Whatever Happened to the Democratic Race?

A few of our neighbors have planted “Bernie ’16” signs in their lawns, enough of them that we pass by one on any route out of Riverside, but otherwise we might have plumb forgotten that the Democratic party is also having a presidential primary race. The only mention of it we’ve seen lately in the press was Foxnews.com’s report on how the press isn’t mentioning it, and the matter rarely comes up in conversation.
There are perfectly innocent explanations for this, of course. Conventional wisdom and the most up-to-date polling hold that Hillary Clinton’s coronation is all but inevitable, and the Republican race has the attention-grabbing presence of Donald Trump, so it’s understandable that any editors with an eye on circulation figures or overnight ratings would go where the action is. Still, there’s something slightly suspicious about all that silence from the Democratic side.
We’re always suspicious of conventional wisdom and up-to-date polling, for one thing, especially when it doesn’t quite jibe with the anecdotal evidence we encounter in everyday life. Just about every Democrat we know is for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, his yard signs and bumper stickers and lapel pins seem to vastly outnumber Clinton’s around here, and we haven’t yet heard anyone express anything resembling enthusiasm about a potential Clinton presidency. Even if those up-to-date poll numbers are correct the Clinton lead isn’t so large Trump’s in the Republican race, and the conventional wisdom hasn’t yet resigned itself to his inevitability, so for now at least her nomination doesn’t seem any more a foregone conclusion than it was the last time she ran.
As recently as last summer there was a flurry of news about Clinton’s use of a private and unsecured and most likely illegal e-mail server, which led to a renewed interest in her failed Libya policy and the resulting murder of an ambassador and three other Americans in that anarchic country, and the big and enthusiastic crowds that Sanders was drawing was also a hot topic. The e-mail scandal continues to unfold, and there was some slight attention paid to the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation assuring that a strictly apolitical criminal investigation also continues, which seems a rather big deal, and so far as we can gather from scattered local newspaper reports Sanders is still packing the young folks in and racking up a large war chest from small donations, which is slightly reminiscent of the last time Clinton ran and turned out to not be inevitable, yet the stories have stopped.
Last summer’s coverage of the Clinton campaign was so uncharacteristically harsh that we assumed it was intended to clear a path for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Vice President Joe Biden or any other remotely credible Democrat to get into the race, but Warren and Biden both bowed out and there was a sudden realization that there are no other remotely credible Democrats, even by Warren and Biden standards, and ever since we’ve heard only that deafening silence. Better by far to focus on the Republican race, and to give Trump 25 times the attention paid to the rest of the field, and to make sure all coverage has that familiar sorrowful tone about it. The Democratic party’s big-wigs are doing their part by scheduling few debates, scheduling them against the most popular sports broadcasts on Saturday nights, and making sure the candidates are both boringly nice to one another. With Sanders pitching in by stubbornly refusing to go negative, despite the target-rich environment Clinton offers, and despite an anti-establishment sentiment among the Democratic base is that every bit as palpable as the more widely remarked one on the Republican side, we don’t expect to hear much about the Democrats until convention time.
It might work, but we can’t recall the last time any party won a national election by staying out of the news.

— Bud Norman

Ready or Not for Hillary

So it turns out that Hillary Clinton will be running for president, after all. It was all over the news on Sunday after she “tweeted” her announcement, which is apparently the high-tech way that hats are flung into rings these days, otherwise we might not have noticed.
Our annual involvement in an amateur theatrical production has lately brought us in daily contact with Democrats, our frequent meetings to discuss foreign policy with a gray pony-tailed neo-con pal at a local hipster joint provide plenty of opportunities for eavesdropping on Democratic discussions, we always peruse the “alternative” publications on offer there, our occasional appearances on the peripheries of the local art and music scenes routinely expose us to the latest in Democratic opinions, and of course of our infrequent visits to our Facebook are chockfull of Democratic venting, yet we rarely hear any mention of Clinton. Perhaps it’s because Kansas Democrats are too preoccupied with their red-hot hatred of our robustly Republican Governor and Secretary of State and Legislature to bother with their party’s presidential prospects, but the local Democrats’ lack of enthusiasm about Clinton is glaringly conspicuous. After the state’s mid-term elections last November one of our Facebook friends who long ago re-located to Maine, where even the Republicans are Democrats, tried to console her shell-schocked Democrat friends back home that the Republicans’ sweep would only make Clinton’s win in ’16 all the more satisfying, but that’s the only time we can recall any Democrat of our acquaintance even bringing up the name.
The press still regards Clinton as news, and is obliged to write countless column inches about her candidacy, but even there we can’t help noticing a distinct weariness with the topic. There’s lately been more buzz about that Martin O’Malley fellow, who was governor of Maryland or some other small eastern state that was reliably Democrat until he left office, but that buzz is the only reason we’ve heard of him, and we’d wager that at this early point in the campaign not one in ten of our Democrat friends and acquaintances have the slightest idea who he is, and except for some hopeful speculation about Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Vermont’s openly socialist Rep. Bernie Sanders getting in the race, which no Democrats we know are talking about, that seems to be the desultory state of the Democrat nominating process. Given such limited options, it’s no wonder our Democrat friends and acquaintances prefer to talk about that damned Governor and Secretary of State and Legislature we’ve got here in Kansas.
All of them will eventually line up behind whatever candidate the Democrats choose, and will couch their arguments mostly in opposition to the extremist right-wing conservatism of whatever the candidate Republicans choose, but at this point it’s hard to imagine they’ll have any of the religious fervor that informed their support of their messianic candidate of ’08  or even the self-righteous indignation toward the other side that dragged their all-too-human candidate across the finish line in ’12. They’ll be up against a Republican party which is talking a great deal about Clinton and even O’Malley and the other rumored possibilities, and with an increasingly red-hot hatred of their own, and the enthusiasm gap favors the GOP. Everyone in a wide and deep Republican field has such enthusiastic supporters that the intra-party sniping has already begun, much to the delight of the Democratic press, but we can readily imagine them all lining up behind the eventual nominee once the Democrats’ choice has been made.
Being temperamentally Republican we are inclined to gloominess, but at this point the race seems seems tantalizingly winnable despite the press and the seemingly permanent blueness of some populous states and the ever-present gullibility of the American public. Whatever candidate winds up winning the Republican nomination could still blow it, but even the Democrats don’t seem excited about that possibility, and we suspect they’d prefer four years of hating the incumbent to the difficult task of defending her..

— Bud Norman

Wising Up the Youngsters

Back in our younger days the old folks used to fret over the lack of trust we had for our national institutions. Now that we’ve reach old fogeyhood, we find ourselves slightly heartened to see that the current crop of young folks are at long last becoming mistrustful of government.
Although we have not noticed this trend in our own occasional encounters with the under-30 set, we are assured it is underway by a recent poll from Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. The ivy-covered organization’s annual survey of “millennials,” as today’s 18- to 29-year-olds are often called, found that their trust of government has dropped below even last year’s “historically low levels.” Almost every institution has seen its numbers slip, with Wall Street and the United Nations being the unaccountable exceptions, and it’s gotten to the point that even President Barack Obama is trusted by only 32 percent of the respondents.
Given the youngsters’ overwhelming support for Obama in the past two elections, the polling results are potentially good news for Republicans. Other hopeful numbers in the poll are that 44 percent of those who voted for Romney say they will definitely vote in the mid-term elections, compared to only 35 percent of Obama who say the same thing, and those identifying themselves as Republicans have increased in number even if they remain a minority. More importantly, the broader finding that “millennials” are less trusting of the government suggests they might at long last be persuaded to stop voting for more and more of it.
The wising-up of the young folks is not surprising, as they were bound to notice sooner or later that the candidates they have embraced are eager to stick them with the old folks’ medical bills along with a $17 trillion national debt and a massive regulatory state and meager employment prospects, but it remains to be seen if the GOP can win their votes. Our experience of young folks suggests that the lure of hope and change and free stuff has a powerful effect on them, and the next Democratic candidate could still convince them that despite whatever disappointments they’ve experienced in the past the next time is going to be different. Republicans still suffer from a reputation as sexually repressed squares, too, and the only things young people seem to desire more than hope and change and free stuff are sexual license and being thought hip. Undoing the the damage done by the public schools and higher education and all those touchy-feely soccer leagues might require an ever greater catastrophe than the one they’ve been living all their adult lives.
The best the Republicans can likely hope for is that fewer young people will bother to vote all, but even that might be enough to swing a few elections their way. If the Democrats are obliged to make their promises at least somewhat more plausible, and have to campaign without the youthful idealism and energy of the whippersnappers, that would also represent a significant improvement in America’s politics. Youthful idealism and energy are the most destructive forces known to history, and the sooner they are blunted by the hard-earned cynicism and lethargy of old age the better.

— Bud Norman

A Conventional Convention

Four years ago or so the Democrats’ national convention was the hot show on television, and Barack Obama was so ubiquitous that we sought refuge from his constant presence by sneaking to a certain small tavern we have been known to frequent. Even there we found no escape, however, as a rather belligerent regular not only insisted that the bar’s fuzzy old television be tuned to the nominee’s acceptance speech but that everyone cease their conversations and listen with proper reverence.

We did not oblige him, of course, and continued to exercise our God-given right to talk baseball with one of the more apolitical patrons, but at full volume the great orator’s oration proved unavoidable. No lines from the speech come to mind, although there was probably something in there about hope and change and the failed policies of George W. Bush, but we well remember the alarming degree of excitement that the event seemed to generate. It was a big football stadium filled to capacity with screaming fans, with great columns looming on a stage created by Madonna’s own set designer, thousands of those kitschy Shepard Fairey “Hope” posters with Obama’s beatific face looking sagely upward to a bright shiny waving in the stands, and millions of people around the country chanting the candidate’s name in unison. It was quite a sight, and most unsettling.

Four years now seems a long time ago. We once again sought refuge from the big acceptance speech, this time at a slightly swanker establishment that serves a good chicken-fried steak, but this time all three of the fancy-schmantzy flat screen high-definition televisions were tuned to sports and absolutely no one in the place raised an objection. The convention seems a less popular show this time around, with the overnight ratings from Wednesday showing that the most popular broadcast of Bill Clinton’s much-hyped speech was routed by the National Football League’s season opener and tied with something called “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” which The Hollywood Reporter describes as a “zeitgeisting reality show.” Obama’s speech was indoors on a rather plain stage, too, the big football stadium show having been cancelled because of either a slight chance of rain or fear that they wouldn’t be able to fill enough seats for convincing show of support.

What we perused of the speech made no mention of hope or change, although there were several oblique references to the failed policies of George W. Bush, and none of it seemed particularly memorable. There were reports on the radio that the speech would include a major announcement regarding entitlement reform, but except for the part where he claimed the president claimed that Obamacare was going to lower medical costs and thus save Medicare and Medicaid from impending extinction we couldn’t find anything of the sort. None of those Shepard Fairey “Hope” posters were on display, perhaps because the artist is currently facing jail time for illegally covering up evidence that it was all a fraud. The crowd of die-hard fans in the convention hall went predictably wild, as did many of the television and radio commentators, but the chants of the candidate’s name seemed fainter.

Perhaps we perceive a relative lack of enthusiasm for Obama because we live in Kansas, where he wasn’t very popular even back during the Obama-mania days of ’08, but we often run into what’s left of the left around here and they seem unusually eager to talk about baseball. When the conversation does get around to politics, as it always will with these people, they’re invariably more excited to discuss Mitt Romney’s tax returns, personal banking practices, or secret plan to enslave women and black people than they are to enthuse about their own candidate.

The ratings were down for the Republican convention, too, and we must concede that the Republicans of our acquaintances are more prone to talk about Obama’s failings than Romney’s alternatives, but this general disdain for politics is further evidence that hope and change and all that jazz are no longer the “zeitgeisting” reality show that they once were. Throughout most of their convention the Democrats seemed most energized when comparing their opponents to Nazis or describing the nightmare dystopia those evil Republicans are diabolically plotting, and we expect to hear a lot more of it between and November.

The only consolation is knowing that it should be more easily avoided.

— Bud Norman