Sunday, March 08, 2020

Sanders vs Biden

It was good to wait. Voting for a suspended campaign would have been a waste. But now it's Sanders or Biden. Blegh. Not a vote I feel as good about.

Can we solve this on electability?

The conclusions largely appear to be:

  1. The data suggests both candidates beat Trump.
  2. The data currently suggests Biden would have a larger safety margin.
  3. We keep learning that we can't trust the polling numbers, and need large safety margins.

If Biden wins, Bernie's army of young voters don't mobilize. If Sanders wins, swing voters are lost to Trump. Sadly there's no consensus candidate left.

Benefit to Biden, but it's clear that we still don't know enough to be sure.

But Biden was a bit of a shitbag until recently.
He's come down on the wrong side of a LOT of moral arguments over his long and very successful career.

  • War on drugs, marijuana criminalization.
  • Anti-abortion
  • Civil forfeiture.
  • Encryption bans
  • Anti-LGBTQ, marriage equality.
He has admittedly flipped his stance on most of these, a few conveniently for election purposes, but a few where he openly admitted his mistakes (eg. on Roe v Wade). I've applauded others who have legitimately come to evolve their positions (eg. Tulsi Gabbard on LGBTQ issues), but Biden's list is pretty long.

This is a pretty strong warning sign against Biden, but depends on how important history is versus his current advertised platform.

Then the elephant in the room: healthcare.
Medicare for All solves America's healthcare problems. Universal coverage, controlled out of pocket costs. It'll resolve the vast majority of the inefficiencies in the system that are inflicted on the population. But wow is it expensive to start: $34 trillion over 10 years.

An Affordable Care Act public option has the potential to fix a lot of things. A government-run insurer can quickly start taking control of costs, expand coverage, and become a tool of dismantling the profiteering systems in healthcare. On the other hand, it's not clear that it grants universal coverage nor does it eliminate out-of-pocket costs. Wasn't that the point? But at least it's affordable, at a mere $750 billion over 10 years.

Sanders' plan is plainly too expensive to be implemented in current American politics. Biden's plan is an unambiguous substantial improvement in the status quo, but in contrast to the various Democrat healthcare plans, is laughably uninspired.

I'll take Biden's boring but plausible plan, admitting that the USA probably can't reach single payer in a single step.

The personal touch.
Sanders wants to break up the tech companies (where I work). Would this be disasterous? Not entirely. After all, many of these companies merged through acquisitions in the first place, so clearly they can be split. It would just be a very large, very wasteful, completely pointless, spectacle.

Sanders is against most trade agreements, including NAFTA (how I originally arrived in the US). The Trans-Pacific Partnership is more complex - while potentially beneficial on trade, it had some ridiculous intellectual property provisions.

Biden wants to remove tech liability protections for user-generated content. This is a fundamentally terrible idea, essentially forcing corporate moderation on the Internet, which will be a far more chilling effect. Sanders would wade into this too, but is not taking as strong a stance.

A mixed bag, but favors Biden.

Biden. I'm not happy about it, but Biden.

Sunday, March 01, 2020

2020 Washington State Presidential Primary

Washington State has a Presidential Primary this year!

Update 3/1/20: Buttigieg just dropped out.

... well... they always had a Presidential Primary. But we finally have a better one.

Washington State always had a primary for Presidential candidates, but the Democrats completely ignored the results, in favor of their caucus meetings. The Republicans utilized it, but it was held so late in the season that it didn't really matter. Now, our votes are mailed in by March 10th, and the results are honored by both parties.

New this year, we also have to declare party affiliation. This is certainly concerning as a potential source of spam (party affiliation is public record), and it's not like ticking a box would prevent Republicans issuing spoiler votes. But it's a minor issue compared to the benefits of a real primary.

In any case, on to the actual primary.

Party Affiliation: Democrat.

Should be obvious. Trump's Republicans are toxic. But regardless, their primary's outcome is already assured, and I don't vote in pointless elections.

First, we can eliminate candidates that have already dropped out. While a few of these are indeed interesting, trimming them up-front will ease our cognitive load quite a bit.
  • Cory Booker (1/13)
  • John Delaney (1/31)
  • Andrew Yang (2/11)
  • Michael Bennet (2/11)
  • Deval Patrick (2/12)
  • Tom Steyer (2/29)
  • Pete Buttigieg (3/1)
and one who should have dropped out months ago, but didn't.

Tulsi Gabbard. She hasn't even been to a debate in months, and the only media attention she's getting is for her lawsuits, and her stubborn refusal to drop out.

So that leaves six relevant candidates, coming out of the Nevada primaries. 

We can broadly divide the group into the moderates, and the progressives.

