In the Democratic presidential pool, three candidates have worked really hard for months to achieve a 1% (or less) following in the polls. No one knows who they are or why they are running. Vice President Joe Biden is still deciding whether to run or not. Hillary Clinton’s anointment as the “inevitable candidate” is on hold due to continually declining poll numbers; the early fears of “too much baggage” are proving to be valid. This race has been upended by a previously-ignored improbable, older, white Senator named Bernie Sanders railing against corporate privilege and economic inequity His credential is “authenticity” in an age of focus groups.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party makes the Democrats look like a model for a well-managed and organized political campaign. 17 candidates went out for the gold ring of the presidency. At least a half-dozen of them still barely move the polling meter and are virtually ignored. Old faces from 2008 (Mike Huckabee) and 2012 (Rick Santorum) elections try to find any way to be relevant for 2016. As with the Democrats, the “anointed one” (Jeb Bush) has proven to be anything but. Sitting Senators and Governors wallow in single-digit support, while together three candidates who have never held office before out-poll the whole rest of the collective field.
17 candidates should have made for a rousing political debate, highlighting and offering multiple faces, perspectives and ideas for us to think about. Instead, we have been treated to overly long-running scripts of mindless noise and “who can top this?” Donald Trump has been endless theater, wealthy and un-beholden enough to call his own shots and freely speak his empty mind. No policy, plan or detail ever leaves his mouth, preferring instead verbal hand grenades against anyone he deems an opponent – which is just about everyone else. But he has managed to capture and crystallize a large segment of an angry American public who want unvarnished “straight talk,” regardless of the niceties or accuracy.
Ben Carson is a vacuous apparition, a quiet demeanor covering over a lack of content. He tells us about things that are all wrong, that the System does not work – Trump’s message at 1/3rd the decibels, but just as empty. He seeks the highest office of the land, pronounces love for our Constitution, then advocates an unconstitutional religious test for that same office. If he talked a bit louder perhaps he would not find himself one step behind himself so often. Carly Fiorina is this year’s “Republican woman” who has managed to recently impress with her debate skills to downplay her less-than-successful business and political record. But after she made up stories about supposed Planned Parenthood abortion and organ-farming videos – all subsequently debunked – she has to decide if she will follow into the imaginary dream worlds of her embarrassing Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman predecessors, or will choose to be a credible candidate of substance. Then again, substance does not seem to matter this year, so perhaps living in fairy tales is OK. None of these top three candidates has ever held a position of public service, so there is no track record by which to measure the credibility of what they say (to get elected) versus what they truly believe, or how much of what they say would they be able to actually accomplish.
The middle-% of the field, all current or past Governors and Senators, struggles to find a voice, overshadowed by the anti-everything sounds of the three “outsiders.” We never really hear what they have to say, because the media – not the Parties, not the candidates – control the air time. So they move their podiums around the stage, but it proves to make little difference.
Meanwhile, there is Congress with its significant Republican majority in both chambers. After the 2014 elections, new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised that these majorities would show the country that “Republicans know how to govern.” We are still waiting to see it. So far it has been Obama’s national stage and agenda. If you are a Democrat, you are likely pretty happy about it all. If you are a Republican, your upset stomach is probably stuck up in your throat, cemented with frustration. “Showing how to govern” now means total confusion in the House about what to vote on, non-cooperation with the Senate, Senators running for president appealing to their voting blocs, with a loud dominating argument for yet another government shutdown. The party of “conservatives” long claiming to favor limiting government interference in our personal lives is now the main proponent of just such intrusions.
The consequences of all this? At the highest levels of political contests – the presidency – we are giving voice to the worst of our collective bigotry and darker selves, with no substantive discussion about real solutions to serious issues. Two governors have already been bounced from the field; the winnowing process has begun. More candidates will follow. Around 50 Republican House members – a small minority within a commanding majority – continues trying not to improve government but to destroy it, without regard for very real consequences. They forget that the Constitution they profess to love was purposely designed to replace a weak central government with a strong one that could effectively lead our collective union. In their pursuit, they just forced out the Speaker of the House. This is governing?
Trump/Carson/Fiorina and Sanders – as different as the specifics of their message are – actually share a few things in common. Negatively, both have a target that they generalize as “the bad guy”: “1% the billionaires” for Bernie, just about anyone and everyone for The Donald. It may play well on the stump, but that kind of broad-swath name-calling does not bring people to the table together to solve problems. But even though their audiences are decidedly vastly different, both also speak for the disaffected who know that the wayward excesses, foolhardy adventures, special treatment and hypocrisies of the past 25 years have drained the country of its standing, trust and energy.
Years of low approval ratings have finally caught up with the American political establishment. Americans may be widely divergent in their ideas for political direction, but they know the needed direction ain’t where we have been – this protracted period of being governed from the extremes instead of from the American middle that has always held this fragile country together.
Maybe all of this venting will actually prove helpful in the long run. By releasing some steam from this political/social pressure cooker, perhaps we can then settle back and more quietly and rationally figure out what to do and with whom to do it. By hearing these negative extremes, perhaps it will motivate us to rediscover what our real national values and priorities have always been, and speak out for these to bring us back together again. Disagree on specifics, yes, but we can still agreeably come together on goals. Unfortunately, such a time is not yet now. Hopefully this head of steam will run its course and exhaust itself. Hopefully this negativity will pass and motivate us towards a better future. Be of hope. The alternative is too scary.
“This country is in very hard times, there’s no question about it. But we’ll dig ourselves out of it once again if we can stop yelling at each other for ½ hour.” (Garrison Keilor, 2010)
© 2015 Randy Bell www.ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com