Politics, Uncategorized

Country Over Party?

It was perfectly reasonable, though disappointing, for pro-life, pro-corporate, anti-tax Republicans to support Trump as their nominee, despite recognizing all of the obvious and disturbing aspects of his character. There was no shortage of rational, non-bigoted Republicans who knowingly voted for a racist, stupid, misogynist who was wildly unfit and unprepared to become the most powerful person in the world, voting merely so that they could get the judges and tax rates that they wanted. It is the inevitable byproduct of the two-party system, choosing between the lesser of two evils. The American left would have probably done the same had the shoe been on the other foot.

Now, Donald Trump is president, and the West Wing is crawling with reactionary Republicans. Neil Gorsuch will reign supreme, and Paul Ryan will have at least two years to pass sweeping, conservative legislation. Nothing will change without action from Congressional Republicans. However, even the most reasonable, responsible congressional Republicans still refuse to push back against Donald Trump with respect to Russia, corruption, and civil rights. The left is correct to accuse GOP leaders of putting party before country. That is a refrain worth amplifying.

However, before the left turns the smug disdain up to 11, let’s test this accusation of ‘party before country’ for validity and hypocrisy…

If, for the sake of argument, all Republicans care about is abortion and tax policy, it’s in their best interest to stand by President Trump. They need the Republican White House to be politically strong for the sake of passing legislation and re-electing a Republican president. That’s what we mean by putting party before country. Single-issue voting may be effective, but it produces an immoral disregard for the complexity of federal policy and the number of issues that are critical to consider when stepping into the ballot box. Don’t be a single issue voter. Don’t do it.

Let’s consider hypocrisy. Would Democrats be willing to put country before party? Fortunately, we weren’t forced to vote for a Trump-of-the-left, but liberals will have the opportunity to show their true colors very soon. If Donald Trump truly represents an existential threat to the country, and if Donald Trump must be defeated for re-election at all costs, who should the Democratic Party nominate for president in 2020?

The Democrats may be able to defeat Donald Trump with a liberal like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. They may be able to elect an establishment pick like Tim Kaine or Corey Booker. However, there is risk in that kind of choice. Such a general election will be another polarized slug fest, pitting left v. right over a few million votes, an election that could turn on a dime and risks a full four more years of Donald Trump with his finger on the armageddon button.

The Democratic Party can make a patriotic choice to ensure victory in 2020, but it requires putting their money where there mouth on Donald Trump and putting country before party.

They could nominate a moderate Republican. It’s not a comfortable thought, but it would transcend the ideological divide to produce an election about character, fitness for office, and experience. After all, the presidency isn’t supposed to be ideological.

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Jon Huntsman, the only guy to look more presidential than Mitt

Jon Huntsman, who has advocated for a third-party since his presidential run in 2012 would be an ideal choice for me in this scenario. John Kasich, who was supposedly every Democrat’s favorite Republican in the 2016 primary, has to be on this list. However, his views about religion make him a nonstarter for me. Bill Weld is a highly qualified, former VP nominee of the 2016 Libertarian ticket and flirted with endorsing Hillary Clinton in 2016. Democrats could have a look at famous swing votes Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski from the Senate. Jim (RamboWebb is practically a Republican who probably voted for TrumpBob Dold is a youngish, socially liberalish, pro-choiceish Republican Congressman from Illinois who has been trading his job with Democrat Brad Schneider every 2 years. Colin Powell is too old, but perhaps a non-partisan administration official can come forward.

Would this work? Probably not. It would almost certainly elicit a third party left-wing revolt. However, consider that every problem with this scenario also applies to Republicans choosing to defy President Trump. How does the left’s characterization of Trump have any credibility while nominating someone from the left who forces rational, non-bigoted Republicans into the same choice they had to make in 2016?

Before you accuse Republicans of putting party before country, question if you would do the same. Put yourself in their shoes.

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Politics

Paul Ryan is Actually Right About Planned Parenthood

I’d hate to say it, but Paul Ryan was right about Planned Parenthood in his recent CNN town hall. Funding PP does ‘effectively’ fund abortions with taxpayer money. All the meticulous accounting that PP is committed to can’t prevent non-abortion revenue (mostly from medicaid) from paying for staff, PR, utilities, and infrastructure. However, Ryan has a tough road ahead of him to clean up the confusion.
 
Speaking of roads, the federal government funds the transportation that gets people to abortion clinics. Taxpayers fund the abstinence only education which has demonstrably lead to more abortions. Taxpayers fund elections that occasionally elect people who fight to keep abortion legal and accessible. The federal government even pays millions of federal employees, some of which occasionally purchase abortion services! Clearly Ryan has a lot to clear out of the federal budget.
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Politics, Uncategorized

The Second Ammendment

Second Amendment advocates, once you get past the pseudoscience and cavalier bullshit, generally fall back on gun rights as freedom insurance. This is the idea that the Second Amendment is more important than any other because it ensures that the government can’t infringe upon our other constitutional rights. Our founding fathers had just fought a bloody revolution and they expected the government to be held in check by the threat of another one. Jefferson said, “God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion.”

This was a time where arms that were available to the public were exactly the same as the arms available to the military. Hell, the armed public outnumbered the military. There was no standing army. There were no police, swat, or private security to ensure law and order. The occasional accidental, criminal, or psychopathic killer armed with a musket was the small price of early law and democracy enforcement just like quarantine was the price of containment in the age before antibiotics.

The idea that the federal government of today can be bested by the American people, even at their most well-armed, (which is now) is folly. Arming the population to make sure that the government is held in check is like giving a 5 year old a firecracker in case the lock on their door is broken. The firecracker would never do the job, which is accomplished in far better ways, and the 5 year old is very likely to get hurt holding onto it in the meantime.

As for personal safety, we have a well-armed, well-trained, and only-there-when-needed police force. As has been well documented, the risks of owning a gun far outweigh the safety of keeping one. So the vast majority of people who do so are just being stupid. There may be very rare circumstances under which owning a gun makes sense, but these aren’t the least bit hindered by even the most liberal gun regulations: registries, waiting periods, background checks, locks and safety requirements, smart gun technology, and targeted bans on assault weapons and handguns. Unfortunately, there’s no way to get rid of America’s guns. There are just too many, so America couldn’t possibly dig it’s way out of that hole for a century.

However, the most insidious part of the gun debate is this anti-government idea about revolution. We VOTE in this country when we want to oust our leaders. The Second Amendment isn’t a sacred text. It is just as vulnerable to republican repeal as any other law. If the government moved to repeal the second amendment without popular support, we don’t need guns to solve that problem. We simply elect new people.

If the government were to somehow, undemocratically and out of nowhere, repeal the right to vote, a criminal revolution would be required. In that case, the second amendment would be as defunct as airplane seat belts after the plane has already crashed. It’s not like the populace needs to maintain a massive arsenal (as if it was possible, relative to the military) in this age where millions of guns could be manufactured, or even 3D printed, in a short period of time. If such a violent revolution were remotely likely, it would require the backing of much of the military, rendering individual gun rights moot. In that wild scenario, it would look sort of like a well-regulated militia. Hey, that’s a cool phrase…

This talk of revolution, accompanied by tools of mass-murder, inflames the already hyperbolic sentiments of tribalism and xenophobia that correlate with a diminishing number of increasingly frustrated gun owners. In this age where technology has put the power of mass destruction into the hands of individuals like never before, Americans have to stop fetishizing 18th century standards. You have the right to be stupid. You do not have the right to threaten me and my family or even to “protect” me against my will.

Repeal the Second Amendment. It’s as dumbass and arcane a law for the modern age as homeopathy is in the age of vaccines or logic.

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Politics, Uncategorized

Living History: “We Beat Trump!”

No one knows how Donald Trump will be remembered decades from now, but what is clear is that he will be remembered. When Donald Trump plans a rally in my backyard at UIC, I have to witness history for myself.

I had friends who only attended the protests outside, but I wanted to see the event and the man himself. More importantly, I wanted to see his supporters and eavesdrop on their conversations. The plan was to stay quiet and blend in, at least until Trump started speaking. I didn’t plan on raising a ruckus, but I hadn’t ruled it out.

Who Goes To These Things?

My wife, Jenn, and I showed up very early, parked, and got in line. On occasion, silent protestors walked past the line holding anti-Trump signs. I did my best to subtly wink at them. It didn’t work as they had learned to avoid eye contact. A few people in line made little, derisive but light-hearted comments at them, but it was a beautiful day, and the Trump supporters we saw weren’t very worked up. They seemed to feel invincible, and thought the protestors were adorable.

Behind us was a group of wealthier, suburban women. Ahead of us was a group of 4-6, very bro-y men in their 30’s or 40’s. Their behavior and comments made me nervous. They hit on a couple of the younger protestors nearby, and laughed very loudly and derisively when they saw a “Bernie 2016” sign. They were trying to take pictures of some of the women who were protesting, and it was just a little creepy. They jeered at a protestor walking by, “Awwwee raciiiismmm, waah waah waah!”

There was plenty of security, and they looked stressed out. Most were apparently outside contractors. Protestors were behind barricades, far on the other side of the street, and we could only hear snippets of things from a megaphone. The entrance was run by police and TSA agents. (Yes, TSA agents. No idea why) There wasn’t much of a police presence in the venue. I had heard stories of screening for Trump supporters, and Jenn and I had our pro-Trump characters at the ready, but there was no such screening. We also got a sign…

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We sat a few rows back from the floor on the lower deck. To our left was a guy who looked like a heavier Ted Cruz. He was wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat and eating wings. That image brought me intense joy. Fortunately, Jenn caught him in a selfie:

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Both these guys are just art

The people sitting behind us were the most fabulous characters. There was a guy directly behind me holding court with his friends, and he was exactly what you would expect from an avid Trump supporter. Here were some quotes from him and his friends:

“There’s a bunch of orientals here”

“Look, there’s women here. I thought Trump was sexist? Baahahah!”

“It’s really cool to see a diverse crowd, like all the oriental people”

“There’s more people on welfare in Illinois than have jobs”

“You know, people on welfare get over $40,000 in benefits”

“This is going to be civil war, because shit’s getting out of hand. The plan is for me, my two ex-wives, and two ex-mother’s in laws to come to my house, but if they’re going to live under my roof and eat my food and water, they’re going to learn how to defend it. I’ve got a bunch of guns, because the people I have to protect don’t have guns. I’ve got two AR-14’s, a bunch of shotguns, and 9 handguns. I’m in Naperville, but it’s the city that’ll be hell which is why the police all learn urban warfare…”

“All those protestors should just get a job.”

“I heard a joke that Monica sucks better than Hillary because Hillary doesn’t suck at all. It’s been confirmed that Hillary is into girls anyway.”

“Look at all the orientals!”

There was a hispanic family that made matching shirts. The mom’s said “women for Trump”. The dad’s said “All lives matter”. A couple young women wore “Make Donald Drumpf again” shirts. There were a significant number of more racially diverse people who were clearly there to observe. They weren’t Trump supporters, but they weren’t causing problems. My guess is that it was probably 50/50 between supporters and non-supporters. I saw several women wearing hijabs, and I did not see them harassed.

Trump was supposed to speak at 6pm. At 5:30, the 10,000 seat venue was about 2/3 full, and every 5min or so, a protestor was ushered out to loud chants of “USA! USA!”. I thought that these protestors were foolish not to wait for Trump to arrive to start protesting. Later, a few BLM protestors began chanting in the back, but refused to leave when security came. It was then that I noticed that two whole sections in the back were packed with students. They chanted as one, “LET HIM STAY! LET HIM STAY!” on behalf of the BLM protestor. A few Trump supporters started shouting back, and ~20 police officers filtered in. When a cop confronted a shouty Trump supporter, it was amazing to see the student section’s chant turn on a dime to “KICK HIM OUT! KICK HIM OUT!”. So much for principles. Jenn caught video of these early scenes. The cheering is from Trump supporters.

A voice over the PA made a statement about how to deal with protestors. Paraphrased, he said, “Donald Trump is a strong supporter of freedom of speech, but this is a private event. Some people have abused Mr. Trump’s hospitality and attempted to use his rallies to promote their own agenda. If you notice a protestor nearby, raise your sign high in the air to notify police of the protestor’s location and chant “Trump! Trump! Trump!” until the protestor is removed”

Until about 6:30pm, there were periodic group chants by small bunches of students and distant shouting between Trump supporters and protestors. It took a while for police to kick out everyone they wanted, but it didn’t seem to make a dent in the population of anti-Trump students. All in all, there were several significant, but isolated incidents.

Shit Gets Cray

At ~6:40pm, there was a significant lull in the energy of the room. Trump was very late. Protests had stopped. An unknown man came to the microphone. Here is the announcement, and a bunch of shots of the ensuing chaos.

As soon as he said the word “postponed”, the place. went. nuts. The students erupted. Fists shot into the air from every section. My jaw dropped. People jumped the railing and streamed onto the open floor where people were running around screaming and celebrating.

The reaction of most Trump supporters was to stand in shock, and rather quietly, turn to leave. The invincibility that Trump supporters had previously conveyed was shattered. It looked and felt like pure victory for the protestors and pure defeat for Trump and his supporters. The cheering coming from previously silent people all around the venue was a shock to the Trumpeters. My neighbors looked aghast and stared when Jenn and I, who had previously been silent, started cheering with them.

I had been texting the whole evening with a friend who was protesting outside. According to her, the protestors had advanced on the streets, blocking intersections. When I told her that the event had been cancelled, she was shocked. It became apparent later that this news took a long time to reach the protestors outside.

Inside the venue, the next hour was filled with joy and a sense of witnessing important history. The entire venue was switching between the following chants:

“WE BEAT TRUMP!”, “BERNIE! BERNIE!”, “STOP THE HATE!”, “FEEL THE BERN!”, and “SI, SE PUEDE!”

It was abundantly clear from the crowd, the signs, and the homogeneous chants, that there was perfect overlap with the anti-Trump and pro-Bernie crowd. I can’t stress enough that this was almost as much of a pro-Bernie protest as an anti-Trump one. The pro-Bernie sentiment added an extra bit of joy to the protests. This also was not an isolated celebration. The venue was packed with raucous, anti-Trump people long after the announcement. Here’s a collection of videos that we captured that includes some of the chants, my one encounter with a couple Trump supporters itching for a fight, and a shot of the protestors outside:

Jenn and I wandered over closer to the student section, hanging out at the rail. We could see ~10ft in front of us on the floor, where there were serious confrontations between protestors and Trump supporters, but I saw no actual violence. It was mostly people walking with signs and shouting at the crowd or at each other. Many of the protestors linked arms in long chains so that they couldn’t be kicked out. None of the protestors were leaving, and it didn’t take long for us to be >80% of the crowd.

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We were even on TV!

The young guy next to me was wearing a white, pro-Trump shirt. He was very mild mannered and asked me if I knew when the rally would be rescheduled. I said that I doubted it would, and he was disappointed. I agreed that I had wanted to hear from Trump. He told me that he hadn’t decided if he would support Hillary or Trump, and you can imagine my surprise. We spoke for a few minutes about Bernie, and he wasn’t interested in a “socialist” or any of my explanations. (Meanwhile, joy and chaos surrounded us) When it came to the violence that Trump advocated, he said, “maybe that’s what we need”. “Violence?”, I said. He agreed. I said, “Then I will be standing opposed to you.” No, it wasn’t witty. I just was simply done with that conversation.

I stood watching and chanting along with the crowd, joyous tears welling in my eyes. When a man came on the PA asking us to disperse, Jenn and I did. I wanted to see the protests outside.

As we left, the crowd was extremely dense, and felt a lot like leaving a ballpark after the home team had beaten a rival. The differences were that no alcohol was involved, tempers were much more intense, and the losers were not really shouting back because the numbers were so against them.

The protest outside was unusual because you had anti-Trump supporters behind barricades, instinctively castigating people that left the venue. (almost all anti-Trump as well) On the street were many mounted police and many more on foot, separating two raucus crowds behind barricades… that, ironically, were protesting the same thing. It turns out to be very difficult to communicate with protestors 30 feet away from you that you agree with them.

We found a few trashed boxes of mass-arrest forms and zip-ties, so I got myself a souvenir…

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The parking garage was completely blocked by protestors, so we spent an hour walking around the protest on both sides of the street. They appeared to be almost entirely UIC students. The feeling was of immense joy at the victory, pro-Bernie fervor, and the occasional person arguing with police. I also witnessed a few people thanking officers for what they did. From what I saw, police seemed to handle the situation admirably.

Reflections, what does it all mean…

Sure, it’s momentous. Sure, it’s historic and may be a turning point in this historic election. However, it’s not necessarily a clear, ethical win.

The spin from Trump is that the protestors suppressed his freedom of speech. Maybe. There is certainly a troubling culture of threatening and stifling speech on college campuses. We need to do away with the dogma that college is inherently a “home” or “safe space” where students should be free from disturbing ideas. Students have the right to protest, to speak out, but it is against our values of freedom of expression to shut down or even shout down a guest speaker.

On the other hand, Trump wasn’t really a guest speaker. He wasn’t giving a lecture on a controversial set of ideas. It was explicitly a political rally, a venue for emotion, encouragement, and the voicing of passions. Passions were voiced, but they weren’t the one’s that Trump wanted to win the day. A principled leader would have showed up and dared to confront a hostile crowd with speech, as he was free to do.

On the other hand, it depends on the nature and goals of the protests outside. If the sheer numbers and intensity were what kept Trump away, then he simply, cowardly bowed to pressure. If the protestors were literally blocking access to the venue, or made explicit threats to him if he came, then the protestors have clearly infringed upon his freedom of expression. I hope that’s not the case, and that this isn’t another triumph of the illiberal left to stifle speech.

On the other hand, a little common sense is due, as Donald Trump is not wanting for attention. This is a win for nonviolence. This is a win for love over hate. This is a loss for Donald Trump. He looked weak, which is why he lied and said that the Chicago Police told him that the venue wasn’t safe. The Chicago Police quickly released that they were not consulted, and thought that the situation was under control, good to go.

This is a win for Bernie Sanders. This is what a political revolution looks like. It starts with young people, at colleges like UIC, standing up for what they believe in. Protests can work, and they can drive change. It’s up to the rest of us to decide if we keep it moving.

Oh yea, VOTE! ELECTION DAY in ILLINOIS is TUESDAY, MARCH 15! VOTE early, VOTE often! FUCKING VOTE!!!

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Politics, Uncategorized

The Speech That Made Barack Obama President

I’ll never forget this moment. I was 17, and watched the speech on our basement TV because my dad was gone at a conference, and my sister was watching some other TV show upstairs. I was pretty psyched that someone from Illinois was giving the keynote, sitting on the floor because there was no couch in my dad’s basement office. I hadn’t followed the 2004 IL senate primary very closely until now, so this was the first I would hear from Barack Obama.

The 2004 primary had been pretty lame. An insurgent Howard Dean campaign excited the liberal base, but showed itself to be too immature to go the distance. After last nominating the soporific Al Gore four years prior, the party stayed sedate with John Kerry, a taller, war-hero version of Michael Dukakis, but ultimately no more politically talented. Democrats seemed to think that the old formula would work ok with just a few tweaks and a few more checked boxes.

In 2004, punditry and cable news were the dominant force and the internet was a fringe novelty. We were several years from facebook and smartphones. Media was becoming more partisan. The country was engaged in two of the longest wars of its history, incompetently waged under false pretenses. Eight years of Bush were marked, above all, by incompetency. Obama didn’t have a magic message that solved those problems; he simply refocussed our attention on the real point. The parallels to the Gettysburg Address are obvious to me, but probably too heretical to detail without greater historical distance. We have a habit of underestimating the relative importance of recent history while overselling the potential significance of our next achievement, but I digress…

Obama spoke about the reality of American life that had nothing to do with party identity. As he belittled the color-coding of states, punditry, and tired wedge issues without a trace of the smugness or elitism that hampered old liberals, my mouth dropped farther and farther at how perfectly he captured the political moment. In a desperate atmosphere, he showed us the triumph of what we already had. After that speech, I was convinced that he could be our next president. I rushed upstairs and told my mom, and she smirked at me. “That’s not how it works”, she told me. I might as well have said that Jon Stewart would be the next president.

Twelve years later, I believe we are setup for another such moment, perhaps even greater. Given the current partisan divide, someone who can articulate a bigger picture and a new national ambition could cut through. We are forced by events to be narrowly focused on process, on overcoming routine budget disasters threatened by an increasingly radical and obstructionist right wing. We live in a world where nativist bigot Donald Trump and “socialist” Bernie Sanders are serious contenders for their respective nominations, and there is significant overlap in their electorates. “Conventional wisdom” has become a joke about what probably won’t happen. We are gripped by fear of foreign violence with no rational basis, as if ISIS had the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal at its disposal. We are steeped in potential for a new leap forward in leadership. The key to the perfect voice for this political moment is not one we can predict, but we know it when we hear it.

That summer in 2004, I started as an intern at my local Democratic headquarters. I worked 30-40hrs per week organizing and campaigning for candidates I wasn’t old enough to vote for. George W. Bush taught me the consequences of politics, but I think it was Barack Obama who changed politics from a sport that I had long followed into a sport that I could play.

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Politics, Uncategorized

538 White Liberals

When political reporters and bloggers talk about a pending election, we can usually expect little more than a recitation of the latest poll. The great ones might throw in a margin of error.

Since 2008, Nate Silver brought a whole new brand of analysis using reason and actual statistical analysis. He didn’t make predictions; he calculated probabilities. In 2012, while many pundits were wildly wrong, Nate accurately predicted the outcome of all but one election, suggesting that his probability forecasts might have even been too conservative.

I’ve been disappointed by FiveThirtyEight’s 2016 coverage and change in vision for a number of reasons, but I’ll focus on one here. Many of their posts have argued that Bernie Sanders has a big (yoooge) demographic advantage in Iowa and New Hampshire, since those two states have some of the highest percentages of self-described “white liberals”. Though consistently trending up, Bernie Sanders is still trailing Hillary Clinton nationally and in states following Iowa and New Hampshire. FiveThirtyEight argues that demographics are to blame. They bring it up again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again… ok, you get the point. FiveThirtyEight can’t get enough of the “white liberals” argument. Here are 2016 polling aggregates from RCP in Iowa, New Hampshire, and nationally:

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Iowa, 2016

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New Hampshire, 2016

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National, 2016

The problem is that Bernie’s higher poll numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire could be due to demographics, or more likely, are simply due to Iowa and New Hampshire being first, more engaged, and therefore most likely to show interest in a truly insurgent campaign. The rest of the country is obviously going to be slower to take notice. Obama wasn’t nearly the insurgent that Sanders is, nor was he even anti-establishment, yet you saw a similar trend in their numbers in the early states. Keep in mind that in 2008, the Iowa Caucus was on January 3.

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Iowa, 2008

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New Hampshire, 2008

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National, 2008

Clinton led Obama by 20 points until Iowa and New Hampshire. He continued to trail her by 10 points nationally all the way until Super Tuesday, after which he edged out a narrow lead. Sanders is actually doing much better nationally than Barrack Obama did at this point in the race.

I think that it’s simply a matter of time rather than race and labels. The results in Iowa and New Hampshire move national opinion, which is why the candidates put so much time and effort into them. Later states are going to be naturally delayed in paying attention, and naturally hesitant to support an insurgent.

The “white liberals” argument really comes from the demographics of South Carolina where there is a significantly larger black vote, especially among democratic primary voters. Sanders has long trailed Clinton in South Carolina, especially among African Americans. It’s important to realize that very little polling has been done so far in South Carolina, including only two this month. Let’s look at the latest CBS poll in South Carolina, since it asks some interesting questions beyond your typical tracking poll.

Clinton is ahead of Sanders 60/38. Clinton leads Sanders 76/22 among African Americans and Sanders is winning among Whites 60/38.

In my opinion, the most important question from this poll was “How much attention have you paid to the 2016 election so far?”. 46% of likely Democratic voters have paid “some” or “not much” attention to the campaign, so there are plenty of minds to be changed, and that will definitely help Bernie. More important is who those open-minded people are. They are disproportionately young and African American. It’s well known that Bernie is huge (Yooooogge) among young people, and it explains the tepid support from African Americans. Those who haven’t paid attention to this campaign are much more likely to support the well-known, establishment candidate… at least for now.

 

Conclusion? There is none. That’s why FiveThirtyEight should stop acting like they’ve found the secret decoder ring that will keep Bernie Sanders from the nomination. Maybe African Americans will reject the candidate who marched with MLK, got arrested for protesting segregation, fights for $15/hr minimum wage in favor of the pro-death penalty candidate who pushed the crime bill, mandatory minimums, TPP, and the Iraq war. Maybe… but extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

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