Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Is Trump a nascent Hitler?

May 25, 2016

Just recently I opined that Trump probably can’t win. Already I’m less sure. Republicans are drinking the Kool-Aid en masse, trying to sanitize him, or at least sweep under the rug all his repellent points. imagesI’d been thinking, he’s getting killed with blacks, with Hispanics, with women – how could enough white male votes compensate? But it seems I’m becoming the odd man out not just in my political party, but even in my gender group.

Part of it is Hillary’s negatives. I always thought her vulnerable; now she’s being shredded from within her own party. UnknownBernie seems to have drunk his own Kool-Aid, intoxicated with his campaign and adulation. Likewise his supporters, with breathtaking ferocity. It resembles a religion whose believers torture logic to convince themselves of untruths. Here it’s the belief that Bernie still could – should! – win the nomination. This truly puts reality to the torture, inasmuch as Hillary has gotten millions more primary votes than him.

images-1The Daily Show had a great send-up of Bernie-ite shrillness, exaggerating only modestly. It shows how polarized America has become, when most Republicans embrace a vile fraud because they consider Hillary too left-wing, while much of the Democratic party condemns her as not left-wing enough.

At a recent social gathering, someone read from his phone what he deemed a very reasoned appeal to Trump backers, to embrace a totally different narrative. I finally stopped him, saying, “This is preaching to the choir.” Trumpites would reject it as just the kind of thinking they despise. Unknown-1Too many Americans live in echo-chambers of confirmation bias, impervious to facts, let alone arguments, contradicting what they already think. (The phone-reader himself has a great appetite for online screeds mirroring his views. Discordant views, not so much.)

Voter bloody-mindedness isn’t uniquely American. That’s what made Dutch voters recently say no, in a referendum on the Ukraine-EU trade deal – bizarrrely playing into the hands of the pro-Russians who, remember, shot down a Dutch passenger plane. And British voters might opt out of the EU – not for any good reasons so much as sheer bloody-mindedness, to stick it to the political elites.

Hitler comparisons should always be avoided. But regarding Trump, we’re hearing, “They thought at first Hitler was a clown too.” (Alan Chartock, head of the local NPR station, loves this trope.) And Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here, has fresh cachet.* We’re reminded that Hitler was democratically elected. images-2It’s not true. He lost the 1932 presidential vote, and Nazis never got an electoral majority. But once appointed chancellor, Hitler mounted a coup, ditched the constitution, and literally burned down the parliament.

Could Trump do likewise? There’s no comparison between 1933 Germany and 2016 America. Germany was in the throes of the Depression, having also, just nine years before, experienced a total currency collapse. Today’s U.S. economic problems are nothing like that. And Germany’s institutions were far shakier, the age-old monarchy gone, replaced by a weak new government inspiring no loyalty. In contrast, America’s constitution is an icon of veneration, guaranteeing free speech and press, with a strong system of checks-and-balances, rule-of-law, due process rights, and an independent judiciary.

Yet God did not decree we must have all this forever. Its continuation depends upon a citizenry that understands and truly values it. Such a citizenry would not elect a Trump.

That even 45% would even consider it reflects a collapse in norms of civic responsibility and seriousness. Make America great again? Trump voters are shitting on what makes America great.

* I’ve read it; it’s plausible; with some Trumpian parallels.

The agony of an undecided voter

May 18, 2016

UnknownA person of strong views, in half a century of voting I have never before been “undecided.” But this time it’s an agonizing choice.

Not voting is unthinkable. Voting is, for me, a sacrament.

In some past elections, where I was not enthused about either major candidate (well, the Republican), I’ve voted Libertarian. It’s wrong to think such a vote is wasted. Elections are not games where the aim is to pick a winner. And one vote won’t change the outcome. Instead, the purpose is to express one’s civic opinion, which has value even if few others share it. Maybe especially so.

images-1Actually there’s no party that totally reflects my own politics: I’m a classical liberal (not to be confused with contemporary U.S. “liberalism”). In a nutshell, it’s laissez faire both in economics and personal life. (It’s the editorial stance of The Economist magazine, one of the world’s most respected journals.)

Gary Johnson

Gary Johnson

America’s Libertarian party does not embody that stance perfectly, but comes close. (Its foreign isolationism is my main sticking point.) Its candidate hasn’t been named yet, but will likely be, again, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson.* And he seems a great guy, with views close enough to mine that I could gladly support him. (It’s still possible, though unlikely, that another good third party candidate will run.)

And this, if ever, should be the time for such a vote. I’m sure “not enthused about either major candidate.” Both, indeed, are awful. However, one is more so. A lot more.

So we come to the proverbial “lesser of two evils.” For a quarter century I’ve loathed Hillary Clinton. (Sorry, Berners, it’s over.) There’s not room enough here to itemize her indictment. But – to quote P. J. O’Rourke (on the radio show, “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me”) – while Hillary is wrong about everything, she’s wrong within normal parameters. She would not be an existential threat to the America I love. Trump would be. The Economist has explained why: click here.

The Republicans drinking the Kool-Aid and falling into line for the sake of party unity and winning the election are not thinking. They’re treating this like normal politics. It isn’t. Winning isn’t everything. If (God forbid) Trump wins, they’ll regret it even more than if he loses. (See this Michael Gerson column on the GOP ship of fools.)**

I’m pretty sure Trump can’t win (though like so many I was mistaken about his getting the nomination; and a major terrorist episode before the election could spook voters into doing something dumb). However, I want him not just defeated, but crushed, humiliated, annihilated, with all his “winning, winning, winning” talk shoved down his throat. Because I want it proven, finally, that Trumpery is wrong and is not, and never can be, a route to political power in America.

Unknown-2So will I hold my nose and vote for Hillary – piling mine onto, hopefully, a mountain of votes burying Trump? If my top wish in this election is Trump’s repudiation, isn’t it logical to vote for Hillary? And thereby also slap my own party’s face for the mess it’s made?

Still – a vote for a candidate is a positive act, an endorsement. In voting for someone, I feel I take some responsibility for that person in office. And I keep saying that ultimately it’s voters who are responsible for our wretched politics, through their ballot box choices. That’s why a third party vote can be justified. (What a pity so few voters are even aware of Johnson as an excellent alternative choice.) I do not support Hillary’s positions. And if I withhold my vote from her, then later I can criticize her freely, saying, “Don’t blame me, I didn’t vote for her.”

Unknown-3But is that a kind of cop-out, a refusal to exercise responsibility as a citizen? Detaching myself from the battleground and climbing into an ivory tower? Wouldn’t it be the adult thing to face up to the true choice, which is between Trump and Clinton?

And I actually have hopes that Clinton might not be so bad after all. Fortunately I think she’s being (typically) dishonest about all the left-wing rubbish she’s felt compelled to spout, to fend off Bernie, like protectionism. Her foreign policy hand will be a lot stronger and steadier than Obama’s, a welcome change. And dare I imagine she’d have the strength to force Democrats into desperately needed entitlement reform? And might even – unlike Obama – seriously seek detente with a chastened Republican opposition?

So – should I just bite the bullet for Hillary?

Or should I stop overthinking this, and simply vote for policies I actually believe in, and hence for Gary Johnson?

images

I have not made up my mind. Count me “undecided.”

* My daughter in 2012 tortured me by refusing to say who she voted for, letting me suspect it was Obama rather than Romney (my choice). Finally, months later, she blew me away by revealing, “I voted for Johnson.”

** Climbing on board for example is Rick Perry, who once denounced Trump as a “cancer,” but now angles for the VP slot. Democrats would surely run ads featuring Perry’s scathing condemnation.

Republicans drink the Kool-Aid

May 6, 2016

Unknown“Resistance is futile,” said Star-Trek’s Borg.

And so most Republicans are giving up – drinking the Kool-Aid.* Convincing themselves it’s not so bad. Maybe even a good thing. But anyway just go with the program. Stick with the team. Get on the bandwagon. Right over the cliff.

Some at least, like Paul Ryan, are holding back. New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte says she’ll support Trump but not endorse him. A fine distinction. Rep. Elise Stefanik says she’ll support the nominee but won’t utter the name. A few – too few – Republicans outright refuse this Kool-Aid. (Bravo to Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.)

images-1I had said Trump was not entitled to the nomination if a majority of GOP primary voters opposed him. (His complaints against the system are bizarre since it’s actually given him a higher percentage of delegates than primary votes.) However, in each of the last seven primaries, over 50% drank the Kool-Aid. And now no candidate remains against him.

I’m a great believer in democracy. In voters, not so much. Too susceptible to demagogues. Like Hugo Chavez. Or in Brazil, where voters rejected really good alternatives and fell for Rousseff’s rubbish; now the country is predictably in deep doo-doo. Or the Philippines, with a presidential candidate, Rodrigo Duterte, who is Trump Times Three. It’s like he’s running for dictator; he promises a bloodbath. Literally. Commenting on a gang rape, he said he wished he’d been first in line. And this guy leads in the polls.

images-2Mencken said nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. But at least we always elected serious, credentialed, more or less responsible people – we actually strove to elect our betters. Until now. Trump’s appeal is the opposite, as an avatar of his voters’ lowest impulses.

I’ll say this again. I get it that people want an outsider, who tells it like it is, and will shake things up. I’d vote for such a candidate. But not for an irresponsible liar, loudmouth, buffoon, whose policies (to the extent they can be dignified with that word), far from “making America great again,” would be ruinous, stupid, and un-American (like a religious test for immigrants).

Not for one who covered himself with shame promoting bogus “birtherism.”**

Not for one who (never having served) denied John McCain is a war hero because he was shot down and taken prisoner.

Not for one who vulgarly degrades women, mocks the disabled, and calls Mexicans rapists.

images-3Not for one who falsely insists he saw Muslims in New Jersey celebrating 9/11.

Not for one who promises to pay the legal bills of people who punch protesters.

Not for one who advocates torture (waterboarding not enough) and murder (of innocent family members of terrorists).

images-4Not for one Putin admires, and who admires Putin.

And just wait for the upcoming Trump University fraud trial.

How can Republicans overlook all this? Time was, any of these things would be totally disqualifying. What we’re seeing is a collapse of civic responsibility, at least (so far) within the Republican party. Citizenship in a great and good nation requires more from us.

I weep for my party, and for my country. I’m heartbroken. And I am one Republican who will never drink this Kool-Aid.Unknown-1

Never.

* For younger readers, the reference is to “Jonestown” 1978, where “prophet” Jim Jones convinced followers that drinking poisoned Kool-Aid was a good idea. Over 900 died.

** It’s actually Trump who lies about his origins, claiming Swedish, not German, ancestry.

What explains the vicious left?

April 20, 2016

images-2I recently wrote about a talk by scientist David Gelernter, at the state university. A student got up to ask about an article he’d written – “What Explains the Vicious Left?” The student said he’s politically moderate, and a pervasive, aggressive campus left-wing atmosphere makes him feel under attack.

I too have written about the poisoning of American politics by those who believe people with opposing views are not just wrong but wicked. And that, while both left and right are guilty, the left is far the bigger culprit.* imagesThis is especially true on campuses, where the left totally dominates, and seeks to disallow dissent. This is the “political correctness” that is so vile.

Its latest manifestation is to “protect” students from words or ideas that might make them “uncomfortable.” We hear much about verbal “micro-aggressions” having that effect, especially on minority students. Ethnic and gender minorities, that is. images-3But what about the minority that is truly persecuted – non-leftist students – like the questioner at Gelernter’s talk? Where is the concern about their being made uncomfortable, by efforts to browbeat them into silence?

