Archive for category National Politics

Where Presidents Come From

Governors, mostly.

We go through this every four years, and I certainly was taken by surprise in 2008 when both parties nominated senators.

This year, so far, it’s all Senators and a former Senator and Secretary of State.  (More on that later.)  Rubio, Cruz, and Paul are all first-term Senators, and given our recent experience with a first-term Senator-as-President, people are understandably leery of electing another one.

If Obama were the only point of reference, I might agree with those who say the comparison is a false one, but the fact is, we don’t have a great record with first-term Senators.  Starting after the Civil War, we have Benjamin Harrison, Warren Harding, and John Kennedy.  Those were the only Presidents elected either directly from the Senate or with the Senate as their only national experience, and they were all first-termers.  (James Garfield was elected from the House, but he really didn’t get much of a chance.)  None of them left much of a record, although it’s possible that two of them, if they hadn’t died in office, might have been re-elected for all that.

Harrison was a one-termer, losing his 1892 rematch with Grover Cleveland.  Harrison had a terrible economy working against him, but then as now, Presidents got the blame or credit for that, probably too much of either.  It wasn’t even a sure thing that Harrison would be renominated, although the obvious candidate, James Blaine, was too ill to run.  True, the executive hadn’t grown to its current, gargantuan proportions, but it was growing into its own, post-Civil War, and was coming to be seen as more important than it had been, with civil service reform a major, multi-decade issue.

Harding’s tenure is mostly remembered for the Teapot Dome scandal, and indeed, his administration appears to have rivaled Grant’s for corruption, although like Grant, Harding hired poorly, rather than to have been on the take himself.  Richard Epstein, about 10 minutes in on this EconTalk podcast, tries to make the case for Harding’s administration, and certainly compared to the frenetic Wilson, he made good on his promise of a “return to normalcy.”  It’s possible a reassessment is in order.  But part of governing is hiring and management, and on that score Harding seems to have failed (with the exception of Mellon at Treasury, which is no small thing).

Kennedy has been canonized by his untimely death, but the fact is the golden haze is mostly misplaced.   He had relatively few domestic achievements, and repeatedly got rolled by Khrushchev – first at the summit, then in Berlin, and finally with the Cuban Missile Crisis.  He made up for it by getting us into Vietnam.

Obama’s been effective in getting some things past, but he’s had to make full use (and then some) of the powers granted the executive branch, and his only real legislative achievement came in large part because of a well-timed prosecution of Ted Stevens, and a variety of found ballots in Minnesota, which conspired to give him 60 votes in the Senate.  A Republican with real coattails in 2016 might pick up a couple of Senate seats, but given the map, is quite unlikely to get such a filibuster-proof majority to work with (although there’s always the chance that a Republican majority leader might follow the Democrat tradition and change the rules to suit his needs).

Of those who ended up President by succession, rather than election, two were legislators first, Truman and Lyndon Johnson.  We tend to think highly of Truman in retrospect, and much of that is based on foreign, rather than domestic policy.  Johnson, while a train wreck in foreign policy, and responsible for a vast expansion of the welfare and regulatory states (which is responsible for much of our current distress), could hardly be called ineffective.  He had spent decades in Congress, learning the ropes, and learning how to apply carrots and sticks, honey and vinegar, in proper proportion.  And of course, both were re-elected.

The last Secretary of State to be elected President was James Buchanan, a rank failure by any measure, inasmuch as the country split into two on his watch.  By that time, it was already becoming an uncommon path to the White House, although many had that ambition: Clay, Webster, Calhoun, Blaine, Seward.  Mostly, that was because the early Democratic-Republican Party established the office as the training ground for the Presidency, with Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and John Quincy Adams all moving directly from Foggy Bottom to the White House, and all directly in succession.  But Martin Van Buren would be the second-to-last one to make that move, and even then, he stopped off as Jackson’s second-term VP in-between.

He would be the last VP before George HW Bush to succeed the president he served in that role.  Nixon, Humphrey, and Gore all had close calls, but the only way most Veeps got to be chief executive was through succession, not election.

By far, the greatest number of presidents have been governors, and I confess that’s my personal preference.  Governors make decisions, senators make speeches.  Governors run offices, senators run their mouths.  There’s no place to hide as a governor, unlike Senate votes that can be calculated for effect, depending on who’s vulnerable on what issue.

Governors have to learn how to lead, how to work with legislatures, how to persuade, and what points to compromise on while advancing an overall agenda.  They have to make choices.  Effective senators do some of this, but are rarely in a position to have an overall view of where they want policy to go.

The good news is that Republicans have a deep crop of experienced governors waiting to enter the race – Perry, Walker, Bush, Jindal, Christie, Pence, Kasich.  That’s what happens when you build effective state machines, and when you focus on winning state legislative races.

While Hillary certainly has an imperial mentality, it’s unclear if she has an executive one.  And of the senators who’ve declared, only Rubio seems to have taken the time to truly educate himself on foreign policy.

As for me, I’m waiting for the governors.

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Democrat Unseriousness on Islamism – Again

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Cloud Cuckooland) has appointed Andre Carson (D-IN) to serve on the Permanent House Select Committee on Intelligence.

Rep. Carson is a Muslim, which in and of itself would not be problematic.  If, say, Dr. Zudhi Jasser or Dr. Qanta Ahmed were to be elected to Congress, I can’t think of a place where they should be more welcomed.

But Rep. Carson is no Dr. Ahmed or Dr. Jasser.  Rep. Carson is both a fan of and beloved by the Muslim Brotherhood’s political operations here in the United States.  Carson has a long history of associating with the Islamic Circle of North America and the Muslim American Society, both groups recognized by Egypt and the UAE as being part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s American political and influence operations.

The appointment comes a week after a set of bloody Islamist attacks in France, and less than a month after Egyptian President Sisi, whose country exists in a state of low-grade warfare against the Brotherhood, issued what amounted to a call for an Islamic reformation.

The appointment puts someone with close ties to America’s enemies on its most sensitive committee, and the one most directly involved with fighting that threat here and overseas.  Why on earth would you give someone like that access to a routine diet of sensitive operational and finished intelligence?

Given the fact that the mainstream media has mostly reported on the novelty of having a Muslim on the Intelligence Committee, the question answers itself.  Pelosi is looking to court a voting bloc, another of the Democrats’ increasingly incompatible identity interest groups in its increasingly unstable and incoherent coalition.  That is also helps to prove that America is no place for the oft-heralded, never-materialized backlash against Muslims.  Pelosi and most Democrats have long since acquiesced in CAIR’s and the MAS’s assertions that the worst thing about terrorist murders is that Muslims might be blamed for them.  What better way to prove that’s not the case than to put an Islamist sympathizer on the committee most responsible for overseering America’s conduct of its war on That Which Has Nothing To Do With Islam?

This is deranged.

It’s the equivalent of putting an actual Communist, say, Ron Dellums of California, on the Committee, or on the Pike Committee, the House’s equivalent of the Church Committee.  Oh, wait, they did that, too, back in the early 70s.
The Democrats have been fundamentally unserious about national defense for generations at this point.  It doesn’t bode well for the country when one of its two major parties derides missile defense as destabilizing, while putting a friend of the most civilizationally destabilizing force on the planet on the Intelligence Committee.

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Presidential Statements & Presidential Silence

I guess I’m glad the president finally condemned attacks on policemen with the same vehemence he usually reserves for Israeli housing construction.

One normally only condemns that which requires condemnation, something about which there exists doubt as to its moral status. When he finds it necessary to remind us that the cold-blooded murder of police officers is a bad thing, to whom, exactly, is he speaking? Not to me, nor to anyone I personally know. We already have no doubts on that score.  It means that there’s almost nothing he could say that would be strong enough.

Why has he put himself in this rhetorical box to begin with? No comment should be necessary. The only reason we were waiting for one from him is because he’s opened his mouth so many times, on so many other subjects, that to *not* say something here would carry its own weight.

That doesn’t even touch on the quality of Obama’s comments about the Cambridge Police, the New York Police, or the Ferguson Police, all of which have tended to assume that there was some police misconduct, even in the absence of credible evidence to that effect.

I think that people who claim that Obama is in large part personally responsible for either the police murders, or the environment that makes them acceptable to some people, are going too far. I do think he’s in some small part responsible.  People don’t talk unless they believe that their words will have some effect, Presidents especially so.  In the past, that meant that presidents weighed their words and the occasions for them carefully.

Not everything requires a presidential comment.  In this case, he’s got enough on his plate trying to manage the executive branch of the federal government without trying to be the country’s police commissioner, to be sure.

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Keystone XL 2015

Today, Harry Reid’s Senate committed one more act of legislative malpractice by failing to override a filibuster of the bill to move the Keystone XL pipeline forward.  The vote was taken for the sole purpose of giving political cover to nearly former Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who’s in a runoff election.  Much of her campaign has been based on her effectiveness in representing Louisiana’s interests.  Louisianans overwhelmingly support the pipeline.  But Harry Reid has willingly run interference for a White House that doesn’t want to make a decision, and risk alienating either the blue-collar wing or the environmental wing of its coalition. So the trick was to get to 59 votes, but not 60.

Apparently the Democrats thought Landrieu might be able to make some use of it.  I’m not sure what failure was supposed to prove, but the fact that it was done at all proves that Harry Reid, like Dorothy, had the power to do so all the time.  The message that comes through loud and clear is, “We’ll do anything to hold onto a Senate seat.”

Republicans have solidly supported building the pipeline, and will have no such aversion to embarrassing the White House, so it’s a fair bet that it will come up for a vote in the new Congress.  How will it fare?

On the surface, things look pretty good.  Supporters only need to get one more vote to move it to the President’s desk.  Can they?

We can safely assume that all 54 Republicans will vote for the pipeline.  So they need to find six Democrats to go along. Here’s the list of today’s Democrat aye votes:

Carper (D-DE)
McCaskill (D-MO)
Warner (D-VA)
Bennet (D-CO)
Casey (D-PA)
Donnelly (D-IN)
Manchin (D-WV)
Heitkamp (D-ND)
Tester (D-MT)

Begich (D-AK)
Hagan (D-NC)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Pryor (D-AR)
Walsh (D-MT)

Of the 14 ayes, five won’t be around for the next session, because they were or will have been voted out of office:

Begich (D-AK)
Hagan (D-NC)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Pryor (D-AR)
Walsh (D-MT)

That leaves these six:

Carper (D-DE)
McCaskill (D-MO)
Warner (D-VA)
Bennet (D-CO)
Casey (D-PA)
Donnelly (D-IN)
Manchin (D-WV)
Heitkamp (D-ND)
Tester (D-MT)

Only one, Colorado’s own Michael Bennet, is up for re-election in 2016, so he’s probably a safe bet to stay in the Yes column.  Gov. Hickenlooper’s reticence to take a position notwithstanding, Keystone remains popular here in Colorado.  All the other Democrats up for re-election in 2016 voted No, which tells you that Dems either think those are safe seats, or that people in those states will have forgotten this vote by then.  In any event, there’s little reason for them to change their votes to yes between now and 2016.

Casey, Donnelly, and Manchin all come from states with substantial coal production.  These are fossil-fuel friendly states, these guys are up in 2018, and none of them won their seats by being economic suicidalists.  McCaskill has been a vocal supporter of the pipeline in the past, as well.  That gets us to five, and leaves us with:

Carper (D-DE)
Warner (D-VA)
Heitkamp (D-ND)
Tester (D-MT)

Warner also comes from a coal-producing state, and that part of Virginia almost delivered the election to Gillespie this year.  Almost, but not quite.  Warner doesn’t need to run again until 2020, and his colleague, Tim Kaine, voted No.  Carper voted yes, but issued a pretty weasily statement back in 2013.  I wouldn’t count on him.

Honestly, I think either Tester of Heitkamp could stay as Yes votes, and largely for the same reasons – they’re Democrat senators in increasingly Republican states.  Montana just elected its first Republican senator in 100 years; Tester must be paying attention.  Rob Port sees the vote as bad news for Heitkamp.

If Reid does decide to run for re-election, he could be facing a stiff challenge from jaw-droppingly popular Governor Sandoval, who would likely make much of whatever arm-twisting Reid needed to do to keep 41 members in line.  On the other hand, he only needs to hold on to one of these senators, 2016 could be a good year for Dems, and it’s always more fun to be on the good side of a petulant Majority Leader with a long memory than on his bad side.

Still, it looks as though Reid could have his work cut out for him.

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Republicans – A State-Level Powerhouse on a National Scale

The Republicans are now America’s majority party at all levels of government, proving at least as adept as the Democrats in adapting to local conditions.

The facts are indisputable.  Republicans control nearly 2/3 of the governorships, will end up with 54 Senate seats, and a postwar high in House seats, possibly as many as 250.

The takeover of state legislative chambers has been breathtaking.  From the plugin below, you can see that it has been going on for some time, but really finished off the Dems in the South in 2010.

From its founding until 1994, the Republicans had really been a sectional party, able to compete effectively in the north and west, but locked out of the south.  In his four presidential elections, FDR won well over 90% of the vote in the Solid South.  (In none of those did the Republican nominee break 5%.  In 1944, Roosevelt fell below the 90% line, but the Republican Thomas Dewey finished third, behind the Southern Democratic Party, which didn’t actually nominate anyone.)

As the party moved south, it increasingly ceded the northeast to the Democrats, but the party was never entirely moribund there, either.

The price of this national success was something that the Democratic Party has been struggling with since its inception – the regions of the country are, in many ways, not very much like each other.  It makes governing as a party hard, because it creates a tension between the objectives of the national party and the desires of one’s constituents back home.  But it’s part of the design of our system that deserves to be celebrated, rather than denigrated.

The Democrats traditionally dealt with this problem by uniting around the one thing that every political party can agree on – staying in power.  So much so that they have come to stand for little else. They’ve been so good at uniting around power that, had it not been for Reconstruction, it’s almost certain that the country would have found itself with a Democrat president long before Grover Cleveland won the 1884 election.

Sometimes, a party is able to overcome that tension long enough to get things done.  The Democrats used a large House majority and 60 votes in the Senate to pass Obamacare, and promptly proved the limits of that strategy.  But on the flip side, I’m fond of pointing out that Jesse Helms couldn’t have won in Minnesota, and Rudy Boschwitz couldn’t have won in North Carolina, but they both helped pass the Reagan tax cuts.

The question is, now that they are a national party, can the Republicans find a reason for governing that unites these various regions? It’s a question they’re going to have to answer if they want to win the White House and actually govern.

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Foreshadowing 2016 with 1966

Many people are looking at who’s visiting Iowa and New Hampshire. Who’s campaigning for Senate and gubernatorial candidates is more interesting.

Obviously, for the most part, not Barack Obama, although Michelle seems to be in some demand. Gotta keep those policies off the ballot, after all.

Who is stumping for candidates? Mitt Romney. And Bill Clinton – not Hillary Clinton.

Why does this matter? One of the lessons I took away from Teddy White’s “The Making of the President 1968″ was that Nixon solidified his support in the party and his standing as a national figure by aggressively campaigning in the 1966 mid-terms for Congressional candidates. Almost all of them won.

Romney may or may not have enough left to make a serious run.

What’s more telling is that Bill is either the more popular or more influential Clinton, or both. Apparently, not even most Democrats are really Ready for Hillary, they’re just Nostalgic for Bill.

Don’t underestimate nostalgia.  Nostalgia for Bush I was largely responsible for putting his son in the White House in 2000, when people were tired of the Clinton Drama, on the ballot in the form of his Vice President.  But George W. didn’t have Hillary’s resume or long, long, long history in the national spotlight.  He may have found it useful to ride Clinton fatigue with his own relative novelty and memories of what it was like when adults were in charge.

The fact that Hillary, who has had decades – literally uninterrupted decades – to make her case to the American people, is having to do the same thing, should be a yellow flag to those who think she’s a done deal.

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Liberals And Your Soul

Remember when Michelle Obama promised that Barack would heal our broken souls?  In my lifetime, that’s pretty much been the refrain of liberalism – a concern for the well-being of your souls, if not of yourselves, despite the stereotype that this is a feature of the religious right.  It goes to the heart of the liberal trope that intentions matter more than results, and that government action is inherently more virtuous than private initiative.

It turns out this was a characteristic of liberalism even when it was relatively new and driven by Evangelical concerns.  From Paul Johnson’s The Birth of the Modern, and his chapter on Britain’s rise in the role of World Policeman, comes this description of the conflicting British attitudes about the Barbary pirates and their slavery:

The West’s supine attitude toward the horrors of Barbary piracy had long aroused fury in some quarters.  Officers of the British navy were particularly incensed since seamen were frequently victims of the trade.  They could not understand why the huge resources of the world’s most powerful fleet were not deployed to root out this evil affront to the international law of the sea, once and for all.  They could not understand why liberal parliamentarians, who campaigned ceaselessly to outlaw the slave trade by parliamentary statute, took no interest in Christian slavery….But William Wilberforce, MP, and the other Evangelical liberals, who finally got the slave trade made unlawful in 1807, flatly refused to help.  They were concerned with the enslavement of blacks by whites and did not give the predicament of white slaves a high priority on their agenda, an early example of double standards.

I’m sure this account of Wilberforce is going to make some people unhappy, but it shouldn’t be taken as ad hominem.  He’s merely the most prominent representative of the cause, and therefore of the cause’s flaws.  Liberalism suffered from double standards when it was new, and now that it’s old, when it was religious, and now that it’s secular.

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Transcription Services

The media appear to have bought, without question, the White House line that the publication of the name of the CIA station chief in Afghanistan was accidental.

It might have been accidental; it’s certainly the simplest explanation.  Someone puts together a list of military personnel meeting with the President during his scandal-distraction photo-op visit.  The station chief, being under cover, is on the list.  The guy transcribing the list isn’t really paying attention, and he writes down the name, and sends it out to the press.  He has an embarrassing “oops” moment, and then sends out another list without the name, which only succeeds in drawing more attention to him.  You could completely see someone who’s been promoted beyond his level of functional literacy doing this.

If so, I can understand the reluctance to throw the poor schlub to the wolves, but a man’s life has been put in danger here.  He can probably find employment elsewhere doing something.  Too bad for his bureaucratic career, but I wouldn’t want to place anyone else’s life in his fat-fingered little hands.

And it might have been deliberate by whoever did it. I can think of a number motivations for an underling having done so.  None of these is a good reason; people have been known to do all manner of damage while thinking that they were doing the right thing.

First, and basest, the leaker may have had a personal grudge of some sort against the station chief.  It’s been known to happen.  It’s also pretty much the single most unprofessional thing someone could do, and deserves swift and unmerciful punishment.

It’s also possible that the leaker had a professional complaint.  Perhaps the station chief was obstructing some administration policy, or proving to be an effective voice in opposition to some policy change.  Perhaps the CIA operation in Afghanistan as a whole was proving to be difficult to dislodge, or to move on some question.  This is localized – and dirty – bureaucratic warfare.

It’s also possible that this is bureaucratic warfare of a more generalized kind.  This administration has managed to centralize control of foreign policy to a degree unusual for any administration.  One organization that steadfastly and successfully resists that kind of political centralization is the CIA, largely because of its finely-tuned skeleton sensors, and talent for exhuming bodies.  By exposing the name of the station chief, not only would it throw the Agency off-balance at a key time, it would also send a message to other field officers that they aren’t safe, either.

Up until, oh, January of 2009, this sort of behavior would have been unthinkable.  But then, up until January of 2009, having the FEC and the Attorney General coordinate with the IRS on the auditing and prosecution of political opponents would have been unthinkable, too.

When we had a real WH press corps, they would have considered those alternatives and asked questions about who did it. They certainly wouldn’t have meekly accepted an innocent explanation – especially from an administration with a track record like this one when it comes to explanations.

For a group that derides extended quotes as “transcription,” they’ve looked a lot like a White House transcription service for about 5 1/2 years now.

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Team Sport

Jay Cost, prize student of the history of American political coalitions, writes (among other things), the following:

Facing the liberalism of today’s Democratic party, all factions of the GOP can usually agree on quite a lot. Virtually nobody in the coalition supports the Democrats’ efforts to increase taxes or federal regulations, especially when the beneficiaries are labor unions or the environmentalist left. Yet that unity can mask a historical irony: The rise of the modern left has pushed many of the country’s old political disagreements into the GOP. The skeptics of big government might once have been Democrats in the mold of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, but now they are joined with the heirs of Alexander Hamilton and Henry Clay, who prefer to use the power of government to promote the private economy.

Considering how hot the conflict burned between these two forces when they were in different parties—the elections of 1800 and 1832 were particularly vitriolic—it is little wonder that today’s Republican establishment and its voting base can seem to hate each other more than they do the Democrats. Yet both sides must confront a stark reality: The American left is so strong today that neither half of the Republican party can do without the other.

The GOP has poached most of the conservative voters of the Democratic party. Those who remain committed to the liberal program are so numerous that the Democrats’ share of the vote is unlikely to fall below 45 percent, barring realignment. A united GOP, similarly, can count on about 45 percent support, meaning that politics today hinges on winning the support of that disengaged and unaffiliated middle 10 percent of the country.

Among those who would currently be identified in the “libertarian” wing of the party there are those who are, simply, advocating for their preferred view on these matters.  But there are others, those who cry “RINO!” or “Ogre!” or complain about “voting for what you don’t want,” or talk blithely of how unimportant winning is.  They tend to be either impatient or don’t do well with ambiguity.  (This tendency isn’t limited to the libertarian wing, but I tend to see more of it from there.  Bret Stephens’s recent column about Rand Paul is one example from the other side.)

There are others singing a siren song of purity, sometimes from outside the party, sometimes from inside.  By focusing on disagreements, they would have others believe that Mitch McConnell has more in common with Barack Obama than with Ronald Reagan.  (Come the fall of next year, they’ll be saying the same thing about Scott Walker.)  Drawing sharp distinctions, using the old political sleight of hand that 99 is no better than 0, is useful if you’re drawing a line where more people are on your side than the other.  Democrats do that, to keep the race-based portion of their coalition in line, by pretending that since personal color-blindness is impossible, the only alternative is to write race-obsession into law.

I don’t see much utility when it’s the difference between leading a party of 25% of the electorate and leading one of 45%.  Of course, if you’re interested in “influencing” without the responsibility of governing, that might have some appeal; don’t count on too many people staying around more than a cycle for that party.

There are plenty of disagreements and frustrations within the Republican party.  There are too many Republicans who aren’t willing to roll back the errors of the Left, and others who have compounded those errors with unforced errors of their own.  But the main difference – between the grassroots and the establishment – goes back to the party’s origins. It’s reasonable to take the current Democrat party at its word, that it represents ideas meant to fundamentally transform America away from its founding ideas. As Cost writes, the internal debate within the Republican mirrors many of the historical divisions within the country as a whole.

Pretending that Henry Clay has more in common with Karl Marx than George Washington isn’t a route to being trusted with government.

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The Slickest Three Minutes In Politics

Wednesday night, former President Bill Clinton made a campaign appearance on behalf of his wife the Clinton Global Initiative on the Jimmy Kimmel show.  It was vintage Clinton, folksy charm on display even as he says the worst about his past, present, and future political opponents.

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Kimmel: Do you think that this current climate, where the parties are so divided, and really have a difficult time working together on almost anything, is a temporary situation?

Clinton: I don’t know. But I think – here’s what I do believe. <pause> You know, I had a Republican Congress for six of the eight years I was president. And I had some of the same problems the president has.

One of the problems with young people, and with lower-income working people that have kids and trouble voting, is that they’ll show up in a president election, and if their candidate wins, they think that’s all they need to do. So then they don’t show up in midterms, when the Congress is elected – a third of the Senate in off-year elections, and all of the House of Representatives, and most of the governors, and state legislatures. So then they wonder why nothing happens.

