While doing some reading Monday morning a thought struck me. Was 2016 really an issues free campaign or did malarkey triumph over substance? (I wonder how many venial sins Joe Biden has saved me from committing.) Let’s explore.
I am certainly among those who were disappointed that sizzle won over steak. Donald Trump talked absolute insanity more often than not while Hillary Clinton tried to get into policy. It is also worth noting that Bernie Sanders absolutely talked about policy; in fact he talked about precious little else.
The for-profit media is the leader in legitimate American news. My readership (which I very much appreciate!) is a rounding error to them. They gave Trump disproportionate coverage because he was a carnival show. You never quite knew what was going to come out of his mouth and when it was going to happen. Viewers, clicks and readers were the reward gained from extensive coverage. While politically to the left of the 2015-2016 version of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton was very guarded in how she conducted herself. Her big faux pas was the “Deplorables” remark. How does that stack up with any number of Trump’s utterances?
Despite the fact that I was an early Hillary endorser I heard Sanders speak live and enjoyed it. That was in Raleigh, North Carolina before either had formally declared. Sanders’ speech was accurate and substantive. However it was the same basic speech he gave throughout his entire campaign. No surprises equaled no live or extended coverage. He had the best ideas and was the most honest candidate but he didn’t translate into great ratings.
“It’s the economy, stupid” was the battle cry of Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign. It made political strategist James Carville a wealthy and internationally famous man. In times of peace American voters want good-paying jobs more than anything else. They will vote for the candidate they think will deliver said jobs. In 2016 we found out that just enough voters are bigger on the promise than they are on the details or believability of the plan to deliver them.
Trump made his claim of making America great again by bringing the jobs back. He rarely got into any specifics of how he was going to do that. On the rare occasions that he did his statements were brief, mainly rhetorical and didn’t make economic sense. That didn’t matter to those who were desperate and felt they had been screwed by the system. They heard what they wanted to hear. Desperate and frightened as they were that was enough.
Clinton had much more specific policies but they didn’t fit into a thirty second (or shorter) sound bite. In order to view her policies you had to go to her website. How many Americans spent any appreciable time on either major candidate’s websites? Sanders actually laid out his policies in reasonably great detail as part of his speeches. Perhaps that is a large reason that he resonated with nerds (yes I fit in that category) and young (mostly first time) voters.
Later in this series I will expand on the jobs/economic point. For the moment I’d like to leave you with the thought that progressives are going to have to succinctly communicate to the masses that they are going to help them get the jobs they want and need in order to support their families and live with dignity. The difference is that progressives will have a plan that actually works, not a bunch of malarkey and lies.
2016 had an issue. Democrats just didn’t communicate their superior position effectively. That is a challenge but one that must be successfully overcome if Democrats are to win on the national level and retake Congress. The Republicans won the “battle’ in 2016; for the sake of America the Democrats must find a way to win the “war”!
This article is part of a series dealing with the path forward for progressives to start winning at the polls again.
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