Los Angeles Times - 04.03.2020

(singke) #1




hen Bernie
Sanderswas ly-
ing in a Las Vegas
hospital after a
heart attack last
October, I was certain his cam-
paign was dead. Health-wise,
Sanders was already pushing his
luck by bidding to become the old-
est person to be elected president.
Surely no voter would take a risk on
a 78-year-old candidate with two
stents in his heart.
Obviously, I was wrong.
In a “Death and Immortality”
course I teach at Boston University,
one of my main objectives is to con-
vince my students that they are go-
ing to die. During World War I, Sig-
mund Freud scratched his head
while watching young men march
confidently off to war. Half of their
battalions were fated to come back
in body bags, but each was con-
vinced that death was for the other
guys. “In the unconscious,” Freud
wrote, “every one of us is convinced
of his own immortality.”
We are apparently equally con-
vinced of the immortality of our be-
loved politicians: Humans die;
Bernie is a human; but Bernie will
never die.
As the prospects of the Demo-
cratic candidates have been rising
and falling like the lines on an EKG,
I’ve become obsessed with the ac-
tuarial odds of Sanders dying. I
called Hal Tepfer, the director of
BU’s master’s degree program in
actuarial science, who pointed me
to the Social Security Administra-
tion’s mortality tables: The
chances of a man of 78 (Sanders’
age) dying within a year are 4.8%.
But what about over a presi-
dential term? Sanders will be 79 on
Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2021. His
chances of dying during the follow-
ing four years are 23%. They rise to
48% if you are hoping for a second
Sanders term, and that’s not fac-
toring in a history of heart attacks.
According to Tepfer, any repu-
table insurance company consid-

ering writing a life insurance policy
is going to demand complete medi-
cal records. Sanders has been ada-
mant that he will not provide such
a history. That would immediately
disqualify him for life insurance.
But somehow Sanders’ Trumpish
secrecy does not disqualify him as
a front-runner for the Democratic
presidential nomination.
All these calculations are for
naught, of course, if Bernie is the
god/man many of his devotees
imagine him to be. However, at
least according to a 2018 study of
heart attack victims published in
the Journal of the American Heart
Assn., Bernie is not likely to live for-
ever. That study found that the me-
dian life expectancy for Americans
who had a heart attack at 75 or old-
er was just 3.1 years. Aaron Eisman,
a MD/PhD student in biomedical
informatics at Brown University,
went through the findings with me:
The chances of an average man of
Sanders’ age living for a year past
the date of his heart attack (Oct. 1,
2019, in Bernie’s case) are roughly 1
in 4. The chances he would survive
over a four-year term in office are
roughly 1 in 3.
But the nightmare scenario for
Never Trumpers, including me, is
the death (or incapacitation) of
the Democratic presidential nomi-
nee between the Democratic Na-
tional Convention, July 13-16 in Mil-
waukee, and election day, on Nov. 3.
What happens then? And what
does our nation’s Tweeter in Chief
do to muddy the waters and exploit
the chaos?
The odds of this scenario are,
admittedly, low. Assuming Sand-
ers gets the nomination and as-
suming he is like an average heart
attack victim in the AHA Journal
study, the odds of him dying be-
tween winning the nomination and
Nov. 3 are slim, about a 1 in 40
chance. That is not a big chance
but, given the stakes, it’s too big for
me. (The Kentucky Derby winners
in 2009 and 2019 went off at longer
Of course, Sanders is not the

only Democratic candidate who
has been angling to become a West
Wing octogenarian. Bloomberg is
Bernie’s age (78) and Biden is just
one year younger (77), so according
to the Social Security Administra-
tion’s mortality tables, they have a
4% to 5% chance of dying within a
year. Elizabeth Warren is 70, but
because she is a woman, her
chances of death during that time
frame are well under 2%. What dis-
tinguishes Bernie from the rest of
the potentially dead men running
(and sharply increases his chance
of death) is his heart attack his-
Behavioral psychologists tell us
that human beings prefer not to
think probabilistically. When con-
fronted with 20:1 odds that a septu-
agenarian we love will die in the
next year, we convince ourselves
that our beloved is one of the 19.
When confronted with the fact that
our favorite presidential candidate
has about a 1-in-4 chance of dying
within a year of his heart attack, we
vote for him anyway: Death is for
other people.
I like Bernie. I would be de-
lighted to have him as my presi-
dent. But I do think prob-
abilistically and I simply don’t be-
lieve he is immortal. For those of us
who are desperate to hear some
modern-day Gerald Ford declare,
“Our long national nightmare is
over,” this primary season just isn’t
a time to roll the dice.
Let Republicans take the risks.
Let them tempt death by nominat-
ing — again — a 70-something man
of dubious health who has refused
to release his medical records.
There are all sorts of glass ceilings
that could be broken in this presi-
dential election year. Here’s to hop-
ing that electing the oldest presi-
dent ever is not among them.

Stephen Protherois a Boston
University religion professor and
author of the forthcoming
“Religion Matters: An
Introduction to the World’s

DEMOCRATICpresidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders after he cast his vote in his state’s
primary election on Super Tuesday. Sanders won the Vermont election.

Chip SomodevillaGetty Images

Bernie Sanders has

an actuarial problem

What sets the 78-year-old apart? His heart attack history.

By Stephen Prothero

Looks likePresi-
dent Trump was
right to be scared
of Joe Biden.
I didn’t think
the former vice
president could
pull it off, espe-
cially after his weak showings in
Iowa, New Hampshire and Ne-
When I saw Biden in Iowa last
month, he didn’t inspire confi-
dence. He was shouty and kept
referring to a written text, which
seemed bizarre for a guy with
more than half a century of politi-
cal experience.
But I underestimated his ap-
peal to voters, especially black
voters, thanks to the enduring
power of his relationship with
President Obama. Without the
support of African Americans,
there will be no Democratic presi-
dent in 2021.
And on Saturday, after a deci-
sive win in South Carolina, he was
his best self: passionate, on point,
sensitive, kind.
Biden is like an old robe you
can slip into — not new or exciting,
but comfortable at a time when
many of us could use a little com-
On Tuesday, he racked up win
after win: In Virginia, Minnesota,
Massachusetts, North Carolina,
Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee.
He won in Oklahoma where, re-
porters noted, he spent a mere
He by no means has a lock on
the nomination, with Bernie
Sanders still gaining delegates
and maintaining his core of loyal
supporters. But Biden has done
much to reassure voters in recent
days that, if he becomes the
Democratic presidential nominee,
the party will be in good hands.
Come November, Democratic
voters and disaffected Republi-
cans won’t give a fig about the
questionable business practices of
his son. Yes, Republicans will
hammer away at Hunter Biden’s
association with a Ukrainian oil
company, but Hunter’s not run-
ning for president.
And let’s not forget: President
Trump’s children are the most
blatant beneficiaries of nepotism
in American history. Their father
— not Hunter Biden — was the
one who was charged with high
crimes and misdemeanors over
dealings with Ukraine.
Sanders supporters were
hoping that Super Tuesday would
provide a coronation of their fa-
vorite democratic socialist, but
that does not appear to have
happened. Yes, he won California,
drawing young voters and Latino
voters as expected. But Super
Tuesday’s mixed results signal
that he and Biden are going to
have to fight it out, and perhaps
fight it out some more after that,
all the way to the convention.
Biden is surely more palatable
to the Democratic establishment,
but Sanders’ energizing effect on
younger voters and Latino voters
cannot be denied.
I keep hearing the same tired

criticism of Sanders from moder-
ate Democrats: He’s been in Con-
gress for a bajillion years (29 actu-
ally), but has authored little legis-
lation. This is a specious assess-
ment; Sanders has sponsored
some 500 amendments, many of
which have become law.
In any case, I would submit
that Sanders’ most important
contribution to American life is
that he has almost single-hand-
edly forced the Democratic party
leftward. He has never, not once,
forsaken his deeply held beliefs
that income inequality is an
American scourge, that tax breaks
for the rich come at the expense of
the poor and middle class, that the
failures of our healthcare system
are shameful, and that students
should not bear lifelong debt for
their educations.
His intransigence alone is his
crowning achievement. Would
Biden, who helped make it almost
impossible for students to dis-
charge college debt, have even
mentioned the issue at his “vic-
tory” speech in California on Tues-
day night had Sanders not pushed
him in that direction?
As for the candidates who
appear to be the also-rans of the
Super Tuesday field: I’m sad that

Elizabeth Warren’s star has
dimmed. She is such a decent
human being, such a tenacious
fighter for economic policies that
favor the working and middle
classes. When she needed to be
harsh on the debate stage — as
she was against Michael
Bloomberg — she was devas-
tating. When the moment called
for conciliation, she was brilliant.
She was organized, well-funded
and seemed to have moved past
the early stumbles over her herit-
age. Why did she never catch fire?
Billionaire Michael
Bloomberg’s likely demise is
hardly a tragedy for Democrats.
Yes, he is a plutocrat with a prog-
ressive streak. And sure, it would
have been fun to watch him bait
Trump. (In Nevada, Bloomberg
trolled Trump with billboards:
“Donald Trump went broke run-
ning a casino.”) But the only rea-
son for his candidacy was Biden’s
perceived weakness. Now that
Biden has been eating his Wheat-
ies, there’s no room for the former
New York mayor.
Here’s the thing: I often joke
that I’d vote for a ham sandwich if
that’s what the Democrats nomi-
nated, because frankly, an inert
object would do less damage to
our nation and our standing in the
world than the current White
House occupant has already done.
Did you watch Trump’s loopy,
incoherent news conference about
the coronavirus? At least sand-
wiches can’t talk.
Now that the field has narrow-
ed to two candidates, Democrats
will have to make the difficult
choice about who has the best
chance to beat Trump.
My head says Biden, but my
heart says Bernie.
I can live with either one.


It’s Bernie vs.

Biden. Let the

slugfest begin


Sanders excites many

voters, Biden soothes.

Democrats still have a

difficult choice to make.

My head says Biden,

but my heart says

Bernie. I can live

with either one.


s “peace in ourtime” in Af-
ghanistan at hand? President
Trump thinks so. He de-
scribed the agreement signed
Saturday by an American di-
plomat and a Taliban official as
providing “a powerful path forward
to end the war in Afghanistan and
bring our troops home.” We must
hope that he is correct.
Yet the prospective end of the
longest war in U.S. history does not
find Americans dancing in the
streets. With the spread of the co-
ronavirus and the ongoing drama
of the Democratic primaries, Af-
ghanistan figures at best as an
afterthought in news media and
the public mind. Besides, the na-

tion has long since grown weary of
armed interventions that drag on
and on as if on autopilot. No Get-
tysburg, no D-day — just sporadic
reports of bombs dropped and
people killed.
Even so, while the peace plan
may not prompt Americans to cel-
ebrate, it ought to provide an occa-
sion for sober reflection. At least
for now, our instinctive urge to
move on, to forget, can wait.
After nearly 20 years, the United
States has accomplished exceed-
ingly little in Afghanistan. The
truth is, in this faraway Central
Asian country, we have sustained a
major defeat. The deal signed over
the weekend, which in the details
began fraying almost immediately,
amounts to an admission of failure.
The Trump administration’s desire
to call it quits has overridden what
justified a U.S. military presence in
Afghanistan in the first place.
Here are the facts. Despite the
loss of more than 6,000 American
dead and the expenditure of
roughly a trillion dollars, U.S.
forces have never come close to de-

feating the Afghan Taliban. In-
deed, government figures put the
enemy-initiated attacks in the last
quarter of 2019 at a nine-year high.
Programs aimed at building
Afghan military and police forces
able to provide security have also
failed. So too have efforts to install
in Kabul a unified government that
commands the support of the
Afghan people. There are today
two rival claimants to the Afghan
presidency. As for the $9 billion in
U.S. taxpayer money expended to
reduce the cultivation of opium,
that effort has yielded essentially
nothing, as a detailed report in the
Washington Post made clear in De-
cember. Afghanistan today report-
edly produces more than 90% of
the world’s opium supply. And
efforts to curb rampant corruption
have come nowhere close to
success, with Transparency
International ranking Afghanistan
among the world’s most corrupt
Each of these figured as major
U.S. policy objectives. None has re-
sulted in mission accomplishment.

Only with regard to the education
of girls — an estimated 3.5 million
are today attending Afghan
schools — can U.S. efforts be said
to have achieved even modest suc-
cess, with political dysfunction and
inadequate security putting even
that modest achievement at risk.
But wait, some will say: Since
U.S. forces arrived in Afghanistan
more than 18 years ago the United
States has not experienced a recur-
rence of 9/11. But this assumes a
nonexistent causal relationship.
Taliban fighters have not been
waging a global jihad targeting the
United States. Their purpose re-
mains what it was when Afghan
mujahideen resisted Soviet occu-
pation in the 1980s: They are deter-
mined to oust foreign occupying
forces. If the just announced peace
deal holds at all, and Trump with-
draws U.S. troops as he has repeat-
edly vowed to do, the Taliban will
have achieved precisely what they
have long fought for. That’s victory.
The central lesson for the U.S. in
this long and futile conflict, com-
pounded by our experience in the

Iraq war, is plain: The proper mis-
sion of the U.S. military is to deter
and to defend — a statement that
ought to be inscribed over the main
entrance to the Pentagon, if not
added to the oath of office taken by
the commander in chief.
Never again should it be the
purpose of American forces to
overthrow regimes in distant lands
with vague expectations of being
able to install a political order more
to our liking. That way lies only
more “endless wars.”
If senior U.S. national security
officials can absorb that lesson,
then perhaps the war in Af-
ghanistan will not have been a
complete waste. Alas, that as-
sumes a capacity for learning that
in Washington is not much in evi-

Andrew Bacevichis a
contributing writer to Opinion.
He is president of the Quincy
Institute for Responsible
Statecraft and author of “The
Age of Illusions: How America
Squandered Its Cold War Victory.”

Let’s face it: We were defeated in Afghanistan

The U.S. has accomplished

little in nearly 20 years.

The peace deal is an

admission of failure.

By Andrew Bacevich

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