Sunday, June 30, 2019


Weekend Roundup

I paid rather little attention to the Democratic Party presidential debates this week: Laura watched them, I overheard some bits, saw some more (not so fairly selected) on Colbert and Myers, and read a few odd things. Some links here, including a few non-debate ones that highlight various candidates, but no attempt at comprehensive:

  • Kate Aronoff: Jay Inslee just dropped the most ambitious climate plan from a presidential candidate. Here's who it targets.

  • Zack Beauchamp: 4 winners and 2 losers from the two nights of Democratic debates: For instance, he counts "Bernie Sanders' ideas" as a winner, but Sanders himself as a loser.

  • Robert L Borosage: The second Democratic debate proved that Bernie really has transformed the party.

  • Ryan Bort and others: A report card for every candidate from the first Democratic debates.

  • Laura Bronner and others at FiveThirtyEight: The first Democratic debate in five charts.

  • David Brooks: Dems, please don't drive me away. My gut reaction is that there's nothing I feel less interest in than mollifying the vain egos of "Never Trump" conservatives. I'd take his polling reports with a grain of salt ("35 percent of Americans call themselves conservative, 35 percent call themselves moderate and 26 percent call themselves liberal"), and also doubt his self-characterization as "moderate," but I'll quote his stab at articulating the "moderate" viewpoint:

    Finally, Democrats aren't making the most compelling moral case against Donald Trump. They are good at pointing to Trump's cruelties, especially toward immigrants. They are good at describing the ways he is homophobic and racist. But the rest of the moral case against Trump means hitting him from the right as well as the left.

    A decent society rests on a bed of manners, habits, traditions and institutions. Trump is a disrupter. He rips to shreds the codes of politeness, decency, honesty and fidelity, and so renders society a savage world of dog eat dog. Democrats spend very little time making this case because defending tradition, manners and civility sometimes cuts against the modern progressive temper.

    Actually, the further left you go the more sharply moralistic the critique of Trump becomes, but despite his "savage world of dog eat dog" line Brooks can't hear this because he only recognizes morality as the imposition of conservative order, where inequality is a given. Brooks' "moderates" are closet conservatives. While there are many Democrats (not just moderate- but also liberal-identified) who agree with most of Brooks' verities ("politeness, decency, honesty and fidelity"), Brooks' knee-jerk anti-left instincts prevent him from joining any democratic movement he can't dictate to. In particular, he cannot conceive of the need to lean a bit harder to the left than he'd like in order to get back to the center he so adores. [PS: Just found this, but not yet interested enough to read: Benjamin Wallace-Wells: David Brooks's conversion story.

  • Alexander Burns/Jonathan Martin: Liberal Democrats ruled the debates. Will moderates regain their voices? Pieces like this are annoying, and are only likely to become more so, and more strident, as the election approaches. A better question is: will "moderates" find anything constructive to say? Their most succinct declaration so far is Biden's assurance that "nothing would change" under a Biden presidency. I suppose that's more honest than the "hope and change" Obama campaigned on in 2008, let alone Bill ("Man from Hope" Clinton's populist spiel 1992, but at least Clinton and Obama waited until after the election to hand their administrations over to crony capitalists and sell out their partisan base. Left/liberals dominate the debates because: the voters recognize that most Americans face real and immediate problems; the left/liberals have put a lot of thought into how to deal with those problems, and the only credible solutions are coming from the left; having been burned before, the party base is looking not just for hope/change but for commitment. It's going to be hard for "moderates" to convince people to follow without promising to lead them somewhere better.

  • John Cassidy: Joe Biden's faltering debate performance raises big doubts about his campaign.

  • Alvin Chang: Kamala Harris got a huge number of people curious about Joe Biden's busing record.

  • Zak Cheney-Rice: Kamala Harris ends the era of coddling Joe Biden on race.

  • Maureen Dowd: Kamala shotguns Joe Sixpack. Favorite line here, and you can guess the context: "In my experience, candidates with advisers who belittle them on background do not win elections." I rarely read Dowd, finding her longer on snark than analysis, but you may enjoy (as I did) her Blowhard on the brink. Again, you can guess the context.

