“Let me explain something to you about Joe Biden and why some of the shit that he’s done in his past doesn’t matter. This old rich white man played second fiddle to a black man. Not just any black man, but a younger black man, a smart black man. Not just for a day. Not 1, not 2 but eight years.
He took his cues from this black man who had more power than him and was virtually unknown when he took the presidency, and Joe Biden had been around forever. He was willing and proud to be his wing man. Not once did he try to undermine him, this black man. Instead Joe walked in lockstep with him, he respected him, he loved and trusted him. He was led by him and he learned from him. And Joe did not have a problem with it.
You tell me what 40+ year “establishment” white politician has ever done that. Joe Biden is cut from a different cloth. And black folks understand that and for good reason. He has shown it. This is what showing up and being an ally looks like. When black people say they know Joe, this is how we know.”
– Laurie Goff”
In 2003 or so, in the height of the Bush II era, when you were ‘with us or with the terrorists’ and the Iraq War was in its first Friedman Unit, I went with my friend Jonny to an event called Drinking Liberally. As you might expect, it was held at a bar, and the idea was for liberals and progressives and so on to gather together and drink, bond, commiserate, and strategize. George W Bush was at the height of his power and popularity, and the various candidacies to replace him were in their beginning stages. I remember we all sat around a big table, with another rank of folks standing behind us. At one end of the table were these two dudes in sweaters doing their absolute best to hijack the conversation, talking over people and extolling their liberal-than-thou bona fides.
Their main point, aside from smug self-satisfaction? That the key to the Democratic party getting back into power was to get rid of all these centrists and DINOs, so the ‘Democratic wing of the Democratic Party’, i.e. its most liberal faction, could ascend to power. By some sort of Underpants Gnomes calculus, this was supposed to lead us to victory in 2004.
Let me say that again: shrinking the party to its hardest hard core of (let’s be honest, white, mostly male) progressives would somehow lead to electoral victory, where the key is to convince the most people to vote for you.
I believe the technical term for that is magical thinking.
I’d love to forget those two smug assholes. Hell, I’d love to forget the whole Bush II era, when conservatives started trying on their brown shirts and jackboots in earnest, and fucked shit up so bad these racist-ass United States actually elected a black man President. And it seems I’m not alone in that. To be honest, it seems like half the damn left forgot the lessons we should have learned back then, which is a big part of what made Donald Trump possible.
Which brings me, sigh, to Bernie Sanders and his ‘political revolution’.
In 2016, I was a Sanders guy, right up til it became mathematically impossible for him to win the nomination. I was thrilled to see someone bring the kind of deep progressive policy and political goals and rhetoric I, a lifelong progressive, had been wanting to see in mainstream discourse ever since I was old enough to vote and engaged enough to pay attention. Even when he didn’t win, I was thrilled when his rhetoric and platform did indeed cross over into the mainstream. I was less thrilled than the candidate himself, who crossed the line somewhere from someone whose goals and interest were driven by principle to someone whose principles were driven by his goals and his self-interest. But that seems to be most politicians, so it’s if not forgivable then not a deal-breaker on its own.
But Bernie Sanders political revolution’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness: it’s an insurgency defined as much by its opposition to the institutional Democratic Party as it is by its positive political and policy ambitions. Which, if you’re running for the Democratic Party’s nomination to be President, with the institutional backing that comes with it for a general election, is kind of a problem.
Yes, the party leadership has probably coordinated in response to Sanders’ rise. Which is, you know, their job and all that, conspiracy theories aside. But so, apparently, have the voters, who yesterday — and much to this Warren supporter’s chagrin — coalesced around Joe Biden, FSM help us all, as the last man standing/consensus choice.
Turns out snake emojis and sneering contempt for people you’re going to need later on isn’t the best strategy for building coalitions.
Look, temperamentally and policy-wise, I’m firmly aligned with Bernie Sanders (I’m even more so with Elizabeth Warren; the misogyny and deliberate erasure that handicapped her campaign will have to be a whole other post, though). We do in fact need radical change, even radical-er than Bernie himself calls for (ain’t a goddam thing gonna pass as long as there’s a filibuster in the Senate). But you know what we need to get that radical change passed into law? A great big fucking coalition, not all of whom are going to be hard core progressives who only identify as Democrats in Presidential election years.
I told those two guys all those years ago that much as I agreed with them on policy, you can’t get shit done if you don’t have a majority, and you don’t get a majority by telling people they’re sellouts or assholes if they don’t believe just as you believe, just as hard as you believe it. Almost twenty years on, looks like I’m still over here in the corner, saying the same goddam thing.
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.
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.
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”