Bill Donovan: Play-it-safe politics rejected by voters


NORTH ADAMS — Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have reinvented politics in America this primary season, hopefully for good. And in the age of slickly produced multimillion dollar advertising campaigns which supposedly hypnotize easily led voters they've both done it the old-fashioned way. They've talked to us.

Not only have they talked to us directly, they've both said outrageous things, at least when compared to the normally boring political double-speak we're subjected to in most elections. Despite ignoring the normal mush-mouth political play-it-safe guidelines, Trump is leading the GOP's field of very confused candidates by a huge margin and Sanders made a real splash before starting his inevitable flameout.

It's simply wrong

In Sanders' case it was refreshing to hear someone on the national stage say so brashly and unapologetically that it's simply wrong for the very richest to have so much more than all of the rest of America and that it's wrong for education and health care to be such a heavy cost that they are out of reach for many working Americans.

Of course that's a nervous topic for Democrats, at least the nationally elected public officials and the leadership of the Democratic Party itself. They realize Sanders isn't talking to them, he's talking about them. They're not on his team and they never could be.

Sanders never stood a realistic chance against the deep pockets and old school machine politics of the Clinton/national Democratic leadership, but he has certainly gathered more attention and more votes than anyone ever expected he would simply by speaking to people from the heart.

Trump is looking more and more as if he could actually be the Republican candidate for president. That seems not to make much sense, big picture, unless the Republican leadership has decided to self-destruct. But again, like Sanders, Trump speaks from the heart. When he talks he isn't reciting stale focus group hash. He's telling the world exactly what he's thinking and he's doing it at high speed and full volume.

However, Trump is a mean-spirited man. He showed that meanness when he said he would support forcibly evicting Mexican immigrants who have been here working for years, stripping them if need be from their families, and also when he said we should stop Muslims from entering America. That's not how America works. Hopefully, despite his high entertainment value, voters won't let him off the hook for those comments.

The good thing about both the Democrat Sanders' and the Republican Trump's candidacies is that they have surprised us. They've shown us very forcibly that words do matter, even in the boring predictability of nationally televised politics.

It's almost become a given that multimillion dollar politicians are highly managed show ponies, clomping their hooves the right number of times when asked to perform at a debate or at one of those ridiculous, clearly scripted town halls that have become so popular over the last few elections. If you can't predict almost exactly what Hillary Clinton's answer is going to be to any question she's asked in any forum, you haven't been watching much television news for the last year.

Both Trump and Sanders have done it differently. They've spoken with great passion, almost anger. Because they speak this way it's tough to not pay attention.

When someone drones on and on in permanent meeting-speak, it doesn't take long for to zone out. But when someone grabs you by the lapels, looks you in the eye and tells you exactly what he or she thinks, it's hard not to pay close attention.

Right from the heart

Conventional wisdom says that modern politics is a play-it-safe endurance contest where the ultimate goal is to offend the least amount of voters as possible. There is reason to hold that belief, because it seems to work.

But maybe a slightly different message will be taken away from this contest. Maybe after this election, for the first time since the modern televised media political style was invented during the second Nixon campaign, voters will begin expecting candidates to speak from the heart.

If this presidential election doesn't teach us anything else, it should at least teach us that we have to skip the ads and start listening to what our candidates say. Donald Trump has been telling us for months exactly what he plans to do if he's elected. If he does win, we have no-one to blame but ourselves.

Bill Donovan is an occasional Eagle contributor.


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