Sunday, June 30, 2019
I paid rather little attention to the Democratic Party presidential
debates this week: Laura watched them, I overheard some bits, saw some
more (not so fairly selected) on Colbert and Myers, and read a few odd
things. Some links here, including a few non-debate ones that highlight
various candidates, but no attempt at comprehensive:
Jay Inslee just dropped the most ambitious climate plan from a presidential
candidate. Here's who it targets.
4 winners and 2 losers from the two nights of Democratic debates:
For instance, he counts "Bernie Sanders' ideas" as a winner, but Sanders
himself as a loser.
Robert L Borosage:
The second Democratic debate proved that Bernie really has transformed
Ryan Bort and others:
A report card for every candidate from the first Democratic debates.
Laura Bronner and others at FiveThirtyEight:
The first Democratic debate in five charts.
Dems, please don't drive me away. My gut reaction is that there's
nothing I feel less interest in than mollifying the vain egos of "Never
Trump" conservatives. I'd take his polling reports with a grain of salt
("35 percent of Americans call themselves conservative, 35 percent call
themselves moderate and 26 percent call themselves liberal"), and also
doubt his self-characterization as "moderate," but I'll quote his stab
at articulating the "moderate" viewpoint:
Finally, Democrats aren't making the most compelling moral case against
Donald Trump. They are good at pointing to Trump's cruelties, especially
toward immigrants. They are good at describing the ways he is homophobic
and racist. But the rest of the moral case against Trump means hitting
him from the right as well as the left.
A decent society rests on a bed of manners, habits, traditions and
institutions. Trump is a disrupter. He rips to shreds the codes of
politeness, decency, honesty and fidelity, and so renders society a
savage world of dog eat dog. Democrats spend very little time making
this case because defending tradition, manners and civility sometimes
cuts against the modern progressive temper.
Actually, the further left you go the more sharply moralistic the
critique of Trump becomes, but despite his "savage world of dog eat
dog" line Brooks can't hear this because he only recognizes morality
as the imposition of conservative order, where inequality is a given.
Brooks' "moderates" are closet conservatives. While there are many
Democrats (not just moderate- but also liberal-identified) who agree
with most of Brooks' verities ("politeness, decency, honesty and
fidelity"), Brooks' knee-jerk anti-left instincts prevent him from
joining any democratic movement he can't dictate to. In particular,
he cannot conceive of the need to lean a bit harder to the left than
he'd like in order to get back to the center he so adores. [PS: Just
found this, but not yet interested enough to read: Benjamin
David Brooks's conversion story.
Alexander Burns/Jonathan Martin:
Liberal Democrats ruled the debates. Will moderates regain their voices?
Pieces like this are annoying, and are only likely to become more so,
and more strident, as the election approaches. A better question is:
will "moderates" find anything constructive to say? Their most succinct
declaration so far is Biden's assurance that "nothing would change"
under a Biden presidency. I suppose that's more honest than the "hope
and change" Obama campaigned on in 2008, let alone Bill ("Man from Hope"
Clinton's populist spiel 1992, but at least Clinton and Obama waited
until after the election to hand their administrations over to crony
capitalists and sell out their partisan base. Left/liberals dominate
the debates because: the voters recognize that most Americans face
real and immediate problems; the left/liberals have put a lot of
thought into how to deal with those problems, and the only credible
solutions are coming from the left; having been burned before, the
party base is looking not just for hope/change but for commitment.
It's going to be hard for "moderates" to convince people to follow
without promising to lead them somewhere better.
Joe Biden's faltering debate performance raises big doubts about his
Kamala Harris got a huge number of people curious about Joe Biden's
Kamala Harris ends the era of coddling Joe Biden on race.
Kamala shotguns Joe Sixpack. Favorite line here, and you can guess
the context: "In my experience, candidates with advisers who belittle
them on background do not win elections." I rarely read Dowd, finding
her longer on snark than analysis, but you may enjoy (as I did) her
Blowhard on the brink. Again, you can guess the context.
The second debate gives Democrats three reasons to worry: The
view of a Trump hater who hasn't really changed any other of his
right-wing views: "the weakness of former Vice President Joe Biden";
"the weakness of the next tier of normal Democratic candidates --
especially Harris -- in the face of left-wing pressure"; "the
unwillingness and inability of any of the candidates -- except,
quietly, Biden -- to defend their party's most important domestic
reform since the Lyndon Johnson administration: Obamacare."
Abby Goodnough/Thomas Kaplan:
Democrat vs. Democrat: How health care is dividing the party: "An
issue that united the party in 2018 has potential to fracture it in
2020." What united the party was the universally felt need to defend
ACA against Republican attempts to degrade and destruct it. Looking
forward, I think there are very few Democrats who don't see the main
goal as comprehensive health care coverage, as a universal right. The
differences arise over how to get there from where we are now. One way
to do that would be to expand Medicaid and private insurance subsidies
under the ACA, and one thing that would help with the latter would be
to offer a non-profit "public option" to ensure that insurance markets
are competitive. One way to provide that public option would be to let
people buy into America's already-established public health insurance
option: Medicare. Many candidates have proposals to allow some people
to do that. I expect that a Democratic Congress and President to move
quickly on implementing some of those proposals to shore up ACA. It's
not the case that proponents of a true government-run single-payer
system will cripple ACA to force us to take their preferred route
(e.g., Bernie Sanders voted for ACA). But there is one major problem
with ACA: the Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot force
everyone to participate in a scheme that requires some people to buy
private insurance. That's a bad ruling, but fixing the Supreme Court
is likely to be a harder sell than Medicare-for-All -- especially
given that the latter promises better coverage for less cost than
any private/public mix of competing insurance plans. You may wonder
why some Democrats are against Medicare-for-All. The main reason is
they believe the insurance companies are too powerful to fight, but
one thing you'll notice is that the people saying that (e.g., Ezekiel
Emmanuel) are mostly beneficiaries of insurance industry payola.
That preference for ACA over Medicare-for-All is seen as a sign of
"moderation" only shows that "moderates" don't have the guts, the
stamina, or even the imagination to fight for better solutions.
Put Democrats who stand up for their principles and their people
in the White House and Congress, and the "moderates" will start
compromising in the direction of progress. Until then, why should
we listen to anything they say? [PS: For some diagramming, see:
The 2 big disagreements between 2020 Democratic candidates on
Elizabeth Warren's ideas dominated the debate more than her stage
Climate change got just 15 minutes out of 4 hours of Democratic debates.
Kamala Harris is everything the establishment wants in a politician.
Proof of point is no matter how hard the author tries to attack Harris,
she only winds up making her look more formidable (which is something
we desperately crave, isn't it?).
Elizabeth Warren thinks we need more diplomats.
Foreign policy was a loser in the Democratic debates.
The 2008 class that explains Elizabeth Warren's style.
Dylan Matthews and other Vox writers:
4 winners and 3 losers from the second night of the Democratic debates.
Kirsten Gillibrand gave her opponents a history lesson on abortion
politics at the debate.
Why are Democrats afraid to end private health insurance?
This wasn't the way Joe Biden wanted the first debate to go.
Democrats rally behind Kamala Harris following Donald Trump Jr.'s
Kamala Harris's debate performance should scare Trump.
There may be no word that Trump fears more than "prosecutor," and no
professional expertise that the Democratic base is more eager to see
inflicted on him. At a juncture when Trump defends himself against a
charge of rape by sliming women who are not his "type," Harris's
emergence could not be better timed. She is not his "type," heaven
knows, and, not unlike her fellow San Franciscan Nancy Pelosi, she is
not a "type" he knows how to deal with at any level, whether on Twitter
or a debate stage.
Hey Dems, take it from this ex-centrist: We blew it. Author is
one of the guy who made the Clinton Administration a money-making
machine for Wall Street, so that's where he's come from.
As the first round of debates among Democratic candidates for president
clearly showed, the intellectual vitality of the Democratic Party right
now is coming from progressives. On issue after issue, the vast majority
of the candidates embraced views that have been seen as progressive
priorities for years -- whether that may have been a pledge to provide
healthcare for all or vows to repeal tax cuts benefiting the rich,
whether it was prioritizing combating our climate crisis or seeking
to combat economic, gender, and racial inequality in America.
Indeed, as the uneven or faltering performance of its champions
showed, it appears that the center is withering, offering only the
formulations of the past that many see as having produced much of
the inequality and many of the divisions and challenges of today.
During the debates and indeed in recent years, it has been hard
to identify one new "centrist" idea, one new proposal from the center
that better deals with economic insecurity, climate, growth, equity,
education, health, or inclusion. You won't find them in part because
the ideas of the center are so based on compromise, and for most of
the past decade it has been clear, there is no longer a functioning,
constructive right of center group with which to compromise.
The Democratic debates helped demonstrate the dubiousness of online
polls: "Gabbard and Yang were the big winners -- on Drudge, at
Kamala Harris's raised hand reveals the fraught politics of
Medicare-for-all. This refers to one of the more weaselly moments
in the two debates, where the moderators asked for a show of hands of
those who would "abolish private health insurance." The only candidates
who raised their hands were Bill de Blasio, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders,
and Elizabeth Warren. The framing was designed to split the ranks of
Democrats who believe health care should be a universal right, but have
different ideas about how to get that from where we are now: creating
a public option under Obamacare would help, and/or allowing individuals
or various groups to buy into Medicare, are approaches that have broad
support. Moreover, nearly everyone who supports those schemes (and for
that matter who opposes them) believes that a public insurance program
would ultimately drive for-profit private insurance companies out of
the arena, even if they were never explicitly prohibited. But the other
thing that's confusing about the question is that many (if not most)
of the current users of Medicare have private supplemental insurance
policies, which pick up most of the co-payments and shortages that
current Medicare sticks you with. Sanders' plan would fill in those
holes, truly eliminating the need for supplemental insurance, but to
most people the words "Medicare for all" leaves open a role for some
kind of private supplemental insurance.
The Tulsi effect: forcing war onto the Democratic agenda.
Misleading to say "she is the only candidate who has made ending the
wars a centerpiece of her campaign," as several others are leaning
more or less strongly in that direction, but her scrap with Tim Ryan
is worth recounting. I don't give her military background anything
like the special weight she claims. I'd rather people not have to
learn lessons the hard way, but it says something when they do.
The Democratic Party can't escape its own militarism: Mostly on
Beto O'Rourke, who seems to be hitting this theme hard. Sjursen, like
Andrew Bacevich, is an ex-military anti-war conservative, which gives
him some peculiar opinions (like favoring bringing back the draft)
and no sympathy whatsoever for liberal Democrats. I think at least
part of the reason so many of the latter feel so warm and cozy with
veterans is that they're desperately trying to bring back a social
ethic of public service and common good, and they think that the
most undeniable example of that is the people who join the military.
I doubt that's a general rule, but there are people who fit that
bill, and Democrats have been eager to run them for office.
No country for old white men: Kamala Harris heralds changing of the
guard. Cute title, but unfair to group Biden and Sanders in the
photo. Harris attacked the former, but held her hand up with Sanders
on the public health care insurance question. I rarely get bent out
of shape when people generalize about "old white men" (or "straight
male Caucasian") but here it ignores the fact that Biden and Sanders
have virtually nothing else in common, and that Sanders has had to
work very hard and overcome a lot of adversity to earn a spot on that
stage (wasn't Biden first inept run for president in 1988?). Even
today he's more likely to be attacked for who he is than anyone else
in the candidate roster (not that anyone makes a point of his being
Jewish). The only reason he didn't make Smith's "standouts" list --
other than prejudice -- is that he's been outstanding for so long
that reporters are starting to take him for granted.
A quiet Joe Biden debate moment that deserved more attention: "He
cited a bad deal with Mitch McConnell as a legislative success story."
This was the 2012 "fiscal cliff" resolution where the Democrats, with
Biden playing a major role, gave in to making most of the 2001 Bush
tax cuts permanent while cutting spending through a "sequester" and
extending unemployment benefits. Michael Bennet, "one of only two
Senate Democrats to actually vote no on the deal," described it as
"a complete victory for the Tea Party." [PS: I tried looking up the
vote on this, and found 3 D's opposed: Bennett, Carper, and Harkin.
Surprised that Sanders voted yea, after initially filibustering --
his long speech was published in book form as The Speech. Five
R's voted against, including Tea Party favorites Mike Lee and Rand
Paul, not disproving Bennet's characterization so much as reminding
you that even in victory the Tea Party was insatiable.] For more
on this: Ryan Grim:
Joe Biden says he can work with the Senate. The last time he tried,
Mitch McConnell picked his pockets badly. By the way, Grim also wrote:
Joe Biden worked to undermine the Affordable Care Act's coverage of
Elizabeth Warren proved she's ready for the big show.
14 political experts on why the first Democratic debates were
You might also find these links useful:
One of my right-wing Facebook friends posted a meme from Fox News
with a picture of Bill de Blasio and a quote: "There's plenty of money
in this world. There's plenty of money in this country, it's just in
the wrong hands. We Democrats have to fix that." Only thing my friend
ever posted that I agreed with, and this time completely. The comments
validated my suspicion that the poster expected readers to react with
horror. I was tempted to comment, or to just give it a big love emoji,
but lost the opportunity.
Beyond the candidates and debates, some scattered links this week:
Democrats obsess over health insurers when they should fight doctors and
hospitals. Sure, if it was just about costs, and if you could tackle
the problem on all fronts at once. I often worry that people think that
health care will be fixed as soon as single-payer is implemented, but
that's really just the first step -- the low-lying fruit, expendable
because insurance companies are parasitical obstacles to health care.
