Saturday, May 28, 2016

In Defense of Us Old Fogies


Those were the days, my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day
We'd live the life we choose
We'd fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way

- Mary Hopkins

I have to admit, I never really liked that song by Mary Hopkins. It just wasn't my style. I was always more of a rock 'n roller at heart, with an infinity for R&B and alternative rock. The harder the better. But the older I get, the more I've come to appreciate what this song is actually saying; indeed, the more I realize just how autobiographical it was and is.

My 20s were, shall we say, an interesting period in my life. I pretty much was a lone wolf; a hard drinker and, even then, quite the poet laureate. I was opinionated and had no problem sharing that opinion with as many like-minded people as I could find. There was no such thing as social media, so I was limited to college campuses and, yes, bars. You'd be amazed how much pontification goes on in between pitchers of Budweiser at the local tavern. I was a regular Friedrich Engels. I subscribed to The Nation, Mother Jones and Socialist Review. My mother, rest her soul, was convinced that the FBI was going to break down the front door and carry her off to prison for harboring a subversive.

Like the above song said, I really thought those days would never end. It was wonderful being young, bright and brash, even if I was living rent free in my parents' house. I had my own wheels, enough cash in my wallet and the world was my oyster. What a life.

So what happened to change all that? Well, I grew up, sorta. As I entered my 30s, I started to realize that maybe life was a bit more complicated than I had originally thought it was. I found a girlfriend, moved in with her and got married. For the first time in my life, I was paying, or at least contributing to, rent. I learned what an electric bill was, along with the cable, phone and a host of other of life's little annoyances. Going to work was no longer something I did just to be able to put enough gas in my car, albums to throw on my turntable or booze in my stomach; it was now a means to a more productive end.

Over the next few years, my wife and I managed to save enough money to put a downpayment on a house of our own. At the ripe old age of 42, I was a homeowner. Holy shit! The guy who thought that chipping in $20 towards my parents' utility bill was making a substantial contribution, was now on the hook for a $1500 a month mortgage payment, along with $7000 a year in property taxes, not to mention a boat load of other expenses, like heating oil, homeowner's insurance and the like. Momma's little boy had grown up alright.

And as my wife and I move through our 50s, we are preparing for that inevitable day when we hang it up and retire. 401k accounts and annuities are our focus, along with paying off the mortgage. I still write a lot, and as you can no doubt see for yourself, I'm just as opinionated as I was in my 20s. But I've learned a thing or two over the last couple of decades of living that have altered my perception of the world.

I've been called jaded, but really I prefer to think of myself as being pragmatic. I still love a good fight, but I pick my battles more carefully. Having been is sales for the last 20 years, I've become suspicious of people who promise the moon but can't get off the launch pad. There's an old saying among salespeople: never bullshit a bullshitter. If you want my money, you'd better give me a good reason to part with it.

Much has been written about how well Bernie Sanders is doing with voters between the ages of 18 and 30. In fact, in some states, Sanders got as much as 81 percent of that vote. That isn't just impressive; it's other-wordly. But little has been written about how well Hillary Clinton is doing with voters 40 and over. My generation, it seems, prefers her to Bernie by a wide margin; maybe not as wide as the under 30 crowd prefers Bernie, but wide nonetheless. Why the disparity, you ask?

Well, for starters, I don't think it has anything to do with glossing over her shortcomings. I'm not blind or ignorant. I know Hillary has problems. She's a flawed candidate, running in a - yes, I'll admit it - rigged system with all the pitfalls that entails. Growing older hasn't dulled my perception of her or the world for that matter, but it has given me some perspective on how to understand both a little better. My conclusion: the world isn't perfect, nor are the people in it. That's not an excuse, but rather an explanation.

I do not expect seismic changes to occur in the political system; if anything I am suspicious of people who propose them, regardless of their ideological leanings. If the Tea Party has taught us anything, it's that high-minded people of principle and ambition often bite off more than they can chew. They thought they would transform Washington into their own image. Instead, they screwed up the political system of this country so badly it might well take years to recover from the damage they've inflicted.

When I look at Bernie and his supporters I don't see a political revolution in the making; I see a giant clusterfuck in the works. I see a carbon copy of the Tea Party, with guns a blazing, waiting to take on the world, and I instinctively reach for my wallet to make sure it's still there.

I listen to him rant against Wall Street and I think, "Okay, maybe a lot of those bankers should have gone to prison for what they did to this economy, but I still have my retirement savings to consider. How will that be impacted by his proposal to impose a large tax on investment firms?" When I hear his proposal for Medicare for everyone, I think, "Yeah, everyone should have healthcare coverage, but do I really want pay an extra five grand a year in taxes to make that a reality?" When he talks about making college tuition free for all students, I think, "Well that sounds good, but do I really want to foot the bill for some kid to go through four years of college so he can get drunk on weekends and fail his midterms?" You see, I remember those good old days of throwing up on my self after an all-night bender.

One of the things you learn as you grow older is that pollyanna thinking is just that: pollyanna. This doesn't mean I don't want a better world; it just means I'm realistic enough to know that it takes time to achieve that. You don't go from A to Z. Life doesn't work that way. People my age - the baby boomers - know all too well that progress is often measured in inches, not yards. It's nice to dream, but dreams don't pay the mortgage or put the kids through college.

When I was a sales manager for a computer company a number of years ago, I was interviewing several candidates for a sales position. Two of the applicants were young and enthusiastic. I asked each of them why they wanted a job in sales. The two younger applicants talked about the challenge of selling hi-tech products in a growing and competitive industry; one even said he was looking forward to helping his customers with all their technology needs. But there was one applicant who stood out and was very matter of fact: "I enjoy making money and I'm very good at it."

Guess which one I hired?

Did the other two applicants have good qualities. Without a doubt, yes. In fact, the second one would've made an excellent tech-support person and, had I been looking for such a person, I would've hired him. I wasn't, so I went with the candidate that best filled the need I was looking for. By the way, he was one of my best hires.

I don't profess to be an expert when it comes to judging people. Heaven knows I've made my fair share of mistakes in the past. And I am fully aware that there are older people who support Bernie Sanders, just like there are younger people who support Hillary Clinton. If I've learned anything about sales, it's that there's no such thing as a hundred percent close ratio.

But I suspect that the main reason so many older people prefer Hillary over Bernie, is because they've been around the block enough times they can see every crack in the sidewalk. And in their eyes, Bernie's got a lot of cracks. When they hear him, they hear their kids or, as might be the case, their grandkids. They know what a fad looks like, even if the majority of younger people don't.

They don't see Hillary Clinton as some kind of savior or deliverer, as so many of Bernie's supporters see him as. They're just as concerned about global warming and equal rights as the next person, but they also know all too well what happens when unqualified people have been thrust onto the national stage. They wither and die, along with the hopes and dreams of their supporters. Somehow growing older has given us an innate ability to cut to the chase and see the real from the unreal; the workable from the unworkable.

The first time I heard Sanders speak, I was impressed. The second time, no so much. By the third time, I had him figured out. Nice man, novel ideas, a train wreck waiting to happen. So I dismissed him. Apparently, an awful lot of people in my age bracket did the same thing.

I guess that makes me an old fogey who doesn't want a better world and is in on the fix. Who knew I was Dillinger incarnate? But, the thing is, I kinda like being an old fogey. I like listening to my old Smokey Robinson and Led Zeppelin songs on my iPhone, though I confess, it's a little unsettling to hear young people refer to R.E.M. as an oldies band.

But the good news is that the young people of today will be the old fogies of tomorrow. And when that happens, they too will get the chance to figure out what so many of us already know: that super heroes are fictitious people we go to see in the movies, not people we vote for in primaries; that incremental change is not a sellout but a practical reality; and that youth, just like rock concerts, eventually comes to an end.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Bernie's Super Delegate Obfuscation


The Sanders campaign has been adamant for weeks that the only way Hillary Clinton can win the Democratic nomination is with super delegates. Without them, she falls short. And that's why they plan on forcing a contested convention in Philadelphia so Bernie can convince those super delegates to switch from Hillary to him, thus allowing him to win the nomination. The media, it seems, have gone along with this canard, repeating it over and over without so much as even bothering to verify its accuracy.

So, in the interest of getting at the truth, I thought I'd explain just what is going on and why it matters so much. Yes, it's true: Hillary needs 2383 total delegates to secure the nomination. At present, she has 1769 pledged delegates, plus 541 super delegates. That gives her a total of 2310 delegates, 73 shy of the majority. Now according to Sanders, Hillary should not be given credit for those super delegates until the convention, ergo, she can't possibly win the nomination.

There's just one problem with Sanders's logic. The Super Delegates are actually baked into the total needed for clinching the nomination. He knows it and his campaign knows it. Here's why.

Of the 4765 total delegates available, 712 are super delegates. If you subtract them from the mix, you're left with 4053 total delegates. To win a majority, a candidate must win one more than half the total number of available delegates. Therefore, if there were no super delegates, the number needed for clinching the nomination would drop to 2027. Given that Hillary already has 1769 pledged delegates, she would only need an additional 258 delegates to cross the finish line. Think about it: if she wins just 50 percent of the pledge delegates in New Jersey and California on June 7, that would get her there with 42 delegates to spare; and that's with the votes of Puerto Rico, New Mexico and Washington D.C. still left to count.

But the Sanders campaign doesn't want you to know that. They want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to leave the super delegates in the overall total, but they don't want them to count for anything. Unless of course they end up going with Bernie; then they would count. If they were truly sincere about not letting super delegates "decide" the nomination, they would petition to have them excluded; ALL of them. They would stop this ridiculous charade that they are being cheated out of the nomination by the DNC.

The truth is that the nomination isn't being stolen from Bernie; it's being won by Hillary, fair and square. More people are voting for her; 3 million more. Since they were first adopted by the Democratic Party in 1984, super delegates have always abided by the will of the voters. That includes 2008, when the overwhelming majority of them bolted Hillary for Barack Obama, much to the dismay of Clinton and her supporters.

If the DNC decides to eliminate them altogether - and considering how controversial they have become this year, that's not such a bad idea - then everyone needs to remember that the total number of available delegates would be reduced accordingly.

You can't have it both ways, Bernie. Either super delegates count or they don't. If they do, Hillary wins the nomination; if they don't, she wins the nomination. Either way, she wins the nomination. To engage in this kind of obfuscation demeans the whole process and needlessly prolongs the inevitable. And, more importantly, it increases Donald Trump's chances of winning the general election in November.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Understanding Polls and the Independent Vote

The two claims you keep hearing over and over from Bernie supporters are 1. Sanders is doing better in head-to-head matchups against Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton; and 2. Bernie is doing much better with independents than she is. The logic being that head-to-head matchups and independent voters will be the key to winning the 2016 election; ergo Bernie should get the nomination.

Well, let me take a few minutes to debunk both claims, starting with the head-to-head matchups. There are two important things that Bernie supporters are missing here: the first is that head-to-head matchups in May are not indicative of the way a general election is likely to turn out. If memory serves, Clinton was polling better against GOP nominee John McCain than Barack Obama in May of '08. We all know what happened. Obama went on to win a landslide victory over McCain. As I've said on more than one occasion, we won't get a handle on who is the favorite in this horse race until September.

The second thing Bernie supporters are missing regarding poll numbers is that their candidate, for the most part, has had a free pass regarding negative ads, while Clinton has been the political equivalent of a piƱata. From the time she stepped down as Secretary of State, she was in the crosshairs of the GOP attack dogs. Sadly, many of Bernie supporters have been repeating, almost verbatim, Republican talking points on her. Were Sanders to actually win the nomination, all that attention would move in his direction. They would throw the kitchen sink at him, just like they've been doing with Hillary. Under that intense scrutiny, I seriously doubt Sanders would be polling as well as he is currently doing, especially with his policy positions. In no time at all, the GOP would have a majority of Americans believing Bernie was a distant cousin of Karl Marx.

Now let's talk about that second claim about the independent vote. It seems all we keep hearing about these days is how the independent vote is crucial to determining who wins the White House. Funny thing about that stat: it actually isn't true. For instance, in 2008, Obama won the independent vote and obviously won the election; but in 2012, he lost the independent vote, yet still beat Mitt Romney by five million votes. Ironically, the only swing state that Obama got the majority of the independent vote that year was North Carolina, which he lost.

So why the discrepancy? I think it comes down to one simple fact. The term independent has changed dramatically over the last twenty or so years. There was a time when independent voters were just that: independent. They did not affiliate themselves with either major party, nor did they want to. They were, for lack of a better word, moderates or centrists. They were called Reagan Democrats in the '80s and Clinton Republicans in the '90s. True swing voters. But they were, ostensibly, the same voting bloc.

That is NOT the case today. Many of today's independent voters are far more ideological in their political leanings, and break down along two very distinct categories. One is progressive; the other conservative. For these voters, the major political parties are seen not only as part of a corrupt and rigged system, but as betraying the values they hold near and dear. Progressive independents think the Democratic Party isn't progressive enough; conservative independents think the Republican Party isn't conservative enough. Far from being moderates or centrists, these voters represent the extreme flanks of the political spectrum and they have been engaged like never before by the candidacies of Sanders and Trump, both of whom have given them something to rally around.

A piece by Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com corroborates this. In it, Silver writes,
It's critical not to confuse "independents" with "moderates." Sanders's career itself underscores that point: He long called himself an independent, even while compiling a very liberal voting record. Sanders has demonstrated a real outside appeal that does better among people with a similar profile, people who lean left but are wary of calling themselves Democrats. We should also avoid reading too much into Sanders's support among independent leaners in terms of how he'd fare in November: The independents who vote in party primaries are in no way representative of independents generally.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Hillary Clinton doesn't need to make inroads with Bernie supporters; she does. What I am saying is that this particular group of voters on the left - as well as Trump's core group on the right - are not, by any stretch of the imagination, what we would typically refer to as traditional independents. It's unclear just what percentage of the overall electorate they make up. But to make the claim, as the Sanders campaign has, that winning the independent vote is the key to defeating Trump in the fall, is factually inaccurate.

There are two reasons I know this. The first is, even with Sanders taking the lion's share of the independent vote, Clinton is still either within the margin of error or flat-out leading in the polls. If there was any truth to the Sanders' claim, she would be trailing, and trailing badly. Secondly, Trump himself is now pivoting over to the middle in order to snatch up the real independent / moderate voters, a sure fire sign that his campaign knows it will need to win the center in order to win the White House.

If someone as detached from reality as Trump can figure out that you can only go so far with just the support of your base, one has to wonder what is going on over in Bernieland.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Hey Bernie, You're No Jimmy Stewart


Ok, I've just about had it with Bernie Sanders. For the last ten months, I've tried to keep my criticisms of him strictly on the professional side. While I've admired his passion and his vision, sometimes even agreeing with it, I never thought of him as someone who could actually follow through on that vision. Mainly because Sanders never laid out a constructive game plan for how to implement it. Ergo, I dismissed his pie in the sky positions, while at the same time giving him credit for at least attempting to start a dialogue.

All of that started to change about two months ago, when I began noticing some rather toxic elements permeating not so much throughout the Sanders' campaign but throughout his base of supporters. The further down the road we got into this primary season, and the more Hillary Clinton pulled ahead in pledged delegates, the more desperate and paranoid many of them became. Some of the comments I read on Facebook make 9/11 truthers seem lucid, by comparison.

I've written at great length about some of these people, most notably in a piece back in March, titled "Hey Bernie Supporters, Get A Grip." I won't rehash it here; you can read it for yourself if you like. Suffice to say, I wasn't too pleased by what I was seeing out there. Indeed, I was deeply concerned.

Well, I'm past the point of just being concerned. Now I'm just simply annoyed. No, check that, not annoyed; indignant and fed up. It's bad enough that many of Bernie's supporters act like little brats who desperately need a time out and who have taken it upon themselves to lecture the rest of us on why we should join the revolution; and if we don't, then somehow we're part of the wicked establishment.

It's also bad enough that apparently many of them don't know how to use a calculator or that they appear to have come up with some new imaginary math that allows them to believe Bernie is ahead when he's really trailing. Having been on Facebook for most of the last seven years, I've seen a lot of stupid shit end up in posts and, truth be told, I've been responsible for some of it.

But this is no longer about a bunch of overgrown rock fans who stayed a bit too long at the concert, this is about a senator who is on some kind of super ego trip, who isn't just content with winning the Democratic nomination, he wants to thoroughly transform the Democratic Party into his own image. He isn't just taking on Hillary Clinton, he's taking on the entire Democratic Party, which he calls the "establishment."

Who's the establishment? Well, anyone not supporting him, that's who. You see in Bernieland, or as I like to call it, the land of the pampered, it's us against them. And naturally "them" is above reproach, as pure as the driven snow, while "us" are just a bunch of hacks bought and paid for by all those special interests. Funny, I never thought of myself as being bought and paid for; I just assumed I was exercising my right to support the candidate I thought was best qualified. Silly me. What was I thinking? This is what happens when you raise an entire generation of kids who believe that everyone deserves a trophy.

Since he announced he was getting into this race, Sanders' entire campaign has rested on two over-arching principles: One, that the system is rigged; and two, that only he can fix it. If you think about it, it's the perfect scam: a doctor tells you you have cancer - maybe you do, maybe you don't - but regardless, only he can cure you. Wow, talk about a God complex.

Well, Bernie, if it's all the same to you - and even if it's not - I prefer not to be cured, and certainly not by the likes of you. You fancy yourself a deliver of truth, the messenger of justice, who is going to give back to the people that which was stolen from them.

Which people? You mean the 60 percent of registered Democrats who have voted for Hillary Clinton, the woman you're not only running against, but doing everything possible to mortally wound? Those people? Has it not occurred to you that even if by some miracle you were to win the nomination, you are going to need "those people" to vote for you in order to win the White House? Calling their candidate corrupt, I can assure you, is not a very good way to accomplish that.

It's one thing to be blunt, it's another to be a condescending ass. Speaking strictly as a rock music fan, even Dylan doesn't take himself that seriously. But you? You're a piece of work. And your latest stunt, concerning what happened in Nevada, only underscores how delusional you and your supporters have become. Just for the record, Senator, Hillary Clinton won the state back in February. She won it fair and square. But your supporters apparently didn't like the outcome, so they took it upon themselves to make a scene at the state convention. When they didn't get the recount they demanded they went apeshit.

Threats were made, some of them vile. I read them. I hope you did, too. How nice of you to come out and "condemn" the violence, while at the same time blaming the DNC for it and neglecting to tell your huddled masses to throttle it down a notch or two. But we can't have that now, can we? Not while there are still rallies to hold and more donations to be had. It's amazing how far twenty-seven dollars will go, especially when it's multiplied several million times. Do they know, sir, that they are contributing to someone who is a closet narcissist? I say closet, because, unlike Donald Trump, who wouldn't know a mute switch if it bit him in the ass, you have managed to skate by, for the most part, unscathed, your reputation intact. You're the angel sent from Heaven; Trump the demon from hell.

Well, not in my book, not anymore, at least. I see you for what you are: a man who would be king; the emperor in waiting, leading his minions to the promised land like the demagogue he claims he isn't. You stand there and recoil against the Clinton machine and the very party you just happen to be running in, while all the while setting yourself apart from it. Well let me tell you, sir, rail against Hillary all you want. She's as obvious as a two dollar bill, I know, but she's never pulled the stunt you're pulling. The Clintons may think they're God's gift to the world, but they've never put on airs about it. In fact, they've gone out of their way to brag about it. You? Your false humility glows in the dark.

I've watched Mr. Smith Goes To Washington many times. It's one of my favorite movies because it gives me hope that despite our darkest natures, we can find the strength to rise up and eventually do the right thing. I don't mean to burst your bubble - well, actually I do - but you are NO Jimmy Stewart, and, despite what you and your band of miscreants keep insisting, Hillary Clinton is no Claude Rains. What she is is the likely Democratic nominee who will be going up against not just Trump, but the hundreds of millions of dollars in soft money that he will have at his disposal.

Are you even remotely aware of the enormous risk you are taking by engaging in this smear campaign against the only candidate that will have a shot at defeating Trump in the fall? Has it gotten through that thick skull of yours that this country could be months away from electing the first fascist president in its history? And does it not bother you that many of your followers - let's just go ahead and call them worshipers - think that the two of them are the same, even though they're not even remotely alike? Women's rights, equal rights, gay rights, the environment, the Supreme Court, protecting the middle class. I could go on and on, but what's the use? I might as well bang my head against a wall for all the good it'll do.

Give it up, man; you cannot win. The best you can hope for is a tie in California, the largest state left on the calendar. Anyway you slice it, when the counting is done, you are going to be trailing Hillary Clinton, and quite possibly by a very large margin. It comes down to one of two choices: either you work to help get her elected in November, or you follow through on your asinine threat to force a brokered convention. You still won't succeed at getting the nomination, but you will succeed at fracturing the Democratic Party, perhaps irrevocably.

Maybe that was your plan all along. Face it, you have no more regard for the Democratic Party than Ted Cruz has for Mitch McConnell. But I'll say this much for Ted, at least he isn't hiding his contempt behind some egalitarian cause. He speaks his mind, what little there is of it. Oh, if only you were so honest.

If it's Claude Rains you're looking for, Bernie, don't look for him in Philadelphia; he won't be there. You can catch him in Cleveland. He'll be easy to spot. He'll be the one laughing at you while he's holding a gun at the nation's head. A gun, by the way, that you helped put in his hands.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

What Hillary Needs To Do In Order To Beat Trump


No, I'm not getting ahead of myself here; I just have a clearer understanding of basic math than a lot of Bernie supporters do. So, yes, Hillary Clinton is going to win the Democratic nomination.

That being said, how does she defeat Donald Trump in the fall? As any halfway decent football coach will tell you: getting to the Super Bowl is not the objective; winning it is. And if this election season has taught us anything it's that conventional wisdom doesn't mean squat.

So, what does Hillary need to do in oder to beat Trump? It comes down to five things.

1. Resist the urge to get into the mud pit with Trump. Throughout the Republican primaries, Trump threw everything but the kitchen sink at his opponents and they unfortunately responded in kind, not fully realizing that that was exactly what he wanted. Trump's whole game plan was to level the playing field, as well as lower expectations. He succeeded at both brilliantly. By engaging in a back and forth smearing campaign, Trump was able to set the tone of the debates, which had the effect of neutralizing the relative strengths of his opponents.

A college professor of mine once had a saying that is apropos here: if you throw enough shit at the blackboard, some of it will stick. Hillary's task will be to ensure that Trump's shit doesn't stick to her. The best way to do that is to not take the bait he will most assuredly throw her way. Unlike Sanders, Trump will not be afraid to go after her jugular. You can not only expect repeated attacks on the email server issue, but Bill's womanizing, as well. He's already started. It wouldn't surprise one bit if during the first debate Trump turns to Hillary and asks, "How did it make you feel knowing your husband was getting oral sex in the Oval Office?"

With all of the willpower she can muster, she must not take a bite out of that apple. She has to be the adult on that stage. She has to show the American people that she not only has the experience to be commander in chief, but the temperament, as well. Trump is looking to get a rise out of her, to bring her down to his level, just like he did with all his Republican opponents. Hillary can't give him that satisfaction. She can defend herself when she has to, but she cannot under any circumstance engage him on his turf. If she does, he'll win. Period.

2. Stop pretending to be somebody she's not. There's no doubt that Hillary's biggest problem is her lack of authenticity. It's so bad even her strongest advocates shake their heads sometimes. It gets even worse when she tries to be authentic; it's like a fish out of water. So here's my advice to her: stop pretending to be somebody you're not. You beat Bernie Sanders, one of the most straightforward members of the Senate, by more than three million votes. Evidently the voters didn't care all that much about authenticity. If they had, Bernie's name would've been at the top of this piece, not yours.

Instead, run on your resume. Yes, I know this is risky given the overall mood of the electorate this year, but you can't change now anymore than a leopard can change his spots. You're not Dr. Phil, so don't try to be. You have more than 25 years experience in public service. You must make that the focal point of this election. You must make the case to the American people that at this particular moment in our history we can't afford to turn over the reigns of power to the host of a reality TV show. Your strength is your record; use it or lose it.

3. Pick Warren as her running mate. A couple of months ago I thought this would've been a nutty idea. But then a couple of months ago I didn't think that Bernie supporters would be threatening to hold their breath and count to a zillion like four-year olds. But that appears to be the case for some of them. And in an election where some states like Ohio and Pennsylvania could be decided by a couple thousand votes each, a defection of even ten percent of Bernie supporters could spell defeat in November. Now is not the time to to stand on principle, but to acquiesce to reality. Without the progressive vote - ALL of it - Trump wins.

Let's face it: Warren should've gotten in as a presidential candidate last year. I'll bet the ranch she regrets not doing so now. But that's water under the bridge. The real question is whether she would consider being number two on the ticket, especially with someone who she is not ideologically in tune with. Another question is whether Hillary would give her a prominent role in her administration, or whether she would simply be a peace offering to the base. If it's the former, Warren might say yes; if it's the latter, she'll likely pass.

Let's assume it's the former. What would Warren bring to the ticket, apart from the vast majority of the base? For one thing, an outstanding debater, even better than Hillary. It's looking more and more like Trump is going to tap a running mate with legislative experience. The name of Newt Gingrich has come up. If that's the case, the choice of running mate will be critical to Hillary's success. She can't afford to pick someone like, say, Julian Castro, who is Hispanic and a rising start in the Party. Gingrich would eat Castro alive in a debate; No way he does that with Warren. Just the opposite, in fact. Indeed, while Trump is trying to engage Hillary in a food fight, the VP debate could end up being the most substantive. All the more reason to have a running mate with the facts on her side and the ability to convey them to the electorate. And if, by some chance, Trump should choose Sarah Palin as his running mate, Warren's hardest task will be trying not to laugh.

What about Bernie, you ask? This isn't 1980 and Bernie is no George H.W. Bush. When Bush went after Reagan it was over his love affair with supply-side economics, which Bush called voodoo economics. The two were, therefore, able to reconcile their differences and form a formidable team in the general. Bernie's attacks on Hillary have been virtually all personal in nature. Few, if any, have been about policy. In fact, the two have more in common than even Bush and Reagan had. It's hard to imagine a Clinton / Sanders ticket, especially with Bernie supporters resenting the fact that their guy isn't on the top of it. Sorry, but some fences just can't be mended.

There's also no denying that a ticket with two women on it would be historic. It would provide the ultimate contrast to a Trump / Gingrich ticket. Is there a possibility that Warren could upstage Clinton? Most definitely. But keep in mind that if the choice comes down to a safe pick like Castro or maybe Ohio Senator Sharrod Brown vs. a riskier pick like Warren, I'd go with the riskier pick, especially in a year when the conventional doesn't seem to be working.

4. Don't repeat Al Gore's mistake. Yes, Gore was a lousy candidate who, when it comes to transparency, makes Hillary look like Martin Luther King, Jr. And he also made a number of critical errors in his presidential run, none worse than his decision to distance himself from Bill Clinton. True, progressives were never really fond of Bill, or his wife for that matter, but for a majority of Americans he was still a very popular president, even with all the scandals. So it was curious to say the least that Gore never once asked Bill to campaign for him. Curious and fatal.

Hillary, to her credit, is not following in Gore's footsteps. If anything, she's doing everything imaginable to tie herself as closely to Obama as she can. And who could blame her? Obama's approval rating is hovering around 51 percent, the highest it's been since his first year in office. By comparison, the last two-term Republican president's approval rating is somewhere in the mid 30s.

If Hillary is smart, and she is, she'll have Obama stumping on the campaign trail for her as much as possible; even more so than her husband. Which brings me to my last point.

5. Keep Bill on a leash. Under normal circumstances, Bill would be an asset on the campaign trail. But these are not normal times. Hillary is running against an opponent who has no qualms about going gutter and Bill has hardly been the disciplined candidate he was when he was president. In fact, he's been something of a loose canon who has had some awkward moments in this campaign; most notably when he was confronted by Black Lives Matter protesters. If they could get under his skin, imagine what's going to happen when he gets confronted with the Monica Lewinsky chants. And let's face it, you know they're coming. Trump supporters will be out in full force like storm troopers at a Nuremberg rally.

If I'm Hillary, I would sit Bill down and explain the facts of life to him. She has forgiven him for many past transgressions. But if she allows him to destroy her best and last chance at winning the White House, it'll be on her and her alone. Bill will have his moments when he can be an asset, but they must be few and far between. Trump wants to make him the issue; Hillary can't let that happen.

So there it is: my five point plan for how Hillary beats Trump. I can't guarantee that it will work, but this much I can say: if the Clinton campaign makes the same mistake the GOP made and doesn't take Trump seriously, he will win the 2016 presidential election.

And you can take that to the bank.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Why Populist Movements Are Inherently Dangerous


If there's one thing the candidacies of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have proven it's that there are an awful lot of pissed off people out there. Millions of people are showing up at rallies and they are making their voices heard, loudly I might add. These populist movements are sweeping the country and are threatening the power structures of both political parties.

And while many see this wave of populism as a good thing, there are inherent risks involved. For one thing, while populist movements are quite adept at identifying the problems besetting the country, they seldom come up with workable solutions. This is because they haven't correctly diagnosed the underlying cause of the problems.

Several examples underscore this. The first is one of the central themes of the Sanders campaign: that trade deals like NAFTA have cost millions of American jobs. Yet, an objective look at the numbers does not support that claim. One of Sanders's staunchest supporters, Robert Reich, has debunked this theory. If anything, Reich says, the trade agreement was a net positive for job creation.

Reich believes the real problem isn't free trade but the lack of a system that helps displaced workers find comparably paying jobs. In a global economy there will always be winners and losers. It's how you deal with the losers that determines the overall strength of an economy. But you'd never know that attending a Sanders rally. So far as they are concerned all our problems would be solved if we opted out of NAFTA and didn't join TPP.

A second example is yet another central theme of Sanders: income inequality. Sanders has proposed raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Suffice to say that proposal has become quite popular among progressives. There is no doubt that wages have been stagnant over the last couple of decades and that the minimum wage has not kept up with worker productivity. If it had, it would be over $21 an hour. But Sanders' solution to unilaterally raise it to $15 an hour would not solve the problem of income inequality. In fact, it could cost jobs, particularly in areas of the country where the cost of living is far lower than other parts.

Then there's the obsession Sanders and his supporters have with breaking up the banks and reinstating Glass Steagall. Economists like Paul Krugman have stated repeatedly that Glass Steagall would not have prevented the Great Recession from happening, nor would reinstating it prevent a repeat performance. Still, the Sanders campaign has clung to this issue like white on rice.

Now onto the Trump campaign, where there are a litany of examples of misdiagnosed problems. The first of these concerns immigration. There can be little doubt that America's immigration system is broken. Only a fool would say otherwise. But the solution that Donal Trump has peddled to his supporters consists of building a wall along the U.S. / Mexican border, rounding up as many as eleven million people and deporting them back to Mexico.

Putting aside that the former will never happen and the latter is unconstitutional - not to mention a logistical nightmare - neither proposal would properly address the underlying issue. Both ignore structural problems that are decades old. The two main culprits behind the surge of undocumented workers into this country are economic turmoil throughout most of Latin America and the demand for cheap labor in this country. Until and unless both are effectively dealt with, the immigration issue will continue to be both a political and economic thorn in the side of the United States.

But the people who attend Trump rallies have convinced themselves - or more accurately have been convinced - that getting rid of these unwanted immigrants will cure all our problems. All the jobs that those brown people illegally took from us will now go to deserving white folk. Not only won't that happen, but the problem could potentially get worse as employers, unable to find enough cheap labor, resort to raising prices for their goods.

"Unfair" trade agreements aren't just the purview of the Left. Trump has made it a focal point of his campaign. To hear him tell it, the United States is being screwed by other countries who take advantage of these agreements and flood our country with cheap products that make it all but impossible for American companies to compete. His solution is to punish these countries by placing tariffs on them.

As attractive as that might sound, there is not a single economist who thinks this policy would work. Just the opposite, in fact. Imagine for a moment that in response to a tariff imposed by a President Trump, countries like China cut off all imports from the United States. Other countries soon follow suit. Not only would the American consumer be hit with higher prices due to the tariff, industries like agriculture, which depend on exports, would be devastated. Something similar happened after the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act was passed in 1930. Trade wars always end up bad for the countries that instigate them.

The threat of terrorism is very real and poses perhaps the biggest challenge of any presidential candidate. But Trump's solution to cut off all immigration of Muslims from Islamic countries not only wouldn't prevent a possible future attack in the United States, it would act as a recruitment tool for ISIS and other extremist groups throughout the Middle East. It could also have the unintended consequence of radicalizing young Muslims already here in this country by isolating them from the rest of American society. Left unsaid in the terrorist attacks in both Paris and Brussels is that the Muslim communities throughout Europe are deeply segregated from the mainstream populations, thus making them ideal breeding grounds for radical jihad . Why on Earth would the United States wish to model itself after such a failed policy?

But perhaps the greatest threat populist movements present, apart from their eschewing the complex for the simple, is the virulent nature they often display. There is an almost cult-like atmosphere that permeates them. And while the dynamics between Bernie supporters and Trump supporters are different in both style and substance, in temperament both are virtually identical. Both treat any criticism of their cause as a personal affront and both are loyal to a fault. If their candidate doesn't get the nomination, they will not vote for anyone else.

How did we get here? Well, for starters, both political parties were tone deaf to the unrest percolating throughout the electorate. On the Right, Republicans rode the Tea Party wave all the way to power in 2010, but never fully understood the vein they were tapping into. They assumed that the base was all about deregulation and lower taxes on the wealthy - dyed-in-the-wool Reaganites who embraced supply-side economics as staunchly as their parents did a generation ago. Part of that was certainly true, but deep down many of them were seething with resentment over how badly their station in life had slipped.

Neal Gabler has an excellent piece in The Atlantic, titled "The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans" that is a must read.  In it he uncovers some rather unsettling facts about the middle class. In one survey, when respondents were asked how they would pay for a $400 emergency, 47 percent said they would either have to borrow the money or they wouldn't be able to pay for it at all. Another survey found that only 38 percent of households could cover the cost of a $1,000 emergency room visit or a $500 car repair out of their savings. Also troubling was a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts that said "55 percent of households didn't have enough liquid savings to replace a month's worth of lost income." Astonishing would be a word in a half.

Maybe in Paul Ryan's world life is as simple as lower tax brackets, deregulation and personal liberty, but to millions of his constituents the only thing trickling down from the GOP was piss and vinegar. Donald Trump not only challenged the Party orthodoxy, he finally gave the disenfranchised a voice and a champion to believe in, albeit a deeply disturbed and unhinged one. The fact that Trump won in all parts of the country, including the famed Bible-belt is proof that the rank and file have had it with being told who is acceptable and who isn't.

And while the GOP was busy ignoring their base, the Democratic Party spent most of the last 25 years lining up to play the lead role in the next Ritchie Rich movie. Throughout most of the '60s and '70s, the terms Democrat and progressive were inexorably linked. But devastating electoral college defeats in the '80s tried the patience of the Party; so much so that in 1992 it turned to a Southern centrist by the name of Bill Clinton for salvation. Clinton turned around the party fortunes by winning not one but two terms as president; the first time a Democrat had done so since FDR.

But Clinton was no FDR, and progressives had to bite down hard and swallow, consoled by the knowledge that at least the GOP had been denied the White House. But they wouldn't be denied for long. Welfare reform and a crime bill, that at the time seem innocuous, helped sew the seeds of discontent within the Left. They would eventually take their frustrations out on Al Gore, who lost the 2000 election despite winning the popular vote.

It was not until 2008 that the Left found their hero. The ascendency of Barack Obama gave progressives something to believe in. Obama was seen as a transformational candidate who was going to change the way politics in Washington was done. Change we can believe in was his campaign slogan. However, once in the White House, Obama found out what every president knows all too well: that it's a lot easier to campaign on change than it is to govern on it.

Progressives once more were disillusioned. They had invested everything into a charismatic president only to be disappointed. Many expressed their frustrations by staying home in the 2010 and 2014 midterms. Obama may have won his reelection in 2012, but he is seen by the Left more as a centrist than a liberal president; a sentiment shared by many moderate conservative writers like Bruce Bartlett.

But though progressives were down, they were hardly out. Bernie Sanders has now become their new darling. His rallies are like rock concerts and his followers are true believers. For many of them, the Democratic Party has become more an enemy than an ally. Sanders reinforces that sentiment by taking on Wall Street and the corporatists that have taken over the Party establishment. Though he is not going to win the nomination, he has managed to change the discussion and move Hillary Clinton further to the left than she otherwise would've preferred. Her biggest challenge this fall will be to convince the Left that she is a better choice for the country than Trump. She will have a hard sell on her hands.

The epic fail of both political parties - their inability to listen to and serve their constituents - was the catalyst behind the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Both men have capitalized on the shortcomings of a system that is seen by millions of people on both sides of the spectrum as rigged. Trump appeals to a nationalist, xenophobic element that is fearful of a pluralistic and multi-cultural society; Sanders to a idealist, if somewhat utopian, element that is contemptuous of power and greed.

These populist movements are not going away anytime soon. Regardless of what happens in November, they are here to stay. When political institutions become flaccid and paralyzed they cease to be effective and lose their legitimacy and authority. They are then ripe for overthrow. That is precisely what happened to the Weimar Republic in Germany, and it could very well happen here. Bernie Sanders has said he wants to start a revolution; Donald Trump intends on bringing one. We should take both men at their word.

In retrospect, none of us should be surprised at what is happening in this country and to our political system. This moment has been slowly building for almost two decades. Now that it's here, the only mystery is why it took so long.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

What the Right Gets About Trump That the Left Still Doesn't


Over the last few days there have been a number of anti-Trump op-ed pieces that have appeared that aren't just critical of the presumptive Republican nominee; they're downright ugly. The prevailing theme of all of them? Trump is simply unqualified to be commander in chief. Given the partisan nature of this presidential campaign, you'd expect these pieces would be written by liberal writers. You'd expect that, but you'd be wrong. All of them were penned by conservative writers for conservative publications.

From David Ross Myers of Fox News:
Mr. Trump proclaims that he's going to make America great again, but can't provide any realistic plans for doing so; instead, he frequently resorts to scapegoating outsiders, foreigners, and minorities. The few policies that Trump has articulated would make America less safe, trample upon our most fundamental rights, and appeal to the basest instincts of the American people.
From David French of National Review:
On trade, Clinton will almost certainly be superior to Trump. Trump pledges to "win" through punitive tariffs that would increase the price of consumer goods and trigger trade wars, but he gives little indication that he understands the economics of trade, the reality of the American economy, or even the truth about American manufacturing. (It is not, in fact, disappearing.) Clinton, by contrast, would probably maintain the trade-policy status quo, and while that status quo creates winners and losers - as any status quo would - free trade has long been an overall positive for American families.
From Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal:
Trumpism isn't just a triumph of marketing or the excrescence of a personality cult. It is a regression to the conservatism of blood and soil, of ethnic polarization and bullying nationalism.
From Ross Douthat of the New York Times:
But above all it is Trump's authoritarianism that makes him unfit for the presidency - his stated admiration for Putin and the Chinese Politburo, his promise to use the power of the presidency against private enterprises, the casual threats he and his surrogates toss off against party donors, military officers, the press, the Speaker of the House, and more.
And from John McCormick of the Weekly Standard:
Perhaps Trump will prove over the next 6 months that the last 10 months of kookiness has all been shtick, a big act put on to win the nomination. Maybe he'll publicly recant his conspiracy theories. Maybe he'll demonstrate that he would be serious and sober enough to serve as commander in chief. Maybe pigs will fly.
Now it should be pointed out that these "brave" souls, and perhaps a few more - David Brooks called this a Joe McCarthy moment - are the exceptions to the rule. Despite earlier protestations, most of the GOP appears to be lining up behind Trump. So it's encouraging that, even against some very strong headwinds, each of these writers has managed to accurately peg the presumptive nominee. Which begs the question: if so many conservatives seem to get Trump, why can't many progressives?

Don't get me wrong: a majority of Democrats are repelled at the notion of Donald Trump being in the White House next year. But I'm not talking about them. Most of them - some 60 percent - are voting for Hillary Clinton in the primaries and virtually all of them will do so in the general. You know who I'm talking about. Yes, the Bernie Bots, or as I now refer to them, the new Left.

These are the people who look at Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, shrug their shoulders and say "What's the difference, who cares?" What is it that they don't see that their counterparts on the Right see all too well?

For starters, I think it comes down to this utopian worldview that many progressives subscribe to. There has always been a certain faction within the Democratic Party that believes that if they can't get a perfect, just, egalitarian society, then the best thing for the country would be to go through a dark age as it were. I saw the Susan Sarandon interview with Chris Hayes. She was quite clear. "Things will really explode" if Trump gets elected. Sadly, she's no outlier. An astonishing number of progressives agree with her. Only out of the ashes of destruction can humanity's true destiny be realized.

Don't laugh. I grew up watching Star Trek. This was precisely the worldview Gene Roddenberry held; so much so that he predicted a third world war between the great nations, out of which a new world order, free from strife and want, would emerge. Of course, Gene had to keep pushing back the date that this war was supposed to take place. First it was supposed to happen in the '90s; then it got pushed back to the second decade of the 21st century; finally it's now suppose to happen in the middle of this century. No doubt sometime around the year 2049 it'll occur to the person holding the franchise rights that a new rewrite is in order. 22nd century anybody? The good thing about science fiction is that you can always take an erasure to it and start over.

But in politics - or as I prefer to call it, the real world - do overs almost never happen and the kind of world that people like Roddenberry envisioned is a dangerous thing to contemplate, much less attempt to bring about. Dangerous because there is absolutely no way that a Star Trek world, much less a universe, could ever happen; not in our lifetime, nor in our grandchildren's. In all the millennia that have taken place on this planet, about the only advancements humanity has brought about were technological in nature. We are, ostensibly, the same beings we were during the days of the Egyptian and the Roman Empires, right down to the corruption and avarice. There is no empirical evidence anywhere which could lead a sober person to believe that we are due for a super leap forward on the evolutionary chain. In fact, given our basic nature, it's a fucking miracle we're not extinct.

Pundits have been scratching their heads trying to figure out why Bernie Sanders is so popular with young people. I know exactly why he is. I was once in my 20s and I thought much like they do now. The system was rigged, the two-party system was a joke; a charade for the power structure to manipulate us. The Ds and the Rs were all the same, so what was the point in voting? The progressive playbook hasn't changed much in 30 years, or even 50. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if that proved to be the determining factor that accounted for Walter Mondale getting mauled so badly in '84. It's still hard to believe he lost 49 states. I don't have the stats to back it up, but I'll bet you dollars to donuts a lot of young people stayed home that election day.

Funny, I actually am a progressive, albeit a pragmatic one. And if I had to choose between a liberal or a conservative country, I'd choose the liberal one in a heartbeat. The kind of society most conservatives would create makes my skin crawl. But lately, I've found myself reading a lot of conservative writers like David Frum and David Brooks. While I disagree with many of their assessments and conclusions, I find them thought provoking and intellectually stimulating. And I also give them a lot of credit for not only knowing that Donald Trump would be a disaster for the country, but for having the guts to say that the Democrat in this race is better qualified to be president.

Somehow, if the shoe were on the other foot, I doubt that my side of the aisle would be so forthright.