Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Words of Wisdom: Hamilton Nolan, Dale Smith, Evan Scrimshaw, Robert Reich, Oliver Willis. And Pogo.

I've read a number of great substack articles and tweet threads recently by Hamilton Nolan, Dale Smith, Evan Scrimshaw, Robert Reich, and Oliver Willis, among others (and Pogo, of course).
But first, I have to start with this great tweet thread by a tweeter calling herself Aurelia Cotta:
Next, Hamilton Nolan writes People Don't Know Anything About the Government and he wants the media to stop pretending voters have actual opinions about all of these agencies: 
... I am not just talking about the familiar embarrassing ha-ha polls showing that Americans don’t know the names of their Congresspersons or how many Supreme Court justices there are. I’m talking about the actual substance of the government. 
People do not know the size of their local, state, or federal budgets. They do not have a good sense of proportion about how much various government programs cost. They don’t understand the pluses and minuses of various economic and regulatory tradeoffs. They do not have much of a grasp at all on what each specific government agency does. They don’t know who runs the agencies on paper or who really makes the decisions behind the scenes or why those people were selected or what those choices say about the relative standing of various interest groups.
They don’t understand law—not even criminal and civil laws, much less the esoteric encyclopedias of regulations governing commercial activity. The bureaucratic maneuverings and internal negotiations that make up much of Washington, DC’s most important material power struggles are completely invisible to the general public. 
There are well over 20 million government employees in the United States of America. Once you get past the cops and the teachers and sanitation workers, the vast majority of citizens have only the haziest idea about what all these workers do all day, or whether they should be doing it at all. 
Of course, this applies to Canada too -- Poilievre is able to rake Trudeau over the coals about housing being so expensive in Ontario - and somehow its all because of the carbon tax! - because nobody know anymore why cheaper housing isn't getting built.  
A few observers plaintively note that housing is a municipal issue (zoning) or a provincial issue (social assistance). Nobody remembers that the provinces told the feds and CMHC 20 years ago to get out of the social housing business, just give us the money and we'll do it. But they didn't. And nobody in Poilievre's audience knows anything about all that. They just keep getting told that Trudeau is letting the country down again!!!
Nolan continues: 
...There is no shame in not understanding what the government does. I don’t understand how cars work. But if I’m riding in one and it breaks down, I will get out and say: “Hey, this car is broken. We need to make it go again.” 
That is, in fact, a decent metaphor for the way that the voting public interacts with the process of choosing our government leaders. We are irate and befuddled passengers shouting at the mechanics to fix the damn thing. If we get so impatient that we shove the mechanic aside and start banging on the engine ourselves, bad things are bound to happen. 
It is possible to be fully and healthily engaged in politics without knowing all the intricacies of the government’s operations. Politics is the way that people try to put their own vision of how the world should be into effect. 
Political beliefs flow from values. We all have those. The more people are engaged in the political process, the more robust a democracy is. That’s good. 
But mixing up arguments about politics and values with specific prescriptions about highly technical aspects of governance will lead to very dumb things. 
Returning to the housing issue, Scrimshaw says this could lose Trudeau the 2025 election if his government doesn't act on multiple fronts, and be seen to be acting. His article is titled Memo To The LPC: Housing Solution Cannot Be All Or Nothing:
... The Liberals face the biggest crisis they have since the beginning of the pandemic, because unlike Chinese interference or WE or whatever else, the solution is governance, not politics. 
Can the Liberals do it? They managed to stand up a mass income support program in a week, so their capacity to do something big does exist. 
But it’s been 3 years since we’ve seen it, and it needs to come roaring back. 
Their comms operation needs to start firing on all cylinders, explaining that everything they’re doing that doesn’t seem interconnected is, and that there is a truly whole of government approach underway.
 But more than a good comms approach, there actually needs to be a whole of government approach. 
 If the Liberals want to lose the next election all they gotta do is go down the cul-de-sac of looking for the One Simple Fix that can win them the election. 
