Monday, February 8, 2016


While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.

-- Justice John Paul Stevens,
dissenting opinion in Citizens United (2010)

This week's featured post is "Say -- you want a revolution?"

This week I finally decided to vote for Bernie

You've seen me wrestle with this the last two weeks. On most issues, I agree with Bernie more than Hillary. But I also think the difference between the two is tiny compared to the difference between any Democratic candidate and any Republican candidate. (We can, for example, argue about whether Bernie's ideas for breaking up the big banks are better or worse than Clinton's plans to strengthen the Dodd-Frank regulations of Wall Street. But Republican candidates want to repeal Dodd-Frank, and go back to the system we had in 2008.) And I believe Clinton is the stronger general-election candidate for a number of reasons.

But for me the decisive factor comes back to what I wrote when I covered Sanders' announcement statement back in May:

I think it’s way too early to make the unite-behind-a-winner argument. There has to be some point in the electoral process where people express their consciences and vote their ideals. Otherwise, the horse-race mentality becomes self-stoking: People won’t support a candidate they agree with because he can’t win, and he can’t win because the people who agree with him won’t support him.

It's still too early. I want everyone to know that there is substantial support for more radical solutions than we've been offered in past election cycles. I want Clinton to know that if she's the nominee in the fall. I want the media to know that, so they won't take seriously Republican claims that Hillary is some kind of left-wing extremist, or that her positions are as far left as public discussion ever needs to go. I want the next set of Democratic presidential candidates to know that, so liberals will be emboldened to run and moderates will take their left flank into account.

My decision was made easier by Hillary's narrow win in Iowa (which was not decided by coin flips -- how do these things get started?). If she had suffered a surprising loss, especially a large loss, then another large loss in New Hampshire (which the polls are predicting) might send her campaign into a death spiral. I wouldn't want to feel responsible for that.

As for those of you who vote later in the process, I don't think my decision tells you much. I think pragmatism should be an increasingly important factor as the campaign goes on. Which way that pushes you and how that weighs against your idealism is something we all have to decide for ourselves.

but I wasn't the only Democrat talking politics this week

The one thing that makes me nostalgic for the days when Hillary was supposed to coast to the nomination is the level of Democrat-on-Democrat belligerence I'm seeing. Given the people I hang with, I'm seeing it mostly as attacks on Hillary by Bernie supporters, but I'm told it goes both ways.

If I had the power to make a rule for the rest of the Democratic nomination process it would be this: Don't repeat Republican rhetoric.

So Sanders supporters should not be gleefully finishing the character assassination that Richard Mellon Scaife's right-wing Arkansas Project started against the Clintons in the 1990s. If you don't trust Hillary, fine. But recognize that the Hillary-can't-be-trusted meme dates back to a series of crap scandals that fell apart when their details came out, which nonetheless have left a grungy film on her image. (In last week's episode of the TV show Billions, a lawyer explains the ineffectiveness of refuting a false charge after it makes headlines: "If someone says Charlie fucked a goat, even if the goat denies it, he goes to the grave as Charlie the Goat Fucker.") If you refer vaguely to that untrustworthy image, rather than to specific Clinton statements you have specific reasons not to believe, you're making use of Scaife's propaganda.

The emails, BTW, are just the latest crap scandal. Last week I wondered whether similar security violations would show up in the emails of past secretaries of state, if anybody examined them through the same magnifying glass. Apparently, somebody else wondered that too, and it turns out they do.

Similarly, it's fine for Clinton supporters to wish for more details about how Sanders would pay for his programs. But the notion that they can't be paid for buys into the taxes-are-already-as-high-as-they-could-possibly-go message that Republicans have been trying to convince of us for decades.

Likewise, any kind of red-baiting should be off the table: Sanders' policies are what they are and if  you want to criticize them on their merits, fine. But criticizing them because you have managed to attach a socialist or communist label to them ... leave that to the Republicans. And if his defense policies don't seem muscular enough for you, that's a legitimate thing to discuss. But don't imply that Sanders is somehow disloyal or doesn't want to defend America. That's Ted Cruz rhetoric.

I'm similarly disturbed by the Hillary-is-a-warmonger charge that gets thrown around. (That's not Republican rhetoric, but the more it catches on, the harder it's going to be to unite Democrats in the fall.) Admittedly, there is a policy difference between Hillary and Bernie: Hillary is likely to spend more on defense than Bernie, and to use American power more forcefully. And it's worth taking into account that Hillary voted to authorize the Iraq War while Bernie opposed it.

But if you listen to the speech she gave in 2002 during the Senate debate on the authorization resolution, it's not a rah-rah war speech.

This course if fraught with danger. ... If we were to attack Iraq now, alone or with few allies, it would set a precedent that would come back to haunt us. In recent days, Russia has talked of an invasion of Georgia to attack Chechen rebels, India has mentioned the possibility of a preemptive strike on Pakistan, and what if China were to perceive a threat from Taiwan?

So, Mr. President, for all its appeal, a unilateral attack (while it cannot be ruled out) on the present facts is not a good option.

She supports the resolution in order to give President Bush all possible tools to pressure Saddam Hussein into compliance with UN inspections. So her 2002 position reflects the same approach to conflict that as Secretary of State she initiated (and Secretary Kerry completed) with regard to Iran: increasing pressure of all sorts to get the desired outcome without fighting. "I take the President at his word," she says -- that word being that Bush would do everything possible to disarm Saddam without war. That was her mistake.

