Andrew Sullivan: Can Any Democrat Win?

DemDebate

Writer Andrew Sullivan is not optimistic.  Here is a taste of his recent post at New York Magazine:

Joe Biden’s strength in the polls remains impressive, but his candidacy is crippled. In the last debate, he was easily the worst performer: confused, addled, over-briefed, and clearly past his expiration date as a pol…His crowds are anemic, his speeches lame, his self-defense as Trump lunged biliously at him and his family a case study in ineffectiveness….

Sanders…had a heart attack at the age of 78. What happens if he has another one at any point before the election? Why should a party risk that? He’s also an actual socialist, and he hasn’t entertained — let alone engaged with — a new idea in decades….

Warren is surging, but she is, I fear — yes, I’ll say it — unelectable. I may be wrong, but by pledging to rip everyone off their current private health insurance, it certainly seems like she has thrown away the core advantage of her side — health security. By floating the notion in the CNN forum that her future Secretary of Education would have to be approved by a transgender 9-year-old boy, she’s placing herself firmly inside a cultural revolution most Americans are deeply uncomfortable with….

Booker lacks a connection with anyone, and still seems to be campaigning for a Rhodes Scholarship. On paper, he’s perfect. In reality, he comes off as an earnest cyborg from outer space. Harris has revealed herself as a feckless, authoritarian, lying opportunist who treats the Constitution as cavalierly as Trump, but without his excuse of total ignorance. Tulsi is despised by too many Dems to have a hope (I can’t quite figure out the reason for their hatred, but it’s a fact). Klobuchar is a ball of nerves and insecurity who seems to shrink upon exposure. Buttigieg is easily the best debater, and most appealing to independents and a few wavering Republicans, but the big question still hangs over his candidacy: Will more culturally conservative minority voters — not to mention white working-class ones — show up for a gay man in the numbers that Democrats need? The cause for concern is real.

O’Rourke is a woke, moronic bigot, who believes we live in a white-supremacist country, and would happily remove tax exemptions from most traditional churches, synagogues, and mosques, because they still believe in the literal teachings of the Bible or the Koran. Of all the candidates, he’s the only one I actively loathe. Castro is an open-borders globalist panderer dedicated to the vital cause of free abortions for transgender male illegal immigrants. All of them have staked out “left Twitter” positions on immigration, race, and “social justice” that make Obama seem like Steve Bannon in comparison.

The only true bright spot is Andrew Yang — fresh, real, future-oriented, sane, offering actual analyses of automation, trade, and technology that distinguish him from the crowd. Like Buttigieg, I suspect he’d be a superb foil for Trump and could flummox the dictatorial dotard into incoherence and open bigotry. He’s a fascinating character to me. When he’s asked a question, his nearly expressionless, wrinkle-free face, which seems to spring directly from his chest, seems about to offer some canned pabulum, and then almost always responds with a flawless, thoughtful, and entirely relevant, even insightful answer. I’m rooting for him (and Pete), but I’m not delusional….

This is a field that has largely wilted upon inspection. For what it’s worth, I suspect Warren will win the nomination and dutifully lose the election just like Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry, and the second Clinton. She has that quintessential perfume of smug, well-meaning, mediocre doom that Democrats simply cannot resist.

Ouch!  But I love Sullivan’s honesty.

Read the entire piece here.

How Biden Can Separate Himself (Even Further) From the Pack Tonight

Biden abortion

I still stand by my belief that Joe Biden has the best chance to beat Donald Trump in 2020.  He is going to get hammered in these Democratic debates and the coming primaries, but if he can survive, and not screw things up, he can be the next president.

I was not overly impressed by anyone in last night’s debate.  Elizabeth Warren won the first half of the debate, but she seemed to fade toward the end.  Nevertheless, I think she controlled the stage and was clearly the overall winner.  Julian Castro did very well.  His team can build on his performance.  As I said to my daughter last night, I still don’t understand why Cory Booker is not polling higher.  I felt bad for Beto O’Rourke.  He did not look well last night.  I was wondering if he had the flu.  He looked pale and his eyes were very red and watery.  I like Amy Klobuchar, but Biden will take all of her potential votes.

I was struck by the question on abortion.  Every candidate on the stage upheld the Party line.  Here is Emma Green at The Atlantic:

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidates see abortion as a winning issue in the next election. That was clear from the first night of the party’s primary debates, where the politicians onstage vied to show how emphatically they support abortion rights. The candidates focused on fear: of the state-level abortion bans recently passed in places such as Alabama, Missouri, and Georgia; of the threat to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a constitutional right to abortion. Multiple candidates affirmed their support for expansive abortion rights, citing widespread support among Americans.

The candidates also conveniently avoided the most controversial and contested aspects of abortion policy, including limits on the procedure at any point in a pregnancy. Whether this dodge was intentional or the natural outcome of a quick-paced debate, it stood in contrast to one of the most memorable moments of the 2016 presidential debates, when Hillary Clinton endorsed abortion through the end of the third trimester of a pregnancy. So far this cycle, Democrats have been running to embrace the abortion-rights positions that poll well with voters, and steering clear of tougher questions. In reality, however, these nitpicky questions about abortion limits matter: These are the policy areas where most abortion fights actually happen at the federal level.

Green correctly concludes: “Democrats are clearly willing to promote their party’s support for abortion rights; none of the nearly two dozen candidates has tried to use moderation on abortion to his or her advantage.”

Read her entire piece here.

Let’s see what happens tonight.  As many know, Biden has raised serious questions about federal funding for abortion, but he caves whenever he is pressured by other candidates.  What if Biden takes the opportunity tonight to provide a nuanced view on abortion by saying something about how he wants to reduce the number of abortions in the United States? He can do this without flip-flopping again on the Hyde Amendment or undermining Roe v. Wade.  If Biden takes this route, he will probably be the only candidate willing to make a break–however subtle–with the Party line.  I am not optimistic that Biden and his team will go this route, but I do know that most Democrats here in Pennsylvania would welcome such a move.

Did Men Invent “Likability?”

Hillary nominated

Check out historian Claire Potter‘s piece at The New York Times: “Men Invented ‘Likability.’ Guess Who Benefits.”  She reflects on the origins of the idea of “likability”  advertising culture and, eventually presidential politics.

As Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and others jumped into the race, each seemed to affirm the new power of women in 2019, a power that was born when President Trump was sworn into office, exploded during #MeToo and came into its own during the 2018 midterms.

But no female candidate has yet led the polls. The men keep joining — Michael Bennet this week, Joe Biden the last — and keep garnering glowing press coverage. Although Mr. Biden fumbled two previous presidential bids, we are told he has “crossover appeal”; Bernie Sanders has been admired by this newspaper as “immune to intimidation”; and Pete Buttigieg, who would be the first openly gay man nominated for president, is “very authentic.” By contrast Ms. Harris is “hard to define”; Ms. Klobuchar is “mean”; and Ms. Warren is a “wonky professor” who — you guessed it — is “not likable enough.” Seeing comments like this, Mrs. Clinton said wryly in January, “really takes me back.”

Likability: It is nebulous, arbitrary and meaningless, yet inescapable — and female politicians seem to be particularly burdened with it even when they win and especially when they run for president.

In a recent interview on CNN with Michael Smerconish, Potter challenged the audience to find one female candidate in the 2016 race who has been called “likability.”

Here is another small taste of her piece:

Americans were also taught that being likable was a quality that could be cultivated as a means to get ahead. In 1936, Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” warned that those who tried too hard to be liked would fail: Theodore Roosevelt’s naturally friendly greetings to everyone he passed, regardless of status, Carnegie noted, had made it impossible not to like him, but Henrietta G., now the “best liked” counselor at her office, had been isolated until she learned to stop bragging. (Though looking back, we have to wonder: Would Henry G. have needed to hide his accomplishments?)

As presidential candidates put advertising experts in charge of national campaigns, perhaps it was inevitable that likability would jump explicitly to politics. In 1952, some of the first televised election ads sought to highlight Dwight Eisenhower’s likability. The advertising executive Rosser Reeves put Eisenhower in controlled settings where his optimism, self-confidence, humor and nonpartisanship could be emphasized over his political inexperience and what Reeves viewed as his “inept” speaking style. The animator Roy Disney was commissioned to make a cartoon spot with a catchy jingle: “Ike for President,” the song repeated, cutting to Uncle Sam leading a parade down the streets. “You like Ike, I like Ike, everybody likes Ike,” the chorus sang as Eisenhower’s smiling cartoon face passed.

Read the entire piece here.

Who is Amy Klobuchar?

Klob

Ben Terris of the Washington Post has a great piece on Amy Klobuchar and her relationship with her father, legendary Minneapolis journalist Jim Klobuchar.  It is worth your time.  A taste:

On a recent April morning, Amy Klobuchar stood in her dining room flipping through a scrapbook of her father’s newspaper articles. She was on a brief break from the campaign trail, trading hard-hat tours of ethanol plants in Iowa and a uniform of nondescript blazers from New Hampshire town halls for a quiet morning at home in a comfy pastel fleece.

