Browsing the blog archives for April, 2016.

The Rev. Daniel Berrigan, 1921-2016

Obama Administration

Good job.

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The Great Democratic Party Schism

American History, big picture stuff, Democratic Party, liberalism and progressivism, Sanders and Clinton

In all my years of being a voter I don’t think I’ve ever felt so alienated from the Democratic Party as I do now. In some ways, this year has been worse than 2008.

It has struck me for some time that the Clinton and Sanders supporters are not only disagreeing; we’re speaking different languages. We’re approaching the campaign with entirely different sets of assumptions and values. For this reason, it has been impossible to communicate with each other.

And, frankly, I don’t think this is some temporary blow-up that will be soothed over by Fall, for next year, or ever.

I already tried to explain some of this rift through Moral Foundation Theory (“The Clinton-Sanders Divide and Moral Foundation Theory“) without realizing that real social science types had done a more researched analysis already. See “The Moral Foundations of the Presidential Primaries.” There’s also a somewhat dumbed-down version of this with less detail at Vox.

If you don’t remember Moral Foundation Theory, it basically is an analysis of the moral values and assumptions we carry around in our subconscious that causes us to make the political and moral judgments that we make. If you want to understand how Sanders and Clinton supporters differ, see this chart:

The colored bars that show positive or negative values represent six moral foundations, and you can see a stark difference between the two groups. An explanation of the colored bars, left to right:

  • Blue: Care/Harm – Being kind, nurturing and protective of other people.
  • Green: Fairness/Cheating, or Proportionality/”just deserts” – Treating people in proportion to their actions. The authors of the study say that in this case, “Sanders supporters also stands apart from Clinton’s supporters (and libertarians), in rating proportionality much less relevant to their moral judgments. This aligns with Sanders’ proposing greater expansions of government social welfare programs and higher taxes on the wealthy in comparison to Clinton.”
  • Orange: Liberty/Oppression – Individual liberty and protection from tyranny.
  • Red: Loyalty/Betrayal – Being patriotic and loyal to one’s group, family and nation.
  • Purple: Authority/Subversion – Respecting leadership, tradition and authority.
  • Gray: Sanctity/Degradation – Living in an elevated way and avoiding disgusting things, foods and actions; placing a high value on “traditional” sexual mores, for example.

In most Moral Foundations texts I’ve read, these six values also measure liberalism/conservatism, as shown on this graph:

The graph leaves out the “liberty” value for some reason, but you get the picture — liberals and conservatives value different things. And Clinton supporters appear to be more conservative, as a group, than Sanders supporters.

In particular the difference shown in the red, purple and gray bars has been really evident. Clinton supporters place much higher value on loyalty to the Democratic Party and to their candidate than Sanders supporters. I keep hearing Clinton supporters say of Sanders  “He’s not a real Democrat,” as if this was a trump card; but to Sanders supporters this is meaningless. Recently Clinton supporters have been shocked because Sanders has not been immediately forthcoming with an endorsement of Clinton, never mind that the primaries aren’t over. Clinton supporters also score much higher in authoritarianism and “sanctity” than Sanders supporters (although not nearly as high as most Republicans).

Reaction to this video reveals a lot. It’s like a Rorschach test. Sanders supporters (like me) basically heard Clinton brush us off as inconsequential maggots unworthy of her consideration. Clinton supporters were furious that Sanders is not jumping through the usual party loyalty hoops. But, as I’ve explained elsewhere, even if he did endorse Clinton that’s no guarantee his supporters would transfer their support to her. See above about authoritarianism; Sanders supporters aren’t wired that way.

And somewhere in here we might find the answer to the mystery of why African American voters so heavily favored Hillary Clinton, which makes absolutely no sense to me given her record. I’ve yet to hear an explanation that made sense, other than that black voters don’t think Sanders is electable. My hypothesis is that African Americans on the whole score more conservatively on the Moral Foundations scale, which would make them predisposed to favor Clinton, but I don’t know that for a fact.

But here is another chart to consider:

I picked this up from “Bernie Sanders Is (Still) the Future of the Democratic Party” by Matt Yglesias. The Clinton campaign has been trying — fairly successfully — to frame the Democratic contest as between white men and everybody else. But that’s a plain lie. It’s between younger voters and older voters. This data is from February; I understand that in the more recent primaries Sanders’s numbers have improved among young nonwhite voters to be at about the 50 percent mark.

And I say Democrats ignore this at their peril.

Much of Sanders’s support grew out of a long-simmering frustration with the Democratic Party itself. But a lot of us old folks stuck with it, because we remember what it used to be. (See “Why the Democratic Party Is in Bigger Trouble Than It Realizes.”) But the young folks don’t remember JFK or even Jimmy Carter. They are frustrated that neither party represents their point of view.

