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Swing and a Miss

February 5, 2020

Missed That One


            I was expecting yesterday to post an acknowledgement that I was wrong when I predicted, some time last summer, that Bernie Sanders would not be relevant to the 2020 Presidential campaign.  The chaos in Iowa has delayed this article by a day or so, but I should precede. 

            The issue I should address, growing out of that mistake, is what exactly my misjudgment was.   I certainly knew, as I reached that conclusion, that my Twitter followers were not representative of the nation as a whole, nor of the Democratic Party as a whole.  I was not in the grip of any illusion that they were. 

            Here is what I thought.  My Twitter followers—like most groups of Twitter followers—are predominantly left of center.  They’re mostly Democrats.  Trump has little support among them, and indeed, no Republican has very much support among them.  My Twitter followers are a little more balanced now than they were then, because I try to balance them, but that’s still true.

            It seemed to me, at the time, that since the group being tested was left-leaning, it would almost certainly overstate—OVERstate—the level of support for the most left-leaning candidate.  Bernie was polling at something less than one-half the support level of Joe Biden—and Joe Biden was behind Pete Buttigieg, and Pete Buttigieg was far behind Elizabeth Warren at that time.  I thought at that time that it was impossible to imagine that an old man who had so little support in what should have been his home field would somehow rally to become a strong contender for the nomination.

            In my rather long lifetime, I have seen many passion-driven, extremist. . . not meaning extremist as an insult.   Bernie represents the furthest left viable portion of the philosophical mainstream; I mean "extremist" only in that sense, not that he should be ignored on the charge that he is out of the mainstream.  Over time, I have seen many extremist candidates light a fire under a group of followers, fall short of the nomination, and then try to rekindle that fire years later.  They always fail, I thought; I can see now that I was wrong about that, but I go back to Eugene McCarthy and Edmund Muskie, the liberal darlings of 1968, both trying to re-ignite the fire in 1972, and in 1976.  It was like they were trying to strike again a match that already burned out. 

            I was wrong for three reasons, or at least three reasons.  First, I underestimated Sanders as a person, or as a candidate, but as a candidate based on the skills that he personally possesses, if that makes sense.  Sanders has formidable oratorical skills, vastly better than the oratorical skills of Elizabeth Warren.  He was able to rip Elizabeth Warren’s support away from her because he is just a hell of a lot better speaker than she is.  He sticks with simple ideas, and he advocates those simple ideas with passion and conviction.  

            I rather intensely dislike Socialism and socialist ideas, but I kind of like Bernie.  We DO need to do something serious about income inequality in this country.  It IS a problem; we do need to address it.  It IS time, and past time, that anyone should be able to afford to go to college without picking up a slag heap of debt.  Bernie has the worst possible solutions to these problems, I think, but at least he is serious about doing something about them. 

            So that was the first thing I was wrong about.  Second, I fell into a trap of which I have often warned others.  I read the lessons of history to be fixed laws, rather than a series of examples.  That something may have happened in a certain way before does not mean that it will happen in the same way again—even if it has happened that way 50 times before.  A batter may swing for the fences 100 times and strike out 100 times, and yet he may hit a home run the next time up.  A second baseman may field 1,000 ground balls without a glitch, and the next one may roll off his glove.   What has happened before is not always a barrier to what may happen next time.   I should have recognized this.

            And third, there is a logical failure there which is harder to describe.  In a democracy, or in any other functioning economy, what most people want very often has nothing to do with anything.  This is the flaw that undermines, for example, efforts to boycott those with whom we disagree.

            Years ago, the Catholic church used to publish a list of movies that Catholics were banned from seeing.   I wouldn’t be surprised if they still do, although we don’t hear much about it anymore, if they still do.  You weren’t supposed to see movies with boobies and bad language. 

            The problem was, movie makers WANTED to get on that list.  It doesn’t matter who doesn’t see the movie; it matters who does. 

            Well, the biggest movie of the year, 90% of the public wouldn’t pay to see it; probably 95%, I don’t know.  If five good Catholics say, "OK, we can’t go that movie" but one horny college student decides to take his date to the movie, the movie wins.  It’s a really common syndrome. 

            In a small group, in a contained group, you can enforce your values by threatening those who don’t buy in with exclusion.  Dealing with the nation as a whole, it doesn’t work that way.  Who doesn’t like the movie, who doesn’t like the chicken company or the hobby supplies merchant doesn’t have anything to do with anything.   What matters is who does.

            This is a similar problem.  It doesn’t make any difference, at this level, who doesn’t like Bernie.  When Donald Trump called John McCain a loser, he offended many leading Republicans to such an extent that they tried to drive him out of the party.  They declared him dead as a candidate.

            But it didn’t really make any difference, at that level, who was offended by it.  What mattered is who liked it.  His outspokenness, his bluntness, his willingness to pee on the feet of the sacred cows, was appealing to many people. 

            Sort of the same here; I thought that it mattered who doesn’t like Bernie.  It ultimately matters, but it doesn’t matter much at this level.  That was my third failure. 

            It might also be, if you go back and read those articles, that I had some things right at that time, and indeed, that I may have been ahead of the curve on some candidates.  I’m not here to talk about those things, but I am also not saying that my analysis of those polls was generally poor.  I was wrong about this, and I am here to acknowledge that. 


Bill James

February 5, 2020


COMMENTS (42 Comments, most recent shown first)

The Rush Limbaugh boycott thing is interesting.

I tend to agree with Bill that for much of his career, boycotts didn't impact Rush and generally helped build a strong listener base.

However, I don't think that's the case over the past decade. My recollection is that the post-Fluke boycotts caused a massive loss of sponsors, and left his show moved from a number of prime stations onto lesser ones in the bigger markets. It had a massive negative impact on the revenue a number of networks, including his home base of Clear Channel / iHeart.

8:34 PM Feb 13th
Marc Schneider

I agree with you in part about the young being ignorant of socialist, but actually, it's ignorance of communist parties that took power through the Red Army. Socialism itself is an amorphous concept that has, historically, encompassed a wide variety of political and economic systems. And there was always a big split between social democrats and communists.

I have problems with Bernie Sanders and a lot of his followers. The Bernie bros disturb me a lot. And I agree with you about the craziness on campus of many leftists. (I have often used the same example that you used about the Halloween costumes as an example of how many of these kids are authoritarians at heart.) But I doubt that he or most of them are really in favor of setting up gulags. Even if they are, Bernie wouldn't be able to do it. Most likely, the most radical would be calling Sanders a sellout six months after the election.

The notion that it's only government regulation that causes supply and demand problems assumes that the market would inevitably lead to socially beneficial outcomes and I don't believe that's the case. There is a reason for zoning laws; people don't want to live next to a factory. In Houston, where there are no zoning laws, you get bizarre juxtapositions of buildings. Most people don't like that. Government regulation exists to address perceived problems; in some cases, the regulation has been a mistake, but the suggestion that the market will solve everything just doesn't seem right to me. For example, the market will not resolve climate change; as a result, most free marketers simply deny that climate change is a problem.

Your point about pitchers versus teachers is correct as far as it goes and Bernie's comment is rather silly. There are a lot more people that can teach that can throw a 95 mph fastball. But, while the pay differential may be correct as a market outcome, it isn't necessarily a socially beneficial outcome. Clearly, we would be better off to have teachers make more (because if you follow the market perspective, it would attract better people into the profession). I'm not saying we should regulate that teachers make more than ball players, but what I'm saying is that supply and demand doesn't necessarily make for a better society. That's why we regulate the market rather than simply accepting any market outcome.
10:02 AM Feb 10th
I didn't use the word "sensitive." If you're going to criticize a post, don't make up quotes. All I said was that the young only think of free stuff when they think of socialism; they don't know about its horrors. I could have said that Hitler was a socialist (though not Sanders' type). It was a Sanders staff member who wants to use gulags to reeducate opponents. He said gulags weren't so bad. He said a lot of his colleagues feel the same way. Sanders had expressed admiration for many socialist dictators. My comments on socialism are accurate; much more so than Sanders smears of business.

Sanders demonstrated his ignorance this weekend:

"We live in a country where major league pitchers can sign contracts for hundreds of millions of dollars... There are school districts in this state where the starting salary of teachers is less than $28,000 a year. We are going to change that."

MLB players make a lot because their skills are relatively scarce. Teachers are relatively abundant. We wouldn't want a country where MLB players are abundant and teachers are scarce. Sanders has no constitutional authority to set teacher or baseball salaries.

I will give Sanders credit for not focusing on identity politics. In the debate Warren said we needed "race-conscious laws." We went to a lot of trouble to get rid of Jim Crow.

5:10 PM Feb 9th
Sanders, like Trump in 2016, is a guy who has not even traditionally been a member of his party, but who has the support of a solid minority of his party. And that support is passionate. In elections, but especially in primaries, that passion is crucial. It means your supporters vote in disproportionately high numbers. When you combine a guy like Trump or Sanders with a huge field, that passionate base allows you to rack up high finishes early, as the nonTrump or nonBernie voted gets spread around. And that momentum can get you all the way to the finish.

These big fields give populists with strong followings, whether nationalist or socialists, a window they otherwise might not have. And then we see that the party tends to rally behind their standard bearer, like the GOP has behind Trump, even if they don’t like him. And the division gets stronger.

Having a favorite who is a weak candidate and who can hardly be arsed to run a campaign doesn’t help either. Jeb and Joe open the doors for these kinds of guys,
12:00 PM Feb 9th
"Sensitive!" he exclaimed, then invoked Stalin.
7:51 AM Feb 9th
Lots of leftists are easy to inflame, especially in education. At Evergreen College a professor was forced out for wanting to work rather than self segregate himself from campus. At Yale some professors had to go for an email saying students should be able to pick their own Halloween costumes. Conservative speakers are violently forced off campus. It's hard to believe learning thrives in an environment where some views can't be spoken.

One can only hope that young voters don't know much about socialism. Stalin deliberately starved up to 10 million Ukrainians to death. Mao killed up to 65 million. If the young weren't dumbed down they would know this. Like Sanders, they don't know the difference between democratic socialism and social democracy. They don't know that socialist dictators, like Lenin and Chavez, claimed to be democratic.

While Sanders himself is almost a pacifist, his supporters aren't. A senior staffer in Iowa, Kyle Jurek, said billionaires should be sent to gulags for reeducation and to "break rocks twelve hours a day." Jurek said that the real gulag wasn't that bad. Jurek said there are lots of people who feel the same way. That's probably why he hasn't been fired. Jurek said that there will be violence if Sanders doesn't win.

FWIW, Jurek himself said that Sanders is faking the "democratic" part.

No doubt capitalism isn't utopia. Nothing is. Good people struggle and bad people can succeed. But the bottom 90 percent of American earners pay 30 percent of federal income taxes. The top 1 percent pay 37 percent. According to Gallup, 90 percent of Americans are satisfied with their personal lives, a record. Sanders won't show any gratitude.

As mayor of Burlington Sanders was fairly moderate. He acknowledged he had little choice. He did try to shake down a non-profit tax-exempt medical center with a $2.9 million tax bill. The judge ruled against him.

Sanders doesn't realize a lot of problems he complains about are caused by government intervention in the economy. Zoning restrictions and land use laws limit the supply of housing, causing of rents to rise. Instead of attacking the root cause Sanders will impose national rent control, creating more shortages.

The federal government has been running student loans for over 10 years. Instead of encouraging colleges to be responsible and holding them accountable for students who default on loans, Sanders will forgive student debt and made college "free." That's sure to cause serious financial problems. It's too bad Sanders didn't use his great expertise to prevent his wife's college from going bankrupt.

With his free stuff and demagoguery Sanders has created a race to the bottom. It's not encouraging to think that only people like Biden, Warren, Trump, etc. can keep him out of the office. One can only hope that if he wins he will break his promises.​s.html
2:54 PM Feb 8th
The problem with using the lessons of history to predict things is that they are almost always based on small sample sizes.
5:21 PM Feb 7th
Marc Schneider is exactly correct that there is a difference between democratic socialism and social democracy: to grossly oversimplify, the latter wants to regulate capitalism, the former to nationalize it. There aren't too many of the former any more (Jeremy Corbyn, probably). It's not at all clear to me if Bernie Sanders understands this difference or indeed if he's still in the socialist camp, as apparently he once was. It's even less clear to me why he gets a pass for having cozied up to totalitarians. (Or why Trump does, but that's another matter.)

From this side of the Atlantic, listening to American politicians of all stripes rant and rave about issues that have been settled here for decades is endlessly frustrating. Worse, their understanding of how the issues have been settled is no deeper than a sound bite. The European continent offers a dozen different approaches to health care, all of them superior to America's, all with a significant private component. Is there a single candidate who is even faintly aware of how any of them works?
5:01 PM Feb 7th
"Sanders' rise shows how education has deteriorated" strikes me as quite an inflammatory statement.

FWIW, I support Bernie Sanders for president, as do most of my friends here at UChicago. (For whatever it's worth, I don't identify as a socialist -- what Marc Schneider says just below about capitalism / the public sector is pretty close to my position -- and I'm more conservative than not on a lot of social issues. )

I do not think people of other generations always grasp the urgency of the situation -- the seeming impossibility of making one's way in the world with dignity without a hell of a lot of luck/help -- that faces so many young (and increasingly middle-aged) adults, and that many of us know firsthand. Student loans, wages/income inequality, health care, etc. It's really hard in a way that does not have much to do with personal virtue or lack thereof; it's not as if, y'know, if those millenials quit whining and toughened up they'd figure it out. These problems are unfortunately much more pervasive and structural; it's thus ultimately healthy for us to start to realize that it's in the main not our fault and to seek political solutions. Politicians and the media elite, definitely including Democrats, have been talking about these issues for a long time. They've just thrown us crumbs, and so (to paraphrase Brecht) it's time to elect someone who will take the loaf away from them, so to speak.

4:43 PM Feb 7th
In what universe was Edmund Muskie a liberal darling in 1968?
4:17 PM Feb 7th
Marc Schneider
I agree that Sanders' knowledge of economics (and foreign policy) is quite limited and not well-informed. But he wasn't that radical as a mayor and I suspect he would be more pragmatic if elected. However, I'm not a Sanders fan, largely because he has never spelled out-and probably doesn't know-what he means by socialism. I doubt that he plans to have every corner drug store owned by the state but he isn't clear about his plans other than specific policies.

Having said that, I think the notion that capitalism is nothing but wealth creation that benefits everyone is equally incorrect. There's a reason that socialist/communist doctrines arose and it's not because losers are jealous of winners. Capitalism, at least when left entirely unregulated, creates real problems. I agree that, in general, people don't care if one person makes more as long as the pie is expanding for everyone. But, increasingly, that's not what's happening. Rich people are making more, closing the door behind them, and starving the public sector of funds that would be used to deal with issues like climate change.

I believe in a market-based economic system, but I'm not sympathetic to the notion that the market will create the best social outcomes. If it does, it's largely a coincidence. So, I think there is a role for the public sector and I don't think all problems are amenable to market-based solutions.
3:35 PM Feb 7th
I don't doubt that Sanders' supporters can be irritating, especially if he is not your candidate of choice. But I see claims that the "Bernie bros" might cost him in the general election by turning off otherwise reliable Democratic voters, and I'm not sure I agree.

The percentages of voter turnout for Presidential elections has reliably hovered between 50-60% for several generations, but within that you have (guessing) maybe 40% who are overwhelmingly likely to vote, another 40% who MIGHT vote, and 20% who won't.

I think the anti-Bernie bro sentiment exists largely in the first group -- it is the most politically charged group, and therefore most likely to encounter negative interactions. These interactions matter to them, I submit, because they know if Sanders gets the nomination they'll have to throw in with his supporters, odious as they may find them. I don't know what percentage of this first group will go for the Democrat vs. Trump, but my guess is it's already decided.

The Bernie-or-busters belong to the second group, where you also find a lot of Trump supporters. They don't necessarily overlap much, I don't really know. But what they have in common is they're waiting to be activated by either a single candidate or a particular set of issues. They are annoying because they've found their guy, and if there are enough of them I think he can certainly win.
11:55 AM Feb 7th
The presidential primary shows who can win a nationwide campaign.

If you have a real primary, not a coronation like the democrats had in 2016.

11:27 AM Feb 7th
Sanders' rise shows how education has deteriorated. The PC culture, passage of time, and Howard Zinn have created a generation that doesn't understand the nature of socialism. Sanders himself never learns. Under capitalism there's so much opportunity that he became a multimillionaire by accident. He honeymooned in the Soviet a few years before its collapse. The video of him sitting a round a table shirtless with fellow socialists may get a lot of attention this fall.

Sanders misrepresents other countries' economics. The Scandinavian nations he admires are capitalist, with a large welfare states. Several government leaders have pointed out that they're capitalist. Sanders has praised many socialist dictatorships. Examples include China, Venezuela, and Cuba.

Sanders is a ludicrous demagogue. He tells people that if they are unhappy it's because of billionaires and corporations. Their problems can be solved through government delivery of "free" stuff. There are never any trade-offs or unintended consequences.

Sanders is ignorant about economics. He thinks that prosperity is like a pizza. If one person has a big slice than another must have been short changed. He said that children go hungry because stores carry too many varieties of deodorant and sneakers. That's something a Marxist would believes. Sanders said food lines are good things.

Sanders is punitive. He said he will prosecute fossil fuel companies, who sell perfectly legal products. (He opposes fracking and nuclear power, the two most practical ways to cut CO2 levels.)

Sanders wealth tax is punitive as well. He supports it in order to get rid of billionaires. This tax is confiscatory. A very rich person earning 5% on a bond will pay 8% in taxes. The tax is very destructive and impractical. Try calculating your wealth. Wealth is often not liquid. People will be selling property to foreigners to avoid the tax. Sanders thinks billionaires are like Scrooge McDuck, sitting in their caves and rolling in money and precious metals.

Sanders disdains the Constitution. Article I says direct taxes have to be allocated among states based on population. It took an amendment for the income tax to pass muster. The Fifth Amendment requires just compensation for taking private property, a main component of wealth.

Sanders' economic views are totalitarian. Sanders was a communist. In 1980 and 1984 he was an elector for the Socialist Workers Party, a Trotskyist party. Its candidate supported Iran during the hostage crisis. Sanders wants the government to take over the electric grid.

Sanders is a hypocrite. He owns three houses. He leads the campaign in the use of private jets.

Sanders doesn't understand the root cause of problems. It was the federal government that pushed college loans. He doesn't know supply and demand.

Sanders is frustrating. He was kicked out of a hippie commune for not doing his share of the work. His friend Garrison Nelson said "Bernie's the last person you'd want to be stuck on a desert island with. Two weeks of lectures about health care, and you'd look for a shark and dive in."

If you think this is tough, wait until the odious Trump gets through with him.

10:25 AM Feb 7th
Marc Schneider
I should modify what I said. Obviously, the caucus/primaries decide the nominee so they obviously mean something. But I'm not sure they say much about the preferences of rank-and-file voters. While it was not democratic, in the old days where the parties had more influence, I suspect they had more of a beat on the pulse of voters-not just the enthusiasts. What does winning a plurality of a primary with multiple candidates really say? Why is collecting delegates through a process like that make the process more democratic than having the party have more influence?
10:02 AM Feb 7th
Marc Schneider
Generally speaking, I don't think caucuses and primaries really prove much anyway. When the Democrats changed their rules in the late sixties/early seventies to take power away from the party functionaries, the assumption was the primaries would be more democratic. But if you look at who actually votes in primaries, I'm not sure that's true. You have to be interested to vote in a primary, which means that they tend to attract more true-believer types, where right or left-wing. I mean, what the hell does the Iowa caucus have to do with anything? How many people actually are involved in it? And some of the primaries are in states that don't vote Democratic anyway.
9:53 AM Feb 7th
ugh. these are just WORDS!

Socialism, comunism, capitalist, democratic. All meaningless!

People just slap them onto what they want to do, IF they think it will get more people to agree with them.

OR slap it on something if they will make people NOT want to do it.

Noone out there is thinking, 'hmmm, what socialist thing can I do today?'

or 'gee, what democratic thing do I really hate?'

and definately not, 'gosh, This doesn't seem very capitalistic, I better stop!'

Pointless labels spouted by people in love with the sound of thier own voice.

12:57 AM Feb 7th

"What people like very often has nothing to do with anything."

Here are some factors other than voter preference--
I met just one candidate in Iowa in 2019-- Kamala Harris. She was great in person, coherent and relevant to an audience and great at responding with emotional intelligence to questions. She dropped out two days after I saw her because she lost staff to Bloomberg. Why continue if you no longer have the organization to win? Money impacts results. Bloomberg raised her rent.

Buttigieg is a candidate who is more moderate, more free market oriented. That is popular in Iowa. With Biden tanking and Harris/Booker withdrawn, Buttigieg stands to do well among centrists. Bernie/Warren cancel each other out a bit. Alignment impacts results. A first place result becomes a strong bona fide.

