It’s Still Their Party

Bernie Sanders doesn’t have the support of the Democratic Party.

If that wasn’t clear before, yesterday’s thorough beating at the poles by Joe Biden has made it clear. Crystal. The vision of sweeping change rolling through the Democratic ranks that Donald Trump accomplished within the GOP in 2016 and in his three years in office since won’t be realized for the Democrats.

The reason?

Those pesky Democratic voters.

While counterfactualistas wax on about the possibilities in 2016 had all candidates consolidated in support of Jeb or Cruz or Kasich, they forget a pretty important fact. Trump rolled over the competition in every contested primary. He owned the vote.

Last week Biden beat Sanders in South Carolina so badly and so uniformly in the African American vote that the opportunity that never opened up against Trump presented itself to the Democrats. As the evangelicals are to the GOP, so is the African American vote to the Democrats. If you want to win the primary, you need to win them. If you want to win the general, you need to not only win them, but you need them to show up in record numbers.

Losing by 40 points to Joe Biden in the African American vote in South Carolina was a clear sign to anyone who pays attention to these things that Bernie was weak within the party in a way that would have made him extremely vulnerable in the general. Moreover, it showed Biden was strong in a way the party hadn’t been strong since Obama. The ideologically similar understood it. So they made the call.

After one state, it was a gamble. But it worked.

Not only did the pattern continue into other states on Super Tuesday, it expanded beyond the African American vote to other states Bernie won big over Hillary in 2016. The hunch that Bernie did not have the support of Democratic voters was right. And though it was a gamble and it was the establishment making that gamble, this is distinctly different than rigging the election through big business money or through the silly undemocratic pledged delegate process. It was a bet that the voters would show up for Biden.

And they did.

Biden won states he didn’t even campaign in. He won every county in Oklahoma. He won Maine for God’s sake.

Joe Biden. 78-year-old Grampa Joe.

Which means a few things. Most importantly, it means that Democratic voters weren’t particularly excited about Bernie Sanders. And while they may believe that parts of his message need to be a part of the Democratic platform going forward, they didn’t believe the brand of Democratic Socialism was the horse to ride into the race against Trump.

If you step back from the day to day hysteria of politics, this makes sense. Sanders has only been a Democrat since he decided to run for President. He’s done remarkably little as a legislator. Nearly beating Hillary Clinton in a primary before she lost to Donald Trump is his only accomplishment; not exactly the thing to point to as reason for America to follow you down a different path.

The democratic party is still Obama’s party. The change we felt last time was that it wasn’t Clinton’s anymore and not that it was Bernie’s. The market missed that distinction on Biden. And now it’s clear. Biden is the party’s best chance to beat Trump.

As deep as the rabbit hole of electoral game theory is, it’s important that we come back up and address a few things though. The American people have real problems we need to solve that weren’t addressed by the Obama Democrats. The lesson of the modern-day GOP is that if you ignore your constituents problems for too long, someone else will end up promising to solve them for you. And it’s not always the right sort of someone promising the right sorts of things.

The good news for progressive democrats is that the solutions they seek, don’t require a departure from stated progressive Democratic platforms. They simply require a commitment to actually work to accomplish them.

Case in point: We may say Bernie is the champion for healthcare for all. But he spent a long time in congress without sponsoring a single piece of legislation to forward that outcome. Conversely, the only meaningful and enduring healthcare reform passed in recent memory, that expanded both medicaid and healthcare coverage for more than 20 million Americans was passed by the Obama/Biden administration during the first two years of their first term.

Moreover, while many Sanders supporters point to the distributive miracles of Denmark and Sweden as examples for America to strive to duplicate, those nations aren’t, contrary to popular belief, democratic socialist nations. They are free market systems with limited to no public ownership of corporations. They have higher tax rates to more effectively distribute wealth. They have strong unions. But that’s not Democratic Socialism.  Democratic Socialists advocate for public ownership of corporations. Sanders does this openly as part of his agenda.

It’s not required to solve the problem. It’s an unnecessary liability against a unified Trump base and a socialist wary middle.

