So, B. Sanders has delivered a shocking upset to the Democratic primaries, cinching the popular win in two states; but Buttigieg still has more pledged caucuses? Or something? Can someone explain to me how Democratic primaries work, or is it like how the UK votes for a Prime Minister — you don’t vote directly for Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn, you vote for an MP, and the guy with the most MPs gets a free steak dinner at the Tower of London. Isn’t that how it works? Are black people still 60% of a person in this bizarre calculus?

And the Russians are involved in the primary? But they’re backing Sanders? Or Buttigietg? I started this essay with an eye about writing how a phenomenon we’ve seen in sports — the end of predictability, of sports dynasties — has somehow made its way into politics, but that rapidly spun out of control as I realized I honestly have no idea what’s going on in the world of politics. It’s like some dreadful over-wrought spy thriller where we’re the poor concierge who just checked a Mr. Bond into Suite 207, complimentary caviar and champagne to be delivered; and now there’s a gunfight occurring in the bar, and there’s an Aston Martin plowing through the hedge, and you only picked up this shift as a favor to a friend who’s on vacation.

My previous understanding of the primary process: There are many politicians vying for the dubious honor of running for a federal candidacy — for everything from Congressman all the way to President. Each party selects 4–5 men and 2–3 token women to run for the nomination so they can run for the office in question, and then we vote for whom we think is best? Except that’s not how it works? And there’s a general election just a few months after that? And now Jill Stein is on the ballot? How did that happen? And we’re going based on some nebulous concept of “electability” that everyone agreed The Donald didn’t have, except he won?

My new understanding of the primary process: Two men enter, one man leaves.

Way way way back when I was in high school civics, we learned that there are over 100 political parties in the US, ranging from the American Nazi Party to the Green Party, without any more-nuanced perspectives (are you for universal health care and against gun control? Sorry). One of them will field a candidate that will be president of the US and Central Asia (you think I’m joking). In the purest, least-corrupt form of politics — junior high school student council — it’s at this point that everyone goes out, buys glitter to make really cool, risque posters, and promises that they’ll ask the administration to allow hats indoors (this was an actual promise made by someone running for student body president), the votes are cast, and the school administration decides who gets to be winner. The students then get to decide whether they’ll have cupcakes or brownies at the PTA fund-raiser that’s desperately trying to replace geography books written when Rhodesia was a country (again, you think I’m joking). Simple, elegant, even though there are opportunities for corruption, we generally get that Stacy won, because she’s more popular than Brendan.

I suspect that’s how the Democratic primaries are designed; to give the illusion of choice that simply leads to continuity of actual leadership (how this works to convert “votes” to “delegates” seems like a really sleazy money exchange scheme, though). And then, once in a while, you get someone like The Donald, who screams aloud what the party establishment was only quietly allowed to mumble. And then we’re surprised when crazy, racist policies and illegal searches become the norm.

So, full disclosure, even though I’m not wild about B. Sanders (Warren and Harris were my top picks), I think he’s a superior choice than our rather bland, “Here, you can run in an off-year” choices — including Buttigieg and Joe Biden. Like The Donald, he’s just screaming what most Democrats quietly have mumbled. Things like “Healthcare and housing are a fundamental right, not an investment strategy,” and, “Maybe LGBTQ people should have full legal equality.” Can he actually do it? I dunno; we still don’t have a wall, but we have a sixth branch of military, even though we don’t actually have space pirates or space terrorists, or — let me just put it out there — large-scale commercial shipping above 20000 feet. So, I don’t know if Sanders will be able to live up to his promises of Canadian-style social nets (it’s worth pointing out that I got to listen yesterday to someone griping about how senior citizens from Scandinavian countries are so poor-off that they’re forced to retire to the Canary Islands; I think I get a gold star for not saying, “Yeah, but they don’t have diabetics hoarding insulin, and they’re forced to retire to a tropical island owned by Spain? Those poor, poor people.”), or even reduce Lockheed Martin’s budget from “bonuses for the VP of Industrial Marketing’s cat, Chloe, who was so instrumental in developing a newer, better nuke that international sanctions and basic decency will prevent us from ever using” to, “Maybe just a high six-figure sum.” What I do know is, “conventional wisdom” is no longer useful. When the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl, the convention of sports writers was to shrug and say that traditional metrics of sports success were obsolete, and a new era had begun. Then the 2002 A’s and 2004 Red Sox came along using new predictors of success.

I think that’s where we are, in this analogy — there’s a lot of untapped resentment at the continued inequalities between people who have three beach houses in the Hamptons, and everyone else; we just haven’t figured out how to measure that and tap into it in such a way that everyone can afford one decent house, and not go bankrupt when Grandma finds a lump in her breast. I certainly wish the Sanders campaign all the best in that one; and I hope they start focusing less on weird interlopers like M. Bloomberg, and more on M. McConnell and M. Pence (I mean, D. Trump). But, what do I know?

Written by

Science journalist, cancer survivor, biomedical consultant, the “Wednesday Addams of travel writers.”

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store