American Brexit

Some thoughts on Tuesday’s shocking results…

The Election Was a Nearly Complete Disaster for the Democratic Party

It wasn’t just the fact that the Democrats lost the presidency.  They also didn’t regain control of the Senate, which was a very real possibility, or regain the House, which was unlikely to happen anyway.  This means that President Trump’s agenda can have the support of both houses of Congress, and most of Paul Ryan’s and Mitch McConnell’s policies will have the support of the presidency.  The Democrats can still filibuster, but they won’t be able to lead any committees or set the agenda for either of the houses.

What This Says About America

There is a lot of talk about how this election proves that America is an irredeemably racist, sexist wasteland.  I can’t disagree that parts of it are (and neither would anybody who has received or even seen alt-right troll posts on twitter), but remember that this election was very close.  One percent of people switching from Trump to Clinton would have resulted in her winning the election.  We would have then seen a flood of thinkpieces about how much the country is better off now that we’ve finally elected a female president.

One percent of voters may be able to change the future of the country’s policies, but I don’t think that their actions should make a difference regarding whether you should be ashamed of your entire country or proud of it.  Whoever won the election, we know that there are deep divisions between Americans.  Whatever you think may think of the people who voted for any of the candidates (and those that didn’t vote), there were millions of them before Election Night and there still those same millions today.  This election has not changed the character of the country’s populace overnight.

Bernie Might Have Won.  Or Not.

Ever since the election, some people are arguing that Bernie Sanders would have beaten Donald Trump, while others insist he would have lost too.  Sanders did generate enthusiasm at his rallies, had higher favorability ratings, and was projected to do better against Trump in hypothetical polling.  In theory, he could have reduced the loss of voters from Obama’s run in 2012 as well as blunted Trump’s right-wing populist appeal with a left-wing populist appeal of his own, considering the fact that he beat Clinton in both Michigan and Wisconsin.

Unfortunately, the difference between Trump’s populism and Sanders’ in the primaries was that Trump got his supporters to actually vote, while Sanders didn’t.  Clinton won the 2016 nomination easily despite getting less votes than she did when she lost to Obama in 2008.  And despite Sanders winning Wisconsin and Michigan in the primaries, winning them both would in the general still leads to a Trump win because he flipped Pennsylvania, which went for Clinton in the primaries.  There’s also the question about how Middle America would vote for a “socialist” (which he technically isn’t, but anyway…).  Then again, I didn’t think 82% of evangelicals would vote for a twice divorced, crude, supremely egotistical New Yorker who has espoused very social liberal views all the way up until a few years ago, but here we are.

Where Do We Go From Here?

It looks bleak for Democrats right now.  The House is gone, the Senate is gone, the presidency is gone, and the Supreme Court may be lost for a generation.  And the 2018 midterms, where turnout is generally lower and older (and therefore skews Republican), will have 23 seats, plus the two independent senators that caucus with them, up for grabs, compared on only 8 for the Republicans.  There is a real potential for Republicans gaining a supermajority in the Senate.

You cannot wait four years for the next presidential election in order to change things.  Again, the midterms in two years are vital.  State and local elections, where the Democrats have been getting their asses kicked the last eight years, need more liberal voters to go out and vote.  Two states, New Jersey and Virginia will have governor and legislature elections in 2017, so you have to go out and vote in a year if you live there.  Getting state governments allows you to stop letting the Republicans gerrymander after the new census comes out.  (And letting them gerrymander instead, of course.  It would be nice if they Democrats would get rid of gerrymandering by mandating nonpartisan committees redraw the lines, but that isn’t going to happen).  If the Democrats want to start winning elections again, they need to get their voters to go vote in every election, presidential or not.

2016 Democratic Primary Debate #1

Hillary “My Position is Whatever Your Position Is” Clinton

With a huge nation-wide gap between her and Sanders, she was able to win this debate simply by not losing it. She gave a good answer to the criticism that she waffles on issues, pointing out that she adapts her positions as she receives new information. It’s generally better to adjust your erroneous position than to keep it because otherwise you’d be labeled a flip-flopper. I’m not entirely convinced by the answer, I still think she’s adjusting her stances to whatever the Democratic base is feeling at the moment, but it was probably the best possible response. Similarly, the burn prepared for whoever used her vote on the Iraq War to demonstrate she lacked good judgement (it just happened to be Chaffee) was effective. Pointing out that the current president trusted her enough with foreign policy to make her Secretary of State is a fine soundbite, even if it ignores the reality of the political reasons for Obama making that appointment.

Some of her remarks about foreign policy were strange for a former Secretary of State. The idea that Medvedev was actually in the man charge of Russia as president and not just a placeholder because Putin couldn’t hold three consecutive terms, for example. Saying that Russia’s aggressive expansion only began once Putin got back the presidency (which Medvedev could theoretically have challenged, but didn’t since he was just keeping Putin’s seat warm) ignores the fact that the South Ossetia War took place during Medvedev’s first year. Also, backing Obama’s plan to use airstrikes instead of land intervention in Libya was perfectly reasonable, although it ignores the fact that Libya was soon thrown into another civil war nearly as soon as we stopped our support.

Clinton also unsurprisingly faltered when going up against Sanders in terms of financial policy. Saying that she represented Wall Street as a Senator and told them to “cut it out” (because that totally changed anything) was probably her biggest gaffe of the night. Her response to the question of how she would be different from Obama was the fact that she was a woman was also too obvious pandering. “Is a woman” shouldn’t be any more a qualification for winning an election than “is a man”.

Overall though, Clinton wasn’t excellent but was very solid. She seemed polished and presidential, answered the questions without making too many obvious errors, and made the most of pointed remarks about her major weaknesses. In other words, she did what she needed to do.

Bernie “Combs are the Assholes” Sanders

The senator needed a dominant performance to help make up his gap with Clinton, and he didn’t deliver. He wasn’t bad, and most of his rhetoric remains inspiring even on a debate stage, but he needed to do better. It was a really bad started when he failed to convincingly explain what democratic socialism is. The key was to get people to stop equivocating that ideology with what most Americans, especially older Americans, associate with socialism (ie the USSR/Stalin), and he emphatically failed to do that. It’s not enough to compare it to Scandinavia when a frighteningly large percentage of Americans don’t know if that’s a positive thing or not. Also, saying you aren’t a capitalist and trying to defend that position doesn’t work when you also then try and say you support small businesses. Small private businesses are technically part of capitalism too, even if they’re an increasingly smaller and less important part.

His responses to gun control and foreign policy were mixed. For the only time in the debate, he had to play the political realist when it came to how much gun control you can get through Congress due to his voting record. I mean, he’s right that residents of more rural states are more wary of any form of gun control, but it still probably cost him points in the current climate only a couple weeks after the Umpqua shooting. His foreign policy is generally good, but he did a mediocre job of articulating it during this debate. He seemed a bit too eager to say that he’s willing to use military force later on in the debate after being confronted with more hawkish positions from the other candidates, and it didn’t come off as convincing.

Once the debate turned to financial policy Sanders came alive. His best moment was his “’Congress Doesn’t Regulate Wall Street. Wall Street Regulates Congress” line. He also differentiated himself because he could say that he voted against the Patriot Act, and was able to back up his position against government surveillance.

Sanders’ ideals remain appealing, even if I’m not really sure of the feasibility of his plans to pay for things like free public college. He came across as passionate but not really polished and presidential, despite (or maybe because of) the tame debate hairstyle. He needed to do more. It’s telling that his biggest applause and the thing that is getting the most media coverage today was his defense of Clinton over her email scandal instead of his attacking her over Wall Street.

Martin “Totally Not the Basis of Tommy Carcetti” O’Malley

O’Malley also had a solid debate, looking very polished during most of the night. He started off a little slow with a couple stories that seemed like obvious pandering, but recovered well. His positions were sort of in the middle of Clinton’s and Sanders’, for example switching between supporting Clinton’s call for gun control and agreeing with Sanders that Glass-Steagall should be reintroduced over Clinton’s objections. His only standout moment was his comparison between the Democratic and Republican debates, which has been given a nice response but fails to differentiate him from the other candidates. This probably means he’ll get a few points at most out of the performance.

Jim “Am I at the Right Debate?” Webb

Well that was bad. I mean, really unexpectedly terrible. Nothing to do with his policies, we already knew that he was a very conservative Democrat and he proved it, but in behavior. He used a significant amount of his limited time to whine about his limited time when he wasn’t complaining about China. His answer to the enemy made in your political career question, where he said it was an enemy combatant and then heavily implied he killed him, was bizarre. In terms of entertainment value he was fine, especially when he was sparring with Anderson Cooper over his speaking time. But as a candidate for President of the United States Webb was a disaster.

Lincoln “Running for President Despite Probably Not Being Able to Win Reelection as Governor of Rhode Island” Chafee

Chafee should probably be thankful that he isn’t Jim Webb, although he wasn’t much better. His response to the question about his vote to repeal Glass-Steagall was embarrassing. Otherwise he just seemed happy to be on the stage with the way he kept smiling.

Anderson Cooper

The real winner of the debate. His questions for all the questions were tough and showed a lot of preparation. He was a big improvement over Jake Tapper’s handling of the second Republican debate, but he had to deal with less than half the amount of candidates.