I’m reminded of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Dred Scott case that blacks have “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” On campuses today, conservatives have no rights a leftist is bound to respect. “The left seems to have lost its taste for democracy,” Gelernter’s article said.

Responding to the questioner, he noted that at Yale, where he teaches, conservative students have come to his office in tears because of the left’s “frantic fervor” and bullying. Gelernter suggested the phenomenon has to do with the fact that campus leftists are almost exclusively atheist/agnostic, whereas conservatives are frequently religious.

UnknownThe latter, he said, are cocooned in a strongly held moralistic belief system, satisfying a fairly universal psychological need. And with that box checked off, they don’t infuse their political views with a similar moral fervor. For them, politics is just politics. Atheist leftists, on the other hand, have only their politics to fill this psychological need, which is why they become so fierce. “Politics is their faith, in default of any other; it is the basis of their moral life.”

And naturally they are very protective of that faith, responding ferociously to any challenge; unwilling even to let opposing ideas be heard. (Just like some religious faiths, even today – apostasy is punished with death in some Muslim lands.)

More generally, politics is becoming very tribal, “us against them,” and for many it’s their core identity – virtually their ethnicity. As for why this is more true on the left, Gelernter’s religion-based theory may be at least a partial explanation. But there’s much in his article I find problematic. He’s evidently religious himself, and argues that the problem could only be cured with a religious revival — “a miracle.” Yet he seems to think it possible – ignoring why religious belief is declining — its sheer implausibility. (Though implausible ideas aren’t hampering certain presidential contenders.)

In googling Gelernter’s article, I found comments from left-wingers that were . . . surprise . . . absolutely vicious. Exemplifying the very syndrome he discusses. (Somewhat ironic, with leftists also full of talk about kindness, compassion, non-judgmentalism, and so forth.)

images-4At one time, the kind of moralistic fervor Gelernter discusses drove people to burn dissenters alive. At least we haven’t reached that stage in politics.

Yet.

*Journalism professor Rosemary Armao, frequently on local radio discussion shows, supporting Hillary, has remarked upon the viciousness of messages she’s received from Bernie backers. (But none from Republicans.)

Trumpelstiltskin and the yahoo vote

April 10, 2016

UnknownI will vote for Kasich, reason, and decency, in the New York primary. But this may be the first state giving Trump over 50%. Shame on New York.

He says Kasich should quit the race. That would help Trump . . . how? Does he think Kasich voters would switch to him? That he’d do better in a two-man race? Polls show over half of Republicans, nationwide, despise him.

For all his ostensible success, Trump actually has no political sense. As in his recent comment about punishing women who have abortions. Columnist Michael Gerson has suggested that what Trump is trying to do is to say things he imagines hard-right voters like. Yet Trump has not been politically engaged enough to know what conservatives actually think. His playbook is a caricature of conservatism (one largely created by its critics).

Unknown-1Of course he isn’t getting the conservative vote. He’s getting the yahoo vote. His campaign is not brilliant. Yahoos are a minority.

Insulting people isn’t normally my style. But, as The Economist quoted one observer, Trump voters “have dirt for brains.” Wanting an outsider, a savvy entrepreneur, who tells the truth, and would shake up the system, is fine. I’d vote for her. But Trump is a crass ass who does not tell it like it is, he is a compulsive serial liar; his business history is a string of scams and failures; he has no serious program; what he advocates is un-American and based on big lies too; and he enflames people’s worst instincts. He is unfit to be the leader of a great nation. His supporters disgrace their citizenship. (That means you, Christie, and Giuliani. I’m taking names.)

It remains unclear that Trump will get the delegates needed for nomination. The winner-take-all California primary will likely be decisive. Meantime we hear the trope that whoever has the most delegates, even if not a majority, should be nominated. F**k that.

images-2In fact, even if Trump does secure the 1,237 delegates, there are whispers of a GOP Plan B. The convention (to be chaired by Paul Ryan) could vote to change the rules, to require a supermajority on the first ballot.*

And here’s a key detail: winning a state’s delegates doesn’t mean a candidate gets to name them. Many are picked by state party organizations. UnknownSo a lot of delegates bound to Trump on the first ballot actually don’t like him. They could vote for the rules change. And on a second ballot Trump’s majority would melt away like a snowman in Spring.

Trump and his yahoos will scream bloody murder. But winning all these primaries with 35-40% of the vote does not entitle Trump to the nomination. A majority of primary voters (bar New York) are rejecting him. Honoring their will would be legitimate.

Would Republicans have the balls for this? It would save the party. Not only would Trump suffer a monumental November defeat, he is wrecking the Republican brand with his toxic caricature of what the party stands for.

Unknown-2And if we have an open convention, who would wind up nominated? Delegates might pull a rabbit out of a hat (like Garfield in 1880, who began with one vote). Paul Ryan would be great.

Could a fresh candidate like that win? Yes. Bernie will not be nominated, but his strength spotlights Hillary’s weakness. In November, voters will choose between two candidates, and how one got nominated won’t matter much.

I am sick to death of Trump and his vileness. I don’t want to see his vile face, hear his vile voice, or have to talk about this any more. I want it to be over.

*Not unprecedented: until 1936, Democrats required a two-thirds majority.

Splitting the GOP

March 20, 2016

images-1I’ve been writing a lot about politics lately. Every four years we’re told “this election is critical;” it’s a cliché. But this time really is different – reshaping our political landscape.

For a long time, the Republican party prospered as a marriage between a principled segment – supporting limited government, free market economics, fiscal and personal responsibility, free trade, and global engagement – and a working class segment actuated by cultural primitivism, nativism, xenophobia, and bigotry. The former milked the latter for votes without actually delivering much for them. Now they’re rebelling and the marriage is coming apart.

Much punditry says we should understand Trump supporters as moved by legitimate economic concerns. That’s part of it, but not the main thing. The economy could be better but is not in crisis. a-holesThis is more about attitude than economics. It’s people feeling personally alienated from what the American mainstream is becoming; disconnected from the ruling elite. In America 2.0, they’re still stuck in America 1.0. They embrace Trump not in spite of his crudeness, but proudly because of it, which embodies their own. For all his billions, he’s the first presidential candidate with whom they culturally identify. This is not a revolt of the lower class, but of the no-class. That’s why attacking Trump for his various transgressions doesn’t dissuade his voters.

Trump claims he’s uniting the GOP. Yeah, right. Orthodox Republicans, the “establishment,” are freaking out. I’ve heard radio commentary saying it’s because they can’t “control” Trump. That just plays to his appeal. No — Republicans still compos mentis see Trump as turning the party into a grotesquerie, headed for electoral obliteration.

Yet a party schism does not really seem to be happening either. At the February 29 GOP debate, three candidates vilified the fourth as unfit to be president, yet all said they’d support the eventual nominee. That reluctance to break a political taboo is understandable, but it makes it harder for other Republicans to repudiate Trump, and indeed, very few so far have done so. Instead, most seem likely to fall into line behind him because they lack the political imagination to do otherwise.

Unknown-2As a lifelong Republican, if Trump is nominated, I would like to see a party split – as in 1860, 1912 or 1948 – with a rump of delegates walking out to hold their own convention, naming a “True Republican” candidate on a platform of the party’s traditional values.* Yes, that would assure Hillary’s election. But she’s likely to crush the white trash candidate anyway. At least some integrity would be preserved, as a basis for reconstituting, from the wreckage, a Republican party worthy of support.

