Archive

July 30th, 2016

Democrats were told their party was divided. They just proved that wrong.

    Early in the first day of its 2016 convention, the Democratic Party's train threatened to jump the tracks. As the convention was gaveled into session, delegates for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., loudly booed Rules Committee chair Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, and other speakers. Coming on the heels of the acrimonious exit of Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz over hacked emails that showed DNC officials' animosity towards Sanders, things could easily have taken a turn for the worse.

    But the train stayed on the rails, thanks largely to a deep bench of the sort that the Republicans were unable to muster last week in Philadelphia.

    A week ago, the most Donald Trump and company could offer to viewers their first evening were Melania Trump, a single U.S. senator and several Trump advisers. Monday night, Democrats rolled out not just current First Lady Michelle Obama, but a half-dozen senators and other elected officials representing multiple wings of the party, including progressive heroes in Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

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Can the Democrats stay out of their own way?

    I've spent a lot of time this year counseling Democrats, independents and establishment Republicans not to freak out. That advice still holds -- but barely.

    The release of illegally hacked Democratic National Committee emails, coming on the eve of the convention in Philadelphia, was a fiasco that the forces of truth, justice and the American way -- those, in other words, determined to prevent a Donald Trump presidency -- surely could have done without. It's not the end of the world, but yes, it's a big deal.

     What were they thinking at the DNC? That's not a tough question. Hillary Clinton, a leading figure in the Democratic Party for decades, was struggling to tamp down a surprisingly strong challenge from Bernie Sanders, who wasn't even a Democrat until he launched his campaign. The emails leave no doubt that some at party headquarters wanted to give Clinton a little help.

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Bernie Sanders fans were just a distraction

    The first day for the Democrats in Philadelphia couldn't have gone better -- from the podium. In the convention hall? That was a little more complicated.

    Let's start on the podium.

    The contrast with the Republican convention's day one was enormous. The Democrats offered first-rate headliner speeches. The standout was Michelle Obama's short but powerful message: "When they go low, we go high." And there was an effective mix of politicians and "regular people" speaking in the afternoon and evening, along with a sprinkling of celebrities and some humor, courtesy of Sen. Al Franken and comedian Sarah Silverman and in a video featuring Ken Jeong.

    The Democrats quickly swapped signs in and out, so that, for example, the Bernie placards were waving when Bernie Sanders was speaking, and the Michelle signs were hoisted when the first lady gave her address. Some videos used Donald Trump's words against him; others showed Hillary Clinton in action.

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Trump's GOP: No facts or ideas necessary

    From a mass media perspective, let’s look at what brought us Donald Trump.

    Once upon a time we had television networks that were truly mass media – they had something for everybody, and none of it patently offensive. Things changed with cable, satellite and online programming, many choices – some good, and a lot of them really bad.

    One spawn of this was reality television – niche-oriented, cheap to produce, full of empty calories. Scripts? Actors? Actual plots? They’re for losers. In reality TV, when you’ve got your narrow niche audience, you can just make things up as you go along.

    And with reality television – “The Apprentice” -- came Donald Trump as a pop culture and political player.

    With him, and with the Republican National Convention last week, has come an embarrassment of riches – OK, just a bunch of embarrassments.

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Trump reaps a windfall from his children

    The Republican National Convention in Cleveland last week was a pudding without a theme, except for one mantra that tumbled out of the mouths of every Republican from top to bottom. If you say that you're worried about Trump's impulsive temperament or substance or motivation for running, the reflexive justification given to trust him with the nuclear codes is that "he raised great kids."

    There was a time in American politics when talking about a candidate's kids, even adult ones, was considered bad form. Trump has made it impossible not to talk about his. One of the motifs of his candidacy, promulgated in every corner of Trumpland, indeed by the man himself, is that he's made fatherhood great again. The word's gone out to staff, to every pro-Trump talking head on every show and seeped into almost every speech.

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The theory of political leadership that Donald Trump shares with Adolf Hitler

    There. He came out and said it. "I alone," Donald Trump averred in his speech Thursday night accepting the Republican nomination for president, can save America, save the world, save you.

    Rarely in modern political memory has a candidate so personalized a candidacy. Certainly, no other U.S. political figure comes to mind who dared make such an exclusive claim on truth and light. A savior complex may have befallen some of them, but who was bold enough to voice it so plainly as Trump?

    That does not mean there is no historical precedent for campaigning -- and ruling -- on a platform of messianic certainty, though. One man who did it was Adolf Hitler.

    I know: Likening any modern politician to Hitler is a dodgy errand. And while people have been making the comparison this year, it's usually unfair and inapt. Hitler was ultimate evil. Trump is no mass murderer; Trump is no Nazi; Trump has launched no wars.

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The Republican 'lock her up!' chants were disturbing - and inevitable

    Political conventions used to be celebratory affairs. But in Cleveland this week, the most reliable source of good cheer has been Republicans' collective fantasy of putting Hillary Clinton behind bars.

    First there were the ritualized chants of "lock her up." Then, leading Trump surrogate (and former federal prosecutor) Gov. Chris Christie used his podium time to conduct a mock show trial, leading a call-and-response to delighted cries of "guilty!" The next day, a Trump delegate and adviser said that the presumptive Democratic nominee for president - a former secretary of state, senator, and first lady (whom the FBI declined to charge with any crime after a long investigation into her email practices) - "should be put in the firing line and shot for treason." The best Trump's spokeswoman could muster was that "we don't agree with his comments" while reaffirming that "we're incredibly grateful for his support."

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Michelle Obama's skillful take down of Donald Trump

    There is shade. And then, there are intricately constructed avenues of shade so dense that entire shadow-loving plants germinate, sprout and flourish at triple speed.

    The latter is what Michelle Obama cast in the direction of Donald Trump on Monday night at the Democratic National Convention while reserving a special, at points emotional, type of praise for Hillary Clinton. Trump, an unnamed cartoon-character-like villain was referenced only indirectly as a kind of ego-driven, undisciplined potential president uninterested in both the rigors and goals of public service - a sharp and telling contrast to Clinton, according to Obama's speech.

    The combination was enough make Obama's the first speech of the night during which a mention of Clinton's name did not elicit cross chants and boos from Sanders supporters, according to several people in and around the convention hall.

    It was, to put it frankly, a rather skillful take down of one Donald J. Trump.

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In fighting Trump, Clinton finds her vision

    Say what you will about Donald Trump's sinister speech at the Republican National Convention, it achieved one of its primary goals: Trump now owns the mantle of "change" in this election.

    Trump confirmed his candidacy not only as a break from the political status quo, but also from U.S. presidential rhetoric and democratic norms as they've evolved over more than two centuries. His speech deliberately exhumed Richard Nixon's darkest impulses while divorcing itself, utterly, from Nixon's intellectual depth and creativity.

    Trump departed not only from politics as usual, but American history and culture as usual, offering himself as a man of destiny, Putinesque or Peronist, and as the singular, heroic, unrebuttable answer -- "I alone" -- to every national question.

    How does Hillary Clinton follow that?

    Just as Cleveland was largely cast as a prosecution -- replete with the creepy, oft-shouted refrain of "Lock her up!" -- the Democratic convention in Philadelphia this week can't help but be something of a defense.

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July 29th

In a change election, Clinton is the incumbent

    As the Democratic National Convention convenes in Philadelphia, Hillary Clinton faces many widely reported challenges. She is generally not trusted, and the majority of Americans tend to repeat what has now become a cliche invented by President Obama: Clinton just doesn't have that new-car smell. I continue to believe Clinton and Donald Trump are propping each other up. They are both so unpopular that the race for the presidency is staying close, even as one consistently acts erratically and the other seems to have a virtual indictment despite not being actually indicted by the FBI. But in addition to the current macro political environment, Clinton faces three specific challenges that are unique to her and to this era in modern politics.

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