Monthly Archives: June 2019

Kamala’s Big Night

The June 26 and 27 Democratic presidential debates served two purposes: to introduce the twenty top-tier candidates and to determine who was best suited to take on Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. The results were somewhat unexpected; on both debate nights the winners were women: Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris.

Watching a two two-hour debates, each featuring 20 candidates, is like speed dating.  Blink and you’d miss a clever quip or an awkward response.  There were chaotic periods and many missed opportunities to explain progressive policies to the voters.

Nonetheless, the net effect was to “cull the herd.”  The marginal candidates, such as Marianne Williamson, got less attention and when they did get to speak, quickly demonstrated why they had been regarded as long-shots.  In my eyes, there were no breakthroughs by the ten candidates who came in polling at less than 2 percent.

On the other hand, there was movement among the ten top-tier candidates: Beto, Booker, Biden, Buttigieg, Castro, Gillibrand, Harris, Klobuchar, Sanders, and Warren.  The big loser was Beto O’Rourke who seemed flat overall and the clear loser in an immigration tussle with Joaquin Castro.  (Castro was the big surprise of the first night.)

The other loser was former Vice-President Joe Biden.  After sailing through the first half of the second debate, Biden was confronted by Harris about his voting record on school busing.   When the conversation turned to race relations, Harris turned to Biden and said: “It was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing.  And, you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bussed to school every day. And that little girl was me.”  When Biden struggled to explain his voting record, Harris continued: “Vice President Biden, do you agree today — do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose bussing in America then? Do you agree?”  Biden stammered that he did not oppose bussing, in general,  “What I opposed is bussing ordered by the Department of Education.”  And Harris nailed him: “There was a failure of states to integrate public schools in America. I was part of the second class to integrate Berkeley, California, public schools almost two decades after Brown v. Board of Education… So that’s where the federal government must step in.”

Two things jumped out from this exchange: the first is that Kamala Harris is a terrific prosecutor and, more than any other Democratic candidate, can be counted on to skewer Donald Trump in a debate.  The second is that Biden should have known that this encounter was coming and been better prepared.  (After the debate, Biden’s team accused Harris of helping Donald Trump.)

It’s a long road to the February 3rd Iowa caucuses, but at the moment the Democratic field is led by women: If your perspective is which Democrat is best at taking on Trump, the leader is Senator Harris.  If you are inclined to favor the Democrat who has given the most thought to straightening out America, the leader is Senator Elizabeth Warren.  (Warren skated through the first debate night as the clear winner: interesting ideas presented concisely — like the master teacher she is.)

Before these debates, the national polls showed the ranking of candidates as: 1. Biden, 2. Sanders, 3. Warren, 4. Buttigieg, 5. Harris, and 6. O’Rourke.  After these debate, the BB poll shows Harris and Warren tied for first, Biden and Sanders tied for third, and Buttigieg and Booker tied for fifth.  That leaves Castro, Klobuchar, Gillibrand, and Beto (at number 10).

I believe Biden will be damaged by his lackluster debate performance; he’ll probably lose support among black voters — this should help Harris in South Carolina.  Before the debate, Bernie Sanders was already losing support as progressives switched allegiance to Warren; Sanders did nothing to reverse this trend.

“Mayor Pete” Buttigieg got a good opportunity to show everyone how capable he is.  Senator Cory Booker had a solid performance in the June 26 debate.  They’ve forged ahead in the race for the 2020 Democratic nomination for vice-president.  As has Joaquin Castro who was the surprise of night one.  Klobuchar and Gillibrand were solid but don’t have enough “star power” to move up in the herd.  And Beto is fading.

There’s been a debate among Democrats about what they want most from their 2020 presidential candidate: a fighter or an ideas person.  Both Harris and Warren are fighters and both have lots of good ideas.  It will be fascinating to watch their interaction over the next eight months.

Before the debates, some Democrats favored Biden because they perceived him to be “most electable.”  Biden was damaged in the June 27th exchange.  I bet that more voters now believe that Harris and Warren are as electable as Biden.

By the way: the next round of Democratic candidate debates happens on July 30 and 31.

Speaking Truth to Power

More and more of my friends tell me they can’t bear to watch the news, because they can’t stand to hear about the latest Trump outrage. Some unfortunates are afflicted with tinnitus where they constantly hear a ringing or buzz in the background. The U.S. is subjected with the political version of this — Trumpitus — where there’s always some Trump news item droning in the background.  To deal with this backdrop of malevolence, to protect our sanity, you and I have to agree to stand up and proclaim the truth.

1.We’re under attack by the Russians.  The most disturbing conclusion from the Mueller Report is that Russia made a concerted effort to alter the results of the 2016 election.  “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.”  Vladimir Putin and his cronies wanted Trump to win and engaged in a variety of technical efforts to help him.  It’s not clear what the overall impact was.  Russians operatives were active in key swing states — such as Michigan,Ohio, and Pennsylvania — but it’s not provable that the Russian efforts resulted in Trump’s 78,000 vote margin.   What is clear is that the Russians helped the Trump campaign by concerted social-media campaigns and hacking Clinton-campaign emails.

There’s no evidence that Russian interference has abated.  Indeed, if one looks at the Putin’s objectives, there’s no reason for the Russians to stop because they are succeeding.  Russian efforts have weakened U.S. morale and diminished our role as leader of the “free” world.  (They have also weakened the European Union and brought the United Kingdom to the brink of chaos.)

2.The Republican Party doesn’t want to do anything about this.  Although the U.S. intelligence community is united in the belief that the Russians continue to interfere with our election process, Congressional Republicans aren’t doing anything about this — with the exception of the Senate Intelligence Committee co-chaired by Republican Senator Richard Burr and Democratic Senator Mark Warner.  Nonetheless, on June 13th, Senate Republicans blocked Senator Warner’s bill that would have required political campaigns to report attempts by foreign nationals to interfere with political elections.

Trump has bullied the mainstream Republican Party into docile subservience.  He’s set this moral tone: it’s okay to say and do anything, so long as you win.  Trump has recast the GOP: “Thou shalt worship no gods other than Trump.”

As a consequence, Senate Republicans aren’t doing any legislative work. Since January the Senate has only passed a few pieces of legislation.  (They’ve spent most of their time confirming conservative judges.)  In contrast, the Democratically controlled House has passed more than 120 bills.  ( )

3.Trump has deeply divided the nation.  When you step inside the latest polls — eg., Trump versus Biden — you encounter an amazing number: most Americans say they will not vote for Trump in 2020.  The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll ( says: “Despite a strong economy… 62% of Americans report themselves uncomfortable or with reservations about a second Trump term; 52% called themselves ‘very uncomfortable.'”  The May Quinnipiac poll ( found: “President Trump begins his reelection campaign in a deep hole as 54 percent of American voters say they ‘definitely’ will not vote for him,”

Meanwhile, Trump is leaving a trail of moral destruction: He’s eradicated comity, torn down the walls of political correctness, and made it okay for citizens to treat each other in a vile and — sometimes – violent manner.

A recent PPRI poll ( ) found that Americans are more divided by politics than they are by race, ethnicity, or religion: “Americans are nearly unanimous in their belief that the country is divided over politics (91%), with 74% of Americans saying that the country is very divided. Supporters of both political parties, as well as political independents, all agree that Americans are divided over politics: Republicans (96%), Democrats (91%), and independents (89%) all agree with this statement.”

4. Meanwhile, the U.S. is challenged by daunting problems.  Most of us wouldn’t get on a boat or plane knowing that the pilot was drunk.  We depend upon our leaders to guide us through difficult circumstances.  Nonetheless, the United States is beset by numerous problems and Donald Trump is incompetent.

America faces a long list of challenges that would be daunting even if we had a real President: Global climate change.  Nuclear proliferation.  The deterioration of our international alliances.  National security including the Russian attacks and terrorism.  Healthcare.  Economic inequality.  Mental health including the opioid epidemic.  Gun violence.  Etcetera.

Trump is not going to deal with these challenges.  Until he’s removed from office, he’s likely to make things worse.  As this was being written, Trump is preparing to attack Iran.

How do we maintain our sanity in these perilous times?  By going back to basics.  Bay Area writer Angeles Arrien posited four rules for life:  “Show up.  Pay attention.  Tell the truth.  Don’t be attached to the results.”  We’ve already shown up.  For the time being, we’re stuck with Trump.

It’s hard to pay attention given the constant drone of Trump outrage — Trumpitus — but it’s essential because there are good things going on in the resistance.  More and more Americans are waking up.

And more than any time I can remember, it’s essential to tell the truth.  About Trump.  The deplorable conduct of Washington Republicans.  About the problems the nation faces.  Tell the truth about how hard it is to be hopeful.

And, of course, we have to resist.  Every hour of every day.  And like Angeles Arrien said, we can’t get attached to the results.  Telling the truth is hard work.

