Friday, April 15, 2016

Do your job, voters

If you're like a lot of people right now and suffering from a severe case of primary fatigue you may have tuned out last night's Democratic debate.  That's totally understandable, believe me. But if you did, you missed a good one. Once the soccer hooligans in the audience settled down enough that the candidates could scream at a more reasonable volume, this turned out to be the most substantive debate the Democrats have had in a while. And, on balance, it was probably Bernie Sanders' best.

He did "lose" on some points. He wasn't prepared to respond to Clinton on the gun question. I find it amazing that a former US Secretary of State who is almost by definition a blood-soaked international arms dealer somehow gets awarded  the moral high ground on guns in our stupid system but so be it. Also, Sanders, most embarrassingly, wasn't' ready with an "example" of a time Hillary was corrupted by fossil fuel donors. Such examples abound, by the way. It's inexcusable that Bernie isn't ready to talk about them.

His strongest moments came when he managed to call out Hillary's equivocations on the minimum wage and again on Social Security.  Clinton tried to claim she "has always supported" the Fight for 15 action. In fact, she has taken a number of positions on the minimum wage since the beginning of the campaign. Her most solid, though, has been that she wants a $12 federal minimum wage. Beyond that, she says, it's up to states and localities
“I support the local efforts that are going on that are making it possible for people working in certain localities to actually earn 15,” Clinton said in a response to a question from BuzzFeed News during a press availability in New Hampshire on Thursday.

“I think part of the reason that the Congress and very strong Democratic supporters of increasing the minimum wage are trying to debate and determine what’s the national floor is because there are different economic environments. And what you can do in L.A. or in New York may not work in other places.”
In other words, sorry, protesters in New Orleans. Hillary says you're on your own. Aren't we glad our state voted so decisively for her.

Anyway, in Clinton-speak "support" has more to do with congratulating and co-opting a cause after the fact than it does actual advocacy. That's usually good enough to score you a "Partially True" with the MSM fact checkers. That is, unless, someone really pins you down on the question. Which is what Bernie did last night. Yes, the "tone" police are furious but nevermind that. Bernie insisted that she say what she means when she talks about "support" for the Fight for 15 campaign and he did not let up until her explanation made it clear that she actually backs a $12 minimum wage.

This is how you debate Clinton or a Clinton type phony. You make them talk until they tell you what they really stand for.. if anything. Usually it's not anything. The Social Security question was another prime example of this. Wealthy pundits and Republicans are fond of telling us Social Security is doomed. Most of the time their solution to what they insist is a real and looming crisis is to accelerate the destruction by either slashing benefits, raising the retirement age, or privatizing the whole system.

More reasonable people, like (former Clinton Labor Secretary) Robert Reich here, say that's nonsense. The easiest way to "save" Social Security, in fact, is to fund it. This means, most obviously raising the income cap on payroll taxes.

The Sanders campaign is committed to doing just that. Clinton, not so much. Hillary almost got away with dodging the question last night until Bernie pressed her. (Sorry if you don't like all the crowd noise in the Wa-Po transcript. I think it's fun.)
SANDERS: -- maybe I'm a little bit confused. Are you or are you not supporting legislation to lift the cap on taxable income and expand Social Security for 58 years and increase benefits...

CLINTON: I am...

SANDERS: -- yes or no?

CLINTON: I have said yes, we are going to pick the best way or combination...

SANDERS: Oh, you -- ah.




CLINTON: -- or combination of ways...


CLINTON: -- you know...


CLINTON: -- it -- it's all -- it's always a little bit, uh, challenging because, you know, if Senator Sanders doesn't agree with how you are approaching something, then you are a member of the establishment. Well, let me say then...

SANDERS: Well, look...

(APPLAUSE) CLINTON: -- let me say this...


CLINTON: -- we are going to extend the Social Security Trust Fund. We've got some good ideas to do it.
And that's where she landed.  Q: Do you favor raising the cap in order to expand Social Security? A: Well we've got some good ideas...

And that's just not good enough.  Let me clarify that. There comes a time when maybe that kind of talk is good enough.  Maybe that's eventually good enough if you're a Clinton Administration wonk negotiating with Republican congressional staffers.  But if you are a Democratic primary voter, it's unacceptable.

This is a post by TPM's John Judis which I think helps make my point.  I don't agree with the entire post but there is this bit that I like very much.
What Sanders is proposing are political guideposts – ideals, if you like – according to which we can judge whether incremental reforms make sense. He is describing, whether you like them or not, objectives toward which we Americans should be aspiring. That’s a central activity in politics. Should it be confined to issues of Democracy or National Affairs? Or is it the kind of activity that is entirely appropriate for a nominating contest? Ronald Reagan and the conservatives thought so during the 1970s. And I think Democrats should be thinking this way now. So I applaud Bernie Sanders for not limiting his proposals to what might appear on a President’s often-ignored budget requests.
Not only is this a "central activity in politics." Not only is it how "Democrats should be thinking right now." This is the ONLY way the voters should approach any election. We live in an age of amateur punditry. I happen to think this is a pretty neat thing overall (I mean, hello, said the blogger.) But I often think that many of our amateur pundits tend to forget that they're only working for themselves in this game. We are not the pros here. We are the constituents. It's important that we remember that distinction because we have a very specific role to play in that regard.

We are not the candidates. We are not the strategists. It is not up to you or I to talk the "electable" talking points or make the uncomfortable compromises that "get things done." Sure, we can second guess candidates and electeds as they succeed or fail at that stuff. That's always fun to do. But it's important to understand the purpose of those activities.

Those little games are merely the tools the bozos we're trying to elect have to use in order to get us as much of what we want as they can. At election time, though, it is our job to tell them what we actually want and how badly we want it. This is how you set the boundaries of the bargain when the bozo goes in to make it for you.

That’s what your vote is for. Stop pretending you're the bozo. You are the voter. There's a difference. Use your vote correctly.

No comments: