Cousin Jeff worries that a vote for Bernie is a vote for a Republican sweep in the fall. Iris, a veteran of peace campaigns, fears another George McGovern debacle (losing 49 states to Nixon in 1972.) And Jacques, a radical artist, is certain that a self-declared socialist can't possibly become president in the most capitalist nation on earth.
But George McGovern (or Eugene V. Debs or Ralph Nader) never received the kind of poll numbers Bernie is getting. Take a look at these head-to-head general election average of polls since February 10, 2016 (from Real Clear Politics):
- Hillary loses to Cruz by 1.5 percentage points. Bernie wins by 9.7 points
- Hillary loses to Rubio by 5 points. Bernie wins by 3.3 points.
- Hillary manages to beat Trump by 3.4 points. Bernie wins 8 points.
Hillary's Substantive Weakness
The pundits say these polls are useless because the Republicans haven't yet done their number on Bernie. By November, he'll look more like Lenin than a liberal. And besides, isn't the Clinton machine as vicious as any Republican operation? She'll fight fire with fire, while Bernie's too nice. He won't know what hit him.
This cable news palaver, however, glides over the real differences. For a moment, let's look at the Trump matchup, not Cruz or Rubio. And let's put aside Hillary's emails and the fact that some voters question her honesty. Some don't like Trump either. The much bigger problem for her is substantive. She will have enormous difficulty defending herself on three key issues: trade, war and Wall Street.
Trade: The Fast Track to Prosperity?
Hillary's lead will start to slip as she runs into the Trump buzz on trade. She'll be up against years and years of union agitation against unfair foreign competition fed by anti-worker trade deals. Industrial labor unions talk about this every day as hundreds of thousands of workers in key midwestern states lose their jobs due to product lines and entire facilities shifting to low-wage areas around the world.
Both the companies and the unions involved constantly blame unfair trade with China, Mexico and other low-wage countries. It's not clear if Team Hillary realizes the full extent and intensity of this day-to-day education and agitation against unfair trade done by the very unions that will eventually support her. It's relentless and has set up the rank and file to listen, if not lean, toward Trump.
Also, these industrial unions have been the backbone of the fights against NAFTA, TPP and just about every trade bill put forth by both political parties. To them, fast-track is a swear word.
Hillary, however, believes in this fast-track to prosperity. She's been part and parcel of the Democratic Party's embrace of neo-liberalism. She and Bill, backed by an army of economists, trumpeted the wonders of deregulation and free trade. It will lower prices. It will create more jobs. (Remember the theory of comparative advantage from Econ 101?)
Instead, free trade was corporate-managed trade from the start. It was used to relentlessly drive down U.S. labor costs, while killing tens of thousands of higher paying middle-class industrial jobs.
Wait, say the Team Hillary economists, the new jobs that were created and the cheap goods flooding in from China means workers can live better. Well, the average worker just doesn't see it that way. The buying power of their wages has been stagnant since the 1970s, while financial and corporate elites have accumulated vast riches. All American industrial workers feel trade-enabled economic insecurity each day. Runaway inequality hurts. They know they've been had.
What's Hillary's response? She now opposes TPP after supporting it. Will she renounce NAFTA, the crown jewel of the Clinton years? Not a chance. Will she go big and announce a just transition plan to guarantee good paying jobs to all displaced workers? That's Denmark, not her vision of a neo-liberal America.
Meanwhile Trump will continue to attack all trade agreements. In doing so, he will be echoing the lines used by many union leaders for the last 20 years. And of course, he will tell us, that as the supreme dealmaker, he will do better for the American worker. Industrial workers will think he can't do worse.
Hillary is an interventionist. Her support of the Iraq war was not a mistake. It wasn't even a case of poor judgment. Rather, in her judgment, the U.S. has the right and the obligation to promote regime change to rid the world of pernicious dictators and create democracies. Her real critique of such interventions is that the nation-building wasn't done well enough. She'll do it better.
She pressed Obama for more intervention in Syria. She wants an enforced no-fly zone. She has no qualms about overthrowing Kaddafi in Libya. She claims she doesn't want to put "boots on the ground" in the Middle East, but "special ops" are okay. (Their boots don't count.)
She looks up to Kissinger because she also believes the U.S. should lead the world, even if we'll be engaged in endless interventions and wars. That's the price of being the world's only superpower.
Trump sounds like a 1960s peacenik in comparison. He'll pound away at the mess she's helped to create in the Middle East. Certainly he will sound crude and unschooled in foreign affairs. Every statement he utters will make the foreign policy establishment wince. But what he lacks in knowledge he makes up in nationalistic bombast as he claims to build a military "so big and so strong that no one will mess with us." At the same time he will rail against the trillions spent on useless Middle East interventions and the wars Hillary supported.
Hillary certainly is tough and smart. But Trump will come across with unrestrained toughness and with more street smarts about wasting American lives and resources.
Some argue that her vulnerabilities on trade and foreign policy are not extensive. After all trade only impacts a limited number of voters, and Hillary's prodigious foreign policy skills will mask her hawkishness. However, her attachments to Wall Street are another matter. There's no way to dance around them.
What was she thinking when taking in over $11 million for speeches to Wall Street firms and other corporate elites? Here's what I've heard from her online supporters.
- It was her job to represent Wall Street when she was the senator for New York.
- She's never changed her votes or positions because of such donations.
- She's going to be really tough on them by calling for tighter financial regulations, especially on shadow banks, hedge funds and the like.
- Men get those kind of speaking fees after leaving government; why shouldn't she?
- t's really not that much money compared to what the Wall Streeters make.
- She's entitled to earn a living.
- She needs the money to do battle with the Republicans.
You think these will fly? Trump will bazooka them into oblivion. He will say, Nobody gives up that kind of money without expecting something in return. I know. I've done it hundreds of times. I'm self-financed. I don't need that money. I won't accept that money. I can't be bought. You're signed, sealed and delivered.
No focus group testing can save her from this onslaught.
Bernie doesn't need those focus groups. He fought against the trade deals from the start. He was against the Iraq war and opposes regime change. And he's not taking a dime from Wall Street. And he's taking on the billionaire class of which Trump is a proud member.
Add to that Bernie's high marks on trustworthiness and his lack of email issues, and you have the strongest candidate to trump Trump.
So my dearest Cousin Jeff, Iris and Jacques, this is not 1972. The Cold War is over. Runaway inequality is ruining our country and the American people are now more willing to listen to an honest democratic socialist than to a finance-friendly, neo-liberal interventionist.
(Please like the Runaway Inequality page on Facebook.)
Les Leopold, the director of the Labor Institute in New York is working with unions, worker centers and community organization to build a national economics educational campaign. His latest book, Runaway Inequality: An Activist's Guide to Economic Justice (Oct 2015), is a text for that effort. All proceeds go to support this educational campaign.