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“Time For Grown-Up Talk”: Sanders Needs To Talk Down His Supporters And Explain That Nothing Is Being ‘Stolen’

Bernie Sanders gained a split decision in Tuesday’s presidential primaries, losing to Hillary Clinton by an eyelash in Kentucky and beating her by a more comfortable but reasonably close margin in Oregon. The net results won’t significantly reduce Clinton’s lead in pledged delegates, leaving Sanders with a nearly impossible task of winning the June 7 primaries by huge margins to overtake her. But again, it remains unclear whether Sanders will pack it in if he loses pledged delegates. Indeed, in a speech Tuesday night in California, Sanders simultaneously discussed the tough odds against winning a majority of pledged delegates and promised to “take the fight to Philadelphia,” apparently no matter what.

This ambiguous situation needs to be understood in the context of what happened this weekend in Nevada, where an ugly and fractious scene emerged at a state convention where four delegates to the Democratic National Convention were being selected. Veteran Nevada political reporter Jon Ralston watched it all and came away convinced the Sanders campaign had deliberately fed supporters spurious grievances over the rules in order to rationalize what was actually a fair-and-square Clinton victory in organizing for the event, which after all, simply confirmed Clinton’s earlier win in the February caucuses.

By the time hotel security shut down the event late Saturday evening, the Sanders delegates had hurled ugly epithets at Clinton surrogate Barbara Boxer and used a sign to block her from being shown on big screens; they had screamed vulgarities at state chairwoman Roberta Lange, who later received death threats after Sanders sympathizers posted her cellphone number and home address online; and they threw chairs at the stage as they rushed forward to try to take control of a convention they had lost, just as Sanders was defeated at the February 20 caucus by Clinton in a decisive result.

Ralston suspects this atmosphere of paranoia and self-pity could easily carry over to the national convention, assuming Clinton arrives there as the presumptive nominee via a narrow lead in pledged delegates. I’d say that’s a reasonable suspicion if Bernie Sanders and his campaign operatives continue to insinuate that the nomination is being stolen from him. The Nevada Democratic Party agreed in a letter to the DNC after Saturday’s near-riot:

We believe, unfortunately, that the tactics and behavior on display here in Nevada are harbingers of things to come as Democrats gather in Philadelphia in July for our National Convention. We write to alert you to what we perceive as the Sanders Campaign’s penchant for extra-parliamentary behavior — indeed, actual violence — in place of democratic conduct in a convention setting, and furthermore what we can only describe as their encouragement of, and complicity in, a very dangerous atmosphere that ended in chaos and physical threats to fellow Democrats.

And it’s not just mainstream media folk and Establishment Democrats who feel this way. Esquire‘s Charles Pierce, a Sanders supporter, was upset enough about Nevada to urge Sanders to “pack up and go home”:

[T]he Sanders people should know better than to conclude what has been a brilliant and important campaign by turning it into an extended temper tantrum.

I voted for Bernie Sanders … But if anybody thinks that, somehow, he is having the nomination “stolen” from him, they are idiots.

Nevada aside, consider the three arguments heard most often from the Sanders campaign against the unfair conditions it has endured.

The first is that DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz conspired to limit opportunities for candidate debates. That’s probably true. But there’s no particular evidence these events disproportionately benefited Sanders, who had no trouble getting to the starting gate with high name ID and plenty of support (viz the “virtual tie” in Iowa and his big win in New Hampshire). And she was forced to add some debates. Don’t know about you, but I feel like I heard from the candidates enough.

The second is that closed primaries (aggravated in some states by very early deadlines for changing party affiliation) disenfranchised many Sanders supporters. Let’s be clear about this: None of the primary participation rules were set after the Clinton-Sanders competition emerged. States with closed primaries have for the most part always had closed primaries. Until this cycle, moreover, it was typically Democratic progressives, not “centrist” Democrats, who favored closed primaries as a way to elevate the influence of “base” as opposed to “swing” voters. In no way, shape or form were these rules set to thwart Sanders or candidates like him.

And the third is that superdelegates (who at present overwhelmingly support Clinton) have tilted the playing field away from the people-powered Sanders all along. But Bernie’s people have a “clean hands” problem in making this argument, since they are simultaneously appealing to superdelegates to be prepared to deny the nomination to the pledged delegate winner (almost certainly Clinton) based on elites’ superior understanding of electability criteria. Beyond that, this is the ninth presidential cycle in which Democrats have given superdelegates a role in the nominating process. It’s not like it’s a nasty surprise sprung on the poor Sanders campaign at the last minute to seize the nomination for Clinton.

But even if these arguments for a big Bernie grievance are pretty empty, you can appreciate that the close nature of this year’s nominating contest makes it easy to assume something fishy happened, particularly if you begin with the assumption, as some Sanders supporters do, that your opponents are unprincipled corporate shills. It’s like Florida 2000: In a race this close, you can blame the outcome on anything that makes you mad, from Joe Lieberman’s support for counting overseas military ballots to Ralph Nader’s presence on the ballot to dozens of single events like the Brooks Brothers Riot.

Unfortunately, in a statement Sanders issued after the torrent of criticism over his supporters’ behavior in Nevada, the candidate was defiant, perfunctorily disclaiming violence and identifying closed primaries with dependence on corrupt big money cash. Prominent progressive blogger Josh Marshall read it and commented on Twitter:

For weeks I’ve thought and written that Sanders Camp Manager Jeff Weaver was the driver of toxicity in this race. But what I’ve heard in a series of conversations over recent weeks w/highly knowledgable people forced me to conclude that I had that wrong. It may be him too. But the burn it down attitude, the upping the ante, everything we saw in the statement released today by the campaign seems to be coming from Sanders himself. Right from the top.

One thing is largely indisputable: Bernie Sanders himself could help clear the air by informing his supporters that while there are many things about the Democratic nomination process that ought to be changed, no one has “stolen” the nomination from him or from them. Perhaps a thousand small things gave Hillary Clinton an “unfair” advantage in this contest, but they were mostly baked into the cake, not contrived to throw cold water on the Bern. And the best step Sanders’ supporters could take to promote their long-term interests in the Democratic Party would be to get a grip before they wind up helping Donald Trump win the presidency. And Bernie Sanders himself has a responsibility to talk his devoted followers off the ledge.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 18, 2016

May 21, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Sanders Supporters | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“His Campaign Has Developed A Closed Feedback Loop”: Does Sanders Continue To Deserve The Benefit Of The Doubt?

From the beginning I questioned the seriousness of Bernie Sanders’ proposals. Long before the disastrous New York Daily News interview, it seemed obvious to me that he was better at pointing out problems than he was at crafting actual solutions.

Then came the debates. Sanders’ explanation for any barrier to progressive change was the corruption of big money – that was true for both Democrats and Republicans. Discussion became almost impossible. Anyone who didn’t agree with him was an establishment sell-out.

As it became increasingly clear that he was going to lose the nomination to Hillary Clinton – despite doing better than anyone thought he would – the excuses began. It was because Southern states with African American voters went early in the process. Then it was because of closed primaries. Initially the campaign railed against the superdelegates. All that was reversed in an attempt to justify Sanders staying in the race based on the idea that he could flip them to support him instead of Clinton. None of that made any sense and his message got lost in complaints about the process.

Through all of that I wanted to give Sanders the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to believe that he was in this race to promote the progressive ideas he has championed his entire career, and that when the results were all in, he would do what Clinton did in 2008…support the nominee and come out of the convention in Philadelphia as a unified party.

Believing that wasn’t a pipe dream. During his time in the House and Senate, Sanders has demonstrated the ability to work within the system to advocate for progressive change. For example, in 2009 he proposed single payer in the Senate, but pulled the bill when it was clear that it didn’t have the votes. He then went on to fight for positive changes to Obamacare (i.e., community health centers) and eventually voted for it.

But the time for giving Sanders the benefit of the doubt might have ended. Paul Waldman explains it well.

If he and his people want to actually exercise some influence, they’ll have to start thinking about mundane things like presidential appointments, executive branch regulations, and the details of complex legislation. Victories in those forums will be partial and sporadic. From our vantage point today, is there anything to suggest that’s an enterprise he and his people will be willing to devote their efforts to? What happens if Clinton offers Sanders something — changes to the party’s platform, or input on her nominees? Will his supporters say, “This may not have been all we wanted, but it’s still meaningful”? No, they won’t. They’ll see it as a compromise with the corrupt system they’ve been fighting, a sellout, thirty pieces of silver that Sanders ought to toss back in her face. That’s because Sanders has told them over and over that the system is irredeemable, and nothing short of its complete dismantling is worthwhile…

To be honest, at the moment it looks like there’s no going back. Sanders could come out tomorrow and tell his supporters that even if they don’t get their revolution, it’s still worth working for every bit of positive change they can achieve. But that would mean disavowing everything he’s told them up until now.

In other words, the Sanders campaign has developed a closed feedback loop. No matter the outcome, it reinforces the premise. It is hard to see how that changes.

My one remaining hope was that perhaps the candidate himself could break out and convince at least some of his supporters to take a more constructive path. Martin is right, they’re not all Bernie Bros. That hope was beginning to die when Josh Marshall pulled the final plug.

For months I’d thought and written that Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver was the key driver of toxicity in the the Democratic primary race…

But now I realize I had that wrong.

Actually, I didn’t realize it. People who know told me.

