Category Archives: US Political System

What Unity Should Mean

If headlines about the Democratic convention (shown below) are any indication, the main purpose of the event is “party unity.”  Calls to “Unite Blue” have been intensifying as the Democratic primary process has inched towards a close and represent a pitch for Bernie Sanders supporters to rally around Hillary Clinton, helping her to emerge victorious in November’s general election matchup with Donald Trump, Gary Johnson, and Jill Stein.

Unity Images

The brand of “unity” being pushed, however, is a corruption of the word.  It zeroes in on a narrow set of attitudes and behaviors – those towards Clinton and other Democratic party leaders – and makes a binary categorization: people who praise Clinton and other Democrats while pledging to vote for them in the fall are good, while those who protest Democratic party leaders at the convention and/or refuse to vote for Hillary Clinton are at best “ridiculous” (Sarah Silverman), “crazy” (Jonathan Chait), “pathetic” (Jon Favreau) “babies” (Amanda Marcotte) and at worst “whiny diaper babies” (Bob Cesca), “dickheads” (Imani Gandy), “garbage people” (Ian Millhiser), “shitheads” (Joan Walsh), or my personal favorite, from a Daily Kos blogger going by the name of LiberalCanuck, “Regressives [who] are commonly found in terrorist and quasi-terrorist circles [and] want misery [and] suffering [so a] revolution can occur.”

This brand of unity is so blinding that those espousing it often pile on and attack individuals who turn out to be with them on the very issue they deem most important (making sure Hillary Clinton wins in the fall).  It risks alienating Sanders supporters – who are more likely than any other candidates’ supporters to hold anti-racist views and support social justice policies – and undecided voters who might otherwise be inclined to lean Democratic, thus sowing the very division to which those pushing party unity are ostensibly opposed.

There is a better kind of unity, one that actually brings people together in pursuit of a more just and equitable world.  It is based on a shared passion for helping those in need, an openness to intellectually honest disagreement, and a commitment to respect and accountability.  This brand of unity has three major components:

1) Sticking to intellectually honest arguments: During the primary, pro-Clinton partisans propagated illiberal, misleading, and/or false claims about Bernie Sanders and his supporters. Now, despite what the New York Times (hardly a Sanders-sympathetic media outlet) has called “undeniable evidence of what Mr. Sanders’s supporters had complained about for much of the senator’s contentious primary contest with Mrs. Clinton: that the party was effectively an arm of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign,” many pundits have responded, not by apologizing for mocking Sanders supporters’ suspicions, but by downplaying and diverting attention away from the evidence confirming that the primary was unfair and undemocratic.  It’s hard to develop a successful coalition when some members of that coalition can’t trust that others are engaging in good faith, and prominent Clinton supporters have a lot of work to do to show that they are.

To be clear, the behavior of these prominent individuals is not representative; most Clinton supporters already engage in good faith most of the time, and there are also Sanders supporters out there who distorted facts during the primary.  It is incumbent upon everyone who truly supports power-balancing policy to make sure we’re adhering to the truth.

2) Respecting intellectually honest disagreement about the strategy most likely to achieve a common goal: Third-party voting, for example, comes with pros and cons for those who believe in social justice policy. The main con, as its detractors are quick to point out, is that it increases the chances that the worse of two major-party candidates will win an election (though it is not the same mathematically as a vote for the worse major-party candidate and, contrary to popular belief, is not the predominant reason George W. Bush became president in 2001).  The main pro of third-party voting, on the other hand – one its detractors rarely if ever acknowledge – is that it increases voters’ leverage over the Democratic party and the likelihood of a meaningful challenge to America’s two-party system in the long run, a system millions of people continue to suffer under.

Whether you think the pros outweigh the cons depends on a number of factors, including how much optimism you have about a third-party voting bloc’s ability to use its power effectively and how much worse you think Trump is than Clinton.  Reasonable people with very similar policy goals and visions for the world are going to disagree about whether third-party voting is worth it – some have even suggested alternative voting options – and rather than excoriating each other, we should have a robust and respectful debate.

3) Addressing legitimate concerns from coalition members and working together on areas of agreement: Third-party voting holds appeal because of the Democratic party’s very real failings, and those who wish to sway third-party voters should make their case not by belittling those voters’ concerns, but by working to make the Democratic party better. If Clinton gets elected and actively pursues the policies she borrowed from Sanders on the campaign trail, we will consider voting for her in 2020.  In the meantime, those voting for third-party candidates in the general election this year must both help push those policies through social movements and make sure to be actively involved in electoral processes at the city, state, and congressional levels.

In short, there’s no reason unity has to be so divisive.

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Filed under 2016 Election, Philosophy, US Political System

Bernie Sanders Knows What He’s Doing and Is Doing It Quite Well

According to Politico, House Democrats booed Bernie Sanders during a closed-door meeting on Wednesday, July 6.  They would like him to officially end his presidential campaign and were frustrated that, in response to calls to endorse Hillary Clinton, he stated that his goal “is to transform America,” not just “to win elections.”  This reaction was unsurprising; as Politico noted, “House Democrats overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton during the presidential primary fight,” and the idea that winning elections might be a means rather than an end “plays better on the campaign trail than in front of a roomful of elected officials.”  Even one of Sanders’ few congressional supporters during the primary, Raul Grijalva, has argued that a Sanders endorsement of Clinton has “got to happen prior to the [Democratic] convention.”

What doesn’t make any sense at all, however, is the argument many of Sanders’ detractors have been advancing for quite some time about why they think he should drop out.  The idea that “he’s squandering the movement he built” by withholding his endorsement (advanced by a “senior Democrat, speaking on the condition of anonymity”) is obviously incorrect, but has been repeated over and over again by numerous journalists and pundits, including:

  • Gabriel Debenedetti and Sahil Kapur, who penned pieces entitled “Sanders loses convention leverage” (for Politico) and “Sanders’ Long Refusal to Endorse Clinton Hurts His Leverage” (for Bloomberg), respectively, on June 17;
  • Joan Walsh, who argued in The Nation on June 27 that “Sanders may…be setting himself up for less influence in Philadelphia, rather than more;”
  • Jamelle Bouie, who contended in Slate on June 28 that “the leverage [Sanders] held at the end of the primary just isn’t there anymore;”
  • Stuart Rothenberg, who wrote in The Washington Post on June 30 that “Sanders is not yet irrelevant[, but] he reached a point weeks ago when his stubbornness became counterproductive;” and
  • Joshua Green, who asserted in Bloomberg on July 7 that “Sanders increasingly looks like an afterthought who’s squandering an historic opportunity.”

Their arguments boil down to the following: The more Sanders waits to endorse Clinton, the more he alienates her team, encouraging them to ignore parts of his platform that they’d be otherwise inclined to support and to rely on other politicians, like Elizabeth Warren, for progressive credibility.  Sanders’ “first and most prominent supporters have jumped off the bandwagon, congratulating and in some cases endorsing Clinton,” Debenedetti notes, and Bouie adds that Sanders has lost his chance to “claim credit” for the “natural movement to Clinton among Democratic primary voters” that has already begun to take place.  Bouie believes Sanders could have taken “a starring role in the campaign against Trump,” opening “the doors to lasting influence,” but in the words of Rothenberg, “Clinton doesn’t need Sanders anymore.” If “Sanders delivers a late or halfhearted endorsement,” Walsh argues, Clinton may even turn to Republicans for votes.

Yet these claims are belied by recent events.  As Jeff Stein observed in Vox, the draft Democratic party platform, released in full on Friday, July 1, “shows Sanders winning on at least six signature issues that reflect long-held goals of his movement…on top of victories Sanders [had] already won over the platform.”  Bouie is right to point out that “Team Sanders…lost out” in platform discussions about “more contentious” issues like the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and environmental regulation, and Green isn’t far off when he says the platform is “a purely symbolic document,” but it’s also undoubtedly the case, as Stein notes, that the party is still “moving [Sanders’] way on several key issues.”  Though Politico’s unnamed senior Democrat and Green ignored it, Clinton also just announced a new plan to make college free for families making under $125,000 a year, a proposal that isn’t quite as good as Sanders’ but represents a striking reversal from her earlier campaign rhetoric.

The reason for these concessions is simple: Clinton wants Sanders’ endorsement.  Yes, some Sanders supporters already seem poised to vote for Clinton, but even they often have negative perceptions of her and are unlikely to volunteer and/or donate in the same way they would have if Sanders was the nominee.  Clinton knows that generating the enthusiasm and votes necessary to beat Donald Trump in November would be easier with Sanders on board and the possibility that he won’t be is the best bargaining chip Sanders has got.

If winning more concessions from Clinton is a key objective for Sanders, he’d be crazy to give that chip up prematurely.  It’s hard to believe that Sanders would have secured the gains he already has if he had followed the pundits’ advice and tried to ingratiate himself to Clinton.

At the same time, winning concessions from Clinton is not Sanders’ – or Grijalva’s, or many other Sanders supporters’ – only or even primary goal.  Sanders has explicitly prioritized making “certain that Donald Trump is defeated and defeated badly,” as Bouie pointed out, and Sanders has both said that he will vote for Clinton in November and suggested that an endorsement may be imminent.  That position isn’t unreasonable; though the differences between Trump and Clinton are often overstated, Clinton is undoubtedly the lesser evil facing those who believe in power-balancing policy.  But it also deprives Sanders and his voters of a whole lot of bargaining power.

In fact, Clinton can court a growing list of Republicans not because of the delayed endorsement by Sanders that Walsh has feared, but for precisely the opposite reason: as one Republican strategist has explained, many Sanders supporters “have already shown, by and large, that they’ll fall in line and back” Clinton despite policy positions they dislike.  The loss of bargaining power that pledging to vote for Clinton entails is also apparent in pressure from Wall Street about Clinton’s choice of a running mate: “moderate Democrats in the financial services industry argue that Sanders voters will come on board anyway and that Clinton does not need to pick [Elizabeth] Warren to help her win.”  A commitment to lesser-of-evilsism is indisputably accompanied by a loss of leverage in situations in which you and the candidate you’re backing disagree.

Some Sanders supporters have already decided that a united front against Trump is more important than that leverage.  Others believe that fixing a Democratic party that is seriously broken is a more pressing concern and that the concessions Sanders has won, while not meaningless, are very different than binding commitments Clinton would be likely to adhere to if elected; we wish Sanders had maximized his leverage by seriously entertaining a third-party run.  Sanders, on the other hand, has been attempting to balance his attention to both goals, to influence the Democratic party platform as much as possible without materially affecting the Democrats’ chances in the fall.

It’s perfectly fine to disagree with his relative weighting of priorities.  But let’s stop pretending that he’s making a strategic blunder.  Sanders knows exactly what he’s doing, and despite assertions to the contrary from media and “top Democrats,” he has actually done it quite well.

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Filed under 2016 Election, US Political System

There’s a Reason People Think the Democratic Primary Was Unfair and Undemocratic: It Was

Journalists have been cautioning Bernie Sanders against “suggesting the entire political process is unfair,” insisting that doing so could have “negative and destabilizing consequences.”  They contend that he must “argue to his supporters that the outcome of the [Democratic primary] process was legitimate” so that he can convince them to vote for Hillary Clinton.  According to several recent articles, this argument should be easy to make because “The Democratic Primary Wasn’t Rigged” and “Bernie Sanders lost this thing fair and square.”

The problem, however, is that the Democratic primary was anything but “fair and square.”  It may not have been “rigged” in the narrow sense in which some of these writers have interpreted that word (to mean that there were illegal efforts to mess with vote counts), but it certainly wasn’t democratic. That’s why only 31 percent of Democrats express “a great deal of confidence” that the Democratic primary process is fair and is likely why the election conspiracy theories these journalists decry have gained traction.

Defenders of the Democratic primary results make several legitimate points.  Clinton secured more votes and more pledged delegates than Sanders.  When voting rules were less restrictive, she still won a greater number of open primaries than he did.  Caucuses, which are very undemocratic, likely benefited Sanders.  There isn’t evidence that the Clinton campaign coordinated efforts to purge voters from the rolls, inaccurately tabulate votes, or mislead Sanders’ California supporters into registering for the American Independent Party.  While “the American election system is a disaster” and “should be reformed,” it’s not clear that the numerous and alarming voting rights issues that surfaced during the primary (from Arizona to New York to Puerto Rico) systematically disadvantaged Sanders.  And discrepancies between exit polls and final voting results can happen for a number of reasons; they aren’t necessarily indicative of foul play.

Yet at the same time, these points skirt the very real ways in which the primary process was “rigged;” as Matt Yglesias and Jeff Stein have acknowledged, “the media, the party, and other elected officials [were] virtually uniformly…loaded against” Sanders from the get-go.  The thumbs on the scale from these groups mattered a lot, more even than Yglesias and Stein surmise.

To quickly recap what those thumbs looked like, the Democratic party threw so much institutional support behind Clinton so long before she even declared her candidacy that political scientist David Karol asserted, in December of 2014, that “Hillary has basically almost been nominated.”  The Democratic National Committee’s debate schedule was “obviously intended” to insulate Clinton from challengers and scrutiny. The DNC, in response to inappropriate behavior from a Sanders staffer who DNC staff had recommended and the campaign had already fired, suspended Sanders’ access to important voter data in violation of its contract with his campaign.  While Clinton was dinging Sanders on his ostensible disregard for party fundraising, the “so-called joint fundraising committee comprised of Clinton’s presidential campaign, the Democratic National Committee and 32 state party committees” was exploiting loopholes in campaign finance laws to funnel the bulk of its resources to Clinton and Clinton alone.  Even into late May, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was leaning heavily into biased, anti-Sanders messaging, and leaked emails confirm that she and other DNC leaders actively sought to undermine the Sanders campaign.  In addition, leaders of numerous groups traditionally affiliated with the Democratic party – unions and organizations generally more aligned with Sanders than Clinton on campaign issues – endorsed Clinton without polling their members (the groups that did open the endorsement process up to members typically endorsed Sanders).

Mainstream pundits and analysts were hardly any better than the Democratic party.  From the moment Sanders entered the race, the media insisted – when they covered him at all, which was not very often – that he had “no chance of winning.”  They continued to write off the possibility of a Sanders victory even as his popularity skyrocketed and he took an early lead in the popular vote, inappropriately including superdelegates in their reporting to make it look like Clinton was winning big.  They asserted that the hundreds of policy wonks in support of Sanders’ ideas didn’t exist, subjecting Sanders’ proposals to far more scrutiny than Clinton’s, getting their analysis of some of Sanders’ plans flat-out wrong, and attempting to “boot anyone not preaching from the incrementalist gospel out of the serious club.”  They began to pressure Sanders to drop out well before even half of all primaries and caucuses had been completed.  They helped advance the false narrative that angry, sexist, illiberal White men fueled Sanders’ rise when his supporters were typically more power-balancing than Clinton’s and he was actually most popular among young women, young people of color, and poor Americans.  They also helped the Clinton campaign propagate numerous misleading and/or untrue attacks on Sanders.

In general, as often happens when political and media establishments are threatened, they progressed from “polite condescension” towards the Sanders campaign to “innuendos” to “right-wing attacks” to “grave and hysterical warnings” to something close to a “[f]ull-scale and unrestrained meltdown.”  It’s not clear exactly how much of that progression was coordinated, but it takes minimal effort to dismantle the claim that the Democratic party and mainstream media outlets were mostly neutral.  Whether Clinton surrogates were praising her on TV without disclosing their ties to her campaign or technically unaffiliated newspaper outlets were blasting Sanders in headlines and post-publication edits to their articles, media sources consistently parroted misleading Clinton campaign talking points.  Evidence indicates that the DNC was along for the ride.

It is true that Clinton faced a large amount of negative media coverage herself – much of it in the summer of 2015 and by some metrics the most out of any presidential candidate – and it is also true that the Sanders campaign had its issues, especially when it came to reaching out to and addressing the concerns of older Black voters.  But that doesn’t change the fact that Clinton got way more coverage at a critical juncture of the race, a huge asset because “[n]ame recognition is a key asset in the early going [and,] even as late as August of 2015, two in five registered Democrats nationally said they’d never heard of Sanders or had heard so little they didn’t have an opinion.”  It also doesn’t change the fact that Clinton was considered the de facto nominee even when media coverage was otherwise unfavorable, a dynamic that surely benefited her among Democrats who prioritize uniting the party in the general election above all else.  Though Sanders’ popularity increased as voters became more familiar with him, the initial lack of media coverage of his campaign, Democratic party opposition to his candidacy, and the idea that a Clinton win was inevitable all hamstrung him greatly.  If the media coverage he received had been more equitable and accurate, it is easy to show that he might have been the Democratic nominee.

