He Woulda’ Lost

One of the favorite refrains of the Berner crowd is that “Bernie would have won.” Their logic is pretty straight forward- Hillary *barely* lost the 2016 Election, and Bernie had less baggage. The belief of Berniestan is that he would have won Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. After all, he’d do better with groups she underperformed with, he’d motivate more people, and he’s the most popular politician in the country. Right?

Hillary Clinton actually beat Bernie. Despite the fact she lost the general election, she beat Bernie Sanders handily in the 2016 primary, by every metric available. With or without super delegates, regardless of caucus or primaries, and without any DNC interference, Hillary beat him. She beat him in pledged delegates. She beat him by about 15% in the popular vote. She had all but won the nomination by March. In fact, if caucuses were eliminated in places like Nebraska and Washington, in favor of higher turnout primaries, she would have beat him even worse. When on the ballot, Bernie’s alleged popularity never showed up. He got crushed.

Hillary was once the most popular politician in America too. In fact, she was so right up until she ran for President in 2016. When you’re not a candidate, that’s normal. When you’re not the front-runner, that’s normal. When no one thinks you can win, you’re popular. Bernie did not face much in actual vetting and criticism in 2016, because no one believed he would win, ever. No one believed he would be nominated or elected. This time he will enter as one of the few front-runners in a big field. Had he been nominated in 2016, he would have faced unprecedented scrutiny, for him. A nominated Bernie would probably not be the most popular politician in the country, and would probably end up viewed quite partisanly.

Bernie is weak with white people too. Like every other Democrat in America, he’s under water. He’s above water with women, but under with men. He’s above water with African-Americans. In other words, once Bernie became known, he became similar to just about any national Democratic candidate in terms of who supports him. In other words, it’s far from clear he’d win people Hillary did not.

Bernie’s support from African-American’s is wide, but shallow. Like every other national Democratic figure, Bernie Sanders and his policies are popular with the most loyal Democratic voting bloc. The thing is, the votes never followed Bernie in 2016. He was crushed in South Carolina, and every other majority-minority primary, particularly African-American ones. His endorsed candidates in 2018 generally lost non-white voters. At no point has Bernie shown an ability to turn favorable ratings from African-American voters into votes. His inability to energize African-American voters, coupled with his rather normal white approvals, would have made winning in 2016, or for that matter 2020, very difficult.

Bernie is basically a left-wing Democrat, politically, but he simply rejects the party base. Bernie has spoken pretty openly against identity politics. In other words, he’s not trying to deepen his wide but shallow support among African-Americans, women, or Latinos. It would have been hard to turn out more of these voters by eschewing their particular interests. Given that Bernie is rather average as far as candidates go otherwise, how would he change the results of 2016?

Bernie Sanders would have lost- and would lose in 2020 if he changes nothing. While he has had high approval numbers in the past (his latest I’ve seen are 44-42), those numbers will melt towards an average Democrat’s over the course of the race. He will have to win in a rather standard, boiler plate fashion in 2020- something he was utterly incapable of in 2016. What’s worse for him is that he won’t have Hillary as a foil this time. This time it will be him under the microscope. That would have been the kiss of death in 2016. It should remain a concern in 2020.

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A Little Cold Water on Bernie and His Ideas

The year was 1992. I was 9. The youngest eligible 2020 voters were not born for another decade. The Mayor of Burlington, Vermont was elected to be the lone Congressman from his state. A full 27 years will have passed by since that night by the time the Iowa Caucus is contested in February of 2020. That former Burlington Mayor will be nearly 80 years old.

2020 is not 2016, and Bernie Sanders is not what he’s claimed to be. He’s certainly not the outsider he claimed to be in 2016- He’s been in Washington over a quarter-century. His achievements there are not numerous, and probably don’t even outshine his disastrous tenure overseeing the Veteran Affairs Department as a chairman in the U.S. Senate. His 26 years (to date) Congressional career lacks accomplishments, and would not inspire one to think he’s the change agent he claims. In fact many of his “bold” ideas- “free” college, Medicare for All, massive action on climate change, $15 minimum wage- were things he wasn’t really championing before he launched his 2016 campaign. Bernie probably wasn’t fighting for them much because he actually does understand legislating- they weren’t going to pass Congress, maybe in his lifetime, let alone career.

But let’s talk about his actual record, shall we? While his supporters beat the crap out of Hillary Clinton for saying “super predators,” Bernie actually voted for the crime bill in Congress. He voted against immigration reform in 2007. He voted to protect gun manufacturers from lawsuits connected to shooting deaths. If you google each of these votes, you’ll find Vox, or some other generally liberal news source tell you why “it’s complicated,” and you know what? It is. But we lived through 2016, where Bernie and his online bros told us why Hillary Clinton was a “neoliberal” or “corporate whore,” and why all of us were too for supporting him. Bernie’s “purity” argument against Hillary for taking campaign contributions was supposed to suggest she was corrupt by the system, that she could be bought, which is why she wanted to improve the ACA instead of push Medicare for All, or why she supported strengthening Dodd-Frank over re-passing the antiquated Glass-Steagall Act. Bernie knew his argument wasn’t grounded in reality- that’s why he took complicated votes on the 1994 Crime Bill, on protecting gun manufacturers in a pro-gun state, in immigration reform, and yes, even in support of the ACA. I can accept that legislating isn’t pure, and would give him a pass, but he and his supporters didn’t afford that same reality to Hillary Clinton.

I understand why some Democrats like Bernie’s ideas- there’s power in aspiration. It gives you something to aim at. Let me be clear though- Bernie will never, ever get you there. Is that clear enough? He has not shown a record of being able to pass difficult bills, like say a Ted Kennedy, Chris Dodd, or even (sometimes controversially) a Joe Biden. It’s not clear Democrats could get 218 votes entirely in their own 235 member House caucus without any Republican help for his health care, taxes, or energy plans. Democrats barely were able to push the ACA, “Cap and Trade,” or Dodd-Frank through the House in Obama’s first two years, with similar majorities. There’s literally zero chance of the Democrats getting 60 votes for his plans to pass the Senate in their current forms. He doesn’t have the skill and tact to do what President Obama could not, which is get Republicans to the table.

Reality isn’t something that curtails Bernie’s ambitions though. He lost the primaries in 2016 by hundreds of delegates, or by any other measure or system you want. She beat him by well north of 10% in the popular vote. She won a majority of pledged delegates. She crushed him with super delegates. He was basically done after South Carolina, and had no mathematical shot at all after New York, but kept her running all the way to California in a hopeless slog, and then all the way to the convention. Never mind that he had no plan to achieve his policy goals, he had no plan to win the nomination either. He just kept running. His wife, who bankrupt a college, had the audacity to ask the FBI to “hurry up” with their Clinton e-mail server investigation. His supporters came to the convention in Philadelphia and made it a shit show. They played right along with Trump’s “crooked Hillary” messaging. It certainly didn’t help. Bernie just kept trudging along.

Bernie Sanders is not an outsider. He’s not a revolutionary. He’s not even a Democrat. He’s an angry man that is doing this for self benefit, to the point of paying his wife, step-daughter, and son to be advisors. He knows he can’t deliver his promises, but he’ll puff you up on them anyway, to collect those $27 donations and pay his family. Fortunately, I don’t think he’ll win, or even do as well this time. For all the talk of him being “the most popular politician in the country,” it’s worth noting that Hillary was that too, before she wasn’t. This time Bernie won’t benefit from being the recipient of the “anti-Hillary” vote in what was basically a one-on-one race, and will face a large field of newer, shinier objects. Already his 40% from 2016 is down below 20% in polls, because voters are not that into him. If you were betting Bernie against the field, you’d be smart to take the field.

I hated basically everything about the 2016 election, even down to a lot of things Hillary’s campaign did, but I liked her. Bernie and his supporters made the whole experience rotten. Their online attacks didn’t stop though in 2016, and continued into the Trump era. I’m proud to say I voted against him then, and will again. I’ll wear the crazies’ attacks as a badge of honor going into 2020, right down to the enemies list I made:

I’m going to have to go with “Thank you, next,” on Bernie 2020.

Dividing Lines

The political order is breaking down right in front of us. While DC is immersed in ideological battles, we’re seeing traditional liberalism and conservatism morph right in our eyes, you have cultural liberals arguing for free trade, cultural conservatives railing against billionaires, and moderates on both sides picking and choosing amidst the carnage.

This is not to say there aren’t still more traditional left and right, or even extreme left and right. That still exists. The main point is that there are new politics emerging, like a spring blooming from the Earth. In the aftermath of 2016, there are new coalitions forming, some good, some bad.

Americans aren’t satisfied with their political choices. This is why 42% self-identify as independent. It’s why more radical voices are rising on the left and right. It’s why people who lack credibility (Trump, Bernie, AOC) are gaining followings. People want to hear what they want to hear, not what is “possible” or “electable.” It’s why talking about the cost of something, or Congressional viability, or details of a plan haven’t derailed some of the frauds and grifters who have risen in our politics. Nobody cares about what’s wrong with their lies.

