Philosophy, Film, Politics, Etc.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Did Clinton Flip-Flop On The Minimum Wage?

In the Brooklyn debate, Hillary Clinton was asked: "As president, if a Democratic Congress put a $15 minimum wage bill on your desk, would you sign it?" She said yes, and Bernie acted like it was a shock. She had said she supported a $12 federal minimum wage before, and now she is saying she would support a $15 minimum wage? What happened?

First, we need a clear understanding of Clinton's position before the Brooklyn debate.  Let's look at three key moments in 2015.

  1. In April, the "Fight for $15" made headlines with New York City protests.  Clinton backed them.
  2. In June, Clinton called in to a low-wage workers convention in Michigan, endorsing their fight for a $15 minimum wage.
  3. In November, Clinton explained her views in the Iowa debate.  She said she supported going to $15 at the local level, but not at the federal level.  She said, "if we went to $15, there are no international comparisons.That is why I support a $12 national federal minimum wage. That is what the Democrats in the Senate have put forward as a proposal. But I do believe that is a minimum. And places like Seattle, like Los Angeles, like New York City, they can go higher." Clinton was referring to a New York Times opinion piece by Princeton economist Alan Krueger, who said that a $12 federal minimum wage would be safe, but a $15 federal minimum was too far beyond known international models, and would therefore "risk undesirable and unintended consequences."
Before Brooklyn, Clinton's position was clear:  Push for $15 in places that are ready for it and need it, but don't force those standards on every city, town and village in the country too quickly. Instead, push for a safer and smaller (but still very large) step to $12 as a federal minimum. She wasn't going out on a limb. She was explicitly saying she wanted to support the Democratic leadership's position.

That brings us to Wolf Blitzer's question. Yes, if the Dems put a bill for $15 in front of her, why would she oppose it? Sure, it seems too risky now, and $12 looks like a safer progressive step for the time being, but why would she become a maverick on the issue and go against a Democratic Congress? Her "yes" to Blitzer was the obvious answer, and it is consistent with her previous position.

Yet, Sanders acted like it was shocking. Things got heated. Pushed to defend the consistency of her position, she explained:
I have supported the fight for 15. I am proud to have the endorsement of most of the unions that have led the fight for 15. I was proud to stand on the stage with Governor Cuomo, with SEIU and others who have been leading this battle and I will work as hard as I can to raise the minimum wage. I always have. I supported that when I was in the Senate. 
But what I have also said is that we've got to be smart about it, just the way Governor Cuomo was here in New York. If you look at it, we moved more quickly to $15 in New York City, more deliberately toward $12, $12.50 upstate then to $15. That is exactly my position. It's a model for the nation and that's what I will do as president.
Then there was yelling. She tried to explain that she has always distinguished between the federal and local wage laws, and that she has supported going to $15 in some localities, but she and Bernie were basically shouting over each other, so that part didn't make it into the official transcript. However, as we can see in the transcript, she continued after the calm settled. She finally said:
The minimum wage at the national level right now is $7.25, right? We want to raise it higher than it ever has been, but we also have to recognize some states and some cities will go higher, and I support that. I have taken my cue from the Democrats in the Senate, led by Senator Patty Murray and others, like my good friend Kirsten Gillibrand, who has said we will set a national level of $12 and then urge any place that can go above it to go above it. 
Going from $7.25 to $12 is a huge difference. Thirty-five million people will get a raise. One in four working mothers will get a raise. I want to get something done. And I think setting the goal to get to $12 is the way to go, encouraging others to get to $15. But, of course, if we have a Democratic Congress, we will go to $15.
Most of this is plainly consistent with the facts and her previous comments about the minimum wage. She doesn't say "safer" this time. She says "smarter," but the point is the same. Everything makes sense, but then we get to that last sentence: "But, of course, if we have a Democratic Congress, we will go to $15." That's the line that has legitimately raised eyebrows. Does she mean she now thinks that a $15 federal minimum is the way to go? Huh?

On the one hand, we could take that last sentence to mean that a $15 federal minimum is the obvious choice for a Democratic Congress.  However, she had just said that Democrats in Congress prefer $12.  She had also just said that $12 is smarter. If she is suddenly saying a Democratic Congress will "of course" go for $15, she would seem to be contradicting herself.  This isn't just about flip-flopping. It's about logic and sense.

It would be absurd to think that, after laying out a detailed explanation of her position, Clinton suddenly took it all back and enthusiastically supported an entirely different position. We may as well regard her last sentence as nonsense: something she spontaneously threw out there because she thought that it sounded good and would be well-received. However, I think a more reasonable and charitable interpretation is available. I think she meant,"But, of course, if we have a Democratic Congress [that wants to go to $15], we will go to $15."

Wolf Blitzer's question was about whether she would sign if a Democratic Congress passed a bill going to $15. Rather than assume she was suddenly contradicting herself or speaking nonsense, why not assume that she was referring back to Blitzer's original question?

Hillary is following Democratic leadership and progressive economics in supporting the idea that $12 is safer and smarter.  If the Democratic leadership changed its position and a $15 federal minimum wage was no longer considered too risky, of course she would support it. Why wouldn't she?

The verdict: Clinton might not have chosen the clearest way to express her position, but she has been consistent.

New York Math

A lot of Bernie's supporters are responding to his loss in New York with outrage. They deny the fact that Bernie lost and claim that Hillary stole the election. This is what Bernie and his campaign managers want, of course. It's the narrative that can convince Bernie's supporters to keep funneling money into his campaign and to try to pressure superdelegates to hand Bernie the nomination.

Michael Moore has fueled the flames with a tweet, suggesting that Bernie would have won if it were an open primary:

However, Michael Moore's numbers are way off. A look a the math shows there is no reason to think Bernie would have won New York in an open primary. In fact, the numbers show that Clinton would probably still have won in an open primary, and even if the registration deadline wasn't so early.

First of all, a hell of a lot more than 1.6 million registered Democrats in New York were allowed to vote. Moore got that number because that is how many Democrats actually voted, but it's only about a quarter of the number of those allowed to vote. As of April 1, 2016, there were almost 6 million registered Democrats in the state of New York. The vast majority of them were allowed to vote, because almost all of them registered before November, 2015. Less than 15,000 people registered for the Democratic Party in New York between the end of October and the beginning of April. (There were 5.778 million registered on November 1, 2015, and 5.792 million registered on April 1.) Perhaps a lot of people registered after April 1, but they had waited until the last minute and have little cause for complaint. The point is, even if the registration deadline were April 1, there would have been virtually the same number of Democrats eligible to vote in the primary.

Now, there are about 3.2 million registered New York voters who are neither Republican nor Democrat. Of those, how many do you think would have voted at all, if given the chance? Michael Moore says at least 65 percent of them would probably have voted for Bernie. That is wrong. Bernie does not get 65-70 percent of all Independents in open primaries. Moore is thinking of the breakdown of independents who have been voting Democrat.  However, a lot of Independents vote Republican, and still more don't vote at all in open primaries. Perhaps Bernie does often get between 65 and 70 percent of the Independents who vote for one of the Democratic candidates. He even managed 73 percent in New Hampshire. However, in Texas, Bernie only got 52 percent of the Independents who voted for a Democrat. Demographics have a lot to do with it. In a state as diverse as New York, we can expect the numbers to be more favorable to Clinton.

So how many of those 3.2 million voters would have voted for Bernie? Let's say thirty percent of them made it to the polls: That's 960,000 voters. And let's say sixty percent of those voted Democrat (since it is a left-leaning state).  That's 576,000 votes to divide up between Bernie and Hillary. Let's say Bernie got 60 percent of those (which is generous, considering it is such a diverse state). That would mean (rounding up) about 346,000 votes for Bernie and 231,000 for Clinton. Bernie would have closed the gap by about 115,000 votes. Yet, Hillary won by about 250,000 votes. So, if it had been an open primary, she might have ONLY won by about 135,000 votes.  If you want to be even more generous, and say that Bernie got a full seventy percent of those 576,000 votes, he still would have lost by about 20,000 votes.

We can't be sure, but the odds strongly suggest that Bernie would not have won. The numbers don't add up in his favor. This is not surprising. He does not do as well in demographically diverse states or in primaries--and he actually does better in closed primaries than in open ones. He's lost eleven of the eighteen open primaries against Clinton so far!  The idea that he would have won had it been an open primary is wishful thinking.

Now, whatever issues with polling stations and machines and whatnot--those issues need to be addressed. However, the complaints about Brooklyn "purges"? That's most likely a coordinated effort to oppose the early registration rules, and not a sign of illegality or corruption in the voting system..

