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

08 June 2016

Hillary’s Promise


[For brief analysis of the false equivalence between Hillary’s and Trump’s “high negatives,” click here. For a brief visual essay on the Dems’ best chance, click here.]

Two years and seven months ago, I wrote an essay analyzing Hillary’s growth, experience and electoral prospects. I concluded that 2016, this year, would be hers. That was before Bernie became a nationwide gleam in progressives’ eyes and Donald Trump began his assault on reason and the GOP. No one could have expected, and no one did expect, what Bernie and The Donald would do to American politics and political expectations.

Yet the two so-called “populist” candidates have had vastly different impacts on their respective parties. Trump splintered the GOP and shredded its “establishment” candidates, including wannabe Rubio. In contrast, Bernie did nothing of the kind. He inspired Democrats (and new voters) with his views on economic inequality, the loss of goods jobs and the corrosive effect of money in politics. And he moved his party noticeably in his direction.

Now, with her solid win in California, Hillary has beaten Bernie fair and square. Her 56% share of the Democratic vote in California, our most progressive state, is close to a landslide. It doesn’t much matter now how many superdelegates she needs to win. Morally and politically, she already has won. (I write this as a strong supporter of Bernie, who voted early for him in New Mexico, where he lost narrowly to Hillary last night, by 3%.)

Although she got rough at times, Hillary also won the right way. She didn’t crush Bernie or reject his ideas. Instead, she did what most smart pols do when confronted with a worthy opponent with good ideas. She moved in his direction, co-opting his ideas on the minimum wage, the TPP (now TPIP), and even somewhat on Wall Street. She admitted her errors of judgment on the Iraq war and on e-mailgate, while remaining more progressive than Bernie on gun control. Most of all, Hillary proved herself a strong, resourceful and indefatigable campaigner.

In the meantime, Trump has proved himself an intransigent, a bully, a bigot, and a demagogue. Without a character transplant or a complete overhaul of the bizarre tactics that made him the GOP nominee, Trump is unlikely to win the White House. His victory is even less plausible after Hillary showed her stuff by shredding his short, noxious record on foreign policy.

So the presidency is Hillary’s to win. She’s not just the presumptive Democratic nominee, but the likely winner in the general election. Her affinity group—women—is not just a 13% minority like Obama’s. It’s a 51% majority of the population, voters and likely voters.

So the question now is not whether Hillary will be our next president. Barring as bizarre a catastrophe as a meteor strike on her person, she will. The question is how she will win, and how big her margin of victory will be. She has a real chance to make an unprecedented landslide, capturing all three branches of government and taking our country back from the demagogues and deluders whose big lies allowed a man like Trump to win a major-party nomination.

That’s Hillary’s promise. She can effect much of the revolutionary change that Bernie promised, but more discreetly, without using upsetting terms like “revolution” and “socialist.”

How can she do that? I think in three ways.

First, Hillary must suppress her normal impulse to compromise and triangulate. After all, what’s there to compromise with? The overt or near-overt racism that the President has faced for seven years? The hubris and bigotry of a man who seeks to recuse a judge for having the temerity to share the ethnic background of people whom he has slandered? The notion that we can win back the 60,000 factories that our 1% have moved abroad by imposing the same kind of high tariffs on China that motivated Japan to attack us at Pearl Harbor? The idea the Donald Trump is such a “smart guy” that he doesn’t need to have or consult any experts, but can just rule from his gut? As Sarah Palin might ask, “How’d that work out with Dubya?”

No, Hillary mustn’t triangulate with Trump. She must crush him. You don’t compromise with evil, self-evident stupidity or abrasive, know-nothing arrogance.

Second—and in the same vein—Hillary must continue to move in Bernie’s direction, not in the GOP’s. As I have analyzed before, the reason for Trump’s easy ascendance was that the GOP has won elections on lies for several cycles. Trump simply stepped in and stole the fraud, using bigger and more attractive lies. His nonsense not only has nothing real with which to compromise, but little that makes enough sense to consider rationally.

Trump won a nomination, and Bernie almost did, because the vast majority of American voters understand that American “politics as usual” are corrupt, ineffective and sometimes vile. They want something new.

So Hillary, for the first time in her long political career, has a nearly clear field. The old ways have failed utterly, and she is left alone to chart a new course. To do otherwise would be to try to forge a rational GOP policy from nothing, and to make her opponents’ case. No advocate ever does that, and Hillary is nothing if not a good advocate.

Finally, Hillary must pick the smartest and best people for her team, regardless of squeals from her right. Progressive Nobel-Prize-winning economists like Joe Stiglitz, Paul Krugman and Peter Diamond have been kept out of economic leadership positions for far too long—Diamond by a Senate “hold” from the moronic Shelby of Alabama. It’s long past time for Americans to start looking again to people with brains, education and originality, rather than to stale and failed political orthodoxy. Popular icons like Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker should be considered for cabinet positions.

Most important of all is the pick for vice-presidential candidate. Because Hillary herself is 68 years old, that candidate must be, as Hillary once said of herself, ready to be president “on day one.”

Hillary’s choice for VP also should have sterling credentials on an issue on which Hillary has failed to distinguish herself: global warming. This summer may be, like most of the last several, the hottest in human history. Notable numbers of people may die, around the Northern Hemisphere, from heat exposure. Under those circumstances a vice presidential candidate like Martin O’Malley, who made global warming the centerpiece of his own primary campaign, would be an asset.

With these three approaches—a crushing campaign, a progressive drift, and a strong team with self-evident intelligence and expertise—Hillary could achieve her full promise. She could win the general election by a landslide, after a forthright and progressive campaign. She would then have a clear mandate to remake our nation, which has drifted aimlessly so far to the right and so far off course.

Coda: the False Equivalence

As we transition to the general election campaign, our talking heads disseminate a false meme. They express surprise at the two candidates’ “high negatives.” They imply, but of course never say, that Hillary and The Donald are similar in this respect. They falsely suggest a climactic battle between flawed equals, a sort of political Armageddon.

They do this, of course, because it sells what today passes off as “news.” They say this because it gives the talking heads an excuse for talking—and drawing a salary—when nothing significant is happening.

But even ignoring gender, there is nothing remotely equivalent about Hillary and The Donald.

Counting her vicarious experience as Bill’s spouse, Hillary has been involved in serious electoral politics since Bill became Attorney General of Arkansas in 1977. That’s 39 years. Just counting her very own experience in high office, Hillary was a United States Senator for eight years and our Secretary of State for four. That’s a total of twelve years in high office. The Unqualified One has never held public office, not even as a city council member or dog catcher. In fact he has never partaken of serious electoral politics at all until he announced his campaign for president in June of last year. That’s one year as a wannabe, zero in office.

As for education, Hillary graduated from Wellesley College, one of the most exclusive Ivy League schools, and from Yale Law School, arguably our nation’s most selective school of law. Trump went to Fordham University for two years and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. Although he took some undergraduate courses at Wharton Business Bchool, he never enrolled in, let alone graduated from, its prestigious MBA program, as his self-promotional materials imply. He never attended any graduate or professional school of anything.

Then listen to them speak. Like the highly educated and well-trained advocate that she is, Hillary speaks and writes in complete sentences and paragraphs. She can do cause and effect. The Donald speaks in bumper stickers and impulsive outbursts, no doubt because he thinks that’s all the rubes that adore him can digest. As far as we know, he doesn’t write anything but Tweets. Apparently he doesn’t even have staff that know how.

No, there is no rational comparison. Hillary Clinton is a seasoned, experienced, well-trained advocate, politician, and political thinker and strategist. Donald Trump is a raw and unseasoned huckster, a “carnival barker” (as Chris Christie once aptly described him). He has no experience, training, education, aptitude or talent for political leadership. All he has is a shaky history of questionable businesses, a “reality” show, and a big and undisciplined mouth.

Hillary comes by her negatives honestly, from real experience in the real political arena. I have hit her hard on this blog for her few mistakes, most notably her early support for Dubya’s unnecessary and disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq. I speculated that, as our then de facto leader of the Democratic party, Hillary might have averted that disastrous foreign misadventure. But that’s just my speculation, my Monday-morning quarterbacking: Hillary also might have tried hard and failed and have damaged her own and her party’s political prospects in the process.

So my differences with Hillary are based on hypotheticals, how she might have done better. Trump’s negatives, in contrast, arise out of real, present and dangerous flaws in character, policy and approach. Among many other things, he’s impulsive, imprudent, bigoted, reactive, hasty, intransigent, inflexible, vulgar, puerile, undiplomatic, misogynistic, arrogant, mendacious, and gratuitously nasty.

Hillary is none of these things. When I’ve criticized her, as I’ve done on this blog, I’ve done so out of perfectionism. I’ve compared her to the best: FDR, Truman, JFK, President Obama, and her own husband. Sometimes I found her wanting.

But Trump isn’t remotely in the same league. To compare him with Bill Clinton, let alone the others, would be like comparing a ragged street musician playing a broken ukelele to Isaac Stern or Yo-yo Ma.

On every measure of what makes a president—education, experience, knowledge, intelligence, empathy, patience, practicality, persuasiveness, political skill, diplomacy, finesse, and self-control—Trump doesn’t just come up short. He comes up empty, an exemplar of what not to do or be. He’s a joke and self-parody, who already has made us a laughing stock among our foes and a source of terror among our allies.

So no, our clueless talking heads. There is no equivalence or comparison whatsoever between Hillary and Trump. One has come by her negatives because she has made a few mistakes in the course of a long and turbulent political career. The other has high negatives because he is a mistake. Every fiber of his rotten character cries out “no, no no . . . please, not me, not to lead the shining city on the hill.” Every voter and every commentator should know and remember this, lest a bizarre silly season that has already destroyed a great political party roll on to destroy the last, best hope of mankind.

“Stronger Together!”

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