However, this might also be seen as destroying our two-party system, leaving us with a 1-1/2 party system. Maybe at least that might break the 50-50 partisan gridlock that has paralyzed Washington. But such a settlement could not be lasting, since half the nation (me included) would still be in deep disaffection.

Politics is very tribal; the us-versus-them mentality explains a lot of the partisan bitterness we’ve seen. But this election is exposing the nation’s real division not between two tribes, but more like three (at least) – the Democratic party, increasingly left-wing, in coalition with minorities, unions, and other interest groups – the traditionally conservative, market-economics Republicans – and the disaffected primitivists who really have no ideological affinity with true conservativism. If that three-way split congeals, the first tribe will always outvote the other two.

Trump’s nomination is far from certain. He still needs to win over half the delegates in the remaining primaries; though it’s very possible, most being (stupidly, unlike on the Dem side) winner-take-all (including California, likely to be make-or-break). But Trump is nobody’s second choice; a majority of Republicans still find him repellent. And Cruz is very much the sort of candidate who appeals to the GOP’s traditional base – a quasi-outsider, with religion on his sleeve and a purist right-wing ideology.** So we may well have an open convention, no candidate going in with a majority. What happens then? Who knows?

imagesTrump says there’ll be riots if he’s not nominated. So go riot. America is governed by voting, not rioting. The party is not obliged to nominate a candidate rejected by a majority of primary voters.

Finally, if you think campaigns have been nasty before, just wait for this fall. The attacks will be savage. UnknownSadly, a lot will be justified. Hillary should win, but then we’ll have four more years of bitter partisan divisiveness.

Well, we’re used to that. At least we won’t have an American Putin.

*Actually, to get on the ballot in most states, this would have to be organized much sooner.

**Lindsey Graham once said the choice of Cruz or Trump is like being poisoned or shot. But now he says he’s ready to take the poison.

Supreme Court nomination – the stupid party again

March 18, 2016

images-2Republicans control the Senate. They could have simply gone through the motions of considering President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, holding hearings, but letting him dangle in the wind without a vote. Or, ultimately, just vote him down. They have the votes.

But no. Instead they insist on making themselves look terrible, partisan, and obstructionist, by refusing to even allow the process to occur.

Mitch McConnell’s speech, after the nomination announcement, made no sense. With a straight face, he accused the president of politicizing the matter, just by submitting a name. But the Constitution says that’s what the president shall do. It isn’t an arguable point.

These Republicans act as though they’re confident of winning the presidency and then naming Scalia’s replacement. images-3What planet are they living on? Have they noticed who their likely presidential nominee is? An ideological wild card, whom they detest? Whose own supreme court pick they might also detest? Who will likely lose the election anyway, and may even lose them control of the Senate besides?

Then Hillary picks Scalia’s replacement. Meantime, Obama has offered a relatively moderate nominee, who is 63 and thus would not be on the court forever. Republicans should grab that deal while they can.

I consider myself a Republican; I expect Republican senators to be partisan. But not stupidly suicidal.

The blame for Trumpism

March 13, 2016

I’ve written that the Trump phenomenon is a dive to a lower, baser level of civic discourse. Who can we blame?

UnknownOf course there’s a lot involved. But I’ve long argued that demonization of opponents has been poisoning our politics: thinking the other guy is not merely wrong but wicked, actuated by bad motives. And left-leaners do it the most.

I often criticize their politics but believe they sincerely aim for human betterment. Unfortunately that’s not reciprocated. Typical is one blog commenter repeatedly labeling me a heartless ignorant bigot. A local columnist spews strings of vile epithets about those he disagrees with. One “progressive” I know loves calling others “regressives.” Unknown-2And Alan Chartock, ubiquitous head of WAMC, the local NPR station*, constantly calls people “bad.” After Justice Scalia’s death, Chartock made a point of labeling him a “bad man.”

How does this relate to Trump? As I’ve said, such hate speech has poisoned our politics – and a toxic candidate is a natural result. Trump’s shtick plays to a loss of confidence in our governing institutions and the officials comprising them. And if you keep talking about bad people with bad motives, pretty soon voters will believe it, feeding the idea that all politicians are rotten scoundrels. With Chartock repeatedly insisting even Supreme Court Justices (well, those who decide “wrong”) act corruptly and are “bought and paid for” – should he be surprised by the popularity of a candidate who assaults our governing institutions?

Unknown-1True, government hasn’t been performing well lately, and it’s not crazy to seek some break-out. But here again, a key reason for government dysfunction is our hyper-partisan scorched earth politics. When the other guys are demonized as bad people, how can you compromise and work with them?

Many voters feel betrayed by promises not kept. But can we blame the politicians who told them what they wanted to hear? Or the voters who wanted to hear it, and continually rewarded impossible promises with their votes? We have continually voted for expanding government profligacy, awarding ourselves a shower of goodies, with nary a thought of paying for it. That’s why the promises really cannot be kept. And it will only get worse as the fiscal imbalance ineluctably widens.

So we do need to break out of this paradigm. But unfortunately electing an ignoramus blowhard is not the way.

But meantime, even if he doesn’t win in November, Trump is showing how successful tearing up the old rule book can be. And meantime Hillary personifies all the political divisiveness I’ve written about; her presidency will just be more dysfunctional scorched earth political combat. imagesAnd after four more years of that unproductive dismalness, the next Trump-like candidate may make Trump look like an angel.

* Chartock also constantly trumpets his support for Sanders. He insists that doesn’t constitute an endorsement by WAMC. But WAMC is thoroughly Chartock’s creature; and such open political partisanship is completely inappropriate for a “public” radio station receiving taxpayer funding. (Click here.)

Campaign finance: government hands off!

February 29, 2016

imagesHillary loves pointing out that the notorious Citizens United case was about her: an anti-Hillary film that ran afoul of federal regulation. But the Supreme Court ruled that, under the First Amendment, the government can’t stop anyone from producing and distributing a political film. I think that was right.

Critics complain this opened the door to unrestrained campaign spending, allowing elections to be bought. UnknownYet repeatedly big spenders lose elections. If they could be bought, Jeb Bush, who raised the most money, would be the GOP nominee.

Were the spending all one sided, that would be a problem. But it can never happen in this big diverse country. By and large the two parties are fairly matched in fund-raising ability; and a candidate with substantial public support can always raise the sums needed to be competitive (as Bernie Sanders has done).

But our political spending regime is an opaque mess, dominated by unaccountable “Super PACs” (“political action committees’). The problem is not Citizens United but, rather, the whole Federal Elections schema set up by Congress (in the 2002 McCain-Feingold law) to regulate campaign spending. Jeb Bush himself called it “ridiculous.”

images-1Specifically, while one can spend unlimited amounts on one’s own campaign, others are limited to contributing $2700. That causes larger sums to route instead through PACs, which theoretically are not allowed to coordinate with candidates.

This is the system Bush criticized. Instead, he said, there should be no restrictions on spending for political advocacy – and it should be allowed to go directly to candidates, who’d be accountable for it – with full disclosure required (which is not true for PACs).

Now, can you imagine if Congress furthermore made it illegal for an advocacy organization to run ads criticizing a legislator within 60 days of an election? In America? Maybe in Russia. Yet Congress did exactly that, as part of the aforementioned federal election regime. It’s a blatant incumbent protection scheme that strikes the First Amendment in its gut.

Unknown-1Corruption is a real concern – public officials beholden to special interests that finance their costly campaigns. It’s bribery in all but name. However, I don’t think the answer is to restrict political participation but, rather, to broaden it. I have long advocated a tax credit for political contributions (up to a limit). A credit (not deduction) would mean the money effectively comes from the Treasury rather than the donor’s pocket. Thus it would be a form of public campaign finance, but far preferable to existing systems, because individual citizens would determine which candidates get what. And it would inspire such an outpouring of citizen-directed donations that politicians would no longer be reliant on special interest money.

