Saturday, January 30, 2016

How To Tell Which Candidate Each Party Doesn't Want To Run Against

Now that The New York Times has stolen my thunder by endorsing Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican John Kasich as presidential candidates, I thought I would try to answer that age-old question which has gnawed at me for quite some time. How do you tell which candidate each party doesn't want to run against?

For the GOP, the answer is obvious. They want no part of Hillary Clinton. How do I know that? Because they're going out of their way to heap all kinds of praise on Bernie Sanders. All you keep hearing from conservatives is how genuine Bernie is. He has integrity, he's a likable guy with a populist message, he'd be a tough opponent in a general. And so on and so forth.

Of course they don't really believe that. Deep down they loathe what he stands for (a self-described socialist who would end private insurance and redistribute wealth from their cronies to the huddled masses) and they would love nothing more than to run against him in a general. Read Michael Tomasky's piece in The Daily Beast regarding Bernie's prospects in a general and you know why Republicans are praying he beats Hillary.

Another reason you know they don't want to run against Clinton is the mountain of cash they are storing up in anticipation of facing her this November. They've been relentless in their attacks on her over the last three years. Seriously, how many Benghazi hearings do you think we would've had if Hillary had announced when she left the State Department that she wasn't running for president? If you answered more than one, you obviously believe in the Loch Ness Monster and Big Foot. The amount of attention Republicans have paid to the deaths of four Americans is perverse given how many lives were lost during the Bush years under similar situations.

They're also obsessed with her private email server and are convinced - nay, praying - that the FBI indicts her. The prospect of her being led away in handcuffs makes them practically giddy. Of course the fact that she isn't under any criminal investigation or that all of the emails that were classified as top secret were marked that way after they were sent, doesn't seem to matter much to the bubble people. As Buffalo Springfield once sang, paranoia runs deep.

But while the minions who hang on every word printed in Breitbart and the Daily Caller believe she is the second coming of Richard Nixon, the more pragmatic among them know deep down she will survive this and that by November it will be a non issue to the majority of voters. Hence, the rush to puff up the Senator from Vermont. If he wins Iowa AND New Hampshire, you never know.

Except they know full well that even if Sanders wins Iowa and New Hampshire, Clinton has huge leads and a considerable following in a majority of the states that follow. Bernie may be popular among many progressives, but he ain't no Barack Obama. Take away the largely white libs that flock to Sanders' rallies and Hillary is ahead in virtually every other demographic.

Now onto the Dems. I must confess, it's a lot harder trying to figure out which GOP candidate they would prefer not to run against. If you believe the Times, John Kasich would give them fits in a general. He's not nuts like the majority of Republican candidates. He's a popular governor from a swing state who actually has experience dealing with the Clintons. He was in Washington when Bill was in the Oval office. And he could take some of the center away from Hillary, something conservatives have a hard time understanding is essential to winning a presidential election. But the simple truth is Kasich has a snow ball's chance in hell of winning the nomination.

So that leaves Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio as the frontrunners. For my money, it's Trump. Why? Because all the talk has been about how Rubio is peeking at the right time and wouldn't that be great for the establishment candidates. If Rubio has a strong showing in Iowa and New Hampshire, he could win Florida and maybe a good chunk of the South. He could beat the Donald and save the Republican Party from an embarrassing defeat in November.

Except Rubio has way too much baggage so far as his party's base is concerned. His finger prints are all over the Senate immigration bill he co-authored and the wingnuts have never forgiven him for that. He's more than just damaged goods, he's yet another freshman senator who thinks he can rescue Washington from itself. After spending the last seven years blasting Obama for not having the experience and wherewithal to be president, Republicans are going to have one helluva time trying to convince the electorate that Rubio is different. Clinton will wipe the floor with him in the debates.

Cruz? Don't make me laugh. If old Ted were to win the nomination, it would be a landslide for the Dems. Think 1984, only in reverse. Cruz might be the only Republican candidate who's despised as much by his own party as the opposition. He'd be the ultimate wet dream for Hillary.

No, the guy that keeps Democrats up nights is none other than Donald J. Trump. I've been saying this for several months now, but Trump could win a general election. Yes, it's true a lot of his followers are racist, xenophobes, but not all of them are. Many are just frustrated people who feel they've been screwed by the system. They're fed up with Washington politics and the cronyism that has paralyzed it. Trump appeals to a yearning that these people have to return to a time when America was great and the world trembled at our feet. Yes, the majority of them are white, but in swing states like Ohio, Virginia, Iowa and Colorado, that's not exactly a bad thing. So he looses Florida, Michigan and New Mexico. So what? He could pick up the rest and win a very close election.

So there you have it. The two candidates that neither party wants to run against and why. Both seem destined for a collision course this November. One of them will prevail. Only time will tell which party was correct in its assessment and which one overreacted.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Michael Bloomberg Is Flirting With Disaster

Maybe in the end, all this becomes nothing more than yet another one of Michael Bloomberg's restless yearnings for a job he knows he's qualified for, but for which he also knows he could never win.

Make no mistake about it, despite what his detractors say, Bloomberg is actually qualified to be president. On social issues he's as liberal as Bernie Sanders; however, when it comes to the economy, while he doesn't subscribe to the Republican fairytale of supply economics, he's a one eighty from Sanders. Overall, he's just to the right of Hillary Clinton. He's what Democrats used to call a centrist and Republicans used to call a moderate, only in reverse: a social liberal and a fiscal conservative. If George Soros and Warren Buffet had a baby, it would be Michael Bloomberg.

And that's the problem, at least for the Democrats. A Bloomberg candidacy, if it comes to that, would ostensibly split the Democratic vote in half, thus ensuring a Republican win in November. Now I know what you're thinking: That's only if Clinton wins the nomination. What if Bernie Sanders wins? What if he does? Same outcome. Sanders will take the left, Bloomberg the middle and Trump the right.

But aren't there more progressives than conservatives? Perhaps, but there aren't enough to overcome the electoral nightmare Bloomberg would create. As it stands now, Democrats hold a distinct advantage in the presidential election. They have more electoral votes in their blue states than Republicans have in their red ones. What that means is that the GOP has to win three quarters of the swing states just to have a chance at victory. Not very reassuring.

Bloomberg doesn't just put those swing states in jeopardy, he puts some of the blue states at risk, as well. States like New York and New Jersey, where he is very popular, could end up in his column. Not to get stereotypical, but Bloomberg's religion doesn't exactly hurt him in Florida. And then there are states like Virginia and North Carolina, where there are an awful lot of, shall we say, transplanted New Yorkers. Even if he doesn't win them, he keeps Hillary or Bernie from winning them. You see where I'm going with this. Hillary and Mikey duke it out, while the Donald crosses the finish line.

Wait, it gets worse. In the event that no one gets 270 electoral votes, guess who picks the winner? You got it, the Republican-controlled House. Republicans may not like Donald Trump, but they loathe Hillary and regard Bloomberg as the consummate RINO. They'd vote for a slice of moldy bread before letting either of those two anywhere near 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. You think Paul Ryan is still sore at what happened in 2012? You ain't seen nothing yet.

And all this happens because, for all his qualities and traits, Bloomberg is every bit the ego maniac Trump is, albeit far more polished and refined. He doesn't trust Hillary and he can't stand Bernie. From his perspective, he probably thinks if Donald Trump can run for and possibly win the presidency, why not him? What he doesn't get is that the reason Trump is leading the polls in his party is because of a racist, xenophobic element within the GOP and, sadly, in a good chunk of the country. Trump has tapped into the rage these people have for immigrants, government and just about everything that rubs them the wrong way.

Bloomberg has no such constituency, nor is he likely to build one anytime soon. What he would be is a spoiler, a Ralph Nader on steroids. And if he doesn't knock it off and come to his senses, his flirtation with disaster could end up wrecking the very Republic he thinks he can save.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Republicans, Big Tents and Poverty

Listening to Paul Ryan on Face the Nation, two things caught my attention. First, Ryan believes his party has a big tent; Two, he apparently thinks the answer to solving poverty is to get people out of what he referred to as "dead-end" jobs.

I'll address the latter point first. Let me just say up front, it's comforting to hear someone - anyone - in the Republican Party talk about poverty. These days, the word is akin to mass murderer among the base, which is astounding when you consider many of them are barely making ends meet. But the problem with Ryan's concern about poverty is that, like many Republicans, he still holds on to the notion that dead-end jobs are the cause of poverty. All we need is to provide people with the skills so they can leave those jobs and get the higher paying jobs and careers they need and are out there.

What Ryan and his party don't quite understand is that the economy of today isn't the economy of yesterday. Back in 1960, there were a lot more manufacturing jobs. G.M. led the way with 595,000 employees. Today's economy is dominated by service-oriented jobs, which pay considerably less. Walmart employs over 2.1 million people, many of whom make the minimum wage or just over. These so-called dead-end jobs have become the primary source of income for them and their families. The higher paying jobs that Ryan claims are out there don't grow on trees in any economy, especially this one.

It may be a hard pill for some conservatives to swallow, but not everyone's elevator goes up to the penthouse or even the third of fourth floors. Sometimes the highest that elevator goes is the first floor. Like it or not, these people aren't trapped in these jobs by choice; there simply isn't any other place for them to go. In fact, many of them need to take additional jobs just to make ends meet. Fifty years ago, a person making minimum wage could still afford to live; today that wage comes to $15,000 a year, $4 thousand below the poverty line for a family of four. Increasing it to $15 an hour would double the yearly income, allowing many families to get out of poverty and off government assistance. The American taxpayer is subsidizing companies like Walmart for underpaying their employees.

Of course when you mention raising the minimum wage to Republicans, their comeback is that higher wages lead to less jobs not more. The facts, however, don't support their concerns. Minnesota increased its minimum wage, and with it taxes on the wealthy, and their unemployment rate is 3.7 percent, half a point lower than Kansas and Wisconsin, which slashed taxes and did not raise their minimum wage. And California, which increased its minimum wage to $10 an hour as of January 1 of this year, has seen the largest job gains of any state in the country. So much for GOP talking points.

Now onto Ryan's big tent. While it might be true that Republicans have a big tent, a big tent doesn't necessarily mean a diverse tent. One of the reasons Ryan and the GOP have been talking about poverty of late is that they realize that their core demographic is shrinking as a percentage of the electorate. Just as any business would look to increase its marketshare, the Republican Party knows full well that if they don't start reaching out to other constituencies, their long-term prospects as a viable party are bleak.

Of course it would help if their presidential candidates didn't alienate just about every demographic in the country except their core one. Donald Trump may be thrilling his base with his outlandish comments and positions, but he is driving his party up the wall. No matter how many times he gets called out by his fellow Republicans, nothing seems to hurt him.  He has become the teflon candidate, much to the chagrin of the RNC.

So, the moral of the story is this: talk is cheap. Until and unless the Republican Party changes its tune and gives up the fairytale of supply-side economics, they can reach out all they want to the impoverished. Their efforts will amount to nothing. The working poor don't need lectures on work ethic and pulling themselves up by their own boot straps; they need hope. And right now, that's something Paul Ryan can't offer, no matter how hard he tries.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Charlie Daniels' One-Sided Argument About Disagreements

I recently had the opportunity to read an Op-Ed piece by, of all people, Charlie Daniels, a country/pop artist who had a couple of hit singles in the '70s.  The title of the piece was "Why Can Americans No Longer Agree to Disagree?"

I'll admit that the first three paragraphs were well written and I found myself agreeing with him.

In all my years, living through good times and bad, war, recession, periods of great advancement, social upheaval, the eradication of catastrophic diseases and the myriad of forward leaps and backward slides in this United States of America, I have never seen a time when our population was on such adversarial footing. 
The problem is not just disagreement, that always has and always will exist, but it seems that in the past we were always able to find some common ground, with reasonable people on each side of an issue. Through civil discourse, and give and take, negotiations found a path both sides could live with. 
I think our forefathers designed our government to make it possible for both sides of an issue to be heard, but look how far that concept has fallen, with congressional leaders not even allowing legislation they disagree with to even get to the floor for debate.

Again, total agreement; you'll get no argument from me on any of these points. We do live in a very polarized nation where "reasonable" people are hard to come by. Unfortunately for Mr. Daniels his "opinion" piece goes off the rails after that. It deteriorates into a one-sided diatribe and, by now, you can surmise where it ends up. Right where most of these arguments go. One by one Charlie Daniels chronicles his list of the ills without acknowledging where the ill originated or that it takes two to tango.

Take global warming, which is Daniels' first pet peeve. It wasn't the liberal side of the spectrum that made this a political firestorm. We simply chose to accept the findings of 97 percent of climate scientists who insist that the science is real and the threat imminent. That doesn't make us anyone's intellectual superior; it just means we defer to those who know better. That is, after all, what so many Republicans keep saying, right? That they're not scientists!

Oh, and just because a senator brings a snowball onto the floor of the Senate in an attempt to prove that it still snows in the winter - which last time I checked no one in the scientific community was disputing - doesn't make his argument valid. It just makes him look silly. We didn't coin the term flat earther, but if the phrase fits...

Next up on Daniels' list is Barack Obama. He insinuates that anyone who criticizes him is described as a racist. That is simply factually untrue. Obama has had many critics on the Left as well as on the Right. Many of them have had valid points to make and the majority of them were cogent and thoughtful without a tinge of racism. But let's face it, there have been racist comments made about this president. To infer otherwise is to be in complete denial. A close look at some of the placards that many Tea Party members bring to their rallies and the plethora of comments on social media and AM radio reveal a disturbing trend in this country that only a blind or deaf person could fail to notice. While I would never suggest that a majority of Republicans are racists, it is quite clear that a majority of racists have found a home in the GOP. The ascendency of Donald Trump proves this.

Regarding the point about all lives matter, I would be amenable to it if all lives were treated fairly under the law. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Blacks make up the majority of inmates in our prisons, they are far more likely to be the victims of police brutality, their income is roughly two thirds of what whites earn, and the unemployment rate for them is more than double the national average. While it may ruffle the feathers of people like Mr. Daniels to hear this, the simple and undeniable truth is that white people in this country have a clear and distinct advantage in every measurable metric you care to discuss. And they have had that advantage since our founding. To insist otherwise is the height of absurdity.

Daniels moves on next to one of the hot topics of conservatives: abortion. I'll admit that this issue is very difficult for me. I have a profound respect for human life and believe it is precious. But it gets a little tiresome to hear the same argument from conservatives that women who are "pro-choice" are by default "pro-abortion." I know of no woman who flippantly decides to end her pregnancy. I can only imagine the anguish that many of them go through. And then to be subjected to the name calling that comes from Mr. Daniels' side of the aisle. Baby killer, slut, whore. Shameful.

To add insult to injury, the very clinics that millions of these women depend on for their birth control, which would stem the tide of unwanted pregnancies and, yes, abortions, are shut down in states by the very men Mr. Daniels believes should have a say in "natal matters." Here's a thought for these men: next time you're having sex with a woman, use a condom. Aside from that, shut the fuck up. The lunatic who shot up a Planned Parenthood was no liberal. He was a far-right conservative who was inspired by a video that was debunked as fraudulent, yet still promoted by the likes of Carly Fiorina. Take that and put it in your pipe.

And then there are the Republican debates, which Mr. Daniels believes have been "incendiary." To quote him, "The moderators have plumbed the ignition points and tried to pit candidate against candidate, resulting in petty arguments about who did what, when and to whom, each candidate trying to one up the other in exposing past mistakes and present failures. Meanwhile, the audience is left wondering if either one is worth voting for."

With all due respect to Mr. Daniels, the moderators of these debates, with the exception of the CNBC one, didn't need to do much plumbing with any of these candidates. They came pre-plumbed and loaded for bear. From Donald Trump's affinity for the internment camps of World War II to Ted Cruz calling for carpet bombing an entire country into the stone age to Chris Christie saying he would be prepared to start World War III, each of the GOP candidates has done their damnedest to one up each other without anyone's help. Even the first Fox News debate was little more than a dress rehearsal for the remake of Animal House. Face it, these candidates know who their target audience is and where their bread is buttered, and that is no one else's fault but the Republican Party's for allowing itself to be dragged so far over to the right that it has to look left just to find the right margin.

Daniels says that "preconditioned ideas, without reason, are a dangerous thing." Point taken. But so are one-sided arguments masquerading as a call for reasonableness. If we are ever to climb out of the enormous hole we've dug for ourselves, we must first realize that, yes, people have a right to agree to disagree, but then we must stop kidding ourselves about the systemic causes of how we got so royally screwed up in the first place.

When that happens, the common ground and civil discourse that Charlie Daniels says is missing will return.