Sunday, February 28, 2016

The governing cancer of our times

There is a disturbing trend in politics .  It is about authoriatarianism. Trump is nothing new and our founding fathers tried to set up a government that would be the alternative to his style of governance. For those who praised Antonin Scalia's reliance on the intent of the original constitution and its meaning need to read this. It is about democracy as the best method with which to govern and authoriatarianism is its enemy.

 Yes, I know, the New York Times  is the epitome of establishment media, but the argument columnist David Brooks makes deserves a full reading and some serious and objective consideration.  What he wrote is very close to my own thinking.
The core of his column is this:
"Trump is the culmination of the trends we have been seeing for the last 30 years: the desire for outsiders; the bashing style of rhetoric that makes conversation impossible; the decline of coherent political parties; the declining importance of policy; the tendency to fight cultural battles and identity wars through political means.
Trump represents the path the founders rejected. ..."

Brooks cited a study by a political scientist , Matthew Macwilliams that had already caught my eye.,too.  Ever since the rise of Nazi Germany, there have been those wondering how it could have happened. Macwilliams' thesis was not to make a comparison of Donald Trump and Hitler, but is meant as a way to answer the question of why Trump  appeals to so many.  It has nothing to do public policy, religion, or much else than as he describes and polls Trump supporters.  What draws them to him? His answer was similar to my gut feel after spending time in post war Germany.. I spent my junior abroad in 1958-59 in Berlin trying to answer that question myself.  My feeling was that there was something cultural which caused  support and acceptance of a Hitler.  It was likely the German's upbringing and respect of authority .  Macwilliams and political scientists have put their finger on it more formally and it became the standard set of questions asks as a measure for the tendency to support authoritarianism. Per Macwilliams:  "My poll asked a set of four simple survey questions that political scientists have employed since 1992 to measure inclination toward authoritarianism. These questions pertain to child-rearing: whether it is more important for the voter to have a child who is respectful or independent; obedient or self-reliant; well-behaved or considerate; and well-mannered or curious. Respondents who pick the first option in each of these questions are strongly authoritarian.
Based on these questions, Trump was the only candidate—Republican or Democrat—whose support among authoritarians was statistically significant."

Read more:

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Retooling the Hillary Clinton messaging

The most often heard  criticism of Hillary Clinton is that she does not have a passionate single  themed message.  The greatest asset of Bernie Sanders is that he does.  Also a  criticism of Clinton is that she is not appealing to the younger voters, both men and women.  The greatest asset of Bernie Sanders is that he speaks directly to their greatest concerns, college affordability and economic policies that make it difficult for them to succeed after graduation. Another frequent  criticism of Clinton is that she is too close to Wall Street and does  not seem to show equal concern about  blue collar workers falling out of the middle class.  Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, gives them focus for their anger with his anti - Wall Street  and  tax the hyper rich people  message.  

 In spite of Sander's success in getting across his message so effectively, Clinton is still coming out ahead with reminding voters of  her long time credibility in fighting for human and civil rights and for her success in  helping  women and children.  She has made the point, too,  that she has unmatched experience in foreign affairs that makes her ready to be commander in chief day one, However,  unless there is another terrorist attack on the US between now and November, that skill seems doomed  to be ignored or buried by Donald Trump's raging bull in a china closet sloganeering.

 The GOP has been able to weaken Clinton's  credibility  considerably, not only with the GOP base itself, but also with the Sanders' base,  by repeatedly  attacking her as a liar in the context of Benghazi and her emails.  She has failed to counter that effectively , but she has been able to offset it with her message of experience and  her civil rights record. In interviews, she did pledge  to" always  level" with  people  and she said she "always  tried to tell the truth."  That was a nuanced answer, perhaps truthful in itself, but not reassuring enough. 

 If Donald Trump is the GOP candidate, lies might not be much of an issue since every major fact checker awarded him the top " liar of 2015'." .  Intent is an integral element of telling a lie.  What somehow in that" liar against liar combat" in the general election,   spokespersons for Clinton could  easily counter any attacks from Trump by calling  him out for  using lies to gin up fear and loathing of others even when his untruths were documented  by so many as being untrue., In particular, he exaggerated  the Muslim reaction to 9/11  (thousands dancing in New Jersey) and the criminal nature of undocumented immigrants in general.     The "liar wars" would be an ugly checkmate and it would do neither  candidate any good. 

