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Posts published in “Day: January 25, 2016”


This is from the Bernie Sanders campaign, but the key part isn't Sanders (though the camera stays on him). He asks what it's like to live on $12,000 a year - and he gets some answers.

Sticks and stones


The predictions of everyone claiming any expertise were unanimous that Bernie Sanders would never be a viable Presidential candidate because as soon as the fact that he is a socialist sinks in, his standing in the polls will plummet into oblivion. Trump, to accelerate this expectation, has been referring to the senator not only as a socialist but also as a communist.

All were wrong, obviously. Sanders’ numbers have continue to improve. The revelation of Sanders’ economic philosophy, even with Trump’s help, is having little effect. The outcome is far from certain, but the senator from Vermont who proclaims himself to be a democratic socialist is clearly a viable candidate. What happened here? How did the predictors miss the mark by so much? As is readily apparent, the labels of socialism, or even communism, no longer appear to strike fear in the heart of the mainstream voter. The increasing reaction to such labels is a mild shrug and casual “meh!” A brief look at history reveals what has probably happened.

Everyone of age at after the end of World War II, and continuing into the 1980s, lived in the shadow of the former Soviet Union, the bastion of what was called international communism and the dedicated enemy of the free world. Although Joseph Stalin had been an ally by necessity in the war, he was considered by the western powers only slightly preferable to Adolf Hitler. After Germany surrendered, Winston Churchill even advocated that the western allies preemptively invade Russia to depose Stalin for good. Instead, a Cold War resulted that lasted for close to 40 years. One brutal Soviet dictator followed another as our nation endured Korea and then Viet Nam, all the while believing we were at risk for immediate nuclear annihilation. Because of the dreadful circumstances of all of this, the term “communist” with all its variations, and to some extent the term “socialist” with all its variations, acquired the same pejorative connotation as the term “Nazi” had earned during the war.

It used to be that to call someone a “communist” anywhere, or a “socialist” in those regions which did not carefully distinguish the meaning of such terms, was to accuse the individual of treachery, high treason, incitement to overthrow the government, conspiracy to murder and perhaps grand theft – all rolled into one word. Even though the actual meaning of the words pertain to benign economic theories, and even though the economic theories were of no relevance to the cruelty of the totalitarian Soviet regime, nevertheless the words became powerful insults capable, often unfairly, of wrecking the reputations and destroying the dreams of many. Branding anyone as such, and making it stick, was considered the ultimate disenfranchisement one could impose upon a political opponent.

Time passed. Suddenly, in the mid-1980s, the Evil Empire crumbled and the Cold War ended. The fear of mutual nuclear annihilation dissipated. As one generation passed on to be replaced by another, the electorate began to fill up with voters who came of age after the Cold War ended. With the imperialistic Soviet Union no longer, and the fear of nuclear attack evaporating, the provocative nuances of the terms “communist” and “socialist” began to dissipate. Furthermore, the United States economy, which had been edging away from capitalism since the beginning of the century, had, in the post-war years, turned into a true amalgam of socialistic and capitalistic mechanisms. The distinctions between democratic socialism and regulated capitalism became differences being of degree in application rather than of philosophy.

With this background in mind, we come to the present day. For the first time, with the elections of 2016, a majority of the electorate will belong to generations born after 1960 and coming of age after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. To these individuals, the attempts by Trump and others to slur Sanders by reference to his economic philosophy provoke only blank stares. The pejorative connotations of calling one a “socialist,” or even a “communist,” simply no longer apply. If anyone is curious, and looks the terms up, all that will be found are the definitions of benign utopian philosophies.

Today, anyone in the category of a grandson listening to his sage grandfather try to explain socialism as a disabling factor in modern politics would simply roll their eyes.

The times they are a changing.

First take/early indicator

A week away from the Iowa caucuses, a lot of people other than presidential candidates are wondering what effect the presidential race may have on races down below.

That's true in both parties, where discussion about exactly that topic has ramped up as talk of which candidate will do their party the most good, or harm, roars on.

Here's a report in the Daily Kos site about a race in Alabama that may suggest an early indicator of things to come. - rs

Over at the National Journal, Kimberly Railey profiles a March 1 GOP primary we haven't talked much about. In this solidly Republican Montgomery-area seat, third-term Rep. Martha Roby faces an intra-party challenge from Becky Gerritson, who heads a local tea party group.

On the surface, it doesn't look like there's much to see here. Unlike Eric Cantor, the tea party's most famous primary victim, Roby actually appears to be taking her race seriously. The incumbent raised a solid $310,000 over the last quarter of 2015, and she holds $884,000 on hand. While Gerritson brought in a non-trivial $105,000, she burned through most of it and only has $31,000 in the bank. And while a few minor tea party-friendly groups have endorsed Gerritson, major organizations like the Club For Growth haven't gotten involved yet. It's very hard to beat a scandal-free incumbent in a primary, and Gerritson just doesn't look like she has what it takes to defeat Roby.

However, there's another level to this race that could make things a bit more interesting than it seems. Alabama is one several states that will hold its downballot primary on the same day as its presidential primary. Normally, incumbents like Roby benefit from this arrangement. Presidential contests tend to draw out more casual voters who don't care much about the other races on the ballot, and will often just select the incumbent because it's the name they recognize.

But as Roll Call's Eli Yokley recently noted, there's a good chance that Ted Cruz and Donald Trump will turn out voters who utterly despise the GOP establishment and will lash out at their incumbents. Cruz and Trump should do well especially in Deep Southern states like Alabama: In 2012, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich took a combined 64 percent of the vote, while Mitt Romney only won 29 percent.

Still, in the words of Dr. Horrible, sometimes there's a third, even deeper level, and that one is the same as the top surface one. Even in this caffeinated age, most tea party candidates still fail to unseat establishment Republicans, especially without any major outside help. While ultra-conservatives across the country will try to replicate Dave Brat's victory over Cantor, Cantor was the only congressional Republican to lose renomination to a tea partier last cycle. Most Republicans have learned to take their primaries seriously, and they're often very good about portraying themselves as solid conservatives who are fighting the good fight against liberals.

Ultimately, it's very difficult to see Gerritson prevailing on March 1, at least without help from well-funded groups like the Club for Growth. But this contest is worth keeping an eye on just in case. Roby is a bit of a canary in a coal mine: If she wins without much trouble, it'll be a good indication that the crazy presidential primary isn't about to cost GOP incumbents renomination. But if Roby has an unexpectedly tough time or even loses, a lot of Republican congressmen are going to get nervous very fast.