The 'Politics 101 Game,' Revised for 2020 and Beyond
Among the handful of insightful quotes I remember from my mid-1970s college classes was this one from a political science professor who said, “All presidential campaigns boil down to three issues: Bread and Butter, War and Peace, Black and White.”
His simplistic concept resonated with my 19-year-old brain, henceforth planting the seed for a quadrennial opportunity to test and uphold its validity.
Over the ensuing four decades, the triad stood strong — until the 2016 presidential campaign, when it finally succumbed to tectonic shifts in the economy, culture, and demography, which formed new political realities.
Therefore, it’s time to revisit and update the original “boils down to” issues and augment them with three more. Ultimately, these six provide a simple framework for voters to neatly organize all campaign trail chitter-chatter and filter out the BS. In other words, it’s a survival guide/cheat sheet political “game” to get us through 2020 and beyond.
Let’s start by recasting “Bread and Butter.”
While symbolizing the importance of the economy in general, the phrase screams for a name change necessitated by its iconic 1960s Wonder Bread imagery (slathered with real butter). Both staples have been replaced by wraps, tortillas, and pita, topped with anything but good-old-fashioned butter.
Thus, “Growth and Decline” better represent what are now our dual economies — a bright outlook for tech-based urban areas coupled with the decline of rural regions. Meanwhile, both trends create and contribute to a cascade of chronic economic, social, and political problems that will continue to plague our nation.
How presidential candidates now and in the future address this fundamentally transformative, highly complex, two-track economy could determine if he or she will win in 2020. And yes, climate change is also in the economic mix since, ultimately, policies to combat the problem could impact economic growth.
“War and Peace”
There is always a chance that “war” will become the number one presidential campaign issue, but both words are a throwback to the 20th century. “War” has become clouded by the answer to the following question:
When was the last time Congress used its powers to declare war?
Answer: June 4, 1942, against Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania. (Now, thank me for an “elite” dinner party conversation starter.)
Even though Congress has not “declared war” in 77 years, our nation has engaged in several brutal ones that greatly impacted presidential campaigns. There was the 4 ½ decades-long Cold War; the U.N. “police action” known as the Korean War, with 36,516 Americans killed; and the undeclared “conflict” in Vietnam that killed 58,209 Americans.
The definition of war has been further confused and diminished in the post-9/11 era. That day spawned uninterrupted active engagement in geographically segmented, “forever wars” so far resulting in 6,790 military deaths.
Meanwhile, “peace” has morphed into a fashion/decorating symbol and retro salutation more than a realistic political goal.
Therefore, in the age of terrorism, cyberwar and continuous conflict, “Domestic and Global Security” should replace “War and Peace” — which sounds so black and white (and offers a convenient segue to the next phrase in need of updating).
“Black and White”
Race, specifically regarding African Americans, has been dominating headlines after a series of controversial tweets from President Trump. But since this “Politics 101 Game” expands such issues via broader terms that could determine the outcome of presidential campaigns in 2020 and beyond, “Black and White” no longer accurately portrays the composition of the American electorate.
For example, the Pew Research Center studied the 2020 demographic breakdown of the electorate and projected that whites will compose 66.7% of it; Hispanics, 13.3%; blacks, 12.5%; and Asians, 4.7 %. That means roughly one-third of voters next year could be non-white. Of course, Pew’s eligible to vote data does not mean voter groups will turn out in these proportions, but they could.
Hence, I propose that “White and Non-White” replace “Black and White.”
The rapid shift from what was once an overwhelmingly white nation to a mix that includes brown, black, and Asian Americans is an emotionally charged issue that no candidate wants to address openly. However, there has been a great deal of media attention dedicated to how President Trump leverages fear associated with this demographic change as a dog whistle to his majority-white base.
The reality is that “White and Non-White” — the root of the immigration divide — will likely be the most contentious domestic issue in the decades ahead since less than half of children under the age of 15 are white.
Now that I have recast the original three “boils down to” presidential campaign issues, here are the three new ones:
“Have and Have-Nots”
The concept is somewhat connected to “Growth and Decline,” with key elements being the shrinking of the once-great American middle class and the growing gap between rich and poor.
How presidential candidates’ address this population divide — given the ever-increasing need for government services to support the “have-nots” — is now and will continue to be an even greater emotionally packed issue in the future.
“Health and Government Care”
Health care, in general, was a winning issue for Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections. Undoubtedly, it will be a key issue in 2020 and beyond because it impacts everyone. Will the government ultimately control health care? Look for that question to color presidential politics for decades to come — with the nation seemingly tilting in support of more government involvement.
“God, Country, and Culture”
This phrase is a moniker for voters who fear that a nation founded on a Judeo/Christian moral compass — rooted in love of God and country, and appreciation for and knowledge of American history — is slipping away. I predict that this issue’s impact on presidential campaigns will sharply decline after the baby boom generation is laid to rest. But, for the next few decades, “God, Country, and Culture” will largely fuel the Republican base for presidential campaigns, and court decisions will be front and center.
Finally, print that list and tape it to your refrigerator:
Growth and Decline
Domestic and Global Security
White and Non-White
Have and Have-Nots
Health and Government Care
God, Country, and Culture
Then, watch and listen while matching virtually all presidential campaign chatter to these six phrases. The “Politics 101 Game” offers a predictive sense of control to help you through what will be the most brutal presidential campaign our nation has ever experienced.