Friday, November 18, 2016

It's the voter suppression, stupid!

Voter suppression is the big, somewhat neglected, story of the 2016 election, insofar as that phenomenon is what caused Hillary Clinton to lose and Donald Trump to win. And it wasn’t just the well-planned and rigorous voter suppression being carried out by Republican-controlled states throughout the nation, photo-IDs, exaggerated myths of the fraudulent individual voters, fewer places and days to vote, etc., but a more insidious sort, a by-product of negative ads and the atmospherics of disenfranchisement.

What the Republicans succeeded doing was to trumpet Hillary Clinton’s shortcomings and, more cunningly, they helped raise Donald Trump’s negative ratings, too.

Indiana was a test-case for this, given all the attack television advertising aimed at the senate and governor race. Hard to count all the faults of both the Republican and Democrat candidates viewers were exposed to: Whoever was to be elected was already branded a crook, a criminal, or worse. Unfortunately, most of these ads were accurate, though less so the NRA’s.

In the presidential race, the statistic the media most often repeated, either wittingly or unwittingly becoming co-conspirators to suppress the vote, was both Trump’s and Clinton’s “unfavorable” ratings, higher than any other candidates in history commentators crowed.

The general distaste for both Trump and Clinton was promoted relentlessly over the course of the campaign and had its effects, both intended and accidental. Hillary Clinton’s own weaknesses played into this version of events, as did the outstanding boorishness of Donald Trump. Weirdly, the “high-road” behavior of President Obama and the First Lady drove up the contrast between themselves and those vying for the office.

The result of the 2016 election had a variety of causes, but voter suppression proved crucial. The distribution of the votes echoed the 2000 contested election: It’s cities vs. country, college towns vs. rural towns. Hillary Clinton, like Al Gore, won the popular vote. The enthusiasm gap between the contenders reared its head. A lot of people tried to deny it existed. This election may, or may not, be the last hurrah for a couple of generations of white folk. What do I think? As Jesus purportedly said on the cross while soldiers cast lots and divided up his garments: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

Yes, we live in a divided America. But, as Bernie Sanders showed in the primaries, dividing garments and casting lots was in vogue.
But, unlike the Bush vs. Gore contest, the 2016 campaign itself suppressed the vote. The statistics are now just starting to come out that prove the point. Donald Trump barely received more votes winning than Mitt Romney received losing. That could only happen in an election where the chief attribute was voter suppression.

Americans tend to suppress the vote in any case, since barely half even bother to vote. But, in addition to those tendencies, this time there was a certain sort of not voting that led to the outcome. In Michigan, Michael Moore pointed out on MSNBC after the election, some twenty thousand voters who did vote skipped voting for any candidate for president.

This sort of thing has happened before and I wrote about it in my book on the 1996 presidential campaign. In the race for the senate in New York State in Bill Clinton’s first win in 1992 tens of thousands of voters did not vote for anyone for senator in that election. The reason was the Democratic primary had been so cantankerous and ugly that voters, mainly women – that primary was full of women candidates (Geraldine Ferraro, Liz Holtzman) and the eventual winner, Robert Abrams, was wounded by winning – voted for neither candidate. Alfonse D’Amato, the Republican incumbent, won narrowly. Republicans retained the seat because some Democrats felt aggrieved. Sound familiar? See Bernie’s boosters.

After that contest, in an autobiography, D’Amato wrote, “A significant number of liberals were so turned off by Abrams that they voted for Clinton and then did not vote in the Senate race at all. I may not have won liberal Ferraro voters, but Abrams lost many of them. As I a close election every vote and every non-vote counts.”

I am sure the non-vote count in the 2016 presidential category will be the largest in modern history. Voter suppression takes all forms and we have just witnessed the pernicious result of its success.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Hillary's Voice

Hillary Clinton's speaking voice when addressing large crowds is something of a disaster. I know I am not alone in this opinion. Early on in the primaries there were a number of articles. Just last weekend on MSNBC both Chuck Todd and Jonathan Alter referred to her troubles, yelling at crowds as if she wasn't holding a microphone in her hand. No "modulation", etc. I've wondered about this particular voice she uses and how it plays into the ears of even the micro-misogynists who hear it, much less the full-bore sexists. They, doubtless, as I do, associate it with the voice she used in the past to yell at Bill.

Voices get a lot of play in presidential campaigns, especially this one, where Donald Trump declared at the GOP convention, "I am your voice." Though superficial, voice problems have crippled careers. The once rising great non-white hope of the Republican party, Bobby Jindal, for instance: His Waterloo took place at the site of his great triumph, selected to give the GOP reply following the first Barack Obama State of the Union address in 2009. It was universally panned.

But, I had always presumed, since some of the criticism focused on the speech's "delivery", that the problem was that Jindal was likely having some cosmetic work done on his voice, in an attempt to rid himself of the traces of his pronounced ethnic accent. In other words, I speculated he was undergoing some voice lessons that hadn't yet concluded. He was in a mid-voice-change moment and, boy, did it seem odd. Now, Jindal speaks with the American equivalent of BBC English. You can hear the difference over the years on You Tube, not that it matters anymore.

Part of the problem is the continuing degradation of journalism, especially television's version. Take the more or less universal praise of the Trump children, each shilling for their father at the GOP convention. Many commentators were handing out participation trophies to them, since it was all about public speaking. We've gone from a literate world to an oral one. No reporting about the kids' histories marred the surface presentation. And, as Joe Biden would say, they were all certainly "clean".

In Hillary's case it seems to be a matter of audience. Also on the web you can listen to her speech at Wellesley in 1969. That voice she used then, though not to a crowd in the thousands, only in the low three figures, is certainly modulated. Wellesley put out an edited recording of that speech, often referred to in biographies, leaving out her mild criticism of Edward Brooke, the first black Senator, a Republican, elected by popular vote, who was on stage with her. Hillary Rodham knew her audience, took them as equals, her fellow students and their parents.

When she talks to large crowds, the masses more or less, I don't think she sees them as equals. They are not intimates, folk she necessarily respects. They are the ones she shouts at. Bill Clinton, of course, as a public speaker, has intimacy in his voice in spades. It's his philanderer voice, as if each person in the crowd is important, because he is trolling the audience for a conquest. All that biting of his lip business. Rodham Clinton doesn't have such remarked-upon mannerisms. Hillary isn't looking for conquests. But she should.

To throngs at rallies her high-pitched delivery is a louder version of her exasperation voice, highlighted during the Benghazi hearings, when she exclaimed, "What difference does it make?", now a favorite attack line employed by the Republican right smear machine.

Unfortunately, when it comes to making history as the first woman major party nominee to the presidency, it's not quite pure, unadulterated history. It's in the Lurleen Wallace mode, George Wallace's wife, who became the governor of Alabama in 1967, after George was term-limited out. Other American political wives have gained office in this manner. We'll all have to wait for a woman to become president whose husband hasn't been there before.

Nonetheless, it surprises me, even at this point, that Hillary's speaking voice hasn't been addressed by anyone in her circle. She, too, could have used some voice lessons. But a chilling fact is that it is possible no one around her is brave enough to tell the candidate she should do something about it.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Pensive Pence

On July 7th I tweeted this: My pick for GOP veep is Newt, since he’s the only one whose career won’t be ruined, since it’s already ruined. A lot of commentators were picking Newt, right up to a few days before The Donald picked Mike Pence, my governor. I have been living in Indiana for over three decades and have seen a number of governors come and go. A couple of times I have even been down in the Governor’s Mansion in Indianapolis, back when Evan Bayh was governor. Never met him, but I did speak with his wife. It was an arts in Indiana gathering.

Now Bayh is running for the open Senate seat, vacated soon by Dan Coats, who won it when Evan skedaddled for the greener pastures of lobbying. Now he wants back in. I’m all for him, given the Republican competition.

But, it was Mitch Daniels’ two terms as governor that most upset me. Mitch sold (“leased”) the Indiana Toll Road, I-80, America’s Main Street, thereby reaping monies for him to lavish on his cronies and favorite projects, however ill-advised. I wrote about all this in 2006. I drove the length of the Toll Road in early June this year and admired, a decade later, its ruins, the closed highway “Travel Plazas,” now looking like sets from Mad Max movies, the road itself so pockmarked that repairs can no longer be put off.

Daniels is a lot like Paul Ryan, elevated as a Republican intellectual regardless of all the evidence to the contrary. Currently, Daniels now heads Purdue University, hoping to privatize as much of public education as he is able, repeating there his experience as governor. Daniels led Indiana to be one of the first Right to Work states while championing school vouchers. The only luck for the population is that he won’t be returning to national politics anytime soon, given the controversies surrounding his marriage have left Mitch in a matrimonial ditch.

Now we have Mike Pence, who is Mitch Daniels with fewer brains. The litany of Pence’s many missteps as governor (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act anyone?) has been covered by the media, more or less, since he was selected as Trump’s veep. Since looks, appearances, are important to Trump, I presume he thought Pence passed muster - Trump evidently didn’t want to be paired with either Newt or Christie, two overweight court jesters. Pence has always seemed to me as if he was beamed down from the Mothership, someone who could easily be cast in Star Wars, a few strands of DNA away from android.

But Pence does fit the double-mask Janus candidacy that Trump wants to run, though, in fairness to Janus, this campaign is more a comedy/tragedy masquerade: Pick which one applies to Pence. Whichever, Pence is on the ticket to “shore up” the GOP base, all those rabid evangelicals and anti-abortion zealots. Pence is nothing but a Republican talking points machine, now augmented by lines about how great Donald Trump is and how he hears the heartbeat of the American public.

So, who is Hillary going to pick? Her choices aren’t much more appetizing than Trump’s. I had always favored Sherrod Brown, but no one wants to lose a Senate seat from Ohio, where the convention no-show GOP governor would name a replacement. Tim Kaine, though, is also a Senator, but Virginia has a Democratic governor. Kaine is a favorite of many, though, in the Trump mode, lookism being supreme, Kaine is too much of a feminized male, soft in aspect, not the sort of masculine image Hillary Clinton may need at her side. He’s definite second husband material. She’s doubtless tired of alpha-type males, but who she picks will matter. She needs younger, but experienced, though Pence has certainly lowered the veep-debate-ready bar.

And speaking of Indiana vice presidents, Dan Quayle has taken too much blame for his sorry service to George H. W. Bush. Quayle contributed to H.W.’s second term loss to Bill Clinton. Recall that Bush was having health problems toward the end of his first term, which brought on fears of Quayle being able to ascend during Bush’s second term, if he secured one.

But, I have always held that Quayle all along was a brainchild of 41. George senior wanted to prepare the way for his sons, one or the other, George or Jeb, neither of whom went off to Vietnam. He went with Quayle, knowing that someone of the Vietnam generation had to go through the crucible of public opinion about that issue, and Quayle’s time in the National Guard protecting the golf courses of Indiana would provide the precedent. And Quayle did survive the fire of that debate. But, of course, what Bush senior did not foresee was that the career he ironically protected was that of the draft-dodger Bill Clinton, though Bush had no idea he would be running against the guy when he ran in 1988.

But when George W. finally came along he did escape the Vietnam-service gauntlet, barely. He “beat” a man who actually served in Vietnam, Al Gore. I don’t think Hillary will play the veteran card for her veep pick, since the most likely veterans available would have served in a war she supported and her base abhors.

The July 19th version on the Huffington Post can be found here.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Birther Business

A number of publications have been running President Obama assessment articles, given that he is nearing the end of his second term. And the campaign of Donald Trump is also fomenting retrospectives on the Obama administration, given The Donald’s role in the “birther” controversy during the president’s second term contest.

During Obama’s initial campaign in 2008 there was not that much mention of birth certificates, more of Hawaii, though — the media seemingly needing to acquaint the mainland with its existence back then. No birther blather rose all the way to the top, since John McCain had been born somewhere in Panama, so that fact made Obama’s place of birth rather moot.

It always struck me as funny that so many people wanted to believe that Obama had been born in a hut in Kenya. The contemporaneous birth notice in a Hawaiian newspaper would have been, by itself, far beyond the heroics of the most Manchurian Candidate-esque conspirators.

What the birther controversy was about, however, was Obama’s blackness, his alleged foreignness, his presumed shadow religion — linked to that unfortunate picture of him with the cloth head wrap — the not American-ness of our president, running for his second term. What might be hard to remember is that the country’s native latent racism had been fairly suppressed, muted, during Obama’s first run for the office.

One odd reason for that was the charges made, at first, by Hillary Clinton’s original African-American supporters claiming that Obama wasn’t black enough, that he hadn’t grown up with the usual African-American experience back on the mainland. There was too much Hawaii and Indonesia, only turning up in the contiguous states permanently when he went to college. Like his father, the Kenyan.

None of the Obama-isn’t-black-enough critics made that last charge back in 2008, to my knowledge. In fact, during that campaign year there was much more made of Obama’s mother and his white Kansan grandparents who played such a role in raising him when he was young. The not-black-enough campaign, however short lived, had unexpected positive results.

The birther business coming again before the second-term election was the tip of the spear of all the finally released accumulated racism that had built up during Obama’s first four years. And Donald Trump’s antic search for Obama’s birth certificate let all that simmering racism be focused.

But what has always struck me as strange, was the singular fact that of all the American presidents, Obama was, is, the only one whose father wasn’t born himself in America, or Ireland. Three Presidents (Jackson, Buchanan, Arthur) had fathers born there. Even George Washington’s father, Augustine, was born on American soil, in the Colony of Virginia, in 1694.

When Obama was/is referred to as African-American, it is truly literal. He is first generation. His father was an African. Obama is half Kenyan. I always thought that was remarkable in and of itself. Forget birth certificates. The only birth certificate I ever wanted to see back in 2008 was LeBron James’. He looked like he was in his mid-twenties when he played basketball in high school. I would have been interested in seeing proof of his date of birth.

Early in Obama’s presidency I was also struck by the fact that the last two Democratic presidents, both ending up with two terms, grew up without their birth father. What were the odds for that? In Bill Clinton’s case, his father died and was unknown to the future president; only his step father, whose name he eventually took, figured in his life. In Obama’s case, the father was there, largely invisible, in the world, until he wasn’t, certainly inspiring all those dreams from his father that resulted in Obama’s first book.

Both of these fatherless boys married women suitable for their nascent political careers. Bill Clinton seemed in his youth to favor bimbos, but he knew he would have to have a serious wife if he wanted to rise in politics. Obama’s calculations were a bit different, but no less obvious and political. Both men, it is clear, lucked out in their choices.

Yet, the Republicans have taken it upon themselves to stress Obama’s blackness, even in the current election of 2016. They may, or may not, given their liking of archaic terms, favor the word mulatto to speak of our half-white, half-black president, but they have made it clear that such a person only gets a seven year term as president, not an eight year term. Mulattoes, according to the GOP leadership, are only entitled to 7/8s of a presidency. Hence, no movement at all on President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, the last and most blatant example of Republican obstructionism.

And, of course, the presumptive Republican nominee, The Donald, keeps denouncing immigrants of whatever sort, along with claiming right of ownership of various races (“Oh, look at my African-American over here.”). But President Obama’s father wasn’t even an immigrant, illegal or otherwise. Yet, Trump’s current wife is an immigrant, filling, as she did, that important immigration fast-track category of supermodel.

I haven’t thoroughly checked, but if her husband gains the office, unlikely as that now seems, she might well be the first foreign-born First Lady. It’s not that I am a raging jingoist, but I am trying once again to make the obvious more clear: The world is getting smaller and smaller. That changes most everything, but, unfortunately, it doesn’t make the people who want to run it any larger.

The July 1st version on the Huffington Post can be found here.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Bye Bye Bernie

In the early 1960s I was a big Ann-Margret fan, first associating her with the film version of the musical Bye Bye Birdie. Before that I was a Brenda Lee fan, who came to town to star in a road show production of Bye Bye Birdie at Kansas City’s Starlight Theater.

I knew, slightly, a local dancer who helped fill out the chorus line and she was invited to a party at Brenda’s hotel room after a performance and I tagged along, hoping to get to meet Ms. Lee. We went up in the hotel’s elevator with what looked like two body guards and my friend was admitted to the party, but not I.

I didn’t yell that the system was rigged, nor rail against the body guards (superdelegates!), I just went off quietly into the night. It’s doesn’t yet seem Bernie Sanders is going off quietly into the night, but he did, it was reported, spend nearly ninety minutes in a hotel room with the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, who is, I think, taller than Brenda Lee.

I don’t know if it was a “One Last Kiss” moment, or A First Kiss moment, but Bernie qualifies as just a “Normal American Boy,” a tune whose chorus went something like this:

We love you Bernie
Oh yes we do
We love you Bernie
And will be true!
When you’re not near us
We’re blue!
Oh, Bernie, we love you...

Young women sang a variation of this in Bye Bye Birdie, not a bunch of tone-deaf Bernie Bros, but you get the point. The musical, as a teenager, seemed political to me, based, as it was, on Elvis Presley being drafted. The Vietnam War had not yet captured the country’s attention, and Elvis, I believe, went off peacefully to Germany.

Where will Bernie go? Not back permanently to sleepy Vermont, but to Philadelphia, city of brotherly love, where he intends, so he says, to get rid of, as Donald Trump calls her, Deborah Wasserman Schultz, ram through the most progressive platform ever passed (ha!), achieve real electoral reform in the Democratic party, and get rid of those glowering superdelegates, blocking the party door of the promised land.

Meanwhile, The Donald, who appears not to want the job (the presidency), continues trying to lose, but, however he attempts to self destruct, his people stand by him. But, nonetheless, Bernie now wants “open primaries,” because, evidently, they stood in the way - their absence that is - to his winning the nomination. All those New York independents deprived of voting in the Democratic primary! Bernie feels the bern - it burns him up.

As large as my disappointment was in not meeting Brenda Lee, I’m sure Bernie’s disappointment is even greater. Far greater. I was just a green kid, star-struck, while Bernie finally turned himself into a star, even to the picky Green crowd. No longer a callow youth, Bernie’s hair, toward the end of the primaries, began to be styled Julius Caesar-like, at least the usual Hollywood version. Caesar was a great orator, but a lousy dictator. Et tu, Wasserman Schultz?

I have always thought Bernie Sanders was likable enough, though he didn’t turn out to be quite the over-achiever that Donald Trump has come to be. Close, but no cigar. Though I do expect to hear, especially from Sanders’ #NeverHillary supporters, this wan, persistent chorus being sung all the way to November:

We love you Bernie
Oh yes we do
We love you Bernie
And will be true!

The Huffington Post version can be found here.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Clinton Exhaustion

Many recall “Clinton Fatigue,” one of the reasons Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign faltered and fell. Now people are tired of even bringing up that old fatigue excuse, though, of course, it still pertains. I am not a fan of counter-factual examples, but one that seems pertinent is what this primary season would look like if Bernie Sanders didn’t exist, or, almost as fantastical, if he played the role most people expected before the primaries started. That is, he appeared and then quietly disappeared, like that other fellow, what’s his name? O’Malley?

Without Bernie I wonder if Hillary would be getting any daily coverage whatsoever from the networks and cable. Imagine her campaign coverage if the Democratic primary season had been seen as a coronation? With no real opposition. Donald Trump, as many have observed, has been getting the lion’s share of coverage as it is. If Hillary had no real competition, Trump would be gathering not just the lion’s share, but the whole pride’s share, the entire veldt’s share. Hillary would be an afterthought.

The social circle of the press would doubtless have to nod in her direction (emails!), but Clinton fatigue would generate a general soporific. Trump’s attempts to slime Bill Clinton, and by inference, Hillary, actually serves to create history lessons for all those young Bernie supporters, most barely born in the 1990s.

Without Bernie giving Hillary a real run, who would be taking any interest in the Democrat primaries? Bernie has served as an engine of interest for the Hillary campaign. And now Bernie wants to debate The Donald. And, who knows, it might happen, since Trump loves spectacle. Now, there’s some virtual counter-factual television to come. But don’t hold your breath.

Donald Trump running for President fits his business model, especially his model used the last couple of decades. He’s now leasing his brand to the GOP and is willing, it appears, to lease it to the country at large: THE TRUMP PRESIDENCY! We already have Trump Tower and, in Chicago, on a once quite compelling-looking skyscraper perched on the site of the old Chicago Sun-Times building, recently defaced with just the name TRUMP in garish letters.

We’ll have to wait and see if we eventually get to see the 18th green below the North Face of Yosemite’s Half Dome, the future final hole of the Trump Presidential Course. And why not? There’s already an airport at the Grand Tetons National Park, so the rich of Jackson Hole can fly in private jets.

See, it’s hard to stay on the subject of Hillary, since she has been so much a part of our country’s national lassitude, brought on and bringing to mind all the things that have been haunting us for decades. Do I need to name them? Starting with the largely created story of Whitewater, the sorriest low-rent land deal of the last century.

Remember the name of the guy who was at the center of it? Poor Jim McDougal. What would he have done back in the day when he tried to rope the Clintons into buying some bug-infested lots along Arkansas’s White River if someone had said to him, “Jim, you know your friend Bill Clinton, the governor, will be President of the United States and you will die of a heart attack in solitary confinement because of him.” Hard to believe. But The Donald is bringing up yet another sacrifice to journalists with nothing better to do, Vince Foster.

Fishy, indeed, Foster’s suicide. There are arguably more books about Bill and Hillary Clinton published during (and before and afterwards) Bill Clinton’s two terms than any other president in American history. Of course, ninety percent of them were attack books. There was a vast right wing conspiracy, except, despite Hillary’s popularizing of the term, it wasn’t a conspiracy - it was quite out in the open.

Bernie claims over and over he trounces Trump in the polls. I doubt if the Hillary’s right wing conspiracy crowd has spent a dime on Sanders, but, if the unexpected happened and Sanders became the nominee, they would drop more than a dime on him.

Regarding the Republican right’s focused attention, as Madonna would say, Bernie’s Like a Virgin. So far, he’s gotten more or less a free ride from the vast attack machine so critical and instrumental to the country’s quarter-century of Clinton fatigue. So, Hillary owes Bernie a thank you for succeeding as well as he has. He keeps both the spotlight on her and, more importantly, off of her.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Transforming The Donald

Transformations within the Trump candidacy are ongoing. Unfortunately, the one that is the most worrisome is how the national press is treating him. With respect, that is. This first turned up with the photograph MSNBC uses of Trump on primary nights, the headshot that goes up beside his many state victories. It’s the most complimentary picture of Trump that I have seen, even if he doesn’t currently look like the photo. In it, he has darkish hair, brown, brunette, thicker on the sides with a touch of gray, neatly combed, a winning smile. It is Mitt Romney hair.

There are a lot of photos of Trump, but why this one? So friendly and, I hate to say the word, presidential.

The same photo continued to be used the night Trump won the Indiana primary. And this week’s West Virginia and Nebraska primary triumphs, more or less uncontested. Of course, the audience could see Trump himself after the Indiana win in the lobby of the Trump Tower, giving his victory speech. That night his remarks were subdued, full of love. His hair was the usual blend of orange and copper and brass, yellow, and, from the back, a color favored on birthday cakes, lemony, pound cake-like. Or bad teeth, old piano keys.

My contention is that there is no upside for the network/cable conglomerate, any of them, for not treating Trump with deference. If not immediately The Donald himself, his new staff is praised. See, they are serious guys! The media now seems to understand Trump might actually win. At least, he has a shot, even if one very long, much longer than his fingers.

The same thing occurred in 1980. Until the summer of 1980, the time of the Mariel boatlift, a lot of the establishment press treated Ronald Reagan as a clown, his candidacy as an amusing sideshow. But that all stopped in the summer. By then it was clear that Reagan might actually win, become president. Carter’s administration was falling apart. Castro was sending over all those Trump-like rapists and criminals from Cuban prisons, the mentally disturbed, and, by far, the largest and darkest group of refugees Americans had ever seen coming across the 90 miles to Key West. The proportion of criminals and the disturbed has been estimated at between 2-3 percent, doubtless the same figure for Trump’s marauding Mexicans.

By 1980 the Iran hostage crisis was in its second year, lines had formed at gas stations, we had boycotted the summer Olympics, given away the Panama Canal, and, in April, had helicopters burn in the desert during a botched rescue attempt, etc. So, Ronald Reagan went from being a light-weight Hollywood figure with odd ideas to a remarkable statesman. I was in Key West in the summer of 1980 watching dilapidated school buses being filled with Cubans heading to the underpasses of Miami highways, Arkansas, wherever. But what I read in the daily papers was more shocking, this bestowing of new seriousness on candidate Reagan.

The national press needed to elevate the eventual winner, because Carter had loser written all over him. The titans of the press diminish their own importance if they have to cover a buffoon. Their impulse is to raise him up in their estimation. The Carter-Reagan race is not unlike the current one - Hillary Clinton, of course, being Jimmy Carter and The Donald being Ronald Reagan. Carter was president, but Hillary has been Senator and Secretary of State. Trump, of course, has some fractured Hollywood allure, but has never been governor of anywhere, so we’ve actually, as a country, lowered basic requirements for eligibility to run for the highest office in the land.

President Obama may well be Hillary’s last bulwark, if no crisis beyond the usual turns up pre-November. Carter was beset by Biblical plagues his last year in office and, in contrast, Obama is having what can pass for a good year.

But, you now see it everywhere, the nascent elevation of Trump, the begrudging self-censorship of the pedantry (or punditry), though one can still read demurrals here and there. The press corps, too, along with the flummoxed Republican establishment, is trying to come to grips with the new nominee of the Grand Old Party. I’ve been saying “President Trump” to friends for months, much to their expected horror.

But now people are beginning to say it without irony, because, after the summer, when there are only two candidates to choose between, the odds become, alas, 50-50. No sure bet there.

The HuffPost version ran May 12, 2016: Click here.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Ted's Excellent Mansplaining

I was exercising at my university’s faculty gym when Ted Cruz was laboriously mansplaining why he was choosing Carly Fiorina as his virtual Veep for his holographic future presidency. It was a classic case: I, Ted Cruz, a man, will now tell you why I have the good judgment to select Carly, a woman, the glass-ceiling shatter-er. Fiorina may or may not have the potty-mouth of Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s character in Veep, which seems to be the chief qualification of our modern era, but, at this point, who cares? While exercising away, I kept wondering when Cruz was going to bring on Fiorina, since I had been on the elliptical machine beyond my usual allotment of time and Cruz, who had appeared around 4:15 was still blabbering on after 4:30.

Cruz obviously loves the sound of his voice. He grins inappropriately during his speeches and his unhappy slice of smile signifies the pleasure he takes hearing his own voice. I left the exercise room fifteen minutes later and Cruz was still there yapping. No Carly. I don’t tweet much, but had I a smart phone, as a number of other fellow exercisers did, staring transfixed at their small screens, I might have tweeted: #Where is she?

I saw later in the day from various news outlets that Fiorina finally made it to the podium, to little effect. God knows Carly understands losing, having done it so often both in the private and public sector. From the clips I saw, she evidently sang a song and seems to have pleasant voice while singing.

Indiana is now hot. Cruz and Carly came to South Bend yesterday and clogged up the downtown when I tried to get to the road show version of The Book of Mormon (I’m trying for contrast here) playing at the Morris Performing Arts Center. A lot of Cruz supporters in his crowd at the nearby Century Center were obese (less at the Mormon musical, which was wonderful theatrically, but reprehensible in every other way), though I don’t think, unlike the First Lady, Cruz considers obesity a national health issue. I am not body shaming, I’m just reporting. In any case, the Cruz rally was in one of the Century Center’s smaller venues, a room I last was in when a friend took me to a cat show held there. Lots of cats in cages.

Trump is coming to the Century Center on Monday night and Bernie Sanders is booked there Sunday, May Day. Hillary Clinton appeared at a more or less private setting, the AM General plant outside of the city that now makes Mercedes-Benz-es for the China market, a couple of days ago.

Some commentators out there in mediaworld are saying that Indiana may be someone’s Alamo, Cruz, Trump’s, it’s hard to tell. The connection is very thin. Maybe it’s because Cruz is a Senator from Texas. Is he Jim Bowie, Santa Anna, Davy Crockett, the Mexicans, the fort? It doesn’t make much sense. Who is running over whom? I guess it’s the last-stand business.

Truth might be the first casualty in war, but language seems to be the first in campaigns. Now, the self-presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump, wants to slogan-ize once again America First! Not that many voters are going to think of Charles Lindbergh and his various enthusiasms pre-WWII that were attached to the slogan when first coined. Lindbergh loved the Luftwaffe. Poor Lindbergh. He flew planes. The Donald owns many. Perhaps Pat Buchanan is Trump’s unacknowledged campaign model.

Locally, there are contested races down ticket going on throughout Indiana, which may or may not affect the upcoming election. A Senate seat is open, thanks to the happy retirement of Dan Coats. He returned to Indiana in 2010 to assume the seat vacated by Evan Bayh. Coats is the only recidivist Senator, once retired, active lobbyist, then elected once again.

But the Democrats are still hoping for a win eventually against Mike Pence, the current governor, former right-wing radio talker (The Mike Pence Show), who even moderate Republicans have difficulty putting up with, especially after the costly fiasco of his Religious Freedom Restoration Act of late March, 2015. Pence was pictured with what looked like a high school production cast of Nunsense, after he signed the bill. Yes, let us restore all those lost religious freedoms! Pence has half-heatedly “endorsed” Ted Cruz, “I will be voting for Ted Cruz....” this coming Tuesday. Democrats have John Gregg running, who has run and lost before, but this time is changing his image, becoming a bit less rustic.

But it is the Republican primary for Senate that is interesting. Two contenders, Marlin Stutzman and Todd Young, both GOP Indiana district U.S. representatives, are lashing out at each other for the position, given Coats’ departure and longing for the hard work of lobbying. No love lost there, just like most of the Republican presidential primary cohort. Both candidates are really unappetizing, so there’s a slim chance for the potential Democratic candidate. Baron Hill, who lost to Coats a long time ago, in 1990, is serving as the warm-body sacrifice.

But, what really goes on here in Indiana won’t be covered much in our week in the sun. It’ll be more drive-by journalism, the 90 plus percent hoping for good visuals, the desired seen and heard reportage. On the bright side, if Trump gets the nomination Pence may well lose his reelection. I am not much into predictions - I was wrong about water beds way back when - but in the presidential primary race here I will predict wins for Bernie and The Donald. In any case, it will be close.

This ran in the Huffington Post on April 29, 2016. Click here.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Haunting of Hillary

One thing that made the Clintons so mad about the 2008 presidential election is that Hillary would have won in a walk. That knowledge alone can account for Bill Clinton’s anger back in that campaign over the realization that Barack Obama would be getting the nomination. Bill had lashed out at Obama in January 2008 over his superior “anti-war” stand, in opposition to Hillary’s vote for the war in Iraq: “Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairytale I’ve ever seen.”

The same sort of anger by the former president was displayed some ten days before the New York primary when Clinton again lashed out, this time at Black Lives Matter protesters in Philadelphia who yelled that black youth weren’t “super-predators” and Bill shouted back, “You are defending the people who killed the lives you say matter.” That both incidents eight years apart fell into a shadow caused by race may not be coincidental.

Back in 2008, John McCain was a weak candidate made even weaker by his selection of Sarah Palin as half the ticket. Who profited? Of course, Barack Obama, who may have not become the first African-American president without running against such a vulnerable pairing. It was six of one, half-dozen of the other. It would have been either the first woman president or the first black president. How easy an election did it turn out to be for Democrats? Americans elected a black man to the highest office in the land, that’s how easy. This is not hindsight. It was obvious at the time.

Previous to the recent New York primary, which Hillary Clinton won handily, the same 2008 dynamic was at play. And that is why she showed anger against the Sanders campaign, its mucking up of her march to history. Whatever the final act of the Republican implosion theater turns out to be, it will present the American people with an even more damaged alternative than McCain/Palin.

As Donald Trump tries to clean up his act, now cross-dressing as presidential, rational, and contemplative, both Clintons, thanks to their domination of the New York State political apparatus, may step back from and lessen their irrational fears of losing the nomination again. It remains to be seen if Senator Sanders plays along and stems his straight forward attacks against many of Hillary Clinton’s obvious shortcomings. He has saved Republican super PACs millions of dollars in advertising expense by doing their work for them. But, once she is the nominee they will unload their millions in the same sort, and worse, of vilification.

I happened to be in Israel when the news of the Monica Lewinsky scandal first broke in 1998, standing atop storied Masada looking out at the Dead Sea. Some Israelis were joking that it was a Mossad plot, inserting Lewinsky into the White House. When Trump’s campaign first gained steam, I heard from fellow Americans that he must be a Democratic agent, so successfully was he crashing the Republican house of cards.

Both surmises are doubtless equally true, being not true at all, except in effect. If Trump is the GOP nominee and Hillary Clinton the Democratic, she should walk into the office easier than Barack Hussein Obama did.

In 2008, sufficient Americans placed their hope in a young, relatively untested first-term Senator from Illinois, while the Republicans presented their dysfunctional odd couple, McCain/Palin, for the country’s approval. This time around who will they select? Trump/Kasich? Trump/Haley? It is conventional wisdom that vice presidents don’t matter, but this coming election may prove that wrong, for a lot of obvious reasons, balance, gravitas, etc. Nonetheless, the Democrats, barring the fatal unknown, should win, furthering the mixed legacy of the Obama presidency.

Obama, as it turned out, wasn’t too good to be true. That he was - at least he was true to himself. He just turned out to be too good to be as effective as his voters hoped.

The HuffPost version here:

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Revenge of the Sixties

Ted Cruz, the Dump Trump movement’s great white hope, is the kind of guy who gave high school debate teams a bad name. A hectoring know-it-all who favors Chautauqua — not Hillary Clinton’s Chautauqua — stage gestures and oratory. Ineffably smug. But the oddity is that the Democratic number two, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, shares some of these same qualities, the hectoring know-it-all side at least, though he seems, unlike Cruz, lovable and grand fatherly.

I recently gave a talk at Lone Star College in Houston on the humanities and income inequality. Lone Star is part of the state’s junior college system and the students know first hand a lot about income inequality. I brought up the 19th century bohemian tradition, which meant to make poverty bearable and discussed beatniks, hippies, and the short period during the Sixties and beginning Seventies when anti-materialism was afoot. Back then there was enough surplus capital around, and higher education, at least in state schools, was not very pricey. Students actually had time on their hands to join movements and protest and organize.

Of course, that period ended with a bang and hardly a whimper. Reverence for the rich came in full bore with Ronald Reagan. Education policy changed, resulting in the for-profit college explosion over the last three decades, a form of privatizing, which was going on everywhere, even, and most stealthily, in the military itself. First end the draft, second begin to privatize around the edges. In modern history one result of that could be seen in Benghazi, an event more about contractors than enlisted soldiers.

During the same time line Wall Street average salaries in the NYC securities industry went from about 50 thousand dollars a year in 1981, double that of all other private sector jobs, to 400 thousand a year by 2008, whereas other jobs were only slightly above 55 thousand. The Wall Street bonus economy bloomed in the 1980s. Salaries skyrocketed from double to more than six times everyone else’s.

That rise didn’t just affect people working on Wall Street. CEOs across the land, top executives at most every corporation, including academia, felt deep in their souls that they were being underpaid. If those twenty-somethings at Goldman Sachs were making a half million, why weren’t they? Salary inflation at the top was contagious. During the 1970s the ratio of CEO pay to the company’s workers was around 20 to 1. By 2012 it went to 350 to 1. And that figure is the average.

These three developments, privatization, Wall Street profligacy, CEO salaries, were not disconnected. It was an imperfect storm, but well thought out. One example of this forward thinking is the so-called Powell Manifesto, his “Confidential Memorandum: Attack of American Free Enterprise System,” written by the future Supreme Court justice Lewis Powell in 1971.

Various commentators claim it “influenced or inspired the creation of the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Accuracy in Academe, and other powerful organizations. Their long-term focus began paying off handsomely in the 1980s, in coordination with the Reagan Administration’s ‘hands-off business’ philosophy.” The memo is a remarkable document, prescient and alarming, though not in general circulation till the 1990s.

The right-wing think tanks were created and the changes to universities certainly came to fruition, though even Powell didn’t foresee the wholesale privatization, or the creation of the one percent, resulting in the current state of income inequality. The one percent/ninety-nine percent phrase was more or less coined in 2011, during the Occupy Wall Street eruption — though a movement largely feckless, the Occupy label has continued, stuck on all sorts of demonstrations.

Our culture values persistence and Bernie Sanders has been persistent. He has two or three things to say and he’s being saying them since he began to run for office in Vermont during the 1970s. What is amazing is that it has taken nearly five decades for his message to be heard. He is the revenge of the Sixties, a pied piper who has captured the young, with the distilled elixir of his (and my) youth. He has stepped out intact from a Sixties time capsule. He doesn’t look like a hippie, a beatnik, no serape or beads, no candles in Chianti bottles.

Bernie Sanders wears suits, but the excesses of the right over the same span have become so egregious, brazen, and successful, that no one, even the least sophisticated (i.e. Trump supporters), can miss or deny it, especially college students who are footing a lot of the bill — just to be educated. The older folk who are solidly in Bernie’s camp tend to be remnants of Ralph Nader-ites; Nader, in his youthful incarnation, was one of Powell’s chief villains in his mordant memo.

And though Bernie is running for the Democratic nomination, his campaign does have the atmospherics of a third party contest. As does Donald Trump’s. There is a divide being created that may turn into a chasm and it is still unknown if it can be healed, if Hillary Clinton ends up the nominee. As Bernie would remember, back in 1968 a lot of the titular Democratic young did not vote for Hubert Humphrey, allowing Nixon’s win, because, as was often said back then, progressives wanted to “heighten the contradictions.” Humphrey lost by less than one percent of the vote. Alas, over the decades, thanks to the Republican right, the contradictions have certainly been heightened.

The Huffington Post version can be found here:

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Accidental Presidencies

Donald Trump isn't the surprise frontrunner he's made out to be. He is the result of a long trend line, heading downwards, in American politics. I wrote a book on the '96 presidential campaign (Campaign America '96), about the second-term election of Bill Clinton running against Bob Dole. Clinton, himself, is an example of the accidental president, insofar as he wouldn't have been elected in 1992 without the wacky intervention of the slightly be-crazed third-party campaign of Ross Perot. Perot dropped out of campaigning and dropped back in at the end. And we think Trump is unstable? Perot, evidently, hated George H. W. Bush and effectively did him in.

George H. W. Bush, Reagan's veep, ran as Ronald's running mate to heal divisions their primary race had caused within the GOP. Bush won his own presidential race in 1988 against the accident of Michael Dukakis, an unfortunate campaigner. (Tank photo, Willie Horton.)

Bush picked Dan Quayle as his veep, a strategic choice, given that it was made to help his sons down the road, since Bush Senior knew the Vietnam War cohort had to be vetted and Quayle would serve as the lightning rod for that debate, after his experience guarding the golf courses of Indiana during his national guard service. Quayle took the heat and made the subject of required military service less inflammatory. Unfortunately for Bush, in '92 he ran against Bill Clinton, the draft-dodging, etc., but Quayle had made all that history less toxic for the Vietnam generation. George W., though, eventually profited from his father's foresight. W was an accidental president, too, since he lost the popular vote and had to be elevated to the office by the Supreme Court.

Elections aren't necessarily always a roll of the dice, but the vagaries of pure chance are often quite spectacular. President Obama's election history demonstrates this: his 2004 Senate race was aided by a sex scandal that knocked out his white Republican opponent, Jack Ryan, and the local Republicans came up with a last minute replacement, the carpetbagger Alan Keyes, who had a bit too much beamed-down-from-the-mothership in his makeup. Recall that Obama had lost his previous primary election bid to congress in 2000.

