President Obama won the 2008 Democratic Presidential nomination and the Presidency on his message of hope and change. He did not win as the most experienced candidate, as a one term Illinois Senator. He did not win on his then youthful looks. And he certainly did not win the Democratic primary on his name recognition of Barack Hussein Obama over Hillary Rodham Clinton. In 2008 as we are seeing in 2016, name recognition, looks or experience matter less than hope and change for a better America.
Senator Bernie Sanders looks like he could have played alongside Jack Lemmon in the movie Grumpy Old Men. Hillary Clinton looks poised to meet with world leaders or enter the Blue Room of the White House at any time. This year, looks are not what matters to voters. If looks mattered, GOP contender Donald Trump would be last in polls and Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio would be in a tie for first place.
Looking at the political landscape at this time last year, it appeared that the two highest names recognized, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, would be in a face-off for November, 2016. While anything is possible, it does not seem likely that the two will be squared off in November.
Many Americans are struggling whether trying to put their children through college or putting food on their dinner table. Most Americans live from paycheck to paycheck, assuming they have a paycheck. Despite vast improvements under the Obama administration, the economic picture is not coming up roses for everyone. Unemployment of African Americans is nearly double that of the national average at 9.1 percent in July, 2015 while the national average was 4.6%. Latino unemployment stood at 6.5%. And many working Americans, who faced the 2008 downturn and lay-offs, returned to lesser paying jobs. Some lost all of their savings while searching for their present jobs.
The Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) enables millions of Americans to receive health insurance. Many Americans, while insured, still cannot afford health care due to high deductibles. For those individuals who do not qualify for the subsidy and must pay their own health insurance, the insurance rates are not what everyone views as affordable.
For many reasons, the hope and change movement that President Obama ushered in 2008 still resonates with voters, albeit in different ways. Some Millennials who once followed President Obama or were too young to vote for him in 2008, now stand with 74 year old Bernie Sanders. They are hopeful for a better future. Many Independents stand with Bernie Sanders because they want change in our political system. And Donald Trump resonates with those Republicans who hope to “make America great again.”
This year just like 2008, authenticity matters. Just as President Obama spoke of his mother and maternal grandparents in 2008, Bernie Sanders was able to come across the same way during the Iowa debate on January 25. He spoke of his father who came to America as a Polish immigrant with no money and died years later with little money. While these things matter less to politicians and policy wonks, many average voters want to see someone who might understand their issues. It’s difficult for Hillary Clinton to appear authentic as her life’s story has already been watched like an open book. Hillary Clinton comes across as a former Secretary of State ready to be Commander-in-Chief on day one. And from her point of view and a logical one, that should be enough, except if 2016 is 2008 revisited.
In 2016, Americans still have hope. And Americans still want change. And whichever candidate appeals to voters that he or she can change the system to improve life for every man and woman will win.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, former prosecutor and legal and political analyst.