Sunday, March 27, 2016

Washington State Caucus Post-Mortem

Bernie delivered a blowout yesterday, beating Hillary by 45 percentage points in Washington State, which is an even larger margin than predicted. I participated in my precinct caucus. So I got to witness the 2016 presidential contest up close.

And I have to say, it kind of left me giddy. Bernie has the youth. No doubt about it. The overwhelming majority of people who took part in my precinct caucus were young; I am talking under 30 young. One young man next to me looked like he was maybe 14. I chatted with him while he was blazing away on his smartphone, receiving updates from other area precincts and sending reports from our own, while occasionally checking his fancy Android or Apple wristwatch. I could make out some sort of scrolling readout that he glanced at briefly on his watch before returning to thumbing his smartphone.

All the other young people also had their smartphones out. It was odd to be among 150 people in our corner of a ballroom dance hall with almost everyone transfixed by a smartphone. Other precincts were caucusing in different parts of the room, while still more precincts had to move outside and across the street to a large artificial turf sports field when the fire department arrived and declared the ballroom at maximum capacity.

My biggest takeaway of the day is this (and it is more social than political): There is a new type of consciousness. It is cybernetic. Standing there in the packed hall I could not just see it, as I do every workday when I observe the young woman for whom I work, I could feel it. It is different, feels different. It is split, divided as it is between the online world and whatever conversation is taking place in the meat sphere directly in front of the person, but it is not necessarily manic or schizy. It feels meditative or contemplative. But people are not fully present. They are somewhere else at the same time they are standing in front of you.

My recollection from high school literature class is that Huxley's Brave New World is a softer dystopia, founded on consumerism and sexual permissiveness, than Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four dark police state. The caucus yesterday brought home to me that Huxley is closer to the mark than Orwell, in the United States at least.

But a word on Hillary's supporters before I deliver my verdict on the presidential race as seen through the lens of yesterday's caucus. Hillary had her supporters. They were there, not in great number, but they were visible with their blue 'H' (a logo which reminds me of the traffic sign symbol for a hospital) Hillary stickers. They were out of place in my neighborhood. They had a look of suburban conformity (sexbots from Stepford); that, or the well-coiffed middle-aged respectability of a gay small-business owner. Either way, both struck me as anachronistic in a post-Lehman-meltdown world.

The vote in our precinct ended up being 116 for Bernie, 30 for Hillary. Four delegates -- three Bernie, one Hillary -- were sent to a district level meeting in a couple weeks. From there the process moves to the county, followed by the state convention; before the final destination, the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this July. All along the way party apparatchiks will work to secure the delegate slots, even if it means posing as Bernie supporters. I think a lot of this goes on. The process is run by party insiders. It is a bigger issue for Trump with the GOP than for Sanders though.

The big takeaway from yesterday besides the epiphany about Homo sapiens cyberneticus is that Hillary has real trouble ahead. These young people are not going to vote for her in large numbers in the general election. Best case scenario I would say is 50%, and that number could go as low as 35%. The rest will vote third party or not vote come November. Very few, if any, of the young people I caucused with yesterday will cross party lines and vote for Trump.

This is a problem because the Clinton campaign still insists that it can return the Obama coalition to the polls for a third presidential win in a row. After yesterday I know that this is not true.

The Democrats under Hillary have lost the youth, an essential bloc -- first-time voters -- in the Obama coalition. Hillary is going to have to tack briskly to the center-right to compensate for the loss of the youth bloc. She is going to woo the Republican soccer mom. Blacks will be ignored.

The weakness with this strategy, a campaign pitched to moderate Republicans in swing states, is that it will drive down turnout even more among youth, blacks and Latinos. There will be no down-ticket bonanza party pros are predicting in a general election against Trump.

Hillary could very well triumph in a Republican primary against Trump, and that is what the general election is shaping up to be. But with so many coalitions fracturing and blocs realigning, it is very hard to predict what will happen this fall.


  1. I always thought that a third party, if it ever emerged in this country, would come from the left (like the Greens) or the right (some kind of Ross Perot/Buchanan thing). But maybe it will come from the middle, as the right and left ideologies grow increasingly unpalatable to the bloc of aging, well-to-do white people and their enablers.

    The extent to which we cyborgs are plugged into a central base of power was not predicted by either Orwell or Huxley. (Orwell's supposedly scary telescreens are not even close to what we actually have!) It is certainly a "soft" totalitarianism that is being promised, and to some extent also delivered, through our omnipresent computer screens and, soon, dramatic robotics deployment. But when you add the second element -- global ecological catastrophe -- the softness could go hard pretty fast. Particularly when it becomes clear to everyone that about 70 percent of the world's population is not only jobless but also utterly unemployable under any capitalist scenario, and yet also hungry and dangerous.

    1. While talking to various young people during the caucus ordeal -- waiting in a line that double-circled the block; once inside the building, waiting for the process to get rolling in my precinct group -- I had to check the level of my negativity. Young people are not as bitter and cynical as I am. They still think a remedy can be implemented; that the system is rational; that Bernie has already won by forcing Hillary to mouth his positions. When I provided sharp, brief rejoinders to each I saw hurt and confusion in their eyes. So I stopped.

      Speaking of dystopias, cybernetics and "the end of work" there was an interesting article in Saturday's business page, "The Race Is On to Control Artificial Intelligence, and Tech’s Future," by John Markoff and Steve Lohr:

      Marketable AI is here. Now it is just a battle between four behemoths -- IBM, Google, Microsoft and Amazon -- to see whose platform will be the equivalent of DOS/Windows for PCs 30 years ago.