Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Left Out: Breaking Down the Democratic Presidential Contenders for 2016

I've spent a lot of time writing about the GOP Nomination in the last year due to the extraordinary nature of their primary. Between Trump's bombastic quotes (and hair) and Bush's having been born into a ruling aristocratic family, there are thirteen other politicians making noise. It is messy, and if their first debate was any indicator it is also a lot of fun. The Democrats are in a very different situation. Of the official candidates, Hilary Clinton is still out in front with 54% overall, based on the average poll at Real Clear Politics. However, just the rumor of Joe Biden has created a shift in the polls for the Democrats, with the latest averages showing Uncle Joe with 11% overall and Sanders with a respectable 22%. In Iowa that compresses further, with Clinton down to 50.5%. There are fewer players, that much is obvious. The biggest difference with the GOP race and the Democrat race is legitimacy. Both have about the same number of legitimate contenders, things are just more spread out in the GOP race.

Naturally, the national press has focused on the bigger and more entertaining story of the GOP Primary, and it’s hard to blame them. Most of the coverage regarding the Democrats is just the same repetition of reporting Clinton's problems and analyzing whether or not she can maintain her lead as a result. Even in the GOP primary the questions have not been whether a possible candidate can beat a Democrat, but whether or not they could specifically beat Clinton. While I understand the thought process, I think it's worth digging deeper and really asking what could happen with the Democrats. Overall, the Republican candidates may be more entertaining,but given the current voting demographics in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, the Democratic nominee is still more likely to win in 2016. I'd say that makes their primary worth spending some time on. 

Front Runner(s). 

Clinton is clearly in the lead. But, anyone that's has played Mario Kart can tell you that being in the lead early isn't always a good thing. (Blue shells! Bullets! Lightning bolts!) It means you are the main focus of a lot of attacks, and not just from your primary competition. Do you really think for one moment that the push for Clinton's email server and a deeper look into Benghazi is driven by the Bernie Sanders campaign? I'm sure Sanders would like to have his path to front-runner cleared but the attacks on Clinton were happening well before Sanders became a blip on the radar. The GOP has focused on Clinton like a laser since the results of the 2012 election cycle, and that scrutiny has only intensified as her likelihood to win has seemed more and more inevitable.

Sanders, meanwhile, has been busy building his base of support. Except for some very obvious differences in the logo, back story, and experience, the Sanders campaign walks and talks a lot like the Obama campaign from 2008. Most of his message is about education, income inequality, health care, and general societal well-being. He's not trying to out hawk Clinton, or out dove the others on defense issues, and I've yet to hear any uproar over his international platform. He's staying both domestic and populist while pulling the party and primary back to the left.

While it is true that Clinton would win in a walk if the primaries were decided today, the primaries are still many long months away (a fact the Clinton campaign is eager to remind); months filled with campaign stops, television spots, and plenty of opportunities for Clinton to lose the nomination. I don’t feel like the questions surrounding Clinton’s email server have peaked yet, and there is the question of whether Uncle Joe will enter the race. We'll get to him in a second. 

The Three Amigos.

Clinton and Sanders combine for 77% of the current vote in Iowa. Compare that to the three GOP front-runner candidates, Trump, Carson, and Walker (as of August 11) combine for 42%. You would have to take the top eight GOP candidates to equal 77%. (It’s like a commercial for Total cereal, though I’m not totally sure they still make Total. You need over SIX bowls of your cereal…you get it.)That’s a huge difference in support breakdown, to say the least. After Clinton and Sanders, we are left with Martin O'Malley, Jim Webb, and Lincoln Chafee. (Bonus points to you if you knew Lincoln Chafee was running for President! Until I decided to write this, I did not.) He also has all of 0.8% in the Iowa polls, so I'm still not sure if he really counts. Combined, these three have 6.3% of the Iowa Democratic primary support, at least in current polls. For those keeping score, that's a total of only 83.3% between Clinton, Sanders, and the amigos. So, where is that remaining support? Cue Uncle Joe’s shit eating, ear-to-ear, I know the inside joke smile; he has 9.3% in Iowa right now, and that's while we wait to see if he will even run. 

Biden, His Time?

Obviously choosing to run or not run for President from the current VP position matters in any given Presidential race. Cheney didn't for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which was his health. Gore won the popular vote. George H.W. Bush won from the VP seat. Recent history says the VP has a real shot at the party nomination. Yet, until recently, Biden has been vocal about not running. As most know, his son passed away just a few weeks back, which was a sad ending to the story of a very promising life and political career. Beau Biden had White House written all over him, and came across as a genuinely good person. His death, in my opinion, was a national loss of a true leader. Fast forward to the present, and we learn that Beau wanted his dad to run. Talk about a tough decision to make. 

Meanwhile, the mere speculation of  Biden entering the race is changing the landscape of the Democratic primary. Of the three amigos, Jim Webb is actually the most likely to wind up with a VP nod (Virginia anyone?) and Sanders is really going to be an all or nothing candidate. So we are left with what appears to be a two horse race. The inevitability and well-oiled machine of the Clinton campaign, which is about 30 years old now, and the aw-shucks I guess I'll run charisma of Biden.  If I'm Clinton, I'm more concerned with him deciding to run than I am with my email server, at least for now. This is even more true after the leak that Biden is considering promising a one term “Unite the Country” campaign. People are hungry for a statesman, and Biden is just that figure.


Biden will run. He will wait a little longer, let the GOP poke more holes in Hilary, and let the choice be more of a “fine, fine, if you guys REALLY want me to” approach than a “Hey, I'm gonna do this too” situation. Biden is the encore performance at a good concert. It was probably planned the whole time, but the band knows how to shrug their shoulders and pretend it wasn't. Sometimes, it really isn't planned but the moment demands the show continue. With Biden, that may very well be the case. If Biden does run it's a real primary. He will need one month to overtake Sanders and a lot of that support will actually come FROM the Clinton supporters. I think we'll wind up with a three person race, with no one claiming more than 40%, and Jim Webb waiting for his VP nomination. Then again, Biden/Kasich (he could do it) or Biden/Warren could be pretty formidable. 

In the end, I still think Clinton wins the Democratic nomination but at least with Biden it's a real race. Plenty of people will say it’s too early to write off Sanders, but I’m doing it anyway. As for the rest, I probably spent too many words talking about their chances already. Sorry to break the news to all of you hardcore Chafee supporters. Maybe 2020?

-Adam Sommer

With Editing by Andrew Hooper

Monday, June 29, 2015

Millennial Denial: An Essay On The Reality Of Race

"[T]he 'poor whites' of our South who were always despised, and frequently insulted, by the slave lords around them, and who owed their base condition simply to the presence of slavery in their midst, were yet pusillanimously ready to side with the slave lords in all political moves for the upholding and perpetuating of slavery, and did also finally shoulder their muskets and pour out their lives in an effort to prevent the destruction of that very institution which degraded them." - Mark Twain, in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court


Color Blind?

The gruesome slaying of 9 innocent people in a South Carolina church was not a random event. It was not a quick decision in the heat of the moment, like what happened in Ferguson. It wasn't an obvious misuse of force like with Eric Garner. The Charleston shooting was the avoidable result of deep rooted racism, feelings of superiority, and a filtered version of reality. It was a cultural outcry.

I am not talking about gun laws, at all. I am talking about the reality that racism not only exists in younger generations, even those that didn't live during segregation, but that the form of racism that exists is as bad and violent as ever.

Race is a tricky subject to say the least. Its much easier to avoid it than confront it. Just starting to write this I realize I may offend someone, but that's a chance that I'm willing to take to be part of a discussion that needs to happen. It would be simple to say “I don't think in terms of color” or “I'm color blind” but that is sort of like burying your head in the sand. If you've been paying attention then it's not surprising that racism still exists, even racism deep enough to lead to violence. But, so long as we use P.C. terminology and point out that we do have a black president, we can just pretend the problems are all solved. Hooray! No more racism! Sadly, it's just not true.

The Perspective

I'm a white male. I was raised in a working to middle class protestant home. I've lived my entire life in predominantly white places. Even spending 10 years of my 30 living in college towns I've experienced low racial diversity, overall. From a young age I heard jokes and comments that at the time didn't register, but that as I aged I realized were deeply racist. I'm not talking about every family member or adult/community member around me, it was only a few, but those few were neither ashamed nor apologetic. To them, that's just how you're supposed to talk about anyone that isn't white. Obviously, it had an impact on me just like any other experience in childhood would.

Based on the defining years, I am a millennial. From what I have seen that's 1982-2004, or 2000 as a cutoff. Either way, I qualify. I was born in 1985 so I'm on the older end of the spectrum but still a representative. I'm a white male from the middle of the country. Educationally speaking I skew toward the high end but life experience wise I'm a pretty solid middle of the road type. My childhood includes a divorce and custody issues, a reasonable and fairly normal upbringing by any account, and most of the same technological availability that has become synonymous with being a millennial.

I was born the same year Nintendo became available in the US. I have never known a world without computers in some form. I'm old enough to remember the internet as a special and new creation but still young enough to take it for granted. I have looked things up in encyclopedias, but not in recent memory. JFK, LBJ, Dr. King, Malcolm X, segregation, and the Civil Rights Act of 1965 are all things I know from history class and documentaries. I was too young to know or understand anything about the Rodney King riots, just old enough to understand the OJ verdict, and had no second thoughts about a black man running for President. That's a millennial experience in a nut shell. As far as racial issues are concerned most of it is “history” for us. It's true that on average you're likely to find our generation is extremely progressive in matters of race. But that doesn't mean racism is over, and it's silly for people to think it is.

Voting Against Interests.

The Charleston shooting is a prime example of that. Racism is still very real, even in the millennial generation. What I would suggest is likely true, based solely on my own observations, is that what racism does exist is deeply rooted and likely to come from people that feel marginalized and attacked. Their feelings don't have to be based in reality, they just have to exist. Beliefs are tricky that way, they don't require reality to justify their existence, only that the person holding the belief justifies it. The old maxim holds that the truth exists independent of their beliefs, but their belief (specifically of persecution) is overriding reality. The shooter in Charleston is a prime example. That's why I suggest that this modern form of racism is actually less about color and more about culture and belief. The reality of marginalization is hard, and often brutally honest. Poor white people in any state aren't being marginalized because they are white. They're being marginalized because they are poor. Just like other poor people. Socioeconomic factors are huge in development of belief structures and acceptance of particular social mores.

Yet, this very group continues to elect “leaders” that sell policy stances to the highest bidder and are capable, willing, and able to use those very cultural mores to rile up a base to vote against their own interests. This isn't a race issue, it's a cultural and class issue.

The U.S. Class System.

The U.S. has evolved over hundreds of years from the outcropping of a few groups seeking religious asylum (notably this ignores the reality that before these groups the native population was already here, and doing just fine) to becoming an arm of the great British Empire, to a bunch of rag-tag colonies hoping to gain independence through unification of force and ideals, and into the new world's empire.

In the process, lots of heady notions of freedom and equality have had their turn in the spot light. Yet for all the talk of democracy, freedom, and equality it's clear that since reconstruction and the industrial revolution the U.S. has shifted into a very clear cut class system. It was already there to some level, even during the Revolutionary War, but greater population density brought on by urbanization resulting from industry expansion was the ultimate incubator.1 Now, we function within a system that walks and talks like a democracy at first glance (though it never really was one) but that acts in a very different way. Voter apathy grows as monied interests dominate. You're either part of the big alliances that run the show or your just going along for the ride. “My vote doesn't matter” is uttered too often, and in a way it's correct. As Orwell (may have) said: Every vote is equal, but some are more equal than others.

Either way if you're in the lowest two or three classes your value as anything more than a consumer is limited, and your political worth is marginalized beyond understanding.2 It's a perfect equation for power and the powerful, and a losing equation for the working poor and lower classes. That's the breeding ground for a person that thinks they're being pushed aside by another competing group. The boogyman for the Charleston shooter was skin color, but I'm suggesting the root cause was something else. We lash out at what we don't understand and we latch onto the things that make us feel correct and safe. I'm not suggesting that the Charleston shooter wasn't motivated by race, that is clear, I'm simply suggesting that the source of that motivation is deeper in its origin.

Race, Culture, and Science walk into a bar...

During the last 100 years in America the laws have changed, social mobility has been altered, and race as an idea of separation has been intellectually destroyed. We have new scientific findings on DNA and race that have enlightened us beyond the idea that the tone of your skin is the basis of who you are. Most Millennials can explain that if you take two people who have never met, one from Africa and one from the US, and compare their DNA, then compare that same DNA with a person from across the street, you are just as likely to have more in common with the person from half a world away than the person right across the street. Yet, racism, racial tension, and bigotry in general still exist. Why?

I won't pretend to answer this question in full. I'm not confident it can be answered. But I have a theory, for what that's worth. I think racism is cultural. I'm not the first to suggest this, I know that. It's not new and it's not radical to say that hatred of others is learned and not inherent. The comedian Dennis Leary said it perhaps the simplest way when he jokes that his young child doesn't hate anyone and that the child's list of things he hates is short: Naps, end of list. Leary's joke is on point.

User Error.

Think of it this way, if you teach your child that the word spelled D-O-G is pronounced as “Cat” then your child will believe you. It's that simple. Kids have basic programming to eat, sleep, poop (so much poop as I've recently learned) and grow. Most of the rest of it is put in later. Humans are like super computers with a basic operating system, but just like your personal computer you add programs to it that influence its behavior. Most millennials have had a phone call with a parent helping them with computer problems and most have probably said something along the lines of “Well don't click on things like that any more, that's why you got the virus” or “Emojicons are great, but downloading them for free from an email link is probably why you got that virus.”

That's what racism is. It's a virus that is added, or contracted, by the user. It's environmental input. Personally, I had multiple environments and luckily the one spewing racist hate was limited and vastly overwhelmed by the other. Current belief's aside I spent many years in my youth at bible school and camps learning about Jesus, and I came to understand him as a pretty tolerant fellow. Yet, as comfortable as I am with race and the idea that we really are all scientifically same, that little bit of negative input still impacts me.

I don't think that any of this is an excuse for the Charleston shooter's behavior, or his racism. Just an explanation to help understand the root cause, to avoid a repeat. Correcting a behavior is not the same as taking away the impulse. If I stop smoking cigarets in public and only smoke them when I'm alone, with no one around to see me, am I still a smoker? The answer is YES! Just because a person doesn't walk around using racial slurs doesn't mean the root cause has been annihilated. That's what is being missed in this matter and in the broader discussion about the millennial generation, and this shooter, being the first “color blind” generation.

I'm a microcosm of my generation and of society at large. It's been 150 years since the official end of the military conflicts of the Civil War, but the ideology at the heart of that bloody period of history remains. Millennials aren't color blind. Racism isn't cured. We've just learned from an early age that you're not supposed to say certain things out loud. It's a good start, but it's time to attack the root. It's about culture. And it's about time we stop pretending it's not a problem.

 - Adam Sommer

1. It's another argument all together that the U.S. was already an oligarchy and was set up that way intentionally. Many people's notions of our “founding fathers” leaves out the brutal reality that they were the wealthy and educational elite in their time, and plenty were slave owners.

2. Most of us are we just don't know it or want to know it. Poverty for a family of four in 2015 is considered $24,250.00 per year. 95% of Americans earn $150,000.00 per year or less as a family. 5% earn more than that and only 1% earn $250,000.00 per year or more. Here's a good article on this subject: http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2012/09/13/where-do-you-fall-in-the-american-economic-class-system