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Why Bernie Sanders can only help Hillary Clinton. Up to a Point. I think.

February 10, 2016




Every so often I try my hand at “objective” or “neutral” political commentary and prognostication.  This is usually a mistake.  I’m not good at predictions of any kind.  I’m the guy who thought Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine would be the biggest band in the world by the mid 1990s.  No, I’m happier when being all soppy and unrealistic, thinking about politics as it should be than politics as is it.  Even when in my most apocalyptic frame of mind, issuing clumsy jeremiads, desperate rages against the dying of the light, I suppose I’m informed by a clumsy and naive sense that ideas and values ought to join up in certain ways.  Which is a form of optimism I suspect.  But in recent years I’ve come to the startling realisation that “what I think should happen” and “what will happen” may be very very different things.

When trying to correlate my sense of what can or should be politically possible from US presidential candidates, I get Bernie every time.  If politics were about making a reasonable case for reasonable policies that would help most people, it seems to me that Bernie would be unstoppable.  However, I’m aware of mumbling voices who are terrified of Bernie as the democratic nominee – that his “extreme” (i.e. mainstream European) policies will hand over the White House to some Republican or other.

So, holding my nose a bit, and trying to thing about what such mainstream (very right wing by European standards) Democrats fear about Bernie Sanders, I arrive at the tactical conclusion, that Hillary Clinton should be grateful to Bernie Sanders – whom she will probably eventually beat in any case.  She should be grateful to anyone who forces her to fight.  Because when the Primaries are over and she is the Democratic nominee – that nomination will look earned rather than assumed.

Hillary Clinton’s real problem (I’m trying to think down to the level of narrow tactics and perceptions here, regardless of her very many ethical and philosophical problems) is the fact that she exudes a sense of entitlement.  When the great mass of ideologically uncommitted and vaguely pissed off voters who aren’t registered with any party look at her right now, they see someone who looks as though elections are an irritation.  “What else do I have to do to impress you people?” she seems to say, or look as though she’s thinking to herself behind a rictus of condescension.  She’s a bit like that movie that all the critics tell you you HAVE to go and see, and which you avoid ever going to see as a result.  Her inevitability risks being her downfall.  If she’d won every Primary (now not possible), then her acclamation at the Democratic convention would seems both boring and vaguely oppressive.  Voting for Hillary wouldn’t feel like a “choice” at all.   And voters love, if not choice, then the illusion of it.

Bernie Sanders I think will eventually help Hillary Clinton by forcing her to scrap.  A long and grueling campaign will make her look less inevitable and less irritating.  Everybody will win.

Hillary Clinton’s challenge is intriguingly different from Trump’s.  Trump has nothing to gain from debate.  Having learned that millions (or at least many thousands) of Americans hate Freedom, hate America, and hate Themselves enough to stick forks in their brains and vote for random bits of nonsensical hatred he is unlikely to switch tactics and admit to the notion of exchange of ideas at this point.  The real reason why he ducked out of the final Iowa debate wasn’t the whole Megyn Kelly Fox News thing, it was that he hates being one guy in a line up of other guys, and that much of his bizarre “appeal” is based on the Michael Jackson Thriller video notion of vaguely being “not like other guys”.  Donald Trump, a consummate landed aristocrat who has never HAD to do a day’s work in his life, has likewise never known what it is like not to despise his fellow human beings.  To debate – is to admit certain terms of parity, certain frameworks, certain conventions.  To debate threatens to create an expectation of respect, or listening.  To debate is to profoundly American, in the best foundational sense – but Trump, who is profoundly anti-American in his distaste for constitutional limitations eschews the very grammar of a discursive democracy.

Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump therefore face opposite challenges.  Donald Trump has to somehow keep avoiding debate and stay “different” in some supremely arrogant and unfathomable way.  Hilary Clinton has to look less different, less special, and remain – just another candidate – for as long as possible.


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