Relationship Status: It’s Complicated


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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70 Responses

  1. Avatar Kim says:

    60% was what the actual voting got in the UK, sans rigging. It’s why no second vote under any circumstances.Report

    • Avatar Patrick says:

      First comment already alleges vote fraud, thread is promising!Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Vote fraud is only a subset of rigging, mind.
        They really smoked the mirrors on this one, and the fearmongering was really out of control.Report

        • Avatar J_A says:

          I know better than to reply to this, but if you really believe Remain was the one smoking the mirrors, I have a red bus with a big sign about sending 350 million pounds weekly to the NHS to sell you.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            Erm, what do you think I mean when I say smoking the mirrors? (sorry, belatedly realized that spycraft terminology isn’t common knowledge).
            Do you really want me to post names?


            Elba, Hawking, Richard Branson, John Major — the list goes on.Report

            • Avatar J_A says:

              I might have misinterpreted your smoking the mirrors comment. If so, apologies. I took is as someone clouding the issues and playing a con.

              There is a side in the campaign that focused on fear and the likely consequences of Brexit. It was, possibly, a bit of a downer, but no one has identified actual falsehoods in their arguments.

              There is a side in the campaign that promised things that they knew were impossible to deliver, like 350 millions per week to strengthen the NHS, continuing the subsidies to Cornwall and Wales, free movement of Britons in Europe and sending the Polish plumbers home.

              There must be a technical term to describe what people do when they promise things they know they can’t and won’t deliver. And I’m sure that that technical term is not “Truth”.

              The opinion of entertainers about a highly complex political and economical issue is of no interest to me. There is nothing I can learn from Idris Elba about the macroeconomic impact of immigration, so I didn’t read your link. I’d rather read Krugman’s opinion, if you have it handy.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        When I say 5%, that’s what the swing of what “the powers that be” ‘s thumb on the scale was. (and I’m getting this from someone who runs several Public Relations companies (I have posted about them before) and also at least one polling firm (which I have also posted about before)).Report

  2. Avatar North says:

    Yes, good point and well laid out. What it boils down to is that the Brexit vote was a piece of political theater ill thought out and presented by the center right party as an attempt to wrangle for a bigger share of the more right wing separatist vote. It doesn’t have legal binding power beyond the fact that the politician said they’d respect what it decided. If the politicians refuse to act based on how the vote turned out there’s no court that’s going to force them to and no law requiring it. They’ll simply have to face the electorate when the next election happens and wear the fact that they broke their promise.

    Now if the electorate truly does want out, well the UKIP exists and if they were given the mandate to form a government in an election then there’d be no further impediments to their executing that kind of policy. But this squeaker of a referenda doesn’t have any binding force (but it’s one hell of an albatross for the Tories to have to wear if they elect not to bow to its message).Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      I’m not sure I know how much clarity I expect the upcoming election to provide. Potential matchups seem to be:

      1) Johnson vs Corbyn, the Leave guy who secretly wants to Remain vs the Remain guy who secretly wants to leave.
      2) May vs Corbyn, the Genuine Remainer vs the Secret Leaver
      3) Johnson vs Hinn/Miliband/whatever, the Secret Remainer vs the Genuine Remainer
      4) May vs H/M/W, Genuine Remainers both.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        If the Tories don’t vote to exit now and trigger an election then they become, in the eyes of leave voters, a remain Party. That’s the long and the short of it. So if the voters truly want to leave then they’d need to vote UKIP.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          That provides no mandate for Remain at all, though. Now, since Remain is the status quo no mandate is required for it. But that’s almost exactly why I disagree with Cox et-al about referenda, which are the only outlet between colluding major parties. And it’s the sort of thing that’s breaking politics all over Europe.

          Justifiable in this particular case, perhaps, but not an ideal state of affairs (and is, to an extent, playing with fire every bit as much as Cameron did). I’m hoping that London recognizes that.

          Which is to say, even if everything goes as you say, they at best managed to fight to a draw even though they controlled the hill.Report

          • Avatar North says:

            Well it depends, maybe Labor will get their heads out of their asses, put their act together and run an affirmative “remain” themed campaign. If so a Labor victory would be an unambiguous remain mandate and would be pretty plausible since I would expect the Tories to be hemorrhaging support for this entire brexit vote clusterfish.Report

            • Avatar Will Truman says:

              Even if we ignore the fact that the voters in each major party are split… Is 39% of the vote a mandate? Compared to 52%?Report

              • Avatar North says:

                An election is a mandate in a Parliament; a referendum is a stunt. That’s the reality. We’re not talking California or Arizona here, we’re talking about the UK.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                They will have the ability to govern, including to scotch the referendum if they see fit. They will be able to say that, as the victors, it it their prerogative. They will not be able to say that their victory means the public demands it or wants it.

                We know how the public feels about it. It’s roughly 50/50. It’s intellectual sophistry to pretend otherwise.

                The political class needs to do what it needs to do, but I damn well hope they understand the distinctions involved.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Yes, but this is positing a 30/30/30 split between a Labor party that openly advocated remain, a UKIP that openly advocated leave and a Tory Party that mumbled but was assumed both to be dishonest and a remain supporter. That’s an unlikely outcome to put it mildly. I’d say it’s more likely we’d see a significantly resurgent Labor party, a badly weakened Tory Party and the UKIP making only modest gains. In that scenario you’d have a pretty strong mandate for remain, especially as remain is as you noted the status quos position.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                That’s less than a mandate than 52%, and 52% is not itself much of a mandate.

                The results you describe equal no mandate. They equal division and uncertainty. In that division and uncertainty, the political class can do what it wants. But it should be clear that’s what’s happening.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Well it depends on the margins. But the winner of elections that actually have the legal force to form a government have a lot more mandate in my mind than the narrow winner of an ad hoc referendum that has no legal force to it at all beyond the (not very) good word of a now resigned Prime Minister.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Labour will almost certainly get less than 50% of the vote. In the democratically inefficient British system of elections, that’s about as good as it gets for the ability to make a decision on Brexit. They will get to say “Hey, when we won, this was the sort of thing they were letting us decide and we’ve decided to nix it.”

                They will not get to meaningfully say “The people have decided they want to nix this by voting for us.”

                Because, well, a majority didn’t vote for them.

                Some who did vote for them want to Brexit but voted for them for entirely other reasons.

                Some people who voted against them are glad they’re nixing the Brexit.

                There is no way to discern from these results that the public wanted them to nix the Brexit. The only way we would know that is by asking the public. Which they just did.

                That is an incredibly weak claim for any sort of mandate on this particular decision. There is little or no reason to argue “This is what the public wants.”

                Now, as mentioned, the case for Brexit is kind of weak, too. But it’s not quite as weak. First, the people were asked point-blank what they wanted and they (however narrowly) answered. Second, the ad hoc referendum itself was the decision of a government that was elected through the very traditional manner which would give Labour its mandate.

                I don’t think either of these are a mandate, but if I had to pick one, I would pick the latter. If we were looking at a situation in which there was no status quo, I would say that they should go the route of the latter. The main thing that leaves me to say they should not file the paperwork is Status Quo Bias. Which is… a bias. A justified bias, in my view, but a bias all the same.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Well heck, the very term “mandate” is a squishy one. If Labor campaigns on a “Stay” platform and wins the majority of the seats that’s a mandate. If Labor campaigns on a “Stay” platform and wins a plurality and then partners with another party that also ran on the “Stay” platform and forms a government that’s a mandate too. That’s how it works in Parliamentary democracies. Now if Labor paired with a party who campaigned on a “Leave” or a “Mumble” platform I’d agree that’d not be a mandate and would be a damn odd outcome.

                I’m pretty skeptical about ascribing much mandate mojo to this referendum stunt which is both legally non-binding and far from common in this setting. If Cameron had been a gung ho separatist I’d say he could claim a thin mandate and proceed with article 50 procedures immediately based on this but he, of course, campaigned to stay. His political career is over and properly so. Such are the sacrifices parliamentary governments demand of their players.Report

              • Avatar J_A says:

                But it would be no different that the mandate David Cameron got in 2015. He got 36.9% of the vote (up from 36.1% in 2010) and 330 seats (up 24) Labour got 30.4% (up 1.4%) and 232 seats (down 26).

                Under FPTP and Parliament Sovereignty Cameron could do anything he wanted with barely a third of the vote. And he called it a clear and unambiguous mandate.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Sure. H/M/W will get to govern just as Cameron did. That means they get to pass the laws. That doesn’t mean their ascent means what they say it means with regard to popular opinion. Especially with regard to a specific issue on which there was a specific vote.

                I’m not saying it would be illegitimate of HMW to undo the referendum. Merely that it doesn’t actually change that half of the country, roughly, wants to leave the EU. It just means they’ve been thwarted.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Not half of the country, half of the active voters. A quibble, I agree, but if an explicitly pro-remain party wins an election then it rather strongly suggests that a lot of complacent or otherwise tuned out voters suddenly got really engaged really fast.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Active voters in anvote with higher turnout than the last General Election.

                There’s no reason to look for justifications to thwart the vote. It can be thwarted. But they ignorewhat the vote means at their peril. Opposition to EU membership is not the fringe position of a group of backwards racist malcontents. It’s evidently the majority position, or something close to it. “We’re going to disregard them until they vote for UKIP” is the strongest UKIP argument a lot of people are ever going to hear.

                This doesn’t mean that the only response it to give them what they want, but there needs to be a better plan. If they can’t move the EU (and they probably can’t since the EU has bent as much as it is likely to) then they need to worry more about changing popular opinion than how they can most easily declare democratic victory.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                So if the forthcoming election has the same or even higher turnout and the pro-remain parties win would that not be an equal or stronger mandate to remain? We could add their numerical votes together in theory though it’s not very common for the winning side to lose the popular vote.

                But yes, obviously the pro-remainers ultimately have a lot of sorting out to do. Considering the number of people who voted leave then started going “So what does this actually mean” it looks like a lot of things were being voted against and addressing those things is what the UK’s (pro-remain) politicians* need to get their asses in gear to look at.

                *The pro-leave politicians just need to rally their forces to force the departure.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Voter discipline on this is not very tight. Which is to say when close to 40% of Labour vote Leave and short of 60% of Tories vote that way, I don’t think you can glean too much from the results.

                Now, if both Labour and the SNP (and LDP and Green, etc) campaign hard on being resolute about Remaining, then maybe you got something if their total adds up.

                But look, that doesn’t even have to happen for them to be justified in doing what they want to do. They would be able to just do it.

                My point here isn’t that they can’t or they shouldn’t. My point is that doing it only gets rid of the immediate problem. It doesn’t mean they really “won” the Brexit debate. They need to actively work and continue working to win people over so that the 52% isn’t 52% percent anymore. Preferably that it’s somewhere below 45% or more. Recognize that you’re not actually dealing from a position of strength here, and act accordingly.

                So that the next time, if there is one, the vote doesn’t go this way. And running on the issue isn’t as profitable for the opposition.Report

              • Avatar J_A says:

                I agree with you, but I think that the only way to win the debate, is to “win the debate”. To clarify what leaving means, and the relative cost of the things the Leavers want: no Polish plumbers.? That means no Norway deal. No S.E. Asians? That’s not even a EU thing. No EU EHS regulations? Probably doable, but requiring Parliament to pass a minimum floor of EHS regulations, and so on and so on.

                The Leave promised rainbow excreting unicorns, to the Leavers delight (and regret, now that they are finding they were conned)

                But the Remain refused to address the Leavers real issues (probably because they refused to even acknowledge the existence of anti-Polish-plumbers Britons, for reasons of European politics and national pride) and instead focused on GDP and economic threats, which sounded as if Remain’s only concern was for their precious bankers.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                There’s no shortage of examples of governments in Europe ignoring the signals of the people they rule over.

                But there are a handful of important fictions involved with referendae and there are costs involved with ignoring these fictions.

                There are a lot of realities, after all.

                The best option that England probably has is a second referendum that works this time and then pointing to it and saying “that’s it, we got the outcome we wanted and now it’s legit, we never need vote on this again.”Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Mm I think a formal election, ya know how their government actually is legally identified*, would be a better plan of action than doubling down on Camerons ‘excellent’ bit of showboating idiocy.

                *HRM graciously invites the winner of an election to form a government so that’s how they’re appointed; by the Crown.Report

      • Avatar J_A says:

        May is far from being a Genuine Remain. She has been vying from Cameron’s succession for ages, and thought that required for her to be “formally” in the same side of her boss. But she barely campaigned for Remain and is now campaigning in the leadership cotest with the commitment to implement Brexit.

