Sunday, April 7, 2019
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
Tim Ryan and
Michael Bennet getting a burst of press attention, as have recent
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
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
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:
How climate change is fueling the US border crisis: "In the western
highlands of Guatemala, the questio is no longer whether someone will
leave but when." Two further installments:
The epidemic of debt plaguing Central American migrants, and
The dream homes of Guatemalan migrants.
Nearly everything Trump just said about Puerto Rico is wrong.
FBI director: White nationalist violence is a "persistent, pervasive
threat". Related: Weiyi Cai/Simone Landon:
Attacks by white extremists are growing. So are their connections.
Barack Obama warns against a "circular firing squad" over ideological
purity in politics: Sounds like Obama is attacking the left, once
again counseling compromises that ultimately prove ineffective, but
his centrist-neoliberal allies are every bit as ideological, and if
anything have more experience in using their spite against the left
to make sure even their lame compromises rarely change anything. I'm
reminded how John Lewis refused to purge Communists from the UMW,
because he appreciated that they were the union's most passionate and
effective organizers. The centrists need to realize that they need
the left in order to attain anything significant once they've worked
their compromises. And as the article shows, left-leaning polticians
aren't actually doing things to undermine party unity -- other than
making solid policy proposals and arguing them on their merits. Obama,
on the other hand, is showing himself to be irrelevant. Some may feel
nostalgic for his basic competence and his devotion to the threadbare
pieties of Americanism, but as a politician you have to judge him on
his inability to deliver the change he campaigned for and his failure
to build a party that could protect, sustain, and extend even his most
Congress passes historic resolution to end US support for Saudi-led war
David M Halbfinger:
If you've followed Israeli elections, you may have noticed that since
the late 1970s, the only time Israeli politics have shifted left was when
the Bush I administration made clear its displeasure with Yitzhak Shamir's
obstruction of the Madrid Peace Talks. Israeli voters noticed, and voted
the more flexible Yitzhak Rabin in, leading to the Oslo Accords, which
Clinton allowed Netanyahu and Ehud Barak to turn into a charade. But as
Clinton, Bush, Obama, and even more explicitly Trump kowtowed to Israel,
Israelis had no reason not to indulge their chauvinist prejudices, with
each election pushing the government ever further to the right.
How digital technology is destroying our freedom: Interview with
Douglas Rushkoff, exploring the theme of his recent Team Human
and earlier books like Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation
(2009), Program or Be Programmed (2011), Present Shock: When
Everything Happes Now (2013), and Throwing Rocks at the Google
Bus (2016) -- he's sort of a latter-day Neil Postman. (The one book
I've read by him is Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism,
where he sees Judaism as an evolutionary step toward atheism. I could
make a similar claim for Calvinism, based more on personal history.)
Trump does have a health care plan. It would cause millions to lose
Should the Green New Deal repeat the failures of Cap-and-Trade?
Donald Trump is trying to kill you: "Trust the pork producers; fear
the wind turbines." I will add this quibble: if you ever find yourself
standing under a wind turbine, you'll find that they are very ominous
and unpleasant, emitting loud noises as the huge blades screech and
whine above your head.
Republican health care lying syndrome: "Even Trump supporters don't
believe the party's promises."
The incredible shrinking Trump boom: "At least corporate accountants
are having some fun." I suspect this title could be used for a much broader
investigation than this note on the effects of the Trump tax cut.
GOP cruelty is a pre-existing condition: "Republicans just won't stop
trying to take away health care."
Republicans really hate health care: "They've gone beyond cynicism
to pathology." Related: Jamelle Bouie:
An opening for Democrat: "On health care, this isn't what Trump's
voters bargained for." Bouie writes:
But while Trump's decision to govern for conservatives has netted him
high approval ratings with Republicans who remain loyal to him, it has
also undermined the coalition that put him in the White House,
threatening his prospects for re-election.
We saw some of this with the midterms. The drive to repeal Obamacare
was a major reason Republicans lost their majority in the House of
Representatives. The attempt made Trump's approval rating plunge to
the mid-30s, lower than that of other presidents at that point in their
first term. Large majorities opposed the bill to repeal and replace the
health care law, and 60 percent said it was a "good thing" it failed to
pass. Forty-two percent of voters named health care as their top issue
in the midterms, and 77 percent of them backed Democrats.
In 2016, Trump ran without the burden of a record. He could be
everything to everyone -- he could say what people wanted to hear. And
he used that to reach out to working-class whites as a moderate on the
economy and a hard-line conservative on race and immigration.
Now, as president, Trump is a standard-issue Republican with an almost
total commitment to conservative economic policy. Those policies are
unpopular. And they have created an opening for Democrats to win back
some of the voters they've lost.
Jonathan Mahler/Jim Rutenberg:
How Rupert Murdoch's empire of influence remade the world: Part 1: Imperial
reach, followed by
Part 2: Internal divisions, and
Part 3: The new Fox weapon.
What baseball teaches us about measuring talent: Review of Christopher
Phillips' new book Scouting and Scoring: How We Know What We Know About
Baseball. Noted because this is a subject I've spent a lot of time on,
albeit not very recently.
Google cancels AI ethics board in response to outcry: I can imagine
many angles to this, but the best reported one was opposition to Heritage
Foundation president Kay Coles James, underscoring the notion that
conservatives have no credibility when it comes to ethics -- although
Google's inclusion of a "drone company CEO" was even more blatant.
- Douglas Preston:
The day the dinosaurs died: "A young paleontologist may have discovered
the most significant event in the history of life on Earth."
Some Mueller team members aren't happy with Barr's description of their
Trump plans to nominate a second loyalist to the Fed: Herman Cain:
You got to give Trump some credit for learning here. When the Fed chair
opened up, his staff gave him two options. While he picked the lesser
inflation hawk, he still wound up with a guy who repeatedly raised the
Fed funds rate, constricting the economy (and especially speculators
and scam artists like himself who benefit most from cheap money). No
doubt this got him thinking: Why not pick some loyal political hacks
instead of letting the bankers limit his choices? Stephen Moore was
his test case, and while Cain isn't as much of a hack as Moore, he's
even less "qualified" (in normative terms).
Trump attacks Rep. Ilhan Omar hours after a supporter was charged with
threatening to kill her: Subhed: "He wants to drive a wedge between
Jewish voters and the Democratic Party." TPM emphasized the latter in
its coverage of Trump's speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition:
Trump tries to lure Jewish voters: Dems would 'leave Israel out there'.
Related: Matt Shuham:
American Jewish orgs to Trump: Netanyahu is ot 'our' Prime Minister.
On the other hand, Netanyahu is Sheldon Adelson's Prime Minister --
Adelson owns the newspaper in Israel most closely associated with
Netanyahu, and Adelson is the Republican Party's most visible Jewish
bankroller, so that's probably close enough for Trump.
What's going on with Mar-a-Lago and Chinese spies, explained.
Related: Fred Kaplan:
Mar-a-Lago is a foreign spy's dream come true.
The Pentagon wins again: "In an effort to prevent non-defense cuts,
House Democrats grant the DOD exactly the raise it wanted."
The "reputational interests" of William Barr. Related:
Bill Barr has promised transparency. He deserves the chance to deliver.