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“A President Can’t Go Ordering Folks Around”: Clinton Is Running For President. Sanders Is Doing Something Else

It is amazing how little the Democratic race has really changed over the last several months. Hillary Clinton is the odds-on favorite to win the nomination. Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) is leading a revolt from the left. Sanders speaks to white ideological liberals and young Democrats. Clinton speaks to practically everyone else in the party — and, as “Saturday Night Live” pointed out, provides a refuge for moderates terrified of the other options this election year. Nothing in Sunday night’s debate changed any of this, which nets out to a loss for Sanders.

Down in the polls in advance of Tuesday’s major contest in Michigan, Sanders needs the race to take a dramatic turn before Clinton wins another populous state. Yet rather than attempting to advance onto new ground in Sunday’s debate, Sanders simply entrenched himself on his same narrow patch of ideological turf. Either he knows he probably will not win the nomination and he figures he should just keep making his point while everyone is still watching, or he believes that his problem is that not enough people have heard him say the same things over and over again.

In fact, much of the debate revolved around the same basic argument between practicality and ideology that emerged the first time the two faced off on the debate stage, when Clinton declared, “I’m a progressive, but I’m a progressive who likes to get things done.”

Early in the debate, Clinton criticized Sanders for voting against the 2009 auto industry bailout. Sanders said that the auto bailout was folded into a larger bill that also bailed out the financial industry. He argued that “the billionaires” should have bailed out themselves, by which he means that Congress should have accepted his politically ludicrous plan to raise taxes in the middle of a recession. Clinton responded that Sanders chose purity over the public good. “You have to make hard choices when you’re in a position of responsibility,” she said. “If everybody had voted the way he did, I believe the auto industry would have collapsed.” Not only the auto industry. If Congress refused to respond practically to a moment of profound national crisis, it would have made the economic panic much, much worse and ruined many more ordinary people.

Later in Sunday’s debate, Clinton proposed doubling the amount of money the country invests in transportation infrastructure — which, despite bipartisan support for fixing up the nation’s roads and rails, would be a big legislative lift. “I’m trying to do this in a way that will gain support and be affordable,” she said. Moderator Don Lemon then asked Sanders to explain why his plan, which is twice as large as Clinton’s, is not “yet another example of a costly plan that will never get through Congress,” given that President Obama struggled to get a much smaller infrastructure proposal through. Sanders merely restated the case for much more spending and said he would target corporate tax dodgers to pay for it, ignoring the question of whether either proposal would be politically plausible.

Finally, the two candidates talked about fracking, an issue on which there is an obvious, sensible middle ground that Sanders predictably scorned. Clinton listed off a series of requirements she would impose on domestic fracking operations, such as limiting methane emissions and insisting on standards that would prevent water contamination. This is not so different from the Obama administration’s wholly reasonable position, which is to allow the industry to employ people and sell product while minimizing the environmental risks. Sanders simply said that he wants to ban fracking, and he dismissed the Democratic governors who want to see well-regulated fracking proceed in their states.

At least the detour onto fracking forced the candidates to speak about an issue that has not gotten much attention this campaign, even if the candidates’ positions simply reconfirmed their general approaches to policy. Mostly, Sanders steered the conversation back to his core concerns — Wall Street, campaign finance, a massive public jobs program and single-payer health care — and made his usual pitch. Clinton, meanwhile, ran for president. “A president can’t go ordering folks around,” she said at one point. “Our system doesn’t permit that.” It’s nice to know at least one candidate on either side is keeping that in mind.

 

By: Stephen Stromberg, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 7, 2016

March 8, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Primary Debates, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s About The Nuts And Bolts”: Why African-American Voters May Doom Bernie Sanders’ Candidacy

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are now arguing about race, and like many such arguments in campaigns, it has nothing to do with any substantive difference between them on policy issues. But the stakes could hardly be higher — indeed, it’s no exaggeration to say that if Sanders can’t find a way to win over large numbers of African-American voters, he will have virtually no chance of winning the Democratic nomination for president.

