Tag Archives: Elections

You’ve got to pick a side

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Note:  Since I originally posted, this commentary has been published on The Daily Caller.  See http://dailycaller.com/2016/05/30/youve-got-to-pick-a-side/

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As I’ve told my son’s little league squad, you win as a team and you lose as a team.  If your pitcher is missing the strike zone, you don’t take your bat and ball and go home.  That will not get you to the championship.

And yet that is what a lot of conservatives are trying to do these days.

Donald Trump is now the Republican pitcher.  He is the GOP standard bearer.  Whether or not, in Paul Ryan’s words, he lives up to our standards.

It is true that Trump breaks with conservative orthodoxy on a number of issues. He embraces protectionism on trade. He refuses to address entitlement reform.  He does not say mean things about Planned Parenthood.

He also rejects traditional GOP foreign policy tenets even as he advocates for renewed strength abroad.  He disavows the war in Iraq and other neoconservative projects to implant Western democracy in places that have never known it.  He questions the relevance and viability of NATO.  He second-guesses strategic aid to countries that refuse to foot the bill.

Maybe some of Trump’s loose policy pronouncements are ill informed or shortsighted.  If so, and if he makes it to the White House, maybe he will change course.  It would not be the first time he has abandoned positions.  In fact, it is Trump’s lack of adherence to principle (not to mention a mixed history of supporting Democrats and their agenda) that has driven so many of the GOP establishment and pundit class to pledge allegiance to #NeverTrump.

Unwavering conservative principle girded the Ted Cruz campaign.  Consider where that got him.

Some of the fiercest rivals and critics of Donald Trump have been quickest to reverse course.  Last year they took turns deriding Trump as a “narcissist egomaniac” (Bobby Jindal), “like being shot” (Lindsay Graham), and as a “barking carnival act” and “cancer” (Rick Perry).  Now each has climbed aboard the Trump train.

For this, some members of the conservative punditocracy label them pathetic traitors.

What is their alternative plan?  William Kristol pines on about drafting a true conservative third party candidate.  Peter Wehner blithely promises to vote for someone else or abstain.

Mitt Romney and the Bush brothers literally commit to stay home, refusing to pay tribute to the presumptive nominee by attending the nominating convention in Cleveland.

This crowd needs to wise up.  Isn’t anything other than an embrace of Trump de facto a vote for Clinton?

Exactly.  And some implacable critics like Robert Kagan are openly planning to join the other team.

Seriously?  How can anyone who opposes the heavy-handed, growth-depressing, world-destabilizing policies of the Obama era do anything other than work to block a third Obama term with Clinton at the helm?

Many Republicans have personal animus for Clinton.  They detest the way she holds herself above the law and makes blatantly false statements to avoid accountability.  They resent the way her ruthless quest for power and wealth has trampled on helpless civilians, from the women her husband abused to the families of the Benghazi terror victims. They cringe at the sound of her voice.

But Clinton could be the most honest, gracious, and likeable public figure, and she would still usher in another span of liberal governance that undermines liberty, squelches growth, and damages American global interests.

At the end of the day, I think that conservative hold-outs simply cannot countenance the idea of a crass person like Donald Trump headlining the party of the conservatives.  He does not fit their ideals. He does not fit the model. They do not want to settle until they meet Mr. Right.

George Will counsels conservatives to fight Trump in the general election.  Then, after a single Clinton term, the voters will see the error of their ways and come around to a principled conservative that meets Will’s standards.

How bad do things need to get before Will and others recognize that change is needed now?

Trump wasn’t my first choice either. I got over it.  The benefits of a Trump presidency far outweigh the potential flaws.  On the critical issues of Supreme Court nominations, tax and regulatory policy, healthcare reform, and homeland security, Trump is squarely better for conservatives than Clinton could ever be.

Points where I strongly disagree with Trump – trade policy and entitlement reform come to mind – are tough pills to swallow.  But again, I can’t see a Clinton White House doing any better.

Electing Trump will undoubtedly ruffle feathers in the office of diplomatic protocol.  We will see behavior and comments that we would never expect from a commander-in-chief.

Well okay.  But like I said, Trump’s on the mound now.  And I want to go to the World Series.

