Archive

February 26th, 2016

Trump, Sanders misunderstand three megatrends

    To hear Donald Trump tell it, the biggest problems with the U.S. economy can be stopped at the border, where immigrants and cheap foreign goods threaten American livelihoods. Or to hear Bernie Sanders tell it, the source of the middle-class's affliction is a powerful Wall Street and K Street oligarchy.

    Actually, the forces holding back the economy are internal and structural, the result of historical trends more than venality (I'm talking to you, Bernie), or stupidity (you too, Donald). So they require different solutions from the ones the candidates are pushing.

    Perhaps the biggest challenge is that the U.S. labor force is shrinking. Of the richest 38 nations, only the U.S. and two others (Denmark and Norway) have seen declining rates of labor-force participation, which counts the employed and those looking for work.

    The unemployment rate has plummeted to 4.9 percent from 10 percent in 2009, but that's largely because people are abandoning the workforce. In 2015, the participation rate fell to its lowest point in almost 40 years. It ticked up in the last few months, but by a barely perceptible amount.

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Two legacies, two fates

    The Clinton political dynasty is still alive. The Bush dynasty has been routed. Their contrasting fates, to this point at least, tell us much about our two parties, the nature of this year's presidential election, and the dueling legacies themselves.

    The Republican and Democratic contests are very different, beginning with the fact that Hillary Clinton did not have to deal with Donald Trump, who targeted Jeb Bush with a viciousness rarely seen in contemporary politics. For months, the self-contained former Florida governor responded ineffectually to an opponent who flouted all the norms. This only made it easier for Trump to mock him as "low energy" and "weak."

    Bush was also entitled to a certain bitterness as he watched Marco Rubio, his ambitious and impatient protege, seize his natural base in the party: voters who loathe both Trump and Ted Cruz. Rubio's definition of loyalty did not include yielding to his one-time mentor.

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Trump is the product of a failed system

    Donald Trump's shocking transformation from reality-show host to Republican presidential front-runner is not some random and bizarre twist of fate. It grows from the failure of our political system to adapt to demographic change, economic disruption and a reorganizing world.

    Trump's victory Saturday in the South Carolina primary appears to have cleared away the cobwebs of denial. However improbable, outlandish or frightening it may be, Trump has a very good chance of becoming the nominee. He can still be beaten, but the debilitated Republican establishment does not seem up to the task; poor Jeb Bush bowed out after winning less than 8 percent of the vote.

    Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz essentially tied for second place, 10 points behind Trump's winning 32.5 percent. Since John Kasich and Ben Carson turned out to be non-factors, the Republican race is left with three leading candidates -- none of whom offers viable solutions. Trump is a wrecking ball, Cruz is a conservative ideologue and Rubio tries to be all things to all people.

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Trump's glitzy style is attracting evangelical voters

    Donald Trump seems the unlikeliest Republican candidate for evangelical voters, with his three marriages, his ownership of casinos and beauty pageants, and his belated opposition to their core issues of abortion and marriage.

    Yet he captured the votes of 33 percent of evangelicals in South Carolina Saturday-a big factor in his win, since evangelicals made up a whopping 72 percent of Republican primary voters there.

    Sen. Ted Cruz seems to be the quintessential evangelical candidate: a pastor's son who can strut a campaign rally stage like it's a revival and who pledged to inspire millions of supposedly apathetic evangelicals to vote for a resurgent Christian America.

    Cruz amassed the endorsements of more over 300 pastors and other religious leaders in South Carolina. Glenn Beck, one of Cruz's most high-profile supporters, told voters at a South Carolina rally that the Texas senator was "raised for this hour" by the "hand of divine providence." Cruz was supposed to be a messianic figure to save Christian America from its downward secularist spiral.

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The pope said what about whom?

    Before discussing what Pope Francis said the other day, let's discuss one of the most Christlike things a U.S. president has done lately.

    That was when President Obama brought soothing words to an American mosque, words like, "You're not Muslim or American. You're Muslim and American."

    Marco Rubio, the junior robot from Florida, said the visit was meant to "divide the country." Within the next 30 seconds, we can be certain, he repeated it.

    In the event of a Rubio presidency, I'm curious which Americans he would seek to represent — which Americans he'd soothe with a visit, and which ones he would shun.

    Traveling through Africa recently, Pope Francis said, "Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters." He can say that because he is not on the Republican primary ballot.

    It's the same reason that he could say the other day: "A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian."

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Sanders is blowing it by refusing to attack Clinton over her scandals

    Conservatives have always argued that the left believes in unilateral disarmament, but now we have proof: Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., faces a primary opponent whose use of a private email server is under investigation by the FBI, but he refuses to attack her on the issue.

    His failure to do so cost him victory in Iowa. It cost him victory in Nevada. And ultimately, it could cost him the Democratic nomination.

    In the one state where Sanders has won - New Hampshire - exit polls showed 34 percent of Democratic voters said that honesty was the most important factor in their decision about whom to support. These voters chose Sanders by a stunning margin of 92 percent to 6 percent, helping put him over the top in the Granite State. By contrast, Clinton won by a wide margin among those who said the ability to win in November was the most important factor. But these voters made up just 12 percent of the electorate, not enough to make up for Clinton's gaping honesty gap.

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Rockefeller really was a lot richer than you are

    Today's discussion involves a visit to the here-we-go-again files. The website Cafe Hayek, in a post titled "Most Ordinary Americans in 2016 Are Richer Than Was John D. Rockefeller in 1916," asks a seemingly simple question: What is the minimum amount of money that you would demand in exchange for going back to live as John D. Rockefeller did in 1916?

    The obvious point here is that we are doing better than the richest man of a century ago. Yet there's a subtext (which becomes pretty clear by looking at the comments on the post): that all of this talk about wealth and income inequality -- an important theme in this year's presidential election -- can and should be ignored. After all, as some have noted, even many of the poorest Americans own a smartphone today, whereas a century ago not even the wealthiest person on Earth had one.

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The Devil in Ted Cruz

    When Ted Cruz announced this week that he was firing his campaign’s communications director for circulating a false insinuation that Marco Rubio had belittled the Bible, he told reporters, “Even if it was true, we are not a campaign that is going to question the faith of another candidate.”

    Really? Huh. Then I must have been hallucinating last month at a Cruz event in Iowa where several of his hand-picked supporters, who spoke just before him, mocked and dismissed Donald Trump’s professed Christianity.

    They marveled at a past comment of Trump’s about never asking God for forgiveness. One of them chose a bizarre, religiously coded analogy for a boast Trump had just made about how much voters loved him, saying that the billionaire’s bragging was an echo of John Lennon’s infamous claim — an outrage to American Christians in the 1960s — that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus.

    But no, Cruz’s campaign would never question the faith of another candidate.

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God wasn't on Trump's side in South Carolina

    Perhaps the hardest thing to understand about Donald Trump's victory in South Carolina is how a twice-divorced, dirty-mouthed recent supporter of abortion who hardly ever goes to church could have carried a Bible Belt state where exit polls showed almost three-quarters of the Republican voters identifying themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians.

    Matching such self-identification with church attendance wouldn't be easy, though, and, having spent some time talking to pastors and parishioners in South Carolina, I don't think Trump won over the truly devout voters. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio got them. Trump won the xenophobes, and though they may be an overlapping constituency, that's not quite the same as getting the support of evangelicals.

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Britain was never a real EU member anyway

    One could argue -- and some, like UKIP leader Nigel Farage, already do -- that the concessions British Prime Minister David Cameron obtained from other European Union leaders to stay in the bloc are meaningless. Or one could rejoice in a victory as Cameron does. That won't change a fundamental fact: Britain is not really part of the EU anyway.

    The negotiations that resulted in Friday's deal were an elaborate public-relations charade played out for Cameron's domestic audience and for the international media with its "EU is falling apart" narrative.

    Cameron asked for the right to curtail benefits for migrant workers from other EU countries for 13 years, but he got seven years instead. Cameron asked for an effective veto over EU legislation but instead got an assurance that any such legislation will take into account the interests of countries that aren't part of Europe's monetary and banking unions. Cameron wanted an opt-out of the EU treaties' goal of an "ever closer union" and got a declaration explaining that this only applied to those countries that wanted it.

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