On the other hand, lots of countries adopted single-payer insurance
while leaving doctors and hospitals to operate as private businesses,
and all of those countries achieved significant cost savings (at least
relative to previous cost trends). E.g., Switzerland had the second
most expensive health care system in the world (12% of GDP, vs. 14%
for the US at the time) when they implemented single-payer. A decade
later they still had the second most expensive system, but it had
held at 12%, while the US system expanded to gobble up close to 20%
The new left economics: how a network of thinkers is transforming
'Alarm bells': Saudi Arabia's nuclear ambitions cast shadow over the
Charles M Blow:
Is Trump a rapist?
Alabama: pregnant woman shot in stomach charged in fetus's death.
Related: Katha Pollitt:
Marshae Jones is proof pro-lifers don't care about life.
Greg Magarian commented on Facebook:
Alabama (1) imposes excessive criminal liability on (2) an African-American
woman for (3) the death of her fetus from (4) shooting by a "law-abiding
gun owner" whom the state isn't charging due to (5) its
stand-your-ground law. Congratulations, Alabama -- you've hit right-wing
Trump's military drops a bomb every 12 minutes, and no one is talking
Trump thinks Putin's attack on 'western-style liberalism' was about
Trump's riff encapsulates the comic and sinister aspects of his political
rise. As demographic change has made the U.S. population more progressive,
Republicans have embraced more authoritarian methods to preserve their
minority rule. . . . But Trump, rather than being grateful for their
efforts to create a rationale for his authoritarianism, is completely
ignorant of them. His contempt for democratic norms is sub-ideological,
a pure product of his narcissistic fear of disobedience and innate belief
in natural hierarchy. He hates democracy deep in his soul, but does not
What happened to America's political center of gravity?
Stephen F Cohen:
Will US elites give détente with Russia a chance? No other piece
I've seen on this meeting got behind the dumb/vile things Trump said
to Putin about election hijinkss and fake news, and Putin's comments
about "Western liberalism." E.g., Fred Kaplan:
Trump's dictator envy isn't funny anymore.
Laura Tillem took exception to Elizabeth Warren's tweet on Trump's DMZ
meeting. Warren wrote: "Our President shouldn't be squandering American
influence on photo ops and exchanging love letters with a ruthless
dictator. Instead, we should be dealing with North Korea through
principled diplomacy that promotes US security, defends our allies,
and upholds human rights." I'm not so bothered here, because in the
end she does call for principled diplomacy, and I believe that she
could do that if given the chance. I'm a bit bothered by the clichéd
"US security/allies/human rights" litany, but I think she's smart
enough to realize that no human right is as important as avoiding
nuclear war, and the only real way to do that is to reduce conflict
and normalize relations (something that the US has been loathe to
do for nearly 70 years). The first line is more troubling, as it
appears to prejudice the diplomacy against success (something baked
into all previous American negotiation efforts). In particular,
there is nothing diplomatic about referring to Kim as a "ruthless
dictator." The rest is pretty ridiculous: Trump isn't squandering
anything; his schmoozing is a limitless resource, and it's not as
if there's anything better he can do with his time. This is simply
his way of doing diplomacy, and while it's not very constructive
or effective, there's no reason to think that turning it over to
underlings like Mike Pompeo is going to work any better. Trump
can plausibly claim to have made more progress at reducing North
Korea's nuclear threat posture than any of his predecessors,
precisely because he stopped treating Kim with personal contempt
and let himself be seen jerking him off in public. It hasn't been
pretty, but it's a good deed -- practically the only one Trump
Imagining post-Trump nationalism: "The small conservative magazine
First Things aims to reclaim what has become a dirty word in the
Trump era." Not clear what that word is -- the first one in quotes is
"bigotry," which doesn't quite seem right, although one could argue that
the point of First Things is to defend the God-given right of
Christian conservatives to attack those they see as unfit and unworthy --
a practice we often describe as bigotry. But then not much comes clear
when conservative intellectuals try to ruminate on their conceits and
Mark Hannah/Stephen Wertheim:
Here's one way Democrats can defeat Trump: be radically anti-war.
Megan Rapinoe is on to him, and Trump can't stand it: "In his
rambling screed against the soccer star, the president revealed a
lot about his worldview."
113 degrees in France: why Europe is so vulnerable to extreme
How rogue Republicans killed Oregon's climate-change bill. Related:
Behind Oregon's GOP walkout is a sordid story of corporate cash.
5 takeaways from the Supreme Court's just-ended term: "Liberals
should brace themselves for the next one."
Shell is not a green saviour. It's a planetary death machine.
Federal judge blocks new stretch of the US-Mexico border wall.
Finally, some book reviews/notes: