The Soapbox: Making sense of the presidential campaign

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Some translations on candidates’ big talk

By Bradford J. Gonzalez-Sussman

Why I am not feeling the Bern or the fallacy of the shoot-from-the-hip-candidate.

Many otherwise sensible people now enamored with Trump and Sanders have the idea their candidates “say what they think!” about fat cats on Wall Street and in Washington, Mexicans or Muslims or whoever the enemy de jour is.

I have two problems with this mythical “rebel” candidate concept. Are they speaking their truth without concern for consequences; and, do I want to share a tent with extremists who seem to be attracted to the shoot-from-the-hip image these candidates are cultivating?

Firstly; do populist politicians pander? Is the Don’s claim to be an anti-abortion bible scholar believable? When Bernie Sanders argues against gun manufacturer liability, is this a principled stand or an appeal to special interests in his state? These candidates analyze their audience, but because their core supporters are not mainstream their rhetoric may sound fresh. When Trump’s advisers say, “Let Trump be Trump,” that advice itself is the result of polling.

So, with advisers and polling aplenty, “outsiders” carefully craft their messages to have a Rorschach-like appeal to the disenfranchised and extremists in our country. This approach, like the Tea Party, has somewhat successfully herded cats in appealing to disparate groups of disaffected voters.

Their message is steeped with antiestablishment talking points, while remaining sufficiently fuzzy on details so supporters can hear what they want. Many Trump supporters claim that Trump does not believe everything Trump says, he is just posturing to get elected. Sanders supporters avoid the issue of how he would pay for his promises or collaborate with Congress by echoing the candidate’s call for a political revolution. In addition to their amorphous personas and platforms, I fear these candidates are engaging in a subtext aimed at fueling the fervor of the more extreme factions that support them.

Trump’s position on David Duke and the KKK is a classic example. For a candidate that is so explicit in expressing his beliefs, it was shocking how mealy-mouthed he was about the simple issue of condemning hate.

Sanders is a bit more subtle in reaching out to extremists on the left. When others were meeting with AIPAC, Sanders made an arguably anti-Israel speech. Did he decide that to rally college activists he must harness leftist anti-Semitism on campuses?

Sanders did not go as far as supporting the BDS movement, but by positioning himself as being less pro-Israel then Hillary, he encourages extremist activists to see him as a potential kindred spirit. To me, the Israel speech was the moment Sanders jumped the shark. A move designed to make a one-day media splash and to engage a group desperate for a champion in the Democratic Party.

These tactics have kept these “outsider” efforts alive despite negatives nationally (Bernie’s negatives are for socialism, and would probably manifest in polling if he was the general election candidate). Trump benefited from the abundance of Republican candidates in amassing his massive delegate count lead, but his percentage of the electorate only waxed slightly as contenders left the field.

Sanders might be swimming against stronger currents because it is a challenge to win with antiestablishment democratic supporters when running against a progressive woman during a progressive presidency.

In addition to my skepticism of their authenticity, I’m very concerned for the possibility of having a presidency that has a foundation in extremes.

One of my main concerns when I vote is: who is the person I am voting beholden to? Campaign promises can evaporate on the stove of pragmatism, but politicians are loath to go against their base or financial supporters. Regarding Bernie, I believe it is important for young people to have a voice, but as a former young person in the throes of middle-aged reality, I do not want young people to be the only voice. With Trump, regardless of his actual beliefs, I would not want a president obliged to hateful subgroups attracted by misogynist and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Bradford J. Gonzalez-Sussman is a Murray Hill resident and president of the Village Reform Democratic Club.

Sanders: A once-in-a-lifetime candidate

By Jill Jordan Spengler

It’s not just the millennials who find themselves resonating with Bernie Sanders’ passion, authenticity, integrity and sound judgment. I’m 60+, and I’ve fallen in love with the good senator from Vermont.

Certainly the youth do not have a patent on discernment of the truth, but often as we age, the voting population tends to seek and sanction familiarity over change, comfort rather than courage, evolution instead of revolution, and thus the higher vision of what may be possible for humanity, may grow dimmer in consciousness with time. We are supposed to become wiser as we get older, but often the egoic defenses just get stronger, the cynicism greater, the rationalizations wider, and the compromises deeper, until we find ourselves losing the core values that we once held dear.