Which is why, when Sanders released an ad showing him amidst his many adoring supporters, Clinton ally David Brock, who runs about a hundred different super PACs and other organizations devoted to getting her elected (I exaggerate, but only slightly) gave an interview in which he said: “From this ad, it seems black lives don’t matter much to Bernie Sanders.” Because of course, if the crowd shots in his ad aren’t diverse enough, that must mean Sanders doesn’t care whether black people live or die. (Full disclosure: some years ago I worked for David Brock for a time.)

Naturally, the Sanders campaign was outraged, but Brock’s attack cleverly alluded to the period last summer and fall when Black Lives Matter activists were interrupting Sanders at speeches and pushing him to endorse their agenda. Sanders was the perfect target for those actions, because he’s a liberal eager to show African-Americans that he’s on their side, but also someone likely to make the kind of verbal slips that would allow them to criticize him.

That’s because despite his commitment to civil rights, Sanders hasn’t spent his political career in an environment where African-Americans are what they are in most of the country: the very heart of the Democratic coalition. Since Vermont is 95 percent white, Sanders hasn’t had to build up the kind of partnerships and habits of mind and work that other Democrats do, which is just one of the reasons he has a steep hill to climb with African-Americans.

What I mean by habits of mind and work is this: Every politician and political organizer has things they learn to do by reflex in order to make sure the groups whose help they need are appropriately cared for. For instance, if you work on a Democratic campaign, you’d damn well better make sure that every flyer you print up has a union “bug” on it, the tiny mark showing it was printed at a union shop. And when you have a public event, you make sure that the people in view of the camera are appropriately diverse. I have a vivid memory of a photo-op on a campaign I worked on as a young man, when one of the campaign’s senior staff, an African-American, looked at one such array of supporters positioned behind the candidate and saw that the black people were mostly on one side and the whites were on the other. “Why don’t we salt-and-pepper this up a bit?”, he said, and everyone looked around, immediately understood what he meant, and shifted positions.

But it’s about a lot more than optics. One of Sanders’ many challenges is to turn a campaign built on idealism and vision into a machine that can turn out votes on the ground — state by state, town by town, and precinct by precinct. As Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman points out, Sanders does best with liberal whites, and “there is only one state where whites who self-identify as liberals make up a higher share of the Democratic primary electorate than Iowa and New Hampshire. You guessed it: Vermont.” So as soon as those two states are behind us, the campaign will move to places where African-Americans, among whom Hillary Clinton remains extremely popular, will make up a much larger share of the vote.

While Sanders would argue that he has a strong case to make to those voters about why they should support him, Clinton has ties to them that go back decades. And as a whole (and keep in mind that what I’m talking about doesn’t necessarily apply to any one individual even if it holds true for the group at large), African-Americans have a pragmatic view of politics. They had to fight — and some people even died — to secure the right to vote that whites always took for granted. They have to keep fighting to maintain that right in the face of a GOP that would put every impediment to the ballot it can find in front of them.

Ask anyone involved in Democratic politics about winning black votes in primaries, and they’ll tell you that it isn’t about hopes and dreams, though those are nice too. It’s about the nuts and bolts: the social networks, the key endorsers and officials, the neighborhood institutions, the systems that have been built up in the most trying circumstances to get people to the polls. Those kinds of factors matter among every voting bloc, but they’re particularly important among African-Americans. You can’t blow into town a week before election day with a bunch of eager white 20-something volunteers from somewhere else and win their votes.

It even took African-Americans a long time to commit to Barack Obama — against Clinton — during the 2008 primaries, despite the fact that he would become the first black president and today continues to command near-unanimous support from them. It wasn’t until he won the Iowa caucuses, making clear that he had a good shot at winning the nomination, that they began moving in large numbers away from their prior support of Clinton and toward him. And it’s no accident that one of the main lines of argument Clinton has been using lately is that Sanders has been insufficiently loyal to Obama. There are lots of Democratic voters among whom that might resonate, but none more than African-Americans.

So Sanders has multiple challenges among African-American voters: to show them that he’s really on their side, to show them that he really can win, and to do the complicated work in the field that will get them to the polls to pull the lever for him. He may be able to do all that, but it won’t be easy.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, January 22, 2016

January 23, 2016 Posted by | African Americans, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“Sarah Palin All Over Again”: Ben Carson’s Fall Is A Damning Indictment Of Conservative Politics

Ben Carson’s popularity among conservatives has been marked by their imperviousness to questions about his honesty and fitness. Carson has made dozens of statements about federal policy that have transcended garden-variety conservative over-promising and reached the realm of Chauncey Gardner-esque absurdity. He has also faced serious questions about the veracity of stories he tells about his youth and young manhood. Through it all, conservatives have not only stuck by his side, but actually become more taken with him. They’ve brushed off scrutiny with glib mockery, accusing white liberals of “othering” a black man for having the temerity to leave the “thought plantation.”

That all likely changes now that Carson has confessed to fabricating a seminal story about having declined admission to West Point in his youth. When you’ve lost Breitbart, it stands to reason that you will also lose talk-radio fawning, viral email forwards, and all the other mysterious sources of conservative cult status.

But there is room for genuine doubt here: Could Carson’s supporters prove so uninterested in his genuine merits and demerits that they might look past this transgression? The very fact that this doubt exists incriminates both the conservative-entertainment complex and the nature of the Republican electorate.

Carson has been famous for years, and a political celebrity since February 2013, when he issued a meandering indictment of President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast while Obama sat next to him, silent and captive. The whole time, Carson has boasted of rejecting a “full scholarship” to West Point, an academy that actually pays people for their attendance. He thrust his deception into the public eye over and over and over again, and nobody questioned it until he became a poll leader in the Republican presidential primary.

This is not a great reflection on the media, I suppose—but it’s a worse reflection on the people who vaulted Carson to the summa of the conservative movement without bothering to investigate him. The price of entry into this realm of politics is so low that many, many successful people (Carson, but also Herman Cain and others) believe that the way they are perceived will protect them from their skeletons.

In this way, Carson’s rise is reminiscent of the McCain campaign’s decision to elevate Sarah Palin to vice presidential nominee after the most cursory vetting. Carson and Palin both paired reactionary politics with identities more closely associated with liberalism. Palin’s value was in her potential to undermine the historic nature of Obama’s candidacy. Carson’s is in his willingness to validate and absolve conservative racial politics. Republicans have pointed to Carson’s popularity as evidence of conservative enlightenment on racial issues, taking the superficial argumentative power of “some of my best friends are black” and applying it to a national ideological movement.

These phenonema were driven, to a large extent, by the idea that branding can eclipse structural political realities. What’s amazing and distressing is that, for millions of American conservatives, it absolutely can.

 

By: Brian Beutler, Senior Editor, The New Republic; November 9, 2015

November 10, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Conservatives, Sarah Palin | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Do Republicans Think It Will Be Easy To Beat Hillary?”: Continuing To Believe In Circumstances Shaped By Their Own Talking Points

What is the Republican theory of the 2016 election? Is it that the Democrats have developed a durable demographic advantage in national elections and that the GOP must nominate someone who can broaden the party’s reach beyond core constituencies, as Republicans concluded after the 2012 debacle?

Or is it increasingly that such demographic concerns can be tossed to the winds — that Hillary Clinton is such a flawed candidate that Republicans don’t have to worry too much about picking a standard bearer with broad general election appeal?

The Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein has a good piece today in which he posits the latter theory. Klein’s overall point is that the two parties are each making wildly different assumptions about next year’s contest — and that this has driven each party further into its own ideological corner, portending an unusually charged and intense general election battle.

Democrats, Klein points out, are betting that the last two presidential elections show that the way to win is to reconstitute the Obama coalition of millennials, nonwhites, and socially liberal college educated whites. The robust liberal consensus on display at the last debate shows that Hillary Clinton is fully embracing this coalition’s priorities. As I’ve also argued, Democrats see no need to believe this will compromise her in a general election, since many of these policies also have majority support.

