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Danziger: In Vino Veritas

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at

Can Warren, Sanders, Or Biden Actually Beat Trump?

With President Trump raging like Shakespeare’s mad King Lear on the heath, it can be difficult for an entirely sane politician to get an audience. Assuming that is, that any psychologically normal person would insert himself or herself into the bizarre spectacle that will be the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Also assuming that Donald J. Trump is the GOP nominee, which appears less certain by the day. If he had any sense, Trump would accept an immunity deal and go back to laundering Russian mob money and pestering Playmates.

But that’s not going to happen.

Even so, the contrast between Trump’s mad tantrums and the mundane civility of the recent Democratic presidential debate couldn’t have been more striking. Somebody’s got to win the nomination, but a viewer could be pardoned wondering if anybody on that Ohio stage actually can. There was dispiriting air of unreality about the whole thing.

Like it or not, an American presidential election is a TV show, and the Democratic debate was a bad one. Did anybody not being paid actually sit through the whole three hours? It’s hard to imagine.

It’s trite to say that eleven candidates are almost twice as many as can stage an actual debate. But it does have the advantage of being true. Until the voting starts, there’s no way to winnow the field down to a reasonable size. So until then, confusion rules.

Then there’s the uncomfortable suspicion that none of the leading candidates appears especially convincing in the role. I see no Bill Clinton or Barack Obama; no brilliant political performer. Even if you’re favorably disposed toward former Vice president Joe Biden—as I am, partly because he reminds me of my late father—he’s appeared less than commanding. Supporters can’t help dreading his having “a mature moment” at the podium.

Verbal glitches have little to do with one’s intellectual capacity, but everything to do with voter perceptions. (Never mind that Trump appears on the edge of dementia; his cult-like followers literally cannot see it.) Having written that Biden’s too old to run for president, I haven’t really changed my mind.

But then it’s not my decision.

Then there’s Bernie Sanders. Putting aside his recent heart attack, Bernie’s even older than Biden. It’s tempting to leave it right there. True, he appeared as vigorous and stubborn as ever during the debate. His most passionate supporters appear dedicated to re-fighting the 2016 primary against Hillary Clinton, who’s actually not running.

Despite his earning roughly 12 million fewer votes than Clinton, many contend that Bernie was cheated. They foresee a mighty wave of working class voters that will sweep all before it, a fantasy that has tantalized what are now called “progressives” since 1917 or thereabouts.

Dream on, Bernie-crats. Back in 2016, Michelle Goldberg wrote a terrific Slate article headlined “This Is What a Republican Attack on Bernie Sanders Would Look Like.” Because Clinton never needed to go negative, few voters are aware of the depths to which Trump would be only too happy to sink. Suffice it to say that nobody who served as a presidential elector for the Trotskyite Socialist Worker’s party—which proclaimed “solidarity” with revolutionary Iran during the 1980 hostage crisis—will ever be elected president.

And there’s more, lots more. Not to mention some cringe-worthy writings about underage sex that Sanders would probably like to take back.

No matter. Elizabeth Warren has taken Bernie’s issues and pasted a smiley face on them. Sen. Warren appears to have a plan for everything except how to persuade any imaginable U.S. Congress to enact any of her brilliant ideas into law. As a political candidate, she makes a terrific Harvard professor. My own suspicion is that her support has peaked, and that after the actual voting starts Warren’s relative standing among the candidates can only decline.

Keep in mind that I’ve been wrong before.

Anyway, because nobody wanted to attack Joe Biden under present circumstances, it was Warren whom rival candidates questioned most sharply. She handled it badly. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the two Midwestern moderates in the race—the term “moderate” evidently signifying a Democrat who can count—wanted to know where Warren proposed to get the money and the votes for her “Medicare for All” proposal.

She had no answer, but promised one. The New York Times’ Paul Krugman pointed out that since Warren “has made policy seriousness a key aspect of her political persona, so her fogginess on health care really stands out.”

Klobuchar noted tartly that “the difference between a plan and a pipe dream is something that you can actually get done. And we can get this public option done.” Meaning that the votes for Obamacare reform are in sight, as they’re certainly not for Warren and Sanders’ single-payer scheme.

So can Warren supporters abide compromise? We shall see.

