Monday, November 21, 2016

Oh My God The Obergefell Opinion Is Bad

Last summer, the Supreme Court decided the hideously-named Obergefell v. Hodges, which held that the Constitution protects what we on the left these days call marriage equality, i.e. that state laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman are unconstitutional. And... what with one thing and another I just never really got around to reading the case. Not the majority opinion, not the dissents. I heard some things about it. I heard that Kennedy did a lot of pronouncing about how wonderful marriage is, including a final paragraph the reading of which has apparently become a fixture at weddings. I heard that, as usual in these sorts of cases, his doctrinal analysis was a mess, and (as in Lawrence v. Texas) he was kind of unclear about whether this was an equal protection case or a "substantive due process" a.k.a. fundamental rights case. I heard that Chief Justice Roberts's opinion was far more fire-breathing culture warrior than I had been expecting after his curious dissent in U.S. v. Windsor. But I didn't read it for myself. Between those few snippets and my knowledge of Kennedy's previous gay rights jurisprudence I figured I had a decent kind of idea what the opinion said, and while it left a lot to be desired (aside from, y'know, deciding the case correctly), it had some interesting, maybe even promising stuff going on.

Well I just actually read the damn thing, and oh my god it sucks. It's waaaaaaaaaay worse than I had been imagining. First of all, about half the opinion isn't legal analysis at all, it's Anthony Kennedy Tells The Story of Marriage And How Wonderful It Is. Which first of all is just weird and kinda gross to read in the U.S. Reports. It's like Scalia's dissent in U.S. v. Virginia, the VMI case, where he includes the full text of the Virginia Military Institute's Code of a Gentleman at the end. This is just not something that belongs in a judicial opinion, not like this anyway. (As I'll note later, there could be a place for a little bit of this sort of thing in a better-crafted opinion, but Kennedy massively overdoses us on it.) Second, while there's some nice stuff in what he says, particularly the bits about how the changes that have been made to the institution of marriage over the centuries as women have achieved greater and greater social progress have strengthened and improved marriage, a lot of it is kind of gross on its own terms. He goes on and on about how wonderful marriage is, how it's a bond unlike any other, so ennobling, it's at the heart of human civilization, blah blah blah, and then he's like, hey isn't it great how these gay people love marriage as much as I do! They want in to our patriarchal (if slightly less than it used to be) institution, hooray!!! He literally goes so far as to say that "Were their intent to demean the revered idea and reality of marriage, the petitioners' claims would be of a different order." WTF, bro.

Monday, October 31, 2016

On Trump's Gains

The polls have tightened! Maybe you've heard, people are making kind of a big deal about it. In fact they're probably overstating the extent of the tightening, but it's pretty undeniable that some tightening has occurred. And one interesting thing about it is that it's almost entirely Trump gaining ground, rather than Clinton losing ground. On October 19th, the 538 national polling average stood at Clinton 45.4%, Trump 38.8%, a lead of 6.6% for Hillary. Today Trump's all the way up to 41.0%, a gain of 2.2%! And Clinton has fallen all the way to... 45.4%. A.k.a. the exact same place. Admittedly in the interim she went up to 46.0% and came back down again, but even since Hillary's number peaked on October 26th she's only down 0.6%, while Trump is up 1.4%. The share of voters remaining undecided or going for one of the third-party options has been falling for a while now. So let's think a bit about what this means, that Trump is gaining ground while Hillary is holding her ground.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Trump at Gettysburg

Donald Trump gave a speech today at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Apparently after descending into a depressed funk where he seemingly knew he was going to lose and didn't have much fight left in him yesterday, he's back to being Donald Trump today: reiterates that he'll lock up Hillary, attacks the media, says he'll sue the women accusing him of sexual assault for libel after the election (which, in this vision of the future, he has I believe won--imagine that, the President suing people for defamations that failed to derail his campaign!). Y'know, standard "Donald Trump is a disgusting creature" stuff.

But since he gave the speech at Gettysburg, it provides an occasion for a game I like to play. It's called "Imagine if it were Trump." The way it works is you take any memorable moment from the Presidency of any of the forty-three men who've actually been President so far and you picture that moment playing out if Trump had been President instead. It's literally always just laughably absurd; sometimes, as with the Cuban Missile Crisis, it ends with the destruction of the world. (There's a companion game, "Imagine if it weren't Trump," where you picture any major political figure not named Donald J. Trump doing any of the shit he's done. Equally hilarious; almost always ends with the destruction of that person's political career.)

But anyway, so let's play this game with the Gettysburg Address. The setting: some four months earlier, the Union Army had won a great victory at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a turning-point in the war but one that came at extraordinary cost (the Battle of Gettysburg had the most casualties of any in the Civil War). Now there's to be a dedication for the Soldier's National Cemetery in Gettysburg, and the President has been asked to speak. Imagine what Donald Trump would say. And then read what Lincoln actually said:

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Mets are Dead, Long Live the Mets!

The 2016 New York Mets have been eliminated from the post-season after losing last night's National League Wild Card Game. Noah Syndergaard was brilliant, getting into the sixth inning before giving up a hit and finishing with a pitching line of 7.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 10 K, good for a Game Score of 80. That would've been tied for the second-best start of the 2015 playoffs. It's the second-best start ever in a game which eliminated the pitcher's team, behind a Mike Mussina gem from 1997. (It is therefore the best such start by a National League team.) Unfortunately Madison Bumgarner turned in an even better start, a complete game shutout with four hits and two walks against six strikeouts (Game Score 83), and Jeurys Familia gave up the game-winning three-run home run to Conor Gillaspie of all people in the ninth inning, bringing the Mets' season to a close.

Which means it's time to look to next year. Here's what I figure the incumbent 2017 Opening Day 25-man roster looks like:

Sunday, July 17, 2016

How To Use This Mets Roster

The Mets just recalled Michael Conforto from AAA Las Vegas, with fellow left-handed outfielder Brandon Nimmo being sent down in his place. (The latter move follows as a matter of course; Nimmo, a top prospect, needs to get consistent playing time, which he's definitely not going to get with the Mets with Conforto back.) Conforto was shockingly great last year after being called up directly from AA, was Ted Williams levels of great in April this year, and then was pitcher-with-a-bit-of-pop levels of awful from May 1st onward. May 1st was the day when he was kept in the lineup against Madison Bumgarner, one of the best left-handed starters in the world. I dunno if that's what caused the slump, but it makes for an awfully convenient marker. Anyway, he went down and was raging hot at AAA (his first exposure to the level! actually!), so now he's back. Makes sense.

Except it creates a bit of a sticky situation regarding the outfield configuration. Conforto is strictly a corner outfielder; until his stint in Vegas he had only ever played left field as a professional. Curtis Granderson is, at this point, also a corner outfielder, and like Conforto he's left-handed. Yoenis Cespedes, meanwhile, is the Mets' best position player. To start the year, he was playing a lot of center field, flanked by Conforto in left and Granderson in right, with the team thinking it could live with Cespedes's below-average defense in center in return for getting those three bats into the lineup simultaneously. But Cespedes keeps being banged up with minor injuries, and he suspects that the toll center field takes on his legs may be contributing to that. So they'd really like to keep him in left field as often as possible, where, as it happens, he's a Gold Glove defender. That, of course, leaves them with no center fielders, but not to worry, because we've got Juan Lagares, who ought to be a legitimate contender for the Platinum Glove award (given to the Gold Glover in each league who's the best overall defensive player) any time he plays a full season, and who's also been hitting well to start the second half of the season (as well as on the entire year to date). Great! We've got four legitimately major league quality starting outfielders! Hooray!

...except, of course, you only typically play three outfielders. I mean, you could play four of them, but then you'd only have three infielders, which is probably a bad idea. So we have four deserving candidates for three spots. Whaddaya do?

Here's what: you play everyone. Some of the time.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Concerning those Polls

So, um. There's no real way to sugarcoat it: the polls right now look bad. We're mostly into the general election now; Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee and Hillary Clinton is the basically-also-presumptive Democratic nominee. This match-up has been polled extensively since last summer, when it (to be more precise, the Trump side of it) first became plausible. And Clinton has led in the polls, constantly. At the worst of her email scandal last August, this got down to maybe a 1-point lead, but then it got bigger and for most of 2016 it's been pretty substantial. In late March Hillary was up by more than 10 point, on average. As recently as mid-April it was still around 9%.

Now it's 2%. This is, um, scary. The only thing that's made Trump's victory in the Republican primary anything other than utterly terrifying has been the thought that, of course, he's not going to win. Right now, if you look at the polls... yikes. It doesn't look especially slam-dunk that he's not going to win. And the question is what to make of this.

