Tom Rinaldo's Journal
Member since: Mon Oct 20, 2003, 06:39 PM
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They are the professional opinion makers plying a discussion framing trade in the media - some well intentioned and others not. They are the career politicians acclimated to playing by traditional rules on a field of conventional wisdom assumptions - some well intentioned and others not. They are the current donor class long grown accustomed to and comfortable with being the King (and Queen) makers in politics - some well intentioned and others not.
They all have minimized Bernie Sanders' message for all of his long career. They said he was on the fringe, and that his views didn't resonate with average Americans. They used him as a caricature to represent the furthest pole possible in American leftist thinking short of literal Marxism. After Sanders announced for President they all but totally ignored him - despite him being a sitting United States Senator. Then they waited for Bernie to be swept away by America's voters as they had concluded he must be
Now they awake to find Bernie Sanders winning a landslide of historic proportions in the nation's first primary against the no longer presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party, and they are down to essentially their last excuse. They say Bernie Sanders has tapped into a deep vein of public resentment against the status quo. They say the electorate is in an angry mood. They say that support for Bernie Sanders is a message to the establishment, a giant wake up call protest vote indicating that their needs are not sufficiently being addressed. Implicit in that assessment is a belief that someone other than Bernie Sanders, someone with, they would say, a more realistic platform, will find the right words to acknowledge the public's dissatisfaction with the status quo and then ride that to their own electoral success. They say that might still be Hillary Clinton, or perhaps Joe Biden or John Kerry in a pinch.
What they do not yet say, and remain unwilling to say unless absolutely forced to by the dawning of a new political day in America, is that maybe, just maybe, voters are actually embracing Bernie Sanders FOR the things that he believes in for America, because they believe in them also.
Posted by Tom Rinaldo | Wed Feb 10, 2016, 10:51 AM (38 replies)
It turns out that they do, when they are from Massachusetts. What do Mitt Romney, John Kerry, Paul Tsongas, Michael Dukakis, John F. Kennedy and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr all have in common, aside from them all having won the New Hampshire Primary? Yep, all of them came from Massachusetts. New Hampshire directly neighbors three states with Massachusetts being one of them. Prior to this year, since World War II, only two major candidates have competed in New Hampshire from a neighboring state other than Massachusetts, with split results. Vermont Governor Howard Dean lost in 2004 to John Kerry, and Maine Senator Ed Muskie defeated George McGovern in 1972. It should be noted though that Muskie was the national favorite to win the Democratic nomination for president prior to competing in the NH primary that year, having impressed many as the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate four years earlier.
It should be no surprise why politicians from Massachusetts tend to do well in New Hampshire primaries. The driving distance between the largest city in Massachusetts – Boston (population 617,594 per 2010 census) and the largest city in New Hampshire - Manchester (population 109,565 per 2010 census) is all of 53 miles. New Hampshire's second largest city - Nashua (population 86,494 per 2010 census) is a 46 mile drive from Boston. In fact New Hampshire's 10 largest cities are clustered together in the southeastern section of the state, in close proximity to Boston.
Vermont's largest city Burlington (population 42,417 per 2010 census) is located in the northwest section of that state, a 165 mile drive from Manchester New Hampshire. Manchester is officially a part of the Boston Media Market, which is the 7th largest in the nation. Burlington is officially a part of the Burlington – Plattsburgh (NY) media market, which is the 98th largest in the nation. Boston Magazine notes “The Boston media market is so strong that it bleeds into all of southern New Hampshire and stretches as far north as Keene and Laconia.”
Burlington's media market however only reaches into the Connecticut River Valley of New Hampshire, which lies along the border with Vermont. Any internet search for population density maps of New Hampshire quickly yields results showing how sparsely settled that area is compared to the Southeastern New Hampshire region (here's a link to one such map)
Here is some germane information: “New Hampshire Public Radio reported that as of mid-December (2015), the Boston broadcast stations ran 45 percent of total political ads for the New Hampshire primary, compared to 47 percent for WMUR (New Hampshire's only network affiliate) and 8 percent for WBIN, a new New Hampshire-based news station. The Boston broadcasters took in $31.5 million in political ad revenue, compared to $21.4 million for WMUR and $850,000 for WBIN, according to New Hampshire Public Radio.
Lesperance said the Boston stations are important since New Hampshire's population is concentrated in the southern third of the state. "Most, if not all, of those folks have access to Boston television stations, radio, newspapers," Lesperance said. "It does have an impact. It does play a role. A lot of New Hampshire primary voters get at least some of their information from the Boston media market." http://www.masslive.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/12/boston_broadcasters_rake_in_ca.html
There is something else that Boston's proximity to New Hampshire' population centers contributes to determining winning primary candidates – foot power. For example Boston Mayor Marty Walsh pledged this year to bring a thousand volunteers with him up from Boston to do door knocking for Hillary Clinton. But is there any evidence to show that a leading candidate from Vermont has any advantage competing in New Hampshire compared to the prospects for a typical candidate who comes from a state that doesn't border New Hampshire? Well there is this reporting from much earlier in the 2016 election cycle, from June of 2015 to be precise:
“Hillary feels the #Bern
...Two polls this week showed the Vermont independent polling over 30 percent in his neighboring New England state, just 10 to 12 percentage points behind front-runner Clinton — a big leap from his 15 point to 18 point showing in various polls in recent weeks.
A closer look at the polling shows the distinctive outline of Sanders’ support in New Hampshire: In the Suffolk poll, he beats Clinton by more than 20 points in the northern and western parts of the state — the liberal counties that border Vermont and are reached by the Burlington media market, the city where Sanders served four terms as mayor.
It’s an area that’s known for its anti-establishment streak. “They are loyal voters and they really don’t care what’s going on in the rest of the state,” said David Paleologos, who conducted the Suffolk poll. He noted that Howard Dean — the last Vermonter to run for president and who made a strong challenge to John Kerry in New Hampshire in 2004 — received early and strong support from the Connecticut River Valley.
The story is different on the other side of the state. In the two most populous counties — Hillsborough and Rockingham, which make up roughly half of the electorate — Clinton is up big. Sanders is down almost 30 percent in the Seacoast region — the southeastern part of the state that is farthest from Vermont.”
So a case can be made from the above that Bernie Sanders gained a small and geographically limited advantage in this years New Hampshire Democratic primary through exposure he received in the far west of New Hampshire via the Burlington – Plattsburgh (NY) media market. But the same reporting clearly establishes the far greater importance and penetration of the Boston media market inside New Hampshire. Boston media reporting is national media reporting when it isn't focused locally on Boston itself, and national media, until a few weeks ago, gave far greater coverage to Hillary Clinton than it did to Bernie Sanders.
In summary the political spin that New Hampshire favors politicians from neighboring states when it comes to its presidential primaries is extremely misleading if not totally false. Political figures from Massachusetts do enjoy some significant advantages inside New Hampshire, but they are largely unique to Massachusetts however. In the case of this year's Sanders vs Clinton NH contest any small benefits Bernie Sanders may receive by virtue of being from neighboring Vermont are more than offset by the fact that, unlike Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton has already run and won a statewide election campaign inside of New Hampshire prior to this year's primary. Not to mention that Hillary Clinton has won Gallups annual poll for the most admired woman in the world every year since 1997 with the exception of 2001 when Laura Bush was chosen instead.
Posted by Tom Rinaldo | Tue Feb 9, 2016, 02:06 PM (14 replies)
When national Republicans with their well funded think tanks, SuperPacs, and right wing media networks, call for the privatization of public schools and public toll roads, as well as prisons, municipal water districts, the Veterans Administration, and Social Security, while lowering taxes even further, they are simply advancing possible cures for the woes they say ail America in the public market place of ideas. Nothing radical about them in the slightest, they are all said to represent pragmatic and doable initiatives worthy of full consideration.
When Bernie Sanders talks about building on the models of Social Security and Medicare, of reinvesting in the public infrastructure, of expanding free public education, of restoring the tax rates on the wealthiest Americans to levels well below those in place under Republican President Eisenhower, and of fulfilling the vision for America laid out by the man historians agree was the greatest American President (FDR) since at least Abe Lincoln, this it is said is just pie in the sky. Because everyone knows that Sanders doesn't represent viable views, he is well outside of the American mainstream, he is RADICAL
Posted by Tom Rinaldo | Mon Feb 8, 2016, 12:50 PM (6 replies)
A earlier version was posted here a couple of days ago for a short time. This is the revised and edited version that was featured on the Daily Kos Recommended List for most of a day:
By definition, a rigged system predetermines certain outcomes, that's what “rigging” means. The near constant and massive transfer of wealth from the middle and working classes to the wealthiest one percent of Americans over the last thirty five years is evidence of just that. The system our constitution attempted to enshrine once was deemed revolutionary, with populist forces carefully balanced by institutional checks and balances. Increasingly what remains of the latter are large campaign contribution checks drawn off fattened corporate balance sheets. Elections and recessions come and go, income inequality only rises. With corruption embedded in the software of democracy there is seldom the need for overt bribery. That's why searching for instances of specific quid pro quos can be fundamentally misleading.
There's little need to micro manage each politicians every move in a crooked game. When the overall system is rigged then no one vote is critical. Much like casinos in Las Vegas with their myriad slot machines, Wall Street and associates don't have to control the pull of every lever, the fix runs deeper than that. At the end of each session of Congress the oligarchy come out ahead, always taking in more than they pay out. Year in and year out the return on their investments may vary, but the trend line never does. The men and women who cast their votes in Congress know which side their bread is buttered on, and where big pay checks will await them whenever they finally leave office – by choice or by defeat - unless they bit the hands that fed them.
Confining efforts to alter the current status quo to parliamentary maneuvers inside a fraudulent political system is tantamount to a concession speech . A rigged system is the classic closed loop, if left to run indefinitely without outside interference there is no mechanism to change it's course. Faced with an entrenched self perpetuating machine, attempting to disable it with the tools closest at hand is not a practical approach, not if that’s a set of phillips head screwdrivers when what’s needed is a fleet of bulldozers.
It doesn't matter how skilled a technician is, how experienced, how tenacious, or how passionately committed to eventually getting the job done she may be, if the tools that can be wielded by an individual alone pale before the task at hand. The leverage simply does not exist inside of a rigged system to alter the course that it's on. The status quo is not set up to change the status quo. Something new must intercede to counteract governing inertia, and that by nature is revolutionary.
No prescription for political change is pragmatic that doesn’t recognize the dimensions of the task at hand and embrace a viable strategy to win meaningful results. The course of least resistance offers the least resistance for a reason – the path less heavily defended seldom leads one to the core. Once again we find ourselves in a Presidential election year, and the standard course of least resistance is being advocated for again: Look for a highly skilled champion and elect that person President.
I acknowledge that Hillary Clinton is among the more astute political inside players I have witnessed in my lifetime, and clearly she possesses great personal abilities. Her heart I believe is in the right place. Her campaign message in essence comes down to “I can and will fight hard for you - It's OK, I've got this.”
But even if Hillary were Super Woman, she can not manage this alone – not even with Bill at her side. It will take more than a very strong woman to reverse the effects of a system that's long been rigged against the overwhelming majority of Americans. It will take more than a village. It will take a full fledged movement.
Bernie Sanders gets that. He gets it emotionally, he gets it intellectually, and he gets it strategically. That is how he got there, standing alone on a debate stage beside Hillary Clinton, seen as a serious contender to become our next President. Sanders couldn't get there alone. He knew that and he planned accordingly.
Bernie counted on a large movement to support him reaching this point: to fund him with small donations, to organize at the grass roots level below the radar of establishment politics, and to break through the media embargo placed around his populist message through millions of tweets and posts, through viral videos shared and through word of mouth. Bernie Sanders has demonstrated that he knows how to take on a system rigged against him/us with his integrity fully intact, beholden to no one but the people on whose behalf he is running, counting on the public to have his back, not just the other way around.
In 2010, two years after the Great Recession struck our nation down, while tens of millions were still suffering from it, talk in our nation's capital centered largely on deficit reduction. Conventional wisdom then held that entitlement spending needed to be reined in, and that cost of living increases for Social Security recipients had to be recalculated because they were too generous as they were. Debates weren't ongoing over how much to expand “food stamp” relief for the hungry, they were over how deeply that should be “trimmed” instead. Simultaneously, temporary tax cuts on the first several hundred thousands of dollars a year that the wealthy earned were not allowed to lapse, they were made permanent instead. Income inequality wasn't high on the national agenda, and the media and our politicians rarely mentioned it before the Occupy Wall Street movement seized our public squares with their prolonged encampments.
In a similar vein repeated lethal police shootings of unarmed predominantly minority citizens never elicited much in the way sustained public attention - outside of minority communities - until the Black Lives Matter movement took to the streets and refused to be silenced. This is nothing new to anyone who has studied the role that movements play in transforming our nation, when the establishment starts out hell bent on not changing; from the Labor movement to the Woman’s Suffrage Movement, to the Civil Rights Movement, to the Anti War and Environmental movements and more.
If you believe that what's needed to undo the damage caused by our rigged economic and political system is to install a strong experienced and dedicated woman as our next President – then Hillary Clinton may have the skill set you are looking for. If instead you believe that it will take a strong and sustained movement that will not disband after election day to change what is wrong with America, then Bernie Sanders has the demonstrated skill set needed to mobilize and engage one for that effort. Failure is never the pragmatic choice, no matter how incremental it may be. It all comes down to a simple question: What will it really take to finally turn things around?
Posted by Tom Rinaldo | Sun Feb 7, 2016, 12:13 PM (0 replies)
I like you a lot. You used to be my Representative, and later my Senator before I moved out of California. I saw what you wrote in a tweet about Bernie only being a Democrat some days, and I realize it was just a quick retort, meant as a relatively minor political jab - not some long thought out commentary. But it was also an incredibly dumb thing to say and I hope you don't choose to go there often. Do I really need to point out to you that the future of the Democratic Party (along with everything else) rests in the hands of the currently young? Those under 40 who are engaged in the current Democratic primary process overwhelmingly believe that Bernie Sanders speaks for them. Do you really want to argue the point that Bernie Sanders does not necessarily speak for the Democratic Party? Do you think our Party should cast doubt on whether Bernie speaks for us when he also speaks for them?
I use the word us because I am just as much a part of the Democratic Party as you are, officially, even though you have risen much higher in it than I have. I am the elected Chairperson of the official Democratic Party Committee in our town - a very small cog in a very large wheel admittedly, but a legitimate cog none the less. Our local committee worked hard and swept our Town elections last November in a mixed allegiance rural area. Sounds good, right? As far as that goes it is, but we almost didn't even have a Democratic Committee that could pull together a nominating caucus let alone a winning campaign. We are under strength and had to plead with people to join our committee. I remain active in it mostly out of guilt - we live in a small town and I don't want to hand it over to Republicans by default. I find that the Democratic Party rarely inspires me any longer. I am far from alone in feeling that way.
Very few people I know around here actively think of themselves as Democrats, certainly not to the point where they will work to sustain, let alone build our Party. Virtually no one below 50 does for starters. And almost to a person all the exceptions to those "rules" who I know are people supporting Bernie for President. The only enthusiasm I'm running into for the Democratic Party at all is attributable to the fact that Bernie Sanders is running for the Democratic Party nomination for President.
