Try to filter out the noise over who is “qualified” to be president or how the game is “rigged” against the guy who has forgotten he’s winning.
What’s left is a revealing look at how candidates confront complex issues, as reflected in three different approaches: Join the debate, avoid the debate, or fast-forward past the debate.
Bill Clinton was barely out of Buffalo last week when he plunged Democrats back into the morass of the nation’s most intractable issue: race.
His finger-wagging defense of his 1994 crime bill to Black Lives Matter hecklers might not have been the smartest way to buttress Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. But it illustrates how Democrats, rather than shying from complexity, revel in it.
The fact that many blacks supported the bill at the time – elevating the needs of the law-abiding over those of thugs ravaging their neighborhoods – does not mean the bill didn’t go too far in many important respects.
One result was the mass incarceration that critics decry today and that Bill Clinton has previously acknowledged, as has his wife, who’s also expressed regret over using the racially charged term “superpredators.” Still, the former president couldn’t help himself in pointing out that the bill was a response to real problems and did some real good in black neighborhoods.
It was an honest assessment of a complex issue, one his candidate spouse no doubt wishes he would have just ignored. But avoidance is not the Democratic way.
Republicans, on the other hand, abhor such complexity, as is evident in their response to abortion. Too hard to figure out when life begins? Fine. It begins at conception. End of discussion – until Donald Trump opens his mouth. Before reversing himself, he unwittingly revealed that the fetus-protection crowd has no intellectual clothes by suggesting that women who get abortions be punished if the procedure is made illegal.
Of course, they should – if you insist that abortion is murder, making the woman the financier in a contract killing. In what world do we let participants in a murder-for-hire walk free?
The only way you can honestly argue that the woman should not be punished is to acknowledge that abortion is something other than murder. But that requires drawing lines about when life begins and – as with issues from affirmative action to industrial policy – it’s simpler to just say no and avoid all that complexity.
Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders has become the embodiment of Newsweek’s 2009 cover story “We Are All Socialists Now,” turning a dirty word into a rallying cry used to draw an overflow crowd to UB’s Alumni Arena.
Sanders never had to grapple with how to make the term sound more palatable. Capitalism’s excesses made that kind of calibration unnecessary for a huge chunk of the population.
Even as his stumbling interview with the New York Daily News editorial board illustrated that his proposals have a complexity all their own, his backers don’t seem all that concerned as they weigh the questions embedded in his sweeping plans against the certain despair they wrestle with now.
Once you get past the silliness of some of the debates being played out in the media, such fundamental differences in how candidates would govern and confront complex issues make this far more than just the supposed choice between “insiders” and “outsiders.”