A funny way to run a country

Signs outside a Jeb Bush event in Bedford, New Hampshire.
Signs outside a Jeb Bush event in Bedford, New Hampshire.

When Hillary Clinton took the stage in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Friday to pump up a room full of volunteers, she was joined by the “sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits” — eight female politicians — senators and a governor.
Clinton needs the help. She looks sure to lose Tuesday’s crucial New Hampshire primary vote to Senator Bernie Sanders, a socialist from neighboring Vermont.
Clinton’s pant-suited backers take turns pointing to her experience, her ability to get things done, in contrast with the much-less distinguished record of her opponent.
But Sanders tied her in Iowa. If he beats her convincingly here and then does better than expected in South Carolina, he could do what Barack Obama did in 2008, and win the Democratic nomination.
This still seems unlikely, since the southern blacks who rallied to Obama in 2008 have so far not taken to Sanders, but Clinton looks worried, and she is bringing out her allies.
There was a PTA quality to their pitch, a dull, lecturey tone that is not going to win over the young people feeling the Bern.
One by one, Clinton’s allies pointed to practical things that Clinton has done in politics. They are right. Clinton is much better qualified for the job, and much more likely to beat whoever the Republicans nominate, but it is a dull message, and they are not as exciting as the revolutionary socialist.
They underlined that by concluding the event by dancing to Rachel Platten’s Fight Song, eight middle-aged women in pant suits awkwardly swaying to a cheesy pop tune.
In the street across town, outside the rink where Clinton and Sanders spoke later Friday, a small group of pumped-up young Sanders supporte


Bernie Sanders supporters rally outside a rink in Manchester, New Hampshire.

rs were waving signs at passing cars in a snow storm.
When I snapped a picture, a young guy with long blonde hair asked me where I was from.
“Canada,” I said.
“They say we’re crazy because we want what you have,” he said.
In the rink that night, as I listened to Sanders, it occurred to me that his biggest applause lines are for things that we have in Canada: single-payer socialized health care, limits on political spending by corporations, affordable university tuition.
For a Canadian, it’s hard to think those are radical. And when Sanders hit those lines, thousands of people on both sides of the rink — Hillary’s supporters and his — cheered and waved their signs.
But Sanders doesn’t say how he can deliver, for example, socialized health care, given that Republicans, who control Congress and 34 state governments, have shown themselves willing to shut down the federal government rather than support Obamacare.
Sanders can’t even convince his congressional Democratic colleagues to back his plan. How’s he going to get Republicans to support it?
And he sounds, as Stephen Colbert put it, like a “guy in front of you at the deli trying to return salami.”
Listening to him, you think: I agree. Nobody should have to pay for bad salami, but, buddy, give it a break. They’re not going to give you your money back.
Sanders’ speech was followed by several from prominent New Hampshire Democrats in pant suits — a senator, a would-be senator and the governor — who all made it clear that they support Clinton.
When she took to the stage, she argued persuasively that she has got a lot done over the years and is ready for the job in a way that Sanders will never be, and if people want her to talk about inequality, well, it turns out that she can do that, too.
Whatever her ethical lapses, her cozy relationship with the corporate elite, which suddenly looks as awkward as a group of middle-aged politicians dancing to Fight Song, she is qualified for the job and Sanders isn’t.
He’s a one-note politician — an appealing advocate — but he has never shown the kind of political skill the presidency demands.
And most Americans don’t want to buy the salami he’s selling. It’s hard to imagine him beating a Republican, although it’s possible, since the GOP is careening through Iowa and New Hampshire like a burning garbage truck.
The two candidates who look like they could mop the floor with a radical like Sanders — former Florida governor Jeb Bush and former Ohio governor John Kasich — are at the bottom of the pack, trailing Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, as odious a trio of candidates as ever dominated a political race.
Trump, with his trash mouth, lies and weird hair, has been grabbing all the attention, but Cruz and Rubio are also awful to a degree that should require their immediate disqualification.
During Saturday night’s Republican debate in New Hampshire, for instance, Cruz said that he would bring peace to the Middle East with carpet bombing, not nation building, a psychotically dim-witted prescription for misery and war.
And in the evening’s best moment, Rubio was revealed to be badly programmed robot when, to defend himself when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie accused him of using memorized soundbites, he repeated the same memorized soundbite.
Iowan Republicans, who have had months to really get to know these characters, gave 75 per cent of their support to these three, followed by nine per cent for Ben Carson, an oddball brain surgeon who repeatedly failed to follow stage directions to his podium at the beginning of Saturday’s debate.
It’s enough to make you wonder if the presidential system is sustainable.
American politics is insanely polarized and becoming ever more so, the result of gerrymandering, massive amounts of dark money and an increasingly fragmented media environment. The debates taking place in both parties aren’t even vaguely related to one another.
Primary voters could yet veer toward the centre, but if they don’t, voters in November could have to choose between Trump and Sanders, radicals far from the natural sweet spot of American politics, and then one of them would get to run the most powerful country in the world.
The more I learn about it, the happier I am to live in a parliamentary democracy.


About Stephen Maher

Canadian journalist and novelist. 2016 Harvard Nieman fellow.
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2 Responses to A funny way to run a country

  1. Mark Ferguson says:

    bon merde Sobconductor, 2nd order, Maher!

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