With regard to Hillary versus Bernie, one thing that people tend not to be factoring in is that Bernie has not faced serious attacks. The back and forth between Clinton and Bernie is basically kids gloves.
For better or worse, Hillary is a known quantity. Her past has been well hashed out, and although it’s quite possible that more stuff can be dug up, I'm not sure how likely it is. Sanders, on the other hand? He has 40 years worth of statements and positions that will, relatively speaking, be news to the vast majority of people. There has been no Swift Boats, or Rev. Wrights, or even pastel suits!
The other reader:
In your latest note about the electability of Clinton and Sanders, you asked Clinton fans to name her biggest accomplishment. Politico already asked that question, and they got responses from some pretty high-profile Clinton supporters. In my mind, the best answers are: pioneering SCHIP as first lady and secretary of state, authoring the sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table for its nuclear program, brokering a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, and guiding the passage of the New START treaty with Russia.
For me the only question of any import is which candidate is more likely to win the general election. If the Republicans win the presidency they will probably control Congress as well. I cannot underscore enough what an enormous disaster I think this would be for our nation. Given that a Democratic president is unlikely to be able to make any new policy except via executive action, I truly do not care who the Democratic nominee is as long as they win. They MUST win.
And I don’t think Bernie can. He does worse than Hillary in head-to-head comparisons to Republicans. We know that swing voters aren’t policy oriented people. If they didn’t vote from the gut, they wouldn't be swing voters! I can’t see those voters trusting a man who intentionally cultivates an image as angry and unprofessional. Bernie presents the image of a nutty professor as part of demonstrating that he’s reliably socialist. The tradeoff is that, judging by looks alone, he appears to be a nut, and a significant part of swing voters will make their decisions on that factor alone! Given how close elections are, the “bad hair factor” doesn’t need to be very large to cost us the election.
The reader claims that Bernie “does worse than Hillary in head-to-head comparisons to Republicans,” but I’m not so sure that’s true, at least regarding the GOP’s decisive frontrunner. According to polling averages from RealClearPolitics, Bernie leads Trump by the same margin as Hillary leads Trump—44 to 42. And according to The Huffington Post’s averages, Bernie leads Trump 49 to 42 while Hillary only leads Trump 48 to 44.5. The primaries haven’t even started yet, of course, and Election Day is still ten months away, but Bernie seems like he could be just as strong in the general election as his more centrist Democratic rival. Update: The reader below, Matt, bolsters my point even further:
That comment from the guy who says Bernie loses head-to-head matchups against any Republican? Maybe 18 months ago, but the latest polling on RCP has Sanders beating every Repub while Clinton only beats most. (Cruz for some reason has big numbers in Iowa, but it must just be his turn.) So Sanders has the advantage over Clinton in every hypothetical race (see attached screencap from RCP).
This stuff is not exactly science, but it is illustrative. The Clinton Inevitablity/Electability narrative is half-myth, half-Beltway insider consensus. Nobody is inevitable, Clinton least of all (*cough 2008 cough*).
That reader, in his original email, scrutinizes the Clinton narrative in great detail:
My name is Matt. You posted my thoughts about the merits of online dating for a discussion thread you ran several months back. Today I have more comments on another subject near and dear to people of my general age and political persuasion: Bernie Sanders. I wanted to respond to the individual who wrote the topmost email in this note. The reader ultimately misstates the nature of Clinton’s appeal while ignoring that her apparent positives—steadiness, competence, a legislative record to run on, realism, pragmatism, political and bureaucratic mastery, etc—are actual aspects of Sanders’ legislative accomplishments.
People like Hillary for a variety of reasons—her competence, her formidable knowledge and recall of geopolitics, her decades of hard-won relationships in Washington that could theoretically be leveraged into real legislative accomplishments. I too have met her; I found her warm and engaging, if a little humorless and kind of a hard ass. But I have also met Sanders (I interned for him in college) and found him much the same.
The argument I’m not buying, and never will, is the “she’ll by gosh get things done” canard. This is a problematic argument for two reasons.
