Archive

June 14th, 2016

Republican incumbents hope to survive Trump

    Republican candidates have a model to emulate as they struggle with growing concerns that Donald Trump could drag down the party in November: the late Muhammad Ali and his famous "rope-a-dope."

    Ali, who died June 3 and was laid to rest last week, perfected this technique in his 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle" bout against George Foreman: He'd cling to the ropes, bobbing and weaving as his opponent would unleash a flurry of blows and tire himself out.

    More and more Republicans are bobbing to avoid Trump, after controversies such as his racially tinged charge that the Indiana-born judge overseeing a fraud case against Trump University is biased because his parents were from Mexico. A few, including Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, flatly declare that they won't vote for him. Others are waiting to see whether there will be more rants.

    Most Republicans from solidly conservative regions -- the Deep South and some Western states -- have it easy. There's no price to pay for supporting the ticket, however they may view the nominee.

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Campaign 2016 turns into a Twitter fight

    As presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump got into a Twitter fight with newly crowned presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, any hope for reasoned discourse in Campaign 2016 seemed to fly out the window.

    "Obama just endorsed Crooked Hillary," tweeted Trump, leading the tweeting as he does daily. "He wants four more years of Obama -- but nobody else does!"

    Ah, he only wishes that were true. Every campaign, it is often said, is a contest between "change" versus "more of the same." That's particularly true in our current contest. Clinton is not only running toward policies and programs of President Barack Obama, she's sticking to them like a life raft in a stormy sea.

    And why not? Obama's approval ratings have been running higher than Clinton's or Trump's, who both happen to have the highest disapproval ratings of any presumed major-party candidates in modern history.

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Sanders Helping Trump?

    Bernie Sanders has had a stunning impact this year, helping set the political agenda and winning the passionate embrace of a demographic a quarter his age. A socialist, Jewish, non-pandering candidate who didn’t kiss babies but lectured their parents on social justice won 22 states. But now he has lost. It’s time for him and his followers to stop sniping and start uniting.

    Sanders has said he will ultimately support the Democratic ticket, and I’m sure he intends to. But for now he’s still dividing more than coalescing.

    In a New York Times/CBS News poll last month, nearly one-fourth of Sanders supporters said that in a Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump matchup, they would either vote for Trump (which suggests bipolar disorder!) or stay home. That figure is inflated by bitterness and resentment, but if some Sandernistas sit on their hands this fall they could help elect a man antithetical to everything they stand for.

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Hillary and the Horizontals

    I spent much of this politically momentous week at a workshop on inequality, where papers were presented on everything from the causes of wage disparities to the effects of inequality on happiness. As so often happens at conferences, however, what really got me thinking was a question during a coffee break: “Why don’t you talk more about horizontal inequality?”

    What? Horizontal inequality is the term of art for inequality measured, not between individuals, but between racially or culturally defined groups. (Of course, race itself is mainly a cultural construct rather than a fact of nature — Americans of Italian or even Irish extraction weren’t always considered white.) And it struck me that horizontal thinking is what you need to understand what went down in both parties’ nominating seasons: It’s what led to Donald Trump, and also why Hillary Clinton beat back Bernie Sanders. And like it or not, horizontal inequality, racial inequality above all, will define the general election.

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Lord of the Lies

    This month, the world’s most battle-scarred cable news network did something extraordinary in this year of vaporous political contrails. While Donald Trump was delivering one of his easily debunked lies, CNN fact-checked him — in near real time at the bottom of the screen.

    “Trump: I never said Japan should have nukes (he did).” Thus read the chyron that shook the television world — maybe.

    I no more expect CNN to set Wolf Blitzer’s beard on fire than to instantly call out the Mount Everest of liars. Trump lies about big things (there is no drought in California) and small things (his hair spray could not affect the ozone layer because it’s sealed within Trump Tower). He lies about himself, and the fake self he invented to talk about himself. He’s been shown to lie more than 70 times in a single event.

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Girl Squad

    Hillary Clinton greets Elizabeth Warren in the cream-and-coral sunroom of her home on Embassy Row.

    “Elizabeth, welcome,” Clinton says, smiling stiffly. “I was worried that you were lost since it was taking you so-o-o-o long to finally get here.”

    “Hahaha,” Warren replies. “I’ve always heard you’re a hoot in private. I know I was the last Democratic woman in the Senate to endorse you but Bernie and I have more in common. We don’t buckrake on Wall Street. People are enthusiastic about us and believe what we say. We’re pure.”

    “Pure scolds,” Hillary sniffs. “I guess it hit you, when you saw me fighting for my life against a dyspeptic 74-year-old socialist with one suit, that if you had jumped in, you could have been the first woman president.”

    “Yes,” Warren muses. “I only loaned Bernie my progressive hordes. I’m the real leader of that movement.”

    “Not anymore,” Hillary says.

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June 13th

In praise of superdelegates

    Though often fiercely partisan, Americans have no great love for political parties as such. Ever since James Madison wrote his mistrust of "factions" into the Constitution, parties and their "bosses" have been repeatedly attacked as privileged insiders bent on thwarting or twisting democratic processes.

    Madison's plan worked, partially. With 50 state governments and with a federal government divided between a bicameral legislative branch and a president, the United States produces parties that are relatively unstructured and ideologically amorphous - and generally only two of them. Parliamentary systems encourage multiple disciplined parties, representing more, and more distinct, interests and sentiments.

    The other side of the story is that American parties still provided valuable public services, including the facilitation of collective action by like-minded, or at least compatible, citizens; continuity and responsibility in ideology; and, last but not least, the vetting of aspirants for public office.

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The First Gay President?

    If you went into some laboratory to concoct a perfect Democratic candidate, you’d be hard pressed to improve on Pete Buttigieg, the 34-year-old second-term mayor of this Rust Belt city, where he grew up and now lives just two blocks from his parents.

    Education? He has a bachelor’s from Harvard and a master’s from Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.

    Public service? He’s a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve. For seven months in 2014, he was deployed to Afghanistan — and took an unpaid leave from work in order to go.

    He regularly attends Sunday services at his Episcopal church. He runs half-marathons. His TEDx talk on urban innovation in South Bend is so polished and persuasive that by the end of it, you’ve hopped online to price real estate in the city.

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Is It a Crime to Be Poor?

    In the 1830s, the civilized world began to close debtors’ prisons, recognizing them as barbaric and also silly: The one way to ensure that citizens cannot repay debts is to lock them up.

    In the 21st century, the United States has reinstated a broad system of debtors’ prisons, in effect making it a crime to be poor.

    If you don’t believe me, come with me to the county jail in Tulsa. On the day I visited, 23 people were incarcerated for failure to pay government fines and fees, including one woman imprisoned because she couldn’t pay a fine for lacking a license plate.

    I sat in the jail with Rosalind Hall, 53, a warm, mild-mannered woman with graying hair who has been imprisoned for a total of almost 18 months, in short stints, simply for failing to pay a blizzard of fines and fees relating to petty crimes (for which she separately served time). Hall has struggled for three decades with mental illness and drug addictions and has a long history of shoplifting to pay for drugs, but no violent record.

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The GOP's Trumpian Catch-22

    Hillary Clinton faces a strategic choice. She can concentrate on closing off Donald Trump's potential openings with the white working class. Or she can build large leads among more affluent voters, many of whom are moderate and see Trump as dangerous, extreme and temperamentally unfit.

     She will necessarily do some of both -- she needs a decent share of the blue-collar vote to hold key Midwestern states -- and she will have to rally what have been core Democratic constituencies: younger voters, who eluded her during the primaries, African-Americans and Latinos. But the direction of her campaign and her selection of a running mate will depend in significant part on the class tilt of her strategy.

    For the moment, however, her decisions are easy compared with those confronting Republicans. Trump's stubborn refusal to transition away from his persona during the primaries has put the party's leaders in an impossible position.

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