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Saturday, January 14, 2017


Adapt or die

by Tom Sullivan

After the kakistocracy follies of the last few weeks and after watching both Democrats and the national press struggle to adapt to the new order, "adapt or die" came to mind from Moneyball:

Baseball isn't just numbers.
It's not science.
If it was, anybody could do
what we're doing, but they can't
Because they don't know what we know.
They don't have our experience
And they don't have our intuition.


Billy, you got a kid in there that's got
a degree in economics from Yale.
You got a scout here with with 29 years
of baseball experience.
You're listening to the wrong one.
Now, there are intangibles that
only baseball people understand.
You're discounting what scouts
have done for 150 years?
Even yourself?

Adapt or die.
Replace "baseball" with "politics" and I imagine you could hear the same conversation several times a day inside the Beltway between sage, old political hands and the new kids on the block. It's wisdom handed down from party elders with decades on their resumes of doing what they've always done, the way they've always done it, because that's the way it's always been done and because that's what donors are comfortable funding. Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) tells Oakland manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), "Baseball thinking is medieval. They are asking all the wrong questions." Not only baseball.

Adapt or die. Welcome to a brave, new world.

What Democrats have (Republicans too) are consultants and aging political players who know the game inside out. Just like that scout. But they only know how to play the game one way: the way they've always played it. The way that's always worked for them. Problem is, Donald Trump and his alt-right posse just tore up the rule book and burned the pieces. Other books come later.

Yes, norms matter. To the civilized. To barbarians, not so much. So now what?

I've got a growing collection of Democratic postmortems with all kinds of advice you can expect the party cognoscenti to ignore because it takes them out of their comfort zone. A lot of criticism focuses on Hillary Clinton's team being arrogant, or on the DNC for supposedly having its thumb on the scale — but no more than the Russians. Some Berners speak as though Debbie Wasserman Schultz personally twisted 17 million arms into voting for Hillary Clinton in the primaries. (Bernie Sanders received 13 million votes.) Clinton partisans point to the 2.8 million more votes Clinton received than Donald Trump as though his win was just a fluke. Indeed, it may have been a fluke. But it wasn't only a fluke.

Even if Clinton had pulled in another 100,000 votes in the right states to win in the Electoral College, the down-ballot losses and loss of governorships and legislatures Democrats have accrued over years would not have changed. That's not a presidential candidate problem, but a more systemic one.

Adapt or die.

Here in North Carolina, Democratic legislators are so outgunned by a Republican supermajority, they attend each session as walking punching bags to be shut out and laughed at by GOP legislators. On Capitol Hill, Democrats face similar margins and have to hope for fractures on the Republican side to prevent Republicans from rolling back the 20th century and chopping up the social safety net.

The Washington Post observed:
The traditional Washington ways of messaging have not changed either. Members of Congress speak from the floor to largely empty press galleries. They gather in TV studios, where few networks cut in to cover them. They respond to tweets with wordy press releases, columns, or open letters, each one staff-edited down to the last period after the last talking point.

And they hold press stunts that worked before Trump came to town. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Monday, for instance, that Democrats would “hold the floor late into the night” to protest the Obamacare repeal push with cameras rolling. Less clear was whether anyone would be watching.
Adapt or die.
“if you challenge the conventional wisdom, you will find ways to do things much better than they are currently done.” ― Michael Lewis, Moneyball
Billy Beane has to build a winning team for his bottom-of-the-barrel club using the limited budget he's given. He has to get creative. He does. Democrats are facing an epic shitstorm dismasted and without a rudder. To get through it and come out on the other side, they had better find some fresh thinking.

If you're not Goliath, fine. Be David.