So go ahead - push him away to arms length or further with you tweets, and question his formal credentials while the actual voters who I know are eager to learn more about the actual positions that Sanders holds. How you think that is going to help us rebuild the Democratic Party is beyond me, not when Independents are now the largest voting block in the nation. It seems almost like you would rather Sanders had run third party instead of having agreed to back whoever wins the nomination of the Democratic Party. But that can't be what you really think, can it?
Posted by Tom Rinaldo | Thu Feb 4, 2016, 01:53 PM (68 replies)
Iowa once could have put this race safely away for Hillary. That is how it was supposed to be. That is how it was assumed it would be just a couple of months ago. Hillary never needed to defeat Bernie by thirty or more points, the way polls were showing six months ago, in order to shut down any semblance of a real fight on her hands. Double digits of any sort would easily have sufficed.
Imagine if the final results from Iowa were Hillary Clinton 58%, Bernie Sanders 42%. Not very long ago that would have been called a very respectable showing for Sanders, an unexpectedly strong showing by Sanders in fact. Hillary wold have been very gracious toward Bernie. Bernie would have been very proud of what his movement had accomplished to put the real issues in America front and center in the political debate. Bernie would have continued his campaign, focusing on the issues that mattered, just like Martin O'Malley did up until last night - fully knowing that he almost certainly couldn't win. Everyone would have known that then, and Hillary Clinton would have legitimately been our presumptive nominee TODAY.
Now the Clinton camp is forced to argue that it really is late in the game for Sanders, that he is almost out of States where he can win in. Now they must argue that if Sanders can't win Iowa, where besides New Hampshire can he win? The are a couple of glaring problems with that argument however. Let's start at the beginning. Bernie actually showed that he could win Iowa, whether or not Hillary ended up inching ahead in the closest caucus in Iowa Democratic history. It LITERALLY was a toss up. This wasn't a general election, where one candidate gets to move into the Governor's office based on a fraction of a percentage of the votes, while the other one goes home to lick their wounds and ponder "what if?" Nothing ended with the Iowa vote, both Hillary and Bernie move on from there, splitting up the delegates. Nothing got settled. The race is very much still on. Instead of us now being at the unofficial end of the nominating contest, we now are smack dab where it says we are on the calendar - the start. There are 50 States and a number of territories etc that get to weigh in on who becomes the Democratic nominee for President. Just one has now voted - inconclusively.
To say that the road ahead looks rough for Bernie now is to miss the obvious. The road ahead has always looked rough for Bernie. According to polls it sure as hell looked rough for Bernie a couple of months ago in Iowa too. People changed their minds in Iowa when the time came to actually pay attention to the race in that state, when people there actually started looking closely at all of the candidates. When they did they started to shift their preferences. For all the talk about how unusually White Iowa is relative to the overall Democratic constituency, people again overlook the obvious. White people aren't the only ones capable of changing their minds. In the only state where a full contest has now been completed the evidence shows that vast numbers of people changed their minds - moving their initial support from Clinton to Sanders. I suspect a similar shift in voter preferences took place within Iowa's small African America community as well. I would be interested in seeing data on that.
Iowa was a good State for Sanders to launch his campaign in, but the reasons why have less to do with demographics than with size. Iowa is a classic retail politics State, which means Sanders was able to bypass a major media blockade of him and go directly over their heads to the voters themselves - speaking to over 70,000 Iowans personally - a number comparable to a large percentage of the Iowans who showed up at the caucuses last nigh. The Sanders surge in Iowa breached the cone of silence the establishment tried to erect around him. Now it lies shattered. When the 2016 primary season began in earnest conventional wisdom always held that Hillary Clinton would hold a strong fund raising advantage over Bernie Sanders. But in a small retail politics state like Iowa Bernie didn't need as much money as he would have in some place like Florida in order to build momentum and a buzz. That in turn helped light a fire under a huge micro donor base, which fundamentally changes everything. Bernie raised 20 million last month in small donations, and he can keep going back to that well virtually indefinitely.
Now the money in pouring in for Sanders. Now there are additional one on one debates between Clinton and Sanders pending, that the public will actually be tuning into. Now the Democratic Race for President is finally in the glare of a bright national spotlight that once was reserved for Republicans - and Bernie is appearing everywhere. Yes Sanders has ground to make up in upcoming States, but the same once was true of Iowa. Iowa was supposed to be Bernie's last real gasp, but it turns out it was more like a breath of fresh air.
Posted by Tom Rinaldo | Tue Feb 2, 2016, 11:36 AM (36 replies)
who are committed to standing with him as he runs for President, are joined by just half of those who admire his vision but fear it is unachievable, then Bernie can win in a landslide. And Bernie winning in a landslide is how mountains begin to move...
Posted by Tom Rinaldo | Mon Feb 1, 2016, 11:00 AM (8 replies)
The Young WILL Inherit The World - Wiil They Also Decide What It Looks Like When They Do? Ask Iowans
There is no demographic of Americans who accept the dire warnings of scientists about the potentially catastrophic effects of Climate Change more than do the young - the very same people who may have to watch their own grandchildren born into a starkly different harsher world if the course that our planet is currently set on isn't changed now. It is one of many cruel life ironies that the ones who will be making most of the decisions that will determine the future of our climate though are far older, and unlikely to personally experience the most devastating effects of runaway climate change in their own lifetimes. On a less cosmic scale, much the same can be said about the future of America's economy, and even of our Democracy. No small matters either.
