Revenge of the Quiet Moderates

Yesterday afternoon, I scrolled through my Facebook feed and smiled at a full wall of pictures of Elizabeth Warren with her sensible gold stud earrings and preppy hair. Friend after friend posted articles about the greatness of Warren and projected a clear win for her. There were a couple of plucky supporters for Biden in the. mix, but it was mostly Warren.

Today, the mood is funerarial. Because Warren was demolished last night in Super Tuesday’s primaries, and everybody’s second choice, Sanders, is behind Biden, who nobody in my world wanted.

Nobody was rooting for Biden among my Facebook crowd. Why is that? Because I’m a former college professor and am currently a journalist. I’m not average. Always important to keep in mind.

Matt Ygelsias has an excellent post at Vox, “Why Elizabeth Warren in losing even if all your friends love her: White college grads are living in the Warren bubble.”


He points out that the US is a working class country and all her talk about student loan forgiveness and free college didn’t resonate with them.

Validated data from the 2016 election, for example, suggests that only about one-third of 2016 voters had college degrees. The share among Hillary Clinton voters was higher, at 43 percent, but even among the more educated in the party, most people haven’t graduated college. And among college graduates, about 75 percent attend schools that accept more than half of applicants, rather than the kind of state university flagships or elite private universities whose graduates dominate the media. In my friend group, it’s not unusual for someone to be a lawyer or a doctor or to have a master’s degree in something or other. As a policy journalist, I speak to a lot of experts in academia or the think tank world who have advanced degrees. 

But in the actual American population distribution, there are more high school dropouts than people with master’s degrees. The median American under the age of 30 has $0 in student loan debt, not because the median young person is superrich but because most people didn’t attend expensive higher education institutions in the first place.

Her loss is a big loss for student loan reforms. Also for the teachers unions, who supported her. It was a loss for pundits, who make a living by explaining American political behavior; clearly they are clueless. All that talk about the youth vote — topics that appeal to the 20-something editors who dominate our media climate — was just that. Talk.

Not only was Warren a big loser last night, so was Sanders. He didn’t do as well as projected. He lost in Texas and didn’t win enough in CA. Biden has more delegates and is getting set for states where he’s expected to do extremely well, like Florida. At this point, the race is Biden’s to lose.

Scholars who write about American exceptionalism try to find reasons why the United States never had the extreme political movements — right wing nationalism, fascist parties, social democrats, communism — that are commonplace in Europe. One explanation is that certain political institutions — our two party system, federalism, electoral college — naturally filters out groups that can’t attract the attention of the majority of people. Another explanation is that there is something about American culture that naturally veers from big changes.

I think last night clearly shows that most Americans want a moderate political climate. They are not ready for Sanders and his major changes in the status quo. They worry about changes to their healthcare plans. Things may not be great right now, but they worry that things could be a lot worse. The guys lining up in the local deli for egg sandwiches on Saturday morning don’t think Sanders is talking to them.

Me? I’m not upset. As I’ve said over and over, all I care about is that we see somebody else in the White House in January. If Biden has the best chance to accomplish that task, he’ll get my vote.

29 thoughts on “Revenge of the Quiet Moderates

  1. I am relieved. Biden has huge flaws, but it was going to be very hard to push Bernie going door to door in Wisconsin. My relatives in Upper Michigan admire Warren but not some of her plans.


  2. It’s funny – I didn’t even realize I was in the Warren bubble until I went to a Super Tuesday party last night and realized that’s where most of my friends had settled, with a couple of Bernie bros thrown in. Lots of us are women, and I think there’s a contingent that will always be heartbroken that we didn’t get our first woman president in 2016, whether or not they were fond of Clinton herself. Women with daughters, especially.

    There was a shot of the Yangs chatting with Pete and Chasten after a debate and I thought: nice to look at the future for a moment. I’d really like to see some younger candidates soon. Hoping Stacey Abrams gets into the mix – and that her organization, Fair Fight, gets the rest of the cash Bloomberg would have spent. He’s already donated $5 million, which makes me feel the insignificance of my own donation, but whatever. That’s where I think the Dems should hit hard, making sure that voting rights are protected – both through actions like this and by emphasizing the importance of the judicial appointments that the next president will make.


    1. Want to feel insignificant? Bloomberg could make that donation 5,000 times and still not have spent half of his fortune.


      1. Doug said, “Want to feel insignificant? Bloomberg could make that donation 5,000 times and still not have spent half of his fortune.”

        And yet, what has that gotten him?

        The Bloomberg has been an amazing experiment in seeing how little money and paid political advertising really means.

        Another case in point: Hilary Clinton outspent Donald Trump nearly 2 to 1 in 2016.


      2. While I’m playing with my calculator, that $5M donation is the equivalent of someone with a net worth of a million dollars spending $80.65. Heck, the $500M he spent campaigning is equal to the $1M-net-worth individual shelling out $8065.42. Unless all that value is locked up in a house and the preson doesn’t have much incom, they probably wouldn’t notice at all.


      3. Here’s a great comparison of the amount of Bloomberg’s wealth (and Bezos, etc.) to the median family. My favorite comparison is that if you have about $100k in assets – the median for Americans – Bloomberg’s $11 million Superbowl ad equates to a $17 pizza for you. And this:

        “So far, Bloomberg has spent $510 million of his own money on his campaign ads. That was 0.84 percent of his net worth. For you, that’s equivalent to $820, one ticket to the 2019 World Series Game 1.”


      4. I think we want to see him investing in congressional, senate, and voting rights/redistricting/good government. Will he? I don’t know. As we know, Bloomberg supported Warren’s opponent. He tried for the Democratic nomination. Is he willing to put Democrats in power to mitigate the enabling of Trump by the Republicans?


      5. “Another case in point: Hilary Clinton outspent Donald Trump nearly 2 to 1 in 2016.”

        In dollars, maybe, but you also need to count rubles.


  3. No president has failed to get a second term since GHWB in 1992, so the 2020 Democratic primary is probably largely a moot point.


  4. Bloomberg suspends campaign. Still committed to turfing out Trump.

    To AmyP’s point just above, from 1960 to 1980 no president completed two terms.


    1. From 1960 to 1980 was a time of considerable turmoil. Rarely during that period did we have peace abroad and prosperity at home, which we have now and have mostly had since 1980. (Faraway small-scale quarrels involving professional soldiers don’t count as “non-peace” for this purpose.)


      1. y81 said, “From 1960 to 1980 was a time of considerable turmoil.”

        Yeah. So the question is, is 2020 more like 1960-1980 or 1992-? 1960-1980 featured: a successful assassination of a president, a long war involving half a million draftees deployed overseas, many episodes of domestic terrorism, a presidential resignation, an energy crisis, horrific inflation, lengthy public humiliation at the hands of Iranian Islamic revolutionaries, etc.

        “In a single eighteen-month period during 1971 and 1972 the FBI counted an amazing 2,500 bombings on American soil.”

        But so much depends on how the next half year goes. Do we get on with coronavirus, how does the economy do, do either of the candidates have a major flub, etc.?


      2. Domestic terrorism is very common right now. People who aren’t directly targeted by it just aren’t calling it terrorism because it’s inconvenient to do so.


      3. many episodes of domestic terrorism,

        From 1990 to now we’ve had as much or more violent right wing domestic terrorism than we ever had in the 1960-80 period: right wingers detonating bombs in Oklahoma killing 150-odd people, multiple assassinations and firebombings of abortion providers, right wing bombings of the olympics, armed right wing terrorists taking over federal facilities in Oregon and interfering with federal land management, right wing white nationalists shooting up synagogues and black churches. Just off the top of my head.

        You just don’t want to call it terrorism when it is people from your side of the political spectrum doing the terrorizing.


    2. Presidential elections are an insufficient sample on which to base any predicition: n=58 with significant nonstationarity.


    3. Weird to think that one would not consider our time of considerable turmoil now. Gilded age style wealth accumulation, an invigorated and growing POC population that is demanding full rights as Americans, Two elections in which the popular vote & electoral vote decisions diverged (including one that was decided by 100’s of votes and another by 1000’s), two long lasting wars, increasing isolation in different thought bubbles, a major and long lasting recession, sky-rocking costs of health care/insurance and education, the ease of spread of disinformation (including by foreign governments), two impeachments, and a general feeling of instability and higher risk among the middle class. I’m not going to try to make the case that times are *more* turbulent now, but thinking they are calm, or un-turbulent must be an example of a bubble.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yup, and I forgot a major terrorist attack, the repeated eruptions of gun violence (and the trauma an instability it creates for young people),

        (Ok, I’m just not going to end that sentence because there’s probably a lot more to add)


  5. Just one more thought before I sign off for a little while: Headline on a piece by Charles Pierce is “It Looks Like Democratic Primary Voters Want a President They Can Ignore 4 to 5 Days a Week.”


    1. I’m a fan of this tweet:


  6. Isn’t it fair to say that Elizabeth Warren offered “Diet Bernie” and if people wanted Bernie, they could go for the real thing instead?


    1. AmyP I don’t think so, or at least not exclusively. I know a bunch of Warren supporters, whose second choice would be Biden, Klobuchar or Buttigieg. Warren appealed to them because she seems smart with a well thought out, evidence based policy agenda. Note that the details of the policy don’t figure in that description. Maybe trusted to be a competent administrator of government was how they thought of her appeal? “I have a plan for that” good, but less concerned with the details.


    2. Yes, I loved the “I have a plan” and the willingness to dig into the details. I imagine her in charge of the “plague” crisis we have now and imagined her thinking, revising, modifying the plan (which needs to be flexible and responsive).


    3. No, I think Laura’s right and that what Bernie is offering is revolutionary change, but in a context of populism and personality. That’s very appealing to a lot of people who are unhappy with the status quo.

      With Warren, we fans just want to see things work better. I get what Yggie was saying. I’ve been in a bubble mostly, though my sisters are more of that quiet moderate group Laura mentions, and they do not like Bernie and are skeptical of Warren’s plans. My 75 year old Democrat/Hillary-loving mom is quite pleased Biden won.

      The Biden fans just want peace and quiet and not to have to think about politics. They want government/politics to go back to the way it was, something you started thinking about in October every year and in August once every 4 years.


  7. I started seeing my Warren bubble a few weeks ago, when I started seeing many people who were already on my twitter feed supporting Warren. But, people recognized the bubble, there was a lot of talk of voting one’s conscience and hopes, not games.

    I still have a vote to cast, though I could have done so already. I will probably vote my hope, if I’m given an opportunity to do so.


  8. I’ve generally disliked the term “silent majority” (which “quiet moderates” is an analogue). But, quiet moderate is different, because they were not silent. Voting is how the quiet moderates make their views known, and that’s what they did in voting for Biden. I can compromise to support the candidate of the quiet moderates, especially if they are a broad and diverse coalition.


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