Archive

May 3rd, 2016

Young people discover politics through Bernie

    There have been a lot of unexpected twists to the 2016 primaries, including: the sudden disappearance of frontrunner Jeb Bush; the appeal of the outsider; and the astounding success of Donald Trump. But the biggest surprise of all has been the appeal of Bernie Sanders to young people.

    I first discovered it in May 2015, while visiting Cuba with The Nation magazine. Among members of our delegation were Jonathan Kalb and Julie Ann Heffernan of Brooklyn and their sons Oliver and Samuel. At dinner one evening, 19-year-old Oliver, a freshman at Oberlin, told me how totally turned-off he was by politics. Until, he quickly added: "Until I heard about Bernie Sanders."

    Oliver didn't hate politics any longer. In fact, he'd not only decided to register to vote for Bernie, he'd enlisted the help of friends to organize a Students for Bernie organization on campus. And, of course, he wasn't alone. Sanders for President operations popped up on campuses across the country and college students flocked to his campaign rallies.

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May 2nd

Wrath of the Conned

    Maybe we need a new cliche: It ain’t over until Carly Fiorina sings. Anyway, it really is over — definitively on the Democratic side, with high probability on the Republican side. And the results couldn’t be more different.

    Think about where we were a year ago. At the time, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush were widely seen as the front-runners for their parties’ nods. If there was any dissent from the commentariat, it came from those suggesting that Bush might be supplanted by a fresher, but still establishment, face, like Marco Rubio.

    And now here we are. But why did Clinton, despite the most negative media coverage of any candidate in this cycle — yes, worse than Donald Trump’s — go the distance, while the GOP establishment went down to humiliating defeat?

    Personalities surely played a role; say what you like (or dislike) about Clinton, but she’s resilient under pressure, a character trait notably lacking on the other side. But basically it comes down to fundamental differences between the parties and how they serve their supporters.

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The One Thing Worse Than Trump

    Ted Cruz continues to astound. Every time it appears he can’t get more awful, he finds a new avenue, like a ground mole sniffing out a beetle. Right now, he’s in Indiana, trying to save his presidential career by ranting about transgender people and bathrooms.

    “Even if Donald Trump dresses up as Hillary Clinton, he shouldn’t be using the girls’ restroom,” Cruz declaimed at a rally. It’s his new favorite line. He is constantly reminding Republican voters that Trump, when asked which bathroom transgender people should use, simply replied the one that they felt most appropriate.

    That was possibly the most rational moment of the Trump campaign, and of course he has since started fudging on it. But not enough for Cruz, who has earned the distinction of being a presidential candidate who can make Donald Trump look good. “I get along with almost everybody, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life,” said the former House speaker, John Boehner. He also called Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh.”

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Breathalyzers, 'textalyzers' and the Constitution

    New York's Legislature is considering a proposal to give police officers "textalyzers," gizmos that would enable roadside checks of drivers suspected of using mobile phones behind the wheel. Given the dangers of texting while driving, the technology may be a good idea. But is it constitutional?

    The answer requires looking at two issues. One is the constitutional status of smartphones. The Supreme Court unanimously held in 2014 that the police need a warrant to search a phone. That implies that using a textalyzer without a warrant would be unconstitutional.

    The second issue is the comparison between the textalyzer and the Breathalyzer. Under current law, states can take a driver's license away from someone who refuses to take a Breathalyzer sobriety test, which measures alcohol levels in blood circulating through the lungs. Just last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments about whether a state can also make it a crime to refuse the breath test - and it seemed to think it could.

    So which is more intrusive: checking your phone or checking your body chemistry?

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The Many Faces of Dennis Hastert

    For a lesson on the riddles of human nature, look no further than Dennis Hastert.

    Go back to early 1999, when he became the speaker of the House of Representatives. Revisit the reason he got that job. His Republican colleagues were sick of provocateurs, had been burned by scandal and wanted a reprieve — an antidote, even. Hastert fit the bill. In their view he wasn’t merely above reproach. He was too frumpy and flat-out boring to be acquainted with reproach.

    “Like an old shoe” was how one prominent Republican described him to a reporter at the time.

    In the closet with that old shoe were skeletons, but no one around him knew it or could have guessed which kind.

    And somehow Hastert wasn’t haunted by them, or at least had never been impeded by them. Despite a history of sexually abusing boys as a high school teacher and coach, the old shoe stepped into politics, a line of work that invites examination and raises the stakes of any revelation, ensuring the most public shaming imaginable.

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If Trump were a woman

    Regarding Donald Trump's insulting, diminishing assertion about Hillary Clinton that she is only succeeding by playing "the woman's card" and that if she "were a man, I don't think she'd get 5 percent of the vote": If Trump were a woman, he'd be lucky to do that well.

    Clinton is on the verge of becoming the first female presidential nominee and perhaps the first female president. Certainly, gender and the historic nature of her candidacy have been a boost in that quest -- maybe not as much as she might have hoped, but not the hindrance it would have been not many years ago.

    Yet to imagine the female Trump is to recognize the lingering, embedded nature of gender stereotypes, and the continuing obstacles -- the not-so-buried campaign land mines -- that face women running for office.

    To say "female Trump" is to summon the memory of Sarah Palin, the major candidate who most closely resembles Trump in their joint and stunning lack of policy knowledge. But Palin's ignorance cost her. Trump's is scarcely impeding his march to the nomination.

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Trump Plays the Man’s Card

    Republicans have often been indignant at being portrayed as waging a “war on women,” and the rhetoric sometimes was, indeed, a bit over the top. Until Donald Trump showed up.

    Trump seems to be trying a strategy of what Ted Cruz would call “carpet bombing,” insulting Carly Fiorina’s face, Megyn Kelly’s menstrual cycle, Heidi Cruz’s looks and now Hillary Clinton’s “woman’s card.”

    This is the card that in the United States earns women just 92 cents to a male worker’s dollar, less than one-fifth of the seats in Congress, a bare 19 percent of corporate board seats, an assault every 9 seconds — and free catcalls and condescension! Frankly, I’ll stick with my MasterCard.

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Trump's attempt to rewrite NATO will backfire

    Donald Trump's foreign policy speech lays out what would be a disastrous course for the U.S. with regards to Russia and European security. On the other hand, for Europe and its eastern neighbour, the disengagement he is proposing might work out quite well -- just not in the way Trump intends.

    Trump's most specific statement -- an extremely rare occasion when he decided against extemporizing -- was a threat to U.S. allies across the Atlantic and Pacific:

    "We have spent trillions of dollars over time - on planes, missiles, ships, equipment - building up our military to provide a strong defense for Europe and Asia. The countries we are defending must pay for the cost of this defense - and, if not, the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves."

    Trump proposed a summit with North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies and "a separate summit with our Asian allies" to discuss, among other things, "a rebalancing of financial commitments."

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Trump's new slogan has old baggage from Nazi era

    Donald Trump has given up on winning historically literate voters. Consider the theme of his major foreign policy speech Wednesday: "America first."

    This slogan is most associated with aviator Charles Lindbergh, who spent a great deal of time in the late 1930s gushing at how wonderful the Third Reich was. Before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Lindbergh helped form "America First" committees that campaigned to keep the U.S. from fighting the Axis powers. Lindbergh rose to become a demagogue and accused President Franklin Roosevelt of colluding with a Jewish lobby and Britain to drag America into World War II.

    For years this phrase was toxic. Pat Buchanan has used it from time to time, but "America first" and the idea it represented -- American neutrality towards the Nazis -- has been largely banished from respectable discourse.

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Donald the Dove, Hillary the Hawk

    It seems odd, in this era of gender fluidity, that we are headed toward the most stark X versus Y battle since Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.

    Donald Trump exudes macho, wearing his trucker hat, retweeting bimbo cracks, swearing with abandon and bragging about the size of his manhood, his crowds, his hands, his poll margins, his bank account, his skyscrapers, his steaks and his “beautiful” wall.

    He and his pallies Paul Manafort and Roger Stone seem like a latter-day Rat Pack, having a gas with tomatoes, twirls and ring-a-ding-ding. The beauty pageant impresario’s coarse comments to Howard Stern, rating women on their breasts, fading beauty and ability to take the kids off his hands, reverberate through the campaign.

    In Indiana, Trump boasted that “Iron” Mike Tyson and “all the tough guys” had endorsed him. The chair-throwing Bobby Knight backed Trump with the brass-knuckles encomium that Trump, like Harry Truman, would have the guts to drop the bomb. When his rallies become Fight Club, Trump boasts that it adds a little excitement.

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