Kevin Drum

We Are Live-Blogging the Democratic Debate in New Hampshire

| Thu Feb. 4, 2016 8:53 PM EST

As debates go, this one was pretty good. The moderators generally did a good job, allowing the candidates to argue when it made sense, but ending things when it looked like there was nothing useful left to say. This is a lot easier with two people than ten, of course, and also easier when both candidates are relatively civil.

Hillary was more aggressive than I've seen her before. Her complaint early on that Bernie was slandering her with innuendo and insinuation (and "artful smears") was tough but, I think, also fair. And I have a feeling Bernie felt a little embarrassed by it. He was certainly careful to pull things back to a civil tone after that. Hillary is not a natural campaigner, but she's a good debater, and this was Hillary at her pugnacious best.

Obviously foreign affairs are not Bernie's strong point, but I was still a little surprised at just how poorly prepared he was to say much of anything or to draw much of a contrast with Hillary's views. Either he really doesn't know much, or else he thinks his dovish views are losers even among the Democratic base. I won't pretend that Hillary was a genius on this stuff—almost nobody is on a debate stage—but at least she sounded well briefed and confident.

On financial issues, Bernie was surprisingly weak. This really is his strong point, but he continues to have a hard time getting much beyond platitudes. I get that it's a debate and 90 seconds isn't much, but it's still enough time for a little more detail than "the system is rigged." Hillary didn't do much better, but she held her own and gave a strong response to the two (!) questions about her Goldman Sachs speeches.

Overall, I doubt this debate changed many minds. Bernie insisted that we can dream. Hillary insisted that we figure out what's doable. I'd score it a clear win for Hillary based on her aggressiveness and generally solid answers compared to Bernie's platitudes and obvious reluctance to attack hard. But I admit this might just be my own biases talking, since Hillary's approach to politics is closer to mine than Bernie's.

Debate transcript here.


11:06 - And that's a wrap.

11:04 - Hillary: We need to "come up with the best answers." That's her campaign in a nutshell.

11:02 - No, neither Hillary nor Bernie will pick the other as VP. Come on, Chuck.

10:58 - But Bernie will happily get suckered! It's campaign finance reform for him.

10:55 - Hillary isn't going to be suckered into setting a top priority, thus throwing all the others under the bus. Come on, Chuck.

10:47 - I thought this was a 90-minute debate. What's the deal?

10:44 - Regarding Flint, I will not be happy until either Hillary or Bernie mentions that we now know lead poisoning leads to higher crime rates, "as brilliantly set out in an article by Kevin Drum a couple of years ago." I will vote for whoever says this first.

10:42 - Bernie on the death penalty: In a violent world, "government should not be part of the killing." I have to admit I've never really understood this particular bit of reasoning.

10:31 - Ah. Hillary now gets to use Colin Powell as backup for her email problems.

10:29 - Hillary is thrilled about all the young people supporting Bernie. OK then.

10:25 - Bernie loves the caucus process? Seriously?

10:17 - Bernie: "Pathetic" that Republicans refused to support VA reform.

10:12 - I hate to say this, but Bernie on North Korea sounds about as well briefed as Donald Trump. Very strange situation. Handful of dictators—or, um, maybe just one. Gotta put pressure on China. "I worry very much about an isolated, paranoid country with atomic bombs."

10:10 - Bernie does himself no favors on national security. I'm closer to his position than Hillary's, but Bernie honestly sounds like he's never given this stuff a moment's thought. At least Hillary has some views and sounds confident in her abilities.

10:08 - Bernie wagging his finger again. I'm pretty sure the hosts will call on him regardless.

10:06 - Bernie really needs to have a foreign policy other than "I voted against the Iraq War."

10:05 - Why is there bipartisan loathing of being "the policeman of the world"? What does this even mean?

10:03 - Hillary: we have a very cooperative government in Afghanistan. You bet. Wildly incompetent and corrupt, but pliable.

10:01 - Everyone agrees that a Muslim civil war is the right way to handle the Middle East.

9:59 - Hillary frequently insists on responding even when Bernie hasn't really left a mark. Leave well enough alone!

9:58 - Hillary provides Shermanesque answer about not sending ground troops to Iraq or Syria.

9:46 - Oh FFS. Is "Release the transcripts!" going to be the next big Hillary "scandal"?

9:44 - Unfortunately, Hillary doesn't really explain her more complicated financial regulation plan very well. There's probably no help for that, especially in 90 seconds.

9:42 - I'm with Hillary on reinstating Glass-Steagall. To me, it's the Democratic equivalent of raising the retirement age to save Social Security: easy to understand, but not the best answer by a long way.

9:41 - Hillary defends her Goldman Sachs speeches competently, but Bernie doesn't really fight back. He just provides a generic answer about the pernicious power of Wall Street.

9:31 - Hillary is attacking very hard tonight. Bernie voted to deregulate derivatives! Not that there's anything wrong with that. You think she's played this game before? Bernie responds by telling people to look up a YouTube.

9:29 - Bernie answers with generic criticism of special interests and money in politics. Not a strong response.

9:27 - Hillary criticizes Bernie for claiming to run a positive campaign, but constantly attacking her "by innuendo, by insinuation." Then she asks him to stop the "artful smear" he's been carrying out against her. This is a tough hit on Bernie.

9:26 - Hillary: "I won't make big promises." Not sure that came out as well as it should have.

9:23 - I think Hillary missed a chance to say that of course Bernie is a Democrat and he shouldn't have to defend himself on that score. It would have been a nice moment for her with no downside.

9:19 - Hillary refers to Bernie as "self-appointed gatekeeper" of who's a progressive. Ouch.

9:17 - Bernie: Obama was a progressive by 2008 standards.

9:15 - Bernie: none of his ideas are radical. True enough, by non-American standards.

9:14 - Good answer from Hillary on whether she's progressive enough: Under Bernie's standards, no one in the party is truly progressive.

9:07 - Hillary: "The numbers just don't add up" for all of Bernie's proposals.

9:01 - I see that Rachel Maddow is as excited as I am that Martin O'Malley has dropped out.

9:00 - And with that, on with the debate!

8:58 - This is the second election cycle in which I've liked both of the Democratic frontrunners. In 2008 I ended up leaning for Obama, which I don't regret. This year I'm leaning toward Hillary. Both times, however, I've been surprised at how fast things turned ugly. But ugly they've turned.

8:53 - Last night on Twitter I said that Hillary Clinton had given a terrible answer to the Goldman Sachs speech question. I was immediately besieged with outraged comments about how I was just another Beltway shill who's always hated Hillary. This morning I wrote that Bernie Sanders was disingenuously pretending not to criticize Clinton over her Wall Street contributions even though he obviously was. I was immediately besieged with outraged comments about how I was just another Beltway shill who's always been in the bag for Hillary. Welcome to the Democratic primaries.

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Rubio Feasts on the Leftovers in New Hampshire

| Thu Feb. 4, 2016 8:25 PM EST

Apologies for two polls in one day, but the latest CNN poll shows something interesting in the Republican race. Donald Trump is still in the lead in New Hampshire, but in the wake of the Iowa caucuses Marco Rubio has picked up a lot of support. Basically, several other folks have either left the race or lost their fan base, and nearly all of it has gone to Rubio.

It's only one poll, and the absolute margin of error is large, but it probably shows the trend fairly well. And what it suggests is that as the also-rans steadily drop out of the race, Rubio is picking up the bulk of their support. If this happens in other states as well, Rubio could be well on his way to building a commanding lead.

More Classified Emails Found on Private Server

| Thu Feb. 4, 2016 2:42 PM EST

The indefatigable Ken Dilanian reports the latest news on classified information being sent to private email accounts:

The State Department’s Inspector General has found classified information sent to the personal email accounts of former Secretary of State Colin Powell and the senior staff of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, NBC News has learned.

In a letter to Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy dated Feb. 3, State Department Inspector General Steve Linick said that the State Department has determined that 12 emails examined from State’s archives contained national security information now classified “Secret” or “Confidential.” The letter was read to NBC News.

....Colin Powell told NBC News he strongly disputed that the information in the messages was classified, and characterized the contents as innocuous. Said Powell, “I wish they would release them so that a normal, air-breathing mammal would look at them and say, ‘What’s the issue?’”

Sorry, Colin! It's an election year, and no normal mammals are to be found. Just the usual horde of hacks and bottom-feeders.

FWIW, I agree with him. Just release everything. Aside from a few zealots at the CIA playing stupid interagency games, nobody who's actually seen any of these emails seems to think there's anything even slightly confidential about any of them. It's long past time to cut the crap and put this whole thing to bed one way or the other.

Debate Live-Blogging Tonight!

| Thu Feb. 4, 2016 2:01 PM EST

I don't find the Democratic debates nearly as interesting as the Republican slugfests, but I'll be liveblogging tonight's showdown regardless. It's on MSNBC at 9 pm Eastern, and for the first time we don't have to waste a third of our questions on Martin O'Malley. That alone makes it worth tuning in.

Donald Trump Losing Steam After Iowa Loss

| Thu Feb. 4, 2016 1:54 PM EST

It's only one poll, and a national poll at that, but PPP says Donald Trump is suffering badly from his loss in Iowa:

"Donald Trump's really seen some cratering in his support this week," said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling. "A key part of his message has always been that he's a winner and now that he's lost something Republicans—and especially conservatives—aren't finding him as compelling as they did a few weeks ago." [Marco] Rubio is the candidate with the real momentum in the race. He's up 8 points from his 13% standing in our poll right before Christmas."

Trump is still a few points ahead in the main polling, but PPP also polled a three-man race between Trump, Rubio, and Ted Cruz. The winner was Rubio. Trump can huff and puff and threaten to sue the entire state of Iowa—in other words, his usual MO—but it's not going to change things. Live by the polls, die by the polls.

Flint Probably Has Bigger Problems Than Lead Pipes

| Thu Feb. 4, 2016 12:38 PM EST

The latest from Flint:

Mayor Karen Weaver is calling for immediate removal of lead pipes from Flint's water distribution system, and is expected to detail her request at a news conference later Tuesday, Feb. 2....Replacing all of Flint's lead service lines has been estimated to cost more than $60 million.

The latest from New Jersey:

Eleven cities in New Jersey, and two counties, have a higher proportion of young children with dangerous lead levels than Flint, Mich., does, according to New Jersey and Michigan statistics cited by a community advocacy group....In New Jersey, children 6 years of age and younger have continued to ingest lead from paint in windows, doors and other woodwork found in older homes, particularly in older, poorer cities, said Elyse Pivnick, director of environmental health for Isles, Inc., a community development organization based in Trenton.

"In light of the Flint debacle, we wanted people to understand that water is not the only thing that's poisoning children," she said. "Most people think the lead problem was solved when we took lead out of gasoline and new homes in the 1970s, but that's not true."

I suppose it's inevitable that residents of Flint want to replace their lead pipes. But it's probably unfortunate. At this point, Flint's water pipes are almost certainly pretty safe, and will become even safer over the next few months as properly treated waters rebuilds the scale inside the pipes. A multi-year program to replace them will most likely have no effect at all on childhood lead levels.

So what would I spend $60 million on if I had the choice? Two things:

  • Lead paint abatement in older homes. The biggest danger points are window casings in old homes, because the friction from opening and closing windows eats through newer layers of paint and exposes old lead paint, which is then ground into lead dust.
  • Soil testing and cleanup. This is decidedly unsexy, but in modern cities this is where most of the lead is. Lead from gasoline spent decades settling into urban soil after we burned it in our cars, and every summer, when the weather dries up, it gets "resuspended" and becomes a source of lead poisoning all over again.

In both cases, the lead poisoning mechanism is the same: small children get lead dust on their fingers and then lick it off. This is one of the reasons that lead poisoning is a much smaller problem for adults than for children. Lead in small doses doesn't affect mature brains strongly, and even if it did, adults mostly don't play in the dirt and then lick their hands. Kids do.

The first step in soil abatement is mapping: figuring out which spots have the highest levels of lead contamination. The next step is cleaning it up. There are multiple ways of doing this, some cheap and some expensive, and only a professional evaluation can determine the best method in specific areas.

Anyway, that's that. The problem, of course, is that there's no chance at all that anyone is going to give Flint $60 million to clean up its soil and its old windows. But someone might give them $60 million to replace their lead pipes. It won't do nearly as much good, but at least it's something.

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The Party Is Deciding....On Marco Rubio?

| Thu Feb. 4, 2016 11:39 AM EST

Over at FiveThirtyEight, they're taking The Party Decides out for a spin by tracking the most important sign of just how the party decides: endorsements. This is allegedly the key metric for predicting the nomination, and they report that young Marco Rubio is now solidly in the lead and moving ahead quickly:

Although four more endorsements and a slight lead in points do not make Rubio a lock as the choice of Republican elected officials, this bump is a sign that members of Congress could be starting to see him as the most acceptable option for the nomination....Some politicians had put early support behind Jeb Bush — he had led our list since August — but since January the only new endorsement he has received was from former presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham.

....Iowa caucus winner Ted Cruz has slowly been picking up points as well — he’s added seven since the beginning of the year — though he has yet to receive an endorsement from a sitting senator or governor.

Poor Ted. Everyone hates him, so the only endorsements he can get are from a few backbench House members. I guess he'll show them when he's sitting pretty in the Oval Office next year.

Yes, Bernie Sanders Is Questioning Hillary Clinton's Integrity

| Thu Feb. 4, 2016 10:39 AM EST

Greg Sargent points us to this exchange yesterday on CNN:

WOLF BLITZER: Are you suggesting that Secretary Clinton is beholden to Wall Street and big money?

BERNIE SANDERS: No. What I’m simply saying is a fact. She recently reported that her Super PAC received $25 million. $15 million of that came from Wall Street. I will let the American people determine what all of that means.

And here is Sargent on what Sanders is doing:

He says our political economy is in the grip of an oligarchic elite, resulting in a massive upward redistribution of wealth in recent decades and rendering government paralyzed from doing anything about it....Sanders constantly points to the funding of her campaign — and her acceptance of speaking fees — as symptomatic of this problem. But Sanders does not want to take the final step and say that Clinton personally is making the policy choices she does precisely because she is beholden to the oligarchy, due to its funding of her campaign. The upshot is that Sanders is indicting the entire system, but doesn’t want to question the integrity of Clinton herself — or perhaps doesn’t want to be seen doing that. This is the central tension at the heart of Sanders’s whole argument.

Is it true that Sanders is just too nice a guy to name names? Maybe. But I'm a little less inclined to be generous about this kind of thing. To my ears, it sounds more like typical political smarm. "Hey, I'm not saying she's a crook. I'm just saying she drives a pretty nice car, amirite?" Contra Sargent, I'd say that Sanders is very much questioning the integrity of Clinton herself, and doing it in a pretty familiar way.

Marco Rubio Lashes Out Against Call For Religious Toleration

| Wed Feb. 3, 2016 7:36 PM EST

President Obama, during a speech today at a Baltimore mosque:

If we’re serious about freedom of religion — and I’m speaking now to my fellow Christians who remain the majority in this country — we have to understand an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths. And when any religious group is targeted, we all have a responsibility to speak up. And we have to reject a politics that seeks to manipulate prejudice or bias, and targets people because of religion.

Marco Rubio, commenting a couple of hours later on Obama's speech:

Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today: he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims....It's this constant pitting people against each other that I can't stand.

There you have it. Ask Christians to reject the politics of bigotry, and you're pitting people against each other. And Marco Rubio, for one, will have no part of that.

UPDATE: Revised to include exact quote from Rubio.

Yet Another Look at BernieCare

| Wed Feb. 3, 2016 5:35 PM EST

I hope you'll pardon a bit of real-time navel-gazing. It won't take long. A couple of weeks ago Bernie Sanders released an outline of his single-payer health plan, and I pronounced it "pretty good." A week later, Emory's Kenneth Thorpe took a detailed look at Sanders' plan and basically concluded that it was fantasy. Why the huge difference between us?

It has little to do with the details of the Sanders plan. We're both looking primarily at the financing. Here was my reasoning:

  • Total health care outlays in the United States come to about $3 trillion.
  • The federal government already spends $1 trillion.
  • Sanders would spend $1.4 trillion more. That comes to $2.4 trillion, which means Sanders is figuring his plan will save about $600 billion, or 20 percent of total outlays.
  • I doubt that. I'll buy the idea that a single-payer plan can cut costs, but not that much. I might find $1.7 or $1.8 trillion in extra revenue credible, which means that Sanders is probably lowballing by $300 billion or so—which, by the standards of most campaign promises, is actually not that bad. I'd be delighted if a single Republican were that honest about the revenue effects of whatever tax plan they're hawking at the moment.

But Thorpe says Sanders is off by a whopping $1.1 trillion. Yikes! Where does that come from? There are several places where Thorpe suggests the Sanders plan will cost more than Sanders thinks, but the main difference is shown in the table on the right. Thorpe, it turns out, thinks the Sanders plan would cost an additional $1.9 trillion in the first year. So he and I are roughly on the same page.

But I stopped there. I basically assumed that both costs and revenues would increase each year at about the same rate, and that was that. Thorpe, however, figures costs will increase substantially each year but tax revenues will increase hardly at all. So that means an increasing gap between revenue and spending, which averages out to $1.1 trillion over ten years.

Other details aside, then, this is the big difference. If Sanders' new taxes fall further and further behind each year as health care costs rise, then he's got a big funding gap that he would have to make up with higher tax rates. But if he can keep cost growth down to about the same level as his tax revenue growth, his plan is in decent shape.

So which is it? Beats me. This is the kind of thing where the devil really is in the details, and even a small difference in assumptions can add up to a lot over ten years. Still, I was curious to see why Thorpe and I seemed to diverge so strongly, and this is it. Take it for what it's worth.