A Message of Uplift Won New Hampshire

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He’ll make America great again — it says so on his podium!

W.J. Astore

My wife and I watched the results come in last night on MSNBC and the four speeches by Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and John Kasich.  Surprisingly, the best speech of the bunch was by Kasich, but more on that in a moment.

Hillary charged ahead with a concession speech that was basically a recycled stump speech.  It looked like she was using teleprompters.  She offered the obligatory thanks to her supporters, to New Hampshire, and so on, but you could tell she just wanted to move on from her crushing defeat.  She has real difficulty connecting with an audience, and her campaign’s message that she’s the most competent candidate, the one best able to step into the Oval Office on day one, simply isn’t resonating with voters who are fed up with establishment politics.

Bernie went next and also gave a modified version of his stump speech.  He spoke too long, but I’m guessing he was doing his best to exploit his “prime time” moment.  He offered kind words for Clinton but then proceeded to attack the politics as usual that she represents.  What got me most was the genuine excitement in the room for Bernie.  The people cheering behind him were an especially eclectic and vibrant mix (I know the “optics” are usually managed, but still).  There was a young black guy wearing a hat and a Bernie t-shirt who was simply a riot.  (He was standing behind and to Bernie’s left.)  My wife and I looked at each other and said: “He should be Bernie’s Vice President.”

Trump came on the heels of Bernie, and the shift in tone was immediate.  With Bernie, it’s all about the movement.  With Trump, it’s all about Trump.  Flanked by his photogenic family, Trump once again told Americans how he is going to make America “great” again, how America is going to win again — at negotiating treaties, with the economy, with wars — heck, I guess we’re going to win at EVERYTHING with Trump in command.  Again he boasted how he’s going to make the U.S. military so big and so strong that no one will dare attack us.  In a word, he bloviated.  But Trump should never be dismissed lightly, certainly not after his decisive victory in New Hampshire.

Kasich came next after Trump, and again the tone shifted.  Coming in a strong second in NH, Kasich talked about listening to the American people, and how the 100+ “town halls” he had done had changed him as a candidate and as a person.  He told personal stories and connected with the audience; he closed on a note of compassion, asking Americans to decompress, to take time to listen to one another, to find time for reflection.  His speech was the most personal and heartfelt of the four that I heard, and I found myself hoping that Kasich’s message would ultimately triumph over the bellicosity of Trump, Cruz, Rubio, and the rest of the Republicans.

Overall, last night was a night of surprises, with two unconventional candidates, Sanders and Trump, winning convincingly.  Their messages, of course, are polar opposites. Bernie wants a better future for all Americans, especially for the disadvantaged, whereas Trump is all about making America big and strong, a “winner.”  Put differently, Sanders sees a lot of ordinary Americans who are losing in today’s “rigged” economy, and he wants to lift them up.  Trump sees America writ large as losing, even some of the wealthiest, vis-a-vis foreign competitors like China, and he says he’ll lift all of America up.

It’s that message of uplift, expressed so differently by Sanders and Trump, that resonated so powerfully in New Hampshire.

 

Republicans Are Scaring Me Again

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Kasich, Bush, Rubio, Trump, Cruz, Carson, Christie (left to right)

W.J. Astore

I watched last night’s Republican Presidential Debate from New Hampshire.  And then I slept poorly.  John Kasich and a subdued Ben Carson excepted, all of the candidates were determined to frighten me and mine.  As they shouted and gesticulated, I wrote down some of their words and some of the thoughts and feelings they generated.  It went something like this:

We’re in danger!  Obama’s gutting our military!  Muslims are shouting “death to America”!  China!  America is weak!  We must build a HUGE WALL to keep out illegals! Abortion is murder!  Take their oil!  Chopping heads!  Dying in the street! Waterboarding isn’t torture, which doesn’t matter, because we need more torture!  Respect the police! People need to fear us again!  We don’t win — we need to win again!  Iranian and North Korean nukes!  America must get back in the game and be strong!  Tough!  Win!

Well, you get the picture.  The prize for most obscene statement of the night (among a wealth of obscene statements) was Ted Cruz’s claim that America’s possession of overwhelming airpower — its ability to carpet bomb enemies into oblivion — is a blessing.  A blessing — I’m assuming he meant from God, not the Dark One, but who knows?

My wife’s impression?  She said the candidates reminded her of low-blow fighters, or teenage boys in high school.

It’s simple, really: If you want more bombing, more killing, more war, more torture, more police, more walls, and lower taxes on corporations (yes — that came up too), vote Republican in November.

My nightmare scenario: this is exactly the vision Marco Rubio had in mind when he repeatedly called America “the single greatest nation in the history of the world.”

 

Hillary to Bernie: You Smear Me When You Tell the Truth

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W.J. Astore

I watched yet another Democratic debate last night, this one moderated by MSNBC in a more traditional format instead of the previous version’s “town hall.”  Much was repeated: Bernie Sanders wants a “revolution” to overthrow a rigged economy and to enact campaign finance reform, Hillary Clinton says she’s a progressive who can get things done and who will build on the legacy of President Obama.

For me, the big moment came when Hillary tried to change the narrative on her taking millions of dollars from banks, investment houses, and Wall Street in the form of speaking fees and money from Super PACs.  She accused Bernie of a “smear” campaign when he “insinuated” she might be influenced by all this money.  She said other progressives (she cited Obama, for example) took money from Wall Street yet still allegedly held the big money boys to account.

