What We Told Our Kids Today

Our two children, our 6-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter, were very enthusiastic about this election. From the beginning, they’ve shown an enormous amount of genuine curiosity about it, and became quite emotionally invested. Of course, that’s because their parents were too.

We certainly knew that a Hillary Clinton presidency was not a foregone conclusion, and that it would not take some sort of upheaval or miracle for Donald Trump to defy expectations, but like most of the human species, it appeared so unlikely as not to warrant too much worry. So that’s what we shared with our kids. Optimism about the outcome, always grounded in the very real possibility that we were wrong.

They were excited that a woman might be president. We read them biographical children’s books to them about Hillary Clinton, and they truly admire her, as my wife and I do. They were comically hostile to Trump, with my son devising elaborate offensive machines that would batter Trump with multiple frying pans should he ever come to the door seeking our votes. My daughter was more concise, promising to “smack him in da FACE.” I discouraged the more overtly violent fantasies, but it was all in fun. (When I informed my son that Clinton had “kicked Trump’s butt” in the debates, he paused and clarified, “Metaphorically.” Yes, son, metaphorically.)

Among our many agonies on election night, my wife Jessica and I were sick over how to tell the kids what had happened in the morning. Jess was very worried, afraid that our son, who is at a very emotional phase, would panic. If the grownups were in tears, our sensitive kids would be too.

This morning, I snuggled up to my son in his bed, cuddled him close. Thumb in mouth, he rested his half-sleeping head on my chest. I rubbed the close-cut hair on his head, and wished I could lay there with him for hours.

Jessica came into the room, and as our son became more awake, she calmly broke the news in a gentle, measured, loving voice. “Donald Trump won the election.”

Over the course of the morning, here’s the gist of what we told our daughter and son.

We’re all okay.

There is no doubt that the election of Donald Trump is bad news. We absolutely don’t think he should be president. Maybe more importantly, we know that Hillary Clinton would have been an amazing president. We’re pretty sad, and a lot of people are going to be feeling very bad about this for a while.

Donald Trump is a man we disagree with on almost everything, but we in this family are going to be just fine. We won’t at all like a lot of what he does or tries to do, but he’s not going to “come and get us.”

Here’s what we can do now. For all the things we don’t like about the man who will soon be president, we can choose to be better. We can be kinder to the people in our lives, and help the people who need it. We can love each other and always be looking for ways to make our home and our community a better, happier place. It’s actually the most powerful thing we can do.

Remember that not everyone agrees with us. [Note: My son’s first grade class voted unanimously for Clinton in their mock election, but Trump eked out a victory in my daughter’s pre-K class.] When you go to school and when you’re around other people, remember that some of them are happy about this election, and others are very upset. Don’t be mean to the people who voted for Trump, and be gentle with those who didn’t. The idea is to put more love and kindness into the world, not less.

There are many people out there in the country and in the rest of the world who will have a much harder time with Trump as president than we will. We are very lucky in that we will be okay, and our lives will be just about the same. Others will have new troubles, and we need to help them however we can.

That’s more or less what we told them.

For our daughter, we were very clear and optimistic and passionate on one particular point: You can be anything you want to be. You can be president. You can accomplish whatever you set out to do. I think we told her this for our own sake as much as hers. I had brought her into the voting booth with me on Election Day, so she could be there when I voted for who we thought would be the first women President of the United States. Though she didn’t feel this way, I felt that more than anyone else we had let my daughter down.

After we first told our son what happened, as I held him to me in his bed and could not see the first reaction on his face, I worried how the news was hitting him. He lifted his head up, got to a sitting position, and my 6-year-old boy spoke.

“Can I write a letter to Hillary Clinton?”

He wants to write to her to tell her how sorry he is that she lost, that he knows she worked so very hard, and that he doesn’t want her to be upset.

That was his first reaction to the news.

If Jessica and I have succeeded in anything in our lives, it is in that we have brought into the world two human beings with good, loving hearts. They are kind, they are compassionate, they are empathetic. I am so deeply proud of them.

We proceeded through our usual Wednesday morning routine, and though heavy with the weight of what has happened and what is to come, we still had silliness and hugs and jokes as well as the mundane frustrations of getting out the door in the morning. My kids made me laugh, they got on my nerves, my son forgot his backpack so that we had to go back home to get it, and my daughter agreed to become president one day, before going to pet the preschool class’s bunny.

This is not a trivial thing. My family and I, along with tens of millions of human beings, have been let down by a huge portion of our fellow citizens. We were betrayed by legions of cynical opportunists, self-righteous purists, the blamelessly uninformed, the willfully ignorant, and the overtly malicious. Not only has a fascistic clown been elected president, but we’ve been denied the leadership of perhaps the most qualified, competent, and skilled president our country could have ever had. There is darkness coming.

But there is also light. My sensitive, curious, imaginative boy and my brilliant, brave, creative girl. They are luminous.

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The Plausibility Threshold

I’m not at all opposed to the idea of allowing third party candidates into the general election presidential debates. In most cases, of course, there’s little reason to, as even the exposure and legitimization it would give to said third party candidates would almost never result in one of them becoming seriously competitive for the presidency. (Ross Perot in 1992 was legitimately competitive, so he definitely belonged in those debates. In 1996, there was no real chance for him, and being on the debate stage wouldn’t have changed that.)

A great shame of our electoral system as it currently exists is that there is no mechanism for expressing preference for a third party in a way that doesn’t result in self-sabotage. It’s a first-past-the-post plurality game, so a vote for liberal-third-party-candidate X means one less vote for less-liberal-but-actually-viable-Democrat Y. Without something like instant runoff voting, the whole discussion is more or less moot.

But let’s pretend for the sake of argument, though, that our system is set up to make it reasonable to vote for third parties, and that there ought to be a relatively low threshold for getting into these debates. Let’s say, again for the sake of argument, that instead of the current 15 percent in polls, it’s something like 5. That would have probably gotten Ralph Nader on the stage in 2000, and in this election, it would easily qualify both Gary Johnson and Jill Stein.

But even granting all of this in our imaginary scenario, something still doesn’t sit right with me about it, and I think I know what it is.

To fully understand my thinking, you have to temporarily forget that the Republicans nominated a lunatic huckster this time around. Donald Trump’s presence in the equation clouds the air of gravity for the presidential debates, so it might help to replace him in your mind with someone like Mitt Romney or John McCain. So do that now. On this imaginary debate stage, with Martha Raddatz or Bob Schieffer or whoever moderating, you have some Romney-McCain type, former Secretary of State and Senator Hillary Clinton, and…Gary Johnson and Jill Stein.

Since winning isn’t in the cards for Johnson or Stein, regardless of the electoral system in place, the ostensible benefits of their participation in the debates would be 1) to have someone articulate positions and concerns not expressed by the major party candidates, and 2) to lend new legitimacy to, and build up the viability of, the third parties for future elections, sending the message that, yes, candidates from these parties are and will be serious options for the presidency.

But is Gary Johnson really presidential material? Really? He seems by all accounts to be a good, principled man with good intentions, and he was a governor, but still. He doesn’t seem to have thought through all of his positions, he has trouble answering questions in succinct sentences, and he hasn’t held an office since a year before Facebook even existed. In my opinion, he doesn’t quite present the figure of a plausible president, and the irony is that he’s the closest the Libertarian Party has ever come to offering up someone who does. He’s more of a “this is the best we could do” candidate for a struggling minor party.

And even presuming the best about Jill Stein (which is a major challenge for me), despite her admirable activist background, she has never won elective office (save for a “Town Meeting Seat” in Lexington, Massachusetts), she panders to conspiracy theorists and paranoiacs, and deifies people like Julian Assange. She is definitely not a plausible president.

And that’s so dispiriting. As someone who’s worked professionally for systemic solutions that would clear the way for third party candidacies, I would love to see a more vibrant and dynamic set of views represented in these debates, but that also means I want those views articulated by credible candidates. Plausible presidents.

This year, the Republican Party has decided not to put forth a plausible candidate. In my imaginary scenario, we had a veteran officeholder of real gravitas to stand for the GOP, but in reality, we have a dangerous man-child. So it’s easier to look to the third party candidates and think, well, shit’s already crazy, why not let them in too? And I get that. But it’s also true that he could actually win, unlike the other two minor candidates, so he needs to be confronted by his billion-times-more-qualified opponent in front of the nation.

But for the third parties, in the abstract, I don’t think debate inclusion achieves what these parties hope they might, and what they really need them to achieve: to show the American public that their zone of the political spectrum can offer up real presidents too. The Libertarians are almost there with Johnson, and frankly would be there now if they’d flipped the ticket and nominated VP candidate Bill Weld instead, or recruited some titan of Silicon Valley like Meg Whitman, Larry Page, or Sheryl Sandberg. The Greens are nowhere near plausibility right now, with Nader 16 years ago being by far the closest they’d ever come to putting forth a credible would-be president. I honestly can’t think of anyone today who might jibe with their politics and be a plausible president, save for perhaps Bernie Sanders.

I want to see that debate, with three, four, or more honest-to-goodness potential presidents advocating and arguing their cases. But our electoral system makes it pointless, and the candidates we’ve gotten so far from the third parties makes it doubly so.

The DNC Doesn’t Owe You Anything

I just want to expand upon a point I made snarkily on Twitter that’s gotten some attention and heat. I said:

BREAKING: Secret emails reveal that many in DNC did not like non-Democrat, anti-DNC candidate Sanders, preferred actual Democrat.

WikiLeaks (which probably needs a whole other post to complain about) released private email correspondences from the Democratic National Committee showing that, shock of shocks, the DNC really did favor Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders.

Well no shit.

There is nothing wrong with a political party’s operation preferring one candidate over another, especially if one candidate would be a terrible choice for nominee. Especially if that terrible choice also happens to have been a Democrat for about five minutes. Especially when that terrible choice seems to loathe the very party he wants to nominate him.

The DNC would be full of suicidal lunatics if they didn’t prefer one over the other when the choice is so stark. If it were a choice between, for example, John Kerry and Joe Biden, there would be little reason for there to be any kind of consternation over who might get nominated. Neither of those candidates oppose the party itself in any meaningful way, and both would have comparable electoral prospects. But Clinton versus Sanders is easy. If you are in the DNC, and you’re not a lunatic, you prefer the former Secretary of State and First Lady who’s mind-blowingly qualified and has been fighting for and winning Democratic objectives for decades. You don’t choose the batty old socialist from Vermont who has accomplished little in office, who has accused the party of all manner of crimes and corruption, and who isn’t even really a Democrat to begin with. Because, again, we’re assuming they’re not lunatics.

Ah, you might retort, as many have in various forms, So it’s okay that the party cheated and denied the voters their true choice???

Stop it, I say, you sound crazy.

First, there’s no reason to believe anyone cheated anything, and asserting as much is just conspiracy mongering. And there would have been no reason to “cheat” anyway, because Clinton — at all times throughout this entire campaign, without any exception of which I am aware — was the more popular candidate. Thus, she won the most votes, and also thus, won the most pledged delegates. So the voters actually got their choice. Just because you might not like that choice doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Second (and I feel like I’m beating this drum to death), political parties are not the government, and they have no obligation to choose the candidates they field for office by election. None. The DNC doesn’t owe you an election, or a voice, or any role in its nomination process whatsoever — especially if you’re not even a Democrat. They’ve chosen to go about it a certain way that includes a mix of statewide popular elections and the judgment of some party leaders. But any political party could decide tomorrow that they will choose candidates by random lottery, by a series of duels, by high score at Crossy Road, or — and I know this sounds nuts — by a bunch of party leaders getting together to hash out which candidate would best advance the causes of the party and have the best chance of getting elected. Insane, right?

This is to say that if the DNC did put their thumb on the scale for Clinton somewhere, that’s entirely within their right to do so. But it’s also true that there’s little evidence that they did any meaningful thumbing. The scheduling of the early debates on Saturday nights was stupid and transparent, and actually kind of cowardly, but it wasn’t evil or undemocratic or anything like that.

The DNC’s obligation is to further the Democratic Party. That’s what they owe you, the best shot for Democrats to be elected to office. They are not obligated to appease a loud and hostile constituency, or even to honor small-D democratic principles. They need to help Democrats who believe in Democrat things get elected. That’s it.

My only wish is that they were better at it.

Romney’s New Game, House Rules

Mitt Romney is not an idiot. He knows that he can’t possibly win a presidential election as an independent candidate. And that’s even assuming he could get onto the ballot in enough states in time, which he can’t, having already missed Texas’s deadline. No Republican/conservative candidacy can win without Texas.

But I still give credence to this Washington Post report about his and Bill Kristol’s recruitment efforts for an anti-Trump candidacy, and it all comes down to this single paragraph:

One related objective is to prevent both Clinton and Trump from clinching a majority in the electoral college and thus throwing the presidential election to the House of Representatives, under the provision of the 12th Amendment of the Constitution. This scenario played out in 1824, when Andrew Jackson won a plurality of electoral and popular votes but was defeated in the House by John Quincy Adams.

I don’t think this is a “related objective.” I think it’s the only objective. A presidential election decided by the House of Representatives is the only path to victory for Mitt Romney who, as I have noted, still desperately wants to be president. When he positioned himself as a fallback/draft candidate back when Trump’s victory was not yet assured, he must have known then that his chances were slim…slim but feasible.

And so it is here. It’s still pretty damned unlikely that a Romney independent candidacy could win any electoral votes, let alone enough to throw the election to the House, but it’s possible. He’d need to rack up electoral votes in states where he could plausibly squeeze out plurality wins against Trump and Clinton. The most likely places for that to happen, however, would be states that Clinton is already going to lose. So to make this plan work, Romney needs to eke out wins in a few blue states, and that’s really where this falls apart.

It’s not impossible. If we start with the 2012 race as a starting point, and, for example, give Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire, and Michigan to independent-Romney, the election goes to the House. This assumes that Clinton doesn’t flip any ’12 red states blue in the mean time. You could also have a scenario where, say, Trump wins Iowa from the Democrats, but Romney wins Virginia. You get the idea. Not impossible, but very unlikely.

But “unlikely” could be enough as far as Romney and the anti-Trump GOP forces are concerned.

Of course, there’d be one more enormous hurdle, which is actually winning an election by the House. It’s not a majority-vote situation there. If the presidential election goes to the House of Representatives, each state’s delegation gets one vote. So the question then becomes whether Romney could convince a majority of Members within each state’s delegation to vote for him. (Oh, and the Senate would pick the vice-president. Fun, right?)

A deadlocked Electoral College vote going to the House would normally be an easy win for the GOP in a two-person race, because of the party’s vast over-representation in Congress. But two “Republicans”? I wouldn’t begin to know how to predict that. But I can say that it represents a glimmer of hope for Romney’s quixotic, last-ditch effort in his decade-long quest to become president.

Presidential Primaries Might Be a Terrible Idea

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Political parties aren’t the government, even though the Democrats and Republicans have so entirely weaved their parties into the machinery of government and the electoral system. Constitutionally, the two major parties are no more “official” than the Natural Law Party or the Rent is Too Damn High Party. They are nongovernmental associations that organize to field candidates for public office around the shared positions and values of whatever coalition of interests they can cobble together.

As such, they can choose the candidates they’ll run for office any way they like. Right now, the two major parties base these decisions largely on constituents’ votes in primary elections and caucuses, run through a very porous filter of delegate allocation. But if they chose, they could have party bosses choose candidates in smoke-filled rooms. They could even draw straws to see who would run for what, or have prospective candidates engage in medieval combat. It’s up to them.

The primary system we have now is relatively new, and on its face, the idea that the constituents of a party would choose a presidential candidate by (more or less) a popular vote seems like a good idea. It feels, if nothing else, fair. This is a democracy, and so we’ll pick our candidates democratically.

We take this for granted as the wisest and most morally correct method. We can see this whenever the prospect of something that might contradict the popular verdict arises, like superdelegates in the Democratic Party, the specter of a brokered convention, or when the particular rules of a given primary or caucus seem less than straightforward. People’s hackles are raised, and there is much crowing about the right to vote and the subverting of democracy.

But of course, we do not have a constitutional right to vote for party nominees. (Indeed, we don’t even have a constitutional right to vote at all, but that’s another discussion.) Candidacies aren’t political offices. It may be cynical or underhanded for a party to subvert the will of its primary voters, but it’s not against the law or a violation of representative democracy.

In case you can’t tell, I’m no longer convinced that primaries are the best way to choose candidates for office. Even just confining the discussion to the presidency, it no longer seems self-evident, as it once did, that the two major political parties are doing anybody any favors (themselves or the American people) with the primary system as it is. I also don’t know if the alternatives are any better.

I used to work for the electoral reform organization FairVote, and wrote many thousands of words about ways in which the primary system could be improved, but those improvements always focused on increasing the democratic fairness of the primary system, including holding either a single National Primary Day or having a rotating calendar of primary elections, all to reduce the outsized influence of New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina on the process. As I write today, though, I’m not sure we should be having these elections at all.

Obviously, it’s this year’s election that’s making me lose faith in the system. The clearest example of primaries-as-shitshow is the GOP race, where an angry, violent, and happily ignorant band of racists is about to lift Donald Trump to the nomination. There is no way this is a good result, not for the Republicans, and not for the country as a whole, which will be subject to his idiocy and thuggery, and have to go through the motions of treating his candidacy with a show of seriousness. It’s abysmal. And if someone like Cruz were the other “popular” alternative among the GOP primary electorate, that’s no better. He’s a maniac, and such a maniac that even his own lunatic colleagues loathe him.

It’s not the same with the Democratic Party, but it’s still bad. Not because Bernie Sanders, if nominated, would be somehow be a disaster (though he would be far more likely to lose in my opinion). He’d be fine and perfectly respectable, and I’d be proud to vote for him, though I am a supporter of Hillary Clinton’s. But the fact that the choice of the Democratic Party’s nominee is being left largely up to Democratic voters, the supporters of the two candidates are incentivized to vilify the candidate they don’t support. If there were no primary contest being held, Bernie people and Hillary people would overlap, and everyone would be cool with each other, working together toward common goals, even if not all of those goals are shared in precisely equal measure. But since we’re subjecting them to a popular election, we have Bernie supporters trying to convince the world that Hillary Clinton, the likely nominee, is evil incarnate, a lying, heartless monster who must be destroyed, which of course damages her chances for the general election and overall poisons political discourse among the constituents of the only party that is, right now, serious about governing.

So imagine a scenario in which a presidential nominee is chosen by existing officeholders within a political party, and that’s it. All the party’s governors, Members of Congress, and heck, even the state legislators and mayors and whatnot, all get together, in person or virtually, and argue and debate until they hold a vote, and then pick their party nominees. It has at least the whiff of representative democracy in that all the stakeholders will have been themselves elected, but it avoids the mob-driven death march of the primary campaign.

Or maybe we still have primary elections, but as they have at times been, they are straw polls, beauty pageants, displays of strength and potential support among the grassroots. And after the entirely non-binding straw poll votes are held, the aforementioned party officials take that into account when making their decision.

Or maybe there’s something else that makes more sense. Maybe a board of directors of a party should just hash it out in a room, with or without the smoke. Maybe a randomly chosen “papal conclave” of party stakeholders should figure it out and draft a candidate. I don’t know.

But what I do know is that we have a problem with primary elections. They’re producing bad results, either in the candidates they annoint or the damage they do to a party. I can’t say I’m now wholly opposed to them in principle, but I can say that perhaps it’s time to at least consider that we should save all the democracy for Election Day itself.

‘Twas the Night Before Iowa (Which Probably Won’t Matter)

2012 GOP Iowa Caucus winner, President Rick Santorum. Um.
Here’s what I think of the state of the race on the night before the Iowa caucuses.

The polls right now for Iowa are more or less meaningless. Yes, Clinton and Trump are both up a little in the final pre-Iowa poll, but it doesn’t really matter. Save for the poor bastards in single digits, the Iowa caucuses are one of the least predictable “elections” in modern politics. For candidates within a few points of each other in polling, everything can hang on innumerable (and entirely banal) factors: Will it rain? Is there snow? Are people too busy? Are babysitters available? Are there enough cars and vans to bring people to caucus sites? Do enough people give enough of a damn about who becomes the nominee to show up, or is everyone pretty content with whoever winds up winning? Did we call enough people? Did we knock on enough doors? Did we know on too many doors, and call too many people, and become annoying?

Hell, if it’s really close for the Democrats, it could all come down to which campaign has been nicest to O’Malley, as his utter lack of viability in just about every caucus site means his few voters will have to go with a second choice. The candidate O’Malley’s voters like better could decide the whole night.

I was in the Hillary Clinton war room for the 2008 caucuses, and hopes were pretty high. I think the prevailing sentiment was that we would place a strong 2nd (behind Edwards, I thought), but alas, we were trounced by Obama and edged out by Edwards to land at 3rd. Remember the Democratic race in 2004? Wasn’t Howard Dean supposed to win that with Gephardt close behind? They came in 3rd and 4th.

So forget the polls as far as the top tier candidates are concerned. For Clinton/Sanders and Trump/Cruz, this is up in the air.

So while I won’t predict any winners, I will predict this: Iowa won’t really matter. Let’s say Sanders does win, and by a meaningful margin. He could take that momentum, build on his support in New Hampshire, and win big there, too. A rocket-launch to the nomination, right?

Look, it’ll totally suck for Clinton if she loses both Iowa and New Hampshire, and Hillary Death Watch will be on full alert. But I can’t for the life of me foresee a scenario where Sanders takes these wins and turns them into victories in South Carolina, Nevada, and the big states for Super Tuesday. Does anyone really think Sanders can win in South Carolina, where the African American vote is the whole ballgame? Or in California? Or New York? It’s possible, of course, but at this point it seems absurd to think so.

I think Iowa is slightly less meaningless for the Republicans, only because a decisive win by Trump could indeed begin the end of the race, for it would certainly catapult him to an even larger victory in New Hampshire than he is already likely to enjoy. I am skeptical, though, of a Trump win in Iowa, simply because I suspect his on-the-ground operation won’t match the religious fervor of Cruz’s supporters. And if Cruz does win, it’s no big news, it’s more or less expected, so the race remains one between him and Trump, and we trudge on. Nothing in the race’s dynamics change as a result of a Cruz victory.

Iowa’s greatest impact will likely be to begin the weeding out of the also-rans. The bottom half of the Democratic candidates more or less lopped themselves off after Iowa in 2008. I can’t see any reason for folks like Fiorina, Santorum, or Huckabee to trudge on once they get shellacked in Iowa. (And I suspect Huckabee is readying to endorse Trump after Iowa, and so a Cruz victory could be heavily dampened by a key establishment-evangelical nod like that.) Alas, Iowa losses likely won’t deter Kasich, Bush, or Christie, who have their hopes pinned on New Hampshire. And Rand Paul seems to be running for something other than the GOP’s presidential nomination, so who knows.

On the Democrats’ side, O’Malley will stay in the race as long as he technically is able. Why? Bernie or Hillary could get hit by a bus or something, and he wants to be ready to fill a spot just in case.

What do I know? A year or so ago, I certainly thought Cruz would be one of the main contenders for the GOP nod, but I also thought Rand Paul would be his main competition. I could be entirely full of it.

But that’s never stopped anyone from making predictions before. And I think at this point in my career, I’ve learned at least something. I can’t wait to find out!

The Democrats’ First Debate: Nothing Changed, and That’s Huge

Photo credit: Hillary Clinton / Foter / CC BY-NC
In a sense, nothing really changed about the dynamics of the race as a result of the first Democratic presidential debate, but that in itself is extremely important. Clinton performed as excellently as I expected, and probably reminded many folks why they liked her to begin with. Sanders also did himself some good by setting himself up as a substantial and passionate contrast to Clinton. With neither of them making any meaningful mistakes, they served to solidify the existing situation, which is a win for Clinton.

O’Malley may have helped himself to a percentage point or two in the polls, if for no other reason than that he was fluid and enthusiastic, and appeared to be a plausible alternative to the current top tier. But he gained nothing that truly effects Clinton’s or Sanders’ positions. I do have to wonder if O’Malley’s slickness came across as sincere or contrived to the average viewer. He was laying it on quite thick at times, and as an actor and a veteran political observer, I don’t trust my own view to know how he comes across to others.

Webb and Chafee performed abysmally. I was genuinely embarrassed for both of them, especially considering that they both seem like good, well-intentioned public servants who would otherwise probably deserve a fair shot at consideration. But Webb was all grouse and resentment (and weirdly threatening China), and Chafee was an unmitigated disaster. I can’t think of anyone in a presidential debate who has ever performed as poorly as Chafee did tonight, and I’m including Quayle. For his own sake I hope he drops out tonight.

But again, Webb and Chafee had no effect on the larger race, and tonight really only served as a chance for voters to rule them out, and perhaps — perhaps — consider O’Malley. Which merely buys O’Malley a point or two at best.

So, as I said, this debate changed very little, other than to settle the race for a while, to where it more or less has been anyway.

With one exception: Joe Biden.

I don’t know if Biden is still considering running, and I’d be shocked if he was. But after tonight, it doesn’t matter. By not participating in this debate, I believe Joe Biden ruled himself out of the race. The fashionably late don’t get to be president, and, learning the lessons of Wesley Clark, Rick Perry, and Fred Thompson, he must know that. Biden is, as of tonight, a non-factor in this primary race.

And that is a big, big win for Hillary Clinton.

Yes, I’m Conflicted About Hillary Clinton. But I’ll Damn Well Get Over It.

Image by Chatham House (CC 2.0)
I have lots of feelings about Hillary Clinton. Heck, I used to work for Hillary Clinton. She had no idea, of course, but for about three months as 2007 turned into 2008, I was a media researcher for her presidential campaign, more or less the guy standing at the castle parapets yelling “incoming!!!” whenever anything of any note whatsoever was said about her in more or less any medium. (It was so stressful and frenetic that my body almost entirely shut down, and I had to quit after being on the job for what were, admittedly, the worst three months of the campaign for her. At one point we actually thought I might have brain cancer!)

(I didn’t.)

Showing up hither and thither in my social media streams this weekend has been this excellent piece at Elle by Rebecca Traister, and it in many ways echoes my own panoply of loves and loathings in regard to Secretary Clinton. For Traister, I gather, the internal conflict is mainly about the ideological boxes Clinton has not checked (or checked too late), versus the burning need — personally for her and for society as a whole — for a brilliant, mega-qualified woman to be, not even just elected president, but even be treated fairly as a presidential candidate.

My conflicts are in a similar vein, but they are more strategic, I suppose, than ideological. Like Traister, I too desperately want us to get over this ridiculous hump and finally, for the love of sweet flappy jeebus, elect a woman president. Like Traister, I fume and nurse ulcers over the grotesque personal scrutiny to which this woman is regularly subjected, the grossly unbalanced way she’s covered as a candidate, and the need the press establishment feels to bring her down, to make her “sorry” for, well, whaddaya got?

But I’m far less ideologically conflicted. I understand that she’s never been the Perfect Liberal. I totally get that my well-meaning friends who support Bernie Sanders do so because he holds positions that satisfy most liberal orthodoxy (which I largely support as well), and that he has skillfully positioned himself as a man of the people who tells it to you straight. It’s probably mostly sincere! And that’s great. Go, Bernie! Seriously!

