One Issue Candidates

In 1996, I took a class on political communication.  Since it was a presidential election year, our big project was to follow a candidate from January through May and write a report about them, specifically focusing on their communication style.  It was a good project and I learned a lot.  I was assigned Steve Forbes.  The professor warned us that we would either grow to love or to hate our candidates and she was right.  I detest Steve Forbes.  And, what’s more, I now have an almost visceral hatred of any one issue candidate.

For those who don’t remember, Steve Forbes is the son and heir of Malcolm Forbes.  He inherited a fortune and control of Forbes magazine.  For some reason, Steve decided that inheriting a lot of money and not bankrupting a successful business qualified him to be President.  His entire candidacy can be summed up in two words, “Flat tax.”  He seemed to think that every problem in America is a direct result of the graduated income tax.  He believed that if the tax code were changed so that everyone paid a 17% flat tax, every other issue would go away.  It wasn’t the sheer lunacy of his idea that irked me.  It was the way he answered every question that was put to him.

“Mr. Forbes, what is your stance on abortion?”

“If we had a flat tax, unwanted pregnancies would no longer be a problem and abortion would be a non-issue.”

“Mr. Forbes, Do you think the police were justified in beating Rodney King?”

“If we had a flat tax, Rodney King would not have turned to drugs and the police would have had no reason to bother him.”

“Mr. Forbes, do you prefer baseball or basketball?

“Flax tax.”

This was 20 years ago, and I’m quoting from memory, so the exact wording may not be right, but it also might be.  That’s how ridiculous he was.

In the years since 1996, I can’t help but notice that there is a Steve Forbes in every election.  It might be Ron Paul insisting that liberty is the only thing that matters or it might be Michael Peroutka who believes that we need to bring America back to its Christian heritage, but there’s always at least one.

This election is different because the one issue candidate has gained traction and is now among the frontrunners, Bernie Sanders.  Bernie seems to think that every issue is reducible to class.  It’s all about inequality.  This has created a quandary for me.  As this election’s Steve Forbes, I feel like I should hate Bernie on principal.  The thing is, I don’t hate him.  I think he’s wrong about the power of economic equality to fix non-economic issues, but I’m somewhat sympathetic to his old fashioned Keynesian approach to the economy.

In some ways, he has tried to talk about other issues since people started treating him as a viable candidate, but it seems pretty obvious, to me at least, that his heart isn’t in any of those other issues.  He just doesn’t seem to care about guns or crime or the environment or race or feminism except so far as the 1% (or the establishment) is causing harm in those areas.  That’s too bad.  As an undecided voter, I really want one of the candidates to give me a reason to support them.  As this year’s Steve Forbes, all Bernie would need to do is embrace another issue.  Sadly, I don’t think that’s likely to happen.

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