Are the Props Collapsing?

The stock market fell another gazillion points today. I take it that putting Mike “prayer is the answer” Pence in charge of the Covid-19 response didn’t soothe anyone’s nerves. See Let’s Revisit Coronavirus Czar Mike Pence’s History on Public Health Initiatives to be further not soothed.

Pence famously does not believe in science. But never fear; Pence is merely in charge of the messaging about the coronavirus. “The White House moved on Thursday to tighten control of coronavirus messaging by government health officials and scientists, directing them to coordinate all statements and public appearance with the office of Vice President Mike Pence, according to several officials familiar with the new approach.” So Pence will be in charge of being sure no one will know what’s going on. Public health officials will no longer be able to speak without being censored. It’s not clear if anyone is in charge of the science.

I know I don’t feel better already.

It’s possible the pandemic will not be as severe as feared. But even if the spread of the disease is contained in the U.S., it’s likely we’re going to feel some effects. See Matt Stoller in Wired — Covid-19 Will Mark the End of Affluence Politics.

As Jon Stokes notes, we will, in all likelihood, be locking down travel in some areas of the US for several weeks, as they did in China. People may be advised against gathering in large groups. It’s not clear what any of this will mean for campaigning or primary voting, whether most of us will vote by mail or have our votes delayed.

Moreover, the coronavirus is going to introduce economic conditions with which few people in modern America are familiar: the prospect of shortages. After 25 years of offshoring and consolidation, we now rely on overseas production for just about everything. Now in the wake of the coronavirus, China has shut down much of its production; South Korea and Italy will shut down as well. Once the final imports from these countries have worked their way through the supply chains and hit our shores, it could be a while before we get more. This coronavirus will reveal, in other words, a crisis of production—and one that’s coming just in time for a presidential election.

The supply of pharmaceuticals is especially vulnerable, I understand, so if there is a drug you really need to live and function, you might want to be very careful with your existing supply.

Not only are many medications used in the United States manufactured overseas, but critical ingredients — and the chemicals used to make them — also are overwhelmingly made in China and other countries. The supply chain’s roots now run so deep that it’s difficult to fully anticipate where critical shortages could emerge.

Rosemary Gibson, author of the book “China Rx” and a senior adviser at the Hastings Center, a bioethics think tank, said China has a “global choke hold” on the chemical components that make up key ingredients.

It might have occurred to someone that it was really stupid of the U.S. to become dependent on another country for our medicines. But of course, nobody is really in charge of these things but the glorious Free Market, which doesn’t give a fig about who lives and who dies.

Again, it’s possible the effects of the virus won’t be that severe. But if they aren’t, it sure as hell won’t be because the government was on the ball about it. Trump really did fire the pandemic response team and cut much of the CDC’s budget for responding to global disease outbreaks. We are grotesquely unprepared for whatever is about to hit us. See also U.S. workers without protective gear assisted coronavirus evacuees, HHS whistleblower says.

Our lack of a national health care system also makes us more vulnerable. Helaine Olen writes in WaPo about a concerned citizen who came down with flu-like symptoms after returning from a trip to China. So the man went to a hospital to be tested. It appears the tests were negative, but he got slapped with a $3,000 invoice for a blood test and nasal swab.

It’s very possible there are people among us already carrying the virus but staying away from doctors because they are uninsured. “We don’t want people to be wondering whether they can afford to visit the doctor if they think they’ve got this contagious and possibly deadly disease,” Olen writes. “But by happenstance, ideology and shortsighted, penny-wise-pound-foolish thinking, we’ve set up a situation that will force many to do just that.”

Don’t forget to reflect on all the food service and other service workers who don’t get paid sick days.

Stoller writes that the pandemic could put an end to the politics of affluence.

Affluence politics is not the politics of being wealthy, though, but rather the politics of not paying attention to what creates wealth in the first place. That is to say, it’s the politics of ignoring our ability to make and distribute the things people need.

This is something we’ve been doing more and more badly, I think. Somehow, our economy is not responding to the desperate need for lower-cost homes in urban areas. It is not providing affordable insulin. It is not giving us safe drinking water. On the other hand, Vox reported in 2018 that millions of dollars worth of unsold merchandise is destroyed every year to be sure a surplus doesn’t erode the value of brands. Something is deeply and fundamentally screwy.

Stoller compares the potential disruptions of the Covid-19 pandemic to the Great Depression.

Congress held hearings, but businessmen, academics, and bankers proffered only belt-tightening. Within the Republican establishment, President Herbert Hoover worked 18-hour days, exhorting confidence while refusing to take even basic steps such as having the government guarantee bank deposits. Instead, his administration’s army attacked hungry protesters in Washington, DC, a move that prompted an angry Republican congressman, Fiorello La Guardia of New York, to remind the president: “Soup is cheaper than tear gas bombs.”

For the record, I don’t believe Hoover ordered the attacks on the bonus marchers. I understand that was done on the initiative of Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

Meanwhile on the Democratic side, conservatives and progressives in the party were locked in a bitter battle for the nomination. Many Democrats agreed with Hoover. Maryland governor and presidential candidate Albert Ritchie, for instance, argued that we should rely “less on politics, less on laws, less on government.” Another candidate, Speaker of the House John Nance Garner, claimed the greatest threat was the “tendency toward socialism and communism” and pledged a massive cut in government spending, as well as a sales tax increase. Others turned to extreme racism and xenophobia. Only Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who went on to win a contested convention, campaigned on aggressive government involvement in the economy—or as he put it, a “workable program of reconstruction,” which later became the New Deal.

It does look as if we’re setting ourselves up for a replay of these arguments in 2020. But again, it’s possible this situation will blow over in a month or two and be forgotten. Until  next time.

Will Somebody Do Something About the Damn Debates?

I lasted about thirty minutes before I remembered that nobody was paying me to watch last night’s Dem debate, so I changed channels. What a mess.

CBS officially took over the title of Worst Presidential Debate Moderators from CNN. I don’t know if all the questions were insipid, since I didn’t watch all of the debate, but the moderators weren’t doing any moderating. It was out of control. And the audience should have been cautioned to remain quiet; the cheering and booing just added to the general awfulness of the evening.

I sincerely hope someone in charge of things in the Democratic Party, if there is such a person, is seriously thinking about what might be done to make the debates into events useful for voters and not just bad reality shows. Indeed, when I tuned into CBS last night, for a moment I thought I had found a game show. The music and razzle-dazzle set were clearly more suitable for The Price Is Right. The original Gong Show was more dignified, in fact. It is too painfully obvious that the moderators are mostly concerned about putting on a lively show. One wonders how much they understand the issues they are asking about.

