The Samurai and the Millionaire Socialist: Liz and Bernie at the Nevada Debate

Oh, how I’ve longed to see the side of Elizabeth Warren who came out last night. All campaign long, I’ve understood as she held back, aiming to be the one who could unite the disparate wings of the party and so not throwing elbows at anyone, for the most part, so that when the general election came, progressives and moderates and everyone else could stand and fight together against the creeping oligarchy and nascent white christian nationalist fascism that threatens democracy, the future, and the viability of human civilization on our rapidly warming planet.

In a perfect world, that would be the campaign for President everyone should want. Ideas, passion, and a relentlessly positive message.

But we do not live in that world, nor, likely, do we deserve to, at least collectively.

For all their bespoke suits and expensive coiffure, the mainstream media are basically wrestling announcers. They want drama, a good fight. And they love the bad guys, the badder the better, because they make for good TV. And while once upon a time news might have been firewalled from the ratings game, a ‘public good’ provided by the networks to justify their use of our national airwaves, that time is long past, and it’s all about them eyeballs for advertisers. ‘Nice lady makes good point’ doesn’t rate much attention next to ‘Presidential candidate brags about penis size’, which is an actual thing that happened four years ago. Never mind their paymasters — and accountants, because these people are decidedly not middle-class — freaking the fuck out because Warren knows how to unrig the game, and published her plan for doing so on the internet.

They all but erased her from their coverage (only three tickets out of Iowa, says the CW, and then the third story is Biden coming fourth, and don’t get me started on the WSJ poll literally leaving her out), til the erasure became a story in its own right.

Then last night happened.

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Liz Warren can’t believe these two poll ahead of her.

 

Remember the first debate, back in approximately 1975? When Warren cracked and stuck a shiv in John Delaney that bled him out on live TV? I’ve been waiting to see that again since then, and boy howdy, did she deliver last night. She was like a samurai: the drawing of the sword and the killing blow one smooth, graceful motion.

It helped, surely, that she had Mike Bloomberg — who is as literal an embodiment of everything she’s stood and fought against her whole adult life as it is possible to be — and she broke out the katana first thing, cutting his heel tendons so he couldn’t run away and then eviscerating him for two hours. It was a great preview of how she’d take on Trump, who is a lesser and thinner-skinned version of Bloomberg, and I’m pretty sure half the country (and some dudes, too) are salivating at the chance she might get to share a debate stage with him.

She bled Pete and Amy some, too, on the health care thing, and more subtly by being the only one standing up for people of color, who make up a majority of the Democratic base and don’t seem much to care for the folksy Midwesterners so keen to invite folks from the other side to the table. She even gave Bernie a few well-placed pokes, on his M4A plan but also for the way his campaign deals with even the hint of criticism of the man, the myth, the legend.

It was a tour de force performance, and I for one can’t wait til the next one.

Bernie had a pretty good night, too. Mostly by not having a bad night. Conventional wisdom holds that when you’re the frontrunner you’re best off staying out of the way and letting the rest of the field fight it out. And despite the bombast and revolution-talk Bernie is, at the end of the day, a pretty conventional politician, even if his views and ideals have been a little left of the Overton Window for most of his career.

There were a couple of moments, though, that did not bode well, I think.

[As always, the caveat: Bernie’s my second choice, I supported him in 2016, and will gladly support him come the general if he’s nominated.]

First was at the end, when asked about the prospect of a contested convention (which personally I think is pretty likely and even desirable, but that’s another post). Everyone but Bernie said let the process play out. There are rules and procedures in place for just this eventuality, so we should follow them. Bernie alone — and for obviously self-interested reasons, since right now it’s likeliest to be him — said whoever had the plurality of delegates ought to be the nominee. It was not a good look. I mean, maybe if you’re a Bernie-or-buster and you want your guy no matter how he wins it. I know there’s a segment of his support motivated by his uncompromising stances on, well, you name it. If that’s your jam, okay, I guess. But I saw a guys who’s in it at least as much for his own ego as he is for enacting a progressive agenda. I’m not questioning his convictions — I believe he believes in what he says he believes — but it was pretty clear four years ago he got a taste for the spotlight and being the man and it’s been pretty clear since it’s a good chunk of his motivation. Maybe not a majority, but possibly a plurality, to make a politi-nerd lol out of it.

The second thing, though, worries me even more.

I haven’t seen anyone else notice this (I think he’s gotten Warren’s exceptional performance to thank for it). But there was a moment toward the end where Mike Bloomberg, of all people, scored a hit with an attack I’ve been waiting for.

“The country’s best-known socialist is a millionaire with three houses.”

Bernie was flustered, he stumbled to explain (CW: If you’re explaining, you’re losing). Something something Vermont, something something, DC, something something woods camp. And here’s where the especial vitriol of Sanders’ supporters is hurting him: they’ve kept him so comparatively insulated from the slings and arrows of a political campaign that he’s forgotten he’s got vulnerabilities. The other Democrats in the race are too worried about alienating his supporters to have brought it up, but I will bet you all the money I have that Republican ratfuckers have a great big goddamn file of opposition research with the words ‘Millionaire Socialist’ stamped on the front. How could they not see this coming? Not have an answer prepared for this blindingly obvious line of attack? For fuck’s sake, he’s running to run against Donald Fucking Trump, a man with not zero but negative compunctions about doing or saying any- and everything to get what he wants. If it was someone else, I might give them a pass, since running for President takes a lot of time and money and it might not make sense to devote resources to that kind of thing til later. But Bernie only stopped running between June and November of 2016. There wasn’t any doubt he’d be back. So the lack of preparation for an obvious, if cheap, line of attack?

Say it this way: I hope he takes good advantage of the pass he’s got on this one. Because right now he looks likelier than anyone to be the one in the ring with Donald Trump and the worldwide plutocrat mafia backing him.

As for the others, Amy and Pete’s circular firing squad was hilarious, Mike Bloomberg should visit a dominatrix once in a while, and I look forward to Joe Biden stumping for whoever wins the nomination and then heading up blue-ribbon panels for the rest of his life.

Very much looking forward to next week in South Carolina.

How Warren Handled the Dustup, How Sanders Did

Start with the caveat: I’ve wanted Elizabeth Warren to run for President since 2009, when she first came to national prominence helping manage the Troubled Assets Relief Program. I was thrilled when she took Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat back from the Republicans, and I would have loved her to run in 2016, though I understood why she might choose not to. I’ve been a supporter since she announced in 2019, and I think of all the candidates running she’d make the best President, for reasons I’ll get into in a different post.

Bernie Sanders is my second choice. I was thrilled when he announced in 2016. Even though it was the longest of longshot candidacies, I was glad to see an out loud and proud progressive democratic socialist in the race, making news and getting the kinds of policies and critiques of the status quo I believe in into the mainstream discourse. I was thrilled with how far he exceeded expectations. But a tipping point came, at which he’d done what good he was going to, and the math was against him, with or without superdelegates and Clinton’s institutional support. And Bernie kept going.

Still, I’m glad that, this time around, not one but two progressive champions are not only in the arena, but have made it to the quarter-finals, when votes start getting cast and delegates allotted. And while I prefer Elizabeth over Bernie, I’ll be glad to see either of them collect delegates, because it means more legitimacy and power for the progressive wing of the Democratic party. If either of them win the nomination, they’ll have my full-throated support and whatever time or money I can cobble together to give them.

Okay? Okay.

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Isn’t this peaceful? Take a moment and appreciate it. Please.

You probably haven’t been hiding under a rock, but in case you have, the non-aggression pact Warren and Sanders worked out a year ago, and that’s been working out for both of them pretty well, started to fray a bit last week. Whether it’ll crumble further’s up for grabs, as much as the mainstream press would like it to, since news means eyeballs and progressives in elected office means cracking the oligarchy trying to murder American Democracy right now and their salaries depend on their not understanding that.

Bernie swung first, with some talking points for canvassers that could be read as anodyne or insulting depending on where you sit. Warren stayed mum for a day, then made either a proportional response or a sacrilegious slander in which she revealed that Bernie Sanders told her a woman couldn’t win the Presidency of the United States. Bernie denied it, blamed it on lying staffers. Warren confirmed her recollection. Bernie denied it, calling Warren a liar by implication. Then the debate happened.

 

 

 

Wolf Blitzer was clearly trying to get them to fight, wording his questions in such a way as to presume Sanders had said it. It was obvious, it was trite, and it showed Blitzer for what he is, a hack more interested in causing news than a journalist whose work is to report it.

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This guy, amirite?

There’s not a whole lot of daylight between Warren and Sanders, policy-wise. Certainly compared to the rest of the candidates on stage (don’t get me started on the Republicans). But there are differences of temperament and character that I think are telling and important, and I think the way the two of them handled the question in the moment — and after the debate, while the cameras were still running, though they mics weren’t hot anymore — tells us a lot about those differences.

I think it tells us a lot about the different standards men and women are held to, also. Even on the progressive left, where we really ought to know better.

You could see Elizabeth Warren on the split-screen while Bernie answered. Because he is Bernie — and, like so many men of his generation, can never do or be wrong, nor have done, or been, wrong, ever — he denied outright that he said it, called it ludicrous he or anyone would ever say such a thing (as if the person to whom he said it it were not right there next to him and also his longtime friend and ally), and corrected the record surprisingly meticulously for a conversation had a very busy year ago.

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TFW your friend says you lied.

If you’re at all able to read facial expressions, you could actually watch Elizabeth Warren swallow her rage at being called a liar in public in real time. (Link is to the exchange in question)

Now, I’m not here to try and settle the he-said/she-said here. The fact is human memory is unreliable, language is complex, perception of subtext and body language and facial expression necessarily idiosyncratic. They could very well both be telling the truth as they know/recall it. To be honest, settling that particular ambiguity — saying who’s right, who’s wrong, yadda yadda yadda — is beside the point I’m making here.

Given her chance to respond, Elizabeth Warren confined herself to two words, “I disagreed.” Then she turned and faced the 800-pound gorilla in the room head-on, and talked about how being a woman running for President in 2020 is not only not a disadvantage, it’s an outright advantage. She got the line of the night with how the men on stage had lost ten elections while the women hadn’t lost any. She made the case that the wave election of 2018 was attributable to the engagement of women as candidates and voters, which led to the Democratic House majority that have brought us not only four hundred plus pieces of legislation but impeached our corrupt gangster wannabe oligarch President.

In the back-and-forth after, Sanders reiterated his denial (reiterating his implicit claim that Warren is lying about what she said he said to her), and, in the middle of a pretty good line about how if any of the women — or men — onstage with him got the nomination, he’d be happy to support them, went off on a tangent about how he hoped it wasn’t any of them, he hoped it was him.

Elizabeth Warren talked about what she wanted to do as President, and made a case for why she was the candidate to unite both sides of the party. A thing that’s pretty important going into a campaign year that could decide more than just who’s in charge of various government entities for the next few years (hey there, climate change! Whatcha got in store for us?).

Then, at the end, when the debate was over and the mics turned off, Warren confronted her erstwhile buddy. From the transcript:

“I think you called me a liar on national TV,” Warren told Sanders.

“What?” asked Sanders.

“I think you called me a liar on national TV,” Warren said.

“You know, let’s not do it right now. If you want to have that discussion, we’ll have that discussion,” Sanders said.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) as billionaire activist Tom Steyer listens after the seventh Democratic presidential debate in Des Moines on Jan. 14. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) as billionaire activist Tom Steyer listens after the seventh Democratic presidential debate in Des Moines on Jan. 14. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

“Anytime,” Warren said.

“You called me a liar,” Sanders said, adding: “You told me — all right, let’s not do it now.”

She ignores his proffered handshake. He’s confused, then dismissive. We’re not having this conversation right now, says his body language.

I have a feeling every woman I know has had something like that happen to her. Had her concerns — her integrity, even — dismissed and devalued by a man constitutionally incapable of admitting he was wrong.

[Caveat/Spoiler alert: I have also been that guy. Count me chagrined.]

Bernie Sanders could have done a little diplomacy and defused this whole nonsense. He could have made the whole situation disappear just by telling his friend and respected colleague that he recalled their conversation differently, but that he regretted giving her the impression he meant otherwise. He could have accepted some small degree of fault, apologized, and the whole thing would have been over.

Elizabeth Warren does not and did not have that option. Even if she did, that’s not her style. She’s done her damnedest this whole campaign not to go negative on anyone. She’s pointed out behaviors, and drawn distinctions between herself and, say, Pete Buttigieg. But she’s run a relentlessly positive campaign about what she means to do, how she means to do it, and why she’s the person who ought to be doing it. Even in the face of a callous, off-the-cuff insult from a self-proclaimed friend, she kept her cool and kept on mission.

And that, much as anything else, is why she’s my first choice, and Bernie only second. Because my political allegiance is not a fandom, it’s a reflection of my values, my character, and my honest best assessment of political effectiveness. Bernie’s good, and I think he’ll do the things I’d want a President to do more than he won’t, and it’ll be good for the country to elect someone so progressive. But Elizabeth Warren has a better temperament, is a more effective leader of large organizations, and will, I think, not only do better unifying the Democratic party behind her, she’ll do a better job winning the campaign and then governing after.

In more ways than one, I think it’s because she’s a woman.

***

You may feel differently, and that’s fine. That’s what primary season’s all about. And in the next month or two, we’ll all have a way better idea which candidate’s doing better. Til then, I think we’re all gonna be way better off remembering we’re all on the same side, and concentrating on who the real bad guys are.

Iowa Debate Hot Take

For what it’s worth, and in no particular order, here’s what I thought:

Elizabeth Warren had a *great* night. All her answers were sharp, cogent, and, I’m not afraid to say it, Presidential. She was the strongest candidate up there, and to my mind has the best chance of uniting the Democratic party’s sometimes disparate elements, bringing new folks into the tent/coalition, and inspiring people who don’t normally vote that it’d be worth it to elect her.

Bernie, well, Bernie was Bernie. If you like/love him, you probably thought he did well. If you have your doubts, he probably didn’t win you over (especially, I’m guessing, if you’re a woman: more on that below). He was his usual forceful, self-involved self (which came through when he mentioned he hoped it would be him who was nominated rather than saying what he was running to do, and his mansplainity when it came to whether a woman could win the Presidency).

Joe Biden stumbled and slurred and lost the thread at least a dozen times. He’s too far past his prime (a prime in which he made a lot of bad calls, see: Iraq War, Anita Hill, the 2005 Bankruptcy Bill) and seemed like he was up past his bedtime. But it won’t hurt him, because he’s graded on a curve like Donald Trump is, albeit a slightly steeper one.

Amy Klobuchar had a decent night, and makes a decent case for herself. Which no one seems to be buying, and is not particularly inspirational. I like her okay, but I don’t think she could have moved the numbers much even if she’d turned in a Warren-grade performance, which I don’t think she did.

Pete Buttigieg made a few good points, and is obviously doing some tacking left-ish now that his surge is done. I see him as a party functionary or pundit when all’s said and done, which I imagine will help him out with that whole ‘poorest candidate on stage’ thing he keeps talking about.

Tom Steyer wasted a hundred million dollars to go on that stage and tell everyone which others he agreed with. He also stole Kamala Harris’ donor list and seems to have some bobble-head somewhere in his ancestry. I wish he’d fuck off and spend his money supporting someone who’d actually be a good President.

Moderators were okay, I guess, though I wish they were more interested in policy differences than trying to get people to fight. Still, I thought the ladies did well enough to cover for Wolf Blitzer.

The big dustup between Warren and Sanders was, I thought, pretty instructive. I was particularly impressed with how Warren handled her anger and turned the conversation to the 800 pound gorilla of sexism. I thought Bernie didn’t do himself any favors, basically calling Warren a liar (a charge she pointedly did not respond to, though I saw what looked like a quick throwdown after the debate: I’d give good money to hear what she said to Bernie when she refused to shake his hand) and mansplaining the fuck out of sexism in politics. That they gave Joe Biden the last word was as sadly predictable as the rambling nonsense that came out of his mouth about the subject.

I was glad to see foreign policy take such a big role, since that’s a big chunk of what a President does. “We’ve turned the corner so many times we’re turning in circles” is a great fucking line. I was also glad to hear Warren on trade — another big chunk of what Presidents actually co — especially the notion of making labor and environmental standards a prerequisite for access to American markets.

Will it move any numbers? Convince any voters? Who the fuck knows? Debates aren’t that big a deal. But if you were watching to see which one looked and acted like a President, I think you have to say Warren walked away with it. Do I think the MSM will agree? Prolly not. They’re too invested in the status quo, and their bosses don’t want to pay a wealth tax.

Dem Darn Debates, The Third

Start with the obvious: this was a much better debate than the previous two. First, because a bunch of also-rans didn’t qualify, so we didn’t get to hear John Delaney talk for half an hour about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for or watch Seth Moulton deny in real time that he’s not as cool or popular as his handlers tell him he is. Second, the moderators took a page from Chuck Todd’s book and burned it and did not insert themselves into the debate, save to ask clearly-researched, candidate-specific questions (except the first one: George Stephanopoulos’ invitation to Joe Biden to throw some ‘bows about health care and doing his damnedest to get the Republicans a sound-bite saying middle-class taxes would go up). Third, they actually touched a little on things like foreign policy and trade, which a President has a whole hell of a lot more to do with than health care, which is properly the concern of Congress, God help us all.

If you thought those three hours went by fast, you were right, because it was only two hours and forty-five minutes. That said, it was a good deal more substantive and, well, debate-like than these things often are.

So, how’d everyone do?

I’ll start with Elizabeth Warren, because she’s my favorite and, despite the current poll ratings, the one to beat, in my mind. She did, as ever she does, a good job staying above the fray and sticking to making a positive case for what she wants to do (clean up corruption and save democracy and the world!) and tell the very good story about why she wants to do it. She had some standout moments, though they don’t seem to have been picked up on, being more substantive than flashy. I’m talking about her line about not tasking the military to solve problems that can’t be solved militarily and her suggestion that we leverage the power of access to US markets to make other countries up their game when it comes to environmental and labor practices. Like so much else in her campaign, it’s both sensible and radical, and one of the reasons I support her for President. Continue reading “Dem Darn Debates, The Third”

Hillary, Bernie, and Me

I was a strong and early supporter of Bernie Sanders, especially the Bernie Sanders of the early campaign: the guy who took the high road, who spoke truth to power, who organized at the grassroots and refused to engage in negative campaigning. The guy who said on her worst day Hillary Clinton would be a better President than any of the Republicans.
But I have a confession to make: I never thought he’d win.
It wasn’t lack of faith in the message or devotion to the agenda he espoused. That faith and devotion is what drove my support. To me Bernie Sanders was only a vehicle for getting the word out and starting to organize. It was clear the man himself was an imperfect vessel (he is, after all, a career politician). It was also based on a cold, hard political calculation. Remember the incident in Seattle about a year ago, when two #blacklivesmatter activists stormed a stage he was set to speak on? The way Bernie and, more importantly, his most ardent supporters handled that told me all I needed to know. However you stand on the incident, nobody gets the Democratic nomination without support from African-Americans. And while Bernie has done a great job of mobilizing younger African-Americans, they were outnumbered by their elders, who were less willing to take a chance.
Still, I advocated, and donated, and when the time came I caucused. All along I tried my best to keep to the high road the Bernie Sanders of the early campaign laid out.
Sadly, my candidate chose not to. Somewhere along the way, some subtle threshold got crossed. It was about Bernie now. Bernie the man, the visionary, the leader of a revolution, though what the revolution meant or would look like was never made clear. He started throwing punches, insisted he was going to win despite the fact that the path to victory only got narrower and less likely with every primary and caucus, even the ones that he won.

Continue reading “Hillary, Bernie, and Me”