The only way out of this hellscape is vision. Someone will have to put something real, appealing, and truly good for people’s lives on the table. Tax subsidies for Amazon to bring minimum wage jobs to Queens aren’t exciting, even if they’re an upgrade for people who need more income there. Activists will sabotage that every time, because there’s no real joy in it. People want their standard of living improved. They want opportunity. The only way to stop them from dumb ideas is to offer good ones.

Income Assistance for those “Unwilling to Work,” Cow Farts, Killing the Airline Industry, and Placating Some Folks

Call me cynical- I don’t believe AOC’s botched roll out of her “Green New Deal” was a mistake. The Justice Dems poster child and former Bernie Sanders organizer has promised to “lean in” to an oncoming “war” in the Democratic Party, complete with primaries across the party. She’s been clear that she’s not willing to compromise with anyone, on much of anything. Her response to Democrats that want to repair Obamacare instead of overhaul the system for Medicare for All was very telling:

There are lots of questions to be answered on Medicare for All, and plenty of good reasons to look at other alternatives that get you to universality, or at least better than you have now. AOC isn’t willing to look at them though, and the reasoning has been hiding in plain sight for a long time now- her goal is eliminating any moderation within the Democratic Party. Why, you ask? Because AOC and Bernie Sanders aren’t radical or extreme anymore if everyone agrees with them.

Take the Green New Deal resolution AOC has been leading the charge on along with Senator Markey. There is nothing extreme about putting forward an actual bill (not a Resolution) to combat climate change, develop green energy, and create millions of jobs- in fact it’s smart policy on every level. During the roll out the details were a bit hazy, but the concept is so good that old pros like Markey wanted to join AOC’s cause. So did some of the party’s Presidential candidates too. It seemed like a good idea, not just harmless.

Then of course, came the details. They weren’t so good. The “FAQs” (frequently asked questions) weren’t signed off on by anyone else, and didn’t match the actual resolution. There was talk of income assistance for “those unwilling to work,” a Republican messaging wet dream. Then there was talk of cow farts. Yes, really. And yes, there was mention of eliminating airline travel. Yes, she uses planes regularly. And yes, they included language saying nuclear energy is off the table. It was an ugly “screw up,” one they even tried to claim was doctored- it wasn’t.

There are pretty decent arguments to be had for universal income, cutting back consumption of red meat, cutting back flight traffic, and not making nuclear energy central to our energy future- and nowhere near universal support for doing anything. I doubt that Democrats want to campaign on eliminating the union jobs in the nuclear sector, ending steak and burger consumption, closing airports, and giving tax dollars to “lazy people”- which is exactly how Donald Trump and Republicans will label those ideas, while spending millions of dollars to tell swing voters in Michigan and Pennsylvania just how radical Democrats are. Presented this way, you can’t build majority support for any of it. That’s even more true among swing voters.

So why release this? If you want to believe it was an honest mistake, have at it. Of course, you’re being willfully ignorant though. Why release anything to accompany the actual resolution, which was pretty clear on it’s own? FAQs can be helpful to the press, sure, but why did a draft version exist with a bunch of things not in the actual resolution? Their FAQs describe what might as well have been a different resolution altogether, so why was this draft written in the first place? How was the office staff so incompetent as to release the wrong version? I mean really, they’re calling for a massive overhaul of our energy policies and economy as a whole, but they can’t use a Congressional website correctly? If they’re truly just incompetent in this case, that should worry you too.

All of this leads me to the conclusion that they’re actually not incompetent, this wasn’t a mistake, and this was the plan all along. The idea was to have the entire Democratic “establishment” get behind the ideas that some would call “radical”- because if everyone agrees with AOC (and of course Bernie), then you can’t call them extreme or radical anymore. They’re now the mainstream. Their ideas are mainstreamed by the endorsement of them coming from the rest of the Democratic Party. Try arguing to the press that these other Democrats “didn’t sign onto that,” because they signed onto the actual resolution instead. It’s muddled messaging at best, and impossible at worst. Lefty activists will ask why they oppose the Green New Deal. The press will drag them into the weeds. The GOP will mock them over the details in the FAQs and call them radicals.

Inevitably AOC will eventually endorse her old boss Bernie, in part because she agrees with him, and in part because he’s a nice placeholder until she’s eligible to run herself. When his opponents try to label him as unelectable and extreme, she’ll trot out to his defense and not that they agreed with him, on this and other matters, such as health care. Trump will elevate her in the debate as a representative of the Democratic Party of 2020, because he sees her as vulnerable among the voters he needs. She’ll embrace that image. Everyone will be forced to pick sides. Being that so many Democrats are embracing her now, it will be tough to get back the space later. Welcome to being pinned in the corner.