First, where is the evidence for this? In her favor, she was an adequate secretary of state (though if statecraft was measured by the number of miles traveled, Ben Franklin would look like a rank amateur) and she did great work in the Sisyphean task of starting to rebuild our foreign policy credibility after the Bush years.
However, she failed to anticipate, moderate, or meaningfully exploit the extent to which the Arab Spring allowed radical Islamists to seize power across the region, which will continue to have repercussions for decades. This relates to her earlier failure to anticipate the absolute fiasco that the Iraq War would become, her non-apologies for supporting that disastrous quagmire, and her “bomb first” tendencies (e.g. Syria) that contrast sharply with Obama’s more measured, level-headed, and reasonable approach to intervention.
The whole Benghazi thing, while technically and legally not her fault, was nevertheless her responsibility. Her ineptitude in managing the scandal, her tendency towards unreasonable secrecy and paranoia in the name of operational security, and her series of half-assed excuses for the events that led to the deaths seriously calls into question her judgment. And it makes me shudder to think of watching cable news for 4-8 years of a hypothetical Clinton presidency. (Think things are weird and bad now? How quickly we forget the ‘90s … ).
And on domestic matters? Again, I see no real evidence for Clinton’s apparent bureaucratic mastery or skills at agenda-advancing knife fighting. And if, as your reader writes, Obama lacks these skills and it was fatal to his agenda, where is the evidence for that? His lack of progress? I say again, what lack of progress? He managed quite well against an unprecedented and wholly unreasonable Republican Congress.
This is all to say, mastery of the dark arts is not a necessary quality for legislative success, and if it is, I’m not sure that your reader has proven that Clinton possesses it. She sure gets into a lot of fights with people, I’ll give her that. But name me one serious, real accomplishment that Clinton made as a senator or as first lady of either the USA or Arkansas. Can anyone? [CB note: If a Clinton supporter would like to respond to that question in some detail, please email me.]
There’s an argument to be made that she’s a behind-the-scenes actor who helps advance and write legislation without attaching her name to it. It’s this and evidence like this—negative evidence, unproven and unprovable evidence, anecdotal evidence—that seems to form the crux of the “Clinton Competence” argument. Her supporters (Marcotte et al) point to an underwhelming-to-nonexistent record of policy accomplishment—a resume that, while substantial and meaningful, lacks any serious executive experience that would recommend somebody for the presidency. (Yes, I know this argument was lobbed at Obama as well, but let’s not forget that Clinton piled right on, which is itself pretty rich).
She has been in Washington for a long time, true, but if proximity to the Oval Office were an indicator of executive acumen, Gerald Ford would have been goddamn transformational. So there’s that, and the wholly unsupported argument that she has some sort of proven track record of working across the aisle to move the sticks (the same folks that accused her of murder in the ‘90s?).
This brings me back to Sanders and finally (apologies) to my point.
If the arguments for Clinton are accomplishment, bipartisan cooperation and the ability to advance legislation under less than optimal conditions and bureaucratic/executive experience, suffice it to say that Sanders, who has held an elected office of one sort or another since 1981—longer than I’ve been alive—has it in spades. As evidence, look to his legislative record, or to his long history of working—against apparently immovable conservative opposition—to craft and enact legislation.
So your reader is using distorted, emotional and unsupported arguments in a way that not only misrepresent the apparent and very hypothetical effectiveness of a President Clinton but also ignores the very real political effectiveness of Sanders throughout his career.
This is not to say that a Sanders presidency would necessarily be transformational, that a Clinton presidency wouldn’t or that Sanders is an ideal candidate. I will admit to supporting him, and as I mentioned, I interned for him in college. But to be perfectly fair, my first job out of college was as an organizer on Clinton’s 2008 campaign. I like them both a lot and will vote for whomever makes it out of the primary with no (okay, a few) reservations. So don’t mistake this for an unconsidered screed from some overheated “berniebro.”
But to take as granted the argument that Clinton is de facto “the adult” in the race, with the resume, the accomplishments, the skills and the dead-eyed, depressing Kissingerian realism to succeed as president ignores two fundamental things: there’s no real proof for this argument unless your media consumption is 100 percent inside the Beltway pablum; and the traits that your reader is mistakenly attributing to Clinton are actually demonstrated to a large extent by Sanders’ actual list of accomplishments.
Your reader wrote: “Clinton appeals to a smaller and smaller segment of the Democratic electorate. She is BORING.” This, I think, is the crux of why I’m wary of Sanders and will be voting for Clinton. Maybe she’s boring. Maybe she’s stiff in public and lacks her husband’s ability to pirouette through the electorate. But I think she’ll be competent and effective in a way that I've seen no indication that Sanders can be.
Obama came into 2008 riding the type of train Sanders is on now. Our last great hope! Save America from the Establishment! HOPE! CHANGE!
I always though the mushy hope/change stuff was largely BS. But what I did see in Obama, in a few unguarded moments like the Reverend Wright speech and the “cling to their guns” moment, was the guy underneath the messiah campaign. And that guy seemed to me like someone who was smart, capable, empathetic, knowledgable, and realistic about the state of the world. It’s that man I wanted to be president.
And that’s the president we got. But he revived a MOUNTAIN of shit for this in the first term. The people inspired by 2008 felt dismayed, betrayed, disillusioned. The president was meek, weak, feckless, ignored their promises. And while they whined, and complained, and felt betrayed, Obama quietly went ahead and put together the cleanest, most effective presidency of my 32-year lifetime.
When I look at Sanders, I see a B version of Candidate Obama. When I look at Clinton, I see a B version of President Obama. The latter is who I want to be chief executive.
Sanders, right now, is riding a wave of unrealistic expectations. People want him to come in and “fix everything”—though without a clear explanation of what precisely is broken, and how it can be fixed. When I look at America, I see a country that’s done pretty dang well, except for the glaring problems of median wage stagnation and income inequality.
But Bernie Sanders can’t fix that. It’s a society-wide problem. I’m glad Bernie’s putting the issue on the table, but there’s no presidential initiative that’s going to unionize the American workforce, or make shareholders not like profits, or end technological advancement, or make foreign workers more expensive. And if there are, he certainly hasn’t explained them. In fact, he’s given me very little reason to believe he’s capable of delivering anything he promises.
I happen to have good friends who’ve worked personally with Mrs. Clinton. They describe her as smart, thoughtful, and willing to listen to input. Like I said, I am glad Sanders is shifting the discussion left, and I think he’s great in a role that lets him be loud and angry. But 90 percent of the presidency is managing, reacting to events, compromising between diametrically opposed forces. I know Clinton can do this, but can Sanders?
If Sanders is nominated, I’m not sure whether or not he can withstand the harshness of the general election. But I expect his presidency would be a disappointment, because the expectations are so unrealistic. He won’t fix everything. He’ll have to compromise. He’ll have to ignore promises, or break them. And it will be a betrayal to his supporters. It’s a recipe for gridlock, or a GOP win in 2020, or both.
Clinton, though, won’t suffer from this. She can be dirty. She can play the game. She can be an effective president and be herself.
I think Bernie Sanders is resonating because he is Trump’s tell-it-like-it-is counterpart on the other side. Only the more Bernie speaks, the more it’s evident he’s being entirely truthful and doesn’t appear to be in the race for his ego, which is why I think he could beat Trump head-on, whose tell-it-like-it-is persona is just a laundry list of cynicism, doom and gloom, while he appears to be in it solely for ego.
If you’re a hard-working person just trying to get by, it is clear that Bernie is the truest candidate for your interests. He isn’t bought off by anybody and is primarily looking to benefit you after more than three decades now where Washington always defaults to putting their corporate slavers first.
In a Sanders-Trump matchup, Sanders looks like the boring, sensible one.