Over the last several weeks I’ve had a series of conversations with multiple highly knowledgable, highly placed people. Perhaps it’s coming from Weaver too. The two guys have been together for decades. But the ‘burn it down’ attitude, the upping the ante, everything we saw in that statement released today by the campaign seems to be coming from Sanders himself. Right from the top.

We are reaching the end game here. The question for me isn’t so much about what Clinton will do – she is putting her energy into winning the remaining states and has already begun to pivot to the general election. What remains to be seen is what happens to the progressive movement in the Democratic Party. If Sanders insists on “burning things down,” will it survive?

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 19, 2016

May 20, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton, Sanders Supporters | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Don’t Need A ‘Christian Left’ To Replace The Christian Right”: We Need A Commitment To Church-State Separation

It was inevitable, I guess, that the latest talk of the Christian Right “dying” — or at least suffering under divisions created or exacerbated by Donald Trump — would revive hopes of a “Christian Left” emerging to compete with, or even displace, the alliance of Republicans with conservative evangelicals and traditionalist Catholics that has played so large a role in American politics since 1980. And now, at Slate, Ruth Graham has expressed these hopes at considerable length. Though I will not blame her for a sub-headline that fatuously refers to Democrats as a potential “party of God,” Graham’s piece begs for a dissent from a liberal Christian perspective. To put it simply, must Christian progressives replicate the politicization of the Gospel that Falwell and Robertson and Colson and so many others undertook?

Yes, Graham is right in identifying this as an opportune moment to disrupt the popular stereotypes (promoted equally by secular and conservative religious folk) of Christian faith connoting conservative politics, or of the only “good” or “real” Christians being the conservative variety. And it never hurts to protect the First Amendment rights of American Christians to vote and think and speak as they wish, which historically (viz. the abolition and agrarian reform and urban reform and civil rights movements) has been on the Left as much as the Right.

But like previous apostles of a Christian Left such as Jim Wallis, Graham implies that the grievous error of Christian Right leaders is misapplying biblical lessons for contemporary culture and society, and elevating concerns about personal morality and “family life” above commitments to peace and social justice. The idea is that God does indeed have a preferred politics (if not necessarily a party) that just happens to be very different from those the Christian Right has endorsed.

The alternative argument is that believing there’s any comprehensive prescription for political behavior in religious scripture or tradition betrays a confusion of the sacred and the profane, and of the Kingdom of God with mere secular culture. That’s what one prominent liberal Christian named  Barack Obama maintained in his famous Notre Dame commencement speech of 2009, in which he described as essential to faith a healthy doubt about what God wants human beings to do in their social and political lives. And it leads not to a desire to replace the self-righteous Christian Right with an equally self-righteous Christian Left, but to a renewed commitment to church-state separation — on religious as well as political grounds. After all, church-state separation protects religion from political contamination as much as it does politics from religious contamination. And what the Christian Right abetted was political contamination, not just recourse to the wrong politics.

Needless to say, Christians who are also political progressives would get along better with their non-Christian and non-religious allies if they stood with them in staunch support of church-state separation instead of implying that progressive unbelievers are pursuing the right policies for the wrong (irreligious) reasons. And they would also tap into the true legacy of this country’s founders, largely religious (if often heterodox) people who understood the spiritual as well as the practical dangers of encouraging the religiously sanctioned pursuit of political power.

So with all due respect to Ruth Graham and others like her who dream of a Church Militant marching toward a progressive Zion under the banner of a rigorously left-wing Party of God, thanks but no thanks. Progressive Christians would be better advised to work quietly with others in secular politics without a lot of public prayer about it, while also working to help reconcile with their conservative sisters and brothers, who may soon — God willing — be emerging from the Babylonian captivity of the Christian Right.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 17, 2016

May 18, 2016 Posted by | Christian Conservatives, Christian Right, Religious Right | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How A President Negotiates With Congress”: Cross-Party Negotiations In Congress Are More About Leverage

The Democratic presidential primary has sparked a discussion on the left about the value of bold proposals vs incrementalism. In arguing for the latter, Scott Lemieux takes on the ridiculous notion that the history of Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid are examples of bold change proposals.

The idea that the Social Security — which not only offered modest benefits but intentionally excluded large numbers of African-Americans — was not an example of incremental reform is quite remarkable. Even more revealing is the Medicaid example. Nothing makes it clearer that this fake-nostalgia for the REAL LIBERAL Democratic Party of yore is just a rhetorical cudgel with which to beat Democrats and not any kind of serious historical analysis than this. Apparently, a public health insurance program that required states to cover only a subset of people well below the poverty line was REAL, UNCOMPROMISING LIBERALISM while a public health insurance program that required states to cover everyone up to 138% of the poverty line is the hopelessly compromised neoliberal work of useless corporate sellouts. Right.

