Images illuminate ideas, and pictures of people are usually clearer than statements of principle. When I think about the liberal tradition I wanted to show my daughter, my inner vision kept returning to a simple scene, one that had delighted me for a long time. It's of the nineteenth-century philosoper John Stuart Mill and his lover, collaborator, and (as he always insisted) his most important teacher, the writer Harriet Taylor. Desperately in love, they were courting clandestinely and they would meet secretly at the rhino's cage at the London Zoo. "Our old friend Rhino," Taylor called him in a note. It was a place where they could safely meet and talk without fear of being seen by too many people, everyone's attention being engaged by the enormous exotic animal . . . .
It dawned on me while I brooded on the long-dead rhino in his long-gone cage that the rhinoceros was the perfect symbol of liberalism. All living things, Darwin taught us, are compromises of a kind, the best that can be done for that moment between the demands of the environment and the genetic inheritance it has to work with. No living thing is ideal. A rhinoceros is just a big pig with a horn on it.
The ideal of the unicorn is derived from the fact of the rhinoceros -- the dream image of the rhinoceros, the single horned animal reported on and then idealized by the medieval imagination. People idealize unicorns and imagine unicorns and make icons out of unicorns and write fables about unicorns. We hunt them. They're perfect. The only trouble with them is that they do not exist. They never have. The rhino is ungainly and ugly and short-legged and imperfect and squat. But the rhinoceros is real. It exists. And it is formidable.
Most political visions are unicorns, perfect imaginary creatures we chase and will never find. Liberalism is a rhinoceros. It's hard to love. It's funny to look at. It isn't pretty but it's a completely successful animal.
-- Adam Gopnik, A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism (Basic Books, 2019)
AOC’s Day Job
Yeah, you know, the day to day of my day job is frustrating. So is everyone else's. You know, I ate shit when I was a waitress and a bartender, and I eat shit as a member of Congress. It's called a job. You know? And yes, I deal with the wheeling and dealing, and . . . I advance some amendments that some people would criticize as too little and too small, and . . . I also advance big things that people say is unrealistic and naive. . . [T]hat is like always the great fear when it comes to work or pursuing anything. You want to write something, and in your head it's this big, beautiful, like Nobel-prize-winning concept, and then you are humbled by the words that you actually put on paper. And that is the work of movement, that is the work of organizing, that is the work of elections, that is the work of legislation . . . that is what it means to be in the arena.
-- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez interviewed by David Remnick on The New Yorker Radio Hour Podcast, February 14, 2022.
American Electoral Institutions Explained
Eric Levitz in New York Magazine on how political institutions keep American politics polarized between a median Democratic position and a right-of-median Republican position now that the urban/rural split between the two parties is entrenched:
By itself, the conservative movementâ€™s apocalyptic paranoia might not constitute an existential threat to American democracy. The depths of the American rightâ€™s radicalism are formidable, but its breadth of popular support is not. The donors, activists, and primary voters who set the GOPâ€™s agenda are more ideologically extreme than the Republican Partyâ€™s median general-election supporter. And so long as the GOP caters to the former, its national coalition is likely to be a minority one. Thus, if the United States were a majoritarian democracy â€” in which the Republican Party had to win a majority of the nationâ€™s votes to have a hand in federal governance â€” then the party might soon find itself with sufficient incentive to marginalize its most extreme elements. But the U.S. is a very different kind of polity.
Every elected branch of the U.S. government structurally overrepresents low-density areas. And since Americaâ€™s two parties are now polarized along urban-rural lines, the GOP has ballots to burn. Losing the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections hasnâ€™t stopped Republicans from holding the White House for a majority of this millennium. Republican senators have represented a majority of Americaâ€™s population for only two years in the last four decades â€” but Republicans have boasted Senate majorities for more than half of that period anyway. And many election forecasters expect the pro-Republican biases of the Senate and Electoral College to grow more pronounced in the years to come.
Those biases, combined with midterm elections that inherently favor the sitting presidentâ€™s opposition â€” and a two-party system that ensures Republicans will always be the only option for â€œchangeâ€ voters when a Democrat is in office â€” set a high floor beneath how far the GOP can realistically fall. One testament to this reality lies in the mounting evidence that Republicans have actually increased their support among nonwhite voters during the Trump era, even as the party has catered to white racial animus. With only two parties to choose from, socially conservative and/or disaffected nonwhite voters have proved willing to rally to the GOP banner even as Republicans have replaced their dog-whistle appeals to white grievance with foghorns. For these reasons, it is unlikely that Republicans will be consigned to the political wilderness long enough to make a break with the conservative movement thinkable.
-- Eric Levitz, "The RNC Has Made a Compelling Case for Americaâ€™s Imminent Collapse," New York Magazine, August 25, 2020.
The Hellscape That Is Facebook
Scott Galloway: Rick, over the last decade, I was fascinated when you were talking about media mix. If you had a hundred bucks to spend on media, how has that mix changed in terms of where you spend that money? And if you could only go with one platform or channel to spend money, what would that be?
[Rick] Wilson: Twenty years ago, obviously the mix was 99 to 1. Or 99.5 to â€¦
Wilson: For TV.
Galloway: Even direct mail?
Wilson: Direct mail as a persuasion tool has been dead for decades. Direct mail is good for raising money. And even that is dying off.
Galloway: So, it was all TV. What is it now? You got a hundred bucks. Where do you spend it?
Wilson: If I have a hundred bucks right now, I spend 30 bucks on cable, I spend 35 bucks on digital, I spend 15 on broadcast. And then I do a mix of other stuff out there, depending on the market and the audience. There are still markets in this country that are great for radio. Itâ€™s insane.
Galloway: What platform has the best tools? I think I know what the answer is going to be.
Wilson: The hellscape that is Facebook is the most meaningful tool of political manipulation ever devised in the history of all mankind.
-- "How the Lincoln Project Gets Into Trumpâ€™s Head," New York Magazine, July 21, 2020
California SB 902
This bill, which passed the state Senate by a 33-3 vote June 22, would allow cities to grant by-right zoning approval for up to ten units in transit- and job-rich areas.
The bill is now headed to the Assembly for review.
In short, SB 902 would permit, but not require, local governments to implement zoning ordinances to permit housing projects of up to 10 units without CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) review, if the housing is located in a transit- or jobs-rich area or in an urban infill site.
San Francisco-based State Senator Scott Wiener says that this bill â€œprovides cities with a powerful new tool to quickly re-zone for increased density.â€
The bill was introduced following the Senate defeat of Wienerâ€™s SB 50, a controversial housing production bill that would have preempted local control of zoning.
â€œIf SB 902 becomes law, it would be among the most powerful tools cities have to increase the number of affordable homes in our cities,â€ read a June 23 statement from advocacy group California YIMBY celebrating the billâ€™s victory in the Senate.
-- Larchmont Chronicle, July 1, 2020
Sen. Wiener Takes another Shot at Upzoning State's Single-Family Landscape (San Francisco Business Times, June 23, 2020)
Breed, Tubbs, Liccardo Supporting Bloomberg
Mayors London Breed of San Francisco, Sam Liccardo of San Jose, and Michael Tubbs of Stockton have all endorsed Michael Bloomberg for President, despite minimal support among their constituents for his candidacy, according to The Guardian:
Thereâ€™s nothing surprising about a billionaire winning the support of the mayor of San Francisco, a city flush with tech wealth and new money.
But when the billionaire is Mike Bloomberg â€“ and the endorsement is the latest from a string of California mayors he mentored and supported â€“ the vow of support raises some eyebrows.
Bloomberg announced on Thursday that London Breed, San Franciscoâ€™s first black female mayor, would serve as his campaignâ€™s chair of African Americans.
â€œVoters re-elected London Breed by a wide margin because she is taking on the biggest and toughest issues â€“ and she puts progress over politics,â€ the former New York mayor said in a statement. â€œIâ€™m honored to have her support and look forward to working with her not only to win this election, but to help make San Francisco and all of California stronger, fairer, and greener â€“ with more affordable housing, more good jobs, and healthcare for all.â€
Breed, who previously supported the California Senator Kamala Harris in the Democratic race for the presidential nomination, said on Facebook that she is backing Bloomberg because he â€œis the only candidate for president with a real plan for African Americansâ€, touting his Greenwood Initiative to increase black home ownership and the number of black-owned businesses.
All three mayors have attended Bloomberg's Harvard City Leadership Initiative program. Bloomberg was the first choice of only two percent of California Democrats in a December University of Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll. He has spent $24 million on political ads in California (all other candidates have spent $5 million) and is skipping early primary states to focus on California and other Super Tuesday states.
California Senator Kamala Harris
Senator Kamala Harris of California dropped out of the Democratic presidential race on Tuesday after months of low poll numbers and a series of missteps that crippled her campaign, a deflating comedown for a barrier-breaking candidate who was seeking to become the first black woman to win a major partyâ€™s presidential nomination.
The decision came after weeks of upheaval among Ms. Harrisâ€™s staff, including layoffs in New Hampshire and at her headquarters in Baltimore, and disarray among her allies. She told supporters in an email on Tuesday that she lacked the money needed to fully finance a competitive campaign.
â€œMy campaign for president simply doesnâ€™t have the financial resources we need to continue,â€ Ms. Harris wrote. â€œBut I want to be clear with you: I am still very much in this fight.â€
The announcement is perhaps the most surprising development to date in a fluid Democratic presidential campaign where Ms. Harris began in the top tier. Her departure removes a prominent woman of color from a field that started as the most racially diverse ever in a Democratic primary, and raises the prospect that this monthâ€™s debate in Los Angeles will feature no candidates who arenâ€™t white.
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Ms. Harris opened her campaign on Martin Luther Kingâ€™s Birthday with a rousing speech in her hometown, Oakland, Calif., before an audience of 20,000 people, drawing comparisons to history-making black politicians like Barack Obama and Shirley Chisholm.