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.
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.
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.
What should have been a week-long celebration of the resilience of American democracy has turned into a dark circus. Instead of citizens lining Pennsylvania Avenue to cheer and greet a new president, all of downtown Washington, D.C., is an armed camp. Soldiers patrol the streets while workers clean excrement off the walls of the Capitol, a perfect tableau for the end of the short and ghastly age of Trump.
We are expecting far too much of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris if we think they can fix all of the damage Donald Trump did to the republic. Presidents and vice presidents are not wizards. They cannot rewind history. They cannot single-handedly make us better people.
However, I do believe that Biden can inspire the American people to regain one of the most important virtues Trump destroyed: seriousness, our understanding that ideas, actions, and words matter.
On the eve of Biden’s inauguration, the pandemic’s toll has reached nearly 24 million cases and 400,000 deaths.
Tomorrow, America inaugurates a new president. With the transfer of power comes the transfer of responsibility for the COVID-19 pandemic. On the eve of Joe Biden’s inauguration, the toll of the pandemic stands at 23.9 million cases and 392,428 deaths, according to the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic. There are 123,820 people hospitalized. Today alone, states reported 144,047 cases and 2,141 deaths.
Ron Klain, the incoming president’s chief of staff, has warned that, by the end of February, COVID-19 may have taken 500,000 American lives. To reach that marker, the country would have to average 2,689 deaths every day until then, all too plausible a scenario. The seven-day average of deaths in the U.S. first surpassed that number on January 7. It’s currently at 2,988.
I’ve been thinking about Barbara Tuchman’s medieval history, A Distant Mirror, over the past couple of weeks. The book is a masterful work of anti-romance, a cold-eyed look at how generations of aristocrats and royalty waged one of the longest wars in recorded history, all while claiming the mantle of a benevolent God. The disabusing begins early. In the introduction, Tuchman examines the ideal of chivalry and finds, beneath the poetry and codes of honor, little more than myth and delusion.
Knights “were supposed, in theory, to serve as defenders of the Faith, upholders of justice, champions of the oppressed,” Tuchman writes. “In practice, they were themselves the oppressors, and by the 14th century, the violence and lawlessness of men of the sword had become a major agency of disorder.”
Three particular failures secure Trump’s status as the worst chief executive ever to hold the office.
President Donald Trump has long exulted in superlatives. The first. The best. The most. The greatest. “No president has ever done what I’ve done,” he boasts. “No president has ever even come close,” he says. But as his four years in office draw to an end, there’s only one title to which he can lay claim: Donald Trump is the worst president America has ever had.
In December 2019, he became the third president to be impeached. Last week, Trump entered a category all his own, becoming the first president to be impeached twice. But impeachment, which depends in part on the makeup of Congress, is not the most objective standard. What does being the worst president actually mean? And is there even any value, at the bitter end of a bad presidency, in spending energy on judging a pageant of failed presidencies?
Trump’s pardons sent an unmistakable message, capping the corruption of his tenure in office.
“Drain the swamp.”
Of all Trump’s lies, that was one of the most puzzling. It’s not just that Trump himself was and is crooked, or even that he so obviously likes and admires crooks. It’s that Trump’s particular form of crookedness was exactly the kind of crookedness that people have in mind when they imagine Washington, D.C., as a “swamp.”
Trump’s first Manhattan real-estate deal—the first deal on which his employer-father allowed him to take the lead—was the redevelopment of a bankrupt historic hotel near New York’s Grand Central Terminal. The deal needed complex permissions from the city and the state. To obtain those permissions, Trump hired the famous fixer Roy Cohn. Cohn secured him a $400 million tax abatement plus other special favors, including a waiver of all urban-preservation rules. After the deal was done, the city official who bestowed the favors was hired as a partner in Cohn’s law firm. A decade later, that official went to federal prison for corruption crimes.
The new president must not repeat Obama's mistakes.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt became president in 1932, the nation was facing concentric crises: the immediate, house-on-fire disaster of rolling bank closures; the broader economic depression; and, beyond that, deeply entrenched problems that the depression had highlighted, including elderly poverty. Roosevelt’s first 100 days addressed the first two crises with historic directness. He reopened the banks and directly employed thousands of Americans through measures such as the Civilian Conservation Corps. Then, near the end of his first term, he signed the Social Security Act, which has reduced senior poverty and become one of the most popular federal programs in the United States.
President Joe Biden also faces concentric crises, which move outward toward the future as you unpeel them: the biological threat of the pandemic, the economic recession, and, beyond that, the entrenched problem of child poverty. He also has to contend with the problem casting a shadow over the whole century, the existential crisis of climate change.
Trump leaves behind a wounded nation, and it will take time to heal.
So what if he was bad at it?
The five years of the Trump era—which began with his descent down the gilded escalator in Trump Tower in 2015 and are ending with a massive military presence in the nation’s capital to protect the transfer of power to his successor—brought a sustained assault on self-government. This assault was most often futile, almost always buffoonish, and, as the conversion of the seat of the federal government into an armed fortress demonstrates, unquestionably real.
Throughout the Trump era, some have argued that Trump’s incompetence rendered his authoritarian aspirations inconsequential.
“Our weak, ranting, infected-by-Covid chief executive is not plotting a coup, because a term like ‘plotting’ implies capabilities that he conspicuously lacks,” wrote the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat in October, describing the president as a “noisy weakling.” Douthat has since re-evaluated his position, but for a long time he was the most articulate proponent of the argument that Trump was not as dangerous as his opponents believed.
The uncertain meaning behind a half-black, half-white, two-headed toy: An Object Lesson
The doll is two-headed and two-bodied—one black body and one white, conjoined at the lower waist where the hips and legs would ordinarily be. The lining of one's dress is the outside of the other’s, so that the skirt flips over to conceal one body when the other is upright. Two dolls in one, yet only one can be played with at a time.
The topsy-turvy doll, as it’s known, most likely originated in American plantation nurseries of the early 19th century. By the mid-20th century, they’d grown so popular that they were mass-manufactured and widely available in department stores across the country, but today, they’re found mostly in museums, privatecollections, and contemporaryart. In recent years, the dolls have seen a renewed interest from collectors and scholars alike, largely motivated by the ongoing question that surrounds their use: What were they supposed to symbolize?
His verbal stumbles have voters worried about his mental fitness. Maybe they’d be more understanding if they knew he’s still fighting a stutter.
His eyes fall to the floor when I ask him to describe it. We’ve been tiptoeing toward it for 45 minutes, and so far, every time he seems close, he backs away, or leads us in a new direction. There are competing theories in the press, but Joe Biden has kept mum on the subject. I want to hear him explain it. I ask him to walk me through the night he appeared to lose control of his words onstage.
“I—um—I don’t remember,” Biden says. His voice has that familiar shake, the creak and the croak. “I’d have to see it. I-I-I don’t remember.”
We’re in Biden’s mostly vacant Washington, D.C., campaign office on an overcast Tuesday at the end of the summer. Since entering the Democratic presidential-primary race in April, Biden has largely avoided in-depth interviews. When I first reached out, in late June, his press person was polite but noncommittal: Was an interview really necessary for the story?
Millions of Americans sympathize with the Capitol insurrection. Everyone else must figure out how to live alongside them.
They could be realtors or police officers, bakers or firefighters, veterans of American wars or CEOs of American companies. They might live in Boise or Dallas, College Park or College Station, Sacramento or Delray Beach. Some are wealthy. Some are not. Relatively few of them were at the United States Capitol on January 6, determined to stop Congress from certifying a legitimate election. Millions more cheered the rioters on—and still do.
As a group, it’s hard to know what to call them. They are too many to merit the term extremists. There are not enough of them to be secessionists. Some prominent historians and philosophers have been arguing for a revival of the word fascist; others think white supremacist is more appropriate, though there could also be a case for rebel. For want of a better term, I’m calling all of them seditionists—not just the people who took part in the riot, but the far larger number of Americans who are united by their belief that Donald Trump won the election, that Joe Biden lost, and that a long list of people and institutions are lying about it: Congress, the media, the vice president, the election officials in all 50 states, and the judges in dozens of courts.