The allure of an all or nothing at all solution is real, but it must be avoided at all costs. We cannot let perfect be the enemy of good, ...
 Moving on, Robert Reich writes about The Four Phases of Trump's Attempted Coup
Phase 1 was his refusal to concede the loss of the 2020 election and his big lie that the election was “stolen” from him, without any basis in fact...
Phase 2 was his plot to overturn the result of the 2020 election ...
Phase 3 is his current attempt to discredit and undermine the criminal justice system that’s seeking to hold him accountable for Phase 2...
Which brings us to what is likely to be Phase 4 of his attempted coup — his campaign for reelection....
Polls are fallible, of course, and the election is 15 months away. But the closeness of the race should be of concern, especially given that Trump has now been indicted for seeking to overturn the 2020 election. Trump’s attempted coup continues. 
Since before the 2020 election, he has been engaged in a concerted attempt to undermine the institutions of the United States government. 
 Everyone who cares about American democracy should be duly warned — and prepared for Phase 4.
 Yes, I am increasingly afraid of the next two years - we just don't know how things are going to go, either with the US election in 2024 or the Canadian election in 2025:
Oliver Willis says its a waste of time for liberals to bend themselves into pretzels in trying to convince conservative / MAGA voters to start voting liberal - ain't gonna happen: We Just Have to Give Up on (Some) People
...The solution is to give up. Give up on these voters, who are mostly a mirage. Give up on them. Stop doing counterproductive things like inviting the anti-choice former governor of Ohio, John Kasich, to speak in a prime slot at the Democratic convention out of some misguided notion his appearance could shake some votes loose. Biden lost in Ohio by nearly the same margin as Sec. Hillary Clinton. It didn’t work. 
It’s a tough mindset. Some of these voters are close family. If you love your father or grandmother it seems wrong somehow to throw your hands up and assume the situation isn’t going to improve. But it won’t. 
Conservative politics, particularly the branch oriented around Trump, is a cult. People rarely leave cults of their own volition. Either the cult leader dies or something really traumatic occurs. Cases in which someone wakes up one day and comes to the realization that they’ve been living a lie for years and years are rare. Don’t bank on it. 
 ...this is where the advantage of modern liberalism kicks in: The agenda is actually popular. It can always be more progressive and move to the left, but fundamentally the key things that liberals stand for are popular. 
People want an active government that polices business and provides a generous social safety net. They ultimately don’t care about belt tightening and they certainly do not like bigoted social policies and agendas. 
 There needs to be massive messaging work done around key progressive goals and ideas, thanks to the broken mainstream media and the propaganda of the right combined with the inability of the left to sell things, but it isn’t a lost cause by any means. 
 It also will cost less time and money to keep core liberal voters engaged while attracting people who can be nudged to vote, versus the waste of resources to turn those who are in the cult....

Yes, I think I can agree. Just look at the hysterical denial of climate change and the nutty stuff we're reading now:


Anonymous said...

Actually, when it comes to the Covid pandemic, we did know what to do because of the SARS epidemic here in Ontario. All levels of government were incompetent.

Anonymous said...

The problem with housing in Southern Ontario (and Vancouver) is supply and demand.

Cap said...

Oliver Willis is wrong to say that liberals have to give up on some people. In a country like the US, with people almost equally divided between liberals and conservatives, elections are won at the margins by convincing just enough voters to cross over. Canada has a similar dynamic, with the last two federal elections seeing Cons win the popular vote but Libs hold enough seats for a minority government. Giving up on people is a mistake in those conditions.

Electoral concerns aside, liberals are also wrong to think that all their ideas are good and represent progress. The only way to get feedback is to listen to other points of view, and we ignore them at our peril. As Martin Luther King pointed out, compassion and non-violence “helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.”

Cathie from Canada said...

I thought the Willis piece was interesting because basically he says liberals shouldn't mealymouth their beliefs just to pander to conservatives. Thanks for the MLK quote - very useful to remember.