10 Reasons to be Optimistic About Bernie Sanders

From The West Wing: In The Shadow of Two Gunman

“Josh: We’re not going to nominate another liberal, academic, former governor from New England. We’re dumb, but we’re not that dumb.

Leo: Nah, I think we’re exactly that dumb.”

Since this blog post is basically liberal porn, I thought that I’d start with one of the classics from Aaron Sorkin. What follows is simply a list of reasons that you can be optimistic about the Bernie Sanders campaign. I am, for the moment, ignoring the reasons to be pessimistic, and make no mistake, they are not trivial. However, the suggestion that Bernie has no chance or is an “issue” candidate is bullshit, and I’m all about dispelling bullshit.

1. Virtually any Democrat can defeat virtually any Republican in the Electoral College (The Blue Wall)

Take it away LOD:

Simply put, This isn’t the 1980’s, and I’ll be coming back to that a lot. Virtually any legitimate Democrat can defeat virtually any Republican in a general election for president with little effort, so if there was ever an opportunity for a true liberal reformer to win, this would be it. Don’t be scared Democrats. You don’t have to nominate a cynical, bible-thumping southern democrat to prove to the country that you’re not communists. Today’s United States is a country where conservatives have to prove that they’re not bigots, and so far, they are failing miserably.

2. Americans like change, and Bernie Sanders is not Barrack Obama

In the modern history of US presidential elections, Americans have had a tendency to vote for change. Presidents tend to see big losses for their party in midterm elections. More precisely, if we look at presidential elections following the retirement of a multi-term incumbent president, as we are now, we see a strong trend toward a change in party. The only exception was George HW Bush’s election following Reagan:


Excel spreadsheets! Data!

I find a similar quest for change when I look at nominees of the Democratic Party since FDR. I see an oscillation between southern and northern democrats when I account for the influence of incumbency. This bodes well for Bernie, because he embodies the successful narrative of a liberal challenge to Hillary Clinton, while having little in common with Obama personally.

The frustrations that democrats have had with the president are Bernie’s strengths: Steadfast, liberal principles, experience, and a belief in legislative leadership from the White House. Barack Obama is a young transformational figure who gives soaring speeches. His interviews are full of folksy but poetic rhetoric. His legislative agenda consists of good-faith, consensus building while leading from behind. In contrast, Bernie Sanders is an old white guy, terse and direct with a concrete legislative history and agenda. He doesn’t need to “evolve” in his beliefs to catch up with liberal Americans. For liberal democrats, even staunch Obama supporters, he can be seen as a breath of fresh air.

Bernie was not a member of the Obama administration, nor has he even been an official member of the Democratic party! He can distance himself from the president without difficulty, but in ways that don’t offend President Obama’s supporters. That is a significant superpower for a candidate.

3. Bernie will likely be the only legitimate Clinton alternative

Hillary Clinton has long been a divisive figure with high unfavorable ratings. At this time in 2007, she was seen as the clear front-runner for the nomination with a collection of “also ran’s” clipping at her heels. The fact that she lost in such a similar scenario simply shows that there is a significant part of the Democratic party that is interested in an alternative to her. During that campaign, it was young voters that turned out for Obama, and it’s eight years later. The young Obama supporters are 8 year older, with 8 years of voters that are younger still. The elderly Hillary supporters are older too. It’s difficult for me to imagine that the 2015 democratic landscape is any easier for her than in 2007. It also doesn’t seem plausible to me that her experience as Secretary of State does much to change that calculus. It wasn’t like she lost the nomination to Barack Obama because she wasn’t experienced enough.

One of the reasons that Romney won the last GOP primary is because there were so many non-Romney candidates that split the vote. Romney only won a majority of primary voters in 3 of the first 31 states. Speaking of splitting the vote, we often forget how many voters populist John Edwards took in the early 2008 primaries, averaging 17% before he withdrew, and yet the inevitable Hillary was still defeated by a divided left.

The way Bernie Sanders threads this needle is by being the only viable alternative to Hillary Clinton. Once the Elizabeth Warren people, favoring Warren’s honesty and reliability, believe her when she says that she is absolutely not running, Bernie is the obvious fall back. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren line up perfectly. If Bernie maintains viability, an endorsement from Elizabeth Warren could be all it takes to make this a close race.

Simply staying this course into the fall will improve Bernie Sanders’ favorables and name recognition. History shows us that campaign exposure only hurts Hillary Clinton. On the other hand, time will legitimize Sanders, the most important quality he needs to win the nomination, and we have a whole lot of time.

4. The thrilling GOP primary will motivate liberals and draw moderates away from Clinton

Holy shit the GOP nomination is going to be fun. Before this year, I couldn’t have imagined a campaign with all the entertainment of Republicans smacking each other around coupled with so much legitimate debate from serious candidates.

The GOP may have an incredibly difficult road in the general election, but their primary is riveting. Cable news might not have enough time in the day to cover it. The wall-to-wall coverage of these reactionary dipshits will motivate true liberals, which can only help Sanders. Conservative and moderate democrats will prefer to vote in the Republican primary, which will only hurt Clinton. To the extent that Sanders fails to prove a threat to Clinton in the polls, moderate democrats will be more and more interested in voting in the Republican primary so that their vote isn’t wasted on a Clinton coronation. On the other hand, Bernie’s voters won’t be going anywhere.

5. Americans don’t like dynasties, and Jeb Bush makes Clinton supporters even more uncomfortable

The better Jeb Bush does, the better Bernie Sanders will do. I think that the idea of a Hillary Clinton v. Jeb Bush election makes most Americans nauseated, even their respective supporters. I wouldn’t call Jeb Bush a front-runner, but he is a serious candidate with lots of money, so he won’t go away. A majority of Democrats may be willing to fall in line with Clinton if they have to, but the more they hear from Jeb Bush, the more they will be looking for a Clinton alternative to settle their stomach. Americans aren’t supposed to like royalty. I love it when Bernie says that Americans are tired of mainstream politics. It’s a great way to attack Clinton and emphasize the Clinton v. Bush dynasty without running a negative campaign.

6. Are Democrats really swayed by TV ads the way they used to?

The electorate, especially liberal democrats, is watching TV less and less. The internet is virtually free, and it’s ruled by secular liberals, Bernie’s people. Hillary Clinton wants to raise 2 Billion dollars… for what? The vast majority is spent on media, which young liberal democrats barely see. The rest is administrative costs and research. Sanders can get plenty of mileage out of free media until legitimacy and a good showing in Iowa and New Hampshire can catch him up.

7. Unions: The classic sugar daddy for Democrats is bound to love Bernie Sanders

Hillary is far and away the big money democrat in the race, but this, her greatest strength, is also her biggest weakness in my opinion. She literally embodies the wealth inequality that will be central to this election. However, I don’t think Bernie will be as poor as first thought.

The democratic “equivalent” of the corporate bankroll of republicans is labor unions, which have heavily funded Hillary Clinton and other democrats in the past. They don’t need more of a reason to do so than she is a democrat who can win. However, Bernie Sanders is an extreme union supporter, and the more he is considered a serious candidate, (he already is) the more he will draw money from union members. It’s in the best interests of union members to have his message be heard.

As debates about the TPP and TPA have raged, party lines have gotten awful confusing. However, there is one category of support that is anti-TPP across the board: unions. There is only one candidate who is passionately anti-TPP: Bernie Sanders. Sanders is going to get more money from labor than a lot of people think. The New England socialist bureaucrat can legitimately be the candidate of the working man.

8. Real data: Polls and campaign energy

Ignore all the national polls. We know that voters in Iowa and New Hampshire give zero fucks about them. Hillary Clinton has all the name recognition, and Bernie Sanders is the new kid on the block, so most of the polling rests on this difference. All an underdog candidate needs to establish legitimacy is a strong showing in Iowa and/or New Hampshire. (See Bill Clinton, John Kerry, and John McCain)

Despite the gulf in recognition, in only a few weeks of the young campaign, Bernie is pulling neck and neck with Hillary in New Hampshire. This is the New Hampshire where Clinton won in 2008. This isn’t merely due to Bernie’s increased name recognition in the northeast because his rise is very recent. Even if it was, is it so bad that the people who know him, like him? New Hampshire is hardly a liberal state.

