by Jordan Green
From this distant vantage point, it appears that when all the stupendous sums of money have been spent on the 2016 presidential contest and the empty theater has played out, the Democratic nominee will squeak through the contest.
The math is simple: Since the “compassionate conservatism” of President George W. Bush floundered roughly 10 years ago, the Republican Party has been unable to get past a politics of subtraction. Vicious attacks against President Obama sabotage any ability they might have to gain traction with black voters. Stoking anger at undocumented immigrants and stonewalling reform alienates Latinos, and opposition to gay marriage stymies their efforts to engage young voters. Constant efforts to curtail access to abortion can only hurt their chances to appeal to women.
While African Americans and young people may be inconsistent voters, the one time they reliably turn out is a presidential election year. The incessant scapegoating and demonization practiced by the Republican base might actually be the best thing that has happened to the Democrats; it makes a party without a coherent ideology that has been cobbled together from varied constituencies actually feel like a political home for the majority of the electorate.
It will be a bitter outcome, with a 51-49 decision. This is not an election like 2008 when an idealistic, Obama-style candidate comes from the outside, transcends old divisions and captures the imagination of the electorate. And the ultimate victor will emerge from the smoke and dust without a mandate and without any crossover appeal because the election will be narrowly won by shrill appeals to the base.
The scorched-earth politics of the tea party beginning in 2009 have pretty much wiped any common ground off the political map. And while the left is energized by recent victories on LGBT rights, on many other fronts — income inequality, racial justice and climate change among them — the progressive agenda has stalled out, in part because of the leadership’s efforts to placate the right and in part because they don’t really seem to know what they believe in.
The unavoidable math of the general election — there will be no synthesis of vision or effort to co-opt the other side, only a brutal, all-out war to the finish — makes the primary all the more discordant. There is rising discontent on both the left and the right.
While Donald Trump’s ratings with likely Republican voters rise with each incendiary outburst against Mexican immigrants and John McCain, and his more experienced opponents are reduced to performing cheap stunts in a desperate bid for media exposure, the Democratic base is also showing dangerous signs of fraying.
There’s only one candidate in the Democratic primary who has remained unsoiled by the torrent of corporate money sloshing into the political process and who can speak credibly about addressing the rapidly expanding wealth gap in the United States. And despite Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ recent incorporation of the Black Lives Matter message into his stump speech, his obtuse insistence on pivoting back to economic matters during his disastrous appearance at the Netroots Nation conference two weeks ago in Arizona might have permanently alienated black voters.
Martin O’Malley, who has staked his campaign on the issue of poverty, likewise fumbled during the conference, minimizing the distinct ways in which black lives are devalued by saying, “Every life matters and that is why this issue is important. Black lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter.”
The one person in the party who speaks credibly to the Black Lives Matter movement at the moment, ironically, is Barack Obama, who spent the first six years of his presidency running away from the issue of race. Obama’s forthright deconstruction of mass incarceration at the national NAACP conference in Philadelphia, his decision to commute the sentences of dozens of people incarcerated for low-level drug offenses and his order to federal prosecutors to place less emphasis on mandatory minimums indicates that he fundamentally understands the dysfunction of the criminal justice system.
With the vacuum of credible leadership among the candidates in the Democratic primary, some of the Black Lives Matter movement’s support is defaulting to Hillary Clinton, who stumbled herself on the phrase “all lives matter” during a speech in Florissant, Mo. in June.
As the Democrats’ “inevitable” nominee, Clinton embodies the artifice of national politics in which carefully rehearsed showbiz personalities are constructed in the breach between real lives where people scrape by with difficult, low-paying jobs, poor schools and inadequate healthcare; and the crude realities of how power is transacted in Washington.
Clinton’s subterfuge in shifting her State Department emails to a private server for eventual disposal, while protesting that the controversy was contrived, and her icy disdain for the press reveal someone who scorns the people she hopes to serve. Her presence on the Washington scene during her husband’s administration when mass incarceration ramped up, welfare ended and banking regulations were relaxed make her recent expressions of concern about racial justice and income inequality seem hollow.
No wonder the Democrats are still looking for a candidate they can believe in.