Category Archives: Democrats

Impressions of “The Devil’s Bargain” by Joshua Green and “Hacks” by Donna Brazile

I recently read two books focusing on adjunct figures to the 2016 election: The Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency about Trump’s third campaign manager, and Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns that put Donald Trump in the White House by the former Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee (Donna Brazile). They are parallel books: Brazile is a media personality and the book is obviously designed to improve her own image. Likewise, Bannon is so transparently the source of Devil’s Bargain the book is essentially written by him, except for some obvious sops designed to expand the book’s reader base.

Both books are more interesting than Shattered, the story about the inside of the Clinton campaign written by two professional journalists. While that book provided additional depth to the decision by the Clinton campaign to embrace identity politics as a campaign strategy, both Bargain and Hacks expand the discussion beyond what was commonly discussed.

I was impressed by the focus of both books on the new opportunities and threats presented by the internet and internet culture. For Bannon, the protagonist of Bargain, it is the communities that exist beneath the sites of the mainstream media. An early business opportunity, trying to professionalize the “gold miner” community in the popular online game World of Warcraft, failed because of an organized customer revolt that spooked the gamer’s manufacturer but never made the news. The shadow of this could be felt years later in the sub-cultural hashtag campaigns #gamergate, #sadpuppies, and even #maga. For Brazile, who was more involved with the operations of the Democratic Party fund-raising machine than the campaign itself, the previously unknown threat was “hacking.” I was impressed by the seriousness Brazile gave to this issue. She’s clearly not an information security professional, but she honestly expresses her fear and bewilderment at this sometimes confusing world. Hacks is the most accurate depiction of the CrowdStrike security I have seen in any book outside of a trade press.

It’s interesting that neither perspective is flattering to Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News anchor whose career at MSNBC is now being covered by Bannon’s news company. “Trump’s toughest opponents in Cleveland were not his fellow candidates but the Fox News moderates, who went right after him” — writes Green — “none with more gusto than Kelly.” Brazile writes of an interview with Kelly, “It was less of an interview than an ambush. She was so eager to get to me that when she saw me approaching, her producers yanked Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway out of the chair almost mid-sentence so I could sit down right away. Megyn was gunning for me.” And Bannon reminisces about wealthy bullies at his old school: “They were the rich snobs. They’d always do the employer-employee joke at us: ‘When you grow up, you’ll work for us,’ And we’d punch them in the nose.”

Both books contain claims that are factually.. questionable. It’s obvious in Bargain the writer is surrounded by secular society and treats religion like an anthropologist would treat a remote tribe: for example, “the Latin-only Tridentine Mass, which was banned by the Second Vatican council.” Likewise, Donna Brazile is often more interesting to read between the lines than at face value, for instance when she was disinterested in building her own base of support: “” But here, Brazile’s book is better constructed. In the places that either leave the literal truth, Brazile’s writing still leaves it clear what message she wants sent (often it is to praise or blame specific allies or enemies). Green’s errors, by contrast, seem lazy. You can read a sentence from Brazile’s book, such as — “When [a Hatian AM radio host asked me when the campaign was going to start a dialogue with his audience, I knew what he meant by that. When were they going to spend a few hundred dollars in advertising there, which would encourage him to urge his followers to get out and vote?” — and it i sclear that so-and-so is asking for a bribe. A sentence like this the Latin mass comment from Bargain, however, just leaves the reader with the impression that the writer is not versed in the relevant subject matter.

This is especially disappointing in light of the fact that both Bannon and Brazile are Catholics. Pope Francis, author of Laudito Si, comes under attack by Bannon: Bargain quotes Bannon as calling Francis “a liberal theology Jesuit” and a “pro-immigration globalist.” Brazile does not discuss theology, but is interested in how Catholic rites can impact the everyday world: she prays for both victory and proper ordering, and uses Holy Water on offices of the Democratic National Committee.

My high-level impression of Bargain is that it is predictable result of a liberal journalist attempting to flatter a conservative source. Hacks, by contrast, is hatchet job by an insider against other insiders, combined with a surprisingly accurate outsider’s discussion of a security incident response operation. You can pass on Bargain. Hacks is great fun.

In an amusing twist, you can read a favorable comment on Hacks from Steve Bannon’s media company. I read both Devil’s Bargain and Hacks in the Kindle editions.

Impressions of “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign,” by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes

The authors of Shattered: Inside Hilltary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign have made the rounds of Cable TV, talking about their access to the Clinton campaign and the mistakes made in it. Almost all of the salacious material was included in these appearances, so if that’s your interest, I’ll simply embed one of those videos

Having watched those videos exactly for the salacious content before beginning, I really can’t describe any of those revelations as a pay-off of reading the book. But I think three large themes are clear in the text, and have been largely ignored by television coverage. They are the organizational nature of the campaign, the conscious rejection of the Clinton coalition as a population to speak to, and the utility of “data” as a shibboleth.

First the cost of internal office-politics in the Clinton Campaign may have been as severe as all the external resistance Hillary Clinton faced. The lack of alignment in incentives seem to have been particularly egregious in the case of Robby Mook, though its unclear if this is because Mook was particularly independent or (more likely) these stories were the most available to the authors. Mook engaged in behavior that is perfectly rational in any corporate office — serving as a gate-keeper to the resources under his charge. His gate-keeping role denied others access to non-rival resources that could have been used by others on the campaign to help their candidate. (Why important stakeholders did not have their interests aligned is not discussed in the book.)

Second, the most shocking part of the book was a revelation that something I took to be accidental was instead intentional: Clinton attempts to run a campaign not to her strengths (which she attempted in ’08), but to Obama’s (who, admittedly, actually won in ’08). One of the endearing images I have of that cycle was Clinton throwing back whiskey shots. The message was clear: whether you like Clinton or not, she is tough and unafraid. In a dangerous world those are admirable qualities in a leader. Those may be the qualities that won the White House for Donald Trump.

Instead of projecting a tough image and winning those left behind by globalization, Clinton tried to complete Obama’s transformation of the Democratic Party into a globalist party. Obama’s coalition included highly paid professionals, feminists, those seeking race-conscious preferences from the federal government. But unlike Obama, Clinton was neither charismatic nor black. She failed, but her failure was part of a conscious strategy.

The only shocking part relates to data. It’s unclear exactly what is meant, but polling was replaced by another technique cheaper because polling was expensive. Total Survey Error was simply ignored. Domain experts were sidelined, and anonymous sources told the authors they were made to feel like “dinosaurs” if they questioned analytics. It seems clear the authors themselves don’t understand the details of these debates (whether anyone in the room did is uncertain!), but I have a creeping feeling that too many were dazzled by the geeky magic of pop-analysts like Nate Silver, to their ruin.

I read Shattered in the Kindle edition.

In Net-Centric Politics, The Net-Centric Politicians Ru[i]n the Party

Internet and the Democrats,” by Jon Schaff, South Dakota Politics, 20 July 2005, http://southdakotapolitics.blogs.com/south_dakota_politics/2005/week29/index.html#a0005664380.

Schaff of SDP notes that the infusion of high-tech politics into the Democrat Party is hurting America’s Opposition, by turning the technophile “netroots” against the factions of the party who can actually win

 

There is no such thing as a free lunch. You get activism and money out of the online world, but you also get a louder voice for the far left of the Party. Note this bit referring to Marcos Moulitsas Zuniga, aka Daily Kos:

 

[Kos] sweepingly dismissed the Democratic Leadership Council, Joe Lieberman, and The New Republic magazine as “tools of the GOP.” In 2004, Kerry’s campaign cut its link to Moulitsas’s Web site after he wrote that he felt “nothing” when four American contractors were killed in Falluja, because “they are there to wage war for profit.”

 

And also:

 

After years of uncertainty, he had discovered his niche. Kos quickly found an audience by expressing the unmediated anger of the Democratic base toward Bush, and even more so toward Democrats who cooperated with him, especially over the war in Iraq.

 

Kos’s “niche” is fueling anger and resentment towards all who do not share his extremist views.

But to the point at hand, I think it is interesting that the very part of the Democratic Party that is gaining power is rejecting the only part of the Party that has won an election in the last 40 years (remember Carter ran as a moderate Southerner).

 

Network Centric Politics and The Opposition Party

The Pentagon’s Debate Over What Iraq Means,” by Thomas P.M. Barnett, The Command Post, http://www.command-post.org/oped/2_archives/018611.html, 24 January 2005.

An Opposition Party Opposes,” by Chris Bowers, MyDD, 24 April 2005, http://www.mydd.com/story/2005/4/24/171111/845.

Just as 4GP is the peaceful application of 4GW, Net-Centered Politics is the nonviolent from of Network Centric Warfare. According to Dr. Barnett,

Net-centric operations are a long-term effort by the military to understand how the rise of the information age alters the fundamental nature of war. In the vernacular of NCO advocates, the past force was platform-centric, meaning we organized ourselves around the major “platforms”, the machines we created to wage war (aircraft, ships, tanks, etc.). The future, by contrast, is network – centric: platforms are nothing more than nodes in a larger network whose main power isn’t its massed fire, but its ability to wield that force with pinpoint accuracy.

Instead of being an struggle between ideologies, like Fourth Generation Operations, Net-Centric Operations is a struggle between corporations. These corps can be states, bureaucracies, or political parties. Ideology isn’t an issue – there is a class of professional fighters who can be trusted to fight for their bosses. While 4GO aims to destroy the enemy’s will to fight, NCO destroys the enemy’s ability to fight. While 4GOs are new types of struggles, NCO attempts to use better technology to win Third Generation Struggles.

So given that, does the MyDD article make sense

I think it is this different persepctive that is the source of the current party divide over whether Demcorats should oppose the Republican agenda by offering a competing set of policy proposals, or whether, at lesat right now, they should just stand as a fervent opposition to prevent the installment of as much of the Republican agenda as possible. We have all heard this debate manifest itself on a number of recent issues. Demcorats shouldn’t just oppose Bush’s Social Secrity ideas, they should offer some of their own. Democrats shouldn’t just oppose tort “reform” and the class action bill, the should offer a tort reform proposal of their own. Democrats shouldn’t just oppose the repeal of the estate tax, they should present a counter tax reform package. Don’t just oppose, propose, we are told ad nauseum.

As someone who is pretty firmly in the “just oppose” camp, I fail to see the point of Demcoratic policy alternatives at this time. What is the point of developing policy alternatives that will never even have a chance of leaving Congressional committee? What is the point of developing policy alternatives that will reify hysterical Republican claims about a Social Security crisis, a litigation crisis, or all of the other invented crisises that Republicans create as a pretense of uber-conservative reform? Further, what is the point of developing policy alternatives that will do little else except serve as an excuse of Republicans to serve up slightly altered versions of their “reforms” (remember, Republicans don’t pass pieces of legilsation, they pass reforms) as reasonable compromises? Still further, what is the point of developing policy alternatives when there is very little chance of Demcorats regaining power of the House, the Seante and the Presidency before 2008? It is going to be nearly impossible for Demcorats to gain control of the Senate in the 2006 elections, and our prospects in the House are not much better. Right now, our job is not to develop policy, because there is really no chance that we will go on to govern, thus making that policy of any use.

Looking at it from a Net-Centered perspective, is this advise smart? No, it’s still wrong.

The problem is that Chris Bowers wants Democrats to fight on political maneuvering, trickery, and other party machinations. In other words, Bowers wants the Democrat Party to attack the GOP on its point of greatest strength. Democrats fight with lobbyists? Republicans have more lobbyists. Democrats fight with ground troops? Republicans have more ground troops. Democrats have aid campaigns? Republicans can raise more money.

Leaving ideology aside, the Democrat Party is weaker than the Republican Party. Flukes aside, “fair” fights are guaranteed to be losing fights for the DNC.

If a Democrats are going to rebuild a structural majority, they need to win the battle of ideas. Democrats need to be ideological insurgents. They need ideas.. They need the politics of political insurgency.

4GPS1: Node Takedown and the Politics of Personal Destruction

‘Reactive’ Politics,” by Hunter, Daily Kos, 23 April 2005, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/4/23/231512/044.
by Hunter
Sat Apr 23rd, 2005 at 20:15:12 PDT

Earlier I wrote about the 4GP: the fourth generation of modern politics or modern peace. 4GP has three stages

  1. Terrorize Enemy Network while building your Network
  2. Contest Enemy Network
  3. (Peacefully) Control Governmental Policy

This allows a peaceful ideological network to grow from a scattered collections of individuals to a ruling idea-governed party.

The “Politics of Personal Destruction” is a classic 4GPS1 tactic

That means, for example, making the exposure of the multi-headed DeLay chain of corruption a primary goal of Democratic strategists — and more importantly, it means following the money trail back to every single one of the House members that have been sucking at that trough. It means embracing the politics of personal destruction, until such point as it loses its Rovian charms for the other side. It means following the continuing fiasco of far-right religious conservatives demonizing everyone around them in a Taliban-like insistence that the religions you, and I, and most of America share are Wrong, and theirs — only theirs — is Right…

So be reactive, and be personal, and be tuned to respond to each outrage en masse. Maybe, after a year or two or three in which the Democrats prove themselves to be capable of the same kinds of warfare as the Republicans, the moderates in this world can spank the children, send them home, and start governing like adults again.

Some of the article veers into Stupid Party rhetoric, but the article specifically advises 4GPS1

  • Terrorize the enemy network
  • Respond with a distributed network

The politics of personal destruction — node takedown — has no chance of altering the structure of the enemy network. It’s like randomly zapping web sites off the internet — it wouldn’t effect the sustainability of the internet. But it nusances the enemy network, grows the home network’s reputation, and hopefully allows the movement to grow into 4GPS2.

medium_imperfect_4gp_net_top.jpg
The Top-Level of a Not-Fully-Connected 4GP Network
Even with Supernodes, Node Takedowns Do No Structural Harm

Unless the Democrat Party shifts significantly to the Clinton Right, this is their best hope. The ideological Republican Party has nearly succeeded in 4GPS3: they have the executive and legislature, and almost have the courts. The Democrat netroots are a classic Fourth Generation Peace insurgency. Let’s hope they fail.