Democrats need to choose a real candidate not a symbolic one

by Eszter Hargittai on January 26, 2016

Paul Starr has an excellent piece on why Democrats need to vote for Hillary Clinton in the upcoming primaries. I have no doubt that some of you who have other views will want to chime in, feel free. I just ask that you read the whole piece first and address points made in it rather than engaging in general hand-waving so as to improve the chances of a meaningful exchange.

A few quotes, but I recommend reading the full piece.

I have a strange idea about presidential primaries and elections: The purpose is to elect a president.

And I have a strange thought about primary voters: They have a choice between sending the country a message and sending it a president. That is a choice Democratic voters in Iowa and New Hampshire ought especially to be weighing with the first caucuses and primary only days away.

..

Republicans and conservative media have been outdoing each other in their denunciations of Hillary Clinton. They will hardly believe their good fortune if Sanders turns out to be the Democratic candidate. A campaign against a 74-year-old socialist senator from Vermont writes itself. For a change, the right-wing media would not have to make anything up.

..

Sanders tells us that the political system is rotten and corrupt. But anyone who believes that government is rotten and corrupt has to be worried about making it more powerful, especially in a way that has such personal effects as health care does. This is the contradiction at the root of Sanders’ rhetoric.

Read the full piece.

{ 216 comments }

1

BenK 01.26.16 at 5:22 pm

Yes, Sanders is right that the problems with the political system are deep and require greatly diminishing the power of the federal government. And he is right that powerful government at the right place, right time, can be superb. And at the state level, he is almost at a place where powerful government can be a good thing. At least in the smallest states. But his extrapolation to the federal level is a disaster that he can’t seem to see. His contradiction, if you will, isn’t as absolute as some might think; but he isn’t seeing it either.

2

Rich Puchalsky 01.26.16 at 5:36 pm

Paul Starr: “The support for Sanders has already sent a message. Now the primary voters have to choose a president.”

What message is that, exactly? That’s not a rhetorical question. It would appear that the message is that nothing can be done about any important problem other than go with the flow. Is there any position of actual power to influence events or policies that supporters of Sanders have gained or would gain as a tradeoff for supporting Clinton?

As an anarchist, I advise people to not uphold this rotten and corrupt political system. Paul Starr writes that I would ” [have] to be worried about making it more powerful”, but I don’t think that even if Sanders did manage to get single payer health care that this would make the state significantly more powerful than it already is, or that any conceivable alternative President wouldn’t do worse in some way. Clinton, for instance, seems set to ratify even further the escalated warmaking and spying inaugurated by Bush and supported by Obama.

The truth is, of course, that in terms of expanded state power Sanders is the lesser evil. Democratic Party supporters of the lesser evil strangely enough fall silent whenever the lesser evil turns out to be further to the left than they like.

3

Francis Spufford 01.26.16 at 5:41 pm

Is it ordinary in the United States to take ‘the political system’ and ‘government’ as synonyms, so that if you feel that campaign finance is corrupted, you cannot possibly believe that anything in the public sector could be competently administered? Or is this a piece of conscious bait-and-switch?

4

LFC 01.26.16 at 5:45 pm

I’ve read Paul Starr’s piece. He makes some points worth considering. The least convincing part of Starr’s article, imo, is this:

The other decisive problem for many voters would be that Sanders is not credible as commander-in-chief. When foreign policy issues have come up in the debates, he seems out of his depth.

Based on the parts of the debates I’ve seen, I don’t think Sanders seems all that “out of his depth” on foreign policy. And in any event, I wouldn’t esp. trust Starr’s judgment on that. Starr is a well-known sociologist who knows a lot about health care policy, among other things, but I’m not aware that he has any special knowledge of foreign policy or defense policy or int’l politics more generally.

Clinton was sec of state, so it stands to reason she is well-prepared to answer foreign policy questions (whether one likes her answers is a separate question). But on particular issues, such as Syria, Sanders has given quite concrete answers about his perspective and what his approach would be, and you can look them up in the debate transcripts. If Clinton had been highly detailed and Sanders by contrast vague on foreign policy, that would support Starr’s perception, but I don’t think the debate transcripts will show that.

5

cs 01.26.16 at 5:45 pm

The piece seems to be somewhat conflating two issues: one is about electability and the other is the author’s personal disagreement with Sanders’ positions on things like health care reform, and blaming Wall St. On the electability issue, my gut feeling agrees with Starr: Clinton has a better chance, although it isn’t nearly as one sided as the way it is presented – Clinton has her own liabilities which Starr for some reason didn’t make any mention of.

It does seem like Starr is feeling quite nervous about the prospect of Sanders winning the primary. That still seems a little premature to me, I think Clinton is still a big favorite even if she can’t win the early states.

6

Thomas Beale 01.26.16 at 5:46 pm

If I were a voting US citizen I’d very very tempted to go Sanders anyway, despite the arguments of age, etc. I don’t think his low foreign policy experience is an argument, any good president assembles a good team. Who knows, Clinton could end back on the plane to Israel.

Would Sanders be a gift to the Republicans and the ‘script write itself’? If Trump gets the Rep nomination, there is no script.

The description ‘the system is rotten and corrupt’ I don’t think refers to the internals of gov departments as such, it’s the electoral system and the modern Republican rejection of democracy that’s the problem (the industrial military complex, DoD procurement etc is probably a special case). I remain persuaded by Mike Lofgren’s analysis in ‘The Party’s Over – How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted’ as a picture of the dire mess US politics is in. It seems the current polling for Trump and Sanders would indicate a few others do as well.

On why Sanders can’t revolutionise US healthcare… well…. The system is horribly inefficient, and sucks 18% of GDP. The best providers are full-service non-profits like Kaiser. With a strategy that created more Kaiser-like (relatively) efficient organisations (same number of patients as Sweden), why can’t it be done? Right wingers yell ‘communism’ at Obamacare or the NHS, but noone says that about Kaiser or Mayo or other such places, but they’re actually socialist concepts. See Clayton Christensen on that one.

On the other hand going with Clinton is going with someone who believes she has a right to be there and is embedded in the establishment. Nothing much will change.

If Trump is being taken seriously as a president, and it seems he is, why not Sanders?

7

lemmy caution 01.26.16 at 5:51 pm

“The other decisive problem for many voters would be that Sanders is not credible as commander-in-chief. When foreign policy issues have come up in the debates, he seems out of his depth.”

Hillary is hawk with a lot of foreign policy experience. Not a selling point for me.

Bernie is electable versus Trump or Cruz. He is likable.

8

lemmy caution 01.26.16 at 5:56 pm

” Quite honestly, there is a better chance of her being in federal prison next year than in the White House.”

Hillary doesn’t have an ethics problem. She definitely won’t be going to jail.

Hillary drives the right wing insane. Remember the Vince Foster thing:

http://beforeitsnews.com/obama-birthplace-controversy/2015/04/hillary-clinton-vince-foster-murdersuicide-coverup-the-strange-death-of-vincent-foster-christopher-ruddy-investigation-newsmax-articles-resurrected-by-citizen-wells-scathing-foster-investigation-2488700.html

She would be an OK president. Sanders would be better.

9

Consumatopia 01.26.16 at 6:16 pm

“But anyone who believes that government is rotten and corrupt has to be worried about making it more powerful, especially in a way that has such personal effects as health care does. This is the contradiction at the root of Sanders’ rhetoric.”

If you just deleted this paragraph from Starr’s piece, it would have been perfectly reasonable. Not unassailable, but not easily dismissed either. But, oh lord, that pair of sentences is incredibly absurd.

10

Aaron Lercher 01.26.16 at 6:22 pm

Single payer cannot be achieved by ordinary political bargaining in the US. The modest “public option” was bargained away for Joe Lieberman’s vote. In Remedy and Reaction, Starr says that single payer was last on the table was during Nixon’s second administration before Nixon’s and Wilbur Mills’s respective falls from power, and Ted Kennedy told the UAW leadership that it was lost in 1978.

So one has to imagine a crisis in which the current awkward inequitable and inefficient set of institutions for healthcare finance and provision collapse. I can well imagine such scenarios. Is this something to hope for or to fear? This is Corey Robin’s Hobbes vs. Marx question again from his Chronicle piece, but differently posed.

It is true, agreeing in spirit with Corey, that grassroots movements are necessary for progressive change. Partly it’s about new recruits to the political process, but there’s nothing particularly progressive about that. But in part, it is how groups of ordinary people recognize themselves by setting and winning their own demands (a bit of Hegelian Marxism there).

But a campaign for political office, where the goal is to win a narrowly defined contest, is at best an awkward vehicle for the self-definition of groups of ordinary working people. When it’s won or lost, it’s over, at least that’s how it usually works.

So maybe the goal or process at work in the Sanders campaign is to transform the Democratic Party into a party for working people in order to deal with the coming crisis. If this is happening then I will have to be part of it. But one wonders.

Tell me what I’m wrong, Sanders supporters. Quote Marx or Douglass to me. Demand that I choose sides in the coming fight. I’m genuinely receptive to anything like that.

11

Cranky Observer 01.26.16 at 6:41 pm

Everyone has their theory of what is driving the popularity of Trump; rage among the base over too many years of yanked footballs seems an important factor to me. We worked our arses off to elect Obsma and were immediately rewarded with Geithner, Holder, and zero prosecutions. Lecturing people about their duty to vote for the very serious H. Clinton without any actual engagement on their beliefs seems as good a way as any to ensure nomination of a Demicratic Trump equivalent next time.

I’m not generally not impressed by the “talk down to” and tone complaints from the Radical Right, but a few more weeks of the Lemiux / LGM attitude and I may change my mind…

12

Cranky Observer 01.26.16 at 6:42 pm

=Obama; thanks useless Apple autocorrect.

13

Eszter Hargittai 01.26.16 at 6:44 pm

I’d like to note that I certainly think Sanders brings up important points and I definitely believe that there are major problems with the US system. But I don’t believe that Sanders is electable in the general election. The US political system is extremely limited compared to a parliamentary democracy. In the latter, it’s affordable to go with candidates representing somewhat extreme positions, because they could end up as part of a coalition and their voices can still be represented in the system. The US system sadly does not afford that flexibility.

14

alkali 01.26.16 at 6:46 pm

If I had a wave-a-magic-wand wish list for governance it would certainly look more like the Sanders agenda than the Clinton agenda. That said, I am leaning (strongly) toward Clinton, and here is why:

1) The difference between the Clinton agenda and the Sanders agenda seems to reflect more than anything else a difference in the candidates’ pragmatic judgment about what is possible and what is attractive to voters: Sanders is far more aspirational and Clinton far more pragmatic.

2) Any Democrat elected President is likely to face a Republican Congress or at best a divided Congress — for reasons in part having to do with our odd constitutional structure and the present geography of American ideology, and in part for reasons having to do with Republican gerrymanders and voter ID laws and the rest. That hypothetical Democratic president will therefore have difficulty even maintaining the considerable albeit limited achievements of the Obama years. That favors pragmatism.

3) A contrary view might be that a more aspirational agenda will lead to more attractive compromises in the near term and better policy results in the long term. One would like to think that is so, but the Republican party as presently constituted is highly ideological and demonstrably very good at rejecting compromise.

4) On a popular vote basis, Sanders may well be as electable as Clinton. On an electoral college basis, which is what ultimately matters, Sanders is not as electable as Clinton and in fact will serve as a drag on the rest of the ticket. In particular Sanders’ self-identification as a socialist will cause many Democratic candidates in purple areas of the country to disavow him, because this country simply does not have a strong democratic socialist tradition (regardless of how you might personally feel about that).

5) A contrary view might be that a Sanders candidacy would bring out a previously silent majority of non-voters. Respectfully, this appears to be classic wishful thinking: Obama, a more charismatic candidate, was able to flip the Congress Democratic for just two years following a calamitous domestic and foreign policy meltdown by the prior Republican administration. The Sanders rallies are admirable but they are not portents of imminent revolution.

6) On the basis of the foregoing, I conclude that Clinton is somewhat more likely to be elected, and that if elected she would have something closer to parity in Congress.

7) Having a Republican president would be very bad for lots of reasons, including (i) rollback of lots of important legislation and (ii) establishment of a Republican Supreme Court for at least a generation. (In particular, the contention that there would be no significant difference between a Clinton administration and — for example — a Cruz administration is not at all sensible.)

8) There is an argument for supporting Sanders on the ground that some people who would vote for Sanders would not vote for Clinton on various grounds (e.g., “I could never vote for someone who gave George W. Bush authority to go into Iraq.”). I don’t think those are unreasonable grounds not to vote for Clinton, but I disagree with them basically for the reasons expressed above.

15

Earwig 01.26.16 at 6:51 pm

“Democratic Party supporters of the lesser evil strangely enough fall silent whenever the lesser evil turns out to be further to the left than they like.”

Fall silent? No, that’s not what they do. Not at all.

16

Chris Bertram 01.26.16 at 6:51 pm

“I don’t believe that Sanders is electable in the general election”

Doesn’t that depend on who the other candidate is?

17

NomadUK 01.26.16 at 6:53 pm

It’s bad enough having the usual suspects bleat at me to not vote for the candidate I actually support in the general election; it gets pretty irksome when they tell me not to in the primaries as well.

Exactly when is it appropriate for voters to tell the party establishment to take a long walk off a short pier? According to the lesser evil folks, apparently it’s never.

18

gbh 01.26.16 at 7:03 pm

Francis @ 3

This is all that really needs to be said about this post.

19

Rakesh Bhandari 01.26.16 at 7:07 pm

@16. It does not; in the US more than 50% of the eligible electorate has to vote for you to become President. This is how the Founding Fathers set up the system. So the Presidency of Ronald Reagan did not happen as he had only 26% or so of the eligible electorate for him. In order to pretend that there was not a gap in the succession of the Presidency, everyone just pretended that Ronald Reagan had a mandate from the people. But in fact the US was ungoverned for those eight years.

20

Aaron Lercher 01.26.16 at 7:07 pm

@14 alkali

Maybe Sanders is very likely to lose if he’s the nominee. But I think it’s helpful to engage Sanders supporters without making predictions and without claiming some policies are impossible.

The question is also what makes sense to hope for.

21

Matt 01.26.16 at 7:09 pm

Hasn’t the Tea Party managed to have their symbolic cake and eat it too? Their early candidates were claimed to be far outside the mainstream and politically naive, pretty much the same charges leveled against Sanders in the article.

Some Republicans worried that the Tea Party movement would hand the election to the Democrats. And yet, here we are with Republican majorities in both houses and a Republican party whose “establishment” has veered hard to the right….

Why couldn’t the left pull of the same thing?

22

Ted Lemon 01.26.16 at 7:10 pm

I am deeply puzzled. All of the polls I’ve seen so far suggest that Bernie does better against the likely Republican winners than Hillary by a substantial margin, not worse, as you suggest. The problem with Bernie isn’t that he isn’t electable by the American people. It’s that he may not be electable by the Democratic party.

Do you have different data? Have I been misled?

The article you reference seems to be working from the notion that it goes against common sense that someone like Bernie could function as president. In other words, there’s no real argument here. We are just meant to understand that Hillary, being an insider, can be president, and Bernie, if through some fluke he were elected, could not, as an outsider, govern. That Bernie is not serious, and Hillary is.

To be entirely honest, I find the idea of a man or a woman as old as Hillary in the high-pressure context of the White House pretty worrisome, but those are our alternatives. The Republicans who are running all appear to be dangerous idiots of one form or another. So given that we are stuck with Hillary or Bernie, why is Bernie worse than Hillary as an elected President?

Is it because he wouldn’t go to war? He’s said he would, and as far as I understand it doesn’t have any ideological problem with going to war if it’s necessary, but he is against going to war as a primary solution, and based on recent history, he is clearly right. The wars we’ve gotten embroiled in have had no benefit in terms of national security or world peace: just the opposite. We could stand to have a president who won’t be bullied by the hawks in his cabinet into an unnecessary and ill-advised war.

As for the argument that he believes “government” is corrupt, it’s not clear that he does. What he seems to believe is that our political system is corrupt. I’m not the first person to mention this, but let me go down that path a little farther. We have a problem that there is so much noise in the public discourse that it’s actually quite difficult to find grounds for serious discussion. This Politico article is an example of that sort of thing. The base assumptions in the article are grounded in commonly-accepted garbage, which is commonly accepted because the public discourse is largely controlled by money, not by reasoned debate.

This is the problem Bernie proposes to address. It’s a really hard problem. It may indeed be impossible to fix it. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizen’s United was based on a very real problem: the news media at present is mostly speaking for the owners of the news media, who are ideologues, not pragmatists. So the traditional “free press” to which the First Amendment refers can’t be systematically distinguished from other corporate speech. And the first amendment, because it protects the press, cannot simply regulate corporate speech.

This problem was implicit at the framing of the Constitution, but we managed to paper over it for a very long time before Citizen’s United. I don’t have any clue how to put the genie back in the bottle. If you think that Bernie’s determination to try is quixotic, I can’t argue the point. But we have no choice but to seek out a way forward. Bernie is trying to do that. In my mind, that makes him the only serious candidate for President in the current election.

23

que_es 01.26.16 at 7:15 pm

“The US political system is extremely limited compared to a parliamentary democracy. In the latter, it’s affordable to go with candidates representing somewhat extreme positions, because they could end up as part of a coalition and their voices can still be represented in the system.”

Sanders’ positions are not extreme. But that is what we are supposed to think, of course.

24

Soho 01.26.16 at 7:37 pm

Thank you! The prospect of a Bernie candidacy throwing this election to the Republicans scares the living daylights out of me.

25

MPAVictoria 01.26.16 at 7:41 pm

Can I note for a second that Bernie Sanders polls much better than Hilary Clinton in match-ups with the republican opposition? So any argument that Clinton is more electable needs to discount the only real metric we currently have.

26

Marshall Peace 01.26.16 at 7:45 pm

@Chris #16

From where I sit, Trump beats Sanders like a bass drum.

27

Doug K 01.26.16 at 7:50 pm

agree entirely with Francis @3 – that is such a peculiar argument for Paul Starr to make, that it undermines all the others in the piece.

On foreign policy, I like this Sanders observation: “There’s experience, and then there’s judgment. Dick Cheney had lots of experience.”

His age is really the major concern I have. But he could have Hilary as VP..

On the question of Sanders’ supposedly impractical policy proposals – actual journalism would compare and contrast these with the Republican policy proposals, which run a very limited gamut, from hand-waving all the way to cruel and unusual punishment for the electorate.
The only health-care policy they have is to repeal Obama/Romneycare: how does that hold up ?
The only Social Security policy they have is to cut and/or repeal it: how does that hold up ?
The only education policy they have is to eliminate or massively reduce the US Dept of Education, and promote privatized education via charters and vouchers: how does that hold up ?
If only, if only, we had actual journalism in the US..

28

Aaron Lercher 01.26.16 at 7:50 pm

@ Ted Lemon

I ignored the parts of Starr’s piece that dealt with predictions. Starr’s more important point is whether Sanders’s policies make sense, from his perspective as a historian of the US healthcare system (and voter).

The hypothetical matchup polls are too remote. Also as far as I’m concerned, it’s not primarily about what Bernie Sanders as an individual believes, although that’s relevant. Sanders might just be a figurehead for a social movement, and that might be a good thing. It’s hard to say.

The question for me is whether this movement is really going “forward,” as you put it. It seems to me that Sanders’s campaign is more about trying to refight lost battles about healthcare and finance. That might be possible in a future crisis. But is that the goal?

The Sanders movement, my friends tell me, is registering new voters and bringing young leftists into the political process. That’s very, very good. But not the same as winning the election.

29

alkali 01.26.16 at 8:03 pm

@Aaron Lercher (20): Maybe Sanders is very likely to lose if he’s the nominee. But I think it’s helpful to engage Sanders supporters without making predictions and without claiming some policies are impossible.

I don’t disagree that engagement among Democrats has considerable value although I think predictions are a relevant topic for discussion here. Reasonable people take the probability of outcomes into account: otherwise we’d all move to Hollywood to become movie stars rather than go to grad school. I think my predictions are reasonable ones given the facts but I could be persuaded otherwise.

@Ted Lemon (22):All of the polls I’ve seen so far suggest that Bernie does better against the likely Republican winners than Hillary by a substantial margin, not worse, as you suggest.

@MPAVictoria (25): Can I note for a second that Bernie Sanders polls much better than Hilary Clinton in match-ups with the republican opposition?

RealClearPolitics.com indicates that the candidates’ respective national polling numbers are close, and that overall the amount of national polling is pretty thin. There is no reliable basis to conclude that on a nationwide basis, Clinton or Sanders is polling significantly better than the other against Trump/Cruz, one of whom seems likely to be the Republican challenger. (My view is that Clinton would do better in the Electoral College, but I might be persuaded otherwise.)

30

Plarry 01.26.16 at 8:19 pm

Aaron @ 10: “The modest “public option” was bargained away for Joe Lieberman’s vote.”
No. The public option went away because Obama didn’t want it. Joe Lieberman’s vote could have easily been bought for his committee positions, given that he supported the candidate from the opposite party. Obama had tremendous leverage over him and failed to exercise it.

Paul Starr’s piece makes some good points, but doesn’t capitalize on the essential one: The Democratic debates have convincingly demonstrated that Sanders will not be able to withstand the GOP/Fox media machine. Hillary can. I’d rather have the president I can get rather than the one I’d wish for.

31

LFC 01.26.16 at 8:21 pm

Rakesh @19: If you’re joking here, I don’t really get the joke (unless this is your way of saying you don’t like the Electoral College); on the other hand, if you’re not joking, I don’t know what you’re on about here. “[I]n the US more than 50% of the eligible electorate has to vote for you to become President. This is how the Founding Fathers set up the system” makes no sense since they didn’t set up the system that way, but I presume you know this and are being ironic or something…

As to Chris Bertram’s question whether Sanders’ electability depends on who the Repub candidate opposing him is, one could argue this both ways. That is, it would be possible to argue that he’s just not electable, period, against any of the Repub candidates, and that appears to be Ezster H’s view. Given the necessarily preliminary character of the polling at this stage, I don’t think the polls right now can answer the question. And so much depends on various contingencies (how the party establishments react, what the overall turnout level is, external events, etc.) that we can’t know the answer right now, istm. I think it all’s going to be a moot point b.c Clinton is going to be the nominee, but we’ll see.

32

LFC 01.26.16 at 8:24 pm

correction:
“I think it’s all going to be…”

33

Aaron Lercher 01.26.16 at 8:31 pm

Plarry @30
Starr’s book is my source on who killed the public option. I guess one could say Ben Nelson killed it too, as well as Lieberman. Or maybe Durbin or Pelosi killed it.

Again, for my own reasons, I try to avoid arguments against Sanders based on political predictions or possibilities, because these might either seem arbitrary or selective. Or it’s me trying to be a pundit. Instead I’m asking what one may hope for.

34

LFC 01.26.16 at 8:34 pm

Francis Spufford @3
Is it ordinary in the United States to take ‘the political system’ and ‘government’ as synonyms, so that if you feel that campaign finance is corrupted, you cannot possibly believe that anything in the public sector could be competently administered? Or is this a piece of conscious bait-and-switch?

You’ve pointed out some slippage/slipperiness/whatever in Starr’s language here, but if you read his article you’ll see he’s not as stupid or as consciously bait-and-switchy as might be supposed on the basis of those sentences. Actually, an editor probably shd have taken out those sentences b.c the piece’s main arguments don’t really depend on them. Starr’s main pt (or one of them) on health care, istm, is that the current system is the product of a long complex history in which private insurers have played a major role and have built up considerable political power and it would be one thing if this were 1932 or 1948 and one were writing on a comparatively blank slate, but it isn’t. I’m sure there are some counterarguments but that’s what I take him, at least partly, to be saying.

35

Rich Puchalsky 01.26.16 at 8:37 pm

“Francis @ 3

This is all that really needs to be said about this post.”

There have been a number of comments emphasizing the poor argumentative quality of “if you think the system is corrupt, why do you want to increase the power of government?” — a standard right-wing trope and frame. But I really think that the bit about message is more objectionable.

The writer writes that supporters of Sanders have sent a message. Once again: what message is that? In some political systems, the message would be that this segment of the party has to be bought off with concrete political actions, cabinet positions, or at least promises. But supporters of Clinton have offered nothing. So if nothing is being offered, no actual message has been sent. The true response to this “message” would appear to be that supporters of Sanders can accomplish nothing and should give up in the interest of getting a President who can be elected.

36

LFC 01.26.16 at 8:38 pm

Aaron Lercher:
I try to avoid arguments against Sanders based on political predictions or possibilities, because these might either seem arbitrary or selective. Or it’s me trying to be a pundit. Instead I’m asking what one may hope for.

How is “asking what one may hope for” different from asking what it is reasonable to suppose might happen, i.e., making a prediction of sorts? I don’t understand the distinction you’re drawing here.

37

Mitch Guthman 01.26.16 at 8:38 pm

I also think that Starr is conflating support for policies he personally likes with being electable. Yet, there’s no reason to believe that his personal preferences in any way mirror those of likely general election voters and a lot of reason to believe that they don’t. Everybody says that Sanders isn’t electable and yet many of those same people acknowledge that nearly every one of his policy positions, and those of liberals generally, has tremendous support among likely voters outside of the South.

The other point I would like to make is that many people are assuming that Clinton is more electable because of the widespread belief that she’s more electable. To be clear, I like Hillary as a candidate and I supported her in the last primary over Obama. I think that pound for pound she the best around. She would probably make a reasonably good president, if she could be stopped from starting a war with Iran.

But there’s also this to consider: Hillary is the poster child for built to lose, consultant driven campaigns. She began the last presidential primary in an apparently invincible position and immediately ran her campaign into a ditch by relying on out-of-touch, incompetent consultants and lobbyists.

Here we are, barely in January, and it’s clear that she’s built a very similar campaign organization. She using the same tactics and has an surrounded herself with consultants and lobbyists who look on most Democratic voters with contempt and distain even though those same voters are the ones she will need to energize in a general election. Her campaign seems almost to go out of its way to antagonize the voters of the left and centre-left.

So far, Hillary’s campaign looks an awful lot like a repeat of 2007 and 2008 when she started with an unassailable position and squandered it. Which, I think, legitimately raises the question of whether Hillary is capable of winning a general election against Donald Trump. I have some serious doubt about whether her organization could build a successful national presidential campaign and I’ve actually never seen anybody make a compelling case for Hillaryland being able to run a better, more likely to succeed campaign than Sanders.

38

LFC 01.26.16 at 8:43 pm

@ R Puchalsky
The “message” is presumably that Sanders’ emphasis on economic inequality and related issues resonates w a lot of voters, and therefore candidates, and HRC in particular, have to pay more attention to it. Whether he has in fact pulled her to the left I suppose is debatable, and I’m sure you wd answer ‘no’. But that’s presumably what Starr is talking about.

(Also see my reply @34 to F. Spufford)

39

Aaron Lercher 01.26.16 at 8:46 pm

LFC @36
Suppose we’re being radicals. Then we try to imagine how the possibilities can be altered, rather than just what they are now.
Or we think in Rousseau/Kant/Hegel terms of acting for positive freedom, rather than on the basis of rational calculation.
In writing a post for Crooked Timber, I feel the need to think of how to respond to Corey Robin’s rhetoric for Sanders.

40

LFC 01.26.16 at 9:03 pm

@Aaron Lercher
So in looking again at your comment @28, your case vs. Sanders is that he’s aiming to ‘refight lost battles’ instead of ‘looking forward’ [e.g. in the spirit of Kant’s “what may I hope for”? — I’m not esp. up on Kant [paging js., please] but I seem to recall he says that somewhere, though I largely forget the context]. Am I understanding you correctly?

41

Bloix 01.26.16 at 9:05 pm

Three thoughts:
1) Starr’s article is not nearly alarmist enough. The choice will be between: (a) whoever the Dems nominate and (b) a fascist. (Not a Nazi, this isn’t a Godwin’s Law post – just an “authoritarian” at the head of a radical party dedicated to one-party rule forever). Therefore the only decision for a rational-decision-making primary voter is which Democrat is more likely to win.

2) But there are no rational-decision-making voters. The rational decision is to not vote (just as it’s rational not to buy a lottery ticket). Voters vote out of emotion: either a sense of civic duty imbued from childhood (like religion); or a sense of emotional satisfaction or collective identification (“Vote Racist!” “Vote Union!” “Vote SJW!” “Vote for a Winner!”) It’s fine to praise Starr for his excellent argument, as long as we recognize that it appeals to almost no one – just as my appeal to “Vote for the one who can beat the Fascist!” appeals to almost no one.

3) Like Starr and Eszter, I lean toward HRC because I don’t think Sanders can win. Why not? Because he is: (1) old and looks it, (2) uncharismatic and irritable, (3) from a place Americans love to hate, moved to a place Americans condescend to; (4) a Jew with a Jewy accent (anti-Semitism ain’t what it used to be – a Jew who looks like Paul Newman could win, but please), (5) Soshulist!, (6) never won an election that had more than a couple of hundred thousand voters (my county executive gets twice the votes Sanders does).

(4) But I am not convinced that HRC can win. Her history shows her to be a god-awful candidate – she makes unforced errors and her instincts are terrible – she fights dirty in the stupidest, most self-destructive ways. How can you be sure she will be the better candidate when any day she could blow herself up? Plus, I don’t like her much – she’s the candidate from Wall Street. She’s infinitely better than a fascist but I don’t like her.

(5)So I’m still going to vote for HRC, because out of instinct, not rationality, I think Sanders can’t win.

(6) BUT I haven’t given either candidate my money, which is much more important than my vote, because I have no affection for HRC, and no faith in Sanders.

(7) which is irrational – I should give all I can, as early as I can, to the non-fascist who is most likely to win. I should. It doesn’t matter that I don’t like my choices for Democrat when the real choice is Democrat or fascist. But I’m not rational. I feel a civic duty to vote, but not a civic duty to give money. That’s not rational but it’s how I am.

42

Bloix 01.26.16 at 9:05 pm

Oops, three turned into seven. Outlines will do that to you.

43

Dennis Redfield 01.26.16 at 9:06 pm

We have heard this failed argument before, the DLC and the Clintons have been pushing it for years. Robert Reich’s recent column summarizes the counter argument:

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman yesterday warned Bernie supporters that change doesn’t happen with “transformative rhetoric” but with “political pragmatism” – “accepting half loaves as being better than none.” He writes that it’s dangerous to prefer “happy dreams (by which he means Bernie) to hard thinking about means and ends (meaning Hillary).”

Krugman doesn’t get it. I’ve been in and around Washington for almost fifty years, including a stint in the cabinet, and I’ve learned that real change happens only when a substantial share of the American public is mobilized, organized, energized, and determined to make it happen.

Political “pragmatism” may require accepting “half loaves” – but the full loaf has to be large and bold enough in the first place to make the half loaf meaningful. That’s why the movement must aim high – toward a single-payer universal health, free public higher education, and busting up the biggest banks, for example.

44

Bloix 01.26.16 at 9:15 pm

And while I was writing this, Eric posted on HRC’s latest “let’s shoot ourselves in the foot” moment. “Reconstruction was too hard on the treasonous slavers. Lincoln would have been nicer to them if only that carpet-bagging JW Booth hadn’t shot him in the head.” Holy JC on a motorcycle, way to alienate your base there, Hilary, and to be stupid while doing it.

45

politicalfootball 01.26.16 at 9:21 pm

Those ideas would be excellent grist for a seminar. But they are not the proposals of a candidate who is serious about getting things done as president—or one who is serious about getting elected in the country we actually live in.

I suppose Sanders’ role in ACA can bereasonably debated, but it seems hard to come up with a narrative where his presence in the Senate made it harder to pass, or made the bill worse than it was. Sanders has always been attuned to the politics of the possible.

And he got elected to the Senate in the country we actually live in. If Bernie isn’t running a campaign that could get him elected in the country we actually live in, why does Starr think he’s worth writing about?

46

js. 01.26.16 at 9:23 pm

If you want to make the case that voting for Clinton is the more sensible course of action, make that case. There’s a case to be made there (not one that I entirely buy, but certainly a plausible case can be made). But calling Sanders a “symbolic” candidate is just fucking idiotic. He is in every plausible sense a real candidate running a real campaign, and if you want to convince his supporters to vote for Clinton instead, maybe don’t start by condescending to them in the very first sentence. Just, you know, as a matter of rhetorical strategy.

In case this needs to be made clear, this is targeted against Start, but EH.

47

christian_h 01.26.16 at 9:24 pm

Remember when it was the left’s duty to run their candidates in primaries instead of third party? Turns out it’s a duty to lose primaries, not run in them. Also if a right-wing candidate like Clinton is nominated and then loses, liberals will (wrongly) blame the left for staying home. If Sanders is nominated and loses, liberals will blame the left for making the right stay home. I think we should refuse to play these games. Literally voting for the candidate with worse positions she you have the choice is against the spirit of democracy.

48

Quite Likely 01.26.16 at 9:24 pm

It’s amazing to me how many people’s arguments against Sanders boil down to “Okay, you’ve had your fun, you don’t ACTUALLY want this guy to be President do you?”

Well yeah, Sanders supporters do want him to be President. It’s absolutely not about sending a message of any kind, it’s about electing someone we think would be a better leader. I can’t imagine any Sanders supporters saying “Oh, I guess I was just making a symbolic protest vote for a fake candidate, whoops!”

49

js. 01.26.16 at 9:25 pm

Also what Cranky Observer and politicalfootball said.

50

js. 01.26.16 at 9:28 pm

Last sentence in #45: “Start” should be “Starr”, obviously.

51

Peter K. 01.26.16 at 9:28 pm

I am for Bernie because I like his policy proposals better and he is right about what ails us. He criticized the Fed for the rate hike; plans on doing substantial infrastructure spending and a hefty financial transaction tax.

Having said that I don’t consider Krugman, Hargittai and other progressives who favor Hillary as sellouts or evil. Sanders supporters who generalize in that sort of way are wrong. Hillary supporters are rightly afraid of a Republican victory and they could be right that Hillary has a better shot. I don’t know. I do know their hearts are in the right place.

But Trump is too far outside the mainstream and the Republicans already control Congress. I think a Democratic victory is more likely.

52

Waiting for Godot 01.26.16 at 9:33 pm

It’s always been interesting to me that working American intellectuals are so far removed from the realities of American life and so fearful of political populism…maybe it’s Richard Hofstadter’s fault. But from here in the heartland of democracy and the anus of progress, Bernie is not only electable but, unless they shoot ‘im , maybe we’ll see an end to our 116 year old civil war.

53

Placeholder 01.26.16 at 9:36 pm

“Any Democrat elected President is likely to face a Republican Congress or at best a divided Congress”

Actually, 2016 will be the best year for Democrats in Congress for a long time. Turnout will be higher in a Presidential year and currently, Republicans have 14 more seats up for election in the Senate than Democrats and Republicans only actually need to lose 4 seats.

If one thing is depressing about the chances for the American left is that this conversation is solely about Sanders and there isn’t a huge Tea Party style campaign in the primaries. However, there seems to be a good chance for a Democrat congress so I think the HRC faction are ignoring their legislative duty if they are pretending this isn’t true just so they can justify voting against Sanders. It’s probably way too late to talk about congress for the left in general I guess.

54

Bloix 01.26.16 at 9:42 pm

@46 – the left had a potential plausible candidate named Elizabeth Warren. She chose not to run. It’s a sign of the depressingly shallow Democratic bench that the only significant challenger to HRC is a 74 year old who’s never won an election as a Democrat in his life.

55

Corey Robin 01.26.16 at 9:52 pm

If people are interested in a serious discussion of the strategic strengths and weaknesses of both candidates — set against the structural realities of what they’ll be up against — I suggest you check out Brian Beutler’s piece in The New Republic yesterday. I don’t agree with all of it, but it has the virtue of being grounded in some semblance of reality.

https://newrepublic.com/article/128239/nominating-bernie-sanders-worthwhile-gamble

56

alkali 01.26.16 at 9:55 pm

@Placeholder (52):“Any Democrat elected President is likely to face a Republican Congress or at best a divided Congress”

Actually, 2016 will be the best year for Democrats in Congress for a long time. Turnout will be higher in a Presidential year and currently, Republicans have 14 more seats up for election in the Senate than Democrats and Republicans only actually need to lose 4 seats.

I agree that 2016 will be the best year for Democrats in Congress for a long time. I nevertheless think Democrats can at best hope to take the Senate back.

I was about to note that of the 14 Republican seats, Rand Paul’s seat in Kentucky is uncontested, but having checked it just now — My Guarantee Of Quality To You!(TM) — I see that Lexington mayor Jim Gray announced for the Democratic side today, so go team.

57

Frank Wilhoit 01.26.16 at 9:58 pm

“…primary voters…have a choice between sending the country a message and sending it a president….”

The primary voters of 2008 thought they were doing both — and that they succeeded in doing both. That does not mean that the same trick is possible today, but it does mean that additional effort will be required to convince them.

58

herm 01.26.16 at 10:10 pm

I read post after post here of people saying they don’t think Sanders can win and therefore support Clinton. But since many/most polls have Sanders beating The Republican candidate (ie Trump) by wider margins than Clinton.

So in essence, your “gut hit” is widely off mark of the only real measure we have, polls. And that is a huge reason why I support Sanders, I think he has much greater change of winning than Clinton, whom I think is not an effective campaigner.

Also, @41: my jaw dropped when you called Sanders “uncharismatic and irritable”. Here again the polls tell us he is the most well-liked candidate in the race (and I even think the article linked above states this, though it might be something else I read today). In my mind it is the combative, contemptuous Clinton who is “uncharismatic and irritable”. If first-time voters are asking her why she doesn’t appeal to their generation (as one did at a recent town hall) she has serious likability problems.

59

LFC 01.26.16 at 10:16 pm

Brian Beutler’s piece in New Republic is so full of “mights” and “perhapses” — understandably so — that’s it not really all that helpful, istm. On the one hand, he “shares the worry” that Sanders might not be able to win a general election. On the other hand, he notes that some had the same worry about Obama. On the one hand, X; on the other hand, Y. The whole piece is pretty much written that way.

I agree w Beutler that polling this far in advance of a general election means little, and said so upthread. Which means that one largely has to go on instinct right now as far as the electability question is concerned. And I must confess, as someone predisposed to Sanders on policy/ideological grounds, that my instincts align somewhat w Bloix’s — I don’t agree w him one hundred percent but I see his pt.

There’s a diff. betw Obama and Sanders electorally in that Obama mobilized African-Americans in a way that Sanders’ candidacy seems unlikely to — the question of turnout is important here. The demographic shifts in the population have been favoring Dem presidential candidates, but those demographic shifts don’t equally favor all Dem candidates. By the time I get to vote in a primary in the spring I’m sort of hoping the issue will be effectively settled and thus my decision won’t matter.

60

protoplasm 01.26.16 at 10:18 pm

For those who believe that Sanders is less electable than Clinton, that is, that Sanders is less likely to beat Trump/Cruz*: what were your opinions on Obama vs Clinton, in 2008? Do you believe Sanders is less electable than Obama was? Also, did you predict Obama’s landslide victory?

For anyone, regardless of where you are on Sanders/Clinton: do you think the Republican party is in worse or better shape, electorally speaking, than they were in 2008?

My take is: this election will be a landslide for the Democrats.** Because of this, I think the Democrats should nominate the left-most candidate willing to run. If there is a time to be less risk averse (and, on pain of ignoring the efficacy of hope in history, mustn’t there be such times?), this is one of those times. 2016 is close to 2008: the Democratic candidate will clean house, regardless of who that candidate is.

Of course, I mean a 2008-style landslide. There will be no more “Reagan in 1980” landslides ever again. 2008 was a solid Democratic victory: if you didn’t feel secure and assured of Democratic victory in 2008—or, if you did, but that feeling still wasn’t enough to move you from the risk-averse “Clinton is more electable” position—then, as I see it, you will never feel secure. This would be a chance to discover the insight (assuming you hadn’t in the past seven years) that your feelings with respect to security, risk, etc are very poor guides to real-world security. Again, 2008 is what a slam dunk looks like.

*And that this difference is significant, electorally speaking. For example, I’m not querying anyone who thinks Clinton has a 95% chance of winning while Bernie only has a 90% of winning. I’m only interested in those who think Clinton beats Trump/Cruz, and Bernie loses to Trump/Cruz. Also irrelevant, then, would be anyone who thinks Trump/Cruz would beat both Clinton and Sanders.

**Assuming no new global financial crisis. But with another gfc, I think even Clinton is not a sure thing.

61

LFC 01.26.16 at 10:19 pm

herm @58
So in essence, your “gut hit” is widely off mark of the only real measure we have, polls.

Polls this far in advance of the general election mean absolutely nothing. They are useless as bases of decision.

62

LFC 01.26.16 at 10:25 pm

protoplasm
Do you believe Sanders is less electable than Obama was?

Yes. That doesn’t mean Sanders will lose to, say, a Trump, but Sanders I think is less electable than Obama. Obama was relatively young, he was charismatic, he could mobilize minority, esp. black, voters; Sanders’ electoral career has been based in a small, largely rural, politically atypical state. Instinct says yes, Obama was more electable.

63

Sancho 01.26.16 at 10:25 pm

I have nothing to add except contempt for the craven cowardice of the American left.

What do we want? Progressive social-democratic policies and an end to plutocracy!

When do we want it? As soon as the plutocrats are ready to kindly give in to our gentle pleading!

64

UserGoogol 01.26.16 at 10:33 pm

Dennis Redfield@43: The whole “opening bid” logic seems like magical thinking. Although certainly politicians are shaped by context and framing to a point, ultimately I think it’s a fairly accurate model to just say that either a legislator will vote for a bill or they won’t, and the legislative process is about discovering what sort of bill will get a sufficient number of legislators to support it. Or to phrase it in a way which acknowledges the messier side of it more, if you don’t have the leverage to actually threaten your opening bid to happen, it’s just a meaningless gesture. If you’re buying a car, an opening bid of a dollar accomplishes nothing.

There is an extremely strongly entrenched default for Congress to do nothing. Right now Congress is extremely deadlocked, but even in relatively productive congresses, there’s plenty of policy issues which get left untouched for decades because nobody wants to deal with it. And, generally speaking, conservatives prefer no legislation to progressive legislation. You can’t get past that with negotiation skills.

…and yet, I think Bernie Sanders could be a reasonable politician on that basis. For all his futile talk about political revolutions, he is quite experienced at the slow boring of hard boards. His tenure in Congress has not been based on unrealistic grandstanding, but incrementally pushing for progress where he can.

65

Bloix 01.26.16 at 10:45 pm

@55: Beutler: “The downside risk of losing this election is greater than it was in 2008, and for many Democrats, the desire to mitigate that risk is the decisive factor drawing them to Clinton’s campaign.”

No shit, Sherlock.

The “downside risk” is John Roberts as the swing vote on the Supreme Court, war in Iran, theocracy in all walks of life, the end of public education, poison in your food, water and air, the drowning of coastal cities, the destruction of the unions, a dramatic rise in unemployment, entrenched racism, the roll-back of progress toward gender equality, SWAT teams on your street, a class system more entrenched and more unfair than the Gilded Age, and the combination of corporate money, the criminal justice system, and universal surveillance to perpetuate one-party rule for generations.

Maybe in a different universe, I would say, “I’ll vote for the candidate I like best, even if s/he’s not the most likely to win.” Not in this universe.

66

Lee A. Arnold 01.26.16 at 10:47 pm

Hard to avoid Starr’s own hand-waving, but here’s a try:

“the proposals he has made for free college tuition and free, single-payer health care suggest what might be done if the United States underwent radical change.” —- Yes, and note that Sanders is explicitly calling for a “political revolution”, meaning for other people who believe the same things to stand and run for Senate and House, to get these things done.

“age is a legitimate issue, and if he were the Democratic nominee, even many people sympathetic to his views would have reservations about putting him in office.” —- I doubt this. More people are living older and healthier. Pick a good running mate, and problem solved.

“self-identification as a “socialist” is all that many voters would need to know to reject him.” —- Sanders is giving his own definition of “socialism” and not running away from it: It means things like Social Security, the New Deal. Let’s see how Sanders’ polls go. He is picking up recognition as we write. He is doing well with working people, or those who would like a job.

” ‘Socialism’ is the label Republicans have been trying to pin on Democrats” —- And they tried to pin it on FDR for 4 freaking elections.

“…not credible as commander-in-chief.” —- This is Starr’s judgement, also not credible.

“When foreign policy issues have come up in the debates, he seems out of his depth.” —- Sanders can probably correct for this easily.

“tax implications of Sanders’ proposals provide a particularly rich target.” —- Again, another thing that Sanders has begun to explicitly address.

“likely effect of switching to single payer under Sanders’ plan would be to destabilize the health-care industry.” —- Needs clarification. Does this mean, “send the health insurers to find another line of work”?

“But anyone who believes that government is rotten and corrupt has to be worried about making it more powerful” —- Other commenters here have noted how this is nonsense, and I agree. Just let me point out that “electing yet another trimmer” will NOT strike most people as the solution. (Definition of trimmer is, “a person who adapts their views to the prevailing political trends for personal advancement”.) Sanders is the only candidate who has given exactly the same message for his entire life, and he is clearly coming across as the only candidate whom you can precisely believe.

“The support for Sanders has already sent a message.” —- Umm okay, and that message is, “We want change, so think of us once in a while, won’t you?” or is it Hillary saying, “I intend to enact everything that Bernie Sanders says”? I’m a little confused about the “message” Starr has heard.

Thus is Starr refuted.

Hillary Clinton would make a fine President. That is not the issue.

67

Rakesh Bhandari 01.26.16 at 11:08 pm

@31. Just fooling around. Real point: Bertram is right; if the Republican has the highest negative approval rating of any major candidate in history–Trump’s status at present?– then Sanders could be elected if, say, only 24% of the eligible electorate voted for him. It’s likely that Trump or Cruz would get far less of of the eligible electorate to vote Republican.
All that said, I would think Clinton is a safer bet to win. I would rather depend on an organizing base of older women than radical youth. They could get distracted by a rave or a midterm.

68

Eszter Hargittai 01.26.16 at 11:08 pm

I’m behind in reading up on all the reactions, but I wanted to respond to a few.

Chris @16, yes, in theory it does, but I’m not convinced that here in practice it will.

que_es @23, you’re correct, I overstated my point. Sanders is not extreme by many measures, I was thinking about how it’s possible to vote even for people representing extreme positions in a different system. (I do think that by US measures and mainstream US voters’ measures, Sanders can be argued to be extreme, but I agree with you that he isn’t really.)

For the record, I would vote for Sanders if he was the Democratic nominee and I would be excited if he became President. I just don’t see that happening, which then makes me nervous given that the idea of Trump or Cruz as president petrifies me. Given that we have a candidate who I think is viable for a win in the general election (Clinton), I want to make sure Democrats don’t mess this up (cue Nader and the year 2000).

69

Rakesh Bhandari 01.26.16 at 11:14 pm

@60. I thought there was a lot of evidence already in the 2008 primary that Obama had as good or a better chance than Clinton to beat the Republican. Obama had voted against the occupation of or war against Iraq which was the winning issue. He was likely to have big black turnout. He was obviously appealing to Latino voters due to some very good ads.
Last night Clinton tried to neutralize her hawkish record by saying that she had prevented the invasion of Gaza and the bombing of Iran. This time around though foreign policy is not as central as an issue. If it were, Sanders would be the stronger candidate on the basis of his foreign policy voting record.

70

js. 01.26.16 at 11:15 pm

LFC — @59 seems a little harsh. A large part of Beutler’s point is that the anti-Sanders camp has yet to make a persuasive case. So a large part of his argument is negative, and that argument seems to me successful (though it’s something I already thought, so I’m maybe not the best judge). But given that there are lots of very definite pronouncements coming from one side at least (symbolic candidacy! whatever that means), BB’s piece seems like a useful corrective.

71

protoplasm 01.26.16 at 11:43 pm

I should clarify, my stance in comment #60 was founded on agreeing with the pro-Clinton camp’s assessment of her electability: even if Clinton is more electable than Sanders, I still think Sanders (or any Democratic candidate) is a sure thing to beat Trump/Cruz; so, of the sure things, pick the most left.

But I don’t agree with that assessment. If anything, I think it’s either a wash or Sanders is actually more electable than Clinton. So, even were you to disregard my invitation to hope (“don’t do the risk-averse thing”), I’d still say: the sure thing is Sanders.

72

Rakesh Bhandari 01.26.16 at 11:52 pm

I think Starr makes a reasonable point. It’s not clear how Sanders’ tax on, say, speculation would pay for all that he wants–free college tuition, for example. How would speculation be defined? How much would the tax bring in? Starr also raises question about Sanders’ health care strategy. At this point he does not seem to have developed a plan with all the necessary contingencies for the radical reform he is proposing.
That said, Sanders could save us a lot of trouble by using regulation to prevent Wall Street from blowing up the economy again. I would have to think Sanders is more likely to regulate wisely here than Clinton.

73

Corey Robin 01.27.16 at 12:08 am

LFC at 59: ” The whole piece is pretty much written that way.”

It is. For a very good reason: because the reality’s complicated. And uncertain. Despite being an excellent reporter and knowing far more about the terrain than most, Beutler has got enough intellectual humility to admit how much of the landscape is: on the one hand, on the other. Seems like a model for how this conversation ought to be conducted. Despite the best efforts of the Stan Kenton commentariat to pull us in the opposite direction.

74

Roger Gathman 01.27.16 at 12:26 am

Aren’t the primaries supposed to answer the question of electibility? If Clinton can’t win the Democratic primaries, I would think that counts heavily against her winning the election. Starr seems to reverse the usual scientific equation of having a theory and testing it. His amounts to having a theory and thus not needing to test it.

If Sanders appeals to enough Democratic voters now, and he wins the primary races, I would say he is electable. We’ve seen certain Democratic candidates from the main stream who were elevated but seemed to me totally unelectable: Mondale, Dukakis, Kerry. Yet I remember no mainstream Dem pundit writing about how Kerry, for instance, was unelectable, although the obvious negatives (for instance, that his claim to fame, which was that he led an anti-war movement, was totally hidden by his campaign people and himself) were pretty out there to see.

75

Rakesh Bhandari 01.27.16 at 12:32 am

Yes good point. As the Republican voters obviously do not care which candidate has the best or any chance of winning in the general election, why should the Democratic voters care about electability?

76

Roger Gathman 01.27.16 at 12:36 am

After I wrote in 74 that Kerry was obviously unelectable, I went back to my blog to see if I was just retrovising my real opinion. Sure enough, though, in October, 2003, that is just what I wrote.
Really, that was a key election. And it was screwed up because mainstream Dems were scared about having a candidate that would robustly confront Bush on foreign policy. So they mealymouthed it and we got Kerry and the loss. I’m not sure I trust the Starrs or the Krugmans to tell us who is and who is not electable.

77

LFC 01.27.16 at 12:51 am

I was somewhat too harsh on Beutler. Grumpy today; I guess that’s as good an excuse as any.

78

Tabasco 01.27.16 at 12:54 am

Can I note for a second that Bernie Sanders polls much better than Hilary Clinton in match-ups with the republican opposition?

Dem v Repub polls mean very little in the primary season. Michael Dukakis had good polls until he was felled by Bush I’s attack ads.

79

Mitch Guthman 01.27.16 at 1:11 am

Eszter @68,

You and a number of others seem to be beginning with an underlying assumption that Hillary is somehow more electable but I don’t see any basis for this. To reiterate my earlier point, in her previous presidential campaign she was the inevitable candidate who just couldn’t lose. But she did lose, in no small part because her Beltway-centric, consultant driven campaign couldn’t adapt and respond to Obama, a black man with a funny name who was obviously totally unelectable.

This time around, Hillary began in a even stronger position but here it is only January and her campaign already seems ossified and is struggling to contain a elderly curmudgeonly avowed socialist. I don’t disagree that she personally is a great campaigner, perhaps better than Obama, perhaps second only to her husband. But as the head of a campaign, Hillary seems to be only marginally better than Jeb! Bush.

So, I don’t think it’s absurd to ask why people think she would have a better chance, especially against Donald Trump?

80

tony lynch 01.27.16 at 1:13 am

Good to see Very Serious People telling people how to vote “like adults”.

81

js. 01.27.16 at 1:16 am

Sanders tells us that the political system is rotten and corrupt. But anyone who believes that government is rotten and corrupt has to be worried about making it more powerful, especially in a way that has such personal effects as health care does. This is the contradiction at the root of Sanders’ rhetoric.

I thought maybe this passage would be less absurdly dumb if read in context. It isn’t. As Consumatopia said upthread, the editor should’ve axed it.

But the thing that really annoys me about the article is that it rests on completely unwarranted assumptions, centrally the idea that people who support Sanders are doing so to “send a message”. What is that? In reality, people who support Sanders do so because they want him to win, think he can win, and think that he’ll make a better president than Clinton. Maybe they’re wrong about any one of these beliefs; what they’re not is people sending out some odd form of smoke signals. Look, I am someone who is, for someone of my political views, surprisingly well disposed to the idea of a Clinton presidency. I should probably be somewhere near the ideal target audience for Starr. And all his article is doing is pushing me further away from supporting Clinton (in the primary).

82

Consumatopia 01.27.16 at 1:29 am

I don’t buy that HRC losing the primary implies she’d be worse in the general. It would honestly not shock me if there were a whole bunch of relatively well-off suburban Democrats who would rather see a fascist win than a social democrat. Capital is king, and if you go for the king, you best not miss.

OTOH, if *I* of all people am the marginal vote HRC needs to win Pennsylvania and the ’16 primary, then she’s even worse at campaigning than I thought and I’d have to vote for Sanders anyway. I’m planning to cast a symbolic Sanders vote. If it turned out that my vote is actually gonna matter, HRC would be doomed by that point anyway.

83

Consumatopia 01.27.16 at 1:31 am

sorry to contradict you so quickly js. ;)

84

christian_h 01.27.16 at 1:41 am

We have no evidence on who would be more likely to beat a Trump or Cruz in a general election, either way. The instincts we proclaim are as useless since they rely on experiences in a system where a Trump our a Cuz could never even get nominated and would lose to anyone at all in a general election. That’s why I conclude that pieces like Starr’s aren’t analysis; they are blackmail. Thru are in fact a coded threat by the neo-liberal establishment that they would rather see Trump win than Sanders.

We do however have evidence on what Clinton promises of incremental progressive reform are worth. Namely, nothing. We know based on experience that a president Clinton would likely not even try to implement any of the incrementally progressive agenda items of her campaign. This seems rather important to me.

85

Tabasco 01.27.16 at 1:58 am

We know based on experience that a president Clinton would likely not even try to implement any of the incrementally progressive agenda items of her campaign.

Based on a sample of one.

86

Sebastian H 01.27.16 at 2:00 am

Pundits never have to live with their opinions. This time last time it was that America wasn’t ready for a black president, so we just had to go with Clinton because it would risk throwing things to the Republicans if Obama were nominated. How many of you thought that?

87

Anarcissie 01.27.16 at 2:11 am

I find it curious that Mrs. Clinton is held to be more competent, somehow, than Mr. Sanders. I think the objections to this proposition are sort of obvious.

I believe there is a subtext to such propositions, however, and it runs like this: The Military-Industrial-Academic complex, the neo-cons and the plutocrats — the elite of the Democratic Party — take Mr. Sanders very seriously and they will never permit someone like him to win the presidency. If he somehow gets the nomination in spite of their machinery, then something will happen to him or his campaign. He will be removed. Therefore, it will be better to settle for Mrs. Clinton instead of being given Mr. Trump, Mr. Cruz, or Mr. Bloomberg.

Fortunately my single vote will not alter the outcome of this election or any other, so these calculations won’t affect me.

88

Bloix 01.27.16 at 2:17 am

@76 – Kerry was perfectly electable. He could have won if he’d run as himself. Instead he ran as a war hero. And even though he genuinely was a war hero, the effort to obliterate his more important role as a vet against the war was devastating to him. Although his account of his experiences was true, his overall presentation of himself with respect to the war was false, and that gave the Swift Boat accusations traction. This is what happens when you listen to the too-clever-by-half consultants, which is something that HRC does as a matter of course.

89

Greg Hays 01.27.16 at 2:17 am

I think it’s worth noting that the “Don’t just send them a message, send them a president” line was pioneered in 2004, by future president John Kerry.

90

Rakesh Bhandari 01.27.16 at 2:21 am

So let’s talk VP candidates. Let me guess. Trump will choose Pete King while Ted Cruz will ask Representative Todd Akin. I actually think the Democrats could run Bob Avakian and Cornel West and possibly win.

91

Bloix 01.27.16 at 2:21 am

@87 – “my single vote will not alter the outcome of this election or any other.”

This is the “my skirts are clean” rationale. It makes perfect sense, rationally – no single Nader voter put Bush in the White House – but it makes me want to puke.

92

js. 01.27.16 at 2:22 am

If he somehow gets the nomination in spite of their machinery, then something will happen to him or his campaign. He will be removed.

OK, I’ll bite. What do you think will happen? What is one possible mechanism whereby he’ll be “removed”?

93

Roger Gathman 01.27.16 at 2:25 am

87, I don’t think Sanders would be blown away by an assassin’s bullet. I just think the Democratic establishment would try to block him after this nomination, if he got there. That’s the fundamental asymmetry in the party – all who like sanders views should vote for Clinton, and all who don’t like Sanders views should save the party by a sort of general strike. But if Sanders continues to be competitive financially, this might not count that much. So the NYT editorial board endorses Bloomberg. What is crucial is whether Sanders can come within 90 to 95 percent of the black and latina/o vote garnered by Obama. So far, Sanders is running really well with whites. Presumably, the idea is that this white vote will shift to Trump and or Bloomberg, but I don’t see why that would be the case. That’s why the primaries are a test of electability. The pundits really don’t have any magic sense of who is electable, especially by a party that should win nationally handily, whoever the GOP opponent.

94

Eszter Hargittai 01.27.16 at 2:33 am

Except for a very few comments, I have found this thread to be surprisingly (yes, I’m surprised) level-headed and respectful. Thank you!

95

js. 01.27.16 at 2:37 am

96

Sebastian H 01.27.16 at 2:42 am

On what basis is Clinton so powerfully electable anyway? In the only strongly contested election she has ever been in she lost despite having enormous institutional advantages. Her only wins were by leveraging the post presidency Clinton machine into chasing out all the other Democratic contenders in a sure thing Democratic state because she wasn’t a sure thing in her more contested home state. In fact it could be argued that her only proven strong suit politically is in controlling the Democratic money machine. (Which by the way isn’t nothing, but it isn’t the same thing as having a proven record of winning in national office in non-sure-thing elections). She is a meh speaker. She has bland charisma at best. She seems the perfect example of over-focus grouped–and that flaw alone has caused all sorts of missteps on gay rights and poverty over her career. If we were talking about Sanders v. Obama, the electability question would make sense. Obama is a great speaker, charismatic, proven in tough electoral races, inspiring, etc. But Clinton? Really? Quite seriously, what exactly is it about her that makes her such a prime candidate? It looks to me like ALL of the presidential primary candidates reveal how crappy things are in US politics at the moment–the best of the bunch are Sanders and Clinton. That isn’t actually a good sign for America.

97

Rakesh Bhandari 01.27.16 at 2:43 am

That is surprising, js–Jeb Bush who has apparently no chance of winning has received 5x more funding from Wall Street than Clinton. Interesting.
Just to add to the VP pool for the Republicans–the Republican Governor from Maine seems to have a plan to solve the heroin problem.
http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/maine-governor-blames-heroin-epidemic-men-named-d-money-article-1.2489549

98

kidneystones 01.27.16 at 2:57 am

Thank you for this. Here’s what I learned from reading the original piece:

Bernie Sanders revolution para 4
not credible para 5
not the proposals of a candidate who is serious para 5
his age is legitimate issue para 6
socialist socialist para 7
socialist para 8
Socialism para 9 (did I mention Socialism?)
‘not credible’ ‘out of his depth’ para 10
74 year Socialist para 11

The right wing is absolutely going to attack Sanders on the points listed in this hit piece. And yes, it is a hit piece. Despite the fact that Sanders has made a career out of sticking to his principles, Starr manages to collapse a lifetime of commitment into a cardboard dartboard. All that’s missing is Jon Favreau goosing this cartoon Bernie beer in hand. HRC, on the other hand, spent most of her life as the ultimate political insider. Maybe Starr is ok supporting a candidate who is going to be asked, and asked, and asked, and asked why she and her husband accept millions of dollars from foreign donors, why she takes $200 k to talk to a bank, not once, but as a regular part of her week.

Trump’s fantastical proposals to build a wall, make America great, and the rest of the hype are treated as starting positions in negotiations. He’s made that clear. We had to listen to years of ‘if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor’ and ‘everybody’s premiums will go down’ from the likes of Harold Pollack, I might add. So, forgive me if I don’t hyper-ventilate about Bernie’s ‘unrealistic’ plans, or start holding him to a standard entirely different from President ‘Red-line’ ‘I never said that’ and his feckless water-carrier- ‘I did nothing wrong.’

Bernie has his faults, but the figure Starr describes is denied credibility as a candidate and as a man simply, it seems, because so many find Sanders so appealing.

You’ll need to do better.

99

Consumatopia 01.27.16 at 3:24 am

I don’t disagree with anything Sebastian H just wrote @96, but maybe that’s kind of the point–Clinton may be mediocre in a lot of ways, but she is known. She probably wouldn’t do surprisingly badly this fall or in office. She holds up under pressure and she actually does pretty well in debates (which only makes her look foolish for not pushing for more of them…) If you just want to hunker down and turtle through the 2016 election playing things as safe and predictably as possible, HRC is your candidate–heck, she’s already playing that strategy in the primary. That strategy doesn’t look pretty right now, but it might still work.

Sanders could very well do surprisingly good or bad on the campaign trail or in office. He’s kind of a surprising person. I think Clinton would probably get a narrow win over Trump, but I can’t rule out either a Sanders loss or a Sanders landslide.

(ps, Sebastian, sorry for being rude to you in previous years. I have bad online habits.)

100

EJ 01.27.16 at 3:24 am

The article does raise interesting points. Perhaps the most worrisome part:

“Sanders tells us that the political system is rotten and corrupt. But anyone who believes that government is rotten and corrupt has to be worried about making it more powerful, especially in a way that has such personal effects as health care does. This is the contradiction at the root of Sanders’ rhetoric.”

I get the apprehension, especially when coupled with the fact that he’s an avowed democratic socialist and the fact that the right is seizing upon such fears. I think Mr. Starr is afraid to fight for change in the same way young people are — it’s too much of a risk to nominate Bernie, given the opposition (Trump/Cruz). It will likely increase voter turn out for the republican base.

But, with a candidate young liberal people can fully support, democratic turn out might be high as well. I remember all the hand-wringing taking place when President Obama’s message first started to resonate with young people as well.

I also recall the various negative advertisements that were directed at him once he became the nominee. If young liberals (i.e. people from my cohort) could turn out to support Mr. Obama (twice, the second time when he was considered a socialist by the right), why not Mr. Sanders? This is something Mr. Starr’s article never considers.

As far as I can tell, the only candidate young liberals seem to fully support or remain excited about is either Elizabeth Warren or Bernie. I think that will remain unchanged despite what all the older democrats have to say. We all recognize he isn’t perfect, but no single candidate is. Re old age: John McCain was a serious contender for president. That said, I suspect that support for Bernie will grow.

101

UserGoogol 01.27.16 at 3:29 am

I think the whole socialist electability thing is overblown. Republicans call all Democrats socialists, the fact that Bernie explicitly embraces the label is a fairly minor rhetorical point. For voters to be swayed by that, they need to pay enough attention to politics to know he likes that term (even though he doesn’t exactly shy away from the term I doubt he’d be plastering his ads with it) but not enough attention to realize he’s not even remotely a Bolshevik.

Plus, delving more specifically into the specifics of statistics saying people wouldn’t vote for a socialist, I feel like a lot of the scariness of those is dampened when you acknowledge that socialist is an inherently ideological term in a way other demographics aren’t. It would be very odd for a conservative to say they’d be willing to vote for a socialist: they don’t even want to vote for a liberal. So right off the bat a bunch of the population is off the table. And then when you get to how many potential Democratic voters don’t want to vote for a socialist… well, people say a lot of things in polls. I would have to imagine that there were Republicans who would have said they weren’t willing to vote for a Mormon but did it anyway when the alternative was Obama.

Obviously, the word “socialist” brings baggage, but it’s not like Hillary Clinton doesn’t have baggage too. But treating that word as uniquely toxic just seems like blowing things out of proportion.

102

Anarcissie 01.27.16 at 3:35 am

Bloix 01.27.16 at 2:21 am @ 91 —
Heavens what a strong reaction! There must be something to what I wrote, then. The truth is, I have mystical, indeed, superstitious ideas about voting. Voting does not alter the outcome of a large election, but it does alter the voter. (Vote is cognate with devote and comes from a Latin word meaning ‘to vow’.) Be careful what you attach yourself to, then. There may be something to be said for clean skirts, after all.

103

geo 01.27.16 at 3:38 am

EH @69: I want to make sure Democrats don’t mess this up (cue Nader and the year 2000)

Glad that someone else seems ready to acknowledge that it was the Democrats who messed up in 2000: specifically, the Gore campaign and the party leadership, with their arrogance and detestable sense of entitlement, their innumerable shabby tricks to keep Nader off state ballots and out of the presidential candidates’ debates, their uninspiring campaign, their betrayal of their supporters (and the rest of the country) by feebly acceding to the Bush campaign’s electoral and legal skulduggery in Florida in the name of “bipartisanship,” and perhaps most lastingly important, their failure to use the election’s outcome to mount a challenge to the undemocratic character of the American electoral system — specifically by abolishing the Electoral College and advocating proportional representation — because that might threaten the two-party duopoly, which they care about far more than they do about the health of American democracy.

104

fledermaus 01.27.16 at 3:51 am

“Obviously, the word “socialist” brings baggage”

On the other hand capitalism, as it is practiced these days, doesn’t have a lot to recommend it to the average voter. After hearing that government support invites moral hazard, once some bankers busted out AIG, there old government was to pay them out at 100 cents on the dollar. Also look the other way on forged foreclosure filings.

People, and thus voters, are angry that the rules that can cripple them don’t apply to people with far more resources. It is an untenable situation and this election will reflect it.

105

Rakesh Bhandari 01.27.16 at 3:59 am

I still don’t understand why Nader did not back out of a closely contested state such as Florida and focus on picking up votes in a state clearly going Democratic. Nader stood to pick up more votes in a clear Democratic state than in a state such as Florida where Democrats were less likely to waste a vote for a symbolic point. If he had spent the time he spent in Florida in California or New York or Massachusetts, then Nader could have possibly reached that minimum 5 % of the national vote needed to receive federally distributed funding for next election and put the Green Party in a stronger financial position going forward. It seems that Nader hurt the Democrats in Florida while also hurting his own Party. I have never been able to make sense of what Nader what was doing.

106

Rakesh Bhandari 01.27.16 at 4:09 am

To his credit, Sanders is not saying that people should vote for him because there is no important difference between Clinton and Trump or Cruz. But Nader bamboozled Floridians with such false claims about the equivalence of Gore and Bush.

107

Bruce Wilder 01.27.16 at 4:12 am

The vote that counted was that of a Republican by the name of Scalia. But, hey, knock yourselves out.

108

LFC 01.27.16 at 4:36 am

js @81

A few things.

1) Consumatopia did suggest that an editor should have axed those lines. Then, later on, w/o crediting consumpatopia’s earlier comment (my bad), I made roughly the same point @34:
“an editor probably shd have taken out those sentences b.c the piece’s main arguments don’t really depend on them.”

2) “send a message”: R Puchalsky also didn’t like this, though perhaps on somewhat different grounds than you. I think it’s not as absurd as you suggest. I’m glad Sanders is running in part because I think he will have the effect of pushing HRC at least slightly to the left on some issues — whether that has happened or not, or will happen, is a matter that people who have followed the campaign more closely than I have can determine. But the point is that one can vote for Sanders in a primary for various reasons, and “send a message” may be one of them. Prob most people who vote for him want him to be president, but that’s not the only reason to vote for someone under any circumstances. Electoral politics is not entirely separate from “smoke signals.”

3) Putting Starr’s piece to one side, I do think there is a respectable argument to be made that (a) the stakes are very high this year; even if one doesn’t see them in apocalyptic (capital A) terms, they are v. high, and (b) the electability question is not trivial. In a way I wish Sanders had been running in a different year and context, but he isn’t. It would have made some dilemmas less sharp.

4) And lastly — this just occurred to me — if Sanders is nominated and then loses to the Republican nominee, it may well cause the sort of internal bloodbath in the Dem party that will make what happened after McGovern’s loss in ’72 look like a genteel cocktail party. It could set back the position of the party’s left for a long time, ruling out the prospect of a left candidacy at a later, perhaps better time. (Yes, I expect this last pt to draw a lot of brickbats. So be it.)

109

UserGoogol 01.27.16 at 4:38 am

Bruce Wilder: Events have multiple causes. You’ll note that the Supreme Court didn’t intervene in 2008 to declare John McCain the winner, even though I wouldn’t be surprised if Scalia would find the idea appealing. They were able to do so in 2000 because the election was genuinely really close, so they were able to make a somewhat contrived ruling to stop the recount with Bush the winner. If a decent chunk of Nader voters had voted for Al Gore, there wouldn’t have been a recount, even with the butterfly ballot, even with purged voters, even with whatever mistakes Gore may have made in his own campaign.

There are a lot of factors that drive a political election. There are many many factors which could have swung the election one way or another in 2000. But Nader is uniquely noteworthy because it was particularly avoidable. There’s little point in chastizing Republicans, that election turned out quite well by their standards. There’s no point in telling bad people to stop being bad, people are the way they are. But Nader voters did something which by their own standards made the world a worse place. So it’s a particularly egregious error.

110

LFC 01.27.16 at 4:38 am

@R. Gathman
The primaries are an *imperfect* test of electability b.c the primary electorate is quite different from the electorate in the general.

111

LFC 01.27.16 at 4:48 am

christian_h
We do however have evidence on what Clinton promises of incremental progressive reform are worth. Namely, nothing. We know based on experience that a president Clinton would likely not even try to implement any of the incrementally progressive agenda items of her campaign. This seems rather important to me.

Based on what experience? Her time in the Senate wd seem most on point here, but I don’t know most of the details of her legislative record vs. her promises as a Senate candidate. (Yes, I know she voted for the Iraq war, I don’t need to be told that, thks.) As First Lady, she wasn’t in an elected position, hence made no promises to be kept or otherwise. Ditto for sec of state.

112

js. 01.27.16 at 5:18 am

LFC — I agree with a lot of that, but… Taking your points in order:

1. Yes, I might have conflated both of your comments. In any case, noted.

2. I agree that people might vote for Sanders in the primary for all sorts of reasons, including “sending a message” (cf. Consumatopia @82 in this very thread). I still think that the Starr piece is unnecessarily to condescending to potential Sanders voters, and that its framing, at the very least, is rhetorically unhelpful.

3. I agree re the stakes. But I should say that I generally find electability arguments to be pretty bogus. They’re a proper subset of the kind of impossibility arguments Holbo was making fun of recently, and for good reason. McCain was pretty electable until the day Lehman collapsed; the day after that, not so much. In general, I’m disinclined to believe that received wisdom is at all a good guide on these matters.

I’m probably in the minority here, but I’d rather see arguments for why Clinton might make a better president, rather than candidate in the general—a case that I think could be made. (The only place Starr touches on this is with the “commander-in-chief” bit, which is totally dumb: the president is supposed to the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and I frankly don’t give a fuck how credible Sanders seems in that role—well, the less the better, I suppose.)

4. Well, yes. But the same could happen if Clinton won the nomination (esp. after an ugly fight) and lost the general. I take it this is part of Cranky Observer’s point @11, and I think it’s not uncompelling.

———

The vote that counted was that of a Republican by the name of Scalia.

This has pretty much been my argument for ages, but I’ve always gone with O’Connor because her vote seemed the more obviously cynical (as in, she’s the one you’d really have expected better of). Why Scalia?

113

Rakesh Bhandari 01.27.16 at 6:00 am

the data at Huffington Post on net favorability ratings are interesting.
http://elections.huffingtonpost.com/pollster#favorability-ratings
It seems that Christie and Clinton are the only two candidates that a couple years back had a clear net favorability rating but have since they seen their favorable ratings plunge and their unfavorable ratings trend sharply upwards. Both are net negative now. Not sure the cause of their problems in the polls. I would guess that in Christie’s case it was the Fort Lee lane closure scandal and in Clinton’s case it was possibly the manufactured scandals about Benghazi and the emails. If Sanders gets the nomination, he’ll endure some manufactured scandal, I would guess.

114

Bruce Wilder 01.27.16 at 6:15 am

Why Scalia?

Because he is the easiest to dislike.

115

Bruce Wilder 01.27.16 at 6:19 am

With both Benghazi and the email server, Clinton’s judgment looks terrible. That the Republican clown show attacks her unfairly doesn’t redeem her policy judgments.

116

Rakesh Bhandari 01.27.16 at 6:26 am

Well Benghazi and the emails are not what Sanders has in mind when he touts his judgment as better; those are the “scandals” the Republican used to get a lot of Americans to think of Clinton unfavorably. And should Sanders win the primary, this sort of onslaught is what he’ll have to face. Clinton is right that she has already been through it.

117

Bruce Wilder 01.27.16 at 6:29 am

There are a lot of factors that drive a political election.

Which gives you a range of choices in identifying the strategic factor.

Frankly, I don’t have that much difficulty blaming the weak and the evil for consequences of their crap.

118

Bruce Wilder 01.27.16 at 6:33 am

Clinton is right that she has already been through it.

The Republicans will attack any Democratic candidate or office-holder. The Clintons are singularly bad at fighting back. We might consider that.

119

The Temporary Name 01.27.16 at 6:39 am

With both Benghazi and the email server, Clinton’s judgment looks terrible.

Okay, Fox News. More seriously her campaign strategy last time out simply got the delegate-count math wrong. THAT was terrible judgment.

I sorta get the feeling that either Clinton or Sanders could win vs. the two current contemptible Republican leaders. Vote how you like.

120

Roger Gathman 01.27.16 at 6:52 am

110 -no doubt, which is why one of the winners of the primaries from one of the parties will lose. However, i thinkit is a better indicator than the election waged in paul starr’s head – or mine, for that matter.
Out of curiosity – if clinton is the candidate and loses to the gop, do you think the establishment will say, we shoulda moved left? Or does recrimination only move usto the right – as well as victory? In which case the left has nothing tolose w sanders. Might as well be damned for winning the dem nomination as not.

121

Ze K 01.27.16 at 7:05 am

Here’s what I’m thinking. Mr. Sanders (“Bernie”!) has been a US politician for as long as I remember. Senator for many years, congressman forever before that. Therefore, he knows the game, and he’s been playing the game all his life. Therefore, he’s, most likely, a worse scumbag than anyone else in the race.

122

HoosierPoli 01.27.16 at 8:46 am

Sounds like the same concern-trolling that told us Barack Obama couldn’t win the general.

The biggest proof you could win the presidency is winning the primaries. If Bernie can do that, nobody should be worried that he couldn’t win an election.

123

Phil 01.27.16 at 10:10 am

#120 – in the run-up to the 1992 election here I remember telling some people that if Kinnock lost, the Labour Party would probably blame the Left move to the Right. They all looked at me as if I was a crazy person, and on reflection I agreed with them – move to the Right? Kinnock’s entire project had been to move to the Right! if he failed it would be obvious that the party needed to move Left! But I was right the first time.

#113 – those HuffPo ratings make interesting reading. Apparently there are only two names on their list with a net positive score (Favourable>Unfavourable); the higher net score of the two, and the highest Favourable score overall, is held by the current front-runner in the Democratic contest. Sanders is on +10, Clinton’s on -10. No Republican has a net positive score; Cruz comes closest with -3. The GOP field splits into those with a single-figure negative score (Carson, Cruz, Rubio, Kasich) and those with even lower scores than Hillary – Fiorina, Huckabee, Jeb Bush & that other guy.

On those figures, if the Republicans really are going to go for Trump the election is winnable for Clinton, though it’ll be hellaciously dirty and probably largely policy-free. But if the Republicans dodge the bullet and choose someone with an ounce of credibility to non-Republicans – possibly by drafting Paul Ryan, I don’t know – the same “vote for me because, come on, look at the other guy” strategy could come unstuck for Clinton – and I’m not sure she’s capable of running a campaign on principle & policy.

Also, look at the Don’t Knows. Trump’s rating is 40/55/5 DK; the number of people who don’t know what they think about Clinton is even smaller (43/53/4). Either one would have to be gambling on differential turnout; they can be fairly sure, even now, that they aren’t going to win much positive adhesion from the >50% of people who actually dislike them. On the Republican side, all the main candidates apart from Trump and Jeb Bush have enough DKs to offset their negative ratings (Jeb has 14% DKs and an approval rating of -20). Sanders’ scores are 47/37/14: barely enough DKs to offset his positive score, but enough to take him over the 50% mark.

Polling says: Sanders has made a damn good start. You’d think people would be pleased.

124

TM 01.27.16 at 11:46 am

Both Sanders and Clinton will likely win the election if they are nominated, and both are vastly preferable to a GOp win. The only thing Dems should be worried about, in m view, is that the Democratic Party, on all levels, needs to fight a campaign agaist the GOP, rather than a fight between different candidates. The Reps are doing a great job dismantling each other and their party. The Dems must not do the same. A good test for the suitability of a candidate is: does the candidate value his or her own political fortune higher than the fortune of the party?

It just astonishes me how much even progressives are fixated on the presidential election. Democrats need to win on all levels, and their top candidates need to serve that purpose, not just worry about their own election chances.

125

TM 01.27.16 at 11:50 am

Both Sanders and Clinton will likely win the election if they are nominated, and both are vastly preferable to any GOP candidate. The only thing Dems should be worried about, in my view, is that the Democratic Party, on all levels, needs to fight against the GOP, rather than candidates fighting each other. The Rep candidates are doing a great job dismantling each other and their party. The Dems must not do the same. A good test for the suitability of a candidate is: does the candidate value the fortune of the party higher than his or her own political fortune?

It astonishes me how much even progressives are fixated on the presidential election. Democrats need to win on all levels, and their top candidates need to serve that purpose, not burn up their energy in the intra party competition.

126

Lee A. Arnold 01.27.16 at 1:00 pm

Political economics in a democracy, for beginners:

[1] (Some gov’t basics:)

People don’t like government and they don’t trust it.

They don’t like government because it gets in the way, and they don’t like being told what to do.

They don’t trust it because the same sorts of crooks get in charge of the nation, as get in charge of business.

Voters can never learn the issues enough to choose wisely. There isn’t enough time, and most of the issues are very complicated. Even politicians in office can’t sort them out. They fight with each other.

None of this has ever really changed.

So the voters vote for “the best judgement”, for “whomever will keep government smaller”, for “whomever seems emotionally more like them”, for “the comfortable incumbent”, etc.

[2] (Some market basics:)

Market capitalism appears to solve many of these problems, at least as an intellectual tendency. It lets people who have ideas become the little leaders of their own new productions. If another person doesn’t need it, or doesn’t like it, then they don’t buy it — in other words, it is no longer a personal concern.

Quite aside from the issue of personal freedom, market capitalism has led to a myriad of innovations and improvements quickly, and has enabled quicker gains of efficiency in producing them.

[3] (How right and left respond:)

The right wing or conservatives have internalized #1 and #2 above as the structural premises of their political arguments, from the beginning of the modern period.

The left wing or liberals make two mistakes. They forget to voice these structural premises, and/or offer assertions why they don’t apply or shouldn’t apply. Secondly, they are always wrong-footed, they are always playing rhetorical catch-up: The downsides of market capitalism that need to be addressed — increasing inequality, environmental damage, other reasons to regulate big business — serve to inject additional complications into the discussion. Listeners turn it off, unless there is a crisis.

[4]

There is a crisis. It is profound.

But there are always crises. And always a lot of noise.

127

Lee A. Arnold 01.27.16 at 1:01 pm

How Hillary and Bernie might use the stuff I just wrote:

Hillary ought to completely internalize Sanders’ argument. She must explain exactly how she will take certain steps to stop the crooks, even though she is shoulder-to-shoulder with Wall Street, and explain how and why Obama failed to do this. She doesn’t need to name names, but she must stop sounding like she’s still playing footsie with these crooks. Right now, all of her assurances sound like rhetorical throwaways.

HIllary must explain how Obamacare sets up a path to single-payer.

(Obamacare allows this, you know: Colorado is about to vote on it. Are single-payer advocates rushing in, to help with this campaign? Or are they claiming boredom or impotence, unless it’s national?)

Bernie must explain to the audience exactly how he will avoid the evils of big government explained in section [1]. He keeps jumping over this. Simply prescribing a “revolution”, doesn’t cut it.

Maybe produce a list of House candidates in each district who are on his side? It’s daring, but it could start the sea-change.

And he can explain why single-payer is NOT “big government”. For example, yes it collects and disburses money, just like Social Security and Medicare, but there is very little bureaucracy, it’s not the Pentagon.

We can design single-payer to be totally transparent, like Social Security. The money comes in, the money goes out, no big bureaucracy. Note that its critics don’t attack it for being crooked, or as being unwieldly; they are trying to claim that it’s broke! Really there is more than enough money.

Single-payer will restrict healthcare? Nonsense: make a list of coverage, & vote on it.

Bernie thinks he is saying these things, but he is not; it isn’t coming through. What is wrong here? Answer: Bernie has Insider’s Disease.

Indeed both Bernie and Hillary suffer from Insider’s Disease. A damaging rhetorical affliction. Two different symptoms.

The first infirmity of Insider’s Disease is that they speak to the audience as if it should be enough for the audience to hear, as if the audience already knows as much as the officeholders in the House and Senate. The audience does not.

Bernie in particular keeps jumping over questions about Big Government by immediately responding, “Look, you need healthcare, without being ripped off by the insurers.” It sounds like Bernie hasn’t thought about Big Gov’t! This just came up in the Iowa townhall! Thus, skeptics feel that Bernie is incompetent, he doesn’t fully understand sections [1] and [2] above. Insider’s Disease makes you take too much for granted, makes you speak as if the audience knows the system in the way that you do.

The second infirmity of Insider’s Disease is a reluctance to rip the House and Senate open, for all to see. This combines the mistake just noted, that the audience already knows what you do, with a reluctance to cross personal loyalties that have been formed in shaky secret agreements.

But surely, you don’t have to go full-on, like nutty Trump or hateful Cruz, to get anti-establishment street cred.

Just start explaining WHY thing have failed, not in regards to how representatives voted on the floor, but in regards to the institutional mechanics that they were taking advantage of, to thwart the people’s business. Then, voting for a full new slate of candidates becomes a little easier to see. Even if it is too much insider baseball, we will like you more, for demonstrating your understanding of our concern.

128

TM 01.27.16 at 1:31 pm

125: These are truisms of (specifically American) right wing propaganda. In substance, the US right wing does not and has never embraced small government and free market competition. The have done a good job pretending, with the help of a compliant media that doesn’t even seem to notice the contradiction between small government rhetoric and promises to build border walls, deport millions of people, and fight more foreign wars. They also don’t feel compelled to highlight the contradiction between an Iowa Senator’s “we Iowans don’t ask government for help” rhetoric and the fact that Iowa (including the Senator’s own family) vitally depends on billions and billions in federal farm subsidies. And so on. It is a well known fact: the redder the state, the more it depends on federal transfers.

129

anon 01.27.16 at 1:35 pm

“if Sanders is nominated and then loses to the Republican nominee, it may well cause the sort of internal bloodbath in the Dem party that will make what happened after McGovern’s loss in ’72 look like a genteel cocktail party. It could set back the position of the party’s left for a long time, ruling out the prospect of a left candidacy at a later, perhaps better time.”

But the democrats haven’t had a truly left candidate since McGovern. That IS the setback of McCovern and we’re still stuck there.

To nominate Sanders would be the first small step toward recovering from that setback. And to lose would, in the long run, just put us condemn us to what the Hillary crowd are already telling us out of pragmatism to accept: another 50 years of moderate right democratic candidates.

130

anon 01.27.16 at 1:40 pm

“The primaries are an *imperfect* test of electability b.c the primary electorate is quite different from the electorate in the general.”

Some of these points need to keep in mind the larger context of the OP:
1. Argument: common sense and our guts tell us Hillary is very electable and Sanders is unelectable
2. Reply: but the only data we have, the primaries and polls, says the opposite
3. Counterargument: but the only only data we have is terrible.
Therefore, somewhow 1, again?

I know that’s not the intention of people making these fair points about polls, etc, but given the context of the post, which starts from a strong claim about electability, arguments that there’s no evidence about electability should focus on the OP, not the OP’s critics, who are objectively closer to that position because they’re doubting electability claims, not primarily advancing them.

131

Lee A. Arnold 01.27.16 at 2:13 pm

127: It doesn’t matter that they are truisms.

Though I don’t think you mean “truisms”, I think you mean “hypocrisies.”

But even hypocrisies aren’t penalized by most voters, if the system is more-or-less working. Hypocrisies only become important in crises. Or if the politician is caught with is hands in the cookie jar.

132

Lee A. Arnold 01.27.16 at 2:24 pm

That may be the question of the election: In the mind of most voters, is there a general crisis?

Sanders and Trump obviously think so, and are playing directly to it, from the first words out of their mouths. Clinton is not communicating that, so she must think that the situation is mildly ameliorable.

133

Lee A. Arnold 01.27.16 at 2:52 pm

Anon #130: “Hillary is very electable and Sanders is unelectable. 2. Reply: but the only data we have, the primaries and polls, says the opposite”

The data doesn’t say the opposite. Hillary has kept at least a 15 point lead over Sanders since late September. Hillary still looks very electable.

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/us/2016_democratic_presidential_nomination-3824.html

134

LFC 01.27.16 at 2:58 pm

anon 130
the OP’s critics, who are objectively closer to that position [i.e. no good data/evidence of electability] because they’re doubting electability claims, not primarily advancing them.

Fair enough I suppose, though some of the OP’s critics are advancing an implicit claim about Sanders’ electability. But I’m not trying to push anyone into any position, b.c I’m conflicted (to use a not-great word, but it’s the one that happens to come to mind) about this.

135

TM 01.27.16 at 3:01 pm

Truism is indeed the wrong word. What I mean is more along the line “something that pundits and VSPs think is self-evident but that is actually false”. Is there a term for that?

“is there a general crisis?”

It is very unclear what constitutes a “general crisis”, and even people who agree that there is such a crisis will likely disagree on what the crisis actually constitutes.

136

anon 01.27.16 at 3:07 pm

@133, “2. Reply” isn’t my view, but my summary of the overall argument that is taking place in this thread. And their claim is that Sanders polls better against the likely Republican candidates, not that he polls better directly against Clinton. I can’t tell–does your link include that? Note that their argument is also based on Sanders favorability ratings, compared to Clinton’s high unfavorability ratings.

Anyway, even if you’re right, it doesn’t address my main point: that if “3. counterargument” is a good argument, it primarily hurts the OP, not the Sanders supporters.

137

Ted Lemon 01.27.16 at 3:07 pm

One of the things to remember in this discussion is past failures. What the article proposes is “steady as she goes.” According to the author, the Democratic party’s strategy of tacking right has been effective, and will continue to be effective, and really is the only credible option.

The problem with this is that it leaves voters with no choice: you have a right-wing Democrat, with all the problems that come with that, or a right-wing Republican, with all the problems that come with that. There’s no meaningful differentiation: we just have to hold our nose and pick the one we dislike the least. The big differentiators for Clinton are things like abortion, which is a really absurdly pathetic issue to stake the presidency on. Sure, it’s important, but is that really the issue that should be deciding national elections?

Back to the history lesson, look at the Martha Coakley Senate election against Scott Brown in Massachusetts in 2010. She was running for the recently-vacated senate seat of Ted Kennedy, a dyed-in-the-wool liberal. Everybody thought it was a shoe-in, because no Democrat would vote against her. She was defeated fairly soundly. Why? Because she isn’t a liberal. She’s not a bad person, and perhaps by modern standards she seems liberal compared to Scott Brown, but there was no differentiation. As a candidate, independent of the implications for the balance of power in the Senate, there was simply no good reason to choose her over Scott Brown, and so the Massachusetts “conservatives” carried the day, because the “liberals” didn’t care enough.

But that was just bad luck, right? Coakley was running in the general election because she was the best the party had to offer, right? Wrong. There was a progressive candidate in the primary, who took 28% of the vote in the primary. But the Democrats wanted Coakley, because she was more “electable.” So they really put their thumbs down hard on the scale, backing Coakley to the hilt. That’s precisely how it was perceived in Massachusetts, and that’s why Coakley got a plurality but not a majority: not enough Democrats bought the party line.