Why Are Democrats Promoting Ideas Most Voters Reject?

Seeking a ratings extravaganza, the same cable news networks that televised Donald Trump’s airport arrivals during the 2016 campaign as if he were the Pope or the Rolling Stones are currently presenting another kind of “reality TV”: the 2020 Democratic presidential debates.

That is, if your idea of “reality” is watching 20 politicians—at least 15 of whom have no more chance of winning than my cat Albert—prodded by CNN personalities to bicker and insult each other to entertain millions of goobers out in TV-land with nothing better to do. Sheer infotainment!

Me, I recorded the proceedings and watched after the Red Sox game. It’s my job. Frankly, I find the mute button and 30-second advance helpful. CNN’s rules make real debate impossible. Say you’re a candidate and some TV faith healer or Russian-backed stalking horse trashes your character and reputation. You get 15 seconds to respond before Dana Bash shuts you down.

Q.: Who would voluntarily participate in such a spectacle?

A.: Only somebody literally crazed with ambition.

Q.: Is this any way to choose what we once called (pre-Trump) “The Leader of the Free World?”

A.: It’s sheer folly; also the only method we’ve got.

Many pundits, such as Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty, judged Sen. Elizabeth Warren the big winner, largely because of a “zinger” she got off at the expense of Rep. John Delaney, an obscure former Maryland congressman trailing my aforementioned orange tabby in the polls.

Delaney had compared Warren to Democratic losers Walter Mondale and George McGovern (who won two states and the District of Columbia between them.) “Democrats win when we run on real solutions, not impossible promises,” Delaney said regarding Warren’s (and Bernie Sanders’s) “Medicare-for-All” scheme.

“I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for,” Warren responded. “I don’t get it.”

Cheers erupted in faculty lounges all over New England. A more perfect combination of feckless idealism and snide put-down is hard to imagine. I’ve seen it referenced like Holy Writ by passionate progressives.

Tumulty opined that “no one did a better job than the Massachusetts senator in laying out a purpose for seeking the presidency and offering a clear picture of what she will do with it if she wins.”

Yeah, she’ll spend four years scolding everybody for falling short of her lofty standards. A vast improvement over Trump no doubt. Nevertheless, to me, it was pure Alice in Wonderland.

Although it’s impossible, I must have gone to high school with Elizabeth Warren. She told me I lacked school spirit.

And I like Sen. Warren. Really, I do. She’s honest, hard-working, and extremely smart. I even think she has a lovely smile. (Not as radiant as Joe Biden’s maybe, but he’s got a world-class politician’s mug.) During this election cycle, she’s doing Democrats a great service by shunting Shouting Bernie aside.

However, she’s also Michael Dukakis in a pantsuit. (Dukakis won 10 states, plus D.C.) You read it here first: No Ivy League professor of any gender will be elected president barring unforeseen cataclysmic events: an economic collapse, a mad war with Iran, or both. Even then probably not.

Elizabeth Warren has a plan for everything. Except, that is, a plan for getting her brilliant schemes through any imaginable Congress and past the US Supreme Court. Whether proposed by her, Bernie, Sen. Kamala Harris, or Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Medicare-for-All is a dead bang loser.

Polls show strong majorities even of Democratic voters are resistant.  Anybody who’s ever run afoul of the Social Security Administration or the V.A. understands why. People just don’t trust government to get it right—certainly not on the first try—and will need to be brought around by degrees.

Colorado put a Bernie-backed single payer proposal on the ballot in 2016. It was rejected 80 to 20 percent.

After watching the first Democratic debate last week, Vox’s Ezra Klein expressed dismay on Twitter, “So far,” he wrote” the big picture on the debate is the leading Democrats will criminalize private health insurance and decriminalize unauthorized border crossing. It’s a very different theory of the electorate than Democrats deployed in 08 or 12 or 18.”

Free college, student debt forgiveness, and slavery reparations are similarly unpopular. Washington Monthly’‘s Martin Longman put it best: “What really makes no sense is to propose things that are incredibly unpopular with the key groups the Democrats need to win that have no prospect of being enacted….I don’t expect the candidates to spend all their time talking about what cannot be done. But I wish they would please stop proposing things that people hate. It’s not smart politics.”

One thing I’ve learned from baseball? There’s no such thing as a six-run home run. The important thing is not to give away outs.

Harris Is Formidable, But Don’t Count Biden Out Yet

Purely as a sporting proposition, I would love to watch Donald Trump debate Sen. Kamala Harris. The combination of her race, her beauty and her lacerating wit would scare him half to death. I’m guessing he’d concoct an excuse not to show up. Not his type, you see. Definitely not his type at all.

That goes for Donald Trump, Jr. too. He viewed it as a “Wow!” moment that some African-American Trumpist said Harris isn’t really black because her parents were born in Jamaica and India, respectively.

 If you’re looking for a working definition of bigotry, that would do. Don, Jr. subsequently withdrew his ill-advised tweet because he feared people would misunderstand.

Misunderstand what? It seems perfectly clear to me.

Then there’s the matter of Kamala Harris’s political ruthlessness. If not particularly honest, there’s no doubt her takedown of former Vice-president Joe Biden during last week’s Democratic debates was carefully scripted. Scolding her rival for co-sponsoring anti-federal busing legislation back in 1974—that’s right, 45 years ago—Harris informed him that “there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bussed to school every day and that little girl was me.”

Caught by surprise, Biden did a poor job of explaining that locally-mandated racial integration plans were exactly the kind he favored—as opposed to almost universally-disliked federal government schemes concocted in Washington. No matter. According to the Sacramento Bee, “Harris’s campaign immediately posted an elementary school photo of the senator on Twitter and started selling $30 “That Little Girl Was Me” T-shirts on its website to commemorate the viral moment.”

Now that’s some fancy political footwork. In San Francisco, she later told reporters that she supports busing today as a way to integrate schools: “Listen, the schools of America are as segregated, if not more segregated, today than when I was in [school],” she said.” We need to put every effort, including busing, into play to de-segregate the schools.”

Fat chance of that, regardless of who’s elected president in 2020. If Harris thinks Biden’s talking to segregationists back in the 70s was a shame—one of whom, Georgia Sen. Herman Talmadge, he’d described as “one of the meanest guys I ever knew”—just wait until she tries to get their political heirs like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to bring back busing.

So it’s all posturing, nothing else. For that matter, fat chance of getting most Democrats to support such a scheme. As liberal-leaning columnist Froma Harrop reminds us, even back in the day, “a Gallup poll…indicated that only 9 percent of blacks and 4 percent of whites preferred busing as a means of integrating schools.”

Indeed, I would argue that, historically speaking, busing did a lot of harm: creating white flight suburbs that hollowed out the cities, hurting urban public schools, and fostering segregated private academies. It’s largely responsible for politically unipolar neighborhoods everybody pretends to lament, although the sad truth is that public school integration alone did a lot of that.

In the Hillcrest neighborhood of Little Rock where I live, for example, persons unwilling to send their children to the city’s famous Central High School moved away, leaving Republicans thin on the ground. Fine with me, frankly, although the rural Arkansas county where we’d spent the previous ten years voted two to one for Trump, and I had no problem with that either.

But I digress. Back to Kamala Harris. With her father a Stanford economics professor and her mother an M.D. breast cancer researcher, after their divorce she attended high school in Montreal, Quebec—hardly a hardscrabble youth, indeed less so than Joe Biden’s, whose father sold used cars.

No matter. Post-debate polls appear to show Harris’s calculated attack upon the front-runner was mission accomplished. Biden dropped as many as ten points in some surveys and Harris appears to have attracted most of them. More damaging was the perception that the old pro had lost a few steps. Is the former vice president really up to the job of taking on Trump?

My own impression was twofold: First, Biden appeared taken aback by the seeming personal animus in Harris’s attack. He won’t be ambushed next time. Second, I thought he looked tired. At his age, I’d have scheduled a few hours of downtime before an evening event—not napping, just time away from the crowd.

But then to me, being president would be far less exhausting than the harrowing ordeal of campaigning for it.

No point pretending to be 35. You’re not.

Besides, Trump himself is a fat old man.

One debate, moreover, is just that. Get back to me six months from now. By then, the posers will have dropped out, and Democratic voters will have serious decisions to make.

Bringing back 1970s-style busing won’t be among them.