When it comes to American politics, I think it is important to read the views of journalists beyond the David Brooks/Maureen Dowd crowd. For example, there was an op-ed in the Toronto Globe and Mail written by their international affairs columnist Doug Saunders which caught my eye. In it, he compared the turn out of young voters for Bernie Sanders in last week’s New Hampshire primary to those who voted for Senator Eugene McCarthy in 1968. “Hillary Clinton, the self-described policy successor to Barack Obama, was resoundingly trounced in New Hampshire by another outsider, Bernie Sanders, overwhelmingly on the strength of younger voters who appear to have almost no interest in Hillary Clinton,” (1968, all over again: Young Americans rally for an anti-system outsider, Doug Saunders, the Globe and Mail, February 12, 2016).
Saunders hits it right on the head about what makes Generation Y voters different from others this year as a voting block. They are better educated, more tolerant, and in effect ‘different people’ as he puts it. However, they also are worried about one issue in particular that get their elders to the poll booths. Saunders is fully aware of this because he writes that “..they are entering a much less secure economy. Only 65 per cent of them are employed, down from 72 per cent in 1990, and those jobs are far from secure or robust,”(1968, all over again: Young Americans rally for an anti-system outsider, Doug Saunders, the Globe and Mail, February 12, 2016). What a couple earns today has the same buying power as one had in 1968, and the current income disparity is far more prominent. Everyone knows this; regardless of age.
I am fully aware that his piece is specifically written to focus on this one voting block, and he does raise some very good points. However, I would like to put this into the larger context of why people this year are voting the way they are; and why our former First Lady once again isn’t the inevitable candidate. Besides, comparing the 2016 race to 1968 can go only so far.
It is true that Hubert Humphrey was President Johnson’s favored successor. However, we must remember that, in January 1968, Johnson was for all purposes still running for re-election. When McCarthy won like he did in the New Hampshire Primary, and then Robert F. Kennedy finally threw his hat in the race, did LBJ decide not to run as shown in the now famous television broadcast from March 31 1968.
Also, there were a lot of Baby Boomers in Richard Nixon’s “Silent Majority” (and not just Tricia and Julie) who not only didn’t vote for Humphrey (let alone McCarthy) but also chose to vote for Nixon again in 1972. While he was no Baby Boomer, the author of Nixon’s Southern Strategy, Kevin Phillips, was only 27 in March 1968; just one year older than Bernie Sanders at the time.
Bernie Sanders is more than a one issue politician. If anything, he leans more towards Robert F. Kennedy in some of his positions; or even more so Theodore Roosevelt. In his talk about big financial corporations, opposition of unfair trade agreements and the like, he sounds more like a early 20th Century Progressive than a Socialist.
Margaret Carlson’s piece (Beware a Wounded Clinton. Bloomberg View, February 10, 2016) shows that perhaps other factors came into play so far; as any cable news show can also verify. Carlson correctly points out that women under the age of 45 rejected Hillary Clinton on by a seven out of ten margin. Then again, she’s no Lady Bird Johnson (let alone LBJ) in this election cycle. Whenever I watch one on one being interviewed on television or in the debates, I am genuinely impressed. I like her better now than I did when she was First Lady; and she is smart to say she will carry on what the Obama Administration started. However, no matter how many photos she takes standing next to Nancy Pelosi, the fact that so many young women voted for Sanders makes you wonder if she can lock it all up by the time she gets to Philadelphia.
If it is a 1968 acid flashback for the Democrats is it 1980 revisited for the Republicans? Do republican voters hear Morning in America all over again with Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again jingoism? While the Donald has the talent of a B-Movie actor, and there’s not a doubt he’s a smart guy, Trump’s go for the jugular bullying makes me think more of Jack Oakie’s character in the Great Dictator rather than the Great Communicator. Yet, he’s running as an outsider too promoting ‘change’. Today in a race you have in the lead two individuals whose positions are so extreme when it comes to immigration, taxation, and foreign policy they make the Governor of Ohio look like Nelson Rockefeller in comparison. As E.J. Dionne Jr. tells in his book Why the Right Went Wrong shows, this was decades in the making, in fact back again to 1968; and we are all now paying for it.
Last Monday, I found out at work that a young lady who works in our call center finally had her baby. One of the big issues brought up was the fact that she had only been able to take three weeks off for maternity leave. True, people did donate some of their accumulated sick time to give her at least an extra week off but everyone was still talking about the maternity leave given in other countries; and why it should be the same way here. As you can see, all this political mumbo jumbo can have a real impact on someone’s life.
With the death of Justice Scalia and the hornets nest it has stirred up from Mitch McConnell to the Republican Debate Saturday night, things are a changing again. This can be the most critical presidential race since 2000 when the Supreme Court (including Justice Scalia) made George W. Bush president. The repercussions of that we’re still trying to deal with and this November who we choose, young and old, can make a genuine difference.