southernbeau

Making sense of the non-sensical world of American politics

Rock Bottom – Trump & Charlottesville

In a presidency filled with the lowest of lows, Trump’s reaction to the turmoil in Charlottesville is inarguably its nadir.  On an occasion that called for clear and unequivocal leadership, Americans were met with a response that was simultaneously tardy, tepid, confusing, lazy, childish, intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt.  This was Trump’s chance to resurrect his flailing presidency.  And what a chance he had.  This was low hanging fruit; the proverbial hanging curveball over the fat part of the plate.  This was simple.  Disavow racism, bigotry, and white supremacy specifically, in the plainest and strongest of terms, without nuance, ambiguity or equivocation.  Full stop.  Who could screw that up?

Trump could, and he did, with immaculately flying colors.  In doing so, he has rendered himself illegitimate for the balance of his days in office.  His moral compass has been exposed as so sorely lacking, how can one possibly trust what he has to say with regard to North Korea, or ISIS, or climate change, or healthcare, or tax policy, or any other pressing issue of the day.  The false equivalency of suggesting that the white supremacist protesters spewing hate are somehow on the same plain with the folks protesting that hate is either supreme ignorance, profound stupidity or unquestionable bigotry.  Of course, it could be all three.  Neither option is a good look, particularly for the President of the United States.

While the abdication of leadership was breathtaking, it was hardly surprising.  Trump consistently shrinks on the biggest stage.  His predecessor was just the opposite, always rising to the occasion.  Think of Newtown, Charleston, San Bernardino, Orlando, and the countless other times that tragedy tested a nation.  President Obama was at his absolute best when guiding a wounded people through turbulent times.  He was the steady captain of a rocking country amid the swaying seas.  He extended a warm and empathetic hand in an effort to heal, while also displaying an unwavering resolve to seek justice based on our shared American values.

Can you picture the Obama response to Charlottesville?  I can.  It is clear as a Carolina blue day in my mind’s eye.  In addition to empathy and resolve, he would have systematically laid out the intellectual framework for removing certain statues from the public square.  He would have provided the historical context to support such an argument.  He would have acknowledged that there would be fellow Americans with whom he would not agree.  Nonetheless, respectfully, he would have eloquently made his case on moral, rational and practical grounds.  And, in the end, every American, whatever their political stripe, would have known exactly where and why President Obama stood in a particular place – based on reason, intelligence, history, justice, liberty and the general good of the country.  The difference with Trump is as striking as it horrifying.  How could a statement of such gravity be given so little thought and preparation?

I will leave it to historians to shed appropriate light on Trump’s assertion that Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson are tantamount in historical significance to Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.  The faulty comparison is ignorant at best and obtuse at worse.  The latter two men played pivotal roles in creating these United States, while the former undertook to destroy it – all in the name of upholding the wretched institution of slavery.  It does not take a molecular scientist, or even a man of high conscience, to comprehend these less than subtle differences.

The events in Charlottesville have resigned me to ponder the nature of progress.  Perhaps we were inevitably destined to retreat after the triumph of Obama.  Indeed, politics often hinge on the fateful swing of the pendulum.  But this time was different.  Trump was not a reaction against 8 years of a Democratic president.  Trumpism was a reaction against 8 years of the first black president.  It was a recoiling of pent-up frustration from folks who feel that their grip on power, on society is hopelessly slipping away.  In some ways, what we saw in Charlottesville were the desperate actions of an ideology fighting for its very survival against the tides of progress.  The substantive, and wholly disconcerting, difference at this point in history is that this otherwise moribund ideology has been given a newfound legitimacy by the Office of the President of the United States.

Progress is frequently halting, almost never linear, but always finds its due course in time.  And so it shall be again, but not without action.  It is our job to stamp out hate and bigotry wherever it exists and in whatever form it takes.  But, even more than that, it is high time to usher in a new Age of Enlightenment as it relates to our politics.  Summoning our best Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot and Hume, we must demand a politics centered around rational thought and reasoned debate at the expense of political debasement and personal degradation.  We should hold as a standard Obama’s composure, nuance, ability to think deeply before responding appropriately.  We must relegate to the dustbin of history Trump’s haste, thoughtlessness, scorn for reason, and reliance on division, fear and ad hominem attacks.

These ideals are achievable if we demand it, and we must.  Now is not the time for hand-wringing and silent despair.  To the contrary, the present time calls for hopeful action and principled resistance.  Obama took us two steps forward in the American journey; Trump is simply our one step back.  The question now is how far back we are willing to go, for every step backward in history is not equal in stride or duration.  We have to do the hard work required to reverse course.

Charlottesville is rock bottom for Trump, but it can be our call for a renewed sense of purpose, possibility, moral clarity and political vigor.  America will recover from Charlottesville, just as she will recover from Trump, but the speed and scope of the recovery is up to us.  Out of darkness there will be light; let us be sure that our light shines brightly and boldly enough to smother the darkness ahead.

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August 19, 2017 Posted by | Charlottesville, Democratic Party, Obama, Politics, President Obama, President Trump, Republican Party, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

A Search for Light: Reflections on the Election of 2016

There is always light to be found in the darkness – a nugget of opportunity, a sliver of hope to be clutched and pursued in an otherwise bleak reality. I held fast to this eternal maxim as I watched the election slip hopelessly through the fingers of Hillary Clinton and into the waiting hands of Donald Trump on Tuesday night.

While the pundits and strategists perform the quadrennial political autopsy in a search for answers, I begin a search of my own. I am looking for that light – the proverbial silver lining in the foreboding clouds overhead.  Admittedly, this exercise will not come without its challenges.  I supported Hillary Clinton for president with every fiber of my being and every ounce of my soul.  I believed, and continue to believe, that Secretary Clinton was better qualified, better prepared, more experienced, more nuanced, more decent and more stable to step into the role of president as compared to her opponent.  To my mind, the distance between them on all of these counts was cavernous; it was not even remotely close.

I was hopeful that Hillary would score a resounding victory at the ballot box – a complete and utter repudiation of all that Trump represents, e.g., hatefulness, divisiveness, anger, fear, indecency, inhumanity, vulgarity, lack of humility, machoism, disrespect, ruthlessness, and lack of intellectual curiosity and rigor, to name a few. Instead, these objectionable attributes carried the day.  Still, there must be light hidden in the darkness of these events, I reassure myself, for there always is.  Surprisingly, I have found my answer, and the light, in the painstaking, and often painful, task of exploring the post-mortem polling data.

As I digest the exit polling, and its meaning, I am smacked in the face by something that we all inherently know. Our country is profoundly and deeply divided, along the lines of race, ethnicity, class, gender, geography, religion and education.  We have been living with this stark reality for my entire adult life.  It is nothing new.  But, for some reason, I had not fully processed the depth and severity of our divisions, and the dire consequences should we not seek to heal them.

All Americans should be appalled and saddened that we so often vote in monolithic blocks. White folks vote for one candidate while people of color vote for the other; women largely vote differently from men; there are sharp differences in the voting habits between those with a college degree and those without; city dwellers can be expected to vote contrary to rural voters; Northerners versus Southerners; East and West Coasters compared to the Heartland; and the list goes on.

The politicians for whom we vote tailor their messages to surgically target these disparate groups depending upon the audience. What’s worse, these same politicians pit one group against the other, stoking the anger, hatred and division among them.  Donald Trump performed this task masterfully and mercilessly in this election; and while he did it more brashly than most, almost all our politicians do it, Hillary Clinton included.

It is in this awakening that I have found my light. It took the painful experience of this election, and the light it shed, to drag me, kicking and screaming, to the recognition that it is my duty to do everything in my power to heal and, ultimately, bridge the divide in our country.  A house divided against itself cannot stand.  Abraham Lincoln’s wise words concerning the health our republic over 150 years ago are as relevant today as they were then.

I plan to give President-Elect Trump a chance; he deserves the opportunity to succeed in a way not afforded President Obama by the Republicans. Like Jeckyll and Hyde, I am hopeful that Candidate Trump transforms himself into a President Trump who dignifies the weight of the office.  Donald Trump might be a good president; he might be a bad one.  Either way, if his election shines a light brightly enough on our nation’s divisions that they are fervently and collectively addressed, then the outcome of this election might well have been a blessing in disguise.  To borrow a germane phrase from my girl, Hillary Clinton, we are always stronger together!  We must work hard to make this so.  Otherwise, we will retreat to our respective corners of society, walking through life with only those of like mind, and thereby completely neglecting to engage the wonderful wisdoms, insights and experiences that others have to offer.

To be clear, I am not seeking a world in which we all think and act alike. Our differences are not only healthy, they are beautiful.  The truth is most Americans want the same thing, we just have different views on how to get there.  Divergent opinions argued through robust debate is at the very heart of our democracy.  But, we have to find a way to disagree without being disagreeable.  Otherwise, our divisions are bound to expand, deepen and become more firmly entrenched.  Perhaps, irreversibly so.

Sadly, the debate of ideas (I use that term loosely) surrounding the Election of 2016 was less worthy of a presidential campaign and more closely resembled a playground fight amongst teenagers. In lieu of important policy discussions, Trump’s chief focus was convincing the electorate that Hillary deserves a jail sentence, and Hillary condescendingly referred to a swath of his supporters as “deplorables.”  No segment of American society is deplorable, but the tone of the debate certainly was.  That has to change.

Moreover, I am not in denial that every society from the beginning of time has experienced divisions, often deep fissures. America is no different on this score.  However, we must fight for an America where our divisions are rooted not in hatred and misunderstanding, but instead based on a healthy exchange of ideas.  I do not believe this to be an idealistic dream drowning in naïveté.  To the contrary, I believe it is not only achievable, but quite doable, with hard work – blood, sweat, tears, careful listening, common understanding and a recognition of the other.

So, then, where do we go from here? First, we must demand from our leaders, prospective leaders and each other that there is never another election as, well, deplorable as that of 2016.  Future candidates for office, particularly the presidency, must do far less name calling and do far more in the way of explaining their policy positions.  Referring to your opponent as “crooked” does not add value to the conversation, where expounding on your plans for entitlement reform, immigration reform, tax policy, and so on, certainly would.

I believe that simply improving the tone and tenor through which we debate competing ideas would go a long way in patching the gaping holes of division in our society. It would affirm in the minds of all Americans that, while we may not agree on every (or any) issue, we are all on the same American team.  The good news – the beaming light from this election – is that we do not have to wait for our political leaders to show the way in this regard, lest we might be waiting until the Cubs win another World Series.  Each and every one of us can live this truth in our daily lives.  We can try to be more tolerant of our neighbor’s viewpoint on a particular issue.  We can ask questions to try to better understand their views.  We can make every attempt to put ourselves in their shoes so as to better understand the foundation of their views.  We can listen, and listen hard.  Then, if need be, we can disagree with those same views without being hateful, angry, indignant, reactionary, condescending or divisive.

We can do it, America; we can repair the busted seams of our society. We can stitch the frayed fabric that separates the New York City lawyer from the Upstate farmer; the inner-city Philadelphia school teacher from the coal miner in central Pennsylvania; the biopharmaceutical worker in the Research Triangle Park from the factory worker in western North Carolina; and others who seemingly have few commonalities and shared values.  It is not a lost cause, unless, of course, we want it to be.  Unless we are content to live perpetually in an Election of 2016 world.  I, for one, never want to see the likes of it again.

There is light in this election. It is that we can set aside partisan differences and come together to say never again.  Never again will we be subjected to a thoughtless campaign that tested our patience but never our intellect.  Never again will we accept a campaign based on the lowest common denominator instead of appealing to our highest aspirations and ideals.  Never again will we be divided into disparate groups like political pawns instead of being showered with well-reasoned arguments supported by facts and data in an effort to garner our votes.  Never again will we allow fear and division to be the primary political tool used to win an election at the expense of hope, inspiration and ideas.  Never again will we be made to endure an election so dirty that we feel the need to shower at the top of every hour.  Never again will America’s light be so dimmed by such a vile political campaign.  Never again, America, never again; for we are better than this.

I close with a final word to my fellow Democrats: do not despair or hang your heads for too long. There is light in this election, but it cannot be seen if your eyes are closed.  Do not worry about the next election, whether it be 2018 or 2020.  Rather, let us learn as much as we can about those who did not vote with us.  Let us recognize why we did not appeal to these folks, and understand how we might reach them in the future.  And let us now press forward with the hard work of bridging the deep divisions in our country, so that we are in a position to earn future votes from Americans of all walks of life – every creed, race, religion, gender and socioeconomic status.

If we fight to make this so, America’s light will shine more brightly than ever, and so will our party’s.  Lift up your heads, friends, there is light in the darkness.

November 12, 2016 Posted by | Democratic Party, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Politics, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

The Obama Presidency: The Case for the “T” Word

The older I get the more time seems to get away. What are now distant events still jostle around in my mind as recent memories. Time flies, as they say. I don’t know that it matters much whether one is having fun. Somehow, though, a two-term presidency can seem like an eternity, and not just for the loyal opposition. For me, Bush’s 8 years in office were interminable, but so, too, have been Obama’s 6 1/2. The modern president – thanks to the modern media – is one with whom we have daily contact. Like sand at the beach or morning fog in San Francisco, the president is virtually unavoidable.

Each president enjoys euphoric highs and experiences devastating lows; celebrates uplifting successes and suffers crushing defeat; and inevitably surfs the wave of fluctuating popularity, varying in degree dependent upon who is occupying the office. Obama’s presidency has proven no exception. At the time of this writing, however, President Obama resides at the crest of his popularity wave as a result of several recent high profile policy victories and Supreme Court decisions. Given the late stage of his presidency and considering his significant accomplishments, I feel compelled to explore the sacrosanct question: has the Obama presidency moved into the realm of the transformational?

The “T” word would have been unthinkable perhaps only months ago. Even many of my Democratic friends have lamented what in their view has been a weak presidency – one characterized by broken campaign promises, a feckless foreign policy that has seen America shrink from the world stage, an unwillingness to fight for domestic priorities, and, bluntly, a lack of the “change” we envisioned. To this, my simple reply is that the evidence does not support the claims. President Obama has fought for, and largely achieved, the policy priorities for which he campaigned.

Upon arriving in office, President Obama faced a financial and economic crisis the likes of which have not been seen since the Great Depression. With Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, the president was able to shepherd a comprehensive fiscal stimulus package totaling approximately $800 billion to passage. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (2009) directly invested in infrastructure, education, the health and energy sectors, provided federal tax incentives, and expanded unemployment benefits and other social welfare programs. While I would have preferred additional stimulus to address such a catastrophic downturn, the president squeezed as much blood from that Congressional turnip as was humanly possible.

The road to recovery from the Great Recession was long, uneven and often painful. Without the ARRA, though, the road might be one we still travel. Instead, an unemployment rate that ballooned to over 10% during the height of the recession has been trimmed to an impressive 5.3%. The economy is in the midst of 64 straight weeks of private sector job growth, adding a total of 12.8 million jobs during that span. The economy is expanding at its fastest rate in over a decade, which has helped slice the deficit by two-thirds since 2009. What’s more, the Dow is chugging smoothly along at around 18,000, roughly double the number when Obama took office. While wages are stagnant and there is undoubtedly more work to do, it would be difficult to reasonably make the argument that we are worse off than we were 4 (or 6 ½, in this case) years ago.

The crowning achievement of President Obama’s first term – and perhaps the measure by which history will most acutely judge him – was the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Every Democratic president since Harry S. Truman and his Fair Deal has attempted to pass universal health care. Famously, the Clinton Administration – led by first lady Hillary Clinton – made health care reform a chief policy initiative of its first term. Not only would that effort crash and burn, it paved the way for an electoral thrashing at the hands of the Republicans in the 1994 mid-terms. My point here is that passing health care reform is not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for a “weak” president. Adhering to his campaign promises, President Obama faced these headwinds head on and passed a universal health care bill without one single, solitary, stinking Republican vote in either the House or Senate. Weak, it is clear, he was not.

Even for advocates of the health care law, myself included, the performance of the policy has drastically exceeded expectations. In March 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the average number of uninsured during the period from January to September 2014 was reduced by 11.4 million compared to the average in 2010. In April 2015, Gallup concluded that the percentage of adults who were uninsured dropped from 18% in the third quarter of 2013 to 11.4% in the second quarter of 2015. The two primary goals of the health care law were to increase access and lower costs. Irrefutably, the number of uninsured persons has been greatly reduced, checking goal box #1. To put the icing on this legislative cake, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reports that the estimated cost of the health care law is $142 billion, or 11 percent, less than originally predicted due primarily, and notably, to health insurance premiums rising more slowly. Thus, satisfying stated goal #2.

Significantly, the ACA has stood up to the scrutiny of the Land’s highest court. On June 28, 2012, deciding National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the ACA’s individual mandate as an exercise of Congress’s taxing power. Since the ruling, the law and its implementation have continued to face challenges in Congress and federal courts, and from some state governments, conservative advocacy groups, labor unions, and small business organizations. Just last month, in the case King v. Burwell, the Supreme Court provided the Obama administration, and the law, with a huge boost by affirming that the law’s federal subsidies to help individuals pay for health insurance are available in all states, not just in those which have set up state exchanges. Consequently, it is now highly likely that the Affordable Care Act is here to stay, like it or not. Given the tumultuous history of health care reform in this country, that fact cannot be overstated as a prize achievement of the Obama years.

The foreign policy arena is where the president has garnered the most consternation from within his own party. As previously noted, there is a perception that the Obama Administration is feckless in foreign affairs, and has consequently caused the United States to lose critical standing and respect around the world. In addition to much of the progressive media, I have heard this sentiment anecdotally from several of my Democratic friends. I must admit that I am baffled by these criticisms. Did these folks pay any attention whatsoever to the 2008 campaign for president? If so, how are reasonable people surprised that an Obama Administration would pursue a more conciliatory foreign policy, one based on faith in diplomacy as the most rational way to resolve differences? The same folks who yearned for “change” and shouted in unison “yes we can” in 2008 are inexplicably skeptical, or downright dismissive, of the change that followed.

Let’s start with the most recent foreign policy achievement: the Iran nuclear deal. For years, Iran has been a rogue state, a pariah on the international stage. Iran has long been racing toward nuclear proliferation, promotes and thrives on regional instability, and is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Our policy of stiff and debilitating sanctions did not produce the intended results of altering Iran’s belligerent behavior. Indeed, it only seemed to exacerbate it. What it did do, on the other hand, was continue the vicious cycle of impoverishing its people. Then-candidate Obama made clear that a President Obama would be open to engaging the Iranians in direct talks to foster better understanding, increase trust and, ultimately, bring about a better reality for all involved – a policy proposal that was heretofore unfathomable. Clearly, the Obama Administration has done just that, culminated in the nuclear deal announced last week by the United States and its 5 world partners. Why, then, do so many supporters of the president seem so astonished by the deal?

It is important to note that neither the Republicans, nor anyone else, have proposed a viable alternative to this deal. Our skilled negotiators, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, were able to garner a great deal from the Iranians. The agreement delays Iran’s ambition to acquire nuclear weapons for at least 10 years; it requires Tehran to reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium by 98 percent, disables the Arak facility from producing weapons-grade plutonium, reduces the number of centrifuges by two thirds, converts the Fordow facility into a research center, and allows for unprecedented intrusive inspections. Sure, Iran might cheat; perhaps they are likely to do so. But if they do, we will know, and we will have the time to act. That is more than we can now say. To me, this deal is infinitely superior to the status quo, which so many were willing to accept.

In other ways, I think the president has employed a robust and aggressive, yet measured, approach to national security. The dismantling of Al Qaeda and its leadership has been a signature foreign policy achievement of the Obama years. In addition to bin Laden, the leadership around the world has been decimated by strategic special operations missions and unmanned drone strikes. Mr. Obama avoided a boots on the ground war with Syria – opting instead for an agreement with the Assad regime, brokered by Russia, which saw the Syrian government destroy their vast chemical weapons stockpiles. Much to the dismay of the neoconservatives, Mr. Obama decided against ground support during the Libyan Civil War of 2011, instead supporting the opposition from the air, ultimately allowing for the capture and execution of Muammar Gaddafi. The president is displaying the same calculated restraint with respect to ISIS, the latest threat to United States interests around the world. While the hawks and neocons would prefer ground troops to combat ISIS, the Obama Administration is aggressively and systematically dismantling their capabilities in what promises to be a difficult and protracted fight.

Yet another watershed victory for the Obama Administration came just recently in the form of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement – the sweeping trade and investment pact negotiated between the United States and 11 Pacific Rim nations. Congressional Democrats, led by high profile Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, were vehemently and loudly opposed to this trade deal and proved to be a formidable thorn in Obama’s side. I am sure that some of the opposition is based on principle. I am guessing, however, that much of the opposition can be chalked up to politics back home as opposed to sound policy. In effect, trading prudent policy for votes (pun intended).

Admirably, Democratic politicians are keenly attuned to the American worker who have arguably been hurt by past trade deals. But it is no secret that those manufacturing jobs are not coming back, having been forever lost to technological advancements. These politicians are also rightly concerned with labor and environmental standards. And for me, that is the key point. It is wholly preferable for America to be writing these trade rules instead of the Chinese, which is who would have filled the void in our absence. It is also critical that we, as opposed to the Chinese, establish the rules for a postindustrial global economy, rules having to do with intellectual property, investment, antitrust and environmental protection. Additionally, my fellow liberals, another little secret: this trade deal will significantly improve the living standards of the poor in these Asian countries, Vietnam in particular. Isn’t this a worthy byproduct of the deal?

The president also catches significant grief from supporters concerning social issues, or his purported lack of attention and progress on these issues. Again, I don’t see it. During his administration, President Obama has ordered his Department of Defense to eliminate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” effectively bringing from the shadows countless LGBT Americans who honorably serve their country. Further, the president ordered his Justice Department not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) when it appeared before the Supreme Court in U.S. v. Windsor in 2013. And, of course, the Obama Administration was outspoken, and indeed filed an amicus brief, in support of legalizing same-sex marriage in every state in connection with the recently decided case, Obergefell v. Hodges. On this particular issue, it is hard to imagine an administration doing more, or being a stronger and more vocal advocate and champion.

It is important to note that, outside of the TPP trade deal, President Obama has been faced with united, unrelenting, unprecedented and often nasty Republican opposition and obstruction. Compromise was thrown out the window seemingly on inauguration day, January 2009. Famously, now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell callously and counterproductively pledged to make Obama a one term president. Failing that, the new strategy has been to prevent Obama from securing any policy victories of note. That is what makes the recent accomplishments all the more stunning and impressive. Due largely to Republican intransigence, Mr. Obama has been unable to accomplish much more in the areas of gun control (not for a lack of effort), comprehensive immigration reform (executive orders notwithstanding) and climate control. With Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress for Obama’s final push, these important issues, sadly, will have to be left to his successor.

Mr. Obama, as both a candidate and president, has been cautious to wade too deeply into American race relations. However, when he has spoken, he has done so with an eloquence, humanity and intelligence that has left a profound and lasting impact. From hosting the famous “beer summit” at the White House to bury the proverbial hatchet between Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Cambridge police Sergeant James Crowley, to the powerful speech addressing the firestorm surrounding Reverend Jeremiah Wright in Philadelphia, to the moving eulogy delivered for Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney following the Charleston massacre in which the president led the congregation in Amazing Grace, President Obama has been at his most magnificent, unguarded and pure as a man, a leader, and a president. For this alone, his legacy will inarguably endure.

I will leave the way in which President Obama is viewed by posterity to the history books. Father time must work his magic several times over before we truly know how Obama performed as president. Fifty years hence, will Obamacare be viewed in the same positive light as Medicare and Social Security are now? Or will it have long since been dismantled? Will Obama and Iran be favorably compared to Reagan and the collapse of the Soviet Union or will the Iran nuclear deal be seen as the Great Appeasement in the mold of Hitler’s Germany? These questions will be long in the making, and neither I, nor anyone else, know the answers. But if the dominoes fall in President Obama’s favor, and I believe they are lined up to do just that, historians will write that he was not just a great president, but a transformational one.

July 25, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Climate Change, Democratic Party, Gun Control, Iran Nuclear Deal, Obamacare, President Obama, Race Relations, Republican Party, TPP Trade Deal | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hillary Rodham Clinton – La Reine Soleil

Hillary Clinton confirmed last week what breathing folks have known since she lost the 2008 Democratic nomination to Barack Obama in spectacularly stunning fashion: she is running for president again in 2016. High drama, this was not. It did not approach the theatrics surrounding another prominent decision – The Decision – Lebron James’ 2010 made-for-television pronouncement that he was bolting his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the greener (and far warmer) pastures of Miami. To the contrary, the pre-recorded video formally announcing Clinton’s candidacy was notable for its humility and for being remarkably understated, lacking the flair and bravado of her ’08 leap of faith (and certainly that of Lebron’s). The more subdued, and less entitled, approach this time around is ultimately wise, in my view. As was the now famous choice to lunch at Chipotle – particularly the bold move to add guacamole to her chicken burrito bowl (at extra cost, no less) – which must be popular with voters, and many non-voters, given the frustratingly long lines at every store I’ve frequented circa lunch or dinner time.

In this campaign, Hillary – first name sufficing – wields the proverbial double-edged sword: name recognition. Unlike most other candidates, Hillary Clinton does not need an introduction to the American people. We know her, and intimately. We watched as she transformed the role of first lady, for better or worse, during the presidency of her husband. We continued to watch as she represented New Yorkers, a newly-minted resident of the state herself, as their junior senator for 8 years in the United States Congress. We came along for the often bumpy ride as she joined, perhaps surprisingly, President Obama’s “Team of Rivals” cabinet – leading the State Department, and presenting the face of American foreign policy to the world, during the president’s first term. Grass, it’s safe to say, does not grow under Mrs. Clinton’s pumps-clad feet.

I write this column to neither proclaim my support for Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy nor deny it. It is far too early for that, despite the ridiculously premature endorsements she, and others, have already received. I do, however, write in support of her running – whatever the outcome. On its face, this is not a particularly controversial position to take. Since Mrs. Clinton declared her candidacy, however, I have read and heard copious commentary lamenting the fact that there could be, God forbid, another Clinton in the White House. Putting an exclamation point on the hyperbole, one commentator even suggested that we must be living in 18th century France or some other European-style monarchy. As if Hillary is a modern day Louis XIV – our very own la reine soleil.

What comes next, I presume, will be more controversial. It is this: I believe the American people will, or won’t, elect Hillary Clinton the next president of the United States irrespective of the fact that her husband previously served in the same capacity. Further, I submit that Bill’s being president – not Bill himself – will effectively play no vital role in Hillary’s effort to do the same. Let me be clear: Bill Clinton’s acute political acumen, general intelligence and unique ability to communicate policy in layman’s terms – he was, after all, dubbed the Secretary of Explaining Stuff during President Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012 – will be an invaluable asset for Hillary. However, if Hillary Clinton is hauling her vast pant-suit collection to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in January 2017, it will be at the behest of the American electorate. There will have been no coronation. Her surname will not have been relevant. She will have earned the right to live there, and decorate accordingly, on her own merits.

Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton are, obviously, two different people. Though married, I am certain that there are policy differences which exist between them, often dramatically so. My own observations are that Hillary, for example, is more hawkish from a foreign policy standpoint. Moreover, Hillary seems more comfortable addressing foreign policy issues, while Bill seems far more knowledgeable about – and interested in – the nuances and intricacies of economic policy. ’08 Hillary competed with then-Senator Obama in the primary to determine which candidate was more virulently anti-trade, even though President Clinton famously (or infamously, depending upon your point of view) signed NAFTA. Some political observers view Hillary as more ideological, Bill more pragmatic.  The list, I’m sure, goes on.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not so, this same election will see yet another Bush run for the presidency as well. I feel the same way concerning Jeb’s campaign for president as I do Hillary’s. Jeb should not suffer, or gain, from the previous presidencies of his father and brother. Simply put, he is not them. In a recent interview with Politico, George W. Bush candidly surmised that he would pose an obstacle to Jeb’s candidacy. While likely true, he should not be. What is to say that Jeb Bush would not be a far better president than his brother? Or far worse, for that matter?

As Governor of Florida, Jeb was well-known to be intensely interested and involved in the minutia of policymaking. He took great pains to understand the nuances of policy about which he had to make decisions. Nuanced is not a term with which his brother would likely be mistaken. Further, Jeb is widely considered to be more intellectual and serious-minded relative to his brother. Undoubtedly, Jeb’s life experiences are divergent from that of George’s, and certainly those of his father’s. Consequently, it could very well be that his worldview is different as well.

Most Americans identify (read: stigmatize) George W. Bush with his 2003 decision to invade Iraq based largely on the erroneous conclusion that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. But who is to say that Jeb, considering the same objective facts, would have come to the same conclusion? Accordingly, this should not be held as an electoral albatross around Jeb’s neck. Admittedly, I have long been a big fan of Bill Clinton, but this truth would never form the basis for my supporting his wife for president. Nor should the inverse be true. Likewise, I am hopeful that George Bush supporters (junior or senior) do not plan to vote for Jeb based on that reason alone. Or vice versa.

Furthermore, I plainly reject the notion of “two for one” concerning a Hillary Clinton presidency. I do not believe that a First Man Bill Clinton will act as a quasi co-president, nor should he. That being said, I am not naïve enough to believe that Bill would have no influence on a Hillary presidency. Of course, to some degree, he would. Just as George W. and/or George H. W. might have some influence on a Jeb presidency. The effect, though, would be miniscule as compared to the advisers they hire and with which they associate.

In my view, then, instead of fretting over the prospects of another Clinton or Bush occupying the White House, it would be far more useful to focus on Hillary, Jeb, their associates, their advisers, their policies, their qualifications and their experiences. Oh, and their challengers. There is a nasty little rumor that there might be other candidates who dare to join the race – carelessly and rudely jeopardizing our bid for an American monarchy. And our very own la reine soleil.

April 24, 2015 Posted by | 2016 Presidential Election, Bill Clinton, Democratic Party, Democratic Primary, Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The South Shall Rise Again – If We Fight For It

In contrast to many of my friends and colleagues, I was far from disconsolate immediately following the elections earlier this month. There is no shame, I figured, in losing an election from time to time, and, quite often, outside forces – macroeconomic factors, events in foreign countries, unforeseen domestic occurrences, etc. – can render a political party helpless at a particular point in history. Furthermore, it is well documented that the party of the sitting president most often loses seats in Congress in off-year elections, especially in the sixth year of a presidency. Unlike some, maybe most, I did not view the Republican wave as either a repudiation of Democratic principles or wholesale approval of Republican ones.

