Friday, August 28, 2015

Why Bernie Would Make A Terrible President

As I write this, Senator Bernie Sanders is set to introduce a bill that would, if passed, end the for profit prison industry in this country. I say "if passed" because like virtually every other bill Sanders has introduced, it has zero chance of ever becoming law. For instance, back in July, Sanders introduced a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. To say it was dead on arrival would be an understatement.

And therein lies the big problem with Sanders. He is an idealist whose vision for America, if elected, will never see the light of day. Imagine if Bobby Kennedy hadn't been taken from us in '68. He'd be Bernie Sanders today. But unlike Kennedy, who, had he won, would've had Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, Sanders, if he wins, would face, at best, a divided Congress, with Democrats holding a slim majority in the Senate and Republicans holding the majority in the House or, at worst, both houses firmly under GOP control.

It would be the ultimate "no-win" scenario for a Sanders administration. A populist president stymied at every turn by a determined opposition and unable to get any of his political agenda through. Sound familiar? Can you spell screwed?

Now I know what some of you are thinking. All the Democrats have to do is win back the House and get to 60 seats in the Senate. Good luck doing that. This isn't 2008. Not by a long shot. The truth is, thanks to gerrymandering, there is no math that leads to a Democratic majority in the House for the foreseeable future. The Senate? As of now, Democrats would be lucky to get to 51 seats, and keep in mind, one of the seats they're counting on - Pennsylvania - shows Republican Pat Toomey with a 15 point lead over his opponent. Two others - Florida and Ohio - are tossups at the moment. Hardly reassuring if you're a Democrat.

Progressives always go apeshit when they hear this, but they're living in a make believe world if they think they just because they've had a few victories over the last several months that the world is their oyster. It's one thing to be on the right side of the history; it's quite another to govern a country in which roughly 45 percent of the population profoundly disagrees with your worldview. Make no mistake about it, the far Right is more than willing to go to the mat to stop the freight train that is coming their way. And with Republicans more worried about facing a primary challenge than losing a general election, Bernie Sanders could be the second coming of Christ and the results would be the same: a lot of great speeches with nothing to show for them.

Despite her many flaws, Hillary Clinton would likely be a more pragmatic president than Sanders.  She learned a great deal from her husband, especially the way he was forced to work alongside Republicans after Democrats got creamed in the '94 midterms. She's also had first-hand experience serving both in the Senate and in the State Department all the while being in the crosshairs of the GOP. Assuming she survives this email scandal, she will be far stronger for the ware.

The one thing that progressives have in common with Tea Party conservatives is their contempt for compromise. They see Bernie Sanders as the perfect tonic for what ails a broken political system. And they may be right in their assessment. The system is broken and has been for quite some time. But being right isn't the same as being successful and, like it or not, success isn't measured by the things you want but rather what you're willing to do to achieve them. While I admire Sanders' principles, I just can't see him willing to negotiate with people he profoundly disagrees with. Can you see him dealing with John Boehner and Mitch McConnell on a budget, or the environment, or anything else for that matter? Me neither. But I can see Hillary Clinton doing that and coming out of that negotiation with most of what she wanted. And, no, not because she's principled, but because she's a political animal just like her husband was. It's no accident that 15 years removed from the Oval Office, Bill is still the most popular ex-president the country has had since the days of FDR. And conservatives can't stand that fact. It drives them nuts.

Look, I get it, progressives. Hillary rubs you the wrong way. She's Lex Luther and Bernie is the Man of Steel. But this isn't a movie; this is real life. And in real life, it isn't the charismatic hero who fills arenas that ends up saving the day. In fact, except for the rare instance, heroes rarely accomplish much at all. Jimmy Stewart played Mr. Smith in that movie we all love and cherish. But it was, after all, a movie.

I know the term career politician has gotten a bad rap and deservedly so. But since when did the term novice become so endearing? You may love Bernie Sanders just like you love Elizabeth Warren. There is nothing wrong with that. As progressives, we should never be ashamed to embrace those things that define us. I would much rather live in a progressive, pluralistic world than the xenophobic, backwards world most conservatives would have us live in. But if we don't choose the right candidates to lead us, we might never see that world come to fruition. I think Bernie Sanders would be so badly overmatched he would be a one-term president. He would make Jimmy Carter look like LBJ. And that is too much of a risk to take, especially given the stakes.