 

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Filed under Electoral Politics, Presidential Campaign

Winners capture minds and hearts

imagesA funny thing happened last month while the media obsessed over presidential primary horse races:  President Obama’s approval ratings ticked up.  The latest Real Clear Politics average of polls now shows virtual parity between people who approve of the president’s overall performance and those who don’t.  This after over a year of approval deficits ranging from 5% to 8%.

As far as I can tell, nothing good has happened in 2016 to justify Americans raising their appreciation for our commander-in-chief.  To the contrary, economic and foreign policy troubles continue to weigh on the minds of voters.  By margins of 2-1, they continue to see things in our country “off on the wrong track”.

So what gives?  Why might people be softening their views of the president even as the race heats up to take his job?

On the left, the president’s approval ratings have remained consistently high, just as they remain consistently low on the right.  What’s changed is the view of independent voters.  The primary campaign must be having an impact on them.

Notwithstanding Ted Cruz’s theory about the missing conservative voter, it’s fairly well-established that these independent votes swing elections.  And while it doesn’t determine outcomes itself, the approval rating of the incumbent president is a fairly good indicator of his party’s chances in the election that follows.

Herein lies the quandary for true believers.  Independent voters make the difference, and yet they don’t line up neatly with the ideology of either “movement conservatives” or the “progressive left”.

Donald Trump generates mass appeal because he speaks to the anxieties and aspirations of people who resent the government’s failures — not those who find salvation in lower marginal tax rates.  Hillary Clinton does throw a few leftist barbs at Bernie Sanders for his more measured views of gun control.  By and large, though, while Sanders calls for a revolution, Clinton wraps herself in virtues of the status quo.

So as partisans descend into petty attacks and ideological purity tests, the president’s even-keeled demeanor begins to resonate again with the mushy middle.

The people do want change.  Most of us just won’t run off a cliff with a pied piper who divides us into camps of us and them.  Especially if too many of us find ourselves in the camp of “them”.

Assuming she dodges the criminal investigations surrounding her mishandling of classified information while serving as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton still has a good chance to win both the Democratic primary and the general election.  Yes, people may find her untrustworthy and uninspiring, but at the end of the day she projects an image of stability that will ultimately win out over rabble rousing by the likes of Sanders on the left, Cruz on the right, and Trump in the populist middle.

You can see the outlines of Clinton’s stay-the-course strategy taking foot in her stump speeches and among her media advocates.  Supporters tout the perceived successes of the Obama administration:  ending wars, disarming Iran, increasing health care coverage, reining in Wall Street.

For a challenger to knock Clinton off her game, it will take more than piling on her negatives.  These are too easily dismissed as rants of the Fox News-talk radio industrial complex — partisan and self-serving, rather than thoughtful and substantive.

Here is where I take issue with the Trump phenomenon and ill-considered comparisons to the campaigns of Ronald Reagan.

Like Trump, President Reagan connected with the middle class.  He was an iconoclastic entertainer who mastered the media channels of his generation.

Unlike Trump, however, Reagan disarmed his adversaries and appealed to the better natures of us all.  More important, he upended the status quo by touching the minds as well as the hearts of the people.

To dislodge the liberal establishment from the levers of power in Washington, a conservative candidate must use more than sloganeering.  He or she must dismantle the fallacies of Obama era success by picking them off one by one with an unapologetic but rational and good humored argument.

Don’t give us platitudes.  Explain the reasons in a way everyone can understand.

Why does disengagement in the Middle East make us less safe at home?  Why does government interference undermine our prosperity?  Our health care?  Our ability to make ends meet?  Spell it out in plain English and don’t make us turn against our neighbors to pursue a better life for ourselves and our loved ones.

For this reason I applaud Rich Lowry for engineering National Review’s online symposium Conservatives against Trump.  To its credit, NRO assembled a diverse collection of voices, ranging from talk-radio mavericks (Glenn Beck), to neoconservative defenders of the establishment (William Kristol), to heroes of the tea party grassroots (Erick Erickson).  Each took a measured and thoughtful shot at the reality-show blowhard — his lack of principle, his authoritarian impulses, his betrayal of conservative norms.  Anyone taking the time to absorb this multifaceted critique would see virtue in backing another horse.