In a piece from David Graham showing how close the race is between Clinton and Sanders in key polling, David notes how she is “pulling out various stops. In particular, she has spent the last few days assailing Sanders for being, in her view, soft on gun control”—despite the Vermonter’s D-minus rating from the NRA. Along those lines, a reader predicts that Sanders would “wipe the floor with Trump” and refers to the video seen above:
Obama called her Annie Oakley in the 2008 primary because of her proud pro-gun stance, but now ALL OF A SUDDEN she is supposed to be some kind of anti-gun crusader? Come on.
Clinton appeals to a smaller and smaller segment of the Democratic electorate. She is BORING. Sanders has ALL of the excitement because he actually stands for something and is principled. She is so very obviously nothing but a panderer who changes her tune depending on which way the wind blows.
H.A. Goodman in The Huffington Postlooks at the record from the last time Clinton ran against a fellow Democrat:
According to a 2008 New York Times article titled Clinton Portrays Herself as a Pro-Gun Churchgoer, Clinton’s rhetoric on the 2nd Amendment differed greatly from today’s attacks against Sanders:
For the third time since Mr. Obama’s remarks were made public Friday night, Mrs. Clinton criticized him at length, saying his comments seemed "kind of elitist and out of touch."
"I disagree with Senator Obama's assertion that people in our country cling to guns and have certain attitudes about immigration or trade simply out of frustration," she said.
She described herself as a pro-gun churchgoer, recalling that her father taught her how to shoot a gun when she was a young girl and said that her faith "is the faith of my parents and my grandparents."
Imagine Clinton recalling how she learned to shoot a gun in 2016. She also focused on faith and the right-wing talking point of liberal elitism, which is why Clinton stated Obama was "kind of elitist and out of touch."
In addition to describing herself as a "pro-gun churchgoer," Clinton made a point to continue these themes against Obama. A 2008 CNN article titled Clinton touts her experience with guns explains her rural Indiana visit in greater detail:
"You know, my dad took me out behind the cottage that my grandfather built on a little lake called Lake Winola outside of Scranton and taught me how to shoot when I was a little girl," she said.
"You know, some people now continue to teach their children and their grandchildren. It's part of culture. It's part of a way of life. People enjoy hunting and shooting because it's an important part of who they are. Not because they are bitter."
Minutes later, in a slightly awkward moment, Clinton faced a question from a woman in the audience whose son had been paralyzed by a gunshot...
"As I told you, my dad taught me how to shoot behind our cottage," she said. "I have gone hunting. I am not a hunter. But I have gone hunting."
Clinton said she has hunted ducks.
Meanwhile, a Sanders supporter responds to David’s point that “Sanders won’t benefit from the good feeling of electing a first black president, as Obama did”:
One thing the author forgot to mention is that even though Sanders isn’t black, he is Jewish (and people say atheist as well). Obama was the first black president, but Sanders would be the first Jewish president, which would also be very notable.
Another reader who feels the Bern:
Bernie is the ONLY candidate whose record proves he is honest. He wants tuition-free college paid for by a tax on Wall Street speculation. He wants to break up the big banks. He voted no to all the trade deals.
Hillary said NAFTA was good and that the TPP was the gold standard. Now she is against the TPP because she has to copy Bernie. Why get the lying copy when you can get the real thing?
Bernie wants a single-payer health insurance system. Hillary wants to strengthen Obamacare. Hillary will make your health insurance even more expensive. Mine is currently $475/month (compared to my $25/month car insurance from Insurance Panda, or my $10/month dental insurance, but I digress). Hillary is in bed with Big Pharma.
Trump wants low wages, but only now after Bernie pointed it out, proving he is copying Bernie as well.
Bernie is the new FDR, and if we let him he will stop the corruption and bring our country into prosperity again. The other candidates are paid for by the corporations.
Are you a strong Clinton supporter and want to make your case? Drop me an email and I’ll post.
“Our boyfriends, our significant others, and our husbands are supposed to be No. 1. Our worlds are backward.”
Kami West had been dating her current boyfriend for a few weeks when she told him that he was outranked by her best friend. West knew her boyfriend had caught snatches of her daily calls with Kate Tillotson, which she often placed on speaker mode. But she figured that he, like the men she’d dated before, didn’t quite grasp the nature of their friendship. West explained to him, “I need you to know that she’s not going anywhere. She is my No. 1.” Tillotson was there before him, and, West told him, “she will be there after you. And if you think at any point that this isn’t going to be my No. 1, you’re wrong.”
If West’s comments sound blunt, it’s because she was determined not to repeat a distressing experience from her mid-20s. Her boyfriend at that time had sensed that he wasn’t her top priority. In what West saw as an attempt to keep her away from her friend, he disparaged Tillotson, calling her a slut and a bad influence. After the relationship ended, West, 31, vowed to never let another man strain her friendship. She decided that any future romantic partners would have to adapt to her friendship with Tillotson, rather than the other way around.
The president of the United States poses a threat to our collective existence. The choice voters face is spectacularly obvious.
In 1973, a United States Air Force officer, Major Harold Hering, asked a question that the Air Force did not want asked. Hering, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, was then in training to become a Minuteman-missile crewman. The question he asked one of his instructors was this: “How can I know that an order I receive to launch my missiles came from a sane president?”
The writer Ron Rosenbaum would later call this the “forbidden question.” Missile officers are allowed to ask certain sorts of questions—about the various fail-safe systems built to prevent the accidental launching of nuclear weapons, for instance. But the Air Force would not answer Hering’s question, and it moved to discharge him after determining that officers responsible for launching nuclear weapons did not “need to know” the answer. “I have to say I feel I do have a need to know because I am a human being,” Hering said in response.
Cases are rising in all but nine states. Unlike the past two waves, this one has no epicenter.
Updated at 9:20 p.m. ET on October 22, 2020
The United States is sleepwalking into what could become the largest coronavirus outbreak of the pandemic so far. In the past week alone, as voters prepare to go to the ballot box, about one in every 1,000 Americans has tested positive for the virus, and about two in every 100,000 Americans have died of it. Today, the United States reported 73,103 new cases, the third-highest single-day total since the pandemic began, according to the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic.
This third surge is far more geographically dispersed than what the country saw in the spring or summer: The virus can now be found in every kind of American community, from tiny farm towns to affluent suburbs to bustling border cities. This is the first of the American surges with no clear epicenter: From North Carolina to North Dakota, and Colorado to Connecticut, more Americans are contracting COVID-19.
As society gets richer, people chase the wrong things.
“How to Build a Life” is a biweekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness.
One of the greatest paradoxes in American life is that while, on average, existence has gotten more comfortable over time, happiness has fallen.
According to the United States Census Bureau, average household income in the U.S., adjusted for inflation, was higher in 2019 than has ever been recorded for every income quintile. And although income inequality has risen, this has not been mirrored by inequality in the consumption of goods and services. For example, from 2008 to 2019, households in the lowest income quintile increased spending on eating out by an average of about 22 percent after correcting for inflation; the top quintile increased spending on eating out by an average of just under 8 percent. Meanwhile, domestic government services have increased significantly: For example, federal spending on education, training, employment, and social services increased from 2000 to 2019 by about 30 percent in inflation-adjusted terms.
In targeting Hunter Biden, the president is waging psychological warfare against the Democratic nominee.
After 18 months of flogging the Hunter Biden story, what does President Donald Trump have to show for his efforts? His opposition research on former Vice President Joe Biden’s son culminated in his own impeachment. Despite railing against the scion’s alleged swampiness at nearly every rally, Trump’s convoluted narrative about Biden family corruption has taken root only on Fox News. At the very least, the accusation that Hunter leveraged his father’s high office to enrich himself has failed to measurably move the polls. Even Trump’s ardent supporters are now encouraging him to change the subject. Yet he remains obstinate in his obsession.
Without a coherent message or an affirmative vision for a second term, Trump has clearly been betting his reelection on what military planners would call a “psyop,” or a psychological operation. That is, he hopes to use gamesmanship to destabilize the mind of his adversary, forcing him into a moment of anger or incoherence that illustrates his lack of fitness for the office. (“Too old and out of it” is how Trump puts it.) His attacks on Hunter Biden should be understood as the pillar of this strategy.
