What if we stop over-personalizing politics?

Sam Smith

If America was a parliamentary democracy rather than the oligarchy it has become, we would be spending less time discussing Donald Trump’s hair and Hillary Clinton’s dishonesty and more talking about the difference between Democrats and a Republican Party that has become the most reactionary and destructive political organization since the south seceded a century and a half ago.

We might, for example, note that over half of Romney’s votes in the 2012 came from former Confederate states, with Florida the only one of these states not to support him. We might see this as a battle to preserve Social Security, public healthcare, civil liberties, and food stamps – just to name a few – rather than picking the candidate that best fits our demographic and ideological niche. We might even remember that under the Constitution we were meant to have three branches of government, albeit recent presidents have increasingly obscured the fact. The Democrats might even have a platform that would be generally understood and appreciated.

What we are seeing now instead is the effect of over-personalizing our politics. We forget, for example, that we are not only electing a president but probably four members of the Supreme Court. Or that despite out of control gerrymandering, there are still some choices to be made for the Congress. Do we want Democrats in the Senate writing bills or just trying to stop filibusters? And while it is harder than ever to elect the kind of politicians we truly would like, we can still help decide the battlefield upon which we will struggle for the next four or eight years.

If we turn our minds towards the clash between the major parties rather than the presidential candidates, it changes our view of the latter, who become tools of larger causes rather than the cause itself. We then can start to look pragmatically at the candidates – not based on whom we like the most – but on whom will stand the best chance of strengthening the Democrats’ position.

This is not to say that in a truly righteous world, Bernie Sanders would not be our president and the Greens would have a majority in Congress, but in the dysfunctional system in which we actually exist we can only survive by making the compromises that will, for example, prevent the Republican Party passing policies that are not only pragmatically wrong but which will actually result in the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans.

In other words, this is a fight between corrupt and impure Democrats and disastrously undemocratic, cruel and incompetent Republicans.

If you look at it this way, for example, it is clear that Hillary Clinton would not be a good candidate. Based on an average of the latest polls, she barely beats Trump, would lose to Carson, and is neck and neck with Fiorina and Bush. And while her supporters vigorously conceal the hazard, there is no doubt that her past behavior and record will make joyous meat for the GOP should she be nominated.

The honorable and attractive Bernie Sanders is in a similar bad state in current polling although, unlike Clinton, he is not a political bomb just waiting to explode. It is theoretically possible that his impressive advances so far will continue to expand and that he will rewrite the political playbook. Fortunately, we still have a good amount of time to find out whether this is the case.

Finally, there is Joe Biden who is neck and neck with Carson and Rubio but the strongest leader against Trump, Fiorina and Bush. Ideology and personal preference aside, there is no doubt that he is, at the moment, the strongest Democratic candidate. In addition, he is probably the easiest one running in either party for a casual voter to get to like.

The pollster John Zogby describes the situation well:

In the first place, Mrs. Clinton is a wounded frontrunner – not because of any other reason than herself. She has baggage but, even under her best circumstances, she just does not appear to generate enough enthusiasm among the party’s base – especially young voters who do not see her as trustworthy or offering any change. We have plenty of evidence from numerous polls that now show her trailing all of the putative GOP nominees mainly because of this lack of enthusiasm among Millennials. If they do not show up to vote next November, that means a dampened turnout among Latinos, African Americans, and Asians who represent about 40% of young voters.

In the second place, Mrs. Clinton is a divisive character simply because of who she is. Even though her husband’s presidency is viewed favorably and he remains a popular figure, that popularity simply has not translated to support for her. It’s like the joke we used to hear back in 2000: Bill Clinton and Al Gore went for a drive in a convertible. It started to rain and Al Gore got wet. Make no mistake, she comported herself very well in the first debate, but Millennials interviewed afterward were just not on board. If they stay home, Democrats have a very difficult time winning.

Enter Joe Biden. What does a 72 year old, establishment, Irish good old boy bring to the race? Well, for starts, he doesn’t have to prove his authenticity. He has always lived it and continues to feel his own pain, enabling him to feel that of others. Next, he makes a better case for continuity of the two terms of a still popular President…

Mr. Biden, old hand and warrior that he is, offers something fresh to the race. A smiley face, a politics of hope, and the kind of family we all want to have.

But what about a woman? I have said before that the Democrats’ dream ticket is Mr. Biden and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand who is young, very smart, courageous, has taken on the military brass on sexual harassment, and no novice to rough and tumble politics.

What politicians, media and much of the public seem to have forgotten is that politics is not a religion in which you display your virtue. It’s not an Oscar Awards ceremony. It is making the best out of a bad situation and the key to that is to be pragmatic, rational and more interested in the results than one’s dreams. Elections seldom fulfill these dreams but can make them more possible or more futile in the days after the vote. And this is not so much because of the person we voted for as because of the political party that they represent.


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