Wednesday, February 26, 2020


Via League of Legends.

The family dined in Chinatown last night, standing by our conviction that we're no more likely to catch Covid-19 (or Trump Flu, as Misfit, via Ten Bears, via Bethesda71 is calling it) there than anywhere else in town (for the moment—we are not adopting President Chucklehead's position that there's nothing wrong, or that the virus is just a CNN trick to make him look bad), and I had the opportunity to miss the entire debate—didn't even look at my phone until we were on the way home, and I'm pretty happy about that. Judging from the clips it was awful, though I'm glad in principle that Elizabeth Warren said the things she said about Michael Bloomberg, whom I continue to consider to be a danger to the country, and about Bernard Sanders, in terms I'd like to have used myself:
“Bernie and I agree on a lot of things, but I think that I would make a better president than Bernie. And the reason for that is that getting a progressive agenda enacted is going to be really hard, and it's gonna take someone who digs into the details to make it happen,” Warren said. “Bernie and I both wanted to help rein in Wall Street. In 2008 we both got our chance, but I dug in, I fought the big banks, I built the coalitions and I won. Bernie and I both want to see universal health care. But Bernie's plan doesn't show how we're gonna get there, doesn't show how we're going to get enough allies into it, and doesn't show enough about how we're going to pay for it. I dug in, I did the work, and then Bernie's team trashed me for it.”
As I mentioned in my angry note of 17 February.

I have the funniest feeling at the moment of really seriously not knowing what's going on in this election at all, and of nobody really knowing. Some of the less obnoxious class of Berners on my Twitter feed were going on about what Bernie would do if Bloomberg were to win the nomination (of which fivethirtyeight estimates the chances at about 4%), betray his following by keeping his promise to support the nominee, or split off and lead the Revolution on some kind of outside, you couldn't tell whether in an independent candidacy or a mass people power movement or what, and everything about this scenario seemed so implausible to me that I stopped reading, but I didn't have a more probable one myself.

Biden has an 11% chance according to fivethirtyeight, and the frontrunners are currently Bernie Sanders and Nobody, both at a bit over 40% (Nobody was actually a point ahead of Bernie when I looked just now, but it's within the margin of error, if that's a meaningful concept in this kind of statistical artifact, and as I was typing Bernie had pulled a point ahead again; by the time I hit publish he's back three points, 41 to 44): that is they're saying that the most likely outcome of the primary contest is that either Sanders will win or there won't be a winner, so that the party will have to decide at the convention in July, the way they used to do before George McGovern's commission rewrote the rules after the debacle of 1968 (I'm pretty sure he didn't rig them to get himself the 1972 nomination, if you're wondering). It is one of the two most likely outcomes, in other words, that the party will be compelled to do something it's steadfastly avoided for 52 years.

This brokered convention scenario gets imagined every cycle, and it's been hovering over this one for some months, with some Sanders fans getting very agitated over the possibility that their candidate might have a plurality of the delegates going into the convention—say 30%, which is around what I was imagining, with the next highest candidate, say Biden, having as little as 15% or so—and the nomination could go to somebody else. "How is this democracy?!" they wanted to know, and I was a little dismissive, partly because I really hate first-past-the-post systems specifically because they are so undemocratic. Democracy is when you put together a majority: if your faction doesn't have one, you need to craft one, with allies.

The 1952 Republican primary offers an example with some analogical relevance: a duel between Robert Taft, "Mr. Republican", with 35.8% of the primary vote, and General Dwight Eisenhower, whose party affiliation hadn't even been known for certain, with 26.3%. Taft was backed by conservative ideologues resentful at the Eastern establishment which had given them the loser Thomas E. Dewey in 1944 and 1948, but they had to swallow its rage when the liberals conquered once again (a nasty young red-baiting senator, associate of the Joseph McCarthy faction, was selected for vice president to placate them, Richard Nixon), but it worked pretty well for the party.

It didn't work so well for the Democrats that year, who had a majority candidate, Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, with 64.6%, against someone who hadn't been in any primaries at all, Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois, pushed into running by the unpopular incumbent president Truman. Unlike with the Republicans, there doesn't seem to have been much ill feeling, and Kefauver cheerfully joined Stevenson's 1956 ticket as vice presidential candidate, but Eisenhower's reputation for his calm management of World War II and lack of perceivable ideology carried the day both years.

The next time Democrats had a plurality candidate was in 1960, when the relatively conservative John F. Kennedy, a Cold War hawk and child of extreme wealth, came up with 31.4% against the left-wing Hubert Humphrey, famed for his advocacy of civil rights going back to 1948, with 10.1%, and a host of "favorite son" candidates. But Humphrey had little popular support—Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson, who didn't compete in any primaries, was a more significant rival—and Kennedy won with little difficulty.

In 1968, the 1952 situation repeated itself with much more emotional intensity, when the unpopular war president Lyndon Johnson suddenly withdrew, and the plurality was held by Senator Eugene McCarthy, with 38.8% of the popular primary vote, but the martyred Robert Kennedy, for whom McCarthy had seemed to be serving as a kind of stalking horse, had scored 30.6% before his death, so that there was in fact an antiwar majority in the delegate count (but divided when most of Kennedy's delegates went with the unexpected George McGovern instead of McCarthy), while Johnson's candidate, the former radical and now vice president Humphrey, had entered too late to compete properly in the primaries. Humphrey's victory really did seem like some kind of trick played on the public, and Nixon, with his secret plan to end the war (buttressed by the "October Surprise" crime), beat him. When I was a kid, I thought a socialist revolution should have blown up from the bloodied streets of Chicago, but of course that didn't happen, and I now understand that it couldn't happen, and we all would have been better off abandoning our dreams and letting Humphrey into the White House, ending the war, and ensuring the survival of the Great Society legislation.

Nowadays, of course, every state chooses delegates by primaries or caucuses (in those days, more than half were elected in those famous smoke-filled rooms), and the talk of democracy in the nomination process may signify more than it did then. Now that I'm over the surprise of Nevada, I'm back to not seeing how Sanders scores 40% or better in more or less any of the remaining primaries; he's generally projected to win between 25% and 35% of the states he's expected to win, so he's likely to win that ~30% of the delegates over all that I originally expected, in a situation much more like that of Taft among the 1952 Republicans than that of Trump in 2016, the favorite of the most deeply theoretically engaged, but regarded with skepticism by the more pragmatically oriented majority. I think the ending remains extremely unpredictable.

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