The only major think tank in America that advocates for open borders is the right-libertarian Cato Institute

In a sign that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme, Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders once again stated his opposition to open borders, a position that provoked some criticism on the online left in 2016, and is doing so now as well:

In 2016, Sanders called open borders a “Koch brothers” idea, which as I wrote at the time, it sort of is — the intellectual networks that promote such an idea are on the right-libertarian part of the spectrum, some of them funded by the Kochs.

This time around, Sanders is basically arguing that if you have a completely open border with unlimited immigration, you will not be able to sustain a welfare state or decent economy for folks already here in the U.S. Which, of course, is true. There is no country in the world with a robust welfare state and open borders. Unlimited competition would decimate parts of the American middle class, whose wages are essentially inflated by the border, which is an economic barrier.

In fact, the only mainstream think tank I am aware of which advocates for a completely open border is the Cato Institute, which is indeed a Koch-funded libertarian-right think tank. This isn’t an insult — we recently had a great Cato Institute researcher on my podcast, Extremely Offline — it’s just a fact that the labor-left does not and has never supported open borders. That’s the Sanders tradition.

Cato also wants to see no minimum wage — not only do they want to eliminate the federal minimum wage, they want Congress to prohibit local and state governments from establishing their own minimum wages. They are hardcore enough about preventing any sort of market or efficiency barrier that they are straight up throwing federalism out the window.

The left, on the other hand, generally supports market barriers. They love unions, for instance, which inflate wages by limiting the supply of labor. Unlimited immigration and no borders — the free movement of capital and labor across the lines of nation-states — would increase competition, lower prices, and lower wages. That’s not the left’s agenda.

So why is it folks at Vox and Splinter have opposing views? My guess is that they are rooted in a different type of ideology, which is not about economics. Their philosophy is based on multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism. These are values that most people in the U.S. share to some extent — this is probably the most pro-immigration country on planet Earth — but most Americans do hold some nationalistic ideas, especially people from lower-class backgrounds.. For instance, we know that white liberals tend to be more pro-immigration than people from ethnic minority groups. And we know that anxiety about immigration is a global phenomena, that is not limited to any racial group or nationality.

The new liberal upper class does not view immigration as a threat to their livelihoods — they view it as providing cultural and social enrichment. The view is very different for most Americans, who by and large support immigration but do not support open borders.

If 80 percent of Americans do not support open borders, as polling shows, and Sanders is taking that position, he is simply being a normal left populist — someone who takes the position of the majority of the people. That’s democracy. He isn’t an elitist, which is the position taken by writers at Vox, Splinter, and the Cato Institute.


Mayor Pete criticizes Hillary Clinton’s America is Already Great messaging, but endorsed her months after she started using it — helping defeat Bernie Sanders in Indiana

Mayor Pete Buttigieg is seeing a bit of a boost, partly due to sympathetic media coverage and partly due to the fact he’s a pretty solid retail politician.

Part of Buttigieg’s appeal may be that he can portray himself as outside the traditional political system, and a fresh face as a red state mayor who is touting some reformist ideas like filibuster reform.

But during the most pivotal chance to change the orientation of the Democratic Party — the 2016 primary — Buttigieg played it safe and conventional, swooping in to endorse Clinton on the cusp of the Indiana primary, which Clinton barely defeated Sanders in.

As I mentioned earlier, Buttigieg is a competent politician. So he’s spent his campaign for the Democratic nomination so far distancing himself from Clinton.

Clinton was already using the rhetoric Mayor Pete criticized as early as February 2016, four months prior to when Buttigieg decided to endorse her over the populist Sanders.

This suggests that Buttigieg either endorsed a candidate whose messaging he found to be ineffective, or that he had some other reason to endorse her. But it certainly suggests that he wasn’t thinking very outside the box in 2016.

Update: It’s true that Clinton narrowly lost the popular vote in Indiana, but she won in delegates, based on pledged vs. unpledged. Sanders would have won the state with a higher popular vote.