That’s why, when writers argue that superdelegates did not “decide the nomination for Clinton,” they’re only half-right.  Clinton certainly won the popular vote under Democratic primary rules, but the superdelegates’ early allegiances and the media’s reporting on those allegiances also certainly influenced that popular vote.  Roadblocks from Democratic party elites and misleading or downright untrue attacks from the Clinton campaign, its many high-profile surrogates, and the mainstream media were ubiquitous throughout the primary process and certainly influenced the vote as well.

As Glenn Greenwald summarized, premature media reports that Clinton had won the election on June 6, besides depressing turnout in the next day’s primaries, constituted “the perfect symbolic ending to the Democratic Party primary: The nomination [was] consecrated by a media organization, on a day when nobody voted, based on secret discussions with anonymous establishment insiders and donors…[T]he party’s governing rules are deliberately undemocratic; unfair and even corrupt decisions were repeatedly made by party officials to benefit Clinton; and the ostensibly neutral Democratic National Committee…constantly put not just its thumb but its entire body on the scale to ensure she won.”  Combine many Democrats’ staunch denial of these problems with undemocratic voting practices that have favored Clinton and that her supporters have too often downplayed, and it’s little wonder that some people believe the election was a sham.

Journalists who disagree should absolutely make their case.  They should also, however, more seriously consider where voters’ concerns come from and stop insisting the system isn’t “rigged.”  People think “the entire political process is unfair” because it is.  And many doubt that “the outcome of the [Democratic primary] process was legitimate” for good reason.

It’s not Sanders’ responsibility to convince people that the primary was something it wasn’t.  It’s our collective responsibility to fix our democracy in the months and years ahead.

Sanders has some ideas for how to go about doing that, and they’re a good start, but there’s still much more to offer in this area.  Stay tuned.

Update (7/23/16): The following sentence fragment was added to this piece after a Wikileaks release of DNC emails: “and leaked emails confirm that she and other DNC leaders actively sought to undermine the Sanders campaign.”  In addition, an earlier version of this piece contained a sentence that read “New evidence suggests that the DNC was along for the ride,” but that sentence was updated to read “Evidence indicates that the DNC was along for the ride” due to corroborating evidence in the Wikileaks release.

Update (10/8/16): Another email leak provides further confirmation that the DNC “anointed [Clinton] the presumed nominee even before the campaign formally began,” as Michael Tracey notes.

Update (10/16/16): Thomas Frank, in a qualitative analysis of Washington Post coverage of Sanders during the primary, finds that clearly negative stories about Sanders outnumbered clearly positive ones by a “roughly five to one” margin, whereas the ratio for Clinton coverage “came much closer to a fifty-fifty split.”

Update (11/2/17): Donna Brazile, who was Vice-Chair of the DNC during the primary, publishes a piece describing how the Clinton campaign “rigged the nomination process” in 2016.  Brazile wrote that the joint fundraising agreement between the Clinton camp and the DNC allowed the Clinton team to “control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics, and mailings.”

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Filed under 2016 Election, Media, US Political System

The Electability Counterfactual

In Pennsylvania, the biggest delegate prize on Tuesday, April 26, 11 percent of Democratic primary voters indicated in exit polls that “electability” was the “candidate quality” they cared about most.  Of those voters, 83 percent cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton.

The results were similar in Connecticut and Maryland and have been pretty consistent throughout the entire country; the 8 to 21 percent of voters who value electability more than anything else have overwhelmingly voted for Clinton in every state in which exit polling is available except Vermont (where Clinton got “only” 50 percent of the votes based on this criterion).  The strongly held belief among Democratic primary voters – at least, those Democratic primary voters who care most about the electability criterion – seems to be that Clinton is more likely than Bernie Sanders to win a head-to-head general election matchup.

This belief, however, is completely at odds with the evidence.  Polling data and voting results clearly imply that Sanders would match up better against any of the Republican candidates than Clinton would.  If voters who cared about electability had been aware of this evidence when voting, Sanders could very well be on his way to wrapping up the Democratic nomination (rather than facing a very narrow, though not impossible, path to victory).

I don’t personally value perceived electability very much: I care more about candidate records and values, electability often ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy and, given that it requires speculation about numerous unknown factors, electability cannot be gauged with certainty.  But I’ve written about it during this election cycle both because there are people who do care and because a fact-free media narrative about electability has been sowing misinformation among Democratic primary voters.

Head-to-head polling matchups against potential Republican candidates are the most direct evidence we have on the question of electability.  As the graph below illustrates, those polls clearly favor Sanders, and they’ve done so since before voters in the first primary state (Iowa) headed to their caucus locations.

Head-to-Head Polls

Pundits continue to insist, as they have for months, that these poll results are “meaningless” (or, at best, that they “overstate [Sanders’] general-election prospects”).  They argue that Sanders “hasn’t been attacked” yet by Republicans and that, if attacks began to air, “his advantage over [Clinton] would disappear.”  Yet Sanders has been attacked by the GOP; Donald Trump has been calling Sanders a “maniac” and “communist” for the last six months, Right-wing media outlets have been telling people that, under Sanders, “your paycheck will feel the Bern,” and Future 45, a Republican Super PAC, launched an ad campaign back in February intended “to start educating Americans about [Sanders’] out-of-touch record.”  In fact, the “glaring [general election] vulnerabilities” one columnist described Sanders as having back in February – being old, being labeled a “socialist,” and wanting to raise taxes – are all things that Hillary Clinton and/or her surrogates have already attacked him for during the primary season.

GOP operatives would surely intensify their attacks on Sanders if he became the Democratic nominee.  But the fact of the matter is that head-to-head polling in April is often predictive of general election outcomes and that, in spite of numerous attacks leveled against him over the past few months, Sanders’ popularity has continued to rise steadily.  Clinton’s popularity, as the chart below shows, has been consistently headed in the opposite direction.

Favorability

In addition, young voters, who “arguably won both the 2008 and 2012 elections for Barack Obama,” prefer Sanders to Clinton by very large margins.  So do Independents.  If the Democrats want to secure these critical voting blocs in November, the next two graphs strongly suggest that they’d be best off with Bernie Sanders as their nominee.

Youth

Independents

In short, the electability evidence overwhelmingly favors Sanders, and most voters who have seen it, as I’ve been unsurprised to discover while phone banking and canvassing on Sanders’ behalf, find it convincing.  The problem is that most people haven’t seen it and/or have been told, erroneously, that it doesn’t matter; that’s the most likely explanation for the exit poll results we’ve seen thus far.

Just for fun, I decided to see what the election would look like in an alternate universe, one in which this evidence was widely available to all voters.  Those who prioritized electability would at the very least split evenly between the two candidates, but would more likely vote for Sanders in margins as large as those by which, in the actual results, they’ve broken for Clinton.

Holding every other voter’s preferences constant, these scenarios would have drastically shifted election outcomes.  If voters prioritizing electability had been equally as likely to break for Sanders, Sanders would have won Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Nevada.  Clinton’s pledged delegate lead would have fallen from 287 to 129, a total that would have been viewed as surmountable.  And if Sanders dominated among these voters, he would have won New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania as well.  As the graph below shows, increased awareness of electability evidence could very well have put Sanders ahead of Clinton by 83 pledged delegates.

Electability What-If

In other words, if the facts on electability had been publicized and everything else had remained constant, Sanders might today be the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.

That’s obviously a huge “if” and it doesn’t in any way change reality: Clinton is winning big and time is running out.  But electability hypotheticals provide some insight into how the 2016 Democratic primary process, like far too many of our public debates, has been driven more by misleading media narratives than by the facts.

I know, I know – as Sanders likes to remind us, “telling the truth” is considered a “radical idea” in American politics.  But as his candidacy has also underscored, that certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.

Update (6/5/16): Adam Johnson has thoroughly debunked “The Myth That Sanders Hasn’t Been Criticized.”

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The New York Primary was a Sh*tshow. Here’s Why.

Russ Nickel is a screenwriter (with a B.A. in Creative Writing from Stanford University and an M.F.A in Screenwriting from Chapman University) who used to believe his vote mattered.