Keyes had been Bill Kristol's roommate at Harvard. Kristol, of course, played a similar role when Obama ran for president. The default candidate of the Republicans in '96 and 2008 had been an older maimed war veteran, Bob Dole and then John McCain. McCain's fate was sealed when Kristol, among others, recommended the irrepressible Sarah Palin for vice president.

A lot of slips between cups and lips in presidential races. Now, for 2016, we have the new Trump-istan brewing, his chance of being the Republican nominee growing, but The Donald, setting aside his appeal to the angry and alienated, has been, and continues to be, aided by the strange coincidence of two Cuban-Americans (or one Cuban-American and one Cuban-Canadian) making it possible for his dedicated followers to win battles and state primaries no one thought he would win. Who can make this stuff up? Yet, very few horse races have seventeen animals in the starting gates.

Vulgarity in presidential politics, unfortunately for Hillary Clinton, began with Bill Clinton and his Oval Office trysts. Consult the Starr Report paperback for all the graphic details. It's a doozy.

Ceci n'est pas une cigar, as Magritte might have said. Now that Trump's pictorial similarities to Il Duce have been widely noticed, The Donald, our own Herr Mousse-olini, has his followers doing stiff-arm Sieg Heil pledges. It is a little much. Trump is certainly leaning in. But look who he is running against, the two die-hard gusanos, and the placid Ohio governor, splitting the vote disastrously.

The GOP deep bench is laughable. Not that the Democrats have any sort of bench to speak of. Beyond the short-lived campaign of the former white mayor of Baltimore, Governor Martin O'Malley, Democrats have two septuagenarians running. One reason Bernie (U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders) won't be Hillary Clinton's veep is that he is too old. What has happened to both the major parties? I do have a clue. In my 1996 campaign book, I quote an acquaintance saying that the presidency is now middle management and that is why you don't get the best people running for the job.

Back in the Bill Clinton days, Beltway types would refer to "President Rubin," the former secretary of the treasury. Now he had some power. President Obama, after holding office for a while, was quoted as saying one thing he was allowed to do had made him "really good at killing people."

Of course, there are a few other things a president can hope to do. And the American people have seven more months to decide just who that president might be.

Friday, January 29, 2016

My Hillary Problem -- And Yours

For close to a year I have expected Bernie Sanders to embarrass Hillary Clinton in the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries. It now looks as if he well may injure her.
Most Democrats, I assume, thought Bernie would be a salubrious tonic for Hillary, keeping her honest, more or less, during the primary season, and, then, after sufficient chastisement, Bernie having made his points, she would walk off with the nomination, and, given the chaos of the Republican field, win the presidency, if not easily, at least convincingly.
Well, so much for conventional wisdom.
If Sanders wins both Iowa and New Hampshire, the gloom and doom now percolating in the pundit class about Clinton's second presidential campaign will only increase, and, as most history proves, battering primaries injure the eventual nominee, given that they serve as a period of free oppo-research for the other party. Indeed, the Republicans have mostly aimed their ire at Hillary, considering Sanders superfluous, evidently, too easy a target.
Eight years ago Iowa signaled Clinton's likely electoral downfall. It showed white folks would vote for the African-American candidate. In that way, it was the most important primary in presidential election history.
It's at this point difficult not to consider what a Clinton 2 presidency would have looked like back then. Certainly, Hillary would have not shown the naivete that Obama displayed his first term. I have always been surprised that no one took him aside after he won the election and told him, "You know, the last Democrat who won the presidency for two terms was a white good old boy, called Bubba by many, from Arkansas, and you know what the Republicans did to him? They impeached him. What do you think they will do to you, Barack Hussein Obama?"

Hillary, doubtless, would have been more combative from the get-go, not being as easily hoodwinked by the big pharma-medical industry complex, perhaps even not caving in to the no-tax GOP zealots by letting all the Bush tax cuts expire, reverting to her husband's not-so oppressive era of taxation. Why those tax cuts were set to expire was that even the Republican bought-and-paid-for economists couldn't claim the deficit wouldn't balloon if they stayed.
Didn't happen, obviously. Obama persisted in his Rodney King why-can't-we-all-get-along? presidency for too many years. The deficit went down a few times, but only at the price of the country's infrastructure collapsing, corroding, imperiling many here there and everywhere. What may have remained the same in a Clinton 2 presidency is Obama's handling of the Middle East maelstrom. Hard to imagine Hillary doing anything much different.
But now she is haunted by Bill's two terms, thanks mainly to Donald Trump, everyone's naughty Puck in his own gaudy production of his extended Midsummer's Night Dream (or nightmare), abetted by the other players in the Republican crowded cast. The various scandals of Clinton 1 parade around, the sex imbroglios, the Defense of Marriage Act, the end of Glass-Steagall, the deregulation of the big banks, etc.
And the Internet serves up cheap reproductions of all this history as fast as McDonald's puts out french fries.
Not that I don't think Hillary still could win it all. Bernie does make her appear younger. She is well-qualified, though that doesn't appear to be currently part of the job description.

The presidency, as we have seen for the last seven-plus years, has limited powers. Neither Hillary, nor the long-shot Bernie (but not as much of a long-shot as a young black Senator with the middle name of Hussein who ran seven years after 9/11), will have that much weight to throw around, especially if the Supreme Court gelds the office as the conservative justices on the Court seem to want to do this coming June. And the reason most staunch Democrats put up with their flawed candidates is that the president still nominates Supreme Court members.
The coming months of the election cycle may be painful, but they won't lack for morbid entertainment. To turn a well-known Orwell remark around, we all get the presidential campaign we deserve.