Since the mid-’90s, I’ve been issuing voting recommendations for each election. This will be my 7th presidential endorsement; I’ve frequently turned to third parties because the major party nominees sucked.
But this is a first: a presidential primary where we’ll not only have choices – until this year our state held its caucuses and primaries late in the game, when only one or two viable candidates remained in the race – but two well-qualified candidates who do mostly represent my views.
As I mentioned in a FB post, I’ve gone back and forth between Sens. Warren and Sanders. So I asked people to make the case for their preference. Among the 428 (and counting) comments – all of which I read – there ensued not only a remarkably-civil-for-FB discussion, but some really thoughtful justifications for both candidates. Thank you to everyone who responded on that thread and through PM.
Reading through the responses both gave me new factors to weigh and helped crystallize my thinking. I found myself taking notes in a four-square matrix: the strengths and vulnerabilities of each candidate. In every endorsement article I’ve ever written I’ve urged readers to not just take my word for it – do your own research, make up your own minds. And get active. One of my concerns is that Trump is moving quickly to preempt a fair election in November. So I want a (ideally progressive) nominee who can beat Trump in enough states to overwhelm his efforts to cheat. That nominee also will need to have enough coattails to help purple state Dems retake the Senate in places like AZ, CO, GA, ME, and NC. The downside danger is Trump’s acolytes retaking control of the House. And with the 2020 Census and its redistricting upon us, we also need to win back state legislatures to prevent the type of naked gerrymandering that, along with voter suppression, is now standard fare for Republicans whenever they get the chance.
That’s a tall order for anyone. I believe the current candidate best suited to do all that – and lead a post-Trump world – is Elizabeth Warren. We have our mail-in ballots now, but the deadline for returning them is Tuesday, March 10, a week after the Super Tuesday vote, which dwarfs the number of convention delegates awarded previously. By the time the circus comes to our town, it’s likely some of the current candidates either won’t have enough money to continue or don’t see a path to the nomination. Klobuchar tops that list, but depending on how she does on Super Tuesday, Warren could drop out as well. If that happens I’ll happily fall back to Sanders.
So what follows are my notes, so you can see my homework and what factors impacted my decision; yours may vary. In general I’m more concerned about values than specific issues; they would both move the country farther in the direction I want than any president in my lifetime. On the issues important to me, they’re both strong. Four (or eight) years is a long time; new stuff comes up. Governing is all about making choices among competing constituencies. That’s why I pay attention to values, and the actions, not words, that demonstrate them.
And the most critical issue this year is dethroning Trump. If he gets reelected, the chances are strong that the notion of “free and fair elections” won’t be relevant in 2024. I’m not entirely sure it will apply in any meaningful way this year – a lot can happen in eight months with a president/dictator who thinks laws are for harassing his “enemies” and don’t apply to him. But we have to proceed as though Trump can be voted out; in that respect I think either Sanders or Warren could beat him. Between these two, for me that issue is a wash.
1) Consistency. You know exactly where he stands because while he adapts to the times, he’s been standing there for decades.
2) Building a Movement. No other Democratic candidate has a more enthusiastic fan base, or has done a better job of harnessing that enthusiasm and transforming it into volunteers and votes. And movement-building is critical, not just for harnessing the power of democratic legitimacy, but for creating lasting change. This country’s political culture needs paradigm shifts on several critical fronts. Sanders has already contributed to this culture shift, with veterans of his 2016 campaign running and winning local elected offices in 2018. I respect Bernie’s supporters immensely – they will yield a new generation of activists and leaders. (I also have some concerns about “the revolution,” which I spell out below.)
3) The “revolution” is built on the priorities of Sanders’ democratic socialism, which I almost entirely share. There *does* need to be a massive downward redistribution of wealth in this country. Warren’s “Wealth Tax” works to the same end, but reversing the damage of 40 years of corporate tax cuts and stealing from the poor to give to the already rich will take time, a variety of methods, and energized public support. Sanders has a head start on the support, and his consistent ideology is a clearer indication that this would be one of his ongoing priorities. Plus, he can demystify “socialist!” as an epithet still meaningful to those of us who can remember the Cold War.
4) Sanders has also shown a remarkable ability to turn out new voters of all races, including young voters. This is the only path to not just winning back the White House, but also the Senate and state legislatures. His is the most diverse and energized group of supporters among the remaining candidates. Getting Out the Vote will be critical this fall, and the quickest way for Democrats to lose is to nominate someone like Biden or Bloomberg who inspires nobody. Passion will carry the day this year.
Sanders’ Areas of Concern
1) The last time Sanders held an executive position was as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, a city one-third the size of Pete Buttigieg’s South Bend – or Renton or Federal Way, the third and fourth largest suburbs of Seattle. . He’s been a legislator for decades. He has essentially had an executive position in his last two presidential campaigns, which is as complex as any high-level private sector job, and has out-organized his competitors each time. Can he handle overseeing a federal workforce of over a million people?
2) His age and health. Not now – heart attack notwithstanding, he’s kept up a schedule for the last year that people half his age couldn’t match. Sanders has looked far more energetic in public than Joe Biden, who is a year younger.
But Sanders would be 82 by the end of his first term. My father – who worked until the week he died – died at age 79 from a sudden and metastasizing cancer. Despite the smoking and drinking, I don’t think he was sick a day in his life. My mother had the same substance abuse problems – and ended up with COPD after years of heavy smoking – but nearly died at 77 from a sudden colon cancer. Health issues can and likely will come up in the next four years for Sanders, even with the best possible medical care. The job ages you even more – the before/after photos of Obama are particularly stark – but it happens to all of them. Even Trump, under all the makeup. It’s hard out here for a
pimp dictator president.
3) Getting his agenda enacted. This makes it essential to have a VP who shares Sanders’ values and priorities. But more importantly, what happens to Bernie’s “revolution” without Bernie? The closest modern historical parallel was the Rainbow Coalition, which fueled presidential runs in 1984 and 1988 for Jesse Jackson that won a number of primaries. Jackson withdrew from political life after 1988, and the Rainbow Party mostly evaporated after that, though it persisted for a few years in spots (including Seattle). Obama tried to leverage his extraordinarily successful 2008 campaign into a movement organization, but that mostly went nowhere as well.
The fate of Sanders’ movement is particularly concerning because he cites it as how he will pressure Congress to pass his agenda. in the history of the U.S. In last century, there is not anything close for this sort of thing working – women’s suffrage is the last major example of successful nationwide demand fueled by a focused movement I can think of – let alone being sustainable if it loses its most prominent leader and advocate.
4) Russia isn’t stupid. The revelation of Putin’s Russia intervening this year to support Sanders worries me. It’s not Sanders’ fault, of course, and he’s already strongly denounced it. But Russian intelligence agents have spent years studying American culture and politics; they probably know more about us than we do. If it’s Russia’s judgment that backing Sanders will cause the most divisiveness among Americans, the greatest loss in electoral legitimacy, and/or the easiest path for Trump’s reelection – all obvious goals of Putin’s Russia – those assessments need to be taken seriously.
1) Her Past Republicanism. I’m serious. Some Bernie folks don’t trust her (see the consistency item under Sanders), but for crying out loud. She grew up in rural Oklahoma, which was then a one-party state where Democrats rarely even contested elections. (These days they at least try, especially in the districts around Tulsa.) She talks frequently about struggling to get an education and then a job while also being the primary caregiving parent. Those experiences have shaped her since, and that’s a much more relatable life story, to a broader swath of people, than Sanders, who apparently has been a socialist since the days of Eugene Debs. George W. Bush’s successful approach was to be the person you wanna have a beer and hang out with. That still matters to a big swath of voters, especially when you’re running against the loud, leering drunk at the end of the bar.
2) She’s a woman. It’s important not only for the obvious reasons: the role model for girls, that Hillary should have won in 2016, and the U.S. remains the only democracy in the developed world to never have had a female leader. It also is an inherent contrast to Trump.
But perhaps most importantly – and this is also true of Amy Klobuchar, who I don’t like for policy reasons but do respect – both women are self-made. They have have risen to the U.S. Senate, one of the highest political institutions we have. And at every step of the way they conquered misogyny – among party leaders, bosses, donors, and voters. They did so by being smarter and tougher than their detractors. We need that.
Sanders has had an easier path, even as a political iconoclast – not his fault, but his entire career has been spent representing parts or all of a state with 100,000 fewer people than live in Seattle. Warren is simply more tested. And her life story is, in my opinion, better suited to helping Democrats win downticket, even with the enthusiasm of Sanders’ backers.
3) She’s “a fighter.” That’s Warren’s self-description. But her aggressive performance in last week’s Nevada debate was a milestone. The conventional wisdom in past presidential elections (and many other campaigns) was that women shouldn’t be seen as “angry” for fear of appearing a “bitch” to voters. That balancing act – outspoken but never angry – has paralyzed a lot of women candidates in the past, including Hillary. Warren blew through all that, came out swinging and stayed aggressive before a record-breaking TV audience, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. That one debate performance alone created opportunities for women across the country.
Whoever is the Democratic nominee will need that kind of toughness to go up against an incumbent who wants this election to be a ratification of his dictatorship. Personal attacks, of course, but also possible legal harassment and Trump’s endless boorishness, cheating and law-breaking. And any new president-elect will have to deal with the likelihood that Trump will claim the election was rigged and will refuse to leave – and that tens of millions of Americans will believe him. Since many of those folks are from the heartland, Warren has more moral authority in that scenario than Sanders.
4) She has lots of plans. Many of these plans involve things a president can do through Executive Order, bypassing Congress – as I noted above, one of my concerns about Bernie is the vagueness with which he describes how his agenda could be enacted in Congress.
Both Warren and Sanders have track records of being able to get bills passed in the Senate, even when it has been Republican-controlled. Both have been effective legislators, able to negotiate while not giving away the core values in a given bill. But as President I think Warren is better positioned to cut through the inevitable Republican demonization than Sanders is. And she seems to have learned from the absurdly offensive “Pocahontas” debacle.
5) I have every confidence that if Warren drops out, she’ll endorse Sanders and her delegates would go to him. I’m not as confident, if the situation is reversed, that some of Sanders’ backers and delegates would support Warren – or any other Democratic nominee. And having the Democratic Party united against Trump is virtually a precondition for beating him.
Warren Areas of Concern
1) There will surely be voters who, still, will vote for a male Democrat but not a women. Is that group larger, after endless attack ads, than the number of people who would vote for a woman but never a fast-talking Jewish socialist? Hard to say, but I suspect it is – but it’s outweighed by the number of people who would vote for Warren because she’s a woman.
2) Foreign policy. This is almost a quibble, but in the Senate Warren’s foreign policy votes, especially on war-making and Israel/Palestine, have been more mixed than Sanders’ votes. But I’d much rather have that problem than a president who fellates the Kremlin at every opportunity. She’s tough but she’s not a Hillary-style hawk. Given all of the other urgent issues a post-Trump president will face, that’s good enough for me.
3) Warren, also, has no executive experience to speak of, certainly not in handling a workforce the size of the U.S. government. But almost nothing prepares you for the scope of the job – as numerous past presidents have attested. Warren is wicked smart. She’ll get it done
IN CONCLUSION, FINALLY, I think Warren comes out ahead on more of the strengths and concerns – but I’ll happily switch to Sanders if Warren should drop out before March 10.