Introductory Note. With deepest apologies to Yogi Berra, although it ain´t over, it´s over. Even if Bernie wins Indiana, the remaining math dooms him in the 2016 Democrat primary elections.
It did not have to be that way.
Or did it?
I want to caution Bernie about adopting any of the measures recommended here. It is too late to use them. Any mention of President Bill Clinton´s naked betrayal of the middle class in 1993, for example, will be dismissed by voters as a last minute mud ball.
"The Choice For A Change."
There you have it, Bernie: your new slogan. It works -- unlike your other slogans. Of course, it is too late for you to use it, which is precisely the point.*
"A Future To Believe In." Huh? Sorry, Bernie, your slogan was too vague, floating in the clouds, wishy-washy. As exciting as a wet tortilla. I already can -- in fact, do -- believe in a future in which the rich keep getting richer, the poor poorer, the middle class smaller.
"Feel The Bern" was your other slogan. Ah,... no. We have been berned by too many politicians -- one is sitting in the White House right now. Berned = burned. The unconscious makes word associations that cannot be consciously controlled, e.g., dreams about shoes represent soul with sole.
I don´t think, Bernie, you wanted to say that as president you were going to burn the people, cheat them, con them -- but you did. Or, am I wrong? More to follow.
While we´re at it, Bernie, you cannot have two slogans. People get confused and think there are two Bernie Sanders. Take a cue from Trump: "Make America Great Again!" -- period.
Or, are there in fact two Bernie Sanders? The one we see on TV, another we do not see and know nothing about?
When properly created and delivered, ambiguity creates tension, vitality, excitement. Feel The Bern is certainly ambiguous, but in a destructive way; it is two-faced. To the contrary, The Choice for A Change has positive ambiguity coming and going:
(i) It says you are going to change things as president.
(ii) It also means that, although usually there is no real difference between candidates, this time there is.
(iii) The slogan can mean THE right choice -- finally -- showed up, and not just the choice between the lesser of two evils.
The slogan vibrates and keeps vibrating all the way home.
Bernie, you coulda/woulda/shoulda defeated Hillary. As we are about to show, your slogan debacle was no side affair; it was emblematic of your entire losing campaign.
* * *
1. Early on, Bernie and Hillary realized the middle class was the key to the Democratic primary elections. The headline of a January CNN article nailed it: "The Protector of the Middle Class...it´s a title both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders want to claim."
Who prevailed? The answer is muddy.
A CNN poll conducted in Nevada February 10-15 asked likely Democrat primary voters "who would do the most to help the middle class?" Bernie was ahead but not by much, 50% to 47% for Hillary. In another CNN poll conducted during the same period in South Carolina, when asked the same question Hillary trounced Bernie, 54% to 41%.
They say there are no absolute truths. However, it is absolutely true that the fight to wear the mantle of protector of the middle class woulda/coulda/shoulda been a blow-out for Bernie. Here's why:
First, to make an impact, the middle class protector issue must be presented in a dramatic way. To that end, I offer The Primrose Path Set-Up:
(i) Ask Hillary what she thinks of husband Bill´s presidency.
(ii) Her answer: Wow! Wonderful! Incredible! My role model!
(iii) Let the Arkansas rambler ramble. When she comes to the part about how Bill helped the middle class, that is when
(iv) the primrose path ends at a cliff.
You hold up a chart of official economic statistics showing what Bill actually did.
Every year the Census Bureau divides the U.S. population into fifths in terms of their share of the national income. The middle fifths -- 2, 3, and 4 -- are the middle class. In 1993, Bill´s first year as president, those three fifths held 47.6% of the national income. In 2000, his last year, their share had dropped to 46.7%. The share of the pie held by the richest fifth, by the way, rose from 48.9% to 49.8%. The share going to the top 5% jumped from 21.0% to 22.1%.
Husband Bill went from protector to predator. But see for yourself -- the census bureau data are here. Select "households," Table H-2, "All races."
Unfortunately for Hillary, the end of the primrose path does not end there.