Russ Nickel.png

Russ Nickel

Like many Bernie Sanders supporters, I’m new to politics – most of my knowledge came from comedians, who seem to be the only ones unaffected enough by corporate media to be able to tell the truth (Stephen Colbert and John Oliver, I’m looking at you). They drilled into me some of the worst aspects of our system, and Super PACs were at the top of the list. But I resigned myself to the fact of their existence. Citizens United happened, every candidate was corrupt, and I might as well just sit back and focus on pursuing my career, not worrying about the country as a whole.

Then there was Bernie, a man who was untouched by the corruption of the system, who was addressing every issue these comedians had shown me was so important (the insane wealth gap, privatized prisons, climate change, women’s rights, LGBT rights, education, pretty much everything in The Big Short).

Like many Bernie supporters, I had faith. I believed everyone got a vote. I believed the will of the people mattered. But that faith has been destroyed. Not my faith in Bernie, of course—I’ll be hosting phone banking events and canvassing as much as I can—but my faith in democracy is well and truly gone. Here’s just some of what went wrong in New York’s Primary:

126,000 Voters Dropped from Voting Rolls

Shortly before the election, 126,000 Democrats were dropped from the rolls. This is a huge number, and it’s so significant that Mayor de Blasio (who is himself a Hillary Clinton supporter) demanded an explanation. Voters were removed for a number of reasons, often because they were “inactive.” Why should you be removed if you haven’t voted recently? And more importantly, why did this purge occur shortly before the election? Many of these purged voters showed up to their polling places and were unable to cast a vote. This is neither a Bernie nor Hillary issue. It’s just a democracy issue.

Voter Registrations Changed on a Massive Scale

Countless stories are rolling in of voters’ registrations being changed from a party they’ve voted for their whole lives to something else. This is particularly problematic in a closed election, where only Democrats can vote for the Democratic candidate. When voters showed up and were registered under the wrong party, they were given two options: either get a court order or fill out an affidavit.

It’s ridiculous that there is so much burden placed on voters. Voters should not be expected to travel to a court, speak to a judge, and receive a court order to vote. And even if they do miraculously have the time to do that, it’s not enough; they also need some sort of proof that they used to be registered as a Democrat. The onus should not be on the voters to keep evidence to prove their political affiliation.

Who knows how many thousands or tens of thousands of voters were turned away on Tuesday? Stories of this are everywhere (like this, or this, or this—the list goes on). In that first case, the poll worker actually discouraged the person from voting.

Registrations Changed Due to Forgeries

Who knows how many of the switched registrations were malicious? There are already accounts coming in of people’s signatures being forged so that when they showed up, well, they had to fill out an affidavit.

In fact, it got so bad that…

New York City’s Comptroller is Auditing the Board of Elections

Technically this is something going right, but it’s just further proof of things going so wrong. You can read his letter here. He brings up a number of critical points, like…

Polls Opened Hours Late

Multiple polling locations didn’t open until hours after their listed opening time. This meant that voters arrived, stood in line, and eventually had to leave for work, unable to cast a vote. These locations often suggested voters go to another location and fill out a provisional ballot.

Provisional Ballots and Affidavits Were Often Unavailable and Likely Won’t Be Counted

Many voters wanted to fill out provisional ballots and affidavits in situations when, for whatever reason, they weren’t allowed to vote. Unfortunately, there are countless stories of polling locations not having these ballots (like this and this). One report even states that the location refused to hand out provisional ballots, and when the Attorney General was contacted and instructed poll workers to do so, the local Board of Elections replied by saying “the Attorney General doesn’t run this office.”

Who knows how many thousands or tens of thousands of people didn’t even fill out these ballots? And there may be literally hundreds of thousands of people who did. Not only might these ballots not be counted, but if they are, it will happen weeks after Hillary has gained momentum from her win. This fiasco illuminates exactly how messed up the system is. People want to vote. They want to be part of our democracy. But they’re being told that they can’t, and when they can, they’re being told their vote doesn’t matter.

An Emergency Lawsuit was Filed

The registration problem got so bad that a lawsuit was filed and there was an emergency hearing. Unfortunately, rather than make any sort of real decision, the judge said that, because this was a county-by-county issue, the lawyers would need to produce defendants in every single county (that’s over 60 defendants). They were given about 20 minutes to do this. Obviously, that time limit is absurdly unrealistic, so the hearing had to be postponed. This meant that literally millions of voters were unsure whether the election would be open and their votes would count. The judge said it was okay because voters already had a remedy; they simply had to go to a judge and get a court order allowing them to vote.

No Working Machines

Even when polling places opened on time, there were reports of locations without a single working machine. So what’s the solution? Oh yeah, an affidavit. Of course. Or wait until a new machine is brought in, not knowing how long that wait will be. Again, people had to leave because of work.

Voters Listed in Wrong Location

As I write this list, my anger and depression are hitting me all over again. There are so many stories of voters going to polling locations only to not be listed. Here, take an affidavit, they were told, but many would-be voters were more stalwart and refused. Sometimes they turned out to magically be listed after all, and other times they were listed in different districts, despite having no change of address or anything—they were simply mis-listed. Or sometimes, literally everyone at the location wasn’t listed and was forced to fill out our good friend the affidavit.

New York has “2nd Lowest Voter Turnout So Far”

It’s absurd that New York is only ahead of Louisiana in terms of voter turnout. Only 19.7% of eligible New York Democratic voters cast a ballot. You know why the title of this section is in quotes? It’s because New York’s turnout was actually higher than usual and above what the official numbers indicate (here’s an article literally titled “Voter turnout unusually high in New York”). It’s because tens or hundreds of thousands of people were forced to fill out affidavits or were simply turned away. So yes, they turned out, but then they didn’t get to vote.

In Some Districts, Hillary’s Margins were Less than the Number of Affidavits

Hillary won some districts (again, no telling how many at this point) by small enough margins that the number of affidavits (which seem to have largely affected Bernie supporters) could overturn her victories.

One Polling Location on Lockdown

The silliest one yet. One polling location happened to go on lockdown. Meaning more people couldn’t vote. And all of this still doesn’t bring up the #1 problem with New York’s primary:

THREE MILLION INDEPENDENTS WEREN’T ABLE TO VOTE

Sure, maybe it’s fine to have a closed primary. I don’t know. But having the registration change deadline be October of the previous year, literally 6 months earlier, is absolutely insane. Few people even knew about Bernie’s campaign at this point. This law makes it virtually impossible for a come-from-behind candidate to win this state. It’s absurd. Bernie does incredibly well among Independents. These are people who are going to vote in the general election. They wanted to vote for Bernie in the primary, but they couldn’t.

To Conclude, Voter Suppression has Ruined this Election

Voter suppression has happened throughout the country. There is a lawsuit currently underway in response to Arizona’s disgraceful procedures, which many claim constitute blatant voter suppression. In Chicago, an official audit by the Board of Elections just showed that, while Bernie lost with 47.5% of the vote in one precinct, after an audit, he won with 56.7% of the vote. That’s absolutely insane. That amounts to a swing of 18.4% in the final results!!! The media continues to tell us that Hillary is an unstoppable force and Bernie an unelectable candidate, but the only 2 states Hillary has won in the last 10 primary contests are under investigation for election fraud and voter suppression. Think about that.

We live in America, a country ostensibly founded on the principles of democracy. This election has shown that the people do not have a voice. We cannot win. This is what we’re fighting against.

What would the New York Primary results look like if the hundreds of thousands of voters who wanted to exercise their democratic right to vote were simply allowed to? If the millions of Independents actually had a chance to make their voices heard?

What would it look like?

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A Less Wonky Bernie Sanders Would Still Make a Great President

bernie-sanders-visits-daily-news

Bernie Sanders at an interview with the New York Daily News on April 1, 2016 (image via Shaun King).

According to much of the mainstream media, Bernie Sanders’ recent interview with the New York Daily News was an unmitigated disaster. Chris Cillizza wrote that “Sanders struggled.  Often mightily.”  Jonathan Capehart argued that Sanders “seemed surprisingly out of his depth.” David Graham contended that Sanders “couldn’t offer a coherent answer,” Damon Linker said he “bombed big-time,” and the Washington Post Editorial Board complained that he displayed “shocking ignorance on his core issue.”

The problem with this media formulation is twofold.  First, as experts like Dean Baker and Mike Konczal have explained, Sanders grasps the issues discussed in the interview much better than most of his critics do.  With regard to Sanders’ much-maligned comments on breaking up big banks, for example, political economy reporter Zach Carter noted that “[t]he legal landscape Sanders describes is basically correct and not embarrassing to anyone who actually understands it.”