So we have – the president and I – have talked about this a lot, about how the number one thing we gotta do is try to get voting up in the non-presidential years.

But I think it was easier for me to get cooperation in my second term, and remember, they were trying to run me out of town. And I just kept showing up every day like nothing had changed, and I just kept knocking on the door, and just kept trying to work with them, because that’s what people hire you to do, to get something done.

But it is – when you have economic adversity – and people are pessimistic and frustrated with their own circumstances, it is easier to polarize the voter. And I think you see that in other parts of the world too, that…

Like when the Arab Spring started in Tahrir Square in Cairo. All the young people that were in Tahrir Square were among the most impressive young people I’ve ever seen in my life. But the vast majority of people who live in Egypt live in rural areas, and were having a hard time keeping body and soul together, and the only organized political force there was the Muslim Brotherhood. So they won the election, and the young people never gave any thought to how they should form a political party, go out and campaign, have a program.

And that’s what happens in a lot of places. The young people Ukraine, in the square in Kiev, were immensely impressive, and they want a modern country that is not – despite what President Putin says – against Russia, but gets along with both Russia and Europe, and is a bridge between the two, which is what they want. But, the power brokers say no, you gotta be on our side or theirs.

That’s not what people want. But all these people, who have these feelings, who want to build modern, cooperative, prosperous societies have got to understand that no matter how distasteful they find politics, if you don’t play it, somebody will, and you will lose if you sit it out. And it always happens. You gotta suit up and play the game.

This is Clinton at his best/worst.  He appears to blame situations rather than people, even as he then turns around and blames his opponents for creating the situations.  And don’t be fooled by the dramatic pause and sigh at the beginning of his remarks.  He knows exactly what he plans to say before he starts to say it, before he even walked out on stage.

The Republicans are the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, or both corrupt sides in Ukraine, manipulating the rubes who don’t know anything other than their own desperation.  It’s a supremely patronizing view of the American people.  And this, from a president of the party that has practiced unceasing class warfare and ethnic balkanization for well over a generation.

Remember, this is the president who blamed talk radio for the Oklahoma City bombing. Clinton also hosted the gala retirement party for Julian Bond, who later famously referred to the Tea Party as the “Taliban wing of American politics,” so it’s fair to say he knows something about polarization and demonization.

He’s picked a couple of the most incendiary examples in recent world politics, which makes the comparison absurd.  American political categories almost map onto British or Canadian ones, match up poorly with traditional European ones; they’re like fitting round pegs into watermelons for almost anything else.  If he really wanted to make a political point, there are plenty of examples from American political history he could have drawn from.

Of course, it’s part of a pitch to get young people to vote this year, presumably pro-Obama, although recent polls have shown the bloom off that rose, especially among his youthful former supporters.  Being forced to buy products they don’t want at prices they can’t afford will do that to people.  Clinton will eventually say that it’s the mission of young people to vote, to rescue us from the curse of polarization.

Clinton has never been one to let the facts get in the way of a good story, and here he’s true to form.  Young people and working class families with children “have a hard time voting,” when in fact, voting has never been easier.  His timing here was off, although I suppose it’s not his fault that his appearance was scheduled for the day that North Carolina revealed that tens of thousands of its citizens had found it so easy to vote, they did so more than once.  Egypt is not overwhelmingly rural; about 56% of its population lives in rural areas, although it’s true that that’s where the Muslim Brotherhood had been organizing for decades.

Perhaps the biggest whopper was one we’re going to hear a lot of, that Democrats lose mid-terms because young people don’t turn out.  Moments before, he had been reminiscing about the Republican impeachment attempt of 1998.  That was an off-year election, and Democrats picked up seats, in the 6th year of his presidency, and election that usually poisonous to the party in power.  I guess his memory last night wasn’t any better than it was under oath.

While routine appearances by sitting presidents on late-night talk shows cheapen the office, appearances by former presidents serve to emphasize the Cincinnatus-like qualities of the office, since they appear as private citizens.  They also show us, I think, that the presidency doesn’t usually change people, it just brings out their core personalities.  And it’s often helpful to be reminded exactly what those personalities are.

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