Re-Alignment

I registered to vote in 2001, as a Democrat. Michael Bloomberg was a Republican, no one was discussing whether or not demographic politics were destiny or not, and Donald Trump beating a Clinton or a Bush for President seemed like a total joke.

The two parties are changing quickly, right before our eyes. The Republican Party of 2001 was very different than 2019. Gone are the aristocratic Bush types at the top. Gone is the globalist view of military engagement and global trade from the Bush days, and in it’s place is Trump isolationist policy. The Republican Party is now a cultural identity party for “traditional” America, stressing nationalism, law and order, and aggressive anti-elitism. They’re both longing for a cultural America that is traditional, but also calling into question the last 80 years of globalism in American foreign policy. This is a far cry from the Republican Party of Bush- a neoconservative foreign policy, pro-big business (which they still mostly are in policy, but not as much rhetoric.), and theocratic morality politics.

The Democratic Party is basically on another planet too. Bill Clinton’s moderation politics are taking a beating from the activists. “Safe, legal, and rare” to describe abortion policy would almost be disqualifying in a primary. The party has moved a solid step left on everything from taxes to guns, from abortion to criminal justice reform, on health care to LGBT rights. Would a Democrat reiterate Bill Clinton’s pronunciation that “the era of big government is over” in a 2022 State of the Union? Would they even consider a balanced budget, such as Clinton oversaw, as a positive? While the reality is that the Democrats have not really moved crazy left as a practical matter, the rhetoric has shifted dramatically. The Democratic Party is abandoning much of the strategic practicality of Clinton and Obama for more ideological, direct appeal to what it sees as it’s base.

Perhaps that is the biggest shift in American politics over the past 18 years- who each party views as it’s base. When I started in politics in 2002, the Rust Belt man in a Ford pick-up truck was a Democrat, or at least a swing voter. The wealthier suburbs of Philadelphia were moderate Republicans. Now that’s switched. For all the talk of rural Republicans and urban, more diverse Democrats, perhaps those changes are minor compared to the exchange of blue collar whites to Republicans, and educated, white collar whites to Democrats. The Democratic Party is now more Starbucks, the Republicans more Dunkin (for the record, I love both.). The Democratic Party is adapting to a coalition of white collar suburban white people joining African-Americans and most every other group that is considered a minority. The Republicans, under the colorful rhetoric of Trump, are welcoming blue collar, lower middle class, Rust Belt whites to their billionaires and traditionalists.

The biggest driver of the political shifts is the way the two parties now view America’s place in the world. Donald Trump’s new base has driven the Republicans away from international trade deals, rhetorically against cheap foreign labor, to want out of NATO, to want to withdraw from treaties such as KORUS, and to want out of conflicts in places like Syria and Afghanistan. The basic tenet of the Trump doctrine is “why are we paying for it” with regards to the world, and for a desire to spend that money at home. Just as dramatic is the shift on the Democratic side. The Democratic Party is suddenly the party of free trade, foreign intervention in places like Syria, and arguing for at least a more liberal border. Republicans are increasingly uninterested in international collaboration with allies like Canada, South Korea, and our traditional EU allies. Democrats aren’t feeling so great about collaborating with nations they see as against their values, such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, or Italy. This shift has had impacts both in foreign and domestic policy.

All of this has left some people out of place in their own political parties. Michael Bloomberg, mentioned above, has gone from a Republican, to an independent, to a Democrat. The Blue Dog Democrats are virtually gone away, while there aren’t pro-choice Republicans in Congress anymore. Those pieces of their coalitions have left them, eliminating the base of support for most of those members. They’ve gradually lost primaries to more ideological candidates, and lost general elections because their own voters abandoned them.

The major question for the future is if the left-right divide will break down- will the Bernie voters and Trump voters eventually link up? Both are populists that want to shock the system. One took over their party, the other has not been able to so far. Could they eventually all be in the Republican camp if Democrats continue to reject populism?

We are living through a realignment in our politics that is changing both coalitions. The political parties are not what they were when I registered. If you had told me in 2001 that a Republican President would be for isolationist trade and foreign policies, and that I’d oppose that President like I do, I would not believe you. So imagine America by 2040.

Democrats Need to be Clear and Honest on Health Care

Medicare for All- what the hell does that mean? Is it socialized medicine? What does it cost? Is it Medicare Advantage? Does the rest of the world have it? Will taxes go up? Will private insurance go away? Once you dig under the buzz words, you realize it’s not quite that clear what this plan is. There could be serious differences between the Democratic candidates on how to do it.

First off, understand the politics- the idea of Obamacare polled really well in 2007 and 2008, when it was buzzwords, talking points, and the abstract, but was a political death sentence by 2010. Calling it “Medicare” polls very well, but understand that this government health care expansion will be a lot different than a health program for seniors. Here are a few facts to understand:

  1. “Medicare for All” is cheaper than our current system, but maybe not for you. A “Medicare for All” government plan is cheaper than our current health care system costs in total. That doesn’t mean *you* would save. For millions of Americans right now, they get their health insurance given to them, or at a greatly reduced cost. If you are currently insured by your employer, or you are on Medicare, or you go to the VA, or you get Medicaid or CHIP, you probably get your insurance mostly free, or already paid into it, or are only paying a portion. If you’re going to expand Medicare to everyone in America, there’s at least a chance that everyone will have to pay more in taxes (better than a chance, but you get me). If you’re getting free or very affordable insurance now, but your taxes would go up for “Medicare for All,” it will cost you more. So yes, this system would be cheaper, but you might pay more.
  2. If you’re expanding health car under Medicare, you have to lift the cap on payroll taxes. Medicare is financed by the payroll tax. If you’re going to insure tens of millions of more people under the Medicare program, you would have to increase the cap on payroll taxes from the first $132,900 it is at this year. This would not effect people making less than $132,900. It would effect wealthier people. If you don’t acknowledge the tax increase is a part of this though, you’re lying.
  3. It’s not “Medicare.” You pay into Medicare through the payroll tax throughout your working career, then receive the benefits when you enroll. For most people, you pay in for about 40 years, then receive the benefits for ten to fifteen years (about life expectancy). Under a program that covers everyone, you would be both paying in and receiving benefits at once. Fiscally, this is an entirely different program. Medicare was created to provide care for elderly, more expensive people, to get them out of the insurance pools, and keep them cheaper. Expanding Medicare to everyone is a very different program.
  4. Almost every developed nation has universal coverage, but not that many have pure single-payer care. If you look across Europe, everyone lives in a country with universal care. Not everybody lives in a single-payer system. Many countries, like Poland for instance, cover all the basics and then lets you buy beyond that for your needs. Everybody in all of these countries can go to the ER with a broken bone and get their care covered. But you don’t just get everything. Some nations have coverage caps, some have limited coverage, and some have other forms of hybrid systems.
  5. Eliminating all private insurance companies or not is a big policy difference. When Senator Harris said she would eliminate private insurers on CNN, some people called that a minor detail. It’s not. Eliminating all private insurers means a fully government run, single-payer system. It means you’re not going to manage the Medicare system through private insurers, or leaving some parts of the system to private insurers. That might be preferable. It’s not minor though.
  6. There are other options, including Medicaid. If the goal is universal insurance, you don’t have to it through Medicare, or even a single-payer system. Some states, most notably Nevada, have considered expanding Medicaid to cover more of their non-Medicare eligible citizens. By leaving Medicare to seniors, the idea is that you’re covering more or all of the cheaper population together, without messing with the Medicare program. Medicaid is able to get comparable outcomes for recipients to Medicare, and do it cheaper, because it’s not covering more sickly seniors. Expanding Medicaid, or expanding it and increasing ACA subsidies for private care, are just a couple of other options beyond “Medicare for All.”
  7. This isn’t socialized medicine. While conservatives may try to scare you by calling this socialized medicine, it is not. This isn’t a takeover of the doctors and hospitals. It’s a potential takeover of the insurance. This is a pretty big difference.
  8. This is super expensive. The cost estimates of this plan are between $3.2 and $3.5 trillion dollars per year. This is over 75% of the entire federal budget right now. You can’t do this with just a few cuts to Defense Spending. The cost of this program is about 450% of the Pentagon Budget. You don’t get there cutting waste. You get there with tax increases.
  9. There are other problems created by killing the insurance industry. So if you get rid of private insurance, what happens next? Where do the workers in that sector of the economy go? Do we hire them all into the government? Do we pay them all unemployment? Do we pay for them all to be re-trained? How about all the retirement funds, public and private, that own stock in insurance companies (likely your’s does)? How do we fix that? There’s unforeseen side issues that come from nationalizing insurance. What’s the plan for them?
  10. The Devil is in the details. When President Obama began his 2010 overhaul of the health care system in 2009, a large majority of Americans supported it. By 2010, they supported it. Then everyone hated the ACA until Trump wanted to repeal it in 2017. Why the swings in mood? People will want to know how any plan effects them. Will they be able to keep their plan? Will their taxes go up? Will they lose their years of paying into the system? The details matter. They move public opinion. Where they aren’t clear, they assume the worst.

The assumption that current positive polling on “Medicare for All” will remain if it actually has a chance to happen are silly at best. If this is the road Democrats want to go down, they better line up all the details, and be honest about them. Failure to do so cost them the Congress in 2010, and could hurt them in 2020 or 2022 now.

We Need an Income Floor, Not Necessarily a Ceiling

One of the enjoyable things going on right now in politics is an actual debate about taxes. You have Michael Bloomberg and Howard Schultz saying wealth taxes are bad for the economy. You have AOC saying we should tax “the $10,000,000th dollar at 70%,” or something. And you have Elizabeth Warren calling for a wealth tax, on savings, of the top 0.01%. This is a healthy, robust debate, one we need. We’re running $1 trillion debts, our nation is crumbling of neglect at home, and our tax code is a total mess, thanks to everyone from Ronald Reagan to Paul Ryan.

I think we’re having the wrong debate though. I’m not saying we shouldn’t debate millionaires and billionaires, and their tax bills, but I think that debate should take a backseat to how we tax our poor and middle class. The discussion we need to be having is how to create more tax free money at the bottom of the income bracket, essentially “shifting” the loopholes to the working class people.

Nobody should pay taxes on their first $30,000 of income. Literally nobody. Make all of that money tax free, because that’s literally what you need to survive. The first $30,000 pays for your food, your housing, your clothing, and your health care (in fact, I’m probably underestimating it). This money shouldn’t be taxable. If I’m really being honest, people making below $30,000 should be guaranteed a tax return that gets them to $30,000, essentially creating universal guaranteed income (UGI) for all Americans. I’d up this number to something like $45,000 for couples and $60,000 for families of four. For those that call this crazy and fiscally irresponsible, I remind you that we would save much more when we don’t need as much money in welfare programs.

I would apply this principle on taxes besides income too. The payroll tax would start at $30,000, and would certainly not be capped at $132,900 (as it is now), if capped at all. Corporations and businesses would be incentivized in the tax code to be good corporate citizens, including paying a living wage, allowing unionization, giving paid vacation and medical leave, and offering health insurance and retirement to workers. If you start applying the principle of a robust income “floor,” or safety net, you start solving a lot of the failure in our economy. By the same token, companies paying below a living wage and not taking care of their workers should pay more. Essentially if we’re paying the UGI I described above to someone who has a job, their deadbeat employer should be paying taxes that make up the difference.

I’m not sure how I feel, to be honest, about wealth and windfall tax plans. I don’t oppose them. I’m also not sure I love them. What I am more bothered by is the existence of the working poor in America, not as much the super rich. We need to take better care of Americans living in poverty and even middle class conditions, and we should draw up a tax code that makes that happen.

All the Things No One Will Say on Howard Schultz

If you watch too much cable news, you might think “Centrist Independent” Howard Schultz is likely to be our next President. He’s been on every channel, he has top tier surrogates like Steve Schmidt talking for him, Donald Trump is attacking him on Twitter, and Democratic talking heads are angry that someone would dare run as an independent and call them too liberal. It’s all more than a bit dishonest. Howard Schultz, despite all of his money, is not likely to do much better than Teddy Roosevelt (1912), Strom Thurmond and Henry Wallace (1948), George Wallace (1968), John Anderson (1980), Ross Perot (1992&1996), Ralph Nader (2000), or Gary Johnson and Jill Stein (2016) did in their losing third party candidacies. Roosevelt and Perot were plenty rich, but couldn’t buy votes. The one thing both of them can share with Nader and Stein though is that many people blame them for the outcome.

I’ve said I don’t think Schultz should do this, despite agreeing with some of the points he’s making. Donald Trump tweeting attacks at him was incredibly validating. It’s not that I’m sure Schultz would hurt one party more than the other, it’s the mere possibility that he could possibly help Trump. Donald Trump is attacking Schultz because a third party candidate could lower the threshold he needs to reach to win in the key states, and Trump needs that with his low poll numbers. Donald Trump’s 46% in 2016 was very low for a Presidential candidate, and his approval has never been that high again. Trump may need to be able to win with 42% or lower in 2020. He’s tweeting that he hates Schultz, but privately he loves him.

The Democrats don’t deserve a badge of honor here either. Hillary Clinton got 48% in 2016, Barack Obama got 51% and 53% in his two victories. If you genuinely believe that Howard Schultz is likely to play spoiler, you probably believe Schultz is going to knock the Democrats below Hillary’s number. That means you think the 2020 nominee will be less capable than Clinton, run a worse campaign than Clinton, AND that their message will resonate with less voters than Hillary’s did, let alone President Obama’s. If you believe Howard Schultz is going to pick off moderate Democrats, you’re basically proving Schultz’s point that the Democratic Party is too liberal. Given how important this election is, if you realize this now, wouldn’t it be more productive to do something about it than go on TV and complain about this guy? Perhaps there is more doubt in the DC crowd than they let on.

