The Can’t-Do Nation

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big picture stuff

Recently I’ve seen a lot of essays and comments on the glories of pragmatic, incremental change. I’ve even seen social media commenters saying that the U.S. has always been a nation of slow, incremental change.

Which, of course, is bullshit. If anything we are a nation that does things in fits and starts. We will sometimes ride the status quo for awhile, but then when we take a notion to change, we can create big change pretty durn fast.

Or, at least, we used to.  We’ve been in something of a long rut of can’t-do, I admit. But it’s nonsense to say that’s always the way things have been in the U.S.

Let’s just look, for example, at the Progressive Era, which began in 1890 with the passage of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Along with massive amounts of business reform that accelerated when Teddy Roosevelt had anything to say about it, this era also saw the rise of labor unions. Congress passed the first Food and Drug Act in 1906, created the Department of Labor in 1911, and ratified the Sixteenth (income taxes) AND Seventeenth (direct election of Senators) Amendments in 1913. The Eighteenth (prohibition) and Nineteenth (women’s suffrage) Amendments were both ratified in 1919. And those were just the high points. There were countless other laws and regulations passed on both state and national levels that impacted just about everyone in fundamental ways. And while this was going on people were switching over from horses to automobiles and acquiring electricity and telephones.

The Prohibition thing didn’t work out so well, but it was a lot of change — in government, in culture, in technology. Of course many of the laws, such as the antitrust laws, were revised over time, but the initial laws were not exactly tweaks. Many of these changes were transformative, not incremental, change. I talk about the difference below.

Do we need to review the stuff that happened during the New Deal? Do we?  And then think about the 1950s and 1960s. We went to the freaking moon, people. The Civil Rights movement brought about massive changes in our culture pretty quickly because people stood up and said, we gotta change. Not, we gotta change some day.

It seems to me that from the mid-1970s on, we shut down and decided we couldn’t do big change any more. The single Big Thing that has happened is computers and the technology that flowed from that. The Cold War ended, for which some of us took credit, but it really wasn’t our doing, exactly.

In the 1930s we built the Hoover Dam. Now we can’t even fix potholes. Atrios wrote last week,

Infrastructure price tags always sound like huge unthinkable numbers. ONE HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS. And it is true that it is hard for state and local governments to come up with that kind of money. For the federal government it is chump change, even leaving aside some more creative ways of paying for it.

Once upon a time the US really was ahead of basically every other country in the world. It was shiny and new. We had shiny new highways, our cities weren’t bombed out by wars (though we did a pretty good job subsequently at destroying them ourselves), lower middle class people had things like refrigerator/freezers and cars, and potable water coming out of the tap was the norm. Things were clean. We had nice affordable hospitals. It was an understandable symbol of progress, of modernity.

Now much of the world has those things, along with in some cases some things are more humane and appealing. I don’t think Trump is really talking about BUILD MORE SUPERTRAIN TUNNELS when he says “make America great again,” but it is the case that the country isn’t shiny and new like it was. The Reagan era made nice things, even fixing nice things, unpossible for going on 40 years now. Something has to change.

 Lots of stuff has to change. Oh, but we’re not supposed to do BIG all-at-once change. We have to pragmatic little baby-step change. And while baby steps are better than nothing, there’s nothing inherently virtuous about baby steps. Baby steps are what you do from a position of weakness. Baby steps are what you do when there’s resistance and you lack the means to do big steps.

But we actually have the means to do big steps. We just don’t have the will.

What’s the difference between transformative and incremental change? A definition of transformative change is change that takes us in a new direction, and isn’t just a new variation of what was already happening. One article I found  used music as an example — the invention of musical recording was a transformative change that impacted behaviors like concert attendance and the piano and sheet music industries. However, the invention of cassette tapes over vinyl was an incremental change.

Another article defined incrementalism as a kind of resilience. These are changes that allow us to adapt to conditions as they are. Transformative change, of course changes the conditions.  I think that’s important. It’s not just about whether the change is fast or slow, or whether it’s done in stages or all at once. Is it adapting to prevailing conditions, or is it changing prevailing conditions?

For example, since the 2008 crash nothing transformative has happened to the financial sector. All that was done was just to allow us to survive and adapt to the  monstrosity the financial sector has become. Global climate change calls out for transformative instead of incremental, but so far we’re barely managing incremental. The ACA works, yes, but it’s another example of a mostly incremental change rather than a transformative one. We can say it’s a BIG incremental change, but it’s mostly an adaptation that allows more people to get insurance rather than a real transformation of our health care delivery system.

Incremental change is sometimes just foot dragging. It’s making things work just a little longer, until it can’t be made to work any more. It’s used to keep us placated so the transformative change we really want can be postponed.

Sometimes adaptations to conditions are fine; if conditions are not that bad, or are probably temporary, maybe a few tweaks are all we need. But we’ve gotten into a rut in which we’re told all we will ever get are tweaks.  That’s been doing on way too long.

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Liberal, Neoliberal and Progressive: What Words Mean

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American History, Sanders and Clinton

Much of our current political discourse suffers because so many people are using words without fully appreciating what they mean. For example, some use progressive and liberal as synonyms, although they really aren’t (although there’s a lot of overlap). There’s also confusion about the difference between liberal and neoliberal. And there’s tons of confusion about socialist.

Note that what follows are standard definitions; I am not making these up. However, this is just a brief overview. I don’t have time to write a book. So if I’ve left out a detail you think is important please just add it to comments.

Liberal. The meaning of liberal as a political term has changed over time, and in the United States it came to have a slightly different meaning from how it is used elsewhere.  But let’s review:

Classical liberalism, which originated in 18th century Europe, emphasized civil liberties — the old Rights of Man — and political freedom. Classical liberals were also the original free market capitalists.  Adam Smith and his Invisible Hand were classical liberals.

Social liberalism, which evolved later, is classical liberalism with the added belief that government really needs to address poverty and joblessness and that sort of thing rather than wait around for the Invisible Hand to fix it. This is basically the European view of social liberalism.

FDR took American liberalism in a different direction, basically injecting a whole lot of American progressivism into it (see discussion of progressive below). I recommend this essay by Eric Alterman, “How Classical Liberalism Morphed Into New Deal Liberalism.”

European liberalism is essentially a centrist political philosophy, but under FDR it was pulled leftward, putting it somewhere between social liberalism and European socialism as it existed at the time. And, of course, FDR pretty much kicked the free-market, laissez-faire aspects of classical liberalism to the curb. By steering a course between pure European liberalism and pure socialism, FDR found a way to maintain capitalism without allowing it to become oppressive and exploitative of the people. Well, of a lot of people.  FDR liberalism was very much about making robust use of government to give working people a hand up so they could make a better quality of life for themselves (with the acknowledgment that nonwhites were left out of much of this, to appease southern politicians).

In the 1960s, liberalism took up the cause of equal rights for all people, and in doing so sometimes worked against New Deal liberalism. Much of the New Left was against unions, for example, because of racial discrimination by unions, and New Deal liberalism was very pro-union.  Although some of the leftie-leftie fringe of the New Left was Marxist, most new leftie liberal 1960s-era hippies weren’t that tuned into economic issues, as I remember it.  Equal rights and civil liberty, yes; Vietnam, no.  And marijuana. That’s about it.

Until Vietnam there had been nothing intrinsically anti-war about liberalism, note. FDR certainly hadn’t been anti-war.  Indeed, a lot of Cold War liberals were on the hawkish side, promoting a robust military buildup to fighting the threat of global communist takeover. Democratic party insiders were opposed to nominating the anti-war McGovern in 1972, and when he lost big– partly because he got little help from his party — the lesson Democrats took from that was that pacifism is for losers.

But one of the ghosts of the Vietnam era a lot of us still have clanking about in our heads is that liberalism is pacifistic and conservatism is militaristic, and while that might be true most of the time these days, that’s a relatively recent development. And a ghost clanking around in the heads of many American conservatives is that liberalism is communism, which is nonsense on steroids.

Neoliberal. Neoliberalism is a reactionary sort of liberalism that repudiates social liberalism and tries to go back to something like classical liberalism. As Europeans use the word neoliberalism, Ronald Reagan was a neoliberal. See especially this essay by George Monbiot, “Neoliberalism — the Ideology at the Root of All Our Problems.”

American neoliberals tend to be social liberals but economic conservatives. They’re fine with equal rights and civil liberties for individuals, but they lean toward conservative and libertarian ideas about economies and markets.  It is argued that a neoliberal’s commitment to civil liberty is entirely for the individual and ignores social reality. Basically, neoliberals are people who champion your right to live your life as you wish while they favor trade policies that will devastate your community and ship  your job to China.

Another way to put this is that neoliberals are liberal but not necessarily progressive. So let’s look at progressivism.

Progressive. Progressive as an American political term was born in the late 19th century. The original progressive reform movement focused on three foundational positions:

  1. Getting the corruption of money out of politics, especially in regard to political machines and bosses.
  2. Getting more people directly involved in politics; making political processes more transparent. For example, the direct election of senators (17th Amendment, ratified 1914) was a progressive accomplishment.
  3. Using government regulation to protect the people; for example, enacting child labor laws and providing for safety regulations for food and drugs.

Progressivism in America from the start tended to go hand in hand with social liberalism. Women’s suffrage was a progressive cause. The Great Migration was encouraged by progressivism. But while white progressive reformers called for putting a stop to lynching, I’m not aware they did much to address segregation or racism generally. Maybe they did, and I missed it.

Teddy Roosevelt, one of the original patriarchs of American progressivism.

Teddy Roosevelt was both a product and a patriarch of the original Progressive Movement. Teddy worked to get the corruption of money out of government, you’ll recall, and he also worked to protect the environment and was opposed to the business monopolies that he saw as blood-sucking parasites. A lot of Teddy’s ideas were folded into FDR’s liberalism. Those Roosevelt boys did a lot of good for America.

But while, in America, progressivism and liberalism tend to run in the same circles, they aren’t exactly the same thing. In America, traditionally, liberalism is mostly about equal rights and civil liberties, while progressivism is mostly about social and government reform and economic justice. As we see with the neoliberals especially, a person can be all in favor of your rights to an abortion or the right to get a cake made for your same-sex wedding, but still not be particularly progressive.

Socialism. While we’re at it, I might as well bring up the “s” word.  The word socialism refers to a whole range of political-economic ideas; I don’t think there is any one form of “socialism.” There are, instead, a bunch of different socialisms.

American right-wingers will never get beyond the abecedarian (yeah, that’s a word; look it up) notion that socialism is the same thing as communism, and of course all communism is Marxism. This is right up there with saying dogs are mammals, so all mammals are dogs. Tell that to a wingnut, and he’ll assume you mean all mammals are dogs. But I digress.

Because of right-wing idiocy we haven’t been allowed to have a sensible conversation about socialist views and policies since about, well, ever. The Big Lie we’ve been taught is that socialism is all about central control of the economy, which of course is the road to totalitarianism, per the Austrian School economists. But most socialisms don’t advocate central control of the economy. And most socialists are fine with democratic representative government and with civil liberties and personal freedom and all that. But, as I said, there are many socialisms.

Even if you pull out the “democratic socialists” from the rest of the “socialists,” there’s still a continuum. While Bernie Sanders calls himself a democratic socialist, some political scientist types says he’s really not, but more of an FDR-era Democrat Party liberal. See “What Does Sanders Mean by ‘Democratic Socialism?'” and “Bernie Is Not Socialist and America Is Not Capitalist.” So there’s that. But at least he’s helping to take the stigma out of the “s” word so that we can have conversations about it.

I’m bringing this up because I keep seeing people use these words very sloppily. In particular the conflation of liberalism and progressivism covers a lot of sins, since it’s very possible for a politician to score high by standard liberalism measures while being weak on progressivism. This is basically where we are with the mostly neoliberal Hillary Clinton. Sanders is both liberal and progressive. Trump is neither. So let’s try to keep this straight.

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Stirring Up the Pro-Israel Status Quo at the DNC Convention

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Democratic Party, Israel, Sanders and Clinton

Proof that perhaps the Sanders campaign has not been in vain, whatever the outcome:

A bitter divide over the Middle East could threaten Democratic Party unity as representatives of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont vowed to upend what they see as the party’s lopsided support of Israel.

Two of the senator’s appointees to the party’s platform drafting committee,Cornel West and James Zogby, on Wednesday denounced Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza and said they believed that rank-and-file Democrats no longer hewed to the party’s staunch support of the Israeli government. They said they would try to get their views incorporated into the platform, the party’s statement of core beliefs, at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July.

According to a contributor to Juan Cole’s site, Sanders “will be allowed to name five members to the 15-member committee that writes the platform at the Democratic Party’s national convention in late July in Philadelphia even if he is not the nominee. Clinton will name six.” Debbie Wasserman Schultz will name the other four members, who no doubt will be Clinton sycophants. Although the DNC will deny that.

So the Sanders appointees will be outnumbered. But they aren’t going to be quiet. The New York Times continues,

The presence of Dr. Zogby and Dr. West on the 15-member panel, which also has six appointees of Hillary Clinton and four from the party chairwoman, does not guarantee their views will prevail. But it raises the prospect that one of the party’s most sensitive issues will be open to public debate while Mrs. Clinton is in a fight to unify her party and appeal to voters turned off by Donald J. Trump.

It also laid bare a steady shift in the Democratic Party, whose members have been less willing to back Israel’s government than in years past. According to a Pew Research Center survey in April, self-described liberal Democrats were twice as likely to sympathize with Palestinians over Israel than they were only two years ago. Forty percent of liberals sympathized more with Palestinians, the most since 2001, while 33 percent sympathized more with Israel.

Clinton surrogates, on the other hand, vow that the platform will reflect the Secretary’s views, which appear to be to allow Bibi Netayanhu to dictate our foreign policy.

Although Cornel West is a bit too much of a provocateur for my taste, I hope that at least some Dem insiders wake up to the fact that their slavish whatever-Likud-wants position is growing increasingly unpopular with Democratic voters. And if so, somebody should memo Chuck Schumer.

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The Fuse that Fizzled

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Sanders and Clinton

The big news today was that the State Department inspector general issued a sternly worded report critical of Secretary of State’s email use. Paul Waldman explains this about as well as anybody. In short, yeah, she broke rules; no, it doesn’t appear there were any harmful consequences. The report didn’t include any new bombshell information.

And this is about what I’ve expected from the email thing. I’m not seeing the word “criminal” in any news stories. I expect the report to be the end of it. Well, as far as the government is concerned. Politics are something else.

Some Sanders supporters are still eagerly waiting for the indictments that will never come. And, of course, Republicans will be all over it. The problem is that there really isn’t any new information here, I don’t believe, and unless there are unexpected further developments I doubt they can keep the public interested in the emails all the way until November.

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Pub Quiz

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Obama Administration

“The political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter, they are an entire banquet.” — Mark Twain

I like to check in with British news sources like The Guardian and The Financial Times because sometimes they actually do a smarter job of figuring us out than we do.  FT content is behind a subscription firewall, alas, but sometimes I get lucky and find a usable link.

Anyway, because we’re all burned out, or at least I am, and to lighten the mood, see how well you do on this Pub Quiz created by the Brits at FT. I only got a couple of them right.

I’ll add some more questions. Eventually I’ll put the answers in a comment.

1. Which Republican candidate said “Net neutrality is Obamacare for the Internet”?

(a) Ted Cruz (b) Ben Carson (c) Rand Paul (d) Carly Fiorina

2. Bonus: What the hell does “Obamacare for the Internet” even mean?

3. At one point Jeb Bush was criticized for saying “Look, stuff happens.” What was he referring to?

(a) Global warming (b) Gun violence (c) That his brother George endorsed him (d) That his mother didn’t

4. Ben Carson recently was un-appointed from Trump’s vice president search committee. According to rumors reported at The Daily Beast, this was because …

(a) He nominated himself. (b) He nominated Sarah Palin. (c) He nominated Jesus. (d) He was vetting candidates by examining “the fruit salad of their life.”

Your turn.

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Clash of the Unpopular Titans

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Bad Hair, Democratic Party, Republican Party, Sanders and Clinton

Or, what if they gave an election and nobody voted?

It says in the Washington Post:

Never in the history of the Post-ABC poll have the two major party nominees been viewed as harshly as Clinton and Trump.

Nearly 6 in 10 registered voters say they have negative impressions of both major candidates. Overall, Clinton’s net negative rating among registered voters is minus-16,  while Trump’s is minus-17, though Trump’s numbers have improved since March.

It takes some real talent for our two major political parties to  (presumably) nominate two people most voters don’t like.

At this point, the two candidates are in a statistical dead heat among registered voters, with Trump favored by 46 percent and Clinton favored by 44 percent. That represents an 11-point shift toward the presumptive Republican nominee since March. Among all adults, Clinton holds a six-point lead
(48 percent to 42 percent), down from 18 points in March.

This data about the close race between Clinton and Trump have gotten a lot of attention, but as many rightly point out, these numbers are likely to shift significantly before the election and don’t mean that much now. I still think Clinton will beat him.

Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who has given Clinton a stiff challenge in the contest for the Democratic nomination, enjoys the most positive rating of the three. Among registered voters, Sanders is net positive — 49 percent to 41 percent — and has seen his image improve steadily the longer he has been a candidate.

He needed more time and public exposure to introduce himself to people before the primaries started. The Democratic establishment and mass media denied him that.

But what I really want to write about is, it appears the general election campaign will be between two unpopular candidates. How did that happen? And what does that say about the status of democracy in America?

First, this tells me the political system is being played, and not by the people. An honest competition actually decided by the people ought to have given us more popular candidates. What we’re seeing is a symptom of managed democracy, a term usually aimed at Vladimir Putin’s Russia but which, many argue, describes the United States.  In a paper about managed democracy in Russia, we find,

According to Tretyakov’s definition, managed democracy is a democracy (as there are elections, voters have alternative options, there is media freedom, leaders are changing), but it is corrected by the ruling class (or rather that part of it that holds power).

Put another way, this is why we can’t have nice things. We aren’t really in charge.

See also Ted Morgan in Salon, “This Isn’t How a Democracy Should Work.”

But the managing is happening in different ways in the two parties. If anything, Trump is a management failure.  He is not the guy the ruling class wanted. The faux populism the Right has cultivated so well all these years got out of control; thus, Trump.

Clearly, the Republican Party also has lost control of the nominating process; they barely controlled it in 2012.  Relaxed campaign finance laws allowed any clown into the race who could talk a few wealthy people into bankrolling him. Candidates on the Republican side more or less were independent franchises who didn’t need the RNC.

However, it’s also the case that the guy with the biggest fundraising chops, Jeb Bush, couldn’t sell himself to voters. One does wonder if he would have done much better with fewer, and saner, competitors.

With Hillary Clinton, we’ve got the candidate the Democratic Party elite chose over a year ago, and as I’ve said many times already, if she loses in the fall, that’s on her. And on them. She is a monumentally unwise choice. Not only is she unpopular, but as Queen of the Status Quo she is just plain wrong for the public mood. Her only advantage in this election is Trump; she may be wrong for the times; she may be a bad choice; but he’s absolutely appalling.

I hope the lesson the Democrats take from this is that competition is good. In the future, please don’t presume to choose the candidate for us. Give us a slate of candidates, and let us choose.

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Misreading Data and the Damage Done

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Sanders and Clinton

Now they tell  us

After Bernie Sanders crushed Hillary Clinton in the West Virginia primary last week, the national media was ready with an explanation: the white working class.

The New York Times and The Atlantic, for instance, both attributed Sanders’s win to his strength among low-income white workers. “White Working-Class Voters in West Virginia Pick Sanders Over Clinton,” read NPR’s headline.

This trope has become the conventional wisdom in the media, with the Wall Street Journal, the NationThe Huffington Post, and a host of other outlets (including me at Vox) stating as fact that downscale whites have formed a crucial piece of Sanders’s base.

This interpretation makes for an interesting narrative, but it’s missing the real story. Sanders’s victories aren’t being powered by a groundswell of white working-class support, but instead stem from his most reliable base since the start of the primary: young voters.

This is what  you get when data are broken out in isolation of other data. If you look at income, it looks as if Sanders gets the working class vote. But this is skewed because young people make a lot less money than older people. Older lower-income people prefer Clinton.

If you look at race it seems Clinton owns the “black vote.” But Jeff Stein writes, “several polls have put Sanders ahead of Clinton among young African-Americans; in the Reuters polling data, for instance, Sanders beats Clinton by 25 points among black voters aged 18 to 29.

I bolded that last line because I’m very tired of being told that Sanders is the candidate of privileged white people.

Polls suggests that Clinton does better among women, but all the data I’ve seen says that young women prefer Sanders in even larger percentages than young men prefer Sanders.

The framing of Sanders as the white guys’ candidate has hurt his candidacy, I think, and now it turns out not to be true. It was just everybody not looking carefully enough at the numbers.

I swear, news media these days couldn’t report on making toast.

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Dear Democrats: Please Face Reality

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Sanders and Clinton

Martin Longman writes,

So, what the Sanders campaign really is when you get past the idiosyncrasies of Bernie Sanders, is an expression of dissatisfaction with the status quo and a desire to change the party to meet the needs of the country on a more urgent basis. And the practical way that can be done is by having their voices heard at the convention. To the degree that this ambition is shunted, the progressive conscience of the party is marginalized and frustrated.

The focus shouldn’t be so much on personalities or the worst behavior of the loudest and most annoying people. It should be on the big picture. Young people, in particular, are vastly more attracted to the Sanders message than what is being offered by Clinton. These are potentially Democratic Party members for life, but that isn’t going to happen automatically, and especially not if they feel that their beliefs are unacceptable and have been defeated.

The youth, the committed organizers, the fighters who stood up when no one else would, these are not simple Bernie Bros. or chair-throwers or disloyal Johnny-Come-Latelys. If they are lumped all together, insulted, and told that they are not welcome, that’s going to come with a cost for the Democratic Party that the party won’t want to pay.

Clinton will be the nominee of the Democratic Party, and she wants to win. That means that dealing with this division in the party is her problem. She’s got to figure out the best way to bring the party together. If that means being a bigger person, or if that means making an uncomfortable concession, or if that means adopting or even co-opting some of the Sanders agenda, then those are things she’ll have to consider.

What won’t work is pretending that progressives are all primarily concerned with one individual named Bernie Sanders and that this is all about him.

“The youth, the committed organizers, the fighters who stood up when no one else would, these are not simple Bernie Bros. or chair-throwers or disloyal Johnny-Come-Latelys. If they are lumped all together, insulted, and told that they are not welcome, that’s going to come with a cost for the Democratic Party that the party won’t want to pay.”  This is something I’ve been saying all along.  For the past several years the Democrats have been assuring us that, some day, all the stupid old conservative, bigoted white people will die off and be replaced by younger, more liberal, voters. And then the Dems will be winners!

But now I’m watching the establishment Democrats kiss off a whole generation of voters, telling them to go home and play with their toys and leave politics to the grown ups. Good luck turning those people into Democratic voters in the future, geniuses.

Let’s review:

(Source: “Bernie Sanders Is (Still) the Future of the Democratic Party” by Matt Yglesias.)

I told someone this morning that it’s starting to feel like 1971 again; Sanders supporters are the antiwar movement, and the Democratic Party and its loyalists are the Nixon Administration. What should have been a temporary disagreement is turning into a generation-changing moment that will hurt the Democratic Party for years to come.

Martin Longman suggested also that Clinton herself step up and show some leadership to bring the situation under control:

What I think people should be focused on, and by “people” I mean the folks at the top of the Sanders and Clinton campaigns, is how to mend some fences and get this craziness under control. Precisely because Clinton has this thing wrapped up, she doesn’t need to resort to procedural hardball to squeeze every last delegate out of the process. She needs the votes of Sanders voters in the fall more than she needs a couple more delegates out of Nevada or a disproportionate number of seats on the power committees at the convention.

He had advice for Sanders also; he’s not saying Clinton alone should take action. He wants Sanders to be more forthright in telling his followers to cool it. But then Nancy LeTourneau — and I really like Nancy LeTourneau — argued that it wasn’t fair to expect Hillary Clinton to be magnanimous, because she’s a woman.

So…there is nothing wrong with expecting the winner to be magnanimous. But the truth is, women have been doing that for centuries. We’ve been smiling and taking it because to do otherwise diminishes our ability to reach our goals. When we ask this of Hillary, women all over the country know exactly what that feels like and we risk triggering their ire in response. In this case, what we have is a white male candidate whose supporters claim grievances that are expressed via tantrums and threats. But we place the burden on the woman to reach out and make nice.

Excuse me while I pound my head against a wall for awhile. In the meantime, read Shaun King at the NY Daily News.

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Some People Need a Serious Change of Attitude

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Sanders and Clinton

Gail Collins wrote in the New York Times last March,

Hillary Clinton is by far the best qualified candidate for president. But at this point in the campaign, you can understand why some people feel that voting for her against Bernie Sanders is like rewarding Washington for its worst behavior.

This was after her loss to Sanders in Michigan, where her campaigning against Sanders had gotten so dishonest and dirty that even mainstream media pundits were chastising her for it (see also  James Hohmann at the Washington Post).

On the same day the New York Times editorial board wrote,

Mrs. Clinton may be annoyed at the continued challenge posed by the self-described democratic socialist from Vermont. “The sooner I could become your nominee, the more I could begin to turn our attention to the Republicans,” she told a crowd in Detroit. But Mr. Sanders is likely to remain in the contest to the end, and if she is the Democratic nominee, Mrs. Clinton must win over and energize his supporters. The results in Michigan suggest she has a ways to go.

If you read the editorial you see they aren’t just talking about her winning more primaries. They were telling her that her attacks on Sanders had gone over the line, and she needed to reel them back if she expected to unify the party in November. Nobody likes to see his candidate vilified and lied about.

I know the Clinton people complain perpetually that people are unfair to Hillary Clinton. Then in the same breath they turn around and smear Sanders, or his supporters. I’ve had to disengage with a lot of people I’ve been in touch with in social media for many years because I can’t stand their lies and insults. Never mind the paternalistic (yes, paternalistic) and dripping condescension that is the hallmark of the Clintonistas. They feel entitled to the innate superiority of their opinions. They were the same way in 2008, btw; I don’t know how many times I was dismissed as naive because I planned to vote for that Obama guy.

But this primary is turning into something worse, and it could get a lot uglier.

I’m hearing more about what happened in Nevada, and it appears the local dignitaries in charge took it upon themselves to railroad the Sanders contingent to keep them from adding delegates and possibly flipping the state to Sanders. Like that would actually matter now. Having looked at accounts of this from both sides, it  seems that part of the problem was that many Sanders delegates were new to state politics and weren’t familiar with the Nevada party’s arcane and convoluted process. But it’s also the case that the officials in charge were loyal Clinton supporters who treated the Sanders delegates as foreign hostiles. It appears to me that instead of helping them navigate the process to enable a fair convention, the officials took advantage of the confusion and railroaded the Sanders contingent to keep their participation at a minimum.

Here’s an interview (start at about 32 minutes in)  with a Sanders supporter — Dan Rolle — at the convention who really did understand the process and tells his version of what happened, followed by an interview (start at about 50 minutes) with Nina Turner, former Ohio state senator who has been campaigning for Sanders and was at the convention representing Sanders. Even Turner, who strikes me as a level-headed person, says the Dem officials flat-out cheated.

Here is Rolle’s video. Rolle is currently running as a Democrat for a U.S. House seat, so he’s not a political neophyte.

See also D.D. Guttenplan in The Nation.

It fascinates me that many people bright enough to know that emails from Nigeria are possibly selling a scam accept the official Dem Party version of what happened in Nevada without question, in spite of what can be seen and heard in the many videos that support the Sanders’s delegates’ version, and in spite of the testimony of many people in attendance.

Now I’m reading from “establishment” media that violence was breaking out at the convention. There are many claims of chair-tossing and other physical violence. The chair says she had to flee because she feared for her safety. I’ve read several different accounts of participants and seen their videos, and among other things the participants deny that any chairs were thrown or that there were threats of violence within the convention itself. And the many videos I’ve seen support that claim. There was a lot of shouting and booing, but to say that the chairperson had to flee because she feared for her safety isn’t supported by what evidence has been available so far. It seems to be a claim being made by the Nevada state Dems to cover up their own bad behavior.

And any of us who lived through the Vietnam War protest era ought to recognize this tactic as a ruse to de-legitimize the Sanders contingent. Nixon’s people pulled that often enough back then.

I say that if the Democrats want to “unify” in November, they need to look to their own conduct. They can’t treat people in this ham-handed way and then demand they just get over it.

The chair of the Nevada state convention has received a lot of ugly threats, and that’s wrong. The Democratic Party condemned the threats, and rightfully so. But they’ve said nothing about what happened at the convention. If they had their heads on straight they would ask the chair to resign and issue an apology to keep the hard feelings from getting harder. But they won’t.

Bernie Sanders issued a statement that complained about what happened in Nevada, and Dem officials were outraged. How dare he question the official story? He’s supposed to be ordering his followers to behave, like a good cog in the machine. But instead of complaining to Sanders that he should turn his back on his followers and demand unity, the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign need to adjust their own attitude, and fast, to avoid violence at the national convention.

I am utterly opposed to violence at demonstrations and remain so, but I’m seeing emotions get out of hand. And I think the only people who have the power to avoid it are the Dems and Clinton themselves, not Sanders. Right now if he were to order his supporters to stand down and pledge loyalty to Clinton, they would just turn on him. They are that fed up.

Let’s consider where Hillary Clinton is at the moment. She might have assumed all along that once she had the nomination people would just get over their hard feelings and vote blue no matter who. There were a lot of hard feelings in 2008 — mostly caused by her own bad behavior — and Barack Obama won, anyway.

But this is a different situation from 2008. Barack Obama wasn’t the one fomenting the bad feelings; she was. She attempted to use her followers’ passions to hold the Dem party hostage to get the veep position until she finally relented some time in June, and I suspect she only relented because she was offered a cabinet position if Obama won.

But you know she’s not going to offer Sanders anything, and if she did I doubt he’d accept it. He’s going to go back to the Senate to be a dedicated thorn in her side. And as soon as she has the Dem nomination clinched, she’s going to move right and campaign to the center, ignoring the progressive Left.

As I write this the Kentucky primary is till too close to call. Sanders and Clinton will split the delegates no matter who is declared the winner. But Clinton made a big show of claiming victory several hours ago. This tells me she’s an insensitive ass whose own ego takes precedence over common sense. She’s far enough ahead that a delegate here and there won’t matter. A little sensitivity and magnanimity on her part would go a long way right now to soothe the anger. But she doesn’t have it in her to do that, apparently.

I cannot emphasize enough that Sanders didn’t create this schism in the Democratic Party. It’s existed, and has been widening, for at least a few years. Sanders was simply the guy who stepped up and articulated what a lot of us already were thinking. The Dems seem to think that if they can squash Sanders everything will go back to normal. And they are wrong. They have to address this. They can’t just smack Sanders’s supporters around and order us to get into line. The establishment Democrats must adjust to a change in the political landscape, starting with their own attitudes.

Sean Illing wrote a couple of days ago,

It’s not at all surprising – or wrong, to be fair – that establishment Democrats would support Hillary Clinton. Clinton is a party veteran and a known commodity. She’s been at the center of Democratic politics for decades. … But the Democratic establishment can maintain neutrality in this process without compromising their preferred candidate. The fact is, Clinton has received at least 2.5 million more primary votes than Sanders. She was – and is – likely to win the nomination. There’s no need to rig the process or skew the rules in her favor – doing so only adds to the suspicion that the process itself is undemocratic, which is ruinous to the party’s long-term viability.

People shouldn’t have to feel compromised when they vote, that they are rewarding someone for bad behavior.  The establishment Democrats need to swallow their egos and develop some class, and fast. If Clinton loses to Trump in November she’s going to scapegoat Sanders, but it really will be on her and on the Democratic Party.

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What Went Down in Nevada

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Sanders and Clinton

I’ve had a busy day while trying to grasp what happened yesterday at the Nevada state Democratic convention. Every source I consult is telling a different story. All I know for certain is that the Sanders contingent believe they were steamrollered, and the Clinton people think Sanders supporters are barbarians with bad table manners.

A little background — the state convention is where the Nevada the delegation to the DNC convention is finalized. You might remember that Clinton won the Nevada caucuses back in February, giving her 20 delegates and Sanders 15 delegates. Then in April, Sanders’s supporters took advantage of Clinton delegate no shows at the Clark County convention to increase the number of Sanders supporters Clark County (home of Las Vegas) sent to the state convention, where 12 more delegates would be chosen. This potentially made it possible to flip the state from Clinton to Sanders.

Well, that didn’t happen. Somehow, 56 Sanders delegates (enough to have changed the final vote) to the state convention were stripped of their delegate status. Various reasons were given, the most common being that they couldn’t prove they had registered as Democrats or that they even lived in Nevada. But it’s not clear how those determinations were made. I believe (again, news stories are not consistent on this) that Clinton got seven more delegates and Sanders five.

What went wrong?

Convention Credential Committee Co-Chair Leslie Sexton said 64 Sanders delegates – almost double Sanders’ eventual 33 delegate shortfall – were disqualified for various reasons and not given the opportunity to appeal, The Hill reported.

Sexton initially said she was not allowed to give a report about Sanders’ delegates – for an unspecified reason – but she eventually presented her findings once chants of “recount” and “let her speak” broke out, The Hill reported.

“Contrary to procedures and precedents set by the committee, nearly none of the 64 people were presented with the opportunity to be heard by the committee or to demonstrate that they are registered Democrats,” Sexton said.

“Sanders supporters have accused state party leaders of rigging the process against them, and they objected to procedural votes to approve the rules of the event,” it says here. Sanders people booed Sen. Barbara Boxer when she called for “unity,” and the senator didn’t take it well. Eventually the chair, Roberta Lange, called for an adjournment; according to several accounts she then seconded herself and banged the event to a close. State troopers immediately took over to clear people out of the hall.

This account of events at Real Clear Politics, with lots of videos, is especially damning.

Since I wasn’t there, and there are so many conflicting accounts,  I can’t say who responsible for things getting out of control, but the end result is a lot of anger. Sanders supporters are increasingly certain the entire nominating process has been rigged for Clinton (possibly because it has) and they are increasingly hostile to the Democratic Party.

Way to go, folks.

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