Second, a closer look at the interview reveals a crucial point about the presidency that is often overlooked: a candidate’s values, vision, and record matter a lot more than the specific policy proposals that candidate unveils during campaign season.

That’s true because literally “[t]housands of people work in the West Wing, the East Wing, the Cabinet, and the Executive Office of the President.”  These are the people who actually write the granular policy proposals that come out of the President’s office; it is their job to “carry out the priorities of the…Administration.”

Neither Sanders nor Hillary Clinton, if one of them were to become President, would hash out all the details on the dozens of issues that cross the President’s desk every day.  They’d both have staffs to do that.  What they would do is guide the construction of those details: they’d lay out their goals, outline the broad contours of how to get there, appoint and/or hire staff who share their vision, and exercise final decision-making authority.

Sanders alluded to this point repeatedly during the Daily News interview, explaining what he wanted to do and describing how, when it actually comes time to do it, he’d need to gather more information and consult experts on the specific course of action to take.  He’d rely on the Treasury Secretary and other staff “who know a lot about this” to figure out the best way to break up the banks.  He’d direct his Attorney General to figure out how to aggressively prosecute wrongdoing on Wall Street.  He’d need “paper in front of” him before deciding exactly what Israel’s withdrawal from Palestinian territory should look like.  These statements make a lot of sense and shouldn’t disturb anyone – unless, of course, you worry about who the Treasury Secretary, Attorney General, and/or staff providing his briefing papers might turn out to be.

And therein lies a crucial difference between Sanders and Clinton: the people with whom they surround themselves.  Clinton’s staff and donor list reads like a who’s who of Establishment Democrats, wealthy interests, and corporate lobbyists.  She draws advice from the same foreign policy firm used by several Republicans and refuses to condemn corruption from close friends like Rahm Emanuel.  One of her prominent surrogates, David Brock, is known for “scurrilous hatchet jobs,” including his attempt to discredit Anita Hill (who was sexually harassed by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas) during the 1990s.

Sanders, on the other hand, has a history of hiring social justice advocates to work for him.  He plans to “shut the revolving door between Wall Street and the federal government.”  His racial justice platform explicitly states that his policies would be developed with “input from a broad segment of the community including activists and leaders from civil rights organizations.”

None of that is to say that all of Sanders’ staffers would be perfect or that all of Clinton’s staffers would be cause for alarm.  In fact, I’m sure you’d find a number of great people working in a Clinton administration.  But while there’s undeniably value in having some people with financial industry experience in regulatory positions, for example, Clinton’s pool of possible advisers doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence among those of us concerned about the influence of money in politics.

Especially given Sanders’ superior record and bigger goals in areas ranging from Wall Street reform to the environment, it seems like a pretty safe bet that a team he assembled would push hard for change.  They wouldn’t necessarily get their entire wish list, but they, unlike a Clinton administration, could be expected to fight tooth-and-nail for power-balancing policy.

Thus when Clinton jumped on the media narrative and used the Daily News interview to accuse Sanders of not understanding “the law or the practical ways you get something done,” her critique wasn’t just incorrect; it completely missed the point.  What a presidential candidate wants to do, and that candidate’s credibility in advocating for it, is a lot more important than whether that candidate has memorized the minutiae of policy proposals.  Technocratic knowledge can’t fix weak goals.  There are, however, a plethora of policy experts around to help candidates who want to implement a bold, power-balancing policy vision.

So while Sanders does actually have a firm grasp on a lot of policy details, that’s not the main reason I’m voting for him.  I support Bernie Sanders in large part because he would bring a new mode of thinking – and new people – to the White House.

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Pro-Clinton Writers Make Illiberal Arguments and Then Complain When They’re Called Out On It

A nontrivial portion of online comments are going to be unconstructive and/or offensive.  Especially when a columnist writes something provocative, a lot of people are going to be unhappy about it, and many of them, bolstered by the relative anonymity and psychological distance the Internet affords, will respond with vitriol.  That said, there are actually a lot of thoughtful readers out there, and even angry responses can sometimes contain good points.  Authors who take the time to consider the feedback they receive – to parse the constructive commentary from the trash – can improve their arguments and demonstrate that they’ve really thought through the fairness and implications of what they’ve written.

Unfortunately, many authors don’t do that.  And during this election cycle, this failure in self-reflection has been particularly prevalent among prominent Hillary Clinton supporters.

To illustrate what I mean, I’m going to focus on two columnists, Paul Krugman and Michael Tomasky, who share a few characteristics:

  • They’ve got wide readership. Krugman is much more well-known and writes for the New York Times, but Tomasky has a decent following in his own right; he’s a columnist for the Daily Beast and also edits Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.
  • They’ve written multiple pieces in support of Clinton that express illiberal ideas and/or distort the truth – that is, they’ve done exactly the type of thing they frequently ding Republicans for doing.
  • Instead of addressing any of numerous valid criticisms of their pro-Clinton articles, they’ve cast all of their critics as “Bernie Bros” who can’t possibly have anything legitimate to say. In “An Ode to My Berniebro Trolls,” Tomasky asserts that there is “nothing” even potentially objectionable about his previous piece, “Time for Bernie Sanders to Get in Line,” except that perhaps the title was an oversell of his main point: Sanders is “going to lose” and should therefore “lay off the attacks on Hillary Clinton, the Goldman Sachs speeches and all the rest.”  Krugman, for his part, has long complained of being subjected to the “Bernie Bro treatment,” which seems to mean that he’s been called “a corrupt tool of the oligarchy.”  He has recently claimed that the Sanders campaign itself is “getting pretty ugly in a way the Clinton [campaign] hasn’t.”

If Krugman really believes that “[g]ood ideas don’t have to be sold with fairy dust” and that “getting real is or ought to be a core progressive value,” he isn’t currently putting his money where his mouth is.  And Tomasky’s insistence that he’s “open to hearing a smart argument against [his] position” would be a lot more believable if he hadn’t thus far ignored those that have been offered.  If Krugman and Tomasky are serious about “getting real,” they will begin to acknowledge and address the following points:

The “Bernie Bro” narrative is “a Cheap Campaign Tactic Masquerading as Journalism.”

Everyone who has made this point recognizes that some Bernie Sanders supporters make sexist, racist, and/or otherwise offensive comments.  We condemn those comments.  We also request that Clinton supporters stop using a sexist label themselves, one that, when it isn’t being applied to women or people who don’t even support Bernie Sanders, is marginalizing the millions of women (and people of color; the “Bernie Bro” is often cast as an angry White guy) who are staunch proponents of the Sanders campaign (Sanders is actually way more popular than Clinton among young women and, increasingly, among younger Black and Latino voters).  As a recent study confirmed about sexism, Internet harassment is a major issue but is mostly not from “the left in general or Sanders supporters in particular.”

There are numerous examples of Hillary Clinton supporters who make sexist, racist, and homophobic comments as well.  Whether you’re subject to such comments is both a function of which candidate you support and how much privilege you have (women and people of color who support any candidate are much more likely to be harassed than White men like Krugman and Tomasky or half-Indian men who are perceived to be White like me, for instance).  So let’s not go around calling people “Hillary Elites” or “Hillary Straights” or “Bernie Bros.”  Instead, let’s condemn harassment without opportunistically twisting the truth about it and focus our energy on substantive debates about issues.

The Sanders campaign’s critiques of Clinton’s record and platform have been significantly fairer than the Clinton campaign’s misleading and/or untrue attacks on Sanders.

The only specific “attack” on Clinton that Tomasky actually attributes to Sanders is his call for Clinton to release the transcripts of three speeches Goldman Sachs paid her $225,000 (each) to make during the past few years.  But Sanders’ critique here is completely fair (as is what Tomasky calls Sanders’ “anti-Rahm Emanuel tincture”).  Clinton has repeatedly claimed that the money she receives from Wall Street doesn’t influence her; the American people have a right to know how her remarks to bankers comport with her professed commitment to regulate them (though how her comments could possibly look as bad as her continued refusal to share them is anyone’s guess).

