Where We Stand Now

Biden and Sanders

To belabor the obvious, Biden really cleaned up last night, doing significantly better than expected.

To belabor a point being sorely overlooked, Biden is still a weak candidate. Yes, even after his good day yesterday. He stutters, and he has a penchant for malapropisms. That’s not a serious mental defect (he’s still mentally fit and basically sane), but it’s definitely a campaigning defect. It makes him crappy at debating. People see the stammer and see his age and naturally assume senility. This could significantly hurt him.* Plus he has a lot of political skeletons in his closet (such as the Iraq War vote). So we are not out of the woods yet, and we won’t be until November. This is the case even if Biden is, contrary to current expectations, not the nominee; Sanders is also a weak candidate.

* Yes, that’s unfair. Life is not always fair. Biden should make his stutter (and his personal triumph over it, despite being in a field where public speaking is important) a recurring subject of his campaign ads, to keep this fact in the public mind.

Biden does seem to be a stronger candidate than either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders; Biden’s margins of victory over Sanders yesterday were significantly better than Hillary’s in the states Hillary won, and Biden won states that Hillary lost. On the minus side, Biden is untested against Trump. Thankfully, Trump isn’t exactly the best verbal wordsmith, either, so the two should be approximately equally handicapped on the debate stage.

Warren

At this point, she’s an also-ran hoping to be a behind-the-scenes player. Unfortunately for her, she did so poorly last night that she may choose to drop out soon.

Her main achievement in the race was playing a key role in the destruction of Michael Bloomberg on the debate stage in Las Vegas. Bloomberg was an astoundingly weak candidate, and Warren did the party a huge service by helping take him out, particularly given that he was at one point on the verge of being coronated the “responsible” centrists’ candidate of choice.

It’s sort of a pity she seems less likely to play a role behind the scenes at the convention, since (absent being compelled do do the right thing) Biden is likely to fall for the idiocy of appointing a centrist as his VP, when tacking left and appointing a progressive would be the more pragmatic (i.e. the one likely to secure more votes) choice.

Coronavirus

First, all candidates are at risk. Trump, Biden, and Sanders are all elderly, a prime risk group for the disease. Worse, campaigning requires them to travel, and to be present in crowds, making close contact with thousands of other people each day. Political candidate is one of the highest-risk occupations for disease exposure that I can think of. It would not be a surprise if one or more candidates is hospitalized or even dies before the campaign completes.

Second, it presents political opportunities for both sides. Democrats can make political hay by pointing out how our lack of universal health care and universal sick leave makes the USA more vulnerable than it should be to pandemics, and how Trump’s lack of transparency is hurting the effort to fight the pandemic. Republicans can use the foreign origins of the disease to stoke the fires of racism and xenophobia.

Third, travel restrictions and other emergency measures almost certainly will impact the campaign to at least some degree. It is conceivable that they will be used for politically-motivated purposes, being ordered by the Trump regime to disrupt the opposition’s campaign. This should be evident if restrictions start being suspiciously timed with the Democrats flying high in the opinion polls more than they are with the incidence of infection reports. It is even conceivable that Trump will attempt to use states of emergency to postpone or cancel the election, or to indefinitely delay his departure from office should he lose the election.

Conclusion

Those celebrating the lead of an “electable” candidate in the primary must realize that we are not even remotely out of the woods yet.

Hate to Say I Told You So, Bernie Bros, But…

I’ve been pointing Sanders’ weak aspects out for well over a month, now. His poorer-than-expected showing tonight is therefore not a huge surprise.

Part of it has been a lousy turnout by younger voters. Again, that is not a surprise. Young people did not do a very good job of turning out this year in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, or South Carolina either. By contrast, tonight older voters turned out in even greater numbers than usual, and voted for the grandpa’s favorite. This is many things, but a “conspiracy” to “steal” votes by the DNC it is not.

I will note that the states where Biden was most favored tend to be in the Eastern time zone, so the final results will probably be more mixed than the Biden blowout that’s currently being reported.

