Poor Winners and the Progressive Fight

Paul Krugman - Poor WinnersPaul Krugman’s Friday column comes out just after midnight my time on Thursday. I thought for a little while about live blogging the event. Now that even the most innumerate can see that Hillary Clinton has won the Democratic Party nomination, would Krugman move on to something besides another “Clinton rocks! Sanders sucks!” article. I thought the idea was very funny because I was almost certain that he would write something different. But I was wrong. Although his article, Wrath of the Conned, is nominally about the Republicans, it reads more like an attack on Sanders. Krugman is one of the great poor winners.

The article doesn’t mention Sanders by name and certainly doesn’t give him any credit in the campaign. You know, because Sanders sucks. The best we get is the truly ignorant claim that nonwhite voters supported Clinton because her “challenger” (Not Sanders!) “sometimes seemed to dismiss” the achievement of Obamacare. Yeah, it was all about Obamacare, Krugman. I’m a big Obamacare supporter, but it does far too much argumentative work for Krugman in his apologias for Obama.

Krugman also quoted the Crimson Hexagon study in the most facile way, saying that Clinton got the most negative coverage. That’s true, but it’s important to note that it wasn’t that much more negative than the other candidates and that the same study found the media covered Clinton far more than it did Sanders.

I don’t especially care, I suppose. But it is a good illustration of how people are often poor winners. Would it be so hard to say something nice about what the Sanders phenomenon has done? Clinton has turned left during this primary because Sanders was pounding her from the left. Imagine where we’d be now if Jim Webb had seen Sanders’ level of support. We wouldn’t be talking about the minimum wage; we’d be talking about who was going to drop more bombs on more countries.

Politicians do not exist in a vacuum. Clinton has shifted to the left on both trade deals and Social Security — because of the success of Bernie Sanders. Does he — Do we?! — get any credit for this? Or are the Krugman’s the nation going to continue to stew about Sanders’ unfortunate “Clinton isn’t qualified to be president” comment (which he took back far more publicly than he stated it)?

Poor Winners Can Help Us!

Scott Lemieux wrote a really good article over at New Republic yesterday, Why Hillary Will Govern More Like Bernie Than People Think. This goes along with what I’ve been saying for some time to disappointed Sanders supporters, “He made Clinton, the Democratic Party, and America better.” But now I find that I have to say it to Clinton supporters. Yes, Clinton is a politician, and like them all — including Bernie Sanders — she shifts with the political winds. And she would have been a far worse candidate if she had spent the last year having only to counter the insanity of the Republican Party.

Lemieux’s article is mostly about Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, and how he’s turned out to be far more of a progressive than anyone would have thought given what a political hack he has always been. Lemieux noted:

Political context matters. If McAuliffe had been elected governor in the 1990s he likely would have been much more timorous and inclined to compromise with Republicans. But it ain’t the ’90s anymore, and McAuliffe has gotten the message.

And so too has Clinton, I believe. And it has happened in a big way. As Lemieux said, “Leaders often act as weathervanes, but this isn’t a bad thing if the wind is blowing in the right direction.” So maybe it’s best that people like Krugman are determined to be poor winners. It can encourage the rest of us. We need to keep blowing — and hard.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

21 thoughts on “Poor Winners and the Progressive Fight

  1. “We need to keep blowing — and hard.”

    Phrasing- boom!

    I’m a bit skeptical that shifts a candidate makes during a campaign will transfer to governance. I think the key will be if the Sanders coalition continues to exert pressure after the election is over. This is one reason why I’m not sold on open primaries- they encourage people to show up once every few years and vote without making the long-term commitments that lead to progress. Presidential candidates are the most visible part of politics, but they’re not the most important, and voting for a president is not the be-all and end-all of political organizing.

    • Nice “Archer” reference.

      I think you’re largely right. Certainly candidates Clinton and Obama ran far further to the left than they governed. As for the progressive movement in the party staying strong, I think we’re seeing more of this lately, with people who worked on ballot measures or national candidates shifting to advocacy on local-level issues (like wage increases.) Not at the level we need, but much more than we saw a decade ago.

    • I keep pointing out on Twitter and in other places that you have to give office holders space to do what you want. They need to know that they are not going to be twisting in the wind since otherwise you are asking someone else to get fired to do what you want without any effort to help them.

      My congresscritter in 2009 who threw his career away to ensure that someone like Frank (and now me) could have health insurance. Now he was a 30 year veteran politician who knew what was going to happen and did it anyway because he thought it was worth it. A lot of Democratic office holders did the same. They did it in 1994 when they voted for the tax increase. But we then had to suffer through years of pretty poor representation for it.

      So if you want Clinton to stick her neck out for your issues-give her the visible, obvious and “we will primary and vote you out” support she needs to convince the 60% of Senate and 51% of the House to get the legislation you want passed. Otherwise she won’t do it.

      • It’s like the old story (I think it is true) that FDR would say to activists, “Great! Now make me do it!” It is up to us. But I am also concerned about systemic problems that push back in a big way against democracy.

            • L.M. Montgomery in her last Anne of Green Gables books had one of the main characters talk say it a lot during the first world war.

              • Ah, well, I gave up after about the fifth. I did try. But I wouldn’t recommend anything past the second — and not really even that. The first was quite good. But maybe the ones about her children? I know we’ve discussed this before, but I have a terrible memory.

                  • Series are always problems. But I know why people like them: they want to know the characters better and better. Unfortunately, few writers are up to diving that deep. And I’m not sure any people are that deep anyway.

    • I don’t like open primaries either. I don’t believe it should be like in the UK where you pay to join a party, but I do think you should have to join the party. If you want to be an independent, then be an independent, and don’t interfere with what the parties want to do in their primaries.

      The political science is pretty clear on presidents: they do what they say will do. My big problem with Clinton at this point is over the TPP. Her comments on it are far too precise. She is clearly leaving herself open to say, “Oh! The changed it and now it is wonderful!” And she will be able to say that regardless because some changes will be made. But you are right, it is up to all of us to hold her accountable. Or, if Trump becomes president, I may be able to move to Bosnia.

      • In theory I’m all for parties making their own rules. In practice though, in the US for sure, the Dems and Repubs have become entwined with government mechanisms and have colluded to rig the electoral system so thoroughly that exercising voting rights pretty much requires open primaries of some sort.

        • I agree with that. It is a conspiracy, except that it has been going on so long that it can be done in the daylight and no one bats an eye.

  2. I expect better from you, Frank. First, Hillary has not in fact “won the Democratic Party nomination”. At this point that is the most likely outcome, but it’s doubtful that she’ll get there before the convention, when the superdelegates actually vote, and Bernie isn’t planning to concede. After all, the horse could learn to sing. Heck, looking at the way her eyes are bulging, it wouldn’t surprise me any if Hillary had a stroke in the near future.

    Second, the only thing that has “shifted to the left” to date is Hillary’s electoral rhetoric. I completely disagree with your predictions about her future behaviour — that’s why I intend to actively vote against her in the general — but there’s no way to prove the case either way just yet. Time will tell.

    If you haven’t been paying much attention, you likely don’t realize just how interesting this election has been since early March. Are you aware of Bernie’s consistent support in the rural areas of multiple states?

    see interactive maps of county by county electoral results by following the “date of primary” links here:

    This may or may not be relevant in the general election. I think it definitely would be if Bernie were the nominee, because of his support among independents. Nonetheless, it’s interesting data. A lot of the conventional wisdom about voting patterns is turning out to be moonshine.

    The most significant effect of this primary season though, may turn out to be the way it has exposed the shoddiness and malfeasance of the US electoral system — in detail, and to a great many future voters. I think even we aged cynics are rather shocked.

    • I doubt that we need anymore demonstrations of the shoddiness of the US electoral system. But regardless of that, Sanders is significantly down in national polls of Democratic voters. So I don’t see how Clinton winning the primary shows that.

      Obviously, I was not saying that Clinton had literally won the nomination. But you apparently haven’t been paying attention to me, because I called this race back in February — after Nevada, I think. But I’ll be happy to be proven wrong.

      As for Hillary only turning left in her rhetoric, what else does she have at this point? As I have stated ad nauseam, presidents do in fact govern as they campaigned. And there are a number of policy positions she has moved to the left on and others she has made commitments about that she would not have if Sanders hadn’t been pressing her. But I will leave it to you to research that. I know there was a feature in The Nation about that.

      • Enthusiasm for Sanders has caused a lot of people to pay attention to mechanics this time around. That’s unusual, I think. Clintonites don’t care about any of that of course. Voter suppression helps their cause at the moment. It’s worth noting how many of them are currently arguing that low turnout and Big Money in politics are no big deal, although this will turn around on them in the general.

        It’s my opinion that politicians mostly only keep those campaign promises that they were already planning to pursue. Unfavored policies get mired in process or reversed in backroom deals while depending on PR and public inattention to maintain a facade of support. I don’t give much credit for grudging acceptance and lip service, as that is usually accompanied by obstruction, foot-dragging and poison pills.

        • If that were true, then why wouldn’t candidates just take a poll and go with whatever policy was the most popular. For that matter, why would a Democrat ever run in a red district or a Republican in a blue district. I know politics is a dirty business, but politicians are still people. They are capable of great cognitive dissonance, but mostly they do believe what they say. I don’t support Sanders because I believe him and I don’t believe Clinton. The two of them are for different policies. We could have a long discussion about authenticity, but I don’t think it’s going to change how we see things. I’m fairly optimistic on a personal level. I am deeply pessimistic on a species level.

      • “I called this race back in February”

        I know. But why persevere in promoting this particular prognostication? It’s a practice that precipitates profound puzzlement. After all, a preponderance of perspicacity is not prerequisite for predicting that a preferred politician will prevail. Perhaps I can propose a pause to ponder this peculiar prediliction? Or not. It isn’t my purpose to perturb our popular patron.

        • Maybe it is personal protection. I’m used to losing, but that doesn’t mean I like it. After New York, I found that I was much more upset than I had expected. But I do think we have to be honest about this stuff. The issue is not Sanders but the movement. There is a huge left-wing movement in the party (on economic issues anyway). We need to take the party back from the New Democrats that have more or less been in charge since 1972. We have more than enough power to do it if we want to.

          But, ever the pessimist, I expect the vast majority of Sanders supporters to tune out for the next four years. I’ve very unhappy at that prospect.

          • I’ve also been more invested than expected. I didn’t expect to see a significant shift away from identity politics in my lifetime, but a re-balancing looks to be happening, if it isn’t strangled in the crib.

            Here’s one dilemma: if the object is to reform the Democrats (abandoning third party ambitions), is that project helped or hindered by having an anti-reform White House incumbent heading the party, with all the power and patronage that office confers?

            • I can’t answer that question. But I know a lot of the establishment is afraid. Did you see Jonathan Chait’s most recent ridiculous attack earlier today? It really is true that anyone to the left of Chait is a communist as far as he’s concerned. He really isn’t worth reading at all. Michael Hiltzik deals with all the same stuff Chait does, but far better.

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