Category Archives: politics

Wendy Davis never had a chance, but she was a terrible candidate

When Wendy Davis lost to Greg Abbott last Tuesday, it was not surprising. But what would have been surprising looking at her campaign from the perspective of her initial rise to fame was the scale of the loss. But by election day I had seen the train wreck develop here in Texas based on how bad the Davis campaign was. Today, Ross Douthat in the NY Times reflected from the outside and made a devastating comparison

The Christine O’Donnell thing really did happen more or less by accident, because she happened to be in the right place at the right time to catch an anti-establishment wave and win a primary in which she was supposed to be a protest candidate. Whereas the Davis experiment was intentionally designed: She was treated to fawning press coverage, lavished with funding, had the primary field mostly cleared for her, and was touted repeatedly as part of an actual party strategy for competing in a conservative-leaning state. Of course she had a much more impressive resume than O’Donnell, with less witchcraft and real political experience, and in that sense she made a more credible candidate overall. (Though, ahem, O’Donnell actually outperformed Davis at the polls in the end …)

Ouch.

Remarkably, the morning after, longtime Texas Monthly political writer Paul Burka wrote

Davis didn’t run a bad race. She raised a lot of money and she chipped away at Abbott’s weaknesses with some effectiveness.

The Texas Tribune’s Jay Root disagrees.

Davis probably never had a modicum of a chance to win the Texas governor’s race. The 2014 election turned out to be another wave election that cost Democrats the U.S. Senate, governor’s races in heavily Democratic states and competitive legislative races across the land, including here.

But for more than a year, Democrats were crowing that with a well-funded turnout operation, Davis was the kind of candidate who could at least move the needle for the bedraggled party, which hadn’t won a statewide election since 1994. In one sense they were correct: She moved the needle, all right — backward.

Root talks about how Davis failed to utilize her inspiring personal story

When the curtain came down on Team Davis, the campaign had not aired a single English-language TV ad focusing on the Fort Worth senator’s up-from-the-trailer-park narrative once seen as her campaign’s thematic foundation. In the final days, Davis couldn’t afford to effectively air such an ad, despite her campaign’s own claims of raising almost $40 million, a top official acknowledged.

We probably don’t watch as much TV in the prime advertising slots as most prospective voters, and I time shift past commercials when I can. I did see some of the gubernatorial ads when I couldn’t avoid them during live events like sports, and I saw some of the online coverage in blogs and social media. I didn’t watch any of the debates, but I glanced at some of the news stories about them. My perspective on the race is thus pretty limited, but I suspect that it’s not that different from what an average Texas likely voter actually saw.

So, within that window, Wendy Davis started as someone who was pro-choice and against regulation of abortions at 20 weeks or later. She then told me that she was:

Really? I mean, Ted Nugent is a loon, but his groupie history and Abbott’s defense of sex toy laws as AG never seemed like things that are priorities for Texas. And while Root says Davis didn’t have the resources to run positive ads, the Kirby Vacuum salesman ad was one that I saw a lot more than anything else from Davis.

Setting aside problems with the up from the trailer park narrative, and the general problem of trying to base your narrative on overcoming adversity when running against the guy in a wheelchair, Davis never established a positive agenda that I could detect. There were lots of things that Davis could have used on the negative side against Abbott, but it seems to me that a smarter campaign would have realized that for average voters, Greg Abbott is still a nonentity. The place to attack Abbott was not for anything specific about Abbott himself: it was as a continuation of the bad parts of one-party rule and the continuation of Rick Perry’s time as Gov. I would have gone after:

  • dysfunction in the lege that meant that initiatives tapping the Rainy Day Fund were needed to deal with funding for basic things like roads and water over the past few elections
  • cronyism and its effects on things like CPRIT and the Texas Enterprise Fund.
  • the ways in which Perry’s appointments and The TPPF agenda have been hurting higher ed in Texas. Ted Nugent is a loon, but perhaps it would have been better to point out the looniness of Wallace Hall.  Despite the dislike for us pointy-headed pinko academics, I think that between sports and economics, even some conservative Texans are uncomfortable with where Perry’s Regents have been taking the UT and TAMU systems. The defenestration of Bill Powers was recent news.

Davis was perhaps never the best candidate to make these points. But she was the anointed candidate and while I agree that she was doomed from day 1, moving the needle forward required showing that there was more to her than pink sneakers and abortion celebrity.  Instead, she showed us that there was less.

