Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Bernie And The Donald–Principles And Passion vs Hillary And The Shopworn Middle
Bernie Sanders is a man of principle who has shown a commitment to them for decades. He has addressed the lot of the poor, marginalized, and excluded since his political beginnings and has not wavered from his convictions. When he speaks on the campaign trail today (2016), there is no doubt about their personal meaning and significance. He is tailor-making nothing, refinishing nothing, reconfiguring nothing to get elected. He stands for something, and his message is loud and clear.
Donald Trump has no such storied political history, but he is as convincing as a man of political principle as Sanders. He has done this by challenging received, politically correct wisdom. If Trump is so outrageously forthright about his opinions; if he cares so little about the progressive Left’s censure; and if he refuses to moderate his tone or his policies, then he must be speaking honestly. What The Donald says, supporters say, he means.
Politicians are politicians, of course, and the road to electoral office has always been one of compromise, shifting positions, backpedaling, and reinvention. It is possible that Trump doesn’t believe what he says but has found a surprising resonance for his ideas and, canny huckster that he is, has exploited it to his advantage. It is also possible that Bernie doesn’t subscribe to half the socialist principles he publicly avows. At 74 he has undoubtedly become more conservative. How could he not after decades of observing the same patterns of human behavior that have characterized every epoch of human history. It is hard for even the most committed progressive not to wonder if social progress is really a valid concept.
Politicians, especially older ones like Sanders, tend to bang on about tried-and-true ideas even they might have lost their salience and relevance. “I must be doing something right”, Bernie must say as he takes take the same seat in the Senate he has occupied for years. “Why change?”.
History is cyclical, and even for those who have become tiresome and shopworn, their time may still come although they may not see it coming. Right now in America there is a confluence of voter dissatisfaction with politics and political institutions, a new defiant populism, an anger about income and social inequality, and a growing impatience with nostrums, recycled ideas, scripted responses, and boring, tedious recitation of policy positions.
Bernie, who for years has harped on the same ideas with little noticeable response and effect, is now a rock star. He didn’t change. The country did.
The Donald’s story is much the same. For years he went about his business raising a few eyebrows in the world of commercial real estate but going largely unnoticed by the general population who knew his name only from his showboat buildings. Yet Trump’s reputation grew as a no-holds-barred corporate street fighter, a risk-taker, and a man of unusual financial insight. The world of New York real estate and finance is not for sissies.
Trump cannily used the media to enhance this reputation. The Apprentice was one of television’s most popular shows, and “You’re fired” entered the popular lexicon. The real Trump and the virtual, televised Trump were the same and both complemented and strengthened the other. No one ever doubted who Donald Trump was.
The leap to politics was a natural. Supreme confidence bred by years of brawling and winning, a big mouth which only got bigger as he found he could talk down, intimidate, and beat most rivals; and an intelligence which enabled quick insights and solutions to complex financial challenges were all he needed to get elected to political office.
Bernie and The Donald are both serious candidates whose time, for whatever reasons, has come.
Both men understand the nature of campaigning and the electoral process; and both have taken a page out of Ronald Reagan’s playbook. Keep it simple and stay on message.
Ronald Reagan never got into the weeds about foreign policy, the disequilibrium between public and private enterprise, or the Pauline basis for morality. ‘Small government, a strong military, patriotism, and the righteousness of the American family’ was all he needed to say. Although lampooned for his ‘Morning in America’ and ‘Shining City on a Hill’ speeches, Reagan understood that the American public wants more than anything else to believe.
While Reagan was standing up to the Soviets, liberals were worried about the consequences of resoluteness. When he unabashedly spoke of love of country, voters could only think of his predecessor Jimmy Carter, his worry about the ‘malaise in America’, and his cardigan sweater.
Finally the Democrats have a candidate who can keep it simple. Bernie gets it. Not just the progressive Left but the whole left side of the political spectrum is angry at the concentration of wealth, outrageous CEO salaries, insider Washington privilege, and the cabal of lobbyists, Congressmen, and their deep-pocket donors. These aggravated voters don’t care about the relationship between percentages of GDP, the creation of wealth and jobs, the factors influencing economic mobility, and the role of the private vs. the public sectors in stimulating the economy. They care about the image of privilege - big cars, flashy lots, summers on Martha’s Vineyard, exclusive clubs, vast inheritances, and hereditary wealth. Bernie has come out swinging on all fronts. Tens of thousands of Americans are flocking to hear him. He was a winner in Iowa and by a big margin in New Hampshire.
Donald Trump gets it. His campaign slogan is ‘Make America Great Again’, and he has tapped into the outrage that many Americans feel about illegal immigration. He, like Reagan and Sanders, doesn’t bother to parse the details. He doesn’t need to provide balance sheet statistics about net economic gains or losses because of immigration. No one needs to know any more except that America is a country of laws, and those who enter illegally are breaking them; that America is a country of fair play where all have equal opportunity but none should get a free ride. He has sensed the conservative zeitgeist. America, many conservatives feel, is turning into a foreign country, sliding into European socialism and nihilism.