The Republican theory of the 2016 election, however, is very different. Here’s how Klein describes it:

Republicans, on the other hand, are making a completely different calculation. Looking ahead to the 2016 campaign, they see Hillary Clinton’s numbers steadily tanking under an ethical cloud, as a growing number of Americans say they don’t trust her. Polls have shown Republicans ahead of Clinton even in Pennsylvania, a blue state that has eluded GOP nominees for decades. They’re confident that her weaknesses as a candidate have made the presidency ripe for the picking. Given this sense of optimism, they see no reason to settle.

Instead, as of this writing, half of Republican primary voters polled nationally are supporting candidates who have never held elective office. At the same time, candidates who fit the profile of a traditional Republican nominee (such as Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich) are at about 10 percent — combined….when the dust settles, it’s difficult to see the Republican electorate deciding that to beat Clinton, they need an “electable moderate” in the mold of Bob Dole, John McCain or Mitt Romney.

Klein seems to be talking mainly about what’s driving the thinking of GOP primary voters. This gives rise to a question: Do serious Republican strategists and establishment figures really believe this? Do they think Clinton is suddenly proving so unexpectedly flawed — thanks to the email scandal and Bernie Sanders’ surprisingly robust challenge — that they are now less inclined to worry about the need for a candidate who can help offset the party’s structural and demographic disadvantages?

If so, you’d think recent events would undercut that confidence. After months of being on the defensive over the email story, we’ve now seen an unexpectedly strong debate performance from Clinton. New fundraising numbers show that she enjoys a large advantage over the serious GOP candidates, and that rank-and-file Democrats may be very energized. A series of disastrous moments of candor from Republicans about the Benghazi probe have undermined the credibility of GOP efforts to exploit the email story. While none of these guarantees anything for Clinton, you’d think they’d remind Republicans that politics changes quickly and that placing too many chips on Clinton’s weakness might be misguided.

And yet recent history demonstrates that GOP strategists sometimes do place too much stock in overly confident, ill-thought-through assessments of the weakness of the opposing candidate and what appear to be insurmountable (but actually prove ephemeral or misleading) political circumstances. In 2012, for instance, the Romney campaign convinced itself that there was no way Obama could possibly get reelected amid such difficult economic circumstances: this made it inevitable that Obama would meet the fate that befell Jimmy Carter, when undecided voters shifted against him to hand Ronald Reagan a big victory. (That itself is bad history, but that underscores my point.) The larger Romney campaign calculation was that there was no way swing voters could possibly see Obama as anything but a total, abject failure, since Republicans knew he had been one. But that reading turned out to be seriously flawed.

Meanwhile, the Romney camp also convinced itself that there was no way the 2012 electorate could possibly be as diverse as it had been in 2008, presumably since Obama’s election was probably a fluke driven by the cult of personality that driven nonwhite and young voters into a frenzy that had worn off once they realized who he really was. That also turned out to be wrong. The point is that Republican operatives adopted a strategic view of the opposing candidate and his circumstances that was largely shaped by their own talking points about him and less about a hard-headed and nuanced look at deeper factors.

Hillary Clinton will of course not be as strong a candidate as Obama was. She does have serious weaknesses. History tilts against one party winning the White House three times in a row. And the question of whether she can mobilize the Obama coalition in Obama-like numbers is a big unknown. But superficial assessments of her current weaknesses — which could be reinforced if Republicans believe their talking points about her — could obscure an appreciation of the built-in advantages that she may enjoy. She could benefit from structural factors such as continued demographic change. The Democratic agenda (this is another possibility that the Romney camp seemed incapable of grasping) may prove more popular than the Republican one with the national electorate, brash assessments that Hillary has lurched “left” notwithstanding. The very real chance at electing the first female president could prove a major factor. And it’s possible — yes, possible — that the Clinton camp may successfully neutralize the email mess after all.

It would be interesting to know just how seriously the smartest GOP operatives are taking these possibilities. Paul Waldman argues today that Republican operatives and establishment figures are not exactly adopting a hard-headed approach to the electability question.

Of course, if Klein is right, and GOP voters are deciding that Clinton is so weak that they need not worry about their standard-bearer’s electability, then it may not matter what Republican strategists and establishment figures think. They aren’t the ones who are picking the GOP nominee.

 

By: Greg Sargent, The Plum Line Blog, October 16, 2015

October 19, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, Hillary Clinton, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“It’s Hard To Be Too Exercised Over This”: Rachel Dolezal Proves Race Not A Fixed Or Objective Fact

Of the 60 people who co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909, only seven were, in fact, “colored.” Most of the organization’s founders were white liberals like Mary White Ovington. Its highest honor, the Spingarn Medal, is named for Joel Spingarn, who was Jewish and white.

Point being, white people have been intricately involved in the NAACP struggle for racial justice from day one. So Rachel Dolezal did not need to be black to be president of the organization’s Spokane chapter. That she chose to present herself as such anyway, adopting a frizzy “natural” hairstyle and apparently somehow darkening her skin, has put her at the bullseye of the most irresistible watercooler story of the year. This will be on Blackish next season; just wait and see.

As you doubtless know, the 37-year-old Dolezal was outed last week by her estranged parents. In response, they say, to a reporter’s inquiry, they told the world her heritage includes Czech, Swedish, and German roots, but not a scintilla of black. In the resulting mushroom cloud of controversy, Dolezal was forced to resign her leadership of the Spokane office. Interviewed Tuesday by Matt Lauer on Today, she made an awkward attempt to explain and/or justify herself. “I identify as black,” she said, like she thinks she’s the Caitlyn Jenner of race. It was painful to watch.

Given that Dolezal sued historically black Howard University in 2002 for allegedly discriminating against her because she is white, it’s hard not to see a certain opportunism in her masquerade. Most people who, ahem, “identify as black” don’t have the option of trying on another identity when it’s convenient.

That said, it’s hard to be too exercised over this. Dolezal doesn’t appear to have done any harm, save to her own dignity and reputation. One suspects there are deep emotional issues at play, meaning the kindest thing we can do is give her space and time to work them out.

Besides, this story’s most pointed moral has less to do with Dolezal and her delusions than with us and ours. Meaning America’s founding myth, the one that tells us race is a fixed and objective fact.

It isn’t. Indeed, in 2000, after mapping the genetic codes of five people — African-American, Caucasian, Asian, and Hispanic — researchers announced they could find no difference among them. “The concept of race,” one of them said, “has no scientific basis.” The point isn’t that race is not real; the jobless rate, the mass incarceration phenomenon, and the ghosts of murdered boys from Emmett Till to Tamir Rice argue too persuasively otherwise.

Rather, it’s that it’s not real in the way we conceive it in America where, as historian Matt Wray once put it, the average 19-year-old regards it as a “set of facts about who people are, which is somehow tied to blood and biology and ancestry.” In recent years, Wray and scholars like David Roediger and Nell Irvin Painter have done path-breaking work exploding that view. To read their research is to understand that what we call race is actually a set of cultural likenesses, shared experiences and implicit assumptions, i.e., that white men can’t jump and black ones can’t conjugate.

To try to make it more than that, to posit it as an immutable truth, is to discover that, for all its awesome power to determine quality of life or lack thereof, race is a chimera. There is no there, there. The closer you look, the faster it disappears.

Consider: If race were really what Wray’s average 19-year-old thinks it is, there could never have been a Rachel Dolezal; her lie would have been too immediately transparent. So ultimately, her story is the punchline to a joke most of us don’t yet have ears to hear. After all, this white lady didn’t just try to pass herself off as black.

She got away with it.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, June 17, 2015

June 17, 2015 Posted by | NAACP, Race and Ethnicity, Rachel Dolezal | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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