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“The Choice Is Between Two Theories Of Change”: The Questions At Stake In The Democratic Presidential Primary

Democrats are in the midst of a tough presidential primary and there are times when that battle puts out more heat than light. But Bryce Covert provides some much-needed perspective.

But the largest difference between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders is not over policy…There is scant daylight between them on most issues and certainly almost all of the causes near and dear to Democrats’ and progressives’ hearts.

If your reaction is to dismiss that as untrue, take a look at this:

Here is a partial list of the policies that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders largely agree on: The country should have paid family leave; the minimum wage should be substantially increased; college students shouldn’t have to take on so much debt; parents need more affordable, quality child care and preschool options; Wall Street needs further reforms; health care should be universal; the wealthy should pay substantially more in taxes. Many of these are new policies even for Democratic presidential candidates. Despite using the socialist label, Mr. Sanders sounds a lot like many prominent Democrats. Mrs. Clinton is a tried and true liberal.

Covert’s point is that what separates Clinton and Sanders is not those goals, but the issue that is taking up a lot of ink from liberal pundits lately: their different theories of change.

The largest difference, and therefore what the Democratic Party is truly grappling with, is not about two different visions of the party. The choice is between two theories of change. It’s the difference between working the system and smashing it.

Much of the discussion about these different theories has focused on which one is more likely to be successful against Republican extremism and intransigence. The truth is that no one has seriously cracked that nut yet. But underneath it are other questions. For Clinton pragmatists, the idea of “smashing the system” is reckless and the outcomes are too unpredictable. For Sanders idealists, “working the system” is insufficient for the level of change that is needed. So the issue is at least as much about how to get there as it is about efficacy.

Those are the issues Democrats should be debating in this presidential primary. Accusations of complicity with corporate interests, dishonesty and lack of integrity are distractions that are divisive and could hurt liberals in the general election against Republicans. As then-Senator Barack Obama said back in 2005, here is what is at stake:

I firmly believe that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, or oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate.

Republicans are doing all they can to “dumb down the political debate” in search of a cynical, selfish electorate. Democrats can (and should) do better than that.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal BLog, The Washington Monthly, February 2, 2016

February 3, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton | , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Idealism-Vs-Pragmatism Debate”: The Differences Between Obama And Sanders Matter

Paul Krugman noted the other day that there’s a “mini-dispute among Democrats” over who has the best claim to President Obama’s mantle: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. The New York Times columnist made the persuasive case that the answer is obvious: “Mr. Sanders is the heir to candidate Obama, but Mrs. Clinton is the heir to President Obama.”

The framing is compelling for reasons that are probably obvious. As a candidate, Obama was the upstart outsider taking on a powerful rival – named Hillary Clinton – who was widely expected to prevail. As president, Obama has learned to temper some of his grander ambitions, confront the cold realities of governing in prose, and make incremental-but-historic gains through attrition and by navigating past bureaucratic choke points.

But the closer one looks at the Obama-Sanders parallels, the more they start to disappear.

Comparing the core messages, for example, reinforces the differences. In 2008, Obama’s pitch was rooted in hopeful optimism, while in 2016, Sanders’ message is based on a foundation of outrage. In 2008, red-state Democrats welcomed an Obama nomination – many in the party saw him as having far broader appeal in conservative areas than Clinton – while in 2016, red-state Democrats appear panicked by the very idea of a Sanders nomination.

At its root, however, is a idealism-vs-pragmatism debate, with Sanders claiming the former to Clinton’s latter. New York’s Jon Chait argues that this kind of framing misunderstands what Candidate Obama was offering eight years ago.

The young Barack Obama was already famous for his soaring rhetoric, but from today’s perspective, what is striking about his promises is less their idealism than their careful modulation.

What Obama did eight years ago, Chait added, was make his technocratic pragmatism “lyrical” – a feat Clinton won’t even try to pull off – promising incremental changes in inspirational ways.

That’s not Sanders’ pitch at all. In many respects, it’s the opposite. Whatever your opinion of the Vermonter, there’s nothing about his platform that’s incremental. The independent senator doesn’t talk about common ground and bipartisan cooperation; he envisions a political “revolution” that changes the very nature of the political process.

The president himself seems well aware of the differences between what Greg Sargent calls the competing “theories of change.” Obama had a fascinating conversation late last week with Politico’s Glenn Thrush, and while the two covered quite a bit of ground, this exchange is generating quite a bit of attention for good reason.

THRUSH: The events I was at in Iowa, the candidate who seems to be delivering that now is Bernie Sanders.

OBAMA: Yeah.

THRUSH: I mean, when you watch this, what do you – do you see any elements of what you were able to accomplish in what Sanders is doing?

OBAMA: Well, there’s no doubt that Bernie has tapped into a running thread in Democratic politics that says: Why are we still constrained by the terms of the debate that were set by Ronald Reagan 30 years ago? You know, why is it that we should be scared to challenge conventional wisdom and talk bluntly about inequality and, you know, be full-throated in our progressivism? And, you know, that has an appeal and I understand that.

I think that what Hillary presents is a recognition that translating values into governance and delivering the goods is ultimately the job of politics, making a real-life difference to people in their day-to-day lives. I don’t want to exaggerate those differences, though, because Hillary is really idealistic and progressive. You’d have to be to be in, you know, the position she’s in now, having fought all the battles she’s fought and, you know, taken so many, you know, slings and arrows from the other side. And Bernie, you know, is somebody who was a senator and served on the Veterans’ Committee and got bills done. And so the–

THRUSH: But it sounds like you’re not buying the – you’re not buying the sort of, the easy popular dichotomy people are talking about, where he’s an analog for you and she is herself?

OBAMA: No. No.

THRUSH: You don’t buy that, right?

OBAMA: No, I don’t think – I don’t think that’s true.

The electoral salience of comments like these remains to be seen, but the president is subtly taking an important shot at the rationale of Sanders’ candidacy. For any Democratic voters watching the presidential primary unfold, looking at Sanders as the rightful heir to the “change” mantle, here’s Obama effectively saying he and Sanders believe in very different kinds of governing, based on incompatible models of achieving meaningful results.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 25, 2016

January 26, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, President Obama | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Is Bloomberg Betting Hillary Gets Indicted?”: Conservatives, Well, They At Least Hope It’s Going To Happen

The conventional wisdom says that Mike Bloomberg, whose presidential dreams were revealed Saturday by The New York Times, will in all likelihood not run against Hillary Clinton. The conventional wisdom is probably right in this case. It’s hard to imagine that against Clinton, Bloomberg would be anything but a Naderesque spoiler, which he would know and not want to be; against Bernie Sanders on one side and “Crump” (either Ted Cruz or Donald Trump) on the other, however, I think Bloomberg becomes a candidate—and a real player.

Unfortunately for Bloomberg, the chances of Sanders winning the Democratic nomination are quite slim, as he surely knows. So the rubber-hitting-road question is: Is there any chance he’d run against Clinton? I mean, if nothing else, this is presumably his last shot at glory, as he’s a few weeks shy of 74 (what’s with all these septuagenarians, anyway?).

There was a hint in that Times article that suggested he might consider doing that—that at a dinner party at the home of a prominent Clinton backer last fall, Bloomberg offered a “piquant assessment” (those Times euphemisms!) of Clinton’s weaknesses, built around “questions about her honesty” and the email mess.

I can back this up. On Saturday, I spoke with a longtime New Yorker I know who heard Bloomberg inveigh similarly last year at another such event, as Bloomberg delivered a blistering critique of the email controversy and even suggested—well, piquantly!—that Clinton deserved to be in very serious legal trouble. This person was “shocked by how little he seemed to think of her.”

A source in Bloomberg world says this is nonsense; this person claims to have heard the ex-mayor limn Clinton in adulatory tones numerous times, saying, in this person’s words, that she was practically alone among the candidates in being able “to take care of business”—simply to run the government and country responsibly and prudently. From the technocratic Bloomberg, praise doesn’t come higher.

Both these things can be true, of course. Let’s assume that Bloomberg was aghast at the email situation last year, but that it’s faded, and he’s now decided he’d be fine with a Clinton presidency even as he explores a bid of his own. Okay. But even this brings us to another thought—that maybe Bloomberg thinks there’s some chance Clinton might be indicted sometime soon.

