2016 is shaping up to be one of those bellwether, turning point historical markers, at least when it comes to the U.S. presidential election. You have go back at least to 1968 to find a comparable election and global combination.
Rarely has there been a year when so many "known unknowns" — the Middle East, China, Ukraine, terrorism, the world economy — cohabited with the breathtaking pace of technological change driving so much disruption, for both obvious and not-so-obvious benefit. And then there are all those potentially pesky "unknown unknowns" — problems we don't even know about yet. One can hope that maybe we never will, because working through those that clearly do exist already will test the fortitude of both institutions and the political leadership directing them, which so far hasn't made anyone forget about the likes of Roosevelt and Churchill. Maybe Angela Merkel, Germany's prime minister, might. She has gone in the space of a year from being a much-criticized scold of Greek financial policy to a heroine for her welcoming approach to Middle Eastern refugees. Or maybe not, This movie isn't over yet.
But we'll set aside the global piece for now, other than as a backdrop, to the increasingly fascinating U.S. presidential election, which qualifies as one of those events that will reshape life going forward long after the ballots are finally counted.
Fascinating was not a word that might have come to most people's minds six months or so ago, as a procession of Republican candidates, none of whom seemed particularly inspiring, announced their willingness to serve. Where did all these guys (plus Carly Fiorina) come from? And now they have found their counterparts on the Democratic side of the political ledger, with our own Senator Bernie Sanders duking it out with the presumptive insider favorite, Hillary Clinton.
We were among those who thought that after an initial blaze of attention, Sanders would have peaked and faded long before now. Instead, he has bounced back from a downturn when for a few weeks after the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., attention shifted to foreign affairs and those global questions that played well into former Secretary of State Clinton's wheelhouse. With attention once more on economic questions, Sanders has the benefit of being consistent — wrongly or rightly consistent is another question — on what he would try to change if elected President. Some of his proposals would represent such far-reaching change it's hard to imagine them ever passing Congress unless Democrats recapture both houses of Congress. And even if they did, his sometimes irascible nature makes one wonder how well he would do when it comes to the occasional stroking or schmoozing that comes with the job. Someone outwardly far more even-tempered, the present occupant of the Oval Office, Barrack Obama, fell short in this area, which might have been added to the one-item list of regrets he spoke to in his State of the Union address last week. That speech, to digress for a minute, was pretty remarkable and insightful. Mercifully devoid of the usual laundry list of legislative proposals, it was a helpful counterpoint to the politically-inspired rhetoric of national decline so blown out of proportion by Donald Trump — more on him in a moment — and a comment on the accelerating rush of history being driven by technological change. You have to go back to the 1890s to find a comparable period, when intriguingly, wealth polarization and scientific breakthroughs coincided.
Sanders — perhaps we should refer to him as the more familiar "Bernie" — and Clinton went toe-to-toe last Sunday during their debate, and Team Clinton must now being grappling with the awkward fact that the former mayor of Burlington isn't going away quietly. While we're not sure the nation will be able to handle four years of his shouting and arm waving, the economic disquiet, anger and frustration felt by those left behind the Great Recession and the not-so-great recovery will keep Sanders a player right to the convention floor. The drama will be interesting, but more so will be the actual prescriptions they have on offer. Especially worth studying is Bernie's recently released health insurance plan. Medicare for all, as he referred to it Sunday, or single payer, which foundered here with Gov. Peter Shumlin sought to bring it to Vermont. Nationally, the idea might make more sense, but given the uproar — which remarkably still continues — over the smaller bore Obamacare package, one can only wonder what socialized medicine — the real deal — will bring forth.