Sunday, April 7, 2019


Weekend Roundup

One of my principles here is not to bother with politician horserace links, especially presidential candidates. One thing I've long held is that a president is only as good as his (or someday her) party, so the big question to ask any presidential candidate is: what are you going to do to get your party elected and make it an effective force? Still, every now and then I have opinions on specific people. When Greg Magarian griped about Tim Ryan and Michael Bennet getting a burst of press attention, as have recent stories about Beto O'Rourke and Pete Buttigieg raising great gobs of money, I commented:

Worth noting that O'Rourke and Buttigieg are principled neoliberals, and are raising money as such. They can do that because their youth and inexperience hasn't saddled them with the sort of baggage the Clinton establishment bears. That's bad news for Biden, who would be the obvious next-in-line for Clinton's donors if they didn't suspect that the brand is ruined. They may also be thinking that running someone young and outside might help crack Sanders' lead among young voters -- something Biden has no prayer of doing.

The one candidate I've been hearing the most (and most negative) about is Joe Biden. He hasn't announced yet, but evidently the decision has been made, the timing around Easter. Biden has led recent polls, but that can be attributed to his much greater name resolution. I've always figured the decision would turn on whether he's willing to risk his legacy on a very likely loss, but I suppose the decision will turn mostly on whether he can line up sufficient funding. (I had some doubts that Bernie Sanders would run, but when I saw his early funding reports, I immediately realized I was being silly.) Clearly, he didn't run in 2016 because Hillary Clinton had locked up most of his possible funding. That's less obvious this year, but a lot of competitive candidates have jumped in ahead of him.

Biden isn't awful, but he has a lot of baggage, including a lot of things that wound up hurting Clinton in 2016 (like that Iraq War vote). Some of those things could hurt him in the primaries, especially his rather dodgy record on race and crime, and with women. Other things, like his plagiarism scandal, will hurt him more in the general election. But the big problem there is that he was a Washington insider and party leader for so long that he makes it easy for Republicans to spin this election into a referendum on forty years of Democratic Party failures. Obama was largely able to avoid that in 2008, but Clinton couldn't in 2016.

Also, there is the nagging suspicion that he isn't really a very good day-to-day candidate. Last time he ran for president he was an also-ran, unable to get more than 1-2% of the vote anywhere. He got the VP nod from Obama after Clinton decided she'd rather be Secretary of State, and one suspects that the Clintons pushed for Biden as VP because they didn't regard him as a serious rival in 2016 (when a sitting VP would normally have the inside track to the nomination). And he's exceptionally prone to gaffes. He managed to avoid any really bad ones running with Obama, but running on his own he'll get a lot more scrutiny and pressure. Nobody thinks he's stupid or evil -- unlike Trump, whose base seems to regard those attributes as virtues -- but nobody is much of a fan either (well, except for the fictional Leslie Knope, which kind of proves the point).

For more, if you care, see Michelle Goldberg: The wrong time for Joe Biden:

Beyond gender, on issue after issue, if Biden runs for president he will have to run away from his own record. He -- and by extension, we -- will have to relive the debate over the Iraq war, which he voted to authorize. He'll have to explain his vote to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act, which, by lifting regulations on banking, helped create the conditions for the 2008 financial meltdown. (Biden has called that vote one of the biggest regrets of his career.) In 2016, Hillary Clinton was slammed for her previous support of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which contributed to mass incarceration. Biden helped write the law, which he called, in 2015, the "1994 Biden crime bill." . . . No one should judge the whole span of Biden's career by the standards of 2019, but if he's going to run for president, it's fair to ask whether he's the right leader for this moment. He is a product of his time, but that time is up.

Other political news last week included the death of Ernest Hollings, the long-time South Carolina senator, at 97. I was, well, shocked to see him referred to in an obituary as a populist -- a thought that had never crossed my mind. I would grant that he was not as bad as the Republicans who served in the Senate alongside him (Strom Thurmond and Lindsey Graham), or his Republican successor (Jim DeMent). Still, those are pretty low standards.

By the way, a couple of non-political links below: subjects I used to follow closely in more carefree times. See if you can pick them out.


Some scattered links this week: