Archive

September 8th, 2016

Phony populism doesn't feed the family

    You would have thought that Labor Day 2016 would bring us a serious conversation about lifting the incomes of American workers and expanding their opportunities for advancement.

    After all, we have spent the year talking incessantly about alienated blue-collar voters and a new populism rooted in the disaffection of those hammered by economic change.

    But this is not the discussion we are having. Instead, we are enduring an attack-fest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Their strategies are entirely rational. Voters are understandably skeptical about politicians getting anything done, and both candidates know they have a better chance of encouraging negative votes rather than securing a positive mandate.

    I'm sorry to say the media make things worse by preferring spectacle and confrontation to digging deeply into whether this plan to promote manufacturing or that idea for raising incomes will actually work. Clinton gave a very serious speech about mental health policy last week, but the coverage flowed to whether Trump was "softening" or "hardening" on immigration.

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What to watch for in US election's homestretch

    The U.S. presidential campaign seems to have been going on for an eternity. The Labor Day holiday on Sept. 5 marks the start of the final stretch.

    Here are some leading indicators to determine whether Donald Trump will make this a competitive contest or whether Hillary Clinton can build on her current advantage to open a more commanding lead.

    --Debates: The initial forum is slated for Sept. 26. The event is being anticipated as a a smack-down brawl between two candidates who show contempt for each other. Each will try to bait the other. Will either take the high road and rise above the insults?

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Trump's bigotry will cost us

    While serving under Secretary Hillary Clinton as the State Department's first special representative to Muslim communities, I had a chance to visit with Muslims in almost 100 countries. This summer, as Donald Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric dominates the headlines, I think back to one encounter, both powerful and troubling, that I had with a community in Cambodia.

    We had driven for hours through the jungle on a hard-packed dirt road. Finally we reached a village - just a few modest buildings among the trees, including a simple mosque with whitewashed mud walls and a dirt-pressed floor. Sandals lined the walls, and straw mats served as our seats. Dozens of barefoot residents of this Muslim community crowded around.

    I sat down on the floor beside a translator, and our conversation began. Audience members asked questions that, unfortunately, I had often heard in other communities. Are Muslims real U.S. citizens? Do Americans spit on you when they hear you're Muslim? Can Muslims wear headscarves in the United States? Can they pray, and if so, where? Wasn't 9/11 a setup by Jews to frame Muslims? How was I allowed to serve in government if I was a Muslim?

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Trump's new hire is Captain Ahab of Clinton haters

    Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas, the old saying goes. If so, Donald Trump should be awfully itchy.

    Trump has just augmented his ever-changing cast of mostly second-string campaign operatives with a new deputy campaign manager, conservative activist David Bossie. "A friend of mine for many years," Trump told my Washington Post colleague Robert Costa. "Solid. Smart. Loves politics, knows how to win."

    That's one way to put it. Win at any cost would be another, and that's being polite. If Bossie's name doesn't ring a bell, you're lucky, because it means that you haven't been immersed for the last two decades-plus in the mucky minutiae of the right's no-holds-barred war against Bill and Hillary Clinton.

    This is a war in which Bossie has risen from foot soldier to general, in large part thanks to his willingness to do anything in pursuit of his prey. He is the Captain Ahab of Clinton haters.

    Some highlights:

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Thoughts on this column? Go online and comment

    When National Public Radio announced last month that it would no longer feature comments from readers on its website, general rejoicing followed.

    "Good riddance - and everybody else should do the same" was the tone of the response I saw on Twitter. USA Today columnist Rem Rieder, noting that other news organizations are moving away from comments as well, wrote, "Their disappearance is welcome." And even NPR's ombudswoman, Elizabeth Jensen, wrote that the move made sense to her, since such a small slice of the audience was participating.

    I disagree. I find value in reader comments that can't be adequately reproduced elsewhere. The argument that the conversation has migrated to Facebook and Twitter is flawed. Those are good places for discussion, but they are no substitute for having discussion take place where the story itself lives. I'm convinced that many smart readers with something to contribute will not follow a story onto social media to talk about it. News organizations should fix online comments rather than ditch them.

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Rachel Dolezal's "natural hair" politics

    In this summer of raw identity politics, it is ironically appropriate that everyone's favorite fake black woman, Rachel Dolezal, is back in the news.

    Dolezal, you surely recall, was the local NAACP president in Spokane who was exposed last year by a local television station and by her estranged parents as a white woman who was only passing for black.

    Or, as she might put it, she has been identifying as black since 2006 in much the same was that Caitlyn Jenner identifies as a woman, despite having the same male body that she had when she was Olympic medalist Bruce Jenner.

    Dolezal was back in the news with the announcement that she would be headlining a Labor Day weekend rally in Dallas called the Naturally Isis Braid-On, Economic Liberty March and Rally.

    No, Naturally Isis has nothing to do with the Islamic State. The event is organized by celebrity natural hair stylist and activist Isis Brantley and, yes, hair activism is a thing.

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Clinton Gets Gored

    Americans of a certain age who follow politics and policy closely still have vivid memories of the 2000 election — bad memories, and not just because the man who lost the popular vote somehow ended up in office. For the campaign leading up to that end game was nightmarish too.

    You see, one candidate, George W. Bush, was dishonest in a way that was unprecedented in U.S. politics. Most notably, he proposed big tax cuts for the rich while insisting, in raw denial of arithmetic, that they were targeted for the middle class. These campaign lies presaged what would happen during his administration — an administration that, let us not forget, took America to war on false pretenses.

    Yet throughout the campaign most media coverage gave the impression that Bush was a bluff, straightforward guy, while portraying Al Gore — whose policy proposals added up, and whose critiques of the Bush plan were completely accurate — as slippery and dishonest. Gore’s mendacity was supposedly demonstrated by trivial anecdotes, none significant, some of them simply false. No, he never claimed to have invented the internet. But the image stuck.

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6 things we know heading into the final months of the presidential race

    For normal people, the general-election cycle starts now. (By normal, I mean, well, not me.)

    Labor Day is the traditional starting gun of the final two-plus months of the presidential campaign - a time when even the casual political watcher starts to pay some attention to the race that I (and my fellow political junkies) have spent more than two years of our collective lives thinking and writing about. (It seems somewhat sad when I see it in writing.)

    Given that the race is just starting for lots and lots of people, it's worth revisiting what we know about the contours of the contest.

 

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What Religion Would Jesus Belong To?

    One puzzle of the world is that religions often don’t resemble their founders.

    Jesus never mentioned gays or abortion but focused on the sick and the poor, yet some Christian leaders have prospered by demonizing gays. Muhammad raised the status of women in his time, yet today some Islamic clerics bar women from driving, or cite religion as a reason to hack off the genitals of young girls. Buddha presumably would be aghast at the apartheid imposed on the Rohingya minority by Buddhists in Myanmar.

    “Our religions often stand for the very opposite of what their founders stood for,” Brian D. McLaren, a former pastor, notes in a provocative and powerful new book, “The Great Spiritual Migration.”

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The decline of the black Republican

    Call to mind Ed Brooke,the D.C.-born late U.S. senator from Massachusetts. Think of abolitionist, orator and author Frederick Douglass, and civil rights leader James Farmer. The three were separated by occupation, and in Douglass' case, generations. But they had two things in common: Each was an African-American, and each was a Republican.

    Now consider the Rev. Mark Burns, the black Republican televangelist from South Carolina who pops up from time to time on cable news as a leading Donald Trump surrogate.

    Some context.

    Brooke was the nation's first popularly elected black senator. Douglass, a champion of the anti-slavery movement. Farmer, a civil rights pioneer and architect of the Freedom Ride of 1961.

    Burns' current claim to fame? The cartoon he tweeted this week depicting Hillary Clinton in blackface and saying "I ain't no ways tired of pandering to African-Americans" while holding a sign reading "#@!* the police."

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