Elizabeth’s Time to Shine

The walls of my high-school gym were covered with pithy aphorisms such as: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” The most memorable was: “Life is a grindstone; whether it wears you down or polishes you up, depends upon what you are made of.”  Certainly, a presidential campaign is a grindstone; in the process most candidates get ground up, while a few thrive.  Somewhat unexpectedly, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has adapted to the arduous 2020 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination and is beginning to shine.

Warren was the first Democrat to enter the presidential campaign — December 31, 2018 — and, ever since, has been campaigning non-stop.  I like Elizabeth, but initially had some concerns about her as a presidential candidate: I thought she would come across as an academic or a scold.  This hasn’t happened; instead. as she slogged though non-stop campaign events, Elizabeth has gotten more confident and, to my eyes, softened.  She’s still smart as a whip, but her intelligence hasn’t gotten blocked her message; she’s found a way to communicate with her supporters without dumbing down her ideas.  (So far this year, Warren has held more than 80 town-hall meetings.)

(By the way: I’m struck by how smart the Democratic candidates are, in general; whether it’s Elizabeth Warren or Pete Buttigieg or Kamala Harris or Amy Klobuchar or Corey Booker…  Trump is going to have a tough time debating any of these candidates — if he participates in the debates.)

Six months after entering the presidential campaign, Elizabeth Warren has found a way to differentiate herself from the other candidates: her now familiar refrain “I have a plan for that.” If Joe Biden’s shtick is “I’m everybody’s Uncle Joe… I’m likable and electable” and Bernie Sanders is “I may look like someone’s grandfather but I’m actually a revolutionary,” Warren’s political identity is, “I may be a woman but I’m the smartest person in the room.”

Warren has blended her personal story — impoverished single mom who becomes a Harvard Law School professor– together with intelligence and liberal populism. This has produced a potent political cocktail.  Elizabeths’s brew showed up at the April “She the People” candidate forum in Houston.  Many expected Democratic presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Corey Booker to dominate the event, but it was Warren who stole the show.  Since then Warren has played to increasingly enthusiastic crowds.  (And she’s sold a lot of “Warren has a plan for that” t-shirts.)

As a consequence, Warren’s poll results have improved.  A recent Des Moines Register poll ( ) of prospective Democratic Iowa caucus-goers found Senator Warren was in third place (15 percent) after Joe Biden (24 percent) and Bernie Sanders (16 percent).  But another question indicated that Warren is close to a tie with Biden: “Among those who plan to caucus in person, 61% say Biden is on their list in some way…  Just as many — 61% — say Warren is on their list. That includes 15% who choose her as their first choice, 14% who pick her as their second choice and 32% who say they are considering her.”

The Warren presidential campaign is experiencing a surge.  The latest Economist/YouGov poll ( ) asked prospective Democratic voters: “If the Democratic presidential primary or caucus in your state were held  today, who would you vote for?” 26 percent responded “Joe Biden;” 16 percent responded “Elizabeth Warren;” 14 percent were not sure; and 12 percent responded “Bernie Sanders.”  All other candidates were in single digits.  (By the way: the same poll indicated that while Sanders is the best known candidate, he has the highest unfavorable rating  at 33 percent.)

Writing in Mother Jones, David Corn ( ) pointed out another reason for Warren’s momentum: “In February [Senator Warren] announced she would not raise campaign cash via high-ticket dinners and receptions or through dialing-for-dollars calls to wealthy would-be donors. The campaign promoted this as a move demonstrating that Warren would not grant access to rich contributors; she would not be selling influence and would instead rely on small-dollar donors… This decision that burnished her reformist credentials had a critical impact on the campaign: It unshackled her schedule.”

So, what will it take for Senator Warren to win the Democratic presidential nomination?

The Iowa caucuses occur on February 3, 2020.  One the next 8 months, Warren should keep doing what she is doing. (“Nevertheless she persisted.”)  At the moment, only she has found a winning formula.

Of course, Joe Biden is the frontrunner, but If Warren maintains her current pace she’ll differentiate herself from Joe Biden on the basis of personal energy.  And most Democrats will realized that Warren has more depth than Biden.

Many believe that Warren’s primary competition will come from Bernie Sanders.  From here it seems that Warren has two advantages: First, she can “out wonk” Sanders; Bernie has a lot of ideas but Warren has more and they are better elaborated.  Warren’s second advantage is that she is a woman.  Right or wrong, a lot of female Democratic voters blame Sanders for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss — remember the “Bernie Bros.”

It’s a long road ahead, but from here the ultimate winner will probably be Elizabeth Warren.  She’s emerged from the grindstone with a clear campaign message and identity.