Many of my conservative friends believe I'm one of those Blue State liberals (not that there's anything wrong with that). Truth be told, I've voted for Republicans before: in fact, voters in Massachusetts are famous for choosing Democratic legislators and Republican governors. But in 1980, I worked for a presidential candidate who came from the Republican Party. His name was John Anderson, and he was a nine-term representative in congress. He ran as an Independent, and I supported him because I liked his views better than those of the two major party candidates-- Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. I found Anderson to be very practical, a political moderate who was not a "bomb-thrower." He was fiscally conservative, but socially liberal. Yes, he had once been ultra-conservative, but as the years passed, he moved more to the center, and even slightly center-left on some issues. And he was not afraid to acknowledge that some of his views had changed over time.
I liked that. Only in politics is it a bad thing if candidates change their mind about an issue. In real life, we do it frequently. It's necessary. We get new information, or circumstances call for a different approach, and we adapt. But in politics, someone who does that is a "flip-flopper." I've never understood that criticism. I don't want a candidate who is stuck in the past. I want someone who can embrace the new, while respecting what came before. Anyway, I believed Anderson, as a moderate who had experience dealing with both parties, would be able to build consensus in Washington.
But in the end, John Anderson really had no chance. The way the current political system is set up, the obstacles an independent candidate must overcome are far too daunting. Anderson was not able to get any traction, and he only got about 7% of the vote in the 1980 election. But despite that, I am not sorry I supported him. And that brings me to the two most interesting candidates amid the current group of presidential hopefuls: Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders. At this point, neither is running as an independent, since neither party has yet chosen its presidential nominees. I don't know if the Republican Party could ever fully accept Rand Paul-- some of his more libertarian stances are totally at odds with where the base of the party is. I have the same question about Bernie Sanders-- yes, he may pull current front-runner Hillary Clinton to the left, but are his stances so liberal that the majority of the Democratic Party would consider him unelectable?
What I'm really curious about is whether the "establishment" will once again choose the candidates that big donors find the most appealing. I think Bernie Sanders is 100% correct in railing against the "billionaire class"-- in fact, I am surprised some of my Republican friends don't see this as a real issue. If our elections are going to bend to the whim of billionaires, no matter what party they are from, then what does the average person's vote really mean? In the 2012 presidential race, one group alone -- Koch Industries-- spent more than four hundred million dollars helping Republican candidates. (I know what some of you are thinking-- what about the left? They've got [pick one] George Soros, labor unions, teachers' unions, etc etc. Yes they do, but fact-checkers at Politifact and the Washington Post confirmed that the Koch political network far outspent all those other donors; and thanks to all that money, the views and policies they championed played a major role in which senators and representatives got elected-- in other words, what the Kochs wanted was far more important than what the average voter might have wanted.
And it got even worse in the mid-term elections of 2014. By some reliable estimates, about four BILLION dollars was spent on political ads in that election cycle. Not all were from individual wealthy donors, but given how expensive it is to purchase TV and radio airtime, a lot of money had to flow from the pockets of certain Political Action Committees, as well as from the parties, and from the wealthiest donors. Now, don't get me wrong. I have nothing against people who are wealthy. But I do have a problem with people who only care about policies that will benefit themselves, rather than policies that will benefit American workers or taxpayers (many of the most profitable US corporations pay little if anything in taxes). Meanwhile, it's well documented that a number of companies that are making record profits are not re-investing it in the American economy that was so good to them. These companies are hoarding millions of dollars overseas, and not creating jobs in the USA. Meanwhile, CEO pay sky-rockets, and worker salaries remain flat. So, yes, I am happy that Bernie Sanders is focusing our attention on how much our country has become like an oligarchy, where a handful of wealthy elites call the tune and the rest of us dance to it, whether we feel like dancing or not.
As for Rand Paul, bless him for calling out the war hawks in his party. Some conservatives hate him for doing it, but he is right in saying that war is not always the answer. President Bush's invasion of Iraq did not make the region safer or better-- quite the opposite. And calling for more troops to be sent to [pick a country] is no guarantee that we won't lose more American lives and end up in a quagmire, where various factions that have hated each other for generations decide to turn on us, rather than turning on each other. I'm also glad that Paul is forcing congress to debate the Patriot Act, something I wish had been done years ago. I personally have nothing much to hide-- I lead a rather uninteresting life, all things considered. But I still am not fond of the idea of the government (whether led by Democrats or led by Republicans) being able to snoop on my phone calls.
I wonder, however, if either Paul or Sanders has a chance of getting the nomination. For Paul, he has to consider that defense industries contribute a lot to candidates; and supporting the Pentagon (and the troops) is at the heart of traditional Republican strategy. Can a Republican candidate who is not a total hawk, and who has moments when he is a strong civil libertarian, win over the average conservative voter? For Sanders, the fact that he is (gasp) a Democratic Socialist, someone who isn't shy about attacking the excesses of Wall Street, and someone who speaks out about income inequality on a regular basis, seem to doom his candidacy from the start. Can enough individual donors give him the money he needs in order to get his message out? Can he move beyond his small but enthusiastic leftie supporters? And if neither gets the nomination, will Paul or Sanders try to mount an independent candidacy? In some ways, the next few months will tell us a lot about the state of our democracy-- especially whether a candidate who puts civil liberties first, or a candidate who puts working class people first, can even stand a chance in this post-Citizens' United environment.