Clinton Deserves a Real Rebuttal

So much of the discussion of Clinton’s memoir and the promotion around it has been about whether or not it should even exist. This has in turn lead to a frustrating, circular debate where people point out the inherent double-standard in Clinton’s coverage and then other people point out that’s the only defense ever made in Clinton’s favor. While that’s false, I do think we’ve fallen into a vicious cycle of taking the least charitable view of Clinton’s statements, having the conversation about how that’s symptomatic of sexism and poor journalism, and then never getting back to her real points. Case and point:

So, she did say this. But this quote has a lot more to offer when put back in its original context, which is an hour interview. Both how Clinton immediately defends this point here and her wider ideas about what the center even is are different from what most people are reading in. Consider to start the full answer:

Clinton: If you’re running a raucus, diverse, pluralistic democracy where there are literally millions of different voices, you are going to hear from all kinds of voices. I was a Senator for eight years—but the vast majority of people who came through the doors of my Senate offices to talk to me to advocate, whatever they were doing, were not political donors, or certainly not political donors to me; they were constituents, they were citizens, they had something to say. So part of what—we’ve shrunk the political process to such a narrow set of questions—and that’s in the interest of the far right and the far left—both of whom want to blow up the system and undermine it and the rest of the stuff they talk about. I think we ultimately work best between center left and center right because that’s where, at least up until recently—maybe it’s changed now—that’s where most Americans were. Look, they didn’t get up every day obsessed with what the government and politics was going to do. They wanted to know what the results were and if this was going to make a difference in their life.

This is a messy answer, whatever you may parse out of it. Even if the content were less divisive, no one would think school children would one day recite this as an example of great American oratory. But her most immediate claim here, which I’ve bolded, is that both the far left and the far right are making undemocratic demands that she abandon the middle. It’s been wearying to point this out, but Sanders lost to Clinton by 3.8 million votes; Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million. Clinton may not be populist, but all evidence suggests she’s actually quite popular*. The answer that she could have won the popular vote by adopting more of Sander’s positions is both unfalsifiably speculative and premised on the idea that Sanders voters deserved more weight than equal after the primary. Clinton’s comments about how we’re debating a narrow set of deeply divisive issues are meant to convey that Washington has been hijacked by an undemocratic agenda—it turns a point Sanders and Trump like to make back around on them with the force of popular election soundly behind her. She’s also crediting Sanders less than you might think, as when questions about the agenda came up she focused in on the radical right and their ascendance since Reagan.

If her claim were merely that centrism works best because it is popular, she’d be arguing that she is right because she was popular. However, there’s a second prong that she sharpens before these comments and that informs her comments here. By this point in the interview, she’d repeatedly argued that she was popular because she was right. To get a sense of the argument, look at what she identifies as voter priorities at the end of the quoted passage! Voters wanted to know the bottom line, the end result. She is putting forward that voters didn’t put a lot of weight on ideological grudge matches; they put more weight on their pocketbook and the protections government offered them.

This is how Clinton conceives of the middle. She doesn’t see it as a tepid, incrementalism—though she does say that can be the practical form it takes. She says voters are passionately, intensely interested in results. Bipartisanship isn’t a virtue because it gives Clinton fuzzy feelings (see: Obama). It’s a virtue because it can be built on finding common ground in the outcome, in the humility of putting voters before ideology.

She gets specific in the interview. Clinton impatiently dismisses several of Sanders’ proposals along similar grounds. On both health care and tuition-free college, she expresses frustration that Sanders couldn’t answer basic, important questions about broad funding and cost-control. In Clinton’s view, what makes Sanders a radical is not that he wants tuition-free college; she seems to want that too. Its that he’s willing to propose it without answering basic questions about how we’re going to make sure the offer is sustainable.

Sanders’ supporters are liable to feel slighted by this; I think many passionately believe Sanders has feasible proposals. On tuition-free college, many have pointed me to how it did work in Germany. And while that is superficially true, Germany made it work by ruthlessly cutting access. They send a full 40% fewer people as a percent of population to university. It has worked out to be a massive subsidy for the middle class and shut many poor people out of university. This is more tolerable in the German context because trade jobs are plentiful and primary and secondary schools do a better job engendering class mobility. But Sanders’ plan doesn’t even acknowledge the German restrictions, instead throwing the national coffers wide open to universities.

