Winning Social Media but Losing the War

Today, Betsy Devos was confirmed as the Secretary of Education. Regardless of your politics, it is clear that she is completely unqualified for the position, as evidenced by the fact that she didn’t know the difference between basic educational concepts like growth vs proficiency.

Despite the outpouring of opposition to her nomination on social media and countless calls to people’s representatives, Democrats were only able to get 2 Republicans to vote against her. The net effect of this serves as a perfect example of what I call “winning social media but losing the war”. In other words, winning a cathartic battle in your social media echo chamber is ultimately a hallow victory.

This leads me to a greater point:

1) If you want to enact your preferred government agenda, you need to get a legislative majority

2) If you want to get a legislative majority, you need to win elections nationwide across diverse areas

3) To win in diverse areas, you need to have a broad and appealing message to people that vote

My biggest complaint with the Democratic party the past 8 years is that they have narrowed their appeal to focus on the priorities of their heavily urbanized coalition. The main talking points revolve around cultural issues over economic ones, while demonizing the opposition as ignorant, bigoted, or privileged.

Even if those viewpoints are 100% right, this approach is still a sure losing strategy when it comes to elections. Our dual federalist system built in mechanisms such as the Electoral College and equal representation of senators to ensure broad geographical governance. For example, if 100% of California and New York vote Democratic, that still only equates to 4 senate seats. You still need to win congressional seats in Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida etc. to further your legislative agenda.

The proof is in the pudding. In comparing Democratic standing from 2006 to now, the Democrats have lost 39 House seats (233-194), 3 senate seats (51-48), and 12 governorships (28-16). In order to prevent future Trumps, Democrats will need to win back the Rust belt blue collar white voter that they have shunned away with years of identity politics.

Ultimately, there are 3 key takeaways:

1) Only winning social media is a Pyrrhic victory

2) In order to prevent people like Betsy Devos from getting nominated, you need to win elections

3) To win elections, you need to have broad appeal across various geographical regions

Don’t Forget About the Whole ‘Net Neutrality’ Thing

Donald Trump’s first nine days have been – for lack of a more comprehensive term – “challenging.” The immigration ban has elicited a variety of responses from all corners of the globe and while the executive order might have the world’s attention for now, dozens of other complications have cropped back up, including the new administration’s stark opposition to the concept of net neutrality.

It’s a simple idea often defined as the “golden rule” of the internet: all sites should be treated equally, with access to the same bandwidth as every other site, regardless of the service provider with which a customer has a contract (here’s a handy explanation). And as these service providers begin to buy media platforms that produce programming or curate content, issues are beginning to arise.

While net neutrality forces the internet to remain an even playing field, critics claim the current system stifles innovation and provides yet another arena for the federal to government to do its “overreach” tap and dance. Mr. Trump is an outspoken adversary of net neutrality, a stance that was reaffirmed last week when he tabbed Ajit Pai to head up the FCC.

The bottom line, however, is the end of net neutrality would be disastrous. Because most Americans have almost no choice in service provider, the loss of the equal access mandate would mean massive, multimedia conglomerates like Time Warner Cable, Comcast, and AT&T would have nothing stopping them from slowing out or completely blacking out competitive sites and content. Prices would continue to rise, choices would narrow, and the consumer would be get the short end of the stick.

There are a panoply of issues that demand to be discussed in the world today, and unfortunately net neutrality is still one of them – but it shouldn’t be, at least not for long. Educate yourself. Write to your representatives at all levels of government. Demand that they this from becoming a larger problem than it already is so we can get back to focusing on the bevy of problems we already face.

-JG

 

President Obama’s Report Card

President Obama’s historic 8 year run as President officially ended today. Irrational Politics gives out final grades for his time in office on an issue by issue basis. The grades are based on Obama success relative to his targeted agenda and does not represent an opinion on the issue itself.

Personal Character – A+
President Obama represented a man of high class and character throughout two terms as President. He avoided any scandals throughout his 8 years, and was calm and measured in the face of constant and sometimes unfair criticism.

Economy – A-
President Obama inherited a disastrous economy and was able to turn it around from the worst recession since the Great Depression. Under his watch, we reduced the unemployment rate, cut the federal deficit, kept a low inflation rate, and the stock market has recovered. However, real wage growth has been flat and the GDP growth rate of 2.1% has been the 4th lowest of any President.

Immigration – D
President Obama was unable to get comprehensive immigration legislation reform passed, even with his sweeping 2008 election mandate and some bipartisan support. This failure is one of the main reasons that enabled Trump to win the presidency with his hard line immigration rhetoric.

Foreign Policy – C+
President Obama was able to get Bin Laden, reduce our military footprint in Afghanistan/Iraq, and get an Iran nuclear deal done. However, the rise of ISIS and the destabilization of Syria are two major blemishes on his foreign policy legacy.

Equal Rights – A
The LGBT community made great strides under President Obama with a huge shift in public opinion and support over his 8 years. Many states legalized gay marriage and he repealed don’t ask don’t tell for the military.

Healthcare – A
Obama was able to get the Affordable Care Act passed, which provided healthcare to over 15 million uninsured Americans. This is an impressive feat considering Bill Clinton was unable to get comprehensive healthcare reform passed.

Gun Control – D
Despite an abundance of tragic mass shootings like Sandy Hook during his tenure, President Obama was unable to get any form of gun control passed. Bill Clinton was able to pass some measure of gun control with the Brady Bill.

Women’s Issues – A
President Obama passed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay act and appointed 2 female Supreme Court justices. He also supported women’s reproductive rights as well.

Leader of Democrat Party – C-
This is where Obama’s biggest failing occurred as the leader of the party. Democrats will end the Obama era with 39 fewer House seats (233 to 194), three fewer Senate seats (51 to 48), and 12 fewer governorships (28 to 16). Obama also narrowed the Democrats’ appeal, both demographically and geographically, in ways that helped Republicans seize unified control of the White House and Congress and establish their biggest advantage in state governments since the 1920s.

Overall Grade – B
Overall, President Obama was a historic and solid president. The transcendent nature of his candidacy will redefine the American history books and social fabric of this country for years to come. His ultimately legacy is a catch 22 – he looks extremely favorable to some in comparison to incoming President Trump, but at the same time, the short comings of his legacy allowed for someone like President Trump to be elected.

Entitlements – Fish vs Llamas

”If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man how to fish, you feed him for life.”

I first came across this simple principle in college at a finance career fair event. There was a representative from Citi Bank talking how they were trying to address poverty in Africa through an unconventional method. Instead of directly donating food/aid/clothing, they would donate llamas to impoverished families. They would educate the families on how to get milk and wool from the llamas (instead of eating the llamas), and over time the llamas became an integral and sustainable part of the families livelihood.

This principle can be directly applied to ways I see how we can address poverty here in the US. I would argue that our government should be focused on investing in entitlements that are sustainable and build skills (llamas) and less on expanding recurring one time benefits like social security (fish).

I have listed out some practical examples that our government could do:

1) Offer free education for in demand fields as determined by the department of labor (More educated workforce)

2) Make personal finance classes a mandatory part of high school curriculum (Higher financial literacy)

3) Offer free contraception (Less abortions and unplanned pregnancies)

4) Open free gyms (Lower healthcare cost)

These are just a few examples of entitlements that would have a return on investment. The benefits from these programs would last a lifetime, regardless of who’s in power in Washington DC.

Ultimately, we should start thinking about entitlements in terms of llamas and not fish.  The more we can use entitlements to empower people (and avoid a dependency culture), the better chance we have of raising people’s standard of living.

What we can learn from Diane Rehm

Our goal here at Irrational Politics is simple, really. We want to pass along content that provokes thoughtful, intelligent, fact-based discourse. It is a noble pursuit that no one, ourselves included, will ever fully achieve, which is why I think it’s appropriate to remember that Diane Rehm came closer than most.

Rehm switched off her microphone for the final time Friday, concluding her namesake show’s run of nearly four decades on public radio. As the title of the linked NPR article suggests, she was “a mainstay of civil discourse” whose pursuit of the truth earned the respect of notable figures from all corners of the political spectrum.

Cubicles and cars were transformed each morning into spaces of listening and learning, where world issues were discussed, the arts were explored, and diverse perspectives were respected. Rehm wasn’t perfect, but then, she didn’t try to be. Every time that recording light came on at 10 a.m. she set aside personal politics as best she could to facilitate honest, open discussion. And that’s all any of us can do, really.

