What you can do for your country

Let’s please just get this over with.

The good news is that a ton of people have already voted: here in Texas it’s reported 30% of the 15 million registered voters have already cast their ballots; there are an estimated 4000 people in line in Cincinnati right now waiting to vote.  When you add in all the people planning to vote on Tuesday (including me) we could be looking at a(n) historic voter turnout, and while I think that’s good in a general sense—more of us should take our responsibility as citizens more seriously—it also would lessen the chances that Donald Trump will win…and there’s nothing that could be better than Trump not becoming president.

That is not to say that I’m looking forward to four years of Hillary Clinton as president; the truth is, I can’t believe she even won the nomination.  In mid-2015 when candidates were starting to be serious about the primaries, I felt confident that the Democrats wouldn’t be so blindered to reality as to nominate Clinton.  To a large segment of the country she is the personification of all things evil; I don’t share their irrational hatred of her, but surely, I thought, the Democrats wouldn’t handicap their attempt to maintain control of the presidency by choosing a candidate who had no chance at all of winning support among Republicans.  After two terms from Obama, Democrats would pick another fresh face from that generation, someone without Clinton’s political baggage who could generate some excitement.

And Republicans?  Well, I didn’t (and still don’t) have much confidence in that organization.  In winning the White House in 1980 with Ronald Reagan it sold its soul to the social conservative, vaguely racist, radical Christian evangelical wing that meant to use the political system to institutionalize its religious agenda.  They have the old fiscal conservatives—the old Bush types, the Rockefeller Republicans—so whipped into submission that there was no reason for me to suspect they’d pick someone I’d like, but they might choose someone I could support.  I’ll repeat what I’ve said many times: though I disagree with their goals I recognize and applaud the radical conservatives for working the system as it’s designed.

I did not think both parties would select such polarizing candidates.  If the Republicans had picked a more mainstream candidate than Trump, I don’t doubt that that person would beat Clinton handily, and if the Democrats had selected anyone other than the historically unpopular candidate that they did that person would probably be pounding Trump in the dust.  Now we’re left to pick from between two really bad options.  Yes, there are third party and independent candidates on the ballot, and a protest vote for one of them was feeling like the right way to go…until you consider just how ungodly awful Trump really is, and think about the kind of damage he could do to our country if we gave him the keys.

That’s always the bottom line in a presidential race.  But never before in my experience (my first vote for president was 1976) has one of the choices been so irresponsible and frightening.  I sympathize with people who are fed up with the state of our politics, and the glaring inability of our representatives to do their jobs, and who want to throw all the bastards out and start over.  But this isn’t the way.  This option is too dangerous to the future of our country.

If you haven’t done so, please take a few minutes to read David Frum’s essay in The Atlantic in which he thoughtfully explains why he chose to vote for Clinton, and think about what you can do for your country.

Those attempting to rally reluctant Republicans to Trump seldom waste words on the affirmative case for the blowhard businessman. What is there to say in favor of a candidate who would lie even about his (non) support for a charity for children with AIDS?

Instead, the case for Trump swiftly shifts to a fervid case against Hillary Clinton.

(snip)

Demonology aside, most conservatives and Republicans—and yes, many non-conservatives and non-Republicans—will recognize many of the factual predicates of the critiques of Hillary Clinton’s methods and character. The Clintons sold access to a present secretary of state and a potential future president in pursuit of personal wealth. Hillary Clinton does indeed seem a suspicious and vindictive personality. For sure, a President Clinton will want to spend and regulate even more than the Obama administration has done.

Like Henny Youngman, however, the voter must always ask: compared to what?

One of only two people on earth will win the American presidency on November 8. Hillary Clinton is one of those two possibilities. Donald Trump is the only other.

Yes, I fear Clinton’s grudge-holding. Should I fear it so much that I rally to a candidate who has already explicitly promised to deploy antitrust and libel law against his critics and opponents? Who incited violence at his rallies? Who ejects reporters from his events if he objects to their coverage? Who told a huge audience in Australia that his top life advice was: “Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe it”? Who idealizes Vladimir Putin, Saddam Hussein, and the butchers of Tiananmen as strong leaders to be admired and emulated?

(snip)

To vote for Trump as a protest against Clinton’s faults would be like amputating a leg because of a sliver in the toe; cutting one’s throat to lower one’s blood pressure.

I more or less agree with Trump on his signature issue, immigration. Two years ago, I would have rated immigration as one of the very most important issues in this election. But that was before Trump expanded the debate to include such questions as: “Should America honor its NATO commitments?” “Are American elections real or fake?” “Is it OK for a president to use the office to promote his family business?” “Are handicapped people comical?”  

