Bernie and Donald

I’ve been seeing something baffling lately.  I don’t know if it’s widespread or if it’s just a quirk of my social media feeds, but I’ve been seeing a bunch of people saying that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are the same.  I don’t mean to say that they have similarities (I’ll talk about those later).  They seem to be implying that they are virtually interchangeable candidates.  I wish I knew if these people are purposely trolling or if they really don’t understand.

Their case takes a couple of different, but related forms.  Sometimes it starts with the obvious Trump/Hitler comparisons.  Just take a Hitler speech and swap Jews for Muslims and Communists for Mexicans and you pretty much have a Trump speech.  Then, they say that the Nazis were the National Socialist Party and Sanders is a Democratic Socialist.  They point out that both Sanders and Hitler wanted universal healthcare and strong public transportation and think they’ve made their point.  Trump has something in common with Hitler and so does Sanders, so they must be the same.  The other form is to start with Sanders’ supposed socialism.  Then, they point out all of the socialist/leftist things that Trump has mentioned like single payer health care and avoiding military entanglements.  So, either Trump is an obvious fascist and Sanders is a fascist in disguise or Sanders is an obvious socialist and Trump is a socialist in disguise.  Either way, they are the same.

The big problem with this line of thought is that having things in common is not enough to make people the same.  Trump and Sanders are not even similar, except superficially.  They are both old, white men.  They agree on a couple of issues (maybe.  It’s almost impossible to know what Trump actually believes.).  But, Sanders has been a public servant for his entire adult life while Trump is a celebrity/businessman.  Sanders is consistent while Trump is mercurial.  Sanders is concerned for others while Trump is completely selfish.

Given that they are not even similar, let alone the same, why all of this talk about them both being fascist (or socialist)?  I think it has to do with the most important similarity that they have, they are both populists.  Populism is a funny thing.  It comes in many varieties.  Saying all populists are alike is like saying all pop music is alike (Hey, did you hear the new Kanye?  It sounds just like “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”.).  Just knowing that any two people are populist politicians  doesn’t mean you know anything specific about their ideas or policies.  It just means that they are tapping into the people for their support as opposed to the establishment.

The really funny (or sad) thing is that populism is enough for a huge number of Americans.  They are angry and supporting a populist candidate, whichever populist candidate, seems to be their way of expressing that anger.  While I don’t think that Sanders and Trump have anything substantive in common, I do find it fascinating how much many of their supporters seem to have in common.



Something Is Bothering Me

There’s something that’s been bothering me about this primary season on the Democrat’s side.  Whenever I read something written by a Hillary Clinton supporter, they always seem to say that they like Bernie Sanders and then go on to say why they like Clinton better.  But, whenever I read something written by a Bernie Sanders supporter, they always seem to detest Hillary Clinton.  I find that odd on its own.  This is a primary after all.  These two agree on far more than they disagree on.  I read somewhere that when Clinton and Sanders were in the Senate together, they voted the same way 93% of the time.  Politically speaking, that makes them almost the same person.  However, the thing that I find bothersome is that the hatred seems real.

Elections are always full of overheated rhetoric.  That’s the nature of the beast.  But, in the primaries, people are supposed to leave themselves an out.  When Clinton lost to Obama in the 2008 primaries, all of her supporters were easily able to support Obama.  When Howard Dean lost to John Kerry in 2004, it was easy for all of his supporters to support Kerry.  This feels different.

The reaction of Sanders’ supporters to Paul Krugman’s recent piece in the New York Times illustrates why.  They have been loudly accusing Krugman of being a sellout, a shill for the Clinton campaign and far worse.  They have even been suggesting that he doesn’t understand basic economics or that he is being willfully blind.  I don’t read Krugman very much, but I do know that he has been a vocal supporter of Obama for many years, even going so far as to call him a legitimately great president.  So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that he supports Clinton’s proposals, which are much closer to Obama than Sanders.  But, it’s beyond me how a simple criticism of their candidate leads to such anger.  Krugman was literally just doing his job.  It’s fine to disagree, but there is no excuse for the vitriol being spewed.

A big part of what’s bothering me comes from the polls that show Sanders doing better in the general election than Clinton.  There are only a couple of ways that works.  It is possible that Clinton would get the entirety of the Democrats, but not get any Republicans or Independents while Sanders would do reasonably well with all three, but that doesn’t seem likely (I should say, I haven’t looked at a detailed breakdown of the polls).  Sanders has to be anathema to any small government types and all of the evangelicals.  They make up a decent chunk of the Republicans and Independents.  The other possibility is that if Sanders wins the primaries, all of Clinton’s supporters will back him, but Sanders’ supporters won’t support Clinton if she wins the primaries.

If the second possibility is the case, that makes Sanders’ supporters (and by default, Sanders) into Ralph Nader if Clinton wins the primaries.  That very idea terrifies me.   All those Democrats and left leaning Independents who hated Gore because they saw him as an extension of Bill Clinton gave us eight years of George Bush.  Is it possible that we have learned so little in the last 16 years that Sanders’ supporters could give us a Trump presidency?  It’s starting to look that way.

Relevant Differences

There is a concept in philosophy called relevant difference.  Basically, this means that a principle must hold across cases unless there is a relevant difference between the cases.  So, if you believe that boys and girls should be treated equally, but you make your son do outdoor chores (mowing the lawn, raking leaves, shoveling snow) and your daughter do indoor chores (doing laundry, washing dishes, vacuuming), you are doing something wrong.  Either you do not believe that boys and girls should be treated equally or you don’t know what it means to treat them equally.  The only way out of this is to find a relevant difference between boys and girls that would justify the difference in treatment.  Perhaps you live on a steep hill and your daughter lacks the physical strength to push the lawnmower.  If there is no such relevant difference, you should start having your son and daughter both do all of the indoor and outdoor chores.

I bring this up because of the current spat between Apple and the FBI.  In case you haven’t heard, the FBI recovered an iPhone that belonged to the San Bernardino shooter.  The FBI wants access to the phone as part of their investigation.  They went to a judge and got a warrant.  They want Apple’s help, but Apple is refusing.  This is where relevant difference comes in.  The whole technology industry is acting like the FBI is doing something wrong, but I can’t see a relevant difference between this and any other search warrant the FBI uses.  If law enforcement has probable cause, they can get a warrant to search a person’s home, car, office, computer, financial records, credit reports, bank accounts and even a person’s body.  There is a process in place to protect the innocent.  Law enforcement needs to prove to a judge that there is good reason to believe that the search is necessary and that the search will yield important information.  So, what I want to know is why does Apple think that iPhones are different than homes, cars, bank accounts or peoples’ bodies.  They don’t seem to be more private or more sensitive or less likely to yield important information.  I suppose that Apple may believe that all government investigations are wrong.  Then they wouldn’t need a relevant difference.  They could just be using this instance to make a general point.  I find that hard to believe, though.  Maybe someone should do some corporate espionage* using an Android and see if Apple sticks to their principles when the FBI tries to get a warrant to search that phone.

*This is, of course, a joke.  I am not encouraging anyone to do anything illegal, even if Apple would defend me when I tried to hide the evidence on my iPad.


Pros and Cons

As I’ve mentioned previously, I am an undecided voter.  In my continuing effort to decide, I had the thought that I could steal an idea from a bunch of sitcoms and make pro and con lists for both candidates.  I know full well that this won’t do much good.  It’s not like all pros and cons are created equal.  But, I thought it would be a fun exercise.  I will start with Hillary Clinton, not for any good reason.  I’m just going to start with her.


Hillary Clinton – Pros:

  1. By all accounts, she is extremely smart.
  2. By all accounts, she works harder than anyone.
  3. She has a unique perspective as a former first lady, former senator and former secretary of state.
  4. She would appoint progressive Supreme Court Justices.
  5. Her record shows that she gets things done.
  6. She’s a woman.
  7. She has shown a willingness to be open minded and even change her mind.
  8. She has been a consistent advocate of gun control.
  9. She has been a consistent advocate for children.
  10. She has been a consistent advocate for women.
  11. She is pragmatic.
  12. She would fight climate change.
  13. She would protect Obama’s legacy.

Hillary Clinton – Cons:

  1. She has, at times, shown bad judgement – see email servers.
  2. She is polarizing.
  3. Through little fault of her own, she has a lot of baggage.
  4. She is too old.
  5. She is too comfortable with the economic status quo.

Bernie Sanders – Pros:

  1. He understands how evil the banks are.
  2. Single payer health care would be nice.
  3. Free education (whatever that means, probably single payer education) would be nice.
  4. He is Jewish.
  5. He would appoint progressive Supreme Court justices.
  6. He has been a dedicated public servant for many years.
  7. He is more pragmatic than people think.
  8. He has a Keynesian outlook.
  9. He would fight climate change.
  10. He would probably protect Obama’s legacy.
Bernie Sanders – Cons:
  1. He doesn’t seem to understand what the word revolution means.
  2. He is too old.
  3. His supporters are polarizing.
  4. He has never been a good advocate for gun control.
  5. He seems to see everything through a class lens.
  6. He doesn’t make it clear that he understands how the world has changed since the 60s.

I know this is nowhere near a complete list for either candidate.  It is just where my thoughts tend to go when I think about them.  I still don’t see any big difference between them.  And I still think O’Malley was our best choice.  I guess it may be a coin flip when I vote in April.  I guess I can take solace in the fact that neither are likely to be disastrous and both have the potential to be excellent.


One Issue Candidates

In 1996, I took a class on political communication.  Since it was a presidential election year, our big project was to follow a candidate from January through May and write a report about them, specifically focusing on their communication style.  It was a good project and I learned a lot.  I was assigned Steve Forbes.  The professor warned us that we would either grow to love or to hate our candidates and she was right.  I detest Steve Forbes.  And, what’s more, I now have an almost visceral hatred of any one issue candidate.

For those who don’t remember, Steve Forbes is the son and heir of Malcolm Forbes.  He inherited a fortune and control of Forbes magazine.  For some reason, Steve decided that inheriting a lot of money and not bankrupting a successful business qualified him to be President.  His entire candidacy can be summed up in two words, “Flat tax.”  He seemed to think that every problem in America is a direct result of the graduated income tax.  He believed that if the tax code were changed so that everyone paid a 17% flat tax, every other issue would go away.  It wasn’t the sheer lunacy of his idea that irked me.  It was the way he answered every question that was put to him.

“Mr. Forbes, what is your stance on abortion?”

“If we had a flat tax, unwanted pregnancies would no longer be a problem and abortion would be a non-issue.”

“Mr. Forbes, Do you think the police were justified in beating Rodney King?”

“If we had a flat tax, Rodney King would not have turned to drugs and the police would have had no reason to bother him.”

“Mr. Forbes, do you prefer baseball or basketball?

“Flax tax.”

This was 20 years ago, and I’m quoting from memory, so the exact wording may not be right, but it also might be.  That’s how ridiculous he was.

In the years since 1996, I can’t help but notice that there is a Steve Forbes in every election.  It might be Ron Paul insisting that liberty is the only thing that matters or it might be Michael Peroutka who believes that we need to bring America back to its Christian heritage, but there’s always at least one.

This election is different because the one issue candidate has gained traction and is now among the frontrunners, Bernie Sanders.  Bernie seems to think that every issue is reducible to class.  It’s all about inequality.  This has created a quandary for me.  As this election’s Steve Forbes, I feel like I should hate Bernie on principal.  The thing is, I don’t hate him.  I think he’s wrong about the power of economic equality to fix non-economic issues, but I’m somewhat sympathetic to his old fashioned Keynesian approach to the economy.

In some ways, he has tried to talk about other issues since people started treating him as a viable candidate, but it seems pretty obvious, to me at least, that his heart isn’t in any of those other issues.  He just doesn’t seem to care about guns or crime or the environment or race or feminism except so far as the 1% (or the establishment) is causing harm in those areas.  That’s too bad.  As an undecided voter, I really want one of the candidates to give me a reason to support them.  As this year’s Steve Forbes, all Bernie would need to do is embrace another issue.  Sadly, I don’t think that’s likely to happen.


I just finished shoveling my driveway and I have to say, I love snow.  It should snow every day.  It’s strange.  Shoveling is more work than most household chores, but I kind of like doing it.  It’s definitely my favorite chore.  There’s a real sense of satisfaction when it’s done.  When you finish the laundry or the dishes, there is almost instantly more laundry or more dishes.  The lawn keeps growing even as you mow it.  But, when you shovel and you finish, you are finished.  The whole world can see what you just accomplished.  I wish all work was like that.