If you were shocked to read that sentence, you’re clearly not reading enough conservative web sites. Let me say up front here that while I have no idea of the status of the ongoing FBI investigation into the email business, I would be really surprised to see this happen. Righties have been predicting her imminent indictment ever since Bill Safire’s ignominious 1996 column, but as far as is known publicly, Clinton is not under investigation. It was last summer when the FBI started looking into the matter, and officials announced then that Clinton wasn’t a target.

But that was months ago, so who knows, really? This Charles McCullough, the intelligence community inspector general who keeps retroactively stamping “classified” on emails Clinton read or wrote when she was secretary, and who originally notified the executive branch last July that classified information might exist on Clinton’s server, sure seems to be an aggressive sort.

I think it’s a farfetched scenario myself. An ex-prosecutor friend tells me that a crime would require criminal intent. Then there’s the question of the timing. Somebody’s going to bring serious charges against one of the two major parties’ leading presidential hopeful in an election year? Conservatives whose carotid veins are popping after reading that sentence would do well to remember a time when they excoriated a prosecutor who brought suspiciously timed indictments of Republicans. Google Lawrence Walsh.

But mostly it seems farfetched to me because I just consider it pretty unlikely that any secretary of state, any American in that position, would knowingly compromise U.S. intelligence-gathering efforts.

If you talk to plugged-in liberals, they say forget it, ridiculous. If you talk to plugged-in conservatives, they, well, they at least hope it’s going to happen, think it clearly ought to happen, and maybe this week, i.e., before Democrats start casting votes. If nothing else, a non-indictment gives them all a chance to caterwaul for another few months (or years) about how the Clinton’s keep getting away with things and go raise money off that.

And what if these conservatives happen to be right? Well, when I’ve discussed this with liberals, most people think Joe Biden is the automatic Plan B. John Kerry gets a few mentions, on the grounds that he tried it once before, but that strikes me as a minus, not a plus. In any case, Democrats I’ve discussed this with all assume they rally behind a new establishment-type candidate rather than throwing in their eggs with Bernie. Or maybe they could rally to a Bloomberg bid, since many, many Democrats represent districts where a Sanders endorsement could hurt them. And don’t forget, the above scenario seems to assume that Clinton under such circumstances would just stop in her tracks. Not sure we can assume that.

I hope, and believe, all this will remain hypothetical. I just bet it’s rattling around in Bloomberg’s cage somewhere.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, January 25, 2016

January 26, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Michael Bloomberg | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Right Only Needs The Presidency”: The Right And Left Both Want Radical Change. Guess Who Is A Lot Closer To Getting It?

One of the subtexts of both the Democratic and Republican presidential nominating contests is how much change can realistically be expected in a political system characterized by partisan polarization and gridlock. Bernie Sanders implicitly accuses the last two Democratic presidents and the Democratic Establishment candidate for 2016, Hillary Clinton, of excessive timidity and an insufficient commitment to thoroughgoing economic and political change. Ted Cruz explicitly accuses his Republican Senate colleagues and presidential rivals of surrendering to liberalism without a fight.

As Paul Krugman notes in his latest column, these demands for boldness are an old story in American politics, and also depend on sometimes-hazy, sometimes-delusional theories of how change happens:

[T]here are some currents in our political life that do run through both parties. And one of them is the persistent delusion that a hidden majority of American voters either supports or can be persuaded to support radical policies, if only the right person were to make the case with sufficient fervor.

You see this on the right among hard-line conservatives, who insist that only the cowardice of Republican leaders has prevented the rollback of every progressive program instituted in the past couple of generations …

Meanwhile, on the left there is always a contingent of idealistic voters eager to believe that a sufficiently high-minded leader can conjure up the better angels of America’s nature and persuade the broad public to support a radical overhaul of our institutions. In 2008 that contingent rallied behind Mr. Obama; now they’re backing Mr. Sanders, who has adopted such a purist stance that the other day he dismissed Planned Parenthood (which has endorsed Hillary Clinton) as part of the “establishment.”

Krugman asks the right question to advocates of Big Change: How, exactly, is it supposed to occur? Progressives certainly do not want more “bipartisan compromises” than Obama contemplated, and for years Republicans have embraced super-lobbyist Grover Norquist’s cynical comparison of bipartisanship to date rape.

