I’m a retired political science professor. I’ve also been a candidate who’s lost an election, and I understand there’s a natural tendency to fall into what I call “campaign psychosis,” where you only see what you want to see. Everybody understands the human desire to hold onto hope.
But here is what I’ve seen that is unique to this primary: The Sanders campaign would have been dead long ago under the old rules of presidential politics, if the only source of campaign cash were coming from rational actors (the dreaded “donor class”) who stop giving money once all signs point to failure. Bernie would have been gone in March.
If the Sanders campaign existed before social media, it would have had to spend money to communicate to supporters and would not have been able to count on the free services of millions of activists on Twitter and Facebook that are easily able to gather at a moment's notice. Gone by March.
It is the ease with which campaign cash can be generated and followers exhorted that has come only with a robust social media environment that has artificially kept a fringe candidate not only alive, but able to thrive by winning low turnout caucuses where a small number of fanatical followers can easily be translated into victory.
A second set of phenomena has been unique to the Clinton/Sanders race.
One candidate, Hillary Clinton, has had to pull almost all her punches. Bernie Sanders has skillfully used a kind of political blackmail: “Go negative on me,” says Bernie, “and I will take my supporters further away from the Democratic party, and they could ruin your chances in November.”
Bernie is not constrained by the typical forces that keep a wounded and angry former candidate from lashing out. Bernie doesn’t need a future in the Democratic Party, and he doesn’t give a shit about the Democratic Party. So there’s nothing to constrain him from acting, post-defeat, in ways destructive to the future of the party.
I can’t recall another presidential primary where the front-runner has basically caved to political blackmail, resulting in the hands-off treatment that Clinton has given Sanders. I think this is due to bad advice given to Clinton, which set up a vicious cycle: The Clinton campaign takes a pass on negative attacks, so naturally Sanders does not get much tough scrutiny by the press, and when this results in Sanders having temporarily higher positives and lower negatives in the polls, Sanders uses this to claim he, the self-described life-long Socialist without a single great legislative achievement to show for a life-long career in elected office, is more likely to win a general election!
If I were running an informational campaign on Sanders, no holds barred, I’m pretty sure I could get his negatives up higher than Trump’s with everyone who doesn’t wake up every morning pining for the legalization of weed. And I wouldn’t need dirty tricks or even distortion to do it, just a close look at the Sanders’s actual record, and what his idea of socialism would mean for raising taxes.
Any Bernie supporters want to present a final case for his continued fight in this contest? Drop us a note: email@example.com. Update from a reader with a strong rebuttal, Robert Henry Eller:
Dr. Bauer facilely identifies “campaign psychosis” on the basis of one failed election, at what level we are not informed. Since this psychosis is so easy to fall into, Dr. Brauer fails to explain why Clinton and her staff have not similarly fallen in this same psychosis.
Dr. Bauer accuses Sanders of the crime of being funded by small donors. As she identifies the donor class as rational (I assume self serving) actors, she infers that small donors must be non-rational.
Dr. Bauer’s sour grapes perspective on low-turnout caucuses (empowered by the Democratic Party, of course) and their “fanatical” attendees, fails to address the obvious question: If the turnout required to win is so low, what wasn’t the formidable Clinton campaign unable to overcome such low numbers of “fanatics?” Is this not an example of the “If I lose, the results don’t count” attitude of ignoring reality that Clinton, her supporters, and Dr. Brauer accuse Sanders and his supporters of?
Dr. Bauer asserts Clinton “has had to pull almost all of her punches.” Really. Not a few people noted her, and her surrogates, doing quite the opposite. Dr. Brauer has not at least been following the campaign in The New York Times? Meanwhile, Sanders asserted in their first debate that he was tired of hearing about Clinton’s emails. Who indeed pulled punches?
When, where, and how did Sanders threaten to take his supporters further away from the party, as Dr. Brauer asserts in quotes? Sanders has always asserted his primary interest since the ascension of Trump was to defeat Trump. Sanders has always said that Clinton was a far better choice than any Republican candidate.
On the other hand, Sanders has, correctly, pointed out that he cannot simply tell his supporters who to vote for. Sanders knows that he had to ask for, to earn, his supporters votes. But somehow, Clinton is absolved from asking for and earning the votes of Sanders supporters. (Has Dr. Brauer forgotten the PUMAs of the 2008 cycle?) And if Clinton can’t gain the support of Sanders supporters, it will only be because Sanders tells his supporters not to support Clinton?
This leads to perhaps the most glaring omission of Dr. Brauer’s “analysis:” That there might be any difference between Clinton’s and Sanders’ platforms and philosophies. Is there not a big difference between incrementalism and a wholesale change of direction? Is not asking perhaps generations to wait or to acquiesce in their own well-being, or to ask voters if they might want something now for themselves? Whatever side, if any, you’re on in this actual debate—which Clinton has avoided as much as possible—these are not even close to the same platform.
The front-runner has “caved to political blackmail?” What is blackmail? The temerity of so many voters to support and voluntarily vote for Sanders? What a betrayal toward True Believers in Clinton! How annoying democracy is! Perhaps Clinton and the Democratic establishment is simply guilty of not taking much of their supposed constituency seriously?
The title “Is Bernie Going to Bring the Dems Down With Him?” is already presumptuous, arrogant and whiny. Sanders has never shown any interest in bringing the Democratic Party down. [CB: Those are two different things; Sanders undoubtedly doesn’t want Trump to win.] All he has been trying to do, consistently, for over half a century, is to bring the country up.
If there has been damage done to the Democratic Party, it has been self inflicted. What has Sanders done that has lost the Democrats hundreds of seats in the Congress, state legislatures, governors mansions, over the at least eight years? Clinton supporters pointing fingers at Sanders are even more pathetic than Trump supporters blaming Mexicans, Muslims, immigrants, women, African-Americans, for their woes.
Why, finally, does Dr. Bauer assert she could get Sanders’ negatives up higher than Trump’s? I guess she hasn’t noticed that Sanders has never hidden his democratic socialism, nor his higher taxes (but not necessarily overall public plus private costs), which have already been vilified by Krugman and other Clinton surrogates. Yet Sanders is still the only candidate with net positive approval. Isn’t it amazing that a candidate “without a single great legislative achievement to show for a life-long career in elected office” (Clinton’s achievements, anyone?) has garnered such support? Maybe commitment, integrity, authenticity, platform, ideas, actually matter to voters.
Another reader, Dave M., adds to the counterargument:
I found it a little amusing when Monica Bauer accused Sanders of being an underdog candidate doing what underdog candidates have done forever, and how frontrunners have to treat them if they want a shot at that underdog’s supporters later (“One candidate, Hillary Clinton, has had to pull almost all her punches. Bernie Sanders has skillfully used a kind of political blackmail”). That’s just politics. I thought Sanders was way too easy on her, to be honest, and a sign that in the end, he would indeed be standing with the Democrats.
Also just politics: At this point, the winner by definition now ought to be gracious. Hillary could now tack right and go with the usual Democratic Party stance of “we know you may not like it but where else are you going to go?” Given the relative closeness of this primary as far as change vs. establishment candidates within the party go, it would be foolish for the Democratic Party not to flip the usual script and welcome these energized and engaged voters with open arms, throwing them a few (meaningful) bones, rather than alienating them further by pointing fingers.
Sanders’ contribution has been immense, and has opened a lot of eyes and minds in a way no major candidate has in a very long time. It would be short-sighted to think this progressive streak is going to fold up and disappear for good. It might need a while to regroup, but it will return, with more lessons learned and improved strategies going forward.
An aside, if Dr. Bauer can entertain hypotheticals like “If there were no social media...” then I also can’t help but wonder: If it were a bland, B-list moderate Democrat like John “Reporting for Duty” Kerry running against Sanders this time instead of a major political celebrity like Hillary Clinton, would we “irrational” small donors really have been so irrational? I think the Democratic Party leadership got lucky and dodged the proverbial bullet ... this time.
With Hillary Clinton now the clear presumptive nominee, should Sanders finally step aside and end his campaign, or should he continue forward into the convention in late July? This reader, Dan, “a Bernie supporter who also thinks Hillary could be a good president,” thinks Sanders should stay in the race:
Bernie certainly shouldn’t go negative on Hillary, BUT—here are two reasons for him to remain:
1) Bernie deserves influence on the VP pick and the platform. A Clinton/Warren ticket looks very different from Clinton/Tim Kaine, and a platform based on progressive principles (that Hillary herself has espoused at various times in her career) is very different from a neoliberal Bill Clinton platform.
2) He’s a viable backup if Hillary gets indicted (fairly or otherwise). Far better to drop Bernie in when he got 45% of the vote than, say, Joe Biden (who didn’t get a single vote). I’m sure the indictment would be highly politically motivated, but we don’t want to be fighting one during a campaign!
Reader David adds more generally, “The longer Bernie stays in the race, the more likely it is that his movement will endure and make a lasting impact on the Democrats.” That lasting impact could be at the state-legislature level, given Sanders’s fundraising focus there, as Clare recently reported.
Another Sanders supporter, Robert Henry Eller—the reader who rebutted a pro-Clinton reader yesterday evening—expands on the idea of Sanders staying in the race to shape the party platform:
I don’t think it is very likely that Sanders will get the nomination. Nonetheless, I think it is correct and important for him to stay in the race into the nominating convention. I am more committed to the platform than to the candidate, and I believe Sanders feels the same way. I want to see Sanders’ platform impact the Democratic platform as much as possible.
The Democrats will continue to hemorrhage legislative, executive, and judicial power and influence at both the federal and state levels if they continue on the DLC/Third Way/Republican-lite path they’ve been on since at least 1992. But more importantly, Sanders’ platform is what the U.S. needs to return to a healthy economic and political climate.
And this is a Capitalist talking. (I was even an Ayn Rand capitalist as a teenager. I am now 67. I am aware of no author more misunderstood and distorted by self-styled opponents and proponents as Rand.) I support Sanders precisely because I am a Capitalist, and because I am thoroughly convinced that his socialist democracy platform planks are essential to the health of a capitalist system. It is sadly ignored that socialist democracy is predicated on the private ownership of the means of production—as opposed to democratic socialism, which even Sanders himself incorrectly identifies and associates with. Let’s say his presidential campaign is nothing but an extension of his lifelong campaign for socialist democratic moderations of capitalism—moderations that strengthen, not weaken, capitalism.
Frankly, I don’t expect Clinton's email “scandal” to blow up, nor do I expect an FBI indictment. For me, her weaknesses have nothing to do with such matters, except as they reflect on her judgement, which I find congenitally weak. I expect Clinton to win the nomination. I expect Sanders to aggressively oppose Trump, and so implicitly or explicitly, Sanders will support Clinton.
What troubles me is that I consider Clinton a weak candidate in the general election. I will certainly be happy if she beats Trump, even if I don’t entirely rule out the admittedly risky “value” of a Trump Presidency to possibly force both parties to reform (I’m not a nihilist). I’m glad that so many believe Clinton’s latest foreign policy speech was effective against Trump. But I’ve seen all the “experts” have been wrong about virtually everything during this election cycle, so I will not count out a Trump victory.
Partly because of polls, I do believe Sanders might be a stronger opponent of Trump than would Clinton be. I also believe Sanders would be a harder target for Trump. I certainly hope Trump might still debate Sanders, to give us some real data to see if this is true.
I remember that Al Gore “lost” the debates against George W. Bush, because Gore essentially forfeited the debates, refusing to actually debate W., because Gore apparently thought it was beneath him to even waste his energy and intellect. Because everyone expected W. to lose the debates to Gore, when Gore did not eviscerate W., W. was seen as the “winner” (i.e., he didn’t lose). I wonder what happens to Clinton in real time in a debate against Trump. Sanders, I suspect, could and would be less defensive, and more offensive, against Trump.