But pundits do not turn elections.  The candidates themselves must embrace a rational and uplifting message to match their bouts of righteous indignation.  This is why I was rooting for Carly Fiorina early on, but now her time has passed.  Of the candidates with a realistic pathway to the nomination, Marco Rubio is the only one who fits the bill.  If Republicans hope to win back the White House, they better fall in line.

 

 

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Let the money flow

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For as long as people have been running for office, critics have bemoaned the corrosive influence of money in politics. For years these self-appointed reformers have pressed the strong arm of government to limit who can spend what to advance a political objective.

One of the bigger reform movements of the past generation culminated in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 or “BCRA.” Spearheaded by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Russ Feingold (D-WI), BCRA (also known as “McCain-Feingold”) tightened constraints on spending, especially outside of formal campaign infrastructure. McCain made the reform effort a signature issue and has worn it as a badge of honor ever since.

A number of legal challenges have since chipped away at the restrictions of BCRA, leaving McCain and other advocates increasingly demoralized. In particular, ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court struck down certain limits on spending by corporations and unions. The 2010 decision helped spawn the proliferation of so-called “SuperPAC” organizations, which can raise unlimited funds for the purposes of making independent political expenditures.

McCain was dumbfounded. “[T]he system is broken,” he griped to NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I predict to you there will be scandals.”

And scandals there will surely be, as there have been in nearly in every political administration.

But is the free flow of money really to blame? How did it become an article of faith that more spending makes our political culture dirtier than before?

Put aside that every attempt to regulate political spending turns into a game of “whack-a-mole.” Campaign professionals always find a way to skirt the rules and satisfy the demand to spend money.

Perhaps it’s worth considering instead whether our founders had a good idea when they enshrined the right of free expression in the Constitution. What is a greater menace to our democratic culture: individuals and organizations competing freely with resources of their own choosing, or a bureaucracy enforcing arbitrary boundaries with criminal penalties?

Would-be protectors of our society fret that President Obama raised $1.1 billion to get reelected in 2012, and that leading candidates for 2016 will go even higher. Total political spending in 2012 probably topped $5.8 billion. This may seem like a lot until you realize that the automotive industry spent over $14 billion advertising in the U.S. last year alone. Shouldn’t the selection of our political leaders and public policy warrant marketing dollars at least as sizeable as those for the newest Toyota Tundra?

What campaign finance warriors really object to is not the volume of money in politics. What really grates at them is the ability of wealthy donors to spend their own money as they see fit.

Launching his campaign for president late last month, the self-declared socialist Bernie Sanders summed it up well. “The country belongs to all of us and not just the billionaire class,” he told a meeting of reporters and editors at Bloomberg. It doesn’t seem to matter that politically active billionaires span the political spectrum, including Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers on the right, and Tom Steyer and George Soros on the left.

When you pick apart the money in politics critique, it sounds a lot like the misguided FCC policy calling for “Equal Time” in broadcasting. In today’s multifaceted, highly competitive and fragmented news content marketplace, it doesn’t really matter if a broadcaster favors a political faction. Disaffected citizens can turn to alternative networks, talk radio, online publishers, social media, and more.

Likewise, it doesn’t silence debate when a billionaire backs a pet cause or candidate. How many millions did Michael Bloomberg spend fruitlessly to back gun control candidates in Colorado? How much did Sheldon Adelson’s multimillion dollar support for Newt Gingrich derail Mitt Romney’s campaign for the GOP presidential nomination? What about Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate efforts in the 2014 mid-term election campaign?

The simple truth is that big spending adds color, content, and energy to our political culture. It opens doors to political messages and candidates that might otherwise go unnoticed. When 20 or more candidates are legitimately competing for the GOP nomination in 2016, we can thank generous wealthy donors and their SuperPACs for our wide array of choices. If there is any hope of a candidate rising to challenge Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side, it will also depend on a few big-spending sponsors.

A free society depends on more liberty not less. Those who would handcuff political speech in the name of a level playing field are no different than those who push for taxes and subsidies to advance a favored industry. The only ones who benefit from government limits on campaign spending are incumbents and entrenched special interests. As long as funding is transparent, we should let it flow.

