Thursday, April 2, 2020

For the Record: A note on passion and politics

Captain Picard in genuine fake bronze, $74.87 from Amazon. 

That godlike charisma thing that John Kennedy and Barack Obama had is a valuable thing in electoral politics, and of particular interest to the young male voter (the same population sector that lets itself get recruited into war fighting), and apparently Senator Bernard Sanders has some of that too, though it's hard for me to see, since I've been around people like him all my life, as I've pointed out before, but it has its limits, especially, in the American system, in the way it doesn't carry over into those midterm elections like 2010 and 2014, if only because the young male voter really can't be counted on to remember to vote. And it's not the only effective way of rousing politically effective emotion.

Biden has that ability to convey the impression that, as James Clyburn said, "He knows us," or he really does know us, as the case may be. Either way, he worked it brilliantly in two presidential elections as Obama's deputy, and he seems to have been working it pretty well in this year's primaries up until the appearance of the plague brought it all to a kind of standstill where we feel too shaken to understand what's going on.

Charisma in and of itself is overrated as a virtue in policy politics. It was the distinctly uncharismatic vote counter Lyndon B. Johnson who turned Kennedy's shiny ideas into reality, and it was the Senate sausage factory that turned Obama's project for universal healthcare into this thing that we have instead. I oppose Sanders above all because I'm convinced any other candidate would be more able to implement something like his program than he would. As I put it just around four years ago,
revolutions are conducted by pairs—a moral authority and a political authority, Washington and Hamilton, Gandhi and Nehru, Dr. King and President Johnson, Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki. When they get the division of powers wrong (saintly Robespierre running the government while earthy Danton rouses the masses), things can get very out of hand, too.
Sanders is the saint who shouldn't allow himself to be polluted by the down-and-dirty of getting things accomplished; Biden is the worldly negotiator who thrives in that environment. But he's also a real politician, not charismatic-cool but soppy-warm, and if the attraction doesn't show up in the enthusiasm polls, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. How do you think he won the primary, with the highest turnout since 2008 (just not among the Sanders voters)?
That's one poll, by the way, in the midst of corona bewilderment. Another Gallup poll from earlier in March, about party rather than candidate enthusiasm, got somewhat different results, showing Democrats ahead now of where we were in the huge-turnout year 2012, for what it's worth:

Note how much higher Republican enthusiasm was in November 2012. But we had more voters.

The guy wasn't reading anything I was telling him, sadly. The language he suckered me in with—"I genuinely want to know"—wasn't genuine, and it reeks of the dorm, come to think of it. What he really wanted was to assert the rightness of the clichés and biases he brought into the discussion (picking Great Men to have a crush on by squeezing them onto a left-right spectrum and assuming everybody must feel the same). Never mind.

In any case, rally-round-the-flag effects don't last, as people who bet on warrior hero G.H.W. Bush in 1992 will recall, and the things that are happening now—pandemic and economic crisis—will not in the medium term turn around the fundamentals that favor Democrats, but rather intensify them. Biden ought to win convincingly, and the Senate is really in play.

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