Of course, there are legitimate complaints about the voting system, but this is true across the nation. The DNC has already filed a lawsuit in Arizona to oppose disenfranchisement. Lawsuits may also be necessary in other states. But to view that as evidence of a conspiracy against Bernie, or as evidence that he has been robbed, or as evidence that he *should have won* . . . . Well, that's just not in line with the facts.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Open Or Closed Primaries?

It's fashionable to have an opinion about open-versus-closed primaries today, but I'm going to share mine anyway. I'm okay with open primaries, but I prefer a closed primary system.

Open primaries give the party a wider pool of potential members. If a lot of non-members see hope for your party, but are only willing to join on condition that a particular candidate becomes the representative, then your party has an opportunity to attract a lot of new members by letting those non-members participate. That's good for the party.

The drawback, of course, is that non-members are not invested in the party and are not as likely to look out for its best interests. If you have a club at school, say--an official club, sponsored by the school--you're not going to want the whole school to participate in the club's election process. It's your club, and there could be people in other clubs who would actually benefit from messing with your club. So it makes sense to only let members vote for who represents the club.

Voting for a party representative is not the same as voting for President. You are not electing a public official. You are electing a club representative. So when non-members complain that they are being "disenfranchised," they are insulting people who actually are disenfranchised. The right to vote is not the right to vote for somebody else's party's representative in an election.

If you think Bernie would have won New York had it been an open primary, you should check your assumptions. True, Bernie could draw more independents. I would bet he would have done *better* had it been an open primary. But I would not bet he would have won. The fact is, Clinton has won 11 of the 18 open primaries so far. She wins more open primaries than closed ones.

For one thing, I imagine she does attract a lot of independents. She may also be attracting a lot of Republicans. You don't need to be a registered Democrat to believe that Hillary is the best candidate out there.

I'm all for people voicing their complaints about how the system works. It would be great if issues raised during the present campaign lead to systemic improvements and greater participation and turnout in future elections. I just hope the criticism of the system is as constructive as possible, and not irrational anti-establishment sentiment.

For example, Sanders supporters and surrogates include the superdelegates in their list of problems with the current Democratic Party primary system. And yet, many of them also argues that Bernie's supporters should hold out hope that the superdelegates might hand Bernie the nomination even if he loses in the voting process. It is impossible to take criticism of the system seriously if you claim we should happy if it works in your candidate's favor.

If you don't like how the system works, fine. If you only like how the system works when you win, then you might want to reconsider your argument. I have a problem with "anything goes, so long as we win."

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Other Demagogue

We're past the point of wallowing in our collective ability to expose Donald Trump's demagoguery. Now it's time to acknowledge the other demagogue in the primary campaigns.

Check out this Rachel Maddow segment.  First, she shows us how Bernie is pumping up extremely large crowds with hope that he is going to win NY, despite the fact that his performance in polls is consistently at least ten points behind Clinton. Maddow raises a good question: If you know the odds are stacked against you, why raise unrealistic expectations? Why set your supporters up for disappointment? Maddow offers an answer: It creates drama leading up to the NY primary.

I think there's a better answer. If Bernie loses NY, a significant portion of his voters will say it is because the system is rigged. They will not say Bernie was wrong. They will say he was cheated. By raising expectations, he is not setting up his supporters for disappointment. He is setting them up for outrage, a tactic which has obvious goals. One is to increase hostility towards your opposition. Another is to increase devotion to yourself.

This is not honest campaigning, but it is nothing new for the Sanders campaign. It's the same reason why he's floating false accusations about Hillary's campaign financing (which is also covered in the Maddow segment). He doesn't care if it's an obvious lie. The more people report that his accusations are false, the more his most fervent supporters will believe him. That's because anyone who is against Sanders is part of the establishment, and that means they cannot be trusted.

This is demagoguery. There is no better word for it.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Bias in the New York Times?

Several days ago, an Op-Ed appeared in the New York Times asking the question, "Did Blacks Really Endorse the 1994 Crime Bill?"  They claim that Hillary Clinton is suffering from selective perception of history.  They present her argument as follows:

"When confronted about her husband’s pivotal support for the [1994 crime] bill, Hillary Clinton argued, even as she admitted the legislation’s shortcomings, that the bill was a response to “great demand, not just from America writ large, but from the black community, to get tougher on crime.”
However, Clinton was not presenting her own argument with those words. She was paraphrasing something said to her by Al Sharpton. The full Clinton quote is from a Buzzfeed interview:
 "I was interviewed by Al Sharpton the other day, and I’ve known him a long time, because I represented New York, and he said, and I think it’s good to be reminded of this, that in the ‘90s, and particularly when my husband became president, there was a great demand, not just from America at large, but from the black community, to get tougher on crime."
The NYT Op-Ed presents the paraphrase of Al Sharpton's argument as if it were Clinton's, and fails to even mention Sharpton at all. That is odd.  As an influential voice for Black America (then and now) who has made some pointed criticisms of the 1994 crime bill, Al Sharpton's perception is a valuable addition to the debate. It is hard to see why the authors would not mention him, unless their goal was to tarnish Hillary Clinton's reputation and injure her relationship with voters by making her seem more racist than she may actually be.  In any case, it is highly questionable journalism, and the fact that the NYT editorial board did not catch it (or caught it but did not correct it) is also suspicious.

The context was this: Hillary was asked about her and her husband's responsibility for the currently broken state of criminal justice. She pointed out that her husband has already taken responsibility for the bill, emphasizing that they were doing their best to respond to a need from the American people, including African-Americans. Nothing in the NYT article shows that she was wrong.

Indeed, even though there were many objections to the overly punitive aspects of the bill, and even though it was not an easy sell for some members of the Congressional Black Caucus, it was ultimately endorsed because it was the best crime bill they could get and because most legislators (including members of the CBC) did not want to be seen as soft on crime.  The NYT Op-Ed emphasizes the widespread criticism of the bill within black communities in general, and the CBC in particular. That is fair.  However, the answer to the NYT Op-Ed's question is, Yes, blacks really endorsed the crime bill, though there were major reservations and some compromises.

The point, perhaps, is that the whole story was complicated, and sensitivity to the historical facts is needed.  This does not disprove the point Clinton (following Al Sharpton) made. It only shows that her point was not enough, if you want to fully understand the history of the bill. That is a fair observation, generally speaking, but there are two curious questions I am left with.  First, considering that Joe Biden actually wrote the 1994 crime bill and introduced it to the Senate, why is he not playing a bigger role in this debate? As he is the Vice President in the administration of the first African-American President, you would think more people would be pressing him for comments. Compared to Biden, the heat Hillary Clinton is getting is extreme. considering that she was not involved in the passing of the bill at all (she was focusing on trying to get universal health care in 1994). She is only indirectly implicated in the matter because she was First Lady and because of brief comments she made in support of the bill years later. The second quetion, then, is: Why is it considered appropriate to hold her ultimately responsible, and use that as an excuse to interfere with her campaign?

If Hillary is directly responsible for anything, it the use of dehumanizing rhetoric about bringing "super-predators . . . to heel" in 1996.  That might have promoted systemic racism in the implementation of the crime bill, even though her words were presumably not intended to have such an effect.  Indeed, it would be outlandish to suggest that Hillary intentionally used racist, dehumanizing language. For one thing, Hillary Clinton is not stupid. Why would she intentionally make racist comments against African-Americans, a significant portion of her husband's voter base?  And in an election year, no less? As it turns out, in the months following Hillary's comment, Bill Clinton benefited from enormous support from African-American voters in his re-election campaign.   There was no public outcry against her rhetoric at the time. Indeed, the term "super-predator" was not widely thought to be racist until much later.

Fortunately, Hillary Clinton does not stand by the language she used in 1996. Clinton has evolved, yet, like everybody else, she is most certainly capable of bias when it comes to racial issues.  It would be absurd to suggest otherwise. I think she would be the first to admit it, too. There is no need for a NYT Op-Ed to prove that.

The NYT piece ends by emphasizing that the voices of the oppressed must be heard. Without qualification, I appreciate the need for Black Lives Matter and other protesters to continue to demand more awareness of historical and cultural issues.  Hillary says she is paying attention and wants to listen. I think we should take her at her word.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Understanding the Democrats' Delegate System

I saw this video on a pro-Bernie Facebook page.  It shows Morning Joe trying to further the "Bernie or Bust" movement by arguing that if Hillary wins, it will because Democratic voters were disenfranchised:

When a former Republican congressman tells Democrats they shouldn't vote, you gotta figure something is up.

It's not hard to see what is going on with the delegate system and why, in fact, Democrats should continue to vote.  If you look past the "rigged system" spin, you will find that the delegate system is not hurting Bernie. In fact, it's helping him.

First of all, the thing about superdelegates is, they can (and most surely will) choose the election in favor of whomever wins the popular vote. They are not beholden to pledged delegates. If Bernie were to win the popular vote by a significant margin and it looked like he was the most likely to win in a general election, then it wouldn't matter if he were a bit behind in pledged delegates. The superdelegates would choose him.

Superdelegates are not the issue here. The bigger confusion is about Wyoming's pledged delegates and how Hillary and Bernie could win the same number of them when Bernie won more votes. As with all Democratic primaries and caucuses, the delegates are awarded proportionally. In Wyoming, you need to win by a big enough margin to get the majority of pledged delegates. Bernie did not win by a big enough margin. So, yes, you can complain that his voters in Wyoming are not getting fair representation, because his voter-to-delegate ratio is smaller than Clinton's, but it is smaller by a tiny margin.

When we look at the nation as a whole, Bernie's voters are not unfairly represented in the pledged delegate count. In fact, the opposite is the case. As far behind as Bernie is in the pledged delegate count, he is trailing by an even bigger margin in the popular vote.  Bernie has won slightly less than 46% of the pledged delegates (1,097 out of 2,404.)  However, he has won less than 43% of the popular vote (approximately 7,024,933 out of 16,423,894 votes).  If we were to award delegates by popular vote, Bernie would actually have fewer delegates.  If anyone is disadvantaged by unfair representation, it is Hillary's voters.

The primary reason for this is voter turnout.  Pledged delegates are not only determined by how many votes you've won, but also how many states and districts. Even if a small number of voters show up in a state and/or district, the same number of delegates get to vote in the national convention. Thus, if you have different turnouts in different states and districts, then you will see a difference in your delegate-to-voter ratios.

Hillary has won more primaries, and the turnout in primaries is much larger than in caucuses. In Florida, for example, Clinton won almost twice as many pledged delegates, and they represent around 7,000 votes each. She won Texas by a similar margin, and the delegates she won there represent 6,361 votes each, on average. In contrast, Bernie won Idaho by a big margin, but the delegates he won there only represent about 1,000 votes each.  In Hawaii, where Bernie won about twice as many pledged delegates as Clinton, those delegates represent about 1,384 votes each.  On average, each of Bernie's delegates represents 6,404 voters.  In contrast, Hillary's represent 7,191 each.

The delegate system is helping Bernie in two ways. First, it is giving him more pledged delegate at the national convention than he would get if the allotment were more proportional to the number of actual votes; second, it is making it look like he's not as far behind as he actually is. Thus, if anyone is being disenfranchised because of this system, it is Hillary's voters.

So why aren't Hillary's voters complaining?  Maybe it's because they're confident she will win anyway.  Given her enormous lead and polling in upcoming primaries, they are right to be so confident.  On the other hand, maybe they like the way the system works, even if they lose. However, we should also remember that the majority of African-American voters are voting for Hillary.  If Hillary's voters are disenfranchised, that means African-American voters are disenfranchised. So maybe Hillary's voters should be complaining.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Hypocrisy of Bernie Sanders & Co.

Bernie and his supporters have very high standards of purity--at least, when anybody but Bernie is on the line.  When it comes to Bernie, the standards seem rather low.  There are many examples, but some recent issues are particularly striking. They involve campaign financing, personal finances and foreign policy.

Bernie's campaign is currently under fire from the FEC for failing to report $10 million in donations.  He has until early May to account for the discrepancy.  It's either extremely sloppy accounting or outright fraud.  Either way, we have to wonder how Bernie's camp would respond if Clinton were in the same situation.

Bernie falls remarkably short when it comes to sharing his tax returns, and is on record lying about it. This is not just a lie from Sanders. It is a significant lack of transparency. You do not need to hold candidates to a high standard to see a big problem here. If you do hold candidates to a high standard and don't see a big problem, then . . . well, that would be odd, wouldn't it?

It's worth noting that Sanders' excuse for not sharing his tax returns is that his wife, Jane, does them. She can't be trusted to keep accessible tax records? She was the President of Burlington College. She was pressured to resign in the middle of a controversy involving bank loans and land deals in 2011, and there are still calls to investigate her for fraud.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Role Of The African-American In This Presidential Campaign

I do not know what role African-Americans should play in the current presidential campaign, or even if there is such a thing as "the African American role."  That's part of the question I want to raise.  It's a question about history, about how history will look back at the current election, and how the role of African-Americans might be perceived.

African-Americans make up an enormous portion of the Democratic Party's base.  In so much as there is such a thing as "the African-American vote," it can decide the Democratic primary.  This is not an historical accident.  The Democratic Party took up the mantle of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960's and has been a powerful political voice for African-Americans ever since.  True, African-Americans have enjoyed landmark positions of power in Republican administrations, but these have generally not been elected positions and, more importantly, the racial imbalance between Democrats and Republicans is beyond striking.

The historical narrative is straightforward.  In the 19th-century, the Republican Party was created to further the abolitionist movement.  Until the 1890s, it was the party of civil rights.  It was the only major political voice for African-Americans.  And yet, by the time the 1892 Presidential election rolled around, many had left the party.  On the eve of that election, as the Republican Party was becoming more and more "lily-white," Frederick Douglass published an essay, the title of which inspired the title of this post.  He urged African-Americans to remain loyal to the one and only party that had ever fought for them.  His plea was not successful. and the Republicans lost the White House to Grover Cleveland.  For over half a century after that, African-Americans went without major political representation.  Then, in the 60's, the Democratic Party took up the mantle of the Civil Rights Movement, and has carried it--or tried to--ever since.

Today, for all the right reasons, many African-Americans are disillusioned with the system. It could be that President Obama has disappointed a lot of his supporters, but I think it is more the realization that an African-American POTUS is not nearly enough.  The unique problems faced by African-Americans cannot be so easily solved.  Deeper, systemic change is needed.

Many thus call for a revolution, though there are at least two different camps here. The more radical protesters believe that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats nor any other political party is currently able to represent their interests.  They would protest the process completely rather than try to establish a voice for themselves within the party system.  Others believe that Bernie Sanders can represent their interests, even though he has been criticized for putting economic issues ahead of racial issues, and even reducing the latter to the former.  While Bernie is running as a Democratic candidate, he is still an Independent Senator and does not claim allegiance with the Democratic Party.  He criticizes it every chance he can, and refuses to help raise money for down-ballot Democratic politicians.  He thus offers the paradox of an anti-establishment option within the party system.

It goes without saying that systemic change is needed, but that does not necessarily mean anything as drastic as a "revolution." The majority of African-American voters have so far preferred Clinton, so it is likely that they do not trust the anti-establishment approach.  They are not voting for a revolution.  Maybe they prefer Clinton's incrementalist, level-headed approach.  Maybe they simply trust her political acumen and experience more than Bernie's.  They might just like her personality.  There's no reason to assume that African-American voters are putting race issues above any of the other reasons people choose one candidate over another.  That should go without saying.  However, there could be another, deeper, race-related reason for the fact that the majority of African-Americans support Clinton.  It could be that some African-Americans trust Hillary to hold the Democratic Party together more, and they might see that as a particularly important factor for African-Americans.

White Americans tend not to think in terms of how White America is represented in politics, and whether or not White people are given a political voice.  African-Americans have never enjoyed that privilege.  For half a century, they have developed a stronger and stronger political voice through the Democratic Party.  Any threat to that party is therefore a threat to their political voice.  If Bernie Sanders ends up hurting the party, or transforming it in ways that minimize their presence, the consequences for African-American politics is enormous.

It is therefore extremely significant that Bernie's supporters are primarily white.  It is extremely significant that many of Bernie supporters do not respect the political will and acumen of African-American voters.  When Bernie's supporters refer to Southern states like Mississippi and South Carolina as "the Confederacy," they are dismissing the voice of African-Americans.  They are saying that African-American votes don't matter.  They are saying that African-American votes don't exist, because these states where African-Americans dominate the polls aren't actually representative of African-American interests:  They represent the historical forces which have oppressed African-Americans.  In terms of propaganda, I'm not sure what could be more racist that referring to African-American voters as "the Confederacy."

I am not saying African-Americans should reject either of the two strains of anti-establishment sentiment.  I am saying that a lot of people (black, white, or whatever) might not realize what kind of a role the African-American vote might have in this presidential campaign.  If Bernie wins, will it be because African-American voices were heard, or will it be because they were belittled?  If Clinton wins, will it be because African-Americans made it clear that the Democratic Party is their party, and their best chance for political power?

I don't think either Bernie or Hillary should be seen as a savior for the nation in general, or any demographic in particular.  I do think, however, that a strong Democratic Party is the best chance for African-Americans to continue developing their political representation. No matter his weaknesses, it has been thrilling to enjoy Obama's terms as POTUS. It was not a conclusion to the Civil Rights Movement, but a significant step in an ongoing struggle. And that struggle certainly will not end before we can look at the political landscape and see black and white evenly distributed across the spectrum. It will not be over if African-Americans have to wonder if their party will win.  So, as anti-establishment as your sentiments may be, I think you should appreciate the importance of not only respecting the votes of African-Americans, but of promoting the unity of the Democratic Party.  I wish Bernie and his supporters were more on board with this.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Bernie's Negativity

Bernie still won't take responsibility for his negative campaign against Hillary Clinton. He even admits that his criticisms of Hillary are disingenuous. He claims he has been trying to run a positive campaign, but the truth is that he's been pursuing negative tactics for a long time.

On Charlie Rose, Bernie said he doesn't like his behavior: the negative campaigning and the "tit for tat" strategy that he is employing. He said he wishes he could stop, but he's not going to stop. That's sad. It's sad that he paints himself as a victim, refusing to take responsibility with a childish "they started it" argument. And it's sad that you're not going to find his supporters acknowledging that fact.

Remarkably, Bernie has admitted that his criticisms of Clinton are disingenuous.  He flat out admitted that he does not stand by his claim that Clinton should apologize for Iraq. One day he says she should apologize, the next he says, "Do I hold her accountable? No." And even though he has repeated the claim that she is "not qualified" to be President, he says he will absolutely support her candidacy for President. He made it clear that he would say she was qualified if she said he was qualified first. I guess the lesson is: Don't trust the negative things Bernie says about Hillary.

Another remarkable fact: Bernie has not identified any attacks by Clinton or her campaign. He's just making that part up. Bernie says he only claimed Hillary should apologize for Iraq because he was asked to apologize for Sandy Hook.  In fact, it was the families of Sandy Hook victims, and they wanted him to apologize for taking the side of gun manufacturers. The media gave them a voice, and he responded by changing the subject to Iraq and going negative against Hillary.  That is not "tit for tat." It's just negative campaigning. And with regard to the "not qualified" remarks, she never said it.  She did a great job of avoiding the question altogether and focusing instead on more legitimate questions we should be discussing--concerning readiness to lead and ability to solve particular problems.

Bernie says he's been trying to run a positive campaign, but the media won't let him. As absurd and childish as the "they won't let me" argument is, there is scant evidence that he's been trying to run a positive campaign. Sure, as he says, he helped shift the conversation away from her emails. However, he is also on record saying that the email controversy raises important questions, and he still does not criticize his surrogates when they try to use the email scandal against her. So he's not free of blame when it comes to that topic. More importantly, however, Bernie's been turning other people's questions into attacks against Hillary for a long time. Whenever he's asked about foreign policy, no matter the context, he brings up his 2002 Iraq vote--which is only a way to redirect the heat towards Clinton. Every time he brings up that 2002 vote out of context, he is passive-aggressively attacking Hillary Clinton's character by invoking his claim that she lacks judgment. And let's not forget all the times he has suggested that she is hiding some secret agreements with Wall Street, or his decision to randomly bring up her association with Henry Kissinger, fueling the Republican's witch hunt with insinuations that she is inherently dishonest and corrupt. There is no question that Bernie has been fostering negativity for a long time. He started passive-aggressively, with insinuation and innuendo, allowing his surrogates and supporters to wage more openly hostile attacks against Clinton. He's not getting more negative now. He's just getting more careless.

A Hot And Winding Road To New York

If recent events are a sign, the Democratic primary is in for a rough two weeks.  Once New York is behind us, some significant questions will have been answered: Does Bernie have that precious momentum he keeps talking about? Should Clinton be nervous about losing the lead?  (I'm betting "no" on both counts.) Before we get to that point, we're going to see a good deal of ugliness. I'm pretty sure you can find fault with any extended political campaign.  Clinton's hasn't been perfect, though I've had more issues with Bernie's.  However, nothing has prepared me for what we're seeing now.

Remember when Anderson Cooper made us laugh by calling Donald Trump out on his "argument of a five-year-old"?

Cooper deserves credit for so bluntly calling out that childish "he started it" argument, doesn't he?

So who's calling Bernie out for making the same argument? Bernie claimed that Hillary is "not qualified" to be President of the United States.  For somebody who had previously said they would support her if she won, and who has said she would be "infinitely better" than any of the Republicans, it is surprising, to say the least, to hear him say that.  And it will make it very, very difficult for him to unequivocally support her if (and when) she wins the nomination.  So we can see why Bernie might not be so comfortable with the path he's laid out for himself.  Indeed, he's implicitly acknowledged that it's not a virtuous campaign strategy.  When questioned, he said, "If they're going to question my qualifications, I'm going to question theirs."  Meaning:  I didn't start it.  I didn't do the bad thing first.  They started it!

Let's leave aside the fact that Hillary indirectly questioned his qualifications by refusing to comment on them when repeatedly pressed to do so. (Instead, she acknowledged that one could legitimately question his readiness to lead and his ability to solve the difficult problems facing the country.) And let's leave aside the fact that Bernie didn't simply "question" her qualifications. He outright denied them.  You might agree with Bernie, you might not.  You might think this was a stupid political move, you might not.  But what I think you must accept is this:  If you were on Anderson Cooper's side when he said Trump was being childish, you should not be on Bernie's side when he says "they started it."  If Cooper's rule applies to Trump, it applies to Bernie.  Bernie says he just wants to run a campaign on the issues, but the media won't let him. Fortunately, a lot of people see it differently: Bernie's decision to call Clinton "unqualified" is on him, not anyone else.

This all started when Bernie was heavily criticised for his interview with the New York Daily News. That leads to the second (and final) bit of ugliness I want to discuss.  Most of the discussion about that interview is focused on the part about Dodd-Frank and "too big to fail" financial institutions. I think it's pretty obvious that Bernie does know a lot more than most of us when it comes to financial regulation, but that does not mean his comments are immune from criticism. Barney Frank (one of the key architects of Dodd-Frank) has said that Bernie's response to questions about the bill were "incoherent."  Maybe Bernie wasn't as clear as he could have been.  That's not a big deal.  That part of the interview is at least worth questioning, but that is not the part that bothers me most. I am much more alarmed by the parts dealing with foreign policy. And it's not Bernie's ignorance that bothers me the most.  It's something else that I'm not quite sure how to name.  I am reluctant to call it "megalomania," but it might be something like that.

The moment came with this exchange, right after Sanders said Israel should have been more discriminate in its response to attacks from Gaza:

Daily News: Do you support the Palestinian leadership's attempt to use the International Criminal Court to litigate some of these issues to establish that, in their view, Israel had committed essentially war crimes? 
Sanders: No. 
Daily News: Why not? 
Sanders: Why not? 
Daily News: Why not, why it... 
Sanders: Look, why don't I support a million things in the world?

Is there a good way of interpreting that line?  Because to me, it sounds like the kind of answer we should expect from Donald Trump.  To say it is "unpresidential" would be far too generous. It is as if Bernie thinks he is above reproach, as if his positions should not be questioned.  Why does he support X, Y and Z?  Who the hell knows?  Why are you asking?  Get out of Bernie's way!

Now, I don't think we should assume Bernie thinks this way.  At least, not when he is at his best.  But that is one of the well-known criticisms against him:  He tends to be uncompromising and hot-headed. These can be virtues in the right context, but they can also be liabilities--like, for example, when you are asked crucial questions you are not ready to answer (perhaps because it is not politically comfortable for you to answer, or maybe because you haven't thought through the issues enough).  In an interview with the New York Daily News, that might not seem like a big deal.  However, if there's one thing I believe about what it takes to be President of the United States, it is this:  You must be ready to handle extremely complex issues on foreign policy at the drop of a hat.  If Bernie cannot keep his cool when being asked to explain a belief about Palestine in front of the New York Daily News, how can we trust him to handle a live international crisis?

There are many other criticisms to be made about Bernie's campaign in general and his performance in that interview, in particular.  The Washington Post counts 9 problems.  I counted at least 11.  Whatever the number, Clinton was right in observing that it raises questions about his readiness to lead.  As I said, it's not so much his take on financial regulation that scares me.  It's his character. It's his personality.  He has shown that he is comfortable defending ugliness by making childish arguments ("they started it," "I want to run a nice campaign, but the media won't let me.")  He has shown an ability to act as if he is above reproach.  I do not want to see this in a Democratic primary, and I don't blame the media.  I blame Sanders and his campaign. It indicates to me that Bernie Sanders is not a global leader I can trust.

I expect more of the worst from Bernie and his campaign as we approach the New York primary.  The debate in Brooklyn threatens to be the ugliest we've seen by any Democrats in a long time.  I suppose Clinton will be on the defensive--though she might decide offense is her best defense--unless Bernie decides to completely change the tone of his campaign.  Whatever happens, I doubt we can expect it to be good.  Whatever virtue there was in this primary seems to be evaporating rapidly.