Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Third Parties always fail. But it's different this time.

Edited from a post originally published on Uniters.Org 
Partisan Realignment

It's Third Party Season! Elections are looming and we are entering that magical time of year when:  Frustrated moderates heap blame on polarizing partisans; Angry progressives afflicted with parliament envy demand proportional representation; Delusional indies triumphantly promote illusory pollsBemused libertarians proudly cling to their irrelevant 3% voting block and; Process oriented Centrists work diligently to rearrange the voting scheme deck chairs on our electoral Titanic.

And all gaze longingly up into the blue sky, desperately searching for a 3rd Party Superhero to leap the two party duopoly in a single bound and rescue us from our own government. With the 2018 mid-terms and 2020 presidential elections far enough in the future that candidates are not yet locked in, Thrid Party hopes spring eternal in the centrist breast. A hope that there just might be a viable alternative to the usual Republican and Democratic choices they find so disheartening. A hope that it might be different this time.

And you know what? It just might be ...

Thesis: In the United States, third parties always fail. But, on rare occasions in our history, with the right conditions, a New Party can successfully gut, destroy and replace one of the two major parties. This could be that time.

For your consideration -  Two steps to make a New Party into a Major Party:

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

State Of The Union - The Musical!
"The Producers" Edition

The Producers - Manafort Trump Conway Flynn
Welcome to the Dividist's annual coverage of the Presidential Address to Congress - aka State of the Union - The Musical!

In 2007, as a blogging toddler, the Dividist despaired at finding a unique approach to writing about the SOTU when so many other bloggers would be traversing the same ground. The answer came from Bob Woodward. In an on-line Washington Post forum the Dividist asked whether the SOTU had any real relevance. Woodward responded by saying it was "mostly theater." Genius. That was the answer. What better way to frame the SOTU social media reactions than within the lyrics of a Broadway show tune?

The game is to start with a Broadway song then find blog posts, news stories, tweets, essays and commentary that can be vaguely referenced in the song and link them to the lyrics. It keeps the Dividist awake and blogging throughout the speech without distracting too much from the mandatory drinking games.

The program so far...
2007 - "Comedy Tonight" 
2008 - "Georgy Girl Boy"
2009 - "Razzle Dazzle" from "Chicago" 
2010 - "The Wizard of Oz" 
2011 - Intermission 
2012 - "Do you hear the people sing?" from Les Miserables" 
2013 - "I don't know how to love him" from "President Obama Superstar" 
2014 - "How to Succeed as President Without Really Trying" 
2015"Let It Go" from "Frozen"  
2016 - "Bye Bye Barry" 
2017 - Skipped - I couldn't deal with it.
And now, for 2018, after 11 years of singing and dancing our way through the State of the Union, and with our 3rd President at the podium, we find the easiest musical selection ever - "The Producers."

Michael Wolff spells it out in his book "Fire and Fury":
"The Trump campaign had, perhaps less than inadvertently, replicated the scheme from Mel Brooks’s The Producers. In that classic, Brooks’s larcenous and dopey heroes, Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, set out to sell more than 100 percent of the ownership stakes in the Broadway show they are producing. Since they will be found out only if the show is a hit, everything about the show is premised on its being a flop. Accordingly, they create a show so outlandish that it actually succeeds, thus dooming our heroes." 
"Almost everybody on the Trump team, in fact, came with the kind of messy conflicts bound to bite a president once he was in office. Michael Flynn, the retired general who served as Trump’s opening act at campaign rallies, had been told by his friends that it had not been a good idea to take $45,000 from the Russians for a speech. “Well, it would only be a problem if we won,” ­Flynn assured them."
The comparison was not original. Back in 2016, when no one believed he would ever be President, Mathew Broderick and Nathan Lane reprise their roles for a skit on Jimmy Kimmel:

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Divided Government Detritus and Flotsam - The "Keep Separation of Powers Separate" Edition

Periodically, the Dividist enjoys strolling down a metaphorical beach to take note of the divided government detritus that has washed ashore and cluttered his little island of rationality in the great big blogospheric ocean.

With the midterm elections looming large, the prospect of a blue tsunami on the horizon sweeping Democrats into a House of Representatives majority have Democrats giddy and Republicans worried (except for the #NeverTrumpers who are just fine with divided government this cycle.)

