Blow, Kristof and Collins

In “White America’s ‘Broken Heart'” Mr. Blow says the urgency of inequality as an issue is really about how some white Americans are now experiencing what many minorities here have long experienced.  Mr. Kristof has fallen into lock step with the Times and is asking Bernie Sanders questions nobody asks Clinton.  In “2 Questions for Bernie Sanders” he says an  admirer could use some reassurance.  Well, Nick, why don’t you ask for the same “reassurance” from Hillary?  (Who, by the way, isn’t all that much younger than Bernie despite what you imply.  And he seems to have more energy.)  Ms. Collins, in “And Now, the Marco Memo,” says he’s still giving much the same speech but not the same stances.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

On Sunday, at the Corinthian Baptist Church in Des Moines, former President Bill Clinton, looking frail and sounding faint, stumped for his wife, working through her qualifications with a husband’s devotion and a Svengali’s facility.

But one thing he said stood out to me for its clear rhetorical framing.

He attributed much of the anger that’s present in the electorate to anxiety over a changing demographic profile of the country, but then said: We are going to share the future. The only question is: What will be the terms of the sharing?

This idea of negotiating the terms of sharing the future is an expansive one, on both ends of the ideological spectrum, but it also seems to me to be an internal debate white America is having with itself.

Much of the energy on both the left and the right this cycle is coming from white Americans who are rejecting the direction of America and its institutions. There is a profound disappointment. On one hand, it’s about fear of dislocation of supremacy, and the surrendering of power and the security it provides. On the other hand, it’s about disillusionment that the game is rigged and the turf is tilted. It is about defining who created this country’s bounty and who has most benefited from it.

White America is wrestling with itself, torn between two increasingly distant visions and philosophies, trying to figure out if the country should retreat from its present course or be remade.

The results from the Iowa caucuses revealed that Republican caucusgoers gave roughly even support to the top three finishers — Ted Cruz, a much-loathed anti-institutional who has shown a pyromaniac’s predilection for wanting to torch Washington rather than make it work; the real estate developer spouting nativist and even fascist policies with the fervor of a prosperity preacher; and Marco Rubio, a too-slick-to-be-trusted stripling who oozes ambition with every obviously rehearsed response.

On the left, the white vote was nearly evenly split in Iowa between Hillary Clinton, a pragmatist who believes that the system can be fixed, and Bernie Sanders, a revolutionary who believes that system must be dismantled. At least on the Democratic side, age, income and liberalism seemed to be the fault lines — older, wealthier, more moderate people preferred Clinton and younger, less wealthy and “very liberal” people preferred Sanders.

Clinton won the support of nonwhites in Iowa 58 percent to Sanders’s 34 percent. This gap also exists — and has remained stubbornly persistent — in national polls, and in some polls is even wider. For instance, according to a January Monmouth University Poll, nationwide black and Latino support for Clinton was 71 percent as opposed to 21 percent for Sanders. At this point, this is a settled issue for nonwhite voters, and those voters are likely to be Democratic primary king- or queen-makers.

During Bill Clinton’s speech on Sunday, he brought up the recent reportabout the rising death rate among some white people in America.

As Gina Kolata reported in November in The New York Times:

“Something startling is happening to middle-aged white Americans. Unlike every other age group, unlike every other racial and ethnic group, unlike their counterparts in other rich countries, death rates in this group have been rising, not falling.”

He rattled off the reasons for this rise — suicide, alcoholism and drug overdoses — and then concluded that these white Americans were dying of “a broken heart.”

It was, again, an interesting framing: that these people dying of sadness and vice were simply the leading edge of a tragic, morbid expression of a disappointment and fear shadowing much of white America.

America has a gauzy, romanticized version of its history that is largely fiction. According to that mythology, America rose to greatness by sheer ruggedness, ingenuity and hard work. It ignores or sidelines the tremendous human suffering of African slaves that fueled that financial growth, and the blood spilled and dubious treaties signed with Native Americans that fueled its geographic growth. It ignores that the prosperity of some Americans always hinged on the oppression of other Americans.

Much of America’s past is the story of white people benefiting from a system that white people designed and maintained, which increased their chances of success as it suppressed those same chances in other groups. Those systems persist to this day in some disturbing ways, but the current, vociferous naming and challenging of those systems, the placing of the lamp of truth near the seesaw of privilege and oppression, has provoked a profound sense of discomfort and even anger.

In Sanders’s speech following the Iowa caucuses, he veered from his position that this country “in many ways was created” on “racist principles,” and instead said: “What the American people understand is this country was based and is based on fairness.” Nonwhite people in this country understand that as a matter of history and heritage this simply isn’t true, but it is a hallowed ideal for white America and one that centers the America ethos.

Indeed, the current urgency about inequality as an issue is really about how some white Americans are coming to live an experience that many minorities in this country have long lived — structural inequity has leapt the racial barrier — and that the legacy to which they fully assumed they were heirs is increasingly beyond their grasp.

Inequality has been a feature of the African-American condition in this country since the first black feet touched this ground.

Last month, the MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes tweeted: “This campaign is starting to feel more and more like a long, national nervous breakdown.” For white America, I believe this is true.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof, who’s starting to annoy me:

When Bernie Sanders won election as mayor of Burlington, Vt., in 1981, I called his office to see if there was a story there about a socialist elected official. I was interning at The Washington Post (I didn’t mention the intern part!) and spoke at length to some assistant who answered the phone in the mayor’s office.

I asked about Sanders’s plans, and the aide kept answering with “we” — which I thought a nice glimpse of contagious office socialism. After half an hour, I had enough to check with my editor, so I asked the aide’s name. “Oh,” he said a bit sheepishly, “actually, I’m Bernie Sanders.”

Sanders’s lack of political airs has helped catapult him forward in the presidential race, overcoming a 50-point deficit to just about tie Hillary Clinton in Iowa. He comes across as winningly uncalculated: Other candidates kiss babies; Sanders seems to fumble for a baby’s “off” switch so he can tell you more about inequality in America. Most politicos sweet-talk voters; he bellows at them.

I admire Sanders’s passion, his relentless focus on inequality and his consistency. When he was sworn in as mayor of Burlington, he declared: “The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the millions of families in the middle are gradually sliding out of the middle class and into poverty.” That has remained his mantra across 35 years. And yet, I still have two fundamental questions for Sanders:

Can you translate your bold vision into reality?

On that, frankly, I’m skeptical. I’m for Medicare for All, but it won’t happen. And if it did, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan group, found that Sanders’s sums come up short by $3 trillion over a decade.

Likewise, Sanders says he would prod America’s allies in the Middle East to lead the charge to defeat the Islamic State. Yes, but how? The United States has already been trying unsuccessfully to get these allies to do more against ISIS. What new leverage does he bring?

The Washington Post last month published a scathing editorial headlined “Bernie Sanders’s Fiction-Filled Campaign.” It derided his “fantastical claims” and added: “Sanders is not a brave truth-teller. He is a politician selling his own brand of fiction.”

I think that’s too harsh, for Sanders panders less than other politicians (a very low bar), and he has often staked out lonely positions that turned out to be correct—such as his opposition to the Iraq war. But there remains this open question of how he could achieve his ambitious agenda.

I also wonder if his age may be relevant here: Sanders would be 75 when he took office, by far the oldest person to become president (Reagan was 69; Clinton would be a slightly younger 69). Sanders now is indefatigable, but people often slow down in their late 70s and their 80s.

Another reason for skepticism is his congressional record. In 25 years in Congress, Sanders has been primary sponsor of just three bills that became law, and two were simply to rename post offices in Vermont; he did better with amendments. Clinton wasn’t particularly effective as a legislator, either, but to me Sanders’s record suggests that his strength is as a passionate advocate, not as a deal-maker who gets results.

Can you get elected? Or would your nomination make a President Cruz more likely?

When voters are polled today about how they would vote in a general election, Sanders does pretty well. For example, he beats Ted Cruz in the RealClearPolitics average, while Clinton loses to Cruz. But at this stage that’s almost meaningless: Republicans are blasting Clinton while ignoring Sanders. If he were the nominee, he would be savaged.

One particularly sobering item for Sanders supporters: A Gallup poll last year asking voters what kind of person they would be unwilling to consider voting for. Six percent of Americans say they wouldn’t vote for a Catholic, and 7 percent wouldn’t support a black or a Jew. Some 24 percent wouldn’t vote for a gay candidate, and more than a third would refuse to vote for a Muslim or an atheist.

However, the most objectionable kind of person by far was a socialist. Fifty percent of Americans said they would be unwilling to consider voting for a socialist.

Maybe Sanders could convince them that a “democratic socialist” isn’t exactly a socialist, or maybe he could charm some voters into rethinking their beliefs. He has done just that very successfully in Vermont, a state where he now wins elections by overwhelming margins, and skeptics have been underestimating him for 35 years. But if a Democratic nominee starts off with half the voters unwilling to consider someone like him, that’s a huge advantage for the Republican nominee.

So can he accomplish his goals, and is he electable? Lots of us admire Sanders and we would like reassurance.

Bite me, Nick.  And if Cruz winds up with the nomination he’ll have to confront the “uncanny valley” impression he oozes.  Here’s Ms. Collins:

Here we are, in the Marco Rubio Moment.

The Republican establishment is thrilled: A moderate-sounding Gen X senator from a swing state! And one so good at spin he managed to give a victory speech in Iowa after he came in third. No wonder all the other candidates are jealous.

“This isn’t a student council election, everybody. This is an election for president of the United States. Let’s get the boy in the bubble out of the bubble,” snarked Chris Christie. He was referring to Rubio’s tendency to be rather scripted in his appearances — one New Hampshire reportercompared him to “a computer algorithm designed to cover talking points.”

Christie, pressing further — and when does Chris Christie not? — has also been saying that the speech Rubio sticks to is the same one he’s been giving since 2010. It’s true that there’s always the part about his parents, the striving Cuban immigrants. And you do get the feeling you’re supposed to vote for him because his dad and mom believed in the American dream.

As a young man, Rubio himself was not particularly hard working. In fact, in his memoir he admits he could be “insufferably demanding.” But he did sympathize with his parents’ struggles, and when his father, a bartender, went on strike in 1984, young Marco became “a committed union activist.”

And then — American dream! — the bartender’s son became a senator, who opposes raising the minimum wage and wants to eliminate “rules that empower unions.” You know, you grow.

Rubio was a slow starter, education-wise, but he eventually graduated from law school, saddled with a load of student debt. This is, as he always points out, a familiar American story. The next part, where he instantly runs for office and acquires a billionaire benefactor who helps him out by underwriting low-stress jobs for Rubio and his wife, is slightly less average.

The $800,000 advance he got for his memoir — the one that fails to explain his trajectory on the union issue — is also not exactly typical. But he’s been a terrible money manager, which he explains by saying that “I didn’t inherit any money.”

On the issues, Rubio says he has a new generation’s answers to the nation’s economic problems. The answers are mainly about reducing business taxes and regulations, but he says it in a much more youthful way.

He’s anti-choice, even for victims of rape and incest. Lately, he’s taken to pointing to instances when he supported legislation that did include an exception. This is true. As long as a bill makes it harder for women to have access to abortion rights, he’s there.

And then there’s the great Immigration Switcheroo. Follow the timeline:

2010 — Running for the U.S. Senate, Rubio is against giving people who are in the country without documentation any path to citizenship. That’s “amnesty,” and it’s just wrong, like failing to enforce the speed limit.

2013 — Marco is a senator, and he’s totally changed his mind about that path-to-citizenship matter. Why do you think that happened? Uncharitable observers thought he wanted to cozy up to big Republican donors who like the idea. But maybe he was just … growing.

He becomes one of the famous bipartisan “Gang of Eight” pushing for immigration reform. Rubio is a valuable partner for the Gang, and he makes them pay with repeated concessions, including a very strong provision for additional border security. Finally, the path-to-citizenship bill passes the Senate 68 to 32. “We are a compassionate people,” he says on the Senate floor.

2013 — Fast forward a few weeks. The Tea Party is enraged, the House is unenthusiastic and Rubio is backtracking wildly. “Look,” he tells Fox News, “it’s not the most important issue facing America. Obamacare is more important, for example.”

2015 — Marco Rubio is a candidate for president. He hates “amnesty.” And he says you can’t have immigration reform until you have additional border security.

In the competition with the other super-conservative Cuban-American contender, Ted Cruz, Rubio is regarded as more likable. This is not a heavy lift. He is also competing with Cruz for the affection of Christian conservatives, and while Rubio has always mentioned God in his political speeches, lately he’s been ramping things up. One of his ads in Iowa was about “the free gift of salvation offered to us by Jesus Christ.”

Rubio himself goes to two churches. Sometimes the family attends a Baptist-affiliated service on Saturday night and a Catholic Mass on Sunday.

Quick question: How would you feel about a presidential candidate who’s both Protestant and Catholic?

A) That’s great. Maybe it’s a sign he’s open-minded. B) That’s O.K., unless it’s just another way to fudge his positions. C) I am strongly against bringing a person’s religion into the political arena. Which is why I wish Marco Rubio would stop telling us about his.

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