But then Lemieux takes on an argument we’ve heard often during the Obama presidency about how he has too often pre-compromised by negotiating with himself. This is the case Brian Beutler made not too long ago when arguing in favor of Bernie Sanders’ approach.

But if we’re imagining both of their agendas as opening bids in negotiations with Congress, why fault Sanders for not negotiating with himself? Ask a future Democratic Congress for single payer and a $15 minimum wage and you might get laughed at… but you also might get the public option and a bump to $12. Ask it for the public option and a $12 minimum wage, as Clinton might, and you’ll get a fair hearing from the outset, but you might end up with advancements barely worth fighting for. President Obama, as Sanders is fond of noting, negotiated with himself, and progressives paid an unknowable price as a result.

Here’s what Lemieux says about that:

People who think that important legislation gets passed by presidents making opening bids far outside the expected negotiating space have no idea how presidential power works. (And, for that matter, have no idea how negotiating works. If the Mariners phone up the Angels and offer Mike Zunino for Mike Trout, that doesn’t mean that the Angels will then offer to accept Leonys Martin for Mike Trout; it means the Angels GM will stop taking your phone calls.) To say that a president “pre-comprimised” is often used as an insult, but it is in fact a sign that he knows what he’s doing. The lessons of FDR and LBJ — and now Obama — are the opposite of what this faction of the left thinks they are.

Frankly, the argument Beutler makes is something that has never made sense to me – no matter how many times I’ve heard it over the last 7 years. For example, if President Obama had made single payer his opening bid in health care reform, I fail to see how that would have triggered a more progressive negotiation process. First of all, it would have negated what he ran on as a candidate and more likely would have been ignored – even by Democrats – as a serious proposal. Similarly, the President proposed raising the minimum wage to a meager $10/hour a couple of years ago. Did that spark a negotiating process with Republicans? No, they’ve simply ignored it – just as they did his “bold” proposals for things like the American Jobs Act, universal pre-K and free community college.

The truth is that cross-party negotiations in Congress are more about leverage than they are about bold opening bids. In order to get the other party to the table, you have to be willing to give them something they want. That is why – since 2010 when Republicans took control of the House – pretty much the only thing that has been negotiated is the budget and raising the debt ceiling. Initially Republicans used those “fiscal cliffs” as leverage (or hostages) to get what they wanted. For the last couple of years, both parties have eventually come to the table on budgets in order to avoid another government shut-down (which is the leverage).

Beyond what Lemieux wrote, it is important to remember that when FDR was negotiating for Social Security and LBJ for health care, they were engaged in intra-party negotiations – much as Obama did during those few months that Democrats controlled the House and had a 60-vote majority in the Senate. That is not a likely scenario for a Democratic president any time in the near future. Any “bold” proposal will therefore require having leverage that brings Republicans to the table. In other words, it will require pre-compromise.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 13, 2016

May 16, 2016 Posted by | Congress, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Liberals | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Makes More Sense Than Critics Admit”: The Brave Politics Of Clinton’s Medicare Buy-In Proposal

Predictably, much of the commentary about Hillary Clinton’s newly expressed interest in making a Medicare buy-in option available to people near retirement age is treating it as another calibrated “move to the left” to head off Bernie Sanders or placate his supporters. The unstated assumption is that anything other than a full-on single-payer system (the only creditable progressive proposal, you see) is a half measure reflecting either political cowardice or corrupt kowtowing to private insurance interests.

Here’s the thing, though. People who love to cite polls showing the popularity of “Medicare for all” (the favored buzz-phrase for single-payer) should be aware that the popularity of the venerable retirement program is based on its current characteristics as an “earned entitlement” program for which working Americans pay payroll taxes and then, after becoming beneficiaries, premiums. The “buy-in” proposal, by targeting people who have (a) presumably been paying those same payroll taxes and will continue to do so until retirement if they are employed, and (b) will immediately pay relatively steep premiums (though not as steep, in most cases, as private insurance premiums), does minimal violence to the structure, financing and original purpose of Medicare. “Medicare for all,” once it is a tangible proposal rather than a bumper-sticker slogan, changes Medicare in all these respects, and might make it unrecognizable. The financing challenge alone for a single-payer system — which never much gets mentioned in the polling — makes the incremental approach, via a combination of Medicare, “Obamacare”-subsidized private insurance, and Medicaid, a much easier reach financially and politically.

Perhaps I’m wrong and perhaps Hillary Clinton is wrong in feeling this way. But one thing’s for sure: Expanding Medicare and providing a “public option” under Obamacare are not popular ideas in the private insurance industry. That’s certainly not the constituency Clinton is representing here. And anyone who doubts the political courage it takes to achieve universal health coverage incrementally, instead of just intoning “Medicare for all” until the walls fall down like Jericho’s, hasn’t been paying much attention the last quarter-century.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 11, 2016

May 14, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Universal Health Care | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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