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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
A great sports analogy from reader Brad regarding this late moment in the Democratic race:
I have no preference over who wins the nomination. My comments are about the nature of competition in the homestretch. I’m tired of hearing about poll numbers and how Bernie should drop out of the race because the delegate count is impossible, etc. In the political arena, things can change on a whim just like in sports, or life in general.
This is a hilarious football play that shows my point:
Say Beebe saw that Lett had such a lead and thought, “There’s no way I can catch him” and gave up. Lett would’ve scored and been celebrating a lot more than he already was. But instead, Beebe hustled and stripped Lett at the last second.
Imagine these scenarios: Say a hot mic picked up Hillary saying something crazy or a racial epitaph or something. That might be something that could sway voters on the fence. Or let’s go back to 2008. Imagine if Obama got caught saying something crazy, or dissing women or whatever. I think that might have swayed a lot of people to vote for Clinton. Although these are extreme examples and the former isn’t likely, my point is that you play the game to the end because you don’t know what could happen.
If I were Sanders and came all this way, I wouldn’t stop; anything can happen. Similarly, if I was Clinton, I wouldn’t say “I got a such a big lead, I’m going to stop. No, I’m playing the game to the final whistle.”
This next reader, John Mensing, contends that Bernie has already won the Democratic primary, based on expectations:
Well, Chris, the most salient point that’s been missing from most articles on the subject—including columns in The Atlantic like “This Is How Revolutions End”—is that Hillary lost. She came into the race as the presumptive nominee with every advantage: a brace of superPACs, munificent funding, media that had donated already generously to her campaign, name recognition, and the “thumb on the scale” chicanery of machine politics at the precinct level. She was supposed to either have enough pledged delegates by now to have the nomination secured (like Trump does) or be in sight of that total.
Instead, she lost. She failed to get enough delegates, and so, come June 7th [the day of California’s primary], she will not have the requisite total.
Clinton does look increasingly likely to lose California based on the latest polling, but John’s claim that she will not have the requisite number of delegates is dubious, according to a new NYT report: “She is expected to reach the 2,383 delegates needed to clinch the nomination roughly three hours before the California results are tallied, when the polls close in New Jersey, a mathematical fact that Mrs. Clinton’s allies have been reciting to reporters.” Back to John:
So she, and her surrogates, are trying to spin this, saying that the superdelegates—whose job, after all, is to decide in just such a contest, where a presumptive nominee fails to get the requisite number, which is the best candidate—have already been bought. It’s all spin, spin, spin. And people recognize it, and are disgusted by it, and are disgusted with Hillary.
She’s a weak candidate. Sanders is a much more viable alternative. Getting people to like Hillary more is like getting people to like Nixon more.
Bernie’s David-vs-Goliath record against Hillary has been impressive indeed, but his success ironically undercuts his core message: That big money and corporate influence control the political process. But Bernie has demonstrated through his vast network of small donors and huge rallies that even a democratic socialist can bring the establishment to its knees (much like outsider Obama did to propel his first presidential bid, riding it to two terms and shaping the establishment from the inside). True, Bernie is still likely to lose the nomination, thus bolstering his One Percent theory, but he will get incredibly close regardless. And he and his supporters have nevertheless shaped the priorities of the Democratic establishment through their intense pressure.
However, on the other side of the race, Trump, who has essentially clinched the nomination, was vastly out-fundraised and outspent by his Republican rivals and still managed to bulldoze them. So the criticisms of big money and Citizens United become more and more difficult in the age of the internet and decentralized media.
Speaking of campaign finance, Marilyn W. Thompson has a new piece for us on the Presidential Election Campaign Fund:
[It’s] used to give political unknowns a fighting shot. Now $300 million sits in the fund—and no one wants anything to do with it. Can campaign spending be fixed?
Before addressing that question, here are some more thoughts about the homestretch of the Democratic race, from reader Kathleen:
First of all, I am not a Democrat, or a Republican. I like to think I’m an independent and think for myself. Regarding the Democratic race, I think Bernie Sanders has done quite a bit for young people and the disenfranchised who usually do not get involved in political campaigns. His followers are probably not mainly Democrats. His ideas are socialist.
I feel he has used the Democratic Party. But he probably feels the Democratic Party has used him. He probably promised NOT to be a third-party candidate (much like Trump did with the Republicans).
