Trying to get a Grasp on the 2020 Candidates

Cannot do it. Too many of them of various levels of notoriety. I fear we have entered some kind of Bermuda Triangle of candidates, from which we will never emerge.

The debates will be held next week, which means we all have to be able to get this straight in our heads so we can know which people said what and, assuming there’re gaffes, at whom to be outraged.

Meanwhile, Trump ran a rerun of a 2016 rally to “re-launch” his campaign and thought nobody would notice, there’s crazy tension between the USA and Iran, and several glacial regions are racing to see which will melt the fastest. . .

OK. 2020 Candidates. Focus. Oh, God. There’s about a billion of them just with last names starting with the letter B. Bennet, Biden, de Blasio, Booker, Bullock, Buttigieg. And that’s not counting the ones who are known by B-names, like Bernie Sanders and Beto O’Rourke.

I’m going to write a full sentence about my perceived zeigeist of each of the candidates, in alphabetical order. People with more knowledge of these candidates are free to differ with my perceptions, which are based on entirely limited research and passerby hearsay. (Those with an × did not qualify for the first debates. Otherwise it’s 1 for first-night, 2 for second night. Also, I’ve helpfully omitted Mike Gravel entirely.)

  • 2 Bennet, Michael; Got in a little late to the race, this Colorado senator is moderate, and seems to prioritize foundational reforms like campaign finance.
  • 2 Biden, Joe; After missing the boat in 2016, this former vice president is the fast food joint of the race: a known quantity, not great food, but dependable for what he is.
  • 1 de Blasio, Bill; Also a latecomer, this New York City mayor is repeating the grand tradition of that city’s mayors to consider (Michael Bloomberg) and possibly run (Rudy Guiliani) for president in a way that nobody really expects to go anywhere.
  • 1 Booker, Cory; New Jersey senator seeks to run a calm, building tide of a campaign that seems to focus on social justice.
  • × Bullock, Steve; Governor of Montana who is running on the basis of his ability to win in a part of the country that’s been supportive of Trump.
  • 2 Buttigieg, Pete; This mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is an up-and-comer who has attracted attention for being a sophisticated mayor of a mid-sized city.
  • 1 Castro, Julián; This former HUD secretary is running on meat-and-potatoes, chicken-in-every-pot kind of general good-governance.
  • 1 Delaney, John; This former representative from Maryland announced back in 2017 with a focus on cooperation and bipartisanship.
  • 1 Gabbard, Tulsi; This representative from Hawaii seems focused on an isolationist foreign policy.
  • 2 Gillibrand, Kirsten; This New York senator campaigns on helping to reinforce the safety net.
  • 2 Harris, Kamala; This California senator is running on her bona fides as a former prosecutor.
  • 2 Hickenlooper, John; This former Colorado governor seems to be running as a kind of generic progressive with a track record.
  • 1 Inslee, Jay; Governor of Washington who has squared his hole as the climate guy.
  • 1 Klobuchar, Amy; This Minnesota senator emphasizes her ability to win with rural voters and progressives alike.
  • × Messam, Wayne; This mayor of Miramar, Florida, apparently wants to cancel student loan debt.
  • × Moulton, Seth; This representative from Massachusetts is running as a kind of new-core Democrat.
  • 1 O’Rourke, Beto; This former representative from Texas is best known for his 2018 senate race, but hopes to use his popularity from that race to give him a leg up in this broad field.
  • × Quimby, Joseph; This Springfield mayor is fictitious and is not running for president.
  • 1 Ryan, Tim; This representative from Ohio is running on a new manufacturing and new industry message.
  • 2 Sanders, Bernie; This Vermont senator ran a major challenge in the thin 2016 field and hopes that momentum can be renewed in a far denser field.
  • 2 Swalwell, Eric; This representative from California seems to center his campaign around particular policy proposals for a handful of issues including gun safety, college education, and neurological and chronic diseases.
  • 1 Warren, Elizabeth; This Massachusetts senator probably should have run in 2016, but now the professor is at the lectern and she has lesson plans for everything.
  • 2 Williamson, Marianne; This self-help book author wants to pay direct reparations to the descendants of slaves.
  • 2 Yang, Andrew; This entrepreneur wants to give everyone a monthly check that’s larger than Ms. Williamson’s reparations checks would be.

