Friday, September 30, 2016

Hillary Clinton Should Debate Gary Johnson

Michael Tomasky has an excellent piece on third party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein that is a must read. His point? Voting for either isn't just a wasted vote; it's a vote for someone with "deeply troubling ideas." While Tomasky mentions Stein, he focuses most of his attention on Johnson. He writes,
It’s embarrassing even to watch, like seeing someone who genuinely thinks he can sing butcher a song. As we know, it’s the second time Johnson has had such a moment, the first coming three weeks ago, when he obviously had no idea of what was happening in, or even likely the very existence of, the world’s most tragic city. Although both of those might still rank as less embarrassing than the MSNBC clip in which he quite literally bites his tongue to make...some point or other about the debates.
Libertarianism in recent years has developed a kind of hipster cred. It seems to be against the man. Libertarians are anti-war, usually (the cred narrative started with Ron Paul’s scathing attacks on the Bush/Cheney crowd). They support abortion rights and gay rights. Live and let live. And most of all, libertarians want to legalize pot. I think that’s the big one, for young people especially. I readily concede it would have seemed pretty appealing to the me of 30 years ago.
But here’s the catch. The libertarian live-and-let-live credo doesn’t apply just to young people who’d like to blow a doob in a public park (that’s how we put it back in my day, sonny, and I’m not going to make any phony attempt to be hip). It applies to polluting corporations. It applies to corporations and individuals who want to make unlimited dark money contributions to political campaigns. It applies to the forces pushing free trade. It applies to employers who don’t want to be nickel-and-dimed over paying their workers a minimum wage. It applies to gun manufacturers, and to the National Rifle Association. 
Still hip? 
These are libertarian beliefs, and Gary Johnson adheres to them, as Eric Zorn just laid out in a crushing column in the Chicago Tribune, which is backed up by my own research and that of others. There’s also a ton of chapter and verse in this great Rolling Stone piece by Tessa Stuart. Johnson shrugs his shoulders at climate change and doesn’t think the government has any business addressing it. He supports the Citizens United decision and thinks donors should be able to spend “as much money as they want.” He backs the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which I would think most young people oppose strongly, after listening to Bernie Sanders inveigh against it for a year. Speaking of Bernie, Johnson opposes tuition-free college. He’s against a federal minimum wage—that’s right, any federal minimum wage (although sometimes his answers are so wandering and circumlocutory that it can be hard to tell). And as for guns, he told Slate in 2011: “I don’t believe there should be any restrictions when it comes to firearms. None.”

Tomasky's warning - and it is a warning - could not be clearer. Millennials who have not warmed to Hillary Clinton, have turned their gaze towards Johnson and Stein. And the results are starting to spell trouble for her. In a race that has tightened over the last month, every vote counts; and with polls in some swing states within the margin of error, the fact that both Johnson and Stein appear to be siphoning off more votes from Clinton than Trump could prove to be the difference between winning or losing in November.

So what to do? Simple. Hillary Clinton should issue a challenge to Gary Johnson for a one-hour debate. And she should do it now. If Johnson insists, she could even extend the invitation to include Stein. 

Why not? Hillary has already proven her bonafides in debates with Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Does anybody seriously believe that she can't dispatch the likes of Johnson and Stein? Really?

The obvious risk is that once up on the stage with Clinton, Johnson and Stein will gain what they have wanted most: a national audience to present their case to the voters. But as Trump found out on Monday, sometimes having a national audience isn't all that it's cracked up to be.

But while I don't actually think the Clinton campaign will follow through with a challenge to debate Johnson and/or Stein, it should, if for no other reason than to expose the two of them to any and all millennials whose votes were essential in Barack Obama getting reelected in 2012.

Consider the RCP averages in a four-way race for the following states: Florida: Clinton 1.2; Colorado: Trump .5; Pennsylvania: Clinton 1.8; Ohio: Trump 2.0; North Carolina: Trump .8; Nevada: Trump .6.

Each and every one of these states could go either way, meaning Clinton could win by a wide margin or, gulp, Trump could. Of course, we're still waiting for the post-debate polls to see what impact, if any, Trump's dismal performance will play. But this much is clear: If Hillary Clinton cannot pull these millennials away from Johnson and Stein, she runs the very real risk of losing in November.

Look, Hillary Clinton has never been a risk taker; it's not in her DNA. But this is one time when she should consider taking a leap of faith. Gary Johnson and Jill Stein not only aren't serious alternatives to her; they couldn't even hold a candle to Ralph Nader or, dare I say it, Ross Perot.

But if they're given half a chance, they could end up doing the same amount of damage.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Rope A Dope

Okay, Hillary supporters, you can exhale now. She won the debate. No, she didn’t put Donald Trump away, but she did what she had to do: make the case for why she is ready to be commander in chief and, more importantly, make the case for why he isn’t. It took Clinton all of 12 minutes to get under Trump’s skin and once she did, the old Donald just couldn’t help himself. Not only did he take the bait, he swallowed it down willingly, like a child feasting on chocolate chip cookies.

What you saw out there were two candidates: one who was thoroughly prepared to debate and the other who wasn’t, and it showed. Team Clinton was determined this was not going to be a repeat of the Denver fiasco of 2012. Trump tried to roll out Dr. Jekyll; instead Clinton forced Mr. Hyde out of hiding. The only strong moment for Trump came when he hammered her on NAFTA and TPP, but in true form, he wasn’t able to sustain the attack; instead he spent much of the evening being on the defensive.

And that was by design. It was clear from the onset, Clinton wanted to set the tempo and she did. In fact, so effective was she that Trump, apart from the trade segment, never got any momentum going. In fact, as the debate wore on he seem to fade. His responses to questions about his birtherism claims, his refusal to release his taxes and his denial about his support for the Iraq War were not only ineffective, they seemed at times downright incoherent. And for someone who has spent the last few months questioning Clinton’s stamina, it was Trump who looked like he could’ve used a nap.

