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Saturday, August 31, 2019

Listening to Macca #8: Flowers in the Dirt, Off the Ground, and Much, Much More

This month, I had to admit to myself that one of the things I'm doing with this series is spinning a narrative about Paul McCartney's work and career, one that is somewhat self-interested. In my last two entries, looking at Macca's musical efforts after his great come-back-from-Wings album Tug of War, I was talking about an immensely talented musician who, through his 40s, seemed like he just couldn't fully engage with his own talents. Perhaps not coincidentally, my own 40s were filled with a sense that, for all sorts of financial and family reasons, I just couldn't move forward in regards to any of matters I really wanted to. Now, I'm looking at an immensely busy five years in Sir Paul's life, from 1988 to 1993, during which he turned 50...and it just so happens I also turned late last year. The work McCartney produced during this short span is remarkable in its breadth, ambition, and even its relative musical success....which, again, is at least vaguely similar to the renewed sense of excitement and accomplishment I'm feeling as my sixth decade begins. No, I'm not turning the mulleted McCartney of the late 1980s/early 1990s into my spirit animal. But I'd be lying if I didn't recognize that my reactions to his music this month reflect something personal as well. So take that for what you will.

Anyway, let's check off the accomplishments. In 1988 McCartney and a bunch of friends cut a quick, polished record of classic rock and roll tunes, to be released solely in the Soviet Union. CHOBA B CCCP (or "The Russian Album" as it's almost universally called) is a rocking collection of tunes made famous by Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Leadbelly, Eddie Cochran, and more. It's all quite wonderful! (Paul's fundamental pop sympathies can't be denied though; the stand-out of the album, in my opinion, is his delightfully catchy take on "Don't Get Around Much Anymore.") In 1991 McCartney recorded a blockbuster of an Unplugged album, singing a fair number of Beatles tunes but also a lot of old blues and R&B numbers. It's also pretty wonderful! He's not a born bluesman by any means, but his renditions of "Hi-Heel Sneakers" and "San Francisco Bay Blues" are terrific. Also, in 1989 he launched his first international tour in 13 years, diving deep into the Beatles catalog before adoring crowds for the first time, and producing an awesome live concert album, Tripping the Live Fantastic in 1990. And then he did the same thing again only four years later, once again drawing from the tour another equally fabulous live concert album, Paul is Live. (Poke around the McCartney fan sites and histories, and you'll find plenty of people who talk about how the band Paul assembled during this period, who played on all the aforementioned albums as well as the studio albums described below, was perhaps is best ever, with two great guitarists--Robbie McIntosh of The Pretenders and Hamish Stuart of Average White Band--complementing his bass in the same way Lennon and Harrison had done years before.)

I'm not done. During these years McCartney also secretly released, as "The Fireman," Strawberries Ocean Ships Forest, a techno-dance collaboration with the English record produced Youth. It's cool! I was never much for rave music, but I can recognize good beats when I hear them, and this record has plenty. And then, still not done, he also released, to great fanfare, his first work of classical music, Liverpool Oratorio. I have to say, for the first time in this entry, this is something by Macca which I don't really care for. (Neither did pretty much anyone else, it appears.) I listen to classical music regularly, but don't consider myself familiar enough with orchestral forms to really, so take my opinion for a grain of salt. Still, if simplistic lyrics goosed up to an operatic level is likely to stick in your craw ("The Devil is evil / With a D. / And God is good / Without an O.") avoid this one.

That's six albums of music in a little over five years, and I still have to talk about his new studio work during this period, the music which all those tours were supporting. I'm happy to say, it's good--solid, engaging, and often really great pop music all around.

1989's Flowers in the Dirt came first, and it's the better of these two albums, though only narrowly. McCartney reached out to Elvis Costello as a songwriting partner for this album, genuinely and bravely trying to challenge and mix-up the ruts he'd followed into, and it paid off. While I don't think any of the songs McCartney and Costello are co-listed as authoring count as the album's best, I feel like I can hear the influence of Costello's sardonic, jangly, literary sensibility through the whole record. The best of their official collaborations is the lead single, the unexpectedly smart pop confection (with a ridiculously fun video), "My Brave Face"; "You Want Her Too" and "That Day is Done" never really coalesce into great songs, but the choir that comes in "Don't Be Careless Love" catches you by surprise. Elsewhere the album includes the drippy "Distractions" and the terribly overproduced (but still charming, I think) wanna-be gospel number "Motor of Love"--and that's it for weak points, I think. "Rough Ride" is fine light-funk pop, "We Got Married" is an impressively dark, rough, and passionate love letter (perfectly appropriate for a man celebrating his 20th wedding anniversary the year the album came out), "Put It There" is a short, lovely ditty (and thankfully polished into it's own thing, rather than being left unfinished and lumped into a medley, as was so often the case with Macca's folky and homely moments), and "This One," "How Many People," and "Où Est Le Soleil" all have their rocking moments. But the album's stand-out is "Figure of Eight," a driving number whose lyrics don't really scan at all but which McCartney, adopting a raspy holler, simply yells into near-perfection. The extended version included on Tripping the Live Fantastic is even better than the studio cut; it becomes a pulsing, bluesy, ferocious love song, absolutely the best surprise discovery I've had in this journey through Macca's work since I stumbled upon "Get on the Right Thing" way back in February. Overall, this is a strong B+ album, certainly up there near Band on the Run and Tug of War, and one that most any other artist might consider their masterpiece.

1993's Off the Ground kicks off with the title song, which is a nice, shiny pop number, but not likely to be long remembered. Much better are the leftover McCartney/Costello collaborations "Mistress and the Maid," a bright tune with a spooky musical and lyrical undercurrent of danger and anger, and "The Lovers That Never Were," where the anger and frustration is banged out explicitly. The McCartneys animal rights-manifesto "Looking for Changes" is a worthy rave-up, while the emotionally--if not thematically--related "C'mon People" similarly serves as an engaging ballad. It's the little songs that are the best, though: "Hope of Deliverance" is a fun, upbeat bit of worldbeat music; the ostensibly square paean to domesticity "Peace in the Neighborhood" could have been a Motown classic; "Golden Earth Girl" is haunting; and "Winedark Open Sea" is plain beautiful. "I Owe it All to You" and "Get Out of My Way" are predictable and forgettable numbers, but "Biker Like an Icon" is a shock: as harsh and sharp and cool a musical story of misbegotten love as anything ever recorded by The Police (and with a video that looks like it was shot for a classic REM tune). This is solid B album, and a great way to bring this too-long entry to an end.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Why the Partisanship of Wichita's Mayoral Race is a Good Thing

[Cross-posted to Wichita Story]

Four years ago, as Jeff Longwell ran against Sam Williams in the 2015 mayoral race, I mourned that the primary had been such a non-partisan affair. I definitely don't have any reason to feel that way this time around. The party differences between Mayor Longwell (who kicked off his campaign while surrounded by all sorts of Republican notables) and Brandon Whipple (who has served as a Democrat representing south Wichita in the Kansas House of Representatives since 2013) are pretty obvious, and seems likely to shape the race all the way up to election day. Which is, to my mind, a good thing.

Others disagree with me, obviously. For some, their disagreement is rooted in their nominal (though, as I argue below, rarely actual) opposition to political parties themselves, and their wish to have electoral contests completely untouched by such. For others, the problem was what they perceived as the partisan, "Topeka" style of the mayoral primary--in other words, their problem isn't with the parties themselves, but rather what they see (or think they see) parties in Kansas and the United States doing and saying. I think both of these perspectives are wrong, and that the partisan character of the mayoral race to come will benefit Wichita's political health. Let me see if I can explain why--though with my apologies for turning this into a discussion less about Wichita, and more about democratic elections in general.

To be clear, Longwell isn't running officially as a Republican, nor Whipple as a Democrat--their party affiliations will not appear on the ballot. Municipal elections in Kansas remain officially nonpartisan, as is the case in most cities across America, with a few notable exceptions (New York City, Indianapolis, Houston, Louisville, Philadelphia, and more). But the fact that they are known as a Republican and a Democrat, and are clearly intending to make use of Republican and Democratic networks to raise money, share their messages, and connect with voters, accomplishes the same thing. Which is the first and greatest advantages of being partisan: it enables voters make distinctions and connections in regards to electoral contests which are more informed, which in turn encourages the candidates themselves to share their electoral messages in more detail and more sharply. Simply put, candidates who run completely non-partisan campaigns for completely non-partisan elections tend to provide voters with less and less detailed information, because the incentive to drive home differences doesn't exist, whereas the incentive to offer moderate, centrist, technocratic bromides looms large. The result is an election like, well, the one we had four years ago--where two entirely competent white male business-friendly conservatives from the west-side of Wichita had to generate reasons for voters to choose between them, rather than building upon the actually existing range of opinions that exist across this city.

But wait, one might fairly interrupt--what's wrong with candidates who make use of "moderate, centrist, technocratic bromides," anyway? Doesn't that translate as "expertise"? And isn't expertise what we want when it comes to city government, not an agenda to push the city in one ideological direction or another? Don't lots of people see themselves as centrist, and in an era of intense national political polarization, surely many people see political moderation as something must to be desired, right? So why not hope for our city elections to operate along those lines?

There are least two reasons why I would issue a qualified--or even an emphatic--"no" in response to these challenges. Mostly, my reasons have to do with how we think about--or how I think we should think about--representative democracy.

First of all, the idea that there really is a large number of voters who genuinely find themselves somewhere between "conservatism" and "liberalism" as they have been constructed throughout modern American history, who honestly are independent and undecided between and therefore swing back and forth between the Republican and Democratic parties, and are equally dissatisfied with them both, is simply false. While it is true that Americans don't show nearly the trust in or support for political parties they once did, that doesn't stop them from consisting returning to demographically predictable voting patterns. Every honest student of politics must admit this--the data which shows that partisan polarization has grown even as more and more people eschew formal party allegiance is pretty obvious. And the small portion of the population who really do vote in ways that break from partisan patterns are rarely "moderate," in the sense of wishing to support solely whatever pragmatic, expert perspectives seem to work. Rather, the evidence is that they are mostly statistical creations, a fictional average capturing a mess of contradictory extremes.

All this means that most of the people who say they dislike partisanship are probably actually not complaining about the fact that there are parties where conservatives and liberals, or gun owners and gay-rights supporters, may find their interests most thoroughly reflected and thus choose to congregate around and support. Rather, they are probably actually complaining about, whether they realize it or not, is what they see as the effects of the patterns of partisanship in America today. I think that's a reasonable conclusion--because, of course, parties, for all their flaws, are collections free and concerned citizens, who form groups to raise money and promote that which they sincerely believe to be true. As frustrating as the process may often be, it's American pluralism at its most fundamental, and who can really be opposed to that?

Please note: that is not a defense of the specific parties we have. After more than 150 years of dominance, our reigning two parties--and under single-member, winner-take-all elections, there will always be two reigning parties; that's just logic--have promoted campaign finance, candidate selection, and ballot access rules which result in an often rigged electoral game. Both parties have gone through massive evolutions over the years, reforming their practices and changing directions--sometimes dramatically--as voters and donors have demanded it. But still, I don't deny they are, overall, creaky and often corruption-laden bodies which have happily embraced today's media-driven emphasis on negativity and the resulting contempt for compromise. It would be great to see a reset.

I think the last thing which could bring about such a reset, however, is that relatively tiny group of (nearly always relatively well-off) voters who find that their opinions put them on the fringes of their respective parties, thus leading them to think it best to separate themselves from the dirty business of influencing or building coalitions of voters entirely. I am personally doubtful that a slow-growth, mid-sized, regional city like Wichita has a readily available set of "conservative" or "liberal" (much less "libertarian" or "socialist") solutions which Longwell or Whipple could pick and choose between as they seek election. But, assuming one still believes power should only be wielded by those elected to wield it, what is the alternative? The long, perhaps noble, but usually victory-less history of folks like Greg Orman, someone who understands all the above very well, yet apparently continued to maintain until the end that a message of neutral expertise and practical deal-making would motivate voters outside of that whole tawdry, pluralistic process? The evidence, to be kind, suggests otherwise.

None of this touches on the actual political realities on the current race: namely, the fact that a lot of people who are inclined to vote against Longwell are worried that Whipple's membership in the Democratic party is a death knell for his candidacy. It's a fair concern. But the politics of partisanship, of liberal or conservative candidates dealing with conservative or liberal voters (which, incidentally, Whipple has written a whole dissertation on), is a different issue entirely from the democratic, pluralistic value of partisanship. That, I think, is pretty clear--which is why I expect that the debates which surround this mayoral race will be much more valuable to voters than what we saw last time around.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

26th on the 13th

26 years married, 13 years in Wichita, all beginning on August 13, 1993, and August 13 (or pretty close to that), 2006. I like the look of those numbers. 26 years is a good long time to be travel down the road of life with one person, and for all the accidents and bumps and detours and misunderstood directions along the way, I'm grateful for the journey. Love you, Melissa. Hope you have a wonderful day, and a wonderful next 26 years. That's my plan, anyway.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Local Socialism and Civil Society

[Cross-posted to DSA's Religious Socialism blog; parts of this post were previous published here.]

When The New Republic ran its package of articles on "The Socialist Moment" back in May, its cover art used Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to invoke the fictitious couple famously portrayed in Grant Wood's "American Gothic," almost surely solely for humorous reasons. But there is something to be said, I think, for why that juxtaposition seems humorous. Part of it is almost certainly that Wood's painting is tied in our collective popular consciousness with a homeliness and a particular kind of conservative Americana. And, of course, socialism in America is not so coded. Rather, "socialism" is understood as radical and cosmopolitan--not the sort of thing that can be reasonably associated with older, church-attending farming couples, right?

Let me suggest otherwise. Democratic socialism is, I think, at least potentially compatible with, and perhaps even capable of drawing strength from, the small towns and churches of U.S. society.

One reason to make this argument is to respond to false assumptions made by those who might otherwise be sympathetic to socialist principles. The two somewhat critical pieces included in the New Republic package are examples. Both Robert Westbrook and Win McCormick recognize the way that the extreme inequality of capitalist societies today threatens the basic freedoms that democracies require to function. But both are suspicious of democratic socialism's ability to deliver a certain type of positive economic freedom without also squelching the diversity and plurality that characterize truly free societies.  Instead of democratic socialism, they turn to the social democratic ideal of "property-owning democracy" advocated by John Rawls, or to the civic republican ideal of an economy firmly subjected to a communally (and thus culturally) articulated common good. In both cases, these writers are looking to push against oligarchic wealth in the name of defending the power and liberty of persons, institutions, and communities.  Democratic socialism, to their mind, rightly opposes capitalism, but does not take pluralism seriously.

There is some basis for that fear. After all, when you see self-described socialists like Sanders speak out on behalf of Medicare for All and other universal programs, you might question what, if any, space is left for distinct groups of people who want to do things—even socially just things—in their own communally-articulated way. (The debate over whether a justly socialized and democratized health care system would still allow for private medical providers or private health insurance programs is just one example of this.) Westbrook and McCormick are not alone in thinking that many socialists have answered that question with a much-too-casual "none" in the past. But other—I think better—socialist thinkers have long recognized the failures of doctrinaire Marxism and instead insisted upon the "primacy of politics." In Sheri Berman words, this means acknowledging the place of a pluralistic, localized civil society in the overall socialist order and for real democratic debate and diversity within it. It means abandoning the dream of a perfect, rationally-unfolding socialist moment in favor of what Michael Walzer called an always contested "socialism-in-the-making."

We serve socialism poorly by failing to recognize how much of the opposition of conservative people, rural people, and most particularly church-going people to democratic socialism is the result of the sense that there would be no space under the socialist order for their communities and traditions. Given that many of those traditional beliefs and local practices are inegalitarian or exclusionary, why should we take their fears seriously? Well, perhaps because, when properly understood, at least a few of their fears are similar to our own. For example, some conservative thinkers recognize that what most threatens their familial and traditional aspirations isn’t the promise of democratic liberation and socialist equality; rather, it is the homogenizing individualism and consumerism of our corporation-dominated world. As Alan Jacobs, one such conservative, put it: "What [we traditional Christians] are battling against isn't a form of socialism....I would argue rather that it’s the ultimate extension of the free market—a kind of metaphysical capitalism. The gospel of the present moment is...'I am my own.' I am a commodity owned solely by myself; I may do with this property whatever I want and call it whatever I want." This libertarian attitude, however much it may sometimes seem compatible with the freedom that democratic socialism delivers, is, I think, one that anyone who takes genuine social liberation seriously cannot accept. Thus in at least a few small ways, socialists and certain conservative thinkers may be said to occupy a similar space.

I am not suggesting some grand communitarian-traditionalist-socialist alliance here, at least not without a great deal of careful theoretical exploration and clear limitations (some of which I’ve attempted in the past, under the title “left conservatism”). However, I am insisting that advocates of democratic socialism hurt themselves in the realm of political debate, and misunderstand themselves in the realm of ideas, when they present socialism as too universal, and too rational, to ever be republican in the classic sense: that is, attentive to the res publica, to people where they live. Economically, that's a silly argument: democratic socialism is about freeing people from the social power that prevents them from being able to make the choices and live the places and maintain the ways of life that they choose and love. But structurally and morally, the question remains. Will socialism allow for local democracy, even if that local democracy reflects the belief systems of local, perhaps traditional, perhaps religious majorities? That's a hard question. It is easy for socialists to see the value of church communities that are purposively engaged in social justice; it is less easy for us to acknowledge that the social empowerment of people, their liberation from economic tyranny, is a good thing itself, even if the resulting political and moral choices of those of faith don't match the egalitarian ideal. To quote Michael Walzer again:

The true home of socialism-in-the-making isn't the government; it is the political space that exists outside the government....The space is always contested, and the locus of the contests is civil society. Civil society is, like the state itself, a realm of inequality, where the powerful get more powerful and the rich get richer. Every civil association, every organized group of men and women, is also a mobilization of resources....This is an obvious story, but it isn't the whole story. Civil society is simultaneously a realm of opportunity for democratic and egalitarian activists....More than half a century ago, the British social theorist A.D. Lindsay described the "dissenting" Protestant congregations of 18th- and 19th-century Britain as schools for democracy. They were that, but they had intrinsic as well as instrumental value--and that is true today of all the associations of civil society that engage the energy and idealism of their members.

Note that this isn't an argument that civil bodies, once truly socially empowered, wouldn't be or shouldn't be changed by being more thoroughly economically integrated with the rest of society. They would be, and they should be—the most obvious reason for which being that no social organization, churches included, can ever, or should ever, fully go at their participatory tastks alone. And so the community group or faith organization that seeks its own approach to addressing social problems—housing the sick, treating the addicted, protecting the weak, listening to the ill—will be part of the larger network of other groups, large and small, doing the same thing, and such networks would profoundly—and democratically—shape practices and beliefs over time. But still, a recognition of the intrinsic value of what every church congregation, every faith-based community, every local or traditional body does when they become of part of socialism-in-the-making suggests that democratic socialism, unlike late capitalism, won't fundamentally homogenize all variety out of social life.

So, does that mean that a community, church, and local property-respecting socialism will be a patchwork, filled with distinctions and differences from one place to the next? Within limits, probably yes. Indeed, I'm not sure how one can admit that political debates will still exist under socialism and not admit to such actual public or regional or faith-based diversity. Those socialists who would restrict diversity solely to a specific set of identities and deny that social equality can accommodate religious or cultural or spatial diversity as well are, I fear, failing to understand the place of what could be—and historically often have been—one of our strongest potential allies in keeping anti-capitalist and genuinely social and egalitarian values alive.

Back in January, Erik Olin Wright, a brilliant and profoundly original socialist thinker, writer, and organizer passed away. His book Envisioning Real Utopias had an enormous impact upon me; when I first read it, I found myself explaining and re-explaining its ideas to myself and everyone I met for months. The most important thing it did was explain how the Marxist shadow over socialist and all other forms of utopian thinking has too often kept thinkers on the left from recognizing the obvious: that what we want to do is empower civil society. That is, we are looking to make the mutual support that communities provide stronger, and to make our social and economic worlds more democratic. Hence we leftists need to be guided, first and foremost, by a "socialist compass," and we need to recognize everything that falls within that compass, including what he called "interstitial" entities and strategies—what a non-sociologist might call the thousands of initiatives and organizations which provide spaces wherein civil society, and not capital, rules. He acknowledged that the more doctrinaire Marxist thinkers would see these as a distraction from the longed-for revolution, but insisted that their emancipatory potential is nonetheless real. And as for those civil associations that strengthen community and provide shelter from the hyper-individualism of liberal capitalism through particularist, sometimes exclusionary, religious means? Should the Salvation Army’s gift drives or the Catholic church’s drug treatment centers, both of which have socially empowered and shared wealth many hundreds of thousands, be crushed by the rationalizing and centralizing Red Guards of some new socialist state? Well...no. As Wright explained:

A vibrant civil society is precisely one with a multitude of heterogeneous associations, networks, and communities, built around different goals, with different kinds of members based on different sorts of solidarities....It is tempting to deal with this...by somehow defining civil society as only consisting of benign associations that are consistent with socialist ideals of democratic egalitarianism....I think this is an undesirable response....There is no guarantee that a society within which real power rooted in civil society predominates would be one that always upholds democratic egalitarian ideals. This, however, is not some unique problem for socialism; it is a characteristic of democratic institutions in general. As conservatives often point out, inherent in democracy is the potential for the tyranny of the majority, and yet in practice liberal democracies have been fairly successful at creating institutions that protect both individual rights and the interests of minorities. A socialist democracy rooted in social empowerment through associations in civil society would face similar challenges...My assumption here is not that a socialism of social empowerment will inevitably successfully meet this challenge, but that moving along the pathways of social empowerment will provide a more favorable terrain on which to struggle for these ideals than does either capitalism or statism (Envisioning Real Utopias, pp. 145-148).

I can imagine many socialists seeing the foregoing as a lot of murky meanderings. I find it beautiful: an olive branch to everyone who wants civil bonds to flourish, equal respect to increase, and communities to be strengthened. To voice such egalitarian goals in terms of community strength and stability might seem scarily traditional to some advocates of the socialist cause. They—we—should get over that fear. Democratic socialism, whatever else it is or could be, needs to be about taking root and building up a sense of equality and justice in particular places, through the beliefs and practices of particular people. Would that mean granting churches and communities that preach white supremacy or the prosperity gospel or conversion therapy or any other deeply unjust and unequal message the freedom to dominate others? Certainly not! But admittedly, distinguishing between churches and communities whose local empowerment has crossed the line into oppression (for example, a self-sustaining Amish farming community which declines to participate in a national health service on the one hand, an immigrant association that teaches female genital mutilation in its new parent classes on another) will not always be easy, or without the need for constant reconsideration as times and needs change. If, however, democratic socialists truly do wish to acknowledge the plurality of those human desires that real equality and respect will allow, working to find a way to make the most of the best which particularist communities and their believers can offer is necessary. And not only necessary, but beneficial, as the richness of civil society is, I strongly suspect, much more ennobling than many socialists may expect.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

The Wichita Mayoral Race: Winners and Losers

[For anyone interested, here is the original and somewhat more detailed version of my editorial on Tuesday's primary, which appeared in The Wichita Eagle this morning.]

The mayoral primary is over; let’s run through some of the winners and losers here:

Winner: State Representative Brandon Whipple. He was the first major challenger to Mayor Jeff Longwell to announce his candidacy, and as a longtime state representative, with a strong basis of support in his south Wichita legislative district, and a record as a moderate Democrat--or, more accurately, a fairly progressive Democrat on most social issues, and a fairly conservative Democrat on most fiscal issues--he had good name recognition and media exposure from the start. But of the three major candidates (Lyndy Wells being the third), he raised the least amount of money, though he had the most small-dollar donors. With both Longwell and Wells outspending him, and with the distraction of the small but sometimes angry fight between different factions in the local Democratic party (see below), resulting in some Democrats attacking the Whipple campaign, he probably had reason to worry about voter turn-out (also see below). In the end, though, the hard work of Whipple, his family, and his team paid off.

Losers: certain Democrats. Of course, city elections here in Wichita are (unfortunately, in my view) officially nonpartisan. But for all sorts of obvious reasons, party politics remains central to most serious candidates' abilities to raise money, develop a message, and connect with voters. And so, predictably, people invested making those connections always have their own opinions and priorities, and want to make certain party connections serve as a vehicle for their priorities, not someone elses.

