Sunday, February 16, 2020

Horse race stuff

Caucus race, by John Tenniel. No allegorical interpretations of who Alice and the Dodo respectively represent, if you don't mind. Via Wikipedia.

Molly Jong-Fast at Washington Post has what looks initially like a hot take on the miseries of the current Democratic presidential nomination contest: that it's all Biden's fault for screwing up his assigned role.
After a fourth-place finish in Iowa and a fifth-place finish in New Hampshire, it’s time to take a good, hard look at former vice president Joe Biden, the once-dominant, now-floundering Democratic “front-runner.” Not to get too technical about it, but I would like to postulate that the Democratic front-runner should be, you know, in front....
With all respect—she's a very sharp writer—I think she's misplacing the blame, if blame is due, in not asking who appointed Joe; who failed to give him that good hard look ten months or so ago, when he obtained that front-runner label though he'd been running unsuccessfully for president for OVER THIRTY YEARS and had a history of alienating the very voters he was going to have to depend on the most, from backing agitators against school busing to patronizing Barack Obama as "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy" (although this seemed to have greatly improved starting in late 2008).

Because I think after all it was you and me, brothers and sisters (I mean not me personally, I was trying to vet Biden as early as last May), dicking around with the Overton Window the way we did with some success in 2015-16, thinking about the platform instead of the actual presidential campaign; trying to pull all the candidates to the "left", starting with the rush to make them sign on to Medicare For All in March 2019, in the understanding that if we took it too far the party would always have Joe Biden to fall back on, and he was sure to win.

I say "some success" last time around because while we did make Hillary Clinton into a very progressive candidate by any standard that existed at the time, we couldn't convince the Yutes of America that it had actually happened and as a result she wasn't exactly sure to win, and in fact lost, with an asterisk (more accurate to say she didn't win enough, along with the whole party, which should have gained more than six seats in the House and two in the Senate, including the great Russ Feingold, who was defeated for the second time by one of the stupidest men ever to hold a Senate seat, and you can't complain that he forgot to campaign in Wisconsin).

And Biden was far from sure to win the nomination, as he has been proving for 30 years, though he had just as good a chance as any of them to win the general election. He was in fact going to be almost as hard to nominate as Bernard Sanders (who I remain convinced can't do it before the convention, because there's a ceiling on his support at around 30%; unlike Trump in 2016, who was able to win massive numbers of delegates with weak pluralities in the GOP's winner-take-all primaries, Sanders has to share).

The fact that Biden dominated in the African American poll numbers was misinterpreted as love for Joe when it was actually, as people are seeing now, terror of a Trump victory pushing those voters to what seemed like the safest position (for black people and Latinos old enough to have a historical memory, this is a real and justified emotion; Trump policies threaten their lives and liberty and children in a way they just don't for white people), and as they begin to see it's not the safest position, they're beginning to move on, and Biden's frontrunner status is beginning to fade, and there is a big hole in the pattern that Michael Bloomberg is ready to move into, with hundreds of millions of dollars behind him. It's awful.

What I would have wished is, I don't know, that progressive candidates with a very broad potential appeal would have been taken more seriously between the limited poles defined by those who will never vote for Sanders and those who will never vote for Biden—especially my favorites, Warren and Castro and Harris in that order (Booker and Gillibrand have things that make them not travel well, in my view) instead of being shoehorned into somebody else's "lane" (I was complaining about that last May too). And that pundits would understand that most voters don't look at a laundry list of policy proposals ranked left to right but about the feeling they get on the candidate's intentions (do they care about my problems?), energy (will they work on it?), and heft (can they lean on the right people?)—semantic differential–type variables, as the policy proposals themselves might partly suggest, alongside the way they move, which parent they remind you of, and the like.

And for a tiny germ of optimism, I'd like it noted that the monster of a brokered convention is once again not ruled out, and might for once have some real value, fixing the nation's and the panditry's attention on the party and, if it's carried out with some decency such as I expect the Democratic Party to be capable of, and an appearance by Barack Obama, could end up with a widely supported and attractive candidate. OK that's asking a lot. 

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