I just think Bernie needs to give in. Even though he’s older and a good guy, Hillary has done her due diligence. Even if you don’t like her and think she is funded by the wrong people, she did go through one unsuccessful campaign in 2008 and handled it well. I was for her then and found her graceful exit and support of Barack Obama inspirational.
Obama was an anomaly. But, then again, the Democratic Party decided the people had spoken. Obama was also black, and how could they fight that and show diversity in their party? I have to tell you Obama inspired me. He was certainly riding the wave.
I just wonder if the Democrats or Hillary have anything in store for Bernie. I don't see him being vice president, even though I have thought about it and don’t think it would be a bad idea (although his followers would hate it and so would he). There is no such thing as a Socialist in Chief. But maybe there can be someplace found for him in government.
But, as the article related (paraphrasing Al Gore), this Democratic race is about the country. The country comes first.
A reader suggests that Debbie Wasserman Schultz is causing most of the turmoil within the Democratic Party right now:
Molly Ball writes, “Many Sanders supporters told me they had once liked Clinton, but over the course of the primary they have come to dislike and distrust her.” This is exactly what is happening for many Bernie supporters, and much of the blame lies on the DNC. Whether you believe the game was “rigged,” you have to admit that having the former campaign chair of one of the candidates heading up the party as DNC chair during the primary creates the appearance of impropriety.
This created an environment where confirmation bias ruled and everything that could be considered tipping the scales for Hillary (limited debates, poorly scheduled debates, superdelegates flocking to a single candidate, DNC/Clinton campaign office sharing, coordinated fundraising etc.) hardened the opposition to Clinton. People who were once lukewarm toward Clinton now have an animus toward her that may not be remedied before the general.
And, of course, Clinton’s refusal to release her transcripts [of her Wall Street speeches] hasn’t helped. As much as Clinton supporters may not care about the transcripts, Bernie supporters see it as proof that she is corrupt. If there really is nothing damaging there, her refusal to release them seems baffling.
However, if Clinton loses the general, the DNC will be to blame.
But Clare, in a post earlier this week, wondered if Bernie’s campaign could be hurting its own cause by speaking out against Wasserman Schultz and backing her primary opponent in her home district (and building his own network of support within the party in general):
Politifact awarded a “false” rating to allegations that the Nevada convention had been tainted by misconduct. [CB note: Here’s a video of DWS responding to those charges on CNN]
And in the past week, the campaign appeared to undercut its own argument that it has not been treated fairly by the Democratic establishment. In December, Weaver told supporters the DNC had put “its thumb on the scales in support of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” But during the CNN interview in which he accused Wasserman Schultz of “throwing shade,” Weaver suggested the problem was personal, not institutional. “It’s not the DNC. By and large, people in the DNC have been very good to us. Debbie Wasserman Schultz really is the exception,” Weaver said. If the campaign sends mixed messages as it engages in the feud, that could divert the attention of supporters away from its big-picture ambition.
Do you think Wasserman Schultz should step down as DNC chair? Or is Bernie’s campaign more to blame for the discord in the party right now? Share your thoughts via hello@. Update from a reader, Stephen Sheehy:
Wasserman Schultz certainly deserves criticism for the mess that her party finds itself in. The Dems have been crushed in Senate and House races and even more so at the state level. How about bringing back Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy?
Whatever one thinks of Clinton or Sanders (for whom I caucused, admittedly), it would be hard to find two less electable people in the party. Everyone hates Clinton and Sanders is a socialist! The only reason I have any hope is that Trump is perhaps even more unappealing. A smart DNC head would have told both Sanders and Clinton to forget about it and supported alternatives. Any generic liberal (like O’Malley) would win in a walk.
Here’s another reader, Jill, and I think a lot of her analysis could be applied to Trump and the effect he’s having on the Republican Party:
Sanders is currently sowing deep distrust of the Democratic Party. With each primary loss, he blames the system as undermining him or being unfair, planting the idea that Clinton is not the legitimate winner of the Democratic nomination. What worries me is that by attacking the structure of the primary process he is not just weakening Clinton's eventual candidacy but the party itself. He has pulled in voters who are distrustful of the system and showed them that their biases against the system are correct.