After all, where minimum wage increases were on the ballot (a Democratic policy priority), each referendum passed with flying colors. What’s more, it was four conservative states – Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota – joining Illinois in supporting wage hikes while at the same time largely supporting Republicans for office in those same states. Put simply (and forgiving the schizophrenia), the elections were more a measure of the national political climate than policy preferences.

The more I delved into the results, however, the more unsettling the picture became. Let’s start with my home state: North Carolina. Admittedly, it was difficult to watch Sen. Kay Hagan lose her seat, but I was somewhat heartened that North Carolina provided such a close race despite the toxic political environment for Democrats, and despite watching other Democrats lose far worse in other states (often bluer ones).  Unfortunately, however, the “heartened” part of me quickly dampened in the knowledge that someone in the mold of Thom Tillis remains electable in North Carolina.

I am not necessarily convinced that Kay Hagan has been a particularly effective freshman senator, but I do know that Thom Tillis is unapologetically regressive (not conservative), in the worst sense of the word, and was not, in my view, a viable alternative.  It was certainly a tough pill to swallow for those who participated in the various “Moral Monday” demonstrations specifically, but also for other North Carolinians who more generally lamented the way in which Tillis steered North Carolina back in time as Speaker of the North Carolina legislature.

Head due south from North Carolina down I-85, and the picture only grows bleaker.  In the Deep South, the Democratic Party is dying a slow and painful death, which has led many national observers to suggest that the Democrats give up on the South entirely. The statistics are stunning and unavoidable. According to the Associated Press, “South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas will not send a single white Democrat to Congress, if Mary Landrieu loses her runoff. The only Democrats in the House from Deep South states will be African-Americans.” In Mississippi in the 2012 election, 96 percent of blacks voted for the Democratic presidential ticket, while 89 percent of whites voted for the Republican ticket.  Separating ourselves into homogenous voting blocs is terrible for democracy, but even worse for the country. What does it say about our sameness as Americans?

Most cynics point to race as being the predominant factor contributing to this political phenomenon. There is some statistical evidence to support this contention. In March, Gallup reported, “Whites have become increasingly Republican, moving from an average 4.1-point Republican advantage under Clinton to an average 9.5-point advantage under Obama.” While acknowledging that race is a factor for some, I do not believe that it is the deciding factor for most. Though white, Hillary Clinton will not be winning any of these Deep South states, including Arkansas, in 2016. If recent trends hold, however, Ms. Clinton will do very well in the overwhelmingly white states of Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota – where Mr. Obama won quite handily in both 2008 and 2012. So what is the problem?

I believe the Democrats’ problems in the Deep South stem primarily from a lack of, or ineffective, communication and effort. Much like the Republican Party largely writes off the non-white vote, the Democratic Party has given up on Southern whites. They do so at their own political peril. Can the Democrats continue to win the White House without support in the Deep South? Obviously, yes; they have done so the past two elections (excluding, of course, North Carolina and Virginia from the Deep South), and by fairly healthy margins. But electoral politics shouldn’t be the sole driver of who a political party tries to reach.

Based on my experience, I would contend that Southern whites’ aversion to the Democratic Party is less about race and more about culture. I believe southern voters are uncomfortable being associated politically with voters in the Northeast and on the West Coast, whom they view as elitist and quacky. This might sound trite to some, but having grown up in the South, I can attest to the stigma that folks in these parts of the country possess in the eyes of southerners. Moreover, southerners feel as though Democrats, and liberals generally, talk down to them as somehow being inferior. Having spent the past 7 years in the North, I can attest that they are often right to feel this way.

The truth is, folks in the South care about the exact same issues as folks throughout America – the Northeast and West Coast included. They need a good (and fair) paying job, affordable healthcare, good schools for their kids to attend, and, yes, government to be there when adversity strikes. Traditionally, Democrats win on these kitchen table issues. We can win again, in the South, if we can articulate these values in a clear, coherent and persuasive way. But even more importantly, we must show the persistence, perseverance and, candidly, the care to take the fight to the people in the Deep South.

Finally, returning to the suggestion, as some national observers have espoused, that Democrats not waste their time and energies attracting white voters in the South. Perhaps I am biased, or even blinded, by my southern roots, but I emphatically contend that white voters in the South are worth the fight. These are decent, smart, hard-working people (not just my family and friends!) who are fully capable of being persuaded by a transformative message, if it resonates. The damage done is considerable, but not insurmountable. The odds are great, but the cause worthy. The South shall rise again – if we fight for it. And there ain’t nothing wrong with some BBQ and iced tea for our troubles along the way.

November 21, 2014 Posted by | 2014 Elections, Democratic Party, Obama, Politics, South | , , , | 1 Comment