My piece in Blue Virginia: What Kind of Candidates Should Dems Be Looking For Right Now?

Blue Virginia last week published something I’d be mulling for a while: given what just happened in 2016, what lessons should we draw, and what kind of candidates should be looking for as 2018 mid-terms ramp up? Here’s the TL;DR:

  1. Candidates don’t necessarily have to be local stalwarts with a lot of experience or money. The 2016 campaign showed traditional measures of candidate strength to be less important than conventional wisdom has argued.
  2. Activists should instead prioritize candidates with a compelling personal narrative and an alternative story to tell about America that is capable of countering the narratives advanced by Trump and the GOP.
  3. Democrats need to begin identifying and supporting a new generation of leaders who not only can win in 2018, but who will grow into the liberal leaders of the future.

Do read the whole thing.

It Is Now Vitally Important To Protect and Nurture the Personal Life

Reds 1981 movie posterTwo of my favorite movies are about the Russian Revolution. I maintain this is because the two movies happen to be just really damn good, and not because I have a particular soft spot for the events of 1917. One of these films is obviously Dr. Zhivago, although it probably ranks somewhere between 15 and 20 on my list of favorites. But the other movie is Reds, and Reds is and has been, since College, my all time favorite movie.

Most people I have this conversation with have never heard of Reds, much less seen it. So, perhaps a primer is in order. Released the year I was born, in 1981, Reds is about real life journalist John Reed, who, along with his partner Louise Bryant, was one of the only Americans in Russia at the time of the Russian Revolution. He wrote a book about the experience, a classic called Ten Days That Shook the World. Reed is played by Warren Beatty, who also wrote, directed, and produced the film. Diane Keaton plays Bryant, and Jack Nicholson plays their friend, playwright Eugene O’Neil. A fantastic supporting cast fleshes out various American writers, artists, and creative luminaries of that era. Reds was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won 3, including best director for Beatty.

Don’t Just Subscribe to Print Out of Charity – Do It For Your Own Sanity

Mother Jones Thank you screenYesterday I good and finally started to lose it over the constant torrent of news pouring outward from this dumpster fire of an administration. My favorite economist blogger said something to the effect of it being merely a weird day, not a very weird day. He’s a level-headed guy, that one. Others have suggested the news projectile vomiting outward from the Bannon-House is a calculated strategy designed to confuse, disorient, and exhaust the opposition. If that’s true, it’s working.

It’s not just me who is disoriented. I think we all are, us liberals. We haven’t seen anything like this, so it’s unclear how we should react, or what we should focus on, or how to deal with our own mental health in the process. By the end of the day yesterday, as I injected my third glass of wine, I wondered: were we 10 days in to this administration? Or was it 12? Obviously I couldn’t go on like this. We can’t go on like this.

Nationalism, Optimism, and How I Think About the Future Now that Trump Is President

Trump Innauguration SpeechI’m sorry to say, I just watched a President Trump deliver his inauguration speech. I wish it were Hillary up there. Actually, I wish it were Biden, telling us how he is going to build on everything Obama has done, but alas.

I’ve never heard such a nakedly nationalistic speech from an American politician before. As a student of history, I know there is a school of thought which says that nationalism is a sickness responsible for centuries of human misery. That in the struggle to secure one nation against another, or pit one nation against another, or compete, one nation against another, we humans have caused nothing but war, suffering, and injustice.

The thought that nationalism could somehow be a sickness, or that it is a bankrupt idea, is not exactly in vogue right now. Nationalist movements are sweeping much of the Western world, and I fear what is to come.

The Complete Tom & Russell Talk Politics Podcasts

Starting in Mid-September 2016, my long-time friend, Tom Paynter, and I recorded a series of podcasts discussing the Trump-Clinton election. We recorded every week from then through to the election. Below are all of them collected, in order:

Episode 1 – Sept. 11, 2016

Not too long ago it dawned on me that absolutely nowhere have I heard two reasonable people, one a Trump supporter and the other a Hillary supporter, having a reasoned discussion about the election. This certainly isn’t happening on television (not that I watch much of it), and of course it doesn’t happen in print.

Without going into too much background (it’s all in the podcast), this is just to say: my friend Tom Paynter and I are trying out an experiment. He’s a Trump supporter; I’m a Hillary supporter. From now until the election, every week Tom and I will record a discussion about how we’re responding to the news of the week and talk about where our thinking is generally on politics, the election, and the issues which are driving national discourse.

Without further prologue, I give you, Episode 1:

I still cannot understand what is going on… But I do know one thing.

It’s time like these I wish I had the eloquence to match the moment.

The moment being two days before an election in which America could choose to collectively shoot itself in the head. For months I’ve reached for that argument, that paragon of persuasion, which might crystalize and explain what the fuck is going on in America right now.

And there has been lots of eloquence out there. There is no shortage of writers better than me who have explained just how completely insane it would be to make Donald Trump president. I’m thinking about Andrew Sullivan’s New York Magazine piece from last April, or, more recently, the one from a few days ago:

The most frustrating aspect of the last 12 months has been the notion that we have been in a normal, if truly ugly, election cycle, with one extremely colorful and unpredictable figure leading the Republican Party in an otherwise conventional political struggle over policy. It has been clear for months now, it seems to me, that this is a delusion. A far more accurate account of the past year is that an openly proto-fascist cult leader has emerged to forge a popular movement that has taken over one of the major political parties, eroded central norms of democratic life, undermined American democratic institutions, and now stands on the brink of seizing power in Washington.

Democracy is not what our founders had in mind… Nor is it even preferable

The best headline of the week absolutely has to belong to this Atlantic story, by Uri Friedman:

Boaty McBoatface and the False Promise of Democracy

See, what happened is that the UK government held a naming contest for a new science vessel. And the British voting public, in their wisdom, declared in a clear and not-so-authoritative voice, that they wished said vessel to be named… wait for it… Boaty McBoatface.

Lessons from The West Wing’s Brokered Convention Episode

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 12.04.59 PM


So, here we are.

Donald Trump is clearly ahead, but may not get enough delegates to actually clinch the nomination on the first ballot. The race is down to three people. Ted Cruz could wind up with momentum going into the convention. And John Kasich is furiously trying to normalize the idea of a brokered convention in the first place to give himself a shot.

A few weeks ago I re-watched The West Wing’s brokered convention episode, where our hero Matthew Santos goes into the Democratic convention against the current sitting Vice President, Bob Russell, who has more delegates than him but also sucks royally and would probably get crushed in the general. There’s also John Hoynes, the disgraced ex-Vice President who is trailing a distant third but is trying to pitch himself as the voice of reason and savior of the party.

Sound at least a little familiar?

How to decide who to vote for in primaries (including this one)

Here’s my formula for how to decide who to vote for in the primaries. It’s a two-step process:

  1. Choose which party you agree with more.
  2. Vote the person.

That’s it. Do not try to pick a candidate until you’ve picked a party. Don’t get caught up in Rand Paul’s isolationism, Donald Trump’s promise to build a yuge wall, Bernie Sanders’ desire to break up the big banks, or Hillary Clinton’s desire for more gun control. None of that will actually matter when they get into office.

Step one – picking a party – is usually the easy part (Although, apparently there are some people who evidently still insist there isn’t a real difference between the two parties. I have nothing to say to those people. This post isn’t for them. Moving on…).

Personally, I’m a Democrat. I belong to the party which believes in climate science and supports clean energy. The party for gun control. The party for civil rights. The party that doesn’t start stupid wars (at least not lately). The party where it’s ok to believe that human law should be above religious law. The party for a higher minimum wage. The party of fiscal responsibility (by which I mean not exploding the debt and then trying to force a default on that debt). The party which essentially says, we’re all in this together, rather than you’re on your own.

Anyway, that’s my party. Step 1 is done.

The next step is vote the person. This is by far the trickier step.

Is this what Democracy’s death rattle looks like?

As Amy Davidson writes in this week’s New Yorker:

It is hard to picture Sanders (much less Trump) in the Situation Room, but, if Democratic voters were to feel as liberated from the constraints of prudence as their Republican counterparts seem to, anything might happen. We could have a radical from Brooklyn and a real-estate guy from Queens facing off in debates that would sound like nothing so much as an argument on the B41 bus as it barrels down Flatbush Avenue to Kings Plaza.

It is, in my humble opinion, time for a little rebellion in this country. And as all of us who have read our Thomas Jefferson know, in Jefferson’s humble opinion a little rebellion every now and then is a good thing for our particular brand of democracy.