Sturm: The backstory behind 2016’s headlines
In this topsy-turvy election year, wonders never cease, as Americans Think Again about how to throw the bums out, even unelected bureaucrats.
The willingness to break with long-standing political norms isn’t surprising, considering voter anger, pessimism and spiking anxieties. Recent surveys of Americans show that overwhelming majorities believe the country is on the wrong track, the American Dream is unachievable, and our powerful, unaccountable government is America’s biggest threat.
Consequently, political dynasties have been rendered passe, as mega-donor darlings Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton discovered en route to their coronations. Not even their powerful super PACs (funded by unlimited individual, corporate and union support) can assure their victories.
The standard trump cards aren’t working, either, including the gender card, played recently by former Secretary of State and Hillary-backer Madeleine Albright, who admonished, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”
For Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson, the normally formidable race card trumps nothing. But a blustering and incoherent Donald Trump trumps everything, thanks to the limitless free airtime the ratings-hungry media grant him.
“I’m winning by a lot,” the self-funder boasts, but “I spent almost nothing.”
Meanwhile, the media leave unexamined Trump’s assertion that his wealth is a scorecard of his abilities. Some analysts calculate that the present value of Trump’s inheritance would approximate his current net worth if he’d simply invested it in the S&P 500.
Undermining Trump’s inevitability, the self-described winner’s first electoral outing was a loss to Cruz and near-upset by Rubio, as 76 percent of Iowa caucusgoers voted not-Trump. His New Hampshire victory was impressive, capturing all demographic groups, but two-thirds still voted not-Trump.
As underperforming contenders such as Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina exit the crowded field, the eventual consolidation and Trump’s record-breaking unfavorability in the general population bode poorly for his candidacy.
Nevertheless, the ratings magnet is well-positioned to parlay popularity into a Trump network, like the media platform that made Michael Bloomberg — who’s contemplating his own self-funded presidential campaign — one of the world’s richest.
Another surprising result was Cruz’s defeat of King Corn in Iowa. The anti-Washington agitator won record numbers of votes in a historic GOP turnout while arguing that farmers are hurt by government ethanol mandates — not helped by them, as powerful agribusiness lobbyists allege.
Most extraordinary is Bernie Sanders’ durability. Polls show the septuagenarian-socialist tied with Clinton nationally after narrowly losing Iowa but routing her in New Hampshire, where 93 percent of Democrats prioritizing honesty preferred Sanders.
Are voters drawn to Sanders’ socialism, or is he the beneficiary of a “no more Clintons” mindset, especially after reports that the Clintons “earned” $153 million in speaking fees since leaving the White House?
It’s probably both, because Sanders’ support skews young. Thirsty for trustworthy leadership, “Sandernistas” have witnessed government bailouts and rampant cronyism while suffering through the feeblest economic recovery since the Great Depression.
According to Pew Research, this generation is “the first in the modern era to have higher levels of student-loan debt, poverty and unemployment and lower levels of wealth and personal income.”
No wonder they find political revolution tempting. But they should study the American Revolution before accepting Sanders’ plan to concentrate ever-growing government power in the name of “social justice.”
As founder James Madison explained, “The essence of government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.” Concerned that a government would eventually encroach on rights and liberties, Thomas Jefferson forecast “debt, corruption and rottenness” absent constitutional guardrails.
That’s why, after overthrowing King George’s arbitrary and unfair rule, America’s founders established a government with limited powers to protect the equal rights of the people, believing the boundless potential of individuals operating in a free society would “make America great” — and they were right.
Yet as government has grown, so have its anti-competitive powers, corrupting our founders’ liberty-preserving system with cronyism that rewards political connections over competitive excellence.
Using massive powers to legislate, tax, spend and regulate, policymakers have rigged the economy and undermined the principles on which freedom, fairness and opportunity rely: equality under the law, property rights and sound money.
Given America’s heritage and Big Government’s dismal track record, it’s stunning that Sanders and Trump — both advocates of using unprecedented government power to centrally plan and control economic life — could win New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” state. Have its freedom-loving voters forgotten the national purpose their state helped found: the democratic self-rule of a free people?
Hopefully, America is in revolt and casting about for outsiders not because they want more government but because of the failures of our hyper-politicized, unaccountable bureaucracy: contaminated water, terrorist attacks, dying vets, IRS harassment, illegal immigration, health care chaos and murdered U.S. diplomats and border guards.
Think Again — in this anti-conventional wisdom year, may our founders’ wisdom about the dangers of Big Government ultimately prevail.
Melanie Sturm lives in Aspen. She reminds readers to Think Again. You might change your mind. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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