When I’ve pointed this out, people have either accused me of holding values I do not or fallen back on parroting Sanders’ grandstanding. “There is a problem—and it must be solved.” Even if the latter part is true, even if we must solve the problem, it doesn’t negate practical trade offs in implementing solutions. Proving we need to have a solution doesn’t prove your proposal is actually a one of them. Clinton implicitly argues throughout the interview that a political extremist is someone who places ideological faith—in the market, in government subsidy—ahead of empirical proof. She is saying that Sanders’ has offered no solutions, merely empty promises. She is doing it with detail and specifics. Here is her disgust with Sanders on health care:

Well, I don’t know what the particulars are. As you might remember, during the campaign he introduced a single-payer bill every year he was in Congress—and when somebody finally read it, he couldn’t explain it and couldn’t really tell people how much it was going to cost.

This is followed by four paragraphs of cogent examples and analysis of the problems America faces in trying to get this policy. For Clinton, Sanders greatest sin was that he didn’t have a firm grasp on his own proposals. Repeatedly Sanders put forward aspirational proposals, but when people asked for the evidence, he blustered. She argues, and I don’t think it should be controversial, that she deserved to have her details covered, and he deserved to have his non-answers flagged as such. Instead, Sanders remarkable spell was a self-perpetuating story, and her campaigning was left strangely untouched.

Her notion of being better near the center isn’t that we’re better for being tepid. It is a notion that government works best when public servants can prove they are doing the best work that can be done. In the first quote above, she shows herself as working for voters, people with concrete problems that government can craft solutions for. She casts Sanders and Cruz as out of touch, putting abstract ideology ahead of the real people policy is intended to serve. It is, at its core, the assertion that risky, unproven policy based on wishful thinking can do more damage than the problem well-intentioned politicians seek to fix. She does not define extremism in terms of the results, but in rather in terms of the risk.

This argument is harder to attack than the screenshot makes it seem. (Who could have predicted that Hillary Clinton would be subject to a strawman argument???) If Clinton is wrong in the particulars, Sanders and his supporters could reckon in detail with the trade-offs inherent in his proposals. In Clinton’s framing, that is moving to the center and acquiescing to her long-held methods. Anticipating extremist responses to Clinton would take more space than I have and, besides, they can speak for themselves. But ultimately they all require at some point asking the audience if they believe that modern science is frequently, irrevocably in error and to greater degree than ideological reasoning. Are economics, social psychology, environmental science, finance, and the whole host of other disciplines stateswomen like Clinton draw on so truly beyond redemption that we should trust the musings of Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders?

Some will say yes, no doubt. But speaking for myself, I’ll take Clinton’s proof. And at any rate, we’ve truly heard little on her real arguments and we’d all benefit from a detailed response.

*”But the polling about likability!” Seems like at the ballot box voters set that aside more than not, right? This is truly a good question that deserves more time, but it ultimately doesn’t establish that Clinton didn’t get both the primary and general popular mandate over her respective opponents.


Clinton’s Mistake was Student Loan Debt

Allow me to put forward a hypothesis that will be very controversial: Sanders supporters were, by and large, held together by his promise of free college education.


I suggest this because, despite being billed as a populist, he was something of a niche candidate. Educated millennials made up the bulk of his support. (You get zero points for showing he had support elsewhere; there are approximately a zillion articles from the primaries about the correlation between age and support for Sanders.) It is hard to point at too many specific programs Sanders supported—one of the reasons this blog criticized him was that he was consistently vague. Yeah, I want “less income inequality”, but Sanders stump speeches offered few details on how we were going to get that. One of his few concrete ideas was a plan to tackle student loan debt.

Clinton treated it as a non-issue.

Sure, she said a few applause lines when Sanders put the pressure on her in the primary…but they were unconvincing. And she dropped talk of it once she was campaigning for the general. Part of the reason was that Sanders’ plan was wishful thinking covered with some vague gesturing; his preferred examples in the Germanic world send far fewer people to college and the programs are subsidies for the upper-middle class. He tended to dodge these questions by pointing out that Congress could raise taxes enough to cover everyone, but without really grappling with the underlying dynamics*. Clinton correctly avoided promising something that would be difficult and costly to deliver until she had to. But part of the problem was that the Clinton campaign underestimated how much that issue was contributing to Sanders’ appeal and what that would mean in November. For that matter, I did too.

I would caution against reasoning from the case I’ve laid out here that Sanders would have won if the Democrats had just run him. Clinton got more votes in the primary, and those were her most reliable supporters in the general. Sanders could have brought in the millennials, but its not clear that older democrats would not have just sat this one out instead. It’s possible Sanders would have won, but it is by far the less obvious conclusion.

The easier lesson is forward looking. Whoever runs in 2020—and for that matter, 2018—must have a real plan to address student debt. There is going to be a very delicate balance to strike. Older democrats are correct that the flashiest proposals are unworkable and must be made unfair to work. Younger democrats are right that the status quo is untenable.

Getting both to the polls is the only option for democrats.


*Paying for all tuition would require increasing the federal budget by about 9%. This sounds modest, but in absolute terms that would be about 353 billion dollars a year. Making it free would likely increase the number of applicants, meaning some kind of rationing would be necessary even if we held numbers at current levels; Universities would have every incentive to enroll as many people as possible to get more Federal funds. That’s also a noticeable tax hike that would affect whatever market Sanders chose; he chose the famously elastic investment market but assumed no elasticity. Sanders tended to treat these points like distractions rather than very real issues that impacted how fair workable his program was.

So, Donald Trump’s Upcoming Sexual Assault Case is not Clear Cut

Update: Within just a few hours of publication, the case moved. The plaintiff is going public this evening. I will not be updating the piece to reflect any of the changes and, presumably, the new information and public reveal of the plaintiff’s identity will make it easier to go after this case. I feel my analysis is vindicated by the fact that when she went public coverage is spiked.

My feed has a steady stream of memes, posts, and updates regarding Donald Trump’s upcoming sexual assault case. And—please hear me out—the case is quite murky. A big part of why it is not getting a lot of coverage, as we’ll see, is that if an outlet has a high standard of proof for publication, then large parts of this case simply cannot be published.

The accusations are actually quite a bit worse than what my headline suggests. According to a source (hang on), this is what happened. It is quite graphic, so if the headline did not tip you off about the content of this piece, this is your last chance to bail:

She lists four alleged instances of sex with Trump, including one when she says she was forced to perform lesbian acts with another underage girl.

Both girls were allegedly told to “place their mouths simultaneously on Trump’s erect penis until he achieved an orgasm.”

“After zipping up his pants, Defendant Trump physically pushed both minors away while angrily berating them for the ‘poor’ quality of their sexual performances,” the lawsuit reads.

In another encounter where Johnson says she was tied on a bed, Trump alleged raped her after refusing to wear a condom. After he finished, she says Trump threw money at her while putting his suit and told her to get an abortion.

This comes from the esteemed pages of, however the suit is real and the details here are what is actually being alleged. This seems it should be a bigger story.

Well, there are a few things to note here. For starters, this is a civil, not criminal suit. The burden of proof is lower for a civil suit, so starting there suggests that the plaintiff knows her case is flimsy. Also, it has been dismissed once on technicalities, including the fact that she gave the address of a foreclosed house as her residence. Further, no one has located or even identified—let alone interviewed—the plaintiff. She is currently representing herself because reportedly she is having trouble finding a lawyer. (That last bit comes from our “friends” at gossipextra, so, yeah.)

It is important that I take a moment to point out that false accusations are rare. Even if this is one, it would be unusual. And there is no evidence that it is. There are possible explanations of each of these irregularities—for example, sexual assault is notoriously hard to prove, so she may have no choice but to go to civil court first. Donald Trump in turn is famously litigious, so plenty of lawyers might want to steer clear. No imagination is required to think her secrecy is simply a desire to put off the inevitable scrutiny of every detail of her life. I hesitated even publishing this piece simply because it is difficult to point out a sexual assault case is flawed without encouraging rape apologia.

But keep in mind that the press has virtually nothing to go on here. Just as it would be unscrupulous to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims out of hand, the irregularities and secrecy of the plaintiff make fair reporting on Donald Trump nearly impossible.

But, perhaps most importantly, there is not yet an upcoming trial. There is status conference for December, where the judge receives preliminary information at this time to decide if the case can even proceed to trial. With this many irregularities, you can bet Trump’s lawyers are going to move for dismissal and you can bet the motion has a fair shot. If something is provided by the plaintiff that day that the press does not have access to, you will see this blow up. And rightfully!

In the meantime, I’m sorry, there is not much to this case to be reported right now.

Let’s Dispel the Myth Donald Trump Does Not Know What He is Doing

I’m supposed to write an introduction about how Donald Trump has shocked the nation by implying that Clinton should be shot. [Insert shock.] I should review the long litany of other bombastic things he has said. [List goes here.]

But you know.

And you’re not really shocked.

