Clinton’s Royal We

They say generals are always preparing to fight the previous war.  Well, General Hillary Clinton is running a campaign for an election that has come and gone.  The 2016 election is not about the resume at the top of the ticket.  It is about the movement they inspire.  

Bernie Sanders has captured the imagination of America’s liberal youth by representing a revolt against economic unfairness.  Donald Trump represents anger against the political status quo and America’s “incompetent leadership.”  Ted Cruz represents dissatisfaction with the inside baseball that takes place in Washington.

Clinton’s campaign isn’t about a movement.  She has made it about about her resume and qualifications and, quite frankly, we’re tired of hearing about your damn qualifications.

Her credentials undoubtedly are fantastic.  She has served as a U.S. Senator and as Secretary of State, and their is no doubt that her credentials are as strong as anyone who is running for president.  The problem is that this cycle, nobody, especially first-time voters, cares about records.

In the New Hampshire primary Sanders took more than 80% of the under-30 vote.  What Clinton doesn’t get is that millennials don’t want to just simply cast a vote.  For everything that has been written about the millennial generation, it’s well establish that they don’t believe in the traditional order.  They demand promotions before they’ve completed training.  They don’t want to fall in line.  And in politics, they would rather be a part of a movement than just check a box.

This ability to be a part of something bigger than themselves is exactly what Sanders has given them.

Contrast the concession speeches of Sanders and Clinton after the New Hampshire primary: Sanders used “we/our” nearly 50 times while only using “I/me” 24.  Clinton, on the other hand, used “we/our” just 15 times while using “I/me” nearly 40.  Controlling for the length of their speeches and uses such as “I thank Secretary Clinton,” the ratio of “I” to “We” was roughly 2:1 for each candidate, although reversed.

Sanders preaches a doctrine of “we.”  Just as Barack Obama did in 2008 with his rallying cry of “Yes We Can,” Bernie Sanders has empowered voters by leading them to believe that they are part of a movement that has the power to change the world.  Clinton, however, continually pontificates about her personal qualifications.  She asks people to “join me” in her campaign while Sanders asks his audience to “join us.”

Even in defeat she doesn’t seem to get it.  After millennials abandoned her in New Hampshire, she said in her concession speech, “Even if they are not supporting me now, I support them.”  Newsflash, Secretary Clinton, young people don’t want another parent looking out for their well-being.

This is a generation that wants to do it themselves.  They don’t want to sit in an office and work for “the man,” they want to open their own business.  They don’t want to climb the corporate ladder, they want to appoint themselves CEO.  They don’t want a grandmother-in-chief to tell them what is good for them, they want a revolutionary who they can point to and say “I helped make that happen.”

Presidential politics is about appealing to the masses and sometimes that means you have to appeal to the lowest common denominator.  Young people don’t care whether someone’s plan is feasible or not.  They don’t care whether a platform could be passed by Congress.  They don’t care whether your experience qualifies you to handle the stress of the most powerful office in the world.  

They vote with their hearts not their heads.

Secretary Clinton, if you want to win back the support of the youth of America, start empowering them rather than preaching to them.  Start including them in your revolution rather than asking them to pack the stands to watch someone else’s show. Start showing them how they can be the change they believe in rather than just being a name on a “pledge to caucus card.”

Photo Credit: USA Today

The Conservative Frankenstein

For the better part of the past decade, Republicans have been preaching the doctrine that Washington’s dysfunction is the sole barrier standing between the American people and the promised land.  They have railed against every facet of the federal government, decrying “career politicians” and looking for leaders from Main Street.

I wish I could name every conservative politician who has uttered the phrase “Washington is the problem,” but doing so would consume the vast majority of this article.  For the past eight years, Republican politicians have been using this slogan to define their party.  The strategy has worked, but maybe a little too well.

By the second half of the Obama presidency, most of red America was not only outraged at the Democrats for their policies, but at their own party’s  representatives for not fighting hard enough against those policies. Virginians went so far as to oust majority leader Eric Cantor in a primary election in favor of a college professor who ran on a tea-party, anti-Washington platform.

For the better part of Obama’s term, Republican thought leaders have set unrealistic expectations for what can be accomplished in Washington. When the initiatives inevitably fail, they cast Republican leadership as weaklings of the conservative movement.  

In the current campaign, Republican presidential candidates with legitimate governing experience have been cast aside in favor of candidates who lack any credible political experience, or who have spent their careers attempting to bring down the institution from within.

After eight years of hearing that Washingtonians are the problem, can you really blame Republican voters for rejecting those with Washington on their resumes?

By virtue of being Republican, many conservative voters are inclined to favor anti-Washington sentiments. Primarily this manifests itself through hostility toward Democratic policy: they want smaller government, less regulation, and lower taxes. Traditionally, strict adherence to these principles was good enough to be called a conservative leader.  Not anymore.

Since Mitch McConnell declared it his goal to make Barack Obama a one-term president, the only real way to be a conservative was to oppose anything and everything at each opportunity.  If you voted for a budget that included 99% conservative priorities but 1% of Obama’s priorities, you were cast as a traitor who enabled a tyrant.

Groups like the Heritage Foundation and Club for Growth began scoring elected officials not on their traditional conservative principles, but rather on their fortitude in the face of Obama’s agenda.  By the time the midterm elections came the Tea Party revolt was in full swing and Washington as a whole, not just the left, had become the enemy.

The election of 2012 should have been a sign of things to come.  While relative moderate Mitt Romney eventually emerged as the nominee, several Tea Party darlings threw their hat into the ring as anti-Washington candidates.  In her speech announcing her candidacy for president, Michele Bachmann declared “More than ever, Washington is the problem.”  Throughout his first campaign, Texas Governor Rick Perry released a series of ads claiming that “Washington is the problem” that he needed to be elected to fix.

The fact that the Republicans picked up 67 seats in the House between 2008 and 2014 only helped reinforce the anti-Washington narrative among elective hopefuls.  It has become a classic case of short term thinking that caused long term damage.

Fast forward to the summer of 2015.  The field of Republican presidential hopefuls was taking shape.  Among the candidates are your traditional government executives.  Governors of Florida, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin. Senators from Florida, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas.  Among those individuals would you like to guess who generated the most excitement among conservative voters?

Answer: A bellicose real-estate mogul, a mild-mannered former neurosurgeon, and a sharp tongued former Hewlett-Packard Executive.

Meanwhile, former governors of Texas and Wisconsin, and senators from Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina were the first to drop out.

No longer is good governance a starting qualification to run for President within the Republican party.  John Kasich helped balance the federal budget as a Congressman.  Sinful.  Chris Christie accepted President Obama’s help while New Jersey was recovering from Hurricane Sandy.  Unacceptable.  Rick Perry is the longest serving governor of the country’s second most populous state? No matter.

Rather, the most important qualification voters sought was that the candidate had nothing to do with Washington.  The well has been so poisoned by years of trashing the established political order that candidates who fight in opposition to this tradition can get away with almost anything.

Ben Carson, for all his success as a surgeon, would have been laughed off the stage in any other presidential election year.  He speaks with a tone more fit for a lullaby and he is about as charismatic as a throw pillow, except even those get fluffed up a couple times a day.  Yet, in 2015 the fact that he could say he had never held public office gave him great credibility to the conservative audience.  His star has since faded, but the fact that he ever led in the polls is a testament to the anti-Washington monster that has been created.

Donald Trump has a similar anti-Washington appeal, albeit in a slightly different way.  As was articulated in my earlier article Fear and Loathing in Washington he has been able to tap into voters frustrations by becoming the most untraditional campaigner ever.  He insults people, he makes outlandish statements, and he refuses to compromise or cooperate with any standard political norms.

Finally, Ted Cruz has become the ultimate example of the anti-Washington movement.  Despite holding the title of United States Senator, he has spent every waking second in that position fighting anyone with a pulse at the Capitol.

Since coming to Washington, Ted Cruz’s desire to prevent anything from moving through the Senate has been well documented.  His biggest claim to fame is the engineering of the 2013 government shutdown over the attempted repeal of the Affordable Care Act.  Cruz popularized the impossible theory that if only the Republicans would work together, the ACA could be successfully repealed.  This was pure fiction from the beginning, yet his branding of the issue made red America believe that the failure to do so was the fault of the weak within their party.

He has advocated for refusing to pass budgets unless Planned Parenthood is defunded.  Also a fictional theory.  These types of demands and negotiations conducted at the end of a barrel are not, and will never be, how Congress gets things done.

Cruz regularly gives speeches accusing his fellow Republican’s of wilting instead of fighting for conservative causes that he alone champions.  He has burned so many bridges that he often waits in his car until the end of votes, dashes inside, and returns seconds after casting his yay or nay.

All of his antics have increased the gridlock that many Americans have long lamented.  Yet, rather than fault him for being a cog in the wheel, they hail him as if he were Leonidas from 300 — though they forget Leonidas eventually finds himself riddled with arrows.  

If Ted Cruz manages to succeed in securing the Republican nomination, there is no doubt the United States will elect its first woman President.  Cruz may excite the extreme right of this country who believe that government default is more desirable than a budget that includes the ACA, but they are not the majority.  

A governor like John Kasich who shows a willingness to work across the aisle and speaks of America’s greatness rather than its demise would be much more likely to pick up independent voters against a candidate like Clinton who has dealt with years of trust issues.  

This will never happen though, because the Republican’s have created a Frankenstein that may not be able to be contained.  After seven years of setting unrealistic expectations for their leaders and then faulting them for failing to achieve those same pipe dreams, the Republicans have created an environment in which only one type of candidate can emerge from their primaries.

Ted Cruz versus Donald Trump may not be the race registered Republicans want, but it is absolutely the race they deserve.

Photo credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

America’s Character Limit

American doesn’t listen anymore.  Not because we’ve become petulant children, but rather our attention spans have been reduced to 140 characters or less. For comedy, this change has reaped large benefits, as bite sized observations of everyday hilarity truly are wonderful.

For politics however, this phenomenon has had a disastrous effect.  As traditional morning papers have seen their subscriptions plummet, people no longer take the time to listen, understand, or comprehend an idea that may be different than their original inclination.  Nor do people judge a candidate beyond the five word headlines they inspire.

Politics may be a game, but policy is not.  There is a reason that bills written in Congress are hundreds if not thousands of pages long.  New laws that affect a population of 300 million people require an increasingly intense attention to detail.  They require days, weeks, and even months of back and forth between various stakeholders to consider every possible side effect an idea may have. 

How will a change in a business tax rate affect those with few employees or minimal revenue?  Could a new regulation written for polluters produce an unforeseen externality for small business?  These are not simple deliberations.  Too often in the public arena these series considerations are shunned for the shortened, hyped, and radical characterization of how a move may either make America great, or turn us into a third world country.

Twitter is not individually to blame for this phenomenon.  Rather, it’s a symptom of this modern age, one in which we can order meals on our smart phones to be delivered within the hour.  This instantaneous satisfaction is great in any arena except politics.

Let’s look at three examples in which shortened debate has had a largely negative effect, starting with the Affordable Care Act. 

Currently there are only two acceptable positions when it comes to the ACA.  The act is either the single best thing to ever happen to this country, or it is the single reason freedom is dead.

Providing health care for the sick and poor by every means is a positive thing for this country.  Our European counterparts have done it for years to a very successful tune.  Does that mean the ACA is perfect? Of course not.  The exchanges have flaws, the economics haven’t worked entirely as planned, and some claim that provisions such as the medical device tax will be burdensome. 

Yet seldom ever discussed in the halls of Congress are any fixes or improvements.  Republicans have voted more than 50 times to repeal or cripple the ACA, while Democrats refuse to offer any amendments because they fear being cast as traitors to their president.

In a perfect world, voters would take the time to analyze what their representative has done and consider that casting their vote for an improvement to the ACA wasn’t an abandonment of their party’s ideals, but rather a sensible move towards good governance.

I don’t expect that fantasy to become a reality anytime soon.  When a CNN poll from the past summer shows that 43% of Republicans still believe that President Obama is a muslim, one can’t expect that group to think that the only reason they are covered for health insurance is because of that same person. For example Kentucky residents have been the single largest beneficiary of the ACA, yet its residents have voted for Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell both of whom are dead set on repealing every last word of it.

Next is the oft-cited one of the sinking of immigration reform in 2013. 

That year, the “Gang of Eight” which included current presidential hopeful Marco Rubio, authored a bill that would have reformed the immigration process while adding nearly 40,000 border agents (jobs program anyone?), creating new visa categories, and creating a path to citizenship for some of the 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the country.

This bill passed the Senate, but it never came up to the floor in the House because the path to citizenship portion quickly became branded as an “amnesty” program for those who had violated United States law by bypassing our legal immigration process.  In 140 characters that does sound unfair.  But in a few paragraphs… not so much. 

The bill required anyone seeking legal status to:

  • Apply for a permit and pay a $1,000 fine.  This allows them to work and is good for six years.
  • After six years they must pass another background check to renew that permit.  No crimes may have been committed.
  • After an additional four years, they can apply for a green card and pay another $1,000 fine.
  • After 3 more years – 13 years total – they can apply for citizenship if they have paid all owed back taxes for the years in which they have lived in the United States.
  • BUT WAIT, there’s more.
  • All of that work and time is null and void if the United States Congress doesn’t declare the southern border secure, hasn’t hired all 38,405 full time border agents, and hasn’t completed 700 miles of fencing.

Whether you think it is wrong or right for people to have come into this country illegally, you can hardly look at a process that takes over thirteen years, costs several thousand dollars and is contingent on the United States Congress to declare a 1,989 mile border “secure” (which is about as politically feasible as unicorns are real) and call it “amnesty.”

But in the national debate that surrounded immigration reform, none of those details mattered.  All that mattered was the word “amnesty.”  The public was robbed of an intellectual and thought provoking debate around a very important issue in favor of tag lines and compact sentences.

To this day the “Gang of Eight” association has hurt Marco Rubio.  On the campaign trail he is often forced to defend himself and toe the party line of “secure the border” because his attempt to be a lawmaker and an example of good governance has become a liability.

The final shining example of this saddened state of affairs came on January 7, at a CNN “town hall” featuring President Obama on the topic of new gun safety measures.  The town hall itself was remarkably civil and featured honest discussion of the pros and cons of gun laws.  And then we cut back to the CNN panel of partisan pit bulls. Sigh.

Almost instantly the Twitter politics returned.  Former police detective Harry Houck called the measures a “slippery slope” and suggested that Obama wanted to charge $1,000 for a gun license – there is literally zero evidence for this.  The left side of the room erupted, repeating their own tag lines of “common-sense safety measures” and accusing the right of perpetuating conspiracy theories.  Conservative talking head S.E. Cupp then asked why it was called a conspiracy to think Obama wanted to “take your guns away” because, well, it is his ultimate goal after all.

One step forward, two steps back. 

After a couple hours of honest discussion, CNN filled a room with attack dogs each ready to blast their entrenched positions in the form of soundbites and tag lines.  And this is why we can’t have nice things. 

Our national media has an obligation in correcting this degradation of our political discourse.  Because CNN, MSNBC, and Fox have essentially become 24-hour political new channels, they are the main way that the majority of this country learns about what is happening in Washington. 

As a result, when they publicize a political attack that boils a thousand pages of negotiations down to a dramatic headline they’re perpetuating this volatile discourse.  Anytime I hear someone on the street or at a nearby table in a coffee shop repeat a hyper-sensitized version of current events, I almost inevitably see that same headline flashing beneath Wolf Blitzer’s furry face a few hours later.

While it is certainly true that our attention spans need to expand, our media and political leaders have the primary obligation to increase their character limits.  They are the drivers of our national dialogue and people are only as informed as their sources of information. We need to move beyond twitter politics and be reminded that their is more to any policy than just the press release.

Fear and Loathing in Washington

Few emotions are more powerful than fear. Laughter must be prompted and happiness must be induced, whether by an environment or another person.  But fear—fear can overtake you the way a wave swallows up a sandcastle.  It can consume you in an instant, raise your heartbeat, cause you to set aside rationality, and instantly numb any other senses so that the body may form a response to the fear-inducing stigma.