There was genuine enthusiasm for Mike Capuano, a dedicated progressive who had a strong progressive voting record in Congress. If the Democratic party had taken a gamble on him, he almost certainly would have won the primary–he was gaining on Coakley in the polls every week up to the election despite the Democratic party’s heavy thumb on the scale. I think it’s very unlikely Scott Brown could have beaten him in the general election. But we never got to find out, because the Democratic leadership wasn’t willing to risk it.

So when I read articles like the one we’re discussing, that election failure stands out pretty starkly in my memory. I can’t even describe it as a failure of courage on the part of the Democratic party leadership, because the Democratic party leadership is actively anti-progressive. So it’s no surprise to me that they are against Bernie, and have done everything they can to weaken his election chances, just like they did with Mike Capuano.

But it’s definitely not “sending a message” when we support him in his attempt to win the primary. It’s that we don’t want Hillary, and we do want Bernie. The condescension that we see in this discussion is really unfortunate. While it’s true that the rank and file voters aren’t able to be as informed about the election as we’d like to be, and therefore may miss out on some nuances, it is not the case that the electorate as a whole can be assumed to be ignorant and stupid. The wisdom of the crowds isn’t dependable, because propagandists try to hard to sway it, but there comes a tipping point where no amount of propaganda is enough to get the crowd to do what you want, and it will be interesting to see if we have reached that tipping point in this election. We certainly did in the most recent contested Democratic primary.

138

TM 01.27.16 at 3:09 pm

133. But the claim has been that Sanders might win the primary even though he is “really” unelectable. Otherwise, why not just debate the issues and see who is more convincing. The whole point of the OP and similar articles is that the primary should NOT be decided on the issues.

139

Lee A. Arnold 01.27.16 at 3:18 pm

Tm 135 — They are not false. The people who preach them are hypocrites. — This is a theory of how voters must be thinking, in order to try to explain the way they respond.

The same with your admonition about “what constitutes a general crisis”. It hardly matters what you or I think. Voters are responding to both Sanders and Trump on this issue — in both parties, in a profound way. Does that have meaning for predicting this election? Will this emotion subside, or not?

140

LFC 01.27.16 at 3:21 pm

js @112
…I’d rather see arguments for why Clinton might make a better president, rather than candidate in the general—a case that I think could be made.

I guess it could, but as you say would probably be an even harder sell to many here. They would have different strengths I suppose, as Beutler suggests.

141

bianca steele 01.27.16 at 3:37 pm

@137

It’s more complicated than that.

Capuano was well known near Boston and was supported by the traditional Democratic machine. He was totally unknown just 20 or so miles outside the capital. Coakley was well known farther from the city because she’d served there for years and had just run a statewide campaign (and won). If Kennedy had been alive, he probably would have endorsed one or the other and the election would have been over. Obviously, since the election was for his seat, he wasn’t and couldn’t.

What this says to me is that what’s obvious to “progressives” might only be obvious to people those progressives personally know.

142

Plarry 01.27.16 at 3:44 pm

@137.

It is in my view a mistake to paint Sanders as the left’s best hope. It depends on your issues. Clinton is to the right of Sanders on most issues, but not all. For example, Sanders’ writhings on gun control are risible.

143

Ted Lemon 01.27.16 at 3:48 pm

@141

I think you just confirmed what I said: if the Democratic machine had gotten behind Capuano, he could have won the primary and then taken the general, but because they didn’t, he lost the primary and Coakley lost the general.

FWIW, I live in Vermont, and I was very aware of what was going on in the primary, and was so disappointed with the Democratic party leadership that I unsubscribed from all their mailing lists–I just didn’t see the point anymore.

If this makes me sound like an ideologue, I think that’s the wrong message to take. For the past few election cycles, candidates have gone well outside of their states seeking support, and that’s in fact why I was aware of Mike Capuano–I was asked to contribute to his campaign, and I did.

I’m not precisely a progressive myself, although I certainly have progressive tendencies in many areas, but he seemed like a more viable candidate than Coakley to me at the time, and the election was really important. The fact that the Democrats managed to lose it was really a testament to their disconnect with reality. I’m more than a little concerned that they’re going to do the same thing with this presidential election, and we’re going to wind up with President Trump.

144

Ted Lemon 01.27.16 at 3:49 pm

BTW, the irony is that if the Democratic machine had got behind Capuano in the primary and he’d lost, that still would have been a better outcome, because then Coakley would have been the underdog, and might have gotten enough of a lift from that to beat Scott Brown in the general election.

145

Anarcissie 01.27.16 at 3:57 pm

TM 01.27.16 at 11:50 am @ 125 —
I would not make that assumption if the Republican candidate is Mr. Trump. According to ‘Man, The Unpolitical Animal’ and common observation, people do not vote rationally or ideologically; they vote for perceived immediate self-interest, image, tradition, and in many case ‘for no accountable reason’ (such as their feelings about the weather or the fate of their favorite baseball team). Mr. Trump seems to know about this, and he seems to know how to use it to defeat traditional politicians. Mrs. Clinton is such a politician: her present enterprise is based on name recognition, connections, the support of plutocrats, alleged though seldom demonstrated competence, and conservatism. All of these can be turned into deficits by Mr. Trump. Mr. Sanders, on the other hand, is a kind of curve ball. For instance, he calls himself a ‘socialist’. For generations, the Right has been calling mild Welfarists ‘socialists’ and they have defended themselves against the ‘charge’, but here comes someone who says, ‘Yeah, I’m a socialist, and here’s my plan.’ His plan turns out to be the New Deal, but instead of a old New Deal that must be wearily, grudgingly, ineffectively defended, as by the Democratic Party elite, Sanders presents it as some kind of revolutionary advance. This is a very tricky play: if the attackers insist he’s a socialist, they emphasize the supposed novelty and vigor of his ideas, which yet turn out to be vaguely and comfortingly familiar; if they insist he’s not a socialist, they contradict their own argument. You can see that traditional flacks like Paul Starr still don’t get it, and I’d bet that Mrs. Clinton doesn’t get it, either. Hence, I think Mrs. Clinton, cautious and conservative, can probably be defeated by Mr. Trump, but that Mr. Sanders — a man weird enough to be from Vermont and profess socialism — has some chance.

146

bianca steele 01.27.16 at 4:04 pm

@143

Re. the Democratic machine: Maybe you’re right. I’m just guessing that Capuano’s campaign didn’t bother spending a lot of money outside his district because they felt he had the momentum. What I’d heard/read was that the machine in Boston, where his district was and where old-style Kennedy Democrats were still thick on the ground, was supporting him but seemed complacent.

147

Rakesh Bhandari 01.27.16 at 4:08 pm

The result of Donald Trump debating Hillary Clinton will be very strong confirmation of Melvin Konner’s last book.

148

Bloix 01.27.16 at 4:14 pm

149

bmore 01.27.16 at 4:16 pm

@146 Given that Coakley also lost in the 2014 gubernatorial race, maybe she just wasn’t that good of a candidate.

I’m not familiar with the dynamics of that race, but here in Maryland we also had O’Malley’s Lt. Governor (Brown) run a terrible campaign and lose to a nobody republican. Brown also was the establishment choice over a potentially better Dem candidate (Mizeur — who I voted for in the primary) and lost the general due to low Dem turnout.

150

Rakesh Bhandari 01.27.16 at 4:33 pm

@148 Based on his review of Piketty, I would not say Konczal is a conservative. Krugman has pointed to this Konczal pience as a good argument that the Sanders/Warren approach to financial reform is not necessarily better than Clinton’s. I don’t have time to review the arguments at present. I am thinking Anat Admati’s work will figure prominently in figuring out the issues here.
http://rooseveltinstitute.org/sanders-clinton-approach-shadow-banking/

151

Roger Gathman 01.27.16 at 4:49 pm

The problem with electability arguments such as Starr’s and Krugman’s is that the argument as an observation is entangled with the argument as campaign propaganda. If it were true, as an observation, then there would be no great urgency to make it. Starr and Krugman weren’t writing these kinds of articles in June of last year because they believed the CW that Clinton was unbeatable. They make it now because, paradoxically,they do think she is beatable. As an observation, I think what we are seeing is not that Sanders is a symbolic candidate, but that Clinton is beatable. It is funny (ha ha funny, I mean) that these electability arguments are pulled out and urged only when one’s candidate is in trouble, i.e. seems to be losing an election.
Actually, if we grant the CW, then Sanders beating Clinton would seem to mean more about her electability than his. Is Clinton another Kerry?
I actually don’t think so, though. The demographics on this election strongly favor the dems. The GOP idea is that somehow, they can get more white conservatives out to the polls. I think that idea is pretty bogus. If the GOP gets the same percentage of the white vote as Romney, which was very good, there would have to be a significant collapse in the black and hispanic vote for the GOP to make it. Or a swing to the GOP, which is being rendered, every day that the campaign goes on, more and more unlikely.

152

Bloix 01.27.16 at 5:03 pm

@151 – George McGovern ran an exciting grass-roots campaign in 1972, won more primaries than anyone else, and won the nomination decisively. He lost 49 states in the general. Exciting grassroots candidates can motivate primary voters and then get their heads handed to them when they have to compete for general election voters. See also, Barry Goldwater.

153

Roger Gathman 01.27.16 at 5:15 pm

152 There is no evidence that Humphrey or Muskie would have won against Nixon. Humphrey,in 1968, was a vice president and was supported by the entirety of the Democratic establishment. He lost to Nixon in 1968. A loss is a loss. McGovern’s loss, it must be said, really didn’t hurt the Dems downticket. The Dems took two more states in the Senate, in fact.
So yeah, somebody has to lose, but I don’t see McGovern as an especially egregious case that the CW candidate is the best.

154

Roger Gathman 01.27.16 at 5:17 pm

ps – actually, now that I think of it, Clinton is very much like Humphrey – who was defeated by Kennedy in 1960. Kennedy was surely by CW standards the less electable candidate. He just happened to be elected.

155

Cian 01.27.16 at 5:29 pm

Given that McGovern’s reasons for failure include:
+ Choosing as his running mate a man with a history of mental illness.
+  AFL-CIO opposition/support of Nixon
+ The Opposition of the Democrat party elite.

Given that McGovern largely ran on an anti-war campaign, the parallels don’t seem particularly strong.

But yes, if the Democrat elite decided to try and destroy Sanders chances that could definitely hamper his electability. Does anyone think this is likely? And if so, what does it say about the ‘anyone but a Republican’ strategy?

156

TM 01.27.16 at 5:33 pm

153: I really wish people would fixate less on the presidential race. McGovern’s loss may have done more for progressives than (Bill) Clinton’s win. After all, Nixon, faced with a strong democratic majority in Congress, arguably signed into law more progressive policies than Clinton ever did, and ditto for Obama. Democrats need to win back Congress and state governments and their top candidates need to work for that goal, not just for their own primary campaigns.

157

Bruce Wilder 01.27.16 at 5:41 pm

No one old enough to remember the actual George McGovern would call him an exciting grassroots candidate. He lost to Muskie in New Hampshire, lost to Humphrey in Ohio, lost to George Wallace in Florida. But, he got some crucial help from Nixon’s dirty tricks operatives and his candidacy benefitted from the breakup of the New Deal coalition and the damage that did to the Party. George McGovern was a divisive figure, not thru any particular personal fault, but just by virtue of the role he was cast into, in the political realignment taking place. I would not say McGovern wanted the role, but he was instrumental in breaking up the New Deal coalition, driving the working class out of the Party.

Personally, he came across to many people as indecisive and equivocating, an impression that was reinforced by his squeaky speaking voice and illustrated by the disastrous choosing and unchoosing of Eagleton as V-P. He was a remarkably ineffective spokesman against the war in Vietnam, and the economy was in a runaway boom so his electoral chances would have been slim, even without the demolition work his candidacy did on the Party.

Like Paul Starr in the OP, or Paul Krugman, the critics of Bernie Sanders’ candidacy insist that they agree with Sanders on issues, but . . . Is Bernie Sanders’ commitment to single-payer going to drive out of the Party overpaid white liberals, who consistently say they want single-payer? Are the people, who have argued that the most important thing is solid support for the Lesser Evil against the Greater Evil (Republicans) going to sit out the election if the Democrats fail to nominate the sufficiently corrupt and evil Hillary?

If Democrats do not go thru with the planned coronation, is that going to be some tragedy for the Party?

158

TM 01.27.16 at 5:43 pm

P.S. Trump as the face of the Republican party is the best news ever for the Dems. If they can’t turn this godsend into massive electoral advantage, there’s probably no hope for them.

159

Bruce Wilder 01.27.16 at 5:49 pm

The Republicans have a full bench of epically repulsive candidates. Even if Trump self-destructs before the Convention, they’ve got worse.

160

Roger Gathman 01.27.16 at 6:05 pm

157 – I think you give too little credit to McGovern, Bruce. The coalition he formed has, since then, grown and become the core of any Democratic victory. Clinton (who won because of Perot, in 1992) relied on McGovern type voters. So did Obama. Carter, not so much – but in 1980, he sort of demonstrated that the New Deal coalition no longer worked. Since Carter, every Humphrey style, “electable” Dem has gone down to defeat. Mondale, Dukakis, Gore for the most part (until, thanks to Nader’s pushing, he went more populist in the general – which is how he won the election of 2000. Without Nader, he would have lost the popular vote to Bush for sure), and Kerry. It is these totems of defeat that have been pushed by centrist Dems like Starr as electable. The presidential election isn’t a horse race – close seconds don’t count. They were losers. In fact, in Krugman’s case, he was all for Clinton in 2008 – who lost to a winner.
Thus, I don’t think electability is something you can call before you see it happen. The idea that Humphrey or Muskie would have won over Nixon in 1972 ignores Nixon’s huge advantages. The other argument, that McGovern’s loss was a generational loss for the left, is also, I think, bogus. The Democratic Congress was clearly much more left in 1973 to 1980 than it was in the 1960s. It was anti-war, pro environnment, pro civil rights, pro egalitarian, etc. It was clearly to the left of Carter. If McGovern’s loss had crippled the left, this wouldn’t have been the case.

161

Roger Gathman 01.27.16 at 6:18 pm

Just to make sure, I looked it up. According to the Gallup poll, in May, 1972, Humphrey was even more behind Nixon than McGovern, 11 percent as opposed to 8 percent. Moreover, Wallace voters, asked their second preference, were more for McGovern than for Humphrey.
The argument that Humphrey or Muskie was more electable than McGovern seems very very poor to me. It doesn’t even try to make a case, given the data we have.

162

Eszter Hargittai 01.27.16 at 6:22 pm

@158 P.S. Trump as the face of the Republican party is the best news ever for the Dems. If they can’t turn this godsend into massive electoral advantage, there’s probably no hope for them. .. or for the country!

163

alkali 01.27.16 at 6:26 pm

@157: the critics of Bernie Sanders’ candidacy insist that they agree with Sanders on issues, but . . . Is Bernie Sanders’ commitment to single-payer going to drive out of the Party overpaid white liberals, who consistently say they want single-payer? Are the people, who have argued that the most important thing is solid support for the Lesser Evil against the Greater Evil (Republicans) going to sit out the election if the Democrats fail to nominate the sufficiently corrupt and evil Hillary?

Speaking as an overpaid white liberal who agrees with Sanders on a lot of the issues, of course I’d vote for him, and I’m sure he’d take my state. No one is claiming that the key to electability for a Democrat is buttoning down the support of New England/New York/California liberals.

164

alkali 01.27.16 at 6:30 pm

@151: The problem with electability arguments such as Starr’s and Krugman’s is that the argument as an observation is entangled with the argument as campaign propaganda. If it were true, as an observation, then there would be no great urgency to make it. Starr and Krugman weren’t writing these kinds of articles in June of last year because they believed the CW that Clinton was unbeatable. They make it now because, paradoxically,they do think she is beatable.

1) A bit self-refuting, yes? If your observations above were true, you wouldn’t need to make them.

2) Less flipplantly, there’s no paradox: a candidate can win a primary but lose the general election. Could Sanders win the nomination? I think it’s unlikely, but yes, sure. As Democratic primary voters make up their minds, whether Sanders is more or less likely to win the general is a fair question to raise.

165

LFC 01.27.16 at 6:43 pm

B Wilder @157
[McGovern] was a remarkably ineffective spokesman against the war in Vietnam

I remember the McGovern campaign very well. It was the first campaign in which I volunteered extensively (though not old enough to vote, I was old enough to do most of the grunt work that volunteers do). The claim that McGovern was “a remarkably ineffective spokesman against the the war in Vietnam” is, in my view, completely wrong. He was a very effective spokesman, partly because his style and background — a Midwestern directness (he was from South Dakota, as you may recall), bomber pilot in WW2, historian, legislator — was v. well suited to the role. He wasn’t the greatest orator who’s ever run for the presidency, to be sure, but he was a very effective anti-war spokesman. His loss was caused by a range of things, some within his control and many not, but let’s give credit where it’s due, and here it is due.

166

Roger Gathman 01.27.16 at 7:04 pm

164, I already made your point in 110, where I said “- no doubt, which is why one of the winners of the primaries from one of the parties will lose. However, i think it is a better indicator than the election waged in paul starr’s head – or mine, for that matter.”

But since I am not making an electability argument for Sanders, I’m not going to project my own preferences on the primaries. Especially as, though I am for Sanders, I think Clinton is ‘electable’ – especially if she wins the primaries!

But 2 – well, as I said upthread, in 110, it is a mathematical certainty that one of the two candidates running after the parties complete their nominations will win the election, and one will lose. Which means that one of the candidates that was elected in the primaries will lose. However, I fail to see the logic in thinking that the candidates that were beaten in the primary would have been elected if only they had won. There’s really no evidence for it. Even in the McGovern case, the poll numbers for the other candidates against Nixon were worse. Say Humphrey or Muskie had done better than McGovern in the election – who cares? They would still have lost.

167

Roger Gathman 01.27.16 at 7:16 pm

Actually, I suppose the only way one could prove, or make it more likely, that a candidate defeated in the primaries could have won the general election is to see whether that has ever happened. Is there a case that x candidate, who lost in the primaries in an election year, then ran successfully in the next election cycle both in the primaries and against the candidate who had won the presidential in the last cycle? I can’t think of a single instance.

168

Joseph Brenner 01.27.16 at 7:24 pm

As expected, I see there’s a lot of “hand-waving” in the
assertion that Sanders isn’t electable. Current polling
shows Bernie beats Trump, and yes Virginia, they’re going
with Trump. You want a political script that writes itself?
Try “But… Trump!”. (Yes: it trumps everything).

The one piece of real data Starr has is a poll showing that
“socialist” is a heavy negative. To indulge in some
hand-waving of my own: the American public cares more about
substance than style. The spectacle of a Bernie Sanders
going “Sure I’m a socialist, so what?!” will be enough to win
people over. They hate shilly-shallying and nuance and love
“doubling-down” and standing on principle– and I’m not sure
it matters what principle. Sanders registers as a guy who
says what he means and doesn’t back down, and they love that
stuff, they hardly care about what’s said, or if it makes
sense. If they did, the clown car would have no traction to
begin with.

Paul Starr goes with Paul Krugman’s points about Sanders
health care proposals (I would double-check his estimates of
how much they would cost, however: the anti-Bernie faction
already has a history of using inflated estimates). Myself I
think obsessing about the details of the proposals at this
stage is besides the point. (Krugman notes that Obama
eventually went with health care much like Hillary Clinton’s
proposal, but Krugman still claims that the details in these
early proposals matter a lot.)

This jazz is pretty ridiculous (as Francis Spufford @3 points out):

“As bad as the campaign-finance system is, I don’t share
the view that government is so corrupt that it can’t do
many things better than the private sector.”

This is an attempt at stretching Bernie’s rhetoric about the
role of money in politics to turn it into a Republican
position that “gov is the problem”.

(I think Lee A. Arnold @126 makes a mistake in taking this
gov vs. market stuff seriously. Some people hate Big Gov
when it does stuff for Those People, but they love it when it
does stuff they like. None of this is rational.)

Myself, I oppose Hillary Clinton on foreign policy grounds:
she shows no signs of having learned anything from the Iraq
war (quite the contrary). I realize that may be a plus in
the general election (your average American seems to think
belligerence means strength and safety), so the Democratic
primary is the one place in the system where there’s some
check on this.

A better argument about electability would be to analyze
coat-tail lengths: Bernie fans like to think that his large
rallies and high polling among the young will translate into
down-ticket success for Democrats, and a more Democratic
Congress. You could argue that if Hillary does better at
inspiring turnout with women or black people, then we should
go with Hillary.

HoosierPoli @ 122 says “Sounds like the same concern-trolling
that told us Barack Obama couldn’t win the general.”
Yes: That’s particularly funny with Krugman. He goes on
a lot about people who don’t learn from their mistakes.

169

alkali 01.27.16 at 8:06 pm

@167: Actually, I suppose the only way one could prove, or make it more likely, that a candidate defeated in the primaries could have won the general election is to see whether that has ever happened. Is there a case that x candidate, who lost in the primaries in an election year, then ran successfully in the next election cycle both in the primaries and against the candidate who had won the presidential in the last cycle? I can’t think of a single instance.

If I have the criteria correctly in mind — Reagan: in 1976, lost nomination fight; in 1980, won successfully in the primaries and against incumbent.

170

Roger Gathman 01.27.16 at 8:09 pm

169 yes! This is the only instance where things aligned that way that I can see. Clinton, by the way, having lost in 2008, would only repeat the Reagan example if McCain were the GOP nominee.

171

Roger Gathman 01.27.16 at 8:14 pm

ps I wonder if anybody in 1976 was arguing that Ronald Reagan was the more electable candidate? By anybody, I mean the VSP.

172

Lee A. Arnold 01.27.16 at 8:29 pm

Joseph Brenner #168: “…a mistake in taking this
gov vs. market stuff seriously. Some people hate Big Gov
when it does stuff for Those People, but they love it when it
does stuff they like. None of this is rational.”

On the whole, this is false. Most people, Democrat and Republican, believe that what they get from government, they have PAID FOR, in taxes.

1. Every complaint about Those Other People includes the sentence (often said aloud), “I am paying the taxes, and the money is going to people who don’t work for it.” (This is one of the biggest complaints in the anti-immigration rhetoric, for example.)

2. The main tactic of the anti-Social Security campaign is very instructive: “The money that you paid into it, isn’t there.” NOT “you didn’t pay for it” — it’s that the “money you paid into it, isn’t there”. G. W. Bush went to a filing cabinet to show the special T-bills are not “real money”. Not because you didn’t pay for it. It’s because “the politicians spent it elsewhere”, etc.

3. People don’t want to pay taxes, because they think politicians waste the money or steal it. But voters will tax themselves for important things voters. They will even approve more taxes for things without monetary return: ecological land preservation, for example, usually gets very high voter approval.

4. The reactions against public sector unions is because public workers have been maintaining their incomes and pensions, while the private sector incomes and pensions have been tanking. This is more about “everybody should be in the same boat”, and we can’t afford it.

I also strongly disagree that voters don’t take the “gov vs. market” stuff seriously. Republican politicians have been using it in their rhetoric since at least Reagan (it is the essence of Reaganomics and neoliberalism), and Democrats are very careful to acknowledge it (Obama has frequently done this). It should be very clear from the lengthy evidence of political rhetoric in the US that most voters MUST think that it is very important. Sanders should address it public, directly, at length. Pronto.

173

Lee A. Arnold 01.27.16 at 8:31 pm

That should be, “But voters will tax themselves for important things that voters feel government should do.”

174

TM 01.27.16 at 9:55 pm

LAA, you are rationalizing a lot. I don’t think anybody argues that farm subsidies are justified because of the taxes farmers pay. Conversely, nobody to my knowledge denies that public sector workers pay taxes but somehow that doesn’t make them more popular among those who begrudge them their well earned benefits.

Nobody even pretends to be serious about the “we want less government” meme. Look at how mad Americans are about NSA spying – they aren’t, and neither do they generally oppose spending more money on police, prisons and the military. People aren’t so dumb not to know that police and the military are government institutions that have to be paid with tax money. They still want more of them, not less, and they idolize Reagan not for making government smaller – which he didn’t – but for inflating the military with borrowed money. Americans also overwhelmingly support their Congressperson’s efforts to bring pork into their constituency, knowing full well that somebody’s taxes have to pay for it. And when Republican Senators oppose federal emergency help for blue states while demanding federal emergency help for their own red states – hypocrisy doesn’t begin to describe what this is about. There isn’t even a pretense at some consistent political position, it’s pure and unadulterated malice paired with selfishness, and a large subset (still a minority I believe) of the electorate embraces precisely this selfish malice. The media, themselves corrupt to the bone, have gone out of their way to sugarcoat this reality by attributing it to the Republicans’ alleged “philosophical” principles (an idiocy often derided by Dean Baker). It’s part of the VSP complex and we need to stop taking it seriously.

175

Suzanne 01.27.16 at 10:01 pm

“But I am not convinced that HRC can win. Her history shows her to be a god-awful candidate – she makes unforced errors and her instincts are terrible – she fights dirty in the stupidest, most self-destructive ways. How can you be sure she will be the better candidate when any day she could blow herself up?”

@ 41: Clinton has been making the case for herself and defending the record of the current Administration and her old boss very effectively, particularly in the context of the debates. (The Donald may be able to run roughshod over his fellow Republicans in a debate but Hillary will eat him for breakfast. I wouldn’t count on Sanders to do that.)

She also sat for hours before the Benghazi committee and wiped the floor with her would-be inquisitors.

HRC will never work a rope line the way her husband can, she’ll never be a cool dude, and she’ll probably always be a little uptight in the public eye. But she has some formidable and impressive qualities as a candidate.

176

The Temporary Name 01.27.16 at 11:01 pm

She also sat for hours before the Benghazi committee and wiped the floor with her would-be inquisitors.

Yes. When REPUBLICANS don’t wanna think about the Benghazi debacle – that is, the political failure they launched against themselves – it’s time for progressives to stop thinking that uttering “Benghazi” can be part of any anti-Clinton argument.

177

Ed 01.28.16 at 12:19 am

“Actually, I suppose the only way one could prove, or make it more likely, that a candidate defeated in the primaries could have won the general election is to see whether that has ever happened. Is there a case that x candidate, who lost in the primaries in an election year, then ran successfully in the next election cycle both in the primaries and against the candidate who had won the presidential in the last cycle? I can’t think of a single instance.”

I’ve noticed alot of variation in the amount knowledge of commentators here about politics, but this is a weird question. Its awkwardly phrased, so I may be misunderstanding it.

As someone else noted, an obvious example is Reagan losing in the primaries in 1976, and getting elected President in 1980.

Candidates losing a nomination contest and at least getting nominated later are not that uncommon. Dewey was not nominated in 1940 but was in 1944 and 1948, you also have the examples of Humphrey 1960/ 68, Dole 1980/88/96, Gore 1988/2000, McCain 2000/08, and Romney 2008/12.

Now of these half a dozen examples, none became President, but then you have Reagan, and at least Humprey and Gore came close. Gore won the popular vote, which is normally all that is required. The point is that parties nominating people who have already run national campaigns is pretty common, and not necessarily a losing strategy for the general election either. Nixon lost a general election, though it was very close and he may have had a popular vote plurality, but came back and won twice later.

178

Ed 01.28.16 at 12:24 am

To add to my point above, of the 34 times the Republicans and Democrats nominated someone for President since World War 2, in 23 instances by my count they nominated someone who had been in a national campaign before, either for President in the primaries or general election, or as the vice presidential nominee. So there is a clear bias (two thirds of the time) for doing this.

179

js. 01.28.16 at 12:25 am

I agree with Suzanne. I think Clinton’s (purported) weaknesses as a candidate are being a tad overplayed in this thread.

180

Ed 01.28.16 at 12:26 am

Also Lyndon Johnson contested the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960, lost, then was nominated and won in 1964. So that is two and a half instances, adding to Reagan 1976 and 1980, and Gore 1988 and 2000.

181

kidneystones 01.28.16 at 12:58 am

@ 168 This sounds about right.

@ 175 She’s a lawyer, a political insider skilled at raising millions, a political wife, and an accomplished liar in her own right. Iraq, Libya, Syria are each testament to her willingness to sell out national security and humanity for short-term selfish gain, again, again, again, and again no matter what the cost.

The best she represents is a highly suspect version of more of the same. She’s not Bernie, she’s not Trump and that alone is not sufficient to make her the nominee. Her speeches are bundles of platitudes that in many cases stand in stark contrast to her own behavior and her own positions.

Hillary is not Trump and that’s not enough, and may not be enough to beat Trump.

Obama, no fool when it comes to winning elections, noted that the American electorate will move towards the candidate of hope. Bernie and Trump have hope locked up. Bernie stands for idealism, hard work, and principle as the way forward. Trump is for American exceptionalism, patriotism, and guile. Both are clearly protectionist.

HRC and the Dem elite has sold out to Wall Street, Big Phama, Big Insurance, and Dem unions. HAMP went to special interests, banks got bailed, HRC and her ilk got paid and got rich, and the poor got health insurance and no jobs.

182

Lee A. Arnold 01.28.16 at 1:00 am

TM #174 “LAA, you are rationalizing a lot. I don’t think anybody argues that farm subsidies are justified because of the taxes farmers pay. Conversely, nobody to my knowledge denies that public sector workers pay taxes but somehow that doesn’t make them more popular among those who begrudge them their well earned benefits.”

I think that your argument that this logically derives from my argument, is rationalizing a lot!

183

Roger Gathman 01.28.16 at 1:13 am

180- Johnson I think we can exclude. Being made president because of an assassination can be excluded from the set. Besides, again, the experiment has to put the losing candidate in the previous cycle up against the same candidate who won in the last cycle. That is the test of electability. Gore of course does not count at all. He didn’t run and win against George H Bush in 1992. Or rather, he ran as VP. And in 2000, he ran against George W. Only Reagan qualifies. And here I think we have something curious. If Reagan had run in 1976, I dont – for gut reasons, because of Watergate, etc – think he would have won against Carter. Which might have disqualified him among GOP voters in 1980.

184

kidneystones 01.28.16 at 1:35 am

Playing dirty. Starr makes much of Bernie’s socialism and age. I’m old enough to remember Carter’s marathon collapse and the damaging footage of a man unable to continue. Here’s another commercial that writes itself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OeA5VQH51vs

Just watched HRC in Iowa and I’m currently listening to Bernie from a day ago. “Too late for establishment politics and people are ready for a political revolution.” Big enthusiasm gap in the audience response. Hillary leads with the victim card and thanks the Dem establishment of Iowa for their support. The Dem machine, as Bernie notes is formidable within a rigged game. “Enough is enough.” Big cheers.

Same message as Trump. Lots of self-depreciating humor and not backing off an inch on the political revolution stuff.

What seems clear to me is that a number of the Bernie nay-sayers are afraid to support the candidate who best embodies their beliefs at precisely the only moment when ‘walking the walk’ can, or may make a difference. If you haven’t listened to Bernie right now, this week, do so. Then tell yourself that hope can’t win, that only ‘playing dirty’ gets the job done. If that’s your view you have my sympathy colored by a measure of contempt.

185

kidneystones 01.28.16 at 1:40 am

Re: down ticket fall out. Starr is right, but he’s got the wrong candidate. Bernie reminds us that Establishment dems at the state and local level have been hammered because of the lack of inspiration that are the result of Dem national failures. Bernie: ‘don’t complain unless you are ready to stand up and fight back.’

Good stuff!

186

LFC 01.28.16 at 1:54 am

kidneystones @181

You note that HRC’s speeches are “bunches of platitudes.” Then a couple of graphs later, you praise Sanders for the stress on “hard work” and “principle,” praise Trump for “patriotism” [sic].

“Hard work” and “patriotism” are platitudes. So in one sentence you criticize HRC for platitudes, then in the next breath you praise Sanders and Trump for platitudes.

Sanders and Trump, you say, “have hope locked up.” Nonsense w/r/t Trump, who plays substantially on fears. Is building a wall on the border an expression of hope or fear? Is dissing all Muslims hope or fear? Is saying he can stand on Fifth Ave and shoot someone and not lose support an expression of ‘hope’, or it is an expression of narcissism and contempt for voters?

Your portrait of HRC is at best v. exaggerated, at worst a tissue of distortion (I wd lean more toward the latter description for much of it).

Are you just yanking people’s chains here, or do you expect people to read such comments and actually take them seriously?

187

Bruce Wilder 01.28.16 at 2:02 am

These arguments by a very narrow parallel construction do not seem very enlightening to me.

It seems to me that, deservedly or not, Hillary Clinton has become the candidate of continuing the status quo, and Sanders has become the candidate of structural reform, the kind that changes the fundamental structure of power.

It is fascinating to me that this chasm has opened up, and that people like Paul Starr or Paul Krugman would take the positions they do, and do so in support of Hillary Clinton. (I do not think they do Hillary any favors associating her with preserving the status quo.) What I mean is that Sanders is talking about structural reform of health care and the financial sector. Single-payer and Glass-Steagall are structural reforms that would take out major elements of corporate money and predation in the political economy and funding for corrupt and reactionary policy. Their argument seems to be, these kinds of structural reform would be desirable in an “ideal” world, but the attempt to introduce them in our world will result in a destabilization of our comfortable dystopia.

This is what Starr says, “High-costs have been built into the health-care system; they can’t be taken out overnight. . . . Switching to single-payer—“Medicare for all”—implies withdrawing an enormous amount of the revenue that hospitals and other institutions are counting on (for example, to meet bond payments). The likely effect of switching to single payer under Sanders’ plan would be to destabilize the health-care industry.”

The arguments about financial reform offered of late by Krugman are similar: you cannot change anything, because it will destabilize the system.

Coming from people who built reputations as critics of the unfortunate developments that led to our dystopia, this defense of preserving the dystopia is startling, as is the attack on fundamental reform for being fundamental.

Vote for Hillary, she will extend and pretend (also bomb). It does not seem very persuasive on its face to me.

188

kidneystones 01.28.16 at 2:19 am

@ 186 I don’t much care whether people listen to me, what I care about is whether they understand precisely what BW says above and inform themselves. If people who support the values Bernie espouses refuse to vote for him, why should anyone else? This is like a rerun of the Iraq war. The people, like Hillary and Biden, who are elected by Dems to protect everyone fold at crunch time. That’s what a vote for HRC is, capitulation at crunch time. That’s perhaps why you dress her up as something other than an insider professional hack, because if she really is a Christmas tree fairy with a magic wand that makes her own appalling track record disappear and at the same time transforms her into Bernie Sanders only electable that justifies your own cowardice and lack of conviction. Or perhaps you actually support destabilizing countries and taking 200 k a pop from banks whilst running as the champion of ordinary Americans.

Your reading skills need a bit of tuning. Hillary offers only platitudes and the victim card to distract voters from her appalling record of self-interest and failure. Trump and Bernie offer platitudes, as you call them, because Trump’s promises, and those of Bernie are rooted in reality, not focus-group generated rhetoric. Trump is rich and for people who want the can-do guy elected his promises of making America great again get traction. Ditto Bernie – everyone knows Bernie is completely serious about raising the minimum wage, getting the poor out of prisons, and reducing income inequality. She’s done nothing but tend to her family’s political fortunes and help start most of America’s recent wars.

So, go vote for her.

189

LFC 01.28.16 at 2:46 am

@kidneystones
If the primary in my state were held now or in next week or two, I’d vote for Sanders. Not sure what I will do when it actually occurs, b/c it depends partly on developments betw. now and then. It all may be a moot point by then; it may not. Etc.

It’s interesting that when someone reads your comments and responds, you reply w/ e.g. charges of “cowardice and lack of conviction.” It wd be interesting to see yr response to people who — unlike myself — are supporters of HRC. Such exchanges, perhaps mercifully, don’t occur.

I will leave w your parting remark “She’s done nothing but tend to her family’s political fortunes and help start most of America’s recent wars.” Perhaps Sanders shd make this his line of criticism from now on.

I’ve spent too much time on this thread. Not planning to comment further.

190

Tabasco 01.28.16 at 3:16 am

What’s with the presumption that Trump will be the Repub nominee? Don’t count out Cruz yet, or Rubio, for that matter.

191

Bruce Wilder 01.28.16 at 4:17 am

Someone else mentioned Robert Reich commentary on Bernie v Hillary as well as the Trump phenomenon. He’s been remarkably clear. Yves Smith quoted him today in her attack on Krugman’s new role as spokesman for the Vichy Left.

The column quoted was quite good, I thought:
http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/robert-reich-why-2016-election-political-volcano-full-eruption
He sounds some of the same themes as kidneystones, though he’s less vituperative.

I’ve known Hillary Clinton since she was 19 years old, and have nothing but respect for her. In my view, she’s the most qualified candidate for president of the political system we now have.

But Bernie Sanders is the most qualified candidate to create the political system we should have, because he’s leading a political movement for change.

The upcoming election isn’t about detailed policy proposals. It’s about power – whether those who have it will keep it, or whether average Americans will get some as well.

. . . on book tour in the nation’s heartland: I kept bumping into people who told me they were trying to make up their minds in the upcoming election between Sanders and Trump.

At first I was dumbfounded. The two are at opposite ends of the political divide.

But as I talked with these people, I kept hearing the same refrains. They wanted to end “crony capitalism.” They detested “corporate welfare,” such as the Wall Street bailout. They wanted to prevent the big banks from extorting us ever again. Close tax loopholes for hedge-fund partners. Stop the drug companies and health insurers from ripping off American consumers. End trade treaties that sell out American workers. Get big money out of politics.

Somewhere in all this I came to see the volcanic core of what’s fueling this election.

If you’re one of the tens of millions of Americans who are working harder than ever but getting nowhere, and who understand that the political-economic system is rigged against you and in favor of the rich and powerful, what are you going to do?

Either you’re going to be attracted to an authoritarian son-of-a-bitch who promises to make America great again by keeping out people different from you and creating “great” jobs in America, who sounds like he won’t let anything or anybody stand in his way, and who’s so rich he can’t be bought off.

Or you’ll go for a political activist who tells it like it is, who has lived by his convictions for fifty years, who won’t take a dime of money from big corporations or Wall Street or the very rich, and who is leading a grass-roots “political revolution” to regain control over our democracy and economy.

In other words, either a dictator who promises to bring power back to the people, or a movement leader who asks us to join together to bring power back to the people.

You don’t care about the details of proposed policies and programs.

You just want a system that works for you.

I understand that many people, though concerned in principle, are comfortable and even complacent and don’t want to risk having the sky fall or the noise of a truly confrontational politics, where the crookedness is exposed. I am probably a bit that way myself, if I tell the truth. I just do not think I should be.

192

js. 01.28.16 at 4:24 am

193

Rakesh Bhandari 01.28.16 at 5:34 am

@192, see @150

194

otpup 01.28.16 at 8:52 am

@193 I think there is a plausible argument that Glass-Steagall will have at best a symbolic effect (though symbolic can be important) or that it will help simplify the regulatory environment in a way the that makes future regulation easier (I think Dean Baker argued this). But what about the Financial transaction tax, that is not just a revenue source but a major finance reform as well (which HRC does not support, ianm).

195

Phil 01.28.16 at 11:12 am

#133 – Hillary has kept at least a 15 point lead over Sanders since late September.

And the link shows precisely that – from the start of December, Clinton 48-58, currently 52ish; Sanders 30-40, currently 38ish. Huh. The shape of the trend is similar, but the figures are nothing like HuffPo’s ‘favourable’ ratings* – which put both candidates in the 40-47 range since the beginnning of December, with Sanders currently on 47 and Clinton on 43. Why are they so different?

*”Currently tracking 82 polls from 16 pollsters”

196

Phil 01.28.16 at 11:19 am

Correction – the linked poll data doesn’t show *precisely* that, as it shows that Clinton’s lead over Sanders has fluctuated between 9% and 27% over that period, and has only just climbed back up above 15%. But it does give Clinton a very solid lead over Sanders, where the HuffPo polls show his favourable ratings exceeding hers from the beginning of this year. What’s up with that?

197

Lee A. Arnold 01.28.16 at 12:15 pm

Phil: “Why are they so different? What’s up with that?”

Go read the different pollers’ actual questions!

“Favorability” polls don’t ask the same questions as “whom do you plan to vote for?” polls. Favorability can sometimes be a harbinger, however.

For more homework, go and study the methodology links at 538 (Nate Silver) and Princeton Election Consortium (Sam Wang), and Google “opinion poll methodology and problems”.

Nate & Sam are scientists, HuffPost & RealClear are not.

HuffPost & RealClear are making poller aggregations, and the pollers themselves have different adherence to accuracy (to say the least). I like RealClear because the whole site panders to the rightwing, and so I take it as the easy-to-check, worst-case scenario for the forces of sanity.

That said, HuffPost’s Dem primary poll aggregate looks just like RealClear, only smoother:
http://elections.huffingtonpost.com/pollster/2016-national-democratic-primary.

The overall trend is probably the most accurate thing you can take from these. It’s early in the season. The 9-point minimum spread showing at Jan 12-16 may be significant, or not. Time will tell.

198

novakant 01.28.16 at 2:10 pm

199

anon 01.28.16 at 3:08 pm

“Nate & Sam are scientists, HuffPost & RealClear are not.”

A bachelor’s degree in economics and a career in baseball forecasting does not a scientist make.

But whatever modest scientific credibility he once had for his methods is pretty much gone now that he’s using political endorsements as part of his statistical calculus. That’s beyond pseudo-science. That’s comedy.

200

mds 01.28.16 at 4:45 pm

Their argument seems to be, these kinds of structural reform would be desirable in an “ideal” world, but the attempt to introduce them in our world will result in a destabilization of our comfortable dystopia.

Actually, the attempt to introduce them in our world would result in them being rejected by the Republican House of Representatives. Suggesting that they’re viable policy proposals in the near-term is similar to the argument that Barack Obama could have gotten single-payer/Medicare for All/public option if he had really wanted them, usually backed by breathtakingly clueless invocations of Green Lanternism (Obama should have threatened to back primary challengers to Ben Nelson, Obama should have used all that leverage over Lieberman, Obama should have abolished the filibuster, etc.).

Bernie Sanders isn’t running for Dictator of the Republic. His approach to foreign policy would likely be sensible. His appointments would likely be acceptable. His executive orders would likely be decent. He’d be able to veto attempts to repeal the Medicaid expansion, or to dismantle Dodd-Frank, or to declare war on Iran. But neither President Sanders nor President Clinton is getting anything sweepingly progressive through Congress for years to come. Which is one of the reasons I think we’re doomed, since the US needs more than executive branch action on things like climate change; but your hopeage may vary.

201

Corey Robin 01.28.16 at 5:05 pm

This piece in Vox today, on Sanders’s long-term electoral strategy, is absolutely critical to this discussion:

“Indeed, though critics like Slate’s Jamelle Bouie have criticized Sanders’s theory as blind to the realities of partisan polarization in Washington, Sanders argued to me that that polarization is what makes his moonshot plan to change politics so necessary. ‘The Republican Party right now in Washington is highly disciplined, very, very well-funded, and adheres to more or less the Koch brother position,’ he said. ‘You’re not gonna change them in Washington. The only way that they are changed is by educating, organizing, and what I call a political revolution.'”

http://www.vox.com/2016/1/28/10853502/bernie-sanders-political-revolution

I’d read that piece along with this excellent piece by Matt Karp, which shows that where Obama and other Democratic Party challengers in the past depended for their support on wealthy liberals, Sanders is the first primary challenger in a very long term to draw his support from low-income voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/01/bernie-sanders-democratic-president-primary-new-hampshire-iowa-caucus/

202

Suzanne 01.28.16 at 5:06 pm

“Hillary offers only platitudes and the victim card to distract voters from her appalling record of self-interest and failure.”

@188: I’m not entirely clear on what you mean by “victim card,” but perhaps by that you mean to refer to HRC’s emphasis on the significance of electing a woman to the White House? Last time she played down her gender, this time she’s working it. I don’t think that’s a bad idea, but then I happen to agree with her on the matter.

(My understanding is that some women, particularly very young women, aren’t as receptive to that argument, apparently believing, as they did in 2008, that it’s all going to happen pretty soon anyway, so no big deal. I wish I shared their optimism.)

I guess I should note that I’m not the Clintons’ biggest fan, and I don’t doubt that if HRC is elected she will do and say things of which I disapprove heartily. (She’s also a little too old for comfort, but then Sanders is significantly older and Trump is several years older, so it’s a wash.)

However, I also think that a candidate who says things like

“I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate. You’re not going to change every heart. You’re not. But at the end of the day, we can do a whole lot to change some hearts, and change some systems, and create more opportunities for people who deserve to have them.”

is a general election candidate worth my vote, if she is willing to follow it up.

203

mds 01.28.16 at 5:26 pm

‘You’re not gonna change them in Washington. The only way that they are changed is by educating, organizing, and what I call a political revolution.’

Which is great, but the midterm electoral behavior of Democrats illustrates that running for President isn’t actually the best way one accomplishes it. It’s hard for a presidential campaign to avoid becoming preoccupied with … the presidential campaign. And winning the presidency unavoidably diminishes the urgency created by “The first step in real change is electing me president.” So if this is the answer to the barrier of partisan gridlock, Sanders has it the wrong way round. Republican reactionaries didn’t get Goldwater elected president, then take over the party from the bottom up.

204

Dr. Hilarius 01.30.16 at 6:12 am

The Democratic Party seemingly has no depth to its bench of potential presidential candidates. Sanders isn’t a Democrat. Why is another Clinton considered inevitable by so many, including the many who don’t have much enthusiasm for her? The Republicans can at least come up with colorful cast of grifters willing to mud wrestle for the nomination.

I live in Washington State. We have two women senators, Murray and Cantwell. Murray makes an occasional appearance on behalf of a safe issue like support for Planned Parenthood (it’s a safe issue with her constituency) and Cantwell is nowhere to be seen. Both occupy safe seats given that Washington Republicans only nominate sleazy nutcases who get rural votes but mostly zip in populous western Washington. Despite having safe seats, neither senator shows any courage or leadership on any major issue. Status quo with an admixture of defense pork. I suspect they have counterparts all across the country. Ted Lemons’ points ring true to me.

205

Rakesh Bhandari 01.30.16 at 3:47 pm

Here is the list of Senate votes on which Sanders and Clinton differed http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/28/upshot/the-senate-votes-that-divided-hillary-clinton-and-bernie-sanders.html?_r=0

93% of the time they voted the same way. Clinton voted for the bailouts and Sanders did not. Clinton seemed to be in favor of the immigration compromise while Sanders seems to have opposed it. Clinton voted for action against Iran twice–the development of a missile system and action against Iran in Iraq. Sanders opposed the civilian nuclear deal with India, Clinton did not.

206

kidneystones 01.30.16 at 4:10 pm

@ 205 Thanks for this. As you can see, the 93% number is somewhat deceptive. One of my objections to the O as bold change-agent claptrap was his own centrist record. The India deal is/was a major issue as Bush did his best to start an all-out nuclear arms race in Asia – Biden, Obama, Clinton, and McCain all supported the deal, if memory serves me, with Feingold and Sanders and a few others voting against. I supported Edwards first and then HRC. For me, anybody was better than O. Given the climate of fear in America in 2003, I can understand the Iraq vote, but I can’t accept it. I didn’t believe for a second that O would have voted against it if he had skin in the game. His record in the Senate ‘present’ didn’t mark him as anything but a canny player skating through the middle to grab the ring. But I digress. Supporting the invasion of Iraq is, for me, evidence of profound irresponsibility and/or blood lust. The decision was bad on every level. I remember hoping (unrealistically, of course) as the US troop ships sailed up the east coast of Africa, that the ships would stop and the troops would dis-embark to build roads, hospitals, and irrigation systems in impoverished east African nations such as Malawi. It’s never too late to do nothing at all. We have, imho, been far too kind and forgiving of those who created this mess.

One liberal who supported the invasion asked my if I was ‘keeping score’ when I pointed out that he supported the invasion of Iraq and the interference in Libya and Iraq – failing utterly to understand that the latter is/was very much a consequence of the former and that the best argument against going into Iraq was the clear evidence that getting out without leaving something very much worse would be nigh on impossible. In 2008 and 2012, all the choices were bad. Sanders stands for everything I personally support, and I’m much more inclined to give Trump the benefit of the doubt than a proven coward and prevaricator – take your pick cause there are plenty who fit that bill.

207

Anarcissie 01.30.16 at 4:22 pm

The best argument for not going into Iraq in 2003 is Article 6 of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal (Nuremberg war crimes trials).

208

Rakesh Bhandari 01.30.16 at 6:22 pm

Would like to see evidence that the civilian nuclear deal with India started an arms race between India and China or that India has lost its independence in foreign policy or, specifically, that India has adopted American bellicosity towards Iran as part of the deal.

209

kidneystones 01.30.16 at 11:30 pm

@ 208 Your clever enough to read, so please do not put words in my mouth. “… Bush did his best to start an all-out nuclear arms race in Asia… ” Your entire comment has precisely zero connection to anything I wrote. I could spell this out for you point by point, but your ham fisted ploy is so transparently dishonest to merit nothing but surprise and contempt.

The US-India nuclear deal is/was a big deal for the billions of us who live in Asia and for the rest of the world because the deal, as Bush would have it, effectively allowed India greatly expand its own nuclear weapons program. The degree to which this has actually taken place is not the only issue. What the deal in Bush form did was shift the debate on nuclear arms production in all the nuclear-capable nations in Asia – North Korea, China, Pakistan, Russia, Iran, and Japan. Some may believe that more nuclear weapons in Asia, including Japan, would be a good thing. That is/was certainly the Bush position. Abe certainly would like to see Japan ready to ‘do its share’ militarily on the world stage.

I’m opposed to such a development on every level. But that’s me. Your comment betrays a facile and flip contempt for the threat posed by a nuclear arms race in Asia to us all and frankly beggars belief.

210

Bloix 01.30.16 at 11:54 pm

#191- “spokesman for the Vichy Left”
Anyone who thinks it’s cute to compare Paul Krugman to a Hitler collaborationist is stinking piece of shit who needs to be flushed away and forgotten forever.

211

hix 01.31.16 at 12:56 am

Considering the Republican candidates, im rather very optimistic Sanders will win if he gets the nomination.

212

Bruce Wilder 01.31.16 at 11:57 am

Bloix @ 210

By the standard you set — of profanity, comparing people (me) unfavorably to human waste, or wishing death and disappearance — yes, “Vichy Left” is supremely clever and effective exaggeration to create a pointed caricature of Krugman’s stance.

It might help in understanding the reference to think not of Pétain per se, but of the last Parliament of the Third Republic — the one that started out supporting the left Popular Front and Léon Blum and ended by voting the Marshal, Chef de l’État Français.

213

Ze K 01.31.16 at 12:25 pm

As Jon Schwarz used to say, American political scene is a fight between two groups: sane oligarchs and insane oligarchs. There is no ‘left’ anywhere in sight.

214

Anarcissie 01.31.16 at 2:58 pm

Besides the ‘Vichy Left’ never having been particularly leftish, it is probably incorrect to use the term ‘Vichy’, in that those who adhered to the Vichy government were mostly people who believed with reason that France had been conclusively defeated and abandoned, and that they had better make the best of things. They were probably aware of what had been done in Poland. By contrast, many on the American pseudo-Left have taken the lead in projects of war, imperialism, plutocracy, surveillance, the Drug War/prison industry, police militarization, and other similar enterprises. I am sure I don’t need to name names. They do not have the excuse of having been defeated; they have been on the winning team from the beginning. Very serious people, indeed.

215

Rakesh Bhandari 01.31.16 at 8:02 pm

@209. I wish I knew more about the nuclear deal. So this is sketchy, and I am open to correction. India had and probably has fewer warheads than Pakistan and China as far as I know. The deal removed some of the penalties for having nuclear weapons that China did not suffer. India agreed to inspections of its civilian nuclear programs and to conduct no further weapons tests. India is no longer shut out from certain technologies and security arrangements. It does not seem that India has become a junior partner of the US Empire as a result of the deal, though that was the fear of the Indian left. India does have greater access to enriched uranium as a result of the deal, but this may only mean that it is able to pursue to a greater extent its civilian nuclear program. Bush may have wanted the deal so that India can serve as a counter-weight to China which by the way also occupies a part of Kashmir. But what the deal seems to have done more than anything else is open trade between the US and India. I certainly do not think Clinton voting for this deal makes her bellicose than Sanders. What I fear about Clinton is her positions in regard to Iran, and the New York Times does give us a couple of votes here that distinguish Clinton and Sanders. I wish more attention was being given to what the difference here says about the candidates.

216

Pat 02.01.16 at 3:31 am

I’m frankly astonished only one commenter thus far has mentioned this piece comes from Politico. OF COURSE a bastion of conventional Beltway thought is going to think Bernie Sanders is naturally unelectable, compared to Hillary Clinton.

The polling data doesn’t agree, but the Beltway doesn’t trust or else doesn’t understand polling data. Remember how mad Nate Silver made all those pundits last time?

Sanders wants higher taxes on the rich to pay for, among other things, more and better health coverage. The Beltway knows that it’s impossible to raise taxes, which would come as a surprise to those presidents who have done it in just my lifetime: Reagan, GHW Bush, Clinton, and Obama. Nevertheless! it’s impossible this time.

Sanders is a socialist (I would call him social d, myself, but whatever), and socialist = evil because Ronald Reagan said so. But voters my cohort have a higher appraisal of socialism than of capitalism (am I seriously the only one who remembers this?). The Beltway doesn’t understand it, either.

Jay Rosen called this sort of clap-trap the “cult of savviness,” the idea that strikes dimwitted journalists the world over that they understand what is possible, what the consequences simply have to be, of this political event or that one. And the fact that they’ve been wrong nearly every single time doesn’t seem to shake their faith in that belief.

Comments on this entry are closed.