Saturday, January 30, 2016

Enough of a Horse Race

I have been watching the horse race and carnival sideshow we are generously calling the Presidential Election Campaign. All anyone seems to be interested in is:

  • Who's ahead? 
  • What are the polls saying? 
  • Can anyone beat Trump? 
  • Is Cruz that awful a person? 
  • Is Hillary going to tank again? 
  • Can Sanders be a socialist and still win?
That last question is as close to the issues as anyone in the press will go. And that's nothing but pulling a word out that will raise concerns and issues with voters. I am saddened, afraid, and downright upset about the whole process so far.

I know I have mentioned here before that I have been interested in politics since 1956 when, at age 8, my family's support for Adlai Stevenson was in  the minority in our north central Pennsylvania town. Politics hooked me as something interesting and important. The campaign of John F. Kennedy in 1960 settled my political addiction once and for all. I ended up a political science (government) major in college. I am a believer in voting rights being as important constitutionally important as gun rights or freedom of speech and the press.

In my study of history I also know that our campaigns have often been rabble-rousing affairs. The infamous John Adams-Thomas Jefferson election being among the slimiest, at least as far as name-calling and general truth-stretching.  In some ways, then, this particular election cycle has "fine pedigree" in our early history.

But I am not aware of any election cycle that could be considered as amateurish, mean, and so far off center as this one is. At least not at the presidential election level. There have been incompetent candidates at times. Some of them even got elected. But this one seems to be truly unique- one of a kind.
  • When issues are discussed, they result in sound bites that call for carpet-bombing of women and children or having Mexico pay for a wall to keep their citizens in. 
  • A reporter tells the story of how in most Trump rallies he points at the enclosure in the back where the media and reporters are kept and the crowd boos. Yet, it is that very media who is reporting and keeping him on top. 
  • A conservative magazine comes out with an issue of essay about why Trump isn't right for America.  
  • On the fringes someone has come up with the great view that Hitler was a left-wing liberal since he was a "socialist."  Therefore Bernie Sanders is like Hitler.
The party establishment of both parties is uncertain. Party hacks, both Democrat and Republican are afraid that if the non-establishment candidates get nominated they will lose. The political process has been hijacked by several different factors.
  • Anger
  • From the end of the 2008 election cycle, anger has been at the bottom of almost everything from the GOP. Hints of it have shown up before, but this is beyond anything we have seen in a long time. The extremely virulent opposition to Obama's presidency has been so deeply rooted in those against him they have wanted him to fail so they could take over. If he had succeeded- unthinkable to them!
  • Social media
  • What plays on social media? What gets attention? The mainstream media has been as much at fault in this as has been the biased media of Fox or MSNBC. Add the easily available presence of all kinds of opinions on Facebook and the Internet and you have an opening for any and all opinions to be expressed. Of course, most are preaching to their own kind, but their presence- and coverage in the press- only goes to flame the anger. No- I am not saying that we should limit any of these. Perhaps we need to discover that these views are the extremes- unwilling to compromise at any time with anybody. And that is not how democracy works.
  • Money
  • The Koch brothers are only the visible sign of the invisible evil of an oligarchy at work. Since Citizens United, corporate money has dominated. Here, from Wikipedia, is a way of looking at it:
    Plutocracy is a form of oligarchy and defines a society ruled or controlled by the small minority of the wealthiest citizens. The first known use of the term was in 1652. Unlike systems such as democracy, capitalism, socialism or anarchism, plutocracy is not rooted in an established political philosophy.
    Actually we seem to have developed two sides of this- the liberal plutocracy and the conservative plutocracy. These are the ones who fund and support the established orders. They were deprived of some of their historic power starting with Teddy Roosevelt's progressive reforms in the GOP in the early 20th Century and Franklin Roosevelt's with the Democrats in the 1930s and 40s. They have been working hard to gain it back- and are succeeding. They have convinced the greater population that "trickle-down" economics works and that "job-creators" deserve breaks in order to create jobs. Again, this is happening on both sides of the political spectrum. Part of the appeal of a Trump or a Sanders is that they present themselves as outside this system of support.
  • And did I mention anger and hate?
  • Add hate to the anger and you have a dangerous mixture. I would even go so far as to say racism is the final straw that has broken the political process.No one will ever convince me that the opposition to Obama's presidency was not fanned by racism. That does NOT mean that all of us whites are racists. Many who opposed Obama were not- and are not- racist. But there is an undercurrent of racism- systemic racism- that has been at work which then pulls in the interest of those who may truly be racist. I believe it took the election of a "liberal" African-American to bring it out. I also believe that some of the "birther" crap about Cruz stems from the same underlying Euro-centrism. Rubio as another Hispanic and Sanders as Jewish will face it if nominated.
So, in the next couple weeks we will see Iowa and then New Hampshire play a role far beyond their place in the American political scene. Anything can happen, of course, in either state. But it will not be based on substantive issues. Not at this point. Everything is too raw. We need some perspective, which has been sadly missing so far. I don't see it as getting any better.

Nor do I have any idea who will end up as the nominee of either party. Sanders, at this moment, has as good a chance as Hillary, who is on a potentially razor-thin edge. Trump and Cruz are certainly the most likely front runners, at this moment. I hope and pray that the tenor of this campaign will change, though history keeps me quite hopeless about that outcome.  But I also remember that Pat Robertson and Mike Huckabee have both won the Iowa caucuses in the past.

I have hunch it is going to be quite a ride.

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