So, um, it’s Joe

Think back to those heady days of 2017. Think about the righteous anger of a people relearning what it means to be subjected to minority rule. Think of the fury directed at the buffoonish demagoguery of a wannabe strongman. Remember the wide-eyed possibilities we’d dreamt up. 

Maybe Michelle would run. Or Oprah! One of these hotshot senators could do the trick, or maybe we’d finally let Bernie take a crack at it! 

Now think back to the relief of November 2018. That feeling that you weren’t crazy. That reassuring sense that help was on the way, that the cavalry was on the horizon. 

Now look at a photo of Joe Biden. Fuck. Try to calm down. Fail. This is, apparently, our guy. 

It’s a very strange sensation, to watch the most important primary of our lifetime just kind of slip into the background. I was never a Bernie backer but his politics are closer to mine than Biden’s are, and I can’t imagine how surreal this has been for the Berners. Years spent organizing and rallying and volunteering and dreaming and then… Clyburn endorses Biden, half the field drops out and endorses him over the course of 15 minutes, Super Tuesday’s a sweep, and it all ends with a whimper as a pandemic ravages the globe. 

Ok. Cool. Fuck. It’s a little bit like if your smart friend vouched for some guy 12 years ago and now, on the strength of that recommendation, that dude is responsible for saving the fucking world. 

Again, it’s cool. 

But after all that, we have to take a few breaths. Based on a cursory knowledge of the age demographics of our subscribers, I’m gonna guess that much like me, Joe wasn’t your first choice. Or second. Or really in your top five. And this isn’t going to be a lecture about how you have a responsibility to vote for him anyway, or how entertaining third parties is a form of privilege (read a very good piece on that here though). 

This is just to say that it’s really fucking strange that the American experiment—the world’s oldest democracy, having survived world wars, pandemics, depressions, a civil war, and approximately 350 years of refusal to live up to its founding principles—now hinges on the capabilities of a guy we thought would be remembered at best as a funny uncle to the American people and at worst as a creepy uncle to the American women.

But that’s where we’re at. The world is ending, the president’s a neofascist, climate change is hurtling at us with growing speed, and a coalition that most young people aren’t part of picked Joe Fucking Biden to save us. That’s how democracy works. It wasn’t rigged, it’s not unfair. More people thought he should be the guy than any other. 

Godspeed, Joe. I guess. 

Hey Democrats, what if we made the primaries good?

The Democratic primaries have been, in PoliSci terms, an ungodly shitstorm. First Iowa made a strong argument that democracy itself is a failed experiment. Then New Hampshire couldn’t decide between Pete Buttigieg or his emotionally abusive mother Amy and ended up just going with their lovable socialist grandpa. By the time people of color were allowed to vote in any real numbers, every nonwhite Democrat had dropped out (I’m not going to sit here and acknowledge T*lsi G*bbard).

So it got me thinking, what if the primaries were… good? Like, what if instead of a long, national waking nightmare, we had a system that allowed the best candidates to rise to the top without forcing the eventual nominee to kowtow to a few unrepresentative states?

As I see it, there are a few key problems to address:

  • A couple states currently play an outsized role in picking the nominee. Every cycle, candidates spend years flocking to Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. The rest of us are lucky to get a few weeks of Super PAC ads and some cursory promises to never forget the great people of [state/commonwealth/territory]. It’s why corn subsidies are politically untouchable and why Elizabeth Warren is sending Tom Brady to the Las Vegas Raiders.
  • Those states look nothing like America. It’s breaking no ground to point out that New Hampshire and Iowa are overwhelmingly white and nonurban. But it’s still breathtaking to think about: in a nation that’s expected to be majority people of color by 2050, the most politically important states are 92% and 88% white respectively. Nevada and South Carolina certainly provide some much-needed diversity, but Iowa and New Hampshire set the tone; this year, the vast majority of candidates dropped out before Nevada and South Carolina even voted.
  • A national primary would heavily favor the biggest spenders. It’s tempting to ask why we can’t just have a single-day, 50-state primary to give us all an equal voice. But the reality is that unless we’re willing to commit to 100% publicly financed campaigns, a national primary would be more of a test of fundraising prowess and name recognition than anything. Picture Mike Bloomberg dropping a billion dollars on ads in the month before voting and walking away with a plurality of delegates. And as painful as it is, it’s useful to ask candidates to navigate a lengthy, multi-faceted primary because it gives the press and the public time to determine frontrunners based on actual votes and vet the candidates accordingly.
  • If we remove the elements of the process that winnow the field, we risk contested conventions. This is a big part of why the primary calendar is so disjointed and elongated. The expectation is that candidates will slowly drop out, giving us either a one-on-one fight (Obama–Clinton 2008, Clinton–Sanders 2016, Sanders–Biden 2020) or a coronation. If we democratize democracy too much, we’ll end up with chaos on the convention floor every four years.

The solution, I believe, is a multi-state wave approach, in which each wave is intentionally similar to the nation as a whole in terms of race, age, and cost of living—and with a focus on regional parity. And I hope it goes without saying that this also means ending undemocratic caucuses in favor of true primaries.

The idea is that by grouping the states into waves we not only give more states a place of importance in the process, but also we can more easily give a voice to underrepresented groups. Each of the five waves would account for 15–20% of the total delegates—with the exception of Super Tuesday—to ensure candidates have no incentive to skip a wave they see as less favorable to them. Each wave would also have geographic diversity to prevent a candidate from sweeping to victory just because a region favorable to them voted first. But wherever possible, there are a few states in the same region in each wave, so that candidates low on funds or name recognition can more easily canvass multiple states at once.

The final consideration was how to avoid a contested convention. This is where things get a little less equal. The earlier voting states would have lower viability thresholds to earn delegates; these thresholds would gradually increase until the final wave is winner-take-all by state. The GOP already uses winner-take-all primaries to avoid brokered conventions, and there’s no reason Democrats can’t adopt this practice in the last wave as a final safeguard.

So, what would this look like in practice? A modest proposal is below.
Look at that, early voting states: you get to keep your place! The reality is that Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina are not inherently bad places to start. They’re relatively affordable to advertise in, they’re geographically disparate, and three of the four are swing-ish at minimum. They’re just incomplete. For this wave, I targeted a mix of low-cost states and states with large population centers to make sure that urban and suburban voices are heard. Illinois and Michigan, with their diverse metro areas and expansive rural geographies, offer a good cross-section. Mississippi and South Carolina give the Black Belt a voice. And Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada have above-average Hispanic and Native American populations. This wave is a bit whiter than the nation on the whole, but it’s dramatically better than Iowa and New Hampshire on their own—and crucially, six of the nine states are frequent or upcoming swing states.
Wave 2 would see far fewer states but slightly more delegates. The presence of these larger states so early both encourages nonviable candidates to drop out and gives higher population density locales (read: “places where people live”) more power. And in Wave 2, five out of six states are likely to be swing-ish in coming years. Where Wave 1 was whiter than the nation on average, Wave 2 has a higher percentage of Hispanic Americans, although it’s worth noting that the Texas Hispanic community (many of whom have roots pre-dating Texas’s entry into the United States) is quite different from the largely Cuban community in Florida. Hopefully, bringing these diverse states to the forefront of the process would force candidates to consider individual communities in their platforms, rather than broadly defined demographic groups. 
Super Tuesday is essentially a necessity due to California’s size and would likely be many candidates’ last stand. With a 20% viability threshold and large expensive states in play, any candidate who hasn’t caught fire after the first 14 states would be highly incentivized to drop out. California is obviously the big prize, but the Rust Belt, Northeast, Midwest, Deep South, Mid-Atlantic and Pacific Northwest are all represented. The West Coast states also provide an opportunity for Asian American voters to be counted. Making it through Super Tuesday would be expensive, but with nearly a full month between Wave 2 and Wave 3, candidates would have time to assess whether they got the fundraising boost needed from the first two waves to continue on.
Wave 4 comes just two weeks after Super Tuesday and features another massive delegate prize that comes with a hefty price tag: New York. The Northeast on the whole is more represented in Wave 4 than elsewhere, but candidates who focus only on the East Coast would miss out: the Great Plains, Mountain West, Southwest and West Coast are all included too. And Wave 4 features three of the five states with the highest percentages of Native peoples; hopefully, by consolidating these states in one wave, these communities can finally get the attention they deserve. With a 20% viability threshold, any campaigns hanging on past their due could come up empty and be forced out.
Many years, the contest will be over by this point and the presumptive nominee can clinch a delegate majority in this wave. That’s why many states that are traditionally less important in the general election—and are full of Republicans—make up the final wave. But in years when the nomination is coming down to the wire, larger states like New Jersey, Tennessee and Missouri could play kingmaker. And the biggest consideration for Wave 5 is the move to a winner-take-all format. Imagine a frontrunner who struggled through a crowded primary and gets to Wave 5 with 40–45% of delegates; a winner-take-all final stage provides the opportunity to secure an outright majority and avoid a contested convention.

All in all, this process would still not be perfect. The heartland could claim it’s sequestered to Wave 5, while crucial states like New York and California don’t vote until midway through the process. The accelerated timeline—designed to spare voters from months of redundant debates—could make things tough for insurgent candidates. Not to mention, this does nothing to address voter suppression and the disruptive force of outside spending.

But giving voters from so many of the disparate communities that make up America a more equitable role in the electoral process will surely create a more democratic process. And with any luck, it’ll help Democrats answer the whole “electability” question a little easier and a little faster, by letting truly representative elections decide.

The Democratic Candidate We Aren’t Talking About

It seems that the Democrats can’t unite behind one candidate. Bernie’s too old, Biden’s too creepy, Warren’s too lefty, Mayor Pete’s married to an aspiring Instagram influencer, Klobuchar’s too angry, Michael Bennet’s apparently still in the race. But for some reason, nobody is talking about the perfect candidate, one that encompasses all the most salient liberal values: my labrador retriever, Gator.

Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the corner: yes, Gator is a male. I know. I want to see America’s first female president in my lifetime, too, and I will gladly support any woman with the Democratic nomination who isn’t named Tulsi Gabbard. But this election is more important than any in post–Civil War American history, and we need a candidate who will win and bring the liberal agenda to the executive branch, and then bring the branch back to me. Gator is that candidate.

Gator would be a spectacular steward of Democratic policies. As a survivor of a harrowing wave of government-subsidized canine genital mutilation that struck suburban Colorado in the 1990s, he is adamantly pro-choice. He believes in decreasing unemployment rates, as long as every household has at least one person at home at all times. He pledges to increase funding to municipal services and has a plan to have a fire hydrant on every street corner by 2022. And he’s great on foreign policy, too; just last week, he said in an interview with Michael Barbaro that the assassination of Qasem Soleimani will almost certainly result in a cyberattack reprisal, proliferation of Iranian nuclear programs, and a general destabilization of the Middle East.

As important as his policies are, he also needs to be reliable during the general election, because nobody knows what sorts of curveballs will come careening at him from the right. That’s perhaps the most compelling argument in favor of Gator: he is absolutely gaffe-proof, because we put him down ten years ago this April.

I already know the next word to come out of your mouth: “Electability.” I appreciate the strategic mindset, but, to be frank, the mere discussion of electability here is a little offensive. Do you really think America isn’t ready for a president that is overweight, a dog, and a decade into the afterlife? Look, we simply cannot decide the Democratic candidate based off our impressions of what center-left and center-right voters want! It’s time to take control of the liberal movement and elect a candidate who really embodies this nation, and also the dwindling vestiges of my childhood.

I mean, he’s a yellow lab. How much more American can you get? He is the dead dog equivalent of a prosperous small business owner whose parents came over from Eastern Europe with only the clothes on their backs. But even more agreeable to Americans. Think a prosperous small business owner whose parents emigrated from Northern Europe.

I’m not going to argue that Gator is perfect. He was dumb as a box of hammers, and he really lost control of his bowels in his sunset years. But think about all the upsides! He has no opposable thumbs, so he can’t tweet. He doesn’t even know what a quid pro quo is. He could get a White House dog and look after him as his own dog.

Democrats, the choice is clear. Vote Gator for President in 2020. And for VP, honestly I think Steve Bullock.

70 Days in Impeachment Purgatory

The impeachment hearings have been nothing if not dramatic. Marie Yovanovitch quietly admitting she was intimidated when the president attacked her mid-hearing. Alexander Vindman assuring his father that he would be ok, no matter who he testified against. Gordon Sondland going on record to say that there was a quid quo pro, that the president ordered it, and that everyone knew about it.

But a dramatic buildup doesn’t preclude an anticlimax. And isn’t that where we’re heading? Hasn’t that been where we’ve been heading the whole time?

Look, there’s value in impeaching this president. And there is (however small) a possibility that this process could remove him from office. The Senate could vote by secret ballot, Republicans could choose not to run for reelection en masse, the public could swing hard against him even in deep red states. Sure. Why not.

But mainly, it’s symbolic value. This entire process—from the whistleblower report to the secret depositions to the public melodrama playing out on national TV—has been a statement. That there are some sort of consequences for misbehavior, even if you’re rich, white, and the commander-in-chief. That you have to pay some price when you sell out the national interest.

And it may be as little as forcing the president to send his lieutenants in to defend him. It may just be the knowledge that he’s stressed about this, or that he might hesitate (for even half a moment) the next time he’s pleading for a foreign nation to save his election chances. But it is something, and that matters.

But where does that symbolic value leave us? We all know what happens next. Witnesses lay out the case, Republicans claim Ukraine was behind the Kennedy assassination, the House votes to impeach and 53 Senators acquit. There’s no point in stopping the proceedings, but there’s no real, practical purpose in keeping them going.

We are, in other words, in impeachment purgatory.

It’s this strange no-man’s land where every day the evidence gets stronger, and the odds of removal stay the same. The two are unrelated, completely separate entities operating in different planes of existence.

In the first plane, there is a parade of career diplomats coming forward under oath to declare time and again that the president directed an extortion scheme at a U.S. ally for his political gain. In the second plane, there is a parade of senators coming forward to declare that no one knows what happened and it’s impossible to find out—for their own political gain.

To watch the nightly news has become surreal. Each evening some somber news anchor reads out the litany of charges that Executive Branch officials leveled publicly against their boss that day. It feels compelling and compounding, with evidence mounting from every direction. But there is always the unspoken element—that none of it matters—looming off screen.

I guess that’s really what our time in Impeachment Purgatory comes down to: Does any of this matter? Is it worth fighting the good fight, even if you know how it ends? And if not, where do we go from here?