Tag Archives: Bernie Sanders

Ellison for DNC Chair: It Matters

The race for the Democratic National Committee Chairperson is very important.

In case you haven’t been following it, there are many candidates running, but only two major contenders: Keith Ellison, Democratic Congressman from Minnesota’s 5th congressional district for 10 years straight, and Tom Perez, the Secretary of Labor from the Obama Administration.  The winner of the race, who will be chosen during the weekend of February 24 by 447 party insiders, will run fundraising, outreach, and primary processes for the Democratic Party over the next several years.

Overall, Ellison has stronger social justice credentials than Perez – he’s been an active Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and has put forward some of the most progressive economic justice legislation in Congress during his time there.  He’s been a staunch advocate for unions, was an early supporter of a $15 minimum wage, and was an early opponent of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other trade deals that are more about enriching multinational corporations than promoting the free exchange of goods and services.  His voting record on women’s rights, LGBT rights, anti-racist policy – you name it – is excellent.  And before coming to Congress, Ellison worked in civil rights and employment law.

But Perez deserves a fair bit of credit for his record, too.  As the Labor Secretary, Perez went after companies that stole from their workers, embraced policies that would raise the pay of and increase opportunities for members of underserved groups to become federal employees and contractors, and pushed forward a rule that would reestablish the right to overtime pay for millions of workers.  His active support for the TPP is a non-trivial stain on his résumé, but those who believe in social justice should generally like the policies he’s pursued, as others have also noted.

Yet if that’s the case, why is it so important that Ellison wins?

The answer to that question lies in the answer to another: why is Perez even running?

Ellison jumped into the DNC Chair race right after the election (on Monday, November 14).  His candidacy made a ton of sense for the party for three main reasons:

– Ellison was one of the few Democrats calling for the party and media to take Donald Trump seriously from the beginning. The clip below, from a panel Ellison did back in July of 2015, is the most striking illustration of the contrast between Ellison’s prescience and the irresponsibility of the vast majority of Establishment media figures and politicians during the course of the 2016 election.

– Ellison was the second congressperson to endorse Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary, and one of only a small handful to have done so at all.  Many other federal policymakers also had backgrounds more aligned with Sanders than with Hillary Clinton but backed Clinton anyway, possibly because of some combination of a misguided sense of political pragmatism and a legitimate fear of retribution.

Given that Sanders was much more popular than Clinton among Independents and the most popular primary candidate ever among young people, whose energy and enthusiasm Democrats desperately need in the future, it makes strategic sense for the party to put one of his early supporters in a leadership role.  Doing so would suggest that the Democrats, after throwing a ton of institutional weight behind the less electable, less social-justice-oriented candidate (and failing to hold party leaders accountable for their clear violations of the DNC’s charter) en route to squandering the 2016 election, have learned something.  It would give hope that the Democrats may run a fairer, more democratic primary process next time, and that those who opposed Clinton needn’t write the party off entirely.

– Once Sanders lost the primary, Ellison helped draft the DNC platform and became an outspoken proponent of voting for Clinton.  He campaigned very hard for Clinton between July and November.  He showed, in other words, that even though he thinks there is a better path than the one the Democratic Party is currently on, he believes in working within the Democratic Party structure for change.

I would have personally preferred Ellison to not campaign for Clinton, but I respected his choice to do so, and the fact that he did – vociferously – makes him an ideal candidate for party unification.  So does the fact that, unlike Sanders, Ellison is Black and Muslim, and his ascendance would diversify Democratic Party leadership, a worthy objective that Clinton fans have long claimed to support.  Ellison can potentially bridge the gap between good-faith Clinton and Sanders supporters and grow a bigger Democratic coalition.

Establishment Democrats and big-name donors began attacking Ellison as soon as he declared his interest in being DNC Chair, however.  They first complained that chairmanship was a full-time job and that, as a sitting congressman, Ellison wouldn’t have the bandwidth to focus on it.  They then inaccurately cast Ellison as an anti-Semite, misconstruing a 2010 speech he gave and condemnations of White supremacy and Israeli policy that he made twenty-five years ago.  Ellison soon thereafter declared that he would resign from Congress and become DNC Chair full-time if he wins the race, and he has repeatedly proven allegations of anti-Semitism false, but no matter; the Clinton/Obama apparatus wanted a challenger, and when Howard Dean didn’t pan out, they pressured Perez to step in.  He formally entered the race on December 15.

Perez has presented little that looks different from what Ellison has proposed, and nobody has offered a coherent explanation for why they think he’d do a better job leading the party than Ellison would.  Endorsements of Perez, like the one Joe Biden just made, have just highlighted personal details about him and included vague statements that could at least as easily apply to Ellison.  It’s thus hard to understand why Perez would have thrown his hat into the DNC Chair race (as opposed to the Maryland gubernatorial race) if not to maintain the Democratic Party’s current power structure.  The message to those who supported Sanders and want the party to embrace full-scale social and economic justice – many of whom are already upset that Perez pushed some of the Clinton campaign’s disingenuous attacks on Sanders behind the scenes during the primary – seems to be that they’re still expected to fall in line and support whatever the party Establishment decides.

An Ellison victory wouldn’t by itself bring the change the party needs – not by a long shot – and even if he wins, social justice advocates will need to push him on several issues.  Maybe in part to try to forestall attacks from Democrats who will be making the DNC Chair decision, he’s embraced some worrisome positions.  Ellison has endorsed the corporate candidate over the Bernie supporter in a recent race for Florida Democratic Chair, criticized the peaceful Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against the oppressive policies of the Israeli government, softened on his previous commitment to banning lobbyist contributions to the DNC, and promoted some election postmortems that deserve considerably more skepticism.  But Ellison has a strong record overall and would bring a real possibility for regime change, a commitment to grassroots activism, and a new kind of Democratic Party politics.  As Sanders said following Biden’s endorsement of Perez (who Sanders likes and expressed respect for), the race for DNC Chair is about whether the Democratic Party “stay[s] with a failed status-quo approach or…go[es] forward with a fundamental restructuring.”

Some Democrats lashed out at Sanders after this statement.  They were, according to The Hill, “frustrated by press reports characterizing the contest as a proxy battle between the party’s leftist Sanders wing, represented by Ellison, and a more moderate Barack Obama-Clinton wing, represented by Perez.”  But to think otherwise is naïve – that’s precisely what it is.  And as some politicians, union leaders, and media figures who backed Clinton have already recognized, the smart move for Democrats who want to see the party win in the future “would be…to embrace Keith Ellison as DNC Chair.”  That would be the right move for those who believe in social and economic justice as well.

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The Lazy Liberal Scapegoating of Millennials and Bernie Sanders

The Hillary Clinton campaign is “alarmed by the drift of young voters toward the third-party candidates,” according to the New York Times.  So are many Clinton supporters, including Clara Jeffery and Kevin Drum at Mother Jones.  Jeffery says she has “never hated millennials more,” while Drum directs his hatred not at millennials but at Bernie Sanders, whom Drum argues “convinced young voters that Hillary Clinton was a shifty, corrupt, lying shill who cared nothing for real progressive values – despite a literal lifetime of fighting for them.”  Clinton Super PAC Priorities USA is “launching a multimillion-dollar digital campaign that talks about what’s at stake and how a vote for a third-party candidate is a vote for Donald Trump.”

These reactions misunderstand and condescend to millennials and ignore vital context about two main points.

First, millennials have very good reasons to oppose a Clinton presidency.  As I’ve tried to explain to Drum before (he has ignored me), many millennials, myself included, grew up with his perception of Hillary Clinton – that she is a good Democrat fighting the mean Republicans and subject to a relentless stream of unfair criticism from the corporate press.  It has only been during my adult life, after a lot of research, that I’ve developed my current view: Clinton may sometimes be the subject of unfair press coverage, but she also has a large, influential group of media cheerleaders and has been on the wrong side of numerous issues important to populations I care about: war, criminal justice, immigrant rights, LGBT rights, the death penalty, international trade, and anti-poverty policy, to name a few.  Drum’s idea that Bernie Sanders’ accurate critiques of Hillary Clinton’s record hoodwinked millennials into our current views is both patronizing and inaccurate.

Millennials recognize that third-party voting comes with tradeoffs.  While it does increase the likelihood that the worse of two major-party candidates will emerge victorious in an election (though much less so than third-party critics claim), it also has the potential to help break the two-party system open in the long run and holds Democrats accountable for ignoring the policies their base desires, policies that would help millions of disadvantaged people.  “Whether you think the pros outweigh the cons depends on a number of factors,” as I’ve argued before, “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.”

Which brings me to my second point: while it’s perfectly fine for someone to believe that defeating Trump should be our top priority, anyone espousing that viewpoint should have supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary.  The evidence overwhelmingly indicated – for months, getting stronger all the time – that Sanders would have been more likely than Clinton to beat Trump in a general election matchup.  The only rebuttal to that evidence – that Sanders hadn’t faced real criticism and that his numbers would tank when he did, if he eventually became the nominee – fell apart very quickly upon inspection.

In fact, what drew Jeffery’s ire was a now-deleted paragraph from a New York Times story that confirmed why Sanders would have been more electable than Clinton:

The third-party candidates draw their strongest support from younger voters.  Twenty-six percent of voters ages 18 to 29 say they plan to vote for Mr. Johnson, and another 10 percent back Ms. Stein.  A little more than one in five political independents say they will vote for one of the third-party candidates.

Drum points out that millennial support for third-party candidates in the referenced poll is a bit higher than it typically appears to be (he also links to a FiveThirtyEight analysis suggesting that it is strongest among people under 25), but he admits that “Clinton is clearly doing worse among millennials than Obama did four years ago.”  These results were completely predictable; millennials and independents were the groups among which Sanders most dominated Clinton in the primary and are two constituencies for whom support for Democrats (and/or showing up in November) is most likely to be conditional.  “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 wrote in March.  That’s exactly what appears to be happening.

Despite the foreseeability of this result during the primary, Drum asserted that Clinton was “almost certain to be more electable in November than a self-declared democratic socialist,” citing exactly no evidence to back up this claim.  It seems odd that he, Jeffery, and other Democrats spent so little of their time analyzing the electability evidence during the primary, given their intense focus on beating Trump today.  If they had, they would have known what people like me had been trying to tell them for a very long time – large numbers of millennials and Independents who would vote for Sanders might very well not vote for Clinton – and, if beating Trump was their prime objective, spent their time pleading with older Democratic voters to support Sanders.

Millennial voting patterns are thus not only a product of voters’ legitimate analyses and electoral strategy; they’re also entirely expected.  Those upset about them who backed Clinton in the primary and/or advanced the incorrect notion that she was more electable than Sanders have nobody to “hate” but themselves.

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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 Presidential 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 Presidential 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.”

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Filed under 2016 Presidential Election, 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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California (and Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, and South Dakota), Here We Come

After Bernie Sanders outperformed expectations in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, and North Carolina but still fell short of victory in every state that voted on March 15, analysts noted that Sanders would need to secure an average of 58 percent of the remaining vote to win the Democratic nomination.  In the time since, Sanders has run a bit below that mark; while he secured very big wins among overseas Democrats and in Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Utah, and Washington, a tough loss in New York held him to just over 55 percent of the last few weeks’ pledged delegates.  But while New York was undeniably a setback, Sanders has still had a strong start to the second half of the primary season and maintains a definite (albeit low-probability) shot to win.

The election will likely hinge on June 7, when voters in California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, and South Dakota will all head to the polls.  Combined, these states hold just under 50 percent of remaining pledged delegates.

California, home to 34 percent of remaining pledged delegates all by itself, is particularly enticing for Sanders.  The state has a semi-open primary, meaning that “No Party Preference” voters (but not Republicans or members of the American Independent Party) can participate in the Democratic nominating process, and such voters prefer Sanders to Clinton by wide margins.  California is also on the West Coast, where Sanders has performed quite well thus far, and it is a leader on issues like environmental sustainability and the minimum wage, areas in which Sanders has a much bolder platform and stronger record than Clinton.

As has been the case throughout the country, Sanders’ standing in California polls has steadily risen as voters have become more familiar with him.  He still trails Clinton by 8.5 percent there, but that’s a major improvement from where he was only a couple months ago, and he’s definitely got a chance to close the gap more and overtake Clinton before voters head to the polls on June 7. Big Sanders wins in California and the other states that vote that day certainly aren’t high-probability events, but lower-probability things have happened during this election cycle.

How big those June 7 wins will need to be will depend on how the next seven weeks shake out.  The graph below shows the June 7 vote share Sanders would have to get under four possible scenarios:

  • Pessimistic Scenario: The current polling averages hold in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Other contests, for which there is too little reliable polling for a recent average, are assumed to follow the aggregate national polling average.
  • Somewhat Optimistic Scenario: Sanders meets FiveThirtyEight’s original projected targets in remaining non-California contests.
  • Very Optimistic Scenario: Sanders earns the average share of overall remaining pledged delegates he needs across all non-June 7 contests.

Sanders Share Needed.png

As the graph makes clear, Sanders has a very uphill climb ahead of him. But he also still has a potential path to victory.  What that path will look like is not entirely within our control, but his supporters’ continued advocacy in Connecticut, Delaware, Guam, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, the Virgin Islands, and West Virginia can make a big difference before California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Washington, DC (the only place that holds a primary after June 7) head to the polls and potentially help him win this thing.  Every remaining primary matters.

Update (4/20/16): This post originally used the term “Independents” instead of “No Party Preference” voters, but this wording was changed to avoid confusion given the existence of the American Independent Party.

Update (4/26/16): Sanders’ aggregate performance in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island was roughly consistent with the pessimistic scenario outlined above; that scenario has gotten a little more favorable, but the other scenarios are now steeper.

What Sanders Needs

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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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Clinton is “So Sick” of Inconvenient Truths

At a rally on Thursday night, Greenpeace activist Eva Resnick-Day approached Hillary Clinton to ask a question.  Her exchange with Clinton was caught on video and is shown and transcribed below.

Resnick-Day: “Thank you for tackling climate change.  Will you act on your word to address fossil fuel money in your campaign?”

Clinton: I do not…I have money from people who work for fossil fuel companies. I am so sick…

Resnick-Day: Yeah, and registered lobbyists.

Clinton: I am so sick of the Sanders campaign lying about me. I’m sick of it.

It’s important to separate a fact-based assessment of this exchange from our beliefs about the meaning of the relevant evidence.  Here are the facts:

  • Resnick-Day has nothing to do with the Sanders campaign – she works for Greenpeace.
  • Resnick-Day’s question followed up on outreach Greenpeace had been doing for months: they’ve asked Clinton “to address fossil fuel money in [her] campaign” before and Clinton has dodged the question. In December, an activist from 350 (another environmental advocacy group) asked Clinton about taking money from the fossil fuel industry and Clinton responded “I don’t know that I ever have…I’ll check on that.”
  • Companies do not donate directly to candidate campaigns – that would be illegal. As The Huffington Post reported last July, however, “Nearly all of the lobbyists bundling contributions for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign have at one time or another worked for the fossil fuel industry.”  Greenpeace’s critique is that Clinton’s campaign and Super PACs affiliated with her campaign have “received more than $4.5 million from lobbyists, bundlers, and large donors connected [with] the fossil fuel industry.”

Given these facts, it is perfectly fine for Hillary Clinton to note that, while she has taken money “from people who work for fossil fuel companies,” she has not taken any from the companies themselves.  It was also perfectly correct, however, for Resnick-Day to add “and registered lobbyists.”  And since nothing Clinton was confronted with here was new, false, or generated by the Sanders campaign, Clinton’s claim that the “Sanders campaign [was] lying about [her]” was entirely unfair and divorced from reality.

Those defending Clinton have made a few reasonable points about the interpretation of the facts above.  Some have observed that the Sanders campaign has also received some money – about $54,000 – from individuals associated with the oil & gas industry and that Clinton’s haul from that industry comprises a small fraction of her total campaign contributions (the plurality of which come from individuals associated with Wall Street).  Others have noted that her lobbyist bundlers don’t exclusively hail from the oil and gas industry; they lobby for other corporate clients as well.  Yet it is wrong to assert, as some writers have, that donations to Clinton’s Super PACs shouldn’t count – there is close coordination between those Super PACs and her campaign – and it is undeniable that people associated with oil and gas interests like Clinton a whole lot better than they like Sanders.

Does that mean that Clinton is bought and paid for by energy interests?  Not necessarily.  But it’s important to note that, while a “sizable chunk of Sanders’ plan takes aim at the fossil fuel industry” by, among other things, banning fossil fuel lobbyists from the White House and ending subsidies to fossil fuel companies, Clinton’s doesn’t go there. It’s important to note that, while Sanders is a staunch opponent of fracking, Clinton conditionally supports it.  And it’s important to note that, before Clinton’s recent changes of heart about the Keystone XL pipeline, Arctic drilling, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership in response to pressure from Sanders and climate activists, she didn’t appear particularly interested in taking bold action on climate change.  It’s just as possible that Sanders’ climate plan being better than Clinton’s has caused the fossil fuel industry to like Clinton better as it is that the fossil fuel industry has caused Clinton’s plans to be worse, but neither possibility is particularly comforting to those of us who care about the environment.

It makes sense that Clinton doesn’t want Sanders discussing these facts: they don’t look particularly good for her.  But neither climate activists nor the Sanders campaign is lying about anything here.  Claims to the contrary from the Clinton team and her prominent supporters only serve to show that it’s easier for them to pretend than to defend Clinton’s record.

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Filed under 2016 Presidential Election, Environment