In Nevada, Hillary Clinton  retooled her message to embrace  Sanders' issues.  She had begun that in New Hampshire, saying that she agreed those issues  he identified  are problems, but that Sander's solutions are too focused on narrow goals, and that she  had a wider vision: not only addressing student debt, but taking care of it now instead of just the future and going after the larger list of  participants and policies contributing to the Wall Street crash of 2008, What she could add to counter Sanders', too, is to say that she never makes promises that she blieves  have no chance of passing Congress within her term of office,  

Clinton could never hope to equal the passion of  Bernie  Sanders, but she could do a better job of dramatizing her commitment. In Nevada, Clinton began using the slogan "I will fight for you". It could be the common theme she has been lacking.  In her Nevada caucus victory speech, Hillar Clinton's stage was backed by waiving signs with that slogan. However, she neglected  to tie that slogan to her long list of issues. The words of "fighting for you" were not even  part of that speech.   The slogan  also confirms  her greatest assets: a strong leader, personal drive, toughness,  and demonstrated ability to  get things done.   Perhaps an even  better slogan would be "fighting to get it done for you", since one problem Sanders has is showing how he could get his promises through  Congress, especially with tax increases on everyone, not just on the rich, to pay for medicare for all and a free college education.

What Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have in common: much

 Enough has been said that both Sanders and Trump are  tapping into anger and disgust with the political status quo, which in current jargon is the “establishment”. They both also tell a large enough body of voters what they want to hear and they tell it without restraint, guile,  insincerity, or self- doubt or even concern they can make good on their promises. It is straight from their guts and both have a past history that confirms it is real and it resonates in 2016. 

The question we need to ask is if this is where the majority, including those in the middle, want our country to go, a country motivated by disrespect of others and racial divisions, or a nation that is willing to solve its problems enough to overlook its costs, bigger government, and higher taxes not on just the rich, but also even on the middle class.

Remember that Donald Trump was the most outspoken voice promoting the birther movement that President Obama was born in Kenya.  It should be no surprise that he has no qualms about appealing to racists and bigots in his anti- immigrant rhetoric. The slogan of “taking back our country” and” making America great again” works.  “ By whom for whom”  are meanings that are becoming clearer. It is neither his non-evangelical religion nor his non-conservative position on issues that drove his win in South Carolina. He got much of the evangelical and very conservative vote. It was something else: exit polls showed the number one issue on voter’s mind there was “terrorism”. The messages in ads and other media Trump conveyed  leading up to the primary were geared to fear of all Muslims and immigrants and his message of strength indicates he could and will do something about it.

There is another element Sanders and Trump share: the question of electability. They both so far are able to garner 30 to over 45% chunks of their party’s totals.  Given Trump’s ability to appeal to evangelicals makes his boast post South Carolina that he will pick up enough votes from that group to keep his opponents, evangelical and establishment, from uniting against him.  Fear and bigotry are powerful vote motivators, as the South Carolina primary showed, to overcome religious and any other considerations among enough of the GOP electorate.

Will moderates who might be tempted to vote for Sanders to swallow his overtly anti- business, pro increase in taxes on everyone to pay for his proposals, and especially his own self defined label of “democratic socialist?” If Sanders is the Democratic candidate, given the acidic anti- immigrant, anti-voters rights and anti-affirmative action stance considered gospel by the GOP, he would inherit Clinton’s  African American and Hispanic support. 

At this writing, Clinton’s support from African Americans in South Carolina is overwhelmingly solid, and even so in Nevada. While Sanders cut into the Latino vote in the Nevada caucus, Clinton carried the most heavily Hispanic populated ones.  In short, the split in the Nevada Latino vote was encouraging news for Clinton and the future of the Democratic party’s appeal to Latinos in the general election no matter if Sanders or Clinton is the party’s candidate.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Scalia's death: legal chaos and retooling partisan strategies

The unexpected death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia  moves the campaign focus to  replacement because the issues before the Supreme Court involve some very contentious and divisive ones.  Court  decisions currently  break 5 to 4, favoring conservatives, but not always.  If anything, control of the White House that nominates and the Senate that confirms nominees will now take on immediate urgency  as the stakes, the ideological tilt of the Court, just became higher. The likely outcome for the near future is chaos in interpretation of laws  and a greater emphasis  on  partisan strategic thinking in the race to the White House .

 The impact  of the GOP winning the White House and/or keeping the Senate majority would continue the  tilt for years  to the right on  critical issues  now before the Court, from women’s access to abortion, climate change, voting and equal rights, affirmative action  and  immigration. The Supreme Court’s decisions influence public policy far beyond presidential terms or flux in Congressional makeup.

  GOP’s  announced intention is to block in the Senate any nomination President Obama offers, regardless of qualifications or degree of ideological moderation.  The GOP strategy is to  delay confirmation until they win the White House and the Senate to put their conservative nominee onto the Court’s bench. The GOP majority Senate has the votes to delay the  confirmation process. In order to get confirmation before the swearing in of a new President in January 2017,  President Obama will need 14 Republican votes in the Senate, highly unlikely in Washington’s extreme partisan election year climate.

Leaving the Court seat vacant until after the new president is sworn in and appointment is nominated and  confirmed could likely  mean  four to four tie votes on contentious issues which would  result in letting the lower federal court rulings stand. Most  issues currently before the Court concern decisions  by conservative  dominated lower courts. Except for the issue of public employee unions, a Court tie vote would favor the conservative agenda.

Temporary chaos is possible, since some other lower courts in some districts have had decisions that conflict with  conservative dominated courts. Laws could be enforced  unevenly in the country on a court district by district, appeals court basis and we could expect a flurry of challenges being filed in lower Federal courts seeking clarification.

If the confirmation is delayed by GOP tactics in the Senate, then the risk for  Republicans is that they could lose the race to the White House or see Democratic coattails tilt the Senate to Democrats. They will have lost their chance to replace ultra conservative Scalia  with an equally conservative  ideologue and the Court would tilt to the  left of center on issues dear to conservatives.

The flip side is that if the Democrats persist in nominating a candidate who turns off the middle of the roaders and lose the White House and/or Senate,  the court would continue to tilt conservative.

The wrong presidential nominee could harm either party’s  control of the Senate. Coat tails count.  In  Colorado,  the GOP  will challenge Democratic incumbent Senator Michael Bennet.  An extremely  anti immigrant presidential nominee could cause an increase in the turnout of the swing vote in Colorado, Hispanics, with the outcome helping Bennet.

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi Daily News February 18, 2016

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

After Iowa, the rest of the race to the White House is about demographics

Hillary Clinton became the first Clinton not to lose an Iowa caucus night and the first woman to “apparently” win it.  Whether it is a definite win and not a tie depends on the expectations of pundits and candidate supporters. By sheer numbers of delegate counts, a win is a win.
No doubt, Bernie Sanders exceeded expectations, but after New Hampshire, he will need to show he can cut into both the African American and Hispanic Democratic caucus or primary voters to continue his momentum. 

Depending upon who becomes the GOP winner in the primaries, the Hispanic vote in swing electoral college states will become critical in November.  It is not a given that Democrats will retain over 70% of that group as they did in 2012.  The more virulent anti-immigrant, anti “amnesty” the GOP nominee is, the more either Clinton or Sanders in the general election will succeed in attracting Hispanics.

Clinton will have one more demographic advantage in the primaries: the women of a “certain age” ,middle and older, who have been waiting a long time for the US to join the UK, Germany, and India, among other countries, who have been or are now led by women. 

Why Clinton cannot depend on the  under 30 year old women’s vote is because so many of the younger women have not yet dealt with the remaining parts of the  glass ceiling and pay inequality in advancing their careers. The generation to which students and young women belong is much more liberal and many are taken by Sander’s crusade against income inequality between economic classes.

There is also an element of women of that certain older age who have always been supportive of a single payer health care system.  Given the certainty that the House of Representatives will remain in GOP hands, and the probability that the Senate will continue to have a GOP majority, Medicare for all in the next four years is a hope without a prayer. 

In the general election, most of the young women’s vote is likely to stay with Democrats, regardless of the nominee, because of the extreme position of GOP candidates on the matter of choice and/or on other issues.  Per a poll taken  a year ago reported by  Politico,” Female voters who care about the top four issues — the economy,  healthcare, education and jobs — vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. Most striking, Democrats hold a 35-point advantage with female voters who care about jobs.”

The greatest threat to women’s interests is the possibility of GOP control of Supreme Court appointments. Electability is an issue women cannot dismiss and Sanders’ self- identified socialist label could turn off enough swing vote moderates needed to win the general.  Control of the White House is critical to women who see choice and /or health care as being important to them. Most Court decisions important to women have been 5 to 4 or 4 to 5 splits.  If the GOP wins the Presidency, his court appointees would tilt the Court more their way.  A party will be in total control of a Congress and White House that could repeal Obamacare and replace it with either nothing or a more fiscally unsound system, unaffordable by many more.