Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: 2020 Election

Why Bernie Sanders Matters More Than People Think

Every time I find a way to say that there is no one like Bernie Sanders, there are people who don’t believe me. Aren’t there other candidates who support the same policies he supports now? Some of them are younger. Some of them aren’t old white guys. Why can’t it be one of them, why can’t it be someone new? Over and over, I have tried to find ways to explain that there is a real difference between Bernie Sanders and everyone else. Today, as Sanders announces his candidacy for the presidency, I’m going to try one more time.

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The Press is Helping Howard Schultz Blackmail the Democratic Party

Howard Schultz, the billionaire Starbucks executive, is not very good at politics. His independent campaign for the presidency has produced some of the lowest favorability ratings in American political history. Just 4% of respondents in a recent Change Research poll view him positively while a whopping 40% view him negatively. Schultz clearly will never win the presidency. The purpose of his campaign is to blackmail Democratic primary voters into nominating a centrist. This was obvious from the start, but Schultz has now made it explicit, offering to drop out of the race if the Democrats nominate someone he considers acceptable:

I would reassess the situation if the numbers change as a result of a centrist Democrat winning the nomination.

So we have a billionaire everyone hates who is attempting to use his wealth to fund a presidential campaign no one wants so that he can intimidate ordinary Democratic primary voters into voting for his preferred candidate. Most billionaires intervene in primaries by donating to the candidates they like–Schultz is threatening to depress Democrats’ general election vote counts to get his way. Initial polling shows he might take two to four points from a Democratic nominee. This billionaire is helping Donald Trump because he is mad at primary voters. And yet, despite this, he continues to receive an immense amount of free publicity from American journalists. Just this week, CNN gifted Schultz with a televised town hall, and piles and piles of media outlets elected to cover the things Schultz said. Much of this coverage was negative, but as we’ve seen with Donald Trump, giving someone free press–even negative free press–helps them build name recognition. 56% of people still don’t know who Schultz is. Based on the early polling, for every 10 new voters who become familiar with Schultz, one of them might become a Schultz supporter. Telling people he exists is unhelpful. Even this post, insofar as it introduces new people to Schultz, is counterproductive. But I do want to make a wider point about the media’s relationship with wealth, and hopefully that wider point is worth the cost of mentioning this cretin. Read the rest of this entry »

How to Evaluate a US Presidential Candidate

I see a lot of people making claims about how left wing or progressive various Democratic candidates or potential candidates are. Most of the time, I think these claims are flimsy. Commentators like to judge candidates on three core metrics:

  1. The rhetoric they use–whether the candidate talks in a way that makes the commentator feel good.
  2. The policies they claim to support–whether the candidate has gotten behind particular policies, like Medicare For All, Green New Deal, Abolish ICE, or whatever floats your boat.
  3. Their identity–whether the candidate is a person of color and/or a woman and/or LGBTQIA+

I want to argue that these metrics are largely useless. Instead, I want to give you a much better toolkit for assessing candidates–one that most journalists don’t know how to use.

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Beware Arrogant Candidates Who Can’t Win But Will Split the Vote

As I look at the 2020 Democratic primary field, I’m reminded of the 2017 French presidential election. Do you remember? In the first round, the Left Party’s candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, got 19.6% of the vote, failing to secure the 21.3% he needed to beat Marine Le Pen and advance to the second round. Mélenchon just narrowly missed the boat because he didn’t command the whole left block. 6.4% of French voters instead picked the Socialist Party’s candidate, Benoît Hamon. A further 1.7% of French voters chose the candidates of the Communist Union or New Anticapitalist Party. The left could have commanded as much as 27.7%. It only needed about a fifth of these additional left-leaning voters to slip past Le Pen. But these left wing candidates refused to drop out of the race, and the result was a depressing second round, in which the only alternative to France’s status quo was right nationalism. So when I look at the Democratic Party’s field, I ask myself–who is the Mélenchon, and who are the Hamons?

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The Political Isolation of the Professional Class

In the old days, when the New Deal Coalition was just beginning to fray, the right made a distinction between the “deserving poor” and the “undeserving poor”. Deserving poor people worked hard, while the undeserving poor were drug addicts, welfare queens, and all the rest of it. This language was used to reform welfare to make it crueller and stingier, and it induced many people to think of the poor as takers, as scroungers, as people they didn’t want in their political movements. Today, a new distinction of the same kind is made between those with college degrees and those without them. You’re just supposed to go to college now, and if you don’t there must be something wrong with you, and in the eyes of many you don’t deserve a good life or a good job or healthcare. No, they demand that you go back to school. The result is that the bar for being one of the virtuous, deserving workers has moved up. Now, if you are a hard worker who didn’t go to college, you get lumped in with the drug addicts and chronically unemployed. The professional class is the only remaining part of the working class entitled to social respect. It relishes in this prestigious perch, looking down its nose at the unwashed and uneducated. But those without college degrees can sense this contempt, and they reciprocate it. The result is a working class which has been split asunder, politically. This is unfortunate, because neither faction can prevail without the other. The professionals have money and organising power. The ordinary workers have manpower. But they each keep to their own candidates, and this division permits those who care little for either to prevail over both.

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