Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

05 March 2020

Why the Democratic Primaries Aren’t Over Yet

For brief descriptions of and links to recent posts, click here. For an inverse-chronological list with links to all posts after January 23, 2017, click here. For a subject-matter index to posts before that date, click here.

Going for Biden
After some vacillation—compare this post with the one below—I’ve resolved to support and vote for Joe Biden, rather than Bernie Sanders. I published the reasons for that decision in Daily Kos, which has better circulation than this blog. With our democracy at stake, our national decline becoming a plunge, and a global pandemic looming, I think the safe choice is the best. God help us all if Joe can’t win.

I get it. It felt it, too. There was a gale-force wind from the national sigh of relief when the disputatious, hair-splitting, back-biting mini-mob of Dem candidates got winnowed down to a manageable two: one moderate and one unabashed progressive.

I, too, feel the tug of Joe Biden—a nice, safe, known quantity, with executive experience to match his advanced years. His mouth sometimes gets ahead of his brain. But he wears like an old, well-broken-in boot. After years of hard use, he fits well. After three years of Trump’s psychopathy, that’s not nothing.

But feelings are not reason. Emotions are not facts. The euphoria of this much-needed culling will pass. Then Democrats will be left with a central truth of our age: the GOP has relentlessly moved the goal posts rightward for two generations, since Reagan.

Selfishness has become our nation’s moral lodestar. Profit is its metric. Learning, science and expertise are all embattled. We can’t seem to mount a coherent, let alone a swift, response to a global pandemic that hasn’t really yet reached our shores. Whenever we have a problem to solve or a plan to make, we look to people motivated by greed. That has become our national reflex.

That’s not the America I was born into in 1945. It’s not the America that helped win World War II, that shaped the Pax Atomica that followed, and that forged the cohesive global society that is now dissolving without our leadership. It’s not the America of the Marshall Plan, the United Nations, Bretton Woods, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the World Trade Organization, the G7 and the G20 and, yes, NATO, formed to contain aggressive and simplistic foreign ideologies. It’s not the America that dumped Jim Crow, passed the civil rights and voting acts and set out to make Jefferson’s credo, “all Men are created equal,” not just a slogan, but a vital, living social reality.

We have lost so much, as a nation and as a people, that we now see a big victory in just getting back to “normal.” We yearn for the time before a venal narcissist and his ring-kissing sycophants occupied the White House, our Senate, and our Supreme Court.

But some of us—maybe many of us—want more. We want to exploit universal revulsion at these three years of egregious misrule to help us recover our national soul. We know in our hearts that the only way to “make America great again” is a vast moral and social reawakening.

To get back on track, we need to see and understand how far off track we have strayed. Describing the difference in outlook as a battle between “moderation” and “socialism” is like calling the French Revolution “undisciplined.” It’s a complete misunderstanding and mischaracterization of where we are as a nation. Our youth, who are not so wedded to name-calling from the past, understand full well. This is a make-or-break chance to recover our national soul, our moral core.

As for hard facts and evidence, we don’t really have them yet. Nothing in the primaries/caucuses so far is factually or rationally decisive.

We’ve had reliably blue states (California, Colorado and Vermont) go for Bernie Sanders. We’ve had some blue states go for Joe Biden, too (Maine, Massachusetts, and Minnesota). None of these states is likely to pick Trump in the general election, so their preferences now are immaterial.

We’ve also had some states most unlikely to dump Trump go for each candidate. Sanders won Utah, while Biden won Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas. But these states are unlikely to abandon Trump in the general election, so their status as fulcra of change is improbable.

What matters most of all is the states that have not yet spoken. The general election will turn on their decisions, including the seven states most up for grabs. Here’s a broader, more comprehensive spreadsheet of the states just possibly in that category, i.e., those whose red or blue margins were less than 9% in 2016:

Possible Swing States in 2020

StateTrump 2016 MarginElectoral Votes
North Carolina4%15
New Hampshire-<1%4
New Mexico-8%5

These fifteen swing states have total of 186 electoral votes. Less than half have yet spoken. Four of them—Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina and Virginia—went for Biden, with a total of 42 electoral votes. Three went for Sanders—Colorado, Nevada, and New Hampshire—with a total of 19 electoral votes.

So Biden now has a greater than two-to-one advantage in electoral votes of swing states. But it’s early days yet. Eight of these key states, with a total of 121 electoral votes, have yet to speak.

There are still two viable theories of the general election. One is that a “moderate” like Biden can win the votes of the few independent thinkers remaining in swing states and therefore best beat Trump. The other is that a true progressive like Sanders can attract more new voters and best win by expanding the Democratic base.

Up to now, nothing scientific or solid has ruled out either theory. It’s all just nervous speculation. We should wait, as patiently as we can, until further primaries (and their figures for new-voter turnout) tilt one way or the other.

Not coincidentally, the two candidates remaining are the ones with the most specifically political experience in the entire Democratic field. No Trump clones for the Dems: the two billionaires who ran mostly on their money have flamed out. So we should all wait for further results. A premature coronation didn’t work out so well last time, did it?

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