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Where realism and idealism meet Tony Brasunas, author of Double Happiness

This Is A Year To Vote With Your Heart

Not only is Bernie right on the issues, he’s better positioned to beat Trump.

It’s important to choose the inspiring candidate in 2016

Because of the realities of our two-party political system, where generally only two candidates ever have a chance to win a major office, we’re always given exactly two ways to think about our choice in the voting booth:

  1. Vote for the candidate you prefer
  2. Vote against the candidate you fear

We also have a political advertising climate that emphasizes attack ads and negative campaigning. Thus many millions of people every year are convinced not to vote for the candidate they want, but to vote against the candidate they fear. In many elections, voters become so afraid of the candidate they’re voting against, they’ll even choose a candidate on their side who they like less simply because they think that candidate will beat the candidate they fear.

This is called the “lesser of two evils” strategy, where you don’t vote idealistically for whom you like, you vote pragmatically for who you hope can beat someone you like even less.

How does this strategy work out?

Starting with History

First, obviously, this “lesser of two evils” strategy has a basic problem: You always end up with evil. You never get to elect candidates you actually like.

But what’s worse is that many times you don’t even avoid the candidate you fear.

For instance, in 2004, the Democratic primary came down to a race between Howard Dean and John Kerry. Dean was viewed as the anti-war candidate, the more progressive candidate, the candidate who was standing up and calling out the Bush Administration on some of its worst policies. Kerry was considered the moderate, who wanted to reduce the war’s costs but who stopped short of calling for its end; he even apologized at one point in his campaign for sounding too vehemently anti-war.

As the primary season proceeded, the media repeatedly told Americans essentially this:

“This is not the year to vote with your heart. Vote with your head. Howard Dean isn’t electable. Beating Bush is more important than voting for whom you prefer.”

So voters were asked to support a candidate who was not opposed to the war and who, in general, agreed with them less. The point was that, in theory, he would be more electable. Kerry was the lesser of two evils.

Democrats were convinced. They voted with their heads (i.e. their fear), and gave Kerry the nomination instead of Dean.

How did that work out?

Once in the general election against Bush, Kerry ran a campaign that, predictably, wasn’t strongly differentiated from Bush’s campaign on the issues, and he was defeated. The lesser of the two evils lost.

Four years later, in 2008, Democratic voters were again presented with a choice between “voting with their heads” and “voting with their hearts.” Hillary Clinton was the clear choice for those voting with their heads — she had experience in the White House and strong connections with virtually everyone in the Democratic Party establishment.

But something different happened that year. A relatively little-know Senator, Barack Obama, was inspiring new voters by the thousands and motivating a groundswell of support among the party base. The media repeatedly told us Obama was “not electable.” But voters went with their hearts (i.e. their inspiration), and they chose to nominate this relative newcomer, an African American, a “long shot.”

How did that work out?

In the general election Barack Obama inspired the base of the Democratic Party — and also inspired millions of new voters and independents — and he swept to victory over a relatively popular Republican named John McCain.

Another Year, Another Choice

Today, in 2016, the Democratic Party faces the same issue: Shall we vote with our hearts (our inspiration), or shall vote with our heads (our fear)?

Just as in 2004 and 2008, we have an establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton, on one hand, who the media tells us is more “electable,” even if she isn’t as progressive on the issues as most Democrats would like; and we have an unexpected rising progressive candidate, Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, who connects strongly with the base of the party, advocates for the issues voters most deeply care about, and is inspiring new voters and independents.

Bernie Sanders advocates breaking up the giant Wall Street banks that caused the financial catastrophe of 2008, which decimated wealth and home ownership among the middle class. Bernie also advocates for uncompromising and immediate action on climate change, even-handed peace in the Middle East, strong racial justice measures, greater economic fairness, and — most importantly — ending the current campaign financing system many increasingly consider corrupt.

Hillary advocates for many of these same issues, but less forcefully and with less conviction and less of a track record. She has benefited considerably from the campaign financing system, so she doesn’t speak as credibly when she vows to reform it. She’s more hawkish on the Middle East and, as a multi-millionaire herself, she’s less committed to measures to increase economic fairness.

Today the mainstream corporate media are running piece after piece about how bad Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio are, strongly suggesting to us in the Democratic primary to vote our fears. The media also runs pieces suggesting that Bernie’s ideas are implausible or impossible, or that he won’t be able to “get anything done,” suggesting we ought to choose someone more moderate. We’re told that nominating a true progressive is a long shot, and will fail. So be afraid, be very afraid.

How’s it going to work out?

Repeated polls indicate, perhaps without surprising those of us aware of history, that it is actually Bernie Sanders who is both more “electable” and more likely to defeat the Republicans.

