When Did We All Become Political Insiders?

In Response to “The Cult of Sore Losers” by Frank Bruni: My thoughts on the themes raised by Frank Bruni’s op-ed published in the April 27, 2016 New York Times Opinions Section.

Sanders’ supporters apparently include a Stormtrooper in a suit. Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev

Late last night, a close friend posted a column from the New York Times by noted political campaign journalist, Frank Bruni, titled “The Cult of Losers.” For context, this friend are of differing opinions on who should be the Democratic Presidential nominee (I tend to “Feel the Bern”), and neither are afraid to voice our opinions— as it should be in our Democracy. After reading this article, I felt compelled to share my opinion on what I felt were fundamental issues that have led to the current state of American electoral politics. I do not expect anyone to agree (nor do I even anticipate anyone to read this), but I do implore you to read Bruni’s column, and think beyond the “sexy/buzzworthy” election cycle into the next 20 years of global politics and consider the mark we want to leave.

I do agree that there has been too much time spent on the “rigged” aspects of our voting process and not on issues. Not to say that both sides haven’t discussed issues, but we voters need to realize (especially the ones who can never seem to be satisfied) that election season is sexy and thrilling, but let’s start looking towards the future, not just November 2016, January 2017, or January 2021 — let’s think about the next 30+ years of our impact on the world and not just react in the moment (hold that thought because I’ll get back to it later).

A climate has emerged where everyone needs to be a political pundit or an insider, and purport to understand the inner workings of “backroom” politics. Let’s get back to trusting that a political process can work. That we can lend our voice to it. That we don’t need to think so strategically about who we vote for. I grow wary of hearing, “Well, I’m voting for XYZ because they have the best chance of getting other politicians elected, or people in Washington like ABC so it would be smart to vote for them.” That’s not our job to consider. That’s not why we are empowering representatives — it’s their job to make the system work, while we, as voters, are required to pay close attention, voice our concerns on issues, and empower candidates we think support our viewpoints. Let’s start voting for the people that inspire us — and listen, if that is Donald Trump, then I am a fool to try to say you shouldn’t feel inspired by a leader (however, I will tell you you are a fool because your leader is lying to you constantly).

Ultimately, though, I don’t think the tone of this opinion piece really resonated with me, especially with his message at the end. I think my one issue as to why the message didn’t hit (not that it has to because certainly an opinion piece won’t hit everyone) is how negative he ultimately is being towards the political system, and that this negativity — of which many politicians, pundits, and Navin Rajs have been guilty — is what has created the animosity of our current political climate. Speaking for myself (and hopefully other voters), I want to be hopeful. I want to be inspired and moved by the leaders that I’m empowering to represent me. It’s why 2008 was so exciting, and why Clinton, Reagan, Kennedy, etc… were so inspiring. So far the three main democrats in the race (MoM included) have been the only ones to successfully do this for me. He’s ultimately being just as negative about the political process as everyone he is criticizing, except that his sounding board is the NYTimes rather than a twitter account no one follows. It’s easy to be critical of something, but harder to put yourself out there and be hopeful that — faith put into the American voters — some good things can happen that surprise everyone.

This op-ed feels quite hyper-reactionary and almost a part of the problem Bruni is identifying. This is an election season: Voter discontent is nothing new during an election season (as he points out). What feels different is that there’re 350M of us who all have our own personal space to talk about it, so it feels as though the world is in constantly upset about their candidate losing. Didn’t feel so pervasive when only 200M were complaining and everyone was isolated to their corner of the country. When the new president takes their seat in the Oval Office, the grievances and think pieces and coverage from this election cycle will be a fading memory as will the point of this article. He and I seem to be making very similar points: that the election will play out as the voters seem to be dictating (save for some glaring problems in the way our election process operates such as the deliberate misleading of voters or often times the complete disenfranchisement of voters). My point is that we will ultimately be confident and live with the decision — as has been our custom time and time again.

2016 Delegate Count and Primary Results, New York Times, Wilson Andrews, Kitty Bennett and Alicia Parlapiano

What we shouldn’t be doing is criticizing people for being passionate during an election season, but encouraging the same passion after the election season if we want to expect anything to get done. Perhaps this is his larger point that I’m missing, but I don’t get that this is the takeaway since he is telling voters to “retire their grievances.” We shouldn’t let the fire of discontent in our political system die down just because a “winner” has been declared — that will be the true tragedy in our political process.

What I take issue with is the implication that voters are somehow impeding progress by being discontent during an election season; that is not what the past decade of gradually slowing legislative action and progress seems to indicate as the major roadblock. When our congress is failing to fulfill its constitutional duty and review a (impeccably qualified, if not admittedly boring if you truly want an activist court) Supreme Court nominee, to imply “sore losers” are blocking progress is quite insulting. I know the opinion writer has a more nuanced opinion, and is saying that voters are just one of the roadblocks, but then I think the op-ed itself becomes a tiresome exercise. These candidates should not admit defeat. They should not throw in as long as there are still voters in this country who feel passionate about voting for them. This rhetoric of telling voters to “play ball” and “grow up” and “think realistically” will only further degrade our political system and lead to even more people feeling fatigued with its day-to-day.

The American relationship with the government has never been good, some would say by design. It’s built on a foundation of organized distrust for authority; checks and balances is an example of this distrust. The Constitution of the United States of America was built on a system of state sovereignty. Slowly, following the realization that it was in fact the people that empowered the document, not the states, the powers of the Federal government in relation to the states was defined, usually with the Federal power reigning supreme (as popularized during the Warren Court). The seeds of discontent with our government and the political process go deeper than Watergate, perhaps even deeper than TR and Taft. If we have to put a date to it in modern politics, I believe it stems from the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The sudden and “unprovoked” death of an American icon shattered the beautiful idiocy of a post-war America. The conspiracy fever that followed it sewed the seeds of fundamental distrust in our government that could almost be expected in an era famous for espionage and the potential end-of-the-world. The problem is, nothing was ever done to truly mend this relationship. Urban and rural populations continued to be ignored, separated along the contrived notion that they shared none of the same values. Wars continued to be waged and the whole time the gap kept growing, built along party lines.

An era of Democrats who longed for the days of Kennedy and Johnson emerged following the crushing defeat of George McGovern. They refused to be labelled as “anti-war” or “anti-business.” Thus came the cadre Democrats who rivaled Republicans in their ability to play the “political game:” the Clinton Democrats. Nixon brought about the era of discussing politics only in the terms of “winners and losers” — Bruni does so in the op-ed numerous times, for example — that continues to this day. But we can’t talk about politics like that, can we? If we truly don’t want politics to be considered some sort of board game with pieces, we should cut this rhetoric — spun by Washington and the media — that politics has clear winners and losers. That we need to take this fight to them or we’re going to lose everything. Until we do that, we can’t hold voters accountable for being disgruntled during elections. It’s a problem created when our political process is built on “winning and losing,” but everyone continues to lose across the board and those who attempt to be hopeful are lambasted for being unrealistic.

It’s a problem faced by HRC, Bernie, and even the GOP candidates. It is not caused by discontented voters. It is a problem created entirely by factors within the political machine, and I think it is foolish to expect the voters to change their tone on this during the election cycle when op-eds such as “The Cult of Losers” thrive on this type of rhetoric.