Forget Left vs. Right. 2016 is Small vs. Big

As this year’s presidential campaign comes into focus, try to forget the reliable “left versus right” paradigm. A different pattern is emerging, and Oregon’s place in it may be harder to overlook.

At least since Ronald Reagan’s thumping of Jimmy Carter in 1980, the lines between the parties have been clear. Republicans want more muscle abroad, ever-lower taxes at home, with fewer government intrusions and ambitions in between. Democrats have vowed to protect “the little guy” — though no longer limited to “guys” and “little person” now means something else entirely.

The Republicans’ presumptive nominee pays no homage to party orthodoxy. Donald Trump sounds supportive of a higher minimum wage, expanding Obamacare, and Planned Parenthood. He has little interest in foreign policy. He may well run a campaign that positions him to the so-called left of Hillary Clinton, on a variety of issues.

Trump won’t find many issues where he can run to the left of Bernie Sanders, who describes himself as a democratic Socialist. And Sanders is still a factor, which is why I believe the paradigm may have shifted and Oregon might matter.

“Left versus right” is so 2008. This year’s campaign is shaping up as “large versus small” — and I’m not talking about glove sizes. Sanders has promised big changes, even if he’s failed to explain how they could be accomplished. Trump — whatever you think about him — would BE a big change.

The mood of the electorate seems attracted to big changes. Clinton’s gender represents a big change for the presidency, but her policies do not. She’s a consummate policy wonk, with a pencil so sharp that she doesn’t dare make any sudden moves. Her numbers add up. Her plans make sense. They’ll work in the real world.

And people don’t like them.

They prefer the flying leap of free college or carpet-bombing ISIS, of the 79-year-old socialist who can count the sweaters he owns or the billionaire who somehow gained a definite article preceding his not-uncommon first name. (Ahem.)

Bernie and The Donald are swashbucklers. They have no interest in defending the status quo. Hillary, on the other hand, is quick with the dagger. She advocates small moves, executed with precision, boring through the details. If she makes it to the White House, history books may well be kind to her, but students will still dread being tested on her chapter.

Oregonians finish voting next Tuesday. In most years, the decisions would already be made by the time we voice our preferences. That may be by design, because it allows us to vote our convictions without commensurate courage. Don’t be surprised if John Kasich does surprisingly well, and Sanders might see his largest margin of victory since Vermont’s vote.

We like the protest vote here, especially after the decision has been made. That gives us the best of both worlds. We can always insist things would have been better, if only others had gone along with us.

If the fall campaign featured a series of televised debates between Sanders and Trump, a large number of Oregon households would renew their cable television packages to watch a contest almost as entertaining as the Chip-Kelly-era Ducks. But it probably won’t turn out that way. It’ll probably be Clinton and Trump on the stage, which sounds only half as interesting.

How can Clinton’s skill at the squeeze bunt match Trump’s and Sanders’ home run swings? Clinton won’t be able to transform herself into a natural entertainer during this campaign season, which is why I hope she chooses Sen. Al Franken as her running mate. But she can help herself even more by enlisting two other legislators to barnstorm the county.

Elizabeth Warren and Nancy Pelosi could put on quite a show, promising big changes if both houses of Congress return to the Democratic majorities. (Pop quiz: When was the last time a first-term Democratic president started without full control of Congress? It was Grover Cleveland’s first term in 1884.)

Let them play long-ball against the Republicans, leaving the minutia of governance to the party’s less-than-inspiring leader.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) blogs at www.dksez.com.