And as this video points out, it is actually Bernie who will be able to get more done in the White House:

Nevertheless, the media ignores the polls, or calls them “speculative” or “unreliable,” and they stick to their story that only connected political insiders can get things done.

Another idea is trotted out — history. Be afraid of history.

They don’t go back to 2008 or 2004. Nor do they choose 2000, another year the Democrats nominated the moderate (Al Gore) in the primary and lost the general election.

No, they go all the way back to 1972. “Look what happened in 1972,” they say. “The Democratic Party nominated a true anti-war candidate (George McGovern). He lost!”

Kathy Donohue points out in her excellent piece on Salon.com that this history is flat wrong. Yes, McGovern was the more liberal candidate that year, but he was hardly a progressive connecting with the base at all; he wasn’t inspiring new voters or even connecting with existing Democratic popular support, such as labor unions. Donohue rightly points out that if you want to go back to that era, the year that Democrats really must consider is four years earlier, 1968, when a real progressive connecting with the base (Eugene McCarthy) was passed over in favor of a weak moderate (Hubert Humphrey). Humphrey had support only among the Democratic Party establishment and no real support among the base of the party. Humphrey won the primary through extremely unpopular actions taken by the Democratic Party establishment, overruling the will of the Democratic base.

How did that work out?

Humphrey lost meekly to a young Republican named Richard Nixon.

The moral of these stories isn’t simply to nominate a moderate, or to nominate a progressive, it’s to nominate a candidate in step with the voters. This should be obvious in a democracy, but for some reason the Democratic Party repeatedly misses it.

We Must Choose Wisely This Time

So in 2016, the truth should be obvious to anyone observing history and democracy: If you want to win, choose the candidate who is inspiring and connecting with the voters.

This year, there can be no doubt who that is. Bernie Sanders is inspiring more and more of the base every day. He calls it a “political revolution,” and anyone who’s been to his 10,000-person rallies will tell you those words don’t feel like an exaggeration. Should he be awarded the nomination, he will differentiate himself very clearly from the Republican, inspire the base, bring in new voters and independents by the millions, and he will win.

So despite what the media tells us, let’s not have another 2000 or 2004. Let’s have a 2008, where we vote with our hearts, choose the candidate we’re inspired by, and know that the odds of victory in the general election are squarely in our favor.

This is a year to vote with your heart.

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by Tony Brasunas on March 11, 2016

An Open Letter To People Who Slur Men As ‘Bro’ If They Support Bernie Sanders

Can we agree to disagree without slurs?

There is pervasive sexism in our society and in our political systems, and we need to change this immediately. We need equal pay for women, more women in elective office, and it’s long past time we elect a woman president. I understand and accept that some progressives support Hillary Clinton for president, particularly if the most important issue to them is voting for a woman.

I am ready to vote for a woman president, and I have in the past. Today I would support Elizabeth Warren, Barbara Lee, or any other progressive woman candidate for president wholeheartedly.

In fact if Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton were essentially the same on the issues, I would be supporting Hillary even more enthusiastically than I am supporting Bernie.

Identity Isn’t Everything

The thing is, when I look beyond their race, gender, and religion, and carefully examine not just their words but their actions, Hillary and Bernie are two very different candidates. They differ sharply on the issues that are most important to me.

For economic justice, racial justice, militarism, reducing money in politics, and fighting climate change, a Hillary Clinton presidency offers, at best, no progress, and at worst, war with Iran, escalation in Syria, deepened influence of corporate money on all political decisions, and another financial catastrophe from an essentially unregulated Wall Street. What I see in Hillary Clinton is a politician who is part of the ruling class, conservative by nature, corrupted by extensive and copious corporate donations, and willing to say nearly anything to get elected.

Some years only corporate Democrats run for office, and if this were such a year, I might support Clinton in order to at least elect a woman. But the best candidate I’ve seen in the decades I’ve been closely watching politics is running for president this year. Bernie Sanders is not perfect, but he is an exceptional candidate on so many issues affecting our country and planet, and I believe he will make a great president.

An additional issue, though by no means the most important, is that Bernie Sanders is polling better against all the Republican candidates and is more likely to win in the general election. A recent poll shows 1 in 6 Republicans already would vote for Bernie over Donald Trump. I believe Bernie polls so well in putative head-to-head matchups because of his honesty and forthright nature, qualities that have helped him win so many elections as an independent in Vermont and that likely will carry him to the White House if he wins the nomination.

I voted and worked for Obama in 2008, and for Jill Stein in 2012. This year I’m enthusiastically supporting the democratic socialist Bernie Sanders for president.

A Pledge and an Invitation

That’s my opinion. I’m sure that you have yours, and I’d like to hear it. Let’s be respectful and discuss the issues we care most about. If we disagree about whom to support for the nomination, I humbly ask that we disagree based upon the issues we care about and leave personal identity out of it.

I pledge never to slur you or anyone else based on race or gender or any other personal attribute, regardless of opinion.

Will you agree never to slur me or anyone else based on race, gender, or any other personal attribute, regardless of their opinion?

With respect, and for progress,


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by Tony Brasunas on March 8, 2016

If You Want a Democrat in the White House, Better Vote for Bernie

A Vote Today for Hillary Could Be a Vote Tomorrow for GOP

There are many very important issues at stake in this Democratic nomination, but the truth is that many people just want to avoid a Republican in the White House. So I’ve been carefully looking at the latest polls on head-to-head match-ups with Republicans.

Put simply, if we want to put a Democrat in the White House, it’s looking like Bernie Sanders has to be our candidate.

The latest poll found:

  • Sanders beats Trump 48–42 percent
  • Sanders beats Cruz 49–39 percent
  • Sanders beats Rubio 47–41 percent
  • Sanders beats Bush 49–39 percent
  • Sanders beats Kasich 45–41 percent
  • Clinton barely beats Trump 44–43 percent
  • Clinton loses to Cruz 46–43 percent
  • Clinton loses to Rubio 48–41 percent
  • Clinton loses to Bush 44–43 percent
  • Clinton loses to Kasich 47–39 percent

Both Bernie and Hillary poll well with Democrats and are essentially tied now nationwide, but their strengths are quite different, and you can see why Bernie will shine in a nationwide general election:

Bernie polls well with
 — Young people of all races and genders
 — Middle-aged men
 — Independents
 — Conservatives
 — New voters

Hillary polls well with
 — Middle-age and older women
 — Longtime Democrats
 — Older people of color 
 — African Americans

Bernie trounces Republicans. Hillary struggles.

Not Many New Voters For Hillary in the General Election

What’s apparent is that Hillary won’t really gain many voters in the general election. Her strongest support are people already voting Democrat. Sanders, meanwhile, polls well with many groups who might not vote in the Democrat primaries, but will vote in the general election.

Sanders received the largest number of votes ever in the New Hampshire primary because thousands of Republicans crossed over to vote for him. That’s unprecedented. And that’s why we likely need the candidate to be Bernie Sanders if we don’t want a Republican in the White House.

Poll: http://www.quinnipiac.edu/news-and-events/quinnipiac-university-poll/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=2324

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by Tony Brasunas on February 18, 2016

Free Today and Tomorrow!: Celebrate Double Happiness Day with an e-book or paperback

Double Happiness Day is here!

It’s 8/8. If today is a busy day in the office, the offer will stretch into tomorrow, 8/9, as well.

As a gift to celebrate completion of this project:

The E-book is freewww.DoubleHappy.be/kindle
(reg. $4.99)

The paperback only $8.88 – www.DoubleHappy.be/paperback
(reg. $15.95)

Enjoy the journey!

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by Tony Brasunas on August 8, 2014

Double Happiness for Free on 8/8!

To celebrate the completion and publication of Double Happiness, I am delighted to offer on Double Happiness Day the e-book, normally $4.99, for free to anyone.

A year ago we reached — and exceeded — the Kickstarter goal of $8888, which I described as the Double Happiness number. On 8/8, Double Happiness Day, I wish to share the celebration as widely as possible.

I also wish to express my gratitude to all the people around the planet who helped me explore China and helped me complete this book. None of it could have happened alone. It feels wonderful and fitting to offer the story for free as a way to celebrate.

Tell everyone!

Double Happiness free on
Friday, August 8, 2014

My deepest goal — the reason I wrote Double Happiness — is to share a story of growth, transformation, and hope with as many people as possible.

Tell anyone who would be interested in Double Happiness — an award-winning story of traveling in Asia, a fascinating portrait of life in China, and a tale of coming of age in today’s era of globalization.

Also, for everyone who wants to hold this gorgeous book in their hands and read the story on paper, the paperback will be just $8.88!

Come back to this space on 8/8 for instructions on the giveaway.

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by Tony Brasunas on August 3, 2014

A Wonderful Day

The midday air is clear, sweet, and warm here in Alameda, California. It’s a gorgeous day for a walk to the beach. The first steps of my walk reminded me of that feeling of freedom I write about at the beginning of Chapter 26, on the bright morning after arriving in Xiahe: “My senses feast on the vibrant colors as if to satiate themselves after all the months and miles of concrete.”

Remember this part of double happiness: We’re nearly always more free than we think we are. We’re free to shape our experiences. If there’s something troubling you or frustrating you, you have the freedom to do something about it — to change the situation in a rational way or to do something totally unexpected to assert and experience your own joy and autonomy in the moment.

Enjoy this blessed day,

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by Tony Brasunas on July 27, 2014