Clinton's biggest accomplishment last night was not allowing Trump to come off looking presidential, or to even come close. As I mentioned in my last piece, the bar was set so low for him that just stepping over it would’ve gotten him brownie points. Well last night he tripped over that bar, courtesy of a little shove by Clinton. And while I don’t think he lost any of his faithful minions, he failed to grow his base. She, on the other hand, was appealing to those suburban white women who were already apprehensive about Trump to begin with but not yet sold on her. Last night was her chance to say to them, “I’m not making this up, he really IS this ignorant.”

Howard Fineman called his performance "the worst ever in modern times." That might be a little bit of a stretch. I've seen quite a few doozies in my lifetime, but most of those debates were otherwise credible performances marred by critical errors. After the first 15 minutes, Trump started going downhill fast. He didn't so much implode as dissolve. If ever there was a case of Attention Deficit Disorder, this was it. I swear the man has Turrets Syndrome; I'll stake my life on it.

So now for the 64 thousand dollar question. Did she move the needle? In a word, yes. Maybe not - forgive the pun - bigly, but in a race that's this tight, even a two-point bump in the polls could be critical. Let’s not forget she’s up by one point in Colorado, two points in Pennsylvania and tied in Florida. A two point swing could mean the difference between a 300 plus electoral vote victory and a narrow electoral vote loss. Yes, it’s that close. And I would remind everyone, Barack Obama won Florida by less than a point in 2012.

We’ll have to wait a couple of days before the next set of polls comes out to see how effective – or not – Clinton was. If I have one complaint about her performance it was this: she did get a little too technical at times. Like most people who have the facts on their side, there’s a tendency to try to teach rather than converse with the audience. Clinton needs to keep that in mind in the second debate.  Also, since it's obvious Trump will hit her again with NAFTA and TPP in the next debate, she's going to have to come up a better answer than her husband created a lot of jobs in the '90s. She needs millennials to vote for her and most of them weren't even teenagers when Bill was in the Oval Office.

But unless I completely misread what happened last night – and that's always a possibility – I would expect her to reap the rewards of a well-earned victory when the next round of polls comes out. She isn’t out of the woods just yet, but at least the clearing is in sight.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Why This Debate Is Not Your Typical Debate

Be honest. How many presidential debates can you remember? I'm one of the few people I know who's probably watched all but a few, including Gerald Ford's "There is no Soviet domination of Poland" faux pas and Ronald Reagan's "There you go again" swipe at Jimmy Carter.

My point, however, is that those were memorable moments from debates that for the majority of people - especially those with lives - are easily forgettable. Even the debates between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney four years ago have been relegated to the "who gives a shit?" bin. You and I may remember the look on Obama's face when Romney made his pivot in Denver, but I can assure you more people remember the look on Penny's face when Leonard proposed to her on The Big Bang Theory. If being a wonk were listed as a trait on a dating site, most of us would die old and alone.

That will not be the case this Monday. When Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump walk onto that debate stage, it's likely that a third or more of the country will be watching. And MOST of them will remember, quite possibly for a long, long time. In fact, I predict that this debate will become a seminal moment, not just in politics, but in entertainment for years to come. Think Peyton Manning's last Super Bowl and the Royal wedding. Yes, the ratings will be THAT good.

And that's why, unlike past debates, the stakes couldn't be higher. Most pundits will tell you a good debate performance will net a candidate maybe a point in the polls. You can throw that logic out the window. I think whoever wins this debate will likely win the election. That's how important it is.

Yes, I know there will be two other presidential debates and one vice presidential debate, and, yes, I know anything can happen, but my gut tells me that the winner of this debate will wind up with the lion's share of what little undecided vote there still is. And with Hillary holding a narrow national lead and an even narrower electoral vote lead, she's got a lot riding on her shoulders Monday night.

It's time to face the obvious. The fate of the entire country and perhaps the free world might well come down to what happens over those 90 minutes. And to make a scary situation even scarier, Clinton will have two opponents on that stage: Trump and the moderator. Trump has already put Lester Holt on notice that he doesn't want another Candy Crowley moment. Think about it, we now have a presidential candidate whose bar is so low he could step over it calling the shots for the biggest presidential debate since Lincoln - Douglas.

So how does Hillary Clinton prevail? What does she have to do Monday night? I think it comes down to three things.

First, be on the lookout for the long-anticipated pivot. Over the last few weeks, we have seen a glimpse of what a mild-mannered Trump would look like. I have a hunch that Trump plans on duplicating what Romney tried in Denver in 2012. Whether he can pull it off for an entire 90 minutes remains to be seen, but many believe it is his only chance at making the case that he is the better choice this November.

Hillary cannot let him get away with this. She must call him out whenever he goes Dr. Jekyll to his usual Mr. Hyde. Without losing her cool, which would be playing right into his hands, she must remind the audience of who he really is and what he has said throughout this campaign. She must make it clear that you don't get to rewrite 15 months of deplorable conduct in an hour and a half.

Second, since she is not likely to get any help from Holt on the fact-checking front, Hillary will have to assume that role. When Trump makes one of his ridiculous claims - like, for instance, his insistence that he was always against the Iraq War - she must rebut his claim immediately. Throughout this campaign, she has been tagged as the liar while he has gotten away with merely being called unhinged. The fact is he is a far more egregious liar than she could ever be, and Clinton will have her chance to prove it. For her sake, she must not fail.

And lastly, she MUST make the case for herself. Without sounding wonkish, which she does on many occasions, she has to lay out a clear and concise vision for why she is better suited for the job as commander in chief. She is already winning when it comes to temperament and experience, but she still hasn't sealed the deal with the voters. That's the principle reason for her slide in the polls. It's not that they trust Trump more, they just aren't entirely sold on her. While she has regained some of her once formidable lead, she is still precariously close to losing this thing.

But by maintaining her cool, putting him in his place when he starts making outlandish claims and reassuring the audience that she is worthy of their trust, she can ostensibly bury Trump and put herself on the glide path to victory this November. One thing is for certain: no one is better equipped for the challenge ahead. Indeed, there has never been a candidate, presidential or otherwise, who has been this vetted and scrutinized. That will be her greatest advantage over Trump on Monday. There's nothing he can do to her that the GOP hasn't been trying to do for years.

