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.
Among the more practical advice that can be offered to international travelers is wisdom of the bathroom. So let me say, as someone who recently returned from China, that you should be prepared to (1) carry your own toilet paper and (2) practice your squat.
I do not mean those goofy chair-less sits you see at the gym. No, toned glutes will not save you here. I mean the deep squat, where you plop your butt down as far as it can go while staying aloft and balanced on the heels. This position—in contrast to deep squatting on your toes as most Americans naturally attempt instead—is so stable that people in China can hold it for minutes and perhaps even hours …
“I’m still very much puzzled about how this is possible."
To survive in the frigid ocean waters around the Arctic and Antarctica, marine life evolved many defenses against the lethal cold. One common adaptation is the ability to make antifreezing proteins (AFPs) that prevent ice crystals from growing in blood, tissues, and cells. It’s a solution that has evolved repeatedly and independently, not just in fish but in plants, fungi, and bacteria.
It isn’t surprising, then, that herrings and smelts, two groups of fish that commonly roam the northernmost reaches of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, both make AFPs. But it is very surprising, even weird, that both fish do so with the same AFP gene—particularly because their ancestors diverged more than 250 million years ago and the gene is absent from all the other fish species related to them.
Aduhelm, the first new Alzheimer’s drug in 18 years, may not work. But states and Medicare might pay billions of dollars for it anyway.
Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration overruled—to much criticism—its own scientific advisory committee and approved the Alzheimer’s treatment Aduhelm. The agency made this decision despite thin evidence of the drug’s clinical efficacy and despite its serious side effects, including brain swelling and bleeding. As a result, a serious risk now exists that millions of people will be prescribed a drug that does more harm than good.
Less appreciated is how the drug’s approval could trigger hundreds of billions of dollars of new government spending, all without a vote in Congress or indeed any public debate over the drug’s value. Aduhelm’s manufacturer, Biogen, announced on Monday that it would price the drug at an average of $56,000 a year per patient, a figure that doesn’t include the additional imaging and scans needed to diagnose patients or to monitor them for serious side effects.
“Scientists are meant to know what’s going on, but in this particular case, we are deeply confused.”
Carl Schoonover and Andrew Fink are confused. As neuroscientists, they know that the brain must be flexible but not too flexible. It must rewire itself in the face of new experiences, but must also consistently represent the features of the external world. How? The relatively simple explanation found in neuroscience textbooks is that specific groups of neurons reliably fire when their owner smells a rose, sees a sunset, or hears a bell. These representations—these patterns of neural firing—presumably stay the same from one moment to the next. But as Schoonover, Fink, and others have found, they sometimes don’t. They change—and to a confusing and unexpected extent.
Schoonover, Fink, and their colleagues from Columbia University allowed mice to sniff the same odors over several days and weeks, and recorded the activity of neurons in the rodents’ piriform cortex—a brain region involved in identifying smells. At a given moment, each odor caused a distinctive group of neurons in this region to fire. But as time went on, the makeup of these groups slowly changed. Some neurons stopped responding to the smells; others started. After a month, each group was almost completely different. Put it this way: The neurons that represented the smell of an apple in May and those that represented the same smell in June were as different from each other as those that represent the smells of apples and grass at any one time.
People in the United States no longer agree on the nation’s purpose, values, history, or meaning. Is reconciliation possible?
Nations, like individuals, tell stories in order to understand what they are, where they come from, and what they want to be. National narratives, like personal ones, are prone to sentimentality, grievance, pride, shame, self-blindness. There is never just one—they compete and constantly change. The most durable narratives are not the ones that stand up best to fact-checking. They’re the ones that address our deepest needs and desires. Americans know by now that democracy depends on a baseline of shared reality—when facts become fungible, we’re lost. But just as no one can live a happy and productive life in nonstop self-criticism, nations require more than facts—they need stories that convey a moral identity. The long gaze in the mirror has to end in self-respect or it will swallow us up.
