Want chills, Democrats? Watch the Bernie Sanders “America” ad.
Experience the uplifting political message – set to the iconic harmonies of Simon & Garfunkel as they croon, “They’ve all come to look for America.”
The ad is brilliant. But think back to 1968, when “America” was first released.
It was a time of tumult, not peace. The Vietnam War, fight for civil rights, and sexual revolution tore the country apart. Two great American leaders were assassinated: Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.
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After withstanding challenges from the antiwar left, Hubert Humphrey, the Democrats’ establishment candidate, won the party’s nomination at a convention marked by riots and chaos. Richard Nixon, the Republican nominee, embraced the “silent majority.”
Tied to a president’s unpopular foreign policy and abandoned by the Democratic left, Humphrey lost. Nixon and his Silent Majority won – and won again, four years later.
Those same forces still shape American politics, and still divide it. The country is still split, with the same sharp disagreements.
One side wants to keep people out of the country. The other side wants to let people stay.
One side wants to carpet-bomb terrorists. The other side squeamishly wonders who else might be in the path of those blasts.
It’s Cops’ Lives Matter versus Black Lives Matter. A Second Amendment with no limits versus limiting some access to guns. Freedom of religion – unless it is Islam – versus freedom from religion. A country of moral decay or one that celebrates diversity.
There is also a country on the precipice of fiscal disaster versus one that is on the other side of economic tough times – but still failing millions of Americans.
In 2016, that’s the key point where Democrats divide.
Sanders’ supporters see Wall Street and a “rigged system” as the enemy of the people and view Hillary Clinton as a sell-out to both. It’s a variation of the theme that split Democrats in 1968. Back then, the revolution was led by Senator Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy. They challenged the establishment, led by Humphrey.
There are echoes of that epic battle in today’s showdown between Sanders and Clinton.
And, on the other side, Nixon’s old voter coalition just waits to coalesce around Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.
Could Sanders’ “America” ad cut through all that and carve out a place of common ground? Or more likely – does Clinton beat him back and, in doing so, become the figurehead of an establishment abandoned yet again by idealists of the political left?
“Let us be lovers, we'll marry our fortunes together, I’ve got some real estate here in my bag,” sing Simon & Garfunkel.
Want chills, Democrats?
That political real estate was a tough sell in 1968. Think how much tougher it is today.
Joan Vennochi writes for the Boston Globe.