In any case, there’s way too many candidates, so hopefully the upcoming debates will help put the ranking in a more stark contrast and let us begin to speak of a more limited field with confidence that field is solidifying.

On the other hand, trying to pin down even a single sentence for each candidate gave me something to grasp for most. But still a lot to keep in the old noggin at one time.

Could have gone for tag-lines instead. Like Booker seems kind of an anti-Chris-Christie, because Christie went out of his way to be pretty ascerbic where Booker goes out of his way to be fairly calming.

Anyhoo.

What Should Candidates Talk About?

With the 2020 primary campaign still new, recent newsworthy questions involved issues that, while possibly illuminating about how candidates feel, don’t really get at where they want to go. Questions of imprisoned felons voting and whether the president ought to be impeached don’t really speak to the purpose of a president.

On the other hand, promising to pardon those convicted of federal possession, while welcomed, only serves a small minority of drug offenses and doesn’t stop the flow of new cases and new convicts. Which is part of the whole problem with election coverage and candidacy—that a president’s power is what it is, doesn’t get at the legislative problems we have, doesn’t tackle the problems in the states.

Put another way, if we chose our congress and state governments like we do the president, by national vote, the rhetoric of campaigns and the questions often asked by cable news would make a lot more sense. But we do not.

A more realistic stump speech would be along the lines of revoking the global gag rule, cancel the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, end the ban on transgender service, and other such policy tweaks. But, important in their own right, none of them would solve our larger problems. Getting anywhere anymore will take legislative acts. That means finding some way to get Republicans’ heads dislodged from their hinds. At least enough of them to actually move the country forward, where they’re currently dragging us backward.

Given the quandary, what should candidates talk about?

Talk about unions. Tell the people that rulings like the one the SCOTUS just handed down against class arbitration require employees of firms big and small to join together so that the fact of the strike can overcome the myth of judicial economy.

Talk about climate. Tell the people that driving costs more than the $3 they pay per gallon, and that the most valuable thing in the world is the world itself. That if meaningful progress toward carbon reduction is stalled by the oil trusts, the oil trusts get busted.

Talk about science. What’s a recent study, finding, discovery that made you worried or excited or anything at all? What has science done in your own life, be it technology, medicine, or even just plain old hope?

Talk about people. We’re living our lives spinning through space, and to make it all work out we need government and we need better government. What does that look like? Not sticking it to corporations or more regulation, but how to we make the process better? Talk it up, because government is one of those giant leaps for mankind that seems to get trashed a lot by the Republicans. Governments are people, my friend. They need to be properly cared for, watered, etc.

Talk about progress. What are the outcomes we should expect if the government works for the people. What are the numbers that show we’re not improving and what are the ones that show we are, and what’s the difference in government between how we handle those things.

In other words, talk about the fabric of humanity. Stop focusing on these silly short-sighted news cycle issues. Talk about the stuff that’ll still matter in a post-Trump world. Those are our gravest challenges. Those are the things most worth our time.

Best If Argued By: Socialism Edition

Socialism is the reason that Venezuela is a hellbasket? Capitalism caused the 2008 recession? Maybe if the groundhog saw it shadow, it’s sixty more years of arguing about Socialism/Communism/Capitalism, and if the groundhog did a Fortnite dance, moving on to something useful is just around the corner.

Socialism versus Capitalism was best-if-argued-by 1969, at the latest.

Some people never grow out of the phase of thought that dictates that “my -ism is better than your -ism,” failing to recognize the inherent framework-as-map-is-not-the-territory-reality of the thing.

If you’re socialist, but you think that people aren’t going to want a medium of exchange and therefore some level of commerce, shame on you. If you’re a wallet-toting capitalist, but you believe that victims should pay jails to hold their assailants, I nod and smile and look for the nearest exit.

Socialism, writ-large, is a non-starter for the USA. That’s not the point. Unfettered capitalism is also a non-starter. But cries of “Socialism!” are worthless. They avoid the policy discussion.


We keep having the same silly arguments that have no impact on anything. They are often stand-ins for the real arguments we should be having (anybody whose interacted with humans should recognize that phenomena). Arguments about tax rates, improving regulation while lowering regulatory burdens, about different structures that hold corporations accountable through insurance requirements rather than per-se regulation.

Of course, the anti-tax folks don’t want to have a reasoned argument about tax rates. They want to kill the discussion with a cliche reference to socialism. But the rest of the world doesn’t have the luxury of ignoring reality in favor of a soundbite. The same goes for climate issues, where the GOP has no policy, hasn’t begun to formulate a policy, and rejects the very existence of climate policy.

The pattern is there, of one party either adopting a wholly inadequate solution or simply ignoring the problem. Immigration is the same thing. Until there’s a spaceship-style airlock on the southern border, passing immigration reform is impossible for the GOP. Good luck with that.


And that’s the problem with American politics. The conservatives still think we’re having an argument about these things. The liberals know we’re past that, and we’re on to finding the right policy to address the issues. Climate, healthcare, taxes, paid family leave, take your pick. Society has recognized the need, but one party is still back at the starting line arguing about whether the go-shot has been fired.

Sure, you can bait a liberal into arguing about capitalism versus socialism, but if you ask them about an actual policy position, they won’t start with, “Socialism dictates the correct choice is …” They aren’t dyed-in-the-wool about it. They want a better society, not one that adheres to some fantasy government league regime. They aren’t beholden to the meta-game. They just want sick people to get better, poor people to have a fair shake, and for the oceans not to engulf all of Florida.

Economic Problems

We see it on education. On healthcare. On climate. On recreational drugs. On abortion. On practically every issue our nations face.

Our debate isn’t really about any issue, per se. It’s all come down to the economic structures we use to do work.

Take education. We know how to teach people things, more or less. While there are challenges, the fundamental question of education is one of funding. The conservatives want to have McSchools pop up across the land, where you go in and order a number six with cheese and you learn how to do algebra (with cheese). The liberals want to continue to have school lunch: you go to school and the meal is the meal.

In both scenarios, the mechanism of learning is basically the same: read, hear, watch, then practice. The idea that we need to undercut the fabric of education, that this has to be a debate rather than an experiment, is silly, but for scarcity of time and money.

The same is true on healthcare. There’s nobody saying we need to trepan patients’ skulls to let the demons out. The medical science is advancing as it is, more or less on schedule. The argument is over how much money should be made, and how should it be allocated. The courts are currently blocking the march to private-single-payer with their rulings on anti-trust actions by the DOJ.

And climate, where the oil companies aren’t arguing that global warming isn’t real (not really), that the disasters aren’t coming, but that we should pay for it by enduring its effects, rather than mitigating it. Or, as some Republicans now push for a carbon tax over regulation, maybe there can be a market structure.

Reduced to this high-level view, our problems are fundamentally about who profits and how much, a frank discussion that is sorely needed but that is continually obfuscated by pretending it’s about healthcare or abortion.

We should not be fanatical about which side of the imaginary public-private line a service like education or healthcare resides on. But, more importantly, the people should demand high-quality and low-cost with protections and rights retained wherever the service lives. That includes representation, due process, fiduciary duties, and the like.

The politicians need to stop having fake arguments about issues and start having the real argument about the monetary structures of society.


In unrelated news, 1.5% of the current presidential term is already over. Just remember, every fortnight is 1% more of the term gone.

