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By Douglas Moran

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About this blog: Real power doesn't reside with those who make the final decision, but with those who decide what qualifies as the viable choices. I stumbled across this insight as a teenager (in the 1960s). As a grad student, I belonged to an org...  (More)

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California Democrats seek to revive the Republican Party; Republicans expected to resist

Uploaded: Jul 16, 2017
Negative partisanship describes when your voting for a particular party arises from opposition to the other parties. That is, you don't positively support its actions, but simply see it as the least worst choice. Negative partisanship is very hard to measure because many people aren't aware that that is what they are doing. For some, it is the reasoning that "If party X is bad, then (opposing) party Y must be good." For others, it is that their views that shifted away from their chosen party and/or that party's policies have shifted away from them, but none of the other parties are an acceptable choice, and thus there is no motivation to change their registration. The hard-to-measure nature of negative partisanship can have political parties overestimating their support, and then being shocked when a block of voters switches to another party.(foot#1)(foot#2)

----Dissatisfaction with political parties----

Recent national polls have reported huge dissatisfaction with the two major parties. For example, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 67% thought the Democratic Party was "out of touch with people's concerns"; 62% for the Republican Party; 58% for Trump. Sampling error was 3.5%. Elsewhere it was reported that 44% of self-identified Democrats said that the Democratic Party was out-of-touch (less for Republicans about their party). Ask yourself how you might go about separating respondents who were negative partisans from those who are only dissatisfied. Avoiding biasing/priming such answers is extremely difficult.(foot#3)

Being able to vote in the primaries is the primary reason given by most people for being registered in a political party that they are dissatisfied with. However, California's Top-Two primary system has largely eliminated this.(foot#4) If negative partisans currently registered as members of their "least worst" party were somehow motivated to re-register as "No Party Preference", that could provide a more accurate measure of support to the establishments of the various political parties.

----Focus here: state policy on development----

As readers of earlier blogs should expect, this blog is going to focus on the effects of the state government on development issues. The basic state law that requires cities to plan how to add more housing is roughly 50 years old and has been an acknowledged failure. First, it has state and regional bureaucrats (eg ABAG) assigning "mandates" to individual cities ignoring facts on the ground and having other absurdities. Second, it addresses only the supply aspect and completely ignores the demand aspect. Because the problem has persisted for so long, it probably doesn't qualify as a "crisis", except in political discourse: "Let no good crisis go to waste."(foot#5) In order to reward two important groups of donors--developers and the building trades unions (prevailing wage)--the Democrat-controlled state government has taken to portraying homeowners and various other residents as greedy NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard).(foot#6) The primary ongoing thrust of state government has been to undercut local control and to allow big developers to increase profits by shifting onto the public the costs of various impacts of their projects (negative externalities).

The economic illiteracy of state policy is represented in the official report "California's High Housing Costs: Causes and Consequences" by the Legislative Analyst's Office and dated 2015-03-17. Under "High Land Costs Can Be Offset Through Dense Development", it claims "...because land costs are fixed and do not increase if a developer builds additional units." Wrong, wrong, wrong. This is contrary to both economic theory and experience. If land is rezoned to allow the developer higher densities, he is going to build at those densities only if it is more profitable, and the value of land is going to increase to reflect that. For example, when the Alma Plaza/Village site was rezoned, the value of the land more than tripled (based on sales prices, not merely appraisals). Or if the developer already owns the land before the rezoning, the prices of those housing units (rent or sale) are going to reflect the increased value of the land, because that higher land cost would be part of the cost of someone else building similar units. Note: This dynamic assumes the current situation of excessive demand.(foot#7)

However, because California effectively has single-party government, there are not effective institutional counter-weights. The ongoing disparagement of the so-called NIMBYs indicates that the Democratic Party would happily shed these voters. But for many of these citizens, the Republican Party is anathema. Neither party sees these voters as being potentially in play.

----Single-party government----

A multi-party political system tends to mitigate the worst of tendencies of the major parties because they have to worry about their policies causing significant numbers of voters to shift to the other party/ies. Unfortunately, California no longer has a multi-party system. At the state level--which will be my focus here--there is only one major party: the Democrats. Similarly, at lower levels, such as counties and cities, one party is so dominant that the others are irrelevant in normal situations.

The absence of a second major party has large impacts on state politics. First, anyone interested in political office outside of the fringe party enclaves would be self-sabotaging to not become a Democrat, regardless of their political beliefs. This excessive diversity results in excessive deal-making that undermines producing coherent policies. Which in turn produces a government that is perceived to be corrupt both in the financial and Aristotelian senses.(foot#8)(foot#9)

The second impact is a contravening tendency: The dominant party effectively becomes narrower by presuming that it has the votes of various segments of the electorate without having to respond to their needs, or worry about antagonizing them. For example, at the national level, this has been a recurring observation about the Democratic Party's perceived lack of responsiveness to various minority groups: "...because where else are they going to go?" The 2016 Presidential campaign saw Democrats neglect additional important groups of voters.(foot#10)

----California Republicans: A fringe party?----

The working definition of a major political party is one that has an influential role in government, and the California Republican Party no longer qualifies. In a normal election, it is regarded as having negligible chance of winning any of the state-wide offices or of winning a majority in either house of the Legislature. Even worse, it currently has so few members in both houses that the Democrats have super-majorities (barely), and that dominance is expected to persist (with occasional hiccups). The number of registered Republicans would normally result in them being classified as a minor party. However, the argument can be made that they have become a fringe party, albeit a very large one, because they are behaving like one. For example, they emphasize ideological purity over electability (other than in their remaining enclaves).(foot#11) Before you protest saying that some Republicans do get elected, ask yourself how is that different from the fringe parties in places like Berkeley and Oakland.

Under normal circumstances, California Republicans seem unlikely to return to being a major party because they no longer seem to have the needed critical mass, having purged so many of the leaders and members interested in, and capable of, making the shift,(foot#12) and having retained so many who will fight and sabotage such a shift. Then, add to this what their "brand" has become. But that is not for discussion here.

And yes, the Democrats display many of the same tendencies, but they have been--as expected--less effective in following through.(foot#13)

----What can be done?----

Depressingly, I don't know. The Top-Two primary was hoped to delivery more choice in districts dominated by a single party. But the strength of the party organizations have tended to limit the primary winners to only minor variations on party dogma or donors. In this Democratic enclave, the Establishment faction is the corporatists (Clinton-Obama-Clinton) who focus on the donor-class, and consequently are not adverse to disparaging regular citizens, such as the NIMBY slur applied to homeowners.

The Social Justice faction is most of the remainder. They easily fall into the attitude that homeowners are "privileged" and should have that privilege stripped away to benefit "new-comers" and other "marginalized peoples". After hearing this explicitly a few times, I started to speculate about whether this position was implicit in similar positions of others. Be aware that this formulations pre-dates the current popularity of privilege-arguments by the left. In one of my earliest blogs (4th), "Palo Alto's Culture War: Analytics vs. Aspirationals", 2013-11-10, I recounted a similar attitude among certain housing advocates (search/find: "mid-2000s"), that current residents should subsidize anyone who wanted to live here, and if they found the costs too onerous, they should move out of the area.

Our current Assembly member, and former City Council member, Marc Berman has taken the position that we need to build enough housing for everyone who wants to live here.(foot#14) The other Top-Two primary winner, Vicki Veenker, supported increased enforcement of the State's housing mandates.

I have heard nothing that conveys any practical mechanism that would result in this situation being altered in the foreseeable future.

----Addendum to section "Dissatisfaction with political parties": (added 2017-08-02)----

The party affiliation (registration) split (2016) is
- 44.8% Democrats,
- 27.3% Republicans,
- 23.3% No-Party-Preference.
Let's explore what would happen if some of the voters dissatisfied with their current party registered as No-Party-Preferred. Let's posit that 20% of registered Democrats (9% of all registered voters) and 15% of registered Republicans (4.1% of all) were to make this change. The split would become
- 40.4% No-Party-Preference,
- 35.8% Democrats,
- 19.2% Republican.
I posited the 20% for Democrats as less than half of the 44% of Democrats who said their party was out-of-touch (in a national poll); the posited percentage for Republicans is lower because some of this re-registration seems to have already occurred.

1. Negative campaigning or campaigning to negative partisanship?
It can be hard to distinguish a candidate engaging in one of the "normal" forms of negative campaigning and one playing to negative partisanship. The later has the implicit message "He's worse than me" which carries the undesirable implication "I know I am a bad choice." (This is a variation of Tom Peter's famous "We're no worse than anyone else" from his book "In search of excellence".

2. You can't make this stuff up:
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently introduced a series of potential bumper stickers (2017-07-05). Among them was "Democrats 2018: I mean, have you seen the other guys?" which produced abundant reaction and criticism (web search).
Aside: This blog had been in the queue for two months, and this slogan finally pushed me to make finishing it top priority.

3. Biasing/priming answers in polls:
Humor: Leading Questions segment from the BBC TV series "Yes Prime Minister", Season 1, Episode 2 "The Ministerial Broadcast" (1986-01-16).

4. Voting in Top-Two primaries:
Party registration matters only in primaries for US President. People who have registered as "No Party Preference" (NPP) -- formerly "Decline To State" -- receive a primary ballot for all offices except President. A party can choose to have an open primary, in which case the NPP voter can simply request a ballot that allows them to vote in that party's Presidential primary. Alternatively, a party can have a close primary, that is, one limited to its registered members (but changing party registration is relatively easy).

5. Exploiting a crisis:
Some of the politicians and special interests are trying to use the "crisis" to stampede the public into surrendering to those interests. And many of the politicians may themselves being stampeded by the need to appear to be doing something.
A politician's logic from the BBC TV comedy series "Yes Prime Minister": A conversation between two top-ranking civil servants.
A: "All cats have four legs. My dog has four legs." B: "therefore my dog is a cat?"
B: "Something must be done. This is something. Therefore we must do it.",
A: "But doing the wrong thing is worse than doing nothing.", B: "Doing anything is worse than doing nothing."

6. Homeowners and residents disparaged as NIMBYs:
This is been a topic in several of my previous blogs, for example:
"The 'Creative Class' and 'superstar' cities", 2017-07-08.
"Why contentious local politics: More examples from ADU at Council", 2017-04-18
And one of many news articles summarizing the agendas of many Democratic legislators:
"California's Anti-NIMBY Bills Aim At Housing Crisis" - CityLab, 2017-05-09.
And you will find this slur against homeowners routinely in the liberal press.

7. Other examples of bias in the Legislative Analyst's Office report:
As I read through this report, it became very clear that it started with the assumption that much more housing needed to be built in coastal California, and that the burden of costs should fall on existing residents of those cities.
In section "Why DO Coastal Areas Not Build Enough Housing?",
- it portrays CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) as a significant part of the problem.
- "California's local government finance structure typically gives cities and counties greater fiscal incentives to approve nonresidential development or lower density housing development." This is partly true for cities such as Palo Alto: High-density rental properties are revenue negative, but condos are positive. But notice that the report makes no suggestion to stop financially punishing cities for high-density rental developments. Instead, its approach is to make the punishment for not building be even larger. Also recognize that it is not the cities that build housing, but developers, and it is the developers in places like Palo Alto who have repeatedly chosen to build at much less density than the zoning allows.
In section "Local Resident Concerns About New Housing Are Common Throughout the U.S.",
- "In general, many potential or perceived downsides of new housing accrue to existing residents, while many of the benefits of new housing accrue to future residents."
- "inclined to limit new housing because they fear it will reduce the values of the homes" (claim contrary to evidence, derived from economic illiteracy).
And it acknowledges the impacts to residents, but these impacts are ignored in the report's recommendations:
- "Many people, as they become accustomed to their lifestyle and the character of their neighborhood, naturally are hesitant about change and future unknowns." - locally rendered as "afraid of the future".
- "Expanded development can strain existing infrastructure..."
In section: "Looking Ahead: What Is Needed to Contain California's High Housing Costs?", "...could alter the longstanding and prized character of California’s coastal communities", but again this does not factor into the recommendations.
Unsurprisingly, this sort of bias is to be expected of remote bureaucrats: With little/no knowledge of facts on the ground or skin in the game or accountability to those affected, it is very easy to lean on abstract dogma and ideology.

8. Aristotelian sense of political corruption:
From "Politics", Book 5, addressing the basis for maintaining or changing regimes: "Above all, every state should be administered and regulated by law so that its magistrates cannot possibly make money. In oligarchies, special precautions should be used against this evil. For the people do not take any great offense at being kept out of government--indeed they are rather pleased at having time to attend to their private business. However, it irritates them to think that their rulers are stealing public money, and that they, the people, don't partake in the profits nor other benefits."
Or a more recent statement (smile) of this: "Four qualities have distinguished republican government from ancient Athens forward: the sovereignty of the people; a sense of the common good; government dedicated to the commonwealth; and resistance to corruption. Measured against the standards established for republics from ancient times, the American Republic is massively corrupt. // From Plato and Aristotle forward, corruption was meant to describe actions and decisions that put a narrow, special, or personal interest ahead of the interest of the public or commonwealth." from Gary Hart's book The Republic of Conscience, which was excerpted in "Gary Hart: America's Founding Principles Are in Danger of Corruption" - Time, 2015-06-26.

9. Corruption, state government:
When I was in high school in rural upstate New York in the late 1960s, a major local politician committed a major indiscretion: He answered a question about how government really works. He told us that state government is a sweet spot for corruption. Decisions can have large enough benefit for individuals and corporations that it is very profitable for them to do what is now termed "buying access" to officials. But it is very hard for citizens to fight back. First, news coverage is so sparse that citizens are unlikely to find out about what is happening until it is too late. Second, while the cumulative impacts on citizens can be large, the individual impacts are small, making it hard for them to make the investment in organizing. Third, the state capital was far away (over 200 miles in this case), raising the difficulty and costs of fighting. Fourth, most of those decisions aren't the type that would lead to the creation of a permanent lobby group for citizens (something the political parties should have been providing).

10. Being dismissive of groups of voters:
In addition to the frequent characterization of Democrats taking minority voters for granted, the 2016 Presidential election presented an example of pushing a significant block of voters away. During the primaries, the national Democratic establishment repeatedly dismissed Bernie Sanders victories as irrelevant or unimportant because of the proportion of his supporters who were White (for more, web search on "whitewashing bernie sanders"). The response from Sanders supporters was predominantly to point out the many non-Whites voting for him, but this blurred Sanders' message which included the White working- and middle-classes. Added to this was the Democratic Party's characterization of itself as a "coalition of the ascendant" (web search), which very explicitly and pointedly excluded many Whites (those not young, urban, professional/managerial-class).
Aside: I know of no attempt to quantify the impacts, if any, of these statements, but there were multiple Democratic-aligned commentators warning against the statements and the attitudes behind them.
Reminder: In politics, "perceptions are facts/reality", meaning that it is irrelevant how true they are or whether those perceptions were intended. Even this long after the election, the Democratic establishment seems to still seems to not have come to meaningful grips with "How could people/groups that we proclaimed to be unimportant to us not vote for us?" During the campaign, I had a discussion with a life-long Democrat who was considering voting for Trump. He acknowledged that he expected that Trump would betray him, but followed-up with that he was certain that Clinton and the Democrats would. I don't know what this person eventually decided--the important point for here was that he felt so alienated from the Democratic Party that he was thinking the previously unthinkable.
Note: The national situation is not a topic for discussion here, but only to be used as a source of useful analogies.

