Archive for November, 2016

Fifty-three years ago today, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. This was a bit before my time, but those who do remember often divide the country into “before the shooting” and “after”. This got me thinking about two other untimely deaths that directly impacted this year’s presidential election.

The first, and more recent, was Beau Biden, Delaware’s attorney general and the Vice President’s eldest son. Like President Kennedy, the younger Biden was forty-six, had served his nation in wartime, and considered to have much more life in him when he was struck down. His passing deeply affected his father who, driven at least partially by grief (and by word from President Obama that he favored Hillary Clinton as his successor), passed on another run for the White House. This was a big loss for the Democrats. Biden represented an important justification for the Democratic party. The Democrats are the party of a larger government that steps in sometimes because bad things can happen to good people. It could be the community ravaged by a hurricane or a victim or child abuse – sometimes life can be terribly unfair, but the government can alleviate a little of that unfairness. Joe Biden, who suffered the loss of his first wife and his daughter in a car crash (that also injured Beau and brother Hunter), was an embodiment of that idea. Meanwhile, the Clintons, while spending almost no time outside of government or the non-profit sector in the past 25 years, somehow managed to leverage their political contacts into a $200 million fortune.  In doing so, they embody something people don’t like about big government – that while in concept, politicians can alleviate life’s unfairness, in reality, they just exaggerate it.

The second was in 1999 – President Kennedy’s son, John. He would have turned fifty-six years old this coming Friday. In some key ways, John Jr. was a more suitable successor than Mrs. Clinton. Like President Obama, he may have inherited his father’s name, but he was more deeply influenced by his mother. His personal life, like Obama’s, was largely scandal-free – no mean feat for a member of his clan. In short, he could have afforded to be a jerk if he wanted to be, but by most accounts, he didn’t act that way.  He was an urban liberal of the “good-government” variety who unlike the 2016 nominee wouldn’t describe the Republicans as his “enemy”.  His Uncle Ted and his sister Caroline were instrumental in helping then-Senator Obama’s campaign gain a strong foothold in the 2008 Democratic primary so there may have been the possibility of a family favor returned.  Had he lived, there’s a good chance John Jr. may have run for the governorship in Albany or a Senate seat in Washington, and it’s hard to see him losing. He could have been in a prime position in a primary – an attractive liberal idealist running against the Nixonian will-to-power pragmatist Mrs. Clinton.  I would have liked his odds.  Alas, the caution he displayed in politics and in his publishing career didn’t carry over to his flying.

This does not relieve the Democrats (or the Republicans for that matter) of their responsibility for choosing a poor nominee.  There were still other possibilities who could have made a better race of it.  But I think it is only fair to note that their lineup of contenders was shorthanded.  Tragedy had taken two of their most viable options off the table.




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A Weak Candidate

It’s been eleven days since the election and the Democrats are still trying to sort out what happened. “How could this country possibly elect a man like Donald Trump?”, with the answers ranging from “because America is racist/sexist/homophobic/xenophobic, etc.” to “well, maybe we on the coasts really don’t know much about flyover country”.

What seems to be missing from all of this is the following reality – as shocking as this may seem for Democrats, Hillary Clinton just wasn’t a good candidate. And one reason she wasn’t a good candidate is she isn’t as qualified as you believe her to be. If elected, she would have been the first former (non-Vice President) Cabinet member elected since … Herbert Hoover. She would have been the first former Secretary of State since … James Buchanan.

And how successful has she really been in government? She was not a particularly popular First Lady of Arkansas. Her tenure as First Lady in Washington included a couple of scandals (Travelgate, Filegate, etc.) and a truly disastrous attempt at overhauling (and partially socializing) the country’s health care system. She did rebound from that to successfully push a bill on children’s health care. But part of Bill Clinton’s re-election playbook was keeping her away from fronting other political fights. She generally got reasonable marks for a Senator, but she did not develop and implement a wealth of significant legislation; furthermore, she was haunted by the Iraq war authorization. As Secretary of State, she doubled down on Iraq by pushing U.S. involvement in Libya’s civil insurrection. She kept saying – with some justification – that Trump would be a dangerous choice. But as Mr. Trump pointed out, the person making those accusations was the one voting for combat in Iraq and Libya. Like President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize, it seemed to me Democrats were giving her praise for government success that she hadn’t actually earned.

Finally, there is a profound sense in much of America – away from the coasts anyway – that the Clintons get to play by different rules than everyone else. Yes, at times, the Clintons have been dogged by some antagonists who stretched things. But there are other cases, like Travelgate and the oddly-timed cattle futures trading, that appear at best unseemly. Most recently, the email server scandal would have ended the career of a military officer; Ms. Clinton was seeking a promotion.

With all of her flaws, the wonder shouldn’t be how Hillary lost the election. It ought to be how the Democratic establishment fell in behind so flawed a candidate so early in the race.

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For the past few months, Democrats have enjoyed telling Republicans, “You brought this on yourselves” in regard to the Trump nomination. Never mind that most Republicans opposed him. Had there been a runoff between Trump and anyone not named Cruz, Trump may well have lost. The story went that by constantly opposing the President and encouraging allowing voters to think that the impossible was possible (ie. one could enforce a Republican agenda even with a Democrat in the White House), the GOP set itself up for takeover by a demagogue who would promise voters anything.

The Democratic establishment, meanwhile, actively chose someone it knew roughly half the country disliked and distrusted. There is a good reason for the distrust – from cattle futures to the travel office to discrediting Bill’s paramours to the private server, Mrs. Clinton has shown a propensity for playing by her own rules and then playing the victim when she’s caught. Now, it’s the emails again. FBI Director Comey’s announcement reminded voters of why they have strong reservations about Clinton’s candidacy: she is excessively secretive and she and her husband don’t tell the truth.

In pushing her candidacy anyway, when you knew all this – even to the point of gaming the system to ensure her weak campaign’s victory over Bernie Sanders – Democrats, you really did bring this on yourselves. There were more likable, more trustworthy – and yes, more competent – options than Mrs. Clinton. But a combination of identity politics and fear caused you to choose this hopelessly divisive person as the one you wanted to rule over the country. When her campaign proved poor and Sen. Sanders’ stronger than expected, leaders of the DNC had to tilt the playing field to ensure her victory. Now – after literally decades of people weighing in saying they don’t trust her – you appear surprised that people still don’t trust her. The fact that she’s running against a terribly flawed candidate doesn’t wash her own sins away.

Hillary Clinton is locked in a tight election against the weakest candidate the Republicans have put up in modern times. She has no one to blame but herself. And Democrats, you have no one to blame but yourself for backing such a flawed candidate. You brought this on yourselves.



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