Democrats have a lot to learn from Bernie Sanders

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Bernie Sanders appears with Native American leaders to express his opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Hillary Clinton’s stock is falling. Even her prominent surrogates and media advocates are conceding that Donald Trump has a serious chance of becoming the next president. The two historically unpopular candidates are neck-and-neck in national polls and Clinton has fallen behind in crucial swing states like Florida and Ohio. Meanwhile her primary challenger, Bernie Sanders, is surging, boasting an 87 percent approval rating among his electorate and enjoying a nationwide favorability of +18 to Clinton’s -14.

Any Democrat worried about the outcome of the 2016 election should be analyzing that discrepancy. All during the primary, the news media and Clinton’s surrogates pushed the narrative that she was the strongest general election candidate. Now is the time for establishment Democrats to take their cues from Sanders and his supporters. If she maintains her current course, Clinton probably cannot win this election.

The difference in campaigning styles between Clinton and Sanders was obvious during the primary. While Clinton has struck a guarded and almost reclusive posture, Sanders took as many media appearances as he could manage. He appeared so regularly on major networks to deliver his substantive policy message that phrases like, “One-tenth of one percent” and “Why is that we’re the only major country in the world…” became almost cliché.

Trump, too, engages with the media often. However Trump lacks the intellectual capacity and attention span to make even a basic substantive remark. His appearances are just the typical Trump self-promotion and his despotic intimidation of the press keeps the entire mainstream media suitably in line. But he’s out there so much more than Clinton that his surging poll numbers may be owed to people thinking he’s the only person running.

Part of this, surely, is because the media hangs on Trump’s every word. Clinton’s rallies don’t get nearly as much coverage, but her schedule is also far more lenient than Trump’s and she usually doesn’t say anything provocative enough for a headline. She instead resorts to agreeable platitudes that have very little substance, exemplified by the title of her new book, “Stronger Together.” Her ads rely almost entirely on Trump’s own words to indict himself, in many cases offering no words whatsoever of her own.

Sanders would be running a much different campaign. In fact, Sanders is running a much different campaign. His political project, Our Revolution, has endorsed dozens of progressive candidates in down-ticket races all across the country. He took a decisive stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline; Clinton, who has come under fire from the left for her oil industry sympathies, has taken no stand. Sanders even appeared on MSNBC to offer advice and give a more substantive pro-Clinton argument than Clinton herself has been able to give:

“Mr. Trump, do you really think that billionaires need a massive tax break? Mr. Trump, do you really think that when the entire scientific community tells us that climate change is real and a threat to the entire planet, that you think it’s a hoax?… You want to abolish the Affordable Care Act for 20 million in this country off health care… You go issue by issue and I think you expose him for the fraud that he is.”

In 30 seconds Sanders addressed more substance than Clinton has the entire cycle. He drives at the core of an issue and speaks in direct language that young people more readily respond to. The direct approach also works for Trump – though again, for Trump the direct approach means little more than self-aggrandizement at all costs. Clinton instead calls Trump an insensitive bully and focuses on high-dollar private fundraisers.

Such a strategy may be good for filling Clinton’s campaign coffers, but they are emblematic of the disconnect between establishment politicians and ordinary voters. Clinton has serious issues generating enthusiasm among the Democratic base and she is widely distrusted. Trump is an even bigger liar and is almost certainly even more corrupt, but he’s far more adept at deflecting those accusations than Clinton is. He has maintained populist rhetoric during his campaign while Clinton stumbles with gaffes like putting Trump voters in a “basket of deplorables.”

Many commentators, including some very liberal ones, are already blaming Sanders for an eventual Clinton loss. The criticism usually goes that he was too hard on her during the primaries and hasn’t done enough to persuade his young supporters to get behind her campaign. But it’s only Hillary Clinton’s fault that she accepted millions of dollars to speak to some of the most detested corporations on the planet. Instead of looking for excuses, Democrats should take a long, hard look at their candidate.

Today’s electorate has far too little quarter to give politicians. Spare media appearances, vague platitudes, and an overly rehearsed cadence aren’t going to gain their trust. Playing exclusively negative politics with Donald Trump isn’t a winning strategy, either. To give herself the best chance Clinton must speak frankly about real issues and take her message to the people – just like Bernie Sanders does. The only question is whether she has the health, wisdom and charisma to pull it off.

Trump and the far right: America’s real PC bullies

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks to supporters through a bullhorn during a campaign stop at the Canfield County Fair in Canfield

The last thing the world needs: Trump with a bullhorn. REUTERS/Mike Segar

If you haven’t been offended by Donald Trump yet, chances are you just haven’t listened to him enough. He’s insinuated that Mexican immigrants are criminals and rapists, that American Muslims protect terrorists in their neighborhoods, and that a female journalist who challenged him over sexist remarks was on her period. Even groups he hasn’t explicitly attacked are subject to profoundly thoughtless remarks – in response to the murder of Nykea Aldridge, a black mother in Chicago, Trump tweeted, “African-Americans will VOTE TRUMP!”

For his supporters, this is just the kind of no-nonsense tough talk the country needs. Flying in the face of political correctness is regularly cited as one of the Trump’s greatest qualities, as though giving offense was a virtue in and of itself. But the reality is that Trump, and his legions of supporters, are among the most strident PC thugs in the country. Continue reading

Impervious no more: How the media makes and unmakes Trump

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Trump formally announces his candidacy for president.

Donald Trump has been receiving some very bad headlines. Last week his poll numbers took their first serious hit after he fought with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, parents of a Muslim Army captain who heroically sacrificed himself in Iraq. He topped himself on August 9 by committing an act of stochastic terrorism, using his pulpit to plant an idea in supporters’ minds that assassinating Hillary Clinton might be a good idea.

What lasting effect any of this will have on him remains to be seen. His supporters are cult-like and he has proven almost impervious to bad publicity. Yet for a man who relentlessly seeks the spotlight and who recently said, “All press is good press,” Trump has long had a tumultuous relationship with the media. Continue reading

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are tightening their grips on the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.

Words versus deeds: Foreign policy in the 2016 election

The likely 2016 Democratic and Republican presidential nominees, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, are the most disliked major party candidates in American history. But of all the faults these candidates have, their darkest aspects are most visible in foreign policy. And for as much as Americans don’t like the two of them, imagine what the rest of the world must think as the most powerful nation on earth prepares to hold an election between an accomplished war criminal and a maniac who pledges to become one. Continue reading

How religion determines if a mass shooter is a terrorist

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A vigil in Thailand shows solidarity with the victims in Orlando.

In the wee hours of June 12, during a period of festivity and camaraderie, 49 people were killed and more than 50 others were injured by bullets fired from a military-grade assault weapon legally purchased by a man who had been a suspected terrorist. It was the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history, perpetrated by a US-born Muslim who pledged allegiance to ISIS. But if the killer had been anything other than Muslim, the national conversation in the tragedy’s wake might be much different.

GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump took the tragedy as an opportunity to pat himself on the back for “being right on radical Islamic terrorism.” Since that widely criticized tweet, most pundits and politicians have characterized shooter Omar Mateen as a terrorist. They did the same for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and San Bernardino killers Tashfeen Malik and Syed Farook. But not all mass shooters are called terrorists. Those with names like James Holmes, Adam Lanza and Jared Loughner, for instance, usually aren’t. Continue reading

Media declares Clinton victory in a contest that isn’t over

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Imagine waking up on election morning and seeing this before you’d even had a chance to vote.

The media delivered good news Monday night to people who hate democracy: there’s no need to bother voting in the six states that hold primaries on June 7 because Hillary Clinton has already secured the Democratic nomination for president. Sometime Monday evening, the AP came to this conclusion by surveying super delegates, Democratic Party insiders who can vote for the candidate of their choice regardless of how the constituents in their states vote. Continue reading

Sanders won’t cost Clinton the election – she will

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Sanders supporters voice their outrage at the Nevada Democratic Convention.

Intra-party turmoil among Democrats is at a fever pitch. Despite an overwhelming media narrative that the party’s nominating contest is over and Hillary Clinton has won it, Bernie Sanders continues to pick up primary victories. The Democratic establishment in media and politics are worried that Sanders’s continued presence in the race is hampering Clinton’s prospects against Donald Trump in November. And a season-long feud between Sanders supporters and the DNC erupted last week at a chaotic state convention in Nevada. Continue reading

Against Trump’s fascism, art is the best weapon

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The artist was left with one hell of a black eye after an encounter with Trump supporters.

One of the great pieces of art that’s come out of this presidential campaign is a nude depiction of Donald Trump by artist Illma Gore. In the painting, Trump is cast as unflatteringly as possible. All he’s wearing is a gold bracelet while his fat gut sags almost low enough to cover a button-sized micropenis. Apparently Trump’s supporters are as thin-skinned as the man himself, because on April 29 a group of them assaulted Gore over her art. Continue reading

Why it’s now more important than ever that Bernie Sanders stays in the race

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By wishing Sanders and his supporters would just go away, Clinton is dooming her general election prospects.

Hillary Clinton’s lead over Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary is cushy, but other factors continue to dog her. The FBI has been interviewing former Clinton aides and may yet indict Clinton over material found in her emails. She recently lost to Donald Trump in a Rasmussen poll. And Sanders is continuing to win primaries, including in Indiana this week.

After that Indiana win CNN host Dana Bash questioned Sanders on why he isn’t dropping out, perhaps setting a new standard for establishment condescension. But with momentum still strong on Sanders’s side, with the possibility of Clinton’s indictment, and with the longstanding myth that Clinton is more electable disappearing, it’s more important than ever that Sanders stay in the race. In fact, the best part of the election may still lie ahead of him. Continue reading