So, although I don’t expect Sanders to be nominated under any circumstances I actually anticipate, I absolutely believe he should continue to contest the nomination, and contest the platform. I think he’s doing all Americans a great service. I hope he continues to do so. And I hope Clinton, if she wins, will be a better president than I expect her to be.
Monica Bauer is our pro-Clinton reader and retired poli-sci professor who argued at length that many Sanders supporters are suffering from “campaign psychosis” by not acknowledging that he doesn’t have a chance of becoming the nominee based on the delegate rules. In that same note, reader Robert Henry Eller rebutted Monica at length. Here’s a quick retort from Andy, a reader in Canada:
Monica Bauer calls Sanders a “fringe candidate”? On Tuesday, 1.4 million Californians voted for Clinton and one million for Sanders. Sanders is her definition of a fringe candidate?
The overall tally is about 16 million and 12.3 million—in Clinton’s favor, of course. In a followup note, Monica responds to Robert:
Mr. Eller argues his case largely by accusing me of not being specific, but there are many, many examples of campaign psychosis that are evident in the factual record of the Sanders campaign.
Campaign psychosis is the willful ignoring of facts in favor of engaging in wishful thinking. Therefore, it is simple to test whether or not both campaigns have engaged in this. Here it is: How has the Sanders campaign explained its losses? The system must be rigged, the Establishment is against us, the Southern primaries reflect the votes of more conservative Democrats, and on and on.
All of these excuses have been debunked to the satisfaction of all but the most enthusiastic conspiracy theorists. Please show me the facts of all the excuses the Clinton campaign has used when she has lost. Let’s see the whiny protests. Let’s see the abandonment of facts for wishful thinking on the part of the Clinton campaign.
Mr. Eller falls into the fallacy that the media often demonstrate, that “both sides” must somehow equally be at fault in every instance. No, there does not seem to be a trail of facts where the Clinton campaign ignores the math, makes promises of magical victories to come based on nothing stronger than the Clintonesque version of “feeling the Bern,” etc.
I remember well the 2008 Democratic primaries, and how Clinton held on to the bitter end similar to Sanders this year (though the latter is decidedly more behind in delegates and the popular vote than Clinton was to Obama). Obama became the presumptive nominee on June 3—when the last two states voted—and Clinton conceded on June 7, so by that standard Sanders should concede within two days or he’ll be clinging on even more than she did.
I dug up a May 28 Atlantic post from Marc Ambinder that featured “Clinton’s Closing Argument To Superdelegates,” since superdelegates by that point could have swung the nomination to Clinton despite Obama’s lead in pledged delegates. (Sanders is making a similar plea now, as Conor just covered.) Here’s Marc:
In a final plea to undeclared Democratic superdelegates, Sen. Hillary Clinton points to her lead in the popular vote, some recent polling showing her strength against John McCain, and surveys showing that voters believe she is ready to serve as commander in chief. In a letter, sent Tuesday, and in an extensive memo, sent today, Clinton frames the choice for superdelegates as one between a candidate who has won more delegates in caucuses [Obama] and a candidate who has won more delegates in primaries and has won the popular vote [Clinton].
But as FactCheck.org concludes, “Only by counting Michigan, where Clinton’s name was on the ballot but Obama’s was not, can Clinton claim to have won more votes.” Michigan had broken the DNC rules, stripping the state of delegates, so both candidates pledged not to campaign there; the same went for Florida. Yet:
[V]oter turnout in both states was relatively low when compared with record-high turnout in other states. Nevertheless, Clinton claimed wins in Florida and Michigan, and she flew to Fort Lauderdale on the night of the Florida election to thank supporters for what she called a “tremendous victory.”
So it seems Clinton had a bit of “campaign psychosis” of her own in 2008, when she was the one behind. Back to Monica:
The Clinton campaign has been reliant on thinking and reasoning, not “feeling.” So her opponents imagine that it is somehow a bad thing to be all about facts and issues, as opposed to the romance of feelings and “revolution.” But that is an argument for another essay.
I do not find small donors or a reliance on small donors to be “criminal” as Mr. Eller asserts; I merely point out the facts that when candidates rely on rational actors for funding (and that’s a political science term of art; it does not paint others as “irrational” in any normal sense of the word), candidates who are losing are forced to drop out. That is why Marco Rubio and John Kasich left the Republican race.
And yes, rational actors are self-interested, but that hardly makes them villains. Democracy is supposed to function when people organize to promote a mutual self-interest, which applies to labor unions and Planned Parenthood as much as it does to “the 1%.” And note that Sanders has received the endorsement of only a couple of labor unions, as opposed to the many unions supporting Clinton, not to mention the other groups dependant on millions of grass roots donors such as the LGBT rights group The Human Rights Campaign Fund, NARAL, and many more who are not supporting Bernie. These groups are acting rationally to support the candidate most likely to be successful against Donald Trump, and a self-identified life-long Socialist is not that candidate, no matter how robust his support seems in a poll taken before the majority of voters are tuning in to the race.
Because, no matter that Eller reminds us that “Sanders has hardly hidden his Socialism,” the media has rarely even whispered it. And decades of public opinion research show that if voters are made to understand that a candidate is a self-identified Socialist, the support for that candidate goes down to single digits. Rational actors such as Planned Parenthood, and perhaps also the African American community, understand this in ways the Bernistas do not.
Small donors are a good thing, but when they become swept up in campaign psychosis, believing every small drop of good news is the moment the campaign will convince hundreds of superdelegates to switch sides, then those donors are not responding to facts or probabilities. They have been swept away by enthusiasm. They are politically in love with a candidate. And we all know that love can make us blind to the faults of our beloved.
As to the Sanders campaign exaggerating the chances of the coming “revolution” by pointing to victories in low-turnout caucuses … here again, the facts are on my side. Eller asserts: “Dr. Bauer’s sour grapes perspective on low-turnout caucuses (empowered by the Democratic Party, of course) and their ‘fanatical’ attendees, fails to address the obvious question: If the turnout required to win is so low, what wasn’t the formidable Clinton campaign unable to overcome such low numbers of ‘fanatics?’”
This is incredibly easy to refute. Anybody who’s ever taken Intro to American Government should know that caucuses are the least democratic method of making political choices, for the very reason that they are biased against the working class! Because caucuses require attendees to give up four or five hours of their time as the price of participation, working mothers, tired minimum-wage workers, and other members of Sanders’s beloved “working class” are far less likely to show up than the small percentage of voters who are fanatically attached to a candidate. Mere supporters stay home, activists show up. This has been proven so many times it is a political science axiom.
And this year was no exception. Sanders biggest percentage win on June 7th came in North Dakota, where he had a whopping percentage of the vote in a caucus where fewer than 600 people participated! The irony of a campaign that’s supposed to be about empowering the masses, where the largest margins of victory have come in very low turn-out caucuses, is lost on those in the throes of campaign psychosis.
The irony of a campaign that at first lashed out against superdelegates as the perverted child of the Establishment meant to coronate Hillary, is now turning to superdelegates with an illogical pitch to turn against the will of the majority of voters, and the majority of pledged delegates, because Bernie is ahead in a few polls, well … that’s a heaping load of irony that is also lost on the Bernie-or- Busters. If that’s not the very definition of “campaign psychosis,” I don’t know what would be a better one.
If one needed further proof of that argument, one needs look no further than Sanders speech on June 7th. After saying for weeks that he would win California, and that would be a powerful argument to the superdelegates, you would not have known that he had lost California, and lost decisively, by listening to his speech, which exhorted his supporters to fight on, fight on, to the D.C. primary, where he knows he will lose by a huge margin.
Political science seeks to explain reality. To deal with facts. The Framers thought it was extremely important for democratic politics to remain reality based, because the minute it becomes all about emotions, voters can lose sight of what is possible, and not possible, in a large nation with many different points of view. Democracy requires compromise. Ideological purity requires putting an end to compromise.
The heart of Mr. Eller’s response is a defense of Sanders as the better candidate because he wants a revolution. That the real difference between the two campaigns is one favoring incremental positive change and the other sweeping, and most likely impossible-to-pass-through-Congress, revolutionary reforms.
Here Eller is absolutely correct! And that is the real reason the Sanders campaign has lost. Most voters are wary of “revolution.” They don’t know what the outcome would be of eliminating the Affordable Care Act in favor of a single-payer system, or how the country could possibly afford free college for all. There will be no “revolution” of the masses because the masses do not want it! They’ve been offered the choice between revolution and incremental, but real, progressive change. And they have spoken.
Here’s a closing note from a pro-Sanders reader, Lars:
I just read Monica Bauer’s piece. If this were a typical primary, then she would be absolutely right. After all, both the Republican party and the Democratic party are private institutions with no real need to actually ever listen to their voters concerns. These parties can do like they have always done: place a moderate, non-threatening stuffed shirt on stage for the primaries and present faux debates to see who presents their private institution’s talking points most charismatically.
The difference with this election compared to other elections has been the outright rejection of the practices of both parties by their bases. The job approval of Congress is what, something like 15%? [CB: Yep, that’s aboutright.] The Democrats had a dismal turnout in 2012 but didn’t learn from it and the Republicans have had a terrible time in federal elections since, well frankly, Reagan. [Well, except for that whole Republican Revolution.] The idea that scripted events with a bunch of talking heads repeating lines that is non-threatening to the money behind either party will appeal to voters in their current mood is ludicrous.
Sanders’s campaign has successfully done one very important thing: pointed out the hypocrisy of many of the core Democratic positions to about 43% of the Democratic voters.
Traditionally, liberals have stressed how important education is; stressed how education levels the playing field, how retraining is the best way to get people back on their feet and off of government assistance, how critical thinking lets us examine the world and political arguments and come to the best choices … and yet at the same time the cost of college and the levels educational debt has exploded, Congress has passed laws making debt hereditary (if you die with educational debt, your family and children must continue to pay). No where else in the world are the skills which are so valuable to training its citizenry to compete globally so outrageously and prohibitively growing out of reach for its citizenry.
For years, we’ve been told that 40 million people are without healthcare. Every year for election after election we threw this number at the Republicans and said “this is why healthcare is a failure in this country” and then Obamacare came along and we added six or seven million new people to the healthcare system and said fait accompli. A Sanders supporter would say that is barely better than the Republican system, and when you add the rising deductibles that people are paying, making it prohibitively expensive for a person on Obamacare to actually visit a doctor, all the while hospital fees, medicine costs are higher in this country than anywhere else in the world.
And then there is wealth inequality. We all were shocked at the blatant money laundering the rest of the world engages in when the Panama Papers were released, but nobody mentions that Joe Biden and Harry Reid are both long-time representatives of states with money laundering practices that make Panama look like amateur hour.
So I am all for Sanders staying in the race. Every vote for him is a vote that says no to a system that takes one or two tentative steps forward.
Via hello@, reader Pavan J. provides a solid but measured defense of the caucus system:
I would like to comment briefly on Prof. Bauer’s trashing of caucuses only because it seems to be a repeated line of attack from certain quarters for being undemocratic. Yes, it is regrettable that caucuses demand more from their participants and this hurts people who have to work for a living. However, caucuses also hew closer to the Tocquevillian ideal of American democracy as being a deliberative exchange of ideas. They attract more passionate participants, but these also tend to be more committed and informed participants.
Primaries, in contrast, disproportionately favor candidates with name recognition, tilting the scales in favor of established players, celebrity politicians, people with deep enough pockets to run expansive advertising campaigns, and the favor and patronage of machine-style political bosses. The larger the state, the more true this becomes and the more pronounced this advantage gets.
If a Berner wanted to be as sour about formats that disfavor their candidate, they could as easily write-off primary participants as low-information sheep, manipulated by party bosses and savvy marketing the way Prof. Bauer writes off caucus-goers as ignorant fanatics.
