Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Suzanne Fields
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Posted: Mar 18, 2016 12:01 AM
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Hand-wringing, exasperation, frustration, disbelief -- when have Americans been so befuddled by a presidential campaign? Disillusioned voters can only channel ancient Ulysses confronting Scylla and Charybdis: They're suffering like pilgrims between the painful rock and the uncomfortable hard place.

Do they continue to bad-mouth the front-runner, praying for a miracle? Do they work for an unlikely brokered convention? Wouldn't that produce more bile and spleen to further ruin the party? If Donald Trump prevails in November, can they swallow that bile and avoid the biliousness by voting for Hillary Clinton? And what about the millennials who "felt the Bern" through winter, spring and early summer? How much bile can they swallow? There's enough stormy weather in the forecast to get everybody -- Democrats, Republicans and independents alike -- truly wet and cranky. Unlike Bob Dylan, they'll need more than a weatherman to feel which way the wind blows.

Historians, who look to past campaigns for keys to fathom future campaigns, remind one and all that it's still a long way to Cleveland, Ohio for the Republican National Convention. There's enough time to stub every toe, bruise every ego and invoke every epiphany to change perceptions. Poets take the longer view and might argue (with apologies to T.S. Eliot) in verse: "Between the idea/ And the reality/ Between the motion/ And the act/ Between the votes and the brokered convention/ Falls the Shadow."

There's a shadow over the disaffected who threaten to bolt the party if Donald Trump is the nominee, default to Hillary or try to create a new party. Taking any of these actions would reveal an act so splintering as to assure the election of a liberal or radical Democrat for decades to come. Who knows what mischief lies in the hearts of pouting losers?

There's peril aplenty in the ranks of the disappointed Bernie Democrats. They're not yet as vocal as the disappointed Republicans, but they could be aggressively passive come November, staying home to nurse their wounds and neither volunteering nor voting. High percentages of prospective voters continue to see Clinton as greedy, dishonest and untrustworthy -- not one to inspire confidence and the hard work of a winning campaign. She's stuck with her reputation.

Some of the disaffected Democrats vow to cross the northern border to Canada. Visits to the Canadian immigration website surged after Super Tuesday. Hollywood stars, always in search of a script with something dramatic to say, often vow to go into exile when a Republican victory looms. They'll have to get in line behind Alec Baldwin and others who promised to leave when George W. Bush beat Al Gore in those ancient days of hanging chads; but they're still here. Gov. Jerry Brown of California jokes that if Trump is elected, California might have to build a wall to protect itself -- not from Mexicans, but presumably from the rest of the country. (He didn't say who would pay for it.)

Just as disappointed Republicans are terrified of a Trump presidency in their future, unhappy Democrats are terrified that Clinton's checkered past predicts a future of blight and regret. "Clinton's argument that she's a proven pragmatist who can get things done -- a linchpin of her campaign against Sanders for the Democratic nomination -- rests on a view of history that highlights leaders at the expense of social movements," writes Jeet Heer, a senior editor for the devoutly liberal New Republic magazine. "This often leads to her tonally off-key statements that put her at odds with her own party's base, many of whom have been shaped by the social activism of the civil rights, feminist and LGBT rights movements."

His point is that millennial voters especially find her shape-shifting views of social change dated and hearing-impaired, such as the tone-deaf remarks by two Democratic dowagers-in-arms: the retired Playboy bunny Gloria Steinem and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Their tonal mistakes were reflected in Clinton's own rhetoric. She expressed grief over the death of Nancy Reagan only to withdraw her remarks (if not her condolences) when she was reminded that the former first lady hadn't done much in the fight against AIDS after all.

It's not enough for Hillary to make common cause with Black Lives Matter group, which she attempted to do last summer; during a spontaneous discussion with Black Lives Matter activists, she described herself as among the civil-rights sinners. Heer says that Clinton's professed view of civil rights is "the idea that historic change is made by those in power, or in proximity to power, who decide what is best for society."

So what will the anguished voters -- Republicans, Democrats, liberals and conservatives alike -- do when they step into the voting booth and draw the curtain to be alone with their judgment and their conscience? As one wag put it, "they'll jump off that bridge when they get to it."