Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Sludge Known As Conventional Wisdom-- From Bulgaria To The Cook Report


After college, I spent a couple years on the "Hippie Trail," the overland route from London to New Delhi and Kathmandu. There were places, primarily in western Turkey and eastern Iran where the idea of "road" was theoretical. But overall, a few hundred of us made it through every year from the late '50s into the mid '70s. Someone's coming over either this weekend or next weekend or soon-- I forgot to write it in my calendar-- to film me for a documentary biopic. I think this Hippie Trail stuff is mostly what the producer is interested in. So I've been thinking about it lately. The 2 years were fundamental to everything that has happened to me in the ensuing 5 decades. One lesson I learned early on-- first in Bulgaria and quickly confirmed in Turkey-- was about conventional wisdom. Forget it. It's not ever where you want to start.

One of my traveling companions was a hitchhiker, Joël, I picked up outside of Niš, then the biggest town in eastern Yugoslavia on the road to Sofia, now the third largest city in Serbia. Joël was following his older brother-- who had been back and forth a couple of times and was now in Kathmandu. So Joël had a lot of useful info about what was before us. But he also had, as it turned out a lot of useless conventional wisdom. Just because it was hippie convention wisdom, it wasn't any more accurate. "Let's just skip Bulgaria," was his advise. "Take the A1 straight to Svilengrad on to Edirne and into Istanbul... There's nothing in Bulgaria."

I thought that was strange. But it was absolutely conventional wisdom for the Hippie Trail: there's nothing in Bulgaria. I didn't come all the way from New York to not see places. It was my VW van and anyone was free to offer their advice, but I was the captain of the ship. A few miles outside of Plovdiv, the A1 offers you a choice, the southeast A1 goes to Turkey and the northeast A1 goes Burgas on the Black Sea. A lot of grumbling from the peanut gallery when I headed off to the Black Sea. I spent a couple fantastic weeks between Burgas and Varna with some kids my age I met in Burgas. We were a novelty and everyone wanted to meet us. There were no tourists back then. Everyone was on their way to Istanbul. But this was a beautiful, friendly area and we stayed at communal farms and in small towns and it was a great trip. The fruits and vegetables we were given by farmers lasted us through Turley, Iran and into Afghanistan. Conventional wisdom was wrong, wrong, wrong. But I didn't know it yet.

A couple of days ago I was having an endless kerfuffle with Google's advertising department. You know how hard Google makes it to speak to an actual human being on the phone? And when you finally break through it's invariably someone in India who can't help unless they can put you in a predetermined box. However... eventually I wound up with someone in Boulder. He solved the problem and it only took 3 days. He was 25 and his grandmother had once taken the family on a Mediterranean cruise that had included Istanbul, which he loved. Something we had in common. Istanbul in 1969, my first time there, and 2012, when he went is pretty different, But we were both attracted to the same part of town, Sultanahmet-- which includes the Grand Bazaar, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sohia and Topkapi Palace. I told him to watch Midnight Express, a film made in 1978 about what happened in 1969. I was there-- in the Pudding Shop-- when it happened.

Part of conventional wisdom was that the Sultanahmet area of Turkey was fabulous and cool but that the rest of Turkey was horrible and should be gotten through as fast as Bulgaria. As usual-- ass-backwards. Imagine you're from Europe and you go to America... but never get beyond, say Times Square. And then say "America sucks." Like Times Square at the time, Sultanahmet-- and the Pudding Shop in particular-- was a place where hippies came to buy hash, where crooks came to rip off hippies and where the cops came to extort or arrest everyone.

That's when it finally added up to me. I realized how Sultanahmet was the worst place in Turkey to be-- it's gentrified and fine now-- and how every other place in Turkey was way better. I loved Turkey. I've been back a dozen times-- sans conventional wisdom.

I could write about Turkey for hours but I've done that for my travel blog and when I started writing today it was supposed to be about political conventional wisdom. So... let me get into that. Political conventional wisdom is created by the party committees-- like the NRCC and the DCCC-- feeding their versions of reality to David Wasserman at Cook. It gets worse from there, especially when the mainstream media starts regurgitating it as wisdom handed down from on high. The DCCC and David Wasserman are why Alexandria Ocasio's race came as such a surprise to everyone-- even to lunkheads like Joe Crowley, Ben Ray Lujan, Ann Kuster and Nancy Pelosi. Those 4 were charged with keeping Crowley in his seat but now of them knew this young woman who wasn't born when he first started "winning" elections had already eviscerated him. And if they didn't know-- believe me, David Wasserman didn't know. Didn't know, as in "never heard of." Is the Bronx north of Queens or is Queens on Long Island. NY-14, why I we never heard of that before?

Yesterday, Wasserman defined the big anti-red wave that's headed to DC by prognosticating that "Democrats remain substantial favorites for House control." You think? "A"-- at least he was smart enough not to say "the"-- big reason: Republicans are defending 42 open or vacant seats, a record since at least 1930. The retirements of Speaker Paul Ryan (WI-01), as well as powerful committee chairs like Reps. Ed Royce (CA-39) and Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11) and popular moderates like Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27) and Frank LoBiondo (NJ-02), have given Democrats stellar pickup opportunities." No mention of why these gents and Ileans are retiring. Just a coincidence. Ryan's seat was already lost before he "decided." So was Royce's, LoBiondo's Ros Lehtinen's and, probably, Frelinghuysen's.

Wasserman would rather talk about hocus pocus-- like historical trends and fundraising. "Of Republicans' 42 incumbent-less seats, eight are in districts that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and an additional 13 are in districts where President Trump received less than 55 percent. History is working against the GOP in many of those seats: we found that since 1992, in situations when a president's party was stuck defending an open seat two years after the president failed to carry it, that party has batted zero for 23 keeping it in their column."

He's caught on to the Blue Wave-- just when smarter people have realized what's happening is more an anti-red wave than an actual blue wave. He'll get there... by January.
To some extent, the focus on a "blue wave" has overshadowed an equally important 2018 trend: the steady purge of Trump skeptics from the congressional GOP. Retirements are the single biggest factor, but so are GOP primaries. Not only did Rep. Mark Sanford (SC-01) lose his, but loyalty to the president has emerged as the dominant theme in primaries for dozens of safely GOP open seats. November losses promise to further thin the moderate herd.

Fundraising deficits are a growing GOP problem: in 20 of the 42 seats, the leading Democrat raised more than the leading Republican between April and June, including in seven of eight Clinton-carried districts (Rep. Dave Reichert's open WA-08 was the only exception) and 13 of 34 Trump-carried seats. That's especially problematic because the NRCC and Congressional Leadership Fund are already stuck defending dozens of vulnerable incumbents.

The most immediate open seat test is the August 7 special election in Ohio's 12th CD, north of Columbus. It's in the Toss Up column, and if Democrat Danny O'Connor defeats Republican Troy Balderson in a seat Trump carried by 11 points in 2016 (R+7 PVI), it would be another piece of evidence that Democrats are pushing the House battleground deeper into Trump territory.
Funniest lines in Wasserman's reports:

Talking about AZ-02 and carpetbagger Ann Kirkpatrick, one of the most far right Democrats running anywhere: "Kirkpatrick is an unabashed liberal, who proudly voted for Nancy Pelosi and Obamacare, and she's running with the support of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly." Only in DC would anyone define "unabashed liberal" as someone who "proudly voted for Nancy Pelosi." Certainly in 2002. But in 2018? Uh... no. Obamacare? Kirkpatrick broke ranks with the Democrats and voted with the GOP to kill it, which is why she lost her seat and then lost a Senate race. And support from Gabby Giffords? I'm sorry Gabby got shot but she was a right-of-center Blue Dog before that tragic incident and to this day always bends over backwards to support right-of-center Democrats from the Republican wing of the Democratic Party, not progressives. Do "unabashed liberals" have A+ ratings from the NRA? How about being the only AZ-02 candidate to support ICE? Is that what Wasserman meant? Dave... today we use Medicare-For-All, Job Guarantee, free state universities, green energy transition, living wage... to define "unabashed liberals." It's 2018; you should give it a try. It won't hurt you.

His column is filled with DCCC/NRCC junk. Kansas-- Bernie and Alexandria were just in Wichita and Kansas City campaigning for James Thompson and Brent Welder, progressives who have caught fire. Wasserman instead sticks to the DCCC script, promoting the race with the DCCC's vomitous GOP-lite Blue Dog, Blue Dog instead. Wisconsin-01... maybe he was taking a crap and someone from the NRCC logged onto his computer and wrote that section of his post. Sure sounds like that. Anyway... warning about Wasserman: conventional wisdom is junk, whether if it's about Bulgaria or congressional politics.

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At 11:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your international historical anecdotes notwithstanding, at this point in time NOBODY with a functioning brain could possibly believe any "American conventional 'wisdom'".

In America, true wisdom is almost never observed. anywhere. by anyone.

But it's nice to see you finally admitting that this wave is negative, as have been all waves since '66 or so.

According to my map apps, Sofia is still in Bulgaria. Or was that part of the conventional wisdom thing?


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