11. Purity over electability: My assessment is based upon several factors. First, the pronouncements of reporters, political commentators and California Republican Party leaders. All of these need to be taken skeptically because of the biases and agendas of both the writers and their target audiences (especially "bubbles", groupthink, "pack journalism"). Second, candidate statements in the Election Guide. The pattern has been of them coming from, or trying to appeal to, a more and more extreme set of voters. Third, before the current Top-Two primary system, the Republican Party opposed Open Primaries. Research on Open Primaries found that they benefited the party by increasing support from independent and cross-over voters, especially if the candidate they voted for in the primary wins and goes on to the general election. The explanation/speculation is that the investment/commitment that the voter made in the primary carries forward. The claim is that there is a noticeable increase even when the cross-over voter is doing so not because of any dissatisfaction with his party's candidate, but because of an uncontested primary in his party. The Republican Party's rationale for Closed Primaries was the fear of being sabotaged by large cross-over voting intended to select a bad candidate--one with less chance of winning in the general election. Research claims that such (non-trivial) sabotage is rare: The electorate sees it as unethical. However, candidates do try to sabotage the other party's primaries both by trying to erode support for some candidates and by promoting others.

12. People leaving a party:
When influential people within a political party decide to leave, they typically do so quietly (as one should expect). However, there are some who speak out, often in conjunction with peddling a book. A notable recent example is by Bruce Bartlett who is an economist who served in the administrations of Reagan and Bush the elder, and was purged for criticizing the G. W. Bush administration policies.
"Why I'm Not a Democrat: A disillusioned veteran of the Reagan White House has some advice for liberals", 2017-06-26. The title is very misleading: The article is mostly about why he left the (national) Republican Party (because it embraces incompetence and corruption). His criticism of the Democrats goes little beyond them being persistently, and unaccountably, feckless for decades. A related article gives his longer-term perspective on the Republican shift: "Trump Is What Happens When a Political Party Abandons Ideas", Politico Magazine, 2017-06-24.
A 1975 speech by a Democratic Party leader (Senator Ed Muskie) indicates that feckless was already seen as an established problem. See my blog "A profoundly un-influential speech, 40th anniversary", 2015-09-09.

13. Critique of Democratic Party shift:
The closest I could find to the Bartlett articles (in the previous footnote) were these from the (left-leaning) The Atlantic:
- "How Post-Watergate Liberals Killed Their Populist Soul: In the 1970s, a new wave of post-Watergate liberals stopped fighting monopoly power. The result is an increasingly dangerous political system" by Matt Stoller, 2016-10-24. This is a very long article. The first part has lots of really interesting history and details, but I think you can skip halfway down (search/find: "Charlie Peters") without losing much about the current situation. The basic argument centers on the Democrats abandoning concern about economic power translating into excessive political power ("anti-trust/monopoly, pro-competition"). It notes, in the first half, that, during the post-WW2 occupation of Japan, staunch Republican Gen. Douglas MacArthur included limits on concentrations of economic power.
- "Americans Think Democrats Are Out of Touch?: The party appears to be struggling to convince the public it represents a better alternative to President Trump and the GOP." by Clare Foran, 2017-04-29. It starts with some discussion on the ABC/WP poll ("in touch with") and slides from why into some what needs to be done. However, I recommend the previous article over this one--this one is more interesting for what it doesn't say than for what it does, and that means that it is more suitable for political junkies.

14. Assembly member Berman's position:
Links under "Q1" in my blog "State Assembly Candidates: Links & Notes for the LWV Forum", 2016-05-13.

An abbreviated index by topic and chronologically is available.

----Boilerplate on Commenting----
The Guidelines for comments on this blog are different from those on Town Square Forums. I am attempting to foster more civility and substantive comments by deleting violations of the guidelines.

I am particularly strict about misrepresenting what others have said (me or other commenters). If I judge your comment as likely to provoke a response of "That is not what was said", do not be surprised to have it deleted. My primary goal is to avoid unnecessary and undesirable back-and-forth, but such misrepresentations also indicate that the author is unwilling/unable to participate in a meaningful, respectful conversation on the topic.

If you behave like a Troll, do not waste your time protesting when you get treated like one.
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Abitarian, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jul 16, 2017 at 8:46 am

As a liberal Democrat, perhaps I am biased, but I fail to see how a rise in Republican power would help alleviate over-development issues.

Republicans are famously pro-business and anti-regulation. It's hard to imagine they would limit office growth, support low-income housing, etc.

Besides, here in California, a large number of elected officials are really DINOs - Democrats In Name Only. Many of them -- such as Marc Berman -- already support Republican ideas.

Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Jul 16, 2017 at 10:26 am

mauricio is a registered user.

I completely agree with the above comment. republicans are for pave and build over everything. As disappointing as the California democratic party pro development stance is, it would be much worse under Republicans.

Local politicians like Berman, Kniss and others are indeed DINO. They support policies which are profoundly Republican. I could never prove it, but I am quite certain that Knisss actually votes Republican.

The notion, championed by PAF and politicians like Marc Berman that Palo Alto must develop housing for everybody who wants to live in Palo Alto can't be classified as anything but crazy. At any point in time there are at least 5 million people(more likely triple that) around the world who desire to live in Palo Alto.