Time to go beachcombing and look for any shiny bits of divided government flotsam we may have previously overlooked. Submitted here for your reading enjoyment...



Jonathan Haidt explains the impact of tribalism on the Framer's intent. 


While participating in a twitteratti discussion on the impact of tribalism on our body politic (along with a generous helping of Trump bashing), the Dividist stumbled across a lecture by Jonathan Haidt entitled "The Age of Outrage." Haidt fuses issues of tribalism, identity politics, polarization, intersectionality, illiberal "liberals", the Social Justice Snowflakes so evident on college campus, and - most interesting to the Dividist - the relevance of the Framer's intent to all of the above. In particular this beautiful, almost poetic, description of what the Framer's were trying to create and why:
"Here is the fine-tuned liberal democracy hypothesis: as tribal primates, human beings are unsuited for life in large, diverse secular democracies, unless you get certain settings finely adjusted to make possible the development of stable political life. This seems to be what the Founding Fathers believed. Jefferson, Madison, and the rest of those eighteenth-century deists clearly did think that designing a constitution was like designing a giant clock, a clock that might run forever if they chose the right springs and gears. 
Thankfully, our Founders were good psychologists. They knew that we are not angels; they knew that we are tribal creatures. As Madison wrote in Federalist 10: “the latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man.” Our Founders were also good historians; they were well aware of Plato’s belief that democracy is the second worst form of government because it inevitably decays into tyranny. Madison wrote in Federalist 10 about pure or direct democracies, which he said are quickly consumed by the passions of the majority: “such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention . . . and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.” 
So what did the Founders do? They built in safeguards against runaway factionalism, such as the division of powers among the three branches, and an elaborate series of checks and balances. But they also knew that they had to train future generations of clock mechanics. They were creating a new kind of republic, which would demand far more maturity from its citizens than was needed in nations ruled by a king or other Leviathan.. 
So, how are we doing, as the inheritors of the clock? Are we maintaining it well? If Madison visited Washington, D.C. today, he’d find that our government is divided into two all-consuming factions, which cut right down the middle of each of the three branches, uniting the three red half-branches against the three blue half-branches, with no branch serving the original function as he had envisioned."
It's a great lecture, you should read it in its entirety or watch it here:

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

2018 Election - House Rules & The O'Neill Exception

Crossposted from Uniters.Org 
 We're bored with the "Blue Wave" metaphor. We'll go with "Dividist Pac-Man" 
Outside of the Mueller investigation, the biggest political question of 2018 is whether Democrats can ride a widely anticipated Blue Wave into a majority in Congress and divide the government. There are similarities to the mid-term wave elections that flipped Congress in 2006 and 2010.

Many compare the stunning Senate special election victory of Democrat Doug Jones over Republican Roy Moore in crimson red Alabama to the equally stunning 2010 victory of Republican Scott Brown over Democrat Martha Coakley in deep blue Massachusetts. Does the Jones win point to a 2018 political tsunami like the Brown election foreshadowed a 2010 red wave? Maybe.

In both cases, the long shot won with the help of a seriously flawed opposition candidate. In Alabama Roy Moore was accused of sexual impropriety with minors, and in Massachusetts Martha Coakley called Curt Schilling a "Yankee fan." This is, of course, not a fair comparison. Coakley's faux pas was far more egregious to the citizens of  Massachusetts and more damaging to her candidacy than Moore in Alabama. Still the similarities are striking and the punditocracy at MSNBC are positively giddy in anticipation of surfing the blue wave they see on the horizon:

Friday, January 12, 2018

Since we called President Trump a corrupt, unstable, incompetent, narcissistic, race-baiting, thin-skinned authoritarian with the temperament of a child before the election... Why do we think it matters to keep calling him those same names after the election?

Quinnipiac University Poll on President Donald Trump
 August 2017 word cloud of Quinnipiac Poll asking Americans to describe President Trump in one word.
Creative name-calling of President Trump on mainstream and social media has become something of a national sport. Each day, fast on the heels of the latest idiocy to come out of the mouth of our perpetually aggrieved president [Today, as I write this, it's "shithole countries."], we get the "shocked! shocked!" hair-on-fire horrified characterizations of those perpetually aggrieved at the fact that he is still in the White House.  In this game you get extra points if the name-calling is wrapped in righteous indignation, high dudgeon or general hysteria.

Quinnipiac University Polls keep score with a periodic analysis that asks one question:
"What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of President Trump?" 
The graphic at the top of this post is the word cloud from the August scoreboard, and here are the most recent December results.
In "Fire and Fury" - Michael Wolff's account of the early months of the administration - we see variations on all the same words and characterizations:
Michael Wolff Fire and Fury"For Steve Mnuchin and Reince Priebus, he was an "idiot." For Gary Cohn, he was "dumb as shit." For H.R. McMaster he was a "dope." - Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury 
"I don't describe him as childlike, every person in the White House ... Literally, that is the common description among every one of his senior people," Wolff said. "That the president is somewhat like a child." - The Hill 
"An idiot surrounded by clowns. Trump won't read anything - not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers; nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored." (F&F via CNBC) 
"Wolff added that "100 percent of the people around" Trump, "senior advisers, family members, every single one of them, questions his intelligence and fitness for office." - NBC 
"Mr Wolff portrays the president as an ageing man who repeats stories and quotes some of Mr Trump's closest allies describing the president as “incapable of functioning in his job. - Telegraph 
“Bannon described Trump as a simple machine. The On switch was full of flattery, the Off switch full of calumny. The flattery was dripping, slavish, cast in ultimate superlatives, and entirely disconnected from reality: so-and-so was the best, the most incredible, the ne plus ultra, the eternal. The calumny was angry, bitter, resentful, ever a casting out and closing of the iron door.” - Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury  
“If the Trump White House was as unsettling as any in American history, the president’s views of foreign policy and the world at large were among its most random, uninformed, and seemingly capricious aspects."  Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury 
If nothing else, the book cranked the Trump vilification volume up to 10. And this is where it's taken us...

We have now reached the point where Trump insults are being classified and categorized by the punditocracy into those insults that are politically correct ("evil","spoiled brat","ignorant jerk", "asshole" ) and those insults that are politically incorrect ("sociopath", "mentally disturbed", "narcissistic personality disorder"). In this clip, Professor of Psychiatry Allen Frances tells MSNBC pundit Ari Melber that attributing President Trump's behavior to mental illness is demeaning and disrespectful ... to the mentally ill:

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Debt, Deficits, Divided Government and Deja Vu

UPDATED: 12/20/2017
The deficit and debt are unsustainable.
It's easy to understand why Republicans are circling the wagons on the Tax Bill. Given the dearth of legislative accomplishment in the first year of the Trump administration, failure to pass tax reform is truly an existential threat for the GOP.  If a Unified GOP Government can't even legislate every Republican pol's wet dream of tax cuts, then what is the point of the Republican Party?

It's understandable, but inexcusable. The Republican party took control of Congress in 2010 by raising the specter of spiraling deficits and debt, only to support a bill in 2017 that will add trillions of dollars to both.

An understandable vote for GOP partisans? Yes. An inexcusable vote for fiscal conservatives? Yes. And for students of divided vs unified government, unsurprising and completely predictable. The only time our federal government approaches anything that vaguely resembles fiscal responsibility is when the government is firmly divided:

Friday, December 01, 2017

Ranking #Billionaires4President in 2020

UPDATE: 8-January-2018
Oprah for PresidentBenioff for President

 Lyndon Johnson famously said "Whenever most Senators look in a mirror, they see a president.” The sentiment has been quoted, plagiarized and paraphrased by politicians and political pundits ever since.  Both Kennedy and Johnson were Senators before they were elected President and Vice President in 1962. While many Senators have run for president since Johnson served, none fulfilled that ambition until the election of Barack Obama in 2008.

In the wake of the election of Donald Trump, it's time to update that maxim:
"Whenever most billionaires look in a mirror, they see a president." 
Mark Cuban for President
And why not? After all, Donald Trump did it. How does a Mark Cuban look in the mirror and not think "If Trump did it, I can do it." Wealthy celebrities have expressed this sentiment directly. Consider Oprah Winfrey on Bloomberg:
“I never considered the question even a possibility,” Winfrey said about her pre-Trump thinking. “I though, ‘Oh gee, I don’t have the experience, I don’t know enough.’ But now I’m thinking, ‘Oh. Oh.'
Or consider Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson at Vanity Fair:
“I wouldn't rule it out,” Johnson, 44, told Vanity Fair with a big smile ...“It would be a great opportunity to help people, so it’s possible. This past election shows that anything can happen.
Dwayne Johnson for President
I'll say it again. Why not? It is worth noting that presidential campaign strategists don’t have a lot of imagination. They mostly fight the last war. Whatever worked in the last election becomes the template for what to do in the next election – only bigger and better. And what worked in the last election is this: A rich, blustering, boorish, but successful huckster/entertainer with absolutely no political experience and limited understanding of governing, foreign policy, or the constitutional framework of the United States was elected President of the United States. That happened. And when that happened the pool of future President wannabes got exponentially bigger.

This is not an original thought. Across social and mainstream media you can find many lists touting billionaires and celebrities who look in the mirror and see the next President of the United States. Examples include CNBCPeople MagazineINC, Observer, and Newsweek. Some will indeed run. In the brave new world of the Trump era, how do we separate the contenders from the pretenders?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Remember the bad old days of divided government?

We Miss Divided Government

We're now six months into One Party Rule - Republican Unified Government.

Hey! Remember all the social and mainstream media cries, lamentations, rending of garments and gnashing teeth about gridlock, divided government and partisan obstruction over the last six years? Guessing everyone is now enjoying our brand spanking new unified government! What? No? Huh.

Look, the Dividist is not one to say "I told you so..." Oh wait. Yes he is...

Americans may have a short memory, but we are once again learning to appreciate the finer points of a politically divided government. It's encouraging to see my fellow citizens coming to that realization much sooner than during the early years of unified government under either Republican Bush or Democratic Obama administrations.

Perhaps this is a good time to step away from the day-to-day West Wing tweet-storm / soap opera and consider some recent thoughtful essays on the nature and benefits of divided government.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

United Coalition of the Divided - 2018 Edition

UPDATED: 08/11/18
Vote for divided government in 2018
Welcome to the United Coalition of the Divided - the Dividist's social media version of retail door-to-door politicking. 

We advocate voting strategically for divided government. We know why we should vote for divided government. We know how to vote for divided government. In this post we [virtually] gather those of like mind who help [intentionally or not] make the case to vote for divided government in 2018. One voter at a time.

The Dividist initiated this exclusive club during the 2008 election cycle and recycled it in every federal election since. It was an ignominious start, with the Democrats seizing unified control of the federal government. The 2010 edition was barely posted in time for the midterms.  Amidst the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth, divided government was emphatically restored. The 2012 membership drive worked out fine with the reelection of Barack Obama and divided government. In the 2014 midterms, it was just a question of how divided we were going to get as the Democrats managed to dig themselves an even deeper hole in Congress.

Then 2016 happened.  The Republicans were in control of  both branches of Congress with no realistic chance of losing majority control in the House of Representative. It seemed like such an easy, obvious choice. All we had to do was elect Hillary Clinton and the government would stay divided for at least four more years.

As it turns out, it was too obvious. Clinton's inevitable victory was so obvious to so many in the punditocracy (including The Dividist), that Democrats did not even bother to articulate the argument for divided government. In fact, so many Democrats and Republicans were so certain that Clinton would win, Democrats delusionally argued for One Party Rule, and Republicans co-opted the divided government argument - asking voters to focus on GOP candidates in Senate and House races in order to keep a legislative constraint on the inevitable Clinton presidency.

We tried. The Dividist patiently explained there was no chance for Democrats to take the House majority in that cycle. You didn't listen.  As a consequence, not only did Democrats lose the executive branch, but they failed to win majority control of the Senate in a cycle where the political playing field was heavily tilted in their favor.

So we've come full circle.  We again have a Unified One Party Rule Republican Government as we had in 2006 when the Dividist started this blog. It's "deja vu all over again".

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Funny, you don't look libertarianish.

 Wherein the Dividist "buries the lede" so deep no one will ever find it.  
Lady Liberty wonders what happened to the libertarians in 2016
 Lady Liberty comments on Lee Drutman Voter Study Group Analysis 
On Sunday, Fareed Zakaria invoked the recent Lee Drutman Voter Study Group (VSG) analysis of the 2016 election.  His opening monologue summarized and repeated the conclusion of his recent Washington Post guest editorial.



The VSG study has become something of a Rorschach Test among the punditocracy. Data on 2016 voter attitudes are distilled into multi-dimensional charts with - sometimes conflicting - analysis of what it all mean. That leaves a lot of room for any good ideologue to find a nugget that will confirm their bias about the election.