  • David Frum: The second debate gives Democrats three reasons to worry: The view of a Trump hater who hasn't really changed any other of his right-wing views: "the weakness of former Vice President Joe Biden"; "the weakness of the next tier of normal Democratic candidates -- especially Harris -- in the face of left-wing pressure"; "the unwillingness and inability of any of the candidates -- except, quietly, Biden -- to defend their party's most important domestic reform since the Lyndon Johnson administration: Obamacare."

  • Abby Goodnough/Thomas Kaplan: Democrat vs. Democrat: How health care is dividing the party: "An issue that united the party in 2018 has potential to fracture it in 2020." What united the party was the universally felt need to defend ACA against Republican attempts to degrade and destruct it. Looking forward, I think there are very few Democrats who don't see the main goal as comprehensive health care coverage, as a universal right. The differences arise over how to get there from where we are now. One way to do that would be to expand Medicaid and private insurance subsidies under the ACA, and one thing that would help with the latter would be to offer a non-profit "public option" to ensure that insurance markets are competitive. One way to provide that public option would be to let people buy into America's already-established public health insurance option: Medicare. Many candidates have proposals to allow some people to do that. I expect that a Democratic Congress and President to move quickly on implementing some of those proposals to shore up ACA. It's not the case that proponents of a true government-run single-payer system will cripple ACA to force us to take their preferred route (e.g., Bernie Sanders voted for ACA). But there is one major problem with ACA: the Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot force everyone to participate in a scheme that requires some people to buy private insurance. That's a bad ruling, but fixing the Supreme Court is likely to be a harder sell than Medicare-for-All -- especially given that the latter promises better coverage for less cost than any private/public mix of competing insurance plans. You may wonder why some Democrats are against Medicare-for-All. The main reason is they believe the insurance companies are too powerful to fight, but one thing you'll notice is that the people saying that (e.g., Ezekiel Emmanuel) are mostly beneficiaries of insurance industry payola. That preference for ACA over Medicare-for-All is seen as a sign of "moderation" only shows that "moderates" don't have the guts, the stamina, or even the imagination to fight for better solutions. Put Democrats who stand up for their principles and their people in the White House and Congress, and the "moderates" will start compromising in the direction of progress. Until then, why should we listen to anything they say? [PS: For some diagramming, see: Dylan Scott: The 2 big disagreements between 2020 Democratic candidates on Medicare-for-all.]

  • Jeet Heer: Elizabeth Warren's ideas dominated the debate more than her stage presence.

  • Umair Irfan: Climate change got just 15 minutes out of 4 hours of Democratic debates.

  • Caitlin Johnston: Kamala Harris is everything the establishment wants in a politician. Proof of point is no matter how hard the author tries to attack Harris, she only winds up making her look more formidable (which is something we desperately crave, isn't it?).

  • Sarah Jones: Elizabeth Warren thinks we need more diplomats.

  • Jen Kirby: Foreign policy was a loser in the Democratic debates.

  • Michael Kruse: The 2008 class that explains Elizabeth Warren's style.

  • Dylan Matthews and other Vox writers: 4 winners and 3 losers from the second night of the Democratic debates.

  • Anna North: Kirsten Gillibrand gave her opponents a history lesson on abortion politics at the debate.

  • Ilana Novick: Why are Democrats afraid to end private health insurance?

  • Andrew Prokop: This wasn't the way Joe Biden wanted the first debate to go.

  • Gabriel Resto-Montero: Democrats rally behind Kamala Harris following Donald Trump Jr.'s "birther-style" tweet.

  • Frank Rich: Kamala Harris's debate performance should scare Trump.

    There may be no word that Trump fears more than "prosecutor," and no professional expertise that the Democratic base is more eager to see inflicted on him. At a juncture when Trump defends himself against a charge of rape by sliming women who are not his "type," Harris's emergence could not be better timed. She is not his "type," heaven knows, and, not unlike her fellow San Franciscan Nancy Pelosi, she is not a "type" he knows how to deal with at any level, whether on Twitter or a debate stage.

  • David Rothkopf: Hey Dems, take it from this ex-centrist: We blew it. Author is one of the guy who made the Clinton Administration a money-making machine for Wall Street, so that's where he's come from.

    As the first round of debates among Democratic candidates for president clearly showed, the intellectual vitality of the Democratic Party right now is coming from progressives. On issue after issue, the vast majority of the candidates embraced views that have been seen as progressive priorities for years -- whether that may have been a pledge to provide healthcare for all or vows to repeal tax cuts benefiting the rich, whether it was prioritizing combating our climate crisis or seeking to combat economic, gender, and racial inequality in America.