In nature this has served humans well—it is what has allowed us survive as a species for millennia.  Normally fear subsides when the stimulus vanishes.  Unless, that is, the stimulus is a six-foot-two figure with wispy blonde hair wearing a red tie and white dress shirt bearing down on your from your flat screen. 

For the all the things Donald Trump is not, he is certainly clever – albeit in a very Machiavellian way.  He has tapped into our most primal sensation and kept his foot on the gas, blinding us and denying us the ability to take a step back to rationally analyze the situation.  Because in nature, if you step back to analyze… you’re dead.

The good news is we’ve come a long way from those primordial days.  For the most part we are sitting comfortably on a couch when this fear creeps into our life.  We are in a state where we ought to be able to set fear aside for even the briefest of seconds in order to ask ourselves what kind of danger we are truly in.

In the final Republican debate of 2015, several candidates once again presented the outright fallacy that the fight against ISIL is a clash of civilizations that only ends with one man standing. 

Let’s get something straight: as President Obama said  in his State of the Union address, the United States of America is the single most powerful nation the world has ever seen.  We have more naval power idling domestically than most other nations have en masse.  We can project enormous power to any corner of the globe within a matter of days, if not hours.  ISIL is a band of desert-dwelling ideologues whose most advanced weapon of war is a used Toyota with a gun mounted in the bed.

By contrast, during WWII the United States sacrificed nearly half a million of its sons to defend our way of life in a true clash of civilizations, the advent of Nazism and fascism that was swallowing up Europe.  At this point in the fight against ISIL, the United States is primarily committed to aerial bombardments and to this date has lost one soldier.  In the famous words of John Paul Jones: We have not yet begun to fight.

Yes, self-radicalized individuals within our borders have killed our fellow citizens in dastardly attacks at our strip malls and education centers.  But that is nowhere near what a clash of civilizations looks like.

Which brings us back to the element of fear.  Could you be killed the next time you leave your house by an AR-15 wielding terrorist? Sure.  But you are much more likely to be killed in a car accident, or struck by lightning, or killed by a falling tree. 

It is no more reasonable to ban every refugee or tourist from Syria than it is to deforest our lands, or to build underground bunkers for every time a thunderstorm rolls in.

Despite that rationale, the candidates this election cycle preach that we are as likely to be the next victim of terrorism as we are to be the “millionth user” of that website giving away free laptops.  And it is working.

According to Public Policy Polling, 56% of Americans either believe or are still deciding if Trump is correct in wanting to institute a blanket moratorium on Muslims entering our country.  By this logic we ought to ban white males from our schools.

With all the comforts of modern life, the fear we face is not one of immediate threat, but one of the unknown.  The language of the 2016 election has invoked fear of the “other” and brought out the worst in people, who as David Frum pointed out in the The Atlantic, are “irked” when asked to specify which language they would like to use when they call Comcast. 

These feelings are not new.  They have been simmering beneath the surface of the American psyche since before the ink of the words “all men are created equal” had dried. 

In the 1800s we banned the Chinese.  In the 1940s we interned the Japanese. And throughout that entire time and into the 1960s, we discriminated in every possible way against African Americans.  We – the white man – were afraid that the contributions of others may exceed those of our own, that they may create an environment in which we were not the richest, smartest, or most powerful person in the room.

What is different about today is that politicians—those who by raw definition we entrust to be our leaders—are addressing that fear not to raise the conversation above the din, but rather to lift themselves, propelled by the surge of this rising tide.  

Trump has mastered the ability to add to this wave in a way that a surfer could only dream of.  He has fueled his supporters’ fear while pitching himself as the only sensible savior.  Mexicans are rapists.  Muslims are terrorists. Republican leaders are weaklings.  Democrats will take your guns away.  The insinuation is clear:  This country is slipping away and Trump is the only one who can save you.

The good news in this madness is that the election is still more than 10 months away.  No matter how terrified one is, the ability to keep fear alive over that period of time is a task that even the grandiose and bellicose Donald Trump may have difficulty pulling off. 

At the end of the day, fear will always be surpassed by hope.  Hope may now be a tired promise of elections past, but as the sun rises after a nightmare, the light of hope will always outshine the shadow of fear.  Sometimes that shadow just takes longer to vanish.