Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Problem With Authenticity


In the end it shouldn't have surprised anyone that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders scored convincing wins in New Hampshire. In the year of the outsider, both men have galvanized their respective party's bases like no other in recent memory. They say what's on their mind and apologize to no one for it. More than anything else, it's their authenticity that attracts voters to them.

But it's their very authenticity that could prove to be their undoing should either of them win the presidency. Let's face it, no one actually believes Donald Trump is going to build a wall on the U.S. -Mexican border and he certainly isn't going to round up eleven million people and deport them. Bernie Sanders, likewise, will never get his Medicare for all program through Congress, not to mention raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. I don't care how many people he gets to stand outside Mitch McConnell's office. It'll never happen. I'd have a better chance at landing a photo shoot for G.Q.

Over the last few weeks I have been reading quite a few posts from progressives on Facebook and quite frankly some of them have been so over the top I'm starting to get a little concerned about November. I realize Hillary Clinton isn't the ideal candidate. To be honest, I was kinda hoping Elizabeth Warren would've jumped into the race. But she didn't, so the choice is between Hillary and Bernie.

For the record, I don't dislike Sanders. In fact, philosophically, I'm more in tune with his proposals than Clinton's. And I'll give him this much: if he isn't in the race, there's no way Hillary moves as far to the left as she has. She's like her husband and, let's not mince words here, Bill was no progressive. He still isn't, no matter what the wingnuts on the Right say about him.

But history doesn't lie. Before Bill, the Democrats were getting their butts kicked in every presidential election, save one, since 1968. And let's face it: if not for Watergate, there's no way Jimmy Carter would've won in '76. The Clintons, like it or not, saved the Party from electoral ruin. Now the tide has turned. After their resounding defeat in '88, the Democrats have won the popular vote in every presidential election since '92, with the exception of 2004. That is no accident. While it may be a tough pill for progressives to swallow, their candidates don't tend to do well at the ballot box. In fact, the last successful true progressive president was FDR. And Bernie is NO FDR, despite his supporters assertions. Lyndon Johnson might've gone down as a great progressive had he not escalated the Vietnam War.

The fact is when I look at Trump and Sanders, what strikes me most is that both men owe their success to a failed and bankrupt political system that has been slowly rotting for decades. As voter disgust grew, the establishment candidates were seen as part of the problem. There was a strong yearning for a fresh face that wasn't corrupted and, more importantly, couldn't be bought. They are opposite sides of the same coin.

I've written at great length about the upheaval that occurred within the GOP which led to the Tea Party wave of 2010, but simmering underneath and in the background was the growing unrest within the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Bernie Sanders has tapped into that unrest brilliantly. Not since the days of Bobby Kennedy have we seen anything like this. Barack Obama was supposed to be the transformational president the Left had been waiting for. He turned out to be more like Bobby's brother, John: practical, pragmatic, left of center, but hardly a true believer. Small wonder many progressives feel betrayed by him.

Not only is Sanders their darling, he's redefining how campaigns should be run. With no Super PAC and most of his donations under $100, Sanders has managed to out raise Hillary Clinton over the last few months. Indeed, in just the first 48 hours following Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, his campaign raised over $7 million. While Clinton is still the prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic nomination, her once formidable lead is dwindling fast.

As for Trump, well, he's his own Super PAC. The man could fund the entire U.S. defense budget without blinking an eye. His message is simple: they can't buy me, I don't need their money. This has given him permission to pretty much do and say anything he wants. The more outlandish his comments, the more his popularity soars. He's vulgar, vain, xenophobic, racist, sexist, you name it. He's also ahead in all of the polls. As it stands now, the Republican nomination is his to lose.

But getting back to this authenticity issue. If we take Sanders and Trump at their word that both will not succumb to the politics as usual mentality that has gripped Washington, we are indeed in deep shit. Because a President Donald Trump or a President Bernie Sanders is the last thing this country needs.

Contrary to what both political flanks believe, the major problem with this country has very little to do with a lack of principles. It does have everything to do with a failure to reach consensus and work together. For most of the last seven years Washington has been stuck in neutral. The paralysis that has gripped the federal government is unprecedented in the nation's history. Electing a president like Sanders or Trump would only exacerbate an already volatile situation.

Trump boasts that he is a deal maker and he knows how to negotiate. Good luck with this bunch, Donald. This is a government that was minutes away from defaulting on the debt. What's more likely is that his abrasive personality will only inflame his critics and alienate even his allies. Unlike reality TV shows where he gets to fire people he doesn't like, Trump will find Congress to be his biggest challenge and most adversarial nemesis. Unless he is willing to check his ego at the door - very unlikely - I suspect that his administration would be a disaster for the country.

Sanders has an altogether different problem. Many within the Democratic Party don't trust him, and some flat out don't like him. They view his refusal to aline himself with the Party as a slap in the face. It's one thing to caucus with a Party; it's quite another to join it. Sanders will have to do some heavy lifting to make amends to Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi if he expects to get their support. And then there are the Republicans in both chambers. At best, Sanders will have 51 or 52 seats in the Senate to work with, and that's assuming he has a coattail effect, which many doubt he will. And barring a miracle this November, Paul Ryan will still be Speaker of the House in 2017, which means the gridlock that has come to define this government will continue for at least another four years under his administration.

See the problem here? Neither Trump nor Sanders is best suited to roll up their sleeves and compromise to get things done. Both see it as a betrayal of what they stand for and what they have promised their supporters they would not do. I submit that of the two, Sanders might have the more difficult time, since just about every one of his proposals would be DOA. Really, can you see Bernie in a room with Ryan and McConnell negotiating a budget deal? Sanders wants to start a revolution; he's going to need one if he expects to get anything done.

I don't mind principles. Frankly we could use all we can get. But principles only get you so far. If we've learned anything from the Tea Party, it's that a single-minded fixation on a core set of principles can blind people to reality. The truth is no one gets everything they want. Life demands we give a little to get a little. Whether in business or in politics, our ability to grasp this simple truth determines whether we succeed or fail.

The two best nominees to lead their respective parties are Hillary Clinton and John Kasich. As I mentioned earlier, Clinton is still the prohibitive favorite to win the nod for the Democrats. Kasich is a long shot at best. I can't speak to their authenticity, nor do I care to. But both would be worthy opponents and make, I suspect, better presidential material than either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders.

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