Also, look at her husband's administration: We didn't fight a major land war during those eight years. (As The Onion put it after Bush replaced Clinton: "Our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over.") Bombing was part of a ring-of-pressure that ended Serbia's genocide against Bosnia and Kosovo, and forced the fall (and eventual war-crimes trial) of President Milosevic without a U.S. invasion. Actually, Bill Clinton's most suspect military decision was the war he didn't fight: He didn't try to stop the Rwandan genocide.

So is a vote for Clinton a vote for war? I really don't think so.

and New Hampshire is inundated with politicians

The Onion reports: "Plows Working Around Clock To Keep New Hampshire Roads Clear Of Campaign Signs". It's a joke, but that's really what it feels like. I'm ready to unplug my phone.

Blogger Chuck Fager reflects on what the great New Hampshire poet Robert Frost might have said about all this.

Polls are predicting a large Sanders win in New Hampshire. But after that things really get interesting. So far, Sanders hasn't shown much support from non-whites, who aren't much of a factor in either Iowa or New Hampshire. But Hispanics are a large percentage of the Democrats in Nevada (caucus February 20) and blacks are the majority among Democrats in South Carolina (February 27 primary).

Even though those states currently look good for Clinton, it's not unreasonable to expect Sanders to start picking up non-white support. Blacks were slow to warm to Barack Obama's candidacy in 2008, but they did eventually come through for him. Sanders has already been endorsed by a few prominent blacks like Ben Jealous and Cornell West. Bill Clinton's role in creating the mass-incarceration problem might start working against Hillary, even though her current positions on the issue are pretty good.

For what my opinion is worth -- after all, I'm a white guy with a mostly white circle of friends, and so far I've refused to put my black and Hispanic acquaintances on the spot to represent their people -- I suspect that belonging to an discriminated-against minority tends to make a voter cautious. Feeling like you have the freedom to fall in love with an idealistic-but-impractical candidate might be a symptom of privilege, comparable to a college student majoring in art history rather than business or engineering. If that's the case, then Bernie can hope for a snowball effect with non-white voters: The more support he gets, the more viable he looks to people who will only support a viable candidate.

Or maybe the snowball will melt in Nevada and South Carolina, as snowballs tend to do.

As for the Republicans, Trump is expected to win, but beyond that things are unpredictable. As I predicted last week, the media decided that Rubio's third-place finish in Iowa gave him momentum. But he had a truly embarrassing debate Saturday night, suffering mostly at the hands of Chris Christie, who was supposed to be fading. Some polls have John Kasich gaining.

A neurologist takes a whack at explaining why Ted Cruz creeps people out. He has "atypical" facial expressions: "Senator Cruz’s countenance doesn’t shift the way I expect typical faces to move."

That doesn't necessarily mean he's insincere or psychopathic, but if watching him just makes you feel uneasy, that's probably why. Tech-savvy people have joked that Cruz falls into the "uncanny valley" -- that region of animation where human characters are accurate enough to seem like they ought to be human, but instead are just unnerving.

but there are advantages

So many important political people show up in New Hampshire just before the primary that you can have some really interesting encounters. (On election night in 2008, for example, I realized that the guy standing behind me at the bar was Senator Durbin.)

Last weekend, the local get-money-out-of-politics group, NH Rebellion, held a conference in Manchester. Both Hillary and Bernie were there, along with Kasich. (Trump was on the schedule, but I never heard whether he showed up or what he said.)

Somehow, maybe because hardly anybody else who got the email realized what a unique opportunity it was, or were just distracted by all their other opportunities, I wound at a table in a coffee shop with Rep. John Sarbanes, my own congressional representative (Annie Kuster), and half a dozen other people. Sarbanes -- if the name rings a bell, you might be remembering his father the senator -- is the guy in Congress leading the fight for the Government By the People Act, which is a way to do public financing of campaigns without a constitutional amendment and without running afoul of the Supreme Court. (It reflects a lot of the ideas Lawrence Lessig has been pushing.)

I'll be talking about the merits of that proposal in future weeks, but for now I just want you to bookmark John Sarbanes, because he looks a lot like a future presidential candidate. He's handsome, personable, smart, and relates well to small groups. He's also on the right side of a major issue, and got there early.

One of the things Sarbannes described over coffee was how he's been getting more congresspeople to talk about campaign finance reform (which the conventional wisdom has said for years that voters don't care about; it's an inside-baseball topic). He says he tells his colleagues not to talk about campaign finance instead of their usual issues, but to use it to "caffeinate" their usual issues: Instead of saying "we need to do something about climate change", say "we need to do something about climate change and what's stopping us is all the special-interest money lined up on the other side". [The quotes are approximate; I wasn't taking notes.]

and you might also be interested in

A federal grand jury has indicted 16 people in the Malheur Wildlife Refuge occupation. LaVoy Finicum, the only occupier who has died, is being hailed as a martyr by the kind of people who need that to be true. Cartoonist Matt Bohrs points out the difference between Finicum and the various young black men who have been gunned down by the authorities.

and let's close with some north-of-the-border mischief

The Bank of Canada wants local Star Trek fans to stop Spocking their fives.

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