But then Sanders isn’t really a Democrat and he’s not thinking—or caring—about what’s best for the Democrats as a whole. He’s not going to pull a Howard Dean, who became chairman of the party after his primary loss, and he couldn’t accept such a position without charges of selling out by his most ardent supporters.
As for someone pulling an Al Gore and getting Sanders to concede the race, I don’t believe that is possible. It would be seen as a betrayal by many of his young fans who would rather the deep and corrupt party system be utterly obliterated than to ensure a continuation of liberal and progressive policies, but less progressive than they’d like, for at least the next four years. Sander would not only have to tone down his rhetoric but admit that some of his attacks on Clinton were wrong.
In the end the divide is between a group of people who want to see the Democratic party thrive and continue pushing policies that helps Americans, and a group of people that feels that the two-party system is what is hurting America. And I don’t know how you reconcile those two world views.
Hillary is the stodgy, old politician while Bernie is fun, exciting, and new. Yeah, Bernie has been around politics forever, but no one outside Vermont other than political junkies knew who he was until about six months ago. Bernie’s appeal with college kids is especially unsurprising, since he basically carries himself like a lovable old college professor.
And why doesn’t the self-described socialist alienate many Democrats with that label? “I think young people haven’t generated enough assets and are far enough away from natural death to not be scared by social democracy,” says one reader. Not to mention that Millennials have no living memory of Cold War communism. And the Republicans have overused “socialist” over the past seven years to describe the the country’s center-left, pragmatic president and other mainstream Democrats, so perhaps the term is becoming normalized—a crying wolf, of sorts. Here’s another reader:
Why is the age gap is so stark? I’ll give you a hint: it is not because we think Bernie Sanders is totally radical, dude. It’s simple: The Internet.
Like TV was to radio in the famous Kennedy Nixon debate, so is the Internet to traditional media sources. Younger voters do not get their media through TV talking heads or dying newspapers, but even when they do, it is filtered through the Internet, where fact-checking and comments are easily and quickly accessible. We have grown up used to taking what we see with a grain of salt and then checking on Snopes to see if it’s legit.
Traditional or old media has been perpetuating the concept of Clinton as the best candidate or the inevitable candidate. Anyone with an Internet connection can see that in comment sections, Bernie Sanders is overwhelmingly more popular. They can go to opensecrets.org and see exactly where the money funding these campaigns is coming from. They can quickly access years of voting records with a click. With these resources at our fingertips, the difference between the candidates becomes as plain as day.
Bernie Sanders is funded by over 3.25 million contributions averaging $27 and has no SuperPac. Sanders has held similar positions his entire career. He has never been beholden to special interests and he never will be. He is a public servant in the truest sense of the word.
Hillary Clinton gets most of her donations from people maxing out at $2700 and holds lavish campaign fundraisers entertaining the wealthy elite. Her SuperPac has been chugging along for quite some time, gathering vast sums of dark money from we-will-never-knows. Her positions have changed time and again depending on which constituency she is speaking to or what the political mood is at the time. We have no reason to believe she has our interests at heart.
Now, if you were simply reading print editions the NYTimes or watching CNN, these facts may never have been presented to you. For added irony, the older generation that sleep-walked us into the current disaster we call our representative government (aka the status quo) are the ones who are desperately defending it. They are now what we should refer to as low-information voters.
Another reader looks to ancient philosophy for insight:
By chance, I was reading Aristotle’s Rhetoric earlier today. He argues that young people are credulous because they have not yet been deceived many times; they are optimistic because they have not yet met with much failure; they are free from malice because they have not yet observed much wickedness. Hence, he argues, an orator addressing an audience consisting of young people must adapt to this collective character.
If the audience is composed of old people, on the other hand, the speaker is advised to adapt to a different set of characteristics that—as Aristotle suggests—consists “for the most part of elements that are the contrary of these [i.e. the characteristics of young people]”: old people are cynical because they have been deceived many times; they are pessimistic because they have met much failure; they are full of malice because they have experienced much evil, and so forth.
Far as I can see, there’s a problem with his advice. Even if we assume, for the sake of the argument, that these collective character sketches are accurate, Aristotle’s advice is only helpful if the audience consists of either old people or young people. Yet what is the speaker supposed to do if the audience consists of both young and old people? On Aristotle’s own account, after all, the character of the one group is “the contrary” of the character of the other. How then is the speaker supposed to adapt to contradictory characters without constantly contradicting herself?
