Civic Literacy and our 2016 Election Choices

As Indiana’s primary approaches, it’s time to look at the 2016 election landscape as objectively as possible.

None of us is truly objective, of course. I look at the “still standing” Presidential candidates from the perspective of someone who teaches public administration, supports civil liberties, and has had a fair amount of first-hand political experience. I’m also old enough to have some historical perspective. Those attributes, for good or ill, shape my opinions.

It will come as no shock to anyone who has followed this blog that I find all of the Republican candidates appalling. Donald Trump is arguably the most ignorant person ever to win a Presidential primary. He quite clearly knows nothing about the world, the Constitution, about how government works, or policy…And worse, he’s aggressively uncurious about any of those things.

Ted Cruz, a Dominionist, is actually more dangerous than Trump. The term “Dominionism” comes from Genesis, in which God gives Adam and Eve “dominion” over the Earth and its animals; it’s the belief that Christians are biblically mandated to control all earthly institutions until the second coming of Jesus. Sometimes called Christian Reconstructionists, Dominionists like Cruz believe biblical law should replace secular law. Cruz opposes abortion even in the case of rape or incest; is unalterably opposed to equal rights for the LGBT community and promises to appoint Supreme Court Justices who agree with him.

Fortunately, neither of these characters is likely to win a general election. Polls suggest that most Americans detest Trump, and even his colleagues in the GOP loathe Cruz. John Kasich would be a far more effective candidate, but not because his policy views are significantly more palatable. He is a hard-right ideologue, but he does actually know what government is and  (at least compared to the other two) exhibits some human compassion.Not enough compassion to keep him from closing all of Ohio’s Planned Parenthood clinics and depriving poor women of health care, but some.

Which brings us to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders–either of whom, despite their flaws, would be massively preferable to any of the GOP candidates.

I have never been a big Hillary fan, not because I believe the rap about her “dishonesty.” (Let’s get real: Republicans have spent millions of dollars for 20+ years throwing everything but the kitchen sink at her–if anything had been there, we’d know it.) My criticism is that she is a defensive and awkward candidate–in fact, she reminds me in that respect of “Poppy” Bush, who was always much more interested in governing than campaigning. As a result, she often doesn’t seem authentic. She is basically a technocrat who lacks Obama’s (and Sanders’) ability to inspire.

That said, she may be the most qualified person ever to run for President. She has seen government from multiple perspectives–from the White House, to the Senate, to the State Department. I don’t agree with every vote she’s ever cast or every position she’s ever taken, but let’s be fair: no one with a resume that long and varied is going to avoid positions with which I disagree.

I initially welcomed Bernie Sanders’ candidacy because I saw Hillary as too cautious on the campaign trail. Without his prodding, she was unlikely to address several issues that, while divisive, needed to be addressed. Despite the fact that their voting records and positions are very similar (she’s always been more progressive than Bill), Sanders pushed her to publicly discuss issues she might not otherwise have highlighted in the campaign.

So what about Bernie? He’s been able to generate lots of enthusiasm. He has raised a limited but important set of issues that we need to be talking about. I tend to agree with him about most of his “signature” issues: we should have universal health care, free higher education, more economic equity. But if lightning were to strike, and Bernie were somehow to become the nominee (of a party he doesn’t belong to, I should note), it’s pretty obvious he would not be able to deliver. As Paul Krugman recently wrote (in a must-read analysis):

On many major issues — including the signature issues of his campaign, especially financial reform — he seemed to go for easy slogans over hard thinking. And his political theory of change, his waving away of limits, seemed utterly unrealistic.

Let me just point to one little-noted difference between Clinton and Sanders. Clinton has spent years and considerable effort helping to elect down-ticket Democrats, and she is continuing to do so. Sanders has not, and recently indicated that if he were the nominee, he wouldn’t bother.

People who understand how our government works (or doesn’t) recognize that we have this pesky system called “checks and balances.” We don’t elect a monarch who gets to wave a magic wand for four years (it drives me nuts when people on the left–evidently oblivious to the degree of Republican obstruction he’s faced–criticize Obama because he didn’t do everything he said he wanted to do).

Elect either Hillary or Bernie–it won’t matter unless Democrats control the Senate and have far more sway in the House. Having great goals and values won’t matter if there is no realistic path to their realization. Civically-literate partisans understand that. (There’s a reason that Bernie’s wins have all come in states that allow independents to participate in the Democratic primary or caucus, while Hillary has won an overwhelming majority of registered Democrats.)

There isn’t going to be a revolution. Perhaps there should be, but it isn’t going to happen.

Americans are stuck with a system that is not working, and we need to put people in charge who know that fixing it requires mastery of boring and annoying details, people who are prepared for a hard, long, maddeningly incremental slog. Like her or not, that’s Hillary.

Bernie may be a one-note Pied Piper. Hillary may be uninspiring. But a President Trump, Cruz or Kasich, abetted by a Republican Congress, would be a disaster from which this country might never recover.

Vote like your grandchildren’s lives depend on it, because they do.

 

 

52 thoughts on “Civic Literacy and our 2016 Election Choices

  1. I see this coming, “But a President Trump, Cruz or Kasich, abetted by a Republican Congress, would be a disaster from which this country might never recover.” It may not be Trump, Cruz, or Kasich. It may not be next year. But I see it coming. Almost to the point where it needs to happen to make people realize how destructive these guys are. I fear for our Country.

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