Saturday, February 13, 2016

Scalia Is Dead: Brother Can You Spare a Dime?

The death of Supreme Court Justice Scalia makes vivid how important winning the presidency is for the future of our country and the world. Our survival is at stake! By a 5-4 vote last week, the Court blocked Obama's controls on carbon emissions from coal-fired plants, the chief villains in global warming. Now the GOP-controlled Senate plans to block Obama's appointment of a successor to Scalia. They are counting on winning the presidency in the fall and having Scalia's replacement be appointed by a Republican president.The head of the GOP Senate is from a coal state.

It's time the media got serious about the presidential race. I'm dismayed at how "lost in the weeds" the media are about this election. Always longing for a simple dramatic narrative, the media are now plumping a story of how Hillary Clinton can win black & Latino voters in Nevada and South Carolina and thereby negate Bernie Sanders' strong performance in the New Hampshire Democratic primary. Yes, those two states are steps on the way to the nomination, but it's not who can win these states that matters.  It's who can win nationally in the fall. That's the question that matters! That's how voters should decide the winner in Nevada, South Carolina and the other upcoming states.

Don't the media "experts" ever look at the basic arithmetic? So far the only group Hillary Clinton's won in actual voting, i.e. in New Hampshire, is rich old white women. Instead of babbling on about "how can Sanders woo minorities from Clinton"—as if minority people can't figure out whom to vote for—the talking heads should be wondering how, with her appeal so narrow,  Hillary can have even a hope of beating a Republican in the fall.

Let's get real. Political campaigns begin and end with numbers. People (and the news media) may find numbers a bit boring, but they are the be-all and end-all of elections.

Here's just one number. A staggering 76% of men say they don't like Hillary Clinton. Men are half the population! Are Democrats going to nominate a general election candidate who is disliked by three-fourths of half the people?  I'm not going to bore you with the arithmetic, but if you assume that male dislike is coming from GOP men, that's only about 15% of the male population. Therefore another 60% of men, who are NOT registered Republicans, also don't like Hillary Clinton. Since she lost among registered Democrats in New Hampshire but won the rich old women vote, it's apparent there are indeed Democratic men who dislike Hillary Clinton. Lots of them! Democrats can't win the general election without some of these men who identify as not liking Hillary Clinton. The Democrats have to have a candidate, male or female, that men can like. Since Hillary is also doing poorly with most women, obviously men don't dislike her just because she's a woman.

So if men don't dislke her becaus she's a woman, does the dislike have something to do with her husband?  And possibly his trade agreement, the infamous North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)? No one has asked the men so we don't know.

So let's ask something else.  Do they like Bernie Sanders? Apparently they like him better than they like Barack Obama. Obama fell way short of winning blue-collar men in the '08 primaries against Hillary. I suspect it's because he is an African American. Sadly, racism is real in this country, and studies show it's more prevalent among lower income, less-educated people. I'm not a snob. I come from a working class union household and worked my way through college wrapping cheese.  I also grew up in working class neighborhoods. I know what I heard and saw. This prejudice explains to me why Democratic registration fell by 4 points with Obama as president and why his approval ratings stay below 50% even though he has had a remarkably successful presidency against tough odds.

But, whatever the reason they went away, the blue-collar guys are now coming back to the Democratic party. Beginning in Iowa — and even in the polls before that — Sanders is winning these men back to voting Democratic.  And it isn't entirely because he's white. Something else is going on. This same male demographic is the one that startled the medical community last year by being virtually the only population segment in the world for which longevity is going down! These men are committing virtual suicide with alcohol and drugs as well as actual suicide.  At first it was believed this was a phenomenon of middle-aged men, but now the same trend has been identified in younger men.

Why? Because their jobs are gone. And the women don't need them as breadwinners any more.  These men are confused, lost and desperate. More than anything else, they are angry. I lived for 25 years among them in Central Pennsylvania in a county and region with income levels now the same as the poorest areas of Mississippi. There had once been 35,000 jobs in just the railroad yards of Altoona. There had also been coal mining, steel, manufacturing, timbering. All good well-paid, secure, union jobs. "Remember me," one forty-year-old said to me twenty years ago,"I'm the last coal miner you'll ever meet." They listened to the siren call of Nixon and Reagan's coded racism, voted against their own best interests, and killed their own jobs and communities. The only time they've voted for a Democrat in the 40 years since was Bill Clinton, and he gave them NAFTA. Turns out that NAFTA was the shafta! Jobs left this country for Mexico. I watched them go from my area.

The blue-collar men know they have been shafted. They also know about the big banks and the economic collapse. No one has to explain to them that they are now down and out while big corporations pay low wages and the profits go entirely to the one per cent. With off-shore "headquarters" and other tax dodges, the corporations and the rich pay only a pittance of taxes.

But here comes Bernie Sanders and he says, "This is wrong. And I want to change it."

The old-time unionist in me says, "Right on, brother!" The working class men are saying the same thing.

America's brand of capitalism was roaring along at its best after World War II when the premise was that labor would share in the profits. Wages were good. Benefits were good. People had security. And the rich paid a fair share of taxes so that roads were not crumbling, bridges were safe, and people had enough money in their pockets to keep the economy going. And get this: PUBLIC COLLEGES WERE FREE!

There's nothing radical about these ideas. For almost 40 years it all worked fine. I saw it first-hand. Even though the despairing men of our out-of-work working-class didn't see it first-hand, their fathers did. Their sons and grandsons know how things once were and what's happened since.

I think of those men of Central Pennsylvania and I am reminded of a Bing Crosby song of long ago when desperate men in the Great Depression lined up for bread and soup. Nobody is singing a song for the guys of today, so I will. I can't overlook the racism that led them on the Nixon/ Reagan path to their own destruction, but anybody as down and out as they now are deserves at least a song:

"Once I built a railroad, I made it run
Made it race against time
Once I built a railroad, now it's done
Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once I built a tower up to the sun
Brick and rivet and lime
Once I built a tower, now it's done
Brother, can you spare a dime?"
Come home, my sad brothers. You've paid a terrible price for your mistakes. Let's make things better again. Enough is enough! Let's take our country back. Come on home to the party of FDR and the New Deal. Happy days can be here again.

P.S. By coincidence, a few days after I posted this, Bill Curry of Salon wrote an excellent piece also saying that Bernie Sanders is the FDR Democratic party coming home. He also analyzes what's wrong with Hillary Clinton as a candidate and prospective president. His is the best piece of writing I've seen in this campaign season. Be sure to read it at The Clintons Really Don't Get It.
Note: You can hear Bing Crosby sing the song at
50+ videos Play all Play now Mix - Bing Crosby - Brother Can You Spare A Dime? 1932YouTube

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