When choosing a school, a restaurant, or a licensed contractor, most of us use criteria to make our choice. But very few people actually do this when choosing the candidates they vote for. The media doesn’t help with this either by asking nonsense questions like “who would you like to have a beer with?”
I offer here a set of criteria for progressives to use when choosing a candidate to support in our partly dysfunctional 2019 American political system. Having paid attention to this wild yet somehow predictable 2020 Democratic Primary over the past year, for your reading pleasure, I also score each candidate based on those criteria, although you are invited to tweak the criteria and score them differently if you would like.
There are a lot of candidates and a lot to examine, so this is not a short piece. Grab a coffee or tea and a comfortable chair.
Let’s get two things out of the way before jumping in:
First, basic terminology. I see essentially all politics, politicians, and movements as efforts to control the distribution of wealth and power, and each channels one of three forces:
- Reactionary, seeking to concentrate wealth and power into fewer hands
- Conservative, seeking to keep the distribution of wealth and power as it is
- Progressive, seeking to spread wealth and power more broadly among people
If you consider these strands of political energy and find yourself instinctively reactionary or conservative, you might not find much of this article useful. I am a progressive at heart and believe that spreading wealth and power more broadly is beneficial to all and creates a stronger and healthier society, and I consider the grand arc of progressive politics stretching back to Magna Carta to be a good thing and something that I hope will continue. Today, with AI, nanotechnology, weather manipulation, and the rest of the next wave of technology arriving every day, we can and must distribute power (ie decision-making) more broadly throughout the population.
Second, news sources. As I mentioned above, the media that you choose has an enormous impact on how you think. I can’t emphasize this enough. We think how we read. I’ve spent hours researching and creating a balanced media diet for 2019, and I plan to write more on this topic, perhaps a whole book. If you don’t want to read what I write or follow the diet I propose, please read someone else’s media criticism — Chomsky, Herman, FAIR, etc. Propaganda is a highly sophisticated art at this point, and we’re all susceptible to it. Even what you think of this article will largely be determined by where you’re getting your news, whether it’s from what I call the “Democrat bubble” (NYT/NPR/MSNBC, etc.), the “Republican bubble” (FOX/WSJ/Talk Radio, etc.), or a broader sampling of corporate and independent media.
As a quick illustration, if you’re primarily getting news from the “Democrat bubble,” you might have a strange can’t-put-your-finger-on-it sense of dislike for Bernie Sanders. He’s kind of old and cranky, right? Isn’t he less popular than he was in 2016? He doesn’t really connect with minority voters, right? If you do nothing else to expand your media consumption, watch this video, which intersperses clips from “Democrat bubble” pundits with actual footage of Bernie’s interactions and positions on the issues:
It goes deeper than that too. We’re living in a time when independent journalists are being censored, persecuted, and arrested, whistleblowers tortured, and lawyers jailed. Step out of the corporate media bubbles and their endless coverage of the outrage-du-jour (impeachment, currently) and you see a different world.
Now that we’ve gotten those items out of the way, let’s get to our criteria for judging the candidates.
A POSSIBLY SANE SET OF CRITERIA FOR JUDGING CANDIDATES
1. Where they get their money. (50%) Because our political system is only barely a democracy at this point, and functions more like a plutocracy, I find this to be the most important criterion by which to judge a candidate. Politics is a money game. Candidates have to seek money from somewhere to survive, and they know that if they anger their funders, that money might go away. The corporate media tends to gloss over the fact that most politicians get the majority of their funds from the same large corporations that the corporate media does (Pharmaceutical, Gas & Oil, Banking, Military, etc.), because it’s uncomfortable to admit — and because doing so would highlight the candidates that do get their money elsewhere.
2. Voting record. (30%) Look at the candidate’s last 10–30 years, how they’ve voted, what they’ve spoken out about, and what they’ve supported, opposed, and ignored. Doing so tends to reveal what they truly stand for today.
