New Hampshire: Muddy waters for GOP, clarity for Dems

New Hampshire may have muddied the Republican waters, but it provided genuine clarity about the Democrats. The battle between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton places a curious generational twist on a battle that has been raging for half a century.

The millennials flocking to Sanders represent what used to be called the "old left," placing the class struggle and economic distribution front and center. Listen closely, and their vilification of Wall Street, their enmity for "banksters," their constant harping on income inequality, and their insistence upon a living wage, all harken back to an era far earlier than FDR, as they echo: "You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold."

Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
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Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

That lament came from the 1896 Democratic Convention; the speaker was William Jennings Bryan. The millennial socialists "feeling the Bern" are his rightful heirs. Their preference for the programmatic elements of Sanders' campaign — free health care, free tuition, free etc. — are the New Deal icing on the cake. Today's youth are the populists of yore. There is indeed nothing new under the sun.

In the panicking Clinton camp, Gloria Steinem's shaming and Madeline Albright's scolding said all there is to say: "Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie," and "There's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other". Hillary's campaign has been identity politics on steroids at least since the first Democratic debate, when moderator Anderson Cooper asked "Secretary Clinton, how would you not be a third term of President Obama?" She replied, "Well, I think that's pretty obvious. I think being the first woman president would be quite a change from the presidents we've had up until this point, including President Obama."

Identity is the hallmark of the "new left," the radical elitists who came of age in the 1960s to become the pensioners of the baby boom. Having long ago made their peace with the financial aspects of adulthood, they have rallied for decades behind the banner of identity: race, gender, orientation, ethnicity.

In their world, Hillary Clinton is simply destined to be the first woman president, come hell or high water — as Secretary Albright chose to emphasize. Like Hillary herself, her prominent supporters can think of no virtue more compelling than her identity. In her concession speech last night, Hillary spoke to the (real or imagined) fears of African-American parents, immigrant families, and female workers — rather than the concerns of parents, families, and workers facing a shaky economy, disintegrating communities, and a dangerous world.

Not too long ago, there was a third faction of the Democratic Party. Twenty years ago, Bill Clinton understood the virtue of governing from the center. His uneasy and antagonistic partnership with Newt Gingrich brought the country numerous successes. Together, they reformed welfare, emphasizing that the best welfare program is a good job. They expanded free trade with NAFTA and the WTO. With bipartisan support, Clinton pushed NATO's expansion through the newly freed countries of Eastern Europe. His Treasury Secretaries championed the neoliberal "Washington Consensus" on monetary policy, spreading capitalism and its accompanying prosperity throughout the world.

But that was then. In today's Democratic Party, it would be hard to find anyone willing to speak kindly of these successful Democratic policies of the recent past. Certainly, Hillary Clinton has disowned them. Bill Clinton has been strangely silent. No, today's Democrats have purged the voices for globalization, market economics, and the spread of liberal idealism. Anyone voicing such ideas today would be recognized — correctly — as a Republican. Today's Democratic Party boasts of both its socialist economics and its identity politics; the sole remaining debate focuses on which one is the greater priority. Last week, the Democrats' socialist and identity factions ended in a dead heat. Last night, socialism trounced identity politics.

The Democrats have thus provided clarity about their own identity. If you elevate identity politics above all, vote for Clinton. If your primary goal is seizing the assets of others, pulling a hefty administrative fee, and redistributing the rest to those you deem worthy, back Sanders. Everyone else should vote for a Republican.

Commentary by Bruce Abramson, Ph.D., J.D. and Jeff Ballabon. Abramson is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, and director of policy at the Iron Dome Alliance. Ballabon is CEO of B2 Strategic where he advises and represents corporate and political clients on interacting with the government and media. He previously headed the communications and public policy departments of major media corporations including CBS News and Court TV. Follow them on Twitter @bdabramson and @ballabon.

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