Archive

June 14th, 2016

This campaign broke the U.S. two-party system

    Americans find it hard to imagine that the two-party system could ever break down. "Democracy works, this country works when you have two parties that are serious and trying to solve problems," President Barack Obama said recently. Yet U.S. democracy and the country itself would be better served if politicians started acting as if there were more parties -- which might be the case after this year's election.

    Americans have laughed at me when I suggested that their two-party system might be giving way to a more European-style one. Yet foreigners like myself, used to multiparty parliaments and coalition governments, are not the only ones who see the U.S. moving toward this model. Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs, one of the architects of Poland's successful post-Communist transformation, wrote this week as calls multiplied for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to drop out of the Democratic race:

    "By 2020, it is quite possible that we will actually have four major political parties: a social democratic left, a centrist party, a right-wing conservative party and a populist anti-immigrant party (represented by Trump followers)."

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The only thing that matters now: Election Day

    At this stage in the presidential election, nothing is more important than GOTV - "get out the vote." The rallies, the conventions, the debates, the onslaught of negative TV ads, and the cheer and smear campaigns, all those come in a distant second.

    We can sit them all out.

    Nov. 8, however, is the calendar event that matters. As the North Carolina NAACP and faith leaders in that state put it, on Election Day, "It's our time, it's our vote."

    Besides, there is not much more to learn about the presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, respectively - at least not enough to make many voters switch sides. The candidates have told us much of what we need to know. One unopened door is the criminal probe involving Clinton's handling of classified information. Speaking for myself, Trump, through word and deed, has shown what he is.

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47 years ago, Hillary Clinton's practice nomination speech

    Almost half a century ago, when Hillary Rodham became the first student to speak at a Wellesley College commencement, she dismissed, 1969-style, the tired cliche of politics as the art of the possible. "The challenge now," Rodham said, channeling what students graduating this spring might describe as her inner Bernie Sanders, "is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible."

    How poignant that speech seems today. Hillary Rodham Clinton spent the decades that followed being tarred as a sellout when she compromised - and a dangerous radical when she didn't. Making the impossible seem possible, and leveraging that possibility into reality, turned out to be far harder than 21-year-old Rodham imagined.

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What do I tell my patients who want opioids?

    Once a month, she waits patiently in my exam room, despite the fact that I'm almost always running an hour late in my hectic community health center practice. She is 86 and suffers from mild dementia, diabetes, arthritis and an arrhythmia for which she takes warfarin, a powerful blood thinner. At every visit, she comes to me with some sort of homemade gift - a scarf, a tin of cookies, a beaded keychain - and also with a request for a refill of her opioid painkiller prescription.

    My patient's request makes me enormously uncomfortable. She is old and frail, and if she were to stumble and fall from the sedating effects of her painkillers, her blood thinners could cause a catastrophic brain bleed. Prescribing her chronic opiates for her arthritic knees is not something I want to do.

    But when she came to me a year ago, she was already on this regimen, and she and her daughter tell me at every visit that it is the only way she can function. Without the medications, she sits in her rocking chair and cries all day. With the pills, she can cook, garden and play with her grandchildren.

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If you boycott Israel, New York will boycott you

    The coldblooded terrorist attacks in Tel Aviv this last week served as a chilling reminder of the summer of 2014, when a steady rain of terrorist rockets from Gaza confined the vast majority of the Israeli population to bomb shelters and protected rooms. During a visit with a bipartisan delegation that August, I was shown a miles-long Hamas tunnel built to infiltrate Israel's southern communities and murder their residents. The tunnel was frightening because it was the manifestation of the single-minded obsession by Israel's enemies to destroy the Jewish state. And yet, in many ways it was not nearly as frightening as continued efforts to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel.

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Republican incumbents hope to survive Trump

    Republican candidates have a model to emulate as they struggle with growing concerns that Donald Trump could drag down the party in November: the late Muhammad Ali and his famous "rope-a-dope."

    Ali, who died June 3 and was laid to rest last week, perfected this technique in his 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle" bout against George Foreman: He'd cling to the ropes, bobbing and weaving as his opponent would unleash a flurry of blows and tire himself out.

    More and more Republicans are bobbing to avoid Trump, after controversies such as his racially tinged charge that the Indiana-born judge overseeing a fraud case against Trump University is biased because his parents were from Mexico. A few, including Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, flatly declare that they won't vote for him. Others are waiting to see whether there will be more rants.

    Most Republicans from solidly conservative regions -- the Deep South and some Western states -- have it easy. There's no price to pay for supporting the ticket, however they may view the nominee.

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Campaign 2016 turns into a Twitter fight

    As presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump got into a Twitter fight with newly crowned presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, any hope for reasoned discourse in Campaign 2016 seemed to fly out the window.

    "Obama just endorsed Crooked Hillary," tweeted Trump, leading the tweeting as he does daily. "He wants four more years of Obama -- but nobody else does!"

    Ah, he only wishes that were true. Every campaign, it is often said, is a contest between "change" versus "more of the same." That's particularly true in our current contest. Clinton is not only running toward policies and programs of President Barack Obama, she's sticking to them like a life raft in a stormy sea.

    And why not? Obama's approval ratings have been running higher than Clinton's or Trump's, who both happen to have the highest disapproval ratings of any presumed major-party candidates in modern history.

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Sanders Helping Trump?

    Bernie Sanders has had a stunning impact this year, helping set the political agenda and winning the passionate embrace of a demographic a quarter his age. A socialist, Jewish, non-pandering candidate who didn’t kiss babies but lectured their parents on social justice won 22 states. But now he has lost. It’s time for him and his followers to stop sniping and start uniting.

    Sanders has said he will ultimately support the Democratic ticket, and I’m sure he intends to. But for now he’s still dividing more than coalescing.

    In a New York Times/CBS News poll last month, nearly one-fourth of Sanders supporters said that in a Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump matchup, they would either vote for Trump (which suggests bipolar disorder!) or stay home. That figure is inflated by bitterness and resentment, but if some Sandernistas sit on their hands this fall they could help elect a man antithetical to everything they stand for.

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Hillary and the Horizontals

    I spent much of this politically momentous week at a workshop on inequality, where papers were presented on everything from the causes of wage disparities to the effects of inequality on happiness. As so often happens at conferences, however, what really got me thinking was a question during a coffee break: “Why don’t you talk more about horizontal inequality?”

    What? Horizontal inequality is the term of art for inequality measured, not between individuals, but between racially or culturally defined groups. (Of course, race itself is mainly a cultural construct rather than a fact of nature — Americans of Italian or even Irish extraction weren’t always considered white.) And it struck me that horizontal thinking is what you need to understand what went down in both parties’ nominating seasons: It’s what led to Donald Trump, and also why Hillary Clinton beat back Bernie Sanders. And like it or not, horizontal inequality, racial inequality above all, will define the general election.

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Lord of the Lies

    This month, the world’s most battle-scarred cable news network did something extraordinary in this year of vaporous political contrails. While Donald Trump was delivering one of his easily debunked lies, CNN fact-checked him — in near real time at the bottom of the screen.

    “Trump: I never said Japan should have nukes (he did).” Thus read the chyron that shook the television world — maybe.

    I no more expect CNN to set Wolf Blitzer’s beard on fire than to instantly call out the Mount Everest of liars. Trump lies about big things (there is no drought in California) and small things (his hair spray could not affect the ozone layer because it’s sealed within Trump Tower). He lies about himself, and the fake self he invented to talk about himself. He’s been shown to lie more than 70 times in a single event.

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