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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 16, 2016

(this is a re-post of Sunday’s column after the site’s database crashed)

“Important issues in the presidential campaign are like the Oakland A’s. You aren’t going to see much of them in October” Rocky Mountain Mike

The best things that happened last week were the Nobel Prize for Bob Dylan and Michelle Obama’s speech. Perhaps the worst thing last week was the US’s deeper involvement in Yemen: The Saudis bombed a funeral. An American naval vessel was attacked at sea by the Houthis. We launched cruise missiles at Yemen. The Iranian navy started patrolling off of Yemen in the same space as the US navy. Escalation, and what does the US get out of this? The Obama administration must be held to account for this.

Dylan wins the Nobel:

cow-get-stoned

Trump’s decline in the polls means his call “Hillary for jail” has a new meaning:

cow-hillary-for-jail

The GOP establishment walks away from Trump just a little:

cow-hedge-your-bets

Trump admitting sexual assault has given some Christian supporters a moral dilemma:

cow-christian-values

 

Trump gets a new campaign logo:

cow-grope

 

 

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Where Republicans Are Coming From – Monday Wake Up Edition

(There will be limited blogging until 8/25, as Wrongo and Ms. Right visit Glacier National Park. Keep your tray tables in the upright and locked position while we are away.)

One of Wrongo’s earliest memories, a fragment, was riding in the car with my parents. When I asked where we were going, my mother said: “To elect Mr. Dewey president.” That was 1948. And here is a graphic example of what civic-minded Republicans were doing in Pittsburgh in 1949:

Vote Republican

The photo was taken by Charles “Teenie” Harris, and is in the archives of the Carnegie Museum of Art. It is part of a show of his work that opened on Aug. 13. Pittsburgh was Harris’s home town.

Note the predator’s clutching fingers. Note the long nails that Americans imagined that their Japanese enemies had in WWII. Note the blackface doll carried by the little white girl. While many Blacks in the north still voted for the Party of Lincoln in 1949, this billboard was in many ways a “dog whistle” for the white community of Pittsburgh.

The billboard was part of the Republican Party’s “informed debate” in Pittsburgh’s mayoral election in 1949. Their message was that the streets were not safe for women and children. This, at a moment in American history when we were not suffering lots of crime. In fact, there was a drop in homicides in the immediate post-war period.

There was pushback against the billboard, even among Republicans, in fact, the Pittsburgh Outdoor Advertising Co. refused to honor their contract to put up 100 copies of the image once they saw it. They had to be forced to do so by a local judge, who called the picture “a shocking example of bad taste.” Within a week of the billboard’s appearance, however, the Republicans themselves decided to replace it with a less offensive image. From Blake Gopnick at Artnet:

Back then, at least, a Republican candidate could realize he’d crossed a line and decide to step back from it.

That’s much too much to ask in 2016. Of course today, the Republicans would say the way to make that child safe would be to give her a gun and tell her to lock and load.

So another Monday morning wake-up for the GOP. To help them join the rest of us in the real world, here are Belle and Sebastian with “Olympic Village, 6am”. As we start the second week of the Olympics, the focus shifts to track and field, and so does this video:

For those who read the Wrongologist in email, you can view the video here.

(H/T: LGM)

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 14, 2016

Apparently, President Obama makes a playlist every year for his summer fun time on Martha’s Vineyard. Playlists by politicians are common, and usually are big nothingburgers. Obama has a “Day” playlist and a “Night” list. This year, The Atlantic approves of Mr. Obama’s night playlist, and thinks the day list is a snooze. Guess critics gotta criticize.

Make up your own mind: here is the Obama “Night” playlist.

It was a big week in manufactured news. Trump dominates, but Politico speaks about the Trump campaign thusly: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

What’s bothering people on the [Trump] campaign is that they feel like they’re doing all the right things, but they’re losing every news cycle to Hillary and there’s nothing they can do about it.

It’s doubtful that Clinton has won a news cycle since the convention, but what the Trump campaign is trying to say is that Clinton doesn’t need to win a news cycle as long as Trump “misspeaks” every day. From Karoli Kuns at C&L: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

I think that’s precious, don’t you? Considering that Trump dominates the news for every cycle with his intentional demonization of President Barack Obama and [his] opponent, Hillary Clinton, it’s hard to imagine Republicans wringing their tiny little hands over losing news cycles to her.

Ok, the GOP should keep explaining Trump’s gaffes until America is tired of all the winning.

On to cartoons. Simone Biles gave us a feel-good moment:

COW Americas Great Again

This is the one Burka that Trump likes:

COW Tax Returns

With all of the “resets” and “mansplaining”, the GOP could lose its balance:

COW Balance Beam

This is as understandable as any other explanation by Monsieur big mouth:

COW Trump Backs Up

Trump’s new tax policy is same old, same old. It’s a reconstitution of the standard Republican trickle-down economics that benefits big corporations and a wealthy few:

COW Trump Tax Plan

 

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – July 31, 2016

Happy post-conventions Sunday! Now settle back and watch the hair pulling between the Pant Suit and the Pant Load for the next 100 days or so.

Here is an apocalyptic story that you didn’t see while watching the war of tweets between Bernie, Hillary and Donald. First a heatwave hit Siberia. Then came the anthrax:  (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Temperatures have soared in western Russia’s Yamal tundra this summer. Across Siberia, some provinces warmed an additional 10 degrees Fahrenheit beyond normal. In the fields, large bubbles of vegetation appeared above the melting permafrost — strange pockets of methane or, more likely, water. Record fires blazed through dry Russian grassland. In one of the more unusual symptoms of unseasonable warmth, long-dormant bacteria appear to be active. For the first time since 1941, anthrax struck western Siberia.

Ok, so only 13 Siberian nomads have gotten anthrax so far, and the science is unsettled on tundra warming.

Here are a few cartoons to take your minds off the living hell of the election season, or alternatively, taking it off of anthrax and the Zika virus.

Hillary’s nomination was greeted by change on the home front:

COW Glass Ceiling

Bernie mansplained politics to a supporter in Philly:

COW Bernie Explains

Trump’s negotiating style puzzles Putin:

COW Donald Unfaithful

Boris and Natasha get a new gig:

COW Boris and Natasha

The Dems had a bit of buyer’s remorse:

COW Dems Rationale

The big fear with Trump voters between now and November:

COW Big Fear

 

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 15, 2016

The week’s news was dominated by the summit meeting between Paul Ryan and Donald Trump. Going in to the big meeting, Ryan’s staff had an office pool:

COW Office Pool

The GOP feels that the boys will paper over their differences:

COW Paper Over

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the meeting, the Very Reverend Elephant abandoned his scruples:

COW GOP Marriage

 

Trump now says that the GOP is behind him:

COW GOP Behind Me

Donald’s General Election strategy is to promise only what fits on a ball cap:

COW Promises

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“The Oven is Preheating, But Your Goose is Not Yet Cooked.”

The quote above is from “City on Fire” (Knopf, 2015) a novel by Garth Risk Hallberg that describes NYC in the 1970s when it was both dangerous and in decay. And it aptly describes the current phase of American politics. What we are seeing with Trump, and to a lesser extent with Sanders, is that angry white working class people have decided to overturn our election process.

Maybe not in 2016, but certainly by 2020.

It shouldn’t be difficult to understand, since wages for working class white males peaked in 1968, 48 years ago. For their entire working lives, conditions for working class males have been getting worse. Here is a chart from the WSJ:

White Men in Labor Force

For white working-class men in their 30s and 40s, in what should be the prime decades for working and raising a family, participation in the labor force dropped from 96% in 1968 to 79% in 2015. Over that same period, the portion of these men who were married dropped from 86% to 52%. (The numbers for nonwhite working-class males show declines as well, though not as steep, and not as continuous.)

More from the WSJ:

In today’s average white working-class neighborhood, about one out of five men in the prime of life isn’t even looking for work; they are living off girlfriends, siblings or parents, on disability, or else subsisting on off-the-books or criminal income. Almost half aren’t married, with all the collateral social problems that go with large numbers of unattached males.

In these communities, about half the children are born to unmarried women, with all the problems that go with growing up without fathers. Drugs also have become a major problem outside of urban areas, in small towns and in the suburbs.

During the same half-century, American corporations exported millions of manufacturing jobs, which were among the best-paying working-class jobs. They were (and are today) predominantly men’s jobs.

The share of the total income of the bottom 80% of US households vs the top 20% of households also peaked in 1968: 57.4% vs 42.6%. As of 2014, the share of total household income of the top 20% has increased from 42.6% to 51.2%, while that of the bottom 80% has declined to 48.8%.

So in 1968, the combined share of the bottom 80% of household income was 14.8% greater than that of the top 20%. In 2014, it was only 2.4% less. That is a 17.2% negative swing. So, the quality of life for the average white male peaked in 1968.

And it’s not just men. Poor women are angry too. One thing everyone in the lower rungs of the ladder (the bottom 50% of the household income scale) have in common is that most of them now realize they are getting screwed. The numbers of white working-class voters will dip to just 30% of all voters by 2020. This is a dramatic decline from 1988, when white working-class voters were 54% of all voters.

Trump supporters want to use political power to restore their economic position. As any aware citizen knows, you never get power exactly the way you want it. Therefore, Trump’s supporters think they need to overturn our established politics to make change, and that can only happen if they follow an authoritarian like The Donald. A good current example of this is the Congress’s Freedom Caucus, who with just 40 members, have thrown out a Speaker of the House, and plan to drive the federal legislative process.

Contrast this with the American Civil Rights movement, which was ideologically diverse, incompletely successful, but mainstreamed in our politics. It negotiated a better life for African-Americans. But today’s white underclass are through playing the long game. They do not plan to struggle for as long as the black underclass did, and they are believe that working within the system is futile.

Remember, most of them are armed. Our concern meter should be dialed up to 11.

America is starting to look like a pre-revolutionary society. Life today shouldn’t be “black ties matter.” Unregulated capitalism makes for a mean culture, and today, it is dominating us.

So, the oven is preheating. There is still time to avoid cooking our goose, but we have had a president who called himself a “uniter, not a divider” and failed. We then had a president who promised to be post-partisan, but deepened our political divisions.

And there is no political leader on the horizon who possesses the skills and message to unite us.

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What Will The Anger in Today’s Politics Create?

From part one of the WaPo’s four-part article, The Great Unsettling:

So much anger out there in America.

Anger at Wall Street. Anger at Muslims. Anger at trade deals. Anger at Washington. Anger at police shootings of young black men. Anger at President Obama. Anger at Republican obstructionists. Anger about political correctness. Anger about the role of big money in campaigns. Anger about the poisoned water of Flint, Mich. Anger about deportations. Anger about undocumented immigrants. Anger about a career that didn’t go as expected. Anger about a lost way of life. Mob anger at groups of protesters in their midst. Specific anger and undefined anger and even anger about anger.

And more:

In this season of discontent, there were still as many expressions of hope as of fear. On a larger level, there were as many communities enjoying a sense of revival as there were fighting against deterioration and despair.

We do not really know which party will pay the piper in November; the results are not even close to being knowable. Right now, the middle ground between the two parties has become more permeable than ever before in living memory, in large part due to failed expectations by both parties.

The Democratic Party has a deep fault line between its FDR-inspired branch, and its corporatist branch, represented these days by Hillary Clinton, which uses a surface fealty to social issues to differentiate it from the Republicans.

The country lucked out with FDR. He was a pragmatist, with no love of theory, and a willingness to entertain any idea on the basis of whether it would “work” or not. He was better than most other pols because, more than any other president after Lincoln, he was willing to look objectively at the ideas proposed by the left. Here is FDR on October 31, 1936, reflecting on his first term:

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace–business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me–and I welcome their hatred.

FDR was also willing to look at right wing ideas. In fact, he campaigned in 1932 on the promise of balancing the budget, an idea that could have been catastrophic. He revived the idea in his second term, almost sinking the New Deal, but the better ideas won out.

By contrast, the Republican Party is a collection of “high-minded” people, each with an obsession from which she/he cannot be dissuaded; like believing that tax cuts create massive GNP growth, or as Donald Trump believes, America can have tax cuts, undertake a huge military buildup and balance the budget without any cuts in benefits to Americans over 55.

Republicans continue to think the US is a “Christian” nation, they think only English should be spoken, and that all immigrants should be deported, and some believe that the 16th Amendment (allowing the federal government to levy taxes) should be repealed.

By contrast, the Democratic Party is a coalition of broad-minded people, trying always to stitch together interest groups and their needs with a leader of consequence to deliver change.

There are two schools of political thought when it comes to elections:

  1. Vote for the person, not the party
  2. Vote for the party, not the person

Democrats believe in #1, while Republicans believe in #2. This is why R’s will accept Trump as a presidential candidate, and it is why Dems think that is a crazy idea.

But Republicans didn’t count on Donald Trump, or his hostile takeover of their Party.

The question for the rest of 2016 is whether all of the manifest anger expressed by Americans will be put to good use, or if it will be used to give voice to thuggery and racism (Trump) or religious extremism (Cruz).

Public service is a duty and the calling doesn’t come quickly or easily. And that high-mindedness is absent in those that go into politics to gain personal wealth and power, like The Donald, or most of those in Congress.

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Get Used to Donald Trump

(Wrongo will be on the road until 2/27. This is the last post until we resume with Sunday Cartoons on 2/28)

Now that Donald Trump has swept Nevada, it’s time to acknowledge that he is the likely GOP nominee, and Republicans are lining up to accept him into the fold. In fact, the GOP House Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy said this week that he could work with the Donald, while a few Congress people have now endorsed him.

Mr. Trump is running as a fixer of America’s problems based upon his business success. But is success in business indicative of presidential performance?

Maybe not, although in 2012, Mitt Romney said the Constitution should be amended to say a president must have business experience:

I’d like to have a provision in the Constitution that in addition to the age of the president and the citizenship of the president and the birth place of the president being set by the Constitution, I’d like it also to say that the president has to spend at least three years working in business before he could become president of the United States.

A 2009 survey of historians by C-Span showed that 6 of our 10 best presidents lacked sufficient business experience to be president by Romney’s yardstick. That includes Ronald Reagan, the actor, corporate spokesman and politician, and John F. Kennedy, the naval officer, writer and politician. There is one failed businessman on the list of great presidents, the haberdasher Harry S. Truman.

And Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower and FDR would not have been president, since none had real business experience.

By contrast, two 20th century businessmen-presidents, George W. Bush, who got rich owning the Texas Rangers, and Herbert Hoover, who found his fortune in mining, were ranked among the worst presidents ever by the same C-Span historians. And both had Harvard MBA’s.

Trump’s business experience and its success are more relevant if you are thinking about voting for him, than say, one of the other candidates, because it is his ONLY qualification. He has no political experience, he has no clear policies, and the vague ideas that he does throw out suggest that he has not taken the time to learn much about the big issues of the day.

His message is basically: “Don’t worry about the details, you can trust me because I’m super successful and I have a huge company.”

Let’s look at how successful Trump has been in business. According to The Economist, a review of Mr. Trump’s career suggests three conclusions. First, his fortune is about $4 billion. Second, about 93% of his wealth is located in America, and 80% is in real estate. Third, Mr. Trump’s performance has been mediocre compared with growth in the value of the stock market and in the growth of New York property values. More from The Economist: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

Of his wealth, only an estimated 7% is outside America and 66% is…in New York [City]. Only about 22% of his worth is derived from assets that he actively created after 2004, when he became a reality TV star. Some 64% is from conventional property and a further 17% from resorts and golf clubs. His biggest recent deal [was] in real estate: buying the Doral hotel in 2012 out of bankruptcy.

The Economist provided this handy chart about Donald Trump’s financial performance against a few market metrics. The best long-term starting point is 1985, when Trump first appeared in the wealth rankings without his father. The most generous starting point is 1996, when Trump had just clawed his way back from the financial abyss. The final starting point is a decade ago:

Trump Trackrecord

  • Judged by his long-term record, he has done poorly. And over the past decade Donald Trump has lagged both the S&P and Manhattan commercial real estate benchmarks.
  • Judged from the low point in 1996, he has outperformed the S&P 500 index of big firms and the New York property market. That’s a win.
  • His ranking among American billionaires has fallen from a high of 26 to 121. By the standards of the country’s real estate giants, his property empire is just 14% of the size of America’s biggest real estate firm.

Trump will be 70 in June. Much of his wealth was made well over a decade ago from a few buildings in Manhattan, including Trump Tower. The Economist thinks that Trump’s success happened a long time ago, that he has limited experience with complex organizations, little foreign experience, and limited policy experience. He has spent most of his life managing what is essentially a family business, one that he inherited from his father.

Republican primary voters say: “so what?”

If you are going to vote for The Donald, and he does get elected, go visit Trump Tower in NYC, and celebrate with one of the $18 “You’re Fired” Bloody Marys.

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It’s Always Groundhog Day in America

Do Conservatives Have a Learning Disability? A few who read the Wrongologist are convinced that Wrongo is just a clueless, woolly-headed Progressive who hates America and the baby Jesus. None of that is true, except for the Progressive part.

From Krugman’s Monday column:

Marco Rubio has yet to win anything, but by losing less badly than other non-Trump candidates he has become the overwhelming choice of the Republican establishment.

PK points out that Rubio:

• Proposes tax cuts, like completely eliminating taxes on investment income — which would mean, for example, that Mitt Romney would end up owing zero in federal taxes.
• Proposes tax cuts that would be almost twice as big as George W. Bush’s as a percentage of GDP, despite the fact that Republicans have spent the Obama years warning incessantly that budget deficits will destroy America, any day now.
• Insists that his tax cuts would pay for themselves, by unleashing incredible economic growth. Never mind the complete absence of any evidence for this claim, or that the last two Democratic presidents, both of whom raised taxes on the rich, presided over better private-sector job growth than Mr. Bush did.
• Called for a balanced-budget amendment, which makes no sense, since he is calling for budget-busting tax cuts. Also this amendment would have been catastrophic during the Great Recession, when deficit spending helped bring us out of a crash.

Finally, Marco Roboto said a few days ago that it’s “not the Fed’s job to stimulate the economy” (although the law says that it is precisely their job). Krugman closes with: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

In short, Mr. Rubio is peddling crank economics. What’s interesting, however, is…he’s not pandering to ignorant voters; he’s pandering to an ignorant [GOP] elite.

It doesn’t require a Nobel Prize in Economics to see the entrenched divisions in our politics. But let’s focus today on the great coup by American Conservatism, convincing its followers that personal opinion counts for as much as any fact.

We live in an America that Conservatives have turned into an oligarchy. The system has been gamed to support the interests of the wealthy. Politicians are able to choose their voters through a cynical, manipulative gerrymandering re-redistricting process. The idea of “one man, one vote” has, via Citizens United, been turned into a largely meaningless exercise in which those with big bucks and an agenda pay to propagandize the American voter, many of whom are far more comfortable reacting emotionally, than thinking critically.

Conservatives like Rubio (and the rest of the GOP) have retreated into a content-free bubble, where they manufacture truth on the fly to suit their purpose. You know this since few on the Far Right put forward cogent, supportable arguments for their ideas, instead lazily relying on a smug arrogance which allows them to laugh off opposing ideas, as does Mr. Rubio.

The problem is, the vast majority of our electorate are largely oblivious to the nuances of the underlying issues. What information they have is derived from main stream media, or right wing propaganda organs, or social media.

Data are boring and unacceptable: My belief is superior to your data or to my own education. It is easier to just vote for the candidate promising to make America Great Again, ignoring the reality of the deep and nuanced causes of our problems.

The rigidity of the Republican doctrine on taxes as outlined by Rubio looks like an alternate version of the movie, “Groundhog Day“, where Bill Murray experiences a time loop in which he repeats his experience until he corrects the problems that had landed him in limbo.

