Monday, June 11, 2018

Supporting Aggressive Progressives for Very High-Leverage Offices


Legal scholar, activist, and Berniecrat Zephyr Teachout shocked the NY and the country when she came close to defeating Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary for governor of New York. Now she's running for Attorney General. And she plans to sue Donald Trump over his conflict of interest as a business man. Zephyr also talks about neoliberalism, why the Dems need to be on offense, not defense, and why "it's time for a new 21st century trust-busting." (The Teachout interview starts at 1:50.)

by Gaius Publius

But at my back I always hear
Time's wingéd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.

Andrew Marvell on the climate crisis

A high-leverage bet is one that risks little for great gain with very favorable odds of success. That combination — small risk, great reward, favorable odds — happens almost none of the time. Either the market sets the reward appropriate to the risk (if you're risking little with favorable odds, the reward won't be much) or sets the odds appropriate to the gain (if you want a great reward with very little risk, the odds will be very much against you). In these instances, in other words, markets are generally efficient.

But not always. When it looked like Chrysler Corporation would go bankrupt in the late 1970s, its bonds were so undesirable, priced so cheaply, that they paid something like 25% interest per year. If you thought it more than likely that the U.S. government would bail them out — if you thought, contrary to the market, that the risk of bankruptcy was actually very low — you would have bought them at a very low cost and made a lot of money.

The government indeed bailed them out — how could it not? Chrysler was one of the "big three" American automakers, a national symbol — and the "bet" turned a very high reward at very low cost for those who spotted the opportunity. Can you imagine making 25% per year on your money today on a company backed by the U.S. government? Opportunities like that are indeed rare and should be taken when identified.

A Low-Leverage Political Bet — Controlling the Democratic Party One Elected Official at a Time

Now apply that thinking to the political sphere, in particular to the progressive political sphere. In our first example the goal was to gain a lot of money at favorable odds with a relatively low cost. In that case the thing invested is money. In the political sphere, the parallel goal is to gain a lot of power — control of the levers of government — at favorable odds with a relatively low investment of time and energy. For this kind of win, it shouldn't take moving a mountain to accomplish the goal, and it shouldn't take a generation to do it.

That last point — a fast, efficient reward relative to the energy invested — is important if you believe like me that the nation, already pre-revolutionary in its desire to be free of the austerity forced on the increasingly poor by the impossibly rich, is near a tipping point toward outright rebellion.

(We're actually near two tipping points, if you also believe that if we don't address climate change meaningfully and now, it will too soon be too late — and worse, everyone on the planet will know it and act accordingly. When that day comes, when people realize the fix they've been put in, the international chaos will only be contained by military action, and then only briefly.)

Time, in other words, is a commodity progressives do not have. Nor is our energy in infinite supply.

Put more specifically, progressives don't have time for a 30-year plan to take over the Democratic Party; nor do we have time to build a viable, national, well-funded third party to challenge it. Consider the effort to "change the Party" by taking over the House and Senate. Not only must masses of progressives replace well-established, well-funded New Dems and Blue Dogs, but progressives must also replace all the New Dem enablers in Democratic leadership. How long will that take, on the current trajectory?

Yes, Democrats may win the House in a 2018 wave election. But which Democrats will control the Party if they do? Even if Democrats take the House and Senate in 2019, those who bitterly fought and defeated Bernie Sanders will still run the show, even if the number of actual, Sanders-like progressives continues to increase.

This is a classic low-leverage effort relative to the time, energy and money needed to accomplish it. Not that this battle should not be engaged — I applaud everyone who engages in it. But time is not the friend of progressive insurgence.

To mitigate that problem, I want to suggest an additional way to achieve progressive goals in a much shorter time — focus on highly aggressive candidates for high-leverage offices, and focus hard.

A High-Leverage Political Opportunity — Sanders for President in 2016

Markets are not always efficient; sometimes a Chrysler bet does come along. Political "markets" are similar; every so often a very high-leverage opportunity occurs. Let me offer two examples, one from the recent past and one from the immediate present.

First, from the past: As it turned out, the race for the Democratic Party nomination by Bernie Sanders represented a low-risk, high-leverage attempt to achieve a nearly unimaginable outcome, the U.S. presidency.