Quoting Matt Yglesias,

Hillary Clinton’s campaign — and, frankly, many DC journalists — has been repeatedly taken by surprise by the potency of some of Sanders’s attacks, because they apply to such a broad swath of the party. But this is precisely the point. Sanders and his youthful supporters want the Democrats to be a different kind of party: a more ideological, more left-wing one.

As Clinton put it in the most recent debate, “Under [Sanders’s] definition, President Obama is not progressive because he took donations from Wall Street; Vice President Biden is not progressive because he supported Keystone [the pipeline]; Sen. Shaheen is not progressive because she supports the trade pact. Even the late, great Sen. Paul Wellstone would not fit this definition because he voted for DOMA.”

To Clinton, Democrats are the party of progressives, and so stuff that Democrats routinely do is, by definition, compatible with being progressive.

But though Democrats are certainly the more left-wing of the two parties — the party of labor unions and environment groups and feminist organizations and the civil rights movement — they’re not an ideologically left-wing party in the same way that Republicans are an ideological conservative one. Instead, they behave more like a centrist, interest group brokerage party that seeks to mediate between the claims and concerns of left-wing activists groups and those of important members of the business community — especially industries like finance, Hollywood, and tech that are based in liberal coastal states and whose executives generally espouse a progressive outlook on cultural change.

Sanders’s core proposition, separate from the details of the political revolution, is that for progressives to win they need to first organize and dominate an ideologically left-wing political party that is counterpoised to the ideological right-wing Republican Party.

It’s gotten so that when we use the words liberal and progressive we don’t mean the same things by them.  As Yglesias says, the more conservative Clinton supporters consider themselves to be “liberal” because they are Democrats, as if “Democrat” and “liberal” were synonyms, even though they might score as centrist or conservative on the Moral Foundation measure. In their minds, electing Hillary Clinton would be “revolutionary” and “progressive” because she’s a woman, never mind that she’s the insider’s insider and the Queen of the establishment.  To them, because they are liberal on social issues they are completely progressive, even if they are utterly unconcerned about income and wealth inequality and wouldn’t know Thomas Piketty from Tyler Perry.

Jeffrey Feldman thinks that the biggest cause of the Great Schism is class consciousness. I’m not sure it was really the healthcare debate that created this shift, but here is what he says:

… some version of economic class consciousness began sweeping through the Democratic Party in that debate on healthcare. That debate from 2009 focused people on the idea that policy was controlled by an elite class that has emerged in the neoliberal global economy. In prior class consciousness debates, this elite class might just have been called “capitalists,” but in the post-2009 version, it has become associated with something called the “Davos crowd” or just “Davos,” meaning: the group of powerful, wealthy, jet-setters who attend the Swiss economic summit and others like it, who believe in the free market ideology of globalized neoliberalism, and who are able to command virtually unlimited resources.

These figures exist in both parties. The healthcare debate, however, led many in the Democratic Party to rethink the basic dualism of the American political landscape. It was in that 2009 healthcare debate that many Democrats began to see themselves as engaged in a battle more urgent than the thousand year struggle against Republicans: a battle against the Davos crowd for control of “our” party.

…What happened in this Presidential primary between Sanders and Clinton is that the dynamic of the single issue debate–which led to new awareness of intra-party struggle in 2009–was elevated to a much broader debate by refocusing on the financial sector as a whole.

Now, more and more people underwent the same transformation because the arguments about the control of big finance over politics and government seemed clearer or more convincing. This was coupled with the clearest contrast to date of this kind of problem being described since 2009: a top tier candidate who went from having Middle Class wealth to having money on part with the Davos crowd almost entirely by accumulating honoraria from the Davos crowd. And this clear example gave Sanders a unique power in the Democratic Party: his explaining the problem in the Party–which journalists had been pointing out–suddenly had the power to reach a vast audience via an ongoing national campaign–and to turn him into a transformative figure.

In my experience, this issue with global corporatism or predatory capitalism or the “Davos crowd” or whatever you want to call it is not on the radar of most Clinton supporters at all. I never see them address it. They’re stuck in thinking about technocratic answers to particular problems, not about any sort of sweeping change to the status quo.  They’re in love with the word “pragmatism,” which in effect means ignoring the big problems while focusing on tweaking the little ones. And, unfortunately, a lot of the Sanders supporters on social media do not articulate this well beyond calling Clinton names like “corporate whore,” which really isn’t that accurate. So there’s no real exchange of concerns, just name-calling.

A lot of what’s happening in this primary season is the result of the abandonment by both parties of working-class Americans. Even more than that, it’s the abandonment by both parties of youth. All the meanness and greed and tight-fistedness and corporate-centric values are hitting them hardest of all. In today’s America, young people are a resource to be exploited, not invested in. And among the student loans, unpaid internships, disappearance of blue-collar jobs, on-demand and other insecure and exploitative employment, they are feeling the effects of global corporatism/predatory capitalism more intensely than us old folks.

And, rightly, they’re getting pissed. Sanders gets them. Clinton doesn’t. They know that all they’re going to get from her is tweaks and platitudes, and it terrifies them.

And they are pissed.

Unfortunately, you can get cats to march in formation before you can get young liberals focused on any kind of directed, disciplined long game.  Right now they’re all over social media planning a third-party run for Sanders (often with the People’s Front of Judea Green Party), which would be stupid on several levels, and which I am confident he will not do. The way forward is in taking over the Dem party at all levels, replacing the neoliberals and centrists with actual progressives. It will take a few election cycles (I keep making this speech every few years), but it’s do-able if people can work together to do it.

Otherwise, we may be looking at the Democratic Party’s last hoorah. I hate to think what rough beast might take its place.

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The Clinton Excuse-Making Begins

Sanders and Clinton

I’m already seeing columns and editorials declaring that if Clinton loses to Trump in November it’s Sanders’s fault because he won’t drop out and give her an unequivocal endorsement.

My Facebook buddy Bob Brigham wrote,

“A lot of otherwise smart people have a major blind spot on this. Bernie Sanders isn’t a fad, there is no cult of personality. Bernie is simply a vessel for pent up rage against our corrupt oligarchy. Pissed off progressives won’t vote for Hillary in November because Bernie says so. The only way is for Hillary to earn it.”

I also wrote earlier today, on Facebook,

Because I’m not actually psychotic I believe that Clinton will be the Dem nominee, and if Trump is the GOP nominee she will beat him. Frankly, the Dems could nominate a can of soup and beat him. He’s horrible enough that (I suspect) even the die-hard “Bernie or Bust” people probably will change their minds by November.

However, if the GOP manages to substitute another Republican (other than Ted Cruz) — growing more unlikely but still possible — all bets are off. Clinton would be about the worst nominee imaginable against a more establishment Republican, and in that event she’s going to need every Sanders supporter’s vote she can pick up.

Clinton supporters and media people have a weird idea that if Sanders would just say the word, his supporters would all fall into line and support Clinton. I don’t think so. The Sanders campaign has been less about him than about what he represents. The frustration and antipathy toward the establishment — including, possibly especially, the Democratic Party establishment — was long brewing before Sanders stepped up and declared his candidacy. To simply transfer support to establishment darling Hillary Clinton would be a betrayal of everything Sanders’s supporters had hoped to accomplish.

That said, I think Sanders will help Clinton if he can. He’s said more than once that she’d make a better President than any of the Republicans. He is absolutely not going to attempt a third-party run in November. But she’s got to dial down the arrogance and be willing to give him something, policy-wise, before he can do that. If he simply throws his support to her without her making that effort, it won’t mean anything to the Sanders voters. This campaign was never about his personal ambitions but about what he represents that Clinton doesn’t.

As I said, especially if Trump is the nominee a lot of people who are yelling “Bernie or Bust” now probably will change their minds by November. But Clinton and the Dems can help themselves a lot by how they handle Sanders from now on and at the convention. They’re going to have to be very careful. They’re going to have to treat him respectfully and give him a seat at the table, so to speak, and not shove him away like some fringe candidate weirdo. I hope Clinton realizes that.

I personally think Clinton would be a pathetic excuse for a candidate to not beat Trump. But if she doesn’t, that’s on her. Well, her and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.

After New York, and yesterday, I think it’s going to be close to impossible for the GOP to deny Trump the nomination, however much the establishment may want to do that. The vote gap is too big. So it probably is going to be Clinton-Trump. Which is good for Clinton, because her whole campaign has been based on “vote for me, or you’ll get President Trump.” If someone else gets the nomination it’s going to throw her off.

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How Badly Will the GOP Have to Screw Up in November to Lose to Clinton?

Obama Administration

This was Hillary Clinton being interviewed on MSNBC last night. She’s basically telling Sanders supporters they can kiss her ass; she doesn’t need their votes.

The only way she’s going to win in November with that attitude is if the GOP accomplishes the biggest pooch-screwing in human history. And, of course, that is entirely possible. The fall campaign is not exactly going to be another Clash of the Titans, in other words.

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Imagine the World’s Biggest Face Palm

Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

We’ve been talking about Really Serious Stuff around here for awhile, and it’s time to lighten up. But first, whatever you are doing now, please be sure to put your beverage aside — ladies and gentlemen, I give you … Ammon Bundy’s legal defense.

And it is: The feds have no jurisdiction over federal land.

I’ll pause now to let you catch your breath.

From the Guardian:

Bundy, who led an armed occupation of the Malheur national wildlife refuge, has long claimed that the federal government has no right regulating public lands in the west, and now his legal team is bringing that argument directly to US prosecutors, who have filed a slew of serious felony charges against the activist.

The new motion, which lays the groundwork for a request to dismiss the criminal case against Bundy, presents an argument that legal experts have rejected as an inaccurate interpretation of the US constitution – that the federal government has unlawfully claimed ownership over the wildlife refuge and other public lands.

Talking Points Memo elaborates:

“Once statehood occurred for Oregon, Congress lost the right to own the land inside the state,” the defense argued in the brief.

Bundy’s defense is expected to argue in court that Malheur was not federal land because it had been doled out to homesteaders and was “relinquished.” It is also expected to “provide evidence about foundational documents from the Federal Convention of 1787.”

Prosecutors will prepare a rebuttal as soon as they stop giggling, I’m sure.

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Why the Democratic Party Is in Bigger Trouble Than It Realizes

American History, big picture stuff, Democratic Party, liberalism and progressivism, Obama Administration, Sanders and Clinton, self-destruction

Regarding the perpetual complaint that young voters don’t turn out for midterm elections, which gives Congress to Republicans — yeah, I used to complain about that too. But try to imagine what the Democratic Party must look like to younger voters.

I’m old enough to remember when Harry Truman and Eleanor Roosevelt were still alive and still influential in party politics. I was in middle school during the Kennedy Administration. For all his flaws regarding Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson initiated genuinely progressive domestic programs. I was in high school when Bobby Kennedy ran for President and was assassinated. I cast my first vote for POTUS for George McGovern. So that’s the Democratic Party I remember — flawed and messy, but still a vehicle for doing the right thing, at least part of the time.

But that party died a quiet death some time back. I’m not sure that other people my age realize this. The Democratic Party now is closer to where the Republicans were during the Nixon Administration than they are to being the party of Truman, Kennedy or even LBJ.

But at least the Nixon Republicans sort of stood for something. You knew where they were coming from. The current party Democratic Party stands for nothing.

I’m not sure when it happened, exactly, but sometime between the McGovern blowout in 1972 and the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, the party of FDR, Truman and Kennedy died. Clinton ushered in a fundamental change in the Democratic Party that made it about winning elections on the Right’s terms. It became the party of lowered expectations, learned helplessness and “at least we’re not as bad as they are.” But what does it actually stand for any more, as a party?

I recently got into a sad discussion about how the party abandoned the legacy of FDR. I mentioned FDR’s great 1941 State of the Union address — the “Four Freedoms” speech. This encapsulates what the party should still stand for, I said. A Clinton supporter dismissed this as ancient history. You want to have it both ways, she said. You keep saying it’s not 1972 any more, and now you want to go back to 1941. The Democrats have moved on.

So I quoted this portion of the speech:

Certainly this is no time for any of us to stop thinking about the social and economic problems which are the root cause of the social revolution which is today a supreme factor in the world.

For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy. The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:

Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.

Jobs for those who can work.

Security for those who need it.

The ending of special privilege for the few.

The preservation of civil liberties for all.

The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.

These are the simple, basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.

Personally, I think anyone who wants to call himself a REAL DEMOCRAT ought to memorize that passage and recite it daily.

FDR continued:

Many subjects connected with our social economy call for immediate improvement.

As examples:

We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance.

We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care.

We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it.

And we’re still working on that stuff. Maybe we’ll always be working on that stuff. As technological and economic conditions change, we’ll have to keep adjusting. But it’s hard to even talk about some of these things now, never mind work on them. We’ve done something about health care, although we need to do more. But looking ahead I don’t see any plans from most Dems except to try to stop what we have accomplished from being further eroded.

Roosevelt went on to say that people would be required to pay more taxes to make these things happen. He was re-elected later that year anyway. And no, Pearl Harbor hadn’t been bombed yet.

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression–everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way–everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want–which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants–everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear–which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor–anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

Compare/contrast to right-wing calls for carpet bombing the Middle East to get rid of ISIS. For that matter, compare/contrast to Hillary Clinton’s “vision” of dealing with ISIS. It’s all about military and anti-terrorist options. There’s no vision there.

Now, some would say that Pearl Harbor and the subsequent war proved FDR hopelessly idealistic. I don’t think so. These ideals lived on in programs like the Marshall Plan, which helped secure a lasting peace in western Europe and which is the sort of thing that would never get past a right-wing Congress today, and which the current Democratic Party would never even dare propose. And FDR was a great war president and hardly a pacifist weenie, btw.

We have to acknowledge that FDR didn’t always live up to his own ideals — the Japanese-American internment, for example — but that doesn’t mean the ideals themselves were wrong.

As I’ve written elsewhere, there’s a good argument to be made that in 1992, Clintonian “triangulation,” moving Right to finesse the Reaganites on their own turf, was the only way a Democrat could have won the White House. But it’s time to drop that strategy now, because it’s holding us all back. The current Dem establishment, never mind Hillary Clinton herself, is stuck in the past and ignoring the realities of the current political climate, which is that the Republican Party is falling apart and the young folks are hungry for a more assertively progressive left-wing party that actually stands for something other than technocratic responses to whatever problems arise. Which is all Hillary Clinton knows.

And when some of us start talking about a real progressive vision, the Clintonistas dismiss us as naive “purists” who don’t understand what’s practical. I guess by their definition FDR wasn’t practical (see: New Deal; victory in World War II).

But y’know what? We’ve complained for years about how younger voters don’t turn out for midterm elections and let the Republicans take over Congress. I’ve complained about that, too. But try to look at the Democrats through their eyes. They don’t remember Truman or Eleanor Roosevelt or even George McGovern or Hubert Humphrey.  They remember the Clintons. They see Democrats in Congress that sell out liberal values a large part of the time, and who can’t effectively push back against right-wing craziness. Even President Obama — who has done a lot more good than he’s given credit for — has disappointed them often by trying to make “Grand Bargains” with the Right that would have compromised essential “safety net” programs. And his foreign policy hasn’t been all that great, which is largely Clinton’s doing, IMO.

From that perspective — what’s there to vote for? Why bother?

Again, I always do trudge out and vote, if only because the Dems are not as bad as those other people. But the Dems have been coasting on we aren’t as bad as they are way too much and way too long. It’s like they’re using the Republicans to hold us hostage — vote for us or they’ll shoot your dog. And then most of them go about being way too compromised by money and lobbyists and not really responding to the people.

No, they aren’t as bad as the Republicans. But maybe the young folks are right for not settling. And if the Democratic Party doesn’t change, I wonder if it can survive.

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Unify This

Democratic Party, Sanders and Clinton

“Unify” is the verb of the hour. Can the Dems unify in November? More specifically (the usual question goes) can Sanders supporters unify with the Democratic Party and vote for Clinton?

People are pushing Sanders to drop out now mostly because he’s causing Clinton to burn money and time that could be used against the Republicans. But the primaries aren’t over yet, and the two candidates aren’t that far apart in pledged delegates — 275, I think. It keeps changing, because various state election boards keep making “adjustments,” but that’s the most recent number I could find. Clinton has 1428 pledged delegates and needs 2383 to win the nomination. There are 1633 delegates up for grabs in the remaining primary states. So the raw numbers tell me nobody’s got it sewn up.

Of course, of you add in Clinton’s 502 superdelegates (versus Sanders’s 38) she’s a lot closer to winning than he is. She’s also ahead in the polls in the remaining states. Is it over?

Not so fast — she’s only up by 2 percentage points according to the most recent poll in California. Indiana is close, also.

However, the  primaries for this coming Tuesday are in Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, with a total of 452 delegates. Maryland is a sure thing for Clinton. She could sweep the other states as well, but some will be close.

But this means that it’s very possible (by my calculations, which you should always regard skeptically) that after Tuesday, adding the 502 superdelegates, she’ll go over 2383 delegates. And then the calls for Sanders to capitulate will become deafening.

But he’s not going to quit before California, I don’t think, unless Clinton somehow gets enough pledged delegates to win without the superdelegates.  In fact, there’s a remote chance he could sweep the June 7 primaries and get a majority of those 783 delegates up for grabs. That would be a kick in the butt going into the convention, huh?

In short, while it is possible Clinton will end the primary season with enough pledged delegates to clinch the nomination, I think it’s also possible she won’t.

In which case, things will get messy. I am honestly not sure what Sanders will do. I don’t think he’s going to catch up to Clinton in pledged delegates, unless he has a landslide win in California, which is unlikely.  I understand his campaign manager is trying to flip superdelegates, but that’s not going well. The party will want him to concede to Clinton before the convention.

I’ve already written that I don’t think he will try a third-party run in the general election. I’m good with this; we’ll need him in the Senate. But the Dems had better be careful how they handle him if they want any unifying. Sanders supporters feel the Democrats are their enemy right now. If Sanders is shoved aside too unceremoniously, especially if Clinton can’t win with pledged delegates, it’s going to cost the Dems votes in November.

I believe the Democrats assume that once Sanders is clearly defeated he will make a nice concession speech, and his followers will be mollified and vote for Clinton as they are told. But I don’t think it’s going to be that easy. In fact, my sense of things is that some of the Sanders’s supporters are so angry they could  turn on him if he’s too conciliatory to Clinton.

If I were him, and it came to the end of the run, I’d tell the supporters to vote their conscience in November — adding that in my estimation Secretary Clinton would be the better choice compared to the Republican — and I’d also put forth a list of progressive Senate and House candidates and ask that the supporters put their energies into getting them elected in November. And then I’d take a long vacation before going back to Vermont to campaign for my Senate seat.

The Dems will be outraged if Sanders doesn’t give Clinton an unequivocal endorsement, but I don’t think he can without absolutely crushing a large part of his supporters, because Clinton has come to symbolize everything they hate about the Democratic Party and the election system generally. And then the revolution would be over. I think the best he can do is simply say the Republican would be worse.