Part of the problem goes back to all the things that are wrong with the way news media covers politics in the U.S. It’s all horse races and the stoking of controversies (and if there are no controversies to stoke, improvise one). Very little television political programming presents anything substantive about issues or about the deep backgrounds of the candidates. The popular “roundable discussion” format is especially bad at informing the public, IMO. It’s the same few ubiquitous people spouting the conventional wisdom of Georgetown cocktail parties.

Of the debates we’ve had for this nomination, IMO the best — or the least cringe-inducing, anyway — was the November 20 debate moderated by Rachel Maddow, Andrea Mitchell, Ashley Parker, and Kristen Welker. If you missed it, you can watch it all here. I don’t necessarily think this is the template for better debates, but it wasn’t an embarassment to humanity.

We’ve got one more Dem debate on March 15. This will be moderated by CNN again, so I have little hope it will be an improvement over last night.

I am assuming the eventual Democratic nominee will be debating Donald Trump. General election debates are conducted under the auspices of a group called the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has scheduled three presidential debates and one veep debate for later this year. It wouldn’t surprise me if Trump fails to show up for some of them, or all of them. But before any of those turn into a disaster, what can be done to improve them?

I googled for “make presidential debates better” to see what others have said. After the Trump-Clinton debates in 2016, a fellow named Bryan Van Norden made three suggestions:

  1. Only the microphone of the candidate speaking should be turned on.
  2. There should be no live audience for the debate.
  3. When a candidate’s comments go over time, that much additional time should be added to the other candidate’s next comments.

That third items might not work on in a multi-person debate, but I do think most of the debates have been marred by not allowing the candidates enough time to answer the questions they’ve been asked. Last night’s rules allowed candidates “one minute and 15 seconds to answer, and 45 seconds for follow-ups.” That’s absurd. Ask fewer questions but allow more time for answers, I say. Let people go a little deeper into issues.

The first two of those three items would have been a big help last night. But one reason candidates interrupt and talk over other candidates is that if they don’t, they may be overlooked. In past years moderators have focused on the candidates considered most likely to be the nominee and ignored the less-likelies. That is neither fair nor right; the networks should not assume who the eventual winner will be. Everyone who qualifies for a debate deserves equal time, as much as possible.

That said, the Democrats need to rethink their criteria for qualifying for debates. If you’ve got too many candidates in the debates already and one of them is Marianne Williamson, you’re doing it wrong. (And I bet they’re really sorry they changed the rules so that Michael Bloomberg could be in the last two.)

Back in 2015 the New York Times published a series on better debating. One of the suggestions involved real-time fact checking.

A smarter approach would draw on the databases of nonpartisan fact-checking outfits like, and the Washington Post’s Fact Checker. It would focus on providing factual context, not “gotcha” moments. One way to do this is with a ticker running relevant fact-checks across the bottom of the screen, along the lines of “ Mexico and 29 other countries have birthright citizenship.” The fact-checkers already do a remarkably good job of live-tweeting from their archives as old claims come up again during debates.

A better idea, though, is to set aside time for a special round of follow-up questions based on previously published fact-checks. Again, forget buzzers or sirens: The moderator would simply give candidates a chance to respond on the merits. They would be free to clarify their position or explain why a particular correction was off base. The campaigns already follow fact-checkers closely and know exactly which claims have been found wanting.

Done right, real-time fact-checking would reward debaters who favor careful arguments over eye-popping claims, encouraging politicians to police themselves. (There’s some evidence this works.) It might also make us smarter audiences of political theater. A fact-check isn’t always the final word, but it can push the conversation onto firmer ground.

This makes a lot of sense to me. One of my issues with last night’s debate was that the alleged cost of Medicare for All went up every time an opponent of Bernie Sanders talked about it This is from last night:

KLOBUCHAR: No, the math does not add up. In fact, just on “60 Minutes” this weekend, he said he wasn’t going to rattle through the nickels and the dimes. Well, let me tell you how many nickels and dimes we’re talking about: nearly $60 trillion. Do you know how much that is, for all of his programs?

SANDERS: Not true.

KLOBUCHAR: That is three times the American economy — not the federal government — the entire American economy.

I have no idea where she got $60 trillion, except out of her own ass. I did find one article that claimed all of Sanders’s proposals put together — including the Green New Deal, free college, reducing homelessness and writing off medical debt — would come up to $60 trillion over ten years. The same article says the estimated cost of Medicare for All “ranges from just less than $31 billion (from the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget) to $34 trillion (from the center-left Urban Institute).”

But, peeps, the high estimate of $34 trillion in ten years is less than we’re spending now on the system we’ve got. That’s what nobody ever gets to say without being talked over. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, “U.S. health care spending grew 4.6 percent in 2018, reaching $3.6 trillion or $11,172 per person.” That’s $36 trillion over ten years, in both public and private spending, even assuming costs don’t keep going up. Medicare for All would not be in addition to that spending; it would replace that spending. More would be paid by taxes; less would be out of pocket. The burden on individuals, especially lower income individuals, would be reduced, and unlike the system we have now, everyone would be covered.  For less money than we’re spending now.

This is why the debates make me crazy.

Sanders cited a Lancet study saying that the U.S. would save a ton of money by moving to Medicare for All. Here is the study. It’s a real study, it’s in Lancet, it says what Bernie says it says. Maybe the study is screwy; I have no way to judge. Here is a Washington Post article about the study that analyzes it and seems to think it’s legit, although there are a great many variables and a great many ways costs can be determined. Anyone who claims that he has THE real true cost is a moron.

See also: Universal Health Care: We’re Already Paying for It. We’re Just Not Getting It and Health Insurance Is a Racket.

But yes, I would love it if there were some way to have challenged Amy Klobuchar on where the bleep she got $60 trillion for Medicare for All, and to verify that yes, there is a Lancet study that says what Sanders says it says.

Another point of contention that came up before I changed channels was Pete Buttigieg’s sources of funds. Sanders said that Buttigieg’s campaign had gotten funding from more than 50 billionaires. Buttigieg took great umbrage at this and said that it’s “untrue about my campaign. The idea that most of my campaign is funded by billionaires.” Which isn’t exactly what Bernie said, but never mind.

I went to Open Secrets. Open Secrets says that Buttigieg had received more money from large donations (56 percent) than from small ones (43 percent). But I don’t know about the 50 billionaires. A Forbes magazine article from December named 40 billionaire Buttigieg backers, not 50. If someone else wants to dig deeper into this, be my guest; it may be in public FEC data. (Bernie, by contrast, has received 55 percent of his contributions from small contributors and 35 percent from large ones, Open Secrets says.)

So yes, I’d say that something needs to be done to discourage candidates from making false claims about the other candidates, because this happens every election, and it just confuses people. If the candidates knew they would be fact checked in real time, it would certain help keep them more honest.

However — going back to the 2016 New York Times series, Cenk Uygur wrote,

The real problem is that the candidates are not challenged on the substance of their arguments. And the fault there, unfortunately, lies with the moderators. The party machines demand they not challenge the candidates, and those moderators who dare to do so don’t return to the debate stage.

I believe there’s a lot of truth in that.

Larry Kudlow: Everything Is Fine.

The stock markets fell like a rock yesterday, and continued falling today. The two-day total came to 1,910 points, it says here.

This is part of a global sell-off triggered by news that the corona virus, or COVID-19, is breaking out all over the planet and has passed the pandemic “tripping point.” Still, I wouldn’t have panicked, except that Larry Kudlow says everything is fine.

National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow tried on Tuesday to assuage concerns over the cornavirus and its impact on the U.S. economy.

“We have contained this. I won’t say [it’s] airtight, but it’s pretty close to airtight,” Kudlow told CNBC’s Kelly Evans on “The Exchange.” He added that, while the outbreak is a “human tragedy,” it will likely not be an “economic tragedy.”

When else did Kudlow say everything was fine? Right before the 2008 financial crisis.

“Despite all the doom and gloom from the economic pessimistas, the resilient U.S. economy continues moving ahead,” Kudlow wrote on Dec. 7, 2007, in National Review, predicting that gloomy forecasters would “wind up with egg on their faces.” Kudlow, who previously derided as “bubbleheads” those who warned about a housing bubble, now wrote that “very positive” news in housing should “cushion” falling home sales and prices.

“There’s no recession coming. The pessimistas were wrong. It’s not going to happen,” wrote Kudlow. “ .?.?. The Bush boom is alive and well. It’s finishing up its sixth consecutive year with more to come. Yes, it’s still the greatest story never told.” …

… Even as trouble became clear, Kudlow, a CNBC pundit who is not trained in economics, wrote a Feb. 5, 2008, column in National Review saying he was “still betting on and buying Goldilocks [a just-right scenario] for the long run.” He wrote, “Maybe we are going to have a mild correction. Maybe not,” adding: “I’m going to bet that the economy will be rebounding sometime this summer, if not sooner. We are in a slow patch. That’s all. It’s nothing to get up in arms about.”

See also Trump’s New Economic Adviser Lawrence Kudlow Has Been Wrong About Everything for Decades. So we’re doomed. It’s so bad even Jim Cramer is worried.

This would be a serious situation even if we had a competent national government. But we don’t. Trump is utterly useless. His administration is utterly useless. After weeks of dithering Trump put together a virus task force. One member of the task force, the utterly useless Ken Cuccinelli, was soon on Twitter asking how to get to the online map showing how the virus had spread. Yes, I do not feel reassured.

Also, too:

During a hearing called to address the issue Tuesday morning, Sen. Joe Kennedy (R-La.) teed off on Acting Homeland Security Director Chad Wolf for being unable to answer basic questions about the potential of an outbreak in the U.S. …

…The confusion can be traced back to the president, who seems utterly unwilling to acknowledge the reality of the virus, opting instead to stick his fingers in his ears and repeatedly insist everything is going to be fine and the administration is taking care of it. His belief that the virus will simply “go away” is likely based on how past pandemic scares have come and gone, but those diseases were contained in part because the government was working in tandem with the CDC. Now that Trump is in charge, there’s appears to be a disconnect as the White House tries to project a rosy view of the crisis while the agencies tasked with handling it are forced to work in reality.

Adding to the problem is that Trump has slashed funding for the CDC, the National Institute of Health, and the Agency for International Development, while dismantling the entire global health team in charge of handling pandemics. As the CDC has struggled to obtain critical information about the outbreak from China, Trump has praised the nation’s response, reportedly because he’s worried about upsetting President Xi as the two struggle to hammer out a trade deal. More recently, the government overruled the CDC’s advice and put 14 Americans infected with the coronavirus on a plane back to the U.S. with others who were not infected. Trump was reportedly shocked and upset by the move, but the fact that he didn’t know about it (allegedly) is more evidence of how ill-equipped the administration is to handle an outbreak.

The dismantling of the national pandemic and bioterrorism response team was a John Bolton initiative, BTW. Mr. “I won’t tell you what I know unless there’s money in it” Bolton decided to streamline national security. Most of the team was dismissed; the remainder were folded into the group that tracks weapons of mass destruction.

Here’s another view:

Even if Congress provides additional funding, there remain fears that the Trump administration has already hamstrung it’s ability to address this emergency. As Foreign Policy’s Laurie Garrett wrote last month, the administration has “intentionally rendered itself incapable” of dealing with a problem of this scale. It wiped out its “entire pandemic response chain of command, including the White House management infrastructure,” Garrett wrote, and shut down the National Security Council’s global health security team, as well as its counterpart in the Department of Homeland Security. In addition to proposing funding cuts for national and global health programs, the administration has also kneecapped its public health teams by declining to replace officials who have left. While the president established a Coronavirus Task Force led by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar last month, “it’s not clear how it will function,” Garrett noted—essentially forcing the administration to “[resort] to improvisation” in its approach to the crisis.

I honestly do not understand why the Trump Administration would have gone all out to dismantle these functions of government. You do not want ad hoc committees responding to big, messy situations like a pandemic or a mass disaster, natural or otherwise. You need deep experience and institutional memory; otherwise, your group spends all its time re-inventing wheels. Think FEMA and Katrina; the professional staff had been pushed out and replaced by political hires who couldn’t find their own asses with both hands and a flashlight. But incompetent people who have never accomplished anything tangible often don’t appreciate these things.

Debate Tonight

There’s another Dem debate tonight. Expect a massive pile on of Bernie Sanders. If it gets too messy I may watch something else. Take heart; there will be only one more debate after this.

How Centrism Killed the Democratic Party

Today’s must read, by Ibram X Kendi at The Atlantic: When Will Moderates Learn Their Lesson? If centrists can’t move past their doctrine and recognize when their candidates are unelectable, then how will Democrats ever beat Trump?

Although I have a couple of small quibbles about this article, IMO it is mostly spot on. Kendi argues that the “centrists” who dominate Democratic politics are incapable of recognizing their own failures and learning from their own mistakes.

Since McGovern, moderate Democrats have a losing record in presidential elections: six losses to the five wins by Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama (who ran a more progressive primary campaign than Hillary Clinton in 2008). But this history is lost in discussions of electability. It is as if moderate nominees are undefeated. It is as if the last time a Democrat lost was when the party nominated McGovern in 1972.

Moderate Democrats blame progressive candidates for losses, but they can’t seem to blame moderate candidates for their losses. Moderates can’t seem to reflect on the historical electability of their candidates, as they implore progressives to reflect on the historical electability of their candidates. Moderates recognize how progressive candidates alienate certain voters, but they can’t seem to recognize how moderate candidates alienate certain voters. Moderates implore progressives to give moderate candidates a chance, but they can’t seem to give progressive candidates a chance.

The one part of Kendi’s argument that I thought could use a closer look is Walter Mondale’s epic loss to Ronald Reagan in 1984. Mondale claimed even fewer electoral college votes than George McGovern in 1972. In centrist mythology, Mondale lost because he also was “too liberal.” But Kendi counts Mondale among the centrists. Who is right?

The one thing everyone remembers about Mondale’s campaign is that he promised to raise taxes, so if you consider “raising taxes” for the sake of raising taxes to be a bedrock liberal policy view, maybe. But it isn’t. Mondale wasn’t calling for a tax increase to pay for new progressive programs. He was, instead, a deficit hawk. Reagan’s tax cuts had blown a hole through revenues and jacked up the federal deficit. Deficit reduction was a centerpiece of Mondale’s campaign. “Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won’t tell you. I just did,” Mondale famously said in his nomination acceptance speech. (And, indeed, Reagan did raise taxes in his second term, as much as Republicans like to pretend he didn’t.)

Mondale’s was a centrist, even a conservative, position. Although he maintained traditionally liberal positions on civil rights, on many other issues he was part of the movement pushing the Democratic Party to the right at the time. One of Mondale’s advisers in the 1984 campaign was William Galston, whose thinking would be a foundation of the “New Democrats” movement that culiminated in Clintonism. “During the last two decades, most Democratic nominees have come to be seen as unacceptably liberal,” Galston said in 1989. Another was Robert Rubin, a long-time Goldman-Sachs executive who served as President Bill Clinton’s treasury secretary. Rubin is mostly known for wanting to deregulate the financuial sector, and he led the charge to repeal the Glass–Steagall Act.

How was Mondale “too liberal”? This gives us a clue:

Mondale and the Democrats … were blamed for prioritizing “special interests” (mainly racial minorities) over working-class white voters. (It’s a narrative that continues to plague Democrats.) In her study, Hershey cites a leading Democratic consultant at the time who said shortly after the election:

We have to realize that we’re getting out of touch with normal, regular people. We’re forgetting that the white middle-class is rejecting us. We’re being wagged by the tail of Jesse Jackson, of feminists or gay activists. The average voter is saying, “What about me?”

That election postmortem was echoed by political scientist Phil Klinkner in his 1994 book on election losses. Quoting a handful of different Democrats heavyweights, Klinkner finds the inability to court working-class white voters to be a constant source of intraparty frustration. “The perception is that we are the party that can’t say no, that caters to special interests and that does not have the interests of the middle class at heart,” said Dick Lodge, Tennessee’s Democratic chair. Harry McPherson, a former aide to Lyndon Johnson, complained to Klinkner: “Blacks own the Democratic Party…. White Protestant male Democrats are an endangered species.” One unnamed party leader was even more crass: “We ought to be just as concerned with the farmer on the tractor as that guy with an earring in his left ear.”

In other words, if you weren’t a working-class white man, you were a “special interest.” And I can’t say everyone in the Democratic Party is more enlightened today.

So, yes, Mondale was a centrist in most things. As much as I like him, Jimmy Carter’s economic policies were Reaganism lite. Mike Dukakis boldly admitted he was a member of the American Civil Liberties Union and proposed a universal health care bill, but he was otherwise pretty centrist. Al Gore promised to continue Bill Clinton’s neoliberal economic policies. John Kerry was thought to be serious on national security, making him “electable.” Don’t get me started on Hillary Clinton.

After Jimmy Carter’s win in 1976, which came about mostly because Gerald Ford flubbed a debate question, the Democrats’ big success stories were Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. I argue that Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign was successful because it evoked a resurgence of progressivism — yes we can — even though the details of his policy proposals as spelled out on his web site were not that different from Hillary Clinton’s. Even so, were it not for the 2008 financial crisis, John McCain might have won. And if Mitt Romney hadn’t been such an obvious plutocrat, he might have won in 2012. But all those “special interest” voters (young people, women, nonwhites) came out for Obama because they were terrified of Romney.

But, one more time: during the Obama Administration the Democratic Party lost a net total of 13 governorships and 816 state legislative seats, along with 12 and 64 seats in the U.S. Senate and House, respectively.

Bill Clinton’s is the centrists’ only unadulterated success story since 1972. Bill is a brilliant politician, and in spite of the investigations and scandals his administration was mostly successful. And it came to pass that the Clintons and people who came up through the ranks with the Clintons came to dominate the Democratic Party and its many sub-organizations, such as the DNC. Among party leaders and elites, the Clinton approach to politics is not to be questioned, even though it has been twenty years since Big Bill left the White House.

I have argued that Bill Clinton’s “New Democrat” centrist approach was a good strategy for 1992. “Movement conservatism” was still growing. Reaganites still dominated the national political conversation. I doubt a genuine progressive could have beaten Reagan’s former vice president, George H.W. Bush, in 1992. But it ain’t 1992 any more.

Now, finally, back to Ibram Kendi.

Moderate Democrats have been consistently inconsistent for decades. They have been rightfully critical of the prospect of a progressive presidential nominee: A progressive could alienate centrist voters, drive up voting rates among conservatives, and imperil the reelection chances of House Democrats in districts Trump won in 2016. Moderate Democrats have wrongfully refused to be self-critical of the prospect of a moderate presidential nominee: A moderate could alienate progressive voters into not voting or voting third party, drive down the voting rates of the party’s younger and nonwhite base, and fail to win back young or liberal white working-class swing voters who swung from Obama in 2012 to Donald Trump in 2016. To be a progressive in a party with a moderate is like being on a team with someone who sees all your deficiencies and does not see any of his own deficiencies, who always takes the credit when he wins, and never accepts blame when he loses.

The critic’s refusal to self-critique is the tragic enigma of the moderate Democrat: It could cost the Democratic Party the most consequential presidential election in recent memory. Moderate Democrats have lost presidential elections again and again, even as the doctrine of the electable moderate wins Democratic primaries again and again.

I not only fear a moderate Democrat losing to Trump in November; I fear moderate Democrats refusing to accept blame for the loss.

Clinton loyalists are still clinging to her popular vote win as vindication and blaming everybody but Clinton for her loss.

My fears are rooted in what the doctrine of the electable moderate conveniently misses: the crucial importance of the other swing voter in swinging elections in the 21st century. The traditional, white swing voter oscillates between voting Republican and Democrat—the be-all and end-all for moderate Democrats. Some Americans never vote. But I worry about the other swing voter, the one who swings between voting Democrat and not voting (or voting third party).

Despite all the talk of the 6 million Obama-to-Trump voters winning the election for Trump, more Obama voters in 2012 swung to not voting (4.4 million) or voting third party (2.3 million) in 2016. These other swing voters were more likely to be younger and people of color—and especially young black people. Today, they are likely to favor progressive candidates. They are likely to be turned off by moderate candidates, turned off by the records of Biden, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Senator Amy Klobuchar on issues of race and gender.

If Democrats nominate a moderate who loses a decisive mass of young black voters in November, then I suspect most moderates will not blame the party’s choice for Trump’s reelection. I suspect they will blame those other swing voters who swung to not voting.

In the centrist Dem hive mind, someone who votes third party is giving away a vote that rightfully belonged to Centrist Democratic Candidate. Disloyalty! And choosing not to vote because neither candidate is acceptable somehow doesn’t count.

But yes, it’s absolutely maddening that we’re still being lectured about how the too-far-left candidate can’t win, when one hasn’t been tried for, well, nearly 50 years now. I think a majority of American voters have been hungry for a genuinely progressive, activist government for a long time. I think they were hungry for one in 2008. They were still hungry in 2016, and when Hillary Clinton promised to be the Keeper of the Status Quo, some people turned to the guy who was making big promises of big change — Donald Trump.

And having lost to Trump in 2016, the Clintons and their allies and surrogates are all over media warning us to nominate another moderate. Michael Gerson — former speechwriter of George Dubya Bush — is at WaPo shrieking that A Trump-Sanders election would destroy our politics. The neoliberal Jonathan Chait warns that If Democrats Aren’t Terrified of Bernie, They’re Not Paying Attention. Also at WaPo, Max Boot — who thought invading Iraq was a grand idea, remember — warns us Vote for Bernie, elect Trump. I’m sick of it.

I’d be the first to say that of the original 800 or so candidates for the 2020 nomination, I wouldn’t have guessed Sanders would be a front runner. And of those people, I wouldn’t consider him the safest choice, although the remaining crew is looking a bit frayed. Right now it’s still possible someone else will catch fire and walk off with more primary votes than Sanders. But the crew at FiveThirtyEight is predicting Sanders will walk off with many more Super Tuesday wins than anyone else. So what if he’s the nominee, and the Dem elites and media figures have been screaming doom and failure? Wouldn’t they have been doing to the nominee what they (falsely, I say) claim Sanders did to Hillary Clinton in 2016?

Eugene Robinson:

Deal with it: Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is not even a Democrat, is leading the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. And it looks possible that none of his rivals will be able to catch him. If you want to get rid of President Trump, prepare to get behind Sanders and do everything you can to make him president.

Well, yes. It’s perfectly okay to argue in favor of another candidate at this point. Please do. But predicting that a Sanders nomination would destroy civilization will make it really hard for the predictors to pivot and support him if he’s the nominee. And that’s a strong possibility right now.

Sanders Wins Big; Dem Establishment Freaks Out

We’ve still got a long way to go to the nomination, but until recently I honestly didn’t think Sanders would be the front runner in any part of this nomination process. But he is doing a great job so far.

For at least one day, in one state, the long-promised political revolution of Mr. Sanders came to vivid life, a multiracial coalition of immigrants, college students, Latina mothers, younger black voters, white liberals and even some moderates who embraced his idea of radical change and lifted him to victory in the Nevada caucuses on Saturday.

With 60 percent of precincts reporting, Sanders has 46 percent of the votes. Joe Biden is way, way behind with less than 20 percent of the vote, followed by Pete Buttigieg at 15 percent and Liz Warren at 10 percent. I am disappointed that the highly annoying Buttigieg had a better result than Warren, but at least Buttigieg — who is now going all out to attack Sanders — isn’t second. He’d be claiming victory if he were second. He may be declaring victory anyway; I am tuning him out.

(Update: De Blasio to Buttigieg: “Try to Not be So Smug When You Just Got Your Ass Kicked.”)

We don’t have all the demographic breakdowns yet, but it appears Biden did better than Sanders with black voters. As of last night Biden claimed 39 percent of the African American vote in Nevada, while Sanders had 27 percent. Mayor Pete got a whopping 2 percent. Let’s see how you do in South Carolina, Pete.

The alarming thing about yesterday was that television coverage of the caucuses was dominated by Clinton surrogates and their media friends who were shrieking that Sanders must be stopped. On MSNBC, you’d think the assemblage of James Carville, Nicolle Wallace, Joy Reid, and Chris Matthews were discussing the Nazi occupation of France rather than the results of a bleeping state caucus. I had to turn it off. On CNN, Bill Clinton’s former press secretary Joe Lockhart declared that Mike Bloomberg had better take down Sanders immediately.

I say Democrats need to wake up and realize that they have to make a choice right now — they either get the clubs out and block Sanders from the nomination by any means, thereby alienating a whole lot of younger voters they desperately need now and in the future; or, they adjust their messaging to make it clear Sanders is not the enemy.

One more time: George McGovern didn’t lose in 1972 because he was a crazy leftie radical, because he wasn’t. He was ahead of his time a bit on some issues, such as amnesty for Vietnam draft dodgers, yes. But he lost primarily because Democrats abandoned him. Ed Kilgore:

The New Deal coalition he [McGovern] was alleged to have destroyed with his extremism was already kaput. The party abandoned his candidacy more than he abandoned the party. A second Nixon term seemed acceptable to a lot of Democrats, in part because he [Nixon] systematically tailored his policies and his political operation to expand his coalition.

Kilgore doesn’t mention race, but IMO race was at least part of the reason Democrats abandoned McGovern for Nixon. Nixon was running a racist campaign with code words about “law and order” and the evils of affirmative action. Labor unions, dominated then by old white men, preferred Nixon to McGovern, as did many white rank-and-file voters, for that reason.

It’s also the case that the McGovern general election campaign was a sloppy mess and made a lot of mistakes. My impression is that his team was left to fend for itself by the party elites, who considered him an interloper. Is history about to repeat itself? Former Clinton people certainly appear to be signalling they’d rather re-elect Trump than countenance a Bernie Sanders victory in November.

Ed Kilgore continues,

The residual question is whether Bernie Sanders will run a general election campaign anything like McGovern’s. Keep in mind that the South Dakotan’s primary campaign (run by future senator and presidential candidate Gary Hart) was then and later adjudged as quite good. But it’s as though the same people lost their minds once the nomination was in hand. It’s impossible to entirely separate cause from effect, but the abandonment of McGovern by Democrats was made easier by the perception that his campaign was bumbling and amateurish, and unsure about its own relationship to the party Establishment it had temporarily toppled.

I do think that if Sanders wins the nomination, his campaign needs to remember that it needs the DNC and its resources, like it or not. Sanders may well understand that, but I’m not sure all his supporters do.

At the same time, it may be that Dems are gnashing their teeth that the revolutionaries are taking over the party now and not in some other election. But the misdirections of the Democratic Party establishment are a big reason Trump was elected to begin with. The old elites need to understand that and allow change to take its natural course instead of blocking it. They are pretending its still 2008, or even 1992. It ain’t.

But Sanders hasn’t won the nomination yet. Right now, FiveThirtyEight has Biden slightly favored to win South Carolina, 23.4 to Sanders’s 21 percent. The Nevada win might give Sanders a bounce, of course. Next is Tom Steyer, of all people, at 15.7 percent, Bloomberg (not on the ballot, I don’t believe) is at 10 percent, and Buttigieg is at 9.5 percent. Warren trails behind, at 7 percent. A shame about Warren. Super Tuesday follows closely behind.

Yesterday at the Nevada Caucus.

Republicans Trade National Security for Election Security

According to many smart people, Donald Trump is a security threat to the United States.

Former CIA Director John Brennan is very disturbed by a new report from The New York Times, which says last week, members of the House Intelligence Committee were warned by an aide to Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire that Russia is actively meddling in the 2020 campaign in order to get President Trump re-elected.

“We are now in a full-blown national security crisis,” Brennan said. “By trying to prevent the flow of intelligence to Congress, Trump is abetting a Russian covert operation to keep him in office for Moscow’s interests, not America’s.” Brennan served as CIA director from 2013 to 2017.

Of course, it’s not just Donald Trump; it’s the Republican Party protecting him. Do read Don’t mince words. Trump is abetting an attack on our country by Greg Sargent. You’ve probably heard the backstory:

Trump is angry because our intelligence officials followed the law and informed members of both parties about what the intel indicated about new Russian efforts. Trump “berated” his acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, for allowing this heresy.

Trump was particularly angered by the presence at the briefing of Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif), who led the impeachment. Trump says Schiff and Democrats will “weaponize” these revelations.

And, of course, he didn’t just berate Maquire; he fired Maguire and is replacing Maguire with  “U.S. Ambassador to Germany and Trump International Hotel ‘gold-level’ member Richard Grenell,” it says here. The point is that Trump is corrupting our national security to be sure nobody can find out what Russia might be up to in this year’s elections, or about anything else going on in the world that makes Trump look bad.

Jonathan Stevenson:

Mr. Grenell has no experience as an intelligence officer at any level, nor has he overseen a large government bureaucracy. He has served in government only as communications director for the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. during the George W. Bush administration, and since May 2018 as ambassador to Germany. (In the interim, he founded and ran a public affairs consultancy, advising and commenting on Fox News.)

The National Intellligence Director servies as the head of the entire U.S. intelligence community, among other things. Grenell won’t be able to do that job. And, also, this is a cabinet-level position that requjires Senate confirmation. Grenell will be the fourth person to hold the position in Trump’s three years as POTUS. Only one of those directors, Dan Coats, was confirmed. The rest have been “acting.”

Charles Pierce:

So, wait. We will now have a career Internet troll running the intelligence community because the guy who was running it before held a meeting with the proper constitutional officers and warned them that the Volga Bagmen were at it again, which we all knew because none of us are stupid, and because Bob Mueller warned us about it months ago, and the president* went batshit crazy at the whole notion of it’s being discussed with people he doesn’t like?

Yep. Back to Greg Sargent:

The larger context here, spelled out by Adam Serwer, is the entrenchment of Trump’s GOP as a “regime party” committed to holding power through maximal manipulation of government. Trump’s Ukraine shakedown and his subsequent coverup are the most recent conspicuous examples — and his acquittal is hastening this process.

And the Republian Party is officially aiding and abetting this. That the chief threat is coming from Russia is especially damning. Poor Max Boot is apoplectic; the Republicans have become the party of Russia, he wrote. Better to let Russia subvert our democracy and our security than lose an election.


The Bloomberg Implosion

I didn’t expect that Mike Bloomberg would win America’s love with his charm, since he doesn’t have any, but I didn’t expect him to go down in flames quite as badly as he did last night. Perhaps I should have. The Bloomberg on the stage last night was pretty much the Bloomberg I remember as el alcalde de Nueva York. (If you didn’t watch the debate, Laura Quint provides a blow-by-blow account that’s worth reading.)

I think it’s stretching the truth a bit to say that Bloomberg was ever “popular” in New York. His approval ratings most of the time were better than his two predecessors, Rudy Giuliani and David Dinkins. But that’s setting a low bar. Giuliani in particular had just plain exhausted the city with his issues and his antics until the September 11 attacks allowed him to exit in a state of grace. But Bloomberg became mayor and stayed mayor for three terms mostly because he bought himself a whole lot of influence, and there were no strong election challengers to topple him. White voters, at least, liked him okay, stop and frisk notwithstanding. Police brutality toward racial minorities was hardly a new thing in New York City. But I never sensed a deep pool of affection for Mayor Bloomberg even in New Yorkers who thought he was a good enough mayor.

Still, one would have thought he would have known to smile or try to fake a personality. The small man people saw in Las Vegas was a cold, humorless mashup of Lex Luthor and early Scrooge McDuck. Even worse for Bloomberg, last night’s debate drew record viewership. He would have been better off avoiding the debates entirely. I wonder if he’ll show up for the next one.

Charles Pierce:

I mean, Jesus H. Christ on a Peloton, Mike Bloomberg got elected mayor of New York. Twice. He even finagled the rules to get elected a third time. And, you know, being elected mayor of New York is a bigger deal than being elected mayor of, oh, I dunno, let’s pick a place. OK, South Bend, Indiana. So I have to ask people from New York this question: was he always this bad a candidate?

Mother Mary, the man looked like he’d rather be anywhere else than on that debate stage in Las Vegas, being eviscerated by these members of the peasant class. It began when Senator Professor Warren—who far and away had the best night up there, no matter how painful that is to certain members of the pundit class whose names rhyme with Fryin’ Billiams and Stare McLaskell—pounded him on the very first question of the debate by throwing back at Bloomberg some of his own intemperate remarks about women, at which point he looked, as Abraham Lincoln said of William Rosecrans after Chickamauga, like a duck that had been hit on the head.

Was he always that bad a candidate? I have to say, yes. It was kind of a fluke that he got elected the first time, but after that he owned enough of the town and its influencers that he didn’t have to work that hard to keep the job. But yesterday he had to step outside his influence bubble and expose himself to normal people, and he wasn’t prepared for it. It was stunning how much he wasn’t prepared for it.

Matt Taibbi:

What a catastrophe Wednesday night was for Mike Bloomberg. The New York plutocrat was kicked in the teeth by Elizabeth Warren in the first minutes — she denounced him as a Trump-like “arrogant billionaire” who called women “horse-faced lesbians” — and never made it back to his feet.

Bloomberg stood in mute fury as his $400 million campaign investment went up in smoke. His contempt for democracy and sense of entitlement surpass even Donald Trump, who at least likes crowds — Bloomberg’s joyless imperiousness makes Trump seem like Robin Williams.

Taibbi goes on to document the many political and media elites who had touted his candidacy and how much money they or their organizations had received from Bloomberg. Do read it the entire column.

The night belonged to Liz Warren more than anyone else. And it breaks my heart she isn’t the front runner right now. Over the past few months I have been told, many times, that Warren can’t win or that Warren couldn’t stand up to Trump in a one on one debate.  I never bought into that belief, but it was hard to argue against it. I had nothing but my own gut feeling saying it was wrong.

But after last night, we know for a fact that Warren would be brilliant one on one against Trump. In fact, I believe she’d be the sharpest adversary against Trump we could nominate. As much as I like Bernie, I don’t see him eviscerating Trump as expertly as Warren gutted Bloomberg last night.

Greg Sargent:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s breakout debate performance in Las Vegas on Wednesday night is drawing wide acclaim for her brutal dismantling of Mike Bloomberg, who appeared shaky and unprepared. By repeatedly savaging one “arrogant billionaire,” as Warren put it, she induced many to envision her woman-handling the other “arrogant billionaire,” the one tweeting maniacally from the White House.

Most people ranking winners and losers are giving strong marks to both Sanders and Warren. Most of the rest of the night was taken up by squabbling between Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg, who clearly can’t stand each other, with the occasional forgettable interjection from Joe Biden. It may be that the flirtation with Buttigieg and Klobuchar as the possible “moderate” saviors who might unify the party and take the nomination away from front-runner Sanders will cool off a bit now. I don’t see that happening. But a lot will depend on the results in Nevada and South Carolina.

Dem Debate Tonight

Tonight’s will be the third-to-last debate the Dems have scheduled. There’s another one this month, on the 25th, and the last one will be March 15. I know that four years ago many of us complained that there weren’t enough debates, but this year I think they’ve worn it out a bit.

The participants will be Biden, Bloomberg, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders, and Warren. For the record, Tulsi Gabbard and Tom Steyer have not yet withdrawn their candidacies; they just didn’t make the debate cut. I don’t believe anyone else is still running.

This will be the first time much of the country will get a good look at Bloomberg. I don’t want to predict how well he will do. He’s a smart guy and will be well prepared, but he’s not known for his charm or empathy.  He is known for having a temper, and he will probably be working very hard to keep it in check.

This debate will be moderated by NBC. The scheduled moderators are Vanessa Hauc,
Lester Holt, Hallie Jackson, Jon Ralston, and Chuck Todd. At least it’s not CNN. 

If you watch, you are welcome to leave comments here.

Stuff to Read

Charles Pierce, The Buttigieg Campaign Made a Godawful Mess in South Carolina and Failed to Clean It Up. The Buttigieg campaign might very well hit the wall in South Carolina.

From The Guardian, Donald Trump ‘offered Julian Assange a pardon if he denied Russia link to hack’

Reuters, Exclusive: Ahead of 2020 election, a ‘Blue Wave’ is rising in the cities, polling analysis shows

Thinking Past November

Over the past three decades, for how many years have Democrats held the White House and both houses of Congress? The answer is four. Those would be the first two years of the Bill Clinton administration and the first two years of the Barack Obama administration. This is a big reason we can’t have nice things.

The 1994 midterm elections are still spoken of as the “Republican Revolution,” or sometimes the “Gingrich Revolution.” The GOP picked up 54 seats in the House and 8 in the Senate, which flipped both houses. Democrats briefly took the Senate back in 2001, when Senator James Jeffords of Vermont switched from the Republican to the Democratic party, giving the Dems 50 seats. In October 2002 Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota died in a plane crash, and an independent was appointed to replace him. Then a special election in November flipped another Senate seat, and the Republicans had the majority again.

The 2006 midterms were a triumph for Democrats, who took back both the House and the Senate for George W. Bush’s final two years. (The Senate actually had a 49 to 49 seat tie, but the two independent senators, Lieberman and Sanders, caucused with Democrats.)  But after Obama was elected, Republicans took back the House in the 2010 midterms and the Senate in 2014.

It’s true that most of the time the executive and legislative branches are at least partly divided between the two parties. But Congress was solidly Republican for five years of George W. Bush’s tenure and for the first two years of Trump’s occupation of the White House, giving Republicans a much freer hand in wrecking the country.

Another set of numbers that I bring up from time to time: During the Obama Administration the Democratic Party lost a net total of 13 governorships and a whopping 816 state legislative seats, along with 12 and 64 seats in the U.S. Senate and House, respectively. Although there is much nostalgia for the Obama years, those numbers ought to tell us there was trouble a-brewin’ then.

I bring this up because, along with defeating Trump, we absolutely must also break the Dems’ congressional curse. That means taking both houses of Congress in November and keeping them through the 2022 midterms and beyond.

Paul Starr writes in WaPo:

This is the core problem for the party today: finding the leadership and policies that not only win in 2020 but also increase support instead of dampening it and igniting the opposition.

“Big, structural reforms,” to use Elizabeth Warren’s phrase, require sustained power. The federal government is riddled with “veto points” — opportunities for blocking change in Congress, the courts and the states that create a bias in favor of the status quo. The life tenure of Supreme Court justices and slow turnover of the Senate also put a brake on change.

Large-scale change requires Democrats to do what they did in the 1930s and 1960s and have been unable to do since — win a series of elections, build both popular and judicial majorities, and fundamentally alter not just individual policies but also the basic understanding of government’s role.

If Democrats want to effectively address income inequality, climate change, voter suppression, and other critical issues, they will need to do more than defeat Trump. They will need to control both houses of Congress also, and they will need to keep that control through the 2022 midterms and beyond. They will need more than two years to get sustainable programs and policies up and running.

Paul Glastris wrote in Washington Monthly awhile back,

As Democrats think and argue about how to win back power, and what policies to implement when they do, one crucial fact is missing from the conversation: it will take something very special—some very new thinking—to avoid the fate that always befalls Democrats, namely, losing control of government after two years.

There was a time when divided government didn’t have to mean bad government. That time has passed. If the Obama years showed anything, it is that, when in opposition, the modern Republican Party has no goal beyond blocking the Democratic agenda, whatever that may be, and will transgress hitherto undisputed democratic norms to do so. Operationally, the GOP’s governing objectives have devolved to two base goals: transferring wealth upward, and staying in power. Because the former goal is unpopular, achieving the latter increasingly requires the party to rely on anti-democratic means: voter ID laws and voter roll purges designed to suppress minority and youth turnout; hyper-partisan gerrymandering; filling the federal judiciary with ideological conservatives committed to weakening the power of unions and enhancing that of corporations; and so on. (That’s all on top of constitutional features, like the Electoral College and the Senate, that give the GOP representation that is out of proportion to its votes.)

One of the reasons I support the more progressive candidates is that I believe they will push harder to do something in those critical first two years of the next Democratic administration. And I hope also that next Democratic president will put a lot of effort into explaining to the people what the administration is doing.

It’s true that Barack Obama got the Affordable Care Act passed in his first two years, after a hard fight. But one of his failures — and this is a bit hard to understand, given his considerable talents as a speaker — is that he allowed news media and the Republican opposition to frame and explain the ACA and use it against him in the 2010 midterms.  And then he was boxed in for the rest of his tenure in office.

A significant cause of the midterm loss in 2010 was that young voters failed to turn up at the polls. John Nichols wrote in The Nation:

In 2008, polls showed that young people were overwhelmingly supportive of Obama and the Democrats. And they turned out in droves. According to the research group CIRCLE—The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement—which tracks civic engagement among young voters, 51 percent of 18- to-19-year-olds voted that year.

In 2010, polls showed that young people were still supportive of Obama and the Democrats. But only 20.9 percent of them bothered to vote.

It’s worth reading what Nichols wrote back in 2010 about why the young folks stayed home. In brief, the Dems either did not address issues of concern to younger people, or when they did make some progress on those issues, they failed to communicate what had been accomplished.

And, as I remember, the DCCC and DSCC did a bang-up job running white-bread centrists in 2010 who provided little contrast with Republicans for too many offices. “About two dozen moderate to conservative Democrats in the House of Representatives were defeated this week, leaving a more liberal party in Washington,” McClatchy reported. Naturally, this persuaded the Democrats to keep doubling down on centrists in the next election cycles.

Oh, and did I mention that during the Obama Administration the Democratic Party lost a net total of 13 governorships and a whopping 816 state legislative seats, along with 12 and 64 seats in the U.S. Senate and House, respectively? I believe I did.

Democrats will need to control government for a sustained amount of time to undo the damage Republicans have done and to show America that they can make government work for the people and not the powerful. Plus a few years out in the wildnerness would be a powerful incentive to Republicans to kick out the whackjobs and start behaving like a responsible political party in a representative democracy again.

My fear is that even if we defeat Trump in November, if we don’t control both houses of Congress we’ll face bigger defeats in the midterms. And if we don’t show some real progress to the American people, the next Republican president and Congress could be even more despotic and corrupt than what we have now. They’ve been going from bad to worse, you might have noticed.

I have some quibbles with Paul Starr’s column, as he seems still too cautious to me, favoring “incremental moderates” over “transformational progressives.” “Incremental” to me has become a code word for “invisible to everyone outside the Beltway.” If we achieve a takeover in 2020, it will not be time to play it safe. Dems will have two years to show people what they can do. It had better be good.

This Is No Way to Nominate a Candidate, Part 2

More reflections on how the nomination process is terminally screwy. Molly Jong-Fast writes at WaPo, about Joe Biden:

To run on electability, one should demonstrate the ability to be elected. And that’s shown by — stick with me here — winning elections. …

…Biden has distorted the whole 2020 primary cycle: He sat on top of the polls as the default front-runner for months, and in the process he sucked up endorsements (five senators, more than two dozen House members, state-level elected officials all over the place) and cash (though perhaps not enough of it) that could have gone to other candidates who, instead, had to drop out for lack of money and establishment support. And then he lost the first two elections. It’s only since his front-runner status started to slip that other centrist candidates have had much of a chance. … Biden took up the space that could have been occupied by an Amy Klobuchar or a Pete Buttigieg or a Cory Booker or a Kamala D. Harris.

And of course, Joe Biden sat at the top of the polls because of name recognition. People knew who he was. Most people who are not politics nerds had barely heard of Klobuchar, Buttigieg, Booker, or Harris. Any sensible person looking at those polls should have known that. Sensible people would not have attached a great deal of importance to polls taken weeks and even months before serious campaigning had begun. But media needed stuff to report on, so Much Was Made of Mighty Joe, the Front Runner.

I go back to what Paul Waldman wrote last week:

After a year or so of campaigning without any actual voting, we in the media are desperate for something concrete we can report on. And we want to write a story that changes, with a narrative momentum to it. That’s why we wind up getting influenced by how one or another candidate has performed relative to expectations, which when you think about it is utterly ludicrous.

Whose expectations are we talking about, after all? Those of journalists and pundits themselves. If someone exceeded expectations or fell short of expectations, it just means we inaccurately predicted how well they’d do in one state. And why should our mistaken assessment mean that in any objective way they did well or poorly?

News media on the whole have been irresponsible in their reporting on the nomination process. (I am calling it the “nomination process” because, of course, there is a lot more to it than just primaries.) Perhaps they don’t consciously intend to — or maybe they do — but media really do shape how people understand the candidates and make their choices, and not in a good way.

Instead of providing background on candidates and issues to help us understand them, we get the horse race. We get endless yammering about who is “electable.” Who is up or down in the polls. We get debates in which candidates are not allowed to discuss anything in depth but instead are goaded into attacking each other or being tripped into saying something controversial.

So we get told over and over again that Joe Biden is the front runner, so a lot of people decide on Biden because, you know, he’s supposed to be the front runner. And he’s a nice man, and we know who he is. His debate performances may have been tepid, and he hasn’t been making as many public and media appearances as other candidates. And he has trouble raising money. But those polls!

But it’s not just news media. There has been more reporting on the Iowa debacle that paints both the state Democratic party and the DNC to be remarkably clueless and cavalier about problems with the Iowa Caucus.

… the episode has called into question the broader credibility of a process whose importance in determining American presidents has taken on epic significance since assuming the first-in-the-nation status in 1972. Multiple people with years-long involvement in the caucuses said the mathematical irregularities exposed by new transparency rules point to problems that have often been present but quietly glossed over by party leaders before final results were announced.

Exactly what is it that the DNC does? The state party tried to get some assistance from the national group as it planned to make the caucus more transparent. The DNC, which should have had the technical expertise to steer the state Dems, instead appears to have given them only cursory attention until a few hours before the caucuses began. And after that its primary focus was to be sure the state party got the blame for the screwup.

We’ve got another caucus coming up in Nevada. There are already news stories about another meltdown:

Anxiety is rising over the possibility of another tech-induced meltdown at the Nevada Democratic caucuses on Saturday.

In interviews, three caucus volunteers described serious concerns about rushed preparations for the Feb. 22 election, including insufficient training for a newly-adopted electronic vote-tally system and confusing instructions on how to administer the caucuses. There are also unanswered questions about the security of Internet connections at some 2,000 precinct sites that will transmit results to a central “war room” set up by the Nevada Democratic Party.

We may need divine intevention.

George Caleb Bingham, Stump Speaking, ca. 1953-54. Oil on canvas. St. Louis Art Museum.