Is little old Bernie Sanders the best thing to happen to Hillary Clinton and the worst thing to happen to the overcrowded Republican presidential field? At this point in the long and winding road to the big dance, the answer is an emphatic yes because economic issues such as wage stagnation, job growth and workplace gender imparity are grabbing an outsized -- and deserving -- amount of attention.
Sanders, despite the beyond-long-shot nature of his challenge, is pushing the presumptive Democratic nominee leftward on economic issues, which Americans care about a whole lot more than Iran's nuclear program or the return of the Bloom County comic strip, to name two topics of moment of the moment. This is having the effect of making the economic message being delivered by Republican candidates, when not trying to scrape Donald Trump off the bottom of their wingtips, look even more antediluvian and out of step with the needs of ordinary Americans.
And that is a beautiful thing.
If Clinton had had her way, she would have sailed into 2016 with a plain vanilla-ish economic platform that would, of course, appeal to the Democratic base and draw in Independents and swing voters, but nothing too dramatic, mind you. But the feisty (and Sanders has got to just hate that word by now) self-described socialist senator from Vermont has forced her to put some muscle in the economic plan she previewed earlier this week. One pundit said the plan reflected "the progressive economic zeitgeist of the present-day Democratic Party," which has a nice ring to it even if what it means is a bit murky.
Clinton's plan, which has a kitchen-sink feel to it, draws on Sanders' ideas: First and foremost, creating jobs and raising wages, which have stagnated so badly that real median household income is lower than it was 20 years ago, and secondly, dividing the spoils of economic growth more fairly, including reaping the fruits of the digital revolution without undermining workers' rights and job security (read labor unions) and, in one of several government interventionist nods, giving tax breaks to firms promoting employee ownership.
Clinton is not taking the bait dangled by Jeb Bush, who boasts that he would raise the U.S growth rate a probably unrealistic 4 percent per year, and asserts that the real barometer of economic success is wage growth. And she has fired back at Dubya's baby brother, who like the former president is a proponent of "trickle-down" economics, that frayed conservative security blanket that Republicans have been sucking on for years. ("No government interventionist soup for us!")
Jeb! did not misspeak, as his handlers disingenuously claimed, when he unwisely wagged a privileged finger at Americans and told them they needed to work longer hours and earn more income for their families through increased productivity. "Let him tell that to the nurse who stands on her feet all day or the teacher who is in that classroom or the trucker who drives all night," Clinton declared in a reply made in sound bite heaven. "They don’t need a lecture, they need a raise."
Among Clinton's other economic proposals are two that stand in dramatic contrast to Bush and his fellow Republican clown car poolers:
* Improving America's woeful infrastructure through a government-backed infrastructure bank to finance investment not unlike that which President Obama has proposed. Republicans apparently like potholes and falling down bridges as much as tax cuts for the rich, while Governor Scott Walker turned down billions in federal dough, never mind all the jobs it would create, for a high-speed rail link in Wisconsin and Bush backed Governor Rick Scott when he did the same in Florida.
* Increased labor market participation among women, which has been falling, by providing more affordable child care by subsidizing it. Republicans, almost to a man (and that Carly Fiorina, too) favor expanding the child tax credit. Oh, and they want to repeal or gut the Affordable Care Act, which has begun to address the disparity in the level of medical care women receive.
The Sanders Effect will not last and the Republican field will be winnowed down, including the eventual implosion of The Donald, while Clinton will find it harder to keep the high ground. But for the moment the divide in economic visions is stark. And it's great to have Opus the Penguin, Bill the Cat and Michael Binkley back.
TURNING BACK THE CLOCK WITH SCOTT
If Hillary Clinton's economic speech was something of a salad bar, Scott Walker's presidential campaign kickoff speech later the same day was all red meat.
Repeal Obamacare and leave Medicaid to the states. Cut taxes on the rich and ease financial market regulation. Defund Planned Parenthood and enact draconian pro-life legislation. Make it more difficult to get public assistance and vote but easier to carry concealed weapons. Slash education spending. Kick illegal immigrants out of the country and give states the right to outlaw same-sex marriage because, he implies, gays are pedophiles. And drill, baby, drill.
It doesn't bother me that the Wisconsin governor is a college dropout. What does bother me is his lack of intellectual curiosity, ducking tough questions rather than addressing them, and an inescapable sense that he is soulless despite his frequent references to God. ("I really think there's a reason why God put all these political thoughts in my head," he wrote in his college yearbook.)
And his repeated boasts about being a political outsider are hokum. He's only 47, but has been running for office for the last 25 years. In fact, the reason he dropped out of college was to run for the state Senate after his bid for student government president failed.
It also is troubling that Walker is defined by the enemies he has made: Women, labor unions and anyone who values academic freedom, for starters. But what struck me most was that in contrast to Clinton's commitment to build on the Obama coalition of blacks, Latinos, women and young people, Walker has no coalition, only right-wingers who want more than anything to turn back the clock.
Anyone following the ascent of Donald Trump in the polls should be forgiven if they have a case of vertigo. In a flip-flop that speaks volumes about the state of the game, Trump is now looked upon favorably by nearly six in 10 Republicans in the latest Washington Post-ABC poll, a complete reversal from six weeks ago when 65 percent of Republicans viewed him unfavorably.
I am sure that has nothing to do with Trump's oft-stated view that Mexicans are all-around scum, nor his declaration that his comments about Latinos will help him win their vote, which is about as likely as Greece paying off its debt. (His unfavorability rating with Latinos is now north of 80 percent and climbing.)
Meanwhile, Congressman Carlos Curbelo has given voice to the privately-uttered view that Trump may be a Democratic plot to undermine the Republican Party.
"I think there's a small possibility that this gentleman is a phantom candidate," the Miami Democrat said. "Mr. Trump has a close friendship with Bill and Hillary Clinton. They were at his last wedding. He has contributed to the Clintons' foundation. He has contributed to Mrs. Clinton's Senate campaigns. All of this is very suspicious."
Republicans thought they had won the lottery when the Supreme Court green lighted unlimited political spending in the 2010 Citizens United decision, but the very crowded presidential primary field has provoked some second thoughts.IT'S CALLED BUYER'S REMORSE
The Republican clown car is running on rocket fuel because of an influx of huge donations, including $86 million or so for second- and third-tier candidates Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina, who have no business being in the race and wouldn't be without super PACs. By contrast, the actual presidential campaign committees of these five candidates have raised a paltry $19 million combined and Huckabee, the faded star in the car, a paltry $2 million.
The big picture: Jeb Bush had $114.4 million from all sources through June 30, including $103 million from outside groups like super PACs, with Ted Cruz raising $52.3 million and Marco Rubio $40.7 million. Hillary Clinton raised $47.5 million the old-fashioned way through June 30, the most of any campaign, with Bernie Sanders raising $15.2 million and Ted Cruz $14.3 million. Not surprisingly, Sanders led all candidates in contributions of $200 or less with $13.7 million, or 80.7 percent of all contributions to his campaign, while Donald Trump led the pack in percentage of "burn rate," having spent $1.4 million, or 74.4 percent of his war chest.
When you consider what good could be done with those many millions, it's downright obscene, isn't it?
Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968. Click here for an index of previous Politix Updates.
IMAGE FROM DONKEYHOTEY/FLICKR. USED WITH PERMISSION.