My response to Run’s and Barkley Rosser’s analogies to the 1980 election

Run’s post here discusses and elaborates on a comment by Barkley Rosser in the Comments thread to this post of mine.  I posted the following reply to Barkley’s comment, and reposted that comment as a comment to Run’s post:

Barkley, I certainly share your fear that Trump actually could pull this off, but I don’t think your analogy to Carter-Reagan works.  Key here is the generational change.  Reagan had been a two-term governor of California, and although even back in 1980 I had only a pretty general idea of what he’d done as governor, I read a detailed article recently discussing his actions during the Free Speech Movement (that’s what it was called, right?) at Berkeley.  It was pretty aggressive, rough stuff.

I don’t think I realized back in 1980—or at least I don’t remember doing so—that apparently a part of Reagan’s appeal to blue-collar whites and I guess to some WWII and Korean War generation, and Silent Generation voters was an anti-counterculture persona, which still mattered, a lot, in 1980.

After all, the Vietnam War had ended only six years earlier.  And the Cold War was still very much raging.

What I remember about the 1980 election was a dog-whistle racist appeal to blue-collar whites, coupled with inflation that seemingly could not be brought under control and for what unions (along with the oil cartel) was given substantial blame.  The unions would incorporate anticipated high inflation into their three-year wage contracts, providing part of the inflation spiral—so Reagan’s anti-union schtik didn’t have the normal effect on union members.

But more than anything else, there was the Iran hostage situation—which, it later was reported, continued past the election because Reagan somehow quietly was able to communicate with Iran’s powers-that-be that they should hold out until after the election and that Reagan, as president, would negotiate better terms with them.  (Like Nixon’s secret plan to end the war!!)

The reason that the “There you go again” line was so effective was that a key thing that Carter had going for him was something similar to a key thing that Johnson had going for him against Goldwater: a real fear that he could start a nuclear confrontation or actual war.   So “There you go again” was a promise that he was not Goldwater on the issue of confrontation with the Soviet Union, and would instead use other means against it.  It was, in other words, a promise that Reagan would avoid nuclear war, not precipitate it.  And although Reagan, like Trump, was a pathological liar, he was not so obvious a one.

Nor did Reagan gyrate wildly between opposite policy positions, nor come off as clueless about policy and the workings of government, nor seem care about policy.  To the contrary, Reagan was all about ideology and therefore policy proposals.

So while it’s not inconceivable that Trump could beat Hillary Clinton, I guess the bottom line on that is:  I knew Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan was no friend of mine.  And, Donald Trump, you’re no Ronald Reagan.  Nor is today’s electorate the 1980 electorate.

As for the possibility of a Clinton indictment, I think it’s virtually nil.  But if something major happens before the Convention, then as long as Sanders manages to keep Clinton from clinching with pledged delegates, I think that there would be a consensus draft of Warren or (possibly but less likely, in my opinion) Biden, now that the story was published that he would ask Warren to be his running mate.

One thing that I think matters in whether Trump can get a sizable vote among blue-collar workers in Rust Belt states—I don’t know how his vote total compares with Clinton’s in those states, but remember: Kasich beat Trump in Ohio—is that Build the Wall doesn’t have even nearly the same appeal to Rust Belt blue-collar workers as it does to Southern and Southwestern older and middle-aged white voters.

Another is the critical allegiance of blue-collar Rust Belt voters to the idea of unionization.  Suffice it to say that few blue collar workers in the Rust Belt these days fear an inflationary spiral caused by generous union-negotiated contracts, as, I noted above, was the case in 1980.

Nor do most blue-collar Rust Belters worry that a raise in the federal minimum wage would cause them to lose their Walmart or fast-food jobs because of competition from Chinese or Indian or Vietnamese workers.  Most Walmart and fast-food customers in the Rust Belt don’t commute to Asia to shop or dine.  Not often, anyway.

And as for Michiganders, I can attest that fear of Muslims living in their midst is no widespread.  Southeast Michigan has the largest population of Middle Eastern immigrants and descendants in this country, and make up a large percentage of small-business owners in the area.  Only once did I hear a derogatory comment about—as this man put it to me—“AY-rabs”, from a Michigander.  Only once.

Clinton makes a mistake if she opts to focus mainly on Trump’s misogyny, racism, xenophobia, meanness, vulgarity, physically aggressive language.  Everyone already knows these things.  She needs to focus, in addition to her own policy proposals, on two things about Trump: that he is openly demonstrating that he will be a tool of the Club for Growth and Ayn Ryan, and that this is especially so because he has no ability to understand actual policy; that because he is a pathological liar, and prides himself on it, they cannot ever actually rely on any promise he makes, any more than they could rely on a promise by a typical four-year-old.

I don’t think there can be any real doubt that Trump suffers from severe, untreated mental illness—severe bipolar disease or non-hallucinatory schizophrenia, is my guess, but I’m certainly no expert in the field.  But I think Clinton should expect that that is something that most voters will see for themselves by November; they will not need her to tell them this.

Not that Clinton normally refrains from telling people the obvious or the already-widely known, a point I made in a recent post here, but ….

She needs to educate the public about what the Ayn Ryan policy agenda is.  I mean, the actual specifics of it.  Not in her usual singsong soundbite cliché manner, which is likely to be as effective in informing the public as her rotating string of vapid campaign slogans (“Breaking down barriers!” is the current one, I think, although that might be out-of-date) has been in generating excitement.

No, actual specifics, enunciated in normal conversational sentences.  Nothing cutesy, no sleights of hand, no non sequiturs, no seminar-speak like “the energy sector,” a phrase she used when campaigning in West Virginia because she confused her audience (many of them former energy-sector workers) with members of the finance sector.  Just the facts, Ma’am.  And just in normal-speak.

She needs, in other words, to give herself–and us–some breathing room.

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