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Smart Politics in Pictures and Words
Updated: 2 hours 3 min ago
Remember the run up to the Iraq war? The Bush Administration made the case to invade based on a bunch of what ifs. Now the Democratic Party and its standardbearer Hillary Clinton is theorizing that Russia may have been behind hacks of the Democratic National Committee and seems willing to provoke a possible new cold war with our former rival. The logic seems very familiar.
Donald Trump keeps saying that the election might be stolen from his supporters. The main reason that he cites â voter fraud â is nonsense. But election fraud is a real problem. From Florida in 2000 to Ohio in 2004 to the Democratic primaries this last year, there have been very troubling examples of presidential elections that have been corrupted. But media gatekeepers don’t want you to think about that.
“Love trumps hate.” It’s a cute bumper sticker and a cute T-shirt. But it’s a little rich coming from Hillary Clinton. Whether you support or oppose her, there’s no question that the one thing she doesn’t represent is love. The bombs that she voted to drop on the people of Iraq are not full of love. When she made jokes about watching the deposed dictator of Libya being disemboweled with the bayonet, she didn’t seem to be oozing with love. So what the heck are they talking about?
She’s ahead in the polls by roughly three to four points. Given her opposition, however, Hillary Clinton ought be doing a lot better than that.
Consider Clinton’s structural advantages over Donald Trump.
Whereas top Democratic Party officials are so supportive of her that they even cheated to defeat her primary opponent, hundreds of leading Republicans – including the speaker of the house and the last two presidential nominees – have declared war against him. She’s been wildly outspending him in televised political advertising. She has campaign field offices in most counties; he doesn’t have any in most states. The news media despises him.
Then consider her personal advantages.
Trump is a novice, never having run for political office. She has served in the cabinet, presented herself for the Senate twice, run for president, weathered countless scandals and political storms. Whereas he rants and raves incoherently, her experience has taught her how to debate, crisis manage, issue sound bites, and carefully calibrate her every phrase for maximum impact and minimum risk. His main advantage is the perception of authenticity – and it’s a big one, having gotten him where he is now – but it has come at a huge price as all his years of running off at the mouth on and off camera are coming home to roost weeks before election day.
Donald Trump has infuriated more than half the voters: women. He has insulted one out of 10 male and female Americans: Latinos, some of whom are registering to vote just to cast a ballot against him. And let’s not forget Muslims.
Given all that, why is he doing so well? Why is she doing so badly – or more accurately, so not well?
Part of Hillary’s problem is personality. Truth be told, she really isn’t “likeable enough.”
“The vote for president is a ‘feel’ vote,” Chris Cillizza wrote in The Washington Post. “Do you think this person is someone who understands you and the problems (and hopes and dreams) you have for yourself and your children?” Polls have consistently shown that most Americans think she doesn’t.
It’s not all sexism: Clinton yells into microphones and overly enunciates. Her voice is objectively irritating. Then there’s her incredibly ugly, unbelievably hideous wardrobe: it’s hard to like someone who makes your eyes burn.
But let’s face it. Hillary Clinton, probably like you and definitely like me, can’t do anything about her personality. At 68, that stuff is baked in. Still, there’s a lot she could do to close the deal against Donald Trump — to widen her within-the-margin-of-statistical-error lead to a chasm, the insurmountable landslide that her institutional and other advantages would have guaranteed a better candidate.
It’s about policy, stupid.
Recommendation #1: Guarantee Bernie Sanders a high-profile position in the cabinet. (She should have made him vice president, but it’s too late for that.)
Even after the Democratic convention in which Sanders endorsed her, more than a third of Bernie voters – roughly 1/6 of the electorate – still weren’t behind her. Annoyed that Clinton didn’t grant any significant concessions to the party’s progressive base, many of them will vote for Jill Stein or stay home. I’ve been prognosticating about American politics for decades, and I’ve never been more certain of a prediction: a firm guarantee that Bernie Sanders will have a seat at the table for the next four years would singlehandedly put an end to Trump’s chances.
Recommendation #2: Promise to be a one-term president.
One thing that drives voters crazy is politicians who spend most of their time in office weighing every decision against their future reelection campaign. Nothing would do more to allay voters’ worries that she is a slave of her Wall Street masters than to turn herself into a lame duck on day one — and free herself of the burden of worrying about 2020. Anyway, Hillary Clinton is old and not in the greatest of health. Can anyone really imagine her finishing out the presidency at age 77, the same age as Ronald “Alzheimer” Reagan?
Recommendation #3: Turn her weaknesses into strengths by promising to finish her own unfinished business.
One of Hillary Clinton’s biggest weaknesses is her support of NAFTA and other job-killing “free trade” deals. Since she can’t run away from her record, why not embrace it by calling for a major national jobs retraining and financial assistance program for people who lose their jobs to globalization, as well as a $25/hour minimum wage? Similarly, her awkward reluctance to concede that Obamacare is too expensive should be replaced by an acknowledgement of what everyone already knows – the Affordable Care Act should have at least included a “public option” – and a promise that she will add one in January. She could also claimed that she learned a valuable lesson from her email scandal; she could promise to be the most transparent president in history by putting a live camera in the oval office and the cabinet, and promising not to conduct government business (other than national security matters) in private.
Recommendation #4: No more optional wars.
You know you’re on the wrong side of an issue when Donald Trump is the calm reasonable one. On foreign policy, Hillary Clinton has quite the reputation as a warmonger. She voted for wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, even though neither had anything to do with 9/11. As Secretary of State she encouraged President Obama to finance the Islamist fundamentalists who turned Libya and Syria into hell. Now she’s saber-rattling with Russia. Americans hate these endless wars. And militarism does us a lot more harm than good. Hillary Clinton should issue an October Surprise: if elected, she should say, she will never deploy American military power anywhere on earth other than to directly defend the American homeland.
I know she probably won’t take my advice. But here’s the thing: she’ll win if she does.
Twice, during the second presidential debate, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton said that the United States is good and that Americans are good people. The problem with that assertion, of course, is the fact that we betray our supposed values so often that you have to ask yourself whether they are our values at all.
Donald Trump called for a lot of outrageous things throughout his presidential campaign. He wanted Muslims to be banned from entering the knighted states. He wanted to build a border wall and deport 11 million illegal aliens. He called for beating up protesters at his own rallies. Oddly, none of this made him less popular. To the contrary. What did him in, or at least looks like it might, is an open microphone moment in which he talked about grabbing women’s pussies.
Donald Trump is a cat with 12 or 13 lives.
This past weekend felt like August 1974. Everyone knew Richard Nixon was toast. We didn’t know exactly how or exactly when he’d be forced out. But we knew it was coming.
After a video/audio recording of a 2005 “Access Hollywood” open mic of Donald Trump sharing his reality TV update of the medieval droit du seigneur surfaced on Friday before Sunday’s big second presidential debate, dozens of Republican lawmakers and senior officials abandoned ship. All that remained, it seemed, was a Trumpian version of the GOP bigwigs who trudged to the White House in ’74 to deliver the news that Dirty Donny could no longer count on Republican support in Congress.
Calling for the mass expulsion of 11 million people didn’t finish Trump. Demanding that Muslims be banned from entering the United States didn’t do it. Encouraging supporters to beat up protesters didn’t do it. Making fun of John McCain for being captured didn’t do it. Bragging that he likes to grab women “by the pussy” — that, of all things, was his Waterloo.
But it wasn’t.
The reason Trump is still in the race, merely wounded and behind (rather than humiliated and out), is important to note. This novice politician understands media better than anyone else.
Normally, we’d expect the election to be a referendum on Hillary Clinton and by extension President Obama. She’s the incumbent effectively running for a third term of the same policies. Instead, everyone is talking about Donald Trump — his fitness or lack thereof, his authenticity or lack thereof, his sanity or lack thereof. The reason is simple: Hillary Clinton delivers a cut-and-paste stump speech at every appearance (except for those to Wall Street, where she likes to share her “private position”). Trump, meanwhile, performs jazz. He extemporizes. No one, including him, knows what he’s going to say. So every rally gets covered live. How can she compete?
Throughout the campaign, Trump has neutralized the outrage over each of his scandalous utterances by supplanting it with a new one. The media, always lazy and now shorthanded, can’t keep up. And each one makes him the center of the conversation.
Flooding the zone was the risky but brilliant tactic that Donald Trump, who seemed to be mortally wounded on Friday afternoon, deployed a couple hours before the debate. He called a press conference announcing that he had invited four women who have spent years at war with the Clintons over allegations of sexual harassment, rape and making light of her legal defense of a rapist to attend the debate.
I don’t blame the women for allowing themselves to be used this way. They’ve been marginalized and ridiculed, their stories never taken seriously by the news media. Tacky publicity is better than obscurity.
From a political standpoint, however, I thought it would be widely perceived as a cheap and disgusting Hail Mary pass by a desperate candidate hours away from being forced out of the race. Boy, was I wrong.
Thirty minutes into the debate, the megastory of the election season had been reduced to one of numerous issues, washed away by Trump’s exercise of a nuclear option. Back to normalish: Hillary Clinton was on the defensive over her emails.
Hillary Clinton was in an impossible position. In politics, the cliché goes, when you are playing defense, you are losing. So she refused to defend herself or her husband. For viewers, however, the effect was to leave Trump’s “I may say bad things about women, but my opponent does bad things to them” argument unchallenged.
If this real estate thing doesn’t work out, Donald Trump can market himself as the brain behind the deftest crisis response in political history. I’m still reeling.
The difference between traditional elites like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is that Trump intuitively grasps the way things get perceived on the idiot box in houses and apartments across the country. Clinton and the corporate media pundit class see Trump’s constant interruptions and interjections while others are speaking as rude and ridiculous. They’re right that it’s rude. But it’s also incredibly effective.
How many times have you seen the president or some other politician say something, and you wanted to or actually did shout “liar!” or “wrong” at the TV? Trump does that for you. You can’t help but empathize with him. Trump has revolutionized political discourse as radically as “cowardly” American colonists did when they shot from behind rocks and trees at British troops lined up in formation, the way armies were “supposed” to fight.
No matter what happens in November, the guerilla politics pioneered by Trump are here to stay.
1. Quit. Barring a miracle, it’s all over.
2. If he stays in the race, he must open his debate performance with a statement so self-flagellating that Andrea Dworkin would beg him to shut up and move on, already. (I don’t see this happening.)
3. The pivot: point out that “while I say nasty things about women, Hillary Clinton kills them — with her votes for wars fought for fun and profit, with drones, with bombs, by supporting psychotic terrorists in Syria and Libya. I can become polite, but she can’t bring back her victims.” Leave Bill Clinton out of it. Nobody cares.
4. Show up so prepared that he runs circles around her on policy. Propose specifics that most Americans can get behind. Frankly, her policy chops aren’t that great. (I don’t see this happening either.)
5. Be direct. Respond to the audience questions respectfully and in detail. Don’t go off on tangents. View harsh questions as an opportunity to reveal that, actually, you’re a good person who’s misunderstood because your showmanship gets out of the way.
In the unlikely event that he can do this stuff, it probably won’t be enough to win. But it might save his personal reputation from further harm.
Then he should avoid mics and cameras for a year or two. Americans love a comeback story.
First, I have to be clear. I admire Julian Assange. I value WikiLeaks. A lot. He has performed a valuable service to the world.
So why is he acting like a goddamn idiot?
Of all the times to release the hacked Podesta emails, why Friday – the classic media dump day? And why the same Friday when Donald Trump’s gross woman-groping tape is the obsession of the global media?
As the BBC says: “In some alternate universe, the Clinton Wikileaks story would be dominating the news this weekend, as pundits and analysts speculate on whether the revelations could tilt the election to Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush or even Ted Cruz.”
It’s almost like he wants them to be washed away in a tsunami of distraction.
Obviously, Donald Trump is in big trouble, and he deserves to be. Of course, there’s nothing new here. Everyone knew that he was a sexist misogynist pig. Everyone knew that he objectified women beyond the norms of a male locker room. This audio has the effect of making all the stuff that he has said, and all the stuff that his accusers have said, feel and seem more real. But it sure ain’t new.
The Hillary Clinton hacks aren’t really new either, but they do shine a brighter light than the media has been generally willing to do on the fact that she is a total suck-up to Wall Street, that she is a free-trade purist who doesn’t care about American jobs, that she’ll always be part of the 1% and never one of us. This is stuff that pretty much everyone who has been paying attention already knew all along, of course. But it really goes to confirm the Bernie Sanders narrative during the primaries, as well as put a spotlight on the fact that Hillary Clinton was never going to be a good Democratic nominee.
If things go the way that they currently look like they’re going to go – Trump steps aside, Pence steps in – we’re really going to see that. My guess is that the Bland from Indiana will defeat Hillary Clinton. What if it goes the other way? What if Trump stays in the race and loses, or leaves and Pence loses?
Then Hillary Clinton becomes president of the United States without the American people having any clue about what kind of person she is or what kind of policies she generally espouses. That didn’t need to be the case.
Julian, say it ain’t so!
Or that there’s more.
I would greatly appreciate it if you would consider contributing and supporting my work via my newly launched page on Patreon.
You can support at any level, but to receive my cartoons, columns, freelance illustrations, interviews, and sneak peaks at future projects, the minimum point of entry is five dollars per month. I’ll spare you the rhetoric about how much you spend on coffee and all that.
This move was prompted by the demise of Beacon. I hope that those of you who supported me on Beacon will consider doing the same thing at Patreon.
As I explain there, the conundrum is that the Internet has brought my work to more people than ever before. That’s fantastic! That’s why I got into this into the first place: to reach as many people as possible. The problem is, no one has figured out how to successfully monetize journalism on the Internet. And that’s doubly true when the content is controversial. It’s not to say that people don’t like controversial content online: to the contrary, it seems to do better than stuff that is bland and boring. The problem appears to be twofold. On the one hand, most big online media outlets are dominated by big corporate money that doesn’t want to hear anything outside of the Democratic Republican duopoly. And on the other, a lot of Silicon Valley start-up people don’t have much appreciation or understanding of politics or media.
I’m pretty sure that’s going to change in the not so distant future. But in the meantime, that leaves people like me having to ask people like you for support in order to keep producing a high-quality level of work.
Thanks for reading this and thanks for reading my work.
If nothing else, Donald Trump provides a sort of truth in advertising: he’s rude, obnoxious, loud, abrasive. This is reflective of his policies. On the other hand, his vice president running mate Mike Pence deploys a calm Midwestern demeanor to mask his disgusting homophobic and sexist politics. Americans need a law that will force politicians to label themselves in accordance with the content of their beliefs.
To my many friends and readers who plan to vote for Hillary Clinton: please stop bullying me.
Also please lay off other people, progressives and liberals and traditional Democrats and socialists and communists, citizens who identify with the political left, who plan to vote for Dr. Jill Stein or stay home.
I’m not going to vote for Donald Trump. I agree with the mainstream liberal consensus that he should never hold political power, much less control over nuclear launch codes. He’s dangerous and scary. But that doesn’t mean I have to vote for Hillary Clinton.
So I won’t.
- The main reason that I’m not going to vote for Hillary Clinton is the same exact main reason that I’m not going to vote for Donald Trump: I don’t vote Republican. Being age 53, Nixon was the first president I remember. Hillary Clinton’s politics (and her paranoia and insularity) remind me of Richard Nixon’s. I can’t bring myself to think of a Democrat as someone who solicits millions of dollars from Wall Street or votes with crazy Republicans (like George W. Bush, whose stupid wars she aggressively supported) to invade foreign countries just for fun. She plays a Democrat on TV, but we know the truth: she’s a Republican.
- I’m anti-political dynasty. There should be a constitutional amendment banning anyone related by blood or marriage to a former president from running for the presidency.
- There’s a big difference between an impressive resume and a list of accomplishments. Hillary has the former, not the latter. I hold her resume against her: she has held tremendous power, yet has never reached out to grab the brass ring. As senator, her record was undistinguished. As Secretary of State, she barely lifted a finger on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, contributed to the expansion of the Syrian civil war, and is more responsible than almost anyone else for destroying Libya. What she did well she did small; when she went big she performed badly.
- #MuslimLivesMatter. More than a million people died in Iraq. She voted for that. So she isn’t, as the current Clinton campaign meme goes, merely a “flawed” candidate. Voting for the violent deaths of over a million people, and the maiming of God knows how many more — when there was no reason whatsoever to think Iraq had WMDs — is not an “oops, my bad” screw-up. Those were real people, real human beings, and they’re dead because of her. You don’t get to soak your hands in that much blood and just walk away, much less into the White House.
- She still hasn’t made an affirmative case for herself. By clinging to President Obama, she’s running as his third term. The standard way to pull this off is to present yourself as new and improved: the old product was great, the new one will be even better. Her campaign boils down to “I’m not Donald Trump.” No matter how bad he is, and he is awful, that’s not enough. Watching her in the first presidential debate, at the beginning when Trump was besting her over trade, I kept asking myself: why doesn’t she admit that the recovery is good but has left too many Americans behind? Why hasn’t she proposed a welfare and retraining program for people who lose their jobs to globalization? A week later, the only answer I can come up with is that she has no imagination, no vision thing.
- She has made no significant concessions to the political left. Frankly, this makes me wonder about her intelligence. Current polling shows that the biggest threat to her candidacy is losing millennial, working class, and Bernie Sanders supporters to the Green Party’s Jill Stein and Libertarian Gary Johnson. She would not have this problem if she’d picked Sanders as her vice presidential running mate. Even now, she could bag the millennial vote by promising the Vermont senator a cabinet post. Why doesn’t she? For the same reason that she won’t embrace the $15-an-hour minimum wage (she gets $225,000 for an hour-long speech but wants you to settle for $12) — she’s a creature of the corporations and therefore the political right. She’s not one of us. She doesn’t care about us.
- My vote is worth no less than the vote of someone who supports a major party nominee. So what if the polls say that Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be elected president? Why, based on those polls, should I strategically vote for someone whose politics and personality I deplore? By that logic, why shouldn’t they change their votes to conform to mine? I have my vote, you have your vote, let Diebold add them up.
I don’t have a problem with you if you plan to vote for Hillary. This year is the best argument ever for lesser evilism. But the fact that we are selecting between two equally unpopular major party presidential standardbearers indicates that the two-party system is in crisis, if not broken. We need and deserve more and better options. The only way to get them is to start building viable third parties — voting for them, contributing money to them. What better time to start than now?
Anyway, there’s absolutely no way that my refusal to vote for Hillary will put Donald Trump into the White House.
How do I know? Arithmetic. The closest state margin in an American presidential election was four, in Maryland in 1832. Like you, I only get one vote. Whatever I do can’t and won’t change the result.
(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form.)
Donald Trump’s call for a wall between the United States and Mexico ignores an inconvenient fact: since 2005, more Mexican nationals have returned to Mexico in search of work than have come to the United States because of the fact that it’s easier to find work there. Maybe this provides a defense for Trump.
Say what you want about Donald Trump, but at least he provides a sort of truth in advertising: he has an obnoxious style that reflects his obnoxious policies. What makes someone like Hillary Clinton (or Barack Obama) particularly insidious is that they come packaged in a respectable format, yet espouse despicable policies.
He won last night.
I know it runs counter to conventional wisdom – that’s so rare for me! – but I award last night’s first 2016 presidential debate to Donald Trump.
This isn’t to say that I disagree with what the mainstream men and women of the pundit class said they witnessed. Like them, I watched a well-prepared Clinton outmaneuver a political amateur who showed up to class after a night of partying following a year of refusing to crack open a book. Trump rambled, repeated himself, interrupted and bullied. He conflated NATO and the EU. He even unleashed a fat joke.
All things being equal, I would agree with the corporate media consensus that Hillary won. But that’s the thing – things are far from equal.
Hillary Clinton is a pro. She should have wiped the floor with Trump. Instead, she delivered a performance on the line between a B+ and an A-. Trump gets closer to a C-. That’s much closer than it ought to have been.
As they say in sports, Trump beat the spread.
It went down the same way during the Democratic primaries. Hillary Clinton had every advantage: domination of the Democratic National Committee, support of a sitting president, massive name recognition, experience and personnel from a previous run, a huge pool of wealthy institutional donors, a marriage to a popular ex-president fondly remembered for presiding over a great economic expansion. Despite all that, she nearly lost to Bernie Sanders – an aging self-identified socialist from a tiny, powerless state, with no name recognition. How, many people asked, could Hillary’s inevitable Goliath of a campaign have come so close to losing to such a David?
The answer was obvious. As we learned in 2008 when she lost to another obscure politician — Obama, with a weird name, who had little experience — Hillary Clinton underperforms. She has no charm. She doesn’t learn from her mistakes. She relies on outdated fundraising methods, like sucking up to big corporate donors. Not only does she lie, she insults our intelligence as when she emerged from her daughter’s Manhattan apartment days after being diagnosed with pneumonia. “I’m fine,” she said. What’s the matter with “pneumonia sucks”?
During last night’s debate, I was struck by how many chances Trump had to nail Hillary. If he were a better debater, she’d be toast.
Hillary tacitly confirmed that the United States was behind the Stuxnet virus that attacked Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, implying that she deserves credit for forcing the Islamic Republic to the negotiating table. Because cyberwarfare is illegal, U.S. officials have always refused to comment on whether or not we helped create Stuxnet – so it remains classified. If Trump had been smarter, he would have said: “Jesus, Hillary! There you go again, revealing America’s secrets to our enemies.”
He also allowed her to weasel out of her on-again, off-again support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership “free trade” agreement. Why didn’t he reference the verbal diarrhea of close Clinton friend Terry McAuliffe, who let slip the all-too-credible assertion that President Hillary would sign TPP shortly after coming to office?
His response to Hillary’s demand that he release his taxes came close to disastrous. If ever there was a time to interrupt, there it was. Instead, he just stood there waiting for her to finish. Clearly Trump has a lot to hide. Then he made a lame gambit: “I will release my tax returns — against my lawyer’s wishes — when she releases her 33,000 e-mails that have been deleted. As soon as she releases them, I will release. I will release my tax returns. And that’s against — my lawyers, they say, ‘Don’t do it.’ I will tell you this. No — in fact, watching shows, they’re reading the papers. Almost every lawyer says, you don’t release your returns until the audit’s complete. When the audit’s complete, I’ll do it. But I would go against them if she releases her e-mails.”
It was incoherent and ridiculous. But once he decided to go that direction, why not mention her secret Goldman Sachs speech transcripts? At least that way, he would have conveyed that she has two types of things to hide (emails, speeches) as opposed to his one (taxes).
Rookie errors. But hey, Trump did great for a guy who has never run for political office before – and didn’t cram for the debate. Hillary has debated at the presidential level so many times she could probably do it half of it in her sleep. If I go into the ring with heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury and manage to survive a round with all but one of my teeth, it’s fair to say that I won.
What’s baffling to me is that she wasn’t able to deliver a knockout blow.
Some of it is her inability to just be real.
Part of coming off as an authentic human being is a self-deprecating sense of humor. We saw that when Trump asked Secretary Clinton how she wanted to be addressed: “Now, in all fairness to Secretary Clinton — yes, is that OK? Good. I want you to be very happy. It’s very important to me.” It was deferential. It almost seemed sweet. (Weirdly, she didn’t adjust to the honorific, failing to tack to “Mr. Trump.”)
Hillary seems allergic to humanism. Back to the TPP, for example, she could have countered Trump’s fictional assertion she “heard what I said about [TPP], and all of a sudden you were against it” with something along the lines of: “actually, that was Bernie Sanders.”
Another awkward moment was her apology for using a private email server. This should have been a win for her. It was the first time that she expressed regret in a straightforward manner. But she clearly wanted to keep talking, to make excuses, to mitigate. It was also a missed opportunity to make an email joke.
Maybe the herd is right. Maybe it’s a simple matter of she did better, he did worse. But I keep thinking, debates are graded on a curve. She was supposed to kick his ass. Yet there he is, dead even in the polls with her.
(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form.)