The Dems had also better give him a prime-time speaking slot and a big say in the platform.

Would the Sanders supporters vote for Clinton in November? Some will, some won’t. I have no idea in what proportion. Clinton is going to have to work for it, though. She can’t take those votes for granted. And I’m not sure she knows that.

People look to the absolutely vicious 2008 campaign and note that the rough primary season didn’t cost Barack Obama the election. But there’s a difference — Barack Obama is nice. He always struck me as being very genuine. Unless you’re a racist, the more you see of him, the more you like him. Clinton … not so much. And I don’t think that the 2008 primary season left any  of us with such a sense of disgust with the Democratic Party itself, that I remember.

So whether the Dems can “unify” for the November election depends on many factors, assuming Clinton is the nominee. These are:

  1. How big of a jerk Clinton makes of herself between now and the convention, or whenever Sanders concedes. Likewise Clinton’s surrogates and supporters.
  2. How big of a jerk the Democratic establishment makes of itself between now and the convention, etc. The convention itself could be handled in a way to soothe the Sanders people, or not. We’ll see.
  3. Whether the Republican nominee is horrible enough to make Clinton look good. This is possible.

Clinton is probably going to be the Dem nominee, and she’s probably going to win the White House in November, but I don’t think Sanders supporters are going to put this election year behind them and embrace the Democratic Party afterward. So winning, maybe; unifying, not so much.

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No to Third-Party Presidential Runs

American History, Sanders and Clinton

Now that the Democratic nomination is nearly out of reach for Bernie Sanders, a lot of his supporters are feverishly calling for him to run as an independent candidate. He’s not going to do that, because he’s smart enough to know better. But I thought I’d explain why, knowing I’m going to be ignored as some cranky old stick-in-the-mud by the young folks.

One, there have been eleven significant third-party presidential runs in American history, plus I don’t know how many obscure candidacies.  Most of the time the third-party challenger won so few votes it made no difference to the outcome. The most successful third-party challenges caused the two most popular candidates to split the majority vote, and the third most popular candidate won the election (see 1912, which was good or bad depending on how you feel about Woodrow Wilson). Note that the winner-take-all with no runoffs way we run elections makes this outcome nearly inevitable if a third-party candidate attracts significant numbers of votes.

Over the years there have been a great many third-party contests for governorships and congressional seats, and only a tiny fraction (about 2 percent) of the independent challengers have won.

Of presidential third-party candidates, the most successful were —

  • Theodore Roosevelt, 1912, Progressive Party, won 27.39 percent of the vote
  • Millard Fillmore, 1856, American Party, won 21.54 percent of the vote
  • Ross Perot, 1992, Independent, won 18.91 percent of the vote
  • Robert LaFollette, 1924, Progressive Party, won 16.62 percent of the vote
  • George Wallace, 1968, American Independent, won 13.3 percent of the vote
  • Martin van Buren, 1848, Free Soil Party, won 10.13 percent of the vote

(I left out 1860 because it was such an anomaly. The demise of the Whigs in 1854 and the split in the Democratic Party between northern and southern factions made the whole thing a chaotic mess. The chaos benefited Abraham Lincoln, who won with less than 40 percent of the vote. The remaining 60 percent of the votes were split among the two Democrats and the candidate of the Constitutional Union Party — sort of the “Third Way” of its day. Although there have been several multiple-candidate elections, I believe the 1860 election was the last one in which more than three candidates split electoral college votes. You might also remember that the 1860 election had some, um, interesting repercussions.)

See also: Abraham Lincoln Was Not a Third Party Candidate

The remaining candidates finished in the single digits. Anyway, I submit that unless we institute some kind of run-off election system, a candidate outside of the two-party system has no chance. If Teddy Roosevelt couldn’t do it, ain’t nobody gonna do it. People genuinely loved Teddy.

Might a third party presidential run, even if unsuccessful, play any role in building a lasting movement? Again, I don’t see it. It hasn’t happened yet. Note that Teddy’s Progressive Party of 1912 was an entirely different organization from Bob LaFollette’s Progressive Party of 1924; they just happen to share the same name. Ross Perot tried again in 1996 with a Reform Party, which he and others had hoped to turn into a permanent movement. It may still exist in some form, actually.  Other than the election of Jesse Ventura as governor of Minnesota in 1998, they don’t appear to have accomplished anything.

So, there’s nothing in history to show us that there’s anything to gain by attempting a third-party presidential run. Such an attempt most probably would use up a lot of money and energy and accomplish nothing.  Plus, I must gently suggest that if Sanders couldn’t win enough votes to secure the nomination — however that happened — he’s not exactly a sure thing in the general, much as we might wish otherwise.

Note that Bernie Sanders himself would probably argue that he didn’t run because he wanted to be President, but because he wanted to push the country Left. Eyes on the real prize, folks.

Another option is to build a party from the ground up that might someday displace one of the other two. That’s happened once before, when the Republican Party stepped into the niche vacated by the Whigs in the 1850s. Given the current state of affairs it’s not impossible that something like that could happen again, so I wouldn’t put that option completely off the table. But it’s a long shot.

And the other option is to keep organizing and supporting progressive candidates running as Democrats, and eventually taking over the party. This is possible. But it won’t happen overnight.

However, I do hope a sustained organization can come out of this election, because I think there will be much political upheaval in the next few years that might offer opportunities if we are ready. And please note that I’m not talking about doing anything violent. But if the Democrats continue to be weakened by their internal issues and stubborn resistance to acknowledging the will of the people, opportunity might arise.

Having said all that, I know some will want to ignore me and will prepare all kinds of charts and data to show that Bernie really could win the general election as an independent candidate.  If you live long enough, eventually you learn that not everything you want to believe really is true.

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Re-explaining Why the Hillary Victory Fund Is an Issue

Obama Administration

It appears, from comments here and on Facebook, that I failed utterly to explain my concerns about the Hillary Victory Fund yesterday. So I’m making another attempt.

The Hillary Victory Fund is a joint fundraising effort set up with the Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic parties of 33 states.  It’s essentially a PAC. Individual donors can give up to $356,100 per year, and since this was set up in 2015 some have given this maximum for two years, for a total of $712,200. Of course, a lot of donations are smaller.

All the money raised by the HVF goes to the Clinton campaign first. I had previously read that she gets to keep the first $2700 from each individual per year, or $5400 for contributions made in 2015 and 2016. But I just read that is for the primary only; she can keep another $2700 per each individual contributor for the general election fund.

Since the money goes to her first, she can always keep the maximum amount allowable. For example, if the donation is $2700 she keeps all of it. This money can be treated as individual donations, with no strings attached; the Clinton campaign can do whatever it wants with it. And this is completely legal. We can quibble about whether it is ethical, considering the fund is being touted as some altruistic effort to raise money for down-ticket Democrats. But let us put that aside for now; it’s not part of the newer allegations.

What Clinton cannot keep goes to the DNC, where it is allocated by a joint committee that includes Clinton campaign staff. The DNC keeps $33,400 of each individual donation per year, which is the biggest portion. That’s where the spending issues get murky. I’ll come back to this in a bit.

And then the portion the DNC cannot keep goes to the state Democratic parties in chunks of $10,000. It appears that by then what’s left over amounts to crumbs. Again, this is legal, but it burns me whenever somebody chirps about all the millions of dollars Clinton is raising “for down ticket Democrats.” The largest portion of the money stops with the joint committee at the DNC.

There are also huge ethical questions about whether this is, in effect, turning these state Democratic party organizations into arms of the Clinton campaign committee. As long as she’s in the race, the crumbs keep coming. This would be a huge incentive for them to “help” Clinton win primaries and for their superdelegates to remain loyal to Clinton, corrupting the primary process. Similar kinds of joint fundraising operations have been set up before, but not until after a candidate had secured the nomination. This is the part about the fund I’ve complained about before. It’s legal, yes, but it still stinks.

However, the new allegations are about something else.

Let us go back to the DNC and the joint committee allocating the funds passed on to them by the Clinton campaign. Here is where the new allegations come in. The joint committee, as I’ve said in earlier posts, includes Clinton campaign staff. Its treasurer is Clinton’s chief operating officer. The joint committee also includes DNC officials, I assume, who have reason to be loyal to Clinton because the HVF saved their financial asses and hauled the DNC out of the red last year.

The money passed on to the joint committee by the Clinton campaign is not supposed to be used by the Clinton campaign any way it wants. There are legal strings attached. Are we all clear on that?

The new allegation is that this money being allocated by the joint committee is mostly being spent in ways that help the Clinton campaign, either primarily or exclusively. This is where the legal issue gets sticky. Instead of keeping a wall between Clinton money and DNC money, which I believe is what the law calls for, it appears the money is being treated as something fungible that is still mostly being spent according to the wishes of the Clinton campaign.

This takes me back to what I wrote yesterday that nobody seemed to get. The Sanders campaign said,

The financial disclosure reports on file with the Federal Election Commission indicate that the joint committee invested millions in low-dollar, online fundraising and advertising that solely benefits the Clinton campaign. The Sanders campaign “is particularly concerned that these extremely large-dollar individual contributions have been used by the Hillary Victory Fund to pay for more than $7.8 million in direct mail efforts and over $8.6 million in online advertising” according to the letter to the DNC. Both outlays benefit the Clinton presidential campaign “by generating low-dollar contributions that flow only to HFA [Hillary for America] rather than to the DNC or any of the participating state party committees.”

This seems to me a legitimate beef, yet no one in media is taking it seriously. There was a segment on Rachel Maddow in which Maddow and Andrea Mitchell sat around and talked about what a mistake it was for the Sanders campaign to make an accusation like that, since the Hillary Victory Fund is perfectly legal, and Mitchell said she had talked to the DNC, which had told her nothing was amiss.

Yes, of course the DNC would say that. Duh.

Steve Benen also wrote a post at the Maddow Blog that is being widely linked to as a rebuttal of the Sanders charges. But Benen doesn’t seem to me to address what the charges actually are.

Now, I would be the first person to confess I don’t have a head for numbers. But as I wrote yesterday, this Politico article seemed alarming:

Yet, during the first three months of the year, the $2 million transferred by the Hillary Victory Fund to various state party committees paled in comparison to the $9.5 million it transferred to Clinton’s campaign committee or the $3.5 million it transferred to the DNC.

Is this saying that the joint committee is just donating the money back to the Clinton campaign?

And the Hillary Victory Fund [meaning the joint committee] also spent $6.7 million on online ads that mostly looked like Clinton campaign ads, as well as $5.5 million on direct marketing. Both expenses seem intended at least in part to help Clinton build a small donor base, an area in which Sanders has far outpaced her.

Knowing Clinton, she probably does have some team of lawyers keeping an eye on this to be sure there’s at least a fig leaf of legality stuck to this operation. But does this not seem questionable?

Update: You can click on this link to see the list of participating states and the amount of money each has received as of the end of March. As you can see, the states are getting peanuts compared to what the Hillary Victory Fund has taken in.


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Following the Hillary Victory Fund Money

Sanders and Clinton

UPDATED: Please read this more recent post on the Hillary Victory Fund, which I believe clarifies the issues quite a bit.

A lawyer for the Sanders campaign has formally complained to the DNC about the Hillary Victory Fund and possible violations of campaign finance law. Most news outlets are pooh-poohing this as a stunt. Let’s take a look.

This is what the Sanders campaign is complaining about:

Unlike Clinton’s presidential campaign committee, Hillary for America, the joint committee may accept large donations of up to $356,100. The first $2,700 of this amount is eligible for transfer to the Clinton campaign, $33,400 can be transferred to the DNC, with any remaining amount, up to $10,000, to each participating state party. According to public disclosure reports, however, the joint Clinton-DNC fund, Hillary Victory Fund (HVF), appears to operate in a way that skirts legal limits on federal campaign donations and primarily benefits the Clinton presidential campaign.

The financial disclosure reports on file with the Federal Election Commission indicate that the joint committee invested millions in low-dollar, online fundraising and advertising that solely benefits the Clinton campaign. The Sanders campaign “is particularly concerned that these extremely large-dollar individual contributions have been used by the Hillary Victory Fund to pay for more than $7.8 million in direct mail efforts and over $8.6 million in online advertising” according to the letter to the DNC. Both outlays benefit the Clinton presidential campaign “by generating low-dollar contributions that flow only to HFA [Hillary for America] rather than to the DNC or any of the participating state party committees.”

The questionable outlays “have grown to staggering magnitudes” and “can no longer be ignored,” Deutsch added.

True? This was in Politico last week:

The fund comprises Clinton’s presidential campaign committee, as well as the Democratic National Committee and 32 state party committees. As a result, it can accept checks as large as $358,000 per person — a total determined by the maximum donation to each of its component committees ($5,400 to the Clinton campaign, $33,400 to the DNC and $10,000 to each of the state parties).

Yet, during the first three months of the year, the $2 million transferred by the Hillary Victory Fund to various state party committees paled in comparison to the $9.5 million it transferred to Clinton’s campaign committee or the $3.5 million it transferred to the DNC.

Numbers baffle me easily. But if the Clinton campaign can only take the first $2,700 off the top of each donation (and cannot exceed $2,700 from one person in a given year), and the rest of these large donations go to the DNC and the states, how can the Clinton campaign end up with the lion’s share of the Hillary Victory Fund money?

And the Hillary Victory Fund also spent $6.7 million on online ads that mostly looked like Clinton campaign ads, as well as $5.5 million on direct marketing. Both expenses seem intended at least in part to help Clinton build a small donor base, an area in which Sanders has far outpaced her.

Keep in mind that the Victory Fund is managed by Clinton campaign staff, and its treasurer is Clinton’s chief operating officer, according to this Washington Post story from last February.

With the caveat that I’m not an election law attorney — it’s my understanding that the Clinton campaign can only use the first $2,700 of any donation any way it wants. How is it that so much of this money is being spent in ways that appear to benefit only the Clinton campaign? And keep in mind that Hillary’s followers praise her effusively for raising money for “down ticket Democrats.”  A lot of them were outraged today that anyone would question what’s going on with this money.

And why isn’t news media at least taking this seriously?

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