Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

12 January 2016

Can Bernie Win?

Can a self-described “Democratic Socialist” become president of the United States?

In normal times, the answer would be a resounding “no.” The Fox and GOP propaganda machines have devoted decades to conditioning a substantial fraction of Americans, like Pavlov’s dogs, to growl and bark whenever they hear the word “socialist.”

But these are not normal times. To see why, just look at the two leading contenders for the GOP nomination. One, Donald Trump, has never held political office. He’s distinguished himself by extreme, impolitic and inconsistent statements—the type of thing that usually gives pols the kiss of death. The other leading contender, Ted Cruz, not only feeds on extremism also; according to news reports, virtually everyone who has ever known him personally hates him.

We will know in a few weeks, when the results of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary are in. But the “leadership” of these two candidates may already have tolled the death knell for the GOP’s 2016 presidential ambitions. Here’s why.

Both Trump and Cruz have attracted huge audiences, the like of which Republican primaries have rarely seen. You might think the crowds presage a GOP revival and reformation. But what draws them? Is it charisma? Is it brilliance? Is it experience and steadiness?

Not hardly. What draws the crowds is the type of simplistic, angry solutions to complex problems that you might hear in a bar after midnight and several drinks.

Trump’s off-the-cuff and often off-the-wall pronouncements capture the anger of voters who’ve seen no solutions to much of anything for six years and don’t know whom to blame. Cruz’ grunts are more polished and articulate, but they tap a similar fount of bile: the anger of people who believe that we could all go to Heaven if only we followed the Bible the way the Taliban does the Qur’an.

It doesn’t matter, really, whether either of these clowns wins the nomination. What matters is that both have already eclipsed the “mainstream” candidate, who needs an exclamation point after his name even to be noticed. All by themselves, these two anti-candidates have split the Republican Party as if with an axe, right where it matters, among rank-and-file voters.

Trump and Cruz have captured all the rank-and-file enthusiasm. If neither is the nominee, any chance for GOP-leaning enthusiasm in the general election will vanish. If either is the nominee, he will have no chance of winning the general election because he has already staked out positions far too extreme and illogical for the average general-election voter. If a single TV ad could sink Barry Goldwater’s candidacy in 1964, just think how vulnerable Trump and Cruz would be in the Internet age, after all their extreme ranting.

So the GOP is fatally split already. It doesn’t even matter whether Trump or Cruz runs as an independent if denied the nomination.

By failing for six years to offer real solutions to any problems that real middle-class people face, the GOP has let clownish demagogues capture the party’s high ground. If you doubt this, just read Time Magazine’s take on Trump voters, one of whom says she would stay home rather than vote for anyone else. (Time, Jan. 18, 2016, page 39).

It’ll all be over by February 9 or 10. South Carolina and the other bastions of racism and extremism are not going to endorse any “mainstream” candidate. Not if New Hampshire doesn’t. So we’ll all know by mid-February whether the GOP has become Humpty Dumpty.

If, as appears likely, it is indeed split, the presidency will be Democrats’ for the taking. Even Martin O’Malley could win. So could Bernie.

Then Democrats will have a real choice. We won’t have to vote for Hillary because she’s more “experienced” or “electable.” We can vote for Bernie with a clean conscience, knowing that he alone—among all the candidates in either party—has put his finger on what’s wrong. A small class of millionaires and billionaires, mostly from finance and gambling, have taken over this nation and mean to run it without even the thoughtfulness and circumspection they apply to their own businesses.

They mean to run it by platitudes—a relentless march of vapid abstractions—until they can rule it as oligarchs or grind it under their heels. If you doubt this, just read the story in yesterday’s Oligarchs’ Daily (aka the New York Times) about how credit-rating agencies are still selling good ratings, over seven years after their doing so helped cause the Crash of 2008.

Hillary is a flawed candidate, famous for “triangulating” and reading the polls. But she’s a woman. Her unprecedented candidacy can attract young people who’ve never voted and tap wells of enthusiasm no American election has ever seen.

With his laser-like focus on economic inequality and a deck thoroughly stacked against working people, Bernie might find a way to break through party lines and tap the anger of the Trump and Cruz followers, at least the more thoughtful among them. If not, and if Bush, Kasich or Rubio gets the GOP nomination, most of them will stay home.

The general election won’t be so interesting because the result will be practically fore-ordained. But the Democratic primaries and convention ought to give us the kind of substantive discussion of problems and policies that our democracy is supposed to produce, but that has eluded us for far too long. They will also tell us whether identity politics or policy will pick the next leader of the Free World.



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