Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Bernie or Bust Hypocrites

There are a lot of things I understand and accept completely. For instance, if I were to jump out of a high rise building - say 50 or more floors up - I understand and completely accept that I would be dead before I even hit the ground. Gravity works, unless you're in outer space.

When it comes to Hillary Clinton, I understand why conservatives aren't going to vote for her. When you've spent your whole life watching reruns of Leave It To Beaver and believe that Mad Men is autobiographical, it's kind of hard watching Modern Family. Face it, they've been worshiping at the alter of Reagan ever since the Gipper left office. Hillary's not their guy.

And I understand why racists aren't going to vote for her. She's a woman looking to replace an African American as president who endorses policies that run counter to their White supremacist world view. These people haven't stopped clinching their teeth since LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act into law. Trump is their hero, their great white hope, if you will. The only way these Neanderthals vote for Clinton is if someone flips the names on the ballot.

And I also understand why a lot of blue-collar workers aren't going to vote for her. It's been a rough, tough last decade and a half for these people. Many of them still haven't been able to dig themselves out of the hole they were put in. They're pissed and they blame the Clintons for their plight. No amount of facts will likely change their minds.

But what I don't understand and can't wrap my head around is how any liberal with half a brain in their head isn't going to vote for Clinton knowing what's at stake. No, she isn't perfect, not by a long shot; she's got plenty of flaws. She's a little too cozy with Wall Street and, if elected, she's far more likely to govern the way her husband Bill did than the way LBJ or FDR did.

But that's not a disqualifier as far as I'm concerned; indeed it's an acknowledgment that the Democratic Party is truly a big tent. Yes, it has its Elizabeth Warrens and Bernie Sanders, but it also has its Jon Testers and Joe Manchins, as well. It is vital for the party's long-term success that all these factions feel as though they are a part of the party. As a centrist, Clinton has the best shot of bringing everyone to the table.

But even if you don't agree with that logic; even if you believe that the party should be purged of all the Blue Dogs and go far left, there's still no legitimate reason for not voting for Clinton this year, and even less of a reason for voting for Trump, as some have foolishly said they would.

The Bernie or Bust crowd, as they have called themselves, are purists looking to start a revolution; what they really are is a progressive version of the Tea Party. This may irk them to hear but it's the truth. The Tea Party movement was founded to restore America back to the way our founders allegedly intended it to be run. The Bernie or Bust crowd also wants a restoration of sorts, though for them it's to a more egalitarian way of life. The irony is that neither group represents the majority of Americans as both Sanders and Ted Cruz painfully found out this past spring.

So the Busters sit and stew, like the little brats they are, and think of ways to punish the traitors who sent them to their rooms without their revolution. First up was Warren. Her crime was not feeling the Bern and failing to declare her support for their savior. Her sin was doubly compounded when she ended up endorsing the enemy. To make matters worse, she's campaigning with her on the same stage. What a shrew.

Up next was Robert Reich, the economist who was one of Sanders's biggest supporters. He didn't just feel the Bern, he spread the good news of the Gospel of Bernie far and wide and from the highest mountain tops. His crime? When it became obvious that Jesus - I mean, Bernie - wasn't going to get the nomination, he said it was imperative that Democrats vote for Hillary. Benedict Arnold had nothing on Robert.

Coming in at number three was Mr. Sulu or, as he is more properly known, George Takei. You might remember George as yet another of Bernie's bros. In fact, he was a member in good standing until he had the audacity of making a video called, "No Matter Who, Vote Blue." Apparently his crime was insinuating that this election was about more than just one man, but about the future of the country. And we can't have any of that on the Magical Mystery Tour of denial. So, out he went with the trash.

But now we come to the real culprit, the criminal mastermind, the traitor of traitors, the one who got everyone all worked up and then, seemingly on the verge of the revolution he said the country needed, pulled the plug and went over to the dark side. By now you know who I'm talking about. That's right, Bernie Sanders himself. The self-appointed savior of the American dream; the man who was going to single-handedly (by the way if that sounds familiar, I meant it to) transform our political system, grant free healthcare and free college education to all citizens and reverse Citizens United.

So when Charles Atlas dropped out of the race and endorsed Clinton (well, I wouldn't exactly call what he did an endorsement - he congratulated her on her victory. That's not the same thing, but hey, we'll take it) the Busters really went ape shit. I suppose the people in Jerusalem probably felt the same way when they saw Jesus riding into their town on a donkey. They thought he was there to liberate them. Okay, not quite the analogy I was going for, but you get the point: unrealized expectations blowing up in their faces. Better?

You see that's the way it works when you believe in fairytales. You tend to get disillusioned. Bernie Sanders wasn't just the candidate of change; he was the reformer extraordinaire. But his whole candidacy was based on a fraud. Yes, the system is rigged, and yes the middle class is getting screwed; that wasn't the fraud. The fraud was that he could fix everything without the help of his party. His insistence on burning every bridge within the party apparatus and riling up his supporters into a frenzy was a recipe for disaster from day one.