An overlooked corner of the Constitution hints at a right to be protected from infection.
Ever since state governors began implementing stay-at-home orders to contain the coronavirus pandemic, protesters have resisted such safety measures under the belief that they violate constitutionally guaranteed liberties. Proposals to mandate mask wearing have collided with allegations of First Amendment violations. Orders to close gun stores have clashed with concerns about Second Amendment freedoms. But a profound historical counter-vision to these ideas about “individual liberty” can be found in one of the most neglected and underappreciated corners of the Bill of Rights: the Third Amendment.
“No soldier,” the amendment reads, “shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.” Federal courts have rarely invoked it, and in 2015 even rejected a Third Amendment claim against police officers’ occupation of a house. Now the subject of memes, the amendment, in the words of the legal historian Morton Horwitz, is an “interesting study in constitutional obsolescence.”
My hunt took me to an unlikely place: Center City, Philadelphia.
PHILADELPHIA—They had to be out there. The country is too big for them not to be. Somewhere in the electorate existed that scarce band of voters: the few and far between who backed Hillary Clinton in 2016 and now want to keep President Donald Trump in power.
But where? Who are the people who looked at two candidates different in every way imaginable and concluded, four years apart, that both are qualified to lead the free world? What happened that perhaps made them wish they’d voted for Trump in the first place?
They “are rare creatures,” Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster, told me. “You can find some, but you also can find needles in haystacks.” Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster, emailed: “Hmmm … I honestly have nothing to say about Clinton ’16/Trump ’20 voters. I wasn’t aware that there were any, at least not enough to swing an election.”
His verbal stumbles have voters worried about his mental fitness. Maybe they’d be more understanding if they knew he’s still fighting a stutter.
His eyes fall to the floor when I ask him to describe it. We’ve been tiptoeing toward it for 45 minutes, and so far, every time he seems close, he backs away, or leads us in a new direction. There are competing theories in the press, but Joe Biden has kept mum on the subject. I want to hear him explain it. I ask him to walk me through the night he appeared to lose control of his words onstage.
“I—um—I don’t remember,” Biden says. His voice has that familiar shake, the creak and the croak. “I’d have to see it. I-I-I don’t remember.”
We’re in Biden’s mostly vacant Washington, D.C., campaign office on an overcast Tuesday at the end of the summer. Since entering the Democratic presidential-primary race in April, Biden has largely avoided in-depth interviews. When I first reached out, in late June, his press person was polite but noncommittal: Was an interview really necessary for the story?
The Commission on Presidential Debates is choosing the appearance of civility over an honest, open display of the two men’s characters.
The Commission on Presidential Debates has announced that it will employ mute buttons during tonight’s debate, cutting off President Donald Trump or Vice President Joe Biden if either attempts to interrupt the other’s two-minute speaking time. On the surface, this might seem like an excellent idea: We’ll get to hear more of the candidates’ answers to questions, and less crosstalk, than we did four weeks ago.
But the decision to mute the candidates is a mistake. In choosing the appearance of civility over an honest, open display of the two men’s characters, the commission has failed in the way so many institutions have failed over these past four years: by giving a sheen of normalcy to an utterly dangerous moment and man.
The day when Barack Obama was furious at John Kerry
Several days ago, in my annotation* of this year's State of the Union address, I mentioned that I'd remembered Barack Obama having said the following in his debut speech [right] at the 2004 Democratic convention: "Not 'red states' or 'blue states,' but the United States of America." In fact, as I found out when I went back to the transcript, he'd said something subtly but significantly different.
A reader in a position to know explains one reason for this aural-memory version of phantom-limb pain. The line I thought I remembered is closer to what Obama had intended to say -- until he was instructed not to, by John Kerry's team at the convention, since Kerry preferred to make that point himself. The person who wrote to me added some off-the-record confirming details, but he pointed me to this on-the-record account in an intriguing story called "The Speech," by David Bernstein in Chicago magazine, back in 2007. The relevant passage: