Volume 2, Issue 96: She's a Jar

"She says forever to light a fuse we could use."

I’ve always been pretty decisive, rather early on, about whom I am going to vote for. For most of my life, I’ve been an emotional voter, which is probably a sign of immaturity. I want my candidates to move me, to inspire me, to make me want to believe that the world is going to be a better place and that they are going to be the ones to lead us there. I’ve voted almost entirely for Democrats—exceptions include but are not limited to Jim Edgar for Illinois governor and Mike Bloomberg for New York City mayor—but I have never considered myself particularly dogmatic in one direction or another. I do not claim to be uniquely intelligent about any of this. My personal political beliefs are simplistic, straightforward and not all that steeped in specific policy. I believe in equal rights for all people, I believe that the wealthy should be taxed more than the non-wealthy, I believe the system is set up against the downtrodden and historically underrepresented and should be adjusted accordingly, and I believe much of our class and wealth disparity can be traced to the systematic erosion of labor unions and the deregulation of corporate enterprise.

It is also worth noting that I once voted for the mayor of my town because, for races I didn’t know the candidates all that well, I decided just to vote for the woman candidate. Well, it turns out Kelly Girtz is a guy. Fortunately, he’s a good mayor, and, now that I’ve met him, a super nice dude. But still, suffice it to say: One shouldn’t listen too closely to me. I claim no expertise.

I’ve never voted for a Republican for President—I’ll confess, I’ve never come close—and I’ve voted in every Democratic primary. I’ve become more pragmatic in my voting in recent years. When I was covering the 2016 Democratic primary, I discovered a number of people around my age, who had always voted for the insurgent, surprising themselves by supporting Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. I landed in the same place. When you get older, you often find yourself not so eager to blow up the boat. I used to always want to blow up the boat.

Here are the candidates I’ve voted for in every Democratic Presidential primary:

1996: Bill Clinton
2000: Bill Bradley
2004: John Edwards (sure which I had this one back)
2008: Barack Obama
2012: Barack Obama
2016: Hillary Clinton

I also probably never campaigned harder for a candidate than I did for Stacey Abrams for Georgia governor in 2018.

After the nightmare result in 2016, I was ready to pivot back to being inspired, if just so that I could have a little faith in the world again. But if you were really going to break it down, I just wanted another Barack Obama. I found Obama inspirational not just because of his soaring oratory, his optimism, what his election represented to so many people; I found him inspirational because he seemed foundationally reasonable. I didn’t agree with him on everything, but I truly did believe he meant well and went into politics because he wanted to help people. I know we’re all cynical about politicians, but on the whole, I have a lot of admiration for them, on every side of the aisle. It takes guts and fortitude and backbone to put yourself into the arena like that, to face everything that you have to face when you’re a politician simply because you care enough about this country to try to make a difference. It takes courage—more courage than I have. Obama struck me as a pragmatic true believer, someone who wanted to put as much good into the world as he could. He still strikes me that way. He was a smart politician, but he was a even-tempered, logical one: He disdained fights and cable shoutfests and appealing to the worst side of human nature simply because it benefits you personally. I truly believe he’ll end up being the best President of my lifetime, and the one with whom I am the most psychologically aligned. I honestly miss him being a daily part of my life.

But none of the candidates this year are Barack Obama, which isn’t an insult or a flaw but still inconvenient when you’re trying to get a maniac out of the White House. It is not surprising that the race, less than a week before Iowa, is still a free-for-all. None of them is perfect, but, I’d argue, all of them (save maybe Tulsi Gabbard) are good. I sense that the reason no candidate has broken out ahead of the pack is that we all understand just how important a decision this is. For all the zealous advocates for every candidate, I’d argue that the average person who wants Trump out office is taking their time to decide because it’s just so vital that we get this right. I know that’s I’m doing.

The Iowa caucuses are here now, though, and even though Georgia doesn’t vote until March (and that election is starting look like it’s going to be a massive one, thanks to the Senate situation), I think I have to choose a candidate. I know that there have been millions of people sitting outside my home for weeks, waiting to see the color plume of smoke that reveals my Democratic primary endorsement. Citizens of Iowa are staring at their computer and hopping up and down in their chairs, desperate to see where I land. So let’s make our pick.

Let’s start with process of elimination. A key thing for me voting for you is that you have a chance to win. I know this is counterproductive and circular logic; the only way for me to give you a chance to win is for you to prove to me that you have a chance to win. But sorry: If you can’t get on the debate stage or earn more than one percent in the polls, I’m probably not going to trust that you to beat Donald Trump. So goodbye Michael Bennet, John Delaney (who just dropped out yesterday), Tulsi Gabbard (whom I wouldn’t vote for if she were polling at 60 percent), Deval Patrick, and Tom Steyer.

This leaves us with seven candidates. The first we drop is Andrew Yang. I have grown to sort of like Andrew Yang during this campaign, and I suspect he’s going to become a larger, interesting part of American life over the next four years. He seems to be enjoying himself, and everyone on the trail seems to like him, and hey, there are worse ways for a tech millionaire to spend a few months of his time. If the Democrat wins this election, I bet someone will even find a cabinet position for him. Not a bad year for him and the Yang Gang. But I’ve had enough people who seem to be running for President on a lark for one lifetime now.

There are many reasons to be skeptical of Pete Buttigieg, from his inexperience to a callowness in matters of race relations to a certain smugness from a guy whose only public service job has been running a city that’s smaller than Athens. (Maybe I’d have voted for him if he had a woman’s name!) But I do not understand this dislike of Buttigieg because he has accomplished so much at such a young age, as if he’s some sort of snide resume-builder, as if wanting to do things is some sort of transgression. I’m sorry, but I’m sort of OK with encouraging people to go out and make their mark on the world? It is baffling to me that try-hard has become some sort of insult. Would we like Buttigieg more if he’d spent three years getting stoned and hanging out with his band? (Apparently not, considering how we all treated Beto.) I would be overflowing with pride if either of my sons showed half the discipline and ambition to achieve and to have an impact the way Buttigieg has. I admire him. I think it’s weird that more people don’t. And I bet within the next couple of decades, I’ll end up voting for him for something. But not yet.

Mike Bloomberg is the only candidate in this race I have voted for before. I was slightly persuaded by Jonathan Chait’s argument that Bloomberg would make a formidable opponent to Trump, and there are many issues I agree with Bloomberg on, from gun control to climate change to public health. But when it comes to wealth taxes and women, I’m not sure he’s all that different from Trump. Plus, I hate open office plans. Just let me close my door and work in peace.

When I did that Washington Post candidate quiz thing, my top three candidates were Bloomberg, Biden and Amy Klobuchar. Staff-treatment-issues aside, I suspect Klobuchar’s Midwestern sensibility is the closest to my own, and she has a proven ability to get people who might not necessarily agree with her to at least understand her point of view and work with her. (This might make her a great Vice President, though I think I’m reserving that spot for Abrams.) But there’s a certain dynamism that’s missing here. She’s the sort of candidate that should catch on but just hasn’t. General rule: When the only attribute that stands out to people about you is that your hair is rather immobile, you’re not exactly electrifying the public. Corollary: If Rachel Dratch is your SNL impersonator, you’re not exciting enough to become President. (And I like Rachel Dratch!) I know all this is embarrassingly shallow, but know that I did warn you. If you’re looking for something a little more substantial, my New York colleague Zak Cheney-Rice had a persuasive takedown of the Klobs.

That leaves us three. It is not a coincidence that these are the three people most likely to win. This is not a year for doomed philosophical causes. This is a year to get that lunatic out of there. Being able to win might be the most important factor in who a lot of people vote for. I do not find this insane. It’s eminently rational.

For much of this race, I dismissed Bernie Sanders with a simple, pithy retort: I didn’t vote for him last time, and I have a lot more options this time, so why would I vote for him now? But I think he has run a terrific campaign this go-around, much better than last time, and I’ve warmed up to him. There is real value in one consistent message over 50-plus years in public life, and he has a passion, and a clarity in that passion, that everyone else in this race lacks. I do believe we would all be better off in the world that Sanders imagines if he were President. I do not believe, however, that that world would ever actually exist were he to become President, and, if you’re really going to lay me out on this, the fact is that I don’t want a revolution. I want things to change, dramatically, but I do not believe we need an entirely new paradigm—and I don’t think Sanders could pull one off even if we did. Am I saying this from a place of privilege? There is no doubt. I am not sure I am right about this. (I am not sure I am right about anything. Are you? Really?) But sorry: I do not think everything needs to be turned upside down and shaken violently. The last four years have been exhausting and disorienting and destabilizing enough already. I want things to be more normal. I am not sure Bernie Sanders would make things more normal. I do believe he would try to make them better. But I am not sure he actually would. I’ve come around a ton on Bernie. I like him more than I ever have, and history is going to remember him extremely kindly, and with good reason. But he doesn’t have my vote. I hope to end up regretting this.

Joe Biden would make a good President, maybe a great one. He is experienced and good-hearted and wholly, irrepressibly human. I find some of his past statements and missteps merely symptoms of a life spent entirely in the public eye: If elected, he would be a champion for all the causes we want him to be a champion for. (He’s much more liberal than he is often painted.) There is a fundamental decency to Biden. People inherently, almost instinctively like him, and, you know, they should. Here’s a typical Biden moment: There’s something inherently that’s a good fella about him.

You don’t like that guy? How do you not like that guy?

But this campaign has revealed a certain lack of energy in Biden, an inability to meet this unusual moment, that worries me about a general election. By all accounts, Biden did not plan on running for President this year but felt obliged to do so to counter Trump. I totally understand that mindset, and that sense of duty, but it has led to the sense that his heart isn’t totally in this. And boy do we need someone with their heart in this one. There is much value in the fact that he has remained in first place despite what has been a rather listless campaign. We’ve all been waiting for someone to knock Biden out, and no one has. That should be commended, and speaks well for him if he wins the nomination and ends up facing Trump. But this is the fight of his life, man, the fight of our lives. Is he up for it? I’m worried he might not be.

Which leads us to Elizabeth Warren. I am not sure about everything involving Warren. Her stumbles on Medicare-for-all raise questions about her judgment and her commitment, one way or the other. She has consistently underperformed in her elections, revealing certain baked-in feelings about her that are probably not her fault; several studies have shown that the elections she has won, she has won by smaller margins than you might have expected. She’s an older woman, and there are deep, unfortunate priors people have when it comes to voting for older women. (Though it’s worth noting that one of them won the last election by nearly three million votes.) Trump and his minion gang of jackals will make great sport of her if she’s the nominee.

But of all the candidates in this race, she seems the one most poised to meet this moment. She is passionate, she is detailed, she is dedicated and she, more than anyone else, provides the starkest contrast to Trump. For all her Harvard law pedigree, no candidate, save for maybe Bernie, is more closely aligned with the average person’s worries and concerns: She basically ran the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and was chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel. She is, more than anything, an advocate. And in a world in which so many people are suffering, in which it seems like it’s impossible to have any sort of singular voice rising up against all that Trump has wrought, I think that’s what I want: I want someone who is legitimately, wholly on our side. I think she is smart, and organized, and a savvier politician than she is given credit for. She has the ideals of Bernie but more party acceptance (if she wins the nomination, everyone will immediately rally around her in a way they might not for Bernie), the decency of Biden but more inherent urgency, and, yeah, she’s a woman: There is something powerful, and important, about a woman like her standing up to Trump and wiping the floor with him. She, and we, have learned the lessons from Hillary Clinton’s failure four years ago. She is formidable, and she is ready. I think she can do this. I believe she will do this.

I want to make it clear: I will happily, giddily vote for any of these people if they end up the nominee in November. (Even Tulsi.) I’m not covering this Presidential election professionally like I did last time, so I can get involved this year. And I will. But right now, if I were heading to the caucuses in Iowa on Monday night, Elizabeth Warren is who I would caucus for. But good luck to everyone. The real fight is still ahead.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.

(I will tell you right now this was one of the more fun, productive writing weeks I’ve had in a while. Good stuff in this one. This is why we do this.)

  1. Kobe Bryant Was Just Getting Started, New York. The news that Kobe Bryant’s helicopter had crashed and that he had died broke right as our plane was leaving Mexico City. I sat down and wrote this, wedged in the middle seat, in about 45 minutes. Sometimes the best pieces are the ones you don’t think about and instead just sit down and start typing.

  2. Colorado Was the Pivot Point in Kobe Bryant’s Life and Career, NBC News. This piece got me yelled at repeatedly on just about every social media platform I have—too many platforms, as it turns out—but it became increasingly clear that most of the people angry about it didn’t read past the headline. This is precisely what I wanted to say. That doesn’t happen as often as one would like.

  3. The New MLB Network Documentary on the 1980s Cardinals Is Irresistible, MLB.com. The movie is just fine, not great, but good lord did I have a blast writing this. The movie felt like a newsreel from my childhood. Heck, about my childhood.

  4. The Netflix Aaron Hernandez Documentary Is Sloppy and Reckless, Vulture. The Vulture TV editor, whom I didn’t know but I’m eager to work with again, just reached out blindly last week and asked, “Hey, you wanna write about this?” I hadn’t watched the doc, but I was sort of stunned how not-good it was. So I wrote about that, and apparently everyone who had seen it long before I had agreed.

  5. Trump’s Big Super Bowl Interview Opportunity, The New York Times. You know it’s a big week when a New York Times piece comes in fifth.

  6. Your Big NL East Preview, MLB.com. With surprise pick for first place!

  7. The 25 Best Gambling Movies, Vulture. Just in time for the Super Bowl.

  8. Interview: The Absolute Boy, The Mid-Majority. This is an interview rather than a column, but I wrote out my answers, so I’m counting it. Enjoy me being called “an uncancelled and unbothered king.” I think that’s good?

  9. Debate Club: Best British Sci-Fi Movies, SYFY Wire. We used a sort of loose definition of “British,” but we’re tricky that way.

  10. The Thirty: Best Video Game Players For Each Team of All Time, MLB.com. This one’s a little bit of a silly lark, but a nice palate cleanser for a crazy week.

PODCASTS

Grierson & Leitch, no show this week. We’re back to normal schedule next week, promise.

Seeing Red, Bernie and I said goodbye to Marcel Ozuna, tried to figure out left field and told stories of the 1980s Cardinals.

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week.

MAILBAG

We take one question a week around these parts: Send yours to williamfleitch@yahoo.com. This week’s, from Kurt:

Hi Will,

I enjoy your newsletter and sundry writings across the web and I've been a loyal listener of the G&L podcast since its inception. (Thanks for getting rid of "blah-blah-blah" in Dorkfest)

If you could be MLB commissioner for an hour and enact one new rule that could not be overturned, what would it be? Would it be something to help potentially grow the fan base or correcting something that's bothered you for years?

Thanks,
Kurt

P.S. RIP Deadspin. I haven't visited the site once since its zombification. It was a daily part of my life for many years. It was always apparent that the people involved across its lifespan really cared about what they were doing.

Let’s see. One hour as commissioner. One new rule.

I would change nothing about the game itself. The game is perfect; it’s the people who keep screwing it up.

I would make all World Series games be played during the day. Or start them at, like, 6 p.m. ET. Kids need to be able to watch the World Series like they can watch Super Bowl. It’s the best sporting event in the world, and not enough people know it because no one can stay up for the end of any of the games. This would probably be a disaster financially, at least in the short term. But I bet it would pay off eventually.

GET THIS LUNATIC OUT OF HERE 2020 POWER RANKINGS

We’re retiring this section with this week’s newsletter. Here’s hoping it doesn’t return in three years. For now, let’s all enjoy a moment of making fun of me for having this guy in top three for, like, several months. I gotta wear that one. Gen X’s last hope!

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

I’ll finally be home after the Super Bowl, so please send me some so I have them waiting for me when I see my house again.

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

“Car,” Built to Spill. Built to Spill is great, and every time I listen to them, I am reminded that I need to visit Idaho someday. (They’re from Idaho.)

Our next-to-last day in Mexico City, I walked around the city listening to Brian Barnhart and Doug Altenberger call the Illinois-Michigan game. I ended up catching the ending through my headphones while having a drink at a local cafe. It is to my credit that I did not scream when Ayo Dosunmu hit that shot. I’m such an ugly American.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Go Chiefs, I think.

Best,
Will