I was on to what he was doing fairly early in his campaign, as were a lot of main-stream Democrats. That's why he got crushed in all those closed primaries; not because everyone was out to get him, but because he accused much if not all of the party of being corrupt. It's pretty damn hard to win an election, much less start a revolution, when you're running for the nomination of a party you openly detest.

So now the Busters have turned on him. He's the new Judas of their "cause." How poetically fitting. They are now, if you will, a cause without a leader. Their refusal to see the big picture and grow up is now threatening to upend this entire election. What's worse, many of them seem to relish the prospect of a Trump presidency. They agree with Susan Sarandon: Trump would usher in the revolution by shaking things up.

The fact that that isn't true or that Trump could inflict tremendous damage to the country hasn't gotten through their thick skulls. They're stubborn, they're selfish and they're adamant. And now, on the verge of the Democratic convention, my fear is that this mob will march on Philly and possibly destroy any chance at a Democratic win this November.

The stakes could not be higher. The Supreme Court, healthcare reform, gay rights, voting rights, the environment, NATO, all are hanging in the balance this election. Having a temper tantrum is not the solution. The Bernie or Bust crowd needs to take a deep breath and let go of this death wish they have.

If they truly care about this country, as they say they do, now would be a good time to prove it.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

It's Virginia, Stupid!

Is Hillary Clinton conceding Ohio and Pennsylvania? I've been looking closely at the electoral map and guess what? Clinton can win without either state. Hell, she can even win without Florida, though for now we won't go there. Let's just concentrate on Ohio and Pennsylvania.

True, losing both significantly narrows her pathway to victory and, in what promises to be a very divisive and highly contested election, every state is precious; indeed every vote. So why would she toss out two key swing states? Well, she's really not, but there's no getting around the facts. Both states are going to be tough pickups for her in November. Her support for NAFTA is long chronicled and the voters in those states have long memories.

Never mind that NAFTA was not responsible for the job losses in the Rust Belt states; never mind that, on the whole, the treaty was a net positive for job growth, workers there are convinced that their predicament was a direct result of the policies of Bill Clinton and, by extension, his wife. At this point, Elizabeth Warren doing a rendition of Hamilton wouldn't be enough to dissuade most of them.

So with that in mind, time for plan B. Enter Tim Kaine, the moderate's moderate. Kaine is not Elizabeth Warren nor is he Bernie Sanders. He will not fire up the base the way both can and have. But what he can do is allow Clinton to redraw the electoral map a bit.

The conventional wisdom is that Republicans need Ohio to win the presidency. In fact, no Republican has ever won the White House without securing the Buckeye state. The reason George Bush got reelected in '04 was because of Ohio. But from a Democratic point of view, Ohio isn't quite the Holy Grail of prizes. That's because going into the general, they already hold an electoral vote advantage, which means they can afford to lose a state or two without jeopardizing their chances.

The way I see it, as things stand now, Clinton has 227 electoral votes to Trump's 180. To be fair, that's with Michigan, Wisconsin and New Mexico in her win column. I seriously don't expect her to lose any of those states in November. That leaves Florida (29), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18), North Carolina (15), Virginia (13), Arizona - yes Arizona is a toss-up (11), Colorado (9), Nevada (6), Iowa (6) and New Hampshire (4).

Okay let's give Ohio and Pennsylvania to il Duce. That brings his total to 218. Then let's give Virginia, North Carolina and Colorado to Clinton. That brings her total to 264, just 6 votes shy of the finish line. Now let's give Iowa to Trump. His total goes to 224. And while we're at it, we'll give New Hampshire to Clinton. She now has 268 votes. With a large turnout among Hispanics, Clinton wins both Nevada and Arizona to put her over the top. And that's without Florida even playing a factor. In fact, just for shits and giggles, let's give the Sunshine state to Trump. Final score: Clinton 285, Trump 253. Imagine that: for the first time in more than a generation, both Florida and Ohio could go red and a Democrat would still win the White House.

The whole strategy comes down to two parts: One, consolidating support among women, Hispanics and African Americans; and two, appealing to more moderate voters across the political spectrum. Far from trying to run the table and make this election a rout, what Clinton is actually doing is defining what her firewall is going to be. Take the southwest and mid-atlantic parts of the country, as well as the more liberal midwest states like Wisconsin and Michigan, while conceding the two biggest Rust Belt states in the country and the deep South.

Yes, it's a little too close for my comfort. I'd feel a lot better with Florida in the bag and, with the large Hispanic population in both Dade and Broward counties, that is still a very real likelihood. But the bottom line here is that it wouldn't necessarily be the end of the world if Trump wins Ohio and Pennsylvania. In fact, when you think about it, that's his only play. Once you take away the white male resentment card - which the Kaine pick does to a certain extent - the only thing Trump has left in his bag of tricks is the blue-collar vote, which means less and less the further you get from the Midwest.

It's a calculated risk, I know. This strategy, if that's what it is, depends on her being able to hold serve everywhere else on the map. And that's a tall order in any election year, much less one as topsy turvy as this one is turning out to be.

Let's face it: no matter who wins this election, half the country is going to reject the outcome and go berserk. Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine have a little over three months to do their damnedest to ensure that the other side is the one doing the rejecting.

See you next week in Philly.

Fear and Loathing in Cleveland

In 1973, Gordon Sinclair, a Canadian journalist, recorded an editorial about how exceptional and generous the United States was and about how unfairly it was treated by the world. Later that year, a Canadian broadcaster by the name of Byron MacGregor recorded the editorial for Westbound Records. The single, titled "Americans," quickly and unexpectedly made its way up the U.S. charts, peaking at number 4 on the Billboard 100 in the last week of February, 1974.

I remember buying the record that year and playing it over and over. I was mesmerized by two things: One, MacGregor did a superb job as orator - amazing, given he was only 25 at the time - and two, Sinclair's words struck a cord within me. Even to this day, listening to it sends a chill down my spine.

If you haven't had the opportunity to hear the MacGregor recording, I urge you to do so, especially in light of what we we saw and heard at the GOP convention. Because the themes that Sinclair wrote about - American exceptionalism in decline, her generosity being taken advantage of and the political scandal rocking its government - were front and center in Cleveland.

Take a close look at some of Sinclair's words below and see if they don't sound eerily familiar.

Germany, Japan and to a lesser extent Britain and Italy were lifted out of the debris of war by the Americans who poured in billions of dollars and forgave other billions in debts. None of those countries is today paying even the interest on its remaining debts to the United States.
When distant cities are hit by earthquake it is the United States that hurries in to help. Managua, Nicaragua is one of the most recent examples. So far this spring, fifty-nine American communities have been flattened by tornadoes; nobody has helped.
The Marshall Plan, the Truman Policy all pumped billions upon billions of dollars into  discouraged countries. Now newspapers in those countries are writing about the decadent war-mongering Americans. 
When the Americans get out of this bind, as they will, who could blame them if they said, the hell with the rest of the world. Let someone else buy the Israel bonds; Let someone else build or repair foreign dams, or design foreign buildings that won't shake apart in earthquakes.
When the railways of France, Germany and India were breaking down through age, it was the Americans who rebuilt them. When the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central went broke, nobody loaned them an old caboose. Both are still broke. 
I can name you five thousand times when the Americans raced to the help of other people in trouble. Can you name me even one time when someone else raced to the Americans in trouble? I don't think there was outside help even during the San Francisco earthquake.
Our neighbors have faced it alone. And I'm one Canadian who's damned tired of hearing them kicked around.

Be honest: Couldn't you have imagined Donald Trump giving a speech just like that? In fact, given what his wife did with her speech, I'm surprised he didn't lift the whole damn thing lock, stock and barrel. When you click on the link and listen to it, read the comments below. That's what we're dealing with here.

It has been, in my opinion, a mistake to think of this political movement as merely a recent malignancy devouring the body politic. Certainly the polarization that has gripped Washington over the last several years has contributed to its rapid growth. But this sentiment - the idea that America is getting fucked over - goes back decades, perhaps as far back as the '60s.

It's difficult to remember, but the United States was the only major power left in tact after World War II. And for about twenty years, the country enjoyed a hegemony reserved for empires like Rome and Egypt. All that started to fall apart by the late '60s. Urban decay and racial tensions began to whittle away at America's image of invincibility. 

While other countries rebuilt their infrastructure - with the help of our tax dollars - our infrastructure was slowly decaying.  Roads like the West Side Highway began to crumble until they were finally closed. Our bridges looked decrepit and our schools - once the envy of the free world - became second rate. And our inner cities burned in the summer heat.

There has been this seething resentment that has been building up within the American electorate that it's payback time for the world. Time for them to put up or shut up. NATO? Fuck 'em. The Chinese? Fuck them too. And the Mexicans and the Europeans and the rest of the goddam world, as well. It's time the free loaders started paying their fair share.

Is it an accurate portrayal? No, not really. I mean, while there is some kernel of truth in Sinclair's words about how much money the United States poured into those "discouraged countries," it's not like we were altruistic in our motives. Truman and Marshall both knew that a destabilized Europe would be a breeding ground for chaos and might well have paved the way for a Soviet intrusion into Western Europe. And there was no way the United States could allow that to happen.

But there is certainly an argument to be made that we have not done nearly a good enough job taking care of our own. Since the hay days of the Space program, the United States has been involved in three major armed conflicts to the tune of several trillion dollars. Meanwhile our roads, bridges and railways haven't had a major overhaul in decades. Just a fraction of what we spent on those wars would've gone a long way towards significantly improving all three. Remember that the next time you're crossing a river or driving under an overpass.

And I haven't even touched on the growing gap between the haves and the have nots. Over the last 35 years, the middle class of this country has been getting squeezed. Workers wages have not kept up with productivity. And more and more people are being negatively impacted by it. Anybody who looks at the condition this country is in and honestly says that everything is peachy keen is smoking some serious shit, that's for damn sure.