(snip)

We don’t have to analogize Donald Trump to any of the lurid tyrants of world history to recognize in him the most anti-constitutional personality ever to gain a major-party nomination for the U.S. presidency. I cannot predict whether Trump would succeed in elevating himself “on the ruins of public liberty.” The outcome would greatly depend on the resolve, integrity, and courage of other leaders and other institutions, especially the Republican leaders in Congress. To date, their record has not been reassuring, but who knows: Maybe they would discover more courage and independence after they bestowed the awesome powers of the presidency than they did while Trump was merely a party nominee. Or maybe not.

(snip)

The lesson Trump has taught is not only that certain Republican dogmas have passed out of date, but that American democracy itself is much more vulnerable than anyone would have believed only 24 months ago. Incredibly, a country that—through wars and depression—so magnificently resisted the authoritarian temptations of the mid-20th century has half-yielded to a more farcical version of that same threat without any of the same excuse. The hungry and houseless Americans of the Great Depression sustained a constitutional republic. How shameful that the Americans of today—so vastly better off in so many ways, despite their undoubted problems—have done so much less well.

I have no illusions about Hillary Clinton. I expect policies that will seem to me at best counter-productive, at worst actively harmful. America needs more private-market competition in healthcare, not less; lighter regulation of enterprise, not heavier; reduced immigration, not expanded; lower taxes, not higher. On almost every domestic issue, I stand on one side; she stands on the other. I do not imagine that she will meet me, or those who think like me, anywhere within a country mile of half-way.

But she is a patriot. She will uphold the sovereignty and independence of the United States. She will defend allies. She will execute the laws with reasonable impartiality. She may bend some rules for her own and her supporters’ advantage. She will not outright defy legality altogether. Above all, she can govern herself; the first indispensable qualification for governing others.

So I will vote for the candidate who rejects my preferences and offends my opinions. (In fact, I already have voted for her.) Previous generations accepted infinitely heavier sacrifices and more dangerous duties to defend democracy. I’ll miss the tax cut I’d get from united Republican government. But there will be other elections, other chances to vote for what I regard as more sensible policies. My party will recover to counter her agenda in Congress, moderate her nominations to the courts, and defeat her bid for re-election in 2020. I look forward to supporting Republican recovery and renewal.

(snip)

I am voting to defend Americans’ profoundest shared commitment: a commitment to norms and rules that today protect my rights under a president I don’t favor, and that will tomorrow do the same service for you.

Vote the wrong way in November, and those norms and rules will shudder and shake in a way unequaled since the Union won the Civil War.

I appreciate that Donald Trump is too slovenly and incompetent to qualify as a true dictator. This country is not so broken as to allow a President Trump to arrest opponents or silence the media. Trump is a man without political ideas. Trump’s main interest has been and will continue to be self-enrichment by any means, no matter how crooked. His next interest after that is never to be criticized by anybody for any reason, no matter how justified—maybe most especially when justified. Yet Trump does not need to achieve a dictatorship to subvert democracy. This is the age of “illiberal democracy,” as Fareed Zakaria calls it, and across the world we’ve seen formally elected leaders corrode democratic systems from within. Surely the American system of government is more robust than the Turkish or Hungarian or Polish or Malaysian or Italian systems. But that is not automatically true. It is true because of the active vigilance of freedom-loving citizens who put country first, party second. Not in many decades has that vigilance been required as it is required now.

Your hand may hesitate to put a mark beside the name, Hillary Clinton. You’re not doing it for her. The vote you cast is for the republic and the Constitution.

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Dear candidates for President of the USA,

It’s not that I haven’t been paying attention to all you’ve been up to for the past six months or more, it’s just that I can’t maintain interest in this made-for-TV “reality show” the way some of my fellow Americans can, and I’m long past faking it.  Plus, there’s no good reason why it should take the people of our fine little country this long to make a decision.  Strikes me that the only reason why the campaign for president runs for two damn years (and even longer than that, behind the scenes) is that the political industrial establishment has kids in college or wants a new boat.

First off, let me say that I’m disappointed at the overall quality of the candidates, and I don’t just mean the ones of you who are still in the race now.  The Republican Party crowed about putting up such a highly-qualified collection of candidates, but so many of them turned out to be real dopes.  I don’t need to go into details, you know who I’m talking about…and most of you agree with me.  The Democrats who made an effort aren’t inspiring anybody, either.  (Is the simple fact that a person puts him-or-herself up as a candidate for president prima facie evidence that they’ve really got a screw loose and can’t be trusted with the job?)

Watching the Republican race from the sidelines has been a demoralizing experience.  I get it that people are unhappy with the quality of our national political leaders and want a change, but I’m saddened at the utter lack of critical thinking that seems to have gone into the winnowing process that’s produced two favorites who are demonstrably unfit for the job.  You lie right to our faces, act like eight year olds in a playground argument, say anything that comes to your mind and scream that it’s true because you said so, and we cheer you on?  Maybe we’re enjoying the catharsis, getting a rush from screaming that we’re mad as hell and aren’t going to take it any more…that’s fine, as far as it goes.  But if we’re not careful one of you could end up with the responsibility of defending our asses from enemies foreign and domestic, and I’m not too keen on that prospect.  I mean, what would happen to our country if one of you wins?!  I take some solace recognizing that far less than half of Republican America is supporting any of you, and as a student of history it will be exciting to watch a political convention where the winner of the nomination is not known before the first gavel falls.

The Democrats?  Meh.  Will any third-party candidates, or ultra-rich independents, get on the ballot and make the general election really interesting?  I hope so.  Will national cable news channels stop pretending this is just a fun-and-interesting way to pass the time until they launch the next branded coverage of some run of the mill disaster?  THAT would be really interesting…

Anyways, this is one for the history books and I sort of envy the future students who will read about it and wonder, “how the hell did that happen?”

It’s still too early for the 2016 campaign, but…

The first vote that counts in the 2016 presidential election is still four months away, so I remain committed to the belief that it is still too soon to be caring about this.  Of course, I’m vastly outnumbered by people in both the Democratic and Republican parties, in the news media, and of course in the political-industrial complex which makes its living off the perpetual campaign.  Nevertheless, I found something I want to share in case you haven’t already seen it.

I admit to being a little amused by the specter of Donald Trump leading the public opinion polls among Republican candidates, and bemused by the conceit of the Hillary Clinton camp that the nomination is hers because…well, because Hillary.  As a government contractor employee I’m far more interested right now in whether or not the do-nothing Congress can pass a simple budget resolution and keep the doors open, and at last report that seems a pretty good bet.  If it doesn’t happen, though, the most likely reason will be that some right-wing extremist will have decided that advocating lost causes is more important than good government…thank you, Sen. Cruz.

It’s those guys (and some gals, but mostly guys) who drove John Boehner to decide to give up his speakership rather than try to further advance his career herding cats.  It’s almost heroic when you think about it: Boehner decided to fall on his sword rather than let the loud-mouthed minority of his party seriously damage the overall operation by keeping up their effort to drive him out of the chair.  I’m getting misty-eyed just thinking about his courage and selflessness…and nearly giddy when I read the suggestion that this could be a step on the road to the self-destruction of the party that the extremists grudgingly call their home.

In today’s New York Times (“Anarchy in the House”), Geoffrey Kabaservice argues that the Boehner resignation drama can be seen as a symptom of the kind of conservatism led by Barry Goldwater in the 1960s.

The radicals who coalesced around Senator Barry Goldwater’s insurgent presidential campaign were zealots. They had no interest in developing a governing agenda. Their program consisted mainly of getting rid of the New Deal and every other government effort to promote the general welfare…Goldwater’s followers viewed any Republicans who wanted to govern as traitors to be stamped out. They accused their own leadership of conspiring with Democrats to thwart conservatives…They had no strategy other than taking over the party and nominating Goldwater. He would win the 1964 election, they believed, because a hidden majority would flock to the polls when presented with a candidate who wasn’t what we would now call “politically correct.”

(snip)

The present resurgence of anti-governing conservatism is also likely to end badly for Republicans. The extremists have the ability to disrupt the Congress, but not to lead it. Their belief that shutdowns will secure real concessions is magical thinking, not legislative realism. And the more power they gain, the less likely it becomes that a Republican-controlled Congress can pass conservative legislation, or indeed any legislation at all.

It’s true that sometimes no legislation is better than bad legislation. But the United States faces real problems, including stagnant wages, family instability, infrastructure collapse and long-term indebtedness. If Republicans can’t advance their own solutions, they’ll have to deal with what Democrats — or harsh realities — impose on them. Paralysis is not a plan.

The rebranding of Republicanism as a force for anarchy has spilled into the presidential contest and threatens the general election chances of the eventual nominee.

Does the Republican Party have time to turn that around before the general election?  I think so.  Do the people who run the party these days want to turn that around?  If so they better get started proving it, because soon enough even I’ll be paying attention to the campaign.

The only “real” reality show is just too depressing to watch

Americans today “are turned off and tuned out of the sequestration mess in Washington. To a person, they are sick of the antics of those to whom they have entrusted enormous power.”  So begins David Gergen in his column today, and I can’t find anything in his argument with which to disagree.

The clowns we elected to represent us in Washington—and in many many cases, re-elected…shame on us—have failed to take care of one of the most fundamental things we send them to Washington to do: set a budget for the operation of our government.  Actually, as Gergen correctly notes, they have failed to do that one thing for four years running—so far.  Back in the summer of 2011 they set a trap to force themselves to act, promising across the board budget cuts at the end of 2012 at such a severe level that it was inconceivable they wouldn’t act to stop them from going into effect; when they still couldn’t beat that deadline they passed a law giving themselves two more months to wrap it up.  Well, here we are, two months later, but this time there doesn’t even seem to be the possibility that they can get together to give themselves more time.  The ineptitude is astounding!

It’s not unusual to have the legislative and executive branches of government  disagree about taxes or spending or any other policy issue; historically, someone on one side or the other finds a way to force a resolution.  But as Gergen points out, “we have a rare moment when both Congress and the president are retreating from their responsibilities. It’s hard to recall a time when we were so leaderless.”  The Republicans and the Democrats, the president and Congress, everyone is busy running from microphone to microphone insisting that there’s nothing they can do about it.  And the whole argument has become so tiresome that even in the face of budget cuts that threaten basic services, things we can all pretty much agree that government should be taking care of, a lot of Americans are just yawning and looking the other way.  How many times can the boy cry “wolf” before the villagers ignore the call?

Let’s hope we haven’t thrown in the towel yet, because this sequestration circle jerk isn’t the end of the line: whether these cuts go into effect this Friday or not, there’s a potential government shutdown only four weeks down the road if there’s no agreement on new spending authorization.  If we don’t dig up some leadership somewhere, what’s been going around for the last few years is going to come around again and again and again.  No winners here, America, not if we aren’t willing to find a compromise that keeps the whole thing from crashing down on our heads.

In the spring a young man’s fancy also turns to baseball and cars; politics is getting in the way

Yep, another great day: sunny skies and highs in the low 80s in southeast Texas, got a ticket for my first game of the new baseball season tonight, made some good progress with a new swing thought out on the driving range yesterday, and I’m about a week away from trading in a serviceable but boxy and uninspiring VW for a very low mileage Honda two-seater—just the kind I’ve always loved and used to drive—while lowering my costs in the process!  With Rick Santorum’s exit from the GOP presidential primary, I’m hoping we can all enjoy a period of relative campaign quiet, too, but here’s something to roll around in your head before Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, and the permanent political class, use up all the oxygen.

It has looked like, from the vantage point of today, that come November we voters would face a choice between the radicalism that defines today’s Republican Party or another four years of divided government and damn little constructive effort on crucial economic issues.  Even the most moderate-seeming Republican candidate, Romney, was disavowing anything in own past that smelled of reasonableness and compromise, to appeal to the extremists who make up most of the GOP primary voters.  But the need for that should be over now, absent a mind-boggling resurgence from Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul or a last gasp charge to the convention from Sarah Palin or someone of that ilk to rally the “true conservatives.”

But even as Romney starts to redefine himself to appeal to the less ideological among us, Republicans will have a quite a slog in front of them if they wish to broaden their appeal beyond those who’ve already drunk the Kool-Aid.  Former White House speechwriter and senior policy adviser Michael Gerson says it’s not just a matter of trying to counter the Democrats’ “war on women” meme: “The GOP’s main problem is not the contraceptive issue; it is the perception that it has become too ideological on many issues.”

Women and independent voters have seen a party enthusiastically confirming its most damaging stereotypes. The composite Republican candidate—reflecting the party’s ideological mean—has been harsh on immigration, confrontational on social issues, simplistic in condemning government and silent on the struggles of the poor. How many women would find this profile appealing on eHarmony?

This is the hidden curse of the Republican congressional triumph of 2010. Republican activists came to believe that purity is all that is necessary for victory. But a presidential candidate, it turns out, requires a broader ideological attraction than your average tea party House freshman.

From an academic standpoint it will be interesting to see if and how Romney and the more traditional Republican elements work to sand the scary edges off of their primary campaign messages, to widen their appeal and entice the plurality of American voters who don’t ritualistically identify with the Republican or Democratic parties; those are the people who will decide this election.  (The Obama campaign isn’t going to make it easy, already working to reinforce Romney’s “severe” conservatism and other primary campaign highlights.)  Gerson argues that “Mainly, women and independents want some reassurance that Republicans give a damn about someone other than Republican primary voters. It is not a high bar. But Romney needs to start somewhere…”.  I’ll check back in after Memorial Day to see how he’s doing.