All of this writing and data analysis is a lot of work! So after more than five years of posting, I've finally launched a Patreon to help pay the bills.

1/3/15

No, you should probably tip

For some time, I have been under the impression that our economy is defined by bourgeois control of the means of production. This was Karl Marx’s essential insight, and it goes a long way towards explaining the injustices endemic to our capitalist economy.

So I was surprised to learn in Jacobin that it is actually something about tipping that’s responsible for the plight of low-income service workers. “So long as the karmic tip jar clouds our perceptions,” Ian Svenonius writes in Against Tipping, “the insane injustice of an underpaid labor force reimbursed through only the guilty feelings of their coworkers will persist.”

It’s an interesting theory. But I’m not sure that it actually holds up! And if you look at it too closely, it even starts to look like a standard capitalistic prescription for consumer action – albeit one that’s unusually cruel to workers, even by capitalistic standards.

Tipping is not extortion

Svenonius elaborates at such length on the symbolic meaning and perverse outcomes of tipping that it can be difficult to tease out the basic mechanics of his theory. For instance, we are told that tipping is “erotic,” “highly kinky” and “practically psychadlic” – all undoubtedly true, but difficult to incorporate into a coherent, rigorous economic model.

Nevertheless, we do have the outlines of a simple economic model, relying on a few specific empirical claims. Tipping, we are told, “began essentially as a way to stave off violence by the indigent…adhered to by the privileged class who fear and disdain the less fortunate.”

This -- substantiated for some reason by the author’s travel anecdotes -- does not have much basis in the historic record. Scholars typically trace tipping back to feudal Europe, when as Segrave writes “the master or lord of the manor might give his servant or laborer a few extra coins”.  Since the power of feudal aristocracy was based on its control of arable land, it is difficult to imagine how serfs might have engaged in the “thinly veiled extortion” Svenonius identifies as the origin of tipping. The street urchin in his example is “someone who is not an employee of an establishment but works as an adjunct or as a free agent” – but the feudal serf was in the exact opposite situation, entirely dependent on the good graces of his lord.

So there is little reason to suppose that the “street urchin’s implied violence still hovers over the interaction” when tipping. Control of the land, established in law and enforced by the overwhelming brute strength of the warrior nobility, nullified opportunities for institutionalized extortion by the serfs.

Control of the means of production gives the bourgeoisie the same power today. Because of that control, it can determine the amount of variable capital to invest in wages – including money available to the proletariat for tipping each other. Note how this is functionally just another form of wage distribution laundered through a third party. Of course, service workers are also subject to more direct controls – hiring and firing, tip-pooling arrangements, adjustments in supplemental wages, shift scheduling and assignments – which can all impact individual incomes directly.  In all of this, the underlying circular course of capital – out of the pocket and back into the hands of the bourgeoisie – remains unchanged.

The tip boycott

To illustrate, consider the most likely outcomes of an actual tip boycott. With real unemployment hovering near 13% and a massive reserve labor army hoping for a job, service employees have little immediate leverage to bargain for higher wages. Fortunately, however, we do have a historic barometer to gauge how low wages can drop in the US tipping economy before service workers begin making significant political demands for compensation: the minimum wage. That’s where employers have been forced to adjust wages.

In other words, a tip boycott is unlikely to even begin placing demands on the bourgeoisie until we’ve managed to dramatically slash the incomes of service workers all the way to our nation’s despicably miserly minimum wage.

Suppose, then, that the tip boycott becomes so successful that employers are finally forced to pay the full wage. They will do this first by simply cutting payroll in other ways – laying off workers or reducing hours – keeping the financial consequences of the boycott on the very service workers it was meant to help. Or, the bourgeoisie will shift the consequences onto everyone else by raising prices. This effectively cancels out the surplus wages that they had previously paid non-service workers to be passed along as tips.

What, then, has the tip boycott accomplished? Service workers have exchanged wages that are variable but modest for wages that are static and extremely low – not necessarily an advantageous trade. More importantly, the essential relationship between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie remains unchanged.

The first barista

So we come to to the article’s second – and central – empirical claim: “When the first barista refuses the enforced gesture of happy-go-lucky largesse by their off-work co-worker, then the whole stinking system will collapse in a mound of idiocy and be revealed for the indentured servitude that it is.”

This, to Svenonius’s credit, is a specific and completely falsifiable claim. But again, unfortunately, it’s demonstrably false.

To test it, I asked a good friend who works as a barista at a local coffee shop to reject a tip during her next shift. A good comrade, she played along – but the results were underwhelming. The customer was initially flustered and even persistent, but eventually just shrugged and walked away. Her comrades were mildly irritated since they pool their tips, even after she explained her logic. And of course, rather than collapsing, the tipping system resumed immediately.

In retrospect, it’s pretty easy to understand why the experiment failed.

For one thing, everyone involved was already perfectly well aware of the pros and cons of tipping. Svenonius proposes that service workers are “placated by the idea of chance,” but no one at her coffee shop is actually expecting “a Saudi Sheik to tip them a million dollars”. Just listen to service workers talk to each other about incomes: they’re usually acutely aware of what they can actually expect to make, not just at any given workplace but at any given time of day and on any given day of the week. They do not talk about their jobs like one talks about buying lottery ticket. Moreover, service workers aren’t somehow blind to the fact that their customers are typically their comrades. They’re often extremely perceptive about the finances of potential tippers, and develop a refined sense of what they can expect from who. They get that economic hard times can lead to lower tips from fellow workers, and they’re acutely class conscious when obviously bourgeois customers don’t leave better tips.

Customers, meanwhile, are themselves under no illusions. They get that an assumed tip has been factored into the bourgeoisie’s wage and price-setting calculus. They get that stiffing comrades on a tip amounts to leveraging their incidental position in the tips-as-laundered-wages scheme to personal advantage. So of course they experience “guilty feelings” for further exploiting an already exploitive system – but that doesn’t mean that they’re responsible for anyone else’s tips, or for the system of tipping in general.

That’s because – and this is the main reason why our experiment failed – it is not some failure to understand our “simulated affluence” as “the indentured servitude that it is” which forestalls the end of tipping and the end of capitalism. What forestalls the end of capitalism is a failure to seize the means of production.This, and only this, is what will bring an end to the ruthless exploitation of workers, of which the tipping system is but one expression.

Service workers who live on tips don’t generally think of themselves as affluent. They don’t need lectures about their poverty and economic insecurity, and they certainly don’t need some overly clever contrarian campaign to bring down their income.  

11/25/14

Rand Paul's Ferguson article is a compelling critique of private property

Rand Paul, on Ferguson:
In the search for culpability for the tragedy in Ferguson, I mostly blame politicians. Michael Brown’s death and the suffocation of Eric Garner in New York for selling untaxed cigarettes indicate something is wrong with criminal justice in America. The War on Drugs has created a culture of violence and put police in a nearly impossible situation.
In Ferguson, the precipitating crime was not drugs, but theft. But the War on Drugs has created a tension in some communities that too often results in tragedy. One need only witness the baby in Georgia, who had a concussive grenade explode in her face during a late-night, no-knock drug raid (in which no drugs were found) to understand the feelings of many minorities — the feeling that they are being unfairly targeted.
Paul is right that the War on Drugs has contributed to poverty in Ferguson, but the evidence he brings up is pointing to a bigger cause. Michael Brown was killed for violating rules about private property. Eric Garner was killed for violating rules about private property. Georgia's SWAT team used force to break into a private residence (culminating in the use of the grenade) because of rules about state access to private property.

It is profoundly stupid to rely on a handful of anecdotal examples to make a highly controversial policy argument, which Paul knows perfectly well. But as long as we're doing that, we might as well note that what every given instance of police violence has in common is an attempt to observe and enforce the rules of private property. Ergo, the obvious solution is to eliminate private property. Right?

11/22/14

The right's conception of power is completely upside-down

Some guy named Chip Jones, writing for some blog called Conservative Report:
When management issues arise in large corporations that are due to size, reorganization ensues. Most often, affiliates are created that maintain their own individual CEO’s, yet answer to a common board of directors, who share a common membership. But isn’t this the exact model our Founding Fathers created for this great Republic? A common board with limited powers overseeing affiliates? The Federal government, limited in its powers, over empowered States?
You could, I suppose, compare our government to a common board with limited powers overseeing affiliates - but that's not how corporations operate. The board of a corporation is absolutely sovereign. Corporations are almost always structured like absolute dictatorships, with an extremely vertical hierarchy of power and ambits that only have upper limits. If a corporation operated like American democracy, then (to take one obvious but crucial example) workers would be able to elect their managers. That is the exact opposite of what actually happens in a corporation.

The right makes this sort of error because it has become hyper-sensitive to the problems of government hierarchy - and completely numb to the problems of hierarchy, and power in general, in the private sector.

11/18/14

I shouldn't have to do this

And yet here we are: a point-by-point rebuttal of H.A. Goodman's ridiculous I'm A Liberal Democrat. I'm Voting For Rand Paul:

1. Rand Paul will be more hawkish in office than Clinton.

To paraphrase the Rep. Barney Frank, Senator Paul has always been able "to luxuriate in the purity of his irrelevance." He has spent most of his political career not facing election and not facing difficult votes. His two nays on defense budgets, for example, were predictably inconsequential protest gestures against bills that were always going to pass with 90+ votes.

When you look at the few times Paul has faced any kind of significant pressure or incentive to change his dovish posture, his response has been telling. Under fire by Republican hawks like Cheney and Guiliani when he sought the Republican nomination, Paul's campaign released statements like "Bottom line, Rand is not in favor of closing down Guantanamo Bay" and "He is not for wholesale withdrawal [from Iraq and Afghanistan]...now that were there we have to win." And as Paul closed in on that primary victory, the National Review noted that he avoided difficult foreign policy questions, since his opponent "Tray Grayson might have been able to paint him out of the GOP mainstream."

Now that Paul needs the GOP mainstream's support again, he is once again adopting a hawkish posture. As Olivia Nuzzi writes, "these days, Paul is publicly entertaining the idea of bombing Iraq, while his advisers have touted him as the second coming of Cold warriors like Dwight Eisenhower...George H.W. Bush....and Ronald Reagan".

The point here is not that Paul is secretly a hawk, and his image as a dove  deceptive ruse. The point is that Paul, like most politicians, is whatever the politics of the moment need him to be. On the many occasions when it's been useful Paul has railed against war and empire, and on the few when it's been useful he's sounded exactly like every other interventionist in Washington.

When we abandon the naive idea that an idealistic politician is going to single-handedly reign in US empire, a different picture of Paul emerges. He would be beholden to the same hawkish constituency and the same network of Republican warmongers that every Republican president is. Like Clinton, many of his allies will be those in Washington who are already calling for war in Iran, Ukraine, and elsewhere. Unlike Clinton, he will have few political allies calling for peace.

2. Rand Paul's position on the NSA is correct - and relatively trivial.

Goodman complains that none of the other candidates for President have made opposition to NSA spying "a top priority in their campaign." Thank god. The NSA surveillance programs may be in direct and obvious opposition to both the rule of law and liberal privacy ideals, but they are also among the least oppressive and least consequential injustices known to man. No liberal who cares about the problems of yawning inequality, increasingly violent racism, pervasive poverty, or any of the other hallmark concerns of the left can look at NSA surveillance and pretend that it hurts Americans more than those more urgent issues. Even if Clinton comes down on the wrong side of this issue, it is largely a first work boutique problem frantically hyped by Libertarians hoping to turn Americans against the government.

3. Rand Paul has teamed up...to reform the criminal justice system.

Again, it's profoundly misleading to take Paul's political maneuvers as an irrelevant Senator as precedent for his potential as president. There is no reason to believe that this kind of legislation would ever reach Paul's desk given the still-overwhelming bipartisan opposition in both chambers of Congress. To accept this as a consideration is to prioritize aspirational pipe dreams over the actual practical consequences of a Paul presidency.

4. Paul is worse than Clinton on Wall Street.

This is one of the most egregious problems with Goodman's argument, and frankly calls into serious question his credibility as any kind of liberal. Paul is a libertarian radical who believes that Wall Street can regulate itself and that problems of economic corruption / injustice are necessarily problems of government intervention. His critique of "the GOP's love affair with corporations" is transparent populist demagoguery built entirely on the right-wing premise that big corporations will spontaneously wither away in the hyper-competitive market of a laissez faire utopia.

Clinton, like Obama, is a liberal state capitalist who will maintain a corporate welfare state and turn a blind eye to financial corruption. But she will also do all of the minimal things that Democrats do to make late capitalism slightly less horrific than it could be - like promote imperfect legislation to patch systematic problems, not destroy the Federal Reserve, and so on.

5. Rand Paul thinks Edward Snowden

lol, see 3

6. Rand Paul publicized the issue of a possible government drone strike, on American soile, against American citizens.

This is if anything a great reason to vote against Rand Paul. As I wrote elsewhere, this is ridiculous for three reasons. First, there is no coherent reason why we should expect a separate legal or ideological disposition for one form of state violence as against all of the others we do accept - simply because it's delivered by a drone. Second, a related point: if we are concerned about state violence against Americans, there are much bigger and more urgent issues than drones, as anyone in Ferguson right now can attest. And third, even if we are specifically concerned about state violence via drone, drone strikes against Americans should still be at the bottom of our priority list, since the overwhelming majority of victims aren't Americans. And Paul, incidentally, is on record supporting drone strikes against them.

7. Rand Paul could bring back an era in American politics when conservatives and liberals socialized with one another.

This is crazy, utopian thinking, though it certainly reveals much of the motivation behind Goodman's endorsement. The partisan divide in America is not some superficial controversy imposed by evil or inept politicians; it is the expression of real and substantial disagreements and the collision of powerful socioeconomic interests that we're all invested in. Rand Paul is not going to magically cause racism to disappear or ameliorate class antagonisms - more than likely, in fact, he would make both worse.

8. Rand Paul will not gut the economic safety nets of this country

This is completely false; Goodman is either uninformed or deliberately misleading. For example, Goodman claims that Paul "doesn't want to dismantle Social Security," but Paul is on record calling it a Ponzi scheme, calling for its privatization and implementing other policies (like raising the retirement age) that fall under every definition of "dismantle Social Security" there is. His rhetoric mirrors the rhetoric of every Republican, and if anything he is more ambitious.

9. Neoconservatives hate Rand Paul.

This is only a half truth, since - as mentioned in point one - Paul will still be politically dependent on them. Neoconservatives are a large and influential faction of the Republican coalition, and unlike Clinton, Paul has to bargain with them. Personal rivalries with the Cheneys are mostly irrelevant.

10. Rand Paul could be the answer to our philosophical conundrum as a nation.

It's unclear what Goodman thinks this "conundrum" is, but he does take the opportunity to complain about "a Democratic Party more focused on defending Obamacare than stopping endless wars or protecting civil liberties". It's unclear why he thinks this some kind of self-evident problem. Government threats to our civil liberties are a much less pressing problem than the basic issue of affordable health care; we should be more concerned about preserving Obamacare. Regarding war, the left has clearly made a tactical calculation that its energies are best spent keeping right-wing radical hawks (McCain, Romney) out of office. This is not a great solution, but there's no reason to suppose that Rand Paul provides any kind of alternative.

11/3/14

Friedersdorf disappointed that Obama governs like an American president

For the paradigm example of Conor Friedersdorf's critique of the Obama Presidency, skip down to grievance number five:
Obama took...actions that set extremely dangerous precedents...he waged a war of choice in Libya without permission from Congress.
There is no universe in which this works as an Obama precedent. The military actions that presidents have authorized without Congressional approval have numbered, historically, in the triple digits. Which ones count as "wars" and "wars of choice" will depend on who you ask, but Friedersdorf has a hilariously steep hill to climb if he's going to exclude all of them, while singling out Libya as the camel's nose in the tent. There's an extensive history of critics alleging precisely this point of unconstitutionality against presidents, and if Friedersdorf is unacquainted with this it can only be because he's completely unacquainted with the anti-war left.

None of this absolves Obama, of course, from any kind of moral judgment. But as a simple matter of practical assessment, it does lay down a marker of what we can expect from a modern American president. To support Obama and approve of the job he is doing is not to endorse him as an ideal - it is to compare him to the alternatives on offer. Not in Imaginationland, but in the grim reality of 21st century American politics.

This perspective is worth consulting when critics like Friersdorf characterize Obama's defenders on the left as blinkered Pollyannas failing "to see it all with open eyes". It's precisely because we see history - all of it - that we judge Obama accordingly. When demagogues like Rand Paul float visions of world peace before us, and ask us to judge the sitting president by that standard, we think back just six years ago when another Senator said the same things. We remember.

10/23/14

The federal government would easily destroy Joni Ernst and her family


Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst has openly admitted that she carries a gun "to defend myself and my family...from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important."

Obviously Americans should probably think twice about electing a violent radical who openly admits her contempt for democratic governance, and plenty of people are going to point this out. So instead, it's worth reiterating a point that should be equally obvious but that'll almost certainly get lost in the furor:

There is no way Joni Ernst and her gun could do a thing to stop federal government.

This is a perfect example of the delusion, impotent posturing I've addressed at length. Suppose that government agents came to arrest Joni Ernst for whatever reason, and that Ernst, in defense of whatever "rights" she thinks are being violated, attempts to open fire on them. If this happened in the open, any officers on hand would return fire and immediately subdue her. If she managed to barricade herself in her home or whatever, officers would just call in reinforcements and either pin her in her home until she surrendered or take her out in a standard police raid. The chance that she would successfully evade capture - not just immediate capture, but eventual capture - are less than zero.

If gun nuts learn one lesson from the all-too-familiar scenario of a lone gunman trying to take down the state, they should learn that basic, modest forms of gun control are probably a good idea. But if they don't learn that, they should at least learn that armed attacks on the state basically never work.

9/30/14

Scholars have probably accounted for your obvious point

Earlier this week, a couple of guys criticized Matt Bruenig's standard poverty analysis on the grounds that he failed to account for the dynamic effects of transfer programs.

Their objection is demonstrably incorrect, as Bruenig has already pointed out. Having established that, a second thing worth pointing out about their objection: it's hilariously obvious. It's so obvious that David Henderson didn't even feel the need to articulate it directly, and instead spent his "Spot the Problem" blog post dropping smug hints. It's so obvious that Scott Sumner explicitly asks, "How could Bruenig overlook the obvious?"

Sumner seems to think he is being rhetorical here, but if he had taken his own question seriously he might have noticed a problem. Insofar as his point was obvious, Bruenig almost certainly did not overlook it. If Henderson can merely gesture towards it to a general audience and expect them to know what he's talking about, it's relatively unlikely that a prolific scholar on the topic would be in the dark. Snark about how progressive brains might be wired differently may make for self-indulgent ridicule, but it's hardly a credible defense for this theory that Bruenig missed his point.

I bring up the incident because it reminds me of a similar episode that took place last week:
"How can you have the wobbling of the earth cooling the earth, but it not be included in any projections [of climate change]?" - Rep. Steve Stockman [R-TX]
The answer, of course, is that wobbling has been accounted for in the projections. As they have with cyclical warming, volcanic eruptions, and all of the other obvious and easy to understand factors that climate science deniers like to pretend the scientists haven't noticed. Stockman is relying on the same ploy that Henderson and Sumner rely on: appealing to an objection in all of its obvious self-evidence, while simultaneously suggesting that his critics have somehow missed it.

All of this plays into the psychology of the counter-Enlightenment - which foments contempt for scholarship (to the point of ridiculing reading) while fetishizing the semi-erudition of unearned knowledge. The right cultivates intellectual arrogance, insisting that people who have dedicated much of their lives to particular fields of knowledge are just "ivory tower elites" who don't actually know any more than the rest of us.

9/26/14

Female hysteria is not an actual thing

It's been a long time since anyone considered "female hysteria" an actual medical condition, with actual physical causes and actual pathological symptoms. There's a gross history - equally hilarious and sinister - of pre-modern doctors inventing bizarre theories about women's sex organs doing crazy things to angry up the blood, and if you still buy into any of it you probably also spend a lot of time worrying about the humors, too. For the empiricists among us, the best reason to dismiss the idea of female hysteria is that it turns out to be factually, demonstrably dumb.

That's a great reason - but it's not the only one.

Noam Chomsky, writing about another nineteenth century pseudoscience - racist anthropology - noted that when it comes to this sort of thing,
a rational person will ask two sorts of questions: What is the scientific status of the claims? What social or ideological needs do they serve? The questions are logically independent, but the second type of question naturally comes to the fore as scientific pretensions are undermined.
The answer to the second question seems obvious as well. Operationally, the diagnosis of female hysteria functioned as a way of oppressing women. It provided a medical rationalization for withholding power and responsibility from them: they were morally and intellectually weak. It played into all kinds of horrific reactionary arguments. Women couldn't be trusted with the right to vote. Their sexual behavior needed to be governed by men, because they were depraved and completely malleable. They certainly couldn't be permitted to run their own lives.

What's important to note about female hysteria, today, is that the medical details are mostly irrelevant. Even if it had a modicum of scientific legitimacy, it's perfectly clear today that its diagnosis, treatment and politics were entirely animated by its role as a pretext for oppressing women.

The progressive response should have been - and remains - extreme skepticism of any rationale for depriving women of their moral and intellectual agency. Even when such arguments are mobilized in a woman's defense, the idea that she cannot control herself, or meet ordinary standards of decency and rationality, cannot be historically severed from the claim that she must therefore be controlled or segregated. We must certainly never assume that this is necessarily a noble or benevolent thing to say about women, because we know perfectly well how destructive it can be.

Case in point:
Months ago, Twitter personality Sarah Kenzior got some threats on Twitter. Her "non-perfect" response, documented at length, was to aggressively and demonstrably libel multiple people, and to maintain a smear campaign against them that persists to this day. As Matt Bruenig points out, her defenders have a curious explanation for this:
...many of her supporters...ultimately came around to the position that, although she’s clearly lying, the spewing of lies is driven by the trauma she is currently experiencing. The argument was that Jacobin running a post that links to her public tweet about bros sending rape threats was so traumatic an experience that she just could not control herself.
Bruenig adds that "given the fact that she has continued to [lie], now months later...it would seem the 'trauma-responding' theory...doesn't really hold up." This may read like snark, but it's really quite decisive if we take the history of female hysteria at all seriously. "Trauma," as a rationale for relieving Kenzior of moral agency, is not a diagnosis to be thrown around casually by internet psychologists. It should refer to an actual medical condition; and as Chomsky put it, "if the scientific status is slight, then it is particularly interesting to consider the climate of opinion within which the claim is taken seriously."

Here, the climate seems entirely obvious - and extremely sinister. People with no clinical expertise have developed an ad hoc rationalization for Sarah Kendzior's behavior, but are in no position to evaluate whether or not it is actually correct. There is little thought for the monstrous history of using this sort of rhetoric about women, or for its entirely predictable consequences.

9/25/14

Liberals are still buying into Tea Party propaganda

Most of the Tea Party's credibility, such as it is, depends on their posture as a faction of principle running against a decadent establishment.

This of course is complete nonsense. The Tea Party is most accurately described as a Republican brand marketed by some of the most powerful and entrenched interests in the US. The establishment is mostly whoever those interests happen to run against. GOP primaries are better understood as raw power struggles rather than ideological contests. The Kochs would prefer to run the show rather than the Chamber of Commerce. To an unappreciated extent, that's all there is to it.

So it's vexing when otherwise savvy liberals like Brian Beutler post stuff like this:
Most people think of the GOP primary campaign as a contest between conservative hardliners and establishmentarians. But it’s actually more like two different contests: One in which a group of undisciplined hardliners undercut each other’s bids to take on the favorite; and another in which elders rally around the most conservative of the party’s disciplined, accomplished veterans. These lines never cross. Conservatives are far too exacting to accept a conservative who curries favor from the donor class, and the donor class won’t favor a candidate who panders to the far right too much.
Structurally, he's mostly right - power struggles within the GOP are better understood as two parallel struggles within two factions. But that's as far as the analysis goes. The 2012 Republican primaries only lasted as long as they did precisely because the donor class frantically funded any and every Tea Party candidate that posed any kind of threat to Romney, no matter how transient. Romney, meanwhile, spent the entire primary campaign pandering to the right as a "severe conservative," and only tacked to the center once the nomination guaranteed him a monopoly on funding.

The "establishment" is really only the "establishment" insofar as they are typically incumbents with significant experience campaigning and governing. Sure, spending a lot of time in office is associated with all kinds of disagreeable tendencies, for instance the tendency to sell out the interests of your constituents to big business. But how does that distinguish the establishmentarian from the Tea Partier who deliberately sets out to do the exact same thing?

9/25/14

Jennifer Rubin does not understand how elections work

In the United States, candidates typically win the presidency by earning a plurality of votes in the electoral college. This, in turn, generally depends on winning the popular vote in strategically crucial states. And for decades, political scientists and laymen alike have understood that winning at the state level depends on the good graces and open wallets of our campaign financiers.

None of this is even remotely controversial, or even particularly difficult to understand. So it's baffling that the Washington Post employs a chronically wrong columnist who even manages to prove herself chronically wrong about obvious things like how elections are won. Jennifer Rubin thinks that Sen. Jim Webb can win the presidency because of multiple dumb reasons that have nothing to do with the basic factors that allow one to win the Presidency, like "funding" and "polling". It is a testament to the absolute intellectual poverty of our pundits that any analysis ignoring these basic considerations could ever see the light of day.

Even on their own terms Rubin's points are almost unanimously wrong. She thinks Webb can win because:

1. He has no ties to a floundering administration. Rubin directly contradicts this in point nine, but that's beside the point. Any Democratic candidate will be tied to his Obama in the 2016 campaign whether the ties exist or not. And that is not, as Rubin assumes because she is a partisan hack rather than an actual analyst, necessarily a bad thing.

2. He is candid about the faults of the president. Every candidate running for President has voiced and will voice criticism about the President. To the extent that this is a coherent litmus test, it's one that every candidate will pass.

3. Dems love a veteran who turns dove. Rubin then goes on to list two veterans-turned-dove, Kerry and Hagel, who 1) lost and 2) was always presumed unelectable at the presidential level. There is no reason to take this as a compelling reason for Webb to run, since it has not in recent history proven an asset at the national level.

4. He is not overexposed. It's unclear what Rubin means by "overexposed" or why she thinks this is an asset. Are there candidates in recent history who lost because they were overexposed? Rubin would likely say Clinton, but Clinton lost to Obama because she was tactically outmaneuvered by people who, among other things, understood how primaries work. It's easy enough to argue that Clinton's exposure is also an asset insofar as it contributes to her name recognition and make her a familiar choice to voters. There's no reason to assume that Webb's relative obscurity will help him overcome that.

5. He is from a swing state he won before. This is as close as Rubin gets to a relevant point, but she's still incorrect. It is indeed important for any Democratic candidate to win Virginia, but there's no reason to suspect that Clinton is likely to lose it. Virginia is only purple insofar as its district-level representation fails to reflect the popular vote. At the state level, Virginia passed that threshold in 2006 and is now decisively blue, thanks to the growing Democratic stronghold of Northern Virginia. There is no reason to suspect that a home-state advantage for Webb is likely to spell the difference between victory and defeat.

6. ...he can play the "maverick" and "outsider" role. Electoral history, in the US, is for the most part a long and glorious history of outsiders and mavericks challenging the establishment - and losing. Rubin and the Tea Party's anti-establishment fetish may have blinded them to the historical realities of that role, but there is no reason to simply assume that this is an asset.

7. He is smart and knowledgeable enough to challenge Hillary and has nothing to lose politically (he would never be her VP) by going full-throttle. This describes almost every candidate currently mulling a run against Clinton, from Biden to Warren to Sanders. If at this point you are so opposed to a Clinton presidency that you would be willing to run against her, and ambitious / credible enough to stand a chance in hell of winning, you are probably not likely to serve as her VP. More to the point, there is basically no reason to assume that being knowledgeable enough to challenge Clinton and ambitious enough to do so would actually make it more likely for anyone to win, since she will just outspend you and outpoll you in the end.

8. He opposed the Iraq war in 2002, a litmus test for the left. This is not a litmus test for the left. Democrats continue to vote for and support politicians who supported the Iraq war. For example John Kerry, who Rubin just finished praising as a credible candidate. Moreover, if Dems "love a veteran who turns dove," why would they hate an Iraq war supporter who regrets that vote? Finally, it's unclear if this is even as significant an issue as it was in 2008, when it arguably was (but probably wasn't) a decisive liability for Clinton.

9. Webb was there for liberals 87 percent of the time and always when it really mattered. Rubin then goes on to list several initiatives that Webb supported. Did Clinton oppose any of these? Are there any likely Democratic candidates who opposed any of them?

10. He is not a clueless millionaire. Why exactly does Rubin think this is an asset rather than a liability? Being a clueless millionaire typically means that you will have the kind of access and resources that are absolutely necessary for a credible national campaign. Most of our sitting politicians are clueless millionaires. It may make for an inspiring story when a 99%-er wins public office, but this is hardly a campaign model for success.

11. He is a prolific fiction author. ...

12. His vote on [issues] check the boxes on liberals' social issues. This is just a rephrase of 9, and dumb for the exact same reasons.