Who leaves a country packed with ponies to come to a non-pony country? It doesn't make sense!” — Jerry Seinfeld
The evening of November 8, 2016, was one of the worst nights of my life. I think a lot of us felt that way.
What had seemed unthinkable — a surreal joke — just two years, or even two days, earlier had somehow become reality. Disbelief, nausea, and rage were coursing through my body and mind like raging rivers.
By Election Day, I was 100 percent, unequivocally on Team Hillary. All-in, with no chips left on the table. I’d given money to her campaign and done my darndest to convince friends who were still straddling the fence to come to their senses and vote for the only truly viable candidate.
I still think Hillary would have been a very good to great leader, and I was excited about toasting our first woman president as soon as one of the big swing states — such as Florida — fell into her column.
That never happened, and as the evening wore on, a sick dread settled in that felt a lot like post-breakup heartache.
In retrospect, it’s clear that Hillary was the wrong candidate at the wrong time. She was playing expert-level chess while Trump was putting the pieces in his mouth and farting Toby Keith songs. Turns out, a lot of white, blue-collar Americans don’t like chess at all, but they love Toby Keith-style patriotism, even in fart form.
That’s a little unfair, but not entirely. Trump may have been crude, crass, witless, and completely uninterested in telling the truth, mastering the issues, or offering workable solutions, but he was extremely effective at manipulating the emotions of working-class people who have been thoroughly screwed over by Reaganomics and its descendants over the past 30 years.
Would Bernie Sanders have won? Well, he was laser-focused on a lot of the Obama voters who jumped ship and pulled the lever for Trump in 2016. No one knows for sure what would have happened, but he had captured the zeitgeist in a way that Hillary was unable — or unwilling — to replicate.
So as enthusiastic as I was about helping carry Hillary across the finish line in November, I’m just as loath to read her post-mortem, What Happened.
We know what happened. A racist, misogynistic, know-nothing circus peanut beat one of the most accomplished, hardworking, and well-prepared candidates who’s ever run for president. No need to revisit that nightmare.
However, one of the excerpts that has leaked out prior to the book’s September 12 release shows that, to some degree at least, Hillary still doesn’t get why she lost.
I’m referring to the by-now-famous “pony” analogy.
In the book, Hillary writes:
On issue after issue, it was like he kept promising four-minute abs, or even no-minute abs. Magic abs!
Someone sent me a Facebook post that summed up the dynamic in which we were caught.
BERNIE: I think America should get a pony.
HILLARY: How will you pay for the pony? Where will the pony come from? How will you get Congress to agree to the pony?
BERNIE: Hillary thinks America doesn’t deserve a pony.
BERNIE SUPPORTERS: Hillary hates ponies!
HILLARY: Actually, I love ponies.
BERNIE SUPPORTERS: She changed her position on ponies! #WhichHillary #WitchHillary
HEADLINE: “Hillary Refuses To Give Every American a Pony.”
DEBATE MODERATOR: Hillary, how do you feel when people say you lie about ponies?
It’s more than fair to criticize candidates for making unrealistic promises, but it’s also fair to criticize them for thinking small, or yielding too much ground to their opponents before they even start the game.
Bernie thought big while Hillary sat meekly inside her pragmatic little box. And Trump just made stuff up that bore no resemblance to anything on this planet.
But Bernie wasn’t a pie-in-the-sky snake-oil salesman like Trump. On his signature issue, universal health care, he was actually middle-of-the-road — so long as that road isn’t in America. In Scandinavia or even Canada, his wild-eyed pony promises would pass for mainstream political rhetoric.
Maybe passing a Medicare-for-all system is politically unrealistic right now, but why not shoot for the moon if what you’re proposing is not only feasible but also demonstrably less costly, more efficient, and more effective than our own system? As president, Bernie would have had the clout to bring Republicans to the table and — barring a satisfactory compromise — shame them for blocking a health care system that finally works for everyone, not just insurance companies and the wealthy.
We can all have ponies. We know this because every other wealthy country in the world has a pony. Why not the wealthiest of all?
Americans by and large are the radicals on this issue, and Bernie was actually a welcome — often lonely — voice of reason.
Hillary still doesn’t get that. And that’s why she lost.