However the current occupant of the Oval Office might feel, a President is not a king. And whatever plans our next Democratic President bring to office will depend on recognizing some fundamental institutional truths. Per Ezra Klein:
“Every Democratic debate so far has featured a lengthy argument over the details of Medicare plans that the next president will have limited power — and if there’s a Republican Senate, no power — to pass. None have featured a sustained debate over the questions that will actually decide what kind of Medicare plan — and climate plan, and gun control plan, and minimum wage bill, and infrastructure plan — will pass: which candidate is likeliest to sweep more Democrats into the Senate, and whether and how the various candidates would convince Senate Democrats to change the rules to make ambitious governance possible again.”
And of course it was Elizabeth Warren who brought the reality check, despite the moderators’ — and her fellow candidates, barring Buttigieg — attempt to hold the debate in a vacuum:
“We have to talk about what it’s really going to take to get something done. I’ve been in the Senate. What I’ve seen is gun safety legislation introduced, get a majority, and then doesn’t pass because of the filibuster. Understand this: The filibuster is giving a veto to the gun industry. It gives a veto to the oil industry. It’s going to give a veto on immigration. Until we’re willing to dig in and say that if Mitch McConnell is going to do to the next Democratic president what he did to President Obama, and that is try to block every single thing he does, that we are willing to roll back the filibuster, go with the majority vote, and do what needs to be done for the American people. Understand this: Many people on this stage do not support rolling back the filibuster. Until we’re ready to do that, we won’t have change.”
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.
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.
Ever since the New Hampshire primary, the punditariat has written many a premature obituary for the campaign of Elizabeth Warren. And I get it. According to their narrative conventions — which they love to misname the ‘conventional wisdom’ — Iowa and New Hampshire are supposed to winnow the field down to two or maybe three candidates. And even though there are supposedly only three tickets out of Iowa, one of which Elizabeth Warren won, her poor showing in the widely divided field in New Hampshire has supposedly ‘put a stench of death’ on her campaign, at least according to an unnamed campaign aide quoted by one of my favorite writers.
“The only reason to care about the early primaries is that they drive media narratives, perceptions of candidate viability, and thus later primaries in states that actually matter for delegate count. Iowa and New Hampshire just don’t award enough delegates to be important on their own (41 and 24, respectively) without that perception effect.”
Ninety-eight percent of delegates to the nominating convention (which is the metric, just or not, by which score is kept in this game) remain unpledged. Ninety-eight percent. That’s like, almost all of them. Never mind that virtually no people of color have had a chance to weigh in (which seems like it might change the dynamics for, say, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar). Nor have many union members, who might not like the current front-runner’s health care plan (FWIW, I do endorse it, myself, though I think Warren’s got a better plan for getting there). Hell, in New Hampshire, whose influence is even more outsized than usual thanks to Iowa’s self-immolation, the primary is open. Republicans and Independents can cast votes for the Democratic nominee. That may or may not be a good thing, but one thing is clear: it means New Hampshire — white-as-snow, soi disant libertarian New Hampshire — is even less representative of the Democratic party than Iowa.
All of which is to say that while the punditariat may indeed prefer a two- or three-person race (and put a thumb on the coverage scale to make it happen), we the voters are in no way obliged to oblige them. Quite the contrary. There are enough primaries left, enough voices yet to be heard, I think all the viable candidates should keep running.
There’s a lot at stake come the general election. But there’s a lot at stake, too, in the Democratic primary. Not only do we need a champion to face Donald Trump come November, we need to flip the Senate and bolster our House majority. The person who can lead that wave might be any of the top contenders.
Me, I think that person is Elizabeth Warren. I think she’s got the intellect, temperament, experience, and plans to carry us forward into the interesting times ahead, and I’m not the only one. Even most people for whom she’s not the top choice put her as their second choice. Far as I can tell, her only negatives are among billionaires and the Extremely Online folks who think she doesn’t go far enough on M4A. She’s got a thousand staffers and millions in the bank, and she’s in the fight for all the right reasons. So things going badly isn’t going to slow her down, nor should it.
Put it another way: Nevertheless, she’ll persist.
And so will I in supporting her as she continues to run. And if, come June, there’s no clear winner, and we have a contested convention, well, then even if she doesn’t get the nomination, I want Elizabeth Warren at the table, with as many delegates as she can get in her pocket, to make sure the people and policies she’s fighting for get their fair share.
First and foremost: There’s a paper trail — for the first time, btw, so put that in your pipe and (retrospectively) smoke it — so the results will come in, and probably be reasonably accurate. That they will be muddled because of how many ways the totals are gonna be split, and because — for some reason — they are reporting not one, not two, but three metrics by which a winner might be declared would have been the case even if things went smooth like butter.
Second, and I can’t stress this enough: Iowa doesn’t really matter! The state accounts for a whopping 1% of convention delegates, which is how the party decides who gets the nomination. In fact, the first four states (IA, NH, NV, and SC) only account for about 5% of delegates (the latter two were moved up to help counterbalance the, ahem, whiteness of the traditional first two). The media likes to pretend they matter more than they actually do, because it gives them fodder to create narratives (and winnow the field). But really, we’re not going to have a good idea who’s ahead, behind, or viable going forward til Super Tuesday, when about half the delegates will be allotted in one big day of primary voting.
Third: Of course the app went wrong. It’s a brand new piece of bespoke tech — developed for a complex, idiosyncratic process — that couldn’t be field-tested beforehand because how would you even do that? Add to that that rules were changed in the way the caucuses work (because this ain’t the first time they’ve had problems calling a winner the night or even the week of), and remember that the vast majority of poll workers are retiree volunteers who don’t know a whole lot about the cyber, and the likeliest — even inevitable — outcome is what happened.
Fourth, and really more of an aside: The changes that are fucking this all up were implemented after complaints from Sanders supporters in 2016, who wanted a more transparent process with a paper trail and yadda yadda yadda (instead of, you know, getting rid of these arcane, uninclusive, undemocratic rituals in favor of the simplicity of a primary vote). That these selfsame people — and the bots who love them — are making the biggest stink about what’s going down is both extremely on-brand and perfectly in tune with the tragilarious irony that has characterized this blighted timeline since the Large Hadron Collider was turned on and everyone lost their goddam minds.
Fifth: While the various conspiracies — Russian/Republican ratfucking, DNC scale-tipping against Bernie/Joe/Pete/whoevs — are not unplausible, I urge you recall Hanlon’s Razor, which says, simply:
So, deep breaths, everybody. Relax. For once, we’ve woken up the day after Iowa without a handy narrative to shape perceptions about the race going forward. The voting’s just started, the race is still tight. Which, you know, accurately reflects the reality.
It’s a tossup, right now, whether tonight’s app-related debacle for the Iowa Democratic party is the result of ratfucking — be it Republican or Russian — or just standard issue Democratic rake-stepping, or even just the semi-inevitable buggery when a new tech gizmo is deployed for the first time. Either way it’s giving all of us agita while we wait for the paper/pics of paper to be tallied. The whole thing is pretty on-brand for the twenty-first century.
But there is one silver lining, which is in every explainer published instead of the vote totals (or whatever) and what it all means analysis they all expected to go with, everyone’s finally admitting that Iowa doesn’t mean shit, delegate-wise, and is only important because the caucuses, simply by being first, help shape perceptions and narrative.
“Yet the power of the caucuses is that they can change that state of play. Based on Iowa’s results, candidates believed to be in the top tier can either solidify that status or stumble, and underdogs can either break out or fall flat. Iowa has this effect because it greatly influences the perceptions of the political world — the media, activists, party insiders, donors, the candidates themselves, and voters — about who can win.”
And that, my friends, is a righteous good thing.
All of punditry has been waiting for this night, when they can finally say who’s up or who’s down, who’s a contender, who beat or missed expectations, who should throw in the towel. Every four years, a few hundred thousand white people performing an arcane ritual that has people sorting themselves into physical groups and then performing arcane calculations to allocate delegates who will themselves meet later to perform calculations to allocate delegates, who will themselves blah blah blah so that, come June, 40-odd of 4000-odd delegates to the Democratic Convention can yell their candidate’s name. It’s a ridiculous, outdated process (I, myself, have attended two caucuses, which were such complete shit-shows that I ended up running both precincts because, well, someone had to), a relic from a bygone era of not picking candidates by popular vote. Which is not a good look for a party that takes its name from the word ‘democracy’.
Look, I got nothing against Iowans. But they aren’t even remotely representative of the people who make up/vote for the Democratic party. They’ve had a good thing going these last fifty years, what with the quadrennial boost to their economy. But a tiny, empty, rural state performing an outdated political ritual to allocate their near-inconsequential number of delegates isn’t much better than strange women in ponds distributing swords when it comes to picking a candidate for President.
It’s not like that’s a big secret. But it’s nice to see it said out in the open like that.