A few weeks ago, the Washington Post Wonkblog featured a post discussing a new book describing the DC bubble, and how lack of familiarity breeds contempt:
As Bachner and Ginsberg argue, civil servants exercise real power over how the government operates. They write and enforce rules and regulations. They might not decide what becomes law, but they have a hand in how laws are drawn up and how laws are implemented.
For all their influence, though, nearly all of these technocrats are unelected, and they spend most of their time with people who are just like them — other highly educated folk who jog conspicuously in college tees and own a collection of NPR totes.
The article itself demonstrates much of the contempt and lack of self-awareness that Bachner and Ginsberg found in their survey. He manages to turn a complaint by the governed against their governors into a complaint about lack of respect by the provinces for the Capital. For anyone with even passing familiarity with DC, and the incestuous relationship between the government and the press there, this shouldn’t be too surprising.
Look past that, however, to some of the possible solutions. Term limits for civil servants are an interesting idea on a number of levels. The K-Street revolving door, where former bureaucrats sell their expertise in navigating the system to cronyists sets up all the wrong incentives. Giving them less time to complicate the system and to learn the ropes might at least arrest some of the rot. (There are benefits to institutional memory, especially in the non-regulatory foreign policy realm, and some exceptions could be written in for those organizations.)
Still, how you implement something like that without further concentrating power in the hands of *current* bureaucrats is hard to imagine.
More intriguing is the idea of distributing the government throughout the country to keep it closer to the people it governs. The problem with that is that it doesn’t seem to work. The rules may be made in DC, but there are already EPA or BLM offices all over the West. Those offices are supposed to be a source of information for DC, but even assuming they operate that way, it doesn’t seem to keep them from trampling all over the locals.
One possibility might be to disperse them even more. Get rid of the region BLM office in Denver that wanders all over Colorado and Wyoming, and put the officers in small towns, in pairs, and limit their range even further.
In addition, require the DC staff to do year-long rotations out in the hinterlands before they can start “analyzing” with periodic refreshers living with the people whose lives are affected by their regulations. I speak from personal experience when I tell you that I never learned as much about the country as during that year I spent in Omaha.
This year, one of the more controversial ballot measures is a proposed State Constitutional amendment to limit State Constitutional Amendments. It has some superficial appeal: In some years past, a fair number of amendments have passed, and the State Constitution is supposed to be a foundational document, not just a compilation of what some people in a given year think are cool ideas. This year, a number of out-of-state environmental groups tried and failed to get anti-energy initiatives on the ballot, and Amendment 71 is in large part a response by the energy industry to that effort.
The measure has three main parts:
- New amendments would require 55% to pass
- Petitioners would need 2% of the registered voters in each State Senate district
- Old amendments would still only require 50% for repeal
While US State Constitutions have never been held in the same reverence as the US Constitution, I’m open to the idea that it’s too easy to get bad ideas on the ballot, and that in a given bad year, some of those ideas will end up being enshrined there. Certainly an ongoing government-by-plebiscite is a dangerous way to govern.
But Amendment 71 is a bad idea whose time has not yet come.
Political power is a zero-sum game. In theory, the citizens of Colorado have a number of options for checking the power of the state government. They have the right to overturn laws at the ballot box. They have the right to put new laws onto the ballot. And they have the right to put Constitutional amendments on the ballot.
As will be the case, the state legislature has systematically moved to negate those checks. Citizens may overturn only those laws that are not deemed to be for the public peace, health, and safety. As a result, the legislature routinely adds the so-called “Safety Clause” to even mundane measures, in order to protect them.
Colorado also has no hold-harmless period for citizen-initiated statutory changes. In effect, the state legislature can immediately overturn any statutory change with a simple majority vote. Constitutional amendments, on the other hand, require a 2/3 vote in each house to be placed on the ballot for repeal. This may explain why the Constitutional route is so popular.
But by considering this (potential) problem in isolation, the proponents are demonstrating political tunnel vision.
Amendment 71 would make it harder to rein in the state legislature, while doing nothing to prevent the legislature from imposing its will on the people. It does nothing to limit the abuse of the Safety Clause, and it does nothing to create a hold-harmless period for citizen-initiated statutory changes. It represents a staggering net shift in power towards those interests who have existing money and organizational ability to get measures on the ballot, and away from the citizenry’s ability to limit legislative power.
I know some of the people involved on the pro-71 side, and I don’t question their sincerity, only their judgment. In 2008, when I was running for State House of Representatives, then-State Senator Greg Brophy and I met up at an issues forum sponsored by Hadassah. On the ballot was Referendum O, a measure to tighten up the process for amending the State Constitution. Greg was in favor then, and I opposed it, so while he’s a paid spokesman for the A71 group now, he comes by his support honestly, and is hardly “bought” as some have suggested.
But Greg, of all people, should know from his own experience how flawed his arguments are. The State Constitution is no guarantor of our rights at all when the State or US Supreme Court willingly interprets it to benefit a political agenda.
Consider the 2013 gun law recalls. Two Democrats – from what were drawn as safe Democratic seats – were recalled over the 2013 bills and replaced by Republicans. A third from a competitive seat was at risk until she resigned to make sure that a Democrat could succeed her.
And yet. After that, after the Democrats won back those seats and still lost control of the State Senate, after they nearly lost control of the State House, the laws remain on the books, and have survived court challenges. The Democrats are bound and determined to ignore clear signals from the electorate that they’re on the wrong side of this issue, and have simply no real incentive not to pursue further changes as their electoral majorities allow.
Brophy himself declared from the well of the Senate, “I will not obey this law!” That alone showed that he understood that the guarantor of our rights is not the Constitution or the courts but ourselves.
Much of the appeal on behalf of Amendment 71 has come to rural Republican voters, who rightly feel targeted by a number of bad Constitutional initiatives put on the ballot by Boulder and Denver liberals. The argument is that, with the State Senate signature distribution requirement, they’ll be able to block bad ideas at the signature-gathering stage. But when A71 proponents failed to meet their own standard, they didn’t fall short in the rural districts. It was in some of the liberal college districts in Ft. Collins and Boulder, who have more registered voters and thus a higher signature threshold. In all likelihood, A71 would do more to let those districts block ideas desired by the rest of the state than to keep them from imposing their bad ideas on us.
In a year when the Democrats have an excellent shot at taking back the State Senate, giving them control of the whole legislature and the governorship, it’s a terrible idea to limit the citizens’ potential checks on that government.
Maybe they are.
Watching the Rangers-Blue Jays game the other night, I saw a commercial against Colorado’s Amendment 72, an initiative to amend the state Constitution to raise the tobacco tax from 84 cents a pack to $2.59 a pack.
The main stated argument in favor is that such a high tax will reduce underage smoking, and the money is supposed to go to programs to do that, along with a wish-list of other tangentially-related health expenditures, such as money for hospitals and student loan relief for rural doctors.
What was striking was that the language was almost identical to a radio ad I had heard earlier in the week opposing California’s Proposition 56, which would raise its cigarette tax from $0.87 to $2.87. The tax-raisers in California are evidently using the same arguments as the ones here in Colorado.
It may be that the Right is finally figuring out that it needs a national effort to combat state-level bad ideas. Since the language used in the anti-referendum ads was so similar, I can only assume that they were a coordinated response. Given the electoral environment in both Colorado and California, I’m not optimistic about defeating these taxes in either states, but I hope that they don’t take the wrong lessons from it and give up.
Coordination is nothing new for nationwide liberal interest groups. They routinely find promising states to run similar legislation or ballot initiatives in, coordinating their efforts nationally, and running similar ad campaigns. (For instance, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is running spots in favor of a 1-cent soda taxes in both San Francisco and Oakland this year.) Then, having established bona fides, they move onto other states. California and Colorado are both targeted for tobacco tax increases because they’ve “fallen behind” other states in how much they let their non-smokers translate their feelings of moral superiority over smokers into action.
Historically, they’ve relied on conservative state-level think tanks and political groups not to realize that any given initiative or legislation wasn’t unique to their state.
In recent years, the right has gotten wise to this strategy, although it’s been somewhat ineffective in countering it. As out-of-state funding is almost always unpopular, the Left has countered efforts to highlight that by filtering contributions through its networks of state and local PACs and issue committees. When I worked at Watchdogwire.com, one of the mantras among the state editors was, “If it’s happening in your state, it’s happening in other states.” This helped give us the incentive to write certain stories, but getting people to read them and connect them to what was not yet going on locally was another matter.
In addition, when more conservative-minded groups such as ALEC or the State Policy Network of state-level policy groups have tried the same thing, they’ve been attacked as conspiracies by the left, and their sponsors and donors have been the targets of hate campaigns.
I found the arguments opposed to the tax compelling. Both Colorado and California have already diverted alleged anti-tobacco money to other purposes, and in any event, after the first year, you never really know how much money is “supposed” to go to these programs, anyway, so any tax increase really becomes an excuse for the state spend on whatever it likes (and more importantly to the politicians, whomever it likes). This was the logic that helped defeat a large general income tax increase back in 2013, although cigarette smokers are always an attractive target for tax increases.
Although I don’t smoke, don’t use tobacco, and despite being from Virginia, never have, I think I’ll vote against giving the government more money to spend.
In his short book of essays, The Temper of Our Time, the longshoreman-philosopher Eric Hoffer deals with immigration, but not as an economic phenomenon so much as a cultural one. He sees the mass immigration to the US as part of a general upheaval and transitional phase of mankind. Hoffer compares this to personal adolescence, the acquisition of a new identity as one adapts to new situations:
It is fascinating to see how in Europe during the second half of the nineteenth century the wholesale transformation of peasants into industrial workers gave rise not only to nationalist and revolutionary movements giving the promise of a new life, but also to mass rushes to the new world, particularly the United States, where the European peasant was literally processed into a new man – made to learn a new language, adopt a new mode of dress, a new diet, and often a new name. One has the impression that immigration to a foreign country was more effective in adjusting the European peasant to a new life than migration to the industrial cities of his native country. Internal migration cannot impart a sense of rebirth and new identity. Even now, the turning of Italian and Spanish peasants into industrial workers is probably realized more smoothly by immigration to Germany and France than by transference to Milan and Barcelona.
When we look at immigration primarily as an economic phenomenon, we tend to look at the effect on our society and culture first. Hoffer here is as concerned with the effect of migration on the individual doing the migrating, as he is with whether or not there’s a job waiting for him.
I think he unwittingly makes the case for some limitations, possibly some severe ones, especially as regards immigration from Mexico, as much for the good of the Mexicans who come here, as for protectionist purposes.
Mass homogeneous immigration has allowed the immigrants to, in some ways, bring their society with them. If it were just a matter of taco trucks, nobody would much care; who doesn’t like more diverse cuisine? But it’s also a matter of trying to forego what Hoffer sees as an obligatory shock treatment.
For Hoffer, the sense of (sometimes forcibly) shedding an old identity in favor of a new one is dislocating, but it’s a necessary psychological part of the process. That he fits better with his new society is a by-product of his being freed from his old habits and modes of thought and action.
Walter Russell Mead’s fine book, Special Providence, discusses what Mead sees as four broadly-defined schools of American foreign policy. One of them, the Jacksonian, is the most nationalist, but also one of the most distinctively American – we don’t want to fight, but if we need to, let’s beat the crap out of them so we can get home. (Those poor whites of Hillbilly Elegy fame tend to be Jacksonian).
Mead points out that past immigrant groups, mostly but not exclusively European, have often confounded and disappointed the urban and coastal elites by moving to the suburbs and becoming among the fiercest Jacksonians in the US.
I don’t see any reason why the current wave of Latino immigrants shouldn’t be able to follow a similar pattern. But Hoffer makes the case that as long as the numbers are large and assimilation (as opposed to acculturation) is discouraged, it won’t.
In his 1967 book, The Temper of Our Time, Eric Hoffer characterizes that temper as, “impatient.” Perhaps nowhere in the book are the consequences of that impatience more sadly felt than in “The Negro Revolution,” Hoffer’s essay on the race relations of fifty years ago. Looking back at his analysis, we can identify a number of ways in which conventional leftism has contributed to perpetuating an exacerbating the problem over the last half-century.
Hoffer identifies the essential tragedy of the black American:
This country has always seemed good to me chiefly because, most of the time, I can be a human being first and only secondly something else – a workingman, an American, etc. It is not so with the Negro. His chief plight is that in America, he cannot be first of all a human being. This is particularly galling to the Negro intellectual and to Negroes who have gotten ahead: no matter what and how much they have, they seem to lack the one thing they want most. There is no frustration greater than this.
Much has changed in the last 50 years in race relations, some for the good, some for the worse. But when you hear someone say, “Nothing’s changed,” I suspect that it is this, more than anything else, that he means. I think this is still largely true. Black Americans are stuck with a collective identity, whether they want it or not. Leftism has decided that p identity is indelible for all of us, that this a good thing, and that it should be reinforced by government regulation and bureaucracy from the time we are children. In doing so, it’s risked fracturing the country by undermining its basis, but it’s also made things much, much worse for blacks.
The Negroes who emigrate from the South cannot repeat the experience of the millions of European immigrants who came to this country. The European immigrants not only had an almost virgin continent at their disposal and unlimited opportunities for individual advancement, but were automatically processed on their arrival into new men: they had to learn a new language and adopt a new mode of dress, a new diet, and often a new name. The Negro immigrants find only meager opportunities for self-advancement and do not undergo the “exodus experience,” which would strip them of traditions and habits and give them the feeling of being born anew. Above all, the fact that in America, and perhaps in any white environment, the Negro remains a Negro first, no matter what he becomes or achieves, puts the attainment of a new individual identity beyond his reach.
By depriving the black man of the opportunity to create his own new identity, because he’s never been forced to shed the old one. And for some decades now, the rest of us are being encouraged to undo the salutary effects of immigration. (What this says about new immigrants to the US should be pretty obvious. But even then, it’s worth noting that black immigrant from Africa and the Caribbean do about as well as immigrants from other countries, because they’ve had to undergo the immigrant experience.)
In this regard, blacks were doubly victimized by trendy leftism. Black civil rights successes came round about the same time as African countries were winning independence from Europe. Hoffer points out that just as Jewish success in Israel had bolstered the self-confidence of Jews worldwide, blacks in the US should have been a model for Africans. Instead, US blacks were misguidedly encouraged to look to dictators and ideologues like Nkruma for inspiration, setting back their own development at a critical moment of development. Black leaders in the US spent the better part of two decades trying to transplant African nationalist movements into very unhospitable soil.. Thanks for nothing.
Hoffer’s suggestion is one that remains as true today as it was half a century ago:
What can the American Negro do to heal his soul and clothe himself with a desirable identity? It has to be a do-it-yourself job….Non-Negro America can offer only money and goodwill….
The only road left for the Negro is community building. Whether he wills it or not, the Negro in America belongs to a distinct group, yet he is without the values and satisfactions which people usually obtain by joining a group. When we become members of a group, we acquire a desirable identity, and derive a sense of worth and usefulness by sharing in the efforts and achievements of the group. Clearly, it is the Negro’s chief task to convert this formless and purposeless group to which he is irrevocably bound into a genuine community capable of effort and achievement and which can inspire its members with pride and hope.
Whereas the American mental climate is not favorable for the emergence of mass movements, it is ideal for the building of viable communities; and the capacity for community building is widely diffused.
Hoffer makes it clear he’s not talking about the ghetto, but about broader black community institutions, and the re-engagement of the black middle class with the masses. And it doesn’t mean a separate, segregated, parallel society, but black institutions capable of creating a sense of community for people participating in the larger American society. All that talk about deriving a sense of worth isn’t statism or “collectivism” in a destructive sense (although it obvious has the potential for misuse). This is a real part of how people operate in the real world that libertarians ignore or ridicule at their own peril – communities matter to people, even if our legal rights come to use solely by virtue of our individuality.
