Iowa is dealt a hand with three wild cards, no aces

On the week that the Iowa caucuses finally happened, one man’s thoughts on our politics…

Donald Trump

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.

Hillary Clinton

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.

Ted Cruz

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.

Bernie Sanders

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.

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Comments

KG-1
Tue, 02/02/2016 - 9:30am
"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?" Okay, I'm game. Care to cite any specific examples of this "smartest guy" malady, Mr. Power? Opposition to the amnesty bill? Opposition to the recently approved budget bills (that members only had a few hours to read several thousands of pages before voting), which only served to jack up the national debt even further? Calling out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the floor of the US Senate for his backroom dealings that brought about the above mentioned bills? This Bridge reader would really like to know. OABTW, I have to give Sen. Cruz credit for even bothering to read the Constitution. Unlike the embarrassments that we have in the Michigan delegation who cite things like the "good and welfare" clause to justify their votes, propose legislation that benefited foreign automakers (i.e. Cash for Clunkers), make Americans purchase a product as a condition of citizenship (i.e. Obamacare) , freely supported handing out billions to foreign countries so that they will be friendly with us (i.e. Iranian Nuclear Deal), regularly supported programs that invade upon the very privacy of every Americans (i.e. US PATRIOT Act & PRISM program), feel that allowing into our country even one ISIL terrorist is acceptable (i.e. Syrian "refugee" program) or dutifully supporting blatantly crony capitalist programs which do not support the average American in any way, shape or form (i.e. last fall's Export-Import Bank reauthorization surprise vote). Michigan would be far better off economically if the people who are elected to go to Washington, actually knew what their job was before setting one foot into the Capitol Building.
Rich
Tue, 02/02/2016 - 9:49am
Don't bother arguing with Phil. Bridge is more partisan than congress.
David
Tue, 02/02/2016 - 12:48pm
Not much to disagree with. No doubt the subscribers to Hate Radio will have a different reaction, but then that's part of the tribalism that has warped the political process for as long as I can remember.
Matt
Wed, 02/03/2016 - 1:48pm
Phil, One thing that you had to find impressive was that Cruz (with Paul) had the guts to tell Iowa that ethanol is a crappy deal for the environment and the entire country and wouldn't support it. I never noticed Hillary admitting that Social Security and perpetual budget deficits are unsustainable even with Bernie wanting to make it worse. And given that Cruz is a constitutional lawyer is it that big of a stretch that he'd have memorized? It's not that long. Stylistically he's a bit disconcerting but then again our nation has clearly decided that any shred institutional experience and success is not relevant to being a president so what do we know?
Duane
Thu, 02/04/2016 - 11:20am
“To me, the only surprise is that this constituency hasn’t gone Democratic,” To me the only surprise is that Mr. Power was surprised. What else could he expect since the media shows no interest past the ’30 second’ response. When was the last time the media showed an interest in a political approach to issues/problems? When has Mr. Power talked about criteria for assessing a political candidate or political Party on any issue/problem? As for FDR and the New Dealers I wonder if Mr. Power has looked past the political rhetoric to see how and why they were forced to accept their failed approach and why/how the US recovery from the Great Depression happened and why it was delayed. If he had, he may have found that the most disappointing recovery since the Great Depression has been created because the politicians didn’t try to learn from the recoveries since the Great Depression. If Mr. Power is truly disappointed in the current crop of Presidential candidates and the lack a political direction then he should let go of the politics of his youth when the political ‘elite’ were supposed to have all the answers and start today listening to people/readers for effective answers, he could find hope and a way to gain the quality of candidates he only wishes for. He could start by turning his column into a structured conversation with readers’ for ideas about how to assess candidates and political direction. We are an exceptional nation not because of a political or media ‘elite’, we are exceptional because of the people’s willingness to work, to think, to deliver results.
Barb OK
Sat, 02/06/2016 - 9:16pm
Re: Republicans: Phil, do you think we're reaping the consequences of Republican opposition to the Common Core, with its inclusion of Critical Thinking Skills? In fact, of opposition to such thinking for many years since Reagon? Old-time Republicans like Bill Milliken must be beside themselves, and John Hannah must be turning over in his grave. Trump's disregard for the facts and Cruz' similarities to Joe McCarthy are frightening. As for the Democrats, speaking as one, I like both Clinton and Sanders. I fear that Sanders is too much like McCarthy and McGovern (both of whom I volunteered for), but I also fear a horribly negative, nasty campaign if Clinton is nominated (unlike the very civil, issue-oriented debate Thursday)--which, I fear, would further deeply wound the whole concept of electoral politics in the United States.