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Reflecting on the Sanders v. Clinton Question
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jducoeur
Those interested in the Democratic side of the brouhaha should check out this fine summary of the tradeoffs. He doesn't really take sides, but I think concisely boils down what's going on here -- what Sanders and Clinton *represent* in this election, and the pros and cons of both those tendencies. It's a good step-back-and-think, and well worth considering, whichever candidate you prefer, to help understand where the other side is coming from if nothing else...

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I hadn't actually thought of it that way. But he's right-- the reason I immediately went to "support Sanders" is that I want the culture to change and I want vision.

I think what's missing in that assessment is an important underlying assumption among supporters of "problem solving": the assumption that "mere" problem solving will actually stave off disaster, or worse. My patients and their parents, for example, often face situations where their cancer is so virulent, their only two choices are either high-risk, high-side effect treatment that has a high chance of failure but offers the only (small) possibility of cure; or palliative measures that can slow decline and buy quality time, but have no hope of long-term survival. Neither is a "wrong" choice for a child with metastatic cancer. But cancer patients aren't the only ones who can have widely metastasizing, potentially terminal conditions. Countries can, too.

Many would argue that America is in a very different place than we were fifteen years ago. Eight Southern American states now have lower life expectancies for Caucacians than Mexicans in Mexico [1]. Case and Deaton's seminal recent paper captured how death rates have stopped improving among wide swaths of Americans once they reach middle age [2]. Ignoring the vast piles of statistics on how access to health care, higher-education, retirement, etc. are increasingly out of reach for vaster and vaster portions of America - Americans are literally dying faster and younger than their own parents (especially women). Among the few indices that have "improved" over the last fifteen years is firearms per capita. History suggests that's not a good combination.

People have repeatedly voiced concerns that the combination of increasingly large numbers of desperate Americans, and increasing concentration of power away from them, would lead those desperate Americans to begin fueling the rise of demagogues who would normalize previously unthinkable political positions and philosophies. Say, Trump. Or Cruz. Both of which consistently currently hold more poll support between the two of them than every other GOP candidate combined. Or more and more angry, desperate Americans, who have nothing in plenty except guns and ammo, giving vent to their desperation in no longer peaceful ways. Like Malheur. Or Charleston. Or Oklahoma City.

The questions for a "problem solver" supporter are (a) can "mere" problem solving, attempts to tinker with the system within the confines of what the opponents will allow, reverse all of these trends, and (b) if not, then what is the outcome of failure to reverse these trends going to be? Which takes us back to the terrible choices so many of my patients and their parents face.

There are often times for my patients, where any remaining slim chance of long-term survival requires making the attempt at a radical solution. Where choosing anything less means accepting that the end is inevitable - that the end can be slowed, delayed, pushed off a little while; but that long-term survival is given up on. And a lot of people who are skeptical of the "problem solver", are skeptical because they fear "mere" problem solving aren't going to be enough - not enough to reverse the catastrophic trends that have consumed the majority of Americans; and not enough to head off the malignant consequences that are playing out even as we speak.

What happens when you make increasing millions of Americans desperate and hopeless? Trump and Cruz and Malheur National Wildlife Refuge - and Dylan Roof - could just be the beginning of that answer.




[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_life_expectancy
[2] http://www.pnas.org/content/112/49/15078.abstract

Edited at 2016-01-23 02:23 am (UTC)

Fair enough, but remember that the risk / reward calculation here is very difficult. I get what you're saying, but come out at the opposite end: AFAICT, approaching the problems incrementally is the only way to address them without causing deeper disaster.

I mean, sure, I get that Sanders is totally sincere, and I respect him for that -- I just think his policy proposals are over-simplistic to the point of dangerous.

For example, doubling the minimum wage at a shot. That sounds great on the surface: it'll make poor people less poor. Except that that ignores economic reality: raising it that much, that fast will absolutely cause job cuts, throwing more of those folks out of work, and in all likelihood *increasing* social tensions. That's not even surprising -- it's one of the more common effects of over-simplistic socialist approaches, which tend to lead to high unemployment.

(Mind, the right wing overstates the case against the minimum wage: it should be rising, and could likely do so gradually without disruption. But doubling it tomorrow is essentially guaranteed to throw a lot of people out of work. Sometimes, you've got to boil the frog.)

Do things need to change? Sure -- but social reality is that gradualism is often the only way to make things better without destroying other things. Social change is *hard*, and I see Sanders and his movement as over-simplifying those difficulties in ways likely to cause backlash and counter-productive negative effects.

(Granted, at this point I'm tempted to agree with him about single-payer health insurance, but that just reflects the insane brokenness of the existing system -- it would be hard to make it worse.)

Or to follow your metaphor: my assessment is that the prescribed chemo regimen is too strong, likely to weaken the patient too much to survive. IMO, the cancer is still spreading slowly, and a somewhat less aggressive course of treatment is the best approach for long-term survival...

Hm - where did you hear that Sanders wanted to "at a shot" double the minimum wage? The Sanders website [1] makes it pretty clear Sanders wants to reach $15 "over the next several years". A number of wealthier cities are already experimenting with multi-year phased-in increases to that level, which should provide plenty of experimental evidence at what point - if any - such wage hikes become economically counter-productive. Or, alternatively, that the increased economic activity from better pay (to some point, perhaps even as high as $15) drives greater economic demand among the sorts of businesses which pay minimum wages.

Perhaps as importantly: there's a strong argument that how right-wing activists came to move the Overton window so hard right - to the point where a Heritage Foundation health care reform plan came to be seen as the work of Socialism, to be ferociously fought by the right-wing - is that the right-wing always kept pushing. They knew thirty years ago that their full agenda was too radical, so they simply worked tirelessly to keep pushing for it. Shoot for the moon, end up on the mountaintop, that sort of thing. Meanwhile, the DLC and the Blue Dogs and, to a large extent, Obama himself tried to negotiate, tried not to ask for anything too radical - and ended up perpetuating the movement of the Overton window further and further right. I'm not sure that continuing that pattern is going to result in anything different than what we've already got.


[1] https://berniesanders.com/issues/a-living-wage/

Edited at 2016-01-25 12:15 am (UTC)

"By contrast, (Bill) Clinton achieved a healthy, stable economy without altering the dominant framework of limited government."


Healthy -- for whom?  Was this person an adult during the Clinton administration?


Does this person recall that Bill Clinton recently apologized for setting us on the path of our incredible hyperincarceration society, where we have one black male in three in jail during his lifetime and the highest proportion of our population incarcerated of any country in the world?


Does this person remember Secretary of Health and Human Services Edelman's resignation in protest as our welfare system converted via "welfare reform" into a punitive system that took women and children cast into crisis predominantly by either abandonment by father's or abuse or addiction among fathers, and forced these single parent families into sub-poverty jobs and sub standard unsafe childcare without laying much of any resources to pursue fathers?


In contrast, a widow and her children is automatically entitled to Social Security Survivor Benefits, and is lauded as a virtuous woman.  A "welfare mom" is a whore.  This prompted me to write a "Modest Proposal" satire titled "Just Shoot Him," as advice for mothers with straying or abusive spouses.


No, Mr. Clinton was not considered a "healthy" problem solver by many of us paying attention at the time. 


Mr. Clinton was a "centrist" who danced cheek to cheek with Mr. Gingrich, and this did not recommend him to his party base.  He cemented the DLC philosophy of promising anything to the platform and rank and file, while being the first generation to use minicomputers and marketing tech to minimax how to "chase the middle" and abandon any semblance of party politics.


The father of the Repulicrats.  Neoliberal, free market centrists, whose first and nearly only duty was to get elected.  A special sort of machine politician for a new American computer age.  And Hillary was the queen of the DLC sitting on its iron throne.


I burned my "Give 'em Hell, Hillary!" button long ago.


But I'm voting for her, because Sanders would go to DC like Carter, stymied by the GOP and his own party (more or less), and leave in four years reasonably ineffective, as one of our best ex presidents in history, because he's an awesome human being.


Unlike Carter, I doubt if he has the depth of 5000 - 35,000 appointees to fill the hostile takeover called the "transition team," the apparently best kept civics secret in the world, which is really what our presidential election is about.  Not this 1v1 personality horse race bullshit that I genuinely believe most of the press buys into.


Without that depth of takeover staff for our multi-trillion dollar executive branch, Sanders will be eaten alive.  Most of Hillary's organization is already there.


It sucks, but I'm voting for the establishment bitch.  She has us by the short hairs.  Continuity I can believe in, even as a former "Democratic Party operative" and lobbyist, mostly on the other sides from the DLC.


Keep in mind that I am *quite* explicitly one of those "centrists". You and I may have to agree to disagree here.

And "this person" is Harold Feld, an old friend who has been a key public-interest lobbyist in Washington for the past decade, one of the most important people in keeping the corporations from eating the Internet and other communications media alive. (And when I say "key", let's put it this way: the Chairman of the FCC, at the annual Federal Communications Bar Association meeting, finished off his speech with a filk about Harold.)

He knows the topic quite well, and it wouldn't surprise me if he agrees with you more than I do, but he is a deep political realist, and this post was *specifically* about what the world looks like from each side. I think you've mis-aimed your response...

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