At a recent Town Hall, I was most struck by the senator’s answer to the question about his religion which happens to be Judaism. It was easy to see that his faith is at the heart of his desire to do good in the world. He doesn’t wear his religion on his sleeve, but clearly it has served as a foundation for his profound compassion toward the disadvantaged and for the planet we inhabit. It was heartening when he said that “we’re all in this together” and to see a child going hungry, or an elderly person unable to pay for medicines’ touches him deeply. It rings true when he says it, as he has been fighting for economic and social justice all his life and character matters. Even the Vatican has taken note.

Although Bernie has 30 years of political experience and public service under his belt, he is often questioned as to how he will be able to bring his vision of universal health care for all, free public college tuition, raising the minimum wage, environmental justice, etc., into practical reality. He is asked by the skeptics at every turn, how he will make manifest the dream he so humbly, yet eloquently, speaks of. The “how” of that remains to be seen and no one can predict future outcome, but I know that every worthwhile political or social movement begins with a transcendent vision. Someone emerges, inspired from within, to speak to the masses about what is possible beyond the shadows on the cave wall, and then quite mysteriously, others begin to crawl out of the darkness into the light, inspired to support that vision.

Under such high minded, bold and compassionate leadership we begin to share the burden of change. We begin to want more for ourselves and our children and we do our part to make that happen.

At the very least, we set about voting out of office those who are stuck in the old political, economic, and social paradigm, where greed and ignorance prevail. We start to demand better representation in our local, state and federal governments, choosing only those candidates who are in line with a higher truth, and we start with the basics, fighting our damnedest to get money out of politics. Nothing will change without winning that battle first, and obviously, if we are beholden to the Czars of greed on Wall Street, we can’t, in all honesty, affect any true systemic change.

In this upcoming election, we have a rare opportunity to elect someone of true consequence, someone who has not compromised his core values, who fights for justice for all, so it is of profound importance that we don’t blow it, and do what we always have done, which is to vote for the status quo, for business as usual, for this rigged political and economic system – that we listen instead to our better angels, who are telling us that all things are possible if we have the courage and the heart and the willingness to take a huge leap forward in consciousness and let love, not fear, govern our decision in the voting booth come election day….

Jill Jordan Spangler is a Peter Cooper resident with no political affiliations, as well as a former teacher and 40-year practitioner of transcendental meditation.

7 thoughts on “The Soapbox: Making sense of the presidential campaign

  1. Ms. Spangler – I’m with you. And I’m beyond 60, too. Mr. Gonzales-Sussman, Did you forget the “Reform” part of your organization’s name? Perhaps you should remove that part of it and change it to “Establishment”.

  2. To have an effective revolution he would need more than half of the population, he doesn’t even have half of the Democratic primary voters.

    • Actually, I do think he would have more than half of the population behind him if he wins the nomination. Many voters who “prefer” Clinton still like Bernie and would come to his side once she is out of the race.

      Sanders leads every Republican by large margins in major election polls (Donald Trump by 20 pts) and attracts many independents as well as some conservatives.

      He has already raised more individual campaign contributions than any candidate in U.S. political history (7 million and counting)

      Many of his ideas – $15/hr minimum wage, universal healthcare, free tuition at public colleges – are widely popular and would have the backing of the majority of Americans, even if some are skeptical about how they will get through Congress.

      Sanders’ appeal is broader than the pundits would have you believe…


    Why does every reform Democratic “Club” have to be replaced by a new one to counter the previous corrupt organization with regularity? Maybe it has to due with our so flawed human condition?

    I remember that (the late) Gov. and Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller (and many others) used to say with regularity: “I’m for the new politics — not the old politics.”

    That was in the 1970’s. I never understood what it meant then and now. Just rhetoric sans meaning to say nothing without substance to get votes.

  4. Gonzalez-Sussman, you are so right it is becoming very clear that the Bernie supporters are mostly old hippies and young dummies.

  5. I don’t understand why the left of the Democratic Party has decided to back a guy who supports Hamas and opposes gun control.

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