#ImWithHer

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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The Donald Trump Show (Conway-esque)

Republican U.S. presidential nominee donald Trump is greeted by (L-R) his son-in-law Jared Kushner, daughter Ivanka, and son Eric after the conclusion of the third and final debate with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton at University of Nevada Las Vegas, 19 October 2016. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Reuters/Pool)

This actually takes some explaining. Or maybe not. Okay, so Robert Costa of the Washington Post issues a tweet amid the third presidential debate, criticizing Donald Trump, describing the Republican nominee’s now infamous “bad hombres” line as “Trump being Trump”, and the rest of the game show host’s answers by the lovely term, “Conway-esque”.

Five minutes later, with Hillary Clinton eviscerating the Republican nominee, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway retweets Costa’s critique as a boast.

Or, as Sophia Tesfaye put it: “Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway is already auditioning for her next gig”:

Kellyanne Conway speaks at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, 4 March 2016. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, must be making a covert cry for help, as nothing short of desperate confusion could explain a tweet she sent in the middle of the third presidential debate ....

.... After Trump’s “bad hombres” comment caused a ruckus on social media, Trump’s campaign manager took to Twitter to retweet a compliment of herself and backhanded diss to her boss.

Somewhere in the load of not-necessarily transcribed, good luck finding it on the website pile of campaign coverage segments from msnbc’s relentless branding campaign is a bit with a few seasoned, liberal-leaning hands chuckling about the fact of major Republican players showing enough wisdom to stay clear of the Trump presidential bid. There is some merit to the point: Corey Lewandowski, a Koch lobbyist is no longer with the campaign; RNC consultant and Scott Walker’s primary campaign manager Rick Wiley has come and gone; consultant to notorious international figures Paul Manafort has come and gone; and former Dole staffer turned lobbyist Jim Murphy has stepped back from his role as national political director with less than three weeks remaining in the election contest. Donald Trump’s campaign is currently run by an alt-right publisher and, well, Kellyanne Conway. None of these were truly first-tier to begin with. But, still, while it’s not quite pitching for delegates in the 2020 race at the 2016 Republican National Convention, neither is it … er … ah … y’know?

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Image notes: Top ― Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump is greeted by (L-R) his son-in-law Jared Kushner, daughter Ivanka, and son Eric after the conclusion of the third and final debate with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton at University of Nevada Las Vegas, 19 October 2016. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Reuters/Pool) Right ― Kellyanne Conway speaks at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, 4 March 2016. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Conway, Kelly. “— >”. Twitter. 19 October 2016.

Costa, Robert. “Bad hombres”. Twitter. 19 October 2016.

Tesfaye, Sophia. “Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway is already auditioning for her next gig”. Salon. 19 October 2016.

The Problem With Republicans (Justice in Waiting)

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks to the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church during their annual convention at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 8 July 2016. (Photo: Charles Mostoller/Reuters)

“I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up.”

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)

It’s not really a gaffe, is it? It’s an interesting headline from CNN: “John McCain: ‘I don’t know’ if Trump will be better for Supreme Court than Clinton”

Trump has released lists of 21 potential justices. He has pledged to choose from among those 21 when making Supreme Court selections, in a move that has earned him praise from conservatives, including his former rival in the Republican primary, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) listens to testimony by U.S. Forces-Afghanistan Commander and Resolute Support Commander Gen. John Campbell, on Capitol Hill in Washington, 4 February 2016. (Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo)Asked on the Dom Giordano program on 1210 WPHT Philadelphia radio whether Trump was the superior candidate on issues like the Supreme Court, the Arizona senator replied, “Uh, first of all, I don’t know, because I hear him saying a lot of different things.”

Later in the interview, McCain used the opportunity to make the case for fellow Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, who is locked in a close battle to retain his Senate seat in Pennsylvania. McCain promised that Republicans would be “united against any Supreme Court nominee” put forth by Clinton.

“I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up,” McCain said. “I promise you. This is where we need the majority and Pat Toomey is probably as articulate and effective on the floor of the Senate as anyone I have encountered.”

Or, as Taylor Link fashioned the obvious lede for Salon:

Sen. John McCain is sure that if Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton wins, the Senate will continue to be an obstructionist mess.

In a Monday interview, the senator from Arizona said that Republican nominee Donald Trump is not necessarily a better candidate than Hillary Clinton when it comes to appointing Supreme Court justices and “promised” that Republicans wouldn’t approve any Clinton nominee to the Supreme Court.

Couldn’t see that one coming, eh?

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The Donald Trump Show (Blood & Cannon)

Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump listen to a question during the town hall debate at Washington University, 9 October 2016, in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Saul Loeb/Pool/Getty Images)

It is not entirely certain just how we ought to take James Oliphant’s headline for Reuters, “Trump may have stopped the bleeding, but not the worrying”. The lede is one of those double-takes, not because it is unbelievable but because it seems worth checking to make certain you read it correctly:

Donald Trump may have done just enough in Sunday’s presidential debate to keep his leaky presidential campaign afloat―and that may have put Republicans considering abandoning him in an even tougher position.

It is, in fact, a reasonable thesis but not exactly reflective of the headline. Indeed, the most curious thing about bleeding is just how the Trump campaign is bleeding, or not, might well be the section header, “Red Meat for the Base”, describing the last third of the article, and here Oliphant brings the point home:

Against this backdrop of panic and condemnation, Trump on Sunday sought to rally the party’s base with a fresh barrage of provocative attacks on Clinton that will give the media something other than the tape to talk about.

He offered a blistering critique of her handling of foreign policy while the country’s chief diplomat and brought his rally cry for her to be jailed to the debate stage. He also carried out a threat to make an issue of her husband’s sexual history.

In doing so, Trump may have stopped the bleeding, but he did nothing to stop the worrying.

The base. Donald Trump stopped the bleeding, but not the worrying, among his base? Suddenly the lede, with Mr. Trump having “done just enough” to “keep his leaky presidential campaign afloat”, seems nearly an overstatement. That is to say: What counts as afloat?

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The Donald Trump Show (Telltale Taxes)

Donald Trump speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference [CPAC], 6 March 2014, at National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

This is one of those things that has just been bugging me, even though it’s kind of moot. Well, okay, work with me, here. Let us, first, rewind.

It was arguably one of the most important moments of this week’s presidential debate. Hillary Clinton was speculating about why Donald Trump would choose to be the first modern American presidential candidate to refuse to release his tax returns. “Maybe,” she said, “he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes.”

Unprompted, Trump interrupted to say, “That makes me smart.”

A Washington Post reporter, watching the debate with undecided voters in North Carolina, noted there were “gasps” in the room after the exchange. “That’s offensive. I pay taxes,” one said. “Another person would be in jail for that,” another voter added.

Steve Benen’s telling of the tale is not unfamiliar; indeed, his formulation of the moment is not unique, because it reads a little better that way, like a one-two. But it is also inaccurate, as is any telling in which Hillary Clinton sets up Donald Trump by saying, “Maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes.”

Hillary Clinton did say that. And as part of the setup. But this telling gives Donald Trump a bit of wiggle room, which Benen, in turn, aims to debunk:

Perhaps now would be a good time to note that “That makes me smart” and “That would make me smart” are not the same sentences.

Indeed, let’s also not forget that in the same debate, Trump talked about how the government doesn’t have the necessary resources for public needs. “Maybe because you haven’t paid any federal income tax for a lot of years,” Clinton interjected. Trump fired back, “It would be squandered, too.”

As we discussed the other day, the comment was striking because of its apparent acceptance of the underlying premise. By saying his tax money would have been “squandered,” Trump seemed to be conceding that Clinton’s argument was correct: he hasn’t paid taxes.

That analysis responds to Donald Trump’s appearance on FOX News two days after the debate:

O’REILLY: Okay. And those of us in Manhattan know that’s true. Now, they are going to come after you, they being the Clinton campaign, on the statement that you made that you were as smart for paying as few taxes as you could possibly pay. You know it’s going to be in the next debate, it’s going to be on campaign ads. Do you have any defense for that right now?

TRUMP: No. I didn’t say that. What she said is maybe you paid no taxes. I said, well, that would make me very smart.

O’REILLY: Right.

Right there, you see Donald Trump lying and Bill O’Reilly helping him: “I didn’t say that”, Donald Trump explained of saying he was smart to not pay taxes. “What she said is maybe you paid no taxes. I said, well, that would make me very smart.” And this is what Benen picked out, and he is exactly correct insofar as the point goes: “Perhaps now would be a good time to note that ‘That makes me smart’ and ‘That would make me smart’ are not the same sentences.”

O’Reilly teed the point up again:

O’REILLY: All right. I’m Hillary Clinton in the next debate. And I say to you what she said yesterday in North Carolina. Hey, if is he not going to pay any taxes and he thinks that’s smart, what does that make us? We pay taxes. Are we stupid? How are you going to answer that?

TRUMP: Well, first of all―first of all, I never said I didn’t pay taxes. She said maybe you didn’t pay taxes and I said well, that would make me smart because tax is a big payment. But I think a lot of people say that’s the kind of thinking that I want running this nation.

O’REILLY: Okay.

Note they are using the same narrative Benen did. So, here’s the thing about stylistics and narrative: Sometimes tailoring for the punch actually weakens the narrative. And this time, the tailoring hands Donald Trump his talking point.

What Hillary Clinton actually said, and how Donald Trump actually responded:

CLINTON: Third, we don’t know all of his business dealings, but we have been told through investigative reporting that he owes about $650 million to Wall Street and foreign banks. Or maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes, because the only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax.

TRUMP: That makes me smart.

(Washington Post)

The thing is that Hillary Clinton really did say, “maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes”. And then she said, “because the only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax”. And that is when Donald Trump said, “That makes me smart.”

Telling the story the way Steve Benen and Donald Trump alike tell it overlooks a specific point: Certes, there is a difference ‘twixt, “That makes me smart” and, “That would make me smart”. But what did Donald Trump actually respond to?

CLINTON: … the only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax.

TRUMP: That makes me smart.

In this telling, Donald Trump doesn’t get to rely on “maybe”. He acknowledged Secretary Clinton’s argument. Despite his protestations and Mr. O’Reilly’s agreement, Donald Trump really did say paying no federal income tax makes him smart.

And while the latest absurd chapter illuminated by the New York Times pretty much renders last week’s maybe moot it still seems worth pointing out.

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Image note: Donald Trump speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference [CPAC], 6 March 2014, at National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Barstow, David, et al. “Donald Trump Tax Records Show He Could Have Avoided Taxes for Nearly Two Decades, The Times Found”. The New York Times. 1 October 2016.

Benen, Steve. “Has Donald Trump paid federal taxes or not?”. msnbc. 29 September 2016.

Blake, Aaron. “The first Trump-Clinton presidential debate transcript, annotated”. The Washington Post. 26 September 2016.

O’Reilly, Bill. “Interview with Donald Trump”. The O’Reilly Factor. Transcript. FOX News. 28 September 2016.

An American Lamentation (Two by “Huh?”)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks to supporters in Everett, Washington, 30 August 2016. (Detail of frame via YouTube)

Americans often lament the fact of their essentially two-party political league, and the top of the Libertarian ticket, Gary Johnson, is capable of providing spectacular reminders of why we tend toward the binary. The former New Mexico governor and middle-tier celebrity stoner has managed to reduce a human atrocity to yet another icon of American stupidity, which really is no good legacy to build. Yet it is true, in the American discourse, “Aleppo” is … well, Matthew Kitchen tries to explain for NBC News:

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson struggled to name a single foreign leader when asked who his favorite was during an MSNBC town hall Wednesday night.

“Any one of the continents, any country. Name one foreign leader that your respect and look up to. Anybody,” host Chris Matthews pushed during the event, causing Johnson to sigh loudly as his VP pick Bill Weld tried to jump in.

“I guess I’m having an Aleppo moment,” Johnson finally said, referring to his recent gaffe on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” when he asked “What is Aleppo?” after he was questioned about how he would handle the conflict in the Syrian city.

So, yeah. Aleppo is … Gary Johnson being inexcusably stupid. (Look, dude, I mean, you’re, like, running for president, you know, like, aren’t you?)

And then there is Donald Trump.

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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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A Brief Note About “Her”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton works from a desk inside a C-17 military plane upon her departure from Malta, in the Mediterranean Sea, bound for Tripoli, Libya, 18 October 2011. (Kevin Lamarque/Associated Press)

Matthew Yglesias offers yet another example―

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, circa 2013. (Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters)So what about the charity? Well, Powell’s wife, Alma Powell, took it over. And it kept raking in donations from corporate America. Ken Lay, the chair of Enron, was a big donor. He also backed a literacy-related charity that was founded by the then-president’s mother. The US Department of State, at the time Powell was secretary, went to bat for Enron in a dispute the company was having with the Indian government.

Did Lay or any other Enron official attempt to use their connections with Alma Powell (or Barbara Bush, for that matter) to help secure access to State Department personnel in order to voice these concerns? Did any other donors to America’s Promise? I have no idea, because to the best of my knowledge nobody in the media ever launched an extensive investigation into these matters. That’s the value of the presumption of innocence, something Hillary Clinton has never been able to enjoy during her time in the national spotlight.

―of how that dastardly liberal media conspiracy always tanks the story to help a Democrat and sabotage a Republican.

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Image notes: Top ― U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton works from a desk inside a C-17 military plane upon her departure from Malta, in the Mediterranean Sea, bound for Tripoli, Libya, 18 October 2011. (Kevin Lamarque/Associated Press) Right ― Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, circa 2013. (Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters)

Yglesias, Matthew. “Colin Powell’s foundation and Hillary Clinton’s are treated very differently by the media”. Vox.

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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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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