Is Bernie Sanders a latter-day George McGovern?
NASHUA — Rex Lint, a retired engineer and consultant, has seen this movie before. Actually, it’s a political docudrama. And the star this year is that angry white-haired guy from Vermont, Bernie Sanders.
In Lint’s day, the guy cast in the lead was George McGovern. It was 1972 and Lint was the cochairman of the McGovern for president campaign in Merrimack that year.
So when he hears the drumbeat for Sanders, the political populist and get-off-my-lawn slayer of Wall Street, he’s transported back a couple generations to the days when the South Dakota senator shook his fist in the face of Richard Nixon, the felonious Republican incumbent.
“That was a very painful experience,’’ Lint said Tuesday morning. “All of my friends are now for Bernie. They think he’s got the right message. They think he’s got the right ideas. They think he’s really the new philosopher of the left.
“But so was McGovern. And I learned a lesson from that. And the lesson was that that is not enough. My issue is electability.’’
Lint was among hundreds who waited at the Nashua Community College gymnasium here Tuesday to toast Hillary Clinton’s victory hours earlier in Iowa — a victory decided by an eyelash and a coin flip, but a victory nonetheless.
Compared with the front-runners in the Republican field, candidates who are one political chromosome away from electoral Cro-Magnon men, Clinton is relatively ready for Rushmore.
And, clearly confident that the beyond-New-Hampshire political map is friendly territory, she aimed squarely at her Republican rivals. She called them snake oil salesmen. She said they’d like to cast a spell of amnesia on voters, so a misbegotten war and a crippled economy presided over by their political brethren would be forgotten. Their jingoistic hate speech, she said, is marginalizing and isolating and dangerous.
“When I listen to the Republicans,’’ she said, “it chills me.’’
It’s a steely and effective line. Decoded, it says this: Bernie’s message about a rigged economy may be seductive, but in a game with the highest stakes only I can win.
From the back of the gymnasium, Bill Shaheen was nodding. “I like Bernie,’’ said Shaheen, who was Clinton’s New Hampshire chairman in 2008 and is now a member of her kitchen cabinet here. “I agree that the rich are too rich. But I don’t think we need a revolution. There are a lot of rich people who also believe they should be paying more taxes.’’
Shaheen, the husband of US Senator Jeanne Shaheen, said voters, faced with Republican candidates like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, must focus on who can win the White House. This is no time to tilt at windmills, he said.
“Could I live with a Jeb Bush or a John Kasich? Yeah, I could,’’ he said. “They wouldn’t do what I wanted them to do, but I don’t think the country would go to hell in a handbasket.’’
Terry Shumaker, on the edge of Clinton’s cheering section on Tuesday, also hears something familiar in the siren song of Sanders’ throw-the-bums-out liberalism.
“I got my start in politics when I was a college student at Dartmouth getting clean for Gene McCarthy,’’ said Shumaker, recalling McCarthy’s 1968 run for the Democratic nomination. “And as much as I loved and respected Gene McCarthy and wanted him to be president, all of that ended up with Richard Nixon being president.’’
The lesson? Idealism is great. Governing is better.
The people who waited for hours for Clinton here Tuesday carried their own measuring sticks for pragmatism.
They didn’t worry about Sanders’ lead over Clinton in the New Hampshire polls. They worried about something more visceral, something that registers more deeply in the gut than the brain.
Does she have the temperament to be president? Will she take care of me? Will she make the country better for my children?
Questions for New Hampshire. And beyond.