Thursday, January 30, 2020

Pete Buttigieg for the 2020 Democratic nomination

I've watched and live-blogged every 2020 debate so far. I won't be voting until New York's relatively late primary in April, and most of the current candidates will have dropped out by then. But I've been thinking about how I would choose among the candidates who are running now, if I could vote in one of the early states.

I recently posted about how I was having trouble deciding between two candidates.

For anyone who wants Trump to lose his reelection bid, as I do, I think a reasonable choice would be either former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of Indiana, or Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

(For purposes of this post, I'll assume the problems with Trump are well-known and don't need to be repeated here. I can go into detail on that in a future post about who I'm going to vote for in the general election.)

I haven't found any major policy or ideological differences between Klobuchar and Buttigieg. For instance, they both want to reform health care with a public option. They've each proposed an array of criminal justice reforms.

You could try to find some distinctions among the policies they've posted on their websites — but those promises are, at best, only rough guides to what their presidencies would be like. So there's a limit to how useful it is to go through such a wonky exercise.

If not policy, what other basis is there to pick one of the two candidates? Experience. Temperament. Tone. Character.

Klobuchar's case is a pragmatic one based on experience. Her basic pitch is: she's a Senator who knows how to work together with both parties to get things done, and that's more important than being the candidate with the most attention-getting presentation on the surface.

Buttigieg's case is based on more intangible qualities. He aims to be uplifting and Obama-like in his rhetoric. He presents himself as unflappable and level-headed. He emphasizes moral virtues like courage, which, as he never fails to remind us, he's shown in his military service and in coming out as gay when he was up for reelection in the red state of Indiana.

Common criticisms of Buttigieg are that he's young and inexperienced. President Buttigieg would be inaugurated the day after his 39th birthday, making him the youngest president ever. You could fairly worry about that. You could also argue he'd be in good company: Teddy Roosevelt was the youngest president ever, and is widely considered one of the best.

And how inexperienced is Buttigieg really? In addition to his Navy service in Afghanistan, he was a mayor of a Midwestern city with a population of about 100,000 people.

We've never had someone who went directly from mayor to president, with nothing in between at a higher level than mayor. So his experience might not be ideal. Yet he has been the chief executive of a city government for 8 years, and there's some parallel between that and being president.

Buttigieg's experiences don't come close to being president — but then, no job is true preparation for being president. Every president goes into the job with limited experience. Governors and mayors are limited in that they have to be focused on their own geographic areas — a small percentage of the country.

So, are members of Congress better because they work on national issues? Ah, but the process of a Senator's work is different from the presidential process. A Senator's world is legislation — writing it, arguing over it, voting on it. Of course, the president has to decide what legislation to sign and what to veto. But the president has to operate on so many other levels, interacting with so many different entities — Congress, government agencies that you and I haven't even heard of, foreign countries… It's almost dizzying to think about all that.

No candidate starts out fully ready. Any new president will need to learn the ropes on the job, and will make some mistakes along the way.

Klobuchar has headed one governmental organization (a prosecutor's office at the county level), but she hasn't been a chief executive — mayor, governor, head of a company, etc. Buttigieg knows what it's like to run a government, to set a whole administration's priorities.

Of course, Klobuchar has an edge in that there are many federal policy issues that would be more familiar to her. Buttigieg has gotten some education in federal issues just by being a candidate, and he seems intelligent enough to get up to speed quickly as president. Still, you could reasonably argue that even for the long term, President Klobuchar would be more effective at deal-making with Congress than President Buttigieg would be.

But speaking of working effectively with people, who would work best with their own staff? Klobuchar has reportedly mistreated some of her staffers, who've alleged that "in fits of anger, she threw things—including binders—in the direction of staff members, accidentally hitting an employee on at least one occasion." (That's a Facebook link to this Atlantic article, but going directly to the Atlantic link will count against your limited monthly articles unless you're a subscriber.)