Sadly, in the GOP alternative version, they begin every presidential election cycle with a demand for lower taxes. The tax policy of the previous four years has no effect on this mantra. Nor do the economic trends of the time alter their robotic claim that lower taxes will cure all difficulties. In the Conservative view, a smaller tax bite will trigger an economic boom that offsets the costs of GOP tax cuts to our budget.

In the GOP version of “Groundhog Day”, the GOP doesn’t learn from its mistakes. Unfortunately, this means the entire country suffers from the inability or unwillingness of Republicans to learn from experience.

It’s time to turn off Fox News and set out on a walkabout in the reality-based world.

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What NH Should Teach Us

The popular vote in NH was about 521,000. Of that number, 278k went to Republican candidates, and 243k went to Democrats. Bernie led all candidates with 145,700 votes, with Trump second at 97,300 votes. Hillary was third at 92,530.

For the record, the 2008 turnout was: 287,342 for the Democrats and 238,979 for the Republicans.

The media is all over the demographics of the NH primary, and how Bernie won all segments except for people over 65 years old, and those who make more than $200k, both of which went to Hillary.

But one headline from NH ought to be that the Dems performed 15% worse than eight years ago, while the GOP performed 14% better than they did when a NH resident (Romney) was on the ballot!

In Hillary’s post-primary speech, she said that there isn’t a huge difference between the two Democratic candidates. Bernie talked about how the party had to come together down the road to prevent a White House take-over by the GOP.

But are these candidates that similar?

Let’s hear from Benjamin Studebaker, who says that Sanders and Clinton represent two very different ideologies, a neo-liberal view represented by Ms. Clinton and an FDR big government program viewpoint represented by Mr. Sanders:

Each of these ideologies wants control of the Democratic Party so that its resources can be used to advance a different conception of what a good society looks like…This is not a matter of taste and these are not flavors of popcorn.

Studebaker thinks that Hillary is ideologically similar to Barack Obama, describing that in 2008: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The most prominent difference between them was the vote on the Iraq War. On economic policy, there never was a substantive difference. The major economic legislation passed under Obama (Dodd-Frank and the Affordable Care Act) did not address the structural inequality problem that the Democratic Party of the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s…existed to confront.

In fact, while inequality decreased under FDR, Truman, JFK, and LBJ, it has increased under 3 Democrats: Carter, Clinton, and Obama. It also increased under 3 Republicans: Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II.

Now comes the Hill & Bernie show. Sanders is not running to try to implement a set of idealistic policies that a Republican-controlled Congress will block; he is running to take the Democratic Party away from its current leadership that is unwilling to deal with the systemic economic problems that have led to wage stagnation and the shrinking of the middle class in America.

But can he be successful? David Brooks said in the NYT:

Bernie Sanders…has been so blinded by his values that the reality of the situation does not seem to penetrate his mind.

OK, that must mean that Sanders has no shot. The conventional wisdom is that the Democratic Party cannot be reclaimed by the FDR/LBJ types, or that if it is reclaimed, it will lose in 2016.

But, in the 1968 and 1976 Republican primaries, a guy named Ronald Reagan ran to take the Republican Party back from the Richard Nixon types who went along with the Democrats on welfare and regulation. He was bidding to return the Republicans to their 1920’s Conservative roots. Everyone in the 60’s and 70’s knew that Reagan couldn’t pull that off. But he did.

How? Yesterday, we spoke of Movement Conservatism, where Republicans built a conceptual base, a popular base, a business base, and an institutional infrastructure of think tanks, and by the 2000s, Conservatives again controlled the Republican Party.

So, one lesson from the NH primary is that the contest for the 2016 presidential nomination is not just a contest to see who will lead the Democrats, it’s a contest to see what kind of party the Democrats are going to be in the coming decades, what ideology and what interests, causes, and issues the Democratic Party will prioritize.

The Republican Party faces exactly the same problem in 2016.

And these facts make the 2016 primaries far more important than in any other recent election.

This is about whether the Democratic Party is going to care about inequality for the next decade. We are making a historical decision between two distinct ideological paradigms, not a choice between flavors of popcorn.

Choose carefully.

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