“I just remember being horrified by this headline,” she told me, pointing to a yellowing page that featured portraits of her, a recent high school graduate with hair down to her turtleneck, and her father, who wore long sideburns and a cardigan. The article detailed a bicycle trip the father-daughter duo had undertaken and was titled:

“Jim Klobuchar and daughter encounter new relationship.”

Amy, 58, shook her head and laughed, her short bob swaying side to side.

It’s been something of a theme over the course of Amy’s life; both an evolving kinship with her father and being mortified by things he put in the paper. For decades, Jim Klobuchar was a daily columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune; part sportswriter, raconteur-adventurer, voice for the voiceless, and needler of the ruling class. Little in his life, or Amy’s, was off limits.

Once, Jim had mentioned in a sports column that Amy had correctly diagnosed a football injury as being “groin”-related. That got her teased at school. There was the story Jim wrote about his divorce from Amy’s mother, Rose, the day after the split became official in 1976 (“My mom never liked that,” said Amy, whose mom died in 2010). And then, in 1993, there was the front-page article Jim had to write about his own arrest for drunken driving.

Amy was a young lawyer by then, and at one of Jim’s hearings to determine his sentence, she took the stand. But she wasn’t there to defend him.

“It was a prosecution,” Jim wrote later.

Read the rest here.

Is Jimmy Carter an Antidote to Trump?

David Siders thinks so.  Here is a taste of his recent piece at Politico:

“Carter almost takes us out of the entire realm of what our politics has become,” said Paul Maslin, a top Democratic pollster who worked on the presidential campaigns of Carter and Howard Dean. “He’s the anti-Trump … I mean, we have almost the polar opposite as president, somebody who is so an affront to everything that’s good and kind and decent.”

Maslin said, “I have felt for some time that a candidate who is not just good on the issues but can marshal a moral clarity about what our politics ought to be, in contrast to what it has become, that person … that could be the currency of 2020.”

In fact, Carter has become a constant point of reference early in the campaign for Democrats polling outside of the top tier. John Delaney, the little-known former Maryland congressman who by August 2018 had already campaigned in all 99 counties in Iowa, has likened his focus on the first-in-the-nation caucus state to Carter’s.

And after her pilgrimage to see Carter this year, Klobuchar wrote on social media, “Wonderful lunch with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter today at their home in Plains. Tomato soup and pimento cheese sandwiches! Got some good advice and helpful to hear about their grassroots presidential campaign (when no one thought they could win but they did)!”

Read the entire piece here.

I still think Carter’s 1979 “malaise speech” is one of the best presidential speeches I have heard in my lifetime.

  • Notice that Carter used the phrase “I feel your pain” before Bill Clinton popularized it.
  • The speech has a streak of populism in it.
  • It is deeply honest and humble. Can you imagine a president today reading criticism of his presidency before a national audience?
  • Carter identifies the loss of national purpose and a “crisis of confidence” as a “fundamental threat to American democracy.”  It is a forward-looking message of hope and progress.  Carter speaks with conviction, often raising his fist to strengthen his points.
  • Carter says that self-indulgence, consumption, and materialism undermines citizenship. According to historian Kevin Mattson, this comes directly from historian and cultural critic Christopher Lasch and his best-selling The Culture of Narcissism.
  • Carter points to the many ways the country has gone astray–Vietnam and Watergate and economic dependence on Middle East oil.
  • Carter offers “honest answers” not “easy answers.”  Of course no one wants to work hard and make sacrifices, they want individualism and freedom instead.  A little over a year after this speech Ronald Reagan defeated Carter with just such a message of individualism and freedom.
  • Carter warns us about the path of self-interest and fragmentation.  This is what America got with Reagan.  See Daniel T. Rodgers’s The Age of Fracture.
  • Carter sees the national discussion of energy as way of bringing a divided nation together.  This seems more relevant than ever today.  Green New Deal aside, a green solution to energy would create jobs and strengthen the economy.
  • When Carter talks about foreign oil and America’s dependence upon it, he is invoking founding fathers such as Alexander Hamilton who worked tirelessly to make the nation economically independent.
  • Interesting that in the 1970s Democrats still saw coal as a vital energy source.  He also champions pipelines and refineries.
  • Carter calls for a strengthening of public transportation and local acts of conservation.  This kind of self-sacrifice, Carter says, “is an act of patriotism.”  This reminds me of the non-importation agreements during the American Revolution.    To stop drinking tea or buying British goods was seen as a similar act of patriotism. See T.H. Breen, The Marketplace of Revolution.  Carter says “there is no way to avoid sacrifice.”
  • As I have noted above, this speech hurt Carter politically.  But it is deeply honest and, in my opinion, true.