As I have pointed out before, it is far better for Sanders’ weakness as a candidate to manifest now, in the primaries, than for it to manifest when running against Trump. If Sanders crumbled under the relatively low-grade red-baiting he received in the past few weeks, he would have been reduced to a radioactive cinder by the barrage of it Trump would have aimed his way.

Being aware of Sanders’ faults results in an ultimately more hopeful outcome for those who dream of Left success via electoral politics: it suggests that a less-flawed progressive candidate might prove significantly more viable. If media bias or dark forces in the DNC can doom any leftist, then there is no hope for a leftist candidate. It is only if there are faults on our side we can address unilaterally that there is significant hope for improvement.

I say this as someone who, believe it or not, has always admired Sanders ever since he first won election to the House of Representatives in 1990. He’s done a tremendous amount of building visibility and awareness for Left politics. It will soon be time to move on.

Biden is the Most Likely Nominee

Nate Silver has run five scenarios of what might happen today, based on the best-available current polling data. Of particular interest are the following points:

  • Three of the five show Biden emerging with a delegate lead (one shows Sanders with a delegate lead, and one basically shows a tie).
  • Even the two scenarios in which Biden does not have a clear delegate lead, the sum total of delegates for moderate candidates exceeds that for the progressive candidates.

A few days ago, it looked like Sanders was set to have a big day today. Now, not so much.

The most likely outcome is a convention where nobody gets a majority of the delegates, and the superdelegates give the nomination to Biden, because he has a plurality. Bernie will, in other words, probably get what he’s been pleading for, but he will not be the beneficiary of it.

Disaster is Brewing

Someone is going to be the Democratic Party nominee for president. Barring a brokered convention that appoints someone completely unexpected, it will be either Sanders or a centrist. The centrist will probably be Biden.

There are two main sides in this primary struggle, and only one of them is going to win. The losing side will be upset and bitter.

I’ve already mentioned the Sanders supporters unwilling to support anyone else in the general election. Well, it turns out there’s also no shortage of centrists who will refuse to support Sanders. So far as the small (but not zero) chance of  dark horse, it won’t be Sanders, so the Left will be upset.

Humphrey v2.0 or McGovern v2.0. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Did the Washington Post Get Hacked?

I use “hacked” here in the sense of someone manipulating an organization, much like someone might manipulate a computer, to get access which in normal circumstances he or she would not be entitled.

It was a shock and a disappointment to notice this article in the Post, because I had been observing Bolivia trend worryingly in the directions of leader-worship and authoritarianism for some time before the events of last October transpired, and I have believed the elections then to have been every bit as fraudulent as the Bolivians in the streets rioting against them did.

It is necessary at this point to summarize those events, because very few sources understand the totality of them correctly. There was an incumbent president, Evo Morales, who had initially promised to only serve one or two terms, go back on his word not once but twice. In other words, he was now running for his fourth term.

It gets worse. He managed to do so by getting the Supreme Court to issue a convoluted ruling that the Bolivian constitution (in which there are presidential term limits) itself is unconstitutional, because the term limits were an infringement on the right of Evo Morales to run for the office of the president. Yes, they ruled that the constitution is unconstitutional. They might as well have ruled that up is down or black is white; the ruling made that little sense.

Morales had originally tried to lift the term limits the legally correct way, via a constitutional amendment. Such amendments require a popular referendum in Bolivia, and the voters had shot down the measure in a free and fair election. Who wrote this constitution? Why, none other than a government led by Morales himself, at an earlier time, before Morales got so power-hungry.

Anyhow, Morales seemed to have gotten away with it. He ran for an illegal fourth term. Enter people power: when it became clear that the election was in all likelihood fraudulent, riots broke out. The police started refusing orders to suppress the riots. Morales ended up being driven from office and fled the country.

Then came the coup d’etat. The right wing proclaimed one of their own, an anti-Indigenous bigot, as president. Acts of repression and brutality towards the Left (which includes backers of Morales’ own party, since Morales is a socialist) began to be reported. And this is basically where we are to day: where the Left is struggling against a right-wing coup government, trying to compete in elections scheduled to happen in May.

The leading candidate in opinion polls is from the same party Morales was, MAS-IPSP. This should not be a surprise. Unlike in Venezuela, Bolivia’s leftist government has run the economy well. Bolivia has some of the healthiest finances on the continent, and there has been significant progress in modernizing infrastructure and reducing poverty and inequality. Plus, the treachery of the Right in installing a coup government automatically acted to delegitimize the opposition parties.

Also unlike in Venezuela, Bolivia’s social revolution happened as a result of multiple social movements acting on many fronts; it wasn’t just people following a single charismatic leader like Venezuela’s Chávez. It is therefore no big surprise that it was relatively easy for MAS-IPSP find another head to replace the one that was lopped off and to rebuild popular support.

End of historical background summary. Or, shall I say, what I believe to be an accurate summary. I was then shocked to see the article linked above, which claimed that the elections were not in fact fraudulent. Had I been snowed by the Establishment media? It was an unsettling possibility.

It turns out that, no, I have probably not been snowed by the Establishment media. Quite the contrary: it appears that the Post has been snowed by an apologist for left-wing authoritarianism. It was not terribly difficult to find the Twitter account of one of the study’s authors. In it, he approvingly retweets a sneering dismissal of an article critical of left-wing authoritarianism (particularly that in Venezuela) in Jacobin magazine.

The dismissal ludicrously claims, “This article may as well have been written by the State Department.” I read that article. It was written by an evident Trotskyist. Its criticism, given all that happened in Venezuela, is very timid and mild. It spares no effort to see things in as favorable a light as possible to the Maduro regime. Yet, it still arrives at the inescapable conclusion that the Maduro regime has done inexcusable things (not a surprise, as that regime has done many, many, truly awful things). As an example of its general tone, it contains the following paragraph:

Koerner’s habit of making false statements continues in his discussion of a May 2019 article I wrote for Jacobin. Following a bizarrely worded and inaccurate contention that “The university professor backpedaled on some of his previous claims,” Koerner pens another fabrication: “Hetland appeared to be entirely unaware that the opposition attempted a coup d’etat scarcely three weeks before.” It seems Koerner is “entirely unaware” the article references and condemns “[Juan] Guaidó’s desperate and comically ineffective April 30 coup attempt” and “appalling recent opposition violence.” [emphasis added]

To put it mildly, I am not aware of any analyses from the U.S. State Department that claim Juan Guaidó is the leader of an illegitimate coup d’etat. It doesn’t matter. Gabriel Hetland issued some mild criticism of Venezuela, therefore Hetland is guilty of apostasy against St. Chávez and is obviously a running-dog lackey of Western imperialism.

I have studiously avoided the use of the phrase “useful idiot” to refer to Jack R. Williams, because if there is one thing he is not, it is an idiot. He is obviously very smart, and skilled at using statistics to prove whatever point he wishes. I am sure that the statistics he presents are accurate, but I am also sure that he spent much time selecting precisely the subset of statistics needed to paint the election fraud as something other than what it really was.

Mayor Pete Steps in It

In one fell swoop, he managed to alienate:

  • The Left (because he’s sneering at the Left),
  • Queers (because he’s dismissing the politics of Stonewall), and
  • Blacks (because he’s dismissing the direct actions that forced the government to pass the Civil Rights Acts).

I was going to cast my protest vote (against the two nearly-unelectable old white men at the top of the ballot and the general sorry quality of the entire gaggle of candidates) for him. No more. If it is acceptable for Cuban-Americans to get turned off by a weak stance on Castro (and it is), then it is acceptable for queers, the Left, and Blacks to get turned off when someone sneers at our gains (and I am in the first two groups).

Compromise is one thing. Expecting people to sell out the core of their own dignity is quite another.

I think I’ll vote for Warren. I don’t consider her terribly electable (she lets people troll her too much), but then again, I don’t consider anyone in the field terribly electable (yes, I have a generally bleak outlook right now). She is, after Sanders, the leftmost candidate, which is another plus.

She probably won’t win. However, I’ve long predicted that she would make the logical running mate for Joe Biden, and a higher turnout for her may well encourage that decision to be made. And Biden needs encouragement to do the right thing here (if, indeed, it ends up being his decision to make). Hillary probably lost the election when she gave the Left a big F.U. by nominating not a progressive but another centrist as her running mate.

Sanders is Probably Doomed

Doomed to lose either the primaries or the general election, that is.

As much as I’d personally like to see a socialist in the White House, when you stand on stage and get booed for praising a dictatorship and your reaction is to cluelessly ask “Really? Really?,” your chances of winning in November are probably pretty slim. Just telling it like it is.

And yes, Bloomberg has done worse. He’s not merely praised certain isolated aspects of communist dictatorships, he’s praised an actual communist dictator, going to far as to deny that the dictator is in fact a dictator: “Xi Jinping is not a dictator. He has to satisfy his constituents or he’s not going to survive.”

Bloomberg is not getting heat for it while Sanders is simply because Bloomberg is a capitalist, and is issuing the praise so that he can personally profit from doing business in the country the dictator rules. Yes, this is unfair. Yes, it shows what a rotten farce our bourgeois society is. Welcome to the real world. (It’s suddenly news to you that bourgeois society is a rotten farce?)

But, guess what? Sanders could have used the above facts to rip Bloomberg an entirely new asshole. Instead, he blurted out the name “Xi Jinping” without providing further context, then went back to his lame shtick of left-splaining Castro, and couldn’t understand why he got booed for it.

Sanders sounded like nothing but an out-of-touch old grandpa. An old grandpa steeped and marinated in leftist subculture, to be sure, but still an out-of-touch old grandpa. He failed to go on the offensive and eviscerate one of his opponents. His handling of the issue was political malpractice of the first order.

Postscript

Of course, if when verbally eviscerating Bloomberg, Sanders used words like “bourgeois,” it would make his counterattack totally fall flat. I can get away with using that word, because I am not running for president.

After I settle in for a few more years, I could probably even get away with using such language publically and then run for local office here in Bellingham. We’re a college town, with a history of also being an industrial town where organized labor was very strong (so strong that the local newspaper of record was run by unions, not capitalists, for many years). We’re also a hippie haven.

Most people here are not anarchists, socialists, or communists, but most people here know someone who identifies as one of the above labels, and know that most movements to accomplish worthy things have had radicals in them. They wouldn’t find my my choices in labeling toxic. Quirky, yes. Toxic, no.

If my opponent tried to red-bait me, the most likely overall response would be “F.U., you corporate droid, I’m voting for the scruffy anarchist just to piss you off. The world won’t end, and unless he’s an obvious failure at preforming his office, I won’t have a problem with him representing me. That will piss you plastic corporate types off even more.”

My guess is that Vermont operates in a similar way. The whole state has something of a reputation as a haven for old hippies. But the USA as a whole is not Vermont. What can play in a hippie haven can’t always play well nationwide.

Egads. Spare Me.

First, the whole Sanders/Castro flap. Kiss Florida goodbye, Bernie. It is simply not possible to state anything even remotely positive about Castro without pushing the hot buttons of most Cuban-Americans. That the statement was in context of criticism of Castro’s authoritarianism matters not. That the Castro regime does in fact have its positive accomplishments, amongst them the ones Sanders cited, also matters not. Logic matters not when strong emotions come into play.

Next, Bloomberg is planning to spend millions in an attempt to damage Sanders. It is simply not possible for a billionaire to say anything to the backers of a candidate whose entire marketing premise is that the “billionaire class” has too much power that would persuade them to change their minds. It doesn’t matter how many awful and self-destructive things Sanders does; nobody in his base is going to pay attention to criticism coming from a billionaire. In fact, the criticism will probably make Sanders stronger; he will be able to point to its source as evidence that he is genuinely the threat to the power of the economic elite that he claims he is. The only candidates capable of effectively criticizing Sanders as the ones who are not themselves billionaires.

Both of these points are so blindingly obvious that I was shocked when I learned what Bernie had done and what Bloomberg was planning to do. Shocked and dismayed. A weak candidate, one likely to fail in November, is leading in the polls and just about to get stronger. Just great.