For those not in the know (and Canadians): a key divide in the Democratic party is between moderates and progressives. They both have largely the same set of priorities - health care, education debt, the environment to name a few. The difference is in the process. The moderates take an pragmatic incremental approach - reaching party goals while working within existing structures of power and policy. The progressives relish in directly challenging the people and policies that are perceived as being the direct cause of the problems in society.

Note this divide is distinctly not about being a Washington insider or an outsider. This can be clearly seen by contrasting, for example Buttigieg and Biden, or Sanders and Warren.

Bernie Sanders (29%)

The "Democratic Socialist", a title he wears unapologetically, almost militantly. The most progressive of the progressives. A constant Democrat outsider. A billion years old. And the early front runner, much to the party establishment's chagrin.

Bernie fans are fanatically dedicated. This poses an interesting challenge for the primary: Sanders holds a substantial base of voters that are notoriously difficult to rally for other Democratic candidates. Whereas Sanders as a presidential candidate will have the hardest time attracting moderates of either party.

Can a "socialist" win the Presidency? Maybe. If there's one thing we learn from Trump's candidacy, it's that labels, policy, or even ideology don't matter when you have a cult of personality, which Sanders has in spades. If a racist with no experience and a platform built entirely on catchphrases and spray tan can be president, is a socialist so farfetched? Universal health insurance. Free college. Living wage. Crazy talk! Except that most of the developed world already does this and more with varying levels of success.

A Sanders vote is a vote for fundamental change that is desperately needed, and rejecting the very existence of political moderates as a relevant group in America. 

Joe Biden (17%)

The very face of a Democratic insider. Over 30 years in the Senate, and a popular Vice President under Obama.

The most centrist of the moderates. Biden has already been in the White House and doesn't want to change up that formula. Most moves would be incremental changes to Obama-era policy rather than dramatic overhauls.

A Biden vote is a vote for business as usual. A bet on the the current political middle being the force of the future.

Michael Bloomberg (15%)

A billionaire and popular former New York mayor, that is quite obviously trying to buy the nomination with hundreds of millions in ad spending, so much so that he didn't even bother to participate in the first primaries.

He was by many accounts a successful Mayor and clearly a successful businessman, but with a lot of baggage that will be tough for Democrats to support, such as "Stop and Frisk" and disrespect of women.

A Bloomberg vote is a statement that executive experience (both political and corporate) trumps everything, including character, and policy.

Elizabeth Warren (14%)

A law professor turned politician, turned progressive candidate, with a term in the Senate under her belt. A vocal advocate for progressive issues, but with a history of actually working through it.

Warren is known for having many detailed policy plans, released early compared to her peers. While this is unambiguously worthy of great respect, it also puts her policies under intense scrutiny, that many politicians avoid by staying very vague ("We're going to produce phenomenal health care.") in a way that defies actual analysis.

A Warren vote is a vote for a progressive agenda based in deep thought and analysis, rather than hyperbole and philosophy.

Pete Buttigieg (10%)

He's young. He's gay. He's a popular small-town mayor. But more importantly, he's a moderate outsider - a clear contrast to Joe Biden, and has held his own in debates and polling.

A Buttigieg vote is a support for a less progressive but still ambitious policy, while showing that someone other than old white Senators can lead the country.

Amy Klobuchar (6%)

A moderate-ish Senator and Democratic insider. Klobuchar excels at passing bipartisan legislation.

By most measures, Klobuchar has performed amazingly throughout this race, but simply suffers from going up against some huge brand names. Minnesota Nice may struggle to compete in this rough battle of ideologies.

A Klobuchar vote is for a co-operative but liberal approach to policy, backed by an experienced politician.

So how do I vote strategically?

Wait for Super Tuesday on March 3rd! This is a major test for candidates, and we should hopefully see some drop out on Wednesday. Released delegates can vote for anyone, so the best chance of your vote mattering is to vote for someone likely to survive to the convention. Washington's new primary deadline of March 10th is an amazing benefit for this primary season - early enough for the nomination to still be interesting, but late enough to filter out some of the early noise. Use it wisely.

Otherwise, vote for who you like. That message will carry through, in some form or another, to future primaries, to the convention, or even future years. Your support will mean a lot to your chosen candidate.

What about a contested convention? It doesn't really change anything. The popular theory is that a contested convention would be used to block a Sanders nomination. The best way to avoid that is to give Sanders an uncontested nomination by voting for him. Any other candidate, vote for them and deny Sanders the delegates he needs to clinch it.

My Vote

Currently Warren. More than anything, I long for a truly thoughtful President, and that is shown both in her policymaking and her policy statements. I am supportive of progressive ideals, and believe she can build momentum around implementing at least a few of them. 

Still, I'd support many others in this race. Buttigieg would have been a welcome addition to any ticket. Biden, while boring, would be a safe and competent bet. I'd even rally behind Sanders; I see him more as a figurehead of the progressive movement, but it could result in positive change.