And here’s the second great betrayal off blacks by the Left. Just as blacks were gaining the chance to remake their own communities with far fewer legal obstructions, the federal government swooped into destroy those institutions by replacing the black father with a welfare check. We’ve seen the results – absent fathers lead to unmanageable boys and now, generations of crime, a downward spiral that make community-building that much harder.
So along with the virtual elimination of legal barriers, the social barriers seem only to have gotten higher. That much, at least, has changed.
In his 1967 book, The Temper of Our Time, Eric Hoffer took on the question of race relations, as they’d be called today, or “The Negro Revolution” as he called it then. There are at least two new ideas and several interesting sentences in the essay, but I’ll take as my text his description of how the white unionized longshoreman outside the South saw matters:
The simple fact is that the people I have lived and worked with all my life, who make up about 60 percent of the population outside the South, have not the least feeling of guilt toward the Negro. The majority of us started to work for a living in our teens, and we have been poor all our lives. Most of us had only a rudimentary education. Our white skin brought us no privileges and no favors. For more that twenty years I worked in the fields of California with Negroes, and now and then for Negro contractors. On the San Francisco waterfront, while I spent the next twenty years, there are as many black longshoremen as white. My kind of people does not feel that the world owes us anything, or that we owe anybody – white, black, or yellow – a damn thing. We believe that the Negro should have every right we have: the right to vote, the right to join any union open to us, the right to live, work, study, and play anywhere he pleases. But he can have no special claims on us, and no valid grievances against us. He has certainly not done our work for us. Our hands are more gnarled and workbroken than his, and our faces more lined and worn. A hundred Baldwins could not convince me that the Negro longshoremen who come every morning to our hiring hall shouting, joshing, eating, and drinking are haunted by bad dreams and memories of miserable childhoods, that they feel deprived, disabled, degraded, oppressed, and humiliated. The drawn faces in the hall, the brooding backs, and the sullen, hunched figures are not those of Negroes.
The South has a special burden to bear (although to what extent it still does is another question), but for most of white America outside the South, I think this fairly sums up the attitude, if not universally the work experience. And I think it’s about right. People should be able to pursue their life’s path without laboring under legal handicaps because of their race. I have no doubt that it accurately reflects Hoffer’s own inclinations, and that of his brother dockworkers in mid-1960s San Francisco. They worked hard, and didn’t create or perpetuate the hardships that blacks had suffered.
But if Hoffer understands that the black man’s tragedy is that he can’t be an individual without being seen as black first, he seems to miss who’s doing the seeing. Hoffer’s a union guy through and through, but the union movement in the North gained great strength in response to the influx of black workers during the Great Migration, especially during the Depression, and worked hard to deny blacks the benefits of union membership. Hoffer doesn’t have to answer for that behavior, but he should have at least acknowledged that it existed, and the effects it had on blacks outside the South.
The more relevant question is what it does for blacks. Hoffer’s main point, which I’ll examine in greater length in another post, was the what blacks needed wasn’t cheap, easy, flashy political victories, but community institutions that would give him pride, security, and and self-respect.
Eric Hoffer was known as the “Longshoreman Philosopher,” mostly because that’s what he was. Born in the Bronx in 1902, he lived most of his life as a migrant worker and then a longshoreman. He had spent 50 years reading, observing, and thinking before producing his first and best-known book, The True Believer, about the psychology of mass movements.
Hoffer’s writing is blunt, direct, thoroughly working-class and thoroughly American, but neither his style nor his ideas are simple. Unlike academicians who do field work in red states, he’s not writing to explain the working man to the rest of the country; he’s writing as a working man talking to the rest of the country.
By 1967, he had written several more books including The Temper of Our Time, which he characterized as impatient, and he provides a number of examples. The book is short – six essays, about 110 pages in all. When his publisher complained about the length, he replied that it had six original ideas and twelve excellent sentences. If he had bought a book of any length that had six original ideas and twelve excellent sentences, he would have felt that he had gotten a good deal.
I think Hoffer sold himself short. I found many more than six original ideas, and many more than twelve superb sentences. I don’t propose to go over all of them here, but let’s start with a story:
When we speak of the American as a skilled person, we have in mind not only technical but also his political and social skills. Once, during the Great Depression, a construction company that had to build a road in the San Bernadino Mountains sent down two trucks to the Los Angeles skid row, and anyone who could climb onto the trucks was hired. When the trucks were full, the drivers put in the tailgates and drove off. They dumped us on the side of a hill in the San Bernadino Mountains, where we found bundles of supplies and equipment. The company had only one man on the spot. We began to sort ourselves out: there were so many carpenters, electricians, mechanics, cooks, men who could handle bulldozers and jackhammers, and even foremen. We put up the tents and the cook shack, fixed latrines and a shower bath, cooked supper and next morning went out to build the road. If we had to write a constitution we probably would have had someone who knew all the whereases and wherefores. We were a shovelful of slime scooped off the pavement of skid row, yet we could have built America on the side of a hill in the San Bernadino Mountains.
And so the paradox of America in Hoffer’s day was – how is it that a country that produces so little leadership in normal times manages to produce great leaders when it needs them?
Hoffer doesn’t directly answer the question, but I think the answer lies in the very capacity for self-organization. People who are capable of self-organization don’t need external leadership to tell them what to do in normal times. What defines abnormal times is the nature of the large-scale projects to be accomplished – winning a war, for instance. But the American’s capacity for self-organization makes the leader’s job easier in those circumstances. Leadership is free to focus on the general direction things need to take, and leave the lower-level problem-solving to the lower levels.
Hoffer’s quote comes in the context of the American genius for community-building. One of the most destructive aspects of leftism has been the shrinking of our citizens’ initiative when it comes to communities, where more and more basic functions are left to city government, and individual or neighborhood initiative often needs to wait for government approval. Even the petty bureaucrats of HOAs enjoy pseudo-governmental authority.
Americans’ ability to spontaneously and collectively solve problems on their own does survive, though, both in the military and in private business. Every successful business I’ve worked in encourages small groups to solve technical problems, and every unsuccessful one has been a top-down affair. When I got my MBA 11 years ago, the management classes were definitely the most trendy social-sciency courses, but they all stressed leadership in terms of empowering employees rather than directing them. That strikes me as a very American approach, where workers generally think of themselves as equal to their bosses.
Hillary Clinton is not a young woman. If elected President, Mrs. Clinton would be a few months younger than Ronald Reagan was when he was first elected. Mrs. Clinton also suffered a fall and a concussion in 2012. The cause of the fall has not been determined, and the extent of the concussion has been the subject of some informed speculation.
Much of this was covered by the press in 2014, but there have been no definitive answers from the Clinton camp, and as usual, the press has responded with its usual lack of curiosity where Democrats are concerned, and has been content with being stiffed by the campaign.
It has therefore fallen to the Trump campaign to raise the issue, in its usual ham-handed way. The press has responded by, more or less, suggesting that there is something inappropriate in raising the question of a candidate’s health.
And yet, I can recall plenty of speculation about Reagan’s mental capacity in 1980. Mark Russell even did a song about Reagan promising to quit if he became senile while in office.
Another candidate who faced a lot of discussion about his health was John McCain in 2008. A few minutes of googling produced the following:
- On the Campaign Trail, Few Mentions of McCain’s Bout With Melanoma – New York Times
- McCain’s Age and Past Health Problems Could Be An Issue in the Presidential Race – U.S. News
- How Healthy is John McCain? – Time
- McCain’s Health Records – New York Times
- John McCain’s Health – CNN
- McCain Healthy But Cholesterol Concerns Remain – ABC News
- What’s In John McCain’s Medical Records? – Salon
- Liberal PACs Ready Attack Ad on McCain’s Health – New York Times
- McCain Faces Questions on Age, Health – CNN
Indeed, the NY Times post about the attack ad evidences an acknowledgement that some people might be mildly uncomfortable with such an ad, but mostly simply reports on the ads content, and concerns about illegal coordination with the Obama campaign or the Democratic Party.