My first reaction hearing about this upon waking up was not shock. It was to thin it was old news. I checked the time stamp and figured that we’re just at the point that Donald Trump can say this and it does not shock me. After I stretched and ingested some caffeine, I realized it was only sort of old news. I was remembering Sharron Angle.

It’s cool if you’re not—I actually had to Google for her name. The search term I used was “Second Amendment Remedies” and the top hit, from Huffington Post, will tell you why. Here is the quote:

Angle: I feel that the Second Amendment is the right to keep and bear arms for our citizenry. This not for someone who’s in the military. This not for law enforcement. This is for us. And in fact when you read that Constitution and the founding fathers, they intended this to stop tyranny. This is for us when our government becomes tyrannical…

Manders: If we needed it at any time in history, it might be right now.

Angle: Well it’s to defend ourselves. And you know, I’m hoping that we’re not getting to Second Amendment remedies. I hope the vote will be the cure for the Harry Reid problems.

The echo is unmistakable.

But this was not the first time I’d noticed this happen. In fact, the last two times he was echoing Bernie Sanders. He has taken aim at Clinton by suggesting that the election will be rigged, another echo. He has also suggested that the debate schedule is rigged, something that Sanders himself was more tacit about but widely* circulated by his supporters. In both cases, this was a deliberate attempt to call out to Sanders supporters.

So there you have it. This is a deliberate strategy by Trump. He is trying to call out to people who his campaign thinks he can or needs to woo. Yes, this is corrosive to electoral norms and potentially deadly. But let’s stop feigning shock.

Plenty of people in this country still think our democracy needs a “second amendment remedy”.

*At risk of litigating this after it matters, it was probably more the case that the DNC knew there would be no major challengers from inside the party and did not schedule many debates. That they were unwilling to accommodate Sanders was likely bias and the simple fact that he was never a Democrat.

Pence is Not Moderate

Moderate and Mealymouthed Start with M. That Is Not How Synonyms Work

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known in Indiana by its acronym The Bill That Cost Indiana Millions RFRA, was a disaster. Several of Indiana’s largest taxpaying entities announced they were going to consider their long-term relationship with the state. Other states refused to fund travel there. (This may not be much of a hardship for anyone; decades of brain-drain have not made it a travel destination.) It was so bad that Pence had to hire a PR firm to convince people that RFRA was not about discrimination. On taxpayer money.

His comments on the matter, in stark contrast with Trump, were: “There will be some who think this legislation goes too far and some who think it does not go far enough, but as governor I must always put the interest of our state first and ask myself every day, ‘What is best for Indiana?’ I believe resolving this controversy and making clear that every person feels welcome and respected in our state is best for Indiana.”

If you know a nothing about the RFRA controversy, this sounds reasonable. Donald Trump has said a few—and I do mean a few—things with lucid content during his run, but still manages to sound unhinged and scatterbrained as he says them. It is flat out the opposite of what the bill and its fix did, but Pence has mastered the art of saying one thing and doing another. He is an artist in the medium of comforting, contentless, calculated drivel. This is not the same thing as signing bills that are moderate.

Pence won the election in 2012 by about 3% of the vote and failed to secure a majority. He has been very unpopular, in part because he has pursued a radical education agenda. The only statewide election the Democrats won was State Superintendent of Schools, so Pence had her stripped of all but a few official powers so they could pass unpopular voucher programs, limit teacher bargaining rights, and weaken teacher licensing. Pence was expected, though hardly destined, to lose in November. Reliably Republican Indiana is in revolt against its governor for being too conservative and Pence is jumping ship rather than face the voters in November.

So, yes, he is no Donald Trump. For one thing, he has an actual record of mismanaging, rather the pervasive assumption that he will. Donald Trump, for example, cannot boast having presided over a teaching shortage and related brain drain. Trump, for all his swagger, has never enacted a law discriminating against minorities. Trump has not yet mastered the vital political skill of saying that he is doing the opposite of what he is clearly doing.

In the year 2016, that is what apparently passes for “moderation” and “good sense”.

Bernie Sanders is the Reason for Super Delegates

I’m conflicted about Super Delegates, the somewhat dubious process where people with standing in the party have a minority vote for how to represent the party.

It is a bit undemocratic, but then again, so is a primary. It is a vote by party members—members defined loosely in some places. It is almost stupid to point out that Republicans aren’t invited to vote in the Democratic Party. It’s obvious. Dumb. Stupid. If they were, it would be the general election. Marco Rubio is not welcome to run in it.

So why should Sanders be?

Sanders has built his career on criticizing both parties. That’s right, after years of criticizing “the establishment” (a word that is quickly losing all meaning), he turned around and asked the Democratic party to make him their nominee. He opposes a good deal of their platform, is at odds with party leadership, and has closer affiliations with the US socialist party, though he’s been quick to say Independent because it suits him. He wants into the Establishment Club, but he does not want to pay his dues.

The differences between Sanders and Clinton are as a large as Clinton and Rubio. There is a party-separating gulf between them. The idea that Sanders is part of the Democratic party is betrayed by his own statements, positions, and history. The problem with a majoritarian rule in the Electoral College is that it makes it hard for third-parties to get any kind of foothold, so I sympathize with Sanders supporters who think this insurgency is the way to go. Really, truly. The alternative here is pretty messy.

I’ve been harping on this point for awhile, but one of the things missing from the “Sander’s Revolution” is any lasting change in Congress. Sanders is running to be President opposite a pretty typical slate of Democratic Representatives and Senators. Even if the Democrats pull a trick out of their hat and take both chambers of Congress—that’s unlikely—Sanders will find himself at odds with the Democrats. They would pass a budget that contained the kind of incrementalist change that Clinton supports. What should Sanders do in that case? Veto it and cause a shutdown and try to negotiate for more? Or accept the limited power of the President? I can’t say what he would do, though it is not hard to imagine an angry, blustering Sanders in the Rose Garden gutting discretionary spending in the hopes of getting a new deal. To be clear, the poor he champions would bear that cost for his supporters.

And here is the real kicker: it is a myth that the Super Delegates are unelected. Every single one of them has stood for an election in the Democratic Party and won. They are members of Congress and party leaders who represent vested party interests. Like the US Senate, they represent a sort of institutional friction: they change more slowly and keep the nomination from transfiguring into something that does not represent the party.

I mentioned at the beginning that I’m conflicted about Super Delegates. I found it hard to stomach in 2008 that Obama might lose the nomination on the vote of party leadership—and I supported Clinton in 2008. The differences between Clinton and Obama were experience and shades of ambition in policy proposals; they were both fundamentally on board with the Democratic agenda. (How much Obama got walked back to Clinton’s positions by the Democratic Congress before 2010 should be a warning to Sanders supporters.) Sanders, by contrast, wants to seriously alter parts of the Democratic platform so that it is unrecognizable. These are, to beat this point a bit more, as big as what Rubio would change if he were the insurgent. Bernie Sanders is the reason for Super Delegates. To ensure that decades of work, consensus building, and coalition making can’t be gutted by someone from outside the party in a single, close primary.

Even if you view that as a point in Sanders’ favor, it is hard to make the case that it is the Democratic Party’s job to represent the American socialist movement. We have Super Delegates to make sure it doesn’t.

Reality Just Called: Bernie Sanders Did not Win the Democratic Debate

I am seeing a flood of Facebook statuses that cover the usual range of reactions to something happening involving Bernie Sanders. Why is “the media” acting like Clinton won? (She did) Why are polls not being released? (It takes about this long.) There must be some connection between these media companies and Clinton. (It is complicated; yes, but several polling firms we’re waiting on are independent of the Clintons.)

One of the first “flash polls“, polls that are taken quickly over a single day to give news outlets a snapshot to frame the debate, is out. It found that Clinton won. And it was not close. Of the 760 people they asked, 60% said they thought Clinton won the debate. Chaffee and Webb were deemed to be the losers by a long margin.

Fans of Sanders need not despair here. Both Clinton and Sanders were viewed more favorably after the debate. Perhaps more importantly, Sanders is behind Clinton just outside of the margin of error. Clinton maintains a lead, but it is hardly safe. This cuts every which way: Sanders is narrowing the margin, Clinton has not been overcome, some Sanders supporters evidently think Clinton bested him in spite of their personal views.

This poll differs from most proceeding polls in that it takes Biden out of the picture. Sanders seems to have snapped up more of Biden’s support than Clinton. I find this exasperating, but it is easily explained. The Vice President is as much a political insider as anyone, but he has always managed to project an image of being an outsider. The differences in a Clinton and Biden presidency would be in competence, not policy goals. Lest I leave any doubt here, Clinton is the more competent candidate by leaps and bounds.

The usual caveats apply: this is a single poll taken on a single day. You can only extrapolate so much and it will be a few days before a clearer picture emerges. It is possible the first poll out the gate is an outlier.

But guys. Sanders did not apparently win the Democratic Debate. He performed well and energized his base. But most registered democrats felt Clinton won. Not Sanders.