Saturday, February 23, 2019

Taking Stock in the 2020 Presidential Campaign -- An Early Look

Forty-seven percent.  That’s the proportion of polled Americans, according to Nate Silver, who do not disapprove of President Donald Trump’s performance.  Yes, I just committed a cardinal sin of emphasizing a double negative.  But just think about what that first sentence signifies.  If after 25 months of Donald Trump’s presidency, you don’t disapprove of it, the high likelihood is that you’d consider supporting him in 2020.  President Trump has had one humiliating defeat after another – including most recently a 35 day Government Shutdown with nothing to show for it – yet he’s still at 47% in the “I don’t disapprove” category.   And that doesn’t even account for the “guilty secret pleasure” theory that many people may be afraid to admit to pollsters that they like Trump but will nevertheless check his name in the privacy of their own voting booth.   If Democrats aren’t scared, they should be. 

As was demonstrated in 2016, you don’t have to approve of a candidate in order to vote for them.  You can simply disapprove of the opponent more.  That is why a Presidential campaign is often a war of attrition, and no institution is better at destroying the good name of its opponents than the Republicans.   They couldn’t destroy the candidacies of the Democrats’ two political superstars of the past forty years – Obama and Bill Clinton – but damned if they haven’t succeeded against literally every other Democratic nominee.  Just consider the facts.

The GOP turned rock-solid Walter Mondale into a dour “Eat Your Peas’ Democrat,” and he lost every state but his own.  Next, they took on the architect of the so-called “Massachusetts Miracle,” Michael Dukakis, and they Willie Hortoned him into oblivion.  (I especially appreciate seeing a photo of the man in a tank, which the Republicans quickly used to make Governor Dukakis look like an even more absurd version of the Great Gazoo from the Flintstones.)  Then, after Bill Clinton’s two terms, the Democrats served up future Nobel Peace Prize Winner Al Gore.  He could have dramatically changed world history by doing battle with climate change.  Instead, the Republicans ridiculed him as “AlGore” the fraudulent robot who took credit for other people’s work.  When the laughter was over, Gore couldn’t even carry his own state.  In 2004, the Dems ran a real war hero, John Kerry, against a chicken hawk who got us into an endless debacle in Iraq based on false intelligence. So what did the GOP do?  They “Swift Boated” the war hero, successfully lampooned him as an effete, blue-blooded wind-surfer, and gave their own candidate the popular vote victory he lacked the first time.  Finally, after two terms of Obama, we witnessed the circus known as the Presidential Campaign of 2016.  That’s when everyone was treated with an endless dose of references to “Crooked Hillary” and chants of “Lock Her Up.”   No, President Trump didn’t win the popular vote; he lost it by millions.  But damned if he didn’t take the Electoral College by 74 votes.    In baseball, the only thing that really matters are runs scored, not base runners; in Presidential Politics, the game is all about Electoral College votes, and Donald Trump won over 300 of them.  He is not to be taken lightly as a candidate in 2020. 

Democrats, in short, need to ensure that they don’t repeat the big mistake of 2016 and get cocky about their chances.  The nominee can hardly expect a walk in the park in the fall of 2020.  And we, as voters, must be aware that some nominees lose their electability because they’re viewed either as overly leftist (and hence unable to compete for the “Reagan Democrats” who showed up for Clinton and Obama) or overly centrist or corporatist (and hence, like Hillary, unappealing to those progressives who consider voting for the Green Party or simply sitting out elections). 

So what we do?  My current thinking is that we aim for the sweet spot.  Find a person who will appeal to the progressive wing of the party, which is where the enthusiasm is centered, but won’t easily be dismissed as a socialist.  Find a person who is a preacher of profound transformational  reforms (not a Senator pothole) but doesn’t come across as a pie-in-the-sky idealist or a pander-to-the-progressives phony.  And most importantly, find someone who is charismatic enough that s/he can survive the inevitable attacks when they do come.  (Contrast Reagan and Obama, who were made of Teflon when it comes to attacks, to Dukakis and Kerry, who were made of Velcro.)