Voters who believe Hillary would do the most to help the middle class lack the most precious element on earth: not diamonds or gold, but a memory. Bernie, you too need one.
Or do you?
The truth about Bill Clinton was laid bare in a 1993 L.A. Times article published a scant four days after he was inaugurated:
"From roughly Thanksgiving, 1991, through Election Day, 1992, candidate Clinton conducted an extraordinary dialogue with America's middle class: commiserating with their economic plight; decrying how their taxes had been raised while those of the rich were reduced, and promising all that would change if he was elected.
´Out there,´ he liked to say, ´you can hear the quiet, troubled voices of forgotten middle-class-Americans lamenting the fact that government no longer looks out for their interests.´ These were not careless words. From the start, Clinton's pollster, Stanley Greenberg, had identified a ´middle-class centered coalition´ as the key to Democratic victory ...
Recall, if you will, Clinton's TV spot for the New Hampshire primary: The candidate described how his comprehensive economic plan ´starts with a tax cut for the middle class.´ Together, he promised, ´we can put government back on the side of the forgotten middle class and restore the American dream.´ And when George Bush tried to drop his own middle-class tax cut, Clinton was outraged. ´The rich get the gold mine and the middle class gets the shaft,´ he charged. ´It's wrong and it's going to ruin the country.´...
Indeed, middle-class Americans could legitimately interpret Clinton's campaign as a continuing reaffirmation -- albeit without ´read my lips´ insistence -- of personal belief that the middle class had been savaged by the economic circumstances and unfair tax policies of the 1980s. His election would change this, Clinton said, and from Long Island to Los Angeles, suburb after suburb tore up its GOP record and backed a Democratic presidential candidate who spoke like no other they had ever heard.
Or he did until he had their votes on Nov. 3. Now, that empathy may be vanishing into the mists of memory. Under the pretense of being stunned by federal budget-deficit estimates that, in fact, were already circulating last summer, the Arkansan is putting aside his middle-class tax pitch and mumbling that nobody ever cared about it, anyway. But what about the voters in New Hampshire and elsewhere who responded to that TV ad in which Clinton promised his economic program ´starts with a tax cut for the middle class?´"
Bernie, the issue of Bill Clinton´s barefaced betrayal of the middle class was right in front of you. Why didn´t you reach out and take it? Or, is the inconceivable conceivable -- you secretly identify with Bill? More below.
You woulda/coulda/shoulda come down hard on Hillary with both feet:
Just as her husband lied to you in 1992 about helping the middle class, Hillary is lying to you now. Lies, lies, lies. What is different is that this time all you ´quiet, troubled voices of forgotten middle class Americans´ have the chance to even the score with those who -- as economic statistics show -- gave you the shaft. Do not expect the opportunity to come again. Ever.
2. "How?" "How?" Time and again, Clinton supporters shouted the question at Bernie´s rallies. They were right to do so.
Bernie planned to help the middle class by implication: the rich should pay more taxes. He did not say he would cut taxes for the middle class; on the contrary, he would raise them.
Higher? Lower? Which is right? In reality, neither. When it comes to helping the middle class, taxes are beside the point:
"How?" "How?" Yes, I hear your plaintive cry, oh Clinton supporters. Fair enough. O.K., how can the middle class be helped?
The main problem of the middle class is something neither Bernie nor Hillary, much less Trump or Cruz, ever mention, much less address.
We noted in our post "The Chaos Whisperer. Part 5: The Cure For House Flipping" (November 30, 2012):
"It is not easy to get a handle on the damage which the post-2006 housing crisis inflicted on the middle class as distinguished from the other two classes. However, a highly probative clue is found in net worth (total assets minus deficits). The Pew Research Center concluded in August 2012 in an aptly-titled study, The Lost Decade of The Middle Class: ´Net worth of middle-income families dropped 39% ... [from $129,582 in 2001 to $93,150 in 2010] as the housing market crash and Great Recession wiped out the previous advances. Over the 1983 to 2010 period, only upper-income families registered strong increases in wealth.´"
No, you aren´t seeing things. The American middle class is 39% poorer."
