Sunday, March 6, 2016

A few thoughts on the 2016 Presidential primary

So, all seven of my long-time readers have probably noticed a dearth of commentary on this year's Presidential campaign hereabouts. As with the general recent lack of posts on the ol' Patio Boat lately, it's mostly just been a reflection of a lack of coherent time and energy to put some thoughts in writing.

But I also made a conscious decision to step back from the process this cycle. So for most of 2015 I kept away from campaign news. So, other than the occasional newspaper article and a few email exchanges with some of my politically obsessed friends, I tended other fields until the first Vermin Supreme sighting in New Hampshire officially kicked off the silly season.

So, with less than 48 hours until I have to cast my own vote in Michigan's Presidential primary, here are my two cents on this two-bit process.

The Democratic Party

This is where I'll be casting my vote, of course, and for the first time that I can remember, I'm still genuinely undecided less than 48 hours before the election. Both candidates have strengths and weaknesses, but neither would've been close to my top pick for president if I looked across the whole party. To be honest, though, I care much less about the details of their policy positions than I do about making sure a Democrat wins in November so as to have a reasonably reliable veto over our gerrymandered and increasingly loopy right-wing Republican Congress.

I did drop a small donation on Bernie last month because I wanted to help give his message on campaign finance reform a signal boost. I'd probably drop a small donation on Hillary, but she has the high-rollers financing her, so there are probably better uses for my next small-roller donation than Hillary's primary campaign. Since she seems well on her way towards wrapping this thing up, it feels to me as if my vote Tuesday might be more about how long I'd like Bernie to have a platform than who I think would be the best candidate or president.

In any case, I reckoned I'd try to catch an event for each candidate to see if that brought any clarity. As it turns out, Bernie was hosting a rally this weekend at Macomb Community College. (The only live local event I could find for Hillary was a Michigan Democratic Party fundraiser at the MGM Grand Casino. Somehow that figures.) So, Bernie won my in-person attendance this weekend, and yesterday Monique and I went to his rally in Warren at Macomb Community College.

It was great fun, the usual mix of "stand around forever, then cheer when the TV lights come on" that you see at any of these events. Not surprisingly, the crowd skewed pretty young. And oh my God some of the volunteers are so earnest that it breaks my heart to know that they're likely to have to recover from Bernie's ultimate electoral demise. (Maybe I've just been in politics long enough that I'm used to candidates that I like getting beaten. What a depressing thought.)

Once we got rolling Bernie pretty much gave his standard stump speech, but since so much of it gets chopped up on TV it was nice to see it as a set piece. And, of course, for this crowd it was a bit like watching some classic rock band perform its greatest hits in concert. They all knew the the points and the cheering and booing sections. Bernie's good with the crowd, too. All the years he's spent stumping really show.

We recorded CNN and MSNBC to watch afterwards, which was interesting. Both channels spent more time talking about what Bernie was saying than showing the speech ... while he was still giving the speech! And then they'd pretty much show the video of the speech in a corner as they'd run long commercial breaks or talk about what he was saying. In fairness, they pretty much do that with all of the candidates but Trump, yet another symptom of how awful cable TV news is.

So, how to vote? How to vote? I'll watch tonight's debate and let them make their closing arguments. I'm probably leaning towards Bernie a bit, I suppose. I'm still not in convinced that a 74-year-old Bernie Sanders would genuinely make a good president. And I don't agree with him on a lot of policy details. But he makes a great spokesman for a lot of things that I care about that nobody else with a platform seems to give a damn about. Plus, I suspect that Hillary will pivot to the center faster than Hakeem Olajuwon in his prime the moment she thinks she has this thing wrapped up. I'd like to hold her feet to the fire a bit longer on campaign finance reform and breaking the grip of billionaires over our political process.

Also, I find that as the moment approaches, I'm still really, really, really pissed at Hillary for voting for the Iraq War. And the thing that still makes me angriest about it is that I still don't think she voted for it because she thought it was a good idea or that Hussein had WMDs. I still think she voted for it because she thought voting against it would hurt her presidential ambitions. It felt good to punish her electorally for it in 2008, and I suspect it would still feel good in 2016.

So why the hesitation? Well, to be honest Hillary really is more electable in the general election than a 74-year-old socialist from Vermont. More than anything else, I guess voting for Bernie helps make the case that he should continue to make his case. But I absolutely, positively don't want to do anything that would help the Republican Party in November.

We shall see. I still really don't know. I've never been an undecided before. It's an interesting experience.

The Republican Party

I suppose my opinion of this year's Republican nominating race can best be summed up by my recent Facebook post in which I opined that Thursday night's GOP Presidential debate, "was neither presidential nor a debate. It did, however, succeed in making me sad for the Republican Party. And I didn't think anything could make me sad for the Republican Party."

I guess what's worst about the rise of Donald Trump is that it's made a lot of people feel it's okay to openly express the sort of racist and fascist notions that the GOP has often implied with coded language in recent years. It's the ugliest thing and scariest thing I've seen in politics in recent years. Part of me thinks that the GOP brought this on themselves, so good riddance. But it's not good for anybody in America that one of our two major parties has gone so far off the rails.

As for the candidates themselves?

Donald Trump -- #NeverTrump. Who could've known that Mitt Romney and I would find such solid common ground? 'Nuff said.

Ted Cruz -- Cruz is doing a good job of convincing me that he might be a worse president than The Donald, most because he's convincing me that he shouldn't be permitted to have his finger anywhere near the nuclear button. At least Trump's such a self-serving hedonist that I doubt he'd risk the inconvenience of a nuclear war.

Marco Rubio -- Rubio has used the campaign to pretty clearly shown himself lacking in the sort of character or depth of thought I'd expect in a president. Honestly, I'm a bit perplexed as to who ever told him he was presidential timber in the first place. And no matter how many endorsements he racks up because he's not as loopy as Trump or Cruz, it doesn't seem the Republican voters are buying Rubio, either.

... which leaves us with John Kasich -- I used to think that if you were going to elect a president whose political philosophy you disagreed with, it would be better to elect an incompetent, since he'd do a worse job of advancing his agenda. George W. Bush cured me of that notion. I strongly disagree with a lot of Kasich's agenda, especially with regard to women's rights. But I reckon he'd be least likely to get us involved in a needless land war in Asia, so that's something. And he has managed to somehow keep most of his dignity intact despite appearing on stage in debates with those other three. That's something, too.

Naturally, that means Kasich is badly trailing the other three, and his only reason to stay in the race at this point is the hope that he can at least deny Trump Ohio's hefty winner-take-all delegate count. Honest to Pete, something has gone badly, badly awry with the Republican Party. They brought it on themselves, but more than anything else this Republican campaign has led me to feel genuinely mystified by the thought process of so many of my fellow Americans.

I just don't get it.

Maybe that's my real epitaph for this campaign. I just don't get it.


  1. Well John, if you don't get it, it's no wonder that I have had real problems coming to a decision. Tell me though, if you can, why so many young voters are flocking to Bernie, the oldest and therefore least likely candidate to succeed, while millions of adults are supporting Trump? Seems illogical, doesn't it?

    1. The reason that so many younger people are supporting Bernie comes down to authenticity. Bernie has been saying the same things on the campaign trail that he has been saying for the last 50 years. It's easy to find a topic that he's talking about and then go to YouTube and see him talking about the exact same thing 10, 20 or 30 years ago.

      The American public is accustomed to politicians giving nuanced answers that don't actually answer the question, looking at polls before deciding which way the wind is blowing and what their position on a subject is, or straight up lying about what they are going to do. Younger voters are much less accepting of being lied to.

      Another reason is that younger voters understand that they have been screwed by the system in favor of the richest of the rich. They have to spend ungodly amounts of money to get a college education, they graduate with student loans that are often the size of a mortgage, and then they find that there aren't good jobs available to them since Wall Street criminality nuked the economy, and not a single one of the criminals responsible was prosecuted or sent to jail. Once they graduate, the jobs that they can find don't pay a living wage, much less pay their student loans. These problems were at the root of the Occupy movement which helped to build a broad core of young people fighting against the same things that Bernie had been fighting against for decades.

      In Bernie, large numbers of young voters see someone who has been fighting for them since before they were even born, who hasn't changed his core beliefs even when they were not politically popular, and who win or lose will continue to fight for the same things. A person that they believe is worth fighting for.

      In the case of Trump, I believe that it comes down to that the adults also know that they are being screwed by the system, and their anger is resonating with Trump's anger and hatred in his speeches. They hate the system and want to burn it down, and Trump is offering Trump branded flamethrowers to them. However, since more adults accept that politicians lie and make campaign promises they have no intention of sticking to, it allows them in their mind to say "I like the fact Trump is spitting in the face of the establishment and supporting him will let me help make the establishment pay for what they have done. While he is saying some pretty horrific things, he's running a campaign, so I know that he really doesn't meany all of it. It's just more campaign lies and once he's nominated/elected he'll move the the center and tone it down."

  2. A thoughtful summation, John. I do appreciate your assessment, sober and well explained. Thanks. And the Bernie rally was fun!

    And Brigitte, I suspect that the young don't have the same knee jerk reaction to the label "socialist" that many people over the age of 50 do in this country. Also, the young are more inherently optimistic. Those beaten down by life, and especially those for whom the rug has been pulled out from under them, often have a much harder time and can tend to become bitter.... Trump, of course, appeals to bitter and looking for somebody to blame.

    Let us hope most people follow the better angels of our nature (and hang on to some hope for the future).

  3. I am solidly behind Bernie, and I am not a fan of Hillary. There are many reasons, but one of the better list of comparisons between Bernie and Hillary was posted with the title "The Definitive, Encyclopedic Case For Why Hillary Clinton is the Wrong Choice". If interested you can find it archived at

    I believe that Obama demonstrated that trying to start negotiations with a Republicans from a position that might be a reasonable compromise, only leads to further and further concessions until the final result is much worse than it would have been if he had started with a position more in line with progressive/Democratic beliefs. As a result, I strongly feel that Bernie's belief in systemic changes to address the underlying problems would result in more progress in fixing the problems than would Hillary's desire for incremental improvements.

    With all of that said, either candidate, Hillary or Bernie, would be many orders of magnatude superior as a President to lead the US over anybody that has stood on stage at any of the Republican debates this election cycle.

  4. Or to put it another way, Trump voters want to burn it *all* down, while Bernie voters only want to burn down selected parts of the system.

  5. For those scoring at home, I ultimately voted to burn down selected parts of the system.