Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Comments on the Democratic Debate in Miami

This was truly the most bizarre debate I've ever seen. The level of questioning from the three interviewers, two from Univision, a Spanish-language network, and one from the Washington Post, was beyond belief.

Here are some samples:

Where did you fail last night in Michigan? followed by What went wrong in Michigan? What went wrong in Michigan? What failed in Michigan specifically?

She has 1,221 delegates, including superdelegates, and you have 571. What is your pathway to make up the deficit, and can you realistically catch up?

So who specifically gave you permission to operate your email system as you did? Was it President Barack Obama? And would you drop out of the race if you get indicted? followed by Secretary Clinton, the questions were, who gave you permission to cooperate? Was it President Obama? and If you get indicted would you going to drop out?

Secretary Clinton, is Donald Trump a racist?....Senator Sanders, do you think it's fair to call Donald Trump a racist?

And then, believe it or not, a question about Benghazi, which included a video clip:

Hillary and Obama and Panetta and Biden and all of -- and Susan Rice, all told me it was a video, when they knew it was not the video. And they said that they would call me and let me know what the outcome was.

followed by:

Secretary Clinton, did you lie to them?

And there was much, much more. What were they thinking? Is this their idea of hard-hitting questioning? I looked for pundits remarking on this, but the only things I saw were people commenting on how Univision showed it could be "tough on both sides." The only critical coverage I saw was from the left-snarky news site Wonkette, which headlined its story Dear Univision: Show Us On The Doll Where Hillary And Bernie Hurt You, with the subhead what the hell did we just watch?!

All that aside, I as a Clinton supporter was depressed by Hillary's performance, particularly her persistent failure to push back on the issue of her supposed corruption. Don't her advisers know what a big issue this is? At one point, Sanders accused her of saying that the big banks were her constituents, and she let it slide, instead of saying something like this:

"I certainly never thought big banks were my constituents, and I think you may have misunderstood me. Here's what I was trying to say: I was a senator from New York. There are almost 400,000 people in New York who work in the financial industry. Those people were my constituents. Some of them are Democrats, some Republicans. But if any one of them gives me money, Senator Sanders will say, 'Aha! You're taking money from Wall Street!' If you look at a list of my contributors, you will see the names of some banks with some big sums of money beside them. But those banks didn't give me that money. Almost all of it is from individuals who work for those banks. Some of them may be trying to influence me, but a lot of them are just supporting my campaign, like people who give money to Senator Sanders.

"If you want to see whether I'm in the pocket of the big banks, here are two tests. First, look at what the banks want. What the banks really badly want is the repeal of Dodd-Frank. They have literally hundreds of lobbyists working on it. All the Republican candidates have promised it. I'm against the repeal of Dodd-Frank. It's made the banking system a lot safer, and it's actually starting to make some banks smaller. Senator Sanders thinks it's not important, but all the money the banks are spending says otherwise.

"The second test is to ask who the billionaires are afraid of. Senator Sanders thinks it must be him. Maybe, but I haven't seen any sign of it.  All the Republican Super PAC spending has been against me, except for this latest ad that praises Senator Sanders. I don't think the Koch brothers really want Senator Sanders to be President, but they certainly want him to be the Democratic nominee." 

Granted, it's not clear that the moderators would've let her say all that.

I'm writing this before the results of today's primary are in. We'll see how much difference any of this made.

Update: Evidently, not much. Perhaps those of us watching from afar underestimate how much difference actual campaigning makes. In any case, I think Hillary still needs to deal with the campaign-finance issue if she wants to win over Bernie voters for the general.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Why I'm Voting for Hillary, and Why I'm Not Voting For Bernie

Why I'm Voting For Hillary

The reasons to vote for Hillary are pretty clear, once you get through all the supposed reasons to vote against her. She has a long record of supporting progressive causes; she is also clearly the most qualified candidate in either party, with experience in the White House, in Congress, and in managing a large bureaucracy. I would have much more confidence in her ability to get things done than in Bernie Sanders's.

But what about her Super PAC? What about all those ties to Wall Street?

There are two reasons people give money to candidates: to buy influence, or to help someone get elected. The second is the reason most people give money, and most rich people too. The Koch brothers and their friends will probably give hundreds of millions of dollars to Super PACs this year, and I doubt they care much about buying influence. They do it because they want Republicans to be elected. They're not buying politicians; they're buying elections. That's the real problem with Citizens United, and with Super PACs. That's why Clinton has been against them from the beginning.

But here they are, and the Koch brothers and their friends are doing their best to buy the 2016 election. That being so, should Democrats accept large contributions from the few Democratic billionaires there are (like the $7 million the pro-Clinton Super PAC got from George Soros)? Why on earth not? I don't see how it's a sign of progressive virtue to say that only Republican billionaires will be allowed to make huge contributions.

Here are the top contributors to Hillary's Super PAC. Topping the list is Soros, who is hated by the right for his support of liberal causes. Also included: the Operating Engineers Union, the Plumbers/Pipefitters Union, and the Laborers International Union, at $2 million each, the Carpenters and Joiners Union, at $1.5 million, and the American Federation of Teachers at $1 million. This does not strike me as a sellout of progressive values.

As for the ties to Wall Street, Clinton was a senator from New York. The finance industry employs more than 300,000 people in New York. (Many fewer, I imagine, in Vermont.) Some of those people have contributed to Hillary-- not to her Super PAC, but to the campaign committee, with its $2,700 limit. This does not make Hillary a corrupt tool of Wall Street. If you want to see what a tool of Wall Street would do, look at where Wall Street firms are spending their lobbying money. They are all fighting tooth and nail for the repeal of the oversight law known as Dodd-Frank. Hillary supports Dodd-Frank. The Republican candidates have vowed to repeal it. Bernie seems to regard it as an irrelevance.

Then we have the rest of the cats and dogs. What about all the skeletons in her closet? Friends, the Republicans have spent two decades, and considerable resources, trying to find skeletons in Hillary's closet. Remember Whitewater? Remember Benghazi? They haven't found anything. Possibly, though, they have succeeded in creating a vague sense of unease that there must be something there. But she's a liar! Well, no, she isn't; she's pretty good for a politician. By one imperfect measure, she's comparable to Bernie, and much better than any of the Republicans.

Why I'm Not Voting for Bernie

My Bernie problem started with his supporters, the people I call the Bernistas. I was, and am, stunned by the rage and vitriol they direct at Hillary. As someone who remembers the nineties, and who occasionally reads crazed right-wing websites, I couldn't help but wonder why they seem to have adopted Republican language: She's a liar! She's corrupt!  Oh, and by the way, she's not a real feminist! (Presumably, they were born too late to know about this.)

And my problem with the cult of St. Bernard doesn't end with their attitude toward Hillary. Anyone who disagrees with them--Paul Krugman, for example--is assumed to be in the pay of the banks, or at least, to be afraid of losing their privileges when the Revolution inevitably comes.

Well, OK, maybe they get carried away. But surely Bernie himself is waging a high-minded campaign about the issues. Right?

Actually, I'm not so impressed. True, the Democratic debates have been more substantive than the circuses on the Republican side. But a lot of the Clinton/Sanders conflict has not been over policy, or even personal history, but over Hillary's supposed ties to Wall Street, and her use of a super PAC for fundraising. "I do not know a progressive," said Bernie at a town hall, "who has a super PAC and takes $15 million from Wall Street."

But as we have seen, the contributors to Hillary's Super PAC are progressive by any standard. And no, she didn't go to an ATM marked "Wall Street" and take out $15 million. These are donations from individuals, former constituents, who may be trying to influence her, or may just be Democrats. Number 3 on the list of big donors to her campaign committee is the University of California. How can a public university make political contributions? It can't, of course. What that represents is donations from individuals who work at the university. And by the way, where does that $15 million figure come from? I can't find it anywhere.

The latest from Bernie is an ad singling out Goldman Sachs by name. "How does Wall Street get away with it?" the ad asks. "Millions in campaign contributions and speaking fees." Not mentioning any names there, of course. Exactly how Hillary's speaking fees contributed to Goldman Sachs getting away with it is not specified. The whole thing strikes me as a bit sleazy. I'm really starting to dislike Bernie.

What About Policy?

But what about policy? There are some things I like better about Bernie. I think free public college education for all is a good idea, for the same reason I think it would be a bad idea to make Social Security means-tested: programs that are universal are politically stronger and don't stigmatize people. Hillary's argument that this will permit children of billionaires to get free education is a bit disingenuous: billionaires are unlikely to send their kids to state universities, and in any case there aren't very many of them.

I also prefer Bernie on taxes. Hillary raises taxes on the rich by quite a bit, but she could go a lot higher. On the estate tax, her top rate rate of 45% strikes me as timid; even Bernie's rate of 65% strikes me as timid. If we want to strike a blow against aristocracy, estates over, say, $100 million should be taxed at 90%. (That's not very onerous; the Koch brothers could still leave their heirs several billion dollars. Each.)

On single-payer health insurance I'm a lot more troubled. I don't think Bernie has been terribly honest about the costs or what it would be like. There has been a lot of criticism that the numbers don't add up. Even more disturbing, the campaign responded to one such study by calling it a "hatchet job," the kind of thing one would expect from the Bernistas.

Finally, if you scroll down this, you will find Bernie's views on the Federal Reserve, which are alarmingly crankish. Here's a sample: When Wall Street was on the verge of collapse, the Federal Reserve acted with a fierce sense of urgency to save the financial system. We need the Fed to act with the same boldness to combat unemployment and low wages. Um, Bernie, they didn't just save the financial system; they saved the whole economy from going into another Great Depression, with a lot of opposition from Republicans. Fighting unemployment  is part of the Fed's statutory mandate, and they did about the best they could without any help from Congress. It is alarming to see a Presidential candidate with such a confused idea about such an economically central institution.

One last point: what is it with Bernie and Wall Street, anyway? Yes, they're an easy target, because they did in fact crash the economy. But they're far from the only culprit in inequality. They're about 8% of the economy. We've still got McDonald's and Walmart and GM and Verizon. What are we doing about them? Wall Street is not single-handedly responsible for the fact the median wage has stagnated.

So I'll be voting for Hillary tomorrow. Good luck with that whole revolution thing.