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No apologies for economic liberty

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/No-apologies-for-economic-liberty-394986

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The powerful impact of theater

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/The-powerful-impact-of-theater-393777

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Hyphenation Nation

In 2000 I was enamored with the “insurgent” candidacy of John McCain for President.  Although his image took a beating in later years, back then his maverick reputation had earned him accolades in the press and in popular culture.  So I went online and made a donation.  The campaign also sold me what it must have thought would secure my commitment:  a bumper sticker reading “Jewish Americans for McCain” and featuring a martial five-point star in tribute to Sen. McCain’s distinguished military service.

Upon closer inspection, the sticker felt a bit creepy.  While a Star of David would have made more sense, it wasn’t the star that seemed misguided.  Rather, the well-intentioned “swag” rubbed me the wrong way because I had never called myself a “Jewish American.”  The designation awkwardly lined me up with all the other hyphenated ethnic and racial designations bandied about by professional liberal activists.  To be sure, I am a proud Jew and a proud American, and I belong to countless American Jewish organizations.  What drew me to Sen. McCain, however, was his extraordinary biography and commitment to American leadership in the world.  Then as now, his principles stood for shared American values that transcend special interests.  For this reason, I eagerly lined up behind the senator, albeit as a nondescript “McCainiac” rather than a “Jewish American for McCain.”

McCain’s clumsy appeal to ethnicity was a sign of the times and seemed to augur the rise of the so-called Emerging Democratic Majority (EDM).  Originally coined by Ruy Teixeira and John Judis in their 2002 book by the same name, the EDM thesis postulates that the Democratic Party will come to dominate national elections because of the changing demographic landscape.  Specifically, whites are declining as a percentage of the electorate as racial minorities are rising.  This fact, together with the relative strength of Democrats among minorities and other demographic “voting blocs,” apparently spells doom for Republican prospects.  Just last week, however, Judis himself pulled a 180 with a piece in National Journal, where he explains how Republicans are set to dominate elections after all, due especially to their rising hold on middle-class voters.  Politicos of all stripes have been breaking down the arguments, often to suit their own agendas.

Lost in all the beltway chatter is the sad premise that U.S. elections turn on capturing the disconnected hearts and minds of this segment or that one, be it Hispanics, blue-collar workers, senior citizens, millennials, gays, soccer moms, veterans, unmarried women, urban professionals, or — dare I say — Jewish Americans.  True, it was the machinations of Karl Rove which introduced the power of micro-targeting to the campaigns of George W. Bush.  But President Obama’s second Presidential campaign took identity campaign politics to an unprecedented level.  From the beginning Obama for America was really a conflation of building blocks — Obama for blacks, Obama for Hispanics, Obama for gays, Obama for labor unions, Obama for pro-choice activists, Obama for gun-control activists, Obama for trial lawyers.  Stack ’em all up and they totaled more than the would-be coalition for Romney.  Gone was even the lip service to the 2008 rallying cry of “not a collection of red states and blue states… the United States!”

I wasn’t too politically aware when Reagan held the White House, but one thing I remember clearly was his sunny demeanor and his message of bringing freedom and prosperity to Americans from every walk of life.  Likewise Bill Clinton worked hard to weave a thread of shared purpose in “a bridge to the 21st century.”  Appealing to our common American values should be the centerpiece of a Presidential campaign.  The motto of our nation’s Great Seal is e pluribus unum.  That means “one from many” not “many from one.” Instead of littering their speeches with trite anecdotes illustrating one interest group or the other and instead of manufacturing soothing but shallow catch phrases like “middle-class economics,” our leaders should be delving deeply into what makes America truly special and rallying the population around it.  They may be surprised how many [insert label here]-Americans break out of the molds predetermined by cynical political strategists.

As the 2016 campaign begins to take shape, I hope we see a fresh approach from the Republican field and the presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.  For her part, Clinton is working hard to articulate a substantive rationale for her prospective candidacy.  A good place to start would be to enunciate principles for boosting the economy and countering our nation’s enemies abroad.  Democrats and Republicans may not agree on policy, but we should be able to agree on the end goals.

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