She Made a Mistake, But We Still Need Her

I’ve read Elizabeth Warren’s Medicare For All proposal and think it has some big problems. You can read about it here (there’s a lot to read).

(1) The financing is very complicated. It assumes lots of changes to the tax code. The senator’s 2% Wealth Tax on fortunes over $50 million is a great idea, but raising it to 6% on billionaires, along with the other changes she proposes, makes the whole thing less likely to be enacted and complicates her message.

(2) She says Medicare For All is a long-term goal, but it’s being criticized as if she thinks it could take effect immediately. She has promised to deliver a transition plan, but waiting weeks to explain the transition makes the plan sound too disruptive and even less likely to be enacted.

(3) Although Medicare For All would save the country money overall, nobody is reporting what we would spend without enacting it. It’s simply reported and criticized as the Senator’s very expensive, multi-trillion dollar plan. She needed to emphasize the cost of doing nothing (even though she would have gotten very little cooperation from the press even then).

(4) It isn’t clear how our current Medicare taxes and costs (like deductibles) fit into the plan. Since Medicare costs less than private insurance, it would be reasonable to say Medicare taxes would go up somewhat, but people would save money because they wouldn’t be paying for private insurance? Implying there would be no extra taxes suggests the Senator is again promising too much. Medicare isn’t free now. There is no reason to think it would be free in the future, even with the Senator’s proposals for funding it.

So I think the Senator’s announcement of her Medicare For All plan has been a mistake. Maybe she can get past this by emphasizing that Medicare For All is a goal and would require major changes, and that she supports a public option in the meantime. She has supported a public option in the past. Believe it or not, Joe Biden’s public option plan seems to make sense. (The Bernie Sanders site says you can see the details of his Medicare For All proposal, but when you click on “Details”, there aren’t any.) Somewhere between Biden’s and Sanders’s proposals would be a good place for Senator Warren to be. We need her if we want to replace the Toddler and turn this country around. 

Populism and the People

Our new President, henceforth known as DT (or maybe DDT, as in Damn DT) is often called a “populist”. That suggests he’s somehow especially close to “the people”. But during last year’s presidential campaign, it was often said that Bernie Sanders, the self-described “democratic socialist”, was a populist too. Using the same terminology for both DT (DDT?) and Sanders sounded odd, since their political campaigns were so different. How could they both be populists? Besides, don’t all successful politicians in a democracy say they represent “the people”? Otherwise, they wouldn’t be successful politicians.

The answer is that populist politicians claim to represent regular people, in particular the regular people who are suffering at the hands of the rich or powerful. According to John Judis, the author of The Populist Explosion, “populists conceive of politics, or affect to conceive of politics, as a struggle between a noble populace and an out-of-touch, self-serving elite”.  

Thus, during the campaign, both DT and Senator Sanders vigorously attacked the Wall Street bankers and CEO’s who regularly rip off the rest of us and send American jobs overseas. In similar fashion, they both complained that corporate media and party officials had “rigged” the system against them. They both implied that without the interference of corrupt media and political elites, a wave of popular support would carry each of them to the White House, at which point the interests of salt-of-the-earth regular people would finally be protected. 

All politicians claim to represent the interests of the average citizen, of course, but DT and Sanders both emphasized their populist credentials. Clinton, for example, delivered a positive, inclusive message. She promised to work hard to help us all live up to our potential. We would be “stronger together”. Her opponents sounded much, much angrier. Just give them the chance and they’d bring the powerful to heel and “drain the swamp”!

Nevertheless, there is something wrong with how we use the word “populist”. The term comes from the Latin populus, which means the people or the general population. Since “the people” includes everyone, it would make more sense if politicians who promised to help the people in general were called “populists”. Between Clinton, Sanders and DT, it was Clinton who most deserved to be called a “populist”, even though that’s not how we use the word. To be a populist in the standard sense, a politician needs to divide the people into at least two categories: the good people and the bad people. A populist politician promises to punish or corral the bad people in order to protect the good people. That’s what Sanders and DT both promised to do, over and over again.

Even so, there is a difference between the populisms of the left and right. The difference is explained by Richard King in a review at the Sydney Review of Books site:

Judis does make a distinction between populists of the left and the right. For while left populists tend to preach a ‘vertical’ politics of the bottom against the top, right populists will often posit a third entity, living among the people and said to be in allegiance with, or given special treatment by, the elite. [The] content of this third group is variable: Jews, intellectuals, Jewish intellectuals, Muslims, the media, Mexicans, Poles – the list is as long as human bigotry is deep. Judis calls this ‘triadic’ populism and it is clearly very different in character from the dyadic populism of the left….

Indeed, so different are these two forms of populism … that I wonder whether grouping both under the same rubric obscures more than it reveals. Judis is very careful to distinguish between these two forms of populism, and it’s clear that he does so morally, too. But the division of ‘the people’, in the right wing model, into legitimate and illegitimate entities – in-groups and outgroups; friends and foes – is so different from most left wing conceptions of “the people” that we are really talking about a separate phenomenon.

Right-wing populists aren’t satisfied drawing a line between the noble majority and a corrupt elite. They look for others in society to attack, either because those other groups are working with the corrupt elite, or benefiting from the elite’s bad behavior, or simply because they’re (supposedly) up to no good. The review quotes another author, Jan-Werner Müller, who says that a populist like DT willclaim that a part of the people is the people – and that only the populist authentically identifies and represents this real or true people”:

Recent instances of this mindset are thick on the ground. Post-the Brexit vote, UKIP leader Nigel Farage declared the Leave vote a victory for ‘real people’. Similarly, at a campaign rally last May, [DT] announced that ‘the only important thing is the unification of the people – because the other people don’t mean anything’…. This is fundamentally different from a politics that paints the interests of the large mass of people as at odds with a ruling class or establishment….

In terms of populism, therefore, we can categorize politicians in three ways: 

True Populists: Those, like Clinton, who promise to represent the people as a whole. They should be called “populists” but aren’t;

Standard Populists: Those, like Sanders, who promise to represent the common people and fight the corrupt elite (e.g. Wall Street, party leaders); 

Fake Populists: Those, like DT, who promise to represent some people (“the Silent Majority”, “real Americans”), to fight the corrupt elite (e.g. the press, party leaders, government bureaucrats) and also to fight dangerous “others” among us (e.g. “bad hombres”, “radical Islam”).

For the time being, we’re stuck with the last kind.

Krugman Explains Why He’s Not a Sanders Fan

Paul Krugman thinks ideals aren’t enough when you’re running for President:

What you see … is the casual adoption, with no visible effort to check the premises, of a story line that sounds good. It’s all about the big banks; single-payer is there for the taking if only we want it; government spending will yield huge payoffs — not the more modest payoffs conventional Keynesian analysis suggests; Republican support will vanish if we take on corporate media.

In each case the story runs into big trouble if you do a bit of homework; if not completely wrong, it needs a lot of qualification. But the all-purpose response to anyone who raises questions is that she or he is a member of the establishment, personally corrupt, etc.. Ad hominem attacks aren’t a final line of defense, they’re argument #1.

I know some people think that I’m obsessing over trivial policy details, but they’re missing the point. It’s about an attitude, the sense that righteousness excuses you from the need for hard thinking and that any questioning of the righteous is treason to the cause….

Does Clinton have problems too? Of course — she’s been too cozy with established interests in the past, she shouldn’t have given those speeches, and of course she shouldn’t have voted for the Iraq War. But there is no evidence that she’s corrupt, and lots of evidence that she both thinks hard about issues and is willing to revise her views in the light of facts and experience. Those are important virtues — important *progressive* virtues — that seem woefully absent on the other side of the primary.

But never mind. As you know, I’m only saying these things because I’m a corporate whore and want a job with Hillary.

I’ve quoted most of what he had to say. There’s a bit more here, including a link to his column about the Sanders campaign’s dismissal of Clinton’s victories in the “Deep South”. 

I’m Super, You’re Okay. Clinton, Sanders and Arithmetic.

[Note: After I wrote this long post, I saw two articles at Salon that nicely capture what’s going on with the selection of delegates to the Democratic convention. You could go to the bottom of this post and read them, skipping everything I have to say. I mean, they were both written by professional journalists – the people we trust to report and explain the news.]

You may have heard that the Democratic Party has superdelegates. These are people who get to vote at the upcoming national convention because of who they are (they’re former Presidents, members of Congress, Democratic Party officials, and so on). There will be 712 superdelegates at this year’s convention. That’s roughly 15% of the total number of delegates (which is 4,765). It’s been reported that most of the superdelegates (469 of them so far) have said they’ll vote for Hillary Clinton at the convention, but all of them are free to vote for Bernie Sanders if they want. 

The other 85% of the Democratic delegates are selected as the result of primary elections and party caucuses. These contests began in Iowa on February 1st and will end in the District of Columbia on June 14th. How many of the Clinton or Sanders delegates are selected in these contests depends on how many votes Clinton or Sanders receives (as well as the rules of the local Democratic Party). Unlike the similar process taking place in the Republican Party, none of the Democratic contests are “winner take all”. Delegates are assigned roughly proportionately.

According to Wikipedia, Hillary Clinton has 1,310 or 54% of these pledged, non-super delegates so far. Bernie Sanders has 1,094 or 46%. Those percentages roughly correspond to the number of votes Clinton and Sanders have received. Some states don’t report vote totals, but for the states that do, the New York Times says Clinton has received 9.4 million votes (57%) and Sanders has received 7 million (43%).

Clearly, this process is totally rigged!  

That’s what people are saying anyway. From a news article in the Times:

Backers of Senator Bernie Sanders, bewildered at why he keeps winning states but cannot seem to cut into Hillary Clinton’s delegate count because of her overwhelming lead with “superdelegates,” have used Reddit and Twitter to start an aggressive pressure campaign to flip [superdelegate] votes [to Sanders].

From a comment (recommended by 612 readers) in response to that article:

Not only is the DNC primary process in conflict with Democracy, but it is borderline authoritarian. Party leaders picking a candidate before voters have yet to speak is the epitome of corruption. If Hillary Clinton should get the nomination in no small part due to super delegate power, the DNC is in for a very harsh reality.

From noted political scientist D. J. Trump:

“Think of this. So I watch Bernie, he wins. He wins. He keeps winning, winning. And then I see, he’s got no chance. They always say he’s got no chance. Why doesn’t he have a chance? Because the system is corrupt,” Trump argued. “This is a crooked system, folks.”

From the hosts of a morning talk show:

Co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski were exasperated by just how rigged the Democratic primary system must be for Sanders to have won eight of the last nine primaries and still fallen further back in the overall delegate count [note: Sanders actually earned 110 more delegates than Clinton in those nine contests, eight of which were caucuses, not primary elections].

“Bernie Sanders won Wyoming by 12 percent, but he might not even pick up a single delegate. Hillary Clinton was awarded 11 delegates, Bernie Sanders only seven,” Scarborough said. “Why does the Democratic Party even have voting booths? This system is so rigged” [note: Sanders and Clinton both received seven delegates to the state’s May 28th convention as a result of the Wyoming caucuses — see the update down below for more on this subject].

A wise person would ignore all the hot air and misinformation being spread about the shocking unfairness of the Democrats’ presidential nomination process. New York and Pennsylvania will be voting soon, after which it should become even more obvious which candidate has the most support among Democratic voters.

Nevertheless, a few points deserve mention (I’ve never claimed to be wise).

First, the number of states a candidate wins has nothing at all to do with how many delegates that candidate receives. That’s because delegates are apportioned to the states based on their populations and some states have much larger populations than others. Idaho, Hawaii, Alaska, Utah and Wyoming, all of which Sanders won last month, had 111 delegates up for grabs between them. New York, voting next week, has 291. Pennsylvania, the following week, has 210. It’s only in the anti-democratic U.S. Senate where every state, the huge and the tiny, gets the same number of votes.

Second, in terms of democracy, primary elections are more democratic than caucuses. Primary elections encourage relatively large numbers of voters to participate and everyone casts a secret ballot. Caucuses rely on a smaller number of voters who are willing and able to attend a meeting and then vote in public. That’s why primary elections have replaced caucuses in most states, especially the big states with the most delegates.

Of the 37 Democratic contests so far, Clinton has won 20 and Sanders has won 17. But 16 of Clinton’s 20 wins have been the result of primary elections. Only six of Sanders’s 17 wins have been. This is why Clinton has received so many more votes than Sanders. (By the way, states that have caucuses don’t apportion delegates based on the total statewide vote. Only states with primary elections do that. States that haven’t adopted the more modern primary election system generally have complicated rules that apportion delegates based on which caucuses a candidate wins. Caucuses are not elections. They’re glorified discussion groups.) 

Third, if there weren’t any superdelegates at all, Clinton would be well on her way to winning the nomination on the first ballot by virtue of her success in the primaries and caucuses. All she would need to do is to continue winning a majority of the delegates before the convention starts. The existence of the superdelegates, therefore, is what’s stopping Clinton from arriving at the convention with the nomination sewn up. The existence of the superdelegates means that a candidate needs to win roughly 60% of the non-superdelegates in order to get the nomination, instead of a simple majority. If a candidate were to win 60% of the non-superdelegates, he or she wouldn’t need any superdelegate votes at all. But Clinton has “only” won 54% of the delegates so far.

Since the superdelegates do exist (as they’ve existed in the Democratic Party for decades), there are only 2,404 delegates left to be selected before the convention. And that means Clinton would need to win 1,073 or 69% of those remaining 2,404 non-superdelegates (much more than her current 54%) in order to have the nomination in her grasp before the convention begins. Since Sanders would need to win even more of the remaining delegates (1,289 or 83% of those 2,404) to accomplish the same thing, it’s clear that neither candidate will have enough pledged delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot (unless one of them drops out before the convention, which isn’t going to happen, despite Clinton’s email issue). The arithmetic dictates that the superdelegates will get the last word on who becomes the Democratic nominee.

Now, since the rules say they get to vote, who should they vote for? Should the superdelegates vote for the candidate with the loudest supporters on the internet? Or the one perceived to have the most “momentum” this week? Or should they vote for the candidate who arrives at the convention with the most delegates? In purely democratic terms, given the numbers, the answer is clear: Hillary Clinton should receive a majority of the superdelegate votes and win the nomination.

If I were a superdelegate, however, I’d vote for whichever candidate I preferred, whether or not the voters in the primaries and caucuses agreed with me. Personally, I don’t see the Democratic Party’s decision to give senior members of the party a voice in selecting the party’s nominee as a terrible, un-democratic mistake. (If the Republicans had superdelegates, Trump would be less likely to be the Republican nominee.)

But considering what I’ve said above, all this overheated complaining from Sanders supporters and political commentators about unfairness and a rigged process is just silly (“He’s not getting the most votes or the most delegates and he won’t get the nomination. How unfair!”). Sanders doesn’t have a right to the Democratic nomination, no matter how much his supporters whine about unfairness and a lack of democracy. The fact is that the people are speaking and they’re saying that Hillary Clinton should be the Democratic nominee, the infamous superdelegates notwithstanding.

Let’s hope that everyone who is complaining so much and feeling so persecuted comes out in November and helps elect Democratic candidates, instead of staying home and moaning about how Bernie and they have been mistreated. We really do need to cast as many votes as possible for Democrats in November, because the Republican Party has completely gone off the rails. That’s the reality of our situation.

UPDATE:

These two articles were published this morning at Salon. Both refer to the results of the Wyoming caucuses. One article is called:

“This system is so rigged”: Outrage as undemocratic superdelegate system gives Clinton unfair edge over Sanders

The other is called:

Bernie is wrong about super-delegates: Why his tortured Dem Primary arguments try to have it both ways

One article dispenses a lot of heat. The other dispenses some light. Guess which one relies on facts instead of bluster.

Hillary Clinton: Surprise Upon Surprise

Which presidential candidates are Americans most enthusiastic about? According to a Gallup poll, 65% of Trump’s supporters are either extremely or very enthusiastic about his candidacy. That’s not a surprise. His supporters are nothing if not enthusiastic. What’s unexpected is which Democrat has the most enthusiastic supporters. Gallup found that Hillary Clinton’s supporters are more enthusiastic about her than Bernie Sanders’s are about him. Fifty-four percent of Clinton supporters say they’re extremely or very enthusiastic about their favorite candidate vs. 44% of Sanders supporters. Given how much publicity Feeling the Bern has received, that’s quite a surprise. 

But considering how well Clinton has done in primary elections this year (as opposed to the small-scale caucuses that have favored Sanders), we should expect that she has lots of enthusiastic supporters. Counting both primaries and caucuses, she has received 8.9 million votes vs. 6.4 million for Sanders. Winning by that margin in a general election would qualify as a landslide victory.

One might ask, however, why so many Americans are enthusiastically supporting such a devious and dishonest person? It’s probably because they don’t think she’s as devious and dishonest as the Republicans, many in the press and some Sanders supporters claim. Jill Abramson, a former editor of the New York Times, published an article yesterday with the title: “This May Shock You. Hillary Clinton Is Fundamentally Honest”. The article is worth reading in full, but here’s a little bit of it:

As an editor I’ve launched investigations into her business dealings, her fundraising, her foundation and her marriage. As a reporter my stories stretch back to Whitewater. I’m not a favorite in Hillaryland. That makes what I want to say next surprising. Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest and trustworthy….

… Politifact, a Pulitzer prize-winning fact-checking organization, gives Clinton the best truth-telling record of any of the 2016 presidential candidates. She beats Sanders and Kasich and crushes Cruz and Trump…

Abramson says Clinton distrusts the press more than any other politician she’s ever covered and that she needs to resist her strong desire to protect her privacy.  If Clinton were less secretive, Abramson argues, fewer people would think she’s hiding something. But Abramson also worries that too many people expect “purity” from female politicians. No successful politicians are pure, not even female ones, but Hillary Clinton may be purer than most. What a surprise!

This Week’s Selective Political Roundup

Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine presents two brief accounts of Republican hypocrisy (there’s a little-known but important fact: Republican politicians are required to solemnly recite a Hypocritical Oath before receiving any financial support from the party).

First, Congressman Paul Ryan has said that he wants to simplify the tax code and isn’t especially interested in cutting taxes for the wealthy.  When asked why he didn’t support a proposal made by a Republican congressman a few years ago that would have done exactly that, namely, eliminate loopholes and deductions without favoring one group of taxpayers over another, he’s unable to come up with an answer. All he can say is that it’s “ridiculous” to worry about which taxpayers would benefit the most from tax reform. It must, therefore, be mere coincidence that the reforms he favors would disproportionately benefit the wealthy (“No Tax Reforms Unless Rich People Get Paid“).

Second, Republican Senators who previously claimed it’s against the rules or common practice to confirm a Supreme Court nominee in the last year of a President’s term are now saying this last-year restriction only applies if Hillary Clinton (or Bernie Sanders) wins in November. If one of the Democrats is elected President, it will be perfectly fine to approve Obama’s nominee this year. Their fear, of course, is that President Clinton or Sanders would nominate someone more liberal than Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee. Thus, “the people” should have a role in deciding who gets on the Supreme Court, but the people who vote in November should only have a role if they elect a Republican President. Otherwise, the people who elected Obama in 2012 should have their say after all. Yes, they do indeed swear a Hypocritical Oath (“[Republicans] Demand Supreme Court Vacancy Be Filled by Next President, Unless That President Is Hillary Clinton“).

Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias of Vox says “There’s a Big Problem with Sanders’s Free College Plan“. “Free college” has been one of Senator Sanders’s most popular positions. According to the campaign’s site:

The Sanders plan would make tuition free at public colleges and universities throughout the country…The cost of this … plan is fully paid for by imposing a tax of a fraction of a percent on Wall Street speculators [i.e. on transactions in the stock and bond markets].

Yglesias, however, provides a link to a more detailed “Summary of Sen. Sanders’ College for All Act” on his Senate webpage: 

This legislation would provide $47 billion per year to states to eliminate undergraduate tuition and fees at public colleges and universities.

Today, total tuition at public colleges and universities amounts to about $70 billion per year. Under the College for All Act, the federal government would cover 67% of this cost, while the states would be responsible for the remaining 33% of the cost.

To qualify for federal funding, states must meet a number of requirements designed to protect students, ensure quality, and reduce ballooning costs. States will need to maintain spending on their higher education systems, on academic instruction, and on need-based financial aid. In addition, colleges and universities must reduce their reliance on low-paid adjunct faculty.

As Yglesias points out, Sanders is relying on the states, including those that refused to accept Federal money in order to expand Medicaid coverage for the poor, to spend more money on education, even though the same states, usually run by Republican governors and legislators, have been cutting their education budgets. In addition, the public colleges and universities in those states would have to institute other reforms in order for their states to qualify for Federal matching grants.

Free college sounds great, and Senator Sanders has a reputation for brutal honesty, but he isn’t telling his supporters the truth about how difficult it would be to abolish college tuition. In Yglesias’s words: “what Sanders has is a plan for tuition-free college in Vermont and, if he’s lucky, California, but not for the United States of America”.

Lastly, two political science professors have an interesting article in the New York Times called “Clinton’s Bold Vision, Hidden in Plain Sight?“. They argue that Hillary Clinton is a throwback to the days when pragmatic Democrats and Republicans worked together to achieve great things: 

Mrs. Clinton has put forth an ambitious and broadly popular policy agenda: family and medical leave, continued financial reform, improvements in the Affordable Care Act, investments in infrastructure and scientific research, measures to tackle global warming and improve air and water quality, and so on….

A few decades ago, Mrs. Clinton would have been seen as a common political type: an evidence-oriented pragmatist committed to using public authority to solve big problems…. In the middle decades of the 20th century, this pragmatic problem-solving mentality had a prominent place in both parties. Some issues were deeply divisive: labor rights and national health insurance, for example, and civil rights. Nonetheless, a bipartisan governing coalition that included leaders from both business and labor proved remarkably willing to endorse and improve the mixed economy to promote prosperity.

More important, the major policies that this coalition devised deserve credit for some of the greatest achievements of American society, including the nation’s once decisive lead in science and education, its creation of a continent-spanning market linked by transportation and communications, and its pioneering creation of product and environmental regulations that added immensely to Americans’ health and quality of life…. Americans’ income per capita doubled and then more than doubled again, with the gains broadly distributed for most of the era….

Mrs. Clinton is heir to an enormously successful bipartisan governing tradition. Yet this tradition has been disowned by the Republican Party and has lost allure within a significant segment of the Democratic Party; it also runs sharply against the grain of current public sentiments about government and politicians….

In the context of widespread amnesia about what has made America prosper, pragmatism has come to be seen as lacking a clear compass rather than (in the original meaning of the word) focusing on what has actually proved to work in the real world.

Bernie, Hillary, Emails, Decisions, Decisions

New Jersey will hold its Presidential primary election nine months and fifteen days from now. By that time, we will almost certainly know who the Democratic nominee and the next President of the United States will be (she used to be Secretary of State). June of 2016 might sound like a long way off, but we in New Jersey, along with our friends in California and a few other states, always wait for everyone else to hold their primary elections first.

Aside from the fact that we’re naturally considerate (“Please, I insist.” “No, no, after you.”), this means we don’t have to spend much time deciding which Democrat or Republican should be President. Unlike Iowa, Vermont and South Carolina, we have more important things to do.

Anyway, if I had the opportunity to vote sooner than next June, like maybe tomorrow, I’m not sure who I’d choose. From a policy perspective, I’d go with Bernie Sanders, the democratic socialist Senator from Vermont. Voting for Sanders would make me feel good. I even think he could beat a Republican in the general election, because most Americans, whether they realize it or not, agree with his positions. (See “How Mainstream Is Bernie Sanders?” and “Why Surprising Numbers of Republicans Have Been Voting for Sanders in Vermont”).

Despite the popular appeal of Sanders’s positions, however, Clinton might do better in a general election. It would be harder for the Republicans to falsely portray her as a wild-eyed radical. And despite some of her hawkish views on foreign policy and military spending, Hillary Clinton might end up being a very progressive President. She seems more aware of our country’s increasing inequality and more likely to do something about it than she used to be. Further, she might be able to get more done than Sanders, since the politicians, bureaucrats and plutocrats she’d have to work with would be more likely to consider her “one of them”. 

(Every time I imagine President Sanders taking office, I’m reminded of A Very British Coup, in which the election of a proud Labor Party socialist as Prime Minister leads to army helicopters descending on Downing Street and Parliament. See also Seven Days in May. All fiction, of course.) 

But since I’m a proud resident of New Jersey, I don’t have to make a decision about this any time soon. Meanwhile, our national nightmare (i.e. our Presidential campaign) will continue.

That brings me to a perceptive article by Heather Digby Parton called “Anatomy of a Hillary Clinton Pseudo-Scandal”. She writes:

… the press can pass judgement about anything once it’s “out there” regardless of whether or not what’s “out there” is true. This allows them to skip doing boring rebuttals of the facts at hand and instead hold forth at length about how it bears on the subject’s “judgement” and the “appearance” of wrongdoing without ever proving that what they did was wrong.

You see, if the person being discussed were “competent,” it wouldn’t be “out there” in the first place, so even if it is based upon entirely specious speculation, it’s his or her own fault for inspiring people to speculate so speciously. It all goes back to their “character”… 

And even if the charges are patently false, they are always far too complicated to rebut in detail; and, anyway, the other side says something different, so who’s really to say what’s true and what isn’t?  [Note: that’s what Paul Krugman calls “Shape of Earth: Views Differ” journalism.]

It’s still the responsibility of the target of those charges because he or she shouldn’t have allowed him or herself to be in a position where someone could make false charges in the first place.

From this perspective, it’s irrelevant whether any of those famous emails were classified at the time (apparently they weren’t, besides which lots of stuff the government classifies shouldn’t be). It’s also irrelevant whether it was forbidden to use a private computer then (apparently it wasn’t). 

I agree about the irrelevance in one sense. It’s irrelevant as to whether Clinton or Sanders or some other Democrat should be our next President.