To be fair, the precise definition of “attack” is open for debate, but despite Krugman’s assertions to the contrary, the fact that Clinton’s campaign has been much more insidious isn’t.  Throughout the primary, the Clinton campaign has repeatedly distorted the truth.  Clinton has disingenuously accused Sanders of sexism and racism, made false statements about his health care plan and history of health care advocacy, and misled the public about his record on the auto industry, immigration, Wall Street, and a variety of other issues.  Her team has also engaged in red-baiting, trashed taxes Democrats are supposed to support, and co-opted the language of intersectionality to inaccurately paint Sanders  – a rare politician who recognizes the connections between social and economic issues and is advancing a comprehensive social justice agenda – as a single-issue candidate.  Clinton’s campaign might not embody “the most negative campaign of any Democratic presidential candidate…in a presidential primary season” label that her staffers have tried to apply to the Sanders campaign, but the Clinton team’s tactics have been – by far – the most negative in this year’s race.

Sanders has a very strong track record as a legislator and executive.

Tomasky incorrectly argues that Sanders is an ineffective legislator, citing a lack of cosponsors on his bills as evidence that he doesn’t work well with Congress.  Tomasky omits, however, that Sanders recently negotiated a bipartisan bill “to expand veterans’ access to health care” with John McCain, a bill which is widely viewed as a huge success.  Sanders’ Republican colleagues, despite their disagreements with him, liked working with Sanders and praised him for his integrity and work ethic, while Democratic Senators said that, without Sanders, they “don’t think [they] would have gotten [the bill] done.”

Tomasky also fails to mention that Sanders has mastered the art of adding power-balancing amendments to larger bills; his accomplishments include (but are not limited to) securing funding for community health centers in the Affordable Care Act, blocking imports made with child labor, and increasing transparency about one-time government officials’ subsequent employment opportunities.

Sanders’ record as mayor of Burlington also shows that he’s an excellent executive.  He has a history of setting big goals, fighting for them, and eventually working out the best deal he believes he can.  The citizens of Vermont love Sanders for a reason – they know his record a lot better than Krugman and Tomasky do, and it’s a damn good one.

If anything, I’d prefer Sanders were much less into what Krugman calls “hardheaded realism” than he actually is.  That’s because Krugman is wrong about how to make change; we are served best not by “accepting half loaves as being better than none,” but by reframing issues and forcing policymakers’ hands.  As climate expert Bill McKibben explains, major accomplishments like gay marriage and civil rights legislation weren’t driven by leaders all too willing to compromise; they were driven by “big, impassioned movement[s] that cleverly changed the zeitgeist.”  Sanders gets this dynamic more than any major presidential candidate in recent memory, and that’s why his “political revolution” carries so much potential to change this country’s politics.

All the evidence suggests Sanders is a more “electable” general election candidate than Clinton.

Both Krugman and Tomasky write off the head-to-head polling that has consistently shown Sanders to outperform Clinton in hypothetical general election matchups with Republicans.  Tomasky argues that “a billion-dollar onslaught” from the GOP, targeted at the “tax increases he’s proposing,” would tank Sanders.  Yet as I’ve explained before, the GOP would also mercilessly attack Clinton, and the idea that those attacks would work better against Sanders is entirely inconsistent with other polling trends.  As shown below, Clinton’s favorability ratings have been steadily declining, while Sanders’ have continued to rise as voters have become more familiar with him.

Favorability

As I’ve also explained before and the graphs below show, Sanders does significantly better than Clinton among two demographic groups key to winning a general election: young people and Independents.

Millennials

Independents

Voters in these groups – unlike voters in Clinton’s key constituencies – may very well abandon the Democrats if Clinton is the party’s nominee.  I wouldn’t personally recommend basing your vote on perceived electability, but if that’s what you’re planning to do, the evidence indicates that you should vote for Sanders.

There are substantial, important differences between Sanders and Clinton.  These differences are in some respects much larger than the differences between Clinton and various Republicans.

Krugman argues that the differences between Sanders and Clinton “are trivial compared with the yawning gulf with Republicans.”  Ironically, the context for those comments – an article about financial policy and donations – provides a compelling counterexample: Wall Street does not like Sanders, but the industry seems to like Clinton more than many of the Republican candidates, as the graph below shows.  And though many of them likely agree with Krugman that the differences between Clinton and the Republicans are larger than those between Sanders and Clinton, numerous smart people and policy experts whose existence Krugman ignores believe both that Sanders’ Wall Street plans are much better than Clinton’s and that Sanders is far more likely than Clinton to surround himself with a staff that will execute a power-balancing policy vision.

Wall Street Donations

For an even better example, consider foreign policy.  Clinton has embraced an incredibly hawkish position on Israel, used the same foreign policy consulting firm as Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz (among other politicians), and supported a coup in Honduras in 2009; in fact, she has earned the support of many neoconservatives for her long history of supporting civil liberties violations and aggressive interventions that have resulted in the mistreatment and/or deaths of millions of innocent people.  Tomasky is right to point out that Sanders’ doesn’t get particularly high marks on foreign policy from “actual leftists,” but there’s a reason Congresswoman and Iraq War veteran Tulsi Gabbard resigned from the Democratic National Committee to endorse Sanders at the end of February (see video below): he’s much less imperialistic than the typical major party candidate.

Then there’s the death penalty: Sanders opposes it, but Clinton, like the Republicans, is okay with it.  There’s also the subject of immigrants’ rights: Clinton’s professed outrage over Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the Mexican border is hard to reconcile with her repeated support for a border barrier in the past, support she touted as recently as November 2015.  Her newfound commitment not to deport children fleeing violence is also hard to believe given her defense of such deportations a mere seven months ago.  In contrast, Sanders has consistently opposed both a border fence and deportations.

From Clinton’s support for the escalation of the War on Drugs and move to more draconian welfare policy to her longtime opposition to gay marriage to her promotion of “free trade” deals that have prioritized the interests of multinational corporations over those of the bulk of the world’s citizens, Clinton’s history is closer to many Republicans’ than to Sanders’, who has a very good (albeit imperfect) record on racial justice issues, anti-poverty work, LGBT issues, and opposing bad trade deals.  To be sure, there are some causes on which Sanders has found Republican allies, but those causes have generally been ones – like opposition to corporate welfare – that Tomasky’s “actual leftists” support.

In light of all these facts, Tomasky’s argument that Democrats should refrain from criticizing Hillary Clinton (who he thinks will be the Democratic nominee), like a similar argument from Markos Moulitsas at Daily Kos, is a hell of a lot scarier to people like me than a Donald Trump presidency.  This undemocratic idea elevates party tribalism over good policymaking and “winning” over holding politicians accountable.  It presents a major obstacle to the change the world’s most disadvantaged populations desperately need, change which perpetual endorsements of lesser-of-two-evilsism will never deliver.  Such a misguided notion of “political pragmatism undermines progressive goals,” as I’ve argued before.

Sanders still has a legitimate shot to win the Democratic primary.

Half the country still hasn’t cast their ballots and Bernie Sanders isn’t all that far away from the pledged delegate targets he’d need to win the nomination; Tomasky is wrong to assert that “Sanders can’t win the delegate race now.”  Yes, winning will be difficult, but there’s still a clear path for him to do so, and as Sanders’ historic upset win in Michigan shows, an election isn’t over until the voters actually cast their ballots.  Krugman thinks an extended primary isn’t “good for the Democratic party;” I, on the other hand, think the Clinton coronation he and the Democratic party Establishment have been pushing is a whole lot worse, as it flies in the face of a lot of what the party is supposed to stand for.

All of that said, Krugman and Tomasky are right about one thing: Sanders supporters should avoid the reflexive attribution “of foul and malevolent motives” to Clinton supporters.

I know a lot of awesome Clinton supporters who do great work.  People support presidential candidates for a variety of reasons, and instead of jumping to conclusions about the character of those who disagree with us, we should listen to those reasons and evaluate them on their merits.  In fact, I’d urge everyone to extend the same courtesy to Bernie Sanders supporters, to Jill Stein supporters, to those who refuse to vote, and yes, even to people who plan to vote for one of the Republican candidates.  We should consider the possibility that others have thought through their electoral choices and have entirely legitimate reasons for making them.

At the same time, ethics and evidence matter, and it’s perfectly fine – in fact, it’s essential – to hold voters accountable for attending to them.  If you say your top priority is raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, for example, you can’t possibly defend a vote for a Republican this year.  You also can’t really explain a vote for Clinton, which is why Sanders supporters were justifiably furious when the Service Employees International Union endorsed Clinton in November.