There are "the people" and there is "the party". The party is the people who do the the work for the party, who have written all of the platforms and perhaps even know a few things. Party Democrats dislike Bernie for various valid reasons just as party Republicans disliked Trump in 2016. The party impacts results.

Money, alignment and luck based bona fides and the party make a difference independent of voter preference.

The polling Bill did is helpful because identifying what people want is a useful exercise toward achieving what people want. What people like very often has less impact than random factors, but understanding preference puts us on a better path.
10:53 PM Feb 6th
Interesting article and debate. I think Bernie is slipping from his peak four years ago. Then, he was 'new', exciting, funny, and in competition with a very poor politician in Mrs. Clinton, but Mrs. Clinton was backed by the autocratic DNC who were scared to death of a Sanders candidacy. Bernie still has some of his bros from 2016 but I think his appeal is less now: he's not new anymore, his physical state is worrisome (heart-attack), he doesn't seem to be as witty or robust on the stump, also his base is somewhat split with Warren taking some of the 'socialist' vote. I think Bernie will be a contender late into the primaries and even if he doesn't get the nomination he will 'matter' in that he helped drive the Democrats way left.

I also predict that this is a '72 type election, with the Dems running somebody way out of step and Trump will win easily.

Separate question: if Bernie is thwarted, and especially if his followers perceive DNC cheating, will Milwaukee convention be repeat of '68 Chicago?

One final comment: Mayor Pete is the new, young, exciting candidate, the kind with which the Dems like to fall in love.
10:08 PM Feb 6th
We have to be careful about how much credit we give a politician for honestly believing everything he says. Donald Trump no doubt has a deep, unshakable belief the in the fabrications and ignorance-based beliefs that are staples of his monologues.

But there is nothing admirable about a world leader's impression that India does not border China,
... or that he advocates coverage of pre-existing medical conditions regardless of his administration's legal assault on coverage of pre-existing conditions,
... or that his administration had anything to do with the country's achieving independence in oil and gas production three years before he took office,
... or that he has given Americans more prosperity than his predecessor when the 0.6% annual increase in real wages during his 35 documented months is barely half the 1.1% of the previous 35 months,
... or that the Kansas City Chiefs play in Kansas.

I could go on, but my lack of infinite time would frustrate such an exercise. My point is that it really is wiser to judge a politician on the evidence behind his positions than on his own enthusiastic belief in them.

8:55 PM Feb 6th
John: No, I don't think anyone is coming from that premise, but probably what some of us are coming from -- me for sure -- is that Iowa indicates SOME thing, and that it's significant.


Vox: I love and agree with your point about "a random moment in a fluctuating process." It's a beautiful and accurate phrase.

BUT, I don't agree with what you went on to say about it in reference to Warren.

I disagree completely that her current standing is only or even mainly "random"; IMO it's that the longer the race goes on, as with the longer any new thing for a person goes on, the more she shows what about it she's not good at; the more she makes fatal or near-fatal errors. (BTW this principle I'm talking about can fail. In 2016 Trump made a whole lot of fatal errors but didn't die from them.)

When Warren declined for so long to answer directly about whether middle class taxes would rise under her plans -- actually it was worse than that; she didn't just decline to answer, she made as though she was answering the question -- that lost me from her immediately. It's not just that it was an important question; the bigger thing about it, to me, was that her being indirect and in fact bull-shitty negated some of the main parts of the image she was trying to project.

Going back further, her "DNA" thing, which is now perhaps mostly forgotten, was a huge misjudgment, and, besides its looking bad, it made me suspect she didn't have the judgment to run a successful presidential campaign. I was willing to just be tentative about it, but it was bad, and it's been reinforced over time.

And, the recent thing about having a -- what was it -- I think a transgender h.s. student vet something or other..... Maybe it was somewhat misreported, I don't know, but....sheesh.
You can't say anything like that and be regarded as someone who knows how to play this game.
3:08 PM Feb 6th
Check me if I'm wrong, please, but it seems to me that almost every single word written here about the current state of play in Democratic Party politics is operating from a horribly flawed premise. The premise: What we just saw in Iowa's results (not the failed app stuff, I mean the actual voter counts) is representative of all things in the Dem here and now.

It's not. Not AT ALL. Bill, okay, was coming from the place of saying that Bernie would be irrelevant, yet now there's at the very least the APPEARANCE of relevance. All commentators, though, are acting like Bernie's rise is a fait accompli, as are Warren and Biden's fall and Pete's, I dunno, competitiveness. IOWA IS MEANINGLESS. They're as relevant as the Mets being in first place after 1 week of play. The state is 97% white, too. African American, Latinx, Asian, Native - EVERY OTHER THING POSSIBLE is a total of 3% of Iowa. They went to Trump in 2016. They're just not representative of the Democratic party, period.
2:50 PM Feb 6th
Marc Schneider
the problem is, no one really knows what the right strategy is for the Democrats. Should they try to recover some of the Obama/working class voters that went to Trump or just double down on their base and go to the left? The assumption has always been that the center wins in American politics-at least since the McGovern debacle, but things have changed a lot. I don't think anyone really knows at this point what to do. My guess is that the number of people that can actually be persuaded to change their vote-at least in the general election-is quite small. If that's true, it might make sense to nominate Bernie, who will at least ignite his true believers, much as Trump did, and hope that he does not alienate moderates enough so that they stay home. Given the nature of partisanship in America today, I don't think the strategy of trying to reach out and broaden a party's base really works any more. I am not a big fan of Bernie but at least he would fire up the people that need to be fired up. Bernie and Trump supporters are, I think, quite alike in one way; the more you go after their guy, the more they will respond.
2:03 PM Feb 6th
I was at a coffee shop in Hyde Park the other day and overheard two Chicago political operatives -- it sounded like a mentor/mentee relationship -- talking shop, and the conversation turned to Bernie. The mentor opined that Bernie is in a really enviable position for two related reasons. First, he has a massive network of small donors giving him a great deal of money, which insulates him from certain kinds of pressures that other politicians face. Second, his donations spike every time one of his foes tries to attack him, or to undermine his campaign. In a sense the worst thing other Democrats can do is go after Bernie right now, that just (the operative was suggesting) only makes him stronger. The result is that the Democratic establishment is, in general, actually really scared and doesn't know what to do. I thought of this conversation in light of the discussion of the Catholic movies boycott thing; there's an inverse correlation between the (perceived) mainstream decrying something and its popularity in this case. All of which is to say that Bill isn't the only one who thinks the relationship described above is true in the Bernie case.

1:53 PM Feb 6th
Another example to support Bill's "they always fail" thesis is that of Steve Forbes in 1996 and 2000. The first time he got a substantial primary vote on the sole issue of the "flat tax." Encouraged to try again, HE fell flat when he tried to expand his base.
1:48 PM Feb 6th
I think the biggest issue is that the primaries hit at a random moment in a fluctuating process. If Elizabeth Warren had peaked a few months later, or the caucuses had been a few months earlier, she'd have won Iowa. Instead, she peaked months before the vote.

Immediately the mainstream coverage began to troll her. The New York Times and Washington Post started posting lots of articles from people with hundreds of millions of dollars about why they oppose the wealth tax, and articles from political analysts about the dangers of nominating a woman. Her support caved.

Bernie Sanders *also* supports the wealth tax, but he was well behind Warren, so the articles didn't go after him or show any sign of affecting his support.

I don't agree that Sanders is a better speaker than Warren. He's a different speaker who appeals to, and repulses, a different set of people. Warren is a teacher, an explainer: she makes complicated ideas easy to follow, and connects them to how they affect real people. Sanders is a sloganeer who says the same things in pretty much every speech.

I'd judge them equally effective. Warren peeled a lot of support away from Sanders, despite him being far, far better known; she took the lead, even. Then he peeled it back. Timing matters.
1:21 PM Feb 6th
Bernie Sanders in his own words:
10:38 AM Feb 6th
Marc Schneider
Yes, Bernie is a self-described socialist; whether he means "social democrat" or "democratic socialist" (there is, apparently, some difference) is not clear, but he has made clear that he does not like capitalism.

I have problems with Bernie in a lot of areas. He clearly has no clue about foreign policy; he gave an interview on NPR after the killing of Solemeini and he gave nothing but generic answers (which is typical of most politicians, but, supposedly, not Bernie). I'm unclear about what he means by socialism; most people that I've encountered that call themselves socialists will point to specific policies but don't really seem to have a notion of how political and economic arrangements would be structured in a "socialist" system. Medicare-for-all is a policy that could really be adopted by any liberal government, socialist or not. Specific policies don't define what "socialism" means and I think it's important to know if you are going to call yourself a socialist. My real problem with Bernie is that he has never owned up-or doesn't know-what a so-called socialist system in the United States would look like. Saying you don't like corporations is not the same as saying whether corporations would exist or what limits you would put on them. I probably agree with Bernie on a lot of his specific positions, but if he is going to call himself a socialist, I would like more flesh on the bones.

But my problem is not so much Bernie as his followers. The arrogance and condescension of many of his followers, at least the ones on Facebook (admittedly, not an umbiased sample) alienate a lot of people, especially the sense that they simply cannot tolerate anyone to their right, even if they are basically in agreement. That's not Bernie necessarily; I think he is much more pragmatic than the way he campaigns and, in fact, I think that would get him in trouble with his hardcore followers if he were to be elected. It's the unwillingness to reach out for allies outside their own echo chamber and the need for purity that I think has traditionally been a problem for the left.

But one thing I do think is a strength for Bernie is that his positions are based on a notion of the general welfare, not niche policies to appeal to every identity group in America. I think that makes a lot of sense, whether I agree with his specific policies or not. The Democrats are so tied up in knots trying to figure out what pronoun to use for different genders and who can use what bathroom that they aren't really addressing the issues that affect most people.

I don't necessarily believe, though, that being sincere about your positions is always admirable. I acknowledge that Pat Buchanan was sincere in his positions; I found those positions appalling so I don't admire him just for actually believing. (I started to use a more extreme example, but Godwin's Law came into play.)
9:15 AM Feb 6th
Bill is right about McCarthy--although he got virtually no votes. He ran as an independent in 1976. Sorry about that.
8:13 AM Feb 6th
Eugene McCarthy did, in fact, run for President in 1972, and again in 1976.
7:26 AM Feb 6th

Throwing around words like "socialism" to describe these solutions is unhelpful and, because there are so many different solutions, ignorant.

Jesus Christ, man, it's not ME who described Bernie as a socialist. It's Bernie. Don't lecture me about it; talk to him.
7:25 AM Feb 6th
First, a little history:

" They always fail, I thought; I can see now that I was wrong about that, but I go back to Eugene McCarthy and Edmund Muskie, the liberal darlings of 1968, both trying to re-ignite the fire in 1972, and in 1976. It was like they were trying to strike again a match that already burned out. " Ed Muskie didn't run for President in 1968--he was Humphrey's vice presidential pick--and he was the centrist favorite in 1972. Eugene McCarthy didn't run for President after 1968. I think perhaps Bill is thinking of George McGovern.

About Biden . . . .If a ballplayer is below average two years in a row it's not likely that he's going to be the MVP in the third year. Biden was a terrible candidate for President who flamed out early in 1988 and again in 2008. It's taken all these months to find out that he isn't much more effective this time around.​
6:59 AM Feb 6th
Regarding extremes and the mainstream: it should be remembered that, in the context of the industrialized nations of the world, the United States is the extreme. In no other first world nation must one go deep into debt to get a university education. In no other first world nation is health care not regarded as a basic right and health insurance not universally available and affordable.

The nations of the first world have all adopted a variety of solutions to get to this point: one size does not fit all. What they all have in common is that their citizens can stay healthy and get an education without risking economic disaster. Throwing around words like "socialism" to describe these solutions is unhelpful and, because there are so many different solutions, ignorant.
6:30 AM Feb 6th
The example I should have used in the "boycott" explanation is Rush Limbaugh. Rush has offended people and been boycotted again, and again, and again. Every time he is boycotted, he gets a little stronger.

Most people, most of us, shy away from direct conflict, shy away from becoming the target of an angry Twitter mob. When Rush is under attack, he doubles down. He loses a sponsor because he says something offensive, he goes out and gets a sponsorship from their chief rival. Trump and Rush are sympatico because they are both like that.

And Bernie is, too, to a large extent. He has a lifetime of taking crap because he is a Socialist, and he doesn't care. He doubles down. I was once introduced to Ann Coulter at a dinner of some kind. "I'm not actually a big liberal," I told her, "but I feel like I should pretend to be one just for the energy it would give you." She laughed; she was actually kind of fun to talk to. But she's one of those people, too--iike Trump and Bernie and Rush and Billy Martin and Leo Durocher, a person who thrives on conflict.
9:40 PM Feb 5th
From Evanecurb

By honest, I mean he honestly believes what he says. That doesn't make it true, but he believes it's true, so I give him credit for being honest and forthright.

This is actually a point I used to make about Pat Buchanan. A lot of what he said was borderline inane, but the thing is that he absolutely believed it, and you had to give him credit for that.

Responding briefly to Mr. Saeger. . . I think you assumptions about my twitter audience are just assumptions, and that if you actually took the time to look at them one by one you would realize they aren't right. But I don't actually KNOW, so it doesn't seem like a profitable thing to argue about.
9:27 PM Feb 5th
Sanders' positions on healthcare, minimum wage, and free college tuition are a logical continuation of a path that FDR started down in 1933 and LBJ continued in 1965. Like you, I disagree with his politics but I admire his conviction, his seriousness, and his delivery. I think he's an honest man, and I almost never say that about politicians. By honest, I mean he honestly believes what he says. That doesn't make it true, but he believes it's true, so I give him credit for being honest and forthright.
7:53 PM Feb 5th
Joe Biden is a candidate looks good on paper: long-time former senator, former Vice President to the first black President. These two get him the national spotlight and make him known to two key constituencies, older voters and black voters.

(Never mind that having all these offices usually means that he's old and possibly out-of-touch. That was the problem Hillary Clinton had in touting her resume—few folks running for President had a similar resume (Al Gore Jr. did have a similar one) because few folks as old as Clinton ran for President. Barack Obama shooting to the national spotlight with only four years in the Senate or George Bush Jr. after six years as Texas governor is a more likely scenario for a winner.)

On the stump, however, Biden's weaknesses become apparent. Black voters in the national polls seem to have so far ignored his positions on things like busing, but the voter breakdowns so far show that non-white voters went to Sanders on Monday (though I didn't see blacks specifically broken out, so it might heavily be Hispanics, where Sanders has been leading in most national polls anyways). He was unable to respond to Sanders's attacks on his record on Social Security, making him look bad with older voters. This is a wise move on Sanders's part; I keep waiting for Warren to do the same with bankruptcy, which is more in her wheelhouse than in Sanders's (which is likely why he hasn't used it). In the end, his experience in statewide office was being a Senator for a bunch of bankers, which doesn't help him deal with regular voters.

This is a similar thing that happened with Kamala Harris. On paper, she had great positives—Senator and former AG of 13% of the nation, a black woman in the Democratic Party, and, let's face it, an attractive one. The problem is, like Biden and every other candidate, she had past positions that weren't in sync with the modern Democratic Party, specifically on mass incarceration and marijuana legalization.

Rather than respond to these head-on, she spun and sputtered, doing things like saying she was smoking dope and listening to Snoop Dogg in the 1980s (an obvious lie) and not having a response to Tulsi Gabbard's attack on her record on these issues at a debate then screaming "Putin!" (the catch-all target for blame that Democrats use when they don't have a good response) afterwards. She would have been better to lightly acknowledge these criticisms and point to her evolved positions now, then attack on something else. As repellent as I find Pete Buttigieg personally, his strategy of just ignoring attacks and pushing onward is a good one. It keeps him from looking weak in a bad response.

Sarah Palin is possibly the best example, since her national prominence came from a Republican activist reading Wikipedia biographies of Republican governors and concluding that she'd be a great national candidate. She was a governor, young, attractive, and got her job by pointing out corruption while on the Alaska Oil and Gas Commission.

The problem was that Palin's weaknesses were more apparent in the national spotlight. While she was educated (BA in journalism from a public research university doesn't hurt in my book) and had been groomed as a candidate in Newt Gingrich's seminars in the 1990s, the fact that she just isn't curious (or, frankly, bright) came out on the stump. She also wasn't experienced in being interviewed, which made her seem even dumber than she is; she's much better at that now. (Folks don't realize that being interviewed is a skill.)
6:58 PM Feb 5th
On who does and doesn't like Sanders: I feel weird giving this man a word of praise since his politics makes him the devil incarnate to me, but I'll do it anyways: Karl Rove's great insight is that elections are won on the strengths of the candidates, not their weaknesses. It's an insight that I wish I had, because he's right.

I'll use the acme of his accomplishments, the 2004 election, as my example. In it, John Kerry campaigned on being a war hero as opposed to George Bush Jr., a deserter. Rather than defend Bush's time in the Texas Air National Guard, Rove got some other folks who were somewhat tied to John Kerry in the military (though not on the same patrol boat) to say, no, Kerry is not a war hero. Kerry's inability to respond to this line of attack basically killed him as a candidate because it meant he was unable to use his war hero status to lure voters who might otherwise have been drawn to him. In short, Rove blunted Kerry's strength.

(Kerry was lucky inasmuch that the group who found his war hero stuff repellent hated Bush more than colon cancer. Had it not, Kerry would have won little more than Massachusetts, New York, and California.)
6:17 PM Feb 5th
I’ve been silent on this mostly—I’m biased, to put it mildly—but I think diagnosed what the issue was, and results have borne me out, so I’ll say it directly:

Bill’s Twitter feed is mostly baseball fans of a sabermetric bent.

What this means is a certain kind of person is more likely to follow Bill on Twitter. These folks tend to be white, older, better educated—in short, not unlike Bill. Male too, though I don’t think this makes a big difference in this case. These voters have generally gone towards Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and, during the summer when Bill was polling, Kamala Harris. I don’t want to sound disparaging—aside from ideology, I’m in this group, being a middle-aged white guy with a post-grad degree. My guess is that this group isn’t so old that much of it has retired as it’s using Twitter, but I don’t know, and some older folks (like Bill) do use Twitter, and effectively.

By contrast, the Sanders and Biden coalitions are not the ones who follow Bill on Twitter. These tend to be less educated and less white, for starters, especially Joe Biden’s (though Sanders beats him among Hispanics generally and did better with non-white voters in Iowa on Monday). Sanders voters are less educated since they’re younger; Biden voters are less educated because they didn’t get to go to college in their youth.

I’m guessing that these groups are much less likely to be devoted baseball fans of a sabermetric bent, and that screwed up the polling. It’s not just a left/right deal—Sanders does well among self-described conservative Democrats while Biden does well among liberal blacks—but a socioeconomic class thing.
5:46 PM Feb 5th
From marisfan

BTW, a thing about Biden with which I expect you'll agree is that IMO, most of the current analysis of "what went wrong" misses the point. Most of what I see is about his positions and strategies, including where he did or didn't spend time. I see the main reason being that he just didn't "have it," which seemed to be the case from the start.

That's right. A strong position and a weak candidate, this early in the race, is like a 2-run lead in the second inning with Mitch Keller on the mound.
4:29 PM Feb 5th
Thanks for this. I've wondered if you're still wondering and considering this stuff, and been interested to know what all it might be, if you were.

This all makes great sense. I'd add that I thought the main fly in the ointment about your approach was that it seemed to assume a static-ness about the process that was highly counter to how campaign seasons go. I guess another way of putting this is that the method was more as though one was looking at a baseball season than a campaign season. In a baseball season, sure, it's true that teams and players might suddenly start doing a lot differently, with last year's Nats being probably as great an example of that as any. But to the largest extent, the players are the players and the team is the team. Yes, players might get injured or something, or a team might acquire Mike Trout in the middle of the season (or Yoenis Cespedes), but those kinds of things rarely make a quantum difference.

In a campaign season, however, the goal posts keep moving and the stadium keeps changing, depending on unanticipatable events and twists and quirks of whatnot; plus, unlike baseball, most of the candidates are in a ballgame that they've never quite played before, and we never know how they'll be able to play it. I remember that when Wesley Clark tried for the Democratic nomination it seemed that he'd be formidable, but (I think) he soon showed that he just can't play the game. I think Sanders' ascent has as much to do with Elizabeth Warren's showing that she just isn't up to this game, as much as anything unexpected about Sanders.

BTW, a thing about Biden with which I expect you'll agree is that IMO, most of the current analysis of "what went wrong" misses the point. Most of what I see is about his positions and strategies, including where he did or didn't spend time. I see the main reason being that he just didn't "have it," which seemed to be the case from the start.
4:21 PM Feb 5th
Bernie is an extremist mainly in the framing of current debate -- much of Nixon's 1969 inaugural address would not sound unusual coming from Sanders today.
4:12 PM Feb 5th
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