Bernie Sanders has a habit of avoiding the press, and he hasn’t rectified it yet

I spent quite a bit of time on Capitol Hill asking Members of Congress questions about various things. Some Senators loved to court the press, and the press loved them back for it — like Arizona Republican John McCain.

Vermont’s Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, was notorious for never taking questions in the Capitol (you could set up an interview with him beforehand, but that was pretty much it, good luck just walking up to him).

As The Atlantic’s Edward-Isaac Dovere noted, Sanders is standing alone among leading 2020 candidates in not doing open pressers:

Beyond this just being bad form (I have been reporting for a decade now, so I naturally have to take the side of reporters!) it also creates ill feelings from the press. When Hillary Clinton developed a similar habit during her race for the presidency, it no doubt embittered reporters.

Sanders’s team could for their benefit, and the press’s, and the public, start offering competent press access if they want to prove that Sanders will be an open and accessible president. I’m not sure he has the communications or press staff in place to manage this strategy well yet (his staff are for the most part very new to politics, which is an odd choice for the leading candidate in the entire race sitting on more than $10 million, but perhaps that’s another post…)


National poll: Age, Race, and Gender of presidential nominee not important for most Democratic voters

An interesting tidbit from this new Quinnipiac Poll:


Democrats and Democratic leaners say 70 – 27 percent that age is not an important factor in their vote. Looking at other possible factors, these voters say:

  • 72 – 21 percent that political ideology is an important factor;
  • 67 – 23 percent that bipartisanship is an important factor;
  • 71 – 24 percent that standing up to Republicans is important;
  • 76 – 20 percent that electability is important;
  • 87 – 10 percent that sharing their views is important;
  • 84 – 13 percent, including 75 – 25 percent among black voters, that race is not an important factor;
  • 84 – 12 percent, including 83 – 14 percent among women, that gender is not important.

These categories are often elevated by political pundits, but they seem to have very little influence over actual voters, at least if they’re being honest with pollsters.

Something missing from the 2020 Democratic debate: labor law reform. What’s the new Employee Free Choice Act?

Smart academic Richard Yeselson has a review of a book about American strikes in The Nation.

The strike once one a great American tradition but it gradually declined, as labor unions themselves have weakened:

One way to deal with this is to make it easier to join a union for those who want to. In 2009 this took the form of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would empower employees to join unions with a simple “card check” — if the majority of a workplace signs a union card, you’re in. The bill faced overwhelming corporate opposition and was not passed, despite support from the Obama administration.

Contrary to what some may claim, unions have been the strongest check on income inequality in the modern economy, not taxes. Empowering unions would make it a lot easier to reduce inequality, yet no major contender for the presidency is making labor law reform a priority, unlike in 2008.


Basically everyone is getting the AIPAC and 2020 Democrats story wrong, and the left is curiously declaring victory

Earlier this week, the liberal group MoveOn started a petition asking 2020 Democrats to not attend the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee event. They have learned that basically no Democratic contenders are schedule to speak there, and are declaring victory. This is a real victory for the movement!

Or not.

The thing is, AIPAC doesn’t invite presidential contenders to speak in the off-year before the election. They invite them to speak during the actual year. So none of these people were going to show up in the first place. It’s not a statement, or anything like that.

Ron Kampeas, one of the smartest people on this beat, notes this, writing, “No declared presidential candidates are scheduled to speak at the conference, and AIPAC’s policy is that presidential candidates are invited to speak only in election years.”

He did note they sometimes show up and mingle with attendees. In a crowded campaign, that really isn’t worth it right now.

Yes, debate on Israel-Palestine is shifting. No, this isn’t an example of it.


Beto O’Rourke was for cutting Social Security before he was against it. That matters because politicians often campaign one way and govern another

Former Democratic Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke mused about cutting Social Security benefits in 2012.  This week, he claimed a sort of evolution, saying he’s become a lot smarter and he’s against cuts now.


Here’s the problem with convenient political evolutions — they are not like scientific evolution, which tends to go one way. Politicians flip back and forth. President Obama campaigned against cutting Social Security, then came out for cutting it, then later came out for expanding it after an expansive campaign against his cuts (full disclosure: I was involved in that campaign).

What would a President Beto O’Rourke do? It’s anyone’s guess. But the political calculations of a Democratic primary race where a democratic socialist is leading the field is a little bit different than say, if O’Rourke had to negotiate budget deals with Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell.


Beto O’Rourke and Klobuchar’s denunciations of Netanyahu are in line with AIPAC — not breaking with status quo and not going nearly as far as Warren and Sanders


This is likely being interpreted by some as a break with the norm — Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who previously basically apologized and groveled before the pro-Israel lobby, is breaking with the status quo by criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s alliance with a far-right political movement:

Here’s the problem. So did Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar:

So has…the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, you know, the powerful right-wing group that helps freeze US-Israel policy in place.

What’s happening here is pretty clear. Netanyahu is being turned into a scapegoat by pro-Israel activists because it looks like he might end up in jail or his party will be defeated in the election by a coalition led by someone who bragged about how much destruction he caused in Gaza. Then the US-Israel relationship can continue at pace.

Is criticizing Netanyahu really all that bold? In terms of the context of the wider debate, not really. Dozens of House Democrats refused to attend his address to Congress during the debate over the Iran deal, that relationship has been soured for years. The bigger question is what US policy towards the Israeli government should be, and neither O’Rourke nor Klobuchar have dissented on that question at all. Imagine if this was the sort of line we drew for other policy areas — it doesn’t matter what your health care policy is, you just need to criticize Aetna. It wouldn’t fly. (And for what it’s worth, O’Rourke also took some shots at the Palestinian Authority, which while far from perfect has basically bent over backwards to Netanyahu in negotiations and got nothing for it.)

The litmus test for activists shouldn’t be criticizing Netanyahu. Even AIPAC is doing that. The litmus test should be US military aid to Israel, sanctions on Israeli settlements, and protecting Israel’s government at the UN.

To date, Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders is the only one who has loudly condemned actual Israeli policies and written letters to the Israeli government demanding the end of specific policy like home demolitions; Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren has joined him in some of these endeavors. O’Rourke and Klobuchar, on the other hand, are basically just touting AIPAC’s line: Netanyahu personally is a problem, but US-Israel policy is basically fine.

The Washington Post should not gauge black voter support for Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren based on looking at a campaign rally

This article from the Washington Post gauged black support for Massachussetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders based off of looking at the composition of a few campaign stops.

Perhaps the reporters felt this is fair because they compiled some stops, but the plural of anecdote is not data.

The polling shows Sanders is getting more African American support than California Democratic Senator Kamala Harris, who the article seems to posit as having some sort of advantage with this voting population.

One of the problems with the media is it doesn’t practice a lot of rigor when it comes to reporting and analysis, it bases far too much of its information on personal biases and anecdotes rather than comprehensive surveys and research. This is a long time problem, but the media could always get better.

Cory Booker won’t commit to rejoining the Iran deal

An important detail in this long read from Al Monitor, which asked 2020 candidates about rejoining the Iran deal:

Longshot candidates Wayne Messam, a mayor from Florida, and spiritual leader Marianne Williamson also said they would return to the deal, with Messam vowing to make it a priority. Other Democratic candidates have been more evasive.

“My concern right now, my focus, is the denuclearization of Iran,” said New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker. “We need to be focused on best strategies to get us there. 2021 is a long time from now, and I’m focused on the steps we have to do right now.” The senator is a close ally of the pro-Israel lobby whose vote for the nuclear deal was long in doubt before he cast a decisive ‘yes’ vote for President Barack Obama’s signature foreign policy effort.

Diplomacy with Iran should be a top priority for the next president. Booker’s refusal here may be tied to his long-time close relationship with pro-Israel activists.