He doesn’t offer any answer. I don’t really have one either.
If you do, or want to sound off on Hillary vs. Bernie in general, drop us an email. Update from a few readers, starting with Jonathon Booth:
A shocking large proportion of articles analyzing why young voters support Bernie in such large numbers ignore the most obvious reason why they would do so: They agree with his policies.
I guess the idea of voting for a politician whose policy positions you agree with doesn't fit well into the stereotype of shallow Millennials, but it seems to be the case. Clearly lots of young Americans are left-leaning and support (some version of) social democracy. Given the insanity of the Republican party and the structural changes in our economy over the past 40 years, this should surprise no one—unless, of course, you’re convinced that young people care only about popularity and snap-chatting.
Another gets more specific with the policy question:
It’s healthcare. I pay $1500 out of pocket for work-provided insurance that comes with a $2500 deductible that includes prescriptions and no copays. Young people are being shafted for insurance they can never afford to use in order to benefit an older class who’s entire motto is “I got mine, deal with it.”
I’m not a Sanders fan—I’m mourning Rand Paul right now—but I can see why he has the appeal. Young people want new solutions because what we have now is bullshit. Hillary parrots the same spiel as Obama and it hasn’t been a great eight years for young people.
In the wake of the Iowa caucuses, Ron Brownstein spotlights “the single most important dividing line in the struggle between Sanders and Clinton”—age:
He crushed Clinton by an almost unimaginable 6-1 (84 percent to 14 percent) among voters younger than 30. For those tempted to dismiss that as just a campus craze, he also routed her by 58 percent to 37 percent among those aged 30-44. But Clinton’s margins were almost as impressive among older voters: she beat Sanders 58 percent to 35 percent among those aged 45-64, and by 69 percent to 26 percent among seniors.
A reader remarks on those “astonishing” numbers:
Now I know for the first time how much trouble Hillary is going to be in come November. The Democrat Party needs young people to turn out in big numbers, and young people apparently can’t stand her. I guess Lena Dunham’s pleas fell on deaf ears?
But seriously though, this might be the biggest news from last night. Look for Hillary to double her youth outreach efforts. Look for lots of lame comedy videos and young celeb endorsements.
This reader isn’t as worried for Clinton: “Hillary has the edge: Young people don’t turn out to vote.” Another reader wonders why Sanders—age 74, six years older than Clinton—is killing it with the kids:
Young people have always wanted to upset the old order and change things. My generation fell in love with Gene McCarthy in the ‘60s. Like Sanders, McCarthy was able to portray himself as an outsider who was going to deliver us from the dark and save us from the madness.
Sanders is hitting all the right revolutionary rhetorical notes, but eventually his people will realize that his promises are just too good to be true.
Another skilled writer from our inbox is deeply skeptical of a Sanders presidency:
One thing I still have trouble understanding is how Bernie believes he can be an effective commander in chief. President Obama, whom I think of as a moderate/pragmatic Democrat, came into office riding a wave of popular support and a mandate for change following eight years of Bush and a financial crisis. He also had overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate.
Yet, he still struggled to get his agenda through Congress.
Bernie is admittedly further left than Obama and is sure to face at least one Republican-controlled chamber, if not two. When asked how he will manage to get his agenda through the legislature, his response is always some variation of, “The political revolution we’re trying to start will put so much outside pressure on members of Congress that they’ll be forced to work with me.”
First, this assumes that Bernie will be able to sustain any popular support he will have coming into office. I find it hard to believe that Bernie’s support is anywhere near the overwhelming levels President Obama had in 2008. Moreover, as we saw with Obama, that consistent support fell off before he had much time to start rolling out his agenda (see: 2009 town halls with an abundance of Tea Partiers and a noticeable absence of the Obama coalition).
Second, Bernie also assumes elected officials who may not share his views will be swayed by these supposed outside demands. That is either disingenuous or incredibly naive. Politics aside, Bernie himself acknowledges how much of Congress is beholden to special interests; does he think he can convince members to suddenly accede to public opinion over the interests of their donors? Did he see what happened to the background-check legislation that had 90 percent support from the public?