There is only one thing that can cause such a titanic loss of net worth. Middle class families lost their homes.
The American Dream to own a home is so powerful it overrules economic exigencies. We need to address a problem that no politician in the United States -- including Bernie -- is taking seriously:
What is fueling the ridiculous high prices of homes which middle class people cannot afford but are seduced into buying?
Our Chaos Whisperer post identified an essential cause: house flipping. Any plan to help the middle class that does not attack house flipping is blue smoke and mirrors.
Our "El Dorado Gringo" post of July 19, 2014, identified the cure:
"We propose a specific tax schedule on house flipping.
1. One year or less separating purchase and sale of a property: 90% of capital gains.
2. Between 1 year and 2 years: 75%.
3. Between 2 and 3 years: 50%.
4. Between 3 and 4 years: 25%.
5. 4 years or more: 0%."
There is nothing new or Utopian about that solution. Taipei, Singapore and South Korea already have such a tax in place. They are three of the four "Asian Tigers" renowned for their rapid economic development.
They learned something.
3. Bernie wanted to break up the big banks. "How?" "How?"
Bernie stumbled badly on that one in an interview with the New York Daily News on April 1. It was the beginning of the end for him.
The bank breakup question was easily parried. Instead of being caught flat-footed, Bernie could have cupped his hands as if telling a secret, smiled, whispered two magic words:
Actually, Bernie, the problem is not the size of the banks. Or to be more precise, the size of the banks is a symptom of a disease, not the disease itself.
That disease is the takeover of productive capitalists by financial capitalists:
"The relentless pressure on profits was a recurring lament among multinational managers and a central paradox of the industrial revolution. In an era of declining labor wages, proliferating billionaires and awesome global enterprises, many people would intuitively reject the complaint as fraudulent. Nevertheless, the corporate anxieties were quite real, especially for manufacturing firms. The basic dynamics of technological innovation -- more from less -- had the perverse effect of depressing returns per unit of production while simultaneously increasing the new capital required to invest in the next round of innovation. This squeeze left even the largest companies exposed to the threat of weak profits and capital shortages.
Across the last thirty years of globalization and technological change, corporate profits in the United States suffered almost in direct relation to the pace of revolution. In the booming 1960s, profits were typically 11 or 12 percent of U.S. national income and peaked at 14 percent. By the 1980s and early 1990s, they had declined to around 8 or 9 percent and fell as low as 6 percent. Manufacturing, in particular, used to be much more profitable than service industries, but was now less so. The wave of corporate restructurings that shed workers and factories in the first half of the 1990s succeeded in reversing the trend -- after-tax profit rates were booming again and reached a twenty-five-year peak in 1994 -- but it was not yet clear if this turnaround was permanent.
The capital insecurities, however, were deeply embedded in corporate balance sheets: U.S. companies had become much more dependent as borrowers...Corporate profits were 34 percent of corporate debt in 1960; by 1990, profits were only 15 percent of debt. [my emphasis]”**
4. Hillary kept jabbing Bernie for his spotty record on gun control. Strategically speaking, she was right to do so. We will see why in a moment.
Here again, in and of themselves, Hillary´s jabs were easily parried.
Bernie comes from a rural state, Vermont. He is seeking election not for senator of Vermont but president of the United States. The two offices obviously have very different constituencies. Bernie obliquely referred to that reality in a June interview: "Let me add to that, I think that urban America has got to respect what rural America is about, where 99 percent of the people in my state who hunt are law abiding people."
Sidebar: The question put to Bernie time and again: why do you refuse to unequivocally support gun control? You just saw his answer: 99 percent of Vermont residents are law abiding people. As with the rest of Washington, Bernie is suffering from Ganser syndrome (Question: "What time is it?" Answer: "Thursday.") I have no explanation for the D.C. epidemic. Maybe, there is something in the water.
We elaborated in our post "President Trump?" (August 22, 2015) on the dilemma faced by any politician who wants to change constituencies. The dilemma is crucial this very moment. Assuming Donald Trump is the GOP candidate for president, how he confronts the change of constituencies will determine who will be the next president of the United States.
Our post was published six months before this year´s primary elections were held. We concluded:
"Winning the Republican primary is a far cry from winning the general election for president.
Not only are Republican primary voters not demographically representative of the general voter population -- they are higher in income, education, age and conservative viewpoint -- they are relatively few in number. In 2012, the turnout in the Republican primaries was 19 million. Compare that figure to the 126 million voters in the Obama-Romney general election.
What it comes down to: if things stay on track, Trump will receive in the Republican primaries 4-5 million votes. He will need over 60 million to win the November general election.
Ergo, look for two vastly different Trump campaigns. We will see how he handles the sharp contradictions between the Republican primaries and the general election.
In the course of decades on the campaign trail, we faced the same type of dilemma repeatedly. We resolved it this way: tell the truth.
Case study: I had as a client a state senator who was running for governor. The opposition pointed out the differences between what my client was saying in his gubernatorial campaign and legislation he had voted for in the state senate.
My client´s senate district was far more conservative than the state as a whole, e.g., his district opposed the right to abortion whereas the state as a whole favored it. What to do?
In a televised debate we counter-punched: so glad you brought up this very important point. We pointed out that in a democracy, an elected official is supposed to represent his constituency. Therefore, if a politician changes constituencies, the views the politician [espouses] should also change -- otherwise, he isn´t doing his job. Indeed, in such circumstances [for him] not to change views is not to be democratic, i.e., to represent the new constituency.
The opposition never brought up the contradictions again. My client won the governorship."
There you have it, Bernie -- your retort to Hillary´s charges that you weren´t "right" on gun control.
Unfortunately for you, however, the issue of gun control was not so clear-cut ...
Most Americans want stricter gun control laws. The thorn in your side, Bernie, is that most people in Vermont also want stricter gun control laws. That is why you didn´t have what you insinuated you had -- the change of constituency issue we faced time and again and Trump faces now.
Bernie, what held you back?
Did your two-campaign-slogans error make manifest what was latent?
Are there two Bernie Sanders? The one we see on TV, another*** we know nothing about?
*Why did we wait to publish this post until Bernie clearly, definitely lost?
I remind readers of our long-standing policy. This blog does not give advice; it offers opinion. The line between them is not always clear. Please keep in mind three considerations:
"An opinion may consist of advice which is (i) deliberately offered too late to be actionable; (ii) knowingly impossible to implement due to circumstances prevailing at the moment; and/or (iii) offered with the foreknowledge that the simple fact of its publication will render its practical value null and void."
**William Greider, One World, Ready or Not, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1998, pp. 83, 184.
***By making public ONLY his tax form for 2014, Bernie played a variation on the old Telephone Horse Race Scam. To wit:
Let´s assume there is a horse race tomorrow featuring 14 starters. You call 14 people picked at random out of the telephone book:
"I have a hot tip for you."
You give each person the name of a different horse. Of course, you will be right on one.
The following day, you call back the "winner" person. "You know I was right, and it didn´t cost you a penny. I have another hot tip for you on a horse race next Sunday. This time, the name of the winner will cost you $20,000."
When asked to release his income statements, Bernie cherry-picked the one year he liked. It was a winner in more ways than one. Blinded by the light of a 1040 tax form, most of the media were played for sucker-chumps. They neglected to ask Bernie about the other horses -- sorry, I mean years.
I have a question for you about your tax forms, Bernie:
If you really are innocent, why are you behaving as though you were guilty?
Curiously, Bernie resorted to a Bill Clinton subterfuge in saying his other tax statements were "boring," hence, most people didn´t really care about them anyway.
Sorry, Bernie, we will decide what is and is not boring. Thank you so much for your kind and generous offer to help us. What wonderful magnanimity on your part.
Or is it?