The truth is, any nominating process involves numerous trade-offs on things like convenience, representation of people, and representation of ideas. Neither caucuses nor primaries are inherently better or worse than each other; they just negotiate these trade-offs differently.
The hybrid system we have makes an attempt at balancing the goods and bads of both contests. Arguably the outcomes are not only far more just and representative than the brute majoritarianism being argued for by Prof. Bauer, but more conducive to fostering a vigorous debate and exchange of ideas. This may frustrate those for whom the chief priority is the elevation of their chosen candidate by any means necessary, but it is certainly better for the country to have these debates, even if things become acrimonious and feelings get hurt.
Update from a dissenting reader:
Pavan’s comments on primaries and caucuses first assume we agree with his idea about what our ideal model of democracy is. But then, I have to ask: Has he been to a caucus? To call them a “deliberative exchange of ideas” by “informed participants” is malarkey.
Caucuses, like primaries, suffer from what we might call less-that-ideal forms of persuasion. Admittedly, primaries rely on some of the factors he mentions, but at least the voting is done by secret ballot. When you are actually in the voting booth, there’s no group chanting at you, no peer pressure, and no need for social skills or worries about social anxieties. Even if caucuses were some calm deliberative body, the fact that they only happen at one fixed time makes it difficult for people to attend even if they want to.
A better defense of caucuses is that they reward campaign organization skills, which is an important aspect of campaigning. Getting people together to use those tools of social suasion to get results is necessary in a campaign, but it’s far from some ideal.
I have to admit, I’m a little envious of my detractor if I can say “exchange of ideas” and their mental image is one of calm discussion rather than peer pressure and raucous people yelling at you. I would like to spend Thanksgiving with their family; it seems pleasant.
Here’s a new reader with two cents:
I would buy the argument that the deliberative style of a caucus have real advantages if I thought that caucuses were actually deliberative. But let’s be honest here. Most folks do not go into a caucus carefully listening to reasoned arguments from surrogates, and then decide who to vote for. They go to a caucus knowing who they are going to vote for, and then do it.
The point that caucuses have the most informed voters is a true one, but it actually undermines their point. The most informed voters are the ones least likely to change their minds, and are the ones who are going to be most dedicated to their particular candidate. Thus the main difference between a primary and a caucus is the length of time it takes to vote.
Dear Ms. Foran: “The End of a Political Revolution” was an unfortunate and uncharacteristically poor title for an Atlantic article, particularly one which otherwise was quite correct. Even Senator Sanders knew, and said as much repeatedly, that his election would not be “the revolution” he has been urging, and which he’ll likely continue to argue and work for. Thus his losing the nomination augers nothing about “the revolution.” Whether the revolution has ended is yet to be seen—and will be determined not by Sanders, but by the preponderance of Millennials who responded to him.
By contrast, President Obama’s first election heralded the end, not the beginning, of the revolution many anticipated with his victory. This was because Obama unwisely demobilized his troops—his active supporters—as soon as he was elected, as if he had won a victory rather than just a battle.
Sanders recognized and articulated Obama’s unforced error. And Sanders troops do not have to disband, just because Sanders lost. I suspect they can even continue be funded by the same Sanders supporters who donated to his campaign.
“The revolution” was always about what happened in the Congress and in state and local governments. So we have yet to see if it’s alive or dead.
Bernie Sanders certainly made clear that the political revolution was never solely about him—or any single candidate. And yet, when Sanders declared that Clinton had won the Democratic nominating process, a certain vision of how the revolution might have played out effectively died.
By running for president on a platform of political revolution, Sanders was, whether explicit or not, suggesting that he could help to lead that revolution, or at the very least work to make it a reality by serving as president. Now, the revolution that might have been if Sanders had won the White House won’t come to pass.
As our reader notes, that doesn’t mean there won’t still be revolution. At its heart, the political revolution that Sanders promoted aspires to wrest power away from wealthy elites and restore it to ordinary Americans. Whether that can be achieved may very well hinge on what supporters of the campaign do next, and if they succeed in organizing to elect populist progressive candidates across the country.
Efforts to ensure that the revolution won’t fade away have already started to unfold. Bernie has endorsed a crop of candidates running for Congress and state legislature seats. He has promised to shortly announce “the creation of successor organizations to carry on the struggle.” Sanders supporters are also actively working to carry on the revolution. Brand New Congress is one example.
Still, all this points to a central tension of the Sanders campaign. Sure, Bernie said it wasn’t about him. But for so many of his loyal followers, he has been the source of inspiration for political engagement. Sanders is poised to continue agitating for a revolution. But it remains to be seen how much the so-called revolution’s energy and enthusiasm can be sustained once the campaign has reached an end.
Everything about the emails was both stupid and wrong, but can we still give it some context? Mr. Sanders is a brand new Dem and not a particularly loyal or supportive one. His campaign and supporters have initiated about a kazillion lawsuits against the party he just joined, slamming the rules that were in place long before he used the party to run. (For goodness sake, Tad Devine [a top Sanders advisor, was instrumental in creating] the Super Delegate policy.)
Bernie does not ordinarily support many Dem candidates and has been saying for decades that they are very close to being one in the same with the GOP. He excused unseemly behavior at a state convention, and in the past he tried to get a candidate to run against Obama—the head of the Party. Even the most ardent Bernie supporter recognizes that he usually disdains being a team player in every way that traditionally sustains a political party.
The DNC needs some seriously reworking, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz [outgoing DNC chair and the national co-chair for Clinton in 2008] should indeed step aside and apologize, but acting shocked over these emails seems rather naive.
But this reader isn’t buying that argument:
Please. The emails show that the members of the DNC violated their own rules of governance.
You want perspective? Millions of people contributed to the Sanders campaign based on the representation of the Democratic Party, as memorialized in their rules of governance, that the Party is impartial regarding candidates. These emails show that this representation was deceitful and possibly intentionally deceitful. If so, the conduct constitutes fraud, which is why a class-action lawsuit is underway on behalf of the people who contributed to the Sanders campaign. (For all the Sanders supporters who contributed to the campaign and are interested in joining the lawsuit, please see this.)
