Sunday, May 29, 2016

In Sanders Fields

Steve on the theory that Bernie will ultimately work hard to unite the Dems against Donald Trump.

Rachel Maddow, preternaturally self-assured leftist Oracle, provided her passionately committed audience with her glimpse into the future last week as she carefully turned the Tarot cards of Bernie Sanders’ recent behavior to conclude that his bitterness and rancor toward Planet Clinton had finally crested. The MSNBSeer delivered her prophecy with the hushed-tone whisper of an insider scoop and you so wanted to believe her.

This was the long-awaited word her audience – the highly refined, twice-filtered-for-purity liberal essence of MSNBC – had been waiting for. Maddow, a thinly disguised Bernie Baby, was announcing to the world that Doc Brown was not going to crash the DeLorean into the Democratic Convention after all. Maddow had intuited that despite all the bitterly angry talk of having been unfairly treated by Debbie Wasserman Schulz, the DNC, the Democratic Party, the Clintons, and the process, that Bernie had moved into full negotiation mode, and that the Clintons seemed to be playing ball.  

Don’t buy it for a second.

In my last column, I noted that each of the parties had suddenly – jarringly – reverted to their predictable form after an out-of-body primary season.

Republicans -- who traditionally consolidate around the prior election cycle’s Mister Congeniality, the second place finisher who had paid his dues and patiently waited his (yes, his) turn – had cruelly disposed of a spate of loyal subjects and fallen ass-over-tea-kettle in love with the furthest outsider imaginable short of a candidate from Roswell’s Area 51. After unprecedented playground squabbles, tantrums, and penis-size speculation, the GOP ultimate did revert to form… suddenly falling into smart goose-steps behind mein candidate.

Democrats, however, usually take the predictable, proven candidate and expunge him (or her) like an errant bone in an Iowa caucus chicken fried steak.  The Dems are perennially infatuated by the shiny new object, the charisma, the different; the fizzy can of Pepsi that is the choice of a new generation. This was to have been the year when the Democrats would finally take yes for an answer and contently anoint their hugely qualified, vastly experienced, and widely respected front running candidate.

And yet now the Democrats, too, have reverted to form: the party’s raw DNA knifed through in the form of a cranky, cantankerous, pugnacious zealot from Vermont on a holy crusade.

There was a period of time when Bernie Sanders actually had the Clinton people hyperventilating, but then Super Tuesday triggered a long, slow, arithmetic Bataan death march to Bernie’s delegate count. Bernie won a few small states by big margins, but gains were wiped out by Clinton’s small wins in big states. With each passing Tuesday, his chances of overtaking Clinton went from unlikely to miniscule to microscopic to exactly-how-hard-is-it-for-you-millennials-to-understand-math?

So let us be perfectly, absolutely, precisely, unambiguously clear: the only thing at this point that prevents Hillary Clinton from being the Democratic nominee is an asteroid that Bruce Willis is unable to nuke.

So: what the hell is Bernie Sanders doing, why is he doing it, and is it really dangerous to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy? Or should we just all trust Rachel Maddow that Gramps is toning it down and getting on board?

Many pundits have written wistfully about how Dems should draw faith from the parallels between 2016 and 2008, when losing candidate Clinton did not formally suspend her candidacy until after the last primary vote was cast, but then dove fully and wholly into the task of delivering her loyal followers to Barack Obama. Most would have you believe that Bernie will turn good soldier and do the same.

I have serious doubts about how passionately Bernie will take on the task of urging his supporters to embrace Hillary Clinton.

But of much greater concern is that at this point I doubt that he can.  Here is why.

1.     Bernie is not a Democrat, he is a revolutionary. Fealty to party comes a distant second to the cause.

Bernie Sanders has been registered as an independent for about 50 years longer than he has been registered as a Democrat.  Bernie attempts to cozy up to the party by noting that he is a Democratic Socialist, and yet the grammarian in me urges that you note that the word “democratic” modifies socialist, not the other way around.

But far more significant than party labels and affiliations is the fact that Bernie is a revolutionary.  He is running as an outsider on a crusade for change when his own party is in power. Any marketer with a grain of sense will tell you that parties that seek to retain the White House say “four more years,” not “time for radical change.”

This alone makes for a hyooooge difference in the dynamic relative to 2008. Hillary Clinton had spent decades as a consummate insider in the Democratic Party. When she lost the nomination to Obama, she immediately understood that her support could be the difference in the success of the Democratic Party. She knew what she had to do, and she threw herself into the mission.

Bernie’s “mission,” in contrast, is not the success of the Democratic ticket. It is the life of his cause; the success of his revolution.

2.     Bernie Sanders is not laying pipe for 2020 or preserving his future in the party. He is going for broke now.

The reason why most former candidates fall in line behind the party’s choice is because they have to if they want to have a future in politics. Even Marco Rubio – mauled, abused, and humiliated by Donald Trump – has sucked it up and fallen in line. Indeed, the last vestiges of the “Never Trump” movement are people named Bush and Romney – party has-beens with no future to worry about.

Bernie Sanders couldn’t care less if his candidacy is seen as destructive to the Democratic Party and its candidate. This is the pinnacle of his career; he will have book deals and speaker fees for the rest of his life. There is absolutely no long term play for him in acquiescing to candidate Clinton.

3.     Intentionally or not, Bernie Sanders has positioned Hillary Clinton as every bit as much the enemy as Donald Trump.

Bernie Sanders has identified income inequality, the corrupting influence of money in politics, and (more recently) unwise trade policy as the troika of evil that has brought America’s middle class to its economic knees.  But note bene: Bernie was not simply saying that these are the issues that the Democrats must champion in the general election – Bernie Sanders was pasting these three essential evils on Hillary Clinton.

Bernie Sanders’ message about the “one percenters” and the corrupting influence of money on politics is not about Republicans or Democrats; it is leveled at both. When Bernie Sanders railed against terrible trade deals, his centerpiece was NAFTA – a signature piece of legislation in Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Indeed, these issues were central to Bernie’s run for the nomination, and therefore they were given flesh and blood example far more in the form of positioning Hillary Clinton as the villain than as an issue for Democrats to rally around in a race against Republicans.

4.     In 2008, the candidate of the young idealists actually won the nomination. That is not going to happen this time.

The biggest difference between 2008 and 2016 is that in 2008, the candidate of the young people won.

The young passionate idealist – Barack Obama -- carried the day, and millions of young people were galvanized by their own impact on the nomination process to redouble their efforts in the general election.  Meanwhile, the fifty-somethings – with long-standing affiliations to the party -- quickly fell in line behind Obama; particularly so when so passionately urged to by Hillary Clinton herself.

When the Millennials who have turned out in force for Bernie Sanders finally get it through their math-challenged skulls that he is not going to win, don’t expect them to race over to Hillary’s camp. Expect them to pick up their marbles and check out. They’ve been told for nine long months in debates and rallies all across America that Hillary Clinton is emblematic of the problem; that she is in bed with the one percent and that she perpetuates the influence of money in politics. They’ve been told that the system was rigged in her favor; they’ve been told that their candidate got shafted by her establishment.

Millennials moving en masse to Hillary? If you haven’t seen “The Empire Strikes Back” recently, you may want to check out the ending. Luke Skywalker would rather cut off his hand than go over to the dark side.

How does it add up?

It is, in my view, naïve to think that the Millennials who “felt the Bern” are going to suddenly transfer their allegiance, their passion, and their hard work to a candidate who was not just the opponent, but was actually the enemy.

And it is equally naïve to think that Bernie Sanders, lifelong independent, zealous outsider, and now idolized as champion of a philosophically purist movement, is suddenly going to start telling his followers how important it is to vote for Hillary Clinton.

Rather, Bernie will spend the next five months applying pressure to keep his personal agenda at the forefront. He will happily go on tour, and will give the same speech he’s been giving for the past nine months, and end with a wink and nod that Hillary Clinton is probably a little closer to his way of thinking than Donald Trump.

And, yes, friends, that means one thing. If the Republicans are indeed better at lining up behind their candidate than the Democrats, then we are one step closer to President Trump

What’s to be done?

There are three things that need to happen to prevent the Democratic Party from ritual self-immolation.

1.     Barack to the Future

Barack Obama is going to go to bat for Hillary Clinton with possibly even greater passion and certainty than he pursued his own second term. And Barack Obama is the one person on the planet earth who can undo the carnage that Bernie Sanders is wreaking on Hillary Clinton’s reputation. Barack Obama can connect with Millennials. And Barack Obama can actually turn this appalling internecine holy war into a unified battle against the true enemy. 

2.     Hillary Clinton Must Dramatically Step Up her Marketing Game.

People say that Hillary Clinton is not a natural politician. I’d submit that she is a perfectly competent politician, the real issue is that she is not an intuitive marketer.

Over a long period of time and many campaigns, Clinton has consistently failed to hone the essentially rationale for her candidacy to a single, simple compelling promise. She constantly changes her messages, reacts rather than acts, and is obsessed with smaller issues: while great marketers go for the jugular, Hillary has an instinct for the capillary. 

Policy wonk that she is, much of her communication must continue to be high road: the issues she intends to take on, and the specific initiatives that she will put in place to achieve her goals. This is vital and it is an area of stark contrast with her Republican rival.

However, she must start making this campaign emotionally important. She must articulate the stakes of a Trump presidency. She must present this as a clear and present danger.

If I were running her campaign, I’d start by making a video which featured a series of vignettes of the great iconic images of American Presidents at their most dramatic: Reagan in front of the Brandenburg Gate, Kennedy at his Inaugural, Roosevelt speaking about fear itself. And through the wonder of computer graphics, I’d morph the images of those presidents making those speeches in those iconic locations into clips of Donald Trump talking about Mexicans as rapists, the need to ban Muslims, and his assessment of Carly Fiorina’s face. People need to project themselves into a future in which Donald Trump – a loose cannon with no canon – is speaking to the world for the United States of America. They must be forced to understand what it would mean to have a President who shoots from the hip with nuclear tipped missiles.

3.     Teach your children.

Hey, folks… this last one goes out to all of you who have been wondering what exactly you can do to help steer this ocean liner of a nation away from its collision course with an iceberg named Trump.

Channel your glorious sixties and your Crosby Stills & Nash. Teach your children.

If they are among those who have very deeply felt the Bern, it’s time to sit down and have a talk with them. Ask them what they intend to do if my brother has been right since March and Hillary has already locked up the nomination. Ask them if they would consider switching their allegiance from Bernie to Hillary, or see if they – like so many –speak with resignation and alienation, contempt for the process, and suggest that they will simply sit this one out.

Here is what you can do. Teach your children.

Tell them about how the candidate you felt that passion for – Bobby Kennedy – was killed, and the democratic nomination went on to Hubert Humphrey, who could not hold a candle to Kennedy’s charisma and message. But who would have been a vastly better President than Richard Nixon.

Tell them about how an egregiously self-involved egomaniac named Ralph Nader siphoned just enough votes away from Al Gore in Florida to hand the election to George Bush. Imagine a world without Iraq; imagine sixteen years devoted to aggressive climate science.

Tell them that this is not the time to walk away; that we need them in this fight.

Tell your kids that the perfect is the enemy of the good.

Tell your kids what you were once told: that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Sanders fields.

--Change made without permission of John McCrae, author of In Flanders Fields.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for a great comentary on the US elections. Looking torward to see your thoughts on further developments.


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