6 Mar 2020

Feel the Bern

Hello readers!

Today, I’m going to discuss a topic I usually can’t be bothered with: American politics. As a card-carrying European, what goes on the other side of the pond doesn’t really affect me, so why pay attention? Well, I’m going to make an exception this time—I think the Democratic nomination is really interesting. More importantly, it could have wider relevance for how left-wing parties win (or lose) against populist right-wing opponents.

Also, I have a different perspective because I’m not American; this can give me valuable insights that are missing in the debate. I’ve been treated by the NHS, to take just one example.

I’m going to structure this post into two parts: the first is an overview of the personalities, the second is about tactics. I’ll finish by discussing the issues in my conclusion. Why not put the issues front-and-centre, you ask? Well, it’s because the American Presidency is fundamentally a personality contest. You can’t win an election without understanding this fact.

The Personalities

I’m going to classify the candidates based on Donald Trump’s nicknames. I have no love for Darth Cheetoh (as some affectionately call him) but Trump is a very effective rhetorician who speaks straight from the gut. His ability to nail a politicial opponent’s weaknesses—and to embody the spirit of Middle America—is remarkable.

I’ll discuss the candidates who have had sizeable votes; I’ll ignore the non-entities like Steyer, Yang etc.

“Sleepy Joe”: I think Democrats are making a big mistake voting for this guy. I mean, I like him, and Biden is a likeable guy. But he has several critical flaws that make him a poor choice to fight Donald Trump in 2020. Firstly, he shows worrying signs of senility: he mixes up his wife with his sister, doesn’t know what state he’s in, thinks he’s running for the Senate, and said 150 million Americans were killed by gun violence. (That’s half the population.)

On top of that, he is an establishment politician implicated in the Ukraine debacle. I don’t care about the details; voters won’t either. Trump proved how good he is at eviscerating establishment politicians with Hillary Clinton. “Crooked Clinton” cost Democrats the White House, and “Sleepy Joe” might do the same in 2020.

“Mini Mike”: Only one candidate is worse than Biden against Trump, and it’s this guy. Seriously, what the hell are Democrats thinking? Never mind that progressives won’t vote for a groping billionaire. Trump is a groping billionaire himself, and as such, he intimately understands Bloomberg’s weaknesses. Faced with two billionaires, voters will pick the more charismatic of the two.

“Crazy Bernie”: Why isn’t Bernie the front-runner anymore? What are Democrats thinking? Bernie Sanders would wipe the floor with Trump. He is a brilliant grassroots campaigner; he has the money; and most importantly, people like him. He’s honest and authentic and wins people over to his side. Americans think socialism is crazy—but they agree with public healthcare, and they want college to be cheaper. The more they listen to Sanders, the more reasonable he seems.

“Mayor Pete”: Also known as BOOT EDGE EDGE. I liked him a lot—it was really promising to see a gay candidate come out of nowhere and do so well. I think Pete might have won against Trump, despite the handicap of homophobia. (It’s also interesting that Trump respected a gay man as his political opponent.)

I actually think lack of minority support was a much bigger problem for him. The lack of Black support was his own damn fault—he made some mistakes as mayor of South Bend. But I think he could, in the future, gain lots of support from Latinos; he just needs to reach out and campaign better.

It’s wonderful to think this man could plausibly have become President of the United States.

“The Phoney Pocahontas” aka Elizabeth Warren: A smart woman and a brilliant policymaker, but not a good presidential candidate against Trump. The fabricated stories about her Native American ancestry (debunked by a Cherokee genealogist) is exactly the kind of identity politics that would cost her an election. I’m glad she’s dropped out, and hope she will continue to make a difference in politics.

Tactics

Let’s talk about electability. I think Bernie Sanders is more likely to win than Biden. It’s not impossible that Biden could beat Trump, mind you, but they odds are definitely in Bernie’s favour.

Why? It boils down to two things. Obviously, Sanders can get the base out (this has been discussed ad nauseam). But perhaps more importantly, he can win back Trump–Obama voters, which data shows is the reason Clinton lost the election. He can do this by appealing to them—through his policies, through the kind of person he is—and not playing identity politics.

The data shows that racial anxiety was the reason these voters supported Trump (a “whitelash”). But since these people voted a black man for President (twice!), I hardly think Democrats should give up on them. If the left makes a positive, optimistic case for their vision of America, these voters will come back. If Democrats attack them as racist, and bite Trump’s bait, they will lose.

But how does Bernie win the nomination? The Democratic establishment has rallied around Biden. The good news is that Warren has dropped out, and I’m hoping she will formally endorse Bernie Sanders. If it takes a VP ticket or a seat on a committee, so be it. Bernie and Liz need to stick together.

I want to briefly touch on why the Democratic establishment is so keen to support Biden, despite some pretty obvious flaws. I think it boils down to two things;

  1. (This is the theory I lean towards) They’re desperate. People who are desperate, in my experience, don’t think rationally.
  2. They want to lose with Biden rather than win with Bernie, as the latter option means they lose control of the institution (the Democratic party). Psychologists who study organisations often note this kind of behaviour.

Bernie needs to show Biden’s weakness. “If Joe can’t win a debate against me, how can he beat Donald Trump?” This is is the question Bernie needs to ask voters. He doesn’t have to be aggressive, mind you; Sleepy Joe is like a deer in the headlights anyway.

Conclusion

Two questions are important in the Democratic contest. The first is: “What’s the answer to Trump?” The second is: “How does America get public healthcare?” In both cases, the answer is vote Bernie Sanders.

Pete Buttigieg made a huge mistake in turning away from the single-payer model. He asked what would happen to the 150 million Americans who have private healthcare via their employers. The answer is that all 300 million Americans would be covered under an American NHS, and they won’t have to pay out-of-pocket, and they won’t lose healthcare along with their job. (The German model that Pete proposed would be certainly an improvement over the present system, but it’s still second best. When has America ever settled for second-best?)

If Bernie Sanders makes the case for Biden’s poor electability, and champions in his Medicare-for-all policy, he might still win. I for one think it’s time to “Feel the Bern”.

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