So I’m doing some reading on Nathan Phillips, the Indian guy who claims to have been harassed by the teenagers from Coventry High over the weekend and I can’t help but think there is a serious case of stolen valor here. He claims to be a Marine Corps Vietnam veteran, but too much of his story doesn’t add up. This is a guy who has been in the news off and on for the past 20 years, but nobody seems to have checked out his background. His first interview, way back in November 2000, listed his age as 45. His most recent interview, from this past weekend, he is 64. That is consistent with someone born in early January 1955. By his own account (again, nobody has seen his DD214), he joined the Marines at age 17, but this was after a period of time working as a lumberjack.
Here’s where his story starts to fall apart. Let’s be generous and say he stepped on the yellow footprints in February 1972, graduating after 13 weeks. Let’s be even more generous and say he did not have leave after basic and reported straight to ITR. So, the earliest he could have been deployed to Vietnam as a 0311 would have been late July or early August 1972.
The last major USMC combat element, III MAF, left Vietnam in April 1971. The last USMC combat unit, 3rd MAB, left in June 1971.
You can see the problem here. Those dates mean either Nathan Phillips was the only combat Marine in Vietnam, he was assigned to the Embassy or he was one of the 60 or so advisors the Marine Corps left with the ARVN forces. The last option is least likely (a boot private without any combat experience isn’t going to advise anyone on tactics). If he were assigned to the embassy, he would likely have clarified this by stating his MOS was an 8151.
Now for where things REALLY get interesting. Phillips also claims to be a Force Recon Marine. In his own words in a Vogue interview in 2018, he actually says “I’m what they call a recon ranger.” Well, knock me over with a feather, but if I had a nickel for every recon ranger I’ve met who never even wore a uniform, I’d be a millionaire. To my knowledge, I’ve never met a Force Recon Marine in the First Civ Div. Do you know why? Because most special forces guys don’t go around advertising their training. They don’t need to.
But let’s suspend all reason and say that Phillips isn’t laying it on thicker than molasses in January. The absolute minimum training time for a Force Recon Marine is 4 months. Let’s also suppose he was selected for Force Recon out of ITR. That puts his earliest arrival in Vietnam as January 1973.
That’s still 4 months after the last US combat unit, the Army’s 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, 196th Brigade left Vietnam in August 1972.
I suppose it’s possible Phillips forgot some dates. It’s possible he can’t recall his MOS. Anything is possible, after all, even though I’ve never met a Marine who can’t remember what his job was, the dates of his service and every time he was deployed (and where).
I hate to call him out as a fraud if he isn’t. But considering he has spent the past few years putting himself in the news and is now muckraking to the point of driving hate mobs towards teenagers, it’s time to put his veracity to the test. If you served with Nathan Phillips, let me know. If he is a Force Recon Marine, I’ll gladly retract every word of this, buy him a beer and thank him for his service. But if he isn’t, he is deserving of every bit of scorn and derision we can heap upon him.
It seems you can’t pick up a newspaper (ok, I’m being quaint, but some of us do still read newspapers) or turn on your television without hearing about how our elections are under assault. If the Russians aren’t rotting our minds with memes of Hillary Clinton drunkenly gazing at balloons, the Chinese are hacking into our voter rolls. When the Chinese aren’t hacking into voter rolls, the Iranians are hacking the voting machines themselves. When the Iranians aren’t playing centrifuge subterfuge with the voting machines, the North Koreans are actually changing vote totals.
It’s a wonder a beloved TV sitcom character hasn’t been elected to Congress with all this electronic doo-dah. Oh, wait…
Okay, the security of our electronic voting systems are important. I don’t mean to belittle them. But that insecurity highlights a much bigger problem our nation faces: in a representative republic, the integrity of the electoral process cannot be open to interpretation. When it is, then the legitimacy of the election outcomes that select our representatives comes into question. No government without said legitimacy can stand for long.
It seems to me that I’m not the only one thinking the way we vote has become an absolute mess over the last twenty years. You would have thought that after the disaster of the 2000 election, the one in which “Hanging Chad” came to mean something other than executing a yuppie horse thief, we would have gotten our act together. But as the most recent election demonstrated, if anything we got worse at both voting and counting the vote. Of course, much of the coverage centered on our favorite county (Broward) in our favorite state (Florida) for electoral shenanigans. This overlooks that there were nearly four dozen House races that still weren’t called a full week after the election. It overlooks serious charges of vote tampering and fraud in California, New Jersey, Illinois, Georgia, Alaska, North Carolina, and Utah.
Since we didn’t learn from the disaster that was 2000, allow me to propose some simple changes that would be relatively simple to implement that would go a long way to ending the nonsense. Will it end voting irregularities forever? No, of course not. They are a feature of any voting system since man-made systems are imperfectible. But we can do much better than we have to date.
Step 1: Implement a national Voter ID system
Look, forget all the nonsense about poor people, or black people, or Hispanic people, not being able to get a valid state ID. It’s the 21st century, for chrissakes. There is absolutely no reason an adult should not have a valid ID. I challenge you to find me a state where you can buy a beer or pack of cigarettes without a valid ID. If we demand you have a valid ID for something as mundane as getting a cold brew at a restaurant, any argument against having one for something as important as voting is ridiculous on its face. Remember this sob story? The only reason he was prevented from breaking the law was due to Tennessee’s voter ID law.
Yeah, Voter ID laws work exactly as intended. Which may be why the same crowd that is all for open borders and illegal immigrants voting in our elections are so against them.
Step 2: Get rid of early voting
It seems many of the problems we run into with counting the vote (and where some of the greatest opportunities for general screwing with the ballots) comes from the fact that in some jurisdictions, people can actually begin voting up to a month before election day. There are other reasons to get rid of early voting (seriously, who but the most partisan hack is 100% certain of who they’re going to cast their ballot for a month before election day?), but that’s another post for another day. Anyway, the nonsense we witnessed around the country last November, with ballots mysteriously materializing from car trunks and classroom closets, would immediately end simply by getting rid of early voting. I understand voting in the middle of the week is inconvenient for a great many people, but that brings me to my next suggestion, which is…
Step 3: Make all national elections a national holiday
See, now nobody has the excuse they can’t get off work to go vote. Yes, the lines might be long. But if voting becomes a holiday, think about this: how long will it be before the nation’s retailer’s start offering discounts when you present that “I voted” sticker? I bet Friendly’s even starts offering a free scoop of ice cream!
Step 4: End “ballot harvesting”
Look, I don’t know who came up with this piece of insanity. I’m ambivalent about absentee ballots, to begin with (I can’t get around particularly well these days, but I still show up to vote in person), but if your state is going to allow them, shouldn’t the very least expectation be that you put the doggone thing in the mailbox yourself? I don’t know who thought the idea of letting party operatives handle them was a brilliant idea, but they need to be taken out back and put out of their misery the same way we do horses with broken legs. Heck, we’re ten weeks past the election and one district in North Carolina got so fouled up with ballot tampering as a result of this idiocy that they likely need to call a special election. Stories have come from California of voters just signing a blank ballot and handing it over to a party apparatchik. I’m 100% certain no tampering happened in those instances whatsoever, right?
Step 5: Get rid of electronic voting machines
I don’t know if the Russians or Iranians or little green men from Mars are trying to break into the electronic voting systems in use around the US. What I do know is there is enough distrust that those systems can be secured against sophisticated hacks (or even hacks from 300 pound couch potatoes) that we should have already stopped using them.
Step 6 : JIT ballot verification
This is little more technical, but every bit as important as anything else. During the latest Broward “Whose Vote is It Anyway” episode, we were once again treated to election workers trying to decipher illegible ballots. Just because that wasn’t enough fun, then we heard that poll workers could, in the even a ballot was indecipherable, just fill out an alternate one. Just fill out an alternate one? Are you kidding me?
In software engineering, we use “Just-In-Time” testing to validate that our code at least has the correct syntax and spelling to not cause a digital rejection of our work when trying to make it do something. It isn’t that hard to do something similar with a paper ballot. Optical scanners, which have been around for longer than most of you who read this blog, can detect if too many circles on a line (or a row) are filled in, and if they’re filled in correctly – and check this out, they CAN EVEN COUNT THE VOTE IN REAL TIME. If your ballot is illegible, for whatever reason, the poll worker can hand you another blank, destroy the bad one and scan the corrected ballot all before you leave the voting booth! Amazing!
This won’t completely end the questions about voting. Some states will complain vociferously about Congress passing any further restrictions. I can already hear the Chamber of Commerce harping on yet another paid holiday. Democrats will kvetch about Voter ID and the loss of early voting, Republicans about JIT verification. Both will scream bloody murder over ending harvesting.
But these six steps will make our elections more secure and provide for quicker vote tabulation. They address some of the biggest questions the nation has about our elections. It puts what is the most vital process in republic back into the sunlight, restoring the trust that the process isn’t corrupted. In short, it is the first step in injecting some sanity back into our politics.
There seems to be much confusion these days over political labels. What do these terms even mean any more? What is a centrist? A liberal? A libertarian? A conservatarian? A classical liberal? A neo-liberal? A neocon?
What is a conservative, in today’s world?
To begin answering that question, it is helpful to understand where modern conservative thought in America comes from, and how it evolved.
There were two dominant themes of conservative thought in the middle of the 20th century. One was what we refer to as Buckley Conservatism. This strain of conservatism emphasized the role of traditions and established hierarchical organizations in promoting social order; preferred limited government, recognized the roles of religion and shared culture in social cohesiveness, distrusted rationalizations and promoted the view that people are, at our core, emotional beings. Buckley conservatives accept that private ownership of property, capitalism and free trade economics are the surest path to economic prosperity for everyone.
The other predominant view of conservatism was Coolidge Conservatism, which traced its roots back to the mid-19th century. This version of conservatism differed from Bucklian conservatism in that it viewed the corporation as the principle driver of both economic and social policy. It eventually merged with Objectivist theory to form the modern Libertarian party.
During the 1970s, a third strain of conservatism arose. We came to call this version of conservative thought neoconservatism, although it might also be called Bush or Kristol Conservatism after the men who exemplified its ideas. This version arose from disaffected liberals, although it hews close to the pre-existing Northeastern Republican thought of the day. Neocons espouse that military adventurism in replacing totalitarian regimes with democratic ones is a laudable use of military power, that government intervention in society to promote social change is not only acceptable but necessary, and a general belief in capitalism, but not free markets (Irving Kristol referred to this as “bourgeois capitalism”). While they agree with their forebears that people are not rational beings, they accept the idea that rationally developed plans, implemented by people who were educated and trained to ignore their emotional impulses, could improve the lives of everyone. This includes a belief that a strong welfare state is a requirement for a modern society.
Buckley conservatives were represented by Barry Goldwater’s quixotic presidential run in 1964 and reached its zenith with the Reagan presidency of the 1980s. But the GOP soon shifted from Buckleyism to Neoconservatism under the leadership of George HW Bush. Interventionist foreign policy and regime change became the order of the day, along with increased taxes and government intrusion into some of the social ramparts, such as local schools and civic organizations.
It is the neoconservative view that most Americans came to associate with being a conservative by the time of Barack Obama’s reelection campaign of 2012. While a great many conservative thinkers, politicians and writers paid lip service to the Bucklian concept of limited government and free markets, they only took that so far as limited taxation on businesses. Beyond that, they still practiced government regulation like a Rockefeller, practiced foreign interventionism like a Bush, and railed for government solutions to social problems like a liberal. Buckley Conservatism seemed an outdated anachronism by this point.
The funny thing about that is neoconservatism was actually the least conservative of the three dominant conservative philosophies that came to be in the 20th century. It owes its existence to liberals who were repulsed by the leftward lurch of mainstream liberal thought during the late 1960s. Neoconservatism shares many views with its liberal roots, although in attenuated form. As Irving Kristol once remarked, “A neoconservative is a liberal who got hit in the face by reality.”
That being said, neoconservatives also adopted Bucklian language in deference to the last truly successful Republican president, in Ronald Reagan. So, we have neoconservatives praising free markets when in reality they haven’t actually practiced free market economics. We have neoconservatives pledging fealty to fiscal responsibility, but refusing to actually do anything about it. We have neoconservatives decrying the welfare state, but refusing to do anything about the two biggest social welfare programs managed by the federal government.
Indeed, it is this aspect of the neoconservative takeover of the Republican party that has led many voters to think of it as nothing more than the flip side of the Democratic party coin. Is it any wonder the average person has no idea what a conservative is?
Into this vacuum stepped one Donald Trump. While almost nobody would consider Trump a died-in-the-wool conservative, he was able to capture the nomination of the Republican party by espousing many conservative views on issues, such as fealty to the letter of the Constitution, lower taxes, less regulation, an end to foreign adventurism, etc. At the same time, he promoted ideas that should have been anathema to any conservative: trade barriers, managed economies and a personal moral code that could be best described as immoral.
Some have described Trump, and his policy goals as a form of right-wing populism. It may well be, but I suspect that Trump has so completely rebranded the moniker of conservative (abetted by a very liberal press that wants nothing more than to permanently discredit conservatism, in all forms) that conservatives will need to re-examine their ideals to see which can be modified, and which of the new ideas can be absorbed, into a 21st century conservatism.
For instance, many conservatives are loathe to accept the idea of nationalism as being a conservative goal. At the same time, one of the core tenets of conservatism – irregardless of the particular flavor of 20th century conservative thought to which one might subscribe – is the notion of a cohesive society, built around a shared history and culture. That is the very essence of nationalism. To some, this smacks of the jingoism and xenophobia associated with the extreme nationalism that punctuated the 1930s. But it need not be. Acceptance of the United States as unique among nations extends back throughout our history, there’s no reason we should deviate from that today.
The best way to judge whether conservatism, as both a political and societal philosophy, is at all compatible with elements of Trumpism is to see if the general tenets of conservatism are compatible with them. Perhaps no finer mind than that of Russell Kirk laid out those general principles 25 years ago in a terrific essay (you can find it here). So, if we do that comparison, which are – and which are not?
- Human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent. – NO
- Trumpism doesn’t address human nature at all, nor does it consider it as a guiding principle in any policy decision. Morality is paid lip service, but in practice ignored, both by Trump and most of those in his inner circle.
- The conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity. – MAYBE?
- Trumpism has a dichotic relationship with this idea. On one hand, Trump was elected precisely to upend conventional politics and institutions. On the other, many of his supporters want a return to the customs and conventions they recall from their youth.
- Conservatives believe in the principle of prescription. – NO
- This is one area in which Trump’s liberal roots come shining through. Rather than base his decisions on what worked in the past, he very much is out to completely remake the world order in his own image.
- Conservatives are guided by prudence. – NO
- Not unlike most other politicians of the current era, this principle does not apply to Trump. Every decision he makes is weighed against immediate impact, not the effect on the nation or world five or ten years hence.
- Conservatives pay attention to variety. – YES
- Kirk wrote, “The only true forms of equality are equality at the Last Judgment and equality before a just court of law…” This is a principle that is upheld under Trumpism, much to the chagrin of liberals – who are determined to end the inequality of outcomes.
- Conservatives understand that humans are not perfect, and cannot be made to be perfect. – NO
- This is another area in which Trump demonstrates his liberal leanings. By action, he shows he believes himself to be perfected. He believes he can also bring perfection to any number of situations. Such self-confidence is a key part of his appeal, even if it is misguided.
- Freedom and property are closely linked. – NO
- The Trump administration has fought efforts to end the abysmal practice of civil forfeiture, and followed Trump’s long history of supporting using eminent domain to seize property. That speaks for how strongly this principle is detested by Trumpism.
- Conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism. – NO
- Trumpism is all about big, beautiful, federally driven solutions to problems that certainly would be better left to states and localities. Repealing Obamacare would be great, replacing it with another monster federal program not so much. A $1 trillion infrastructure program, with funds doled out by bureaucrats in Washington, will be as much a boondoggle as the “shovel ready jobs” Obama stimulus program.
- Government and government officials need restraints on power and human passions. – NO
- One glance at the headlines or Twitter on any given day tells you all you need to know how Trump (and due to their slavish devotion, most of his supporters) feel about this principle. That Trump came into the Oval Office thinking he had near kingly powers is pretty obvious, and the fact he doesn’t chafes at him probably more than anything else about the job.
- Permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society. – NO
- Kirk meant this in terms of the tension between a normal society’s natural desire towards social progress versus its foundational aspects. As noted previously, Trump is in many ways out to obliterate many of those foundations, without regard to what may replace them. Yet at the same time, his supporters look to return many established norms of prior eras while removing some of the progressive aspects of modern society.
So based on Kirk’s criteria, Trumpism is not particularly conservative, although there are parts of his agenda that will certainly appeal to conservatives – particularly conservatives who have been able to divorce their societal impulses from their views of governance and morality. Still, we can safely say that most who subscribe to Trumpism are NOT conservatives.
Likewise, we can safely say that those who subscribe to neoconservatism are not conservative, either. The entire philosophy of neoconservatism disagrees with Kirk on points 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 10. Think of the headlong rush to impose a Pax Americana by force of arms, to alter the nature of education and force federal intrusion into the same, and so forth. None of those policies nor the reasoning behind them were conservative in nature.
Thus, the confusion for us in determining what conservatism is and who in our country actually is a conservative. Our media, for 30 years – two generations – has conflated “conservative” with Republican. In no small measure, Buckley is responsible for this. He once wrote, “National Review will support the rightwardmost viable candidate.” This led the publication that Buckley founded, over the years, to support all four Bush candidacies, along with the McCain candidacy in 2008 and Romney candidacy in 2012. That sort of cover is precisely what the media (which has been unabashedly liberal for at least 40 years) has needed to paint the neoconservative movement as actually conservative. Likewise, the principle espoused (despite NR’s vociferous objections to Trump during the 2016 election) by Buckley has allowed them to paint Trump as a conservative.
So the answer to the question “what is a conservative” is the same as it has always been. If the question is, “who is a conservative,” though, and you refer to national leaders and politicians, then there is no obvious answer these days.
If the government isn’t going to defend the border, then it isn’t much of a government and has no business being in business.
Shut it down.
If our government refuses to provide for the common defense, it has no business calling itself our government.
Shut it down.
If Congress can spend over $4 trillion a year on things like seeing how fast a shrimp can run on a treadmill, but refuses to fund border defense, defund Congress.
Shut it down.
If our government can find $5 billion to help Iraq secure its border, but refuses to spend $5 billion to secure OUR border, whose government is it?
It isn’t ours.
Shut it down.
And leave it shut down.
There’s been a lot talk about refugees in the news the past month. If you listen to your betters on CNN, Central Americans massing at our southern border are refugees.
They’re not. A refugee is someone fleeing their home country because of their religious or political views, or their ethnicity, leave them in imminent danger of death, both from the populace and the government. Solzhenitsyn was a refugee. My mother was a refugee. There may be a legitimate refugee or two tucked into those hundreds now, and soon to be thousands, in Tijuana but the odds are against it.
Those people are not fleeing anything except the fact their home countries are among the most lawless and destitute on the planet. This is despite the fact they have some of the most abundant natural resources on the planet. It makes you wonder about the character of these folks. If they’re not willing to do the heavy lifting needed to bring their governments to account and put forth the effort to create a viable economy in their home countries, why would living here suddenly infuse them with those abilities?
This may come as a shock to you, but even the homeless guy sleeping on a park bench is wealthier than 98% of the world’s population. Stop to ponder that for a moment. Even our most destitute have it better than some 6 billion other human beings. If we accept living somewhere with a bad economic situation as a condition for refugee status, are we to accept responsibility for some 6 billion people? Only the most pie-eyed fool accepts that premise.
It is easy to cite for you people who are true refugees around the world. The Yazidi in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. The Uighers in China. The Copts in Egypt. The Rohingya in Myanmar. All are facing actual, government-sponsored extermination for no reason other than their ethnicity and/or religion.
“Never Again,” indeed.
Yesterday we celebrated a holiday dedicated to giving thanks that we live in a country that, no matter what else, is dedicated to the idea that no person should ever be forced by their government to worship in a particular religion, belong to a particular political sect, or face extermination because of their ethnicity. We’ve sometimes fallen a bit short of those ideals, but we never stop striving to perfect them. Beyond all else, those basic freedoms – of religion, of thought, of speech – and the willingness to fight for them are essential to what defines us.
But even if we would rather abandon first principles and ignore the genocides we swore would end after the Holocaust, in order to favor a bunch of folks who have yet to demonstrate any need other than financial want, we should still find and help targeted cases, those people who have become flashpoints in their home countries because their convictions leave them in extreme danger.
People like Asia Bibi. If you’re unfamiliar with her, she’s the young woman in Pakistan who’s professed Catholic faith led to her near execution. After the Pakistani government relented under international pressure and released her from death row, she’s had to go into hiding. The typical Pakistani would as soon as kill her by stoning as plunge a knife into her ribs. Her lawyer was forced to flee the country for the same reason. If anyone matches the definition of a refugee, Miss Bibi does.
President Trump could, with the executive powers he has available to him, order DHS to issue Asia Bibi both a travel visa and refugee status. He could demand Pakistan make her available, and order our embassy staff to arrange her safe passage to the US. After all, Pakistan is nominally an ally. Politically, it would be a win, both domestically and internationally.
And it might – just might – force the cable news talking heads to look in the mirror and confront their own hypocrisy.
I haven’t written a baseball post in a while, so I figured it was time to get one out there. Today’s submission is for a trade that would definitely take baseball by surprise, although if you stop to think about it, it shouldn’t.
So far, the media and fans have been concentrating on the top of the free agent market: Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Patrick Corbin, etc. Or they’re focused on the big-name pitchers that have found themselves on the trade block: Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, James Paxton, and Zack Greinke. It’s understandable. Those are some of the biggest stars in the game and the chance that any of them will change uniforms before Spring Training is bound to get attention.
But the best trades are the ones that make sense for both teams, but still seemingly come from nowhere. Then everyone sits back and says, yeah, why didn’t I think of that. It’s rare that both teams come out of a trade where you’re forced to admit everyone wins. The one I’m about to propose fits that bill.
New York Yankees get Carlos Santana, Philadelphia Phillies get Sonny Gray
Now, here’s why this works out for both teams.
From the Yankees perspective, first base has been a black hole ever since Mark Teixeira retired, and to be honest, Teixeira’s last couple of seasons weren’t why he has an outside shot at the Hall of Fame. Here’s a list of everyone who has started at first over the past two seasons:
- Chris Carter
- Greg Bird
- Chase Headley
- Garrett Cooper
- Austin Romine
- Tyler Austin
- Matt Holliday
- Ji-Man Choi
- Rob Refsnyder
- Gary Sanchez
- Neil Walker
- Luke Voit
- Brandon Drury
As the saying goes, if you have 13 first basemen, you don’t have any first baseman. I know the Yankees are still saying that Voit is getting first crack at cementing himself as the everyday guy, and that they still think Bird has a high ceiling. But when your goal is surpassing the Red Sox, can you really afford to go into the season with a major question mark at one of the premier offensive positions on any team? Especially given the unsettled nature of the middle infield?
Santana is not a guy who is spectacular. He is, however, as steady a player as they come. You know what to expect from him: somewhere in the neighborhood of a .250 average, 25-25 homers, 80 RBI, 100 walks, an OPS+ of around 110, somewhere around 2.5bWAR. Right now, a steady and slightly better than league average switch-hitting bat sounds pretty good. Add in that Santana has postseason experience, and this begins to look even better.
The Phillies rolled the dice by signing Santana to a 3 year, $60 million contract last offseason and came up snake eyes. It’s not a knock on Santana. He did what he always does. But the fanbase was thinking more Joey Votto for that kind of money. To make matters worse, the signing forced up-and-coming slugger Rhys Hoskins to left field, where he proved to be the league’s worst defensive outfielder. It took at-bats away from young outfielders Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr (particularly from Altherr), setting their development back.
Simply unloading the remaining 2 years and $40 million owed Santana makes this a win for the Phils, who’ve made no secret they want out from that contract.
Unloading the contract for the much maligned Yankee starter also shores up a need for the Phillies: a reliable starting pitcher. Yes, Gray stunk when he took the bump at Yankee Stadium. But he still managed a 3.17 ERA away from the Bronx. He still has the tools that made him an All-Star in Oakland, but like many before him (Hello Ed Whitson? Carl Pavano?) he could not get past Yankee Stadium. The change of scenery might be all needs to turn his career back around. If not, then the Phils are only on the hook for one more year.
See? Everyone wins this trade!
It’s been 10 days since the midterms, and the narrative seems to be centering on a theme: Republicans have lost the suburbs. Certainly, if you just look at the top line data, where it looks as though Democrats managed to flip somewhere around 40 suburban congressional districts, it looks grim for the GOP’s prospects. As they say, results matter and the GOP did pretty badly in the results department.
But when you dig into the reasons why the GOP had such poor results, you might be more surprised to discover that the weakness in the suburbs being panned by any number of talking heads isn’t as terrible as they want you to believe. For starters, let’s examine the overall turnout numbers in those suburbs.
Map of 2018 turnout by county, compiled by the Wall Street Journal
The above turnout “heat map” is pretty simple to read. It compares voter turnout from 2018 to 2016. The closer the number of total votes cast, the darker the shade of blue, the more vote totals came to be the same. Yellows mean there were more votes cast in 2018 than in 2016. So, when you look at this, two things that jump out at you: first, turnout in the Rust Belt and Mid-Atlantic states, along with California, was much lower than in the rest of the country. Second, turnout was exceptional in the Northern Plains, the Desert Southwest, Georgia, and Florida.
This seems to go against the idea that we’re being spoon fed by the pundits: that Democrats mobilized new midterm voters to turn out, and those new voters chose Democrat representation. It might be a good idea to build a list of seats that actually flipped. Or maybe even a map.
Thankfully, Axios has both. Here is the list of seats that flipped from “red” to “blue”:
- Arizona’s 2nd
- Iowa’s 1st & 3rd
- California’s 10th, 25th, 45th, 48th, 49th
- Colorado’s 6th
- Florida’s 26th & 27th
- Georgia’s 6th
- Illinois’ 14th & 6th
- Iowa’s 1st & 3rd
- Kansas’ 3rd
- Maine’s 2nd
- Michigan’s 8th & 11th
- Minnesota’s 2nd & 3rd. Republicans flipped the 1st & 8th
- New Jersey’s 11th, 7th, 2nd & 3rd
- New York’s 11th & 19th
- New Mexico’s 2nd
- Oklahoma’s 5th
- Pennsylvania’s 5th, 6th, 7th & 17th. The GOP flipped one blue seat red, the 14th district.
- Texas’ 32nd
- Virginia’s 2nd, 7th & 10th
- Washington’s 8th
Of the 39 seats flipped by Democrats, 28 happened in districts with lower than usual turnout. That hardly indicates that Democrats motivated voters to turn out in droves to crush the Republicans. Rather, it shows that Democrats turned out in comparable numbers to past elections but Republicans stayed home. Is there any way to test this theory?
Turns out we can sample the districts. Since I once lived in New Jersey, I decided to check on the districts that flipped there. I compared the vote totals each candidate received in 2018 against the vote totals for each party’s candidate in 2016. Additionally, my current district is Pennsylvania’s 1st (it used to be PA 8), which even after the State Supreme Court redrew it is largely the same as it was, so I included it. It was the rare Republican hold in the Northeast and seems a good test case of my theory. This is what I came up with:
2016 GOP Vote
2018 GOP Vote
2016 Dem Vote
2018 Dem Vote
What you see in race after race is that the Democrats didn’t fire up their base to get out to the polls and vote. Their vote totals remained within historical normals, with the exception of NJ 11. The reason three of those four districts flipped is Republican voters stayed home: GOP turnout was down by 20% across those districts. New Jersey 11 is something of an outlier. Democrats ran an exceptionally strong candidate for a seat with a retiring member, whose family has held it in one form or another since the nation was founded. It doesn’t take much to see how voters would opt for a change.
Our test case, PA 1, is directly across the Delaware River from New Jersey’s capital in Trenton. What you see happened there is that while once again, Republican turnout was down about 20%, Democrat turnout was also down and the GOP was able to hold the seat. The reason Democrat turnout was down in this particular district is again likely candidate driven. Scott Wallace was largely viewed as a carpetbagging socialist around here.
Of course, this begs the question: why was the GOP able to turn out voters in other parts of the country, but not in these older suburbs? What was it about their messaging that failed to get their voters off their couches and into a voting booth?
The media narrative is that the Democratic victory was propelled by legions of college educated white women exploding from their suburban homes in a rage against the President on Election Day. However, the media narrative fails to mention that on Election Day 2016, those same college educated white women voted overwhelmingly against the President, too. The media narrative is misleading because it fails to acknowledge that while college educated white women represent a substantial part of the suburban population, they are neither the dominant nor even most representative demographic group. This is hardly surprising, since the media hates acknowledging anything that might disturb their narrative.
While the preferred demographic characterization may be true for the suburbs around NYC or DC, it certainly doesn’t comport with the districts that flipped in 2018. Yes, there are white college educated women in them. But they are still in the minority of residents. Most denizens of these old suburbs are still blue collar workers with families, not unlike my neighborhood. In fact, an easier way to demonstrate this might be to introduce you to some of my neighbors (disclaimer: names changed to keep things civil!)
There are two relatively new, 20 something couple that moved in within the last 18 months. Across the street are John and Kate. John is an accountant, Kate a physician. Nice people, whose politics unsurprisingly run liberal – but the reality of home ownership has made them somewhat less liberal than when they moved in. Next door to me are Hank and Jen. Hank is an electrician, Jen a LPN still working on her RN. True salt of the earth types, they’re pretty much apolitical.
As for my more established neighbors, there a retired husband and wife across the street. They’re in their 80’s, he is battling Parkinson’s and his wife is doing what she can to care for him and is very involved with her church. There is a widow on my other flank, whose children are constantly trying to get her to move because of her health. Also on this block are a mechanic and his wife, a bartender, an HVAC tech and his wife, who stays home with their children, a cable installer and his wife, a hairdresser and finally, a divorced salesman in the tech industry. This particular block is representative of the town overall. It remains a largely working-class community, with perhaps a third of the residents having at least a bachelor’s degree. Although not represented on my block, roughly 40% of the town’s residents would identify as something other than Caucasian.
Hardly the picture the media has spent the past few months painting of suburban demographics and life.
So, if we accept that those opposed to the President (on whatever grounds) in these communities continued to turn out, while those who do support him failed to vote, what other factors drove those behaviors? After all, Mr. Trump’s approval and disapproval numbers haven’t moved very much since his election. Nor has the intensity of support or disapproval moved very much since then. If we accept the premise that the primary motivating factor for Democrats was opposition to the President, then why weren’t Trump voters in these older suburbs equally motivated to turn out in support? This is a particularly intriguing question when we see in the parts of the country where they were similarly motivated, Republicans were able to hold their seats and even make gains in the Senate.
Understanding these motivations is the key. Not to belabor the point, but Democrats didn’t offer the working class voters in suburbs anything new. They didn’t offer a governing vision that captured the imaginations of the working class, a slate of programs that motivated them to change their allegiance or convince them that a platform based on “resistance” was attractive. In other words, they didn’t win. Republicans lost, and they lost because they failed to connect.
Where Republicans failed to connect with the suburbanites who didn’t bother to vote is not hard to identify. President Trump (and by extension, the down ballot Republicans in those districts) won by emphasizing the wallet issues that have always motivated these voters. However, rather than campaign on those same issues this term, the GOP playbook was to emphasize the standard, Bushian corporatism while the President played to nativism. It’s likely the nativism played well in many districts, but it doesn’t hit the top 5 concerns of the typical suburban voter. As for corporatism, the suburban voter has as much distrust of that as they do anything the GOP could campaign on.
What the working-class, suburban voter wants to hear about is good jobs at decent wages, decent schools for their kids, secure retirements, lower costs around their health care and daily expenses, and to have a sense their children can live a better life than they. They want secure communities and a secure nation. And yes, most of them believe they’re being overtaxed and under-served by every level of government.
This is the “populist” message that won President Trump the White House, distilled. It is not Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Mitt Romney or any of the Bush brother’s message. It is something that seems separate from conservative orthodoxy, since for the better part of four decades conservative economic orthodoxy has been built around the concept of the trickle down, but in reality the entire purpose of trickle down economics is to deliver populist results. The problem is that mainstream Republicans have a hard time talking to this message, since it sounds remarkably like what was once the Democrat economic message.
Another problem Republicans have with the populist message is understanding that many government programs need to be be reconfigured for the 21st century. Their default position has been to end them for so long they’ve lost sight of the fact that some actually do some good, and a few tweaks could greatly improve them. By all means, get rid of the ones that are wasteful but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. By the way, targeting actual government waste remains a winning message and one that gets buoyed by saving the programs the public has, in many ways, come to rely on.
We could begin with Social Security, as an example. My preference would be to phase the program out, but the reality is after 83 years, it isn’t going anywhere. While pretty much everyone recognizes the system is either in or nearing a fiscal crisis, nobody seems willing to do much of anything to ensure it will be there in 40 years, when John, Kate, Hank and Jen will be counting on it as a substantial part of their retirement income, much as the retirees in my neighborhood already do and the rest of us in our 40’s and 50’s are planning on it being there as part of ours shortly. The GOP continues to push the idea of replacing the current funding formula with what amounts to a collective 401(k) while increasing the age at which retirees can collect what amounts to reduced benefits. I hate to break it to them, but while this plan makes wonkish sense it is a losing message with suburbanites.
One Republican who seems to grasp the reality that the GOP’s current economic message is lacking is Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. He has recently been pushing a plan he calls, “Home Economics.” Now the plan itself is more of a broad outline that is very light on specifics, but it does address the concerns of those voters that failed to turn out on Election Day. He emphasizes the ideas of upward mobility, wage growth, family stability and community. I am not saying it is a perfect outline, but it is a start towards recognizing the deficiencies in the current GOP message (also, given his performance in the 2016 primaries, Rubio probably isn’t the best messenger).
While Democrats are cheering their wins this term and congratulating themselves (as in 2008) on capturing “demographic superiority,” they are making the mistake of abandoning the populist economic message. At the same time, while vilifying corporate interests they have become even more reliant on them than the GOP. It is an opportunity where the Republicans, if they are smart and understand where their voters are today, should leap to take advantage. Doing so doesn’t mean abandoning the core values of Buckley conservatism; if anything, it means an actual return to those values.
They have two years. The question is, will they step up to the plate?
One hundred years ago today, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day on the eleventh month, the world heard something it hadn’t heard in over four years: silence.
It was the Armistice. The War to End All Wars was finally over. The world knew it had changed, but how much so wasn’t readily apparent. Before the year was over, the ancient Hapsburg and Romanov dynasties would be consigned to the scrap heap of history. The lack of strong central government and the economic blight imposed by the Treaty of Versailles would soon be the causes of another, even more terrible war.
But on this day, at this hour, people truly believed that never again would great powers wage war on one another. The carnage of the one just ended was unlike anything ever seen. Millions of men, some bold, most scared, all of them heroic, had breathed their last in the mud and vermin filled trenches of Europe. Millions more were made infirm, the loss of limb, eyes or even lungs a permanent reminder of their service.
But November 11, 1918 seemed to be the end of all that. It harkened of a new era, one of peace, one in which young men of every nationality would never again need to worry about fighting against terrible odds on a battlefield far from their homes.
We haven’t lived up to that ideal over these first hundred years since the first Armistice Day. Maybe I’m being naive, but shouldn’t we rededicate ourselves to that purpose over the next 100?
Because, quite frankly the world doesn’t need any more of these.
This is one of the most difficult posts I will have ever written, or ever feel compelled to write. But what I am about to say must not only be heard, but preserved, if only because the topic is of vital importance.
As you’re undoubtedly aware by now, late last night, Ian David Long drove to the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, CA. For reasons we will probably never know, he arrived with evil intent. He was armed & he was dressed for combat. He began by shooting the doorman with his Glock 21 .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol. By the time he was finished, 11 others lay dead, including Ventura Sheriff’s Deputy Sgt. Ron Helus. 10 more were wounded.
In the hours since we have come to learn that Ian Long was discharged from active service with the Marine Corps in 2013. He served one contract, like most Marines and servicemembers. He did nothing that particularly distinguished his brief military career, nor did he do anything that detracted from his service. He was simply your average Marine, like most of those who earned an Eagle, Globe & Anchor before and since.
When I first heard the news this morning, I remarked to my wife (this was before we knew who the gunman was) that I had to begrudgingly give the shooter kudos for round efficiency. See, as a Marine I appreciate good shooting – even if done for evil reasons. Good, accurate shooting under pressure is a skill that every Marine must master. There is no earning that EGA without it.
Of course, now we know the shooter is a Marine.
The news has devastated me.
On Saturday, our Corps will celebrate our 243rd birthday. Personally, I will be in South Philadelphia to join a few thousand other Marines in raising a mug and joining in the cake ceremony. Of all the things that join us as Marines, it is these traditions that go back to the very beginnings of the nation that are the most important. Every Marine knows we were born at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia on November 10, 1775. Ordinarily, this time of year is only exceeded in anticipation among Marines by Christmas.
Now, that excitement is tempered by the realization one of our own has gone off the reservation. To make matters worse, as a former Veteran’s Service Officer for the American Legion, I know there was no need for it. This was the most preventable tragedy imaginable.
It didn’t take long for the media to begin with the “crazy veteran” stories. It feeds an all too common narrative among the non-veteran community that veterans are damaged goods, this misperception that veterans are incompatible with civilization. After all, we do have higher rates of mental illness than the civilian population, so we must be ticking time bombs. An incident like last night shouldn’t be a surprise, according to the talking heads. The surprise should be that it doesn’t happen more often.
First, stop with that nonsense. Yes, veterans have seen and done things that 98% of you cannot even begin to imagine. Yes, those things leave an indelible mark on your psyche. They also form the basis for a bond among us that those of you who have never served cannot begin to imagine. But that does not make us monsters lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce on you at first opportunity. For the most part, when we take off the uniform, we lead perfectly normal lives. We are bankers, cooks, bartenders, construction foremen, teachers; you’ll find us doing all of the same mundane things you do. The battles we wage with our personal demons are off to the side, leaving you unaffected.
Whatever drove Ian Long to commit his act of premeditated mass murder, to plan it out with the ruthless efficiency of any Marine infantry commander ordering the clearing of a building and execute it with that same efficiency, we will likely never know. The speculation is that he had PTSD. I’m calling bullshit on that media diagnosis right now.
I should know. I am also a veteran with PTSD, like millions of others.
But I also have two other diagnoses, Explosive Personality Disorder, and Survivor’s Guilt, that would be more likely than PTSD to cause someone to do what Long did. PTSD is not the type of mental illness that leads to violence. If anything, left untreated it is more likely to result in suicide than murder. EPD, on the other hand… anyone remember the old “Hulk” television show? The classic line from that show was David Banner telling the reporter who chased him, “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” Yeah, it’s kind of like that.
But we’ll never know because by all accounts he was not receiving any care for any mental issues. This is despite a visit from a clinician in April of last year, someone I’m certain who was well-meaning but likely totally unsuited to diagnosing a veteran. As mentioned above, we’re expert at dealing with our problems privately. Part of that is learning how to hide the outward signs. I survived for nearly 12 years before a fellow vet convinced me to get help. It was the best thing that could have happened for me, although my fight with the VA to get that care could probably fill a novel.
The VA’s version of care for mental illness is a big part of the reason many veterans, even though they know they need help, do not seek it. I abandoned their treatment regimen not long after beginning it since it basically consists of keeping the veteran doped up on handfuls of pills. But by getting into treatment, I met plenty of other vets who were also dealing with their own issues. Working with them, I found my way back to God and an inner peace. Do I struggle at times? Sure. Do I still wake at night to the sights and sounds of helicopters falling into the water? You bet. Do I still find myself getting melancholy? Sure. Do I still think to myself, “I really should just knock this guy’s block off” a little too often? Probably.
But I don’t just haul off and beat the crap out of the deserving. I was able to get the help I needed. Through my work as a VSO, I’ve helped others get the help they needed. As a veteran, I’ve spent midnight hours on the phone with veterans and their loved ones, defusing crisis situations that most civilians are unequipped to handle, no matter how well-intentioned. The shame of this whole thing is that Ian Long did not get the help he needed, for whatever reason. His demons beat on his soul until finally, he snapped. It shouldn’t have happened. There was no need.
The next bit is for every veteran who made be reading. If you are not a veteran, the language that follows may be a bit salty for your tastes. Bear with me – and please share this part with any veterans you know.
You do not have to suffer alone. In fact, that is the worst thing you can do. Trust someone who’s been where you are, who’s been where you were and who wants you to at least get as far as I have, if not further. Here are some basic life skills for veterans to cope with the civilian world. Don’t get me wrong, I have some great civilian friends. But they will never know the things you do (how the hell could they?).
1: Cultivate and maintain close friendships with at least one older and one younger vet. Your elder has been where you are and can help coach you through it. You can do the same for the younger, and benefit from helping another.
2: Do something creative/constructive. Work with wood, steel, words, music, paint, sculpture, food, whatever you can do. Balance the destructive with the creative. I like woodworking. You might prefer painting. Whatever, just git ‘er done.
3: Have a routine and stick to it. When it gets REALLY dark, stick to it even more rigidly. Concentrate on doing the “next thing.” Even if you have to force yourself. 0700: Reveille is reveille. Make yourself get up. 0705: Your rack must be made…make it. 0710: Wash your nasty ass, etc. Sounds basic, but it works. There’s a reason we spent all those years having our sergeants bitch at us every time we were 30 seconds late for formation, after all.
4: Stay alert when you’re out and about. LOOK for neighbors (anyone in your community) who could use a hand, and help them. Even better if you can do it “on the sly,” and let ’em wonder. You’ll feel better about yourself and your community.
5: Have a couple brothers you can call (and vice versa) 24/7 when it’s REALLY bad, and CALL them. (These can, but don’t have to be, covered in #1…just be sure they’re people who will call you on bullshit if necessary.)
6: When you get the blues, when you start missing friends who will never be coming back, when the bombs are going off around you – when the demons begin whispering in your ear – don’t try to lose yourself in a bottle or some other drug. Go back to the first 5 tips instead. Those demons in the bottle are only going to make you angrier, sadder and start talking to your other demons. Next thing you know, they’re going to be making you say “IT’S TIME TO FUCK SOME SHIT UP” and do something stupid. Like, shoot up a bar full of innocent people, for instance.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go mourn. I’ll be mourning those innocents who lost their lives last night.
But I’ll also mourn the loss of Ian David Long, a Marine left alone to fight an impossible nightmare, on this the eve of the Marine Corps birthday. In many ways, he is a victim, too.
Tuesday, I patched holes in walls. I replaced some broken and chipped moldings.
I also voted.
Tuesday night, I watched election returns. I was pretty disappointed in the performance of my fellow citizens in Pennsylvania, How could they possibly vote against their best interests and return that many big government types to office? I was pretty happy with my fellow citizens in other places, though. They were smart enough to realize the Andrew Gillum, Stacy Abrams and “Beto” O’Rourke’s of the world can’t possibly deliver all those goodies without crashing the goody cart. When my local US Representative was declared the winner at 11:30 (praise be to God we’re the one district in this state that kept our sanity!) I went to sleep.
Yesterday, I woke, put on the coffee (I’m always up before the missus), helped my nephew get ready for school, ate breakfast, checked the weather (no rain, FINALLY!), didn’t shave…
Look, the point of all this is simply to say that anyone who reads this blog or follows me on social media knows I follow politics intensely. You know I love a good argument on applied governance, on Constitutional principles, on budgets, on policy. I can go on for thousands of words about the finer points of repealing the 16th and 17th Amendments.
But like most Americans, I have a real life outside these digital dots and dashes, with real people that I care about and who care about me. The entire point of my political life is about securing a better life in the United States, not only for myself but more importantly, for them. Politics is simply one aspect of (what I hope, anyway) is a wide and varied real-world life. Among my fellow conservatives, this seems to be our understanding of how the real world works. You work, you raise your family, you hang out with your friends, you dabble in politics and such as needed to let you keep doing the first three.
This is why we are bemused and confused when we see the mobs of left cultists rioting over an election result. Or rioting because there isn’t an election yet. Or just rioting over politics generally.
Elections happen annually. Sometimes, even more frequently if you’re unlucky enough to live somewhere the locals deem it that way. So that means every year you get to go vote. In our system, we vote for people who do the daily voting for us. Sometimes, the person who gets chosen is the person you wanted. Sometimes it isn’t. But the entire idea, our entire society, is built on the idea that everyone accepts that person until their term is over (or they turn out to be so corrupt they get arrested *ahem New Jersey ahem*).
Left cultists don’t seem to get this concept. Maybe it’s because we stopped teaching civics in school. Maybe it’s because, as parents, we were too lenient on Not My Johnny. Maybe it’s because they’re mentally more susceptible to believing fantasies. I was talking with a friend the other day, a pretty astute guy for a Marine, who mentioned he thinks this is all from technology. When I quizzed him as to why, he said the very tools that make interacting easier, are also the tools that make expansive government less necessary than not that long ago, and the left cultists have bought into the idea of the nanny state. I’m not sure, but there’s a kernel of an idea in there.
I’ll have to explore it later. For now, it’s time to put the coffee on and start getting ready for my day. Moving furniture is probably one of my least favorite tasks.