But that’s not the kind of person who gets shit done from the highest reaches of global power. Running any government is often compared to steering a giant ship, where one can only make minor adjustments to the course at any given time, given the speed, weight, and size of the vessel. Running the U.S. government, including its innumerable foreign-policy tendrils, must be more akin to trying to steer an Imperial Star Destroyer. In the water.

What I’m saying is that being an effective President of the United States means being able to intellectually process vast amounts of data; to have extraordinary insight and empathy into myriad sensibilities, needs, and hopes; to have the grit to make extremely difficult decisions, not just about war and peace or life and death, but about what small concessions to make or what humiliations to endure to advance a larger cause. To put it more starkly, this person needs to be able to wisely and decisively know when to compromise even foundational tenets of morality, democracy, and ethics in order to score a meaningful win for the greater good.

(The Bush administration believed it was doing so when it decided that systematized torture and a doctrine of preemptive war were an acceptable trade for national security and economic pillage. But that’s another thing.)

I’d bet there are only a few people on Earth who can even bring themselves to even make such decisions, let alone make the right ones. I don’t think Bernie Sanders is that kind of person. He’s clearly a good, intelligent man, but frankly, he’s not Machiavellian enough. Not to my tastes. I’m sour on Sanders the presidential candidate because I don’t think he’s ready to confront the ugly and the uglier, and figure out the difference.

Clinton is. This woman is better suited than probably anyone on the planet to steer the star destroyer, nudge by nudge, by crucial and perilously timed fractions of degrees. She’ll have the brains and the guts, I think, to make the tough calls, and even the horrible calls, to do the right thing. Yes, I want The Prince, and I want The Prince that’s on my side.

And guess what, this is also where my conflict sets in. Look at the 2008 campaign, and you tell me if she made all the right horrible calls in order to advance the greater good. Was doing anything suggested by Mark Penn ever a good idea? Was refusing to say outright that Barack Obama was not a Muslim a good idea? Was hiring a staff that bullied and belittled the journalists covering the campaign a good idea? (I was in the room for a lot of those calls.) No, they were not.

So she’s willing to do the dirty work, she’s willing to go for the throat when the times call for it. I’m not 100 percent sure she’s sufficiently wise enough of the time to go for the right throat at the right time. Just as there is something pathological about the press corps’ need to see her suffer, there is something strangely chronic about Clinton’s ability to set her own landmines, and pretend they’re not there. I felt queasy as journalists were tweeting banal (and even at times endearing) personal emails from Clinton’s servers, but I feel just as sick over the idea that she had such a server, and seemed to think nothing would come of it. Why does she (and/or her universe of functionaries) let these things happen?

Ideologically, I’m more or less fine with Clinton. She came to gay marriage late, fine, so did most of anyone in the party who matters. She made the wrong horrible choice on the Iraq vote, but, again, she was hardly alone. (And I’m more sympathetic to foreign adventures than most of my liberal brethren, but come on, even I knew the Iraq invasion was a contrived bullshit boondoggle right off the bat.) But on the vast array of issues before us, she’s on the right side. She “cozies up to Wall Street”? Good! I hope she cozies up to them so close that they don’t even feel it when she sticks a knife in them and bleeds them out.

And the bottom line for me is that we essentially have the choice between a flawed but fiercely powerful and qualified Hillary Clinton, or the political equivalent of an asteroid strike with the election of any of the Republican candidates to the presidency. It’s hard to calculate the damage such an impact would cause, but it would blot out the sun for ages.

To beat whichever craggy planetoid the GOP throws at us, I want the candidate who will come at them with ruthless, superior force. Because I want more, not fewer liberal justices on the Supreme Court. Because I want a stronger wall of separation between church and state. Because I want economic policy that stops simply shoveling money toward the already-rich. Because I want a president who gives two shits about equality, education, science, and fucking nuance.

And I want a goddamned woman president.

So I’ll get over my conflicting feelings. Let’s get this damned star destroyer pointed in the right direction.