Debates inform an easy choice between parties

I watched the Democratic debate last week. It compared to Saturday’s Republican debate as Socrates to Eric Cartman on “South Park.” Serious questions were asked, and serious answers were given; and while there were disagreements and challenging of each other, there were no juvenile attacks, no name-calling, no dishonest calumniation of our president, none of the arrant lying that Republican audiences prefer (Trump passingly told the truth, and was booed).

I don’t love either one of them, Bernie or Hillary. I’m not inspired the way I was — and still am — by Barack Obama. Because of the president’s many successes, the opposition has had to resort mostly to lying about him. Bernie, they’ll dismiss as promoting class warfare; Hillary will be attacked for murdering Vince Foster and selling his cattle.

Sanders is right: The system is rigged in favor of the wealthiest among us (read Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money” if you need convincing); average people no longer have a voice in how we’re governed; changing it requires enough enlightened people (improbably) rising up to vote out of Congress those unwilling to compromise or to reject the demands of the corporations and individuals who’ve bought them. He’s right about the importance of electing representatives willing to change the way campaigns are financed, who accept what science tells us about our climate, who’ll address our costly needs at home. But I have some issues with Bernie. For one, I got tired of watching him finger the air every time he wanted to respond during the debate.

More importantly, I wish he’d frame his argument without entirely demonizing “millionaires and billionaires and Wall Street.” He does, after all, understand the importance of capitalism to a thriving society. To acknowledge that and to include those entities in the solution in a positive way would strengthen and broaden his message.

There’s a point, after all, in this march toward sequestering all capital among a very few, at which it becomes inimical to capitalism itself. If people don’t have money, they don’t buy widgets, and that’s the real danger of where we’re heading. Paying for health care and education beyond high school, and providing a living wage for full-time workers are demonstrably part of the economic solution. It’s the opposite of freeloading: it’s restoring that mythical and secure middle class on whose spending our economy depends.

Republicans seem to prefer to run against Bernie Sanders. It’s possible they’d come to regret it; my concern, however, is that his support seems especially strong among young people, and why not: it’s their future at stake. Historically, though, they’re the least likely to come out and vote.

Trump’s and Cruz’s and Rubio’s base are the sort that do: ethnophobes, nativists, those suffused with religious paranoia, those who don’t want to spend another damn penny on anything for which they see no value to their immediate and singular needs. And because of gerrymandering and well-planned voter suppression (disguised as innocently patriotic voter I.D. laws against practically non-existent in-person voter fraud), it’s become all but impossible to be rid of the deniers and obstructionists, “revolution” notwithstanding.

It’s hard to imagine that if Hillary Clinton were president Republican electeds would cooperate more than they have with Obama. But, aware of their current earth-scorching policies and methods, she’d be less Pollyannaish than Mr. Obama was for too long. The attacks on her will be ruthless; unlike those on Obama, in some there’ll be a kernel of truth. In the past she’s hedged tough questions. Bernie has forced her off the fence, and she’s come down on the right side of it in most things. Other than, well, touting Henry Kissinger’s words of support. His manipulation of the Vietnam peace talks to help Nixon’s election was tantamount to treason.

If choosing between Democratic candidates is hard, the choice between the parties isn’t. As Benita Helseth’s recent letter to the editor aptly said, one need only compare Wisconsin and Minnesota (or look at Kansas!) to see the divergent results of governance by each party. Controlling all three branches of government? Having just called Scalia home, even God thinks that’s too much. Meanwhile, patriotic Republicans promise to trash the Constitution and prevent, sight unseen, any Obama-nominated Justice from being approved.

Email Sid Schwab at

Correction: An earlier version of this column gave an incorrect name for the author of “Dark Money.” The author is Jane Mayer.

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