Millennials have not been silent about the choices that must be made now, even if most of them are not yet in position to make many of those decisions directly themselves. Millennials have also been extraordinarily clear about who they most trust to make those critical choices before the mantle of world leadership ultimately passes on to them. By a very strong margin they choose Bernie Sanders.
Future and present are aligned now in a brief unique window of opportunity. The scales are closely balanced, and the young have the power to swing the tide one way or another in the contest for the Presidency, by either staying home or by voting in large numbers. Iowa is the beginning, and all observers seem to agree - a youth vote turnout anywhere commiserate with their overall numerical strength in the electorate will tip those scales to Bernie.
Their future NOW is in their hands, starting on February first. I wish them all the luck in the world, and will keep doing all I can to not curse them with a desolate future. Call me a Senior for Sanders, but we look to the young now to set the course.
Posted by Tom Rinaldo | Sun Jan 31, 2016, 02:01 PM (4 replies)
Republicans haven't had to deal with anyone remotely like Bernie Sanders on a national level in a long, long time. Now, from out of virtually nowhere it must seem to them, he could well be their opponent in the upcoming Presidential election, and possibly the POTUS they must welcome into Congress to deliver the next State of the Union Address. Conventional wisdom dictates that any agenda President Sanders may propose, should that scenario come to pass, will be Dead On Arrival in any chamber controlled by the GOP. Unless, that is, Sanders sees the pragmatic light, converts, and bows down to establishment sanctioned incrementalism. Conventional wisdom has been having a tough slog of it this year though, and is beginning to show its age. Some say insanity is repeating the exact same thing and expecting a different result. What is it called though to keep advancing the exact same game plan expecting favorable results ad infinitum? Foolish comes to mind, and that in a nut shell is the Republican blind spot, mirrored by most of the media. The shifting sands of the American electorate are undermining a conventional wisdom built on the edifice of a prior generation's political reality. Blinded by the past, few can see what now is coming.
At the height of the Reagan years, most Democrats turned tail and ran away from ideological tags any further to the left than “moderate”, thereby relegating “liberal” to a status not so dissimilar from “pinko” in the American political lexicon. Actually liberal soon became more of a slur than pinko had ever been since the fifties. There were several reasons for that, some more obvious than others. For one thing pinko was dated – the Kennedy and Johnson presidencies cast the McCarthy era in a distinctly negative retro light – despite the ongoing efforts of the John Birch Society and their fellow travelers. Then there was the Vietnam War which the America public ultimately turned staunchly against. Turns out all those young pinko protesters were right bout that all along.
Actually many of those who the Right sought to tar as pinkos elicited genuine sympathy and support from broad segments of the public that the Republican Party needed to court. Pinkos fought to “Ban the Bomb”, but they weren't exactly out of step in being terrified at the prospect of a nuclear war. The Cuban Missile Crisis proved that point. Pinkos also worked hard for Labor rights at a time when Unions were still strong and respected by many blue collar workers, back when there were a lot of blue collar workers benefiting from Unions. Slandering the American Democratic Left as “pinkos” failed to adequately further the revised Class War narrative that the Republican Party began drafting as it moved to secure their eagerly anticipated “New Republican Majority”. “Liberals” turned out to be a better foil for that purpose. Unlike steel workers, liberals were said to work in ivory towers. They didn't wear hard hats, how could they? Liberal intellectuals were pointy headed. They weren't real Americans.
Soon the Right began railing against Latte Liberals and Limousine Liberals and all the rest of the so called Liberal Elites – living in their own detached reality. Liberals, to hear Republicans describe them, were the true architects of class warfare, engineering a massive redistribution of wealth – from the Middle Class to the Poor. Tax and Spend Liberals were handing over the hard earned wages of America's Middle Class to shiftless lazy poor folks so the latter could live like Welfare Queens on other people's dimes. And why would liberals steel from hard working Americans like that? Because ordinary bleeding heart liberal voters were conned by unscrupulous limousine liberal politicians into letting them buy the votes they needed to entrench themselves in office by giving away “free stuff” - paid for by struggling tax payers to people who refuse to lift a finger to help themselves.
And so “Liberal” became a toxic word. Democrats offered very little resistance. In time some began trying to dodge that bullet by re-branding themselves as progressives instead. And while political scientists can draw some honest distinctions between those terms – for many of those who started calling themselves progressive it was more of a tacit acknowledgment that they didn't want to politically risk being labeled as a liberal. Recently though the tide began to turn as all tides are want to do, and in a time honored youth contrarian dance – buttressed by critical thinking, millennial voters began shedding the negative connotations assigned to the word “liberal”. And then along comes 74 year old Bernie Sanders, self identified as a Democratic Socialist, running to become President.
“Socialist” had for decades been reserved by the Republican Party as their EXTRA STRENTH version of “Liberal”. They long suggested that behind any good liberal, somewhere, that is who you will find; pulling strings, undermining our precious freedoms. Problem was they were hard pressed to ever produce any actual socialists in American national electoral politics, aside from one obscure congressman from the small state of Vermont who even the rabid right understood failed miserably to fit their casting call for a plausible left wing boogyman. So finally, out of an abundance of caustic exuberance, they took to calling the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, a “Socialist”.
Here is where the plot begins to thicken, and the past begins to come back to bite the Republicans in the ass. For starters it turns out that Barack Obama is a fairly popular president who was handily elected to a second term in office. When our financial system cratered he didn't nationalize the banks, and the stock market rebounded fully from the pit it was mired in when Obama first took office. Is that how an American socialist acts when one finally comes into power? How scary is that? And if Obama isn't really a socialist then who the hell is, and what is it exactly that he or she stands for? And then along comes Bernie, 74 year old Democratic Socialist running for President, answering the question and redefining American politics in the process.
One thing's clear, Bernie doesn't come across as a limousine liberal, and he's absolutely no one's idea of an elitist. Equally significant, he doesn't flinch at being called liberal. Instead of running he digs in, breaking through the labels and going for the substance. After decades of Democrats twisting themselves into knots avoiding being called leftist, Bernie Sanders lays out his “leftist agenda” and says, “What's wrong with that?” And then he turns the tables on right wing propaganda and exposes real class warfare in America, except that it isn't the poor stealing from the middle class, it's the super rich stealing from virtually all of us. What Bernie says rings true to folks because, unlike Reagan’s 1980's fantasy, it's not Morning in America, and this time everybody knows it.
The vaulted supposedly impregnable Republican line of defense spanning decades now could be called 100 shades of red baiting. It is their hardened battle ready position, it is their Maginot Line; so formidable, so unyielding, so entrenched - and so built on lessons learned during previous eras of combat. Like concrete embedded cannons, it is obsolete. It's been trending that way for years, obscured by conventional wisdom, until somebody finally called the question; Whose side are you on?
Bernie Sanders may literally be a Democratic Socialist but his appeal is to economic populism. Populists by nature occupy an opposite pole from establishment privileged elites. Populism ferments at the base of a society and is often a potent force against those seen as opposing the interests of the vast majority. Not all populism is economic at root: some is religious, some is cultural, some is xenophobic. During the Great Depression under FDR, the Democratic Party aligned firmly with economic populism. During the late 1960's, under Richard Nixon, Republicans began to channel populism's darker sides. By the 1980's our Middle Class began to ebb and ramped up cultural wars were needed to eclipse any attention paid to an ongoing class war that consolidated the wealth of our nation into the hands of a concentrated oligarchy.
In the process the Democratic Party was defanged by the perceived need of it's political class to court political and personal sustenance directly from the hands of the wealthy donor class. It is difficult to expose thievery while your hands are outstretched to the robbers for your stipend. The political rules were tacitly set: Cultural warfare and debates over social issues were allowable, challenging an economic system rigged to enhance an oligarchy was not. Over time the strain of economic populism was slowly bred out of National Democrats through the process of financial selection. Then along came Bernie Sanders.
What the Right has been slow to wake up to is that populism is a double edged sword, it's been so long since it has effectively been wielded against them they've almost forgotten what that looks like when it happens. In the face of an economic populist tide, red baiting labels tossed at a populist land with the impact of confetti. They all once were thrown at FDR, but with America then caught in the teeth of the Great Depression they did not hold any bite. Not when it was obvious to average Americans who was on their side.
It's been a long time since the Democratic Party offered a full throated defense of progressive taxation, but there once was a time when a clear majority of Americans understood the concept well and adamantly supported it, and Democrats proudly embraced it. That support slowly eroded as generations of Democratic leaders, increasingly beholden to large monied interests, obediently held their tongues while right wing activists like Grover Norquist pushed their goal “to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub.”
It is a myth that Americans only care about lowering their taxes: We just don't want to pay more than our fair share, and we want our taxes spent in sensible ways that produce tangible benefits to society. When a bridge is in danger of collapsing most folks are willing to raise money to replace it. The right created the strawman of “tax and spend liberals who don't really care about people like you”. Using that for cover, at the behest of an emboldened oligarchy, Republicans have systematical rolled back progressive taxation and expanded tax loopholes for the super wealthy in the largest government engineered transfer of wealth in American history. The rich are still getting richer and the America Dream is dead. It should be no surprise then that more Americans are getting angry, and anger is the fuel that allows populism to grow,
Yes, there are few so blind as those who refuse to see. All summer long the voices who dictate conventional wisdom couldn't see Bernie Sanders coming, not even when tens of thousands of Americans repeatedly came out for rallies to see him speak in person. The media only had eyes for Trump, viewing him mostly as entertainment, a passing summer fad. Well Donald Trump wasn't just a fad, and Bernie Sanders wasn't just a fringe candidate, but conventional wisdom had its script. Precisely because Sanders represents the greater threat to the establishment, they have been slowest to recognize him for who he is, because even the act of recognizing Bernie Sanders increases the threat he poses them.
Despite the best efforts of those who cynically try to channel it, social populism can't be inoculated against incursions by economic strains. The Middle Class is shrinking, and most Americans feel insecure about their futures. Bernie Sanders is an unvarnished truth teller, not a slick spin doctor, and that has broad populist appeal. The establishment keeps underestimating Sanders, and no doubt they'll start out doing the same if he is elected as our next President. But there are reasons why some of Bernie's biggest fans are in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, the poorest and most conservative part of the state. There are reasons why Bernie Sanders polls so strongly among Independents now nationally. There are reasons why he has the highest favorability ratings of anyone running for President on either side of the partisan divide, and why so many Trump supporter admit that they “kind of like Bernie too.”
It doesn't surprise me that some Republican strategists think that Hillary Clinton would be much harder to defeat than Bernie Sanders. That, again, represents the thinking of conventional wisdom, in a year when conventional wisdom has been spectacularly wrong. And should a President Sanders next year stand before a Congress partially controlled by Republicans, to deliver his agenda for America, I suspect conventional wisdom will still be in denial of what would happen next. Today's Republican Party has lost control of its populist base, and it keeps scrambling to keep up with them. When President Bernie Sanders addresses the assembled Republican leaders in Congress, he will be talking over their heads directly to the American people, including that Republican populist base. Like no Democrat before him in recent history, many of those in that Republican base will know exactly whose side President Sanders is on. It won't be with the super rich. It won't be with the Wall Street Banks and hedge fund managers. It won't be with the multinational corporations who are outsourcing our childcare’s future.
The shifting sands of the American electorate are undermining conventional wisdom. Blinded by the past, few can see what now is coming.
Posted by Tom Rinaldo | Fri Jan 29, 2016, 03:13 PM (21 replies)
The word authentic gets thrown around a lot as a type of short hand for what ever it is about Bernie Sanders that so many Americans find appealing. And to be fair it may scratch the surface of a phenomena that denizens of the status quo find so difficult to grasp; Americans in massive numbers are responding very favorably to the message of a 74 year old, previously little known gruff Senator from the small state of Vermont – who call himself a Democratic Socialist. All else being equal, most folks prefer real to fake in just about everything, and there simply is nothing fake about Bernie Sanders. No one wonders what they will actually find if you manage to scratch his veneer. There is no veneer to scratch, there is just Bernie Sanders. What you see is what you get. So yes the word authentic fits Bernie Sanders well. It resonates like the truth.
The fact that there's a public yearning for authenticity from politicians says a lot about politics in America today, with none of it positive. It is a damning indictment of politics as usual when people fully expect to hear candidates voice mostly empty platitudes identified through focus group testing as likely to appeal to “voters like them”. For politicians who spend a lifetime perfecting the art of polish, who gravitate like moths to fire to power player circles while accumulating an inventory of refined social trappings, there must be something intrinsically unnerving about watching a man like Bernie Sanders, who has never owned a tuxedo in his life, ascending toward the pinnacle of American Power, the presidency itself.
Authenticity matters, but it seldom seals the deal. Bernie is more than just authentic, he passionately stands for something tangible, social and economic justice, and has for all his life. Donald Trump said recently that the reason he obsessively talks about polls is because they say he's winning - if they didn't he wouldn't mention them. That type talk rings true to folks, it too comes across as authentic. So does Trump's admission that he doles out bucks across the political spectrum to curry favors when he wants them. Given a choice between someone who can openly admit to a self serving motif and someone who seems somehow swarmy while trying to con you, most people prefer an “honest” rascal to a deceitful one. But when it comes to electing a leader, what people really want is someone willing to stand up and fight effectively for them.
Unless they are fully embedded on the shrinking side of the divide and conquer culture wars that the American oligarchy ferments to recruit shock troops to work their will; unless they literally belong to that oligarchy or are economically closely dependent on it, Americans understand intuitively that Bernie Sanders stands ready to fight hard for us, that vast majority of us who aren't a part of the one percent. We can see past the clutter of political labels directly to his substance. People recognize a good man and political ally when they see one, and we know Bernie is someone willing to tirelessly go the distance for us. So the last real question then is, can he fight effectively for us? More effectively for our interests than, for instance, Hillary Clinton?
Some say not, his message is too radical. Some say that Bernie Sanders is outside of the mainstream of American politics, but I think that's true of most Americans. It's not so much that we travel in tributaries left or right of center, it's more like we are all up a creek without a paddle, or even worse, stranded high and dry and simply left behind. At some point it starts to sink in that a lesser evil choice, viewed in the broadest sense, still enables evil. 1968 was the last year when at least 60% of Americans of voting age cast ballots in a Presidential election. In 2012 that number was below 55%.
Now though, in some part due to Bernie Sanders - to his strong words and his clear vision, Americans are getting the big picture, and responding. They see corporate mergers and consolidation, factories moving overseas and the loss of good paying jobs. They see the pay of CEO's skyrocket while the wages of typical workers shrink and worker productivity rises. They see climate change they know is real downplayed as a security threat. And they see virtually all of the fruits from a hard fought taxpayer subsidized economic recovery funneled into the hands of a small group of mega wealthy individuals who in many cases were responsible for our economic collapse in the first place. All of that is the result of business as usual, politics as usual, business and politics as usual – the two terms became and are now interchangeable. That is the status quo that Bernie Sanders, not Hillary Clinton, runs so fiercely against. His is a clarion call to action. Hers is steady as you go.
Time is not our friend, we fast are running out of it. Democrats have long pursued incremental changes and those results are already in. It's led to a slow motion catastrophic erosion of the foundation that the Democratic Party once proudly stood on. For most of the last 30 years the Democratic Party has been playing a prevent defense, like a boxer bending over backwards to to avoid being tagged by a powerful right hook – in this case the socialist label. Ever since Ronald Reagan won elections by declaring government the problem Democrats have countered with an asterisk, quietly demurring that actually sometimes it isn't. Republicans so thoroughly succeeded in moving our political landscape to the right that it no longer took an accusation of harboring communist sympathies to make a Democratic politician quiver, simply being called a liberal was enough to make them sweat.
In recent years more Democratic leaders have become both loud and proud in regards to social issues, issues that Bernie Sanders has fought for all his life. Social issues don't directly challenge the economic elite. Democratic Socialism, or whatever else you choose to call it, however does. When FDR became president he called his political vision for America “The New Deal”. LBJ later called his “The Great Society”. But gone were the days, until now, when Democrats seeking the presidency spoke with clarity and urgency about economic justice, about confronting and overturning the prevailing status quo. Their ability to do so has sharply been curtailed by an economic order that makes the very practice of politics itself dependent on the largess of a donor class, with typical Americans rarely represented by them. None of this is breaking news. It's a deteriorating situation we have lived with a long while. It's the preset course we've been sailing on for years but only Bernie Sanders, among those who seek our nation's highest office, is prepared to rock the boat.
Looking back now it's easy to overlook that when Barack Obama first ran for the presidency he pointedly did not do so as a progressive. Though positioned to the left of John McCain, it would have been difficult for any national Democrat to flunk that ideological test. Barack Obama was the man who once saluted purple state America, who sought to blur our ideological distinctions rather than campaign directly on them. Given my choices I had no problem supporting Obama/Biden over McCain/Palin. But I wasn't surprised either when President Obama later singled an openness to “Third Way” thinking during deficit reduction negotiations with Republicans.
In the face of the greatest economic crisis the world has faced since the Great Depression Obama exhibited far greater common sense than his opposition. He fought for bailing out the Auto Industry along with bailing out Wall Street. He fought for extending unemployment benefits along with extending Bush tax cuts. But there was no sweeping “New Deal” agenda in response to the Great Recession. Clearly our economy needed an economic infusion and President Obama responded with a large stimulus package. Seeking bi-partisan support, the one he ultimately backed included roughly equal parts new spending and tax cuts, though most leading economists agreed that money directly spent on job creation gave a far more potent stimulus effect on the overall economy than broad tax breaks.
In response to a long festering crisis, to his credit Obama tackled the health care issue during his first term, passing landmark legislation in the Affordable Care Act . It was openly modeled on the pro private insurance approach pioneered in Massachusetts by then Republican Governor Mitt Romney, which itself was built on concepts backed by Republican Senate leader Bob Dole in opposition to a plan being advocated for by then First Lady Hillary Clinton. Millions of Americans gained new coverage under Obamacare, millions more remain uncovered. After paying for premiums, high deductibles and co-pays, further millions can't afford to use the coverage that they have.
All that occurred during our most recent Democratic Presidency. The one before that deregulated Wall Street, instituted strict welfare reforms, and pushed for mandatory sentencing. By now the pattern should be clear to Democrats. After ceding the Republicans a permanent home field advantage, whenever contemporary (previously called “new”) Democrats get to reoccupy the White House they work for incremental advances over the preceding Republican benchmark. Whenever Republicans retake the presidency we suffer massive setbacks. Even putting aside the Tea Party for a moment, one can simply compare official Republican and Democratic party agendas for America and that dynamic becomes obvious. Republicans representing the billionaire class are seldom timid about going for the throat. One step forward, five steps back is not a winning formula for positive social change, but that is the dance that the band keeps playing. Incrementalisn won't deliver us from this crisis, it's just a slow set up for an inevitable crash.
One sixth of all Americans living in poverty, the greatest disparity in incomes since the eve of the Great Depression, I like so many others felt impotent as an individual to alter the course our nation is on. The insiders are all in on it. The outsiders have no seats at the table nor the means to have their voices heard. At best we get offered crumbs by the wealthy; a job retraining program here, lower interest student loans there, a bump up in earned income credits or penalty free IRA withdrawals. And then the wheel will spin again until Republicans manage to get their hands on all the levers for one year, and there goes Social Security and the arctic wilderness, and that is just for starts.
We've all seen this movie and we don't like how it ends, but nothing will change if we don't throw out the current script and fundamentally rewrite it. None of us can do that alone, not even a feisty old Democratic Socialist like Bernie Sanders. But if enough of us rally around him, support him and defend him; working together with him we can get this done – if we possess the courage of our convictions. I look to the past and I see a time when African Americans were slaves – and huge wealth depended on them remaining so. I look to the past again and see a time when women didn't have the right to vote, when governments run by men could legally exclude women from that “privilege”. I look to the past, but that past has changed.
When I look to the future I see younger generations of Americans taking over the reigns of leadership at every level of our society. I am sixty six years old but I can look at them and recognize their fight for a future that they will inhabit for better or for worse. And I know we can not morally impede their finest aspirations, nor assume that what seems impossible today will not be possible soon, in the America that they will inherit and guide forward. Who are we to tell them what can't be done? I see them supporting Bernie Sanders for President this year. I think they understand where our nation needs to head toward a more just and secure future, and how we must work to get there, if only the rest of us will just join with them and not stand in their way.
Posted by Tom Rinaldo | Sat Jan 23, 2016, 10:10 PM (10 replies)