Many fingernails across the nation were bitten in the past day, but it isn’t clear which Democratic candidate’s supporters found their fingers the bloodiest.
From what we’ve learned, it appears that Hillary Clinton eked past Bernie Sanders by about 0.2% of Iowa’s state delegate equivalents. Barring any re-examination of the results, and the slim possibility of a delegate upset next month, the numbers barely reveal a Clinton victory.
The problem is, while the numbers paint one picture, there’s a far more important picture that the media is working on. Numbers matter, but it’s narrative that most folks will connect with.
On the one hand, you have a duplicitous establishment candidate, who is either loved or despised. On the other, an honest social democrat, who’s largely loved by those who’ve heard of him.
Clinton has the older demographic, particularly women. Sanders has younger folks, women included, and the working class.
And, perhaps what concerns Sanders’ supporters the most, Clinton has the support of minorities at this time, while Sanders has about one-third the amount of support.
But it’s quite early, and likability and demographics may ultimately favor Sanders.
First, while it’s tempting to dismiss younger voters as unreliable, recent elections have demonstrated their historic participation in politics. Indeed the Republican Party’s precariousness can be largely attributed to their fixation on manipulating older folks for their votes. Unfortunately this cannot last forever as older folks die and become replaced by today’s younger folks. If the Democratic establishment were to ignore someone like Sanders, who took over 80% of the youth vote, they will soon find themselves in a similar position.
Second, the likability factor shouldn’t be underestimated. Despite anecdotal observations to the contrary, Clinton’s trustworthiness ratings are abysmal, and even those who purportedly like her often seem to comment upon the rhetorical aspect of her speeches, rather than their substance. This is understandable, as even for political speeches, they’re almost completely meaningless.
She’s not unusual in this. On the contrary, she’s running the ordinary campaign based on personality, while Sanders is running on issues. The trouble is, everyone who could persuade themselves to like her have probably done so already, while Sanders stands to improve on this front as more people become aware of him. Sanders’ issues cause folks to like him, while Clinton’s appeal is inexplicable, perhaps a gift from God.
(A new low point is when Clinton remarked — with something like 10% of precincts still outstanding — on her supposed “sigh of relief” after discovering she had edged past Sanders by 0.2%. Either she’s deluded or a liar. I believe it’s the latter, and I’m sure she’s rightly firing folks over their incompetence.)
Similarly, the supposed gap of minority support between Sanders and Clinton stands to shrink dramatically or even reverse. With both campaigns having been hyper-focused on lily white Iowa, minorities haven’t yet received much attention from either candidate. It seems fair to assume that much of Hillary Clinton’s support may derive from her general celebrity and positive memories of Bill Clinton.
But that advantage is fragile and could shatter once Bernie introduces himself to all sorts of communities that remain ignored by the political establishment generally.
These demographic questions will be part of the picture that the media paints in the coming months. But they’ll be discussed within the context of talking points that have become increasingly untenable.
Perhaps the most dangerous, if irrational, talking point against Sanders is his supposed unelectability. The Iowa results have destroyed this notion beyond recognition. We will be seeing more of Bernie Sanders, and he’ll receive fairer and more equal treatment from the media. He is now “viable”. I haven’t seen anyone disagree with this.
The effects of this alone could be huge.
Then there are the talking points that fuel the misperception that Clinton is some great advocate for equality. As Sanders enters the picture, class issues enter the picture in a profound way, for the first time in recent memory. Hillary will keep talking about how women make less money than men, having no authority to discuss the larger class issues that harm women. In effect, she’ll double-down on a cynical identity politics that’s falling apart at the seams.
Sanders, on the other hand, has the credibility to discuss the gender wage gap, as well as the racial wage gap, and crucially, the wage gap that’s screwed virtually all Americans. Rather than embarking on cynical attempts to divide folks by race or sex, and pit them against one another by appealing to their sensitivity and hyper-defensiveness, more focus will be placed on the wage gap (full stop), and its relation to racial and gender discrimination.
If Sanders’ key talking point is the wage gap (full stop), he can work to unite folks across racial and gender lines.
Poor folks endure most of the brutality surrounding the wage gap. It seems incredibly obvious, but class has been the elephant in the room for a long time, so it’s just ignored. It’s easy for wealthy whites to convince themselves they’re not racists (or sexists), harder to acknowledge their class privilege, which they reflexively assume to follow from their hard work. So, they’ll discuss the problem of education and the lack of opportunities for minorities (and women) — which are important — while ignoring the fact that it’s difficult to study when there’s no food on the table. They will only touch class issues by proxy.
Clinton’s talking point concerning her foreign policy experience is probably her best card. But that’s a pretty peculiar issue upon which to rest her campaign, particularly if she wishes to pivot as a progressive to regain some Sanders-leaning supporters. Plus, experience doesn’t equate to good performance. At best, she’ll have to cast herself as a kind of hawk-dove hybrid. Maybe drop the rhetoric about Iran, and really hammer ISIS. But even then it’s an issue that will appeal more to independents, not the left that she needs to recapture. And a surprising proportion of those independents won’t be voting for such an obvious figure of establishment politics anyway.
It stands to be an interesting year in politics. More fingernails will be bitten. But what happens in 2020 and 2024, when the sort of changes that 2016 foreshadows becomes the new commonsense? We could find ourselves living in a civilization quite soon.