Monday, December 31, 2018

And so in closing...

Some random thoughts:

At the risk of invoking the Spectre of Mawkishness, I found myself actively searching for Christmas music on Pandora…on 12/29.  Usually, I am done with Yuletide-related songs at precisely the same time that local radio stations flip back to their non-Holiday programming.  Perhaps the season went by so quickly, I did not reach my quota of tunes like “Home for the Holidays” (as performed by the incomparable Perry Como).

Jesus, am I turning into my grandfather?  What in tarnation…

I will offer up one unambiguous Winner for 2018:  Allan Kittleman.  The statewide Republican “bench” in Maryland is closer in size to a standard-issue barstool, and now he can run for Governor without the worries that come with being County Executive.  When did Kittleman’s 2022 campaign launch?  When he delivered his in-person concession at Kahler Hall on Election Night.

What else is looking up for 2019?  Democratic socialism in the West.  With the rise of publications such as Jacobin in the USA and the timely re-launch of the Tribune in the UK, the Left is experiencing an intellectual Risorgimento (note: nationalist term appropriated on purpose) that is taking a fresh look at how best to create a fairer society.  A new generation of leaders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib being two of the best known among them, is emerging and sharing their vision of economic democracy and a government that is, of, and for “the many, not the few.”  With over 55,000 members (and growing) the DSA has become a political force in a way it hasn’t been since, well, it was DSOC.  And this membership only represents a fraction of those who find themselves in vigorous agreement with some of the major policy initiatives pursued by the broad Left such as a Green New Deal and Medicare for All.

2020 Democratic presidential candidates, and not just Senator Sanders, need to bear in mind the energy on the Left.  2020 is not just an opportunity to defeat Trump (which is an absolute must); it also provides a means to change the conditions that helped produce a Trump in the first place.

I am starting a new gig in January.  While I was able to publish a record 119 articles this year, including this one, I will likely be scaling back to something closer to once-a-week in 2019.  With an emphasis on international and national politics, with infused musings on popular culture or whatever esoteric interests capture my attention, it will be a different Spartan Considerations.   Maybe it will be entirely book reviews by June…or perhaps Slats will take over writing duties for weeks at a time.  Who knows? It's all a mystery...

Have a happy and safe New Year.

Always in solidarity.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Being and Its Alternative(s)

Presidential campaigns are defined both by those who choose to run, as well as those who opt against running.

For example, the race for the 1976 Democratic presidential nomination might have taken a far different path had either Senator Walter Mondale located the “fire in the belly” he deemed necessary to enter the fray, or if Senator Ted Kennedy decided to seek the presidency that cycle.

Or if Senator Joe Biden ran in 1984…he would likely have likely cut deeply into what became Gary Hart’s base, while also attracting a certain number of Mondale supporters.  Of course both Biden and Hart experienced their own problems in ’88.

Thinking about 1988, would Al Gore still have emerged as a top-vote getter (after Mike Dukakis and Jesse Jackson) had Bill Clinton been in the field as well? Would Dukakis have gotten anywhere if Mario Cuomo said, “I’m in?”

And flipping the script on the previous cycle’s scenario outlined above, would Bill Clinton have won the nomination in 1992, as damaged and flawed as he was, had Al Gore been available as an active alternative?

Would Paul Wellstone have fared better against Al Gore than Bill Bradley in 2000?  What if Joe Biden or Dick Gephardt had been presidential candidates that cycle?

Or what if Hillary Clinton ran for the White House in 2004? Or if Gore (again) followed up on his 2000 campaign in an effort to have a re-match against W.?  Would John Kerry have been able to obtain the Democratic nomination if either of those two sought it?

My point is all of this is that some names being floated as potential 2020 Democratic presidential aspirants, including at least one or two heavy-hitters, may decide to forgo a run this time around.  There are many reasons for this.  The time is not right for themselves and/or their family.  They see no clear path to the nomination.  They would rather wait for 2024 and an open seat (on the assumption that Trump somehow manages to serve two full terms).  They are not ready to enter the meat grinder.  The “Invisible Primary” isn’t going as well as expected for them (media attention, staffing, fundraising, etc…).

You want predictions? Fine.  While Cory Booker is currently making moves as a soon-to-be-presidential candidate, it would not surprise me if he took a pass on 2020.  He is young enough to run down the road and he is up for re-election in 2020.  Granted, bearing in mind recent changes to NJ election laws, he can pull a Bentsen and run for both President (or Vice President) and the U.S. Senate, so that removed one potential issue.  I still believe he is likely to seek the presidency in 2020, but I don’t yet see it as an automatic bet.

For different reasons, I think Joe Biden is not a mortal lock to run in 2020.  With a Democratic party looking to the future, do they really want as the standard-bearer someone who came to DC two years before the Watergate Babies took office and who has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate since 1984, the year Night Court began airing?  He and his brain trust must be pondering that question, recognizing that Biden is currently basking in the glow provided by serving as President Barack Obama’s veep.  What happens when the focus shifts to Biden’s full record?  Does he want to risk ending his long public service career on a down note, perhaps tarnishing his Elder Statesperson standing, for one more shot at the Big Chair?

Finally, while I believe the progressive electorate is large enough to support a field that includes both Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren, I don’t believe both of them will seek the nomination in 2020.  This cycle has all of the makings of Bernie’s Last Run (unless a 2024 re-election campaign is a possibility).  Meanwhile, Senator Warren doesn’t yet seem like someone who actually wants to run for President.  She clearly wants to accomplish substantive reforms, but she doesn’t strike me as someone who believes that they need to be a resident of the house at 1600 Pennsylvania to do so.

Booker. Biden. Warren.  At least one and possibly two will not buy the ticket for the 2020 ride.

The next few weeks will be a critical time as many candidates and their families are discussing The Big Decision and finalizing their go/no-go plans.  Those who announce “early” (before 2/28/19) will help shape the field and influence the choices of those who will make their intentions known in the spring.

So many possibilities, so many what-ifs.  All that can be known with certainty is that, somewhere in Iowa, at this very moment, five people at a diner are sipping coffee and patiently listening to John Delaney explain his vision for America. 

And so it goes.

In solidarity.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

12 Days of Slats and a 2020 Straw Poll

From the Pleasantly Festooned Volcano Lair of S. MacCune
[A subduction zone near you…]

Just like how Bruce Dickinson wanted, nay, needed more cowbell, the readership numbers tell the tale:  you are clearly demanding more Slats.   Fortunately, what with “Sparty” and his December schedule, I am in a singular position to generate the content you seek.  It’s like the Christmas of ’83 all over again, back when I was the only licensed Cabbage Patch Kids distributor in all of Belgrade.  Hauled in a yacht-load of dinars.  Used the proceeds to invest in Zastava Automobiles, maker of the Yugo.  It was a sound business decision…for a while.

So conducted a straw poll of its members regarding 2020 Democratic presidential campaign preferences.  The results can be found here.

Here is what is noteworthy:

1)    So Someone else/DK/Other placed first, 28.8%.  That is to be expected.  It’s important to remember that Jimmy Carter won the Straw Poll organized by The Des Moines Register at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Ames in ‘75 with only 23% of the vote and it was a huge boost to his candidacy.  Reporting on the event, The New York Times’ own R.W. Apple noted that “Mr. Carter, whose Presidential aspirations have been considered laughable by many Washington experts, won 23 per cent of the total.”  Oh how quickly Conventional Wisdom can be upended.  Carter went on to place first amongst the candidates in the Iowa caucuses with 27%, behind Uncommitted (37%), but he established himself as a serious contender who would go on to win both the nomination and the General Election.
2)    Beto O'Rourke (15.6%) placed first.  Like Mick Jagger, he is running the moment.  He also occupies what has historically been a “golden” position for Democratic candidates:  progressives think he is a progressive; moderates/centrists believe he is a moderate/centrist.  That is the formula that worked for Carter and Bill Clinton, and (to a somewhat lesser extent) for Kerry and (arguably) for Hillary Clinton in ’16.  Greater scrutiny, by the media and by his Democratic opponents, should he enter the race, may imperil his current perceived positioning, but many would-be D presidential aspirants would love to have such problems.
3)    Joe Biden (14.9%).  Do NOT read this as a sign that centrists are resurgent.  Regardless of Joe’s voting history in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, a fair number of those who indicate a preference for the former Vice President are viewing him through the Obama lens, which gives him a more progressive tinge.  One thing is certain, in a contested primary, his entire record will be discussed and dissected…at length.
4)    Bernie Sanders (13.1%).  In 2016, the vast majority of MoveOn members backed Sanders over Clinton.  Should the Senator from Vermont be concerned about a drop-off in support?  Not really.  In 2016, Sanders was the obvious choice for most progressives.  Now, MoveOn members and other left-of-center voters face many choices and folks (the ones paying attention at this point at any rate) are doing some browsing. No harm in that…but one would expect to see his numbers climb amongst MoveOn members shortly after a Sanders “I’m in” announcement.  If he stagnates with this constituency, he will have a hard time rolling into the Convention with a majority of delegates.
5)    Kamala Harris (10%).  Again, she is not a down-the-line liberal on certain issues (most notably, one should review her complete record on law-and-order and civil liberties issues) but, right now, she is a favorite among progressives.  On a debate stage with candidates such as Sanders or Warren or Brown, she probably wants to hold a “practical progressive” sort of positioning, but that will be a hard fought space on the continuum. Remains a candidate with a great deal of potential upside - and who can rally the entire party around her.    
6)    Elizabeth Warren (6.4%). Personal opinion:  she should have run in 2016.  I think she has lost some of her luster over the past couple of years.  Frankly, she should have polled better amongst MoveOn members, considering her national profile.
7)    Sherrod Brown (2.9%).  Speaking of national profile, he doesn’t have much of one, yet, so the fact that he finished ahead of Bloomberg and Booker is all gravy for him.
8)    Amy Klobuchar (2.8%).  Good recent visibility.  Swing-ish state in a key region.  Feels like a candidate who could slowly build a solid base of support among progressives, with a low-key approach that would contrast well with Trump’s over-the-top demeanor.
9)    Michael Bloomberg (2.7%).  Pass.
10) Cory Booker (2.6%).  I have a feeling that he is the second or third choice of many current Beto voters, which would explain his fairly unimpressive showing.  Still, he is my current pick for the potential D candidate most likely to change messaging strategies the most between now and Iowa.

Time to turn in.  How's that for a tagline.