Another reader, Darren, doesn’t see why the Democratic nominee should be getting heat for this:
This is a DNC scandal and not a Clinton scandal. Hillary Clinton isn’t linked directly or indirectly to any emails in question. But apparently she is to blame, as usual, because members of the DNC staff acted dishonorably in opposition to Sanders. Clinton obviously was not running the DNC or involved since she was running her own campaign while all these things happened, but somehow it is evidence that she’s lost control of the Convention which her people are running.
Notice how the Clintons kept their hands clean and kept their distance but were guilty of throwing DWS to the wolves at the same time. This is supposed to be a hallmark. The real hallmark is to have a scandal and blame Clinton for the scandal. Emails released so far point to bad management by DWS, but the only “smoking guns” are places where staffers suggested actions that DWS turned down.
But this reader couldn’t disagree more:
There seems to be no end to the scandals that surround Hillary Clinton. She is un-electable, and I think it is not too late for the Democratic superdelegates to change their minds and vote their conscience. The superdelegates have every right to throw the election to Bernie Sanders because the results were quite close and there was an analysis showing he would have won if this system were not rigged. I do not normally like to go against the will of the voters, but Bernie does have a legitimate claim given that the DNC was cheating in Hillary’s favor. At the very least there could be a revote in each state in a runoff primary.
Whatever is decided, Hillary must step down, even if she is forced to step down. She will not be the nominee. I cannot support her, since she has no chance of being president.
Disagree? Have something substantive to say about this scandal in general? Please drop us a note: firstname.lastname@example.org.Update: Another reader notes:
But HRC has named DWS [honorary chair of Clinton’s campaign’s 50-state program] as a surrogate. Fired and hired in one breath.
Another reader, Ben:
My official line is: Are You Kidding Me? Like Trump, Bernie fans
always have to blame someone else for the problems, don’t they? The
Bernie fans have never addressed WHY Bernie was unable to win more
primaries. There’s no self-reflection as to why his campaign never
gained enough traction. Somehow, Bernie and his advisers are NEVER to blame. For them, it’s always simply a fact that the system is rigged
against him/them. They can’t imagine that much of the country just
doesn’t agree with him.
I agree that it sucks that Dems were handed HRC and told “take it or
leave it.” But I don’t really think the emails prove much beyond the fact
that the DNC members are really interested in discussing politics.
Another reader, James, would agree, and he dissents over the way I characterized the email leak:
“DNC officials regularly discussed how to undermine the Sanders campaign.” That quote from your framing of reader responses is typical of the description given in press reports from left, right, and center outlets. And it’s just plain stupid. Every leaked email I’ve seen has been accompanied by this framing, and with one exception, they’ve all shown nothing of the kind.
There is one, and as far as I can tell exactly one, email in the leaks that even suggests taking an action that might affect the support for one candidate versus another, which of course is the one regarding having a surrogate press [unnamed] on his Judaic faith in a public forum. The bridge from this singular email’s evidence to “DNC officials regularly discussed how to undermine the Sanders campaign” is about four bridges too far. There is NO email that indicates such a plan was ever encouraged, taken seriously, or put into place (so, possibly, not even “discussed”).
The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin is on the same page:
Do these e-mails strike anyone as appalling and outrageous? Not me. They strike me as . . . e-mails. The idea that people might speak casually or caustically via e-mail has been portrayed as a shocking breach of civilized discourse. Imagine! People bullshitting on e-mail! ...
[T]he real question is whether any of these e-mails really matter. Do they reveal deep-seated political or philosophical flaws? Do they betray horrible character defects? In the case of the Democrats, it seems clear that the answer to these questions is no. The vast majority of the e-mails contain normal office chatter, inflated into a genuine controversy by people who already had axes to grind.
Back to James:
Did lots of people in the DNC personally dislike Sanders or members of his campaign? Possibly. Did a vast national organization with a mandate to promote the Democratic Party as an institution, up and down ballots, in fundraising, and against an ascendant Republican party prefer, perhaps from the beginning, that the most prominent and successful available Democrat of the last 25 years be its eventual champion? It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising. And would the leaders of the DNC grow more and more frustrated, angry, dismissive, and all of that the longer the intra-party skirmishing dragged on? I’m certain they did. And why should any of this be in any way, shape, or form scandalous?
The lead of every one of these DNC email leak stories should really be: “Today’s massive leak of Democratic Party internal communications is not nearly as full of expletives as Veep would lead you to expect.”
One more reader, Irene, brings it all back to Trump:
There really isn’t that much to add except to say that, yet again, we are stepping into the land of false equivalencies as the TV networks delight in this new “outrage” and hype. Of course the DNC was full of Clinton supporters who were pretty ticked off when Sanders kept on and on, even when it was entirely clear he would never be the nominee—superdelegates or not. And they wrote nasty and indiscreet things in their emails. I am SHOCKED, JUST SHOCKED (sorry for the caps) that such a thing could happen in a political campaign.
Meanwhile, there is another campaign with a seriously mentally unstable candidate who deals entirely in fear and anger, even to the point of supporting an underling [Baldasaro] who calls Clinton a traitor who must be executed for treason, who admires and has connections [via Manafort] to Vladimir Putin and his kleptocracy, and who has been involved with shady business dealings throughout his entire career. How are these things treated as equivalent?
And for the Bernie supporters (and I was one in the early days) who can’t give it up, I have only one thing to say: “A vote for Trump and a vote for a third party candidate both have the same effect: a vote for Trump. If you want to be honest, then vote for Trump. Don’t be shy. Admit you want a mentally unstable authoritarian who believes the answer to all our problems is Trump all by himself.”