One idea, of course, is that inspired by the concept of the “Overton Window”: that you can move the range of acceptable policies and thus the center of discussion by opening the bidding on any given topic with a more radical proposal. To use the most common example, Democrats might have gotten a more progressive health-care law enacted in 2010 if they had first proposed a single-payer system instead of a private system with a public option. The trouble with that example is that it was Democratic senators, not Republicans, who opposed the public option, the Medicare buy-in, and other progressive twists on Obamacare. With Republicans opposing any action at all, that’s all it took. Now some left-bent folks would say this shows why “centrist” Democrats need to be removed from the party. But that takes time, and as 2006 showed, even a primary loss cannot necessarily remove a Joe Lieberman from office.

Another thing you hear from Bernie Sanders himself is that the political system is fundamentally corrupt, and that progressive change can only become possible if the moneylenders are thrown out of the temple via thoroughgoing campaign finance reform. But that will require either a constitutional amendment — the most implausible route for change — or replacement of Supreme Court justices, the slowest.

And then, as Krugman himself notes, there are “hidden majority” theories that hold that “bold” proposals can mobilize vast majorities of Americans to support radical action and break down gridlock. Few are as easy to explode as Ted Cruz’s “54 million missing Evangelicals” hypothesis, but the belief of some Sanders supporters that Trump voters (and many millions of nonvoters) would gravitate to Bernie in a general election is not far behind as the product of a fantasy factory.

You could go on all day with left-right parallelisms on the subject of radical change, but progressives should internalize this fact of life: The right is a lot closer to the left in possessing the practical means for a policy revolution (or counterrevolution, as the case might be). Whereas the left needs constitutional amendments and overwhelming congressional majorities to break the political power of wealthy corporations and other reactionary interests, the right only needs the presidency to reverse most of President Obama’s policy breakthroughs. And assuming a GOP presidential victory would almost certainly be accompanied by Republican control of both parties in Congress (which is not at all the case for Democrats), a budget reconciliation bill that cannot be filibustered could briskly revolutionize health care, tax, and social policy without a single Democratic vote.

So if radical change comes out of the 2016 election, it’s more likely to be a wind blowing to the right than to the left. And that’s worth considering as Democrats choose their leadership and their agenda.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, January 22, 2016

January 25, 2016 Posted by | Democrats, Presidential Candidates, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Facts Are Facts”: Bernie Sanders Will Not Be President

I respect Bernie Sanders. I admire his passion and his devotion to the common good as he conceives it. I find his style of leftist politics — with greater ties to the class-focused concerns of the Old Left than to the cultural and identity obsessions of the New — quite compelling. I admire the democratic socialist welfare states of Northern Europe on which he models his own policy proposals and would be happy to see the United States move further in that direction.

But it isn’t going to happen.

If you Feel the Bern, by all means keep fighting the good fight. Work to get Sanders and his issues placed front and center in the campaign. Act as if you think he has a good chance of burying Hillary Clinton, winning the Democratic nomination, and then triumphing over whichever candidate comes out on top at the end of the GOP primary scrum.

But facts are facts — and the fact is that Bernie Sanders is not going to be elected president of the United States.

The first obstacle Sanders faces is of course winning the Democratic Party’s nominating contest against Hillary Clinton. At the moment Sanders and his supporters feel like they have a good shot because he’s currently leading many polls in Iowa and New Hampshire. If he takes those first two states, showing that Clinton is beatable, then all bets are off.

Except that they’re not.

For one thing, lily-white Iowa isn’t especially representative, and neither is even more lily-white New Hampshire, which also just so happens to border Sanders’ home state of Vermont. Once the voting moves on to states in the South, West, and Midwest, and to bigger, more demographically diverse states where vastly more delegates are at stake, Clinton is quite likely to come out on top over and over again.

How likely? Very. We know this because of the national polling spread. Clinton has led Sanders in every poll taken since the start of the election cycle. The most recent ones place Clinton in the lead by anywhere from 4 to 25 percentage points, with the RealClearPolitics polling average showing Clinton nearly 13 points ahead. When a candidate consistently comes out on top, she is winning.

But what about the 2008 scenario? That’s when Barack Obama leapt ahead of Clinton in February after trailing her handily up to that point and ended up beating her to the nomination. That’s obviously the script that Sanders supporters hope to see repeated this time around.

