A School of Fish, Seemingly Leaderless: Two Quotes for the Day

school of fish

Democrats are not just a party; they’re a community. In my years of covering politics I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like what happened in the 48 hours after South Carolina — millions of Democrats from all around the country, from many different demographics, turning as one and arriving at a common decision.

It was like watching a flock of geese or a school of fish, seemingly leaderless, sensing some shift in conditions, sensing each other’s intuitions, and smoothly shifting direction en masse. A community is more than the sum of its parts. It is a shared sensibility and a pattern of response. This is a core Democratic strength.

David Brooks

I was told at the beginning of this whole undertaking that there are two lanes: a progressive lane that Bernie Sanders is the incumbent for and a moderate lane that Joe Biden is the incumbent for and there is no room for anyone else in this. I thought it was possible that that wasn’t the case, that there was more room, and more room to run another kind of campaign. But evidently that wasn’t the case.

Elizabeth Warren

A Soupçon to the Right of Bernie

Today, we say hail and farewell to Elizabeth Warren. Many things will be said about her various errors. All of those things will be said, by everyone who could possibly say them, as many times as they could possibly be said.

I remain of the view that Warren picked a political space—a soupçon to the right of Bernie—that turned out not to be occupied by very many voters. Having made that choice, she was, I think, doomed to lose, no matter what she did or didn’t do.

But she is a good and decent person, not to mention a highly capable person. She still has many good things ahead of her.

And, at the right time, I think we can look to her to help persuade progressive voters to swallow Bernie’s loss and get behind Biden.


Mrs. Warren’s Depression

Mrs Warren's Depression

In Elizabeth Warren Rejected ‘You Win, I Lose’ Politics. Then She Lost in New Hampshire, two New York Times writers suck their thumbs at some considerable length, seeking an explanation about why Pocahontas did not do better.

Was she too nice? Should she have been more assertive in the debates, particularly the last one? Was she too unwilling to jab at her competitors?

I really think it’s a lot simpler. Now, I have to say, I like her just fine, and I appreciate her willingness to make detailed policy proposals.

But I think her manner just put a lot of people off, most especially the working class.

If she’s so concerned about the cause and about the party, she needs to get out now.

Something is Wrong with Pocahontas


Elizabeth Warren’s earnestness and intellect appeal to me. But beware earnest, smart, appealing people who lack good judgment.

By all means, invite such people to your next cocktail party. But do not give them positions that demand solid good judgment.

I understand that Senator Warren sensed her campaign was sputtering, and that she needed to draw some distinction between her and Bernie. An obvious choice was available. He calls himself a “socialist,” while she calls herself a “capitalist.” She could have made the claim that someone calling herself a “capitalist” is more electable that some who calls himself a “socialist.” That claim might even be true. Certainly, it wouldn’t be dishonest or implausible.

Instead, she picked a fight over a private conversation from long ago. Picking that particular fight exhibited very bad judgment, even if Bernie is lying about the conversation and she is telling the truth.

This episode, along with others from her past, give me grave concern.

It’s time for Democrats who want a nominee espousing what passes for a radical agenda in the United States to rally round Bernie.

It’s time for Democrats who emphasize electability to rally around someone else.



Axios, Focus group women like Warren’s policies more than her:

APPLETON, Wis. — Elizabeth Warren’s left-wing populism is gaining popularity among some swing voters here, but they’re not ready to embrace her for 2020.

Why it matters: In a small, all-women focus group, some participants suggested President Trump would win on personality if the contest was between him and Warren — and that their doubts about her aren’t based on substance. …

The big picture: Most of the group preferred a left-leaning set of policies to a right-leaning set when no names were attached. But when listening to Warren talk about them in clips from the last debate, they were skeptical of her — and not because of the policies.

And the blunt language made it clear that Warren faces the kind of obstacles confronted by many strong leaders who are women.


One. There is a reasonable chance that in 2020, as in 2016, the election will be decided by a relatively small group of swing voters, mostly low information.

Two. Not only are they low information, but they also think in ways that more well informed and intelligent people find utterly surprising and counterintuitive.

Three. When you are on a battlefield, the first thing you need to do is understand the nature of the battleground. With regard to the 2020 election, that means basing decisions on electability on actual facts about what swing voters think, and planning accordingly.

Four. People who are scared of Elizabeth Warren’s electability on the ground that she’s “too far left” may well be barking up the wrong tree. But more information is needed on that score. See point three.

Five. Axios speculates about the effect of Warren’s gender on her electability, but fails to focus on her unique personality, as distinguished from her gender. My gut tells me that is a misleadingly incomplete view of things. But more information is needed. See point three.

Six. We live in a country where idiots are driving the bus.


Greetings to yesterday’s readers, who came from China, Kenya, Malaysia, South Africa, South Korea, the [as yet] United Kingdom, and the United States. And to today’s readers (thus far) from Israel, the Netherlands, and the United States. I was going to make an observation about countries that know something of idiocracy, but I think I will just let it pass.


unwashed masses

Paul Waldman, Joe Biden is still ahead. But Elizabeth Warren is closing in.

Jennifer Rubin, Who is being naïve here?

Park MacDougald, Is Tucker Carlson the Most Important Pundit in America?

First, a Gut Check, to Provide Context

I am among the 91 percent—I believe that’s the correct number—of Democratic primary voters who have not yet made up their minds. Right now, my instinct is that the safest, and therefore the wisest, course would be to nominate someone from the moderate center-left wing, get him or her elected, return the country back to something resembling normality, fix Obamacare, and then try to have something like a rational conversation on where we go from there.

But, in and of itself, knowledge about my gut is of no use to you. I mention it only to give some context to what I’ll say next.

Three Key Points about Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren may or may not be The One. See paragraphs immediately above. But let us, nevertheless, bite the bullet, grasp the nettle, and pay due attention to the various elephants in the room.

Yesterday, I saw some talking heads on the teevee bloviating about how Senator Warren is a “disrupter,” just like Donald Trump is a “disrupter,” and how the country needs someone who can let us all relax a little. The discussion made me angry, because “disrupter” is, IMHO, an extremely misleadingly incomplete description of Elizabeth Warren.

First of all, economic inequality is growing dramatically. And, when Elizabeth Warren says the system is rigged in favor of the plutocracy, she is saying no more and no less than the God’s honest truth.

And, before I move to my second point, please let me add this parenthetical observation. If you are an advocate you can definitely fool some of the people some of the time. That said, it is a marvel how much it helps if you are telling the truth–about a subject that’s important to your audience–while your adversary is trying to spin a fairy tale.

Second, growing inequality not only prejudices those of us who are not plutocrats, but it also poses, in the long run, a grave threat to the plutocrats themselves. Some of them, blinded by greed, don’t recognize their long-term risk. Some do recognize it.

Elizabeth Warren does not emphasize that she is, in fact, the plutocrats’ true friend—the one who offers them an opportunity to protect themselves from their own worst impulses. But though she chooses not to emphasize the point, it’s true, nonetheless.

Third, there are lots and lots of Trump voters who also understand that the plutocrats are not their friends, and are rigging the system against them. (See the piece by Park MacDougald, cited above.) These folks have an inherent predisposition to heed a key part of Warren’s message. And she has the personality and the potential to break through with some of the Trump base.

And, may I add, she is just the person to tell the unwashed masses what a con man Donald Trump is.

Electability: the Bottom Line

My bottom line: Keep on watching those polls matching Trump against various Democratic possibilities. If my “three key points” are borne out, it will show up in the polling.

And be guided by evidence and reason, not by gut instincts about how electable Elizabeth Warren will seem to a bunch of people who think very differently from you.

There You Go Again, Joe

money bags

Paul Waldman, Biden’s comments about segregationists and the rich are deeply problematic

Jonathan Chait, Joe Biden’s Segregationist Nostalgia Is Even More Ignorant Than It Sounds

This afternoon, the talking heads are talking about Joe Biden’s eyebrow-raising comments to a bunch of rich supporters in New York. There are many things that might be said—see, for example, the two sources cited above—but let me just make two quick points.

How to Pitch the Rich

Waldman remarks,

Biden knows his audience. His pitch to them is not that we must reduce inequality because it’s a fundamental wrong, but because if we don’t, the masses will rise up in anger and you never know what might happen then.

My observation: it’s true that inequality has gotten way out of hand, and if it isn’t reduced, the poor are likely to rise up at some point and make things very uncomfortable for the rich. In other words, narrow, amoral economic self-interest on the part of the plutocracy would dictate that the plutocracy do something to let the pressure cooker vent, before it’s too late.

Biden was advocating that some rich people should give him some money. When you’re advocating, you don’t make the argument that is the best and most noble. You make the (true) argument that is most likely to appeal to your audience.

Biden is not to be faulted for telling his audience something that is true and is likely to appeal to them, rather than telling them something else that is also true, but will have less appeal. At least that’s my opinion.

But Biden’s viewpoint suffers, in my view, from quite a different, and very fundamental, defect.

Failing the Sunzi Test

Know yourself, know your enemy, hundred battles, hundred victories. Hillary Clinton lost for many reasons, but among the most important was her failure to understand what political currents she was dealing with. I very much fear that Joe Biden suffers from the same mental defect: you can make nice all you want with Mitch McConnell and his ilk, but they are not going to make nice with you.

If you do not understand whether the battlefield is hilly or level, you are likely to make big mistakes. I am very much afraid Biden does not understand where he is. And, lacking an understanding of the most fundamental facts about the current political environment, any success he may have will largely come as a matter of accident.

I do not like to depend just on dumb luck. An appropriate strategy, along with well-chosen and skillfully implemented tactics, are much to be preferred.

A Lunchtime Discussion

Today, I had the privilege of eating lunch with a person whom I greatly admire—one who has walked with princes and presidents, whose wisdom has been sought by foreign heads of state, but who has remained grounded through it all.

As we finished our lunch, my friend allowed as how Elizabeth Warren is looking better and better. I agree.

I’m still concerned that she told the Texas Bar Association that she was an Indian. I’m tempted to say that we have all done some squirrely things in our time, but, to tell the truth, I really can’t think of anything comparable that I might have done.

Still, nobody’s perfect.

Sun Tzu, Meet Pocahontas; Pocahontas, Meet Sun Tzu

Know Self Know Enemy

The Plum Line, Only one 2020 Democrat fully grasps the threat Trump poses:

In an important moment on the Senate floor, Warren took strong issue with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s profoundly cynical effort to treat this all as a closed matter. “Case closed,” McConnell said, speaking not just about Mueller’s extensive findings of likely criminal obstruction of justice by Trump, but also about Trump’s eagerness to reap gain from Russia’s sabotage of our elections, which McConnell blamed on Barack Obama.

In response, Warren again called for an impeachment inquiry, but did more than this: She indicted the Republican Party as a whole for shrugging off Trump’s epic misconduct and wrongdoing.

Warren has also pointed out more forcefully than any rival that Trump tried to derail an investigation not just into his own campaign’s conduct, but also into the Russian attack on our democracy — which Trump has refused to acknowledge happened at all, hamstringing preparations for the next attack.

As McConnell’s speech showed, the GOP is all in with that as well. And the GOP appears all in with Trump’s escalating efforts to treat House oversight of the administration as fundamentally illegitimate. …

It’s strange that pundits take it on faith that Joe Biden would best win back blue collar whites who overwhelmingly backed Trump in 2016. We’re constantly told Trump won them by campaigning against an economy “rigged” by plutocrats, getting left of Hillary Clinton, who hailed from the corporate wing of the Democratic Party and thus was vulnerable against Trump’s (fraudulent) populist attacks. …

But Biden hails from the same precincts. Indeed, as Jamelle Bouie points out, Biden is implicated in many great elite failures that supposedly fueled Trump’s rise, including bipartisan neoliberal friendliness towards Wall Street and the Iraq War.

By contrast, Warren has offered the most detailed populist prescriptions in response to the “rigged” economy of any candidate, including policies to tax extreme wealth and reconfigure corporate power.

If Warren proves unable to appeal to blue collar whites, we’ll perhaps have to revise our story of 2016. But here again, Warren is the one with the biggest actual argument.

Trump exploited populist discontent and then embarked on a near-total betrayal via an embrace of GOP plutocracy, in the form of a massive corporate tax giveaway and a deregulation spree that further enabled elite corruption. These things, too, show Trump as both continuation and exacerbation — and Warren has offered the most systematic and comprehensive response to all of that, as well.

What Pocahontas Needs to Do


I feel some sense of comradery with Elizabeth Warren. I have two Cherokee great-great-great-grandparents, and some genetic testing has shown a small percentage of Native American ancestry.

Unlike her, though, I have never contributed a recipe to a Native American cookbook undere the name of “Arius Aardvark, Cherokee.” Nor did the law school where I was once an adjunct professor describe me as a person of color. In my case, any claim to minority status has not gone beyond the casual joking stage.

So I can see why there is some difficulty in coming to terms with all this:

Media Congratulates Trump for Spreading Lie About Elizabeth Warren

Canned crab? Elizabeth Warren is unfit to lead

The Elizabeth Warren Fiasco

My own view, in case you happen to be interested, is that we are all sinners and that Elizabeth’s Warren’s sins are venal, whereas the Trumpster has many mortal sins to account for. (See, e.g., journalist/bone saw.)

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. A clever politician would find a way to make this lemon into lemonade. Let’s see how clever a politician Elizabeth Warren is.