What Hillary Clinton has done is no different than what women in Pakistan [Benazir Bhutto], India [Indira Gandhi], Bangladesh [Khaleda Zia], and Argentina [Cristina Fernández de Kirchner] have done: follow their fathers or husbands into politics, and use their family name to become head of state. All of those countries got there first. How are they doing, overall, on women’s rights?
There is little correlation between the election of women in those countries and the lives of average women there. So it will be here. If Hillary Clinton’s story gives you a vicarious thrill, enjoy it. But that’s about all you’ll get. Whether it’s George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton, the selection of leaders who owe quite a bit to their families’ political history is a sign of parties bereft of ideas and a weakening democracy.
I would dearly love for a woman to be president. But it would be more meaningful if her political resume didn’t begin with someone else’s. Elizabeth Warren is a far better example to America’s young women that anyone can rise from average beginnings to become a leader.
Your thoughts? Drop us a note. Update from two readers who defend Clinton. Here’s Rebecca:
Here in Maine, we have another example, a woman much like Hillary: GOP Senator Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman elected to the Senate—an earlier glass ceiling. (Chase Smith also ran for president [in 1964], but her first in the Senate is more to my point here.) Smith was appointed and then elected to her husband’s legislative seat prior to running for and winning her seat in the Senate on her own merits. As a freshman Senator, she stood up to McCarthy. Her accomplishments paved the paths of [Maine Senators] Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.
Like Chase Smith, Clinton follows in her husband’s footsteps: active in her husband’s campaigns. And like Chase Smith, Clinton has proved herself a capable, dedicated public servant. In both cases, the experiences working with their husbands provided some of the best on-the-job training imaginable.
Given that glass ceilings exist, most of history shut women out, and the only paths to leadership were through coattails of men. So it galls me to hear the knowledge that Clinton gained as wife of a governor and president is devalued because it’s from another era. Neither Bill nor Hillary inherited a family dynasty; through their strengths and despite their weaknesses, they built it together.
Last night, it seemed like Bill was saying, loud and clear, that Hillary deserves a good share of credit for his successes. I’m delighted that he’s a big-enough man to let her have her own.
And I remain amazed that she’s kept on going, stood tall, despite the diligence put into crafting her cartoon persona. That persona, so carefully built on the taxpayer’s dime, is a prime example of a party bereft of ideas, and that is weakening democracy. That cartoon makes it difficult to have a real critique of Clinton’s actions and her policy proposals and her judgement.
I’m proud to vote for her and grateful she brings the experience of being Bill’s partner to the job. Our next president is going to need to have her wits about her, and her deep well of experience is an incredible asset.
Another reader, Irene:
I haven’t been a longtime fan of Hillary Clinton’s. I wish I were more enthusiastic about some of her policies, but I’m not. However, I was offended by the reader’s statement that her path to the Democratic nomination was nothing special or different than riding on the coat tails of a husband. To believe that you have to ignore what she has accomplished since 2000 both as a senator and a secretary of state. It is insulting to claim that those independent accomplishments are meaningless. She is not a clone of her husband; her policies are not a clone of her husband’s. In fact, it’s quite plausible to wonder if her path was made harder because she is married to Bill Clinton and that she stuck with him.
A faction of the religious right has concluded that if liberal democracy does not guarantee victory, then it must be abandoned.
By the tail end of the Obama administration, the culture war seemed lost. The religious right sued for détente, having been swept up in one of the most rapid cultural shifts in generations. Gone were the decades of being able to count on attacking its traditional targets for political advantage. In 2013, Chuck Cooper, the attorney defending California’s ban on same-sex marriage, begged the justices to allow same-sex-marriage opponents to lose at the ballot box rather than in court. Conservatives such as George Will and Rod Dreher griped that LGBTQ activists were “sore winners,” intent on imposing their beliefs on prostrate Christians, who, after all, had already been defeated.
The rapidity of that cultural shift, though, should not obscure the contours of the society that the religious right still aspires to preserve: a world where women have no control over whether to carry a pregnancy to term, same-sex marriage is illegal, and gays and lesbians can be arrested and incarcerated for having sex in their own homes and be barred from raising children. The religious right showed no mercy and no charity toward these groups when it had the power to impose its will, but when it lost that power, it turned to invoking the importance of religious tolerance and pluralism in a democratic society.
Americans are hypochondriacs, yet we skip our checkups. We demand drugs we don’t need, and fail to take the ones we do. No wonder the U.S. leads the world in health spending.
I was standing two feet away when my 74-year-old father slugged an emergency-room doctor who was trying to get a blood-pressure cuff around his arm. I wasn’t totally surprised: An accomplished scientist who was sharp as a tack right to the end, my father had nothing but disdain for the entire U.S. health-care system, which he believed piled on tests and treatments intended to benefit its bottom line rather than his health. He typically limited himself to berating or rolling his eyes at the unlucky clinicians tasked with ministering to him, but more than once I could tell he was itching to escalate.
My father was what the medical literature traditionally labeled a “hateful patient,” a term since softened to “difficult patient.” Such patients are a small minority, but they consume a grossly disproportionate share of clinician attention. Nevertheless, most doctors and nurses learn to put up with them. The doctor my dad struck later apologized to me for not having shown more sensitivity in his cuff placement.
Homes have gotten bigger, but Americans aren’t any more pleased with the extra space.
American homes are a lot bigger than they used to be. In 1973, when the Census Bureau started tracking home sizes, the median size of a newly built house was just over 1,500 square feet; that figure reached nearly 2,500 square feet in 2015.
This rise, combined with a drop in the average number of people per household, has translated to a whole lot more room for homeowners and their families: By one estimate, each newly built house had an average of 507 square feet per resident in 1973, and nearly twice that—971 square feet—four decades later.
But according to a recent paper, Americans aren’t getting any happier with their ever bigger homes. “Despite a major upscaling of single-family houses since 1980,” writes Clément Bellet, a postdoctoral fellow at the European business school INSEAD, “house satisfaction has remained steady in American suburbs.”
A growing pattern of attacks across Europe is as much about electoral opportunity as a conflict of ideas.
