Tag Archives: democratic party

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are both terrible candidates, but they don’t have to be. Here’s what they should do to beat Donald Trump.

With Elizabeth Warren’s departure from the Democratic primary, it is officially a two-man race for the nomination. A two old, crotchety man race. Yes, Tulsi Gabbard is still in, but unless she pulls the biggest political upset in American history either Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders will be the party’s nominee.

I don’t think either can defeat Donald Trump. I made the case against Joe Biden in January, and last month I wrote why Bernie Sanders is his own worst enemy. We are where we are, though, and while I don’t think either man can win in November, I don’t know they can’t. If they have any hope of doing it, though, both Biden and Sanders will need to do a few things that neither is comfortable with.

Let’s start with the morbid truth. If elected, Joe Biden will be 78 years old while Bernie Sanders will be 79 years old, meaning either will become the first octogenarian president during his first term. While I don’t think age disqualifies anyone from the presidency (assuming they’re over 35, as the Constitution requires), I do think that even beyond health it raises some problems.

It’s a truism that Democrats win with young, energetic candidates who inspire hope and promise change. While both Biden and Sanders are energetic, neither is young. Bernie promises change, but I don’t think he really inspires hope. Biden provides neither. This, coupled with their advanced age, means the choice of running mate is going to matter.

Of the two, it matters most to Biden. I have long lamented the fact that Democratic leadership doesn’t know when to let go of the reins of power. In 2017 I wrote an article for the Independent lamenting this fact in the race for DNC chair, pointing to two promising young candidates who were denied the chance to lead: activist Jehmu Greene and then-Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Nothing has changed since then, and Biden’s ascendency shows it isn’t going to change anytime soon.

Biden also lacks any sort of enthusiasm around his candidacy. I’ve yet to meet one excited Biden supporter. They might like his experience or trust him because of his association with Obama and decades spent in the House and Senate, but he hardly energizes the public. His policies are not bold and he himself—despite a compelling personal narrative no one can take from him—is bland in comparison to the diverse field of candidates we had.

So what can Joe Biden do to electrify his campaign? Biden needs someone to bring the “it” factor to his campaign, a “game changer” like Sarah Palin was meant to be for John McCain but who also isn’t dumb as a box of rocks. My preference is Pete Buttigieg, but there are plenty of young, progressive Democrats who are qualified to be Joe Biden’s Vice President—including plenty of women of color. Stacey Abrams and Kamala Harris are the most mentioned, but there are others and Joe Biden should pick one of them.

Then, and this is the part that makes this a game changing moment, he should pledge to serve on term. Look, no matter how you cut it, Joe Biden is old. Those close to the former Vice President are already whispering that it is inconceivable an 81-year-old Biden would campaign for reelection. He’d be 87 by the end of his second term.

If Joe Biden selected a young running mate and then appointed a young, fresh cabinet, he could be viewed as a transition figure, someone from the old guard who finally ushered in a new era of Democratic leadership. He could also provide a stark alternative to Donald Trump, showing that his campaign is about the future of America, not just a return to the status quo of the pre-Trump years. Most importantly, though, he could make his candidacy exciting, which is the last thing it is right now.

Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, doesn’t have a problem with excitement. He promises radical changes from Medicare for All to free tuition at public colleges. Boldness has never been an issue for him. What he does have a problem with, though, is growing his share of the vote. Super Tuesday saw Sanders underperform, losing states he won in 2016 and coming second to Joe Biden in delegates won. Sanders’ supporters are true believers, and he can galvanize an audience better than any politician on the left, assuming they’re already converted to his cause.

It’s almost the inverse of the problem Biden has, really. Sanders’ problem is that he and his supporters are too fervent. They ostracize anyone who doesn’t agree with them 100%. They ridicule, demean, and insult opponents and even those who agree with their policies but just aren’t convinced Sanders can deliver them. They are, to put it bluntly, mean. They’re just mean. I can already imagine a Sanders supporter tweeting at me “’oh someone tweeted a rat emoji at you and was mean to you online so poor people should all die because of it.’” Rhetoric like that is Bernie Sanders’ biggest problem.

Voters want change, and Sanders offers it. The problem is they don’t want bullying and they certainly don’t want revolution—especially a socialist revolution. They just want their lives to get better. Sanders’ policies are fairly milquetoast compared to proper socialism and he is right to point out that universal healthcare is not a controversial stance in most of the Western world. He should keep pointing this out, because I think it’s an effective strategy. What he needs to stop is his relentless attacks on the dreaded “establishment”—who they are Sanders has never made clear—and tone down his bluster.