        I don’t know of any Tory candidate that is running as a Genuine Remain, or would, if elected, try to step back from Brexit…..

        …. Except perhaps Boris. Who seems really frightened about what Brexit means, and has enough credibility in the Leave side to say “maybe this is not what we should do”

        It’s a long shot, but ruthless Theresa May won’t ever try to stop Brexit. She will see it implemented in full no different than the way Farage would do it.Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    This is so real. And an argument this is so completely evaded by leadership at Facebook and Twitter.— ?? (@CodyBrown) June 24, 2016

    This is what scares me.

    Do we even know anyone who is pro-Brexit, as opposed to anti-anti-Brexit? This is a referendum that got the required votes cast for it but did we see any full-throated “we have to vote to leave” essays prior to the vote?

    The doctors, as you call them, were all against the Brexit, as far as I can tell. The people who write the editorials, the talking heads on the television, pretty much everyone.

    Here was /pol/’s take:

    There seems to be a situation where the patient has said “I do not trust my doctor”. We’re past “I don’t wanna exercise and diet”. We’re in “my doctor is trying to kill me”.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      60% of my Twitter feed is pro-Brixit, and about 75% of the conservative half and 80% of the Europeans. Roughly.

      Statistically, I’m kind of skewed to that side! Though my Brexiters are disproportionately of the Hannan variety rather than the Farage.

      I do kind of worry about Londoners, though. And journalists.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Were they pro before?

        Am I in such a bubble that I don’t know anybody who was pro-Brexit? (As opposed to merely anti-anti?)Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          Some definitely were. Others I assume not. Most of the late-opinionators I ran across were anti-Brexit. (Though there, too, I believe they felt that way before but just hadn’t felt the need to comment on it because they like everyone else just assumed it would fail).

          You know Jason Kuznicki (who has said he’d have voted Leave). I assume you at least know of Charles CW Cooke. JayFromBrooklyn. You may or may not know Varad Mehta. Collin Garbarino says that everyone in his feed supports Brexit (I had to inform him not everyone and he said he wouldn’t block me unless I got too loud about it). You’d probably like OldWhig and maybe Andrew Stuttaford (though he has Some Views on immigration).Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Okay, I guess I feel a little bit better.

            It feels like this outcome came out of freaking nowhere, though. I was expecting something like 47/53 and I said “that can’t be right” when I first heard about it.Report

            • Avatar Will Truman says:

              That’s not a very huge swing. Basically, 1 in every 35 voters turned out to be someone you thought would vote Remain that voted Leave instead. I thought Remain would win, but I wasn’t terribly surprised that they didn’t.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                (I was also surprised by the turnout.)

                Okay, maybe you’re right. I went in with bad assumptions and was surprised by the outputs when they didn’t jibe with with garbage in.

                But the garbage in was well-sourced garbage. The sourcers got this one really, really wrong.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            I’m surprised. I would have thought Jason would have been more neoliberal in his leanings.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      We’re in apathy town.
      That’s what happens when you fearmonger too loudly.
      People turn off.
      Apathy won, and won big.

      I’m reasonably pro-Brexit, it’s a decent long term decision for Britain.
      Hard to punish 20% of your EU, too.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        70+ % turnout is not apathy. Trump is some degree of apathy, but not the Brexit vote.Report

        • Avatar Patrick says:

          We get 70% turnout for an election, that would be a earthshattering result. Political analysts heads would explode.

          Voter turnout in the UK seems to be in the high 60s by default (it would be higher if you don’t count Northern Ireland), with a range from ~60-72 in the last twenty years.

          So. Turnout was high, but on the high side of normal.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          Apathy is what got “Leave” in– they turned a deaf ear to the fearmongering.
          “we’ll steal your pensions if you leave”
          “you’re a fokkin’ racist”

  4. Avatar greginak says:

    One big problem i have with the Brexit option is that they don’t know what they are getting. They want out of the EU but that means a variety of different things. Are they getting less immigration? well maybe. Do they get the same trade deals, ie: can they be Norway? What are the downsides?

    I would be super leery of every voting Pro B in this kind of case since they don’t know what kind of deal they will get.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Ideally, in a situation like this, the UK and EU negotiate what the exit terms would be and then the people would vote on that specifically. The problem is that neither the UK nor EU political class want the Brexit to occur, so they can’t really be expected to come up with the best possible terms of doing so.

      That’s one of the dangers of the current dynamic, where the political class and the voters see things differently (In the UK, 75% and 48% respectively supporting Remain). So I think it kind of had to go the way it did, and if Leave had met better benchmarks, I’d be defending it. And I would argue against the notion that we shouldn’t have a vote until we get the terms that Cameron (or Miliband if that election had gone the other way) wouldn’t and couldn’t negotiate in good faith.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        Yeah that would be the ideal; get the deal then decide if it is good. But it’s also, obviously, never going to happen that way.Report

      • Avatar J_A says:

        Plus you really can’t. The way is set up, you have to say I’m out (Article 50) before you find out what goods you can take with you.

        Boris in his Telegraph op-Ed is basically lying again saying that he wants to (will) negotiate the Exit terms and then trigger Article 50.

        There’s no chance in hell the EU will allow that. And he knew it all the timeReport

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        Ideally for whom? I can see the EU not being willing to do take part in that extended version of maybe/maybe not exit. It is just so much limbo. And if the other members of the club permit the UK to pursue that approach the whole EU could perpetually be renegotiating terms with every one of the 28 members constantly demanding special privileges, concessions, and exceptions from the rules. The underlying principles that undergird the union would be undermined if not falling apart.

        I agree with European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker saying “Out is out”, and in a gentler way, the German Chancellor delivered a similar message when she spoke against “cherry-picking” and said, “Whoever wants to leave this family can’t expect to do away with all of its responsibilities while keeping the privileges.”Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          Ideally for the British, but potentially for the EU as well. It just depends. But the EU negotiated with Cameron to try to get the UK to stay. It seems then might have been a good time to negotiate what exiting would look like. If, for no other reason, than so that the UK voters have a realistic assessment of what leaving looks like (which Remain says they did not have, and I can’t disagree with).

          So it might have been a case of an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure. Or it might have been a lot of unnecessary and wasted time.

          Either way, though, having two people who don’t want a thing to negotiate the thing is not realistic. But if the UK goes forward, negotiating they will be.Report

          • Avatar J_A says:

            I was in the UK when, just after the elections, Cameron started the trip for his first round of negotiations. At the time he was, if not promising, at least strongly hinting that he would negotiate a limit on the Freedom of (Eastern)(*) Eurpopeans to settle in the UK and to collect the same benefits as nationals

            I told my family then and there that there would be Brexit, because he had promised the one thing he would never get.

            Months later he had moved away from immigration restrictions focusing only on trying to agree on benefit restrictions.

            If you look at the final concessions, which are so wonky and puny they don’t seem worth printing the 28 copies for signature. The gap with respec to the original expectations was so huge that I knew the referendum would come out for Leave.

            I lobbied my family intensely for them to vote Remain, but I haven’t asked the details of how they voted. We settled for, if Leave won and a year from now they think Leave was a mistake, I’ll get a posh dinner in a fancy London restaurant. If we had settled for a week, instead of a year, that dinner would already be in the bag.

            (*) I don’t remember if he explecitily mentioned new entrants to the EU or EU nationals in general, but the Eastern subtext was quite clearReport

  5. Avatar Kolohe says:

    Could the EU withstand a ratification process similar to what the American States did from 1787 to 1790?Report

    • Avatar North says:

      I think the bigger question is can they survive not ratifying something more and sorting their internal contradictions out? I suspect that in the long run the answer is “no”. Much like the Americans I suspect the Europeans will do what they need to; after exhausting all other options.Report

    • Avatar PD Shaw says:

      No, American ratification was one-step removed from an outright referendum — each state held a popular election for delegates to attend a state convention to vote on the new Constitution. Technically, it might be indirect democracy, but its similar to the electoral college.

      The EU is similar to the US in that a treaty convention unexpectedly morphed into a federal government, but being more democratic (in the ratification and in the new government) gave it legitimacy for breaking a few rules.Report

  6. Avatar Kolohe says:

    A quibble – if the Puerto Rican establishment now favors statehood, that is a fairly recent thing (and don’t read too much into whether or not the nominal pro statehood party has control of the governorship or the legislature)

    For most of the 70s 80s 90s and 00s, the establishment supported the status quo (Commonwealth) more so than strict tautology would dictate. The poltical flip side of the statehood push are the Quebec like laws guaranteeing Spanish a prememinent place in Puerto Rican business and government.
    (Commonwealth supporters split this difference, which has given them the edge foe the longest time)Report

    • Avatar J_A says:

      The last (2012) referendum was intentionally muddled by being drafted as two questions: first, change, or remain with the current status? then (only for Change voters) , if change, to what: statehood, independence or something strange no one knew what it was? All this with the intention of trying to nudge a result favorable towards statehood.

      The results were Change won, with 52%, and statehood was the preferred Change option, with 60%. At the time it was read as the first vote for statehood, but the structure guaranteed it would never be a mandate for anything.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC says:

        I don’t even understand why independence is on the ballot. That’s not something that’s being offered to Puerto Rico by Congress, as far as I know. I mean, it’s possible Congress would give it to them if they went and voted for it, but it’s not currently on the table. And looking at the *election* results, it turns out…5% of the population wants it. (Which is amazingly low for *anything* on *any* ballot, ever.)

        Likewise, the ‘free association’ idea is, uh, gibberish. This is the United States of America, where we have states and territories. States have a very specific level of sovereignty, and they’re the only thing with that.

        Territories are more complicated. If they have people, we ‘organize’ them into a local government, if not, they are ‘incorporated’ into the US and subject to general US law, whereas organized territories are not…but that’s all stuff we do on purpose, no one has any rights to any of that. Territories don’t have sovereignty. (Except for the fact they have to vote to become a state, and can’t be made one against their will, which I guess is *sorta* a bit of sovereignty.)

        This isn’t Britain/UK, with all sorts of little odd national situations at different levels of sovereignty, like Canada or the Isle of Man or City of London or the centuries of weird cruft they’ve gotten. The US has two sublevels, one with partial sovereignty, one without any sovereignty but that we give it. That’s it. That’s all.(1)

        But that’s not really what it appears they’re trying to do. What they *actually* seem to want to do is pre-negotiate a bunch of treaties with the US, including stuff we’ve literally never put in treaties before (Like allowing all their citizens to be citizens of the US! And to do all sorts of economic development things with no benefit to us!) and *then* become a sovereign nation.

        Or, in other words, they want what the Brexit people wanted…most of the benefits, and none of the responsibilities, of the union they’re in…but they are smart enough to figure out you have to negotiate that *in advance* of leaving.

        While that status, at least, makes sense under US law (Assuming we can figure out some way to sign a treaty with a country before it exists separate from ourselves, but that’s not impossible. We could do our end literally in the same law releasing PR, and then just let the intern government of PR agree to it a few minutes later.), it, uh, isn’t very likely. They’d have to offer us some pretty large benefits, and…don’t seem to have any at all. What the hell would we get out of the deal? (They should, at this point, cleverly offer to take their *debt* with them. Hehe. Sorry, that was a bit mean.)

        1) It appears that the PR government seems to have been under some weird delusion that they were halfway to this (non-existent) status already by calling themselves a commonwealth (No one told them about Massachusetts, which is exactly the same as the other states despite it being a ‘commonwealth’.), but had those beliefs shattered with Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle, when the court said ‘Nope. The US government and the Puerto Rican government are legally the same entity’.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          Free association is just another form of independence. Like Marshall Islands.

          Free association is independence with a friendly hand out to shake. Independence is a hand out with a middle finger erected.Report

  7. Avatar J_A says:


    The problem I have with your doctors metaphor is that one doctor more or less told the truth (Brexit will mean less economic growth, a worse trading position, at least at the beginning, a loss of resources in impoverished regions like Wales and Cornwall, jeopardizing the Good Friday agreements and giving up on being the Finance Capital of Europe).

    The other doctor basically promised things that they knew were impossible from the start: no negative economic impact, Polish plumbers out, Southesat Asians, Subsaharan Africans and West Indians also out, even though they have nothing to do with the EU, 359 million pounds a week of super avid to fund the NHS, no interruption to subsidies in Wales and Cornwall, pensioners will continue to be allowed to live in Southern Europe, no reduction in free trade, no impact to the role of London as financial capital, and no pestering EU regulations about cucumber size OR workers safety.

    Should the Remain have campaigned differently, emphasizing the positive instead of relying on a Fear campaign? Probably yes. But it’s abundantly cleAr thT the Leave campaign was not a doctor honestly recommending a therapeutic alternative. It was snake oil selling.

    Regretfully, only the AMA or the FDA (experts) can denounce quack doctors. So the proper question should be:

    Is there a mechanism to guarantee that politicians promises are somewhat based on reality? Must, in the name of Freedom of Expression, politicians be allowed to distort the reality so much, particularly in matters that are not obvious to the man in the street, in a way that, in essence, invalidates the voter’s capability to make a reasoned (not necessarily rational) decision?Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Lying politicians is a bad argument for saying all the power should reside with politicians.

      The doctor argument was, at least in theory, more abstract than the Brexit. Or at least more about process than this particular issue.

      I think the Brexit should have failed. But I think it should have failed because the threshold was too low, and not because we should keep this out of the hands of the people, which was Cox’s argument.Report

      • Avatar J_A says:

        If anything, I would require power to be in the hands of Experts. But somehow that’s part of what the Senate was designed to do. It didn’t work well.

        I’m not particularly against referenda. I think certain questions, like Brexit, should be put to referenda. Certain supermajorities are probably needed in most cases.

        Now, I have specific, technical, if you want, issues with the Brexit referendum, which makes Brexit a particularly bad subject for a referendum

        The main technical issue is that the way Article 50 is written, you cannot propose STATUS QUO or A SPECIFIC change.

        You’ll only know the end state two years after calling Article 50. Today, yOu can only ask: “should we trigger Article 50 and hope for the best, but understand that the best will likely include Polish plumbers (a Norway version), and the worst might be we end with nothing whatsoever but the WTO (*)?”

        This was not the question posed, or it was (to Leave, or not to Leave?), but no one said the important bits out loud. No one knew what Leave looks like because it is by design unknowable. So the referendum question was never really binary.

        My other technical problem has been discussed at length. This referendum was internal Tory party politics by other means. The Leave Tories did not expect to win the referendum (UKIP is different). They expected to win the internal power in the party by losing the referendum but mobilizing their base (paging Ted Cruz). That’s why they promised impossible things, so impossible that they had to start backtracking not 24 hours after winning. You have now each of the Leave leaders (including Farage) saying that they themselves never said that the 350 million pounds per week (a figure that is also allegedly untrue) will go to NHS, while they campaigned in a red bus with a big sign that said so ( )

        (*) is there any country in the world that is not part of any special trade deal and can only rely on the WTO for every single international trade transaction? I’m not sure if China qualifies, but I can’t think of any other. Because the UK is inside the EU, unless it settles a deal with the EU, the day after Brexit it will have trade deals with exactly zero countriesReport

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          Sounds like we’re mostly in agreement in the abstract. On the specific… I think the “We don’t know what’s in this bill” is just an argument that has to be made by the opposition. Which, given their threshold would be (say) 40%, doesn’t seem like an unreasonable expectation. If you can’t use FUD to get to 40%, then maybe there is not too much to fear or the people just don’t care and are ready to make a leap of faith.

          That may be an argument for raising the threshold from 60% to something higher, but I am tempted to think not in the case of Brexit (or any other country leaving the EU).

          The wildcard for Brexit in particular (well, really, any change in status for the UK) is that there is an argument to be made for each of the four to have to approve it, or meet some minimum threshold. One of the four hitting breaking more than 60/40 against is not optimal, and two of the four voting against, are not optimal. On the other hand, some would object to what is basically a one-country-one-vote policy for the same reason people object to the existence of the US Senate, and they would have a point. Also, it’s possible that a 60% or 67% threshold obviates that since the Changers would more or less have to campaign everywhere. But if I were drafting the referendum, that’s something I would be looking at.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          If anything, I would require power to be in the hands of Experts.

          Not being glib here, but: who determines who the Experts are? Right now, in this country, we are experiencing a literal War on Science (heh!). So there’s some dispute amongst the peoples as to what constitutes an expert, to say the least. I take it that a democracy, as a political institution, is the formal embrace that experts don’t determine policy, yes? For better or worse, as the case may be, depending.Report

          • Avatar J_A says:

            “Who guards the guards themselves?”

            Lord Vetinari (*)

            That’s been a problem like, forever. The traditional solution was to restrict the franchise to those people that could be expected to reflect and understand the issues.

            At the end of the day, there’s several answers to that question nowadays, not all of them applicable everywhere

            As who they are, Experts prove themselves initially through credentialism, and further by being more right than wrong. Is kind of elitist, and does not guarantee anything, given that expert consensus drifts through time, but I can’t see a replacement

            A good, practical, way to introduce experts in the system is a mechanism like the UK civil servants, where an independent group is in charge of the details (the How) with elected (responsible) ministers only in charge of determining the What.

            Now, in my opinion, in order to have a strong civil service you need to separate the State (permanent, steady, not subject to political changes) from the Government (ever changing following political winds). Parliamentary democracies have better mechanisms to do this. Civil servants are servants of the Queen, the State, not of her Ministers, the Government, and can stand up to them. This is an organic development that was incorporated in the XIX century in most Western monarchies, including those that, like Germany, later became republics (France, like the USA is an outlier, never having had a real constitutional monarchy except 1814-30)

            The USA was founded before there was a real Civil,Service, or a built-in separation of State and Government. Obama is both Head of State and Head of Government. Plus, the fixed terms set in our Constitution contrast with the more precarious environment of Parliamentary Governments, that may last week’s or years. In that uncertainty, Civil Service developed as a mechanism to continue managing, on a permanent way, the day to day of what became more and more complex societies that could not be subject to continuous, unpredictable, changes in Government.

            By adding predictability to the changes in Government, the FF made it very difficult for the difference between State and Government to develop. Civil servants ere servants of the President, or the state governor. Not servants of something different, outside politics.

            And let us not forget that people did not decide out of the blue to disbelief climate or other experts. They were told that “so-called experts” are just tools of the despised [fill in the blank]. Once every politician in the country has belittled at least one type of expert for political gain, you have destroyed the Experts.So, really, the USA has no mechanisms to protect those who work on the How from the attacks of those that want to change the What. Pity.

            (*) nopeReport

            • Avatar Francis says:

              I agree with almost all of this. I would just add that in my experience federal and state bureaucracies follow the direction of their political directors only up to a point. If you’ve been with an organization for 10 years or more and a political appointee comes in who has no specific expertise in the area, it’s relatively easy to slow-play any major change in direction.

              I’ve read that there are something like 1,600 positions in the federal system that are subject to Senate approval. How many of those were vacant in the last three administrations? If the nearest appointee is two or three layers up the system, how much impact can the change in administrations have?Report

              • Avatar J_A says:

                Two minor quibbles

                1. There are thousands of positions in the federal government that are not confirmed by the Senate and serve at the plasure of the President (or the Governor) or are appointed by the executive for a fixed number of years. And these political appointees have the legal authority to direct the day to day activities of most USA agencies. That is how you get political appointees redacting reports from NOAA (or was it NASA?)

                2. There’s a difference in the level and authority of senior civil servants. The Permanent Secretary in any Department is as, or more, powerful than the Minister, and very few Ministers would act against the position of his Permanent Secretary. No permanent staff in a USA Department is ranked as equal or above political appointees, to the best of my knowledge. Nor it would be deemed acceptable in our political system to give “unelected” civil servants such levels of autonomy, discretion, and power.

                Anecdote: I had the chance to have meetings with the Minister(s) of Energy(*) and the Permanent Secreatary in a Commonwealth country. It was a great experience to be able to get deep into details with the Permanent Secretary while it was obvious half of our conversation was going over the Minister’s head.

                (*) Between meetings one and two a snap election occurred and a new party took power, but we were able to continue the discussion after five minutes of summarizing for the new Minister.Report

  8. Avatar J_A says:

    Boris Johnson has given up on running for Tory Leader.

    Another proof that Brexit was just an intraparty fight. Never having thought Leave would win, they are scared of the impossibility of fulfilling the promises madeReport