I spend 90 percent of time now in rural Monterey County, but have kept my Palo Alto house where I spend two weekends per month. I would say that 90 percent of my neighbors in rural Monterey County vote Democrat. However, they are terrified that the California Democratic party's stance in favor of density would eventually destroy their chosen way of life. They don't want to live in density, they want nothing to do with an urban way of life, which is why I personally live down there now, giving up on Palo Alto and its future. Democrats are losing suburbia and small towns with liberal populations because of their pro density stance. They have lost, probably never had rural America, but in order to win presidential elections, Democrats must win big cities by a huge margin, and split the suberbian vote. They are losing the suburban vote, which they should not since many suburban voters are terrified of the present day GOP, and this percents doom in presidential elections, and a national and global disaster, speaking as a progressive that always vote Democrat.

Posted by Allen Akin, a resident of Professorville,
on Jul 16, 2017 at 12:28 pm

I was surprised a year ago when the Obama administration publicly urged increasing densification. Why did they do that?

Well, one possibility is that it's a strategy to counteract the Republican dominance that resulted from gerrymandering and voter suppression. If you can move a sufficient fraction of the population into urban areas without changing the existing dominance of Democrats in those areas, then after the next redistricting you'll have a lock on the House of Representatives and possibly the Presidency.

Moving many young (on average Democratic-leaning) people into existing urban areas would be a way to do that. Attempting to move a decent number of them before the census in 2020 would explain the urgency.

Why not move people out into less-dense areas, which might allow recapture of the Senate? I haven't thought about it enough, but my guess is that you would need to move a lot more people to overcome Republican gerrymandering. You can get sufficient gains with less effort by moving people into urban areas.

Feel free to shoot this down; it's not a fully-baked idea.

Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Jul 16, 2017 at 12:38 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

If you move people out to less dense, semi or fully rural areas, you lose many of the Democratic votes there. In Monterey County for example, many rural areas are liberal. Actually, many existing homes have been purchased by Bay area "refugees" like me, who have escaped the never ending urbanization and densification of the Bay area. I have neighbors who used to live in Palo Alto, Saratoga, Cupertino, Los Altos, San Francisco and San Jose. The Democrats would lose many of these votes if they encourage urbanization of those areas. It would be the only opportunity of the GOP to make a comeback in California. Why would the Democratic party make it easy for the GOP when the GOP can't do it on their own?

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jul 16, 2017 at 1:01 pm

This piece argues that the Republican Party's self-immolation in California has eliminated the checks and balances that keep the state Democratic Party ideologically aligned with voters.

In fact the Democratic Party people and the Republican Party people are not as different as they think. Their most important shared dynamic has been a rapidly narrowing focus on their own internal Party machinations: who supports whom, who will get this or that Party job next, who owes whom favors, and of course and most important, anything involving raising money. (This is true even at the local level: how could Greg Tanaka, who is basically a Libertarian, manage to get supported by the local Democratic Party and every local Democratic office-holder, and in a non-partisan election at that? Because Party insiders twisted arms for other reasons than ideology.)

This inward focus on Party mechanics, for both parties, comes at a cost: affinity with voters. Basically it means the Party values are influenced more and more by byzantine internal Party politics, and less and less by voters. The clearest example, of course, is the 2016 Presidential primary, where the gulf between the mass of registered republican voters and the Party Elite became so great that the former's candidate (Trump) annihilated an entire field of candidates supported by the shocked latter.

Doug thinks it's about ideology triumphing over electability, but Party mechanics shouldn't be discounted. Where is the ideological link between fiscal restraint, evolution denial, free trade, lax gun laws, and opposition to gay marriage? Where is the ideology that says open immigration, opposition to GMOs, environmental protection, and no health insurance across state lines should go together? The answer is, of course, it's not about ideology but about internal Party machinations and the current bucket of special interests.

The Democratic Party isn't as far down the hole as the Republican Party on this, but they're not far behind. Doug cites land use, where the Democratic Party's mantras pit them directly against large numbers of voters in cities (hence the Sacramento push to wrest control of city, ie voter, land-use authority), but there are other areas as well. Remember this is the state that passed prop 187.

The irony of all this is that at least in California, the Democratic Party people are basically happy with all this, and even to some degree with Trump, whom they can wave around as the Great Satan as a distraction (Streets crumbling? Look what Trump tweeted!), or maybe just a postponement, from the real issue: that without a course change, the Democratic Party is going to have less and less to offer a larger and larger number of mainstream voters.

Posted by Richard Winger, a resident of another community,
on Jul 16, 2017 at 1:03 pm

If California gave up its top-two primary, that would at least help the Republican Party to recruit better nominees. These better nominees could relax, knowing that there would be a certainty that some Republican would appear on the November ballot, so they would be more likely to enter the race. It would also lessen the costs of campaigning in the primary, especially for Republicans.

There are other reasons to give up the top-two primary. Turnout plunged in California in 2014, relative to other states. California's turnout rate in November 2014 was less than 70% of what it had been in November 2010. Back in November 2010 Californias had six parties to choose from in November, but in 2014 under top-two there were only Republicans and Democrats on the November ballot for all the statewide offices. The California primary turnout in 2014 was only 25% of the registered voters, easily the worst primary turnout in California history. All this data is in the Secretary of State's publication Statement of Votes, which is on-line.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 16, 2017 at 1:21 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Re: Arbitarian (the first comment)

I did not advocate for "a rise in Republican power" -- I wrote off the Republican party starting with the second part of the headline and devoted a section ("Fringe") to that. Pointing out that someone (both parties) is engaged in counter-productive actions is the opposite of advocating for those actions.

What I did argue for was some counter-weight to the current direction of the Democratic Party. It is understandable that some might see that as an argument for Republicans because it is so hard for a third party to become established.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 16, 2017 at 1:35 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: Richard Winger

The current Top-Two primary system is the result of many attempts to open up the primaries, with earlier schemes being overturned by the courts. It was not the first choice or the preferred choice -- it was what was seen as the best choice that would likely be approved by the courts.

A large part of the motivation for the various more-open primary schemes was that it was not producing better nominees within the minority parties. For example, in this area, the Republican Party was often desperate to find a candidate for many positions because the candidate would be a "sacrificial lamb".

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 16, 2017 at 1:52 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: "Resident"

I agree that "Party mechanics shouldn't be discounted." However, both parties employ increasingly strict "litmus tests" - witness the national Democratic Party recently refusing to support several Democrats because they failed to pass all the tests.

I agree with the observation that many of these litmus tests are unrelated, and perhaps I was sloppy in referring to a party's "ideology" when it is in fact a package of ideologies.

And your account of the local Democratic Party endorsing DINO Greg Tanaka omits what might be the more interesting half of what happened: The Democrats disqualified Arthur Keller who was a long-time Democratic activist and major fundraiser because he didn't support the Party's litmus test on supporting high density.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 16, 2017 at 2:41 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

On "Party mechanics shouldn't be discounted."

Let me recommend the YouTube video
The Rules for Rulers (9:32) by CGP Grey (2016-10-24).
There is a follow-up video that focuses on kings/dictators but that applies as well to democracies (both family dynasties and political machines):
Death & Dynasties (Rules for Rulers Follow-up) (5:38) by CGP Grey (2016-11-07).

The first video is based on the book
The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith.
I recommend against the book because it is bloated and adds little to what is in the first video - some additional examples and lots of repeated repetitions. However I know others who found the book to be a worthwhile addition to the video.

Posted by Jim, a resident of Midtown,
on Jul 16, 2017 at 3:22 pm

The GOP will only make a comeback in CA when things get really bad. Remember Reagan? The voters had had enough of liberal Democrats. Remember Arnold? Same thing.

I sense that CA is facing fiscal issues (e.g. CalPers unfunded mandate) that are like chickens coming home to roost. Also, there could be another version of the bust. The party out of power will rise again.

Posted by resident, a resident of Charleston Meadows,
on Jul 17, 2017 at 12:51 pm

I am a registered Democrat that voted for Obama twice. I will never make that mistake again - identity politics swayed by prejudicial pressure. I did not vote for HRC as voting for a woman simply to create a historical first is not a priority if the woman in question has committed multiple examples of lack of common sense. The next candidate I vote for will be required to exhibit a good educational background and good common sense as demonstrated by prior experiences.
My sense at this point is that the D's are continually trying to expand the government agencies and government requirements plus people to run around to monitor what is going on. That expands the government subsidized employment base which requires taxes, as opposed to building up the commercial sector of profit making companies that provide taxes. If you are a government worker you are part of the problem - if you work for a company that is a tax paying company you are part of the solution. We need taxes to pay for local, state, and federal functions. ON report is that the biggest employer in Santa Clara County is the county - that is telling you that the Calpers retirement system is going to tank. We cannot be a socialist or communist type system. I am going to chang my party and register Republican.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 17, 2017 at 2:13 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: "resident" on switching to being a Republican

Notice that this is an example of what I noted in the opening: Choosing a party because the person's current one is so bad, without regard to whether that new party might be worse.

For example, in footnote 12, read the first Bruce Bartlett article - which I summarized as the Republicans having embraced incompetence and corruption (starting with the Gingrich "revolution" in 1994).

The GW Bush administration may qualify as the most incompetent and corrupt national administration in US history (pre-Trump). Example incompetence: In Iraq, the replacement for Saddam regime was a series of ones that were even more murderous and were friendly to Iran, including relying on Iranian support for their private militias (training, weapons, funding,..., even "advisors"). Example corruption: In Iraq, the administration's repeated reaction to money (totaling tens of billions) "disappearing" was to cripple the auditors. We saw similar attitudes in the early months of the Bush administration when California produced statistical evidence that Enron was manipulating the market for electricity, both raising costs and creating shortages (rolling blackout). Bush's Secretary of Energy said that they would not investigate until California produced "proof" (a Catch-22).

Posted by resident, a resident of Charleston Meadows,
on Jul 17, 2017 at 8:10 pm

[[Deleted: Off-topic: my previous comment that I intended as a "look before you leap" was taken as an invitation to provide a laundry list of financial misconduct during the Obama administration. This "You're worse! No, you're worse." is an example of negative partisanship, but this particular strand has been repeated ad infinitum and is an unproductive dynamic that has run its course in so, so many other forums.]]

Posted by Caitlin, a resident of University South,
on Jul 17, 2017 at 8:24 pm

[[Deleted: off-topic: about a potential candidate for governor.]]

Posted by Resident, a resident of Barron Park,
on Jul 17, 2017 at 10:57 pm

Doug, thank you, I always find your blog entries refreshing and thought provoking. The ideological groupthink of many in Palo Alto is both frustrating and tiresome, and a real disappointment. I've lived in other "liberal bastions" with much more thoughtful local politics. Thank you for speaking out.