How Things Change in a Few Weeks

The Nevada caucuses are over. The expected result happened. (Yes, the consensus of the opinion polls was a Sanders victory.) Yet, it’s as if the pundits didn’t expect this, given their evident shock at the outcome. Have they been asleep?

First, Sanders is not yet the nominee. It’s still early in the process.

Second, those same pundits aghast that Sanders is the presumptive nominee are acting to manifest their worst fears. The more Sanders is talked about as the inevitable nominee, the more he becomes the inevitable nominee.

Third, they are aghast at Sanders primarily because they want to be rid of Trump, and they correctly perceive that Sanders is a weak candidate. (The trouble is, the Democrats have mostly weak candidates in their field. The number of candidates is high, but they are for the most part very weak.) That, too, is a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more a Sanders general election campaign is regarded as futile, the less support it will get, and the more likely it will actually be futile.

On that final point, centrists that are upset (and rightly so) about some Bernie backers’ threats to throw a big tantrum and sabotage the general election if Bernie isn’t allowed to be the nominee need to take a look in the mirror. Because that is exactly the same tactic they themselves are practicing each time they throw tantrums of their own about Bernie getting the nomination. That’s particularly the case here, because as a weak general election candidate, Bernie will need all the help he can get to prevail.

Remember, the conventional wisdom said Trump couldn’t win the Republican primary. Then it was that Trump couldn’t win the general election. Then it was that the Democrats couldn’t gain 40 seats in 2018. I suggest to centrists that the conventional wisdom which says Bernie is too far left to win in November is far less significant than they think it is.

Finally, why was this all so sudden? Because, to reiterate, the Democrats have mostly weak candidates in their field. Even Biden, as recently as a few weeks ago the long-time front-runner, turns out to have been (as predicted) shockingly weak (he would be weak against Trump in the general, too). When Biden faltered, there was really nobody to take his place. Warren (also weak) faltered, too. That left Sanders as the clear front-runner.

The possible role of social media black propaganda cannot be disregarded in Biden’s implosion, but if Biden weren’t such a weak candidate, he wouldn’t have been so vulnerable to such tactics in the first place. I’m not quite ready to write Biden off, however. If he performs poorly in South Carolina, then it will be time to write him off.

Could Sanders falter in the primary because of his weaknesses? Certainly. His main weakness is branding, and centrists are already firing up the red-baiting machine. We shall see. Leftists upset about this inevitability need to keep in mind that a) it was inevitable, and b) if Sanders cannot effectively counter the red-baiting, he has no business being the nominee; Trump would certainly attempt to red-bait Sanders.

Such stress-testing is, after all, one of the purposes of a primary. With such a large pack of such weak candidates, the only thing that can be expected for sure are more sudden changes. Two weeks from now, most of this analysis is likely to be hopelessly dated.

Mayor Pete Needs to Shake up His Campaign Team

Or maybe just shake up his campaign strategy. I don’t know which it is: is his team accidentally not tooting his horn about things like this video, or is it deliberately doing so, as part of some strategy?

If it’s the latter, they need to rethink. Pete is clearly the smartest candidate, and perhaps he’s trying to be “crazy like a fox” by disguising his progressive side in hopes of consolidating support from centrists. The trouble is, that’s not working very well, the party is getting increasingly divided from within, and the Democrats really need an electable compromise candidate to cope with the lack of electability their most of their candidates (both centrists and progressives) have.

Maybe he has an Indiana mindset. Indiana is a pretty conservative place, and he’s managed to get elected as a Democrat there. The rub is, he’s not running to be President of Indiana. Swing states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania contain large, liberal, urban areas. If he fails to appeal to urban liberals, he’s probably toast.

On that video: the only reason I know about it is a leftist Facebook friend, who like me is skeptical about this whole bourgeois politics thing, but also realizes that the only practical, immediate-term way of getting Trump out is to get a Democrat in, shared it with me. The only reason he knows about the video is that he was personally at that demonstration.