had moved too far to the left and had become viewed by average Americans as anti-business and out-of-touch with average American’s economic concerns. Recognizing the joint interests of average Americans, the public sector and corporate America was, in part, the DLC’s co-opting of the Republican brand that Reagan had employed so successfully (less government, deregulation, free markets). By moving corporate interests back into the Democratic Party mainstream, the major issue differentiator between the two parties would become social and identify issues.

Lee Drutman, from the Democracy Fund’s Voter Study Group, provides a nice graphical visualization of how the DLC project still defines how American voters divided themselves up in the 2016 election.

The Clintonian-vision of free markets and liberal social ideals had been the Democrats’ whyfor through the Obama administration.

And then came Bernie Sanders — the progressive left’s cranky uncle that has never been welcomed in the Democratic family (by his own choosing) but around whom a large, frustrated and disenfranchised segment of the Democratic rank-and-file quickly embraced.

The Clinton project and its Obama modification (which shed the post-911 neocon foreign policy creep increasingly exhibited by the party’s professorate class) brought prosperity for one-quarter of Americans, left half treading water, and the rest as a persistent underclass. That this underclass, over-represented by racial and ethnic minorities, would always be a reliable Democratic voter bloc was assumed.

The 2016 Election Marks the End of the Clintonian Dominance of the Democratic Party — or is it?

As the 2016 general election drew to a close, many political observers were sounding the alarm that the Democratic Party was repelling white, working-class voters in droves. It didn’t help that the most influential book behind the Obama 2008, 2012 and Clinton 2016 campaign strategies, John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira’s, The Emerging Democratic Majority, all but concluded that the white, working-class Philistines still hanging around the party’s electoral margins would not be necessary to elect Democrats in the not-so-far future.

A perfectly fine strategy if the Democrats have no interest in winning elections between the Cascade and Appalachian mountains. Winning back control of the U.S. House with mostly coastal congressional seats leaves the Democratic Party with little margin of error. Electoral competitiveness in middle America gives the Democrats some breathing room but requires their winning a healthy share of white, working-class voters.

Yet, even after the Clinton 2016 debacle, many on the intellectual left continue their call for the permanent excommunication of white, working-class whites from the Democratic coalition. Instead, they return to the emerging Democratic majority thesis and say the Democrat’s growing demographic advantage requires only that the party turns out its core voters to win elections.

“Turnout isn’t everything; it is the only thing.” exhorts essayist Dan McGee. “If every Democrat who votes will vote Democrat, then the easy way for Democrats to win is to ensure that many Democrats vote.”

Before putting on her eye creme, Kellyanne Conway prays each night that the Democrats continue to follow McGee’s advice.

Will Public Opinion Determine if Single Payer Actually Happens?

In an August 2017 Quinnipiac Poll of 1,125 registered voters, 51 percent of respondents supported replacing the current health care system with a single payer system in which Medicare covers every American citizen. Only 38 percent opposed such a change.

That is a big gap, but big enough to warrant mainstream Democrats embracing a single payer system?

While encouraging for single payer supporters, public opinion-level support for universal health care is not sufficient to judge the wisdom of Harris’ decision to support Sanders’ single payer plan.

This country has never fought a presidential election with universal health care as its central issue. As political scientists will tell you, elections shape public opinion as much as their results are driven by public opinion.

The relationship between public opinion and election outcomes is non-recursive — causation flows in both directions. For example, elections shape public opinion when they educate voters about the parties’ relative issue stances and help voters align their own stances with their preferred party or candidate. That is why using survey results from the 2016 election to make strategic decisions about the 2018 and 2020 elections can be misleading. New candidates and issues can fundamentally change the electoral dynamics in the next election.

However, sometimes shit happens and exogenous shocks to the system (e.g., 2008 financial crisis, hurricanes, terrorist attacks, Comey letters, etc.) force politicians to react to real changes in public opinion and mood.

As of today, we don’t know if health care will be a prominent issue in 2020 — and, if it is, in what context does it attain this importance?

The Republicans are Prepared to Fight a Single Payer System

The health sector accounts for 18 percent of the American economy, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Before Congress hands it over to the public sector, here are just a few of the arguments we can expect to hear from the Republicans:

  • It will lead to health care rationing (of course, the Democratic reply is that we already have health care rationing)
  • It will empower an already bloated federal government
  • It will restrict patients’ freedom of choice
  • It will deliver inferior health care services
  • The burden of financing a single payer system will fall on the middle class
  • And, ultimately, will cost more than the current system

Whether there are strong counter arguments to the Republicans is not the only consideration for Democrats. The Republican 40-year project of cultivating the federal government as oppressive and incompetent-narrative has never been effectively countered by the Democrats. At least not on a consistent basis.

Bill Clinton tacitly accepted the Reagan argument as he deregulated the economy and turned the federal government into an enabler of the private sector’s best and worst instincts. Still, the federal government never shrank in real terms as much as it did during the Clinton presidency (thanks largely to the post-Soviet peace dividend).

Elected on the heals of the country’s worst economic recession since the Great Depression, Obama tried to re-energize the concept of government-centered problem solving, but ultimately failed under a well-coordinated barrage of Republican propaganda and a wall of congressional intransigence.

It doesn’t help Democrats’ government-centered proposals that much of the public’s real-life contacts with the government tend to end up as negative experiences (DMV, IRS, etc.). Yes, the military generally gets high marks from the public, but the Republicans have always been shrewd in keeping the military separate from their criticisms of the federal government.

So, if this country is going to move to a single payer health care system, the barriers will be enormous. Hillary was cynical but right about Bernie’s single payer proposal. Under current conditions, it will never pass even a Republican-controlled Congress.

A universal health care system in the U.S. is, at a minimum, 5 to 10 years away.

NuQum.com’s analysis of universal health care systems in seven other advanced economies shows that there is a potential cost in delaying the adoption of a universal health care system (see chart below) — perhaps as much as a $15 billion-a-year additional increase in health care expenditures for every year the U.S. delays in adopting a universal health care system.

The earliest adopters of a universal health care system — United Kingdom and Japan — have the lowest health expenditures per capita. In contrast, late-adopters like Germany and Switzerland have higher per capita expenditures.

This relationship could be the result of late-adopting countries having inherently more expensive health care systems, thereby making the conversion to a universal health care system more difficult (Germany and Switzerland both have federal political systems — as does the U.S., of course). On the other hand, the higher per capita costs for late-adopters could be a function of vested interests (insurance companies, physicians, pharmaceutical companies, etc.) having had more time to solidify their power over the country’s health care system.

Either way, if the U.S. is to join the above chart, it will start in the upper-right-hand corner (late adopter / high per capita expenditures) as the most costly health care system in the world ($8,713 per capita health care expenditures in 2013 dollars). Sadly, the high cost of the U.S. health care system translates into only average health care outcomes and lifespans for its citizens.

You would think that fact alone would inspire our politicians to seriously consider a single payer / universal health care system, and perhaps it is this fact that explains Harris’ conversion to the idea. But, I believe otherwise.

Harris’ Endorsement of Medicare-for-All More Likely a Tactical Chess Move

Harris’ endorsement of the Sanders health care plan is most likely a shrewd move to blunt the threat of a Sanders candidacy in 2020 (or the candidacy of a similar Democratic progressive).

Three years removed from the 2020 elections, now is the time for the Democratic establishment to dampen the progressive wing’s energy sources. They don’t need to sap all of its energy, just enough to avoid the party division seen in 2016. Harris needs to win the 2020 Iowa Caucus by 5 percentage points, not Clinton’s 2016 margin of 0.1 percentage points.

Expect over the next few months more and more establishment Democrats endorsing, conceptually, ideas such as free public college tuition, a minimum wage hike, student debt forgiveness, support for sanctuary cities, amnesty, and Medicare-for-All.

There is little cost in taking these positions now, particularly among Democratic candidates that are relatively new on the scene (Harris, Gillibrand. Opinion shifts are more likely to be forgiven coming from Harris than a more established politician such as Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden.

As Harris said when endorsing Sanders’ plan, MFA makes sense from a “fiscal standpoint.” But when the details of the Sanders plan become apparent, so will the associated costs. That event will offer Harris (and the Democratic establishment) the cover to say, “We didn’t sign up for that — and neither will the American people.”

Politics is a strategic game with many players and many possible moves. In Harris announcing her support for the Sanders health care plan, we are seeing just the first moves in a very long and complicated political game leading up the 2020 election.

 

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

Predictions of GOP demise may be greatly exaggerated

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, August 28, 2017)

{ Feel free to send any comments about this essay to: kkroeger@nuqum.com or kentkroeger3@gmail.com}

An economist, when asked why he makes economic forecasts even though his predictions are often inaccurate, replied, “I make forecasts, not because I can, but because they ask me to.”

Forecasters with real-world experience over a long period of time usually show the psychological scars. Like great athletes, they tend to remember the failures and missed opportunities more than the victories.

Even the best get clocked on the jaw every now and then. Any pretense that Nate Silver owns the secret formula for election predictions evaporated on November 8, 2016.

The election forecasting community understandably is still feeling the pain from the 2016 presidential election debacle; though, to be fair, many of their predictions, particularly those forecasters using econometric and aggregate polling data, came close to predicting Hillary Clinton’s 2.1 percentage-point advantage in the two-party popular vote.

Truth be told, it wasn’t the statistics that failed, it was the analysts. But there were some forecasters that were on target and worth noting.

Political scientists Michael Lewis-Beck and Charles Tien, using in their model only GNP growth in the first two quarters of the election year and presidential job approval in July of the election year, missed the final popular vote outcome by just 0.1 percent. Furthermore, out-of-sampling testing of their model shows it is accurate 83 percent of the time, missing only the 1960, 1968 and 1976 elections.

Jim Campbell’s “Convention Bump” model also proved accurate, missing the 2016 popular vote by just 0.3 percentage-points.

As for two of the popularly reported aggregate-poll forecasts, RealClearPolitics.com and fivethirtyeight,com’s popular vote forecasts were not that bad (1.1 and 1.7 percentage-point errors, respectively).

Nonetheless, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

PICK YOURSELF UP, DUST YOURSELF OFF

Like a scene from The Walking Dead, forecasters once again are slumping out of the forest to predict the 2018 midterm elections, with specific emphasis on the U.S. House races where the Democrats have a decent chance of regaining control.

With just a 24-seat gain required for the Democrats to re-take control of the House (which is well  within historical averages), the GOP should be very concerned about 2018.

But how concerned?

Before looking at some of the more elaborate model predictions, these simple statistics should be enough to keep House Republicans glued to their donor list:

  • In the past 20 U.S. House midterm elections, the president’s party has lost seats in 18 of those elections by an average of 33 seats in each of those 18 elections.
  • Since Gallup began collecting presidential job approval data in 1946, a job approval rating above 50 percent translates into an average loss of 14 seats for the president’s party; however, when the POTUS is underwater (below 50 percent), they lose 36 seats.

Categorizing each House race as either “safe,” “leaning,” or “toss-up,” while fun and even enlightening, isn’t required to make a simple back-of-the-envelope prediction: The Republicans are going to lose seats in 2018, perhaps enough to give House control back to the Democrats.

Here are just two of the latest predictions for the 2018 U. S. House midterm elections:

While not a specific prediction, Charlie Cook (of the Cook Political Report) says, “Analysts who have watched congressional elections for a long time are seeing signs that 2018 could be a wave election that flips control of the House to Democrats.”

Nate Silver similarly predicted in mid-April that the 2018 House elections looked “cloudy, with a chance of a landslide (in favor of the Democrats).”

Lifezette’s Kathryn Blackhurst couldn’t help but note the irony — the same people who predicted Clinton’s historic victory last year were already spreading bad vibes about the GOP’s 2018 election prospects.

The Republicans can’t be blamed if they are a bit blase and not taking these newest predictions seriously. They can also take solace in the knowledge that many forecasters still think the Democrats  are a statistical long-shot for taking back the House.

Here are a few of the more GOP-friendly forecasts:

One key attribute of these forecasts, whether they predict a Democratic landslide or the GOP keeping House control, is that they are as perdurable as sand castles. All of the major variables in these models are going to change between now and Election Day 2018.

Ergo, nobody should be making bets on where Trump’s job approval will be in November of next year. Trump still hasn’t reached Nixon, Carter or George W. Bush job approval lows (24, 28 and 25 percent, respectively) but we know he’s capable of sinking lower; and, while there are reasons to conclude his upside isn’t likely to break 50 percent job approval in the next year (though a bump from a new war or major terrorist attack is always a possibility), the Democrats have yet to prove they can capitalize on the softness of Trump’s support base.

Furthermore, the structural disadvantages against the Democrats regaining control are substantial.

“Gerrymandering, campaign spending and incumbency advantage play a role,” says FairVote‘s Theodore Landsman in explaining why FairVote‘s prediction model shows the GOP keeping control of the U.S., even if the Democrats should win the majority of votes nationally. “But the biggest cause is well understood: Republicans are distributed in a more geographically advantageous way than Democrats for single-winner geographic districts.”

Tom Perez and the Democratic National Committee aren’t asking for our advice, but here is some anyway: Either move a few million loyal Democrats from the coasts into America’s heartland, or, find a way to appeal to more of the voters already living there. Sorry, Democrats, but your problem in U.S. House races isn’t a turnout problem — its a problem of having a narrow geographic appeal. Your dominance in California and New York is doing nothing for you in Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

NUQUM.COM PREDICTS THE GOP WILL LOSE 27 HOUSE SEATS IN 2018

Here at NuQum.com, we don’t just criticize, we also submit our own predictions for target practice. Unlike most other prediction models, our model directly predicts the net gain/loss for the incumbent party for midterm elections since 1950 (the first midterm election with consistent polling data on presidential job approval). That gives us just 17 cases to analyze — not a lot, but enough for the biggest drivers (independent variables) to emerge significant. In the age of big data, we are one of the few analytic shops that refuses to apologize for small sample studies.

The data for our midterm election model comes from the University of California at Santa Barbara’s American Presidency Project (see table below) and The Federal Reserve of St. Louis’ FRED database.

Our model variables were:

  • Dependent variable: House seats net gain/loss for president’s party
  • Independent variables:
    • Gallup’s presidential job approval average from August to October in the election year,
    • real disposable personal income growth (average for 1st two quarters of the election year, seasonally-adjusted),
    • an indicator variable for post-Watergate Republican administrations, and
    • the incumbent party’s net gain/loss from the previous midterm election.

The last two independent variables are notable in that they are proxies for two phenomena we believe play crucial roles in U.S. House aggregate election outcomes, particularly during midterm elections when a presidential race doesn’t play a role.

The prior midterm election net gain or loss captures the ‘Yo-Yo’ dynamic at play between midterm elections, independent of the effects of a presidential campaign (which is why we don’t use the prior net gain or loss from the previous presidential election). The ‘Yo-Yo’ dynamic describes the tendency of voters (and we believe also the media), particularly in the age of stagnant wages and incomes, to punish any political party that does well in recent prior elections.

The indicator for post-Watergate Republican administrations measures what we believe to be one of the effects of the Republican Party’s strong, post-Watergate brand equity. While presidential elections are susceptible to the idiosyncratic features of the two major party candidates, U.S. House races are much more dependent on party “branding.” In a country where only 37 percent of adults can name their U.S. House representative, the value of a party’s brand cannot be over-estimated.

WHAT ELSE DOES OUR MIDTERM MODEL TELL US?

Using the parameter estimates from our linear regression model, the following GOP gain/loss forecasts were derived for a reasonable range of presidential job approval values (34 to 49 percent) and five levels of real disposable personal income growth (1st two quarters of the election year, seasonally-adjusted) — see chart below. We used the most recent Federal Reserve estimates for real disposable personal income growth (3.2 percent) to compute the gain/less forecast for 2018.

Our resulting prediction of a net loss of 27 GOP House seats under current conditions has a margin of error of ±20.3 seats (95% confidence level). That is a large confidence band (one of the downsides of small samples), but it does tell us something important. As of now, the GOP is probably not looking at a 2010 election-scale meltdown (where the Democrats lost 63 seats). However, at current job approval and economic levels, the GOP is going to lose some House seats. The question is, “How many?”

