Tag Archives: Clinton

Voting My Conscience

Okay–I have to get this off my chest.

Dana Milbank said it best, in a recent column in the Washington Post:

Moderates and reasonable Republicans who are considering voting for Trump portray it as a choice between two unpalatable options. But it isn’t. It’s a choice between one unpalatable option and one demagogue who operates outside of our democratic traditions, promoting racism, condoning violence and moving paranoia into the mainstream. This presidential election, unlike the six others I have covered, is not about party or ideology. It’s about Trump’s threat to our tradition of self-government.

More recently, Thomas Friedman made a similar point in a column for the New York Times.

Anyone who says it doesn’t matter whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton wins this election needs their head examined. The damage that Trump could do to our nation with his blend of intellectual laziness, towering policy ignorance and reckless impulsiveness is in a league of its own. Hillary has some real personal ethics issues she needs to confront, but she’s got the chops to be president.

These and a number of similar opinion pieces are efforts to get through to people who dislike both major-party candidates and insist that they intend to “vote their consciences” and avoid “dirtying” themselves, by opting for a third-party candidate.

Let’s “get real,” as the kids might say. No third-party candidate has even the remotest chance of winning. (And if, by some unimaginable chance, one did, they couldn’t govern from outside America’s a two-party system; like it or not, that’s the reality within which we operate.) Either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States.

Here’s my message to those who are planning to “vote their consciences.”

You may think that casting a “wasted” vote makes you virtuous, but the reality is that every non-Clinton vote cast in November helps Donald Trump.

I realize that many people detest Hillary Clinton. I am not one of the Clinton haters, and I have my own opinions about the source of the intense animus people feel for her, but I am not going to waste blog space arguing about “Hillary hate.” I am going to argue that those who hate her should hold their noses and vote for her anyway.

Even if most of the accusations thrown at Hillary Clinton were true, that would mean she’s not much different from other, similarly flawed politicians–several of whom have occupied the Oval Office. As libertarian P.J. O’Rourke put it when he declared he’d be voting for Clinton, “she’s wrong, but she’s wrong within normal parameters.”

Donald Trump, on the other hand, really does represent an existential threat, not just to American values, the Constitution and the rule of law, but to the world. The thought of someone as ignorant, venal, thin-skinned and volatile having his finger on the nuclear button should be enough to make sane people shudder. (It has certainly had that effect on virtually every living high-ranking member of the defense community, both Republican and Democratic.)

The identity of Trump’s core supporters–the racists, misogynysts, anti-Semites and xenophobes who have crawled out from under their rocks to cheer him on–should give pause to anyone willing to narrow the margin by which America rejects him.

In 1991, Trump supporter and Klansman David Duke ran for Governor of Louisiana against Edwin Edwards, who had faced two racketeering trials before being acquitted in 1986. Edwards won, after a campaign featuring a popular and memorable bumper sticker reading “Vote for the Crook. It’s important.”

I don’t believe that Hillary Clinton is a crook, or anything close to it. But even if you do believe that, you should vote for her.

It’s important.



Uncharted Territory

If this political year feels unprecedented, it’s because it is. Even Nate Silver, oracle of the numbers, admits to its abnormality.

In a normal presidential election, both candidates raise essentially unlimited money and staff their campaigns with hundreds of experienced professionals. In a normal presidential election, both candidates are good representatives of their party’s traditional values and therefore unite almost all their party’s voters behind them. In a normal presidential election, both candidates have years of experience running for office and deftly pivot away from controversies to exploit their opponents’ weaknesses. In a normal presidential election, both candidates target a broad enough range of demographic groups to have a viable chance of reaching 51 percent of the vote. This may not be a normal presidential election because while most of those things are true for Clinton, it’s not clear that any of them apply to Trump.

Silver’s acknowledgement of the “not normal” elements of this particular election came in an essay in which he explored the possibility of a landslide for Clinton. We haven’t had any landslides for quite some time–since Reagan, to be specific–and one of the factors militating against one is the highly partisan divide of the American electorate.

These patterns [close elections versus those won by large margins] seem to have some relationship with partisanship, with highly partisan epochs tending to produce close elections by guaranteeing each party its fair share of support. Trump’s nomination, however, reflects profound disarray within the Republican Party. Furthermore, about 30 percent of Republican or Republican-leaning voters have an unfavorable view of Trump. How many of them will vote for Clinton is hard to say, but parties facing this much internal strife, such as Republicans in 1964 or Democrats in 1972 or 1980, have often suffered landslide losses.

An electoral college vote of 270 or more is all that is needed to elect Clinton. The value of a landslide–or anything close–is that it would sweep in down-ticket candidates. Conventional wisdom says a decisive Clinton win will give the Democrats the Senate, but it will take a massive sweep to wrest control of the extensively gerrymandered House.

A big win wouldn’t only give Hillary a legislative branch she could work with. It would also help Democrats chip away at the Republicans’ huge advantage in the nation’s statehouses. (We might even narrow the gap here in Indiana, where the GOP currently enjoys a super-majority.)

A girl can dream.

Given the intense hatred of Hillary Clinton that has been carefully nurtured by Republicans over the years, there is probably a ceiling to her support, even against the unthinkable disaster that is Donald Trump–a ceiling that will prevent her from winning a landslide. And while it does look unlikely that Trump can rebound from his self-inflicted wounds, the last thing we need in this bizarre election cycle is complacency.

If you’ve read this far, please check to be sure that your voter registration is current and correct–and stay healthy at least through November 9th……

About Those Conspiracy Theories…

Maybe it’s the Internet, and the ubiquity of social media, but it sometimes seems as if we are living in the age of conspiracy theories. Most of these contemporary versions aren’t just new twists on old standbys–aliens landing Roswell, UFO sightings, people who really killed JFK.  In this age of hyper-partisanship, they tend to focus on political figures.

We saw an explosion of wild accusations when we elected our first African-American President. Obama wasn’t “really” American; he was born in a foreign country (Kenya, or for the more geographically-challenged, Hawaii). He wasn’t really Christian, but Muslim (which in their “minds” evidently equates with being a fellow-traveler of some sort). He was going to confiscate all the guns, eliminate the election and seize continuing power…

Usually, the people susceptible to conspiracy theories are those who find the real world baffling or uncongenial or both. I suppose it is bafflement that may explain a recent theory about Donald Trump’s inexplicable campaign for President.

This theory, which has been making the rounds on social media, rejects the premise that Trump’s self-immolation is due to his significant intellectual, moral and emotional deficits. Reasoning that no one could be as un-self-aware and self-destructive as Trump appears to be, they speculate that it is all part of a nefarious Clinton plot: he is really running to ensure Hillary Clinton’s victory in November.

After all, as one person considering this thesis asked, how would his behavior be any different if he were trying to elect her?

The posts I’ve seen point to Trump’s previous statements complimenting Hillary, his prior campaign contributions to her, and–especially suspicious–reports that he actually talked to the Clintons at some gathering a few months before entering the race. Ergo, they put him up to running a campaign so disastrous that even people who strongly dislike Hillary would vote for her.

What seems to distinguish this particular conspiracy theory from, say, the aliens at Roswell, is that it is offered by people who are generally logical. They are desperately trying to make sense of farce. No sane person, they reason, could possibly behave the way Trump has behaved. It’s one thing to fashion an appeal to white supremacists–that may be reprehensible, but it’s comprehensible. It’s another to constantly lie about matters that are easily fact-checked, to insult individuals and constituencies whose support you desperately need, to display a breathtaking ignorance of the world and the rules governing the country you propose to lead.

It must be an act, part of a clever, if convoluted, plot.

I’m sympathetic to the desire to explain the otherwise inexplicable, but let’s face it; this conspiracy is pretty implausible.

Freud famously said that “sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.” Sometimes, a narcissistic buffoon is just a narcissistic buffoon.



Reflections on a Toxic Election

As Americans endure one of the most unpleasant and depressing election seasons in a long time, it might be productive to consider how we ended up with a Presidential race between a buffoon and a woman people love to hate.

Pundits have had a field day speculating on why Donald Trump won the GOP primaries. They have faulted the party, identified nativism as the heart of his appeal, and accused the media of allowing him to manipulate–and dominate–the news cycles. All of which is accurate, as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough.

If more Americans understood how government works, and what skills public office requires, the willingness to believe that anyone who had run a business could just as easily manage the affairs of the nation would disappear.

I have remarked before on the evidently widespread belief that Americans go to the polls every four years to elect a monarch, who can then wave a magic wand and effect policy change. For people who do not understand checks and balances, or federalism, or the policy process, voting for someone as unfit for office as Donald Trump may seem reasonable; for the rest of us, it’s madness.

What about the pervasive suspicion of, and distaste for, Hillary Clinton? How much of that criticism is fair, and how much isn’t?

Michael Arnovitz has probably provided the most in-depth analysis of that criticism. Both the essay linked to and the previous one referenced in it are well worth reading in their entireties, but a couple of his observations about “Hillary hatred” are particularly relevant here:

I am sure that [my] last statement about policy sent a bunch of people lunging for their keyboards in order to explain to me that Hillary Clinton’s policies are exactly what they DON’T like about her. But it is very clear to me that this is not the case. The vast majority of messages and comments about HRC that I see consist almost solely of either personal attacks, false claims, childish conspiracy theories, assumptions of guilt by association or complaints about legislation passed by her husband decades ago. Almost none of the comments I see (or have received) even bother to address her current policy positions, and most of the small few that do either willfully misrepresent them, assume as a given that they are terrible or dismiss them altogether as mere political expediency.

Arnovitz notes the extent to which criticisms of Clinton are founded on the same lack of understanding of how government actually works that gave us Trump:

Factions with strict ideological agendas love to pretend as if all policy issues, problems and solutions are simple and self-evident. But this is absurd. In truth, our world is now connected by an incredibly complex web of political, legal and economic relationships; a Gordian knot of competing agendas that can quickly take “simple” solutions to very unhappy places. Responsible politicians know this, and the law of unintended consequences patiently waits for those foolish enough to think otherwise. Which is why seasoned leaders like Hillary Clinton often favor nuanced and incrementalist approaches. These approaches are not particularly inspiring, to be sure. They also leave politicians like Clinton open to charges of avoiding necessary change or maintaining “failed” systems. But on the plus side they don’t set the world on fire. …

Finally, Arnovitz considers the years of GOP demonization of Clinton.

And finally, for those progressives who insist that there is no difference between Hillary Clinton and Republicans. You know who does see a difference? Republicans. And in fact they seem to think there’s a pretty big fucking difference. Which may have something to do with why they have spent tens of millions of dollars and unknown thousands of man-hours over a multi-decade period on a single unrelenting enterprise: convincing anyone who would listen that one of the most qualified public servants in America is actually a lying, corrupt she-devil. And clearly, for at least for some of us, it was money well spent.

People are free to dismiss Arnovitz (or the fascinating article by Ezra Klein in Vox, exploring the gap between how Clinton is seen by those who know her and the public persona that triggers negative reactions), but we all need to consider what years of living with unremitting politically-motivated attacks signify to talented young people (especially women) who might consider a career in public service. Because it isn’t just Hillary Clinton, although she certainly is a high profile example.

Why enter public life, if every mistake you make, every human flaw you exhibit–and we all have them– is going to be relentlessly politicized and exaggerated?

Why “pay your dues” studying policy, or serving in a variety of public-sector positions, if voters see no difference between celebrity and competence?

Before we march to the polls to cast our votes, perhaps we should learn what the job requires, and which criticisms are relevant and which aren’t.

Politics and the Press–Redux

Last night, I participated in a panel discussion focused in part upon the role of the press in the 2016 election cycle.

In my brief introductory remarks, I began by noting that the course in Media and Public Policy that I teach every two years requires an entirely new syllabus every time I teach it, because the media environment and the way we citizens get our information is constantly changing.

I also emphasized the difference between MEDIA and JOURNALISM. We are marinating in media, but we are losing what used to be called the journalism of verification. And I ticked off some of what I see as the consequences of this new reality:

  • The competition for eyeballs and clicks has given us a 24/7 “news hole” that media outlets race to fill—far too often prioritizing speed over accuracy.
  • That same competition has given us sports and gossip and opinion—often wildly inaccurate– rather than the watchdog journalism that informs citizens. It’s cheaper to produce, and (let’s be honest) those are the things people click on and watch.
  • We still have national coverage but with the exception of niche media, we have lost local news. The reporters with institutional memory who produced it are gone. There’s virtually no coverage of either the Indiana statehouse or the City-County building—instead we get the “beer beat,” telling us where to party on the weekend.
  • Most troubling of all is the “filter bubble.” The Internet has exponentially expanded our ability to live in a reality of our own creation, where (in defiance of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous dictum) we can indeed choose our own “facts.” Political psychologists call this behavior “confirmation bias.” We used to call it “cherry picking”—the intellectually dishonest process of picking through information sources from the bible to the U.S. budget looking for evidence that confirms our pre-existing beliefs.

As I tell my students, the sad state of journalism is ultimately our fault. The media is giving us what sells. If a naked Kardashian gets more clicks than articles about school vouchers, naked Kardashians are what we’ll get. When Donald Trump’s inane insults and kindergarten antics make money for the media, the media gives us nonstop Trump.

How all this will affect the 2016 elections is anyone’s guess, but a recent report from Harvard’s Shorenstein Center isn’t comforting.

The report shows that during the year 2015, major news outlets covered Donald Trump in a way that was unusual given his low initial polling numbers—a high volume of media coverage preceded Trump’s rise in the polls. Trump’s coverage was positive in tone—he received far more “good press” than “bad press.” The volume and tone of the coverage helped propel Trump to the top of Republican polls.

The Democratic race in 2015 received less than half the coverage of the Republican race. Bernie Sanders’ campaign was largely ignored in the early months but, as it began to get coverage, it was overwhelmingly positive in tone. Sanders’ coverage in 2015 was the most favorable of any of the top candidates, Republican or Democratic. For her part, Hillary Clinton had by far the most negative coverage of any candidate. In 11 of the 12 months, her “bad news” outpaced her “good news,” usually by a wide margin, contributing to the increase in her unfavorable poll ratings in 2015.

Now, if Clinton’s negative coverage consisted of actual news, emerging information that had not already been exhaustively covered, that would be appropriate. But as the report notes,

Whereas media coverage helped build up Trump, it helped tear down Clinton. Trump’s positive coverage was the equivalent of millions of dollars in ad-buys in his favor, whereas Clinton’s negative coverage can be equated to millions of dollars in attack ads, with her on the receiving end. Of the eight news outlets in our study, Fox News easily led the way. Clinton received 291 negative reports on Fox, compared with only 39 positive ones, most of which were in the context of poll results that showed her with a wide lead….

What accounts for Clinton’s negative coverage? One reason is the schizophrenic quality of journalists’ coverage of a “front-running” candidate. It is the story of a candidate with a solid lead, which is the main source of the candidate’s “good news.” There is, however, a less positive aspect to a frontrunner’s story.  The candidate is typically described as overly calculating and cautious—the implication is that the candidate is withholding something from the voters. And if the frontrunner loses support in the polls—a virtual certainty given the artificial boost that comes from high name recognition in the earliest polls—the narrative tilts negative.

We voters have to rely on the media for our information about the candidates. But in this media environment, in this time and place, we need to be very careful consumers of what passes for news.