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Lewyn Addresses America

A little politics, a little urbanism- I also blog 100 percent on urbanism at and

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The debate is here.   My notes:

Opening statments- Dietl is shouty man.  Malliotakis focuses adequately on DiBlasio’s weaknesses (subways, homeless) and DiBlasio on the city’s strengths (crime).

On homelessness- non incumbents complain about status quo.  (I like Dietl’s line praising pre-K spending under DiBlasio).  Malliotakis goes with laundry list strategy, sounding “inside the Beltway.” DiBlasio brags about 900 homeless off the street, which doesn’t seem like a lot.   He also emphasizes legal services to fight evictions- but if you make it harder to evict, doesn’t that impose costs on landlords that might be reflected in higher rents?

After an exchange on inequality, DiBlasio lists key achievements: pre-K, low crime, declining poverty.  Hits Malliotakis on minimum wage.  Malliotakis shifts debate to schools, campaign contributions from developer.   Seems like both candidates evading each other’s attacks.

DiBlasio gets question about 20 percent increase in city spending.  Responds by saying city reserves high, lists good things he’s done with money.   When asked about history of nonpayment of taxes, Dietl sounds slightly unhinged.

When asked about how to cut spending, Malliotakis talks about how she has brought spending home to her district in Albany (not exactly an answer).   Ultimately she does answer by answering a question with a question.  Not her strongest answer.

On transit, Dietl incoherent.  Malliotakis calls for more MTA spending, points out that the city appoints people to the MTA board.  DiBlasio blames the state.

On crime, basic exchange is as follows: DiBlasio says “crime down”, everyone else says “is not.”   Facts are here.

Malliotakis comes out against closing Rikers – why not fix what we have rather than building a bunch of new jails? Also, a jail on an island inherently a good idea- people can’t escape as easily.   DiBlasio pivots to “we’re doing more on rehabilitation”.

DiBlasio asks others: did you really think Trump would be better? I’m not sure Malliotakis says she’s answered the question in other places.

When asked about segregated schools, DiBlasio a bit vague.  Other candidates don’t really address this issue, and focus on education generally.

Moderator asks “who will control developers from gentrifying the city?”  (Stupid question- assumes new housing is bad unless its government-subsidized).  Dietl calls for extorting money out of developers.  Malliotakis focuses on giving stuff to nonprofits.   Complains about campaign contributions to developers.  Both too far left for me on this issue.   This is an area where we really could have used a Libertarian in the race.

Debate finishes with some accusations about immigration, not much of which I understood.

Winner:  Not Dietl.







I am happy to announce that I now have tenure at Touro Law Center.

It seems to me that liberals and conservatives often make very similar arguments.  For example, I occasionally hear or read the following argument from the Right:

“Black people should stop worrying about trigger-happy police because more blacks are killed by criminals.”

And from the Left:

“Americans should stop worrying about Islamist terrorism because more Americans are killed by cause X.” (Cause X can be a lot of things, ranging from car crashes to falls in bed; I don’t think there is one cause liberals are fixated on).


This year, several of President Trump’s appointees have been approved on party-line votes.  In particular, there was a significant mass mobilization of Democrats against the Sessions and DeVos nominations, if my Facebook news feed is any guide.

Why do Democrats bother?  They weren’t going to get enough Republican votes to defeat the nominations, and even if they had defeated the nominations, there is no reason to believe that President Trump’s next choice would be more ideologically congenial.  I’m not sure that (from a liberal perspective) Sessions is any worse than whoever a President Cruz would have appointed.*  And since DeVos endorsed Jeb Bush, I think she’s probably more moderate than whoever President Cruz would have appointed.  So if the goal of this mobilization was to move justice or education policy to the Left, the effort spent on these nominations was a complete waste of time, and would probably have been a waste of time even if these nominations had been defeated.

So here’s an alternative explanation: the goal of political parties isn’t to be ideologically coherent, but to win elections.  How do you win elections?  Not just by persuading centrists, but also by motivating your base to organize, give money, vote etc.  And what does that?  A good fight with the other side, whether a winning fight or a losing one.  So Democrats were spoiling for a fight with Trump- if it hadn’t been Sessions and DeVos, it would have been something else.

To draw an analogy: the Obama stimulus plan probably wasn’t that different from what President McCain would have proposed.  But Republicans successfully mobilized their base to fight it.  Why?  Because Republicans needed a fight.



*Though from a libertarian perspective he is much more problematic.

I know its a little early, but I feel inspired.

For the Democrats’ leading Wall-Street basher (to the tune of the Underdog theme)

When bankers in Wall Street appear

and break the laws that they should fear

And steal from all both far and near

The cry goes out from East to West for

Elizabeth Warren (Chorus: Senator Warren)

Elizabeth Warren (Chorus: Senator Warren)

Voice of lightning

Roar of thunder

Fighting all who rob or plunder

Elizabeth Warren (Chorus: Senator Warren)

Elizabeth Warren (Chorus: Senator Warren)

For a Republican Senator who seems to have lost his voice in recent months

Wake up, Little Marco, wake up!

Wake up, Little Marco, wake up!

Conservatives lulled asleep, wake up little Marco and weep,

Trump’s wiping out NATO and we’re in trouble deep,

Wake up, Little Marco..

Well, what can we do for Poland,

What can we do for the Czechs?

Are we going to protect them from Trump’s friend Putin

or just throw them under the bus?

Wake up, Little Marco, wake up!

President Trump hasn’t been so hot

Sucked in by the Kremlin’s plots

America’s not leading the free world

our reputation is shot

Go to Iowa, Little Marco

Go to New Hampshire and run again

Wake up, Little Marco! Wake up!




After the election, my Democratic friends suggested that the Electoral College should have exercised its independent judgment to protect the nation from President Trump, while Republicans argued that the Electoral College was meant to protect us from domination by California (which, because they voted heavily for Hillary Clinton, is now apparently not part of the USA).

It seems to me that my Democratic friends are right in suggesting that the Electoral College was originally designed to exercise independent judgment.  (Hamilton said so in Federalist 68). I thought to myself: who would such an Electoral College have picked in recent elections?

Answer: Nobody who actually got elected.  Hamilton wrote that under the Constitution, “there will be a constant probability of seeing the station [of the Presidency] filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue.”  Presumably he meant people who were experienced (“pre-eminent”) and scandal-free.  Trump doesn’t pass this test (inexperienced, not very virtuous), nor do Obama and Bush (OK on the virtue front, but probably a bit less eminent and experienced than Hamilton envisoned), and Clinton (a bit weak on the whole virtue thing).  So who would a less populist Electoral College have picked?

To narrow down the field, I am going to assume that my imaginary Electoral College was limited to  people who actually ran for President in a given year (so no Paul Ryan or Elizabeth Warren).  And I’ll avoid having to make stark ideological choices by limiting this thought experiment to candidates in the winning party (which also eliminates 1996, 2004 and 2012 from my sample, since incumbent Presidents were unopposed within their party in these years).

2016- Lots of Republicans to choose from – even if I limit myself to people whose campaigns lasted to the NH primary, we have Bush, Trump of course, Cruz, Rubio, Jindal, Christie, Huckabee, Santorum,  Kasich, Carson, Fiorina, and Paul.  I can’t imagine my hypothetical assembly favoring people with as little experience as Carson or Fiorina.  Paul, Rubio and Cruz had only been in the Senate for a single term, so I think their relative lack of experience would weaken them (unless of course you assume that our Electoral College had a distinctive affinity for the distinctive views of any of these gentlemen).  Jindal is pretty unpopular in Louisiana so I think he wouldn’t make the cut, and Kasich’s infamous temper might have been a problem.  Bridgegate would sink Christie. Huckabee and Santorum are scandal-free and have enough experience to be plausible choices- but I think an assembly of the Great and the Good would prefer someone who served as the governor of one of our largest, most diverse states (Florida) and was, I think, reasonably virtuous.  I refer, of course, to John Ellis Bush.

2008- Clinton, Obama, Richardson, Kucinich, Biden, Dodd.  Someone as ideologically extreme and flaky as Kucinich seems like a hard sell to me, and Obama was too green.  Richardson was slightly tainted by the Wen Ho Lee affair, Dodd by the Countrywide scandal, and Biden by the plagiarism mini-scandal that ended his 1988 campaign.  Hillary Clinton’s major scandals were far in the future, so my guess is that (assuming an Electoral College that had evolved to accept women) an Electoral College would have preferred Sen. Clinton to the other Democrats.

2000- Six Republicans made it to New Hampshire: Bush, McCain, Forbes, Keyes, Bauer and Hatch. I can’t imagine an Electoral College selecting the three nonpoliticians (Forbes, Keyes, Bauer) and Bush was somewhat experienced but still not as grownup as the rest.  That leaves McCain and Hatch. I don’t think anyone can match Orrin Hatch for virtue, but on the other hand John McCain is one of the lions of the Senate as well, and his scandals (the collapse of his first marriage and the Keating Five affair) were very much in the past by them.  My verdict: either McCain or Hatch; if you assume a tie goes to someone actually capable of getting people to vote for him, I’ll go with McCain (who was essentially the second-place finisher within the Republican party, while Hatch’s campaign went nowhere).

1992- Clinton, Brown, Kerrey, Tsongas, Harkin.  Not Clinton (sex scandals), not Brown (general weirdness) or Harkin (too populist).   Kerrey had only been in the Senate for a few years.  Paul Tsongas was a relative moderate with an inspirational life story of retiring from the Senate due to cancer and then going into remission.  I think my hypothetical Electoral College would have been happy to elect Paul Tsongas.

So in Bizarro World, we have Presidents Tsongas, McCain, Clinton and Bush.  Would they have served more effectively than the  people who actually won?  I think Tsongas would have been pretty good but would have died of cancer at the end of his first term.  (He in fact died Jan. 18, 1997; if anything the pressures of office would have shortened his life). It is hard to imagine McCain pr Orrin Hatch being worse than Bush.  As far as Clinton and Bush, I think it is a bit too soon to tell.