The good news for the GOP  is that they can keep their loss small enough to avoid a Democratic takeover of the House if Trump can rediscover job approval numbers north of 41 percent (assuming the economy stays relatively strong as well).

That’s a narrow path for Trump and the GOP to keep control of the House, but given what happened last November, its hard to bet against them.

 

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

 

 

 

 

Democrats and Their Inattentional Blindness

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, August 23, 2017)

{ Feel free to send any comments about this essay to: admin@nuqum.com or kentkroeger3@gmail.com}

We often fail to see what we don’t expect to see. This is one of experimental psychology’s most durable research findings and the phenomenon has been given a name: inattentional blindness.

It is one reason patients should always get more than one physician to read their x-ray results. It is hard to find something you aren’t looking for.

This bias is displayed in a recent political essay by Eric Levitz for New York Magazine who concludes, after citing a wide range of political science research, that the “Democrats can abandon the center — because the center doesn’t exist.”

It’s a bold statement — and not without some merit — but it has one serious problem:  It is not supported by any empirical data, including the data he references.

THERE IS A POLITICAL CENTER-OF-GRAVITY, IF YOU LOOK FOR IT

Relying heavily on Dr. Lee Drutman’s analysis of the The Voter Study Group‘s recent 2016 post-election survey (fielded by YouGov.com), Levitz concludes it would be a strategic mistake for the Democrats’ party to move to the center in an attempt to regain the white, working-class voters (“populists”) purportedly responsible for Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the 2016 presidential election.

Levitz’ conclusion receives apparent visual support from one of Drutman’s graphs showing how 2016 voters spatially clustered along two dimensions: economics and social/identity issues:

Graphic Source: Lee Drutman (www.voterstudygroup.org)

In this graph, Clinton voters (in blue) are clumped almost exclusively in the bottom left quadrant (economic and social/identity liberals), while Republicans are divided between economic and social/identity conservatives and populists (economic liberals and social/identify conservatives).

Drutman’s interpretation of the above scatterplot is that the percentage of voters holding “centrist” views — right-of-center views on economic matters and left-of center views on “identity” issues — amounts to only 3.8 percent of the electorate. “Populists” — defined by their left-of-center views on economic matters and right-of-center opinions on “identity” issues — account for about 29 percent of the electorate, according to Drutman.

Though I strongly disagree with Drutman’s two-dimensional method for defining the political ideological groups, even his atheoretical, blunt force categorizations show one-third of the American electorate (in presidential elections, at least) are inadequately represented by the ideological purists from both parties. This hardly supports Levitz’ argument about a non-existent center.

Given his skepticism about the political center, Levitz says the Democrats can afford the risks associated with moving leftward. His prima facia support for this advice derives in part from Drutman’s finding that  45 percent of the electorate are “liberals” (compared to only 23 percent that are “conservatives”). If “liberals’ are both ideologically homogeneous and numerous, by extension, says Levitz, there is little electoral value in appealing to a small (possibly fictional) number of “moderate” swing voters. The Democrats simply need to get their supporters out to vote to win elections, according to Levitz. Furthermore argues Levitz, citing research by political scientists such as Gabriel Lenz, voters are so poorly-informed and inconsistent on policy issues that making intellectual appeals to them based on “centrist” policies will likely fall on deaf ears.

Levitz writes: “If swing voters aren’t actually ideological moderates, but relatively uninformed citizens who switch allegiances on the basis of identity appeals, economic conditions, and/or candidate charisma — while partisans take their policy positions from party leaders — then there’s little reason to believe that Democrats would inevitably lose votes by endorsing Medicare for All instead of the Affordable Care Act; free public college instead of tuition subsidies; or a federal job guarantee instead of infrastructure spending.”

The arrogance displayed in Levitz’ quote helps explain why Democrats continue to lose most elections in this country. When you view half of the voting population as essentially morons, needless to say, you tend not to get their support on election day. Mitt Romney’s writing off of ’47 percent’ of voters in 2012 didn’t work well; it won’t work any better for the Democrats.

Romney’s ’47 percent’ gaffe notwithstanding, Republicans tend to portray partisan Democrats as “hopeless idealists,” “elitists,” or, more recently, “globalists.” Those are attributes some people wear with pride. However, calling voters “uninformed”  (which Democrats use euphemistically for “moron,” idiot,” “inbreed,” or “probably a neo-Nazi racist”) does not make Democrats’ outreach to swing voters any easier.

To Levitz’ credit, he draws in a broad range of political science research to support — and sometimes even challenge — his primary thesis. An example of the latter is his acknowledgement that many voters can be mobilized to vote against candidates they perceive as ideologically extreme. Political writer Dan McGee lists this phenomena as the fifth commandment for elections in the age of hyper-partisanship.

At a minimum, adopting policy stances attractive to the Democratic Party’s activists, such as endorsing Medicare for All, free public college, and federal job guarantees, invites the GOP to frame the election as one between fiscally-conservative Americans versus Democratic extremists. At worst, it can lead to an electoral meltdown for the ‘extremist’ side (think 1964 — LBJ-Goldwater).

Levitz’ confidence that the majority of Americans support the progressive agenda — and that is questionable — assumes the GOP has no degrees of freedom left to respond to the Democrats’ move leftward. If the Drutman scatterplot tell us anything it is that the Republicans attract voters across a broader range of opinions, beliefs and attitudes.

Elections are a complex balancing act, particularly at the presidential level. Ideologically distinctive politicians risk being labeled an ‘extremist” or “out-of-touch” or a “pawn of special interests.” Take your pick. Yet, diving to the center on the important issues is not a proven strategy either. Recent European voter research by Stanford researcher Toni Rodon  shows that the “political middle is less likely to vote when parties do not distinguish themselves ideologically.” Ronald Reagan and his pollster, Richard Wirthlin, realized this relationship in the mid-70s when Reagan gave his famous “bold colors, no pale pastels” speech.

The Democrats can’t build market share by watering down its ideas or mission. Reagan and Wirthlin knew that party-building is akin to brand-building. Distinctive brands that differentiate themselves from the competition on the important dimensions can become strong, growing brands. But the Democrats can’t build a strong brand through excessive narrowcasting either. It may promote loyalty among its strongest partisans, but always risks alienating its marginal supporters. And, contrary to Levitz’ interpretation of the data, there are plenty of marginal Democratic voters.

From a strategic branding point-of-view, the conclusion from Drutman’s work should have been that there is more attitudinal diversity within Republican voters than within Democratic voters. F.H. Buckley has a much better perspective than Levitz on how to read Drutman’s analysis of the Voter Study Group survey.

“Most (Trump) voters, they’re not right-wing crazies…they’re middle of the road types. but solidly patriotic Americans…and that’s the sort of thing that the liberal Democrats simply haven’t gotten,”  Buckley said in a recent interview with the editors of American Greatness. “Unless you sign onto all of their (Democratic) issues, their social agenda, you’re going to be excluded.”

If that is true (and our the 2016 American National Election Study [ANES] analysis supports that conclusion as well), without a major brand re-imaging effort, its the Democrats that may be approaching maximum market share, not the Republicans.

IF AMERICA IS SO LIBERAL-MINDED, WHY DO DEMOCRATS LOSE SO MANY ELECTIONS? BAD BRANDING & STRATEGY

The basic insight from game theory’s Nash Equilibrium is that, in a multi-player game, one single player cannot predict a game’s outcome without taking into account the decision-making calculus of every other player in the game., who must also take into account every other player’s decision calculus.

This game theory result may sound like common sense, but most political analysts (including Levitz and Drutman) don’t seem to understand how to incorporate this maxim into practice. In concrete terms, it means any strategic analysis about what the Democrats should do in 2018 (and beyond) must also consider how the Republicans must move forward and how that decision could, in turn, impact the Democrats’ strategy. The Nash Equilibrium reminds us that strategy-building is iterative (but not endless). At some point, every player can estimate his or her optimal strategy — until some exogenous event (e.g., the economy) changes the conditions of the game.

The rigor Levitz and Drutman apply to determining the best policy strategy for the Democrats moving forward should have also been applied to the question, “If Democrats move farther to the Left, what do the Republicans need to do in response?” That answer most likely changes the Democrats’ original strategy decision.

Any claims of knowing the definitive answer as to what one political player should do to win elections is fanciful dream weaving unless it includes the same attention to the other political player’s strategy. If American electoral history tells us anything, its that one party will never be far outside the reach of the other.

Which makes the Democrats’ current nadir in representation within our nation’s political institutions even more puzzling. What is causing this secular decline?

Is it the (arguably) increasing polarization of American voters? If so, how does moving even farther to left change things in the Democrats’ favor? Increasing polarization could just as easily form the strategic basis for a “move-back-to-the-center” movement (see Pew Research graphic below).

As the Pew Research data shows, even in a polarized electorate (2014), there are plenty of Republicans in the left-tail of its voter distribution (and likewise for the Democrats in the right-tail of their distribution). A minor shift in support from voters in those two tails changes electoral outcomes.

(In the context of corporate brand-building, I highly recommend Jan Hofmeyr and Butch Rice’s book, Commitment-Led Marketing, which combines chaos theory with religious conversion research to help companies build effective branding strategies for market share and customer loyalty growth).

The increasing structural disadvantages the Democrats face must also be considered when building strategy. Incumbency advantages, geographic clustering of Democratic voters, gerrymandering, and voter suppression laws all work against the Democrats from winning elections.

An Associated Press analysis estimates that the Republicans benefit from an efficiency gap of nearly 3 percent in U.S. House races, “allowing them to win three more seats than they would have expected to win given their share of statewide votes.” Its not a large advantage considering NuQum.com currently estimates the GOP will lose around 30 U.S. House seats in 2018 given current Trump approval levels and state of the economy — more than enough for the Democrats to re-take control of the U.S. House.

Structural disadvantages, while real, don’t seem large enough however to fully account for why the number of elected Republicans is at or near historical highs. At some point, Democrats need to consider their ‘brand’ as part of the problem. And not just so we can hear the ‘we need to sell ourselves better’ trope.

It’s not just how Democrats are selling the brand, its what the brand stands for that may inhibiting the party’s success.

To argue that we live in a left-leaning country and progressive policy ideas are better anyway, as Levitz does, fails to address why only about a quarter of Americans are willing to call themselves ‘liberal.’ Even if self-reported ideology is a not a powerful variable in vote prediction models, it does reflect an ongoing reality in this country that the word ‘liberal’ remains a dirty word.

Forgive me, but suggesting the Democrats can address that problem by becoming even more liberal fails the smell test.

Which brings us back to this essay’s original question. Are analytic partisans like Levitz and Drutman deceiving themselves into thinking the political center is a fiction and therefore is of little target value?

The answer, I believe, is an emphatic, yes, and I lay the blame on analyses like Drutman’s on the YouGov-administered survey for the Voter Study Group.

This is not a criticism of YouGov‘s methods*, survey research in general, quasi-experimental designs, cross-sectional samples or of statistical techniques such as principal component analysis. This problem is much deeper, more pervasive, and infinitely harder to address than any of those methodological issues. The problem is rooted in an institutional legacy of bias among researchers (e.g.,  confirmation bias, inattentional blindness, etc.) that has driven the social science research agenda since the 1960s. I would even suggest that Democrats and liberals have a psychological need to believe the world thinks like they do and is therefore safe.

(* A brief discussion at the end of this essay covers some of YouGov’s methodological issues)

That is why research like Drutman’s is so comforting to the Left. It confirms their view of the world. Unfortunately, Drutman’s analysis of  The Voter Study Group (YouGov) survey confuses the statistical artifacts of his analytic choices for the real world. And while it may confirm the progressive Left’s worldview, it encourages biased conclusions and actually trammels their long-term electoral prospects.

It is therefore worth a brief discussion of the serious flaws in Drutman’s work.

DRUTMAN”S RESULTS ARE ARTIFACTS OF HIS METHODOLOGY

(1) Post-election surveys make better mirrors than crystal balls

Post-election surveys typically ask respondents about the issues prevalent in the previous election. It shouldn’t surprise anyone, therefore, when this research finds that American voters are well-differentiated when collectively summarizing their survey responses. Levitz, himself, mentions the research explaining how elections serve as cues to help voters align their party and candidate preferences with their issues stances.

“Most voters develop a preference for one of the major parties — typically, on the basis of the historic allegiances of their family, region, economic class, racial group, or religious community — and then take their ideological cues from their party’s leaders (when they don’t ignore the details of policy altogether), writes Levitz.

Scratch the surface of voters’ increasingly polarized issue positions, such as changing how an issue is framed, and you find their views are far from immutable. Levitz provides excellent examples of how issue framing  can dramatically change apparent policy preferences.

When voters respond to survey’s like The Voter Study Group’s, they are partly reflecting back on how issues and candidates were framed in the most recent election. A new election with new candidates and issues and you may get different responses.

There is no better example of this process than how attitudes on American trade agreements shifted between the 2008 and 2016 presidential elections. In 2009, 57 percent of Republicans thought free trade agreements were a “good thing.” After the 2016 election, only 32 percent had the same opinion. While this is not a direct measure individual-level opinion change, that magnitude of change is too large to be solely the function of different Republican voting populations.

That is not to say voters don’t genuinely hold those beliefs. It is saying those survey-reported attitudes and beliefs are endogenous to the system itself and cannot be understood solely as independent factors in election outcomes. Change the election, candidates, issues, and frames and you can get different attitudes and beliefs.

(2) Political ideology is a multi-dimensional construct

Political scientists eschew respondents’ self-reported political ideology and instead  recommend measuring it based on respondents’ views on specific issues within two dimensions: social and economic. Social issues typically concern attitudes on such things as LGBTQ rights, abortion and the role of government in relieving social problems. The second dimension, economic issues, concerns such things as taxes, economic regulation and the distribution of income and wealth.

The problem with viewing political ideology as a two-dimensional construct, as Drutman’s analysis of the Voter Study Group/ YouGov data does, is that political ideology is a multi-dimensional construct. Drutman himself recognizes this fact.

“We should view politics across multiple issue dimensions,” writes Drutman. “Rather than simply describing political alignments in terms of “left” and “right,” I argue that we should understand that voters are not ideologically coherent (in that they endorse the party line across most issues), but instead have different mixes of left and right views across different issues.”

So why then does Drutman present something that is  multidimensional as a two-dimensional phenomenon? Like most data analysts (myself included), analytic choices are often driven by a need to simplify the graphical presentation of complicated data relationships.

Take a closer look at Drutman’s scatterplot of 2016 voters. It is a two-dimensional plot — which if we added a third dimension (national security issues, perhaps?) the dots would need to move off the page, some more than others. In other words, it is likely that the apparent clumping of Clinton voters in the lower left-hand quadrant might be exaggerated by the two-dimensional plot.

It most certainly is exaggerated.

There is significant opinion diversity within Clinton voters. NuQum.com’s own analysis of the 2016 vote using data from the 2016 American National Election Study (ANES) shows Clinton’s support base draws from three major ideological clusters (Liberals, Center-Left, and Centrists).

A strategic Republican Party, if it still exists, will exploit this opinion diversity within the Democrats. While the emerging, near-permanent Democratic-majority-thesis was always an inappropriate interpretation of the political impact of U.S. demographic trends, it does demonstrate how difficult it will be for the Republicans to win elections with their 2016 electoral coalition. The demographic numbers don’t work for the GOP. Trump’s 2016 coalition will not be enough in 2020. {The Atlantic’s Ronald Brownstein offers an excellent summary of the demographic trends for both parties)

The Republicans will need to expand their base into identify groups they don’t currently perform well in. Upward economic mobility will help (particularly among Hispanics), but if I were a Republican, I would be very, VERY nervous about 2018 and 2020.

But this essay is about helping the Republicans. Its about the Democrats who, I fear, have chanted themselves into a collective stupor that assumes Trump will be forced from office, they will re-take the U.S. House in 2018, and a Democrat (probably Kamala Harris) will be elected president in 2020. The first prediction won’t happen…the second prediction has a better than even chance…and we just don’t have enough information to say anything meaningful about 2020.

Essays like Levitz’s relying heavily on research like Drutman’s don’t help the Democrats. It keeps them over-confident and arrogant.

(3) Absolute versus Relative Measures — You Don’t Have to Choose

There are many ways to transform and manipulate data so that it can be effectively analyzed. Drutman made some important decisions in analyzing the Voter Study Group survey.

“The measures here are’absolute’ measures as opposed to ‘relative,” writes Drutman. “I took the responses to the VOTER Survey questions as given, rather than rescaling the indexes to set the median score at zero.”

Drutman’s “absolutist” choice has clear advantages. For one, It makes his results easier to interpret. When “-1″ means support for a liberal policy and ‘1” means support for a conservative approach (and zero, of course, is neutral or unsure), that is easy for readers to digest. Secondly, it simplifies comparing public opinion over time on specific issues (or issue dimensions) over time.

Unfortunately, his decision also as serious ramifications, as acknowledged by Drutman himself when he states, “While (the relativist) transformation would have made for a more symmetrical presentation, it ignores the fact that Americans may hold left-of-center views on some issues and right-of-center views on other issues.”

Well, actually, he is wrong on that last point. The “relativist” approach doesn’t ignore that Americans can hold both left-of-center and right-of-center opinions. It does the opposite. It forces all issues onto a left-right continuum.

Look one more time at Drutman’s scatterplot above that uses the “absolutist” approach. Without needing Drutman’s original data, it is possible to imagine how the “relativist” approach would have changed this scatterplot. It would have simply centered the dots in the chart.

The “relativist” approach is answering a slightly different question than the “absolutist” approach. Where the “absolutist” asks where American voters fit along a pre-determined scale, the “relativist” asks where American voters fit relative to each other.

In my opinion, the “relativist’ approach is more appropriate for strategy-building because it allows every item to be assessed on a level playing field.

From Drutman’s summary of the Voter Study Group survey, the chart below shows the mean values among Clinton and Trump voters for each of the derived issues dimensions within the survey. Two of the dimensions (“Perception that people like me are in decline” and “Pride in America”) are particularly interesting in that the group means are all above zero — implying both Clinton and Trump voters hold traditionally conservative opinions on these two dimensions.

Graphic Source: Lee Drutman (www.voterstudygroup.org)

Drutman’s interpretation of this data feature is especially telling about his own ideological predispositions:

“Trump supporters tend to have more pride in America than Clinton supporters do, and they are more likely to think that their group is in decline. However, these divides are not as significant as many media narratives portrayed them to be.”

Really? Does Drutman actually demonstrate — statistically — that the “Pride in America” gap is more or less significant than the gaps for the other issue dimensions? It may be true, but you can’t judge Drutman’s assertion based solely on the “absolute” scale values for the two voter groups. It is entirely possible small “absolute” differences can have large effect sizes compared to other items with larger “absolute” differences.

Indeed, it has been well established within the social sciences that effect sizes are not necessarily determined by “absolute” scale differences. They may be correlated — but it is not a deterministic relationship.Sometimes small absolute differences  on survey scales can have dramatic effect sizes on dependent variables (i.e., presidential vote choice).

Drutman’s “Pride in America” dimension is a good example. It is stunning (to me) that almost half of Clinton’s voters are closer to the neutral response than the far right-end of the response scale on items such as: “I would rather be a citizen of America than any other country in the world.” Predictably, Trump voters are more likely to be close to the extreme right position. That is potentially a Pacific Ocean amount of difference between Clinton and Trump voters — even if, on an absolute scale, this difference is much less than the absolute differences on other issue dimensions.

It is very likely that a heavy dose of the social desirability bias is contaminating the “Pride in America” questions, such that, Democrats/Liberals are systematically pulled to the right-end of the survey item scale, irrespective of their true beliefs. That, of course, is merely an assertion on my part; but, my experience on surevy issues like this give me confidence that this survey’s ‘patriotism’ questions are soaked in response bias.

If Drutman’s goal is simply to describe differences in opinions within the 2016 presidential election, “absolute” differences are fine — even preferred — as they are more interpretable for readers. But others, such as Levitz, use this descriptive-level information for strategic assessments and Drutman simply doesn’t provide the kind of evidence needed to make those sorts of judgments.

Drutman’s blanket decision to use the “absolutist” approach  should have been based on the empirical evidence on an issue-by-issue basis. On some issues, the ‘relativist” approach provides no new information and the simpler “absolutist” scale might be preferable. On other issues, such as ‘patriotism,’ it is probably a mistake to use an “absolutist” approach. It potentially buries the true ideological nature of voters’ opinions on such issues.

That is why I often use both ‘relativist’ and ‘absolutist’ approaches when analyzing survey data and make the specific choices (such as in respondent clustering or regression modeling) based on the analytic intent and empirical evidence.

By choosing one exclusively over the other, Drutman has tuned a blind eye to significant ideological diversity within 2016 American presidential voters.

So, with these major reservations about the Levitz and Drutman analyses on the record, what next? If Levitz has, in fact, misinterpreted the Drutman analysis, what should the Democrats do to prepare for the elections in 2018 and 2020? Move to the center? Move to the Left? Don’t move at all? Play it by ear? Make it up as you go along?

We invite you to peruse our analyses of the 2016 ANES data (here, here, and here) which include strategic recommendations for the Democrats. In the meantime, here are two broad stroke ideas the Democrats might want to consider.

THE DEMOCRATS NEED TO THINK THEY ARE PLAYING FROM BEHIND, EVEN IF THEY AREN’T (…THOUGH THEY ACTUALLY ARE)

Long-time White House correspondent Sarah McClendon, who covered Washington politics from Truman to Clinton, was once asked why she thought Republicans were more difficult than Democrats to interview. Her answer then, in 1996, rings even truer today: “They have an inferiority complex.”

She believed Republicans, by doctrine, put less value on government which, in turn, makes them less knowledgeable and defensive when confronted on its complexities. But others have suggested something much deeper in the Republican’s permanent siege mentality that prompts them to believe their party is in a continuous uphill battle to win the hearts and minds of American voters.

“Democrats remain relatively unexposed to (media) messages that encourage ideological self-identification or describe political conflict as reflecting the clash of two incompatible value systems (think Fox News),” political scientists Matt Grossmann and Dave Hopkins write. “Instead, the information environment in which they reside claims to prize objectivity, empiricism, and policy expertise.”

While their chronic insecurity does not work well for them when they are the governing majority (as they are now), it makes Republicans a more formidable foe during elections. Iowa State Senator Jeff Danielson, a centrist Democrat representing a Republican-leaning district, once told me the secret to being a successful political candidate is to always believe you are behind.

In the case of the Democratic collective, it shouldn’t be hard to convince them that they too are behind. But it seems to be. So let me re-share one of our findings from the 2016 ANES. Only 14 percent of the American electorate is consistently “liberal” (“Left” is our label preference) in their policy attitudes. A similar percentage are traditional “conservatives” (or the “Right” as we call them). Overall, the U.S. voting population is evenly split between left-leaning and right-leaning voters.

Graphic Source: NuQum.com

There is nothing in the Drutman/YouGov data that contradicts our findings from the 2016 ANES. In fact, we think our results match up nicely, even though we opted for the “relativist” approach in clustering voters and building the issue dimensions. If our results did differ substantively from Drutman’s, we would be the first to question our analytic decisions.

DATA-FOR-STRATEGY: THE DEMOCRATS NEED BETTER, MORE OBJECTIVE DATA ANALYSIS, NOT MORE DATA

While on the subject of data analysis, the Democrats need to fully assess what went wrong with their 2016 analytics. Democrats, don’t tell us the analytics weren’t part of the problem when your own presidential candidate called them out (Here is a video of Hillary Clinton lashing out at the Democratic National Committee’s data program).

In the information age, data goes hand-in-hand with campaign strategy, operations, and tactics. Though collecting data-for-strategy is hard, the rules guiding such collection are simple. Data-for-strategy need to be reliable, accurate, and systematically related to organizational outcomes.

Effective strategy-building especially requires comprehensive, theory-based data collection. I will forgive anyone who rolls their eyes at the sound of “Balanced Scorecard” or “Lean Six Sigma.” Those are the Harvard MBA-bastardizations of the theoretically well-grounded work of W. Edwards Deming and others. But Democrats need to take Deming’s core lessons to heart. Measure what theory and experiences tells you to measure. Measure it often. Measure it well and in different ways. Determine what you can and cannot control. Act on what you learn. And then repeat the whole process.

It is not surprising, given data-for-strategy‘s business origins, that initially it was the Republicans, under the guidance of Reagan’s pollster Richard Wirthlin, that best exploited data for electoral purposes.

However, since the Bill Clinton presidency, the Democrats are arguably the dominant party in the employment of data analytics. The George W Bush 2004 presidential campaign may have pioneered the use of big data operations, but it was the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns that took it to its highest practical levels.

The problem for the Democrats has been that the Trump campaign (through Jared Kushner’s efforts) matched the Democrats in the utilization of big data but didn’t disregard other old school data collection efforts (surveys, focus groups, etc.). Hillary Clinton did (thanks largely to her big data apostle, Robbie Mook) and it contributed significantly to her defeats in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Mook let the expense of a few five-digit-dollar-cost surveys compromise the success of a one-and-half billion dollar campaign.

Another problem with big data analytics (for both parties) is that it relies on kitchen-sink predictive models at the neglect of theory-based model-building. Such models, that include nearly every variable available (web usage and online purchasing databases are flush with variables — not necessarily useful ones, however), are prone to modeling random error and are susceptible to large predictive errors, especially when making predictions over long time horizons.

Good data is critical to strategy-building and diversity in its collection is critical. There are no shortcuts and big data without theory is little better than instinct. It may even be worse. Ask Robbie Mook.

More importantly, analytics like Drutman’s are too blunt and time-specific to provide information close to what is needed for effective strategy-building. It may be that the Democrats can afford to move more decisively in the progressive direction in 2018 and 2020. Levitz’ discussion on the economic rationale of Medicare-for-All, free public college tuition and guaranteed employment is far more useful in that effort than his interpretations of Drutman’s and others’ survey results.

Drutman’s conclusions (and by extension, Levitz’) describe well the 2016 election. Unfortunately, they provide little pertinent information to build the Democrats’ strategic plan for the 2018 or 2020 election.

 

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

 

A BRIEF NOTE ON YOUGOV’s SURVEY METHODOLOGY

YouGov’s “The View of the Electorate (VOTER) Survey” is an internet-administered survey of 8,000 adults (age 18+) completed between November 29 and December 29, 2016. YouGov uses a non-probability sample frame for drawing samples and excludes U.S. adults without reliable internet access. According to Pew Research, 13 percent of U.S. adults lack internet access as of late 2016.  It was also found that U.S. adults lacking internet access are more likely to be older, less educated and living in rural areas compared to other U.S. adults. It is a fair assumption that they are more likely to be Republican and/or politically conservative.

To mitigate any sampling and nonresponse bias, YouGov employs an elaborate sampling and weighting methodology. A more complete description of the YouGov panel methodology is available here. It should also be noted that the YouGov internet panel has been deemed by Pew Research as more accurate and reliable than other internet-based surveys and last year fivethirtyeight.com gave the YouGov presidential polls a grade of ‘B,’ noting that its polls tended to have a mean-inverted bias of 1.6 percent in favor of Democrats. That is a relatively small bias.

Why do establishment Democrats fear Tulsi Gabbard so much? (And what is her future in the party?)

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, July 31, 2017)

With the Trump administration’s July 18th announcement that it was ending the CIA program to arm anti-Assad Syrian rebels, an on-going battle within the Democratic Party emerged once again.

In a normal presidency, the Democrats might trumpet the fact that one of their own, Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, was the leading advocate to shut down the CIA program just cancelled by the Trump administration.

These aren’t normal times.

Let us step back a few months for some background on how disoriented the Democratic Party has become since the November 2016 election.

Even in the savage world of D.C. politics, it is unusual for a national party leader to call for the defeat of a fellow party member who is not only popular in her home district but also votes with her party leadership most of the time.

Yet, that is exactly what former Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman Howard Dean did last April on MSNBC when he issued a Democratic Party fatwa against congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI). His kooky tirade (which comedian Jimmy Dore beautifully dissects here) was a response to her supposition that the Trump administration’s attack on Syria was based on incomplete evidence (Her discussion of the U.S. retaliation with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer is here).

What was her thought crime that launched the former Vermont governor into a whirling dervish of righteous disgust? In criticizing the Trump administration’s retaliatory strike against Syria for its then alleged use of chemical weapons on April 4, 2017 against civilians in Khan Shaykhun, Gabbard suggested the U.S. should have waited for the United Nations to complete its investigation into the chemical weapons attack before launching its own attack on April 7th.

Princeton political scientist Stephen Cohen points out that prior U.S. military actions — like the one on April 7th — typically followed a U.N. or international community investigation. Without it, the U.S. risked an even more dangerous confrontation with Russia.

“I think this is the most dangerous moment in American-Russian relations, at least since the Cuban missile crisis,” said Cohen during an interview with Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman. “And arguably, it’s more dangerous.”

Try to understand how upside down this all is:  Uber-Democrat, Howard Dean, sided with Donald Trump over Tulsi Gabbard over a U.S. cruise missile attack against a Syrian airbase that, even by U.S. military accounts, did only superficial damage and was effective mainly as a message to Assad to stop using chemical weapons against his own people.

Let that ferment in your mind in for a moment. A Democrat attacked a Democrat for criticizing a Republican president — despised my most Democrats — for a potentially unwarranted and possibly illegal military strike against another country.

Never mind that some of the U.S. intelligence community’s (USIC) past assessments on Assad’s use of chemical weapons have not always been entirely accurate, and certainly not in the short number of days they had between the April 4th attack and the U.S. response on April 7th.

Investigative journalist Gareth Porter provides a concise summary of the fluid nature of the USIC’s 2013 assessments of the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons:

“A review of what is known about the June (2013) assessment and the alleged Sarin attacks shows that it was a major intelligence failure on the order of the Iraq WMD error,” writes Porter. “It failed to reflect accurately the evidence the administration said supported the overall conclusion. Finally, the evidence of responsibility for the alleged Sarin attacks did not confirm the accusation that they were carried out by the Syrian government.”

At a minimum, knowing the complex nature of the region and the cross-cutting motivations among its actors more than justified Gabbard’s skepticism about the USIC’s assessment in the days immediately after the Khan Shaykhun.

Furthermore, while Dean was calling Gabbard “disgusting” at her suggestion that the USIC’s April 2017 assessment had not sufficiently ruled out a ‘false flag’ operation, past history in the Syrian conflict demands such caution. Consider also that the majority of physical evidence available to the USIC before the U.S. retaliatory attack came from anti-Assad forces connected to al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra which controlled  Khan Shaykhun at the time.

Writing three weeks after the April 4th attack, Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer and executive director of the Council for the National Interest, tells the story behind the Ghouta “false flag” attack in 2013. Not only did it almost succeed with aid from Turkish intelligence, says Giraldi, but it was “stopped only when Director of National Intelligence James Clapper paid a surprise visit to President Obama in the Oval Office to tell him that the case against Damascus was not a slam dunk.”

It cannot be ignored that the April 2017 attack occurred when anti-Assad forces were in retreat against Syrian government forces (with Russian support) and were making significant territorial gains throughout country. The anti-Assad forces had the motive and opportunity to launch a false-flag attack on April 4th, leaving only the question about whether they had the means to do so.

Gabbard made her statement questioning the Trump administration action on April 7th, three days after the Khan Shaykhun attack. As good as our intelligence agencies are at real-time analysis, ruling out a false-flag attack would require more time than that. By April 7th, U.S. intelligence officials admitted they had not even analyzed much of the signals intelligence (SIGINT) — cell phone conversations, emails, etc. — even as they issued their initial finding that Assad’s forces were the culprit.

I served in the U.S. intelligence community at the same time Gabbard was in her second combat deployment to Iraq. We probably saw the same strategic intelligence regarding Syrian chemical weapons capabilities and Gabbard most likely had access to even more detailed tactical intelligence. I am not naive regarding the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons. But it would have been irresponsible to accept carte blanche the USIC’s near-term assessment of the Khan Shaykhun attack. To rule out the possibility that anti-Assad forces mimicked a Syrian government air-based chemical attack required time — measured in weeks and months, not days.

I concede the open-source evidence available soon after the attack makes it hard NOT to conclude the Assad regime was responsible (go here for one of the best open sources of intelligence on the Syrian attacks).

In her CNN interview, Gabbard never dismissed the possibility that the intelligence would ultimately pin responsibility on the Assad regime; but her military experience and familiarity with the reliability of intelligence on such events demanded a prudent level of skepticism.

Assad was winning the civil war on April 3rd. To risk those gains with a chemical attack on April 4th begs the question: Why would he risk those gains with a chemical attack that would likely bring some form of retaliation by the U.S.? That is what Tulsi Gabbard was saying on April 7th.

So when Howard Dean, who isn’t always powered by reason and rational thought anyway, went on  Chris Mathew’s MSNBC  show for his virulent attack on Gabbard’s Syria statement, he seemed to be acting on a much broader and organized effort to discredit and ultimately neutralize the Hawaii ;congresswoman. It’s just a hunch, but I’m feeling pretty confident about it.

So why would he do that?

Why Does the Democratic Party Leadership Loathe Tulsi Gabbard?

The lazy answer is her support for Bernie Sanders (over Hillary Clinton) and resignation from the DNC in February 2016 over her belief the DNC colluded with the Clinton campaign to ensure her nomination.

However, a simple search shows Democratic elites were attacking Gabbard long before February 2016.  To explain the establishment’s anger with her it is necessary to look prior to the 2016 campaign. Here are the leading explanations

1. “She’s Extremely Ambitious with Flexible Principles”

Howard Dean will tell anyone willing to listen that Tulsi Gabbard is “extremely ambitious with flexible principles.” The irony of that criticism is breath taking. He could have easily been talking about about Hillary Clinton or, frankly, every major politician on the planet earth…including himself.

The most hollow criticism one can make towards a politician is calling them “too political” or “too flexible” in their beliefs. Its like calling a dentist too focused on people’s teeth.

Even worse, with respect to Gabbard, the flexible principles charge often includes references to her familial roots. In particular, her father Mike Gabbard, a well-known Hawaii Democrat who has served as a state senator since 2006.  What is the problem with that? Nothing…had he not been an active Republican from 2000 to 2007. But, even that isn’t the problem. The problem is that Tulsi’s father was an active opponent of gay marriage — and Tulsi, early in her political life, supported that position as well.

There you go, folks. That must be why Tulsi Gabbard is persona non grata with a wide swath of Democratic Party elites to this day.

But wait a second. Didn’t Hillary Clinton stand on the floor of the U.S. Senate in 2004 and declare: “I believe marriage is not just a bond but a sacred bond between a man and a woman”?

She did and most establishment Democrats didn’t blink an eye in 2004 when she said it, and didn’t blink again in 2013 when she had a “change of mind.”

Therein lies a deeper truth. For establishment Democrats, there is a kind of ‘wink wink’ game played among themselves. When Hillary stood on the floor of the U.S Senate to oppose marriage equality, more than a few pundits suggested she was masking her true beliefs in order to further her own political ambitions at the time. There is no mystery here. She wanted to be the next POTUS and she may have determined opposition to gay marriage was the right stance for her in 2004.

At the time of her U.S. Senate speech, 55 percent of U.S. adults opposed gay marriage.

That is not a criticism of Clinton. That is politics. Good politicians change their issue stances when necessary.

So, unless Gabbard’s critics have the power to read her mind, Gabbard’s “change of mind” on marriage equality  cannot be interpreted any differently than Hillary’s reversal.

There must be another other reason for the Democratic leadership’s fear and loathing of Gabbard…and there is…

2. “She is not a loyal Democrat”

The party disloyalty criticism of Gabbard is complex. On the one hand, according to Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), she voted with the party line 80 percent of the time on key U.S. House votes in 2015. While not the highest percentage among House Democrats, it puts her somewhere in the middle. Hardly grounds for suggesting she needs to be expelled from the party, but does reveal an independence that can annoy party leaders.

Nonetheless, on the Democrats’ core issues — abortion, marriage equality, climate change, Obamacare, voting rights — Gabbard’s public positions can only be seen as left-of-center. On health care, Gabbard is particularly well-informed and cogent on the strengths and weaknesses of Obamacare. And her description of a single-payer system, including its considerable costs, suggests she is open to the idea while still cautious over its financing (Here is one of her recent town hall discussions on health care).

Despite the party elders, Gabbard is one of the party’s rising stars. In fact, few have her polished presentation skills. She reminds me of Bill Clinton when I first heard him speak in Cedar Rapids, Iowa during the 1992 general election. He could go ex cathedra on a wide range of issues and good deep when necessary. No pregnant pauses.

She is that good. She has the presence of a military officer with a strong attention to policy detail, and — oh yes — just happens to be very telegenic. When Gabbard appears on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson show, the easy-on-the-eyes meter increases to weapon-grade plutonium levels.

Which brings us to another reason Gabbard’s critics question her loyalty to the Democratic cause: She is a frequent guest on Fox News. And unlike Democrats such as former Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich, who often appears on Fox News as the predictable and non-threatening foil to a reliably conservative Fox News host, Gabbard is treated on Fox News with the type of respect reserved for mainstream Republicans like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, John Kasich…or Donald Trump, for that matter.

Of course,  critics cannot forget Gabbard’s visit to Trump Tower on November 21, 2016 to discuss ending the U.S. program to train and equip Syria’s “moderate” rebel forces. To Dean and other establishment Democrats, the Trump Tower visit was a betrayal on two levels. She visited the man that arguably stole the presidential election, and if that were not enough, discussed reversing a U.S. policy championed by Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and President Obama, among many other prominent Democrats.

Even the recent cancellation of the misguided CIA program to arm “moderates” in Syria, confirming much of what Gabbard had been saying about the program, failed to assuage resentments against her.

Yet, in my opinion, there is an even bigger reason fueling the Never-Gabbarders.

3. “She’s a threat to the exiting order”

Similar to Donald Trump’s ascendancy, Gabbard’s appeal operates outside the traditional left-right ideological rubric. She casts an ideological image that reminds me of the late U.S. Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, who took a hard line against the Soviet Union, but also supported the liberal social agenda of the time.

Gabbard occupies a piece of the political realm that is almost devoid of competition from other politicians. Senator Rand Paul shares some of the space (non-interventionist, anti-neocon). Her support of an active government role in the organization of the economy, particularly with respect to income inequality, aligns her with Sen. Sanders.

But, Gabbard separates from progressive Democrats in her straight talk on the realities of today’s world conflicts. She is not a strict non-interventionist (as with Rand) even as she shares Rand’s distaste for executive-centered actions that lead to unilateral, open-ended military engagements abroad.

Like most Americans, she simply doesn’t fit well into a simplistic left-right continuum. According to Lee Drutman’s analysis of a 2016 voter survey, “Voters are not ideologically coherent, but instead have different mixes of left and right views across different issues.”

Some have used the mixed ideological nature of the American voter argues for the Democrats’ need to “move to the center” in order to maximize their vote; still others, like Drutman and The New Yorker’s Eric Levitz, contend that the “center” doesn’t exist and that the Democrats needs a clear, progressive (read: Left) agenda.

Both arguments contain important truths but misinterpret their data and come up with the wrong strategic advice for the Democrats.

The “Centrist” argument is wrong, not because this country has a predisposition for liberal positions (they don’t), but because “Centrist” candidates run a strong risk of appearing bland and lacking clarity in their stated issue positions.  Their tendency to parse language so as to incorporate elements from all perspectives makes them unattractive to many if not most voters. Hillary Clinton is a textbook example of this problem.

As recent research on European voting by political scientist Toni Rodon  shows, “centrist” voters (his term) are not inclined to vote for centrist candidates. They are more attracted to candidates that are ideologically distinct, that is, have a strong opinion on issues important to that voter. That is not actually a new observation. Far from it. Ronald Reagan’s senior strategist, Richard Wirthlin, observed this phenomenon in the 1970s as he helped shaped Reagan’s message going into the 1980 presidential election.

Reagan’s “No Pale Pastels” speech, which was informed by Wirthlin’s research, called for the GOP to avoid trying to broaden its base by appealing to moderates and to instead make its policy stances clear (and conservative).

So wouldn’t Reagan’s example support the Drutman and Levitz advice to the Democrats to take strong, progressive positions? Unfortunately, no.

While Drutman analyzes public opinion on dozens of issues and shows their frequent alignment with liberal positions, he undercuts his own “America is Liberal” thesis when he also concludes that most voters are not ideologically coherent. He can’t have it both ways.

NuQum.com’s recent analysis of the over 3,642 voters in the 2016 presidential (summarized in the chart below) finds that the vote was driven by party identification and opinions on social spending (primarily health care), ‘conservative groups,’ immigration and defense spending. The Democrats have a strong advantage on social spending (health care) and a slight advantage on party identification. The other significant issues broke in favor of Trump.

The failure of Hillary Clinton’s lackluster “Centrist” strategy in the 2008 nomination race and in the 2016 campaign would seem to argue against the strategy’s utility in 2018 or 2020. But many would say Clinton didn’t run a “Centrist” campaign in 2016 (or 2008, for that matter) as much as she ran a “I’m Not Him” campaign.

More certain is that the 2020 Democratic nomination is going to be fought again along the establishment versus anti-establishment divide within the Democratic Party (Drutman has a nice illustration of this in the 2016 election).

‘The main divide within the Democratic Party electorate is about attitudes toward the establishment and the existing order than it is about specific issue positions (with the exception of trade policy),” Drutman concludes.

If so, Gabbard is clearly on the ‘anti-establishment’ side, but does not come at it from the Left (or Right).

Gabbard does not work in “pale pastels”

She’s a hybrid politician with echoes of Pat Buchanan’s strategic realism combined with the economic populism of Sanders. Moreover, she also stands out from establishment Democrats (and even from Sanders) in her ability to re-direct conversations from hot-button culture war battles back to more inclusive, economic topics.

I recommend you listen to how she answers a question about her support of the LGBTQ community (Listen at the 1:06:20 point in the video).

She’s a woman of mixed heritage that refuses to grind on identity politics to gain support. That’s a good formula for not being embraced by the Democratic Party leadership.

After listening to dozens of Gabbard’s political speeches and TV appearances, if someone didn’t know her party identification, they might think they she’s a moderate Republican circa 1976, along the lines of my home state’s (Iowa) former governor Robert Ray or U.S. congressman Jim Leach. A type of Republican that no longer exists at the national level.

Take the example of Gabbard’s use of the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism.” While considered a heretical act within the Democratic Party, Gabbard refuses to play semantic games when they detract from our basic understanding of the the terrorist threat.

“It is important that you identify your enemy,” Gabbard told Wolf Blitzer. “You need to understand the ideology that is driving them.” This is not a controversial issue with most Americans. Only within the cocoon of the Democrat’s leadership class does it elicit gasps and outrage.

Perhaps its her military training? I don’t know. What I do know is her use of the term isn’t accidental and it casts her farther outside Democratic Party norms.

Where is the Democratic Party going in 2018 and 2020?

Even as the Democratic Party keeps its establishment leaders intact (Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Tom Perez, Hillary Clinton) and is promoting its new (or old?) Better Deal economic message, it continues to move leftward. The Democrats’ much maligned identity politics strategy also seems to be alive and well — and with Trump’s new transgender ban in the military (which will likely never become policy) the Democrats have taken the bait and ensure the culture war will be part of the 2018 elections, despite the party’s stated intention to focus on the economy.

As Bill Scher wrote in POLITICO, “In all likelihood, Democrats will have to figure out how to sell the Better Deal while simultaneously defending their commitment to multiculturalism.” The fear among some Democrats is that this approach will once again win the battle (defeat the transgender ban) but still lose the war (2018 midterms).

In attempting to stem the party’s reflexive lurch to the left, Gabbard stands almost alone — both figuratively and literally (see the photo below). There are other congressional Democrats trying to pull the party back into the elusive mainstream — Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, for one — but their numbers remain insufficient to change the direction of the congressional party as of now.

For her part, Gabbard continues to promote a message of economic progressivism balanced by our nation’s fiscal realities, eschewing the Republican-laid culture war traps, all while she confronts our national security establishment’s “addiction to regime change.”

In my opinion, that is a winning platform for any Democrat almost anywhere in this country.

Gabbard is the most credible and persuasive Democratic voice in the fight to stem the escalation of war in Syria. And while the next Democratic establishment-approved star, California Senator Kamala Harris, prefers to focus on U.S. policy regarding Syrian refugees, demonstrated by her visit to a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan this past April, she shows no inclination or aptitude in critiquing the nation’s military strategy in the region.

Ironically, it is Gabbard, not Harris, trying to pull off the political balancing act that Hillary Clinton tried to master: Being a pragmatist that still appeals to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party without alienating the many disenchanted Republicans and Independents who can no longer live with the GOP’s hate-tolerant center-of-gravity.

Clinton’s failure to pull it off was in part a function of voters’ perceptions that she was a creature of the Washington establishment (…well, she was such a creature, which didn’t help her cause). Obama didn’t have that problem in 2008. After all, he earned his outsider credentials when he beat the Washington establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton.

Harris’ barrier to the White House will be similar to Hillary’s — if she runs in 2020, she will immediately be labeled the ‘establishment candidate,’ and for good reason — she is the establishment’s preferred candidate right now. Being the star attraction at multi-million dollar fundraisers in the Hamptons will give you that reputation.

Forget the current lists of Democrats likely to run. All contain some or most of these names: Warren, Booker, Kaine, Biden, Cuomo, Klobuchar, and Gillibrand. All are good Democrats with absolutely no chance of being the next President of the United States.

Along with Hillary Clinton and Sanders, Harris is the only other Democrat producing any meaningful buzz among the activists. Lets take Clinton at her word that she isn’t planning to run again and assume that, at 75-years-old, Sanders just won’t be capable of doing it with the energy he had in 2016.

That leaves Harris.

History, however, should give sober Democrats some pause before jumping on the Harris bandwagon. The last three Democrats to win the presidency ran their first presidential races as outsiders to the political establishment (Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama).

Drutman’s analysis of 2016 voter survey cited earlier also shows that, within the Democratic Party in particular, the establishment label was the primary driver of support between Sanders and Clinton supporters.

Even if the Trump administration melts down into a holy mess of indicted human slop, the exigency of the ‘outsider’ characteristic is not likely to go away in future presidential elections.

As of today, the Democrats have three nationally known members that fit that description: Bernie Sanders, Tim Ryan and Tulsi Gabbard.

Can the Democratic Establishment and Gabbard Come Together?

For me, the photo below neatly summarizes the Democratic Party’s feelings about Gabbard. In a tribute to the women’s suffrage movement in the early 20th century, and in a quiet protest of the Trump presidency, many congressional Democratic women decided to wear white to Trump’s first state of the union address.

It is probably not a coincidence that Gabbard is at the farthest end of the group photo. Combine this with her uncharacteristic driver’s licence smile and you get a strong sense she is not really part of THAT club. Even her lavender white jacket suggests Gabbard herself may be OK with that fact (…I guess I was wrong about her avoid pale pastels).

Besides being outside the Democratic establishment, if Gabbard intends to be a significant national political figure, she has some other barriers.

She is still a young U.S. House member (36 years old). If she has presidential ambitions, she will only be 38 years old at the start of the 2020 campaign. However, there does not appear to be a short-term path for her into the Hawaii governorship or one of the two U.S. Senate seats. All three of the current occupants are relatively young and unlikely to retire before their next re-election campaign.

That leaves few options for Gabbard in the next 10 years other than at the presidential level. However, we all know that no modern elected president came directly from a U.S. House seat. And while Trump proves that there are no unbreakable rules in presidential politics, I don’t believe any young congresswoman from either party can win the presidency. That is a bridge too far.

But here is my final brainstorm idea on Gabbard’s political future.

A Harris/Gabbard ticket. It brings the establishment together with the anti-establishment. Two women. Two mixed heritage candidates. If only one of them were gay we’d have the major Democratic identity groups covered.

A crazy idea? It will never work, you say?

Take a look at what is going on in the current White House. Crazy ideas are in.

 

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.