An Open Letter to the Times on That Same Subject

After reading about whom Warren’s supporters will now favor:

Speaking as an over-65, over-educated, previously over-compensated white man who strongly believes in the progressive goals she and Senator Sanders espouse, Senator Warren was the most exciting, best-qualified presidential candidate of my lifetime. I was convinced early on that she would be our next president and supported her campaign. How could such a warm, talented woman with an anti-corruption message fail to attract a majority? Now we know.

Now that she’s dropped out, she’s on the front page everywhere with lots of positive coverage. It’s funny how that works (compare Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State vs. presidential candidate).

I can’t generate any enthusiasm for Biden or Sanders. I don’t see Sanders as a successful president, even if he were elected. He lacks the political skills. I don’t see Biden as successful either. He’s from another political era.

If Biden is the nominee, Sanders needs to strongly encourage his supporters to fight for Democrats everywhere on the ballot. My hope is that Mr. Biden will pick a talented, progressive running mate (a senator from Massachusetts, for example) and, if he’s lost too much of his energy and mental edge by 2021, he will graciously retire. He can always point out that a presidential campaign takes a lot out of a person.

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.