Passion is good, but there’s a thin line between zeal and fervor. Sanders needs to show he’s a capable, rational, safe pair of hands in which to place the country. If I could say anything to Bernie Sanders, it would be “stop shouting.” Stop waving your arms around. Stop with the class warfare rhetoric, because even though I completely agree with you, it’s a turn off to most voters who still wrongly believe America lives in a classless society.

Instead, explain why your policies would make life better for those living in Kenosha, or in the towns of the Pennsylvania Main Line, or in Little Havana. Explain why they’re not actually that radical at all. Do it evenly and thoughtfully. Essentially, calm down, Bernie.

“But this is a class war! But we should be irate!” I can already see the tweets coming in. That’s the other problem Bernie has. His supporters are his worst enemy. He needs to get a hold on them. After four years of Donald Trump, swing voters do not want more of the same vitriol, anger, and rancor just with leftwing politics. You’re not helping your cause. Take a breath. Is it really worth tweeting that snake emoji at the heartbroken Warren supporter? Do you really need to tell the disaffected Buttigieg voter that he’s literally killing people because he’s now supporting Biden? Even if you truly feel that way, is that the best way to dialogue with people? No. You immediately turn them off. The old adage is true—you catch more flies with hunger than vinegar, and right now Sanders supporters are nothing but piss and vinegar.

For Bernie to attract more voters, he’s going to have to tone it down and lasso his self-righteous supporters who think being mean to people online is justified in the name of the class war. It’s not, but even if it was, it’s a terrible strategy for winning an election. People want positivity, not to be told they’re part of the “establishment” because they voted for the other guy.

I hope both candidates’ advisors recognize this, because right now both are incredibly weak nominees at a time when we need the strongest possible candidate. If Biden and Sanders can do these things, they might stand a chance at beating Donald Trump. That’s what matters.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Low voter turnout in Iowa should concern Democrats

Picture it: Iowa, 2008. On a cold winter’s night 240,000 cornfed Midwesterners descended on precincts across the state to caucus for their preferred Democratic candidate. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were both locked in a ferocious political war for the nomination, and this was the opening skirmish. After eight long years of an unpopular Republican president, Democrats were energized and turned out in record numbers to support their favored candidate.

2020 couldn’t be more different. Turnout has dwindled to 170,000 and we don’t yet have a winner. While much of the Democratic establishment and mainstream media is handwringing over the fact we don’t yet know the results of last night’s Iowa caucuses, we’re ignoring the elephant in the room. In the end, the only result that may matter is that voters didn’t show up like Democrats hoped and needed.

Historically, the Iowa caucuses have a low turnout. There are reasons for this, including issues of accessibility and the fact that American elections generally have low rates of participation. It’s also true that the turnout is predicted to be roughly on par with 2016.

Democrats lost in 2016, though, making the lack of enthusiasm a possible harbinger of doom for our party come November. Bernie Sanders has promised to inspire a new generation of Americans, Pete Buttigieg promised to bring in “future former Republicans,” and nearly every candidate tried to reach out to people who feel left behind. Yet exit polls suggest a dip in first-time voters, indicating that candidates have failed to bring new recruits into the Democratic fold.

That’s a problem. Democrats need to attract disaffected Republicans, remorseful Trump voters, young people (whom election after election shows are apathetic about voting) and energize Democratic voters to actually show up at the polls. Iowa isn’t a perfect mirror of Rust Belt states like Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania—but it’s close enough that the lack of enthusiasm from the Hawkeye State is troubling. We need to win these states if we hope to defeat Donald Trump, but we can’t win them unless we have a broad coalition of new and returning Democratic voters—people who sat out the 2016 election and people who voted for Trump but regret it.

All of this is compounded, of course, by the fact that we don’t know who won Iowa. Both Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg last night gave speeches which sounded like victory speeches but weren’t really victory speeches. That’s all they were, though—speeches. We have a crowded field of candidates, so perhaps the enthusiasm gap between 2008 and 2020 is simply that voters are spoiled for choice and opted to let others winnow the field. Maybe, as the field narrows, enthusiasm and momentum will shift to one candidate and we’ll see the excitement and passion we saw the last time we elected a first-term Democrat to the White House.

I’m not holding my breath, though, because I remember the 2016 primary. Not the Democratic one—though I remember that, too—but the Republican primary. Some 16 candidates fought out a bitter contest for the GOP nomination, yet there was one—a spray-tanned former reality tv star—who consistently led the polls. He didn’t win Iowa, but the enthusiasm around him was palpable, and it carried him to the White House.

I’m not saying Democrats need our own Donald Trump—no one needs another Donald Trump, or for that matter, the original. But we need someone who excites people like Donald Trump excites people—except, you know, excites them for good reasons and not for racist reasons. We need someone who makes the farmer in Iowa or the autoworker in Michigan or the waitress in Wisconsin say “she says what I’m thinking” or “he tells it like it is.” I’m not talking just about attracting Trump voters here, but about energizing Democrats in Milwaukee and Philadelphia and Dayton who stayed home in 2016. We need someone who makes them believe their lives can be better, who makes them feel like their voices are not only heard but are important.

We don’t yet have that candidate.

We can’t win with 2016 levels of enthusiasm, and we can’t win with 2016 turnout. While candidates and party officials lament the shitshow that was the Iowa Caucuses, they ought to be less concerned with who won than who didn’t show up. If we can’t attract new and returning voters to our party, we’ve already lost.

Skylar Baker-Jordan has been writing about UK and US politics for more than a decade. His work as appeared at The Independent, Salon, Huff Post UK, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter or become a supporter by contributing to his Patreon account.

How I went from endorsing Jeremy Corbyn to voting for Hillary Clinton

Hillary_Clinton_April_2015

Image: Mike Davidson/Hillary for America

I love two countries. America, where I was born, and Britain, where I will die. I desperately want to see both succeed as fair, equitable, and socialist countries. There are people I love in both countries who are hurting. Cuts to benefits, the high cost of healthcare, and stagnant wages are all making life a living hell for the working classes.

When, in August of last year, I endorsed Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership in a column for the Gay UK Magazine, I did so saying he had “all the electability and relevance of a Womble.” (Are you asking what a Womble is? Exactly.) Still, he was the best of an underwhelming lot, and the most anti-austerity of the bunch. So I tepidly threw support behind him.

I couldn’t imagine the overwhelming mandate that Jeremy would win. Nobody could. Registered supporters, sure. Unions, probably. But even Labour Party members voted overwhelmingly for him, something I—and no other pundit, so far as I know—predicted. Jeremy captured a zeitgeist that I felt well swept up in, myself: young urban socialists, disenchanted by Tory Austerity and Blairite “modernisation.” Many of us were young enough not to remember the bitter disputes of the 1980s, and those of us who weren’t largely fell into the camp that left (or was expelled, depending on whom you ask) by Neil Kinnock. We are angry, and we are right to be so.

But over the past few months, since Jeremy won the leadership race, I’ve seen Labour’s electoral chances nosedive. Labour is nine points down from the Tories in the latest YouGov poll. Jeremy, who we elected on an anti-austerity platform which, on the issues anyway, is largely supported by the British people, has utterly failed to turn the momentum of his campaign into any sort of tangible strategy. Instead of kitchen table issues, he’s focused on unilateral nuclear disarmament (something British voters don’t support), withdrawing from NATO (something else the British voters don’t support), and blundered on questions such as whether he’d shoot to kill a terrorist (I bloody well hope he would). No, not all of this is his fault—the media has been jarringly and unabashedly biased against him and miscreants from within the Parliamentary Labour Party, led by Simon Danczuk have been undermining his leadership since before he was elected. But the fact remains that as party leader, responsibility ultimately falls to Jeremy Corbyn, whose mismanagement thus far indicates he may be a leader in name only.

Two things have influenced my change of heart. One is this brilliant BBC documentary from the 1990s about the Labour Party in the 1980s. I’m a scholar of 1980s Britain, and I knew well how tumultuous the decade had been for the party. But hearing it from the people who lived it, speaking 20 years ago when power was within reach, and juxtaposing that to now when power is so far from us was eye-opening. We are repeating the past, and unless something changes, we will be damned in 2020 as we were in 1983.

Another is this blog by Jade Azim of the Young Fabians, widely circulated last November and succinctly titled “Sod It.” Jade, like a great many of us, was quite fed up with the Parliamentary Labour Party and, for that matter, the Twitter Labour Party, ripping into one another instead of the Tories. Unlike a great many of us, Jade had the guts to actually say something. It’s a poignant read about the disillusionment of a working class girl who became involved in politics to make changes that actually meant something. While champagne socialists natter on about Trident and defend Russia from any critique (looking at you, Seamus Milne), working class families like mine are worried about paying the rent, accessing our GP, and making sure our disability benefits—which we depend on to survive—aren’t cut by Iain Duncan Smith or a Republican-controlled Congress.

The gist of Jade’s blog can be summed up in one sentence: “give me a Blairite government over a Tory one any day. Call it ‘Red’ Tory, it’s still not bloody Tory.” Or, in other words, we have to work with the world as it is, not the world as we’d like it to be. The litmus test for politicians must be whether they deliver results, not whether they’re ideologically pure.

Which brings me to Iowa.

I can’t lie and say I haven’t long been a Hillary Clinton supporter. Those who know me know I campaigned for her in 2008. But my politics have shifted decidedly left since then, when I was still supporting the Conservative Party in the UK, and Bernie Sanders—like Jeremy Corbyn—has been a breath of fresh air. A solid candidate with democratic socialist (though not traditional socialist) credentials, he has struck a chord with the populist, left-wing contingent of the Democratic Party. Not since 2004 have I been this undecided this close to the Iowa caucuses, but with his proposals for a single-payer healthcare system (something I’ve long championed) and a return to Glass-Steagall in order to regulate Wall Street, I began to feel the Bern.

But then, Hillary Clinton said something in the last Democratic debate that struck a chord, and made me think of Jeremy Corbyn. She called herself a “pragmatic progressive,” something she’s driven home before. In a debate last year, she said “I’m a progressive, but I’m a progressive that likes to get things done.” She promises not what’s fantastic, but what’s feasible.

And on this, she has a point. Whether we like to admit it or not, the Republicans are likely to retain both houses of Congress this November. That means that whoever is elected president will have to work with Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and the conservative movement which has hijacked our democracy. This isn’t me being Chicken Little; it’s a fact. And as Clinton pointed out in the debate, President Obama couldn’t get a public/single-payer option through with the Affordable Care Act, and he had a majority in both houses. The fact is the American people, or at least their representatives, don’t have an appetite for it. I don’t like it any more than Bernie Sanders does, but alas, we have to work with what we’ve got.

I didn’t get into politics to debate abstract socialist orthodoxy. I got into it to help the people from whence I came, people like my friends back in Leslie County, Kentucky who are losing health insurance thanks to Governor Matt Bevan. I’d love a single-payer system in America, but it’s not going to happen. At least not now. We’re still fighting just to make sure everyone can access affordable, let alone free-at-the-point-of-access, healthcare. For my friends and family back home, Bernie Sanders talks a big game. But what about now? What can be done now? Fighting for a single-payer system sounds great until you’re dying of black lung and can’t afford your treatment. Taking principled stands on wealth redistribution are noble until a Republican president and his Republican-controlled congress cuts your Social Security Disability Insurance. Then what?

Hillary is far from perfect. She hasn’t always been great on LGBT rights, but then, neither has Bernie Sanders. And as I wrote for the Daily Dot, Hillary’s stance on the Black Lives Matter movement needs some serious work.  Clinton’s record on incarceration and her links to the for-profit-prison industry are deeply troubling, and Sanders has been likewise tone deaf at times. Neither candidate has done enough to embrace this cause.

But Clinton has proven her muster on a range of issues, from reproductive justice to gun control. Her foreign policy credentials are impeccable. Yes, she voted for the Iraq war and Bernie Sanders didn’t. But one vote thirteen years ago is just not enough to prove you’re ready to be commander-in-chief. (After all, Jeremy Corbyn voted against Iraq too yet wants to negotiate a new Falklands settlement with Argentina.) Hillary has shown a deep understanding of the threats facing our country, from Daesh (ISIS) to Russia to the situation in the Taiwan Strait. She has a deep understanding of the realities of geopolitics and a longstanding commitment to human rights throughout the world. Nobody can deny this. The Republicans are still trying to make a meal out of the bones of our lost heroes in Benghazi, but her performance at the Congressional hearings prove her ability to neutralise their bogus attacks.

My heart lies with Bernie. God, would I love a Sanders presidency. But if I have to choose between a progressive reality and a socialist dream, I’m going with the former. I followed my heart with endorsing Jeremy Corbyn, and the party is in shambles. Labour has four years to course-correct, though. The Democrats have nine months. We have a straightforward choice: ideology or electability, principle or pragmatism. In both cases, I choose the latter.

That’s why I’m voting for Hillary Clinton.