on Damned if you Do Damned if you Don’t

I recently got into a little twitter squabble over Bernie Sanders after mentioning that the debate scheduling was “probably the most significant Clinton bias”, though the comment was overall disparaging (he was never as close to Hillary as she was to Obama in ’08, and yet he dropped out later than she did, and he really didn’t throw his support behind her the way he could have (and should have)—I think his run could have been plenty enough to account for her loss.

It seems people misinterpreted my comment as if I were defending Sanders, which I am not. In fact Barney Frank wrote an op-ed in (I think) July ’15, in which he argued Sanders should not run. I came across the article in August ’15, and was fully persuaded. Sharing it on facebook created squabbles among friends about whether or not he should run, but I remained convinced he should not.

But that’s all digression. I was thinking there is a pattern I see in various places, where people are “damned if they do, damned if they don’t”. In this case it was the democratic primary debate scheduling. Had they scheduled more debates, as they did in 2008, it would have made Sanders stronger, but I really doubt it would have given him any chance against Hillary, and so it would have merely weakened her more. On the other hand, by scheduling fewer debates, it gave Sanders supporters something to point at as party bias against him. (Which is silly since he isn’t even a democrat.) So the democrats were so of damned either way—give Sanders more of a platform and hurt Hillary, or give him less of a platform and give his supporters more fodder for accusing them of “cheating” or “stealing” the election.

Two other examples of this damned-either-way in politics which had previously come up were: the democratic superdelegates, and the electoral college.

My understanding is that the superdelegates were introduced following Carter’s first term, because party leaders wanted to be able to overthrow the will of the people. (Was it that when Carter lost his reelection they felt they could have selected a better candidate than the people?) The problem again is that if the superdelegates went against the popular vote and selected a candidate who didn’t receive the majority of popular support it would create a massive backlash against the party and the candidate. (This was something that really pissed me off about Sanders supporters in ’16—early in the primary they complained the superdelegates were an unfair undemocratic feature of the democratic primary, but when he got to a point where he couldn’t possibly win enough delegates to overtake Hillary his supporters began advocating trying to persuade superdelegates to switch their vote! The best argument I ever heard for supporting Sanders was that in a general election Clinton supporters were more likely to vote for Sanders (v. Trump) than Sanders supporters were to vote for Clinton (v. Trump). The problem with that is it’s essentially hostage taking, and relying on the fact that Sanders supporters were generally less pragmatic than Hillary supporters!)

The electoral college suffers essentially the same exact problem as the superdelegates. In theory they’re there precisely for someone like Trump, and yet if they ever actually did that job of preventing an unfit candidate from being elected they’d cause a massive backlash from the supporters who voted for the selected candidate. (Though in this case voters for Trump were still outnumbered by voters for Clinton.)

In the movie Too Big to Fail Hank Paulson & Ben Bernanke  talk about a “bazooka” they get from congress [I should fact-check this and make sure I understand more completely what was going on], the idea being that if the financial industry knows the treasury “has their back” (in case of failure), it will calm the markets. The problem they have is that they can’t use their “bazooka” because if the Fed bails out a company the market sees it as a sign of imminent failure—it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. So they end up with a bazooka they can’t use. It’s another example of a “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” scenario.