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

23 February 2016

Bland v. Bland?

Politics today has some big ironies. On both sides of the aisle, there is more money than ever before. Yet on both sides popular insurgencies not seen since Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party are making waves that threaten to capsize the “establishment.” Who would have predicted, as late as six months ago, that either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders would have a real shot at a major-party nomination?

A second big irony lies on the GOP side. Since losing to Obama in 2008, the GOP has had a plan. I’ve called it the “Chutzpah Campaign.” Its scheme was simple but diabolical: blame on Obama all the ills that Dubya and GOP orthodoxy had caused and later would cause.

Never mind logic, thought GOP leaders. Never mind history. In our Twitter age, voters have the attention spans of gnats.

Stick to GOP orthodoxy like glue and blame all the sad consequences on Obama. It’s too late to change course, and anyway the Koch Brothers and our other rich puppet masters won’t let us. If we get more practical and reasonable, our torrent of money will dry up. A fervent blame game just might work. After all, Obama’s half-black in a still wholly racist nation, and he never raises his voice.

The blame game worked far better than any rational person could have expected. There are, apparently, a lot of voters who think it would be better to have over twelve million American with no health insurance, pre-existing-condition exclusions for the rest of us, and simultaneous robust, ongoing “forever” wars in up to four countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and even Ukraine.

But the blame game had a big unintended consequence. (Most big lies do.) Trust in the GOP and its leaders fell through the floor. Public approval of the GOP in Congress, where it has ruled with scorched-earth obstruction, has been in the teens in percent for over two years.

So now comes Donald Trump. He’s the ultimate loose cannon—an undisciplined and ungovernable mouth.

But Trump tells the truth in things that matter most. Dubya did fail to keep us safe on 9/11. An intelligence memo warning of a big attack by Al Qaeda lay ignored on Condalleeza Rice’s desk. Dubya did make a catastrophic blunder in invading and occupying Iraq. Its consequences today are IS, a devastated Syria, the EU’s refugee crisis, and an Iraq half-owned by Iran. Perhaps the word “lie” was an exaggeration—a phenomenon not unknown to Trump. But the gist was rare truth in a sea of lies.

The biggest inconvenient truth that the insurgent has trumpeted is the most potent politically. The GOP’s scheme of extreme free trade and moving production, money and employment abroad has not worked for ordinary working Americans. It has made them poorer, more unemployed and underemployed, more insecure, and angrier. Now even Jeb!—who never needed the exclamation point until Trump came along—understands that.

Truth will out. The loose lips that have sunk the Republican establishment have done so for that simple reason. The rank and file may still despise Obama as programmed, but they know, deep down, that something is seriously wrong. They know they have been lied to and used, big time. Some of them may yet become Dems.

Still we are not done with ironies. There may be one more—a big one—in store for us. It’s entirely possible that the establishments on both sides might ultimately win, producing bland presidential candidates in a season of bomb-throwers. Here’s how this might happen.

On the GOP side, the race has just narrowed to three with blinding speed: Trump, Rubio and Cruz. (Kasich is self-evidently expanding his name recognition for a vice-presidential post or future run. He’s the GOP counterpart of Martin O’Malley.) For many reasons, the GOP’s establishment and rich backers hate Trump. Perhaps the most important is that their income depends in large measure on the last point of orthodoxy that Trump has debunked.

But the GOP establishment will never go for Cruz. He’s too much of a loner and obvious demagogue. More important, he represents the hard social and religious right, which has never been more than a distraction and an annoyance for the plutocrats. What the GOP establishment wants is more money and power at the top. That means lower taxes, less regulation, more monied control of politics, and fewer revival meetings.

So Cruz will just not do. He’s almost as much of a loose cannon as Trump, just a bit more articulate. And anyway, anyone who’s ever known Cruz personally hates him.

So if the GOP establishment has anything to say about it, the GOP nominee will be Rubio. He’s clean-cut. He’s clean-mouthed. He doesn’t trumpet inconvenient truths but sticks to GOP orthodoxy like glue. And he just might bring a few much-needed Hispanic votes to the Party of Plutocrats. If it takes a brokered convention and semi-legal machinations behind the scenes, the GOP establishment will pick Rubio.

Much the same thing might happen on the Dems’ side. Like the GOP establishment, the Dems’ establishment hates wild cards and insurgents. Having bought the GOP’s own decades-long propaganda, it views Bernie’s mild, European-style democratic socialism as utterly unattainable in the US. Never mind that parts or all of it exist and work well in Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and other nations of the EU.

Yet Bernie is not the only wild card on the Democratic side. There’s also gender. Will women vote their gender more than their economics? Will they confuse the two? In either case, Hillary will have the advantage of backing by a “minority group” that is in fact a majority of our population and of voters. No candidate in our history has ever had that kind of advantage before.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still for Bernie, and I’m still contributing. And my success in prediction is less than perfect. I was one of the many who thought Jeb was a shoo-in on the GOP side, at least before he had to tack the exclamation point on.

But a possible outcome of this tumultuous primary season is becoming more likely daily. Despite the insurgencies on both sides, we well may have bland v. bland come fall. A female list-maker and triangulator with some executive experience might face a bland political ingenue and weathervane with no executive experience whatsoever, but a bright mind and a strong bias against offense. Whoever won, political correctness and moderation would prevail over revolution.

This may not be the worst possible outcome. After all, the nation is still split down the middle. The worst political polarization since our Civil War and Vietnam will not resolve itself overnight.

Yet our candidates on both sides might be political automatons—robots programmed to avoid offense and triangulate on everything that comes their way. What they really think, their core beliefs (if they have any) and what they would do in a crisis will remain up for grabs until a crisis occurs on their watch.

Why do I think so? A striking image on each side remains fixed in my mind. For Rubio, it’s his slipping—three times!—into a self-evidently pre-programmed and half-hearted diatribe against Obama when attacked in debate on his personal history and his views on real things. For Hillary, it was a little-noticed but similar incident in a 2007 debate. Asked about driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, she waffled, flip-flopped and simply froze on camera.

In each case, the two candidates of bland perhaps gave a preview of what they might do as “deciders.” Like programmed triangulating machines whose programming is inadequate, they sputtered, muttered and grew silent.

How will our species fare when the “leader” of our most powerful nation is a programmed automaton like that? Unfortunately, we may yet have the chance to find out.



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