Category Archives: 2016 Democratic Primary

Nicknames: Electoral Omens


When American voters have strong feelings about a politician, they award a nickname. Understand the nickname and you’ll understand what its popular sentiment portends.

In 1860, Americans may have known with facts and figures that Abraham Lincoln was a savvy politician who often subscribed to the ends justifying the means, but “Honest Abe,”  with his way-tall physical stature, slow, considered speech, common humor,  quiet, ironic smile, worn face and haunted eyes, was above cynical politics.  The pain of a genuinely good man was clear to anyone with eyes, or so the winning narrative went.

When Andrew Jackson (“Old Hickory”) faced off in 1824 against John Quincy Adams (“Old Man Eloquent” or “The Madman from Massachusetts”), the Electoral College handed Adams the Presidency even though Jackson had earned more popular votes. During that 1824 election boondoggle,  the slaveholding South had tagged Adams  with the “Madman” label because it hated his Abolitionist stance with all its cotton-stuffed heart.  Four years later, The South and its stalwart warrior, Old Hickory,  sent the Madman packing and had their revenge against  “a corrupt system where elite insiders pursued their own interests without heeding the will of the people.”

In 1956,  when “Ike” Eisenhower and Progressive Adlai “Egghead” Stevenson vied for the US Presidency,  huge swaths of our old,  pre-WWII American culture were crumbling before an onslaught of rising expectations.  Women were loath to trade in their rivets for aprons.  Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Boycott, Brown v Board of Education, Beatniks, Jazz and (holy talismans forfend!)  Elvis combined to scare the living bejesus out of whites, conservative religious institutions, men, old political hacks and many other guardians of the old America.  In 1956, Ike — the General who’d saved us from Hitler, whose feet were solidly on no-nonsense ground — successfully defended the status quo  from the Egghead’s Progressive winds of change, but the  bells had been rung.  In 1960, the New World of Camelot was born.

To my point that nicknames reflect the passions of the time and may be an election bellwether,  the dearth of them in 2016 seems strange and notable. The best Hillary’s supporters have come up with is “Her,” as in “I’m With Her” and of course, she won’t use the ones assigned by her opponents.  “The Donald” is fine for a mogul-playboy but doesn’t resound on the political stage.  Cruz’ depiction of himself as “TrusTED”  hasn’t gained traction the way Trump’s moniker for him,  “Lyin’ Ted,” has.  And Kasich?  Well, Kasich is Kasich.

Into the 2016 nickname desert has come “Bernie,”  a Vermont Senator with rolled up sleeves, one new suit, unbridled hair and large, emphatic gestures.   The Senator’s impatience with old  models is familiar ground for young “Berners.” They grew up with The Wild Things of Maurice Sendak, another  curmudgeon who trusted them to understand the power of dreams and uncomfortable truths.  “Bernie” is a name for Brooklyn and The Rust Belt.  It belongs in a union hall, at a night school lectern and on picket lines.  Its lack of adornment feels comfortable on the tongues of people whose jobs have disappeared overseas,  of students crippled with debt and of the impoverished  who are more likely to do jail time than college time.

In truth, I don’t know what it all means for November but I do know that today’s political parties should learn what nicknames say about the future in a way that Stephen Douglas, John Q Adams, Ike’s Republicans and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’ Democratic National Committee  haven’t.

(Disclaimer: I can’t swear that my Berniephilia hasn’t informed the “tone” of this post.)

 

 

New York State: Hillary’s Waterloo?


The majority of New York State Democrats are anti-war and anti-fracking.

As I breathe the sharp, cold air of the Delaware River Valley, fracking pipelines and compressors are crisscrossing and dotting our State.  In the last week, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) overrode New York’s  investigations into plans for the building of gas infrastructure near the Indian Point nuclear facility.  The plant,  just 25 miles north of New York City, is old by any standards and New York Times articles have raised consistent concerns over its accidents, aging storage facilities,  leaks and other critical safety issues.

These are unfortunate events for New York State residents and they don’t bode so well for Hillary Clinton, either. The anti-war, anti-fracking base in New York is  effective, in gear and  has no love or trust for her. Her fracking inconsistencies and donations from the oil and gas industries make her suspect and since her pro-Iraq War vote when she was a New York Senator,  the belief that she’s a Hawk with bad judgment persists. Recent events in France and Belgium and the vehemence of her support for regime change in Lybia when she was Secretary of State have bolstered this opinion — especially since so many anti-war folks believe there’s a correlation between our Iraq invasion and the rise of ISIS.

Even without those considerations, many rural voters distrust Clinton. They pride themselves on reading people — on knowing whether someone is genuine or wearing adaptive camouflage. Many say they’re wavering between Trump and Sanders. Some supported fracking. Some are FOX-watchers. Some steal from Peter to pay Paul when the mortgage or rent is due.  There are enclaves of reactionaries who emphatically support militia-thinking. Most are tired of seeing their kids go off to war or jail instead of college and they don’t have the resources to fight the heroin epidemic that’s claiming their families.  They’ve lost farms, plumbing businesses  and have stopped chasing the American Dream.  They’re discouraged,  can’t afford the cost of local farm goods and feel betrayed by established political hacks.  Even when gains are made, belief in them is tentative and tinged with anxiety.

Into the mix have come urbanites with their more socially Liberal tendencies. For instance, Zephyr Teachout, a populist, pro-choice, anti-fracker,  did an amazing job against Cuomo in the last election despite people not knowing her,  Cuomo’s refusal to debate her and the relatively small size of her campaign war chest.

In New York City and its environs, voters are thoroughly awake to all things fracking, its infrastructure, methane, naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORMS) and gas explosions.  They’re particularly attuned to the threat of terror attacks, to economic collapse, Wall Street machinations, a friable Stock Market and affordable housing shortages.

Worse for Hillary, whether rural or urban, New York voters are familiar with the  candidates’ positions on those critical issues. With a riled, educated electorate, New York State could easily be Hillary’s Waterloo.