The missing Hobby Lobby reaction

I haven’t read all of the reactions to this past week’s Burwell v Hobby Lobby decision, so perhaps I missed this, but I haven’t seen much of what I thought would be an obvious reaction when I was much younger. This post is an extension of the comment I left at Althouse when the decision came down on Monday.

One of the saddest things to me about this situation is that the ACLU sided with HHS in the Hobby Lobby case. Growing up, I understood the ACLU as being centered around the idea in a quote from Roger Baldwin cited in this PBS piece on the Constitution:

Indeed, the only thing predictable about giving the government the power to censor speech is that it will use that power unpredictably. The founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, Roger Baldwin, put it well when he said, “In order to defend the people you like, you have to defend the people you hate.”

My approach to applying Baldwin’s big idea is to do the thought experiment based on how a ruling would apply if the politics/beliefs of the situation were reversed. How does this apply in Hobby Lobby? Living in Texas, it doesn’t take much imagination: less than a month ago the Texas GOP endorsed gay conversion therapy in it’s platform. Is it so hard to imagine an HHS mandate from a right-wing administration to include that in all employee health plans?

I expected  to see counter-hypotheticals like this in the coverage of Hobby Lobby, and it’s the kind of thought experiment I would have expected from the ACLU I grew up with back in the days of the Warren Court. Perhaps this argument is being made somewhere and I’ve just missed it. Perhaps progressives are OK with including such therapies in health plans. After all, no one would be forcing employers to make their employees use the conversion therapy; it would just be available for those who wanted it, as the IUDs and Plan B would be available to the subset of Hobby Lobby employees who wanted them. This story shows that people are not indifferent to whether or not others can choose this particular “treatment”.

The Supreme Court declined on Monday to hear a challenge to a California law that bans “conversion therapy” aimed at changing the sexual orientation of gay and lesbian minors.

The court, in rejecting the case, effectively let stand a federal appeals court ruling issued last August that said that the state’s ban on the practice did not violate the free speech rights of counselors or people seeking treatment. The appeals court had said that the state had an interest in banning professional treatments it considered harmful.

Alternative title for this post: the Parade of Horribles marches both ways. Happy Independence Day!

Open source communities are different

Via Althouse, Farhad Manjoo argues in the NYT that Brendan Eich had to resign because:

Mozilla is not a normal company. It is an activist organization. Mozilla’s primary mission isn’t to make money but to spread open-source code across the globe in the eventual hope of promoting “the development of the Internet as a public resource.”

As such, Mozilla operates according to a different calculus from most of the rest of corporate America.

Like all software companies, Mozilla competes in two markets. First, obviously, it wants people to use its products instead of its rivals’ stuff. But its second market is arguably more challenging — the tight labor pool of engineers, designers, and other tech workers who make software.

When you consider the importance of that market, Mr. Eich’s position on gay marriage wasn’t some outré personal stance unrelated to his job; it was a potentially hazardous bit of negative branding in the labor pool, one that was making life difficult for current employees and plausibly reducing Mozilla’s draw to prospective workers.

A commenter or Manjoo’s piece adds:

I wonder why this man was given this position in the first place if his views are so counter cultural at Mozilla. Or, if the views were unknown, what does that say about management of the company?

A reply points out that Brendan Eich, as a cofounder of Mozilla, might be in a better position to be familiar with the culture of Mozilla than Eleanor from Augusta Maine. There’s a basic problem with this argument: it presumes that the labor pool is contains more talented people who object to Mr. Eich’s private political activity than talented people who now will avoid working for Mozilla due to concerns about working for a project where outside activities are a litmus test. The idea that programmers and engineers are homogeneously enlightened progressives is… let’s just say counterintuitive. Eich is himself the counterexample to political homogeneity of talent. He’s not a John Scully from Pepsi going to Apple. The man invented Javascript, which runs a large fraction of the current web.

In my view Manjoo and Mozilla’s management have it exactly backwards. Depending on a community makes it even more important to defend the right of people you disagree with on extracurricular matters to participate. Importantly to this question, as far as I can tell, there have been no reports that Eich’s political beliefs manifested as creating a hostile work environment beyond those who are sensitive to the existence of those beliefs per se. It’s not like I’m seeing reports that Eich did anything like the infamous Larry Summers talk about women in science (I find this story interesting in part because of parallel issues in academia and science).