Obviously, given my nature, I'm going to say that we shouldn't worry too much, not commensurate with how bad it would be if we were entering this election with only a +2% advantage anyway. And I do think that's right. Equally obvious, though, is the fact that we should be somewhat worried, and that something about this current wave of bad polls is telling us that there is maybe more of a chance that things go the wrong way than we thought.

But the key to understanding what the polls are saying right now, I think, is that they're saying a different thing from a month ago. And from two months ago, and three, and four. That means we need to ask, what's changed? And there's a clear answer: Trump has wrapped up his nomination fight, while Clinton hasn't. And the Democratic side is getting nasty. We can see this in the polls, too. Bernie's hypothetical lead over Trump grew wider at about the same time Hillary's did, earlier in 2016, suggesting that that shift was caused by something about Trump (i.e., he got less popular). But right now, Bernie's lead hasn't budged. That tells me that the current shift is nothing to do with Trump, it's to do with Hillary. Note also that since mid-April, when it was Clinton 49%, Trump 40%, Trump's gone up just over 1%, while Clinton has dropped by nearly 6%. Again, this looks like a Clinton phenomenon, not a Trump phenomenon.

But I don't recall the last month as being a particularly bad one for Clinton. No new scandals, no major missteps. The latest rumor about the email thing is that she's been fully vindicated, though a formal announcement has yet to be made. Nothing's really been going on that would suggest Hillary's become that much more toxic a candidate... in the eyes of a disinterested observer, maybe. Not in the eyes of a Bernie supporter. And there's the rub: it seems basically certain that what's going on right now is that an awful lot of Bernie supporters aren't saying they'll vote for Hillary in the general election. (Nate Silver makes the same point in a series of tweets.)

So we basically know why the polls look like they do. The thing Hillary's people keep saying about how she's fighting two campaigns right now is correct. Trump has wrapped up the Republican side, and has gotten a bit of a boost from consolidating his party. More importantly, Hillary hasn't wrapped up her side yet, and the Democrats are if anything splintering a bit as our race draws to a close. So that's the big question of the election right now: once Hillary actually wins, and Bernie drops out, do his supporters go back to saying they'll all vote for her? Can he get them to do that? If so, then we're back to a baseline of Clinton +6% or +8% or maybe even +10%, and the election looks fairly comfortable, especially since I expect the campaign to wear well for her and ill for Trump. If not, then there's potentially a lot more danger.

I would really like to think that this is just a temporary phenomenon. Something similar happened to Obama back in 2008, when McCain had wrapped up the nomination but Hillary was still hanging on, and that too passed. And, hey--Trump got a boost when he wrapped up his nomination! And Republicans have way more reason to not support him than Democrats do to not support Hillary. Waaaaay more. You see prominent conservative pundits talking about how bad Trump is and thinking of running a third-party candidate or whatever. Bernie Sanders keeps repeating how much better than the Republicans Hillary is. It would just be bizarre if this election ends up with a Republican Party unified around Trump but a Democratic Party that can't unify around Hillary Clinton, one of its leading figures for damn near three decades now. So I remain skeptical that that's what's going to happen. Probably another month from now, the polls will start looking more like they should, and the best course of action until then is not to panic.

But I can't deny that the way the whole Sanders campaign is going right now has me pretty legitimately worried. I think he's done some real damage, and I think he's going to need to work real hard to repair it when the time comes. He'd bloody well better.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Hillary Clinton and the Foreign Policy Triangle

There's an interesting piece on Vox today trying to reconcile several different views of presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton (I can say that now, after her wins in New York and most of the other northeastern states that voted last night) in terms of her foreign policy attitudes. One view comes from a profile by Mark Landler in the New York Times Magazine titled, "How Hillary Clinton Became a Hawk," whose thesis (which, as the Vox article notes, embodies the conventional wisdom) is that Hillary is a "super-hawk," "the last true hawk left in the race," with far more "appetite for military engagement abroad" than even any of the Republicans. Than even Ted "Let's See if Sand Can Glow in the Dark" Cruz. Yikes! The other view comes from the nuclear nonproliferation group Global Zero, on whose scorecard Clinton ranks far more dovish across the board than the Republicans, and is not so different from Bernie Sanders. This is a question of some considerable importance, and one that received perhaps less attention during the Democratic primary than it deserved, because if Hillary is, indeed, a super-hawk, that would be by far her greatest potential weakness with the Democratic electorate. (Bernie failed to make much hay with this, because he seemed remarkably out of his depth in foreign policy arguments, but it's still worth thinking about.)

The Vox piece ends up concluding that things are considerably more complicated than perhaps either of the opposing views would suggest:
[H]er past record, current policies, and ... larger worldview . . . reveal Clinton as someone who is exceptionally enthusiastic about the merits and potential of American engagement in the world. She is indeed, more than any other candidate in the race, a true believer in American power.

But Clinton's policies and past record suggest that her vision of power includes military force as well as diplomacy, so that while she is more likely to act in foreign affairs, she is also more likely to do so peacefully.
This is an area where, I think, viewing foreign policy through a simple one-dimensional spectrum is a real mistake. American attitudes toward foreign policy are best thought of as a triangle, with three distinct poles: isolationism, imperialism, and internationalism. Isolationism is simple: it's the view that we shouldn't really be involved in foreign affairs at all. This was the prevailing attitude in, say, the 1920s, and into much of the 1930s. Imperialism is the view that we should aggressively use our national might, and especially our military power, to advance our own interests across the globe. Our literal imperialism around the turn of the 20th century was the clearest embodiment of this view, and I therefore use the word "imperialism" as a neat shorthand, but in our own era I think the neoconservatives exemplify this overall attitude. Finally, internationalism is the view that we should take an active, perhaps even a leading, role in foreign affairs, but that we should do so in cooperation with other countries where possible, should emphasize diplomacy, and should in general act for the general good of the world rather than for selfishly pro-American reasons. Woodrow Wilson (and his League of Nations) and Harry Truman (who brought America into the U.N.) are exemplars of internationalism.

And it really is a three-way system. You can't construct any one of these worldviews out of some mixture of the other two; they're qualitatively different orientations toward the world. And they map onto the ordinary political spectrum in some interesting ways. Internationalism is a distinctively liberal attitude, and imperialism a conservative one, but while you can have isolationism of either a liberal or a conservative stripe, it's not especially a "centrist" approach. Indeed, during much of the 20th century it was the very most conservative Republicans who were isolationists. Broadly speaking I think that conservative foreign policy thought runs along the edge of the triangle from imperialism to isolationism (see this excellent Jonathan Chait piece identifying Ted Cruz with the modern isolationists, who see air power as a way to dominate the world without engaging in it, and Marco Rubio with the neo-imperialist neocons)*, while liberal foreign policy runs along the edge from internationalism to isolationism. Bernie Sanders, for example, is somewhere in the middle of that line: he's emphatically not an imperialist, and is in conventional terms incredibly "dovish," but is somewhat skeptical about American involvement abroad, whether diplomatic or militaristic.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, is I think on that other edge, the line running from imperialism to internationalism. And I think she's pretty clearly most of the way toward internationalism, maybe almost all the way there. But she's definitely not an isolationist. She sees America as having tremendous capacity to do good in the world, by various means, and as President she will doubtless try to do a lot of good in the world using those various means. Maybe that will get her into trouble sometimes; I certainly think that Obama's skepticism of America's ability to change things for the better has been a healthy one. But it's a fundamentally different impulse from the truly "hawkish" ones of the imperialists. She is interested in using military power, but not for conquest. Maybe from a left-isolationist standpoint that doesn't matter. Maybe for an internationalist skeptical about American power, in more of the Obama tradition, it's a well-meaning but ultimately mistaken and potentially even disastrous approach. This piece isn't entirely a defense of Hillary Clinton.

Rather, it is simply an argument that you cannot understand Hillary Clinton if you try to see foreign policy through a one-dimensional, bipolar lens, with "hawks" on one side and "doves" on the other. There are three different foreign policy camps, and unless you understand that, you can't understand how the different candidates relate to one another.

*And what, you may ask, about Donald Trump? I... don't know, exactly. I think he's a sort of imperialist? But a very different one than the neocons. Basically, as many people have noted, it seems like his "ambition is to sit at the head of a vast American tribute empire," not surprising, perhaps, given that his own business is basically a tribute empire built around the name Trump. I guess that's imperialist? Or some sort of weirdo hybrid between imperialism and isolationism? Maybe it's more isolationist? We shouldn't get involved unless they pay us? Transactional isolationism? I don't know. Certainly it's not within the four corners of any standard-issue map of foreign policy approaches.