When Federico Batini, an Italian academic, wanted to research classroom bullying, he distributed a questionnaire to 54 schools in central Italy. The survey was carried out in partnership with local education authorities and sought to explore the extent to which young people faced racial, homophobic, or gender-based discrimination from their peers.
But instead of learning more about students’ experiences, Batini found his name smeared in the national media and his research abruptly discontinued. A senator from the far-right League party condemned Batini’s questionnaire as “gender indoctrination.” A national conservative daily, La Verità, berated the survey as “crazy gender ideology.” Then the Italian education minister, Marco Bussetti, a member of the League, blocked the questionnaire altogether.
As several states move to limit exemptions to required vaccines, the actor hit a nerve in a larger debate about personal belief in science.
One morning in 1934, panicked passengers jumped from the deck of the SS Morro Castle as it sank just off the coast of New Jersey. The ocean liner had caught fire, and the passengers had rushed to grab personal flotation devices. But some improperly wrapped the life preservers around their necks. As they fell and hit the water, the torque snapped their spines.
Personal flotation devices save exponentially more lives than they cost. Of the catastrophic boating accidents that occur daily, 84 percent of people who drown were not wearing one. But etch the details of this horrific wreck scene into one’s mind, and a person might become a life-preserver skeptic. Our basic tendency toward short-term thinking means we judge risk based on whatever is in front of us. We draw anxiety disproportionately from wherever we happen to be focusing our attention.
Gibson’s Bakery, a family-owned business near Oberlin College accused of racism, just won a big payout.
The writer Jon Ronson once observed that every day in the social-media era, “a new person emerges as a magnificent hero or a sickening villain. It’s all very sweeping.” In Ronson’s 2015 book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, his subjects found themselves beset by angry detractors for, say, an insensitive Twitter joke or Facebook photo. They lost jobs, received threats, even pondered suicide. And they mostly retreated from view until the shame storm passed.
Today they might sue instead.
Last year, I reported on a lawsuit that a man accused of rape on the “Shitty Media Men” spreadsheet filed against the woman who had created and circulated the document.
In January, a viral video of the high-school student Nick Sandmann at a protest march in Washington, D.C., appeared to some to show him smirking at a Native American elder. That triggered a wave of inordinate social-media hate and flawed journalism. Now the young man who was at the bottom of the pile-on is suing The Washington Post for $250 million, NBC for $275 million, and CNN for $275 million.
“I was struck by how much shame there was in Eat Pray Love, and how apologetic I was as a narrator.”
Like Spinal Tap, Elizabeth Gilbert goes to 11. Whether it’s the depths of her despair in Eat, Pray, Love, the intensity of her research in her fiction, or the openness with which she shares her life—romantic and otherwise—with her rabid fans, she lives in bold.
Gilbert has something of a two-track career toggling between carefully crafted fiction and confessional creative essays. The latter, of course, made her a guru for thousands of women who longed for similar arcs of self-discovery and thrilling lives. Now, after the death of her partner Rayya Elias, Gilbert has written a new novel, City of Girls, set in 1940s New York. The work follows a privileged woman’s adventures, headstrong mistakes, and growing self-knowledge. It’s sprawling and colorful, with characters firing off dialogue that would fit in a Howard Hawks movie. I spoke with her about her book, her craft, and what it means to be Elizabeth Gilbert. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Like many rich Americans, I used to think educational investment could heal the country’s ills—but I was wrong. Fighting inequality must come first.
Long ago, I was captivated by a seductively intuitive idea, one many of my wealthy friends still subscribe to: that both poverty and rising inequality are largely consequences of America’s failing education system. Fix that, I believed, and we could cure much of what ails America.
This belief system, which I have come to think of as “educationism,” is grounded in a familiar story about cause and effect: Once upon a time, America created a public-education system that was the envy of the modern world. No nation produced more or better-educated high-school and college graduates, and thus the great American middle class was built. But then, sometime around the 1970s, America lost its way. We allowed our schools to crumble, and our test scores and graduation rates to fall. School systems that once churned out well-paid factory workers failed to keep pace with the rising educational demands of the new knowledge economy. As America’s public-school systems foundered, so did the earning power of the American middle class. And as inequality increased, so did political polarization, cynicism, and anger, threatening to undermine American democracy itself.
Interviews with the House speaker’s old friends and colleagues offer a window into her reluctance to pull the pin on a political grenade.
When Republicans voted on impeachment more than 20 years ago, Nancy Pelosi was right there on the House floor, watching as the GOP plunged headfirst into the process without broad public support or the clear prospect of conviction in the Senate. For many establishment Democrats of a certain age—say, those who are now eligible for Medicare—the lesson from that time is clear: Impeaching Bill Clinton was a bad idea that hurt the presidency, the country, and most of all, the House Republican majority.
How Pelosi handles the growing calls from her caucus to begin removal proceedings against Donald Trump will illuminate the degree to which she herself believes that lesson. But as she struggles to manage pressure from roughly a quarter of House Democrats, interviews with some of her old friends and colleagues, and others who were in the trenches of the Clinton impeachment battle, offer a window into Pelosi’s reluctance to pull the pin on that particular grenade just yet. For now, she seems to be keeping her options open, waiting to see whether Congress can unearth new allegations that might shift public opinion.
After a lopsided World Cup game, the focus was once again on how female athletes behave, not on what they’ve achieved.
It was Megan Rapinoe’s goal in the 79th minute that really seemed to tick people off. Rapinoe, the vivacious U.S. women’s national soccer team forward with pink hair, ran with outstretched arms, spun around a couple times, then slid to the ground and kicked her right heel high in the air several times.
A whole lot of people were big mad at Rapinoe, whose goal made it 9–0 over Thailand, a team the U.S. thoroughly dominated in its opening World Cup match on Tuesday. The Americans eventually won 13–0. But, rather than being praised for setting a World Cup record for scoring the most goals in the tournament’s history and securing the largest margin of victory ever, the win turned into a debate about sportsmanship.