New Hampshire Speaks

So last night I fixed myself a strong drink and settled in for a long spell of nail-biting election-returns watching, but it was pretty much over before I’d swallowed even half of it. Hillary lost big. Trump won big. Kasich–the most dignified and least awful-seeming right-winger of the Republican hopefuls this cycle–edged out Bush and Rubio and Cruz, throwing the GOP quest for a more-conservative but less-alienating alternative to Trump into disarray.

First things first. Hillary didn’t just lose–somebody beat her. A Jewish atheist Socialist Democrat beat her. From Brooklyn yet, the borough that my parents grew up in, that I have lived more than half of my life in, and where both of my two children were born and came of age. This is huge and I hear almost no kvelling. When the sanctimonious Joe Lieberman got the nod for VP 16 years ago, the kvelling was literally deafening and nobody outside of Connecticut had ever cast a vote for the guy.

I was still working in book publishing back then; a couple of weeks later, I found myself sitting across a desk from the New York Times best-selling author Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, who told me with a perfectly straight face that Lieberman’s nomination was perhaps the most consequential moment for the Jews in America’s history. My wife (who wasn’t born a Jew) went to hear Julius Lester give a talk about his conversion at a Brooklyn synagogue around that time, and a little old lady in the audience asked Lester if he was as excited about Joe Lieberman as she was. And now Sanders, whose politics and religiosity probably reflects more Jews’ politics and religiosity than Lieberman’s or Telushkin’s or for that matter Lester’s, is the biggest dark horse since, I don’t know, Donald Trump–and you can hear a pin drop in the Jewish media echo chamber. Pretty soon, all kinds of professional Jews are going to be lining up against Sanders as a clear-and-present danger to Israel.  Is that ironic or what? We finally get a Jew and the Jews hate him. It’s like the old joke about the two synagogues on the desert island, one that you belong to and one that you would never go to. Except that the non-synagogue-goers are winning the day.

Watching Bernie’s and Trump’s victory speeches last night, it occurred to me that for the first time in my memory, the two parties are giving us an unambiguous set of alternatives–two completely opposite temperaments, ideologies, ethoses, and understandings of the purpose of government and the role of the US in the world. The fact that neither party likes them or knows what to do with them is just the icing on the cake.

This is an unbelievably consequential moment we are living through. If this was happening in another country, our pundits would say that this kind of sea change is only to be expected after it lost two wars, suffered an economic near-death experience, and delivered virtually all of its economic growth to the top 5 percent. But since it’s happening here, the elites and the pundits are caught equally off guard.

Political systems, we’re used to thinking, evolve incrementally and predictably and it certainly looks that way in retrospect, when you edit out all of the red herrings and dead ends. Nobody remembers the anti-Masons or the Silverites or the rural Populists or the reborn KKK except as weird eccentricities and excrescences. But had things gone just a little differently, they would have seemed inevitable too.

For what it’s worth, I thought Hillary’s speech was pretty good last night. But politicians almost always sound more gracious and thoughtful when they are conceding than when they are selling themselves. And something tells me that she’ll be making a lot more concession speeches in the months to come.

As for Rubio, I thought he was a bad bet all along as the GOP’s white knight. He’s always been a crappy speaker and a creepy personality, even if he did talk in paragraphs. Good speech makers connect. Their audiences feel like the flow is going from them to the speaker rather than vice versa, because he or she puts their inchoate feelings and aspirations into words. That’s what Bill Clinton did back in 1992 and Obama did in 2008 and what Bernie Sanders (and Trump, alas) are doing today. Hispanics see Rubio as a sellout and xenophobes see him as a Fifth Columnist. He’s like a Jewish convert politicking for Pope–nobody trusts him or likes him. Trump is genuinely popular and he’s more moderate in his politics than any of them, even Kasich. He’s vile and dangerous and evil and may well lead us into something very much like Fascism, but he’s not really a conservative, just like The National Review says.

The people don’t want what they used to think they wanted. The Republicans would reject Reagan if he came back from the grave and huge numbers of Democrats would probably reject JFK as a neo-Liberal cold warrior too.

Our politics have gotten out of sync with our economics. Late stage capitalism disinherits a lot of people, but it doesn’t disenfranchise all of them. It’s a big problem for late stage capitalism. And for old-line Democrats and Republicans too.



7 thoughts on “New Hampshire Speaks

  1. There are a lot of primaries to go. But iif these are the nominees, my, my. Even in his wildest dreams, Bernie can’t have imagined he’d be going up against a reality TV icon of capitalism.

  2. The fact that Bernie is Jewish has not been raised because Bernie is a candidate of limited scope. Limited purpose. He has succeeded far beyond his original goal to simply move the party. He has now become a focal point. This is bad for Bernie and bad for those that are holding him up as a symbol and hope. I do not want to see the microscopic focus of the Hillary Machine, media and conservative operatives turn on him. There are few who can (aside from someone who has managed every aspect of her life for decades) withstand that kind of scrutiny. I wish that I could look away.

  3. One unexpected pleasure in the ascent of Sanders has been the absence of handwringing over his Jewishness, but I suspect you’re right that those days are going to end. I did see people online last night carping about Sanders’ self-identification during his NH victory speech as the child of immigrants from Poland. “Why didn’t he say Polish Jews? Was it political calculation to avoid alienating southern voters?” That sort of complaint seems silly and way out of date. Anti-Muslim bigotry now occupies that niche in the ecosystem; the exact same rhetoric that used to be thrown at us is now directed at people with Arabic names. But yeah, presumably we’re going to see “Is Bernie Sanders ashamed of being Jewish? Why doesn’t he support Israel?” crap before long. And it may not be Republicans doing it: the role of Haim Saban in American politics doesn’t inspire optimism on this score.

  4. The single best analysis I have seen regarding our current political situation is Garry Will’s article in the NY Review of Books here:

    With respect to Richard’s comment about the supposed “absence of handwringing” over Sander’s Jewishness — if Sanders should even come close to being nominated I can assure you the hammer and sickle will make its appearance — as has already begun here:

  5. Thrilled to see Sanders doing so well, very disheartened to see that the best American democracy can do for three decades is try to trade the presidency between two families; and very frustrated that despite Sanders doing so well he’s ludicrously behind Clinton thanks to the rigged system Democrats use.

  6. I’d just like to clarify that while I think anti-Muslim rhetoric has mostly replaced anti-Jewish rhetoric in the right-wing toolbox I do realize the latter hasn’t gone away completely, for example:

    It’s almost like visiting Colonial Williamsburg, with actors in period costume recreating archaic practices for the entertainment of tourists. Look, kids, I haven’t seen one of those in years! Ted Cruz, despised by his own party, is preserving that vile strain of anti-Semitism for the benefit of voters whose grandparents were annoyed the Nazis ruined all the fun in old fashioned Jew-bashing. Cruz probably deserves to be on display in a museum somewhere.

  7. I don’t know about the “Jew Thing” because A) I didn’t even know or consider Sander’s religion until I read Arthur’s post and B) out here “Jewishiness” is like a dim Oort Cloud…it’s there but is far away, is little understood, but has no more effect on getting dinner on the table than a selection when playing Civilization.

    I do think that The Donald and Bern Notice is a direct result of the increased segregation in identities of the haves and have-nots. Our forming soft-aristocracy arising from capitalism.

    For example, the deep-dark reds are in lust with The Donald’s candor and the blues love how CNN worked very hard to ignore Bernie…and he became a Twitter and Facebook candidate.

    Calling someone a liar, actually using those words, on national television is “not Presidential” or something one does…says the what? Propriety Police? But the unwashed do…everyday…and we use F-bombs everywhere…and we hate the soft, passive aggressive, needle-point venom of corporate banks and leaders crushing people’s souls with easy castrated vernacular like, “I’m sorry, it’s just our policy” or “We’re concerned” when meaning something else entirely. It is that schism or gulf that has opened from the Great Recession when the establishment elite let the pedestrian of all walks know there are some that are Too Big To Fail. That some ARE more important than others and money means more than merit.

    The more and more people become unequal, the more and more peasants grow restless. So we get the Donald, who is a wild card because he “does the buying” rather than “enjoys being bought” and is enamored with power and resonates with those with so little power that that is what they desire the most. A guy who will say “Well fuck you” to his boss. And we get Bernie who identifies with those who understand that our freedom is a sham and our markets controlled by investment algorithm computer programs with corporate overlords and shadow shareholders everywhere. The number of people who understand the purpose of Pharoh’s Pyramid and the super ancient meme of the statue of Babylon (Metal statue with clay feet). Will they mega-wealthy blithely allow us to slide into 3rd world status? Well sure…as long as it won’t interfere with next weeks yacht party.

    After being propagandized with how awesome ‘merica is for so long…Bernie and Donald vocalize uncomfortable questions and lines of inquiry, like, “Why not? Why do those people get that and we get to have this?” It is also pretty sad when big business does more for communities…not because they are nice or anything…but for a tax cut or media op than local governments.

    ugg. I’m ranting. Oh, well.

    At least here, Bernie’s fans are “liberals who like porn”, meaning, they do not like the Social Hygienist aspect that pervades the left. To explain, a Republican wants you to work yourself to death for carrots at someone else’s dream. A Democrat wants you to be a “well dressed savage for tea” so that you can get rewarded. The Donald sees porn as just another commodity, an industry, morality is hedged with the consumer and moot. Sanders sees porn as a personal choice, and once more, not a topic worthy of discredit on other issues.

    But to the established aristocracy, the plutocrats and oligarchs, who actually have so many “life options” to choose from, they enjoy measuring themselves (and others) on their ability “to say no” and live lives of public denial and control. Neither is very representative of the serfs in the village that support on yonder castle, to yawn as Homer does. In the Inn at the end of the lane, a licentious woman who all the men love plies her trade because she has to. The dirty men drink, flirt, and brawl. Their wives chastise them, exhausted from domestic labors, and the men kiss and work to re-seduce their wives by lusting after them harder than the harlot. And in the morning, after the men leave, the women sneering at the village drunk and the town idiot. There is a game of words, like and dislike, grumbles, and laughs, but nobody tries to hang anybody and nobody really tries to upset the social ecology, except the random ass from the castle with soldiers, tax collectors, inquisitors, or lawyers.

    Kay, rant over.

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