At the core of progressive policy should be a push to mitigate the economic and environmental impacts of global free trade and technological automation through policies that redistribute, through taxes, the gains from those activities. The ultimate goal should be to strengthen the value of labor relative to the value of capital by subsidizing key industries and locations, providing easier access to education, decoupling healthcare as leverage employers hold over employees, and insisting corporations foot the bill for environmentally sustainable operations.

This can all be done in service to helping the newly marginalized workforce, the longstanding structurally excluded populations and the environment.

And while they’re at it, go ahead and make the social safety net way bigger than anyone thinks it needs to be. Because there will always be a Republican administration around the corner trying to make it smaller than it needs to be.

Carbon taxes. Subsidies for green energy. Strict regulation.

The goal shouldn’t be incremental change. The goal is transformational change on the scale of the New Deal.

None of this requires anything other than energetic, progressive, Democratic (capital D) policies. None of it requires the cartoonish expansion of state resources and destruction of private enterprise that the Sanders agenda calls for. But it does require something much much better than Joe Biden has been for his entire political life.

As was the case with Donald Trump.

For the record, Senator Warren would have been a fine choice to lead most of this. But no one voted for her. Y’all can probably figure out why. If anyone should be chapped about results it’s the Warren camp.

Democracy…warts and all….

Which takes us to the crossroads we’re at. The Sanders campaign has every right and even an obligation to continue to drive its message to the Democratic party establishment in service to moving the needle to the left of where it is. But they don’t have the votes to claim that this is their party. And they’re getting less this go around than the did last. So I would assume they shouldn’t lose sight of that end for which anyone claiming to be a Democrat would prioritize first.

Making Donald Trump a one term president.


Minimum Viable Trust

“I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn what they have accomplished for their working people”

That’s a quote from Bernie Sanders from an October 2015 presidential primary debate.

President Trump is alleged to have said, in a closed meeting, that he wants more immigrants from places like Norway, instead of “shithole” countries. That quote was leaked to the press so whether or not he said it is reasonably debatable. Whether it reflects the administration’s immigration policy choices is not.

My point in bringing up both quotes is that there is some consistent opinion from differing political perspectives that places like Denmark and Norway are places to emulate. Denmark, is after all, the happiest country in the world according to people who track that sort of thing. When we American’s live in a country founded on the right to pursue happiness, it’s not unreasonable to believe that benchmarking happy places is a worthy activity.

Alas, striving to be like Denmark is a hopeless cause though. As political scientist Francis Fukuyama points out, getting to Denmark societally by doing the things that Denmark has done requires that one start in Denmark. And by Denmark, I mean at a minimum, a metaphorical Denmark that draws on an endless bounty of social trust; that thing that enables people to trust other people, corporations and governments because they’ve got reason to believe they have the common good in mind.

Installing social trust in America has been a bit of a journey. We didn’t after all, start in Denmark. We started with a rebellion against absolute rule, state sanctioned racial slavery, segregation and inequality and at least eight different regional cultures. I recommend Colin Woodard’s fantastic book American Nations if you want to read more on those cultures. LINK

The one result that’s come from America’s asymmetrical start has been an uphill climb for establishing social trust. We Americans are inherently untrusting to the extent that it makes things that ought not be hard, hard. Woven into our culture is an insistence not to do things we know are good for us simply because someone told us to do them. Paying into a healthcare insurance pool for instance becomes a terrible idea as soon as one has to do it. When one doesn’t have to, it’s a great idea.

The Denmarks of the world miss the folksy charm in that logic.

Over centuries though, America has built institutions and held to some consistent values that have enabled us to construct what I like to refer to as a Minimum Viable Trust. That MVT has been enough to keep us moving and progressing slowly, painfully homogenizing into something that one day may resemble one common good that enables us to pool resources and will to solve common problems when we must. It’s something we do well when it involves fighting wars. Less so for other things…at least yet.

When evaluating the performance of representative governments, I think an important aspect, beyond how consistently they effectively execute the duties of government as well as represent political ideology, is their impact to MVT. It doesn’t take much to knock us asymmetrically untrusting Americans off kilter and send us spiraling into civic paralysis. Improving on our woeful level of trust in government, corporations and each other by way of governing within a rule of law that incentivizes such behavior isn’t an after thought. It’s a principle.

How’s that going these days?