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2020 Democratic Debate 8.0

Ah, the Friday-evening debate we’ve all been waiting for.

For this debate we have seven candidates like last time, but we also have the Iowa caucuses under our belts, which have given a little bit of clarity on where things stand. Buttigieg and Sanders neck-and-neck on that one puts the whole thing in a different light, doesn’t it?


Going into the debate, some expectations:

Sanders

Having done well in Iowa, and expected to do well in New Hampshire as it borders Vermont, Sanders will probably be looking to cement his position. His main threat, per latest polls, is Buttigieg, but he may not take the expected bait of moderators to get into a direct confrontation.

Buttigieg

In a similar position to Sanders for very different reasons, in New Hampshire he’s not a neighbor. The main question will be how much time he spends going after Sanders versus trying to tamp down his main moderate rivals (Biden and Klobuchar). It’s likely that he’s not making any dire push for New Hampshire, but isn’t writing it off, either.

Warren

She didn’t make any surprise in Iowa, and she’s not that high in New Hampshire polling (though she is a neighbor), so it seems like she will try to make some moves to help her in the medium-term. She could try to stake out the in-between ground that has been vacant since Booker and Harris have left the race. If she can make the case for the middle-way, that’s probably her best bet to siphon away from both moderates and progressives.

Biden

Having come up short in Iowa, Biden is almost locked-in to depending on the south to make his case for him, so like Warren will probably be less focused on New Hampshire retail and more on setting up for the next act (particularly with Bloomberg increasing his push). With Buttigieg having taken the lead in the moderate lane, he’s got some heat off him and can benefit from lowered expectations by beating them.

Klobuchar

Still pushing along in third in the moderate lane, it’s not clear what strategy she can muster here. The middle-way that someone like Warren might take is too off-brand for Klobuchar to attempt. Her best bet is more of a elder stateswoman play, but (for whatever reason) none of the female candidates have much attempted that kind of strategy.

Steyer and Yang

They’re still there. They have some good ideas, but at least in Yang’s case some weird ones, too. No idea if any of it amounts to anything other than a kind of data-gathering strategy that could be useful to candidates down the road. With Steyer, it’s not clear what he’s doing, so it’s hard to say if he can do it well.


OK. Klobuchar definitely stepped up. We’ll have to wait to see how much it helped, but it was definitely above her normal debate performance. She was the first to invoke gratitude to her fellow senators who did their duty and voted to convict Donald John Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors, along with praising Lieutenant Colonel Vindman for his service to the nation (Biden subsequently prompted the crowd to give Vindman a standing ovation).

Steyer elbowed his way into the fray at least a couple of times, mostly to remind everyone how important it is to defeat the president in November.

Yang did his best to underscore the basic sensibilities of a universal basic income: that it would empower all people to make choices that would benefit their lives in ways that government is either unwilling or unable to do. It would cut through all sorts of red tape to let people make positive changes. It’s a good pitch, but it’s damned hard to sell a panacea as a presidential strategy, whatever its virtues.

Warren didn’t have a bad night, but it didn’t feel like she had a great one either. Seemed to mostly play to her base and reminded me of Sanders in some of the early debates where she stuck to her message without really adding. With more debates coming this month and her current position, she may have felt it was best to play it safe.

Speaking of Sanders, he also had more of an average night, which is at least partly because he’s usually (a little too) good at staying to his message. But it seems to be working for him, at least in Iowa and in New Hampshire.

Biden was steady, though weaker than his best. Which, like Warren (and Sanders?) may have been strategy. Again, with two more debates and contests this month alone, and the thick of the campaign nearly upon us, and it being a Friday night debate, playing it easy makes a lot of sense. (On the other hand, not attempting minor differences, just to see if it helps, is usually a wasted opportunity.)

And finally, Buttigieg. He took some flak, as expected as the biggest beneficiary of the Iowa caucuses. His main contribution to the debate was the repetition of his phrase: “Turn the page.” One naturally assumes that, should he receive the nomination, it would be one of his slogans to wield against the president. He had a decent night for all the criticism of his inexperience. It’s important to note that it’s not merely the lack of government experience, but also life experience that’s rolled into that. He has experienced a decent amount for his age, but compared to the older candidates it’s still significantly less.


On the whole a decent debate if only for seeing how the candidates react with the busy week and Iowa behind them. The upcoming contest in New Hampshire and the other debates and primaries this month will really get us down to the big day coming on 3 March.

In terms of strategy, playing it safe was probably safe, but stepping up like Klobuchar did, especially with others sitting back a bit, should help her. We’ll see how much.


The election occurs in 38 weeks.

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society

What to do with Your Impeachment Trial

Note: this was written prior to the start of the trial. Some details may have bitrotted by the actual Senate practice diverging from their rules or precedent.

You find yourself having an impeachment trial. Naturally, the question arises, what to do with it? You’re stuck in that dusty chamber all day. You can’t go on television. You can’t fundraise. You can’t even have your phone with you to play around with. No recess, no nap time, nothing.

The first thing to do is to remain calm. Having an impeachment trial is a big responsibility. You are deciding whether or not to remove a federal official from office. Depending on the official and the nature of the allegations, this will be a slog. They will have lawyers defending them with substantive arguments about facts and process in their jobs that has led to this occasion. On the other side will be House managers who will present the case for removal.

You will have to listen to witness testimony and might even write down a few questions to be asked of the two sides. Once you are presented with the facts and witness testimony and documentation from the executive or judicial branch, it is important to consider the ultimate purpose of impeachment.

Could you imagine yourself doing that in similar circumstances? Would you feel ashamed, or possibly try to cover it up? You should weigh those things. Bad conduct, even just a little, is a blight. We all have a duty to keep government free from rot. We swore it in our oaths. Removal is the remedy the Constitution offers for rot. Cut the rot out, the Constitution says.

But maybe the conduct isn’t that bad. Maybe the party has learned their lesson. Have they said as much? Offered any indication they understand it was a mistake? Or are they hardened? The bar for getting to impeachment typically means there are facts against the party: the House does not undertake impeachment lightly, and they know less than two dozen officials have ever been impeached, so they want to make them count.

And their record is pretty darn good, with nearly two-thirds of the officials either resigning or being convicted. Not to forget: acquittal in an impeachment trial doesn’t mean innocent, but it also doesn’t mean not guilty. It may simply be that there were bribes given to Senators, or it might mean that the Senate didn’t feel the matter reached the level of wrong to require removal.

Assuming you aren’t on the take, that will likely be the biggest question of your trial: is it bad enough to remove?

There are two main factors to consider:

  1. The articles, per se. Maybe the things that were done are just bad enough that they are stinking, rotting, and filthy. In that case, hold your nose and get that rot out!
  2. The nature of the office. Is it a very high office, like a cabinet member? Or an upper-tier member of the judiciary? For some positions, particularly high ones, it’s important to have no question, no reproach. The higher the office, the lesser the offense needed to remove.

In summation, you need three things for your trial to be a success:

  1. Evidence and witnesses. Make sure you get to the facts of the conduct. Without facts to go on, it’s not a real trial.
  2. Contrition and mitigation. Mistakes happen, and even good people do bad things under stress and pressure. If you believe in your heart that the damage is reparable and that the conduct will not continue, you should consider that.
  3. The consequences of acquittal. Ultimately, if you believe that there is rot, do not take a chance. The government you save may be your own. Just as you don’t want to serve in the Senate with scum, nobody wants to serve in government under scum. We are very lucky that our nation is populated by intelligent, hard-working people. We can replace any rotten government official at a moment’s notice if need be. But replacing the government, if it becomes overrun with malingerers and no-good bribe-takers and the corrupted elements of humanity, is much harder.

Help keep the government free of rot by doing your part in your impeachment trial!

Thank you for your service.

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society

2020 Democratic Debate 7.0

For the sixth debate there ended up being seven candidates, and for the seventh, six.

It was something of a bland debate, and not only because, sadly, the candidates of color have left the race or didn’t qualify for the debate. Which is what it is. Having diversity matters, and the process should be changed to better support it in a variety of ways (including shortening the campaign period), but the purpose of that diversity is primarily to ensure that we end up with candidates that will be broadly aware of the challenges facing America (that is, having a slate of candidates with different ethnic backgrounds, social backgrounds, and genders wouldn’t be worth a cent if their outlooks and cares were all the same).

But the immediate blandness was mostly due to the candidates again not having much to gain or lose by going big. With the top four at or around viability for Iowa, there wasn’t a lot on the line for them, and neither of the other two were close enough or had strategic options to push themselves over.

Part of the issue was with the debate questions themselves. In at least some of the questions, the moderators tried to triangulate around controversy or static, which is never a good sign. The contest and the debate aren’t about what Sanders did or didn’t say in a private conversation.

Of course, neither is it about a vote 20 nearly years ago. Or how many past elections were won or lost or who against.

Which is to say that the bottom line is that these debates often tell you more about where the motivations for the campaigns and media are than anything useful in deciding who to vote for or what policies to prefer.

One surprise is that, as the campaign has dragged on, the issue that stands out as being correctly given some of its due attention is climate change. Climate is a hot planet issue… err, hot button issue, and rightly so. It’s a defense issue, which should make it easier in time to cut through the faux conservative points about cost or economy in the face of a threat to both.

One bright spot was Steyer on healthcare when he basically said if Congress was functional we wouldn’t be having the debate. Term limits likely wouldn’t fix that problem, but at least he’s got the real problem: our lawmaking body isn’t responding to the needs of a nation. All the presidents in the world aren’t going to change that. We need to see changes both in who goes to Congress and how those two chambers operate. But I digress.

With the recent assassination of a member of the Iranian government fresh on the minds of the nation, foreign policy inevitably played a bigger role, but in an odd way. Usually in the course of a campaign there are international crises or moments to reflect on the nation’s role in the international order, but they are typically externally-driven and framed in terms of how candidates would have responded. This was a case of Donald John Trump lashing out in an untrained manner.

As that was the framing, the idea that experience would have helped is a non-starter. Brains would have helped. The president doesn’t have a bad strategy borne of inexperience. He has no strategy borne of his complete lack of capacity to ingest, much less digest intelligence. If he had that, he would never have abrogated the nuclear deal with Iran in the first place.

All of which is to say that the answers were of a kind: restore what Donald John Trump has broken. Besides, to do so in a climate that will be far more difficult to achieve even the same results, given how badly the fool has repeatedly undermined our national credibility.


It will be helpful to see some voting, and soon we will. Nothing brings clarity to a race like some of our citizens putting down their choices and letting everyone take a look and then make their own choices based on how things are shaping up.

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society

The Sour Media at the Heart of Trump

For years the conservative media hated on Obama and all he stood for. Bad news was the only news for folks who drink from those waters. Relief was nowhere in sight.

And then along came Donald John Trump. Whatever he was, the feeling of the voices of the conservative media machine changed. Whatever he was, there was relief and different emotions. Whatever he was, they could pretend he was something good.

That’s where this all comes from. You eat lemons all day and all night, a grapefruit becomes a treat.

They don’t care what the reality is, because they have this fantasy. They can dance and laugh and play. They don’t need reality. They just need the excuse to be glad. Donald John Trump is an excuse for conservatives to be happy.


This isn’t an isolated phenomenon. People need excuses to do all sorts of things in this modern world. The excuse of Black Friday to run around a shopping center like a kid on a snipe hunt. The excuse of Christmas or other holidays to put the diet in a drawer for a few months. The excuse of New Years to resolve to make this the year you finally get in shape.

People love a good excuse, because it’s like being given permission. You can’t dress like a weirdo, but it’s Halloween! Excuse! Permission!

Getting shitfaced is usually uncool, but it’s Saint Patty’s Day. It’s practically required by law! Excuse! Permission!

So, yeah. Donald John Trump is an excuse. Conservative media for years and years has told people they had no right to be happy under Obama. That part of the preamble—pursuing happiness—did not apply when a black Democrat was leading the country. They had to cool it on happiness. All the news sucked.

It’s like being happy about a new Star Wars film when you were a kid, only to be told by your cousin that these new movies suck. And your cousin knows how to do a wheelie, so she’s wise in ways you can’t imagine. She’s practically Yoda. So the movie suddenly sucks and you have nothing to be happy about. That’s what conservative media is doing to them. It’s sad.


There are always bad things going on. Democrats have their own negativity media associated with Donald John Trump. Many are doing productive things to combat bad policies. But lots of folks are just swimming in the hate-stream of the same kind the conservatives were four years ago. Maybe it’s motivational. Maybe it gets people to vote because they want permission, they want their own excuse. But that doesn’t make it right.

Consume news and information to understand. To be aware. But not to make yourself feel bad. Not to wallow in misery. There’s plenty of great fiction if you want to have some feels. There’s a lot of awesome music for feels. News and informational content are supposed to be about learning, about how systems work, about where we are and where we’re going and where we might want to go instead.

Kill the news radio and news television and news site if it’s trying to tell you how to feel. Particularly, any news or opinion piece that couches a political or judicial outcome in terms of winning and losing, of keeping score. The long-term outcomes of politics and governance are not an accumulation of wins and losses. They are the choices we make as individuals and communities, which are based on our needs and hopes as a people, not on how our “team” did in an election or what some fictitious scoreboard read.

The other side winning a race or political fight doesn’t rob you of any special excuse or permission. You have permission to take comfort and happiness in the little and the big, regardless of who is president. You have the right to pursue happiness at all times!

You have art that will let you feel how you want. Use it.


The election is in 42 weeks.

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society

2020 Democratic Debate 6.0

I was all prepared to make a bunch of six jokes given it was the sixth debate and there were six candidates, but then Andrew Yang qualified and all those go out the window.

It’s been a busy week between the impeachment vote and this three-hour debate, so I’ll try to be brief.

Klobuchar had a good night. Her cut-in during the back-and-forth between Buttigieg and Warren over fundraising was well-timed and well-delivered: campaign finance reform or bust.

On the whole, infighting over wine caves aside, it was a fairly solid debate for all comers. There were a few slips, but nothing major by anyone.

The healthcare debate seemed to crystalize a bit more this time. It’s about pragmatists who think that they can drag the ACA far enough to get 90% of the way there versus the pragmatists who think that the other 10% is the whole ballgame as long as someone like Donald John Trump can come along, with the Republicans and the 5th Circuit egging him on, and sabotage the healthcare of millions.


The missing faces were missed at this debate. The balancing act that the DNC is trying to manage is not an easy one. This felt about the right upper size for a debate, but how to decide who gets to participate is a different question than how many should.

The other, related point there is that the Democrats should consider curtailing the length of the campaigns a bit. They start so early and that’s a lot of energy to put out there for so long, even from the candidates’ perspectives. If we had started only a month or two ago, and we had had three nights with seven candidates, then two nights with seven, and now arrived at one night with seven, it would have felt more reasonable.

I guess what I’m saying is that the longevity of the campaign process adds a bit to the feeling that candidates are being cut out too soon, where if it was a shorter, more abrupt cutting process, it wouldn’t feel as artificial.

It is 45 weeks until the election. Happy Christmas. Happy New Year. See you in 2020.