Every once in awhile, Scott Jaschik, my editor, let’s me go off the reservation. Today is one of those days, so if you are looking for law, technology and policy content, hold on until next week. Today I am going to talk about the U.S. presidential race. And of course, the worlds are not all that different. Political context sets the stage for Internet law and policy. And I will follow this context up in time with a post on the candidates and their positions on the Internet.
Trump first amused and then concerned me. A previous post about the Adolescent Style of American Politics spoke to that concern. I erupted in joy when he refused Thursday night’s debate. That refusal revealed his self-centered, thin-skinned, misaligned sense of what political leadership is all about. I hardly agree with a word that the other contenders say, but at least they are in the tradition of talking platforms and policy, unlike Trump who peddles, if I might stoop to his level, crap from the hip.
As a life-long Democratic, I want to speak more particularly about the brouhaha between Sanders and Clinton that has riled politics. First, I think overall it is a good thing. Clean sweeps into nomination belie citizenship. In the trial period that nomination campaigns are, it is important to open the conversation up to wide discourse. Today’s wacky idea out on the left, right or orthogonal to the political spectrum might be tomorrow’s focus. No one, no party, has a lock on truth. Let a thousand flowers bloom to help us think through social policy, international relations, and the future of the United States. Broad thought speaks to that admirable goal.
Second, it is about time that the mainstream political spectrum opened up to broad swaths of thought. A century ago the United States sported a wide political spectrum that included everything from extreme, conservative laissez-faire economics to communist ideology. Both World Wars – and special actors including Mitchell Palmer, J. Edgar Hoover, Joseph McCarthy and Richard Nixon -- contributed to a squeezing of that spectrum into a narrow democratic-republican fit. Up until recently we have been living in the shadow of that squeezed thought, and none the better for it.
Restrictive intellectually and psychologically repressive, this too tight pattern of political discourse accounts in part for the extremes we now experience, including both Sanders and Trump. Donuts to dollars, Trump’s enthusiastic followers are less interested or articulate about his specific proposals, such as they are, as they feel the sweet release of saying what one thinks and feels, such as it is. Rather than stuffing this expression back in, we should understand the motivations for it. We should welcome and encourage those voters, many of whom are on the margins of the voting public, to become more involved, more educated, and more participatory in the real commitment that is citizenship and political life.
Third, this analysis explains a lot of what has spurred on Senator Sanders followers. Liberals leaning toward Sanders are by no means to be compared qualitatively to Trumps followers, but emotionally they have a lot in common. That sweet sense of release to use the word “socialist” and not be made to feel as if one is about to have their phone bugged or be arrested resembles Trump followers who reveal in “political incorrectness.” Plotted on the spectrum of U.S. politics, these two groups roughly come out to about the same opposing place. Considered from 0-10, they are respectively in the 2-3 and 7-8 categories. Even the personal style of the individual candidates has similarities. In the last debate I observed Sanders gesticulating a bit like Trump and all but screaming to the audience. I don’t find that appealing but I get that some people do, especially those who look to politics as something closer to a religious experience. (Tomes have been written about this phenomenon which is a hallmark of American politics.)
Fourth, if this analysis does anything to explain the surprising factors in the 2016 presidential campaign, then let us build on its lessons. Let’s open up the political spectrum to more of the electorate, bigger ideas and broader discourse! Let us not deceive ourselves into believing that immediate release is the answer to our challenges, however. Seldom in personal or political life is sudden release the long-term, reasoned approach that addresses entrenched problems and stabilizes an enduring, productive new path. The opportunity that this primary season offers is more currency in our collective public life. The excitement of it should not be interpreted as the final answer to what ails us.
Finally, the center still holds. Clinton, not Sanders, commands that spot on the Democratic ticket. It is not clear yet who holds it for the Republicans, although I am going with Rubio at the moment. Those on either extreme forget that perspective at the peril of losing the White House. If either party selects its more extreme contingent, and the other the more centrist, I would bet everything but my children we can predict the outcome months in advance. The electorate would do well to appreciate that no change occurs overnight – a lesson that Obama has learned in his two terms in the White House. Except in times of revolution, which is not where the United States is in this historical moment, enduring change occurs with three critical elements: in measurable, implementable steps; with a commitment that does not lose the course; and with a vision as to the desired outcome.
Skeptical? Throw your mind back to the presidencies of Nixon, Reagan, Bush and Bush to see how it is we are at a place of much needed correction in the shrinking of the middle class, the sharpening of class lines and the aggregation of wealth at the extreme top of the society. That Rome was not built in a day; it began with the ideas of Nixon, the tax policy of Reagan and the battening of the wealthy and corporate loophole hatches especially under the second Bush. For most people, on left or right, this is the single most challenging aspect of contemporary politics. Think hard, citizens, question your own beliefs. Find a course – and candidate – that can set us on a corrective path while we still have time to do something about it.
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