Then there’s Schultz, Steve Schmidt, Bill Burton, and everyone else associated with this campaign- they’re all too smart to believe what they’re saying. They know that the 40% of the public that call themselves independent aren’t all centrists. I actually don’t believe these guys are trying to play spoiler, I think they all genuinely dislike Trump. I think they made a self-interest decision that could endanger the election. They decided that a rich, white, moderate businessman that thinks AOC is a bit nutty isn’t going to win the Democratic primary voters over, because they’re simply more liberal. So they’re going to skip the primary and just run in the general election. They see votes to grab from all sides. There are some centrist independents. There are “Never Trumpers” in the GOP. There’s even the chunk of Trump voters that fall between his hardcore base of 33% and his 46% 2016 performance. They also see a moderate wing of Democrats who are increasingly isolated in their own party, people who are terrified of Trump, but find the party’s left to be ridiculous. How many of the low-affinity partisans can they grab from both sides? They’ve probably determined enough to compete. If it’s not enough to win though, there’s a better than decent shot they would spoil it for one side or the other. They either are in denial of that, or more likely know that saying so would hurt their case.

I find some of what Schultz is saying to be refreshing, but I find almost all of what everyone is saying on his candidacy to be dishonest, including himself. In normal times, I’d be very willing to debate if the Democratic Party is a responsible political party, but when Donald Trump is siding with Neo-Nazis and the Kremlin I think we have to focus on the real problem at hand. The coverage he’s getting needs to focus on the low likelihood that he can win, what his real pathway is, and the very real possibility that he ends up throwing the election one way or the other.

A Bold, New World View, Part 11- Regionalism Still Matters

Read Part 1 here.

Read Part 2 here.

Read Part 3 here.

Read Part 4 here.

Read Part 5 here.

Read Part 6 here.

Read Part 7 here.

Read Part 8 here.

Read Part 9 here.

Read Part 10 here.

Who is the Democratic base? This has been the central debate between Hillary and Bernie supporters since 2016. Hillary supporters largely argued that women and African-Americans, and most specifically African-American women, as well as Latinos, made up the “base” of the Democratic Party. Bernie supporters argued that the base were the most feverish ideological leftists in the party. I think Hillary supporters were wrong only in being overly general. I think Bernie supporters are just wrong. The Hillary “base” is slightly too small, unequally distributed, and ignores regionalism. The Bernie coalition is just not a majority, and probably never will be.

I don’t believe either political party has what amounts to a national base. Different political issues animate different regions of the country, and the demographics change dramatically. Even within regions there can be dramatic shifts from places like North Philadelphia to suburban Willow Grove, just minutes into the suburbs. Democrats can’t “nationalize” the question of their base. To be fair, Republicans can’t either, even though their demographic of voter is mostly the same everywhere.

Hillary’s defined base worked well enough to win the nomination, largely because it worked in the South. Hillary had a lot of success in 2008 in the west by winning the Latino base there. Hillary walloped President Obama in the Rust Belt states because she won the “labor/working class” demographic, the same people she lost badly to both Bernie and Trump in 2016. Every region of the country has it’s own “base Democratic” voting block. There are overlapping issues of economic fairness and access to opportunity, but the animating issues change. Labor issues are huge in Wisconsin, but voting rights are huge in Georgia. I can’t imagine a Democratic nominee opposed to either one, but the fight at this point seems to be over which set of issues get to be center stage.

What about the Republican Party though? Right-wing populism dominates in Appalachia and the South, energy issues in Texas and much of the Plains and Southwest, while tax cuts in the North. Rather than fighting over whether the tax cuts for their Northeast donors should take precedence over union busting in Wisconsin, or a border wall for Arizona and Kentucky, they just say all of the above. If their Wyoming Congresswoman wants to talk guns and energy exploration while their Massachusetts Governor talks tax cuts, they’re fine. A national nominee from the GOP will be expected to cut taxes, appoint conservatives to the judiciary, spend on the military, protect gun rights, and be tough on immigration- even though these positions make no sense together at times.

Regionalism also does a lot to explain elected official behavior too. Bernie Sanders famously was less tough on gun manufacturers than Hillary fans wanted. Cory Booker is more pharma friendly than many Midwestern members of Congress, but many of them are friendly towards agribusiness in a way he doesn’t have to be. Members of Congress represent the people who elect them, in fact all elected officials do. For that reason, almost no one has a 100% partisanship score in Congress. It would be nice to be ideologically pure, but most American voters aren’t ideological.