Though lower than in NH, Bernie’s numbers are climbing steadily in Iowa and South Carolina as well, though polling is pretty old, and we’re just getting started. I predict that Sanders will lead Clinton in New Hampshire polls before the first debate. That’s when shit will get real. He has a good chance to win New Hampshire outright.

No one is even touching Sanders in the turnout and energy department. He drew over 5,000 people in Denver with only last-minute notice on social media. He’s pulling these sorts of insane crowds with routine, while every other candidate’s crowds look pathetic. Meanwhile, Rick Santorum is having lunch by himself.

9. Throw away the 1980’s and 1990’s playbook. It’s not your mom’s Democratic party.

During the heart of the cold war, tumultuous domestic politics, and cultural revolution, conservatives have enjoyed great success since the mid 20th century. Nixon, Reagan, and the Bush’s creamed democrats in national politics. The democrats responded by shelving their northern liberalism for southern moderation. The strategy proved to be a good one for the time as Carter and Bill Clinton won close elections while Mondale, McGovern, Dukakis, and Kerry were thoroughly beat, hence the West Wing quote I started with.

Guess what? No one is afraid of communism anymore. Reagan Democrats are now enjoying the Social Security and Medicare they once tried to destroy. The religious right is waning and secular liberalism is growing fast. Marriage equality and Obamacare are now the law of the land and aren’t going anywhere. The Democratic Party and the country as a whole is significantly more liberal than even in 2008. You’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating: C’mon Democrats, grow a pair. It’s ok to be liberal. We are the liberal party, not the moderate Republican Party.

10. Bernie was Bernie before it was cool to be Bernie

Clinton can “evolve” toward the liberalism that today’s Democrats embrace, but she can’t erase history. She voted for the Iraq war and the Patriot act. She used to oppose marriage equality. She fought hard for NAFTA. She opposes single-payer health care. She’s taking huge, corporate, dirty money and playing the super PAC game.

The Clinton war room of the 90’s may have been able to spin their way out of a pickle jar, but Millennials aren’t that gullible. When she took those conservative positions, she didn’t do it in private. She’s on video. On the other hand, a younger Bernie Sanders can be seen furiously fighting a lost cause for what is now mainstream public opinion. Barack Obama probably won his primary almost entirely on his early opposition to the Iraq War, based on a speech he gave as a state senator. There wasn’t even video of that speech! Next to the shady, flip-flopping, conservative, cynical Clinton, we know who Bernie is because he did what was right before it was remotely popular. He is as forthright today as he ever was.

To quote more West Wing…

“I’m tired of it: year after year after year having to choose between the lesser of Who cares. Of trying to get myself excited about a candidate who can speak in complete sentences. Of setting the bar so low, I can hardly bear to look at it. They say a good man can’t get elected President. I don’t believe that. Do you?”

Feel the BernI have no idea how this shakes out. Is Bernie Sanders simply Howard Dean 2.0, bound for demise? I don’t know, but I think he’s smarter and more capable than Howard Dean. I think that the country is ready for a true liberal now more than anytime since FDR. I wish there were more true liberals running in the democratic primary rather than putting all our eggs into one basket, but then again, how appropriate for a democratic socialist?


7 Immediate Solutions to South Carolina’s Confederate Flag Problem

In 1961, to mark the centennial of the Confederacy and oppose the Civil Rights Movement, the South Carolina Legislature passed a law requiring that the Confederate flag be flown atop the SC capitol building. In 2000, this was amended to move the flag to a flagpole in front of the capitol. The law states that a 2/3 majority vote of the legislature is required to change that statute, and includes the following stipulations:

“This flag must be flown on a flagpole located at a point on the south side of the Confederate Soldier Monument, centered on the monument, ten feet from the base of the monument at a height of thirty feet. The flagpole on which the flag is flown and the area adjacent to the monument and flagpole must be illuminated at night and an appropriate decorative iron fence must be erected around the flagpole”

“[The confederate flag] is square measuring fifty-two inches on each side”

“[Government officials] shall replace the flags at appropriate intervals as may be necessary due to wear.”

“The provisions of this section may only be amended or repealed upon passage of an act which has received a two-thirds vote on the third reading of the bill in each branch of the General Assembly.”

There is some confusion as to whether a simple majority vote or 2/3 majority is required to repeal this law. However, even a majority of legislators has historically been tough to come given that a majority of South Carolina voters supporting the flying of the flag. Now that governor Nikki Haley has called for removing the flag, I would like to see her take immediate action.

Anytime you try to control speech or expression, either to prevent or require specific speech, you dive head first into absurdity. The law is full of loopholes, and our hands are anything but tied. Governor Nikki Haley has plenty of options. Here are a few of my proposals:

1. Add more flags


Ah, the power of dilution. There’s no doubt that the Confederate flag is a big part of the state’s heritage. So is the Union Jack, revolutionary war flags, and various other symbols. Perhaps there are some flags that represent abolitionism or civil rights that could be included, but I don’t know of any.

When Christians try to display religious symbols on public grounds, the common solution is to allow all religions to post displays. This inevitably leads to an absurd collection of displays, and finally, the appropriate exclusion of all religious displays. Perhaps there is a lesson here that we can apply to the confederate flag.

2. Tiny flag


The flag must be “fifty-two inches on each side, inclusive of the white border, with a St. Andrews Cross of blue…”. It is perfectly within the bounds of the law to simply make the border very, very wide.

3. Block the flag with something better


The law does not require that the flag be unobstructed, and there are a variety of creative ways to obstruct this symbol of destruction. I would recommend an elegant sculpture, perhaps made of a spiral of sheet metal that spirals around the flag pole. On the surface of this sculpture could be inked images of South Carolina’s history, great leaders, especially those who campaigned to abolish slavery and fight for civil rights. Let’s literally cover the flag with symbols of love, equality, and justice.

4. Improve access to the public rag


It has to be flown high on a flagpole, but no law can force us to respect it. The governor could assist us in taking out our frustration by building a safe ladder or set of stairs by which the public can approach the flag. It will make for a nice rag with which we can wipe our boots off.

5. Just take it down


Nikki Haley could simply ignore the law. Executives often take this authority as a retroactive veto. She could redirect or eliminate funding for maintaining the flag, and remove it for being too ratty. She could take advantage of the “reasonable” and “appropriate” language in the law to argue that the current climate of hate and racial prejudice makes the flying of the flag no longer sensible.
She could also simply defy the law. Pro-life legislators have certainly had no problem flagrantly defying Roe v. Wade. She might be impeached. So what? Even if she is impeached and convicted for doing the right thing, she will hardly be leaving office in disgrace. Doesn’t South Carolina honor its history of rebellion?

6. Desecrate it (fire, paint, bullets)


Sure, the flag has to fly there, but all we need the governor to do is loosen the security around the flag pole. I’m sure plenty of South Carolina’s citizens will dispose of it where it stands. They could even destroy the flag in a way that honors their southern pride. What could be more South Carolina than shredding it with assault weapons?

7. Make it artsy


While we are honoring southern history, let’s widen the display’s scope and make it look a little more artistic. For example, we could make the flagpole a lynching tree. We can honor the tradition of lynching black people while honoring those confederate soldiers who gave their lives to preserve the right to control and take the lives of others. The flag could even be hoisted by leather whips and hung from shackles. So many possibilities…

Tasteful? Of course not, but no less tasteful than the flag itself. The flag needs to be taken down. It is a symbol of treason, racism, and slavery. “Southern pride” is used as a code for racism as much as “modesty” is a euphemism for slut shaming. If you found anything I wrote here more offensive than the legally required, prominent flying of the confederate flag, displayed a stone’s throw from the body of State Senator Pinckney, his family and mourners, then fuck you.

I want to also point out that everyone arguing that the flag should be taken down because it is “offensive” is misguided. We don’t have the right to not to be offended. Lots of people are offended by guns, and many more are offended by Congress. The flag needs to be taken down because it is a symbol in clear contradiction of what the state is supposed to be providing its citizens. The government of South Carolina is subject to federal authority and is required to protect civil rights, two principles which the confederate flag explicitly contradict. It is a symbol of hate to the rest of the world, so familiar, that it is synonymous with the nazi swastika among neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Let’s not quibble about legislative procedure. Take that shit down.

Politics, Research

Good Hair and the Presidency

Bernie Sanders has nutty hair. It has long been receding, but the wispy white hair he has left is even more unrestrained than his politics. It leaves one to wonder, how important is good hair to being elected president? I’m sitting in my lab with a depressing lack of promising biochemical data, so I figured I’d tackle this question first, while I wait to take my next timepoint. Therefore, I present my first original Reason Bound research: How important is good hair to being elected president of the United States?


I wanted to focus on only presidential candidates from the two major parties during the era of TV, so I went no further back than the election of 1960, the year of the first televised presidential debate. That gives us a sample size of 14 elections and 20 candidates. I calculated the ages of each candidate at the time of the election simply based on year of birth, so the age may be off by up to a year.

I subjectively rated candidates’ hair based on the first page of google images returned by “(Candidate’s name) + (year of election)”. I ignored pictures that were especially unflattering or satirical. The rating was made on a 5-point scale, “5” being the best, “1” being the worst. “3” is considered to be neutral, neither hurting nor harming a candidate. I tried to take popular hair styles of the time into consideration. For example, Jimmy Carter and Michael Dukakis have rather big, corny hair for modern times, but they were fashionable at the time. I remember an episode of SNL from 1976 that characterized Carter as having good hair. I also considered the relative quality of a candidates hair compared to their opponent. For example, Carter’s hair changed little from 1976 to 1980, but running against Ford make him look much better than running against Reagan. I did not consider general physical appearance, just hair in both quantity and quality.


Year Winner Winner’s Age Winner’s Hair Loser Loser’s Age Loser’s Hair
2012 Obama 51 3 Romney 65 5
2008 Obama 47 3 McCain 72 1
2004 Bush 58 3 Kerry 61 5
2000 Bush 54 3 Gore 52 4
1996 Clinton 50 4 Dole 73 2
1992 Clinton 46 4 Bush 68 2
1988 Bush 64 3 Dukakis 55 5
1984 Reagan 73 5 Mondale 56 4
1980 Reagan 69 5 Carter 56 4
1976 Carter 52 5 Ford 63 2
1972 Nixon 59 3 McGovern 50 3
1968 Nixon 55 3 Humphrey 57 2
1964 LBJ 56 2 Goldwater 55 3
1960 Kennedy 43 5 Nixon 47 4

The first thing I noticed is that the losers had a much more diverse range of hair quality. Losers ranged from excellent to poor, while the winners tended to be more middle of the road. Winners and losers had a standard deviation of 1.01 and 1.33 respectively.

If we look simply at the average hair rating of winners v. losers, there appears to be the slightest of correlations in favor of good hair. Error bars reflect standard errors. This slight edge is maintained if I control for incumbency by removing incumbent presidents or men who had previously run for president.

Hair Chart

If we look at hair differential, we see a similar, though insignificant, edge to good hair. The guy with better hair won 8 times and lost 6 times. Whether or not the guy with better hair won also appears to be random. There doesn’t appear to be a time when hair was more important than others.

Hair Diff

Of course, hair quality is influenced strongly by age, but is a difficult factor to control for. When plotted against each other, (below) You see what you might expect in the general population. Older men tend to lose hair and style, with the exception of a lucky minority that keep great hair into their 80’s.

Hair Age

If we look at age as a simple predictor of success, we find a much stronger correlation than hair.

Age Chart


Is good hair an advantage in presidential campaigns? Maybe a little. It can’t hurt. However, being younger than your opponent is a much bigger advantage. Good hair may simply be one way of judging age, or it may simply correlate with voters’ independent judgment of age.

Of course, the sample size is much too small, and the external factors much too large and consequential to draw conclusions from any analysis like this. Even more importantly, they are based on one asshole’s subjective opinion of hair quality.

As a Bernie Sanders fan, I find these data a bit disappointing. Bernie is fighting against the grain, both in terms of hair and age. Bernie is 73, and I would have rated his hair a 1. It doesn’t help that Hillary Clinton and virtually all of the many GOP candidates have pretty good hair.

Future Directions

I would like to perform a similar analysis for primary campaigns and collect a larger data set of hair ratings from voters. However, you’ll have to pay me to do that crap. Back to chemistry!