MY THEORY on politics is simple.
Since the first vote was cast in Ancient Greece at the dawn of democracy, down through to the present day, people have voted for one or both of these two reasons, and these two reasons only:
1. Emotional attachment.
2. Perceived shared cultural values and fears.
That’s it. You may think you’re voting for someone just because you agree with their policies or because you’re in the same party. But if you do that’s tangential to items 1 and/or 2 above.
Ronald Reagan’s fabled appeal to disaffected blue-collar Democrats in the ‘80s is a perfect example. They perceived Reagan as sharing their cultural values and fears despite the fact that many of his policies decimated working class interests.
Perceived shared cultural values explain why a wealthy son of American aristocracy like George W. Bush perhaps oddly was seen as the common man’s president (see also Roosevelt, Franklin D.).
Donald Trump’s appeal to his followers has nothing to do with policy nor with party, as he has enumerated almost no policy to speak of and the Republican establishment actively loathes him. His candidacy is clearly driven by dogwhistles to perceived shared cultural fears.
Mitt Romney’s defeat in 2012 is explainable in part because no one was excited by his candidacy and very, very few voters perceived that he shared any cultural values with them whatsoever.
Richard Nixon? Absolutely zero emotional attachment to that very unlikable man, but a metric crap ton of perceived shared cultural fears.
We could go on and on with this (and if you give me half a chance I will).
A good modern example is Hillary Clinton now being bashed by some critics as a “Wall Street shill” for supporting Obamacare, while Barack Obama is lionized by many of the same people for.... supporting Obamacare.
It doesn’t make sense. But emotional attachment rarely does.
There’s surely plenty of sexism involved with opposition to Hillary. But some opposition is also because in 40 years of public life she simply has never inspired emotional attachment in people the way Obama did, and Bernie Sanders now does.
I write this the same day as the Iowa caucuses. The most recent polling as of this minute shows a late surge for Sanders in his bid for the Democratic nomination.
(UPDATE: Sanders and Clinton essentially tied for delegates, with allegations of shenanigans on the part of the Clinton camp. Turnout was second highest in Iowa Caucus history, second only to 2008.)
We found out some time back that anything Bernie-related is a huge hit with the Connect Savannah readership. Sanders’s recent visit to town surpassed all expectations, both in terms of attendance and in page views for anything associated with it.
For many of our younger readers, this may be the first or second time they’ve been involved with any kind of political campaign, or even the first or second time they will vote at all (the first time likely being for Obama).
But for those of us a wee bit older, today’s Hillary vs. Bernie primary war carries an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu.
The 2008 primary battle between Clinton and Obama was one of the more formative times of my life as a political reporter as well as a citizen.
It taught me hard lessons about looking behind the veneer, about seeing people as they are instead of as they claim to be.
It taught me firsthand about the essential truth of my theory stated above.
At the time, eight years ago, I identified as a Clinton supporter (much less so now, for various reasons). That put me at odds with the bulk of more liberal-minded young voters under 30 or so at the time.
In those ancient times, kids, there were these things called “blogs.” Remember? Sounds like flint tools and smoke signals.
Seems like 1000 years ago, but with social media still in its comparative infancy, most political debate was driven by blogs rather than Facebook memes.
I noticed early on how quickly the conversation on so-called “progressive” blogs became not just ugly, but pretty much as misogynistic as one could imagine.
Clinton was called bitch, whore, witch, hag... and of course, the “c” word, the one that rhymes with “punt.”
Often, and loudly, in post after post and comment after comment.
This wasn’t from Republicans, nor from the lunatic fringe. This was from fellow “liberals,” on the most highly-trafficked sites on the internet.
In all candor, after wading into that cesspool eight years ago, I never again viewed the word “progressive” with quite the same rose-colored glasses.
I saw that politics, right or left, often has almost nothing to do with policy. It’s like taking the red pill in the Matrix; once you swallow it you never see things the same way again.
Now, we all certainly know that just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean you’re bound to support Hillary Clinton.
Indeed, most younger women supported Obama in ’08 and ‘12, as they do Sanders in ‘16, because they feel an emotional attachment they could never drum up for Hillary.
The odd thing looking back is we all seem to have overemphasized the generational divide between Clinton and Obama supporters.
Obama is one of the youngest presidents America has had. But many of Obama’s younger supporters seem to have no issue also supporting Sanders, who if elected will be one of our oldest presidents.
We see again that efforts to put people into checkboxes based on gender, race, age etc. usually fail in the face of my two-point theory.
So is all this a roundabout way of saying I’m backing Clinton again this time? Nope.
There seems to be plenty enough reason not to vote for her without the ever-present cancer of misogyny ever making an appearance; for example her brazen flip-flopping on issue after issue.
The cold hard truth is there are only two candidates on either side right now who fit into my two-point theory: Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
Whomever you might support, if it does come down to a battle between those two men in November, at least you’ll know you have a clear choice.
Which in the end is really all voters can reasonably ask for.