Lastly, Bernie and Obama share one trait that I think has made it difficult for Obama to work with Congress and is a likely harbinger of a Sanders presidency: Neither wants to do the relationship-building (i.e. schmoozing) required of a president to build trust with legislators. As LBJ, Reagan, and the first Clinton have shown, knowing how to work within the system is paramount to accomplishing one’s agenda.
Some may counter that it was impossible for Obama to work with a Republican Party that had no interest in coming to the table. But this problem wasn’t just between Obama and Republicans; it extended to Democrats, too. Obama barely managed to get his TPP proposal through, and his initial last-minute appeals to Democrats failed. I don’t see how Bernie operates any differently.
Ultimately, the realities of the presidency will have one of two consequences for Bernie: either he will remain steadfast in his principles and be incapable of accomplishing anything, or he will be forced to work within the system. Both will leave his supporters disappointed and wondering whether he is just “more of the same.”
But this Bernie supporter provides an impassioned plea:
I’ve been exposed to Sanders from his appearances on Real Time with Bill Maher for about 6 or 7 years now, and he has always been a no-bullshit debater, extremely passionate about his views. I remember an episode that aired 11/07/2014, and during the Overtime segment, they were mulling over him running for president and the audience in unison just yelled, “Run Bernie!” Since that day I have been supporting him for president, originally hoping that Warren and him would make the best ticket I could hope for.
It wasn’t until his rally that he held in LA back in August that I realized that something special was going on with him. I had given up on American politics in general. An uninformed people combined with paid-for politicians had put my mind into a state of civil war, where one side of me wanted to leave the country and move to a place that better represented my views, and the other side of me understood and respected what our founding fathers had done, and what the people who came before us had done, to make this country the greatest ever and I have great pride in America.
My views were shattered during that rally; seeing 27,000 people show up was jaw dropping. I had thought Americans were dumb and didn’t care, but that rally corrected that belief. It was also the first time I had heard a candidate say something I had been saying for years which was, “Why should people be given criminal records for marijuana possession, yet not one person responsible for the financial collapse of 2008 being charged for their crimes.”
When I was 17 years old I was arrested and charged with one felony for sales and one felony for intent to sell, because I had two grams of pot on me. After being threatened with mandatory minimums, I pleaded guilty and accepted a plea-bargain, despite the fact those chargers were bullshit.
The event ruined my life. I lost my eligibility for a scholarship program, my drivers license was suspended for years, and my relationship with my family was destroyed, which lead to severe depression. That depression turned to anger after the 2008 financial collapse, especially after watching a few of PBS Frontline investigations that covered the subject. It was absolute bullshit that I was a criminal in society’s eyes, yet these bankers were not.
Bernie was the first politician I have seen who agreed with that premise—not just agreed with it, but stated it loud and clear for everyone to hear. I remember hearing him say that and just tearing up because I could not believe that someone finally made that connection.
I am constantly ridiculed by conservatives and called naive by Clinton supporters, but to me it is worth it. I truly love this country.
Anyway, I hope that gives you some insight as to why I feel as strongly about this election as I do. I’m glad you give readers a platform from which to express their opinions, and you seem to be doing the best you can to do so without bias. Thank you!
As a student at the University of Chicago, Sanders was active in both the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In 1962, he was arrested for protesting segregation in public schools in Chicago; the police came to call him an outside agitator, as he went around putting up flyers around the city detailing police brutality.
Another tweet floating around goes further than the one above, claiming that “if elected, Goldwater promised to overturn the Civil Rights Act and re-segregate the nation.” That’s not true; he backed the 1964 GOP platform that endorsed “full implementation and faithful execution of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and all other civil rights statutes, to assure equal rights and opportunities guaranteed by the Constitution to every citizen.” Goldwater did vote against the 1964 bill, but from the standpoint of a constitutionalist, not segregationist. In fact, Goldwater was very much committed to civil rights at the state and local level. For instance, he was a founding member of the Arizona NAACP and helped integrate the Phoenix public schools. Lee Edwards, in his biography of Goldwater, further details his complex political persona:
Another reader, Jon Barber, addresses the question:
I had also read the several media pieces that delved into Bernie Sanders’s past. Yes, there were a few quirky things as a young man, but not the type of stuff that make a difference to the independent voter. What we don’t find are scandals or unethical behavior. There is no red meat. I found the vetting articles to be refreshing for that reason because it confirmed his reputation for honesty and ethics and that’s the vetted material that impresses independents.
