Tag Archives: candidates

How To Choose A Candidate

There’s a reason I keep repeating “vote blue no matter who,” even though the presidential candidates the Democrats are fielding all have their flaws–and it isn’t simply because Trump represents the worst of the worst.

Several years ago, someone asked me how I would choose between two unpalatable candidates for office, and I shared my simple formula for making such choices: I vote for the candidate who is pandering to the least dangerous people.

We all know that Trump is deeply corrupt, as well as monumentally ignorant. We also know that his egomania, racism and narcissism outweigh any actual policy preferences–that in order to feed his massive ego, he will adopt whatever positions he thinks will be rewarded with attention, power and the adoration of the misfits who attend his rallies.

Trump, who has been both a Republican and a Democrat, found success pandering to the people with whom he feels most comfortable–white nationalists and corrupt businesspeople– constituencies that dominate today’s GOP.

We can concede that today’s Democratic Party is hardly a monolithic organization of angels and still recognize the superiority of its core beliefs: climate change is real; women are people entitled to control of their own bodies; background checks are not inconsistent with the Second Amendment; African-Americans and LGBTQ citizens are entitled to equality; immigrant families should not be separated; our water should be drinkable and our air breathable; vote suppression is anti-democratic…and much more.

Any Democrat running for political office, from President to County Clerk, needs the approval of the people who have organized around those positions and beliefs. Those are the people to whom all Democratic candidates must pander if they are to have any chance at victory.

I know this sounds cynical, but I am much less concerned with the sincerity of a candidate’s embrace of the Democrats’ core positions than with the fact that he/she must publicly affirm and work for them in order to get elected or re-elected.

Trump is not a bright man, but even he can read the writing on the wall; the Senators who essentially voted to let him ignore the Constitution and the rule of law were elected by pandering to the same bigots who support him. Whether in their “heart of hearts” they recognize and reject the evils they are empowering is irrelevant–so long as they believe they must pander to evil, they are evil.

During the presidential primary contests, people of good will–Democrats and “Never Trump” Republicans alike–will have different perspectives on candidate electability. But once a candidate has been chosen, no matter how disappointed we may be in that choice or in the process–we will confront a very simple decision, and not just for president.

We can vote for people running on the Republican ticket–those endorsed by the party whose candidates have no choice but to pander to bigotry and corruption–or we can vote for Democratic candidates who have no choice but to pander to people who overwhelmingly believe in science, reason and civic equality.

This isn’t a contest between individuals. Trump didn’t emerge from a void. There’s a reason  that during the past couple of decades Americans have “sorted” ourselves into two wildly different parties–it is because we hold profoundly opposed understandings of what American “greatness” is based upon. We will continue to be polarized until one of those diametrically-opposed visions of America prevails.

“Vote blue no matter who” recognizes that the 2020 election isn’t about the candidates–it’s about which of those visions triumphs.

 

The White Nationalist Party

America has been transfixed by Donald Trump’s very public betrayal of his oath of office–an oath which requires him to protect and defend our country. But that is hardly his only  betrayal of important American values.

As Dana Milbank reminds us, he has made bigotry politically correct again.

In a recent column, Milbank looked at the crop of Republican candidates who  surfaced after Trump’s election.

Behold, a new breed of Republican for the Trump era.

Seth Grossman won the Republican primary last month for a competitive House seat in New Jersey, running on the message “Support Trump/Make America Great Again.” The National Republican Congressional Committee endorsed him.

Then, a video surfaced, courtesy of American Bridge, a Democratic PAC, of Grossman saying “the whole idea of diversity is a bunch of crap.” Grossman then proclaimed diversity “evil.” CNN uncovered previous instances of Grossman calling Kwanzaa a “phony holiday” created by “black racists,” labeling Islam a cancer and saying faithful Muslims cannot be good Americans.

There was much more, and the GOP finally withdrew its endorsement. But Grossman is hardly an aberration.

Many such characters have crawled out from under rocks and onto Republican ballots in 2018: A candidate with ties to white nationalists is the GOP Senate nominee in Virginia (and has President Trump’s endorsement); an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier is the Republican candidate in a California House race; a prominent neo-Nazi won the GOP nomination in an Illinois House race; and overt racists are in Republican primaries across the country.

Milbank points to what has become increasingly obvious: As nice people flee the GOP, Trump’s Republican party now needs the support of people like this.

Some of these candidates go well beyond the bounds of anything Trump has said or done, but many have been inspired or emboldened by him. Corey A. Stewart, the Republican Senate nominee in Virginia, said he was “Trump before Trump.”

The party won’t back Stewart, but Republican lawmakers are tiptoeing. Rep. Scott W. Taylor (R-Va.), declining to disavow Stewart, noted to the Virginian-Pilot newspaper that people won’t see him as racist because “my son is named after a black guy.”

If there were only a few of these racists and anti-Semites, you might shrug it off. After all, both parties have had crazy or hateful people run for office (we’ve had some doozies here). They’ve usually been weeded out in party primaries, and they’ve rarely earned official support or endorsement.

In today’s GOP, however, they seem to be everywhere.

Russell Walker, Republican nominee for a North Carolina state House seat, is a white supremacist whose personal website is “littered with the n-word” and states that Jews are “satanic,” Vox reports.

Running in the Republican primary for Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s congressional seat in Wisconsin is Paul Nehlen, who calls himself “pro-white” and was booted from Twitter for racism.

Neo-NaziPatrick Little ran as a Republican in the California Senate primary, blaming his loss on fraud by “Jewish supremacists,” according to the website Right Wing Watch.

In North Carolina, nominee Mark Harris, in the NRCC’s “Young Guns” program for top recruits, has suggested that women who pursue careers and independence do not “live out and fulfill God’s design.”

Another Young Guns candidate, Wendy Rogersof Arizona (where Joe Arpaio is fighting for the Republican Senate nomination), has said the Democratic position on abortion is “very much like the Holocaust” and the Cambodian genocide.

As Milbank notes–with examples– these candidates have plenty of role models in the administration and in Congress.  Plus, of course, the role-model-in-chief.

Thanks to Trump, today’s GOP is rapidly becoming America’s White Supremicist Party.

Public Service is NOT Amateur Hour

I had a disquieting exchange yesterday with a very nice woman who is apparently enamored of Ben Carson, and considers him qualified to be President. Because he’s a brain surgeon.

Carson–as political observers have noted and as his interviews have made painfully clear–is a seemingly nice man with no previous experience in government who has displayed a truly appalling ignorance of the issues America faces, the operation of our legal system and the current world situation.

And of course, I need not remind readers of this blog that the current front-runner for the Republican nomination is Donald Trump, who–in addition to sharing all of Carson’s deficiencies–is so monumentally narcissistic and un-self-aware that he is a walking joke.

Here’s the thing: none of us–including Ben Carson and Donald Trump–would hire someone to do a job who lacked any relevant experience, training or basic understanding of the most rudimentary requirements of the position. So why do so many Americans consider ignorance of how government works a virtue, and why do so many candidates seem to think that parading that ignorance should win them votes?

I teach in a school of public affairs. One of the majors we offer is public management–a course of study intended to prepare people for public sector positions. The skills we teach as essential for even entry-level bureaucrats include public finance (which–surprise!–is considerably different from balancing your checkbook), statistical analysis, the ways in which law constrains public policy, the effects of globalization, the operation of the policy process…the list goes on.

Like it or not, we live in a complicated world. Americans expect government to protect us from terrorists and e coli, to regulate utilities, to administer social insurance programs, to encourage economic development, to ensure that our air is breathable and our water drinkable, to prevent economic monopolies, to control air traffic, to wage our wars, to educate our children, to pave our streets and highways, and much more. Most of those functions require specialized expertise, and managing the public servants and contractors who provide these services is no small task.

Running a city, a state or a country is not a job for amateurs, or for people who have only the dimmest understanding of the  myriad foreign and domestic challenges the nation faces on a daily basis, and the often difficult and surprising interrelationships among them.

It isn’t brain surgery–and the ability to do brain surgery, or to star in a television reality show, doesn’t make someone even remotely competent to run a country in the 21st Century.

 

 

 

 

Why Voting for the Man, Not the Party, Doesn’t Work

A few years ago, after choosing between two particularly uninspiring candidates on election day, I told my husband that I would no longer vote for the lesser of two evils. Instead, I would vote for the candidate who was pandering to the least dangerous constituency.

It sounds snarky, but I would argue that it isn’t a bad rule to follow.

Take Mitt Romney, the likely GOP Presidential nominee. My guess is that beneath that wooden exterior, he’s probably a capable enough manager–and not nearly as asinine as he sounds on the campaign trail. The problem is, if he were to be elected, he would still be beholden to the Tea Party crazies and Good Ole Boy racists he is frantically trying to woo during the primaries. Etch-A-Sketch or no, the systemic realities of our political system would operate to prevent moderation or compromise or evidence-based decision-making.

Here in Indiana, we have two major-party candidates for Governor, both of whom are well to the right of center. Pence, of course, is entirely a creature of the extremist Christian Right–if he’s ever had a truly independent idea, he’s hidden it well. Gregg is a conservative Democrat from Southern Indiana. If Pence wins, he won’t skip a beat: his policies will be tailored to his base, which is fundamentalist Christian, exploitative capitalist, and allergic-to-taxes Tea Party. If Gregg wins, however, he will have to moderate his positions in order to satisfy the Democratic base, which is far more diverse and progressive than he is. (As my youngest son likes to say, your vote for Governor will depend upon whether you want to return to the 1960s or the 1690s.)

Of course, if Rupert the Libertarian wins, all bets are off.

Candidates are captured by their political parties in a number of ways; they are not unembedded political actors no matter how much they’d like us to think they are. In some ways, that’s comforting; we rarely know what we need to know about the candidates themselves, so there is some logic in casting your vote for the person who belongs to the party with the philosophy closest to your own. Party affiliation is one among many “markers” that allow us to shortcut the decision-making process.

On the other hand, when one party goes “off the rails”–when the only people who can get nominated are those prepared to grovel to the basest of the base–average voters are deprived of the benefit of sound policy debates between serious candidates.

When elections devolve into battles between the bumper stickers, when candidates endlessly parrot  focus-group tested pieties, it isn’t possible to vote for the “best candidate.” It isn’t even possible to figure out who that is.