This is her moment; the one she has been preparing for her entire life. It's her election to lose. Trump may think he has the upper hand, but Hillary still holds all the cards. It's time for a Royal Flush.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Memo To Media: You've Been Getting Played for 15 Months

I love it when the media has an epiphany. It's like watching an alternate version of the movie A Christmas Story, only in this version when Ralphie looks behind the desk, instead of getting a Red Ryder air rifle, he gets a chemistry set. The look of WTF on his face is priceless.

CNN's John King, upon learning that Donald Trump's "press conference" on President Obama's birthplace was really nothing more than a self-serving publicity stunt for his new hotel, said "We got played again."

No shit, Sherlock!

It's getting to the point that even these geniuses are starting to figure out that Trump's whole campaign has been nothing more than one giant scam on the American public. Those of us who bothered to pay attention knew who he was and what he was up to, but the John Kings of the world keep getting burned.

Well I've got a news flash for King and his compadres: you've been getting played for the last 15 months. And not only did you go along with the gag, you enabled his con game to the tune of a trillion dollars in free advertising. Not only don't I feel sorry for you, your incompetence is now principally responsible for this snake-oil salesman being in the position he now finds himself in.

I say principally only because Hillary Clinton must bear some responsibility here. If she had run a smarter campaign or had less baggage, she'd be up by a wider margin. But throughout all of last year and for a good chunk of this one, the media's lay down in the face of the most polarizing and divisive figure in modern politics was shameful and beneath contempt. Edward R. Murrow must be spinning in his grave.

This is what happens when journalists stop being journalists and instead become umpires. This is also what happens when corporate profits are more important than journalistic integrity. My understanding of journalism, such as it is, is that it is first and foremost concerned with getting at the truth, no matter where that may lead. Today, the press and the media seem more concerned with being fair and even-handed. Both sides are equally guilty, even if the facts prove otherwise.

Witness the coverage the Clinton Foundation received vs. the coverage the Trump Foundation received. In the latter we have clear evidence of a quid pro quo; in the former, an appearance of impropriety. While I will grant that Bill and Hillary did not handle this potential quagmire well, there should be no doubt to any objective person that Trump paid off the Florida Attorney General to ensure his university would escape prosecution. One foundation broke the law; the other was guilty of bad optics.

And yet when one examines the media coverage, it's clear the Clinton Foundation received far more attention and far worse treatment. Only over the last few days we have we started to see some unflattering news stories on Trump and his apparent scam foundation. How much traction this issue gets will depend on how aggressively the press pursues it. If the last 15 months are any indication, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for it.

You can go back as far as you like and what you will find is astounding. Clinton is called on the carpet while Trump gets off virtually Scott free. Indeed the only hot water Trump seems to get into is when he opens his mouth and makes an ass out of himself; something he did yet again last night when at a rally he suggested that Hillary's secret service detail be disarmed. How many Second Amendment references must this man make before he is held accountable?

Thanks to the even-Steven tact that the media has taken, both these candidates are now virtually tied in unpopularity, despite the fact that only one of them has a track record of dishonesty going back to the '70s. The faults of these candidates are now so baked in to voters perceptions of them that Trump is free to say whatever outrageous thing pops into his head without fear of reprisal. Indeed, the fact that he is still in the race with all that he has said and done is an indictment of both our political system and the people who report on it.

Sadly, I don't know how we get out of this one. The most dangerous and unstable individual ever to run for president is less than two months away from possibly being elected. If that happens an awful lot of people will have an awful lot to answer for, starting with the vaunted Fourth Estate.

And to think all Ralphie had to worry about was shooting his eye out.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Year of the Reset

Every presidential election has its moments when the campaigns reset. Momentum surges eventually peter out and the other side regains its footing. Huge leads are often wiped out as the race tightens. Sometimes (1988) an early lead by one side – Dukakis – turns out to be an inevitable win by the other – Bush. Typically, though, candidates that jump out to early leads hold that lead right into the election. This has been true since LBJ crushed Goldwater in '64, the exception being the aforementioned election in 1988. Usually the only question is how wide the margin will be for the victor. Reagan mauled Mondale in ’84 and Bush eked out a narrow win against Gore in 2000.

This election year has had more resets that I can recall. The first reset was when Donald Trump clinched the GOP nomination and pulled into a tie with Hillary Clinton, who was still embroiled in a bitter Democratic primary battle with Bernie Sanders. Then, when Clinton clinched the nomination, she jumped out to a lead. Then came the party conventions. Trump got his bump – albeit a small one. Clinton then got her convention bump, which proved to be far bigger. Trump had a number of bad missteps over the next two weeks that allowed Hillary to pad her lead to 8 points in most polls. Pundits were beginning to talk about a Clinton landslide in November.

Then came the current reset, which as it turns out was a two-part event. The first part was inevitable. The huge bump that Hillary got from her convention began to recede, as all waves do. The polls started tightening in late August. A once imposing lead became a more realistic one. Then came the events of the last week. Trump for his part managed to go several days without making a spectacle of himself, and Clinton had the whole pneumonia brouhaha.

There was also the issue of her “basket of deplorables” comment that some say factored into the slide. I’m not convinced it had the impact some say it did, but let’s say for the sake of argument it did. What we now have is a race that is as tight as it has been since both candidates clinched their respective party’s nominations.

The RCP average shows Clinton with a narrow 1.1 point lead nationally in a four-way race. She continues to hold a lead in the electoral college, but her margin of error is down significantly. The no tossup map shows her with 294 votes, only 24 above the minimum. Yes, she still has more paths to victory, but suddenly Trump’s path is not so imposing. We now have a horse race, meaning it’s anybody election to win.

If you’re the Trump campaign you should be ecstatic. Only four weeks ago your candidate was on life support and many Republicans were urging the RNC to pull its funding and give it to the down-ballot candidates. Now victory seems more than just a pipe dream.

If you’re the Clinton campaign you should be worried. I wouldn’t panic just yet, but it’s clear that both the candidate and her campaign have badly played the events of the last couple of weeks. If politics has taught us anything it’s these two things: 1. Voters have very short memories; and 2. Optics is everything.

The great concern was that Trump might do the impossible: grow up and become an adult. For the time being he appears to have done just that. History tells us, however, that this act is temporary, lasting sometimes a day or two. This is by far the longest stretch he has gone without making a fool of himself, and many voters are falling for it.

Regarding the optics, it’s time to admit the obvious: Hillary sucks at it. Unlike her husband Bill, who was all about optics, Hillary could screw up a sunset. The shortcomings that led to her downfall against Obama in ’08 and allowed Sanders to hang around as long as he did this year are coming back to haunt her but good against Trump.

Okay, so now what? As the old saying goes, no sense crying over spilt milk. What’s done is done. How does team Clinton recover? Thankfully, she’s still ahead. Things could be worse. She could be behind. And who knows, by this time next week, she might well be. But as bad as things may seem, all is not lost. 

For one thing, since Hillary has been sidelined in New York with pneumonia, her surrogates have been filling in admirably. President Obama – you know the guy with a 53 percent approval rating – has been stumping for her. And, as he has been want to do, he’s been trashing Trump relentlessly. Joe Biden has been doing his part. Indeed, Hillary can thank her lucky stars she’s a Democrat. The Party is blessed with a very deep bench and they are all doing their best to pull up the slack.

Another thing she should be grateful for is that she still has a superior ground game compared to Trump. It’s looking more and more like turnout is going to decide this election and, if that’s true, that bodes well for her in November. And then there’s the matter of waiting for Trump to resume being Trump. Inevitably, he’s going to resort to his familiar patterns of behavior. He can’t help himself; it’s who he is. Personally, I’m impressed he’s lasted as long as he has. Most four year olds can’t go a day without acting up. Trump has gone a whole week.

The first debate is scheduled for September 26, just over ten days from now. History shows us that this is the point at which most of the electorate will form its opinions of the candidates. I would respectfully disagree. At this point I think most people have already made up their minds about these two candidates. The debates will offer little in the way of persuadable information. 

But what they can do is allow one candidate an opportunity to redefine him or herself. Mitt Romney tried that in 2012 in the first debate with Obama in Denver. It almost worked. Romney did a one-eighty in front of millions of viewers. Sadly for him, he couldn’t keep up the charade and Obama won reelection. My fear is that Trump could pull the same stunt in the first debate. Hillary must be ready for this. She can’t allow him to get away with the old switcheroo.

But I keep getting back to a point I made in an earlier piece. It isn't enough to simply bash Trump as the Clinton campaign has done; they must make the case for why she is the better choice. And that is where they seem to be stuck. Her poll numbers have tanked primarily due to the fact that you can only beat a dead horse so many times. 

Hillary Clinton has an incredible resume and an incredible story, but neither is getting through. As soon as she gets back on the trail - today was supposed to be her return - she needs to start letting America know about both. Obama can't do it for her; neither can Biden. She and only she can do it. She's been a doer most of her life; now she has to be a teller. That's how campaigns are won.

What's happening here is no different than a hockey team with a three-goal lead giving up a couple of third period goals. Yes, it's now a closer game than they'd like it to be, but they're still ahead. They must remember that and not panic. Stay on message. Remind the voters that she has the better policy proposals, she has the superior temperament, she will protect women's rights, gay rights, voting rights, the environment, healthcare reform, the Supreme Court, etc.

She's still the odds-on favorite to win this thing. But she and her campaign will have to work their asses off to make it happen.

* An earlier version of this piece said the first debate was scheduled for September 23. It's really scheduled for September 26. The correction was made.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Overheated and Overblown

Okay, can we have a little perspective please? Hillary Clinton has pneumonia; walking pneumonia, according to her doctor. She doesn’t have cancer or dementia. In fact her condition apparently was so grave that after being diagnosed on Friday, she ran a two-hour national security meeting, held a press conference, hosted a campaign event, and still managed to stand up for 90 minutes on a very muggy morning at the 9/11 memorial in lower Manhattan before nature finally took its course. Shit, I get a runny nose and I'm in bed with the sheets over my head for a week.

And the kind of pneumonia she has isn’t all that uncommon, nor is it considered particularly dangerous. If treated properly, most people recover very quickly. That’s why her campaign canceled its planned trip to California and Clinton has decided to take a couple of days off. Better safe than sorry.

But of course the press is throwing a hissy fit because they feel that once again they were kept in the dark about something that was going on with her and this only fuels the distrust people already have of her. I'll stipulate to this: The campaign should’ve released a statement Friday, not Sunday. Waiting until she collapsed while getting into a limo is not only wrong, it’s terrible optics. It just gives the wingnuts on the Right more ammunition to keep up with their conspiracy theories regarding her health. Can you imagine what would happen if it was discovered she took some Bayer aspirin for a mild headache? They’d probably say she had a brain tumor. Once more team Clinton will have to dig itself out of a hole of their own making.

But here’s the thing, and it brings me back to this double standard I’ve been talking about. Her bar is so much higher than Trump’s and this incident just proves it. Her health has become such an issue primarily because the media and press in this country have been led around like a seeing eye dog over these bogus stories from Alex Jones and Breitbart, not because there was any credence to them. To a certain extent I can understand why she didn't disclose she had pneumonia. To tell you the truth, given the circumstances, I wouldn't have either.

Trump, meanwhile, had his “doctor” write a letter for him proclaiming him the fittest man ever to run for president in the history of the world. Seriously, did you read that letter? My sister wrote better excuses for me when we were in high school. Trump comes up with a lame excuse for why he can’t release his tax returns and instead of holding his feet to the fire, the press talks about audits. Hillary comes down with walking pneumonia and she's typhoid Mary. Jesus.

Even the flack she’s gotten over her basket of deplorables speech has been totally overblown. Maybe in hindsight she shouldn’t have said 50 percent – though I think that was being kind – the point is she was right and, far from qualifying it, she should stick to her guns. Meanwhile the press all but ignored the last part of her speech: the one about the other 50 percent of Trump supporters who have been left out in the cold. To be honest, they have mentioned it, but not nearly as much as the racist, xenophobic part. Fair and balanced, my ass.

It’s becoming painfully clear that the Clinton campaign is going to have to release her complete medical records. Like it or not, it has now become a major story in this race, which is yet another indictment of our political system. The sooner they do it, the better. It won’t make any difference on the other side of the aisle. Trump will still refuse to release his tax returns and his doctor will still claim he is Clark Kent incarnate. But in this upside down circus of a campaign where double standards rule the day and the Fourth Estate has abdicated its responsibility as journalists, you do what you have to do to survive.

The stakes are simply too high to do anything else.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Hillary Said What Needed To Be Said

Let's be clear here. Hillary Clinton did not misspeak at her fundraiser when she said that half of Donald Trump's supporters are racist, xenophobic, homophobic, sexist and Islamaphobic. In fact, she left out misogynistic. Anyone who has been paying close attention to Trump's rallies and the general tone of his campaign and is honest with themselves would come to the same conclusion.

What she said needed to be said, and the rest of us, including the media, should stop pussyfooting about it and admit the painful reality that what we are witnessing in this country is the rise of white nationalism, the likes of which hasn't been seen since the mid-60s when the Ku Klux Klan ran roughshod throughout much of the South after the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. The alt-Right movement has found a home in the Trump campaign and that is no accident; it's as deliberate as it gets.

Kellyanne Conway can rant about how Hillary has "insulted millions of Americans" all she wants. These people should be insulted; in fact these people should have a spotlight turned on them so that who they are and what they stand for are exposed for all to see. If it's insults she's so concerned about, where is her outrage over Trump calling Mexicans rapists? Spare me, Kellyanne. If the hood fits, where it.

And for those who are thinking that this is Hillary's 47 percent moment, not even close. For one thing, Mitt Romney was speaking generally about what he and many Republicans view, unfortunately for them, as the bulk of the Democratic base that they could never get to vote for them. Of course they never quite realized that when you demonize a whole voting bloc you're pretty much toast with that group.

Hillary was speaking about HALF of Trump's supporters, which if you look at the national polls, comprises between 18 to 20 percent of the overall electorate. We can debate if that number is a bit high or a bit low, but it sure as he'll isn't a tiny percentage. I'm on record as saying the percentage is as high as 15 percent. So there.

It also should be noted that Hillary took great care to mention that the other half of Trump's supporters are people who feel that "the government has let them down" and are "desperate for change. These are people we have to understand and empathize with."

Again, she is right. I'd even be willing to stipulate that that number could be a bit higher, but not much higher. But whatever that percentage is, she's got her work cut out for her trying to turn them. Will the press give her credit for that? Somehow I doubt it. Not with this motley crew. Most of them still think Matt Lauer did a good job in the Commander in Chief Forum. Nuff said.

The truth is the Trump campaign is not a Republican version of the Sanders campaign. Not even close. I will not rehash what I thought of Bernie and his supporters - you can read it for yourself. But one thing is for certain: there were no skin heads at his rallies, and he never brought in someone as despicable and loathsome as Stephen Bannon to run his campaign. Show me the tweet of Alex Jones or David Duke saying Bernie speaks for them. Do that and I'll shut up.

Kellyanne Conway can try her damnedest to dress up the turd that is her candidate; that's her job and her problem. He is what he is and a good chunk of his supporters - roughly half - are what they are. From the moment he started in with his bullshit over Obama's birth certificate, he made a calculated decision that he was going to court a certain segment of the population. Well, mission accomplished. That segment now sees him as their savior. What was it he said in his convention speech: "I'll be your voice?" Guess what? He is. The truth hurts, doesn't it?

Eighty years ago the world was brought to the brink of destruction by a perverted and racist movement that scapegoated Jews and in the process murdered many of them. I and a lot of people just like me will be damned if we are going to let that happen again. Not on our watch.

Bravo, Hillary. Bravo!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Gary Johnson Has A Point

Yes, Gary Johnson should have known what Aleppo was and how important it is.  You and I and any number of people we know may not know what Aleppo is. That's fine - we're not running for president. But Gary Johnson is. It is unacceptable that a candidate - any candidate - running for leader of the free world be so uninformed on such a vital issue.

That being said, Johnson has a point. In an interview on Imus in the Morning with Connell McShane, Johnson owned his mistake and then said this:

There is an incredible double standard going on here, and I'm okay with that. It's the way that it should be. Has Donald Trump not said 150 things that should disqualify? If this is one thing, hasn't he said 150 of those things?

Johnson is 100 percent correct. There is an incredible double standard going on in this election. Hillary Clinton has certainly felt it and now it's Johnson's turn in the barrel. The simple truth is that Donald Trump has so thoroughly lowered the bar that he now routinely gets away with the most egregious and outlandish statements while others are held to an impossible standard.

Now I don't think that Johnson's flub will prove all that costly to him. Face it, most of the people who support him and Jill Stein are so disillusioned by the current political system that if a Pet Rock decided to run as a third-party candidate they'd get 2 percent of the vote right off the top.

But it's becoming painfully obvious that there are two sets of rules: one for Donald Trump and one for Hillary Clinton. And my fear is that with the press and the main-stream media deciding to sit this election out and ignore their responsibilities as journalists, Trump will be able to say virtually anything he wants unfettered by the constraints of reality.

The performance of Matt Lauer in Wednesday's forum was, sadly, not an outlier. It was yet another painful reminder of the degree to which this once venerable industry has declined. Can you picture Mike Wallace allowing a political candidate to literally lie to him and millions of people who were watching him? Not for a moment. In fact, Wallace would often make the lives of the people he interviewed a living hell if they even attempted to do that. If you don't believe me, go ahead and Google some of his 60 Minutes' segments. What Wallace did was not out of the ordinary: in his day, it was considered standard operating procedure.

Those days are sadly gone. Witness what Wallace's son, Chris, had to say regarding his role as the moderator of the third presidential debate. "I do not believe it is my job to be a truth squad. It's up to the other person to catch them on that."

You hear that? Chris Wallace, son of legendary TV journalist Mike Wallace, thinks that the truth is whatever the candidate with the loudest voice says it is. So Trump can basically spew whatever nonsense he wants to for two hours and Clinton will be forced into not only fact checking his bullshit, but, in what little time remains, present her vision for the country. It's like a batter walking to the plate with two strikes against him.

This is the gift the Trump campaign has been looking for: a national stage where their candidate can peddle his snake oil to an unsuspecting country without being challenged by the very agency tasked with defending the truth, and at the same time nullifying the strengths of his opponent. This is how Trump beat his opponents and won the Republican nomination: by dragging them down to his level. If you thought he got away with murder during those debates, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Hillary will have her hands full over the next several weeks. Not only will she have to best Trump in a one on one debate forum - that is assuming Johnson doesn't reach the requisite 15 percent threshold in the polls and earn a spot on the stage - she will have to do it while the Fourth Estate stands idly by and calls out for a pizza.

Hey, Chris, don't forget the anchovies.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Hillary Takes Matters Into Her Own Hands

While watching Hillary's mini press conference on board her plane the other day, I was reminded of a very funny scene from a classic Honeymooners' episode in which Alice tries to butter up Ralph so that he'll buy her a TV. The scene tends to get lost because of the exchanges between Ralph and Norton later on in the episode. I'm not sure if Hillary is a fan of the Honeymooners, but she sure did her best Alice impersonation on that plane the way she worked the press corps. In case you missed it, I'll paraphrase it for you in a way that would make Mrs. Kramden proud.

Hillary:  Hi everybody. I thought I'd stop by here to see how all of you are doing. I hope you're all comfortable. You know I just love hanging with you all and answering your questions. It's important that we have that back and forth. Is there anything I can get you before we begin?

The Press: Yeah, give us what you're having. We want to get loaded too.

Hillary:  Oh now, come on guys. I'm serious. Look, we only have two months left and it's vital that all your concerns be addressed. You have a very difficult job to do, so please, make yourself at home and be sure to grab some refreshments in the back of the plane, and, oh, by the way...

The Press:  Ah, ha! We knew there had to be a by the way in there somewhere. Ok, let's have it. What's by the way?

Hillary:  Well, if you must know...

And then Alice, I mean Hillary, explained what the "by the way" was. One by one she listed all the news-worthy issues that one Donald J. Trump has. The kind of issues that the press corps is supposed to be covering but for some strange reason seems to be glossing over. Trump University, the payoff to the Florida A.G., all the hits. She smiled, she was cordial but she was detailed. She was serving notice: summer vacation is over; it's time to get back to work.

Was she successful? You be the judge. Less than 24 hours after her "press conference," Politico ran this piece by Nick Gass documenting the "pay for play" malfeasance between Pam Bondi and the Trump Foundation. Coincidence? I doubt it. Face it, Michael Tomasky was being way too kind when he said the press "follows narratives set in place by political actors." Frankly I've always thought of them as being lazy lap dogs, all too eager to lick whatever hand happens to be in front of them. Witness Matt Lauer's disgraceful suck up to Trump in Wednesday night's forum. Lauer did everything but dry hump and French kiss him.

But Tomasky does have a point. Clinton needs the press far more than they need her. Despite what the wingnuts on the Right keep insisting, she's not well liked by them. For one thing, unlike her husband, Hillary has a tendency to be abrasive and her often cold demeanor can be off-putting even to those who might otherwise be supportive.  This, coupled with some unintended missteps, has led to an erosion of her once "insurmountable" lead. Tomasky writes,

One of the reasons the polls tightened recently is that Clinton was largely off the trail, not firing many shots at Trump. So if Clinton wants Bondi and Trump University to be an issue, then the course of action is very simple: Make it an issue! Raise it on the trail. She did that yesterday, and she got some decent coverage out of it.

It is quite an indictment of our Fourth Estate that our politicians are forced to do their jobs for them, but that appears to be the case here. Give Clinton this much: when push came to shove she knew what had to be done and she did it. Only time will tell if she her efforts amount to anything.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Clinton Double Standard

Michael Tomasky, Paul Waldman and Paul Krugman have all written excellent pieces about how the media in this country have been focusing hard on Hillary Clinton's scandals, while at the same time, turning almost a blind eye and a deaf ear to Donald Trump's. It's as though one candidate is operating under a different set of rules from the other. Tomasky, for his part, didn't mince words. He actually titled his piece, "Yes, There Is A Clinton Double Standard." To which I would agree.

The truth is when you look at both candidates objectively and from a quantitative perspective, there are a lot more skeletons in Trump's closet than there are in Clinton's. But the media tends to over saturate the Clinton scandals while barely scratching the surface of Trump's. Walkman explains:

The big difference is that there are an enormous number of reporters who get assigned to write stories about those issues regarding Clinton. The story of something like the Clinton Foundation gets stretched out over months and months with repeated tellings, always with the insistence that questions are being raised and the implication that shady things are going on, even if there isn’t any evidence at a particular moment to support that idea. 
When it comes to Trump, on the other hand, we’ve seen a very different pattern. Here’s what happens: A story about some kind of corrupt dealing emerges, usually from the dogged efforts of one or a few journalists; it gets discussed for a couple of days; and then it disappears. Someone might mention it now and again, but the news organizations don’t assign a squad of reporters to look into every aspect of it, so no new facts are brought to light and no new stories get written. 
The end result of this process is that because of all that repeated examination of Clinton’s affairs, people become convinced that she must be corrupt to the core. It’s not that there isn’t plenty of negative coverage of Trump, because of course there is, but it’s focused mostly on the crazy things he says on any given day.

Tomasky even delves into the media's double standard over Hillary's connection to the Clinton Foundation and Colin Powell's connection to his own foundation. He writes,
America’s Promise was headed by Alma Powell while Colin was secretary of state in the early 2000s and, according to Matthew Yglesias, got money from disgraced Enron CEO Ken Lay while the State Department was helping Enron resolve a dispute in India.

Why the difference in coverage? Yes, I know a lot of people would say because Colin Powell is clean and the Clintons are corrupt. I say the answer is more likely that Colin Powell didn’t have a Judicial Watch poking and prodding into every aspect of his life trying to make him look dirty and send him to jail. He also didn’t face an industry of “book” authors willing to print the most fantastical lies about him, lies gobbled up by hundreds of thousands of readers.
Walkman goes onto list the number of Trump scandals that, if the media actually did its job, would have led to hundreds of pieces being written about them. For example, while it's generally known that Trump filed for bankruptcy four times, the print media in this country have barely delved into the details of how those bankruptcies occurred and why. Curious that a candidate who is running on his business acumen hasn't had to explain at a single press conference why he so royally screwed up, not once but four times.

And then there is the matter of Trump University. A federal judge - the same judge that Trump slandered only a few months ago - last month rejected a motion by Trump's lawyers to dismiss a lawsuit against the university and is allowing the case to move forward. It was reported in The New York Times. While I'm sure other news agencies carried the story, the point is you would've had to dig pretty deep to find it. Just type in "Clinton", "email" and "foundation" and see what pops up.

Krugman points out that the Clinton Foundation has received an "A" rating by an independent watchdog, while the Trump Foundation was fined by the I.R.S. for making an illegal campaign contribution to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who was investigating Trump University at the time. Spoiler alert, Bondi elected not to seek an indictment. Funny how that works.

Not only hasn't there been any coverage of the the former; the latter received only one mention, and in passing. Face the Nation moderator John Dickerson asked New Jersey Governor Chris Christie about it. After Christie threw a hissy fit, Dickerson dropped the matter altogether. Now that's what I call testicular fortitude.

Of course there are many who would point out that Trump has gotten plenty of negative press over his incendiary comments along with his stance on immigration and "The Wall." But I would counter that placing a microphone and a camera in front of the most xenophobic presidential candidate in the history of the country is not journalism; t's the definition low-hanging fruit. Real journalism requires more than just scratching the surface; it requires a willingness to dig deep in order to find the story.

Look, I've been critical of Hillary over the use of her email server and the appearance of impropriety regarding the Foundation, and deservedly so. But the simple truth is that she has not committed any crimes regarding the former, and there's been no evidence of quid pro quo regarding the latter. Yet, while the media conveniently forgets to mention the above, it goes out of its way to report how these scandals are driving her unfavorables up. As Tomasky observed, there is a direct correlation between the amount of negative press Hillary gets and her increasing unpopularity, from "barely underwater" last summer to a present day "minus 15 to 17" depending on which poll you consult.

This negligence on the part of the media is not without precedent, but its timing in this case could not be more critical or potentially fatal. Hillary cannot stand idly by without calling attention to it. She and her campaign need to push back more aggressively, not by denying the truths about her conduct, but by pointing out how much good both she and the Foundation have done. They also need to start hammering Trump on his scandals, and fast, since it's clear the media has no stomach for it. Continuing to point out how racist and xenophobic Trump and many of his supporters are is like drawing water from the same well. Sooner or later they're going to run out of fresh water.

I realize such a policy has its risks. Voters may not like the pushback and could interpret it as a deflection. And the media, already "showing every sign of falling for each and every breathless Judicial Watch press release that lands in their inboxes without the least bit of skepticism and scrutiny," could turn on her but good. They might not like what Trump represents but deep down they've always despised her. But I would submit she doesn't have much of a choice. Right now she has become a human pieta, not just for the Far Right, but for most of the country. If she can't stop the bleeding she will lose in November.

These next two months will be critical for team Clinton. Expecting the main-stream media to do its job has, sadly, been the epitome of wishful thinking for more than two decades now. This November, its dereliction of duty could well prove to be the epitaph of the Republic.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

September Rain

It was about 30 years ago and an unknown comic by the name of Andrew Dice Clay was appearing on stage at Dangerfield's in Manhattan. He was part of an HBO Young Comedian's special. For those of you not familiar with the Dice Man, I'll be as delicate as possible. He was the one who came up with all those dirty jokes like Hickory Dickory Dock and Little Boy Blew. I can assure you they were not nursery rhymes when Clay got through with them.

Anyway, he was almost done with his routine when he began a critique of Japanese drivers. "They're the worst drivers. I mean how do you drive with your eyes three quarters closed? You could blindfold these people with dental floss. You don't give 'em keys to a car."

Then he expanded his "critique" to include anyone who didn't look or talk like us Americans. He closed by saying he thought there should be a sign at the airport that read: "If you don't know the language, stay the fuck out of the country."

I remember the bit well; I also remember that of all the laughter and applause Clay got that evening, none was louder or more demonstrative than the response he got after that line. He seemed to strike a cord with the audience, most of it white. It resonated with them. The '80s, it should be noted, was the decade that saw the transition of road signs from the traditional English-written signs to what we now have. No left turn became a left arrow with a red slash through it. No parking was replaced with a giant P with a red slash through it. And so on and so forth.

Over the course of several years, virtually every road sign was supplanted with a sign that was language neutral; signs that anybody could recognize regardless of which country they hailed from or language they spoke. Latinos, Asians, Europeans, etc... For most of us, it was no big deal, but to a certain segment of the population, it was the beginning of Armageddon.

A lot of pundits have been pontificating about the flip-flop Trump did on his trip to Mexico. The softer, gentler Trump standing next to the Mexican president, followed by a return to his bombastic self only a few hours later at a rally in Phoenix, Arizona. He reiterated his insistence that Mexico was going to pay for the Wall [let's just capitalize it, shall we?] and that there would be no amnesty for illegal immigrants still in the country.

His mob - and, yes, they're a mob - roared wth approval, just like Andrew Dice Clay's audience roared with approval when he threw down on stage 30 years earlier. The message Trump was spewing, much like Clay's, couldn't be simpler: America has been too kind, too inclusive, too tolerant for far too long. Enough is enough. We're done being taken advantage of; we're done having to adjust to your inability to learn our language and customs; and we're definitely done watching you get away with murder while the rest of us get fucked.

As I watched Trump, I could see in my mind's eye a lot of people in the country who were probably nodding their heads in approval. Maybe they weren't as rabid as the mob that filled that hall, but they were astutely listening anyway. That's how it works. It's not the mob that gets you elected; it's all the other people in TV land that go along for the ride. And don't kid yourself; there were a lot of people who watched him that night who may not have liked his tone, but got the gist of what he was saying. You and me and most of the people who think like us may have been repulsed by it, as were a good chunk of his Latino surrogates, half of whom resigned over it, but I'll bet the ranch that he resonated with a majority of white people, especially those white suburban voters; the ones Hillary is banking on to get her elected.

And that's why I don't think for a microsecond that this race is over. Far from it. Think about it. Trump had the worst month of any presidential candidate in history, including Barry Goldwater, and he is now trailing head to head in the RCP polls by only 3.9 points. In a four-way race, it's only 3.2. Clinton's lead in Wisconsin is down to 3; in Florida it's down to 2.7. She's tied in Iowa and North Carolina. The only two states that haven't seen slippage are Virginia and Colorado where she holds commanding double-digit leads, but that could change, too.

If that frightens you, it should. Dr. Strangelove is almost within the margin of error. Based on his temperament and how his campaign has conducted itself, he shouldn't even be alive. Not only he is alive, he appears to be well. Indeed, far from imploding, he is surging. He still has a difficult path ahead of him, as would any Republican nominee simply based on the electoral map, but no longer is it analogous to climbing Mt. Everest.

Most of this is due to Hillary's handling of the email server and the Clinton Foundation crises, and they are crises. It's crystal clear from every poll that people simply don't believe her or her husband. It doesn't matter that the Foundation helps millions of people or that the FBI exonerated her of any criminal liability. The impression the electorate has of her is, for lack of a better word, baked in. She's competent, she's got the experience and she'd probably make a fine president, but, despite her resume, she's not connecting with voters. Her lack of transparency is costing her dearly.

The good news, if there is any, is that Trump doesn't appear to be picking up her votes; not yet, at least. He remains stuck in the high 30s to low 40s, depending on which poll you look at. And the presence of Gary Johnson and Jill Stein hasn't done the damage to her that most predicted it would. The RCP difference between a 2-way and a 4-way is only .7 points. The Ralph Nader effect doesn't appear to be repeating itself this year, which is a relief. In other words, if she loses, it won't be because of Stein.

But the greater concern now is how does she stop this downward slide? There's still two months to go before voters head to the polls and plenty of time to right the ship; but there's also plenty of time to wreck it. And right now, team Clinton seems to be doing the latter. To avoid disaster, it's clear that the campaign needs its own reset. Here's what I would do.

1. Don't wait for the debates. Trying to run out the clock was always a risky strategy, even when she was up by 8 points. Depending on Trump to continue to fall on his sword has worked throughout most of this campaign, but at some point, Hillary needs to make her case to the electorate for why she should be elected. She can start by making an argument that fair trade deals are good for America. So far, Trump has been kicking her ass over NAFTA. She needs to state unequivocally that NAFTA didn't cost the jobs its detractors say it did. If Johnson makes it to the debates, he will do just that. She can't afford to let a third-party candidate steal her thunder. It just reinforces the sentiment that there's no difference between her and Trump.

2. Hold a fucking press conference. Yes, the first question she's going to get will be on her emails, followed by one on the appearance of impropriety over the Clinton Foundation. What can I say? Life is tough. At some point, she's going to have to face these questions. The question is does she want to do it before the debates or during them? Putting this off isn't working anymore. It's driving up her unfavorables. She's now only 9.8 points ahead of Trump. Imagine that, she's only 9.8 points more likable than the most racist, xenophobic candidate since the Reconstruction Era. That's embarrassing. The best way to reverse that trend is to show the country she's not afraid to take her medicine. She can even use the conference to make another public apology and then remind the press that Trump has never once apologized for anything.

3. Spend some time in the suburbs of Philly, Raleigh, Milwaukee, Akron, Tampa, Cleveland. In fact, a lot of time. Trump's recent overtures to the black community and Hispanics were not directed at them; they were directed at moderate whites who live in these neighborhoods and, as any coach will tell you, the best defense is a strong offense. It's time for Hillary to start offending. The perception among many white voters is that she is pandering to minorities. Visiting the burbs will go along way towards quelling any fears they might have that they will be ignored in her administration, and, at the same time, deprive Trump of the one path he needs to win in November.

4. Get out front of the fake health scandals. Now that Trump has hired former Dan Burton aide David Bossie, the personal attacks on her will intensify. Between Alex Jones' Info Wars and Steve Bannon's Breitbart, it'll be a non-stop slime fest. Clinton cannot allow any of this bullshit to go unanswered and gain traction within the electorate. Simply saying she will release her medical records when Trump releases his tax returns isn't going to cut it. Like it or not, there are two sets of rules in this race: one for him and one for her. She needs to be proactive. Continue to be the adult and lead by example. The moment she releases her medical records, the attacks on her health may not stop but they will cease to have any impact.

5. Let Joe Biden talk as much as he wants at her events. Biden is everything she isn't: genuine, forthright, believable and popular. When he blasts Trump, he's doing it in a language the average Joe on the street gets. "He's a scam artist, he's not one of you." Face it, those words have a lot more weight coming from his mouth than they do coming from hers. That's not necessarily her fault, so much as it's his strength. Throughout his storied career, Biden may have had his fair share of misspeaks, but he's still one of the few politicians in the country who resonates with a wide swath of the electorate. He can help seal the deal for Clinton in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

I'm sure there are a few other things team Clinton can do, but I would start with these. Above all they should stop with all the landslide talk; put it out of their minds. It isn't just arrogant; it's potentially fatal. This might well end up being a close election in November. Many a football team dreaming of a blowout has found themselves on the wrong side of a close decision. The goal is to get to 270. To do that they need to hunker down and take care of business.

There'll be plenty of time to celebrate on November 9th. Or cry. The choice is up to them.