    Indeed, as the uneven or faltering performance of its champions showed, it appears that the center is withering, offering only the formulations of the past that many see as having produced much of the inequality and many of the divisions and challenges of today.

    During the debates and indeed in recent years, it has been hard to identify one new "centrist" idea, one new proposal from the center that better deals with economic insecurity, climate, growth, equity, education, health, or inclusion. You won't find them in part because the ideas of the center are so based on compromise, and for most of the past decade it has been clear, there is no longer a functioning, constructive right of center group with which to compromise.

  • Aaron Rupar: The Democratic debates helped demonstrate the dubiousness of online polls: "Gabbard and Yang were the big winners -- on Drudge, at least."

  • Dylan Scott: Kamala Harris's raised hand reveals the fraught politics of Medicare-for-all. This refers to one of the more weaselly moments in the two debates, where the moderators asked for a show of hands of those who would "abolish private health insurance." The only candidates who raised their hands were Bill de Blasio, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. The framing was designed to split the ranks of Democrats who believe health care should be a universal right, but have different ideas about how to get that from where we are now: creating a public option under Obamacare would help, and/or allowing individuals or various groups to buy into Medicare, are approaches that have broad support. Moreover, nearly everyone who supports those schemes (and for that matter who opposes them) believes that a public insurance program would ultimately drive for-profit private insurance companies out of the arena, even if they were never explicitly prohibited. But the other thing that's confusing about the question is that many (if not most) of the current users of Medicare have private supplemental insurance policies, which pick up most of the co-payments and shortages that current Medicare sticks you with. Sanders' plan would fill in those holes, truly eliminating the need for supplemental insurance, but to most people the words "Medicare for all" leaves open a role for some kind of private supplemental insurance.

  • Danny Sjursen:

    • The Tulsi effect: forcing war onto the Democratic agenda. Misleading to say "she is the only candidate who has made ending the wars a centerpiece of her campaign," as several others are leaning more or less strongly in that direction, but her scrap with Tim Ryan is worth recounting. I don't give her military background anything like the special weight she claims. I'd rather people not have to learn lessons the hard way, but it says something when they do.

    • The Democratic Party can't escape its own militarism: Mostly on Beto O'Rourke, who seems to be hitting this theme hard. Sjursen, like Andrew Bacevich, is an ex-military anti-war conservative, which gives him some peculiar opinions (like favoring bringing back the draft) and no sympathy whatsoever for liberal Democrats. I think at least part of the reason so many of the latter feel so warm and cozy with veterans is that they're desperately trying to bring back a social ethic of public service and common good, and they think that the most undeniable example of that is the people who join the military. I doubt that's a general rule, but there are people who fit that bill, and Democrats have been eager to run them for office.

  • David Smith: No country for old white men: Kamala Harris heralds changing of the guard. Cute title, but unfair to group Biden and Sanders in the photo. Harris attacked the former, but held her hand up with Sanders on the public health care insurance question. I rarely get bent out of shape when people generalize about "old white men" (or "straight male Caucasian") but here it ignores the fact that Biden and Sanders have virtually nothing else in common, and that Sanders has had to work very hard and overcome a lot of adversity to earn a spot on that stage (wasn't Biden first inept run for president in 1988?). Even today he's more likely to be attacked for who he is than anyone else in the candidate roster (not that anyone makes a point of his being Jewish). The only reason he didn't make Smith's "standouts" list -- other than prejudice -- is that he's been outstanding for so long that reporters are starting to take him for granted.

  • Matthew Yglesias:

  • Li Zhou: 14 political experts on why the first Democratic debates were history-making.

You might also find these links useful:

One of my right-wing Facebook friends posted a meme from Fox News with a picture of Bill de Blasio and a quote: "There's plenty of money in this world. There's plenty of money in this country, it's just in the wrong hands. We Democrats have to fix that." Only thing my friend ever posted that I agreed with, and this time completely. The comments validated my suspicion that the poster expected readers to react with horror. I was tempted to comment, or to just give it a big love emoji, but lost the opportunity.


Beyond the candidates and debates, some scattered links this week:

Finally, some book reviews/notes: