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Thursday, November 1, 2018


I am now essentially dysfunctional.  I stew, I fret, I sign up for poll work, I play endless games of Spider Solitaire [two suits] and FreeCell, and I wait.  Many times each day I check Nate Silver's statistical forecast.  Nate says there is a 6 in 7 chance that the Democrats take the House and a 1 in 7 chance that they take the Senate.  But then, he said Clinton had a 95% chance of winning the Presidency.  So I wait.

My brightest moment in the recent past occurred on Tuesday, when I successfully purchased and used a MetroCard at LaGuardia, enabling me to take the M60 bus from Terminal C to 116th and Bway direct, and then take the same bus from 116th and BWay back, all for a total of $2.75 each way, instead of the $45 taxi fare each way that I have been forking over.  The bus takes maybe eight to fifteen minutes longer, but is actually rather more pleasant.  A triumph!

It was Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense, who said memorably, as he launched the Second Gulf War, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you want.”  I take roughly the same view of electoral politics.  Is this the Democratic Party I want?  No.  Do I even want the Democratic Party?  No.  But this is the army I have, and victory is better than defeat.

There was one brief moment in my life when, seduced by despair, I contemplated voting Republican.  It was in 1968, and I thought that things could only get better if they first got worse.  In the voting booth on Amsterdam Avenue, north of Columbia University, I reached my hand out to pull the lever for Nixon rather than Humphrey.   But deep in my reptile brain was a protective circuit that closed, making my arm go rigid, and after I recovered, I found that I had voted the straight Democratic ticket.

And so I wait.


Anonymous said...

One bit of hope: The Fivethirtyeight forecast in 2016 showed Clinton with a 3 in 4 chance of winning. According to them, O'Rourke has a better chance in Texas than the Republicans have of holding the House, 1 in 5 rather than 1 in 7. It's no time to be sanguine, but the outlook is still hopeful--more so than two years ago.

s. wallerstein said...

I'm not saying that one should not vote for the Democrats in next week's election, but the argument that in general one should vote for or support the party that "one has", that is,
the lesser evil within the status quo is basically quite conservative, to say the least.

If that argument were to always prevail, no major radical social changes would ever occur. If those who fought for the Independence of the United States in the 18th century had reasoned the same way, we would still be a British colony.

At some moment if one wants major radical social changes, one has to chance it and break with the status quo. There is always a risk involved in revolutionary politics, and finally, if one wants a revolution, one has to run that risk. I'm not saying that today is the moment.

MS said...

I have heard that theory that we need to make things worse in order to make them better. But then, there is the law of unintended consequences, aka,. Murphy’s law. In the course of human events, few revolutions have turned out as the participants intended. The assassination of Julius Caesar led to the establishment of the 400 yr. Roman empire; the French revolution led to the installation of Napoleon as an emperor and the Napoleonic wars; and the Russian revolution did not work out so well for the Russians. Given human nature, and the principle of regression towards the mean, often the status quo can be an improvement over the revolutionary alternative.

And s. wallerstein, since when was Chile a British colony? I thought you believed the American revolution was not a success, since it institutionalized slavery and led to the establishment of United States colonialism and efforts at world hegemony.

I have never voted Republican. There is only one Republican that I would have considered voting for – Colin Powell. But then his UN speech tainted him.

Prof. Wolff, I am not familiar with either of the games you mention. But, if I recall, your favorite game is Go. Did you know that you can play Go online? See

MS said...

I have just listened to Nate Silver’s podcast from Friday. He discusses why he discredits early voting polls as having predictive value, the likelihood that Nancy Pelosi will be elected Speaker if the Democrats win the House, and various aspects of his own model. Asked if there is one House seat that he believes will be the bellwether for the rest of the country, he selected his own home district (and mine) the Michigan 8th Congressional District – currently held by a Republican. If the Democratic candidate wins that seat, that bodes well for the Democrats generally, if not, it is likely that the Republicans will retain the House. For statistics lovers, he also mentions the student t test.

You can hear the podcast here:

Carl said...

Very pleased to hear you're taking the M60 now. What took you so long??

s. wallerstein said...


Murphy's law applies to the status quo as well as to revolutions. It doesn't seem more applicable to radical social change than to business as usual.

I've never criticized the independence of the U.S. Please don't put words in my mouth or make a strawman out of me. By the way, since you are aware of my biography, why do you question my use of "we" to refer to the United States?

The assassination of Julius Caesar can hardly be described as a "revolution".

As for Napoleon, he certainly had his positive side. As a result of his conquests, the Jews were emancipated throughout Western Europe and feudal serfdom came to an end.

I don't believe that Stalin was the inevitable outcome of the Russian Revolution. Had Lenin lived longer or had Trotsky or better still Bukharin (more of a realist) taken over after Lenin instead of Stalin, the Soviet Union might have evolved into a more livable society, certainly more livable than under the Czar.

In any case, a socialist or a radical revolution is not a panacea. The real work of building a decent society begins after the revolution and it's not easy.

Anonymous said...

"Lesser evil" is a nonsense argument if the other side is countering with "he's our bum, our evil, our satan. So what?"