What’s the Deal With Oldsters and Hillary, Anyway?


It’s Sunday, and that’s time for some idle musing. Today’s idle musing is this: why is it that us oldsters tend to favor Hillary over Bernie? Obviously we have some substantive reasons, just as Bernie supporters have theirs. But it’s a funny thing. I pretty much agree with Bernie’s take on money in politics. I like his attitude toward Wall Street. I have reservations about his foreign policy, but I still suspect that he’d be less interventionist and more to my liking. And yet, I still lean toward Hillary. Partly this is also substantive—she’s better briefed, her proposals are more realistic, and I think she could get more done—but there’s no denying that a lot of it is mood affiliation.

For some reason this got me thinking about fight scenes in movies. Bear with me here. If you watch a movie from 50 years ago, the fight scenes will mostly strike you as ridiculous. The staging is weak, the sound effects are amateurish, and the choreography is slapdash. Things improved over the next couple of decades, but then they went overboard. Fight scenes began to devour blockbuster movies, with directors all trying to one up each other. But really, a fight is a fight. After a while, there’s little new you can do, and all the CGI in the world can’t hide that. Anyone who saw the most recent Star Trek movie knows what I’m talking about. The final fight scene was absurd, tedious, and completely unnecessary. But JJ Abrams put it in because he figured his audience demanded it. And I suppose they did. But those of us who have been watching movies since the 60s or 70s found it boring and predictable.

Now on to politics. To me, Bernie is like one of those fight scenes: I’ve seen it all before. On the Democratic side, primaries have specialized in having at least one bold truthteller like Bernie in every cycle since the 1960s. Sometimes they’re lefty truthtellers, sometimes they’re “hard truths” truthtellers, and sometimes they’re a bit of a mishmash. But the one thing they have in common is that they can afford to tell the truth—in the beginning, at least—because they’re mostly running as rebels who don’t really expect to win. And if you’re not seriously trying to win, there’s no downside to being entirely candid. Who cares if you’re going to lose a few important demographics in the process?

Since 1968, we’ve seen at least one of these in every contested Democratic primary. Off the top of my head, the list includes Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, Mo Udall, Gary Hart, Paul Simon, Paul Tsongas, Bill Bradley, Howard Dean, and Dennis Kucinich. They all attracted a crowd of fans, some more than others, and generally speaking they were lionized by the press. None of them won except for McGovern, who went down to an epic defeat in the general election. (Probably any Democrat would have lost that year, but McGovern lost in a landslide.)

So this year I look at Bernie, and I see the same old thing: a bold truthteller who could afford not to play conventional politics because he was never really planning to win. He just wanted to get his issues on the table. The fact that he’s running so close is probably as much of a surprise to him as it is to everyone else.

But this is obviously something that’s far more salient to older voters than to younger ones. Bernie doesn’t seem fresh and courageous to us. He seems like the same guy we’ve seen every four years. They all have one or two issues they care about. They want those issues on the table, and running for president is a good way to do it. They usually drop out by spring. And generally speaking, most of them probably didn’t have the temperament to make good presidents.

Obviously your mileage might vary. Maybe Bernie is finally the one to do it, and I’m just too old and jaded to see it. Maybe his temperament is different, and he’d surprise us all by being a pretty good president. Maybe he’d get serious about rallying his troops to care about downballot elections, and win control of Congress. Maybe he’d really get a lot of the stuff done that he’s been talking about.

I doubt it. But then again, none of the previous truthtellers has ever made it to the White House, so who knows? Maybe eight years from now we’ll all be feeling the Bern.