Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

09 March 2015

Politics 2016: Jeb, GOP Reform, and Hillary’s Blunder

Jeb über alles
The dismal GOP field
GOP reform
Hillary’s private e-mail account: a fatal error of judgment?

It’s early days yet. But already the GOP race is resolving. It looks as if Jeb Bush will be the nominee and the man for the Democrats to beat in 2016.

The pundits won’t tell you this because they need horse races to sell “news.” Like soul-sucking zombies, our modern Yellow Hearsts feed on the toil, torment and disappointments of political lightweights. Eat your heart out, Walter Cronkite: you had to subsist on real news!

Last time hapless Mitt was among the few serious candidates, mostly due to the others’ ineffable lightness of being. Just so, Jeb stands head and shoulders above the GOP crowd now. If there are any other heavyweights, they’re not apparent or not running yet.

How so? Let me count the ways.

Jeb über alles

First and most important, Jeb’s a moderate Republican. He won’t say so, of course. Call yourself a “moderate” Republican today, and the modern KKK (aka the “Tea Party”) will burn figurative crosses on your lawn.

But watch what he does, not what he says. In one of his first political acts in this premature campaign season, he went to CPAC and made moderate noises about immigration. He drew boos from the “fence ’em out and deport ’em all now” zealots. But he stood his ground. Jeb even appeared to approve some indistinct form of “amnesty,” while not using that precise (for the GOP) cuss word.

Here Jeb has a secret weapon. It’s this video of the right’s Patron Saint Ronald, in his 1984 debate with Walter Mondale. There Reagan explicitly endorsed “amnesty” for long-resident illegal immigrants, using that very word and explaining why.

To my knowledge, no one on the right has used that video yet. But it’s a powerful not-so-secret weapon waiting to be deployed. (Ignore the titles. Some troll added them in an inane and vain attempt to “spin” what Reagan actually said.)

This early campaign ploy showed Jeb’s courage. Every national pol has to pander sometime. Jeb showed he won’t do it all the time but will draw the line. He flaunted a bit of backbone and some principles—both rare qualities among GOP wannabes today. It was his “Sister Souljah” moment.

As if that were not enough to distance him from the Tea Crazies, Jeb also stood by his support for the so-called “common core” national educational standards. Although those standards are not as important as immigration politically, Jeb’s stand on education showed his vision and (indirectly) his support for the single real and sensible accomplishment of his brother as president: an attempt to preserve our lead in basic education, through No Child Left Behind.

Second, by moving toward the center on both immigration and education, Jeb showed that he’s a realist and a shrewd strategist. No presidential candidate can win by moving toward his or her party’s fringe (right for GOP and left for Dems). Nor can any GOP candidate win by completely alienating minorities, especially Hispanics.

Great salesman that he is, Mitt Romney thought he could fool the voters. He feinted to the right in the primaries and feinted to the left in the general. As a result, neither right nor left trusted him, let alone the middle, and many GOP voters stayed home. He lost.

Jeb Bush is not about to make the same mistake. He has staked out a defensible center-right position at the very beginning of his campaign, despite the risk of persistent attacks from his extreme right flank.

Unlike Romney, Jeb will not be perceived as a panderer and weathervane, a “tell-‘em-all-what-they-want-to-hear” pol. Nor will he try to rebuild a national party on a coalition of wacky extremists, as never-elected-to-anything GOP consultants have done for the last two presidential election cycles.

Third, Jeb has experience, plus knowledgeable family and friends. He served two full terms as governor of Florida. That’s now our third most populous state, after California and Texas and ahead of New York. It’s also one of our most racially and linguistically diverse states. Jeb’s governing experience there gave him intimate knowledge of Hispanics’ needs and wants. So might Jeb’s own Mexican-born wife.

Jeb’s father and brothers were both presidents. He has unique access to past presidential wisdom and a wide network of surviving contacts and advisers. How many other candidates can pick up the phone and ask people of the caliber of Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft, James Baker III and Henry Kissinger, “what do you think”?

There’s a downside to all this, of course. We Yanks don’t like dynasties. But that disadvantage will evaporate if Hillary is the Democratic nominee. Then it will be dynasty against dynasty, with the GOP dynasty better rooted in the “establishment.”

Jeb’s father was an honest man (except about taxes) and not a bad president. With the advice of Colin Powell, he presided over our most stunning, quickest and least costly major military victory since World War II: Gulf I. If Jeb can identify with the first Bush presidency, and not the disastrous second, the “dynasty” brush won’t tar him.

Finally, Jeb has the money, or he will. He was an early leader in contributions. Now his lead will only snowball.

Über-rich folk like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers are making a big show of controlling the process. But they are not the only rich folk with skin in the game.

Unlike Adelson and the Kochs, more reasonable and calculating fat cats are sitting on the sidelines for the time being. When they move, they will almost certainly move in the direction of moderation and the center, and away from the unelectable Tea-Party monsters that Dubya’s political consultants and operatives spawned.

As for Jeb himself, he just showed how resourceful and wily he can be. In setting a $1 million limit on contributions to his own campaign, he gave himself bragging rights to campaign finance reform. In that he’s unique among GOP candidates.

But everyone knows that the big-money action in politics will come from ostensibly unaligned “issue” PACs, whose sources of money are still anonymous, and which function without effective limits. The sky will be the limit there.

And because most really rich people tilt Republican, Jeb will have all the money he needs. Jeb is trying to have it both ways, and he well may get it both ways.

There’s one more reason Jeb is the one: my own reaction. After what the GOP has done in this new century, I can’t conceive of any circumstances under which I would vote Republican, let alone for president. A three-branch GOP sweep would only accelerate our decline into a banana republic.

But there are shades of dark grey. If by some menacing miracle any Republican other than Jeb won the presidency (besides Jon Huntsman, Jr., who doesn’t appear to be running), I would think, “am I too old to emigrate at 71?” If Jeb won, as far as I can tell now I would think, “Let’s wait and see . . .”

That’s the meaning of moderation and moving toward the center. That’s the benefit of experience in self, colleagues and family. And that’s why—even apart from moving early, making some clever moves already, and making no mistakes yet—Jeb is the one to beat.

The dismal GOP field

I haven’t paid much attention to the rest of the GOP field yet. Except for Jeb, the candidates seem a bunch of rank amateurs. For all you can tell from their speeches and their actions, they really think presidential politics is a new kind of popular dance.

Do the wander, GOP pols! Pander to the right, pander to the far right, and do a little wiggle. (Paul) Tap dance and jump around issues and gaffes. (all but Jeb in unison, and especially Christie) If a governor, hop right over the gaping wounds your mismanagement left in your state. (Christie, Jindal and Walker) Sing soulful songs about “America” and “freedom.” Belt out a ballad about how you came up from nothing and how lucky, grateful and proud you are. (Rubio)

If it were only that simple, almost any governor could be president.

Christie deserves special mention because the soul-sucking pundits appear to love him. You want a commander-in-chief whose minions shut down a vital bridge lane into NYC in a petty political vendetta? That little ploy had less plausible deniability than Saint Ronald’s Iran Contra. And Christie lacks the additional excuse of having fallen asleep in cabinet meetings, or (as far as we know) impending Alzheimer’s.

Some soul-suckers say Christie is making a comeback. Really?!?!?! Some comeback: settling a $8.9 billion pollution claim for $225 million! Isn’t that less than 3 cents on the dollar? Not too hard to “negotiate” that one!

If Christie is a heavyweight, it’s only in his considerable bulk. The last fat man to become president was William Howard Taft, over a century ago. Taft had enough legal knowledge and finesse to become (later) Chief Justice of our Supreme Court—the only man in our history to hold both offices.

If nothing else, Fat-man Christie’s case-settlement “skills” disqualify him from sharing that honor: no self-respecting lawyer would settle an important case for less than three cents on the dollar. As we wait for progress in the Iran talks, you may have noticed that negotiating is part of the presidential skill set.

Despite the soul-suckers’ relentless effort to manufacture “news” by keeping the lightweights in the field, they will all strike out sooner or later. Jeb will be left standing among other heavyweights, if any. At the moment he appears to be the sole GOP candidate with a plan and a rude set of policies in his head, not just a lot of ambition, a few extremist-pandering consultants, and a bunch of vapid GOP mantras. My bet is sooner.

Nonetheless, the campaign season will be interesting. Jeb will have to decide how to distance himself from his brother, the worst president in over a century. Hillary will have to look to her laurels and aim her campaign at an experienced, savvy pol, not an extremist, ingenue or both. And she’ll have a tough time worming her way out of her private-e-mail fiasco while Secretary of State.

Like our three last presidents, Jeb will have to show some leg on foreign and military policy. (Daddy Bush didn’t have to: he had run the CIA.) At least Jeb will have to show that he had better tutelage (with better tutors!) than the two-week crash course his brother got from Saudi Prince Bandar after his election. But all these things pale into insignificance compared to pretending you have a vision, or a clue about the history of this nation, the people who actually made it great, what ordinary voters want, and how real politics actually work. That vision, plus a bit of spine, is what puts Jeb well ahead of the rest of the GOP pack.

GOP reform

There’s yet another reason why the GOP primary season will be short. Most people with money are not stupid. They see how making the GOP primary debates and conventions showcases for nut cases hurt their party. Remember all those candidates raising their hands to reject a hypothetical ten-to-one ratio of spending cuts to new taxes? Remember them rejecting evolution, the foundation of modern biology?

Tea-Party nut cases may have applauded. After all, they’re mostly from the South. But most people with money respect both compromise and science. Many of them got their money by using both. They cringed.

So the sensible rich—and we Yanks have many—are not about to make the same mistake again. In 2016, the GOP’s reputation for party discipline will return with a vengeance, perhaps at the cost of a showy floor revolt or two at the convention. The recent crushing of the Tea Party’s threat to shut down DHS is just a precursor of more discipline to come.

From whence will this new discipline come? From money, the mothers’ milk of politics. The smart rich—especially bankers—have learned the hard way that plebes don’t like rich folk flaunting their luxury or their power. Having escaped plebes’ justice and vengeance by a hair, they henceforth will buy and corrupt our pols the old-fashioned way: discreetly and privately, as JP Morgan once did.

Majorities also matter. With a comfortable majority in the House, the GOP no longer need nurture its most extreme, recalcitrant and undisciplined members. Expect the mothers’ milk to dry up for them, with plenty of warning, before 2016. And recall that House members have to run again every two years. All the reformers have to do is make a few examples, and the rest of the GOP House crazies will suddenly see the light of centrism and compromise.

One way or another, GOP party discipline will return. As it does, rich donors with their feet on the ground will begin to see a return on their investment. Congress will begin to address at least those of our long-festering problems that affect their interests. Public displays of corruption—such as the Kochs’ kiss-our-ring circus and Adelson’s public grandstanding, will begin to wane. If these braying alpha males can’t ken that the public doesn’t like them and won’t willingly accept their “leadership,” real business leaders will find some way to enlighten them. The days of Donald-Trump-like public assholery are numbered.

Why is this campaign a season for seriousness? Lack of seriousness put Dubya in the White House. Then his gross misrule led to the GOP’s banishment from serious presidential possibilities.

Here in 2015, it’s hard to remember the halcyon days when Dubya first ran for president, before 9/11 and long before the Crash of 2008. Then we Yanks thought we had “won” the Cold War, although in fact both sides had lost horribly. (1, 2, 3, and 4) For a short time, before China’s rise became self-evident, we actually were the world’s only superpower. We thought we had seen the “end of history”—one of the most spectacularly laughable academic predictions of all time.

So we Yanks primed ourselves for a big frat party. We leaped to turn our once-serious House of Representatives into today’s Animal House. We indulged in an orgy of national chest-beating. Chants of “We’re number one!” and “USA! USA! USA!” replaced serious thought about both politics and policy. And cynical American apparatchiks (aka “political consultants”) ruthlessly exploited the resulting explosion of nationalism, negligence and nonsense.

What better joker to lead us into that wild party than Dubya, our Frat Boy in Chief? With his childish taunts (“Defeatocrats,” “Flip-flop”, “Cut and run!”), his premature “Mission Accomplished” banner, his own personal combat-dodging in the Texas Air National Guard, his endearing (to supporters only!) “Bushisms,” and his below-average analytical IQ, he was perfect for the job of wild-party boss.

Unfortunately, the good party times didn’t last long. The 9/11 attacks and our gross overreaction did happen, as Afghanistan and Iraq so sadly demonstrate today. So did the Crash of 2008—the first global financial panic unambiguously and almost completely caused by us Yanks.

The history that we thought had ended with the Cold War returned with a vengeance, with Putin now annexing parts of Ukraine and the Middle East falling apart. During all our partying, our Eleven Big Ones—the grave problems that have persisted now for over a generation on the average—continued to fester. Three of them—infrastructure decay, economic inequality and global warming—got much worse.

So today we have multiple messes to clean up, both at home and abroad. We need serious leaders for now-serious times. No lightweights like Dubya (or Christie, Jindal, Paul, Rubio or Walker) need apply.

Say what you want about the GOP. Say that only it could have produced a swaggering frat boy/party-boy president like Dubya. Say that only the GOP could have let cynical, for-hire consultants and operatives like Frank Luntz and college-dropout Karl Rove pull the wool over its eyes and destroy the party as a national force, deeply wounding our nation.

But the GOP has a saving grace: it’s still the party of business. Above all, business people are practical. They party, and they can be selfish. But they mostly know when to get serious. Now they see the practical effects of global warming, including record snowfalls, shutting down the cities they work in and the air routes they fly. So they are starting to come around toward doing something about it.

There are also murmurs in Washington that the GOP is getting serious about our mostly obsolete and rapidly decaying infrastructure. Could the GOP some day soon get serious about our other problems? about politics and policy in general?

Jeb Bush apparently thinks it will. He stuck his neck out making noises about immigration similar to those that Saint Ronald had made 31 years ago. He seems to be betting that, in a mere eighteen months—the time until the next election—the GOP can substantially reform itself and go on to win.

Jeb is firmly plugged into the ranks of rich donors and GOP-leaning business leaders. During the party times, all they cared about was their own businesses, lower taxes, and relaxed regulation. Now they are beginning to understand that much is wrong with our government that, if it continues, will hurt their businesses and their bottom lines in the medium and long terms.

In short, the business people who are the GOP’s primary constituency are waking up. They see that it’s time to stop partying, dry out, and get serious again. It’s time to do something about our Eleven Big Ones. It’s time to resume our global leadership in competence and action, not just past glory.

It’s also time for some discipline and self-restraint, including party discipline. It’s past time for one of our two great political parties to emerge from the darkness of single-issue demagoguery into the light of coherent policy. It’s time for the House to do something besides threaten to shut things down, investigate Benghazi, vote ineffectually and repeatedly to repeal Obamacare with no alternative, argue among its members, and grandstand. It’s time for the GOP to evolve from a zany collection of colorful but useless extremists, who can do nothing but win local elections, into a serious national party again.

Jeb Bush knows it’s time. That’s why he’s already the GOP man to beat. The rest of the sorry field can’t seem to see where we are. They think they’re involved in just another episode of “American Idol,” where native talent and a bit of triangulated pandering will compensate for the lack of a coherent vision of the world we live in and our Yankee place in it, not to mention grossly inadequate national leadership experience.

Hillary’s private e-mail account: a fatal error of judgment?

Hillary’s e-mail fiasco is far from GOP operatives’ usual “gotcha.” Unlike Madman Issa’s relentless but ludicrous attempts to blame her for the tragedy of Benghazi, a private e-mail account for our Secretary of State is a real issue. And unlike what happened in Benghazi, Hillary’s choice of e-mail account was indisputably under her control.

Already journalists have identified two serious consequences of having a private e-mail account. First, it takes history out of the public domain and tries to make it private property. Second, if it doesn’t actually violate public-records acts, it at least thwarts their good purposes: public access to information and government transparency.

There are other practical consequences not yet bruited by journalists. Where’s the dividing line between public and private? What if Mitt had won? He’s a very rich guy. What if he had dismissed the Secret Service, left Air Force One on the tarmac, and hired his own personal security and private air transport?

If legal (and it probably isn’t: there are laws about presidents’ security and travel), what would that say about the president’s attitudes toward what is public and what is private? What would it say about his views of the competence of the government he heads?

Politically, that move might have been fine for Mitt, who wants to downsize government and privatize everything. But what would it say about Hillary, who purports to be a woman of the people and a champion of strong government? Would her music fit her words? If not, doesn’t it say the same thing to maintain a private e-mail system, presumably with its own private security, while Secretary of State and fourth in the line of presidential succession?

Security is another angle, as yet unexplored. Computer-system security is a big, big issue today, much more so than during Hillary’s tenure at State. What does this fiasco say about Hillary’s circumspection, foresight and team playing, if she used personal on-line security for herself and not for the rest of her team? Whichever kind of security may have been better, splitting the boss’ from underlings’ security seems like a failure of political and practical judgment.

Blunders like this one make you wonder how often new ones will surface. But it gets worse. In the bitter primary campaign of 2008, one of the biggest raps against Hillary was her image as “Queen Hillary” or “The Anointed One.” Then-Senator Obama’s wily political consultants painted her as arrogant, aloof and out of touch. Her speeches’ gross overuse of the first-person singular didn’t help. Think having and using a private e-mail account for official communications while Secretary of State will help?

This fiasco could have long legs. It’s hard just to conceive of all the angles now, even in the abstract. All by itself, the e-mail fiasco might make Hillary vulnerable and wound, if not kill, her second attempt at a coronation. There’s no way she can credibly disclaim knowledge of her private account, when we ordinary people use our e-mail accounts daily and are sure she did hers.

So the Dems should start preparing serious lists of alternative candidates, in case other skeletons emerge from Hillary’s closet, or in case this one brings her down. It might.

At her age Hillary might be a one-term president anyway, whether on her own initiative or due to fading health. The presidency is not an easy job, as Obama’s many grey hairs attest. He looked young when he took office, and he was: nearly thirty years younger than Hillary would be if and when she runs and wins. In Hillary’s case, political and practical judgment apparently have not improved proportionately to her age and experience.

Another option is for Hillary herself to decide that this is the straw that broke the campaign camel’s back, and to decline to run. If she does, sooner would be better than later, for her, her party and her country.

Declining to run is hardly an easy decision. If Hillary drops out, the Dems will lose the powerful spell of the first major-party female candidate for president. And it will be hard for anyone, let alone without Hillary’s experience, to match the juggernaut of Jeb’s early and sound campaign judgment. But with Hillary, the emergence of another couple of blunders like this one could well presage a Republican three-branch sweep. Her record suggests that her running could foretell a high-stakes game of political roulette.

We Yanks need more female leaders, and we are long overdue for a female president. But we Dems don’t need a female candidate who loses, and the nation doesn’t need a female president who governs by blunder. What we need is a modern equivalent of Queen Elizabeth I.

Unfortunately, Hillary is no Queen Elizabeth I. So she, we and the voters have some hard decisions to make.

Footnote 1: Jon Huntsman is a good man. As a matter of substance and policy, he appears to be the best the GOP has to offer. But the GOP won’t even consider nominating him, in part because he wisely suggested breaking up the big banks, and the big banks have lots of mothers’ milk. Maybe GOP strategists plan to hold Huntsman in reserve until 2020 or 2024 when Elizabeth Warren, who has espoused the same goal, might run. It would be interesting, to say the least, to see a campaign in which both major-party candidates advocate a big-bank breakup. Maybe after the next crash, which the big banks will surely help bring on.

Footnote 2: Contrary to the ranting and snowball hurling of Dunce-Senator Jim Inhofe, record snowfalls confirm global warming rather than refute it.

A warmer planet means warmer oceans, which cover 71 percent of our planet’s surface. Our oceans’ average surface temperature is rising more rapidly than average temperatures on land. Higher ocean surface temperature puts more water vapor into the atmosphere, which produces more precipitation.

Snow, you may recall, is the form precipitation takes in winter. So heavier snows will continue and increase for the foreseeable future, until (if ever) rising average temperatures banish winter entirely.

Global warming doesn’t mean global desertification. On the average, it means more precipitation everywhere. But some places, perhaps including parts of California, may become deserts.

Global warming is also consistent with the temporary, anomalous “cold spots” that have produced record short-term cold spells in places as varied as London, Moscow, our Midwest and South and New York. Rapid changes in climate on a global scale produce instabilities in ocean currents and wind patterns, which allow polar cold to escape temporarily to unaccustomed parts of our planet. Along with vast sinkholes in Siberian permafrost, this phenomenon may signal the start of a global positive feedback loop, which could change our planet’s climate unexpectedly quickly and for the long term.



  • At Wed Mar 11, 11:40:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Jay -- sorry, but don't be fooled by Jeb's seeming like an adult ... he only appears that way standing next to the nihilists who make up the rest of the party. The real issue is that a Jeb win empowers the whole party. I don't see a profile in courage that is going to make the party change. For Jeb and his cohort at the end of the day, its all about money. He doesn't mind empowering the rubes if it helps the money class stay on top. See Teri Schiavo if you want to understand the profound and ugly cynicism that is the hallmark of the Bushes. You are usually very astute, but I think you are being naive here if you think there is anything good that can come from a Jeb presidency. Hillary is a giant by comparison.

    Doug in DC


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home