It's Primary Time: Get on Board

Becky O'Malley
Monday February 10, 2020 - 05:36:00 PM

UPDATE on Valentine's Day: The New Hampshire primary didn't change much. The newsies, bless their tiny hearts, are desperate to turn the race into a two-team clash of cultures, but really the modest voting pools in two small White states are being wildly over-interpreted. I still recommend voting for the person best qualified to actually be president, and that's still Warren. 

A friend called me the other day to ask who I’m supporting in the state Assembly District Democratic delegate race. She’s going out of town and wanted to return her absentee ballot before she left.

Oops. The California primary has snuck up on us, hasn’t it? People are getting their ballots already and voting by mail.

My friend did ask me who I’m voting for in the presidential primary before getting my take on the delegates. Even though she was my compañera in our Get Out The Vote excursion to Akron in 2016, she wanted to make sure we were still on the same wavelength before she took my advice. She’s a smart lawyer, very political, but she doesn’t always track candidates down to the local level as I sometimes do.

Yes, of course, I told her, I’ll be voting for Elizabeth Warren.

Warren has the best mix of brains and experience of all the candidates for the Democratic nomination. Her goals are very similar to the worthwhile ones ably publicized by Bernie Sanders. But comparing the two of them reminds me of the old joke about Ginger Rogers, who did everything Fred Astaire did, and she did it backwards and in high heels.

In case you missed it, Elizabeth Warren is a woman. She’s been one the whole time she’s been getting an education and then rising to the top in the several spheres in which she’s excelled: federal administration, the Senate, academia—while also raising kids as a single mother. That’s the political equivalent of dancing backwards in high heels. 

My inquiring friend and I both went to law school while we had small children, so we know that’s not easy, even though unlike Elizabeth Warren we both had supportive partners. The first time I applied to law school, at the University of Michigan, I was told by a dean that they’d never admitted a mother with little kids and weren’t about to start. That attitude had changed somewhat by the time Warren was a law student, but it wasn’t entirely gone. She needed to be tough to get through. 

But here’s the thing, as she would say: Even though she’d make the best president of the current bunch of aspirants, some of the others would be just fine too. 

There’s been a lot of tongue-clucking by the Very Serious Press, notably the NYT and the WP, over the relatively modest turnout in the Iowa caucuses. Occam’s Razor suggests to me that there’s a simple reason why a lot of Dems stayed home that night. 

These Iowa voters probably agree with me that in the general election against Trump, they’re ready to vote for any of these Democratic candidates, regardless. Since that’s so, why should they bother to go out for several hours on a cold Iowa night to support one or another? 

There’s analytic support for this hypothesis. I met someone at a holiday party who said he was related to a top pollster in the last generation, perhaps his father. He said that his relative often claimed that if he could interview potential voters at length, he could accurately predict who they’d vote for even before they’d made up their own minds. 

In my own experience doing door to door precinct work, I learned that there were very few genuine swing or undecided voters. Most who claimed to be independent were actually not very interested in politics and seldom showed up at the polls on election day. The regular Democratic voters knew what they wanted from the git-go, and my job was to make sure they could vote. 

A poli-sci professor at an obscure Virginia college has been getting a lot of digital ink lately with an innovative forecasting model for predicting election results. Rachel Bitecofer claims that she accurately predicted, within one congressional seat, how many Democrats would win in 2018 and take back the House. 

Further, she says that “By and large, I don’t expect that the specific nominee the Democratic electorate chooses will matter all that much unless it ends up being a disruptor like Bernie Sanders.” That’s a prediction for the November general election, not the primaries, of course. 

Her hypothesis seems to accord with my own observation: that there aren’t many swing voters, and it’s all about turnout, given a normal Democratic candidate. If all the people who hate Trump show up, the Democrat will win. 

If the professor is right—and she shows persuasive data—there’s not much point in individual voters like us trying to suss out which candidate the remnant of wavering centrists might prefer, because there just aren’t enough of them to affect totals. That leaves people like us free to decide on Super Tuesday which Dem might make the best president. 

I was pained, none the less, to hear a young woman who should know better, the daughter of a distinguished attorney mother, complain that Warren sounds too much like the former schoolteacher she in fact is. The problem seems to be that for many their childhood teachers were the strongest female authority figures in their personal background, so any woman who speaks up sounds like a teacher to them. 

But what’s wrong with that? Even women, even feminist women (and of course many men) don’t want to be told what to do, it seems. But voters must look beyond presentation to policies when deciding which candidate would make the best president. And they should not make the mistake of trying to decide which would make the best candidate—that's different. 

Though we can’t resist trying: 

Bernie Sanders? Too old, and perhaps too wedded to his edgy Socialist persona. Those who care about such things (I’m not one of them) point out that he’s not even a Gen-U-ine Socialist, but more of a Social Democrat. 

In schoolyard lingo, Bernie Doesn’t Play Well With Others. And he hasn’t really done much but serve as mayor of a small town and senator from a small compliant state. 

Warren offers similar ideas, sans the Socialist label, which could be unnecessarily off-putting to some. 

Amy Klobuchar? She presents well, thanks to her background as a trial litigator and her Minnesota Nice dialect. But as a former prosecutor she lacks Warren’s breadth of experience. Her policy ideas are vague at best. 

Mayor Pete? Another mayor of a small city. I’ve been surprised (and not pleased) to learn that he was a contemporary of Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard and has gotten staffers (and probably money) from the Facebook crowd. Probably okay anyhow. 

The best you can say about Biden is that he's forgettable, 

Which brings us to Bloomberg, Steyer and whoever’s left standing by November. If money talks as it’s reputed to, the billionaires could be sucking all the air out of the race to help their big bucks holler. 

Have I forgotten anyone? 

Yes, Virginia, I’d vote for any or all of them, if Trump is the opponent, and you should too. 

In March, in California, however, you can pick as you choose for Best in Show—so I’m picking Warren. And the “March” primary has begun. 

By the way, you’ll have heard a lot of hype in the meantime from media who like to cover politics as if it belongs in the green section with sports. Discussion of how the caucuses got so screwed up has attached significance to the failed caucus reporting technology which it doesn’t deserve. 

Iowa’s not much of a hightech place, so it’s not surprising that their Democratic honchos were suckered by a software system that was not ready for prime time. In my long midlife stint as a tech manager I learned to say that “anyone who believes a programmer deserves what they get.” It’s seldom possible to accurately predict how long software design and implementation are going to take, as amply demonstrated in Iowa. 

Which reminds me of another handy slogan, usually attributed to IBM: “A demonstration is an opportunity to fail”. There’s a world of buggy code out there just waiting to embarrass you on its first public appearance, so test, test, test before going public. And please, make sure everyone involved is at the necessary level of digital sophistication, which the Iowa precinct workers clearly weren’t. 

It’s tempting to extract global implications about the future of the Democratic Party from the Iowa foolishness, but don’t. It could happen to anyone, and it does. 

What’s important, still, is getting out the vote everywhere it counts. This year of all years the main job is combatting scurrilous attempts at voter suppression, in Wisconsin, Georgia and everywhere in between. There’s a variety of worthy groups working to support key local organizers, often mature women of color who know their neighbors and can help them get their fair chance at the polls. Find one and support it if you have time and/or money to spare. 

And of course for now don’t forget to vote for your own best choice in the California Primary, now underway at a mailbox near you. Whoever you might choose, one of them will win in November if no one screws up too badly. 

P.S. Another reason for me to choose Warren just came up today. 

Asked who would be her "Mike Pence” if elected, Elizabeth Warren quipped “I don't need one—I already have a dog.” 

A woman who’s ready with a snarky comment which makes me laugh out loud is my kinda gal.