Posts Tagged ‘Democrats’

The Thinker

Debbie’s sin and Hillary’s penance: appoint Bernie Sanders the next DNC chair

Debbie Wasserman Schultz is suddenly out as the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Thanks to a WikiLeaks dump of DNC emails and likely due to the largess of the spies for the Russian Republic we have access to all sorts of interesting/trivial/nauseating emails from the staff of the DNC. It paints the not pretty picture of the staff eagerly engaging in activities long suspected: to undercut the candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders and to promote the candidacy of favorite Hillary Rodham Clinton instead.

Favoritism had been documented before the WikiLeaks event. Last December the Sanders campaign had its access taken away from the DNC’s voter database when the DNC didn’t like queries it was making. Access was restored a day or two later perhaps due to a court challenge from the Sanders campaign that cited “irreparable harm” as it needed to target voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. This WikiLeaks dump though paints a pretty grim portrait of DNC staffers and Chair Debbie tipping the scales toward Clinton’s campaign.

So these revelations are not a surprise, but Chair Debbie has hardly been neutral on her feelings about who she thought was the better candidate (hint: she’s a she). She of course is entitled to her opinions, but in her role as DNC chair though she is required to be strictly unbiased, which should have disqualified her from the start. Moreover, she is supposed to set the ground rules and tone for the staff to follow. It was at best a “wink-wink nudge-nudge” game of portraying neutrality. Now with the record of these various emails out there, there is no ambiguity about it and Chair Debbie has walked the plank. She is out, at least as DNC chair.

Also out is any speaking role for her at the convention that the chair would nominally open and close. With Sanders supporters rallying in Philadelphia for the convention, the timing could not have been worse. (It’s unlikely that the WikiLeaks timing was accidental.) Chair Debbie was booed today at a meeting of the Florida Democratic delegation and shortly thereafter she decided not to open and close the convention. She could do Democrats a favor by quietly returning to Florida for the duration of the convention.

You may be wondering why any of this matters. Like me you probably see the leadership of both parties rife with insider corruption. As much as I dislike Donald Trump’s nomination, at least he succeeded where Bernie didn’t, perhaps in part because Republicans don’t have superdelegates. In reality of course the Republican establishment pulled out all the stops to stop Trump, realizing the likely disaster in November. The rank and file though wouldn’t have it and Trump had the money to keep going anyhow. It’s quite clear that Trump was the people’s candidate.

The Sanders campaign was given a more complex chessboard. It’s quite clear now though that he likely could have waged a better campaign, and possibly won the nomination if the DNC had acted impartially as it should have done. By tipping the scales, the DNC hardly lived up to the “democratic” in its name. This of course is the real problem: a party based on democracy (one person, one vote) is not true to itself if it won’t act this way. This is absolutely wrong.

Believe me there are plenty of people at the DNC and institutional Democrats in general that have no problem with these events. “That’s how the game is played,” is what they will tell you: those that run the institution effectively set the rules. They have been doing it for many years, feel they have paid their dues so have few qualms about tipping the scale. Those newbies storming the gate: what do they know? Damn little whippersnappers, acting all so uppity!

No, it is not okay. Here’s why. A party needs to represent those that actually belong to it. When voices in the party that don’t align with the establishment are effectively depreciated, you get a party that is not representative of its members. And that’s important particularly in this election because people are looking for candidates with new ideas.

Of course it’s entirely possible that Clinton would have won the nomination even if the scales had not been tipped to favor her. But we’ll never know for sure. It’s hard for even a Clinton supporter to deny that there was far more energy in the Sanders campaign. Die-hard Sanders supporters were out in the streets of Philadelphia today, many saying they would never vote for Clinton. I doubt they would have been this vocal had the nomination process actually had been fair. These energized Sanders supporters, like them or not, are the future of the Democratic Party. Without them the party will lose touch with its grassroots and become moribund. More importantly the Sanders voters are entitled to the same seat at the table as any Clinton delegate. Disenfranchising Sanders voters actually sets up the Democratic Party to lose future elections. This is the worst sin of all.

It should be not just a firing offense but actually against the law for a political party to favor one candidate over another within its party. Unfortunately each party sets its own rules. Also unfortunately, candidates have to run using with the system they got. When Bernie Sanders calls for a “political revolution” he is saying in part that the way we nominate candidates is broken because it disenfranchises new voices. He tried really hard to break through that. Through bullying and using his wealth Trump made the system work for him. Sanders raised more money than Clinton but with its superdelegates and insider help the Democratic deck was stacked against him. No question. And for that Democrats should be ashamed.

I’m certainly hoping Trump loses, and loses badly in November. If Clinton wins though her victory will always feel a bit tainted. A truly democratic Democratic Party needs to clean house. If the party truly wants to make amends, it’s quite clear who the next party chair should be: Bernie Sanders.

Hillary, I’m waiting to see if you have the leadership to do what’s right here. I’m not holding my breath, but I will hope that your sense of fairness and better nature will prevail.

 
The Thinker

How Bernie Sanders blew it … but also won it

The primary season comes to an end next Tuesday in Washington D.C. where Bernie Sanders is unlikely to win, mostly due to the demographics of the city. Of course it’s been over for Bernie for some time. Tuesday made it semi-official but it was hardly a secret as his path for winning continually narrowed and became more improbable with every passing week.

It’s time for a postmortem, and perhaps now is the best time, as the body hasn’t cooled yet. Where did he go wrong? There are lots of mistakes to point to, some not obvious at the time. For me, I don’t feel like chastising Bernie Sanders. I think his campaign was remarkable. Most Americans had no idea even who he was when he announced his campaign, and yet he ended up with more than forty percent of the pledged delegates. Certainly a lot of it was due to frustrations by Democrats unhappy with Hillary Clinton as a candidate and wanting a different choice. There were other choices (Chafee, Webb and O’Malley) but it soon became clear that only Sanders was a real alternative. Put a wig and a tight dress on the others and they might have passed for Hillary; their policies were basically the same.

However, Bernie was something different and fresh. Mostly, he was authentic in a way few candidates can be today. This was part luck and part wisdom. The lucky part was he was a senator from Vermont, a state with a tiny population. Languishing in the far northeast the state was unseen by the rest of the country. Its small size and insular location made it ideal for a progressive candidate who didn’t want to deal with the usual bullshit of campaigning: the rubber chicken dinner circuit, dialing for donors and needing to compromise principle. The wisdom was knowing that by being an independent he could speak authentically. He joined the Democratic Party very late, and primarily just to have the ability to have a realistic shot at running for president.

Authenticity made him singular among politicians and gave him a real Mr. Smith Goes to Washington feel. It opened up doors to being heard that others did not have. For all her speeches, we basically know what Hillary is going to say, and thus for many of us she feels fake, inauthentic and calculating. With authenticity Sanders could be heard, and we heard a new message that reflected the obvious truth around us: that wealth had purchased the transfer of more wealth from the lower and middle classes to the rich. From any other politician it would have sounded calculating. From Sanders, it was obviously sincere and heartfelt.

While Sanders may have lost the nomination, his ideas are now mainstream and won’t go back in the closet. There are now few Americans that haven’t heard of democratic socialism, know exactly what it means and its potential. It doesn’t surprise me that his message resonated so well with whites. Middle and lower class whites have been getting the shaft, just like everyone else. Both Sanders and Trump appealed to these whites, but Sanders did it in a way that was free of racism. As a result he pulled Hillary Clinton substantially to the left because she had to compete to win these voters. He energized people, but mostly he energized younger voters. He has changed the path for our future. As millennials gain power and displace us older voters, his vision will guide these new leaders. I just hope Sanders lives long enough to see it happen. I think it will.

In a way, he wins by losing. Had he been elected president, his ability to get his agenda done would have been no better than Hillary’s, unless Trump’s candidacy so implodes the Republican Party that Democrats retake both houses of Congress. He doesn’t have to take the fall when Congress discards much of the agenda. But he has lit a fuse that will go off sometime in the future. He has given us a picture of what our country can look like and we can taste it.

Sanders mistakes were many but largely due to naivety. His biggest one was simply not reaching out to minorities. It’s not that women and minorities are that enthused by Hillary; remember that she lost to Barack Obama eight years ago. Sanders hadn’t paid his dues. Yes, he was often marching with civil rights protesters but he didn’t make the connections, mainly because he abstracted their problems into a larger agenda, rather than make an emotional case although he is white he was one of them. As a result he was seen as new and thus dubious to women and minorities. He probably hadn’t planned to run for president. Had he, he might have spent years cultivating this network.

He was to some extent a victim of forces outside of his control. Women in particular are anxious to see a woman president. There was no obvious candidate other than Hillary. While not burdened with the hassle of moneyed connections, not having them left him not agile enough to create them quickly when he started his campaign. Everything had to be built from the ground up. It helped give him authenticity, but the process took too long to reach the necessary critical mass.

In short, the lab dish was just partially cultured for Sanders to grow to a critical mass. But because he was part of this campaign it will be in the future for someone with the skills and was drawn to his message. Then it will be obvious to most that he birthed real change. However, his baby is still en utero.

 
The Thinker

Bernie supporters: vote with your head, not your heart

It’s not much fun when you go from feeling the Bern to feeling the burn. Burns hurt!

I have supported Bernie Sanders’ campaign with actual money and some non-monetary contributions. I voted for him on Super Tuesday. I like his ideas and I liked that he truly energized people and Democrats who were not very engaged in the political process.

Radical change is not easy but as eight years of an Obama administration it’s also true that incremental change is not easy either. These days real change can happen but only when you have a supermajority in Congress and your party controls the White House. In Obama’s case it lasted just two years, but even Obamacare (on which Obama stayed largely detached) was a patchwork compromise, with centrist Democrats pulling a public option out and barely holding together long enough to pass the darn thing. With Hillary Clinton tacitly acknowledging she will have to compromise with Republicans to get things done, her incremental approach is a hard sell. There is no sign that a Republican congress will be anymore cooperative with her than they were with Obama.

Not surprisingly I bet on Sanders but Sanders too is a politician and has an ego. And it’s clear he won’t quite let go of the fact that he won’t win the party’s nomination. And his supporters are fighting – literally – for their candidate. Perhaps you saw online the ruckus at the Nevada Democratic Party Convention where his supporters shouted down opponents and threatened to send chairs hurling at those controlling the meeting. Bear in mind that Hillary Clinton won Nevada, not just its congressional districts but in actual vote tallies. She was entitled to a majority of the delegates. Were Nevada Democratic Party officials a bit tone deaf to the Sanders people? Perhaps. Still, the passion of Sanders supporters crossed a line at the convention. It was disturbing. Naturally I expected the principled Bernie Sanders to call his supporters to task, which he did weakly while complaining their cause was just and that his leadership team had nothing to do with the matter.

This was a souring moment for me. Bernie has been about principles and waging a good fight, but apparently when push literally came to shove, actual fighting is more important than principles. The sorts of actions he and his team are taking are worrisome to say the least. They are trying to convince super-delegates supporting Clinton to support Sanders instead. They have the right to do so, but gently. Supporters though are feeling the Bern by expressing anger and using a combination of harassment and bullying to twist arms, something only Donald Trump could admire. Doing so violates the principles Sanders was campaigning on: democratic socialism; it has to be done democratically. If you come to a convention with fewer pledged delegate than your opponent (Clinton) you can’t credibly make the case that you represent a majority of the Democratic Party. It makes no sense. And Sanders will almost certainly end up in the minority, since he needs more than two thirds of the remaining pledged delegates to win that majority, in spite of a narrow loss in Kentucky and a clear win in Oregon Tuesday night.

What Bernie has accomplished is amazing, but not quite enough. It’s an unpleasant fact, but that’s how it is. More disturbing is how his supporters can’t seem to accept reality and move on. I have a friend who refuses to vote for Hillary if Bernie doesn’t get the nomination. What a stupid and counterproductive thing to do!

I speak from experience because I too once felt not quite the Bern, but the Anderson: John B. Anderson, an independent that ran against Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter in 1980. Like Sanders, Anderson was right on the issues. Voting for him though was like shooting myself in the foot: I took votes away from Jimmy Carter that put Reagan in for two terms and all the wreckage that followed.

So when the 2000 election came around I was wiser and voted for Al Gore instead. Gore won a majority of votes cast, but lost to George W. Bush in Florida, at least according to some based on trying to read the intent of voters who used punch card ballots. Of course that case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately decided it. But it was the good super-liberals voting for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader that really tipped the scales in Florida. As a result Bush won and we got embroiled in a pointless war in Iraq, which has morphed into all sorts of conflicts, including the creation of the Islamic State. All because some people that normally vote Democratic would not. They went with their hearts, not their heads.

Clearly our system of electing presidents is poor. If I had my way we’d have a parliamentary form of government, not the mess we have now with party primaries and caucuses and an electoral college. But we have to work with the system we got, which means that in most elections we voters must put pragmatism over principle. The 2008 election was something of an aberration because we didn’t have to do that. In 2016, we need to go back to the old model.

To every Sanders supporter out there I say simply this: if you don’t vote for Hillary Clinton, refrain from voting or worst of all vote for Donald Trump to spite Hillary Clinton, you are making a catastrophically bad mistake, similar to but actually much worse than the one I made in 1980. Trust me, Trump is much worse than Reagan ever was. Don’t be stupid. It may not be natural, but take your enthusiasm and use it to get Hillary Clinton elected instead. She’s hardly the evil person you think she is. It’s also absolutely critical. Trump cannot and must not be president of the United States and if it happens by narrow margins you will have only yourselves to blame.

 
The Thinker

Dear Pope Francis: you are half the way there

Presumably Pope Francis is now back in Rome and settling in after a whirlwind tour of Cuba and the United States. He’s a pope who is hard to dislike, perhaps because he comes out of the Jesuits. For a pope he is also suspiciously pragmatic.

He was not shy expressing his opinions while in the United States. Mostly they gave Republicans heartburn as he preached to them on subjects they did not want to hear: that poor people had equal rights, that income inequality had to be addressed and that global climate change was a serious problem. He spoke passionately of the refugee crisis affecting mostly Europe and asked America to do its part compassionately. He complained that corporations were not working in the interests of the people as a whole.

Democrats did not wholly escape his preaching. He spoke passionately about the family, but his idea of a family looked a lot like June and Ward Cleaver’s and seemed to exclude marriage for same sex couples. Still, overall it was refreshing to hear messages from a pontiff that were truthful and people-centric. Francis is a catholic in the apostolic and universal sense of the word. He even acknowledged that those who do not believe in God could be good people simply by acting as good people.

It’s not enough to make me return to the Catholic Church. It’s a lost cause in my case, as I don’t believe Jesus was God, and I don’t believe in miracles, saints and most of the peculiar beliefs of Catholics. I’m too left-brained. But his words as well as his actions (like having dinner with homeless people and riding in the back of a Fiat instead of a limousine) convinced me he is a much different pope, beloved as few will be, and acting in the spirit of Jesus. Pope John Paul II was much loved and is even on his way to sainthood, but Pope Francis’ appeal extends significantly beyond the Catholic faithful to much of the world at large.

I really tuned into his message on climate change. He introduced a small ray of hope into a problem that looks gloomy at best and catastrophic to humans and most species on the planet at worst. Perhaps some of his grounding on the matter came from outside the church. Before becoming a priest, Francis worked as a chemist. He earned the rough equivalent of an associate of science degree in chemistry in Argentina. Francis understands enough about chemistry to know that when you introduce too much carbon dioxide into an atmosphere, with no other changes to the system then temperatures will increase and it will affect most living species. He sees the obvious costs of our industrialization and acknowledges that the earth is finite and we cannot continue to exploit the earth’s resources so unintelligently.

What he did not acknowledge was that population growth is a major driver of climate change. Without an end to population growth and probably a long-term effort to reduce the earth’s population, climate change cannot be reversed. Humans drive almost all climate change because we all put demands on the earth simply to survive. The problem is much worse in industrialized societies because with increased standards of living we want more stuff, and this consumption also feeds climate change.

It’s not enough to practice “natural family planning” as a population control solution. The Catholic Church advocates refraining from intercourse during a wife’s fertile period and abstinence as the only non-sinful ways to limit family size. The rhythm method of course is chancy at best, which leaves abstinence as the only foolproof and sinless methods of birth control for devout Catholics. It makes it virtually impossible to be both a devout Catholic and an environmentalist. If you are familiar with Catholic theology then you know that using birth control pills, IUDs and prophylactics are sinful.

If Francis truly wants to take a concrete action to address climate change then simply giving Catholics permission to use these and similar forms of birth control would be a huge step forward. Of course in many parts of the world, people are too poor to afford birth control, so also stridently arguing that governments should make birth control universally available for free to all citizens is as necessary as giving birth control devices church sanction. Among the many benefits will be a reduction in abortions. Children never conceived cannot be aborted.

China’s somewhat loosened one child per family policy was effective at limiting its population growth, but at a horrendous cost. It meant forced abortions mostly of females and arguably wreaked a lot of psychological damage. It’s not hard to envision a time when climate change becomes so pressing that something like this becomes policy in most countries. While it may be necessary to do this simply to survive as a species, such policies would be the opposite of humane.

