Tag Archives: risk

In November, Winning Is Everything

Let me begin by emphasizing that I will definitely be a “blue no matter who” voter. (I would vote for a potted plant if the plant ended up being the Democratic nominee, because–as you know if you read yesterday’s post— the alternative is too horrible to contemplate.)

Let me also be clear that I tend to agree with many if not most of Bernie Sanders’ goals–national health care, support for working-class Americans, higher taxes on the rich. And I will cast my vote for him should he emerge as the nominee, although I do not believe he would win.

Bernie’s most devoted supporters insist that he will appeal to independents and energize the youth vote. Data on the preferences of self-described “independents” suggests that true independents are few and far between, and that those few prefer moderates; with respect to the predictions about turnout and young voters, New Hampshire–which he won by a whisker–may be instructive. 

Politico reports

Even counting for the fact that in 2016 he was in a two-person race, the comparison with his smashing victory over Hillary Clinton (22 points and 60 percent of the vote) and, as of late Tuesday night, his less-than-2-point squeaker over Buttigieg, is notable. Sanders dominated the state in 2016, winning every county. Buttigieg and Klobuchar ripped holes through that map everywhere, turning color-coded maps from 2016 that showed a Sanders rout into a patchwork of colors.

Perhaps more important, Sanders overpromised and underdelivered. He has premised his campaign on nothing less than sparking a political revolution in which disaffected and first-time voters — especially young ones — pour into American politics to carry him to the White House. It didn’t happen in Iowa, and it didn’t happen in New Hampshire.

The percentage of young voters actually declined from 2016 to 2020 in New Hampshire, from 19 percent to 14 percent. Independents were a larger share of the electorate, but they did not break nearly as decisively for Sanders as they did in 2016. He received support from just 29 percent of self-described independents this time, as opposed to 73 percent (!) in 2016.

Together, Buttigieg and Klobuchar (who would have been considered leftwing in previous election years, but are now characterized as moderates) won just over 50% of the primary vote.

Perhaps the best analysis of why a Sanders nomination would be very risky was written by Jeffrey Isaacs, an eminent political science professor at Indiana University. Isaacs is philosophically close to Sanders, but he notes that the most likely immediate consequences of Bernie’s nomination would be the (strong) probability of a Trump re-election.

Isaacs sets out the probable consequences of a Sanders’ nomination for down-ticket candidates, and I encourage everyone to click through and read that analysis in its entirety, because it is sobering–not least because it is based upon actual data rather than devotees’ self-deception. But the most ominous evidence in the article is a long quotation from a Never Trump Republican who saw the opposition research the GOP had gathered in 2016, in case Bernie became the nominee then.

So what would have happened when Sanders hit a real opponent, someone who did not care about alienating the young college voters in his base? I have seen the opposition book assembled by Republicans for Sanders, and it was brutal. The Republicans would have torn him apart. . . Here are a few tastes of what was in store for Sanders, straight out of the Republican playbook: He thinks rape is A-OK. In 1972, when he was 31, Sanders wrote a fictitious essay in which he described a woman enjoying being raped by three men. Yes, there is an explanation for it — a long, complicated one, just like the one that would make clear why the Clinton emails story was nonsense. And we all know how well that worked out.

Then there’s the fact that Sanders was on unemployment until his mid-30s, and that he stole electricity from a neighbor after failing to pay his bills, and that he co-sponsored a bill to ship Vermont’s nuclear waste to a poor Hispanic community in Texas, where it could be dumped. You can just see the words “environmental racist” on Republican billboards. And if you can’t, I already did. They were in the Republican opposition research book as a proposal on how to frame the nuclear waste issue.

Also on the list: Sanders violated campaign finance laws, criticized Clinton for supporting the 1994 crime bill that he voted for, and he voted against the Amber Alert system. His pitch for universal health care would have been used against him too, since it was tried in his home state of Vermont and collapsed due to excessive costs. Worst of all, the Republicans also had video of Sanders at a 1985 rally thrown by the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua where half a million people chanted, “Here, there, everywhere/the Yankee will die,” while President Daniel Ortega condemned “state terrorism” by America. Sanders said, on camera, supporting the Sandinistas was “patriotic.”

The Republicans had at least four other damning Sanders videos (I don’t know what they showed), and the opposition research folder was almost 2-feet thick. (The section calling him a communist with connections to Castro alone would have cost him Florida.) In other words, the belief that Sanders would have walked into the White House based on polls taken before anyone really attacked him is a delusion built on a scaffolding of political ignorance.

Could Sanders still have won? Well, Trump won, so anything is possible. But Sanders supporters puffing up their chests as they arrogantly declare Trump would have definitely lost against their candidate deserve to be ignored.

It is striking to me how easily many of Sanders’s hard-core supporters dismiss these concerns.

Are all of these attacks fair? Of course not. But arguing that they would not be effective is delusional–and so is attributing malign motives to every Democrat who doesn’t want to take that chance.

Bernie has made a difference in American political life; he has moved the Overton Window left, and that is no small feat. His movement has made it easier for a less tarnished Democrat to win in 2020, and he deserves great credit for that. But if you read yesterday’s compendium of horror stories, you know that in 2020, nothing is more important than nominating someone who is most likely to eject Trump’s criminal cabal from the White House.

We can indulge in intra-party conflicts and conspiracy theories and reconstitute the famous Democratic circular firing squad once we’ve come together to do what is absolutely necessary to save America.


Academics Say the Darnedest Things…

It’s too bad that articles in academic journals are so filled with jargon, because they often contain valuable information, or make important points that get ignored or glossed over, even by other members of the academy.

Case in point, a recent article in Public Administration Review, a very highly-regarded journal focusing on issues of public management. The title ” Governance, Privatization and Systemic Risk in the Disarticulated State” was calculated to make your eyes glaze over, and I will admit I only read it because I know both of the co-authors (one is a SPEA colleague) and know them to be first-rate scholars.

Ignore the wonky title. This is yet another analysis of government’s love-affair with privatization.

The authors apply research on “systemic risk” to the public-private partnerships that have become ever more common over the past quarter-century or so, the networks of for-profit and non-profit organizations increasingly used by public-sector agencies to do government’s work and deliver public services. As they note, such public networks are similar to financial systems: they are complex, interdependent and risky. Furthermore, if and when they fail, that failure has “potentially catastrophic” effects on citizens who depend upon public services.

One of those risks is that an organization in one of these privatized networks will try to benefit at the expense of the others. The article cites several examples: halfway houses in New Jersey were found to have falsified records in order to have high-risk inmates placed in their (understaffed) facilities; in Tucson, Arizona, a downtown development project employed a network of developers and consultants that spent millions of taxpayer dollars and failed to produce anything.

The risk isn’t confined to dishonesty and self-dealing. The Providence Service Corporation is the largest provider of privatized social services in North America. When the 2008 Great Recession hit, investors dumped their stock in the company (it went from $36 per share to less than a dollar). The loss of capital threatened the ability of the company to continue delivering services to 70,000 clients.

After an extensive discussion of the nature and extent of the dangers involved, the authors conclude that, “reliance upon third parties to produce government services is fraught with risk at all levels.”

This analysis joins a growing and steady accumulation of evidence that the wholesale embrace of privatization of public services is too often costly, risky and counter-productive.

The rush to privatize–to offload public responsibilities–is part and parcel of the assault on the whole enterprise of government that has always been part of American political discourse, but which really gained traction during the Reagan Administration. It’s an attitude, rather than a philosophy, and it plays to the very American desire to address messy, complicated realities with simple, bumper-sticker remedies.

As we are learning the hard way, government can’t privatize away its responsibilities, and too often, the effort to do just that ends up making matters worse.