Consider the cost, the risk and the reward. The cost of entry was low. Sanders launched his candidacy with little fanfare and not much in the bank relative to, say, Hillary Clinton. If the opportunity wasn't there — if the nation wasn't ready for a real progressive with very high credibility — it would have been obvious fairly soon and not much would have been risked in terms of time, money and effort.

The risk of betrayal for supporting Sander, the risk of not getting what you voted for, was also low. Sanders has the kind of credibility that only a lifetime of absolute consistency can buy. With Bernie Sanders, the risk of voting for "Yes We Can" and getting "No I Won't" was almost zero.

Now look at the reward. If the attempt to take the Democratic presidential nomination did succeed, here's what progressives would have won — an excellent chance at complete control of the Executive Branch of the government, to the extent the winner could (and was willing to) exercise it. Not only that, but progressives would also win nominal control of the Democratic Party, again to the extent they could (and were willing to) exercise it. All because this was an attempted palace coup, a race for control at the top which bypassed most of the gate-keeper exclusions that keep current Party owners in place.

This was also a direct attempt to control the Party by exercising the voting will of the people to replace their king or queen with ours. Because it relied on votes, the attempt was not impotent. This was not an attempt to control the Party by exercising the will of the people as expressed in polls. That route to change is and has proved to be pointless. Everyone in Washington knows what the people want, and no one who serves the donor class will give it to them.

The only fast, sudden opportunity to force either party to bend in our direction occurs once in four years during presidential primaries. If the people don't want a change, there won't be one. If the people do want a change, they can use voting force to get it, but only when that window opens up.

The Odds of Success Were Greater than Anyone Suspected

As it turned out, the odds in 2016 were very much in Sanders' favor. The nation was ready to revolt and both parties saw insurgent candidacies topple or nearly topple long-time, well-funded Party operatives.

On the Republican side, 2016 voters, abetted by greedy media companies like those that control CNN and MSNBC, swept Trump to the nomination. On the Democratic side, it took every effort by Party operatives to hand Sanders a loss, and even so, for a while it looked like he still had a real shot anyway. In my view, those who think the nomination was stolen from him by a thousand petty larcenies committed by a thousand petty officials — and several major thefts committed by national media names — are correct. It took all that to defeat him.

Yet despite his loss, the Sanders candidacy was a classic high-leverage opportunity for progressives, and as his momentum built, people on both sides of the Sanders fence recognized it. The desire by the public to elect him, as evidenced by his stadium-size crowds, never flagged. At the same time, the effort by Party leaders to defeat him, as evidenced by the many thumb-on-the-scales obstacles put in his way, was similarly relentless.

The list of ways Sanders was disadvantaged by the Party would take up an essay on its own, or even a book, and I won't go into it here. My main point though is this. High-leverage opportunities exist, and if wresting control of the country in the shortest possible time is important, they must be recognized and taken.

The Next High-Leverage Opportunity — Zephyr Teachout for NY Attorney General

Which brings me to this, the next high-leverage opportunity. Just as Sanders' run for the presidency was a high-leverage opportunity for voters, so too is the current race for Attorney General in New York. It's a very high-leverage opportunity in fact, given the absolute and unchecked control over prosecutions exercised by the AG's office.

I'll return to a discussion of this race another time. It deserves to be highlighted separately and I don't want to obscure my main point above, that progressives must recognized and take full advantage of high-leverage opportunities.

But for more on the opportunity it presents, please listen to the recent interview with Zephyr Teachout embedded at the top. If you do, you'll see what I mean. The scope of the power of the NY Attorney General offers a breath-taking opportunity for real national change, assuming we elect someone willing to use it.

There are several candidates at the moment, but Teachout has something only Sanders before her had — an unimpeachable history of credibility that sets the risk of betrayal, the risk of "Yes, We Can but No, I Won't," at almost zero. This race and this candidate represent a Sanders opportunity, one that should not be missed.


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At 10:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Yes, Democrats may win the House in a 2018 wave election. But which Democrats will control the Party if they do? Even if Democrats take the House and Senate in 2019, those who bitterly fought and defeated Bernie Sanders will still run the show..."


