All You Need To Know #11
The 2020 US Presidential Election
The original mission statement for this series was good news, once a week, about politics in the United States. And of course when I say“good news” I mean “Donald Trump losing.”
This week is going to be a little different. It’s important not to be so blind to bad news that you reframe everything as a great success when it isn’t. For example, when you lose your job or break a bone, you don’t need someone to tell you it’s all for the best because “at least you’ll have time to pursue your cooking.” It’s important to accept bad news when it happens so you can strategise your way through instead of fall for wishful thinking. That’s what I need to start with today.
So here’s the bad news this week: it’s become very clear that Trump is trying to cause chaos at the polls by slowing down the Postal Service. The idea is if the election has to be done via mail, we’ll have to wait. And the longer we wait, the more he can contest the election and throw the results into doubt. So if the Postal Service isn’t funded, and is actively dismantling mail machines, the wait can be extended even further. And that’s bad news.
So let’s line up some other facts and see where they land us.
First, the US Postal Service has an internal watchdog that makes sure things are on the up-and-up, and they’re on the case. Second, leaders of both parties, Republican and Democratic, have both sounded the alarm about this issue. Third, and this is important, this is not a fringe conspiracy theory or lonely whistleblower. This is front page news, and so far everyone seems appalled, with few defenders of the president or his hand-picked guy at the US Postal Service. Secretaries of State in New Jersey and Arizona have opened investigations, and the outrage seems to be picking up steam.
So that doesn’t make the news any less dangerous or terrifying. But it is worth pointing out that Trump isn’t getting away with it under people’s noses. In fact, the other day he “said the quiet part out loud” as the saying goes, when he openly admitted to the fact he wanted to slow down the Postal Service. Why? Because he didn’t like the idea of mail-in ballots. And everyone knows why not: when more people vote, Republicans lose. But when delays occur, Trump can get to work casting doubt on the the whole process.
So that’s the biggest story of the last few weeks, and will probably end up being the biggest story around the election itself. But there’s other biggest news of the week: the choice of Kamala Harris to be Biden’s Vice Presidential pick.
I’ve been rooting for Kamala Harris to be president of the United States since February 2019. My back-of-the-envelope math went like this: she’s a great debater, was a Congressperson, a Senator, and Attorney General of California. She’s black, which helps in places like the South, and she’s a woman, which is important because diversity of thought is important. Unfortunately, her campaign for president went down in flames and it seemed like that was that.
According to behind-the-scenes reporting, Harris was always the front-runner but kept impressing the selection committee throughout the process. I was surprised to learn that while Karen Bass was also a contender, she didn’t end up in the top five. I figured the biggest disqualifying issue would have been her support for Cuba and Castro many years ago, but the reporting said it was because Biden simply didn’t know her very well. On the other hand, he gelled well with Kamala Harris, who was also good friends with his late son.
Speaking of personal relationships, there was a fantastic article that highlighted more of how Obama and Biden worked together in the White House between 2009–2017. It’s worth reading in full, but the summary was that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are more bookish and wonkish, coming prepared to every meeting with extensive notes and research. Biden, in contrast, is more of a slap-your-back-let’s-make-a-deal extrovert. (He also didn’t go to an Ivy-League school, and got poor grades.) Which is fine, it takes all types.
But according to on-the-record statements, Republicans dreaded talking to Obama because he was arrogant, sanctimonious, and stubborn. He hated trying to convince the other side to join his side, and seemed impatient and disdainful of the entire ritual. The article refers to this joke in the article:
“People tell me I should get a drink with Mitch McConnell. Really? Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell? (Laughter) I’m sorry. I get frustrated sometimes.”
The delivery is perfect, and he gets a big laugh. It does a good job highlighting Obama’s famously introverted, Vulcan-style of leadership, and making it into a joke. But as much as I love Obama – I was saying he’d go down as one of the most consequential presidents in modern history back when his approval was in the gutter – I also love Dale Carnagie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People. Obama was simply refusing to meet with the head of the Senate? For four years? I’m sorry, that crosses the line from stubborn into political malpractice. The article points out that Biden simply doesn’t understand why that joke is funny. I’m with Joe.
If a Democratic president walks into a meeting with a Republican leader and essentially says “Your side is wrong and evil, so change your mind,” they won’t make any progress. And, indeed, Obama made very little legislative progress in the final six years of his presidency. I used to think it was because Republicans refused to work with him, but it’s clear it was a two way street. And that’s a shame.
Joe Biden, according to all reporting, is a lot closer to both Clintons, or someone like an LBJ. His attitude would be more “I have some things I need to get done for my side, and I know there are things you need to get done for your side too. Let’s figure out how to make us both look good.” Does that mean compromising on ironclad progressive values in order to break the logjam and score some wins? Yes, it does. But it also means you’re governing, negotiating, and consensus-building. Joe Biden seems cut from that cloth, as does Kamala Harris, and that’s the good news.
See you next week!