This doesn’t have to happen. With over a billion adherents, if the Catholic Church were to change its policies on birth control then it would do a huge amount in the medium term to limit population growth and subsequent climate change. It would be a humane step forward. Francis has the power to do this today.

I am not a praying man by nature, but I pray that Pope Francis will see the light on this and very soon. Our future, and the perpetuity of the Catholic Church may depend on it.

 
The Thinker

Election 2016 preview

You need quite a long scorecard to keep track of the people running for president these days. As in 2012, the number is disproportionately high on the Republican side. This time around the number of Republicans running is even higher. As of today there are eleven officially declared candidates: Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, George Pataki, Lindsey Graham, Rick Perry and Jeb Bush. Unannounced candidates will likely include Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal and John Kasich. Fox News and CNN get to figure out how to put them all on a debate stage. As a practical matter they should have two or three debates with subsets of the candidates at each. That way at least there is some chance of a debate.

But will any of them say anything that truly distinguished them from the other candidates? With the exceptions of Rand Paul (who recently tried to kill the Patriot Act) and George Pataki (a suspiciously moderate former governor of New York state) the answer is pretty much “no”. The rest are all cut from the same cloth; they accept the same orthodoxy and thus all kind of blend into the debate stage together. Some are slightly more socially conservative than others, but even Republicans will have a hard time finding any meaningful differences between them.

Some of these candidates could at least be laughed off the stage as simply not credible or for suffering from terminal foot in mouth disease. It appears that shame is no barrier to running for president:

  • Carly Fiorina made a mess during her tenure as Hewlett Packard’s CEO. Despite this and never having held a political office, but she thinks she can lead the country.
  • Shortly after the death of his son Beau to brain cancer recently, Ted Cruz joked about the Vice President.
  • Ben Carson opined that prison makes men gay, as if being a victim of rape in prison makes someone gay. He also said that Obamacare is the worst thing to happen since slavery. Presumably it is worse than two world wars and the Holocaust.
  • Mike Huckabee, referencing Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner, says it would have been convenient to pretend to be a woman when he was growing up so he could have gone into the women’s showers.
  • Rick Santorum, supposedly a devout Catholic, said the pope should shut up about climate change because he’s not a scientist, presumably ignorant that the pope worked as a chemist before joining the priesthood.

So far at least Democratic candidates haven’t suffered much from this problem. Hillary Clinton has learned the hazards of opening her mouth to the press from past campaigns and largely ignores them with listening tours. The closest crazy candidate is not the “Democratic socialist” Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, whose opinions are actually mainstream. No, it’s Lincoln Chafee, former Rhode Island senator, governor and Republican whose announcement the other day at least managed to draw some attention for some controversial opinions. These included proposals that we should negotiate with the Islamic State and that we should embrace the metric system. (Those of us who remember the 1970s remember how popular moving to the metric system made politicians.) Martin O’Malley is running to Hillary’s left. The exception, if he decides to run, is Jim Webb, the only candidate in either party that could be considered a genuine moderate.

How all this will play out at this time is anyone’s guess. Republican candidates figure they can increase their odds of success with affiliated PACs stuffed full of cash, or by quietly getting the endorsement of well funded billionaires like the Koch Brothers or Sheldon Adelson. At the other end is Bernie Sanders, whose campaign is funded through lots of small donations, principally from committed liberal activists. While the effect of money on campaigns will doubtless be an issue in the campaign, every candidate will be doing their best to rake in obscenely large campaign contributions, if they can get them.

Eventually though one or more candidates has to break through somehow. Hillary Clinton arguably has already broken through with her wide name recognition and her wide approval among women of all parties. On the Republican side it’s much less clear who will break through. One strategy is to see who can hold on the longest and generally that means the candidate with the most money, i.e. the Jeb Bush strategy. Occasionally a distinct personality will emerge that tickles Republicans. All bets though are off on who this will be. Already sure things (Chris Christie and Jeb Bush) look like has beens. Last time Mitt Romney won in part because he looked like he could bring in non-Republicans. Fewer Republicans are willing to try what they see as a failed strategy. If I had to place my money on a Republican candidate right now, I’d probably go with Scott Walker, who’s not even announced yet.

The general election dynamics are in great flush as well, with much riding on who wins the nomination and the extent to which they excite both their base and moderates. Obama won in 2008 because he was seen as very different and thus exciting. Hillary won’t seem at all fresh but she can draw excitement from women, who comprise a majority of voters anyhow. If so 2016 could be a wave election favoring Democrats. Lacking a wave election much will depend on how enthusiastic voters are in general. Also voter disenfranchisement is a considerable factor and will tend to tilt things toward Republican states where it exists.

What’s unknown is what the sleeper issues, if any, will be. Bernie Sanders seems to speak for a lot of people. He is dragging the Democratic Party in general to the left, which could be dangerous in a general election. But many of his issues are issues most Americans feel strongly about but candidates aren’t seriously addressing, such as a living wage. If voter apathy can be harvested, the political dynamics might move sharply toward the left, at least in the Senate and in presidential races. Gerrymandering has made it unlikely that Democrats can regain the house before 2022.

So who eventually wins really depends on whom we choose to focus on and why. Will we choose to be dazzled by showmanship and money, or will we vote based on common values? Few candidates are speaking to the political moderates. The candidate that can do this and win their party’s nomination is the one likeliest to be our next president.

 
The Thinker

Not quite ready for Hillary

To no one’s surprise, Hillary Clinton is planning to finally confirm that yes, she is running for president in 2016. This will happen probably via a Twitter post tomorrow that will link to a video of her announcement. Officially she’s been undecided, but given all the backstage machinations going on within the Clinton camp it’s been obvious for months if not years that she was going to run. Thence she will be off on a listening tour. She has learned from previous campaigns that she does better when she is not giving speeches and when she is seen as relatable.

I hope I am not the only one out there feeling underwhelmed. It’s not that I can’t support her for president, particularly since there is not a sane Republican running for president. Hillary for President sounds about as exciting to me as a bowl of mushy oatmeal for breakfast. Maybe it’s good for me but most mornings I don’t want to eat it. I’m not sure who I am looking for, but it’s not Hillary Clinton.

For most on the Democratic left, the choice would be Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA), who will soon be my senator. I could get behind her of course if she were going to run, which she is not, even though I doubt she would be an effective president. She has been quite clear about not wanting to run for president. Hillary is not quite without competition. Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley is running, some say in the hope to end up on her ticket. Former Republican governor of Rhode Island and Democratic senator Lincoln Chafee sounds like he will be running. And former Virginia senator Jim Webb sounds like he might do the same.

O’Malley is definitely politically left but is otherwise uninspiring. Lincoln Chafee is virtually unknown outside his tiny home state. Jim Webb is an intriguing possibility. He was a decent if unconventional senator, without much in the way of accomplishments for his six years in the senate, but with lots of interesting ideas that succumbed to the usual partisanship. Webb seemed happy to leave after a single term. However, Webb likes to flit from thing to thing. Flitting with the presidency is his current thing. He would be the closest thing to a non-controversial and mainstream candidate that the Democrats could nominate. Hillary brings baggage.

With Hillary I think: Is this really the best we can do? Perhaps so. Hillary hits all the right demographics. She is broadly popular, particularly among women. She is well known and won’t surprise us. We know all her dirt and in particular we know all of her husband’s dirt. We have seen her as First Lady, senator, candidate and secretary of state. As First Lady she was seen as uppity and controversial. As a senator she learned to be toned down and conventional. She also made some really bad calls, such as voting for the Iraq War resolution. As a candidate in 2008 she ran an overly scripted, haughty and very flawed campaign that was as exciting as, well, my bowl of morning oatmeal. Her only real political success was as our Secretary of State. That’s not a bad asset to bring to the presidency. Like it or not, foreign policy will occupy much of the next president’s time. It’s not something that voters will care much about.

What does she bring to a campaign? She brings an I’m not one of those nutty Republicans, pretty much any of whom with the possible exception of Jeb Bush are unelectable. Mostly she brings the undeniable fact that she is a woman with a serious chance of winning her party’s nomination. Seeing the mess so many men have made of the presidency, we’d like to see a female in that post in the hopes that she would bring more pragmatism and common sense to the office. Certainly the tone would be different, wouldn’t it?

Perhaps but tone doesn’t change much. The power dynamics will not change much when Obama exits stage right and if Clinton enters stage left. The senate has a decent chance of returning to Democratic control in 2016, but unless there is a huge wave election for Hillary the House will stay with the GOP. Districts are too tightly gerrymandered for a switch there. Democrats really have to hope they can win sufficient power in key states in 2020 when the next census takes place. Any first term for Hillary Clinton would look a lot like Obama’s current term.

So electing Hillary certainly won’t solve the gridlock in Congress or change the overall political dynamics. It would not surprise me if Republican misogyny toward Hillary replaces their obvious racism toward Obama. Clinton would certainly do her best to keep the status quo in place: no major changes on the Supreme Court or changed to entitlements. In that sense her presidency would feel comfortable. The biggest political problem today is actually within the Republican Party. They don’t know what they stand for. The libertarians and Wall Street Republicans loathe the social conservatives and visa versa. The party refuses to come down to earth and wants to chase bogeymen and impossible goals. Just like modern Christianity bears no resemblance to the religion Jesus founded, today’s Republican party bears no resemblance to Ronald Reagan’s vision of the party. It’s become impossibly twisted and bizarrely out of the mainstream.

A vote for Hillary is really a vote for more of the same, which is not necessarily bad given that with the reigns of power Republicans would likely be doing insane things like turning over our national parks to the private sector. However, there is nothing compelling about her candidacy, nothing to inspire voters other than she is a woman, and no coherent and inspiring message to rally around. The power of such a message should not be discounted. It provided a mandate for Barack Obama in 2008 and both a Democratic House and Senate. Real change happens when people have a strong motivation to vote, not just for a candidate, but also for candidates supporting a distinct and credible platform.

Given Clinton’s cautious nature, we are likely to see more of her 2008 campaign. It is likely to be carefully scripted and stage-managed. It will be a cautious and focus group tested campaign rather than a bold one. If Hillary were a man instead of a woman, would any of us vote for her with the same interest and enthusiasm? I doubt it. She would be another milquetoast Martin O’Malley, but much more centrist and likely less inspiring.

So I’m not ready for Hillary. I probably never will be. I can’t see myself voting for any of the crazy Republican candidates. If she wins the nomination she will likely get my vote. Unless she can demonstrate a passion and a compelling vision I’ve never seen from her I’ll probably dutifully vote for her. I just won’t feel inspired doing so.

 
The Thinker

What 2014 midterms gave Republicans, 2016 is likely to take away

Republicans can be forgiven for crowing about their election wins this month. It’s a glorious feeling to control Congress, even though control means limited power when the White House is in a different party’s hands. No question about it. They did great. They gained eight seats in the Senate, and are likely to gain a ninth after the Louisiana runoff election. They gained twelve seats in the House as well, for a total of 244 out of 435 seats, or 56% of seats, their largest majority since the Eisenhower era. Republicans picked up two governorships, including in surprising states like Massachusetts and Maryland. Republicans also won seven more state chambers, giving them control of the most state legislatures since the start of the Great Depression.

While Republicans did great, they also failed. Their failure was that they did not convince new voters to vote Republican. What they have done is tighten their grip on the states they do control. This was a result of several factors, and includes disinterested voters, energized Republicans and their extreme gerrymandering, plus not a little voter suppression. In short, they stacked their own decks. The South is now a greater shade of red that ever before, but there is little evidence that the color has leached into other states. While governorships in two blue states went their way, there is no evidence that they have changed the tendencies of Massachusetts and Maryland voters to vote for Democrats. These new governors will continue to govern with legislatures controlled by Democrats.

Mainly Republicans were elected because the Democrats put up poor candidates. In Maryland, voters had to choose between their lieutenant governor who really had no accomplishments, but one debacle: overseeing the disastrous rollout of Maryland’s health care exchange. In Massachusetts, Martha Coakley ran a dispirited campaign reminiscent of her loss to Scott Brown some years earlier. Democrats in general ran lousy campaigns this cycle, running away from President Obama’s generally solid accomplishments while offering little in the way of solid accomplishments of their own. It’s no wonder that only 38% of eligible voters voted, a record low turnout. The rest stayed home because there was little to go to the polls for.

After such losses, only stupid Democrats would rest on their laurels. My senator, Mark Warner, came within a percentage point of being an ex-senator. Still, as I mentioned before, generational demographics are becoming inexorable. This is no more obvious that in the 2016 electoral map. Solid and likely Democratic states in presidential votes add up to 257 electoral votes, while Republicans have only 149 electoral votes. 270 are needed to win. Republicans are unlikely to nominate a moderate that might give them a chance at winning. Democrats would have to nominate someone that turns off their base not to lock in their 257 electoral votes. With Hillary Clinton the presumed Democratic nominee, all she has to do is run a conventional campaign that stays on message and she is likely to be our next president.

Republicans picked up so many senate seats in 2014 because they had an almost ideal hand. Democrats had to defend 13 seats in red or purple states. Six seats were needed and Republicans got what looks like 9 of them. In 2016, it’s payback time. Republicans have to defend 24 seats, and 18 of those seats look very competitive. Since Democrats come out to vote in presidential years, it’s likely that Mitch McConnell’s tenure as majority leader will be short lived. The odds that Democrats will recapture the Senate in 2016 are probably greater than 80 percent, despite Republicans impressive Senate wins in 2014.

Republicans can expect to continue to do well in statewide races in 2016, but there are still plenty of warning signs in the decade to come. North Carolina is reliably purple, at least in presidential and senate races, and Georgia’s demographics are swinging this way as well. Even Texas looks vulnerable, and its gerrymandering and disengaged Democrats have kept Republicans’ luck from slipping. At least on the federal level, Republicans look like they may have peaked. Control of the House will continue for sometime, but that is primarily a factor of their heavily gerrymandered states.

One sign that Republicans are not connecting with voters is to see how various propositions fared. A proposition to raise the minimum wage in Arkansas of all places passed handily. The NRA suffered a defeat when Washington State voters passed a background checks bill. Medical marijuana initiatives passed pretty much everywhere. About the only part of the conservative message that resonates with voters are taxes. Marylanders voted in a Republican governor because Democrats passed one tax too many. All that other stuff that Republicans care about, voters overall mostly don’t like. This includes their opposition to gay marriage, an aggressive foreign policy, hostility toward immigration reform, their obvious racism and their contempt for solutions to global warming. In addition in solid blue states, Democrats retained all their seats. They added to their majorities in states like Oregon and California. Jerry Brown was easily reelected governor in California.

A wise Republican strategist would look at these 2014 results and realize they are fundamentally false and a result of a stacked deck. Yes, they won and won impressively, but overall their message did not connect. Voters who bothered to vote voted mostly against the status quo. They can pat themselves on the back for an impressive voter turnout campaign and for maximizing voter suppression efforts. However, these are firewall strategies. They do not change the fundamental dynamics that are underway in this country. Republicans can’t win nationally solely on their solid red bases in the south and middle of the country. And it’s likely their voter suppression tactics won’t work much longer. They need to offer a compelling message to the middle, and they have none other than perhaps limited government. That message may sell. Unfortunately, Republicans are selling austere government, where voters want limited government.

They do have two years to demonstrate that they can govern, but there is little sign that they will do anything differently than they did the last six years. Obstruction is not governance, and while it worked for them in 2014 it is likely to work against them in 2016.

As they say, what goes around comes around.

 
The Thinker

Election 2014 postmortem

The victors write the history they say. Those who show up write election results. That Republicans won a majority of the U.S. senate last night, as well as added to their majority in the House, did not surprise me at all. The only thing surprising was that Democrats did not do worse.

Democrats were of course hopeful, but most of us did not have a misplaced hope. Midterms tend to favor the power out of party, particularly in a president’s second term. Republicans also had an almost ideal environment for making gains. Many seats, particularly in the Senate, were ripe for the picking because Democrats held them in Republican leaning states. So it’s no surprise that it’s goodbye David Prior and Kay Hagan.

In general where there was some hope of Democrats eking out a victory, they didn’t, and that was due to the general dynamics of who took the time to vote: mostly Republicans. Republicans voted disproportionately because they cared more about the election, and that was because they are out of political power, not to mentioning their ever-festering hatred of Obama. Democrats did not vote for the most part and stayed home, same as in 2010. With rare exceptions, Democrats only exercise their majority during presidential years.

Unquestionably there were dynamics that made it harder for Democrats. One of the overriding themes was Obama fatigue. The truth is most of the events Obama got dinged for yesterday were beyond his control, but certainly Obama has set a tone since his reelection that has turned off many. He used to be seen as cerebral and cool. Now he is seen as haughty and detached. Mitt Romney would have been just as stymied and ineffectual addressing Ebola and the rise of the Islamic State as Obama. Actually, it is likely he would have been more ineffectual, as government spending would likely be lower if he were president, and there would be fewer resources to draw upon.

Democratic candidates, who tend toward cowardice, exacerbated the problem by running away from Obama in their reelection and election campaigns. The underlying dynamics of our economy are actually pretty good. Those millions of jobs that Mitt Romney promised to create in four years? Obama created all of them in less than two years. Inflation is at historic lows. Unemployment is below six percent. No modern president has been better for stockholders in recent times. All this is good for the economy, but very little of this prosperity trickled down, mostly due to obfuscation by Republicans on issues like increasing the minimum wage. Voters though simply look at their own pocketbooks and if they don’t see prosperity they blame it on whoever is in charge. The truth is that both parties share blame here. The failure of prosperity to move toward the middle class is a result of dysfunctional government, not of Democratic governance in particular. Republicans would simply not play ball with Democrats these last six years, and it has proven to be a good political strategy for them.

By voting for Republicans, voters simply heaped on the dysfunction and kicked any real solutions to our problems to 2016, where they probably won’t be resolved again. The sad reality is that we voted last night to point fingers, not to solve any real problems. So among those applauding the results last night were our enemies. Barring some summoning of the national will that seems absent, this election simply contributes to the likely demise and dis-unification of the United States of America. In that sense we hammered a nail in our own coffin.

 
The Thinker

Progress through moderation, or why you should eat your vegetables

Do you want to know why so little is getting done in Washington, D.C.? In my humble opinion, it’s because of the absence of moderate legislators. Granted, this would not have been obvious to me a dozen years ago. But today, as I see the actual result of virtually totally polarized government, I am starting to understand that if anything meaningful is to happen in our government, it will require electing a lot of moderates.

DailyKos (where I guiltily hang out regularly) is a progressive on-line community and is all about electing what it calls “better” Democrats. Yes, we’ll vote for a moderate Democrat if there is no other choice. A moderate Democrat counts as well as a liberal Democrat when claiming a majority, and a majority holds the bulk of the power in a legislature. What they really want though are very liberal Democrats: the green tea drinking, carbon-neutral, gay-friendly, single-payer type of Democrat. The thinking goes that if we get enough of them elected, we’ll actually become a green country with marriage rights for all. Naturally, over at sites like Red State, they are recruiting the Ted Cruzes of the Republican Party. It seems like there is no logical end to how deeply conservative they want their candidates to be. Lately the litmus test includes repealing the amendment that allows for the direct election of senators.

I am all for green tea drinking, carbon-neutral, gay-friendly, single-payer Democrats, at least in the abstract. It’s when we actually get them to Congress and need them to legislate that it usually all goes to hell. This is because they are trying to legislate with the other side, which is also polarized. The more partisan you are, the less likely you are to accommodate suggestions from the other side. It’s my way or the highway. And so you get episodes like last October’s government shutdown, a costly and deeply counterproductive boondoggle. You get highly principled legislators so principled they cannot do what they were sent to Congress to do: legislate. Instead, they spend their time complaining.

Congress has given up on the deliberative process. Most committee chairmen spend their time promoting their party’s grievances with the other party, not working on legislation. Congress simply isn’t weighing the nation’s needs anymore. About all they can agree on, and only after a lot of warring, is to continue spending at about the same level we spent the year before. There is little in the way of direction to the agencies of government on how to spend money.

Unsurprisingly, when Congress refuses to do its job, the president gets antsy. We saw it on display at the State of the Union address. President Obama basically said that if Congress is going to sit on its hands, he will act. He’ll use the full measure of his executive powers to make change happen. This, of course, ticks off the Republicans in Congress, and leads to silly vitriol like the president is a Nazi or a dictator. This of course ignores that presidents of both parties have routinely pushed the boundaries of executive power. It was not that long ago when Democrats were complaining about President Bush’s many signing statements, basically saying which parts of a law he will choose to enforce. There is little evidence that President Obama has taken his executive authority to such absurd levels.

There is a solution to this problem: enacting real legislation. Real legislation is not the fiftieth vote by the House to repeal Obamacare, but it might be a reasonably bipartisan vote to change some unpopular aspects of it, perhaps the president’s not entirely true claim that if you like your health policy, you can keep it. That would reflect some debate and consensus. It would also acknowledge reality that the Affordable Care Act is here to stay, so we might as well amend it rather than foolishly think we can abolish it. To actually do this though you first have to acknowledge that you can’t always get what you want. You have to, like, compromise.

Democrats are no better. The people at DailyKos want a Congress full of senators like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. I like and admire both senators. But I also know if the Democratic-side of the Senate were nothing but Elizabeth Warrens and Bernie Sanders not a whole lot of legislation would get enacted into law. Our polarized Congress would just get more polarized.

There are exceptions of course. Great change can be made when one party seizes control of both the White House and the Congress. That’s how the imperfect Affordable Care Act got enacted. It’s how social security became law. It’s great for the party in charge when this happens, but it is invariably a fleeting experience. For the party out of power, these laws simply get their dander up. You can bet when they get power again, as happened to Republicans after the 2010 elections, their pent up resentment will be felt. In the case of House Republicans, it meant fifty fruitless votes to repeal Obamacare. More importantly, it also meant that they controlled the power of the purse, since appropriation legislation must originate in the House. And so we got fiscal cliffs, reduced stimuli and endless brinkmanship over debt ceilings, not to mention boatloads of Tea Partiers. We also got dysfunctional government. That was the price of Obamacare.

Electing “better” (i.e. more extreme) Republicans and Democrats simply ensures more of the same. So at some point a rational voter must ask themselves: is this really in my best interests? Is it really in the nation’s best interest? Does it really make sense to, say, not do anything serious about global climate change until my hypothetically green-friendly legislature is in power because the other side is being so unreasonable?

My answer is no. It’s in both my interest and the nation’s interest to do something about these issues, even if only half measures and imperfect. This is because time is our most precious commodity, and we are spending our future by doing nothing today. Hence, I need to be pragmatic about who I vote for.

I am not thrilled with Mark Warner as my senator. He’s a Democrat, but he’s very middle of the road and business-friendly, and arguably more than a little worker-hostile. However, he has crossover appeal. Even in this partisan climate he is working with Republican senators to try to move legislation, even though it seems impossible much of the time. The nation needs a lot more senators like Mark Warner, even though I do not agree with him on many issues.

The choice is like eating your vegetables instead of a slice of greasy pizza. I’d prefer the pizza any day, but I need to eat my vegetables instead. Ultimately, both I and my country will be better off if I put that clothespin on my nose and pull the lever to reelect Mark Warner. The logical part of my brain tells me I need to reelect him. The emotional side of me though wishes Elizabeth Warren would move to Virginia, so I could vote for her instead.

For the sake of my country, I’ve got to use my left brain.

 
The Thinker

Cruising into denial

The good news is that our cruise was perfectly timed. We missed a second massive polar vortex by escaping to the Caribbean via a cruise ship. Moreover, we did not spend it vomiting by catching the Norovirus, unlike the unlucky passengers of the Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas and the Caribbean Princess. Despite these risks, I am definitely starting to see the appeal of being a snowbird. Winter is not bad and it can be pretty and invigorating. But when it goes on too long, or it gets too cold, or when there are no breaks of cold weather, and when you are sick of the sun slipping behind the horizon by five p.m., maybe it’s time to be in southern latitudes for a while. It worked for us. I am still red in the face, despite the sunscreen. With luck it will last for a while.

The bad news is when we came home on Monday we were back into the thick of the cold weather. We missed the worst of the recent cold and snow. But it was still in the mid 30s, and this was sure not Aruba. Our car, twelve days on the BWI long-term parking lot, anemically came back to life. We were greeted to the traditional slow traffic on the beltway and by a mixture of snow and frost covering the front lawn. We may need to deal with a massive snowfall next week too. In short, we’ve been vortexed. We should get above freezing tomorrow but for three mornings in a row it was 8, 9 and 6 degrees Fahrenheit in the morning. Temperatures in the 40s will feel like a heat wave.

Earlier on Monday morning, we grabbed a quick breakfast in the dining room of our cruise ship as we waited for our call to disembark. Unless you holler, you usually get paired up with some other couple. You know you have been on a cruise ship too long when you recognize people and some of their names because you had long conversations with them over dinner. I had a few passengers call me by name on the cruise ship. Most of these people are fine to dine with.

Occasionally you get a crank. We got a couple from southwest Florida on Monday morning in the Vista Dining room of the Noordam. After a long digression about the man’s stroke fifteen years earlier, we of course talked about the cold weather, although weather in Fort Lauderdale was already nearing eighty. Doubtlessly parroting Fox “News”, the gentleman we were with expressed the opinion that global warming and climate change were bunk. Look at that polar vortex freezing most of the United States. Case closed.

It’s quite a challenge for me to remain civil in these circumstances. Most people choose to see what they want to see, particularly viewers of Fox “News”, which is fair and balanced, as long as you don’t count the “fair” and “balanced” part. But when you are a white couple in your sixties like this couple, you live in a deeply red part of the state and you have been on 64 (yes, that’s what they said) cruises, you are obviously swimming in money and, when not on a cruise ship, probably living in a gated community somewhere where you can spout crap like this with conviction.

I gently pointed out news reports that temperatures in Rio de Janeiro recently reached a crushing 110 degrees. The southern hemisphere is in its summer, which also means out in Oz (Australia) temperatures are close to these stratospheric levels too. 106 degrees is forecast in Adelaide on Saturday, and there are the now usual brushfires to deal with, meaning there is a catastrophic fire rating in southeast Australia. Hopefully, these brush fires won’t destroy more Australian homes, but it’s becoming usual to have summers where hundreds of homes down under succumb to flames caused by fires created by these long and excessive heat waves. When we returned home and read the news, I learned that the temperature in Alaska reached 62 degrees in Port Alsworth. In general, the west coast is warmer and drier this winter than normal, due to the shifting jet stream, which is pumping the warmer air northward along the west coast, but otherwise is freezing the east coast. More than half of California is experiencing a severe drought. But of course, because the news is full of reports about negative degrees Fahrenheit across most of the northern states, it means to some that global warming must be bunk.

People wonder why scientists are overwhelmingly Democrats. It’s because they cannot deny the obvious, and they examine the totality of evidence before making assertions. For a Republican, if there is a polar vortex it means there is no climate change. If there is an excessive heat wave, it’s an aberration and evidence of nothing. Democrats though are looking at the earth as a system. And on average, in spite of the polar vortex, the earth is warm and getting warmer. It obviously doesn’t mean the world in general is cooling down.

I didn’t press my logic too far with this couple. I knew from experience it would engender some hostility. We simply had to finish a quick meal and the price was right, even if we had to sit with a couple that admired Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. Keep pleasant. Keep positive. Keep civil. Smile, but don’t smirk.

It may be inconvenient, but neither Fox “News” nor Rush Limbaugh can change the laws of chemistry. When you keep adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, more heat is going to be retained from the sun, on average, than otherwise and that means it’s going to be hotter. Rent a chemistry lab and do the experiment for yourself. So things are going to get warmer until we stop pumping these gases causing global warming into the atmosphere. Maybe God can move mountains, but he never has, at least not unless you count over eons. God isn’t going to change the laws of chemistry and physics simply because it disagrees with our prejudices.

I hate to give up cruising. Fortunately, this couple was not typical of those we sat with. But I may need a special cruise next time: where only sane people are allowed to board. The stupid: sometimes it does not just burn; it flares.

 

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