Live streaming isn’t new to American politics

Dan Pfeiffer puts it well when he describes Meerkat as a platform “no one seems to know how to use…yet.” It’s brand new and may well be offering something that people find applications for, in politics or beyond. But for now descriptions of how Meerkat is going to change the 2016 elections are premature. Pfeiffer’s hype of Meerkat seems to be a bit much to me, particularly given his apparent ignorance of other live streaming platforms from the present and recent past.

For starters, Pfeiffer seems to be unaware that live video streaming technology already exists and has been around with varying degrees of success since before Barack Obama was even nominated by the Democratic Party for President in 2008. UStream and launched in 2007. Qik launched in 2008. YouTube has had live streaming functionality for quite some time too.

These platforms launched before smartphones with decent video cameras were ubiquitous. But they existed and they have been (and are) used quite widely — to broadcast live streams of puppies, of baby bears, of concerts, and yes, American politicians.

In spring 2007 I went to work for Chris Dodd’s presidential campaign. Dodd, at the time a five term Democratic Senator from Connecticut, never got above two or three percent in national polls and exited the race after the Iowa caucus in early January 2008.

Prior to that exit, though, we deployed live video streaming as a core part of our campaign’s engagement with the public. As deputy internet director, I traveled with Dodd on essentially all of his political trips to Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, Michigan and other early states. Along the way, I used UStream to live stream anywhere from one to three speeches and Q&A sessions per day.

People following the presidential primary were able to engage in the same dialogue with a candidate as residents of the early states. Using UStream’s embedded chat functionality, as well as monitoring comments on the sites where our streams were embedded, we were able to bring in questions from people across the country into Dodd’s Q&A sessions with voters in New Hampshire and caucus-goers in Iowa.

The technology was simple and easy. A small camcorder hooked up to a laptop and broadcast on UStream. For the best streams we would use an ethernet cable, but the best was rarely possible. Most of our streams were done over wifi or even a Verizon air card. I was able to set up live streams in back yards at house parties in New Hampshire or in greasy spoon diners rural Iowa. At big political forums I was able to run live streams from the press risers alongside CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News.

We promoted live streams on Twitter and kept a scroll of recent tweets and streaming feeds on the home page of the campaign’s website.

During the Google & YouTube-hosted debate in South Carolina we even UStreamed senior campaign staff commenting and fact checking what was being said during the course of the debate in real time. According to UStream, that feed have over 10,000 views. Following the debate commentary, I broadcast live from the post-debate spin room while Senator Dodd answered questions from reporters.

Again, this was in 2007.

The Dodd internet campaign, under the leadership of Tim Tagaris, turned our website into a video hub for speaking directly to voters. Tagaris’s vision was to give people greater access to Dodd and the campaign via streaming video — to create “Big Brother” for politics with brand new technology. We built DoddTV — a multi-channel repository for live streams of speeches, saved videos of Dodd talking on key political topics, and interviews with senior campaign staff talking about our work. DoddTV even included a live stream of the Dodd campaign headquarters to watch staff work (naturally we didn’t broadcast sound).

To state the obvious, the Dodd campaign’s innovative use of live streaming technology and public engagement via streaming video did not move the needle an inch in the Democratic presidential primary. Maybe it’s because we were eight years ahead of our time. But more likely it’s because the forces of political sentiment in America are too big to be influenced by one technology platform or one medium of engagement.

I have no clue if Meerkat will revolutionize political engagement during the 2016 cycle and neither does Dan Pfeiffer. Maybe the spread of smartphones with good video cameras and faster data connections will bring live streaming into politics in a bigger way than we did in 2007. Maybe the fact that recording broadcasts for later viewing is actually a really key feature for spreading what happens at political events won’t be relevant to Meerkat’s growth in politics or beyond.

I just hope we can have a discussion of Meerkat that recognizes the technology platforms that came before it, as well as the applications that those platforms were deployed in, before we anoint live streaming as the “new” technology of the 2016 election cycle.

Cross posted from Medium.

Syriza, Podemos & Outside Organizing

SYRIZA’s big victory in Greece this weekend is an exciting moment for left political activism. They are an anti-austerity party that has actively campaigned on a promise of leftist reforms and a rejection of Greece’s fealty to multi-national banks and the Troika of the ECB, IMF, and the European Commission. Syriza failed two seats short of an outright majority and chose to partner with a rightwing, anti-austerity party to form their government. The results are to be determined, but we should know relatively soon, as Greece’s loan comes due soon and they will presumably have to quickly renegotiate an extensions. Syriza, despite much hyperventilating to the contrary, does not seem intent on leaving the Eurozone, so they are likely to behave in a less radical fashion than a party with “radical” as part of their name might otherwise be expected to behave.

Taking a step back from the politics and the global economics of the situation, I want to flag something which strikes me as far more important beyond Greece. Prior to the Greek election Sebastian Budgen interviewed Stathis Kouvelakis, a Syriza committee member and professor at King’s College London, for Jacobin. It is a very long interview, with lots of internal history both of Syriza and the Greek left. But it touches on a point which I think is critical to the prospects for exporting whatever has made Syriza a success in Greece to points beyond.

Do you think that the social movement that we saw with the city square occupations in Greece is linked to Syriza’s advances at the ballot box?

Absolutely. Some people believed that these movements were not only spontaneous but even anti-political, that they stood outside and against politics. But while they did indeed reject the politics they saw in front of them, they were also looking for something different. The Podemos experience in Spain as well as Syriza in Greece shows that if the radical Left makes suitable proposals, then it can arrive at an understanding with these movements and provide a credible political “condensation” of their demands.

The idea of a merging or condensing of radical, in the streets activism that happened around the globe in 2010 and 2011, into functional political parties that win elections is tantalizing. What is key to me is that Kouvelakis doesn’t talk about coopting the energies of young people and workers in the streets for one party’s gains. He doesn’t talk about individual leaders stepping forth to harness these popular movements. He instead talks about the onus being on political parties to speak to the popular movements and be sufficiently responsive to be credible to the activists.

A different way to put this is that it’s not up to activists in the street to come up with a policy agenda that politicians respond to, but the other way around. It is up to politicians and political parties to listen to what people in the streets (or online, for that matter) are saying and respond with the knowledge and skills that they have with the machinations of governance, of regulation, of legislation to provide a political outlet to protest movements.

Also posted at Jacobin, Pablo Iglesias of Podemos has a speech in which he highlights the extent to which winning elections is not the same as governance. The close workings of Podemos and Syriza speak to the ways in which electing multiple left governments that reject austerity can build off of each other. Iglesias offers good reminders that if they win, they have to actually succeed at delivering what people are counting on their governments for. It’s insufficient that they are opposed by wealthy elites and banksters. He says, “a society [must] be able to provide the basic material conditions that make happiness and dignity possible.” And as he admits, this is not a radical idea. It’s only radical in the context of decades of ascendant neoliberal governance that have sought to do the opposite.

On the 2014 elections & ideas

The Democrats got beat pretty badly in the midterm elections. This is not a big surprise. But the losses have generated countless pieces about why they lost, how they could have avoided losing, what messaging would work better, how Democrats can better convince the citizenry to put their faith in them and so forth. To me, it’s a massively unsatisfying oeuvre.


I came to realize a number of years ago that by and large the people and centers of power in the Democratic Party don’t share my set of beliefs. There are no doubt some leftwing and populist politicians in the Democratic Party – obviously Elizabeth Warren tops the list – but they don’t run the party, they don’t run the party committees, they don’t drive the legislative agenda. Power in the Democratic Party is centered in individuals who are conservative, who hold neoliberal views of work and the economy, and have deep ties to finance capital. The majority of Democratic office holders and their supporting infrastructure falls into this latter category and spends an awful lot of time talking about how Democrats are wrong to use populist or anti-bank messaging.

This is a realization of fact. There is no normative quality to this, it’s simply the world we live in. And it’s a world where the existence of a Warren or a Sherrod Brown or a Mike Honda within the Democratic Party does not mean that it is in fact a populist or even a left political party.

Here are a few other somewhat disjointed, post-election thoughts…


A common thread in election epitaphs has been that Democrats aren’t conveying their ideas well. As a counter-point, Noam Scheiber describes the nature of Obama’s ideology:

How could these two legacies coexist in one presidency? They emanate from the worldview that Jarrett and Obama sharecall it “boardroom liberalism.” It’s a worldview that’s steeped in social progressivism, in the values of tolerance and diversity. It takes as a given that government has a role to play in building infrastructure, regulating business, training workers, smoothing out the boom-bust cycles of the economy, providing for the poor and disadvantaged. But it is a view from on highone that presumes a dominant role for large institutions like corporations and a wisdom on the part of elites. It believes that the world works best when these elites use their power magnanimously, not when they’re forced to share it. The picture of the boardroom liberal is a corporate CEO handing a refrigerator-sized check to the head of a charity at a celebrity golf tournament. All the better if they’re surrounded by minority children and struggling moms.Is this not a perfect description of the Democratic Party today? Generally positive on social issues, but full-blooded in their support for corporations, for profits, for the 1% and the bottom line.

Notwithstanding his early career as a community organizer, Obama, like Jarrett, is fundamentally a man of the inside. It’s why he put a former Citigroup executive and Robert Rubin chief of staff named Michael Froman in charge of assembling his economic team in 2008, why he avoided a deep restructuring of Wall Street, why he abruptly junked the public option during the health care debate, why he so ruthlessly pursues leakers and the journalists who cultivate them. It explains why so many of his policy ideasfrom jobs for the long-term unemployed to mentoring minority youthrely on the largesse of corporations.

This doesn’t describe a problem of rhetoric. Plenty of Democrats ran and lost using populist messaging, just as plenty of conservative Democrats ran and lost using conservative, Republican Lite messaging. Focusing the debate on the impact of messaging not only ignores the fact that Democrats have a clear record while in varying degrees of power over the last six years, but has the unseemly quality of treating American voters like rubes to be moved by marketing campaigns.


Matt Stoller, in the course of a must-read book review of Al From’s The New Democrats and the Return to Power, makes a very strong case for the need for ideas. Opening on the occasion of the many hair-rending after action reports within Democratic circles as to what happened, Stoller writes:

Everything is put on the table, except the main course — policy. Did the Democrats run the government well? Are the lives of voters better? Are you as a political party credible when you say you’ll do something?

This question is never asked, because Democratic elites — ensconced in the law firms, foundations, banks, and media executive suites where the real decisions are made — basically agree with each other about organizing governance around the needs of high technology and high finance. The only time the question even comes up now is in an inverted corroded form, when a liberal activist gnashes his or her teeth and wonders — why can’t Democrats run elections around populist themes and policies? This is still the wrong question, because it assumes the wrong causality. Parties don’t poll for good ideas, run races on them, and then govern. They have ideas, poll to find out how to sell those ideas, and run races and recruit candidates based on the polling. It’s ideas first, then the sales pitch. If the sales pitch is bad, it’s often the best of what can be made of an unpopular stew of ideas.

Still, you’d think that someone, somewhere would have populist ideas. And a few — like Zephyr Teachout and Elizabeth Warren — do. But why does every other candidate not? I don’t actually know, but a book just came out that might answer this question. The theory in this book is simple. The current generation of Democratic policymakers were organized and put in power by people that don’t think that a renewed populist agenda centered on antagonism towards centralized economic power is a good idea.

Democrats writ large aren’t populists because they don’t believe in populists ideas. Expecting them to be a vehicle for ideas that they don’t hold isn’t a reasonable expectation.


Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for Governor in New York, has a good op-ed in The Guardian that brings up a number of ideas that he sees as fertile ground for a resurgent American left, unserved by the Democratic Party.


Frankly I don’t care if the Democratic Party becomes a vehicle for leftwing ideas or if left movements emerge that can force policy action or if a left third party emerges that builds real, sustained political power. But I do hope there is a home for these ideas in this country.

There are potential sources for left ideas to be put forward and spread publicly. The ideas can be pushed for by left Democrats, by the Working Families Party, by #BlackLivesMatter, by Occupy, by labor, by environmentalists, by a new third party that represents workers, people of color, women, immigrants, youth… There’s a lot that can by done and is already being done. Like Stoller points out, it doesn’t really matter what we call it, as long as the issues that must be confronted are so confronted with good ideas, unbound to Democratic electoral frameworks.


There has been real energy come from youth and working people lead movements like Occupy Wall Street (and the notable mutual aid offshoots Occupy Sandy and Occupy Homes), the Dream Defenders, Moral Mondays, fast food worker organizing, direction action activists against the Keystone XL pipeline and quite powerfully, in the anti-racism, anti-police brutality protests surrounding the murders of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and sadly many others.

But what needs to come first is the ideas, ideas that can weave these somewhat disparate but complimentary movements together. I’ve said for a long time there’s a potential political party/movement that aligns closely around the values of young people and people of color/immigrants. You end up going basically with Occupy + Millenials + Internet Freedom. Core issues, in no particular order, would include:
  • Anti-racism in general and anti-police brutality/profile in particular
  • Legalized marijuana, end the war on drugs
  • Marriage equality
  • High minimum wage
  • Student loan / debt reform
  • Workers rights on the job, particularly against fast food and app-based employers
  • Net neutrality
  • Regulation of financial markets
  • Spending for renewable energy development / ending fossil fuel state

These is a great list of issues that Democrats have thoroughly failed to serve their natural, historic constituencies on. Maybe there’s space for someone to bring forth ideas that address them. I don’t hold out hopes that this will happen within the Democratic Party, but I’ve been wrong before.

Fake Dem Andrew Cuomo’s Very Bad News Cycle

First Chris Hayes of MSNBC absolutely obliterated NY Governor Andrew Cuomo for his refusal to intervene on behalf of the Democratic caucus in the NY State Senate.

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Then Alex Pareene of Salon piled on:

Cuomo doesn’t hide his conservative tendencies — they’re part of his sales pitch, especially upstate and outside New York City — but he’s in an enviable position of being able to run and govern as a conservative while retaining a progressive reputation, because he’s, you know, a Cuomo and a big-city blue state liberal governor who got gay marriage passed. His response to Sandy has raised his national profile even more, and barring the sort of disastrous scandals that have sunk the last couple of New York governors, he’ll keep being mentioned whenever people bring up 2016 candidates until the day he announces his intentions. But Democrats ought to know what sort of Democrat he is. If Cuomo allows Republicans to subvert the will of the voters of New York, so that he has an easier time cutting taxes and rolling back regulations, he shouldn’t be allowed to sell himself to future primary voters as a progressive.

Cuomo is clearly positioning himself for a 2016 presidential run and has been for a long time. He’s been good for gay rights and may end up being good on public financing of elections, but he’s horrible for labor, working people, and the environment. He’s a pro-Wall Street DLC-type LieberDem of the worst variety and it’s important progressives who may see him make the occasional good statement not be conned by Cuomo.

Cuomo is clearly playing a very cynical game of trying to wedge different parts of the progressive Democratic base against each other to maintain a facade of progressivism while running for President. He should not be allowed to get away with it.

The Day After Election Day

Some thoughts on the day after the election:

  • Pro-gay marriage referenda passed in Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, and Washington state. This is an incredible victory, given that in years past these sorts of popular votes were brought by anti-equality conservatives. The culture war is changing and marriage equality is becoming a reality in an ever-larger swath of America – something that makes me feel my “traditional” marriage is stronger today than it was yesterday.
  • There are invariably a lot of groups who make efforts, post-election, to get credit for their issue/demographic being the margin of victory for the winning side. Obviously this is usually partly true and partly exaggeration allowed for by demographics (it is rare any group can successfully argue on a demographic level). Of note from this cycle:
    • Roughly 5% of yesterday’s voters were gay. That’s a huge bloc and no small reason why pro-equality candidates and initiatives won across the country. By comparison, 3% of voters were Asian and 10% of voters were Latino.
    • The GOP has made a horrible misplay in embracing anti-Latino nativism. They’ve fallen from solid 40s support under Bush to about 21% in this election. To put it differently, Latinos could be credited with delivering this election to Obama. This demographic trend alone could ensure that the GOP doesn’t win a presidential election until they get their heads right on immigration and Latino issues.
    • Youth voted for Obama at about 60%, a slight drop from 2008 but enough to ensure that America’s future ideological demographics are squarely on the side of whichever party is more liberal.
    • Union voters in swing states, particularly Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Wisconsin, are likely at or around the margin of victory.
  • Taken together, it’s clear that the demographic and ideological base of the Democratic Party should be pro-worker, pro-immigrant, pro-gay and anti-debt. Whether that happens under Obama’s leadership is an entirely different story.
  • The Senate pickups are genuinely exciting. A class that keeps Sherrod Brown, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand and Sheldon Whitehouse, while adding Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin, and Chris Murphy is a genuinely strong one. Murphy is a huge improvement over Joe Lieberman, even if he is unlikely to be as outspoken a progressive as Warren or Baldwin. Considering Warren, Gillibrand, and Brown could all be presidential candidates in 2016, this is a class that will have real incentive to show visible, progressive leadership, particularly on issues of economic fairness and reigning in corporate power.
  • As someone who wasn’t invested in President Obama getting reelected, it was easy for me to always look at the race from a dispassionate position. The polling all year seemed clear – at no point did Romney make inroads into the swing states to a degree that Obama’s path to 270 electoral college votes was threatened. On the one hand, this meant I didn’t agonize about how things were going. And on the other hand, it made the whole ouvre of attacks on Nate Silver’s polling analysis by Beltway pundits who demanded that the race as a coin toss completely absurd. There are a lot of people in the press (and on the right) who should be eating heaping piles of crow today. Though I doubt we’ll see as much of it as should happen.
  • Going back to the Senate, it’s remarkable that Democrats gained three seats when they had 10 more up to defend this cycle than the GOP. It was really a massive failure by the NRSC to let an opportunity for gaining the majority turn into lost ground for the GOP in the Senate.
  • President Obama made a passing reference to climate change in his acceptance speech last night. The speech was probably the best I can recall him making in years, but I would have loved to hear him make climate change a major issue this cycle. That he did not do this makes major climate action less likely, as he did not use the cycle to build political capital for it (akin to what he did for healthcare in 2008).
  • One of the best things from Obama’s speech last night was his call for political participation beyond the ballot box. While much was made by the professional left of the FDR “Now make me do it” story from the 1930s, Obama did not ever say this in 2008 or 2009. But this time he effectively told his supporters, “Make me do it,” where it is actual progressive policies that Obama campaigned on: “But that doesn’t mean your work is done. The role of citizens in our Democracy does not end with your vote. America’s never been about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us together through the hard and frustrating, but necessary work of self-government.”
  • With an ideological shift to the left in the Senate, it’d be great to see filibuster reform. I’m not going to place any money wagering this will happen, though.
  • And also on the Senate, David Dayen makes a strong case that Democrats in the Senate should do nothing on fiscal issues in the lame duck and instead wait until the new Congress is seated in January. The caucus took a meaningful step to the left last night and is more capable of getting something good passed in January than they are in the next two months.

For at least two years, I’ve been saying that if the Republicans failed to defeat Barack Obama this cycle, it should go down  as one of the worst failures in American political history. The economy has been weak for the entire term (though getting stronger over time) and unemployment has been historically high. The President’s job approval rating has been in the 40s most of the last two years, often in the low 40s. The single largest legislative accomplishment – the healthcare bill – has mostly not gone into affect and is fairly unpopular. With this range of facts defining the situation, it really is stunning that the GOP couldn’t nominate a candidate capable of beating President Obama.

Already today there are some Republican voices calling for a pivot to appeal to Latino voters, but this is really just the tip. The GOP didn’t lose just because of anti-immigrant nativism. They lost because they have become captured by the most reactionary voices of the party. While I do not have high hopes for the GOP, the country is better served when they are a center right party and not a far right party. I hope that what few moderate voices still exist in the GOP find a way to bring their party back to a position of relative sanity. And in so doing, I hope that Democrats will shift from being a center right party to a left wing party.

Finally, I have no clue what this election victory – the margin, the constituencies that delivered it, the fact that he will never have to face the electorate again – will do for the policy agenda in his second term. It’d be great if he becomes the progressive champion lots of activists have thought he would be from early 2007 onward. But we don’t need to speculate at this point – the evidence will arrive soon enough. Digby writes:

If the Obama team learned anything from all this it should be that they cannot be all things to all people. We disagree in this country and that’s ok.  This election wasn’t about post-partisanship, bipartisanship or “changing the tone.” This was a strictly partisan victory made up of  the Democratic Party coalition.
The liberals were validated this election and it behooves the administration to strategize their next four years with that in mind.

He’s run his last race and all he has left to worry about is properly governing the country and solidifying his legacy — and that legacy will be made or broken on how well he fulfills the agenda of those who have voted for him in massive numbers. He has a right and an obligation to unapologetically work to enact the agenda those people elected him to enact.

I really hope Digby is right. But I’m afraid that this isn’t how the relationship between politics and governance works. Political coalitions emerge around the achievement of an electoral outcome. The policy outcomes of governance are fundamentally and functionally disconnected from this. That is, Obama is going to pursue the policies he believes in and wants to enact, regardless of what the people who got him elected want or believe. This is particularly true in places where liberals made the choice to vote for Obama in spite of his lack of alignment with them on issues like solving the foreclosure crisis, ending deportations of immigrants, and the prosecution of the war on terror. There is no transitive property of electoral politics, wherein the politician elected will now adopt the policy preferences of the people who delivered him to office. It’d be nice if there was, especially in this case, but it doesn’t exist. Obama may well end up being more liberal this term than last. I certainly hope he is. But I don’t share Digby’s optimism that this victory will make Obama obligated to support an agenda driven by the policy desires of the constituencies which elected him. Again, we shall see what happens soon enough.

On polling & punditry

This piece at the sports blog Deadspin by David Roher on the spurious attacks on poll analyst Nate Silver from the right, as well as from established Beltway pundits like David Brooks and Joe Scarborough, is must-read.

In particular:

In fact, we’ve reached the point in our screwed-up political media culture where the polling companies and forecasters—not the pundits, not the spokespeople, and certainly not the candidates—are the only people being evaluated rigorously on the substance of their arguments. If Nate Silver and Sam Wang screw up, their popularity will suffer as a result, and they’ll have to reconsider their models. Meanwhile, if Brooks, Jordan, Scarborough, Rubin, or Byers make another poor argument, they’ll continue to collect their paychecks as if nothing had happened. Likewise, the Curse of the Bambino stopped working long ago, and yet Dan Shaughnessy is still getting book deals.

Just like their colleagues in the sports section, the political pundits see the wrong kind of uncertainty in Nate Silver. They associate statistics with mathematical proof, as if a confidence interval were the same thing as the Pythagorean Theorem. Silver isn’t more sure of himself than his detractors, but he’s more rigorous about demonstrating his uncertainty. He’s bad news for the worst members of the punditry, who obscure the truth so their own ignorance looks better by comparison and who make their money on the margin of uncertainty, too.

The Arguments Against Obama

As we approach the presidential election, there has been a new flurry of articles from radical and progressive leftwing writers on why not to vote for Obama, from various particular frameworks.

Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic had already been the focus of much of the earlier phases of this debate when he, a libertarian, identified lines in the sand that he viewed Obama as crossing regarding the President’s bombing campaign in Pakistan, his authorization of extrajudicial killing of American citizens, and his decision to wage a war in Libya without Congressional approval.

Over the weekend, Matt Stoller offered up a progressive case against Obama, a thorough and thoughtful look at the reasons, particularly in economic and housing policies, not to vote for the President. Stoller identifies the ways in which Obama has created a less equal society and solidified power in the hands of elites. Much of this critique is not new to Stoller, but this is piece is a comprehensive assembly of different threads of criticism into one larger argument.

Stoller’s piece relied in part on the arguments of philosopher and feminist Falguni Sheth, who argues against Obama from a framework built around criticism of his failures for women of color both in the US and around the world. This is an expressly more expansive framework of criticism than the often deployed one in defense of Democrats regarding the importance of the Supreme Court to protect reproductive rights.

Chris Hedges provides an argument for why he is voting Green that is also worth reading. He relies heavily on the statements and positions of Green Party candidate Jill Stein, as well as highlights the importance third parties have played in driving progressive political and social change movements in American history.

What should be clear to any thinking citizen is that there are ample reasons to decide to not vote for President Obama, just as there are even more reasons to not vote for Mitt Romney. The people making these arguments against Obama are doing so in good faith and opening themselves to massive amounts of criticism in doing so.

It’s unfortunate that the recent history in America includes Al Gore’s loss in 2000 – something many people have blamed on Ralph Nader. For a country that strongly favors narratives of personal responsibility, I’ve always found this fairly bizarre. But nonetheless, the debacle of 2000 is commonly viewed as a case against citizens voting for the politician they most agree with and instead limiting themselves to choosing one of the two major parties. The 2000 election and the conventional wisdom which emerged from it is undoubtedly poisoning much of the discourse offered by critics listed above (and others) about what the American left should do with their vote in this election.

Voting is a moral act. The vote you cast represents the normative view you have of our country. With your vote you will that your fellow citizens vote the same way. In my view you have zero obligation to vote for someone you don’t support. Given the way our electoral college makes all but a small handful of states competitive, I think this is especially true if you are in a non-swing state.

There are plenty of arguments to vote for President Obama and plenty of arguments that weigh heavily on electoral game theory for strength. But there are also strong, coherent, good faith arguments for progressives, radicals, liberals and even Democrats to note vote for President Obama. I really wish the public space was capable of handling these facts in an honest and forthright way, as they are fundamentally debates about who we are and what we believe in. Sadly, when I see the vitriol leveled at critics like Stoller, Friedersdorf, or Glenn Greenwald, I don’t think such a debate is too likely to happen in earnest. The meaning of these criticisms is too great and looking at them honestly is too hard for many people.

Dean Baker on Social Security

Dean Baker’s piece in The Guardian on the politics and economics of Social Security is must-read.

The story here is a simple one: while social security may enjoy overwhelming support across the political spectrum, it does not poll nearly as well among the wealthy people – who finance political campaigns and own major news outlets. The predominant philosophy among this group is that a dollar in a workers’ pocket is a dollar that could be in a rich person’s pocket – and these people see social security putting lots of dollars in the pockets of people who are not rich.

For this reason, a candidate who comes out for protecting social security can expect to see a hit to their campaign contributions. They also can anticipate being beaten up in both the opinion and news sections of major media outlets. While, in principle, these are supposed to be kept strictly separate, the owners and/or top management of most news outlets feel no qualms about removing this separation when it comes to social security – and using news space to attack those who defend social security.

This is the fundamental economics of social security that explains why it has not figured more prominently in the presidential race. If President Obama were to rise in defense of the program, he could count on losing the financial backing of many supporters. He would also get beaten up by the Washington Post and other major news outlets for challenging their agenda.

Earlier in the piece Baker notes that in the first debate President Obama said that he and Mitt Romney have essentially the same position on Social Security. Baker notes that Romney’s position is to have major cuts to Social Security, so this isn’t an admission which amounts to taking the issue off the table, but in fact means there is dangerous consensus to cut Social Security.

Baker’s arguments, quoted above, imply that were it not for the wealth of anti-Social Security donors to political campaigns, President Obama would hold a different position on Social Security. I’m not sure that evidence of this exists. All we know from the President is that he and Romney are in essential agreement when it comes to Social Security. We do not know if this is a craven position driven by the need for re-election cash or if it’s a deeply held belief that coincidentally aligns with his rich donors.