No More Trump Resets Left

Donald Trump is currently wandering around the country, in search of his version of the American Dream. The idea that with a little luck, a lot of money, and way too much ego, a man can become the dictatorial ruler of a free country. Just promise you’ll mess with the segments of the population that your base doesn’t like, and they’ll crowd-surf you into the White House.

From POLITICO: 3 August 2016: “Trump: ‘I don’t know why we’re not leading by a lot'” (bracketed portion theirs):

“We go to Oklahoma, we had 25,000 people. We had 21,000 people in Dallas. We had 35,000 people in Mobile, Alabama. We have these massive crowds,” the Republican nominee said. “You’ve got thousands of people outside trying to get in [today], and this is one hell of a big stadium.”

Donald Trump apparently doesn’t understand how elections work in the US of A. And nobody has explained it to him, either. Oklahoma, Texas, and Alabama, massive crowds, but not representative of the general election.

Until yesterday, he was still refusing to endorse Paul Ryan. Apparently he didn’t understand that those sorts of shenanigans were supposed to end with the convention. That it’s now time for the general election, where you knuckle down and do what you can to bring it home. Disunity is not part of that, yet there’s Trump, his tiny thumb in the eye of Ryan.

Now, the plausible explanation for that is that Ryan might lose the primary to a Trump-backer, and Trump was trying to stay neutral for that scenario. But the speakership does not pass to the challenger, so it made little sense. If Nehlen, the challenger, wins, Trump doesn’t gain much by being loyal. But if Ryan wins, Trump loses something for not backing a leader in his party.

Trump is unfit to be a nominee, to say nothing of the presidency. He’s unfit to enroll in a non-entry-level course in political science.

This seems like the third or fourth time they want to do a reset on Trump, but a Trump-reset only lasts until the smoke clears, then he’s his same old self. They got him to use a teleprompter a few times. They fired people, cleaned the stables. He went and met with the legislative leadership at least two or three times in reset-type attempts. And yet there they are, back where they started.

The reset they need isn’t even on the table. They should be looking at reaching out to non-base voters (in ways other than trying to convince African-Americans that immigrants are the source of their woes (i.e., attempting to foment more racism)), but at this point, about three months out, they just want a reset that will stem the bleeding. They just want the candidate to stop the self-harm. They want an intervention.

The candidate they have is still crowd-testing new nicknames for his opponent. Still fascinated with his adoring crowds and watching cable news rather than the bootstrapping rapid-learning he said he would be able to do to be ready to be president in 2017. Still saying the dumbest first things that pop into his head. Taking issue with the debate schedule. Claiming the election will be rigged.

But that’s not to write Trump off entirely. It’s just to say that we can write off any notion that Trump will ever be presidential, whether or not he succeeds in being elected president. We can mark down that he will not be fit for office, will not become fit. We can close the book on any real pivot or reset.


The Daily Beast: 5 August 2016: “How Paul Krugman Made Donald Trump Possible” tries to make the case that Democrats said the same things about Mitt Romney, and therefore they helped create the mess that is Donald Trump. But Mitt Romney, without defending every whit of criticism, was fit to be president (had experience, understood politics). Some of his policy choices would have been bad news, and his business record sat firmly in the area of parasitic capitalist, at least on some deals. He was far from an ideal choice, hence the clothes-shopping primary of 2012 where the voters tried everybody from Herman Cain to Rick Perry before settling on Romney.

The reason for the Democratic rhetoric is that the Republicans keep picking candidates reflective of bad policy. So long as the policies remain the same (and Trump is at least 60% Republican in policy), including anti-women, regressive taxation, and the rest, the same rhetoric applies. If you want to see a real reset in Democratic rhetoric, you must first have a reset in Republican policy. Like a Trump reset, that seems implausible. They read the autopsy of the 2012 race, and they did zero—nothing—to address it. Then they went out and picked someone who makes Romney look reasonable in comparison. The Democratic rhetoric was spot on in 2012, the Republicans just picked someone even worse in 2016.