On the week that the Iowa caucuses finally happened, one man’s thoughts on our politics…
The song played at every Trump rally: Twisted Sister’s “We Not Gonna Take It.” No surprise.
It’s been less than eight years since the start of the Great Recession, the biggest meltdown of our economy since the Great Depression. Although economists say it’s over, thousands upon thousands of working-class Americans are still without jobs.
They are slowly twisting in the ill wind of a global economy they don’t understand – except for the fact that they are out of work, can’t properly provide for their families and face what seems to them a confusing, bleak, and mostly terrible future.
Franklin D. Roosevelt won the 1932 election in a landslide, thanks to the worst economic disaster in American history.
So the obvious question about the Trump campaign for the political pundits is simple: What else did you expect?
To me, the only surprise is that this constituency hasn’t gone Democratic, the way it did in the 1930’s, or after the Eisenhower recession of the late 1950s. What amazes and worries long-term Republican insiders is the idea that a populist-driven working class might actually wind up taking over the GOP.
One reason Hillary’s having trouble generating enthusiasm across the board is the assumption that she had working-class votes locked up through her good relations with organized labor.
But a fair number of labor leaders say it’s not at all a sure thing they can automatically deliver the votes of their membership these days – or that workers in general, most of whom are not unionized, are going to vote the way the “experts” think they should.
Moreover, Clinton’s record of cozying up to the rich and powerful puts her in terrible proximity – from a working-class standpoint – with the Wall Street folks who brought us the Great Recession and who have benefited more than any other by the widening gap between the enormously wealthy and everybody else. Couple that with the notion that Clinton’s natural constituency is the “NPR wing of the Democratic Party,” people accustomed to speaking in mostly incomprehensible polysyllables.
In the end, what may be the saving grace for Clinton is her historic record of support for what – until a few years ago – were usually referred to as “minorities,” i.e. Latinos, African Americans and women.
Iowa looks as though it was designed as a wish fulfillment dream for the Cruz strategists. Though the state usually votes Democratic for president in November, Republican voters tend to be very conservative, very religious and evangelical – quite unlike the GOP voters in states outside the Deep South.
Ted Cruz is very smart – though the U.S. Senator from Texas strikes me as suffering from the worst political disease of all, the I’m-the-smartest-guy-in-the-room malady.
And frankly – would you really trust somebody who boasts that he has memorized the entire Constitution?
The worrisome question that lies at the heart of the Cruz campaign is: Just how important for ordinary voters is doctrinaire allegiance to conservative ideology? I suspect not many, especially working-class folks who are likely to be more worried about where their next paycheck is coming from.
Those folks don’t read conservative tracts on political theory, and even if they are disillusioned with Democrats, are likely to regard Fox News mainly as entertainment.
I also find powerful – and significant – that Cruz is, by all accounts, cordially hated by all his Republican colleagues in the Senate.
The folks who most “feel the Bern” are overwhelmingly young, college educated and mostly white. They agree with Clinton that Wall Street caused the Great Recession. They’re systemically mad at the centrist coalition that Hillary and Bill Clinton helped lead to control of the Democratic Party, if only because we still have vast unemployment (especially youth), a ragged health care system and disgracefully widening income inequality.
Being mostly young, the fans who have rallied to the senator from Vermont have the luxury of advocating the simple, straightforward “democratic socialism” that their elders thought about and ultimately rejected in the 1930’s. As most folks who have been elected to something know full well, what matters is not the purity and power of your ideas… but how you can actually go about getting them accomplished.
Maybe that’s just an old man talking, but I remember how strongly I felt for Bobby Kennedy before he was assassinated. That emotion powered me for years. Maybe it will also sustain the Sanders enthusiasts. But this much can’t be denied:
Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders weren’t supposed to be serious candidates when the talking heads assessed this race a year ago. The fact that they are indeed means something is definitely going on that the establishment didn’t see coming.
We may have more surprises yet.