The problem is that Bernie Sanders isn’t Barack Obama — and no, I’m not just talking about Obama’s presumably much greater ability to mobilize the African-American vote. I also mean his enviable capacity to inspire moderates as well as liberals to vote for him. Sanders, by contrast, is the strong favorite of those who identify as “very liberal” but understandably polls weakly among self-described “moderate” Democrats. With Sanders continuing to propose very liberal economic policies that even leading progressive commentators consider to be vague and unrealistic, that is unlikely to change.

But doesn’t Clinton face equal and opposite problems of her own by appealing primarily to moderates in the party? She would if there were equal numbers of economically liberal and moderate Democrats, but there aren’t. Though the number of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents willing to describe themselves as economically liberal has increased in recent years, the terms still apply to just 32 percent of the total. The proportion of those describing themselves as economically moderate or conservative, meanwhile, is 64 percent.

Which means that Clinton’s more economically moderate base of support is roughly double the size of Sanders’ liberal base.

To those, finally, who look to Donald Trump’s remarkable ascent in the Republican primary field as a sign that a populist insurgent can overturn the preferences of party establishments, a note of caution is in order. Leaving aside the fact that, unlike Sanders, Trump has been leading in national polls for six months straight, and often by wide margins, there remains the complication that Trump’s campaign scrambles established ideological assumptions on the right rather than simply reinforcing or radicalizing them. The mogul from Manhattan combines a far-right stance on immigration with economic positions that make him sound like a moderate Democrat. That’s why his candidacy is so dangerous to the GOP: It threatens to tear apart the electoral coalition and ideological agenda that has more or less held the party together since Ronald Reagan was elected 36 years ago.

Sanders’ candidacy threatens no such thing. It merely aims to pull his party further to the left — as Democrats have defined the left since 1972. Now if Sanders had responded to Clinton’s very liberal latter-day stance on gun control by championing the rights of gun owners, or if he’d made other strategic moves to the right on social issues (on abortion or religious freedom, perhaps), then he might well have sowed Trumpean chaos among Democrats and ended up leapfrogging Clinton to the nomination. But as it is, Sanders is merely doing what ideologically doctrinaire primary candidates always do: working to radicalize and purify his party’s already established ideological commitments.

That strategy will only win Sanders the nomination if the Democrats lurch quite a bit further leftward — or if some new (or old) scandal suddenly engulfs Hillary Clinton — in the coming weeks or months.

But in that unlikely (but not impossible) event, wouldn’t Democratic nominee Sanders stand a very good chance of winning the presidency? Haven’t a series of head-to-head polls shown that Sanders does well and in some cases even better than Clinton against the leading Republican candidates?

Yes they have, but those polls deserve to be taken with several grains of salt.

For one thing, these same polls also show Clinton in a dead-heat against the fading and transparently absurd sideshow candidacy of evangelical neurosurgeon Ben Carson. That’s strong prima facie evidence that the poll results are driven to a significant extent by voter ignorance. Put Carson on a debate stage opposite Clinton, and his support would collapse rapidly and dramatically.

Perhaps even more far-fetched is the finding that Sanders would defeat Trump by a wider margin than Clinton. Clinton’s hypothetical victory over Trump by a narrow 2.5 percentage points can be explained by the fact that both candidates would be appealing to the same bloc of white working-class voters, many of whom are Democrats. That could indeed make Clinton vulnerable against Trump. But to believe that Sanders would outperform her to beat Trump by 5.3 percentage points one has to presume that Sanders could do a better job than Clinton of persuading this (or some other) bloc of pro-Trump voters to support him instead.

Let’s just say that I find that implausible. Americans as a whole are strongly disinclined to vote for a socialist — more disinclined than they are to vote for a Catholic, a woman, a black, a Hispanic, a Jew, a Mormon, a homosexual, a Muslim, or an atheist. Is it at all likely that white working-class would-be Trump supporters are among the country’s most open-minded voters in this respect?

Sorry, I don’t buy it — and neither should you.

Bernie Sanders is a good man and an effective advocate for the causes he champions. But he isn’t going to be president.

 

By: Damon Linker, The Week, January 19, 2016

January 22, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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