Saturday, June 04, 2016

The California Primary

For awhile it seemed that the California primary might matter this year in presidential contests.  Now it looks as if, after all, it probably won't.

 Despite campaigning here anyway, Trump no longer has opponents.  And it seems that Hillary Clinton will have won enough delegates to attain the majority needed for nomination on Tuesday but before California polls even close.  (It's possible but not likely that she will obtain the delegates necessary before Tuesday. She started well this weekend by reportedly picking up all 7 Virgin Islands delegates.)

 That would blunt even a Sanders victory in California in terms of impact.  Her presumptive nomination will likely be announced in network prime time, after the New Jersey polls close.  Whatever happens in California won't be known probably before midnight Eastern, and possibly much later.  By Wednesday morning, when all the votes are counted, Hillary will likely have won an outright majority of total elected delegates this year, even absent her substantial haul of super delegates.  Even if Bernie wins California, it will likely be by a narrow margin.  It will be a story, but not the big story.

In his CA speeches, Sanders says "If there is a large voter turnout, we will win and win big."  A surge in voter registration this spring helps make that a possibility.  And if this indeed happens, it will have an impact on the 2016 race.

The possibility of a CA victory hinges on Sanders expanding his appeal beyond young white voters to young Latino, Asian and African American voters, which the last Field poll indicates is happening.  His speeches continue to gather very big audiences.  (But he would not be the first candidate to win large, enthusiastic audiences, and lose elections.  George McGovern in 1972 spoke before such large crowds even in the general election campaign, and lost every state but one.)

In Oakland for example, Sanders gave about an hour speech before tens of thousands.  He called out a corrupt campaign financing system.  He said the economy is rigged for the rich, the criminal justice system is broken.  He called for investing in young people, in "jobs and education, not jails and incarceration."

 He wants to de-militarize local police and end corporate prisons, to rethink the war on drugs, deal with the crisis in opiates and heroin, treat addiction as a health issue (not a criminal issue), expand mental health treatment, decriminalize marijuana on the federal level, and in CA legalize it.

In one of his few direct swipes at "Secretary Clinton," he said his campaign is financed by small individual contributions and not a single superpac.  He questioned whether a candidate who takes Wall Street money can stand up against Wall Street.

To further the goal of every American child being able to obtain a college education regardless of income, public college and university tuition should be free, and existing student loans re-financed at the lowest available rate.

How will this be paid for?  Middle class incomes have been redistributed upward to the 1/2 of 1%; it's time to redistribute them back to working families.  A tax on Wall Street speculation, break up the major banks.

He is favor of immigration reform and a path to citizenship, and if Congress fails to pass such a law he will do "what I can" by executive action.  No more unnecessary wars.  No more tax breaks for Wall Street. More investment in inner cities and rural poor.  He criticizes Trump for being a climate crisis denier and says we have a moral responsibility to the planet, so he supports moving from fossil fuels to clean energy. He said we need to go beyond the Affordable Care Act to guarantee health care as a right, as every other industrial country does.

His rhetorical finish was to go through various movements that changed America--union, black, women, gay.  "Let's go forward with this political revolution."

When I look at this speech--admirably honed, simply stated--I see almost nothing that President Obama hasn't said, as a candidate or President, and with the exception of breaking up the big banks, nothing that Hillary Clinton doesn't support as a principle or goal.

In fact there is so much of Obama here--the campaign financed by small donors, the agenda--that at one point, some in the audience began chanting "Si se puede" and Bernie actually said "Yes, we can!" Bernie's promise to do what he can by executive action on immigration is what President Obama has already done.

Bernie's promises are apparently more restrained now than at other points in his campaign.  He said the word "revolution" exactly twice--in his closing sentence, and earlier he called for a "revolution in mental health treatment."  There is in reality nothing revolutionary in the proposals he made in this speech, with little that progressive Democrats from Robert Kennedy to Barack Obama haven't said. Nevertheless, his young supporters seem to believe what he says is revolutionary.  (Free college tuition and legalizing pot don't exactly hurt with this demographic either.)

The political revolution Bernie calls for however is one in which, thanks to a popular uprising at the ballot box throughout the country, progressives take over Congress and pass the legislation he favors.  That is very unlikely to happen this year (even if Democrats take majorities) but presumably his election he hopes would be the beginning.

I can see the appeal, and not only to the young who perhaps haven't heard--or haven't listened--to these statements or positions before.  I can understand their strong commitment to him, but I don't share it. I don't have the confidence in him that I had in Obama as a candidate.  He has not demonstrated to me that he can be a more effective President than Hillary.  And since Republicans haven't attacked him--hoping he would be the nominee--the polls that show him beating Trump are invalid.

 But it's a long way now past simple preferences.  The maniac Trump is the other party's candidate for President of the United States, and we all have a lot to lose.

Hillary is not just coasting on her early huge majorities in primaries.  She picked up major endorsements this week--from Governor Jerry Brown, from the political arm of the National Resources Defense Council (which her campaign director John Podesta worked for, after the Clinton White House and before he started the Center for American Progress) and a major gun safety group.  More endorsements are likely before Tuesday.

More to the point, her scathing attacks on Trump this past week (what CNN writers called an "evisceration") have energized her supporters and relieved other Democrats.  The latest Reuters poll returns her to a double digit lead over Trump with likely voters nationally.  A long-awaited trend of rising wages in the Obama recovery may eventually help her as well.

Sanders now says that he is taking his candidacy to the convention, no matter the electoral outcomes.  This is a little different than his campaign has said recently, that he will reassess when all the nominating contests are over (June 14.)

Chances are that once Hillary has the majority, and especially once the primaries are all over, Democratic officials including super delegates will add their weight to support her, so Sanders candidacy will become less and less relevant to the campaign.

Sanders' campaign can still cause discord at the convention, and cause supporters to turn bitterly away from voting in November, which helps only Trump.  There is no compelling moral cause involved in this as a protest--it isn't 1964, when the party discriminated against southern African American delegates, and it isn't 1968, with the party leadership supported an immoral war.  Sanders' agenda is just not that different, while his means to attain it may be, though frankly what those means are is a mystery to me.

It's likely that a Sanders victory in California would encourage him to continue, while a defeat might cause him to re-evaluate. Since I believe the party needs to unite behind Clinton, the certain nominee, in order to defeat Trump, and Sanders must begin, as soon as possible, the work of bringing his supporters to vote for her in November,  I will be voting for Hillary Clinton on Tuesday.  To bring us closer to the time that all progressives can concentrate on defeating the worst threat in generations to American democracy and to the future, including the future of Bernie's young supporters.

So maybe the California primary will play a role--in beginning the sustained and unified fight against Trump, or  delaying or even dangerously dividing it, which is risky at best.  I don't see any real reason to take that risk at this point, not with the stakes as high as they are.  

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