Concerns About Sanders’ General Election Chances

Bernie Sanders' General Election ChancesThe other night, my friend Will told me, “You’ve really been coming out strong for Bernie Sanders recently!” That surprised me because I feel more and more stuck in the middle. I have substantive problems with Clinton on policy. And I have real concerns about Bernie Sanders’ general election chances. This isn’t, of course, a brand new thing. I’ve been grappling with the question for some time. Back in September, I wrote, What Risk Is Bernie Sanders Worth? I wrote then, “If I think that Hillary Clinton has a 55% chance of winning the general election and Bernie Sanders has a 45% chance, then there is no question: I’ll go with Bernie. If Bernie has a 10% chance, I’ll go with Hillary.”

The funny thing is, at the last Democratic debate, I got a sense that Sanders himself is a little concerned that he might win the primary. All throughout this campaign, I’ve thought that Sanders was the real deal — that he wasn’t an issue candidate, but someone who really thought he could win the presidency. Now I don’t know. But it could be that I’m projecting. If Bernie is a real threat to Hillary, I need to get very serious about both of their general election chances.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Playing the electability game is foolish. In 2004, as a party, we chose Kerry over Dean because he was more electable. But knowing what I now know about political science, Dean was clearly our best chance of winning the presidency. The only way that we could have won that election was by making it about the Iraq War, and that was something that Kerry just couldn’t do. I do think that under normal circumstances, Clinton has the better general election chances. But if the economy starts to crumble, Sanders will likely be the only chance the Democrats have.

Bernie Sanders’ General Election Chances

One concern about Sanders that I’ve had for some time now is that if the economy continues to improve, the Republicans might be smart and make the election about foreign policy and terrorism. Now, as was fully on display at Saturday’s GOP debate: the Republicans have the problem of not actually wanting to do anything different than the Democrats; they just want to talk tough. But that could be enough to convince the electorate. In the end, it is all about perceptions anyway. But the Republicans couldn’t do that if Clinton were the candidate. So I tend to think that even a major domestic terrorist attack would benefit Clinton.

If true, that makes Bernie Sanders’ general election chances more like the 10% case than the 45% case. And that frightens me.

Last week, Max Fisher wrote a very good article, Why I’m Not Writing Off Bernie Sanders on Foreign Policy. Basically, he said that foreign policy was really all a game. There are certain advisers that presidents have, and this is how foreign policy is determined. The media are caught up in Sanders going through a certain political theater where he shows that he understands foreign policy and he knows who the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-stan-stan is. Sanders is instead focused on the economy, which is why I love him. But it also hurts his general election chances.

My second concern comes from an article by Jeff Stein, We Asked 6 Political Scientists if Bernie Sanders Would Have a Shot in a General Election. It’s an actual article genre at Vox, with articles like, “We Asked 6 Zoologists What the Giraffe’s Most Distinctive Feature Is.” But they are useful. And the consensus was that Bernie could win under the right circumstances. Much of it is just conventional wisdom and I don’t buy into it. I continue to wonder about one bit of political science that no one seems to understand: why does the electorate get more liberal when a conservative is in the White House and vise versa. And if that’s the case, why do most presidents win re-election?

But Seth Masket said something that concerned me. He said that Sanders’ more liberal positions would probably cost him 2 to 3 percentage points in the general election. Now, maybe I’m just letting my natural affinity for math sway me — he used numbers! But he put it into a context that I know very well and believe in very strongly, “It’s not as big an effect as flipping a growing economy to one in recession. It’s more like flipping a growing economy to a stalled one.” Ouch.

If true, that makes Bernie Sanders’ general election chances more like the 10% case than the 45% case. And that frightens me. A Republican president would be a catastrophe. I keep thinking, “The electorate has to wake up eventually! They can’t keep voting for the same failed promises and utter incompetence!” But all evidence says that they can.

Meanwhile, I will continue to accumulate information about Bernie Sanders’ general election chances.

Democratic Primary to Be as Debased as GOP’s?

Hillary Clinton Democratic PrimaryI wish politics were more kind and honest. But I hardly expect it. What I would hope is that at least the “liberal” party could have a presidential primary in which we didn’t get lost in fantasy. I’m not talking about Sanders’ proposals, which are fantastic to one degree or another. I’m talking about pretending to be outraged because you’ve chosen to read a bit of data in a way that will allow you to be outraged. I am, of course, talking about what Washington Blade reported over the weekend, Clinton Surrogates Pounce on Sanders Over ’82 Marriage Resolution. Is this what the Democratic primary has come to?

I am trying to be very even-handed in this Democratic primary, and this afternoon, you will see an article I’ve written that is very critical of Sanders’ chances in a general election. But this story is just ridiculous. Back in 1982, while Sanders was mayor of Burlington, he signed a document for “We Believe in Marriage Week.” The third part of it says that marriage “should be viewed as a lifelong commitment between husband and wife filled with mutual respect and open, honest communications.” Aha, say the Clinton surrogates! Christine Quinn tweeted, “@BernieSanders says he pure on #lgbt.Cites 80’s Pride March-omits yr before as Mayor he signed reso affirming marriage ONLY btw man/woman??”

Really?! I don’t read it that way. This sounds so much like most of what you find in So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed? When I wrote about that book (and elsewhere), I noted that most of the cases of outrage were just people insisting upon seeing a statement or tweet in the worst possible light. In those cases, it is just people who so want to feel superior and love the rush that outrage brings with it. Here it is just a political game.

Attack Bernie SandersNote that same sex marriage was not always a gay rights issue. There was a strong contingent of the LGBT community that was distinctly uninterested in the matter. But regardless, does anyone anywhere think that such a milquetoast resolution in 1982 would have explicitly included same sex marriage? The first state to allow same sex marriage was Massachusetts in 2003. And regardless, not explicitly including same sex marriage is not the same as excluding it. Quinn’s statement is factually wrong. You could say that it “only affirmed marriage,” but you can’t say it the other way around. And that is the point: to make it sound like Sanders signed something like DOMA.

Does This Help Clinton in Democratic Primary?!

In addition to all of this, I really wonder how this all helps Clinton in the Democratic primary. After all, it is Clinton who is worse on this issue. It was her husband who signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. (And who is, right on cue, doing his crazy husband act.) Sanders voted against it. Clinton was still in favor of it in 2000 when she ran for Senate. She didn’t come out in favor of same sex marriage until 2013, which is, let me see now, after my 80 year old father did. And for the record, I was ranting rather loudly back in the early 1990s about the lack of same sex marriage being an explicit form of government oppression. Still, I don’t care one way or another about when either of these candidates came around.

Let’s face it: they both exist in different political environments. Sanders has been in a smaller league where it was easier to be bold. But he didn’t have to be bold, and he should be given credit. Clinton has been in the major league for decades, and her positions indicate that: from the Iraq War to same sex marriage. But I think she too needs to be given credit, because if she had acted as Sanders, she wouldn’t have been a player; she would have been like Eleanor Roosevelt: beloved by liberals, but sidelined.

Just the same, this attack on Sanders is nonsense. This is exactly the kind of thing that I did not want to see in this Democratic primary. It’s not even submental. It’s too practiced for that. It’s demagoguery of the most facile kind.

Anniversary Post: Orangeburg Massacre

Orangeburg MassacreOn this day in 1968, three African American student protesters were killed by police at the Orangeburg Massacre in South Carolina. In addition, 28 others were injured — most of them shot in the back while they were fleeing.

It was part of a protest of racial segregation at the local All Star Bowling Lane. After it happened, Governor Robert McNair said it was one of the “saddest days” in South Carolina history and blamed the deaths on Black Power agitators. As is usually the case, the local authorities did nothing to the police. So the feds stepped in and prosecuted. But all of the police officers were found not guilty. They used a defense that will sound oddly familiar: they felt threatened. I am now calling this the “I Was Vewy Vewy Afwaid” defense.

Again I ask, since police work is thought to be so dangerous, you would think that we would hire brave men to do the job. But instead, we hire cowards who are, in far too many cases, simple psychopaths.

There was one conviction that came out of the Orangeburg Massacre: in 1970, the state of South Carolina found civil rights leader Cleveland Sellers guilty of rioting. He spent seven month in jail for it. So justice was done! Three students killed, many others shot in the back, and the state sends a man to jail for supposedly rioting two days earlier. Go team!

People who think that racism isn’t a defining feature of our society are crazy. And what we saw back then is exactly what we continue to see today. But we elected a black president, so racism is over! Or so the conservatives say. Of course, those same conservatives said racism was over before Obama. And they said it during Jim Crow. Just ask William Buckley: he told the world of 1960 that Jim Crow wasn’t about racism but just African Americans hadn’t reached the grand civilized heights of the whites who were lynching them.

But I guess things like the Orangeburg Massacre are the price we have to pay for making sure that no police officer is ever afraid. Such delicate flowers they are!