The view from 30,000 feet: Democratic Presidential field underwhelming

With less than a week to the Iowa Caucus and while we sit through a Senate trial of an impeached President, it’s time to take stock of the Democrats running for President. For the record I believe each of the potential nominees would deserve the support of the American people in the General Election. But right now from my vantage point the choices offered for the nomination are not satisfactory.

Let me preface this column by mentioning for the first time in my adult life I have been somewhat distant from the Presidential nominating process. I haven’t paid too much attention, the way I did from every race between 1992 and 2016.  I have instead focused far more of my time on foreign affairs and Florida history. So that has given me a different lens on this contest. As someone with no “skin in the game,” any longer, I realize my opinions can be attacked by political insiders who are in the daily grind and “know better.”  Of course those types are the same people who did not see Brexit or Donald Trump coming, instead inoculating themselves within a bubble of political elites.  I am not currently actively supporting a Democratic candidate for President.

Joe Biden

Whether of not you want to believe it, at least for the time being Joe Biden appears at least partially to be damaged goods – While it might be unfair that the President’s reckless and removable-from-office actions might have also  impacted the target of his efforts, it is a reality that Democrats must confront. Being brought into the mud of the Trump impeachment has not helped Biden in the nation as a whole, even if has increased the elite political class and media’s sympathy for him.  Being attacked by the likes of Pam Bondi is a badge of honor but unfortunately leaves Biden in a very vulnerable General Election position as the waters being muddied is all the GOP needs to do to create significant confusion and misrepresentation.

 Biden’s run for the White House has seemed half-hearted viewed from outside, frustrating for someone like me who doesn’t share the left’s current analysis of Biden. Politics turns on a dime, but right now, it is tough to see a case for Biden being nominated given all the baggage that is accumulating, fairly or unfairly. But then again, given the weakness of the rest of the field, he’s still relevant and could still be the nominee.

I believe Biden would  probably make a good President, certainly better than the last white man elected as a Democrat- Bill Clinton, who let us not forget got impeached and also meandered all over the ideological spectrum when it suited him, effectively killing off the remains of LBJ’s Great Society (save Medicare) to get reelected in 1996.

Clinton’s influence on the party which continues to this day is a relic of the 1990’s an era when Democrats thought embracing Ronald Reagan’s legacy was more appropriate than association with Roosevelt, Truman or Johnson-styled economic liberalism. It is a relic of an era when the internet was in its infancy, America hadn’t had to adjust to the realities of Chinese hegemony or endless, pointless wars in the Middle East and Central Asia. It’s worth noting that despite his very unfortunate and unforgivable vote for the Iraq War, Biden actually had a plan to get the US out and divide the country (partitioning Iraq IMO is a must – it will never function as a unified country under its current borders) in 2006, which would have saved a lot of lives and money in the process.

But Biden is fundamentally mispositioned ideologically for today’s party. The Democratic Party, despite the Clintonian sojourn should be about Great Society/New Deal type economics, which explains why Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have developed the followings they have.  I believe Biden while not Warren or Sanders, wouldn’t be Clinton either. Perhaps that is a naively hopeful take, but I believe it.

Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg is the type of fly-by-night, flavor-of-the-month candidate that comes around ever so often. Do we even take someone like this seriously? His service both as a veteran and Mayor must be applauded and I for one believe Democrats need to look more to Mayors, strong executives to rebuild the bench of the party. But it’s way too soon in this young man’s career to take the idea of a Butigieg Presidency with any level of seriousness.  But his emergence probably reinforces my general feeling about the weakness of this field. He has faded in recent weeks. My own viewing of Buttigieg sees him as more or less an empty suit that regurgitates meaningless platitudes he thinks will appeal to the Democratic base. I have no doubt he’s intelligent, but in terms of understanding national policy he isn’t nearly there yet.

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren has proven to be a disappointment for me in this race. She was my choice for the nomination when she announced, but now sitting 30,000 feet above everything I feel homeless. I cannot pinpoint what it is, but I don’t support her any longer. Perhaps being largely disconnected from what us happening  and not that dedicated to the candidate I thought I liked the best allowed me to see flaws in her that I never did in past candidates I backed while in the political bubble?

Amy Klobuchar 

I’ve been a big fan of Amy Klobuchar since 2006, but she’s pretty clearly not really in the race to win the nomination. It’s possible Klobuchar at this time of great need for wise, ethical people who understand the constitution should be a Senator – following in the tradition of so many like Henry Clay, Margaret Chase Smith, Frank Church, Stuart Symington and Ted Kennedy, among others who were perhaps too wise to be President and stayed in the Senate.  My fear about her being on the ticket is taking someone as seasoned and effective as her in framing legal arguments out of the Senate at a time when the caliber of that body is about as low as it could possibly be. This having been said, I could see her as a very good nominee and President, but that isn’t going to happen.

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, from where I sit has the most realistic chance of being nominated and probably winning a General Election (though I rate every Democrats chances under 50-50 right now vs Trump) if you simply took his policy positions and areas of potential strength – white working class areas and suburbs. He has the clearest messaging and would embrace the sort of economic populism I feel is essential for Democrats to be the majority party in this country again.

But Sanders has some clear drawbacks as a candidate, and as a leader of a movement. Many of his supporters have  become downright dogmatic and unbearable over the course of the last four years.  Before launching into my complaints about Sanders supporters, I will concede their suspicion of the party establishment and consultant class is something I have long shared – I believe for too long Democratic insiders have made decisions that impact the lives of American citizens based on how it impacts their personal bottom line.

In 2016, I found most Sanders supporters to be on the mark about the party establishment and elites that dominate the country’s industry and government. However, four years later I have seen these same supporters go far beyond reasoned analysis on these matters. Many impugn anyone’s motives who disagree with them. For people of the left, it’s pretty galling they check  critical thinking skills at the door when it comes to their own tribe.

Since 2016, many of Sanders most ardent supporters have created a cult-of-personality around their candidate that inoculates him from the critiques that would be applied to just about any other candidate or public official. The defenses of Sanders and the unwillingness to address any criticism of him or his policies are reminiscent of Trump supporters in many ways. If another candidate or elected official had allowed the permissiveness of sexual harassment in their 2016 campaigns, “Bernie bots” would rightly be all over them – but instead since it was in Sanders campaign it’s a non-issue.

Similarly, the recent smears of Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren including the stretching of the truth on Social Security (as someone who has been around politics a while, I can guarantee you Joe Biden isn’t someone who wants to get rid of social security. In fact I remember him defiantly fighting GOP attempts to cut the rate of growth of the program and raids on the Social Security trust fund in the 1990’s.) are defended without any sort of filter by so many Sanders supporters who moonlight as online police officers, patrolling the internet with a vigor unseen in my lifetime among Democrats.

Any journalist or commentator who dares question Sanders viability or the credibility of aspects of his candidacy is subjected to an online lynch mob, particularly on Twitter reminiscent again of Trump supporters. The body of facts don’t particularly matter to many of these Sanders supporters, just the cherry-picked ones that back them up do. This again is similar to Trump supporters and exactly the type of cognitive dissonance the country needs to get away from for us to truly function again.

Sanders supporters are often the first to latch on to any narrative that hits the establishment or media while never viewing their own candidate through the same lens. The hypocrisy isn’t nearly yet at Trump levels but is on its way and given time could be at the same level.

The assumption among a not so insignificant group on the left is that anyone who ever dares criticize Sanders is a handmaiden for the neoliberal Democratic establishment or has been bought off by a large corporation. I have been personally attacked for being such a person by multiple Sanders supporters (who knew that in 2016 I support their candidate) even though my bank account is probably emptier than those attacking me, and as I have stated at the top I have no dog in this primary fight as I am more or less retired from political work.

The fact people might have a different world view, different personal experiences or differing perspectives about this country and society never seems to be acceptable to a large number of Sanders supporters.  The bottom line is if you don’t support Sanders, you are either mean-spirited, corrupt or wrong in your interpretation of events. The false equivalency drawn between the likes of Hillary Clinton and right-wing Republicans is also quite unhelpful.

Nuance is important in both campaigning and governance,  but too many Sanders supporters in their public persona lack it. Simply put, if you question or oppose Sanders you will be subjected to vigilante justice and have your motives impugned on social media. Not all Sanders supporters are this way, but a vocal and large enough minority are, and that is enough to turn against the candidate.

Here in Florida, where the term socialist is particularly toxic electorally thanks to Nicholas Maduro, Sanders nomination would quite possibly cede the state to Trump, irrespective of what current polls say. Keep in mind polls are a snapshot in time, and these polls are being conducted months before the actual general election campaign is run. Then again, I am not that hopeful about Trump being beat in Florida at all – recent population growth in exurban counties and retirement communities in addition to the remarkable popularity of Governor DeSantis have me fearful that we’re witnessing a gradual shift from purple to red in this state.

Similarly, it would be unwise to look at national polling data. CNN and MSNBC, anti-Trump networks to their core like to cite this data, but it is irrelevant as the popular vote for President is little more than a beauty contest. My sense is that the Democrats will lose Florida and Ohio leaving precious little margin for error across the rest of the country to win the Electoral College. I believe Iowa and Michigan might flip back to the Democrats, leaving Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to decide the election.

Sanders supporters, I fear will be empowered and similarly toxic to Trump supporters in a macro sense should he be elected. Many supporters of Sanders, much like Trump’s backers are unwilling to consider viewpoints contrary to their own or watch/read articles that might come from a different perspective.

I like Sanders policies and have weighed the idea of supporting him while trying to block out his supporters base on social media. But that is an impossibility given the online vigilante style of some of his loudest and most prominent supporters, as well as their unwillingness to apply nuance to discussions. My fear is if Sanders becomes President his supporters will be as insufferable and as intolerant as Trump’s base currently is. While ideologically I support Sanders view I cannot in good conscience remain consistently opposed to Trump and the behavior of his most ardent backers while embracing essentially the same thing on the left.

So where does this leave us? Wishing and hoping someone shocks us all and becomes the next President from this field. But right now, I fear what might lie ahead in November. I know other candidates are running though I am not sure who is still in the race.

9 comments

  1. This is really good stuff, Kartik.

    As someone who is considering Sanders, I tend to agree. The lack of nuance and discipline from Sanders’ online supporters, specifically on Twitter, is toxic. They’re too pedantic and overly puritan on the smallest of things — “Warren was a Republican” but many of them from New York City voted for a woman (Julia Salazar) in city council who was an active Republican not too long ago.

    Their actively harsh outlook on Sanders’ critics is killing the vibe around his campaign, but because they’re so strong and mostly a youthful, fluently online bloc, they don’t have enough people who aren’t associated with “corporate media” that can accurately tell them as such. Sanders’ lack of older black support — especially considering the power of an 11-state bloc down South where the majority of votes are coming from black people in their 60s — also concerns me, and their flippant attitude toward potentially losing Delaware (the tax haven, screw ’em!) to Trump is perplexing. I hope they find common sense, even as I lean toward their candidate.

    Sorry for making this so long, but your article was spot-on and I had to leave my two cents. Thanks again for your work at educating this non-Floridian about Florida (which I also believe Trump will win if Sanders is the Democratic nominee).

    Like

    1. Anonymous · · Reply

      I’d argue Twitter’s failure to reign in Trump’s personal attacks have empowered the vigilantes as Kartik calls them on social media. He’s spot on as is your comment.

      Like

  2. Anonymous · · Reply

    I don’t understand why so many are so bothered by Sanders supporters.

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  3. Well done KK!

    One thing you missed though is the sexism of the Bernie Bros. They actually don’t care about sexual harassment FFS!

    Like

  4. I like Bernie · · Reply

    I don’t disagree with any of your commentary about some of Bernie’s supporters. But they are justified.

    But you must remember many are young idealists who have seen Obama + Pelosi/Schumer sell out progressive principles and Trump ruin the country.

    When the Democrats put Jeff Bezos interests above the 99%, but Warren Buffett over the 99%, put Tim Cook over the 99% we need change.

    They don’t need your historical lectures on LBJ, Clinton etc. Maybe that’s why they are so rude to you???

    So you don’t like Sanders because of his supporters? Maybe you should toughen up or disclose how much Biden pays you. No rational person can conclude you would avoid a candidate because of their supporters unwillingness to be lectured by you.

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  5. Anonymous · · Reply

    “ Since 2016, many of Sanders most ardent supporters have created a cult-of-personality around their candidate that inoculates him from the critiques that would be applied to just about any other candidate or public official”

    – the truest line you’ve ever written. This says it all.

    Like

  6. Like Bernie · · Reply

    The trash spewed here and elsewhere in the last week shows the establishment is trembling!

    Bernie polls BETTER than Biden against Trump.

    Bernie wins Florida.

    Bernie wins the Midwest.

    Bernie wins white working class voters.

    The reason the party opposes Bernie is they all make money off shills like Warren or white identity politicians like Biden.

    It is a fact Kartik has been bought. Whether it’s with cash, drugs or hookers the party shifted him from progressive to shill in a short period.

    Don’t read or believe this crap!

    Like

  7. I like Bernie · · Reply

    Opposition to Sanders is due to too much MSNBC viewing.

    Only thing Trump has right is calling it MSDNC!

    Like

  8. Wait, so isn’t calling Bernie supporters “Bernie Bots” kind of a circular firing squad argument? Because on the flip side, I see the establishment going out of their way to discredit Bernie. Hell, just look was the DNC said in the emails during the 2016 primaries, and what they (as well as the media) are doing today. The outrage from those of us who support Bernie is justified.

    Also, Hillary supporters were more shortsighted (only voting for her because ‘she is a woman’). They couldn’t support her on policy because she flipped around more than a fish out of water

    Like

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