2021年2月6日 星期六

What is “political capital” anyway?

Reframing a bad metaphor.
Author Headshot

By Jamelle Bouie

Opinion Columnist

Listen to professional political observers and politicians long enough and you'll eventually hear someone use the term "political capital." It's a metaphor for the resources a party or politician has to pursue an agenda. For example, here's Politico in January 2009, a week before Barack Obama took office:

President George W. Bush often speaks about his style of political leadership, especially the theory of political capital. How he acquired and spent political capital to his advantage — but then lost it irretrievably — defines his legacy. Bush understood that the formal powers of the Oval Office alone do not make an effective president. Presidents acquire a sheen, a popularity that gives them clout in office. And a president who has clout can get things done. For Bush, this informal power, or political capital, had a "use it or lose it" quality. What good was popularity if you were not going to do anything with it? Political capital not put to use would waste away.

In this telling, "political capital" is finite. When you spend it, you lose it, and if you spend it on the wrong things, you can't get it back. But that doesn't make any sense.

Actual "capital" isn't spent; it is invested. The point is to get a return on that investment by directing capital to some productive use. The point of capital, in other words, is to produce more capital.

If we're going to use the metaphor of "capital" in politics, then we should move away from thinking of it as a finite resource to spend as carefully as possible. Instead, we should think of political capital as all of the resources you have to make productive investments for your political party.

If those resources are slight, then you'll want to invest carefully. But if you're entering office with the wind at your back, with a popular mandate and a legislative majority, then you should invest as much as possible, in everything that might be promising. And if those investments pay off — if your policies work and are popular — then you'll move forward with even more capital than you had.


What I Wrote

For my Tuesday column, I put on my Washington political pundit hat and argued that the reason there isn't any bipartisanship in Congress is Republicans don't want it.

If Republicans were serious about compromise, they would look for ways to either honor that request or to compensate for its exclusion with a concession: larger checks, more unemployment insurance or money for the expanded child tax credit. Instead, Republicans have taken state aid off the table in addition to slashing or eliminating all other assistance. This is a bipartisan proposal only in the sense that if it passed, Democrats would have voted for it.

And for my Friday column, I looked at Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene and the forgiving relationship between the extreme right and the mainstream of the Republican Party.

What's distinctive right now isn't the fact that someone like Greene exists but that no one has emerged to play the role of [William] Buckley. A longtime Republican leader like Mitch McConnell can try — he denounced Greene's "loony lies and conspiracy theories" as a "cancer" on the party — but after he served four years as an ally to Donald Trump, his words aren't worth much.

Now Reading

Molly Ball on the shadow campaign that saved the 2020 election in Time magazine.

Minkah Makalani on Cedric Robinson and his theorizing on the origins of race in the Boston Review.

Not a piece to read but a podcast to listen to: Matthew Sitman and Sam Adler-Bell of the podcast "Know Your Enemy" speak to Sarah Marshall and Michael Hobbes of the "You're Wrong About" podcast to discuss the history of moral panics in America.

Manisha Sinha makes the case for a Third Reconstruction in the New York Review of Books.

Peter Beinart on the right to self-determination in Jewish Currents.


If you're enjoying what you're reading, please consider recommending it to your friends. They can sign up here. If you want to share your thoughts on an item in this week's newsletter or on the newsletter in general, please email me at jamelle-newsletter@nytimes.com.

Photo of the Week

I recently developed and scanned some sheet film from last summer, when I went around Charlottesville, Va., with my Crown Graphic taking photos of protests like I was some press photographer in a 1940s studio film. Here is one of the bunch. It's not my favorite, but it is probably the most representative (and is well composed, for what it's worth).


Now Eating: Collard Greens With Smoked Turkey and Jalapeños

Like any good Southerner, I love collard greens and look for any opportunity to eat them. If I'm making them as a side dish, I'll do something simple — a sauté and braise with onions, garlic and chili flakes. But if I'm making them as a meal — to serve with cornbread or grits and maybe a poached egg — then I turn to this recipe from Asha Gomez's "My Two Souths." Other than the jalapeños — which are seeded so that they add flavor but not too much heat — this is a pretty traditional recipe. My modifications are to swap the ham hocks for smoked turkey wings, use all collard greens instead of a mix of varieties and use stock instead of water. One other thing: Don't skimp on the vinegar; it is an essential part of the flavor profile.

You can make this vegetarian by swapping out chicken stock for vegetable stock or water, omitting the ham hocks and adding smoked paprika if you need that hint of smokiness. You can make it vegan by doing all of the above and not using butter.

You can do this in a Dutch oven on the stove or in an Instant Pot. If the latter, reduce the stock to just 1 cup, and pressure cook for 30 minutes, allowing the pressure to release naturally.


  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 large jalapeños, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 pound smoked turkey wings
  • 2 pounds collard greens, stemmed, washed and sliced in a ¼-inch chiffonade
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 3 tablespoons molasses
  • ½ cup rice wine vinegar
  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock (or 1 cup if you're doing this in a pressure cooker)


Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat and melt the butter with the olive oil.

Add the onion, garlic and jalapeño. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the smoked turkey wings, greens, salt, nutmeg, cane syrup and vinegar; stir well.

Add 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover. Simmer for about 2 hours until tender. After the greens have finished cooking, whether on the stove or in the Instant Pot, remove the turkey wings. Let cool for a few minutes, remove the meat from the bones, dice, and add back in. Serve however you like, although my favorite preparation is over creamy grits with a poached egg on top.

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