INFIRMITIES AND DELUSIONS: Recalling November 2008!


Recording a type of decline: Long ago and far away, Bob Dylan released his first album.

The album was simply called Bob Dylan. It was released in March 1962. Dylan was 20 years old.

The album included only two original compositions. It included one original "talking blues" and one original song. 

The original song was called Song to Woody. It was beautifully written, very beautifully sung. Its lyrics start like this:

I’m out here a thousand miles from my home
Walkin’ a road other men have gone down
I’m seein’ your world of people and things
Your paupers and peasants and princes and kings
Hey, hey, Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a song
’Bout a funny ol’ world that’s a-comin’ along
Seems sick an’ it’s hungry, it’s tired an’ it’s torn
It looks like it’s a-dyin’ an’ it’s hardly been born.

We'd have to say, as we look around, we keep seeing a world that seems tired and torn, a world that looks like it's dying. 

No, you can't terminate a world in the way a referee can stop a prize fight. But our political and cultural worlds are in a type of downward spiral, and as we've noted on many occasions, we can't exactly see a way to get out of this mess.

It could be that we're wrong, of course—and our national "world" isn't going to disappear or run away from home. But according to anthropologists, we the people are dividing into tribes in the way we humans typically do when we're on the verge of one of our destructive wars.

The longing for war is emerging within both major tribes, as is masterful dumbness. And of course, at times like this, we humans can only see the dumbness among those in the other tribe, or so the top experts all say.

Here within our failing blue tribe, are we losing a bit of political ground as the undeclared war comes on? We ask that question based on last November's congressional elections. Yesterday, we summarized those elections, offering this somewhat discouraging profile:

House elections, November 2020
Democratic candidates: 50.8% of the nationwide vote
Republican candidates: 47.7% of the nationwide vote  
Resulting membership: 222 D, 213 R
(150.3 million votes cast)

Even after four years of Donald J. Trump, Democratic candidates were barely able to top 50 percent of the nationwide vote in those 435 House elections. Even after four years of Trump, a very solid block of the electorate still didn't see things our way.

Here within our flailing blue tribe, we tend to react to this state of affairs with something resembling denial. 

Rachel burns away oodles of time telling us how dumb Boehner and Ryan were with their silly "own goals," while Nancy is so much smarter. When journalists interview The Others to ask them why they voted for Trump, our tribe tends to howl in complaint:

Do not speak to The Others, we cry. Is this the route to our wars?

As is true of all human tribes, our tribe isn't super-sharp. The tendency to live in denial is especially strong, the experts all say, at times of heightened partisan conflict.

We mention this because we've been looking at the way the public voted back in November 2008. 

Last fall, we elected Biden after four years of Trump. In 2008, we elected Barack Obama after eight years of Bush—and here's the way the public voted that year, in those 435 House elections:

House elections, November 2008
Democratic candidates: 53.2% of the nationwide vote
Republican candidates: 42.6% of the nationwide vote  
Resulting membership: 257 D, 176 R
(117.5 million votes cast)

No two years are perfectly comparable, but we're comparing results from two election years which are roughly comparable. In 2008, Obama was elected to his first term, following eight years of Bush. In 2020, Biden was elected to office, following four years of Trump.

The differences between those two sets of numbers help explain why Democrats are currently having such a hard time getting legislation passed. In saying that, we're looking at nationwide vote totals as well as at House membership figures.

In November 2008, the electorate favored Democratic candidates by a margin of more than ten points. Last November, after four years of Trump, the margin was barely three points—and many more people turned out to vote last year.

That narrow three-point margin translated into a very slender Democratic majority in the House. In the Senate, Democrats have only been able to elect fifty senators over the last three election cycles. We only got the number to 50 because of Manchin and Sinema, and because Trump's crazy post-election behavior probably helped two Democrats squeak out narrow runoff wins in Georgia last fall.

Let's return to the House:

Dems were preferred by more than ten points back in 2008. Twelve years later, after four years of Trump, that advantage was down to three points!

That produced a tiny Democratic majority in the House. In Sunday's New York Times, Carl Hulse explained where that state of affairs has left the political arm of our flailing blue tribe. Much of this is obvious:

HULSE (10/3/21): Previous presidents who were able to carry out agendas as ambitious as Mr. Biden’s enjoyed far greater latitude on Capitol Hill, a point Mr. Biden made himself on Friday as he met privately with House Democrats at a unity rally. Lyndon B. Johnson had supermajorities in both chambers of Congress when he maneuvered Medicare into law in 1965. Even then, the process was a difficult one, requiring intensive lobbying by Mr. Johnson, himself a longtime denizen of the Senate.

Enactment of the Affordable Care Act during the Obama administration was also accomplished with much larger Democratic majorities, including a brief window in which the party held a supermajority of 60 votes in the Senate. Even then, the path to enactment was treacherous and circuitous, forcing adjustments in the legislation that hindered its rollout and have complicated coverage under the law to this day.

Then as now, it fell to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who specializes in navigating legislation through impossibly tight political squeezes, to muscle the measure through to enactment. But in 2010, she had much more leeway; despite 34 House Democrats opposing the health care bill, she still had enough votes to pass it.

The situation was substantially different under FDR and LBJ, whose large majorities included lots of flatly conservative Southern Democrats. But as recently as 2010, Pelosi was able to pass Obamacare in the face of 34 Democrats who voted against it. 

Today, our margin in the House is much smaller. Last November, for whatever reason, Democratic candidates were barely able to attract 50 percent of the nationwide vote—and that was after four years of Donald J. Trump.

Our point in this is simple:

Every liberal will note the moral and intellectual superiority displayed by our own blue tribe. That said, despite our obvious brilliance, we almost seem to be losing ground with American voters.

Even after four years of Trump, we came remarkably close to losing control of the House last fall. And when we start explaining why people would have voted this way, we all know where things will take us.

Bob Dylan, still just 20 years old, finished his song to Woody in the following way:

Here’s to Cisco and Sonny and Leadbelly too
And to all the good people that traveled with you
Here’s to the hearts and the hands of the men
That come with the dust and are gone with the wind

I’m a-leavin’ tomorrow, but I could leave today
Somewhere down the road someday
The very last thing that I’d want to do
Is to say I’ve been hittin’ some hard travelin’ too.

Cisco was Cisco Houston; Sonny was Sonny Terry. That closing lyric refers to the Guthrie song, Hard Travelin'. 

This extremely young person dedicated his song to "the hearts and the hands of the men [sic] / That come with the dust and are gone with the wind."

Everywhere FDR looked, he saw "one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished." Everywhere we look today, we see a project that may soon be gone with the wind—and we sometimes think we see our own self-impressed tribe looking for war over wisdom.

Tomorrow: The 47.7%


  1. "Women marching for the right to control their own bodies was deemed not newsworthy enough for live coverage, but four pro-sedition Donald Trump supporters could sneeze outside of the Capitol, and hundreds of reporters show up.

    The American people showed up [120,000 of them] to send a message to our leaders. The message is significant and vital to the freedom of a majority of our population. It is too bad that decision-makers in the corporate press did not feel the same way."

  2. Somerby eternally blames the Democrats, but this is why the margins are slimmer under Biden than in 2008:

    "ProPublica did extensive reporting last month showing that since then Bannon has been pushing a “precinct strategy,” whereby MAGA followers take over the Republican apparatus at the precinct level, which in many states means they have influence over how elections are run, including the choice of poll workers and members of election boards. When Bannon announced this strategy, it “rocketed across far-right media” and suddenly people who had never before been involved in politics were volunteering all over the country, in blue states as well as red states, cities and suburbs and rural areas alike.

    This strategy is the brainchild of Arizona activist Daniel J. Schultz, who has been pushing it for several years:

    In December, Schultz appeared on Bannon’s podcast to argue that Republican-controlled state legislatures should nullify the election results and throw their state’s Electoral College votes to Trump. If lawmakers failed to do that, Bannon asked, would it be the end of the Republican Party? Not if Trump supporters took over the party by seizing precinct posts, Schultz answered.

    Schultz is now a huge right-wing celebrity, has been on Bannon’s show at least eight times and holds weekly Zoom calls with activists around the country. Last July he told his audience, “Make sure everybody’s got a baseball bat. I’m serious about this. Make sure you’ve got people who are armed.”

    Bannon isn’t confining himself to trying to destroy the democratic electoral system. NBC News’ Jonathan Allen reported that he’s also planning an assault on the government once he gets Trump back in the White House, as a continuation of his “deconstruction of the administrative state.” To that end, Bannon held a meeting last week with “scores of former Trump political appointees” at the Capitol Hill Club and gave them their marching orders for the hypothetical day when Trump returns to power.

    He was invited by a new group called the Association of Republican Presidential Appointees, which has the goal of having non-confirmable executive branch appointees ready on Day 1 to go in and take over. In practice, that means they would immediately set about systematically dismantling everything put in place under a Democratic president and deregulating everything in sight. Bannon aptly calls them his “shock troops.”

    This is evidence of the right-wing war against democracy. What evidence has Somerby provided of any left-wing impulse toward "war", even loosely defined? None!

    Meanwhile, analyses are showing an increasing Democratic advantage due to redistricting following the census, as the greatest growth has been in urban areas. In a fair election, Democrats should win. That's why the right is planning various ways to grab power illegitimately.

    Somerby can dress his both-siderism up in Bob Dylan quotes, but his view of Democratic participation in any kind of war is pure nonsense. There is an attack on our nation, but it is coming from the right and it needs to be stopped, or we will forfeit our democratic form of government and there will be no point to elections again, any more than there is in any number of dictatorships in other countries.

    As always, Somerby refuses to express a direct opinion (hiding behind Dylan), but nevertheless makes it clear where he stands -- and it isn't with liberals.

  3. Yesterday, a whistleblower pulled back the curtain on Facebook's participation in the 2016 and 2020 elections. There is no doubt that this spread of disinformation has hurt both our free elections and public health, with the ongoing spread of covid disinformation. It may be that profit has been the only motive for Facebook's participation, but the intertwining of wealth and politics makes that seem pretty unlikely.

  4. "Today, our margin in the House is much smaller. Last November, for whatever reason, Democratic candidates were barely able to attract 50 percent of the nationwide vote—and that was after four years of Donald J. Trump."

    And yet:

    "President-elect Joe Biden's margin over President Donald Trump in the nationwide popular vote is now more than 7 million votes and may continue to grow as several states continue counting votes.

    Biden's lead over Trump is the second largest since 2000, and is about two and a half times larger than Hillary Clinton's popular vote lead over Trump in 2016.
    As of Friday morning, Biden had won about 81.2 million votes, the most votes a candidate has won in US history, and Trump had won about 74.2 million. Trump's vote count makes him the second-highest vote earner in American history."

  5. "Everywhere we look today, we see a project that may soon be gone with the wind—and we sometimes think we see our own self-impressed tribe looking for war over wisdom."

    I assume the "project" is the two infrastructure bills, although Somerby never quite says. That project isn't gone. It is still in negotiation. If there were even a little bipartisan support, then Manchin and Sinema could not hold these bills hostage, but Republicans are no longer principled, no longer involved in what might benefit the nation or their own constituents. They are only obstructionists. But Somerby wants to blame this FACT on the Democrats. Why?

    What does Somerby gain by portraying the Democrats as in disarray instead of 48-2 united behind these bills? What does he gain by trying to demoralize liberals, day in and day out, pretending that WE are the problem in this nation when it is covid-deniers, anti-vaxxers, MAGAs and cynical, nihilistic disinformation purveyors who are attacking our democracy?

    Increasingly, I lump Somerby with the other nihilists and disinformationists. His goals should be obvious if you judge him by his behavior -- his defense of accused Republicans, his constant whining about Al Gore (while he blames the press and the Democrats for his loss, not GW's campaign lies), his negative remarks about ALL of the Democratic presidential candidates and his lack of support for Biden and especially Kamala Harris, his racism and sexism, and his continual echoing of the right-wing meme of the day. Somerby is furthering the right-wing agenda by attacking liberals and the press. He would be ordinary in that respect if he were not also trying to pass himself off as a liberal.

  6. Kevin Drum is talking about Ryan Williams today, head of the Claremont Institute, a right-wing think tank. Emma Green interviews him in Atlantic this month:

    "Ryan Williams: The one we have focused on at the Claremont Institute is the progressive movement....I would say the leading edge of progressivism now is this kind of woke, social-justice anti-racism. It’s a threat to limited government because it seems to take its lead from scholars like Ibram Kendi, [whose] definition of racism is any policy that results in disparate outcomes for different groups....The pursuit of equal results is only going to be successful in a new woke totalitarianism. I realize that sounds a little hyperbolic, but that seems to be the road we’re on."

    Yes, I think this sounds a lot hyperbolic, but it is also what Somerby has been saying, as he attacks the left for these same things: CRT, wokeness, pursuing social justice. Somerby claims that when the left pursues these goals it puts Donald Trump into office. But when Somerby makes such claims (which are empirically untrue), he aligns himself with Williams and the right's crusade against Democrats, liberals and any kind of change (even innocuous ones such as infrastructure repair).

    Somerby has become as unhinged as this extreme right-wing Trump supporter and at times sounds just like him. No amount of Bob Dylan worship can whitewash that fact.

  7. Evoking these icons of the 60s is offensive because Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Cisco Houston, Sonny Terry, and Huddy Ledbetter (Leadbelly) would have wanted nothing to do with Somerby or his arguments here.

    (Notice also how Somerby's lists never seem to include the women of that time period, such as Joan Baez, Odetta, Joni Mitchell, Bessie Smith who sang with Leadbelly, or Buffy Sainte-Marie.)

  8. Republican Madison Cawthorn seems to be the one calling for war these days, a holy war against Democrats:

    Where can you find anything comparable on the left?

  9. Here is a different perspective on what has been happening in Congress regarding these bills (Somerby's so-called project):

    1. Here is a better link:

  10. Is Somerby's point about 2008 that Obama didn't carry the down-ticket races? This comes across as a racist attack on Obama and the left's support for diversity in politics.

  11. Unfortunately, the 47.7% are people who believe that the sun comes up in the west, no matter the evidence. Please explain how to communicate with people who believe that.

    1. Among all these comments, this is a particularly good demonstration of "the moral and intellectual superiority displayed by our own blue tribe" which we see deeply embedded in the very way our "liberal" commenters think.

      Democratic popularity is sliding? It's the Others redistricting!

      We're feeding the fires of war? No! Here's an article with some idiot on the right calling for war, like that somehow negates what the left is doing?

      Somerby... criticizing the left? You can't belong to the left then! You are kicked out!

      Then you get this great binary thinking. "We are the problem in this nation??!!". Like there can only be one problem, one side to blame. Infantile. Are we fighting with our brother to get Mommy to give us possession of the toy we both want?

      Never defend, always attack, right? You'd all make great Scientologists.

    2. "Here's an article with some idiot on the right calling for war, like that somehow negates what the left is doing?"

      Show me one example of the left doing anything like this.

    3. Somerby has been unceasingly, relentlessly criticizing the left. If someone were that critical and coming from the left, you'd expect them to sometimes criticize the right too. Somerby never does that.

      You judge someone by their actions, not their words. Somerby's actions are entirely inconsistent with someone who is on the left. His words are worse. What member of the left calls all of the party's nominees for president "terrible"? You can't be kicked out of a club you are not a part of.

    4. The best way to reason with the Right is to listen to them.
      Fortunately, they explain themselves with poorly thought out slogans and memes.
      Here are some ways to find agreement and sway them.

      Agree that there is too much government spending, and strongly suggest they contact Raytheon, General Dynamics, Lockheed-Martin, etc, to let them know the country is broker than the Social Security Trust Fund. When I'm in a playful mood, I ask them to let me know how that works out.

      Coded racism, like their very strong belief in "merit, not welfare", is a fine way to sway them into supporting, if not a 100% Estate Tax, at least a better one than we have today. Tell them you find it odd someone who is such a strong believer in "merit", doesn't think lazy good for nothing, free-loading "heirs" should get a job like I did.

      Embrace their belief in the 2nd Amendment to "fight the tyranny of the government", but recommended we de-fund the police and take away their qualified immunity, instead of shooting them.

      As Rationalist wrote, these people can be reached. Just remember their slogans are the way to best reach them.

  12. I object to Somerby's use of the term The Others. It tends to focus our attention on the voters instead of on the corrupt Republican politicians who are creating mayhem.

    Republican voters are not being defined in opposition to our own party. They are affiliating affirmatively with Trump and Trump-supporting politicians in their districts. Calling them The Other implies that we are identifying them as Not-Us, when in fact they are definiting themselves by their endorsement of Trump and similar candidates. And not all Republicans have done that (witness Steve Schmidt, Mitt Romney, George W. Bush). It is the actions of such voters that we oppose, not any stereotype that Somerby offers of a rural, undereducated hick. In truth, most Trump supporters are upper-income, educated and not necessarily rural. What unites them is not our dislike, but their own beliefs, especially their racism, sexism, xenophobia, Evangelical beliefs, fear of death, and Fox-nurtured desire to own the libs. Characterizing these people as something of our own creation is not only inaccurate, but it is unfair given their real, visceral hatred for Democrats.

    Somerby is mirroring the accusations that the left makes against the right as he claims that we are the haters, when it is the right who is doing the hating, buided by Fox and other right-wing media figures.

    In a different time, Somerby would be quoting Frank Sinatra lyrics and blaming JFK for the John Birch Society, pushing voters into the fringe right's arms with his elitism.

  13. "Republican voters are not being defined in opposition to our own party."

    "What unites them is not our dislike"

    "What unites them is... Fox-nurtured desire to own the libs"

    "...given their real, visceral hatred for Democrats."

    Incoherent points as usual, no it's okay you don't have to "explain what you meant".

    Another good example of leftist ineptitude, can't even finish a rant without tripping over their own feet.

    1. Checkout the terrible example by 1:52 above.

    2. Rationalist,
      Have they told YOU why they're taking horse paste instead of the free and effective vaccine?

    3. 7:45,
      It's because guys who jumped the line to get the vaccine as soon as possible, like Tucker and Hannity told them to.

  14. We're well aware that D+3 in Generic Congressional Vote results in a 50-50 congress, because zombie voters tend to swarm in small unhealthy areas, cities.

    But D+3 was a long time ago, dear Bob. Here's what it looks like today:
    2022 Generic Congressional Vote (Quinnipiac)
    Democrats 44, Republicans 47
    Republicans +3

    More liberal-hitlerian hate-mongering will ensue, obviously, but let us see what happens next year.

  15. Somerby is trolling us.

    It is literally impossible for anyone on the Left to have less regard for a Republican voter than Republican politicians do.
    They've convinced them to eschew a safe and effective vaccine, for horse paste, for chrisdakes.

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