Against Trump, and the Democratic machine 

#GS1 #World #Politics 

Democrat voters did not want to risk voting for Bernie Sanders, but Joe Biden is a flawed candidate 

Bernie Sanders, the left-wing challenger for the Democratic presidential nomination, withdrew from the race and vowed to back the presumptive nominee, former Vice-President Joe Biden. 

America on the edge 

  • Even before the pandemic struck, a significant portion of the country was on the brink: four in ten American adults could not withstand an unexpected $400 expense. Now they have been pushed over the edge. 
  • The trouble, for Mr. Sanders, is the lesson came too late and too few people believed that he was either capable of defeating President Donald Trump or getting his agenda through Congress or both.  
  • Put bluntly, in a moment when progressives believe American democracy is in peril at the hands of an egomaniacal right-wing demagogue, too many liberals thought it was too great a risk to stand a septuagenarian Jewish socialist from Vermont who had a heart attack six months earlier. 
  • That concern was not entirely justified. Throughout February, Mr. Sanders led Mr. Trump in every poll by between 2% and 8%. The early States he performed well in — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada — were all the kind of swing States Democrats need to win in November. 
  • After he won Nevada and it looked like no clear contender had yet emerged, Matt Bennett, of the moderate group, Third Way, told Politico: “It’s this incredible sense that we’re hurtling to the abyss. I also think we could lose the House. 

Cornerstone constituency 

  • There was no justification for this bed-wetting. But concerns about his electability were not entirely unjustified either. Despite considerable and concerted efforts, he failed to convince African Americans that his candidacy was viable. 
  • African Americans are the cornerstone of the Democratic coalition: the party has only won the presidency with the white vote alone once — in 1964 — since the Second World War. 
  • African Americans were more likely to support universal health care and free college tuition than any other ethnic groups. It was either him or his capacity to achieve those goals, they were unconvinced by. 
  • His other key vulnerability was younger voters, who did back him — including, it should be noted, younger African Americans — but did not turn up in sufficient numbers to make a difference. Mr. Sanders had predicated his potential on his ability to change the electorate by galvanising non-voters. 
  • The day after Mr. Sanders withdrew, unemployment rose by 6.6 million bringing the number who have lost their jobs in the last three weeks to 16 million. Recovering from the global economic depression, we are about to experience demands of a thoroughgoing structural alternative to neo-liberalism. That is what Mr. Sanders was suggesting: that is why the establishment was so desperate for him to lose. 

On Biden 

  • Clearly, that alternative is by no means the only scenario; Mr. Trump could win and things can get even worse. 
  • But a Biden candidacy is by no means a risk-free proposition. There is a reason why South Carolina was the first State he has won in the three times he has run for the presidency in 32 years (1988, 2008, 2020). At the best of times he is a terrible candidate.  
  • On the stump he rambles hopelessly, losing himself midsentence, wandering into rhetorical cul-de-sacs and is overly tactile with women. He told a crowd in Houston he was looking forward to Super Thursday and once confused his wife and his sister, who were both on the stage with him. 
  • The trouble is not just his performance but his politics. He was an enthusiastic backer of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Iraq war, deregulation and social security freezes, which does not leave him with much to take on Mr. Trump with. 
  • A poll two weeks ago showed he attracted the lowest recorded amount of ‘strong enthusiasm’ among his own supporters for any Democratic presidential hopeful in the 20 years of polling.  
  • Coronavirus has made a volatile electorate and a fragile political culture even more unpredictable. Both Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders represented a risk. But Mr. Sanders was a risk worth taking; Mr. Biden is the risk we are now stuck with. 

Lives and livelihoods 

#GS3 #Economy #PandemicCrisis 

Centre must spend more, forego tax revenues to protect livelihoods during lockdown 

  • The choice for Prime Minister Narendra Modi now, as when he decided to impose the lockdown on March 24, is the same — between saving lives and ensuring livelihoods. But as India nears the end of the lockdown period, the serious damage to the economy and livelihoods is beginning to make itself apparent.  
  • There is tremendous pressure from industry bodies to opt for a nuanced policy that will help economic activity to restart as they fear a collapse if activity is stopped for another fortnight. Lives could be lost to hunger and livelihoods sacrificed in the lockdown.  
  • One way to sidestep this existential dilemma is by bringing on a second round of an economic relief package that goes well beyond the first both in terms of the financial commitment and the spread. 
  • The ₹1.7-lakh crore package announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on March 26 was a good start but barely accounted for 1% of GDP. India should spend at least 5% of GDP for now — about ₹10-lakh crore. The cash transfers to the poor should be hiked to at least ₹3,000 a month for the next three months. 
  • In the harvest season, farmers need logistical support for moving their produce to markets. Lenders, including NBFCs, should be granted freedom to reschedule their loan accounts so that borrowers are not under pressure to repay for fear of turning delinquent. 
  • The bankruptcy code should be suspended for the next six months, at least for MSMEs. And why not a GST holiday for the next three months? The loss of revenue will be ₹3-lakh crore at worst, but in reality will be much lower than that because economic activity is at a standstill now. 
  • Such a move will ease cash flows for business and also obviate the need for statutory compliances at a time when the focus will have to be on getting businesses back on track.  
  • The crisis now is without precedent and the solutions cannot be conservative. Generous support from the government, and quickly delivered, is the need of the hour. 

Stage fright 

#GS2 #Governance 

Limiting transmission in hotspots depends on a wider tracing and testing strategy 

  • Even after the Health Ministry on March 28 acknowledged on its website that there was “limited community transmission”, India’s national taskforce for COVID-19 continues to deny it. 
  • ICMR and Health Ministry researchers, provides evidence of community transmission in 36 districts in 15 States. The study is based on sentinel surveillance undertaken by the task force among severe acute respiratory infections (SARI) patients who have been hospitalised in public sector institutions to identify the spread and the extent of transmission of COVID-19 disease in the community.  
  • If there were 1.9% (two of 106) SARI cases positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus by the end of March third week, the number increased to 104 by April 2. Of the 102 coronavirus positive SARI cases tested between March 22 and April 2, 40 (39%) had no travel history or contact with a positive case; data on exposure were not available for 59 (58%) cases. 
  • The authors point out that antibody-based testing carried out in those testing negative for molecular test could have helped identify more positive cases. With community transmission, or the third stage, now being confirmed in 36 districts, an expansion and change in testing strategy has become imperative in the high focus areas for the lockdown to be more meaningful. 
  • Though the taskforce has not openly declared community transmission, it is reassuring to note that the ICMR has already initiated changes in the testing strategy in response to the change in the pattern of community spread. 
  • It is important to include antibody testing along with molecular testing when necessary in the high focus areas. Together with containment measures, this approach will help in snapping the transmission chain.  
  • Syndromic surveillance of all SARI and ILI patients along with quick and effective tracing, quarantining and testing of their contacts should be the way forward now. How well India responds now will determine whether the spread is contained quickly or leads to more cases and deaths. 
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