One word kept coming to my mind as I watched Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders give their dueling victory speeches in Iowa last night. That word: angry.
Clinton didn’t manage more than a pursed-lip smile until her speech was nearly over. She looked practically indignant as she rattled off a list of policy priorities from universal health care to lowering student debt. The whole speech is below, but start watching around the 2:20 mark to see what I’m talking about:
After permitting himself some opening smiles and even laughs at the enthusiasm from his assembled supporters — who were a lot more raucous than Clinton’s backers at her speech — Sanders settled into much the same ranting tone that she used (starting around the 4:00 mark):
He shouted about billionaires. He shouted about super PACs. He even shouted, proudly, about how small his average campaign donations had been ($27). He waved off applause with his hands at times so that he could finish his shouting.
I don’t know if Clinton and Sanders seemed angry because they really are, or because they sense that’s what their supporters want to see. (I will say, I find nothing contrived about Sanders. Foolishly idealistic, yes. But contrived, no.) In any case, it was hard to watch these speeches, as I did again this morning, and not come away with the feeling Democrats are an angry bunch.
The conventional wisdom is that Republicans are the angry side, the group that wants to anger and scare you into voting for them. But anger was the overriding emotion flowing out of the only two Democrats in the running (officially so, now that Martin O’Malley has finally suspended his zombie campaign).
Angry candidates are never a good look for a party, and all the less so when that party has held the White House for the previous eight years. It’s hard to run on change when you’re trying to take the baton from a fellow party member, and it’s hard to run on continuity when anger is the emotion that seems most appealing to your constituents.
Maybe that poor pair of choices is what’s making Democrats so angry.