Some Random Thoughts on the US Primaries #feelthebern #notmeus #nhprimary #berniesanders

So I’ve been watching both the Democratic and Republican campaigns leading up to last week’s first caucus in Iowa and today’s first primary in New Hampshire very closely.

In all honesty, I might even be more engaged in the US elections then I was in last fall’s Canadian ones! I think this is because the US ones have some *very* interesting things happening in terms of candidates and larger themes.  Plus the US primaries last forever so your interest can grow and grow over a longer time period as well.

Here are a few random thoughts grouped by candidate…

Bernie Sanders

  • It’ll be no surprise that Bernie Sanders is who I’m rooting for.  I was highly involved in two of Ryan Meili’s campaigns for the leadership of the Saskatchewan NDP and there are many similarities – both are outsider, long shot candidates with strong progressive/socialist values and a lifelong focus on societal inequality. Both have a surplus of youthful, tech-savvy supporters.  Both are running/ran very positive, aspirational campaigns and both are candidates with great integrity and humour.   Ryan lost to an entrenched establishment candidate but others who share these characteristics are having success around the world (the article I link to mentions Corbyn in the US and Mulcair in Canada.  Obviously, that turned out to be Trudeau who won with a very left wing, progressive campaign but as usual, it appears the Liberals ran left and are governing right and once again, the NDP, like Lucy pulling away the ball from Charlie Brown, got fooled again.)  (Side note: Sanders inspires a dedicated following which reminds me of how supporters of other candidates called us Meili supporters “kool-aid drinkers”) 😉
  • I can’t do anything but laugh at anyone who says the “wild-eyed” things Bernie is proposing can’t happen – free post-secondary is very common across Europe and free healthcare is a reality pretty much everywhere in the industrialized world *except* the US.  I find it rich (er, no pun intended) that many Americans will claim the US is the greatest country on earth yet won’t acknowledge how their country falls down in these areas.  Or the basic math/logic failure that Sanders’ plan *will* increase taxes but lower costs in other ways that will save most people *thousands* of dollars yet people still claim it’s some sort of socialist/communist plot to financially ruin them.
  • It’s also rich that people say Sanders is unelectable in a general election yet he tied the establishment candidate in Iowa and is projected to thump her in New Hampshire.
  • Another point – a rule of thumb is that Democrats win when voters are excited and inspired and Republicans win when voters aren’t.  And no doubt that’s what Sanders brings in bushels compared to Clinton.
  • Sanders hasn’t really said out loud that he’s an atheist.  But he admits he’s not involved with organized religion and definitely sounds like a secular humanist when he talks. During the speeches at the end of Iowa, I think he was the only candidate who didn’t mention god – which is yet another reason Sanders’ campaign is resonating with younger, more secular voters (I can’t find the article now but someone pointed out that non-believers are becoming a very powerful “hidden” block of voters that could possibly be appealed to similarly to how other theist groups are targeted in specific ways.)
  • In some of the back and forth between Clinton and Sanders (and their supporters), I hear echoes of the same debates we had in the Meili campaign – if you say you’re running a “positive” campaign, where do you draw the line?  Is it going negative to point out factual truths about your opponent? (“Hillary has made $675,000 giving speeches to Goldman Sachs”).  What if you imply this is unethical in a general sense?  What if you say that it means the candidate herself is unethical?  What about if you go even further and say that this basically means your opponent is not only unethical but corrupt and bought by moneyed interests? (Sanders hasn’t done this but Clinton’s “artful smears” defense makes it clear that’s what she’s hearing.)
  • Sanders isn’t just up against the political establishment but the media establishment as well with “news” organizations showing their bias against Sanders in ways that are both big and small.  The only saving grace is that the one thing mainstream media organizations value more than helping fellow members of the establishment is the dollars that will continue to flow if they can create a narrative of a close race.
  • Elizabeth Warren is a well-known progressive and it’s interesting to wonder how the race would’ve been different had she announced instead of Bernie.  She’s also a northeast Liberal but she’s probably the best known proponent of much of what Sanders is talking about so, at the risk of getting ahead of myself, I wonder if she would be his VP pick?  (Or since he’s doing such a non-traditional campaign already, could he announce he plans to pick her as VP before he even get the nomination?  And even that he only intends to serve one term so she can run in 2020?  Would that swing some gender-voters his way?  Or is that too cynical?)

Hillary Clinton

  • Clinton also has an advantage presumably having learned from 2008 when she was out-maneuvered by Obama’s team (was it Texas where she won the popular vote but ended up losing the more significant delegate count?)
  • One of Clinton’s arguments is that she’s more electable than an elderly socialist from a small northeastern state who has little name recognition.  But, the flip side is how polarizing a figure she is (and has been for 20+ years) whereas Sanders, who is actually an independent that caucuses with the Democrats, might actually get more support from independents and even some Republicans, even if his politics are on the far-left of the US political spectrum.  There’s a reason many voters, disenchanted with politics-as-usual are torn between far-right, self-financing Donald Trump and far-left, small-donor powered Bernie Sanders.  Or that many supporters of libertarian Republican candidate, Rand Paul, are looking at Sanders after Paul dropped out.  Yes, perhaps Clinton could bring in more incremental change (though she’ll likely face the same obstructionist Congress as Obama has) but Sanders idea of not just winning but creating a revolution where so many people are active and engaged that politicians can’t help but listen is just as likely to occur in my view as Clinton being able to achieve anything but the most minor improvements.
  • The role of women has become an issue in Hillary’s campaign as well – I don’t know if Clinton’s regularly calling herself a feminist but she is definitely pointing out that she’d be the first female President (which is great!). But there are a couple dangers is that if you play up identity politics like this – taken to its logical conclusion, you might also say that all African Americans should vote for Ben Carson or Latinos should vote for Cruz or Rubio.  Or how problematic it is to simply vote based on gender instead of taking a hard look at a candidate’s policy and history.  Or you get more-harm-than-good situations where iconic second wave feminists like Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright belittle and bully younger, third wave feminists in (irony alert) some disturbingly misogynistic ways that speak as forcefully to generational differences between boomers and millennials as gender issues.

If anything concerns me at this pivotal moment, it’s not the revolutionary tremors of the youth. Given the Great American Trash Fire we have inherited, this rebellion strikes me as exceedingly reasonable. Pick a crisis, America: Child poverty? Inexcusable. Medical debt? Immoral. For-profit prison? Medieval. Climate change? Apocalyptic. The Middle East is our Vietnam. Flint, the canary in our coal mine. Tamir Rice, our martyred saint. This place is a mess. We’re due for a hard rain. – via

Lots of talk concerns whether Sanders supporters would move to Hillary if she wins the nomination.  That will be interesting to see – there’s lots of overlap as Sanders and Clinton are, at least by voting record, 93% similar though in many ways, their battle is for the soul of the Democratic party itself.

Donald Trump

  • Like many, I’m surprised that Trump has stayed as high in the polls and lasted as long as he has.  But the guy is a master manipulator of the media and even other candidates.

Ted Cruz

Marco Rubio

Ben Carson

  • Trump is always calling Jeb “low energy” but this guy defines the term.  In a field loaded with wingnuts and clowns, this guy might be the least qualified (and that’s saying something.)  He has, however, provided what is easily the funniest moment of the campaign season so far (while also being symbolic of the GOP race)…

Jeb Bush

  • Along with Clinton, Bush was a presumed front runner early (which perhaps shows journalist bias towards those they know?) but I’ve been very happy to see how much he’s struggled.  Part of the reason I’m also opposed to Hillary Clinton is I don’t think the US Presidency should be a legacy thing within dynastic families.

Chris Christie

  • I keep thinking he’s going to take either Rubio or Bush’s lunch money.

John Kasich

  •  A real dark horse candidate in a field that has a number of candidates and a range of dynamics.

Carly Fiorina 

  • Is she still in this (and who the hell is Jim Gilmore?)  You get the sense that many Republicans are running to get a job with Fox News, a book deal and/or to be named as Vice-President.

A final note…

A friend recently posted a fairly graphic article about the brutal spectacle that was the half-time shows in Ancient Rome.  I initially thought he was inspired to post this by the Super Bowl.  But after reading it, I couldn’t help think of how many of the techniques outlined in the article – shock, hubris, arrogance, manipulation, etc. – apply to our modern politics and the media as well.

Tell me if this sounds like modern American politics and helps describe the parallel rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders…

The Roman Games and the work of the bestiarii may have reached their apex during the reign of Emperor Commodus, which began in 180 AD. By that time, the relationship between the emperors and the Senate had disintegrated to a point of near-complete dysfunction. The wealthy, powerful and spoiled emperors began acting out in such debauched and deluded ways that even the working class “plebs” of Rome were unnerved.

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