What happened last night in Iowa was interesting and historic. For the first time in history, a woman has won the Iowa Caucus.
That win is somewhat muted by the strong showing by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who some say could transform Democratic politics.
I think its a little early to call that, but it was a close contest.
One of the most interesting stories about this campaign is that a septuagenarian is igniting a base of young voters while Clinton, the front runner despite the close contest, is relying on more seasoned voters (I won’t say older because I’m becoming one of those ‘older’ voters).
And because these two groups are different in many ways, and have experienced the world differently, there’s friction. But this is as it always has, and always will be.
Establishment vs. Activist
For as long as I’ve been active in politics (either observing or working with groups) there have been two factions of the Democratic Party: “establishment class” and the “activist class” (you could say the same thing about the GOP, but I’m not talking about them).
The establishment class is made up of people who, quite honestly, look more like me today. They’re older. They’ve been involved longer, and they have scars to prove it. Some of those scars run deep. When you poke those scars, they hurt, and can cause some snippyness.
The activist class is usually younger. What they lack in experience, they make up for in enthusiasm and passion. They may be focused on a single issue, or they may be generalists, like I was. They’re looking for certainty in a world that rarely delivers. Threatening that certainty can cause a lot of that passion to take a dark turn.
While its not true in every case, in most cases, these two groups are either the past or the future of each other. The establishment class likely once had that youthful enthusiasm of the activist class. The activist class will eventually become the establishment…a group who will then be railed against as ‘uninspiring’ or ‘sell outs’ by their children and grandchildren.
They are, whether they like it or not, variants of each other, trapped in parallel universes, separated by time.
The Healthy Debate
Since 2008 I have advocated for robust primary challenges at all levels of government. I believe that in order for elected officials to prove their worth they must have a worthy opponent to question them. And then if the voters decide they are unworthy, the voters don’t have to make a Faustian bargain come November.
At the same time, I recognize that election contests of all kinds can be nasty. People have an emotional attachment to their preferred candidate, and that emotion can spill over into personal attacks against people who, in other circumstances, would be on their side.
I’ve engaged in those attacks before, in my younger life. And while there’s no question there is a value to drawing distinctions between candidates, making it personal isn’t a good thing. It isn’t healthy. Whoever wins the nomination will need all of us in November. And while I’m not calling on people to be ‘pragmatic’ now, I hope that cooler heads will prevail by then.
Politics is about engagement and relationships. Sides can flip on a dime. You will find that your enemy today may be your ally tomorrow. Its important not to damage that relationship so badly that you find yourself without that ally. Because I can tell you from first hand experience, its very cold once you’ve crossed the line.
Its also important to not use the opposition’s lines (i.e. GOP talking points) against your opponent. We’ll get enough of that after the nomination is done. If its Sanders, it will be that he’s a Socialist. If its Clinton, it will be one of 1000 red herrings or tin foil hat theories the GOP has cooked up since the 90’s.
Keep it about the issues. Respect opposing views the way you expect your views to be respected. This isn’t Highlander, the loser doesn’t have to die, or be mortally wounded.
Be Proud of What’s Happening Here
I was born 2 years before Nixon resigned. My formative years were spent in the Reagan era, filled with fears of Russian nuclear war, and a ton of economic policies that set up the gutting of the American middle class.
Now, nearly 36 years since Reagan’s 1980 victory, and the ugliness of the Southern Strategy that helped bring us to where we are today, we have a candidate in Hillary Clinton, who spent many of those same years as First Lady of Arkansas, advocating for children and women, who were more often than not, the victims of those destructive policies…. policies that continue to this day. She bears the scars of that fight, way back when. That record is why older voters like her. They remember how she fought, and believe that she will fight that way again.
On the other side, we have a candidate in Bernie Sanders who wants to change the way things work. Sanders is not content to allow things to be the way we remember them always being. Sanders has been fighting too. He fought his way into office in Burlington, VT, and he’s been fighting ever since. Fighting that conventional wisdom. Fighting lowered expectations.
There are contrasts between the two. There’s no question about it. There are differences in policy, for certain. But both Hillary and Bernie have been fighting, in many ways, the same fight for nearly a half century.
That’s something supporters on both sides should recognize going forward.
As we head into the New Hampshire primary, and the contests that follow, one candidate will likely pull ahead, and the other will likely fall behind. In the process, someone’s going to be disappointed.
I won’t try to divine which will be on which side of the wins/losses column, but I know this like I know my name is Steve Ross, whoever ends up with the nomination will need all of us to come together in late summer to lift them to victory in the fall. We will need the enthusiasm and passion of the ‘activists’ and the experience of the ‘establishment’.
No Democrat has ever won in my lifetime without both. I suspect this time will be no different.
So unless you want a President Trump, or Rubio, or God forbid, Cruz, I hope you’ll think about the larger picture before you get into a flame war with that Hillary supporter, or pooh-pooh that Sanders supporter. We need each other to keep from losing the little bit of ground we’ve been able to eke out this past 8 years.
Remember, we’re family. We have more in common than we have differences. We don’t have to be mean to draw distinctions, and drawing those distinctions isn’t mean. Its politics.