Election 2016

There Are Lessons Here, Part Two

Last time, I made the point that the Democratic platform is remarkably goal oriented and detail-focused. And the Republican message is negative and angry and very dour.

It’s something that people have noticed and commented on. And then, somehow, forgot.

Meanwhile, the internet and media wait anxiously for the daily barrage of tweets from Trump that just reinforce how totally unfiltered he is. And I understand that his lack of a filter is a big selling point to those who support him, but really, turn it around for a minute, people: do you really want people to express their opinions about you without a filter? No. The answer is simply no. So doing it to someone else is just rude. And stupid. Because regardless of whether the opinion is right or wrong, being insensitive and unfiltered on a scale like what is given to the President of the United States is reckless and puts the nation in more danger than it may or may not be.

Which brings me back to a central question: to those who have pushed so hard for the political outsiders (you hard-core Sanders supporters, and the Trump-supporting elements of the right), why have you given up on pragmatism? The Republicans have staked everything this cycle on one unstable man who clearly can’t stay on message, doesn’t understand the difference between respectful debate and name-calling, and who is as far removed from the middle class as just about anyone in this nation can be. They’ve opted for a platform that realistically only appeals to a very small group of people–a group, by the way, which is remarkably white, Christian, and quite probably male; and any female and racially diverse groups who happen to latch on are the extremely rare cases. In the end, this rush to the far right, to a stance that abhors cooperation and compromise, that insists on absolutes and a refusal to budge from a world view that is myopic at best, could prove deadly to the party and even extremely detrimental to their own cause. Why be willing to commit political suicide and risk everything to make a point?

(And there’s a valid point there, though the Sanders campaign expressed it much more intelligently than the right: politics have gone off the rails and are allowing small groups and the wealthy and an entrenched political elite to steer the nation. These groups have historically given up enough power to keep the masses happy while still holding on to their control. But over the last 4 years, the Republican congress demonstrated that the idealogues had wrested enough power to actually freeze the legislative branch in its tracks. I blame the Republican party for this inaction, because they couldn’t manage to forge any agreements in their own caucus to break the many impasses. So once the far right saw what power they could wield, of course they’re going to go for the brass ring.)

But it still raises the question: why play this as an all-or-nothing battle? Which is still a very real possibility–though the Democrats are being ham-handed about how they’re playing the local races across the country and aren’t focusing their message as strongly as the Republicans. Is the end goal not the influence to actually form our national policy, but instead to destroy the party system? If it’s the latter, then it’s a risky game, because it’s a tense time in the world to pull this kind of destabilizing bullshit.

But here’s an even deeper and almost more troubling thought: if your values and beliefs are unimportant enough that you’re willing to blow up your own party and give up any political influence you have, how is anyone to accept that you really believe in them? I’ve got to admit that this is the one that troubles me a lot. Because I understand the anger. And I understand the mistrust. And I appreciate the passion with which many of you argue your points. But if in the end, destroying the Republican party and removing RINOs from power (Republicans In Name Only–basically, people who aren’t conservative enough) is the ultimate goal, then your values and platform is merely a tool.

In short, you’re playing a game of politics, too. A very shrewd game that doesn’t respect the ordinary people who support some of the same things you do. A game that supposedly you’re fighting against.

Need more convincing? Take a look at Sanders supporters who are considering voting Libertarian. Or Socialist. I’m not going to say you’re throwing away your vote, because it’s important to participate and vote. But just think about the ramifications if the race were tied between Clinton and Trump. And let’s say that there are 10% of the voters undecided. You need to consider pragmatism here. If you’re a Sanders supporter, and Clinton and the Democratic platform reflects 75% of his platform (which it does), then voting for Clinton gives you a better chance at having 75% of what you want. Voting for Trump or any of the other candidates (or no one) is necessarily a vote against Clinton. And none of the other candidates represents that same 75% of Sanders’ platform. You can send the message to Clinton and the Democrats that you’re tired of their games and vote against them and hope they lose, but remember this one point: it’s extremely difficult to get into the political game as an independent or a third party from the outside than it is to work within the inside. If you help elect your party and continue to be engaged in the political process, you can force change within your party much more easily than trying to influence it from the outside.

So what’s important here? The politics? Or the platform? That’s what I’m anxious to see.

Election 2016

There Are Lessons Here, Part One

The conventions are over. And in spite of being very busy for the last few months and not having the time or inclination to post here, I did watch quite a bit of the conventions. With those in mind, here are some takeaways.

The conventions were what they always are: long-winded, hyper-patriotic babble-fests focused on besmirching the other side and making just a few mentions of their own platforms. But in the end, the presumptive nominees of each major party became the actual nominees, VP candidates were selected, and the campaigning, such as it is, has finally begun in earnest. And so has the complaining. On both sides.

First off, let’s begin with some givens:

  1. Both campaigns this year have made an art out of going out of their way to get in their own way.
  2. No, neither candidate is really that appealing as a candidate FOR the presidency, so voting against the other appears to be the only option.
  3. There were better candidates either with a stronger message or a better chance of being elected who aren’t in the final mix.

As with just about every other political junkie in this country, I came out of each convention with a bunch of questions, wondering how things have come to this point, and who let these things happen.

For instance: For a convention that borrowed Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan, it was remarkably negative. Which made me wonder: is the whole of the Republican platform and viewpoint reflective of that negativism? The answer, it seems, is yes. To hear them tell it, God–at least the Christian God which, the right asserts, is the entire foundation of our nation–is being forced out of the nation, in favor of Islam. Or Godlessness. Because current leadership is anxious to import Muslims who’ve had their lives torn up by civil war in their home countries. The whole of the GLBT community is on a quest to destroy Christianity by forcing their morals into law through court cases, to the point that sometime soon, the entire Supreme Court roster will be forced to wear rainbow robes over garish underwear whilst singing our new national anthem, which will be any Judy Garland song.

Our freedoms, the Republicans asserted, are being taken away–though there was no actual mention of which liberties or how and when they’ve been taken away–and there was always the constant threat of having the 2nd Amendment repealed and the government coming to claim all the guns. Illegal immigration is a threat. Socialism is a threat. Obamacare is a threat. Crime is a threat. ISIS is a huge threat. The economy’s a disaster. And instead of substantive solutions, we were presented with a Chris Christie-led indictment of Hillary Clinton regarding her emails and Bengazi, and a rambling, run-on diatribe by Donald Trump who kept promising to tell us what he’d do as president, but never once actually mentioned an achievable policy (and don’t count the wall. Congress, regardless of who controls them, will never release the money needed to build the wall, even if getting paid for it by Mexico was an absolute lock).

It struck me by the time things finally wrapped up late that Thursday night that it was 4 solid days of depressing, anger-filled assurances that the world is a shit hole and likely won’t ever come back. And that made me wonder: how in the hell do you actually run a national campaign on that?

It isn’t a platform as much as it is a horror film. In the end, the Republicans have clung to basically 2 ideas for the campaign: Hillary deserves to be jailed and not put in the White House, and everything’s horrible because of Obama’s policies. What? Congress passes the laws, you say? And that’s been controlled by the Republicans for how long? And what’s shocking is that they’ve actually decided this is their whole national platform, to the point that if you’ve seen any local ads, the same theme is waved in some form or another. Here in Minnesota, Stewart Mills is running against the incumbant Rick Nolan (again), and released ads that are banging the same ISIS/Islamic/Syrian immigration drum that Trump is.

I’m to the point where I’m really wondering if these messages will actually reach and convert any more people. Because it’s tired, and mean spirited, and deep down, I believe that people in this nation are thankfully not predominantly of the “America First” viewpoint that Trump has been espousing. We’re smarter and more open-minded than that.

Which brings us to the Democratic side, where Hillary should have an easy time of it, except that she continues to be the smartest person in the room with the best ability to shoot herself in the foot.

She screwed up when it came to the email server. Period. End of story. So when the story came to light, the correct response was to immediately own up to it and issue a deep, broad, heart-felt apology, acknowledging it was wrong, and saying it will never happen again because she has learned her lesson. Because when you apologize in such a way that people empathize with you over the mistake, they’re likely to tune things out when the other side tries to keep the story in the headlines. But like every six-year-old caught doing something wrong, Clinton’s first response to every charge is some take of “What? No. Not me, not ever. Others made me do it. Others did it before, I was just copying them. I didn’t do anything wrong!” It’s disingenuous. It comes off as lying, even if it isn’t. And the problem is that through all scandals in her life since she’s been a public person, she’s always said the same things. So naturally, people have to wonder where the transparency is.

She has her brilliant moments, though. She is a practiced, genius politician. Bernie had a great chance of winning the nomination, except that when Clinton finally realized she was in real trouble, she modified her positions, moved further to the left, embraced large chunks of the Sanders platform, and made the arguments as if they were her own, and Sanders couldn’t recover from that. When her numbers began going back up, she proved to many that she could carry the banner and actually win the election.

Sure, that’s pragmatism, but it’s how politics in this nation has operated for a couple of centuries, now. Those who aren’t pragmatic go the way of the Whigs. Remember them?

Part Two coming tomorrow.



The Fault In Our Politics

I was reading  piece online that, while intriguing, isn’t worth linking to here, but brought up an interesting point which can be echoed across the political spectrum in this country as we hurtle ceaselessly toward another glorious presidential election next year.

The writer’s entire point was that they are totally turned off by politicians they’d otherwise support, and in fact, have supported in the past. They’re turned off by the process and the bickering within their own party over the last year. And at this point, they see no alternative but to not even participate in the process next year.

To be fair, while this was aimed specifically at the Republican party, this could probably be said about the Democrats too. And it illustrates the larger issues dividing this nation. So let’s look at these complaints in a broad way, because specifics would take forever…

The writer was saying that after the midterm sweep in congress, there was an expectation that the Republicans would do what they’d promised: overturn the Affordable Care Act, fix the budget problems that have been an open wound on the side of congress for so many years now, make some moves on the social agenda, and truly make Obama a lame duck for the last two years of his term. But we all know that virtually nothing has been done. In fact, in thinking about it, I’m hard pressed to even come up with anything meaningful that congress HAS passed.

And that makes me disappointed in the Democrats. Because they clearly haven’t been trying to advance any kind of agenda, either. To top it off, it feels like the last year in politics has actually been owned and driven by the Supreme Court, which should alarm even those who have supported their rulings.

We know that there are vast chasms across the political divide, with the theoretical majority of people (moderates) falling largely silent, while the extremes have taken to yelling at each other and getting substantially more airtime. And yet, no one has managed to move the political football at all for a couple of years now.

So is the problem ineffective leadership, or an ineffective and sharply divided electorate?

First off, note that the truly smart people are staying on the sidelines for the presidential campaign: Elizabeth Warren, Paul Ryan, and Amy Klobuchar. While each is deeply committed to their party and their party’s platforms, each of these potential candidates isn’t the type to yell, demonstrate, or directly insult someone from the other side.

Second, note that those in charge of each party’s platform for the last few years have effectively stepped out of the spotlight: John Boehner hasn’t been heard from since the first Republican debate, and Harry Reid is actually leaving Congress entirely at the end of his term. For Boehner, it could be because however the election comes out next fall, he’s probably going to be thrown out as speaker. But I don’t think he doesn’t care about policy or the platform. Rather, I believe he’s grown tired of the bullshit coming from his own party.

And that’s the third thing: both parties are actively trying to tear themselves apart from within. Powerful, loud voices are being heard from the fringe of both parties–voices that have always been there, but have always been willing to be quiet if they were given some small concessions by the party. These voices, best represented by Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Rand Paul, and Rick Santorum, are coming from groups that have been dismissed as being on the fringe for too long. So as much as the Clinton and Bush presidencies were characterized as a race toward the political middle, the next president will likely preside over parties chasing the outside wings.

Trump and Sanders, in particular, have tapped into the deepest and sometimes darkest parts of the far right and far left political opinion in this country. And they’ve successfully managed to communicate effectively to those groups and energize them enough to rally around the campaigns. But the question is how much energy is there in these groups? can it last another 14 months?

The curious thing about the process as it stands right now is that I don’t see a clear-cut leader emerging from either side. There’s no way in hell that either Trump or Sanders can capture a majority of voters in a general election, because Sanders is a socialist (which the people of this nation don’t fully understand, but think is a bad thing), and a Trump presidency (even to a lot of conservatives) is just a scary thing.

So is there enough support and energy from the moderates and possibly a couple of fringe groups to regain control and move things forward? Based on the tone of the article I read online, there may not be. And that’s a big problem.