In an Iowa post-mortem, Greg Sargent spoke to several top Democratic campaign operatives about how Bernie Sanders managed to fight Clinton to a virtual tie. Here's one diagnosis:
Her message has tended to focus on solutions and not really reflect back to people the feelings that they have,” Mark Mellman, a veteran Democratic pollster, tells me. “Bernie is reflecting back to people their feelings. She has to do a better job reflecting back to people what they feel and think. Forging an emotional connection is critically important. She’s not always done that very effectively.”I think that's true to a point, but it leaves something out. Sanders doesn't appeal purely to emotion. He establishes a better head-to-heart pipeline than Clinton does. His read on our current situation and how we got there may be oversimplified, but it's coherent and easy to grasp. It's political cognitive therapy: you feel good because you feel you understand what's wrong and what to do about it.
Sanders has a unifying explanation for what's wrong with America: the system is rigged to enable the super-rich to grab a disproportionate and ever growing share of the fruits of our collective labors. His whole laundry list of proposals -- free college, free healthcare, a $15/hr minimum wage -- is funded by either taxing the wealthy or shifting share of corporate profits away from owners and toward workers. Or, in the case of campaign finance, shifting the power to influence elections from the super-wealthy to small donors -- and thus enabling the economic redistribution. Everything Sanders says fits within this framework. There are no loose parts.
Clinton, in her 2008 concession speech, boasted that her campaign had put 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling. That's kind of what her campaign looks like: 18 million whacks at a wall of inequality and economic insecurity. Sander proposes to tear down that wall. Clinton doesn't even fully acknowledge that it's there.
Take a look at the heart of speeches the two delivered last night,when the Iowa caucus results were nearly in. Both were unremarkable, typical. Here's how Sanders introduces his economic program:
What the American people understand is this country was based and is based on fairness. It is not fair when the top 1/10th of 1% today owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%. It is not fair when the 20 wealthiest people in this country own more wealth than the bottom half of America. So you guys ready for a radical idea? Well, so is America. And that radical idea is, we are going to create an economy that works for working families not just the billionaire class.The text of Clinton's speech is not up yet. Here's my transcription of her framing and presentation of her core proposals:
And when millions of our people are working for starvation wages, we are going to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. And, yes, we are going to have pay equity for women. I've been all over this state of Iowa: We have spoken to some 70,000 people, and in meeting after meeting, I hear people standing up and, they say: 'Bernie, I went to college. I graduated college — now I am 60, 80, 90 thousand dollars in debt. That is crazy. That is crazy. They want to get a decent education; they should not be punished.
That is why I believe in the year 2016, public colleges and universities should be tuition free. And then my critics say, well, Bernie, that's a great idea, all this free stuff, how are you going to pay for it? I will tell you how we will pay for it, we are going to impose a tax on Wall Street speculation. The greed, the recklessness and the illegal behavior of Wall Street drove this economy to its knees. The American people bailed out Wall Street, now it's Wall Street's time to help the middle class...
I am a progressive who gets things done for people. I am honored to stand in the long line of American reformers who make up our minds that the status quo is not good enough, that standing still is not an option, and that brings people together to find ways forward that will improve the lives of Americans. I look back over the years of my involvement from that very first job I had at the Children's Defense Fund, and I know what we are capable of doing.And how do we do all that?...
I know we can create more good-paying jobs and raise incomes for hard-working Americans again; I know that we can finish the job of universal healthcare coverage for every single man, woman and child. I know we can combat climate change and be the clean energy superpower of the 21st century. I know we can make our education system work for every one of our children, especially those who come with disadvantages. I know we can make college affordable and get student debt off the backs of young people. And I know we can protect our rights -- women's rights, gay rights, voting rights, immigrants' rights, workers' rights. I know too we can stand up to the gun lobby and get common sense gun safety measures.
Sanders' answer: by taxing the wealthy and reforming campaign finance law so that ordinary Americans are not duped into supporting efforts to block those goals and measures. Back to Clinton:
We do that by securing the nomination, and then we do it by winning and going into that White House, as others before have, determined to push forward on the great goals and values that unite us as Americans.There's an implicit trust here that those "great goals and values" are intact and shared, so much so that they don't even have to be articulated. The system ain't broke; she'll tweak it.
Clinton's coda? More boilerplate:
So as I stand here tonight, breathing a big sigh of relief, I want you to know I will keep doing what I've done my entire life. [note.: your "entire life" is not an open book to young voters.] I will keep standing up for you, I will keep fighting for you I will always work to achieve the America that I believe in, where the promise of that dream that we hold out to our children and our grandchildren never fades, but inspires generations to come. join me, let's go win the nomination -- thank you all, and God bless you.For the young voters whom Clinton is having trouble inspiring, that has to be eye-rolling stuff. She might as well have recited the pledge of allegiance,
Obama, in 2007-8, always appealed to that dream Clinton evokes, but he took pains to define it first, in a very stylized and idealized portrayal of American history, In Obama's telling, America, at key flashpoints in its history, recommitted itself to investing in shared prosperity and to extending equal rights and opportunity to ever-expanding circles of the previously excluded. Like Sanders, he suggested that the country had fallen off-track in recent decades, and that the dream was "slipping away," though he never evoked the kind of total bankruptcy and betrayal of the middle class that Sanders asserts. He always put his particular economic proposals in the framework of restoring that commitment to shared prosperity and reinvigorating opportunity for those whom macro-economic forces and Republican polices had left behind. In more recent years, while he's somewhat more diffuse than Elizabeth Warren and Sanders in laying out the causes and effects of income inequality, he does lay them out in detail and put them on an historical timeline before proposing solutions. Clinton doesn't do this well, even in longer, more formal set-pieces.
Clinton's proposals micro-target particular problems, That's fine, but the organizing principle is missing. When she swings her fist, she too often seems to be conducting an orchestra that's not there.
Hillary's short history of inequality is too short
Obama and Warren: A contrast in rhetorical styles
Obama's seductive love for America