I suspect that Krugman and Tomasky don’t share all of my values and priorities.  We agree on a lot – I enjoy their writing outside of election season and appreciate much of what they advocate for – but they seem much more comfortable with the policy status quo than I am.  I reject the idea that public policy must inevitably leave millions of people behind; they very well may not.  In Tomasky’s words: “Fine. I can appreciate that.”  If more voters share Krugman and Tomasky’s values than share mine, so be it.

The problem, however, is that Krugman and Tomasky haven’t been writing about value disagreements.  Instead, rather than acknowledging and responding to the evidence and logical arguments that contradict their claims, they’ve continued to pen inaccurate and/or highly misleading articles for popular media outlets.  Is it any wonder that, in response to such widely read misinformation, they’ve received angry responses from Sanders supporters?

My best guess is that Krugman and Tomasky are suffering from a severe case of confirmation bias: they’re convinced that Clinton is the best option and have developed tunnel vision to avoid the cognitive dissonance that actually considering feedback might bring about.  But that doesn’t make what they’re doing okay.  And given how often they assign “foul and malevolent motives” to Republicans who write fallacious things, they’d do well to reflect on why it is that their readers have recently been doing the same thing to them.

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Punditry Prophecies and the Michigan Primary

Harry Enten, a forecaster at FiveThirtyEight, believes he isn’t a favorite of Bernie Sanders supporters; they “don’t exactly love me,” Enten recently wrote.  That may be true, as Enten’s coverage of Sanders during the Democratic primary has, for the most part, been extremely dismissive.  When Sanders entered the race in April of 2015, for example, Enten asserted that Sanders had “pretty much no shot of winning.”  And despite the massive growth in Sanders’ support in the time since, Enten had barely changed his tune nine months later – at the beginning of March, in an article entitled “Hillary Clinton’s Got This,” he argued that “Clinton eventually will win the nomination with relative ease.”

Enten’s underlying analyses have generally been based on polling, endorsements, demographics, and other reasonable indicators.  And Sanders supporters have long understood that Sanders’ path to the Democratic nomination is an uphill climb.  The main objection with Enten-type coverage is not that it’s based on faulty data analysis – it’s not – but that it is at least as much a driver as a predictor of election results.

What does that mean?  It means that two of Sanders’ biggest obstacles to winning the Democratic nomination – perhaps the two biggest obstacles – are the facts that many people aren’t familiar with him and that, of the people who are, many don’t think he has a chance to win.  The latter has driven organizations and individuals who should be natural Sanders allies to, because of a misguided sense of pragmatism, endorse Clinton instead.  It has also driven highly unbalanced media coverage.  These outcomes make it harder for Sanders to introduce voters to his extremely popular ideas,  his consistent record of fighting for social justice causes, and his history of legislative and executive success.

Unsurprisingly, the more voters hear about Sanders, the more support Sanders gets.  The problem is that, because of Enten-type assertions that Sanders doesn’t have a chance, fewer voters get to hear about Sanders than otherwise would.  That lack of exposure ensures lower levels of support, thus often confirming the forecasters’ original predictions and emboldening them to make new ones that further feed into this loop.  Forecaster predictions, in other words, are frequently self-fulfilling prophecies.

That’s one reason Sanders’ historic win in the Michigan primary is so important – by exposing how wrong pundit predictions have been, it has the potential to break this self-reinforcing cycle.  The results in Michigan illustrate more than the inherent uncertainty in data analyses; they show that pundit assertions about which candidates have a chance should always be viewed with skepticism.

To Enten’s credit, he responded to Sanders’ victory by owning how wrong he’s been – “Bernie Sanders made folks like me eat a stack of humble pie on Tuesday night,” Enten wrote.  Vox’s Matt Yglesias, who openly mocked the Sanders’ campaign’s chances in Michigan six days before its victory, also admitted his error.

Yet while these one-time corrections are a good start, they’re also not nearly enough.  Rather than having humility as their dessert, Enten, Yglesias, and the rest of the punditry would do well to consume a little more modesty before – not after – their future political meals.

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Supporting Bernie Sanders is a Feminist Choice

Lela Spielberg is a lifelong advocate for gender equality. She has worked in the education and social services field as a teacher, policy analyst, and program designer at a local family foundation in Washington, DC.  In this post, she describes how the dialogue about Bernie Sanders and his supporters illustrates some of the problems with a particular brand of American feminism.

Lela Spielberg

Lela Spielberg

Over the last month, as Bernie Sanders has gained popularity in the polls, the media and prominent political figures have ramped up their attacks against him. At first, these attacks were unsurprising to me: “he’s inexperienced;” “he’s too idealistic;” “he’ll never get anything done.” These statements are part of the typical chorus of attacks that Washington insiders and committed capitalists have used against progressive candidates since the beginning of time.  I won’t spend my time debunking these myths, as there have been several articles, including ones on this blog, that have done so already. However, about a month ago, a new strand of attacks emerged that I have found more troubling – as a woman, as a millennial, and as an American. These attacks allege that Bernie and/or his supporters are anti-feminist. Not only are they untrue, but their language also demonstrates the deep sense of elitism and entitlement that pervades traditional American feminism.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. I’m a Bernie supporter. I’ve identified as a socialist ever since I learned about the concept in my eighth-grade world history class, and I’ve admired Bernie’s activism since I moved to Washington over six years ago. Until Bernie jumped into the race, I had planned on casting a rather unenthusiastic vote for Hillary Clinton. While I believe Clinton to be smart and hard-working, her past support for bad trade deals, aggressive war, and welfare reform are not aligned with my values of fairness, peace, and economic equality. Bernie, on the other hand, has spent decades fighting for these values and has a record to prove it.

Moreover, all of these issues are at the heart of what I believe feminism to be—fighting for fairness for all women, regardless of their race, sexual identity, education level, and economic position. Consider, for example, that two thirds of workers who earn the minimum wage are women. While Clinton has voiced support for raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour, only Sanders has embraced and aggressively campaigned for the $15 minimum wage that thousands of women throughout the United States are demanding. Or think about the young women and girls being rounded up and deported by the Obama Administration. Clinton defended these actions six months ago and still won’t commit to ending them. Sanders, on the other hand, has spoken out strongly against the deportation raids and in support of Central American children. To me, feminism is not just about abortion rights and breaking the glass ceiling; it’s also about making sure that all women have access to good, reliable prenatal care and early screenings for breast cancer under a Medicare for All health care system, which Bernie Sanders supports and Hillary Clinton does not.  Feminism is about fighting for the empowerment of disadvantaged women both in the United States and around the world.

Yet powerful public figures, including two “feminist icons,” have called my feminism (as well as the seriousness of my convictions) into question by mocking my choice to support Bernie over Hillary. While they’ve since issued partial apologies for their most egregious comments – Gloria Steinem’s assertion that young women only support Bernie because “the boys are with Bernie” and Madeleine Albright’s statement that “there is a special place in hell for women who won’t help other women” by voting for Hillary Clinton – the fact that they made them at all, and their failure to really own them, propagates an American feminism that isn’t about supporting all women, but is about supporting wealthy, powerful, white women. So do comments by the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who said in an interview with the New York Times in January that she sees “a complacency among the generation of young women whose entire lives have been lived after Roe v. Wade was decided.”

The idea that young women are complacent and don’t have a sense of history is wrong. I appreciate the strides women have made, in politics and in boardrooms across the country. These accomplishments are wonderful, and they should be celebrated and continued. However, in crowing about these accomplishments without acknowledging that most of them only benefit middle- and upper-class white women, it is Steinem, Albright, and Wasserman Schultz who forget the lessons of history. Even with Roe v. Wade, poor and working-class women still lack access to safe, affordable abortions and family planning choices that their wealthier female counterparts have. This deep inequality that has only grown in recent generations is one of the reasons I am voting for Bernie Sanders.

As it turns out, my peers feel similarly – Sanders leads Hillary when it comes to female voters under 45, and he beat Hillary by 11 percentage points among all women in the New Hampshire primary. Yet many media voices continue to paint Bernie supporters as mostly male by using the term “Berniebro.”  Coined in an article in the Atlantic, the Berniebro label originally characterized Bernie supporters as “white; well-educated; middle-class (or, delicately, ‘upper middle-class’); and aware of NPR podcasts and jangly bearded bands.”

Numerous other commentators, including Paul Krugman, have now picked up on this label.  In their estimation, the Berniebro is not only a privileged white man, but a sexist, online harasser, too. In reality, however, the term Berniebro is sexist. When it isn’t accusing women of being “bros,” it’s ignoring the voices of women (and, for that matter, the people of color and working-class people) who support Bernie.

Let me be clear: I am not defending anyone, Bernie supporter or otherwise, who makes sexist, nasty remarks about Hillary Clinton. Nor am I denying that Hillary Clinton encounters sexism that Bernie Sanders and other men never will – she absolutely does. However, I am challenging those writing and speaking about the election, and about Bernie and Hillary in particular, to broaden their thinking and definition of feminism. Kevin Young and Diana C. Sierra Becerra wrote a wonderful piece for Alice Walker’s blog where they eloquently sum up this tension within the feminist community. They write:

In the US feminism is often understood as the right of women — and wealthy white women most of all — to share in the spoils of capitalism and US imperial power. By not confronting the exclusion of non-whites, foreigners, working-class people, and other groups from this vision, liberal feminists are missing a crucial opportunity to create a more inclusive, more powerful movement.

We have a long way to go before we have the truly inclusive, powerful feminist movement that the authors envision. Electing Clinton won’t get us there. To be fair, neither will electing Sanders. But not shaming women for casting a vote against economic, racial, and myriad other forms of inequality is one place we can start.

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Evidence Indicates that Bernie Sanders is the Democrats’ Best Shot at the White House

Of those who know who he is, most voters like Bernie Sanders.  He is the only major presidential candidate with a positive net favorability rating among the general public.  Yet despite these facts and his wildly popular ideas, he remains the underdog in the race for the Democratic nomination.  Why?

The answer appears to be perceived electability.  When I’ve phone banked for Sanders, I’ve talked to a lot of voters who say they’re a big fan of his, and they’re glad he’s in the race, but they just aren’t sure he can win a general election.  They’re scared of the Republicans, they tell me, and their foremost concern is making sure the Democratic nominee, no matter who it is, wins in November.

I think this attitude is misguided, both because there are large and important differences between the Democratic candidates and because electability arguments can be circular, self-fulfilling prophecies.  In no small part because electability considerations are speculative, we’re much better served by casting our vote for the candidate whose record and platform is most aligned with our values.

That said, given that a lot of people think about electability, it’s worth looking at some evidence.  The numbers indicate that the Democrats’ electoral prospects would be better under Bernie Sanders than under Hillary Clinton for two important reasons:

1. Young people, who arguably won both the 2008 and 2012 elections for Barack Obama, love Sanders. Many do not like Clinton.

In Iowa’s Democratic primary, Sanders beat Clinton among Democrats aged 18-29 by 70 percentage points.  In New Hampshire, he won that age group by 65 percentage points.  And in the most recent national poll from Quinnipiac University, Sanders held a net favorability rating among 18-34 year-old voters of all political affiliations that was 57 percentage points better than Clinton’s (see graph below).  Sanders is more popular among millennials right now than Obama was among young voters in 2008 and 2012.

Millennials for Bernie

On voting results alone, my generation won Indiana and North Carolina for Barack Obama in 2008 and Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio in 2012.  In addition, the youth contribution to electoral success extends beyond the vote; as Pew reported in 2008:

…young people provided not only their votes but also many enthusiastic campaign volunteers. Some may have helped persuade parents and older relatives to consider Obama’s candidacy. And far more young people than older voters reported attending a campaign event while nearly one-in-ten donated money to a presidential candidate.

It is extremely hard to believe that millennials would turn out and vote for Clinton in such large numbers if she becomes the Democratic nominee; over 41,000 people, for example, have already pledged to write Bernie in if he loses to Clinton in the primary.  There is also an undeniable “enthusiasm gap” between the Sanders and Clinton campaigns; even if most Sanders supporters would suck it up and turn out for Clinton if she ends up as the nominee, which is hardly guaranteed, we won’t see anything close to the volunteerism millennials are already engaged in on Bernie’s behalf.  If your main concern is electability, do you really want to gamble with the key demographic group from the last two presidential elections?

2. Independents and Republicans are more likely to vote for Bernie Sanders than for Hillary Clinton.

Sanders also has much higher favorability ratings than Clinton among non-Democrats; his net favorability among them was 39 percentage points better than Clinton’s in the most recent Quinnipiac poll, and in New Hampshire, he won Independents by 47 percentage points.  His class-based, anti-Establishment message resonates.  If you heard Sanders speak at Liberty University (a conservative hotbed; see video below) last September, you know what I’m talking about; his direct, honest pitch for people who disagree about social issues to band together in pursuit of economic justice was very well-received.  He didn’t win an army of converts overnight, but he did get people thinking; one Liberty alum estimates that half of the Liberty community could potentially Feel the Bern.

Read this take from teenage-conservative-icon-turned-Sanders-supporter CJ Pearson.  Listen to the growing contingent of “Lifelong Republicans Who Love Bernie Sanders.”  Or consider my (admittedly anecdotal) experience talking to several voters and reading numerous Internet comments of folks who are deciding between Donald Trump and Sanders.  As Daniel Denvir notes, that doesn’t mean that Sanders will win over the most prejudiced Trump supporters, but his brand of economic populism may make him “the Democrats’ only chance to wrest white working class voters from a billionaire’s hate-filled dystopian rage.”

The coalition we’re seeing for Sanders in the primaries already indicates the appeal he holds for voters who less consistently vote Democratic.  Polling data shows that “Sanders has forged connections to lower-income New Hampshire and Iowa Democrats that eluded Obama and every other progressive primary challenger in recent history.”  Unlike Clinton, Sanders may be able to turn out people who don’t often vote, bring in some folks who usually vote against their economic interests, and unite both groups with traditional Democratic voting blocs.

Polls that explore head-to-head matchups also suggest that Sanders would do better than Clinton against each of the top five Republican candidates.  Clinton-backer Paul Krugman calls such polls meaningless (he did, however, cite them himself to raise concerns about Barack Obama’s electability in March of 2008), and I personally wouldn’t read too much into them – we’re still very far out from the general election and opinions can surely change – but arguments that these numbers will flip remain completely evidence-free.  Here’s why:

– Republican attacks would work at least as well against Hillary Clinton as they would against Bernie Sanders.

Yes, Bernie Sanders defines himself as a Democratic Socialist.  If he is the nominee, GOP attack ads would surely use that label to cast him as insane, dangerous, and/or un-American…which is exactly the same thing they did to Barack Obama for eight years and would surely do to Hillary Clinton as well.

Anyone who would run screaming from a 30-second ad decrying socialism without doing any research isn’t going to vote for Sanders or Clinton in a general election.  But since most of Sanders’ platform, as mentioned earlier, is extremely popular, many voters who actually do their homework will quickly learn that his brand of democratic socialism isn’t scary at all (it’s not even particularly radical).

While the Republican party would undoubtedly dream up additional smears to use against Sanders, the GOP doesn’t exactly have a crisis of imagination – or a lack of material to work with – when it comes to attacking Clinton.  The idea that Sanders, a candidate whose popularity continues to grow with his name recognition, would be hurt more by such attacks than Clinton, whose favorability has steadily tanked over the last few years, is pure folly.

Candidate Favorability.png

– Candidates labeled “unelectable” by party elites and the punditry have won before.

While Clinton supporters love comparing Sanders’ candidacy to the unsuccessful campaigns of Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern, these comparisons don’t hold water.  Electoral dynamics today are drastically different than they were in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

At least two presidential candidates in more recent history have been labeled “unelectable” and gone on to win.  One was Ronald Reagan.  The other, as alluded to earlier, was Barack Obama.  That history isn’t proof that Sanders will follow suit, but it indicates that “expert” opinions about electability should be taken with a gigantic grain of salt.

For all their talk about the importance of evidence-based electability arguments, Krugman and his fellow naysayers haven’t actually provided any.  They rely instead on a dubious application of the psychological principle of loss aversion and a simplistic political categorization model, among other speculative arguments, each of which is unconvincing.

None of that’s to say that Sanders doesn’t still have a lot of work to do if he wants to win the Democratic nomination.  Clinton, despite having a very bad record on racial justice, currently holds a big lead among non-White voters.  Sanders will need to cut into that.  Clinton’s lead is likely due more to voters’ unfamiliarity with Sanders than anything else, however, and as more non-White voters learn about him, Sanders’ popularity among those voters should continue to rise.

When it does, we’ll have a real primary election on our hands.  And while I’d advise against putting too much stock in electability arguments, the candidate in that primary with the best record and policy platform – Bernie Sanders – also happens to be the Democrats’ best shot in November.

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