Can we say the same thing about Hillary Clinton? It doesn’t really matter. She has the negatives of more than 50 percent that never really drop. Those numbers comes from her looseness with the truth over the years.
I could list plenty of hypocritical actions or statements from her. My favorite is how she was bilking colleges of hundreds of thousands of dollars for speaking fees to get up to the podium to talk about how much college costs for students. Gee Hillary, your fees weren’t part of the problem?
Personally, I think the Democratic race is over and this subject is a moot point.
Her performance since the latest polls have shown a Sanders surge, only confirmed her untrustworthy negative, as well as desperation. Sending her daughter Chelsea out to lie about Bernie’s healthcare plan was a mistake and the punditry said so. Why would she bring in a third family liar, the daughter of “I did not have sex with that woman” father Bill? The whole family is a negative rating for honesty.
The fact that Sanders has financed his campaign without tainted money from rich special interests, shows a candidate willing to live his ideals of campaign finance reform today, not in some claim of caring about it that Clinton offers. The numbers for his campaign, the two million individual donors (reached the fastest in history) is impressive. Bernie has done only one fundraiser; that is incredible in today’s politics.
The race is over, unless some outside event I can’t think of changes things. Sanders has done and will do what Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all did in their campaigns—started as underdogs and won the nomination, then presidency.
Another critic of Clinton flags the above video:
Hillary has no integrity; she changes her stances on issues based on poll numbers rather than standing up for what she believes in. One instance is marijuana. The first debate she was against decriminalization, but a few weeks later Sanders proposes new legislation to take marijuana off of the controlled substances and it polls overwhelmingly well within the DNC—and low and behold, she supports it. I could name 15 or so issues in which she has done this: she copies Sanders policies, skews them more to the center, then releases them as her own. I’m sorry, but how can I believe she’ll actually go through with any of these progressive policies when she only switched when the polls did.
Sanders is willing to stand up for something he believes in when it is unpopular; that is true character and something Hillary lacks completely. These issues are very important to me and my family, and I can’t afford to put my vote in for someone who is just pandering to me.
I could break down all their differences, but I’d probably end up spending an hour or two ranting about it. But her recent attacks on Sanders show she has no problem lying to voters in an attempt to manipulate their vote. If I wanted that type of behavior, I’d vote Republican.
You quoted a reader who alluded to Bernie Sanders’ 1972 comments on rape—but who couldn’t actually repeat his quote or even state it directly before dismissing it as nothing to see here. Well, Republicans would NOT view it as nothing, and Sanders’ rape comments would come back to haunt him big time in a general election. Pretending it wouldn’t is delusion and frankly, crazy. In order to win the Democratic nomination, Sanders would have to defeat a woman only to end up being tarred as a misogynist in the general election. Donald Trump would destroy Bernie Sanders with this one remark alone.
The press is obviously aware of this, since it takes about three seconds to find it on the net. Republicans know all about it but have chosen not to make a big stink in the hope (presumably) that Bernie will knock out Hillary Clinton. You can rest assured it will be front-page news if Sanders gets the nomination and Bernie will have some 'splainin to do. It doesn’t take a genius to see that a 70-year-old man defending his comment that “women fantasize about rape” ain’t gonna win a presidential election. Some comments simply don’t play in Peoria.
Sanders also comes with a laundry list of totally unrealistic policy proposals that are dead on arrival in an era of half-trillion-dollar deficits and Republican controlled congresses. He’s offering a vision that is a near complete rejection of both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama’s pragmatic centrism and fiscal prudence. He doesn’t even call himself a Democrat, preferring “Democratic Socialist.” Sanders as the Democratic nominee would not only be a general election defeat, but would split the Democratic Party in two at least as bad as a Trump nomination would for Republicans.
So look before you leap and think before you vote. Thank you for the debate.
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.
Progressive communities have been home to some of the fiercest battles over COVID-19 policies, and some liberal policy makers have left scientific evidence behind.
Lurking among the jubilant Americans venturing back out to bars and planning their summer-wedding travel is a different group: liberals who aren’t quite ready to let go of pandemic restrictions. For this subset, diligence against COVID-19 remains an expression of political identity—even when that means overestimating the disease’s risks or setting limits far more strict than what public-health guidelines permit. In surveys, Democrats express more worry about the pandemic than Republicans do. People who describe themselves as “very liberal” are distinctly anxious. This spring, after the vaccine rollout had started, a third of very liberal people were “very concerned” about becoming seriously ill from COVID-19, compared with a quarter of both liberals and moderates, according to a study conducted by the University of North Carolina political scientist Marc Hetherington. And 43 percent of very liberal respondents believed that getting the coronavirus would have a “very bad” effect on their life, compared with a third of liberals and moderates.
When the richest of the rich split up, the usual dilemmas are mixed in with the fate of enormous charitable efforts and billion-dollar stock holdings.
When Bill and Melinda Gates announced on Monday that they would be ending their 27-year marriage, they tweeted intandem that they “no longer believe [they] can grow together as a couple.” The reasoning wasn’t unusual for a 21st-century divorce, but their private emotional journey has highly atypical financial implications: Between their personal holdings and the charitable foundation they started together, the amount of money they control—somewhere around$180 billion—is roughly equal to the annual GDP of Kazakhstan or Qatar.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which they launched 25 years after Bill co-founded Microsoft, is one of the biggest private charitable foundations in the world, with an endowment of about $50 billion. In a sense, the jobs of its 1,600 employees and its investments in malaria prevention and early-childhood education have rested on the bedrock of Bill and Melinda’s marriage.
Feelings about the vaccine are intertwined with feelings about the pandemic.
Updated at 10:07 a.m. ET on May 4, 2021.
Several days ago, the mega-popular podcast host Joe Rogan advised his young listeners to skip the COVID-19 vaccine. “I think you should get vaccinated if you’re vulnerable,” Rogan said. “But if you’re 21 years old, and you say to me, ‘Should I get vaccinated?’ I’ll go, ‘No.’”
Rogan’s comments drew widespread condemnation. But his view is surprisingly common. One in four Americans says they don’t plan to take the COVID-19 vaccine, and about half of Republicans under 50 say they won’t get a vaccine. This partisan vaccine gap is already playing out in the real world. The average number of daily shots has declined 20 percent in the past two weeks, largely because states with larger Trump vote shares are falling off the pace.
On a Friday afternoon in early March, I felt an urge I hadn’t experienced in more than a year: I wanted to buy new clothes. Outside clothes. Clothes in which I would be perceived, by others. Clothes to wear to a party. The late-winter sun had started to warm things up a bit, I was a week and a half removed from my first Pfizer shot, and those two facts combined to cause a flare of optimism so intense that I needed to express it in what has historically been my preferred manner of celebration: by buying some stuff on the internet.
The first order of business was remembering where I had bought my outside clothes before everything went to hell—ASOS? Madewell? Nordstrom? As I dug through my brain, past all the recipes and the opinions about lesser Netflix shows that I had accumulated in the past year, I opened browser tabs. I was ready to be sold on the possibilities of the year ahead, and I wanted them to include sweaty crowds and recreational drugs and other people’s hands. I wanted to take as many steps as I possibly could toward the person I might be by July.
The bacteria that live inside the insects can’t keep themselves together.
When the cicadas of Brood X start to swarm the United States in their billions, try to look beyond their overwhelming numbers. Instead, focus on just one of them. Despite appearances, that individual cicada will be a swarm unto itself—the insect and a community of organisms living inside it. Their lives have been so tightly entwined that they cannot survive alone. Their fates have been so precariously interlinked that their future is uncertain. And their relationship is so unusual that when John McCutcheon first stumbled upon it in 2008, he had no idea what he had found. Sitting in a basement laboratory and staring at the data, his reaction was less Eureka! he told me, and more How did I mess this up?
Most of the teachers and parents I talk with just want school to be school.
Editor’s Note: Every Tuesday, Abby Freireich and Brian Platzer take questions from readers about their kids’ education. Have one? Email them at email@example.com.
Dear Abby and Brian,
I write as a concerned parent of a fifth grader at a private school that appears to prioritize “social justice” over academic excellence. The school has brought in a consultant and now the kids are reading all this new woke literature, and at the expense of the classics we all grew up on, like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Most of the teachers and parents I talk with just want school to be school—not some kind of Maoist social reeducation. Who is this all for?
I’m a left-wing New York City Democrat. I believe strongly in equal rights for all people. And I think we’ve still got a ways to go when it comes to equality. But I don’t want school to make my son feel bad just because he’s white. It’s not like he owned slaves. His great-great-great-grandparents were starving in Ireland during the time of slavery.
Your time on Earth is precious and limited. Here’s how to waste it.
“How to Build a Life” is a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness.
Arthur C. Brooks will discuss the science of happiness live at 11 a.m. ET on May 20. Register for In Pursuit of Happiness here.
The other afternoon, in an effort to avoid doing my work, I picked up Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. It turned out to be a fitting choice, as Thoreau has quite a bit to say about wasting time. “The cost of a thing,” he wrote in Walden, “is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”
Thoreau’s point is not that we should be all work and no play—he was one of history’s most prominent critics of that way of living. Rather, he argued that we waste too much of our lives on things we don’t value. Without thinking about it, we are spectacularly failing some cosmic cost-benefit test, as measured not in money but in what matters most: time.
This morning, the oversight board, a putatively independent body funded by Facebook through a $130 million trust, announced a decision in its tenth case: The removal of Donald Trump from the social platform had been justified, it said, but poorly executed. The meaning of his “indefinite suspension” wasn’t very clear, nor are any of Facebook’s existing policies about world leaders. The company has been given six months to decide what to do and get back to the board.
Okay, and no surprise. What might be surprising, if you haven’t been tuned in to content-moderation chatter for the past 10 years, is how much of an event this has become. Never before has a blog post about an account suspension been plausibly described as “anticipated.” The board’s announcement was preceded by a week of “what to expect” coverage in national outlets (CNN had live updates!), as well as months of feature-length reporting about the creation, motivation, limitations, and generally futuristic—or dystopian, depending on who you ask—vibe of something nicknamed the “Supreme Court” of a social-media site. (The New York Times’ Ben Smith wrote in January that he pictures the board members—including prominent lawyers, heads of nonprofits, a Nobel laureate, and a former prime minister of Denmark—“wearing reflective suits and hovering via hologram around a glowing table.”)
Facebook’s “Supreme Court” might have upheld Donald Trump’s suspension, but that doesn’t make it a real court.
Back to you, Zuck. Facebook’s oversight board earlier today declined to act as a human shield for the social network. Asked to rule on the suspension of Donald Trump’s account in the wake of the January 6 Capitol riot, it passed the ultimate decision back to Facebook.
For now, Trump’s suspension stays in place. But the board has given Facebook six months to “reexamine the arbitrary penalty it imposed on January 7 and decide the appropriate penalty.” No hiding behind the judgment of outsiders when Republican politicians complain about “anti-conservative bias,” or when other world leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel worry about the precedent of a corporation pulling the plug on an elected politician—Facebook will have to tell us what its own red lines are.
Public policy should assist families—but not by helping adults spend more time on the job.
For thousands of years, people have understood the pervasive hold that work has on our lives. The author of the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes argued that toil and labor are “meaningless.” The Romantic movement rejected the alienating wage labor of the Industrial Revolution. Just this year, Netflix’s The One explicitly dramatized how the pride and power of careerism compete with love, romance, and familial pursuits. This sentiment also undergirds a standard movie trope: the father who works so much that he never sees his kids. In some versions, including the Christmas favorite Elf, the dad comes to his senses, backs off from his work obsession, and becomes a better parent.
But while Hollywood knows that work—which is ultimately futile—is one of the chief threats to a meaningful life and a flourishing family, public policy in the United States treats both of those aspirations as irrelevant. In most advanced countries, birth rates are very low by both historical and contemporary global standards, and both ends of the political spectrum promote greater labor-force participation. Progressives focus on providing benefits explicitly aimed at supporting working parents, such as paid leave and public child care. Conservatives fixate on “welfare dependency,” and demand that the social safety net be structured to actively encourage work. From both sides, policies are being hawked to a credulous public as family-friendly, even though persuading people to focus even more on work is a terrible way to help family life.