Friday, April 1, 2016

Bernie or Hillary? We'll Know Soon, No Fooling

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say this is the most contentious primary season in a generation. Leaving alone for a moment the “Real Estate Developer” as at least one pundit calls Trump, refusing to use his name, Democrats are having their own argument among themselves. The idea that outsiderness is the flavor of the day can be applied to Bernie Sanders despite the fact that he’s been in Congress for 26 years. After all, though he usually votes with Democrats, officially he has never been elected as a Democrat, preferring to run as an Independent in Vermont, one of the most liberal states in the nation. He is a Democratic Socialist and proud of it. 

Sanders does not waver in his insistence that America can afford to give every citizen free health care, free tuition at state universities, paid family leave, an increase in Social Security benefits, while simultaneously rebuilding our infrastructure. Bernie says it would cost 18,000,000,000,000 over 10 years, that’s 18 trillion, 15T of which is federal spending—1.5T/yr when the annual federal budget right now is 3.2T. It would almost double federal spending. Republican heads just exploded: to them, Sanders proves Romney’s contention that they just want “free stuff.”

To pay for it, he would….raise taxes, mostly on the wealthy, on corporations, and on the financial and banking industries, because as he likes to say, we bailed them out, now it’s their turn. But he would also raise taxes on just about all in order to pay for “Medicare for All” and family leave. I’m not sure how the almost 50% whose health insurance is paid all or in part by employers make out. He doesn’t explain how he would convince Americans to willingly give up their private insurance policies, when just a few years ago Obama was vilified for promising Americans could keep their insurance plans if they liked them, yet only some 5% or less could not and screamed bloody murder. His projections of future economic growth are also considered a fantasy by most economists, and without the 5.3% growth rate he predicts, a rate not seen since the 1980’s, enough tax revenue would not come in.

He acknowledges that in order to achieve sweeping changes like this, it would not be enough simply to elect him President, since Republicans in Congress have not been willing to so much as close a corporate tax loophole for many years. No, he says it will take a “political revolution.” I don’t know how deeply his followers have thought through how unlikely this revolution is, but I know that when you are caught up in what feels like, and may indeed be described as “a movement,” it is easy to delude yourself that each success is inevitable and each setback is caused by a conspiracy (media isn’t fair, Democratic Party is against him, the system is rigged). 

Sanders’ opponent in his quixotic adventure is Hillary Clinton, a former First Lady to probably the most investigated president in American history (at least most investigated for false or inconsequential misdeeds). After 25 years of almost nonstop media coverage of Republican smears and phony scandals, her image is tarnished. Among liberals, this is compounded by her vote to support use of force in Iraq, a mistake she explains was that of believing Bush’s promise to pursue continued weapons inspections. Using a private e-mail server while Secretary, which the FBI is reportedly still investigating, also hangs over her candidacy. Bottom line: her credibility is doubted by the majority of voters despite the fact she polls as the most admired woman in the world, year after year.

One of Bernie’s biggest arguments against Hillary, which he applies to all politicians, is that because they have their own Super PACs often funded anonymously by big corporations or billionaires, they are corrupt and cannot be trusted. Only he and Chump (my preferred alias for the Donald) claim they are free of influence because Bernie takes only small donations from individuals and Chump spends his own money. Hillary agrees with Bernie that Citizen’s United (the Supreme Court ruling that treats corporate political spending as ‘free speech’) should be overturned, but maintains, as Obama did, that until it is, she must take donations from many sources to compete and will not allow these donations to influence her policy decisions. Bernie suggests otherwise, though he stops short of a direct accusation and has not produced any instances of her changing a vote due to a contribution. He is a master of skepticism and innuendo, inviting his chuckling admirers to just imagine how good her speeches must have been to earn her hundreds of thousands of dollars per speech. It's a lot of money, but not out of line for speakers of her renown: Colin Powell, a former Secretary of State as well, and not in political office, so presumably “not corrupt,” earns between $100,000-200,000 per speech.

As I write this, Bernie has won several Western caucus states with staggeringly good numbers and is claiming a path to the nomination, though Hillary has over 250 more “pledged” delegates (delegates won in primaries/caucuses) and 450 more superdelegates (elected officials, party chairmen and such). The delegate count is 57%/43% in Hillary’s favor, 67%/33% if you include super delegate endorsements. Bernie has been strong in some parts of the country and among some demographics, particular young people, white men and in caucus states, but there are only a couple of caucus states left. Hillary has been very strong among African Americans and in the South, but the South has largely finished voting. 

Bernie has to win consistently and strongly to win the nomination. If Hillary wins even just a couple of the remaining states or wins some with strong numbers, Bernie can’t catch up in the pledged delegate count, and unless the political revolution he needs reveals itself now, it’s going to have to wait for a future election. To quote FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, the statistics ‘wonder boy’, if Bernie manages to surpass Hillary in pledged delegates, “this scenario would represent such a massive sea-change that superdelegates really might have to reconsider their positions. You might even say it would require a revolution, a profound rejection of Clinton and the status quo.”

We should know by April 26 when we will have results from NY (April 19), Pennsylvania, and several other Northeastern states. If Bernie hasn’t significantly closed the gap by then, I think Hillary can claim the nomination.

And though I’m publishing this on April Fool’s day, I ain’t fooling.