Truly, it’s impossible for a Democrat to appeal to everyone.  It’s also impossible to avoid political gaffes or to have the requisite experience for this job without having taken regrettable positions in the past.  So, in talking about the “sweet spot,” let’s not worry about finding perfection, because we won’t even come close to that.  Let’s just look at the matter viscerally.   Who does your gut tell you would make the most effective leader for our time?  Who seems to have the charisma to appeal to a wide audience within the party, and won’t be as much of a laughing stock outside of it?   Who is hardest to demonize?  Who is easiest to like?  Who is most likely to get stuff done – big stuff.

For me, I find myself asking the following: who has the potential to inspire a movement to: (a)  elect the kind of Democratic majority Obama had in 2009 (which makes everything else I’m going to talk about more possible), (b) fight climate change in a huge way and not just tinker around with it, (c) bring back the level of economic equity we had before Reagan upset the apple cart, and (d) get some common sense gun laws so that we all can feel like we’re living in a sane country.

When I think about these issues at this point in time, I see Kirsten Gillibrand and Corey Booker and I don’t notice anyone talking about them; it’s as if they’re not even running.  I see Amy Klobuchar doing a nice job of being inoffensive to swing voters, but I don’t see her thinking big enough to inspire the base.  I look at a pair of candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and feel confident that they will take on the above causes in a sweeping away.  But when I think about Kamala Harris, I think that not only will she fight hard for those same causes, but she might be more effective in doing so – and she’ll wear far more Teflon in the process.  So far, at least, I think her ability to communicate stands alone.  She is charismatic and figures to be likeable to pretty much everyone other than the most sexist and racist among us.  She comes across on the campaign trail as intense yet joyous.  She’s smart and thinks well on her feet.  And, if elected, she would be both the first woman and first woman of color ever to win the Presidency.  Just from a sheer ethnicity standpoint, she would appeal to African Americans, East Indian Americans and, through her husband, Jewish Americans.   Oh sure, there’s plenty of time for her to put her foot in her mouth.  In fact, she’s already done that up to a point with her non-nuanced comments on universal health care.   Yet you can fix that problem with a bit of coaching.  You can’t coach charisma and widespread appeal – or at least not successfully.  Harris, from all appearances, is a natural. 

During the upcoming months, Donald Trump will surely have his good weeks and his awful weeks.  He’ll be counted out many times, just like everyone counted him out in 2016.  Some folks simply assume he’ll be impeached and convicted; others figure he won’t bother to run again.  Me?  I’m assuming he’ll be a willing and “electable” candidate no matter who he faces.  But right now, relative to previous election cycles, I’m liking the list of contenders on the Democratic side, and I’m especially liking the rollout of Kamala Harris.   So, while I don’t plan on being cocky, I look forward to next fall’s battle royale without any fear.  The stable of talented Democrats is large enough and the lessons of 2016 vivid enough that I expect my party to be ready to fight a smart campaign led by an excellent candidate.  Maybe in 10 years we’ll be talking about a third political genius that the party has given us in recent decades – and this time, maybe the “genius” won’t simply be great at campaigning or triangulating but will actually implement profound progressive changes in our society and our world.  Think big.  I am.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Some Very Fine People on Both Sides

I’m sure you recognize the title of this post.  It is the infamous phrase used by President Trump in the aftermath of the August 2017 White Nationalist march in Charlottesville, Virginia – the one where the marchers chanted such monstrosities as “Jews will not replace us” and “Blood and Soil.”  Today, the phrase is commonly used to mock the President for suggesting that not only the group that protested the march but also the marchers themselves included some “very fine people.”  Many saw the President as using a dog whistle, indicating that even though he may not personally approve of all the beliefs of the White Nationalists, he sure as hell wants their votes.

In this post, I’d like to talk about two other groups.  As with the folks in Charlottesville, their members flat out dislike each other.  Personally, I tend to oppose the positions of both groups, but my goal in this post isn’t to mock either one, but instead to preach compassion for both.  Quite literally, I’d like to suggest that these two groups, despite having plenty of closed minded bigots and hate mongers in their midst, also have some “very fine people.”   Faint praise?  Low bar?  Perhaps.  Yet for all I’ve done in the past to criticize their positions, allow me to dedicate this one post to explaining why good people can legitimately align themselves with either group.  I am referring to the American Israel Public Action Committee (AIPAC) and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The impetus for this endeavor began with the statements by a freshman Congresswoman, Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar.  First, Omar tweeted that American support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins.”  Then, asked to clarify what she meant, she responded with one word:  “AIPAC!” 

My reaction to these tweets was visceral and negative.  Reflexively, I went on Facebook and offered the following response:  To Congresswoman Ilhan Omar -- there are plenty of reasons to love Israel and Zionism that don't involve being paid by AIPAC. Many of us who are proud Zionists don't even support AIPAC, and many who do support AIPAC have legitimate concerns about Israeli security in the event it made the kind of concessions that some of us would like it to make. Sadly, constant Israel bashing from the left (see, e.g., BDS) is one of the things that fuels fears throughout Israel, thereby undermining the progressives in that country and contributing to the building of more and more settlements. Do you want a two-state solution or are you seriously expecting that the Jews will voluntarily give up their state without casualties of Biblical proportions? Why don't you talk about that issue and the basis for your opinion, instead of offering lazy, one-sided rhetoric?”

Fortunately, this freshman Congresswoman swiftly and unequivocally apologized after representatives of both parties schooled her for her comments.  Whatever was in her heart and mind at the time she made the statements, it makes sense for America to accept her apology and assume (until proven otherwise) that she was sincere in learning more about the history of anti-Semitism and why she struck a chord with those comments.  But what I’d like to do is to build on my own statement about AIPAC, because it is not often that I publicly seek sympathy for that organization.  Omar’s tweets reminded me of how vital it is that Israel has at least some trusted allies outside of her borders.  Lord knows that J-Street, for its many virtues, has spent much more time over the years criticizing Israel than praising it.  AIPAC, by contrast, represents Israel’s cheerleading squad in the United States.  Sometimes, that’s exactly what Israel needs ... and deserves.

Consider that outside of Israel and the United States, this world is 0.03% Jewish.  That amounts to roughly one out of every 3000 people.  Israel was created by the United Nations at a unique time, when all but the vilest anti-Semites felt horrified about the Nazi Holocaust and wanted to do something kind for those Jews in Europe and elsewhere who survived it.  Unfortunately, U.N. backing was hardly enough to ensure its survival; the fledgling nation of Israel needed to defeat many larger nations simply in order to survive. Less than 30 years later, the Jewish State having valiantly survived one existential military crisis after another, the U.N. General Assembly voted by more than two to one that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.”  These facts are not lost on the members of AIPAC.  Nor are AIPAC supporters unaware of the Covenant of Hamas (the organization that now controls the Gaza Strip), which calls for Islam to “obliterate” Israel, or the various hateful statements of the leadership of Iran, whose former President not only denied the Holocaust but suggested that “Israel must be wiped off the map.”  That is precisely what the world had done to the Jewish State for the 1900 years prior to the creation of modern Israel.  You can better believe that the members of AIPAC are far from ignorant about the centuries of anti-Semitism in Europe, where Jews were blamed for being economically rapacious, power-grubbing, murderous, and concerned only about the letter of the Biblical law rather than its spirit.    

As AIPAC’s devotees can also tell you, it took fully 3 ½ decades for the Palestinian Liberation Organization to recognize Israel’s right to exist in peace and to reject the strategy of “violence and terrorism.”  As recently as this decade, the Palestinian Authority operated a Palestinian Authority Martyrs Fund, which paid cash to the families of Palestinians who were involved in terrorist attacks against Israel.  Not surprisingly, Hamas operates a separate “pay for slay” fund of its own.  Even now, I am unaware of any Palestinian organization that recognizes Israel’s right to exist as a “Jewish State.”  In fact, while many Palestinians express their willingness to accept a two-state solution, I have found little enthusiasm among Palestinians for such an outcome.  What’s more, I suspect that many Palestinians who would willingly accept “two states for two peoples” see that result as a temporary measure that ultimately will give way to a single, primarily-Arab state occupying all of present-day Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. 

When you consider all of the above, is it any wonder that so many AIPAC supporters think that the two-state solution is a pie-in-the-sky idea?  They have lost faith that Israel has a partner for peace that would ensure a permanent and secure Jewish State on Israel’s side of the border.   As for me, I refuse to give up the two-state dream.  I think the Jewish world should be advocating far more concessions and extending many more olive branches to the Palestinians than AIPAC supporters have been willing to offer on behalf of that dream – the one known as true peace.    But I’m not going to demonize all AIPAC supporters just because they’re less patient or more cynical than I am.  I refuse to attribute their positions simply to anti-Arab bigotry or Jewish greed.  They make legitimate points that every friend of peace needs to take seriously.

Comparatively speaking, it is more difficult for me to defend BDS.  The focus of BDS is to boycott Israel (and only Israel) as well as the products of her companies, divest from any holdings in Israel, and work to persuade other countries to stop trading with Israel and expel the Jewish State from international organizations.  In short, the BDS movement seeks to turn Israel into an international pariah.  Clearly, the idea of singling out the Jewish State for such treatment infuriates me for the same reasons that Omar’s tweets got under my skin.  For centuries, anti-Semites have unjustly singled out the Jews in discriminatory ways.  But that was then, and this is now.  For all my opposition to BDS, the spirit of fairness requires me to acknowledge that one doesn’t have to be an anti-Semite to support that movement.

BDS, at its worst, comes from a place of bigotry and bullying.  How easy must it feel in so many countries to wage a campaign of hatred against the Jewish State and on behalf of a group of oppressed Muslims and Christians in a world where Muslims alone outnumber Jews by well over 100 to 1?  Still, BDS, at its best, comes from a place of understandable desperation and an unwillingness to accept perpetual war and Palestinian statelessness.  Increasingly, Israel is losing its progressive base when it comes to the Palestinian Question, and the ruling coalition there seems to have abandoned any pretense of concern for the goal of two-states-for-two-peoples.  In West Jerusalem and throughout much of the nation, complacency rules the day.  Just as most Americans shrug at the crisis of climate change en route to buying another gas guzzling vehicle, most Israelis shrug at the notion that anything can be done to create a viable Palestinian state without risking Israel’s security in the process.  So when right-wing Israelis clamor for more territory and seek to build communities in the West Bank, Israeli leaders take the path of least resistance – they offer some amount of concessions to the settler movement and ignore the fact that each settlement makes a two-state solution more and more difficult to achieve.

Stated simply, the dominant perspective in Israel regarding the Palestinians appears to be that the status quo might not be perfect, but it’s as good as it’s going to get.  That is why politicians like Netanyahu would rather turn their attention to other topics (like the Iranian threat) and treat the Palestinians more like pests than like partners. 

But Palestinians are not termites or mosquitos.  They are people.  They have a right to a state like anyone else.  And you will forgive the advocates of BDS for reacting to Israeli complacency with a sense of urgency and desperation.  BDS is not a violent movement.  Quite the contrary, it abhors violence.   Nor does it necessarily entail Jew-bashing.  In fact, in theory, BDS could even be advocated by a Zionist who has decided that the only kind of love that will shake off the complacency is tough love.  The most supportable principle of BDS is that something outside-the-box needs to be done to get Israel to stop building settlements and start talking about concessions for a Palestinian State – because nothing inside-the-box seems to be working.    Anti-BDS liberals can whine all they want about the settlements, but such whining hasn’t had any effects, the argument continues, so why not try BDS as a last resort?   In other words, BDS advocates contend, we’ll never have Palestinian autonomy (i.e., justice) unless their Israeli overlords are forced by external pressures to get off their high horses and start negotiating like peers and not masters.  These pressures can take one of two forms: violence or BDS.  Of the two, BDS is infinitely preferable.  Or so goes the argument.

I have already devoted an entire blogpost to all the reasons why I oppose BDS.  Similarly, many of my other posts over the years signal my profound disagreements with AIPAC.   But today, I’ll spare you those points.  Instead, I come to you with a request.  Whether you disagree with one of these groups or both, try to have a little tolerance for what the best people in these organizations are trying to say, for we are talking about a predicament that is as intellectually vexing as it is emotionally gut-wrenching.  In this case, there really are very fine people on both sides of the divide.  I’m not suggesting that we treat the Palestinian and Israeli narratives equivalently, let alone that we can possibly side with both AIPAC and BDS.  But it behooves us to dialogue respectfully, warmly and compassionately whenever you encounter a representative of either   “side” that is willing to extend the same courtesies in your direction.  Who knows, maybe both of you will learn something.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Where's the Green New Deal (or Old Deal) for Civil Servants?

Normally, I don’t like blogging about issues on which I have a pecuniary interest, so I should begin by saying “consider the source” when you read what follows.  Still, I represent a constituency that apparently has no champions in positions of power.  So if people like me don’t call out the facts, who will?

 Here are the federal civilian pay increases and the corresponding CPI increases for the previous year.

               Federal pay increases      CPI increases for the previous year

2019             0.0                                 2.2%
2018             1.4%                              2.1
2017             1.0                                 1.3
2016             1.0                                 0.1
2015             1.0                                 1.6
2014             1.0                                 1.5
2013             0.0                                 2.1
2012             0.0                                 3.2
2011             0.0                                 1.6

9-yr Avg      0.6%                              1.75%

In essence, federal civil service compensation has effectively dropped well over 10% during this decade alone, and that doesn’t even count the ways in which benefits have been cut in recent years or the way inflation-adjusted salaries have been decreased in past decades.   Moreover, these recent decisions to reduce Civil Servant compensation are obviously bi-partisan; just consider who was President during most of these years and the lack of outrage among the Democratic legislators who passed his budgets .   We all heard no shortage of crocodile tears shed by Democratic legislators during the 2018-19 Shutdown about the plight of the federal workers.  But you can thank numbers like the ones above for why so many civil servants were hurting so much in January. 

The rumor is that, as we speak, the Democrats and GOP are close to a deal to avert another Shutdown.  Do you think demanding a pay increase commemorate with increases in the CPI is something that the Dems are demanding as a pre-condition to do the deal?   Hopefully, that’s what is happening.  Yet I have seen no such reports in the media.  In fact, I hear crickets on this entire topic.

The fact is that neither party has shown much concern for the drop in compensation for civil servants over the past few decades, let alone the effect of that drop on morale and recruitment.  I’m not saying the two parties are equally unconcerned, but this time I’m not even going to bother to point out which one is worse.  Just look at those years from 2011 to 2013, when Barack Obama was President.  Where was the Democratic Party uproar then?  Where is it now that there are no more political points to be scored by raising the issue?

There is no disputing that, on an aggregate basis, the average civil servant is paid more than the average non-civil servant.  To some, that would make us overpaid – and indeed, many lawmakers cite the aggregate pay gap between the public and private sector as a justification for continuing to dock civil service pay relative to the rate of inflation.  But you don’t have to be an astrophysicist or a brain scientist to realize that it makes zero sense to compare the salaries of, on the one hand, a NASA astro-physicist or NIH brain researcher to, on the other hand, a burger flipper at Wendy’s or a telemarketer with “your local carpet cleaning service.”  The better comparison would be to compare the salaries of government astro-physicists with their analogues in the private sector, and do the same with brain scientists, economists, attorneys, or whatever.  But Congress knows better than to commission that kind of comparison.  It wouldn’t be “fiscally prudent.”

Clearly, there are more pressing issues in the world to think about than this one.  Then again, unless the topic is climate change, that could be said about any topic.  I simply felt compelled this week, now that we may be on the verge of another budget deal, to raise a concern that sticks in the craw of those “800,000 people” -- of which I am one -- that our nation’s demagogues kept talking about since Christmas.  Truly, this is just a microcosm of the way the members of our media and our politicians play games with us – selecting some issues to obsess about, ignoring other important issues altogether, and constantly tossing rhetoric around as if they really care.  Sadly, the American people know better.  That’s one reason neither of those groups is terribly popular with either side of the political spectrum.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Dealing with Triangulators: How to Call out Their B.S.

Reasonable people can disagree about who should be on the Mount Rushmore of Philosophers.  But I think we all can agree on two people: Plato and Aristotle.  Plato used reasoned discourse to seek out our best angels.  He wrote beautifully and inspired us all to keep our heads in the clouds – or, more specifically, to leave our caves, walk into the sunlight, and open our minds to the essence of beauty, freedom, love, justice, and goodness.   I, for one, could not argue with Alfred North Whitehead, who taught that the “safest general characterization of the philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”   To be sure, however, Plato doesn’t stand alone.  Far from being a lone wolf, he is known for having one of the world’s most brilliant philosophical teachers (Socrates) and one of the world’s most brilliant philosophical students (Aristotle).

Aristotle built on his teacher’s brilliance and grounded it in all the right ways.  He equally respected common sense, empirical thought and the rigors of logic.  It is difficult to know whether to praise Aristotle more for his depth of thought or his breadth of thought.    If you are a lover of religion, your favorite Greek philosopher is probably Plato.  But if you are a lover of western philosophy, political theory, or science, my guess is that Aristotle is your man.

So what do you say we use a little Aristotelian thinking to call out some bullshit? 

Book 2 of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics spoke about the “virtues” and preached the doctrine of the golden mean.  The virtues are identified as being placed in between two vices – one indicating too much of some disposition and the other indicating too little.  For example, one such virtue is “courage,” which is the mean between foolhardiness and cowardliness.     Another is “temperance”, the mean between gluttony and self-denial or asceticism.  A third is “generosity,” the mean between wastefulness and miserliness or uncharitableness.   You get the idea.

But that’s only half of the point.  You’ll also note that the so-called “virtues” are identified more with one side of the divide than the other.  In other words, they represent a clear departure from the norm in one direction.  When it comes to the quality of risk-taking, for example, we praise people for their “courage” because people generally have too little of that quality.  So even though we don’t want people to be foolhardy, we’re generally more concerned that they’ll be cowardly.  Similarly, when it comes to self-restraint, we praise people for their “temperance” because most of us have too little of the relevant quality.  So even though we don’t want people to be completely ascetic, we’re more concerned that they’ll be gluttonous and name our virtue to guard against that outcome.    In each case, one vice seems to be more directly contrary to the virtue than its corresponding vice on the other side of the divide, at least for most people. 

With that as background, let’s take a look the contemporary rhetorical device – or should I just shorten that word and say “vice”? -- known as Triangulation.   Triangulators claim that their position represents the voice of reason because it is situated between two extremes:  namely, the respective positions of their ideological opponents.   Most of us know this device from politics.  Bill Clinton was associated with it when he was both a Presidential candidate in 1992 and then again when he was President.  He loved to take on the “left” in his own Party and thereby represent himself as the reasonable man between crazy leftists, on the one hand, and whacko-bird Republicans on the right.  Those weren’t his exact words, but they may as well have been.  In fact, they convey pretty much the same picture all the political triangulators try to paint. 

Personally, I see the Triangulation device used outside of politics as well.  When I read books about religion, I often see writers promote their own reasonableness by contrasting their position with two so-called extremes.  Maybe their extremes are represented by the religious fundamentalists, on the one hand, and the thoroughly secular (aka “amoral hedonists”), on the other.  Once they set up these strawmen, our heroes, the Triangulators, swoop in right down the middle and save the day!

Thank you, Mighty Mouse.   Thank all you Triangulators, or “centrists,” as you like to call yourselves, for your humor, your sanctimony and your illogic.

I find Triangulation funny because the perpetrators of it play the same pathetic card over and over again and in that sense remind me a little of the Three Stooges.  I say “a little” because, as one commentator pointed out, those boys constantly turned to the same damned bits -- “slaps, eye pokes, head conks [and] nose honks.”   Still, at least they had some variety.  Triangulators seem to be one-trick ponies.  “I’m the reasonable man.  I’m the centrist.  Everyone else is on one extreme or the other.”  Yawn.

As for the sanctimony of the Triangulators, that should be obvious by now.  Their stock in trade is to pretend that only their position is reasonable and everyone else’s is extreme.    To be fair, it is common for them to claim, in essence, that they represent the silent majority, so in that sense, they don’t come across as elitist so much as thoroughly disrespectful of the possibility that maybe, just maybe, some of their ideological opponents might actually have a valid point.  Almost by definition, how can an “extremist” ever have anything valid to say? 

As for the illogic of the Triangulators, that is what I would like to concentrate on for the remainder of this post.  You see, it is critical that all of us understand their little game and call them on it.  Triangulation is similar to what logicians call the fallacy of the excluded middle.  Under that fallacy, a person takes a shot at one position (call it “Z”) and says that because Z is wrong, then their position (“A”) must be right.  Implicitly, they assume that there are only two possible positions that can be taken on an issue and that every other possibility (call them “B through Y”) does not exist.  That’s why this is called the fallacy of the excluded middle – the proponent of the position excludes the possibility of all possible moderate or “middle” positions.  

Similarly, the Triangulators, instead of suggesting that there are two possibilities, suggest that there are precisely three – one extreme position, its polar opposite, and their own.   But as Aristotle pointed out, when it comes to each disposition of character, there is actually an entire continuum of possibilities.  Most people tend more toward one extreme than the other, and virtue rests in moving away from the norm and toward the road less taken – but not all the way down that road.  In other words, there may be a few people who represent the “Z” spot (the completely foolhardy whacko-bird who never met a risk he didn’t take) and many others who represent the “A” or “B” spots (we know them as total wimps), but virtue lies somewhere around “S” or “T” – clearly courageous, just not to the maximal degree.  Triangulators would never admit to such nuance. 

Let’s apply this lesson to the man that so many people are talking about right now, Howard Schultz.  He wants to be President despite having no political experience and an unwillingness to run for the nomination of either mainstream party.  He is claiming that both parties have become extreme, the one on the right and the other on the left, and the nation needs a voice of reason like his, who represents the silent majority.  Only a “centrist” like Schultz, the argument goes, can provide the common sense reform that America needs, as is demonstrated by his willingness to take on the heartless economic inequalities perpetrated by the Republicans without embracing the socialist, pie-in-the-sky proposals of the Democrats. 

Clearly, Mr. Schultz has not read his Aristotle.  If he had, he would have addressed a fundamental question: is our society’s central problem from an economic standpoint that wealth is distributed too unequally or that people are overly willing to threaten the hallowed market mechanisms that should be left well enough alone?    If Schultz believes that the problem is the latter, he should say so.  He might even want to become a Republican and challenge the incumbent President based on the argument that even though laissez-faire economics generally works best, there are a few market failures that this Administration is failing to address and needs to.   If, by contrast, Schultz believes that we have an economic inequality crisis, than damn it, say so!   Stop straw-manning all the efforts on the political left to try to rectify that inequality by labeling them extremist.  Praise these Democrats’ goals, and promote whatever approach to those goals makes the most economic sense.  I guarantee you that the Democratic voters will take you seriously ... and that you would fit in well within the Democratic tent. 

By running as an Independent, Schultz is making the statement that he is indifferent to whether Trump (and his feed-the-rich economics) or some Democratic progressive (with their emphasis on equality of outcomes and not merely equality of opportunity) is elected.  Ralph Nader essentially admitted as much when he ran for President in 2000, and he purported to be guilt-free when his candidacy threw the election to George W. Bush and gave us the Iraq War and a generation of indifference toward climate change.  So far, from what I can tell, Schultz has been unwilling to declare his preferences between the two political parties, or even to state his indifference.  He would prefer instead to play the Triangulation Game and to repeat over and over again that he won’t be a spoiler, he’ll be the winner.

Honestly, if you truly think Howard Schultz has a chance to win the election, you should go to the E.R. and tell the medics that you’ve had a stroke.  But what Schultz and his Triangulation Logic might accomplish is to give Donald Trump a second term as a minority President.  Try to imagine six more years like the last two.    Or better yet, just ask yourself, if Aristotle had a ballot, what do you think he would he do with it?  I am planning to vote with him, not with Schultz or with Trump.