It is a fun, but almost always overlooked fact that the United States has no national election. Even Presidential elections are really 50 individual state elections (plus DC), where you have to win the electoral college, not the popular vote. Inevitably, the concerns of your district or state will occasionally trump the ideological concerns of your party. If you want to stay in office very long, you’d be best to hear that warning.

Math Still Needs to Matter in Government

The moment that Bernie Sanders went from “harmless old man” to a problem for me happened in New York. It wasn’t primary day though. It was when he bombed the New York Daily News Editorial staff interview. It’s not a matter of his ideas, but rather that he really had no idea how he would do any of it. There was no substance in his plans. Just catchphrases. Bernie was pretty much exposing himself as unprepared to be President.

I’m not sure Democrats are in a better place with the left as we approach the three year mark. Last week I engaged with a Twitter follower who supported Bernie and loves AOC and noted the lack of a funding plan for many of their big ideas. Their response was chilling to me- that we need to stop holding political leaders to the standard of paying for their ideas, because “that leads to conservative outcomes.” In other words, will away the inconveniences of governing.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Tulsi Gabbard, and Ro Khanna voted against the House Rules package crafted by Nancy Pelosi on January 3rd, and their stated reason was opposition to a rule called “Pay Go,” a provision that requires you to find the revenue, through taxes, spending cuts, or spending shifts, to finance any new plans. The rule came about in her first tenure as Speaker, after George W. Bush has cut taxes, fought two wars, passed Medicare Part D, and done No Child Left Behind with no funding mechanism- all as debt. The United States was running trillion dollar debts in those days, as we are now, after the Trump-Ryan 2017 tax cut debacle.

It’s important to remember two key things about Pelosi’s “Pay Go” rule.

  1. She can lift it for major legislative priorities, and she pledged to do so. While “Pay Go” applies day-to-day, it is not a hard and fast rule. It is there to institute discipline on the average, but the Speaker can instruct the House Rules Committee to lift it on priority legislation, such as Medicare for All, if she chooses. She has pledged, as I said above, to do so when major priorities come up.
  2. We are projected to pay $364 billion in FY 2019 on debt services (interest). That’s what we’re paying just to finance our debt- not fix a single program. You could dramatically expand Medicaid or improve ACA subsidies with that, if you weren’t paying it to rich people for buying our debt. You could finance a major green jobs bill, an infrastructure bill, or any number of other major bills. We quite literally spending half the Pentagon budget to sell bonds to finance our debt. This is clearly a waste, to any sane person.

The fiscal behavior of Republicans, post Bush 41 raising taxes to deal with deficits, has been atrocious. They only worry about costs when money is being spent to help poor and middle class people, and otherwise are willing to bankrupt the country. The idea behind Pelosi’s rules package was simply to not be Paul Ryan– not block a national health care bill.

But back to the argument made at me on Twitter- screw paying for the things we want, just pass them. I get the moral equivalency argument, why should Democrats limit themselves when trying to do good things, Republicans just do the bad stuff they want. The difference though is that Democrats are the party that believes in using the government to solve problems, so they have a responsibility to make it work right. Running up more debt because math is hard is setting up the government for financial issues later. The price of debt (interest on bonds) is pretty much directly tied to the price buyers are willing to pay at auction, which is based on their confidence in the investment. It’s worth being responsible, if only to check that.

The real problem I have with the lefties that argue debt doesn’t matter, and we shouldn’t have to fully fund “good” programs is that they’re just lazy- there are actual questions to some of these questions, which people sometimes even get close to proposing. In AOC’s defense (I don’t do that often), proposing a 70% tax on income over $10 million, which she loosely suggested to fund her “Green New Deal” is popular, not overly radical, and has historical precedence. Elizabeth Warren’s suggestion for a windfall tax on wealth may be plausible. You could expand Medicare and Social Security massively if you raised the ceiling on payroll taxes to apply to 90% of earnings, as Ronald Reagan did in the 1990’s- and the majority of earners wouldn’t even pay a dime more. While you can’t realistically cut the Pentagon the way some on the left propose, a 10% cut of waste spending on weapons we don’t even use could finance a nationwide free community college and trade school program that would greatly alter the landscape on college tuition costs. There are actual ways to do their plans, and you don’t even have to be brilliant to figure them out. They’re just lazy, or willfully ignorant.

My guess is that some of these lefties know this, but still want to live in fiscal fantasy land for one reason- politics. Selling tax increases is hard. A national health care plan and climate change plan was incredibly popular in 2007 and 2008, but by 2010 it was contributing to Democrats losing the House. The devil is always in the details. Unless you don’t do the details, and just say we don’t have to pay for it. Then you can live in ignorant bliss forever, and propose any crazy idea you want, without consequence.