Saying the mood of this country is ugly would be putting it mildly. Think about this for a moment: The Republican rank and file just nominated someone who ran on a platform that the Republican Party has stood against for decades; and they did it in record numbers. Sure a lot of that platform was xenophobic and racist, but not all of it was. Strip away the demonizing of immigrants and Muslims, and most of it could just as easily have come from Bernie Sanders. Yes, Ted Cruz had his moment in the sun at the convention, but he still got trounced but good in the primary. This isn't your daddy's GOP; hell, I'm not sure it's even the GOP anymore. But whatever it is, it now firmly belongs to one Donald J. Trump.

And that's why if I'm the Democrats, the last thing I'd do in Philly is to try and paint a rosy picture. Yes, I think it's crucial that Hillary Clinton and those who speak at the convention highlight the differences between both parties; but, above all else, they must acknowledge the painful truth about the state of many American citizens. There are millions of people who have been left out in the cold, and many of those people have voted Democrat in the past. Should they bolt this fall, Clinton is toast. Period.

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders will do their part. They have walked the walk, as well as talked the talk, so I'm not concerned with them. But Clinton and her running mate, Tim Kaine, have to hit it out of the ballpark. It won't be enough for both of them to look professional and mature. I've heard all the talk about how unpresidential Trump is. The problem is, even though all that is true, he's still within the margin of error in many of the polls. What that tells you is that an awful lot of people are desperate enough to put a self-absorbed sociopath in charge of the country.

Yes, Trump is running a fear-based campaign. No shit, Sherlock. Tell us something we don't know. Guess what? A lot of people are fearful; in fact their scared shitless. We can debate all we want on whether that fear is rational or not. Barack Obama says he rejects Trump's vision of "violence and chaos everywhere." He may reject it all he wants and, so far as the facts are concerned, they appear to be on his side. But as someone who has spent over twenty years in sales, I can tell you that perception tends to win out over facts, especially when the two are in conflict with each other, as they clearly are here.

I learned a long time ago that the best way to fix a problem is to acknowledge you have one. Donald Trump has tapped a vein in the American electorate; it's up to the Democratic Party to make sure they heal that vein before it bleeds out this November.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Nominee That Got Away

If Donald Trump ends up losing to Hillary Clinton this November, Republicans will spend a lot of time doing some soul searching (I tried real hard not laughing while writing that one), regrouping and, hopefully, reorganizing. I say hopefully, because the country desperately needs a functioning Republican Party that isn't hopelessly lost in a time warp, and losing may be the best path to ensuring that reality.

It certainly seemed that way after the 2012 election debacle. The GOP, if you'll recall, conducted an autopsy to determine what went wrong and, more importantly, how they could prevent a repeat performance. They then proceeded to ignore every suggestion that the autopsy came up with and ended up nominating a candidate who was more extreme than either Mitt Romney or John McCain. Only time will tell whether they pay the price at the polls.

Of all the regrets I suppose they will have - assuming Trump loses - the biggest one will be how they let John Kasich slip away from them. Kasich, the Ohio governor - and might I add, very popular Ohio governor - has decided to skip the GOP convention, which is extraordinary given that it's being held in Cleveland.

The Trump campaign wasn't too thrilled with being snubbed, and in typical fashion they overreacted by trying to embarrass Kasich. Here's a tip for Paul Manafort, for what it's worth: It's colossally stupid to get into a pissing contest with someone who is more popular than your candidate; especially when that someone happens to be the governor of a state that every Republican who's ever been elected president has needed to win. Like it or not, Trump needs Kasich a lot more than Kasich needs Trump.

And that's why it must be doubly infuriating for Kasich and his supporters. While the Republicans trip over themselves at their fright fest trying desperately to convince themselves that Trump will deliver them to the promised land, Kasich knows what every pollster in the country has known since January: that he, not Trump, was the only Republican candidate capable of beating Hillary Clinton in the general election.

While Trump's supporters point gleefully at recent polls that show their guy within the margin of error with Clinton, those same polls only a few months ago showed Kasich up by as much as 7 points. The RCP average, in fact, had him up 7.4 going into May, and that was before the IG and FBI reports came out about Clinton's private email server. For all we know that lead might well've been double digits by now.

While the Bernie or Bust crowd continues yapping away at how much better their guy did in head to head matchups against Trump, the real story has been the Kasich - Clinton matchup. While an argument could be made that Bernie's lead over Trump might've been larger, at no point during the last year has Clinton ever trailed Trump in the RCP average. In fact, with the exception of Rasmussen, every poll has her either tied with or ahead of him.

Against Kasich, however, that's another story. Put succinctly, had the GOP nominated Kasich this week instead of il Duce, they'd be picking out the carpeting in the Oval office as we speak. I'm serious. We'd be talking November landslide for the GOP; something that hasn't happened since Bush   41 beat Dukakis in 1988.

A lot can still happen. As I have been saying for almost a year now, Trump can still win this thing, and for two reasons: One, Hillary is a flawed nominee with huge trust issues. And not all of them are conservative fabrications. Some are simply self-inflicted wounds. But secondly, and perhaps most importantly, there are a lot of pissed off, disenfranchised people out there that Trump has somehow managed to resonate with. He maybe a snake-oil salesman, but with the mood the country's in, snake oil appears to be on the menu.

Then again, Clinton could win and win big. Democrats do have an electoral advantage going into a general election that Republicans don't have. That means any GOP nominee looking to win the White House has a much larger hill to climb, no pun intended.

My point is that the reason this race is so tight has more to do with the baggage these two nominees are carrying around with them than it has to do with any particular issue or policy stance. Indeed, this election may come down to which candidate the country detests the least. And that might end up being the one thing that saves Hillary Clinton from an epic and humiliating loss.

All of which makes the pill that John Kasich was forced to swallow this spring that much more bitter.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Mike Pence, the "Early" Polls and Hillary's Fork in the Road Moment

A few words on Donald Trump's choice of Mike Pence as his running mate.

Let's face it, it was a no-brainer. Pence was the only viable option from an extremely weak field, and that's putting it mildly. Seriously, when your only competition is Newt Gingrich, a man who's burned more bridges in his life than Rommel during World War II, and Chris Christie, whose approval rating in his home state of New Jersey is hovering around the mid-twenties, you can be Dan Quayle and still be better.

But here's the rub. While Pence may not come with the usual assortment of bat-shit crazy baggage that Christie and Gingrich would've brought, that doesn't mean he's clean as a whistle, either. His biggest problem is his ideology. He's basically Rick Santorum only with a day job. You might remember that it was Pence who signed that ridiculous religious freedom bill into law last year and who earned the scorn of the business community in Indiana for doing so. He may be the darling among the conservative evangelicals, but he's hardly the Chamber of Commerce's favorite son.

And that could spell trouble for il Duce. Throwing red meat at Christian conservatives may net him a few extra votes here and there - though to be honest, I'm pretty sure that lot would throw down with Lucifer himself if it meant keeping Hillary out of the White House - but picking a candidate who bucked the business community is no way to ingratiate yourself with them. Quite the contrary. If one of your main arguments is that you're an expert on how to run a business, why would you pick a running mate who is perceived as inimical to that argument?

Still, all things considered, Pence's selection is ostensibly the safe move, which is unusual for a man whose idea of playing it safe is going ten minutes without saying something asinine. It also means that Clinton will likely opt for a more traditional (e.g., safe) running mate, like Tim Kaine.

Now, let's talk about these "early" poll numbers.

A lot of Hillary supporters are getting extremely nervous over a recent poll that showed Clinton and Trump tied at 40 points a piece. And a lot of Bernie supporters are saying, "we told you so." A little clarity is in order.

First off, it was one poll: CBS/NY Times. Another poll taken at virtually the same time by Marist shows Clinton leading by either 3 or 5 points, depending on which one you go with. And that brings me to the real crux of the potential problem for her. Let me explain.

Marist ran two polls: one with just Trump and Clinton; the other with all four candidates, including Jill Stein and Gary Johnson. In the national poll, Clinton was ahead by 3 points when paired against just Trump. But in a four-way race, her lead increased to 5 points. Just from those two polls alone, you'd conclude that Clinton fairs better in a four-way contest.

Unfortunately, that same same pollster ran a series of polls in battleground states that said just the opposite. It seems that in those polls Clinton doesn't do as well in a crowded field. For instance in Colorado, Clinton's lead over Trump goes from 8 points to 6; in Virginia, it goes from 9 pints to 7; and in Florida, it goes from 7 points to 5. The only battleground state that stayed unaffected was North Carolina, where she is surprisingly ahead by 6 points.

Again, I caution, it's way too early to put any meaningful weight behind these poll numbers. For one thing, the undecided vote is WAY too high to make them reliable. For another, these polls were taken immediately after the James Comey press conference, which no doubt had an impact in the responses. How could it not?

But the one thing I would be concerned about if I were the Clinton camp is the Gary Johnson effect. Typically, Libertarian candidates tend to siphon off more votes from Republican candidates than Democratic ones. From the state polling we've seen that doesn't appear to be the case here. Johnson appears to be hurting Clinton more than Trump. Why is that?

The reason, I think, might come down to the fact that Trump's support, such as it is, is pretty solid. By that I mean supporters will stick with him come hell or high water. He wasn't kidding when he said he could shoot someone and his supporters would still vote for him. So, if that is the case, the better Johnson performs in the polls, the more Clinton suffers. When you factor in Jill Stein's numbers, that means that Clinton has to fend off three opponents, while Trump only has to fend off one.

As more and more polling comes out, we should begin to see patterns emerge. Is the Marist poll accurate or an outlier? One thing is for certain. If we get to Labor Day and we still see Clinton being negatively impacted by the presence of both Johnson and Stein in the race, I'd be very worried. States like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado and Florida could well be decided by as little as two points. Let's not forget that Obama won Florida in 2012 by only one point.

I've had this sinking feeling that 2016 is shaping up to be a repeat of 2000. And these Marist polls do nothing to alter that perception.

And now onto Hillary's fork in the road moment.

The recent terrorist attacks, both in Europe and here at home, have presented Clinton with both a dilemma and an opportunity. For the last 12 months, Clinton has clung to Obama like white on rice on everything from healthcare to immigration reform. And it has helped here tremendously. Obama's approval rating - just north of 50 percent - has buoyed her own poll numbers somewhat. Yes, she's still underwater in the trust department, but her lead over Trump, such as it is, is owed in no small part to Obama's popularity.

But it's clear that when it comes to foreign policy, she is to the right of him. And despite what Trump and the GOP would have you believe, she is NO dove. She needs to play that up more and fast. Here's why. Trump is going to try and take advantage of these attacks by portraying Clinton as weak and an Obama clone. The only way to take away that argument is for Clinton to stand up and make the case for a more sustained involvement in the war on terror. No she doesn't have to go full-bore Trump. But she has to let the voters know - all the voters - that when it comes to defending the homeland, she will not be trifled with.

One of weaknesses of Obama is his inability - or is it reluctance? - to play to an audience. He's always thought it was beneath him. He doesn't seem to grasp that appearances are vital when it comes to politics. Trump is a showman who specializes in hyperbole and polls show that people who are frightened are far more susceptible to hyperbole. Clinton is one of the few politicians that grasps that reality and, like her husband before her, is no slouch when it comes to the crafting of words.

She should deliver a major foreign policy speech on what is going on in the world and how she will handle it as commander in chief before Trump ends up defining it for the electorate. She can frame the debate on her terms: strength through wisdom or something like that.

In a recent appearance on Bill O'Reilly's show, Clinton, I think, did a very credible job of responding to O'Reilly's questions about how America is going to defeat ISIS. The proof of this was in the fact that O'Reilly never once challenged her nor even disagreed with her. Actually, I was quite amazed at the cool and calm demeanor she showed given how hostile O'Reilly's audience can be.

If properly done, this could prove to be the turning point of the election. Poking fun at Trump's buffoonery can only get you so far. At some point, those undecided voters will make up their minds and decide this race. It won't be enough for Hillary Clinton to point out how unprepared Trump is for the presidency. She will have to make the case to the majority of the country that she IS.

See you next week in Cleveland.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Eyes Wide unShut

So now that Bernie Sanders has finally gotten off his pity pot and endorsed Hillary Clinton - big yawn - the only two questions left to be answered are: 1. Who will she choose as her running mate? and 2. Why should I or any progressive support her in November?

As far as the first question, we'll know soon enough. Once il Duce picks either Chris Christie or Mike Pence as his number two, Clinton will make her choice. My heart says Elizabeth Warren, but my gut says Tim Kaine. He's the safe pick and Hillary is, if anything, a creature of habit.

And now for that second question: Why should I or any progressive support Hillary Clinton this fall?

Well, first off, I think it's important that I get a few things off my chest. I am not a Hillary supporter in the same way that many of her supporters are. A simple perusing of my blog will demonstrate that on many occasions I have taken her to task for her conduct. Perhaps my greatest "takedown" of her, if you will, was in a piece I wrote back in February, titled, ironically enough, "Feeling Berned Out."
"Look, I understand. Every time you see Hillary Clinton you're reminded of that friend who would come over to your home for lunch and go through your house checking for dust on the shelves and mildew in the bathroom. She'd give you that fake hug, you know the one that says please don't mess my hair; I'm going out tonight with someone I actually give a hit about. And the conversation would be SO banal. Seriously, you would've done better inviting a homeless person over. But you didn't, so you're stuck with her. And then that moment comes when she departs and you can finally exhale and say, 'Thank Christ that's over. That's two hours of my life I'll never get back.'"
And then for good measure, I added:
"Hillary Clinton is the consummate politician. She makes her husband Bill look like Clark Kent. She's the Democratic equivalent of Jeb Bush, only without a trillion dollar war hanging over her head. And I understand perfectly well why so many progressives can't stand her. She wants to be liked the way Elizabeth Warren is adored, but more often than not she comes across as Cruella de Vil in 101 Dalmatians. She even has the same laugh, doesn't she?"
If that's your idea of a supporter, you and I obviously read from different dictionaries. Unlike so many of her supporters and, yes, detractors, I have a far more objective and sober assessment of her strengths and weaknesses. And she has many on both sides.

Let's start with her biggest weaknesses, since that appears to be the popular theme these days.

Number one: her lack of authenticity. Let's face it, the woman reeks of insincerity. This isn't just a Republican talking point, it's a legitimate criticism that even some of her staunchest defenders have sadly noted. They've attempted to rationalize it by saying, well, she's just being careful. Bullshit. Obama is careful, but when he speaks, you know he means what he says. When Clinton speaks, you get the feeling you're listening to a salesman looking for the right pitch to close a sale. There is a huge difference.

Now I understand to some extent why she is so cautious with her words. She's been bitten a lot over the last quarter century. And let's face it, her husband has been something of a loose canon both in this campaign and the one in '08. He's gone off script so much he could play the lead role in a B movie. And if you'd had the microphone stuffed in your face as much as she has, you'd be a little gun shy, too.

Number two: her lack of a moral compass. Throughout her long and storied political career, Hillary Clinton has taken many positions on a wide range of issues, only to contradict herself later on down the road. She was against gay marriage before she was for it; she was against a pathway to citizenship before she was for it; and she was for TPP before she was against it.

Some of her apologists have pawned this off as her merely evolving on these issues. With respect to gay marriage, that might be a plausible explanation. The country has done a one eighty on this issue, so it's understandable that politicians like Clinton could evolve on it. Even Obama had to be outed by his VP on Meet the Press before he finally endorsed it. So, fine, I'll give her a mulligan here.

But the rest is pure politicking 101. The sad truth is that Hillary Clinton is the political equivalent of a weather vane. The woman never met a poll she didn't like. I once mockingly mused that I heard she had come out with a poll to determine what her favorite food should be. Ed Koch used to ask, "Hi, how am I  doing?" Hillary would probably ask, "Hi, how do you think I should be doing?" Seriously, can you think of a single time that she took a stand on something of consequence that didn't have some kind of political calculation behind it? Neither could I.

Number three: she lied about her email server. I don't know how else to say it. Either she lied or she's an idiot. And Hillary Clinton is no idiot. She's one of the smartest people in politics. In fact she runs rings around Bill. But her excuses / explanations regarding this whole chapter in her career have been thoroughly debunked by the FBI investigation. James Comey, while electing not to seek an indictment, nonetheless gave a scathing and blistering report on not only the server but her handling of it. In short, it wasn't just a lack of judgment, as she has maintained from the start, but a willful disregard for proper protocol and national security.

Yes, she escaped criminal prosecution, but she is hardly out of the woods, as so many of her supporters are vehemently maintaining. Donald Trump and the GOP will harp on this throughout the rest of the campaign and Clinton has no one but herself to blame. Even now, she can't bring herself to apologize and admit that this was all her fault. Any she wonders why so many people don't trust her.

And now her biggest strengths.

Number one: her resume. As strange as it may seem, in a year when being an insider has become a death knell for other candidates, Hillary Clinton is proving to be the exception. She successfully fended off a serious challenge from Sanders during the primary by convincing the majority of Democrats that she has the experience and temperament to be commander in chief. Given how Trump waltzed to the GOP nomination that was no easy feat. And in general elections, experience can matter a great deal, even to voters who would otherwise be predisposed to prefer an outsider.

From her days in the White House as First Lady, to her two terms in the Senate, to her stint as Secretary of State, Clinton does have an impressive resume. She has been at the forefront of many issues, including healthcare and women's rights. And she has cosponsored many bills while in the Senate. She also was the chief architect of the sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table.

Yes, she's a little too hawkish for my tastes, but these days that could help her, especially with voters who are socially liberal, but who are concerned about what's going on around the world. The fact that she's separating herself a bit from Obama on foreign policy is a sign that she knows the political headwinds are moving rightward. And it takes away one of Trump's biggest attacks on her: that she's weak.

Number two: her ability to negotiate. Ironically, the thing that drives many progressives up the wall about her - her willingness to abandon long-standing ideals for political gain - is the very thing that could make her an exceptional president. Sometimes the lack of a moral compass has its advantages. It means you're open to trade offs. And in politics, the best negotiators are often the ones who don't box themselves into a corner.

For all the adoration his supporters lauded on him, the simple fact is that Bernie Sanders would've made a terrible president. Ideals make for wondrous speeches; but they seldom amount to much when it comes to passing legislation and signing laws into effect. My guess is that Clinton will be far more amenable to striking deals with Republicans that will infuriate her base but will actually achieve badly needed results.

Number three: she has the temperament to be president. Yes, she's cautious to a fault, but I'd rather have that than the alternative: someone who's pure id and who shouts out the first thing that pops into his head. Trump is the epitome of the kid in the backseat of the car who keeps asking, "Are we there, yet?" The bully who intimidates his enemies and doesn't listen to his friends. He is easily rattled and very thin skinned.

Hillary Clinton, by comparison, is cool under pressure and measures her words carefully. The last twenty-five years of intense scrutiny have prepared her well for this job. She spent eleven grueling hours in front of a House subcommittee being interrogated over the Benghazi attack. For their efforts, the GOP came off looking like fools, while Clinton emerged vindicated. Trump, meanwhile, whined because he was asked a couple of tough questions in a debate. In a firestorm, I'd go with Clinton over Trump in a heartbeat.

Well, there you have it. A list - however incomplete it might be - of Hillary Clinton's strengths and weaknesses. I suppose there's enough there for people to like and not like. She is hardly the ideal candidate; hell, she's not even a particular strong one. Let's not forget she was defeated in '08 by a freshman senator from Illinois and got pushed around pretty good by someone who, prior to last year, less than half the country had even heard of.

I'm not blind, nor am I jaded. I'm simply making the case that, given all the facts, Hillary Clinton is the best choice that's out there. In fact, she's the only one standing between Donald Trump and the Oval office. That, in and of itself, should be the only incentive voters should need to go to the polls this November and elect her.

Jill Stein is not the answer; she's a distraction. Her candidacy bears a striking resemblance to another third-party candidacy in 2000 that helped get George Bush elected president. No responsible Democrat should ever allow that to happen again.

There are no FDRs out there, or JFKs or LBJs for that matter. In fact, sad as it might be to admit, Obama may end up being an anomaly in modern politics: that rare blend of wisdom and principles, and even he had his weak moments when reality bended him to its shape.

If I had my druthers, I would've preferred Warren, but I don't and neither do you. And even if she winds up being Hillary's running mate, she'll still be number two, NOT number one. That may be a bitter pull for some to swallow, but it's a helluva lot better than watching an egotistical, maniacal, misogynistic, xenophobic, racist man-child being sworn in as the 45th President of the United States.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Politics is NOT the Problem, It's the Solution

David Brooks has a piece in The New York Times that got me thinking. It's titled "The Governing Cancer of Our Time," and in it, Brooks lays out the case for, of all things, politics. According to Brooks, it's the outsiders, or as he describes them, the "antipolitics people," who have caused most of the problems in the country. He writes,
Over the past generation we have seen the rise of a group of people who are against politics. These groups - best exemplified by the Tea Party but not exclusive to the Right - want to elect people who have no political experience. They want "outsiders." They delegitimize compromise and deal-making. They're willing to trample the customs and rules that give legitimacy to legislative decision-making if it helps them gain power. 
Ultimately, they don't recognize other people. The suffer from a form of political narcissism, in which they don't accept the legitimacy of the interests and opinions. They don't recognize restraints. They want total victories for themselves and their doctrine.
The biggest problem I had with the candidacy of Bernie Sanders was how much it had it common with the candidacy of Ted Cruz. Not on the issues, mind you, but on the whole revolution thing. The more I listened to him - and to a larger extent his supporters - the more convinced I became that this single-minded fixation on the system being rigged and Bernie being the only who could fix it, was no different than the rhetoric I hear coming from far Right commentators on how we have strayed from our constitutional moorings.

Words like transform aren't all that different from words like restore when you parse out the ideological leanings. The intense emotion that such verbiage provokes on both sides only makes things worse, not better. Brooks elaborates,
The antipolitics people don't accept that politics is a limited activity. They make soaring promises and raise ridiculous expectations. When those expectations are not met, voters grow cynical and, disgusted, turn even further in the direction of antipolitics. 
The antipolitics people refuse compromise and so block the legislative process. The absence of accomplishment destroys public trust. The decline in trust makes deal-making harder.
Soaring promises abound this election year, from Donald Trump's wall on the Mexican border to Bernie Sanders's promise for free college tuition and universal healthcare. Nobody even remotely familiar with the nature of logistics believes for a moment that any of these things will come to fruition, but that hasn't stopped both men from pushing for them, nor for that matter their supporters from insisting that they be enacted. In fact, Sanders has demanded that his policy positions be included in the Democratic platform as a condition for his endorsement of Hillary Clinton, which he is expected to announce this coming week. For the most part, the DNC has capitulated.

This is no longer about the Left vs. the Right vs. the Center; it's about unrealistic expectations butting heads with practical limitations. Politics has, for all intents and purposes, become the ultimate four-letter word in our society and yet, for most of our history, it was how things got done. The scratching of one's back for the scratching of another's, as distasteful as that may sound to some, is how legislation used to get passed in this country.

One of the greatest pieces of legislation ever passed - the Civil Rights Act of 1964 - was signed into law primarily because Lyndon Johnson ostensibly cajoled and/or "bargained" with dozens of members of Congress. Abraham Lincoln used similar methods to help get the Thirteenth Amendment passed. Without some good old fashioned horse trading (e.g., politics) neither would ever have seen the light of day.

The polarization that has gripped much of the nation is simply a by-product of ideology run amuck. The two major political parties have been taken over by their respective bases. Yes, Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination, but not without being pulled far to the left of her comfort zone. When the GOP and the Democrats hold their conventions later on this month they will have one thing in common: neither will mention anything about bipartisan compromises that will allow the nation to heal. Both will be way too busy cementing the divide that already exists within the electorate. Republicans will speak to their contingencies; Democrats to theirs; and both will talk past one another.

The deadly shootings in Baton Rogue, Louisiana, Falcon Heights, Minnesota and Dallas, Texas, underscore just how precarious the plight of the nation truly is. Two black men and five cops were violently taken from their families and we still can't summon the courage to properly mourn the dead without turning it into a circus.

If you are pro Black Lives Matter, than you must hate the police, and if you're pro police, then you must hate black people. But why do we have to choose between such extremes? Isn't possible to be outraged at the killing of so many black men and women at the hands of law enforcement, while at the same time acknowledging how difficult and many times dangerous it is being a cop? Why is there a black wall and a blue wall? In fact, why are there any walls at all?

Admitting that racism still exists in many parts of the country is not an indictment of cops; rather it is an opportunity for them to become better examples to the communities they serve and protect. Black people must feel that they will be treated fairly and equally by cops in their neighborhoods and cops must feel safe while patrolling those neighborhoods. It is a two-way street.

Maybe the answer to all our problems has been there all along. Maybe if we all sat down together in one room - Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives, moderates, whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindu, atheists, men, women, straights, gays - and listened to one another, we might start a real conversation. Hell, we might even get some things accomplished.

One thing is for certain: what we're doing now sure as shit ain't working.