3. Current promises (10%) Consider their intentions right now, what they’re focused on, what they’re promising to do. In 2019, for instance, what are they saying about healthcare, overseas “regime change” wars, wealth distribution, climate change, trade deals, wages, domestic surveillance, etc.
4. Affirmative Action (5%). This is where identity can and should come into play. If two candidates are quite similar on the other criteria, choose the less-represented race, class, religion, gender, orientation. Organizations with diverse viewpoints tend to make the best decisions, and our government for too long has been dominated by the views of wealthy straight white protestant men.
5. Demeanor. (5%) This is the most subjective criterion, but pay attention to how the candidate holds himself/herself and interacts with others. Does the candidate seem honest, intelligent, kind, wise, and dedicated? Those are qualities I choose. Choose whatever qualities you think best indicate leadership.
Now let’s look at the candidates! I score them based on the criteria above, on a 0–100 scale. They are not listed in any precise order but loosely by my preference and their importance (Bernie, Warren, and Biden are essentially tied in national polls right now). Lastly, I’d point out that while debates are mostly for entertainment — and currently they’re heavily rigged towards the candidates that the corporate media wants you to like — they aren’t entirely useless exercises, and can be particularly helpful in assessing Criteria #3 and #5. So watch the debates if you can.
BERNIE SANDERS (87 total points)
If you’re a progressive in any way, shape, or form, or simply want an honest person in the White House, Bernie Sanders is certainly a strong choice. There hadn’t been an unapologetic progressive running and inspiring a movement like this before in my lifetime, and there may not be another candidate with such an impressive track record again in our lifetimes. Ralph Nader is the only other one that has perhaps come close, and while he had even more integrity than Bernie in some ways, he made strategic decisions that (arguably) backfired. In Bernie’s landmark June speech connecting the current progressive movement with FDR’s brand of socialism that brought us out of the Great Depression and to MLK’s insights into the intersection of racism and classism, Bernie called forth all of what’s best about the American liberal political instinct. He likely can unite and inspire the country in a way no one else today can, with a few exceptions as noted below. I don’t agree with him on every issue, and he certainly should have taken a stronger stand against the rigging of the 2016 primary, but it’s hard to argue with his strategic decisions at this point. He’s remaking one of the two major parties in his image and while the old-timers in the DNC will fight him tooth and nail and (likely) deny him the nomination again because of their conservatism and corruption, should he win the nomination, he is the one Democratic candidate that will give Trump a real run for his money with independent voters in swing states and likely take the White House.
1. Money. (50%) — 46 points. [58% of his fundraising is via small donations, 25% via large donations, $73M total raised]. Simply groundbreaking. As a candidate in 2015–16 he showed what everyone thought was impossible — that with only private personal contributions you could run against (and out-raise!) a corporate candidate with the political machine that Hillary Clinton had behind her. This was a breathtaking achievement that is still reverberating in American politics.
2. Record. (30%) — 27 points. A 35-year record of being right on issues before they were popular. There are a few places he voted against good things, and I could be nitpicky, but his progressive record is generally stunning and far stronger than anyone else’s.
3. Promises (10%) — 9 points. Medicare for All, cancelling student debt, ending the death penalty, green new deal, tuition free college, and much more (including not prosecuting whistleblowers, which pleases the libertarian side of my progressive views that is growing as we drift towards a surveillance state). Bernie not only makes big promises, he shifts the dialogue and works on the issue until the promise doesn’t seem so big. When he advocated a $15 minimum wage in 2016, everyone called him crazy; now it’s law in dozens of places and a realistic probability nationwide.
4. Diversity (5%) 1 point. He’s not wealthy and would be the first Jewish president. I give this only one point but it’s probably 1.5, particularly based on his groundbreaking promise to distribute to Palestine some of our ridiculously generous aid to the apartheid state of Israel. Imagine a Jewish president who actually wanted to work towards a just peace in the middle east.
5. Demeanor. (5%) 4 points. He is forthright and unapologetic, qualities that are in short supply among Democrats and that are absolutely essential to take on Trump. Bernie comes across as honest, almost like a non-politician at times. On the negative side, his posture is poor, his talking points can become repetitive, and his voice goes out sometimes.
TULSI GABBARD (76)
One of the more astonishing and disappointing events of these past three years is that the peace movement has somehow been excised from polite political discourse. How did this happen? Look no further than centrist Democrats and “Democrat bubble” media pundits, most of whom actually attack Trump from the right on military issues, something I find disgusting. This leaves a wide open lane for anyone who favors peace, and Tulsi is a strong candidate here, a powerful and brilliant woman of color, a four-term Congresswoman, a current Major in the army, and someone who appeals broadly on both sides of the aisle. She is eloquent and poised, and she has no problem talking about what she saw in Iraq and why she opposes more wars like it. This worries the corporations running our media organizations, as one of their primary jobs has always been to propagandize for war. The fact that this woman is not held up as a rising star in the party speaks volumes about the conservative pro-military direction it has taken. I hope I don’t have to explain here that Hillary Clinton summoning the media and literally accused a sitting Congressperson, a Major in the army who has twice deployed to Iraq, of treason (a crime that could carry the death penalty), with no evidence whatsoever, is just what Joe McCarthy saw fit to do during the height of the McCarthy era of the 1950s. As grotesque as it is perplexing. “Have you no sense of decency, Ms. Clinton, at long last, have you no sense of decency?” I don’t know what angle Hillary is playing with these ridiculous smears. Perhaps she just wants to divide the Democratic Party again and again in order to defeat a progressive takeover of the party. That or she truly is paranoid and sees it as her against the world, and Trump, Bernie, Tulsi, Jill Stein, Julian Assange, me (really anyone other than centrist corporate Democrats) are all somehow working for Russia, a country with an economy the size of Spain. It’s just laughable, except that some people actually believe this NeoMcCarthyite tripe. No, Tulsi is not working with Russia. She joined the military right after 9–11, has seen war inside and out, and she know it’s the worst thing in the world, murdering thousands and thousands of innocent people, creating refugee crises, sowing carcinogenic chemicals by the megaton, and destroying ecosystems all over the planet. She wants to reduce these wars, huzzah!
1. Money. (50%) — 38 points. [47%, 26%, $9M] No one is as strong as Bernie here, but Tulsi has been firm in rejecting corporate contributions and PAC money, and has done well enough raising funds via small contributions.
2. Record. (30%) — 20. Relatively strong across the board here, particularly on environmental and military issues. Early in her life (she was raised in a very conservative family) she opposed gay rights but for many years now has been a staunch ally. I see her recent vote against BDS as a disappointment, but no one in office in Washington other than Bernie seems able even to call the Palestinians people.
3. Promises (10%) — 8. War is the worst thing in the world. And she promises to reduce war and put an end to “regime-changing,” which scares the military industrial complex and warmongers in both parties. Not quite as strong or committed on other issues as Bernie, but a genuine progressive. She favors Medicare for All but without banning private insurance. She is suing Google over censoring her campaign, which to me shows she may be more fearless than Bernie. And she’s more engaged in foreign policy than Bernie, and has traveled and visited foreign leaders in her quest to avoid regime change wars.
4. Diversity (5%). — 5. Hindu, Samoan, Hawaiian, woman of color. Hmm, why isn’t the establishment celebrating her more?
5. Demeanor. (5%) — 5. I met her in person when she knocked doors with me for Bernie in Alameda in 2016. She is remarkable and has even more presence in person than she does on TV, which is saying something, as she comes across to me as poised, honest, wise, and committed when on stage.
ELIZABETH WARREN (64)
For virtually every issue in America today, Elizabeth Warren “has a plan for that.” Many of her plans are solid and well-thought-out; the issue is that virtually all of her plans are borrowed and watered-down versions of Bernie’s plans. This is a testament to how thoroughly Bernie has changed the dialogue for progressive policies. It’s not that Warren’s plans are bad, it’s that in essence, why choose the watered-down version when you can have the real thing? Why support the candidate who was a Republican for many years, when you can support a lifelong progressive? Most progressives will support what she promises, and were there no Sanders in the race this might be a different discussion. Indeed I liked Warren in 2014 and 2015 and participated in the effort to get her to run for president in that cycle. Bernie and many progressives joined the “Run Warren Run” effort that year. She chose not to run, and that choice and her other choices during that pivotal year revealed her highest priorities. When she witnessed Bernie throw his hat in the ring and then light up the country with progressive politics, magnificent rallies, and unprecedented fundraising in 2016, she could have supported him, campaigned with him, lent his campaign her credibility, but she chose not to. When Bernie was polling even with Clinton in Warren’s state of Massachusetts, she could have endorsed him, but she chose not to, and Clinton won the state by 1%. When Bernie was building enormous nationwide momentum going into the New York primary, she could have endorsed him and probably put him over the top, but she chose not to. By withholding her endorsement she revealed that progressive issues are not as important to her as her career. In a nutshell, I thus find Warren difficult to trust. Compare this with Tulsi Gabbard, who made the opposite choice in 2016 — resigning from a powerful and rising position in the DNC in order to openly support the possibility of a more progressive, less militaristic nominee. Also, compare Warren’s 2016 choice with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s refreshing choice this year to come out and endorse Sanders early in the primary rather than waiting to see what’s most expedient for her career.
1. Money. (50%) — 32. [53, 30, $60M] While she’s done very well raising money from individual donors in the primary, she isn’t walking the walk here: She says she will take corporate, lobbyist, and PAC money if she gets to the general election. Basically she’s saying she’s only corrupt when running against Republicans, which is like saying you’re a vegetarian between meals.
2. Record. (30%) — 21. Her record is fairly good on domestic issues but not strong on foreign policy. And then there’s the matter that she was a fiscally-conservative Republican until she was 47. And she’s never really come forward to tell us why she switched parties.
3. Promises (10%) — 6. Hmm. She’s for Medicare for All, then she’s not, then she’s for it again, but with a 3 year waiting period. I like her promises but it’s difficult to trust her when she’s already changed her mind several times on issues like this, and we’re not even in the general election yet.
4. Diversity (5%). 3. No credit for the Native American thing, obviously, and dissembling about it is likely to be a liability in the general election.
5. Demeanor. (5%) 2. She tries to appear as a bold progressive but to me it comes across as false. Underneath her polished exterior, she appears to be a calculating policy wonk attempting to play the part of a fiery progressive. Her many rants against CEOs who have defrauded consumers are appealing, but I imagine that to many she comes across as an angry schoolteacher rather than an impassioned crusader for the interests of everyday people, and because of this it will be difficult for her to compete on a stage with Trump.
JOE BIDEN (32)
I met Joe Biden during a hot minute when I was a blog reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. He was speaking on foreign policy at the event, and his views on Iraq at the time were very conservative — by which I mean justifying war and military occupation. I remember also for some reason the size and radiance of his cuff links, and thinking, “wow for an everyday guy, those are really nice cuff links.” Biden has always attempted a “hard-working guy grew-up-in-Scranton-PA” image while steadily becoming one of the more corrupt war-mongering Democrats. He’s also been caught numerous times (more often than Trump) groping women and girls. His main claim to the throne at this point is a Hillary-esque “it’s my turn” demand after he served as Obama’s vice president for eight years. If only we could run a trial and see if a corporate centrist war-monger with close ties to Obama could defeat Trump in a general election…
1. Money. (50%) 17. [35, 65, $37M] Mostly corporate and PAC money here. Corruption is what they call it in other countries.
2. Record. (30%) 12. Does the Iraq War ring a bell? The bankruptcy bill? Regressive crime and incarceration? Bailing out banks while leaving everyday Americans high and dry? Yep, he’s basically a reactionary who’s been on the wrong side for a long time and is uninterested in change.
3. Promises (10%) 3. He’s such an incompetent debater and speaker, it’s hard to discern exactly what (if anything) he’s promising right now. Four years of not-Trump, I guess.
4. Diversity (5%). 0. But nice cufflinks!
5. Demeanor. (5%) 0. He looks like he’s wearing makeup and false teeth; he can’t speak in a coherent manner; he talks about “punching away” against domestic abuse. Probably worse than Trump here in the eyes of many.
CORY BOOKER (48)
Cory Booker definitely lives in a basement apartment in Newark NJ, as he never tires of reminding us. That aside, he fits eloquent and inspiring mini speeches into the debates and generally comes across well. He looks and sounds like a solid progressive. The issue for him is, well, everything: his fundraising and his record — there’s essentially no reason to believe he would follow through on any progressive promise he makes. He’s always been thoroughly funded by Wall Street and Pharma corporations, and so there’s little reason to suspect he would push for Medicare for All, rein in the war machine, lower drug costs, cancel student debt, make public colleges tuition free, fix the water in Flint, etc. To my mind, as Jesse Jackson once said, he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing — a conservative corporate centrist in the fashionable clothes of a progressive crusader (from the streets of Newark).
1. Money. (50%) 16 — Too much Wall Street here. Remember how Obama promised Hope and Change and delivered more war and a bailout for the corrupt bankers who defrauded millions of homeowners and left those homeowners out in the cold? That’s what dominant funding by Wall Street will do to your promises and commitments.
2. Record. (30%) 21 — He’s been a neoliberal his whole career until now, it seems, when suddenly he’s for Medicare for All and expanding social security, etc. Something doesn’t wash here. He opposed several bills that would lower costs for pharmaceutical drugs and then tried to obfuscate his position. Cory, what were you thinking? And more importantly, what do you actually stand for?
3. Promises (10%) 5 — Again, sounds good here, but always seemingly short on specifics, consistency, and conviction.
4. Diversity (5%). 2. Straight man of color. Grew up comfortable but not wealthy. Did I mention he lives in Newark?
5. Demeanor. (5%) 4. Cory is likeable and comes across as not only committed and knowledgeable but inspired by civil rights victories of the past. Nonetheless there’s an aura of political double-talk to him.
ANDREW YANG (64)
The insurgent surprise campaign of the year, Yang has been ignored, smeared, and ridiculed in the corporate media more often even than Tulsi and Bernie. Perhaps only Marianne Williamson has been given less free positive media attention. Yang comes across as surprisingly coherent, eloquent, and insightful on several top issues that everyday independents care about: social programs, jobs, and international trade. The “Freedom Dividend,” his plan for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) of $1000 monthly for every man and woman in the country, has caught fire, and for good reasons: 1. It speaks to voters who are fed up with a government that seems to do nothing for them, and 2. For most people at minimum wage, just above it, or not currently employed, $1000 each month would make a significant difference.
1. Money. (50%) — 40 — Really solid fundraising from everyday people. Wouldn’t be beholden to the corporations that have been ruling the country for the last two generations, so this is a real strength.
2. Record. (30%) — 8 — Very little here obviously, although he’s been a successful and philanthropic businessman. This is a strength in one way, but with so little to judge him on it’s a big liability too.
3. Promises (10%) 9 — Big bold vision, no apologies. Perhaps most realistic about the coming technology shifts and how they’ll affect everyday people.
4. Diversity (5%). 2 — Straight man of color. Relatively wealthy. Would be first Asian president.
5. Demeanor. (5%) 5 — Perhaps more than anyone, even Bernie, Yang comes across as a no-bullshit, common-sense, lets-fix-what’s-broken, new-ideas-welcome, no-sacred-cows kind of guy. This coupled with the UBI of $1000 (which will appeal to independents as much as Medicare for All) makes for a political package that is simple, straightforward, and attractive.
KAMALA HARRIS (44)
I watched Kamala rise up through San Francisco politics as a moderate/conservative, from the District Attorney’s office in the city to state Attorney General, and then US Senator. She’s nearly always opposed the progressive issues and candidates I’ve worked for, so it has been interesting to say the least watching her attempt to pivot into a progressive on the national stage. After endless soft treatment by the media throughout the spring and summer that conferred a glossy sheen to her candidacy, it was when Tulsi called her out on stage that most people saw for the first time a bit of who she really is: an opportunist devoid of genuine principles, someone ready to play the part on camera that will advance her up the ladder. She did indeed prosecute child truancy in SF, anathema to progressive justice and educational goals. Perhaps most indicative of her character was letting Steve Mnuchin’s disastrous corrupt banking go unchecked. What she has going for her is the solid support of the Clinton machine (including perhaps the aforementioned smear of Tulsi by Hillary), but it appears even the Democrat bubble media is turning against her now.
1. Money. (50%) 19 [39, 58, $36M] — She’s done fine here as far as totals go, but the sources of her funding points to likely corporate corruption were she elected.
2. Record. (30%) 14 — On the signature issues that she touts — being a “progressive prosecutor” — the record doesn’t really back her up. Prosecuting marijuana possession, not taking a stand against cash bail, and an unclear record on the death penalty maker her look more like a run-of-the-mill state prosecutor in a very large state rather than a crusader for justice to be celebrated by progressives. I do like the idea of a progressive prosecutor, but for the sake of Kamala and 2020 best just to think of her as the “top cop of California.”
3. Promises (10%) 4 — She’s waffled on Medicare for All, so typical for corporate centrists in 2019. They seemingly can’t support it (for fear of offending their funders) and can’t oppose it (for fear of losing popular support). In general her promises don’t have the clarity, reach, or conviction that Bernie’s or others’ do.
4. Diversity (5%). 5 — A woman of color with mixed ancestry (Indian, Jamaican).
5. Demeanor. (5%) 2 — She has always come across to me as glib and inauthentic, trying too hard to look like the “cool” candidate and ultimately looking simply like a calculating politician.
PETE BUTTIGIEG (42)
Mayor Pete looks good, makes good points, and is generally eloquent on stage. The problem is, he has essentially no track record politically, no clear driving issue, and hasn’t won any significant elections, yet he presents himself as a politician. It just doesn’t add up. If he were an outsider or some type of maverick, his inexperience could be an asset. But he wants to be taken as a politician, and thus he comes across as someone who’s neither here nor there, not a seasoned pro and not a bold outsider. He needs to take a stand for something, fight for a few more political issues he believes in, determine who he is. At the beginning of the race he was angling to be a progressive, but that didn’t go anywhere so he tacked back to the centrist corporate status quo, where he’s suddenly raised a ton of money. He seems to be an empty suit, frankly, ready to take on any positions recommended by his lobbyist funders. He has almost zero support among minority voters and his dishonest attempts to change this are warning signs for progressives. The things Pete has going for him: 1. He’s a good debater, 2. He’s raising a lot of money now, and 3. The “Democrat bubble” media is currently running almost purely complimentary pieces on him (while ignoring Bernie and attacking Tulsi). He’s the flavor of the month in the corporate media, as Kamala and Beto were before; we’ll see how long it lasts.
1. Money. (50%) 21 [47, 53, $51M]. Went from almost nothing in the spring to attracting the support of 20 billionaires and raising millions this fall. This is hefty fundraising for a neophyte, but let’s be clear: he’s taking lobbyist, corporate, and PAC money, the only candidate other than Biden fundraising like this. Doesn’t smell good if you’re a progressive who wants to take him at his word.
2. Record. (30%) 9. So little here to consider. He does have military experience, which counts for something, but for progressives, military experience counts primarily if you’re antiwar. If you enlisted and served and now come back and are ready to rubber stamp more wars, you’re a dream candidate for the military industrial complex, not for anyone who would prefer not to murder and mutilate a million Iranians after already murdering and mutilating a million Iraqis.
3. Promises (10%) 5. His meandering promises around healthcare come and go. Medicare for All Americans Who Want It And Can Pay For It, or something like that. When he got into a debate about war with Tulsi (the other military veteran on stage), we saw Pete’s pro-war stance in cold relief, and there’s nothing good or progressive about it. He sounded like Biden, which is to say, like a neocon Republican.
4. Diversity (5%). 3. Openly gay white male candidate for president, quite young at 37.
5. Demeanor. (5%) 4. As mentioned above, Mayor Pete looks good up there, comes across as competent and focused.
AMY KLOBUCHAR (47)
An unremarkable candidacy that has failed to catch on. She isn’t particularly eloquent or forceful in her rhetoric, doesn’t offer any bold promises, and comes across as a politician (albeit a “nice” one). I give her credit for at least authentically standing for her moderate/conservative views, rather than pretending she’s a progressive the way Cory Booker does, but it’s difficult for me honestly to understand why she is still in the race. I imagine the lasting image of her will be as some type of a centrist cheerleader, ensuring that the status quo (“go status quo, gosh darnit!”) doesn’t go unrepresented. Her true appeal is to the corporate media class and to a narrow subset of older, whiter, more conservative Democrats who are doing well and who read only the corporate media. If one of Biden’s countless gaffes were finally to drive him from the race (we can only hope), Amy and Buttigieg would likely do battle to carry the conservative/moderate mantle.
1. Money. (50%) 17
2. Record. (30%) 21
3. Promises (10%) 4
4. Diversity (5%). 3
5. Demeanor. (5%) 2
So there you have it. I don’t have time right now to rate and write up every candidate, but perhaps will in a future article, and include Marianne Williamson and Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer and Deval Patrick, etc.
In summary, I see a very clear first and second choice for progressive voters. Both Bernie and Tulsi are remarkable candidates and deserve our support despite brutal vilification in the corporate media. Balance your media diet and rejoice that good candidates are still able (sometimes, barely) to rise above the muck and propaganda to inspire us to be a better country. Bernie and Tulsi are also the two candidates with the broadest appeal and thus most likely to win independent voters and defeat Trump. Remember, it was the independent voters who put Obama (and Trump) in the White House. Bernie in fact has the greatest appeal of all the candidates to minority, poorer, and younger voters — the main independent segments of our voting rolls — and he is the one most likely to defeat Trump in a general election. In contrast, Buttigieg and Warren have essentially zero appeal to people of color in places like Wisconsin and Michigan where the last election was decided.
One of many negative media slants is that Bernie is “too progressive for the midwest.” I think this gets it exactly wrong. It’s milquetoast corporate centrists providing only platitudes and the status quo that lose today in working class districts. As Cornel West put it brilliantly in a rare CNN appearance, “this is not a time for centrism”. To win votes you have to offer people something. Bernie does this in spades, and it’s the only antidote to Trump that will actually work: fight fake promises with real promises. The other lesson from 2016 is that people who are struggling don’t vote for polished politicians right now.
After those two, I see two clear third-choice candidates in Yang and Warren. Both are flawed and unlikely to beat Trump, but both also deserve attention for the efforts they’re making and the visions they present. Yang in particular could be a stronger candidate in the future if he develops a track record and clarifies in particular where the “Freedom Dividend” of $1000/month fits in with other federal/state social benefits; his non-politician aura is highly important in winning general elections right now. Warren says a lot of great things, she just doesn’t have quite the record or integrity to back it up at this point, and the fact that her appeal seems confined to older, more educated white Democrats (ie, NPR listeners) indicates she is unlikely to build a coalition that can win a national election in 2020.
Thereafter comes a sea of flavor-of-the-month corporate centrists with fluid policy positions whom I see as almost interchangeable. The “Democrat bubble” media loves these candidates but for some reason tends to focus on one at a time, almost like commercial product testing. It was all about Beto in the spring, then Kamala in the summer, then Cory briefly, then Buttigieg here as fall fades to winter. Maybe Klobuchar will be next. Or Bloomberg. Or even Hillary will jump back in. Most will soon be cast aside and drop out, as has already happened with Beto, but nonetheless the next one will find the limelight and it will be like the same politician putting on different faces. They all get their money from the same corporations and banks that need profits above all and are used to getting their profits via war, sickness, oil, wealth transfer, etc., and so no corporatist really stands for anything that wouldn’t change if their funders’ needs changed. None in my mind will beat Trump and none deserves serious consideration for progressives. They aren’t credibly questioning the wars, the declining wages, the upward wealth transfers, the cost healthcare and prescription drugs, the growth of college debt — the issues that matter to independent voters.
A quick note about upward wealth transfers: they aren’t only affecting the bottom 50% but affect everyone but perhaps the top .01%. All of us experience classism regardless of our wealth and income.
Biden is clearly the worst of the bunch. He’s possibly more sleazy than Trump and probably more trigger-happy with bombs and the military. He remains the DNC’s favorite, and given our worst-ever election in 2016 and the endless RussiaGate conspiracy theory witchhunt that has dragged on ever since to distract us from the horror of that election, I don’t doubt the DNC will continue to try to push him and repeat 2016. I’m not ready to say the DNC is trying to throw the election, but the fact is (and no one mentions this), the DNC is doing just fine with Trump in office — they don’t have to do anything other than scream “Trump is bad!,” and “Russia!,” and the media forgets that they (the putative opposition party) aren’t doing anything to address the needs of everyday people either. If Biden really proves as unpopular as I suspect he will during the primaries, the DNC will have to shift and push a flavor-of-the-month corporate centrist; if even that doesn’t work and Bernie keeps rising, they’ll swap in Elizabeth Warren as a last ditch preservation of their hold on the party. And Trump will get another four years. This is the problem with the DNC’s chokehold on the party — they’d rather lose with a corporate centrist than allow progressives any power, because a genuine progressive like Bernie who would bring real change threatens their business model of raising vast sums from large corporations.
But it is possible that Bernie or Tulsi will ignite the citizenry in a repeat of 2016 and this time actually take the nomination and with it the soul of the party, the votes in the electoral college, and the White House. This would usher in a new era in American politics.
Briefly, a look at how the debates are tilted towards establishment centrist candidates:
While my preference would be that every debate participant got equal time — and at least 2 minutes for each question — the DNC has of course elected to apportion time based on polling. But even with that metric, anti-establishment candidates (Sanders, Gabbard, Yang) always get less time than their polling numbers would indicate, and establishment candidates always get more time. This can’t be a coincidence since it happens every time. For instance, why would the moderators give Cory Booker, who is polling below 4%, almost as much time as Sanders? Oh right, because the moderators are from MSNBC, CNN, and the NYT.
At the end of the day, if you’re basically doing fine, have healthcare, aren’t living in your car, know where your next three meals are coming from, and have $1000 or $5000 in the bank somewhere, you have the luxury of choosing to vote your own self interest or vote for something larger than yourself. But if you’re not doing quite that well, if you’re one of approximately… half the country… and you’re working paycheck to paycheck and would have trouble pulling together $500 for a medical or auto emergency, you don’t have a choice, you are going to vote for the person or movement that seems like it might possibly make your life better. You’re going to vote for the candidate who offers you something. The corporate Democrats who are funded by corporations and come across as calculating politicians (Biden, Kamala, Booker, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, etc.) will not win many votes from this half of the country. They’ll vote for Trump again or they won’t vote at all, as they’re either too busy or they’ve decided politicians won’t do anything for them. But as we saw in the primary in 2016, they’ll crowd into stadiums, donate in fabulous historic fashion, and vote for someone like Bernie Sanders who actually speaks to their needs, acknowledges reality, and offers something real and tangible.
I personally don’t think Trump is the root of all evil, and it’s simply ridiculous to insinuate he’s a Russian plant, but he is corrupt, dishonest, and a poor president, and we must do better.
That is how I see it right now. Let me know what I’ve missed. And be sure to read broadly and deeply as things are rarely as they appear.