[26 years of the Diane Rehm show have been archived here]

-JG

How To Get a Climate Change Denier to Care About Renewable Energy

When it comes to talking about climate change, here’s a typical exchange between two people on opposite sides of the issue.

Person A, “Climate change is an important issue. 97% of scientists agree it is happening and it will have a devastating long term impact on the Earth. We must act immediately to switch off fossil fuels towards more sustainable renewable energy.”

Person B, “I don’t believe that climate change is real. Even if it was real, switching to renewal energy will cost a ton of money and make the American economy uncompetitive with the rest of the world.”

Person A, “I’m flabbergasted that you don’t believe it’s real! 97% of the scientific community agree and the other 3% that don’t are paid for by the oil companies. How can you not believe it?”

Person B, “Nope, I just don’t.”

This circular discussion typically results in a stalemate and lots of frustration on this important issue. So given this impasse, how do we convince Person B to care about renewal energy? If Person B still doesn’t believe climate change is real given all the existing data, maybe it would be best to reframe how we present the climate change issue altogether.

Instead of presenting climate change as a moral issue that we must address at all costs, I would argue we should talk about the economic opportunities that renewal energy can provide. For example, Solar Roadways is one of the green projects I am most excited about. Our current asphalt roads generate no value and waste all the heat energy from the sun. The idea is to replace our highways with durable solar panels that pay for themselves by generating solar energy. The solar panels would make highways safer with better lighting and could heat the roads to prevent icy road conditions. In addition, the solar roads would be able to charge electric cars, which would eliminate the driving distance limitations that current electric cars have. At the same time, this project would create a tons of jobs, improve America’s infrastructure, and create a solar power grid. Regardless of whether you believe in climate change or not, the benefits of this project would be appealing.

So next time you talk about the climate change issue with a climate change denier, maybe this is how it could go:

Person A, “Have you heard of solar roadways? It’s a cool new highway idea that captures solar energy from the roads.”

Person B, “Isn’t that going to cost a lot of money?”

Person A, “Yea, but the roads pay for themselves because they generate energy and it would create a ton of infrastructure jobs.”

Person B, “Jobs and self-paying roads sound good to me.”

Congrats!  You just got a climate change denier to care about climate change.

 

Why We Should be Talking About Universal Basic Income

Imagine if the government gave every American adult $2,500 a month in real dollars (30K annually) for the rest of their lives – no strings attached. Seems crazy right?

Not so fast – this idea is known as Universal Basic Income (UBI). I believe UBI will be the solution to a myriad of economic problems we currently face. I have listed some things to consider when talking about UBI.

Benefits:

Provides a social safety net for all Americans. This would eliminate homelessness and extreme poverty among the most vulnerable Americans.

Addresses concerns from automation and technology significantly increasing structural unemployment. It is estimated that up to 47% of US jobs could potentially be replaced by automation and robots in the next 10 to 20 years.

Eliminates the “retirement age” from social security. People can work as long as they want to supplement their income or save money on their own to retire early.

Solves the welfare cliff dilemma where welfare recipients can lose benefits as they earn more supplemental income. 100% of all income earned would be supplemental to UBI.

Empowers individuals to choose how they spend their money versus receiving specific items like food stamps etc.

Reduces government bureaucracy and cost of administering social security and welfare programs

Has garnered bipartisan support in the past from both liberals like Huey Long and conservatives like Milton Friedman

Concerns:

The total cost of a UBI program. It remains to be seen how much UBI would cost, but the total cost would be offset by things we already spend a ton of money on like social security and welfare.

Lack of incentive to work. Critics of UBI worry that people will have little incentive to find a job.  While job participation would likely decrease, most people would still want to supplement their income or find intrinsic meaning through being productive.

Crowding out of other social benefits. Some people are concerned that UBI will eliminate all other government assistance programs. While UBI would eliminate things like social security and welfare, I would argue we should still provide education, healthcare, and other important social benefits that are not income related.

Overall, I think UBI is an issue we need to be discussing. As the pace of innovation in automation and technology continues to accelerate, we will need to find a solution to help those that are left behind.