In a free, democratic country, I think government has no business regulating, at all, the landscape of political advocacy. Government itself is not disinterested, and certainly the elected officials who run it are not. This is a power inviting abuse. Remember the Alien and Sedition laws, that made it a crime to criticize the government?

In a democracy, all interests, that have a legitimate concern with what government does, should have an unrestricted right to advocate for their viewpoints in the forum of public opinion. That includes TV ads. And it includes corporations. They too are legitimate parts of our society and should have the right to make their voices heard in public debate. Unknown-2You may not like them – but surely you don’t believe in silencing those you dislike or disagree with?*

Democracy is threatened far less by free campaign spending than by government measures to suppress it.

 

* Well – left wingers tend to believe exactly that.

Make America great again? Or degraded?

February 25, 2016

UnknownJohn Zogby, who’s very smart, suggests Rubio make Kasich his running mate now. It’s an intriguing gambit that could give Rubio a desperately needed boost. Or could be seen as a desperation move. But something needs to be done, and fast.

Meantime, Kasich has actually been running negative ads against Rubio. And nobody has run ads against Trump.

Unknown-1I’d been supposing that 33% primary pluralities would not give Trump a delegate majority, especially since the super-delegates (party officials and office-holders, 7% of the total) wouldn’t support him. But then I saw his South Carolina 33% gave him all that state’s delegates. So I researched the delegate apportionment rules.

Among Democrats it is largely proportional to primary votes; that’s why the 2008 Obama-Clinton battle was so prolonged. But the GOP powers-that-be wanted to avoid that, so they rigged the game to favor an early front-runner, requiring largely winner-take-all primaries. Never imagining the beneficiary would be a candidate like Trump.

What a disastrous blunder. A bunch more 33% wins in next week’s “Super Tuesday” will make Trump’s nomination virtually unstoppable.

He’ll be crushed by Hillary in November. But the nomination will disgrace not only my Republican party but the country I love. This is a quantum downward cultural shift. imagesOur population has always had a percentage of uncouth lowbrow loser assholes. That’s natural, and they have a right to exist and maybe even sympathy. Yet despite their existence our civic life has always been conducted on a somewhat higher plane of seriousness. Now it’s diving down to the lowest common denominator.

Let me be specific, once and for all.

“Political correctness” disallows saying certain things, out of intolerance toward differing views. It’s not political correctness Trump is offending against but, rather, common decency. Denigrating John McCain’s war heroism, and various women for their looks, etc., Mexicans as rapists, and mocking the disabled, is not “politically incorrect,” but simply offensive, stupid, and vile. images-1And of course he has a difficult relationship with truth, as in saying Muslim Americans celebrated 9/11 – not merely false, but incendiary.

His policy stances – if one can so dignify them – are an incoherent farrago. Can a billionaire businessman really be so ignorant about fundamental economic realities? With no understanding of global trade? He proposes huge tax cuts in the face of rising future deficits that already threaten fiscal ruin; his promises of unspecified but likewise massive spending cuts are empty nonsense.

But none of that is intended seriously anyway, he’s not appealing to policy wonks. Central to his campaign are the plans for a border wall, deporting millions of undocumented residents, banning Muslims from America, and forcing Muslim citizens to register. Crazy, sickeningly ugly, and divisive.

Unknown-2My GOP used to be a principled party of sensible policies aimed at a better world for everyone, including limited government, fiscal responsibility, a free competitive economy, and free trade. A Trump-led Republican party would instead be a nasty racialist vehicle of xenophobia, resentment, and bile. A party of people voting with their middle fingers.

images-2Yet few Republicans say they won’t support Trump if nominated, instead being ready to fall into line (and over the cliff). I am heartsick at this national degradation.

Make America great again? It’s dragging America into the gutter.


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