If Hillary Clinton is not your cup of tea, so be it. Ask yourself this question. Is Jeb Bush your cup of tea? Or Scott Walker? Or, Heaven help us, Donald Trump? Personally, the Republican candidate I'd be most worried about is Ohio governor John Kasich. To paraphrase the Rolling Stones, you can't always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need.

Food for thought, people.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The GOP Debate and the Pursuit of Intellectual Mediocrity

How fitting was it that Donald Trump, the candidate currently leading the Republican field, should be front and center in the first primary debate? And standing next to him? None other than Jeb, I'm not my brother, Bush. Coincidence? I doubt it. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that the standing arrangements were deliberately set by Fox News so as to convey a message.

Think about it. The anti-establishment and establishment candidate standing side by side, flanked by a host of candidates, supposedly somewhere in the middle. Except we all know that isn't the case. The fact is not one of these candidates differed all that much from each other. Trump may have been the most obnoxious, but he was hardly out in left field. As I said in an earlier piece, "the real problem for the GOP isn't that Donald Trump's views are so out of step with the party; it's that they're completely in line with it."

But watching the debate Thursday night, I discovered another problem, one that is even more nefarious than the outlandish ramblings of a billionare buffoon or the stubborn reluctance of an entire party to acknowledge that 1955 was sixty years ago. It's become clear that the number one problem besetting the GOP, and perhaps America itself, is this assault on intellectualism. In my opinion it runs a lot deeper than most pundits would admit.

There can be little doubt that the establishment has done a lousy job, at least so far as politics is concerned. The gridlock in Washington, regardless of who you think is primarily responsible for it, has left a very sour taste in the majority of Americans' mouths. It is no accident that Congress's approval rating is as low as it is. They've earned every barb and derision thrown at them.

The ensuing vacuum of effective leadership however has allowed a kind of anti-establishment sentiment to set in among the population that should be a cause of great concern to the nation. It has permitted a kind of anything goes mentality that has enabled ideologues to pawn off opinion as fact. Everything is now on the table, so to speak.

There's a line in that great Buffalo Springfield song For What It's Worth that perfectly describes the plight. "Nobody's right if everybody's wrong." If the experts can't be trusted, then let's turn it over to the non-experts. After all, how much worse can they be? Sadly, a lot.

Imagine for a moment that the surgeon who operated on your knee did a terrible job and made it worse. Would you allow your mechanic to take a look at it? Amazingly, an alarming number of people would say, why not?

The majority of Republicans have flatly rejected global warming, claiming they are "not scientists" while at the same time holding nothing but contempt for the field. Many of them have equally scoffed at the universally accepted fact that the universe is 13 billion years old. And in some parts of the country, children's textbooks are being rewritten to reflect an American history completely devoid of any introspection or criticism. The founding fathers, we are told, were devout Christians, no doubt directly descended from Jesus himself. And America is God's gift to the world.

It sounds absurd, I know. How could any thinking person willfully shun facts for such ludicrous opinions. Well, in the new order, facts are irrelevant. The only thing that matters are opinions. If I think my mechanic can do a better job on my knee, I'm entitled to think that, no matter what the evidence reveals. If I choose to believe God created the universe in six days, then not only am I entitled to that belief, I'm even entitled to call it a science.

We shouldn't be all that surprised by this phenomenon. It's been slowly building steam for quite some time. Twenty years ago, the late Carl Sagan warned us about it.

We've arranged a society on science and technology in which nobody understands anything about science and technology, and this combustible mixture of ignorance and power sooner or later is going to blow up in our faces. I mean, who is running the science and technology in a democracy if the people don't know anything about it?

Remember that old joke, what's the difference between ignorance and apathy? I don't know and I don't care. Well, it couldn't be more relevant or ominous than it is now. Except this is hardly a joke. It's a catastrophe in the making. An informed population is the best defense a democracy has against those who would seek to destroy it. Conversely, an ill-informed, or worse, a deliberately detached population is an open invitation to the very same agents of destruction.

It is easy for those of us on the other side of the political aisle to scoff at and ridicule what has happened to the Republican Party. To be honest, I had a tough time keeping a straight face throughout most of the debate. But what is happening to the GOP isn't just limited to them. This infection is rapidly infecting the whole of society and if it is not stopped soon, it may be too late.

I remember years ago watching William F. Buckley's Firing Line. While I strongly disagreed with just about all of Buckley's positions, I nonetheless was impressed by both his passion and his ability to frame arguments that were thoughtfully laid out and intellectually stimulating. There was a time when conservatives were thought of as learned men and, in some cases, women. They held strong views to be sure, but were capable of playing with the other kids in the sand box. Compassionate conservatism wasn't just a punch line back then.

I saw none of that Thursday night. Instead what I saw was an assault on the senses. Moderators who couldn't frame an honest question and candidates who were nothing more than bobble heads, regurgitating the talking points their constituents demanded to hear. It was the dog wagging the tail in all its glory.

And lest you think this was merely the fault of the network in charge of the debate, think again. Virtually all of these candidates has had ample time to "develop" their ideas and visions. I say virtually, because, among the lot, only one candidate - Ohio Governor John Kasich - broke from script, if only for a moment, when he said he would accept a child who was gay. I give him about a week, two at the most, before he gets religion.

The Republican Party has become home to a movement that is terribly afraid of the future, contemptuous of education and considers informed opinion as both snobbish and superfluous. And Donald Trump has become their leading spokesman, much to chagrin of the Party who would much prefer to keep everything hush, hush.  Even if he doesn't survive his dreadful performance, there will most certainly be someone to replace him. There always is when it comes to the ignorant and the gullible.

The dumbing down of America is no accident; it has been carefully and painstakingly planned out by powerful forces that have a vested interest in ensuring that the electorate is as docile as possible. The Roman poet Juvenal coined a phrase that is quite apropos here. He called it bread and circuses.

Already long ago, from where we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the people who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions - everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.

That quote should serve as a warning to all of us. There is nothing more depressing than the sight of a society slowly and methodically being driven off the proverbial cliff into the abyss. And there is nothing sadder than knowing that that society willingly went along for the ride.

To quote a line from the sci-fi movie The Fly: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Farewell, Jon Stewart.

Sixteen years. Where did the time go? When Jon Stewart took over for Craig Kilborn as the host of The Daily Show in 1999, he looked like he was being held hostage. Uncomfortable would be a word in a half. Who knew that within a very short period of time, he would make the show his own?

I'll be honest, I didn't begin to seriously watch Stewart until '03, so I can't comment much on those first four years. Perhaps that's just as well, for it was really around that time that Stewart hit his stride; a stride that saw him define an entire industry and launch the careers of some of the most talented people in comedy.  Steve Carell is an accomplished comedic actor, Stephen Colbert will be taking over The Late Show from David Letterman this September, John Oliver has his own show on HBO, and Larry Wilmore took over Colbert's time slot on Comedy Central with his own show. All four got their starts on The Daily Show and all four owe everything they have to Stewart.

The list of Jon Stewart's accomplishments is considerable. He had a wicked and biting sense of humor that could singe his targets like no one else. His favorite target for most of the last decade was George W. Bush. You could say the former president made Stewart a very wealthy man, along by the way with just about every late-night comic in the country. Another favorite target was the media, particularly CNN and Fox News.

But what defined Jon Stewart was his ability to interview his guests. Even in his earlier days, Stewart seemed to revel in this arena. He had a knack for cutting to the chase that would make Edward R. Murrow proud. Funny, for the host of a 'fake news" show, he accomplished more in a few minutes than the entire cable news industry did in 24 hours. His two best interviews, in my opinion, were the ones he did with CNBC's Jim Cramer after the '08 crash and HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius after the disastrous Obamacare rollout. He literally tore the both of them apart.

And now it's all over. Tomorrow night will mark the last time Stewart hosts The Daily Show. For me it will be bittersweet. On the one hand, I, like most of the country, will miss him; Trevor Noah's got some huge shoes to fill. On the other hand, I can't help but feel that Stewart just gave up. Yes, he's the father of two young children  and yes, it's commendable that he would want to spend more time with them. But it's not like he was in the Navy serving on some sub in the South Pacific. The man worked a few short miles away from his apartment four days a week. Know any other multi-millionares who have their own TV shows AND three-day weekends?

So he was - how'd he put it? -  "slightly restless." At least that's what he said publicly. So what? Hey, Jon, try selling security hardware over the phone to locksmiths five days a week. Slightly restless? Hell, I'm exhausted come Friday.

Of course maybe the real reason for quitting was that he wanted to go out on top. He didn't want to be the next Leno or Letterman and get that tap on the shoulder; the same tap Carson got. There's an old saying - one that's predominantly meant for athletes, but also applies to entertainers, as well - that it is better to retire one year too soon than one year too late. Face it, Johnny Carson could've retired on his own terms but waited too long. So NBC made the decision for him. Stewart had to know deep down that that fate was awaiting him at some point regardless of how talented he was.

But whatever the real reason for his departure, Jon Stewart will be deeply missed. He didn't just break the mold; he created his own. Late night will never be quite the same without him. He took a network that had absolutely no exposure and turned it onto a household name. And despite what the far Right said about him, he was more than even handed when it came to dishing out his barbs. He pulled no punches and held back nothing.

Farewell, Jon Stewart. Thanks for all the laughs and the poignant memories.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Are Some Christians Missing the Forest for the Trees?

Some Christians believe that the reason for our problems is because our kids aren't allowed to pray in school, or that the local city hall refused to display a nativity scene in its town square, or that we say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. They look at the occupant of the White House and decry the "secular" world we live in.

Other Christians feel that the reason for our troubles lies in the fact that we don't take the Bible literally. For them the inerrancy of scripture is sacrosanct and cannot be debated. If the Bible says the world and everything in it was created in six days, then so be it. To even suggest otherwise is blasphemy.

But I believe such Christians are guilty of missing the forest for the trees. They look outward instead of inward for their validation. If someone wishes them a Happy Holidays instead of a Merry Christmas, or if they don't see that nativity scene in their town square, they get insulted. They have permitted their faith to be defined by the world, so logically, when the world lets them down it only confirms their view that this secular society is persecuting them and their values.

When they hear scientists talk about a 13 billion year old universe, they get their dander up and frantically search through their Bibles, in an attempt to "prove" to themselves, and anyone else who will listen, that those scientists are wrong. They will cherry pick those passages in the Bible that advance their argument and flatly reject any evidence that contradicts it. For, sadly, if every syllable in the Bible cannot be reconciled, then everything they know is false and meaningless. Augustine called out such thinking fifteen hundred years ago as "reckless" and "utterly foolish."

I do not think this is how God intended his children to live. I think we were called for a better purpose than analyzing scripture to death or overreacting to a harmless greeting. Don't get me wrong, scripture IS important, but so is context. I tend to think of the Bible as an instruction manual for how I should live my life rather than an history or archaeology book.

To accept a world that isn't six thousand years old is not an anathema to my faith. Just the opposite. I am in awe of a God who brought this wondrous thing we call a universe into being 13 billion years ago, and I've always thought it rather sad that those same Christians believe in an omnipotent and eternal God somehow being consigned to a six thousand year-old window. What kind of God that powerful would allow himself to be restricted to such a narrow time frame? No God that I know of, I can assure you.

And now I realize that even I am getting caught up in this minutia.  It's amazing how easy it is to get sidetracked and how tragic the consequences can be for those not in the faith. Because, in the end, our petty squabbles and differences aren't limited to our own private Idaho. They spill out into the streets for all the world to see. I can only imagine what goes on in the minds of those people when they hear us bicker. How many have heard our foolishness and run for the hills thinking we were nuts?

I guess that's what Augustine was referring to when he wrote, "to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil." His warning could not be clearer. What we do and say can have tragic consequences for those not yet in the Kingdom. Like it or not, we ARE responsible for the image of Christianity we project onto the world, and we will be held accountable for those who, through our negligence, have rejected that image. We must always remember we are Christ's ambassadors to the saved and unsaved. Jesus did not come just for the Jews but for the Gentiles, as well.

Does that mean we should never disagree? Certainly not. We should always bring to light those things which trouble us and can become impediments to our walk. But we must accept that some disagreements may never be reconciled fully. I will never be able to persuade those who cling to a six thousand year old universe that I am right and they are wrong, anymore than they will be able to convince me that all scripture should be taken literally. In this instance, we shall have to agree to disagree.

The real question that should concern us is how do we advance the Kingdom to those who are not yet in it? If we are, as a church I once attended says, "disciples making disciples," how do we make them?

Funny you should ask, because I have a few ideas that I think would be helpful, some of which I've taken from my experience as a salesperson.

Put down the Bible and open up your arms. Seriously, no one is going to get "saved" through your extensive knowledge of scripture. If you really want to get their attention, invite them in. Nothing says you care better than a hearty handshake or hug.

Take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth. Sometimes people just need to be listened to. How can you minister to someone when you don't even know what's wrong with them? Ever heard of the phrase "Silence is Golden?" More Christians should practice it.

Don't be judgmental. Imagine for a moment you walked into a car dealership looking for a car and the salesman asked you what care you currently drive and when you told him, he said, "Oh that car is a pile of junk. You should buy one of ours." How fast would you run out of that dealership? I'd say pretty fast. Sadly, many Christians do this same thing in church. They're so determined to turn someone that, without quite realizing it, they proceed to put down the other person's beliefs. Belittling someone is a sure-fire way to ensure that person never comes back again.

Be empathetic, not sympathetic. Not everyone took the yellow brick road to Oz.  Some endured tremendous hardships. Some came from abusive families where their views of religion were deeply distorted. Imagine growing up in a family where you were dragged off to church every Sunday and your father beat your mother in front of you every day. How excited would you be about going to church? Even better, how angry would you be at God for letting that happen? These people don't need your sympathy; they need your empathy. There's a difference.

Take the bumper stickers off your car. I'm serious. Every time I see one of those "Keep Christ in Christmas" bumper stickers, I say, "You wanna keep Christ in Christmas? First keep him in your heart." For if Christ is truly in your heart, it really won't matter if others don't keep him in Christmas. When someone wishes you a happy holidays, don't correct them. Just say thanks, you too. Your world won't come to an end.

Be generous, kind and patient. I can't think of any better way to reflect Christ's love than those three words. They defined his entire ministry and they are at the core of who we should be as a Church. Give freely to those in need, be kind to those who despise you and show patience to those who test that patience. None of us know how to do this. Fortunately, we worship a savior who does. He can teach us how if we let him.

Put your money where your mouth is. Here, the epistle of James is quite specific. "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."

Leave your politics at the front door. We are a diverse body in so many ways, but none more so than our political leanings. Some of us are conservative, others progressive, while others are somewhere in between. We all have strong opinions and all of us are certainly entitled to them. But they have no business in the pulpit.

Relax, God's in charge. Too many Christians have the cart before the horse. They assume they are responsible for someone else's salvation. They forget that they're the messenger; Jesus is the message. It is my fervent belief that God desires all of his children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and, as the author Rob Bell says, God always gets what God wants. He will never give up on us. Never!

Well, that's all I got for now. I'm sure I'll think of more later. The point is that I think we have a responsibility to show the world what we're for. Sadly, we've done a much better job of telling people what we're against.

The point is we will never be perfect. As believers, we know that. But that is no excuse for conduct unbecoming a Christian. If we must disagree then we owe it to ourselves and those around us to do so in manner that builds rather than destroys. The enemy loves a good food fight and we have been all too willing of late to oblige him.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The GOP's Latest Libya Attack on Hillary

No, it's not the Benghazi "coverup" that the bubble people have convinced themselves is the worst scandal since Watergate; nor even the email "scandal" which Republicans still insist implicates Hillary Clinton in, you guessed it, Benghazi.  Trey Gowdy will still be trying to make something out of both months after her inauguration.

No, the latest attack from the GOP over Libya concerns Clinton's roll in the deposing of one Muammar Gaddafi, the former dictator of that country, who we, along with NATO support, put out of his misery several years ago. Turns out, Libya has deteriorated into utter chaos and the United States is partly - or mainly, depending on whose opinion you trust - to blame.

And what do I say to all this? Guilty as charged. What can I say? America fucked up again. Seems over the last several decades, we've gotten quite proficient at sticking our nose into other people's business and then suffering the consequences of our actions. Face it, the United States has been doing a pretty dreadful job at being the world's cop on the beat. Truth is, we suck at it and have for quite some time.

Libya has turned out to be a clusterfuck. It's an anarchist convention posing as a nation. Gaddafi was a brutal dictator who murdered quite possibly millions of his own people over his four decades of tyrannical rule, but since his forced departure, his country has become a haven for terrorists. It's painful to admit, but the Benghazi attack probably doesn't happen if Gaddafi's still in charge.

And that, in a nutshell has been our problem all along. We simply don't understand that our actions can and often do have unintended consequences. We go into a situation with the best of intentions, only to have the whole thing blow up in our face. The Arab Spring was supposed to be this incredible democratic wave that would sweep despots all over the Middle East out of power and restore that power to the people. Instead, what happened was that in many of these countries the wave simple pushed out one despot for another. Egypt is no more democratic today than it was when Hosni Mubarak ran things. In fact, the one "democratically" elected president of that country - Mohamed Morsi - was ousted by the military and is awaiting execution. So much for Democracy.

But while Hillary Clinton's role in the Libyan war deserves scrutiny, I wouldn't go barking up that tree if I were the GOP. For starters, if Jeb Bush ends up being the Republican nominee - and he very well might be - this is not a pissing contest he can win.  True, Libya turned out to be a foreign policy disaster, but Iraq stands as the motherlode of all foreign policy disasters, and Iraq happened on his brother's watch.

Can you see old Jeb turning to Hillary and asking her to explain what happened in Libya? I can. And I can also see Hillary doing all she can to keep from laughing out loud. I'm guessing this would be her answer. "Governor, don't even dream of going there. Your brother spent over a trillion dollars destroying a country and destabilizing an entire region looking for weapons of mass destruction that never existed. And YOU have adamantly defended him on that decision."

Game, set and match.

Now if for some reason, the GOP nominee turns out to be Rand Paul, things might be different, but not that much different. Paul's not exactly a fan of either party's foreign policy. In a firefight, he's just as likely to bury Bush as he will Hillary. And that won't sit well with the neocons who apparently only like the wars their guys start.

And if the Republican nominee ends up being John Kasich, the whole thing might never come up in the first place. From what little I've read on Kasich, he will likely stay as far away as possible from the whole issue. As I said in my last piece, he doesn't strike me as one of those Republicans who gets drunk on the Kool Aid.

Marco Rubio? Please. Don't get me started on Rubio. Clinton will school him but good. Did you see his performance in the Senate trying to outsmart John Kerry over the Iran deal? He made a fool of himself, much like the rest of his party. Rubio, in the event he wins the nod, will be so out of his league, he will look pathetic on that debate stage. The truth is there isn't one potential Republican nominee who can hurt Clinton on Libya.

Still, that won't stop the wing nuts from trying their best to create a mountain out of this molehill. Just look at how worked up they got over the "infamous" black men in hoodies video that was all of fifteen seconds long and conveniently left out the rest of her speech. Pirates don't get that excited when they discover treasure.

Hillary Clinton is unfit for president because of what happened in Libya. Of course, if you attempt to bring up Iraq, you're immediately accused of "changing the subject." And the subject, naturally, is Hillary Clinton. It has been ever since Obama won reelection. They've been paranoid about her for years.

Look, there is an awful lot wrong with American foreign policy that needs correcting. But having a discussion about it without bringing up Iraq is like having a discussion about maritime disasters without mentioning the Titanic. You just don't do it. Period.

And that's why this latest attack, just like all the others, will ultimately fail. Not because there isn't some kernel of truth to it, but because it lacks any semblance of balance and perspective. And that has been the fatal flaw in the Republican strategy from day one. By going all out on these conspiracy theories, they've missed out on genuine policy issues that might benefit them in a general election.

But then this isn't about the general election, is it? It's about a primary process that every four years gets more and more bizarre. I'm running out of adjectives to describe the GOP. Somehow calling it a looney bin would be an insult to looney bins everywhere.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Can John Kasich Win the White House?

I've written about Jeb Bush and Rand Paul and their chances of beating Hillary Clinton next year. Bush will have a mountain of money at his disposal and, like it or not, money means a lot in politics. It is estimated that over $1 billion will be spent on next year's presidential election. Bush can play a moderate, though at heart, he's far more conservative than he lets on. Rand Paul's stances on American foreign policy and domestic surveillance have earned him high praise from both sides of the political spectrum. And, unlike so many of his fellow GOP candidates, he isn't certifiable. There is  a genuineness about him that even his opponents find charming.

But with the announcement that Ohio Governor John Kasich has decided to get in the race, it's only fitting to ask what his odds are of winning the general election, assuming of course he wins the nomination. Here's my answer. Not only could he win, on paper he's actually the best qualified among the Republican candidates to run for the presidency. Consider the following:

  • Unlike Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Kasich is actually popular in his state. He is polling over 50 percent, compared to Walker, who is polling in the low 40s. What that means is that in a general election, Kasich could win his state, while Walker would most likely lose his. A recent poll found Kasich leading Hillary Clinton 47-40 percent among Ohio voters. Historically speaking, when Republicans win the White House, they typically take Ohio.
  • While Kasich isn't the most flamboyant of the GOP candidates - seriously, he makes John Kerry look like Mick Jagger  - he's comes off far more likable and genuine than Walker, Bush or any other candidate, except maybe Paul.
  • He's a fairly effective governor. Yes, I'll admit it, among Republican governors, Kasich has done the best job. He hasn't tanked his state's economy like Walker and Kansas's Sam Brownback have. While Ohio is not exactly near the top in job growth, they're far from the bottom. It will be very difficult for Democrats to criticize his resume in a general election.
  • While he is definitely conservative, he's no ideologue. He expanded Medicaid in his state, a no-no among the wingnuts in the Tea Party.  And he's also smart enough not to get into a pissing contest with Hillary over emails and Benghazi because he knows the last time the GOP tangled with a Clinton over something stupid, they got their clocks cleaned.

My take is that, if Kasich actually gets the nomination, he will focus exclusively on policy. He will avoid the typical trappings of past Republican nominees and be a formidable opponent for Hillary Clinton. And, yes, he can beat her. He can take Ohio, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and at least one other swing state like Colorado or Iowa. If you're counting, that's enough to win the White House.

In just the last few days, Kasich's poll numbers have risen sufficiently enough to make it into that all-important top ten field for GOP candidates. That means he will be on the stage for the first Republican debate. It should be quite interesting seeing how he handles himself among his fellow candidates. Will he cower to the Right the way Mitt Romney did in 2012, or will he be his own man and let the chips fall where they may?

National polls are meaningless. It's the individual state polls that determine who gets to call 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue home in 2017. And if I'm a Republican strategist, I'm rooting like hell for John Kasich to win the nomination. If I'm a Democratic strategist, I'm praying like hell for Donald Trump.

Once More, Mr. President, the Ball Is In Your Court

It's all but certain that the Congress will vote to disapprove the Iran deal. The real question is will Barack Obama's veto be sustained or overridden? The answer to that question will depend on how badly Obama wants the deal he so eagerly sought over the last two years.

It's come down to this: John Kerry did his job. He negotiated all the details with Iran and the other five countries involved in the deal. He went before Congress desperately trying to convince people who had long ago made up their minds. And all the other actors have taken to the cable news outlets doing the heavy lifting for the Administration.

In my opinion, it won't be enough. The opponents of this deal are determined and well funded. The ads are already flowing like water over a dam. The magic number for an override stands at 13 Senate and 42 House Democrats. There are by some estimates as many as 6 Senators and twenty or so Congressmen who will vote to override the veto. By the time of the vote, it wouldn't surprise me if that number doesn't at least double.

That is why this president must take the time and address the nation to make his case. Not in some afternoon press conference in the middle of the afternoon, but at night during prime time in front of millions of people. He must do what he hates doing most: explain what he wants and why it matters.

I have written many times about Obama's lack of intestinal fortitude when it comes to these matters. His inability to artfully engage the nation and draw a narrative has been by far his biggest undoing. It has cost him more than his fair share of political capital. Pick an issue - healthcare, the stimulus, the auto bailout, Libya, the pullout in Iraq, ISIS, the executive order on immigration - and the pattern has been the same. A botched or incoherent message that was coopted by his opponents and turned against him. It's as though the man has a "kick me" sign stapled to the back of his suit.

But this time, the stakes couldn't be higher. This time if Congress is allowed to override him and kill this deal, America may well find itself in the middle of another war in the Middle East that could make Bush's war in Iraq look like a military training exercise.

The opponents of this deal keep insisting that they would've gotten a better one. How? In what universe? There was no better deal available. In that case, they argue, we should've simply walked away and kept the sanctions in place. Except that even with sanctions in place, Iran was able to produce enough centrifuges so as to be approximately two months away from building a nuclear bomb. The deal that was worked out would push that back to at least a year and would be in place for a decade.

The facts are undeniable to any reasonable person. This deal was the best we were going to get and it is considerably better than what we had, which was nothing. But facts alone will not determine the ultimate outcome here. What is needed is a strong and persuasive argument for going forward and, while the President may hate this part of his job, there is no one better equipped to make it than he.

This was a man who ran two perfect campaigns to get elected. He made speech and speech and convinced a majority of American voters that he and not his Republican opponents were best suited to run the country. Now is the time for him to summon that talent and make his case to the country on Iran.

In less than two months we will know if we have a deal with Iran or not. But if Obama really wants the former, it would be in his best interest to get up off his butt and do everything within his power to make it happen. Whether he likes it or not, he's the only one who can do the heavy lifting this time around.

It's time to roll up your sleeves, Mr. President. Time to put your mouth where your money is.