Posted by resident, a resident of Charleston Meadows,
on Jul 18, 2017 at 8:21 am

Rather than espousing opinions suggest that everyone start with Wikipedia. Read up on Donald Trump - vast experience in the real estate industry through both his father and mother who had a successful real estate company in NY. Grandfather immigrated to US from Germany 1885. Grandfather died in 1918 of the great Flu Epidemic. My grandfather, who immigrated from Alsace Lorraine also died in the flu epidemic on Stanford campus where he was an administrator of student support services.

Is this relevant? Large families immigrated to America from Alsace Lorraine during this time period, including the Meyer family of Washington Post fame. It is a world view based on a European background of Europe in disarray. Compare to Obama whose world view is based on a childhood in Indonesia with a solid Muslim background. Obama has no European points of reference in his background.
So what is either party selling now? If we are to compete with the EU then we need people who understand the EU and are not blown over by it. Contrary to what the D's are espousing Trump totally understands the dynamics of the EU.
And if Climate is your basis of political decision read up on the Paris Agreement in Wikipedia. It is a transfer of wealth scheme. But form your own opinion from a point of knowledge of the agreement - the US provides the money but the EU controls where it goes.

Any development of any of the parties is dependent on the world view of the candidates and what they bring to the party. I think at this point the R party is tuning their focus and is going to pull ahead. Any major candidate should be able to withstand a Wikipedia background review that demonstrates education and knowledge. At least that is a starting point for discussion - facts. The parties are changing who is in - who is out - and what they view as important.

Posted by Mark Silverman, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Jul 18, 2017 at 10:39 am

> The GOP will only make a comeback in CA when things get really bad. Remember Reagan? The voters had had enough of liberal Democrats. Remember Arnold? Same thing.

Good point as some voters only vote to get rid of certain politicians rather than to elect newer ones.

While the Republican Party may be viewed as 'out of touch' with most Californians, they are trying to make some headway. Caitlyn Jenner is considering a run for the US Senate and hopes to bridge the gap between conservative politics and the more liberal LGBT community. Just as many African-Americans voted for Barack Obama as a both a cultural and historical 'first', a vote for Ms. Jenner would seemingly fall into this category and perspective as well.

The Republicans have a tradition of running former celebrities for public office (e.g. Ronald Reagan, George Murphy, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sonny Bono et al) and in addition to Caitlyn Jenner, Kid Rock has also expressed interest in a Senate seat. This strategy tends to attract a lot of public attention and 'celebrity' leaning voting patterns.

Perhaps it's time for former Army generals to get back into the political fold. We haven't had a general as president since Dwight Eisenhower and many yearn for the idyllic 'Happy Days' existence of the past. While the Cold war was in full swing at the time, no one wanted to totally annihilate the world (including the USSR) and brinksmanship served as an ongoing deterrent to a full-scale global war.

There are so many options to consider and as voters we have the moral responsibility to elect only those who are best suited to lead.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jul 18, 2017 at 11:55 am

The California GOP has gotten comfortable with just raising money from the same old donors and spending it on themselves. Until that culture changes, they'll continue to be irrelevant.

As for Trump, over the long run his real estate business has underperformed the Dow. He could have put his inheritance in index funds, gone surfing for the last 50 years, and have more than he does now. Such business prowess speaks for itself.

Posted by Humble observer, a resident of Mountain View,
on Jul 18, 2017 at 12:19 pm

"The California GOP has gotten comfortable with just raising money from the same old donors and spending it on themselves."

Which differs from the California Democratic Party (I'm a member, incidentally) exactly how?

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jul 18, 2017 at 4:13 pm

A big part of why dissatisfaction with both parties
- Most current Republicans stand for nothing but personal gain for their hidden elite funders. They are controlled by their funders and booted if they do not comply.
- Democrats did stand for something, but often now, at least in CA Republicans masquerade as Democrats to get power have twisted it. That is the people are tricked, not given a choice.

Look at what has happened nationally. Obama, a supposed Democrat was elected and by the issues was more conservative than Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan? Now a supposed Republican is elected and is tacitly insinuating people who are unelected and unwanted extreme-right Libertarians seeking to permanently remove the government threat to corporate dominance removing the people altogether. ( "Democracy In Chains" by Nancy MacLean)

Both parties look bad, but the "badness" emanates from the Republicans and their dark money funded project of regulatory and government capture. I don't mean that as a slam to Republicans, just to nod to the perception that business in the last century anyway has preferred to work through the Republican party first. I am sure this "zombification" process is well underway with Democrats too.

Our system was devised when there were not the information or analytical tools available to deconstruct the system and apply coordinated money towards undermining it - and the number of people willing to do that was tiny. Now the system has broken down, or more accurately, been corrupted from the inside by groups that value their own wealth and power above the values of our system and its people. This is the problem of running the system based on money and not on people. Money has contempt for the people.

The only forces that can act within this broken system are the forces who broke it in the first place, so unless there is a strong over-riding majoritarian impulse demanded by the people, we can expect this all to get worse and not better over time and for citizen influence to continue diminishing.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jul 18, 2017 at 4:29 pm

> It notes, in the first half, that, during the post-WW2 occupation of Japan, staunch Republican Gen. Douglas MacArthur included limits on concentrations of economic power.

