What’s Wrong With this Picture?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

I was telling my Mom yesterday that the election will probably hang on the debates, and that the trick for Hillary was to simply allow Trump’s negativity to pass right through her while she addressed the voters directly.

Given the new “Love trumps hate” meme for her campaign, it would also be interesting to have her gently chide him when he starts lying “That’s just not true, Donald. You known, Duckie, when you talk people don’t understand a word that you’re saying. But you are quite good at encouraging them to believe that you’re saying what they want to hear.”

A Question of Loyalty

Chris Matthews had a Sanders campaign grandee on last night, and directly raised the question of the legitimacy of the Democratic Party nominating process. In the response, the outlines of Sanders’s charge against the party were apparent. Phrasing them as questions, we have:

  • Sanders polls better against Trump than does Clinton, so given the fact that Sanders has momentum going into the convention, why doesn’t the party prefer him as their presidential candidate?
  • Sanders polls better among young people. How can the super-delegates ignore that constituency, the future of their party?
  • Sanders polls better among independents, and independents are a growing part of the American electorate. How can the party ignore those voices?

The conclusion drawn starkly by the Sanders grandee was that the preference for Clinton was evidence of old-fogey prejudice.

Matthews was sympathetic, not necessarily to the charge that the party had been unfair to Sanders, but to the goal of making the nominating process more a reflection of the will of the voters. So the question is: do super-delegates represent the will of the voters? On the face of it, the answer is “No!” Sanders has the support of a far smaller percentage of super-delegates than is reflecting in the overall campaign standings.

But to be fair, you have to ask “Which voters?” The voters that were able to show up for a ten-hour caucus, a requirement that biases against the working poor? Superdelegates are not a random collection. They are party “big-wigs” – often candidates elected to state or national office. They were selected by the voters in an actual election. Many have held office over the long term, and so can be considered to have faithfully implemented the will of the voters. Is including the voice of the larger electorate (which includes independents, obviously) through super-delegates truly a form of bias, or a means of including those that cannot participate in a primary?

Sanders also needs to recognize that his success in influencing that national debate was dependent in large part upon the existence of the party. Without it, there would be no persistent voice to counter the irrational and self-serving ranting of the Republican big-money donors. Isn’t it the job of the Democratic Party to represent the will of those that choose the Democratic Party? Sanders, as an independent, sees a vote as a vote. But this is a nominating process for a general election, not the general election itself. If independents really wanted permanent influence in the formation of national policy, they’d form or join a party. Why should they be allowed to come in and pirate the institution nurtured for more than a century with the time, money and passion invested by actual Democrats?

Get a clue, independents: the Democratic Party is the Democratic Party. It represents Democrats.

As a Democrat, my counter to the charge of bias by the Sanders campaign would run like this:

  • If Sanders is so popular among self-proclaimed independents, shouldn’t his campaign motivate more of them to register as Democrats?
  • Why shouldn’t the voice of the working poor be heard in the primary process through the institution of the super-delegate?

And there is a last point, not so fundamentally democratic: our Constitution enshrines a bicameral legislature: a House that represents the will of the people, and a Senate that represents the voice of experience. I see a similar structure in the Democratic nominating process, with the passion of the voters leavened by the seasoned voices of the super delegates. These are people that know how to get things done. They are office-holders that need to be led into the future by the President, and that must support the President if the party’s platform is to have any chance at implementation.

The unanimity of the super delegate support for Clinton indicates that the Democratic Party’s elected office-holders trust Clinton. They have seen her under fire, and admire her tenacity and principle. They have campaigned with her, and trust her commitment to Democratic principles. Clinton has earned their loyalty.

The Sanders campaign, echoing the hippies, characterizes this loyalty as “the Establishment” that must be overthrown by revolution. That is not only uncharitable, but actually, in undermining faith in the Democratic Party, threatens the party’s survival.

As a man that campaigned against the party for more than thirty years, however, you wouldn’t expect Sanders to care.

Be a Mom, Hillary

“You know, Senator Sanders, my biggest concern for you is that if you win office, the same thing will happen to you that happened to President Obama. You make promises that you can’t keep to a young sector of the electorate. When President Obama did that, he stepped into the White House with every intention of delivering on his promises. He fought every day of his two terms to accomplish them, investing the energy of his Cabinet in determining what leeway there was to take executive action when the Congress refused to act on climate change and fair pay, and using his veto to frustrate Boehner and McConnell in their attempts to claw back our gains in health care, social justice and taxation.

“But despite all of his efforts – and I believe that history will show that Barack has been one of the great American presidents – when the chips were down in 2010, the people that elected him chose to stay home. Rather than doubling down for President Obama, they handed control of the House, Senate and many state legislatures to a party that has gerrymandered to protect their tenure, that has attacked public and private sector unions to drive down wages, that delayed action on global warming in service to private oil interests, and that held the entire government hostage to secure tax breaks for their wealthy taskmasters.

“You talk about moneyed interests and their power in politics, but the fact remains that President Obama was elected twice against those interests. The American system with its voter protection laws makes it extremely difficult for an informed and active electorate to be cheated of their rights. What my experience with President Obama has shown to me is that your youthful supporters need to get out and vote. They need to walk out of the factories and restaurants and schools on election day and support those that fight for them.

“Senator Sanders, we have fought for the people of America for decades. You describe that as a struggle against moneyed interests, while I highlight the goal of empowering each person. But we can’t do it alone. The American people need to support us in turn. The key to accomplishing our shared goals is not to whip them up in anger, because that hot emotion will just turn to frustration as the road gets steeper. The American people need to make a strong and reasoned commitment to stay the course. They need the wisdom and understanding to confront injustice themselves in city halls and state houses across the nation. But most of all, they need to make their voices heard on election day!”

Bushmongering

Trapped between a rock and a hard place by the legacy of his brother’s War in Iraq, Jeb Bush delivered a speech at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley (I wasn’t invited) that followed the pattern of all self-rationalizing bullies: blame the victim.

Hillary was First Lady during the transition to Jr’s Administration. The Cole destroyer had been holed by a floating IED, and the Clinton team had determined that Al Qaeda was certainly the culprit. The defense briefings implored the Bush team to send a strong message to the perpetrators, but Karl Rove’s political calculationn was that the incident was something that could be painted as a Democratic legacy.

Instead, the Bush team set about antagonizing both allies and adversaries with strong-armed attempts to modify the interpretation of arms limitations treaties to allow deployment of a nuclear missile shield. The week before 9/11, Tom Daschle, leader of the Democratic majority in the Senate, called a press conference on the Capitol steps to voice his concerns that the Bush team did not understand the geopolitical threat posed by Islamic extremists. Later reporting indeed revealed that American withdrawals in Beirut and Somalia were capped by the failure to take action after Cole. Osama bin Ladin believed that America was morally weak, and that one further blow would cause us to curl up and hide from the world.

The Bush team’s incompetence and short-sightedness was compounded in the run-up to the Iraq War. The false claim of yellow-cake trading with Niger was the linchpin of the “weapons of mass destruction” case against Saddam Hussein. When Joe Wilson, former Ambassador to Niger, stood up to dispute the claims, the Bush Administration outed the CIA’s head of nuclear threat control – Valerie Plame, who happened to be Wilson’s wife.

While the conquest of Iraq was a military masterpiece, the weakness of the planning for the peace was evident. Despite the “Mission Accomplished” announcements, the tangled web of Iraqi ethnic resentments provided rich soil for Al Qaeda sympathizers. The nation began to collapse, and the Bush team kept National Reservists in the theater and called up large numbers of additional troops in a “Surge” that finally allowed Iraq to return to self-government.

Since then, the Obama administration’s policy has been to disengage slowly, providing time and incentives for the Iraqi nation to stand on its own two feet. It hasn’t been a pretty picture.

At root, what Jr’s Administration revealed was the danger of disengaging from reality – of treating all foreign policy decisions first and foremost as domestic political decisions. The Democratic response was to serve as the loyal opposition to the nation’s commander-in-chief. They swallowed their complaints and criticism, and focused on trying to ensure that damage was minimized and lessons were learned.

So what about Jeb’s claims that the Obama administration was culpable in the rise of ISIS? How sophisticated a view of foreign policy do they represent?

Well, I would assert “naive to the point of dangerous.” Bush calls, for example, for arming of the Kurds. That can only antagonize Turkey, which has seen 40,000 casualties in a decades-long struggle for Kurdish independence. Turkey’s president Erdogan was apparently a supporter of IS until attempts to control the activities of Sunni extremists lead to a number of bombings. So, no, he’s not a reliable ally, but there’s no reason to push him into the arms of IS.

Or the claim that the Obama Administration didn’t take strong initial action against Islamic State (IS)? Far enough, in 20/20 hindsight. IS grew out of the Syrian civil war, which started as a rebellion against a leader guilty of crimes against humanity, but became a global lightening rod for militant extremists as it dragged on.

The nature and ambitions of IS were not obvious until defectors revealed that operations were actually being guided in secret by Sadaam’s Baathist generals. The initial IS surge was so successful because it exploited Sunni resentment against Shia dominance of Iraq’s government, with many of the early atrocities committed against Shia troops guarding the peace in Western Iraq.

The policies stated by Bush would be to bring additional American troops and material back into the region. That makes sense, except that the most potent weapon in the IS arsenal are suicide bombs crafted from Humvees captured from Iraqi bases. Until the Iraqi security forces demonstrate the resolve to engage the enemy, unless American commits indefinitely to a military presence, IS will simply fade into the civilian population, only to appear again after we leave to take advantage of the resources we leave behind.

And the final charge that Clinton didn’t visit Iraq during her tenure at State: well, there was no State Department presence. The entire operation was run out of the Department of Defense. What would have been the point of starting a turf war?

I understand that in domestic politics, the best defense is always a strong offense. It was perhaps to be expected that Bush would mount his attack against the Democratic front-runner. But what the tone and substance of the attack reveals is a dangerous lack of understanding of the issues. Given the documented history, Hillary will clean his clock in the run-up to the general election, or we’ll find ourselves suffering at the hands of the government we deserve.

Rude is Not the New ‘PC’

With the Trump campaign only now announcing that they are going to bring in experts to craft policy positions, it is easy to fall into the cant adopted by Hillary Clinton. In a press briefing in New Hampshire today, Clinton observed that “Megan is a strong woman and can take care of herself,” and dismissed the Trump candidacy as “entertainment.”

But it’s far, far more than that. Trump stood up at the Fox debate and threw his money and ego around. The other candidates came off as a coterie in short pants, each one talking over the other as they sniped in the background. The goal was to make Trump sound silly, but it was obvious who had the strongest personality on the stage.

The image that comes most clearly to mind when I think of that scene is a photo of Hitler and his high command that my family came across in the effects of my grandmother’s last husband, who served on Eisenhower’s staff at the end of World War II. In the photo, the warriors are ranged behind Hitler in combat dress, but none of them looked half as tough as the Fuhrer in shorts. Despite the pout and over-coiffed hair, the same was true of Trump on the debate platform.

I’m not going to suggest that Trump is another Hitler. The man seems affable, and genuinely concerned about the “little people.” But he is obviously unwilling or unable to recognize that the jibes and threats he bandies about on the stage are a dangerous model. Every time Trump shoots off his mouth, a team of lawyers scurries in the background, evaluating whether they have leverage to impose his will on adversaries (as appears to have occurred at Fox News today through Roger Ailes), or whether to backtrack, turn on the charm, and make nice.

I don’t think that Trump understands that when he tells a woman “I’m nice to people that are nice to me,” many women in America hear echoes of an abusive boss engaged in inappropriate groping. And of civil servants, covered by a blanket assessment of idiocy, I can’t help but remember Newt Gingrich and his anti-government rhetoric during the Clinton era, rhetoric that morphed into ridiculous tales of “UN Black Helicopters” preparing to enforce a “New World Order,” whipping up hysteria and paranoia among civilian militias that peaked with McVeigh’s truck bomb murder of the children at the Murrah Building day-care center in Oklahoma City.

And as for the claim that illegal immigrants are “rapists” – we’ve heard things like that about minorities before. What was the epithet? “Christ killers?”

Trump is unsuitable for the Oval Office because he doesn’t realize that the President fires the imagination of the public with an authority presumed to be vetted by the federal bureaucracy. People without his sense of nuance and balance are going to emulate his conduct and manner of speaking. Rude men will run with his claims of oppression under the doctrine of “political correctness,” and be emboldened by his use of raw power to intimidate others. They may not have his resources, but they will emulate his conduct, and hurt a lot of other people in the process.

So, no, we shouldn’t consider this entertainment. It is dangerous. Trump needs to learn to control his mouth, or get off the political stage.