Thursday, November 4, 2021



Vie The Decision Lab,

You know who lost big in yesterday's election? Both sides—I mean, both sides of the "progressive"-"centrist" debate among Democratic party strategists. In Virginia, old-hat neoliberal Terry McAuliffe seems to have lost, just barely, to an empty-suit multimillionaire and the threat of Critical Race Theory. In New Jersey, Phil Murphy, one of the nation's most progressive governors, may or may not have just barely squeaked through against an empty-suit multimillionaire and the threat of "schools teaching sodomy in sixth grade." 

Murphy's bête noire, New Jersey Senate president Stephen Sweeney, ally of Camden kingpin George Norcross and leader of one of the most obstructionist "centrist" factions of Democrats, seems to be losing, also just barely, his own seat, which he's held for 20 years, in what they inevitably call a "stunning upset": 

Edward Durr, a conservative truck driver who reported spending just $153 on his campaign, leads Sweeney by 2,009 votes in the South Jersey-based 3rd legislative district.

And that's just the losers. New York's triumphant mayor-elect is an African American Democratic ex-policeman, Eric Adams, who favors charter schools and macho posing, and hobnobs with real-estate magnates; Boston's triumphant mayor-elect is an Asian American Elizabeth Warren protégée, Michelle Wu, who hopes to make public transit free, introduce rent control, and make Boston a "Green New Deal city". In Buffalo, where the Democratic mayoral primary unseated a 16-year Black incumbent, Byron Brown, in favor of India Walton, a Black high school dropout turned registered nurse, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, Brown is now the insurgent write-in candidate and nobody knows who won, except that it's not the Republican (Wednesday evening update: looks like Byron, but it's not at all a done deal yet).

In Minneapolis, justice warrior mayor Jacob Frey looks likely to come first in a nonpartisan ranked-choice brawl, but will have to face a second round, but the nation's first abolish-the-police referendum, a plan to replace the department with a Department of Public Safety in which cops would have a diminished role within an agency run on public health principles, has decisively failed—Frey opposed it, too.

It's clear that Democrats do better in urban areas, much less well in rural ones, and it's likely that one kind of Democrat does better than another kind in most suburbs, from Arizona to New Jersey—that's the kind that's nervous about taxes, and it's not surprising that when some House Democrats were announcing over the past couple of days that they'd come to an agreement on allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, Jersey bugbear Josh Gottheimer was nowhere to be seen, but at the same time he was out making his own announcement:

That's the rule allowing people who itemize their deductions to deduct their state and municipal income and property taxes from their federal income tax return; Trump people decided to get rid of it, to punish states and municipalities with high taxes, like New Jersey and New York and California or, theoretically, persuade Trenton and Albany and Sacramento to cut their own tax rates. Congressional Republicans realized that this was going to backfire against them politically, and rewrote the provision: instead of eliminating the deduction, they'd put a cap on it—you could keep deducting up to $10,000 in state and local taxes, but you'd have to suck up paying taxes on any more than that. 

Which could have had a serious impact on a lot of well-to-do but not downright rich New Jerseyans (the downright rich ones were getting such a windfall from other provisions of the 2017 "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act" that they wouldn't even notice the SALT provision), if Trenton hadn't, like many other state governments, devised a workaround, in which people could declare themselves to be businesses reporting their salaries as "pass-through" income and take the deduction as corporations ("People are corporations too, my friends!"). But they did, I'm not finding any evidence that anybody paid ever anything at all under this provision (Redhand, do you know anything?). 

But Gottheimer has been extremely noisy about it, and it looks to me as if he's accepted repeal of the cap as a bribe in return for stabbing his Phrma patrons in the back. Which would be an overall good think, I think.

What I'd like to suggest, though, is that I was proved fucking right, in the elegant language of Judith Miller, in that there's no formula for how far left or right a given candidate needs to stand in a given election in a given district, but rather a heuristic 

Heuristics are the strategies derived from previous experiences with similar problems. These strategies depend on using readily accessible, though loosely applicable, information to control problem solving in human beings, machines and abstract issues...

for figuring out how you need to stand to build the coalition that will get you a majority—which means in New Jersey you should probably be a little bit more sensitive on the subject of property taxes, and in Texas maybe you don't.

So the coalition Michelle Wu put together for Boston was evidently different from the one Eric Adams assembled for New York. They are different political situations! Vive la différence! They are both almost certainly going to do good things in office, and possibly some not-so-good things as well. 

And if Tim Ryan, an unspeakably bad presidential candidate from Ohio, makes it into the Senate, for which he seems to be an extremely good candidate, that will probably be a good thing too. Honestly, more heuristics is what we really need.

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