Great point; few people know or think about this.

There was a very interesting PBS documentary that made some similar points called "Questioning The Constitution" That explained how the Constitutions of destroyed countries rebuilding after WWII, of which the US Constitution is now the oldest Constitution in force in the world, were written with the weaknesses of our own Constitution in mind.

These newer Constitutions seem to be doing demonstrably better for their people just now on most measurable dimensions. However, if the US falls to what is a record levels of concentration of economic power, I am sure it will end up working to deconstruct and subvert all those other countries as well. In the next centuries world history will hinge on whether the US is strong enough to resist this internal assault of economic corruption.

One predictor of that market might the be number of wanna-be middle class voters who voted Republican hopeful to be rewarded by the elites despite the "musical chairs" nature of their game.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 18, 2017 at 5:39 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

When I do compare-and-contrast, I start with the basic. For me, that starts with:

1. Competence and character (honesty, integrity, honor, courage, duty...) (how much, not absolute). In an presentation about communicating science and technology issues to the public, one part addressed politicians. Speaking of Congress, the presenter warned the audience to not fall into the trap of thinking they were all ignorant and/or stupid -- he said about a third were actually smart and capable of being well-informed. I had met enough high-level officials that would qualify as "a dim bulb, even in a dark room" that I wasn't shocked, but I was mildly surprised at the low number.

1a. Competence is more than being generally smart and/or knowledgeable--the candidate needs to have it both relative to the complexity of the relevant issues and about politics itself.

1b. After assessing the candidate, do the same to his likely team of appointees and advisors.

1c. Going overboard can be bad, even very bad. For example, "making the trains run on time" (Mussolini - Italian fascist).

2. Support for a true democratic republic.

2a. An interesting set of political commentators have judged that the US has crossed the line into being a oligarchy.

2b. A fundamental of democracy is the acceptance of the results of elections. The Republican Party has rejected this since 1995: both by not accepting the other party as legitimate office holders and by trying to sabotage the legitimate functioning of government. The Democrats have ventured into this with the 2016 election.

2c. The franchise of citizens: The Republican Party rejects this with nation-wide efforts to disenfranchise various groups of citizen combined with other efforts to make it onerous for voters supporting other parties to cast their ballots. Gerrymandering of districts is practiced by both parties (the new California redistricting scheme seems to have done a good non-partisan job).

2d. Rule of law/equality before the law (not an aristocracy, oligarchy,...) is the fundamental aspect of the definition of a "republic". However, both parties have adopted the philosophy that any meaningful punishment for the rich for financial crimes--with a few exceptional exceptions such as Bernie Madoff--cannot be done because it would harm the economy (aka "Too big to jail").

2e. Due process: Both parties are willing to jettison this in certain categories, in response to their base--thus different categories for the different parties. In some cases, neither political parties sees even the need for appearances of due process. Key concepts: presumption of innocence, defendant able to present evidence, confront witnesses, due diligence by jury/judge,..


Only then specific issues.

Posted by Mark Silverman, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Jul 18, 2017 at 6:58 pm

> A big part of why dissatisfaction with both parties
- Most current Republicans stand for nothing but personal gain for their hidden elite funders. They are controlled by their funders and booted if they do not comply.
- Democrats did stand for something, but often now, at least in CA Republicans masquerade as Democrats to get power have twisted it. That is the people are tricked, not given a choice.

Remember that old song by The Who, 'Won't Get Fooled Again'?

"Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."
"And the world looks just the same And history ain't changed"

We live in a world of re-runs and eventually people will come to realize it.
Until then, we can dream of utopia.

Posted by resident, a resident of Charleston Meadows,
on Jul 18, 2017 at 8:35 pm

I think that we have either a "One World View" via George Soros, or a nationalistic view which is re-emerging in Europe. The One World View via George Soros puts the decision making outside Washington DC. Soros is backing many of the extreme demonstrations that are occurring around the world, including those at UC Berkley. Soros is backing D candidates and senators - Oregon. The special interest money is attempting to re-engineer how the world is run.
There is a lot at play here that rides outside the typical classifications of the parties. Not as easy to hide now as everyone is on top of where money comes from. If you look at the listing of billionaires now they are typically Democrats so do not sign up to the theory of fat cat republicans.

[[Blogger: the "One World View" is also labeled "Cosmopolitan", especially by those that favor that view. If you are doing a web search, you probably want to try both terms to get a range of perspectives.]]

Posted by Allen Akin, a resident of Professorville,
on Jul 18, 2017 at 9:19 pm

@resident: For perspective on big money in Republican politics, "Dark Money" by Jane Mayer is essential reading.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jul 20, 2017 at 12:56 am

@Allen Akin - for a perspective on what that project plan has been for all that dark money read - "Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America" by Nancy MacLean.

A brief but concise review of the book is at:
A despot in disguise: one man's mission to rip up democracy: James McGill Buchanan's Vision Of Totalitarian Capitalism Has Infected Public Policy In The U.S. Now It's Being Exported by George Monbiot: Web Link

Posted by resident, a resident of Charleston Meadows,
on Jul 21, 2017 at 11:17 am

[[Blogger: Deleted. Off-topic. It was a series of short charges against a series of politicians and similar others. It didn't add anything useful to the discussion.]]

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