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Perhaps I’m getting jaded. I read today where there’s a plan to publish the daily morning scriptural meditations that Hillary Clinton reportedly received from her preacher, the Rev. Dr. Bill Shillady. My first thought was, “I guess she’s really planning on running again.” She barely uttered a word about religion in the 2016 race. Her campaign appeared to see the business community and the secular progressive party base, neither of which cotton to a lot of “God talk” as the key to victory in November, and campaigned that way.

Now, she may be seeing something different. Hillary may also be channeling Mitt Romney. In 2008, like Hillary, Romney ran for his party’s nomination and finished second. The second time around, he won the nomination (albeit with little party enthusiasm) and was defeated in the general election. Had he thrown his hat in late in 2016, the party establishment may well have welcomed him. And in a general election, he, like most Republicans, would have had a good chance against the polarizing Democratic nominee. Secretary Clinton may see a path like that opening up for her. Whoever wins the Democratic nomination in 2020 would have a very good chance against the incumbent were he to run for reelection. And Clinton may well think she’s got as good a shot as anyone in a contested primary next time.

For those who think it can’t happen, picture this – several Democrats (e.g. Senators Warren and Booker, Governors Cuomo and Patrick) all run to the left, trying to get that energetic movement progressive vote; that leaves an open lane for the one so-called centrist (really the one ambitious non-ideologue) in the race, especially if those progressive candidates – all of whom see a savior of the progressive cause in the mirror – refuse to drop out early. In short, she runs the Trump campaign on the Democratic side Trump was the least conservative (and for my money, least likable) candidate in the Republican nominating race. But the conservatives – all spoiling for a run against Hillary – failed to drop out, and split the base vote, allowing Trump to win.

This also appears to channel Bill Clinton’s comeback after losing the Arkansas governorship in 1980. Bill Clinton had been perceived as being more liberal (particularly by hiring some liberal out of state staff) than he had let on in the 1978 campaign. The Clintons called in Dick Morris, tacked to the center, and won the mansion back in 1982.

As much as many of us would like to see the Clintons move on to a dignified retirement, I just don’t believe either retirement or surrender is in their vocabulary. It’s a bit early to write Hillary’s political obituary. I admit it’s jaded, but I really have to wonder if this book of morning meditations is the first move in a long game for 2020. Maybe she’s sincere – maybe. With the Clintons, one often has to wonder.

-1TF

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Robert F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan each died on this day. It’s also World Environment Day; I must admit, I hadn’t realized “WED” existed; I’m trying to understand how it’s different from Earth Day. Nevertheless, in the spirit of World Environment Day, I thought I’d write a little about something these two prominent American political figures offer us in our current political environment.

As it happens, RFK and Reagan each offers something particularly valuable to his party’s opponents. Kennedy, a liberal Democrat, showed that sometimes, when you feel your own party is on the wrong track, you need to speak up. Kennedy saw Johnson as being from a different wing of the same political party.  He also found Johnson to be a dishonest, deeply flawed human being on a personal level. Nevertheless, Kennedy supported President Lyndon Johnson on subjects like civil rights and poverty, where he agreed.  But then Kennedy came around to thinking (rightly or wrongly) that Johnson had gotten the country mired in an unwinnable war in Vietnam early in 1967. He, like many in the media, saw a “credibility gap”, where the facts on the ground in Southeast Asia didn’t square with what the White House was saying.  At that point, Kennedy challenged Johnson on the subject. RFK knew that party loyalty had its limits. He was not going to continue following a man he loathed who was enacting policies he opposed.  Republicans may want to note this.

In 1976, Reagan also opposed a leader of his own party (ie. Gerald Ford); that was mostly ideological, not personal, as even Reagan would tell you Ford was a decent man. Democrats may want to take a fresh look at Reagan for a different reason. Reagan’s overarching philosophy in the 1980 campaign against Carter wasn’t all that different from Barry Goldwater’s in 1964, but his approach was miles apart. Goldwater saw himself as a courageous speaker of hard truths. Reagan was a bit more of a pragmatist, and crucially, he appeared transparently to like people, even those who disagreed with him. Democrat attacks on him as apt to start a war didn’t square with the warm images voters saw on television. It was said of Reagan that when a baby saw him, the baby smiled. People are more likely to tolerate policies from the other side of the political center if they believe the person is pushing those ideas actually likes them. Many of the 2016 voters who surprised with their votes were those who had felt forgotten or disregarded by the party in power. In the 80’s, it was different. Reagan liked the American people, including his opponents – and even his opponents knew that. Perhaps that’s one reason the political environment was a bit healthier then.

– 1TF

I’m still trying to process President Trump’s speech pulling out of the Paris Accord. I found the speech to be a bit of a Rorschach Test. Those inclined to like Trump and espouse an “America First” ideology thought it great; I can see Pat Buchanan and company standing up and applauding. Those instinctively set to dislike him were probably horrified.

The most memorable line of the Trump speech was “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” That was going to be a winner amongst his supporters, many of whom, like the Brexit supporters, have an understandable concern about their country’s sovereignty being usurped by unelected technocrats. However, the Pittsburgh Trump hails is the Pittsburgh of history. There are no steel mills left within the Pittsburgh city limits (although some remain in the surrounding area). The citizens of Pittsburgh are far more likely to be freezing in an overly air-conditioned office park than they are to be sweating it out by a blast furnace. The mayor of Pittsburgh responded to Trump’s speech by saying the city would still abide by Paris.

Trump’s pithy Pittsburgh comment is really more about the small mountain towns of western Pennsylvania and the West Virginia panhandle, where folks are desperate to hear that better times are ahead. But Trump is offering sandcastles in the air to those folks by making coal workers think that brute force by the federal government can bring back coal. But it can’t. While the previous administration was unfriendly to coal, the main reason for coal’s demise isn’t in Washington, it’s in the market. Coal has new competition in the form of natural gas. Take away the fact that natural gas is safer to extract and cleaner to burn (or any other advantage it may have), and you’re still left with the fact that currently, and for the foreseeable future, natural gas is less expensive than coal. The market is speaking loudly, and President Trump can’t change that.

I’m a little puzzled by what Trump expects to get out of this. He is exasperating much-needed allies. And my admittedly limited understanding is that much of the Paris Accord is voluntary anyway. Trump could have pointed to certain parts of it and declared we wouldn’t abide by those parts. Instead, he junked the whole thing. Again, I respect that he’s fulfilling a campaign pledge. But I think that pledge may have been unwise in the first place.

– 1TF

College

David Leonhardt of the New York Times wrote an interesting column complaining about declining funding for college. He held that declining state funding for college was leading to declining economic diversity, especially at four-year colleges.

Meanwhile, Fareed Zakaria was on CNN lamenting the lack of ideological diversity on campus, citing in particular the Notre Dame students who walked out on Vice President Pence’s graduation speech and the Middlebury students who shut down Charles Murray’s speech. There have also been problems reported at Berkely and at Evergreen State. It also seems each year, while the vast majority of graduation speakers are liberal, only conservative speakers get protested.

I wonder if these things might be tied. I went to school with a lot of working class & middle class students. They weren’t trying to “discover themselves” or “save the world” – they were learning to better their lot in life and become productive citizens. Many, like me, were working part-time to put themselves through school.
When you’ve actually got to struggle to get that education, you’re a little too busy to look for new things to be angry about. I suspect part of the problem of the Yale kids who berated two professors who had the temerity to think the school didn’t need to police Halloween costumes is they didn’t actually have real struggles to worry about. These Evergreen State kids who abused the professor who didn’t want to participate in a “Day Without White People” or whatever they wanted to call it need to see some actual hardship.

Some professors will try to guide them properly, but they appear to be becoming an actual aggrieved minority. Just look at what happened to the Duke University professor who didn’t want to attend diversity training, and advised other faculty members not to attend. He’s no longer employed at Duke. He should have been more diplomatic, but I also think had he been undiplomatic in supporting a liberal position, he’d still have a job.

Duke had someone undiplomatically express a conservative opinion (held in secret by many other faculty) and he is no longer employed. Yale had a mob assault a faculty member, and Yale just gave two of the mob leaders an award. People see this – and makes them wonder what the students are actually learning. And whether they want the government to pay for that.

Mr. Leonhardt may well have a point about lack of funding for higher education aid to poorer students.  And I appreciate that he also cited the money wasted on student centers and expensive never-pay-for-themselves athletic programs and other lower utility budget items as culprits in this problems.  But he may want to take a look at the ideological diversity of the faculty as another culprit.  The waste and the ideological litmus test (which are another form of waste by ruling out better qualified right-of-center applicants) makes people on the right less interested in funding overall.  But I’m really curious why those on the left seem less interested in financial aid.  Could it be that letting in more working-class, pragmatic students might interfere with the entitled liberal ones who may start protests but also vote the ‘right way’?

– 1TF

After last year’s presidential election, Forbes magazine printed a story on how Jared Kushner helped Donald Trump win. The key insight was that Kushner had somehow created a 100-person data mining operation outside of San Antonio, Texas. I remember thinking that all of this sounded awfully sophisticated for a political neophyte. There seemed to be something incomplete about the story. Who were those 100 people? Why did we never hear from anyone who had been there?

Now comes word on MSNBC and CNN that Kushner is “under FBI scrutiny” in the federal Russia probe. Reportedly, Kushner is merely a person of interest, not the target of the investigation. I hope that’s the case. But I also hope the feds ask a few questions about that operation in Texas. I’m not saying anything underhanded happened there.  I am saying that the explanation provided in the magazine was unsatisfying and left me curious as to who was working at that site.  Citizens have a right to know whether that truly was a gravity-defying political operation operated by first-timers or if they got a little clandestine help from some discreet old pros.

– 1TF

It is striking how much more liberal the Washington Post has gotten recently. I don’t know if it’s the Jeff Bezos purchase, Donald Trump’s election or something else. But it’s palpable.

A Washington Post article today discussed how President Obama’s photographer trolled President Trump by printing pictures of the Obamas holding hands after Melania had apparently swatted Trump’s hand away during Trump’s overseas trip. It was bad form on the photographer’s part, but I suppose he can do what he wants. But why on earth is that news? For the Post to prominently post that story tells you something about their relaxed journalism standards. I’m not a Trump fan – I find him remarkably uninformed and self-centered – but the reaction of many in the media to Trump borders on the hysterical. There are many points of concern with this President. Fine. Take him on on legitimate issues; that’d be good for the country. But printing this ridiculously small and petty story about the photographer says more about the Post than it does about the President.  I get it – you hate him.  You hate yourself for being part of media machine that helped drive him to the Republican nomination, and now you’re trying to make up for it.  Fine – but that’s not news either.

One complaint I had with Hillary Clinton is that she brought out the worst in both Republicans and Democrats. President Trump appears that way. Many Republicans are troubled by him, but a sense of party loyalty causes them to pull their punches, even when punches are called for. Democrats meanwhile are at risk of becoming deranged. Their rage at him are causing them to do things they may not be proud of in the future. That includes Democratically inclined media outlets like the Post.

– 1TF

And I thought American politics was a mess …

Last Sunday’s French elections made their Yankee counterparts appear almost tame by comparison. Neither of the two major parties made the May 7th runoff. The sitting government’s party finished fifth.

So now we’re left between the ostensibly “far-right” national front leader, Marine Le Pen, and the 39 year-old newcomer to elective politics, Emmanuel Macron. Macron is widely seen in the press as a heavy favorite because he was endorsed by the establishment party leaders and most of the French Party leaders. Furthermore, polling appears to give him about a 20-point lead. I would caution Macron’s supporters not to get ahead of themselves. Macron is genuinely the favorite to win, but I believe he’s only a slight favorite.

Macron is seen has the darling of the establishment even though he has never run a political campaign before. It is more a sign of the establishment’s fear of Le Pen then it is of any particular accomplishment or qualifications of its chosen savior. He appears to be playing the role of a Francophone Jared Kushner to Le Pen’s Steve Bannon.

The French press refers to Macron as a “centrist”, but I’m not sure that is an accurate rendition of the man. He was Finance Minister for the widely unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande. Yes, he wound up quitting Hollande’s government. But a true Centrist never would have been hired in the first place. Again, it appears to be an establishment attempt to bolster the only person standing between them and a President Le Pen. I suspect people outside of Paris may resent being told what to think. They see a 39 year-old kid, really (the French tend to prefer older Presidents – DeGaulle, d’Estaing, Mitterand and Chirac come to mind), being hailed as an especially talented leader, because he is opposing the candidate who is aiming her message at those left behind by Paris.

I know little of Le Pen other than her party’s deep unpopularity within European capitals and her hardline stand on immigration, and I have no dog in this fight. If I were French, I suppose I might supported the center-right candidate Francois Fillon before the hiring scandal emerged; after that I was politically agnostic. But I feel like I’ve seen this movie before – the cycle of populist support leading to elitist alarm which only encourages further populist support. The more the leaders of neighboring countries and urban elites in Paris, Marseille, Lyon and Toulouse express fear and loathing of Le Pen, the more those who resent those foreign leaders and major city dwellers will move to her. This race isn’t a toss-up – as of today, it favors Macron – but it’s not the the 2002 Chirac-LePen race (where Chirac got 82%) either. That one was over as soon as it started. This race still breathes.

– 1TF