Saturday, May 07, 2016

Time to Focus on Both Candidates -- Not Just Trump

Whether you read newspapers or watch cable TV news, you’re probably inundated by coverage about Trump.  This coverage is virtually 100 percent critical. Journalists hate Trump.  He calls them liars, and they return the favor, presenting him as an uninformed, uninquisitive, dangerous demagogue.   Some days, the Washington Post’s lead editorial is devoted to bashing the guy, and then when you flip to the Opinion page, you see two or three additional stories with the same theme.   When it comes to the journalist community, lung cancer and heart disease may be more popular than the mogul from Queens.   

And that, my friends, is helping to prop him up with the Republican electorate.  The majority of that electorate hates the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, and MSNBC, and they may have crossed the line to hating Fox News as well.  Yet, as the saying goes, the enemy (Trump) of their enemy (the mainstream media) becomes their friend.  I think Trump realized that early on in this campaign.   That may have been his masterstroke as a candidate: egg on the media, and everything will fall into place, at least with the Republican electorate. 

            Personally, though, with the passage of time, I have grown less and less interested in this circus act.  As a fan of Rickles – the other master entertainer named “Don” -- I can enjoy some of Trump’s jokes at his rivals’ expense.  What’s more, I can even appreciate some of his substantive points.  Campaign finance absolutely needs to be reformed so that politicians can be independent of their financial benefactors.   And politicians also need the guts and the motivation to become more natural and authentic on the stump.   The ability to read watered-down, poll-tested drivel off a teleprompter is not my idea of a political credential.  

            So good for Trump to shake things up a bit.  But he has given us too many reasons to want him to stay the hell out of Washington.   First, there was his “Birtherism,” which was worthy of Joseph McCarthy.   And then came his crass insults of POWs, his threats forcibly to remove 12 million illegal immigrants from their homes, and last but not least, his un-American proposal to ban all Muslims who are not American citizens from this country.   That’s just a few of his gems, but each one is a doozy.   Those positions left me uninterested in him as a serious candidate.  And as a comedian, his shtick is getting to be old hat.  Rickles did a better job of keeping it fresh.   

            The media’s current obsession with the Donald is whether he can unify his party.  Honestly, I don’t much care.  That party was plenty unified under Mitt and it still got smoked; why should this election be any different?  At a time when young Americans no longer figure to be as affluent or as secure as their parents and grandparents, what does the Republican Party have to offer us?  Tax cuts for the rich?  More economic polarization?   A social agenda that caters entirely to the most Orthodox and right-wing portions of religious communities?    The one time during the last 24 years when they were in power, they also gave us a war backed by false evidence that turned into an international embarrassment and further destabilized the most dangerous part of the world.   How do these guys expect to get a majority of Americans to vote for their standard bearer?

            The truth, I believe, is that Trump can win ... but only if Hillary is unable to unify her own party and attract some independents.   She is the one who everyone should be thinking about now, not Trump.  She is ahead in the polls, ahead in the betting markets, ahead in her campaign infrastructure and war chest, and ahead in her command of the issues.   And yet, at the rate she is going, Hillary will have the highest unfavorability rating of any Democratic Party Presidential nominee in a generation.    
It has become conventional Washington, DC wisdom that whoever succeeds in getting the nation to focus primarily on the OTHER candidate will win in November.   That may be true about November.  But we’re six full months away from Election Day.  Right now is the time for the politicians to be introducing themselves so that they can develop a broad base of support and appear as a viable alternative to those who are yet undecided.  What we saw on Tuesday in Indiana is just how far Hillary is from accomplishing that goal.  Despite the fact that she had already effectively locked up the nomination and Americans like to vote for winners, the Hoosiers still gave Bernie the victory.   She seems to be more intellectually agile than Bernie, more informed, and more experienced, and he still beat her.  That is a troublesome sign for those who think that she should wipe the floor with the man she aptly calls the “Loose Cannon.”  

Truly, the nation needs to rally around Hillary.  We need her to beat Trump.  But it sure would be nice if the majority of the electorate voted FOR her, rather than simply pulled the lever for her while holding their nose.   I’m not kidding with that metaphor.   At the rate we’re going, you won’t know a voter from a guy who is drinking colonoscopy fluid – it will become an exercise in nostril tightening to dull the pain.  We can do better.  And Hillary has it in her to do better.  I just don’t know if she has the political courage to make it happen.

Here’s a simple way to understand the problem with the Clinton candidacy: she has learned too much from Al Gore’s mistake.  In 2000, Gore distanced himself from Hillary’s husband (the sitting President), and it cost him the election.  Understandably, Hillary has decided to take the opposite strategy and fully align herself with Barack Obama.   But at a time when voters are understandably frustrated and even scared, you don’t essentially campaign under the slogan “Four More Years.”  You demonstrate the passion and the vision to stand behind specific ways in which this country will change if you are elected.  And if that requires that you distinguish yourself from the current President, so be it.  

Personally, I’m not sure I can name a single area in which Hillary expects to change this country.  In other words, I can’t think of one way where she will depart from President Obama’s approach – and believe me, departures are very much in order.  For example, I see the infrastructure of my city crumbling (our once-revered subway system is an absolute disgrace), and yet Hillary doesn’t have much of anything to say about it.   Surely, she has issued policy statements about that and every other topic, but she has never brought passion and poetry to this cause.  

I want Hillary to become a cause candidate – and it’s not enough that the only cause is that we need to become something like the 81st country to elect a woman to our top governmental job.  We’ve never had a Native-American President either, but I don’t think people would be excited to elect one if all s/he spoke about passionately is the importance of Native-American rights.  

In short, Hillary needs to guarantee that to elect her is to create a mandate for certain specific causes – and not merely to guard against the cancer of Trump.  Otherwise, we will have plenty of voters in November who are excited about voting for Trump, and precious few voters excited about voting for Hillary.  That’s a dangerous scenario, one that permits the Democrats to lose the election even if the Republicans remain divided.

No comments: