Archive

July 4th, 2016

Choice of running mate speaks volumes about a candidate

            As Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton ponder their options for running mates, the only question that should matter is this: Is person the most qualified to assume the presidency if fate so dictates. But it's a yardstick that historically has been honored in the breach.

            For many years, the roster of U.S. vice presidents was strewn with little-knowns such as Daniel Tompkins, George Dallas and Henry Wilson. Only when a veep became president through death of the incumbent did he become a household name.

            The most effective veeps in the modern era -- Walter Mondale under President Jimmy Carter, Dick Cheney under George W. Bush and Joe Biden under Barack Obama -- have all been given substantial governing roles in the administrations in which they've served. For the most part, they've shared the political philosophy of their presidents and have enjoyed personal compatibility with them.

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Bill Clinton and Loretta Lynch just made Hillary's email problems even worse

            A big part of politics is appearances and perceptions. If something looks bad, people will likely conclude it is bad - even if there's no actual evidence or proof of its relative badness. Politicians know this; it's why they don't wear funny hats or get in tanks (anymore).

            And it's why Bill Clinton and Attorney General Loretta Lynch should have known better when they huddled privately at the Phoenix airport earlier this week. Lynch is the nation's top cop and, as such, oversees the FBI, which is conducting an investigation into whether Hillary Clinton or any of her associates broke the law in setting up a private email server for her electronic correspondence during her four years as secretary of state. Meeting privately with the former president of the United States who also happens to be Hillary Clinton's husband looks really, really bad.

            Lynch insisted in the wake of the meeting that it was purely cordial, saying Wednesday that the two spoke about "his grandchildren and his travels and things like that." She added that the email probe never came up.

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Americans can choose better than Trump

            As our beloved country marks its 240th birthday, I'm not alone in feeling that we occupy a moment of great turmoil and testing as a nation. Maybe we've taken the wonders and blessings of our country for granted, never thinking the grand experiment of our Founding Fathers, so dependent for its endurance upon mutual decency, respect and self-discipline, could ever really fall into disrepair.

            Throughout history our republic has faced other extraordinary threats to our freedom, our existence as a nation and our system of self-government. But in those times, by the grace of God, the nation has been blessed with the emergence of good and courageous men and women of character and fortitude who have led "this last best hope of man on Earth" through harm's way.

            One of the most profound examples of such leadership was provided by Abraham Lincoln, the father of the Republican Party and, many would say, our most distinguished president. But Lincoln was not always perceived that way.

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A salute to the Toast, which was everything that is good about the internet

            The internet is in mourning.

            The Toast, beloved source of all things that are good, shuttered July 1.

            The Toast was so many things (IS! it will still exist, preserved in amber, for generations of internet explorers to marvel at): a bastion of feminism and humor, one of the few sites on the internet where reading the comments is like taking a warm and delightful bubble bath rather than jumping into a vat of acid, your one-stop shop for hilarious commentary on medieval art. But I think fundamentally the best thing about the Toast was that it did in a very specific and delightful way what the whole internet was supposed to do: it made you feel less alone.

            That is what the internet is for, at its best. All the Likes and Retweets and Shares are ultimately to say, yeah, I saw it, too.

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2016 is a fascinating year for politics, and that's awful news for political scientists

            When I was but a wee political scientist, I remember reading old-timey American political scientists writing that two things ailed American politics: the absence of ideological parties and the disinterest of the American public in politics.

            At the same time I was reading these now-laughably outdated tracts, I would occasionally find myself at extended family vacations at which my aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents would talk politics nonstop. Of course, these conversations interested me greatly, and on occasion I would try to interject an opinion that I'd developed from, you know, trying to earn a doctorate on the subject.

            These efforts inevitably fell on deaf ears. To my parents' generation, my graduate studies in political science were likely outweighed by their memory of me, as a teenager, repeatedly losing my wallet or forgetting to pack underwear on vacations.

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Paul Ryan sits atop the ruins of his party

            Paul Ryan is a sunny politician in a party devoted to spreading gloom. But as Republicans slouch toward Cleveland, even he must be having dark moments.

            As the highest-ranking official in his party, he will oversee the Republican National Convention that is poised to nominate Donald Trump -- a role he could have avoided, and almost did. His predecessor as speaker, John Boehner, helped deliver a huge Republican majority in the House. Yet the party's conference was so ideologically unhinged and practically dysfunctional that it rewarded Boehner for this historic achievement by forcing him into retirement.

            After a protracted show of ambivalence about replacing Boehner, Ryan opted to succeed him last October. "We will not duck the tough issues," Ryan said after being sworn in. "We will take them head on." The new motto, Ryan said, would be: "Opportunity for all."

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GOP stoops for scandal

    The Republican yearning to pin a scandal on Hillary Clinton knows no bounds. Any scandal will do, real or imagined. She must somehow be -- or appear to be -- guilty of something.

    They tried Benghazi. Boy, did they try Benghazi. House Republicans even put together a special committee, which House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy praised for hurting Clinton's chances of being elected president. "Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?" he said last September. "But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping."

    To the GOP's consternation, however, those numbers recovered nicely. According to the Real Clear Politics average of polls, she leads Donald Trump by about 5 points; the most recent Washington Post survey showed her ahead by 12. Adding insult to injury, the Benghazi committee came up empty-handed. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., the panel's chairman, released a final report last week that found no smoking gun. In fact, it didn't find smoke.

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Debating whether the First Amendment protects online reviews

            Does the First Amendment protect online reviews? The issue is salient as Congress considers passing a law outlawing form contracts that make you promise not to review the goods or services you purchase. And the answer is: the Constitution matters more than you might think. Among other things, it guarantees that private websites can curate content, probably including reviews they host.

            The proposed law, known as the Consumer Review Freedom Act, passed the Senate unanimously in January and has been awaiting action in the House since then. Its purpose is to outlaw contractual agreements between a business and customer prohibiting the customer from writing a review.

            Consumer activists call such contractual provisions "gag laws." The strongest argument for banning the agreements is that prohibiting reviews can distort the market. They block the free flow information that would help other customers decide whether to purchase a business's goods and services. That increases the asymmetry of information between a business and its potential customers.

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July 3rd

Time to really shatter the glass ceiling

    No matter how much money they raise, every political campaign is strapped for cash. Even Hillary Clinton's campaign. So here's my tip on how the Clinton campaign can save a lot of money: for Secretary Clinton to turn off the spigot. Tell her vice-presidential selection team to go home. Stop vetting anybody else -- and just name Elizabeth Warren as her running mate.

    There's only one reason to pick Warren, and it's not what most pundits say: not because Clinton needs Warren on the ticket in order to win over Bernie Sanders supporters. Despite all the fears expressed by Clinton staffers during the campaign, that's not a problem. The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, released this week, shows that 81 percent of Sanders supporters already say they'll vote for Clinton. Only 8 percent of them support Donald Trump.

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Yes, Trump's flip-flops are taking a toll

    Many in the media seem to be having some difficulties comprehending just how badly Donald Trump is doing, and how unusual it is for the Republican Party to be so resistant to their own presidential nominee.

    Alan Rappeport and Maggie Haberman had a perfectly fine piece in the New York Times Wednesday listing the many issues on which Trump has flip-flopped. But the preface is bizarre: They compare Trump to Secretary of State John Kerry in his 2004 run for president, and claim Kerry was destroyed by charges of flip-flopping while Trump "has so far avoided much harm" from switching positions on core issues of public policy.

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