Time to rescue Biden from the mystic monkey

It turns out that Glenn Greenwald has expressed disagreements with Bernie Sanders and Noam Chomsky, both of whom he praises and admires, for their endorsement of Joe Biden, whom he disapproves. Greenwald is one of the keenest progressive analysts of our generation, and he makes good points. 

(1) The Democratic party keeps choosing candidates that betray progressive principles because they have had enough voters deciding that we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, so we settle for whoever is marginally better than the Republican alternative. Thus, the party can take us for granted election after election and not address our demands. By doing so, we enable the party to continue its betrayals. Why should the party listen to us and pursue a progressive agenda if it knows we have no choice and can be ignored?

(2) The problem above begs another question, when is that situation going to change? For that, we need the type of peaceful revolution that Bernie has been preaching for 40 years, not the timid agenda of another corporate politician.

Click here to watch the whole Greenwald interview. What he doesn’t explain is what to do right now, before the revolution, given the binary choice we face. I’ll tell you what we should do. 

We have to rescue Joe Biden. 

I have been a Bernie supporter since April 2015 when he first started running for president, and have strongly criticized Biden. Still, we only have two alternatives. It doesn’t surprise me that Chomsky, one of the greatest minds of our times, considered this Hobson’s choice and decided to back Biden. So I’m going to support Biden, vote for him, contribute to his campaign, and get as many other votes for him as I can. The other guy is not just a thousand times worse, he’s an existential threat to humanity. When our survival is at stake, we have to take some lumps.

But remember that Bernie didn’t withdraw his candidacy, contrary to the confusing reports from careless talking heads. He’s still in the race to receive more delegates and affect the platform of the party and its direction, even more than he has already revolutionized it, which is significant if you think about it. Biden has made notable shifts already as a consequence of recognizing that he needs to win over Sanderistas and other progressives – and inspire them to cast their votes. Now he needs to emerge from the shadows he’s been hiding in during the whole coronavirus era and avoid the mistake of not naming Stacey Abrams as his running mate, because that will make his support among black voters drop precipitously, or not following the example of her campaign for governor in Georgia in order to win over more Hispanics and increase participation.

The irony is that Biden defeated Sanders in no small part because of how a majority of Democratic primary voters weighed their electability. The problem, as I have been telling some of my very good and very smart friends who have been with Biden from day one, is that it’s one thing to win in the primary and another is to win in the general – among other things, that Biden needs to build a multiracial, multiethnic coalition to approximate what Obama accomplished. Also, Trump will hit Biden hard, unlike Bernie, and even mock him, when they get on the same stage. And a barrage of negative ads and other well-financed Republican PAC shenanigans will land on his head. At that point, he could be in big trouble, especially if he begins to “stutter.” 

So my concern is that Trump is more likely to be reelected now than before, despite national polls showing Biden ahead by about 6%; remember that Democrats need to receive 7% to 11% more votes than Republicans just to make up for gerrymandering, voter suppression, and other structural disadvantages. I’m not the only one with this concern. Professor Anthony Pahnke, for example, recently published a perceptive piece in Al Jazeera, Can Biden Win in November? Frankly, it is Doubtful, where he addresses Biden’s weaknesses and predicts his defeat. Pahnke, like the others, discusses Biden’s conduct, political contrails, state of mind and other rational factors, compared with Trump’s equivalent history and behavior, as well as the effect of voter suppression, Trump’s mastery of campaigning, and the influence of the Supreme Court, all of which are proper and good metrics. There are other metrics, of course, and I’ll get to those.

A big problem for Biden is how to attract Sanderistas, especially the thousands in swing states who voted for Trump in 2016, when Sanders was not an option. This week the New York Times interviewed two dozen Sanders primary voters across the country, and it found “there was a nearly universal lack of enthusiasm for Mr. Biden … Some called him a less formidable candidate than Hillary Clinton was in 2016. Many were skeptical of his ability to beat Mr. Trump. Others were quick to critique Mr. Biden’s sometimes incoherent speech.”

“Taken together, the voters’ doubts raised questions about how many would show up for Mr. Biden in November, including their likelihood to volunteer and organize for him, an important measure of enthusiasm.” The Times also cites a poll from last month where 15 percent of Berners said they would cross over to Mr. Trump, about the same percentage as in 2016. That could easily swing the election.

Consider also unconventional metrics that have been found to work as well as, if not better than, the conventional ones. There are five main ones, according to a report from CBS, 5 Things That Have Correctly Predicted the Presidential Election for Decades: (1) Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in Yorktown Heights, New York; (2) a survey of which presidential candidate’s mask people plan to dress up in for Halloween; (3) a mystic monkey in Changsha, China; (4) the sales of reusable plastic cups emblazoned with the names and logos of the Democratic and Republican presidential tickets by The Monogram Shop in East Hampton, New York; and (5) American University professor Allan Lichtman, who has correctly predicted the results of every presidential election since 1984 based on 13 keys he has developed, without reliance on polls, demographics or an analysis of swing states. You will be devastated to find the three who have weighed in thus far – the mask, the monkey (for what it’s worth), and the professor – all predict that Trump beats Biden. 

Besides these five, we can also look at predictive markets. These are the most interesting of all for politics. In his classic book The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki explains how  predictive markets work and the theory behind them. Essentially, people wagering collectively are much more likely to divine correctly than any individual expert, for example, how much a fat ox will weigh after it’s slaughtered and dressed. The same idea applies to guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar. What is astonishing is that, according to Surowiecki, this principle worked for finding a lost U.S. nuclear-powered submarine, the Scorpion, in 1968, which had disappeared in the middle of the ocean.

Predictive markets include the stock market and other forms of betting. It has been found that the predictions of people in the aggregate, irrespective of their expertise, are more accurate when they have a stake in the outcome and rely on guessing what others will do, not what they themselves will do. That’s why sports betting in Las Vegas and hedge funds work so well. This phenomenon has given rise to the Iowa Electronic Markets, where “[t]raders can buy and sell real-money contracts based on their belief about the outcome of an election or other event. Using this ‘wisdom of crowds,’ the price of a contract at any given time is a forecast of the outcome.” (Betting on elections is illegal in the U.S., with certain exceptions that cover the Iowa Electronic Markets.) The United States presidential election market is not open yet, but the primary market correctly predicted Biden would win the Democratic nomination. We should keep an eye on the presidential market after it opens.

Other markets that work similarly for political predictions in 2020 are collected at Vegas Election Odds. The current headline says it all: “Las Vegas Favors Trump Over Biden After Bye Bye Bernie.” Bovada Sports World has the odds at Biden -120, Trump +120. This gives Trump a 54% implied probability.

In addition, according to a McClatchy report “there’s general agreement that at the outset of the 2020 contest, three historically Democratic-leaning midwestern states President Donald Trump flipped in 2016 — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — along with the perennial battleground of Florida” will be the swing states in 2020. Vegas Election Odds has Trump winning in all four states. True, Trump’s incompetence in handling the coronavirus crisis has caused him to revert near to his baseline approval rating of 40% and could change the equation in those and other states. But don’t count chickens before they hatch; there is plenty of time for more mood swings in our manic-depressive, exhausted electorate.

In conclusion, after November 3, I don’t want to tell my friends who were with Biden from the very beginning “I told you so.” For that reason, I do want to tell my friends and others who are uninspired by Biden, or feel betrayed, or for whatever reason do not plan to vote, or worse yet, plan to vote for the Monster of the White House in order to protest, PLEASE DON’T DO IT. On the contrary, to compensate for Biden’s weaknesses, we need to work harder than ever. Practice holding our noses again under our anti-virus masks, support Biden, vote for him, contribute to his campaign, and get as many other votes for him as you can.

Then we can continue advancing Bernie’s revolution.

Amaury Cruz is a writer and lawyer from Miami Beach. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a Juris Doctor.