Uninformed or wild speculation about Clinton’s health is, of course, irresponsible. But merely raising the question?
This seems to be another example of a special “Hillary Rule.”
Almost forgotten in the other storylines of the 1968 Democratic Convention was the two-hour boomlet (or so it seemed) to run Ted Kennedy in place of his assassinated brother, Robert. Theodore White recounts the moment (p. 351-354), noting that it was briefer, more fleeting, and far less likely than the press coverage that Tuesday evening made it seem. Kennedy would never allow himself to be seen actively courting such a movement, and the forces needed to make it happen were too unlikely as allies.
He then delivers, in a footnote, his damning indictment of the press and its coverage of that non-development:
It has always seemed to me unfair to criticize the floor reporters of television for behavior forced on them by the commercial competition of their networks. To report a convention from the floor, the networks choose their best political correspondents…Turned loose in the compact space of the convention floor, with dozens of Governors and Senators, scores of Congressmen, political bosses, old contacts and political freshmen, they are as happy as dogs in a meat market. No one can escape their cameras and microphones; nor do many delegates want to escape a televised interview…
Delegates thus lived in an echo chamber; and so, as a matter of fact, did the reporters themselves. Floor reporters are turned loose on a chase, and the director in the control room calls the course, the story-line they must chase. On the convention floor, someone can always be found to say anything, and it remains only for good direction to put the fragments together in dramatic form. Neither the delegates nor reporters can be blamed; only the mechanism and its programming, which calls for competitive and rival drama to hold audience.
If the script that night had called for the discovery and dissemination of a Southern revolt, or the candidacy of Lester Maddox, the reporters could have delivered that to the nation, too – all carved out of truth, from the lips of authentic and honest men on the floor.
This is something to bear in mind as we head towards Cleveland, with Trump’s poll numbers beginning to tank and his fundraising outlook getting bleaker. There will be reports of incipient revolt, of blocs of delegates withholding their support, of Rubio and Kasich (who retain control over their delegates) trying to organize Cruz delegates to deny Trump the nomination on the first ballot.
With the increasing likelihood of violent events taking place outside the hall, and the necessity of word-of-mouth organization of the delegate inside the hall, things have changed less than people think, even with the advent of social media. We’ve seen how those media are highly susceptible to the manipulation of a very few influential practitioners with many followers.
Add to that the fact that, unlike in Chicago in 1968, the press will be actively looking for stories designed to make the Republicans look bad. Certainly, the press’s favorite story-line already is the failure of the party to unite. They will find ample fodder for that claim, and any other they decide they need on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday evening.
All expected [Chicago Mayor Richard Daley] to be with Humphrey; but his silence reminded politicians of old-time Boss Richard Croker of New York. Once, at one of Tammany’s boisterous Fourth of July parties, when everyone else broke into singing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” an associate noticed that Boss Croker was not singing, and asked why. “He doesn’t want to commit himself,” growled a crony.
— Theodore H White, The Making of the President 1968
In the aftermath of Wednesday’s terrorist murders in Tel Aviv, each of the campaigns of the presumptive nominees issued a statement. They each read, in tone, about as you would expect them to read, but the content is very different.
Hillary Clinton’s reads like a fairy standard pro-forma press release from the State Department. It reads, in full:
I condemn the heinous terrorist attack in Tel Aviv today. I send my deepest condolences to the families of those killed and I will continue to pray for the wounded. I stand in solidarity with the Israeli people in the face of these ongoing threats, and in unwavering support of the country’s right to defend itself. Israel’s security must remain non-negotiable.
For comparison, here’s the actual standard pro-forma press release from the State Department:
The United States condemns today’s horrific terrorist attack in Tel Aviv in the strongest possible terms. We extend our deepest condolences to the families of those killed and our hopes for a quick recovery for those wounded. These cowardly attacks against innocent civilians can never be justified. We are in touch with Israeli authorities to express our support and concern.
I condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the outrageous terrorist shootings that took the lives of at least four innocent civilians and wounded at least twenty others in Tel Aviv yesterday.
The Israeli security forces’ investigation is ongoing, but some facts have already emerged — and they are grim.
Just as fast as the condolences arrive from the civilized world is the praise arising out of the uncivilized one. Hamas praised the attack, calling the attackers “heroes.” Reports out of Hebron indicate that residents of the terrorists’ hometown lit up the night sky with celebratory fireworks. One Palestinian “news organization” even referred to the shootings, in which the assailants dressed up as observant Jews, as a “Ramadan treat.” The leader of Hamas called the injured terrorist a “hero.” How despicable!
The American people stand strong with the people of Israel, who have suffered far too long from terrorism. Israel’s security is a matter of paramount importance to me and the American people.
We understand all too well the unspeakable horror that terrorism unleashes. To address it — and address it we must! — we must recognize the parallel horror of the culture of religious hatred that permeates many Palestinian quarters. From schools that indoctrinate toddlers to grow up to kill Israelis to the daily menu of hate that spews forth from various “news organizations,” change is long overdue in the Palestinian territories.
Let us begin the arduous task of creating a future where peace can take root and terror finds no refuge.
I express my deepest condolences to the families of the four Israelis who were murdered, as well as my wishes for a speedy recovery to the wounded.
There’s nothing pro-forma about that, and it indeed reads just like something that Trump would say or tweet, down to the trademark “How despicable!” It places blame directly on – get this – the terrorists and the people who encourage them, rather than on Israel or “the occupation,” and while it mentions Hamas by name, it refers to “the Palestinian territories” all together, implicitly including the PA and Abbas as guilty parties.
If you’re a supporter of Israel, it’s almost impossible to imagine a statement more sympathetic to Israel, more discouraging to the deceitful Palestinian leadership, or with greater moral clarity.
The problem, of course, is that it’s coming from Donald Trump, who’s been more than a little malleable in his public statements. The question about any statement issued by Trump isn’t whether it’s good or bad, but whether he’ll even admit tomorrow that he said it. It’s usually prudent to at least apply Trump’s own 25% contractor discount.
What’s to be learned here isn’t much about either campaign. It’s about the dangers of committing too early to a side without bothering to extract concessions, which is what the #NeverTrumpers have done. As I’ve written before, there are excellent reasons for voting for Hillary, or voting for Trump, or voting for some third or fourth or fifth-party candidate. Reasonable people can come to different conclusions about the result of that calculation. (My own mind isn’t made up, and it’s got a complex calculation with only one output: what’s the best scenario for Constitutional conservatism surviving as an organized political force by 2020?)
It’s not just how someone eventually votes, it’s what they do with their leverage before they vote. The #NeverTrumpers have effectively thrown away all of that leverage, insisting that it’s better if Clinton is elected than Trump, leaving her no incentive to try to win their votes. What you end up with is statements like the one above, which say absolutely nothing, and could have been issued by an administration whose actions have been unprecedentedly hostile to the Jewish State. It’s worse than a crime, it’s a blunder, because it’s exactly the same mistake we see the Jewish community at large as having made for generations.
In a complex year like this one, like 1968 in many ways, such a simple calculation leaves a lot out: how far can Hillary move to being pro-Israel without losing even more voters to the openly Israel-hostile Bernie? does at least saying #NeverTrump put more pressure on delegates at the RNC to ditch him for a better candidate? But I don’t see where any of the #NeverTrumpers are really using that as a negotiating ploy, they really mean it, and since they’ve persuaded everyone that they really mean it, Hillary has no reason to do more than she’s done, letting everyone read into her statements whatever they want. I’m sure some conservative, pro-Israel #NeverTrumpers will persuade themselves that this tepid bland press release actually represents something acceptable or even laudable.
But you don’t have to be Boss Croker to see that by holding out, by at least making Clinton work a little bit for your vote or half-vote, you at least have the chance to move her in a more pro-Israel direction.