Another moment, not as big but also telling, was when Bernie painted Hillary as an “establishment” candidate.  Talk about stating the obvious!  But Hillary rejected this by playing the gender card.  How can I be an establishment candidate for president, Hillary asked, when if elected I’d be the first woman president?  This is total nonsense, of course. She is an establishment candidate who just happens to be a woman.  But I suppose she and her team had no other response to the truth Bernie was bringing.

Speaking of the establishment, after claiming she wasn’t part of it, Hillary cited Henry Kissinger’s praise of her, saying Kissinger had applauded her for running a tight ship at the State Department.  Praise from Caesar …

But back to the “smear” campaign.  Obviously, Hillary and her team are hoping the media will focus on the smoke and mirrors generated by that loaded term, while neglecting the reality of Bernie’s truth-telling.  Given the craven nature of the mainstream media, her cynical gambit may even work.

When the big money boys give millions to candidates, any candidate, they’re not usually so blatant (or stupid) as to be buying votes.  They’re not going to get caught telling a candidate, vote yes on this, no on that.  What they’re buying is access.  They’re gaining the candidate’s ear. They want to be the last “person” to whisper in the candidate’s ear before she or he makes a decision.

I’m sure Hillary believes she’s her own woman.  But she knows how the system works, and so does Bernie.  If you accept big money, you know it always comes with strings attached.  The more big money you accept, the more strings, until no matter how much you resist, you end up dancing like a puppet on those strings.  That’s basically Bernie’s point, and it’s not a smear. It’s the truth.

An interesting question came up about whether Hillary would be willing to share transcripts of all her speeches before the big money boys.  She said she’d look into it.  If she’s the “progressive” she claims to be, she should be willing to share those transcripts immediately as a matter of public record.  Something tells me we either won’t see these transcripts, or they’ll be released months from now, after the primary race is decided.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bernie Sanders Won Last Night’s Democratic Debate

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Bernie Sanders makes a point to Anderson Cooper during last night’s debate

W.J. Astore

Last night, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton separately took questions from a “town hall” in Derry, New Hampshire with Anderson Cooper moderating.  Overall, both candidates did well, though I give the edge to Sanders (more on why in a moment).

Sanders came across as passionate on the issues and concerned for ordinary Americans.  He continues to speak of a political revolution, which to him doesn’t mean tumbrels to the guillotine.  It means getting more people involved in the political process, especially youth and the disadvantaged.  He spoke eloquently of helping others.  Memorable to me was his work to desegregate housing owned by the University of Chicago when Sanders was a student.  When asked why he fought against racist policies, Sanders said he’s always hated a bully – and always fought for fairness and equality.  He came across, in short, as an honest and decent man, a man of integrity, which is the word his wife used to describe him (she was sitting in the audience, and was asked to describe her husband with a single word).

Hillary came across as determined and competent and informed.  She tended to meander during her answers, coming across as somewhat of a policy wonk or a technocrat.  She rejected Sanders’ talk of a revolution, preferring to build on President Obama’s (and her own) legacy.  For example, she wants to put the finishing touches to Obamacare, rather than going for Sanders’ idea of a single-payer, “Medicare for all” system.  She spoke briefly of breaking the ultimate glass ceiling for women – her gaining the office of the presidency – and how that would inspire women of all ages.  She took her usual hardline on U.S. foreign policy, making no promises that she would reduce wars or for that matter spending on defense.

In sum, if you’re happy with the status quo, you’ll get plenty of that with Clinton.  If you want change, if you’re tired of a “rigged” economy and a corrupt political process, Sanders is far more likely to act in your favor.

Where I thought Hillary fell down was in her posturing as a progressive.  The millions of dollars she has accepted in speaking fees from banks and investment houses, she suggested, would have no impact on her policy decisions, which is simply implausible.  Powerful organizations don’t give political candidates big money without strings attached to it, and of course Clinton knows this.  It also seemed implausible when Clinton suggested she had not decided to run for president when she accepted those speaking fees.  As if her “doubts” about running absolved her of responsibility for taking big money from Wall Street.  It was all frankly unconvincing.

Hillary Clinton is a fighter.  She came across best when she spoke of the Republican right-wing attacks she’d had to endure over the last 25 years, and what they’d taught her about the political process.  Her footing was less secure when she had to relate to other people.  For example, a man suffering from advanced-stage cancer asked her about dying with dignity.  Bill Clinton, the “natural” as Hillary called him, would have turned this into an empathetic “I feel your pain” moment.  But Hillary got lost in the details, saying she would have to study up on the ethics of terminal care, the laws, the role of medical professionals, what other countries are doing (she mentioned The Netherlands), and so on.  As she tackled the problem in a wonkish way, she seemed to forget the person standing in front her.

In sum, Bernie Sanders is driving the narrative, not Hillary Clinton.  It’s Bernie who’s been talking about a rigged system, about economic fairness, about working for unions, about justice and prison reform, and it’s Hillary who’s been put on the defensive.  So lately Hillary’s been borrowing liberally from Bernie’s script.  She’s now talking about “the deck being stacked” against ordinary people, and how she’s going to fight for workers, and how much Wall Street is supposedly against her candidacy.

As Bernie has gained in the polls, as his message has begun to resonate, Hillary has responded by trying to be more like Bernie.  And it just doesn’t ring true, at least for me.  Advantage, Bernie.