"On the Republican side, 2016 voters, abetted by greedy media like CNN and MSNBC, swept Trump to the nomination. On the Democratic side, it took every effort by Party operatives to hand Sanders a loss.... those who think the nomination was stolen from him by a thousand petty larcenies committed by a thousand petty officials — and several major thefts committed by national media names — are correct."

So, as a result, this is the End Game scenario:

"We're actually near two tipping points, if you also believe that if we don't address climate change meaningfully and now, it will too soon be too late — and worse, everyone on the planet will know it. When that realization occurs, the international chaos will only be containable, and then only briefly, by military action."

Insurance companies are already all over this. The Pentagon has produced plans to deal with this globally. Corporations own the Federal government which orders the military to do its bidding. The fix is already in for the 0.1% at the expense of the rest of us. We the People are now left to wage war over the crumbs just to survive a little bit longer than those who lose the contest.

Revelations was supposed to be a warning, not a script.

At 11:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"High leverage" is not the right analogy. This is more about a low-opportunity cost, high potential payoff.

e.g. with "high leverage" the risk is only low if you are gambling with someone else's money. If a person is making a high leverage wager that goes bust with their own money, there is a lot more downside risk, because you risk losing everything that you have, and then some more. Under those circumstances, it might have been better to not wager.

The AG race for Teachout is potential high upside and low risk, because she isn't part of the NY Dem party patronage machinery. She owes no debts to those who can do her professional career the most harm. If the wager goes bust, she continues teaching and will still exercise influence in an advisory capacity to progressive Dems. If she was part of the party machine, she would be risking her entire professional career.

Part of the challenge though is that while the risk is low, and the payoff high, the probability of success is also low. If the goal is to start stacking up wins, it's important to find ways to improve the odds. e.g. some of that is raising a lot of money or building robust support networks. Some of that is getting more allies into office.

As far as it relates to Sanders 2016 -- I think it would have been the best possible scenario if he'd won. However, the fact that he doesn't have deep intraparty support with the elected leadership would have constrained his ambitions. He still would have had some latitude with executive action, but the legislative path would have still been constrained. On some level Obama also faced this problem in 2008, because, unlike the Clintons he didn't have deep, long standing patronage networks to punish and reward people. e.g. presumably this was also part of the reason that some in the Senate leadership pushed him to run in 2008 -- he was a lot more dependent on them than Clinton would have been, which increased their independence and power too. Also, there was some thought that Clinton might be a liability electorally.

Personally, I think you have to do everything you can to win now and build for the long-term. It's not either/or. I'm not that optimistic though that the short-term track will yield big dividends. Best case, we are probably looking at a 10 year window to actually shift the party in a more progressive direction within the ranks of the elected leadership. Of course, there may not be enough time to do that -- especially with a few more years of Trump-Pence. We have to push forward anyways, because there is no alternative.

At 11:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obama never faced any problem he could solve. We the People gave him a mandate in 2008, which he immediate sat on and did nothing with it. This allegedly wonderful speaker never once followed the example set by FDR and went to the people with his message to get around Republican intransigence. The only time the eloquence came out of Obama's mouth was during the campaigns, when he lied to us about Single payer while he was stabbing it in the back.

I wish people would stop making excuses for that sorry "moderate 1985 Reagan Republican" who sold us out, spit in our faces ("comfy shoes" kicked to the curb, etc.), and gave the GOP everything it asked for and still tried to give them more (Grand Bargain).

At 2:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

coupla things:

Wrt climate, it's already too late. I've 'splained before. But suffice it to say that if we'd have put the Manhattan Project on converting earth humans to renewables back in '42, it would probably have just barely made it in time. The C in the atmosphere was too high by WWI to not have had a climate effect (relative to the 14000 year stasis that enabled the rise of human society).

"...don't have time for a 30-year plan to take over the Democratic Party; nor do we have time to build a viable, national, well-funded third party to challenge it."

the democrap party will never be taken over, except by violent purges, no matter how long you give it. Corruption is like that. Clinton proved that it takes only a cycle to turn a party utterly corrupt. There is no example of a party being turned back. The thrall of money is just too great.

So that ONLY leaves building a third party. That means revolution, which you seem to agree, is nigh. What that REALLY means is that the revolution must be guided from the left such that altruism must be the focus, rather than simple revenge on the rich and Nazis (though revenge can be indulged for its own sake).

I repeat... That **ONLY** leaves the revolution. If this shithole is to be repaired, it **MUST** be bwo a truly left movement that kills, incinerates, pulverizes and buries the entire fucking democrap party. Absent that, it cannot and will not happen.

obamanation and the congress of 2009 prove this. If 2018 is a repeat of 2009, it will be the same result... as will all future attempts. I refer you, again, still to Einstein's prescient quote about insanity...

That said, your theory about teachout does have merit. Well meaning individuals not under the boot of the caucus tyrants in DC **CAN** do some good. Several state AGs have already taken a lot of the teeth out of trump's muslim ban, for one good example.

However, if enough of these things occur, I can see trump just ending democracy simply to get around all the roadblocks. And I can see that being a very popular, among voters, change.

Also, the DNC just adopted a new rule making Bernie unable to run again, unless he turtles to them worse than after the convention, so the Bernie speculation is moot.

And, ironically, Bernie's near miss might have actually emboldened the Nazi voters to nominate trump, since all their other candidates were far too lame to beat him in the general. You might dissect that for an interesting, if academic, exercise.

At 9:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

11:53, the only problem obamanation faced that he even WANTED to solve was his legacy. That's why he only acted like a democraT for the final 6 months of his second term.

Prior to that he was more than content to sit in the oval with both thumbs up his ass nodding to whatever the money told him to do.

FDR still stands, in my mind, as the greatest US President. He had more to fix and he had to drag a reluctant populace along with him as he DID fix it. He led and inspired and cajoled. And he won the worlds' biggest ever war.

Obamanation was our worst democrat prez and in the bottom 5 overall. He spoke to corporations out of one side of his mouth; spoke to us out of his ass. He was charming but utterly corrupt (think Harding corrupt) and refused to break a sweat for the sake of anyone worth less than $50 million. He tortured and murdered and refused to stop arbitrary wars. He offered boner 14-digit cuts to entitlements that boner's conscience wouldn't allow him to accept. Think about that. People are alive today only because fucking BONER couldn't abide killing them.

Imagine the we elected obamanation in '32. Would we have gotten UI, SSI, WPA, REA, TVA, Manhattan project, Hoover Dam? Not just no, but FUCK NO!!!
We WOULD HAVE gotten tax cuts for corporations and nothing for people. By '36 the population would have been halved by starvation and he'd have been beaten by some fascist R who would have been a Mussolini clone.

At 1:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"That's why he only acted like a democraT for the final 6 months of his second term."

If incessantly pushing TPP is "acting like a democraT", then I am really glad I left that loser organization in 1980.

At 5:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1:39, quite correct. He owed TPP to his corporate owners.

But he did embark on a democraT-ish program of executive orders that were, largely, positive. His ONLY positive efforts during his entire 8 years of keeping the seat warm for trump.

If TPP had passed before he left, his last 6 months would have been net negative... bigly.

At 7:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Executive Orders count for nothing, 5:37. How many remain in force now that Trump wields the pen?

obamanation final score: negative infinity due to the waste of eight years.

At 1:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

7:15, correct. But he had nothing else. Because of the betrayals, his party lost 15 million voters and and both chambers. They certainly weren't going to do him any favors. Not even the TPP that all the whores wanted could pass.
His 7.5 years were a total loss and he was looking at forging something of a legacy. Besides, he was expecting his sister, $hillbillary, to be coronated and she would not have erased all of his legacy.

In the end, he not only wasted 8 years, he also created a vacuum that drew in a trump and turned the Rs into the Nazis. His party also erased any reasonable doubt about their true nature when they committed primary fraud and rigged the convention to ratfuck Bernie and 40 million independent voters who would have eagerly put him in office.

At 1:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

it is important to note that these party altruists acting beneath the level of the DC corruption MAY be able to do some good.

But they'll never alter the true nature of the party. Their deeds may fool some stupid voters into believing that the party has good intentions. But they won't be able to affect any kind of systemic change.

Even as several state AGs have done exactly as GP predicts Teachout will do, the party has raced even further and faster right. They just forbid another Bernie primary challenge, for instance. They've been recruiting former Rs and fascists (blue dogs, new dems) in numbers not seen since 2008 AND have refused to support progressives that prove they can compete, for another.


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