The Human Genome Project left 8 percent of our DNA unexplored. Now, for the first time, those enigmatic regions have been revealed.
When the human genome was first deemed “complete” in 2000, the news was met with great international fanfare. The two rival groups vying to finish the genome first—one a large government-led consortium, the other an underdog private company—agreed to declare joint success. They shook hands at the White House. Bill Clinton presided. Tony Blair beamed in from London. “We are standing at an extraordinary moment in scientific history,” one prominent scientist declared when those genomes were published. “It’s as though we have climbed to the top of the Himalayas.”
But actually, the human genome was not complete. Neither group had reached the real summit. As even the contemporary coverage acknowledged, that version was more of a rough draft, riddled with long stretches where the DNA sequence was still fuzzy or missing. The private company soon pivoted and ended its human-genome project, though scientists with the public consortium soldiered on. In 2003, with less glitz but still plentyof headlines, the human genome was declared complete once again.
And that might be the right way to save classics from oblivion.
My Atlantic colleague John McWhorter and I must have received the same high-frequency language-nerd alert, audible only to the types of people whose idea of fun is Esperanto grammar. We both recently learned that Princeton’s classics department had ceased requiring its students to study Latin and Greek, and we reacted in predictable horror. A classics department without Latin and Greek is like a math department without multiplication and division, or an art department without paint. More than a thousand years ago, the monk Ælfric prefaced his Latin Grammar by saying it was “the key that unlocks the understanding of books.” I had a vision of a new generation of Princeton classicists, sniffing and thwacking at padlocked volumes of Thucydides or Cicero with looks of total incomprehension, like Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson trying to get the files “in the computer” in Zoolander.
This article was published online on June 7, 2021.
“Nothing can go wrong!” Boris Johnson said, jumping into the driver’s seat of a tram he was about to take for a test ride. “Nothing. Can. Go. Wrong.”
The prime minister was visiting a factory outside Birmingham, campaigning on behalf of the local mayor ahead of “Super Thursday”—a spate of elections across England, Scotland, and Wales in early May. These elections would give voters a chance to have their say on Johnson’s two years in office, during which quite a lot did go wrong.
Johnson was, as usual, unkempt and amused, a tornado of bonhomie in a country where politicians tend to be phlegmatic and self-serious, if not dour and awkward. Walking in, he had launched into a limerick about a man named Dan who likes to ride trams. The mayor, Andy Street, looked horrified, tomorrow’s disastrous headlines seeming to flash before his eyes. (The limerick, I’m sorry to say, was not at all filthy.)
We understand how this will end. But who bears the risk that remains?
During a pandemic, no one’s health is fully in their own hands. No field should understand that more deeply than public health, a discipline distinct from medicine. Whereas doctors and nurses treat sick individuals in front of them, public-health practitioners work to prevent sickness in entire populations. They are expected to think big. They know that infectious diseases are always collective problems becausethey are infectious. An individual’s choices can ripple outward to affect cities, countries, and continents; one sick person can seed a hemisphere’s worth of cases. In turn, each person’s odds of falling ill depend on the choices of everyone around them—and on societal factors, such as poverty and discrimination, that lie beyond their control.
Many people who have been working from home are experiencing a void they can’t quite name.
This article was published online on June 9, 2021.
Back when commuting was a requirement for going to work, I once passed through a subway tunnel so filthy and crowded that the poem inscribed on its ceiling seemed like a cruel joke. “Overslept, / so tired. / If late, / get fired. / Why bother? / Why the pain? / Just go home / do it again.” “The Commuter’s Lament,” which adorns a subterranean passage in New York City’s 42nd Street station, made the already grim ritual of getting to and from work positively Dante-esque. But no one questioned the gist of it. The commute, according to the Nobel Prize–winning economist Daniel Kahneman’s research, ranked as the single most miserable part of our day. A Swiss study held long commutes responsible for “systematically lower subjective well-being.”