Blow and Krugman

In “The Fire Meets the Wall” Mr. Blow says in South Carolina and many of the coming primary states, demographics appear to work in Hillary Clinton’s favor.  Prof. Krugman has a question in “How America Was Lost:”  Why is the death of a Supreme Court justice bringing America to the edge of constitutional crisis?  Here’s the SASQ:  Because one party has gone completely, utterly, barking mad.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

You don’t need a firewall unless there’s a fire, and a fire is precisely what the candidacy of Bernie Sanders has set off among disaffected Democrats.

His message is clear and resonant — that we must rein in big business and stop their unfair practices, embrace some common-sense measures as universal rights — like access to health care, paid family leave and free public college to all — curtail the corruptive influence of big money on government, and reverse the trend of income inequality.

It is hard for liberals to argue with this as a statement of principle. The only question is, “How?” For some, the answers are unsatisfactory, particularly when considering the political realities of an intransigent Congress that has attempted to block the current president at every turn.

But saying to people who believe in Sanders’s vision that it is a mirage is injurious to their sense of wonder and determinism. It says: Stop believing that the impossible is possible. That lands like a wet blanket. It’s antithetical to the American ethos. This country’s lore and its image of its own greatness is rooted in doing what had never been done, what no one thought could be done.

So, Sanders continues to pick up steam as voters, particularly young ones, say, “Why not?” Especially if the Republicans can believe in the preposterous boasts of their front-runner, why can’t Democrats believe in the wondrous wishfulness of its underdog?

That belief has allowed Sanders to finish in a virtual tie with Hillary Clinton in Iowa and trounce her in New Hampshire. It has also allowed him to raise millions of dollars and fuel a growing feeling that his candidacy isn’t all unicorns, rainbows and fairy dust, but could produce a real victory.

But now that we have moved away from Iowa and New Hampshire, where the geography and demography favored Sanders, the fire is about to meet the wall in South Carolina.

There most factors favor Clinton.

According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll taken last month in South Carolina: “Among likely Democratic primary voters including those who are undecided yet leaning toward a candidate, Clinton, 64 percent, outpaces Sanders, 27 percent, by more than two-to-one.”

One of the biggest reasons for this is the one that most people point to: African-American voters.

In that poll, Clinton’s lead rose to 74 percent to 17 percent among likely black voters in South Carolina, according to The New York Times.

While the percentage of Iowa’s black caucusgoers this year was just 3 percent and New Hampshire’s primary voters was just 2 percent, in 2008, the last time South Carolina held a competitive Democratic primary, black voters made up a whopping 55 percent of the voters.

Furthermore, there are other compounding factors that make the state harder for Sanders to win.

The percentage of younger voters in South Carolina is likely to be smaller than the percentage in Iowa and New Hampshire has been. In 2008 and this year, the percentage of Iowa Democratic caucusgoers under 30 years old was 22 percent and 18 percent respectively. In New Hampshire, the percentage for primary voters under 30 was 18 percent and 19 percent, respectively. The number of voters under 30 in South Carolina in 2008 was 14 percent.

South Carolina also has slightly more women voters. While Democratic primaries and caucuses generally tend to have more female than male participants, South Carolina is one of the most female primaries. In 2008, only 39 percent of the people participating in the Democratic primary in that state were men. That was compared to 43 percent men in both Iowa and New Hampshire. This year Iowa was again 43 percent male, but New Hampshire grew to 45 percent male.

Clinton won the female support in Iowa, and although she lost it in New Hampshire, she lost it by a smaller margin than she lost the male vote by.

Now Sanders, the clarity candidate, has to do a nuanced dance around his criticisms of Obama, of whom these black voters are likely to be protective and to whom they are likely to have allegiance.

In last week’s debate, a testy, abrasive and often flat-out rude Sanders tried to navigate this terrain, and failed. When Clinton attacked him for his criticism, an attack Sanders called a “low blow,” Sanders responded: “Last I heard we lived in a democratic society. Last I heard, a United States senator had the right to disagree with the president, including a president who has done such an extraordinary job. So I have voiced criticisms. You’re right. Maybe you haven’t. I have.”

All true, but unfortunately in today’s politics, nuance loses. Hillary loses in her nuanced argument about practicality, and Sanders loses in his nuanced argument about criticizing the president.

For all these reasons, Clinton’s margin in South Carolina seems to me too wide to hold to the current degree, but sadly for Sanders it’s also one that seems too wide to completely close. And on the horizon are many more states that look more like South Carolina than Iowa and New Hampshire.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Once upon a time, the death of a Supreme Court justice wouldn’t have brought America to the edge of constitutional crisis. But that was a different country, with a very different Republican Party. In today’s America, with today’s G.O.P., the passing of Antonin Scalia has opened the doors to chaos.

In principle, losing a justice should cause at most a mild disturbance in the national scene. After all, the court is supposed to be above politics. So when a vacancy appears, the president should simply nominate, and the Senate approve, someone highly qualified and respected by all.

In reality, of course, things were never that pure. Justices have always had known political leanings, and the process of nomination and approval has often been contentious. Still, there was nothing like the situation we face now, in which Republicans have more or less unanimously declared that President Obama has no right even to nominate a replacement for Mr. Scalia — and no, the fact that Mr. Obama will leave soon doesn’t make it O.K. (Justice Kennedy was appointed during Ronald Reagan’s last year in office.)

Nor were the consequences of a court vacancy as troubling in the past as they are now. As everyone is pointing out, without Mr. Scalia the justices are evenly divided between Republican and Democratic appointees — which probably means a hung court on many issues.

And there’s no telling how long that situation may last. If a Democrat wins the White House but the G.O.P. holds the Senate, when if ever do you think Republicans would be willing to confirm anyone the new president nominates?

How did we get into this mess?

At one level the answer is the ever-widening partisan divide. Polarizationhas measurably increased in every aspect of American politics, from congressional voting to public opinion, with an especially dramatic rise in“negative partisanship” — distrust of and disdain for the other side. And the Supreme Court is no different. As recently as the 1970s the court had several “swing” members, whose votes weren’t always predictable from partisan positions, but that center now consists only of Mr. Kennedy, and only some of the time.

But simply pointing to rising partisanship as the source of our crisis, while not exactly wrong, can be deeply misleading. First, decrying partisanship can make it seem as if we’re just talking about bad manners, when we’re really looking at huge differences on substance. Second, it’s really important not to engage in false symmetry: only one of our two major political parties has gone off the deep end.

On the substantive divide between the parties: I still encounter people on the left (although never on the right) who claim that there’s no big difference between Republicans and Democrats, or at any rate “establishment” Democrats. But that’s nonsense. Even if you’re disappointed in what President Obama accomplished, he substantially raised taxes on the rich and dramatically expanded the social safety net; significantly tightened financial regulation; encouraged and oversaw a surge in renewable energy; moved forward on diplomacy with Iran.

Any Republican would undo all of that, and move sharply in the opposite direction. If anything, the consensus among the presidential candidates seems to be that George W. Bush didn’t cut taxes on the rich nearly enough, and should have made more use of torture.

When we talk about partisanship, then, we’re not talking about arbitrary teams, we’re talking about a deep divide on values and policy. How can anyone not be “partisan” in the sense of preferring one of these visions?

And it’s up to you to decide which version you prefer. So why do I say that only one party has gone off the deep end?

One answer is, compare last week’s Democratic debate with Saturday’s Republican debate. Need I say more?

Beyond that, there are huge differences in tactics and attitudes. Democrats never tried to extort concessions by threatening to cut off U.S. borrowing and create a financial crisis; Republicans did. Democrats don’t routinely deny the legitimacy of presidents from the other party; Republicans did it to both Bill Clinton and Mr. Obama. The G.O.P.’s new Supreme Court blockade is, fundamentally, in a direct line of descent from the days when Republicans used to call Mr. Clinton “your president.”

So how does this get resolved? One answer could be a Republican sweep — although you have to ask, did the men on that stage Saturday convey the impression of a party that’s ready to govern? Or maybe you believe — based on no evidence I’m aware of — that a populist rising from the left is ready to happen any day now. But if divided government persists, it’s really hard to see how we avoid growing chaos.

Maybe we should all start wearing baseball caps that say, “Make America governable again.”



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