As it happened, in this election there was a small but bitter fight–conducted almost entirely behind the scenes; with the exception of a single article in The Wichita Eagle, if you weren't a professional activist or politician or part of certain social media networks, you likely missed it entirely–over whose priorities would guide those voter connections. It isn't easy to tell exactly who was responsible for what being said or done in this fight (though there's plenty of accusations going around); hence my reference to “certain” Democrats. The point is, there were Democrats who supported Whipple’s campaign, and there were Democrats who supported Wells, or even Longwell, despite both being Republicans. Part of the reason for the fight is clearly ideological, rooted in ongoing arguments within not just the local Democratic party, but the state and national one as well, going back to the Clinton-Sanders fight of 2016 and dealing with, among other things, how (or if) the party should push its increasingly progressive priorities in conservative parts of the country. Looking at it this way highlights some real curiosities--for example, the fact that Whipple, who has a doctorate, wrote his dissertation on exactly this topic.

But ideology may only be a small part of the fight; more likely, what happened was mostly generational, with Whipple and many members of his team skewing young (the fact that his election night party was held at a downtown LGBTQ-friendly bar is just one indication), while some of the prominent figures who opposed him being people who have worked with the party for decades. Or if its not about the old guard and the new guard, then it's about personal and campaign styles, with some Democrats confident in their longstanding approach to Kansas's mostly conservative voters, and others wanting to flip that script. These are all serious issues, and it’s unfair to reduce it to a couple of paragraphs. But however you read it, the facts remain: going into the general election, certain–not many, but definitely at least a few–prominent local Democrats are going to be feeling angry, embarrassed, or frustrated; whether they stay on the sidelines, jump ship, or eat some crow and join Team Whipple remains to be seen.

Winner: Getting out the vote. GOTV operations are, for all their permutations over the decades, pretty much inseparable from the whole mystique of mass political parties throughout American history. And yet, there has hardly been a single election cycle over the last 20 years when someone hasn’t made the claim that the ground-game of politics is passé. Certainly it is easy to be convinced by expensive advertising campaigns, by the omnipresence of social media, and by massive party polarization, that perhaps the day of door-knocking is finally, truly over.

While primary election contests are different from general election contests in a dozen ways, I think one can nonetheless count this tiny election--with less than 10% of registered voters bothering to cast a ballot, which is unfortunately typical--is evidence against that thesis. Longwell had the advantage of incumbency and his record as mayor to promote, and Wells enjoyed the endorsement of many major players and organizations throughout Wichita (including the Eagle!). The big money and “establishment” narratives were nearly all on their sides. But GOTV cares little about narratives; it cares about making sure potential voters are “touched” by campaign workers directly, again and again. That operation, probably more than anything else, enabled Whipple to squeak by Wells, and advance to challenge Longwell in November.

Winner and Loser: Mayor Jeff Longwell. Obviously he’s not really a loser: he not only was one of the two winners of the primary, he was the one with the most votes–32% for him, compared to Whipple’s 26%. And that was with the mayor’s campaign very much in low gear (in contrast to what it will surely be the case for the general); he spent less than half of the money he raised for the race, after all. But nonetheless, you have to see the big picture: his record as mayor inspired a major challenger from within his own political party, and he barely had the support of 1/3rd of the primary voters. True, he can look back at his 2015 primary win, when he advanced with only 28% of the vote, and went on to be elected mayor. But in that case, he wasn’t the incumbent. By comparison, incumbent mayor Carl Brewer won 77% of the vote in the 2011 primary, before cruising to re-election, while incumbent mayor Carlos Mayans came out of the 2007 primary with only 26% of the vote, and went on to an embarrassing loss.

None of this takes away all the obvious advantages Longwell will enjoy in November. His record as mayor is obviously positive to many (it's probably not a coincidence that a ceremony honoring the completion of one major part of the baseball stadium which, for better or worse, is bound to be Longwell's greatest legacy, took place the day after the election). But looking at the results on Tuesday night, I suspect our mayor didn’t feel quite like the winner he would have prefer to have been.