Sunday, October 25, 2015

JJ Post Mortem

Since the 1984 Reagan landslide, Iowa Democrats have only lost the presidential race once.

That was in 2004, after a particularly nasty caucus cycle. Young idealists (and a few old ones like me)  inspired by Howard Dean were loath to settle for a Kerry-Edwards ticket, and in some places the Kerry folks were less than gracious in victory.

It took a few months to patch things up, months the Democrats never got back.

Last night at the Iowa Democratic Party's Jefferson Jackson Dinner, some of that familiar tension was in the air between Team Bernie and Team Hillary.

Barring an increasingly unlikely breakout by Martin O'Malley, we now have a two way, zero sum race. Clinton's gains are Sanders' losses and vice versa. That usually forces contests onto the low road, a path that the Sanders supporters, drawn to an alternative politics, will find distasteful.

And now that the Endless Biden Speculation is over, the national press will be be playing up Sanders' chances. It's in their interest to make things interesting for as long as possible,

But in doing so, they'll elevate hopes and postpone the inevitable letdown later and later, closer and closer to election day.

The image that sticks with me from last night is of Sanders supporters leaving after his speech, through O'Malley's and into Clinton's.

Sanders leaders are aware it was a bad optic, especially since Press Row was a peninsula surrounded on three sides by Team Bernie while the Clinton sections were on the other side.  They're trying to get word out that the early departure was forced by transportation, as the crowd was largely students who bused over. (A problem solved by paying the bus drivers whatever overtime was needed.) And fingers are pointed at the security check in, which pushed the start time back an hour.

But walking out on the other speakers is very telling, especially when your candidate has yet to actually say he is a Democrat.

If I seem more critical of Sanders here, and I am still neutral, it's because I still see him having a more difficult path to the nomination. Despite his early state success, The Bern is still almost exclusively a white creative class phenomenon, and without a dramatic new development he seems pre-destined to flounder on the South Carolina beach and dry up in the Nevada desert.

Sanders supporters believe they will win. The rookies can't even conceive of not winning. Neither could us Deaniacs.

Yet it is still very, very likely that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. So: will the people drawn by the Sanders rhetoric (even "it's all about the issues" is a rhetoric) walk out on the fall campaign they way they walked out on Hillary Saturday?

And, in the unlikely but now conceivable event that Sanders is the nominee, will they identify with the Democratic Party, or just with The Political Revolution? Will they vote that ballot down to that moderate state Senator in a must-hold race?

In many ways, Sanders more zealous supporters - not all; I know lots of party loyalists who are for Sanders - are capable of being their own worst enemies, projecting a cult of personality around the candidate who is about issues not personality. In the classic The True Believer, Eric Hoffer argues that the ideological spectrum curves around so that zealots on opposite ends come to resemble each other in behavior and attitude. And Sanders World, bragging about winning online polls, feels a lot like Ron Paul World late 2011.

(STILL the under-reported story of the election: the way Bernie Sanders snuffed out Rand Paul.)

The funny thing is, all three candidates are singing from the same songbook, much as "arch rivals" Kary Perry and Taylor Swift are both singing hooks written by hit factory songwriter Max Martin. The actual policy differences between Clinton, Sanders and O'Malley are trivial, compared to the vast gulfs within  the wings of the Republican Party - a fact Bill Clinton emphasized in Team Hillary's pre-rally.

But it's about the style, with Hillary as Top 40 and Sanders as some indie band you probably haven't heard of. Oligarchy And The Billionaire Class are the punk rock version of The Deck Is Stacked For Those At The Top.

The Iowa Sanders folks tweeted out a graphic of their march to the arena, with a caption bragging that they didn't need a pop star. But bashing people for Selling Out is the kind of thinking that killed Cobain. And an A-list star like Katy Perry comes to freakin' Des Moines and gives a free concert? Admit it: that's FUN.
So what if she's not singing about the class struggle like Joe Strummer? So what if it's empty calories scientifically engineered in a lab in Sweden to make your ears salivate when that hook from "Roar" hits? 77 million followers - 12 million more than Obama. Decry the culture of fame all you want; it's our cultural and political reality.  And when a reality TV star and a Christian media subculture celebrity are leading the Republican field, Dems need all the star power we can get.

The flip side, of course, is Team Hillary needs to be planning ahead. Sure, Bernie's folks will eventually need to get on board. But Clinton needs to get them on board, which is a tricky task.

The John Kerry campaign never really seemed to make an effort to get the Deaniacs on board; it was just assumed we would go along to Beat Bush. And while we pretty much all VOTED for Kerry - the Nader vote dwindled to a tenth of its 2000 share - a lot of folks did nothing BUT vote. And Clinton may have work to do to get even that.

She's carefully not attacking, which may not be helping but at least isn't deepening the wound. Positions on issues aren't doing it, because Sanders just keeps saying he was right on DOMA or the Iraq War or whatever FIRST. For now, she's carefully aiming at the left of the general electorate, embracing the median of the Obama era Democratic Party where it's understood that the white male South is gone forever.

Over my 25ish years in politics, I've seen literally dozens of campaigns, local and national, center their strategy around getting non-voters to vote. Only two have ever succeeded: Barack Obama, and the first 19 Bar campaign here in Iowa City in 2007 that got students out for a city election. (The second effort, in 2010, also successfully implemented the strategy, but fell just short.)

Sanders is trying that strategy, and while I wish him well,  in the new zero-sum dynamic of the Democratic race, he also need to convince some of the kinds of folks who care about control of the state Senate, folks who are largely in the Clinton camp now, that he can be a team player. Because having a Democratic president didn't do jack for the teachers and public employees of Wisconsin.


Rod Sullivan said...

Great post as usual, John. My point re: keeping Sanders supporters engaged - whose job is that? I'd say the task of keeping the Party together falls largely to the nominee. As you well know, Kerry failed miserably in that regard. The distaste for those of us that supported Dean was barely below the surface.

The fact is, many Sanders supporters do not see anything changing if HRC is elected. It is up to her to prove them wrong! She could begin by preemptively naming an economic team that specifically includes people like Bob Reich and excludes people like Larry Summers. She could bring serious climate activists into her circle, and endorse plans they support. She could engage peace activists. There are many things she could do.

Don't want Sanders supporters to walk out? Give them a reason to stay.

John said...

Thanks for the constructive critique. Both teams could offer each other such good advice.

One problem with "do not see anything changing if HRC is elected" is that no matter WHO is president, they're almost certainly facing at least a Republican US House. dominated by the Steve King wing, through at least the 2022 redistricting cycle, and possibly a Republican Senate as well. That means much of what any Democratic president can do is merely play defense or counter-attack, rather than passing anything positive.

Joseph Howe said...

Ron Paul is still the man.

That being said, the DNC needs to learn from the RNC, most of the three million Ron Paul primary voters were insulted and snubbed.

And sat at home during the general or voted third party. We'll see how it goes

Unknown said...

Hillary accusing Bernie of sexism means she doesn't get my support if she wins.

I'll stay home, I have much better things to do with my time than support a liar.

John said...

That's the kind of thinking that gives us President Carson.

Anonymous said...

This was linked on the Sanders subreddit, not sure how many people will notice. I'm sad to say that it doesn't even matter what the very dedicated supporters of Sanders do. See, I got 20 of my lower middle class work colleagues committed because of Sanders. Not Hillary. They don't vote because they don't think it matters and because they feel politics is corrupt. And you can't argue this, Hillary is the queen of insider politics. Even if we don't count her supporting Bill's many potentially illegal actions towards women, and enough are verified that its hard to see how a female president preaching female empowerment could stay married to this guy, and all her other personal bullshit Bernie doesn't want us to talk about, her public positions on the issues and the kind of politics she employs are not acceptable.

I'm going to let you in on the open secret in Bernie world. Bernie doesn't own us. He can support Hillary if he wants. But I've met dozens of volunteers, on top of people I personally pressured into voting because of Bernie, who hate Hillary's guts. And no, its not BernieBros or some bullshit like that. This includes educated and minority women who simply hate Hillary's guts. One said and I quote: "I didn't know who Bernie even was, but I was searching desperately for a candidate that wasn't Hillary."

I spoke to a women whose mother was a Jehovah's witness and as such she doesn't vote since she promised her mother she wouldn't. She hates Hillary, too. Hillary is viewed by many women the same way Ben Carson is viewed by African Americans.

I couldn't convince my fellow volunteers or the people I convinced to vote for Bernie to support Hillary even if I wanted to, which I don't. Republicans and Independents and Veterans who support Bernie are also not going to accept Hillary.

As far as volunteering and convincing friends/family to vote and volunteer for Hillary. No. If the Democrats elect Hillary they are throwing away everything that Bernie has accomplished. There is no turning back. Its not even that the people I get to agree to vote are going to protest vote third party. They are going to do nothing. Not one fucking thing. They are going to go back to their sub 10$ an hour 40 hour plus part time life and they are never going to trust the political system again.

Let me repeat this: Whether dedicated Bernie supporters fall in line behind Bernie in supporting Hillary of not, the political revolution dies on the party's Hill(ary).

John said...

Interesting and thanks.

I'm sorry but I can't comprehend someone who thinks there's no difference between a Hillary Clinton and a Trump or a Rubio. I mean, I literally do not understand it.

Remember it works both ways. If Bernie has nominated the Hillary supproters will be asked to accept his weaker positions on guns, and will be asked to let go of a deep emotional dream of seeing a woman president.

I think we have three good candidates. But NONE of them can win in November without ALL of the supporters of ALL of their rivals.

Robert said...

"I'm sorry but I can't comprehend someone who thinks there's no difference between a Hillary Clinton and a Trump or a Rubio. I mean, I literally do not understand it."

Dude read his post again. That isn't what he said. He said they wouldn't vote. They aren't voting Republican. Of course there is a difference between those three, but not in terms of them shaking up the status quo which is what a lot of disenfranchised people want.

I don't think Democrats realize how much they hurt themselves during the 2009-2011 Congress. All that power to change things and all they wanted to do was play ball with the Republicans when it was clear from Day 1 the Republicans were never going to play. Nothing bold, always on the defensive. It was truly a disgrace. How are people supposed to distinguish you from the other side when given power you can barely follow through with anything?

Steven D said...

"Dude read his post again. That isn't what he said. He said they wouldn't vote. They aren't voting Republican."

If you don't vote and are a Democrat or progressive you are voting for a Republican. If you vote Democrat we get one vote and the Republicans are down a vote. If you don't vote we don't get a vote and the Republicans are up a vote.

Agree 100% John - "I'm sorry but I can't comprehend someone who thinks there's no difference between a Hillary Clinton and a Trump or a Rubio. I mean, I literally do not understand it."

I can't understand anyone who is Democrat, Independent or Progressive who would rather have a Trump or Carson in the White House rather than HRC. Bernie's supporters, many who I have read on Facebook anyway, are not Democrats. Why should they be? Neither is Bernie. I know he is running as a Democrat, but I don't think he has ever said that he is a Democrat (could be wrong there as I don't hang on his every word). Hillary Clinton is a proud Democrat. And the crap about how she isn't an empowered woman because she stuck with Bill? Please, I think it is to her credit that she loves her husband and can see beyond his cheating. She knows who Bill is and still loves him. I don't care about that - that is her choice and she is the one that has to live with it. Also, I think Hillary would be an effective President where I just don't see it from the Bern. He has great ideas and I would love to see him stay where he is or get a good position where he would be able to turn his ideas into reality - but I don't think that will come as a result of him being President.

Hillary isn't my first choice either as I really like Martin O'Malley (truth be told there isn't a lot of difference between them), but I respect Hillary and will be proud to vote for her if she is the D Nominee.

Lauren said...

I'm concerned that the Dems are at risk of splintering in a similar way to the Repub party in the last 10 years. As you said, extremes tend to curl around and meet and end up closer together than you'd expect, even when ideology is the opposite. I am troubled by the fact that, when push comes to shove, many Dems I know (yes, Sanders supporters among them)--devoted progressive liberals--feel no compunction to further the party's agenda and will put their own sense of righteousness over the interests of the nation. I'm proudly Democrat, while working for and hoping for significant reform. We are making progress, and I believe that HRC can use her muscle to get things done. Conflict and compromise is the name of the game. Passion must be translated into policy.

What I'd love to see is Sanders supporters (a) actively volunteering to advocate for their candidate so that he will be represented fairly in caucuses, because they and he deserve that (b) vocally supportive of the Dem nominee, whomever it will be (I have spoken to no HRC supporters who would abstain from voting if Bernie gets the nom -- he's well liked) and (c) organizing to create the revolution he is advocating starting now and through the next several years. But what I often hear -- perhaps from the most vocal, and therefore most extreme -- supporters is that they're out of politics altogether. That the way to handle social and political change is to opt out altogether, which will accomplish nothing.

I've been reading a book about community organizing in the civil rights era and it required an intense amount of on the ground work, door to door. This is how folks seeking a true revolution will have to work, with or without a Presidential candidate to organize around. It would set the revolution back significantly to have a Republican in congress. It would be a huge advantage to have a liberal in office and to start working to elect 'revolutionary' Dems to push that person to the left and give them the votes they need to pass the kinds of legislation people want to see. Take the next 4-8 years to build that movement and elect Elizabeth Warren, or someone who emerges as the successor to the revolutionary mantle.

But what I fear is that people will just bail on activism and claim that change is impossible. And vote for no one in the general, should HRC or O' be nominated. That is such a self-immolating martyr move and it hurts not only the movement Bernie is creating, but the rest of us, those whom Sanders supporters purport to represent and support. It is, plainly put, absolute folly.

Unknown said...

I was having a conversation with a friend who's a quite-passionate Hillary supporter. His Big Push on social media is always about how important this election is (SCOTUS) and how we can't afford to lose and how Hillary is "most electable" so Sanders supporters would do well to fall in line. During this particular chat, he was all doom and gloom about the prospects of "losing" Bernie supporters in the general election. Here's what I told him. Because it's the truth.

You will. Lose some. And you'll keep some. But you'll lose some. How many? Hard to tell.

Eternal November is right. Everyone knows that a VERY significant piece of the Bernie Sanders "Revolution" puzzle is the fact that he's drawing HUGE numbers of people into the political process who have never been involved before. And we're talking way more than just millennials. We're talking people in their 30's and 40's. I hear it all the time. "You know, I've never gotten involved in politics before, but I'm ready to do whatever I can to help Bernie win!" "You know, I've never donated to a political campaign before, but I've got $X coming out of my bank account every month!" All. The. Time.

I'm banking on a Sanders upset. But should Hillary prevail, some of these people will come around. Bernie will see to it that they do.

But some of them won't. And here's the thing. You talk about "losing" the Sanders people (I said to my friend). Understand that the people you "lose" wouldn't be here TO lose if it wasn't for Bernie. And they're not just here. They're HERE! They're ENGAGED! They're FIRED UP! And for many of them, the stakes couldn't be higher or more clear. To many of them, Bernie is our shot. He represents fixing the system. He represents restoring democracy. And to many of them, if we miss this shot, that means it CAN'T be done. The People CAN'T take on the billionaire class. Wall Street DOES determine who Democrats send to the White House, so...why bother. (Yes, John, the differences between Ds and Rs is stark and clear. To us.)

Also worth noting...I only recently heard the term "ABH." I had no idea what it meant, so I asked. "Anybody but Hillary." Where did I hear this? Phone banking Democrats. And let me tell you...I've heard it A LOT. (Not necessarily the acronym...the sentiment. A lot.)

I'm not just volunteering for Bernie because I'm convinced he'll be a better president, although I do. I'm volunteering for Bernie because I'm CONVINCED he's the better candidate to go up against whoever ultimately wins the pink slip to the Republican Clown Car. These people breaking attendance records and polling EXTRAORDINARILY WELL when it comes to enthusiasm? They're going to the mat for this guy. And they'll continue to do so until the bitter end. Not to mention the fact that I relish the idea of dozens (hundreds) of over-paid Republican political consultants soiling their drawers when they have to throw out the plan they've been tinkering with and perfecting for the last 7 years. "Uhhh...wait a minute! This isn't how it was supposed to go! What do we do now?!"

Heh. Just posted on the official Iowa for Bernie Sanders FB page: "To win elections, Sanders said, 'you rally millions of working-class people who have given up on the political process. You rally young people who have given up on the political process.'"


Robert said...


I'm not speaking about myself fyi. I've voted in every election since 2008, but having been around many disenfranchised voters from different areas of the country for many years, I can tell you the vote for "the lesser of two evils" isn't cutting it anymore. Democrats need a better argument. They need commitment and strength to follow through, to try.

Also there isn't much less relevant to me then Hillary's personal relationship with Bill.


I agree with almost everything you are saying. The problem is most voters aren't looking at the bigger picture of elections down the road 8 years from now or the progressive movement going into the future. They want a legitimate government that is fair and just. Now. Neither party is giving them that. Your fear is already realized. A lot of people who lean left DO think change is impossible because of Democratic party's actions since Reagan.

I will keep fighting because eventually I do think things will progress positively. I'm just saying in this election if Hillary wins the primary a lot of people aren't going to vote for anyone. At this moment the Democrats have lost a lot of enthusiasm. Maybe Hillary can gain it back if she wins, I don't know.

Brian said it better than me! Check out that post.

Unknown said...

Then so be it, when she apologizes, I may change my mind about her