2016 Democratic Primary

A Reflection on an Echo of a Cartoon

Detail of cartoon by Jen Sorensen, via Daily Kos Comics, 3 January 2017.

To the one, winter is as winter does, and we should probably leave it at that. Nonetheless, a month later, Jen Sorensen’s point still echoes:

Hillary has certainly frustrated me at times over the years, but I came to admire her intelligence and poise over the course of this election cycle. Her performance at the debates with Trump was nothing short of heroic. She also ran on the most progressive Democratic platform ever, but since policy has become almost completely divorced from politics, she gets little credit for that. I could go on, but as my husband says, this was not so much an election as an exorcism, the culmination of a decades-long smear campaign by the right.

The term “political correctness” has been the cornerstone of conservative efforts to transform the ideas of civil rights and equality into something frivolous and stupid. The right loves plucking silly examples from obscure, powerless people and blowing them up into huge “culture war” issues that supposedly threaten the nation. “PC” is an insult that plays into their hands.

Along these same lines, “liberal elites”―long a Fox News favorite―is designed to shift attention away from the actual economic elites hoovering up the world’s wealth and resources, such as the Koch Brothers or Trump, and instead make one think of poodle-owning urbanites supposedly looking down their noses at everyone (while in reality voting to raise the minimum wage). It’s a frame, not a fact, and hides a deep anti-intellectual agenda.

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Something Going On (Asymetrically Intriguing)

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton laughs before speaking to supporters at the Human Rights Campaign Breakfast in Washington, October 3, 2015. (Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

This is the thing: While it is easy enough to get lost in the spectacular noise and bluster, the breathtaking incoherence and disbelief, something does seem to have happened. Jonathan Chait dove in last month, noting, “The most important substantive problem facing political journalists of this era is asymmetrical polarization”. And to a certain degree, Chait is vital, here, because of something else he wrote, all of several days before:

I had not taken seriously the possibility that Donald Trump could win the presidency until I saw Matt Lauer host an hour-long interview with the two major-party candidates. Lauer’s performance was not merely a failure, it was horrifying and shocking. The shock, for me, was the realization that most Americans inhabit a very different news environment than professional journalists. I not only consume a lot of news, since it’s my job, I also tend to focus on elite print-news sources. Most voters, and all the more so undecided voters, subsist on a news diet supplied by the likes of Matt Lauer. And the reality transmitted to them from Lauer matches the reality of the polls, which is a world in which Clinton and Trump are equivalently flawed.

Nor need one be any manner of confessed media elitist; outside the circles where people perpetually complain about the media, news consumers are more than a little puzzled―indeed, some or maybe even many are alarmed―about what they are witnessing.

Part of the problem, of course, is asymmetrical polarization; Chait considered the question―

Political journalism evolved during an era of loose parties, both of which hugged the center, and now faces an era in which one of those parties has veered sharply away from the center. Today’s Republican Party now resides within its own empirical alternative universe, almost entirely sealed off from any source of data, expertise, or information that might throw its ideological prior values into question. Donald Trump’s candidacy is the ne plus ultra of this trend, an outlier horrifying even to a great many conservatives who have been largely comfortable with their party’s direction until now. How can the news media appropriately cover Trump and his clearly flawed opponent without creating an indecipherable din of equivalent-sounding criticism, where one candidate’s evasive use of a private email server looms larger than the other’s promise to commit war crimes?

Liz Spayd, the New York Times’ new public editor, dismisses the problem out of hand in a column that is a logical train wreck. Spayd specifically addresses a column by Paul Krugman that lambastes two news investigations into the Clinton Foundation, one of which appeared in the Times. Both reports dug deep and found nothing improper, but instead of either walking away from the dry holes or writing an exculpatory story, dressed them up with innuendo. These stories supply a prime example of the larger critique often grouped under the heading of “false equivalence”―journalists treating dissimilar situations as similar, in an attempt to balance out their conclusions. Spayd dismisses false equivalence as liberal whining, without in any way engaging with its analysis.

―in the wake of a New York Times dispute between public editor Liz Spayd and columnist Paul Krugman.

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The Gary Johnson Trip (Legacy)

Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson botches a foreign policy question about Aleppo, Syria, on msnbc's Morning Joe, 8 September 2016.

This is perhaps the greatest contribution former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson’s presidential bid offers our society:

On the surface, the low approval ratings for Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump present a prime opportunity for a candidate like Mr. Johnson, who is socially liberal and fiscally conservative. Even so, that intriguing blend of policies has made it difficult for the Libertarian ticket, which includes William F. Weld, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, to attract stray Democrats or disenchanted Republicans in large numbers.

“He’s had issues coalescing the anti-Trump Republican crowd, partially because it’s a mix of social conservatives and moderates, and partly because at times he’s seemed more keen on appealing to the Bernie bros,” said Tim Miller, a Republican and a former aide to Jeb Bush, referring to the supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Mr. Miller opposes Mr. Trump and is considering voting for the Libertarian ticket this year.

Mr. Miller added that Mr. Johnson’s flub about Aleppo did not make him a riskier bet on foreign policy matters than is Mr. Trump. But, he said, it does highlight the problem that many Republicans have with Libertarians. “It reinforces my top policy difference with him, which is his relative isolationism” on foreign affairs, he said.

(Rappeport)

That is to say, Aleppo is no longer the name of a human atrocity, but, rather, an emblem of atrocious American stupidity.

Then again, it clarifies the remainder for the the Johnson/Weld effort: That would be a hell of an unfortunate legacy.

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Barnicle, Mike. “Gary Johnson asks: What is Aleppo?” Morning Joe. msnbc. 8 September 2016.

Rappeport, Alan. “Gary Johnson’s ‘What Is Aleppo’ Flub Amplifies Skepticism of Republicans”. The New York Times. 9 September 2016.

How She Runs Against Herself

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at her presidential primary election night rally, Tuesday, April 26, 2016, in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

This is a curiosity, or maybe not. Think of it this way: Former Secretary of State, United States Senator, and First Lady Hillary Clinton is not, in her presidential election campaign, running against Donald Trump. She is, instead, running against any number of ideas, some about being a Democrat, some about being a woman, and some about being a Clinton, though I’m uncertain about the order of priority, and the fundamental question of whether we, the People, think she deserves to be president. No other presidential candidate has ever run in this context.

Consider the basic proposition: Hillary Clinton is so widely recognized as a potential president that people hold this fact against her; Bernie Sanders would pretend to disrupt Clinton’s “coronation” as nominee, but it turns out the movement didn’t have a platform.α Now Donald Trump must disrupt Hillary’s (ahem!) coronation as president. And that’s how this election is being fought and judged:

▸ Donald Trump is not qualified to be president.

▸ Hillary Clinton is qualified to be president, but we’ll give the job to Trump unless she satisfies us as no candidate before her ever has.

Republicans, who have spent the last two terms saying and doing everything they can think of to maintain the pretense that Barack Obama’s presidency is somehow illegitimate, are already looking past Mr. Trump’s defeat, considering how to delegitimize Hillary Clinton.

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About as Bad an Idea as You Might Think

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) speaks during his first campaign rally in Michigan at Eastern Michigan University 15 February 2016 in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

So …

Less than a week before its official launch on Wednesday, Bernie Sanders’ new political group is working its way through an internal war that led to the departure of digital director Kenneth Pennington and at least four others from a team of 15, and the return of presidential campaign manager Jeff Weaver as the group’s new president.

(Dovere and Debenedetti)

… the thing is that I ought to have been thrilled by Bernie Sanders’ candidacy. He announced the day before my forty-second birthday; what a gift, right? Until the Bern scorched the landscape, most people thought of me as something of a leftist. It’s a little hard to tell anyone what to think of that notion at present, but I am and remain a cynical revolutionary, and thus the decision to wait, to see what Bernie brought before jumping on the bandwagon, feels more than simply justified.

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The Clinton Nexus: Critique and Purpose

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses supporters at the Navy Yard in Brooklyn, New York, 7 June 2016, after vote projections achieved a majority of pledged delegates in the Democratic presidential primary. (Detail of photo by Steve Sands/WireImage)

As editorials in the guise of reportage go, Niall Stanage’s effort to get into the presidential race for The Hill isn’t as completely terrible as it could be:

In the general election, Clinton can offer a depth of policy experience that far exceeds that of Trump, who has never held elected office. But she also has no slogan as simple and straightforward as his exhortation to “Make America Great Again.”

It’s a failure that some Democratic insiders find perplexing.

“It’s not clear what the over-arching message is yet,” said New York-based Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf. “It is clear that being the anti-Trump has some value; it is clear that offering economic policy has some value. But there is no over-arching message.”

An anonymous Democratic strategist asks, “What’s her vision for the country?” In a way it seems a pertinent question, but in the end it is just another reporter complaining about a non-traditional year.

Part of the difficulty, Democrats say, resides in Clinton’s cautious personality and her past political experiences. Her tendency toward incrementalism doesn’t lend itself to bumper sticker slogans, but she learned the hard way how tough it is to enact sweeping change. Her push for health care reform during the first term of her husband, President Bill Clinton, ended in utter failure.

Those past political experiences help explain why Clinton exhibits a mild disdain for the soundbites that Sanders and Trump―and other candidates―can deploy so readily.

When Clinton met with Black Lives Matter activists almost a year ago, she told them, “Look, I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate.”

Her arguments are such moments may well be fair, or at least plausible. But “change allocation of resources” is not the kind of call to thrill the masses.

In addition, some people suggest that the sheer length of Clinton’s record means that it is hard for to her to gin up the same enthusiasm as new arrivals on the political scene.

Trump “can say anything and he gets applause because he’s fresh and new. She doesn’t get the same applause because she’s not fresh and new,” Sheinkopf said. “It’s more difficult for her than it is for him because Trump has no political history and can therefore say anything and do anything.”

The answer exists within the explanation; it’s just not necessarily apparent because we are all supposed to be looking elsewhere. Stanage’s entire article orbits a presupposition that Hillary Clinton is making a mistake, yet here we encounter an occasion when the question of a mistake seems counterintuitive.

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The Donald Trump Show (American Distress)

Detail of image via Trump campaign.

“Yes, Antonin Scalia’s passing meant the Supreme Court was down one justice, but it doesn’t take a mathematician to know 3 + 1 does not equal 5.”

Steve Benen

The thing about politics right now is that everything is really, really depressing. I’m deathly sick of Donald Trump, yet the question persists: How did this happen?

Nor do I mean that in any context suggesting plaintive puzzlement. We all have a reasonable idea how the abdication of civic leadership in the context of public service struck the Republican Party so low after decades of pandering to ill-educated bigotry.

Donald Trump saying something stupid really shouldn’t be headline news. It shouldn’t be anything unusual. It shouldn’t be anything the rest of us have any reason to give a damn about. Then again, just how the hell did Republicans find themselves with Donald Trump as their presidential nominee apparent?

Oh, right.

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An American Snapshot (Heritage: Hatred)

Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks during the 2016 Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Candidates Forum in Washington, DC, December 3, 2015 (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

“Yes, a majority of Americans said they were against such measures, but let’s not brush past the obvious point: a third of the country is an alarming number of people.”

Steve Benen

The problem with making a point like Steve Benen’s is not that it is somehow wrong or grotesquely exaggerated. Rather, the problem is that such straightforward, dramatic statements find themselves anywhere near the realm of American reality.

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A Strange Moment in History

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during an election night event at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Fla., Tuesday, 15 March 2016. (Detail of photo by Lynne Sladky/AP Photo)

This couldn’t have waited until tomorrow?

Striding into history, Hillary Clinton will become the first woman to top the presidential ticket of a major U.S. political party, capturing commitments Monday from the number of delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination.

(Yen, et al.)

It seems for the moment this development has any number of people puzzled. On msnbc, Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, and Andrea Mitchell all offered double-takes over the timing. While it is certainly possible to understand a certain notion, that these superdelegates decided to start wrapping up the Democratic Show in favor of turning to the Big Show, the idea that professional political hands couldn’t see the problem with the timing is problematic. Then again, maybe they didn’t coordinate. We might note this isn’t like when South Dakota upped its prestige a notch when its superdelegates decided to clinch the nomination for Donald Trump. Right now, as far as we can tell, of the ninety-five Democratic superdelegates who had yet to commit publicly during repeated inquiries over the last seven months, some did this time around, and AP just happens to be able to turn its eye to history, scooping the candidate herself.

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A Walking, Talking Uterus in a Superhero Costume Beating an Orange Anus

Detail of cartoon by Matt Bors, via Daily Kos, 18 May 2016.Congratulations to Matt Bors, who notes his latest nomination for an Eisner Award, and with with penultimates like this, it’s easy to see why.

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Image note: Detail of cartoon by Matt Bors, via Daily Kos, 18 May 2016.