Trump is appalled by the pusillanimous foreign policy of the Obama Administration, caving in to Iran, a terrorist state, turning its back on Israel, and backing away from total victory against Islamic militancy because of misguided philosophies of cultural inclusivity and political correctness.
Neither side – whether the liberal Left or conservative Right – cares whether or not their candidate speaks in hyperbole, manipulates the facts, exaggerates the truth, or obfuscates or ignores the unpleasant facts. They want only to hear opinions stated with passion and conviction about central emotional issues.
Perhaps what voters like best about both candidates is that they speak their mind, say what they think, and are not afraid of offending opponents. While Sanders, always the elderly gentleman, refrains from ad hominem attacks and tiptoes carefully through the linguistic minefield of race, gender, and ethnicity, Trump has no such inhibitions. Of course Megyn Kelly, the Fox News moderator for the first Republican debate, was ‘on the rag’. Millions of men are glad that finally someone in the limelight has given uppity women their comeuppance, put them in their place after so much liberal mollycoddling.
Of course Trump said that illegal Mexican immigrants are rapists, brigands, and thieves. Who cares if but a small fraction are, and most are hard at work on our lettuce fields? Nobody. Not only did he know that his statements would earn him hundreds of millions of dollars of free press coverage; he knew that hyperbole and exaggeration which have a grain of truth to them will always win the day.
Why beat around the bush when addressing abortion? Where is the need not to offend? Abortion doctors are baby butchers and murderers, period. Gay men can do whatever they want to each other, but not on the taxpayers’ dime, etc. etc.
Trump is a vaudevillian, a carny barker, a huckster, and a son of Las Vegas and Hollywood. He entered the race because it would be the perfect stage for such a theatrical, successful, smart candidate with billions of dollars in the bank. What has surprised even him is the outpouring of support. No matter what he says, no matter how his words offend the liberal Left, his poll numbers keep rising. His supporters – a growing number of them – want him to be smarmy, ad hominem, and outrageous. The Left has no idea of the resentment of conservative Americans concerning the attempted neutering of the police, promotion of the Biblical ‘abominations’, perpetual welfare handouts to black communities, and the destruction of the nuclear family.
So, the only things to watch in this 2016 Presidential campaign are what were once side shows but are now main events. Both Trump and Sanders maintain the positions they staked out boldly and unapologetically in the early months of the race.. Sanders will continue to promote a Socialist revolution and the dismantling of the foundations of capitalism. He does not simply want the pendulum to swing back from private to public sector investment; but to radically alter the way money is generated and spent. His is a vision which goes way beyond tinkering, fine tuning, or even structural adjustment. The institutional pillars of capitalism must come down. A Sanders presidency will be radically transformative.
Donald Trump will be as transformative a President as Ronald Reagan was if not more. Trump if elected will not only roll back the most intrusive programs of government and consign it to a minor, caretaking role; but he will challenge the received wisdom of ‘diversity’, regenerate a spirit of individualism, personal values, and entrepreneurship, and defy those who dismiss religion, traditional values, and military strength. Few doubt that a Trump presidency will alter the social and political landscape as radically as that of Reagan.
All of this would be fascinating in and of itself, but when compared with the stale, musty, predictable, careful campaign middle, it is unforgettable. Hillary Clinton says nothing because she feels that she is The Anointed One. “You’ll just have to wait until I am President to find out”, she said to a journalist who was pushing her on the XL Pipeline.
Her emails are a scandal, and just like her husband who parsed every line of his refusal to accept responsibility and was branded ever after as a self-serving, venal politician only interested in saving his own skin, Hillary is doing Bill one better. Each new scandal surrounding her is reminiscent of previous ones. She has established a pattern of evasiveness, lack of principle, overweening ambition, and dishonesty.
No wonder her disapproval ratings are so high. Few people trust her and even fewer like her. She manages her image, her personality, and her smile and in so doing disgusts many voters.
The crew of Republican candidates are not much better. While they all espouse conservative positions, they hedge their bets, calculating what it will take to coalesce a majority around the middle. They – individually and collectively – have discussed all of the issues Trump has (immigration, abortion, foreign policy); but their words have no bite. They all come across as over-scripted, predictable, and flawed.
Although Chris Christie (R-NJ) tries to as outspoken and outrageous as Trump, he is only a weak imitation. Trump’s absolute confidence, braggadocio, and survival in far more brutal arenas that the State of New Jersey give him the aura of authority despite the many shady deals, bankruptcies, and questionable financial moves that checker his past. Christie is no match. The rest of the GOP lineup will likely fall by the wayside because of the electorate’s newfound populist power, demand for authenticity, values, principles, and forthrightness.
There is a long way to go in the campaign; but it has been one of the most fascinating and important in decades.