Sunday, October 18, 2015

Bernie Sanders' Education Problem

Did you catch the Bernie Sanders' interview on Bill Maher's Real Time show this past Friday night? I did, and two things struck me. One, it was one of Maher's better interviews; and two, Sanders spent most of it explaining what socialism is and isn't. Keep in mind, he was speaking to a mostly sympathetic audience who was completely on board with what he was proposing.

Now let's suppose for a moment that instead of a sympathetic audience, ol' Bernie ends up speaking in front of an audience who has no freaking idea what socialism is, or worse, gets their information on what socialism is from your friendly "fair and balanced" or lame-stream media cable news channel. How long do you think it would take him to "explain" the facts about socialism to that crowd? Starting to get my drift?

It is an axiom of all sales professionals that you avoid overtaxing potential customers with minutia that could distract from the ultimate goal: getting a sale. It is no less true for politicians. Eschew the complicated, embrace the simplistic. Every successful politician from FDR to Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton has employed this axiom. Reagan, incidentally, didn't get the title as great communicator for nothing.

Conversely, unsuccessful politicians like Jimmy Carter ignored it. Remember how brave many of us thought Carter was when he confronted America on its fossil fuel addiction? The voters sure remembered. They elected Reagan in a landslide in 1980. Turns out voters don't like getting lectured to. They tend to get insulted.

Bernie Sanders is that lecturer who has lit a fire under his base and opened up one helluva pandora's box for the Democratic Party. No, he's not a Communist. I majored in sociology and I studied all the major theorists from Marx to Weber to Durkheim. If Sanders is a Communist, I'm a Vulcan.

None of that will make any difference. The moment Sanders starts yapping about European socialism and countries like Denmark, it's over. Every single policy initiative he supports will go out the window. The electorate won't be focusing on income inequality, free college tuition and universal healthcare, which are the themes of his campaign; they'll be focusing on two hundred plus years of fairytale American exceptionalism. George and Martha, Cowboys and Indians, John Wayne, the charge up San Juan Hill, apple pie and Chevrolet. The whole nine yards. The GOP will have Bernie Sanders looking like one of Stalin's henchmen from the motherland. And every minute Sanders spends trying to rebuke - er, "educate"- the public will be one less minute he'll have to lay out his proposals to them.

Fait accompli, as they say in France. In tennis, they have another expression: game, set and match. Think I'm being overly pessimistic? Think again. Why do you think Republicans are now saying they'd rather run against Hillary Clinton than Bernie Sanders? The Party that has been pulling shit out of its ass for years is praying Bernie wins the nod. The last thing they want is to run against Hillary. She'd clean their clocks in the general and they know it.

Don't pay attention to the national polls that show Sanders ahead of potential GOP opponents. When you break it down state by state, Clinton is stronger in the all-essential swing states against any Republican than Sanders, especially if the GOP ticket should end up being, say Kasich / Rubio.

Take it from someone who's made a living in sales for twenty years. You don't educate your customers at the cash register. You close them. Period. Political candidates who spend the better part of their campaigns educating the electorate typically don't fare well come election day. Conversely, candidates who keep it simple, prosper at the ballot box. In an election that might well be decided by less than 3 percent in some states, every vote counts. If even one out of twenty potential Sanders' voters has second thoughts when they go into the voting booth, that could turn the whole election.

I've seen all the FDR comparisons and, yes, they called him a socialist too. The difference is, FDR never called himself a socialist. Bernie wears the title like its a badge of courage. Look, when it comes to the issues and integrity, there's no one better than him. In a perfect world, he'd be the ideal choice to lead the nation forward. But this is hardly a perfect world and his opponents are unlikely to give him the platform he needs to make his case to an electorate that, more often than not, lives down to its worst expectations.

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