Welcome “distractions”

150910-weegumThe Quinnipiac University poll results released this morning show Bernie Sanders moving ahead of Hillary Clinton in Iowa. My first news of this was an article at Politico (Bernie Sanders overtakes Clinton in Iowa) that mentions Clinton by name 31% more often than it does Sanders. In fact, only one of the article’s 15 paragraphs is about Sanders at all, while eight are about the former Secretary of State. The other six paragraphs are about either as-yet non-candidate Joe Biden or polling in general. Yes, I did the math.

As mainstream media coverage of Sanders tends to do, the Politico article frames his candidacy as a sideshow, something happening on the fringes of the “real” primary process and of interest only to the extent that “serious” contenders feel or don’t feel threatened by it. Here’s how the article begins: Hillary Clinton’s Iowa edge is gone.

Three paragraphs in, Sanders’ established lead in New Hampshire and his new lead in Iowa are summed up as follows: Together, the results suggest a candidate reeling from the controversy over her emails and struggling to put down a rebellion on her left flank.

The “candidate” in question is Hillary Clinton, of course, so the implication is that Sanders’ lead isn’t the result of anything he’s said or done, but of something Clinton failed to do properly. Sanders as a byproduct of Clinton.

Before Sanders and Trump entered the fray, mainstream media told us our choices for president in 2016 would be Hillary Clinton and some Republican version of her, probably Jeb Bush. That prophecy remains the two-party line. Despite Trump’s decisive and durable lead, he’s framed as a boil we’ll lance eventually, and Sanders’ coverage seems to be thanking him for his contribution, even as it bids him a bemused, peremptory adieu.

I can’t think of a more concise referendum on what we’re about in this country, a more effective way to peel back the punditry, to lay bare core principles, than a race between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Trump, the paragon of knees-and-elbows American capitalism, vs. Sanders, the populist revolutionary. The yin and the yang of us. In a very real sense, what we’ve become vs. whence we came.

That, unlike Benghazi, email protocol, political correctness, sibling rivalry, presumptive dynasties, polling numbers, and what, other than a layer of skin, might lie between one candidate’s salmon-colored pompadour and his skull, would be a national conversation worth having.