As far as I know, Klobuchar hasn't strongly denied these reports. Her response is highly vague: “Am I a tough boss sometimes? Yes. Do I ask too much of my staff sometimes? Yes.…”

The New York Times endorsement of Klobuchar argues that the focus on her behind-the-scenes behavior is sexist; Presidents Trump and Clinton have treated their staff harshly without catching as much flak. But if you have a strong desire to fire Trump and replace him with someone very different, then likening Klobuchar to Trump is not encouraging. Aside from that, the Times admits that she's had the #1 highest overall turnover of any Senator going back to the early 2000s, and it would be hard to blame that statistic on sexism when it's based on female and male employees working for many women and men.

The question isn't just whether President Klobuchar would be able to retain her staff, but also whether her advisors would refrain from telling her things she doesn't want to hear if they're afraid of her getting mad. Every president promises to choose advisors who will fearlessly, openly disagree with the president, but that's a hard promise to keep. A president surrounded by sycophants could be dangerously unchecked.

It's fine to put this in perspective by listing other politicians who've reportedly had issues with their behavior toward staff, but the fact is that Klobuchar is one of them. And I don't know of any reports of problems with Buttigieg's behavior or personality.

The first president in a same-sex marriage would not end homophobia any more than President Obama ended racism. But it would be a great, historic milestone for America to elect its first openly gay president, just 5 years after marriage equality was finally recognized nationwide.

It's understandable to care at least as much about other barriers that would be broken by other candidates, including Klobuchar as the first woman. Most of the presidential firsts that could happen in the future (as far as gender, race, religion, etc.) can't happen in this one election. But if the first openly gay president isn't Buttigieg, it might not be anyone else for a very long time. When I see him and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, I wonder how much longer we'd have to wait for another opportunity like this.

Buttigieg is a gifted communicator, and that's essential for the president, the country's #1 communicator. For instance, here's Buttigieg making the pitch for his "Medicare for All Who Want It" plan:

Buttigieg has also been doing better in the primary polls than Klobuchar, including in the first, second, third, and fourth states. The gap between them has recently been narrowing, but it's still significant. Given how similar their views seem to be, there's an argument that anyone like me who's trying to decide between these two candidates should strategically vote for Buttigieg, to avoid the collective-action problem of splitting the vote and inadvertently giving the nomination to a different kind of candidate.

I'm sure Buttigieg is to the left of me on some issues. But he also seems to be an agile thinker and has avoided the dogmatic tone of some of the other candidates. For example, he's made nuanced comments on what kind of capitalist he is and how he sees the current state of identity politics.

On the whole, Buttigieg has come across as an upstanding public servant who'd approach the presidency with an earnestness and humility that's been sorely lacking in recent years.

I support Pete Buttigieg as the Democratic presidential nominee of 2020.

Why not any of the other candidates?

Joe Biden is thought of as being in the same "lane" as Buttigieg and Klobuchar. They do have one important policy disagreement: Biden would merely "decriminalize" marijuana, while Buttigieg or Klobuchar go further and say we should legalize it. (Buttigieg would even decriminalize possessing cocaine!)

Beyond any specific issue, Biden has often seemed bumbling, uncertain, and out of his element in debates. And he seems unhinged when he lashes out at his constituents or tells them not to vote for him. When I see Biden struggle so much to make the case for himself in the relatively friendly environment of the Democratic primaries, I don't have confidence that he's up for the challenge of defeating the incumbent president in a good economy.

Even when you disagree with Buttigieg or Klobuchar, you'd at least admit they go into a debate knowing exactly what they want to say, and they say it well, fairly consistently. The same cannot be said of Biden. There's a lot more to be said about someone with as long and varied a record as Biden's, but I don't feel the need to give him much consideration when his basic political competence falls so short of what the nominee is going to need.

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are so far left that they have little chance of beating Trump. I'm not persuaded by the Warren/Sanders view that big corporations trying to be profitable are the enemy of the people, any more than I'm convinced by Trump saying the press is the enemy of the people.

Sanders and Warren have proposed policies I find extreme and unfair, like canceling all student debt. I don't see why we should give that much money to people who are largely some of the more well-off Americans. It would be particularly unfair to give that money to them, rather than to those who made immense sacrifices day after day, year after year, because they assumed they couldn't borrow money they wouldn't be able to pay back. Something should be done about student debt, but forgiving all of it no matter what is too drastic.

Warren would defund charter schools, most of which are public schools (WSJ link), regardless of how well they've done at educating children. I don't see how that's reasonable or even progressive. The only explanation I can see is that she prioritizes unions over kids.

Warren and Sanders both want to force everyone to get their health insurance from the government. We need health-care reform because too many people are uninsured, but that doesn't make it a good idea to take most people's health insurance away from them. What they call "Medicare for All" is far more expansive than merely letting all citizens use Medicare, and would be more aptly called "Repeal and Replace Obamacare." If they actually pursued such a radical policy as president, they'd fail, and they'd squander the opportunity to reform the system in a more realistic way. (In fairness, here's a Wall Street Journal op-ed in favor of "Medicare for All.")

One of Warren's signature policies is a wealth tax. I agree with her basic goal of making the rich pay a fairer share of taxes; I'm open to various ways of making that happen, including increases to the highest federal income tax brackets. But other countries that have tried a wealth tax have abandoned it. You can see the problem with a wealth tax even if you have no sympathy for billionaires. It would be a logistical nightmare to try to make them assess and pay a tax on their wealth which is stored in so many different places — not just bank accounts but stocks, houses, cars, heirlooms, and on and on. Predictably, the government would end up taking in less revenue than promised, and that revenue shortfall would be made up for with more taxes down the road. (Counterargument: this Washington Post op-ed argues that a wealth tax has worked well in Switzerland.)

Warren promises she won't raise taxes on the middle class, yet will somehow fund all her expansive government largess, but that's implausible. That's not the way we've done it in the US; Social Security and Medicare are funded by broadly based taxes. That's also not how they do it in Europe — European welfare states work by broadly imposing high taxes on everyone, not by having steeply progressive taxes that target the super-rich. (NYT op-ed on that.) Anyway, Warren is misleading voters by claiming she won't raise taxes on the middle class while she proposes a tax on employers' health-insurance costs, which would be passed on to middle-class employees.

Perhaps the worst idea of any of the candidates is Sanders's plan to take the widely reviled local policy of rent regulation and impose it on the whole country from the top down.

I haven't seriously considered Mike Bloomberg or Deval Patrick, who entered the race so late that I don't feel like their heart is in it. I don't want to encourage last-minute campaigns. It's fair to complain that our presidential elections last too long — but given that they do, anyone who wants to win an election should participate in the whole thing and at least try to get into every debate.

Others strike me as gimmicky or one-note candidates (Andrew Yang's main pitch is he'd dole out a monthly allowance to everyone; Tulsi Gabbard's favorite talking point is she's against "regime-change wars"), or have made so little impression on the public that I'd lack confidence in their ability to go up against a figure as dominant as President Donald Trump.

UPDATE: The San Diego Union-Tribune has endorsed Buttigieg for similar reasons, after narrowing down the choice to him or Klobuchar.

(Photo of Pete Buttigieg by Gary Riggs via Wikimedia Commons.)

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

"Chinese City Uses Facial Recognition to Shame Pajama Wearers"

That headline is from … not the Onion, but the New York Times, which reports:

When officials in an eastern Chinese city were told to root out “uncivilized behavior,” they were given a powerful tool to carry out their mission: facial recognition software.

Among their top targets? People wearing pajamas in public.

On Monday, the urban management department of Suzhou, a city of six million people in Anhui Province, sparked outrage online when it published surveillance photos taken by street cameras of seven local residents wearing pajamas in public along with parts of their names, government identification numbers and the locations where their “uncivilized behavior” had taken place.

City officials quickly apologized, but not before stirring nationwide ire over the use of a state-of-the-art digital tool to stamp out a harmless and relatively commonplace practice — an unusual note of resistance in a country where the instruments of digital totalitarianism have spread largely unchecked.

On social media, the Suzhou department publicly called out, among others, a Ms. Dong, a young woman in a plush pink robe, matching pants and orange pointy flats, walking on a street, and a Mr. Niu, who was singled out for donning a black and white checkered full pajama suit in a mall.

“Uncivilized behavior refers to when people behave and act in ways that violate public order because they lack public morals,” read a post on WeChat, a common social messaging app, which has since been deleted.

“Many people think that this is a small problem and not a big deal,” the post said. “Others believe public places are truly ‘public,’ where there is no blame, no supervision and no public pressure.”

“This has brought about a kind of complacent, undisciplined mind set,” it concluded.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Which 2020 Democratic presidential candidate should I support?

Help! I can't decide which Democratic presidential candidate to support, and I'd like to take a position before the Iowa caucuses on February 3.

I've narrowed it down to 2 candidates: Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar.

Which of those 2 should I support and why? Feel free to make your own arguments or link to anything relevant, as long as it's specifically about Amy Klobuchar and/or Pete Buttigieg.

I may do a future post about how I decided who to support. But to be realistic, it's unlikely that both of those candidates will still be actively running by the time I have to vote in New York, which won't happen until after 35 other states. If only one of them is still running by that time (April 28), I plan to vote for that person.

UPDATE: Lots of good feedback in the comments on my Facebook post about this.

UPDATE: I decided.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Live-blogging the last 2020 Democratic debate before the Iowa caususes

I'll be live-blogging the debate here. Keep reloading this post for more updates!

This could be a crucial debate, just 20 days before the Iowa caucuses.

It's also the first debate since US-Iran tensions have flared after we killed Qasem Soleimani.

You should be able to watch it on CNN's website.

I'll be writing down quotes live, so they might not be word for word, but I'll try to keep them as fair and accurate as possible.

9:01 — Why is Bernie Sanders the "best-prepared" candidate to be "Commander in Chief"? He says he opposed the Iraq War, and recently proposed a bipartisan bill to limit the president's war powers.

9:03 — Joe Biden apologizes for voting for the Iraq War: "It was a mistake, and I acknowledge that." But Obama was against it and picked Biden to end the war.

9:04 — Wolf Blitzer points out that Sanders has admitted his vote for the Afghanistan War was a mistake, so how is he any better than Biden? Because the Iraq War was even worse! "I did everything I could to prevent that war," but Biden didn't. [VIDEO.]

9:09 — A pretty dull debate so far — I haven't written anything down on the first answers from Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, or Elizabeth Warren (or Tom Steyer, but I generally don't write down his answers anyway because I don't see how he's relevant).

9:12 — Bernie Sanders makes a strong statement: "The two worst foreign-policy disasters of the last 50 years are the Vietnam War and the Iraq War. Both of those wars were based on lies. And what I fear now is that we have a president who is lying again, and could drag us into a war that is even worse than Iraq."

9:16 — Elizabeth Warren flatly says we should "get our combat troops out" of the Middle East. Biden jumps in to point out that not all our troops stationed there are "combat troops."

9:18 — Buttigieg calls out President Trump for adding more troops after promising to "end endless wars."

9:19 — Wolf Blitzer asks Biden if he'd ever "take military action without congressional approval." Biden doesn't answer the question, and instead goes back to the need for "small numbers of special forces," so we have leverage in negotiations.

9:25 — Buttigieg mocks Trump for "gutting" Obama's Iran deal — after his administration "certified that it was working."

9:28 — Klobuchar points out that in the first debate, when everyone was asked to name the biggest threat to the United States, she was the only one who said "Iran, because of Donald Trump." (She also said China as an economic threat.)

9:29 – Biden is asked if he'd "meet with the leader of North Korea without preconditions." What's the point of that question, when none of the candidates would possibly say they would? Biden says he won't meet with Kim Jong-Un, who called Biden "a rabid dog who should be beaten with a stick." Bernie Sanders quips: "But other than that, you like him!"

9:36 — I admit I've been zoning out on the rather dry discussion of who's for what trade deals.

9:44 — Bernie Sanders is asked about reports that he told Elizabeth Warren in 2018 that a woman couldn't win the presidential election. "Well, as a matter of fact, I didn't say it!"

9:46 — Moderator Abby Phillip, apparently not believing Sanders, asks Warren what she thought when Sanders said a woman couldn't win: "I disagreed!" She points out that the men on the stage have lost a total of 10 elections, while the women on the stage (she and Klobuchar) have never lost an election. And Warren is the only one on the stage who "beat an incumbent Republican." Wait, Bernie Sanders points out that he beat an incumbent Republican! This leads to an awkward moment when Warren asks: "When?" "1990." Warren has a lull while she seems to do some math in her head, before she points out that 1990 was 30 years ago. Then she says she's the only candidate on the stage who's beaten an incumbent Republican "in 30 years." I don't remember her saying that, so we'll have to check the video… [VIDEO.]

Me watching the debate:

9:58 — Biden scolds Sanders for proposing "doubling the entire federal budget every year." But Biden's next sentence is: "There's a way to do that…" and then he describes his plan. That makes it sound like he's saying his plan will double the federal budget!

10:04 — The moderator has a blunt question for Sanders: "How would you keep your plans from bankrupting the country?" Klobuchar joins in: "I think you should say how you're going to pay for things, Bernie!"

10:06 — Buttigieg is asked how it's "truth in advertising" to call his plan "Medicare for All Who Want It," when in fact it would force everyone who's uninsured to pay to be covered by the public option. "It's making sure there's no such thing as an uninsured American."

10:08 — Warren says the Buttigieg and Biden health plans "are an improvement, but they're a small improvement. That's why they cost so much less" than what Warren is promising. Buttigieg strongly disagrees: "It's just not true that my plan is 'small'!"

10:14 — Tom Steyer gives a shout-out to the Sanders and Warren plans, and says about health care: "This is not a complicated problem.… We're spending way too much because corporations own the system.… This is cruelty for money."

10:27 — Klobuchar says the Warren/Sanders idea of free public college for everyone "isn't thinking big enough." She lists jobs that have been underfilled, like home health aides and plumbers. Her point seems to be that Warren/Sanders are too college-focused, at the expense of pure job training.

10:49 — The moderator is asking the candidates about their potential weaknesses. Buttigieg is asked why he has "next to no" support from black voters. "The black voters who know me best are supporting me."

10:50 — Won't it hurt Sanders in the general election that he calls himself a "socialist"? Sanders says Trump is a socialist too — his socialism is about "giving hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks to the fossil fuel industry."

10:54 — Klobuchar is asked how she'll "inspire" voters with her "pragmatism." She talks about being in the Midwest, and she'd tell Trump: "You've treated these workers and farmers like poker chips.… These are my friends and neighbors."

10:56 — The moderator brings up Biden's questionable debating skills: "The debate against [Trump] will make tonight's debate look like child's play. Are you prepared for that?" Of course, Biden stumbles over his words in his answer.

11:05 — Klobuchar uses her closing statement to take an implicit shot at Sanders and Warren: "It is easy to draw lines in the sand and sketch out grand ideological plans that will never see the light of day."

11:06 — Buttigieg emphasizes that we need to not just defeat Trump, but "send Trumpism into the dustbin of history too."


I don’t like Elizabeth Warren's argument that she and Amy Klobuchar are the most electable because they’ve never lost an election.

Barack Obama lost an election. Bill Clinton lost an election. They ended up doing OK when they ran for president.

When Tim Kaine was Hillary Clinton’s running mate, he boasted that he had won every campaign in his life. Didn’t work out too well in 2016.

It might be better to have a nominee who’s experienced a crushing electoral loss, who can learn from their mistakes, who doesn’t feel invincible.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

The Charlie Hebdo mass shooting, 5 years ago

The Charlie Hebdo massacre happened 5 years ago today.

12 people were killed, and others were injured, including a journalist who was shot in the face.

In response to a New Yorker article about it, I wrote this blog post at the time: "Revering the irreverent."