Friday, August 26, 2016

Stephen Bannon gets it wrong

ON WEDNESDAY night in Jackson, Miss., Republican nominee Donald Trump was joined onstage at a campaign rally by an unlikely ally from an unlikely place: Nigel Farage, one of Britain’s outspoken right-wing champions and a key figure in the successful anti-immigrant Brexit referendum to take Britain out of the European Union.

Farage, apparently bidding to become the Enoch Powell of his time, has cultivated his own brand of intolerance to Britain, saying that women are “worth less” than men, and calling for an end to laws that bar employers from race-based discrimination, and a ban on legal immigrants' children attending public schools and receiving health services.

Farage, who may well be the Brit Donald Trump, told the Jackson crowd that “I will say this: if I was an American citizen, I wouldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton if you paid me!”

(Right. But of course you’re not an American citizen, Mr. Farage. So who cares.)

Farage’s appearance at The Donald’s side was part of a new Trump campaign approach devised by Stephen Bannon, former Breitbart editor, Brexit supporter and now Trump campaign jefe grande. Farage’s Mississippi photo-op was apparently a Bannon attempt to globalize the American election — and it wasn’t the only one.

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In a tweet on Wednesday, Michael Calderone, senior media reporter for The Huffington Post, quoted Bannon from a conversation in July. Here’s part of what Bannon told him about his shift in Trump campaign strategy:

“So, we look at themes globally as the center-right populist revolt against the permanent political class. Whether that’s [conservative author and political consultant] Peter Schweizer hitting on crony capitalism, or our guys in London following Front National in France. It’s all of one theme. We think that Nigel Farage will be a politician that rises one day, Donald Trump the next. But it’s a bigger, tectonic plate.

“And that’s why we kind of laugh at, particularly cable news and sometimes other sites that, they sit there and they’re so wrong on everything. We just think, hey, they’re not taking the time to look at these fundamental issues, whether it’s what’s driving Bernie Sanders on the left or what’s driving this kind of populist, tea party revolt on the right.”

Bannon spoke of “themes globally” and quickly superimposed them onto the United States, invoking a seismological geological metaphor to help make a socio-political argument, and otherwise building a scenario just provocative enough to sound plausible, and ominous, and unavoidable.

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BANNON SUGGESTS that Trump, his current employer, is in the vanguard of leaders that oppose the “permanent political class,” by which he means Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. Trump, Bannon says, will be among the first of a new class of enlightened novices whose very inexperience with American bicameral politics is somehow what recommends them for the American presidency.

But a closer reading of Bannon’s eloquent deception, a casual reading of American political history, and a look at the Trump campaign itself get you closer to what’s real.

Don’t get it twisted: Stephen Bannon doesn’t have a problem with a permanent political class in the United States. He just wants one with a Republican brand, a Republican identity, a Republican style of governance. He wouldn’t be working for Trump if that weren’t true.

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That forward-looking statement’s based on past performance. In recent decades, the Republican Party and conservatives generally have been bent on the pursuit of empire.

The GOP’s lust for imperium in the recent political era was pretty much made clear, and even defining, when Paul Weyrich, one of the architects of modern conservatism, addressed an audience at a Religious Right gathering in Dallas in 1980.

Weyrich, a co-founder of the Heritage Foundation — the most respected and feared conservative public policy organization in the country— and of the Moral Majority (with the Rev. Jerry Falwell), said:

“How many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome? Good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections, quite candidly, goes up as the voting populace goes down.” [Italics mine.]

With that statement, with those three sentences, Weyrich ratified the very exclusion and voter disenfranchisement that would make a “permanent political class” not just possible, but inevitable.

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CONSERVATIVES in recent federal election cycles have taken that ball and run with it, doing everything they can to cement that way of thinking in the contemporary conservative mindset. It’s worked only too well; Republicans led the efforts, at the state and federal levels, to undercut voter turnout in the 2012 campaign, and again — more aggressively — this year.

In 2001, with a Republican president and fat or substantial majorities in both houses of Congress on the horizon, hubris was inevitable. In a 2001 CNN report, Prince of Darkness Karl Rove went so far as to say that, if George W. Bush was elected, the possibility was there to “usher in a permanent Republican majority.” Which is, obviously, another way of saying “permanent political class.”

Fast forward to January 2010: The United States Supreme Court handed down its momentous decision on Citizens United v. FEC, ruling 5-4 that the First Amendment to the Constitution barred the government from restricting independent political expenditures by a nonprofit corporation. The basic principles of the Citizens United case were extended to cover for-profit corporations and other organizations as well.

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In effect, the decision — hailed by conservatives — equated corporations with human beings. Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the dissenters, observed: “The Court’s blinkered and aphoristic approach to the First Amendment may well promote corporate power at the cost of the individual and collective self-expression the Amendment was meant to serve. It will undoubtedly cripple the ability of ordinary citizens, Congress, and the States to adopt even limited measures to protect against corporate domination of the electoral process.”

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ryan Lochte gets two hard, soothing offers

AH AMERICA, land of second chances. This country’s capacity for accommodating reinvention is unlike anywhere else. Here the mighty are fallen, run through their respective purgatories and rehabilitated (usually at one of the available late-night TV clinics).

And despite our country’s long preoccupation with preferential treatment, the revival of cratering fortunes is an equal opportunity opportunity; everyone from actors to politicians gets a chance to mount a comeback.

Even Olympic swimmers.

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On Thursday, Adweek reported that Pine Bros. Softish Throat Drops signed an endorsement deal with Lochte, who'll be showing up in commercial and print ads for the brand. Just the thing for the man who’s probably talked himself hoarse in the last week.

Lochte's ads for Pine Bros. will feature the tagline, "Pine Brothers Softish Throat Drops: Forgiving On Your Throat," just as the company—and Lochte, himself —is asking the public to forgive him.

"We all make mistakes, but they're rarely given front-page scrutiny," said Pine Bros. CEO Rider McDowell in a statement. "He's a great guy who has done incredible work with charities. I'm confident that Pine Bros. fans will support our decision to give Ryan a second chance."

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By now you know the saga of Ryan Lochte, whose brief stop in Rio de Janeiro for Olympic gold cost him more of another kind of gold than he might have thought possible. After competition, Lochte was out with three other Olympian studs ( Jack Conger, Gunnar Bentz and Jimmy Feigen ). According to their statement, their taxi was pulled over by armed men posing as cops. The real police contradicted them, saying the swimmers, who’d gone to a late-night party, never reported the incident, and also reportedly saying there was little proof that a robbery ever happened.

Video surveillance showed Lochte & Co. getting into some dustup with armed security guards over alleged vandalism at a gas station. After drinks and dinner, tried to gain entrance to a service station bathroom whose door was locked. Lochte and friends acted the fool, tried to force the door, couldn’t get in and finally relieved themselves outside the station.

Since this crap started, Lochte’s admitted he was drunk and made the proper all-apologies. He was publicly embarrassed ... and lo and behold, shortly after his arrival in the States, he discovered how high bad news can go. Ralph Lauren and Speedo, two of his major sponsors, and skin-care firm Syneron-Candela decided to end their relationship with Lochte, more or less immediately after the Rio Games ended.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Tough-crowd time: Clinton and Trump
prepare to meet the military

NOW IT GETS interesting. We’ve gone through the whole presidential campaign witnessing a lot of cheap shots and sniping about which candidate has “presidential qualities,” about who’s ready for the proverbial 3 a.m. wakeup call — about which one passes the Commander in Chief test.

Until now, that’s been a hypothetical exercise, guesswork based on what they’ve said extemporaneously and how they’ve conducted themselves during the entirety of the campaign. That all starts to change on Wednesday, Sept. 7.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow announced last night that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have both agreed to participate in a “Commander in Chief forum,” a live question-and-answer event to be simulcast in primetime on MSNBC and NBC stations.

The event, which will focus on national security and issues related to veterans and active-duty military, will be hosted by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), a non-partisan, non-profit organization that has connected more than 1.2 million veterans with resources and assistance.

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"IAVA is proud to lead this historic event for our veterans community and all Americans," said Paul Rieckhoff, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of IAVA, in a press release accompanying Maddow’s on-air announcement.

"On the cusp of the 15th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, New York is a fitting stage to give voice to American veterans and service members that are all too often shut out of our political debate. IAVA members world-wide, 93% of whom say they'll be voting in November, and many deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan right now, are ready to hear from the candidates and hold them accountable.

“IAVA is honored to join with NBC on this significant event that will ensure that America's next Commander-in-Chief, at least for one night, addresses our nation's moral obligation to support and empower its 22 million veterans, our servicemembers and our military families."

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THIS EVENT (broadcast time TBA) is guaranteed to be lively and unscripted; if it goes as promoted, military of all walks and stations will weigh in with off-the-cuff questions presumably from everyone from E-1s to officers (as well as questions from NBC’s interlocutors).

There’s no word yet on whether questions will be taken from military in the field at various global outposts (via satellite hookup). But the Q&A format should be an instructive preview of the candidates before the debates begin Sept. 26 at Hofstra University.

As a bloc, American military people tend to be more conservative than the general public. A recent survey in the Military Times, seeking military’s preference for Clinton or Trump, indicated a preference for Trump, but for reasons that in some ways aren’t much more substantial than the belief that a female commander in chief wouldn’t be as tough on our enemies or as supportive of our forces as a male would be.

“To be sure, the military in general tends to bend conservative,” said a commentary in The Marine Corps Times. “This is a community in which no service chief has been a woman; one that has been slow to open opportunities to women.”

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Built-in gender-based biases like that could make it hard for Clinton to take that hill. But Trump has his challenges too. At the IAVA forum we should, for example, probably expect some questions for the Republican nominee as to why a billionaire with a cozy relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin should be trusted with the lives and welfare of America’s armed forces.

Or why a man who impugns the patriotism of a Gold Star family would be considered a reliable steward of the U.S. military, and an empathic touchstone for those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice.

The two candidates will speak again on military matters at the American Legion convention in Cincinnati. Clinton will address the organization on Aug. 31, Trump makes his case on Sept. 1, Military Times reported on Thursday.

Expect a tough crowd, and rhetorical fireworks, at both events.

Image credits: American Legionnaires: Charles Dharapak/Associated Press via Military Times. IAVA logo: © 2016 IAVA. MSNBC logo: © 2016 MSNBC. Clinton: Reuters/Scott Morgan. Trump: Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Changing the news cycle (parenthetically speaking)

IT’S IRONIC: With all the forms of information recall we have at our disposal in the age of social media, accountability — the act of owning up to the accuracy of what you say — hasn’t been as instant as the communications tools we use every day. That’s never been more true than it has been in the presidential campaign that's furiously underway.

One batshit-crazy statement after another gets made on the campaign trail of tears and we’ve had to wait for clarification (or correction) from disinterested parties more interested in accuracy than agenda.

What’s a newsgatherer to do? Well, some editors at two major news organizations have found a way around the problem using nothing more high-tech than common punctuation.

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In recent news reports, the minders of the chyrons at CNN and MSNBC have called on the lowly parentheses — that typographical device whose function in our language is a lot like talking behind your hand — as a way to subvert misinformation in real time, starting a practice that could change the journalism game (at least on television).

Jessica Goldstein, culture editor at Think Progress, first reported on this trendlet recently. The folks at CNN and MSNBC undercut misstatements made by the Trump campaign and its minions with facts, doing it at literally the same time — inserting (factual) information in the body of a distortion.

Goldstein: “Looking at these chyrons ... it feels like we are watching cable news reporters realize, in real time, what over a year of Trump-fueled ratings-chasing hath wrought. MSNBC can’t un-air Trump rallies, and CNN can’t undo phone interviews, and no cable network can un-give Trump the almost $2 billion in free media exposure they handed him in a single year.”

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CONSIDER THIS an equalizer, of sorts: a way to set the record straight in real time, in a ravenously fast media culture whose prime directive is No Do-Overs. If this on-the-spot fact-checking is more than an occasional thing (and if it’s something the bosses and suits don’t have a problem with), it effectively changes the news cycle — shortens that cycle even further.

If this catches on, we won’t have to wait minutes or hours to correct the record; inaccuracy will be immediately juxtaposed with fact in a way that befits the era of instant information we (try to) live in.

With this minor tweak of electronic-media protocol, journalists push back against those who insist their role is to be nothing more than stenographers, agents of transcription duly reporting one untruth after another. It reflects the immediacy of language and information we’re accustomed to (and the pursuit of accuracy that we’re ... not accustomed to enough).

Image credits: Trump: MSNBC via @pamela_vogel (via ThinkProgress). Trump son: CNN via Dorothy Snarker (via ThinkProgress). Jessica Goldstein: ThinkProgress. Nukes: CNN via TPM (via ThinkProgress).

The hunting of the presidency (Part 11):
Trump’s campaign reset reset

FOR THE SECOND time in about as many months, the wreck of the Hesperus commonly known as the Donald Trump presidential campaign is undergoing a shift in strategy intended to stop (or slow) both a defection of American voters and Republican thought leaders and officials.

Paul Manafort, the attack dog brought in in March by the moneyed attention addict and Republican nominee, has been demoted from his role as campaign manager, as the Trump 2016 brain trust desperately attempts a reset of messaging.

With the latest Trump tweak, they’ve hired Stephen Bannon, a honcho grande at Breitbart News, as the new campaign overlord. The Trump campaign has also brought aboard Republican pollster and longtime Trump friend Kellyanne Conway to act as campaign manager, The Washington Post reported.

Trump released a statement: “I have known Steve and Kellyanne both for many years. They are extremely capable, highly qualified people who love to win and know how to win,” he said. “I believe we’re adding some of the best talents in politics, with the experience and expertise needed to defeat Hillary Clinton in November and continue to share my message and vision to Make America Great Again.”

The Post, citing unnamed sources, reports that this new shakeup is meant to undercut Manafort’s apparent attempts to steer The Donald toward a more accessible, general-election campaign style — a lot like trying to put a muzzle on a rabid Doberman.

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THE POST, quoting unnamed campaign aides, also said Trump has been feeling “boxed in” and “controlled” by Manafort’s approach and that, with two old allies on board, the plan is to engage in “a reversion to how he ran his campaign in the primaries with then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

“Lewandowski's mantra was ‘let Trump be Trump’ and Trump wants to get back to that type of campaign culture, the aides said.”

Which, as even the most casual campaign observer can tell you, is exactly why the campaign is where it is.

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A clear-eyed look at the rationale for Trump Plan B 2.0 can’t overlook the other, probable reason for Manafort’s demotion with Team Trump; he may have embarrassed the Trump campaign — and everyone knows that’s Donald Trump’s job.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that in 2012 Manafort was secretly working in behalf of the political party of Viktor Yanukovych, then Ukraine's president, in transferring more than $2 million to two D.C. lobbying firms, Podesta Group Inc. and Mercury LLC, without revealing that work — a violation of federal law.

“Under federal law, U.S. lobbyists must declare publicly if they represent foreign leaders or their political parties and provide detailed reports about their actions to the Justice Department. A violation is a felony and can result in up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000,” The AP reported.

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IN OTHER WAYS and places, in terms of polling, conservative alliances and public perception, the Trump campaign is nowhere good.

His much-hyped national security speech on Monday was an aggressive rehash of how he would do essentially what the Obama administration is doing already on dealing with ISIS. This paucity of original ideas in the national defense, an absence of credible statecraft and a provocatively cozy relationship with Russia’s Vladimir Putin have led to legions of Republicans and conservatives, at every point of the ideological spectrum, to run from Trump as fast and far as possible.

“Mr. Trump is a potential disaster as commander-in-chief—uninformed, volatile, poor judgment,” said Barry McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army officer, to TIME in June. “Hard to believe this is the candidate of a major political party.”

“Trump is unexpectedly increasing my enthusiasm for Hillary,” said retired general Merrill McPeak, formerly the Air Force chief of staff for the Joint Chiefs, also to TIME. “What he is saying is not based on facts: it’s based on immaturity, bad judgment and ignorance, and I think it’s going to be hard for people in uniform who are thoughtful about this, to vote for him.”

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Reuters reported Monday on eight experts in the increasingly important arena of U.S.-Asia relations who signed a open letter denouncing Trump as a potential president, and predicting a “ruinous marginalization” of the United States as a player in the region if Trump wins in November. For the eight, Trump is “an unstable, ill-prepared amateur with no vision or foresight to meet the manifold challenges of the 21st century.”

Monday, August 15, 2016

Late-nightmare: The end
of ‘The Nightly Show’ and what it means

AFTER 19 MONTHS on the air, “The Nightly Show,” Larry Wilmore’s much-anticipated late-night news commentary program on Comedy Central, has been canceled effective Thursday, a victim of constantly declining ratings, the loss of a priceless lead-in program, and — just maybe — a public that wasn’t ready for quite so much color in the late-night palette at one time.

TheWrap and other entertainment trade pubs broke the story earlier today, shortly after Wilmore reportedly broke the news to his staff this morning.

“Unfortunately, it hasn't connected with our audience in ways that we need it to, both in the linear channel and in terms of multi-platform outlets and with shareable content and on social platforms as well,” Comedy Central president Kent Alterman told The Hollywood Reporter.

It’s the final chapter in what’s been a long downward spiral for a show that deserved better. Wilmore, whose comedic pedigree is impeccable (his DNA in everything from “The Bernie Mac Show” to “Black-ish” to HBO’s upcoming “Insecure”) replaced Stephen Colbert’s “Colbert Report” in the 11:30 p.m. Comedy Central time slot in January 2015. Wilmore, capitalizing on his role as “Senior Black Correspondent” on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” took on issues of race, ethnicity, politics and the wider culture with passion and flair.

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Wilmore held his own for months, enjoying the initial reactions to his refreshing take on the day’s events and the added plus of the best lead-in he could ask for: “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” which preceded Wilmore’s show at the top of the hour. It made for a one-two punch that worked.

Confidence at Comedy Central was high. “The Nightly Show” was renewed in September; plans at that time were for the show to continue through the end of 2016. But something had happened the month before Wilmore signed his contract extension; Stewart resigned as anchor and provocateur-in-chief at “The Daily Show” last August.

The “Nightly Show” decline began shortly after that, and it never stopped. Nielsen reported that, as of early May this year, “The Nightly Show” averaged 492,000 same-day viewers, putting the show dead last behind all the top-tier late-night shows. “The Colbert Report,” which “The Nightly Show” replaced, averaged 1.1 million same-day viewers.

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IT GOT WORSE. A problematic moment for “Nightly” happened on April 30, with Wilmore’s appearance at the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington, a performance widely (though not universally) seen as a disappointment, with critics roundly panning Wilmore’s comic jabs.

He didn’t help himself by violating a cardinal rule of roast: Don’t immunize the guest of honor from being the main target of opportunity. “Wilmore seemed to be in search of a Presidential Medal of Honor, throwing his harshest punches at TV Networks and the print media,” The Post’s Claire Atkinson said.

That was just part of it. Other mainstream media were similarly uncharitable, beating “The Nightly Show” host like a chef making an omelet. John DeFore at the Hollywood Reporter: “He spent more time mocking a politician many are ready to write off, beating a Ted Cruz-as-Zodiac Killer bit into the ground. ... [T]he host of The Nightly Show made most of his jokes at the media's expense, and in this room full of reporters, they probably sounded meaner than they were meant to.”

Slate's Daniel Politi weighed in. "The vast majority of his jokes fell flat in a room that seemed to be groaning more often than smiling," Politti said. “Beyond a joke here and there, the whole monologue was really boring. A full 10 minutes could have easily been chopped from the whole thing and nothing would have changed.”

Celeste Farron, a New York Post reader: “He missed the mark because there was no humor. Who doesn't enjoy a good Roast with funny jabs where the person delivering gets away with mocking and insulting the guest of honor with humor? But with no humor, it was just a man standing there reading off a list of insults, which in this case were not clever.”

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The crosshairs dog-whistle: A history

EXTREMISM IN the pursuit of the presidency is no rarity. We’ve seen this more than a few times in this campaign season, a year crowded with so many occasions of jaw-dropping arrogance, outrageous contradictions and just plain bad manners, it’s beggared the imagination of how much worse things could get.

We found out on Tuesday. Donald Trump, the Republican nominee and moneyed attention addict, spoke at a campaign rally in Wilmington, N.C., invoking one part of the Constitution that he suggested could help rescue his floundering campaign.

With a Chicken Little scenario, Trump raised the possibility that gun rights advocates may well seek to make a forcible change if Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, is elected president and chooses to appoint judges supporting more restrictive gun control measures.

Trump said it would be “a horrible day” if Clinton were elected and made her choice for the next Supreme Court justice. “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” Trump said. Then he added: “Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”

It was an invocation of the constitutional amendment that confers unto American citizens the right to bear arms.

As you might expect, the furor erupted immediately. California Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell took to Trump’s favorite soapbox, Twitter, to call for the Secret Service to speak to Trump about his comments, which for him amounted to a call for Clinton’s assassination. “Donald Trump suggested someone kill Sec. Clinton. We must take people at their word.”

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TEAM TRUMP released the obligatory clarification, insisting Trump was referring to the “power of unification.”

“Second Amendment people have amazing spirit and are tremendously unified, which gives them great political power,” said Trump spokesman Jason Miller. “And this year, they will be voting in record numbers, and it won’t be for Hillary Clinton, it will be for Donald Trump.”

Also as expected, the Clinton campaign weighed in. Clinton's campaign manager Robby Mook said: "This is simple — what Trump is saying is dangerous. A person seeking to be the President of the United States should not suggest violence in any way."

“Words matter,” Clinton said at a Wednesday rally in Des Moines. “If you are running to be president or you are president of the United States, words can have tremendous consequences. Yesterday we witnessed the latest in a long line of casual comments from Donald Trump that crossed the line.”

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“Words matter.” It’s apparently good advice the Clinton campaign has taken this campaign. Unlike eight years and two months ago.

Strap yourself into the wayback machine. The dial’s set for May 23, 2008. Location: Sioux Falls, S.D. There, at a meeting with editors of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, Clinton was discussing her failing campaign, its prospects for the future, and the persistent calls for her to exit a race she couldn’t win. Despite entreaties for her to withdraw coming from the media and from Obama’s campaign, she said, “historically, that makes no sense.”

“My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right?" she continued. "We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.”

The firestorm that erupted from that last sentence was deeply problematical for the 2008 Clinton campaign; in one wrong move — obliquely referencing the June 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy as a reason for staying in the race — Team Hillary undercut whatever speculation there may have been about joining Obama on the ticket.

In a single utterance, Clinton — at the helm of a campaign that was, I wrote back then, “panoramically flawed [and] irreversibly doomed” — effectively ended that presidential campaign and began the journey, public and private, that brought her and us to this one.

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IT’S FAIR to say Clinton has learned a lot since 2008. She’s now in the pole position that Barack Obama enjoyed eight years ago. What I thought was true for Clinton 2008 is the case today for Team Trump, “a campaign whose appetite for self-destruction seems almost pathological.”

But Clinton’s mistake eight years ago and Trump’s comment on Tuesday show us that the crosshairs dog-whistle has no expiration date in American politics. It’s as ominous and desperate now as it was then, regardless of one's political affiliation.

Candidates should have known better than; they should definitely know better now. Failing this test of campaign decorum and national sensitivity deserves to be a disqualifier for the presidency. It was in 2008. Here’s a hope of history repeating.

Image credits: Trump: AP/Evan Vucci. Clinton: via CBC News.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Truth to power, Trump to Twitter

WHAT WAS probably the single defining moment of the Democratic National Convention occurred while the convention was happening, but it more properly belongs to the everyday world outside the arena. We can thank Khizr Khan of Charlottesville, Va., for illuminating the real patriotism of a fallen son, the fraudulent patriotism of the Trump campaign, the ways in which that campaign thrives on division for its own sake, and what it means to be an American in the most jagged time in our history.

It was the fourth night of a convention that was unnaturally well-oiled and operationally smooth. Hillary Clinton was yet to make her acceptance speech, the first money pitch for the presidency. Shortly before that, with his wife, Ghazal, beside him, Khan took the podium to pay tribute to his son, Capt. Humayun Saqib Muazzam Khan of the United States Army, killed in a suicide truck-bomb blast in Baquoba, Iraq, on June 8, 2004. Captain Khan, 27, was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

In about five minutes in Philadelphia, Khizr Khan spoke his truth to power and reset the perception button on the ubiquity of the Muslim American experience, in the process revealing the fundamental paucity, the basic emptiness of the Trump presidential campaign — or, more accurately, letting the campaign do that to itself, tweet after reactive tweet.

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“Tonight we are honored to stand here as parents of Captain Humayun Khan and as patriotic American Muslims, with undivided loyalty to our country.

“Like many immigrants, we came to this country empty-handed. We believed in American democracy; that with hard work and goodness of this country, we could share in and contribute to its blessings.

“We are blessed to raise our three sons in a nation where they were free to be themselves and follow their dreams.

“Our son, Humayun, had dreams too, of being a military lawyer, but he put those dreams aside the day he sacrificed his life to save the lives of his fellow soldiers. Hillary Clinton was right when she called my son 'the best of America'.

“If it was up to Donald Trump, he never would have been in America. Donald Trump consistently smears the character of Muslims. He disrespects other minorities; women; judges; even his own party leadership. He vows to build walls, and ban us from this country.

“Donald Trump, you're asking Americans to trust you with their future. Let me ask you: Have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy,” Khan said, pulling out his own copy, to thunderous applause. “In this document, look for the words 'liberty' and 'equal protection of law'.

“Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery? Go look at the graves of brave patriots who died defending the United States of America. You will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing and no one.

“We cannot solve our problems by building walls, sowing division. We are stronger together. And we will keep getting stronger when Hillary Clinton becomes our President.”

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IT WAS a comprehensive response to the persistent Trump anti-Muslim theme, the one that’s been wafting on the campaign’s rhetorical breeze like the scent of a chicken carcass on a hot day’s sidewalk. The one that lets Donald Trump build a poison enemy on the basis of faith. The one that proposes a ban on Muslim immigrants to the United States. Many Republicans responded favorably.

Khan’s convention comments caught the Trump campaign on a back foot; the relative early silence from TwitterTeamTrump suggests a campaign blindsided by Khan’s comments and the Democrats’ organically truthful, politically astute appropriation of the pro-military persona – the same one that Republicans have made a literal stock in trade in elections since the Reagan years.

But it didn’t stop the Trump campaign from mounting a full-court press, going after Khan early and often after the convention. The candidate more or less immediately went into his classic butthurt-sarcastic defensive crouch: “Mr. Khan, who does not know me, viciously attacked me from the stage of the DNC and is now all over T.V. doing the same — Nice!”

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Democratic Convention Day 4:
Hillary. Hillary. Hillary.

IT’S A SHAME that Time magazine already cashed in its great cover headline from 1993, speculating on the rise of Hillary Clinton, then “the most powerful first lady in history,” as a someday-viable presidential contender. The New York Times, mining exactly the same speculative editorial ground, used exactly the same headline in June 2006. What was wishful thinking 23 years ago, woefully premature 10 years ago and short-circuited at the ballot box eight years ago is alive and well today, a very going concern.


When Clinton took the stage last Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, finally gaining the Democratic nomination she was after in the bitterly fought contest with Barack Obama in 2008, it was an obvious validation of her tenacity, but also a testament to a candidate ready for the office she’s pursued, and a nation ready to embrace what it means.

The name “Clinton” is no longer the default identifier of husband Bill. Clinton stands poised to move the needle on the gauge of American possibility, a gauge that’s been stuck in its assumption that only men were fit for the presidency of the United States. For 161 million women and girls in this country, accustomed to male control of the debates over everything from reproductive rights to paid family leave to equal pay for equal work, the playing field’s maybe never been closer to level than it is right now.

The newly-minted nominee seized the moment with a speech both pinpoint and panoramic:

America is once again at a moment of reckoning. Powerful forces are threatening to pull us apart. Bonds of trust and respect are fraying. And just as with our founders, there are no guarantees. It truly is up to us. We have to decide whether we all will work together so we all can rise together. Our country's motto is “e pluribus unum”: out of many, we are one. Will we stay true to that motto?

Well, we heard Donald Trump's answer last week at his convention. He wants to divide us - from the rest of the world, and from each other.

He's betting that the perils of today's world will blind us to its unlimited promise. He's taken the Republican Party a long way... from "Morning in America" to "Midnight in America." He wants us to fear the future and fear each other.

Well, a great Democratic President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, came up with the perfect rebuke to Trump more than eighty years ago, during a much more perilous time. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Now we are clear-eyed about what our country is up against. But we are not afraid. We will rise to the challenge, just as we always have. We will not build a wall. Instead, we will build an economy where everyone who wants a good paying job can get one.

And we’ll build a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants who are already contributing to our economy! We will not ban a religion. We will work with all Americans and our allies to fight terrorism. There’s a lot of work to do. Too many people haven’t had a pay raise since the crash.

There’s too much inequality. Too little social mobility. Too much paralysis in Washington. Too many threats at home and abroad. But just look at the strengths we bring to meet these challenges. We have the most dynamic and diverse people in the world. We have the most tolerant and generous young people we’ve ever had. We have the most powerful military. The most innovative entrepreneurs. The most enduring values. Freedom and equality, justice and opportunity. We should be so proud that these words are associated with us. That when people hear them – they hear… America.

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So don’t let anyone tell you that our country is weak. We’re not. Don’t let anyone tell you we don’t have what it takes. We do. And most of all, don’t believe anyone who says: “I alone can fix it.” Those were actually Donald Trump’s words in Cleveland. And they should set off alarm bells for all of us. Really? I alone can fix it? Isn’t he forgetting? Troops on the front lines. Police officers and fire fighters who run toward danger. Doctors and nurses who care for us. Teachers who change lives. Entrepreneurs who see possibilities in every problem. Mothers who lost children to violence and are building a movement to keep other kids safe. He’s forgetting every last one of us. ...

America needs every one of us to lend our energy, our talents, our ambition to making our nation better and stronger. I believe that with all my heart. That’s why “Stronger Together” is not just a lesson from our history. It’s not just a slogan for our campaign. It’s a guiding principle for the country we’ve always been and the future we’re going to build.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Democratic Convention Day 3:
The president speaks to the American room

BARRY HASN’T dropped the presidential mic for the last time just yet, and it’ll be a sad-ass day in the world of oratory when he does, on or about January 20th. But until then, and for the rest of this campaign, President Obama can be counted on for some seriously heavyweight speeches on behalf of Hillary Clinton — speeches he probably field-tested Wednesday in Philadelphia.

Over the past seven years and change, our president has observed the necessary decorum of his high office; he has masterfully let others roll around in the rhetorical mud; he’s sharpened his skills of telling various adversaries to go to hell and made them at least curious about taking the trip.

But Wednesday in the heart of plain-spoken Philly, the president brought his own attytood to the subject of Donald Trump, a longtime presidential antagonist who just happens to be the Republican nominee. Obama combined sharp, ad hominem broadsides with an overview of administration accomplishment; joined a frank understanding of the troubles facing this country with a grasp of the ways Americans have brilliantly, successfully faced down existential challenges before ... and his own full-throated endorsement of Hillary Clinton for the presidency. It was fun to watch, and more than a little bittersweet.

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By so many measures, our country is stronger and more prosperous than it was when we started. And through every victory and every setback, I’ve insisted that change is never easy, and never quick; that we wouldn’t meet all of our challenges in one term, or one presidency, or even in one lifetime.

So, tonight, I’m here to tell you that, yes, we’ve still got more work to do. More work to do for every American still in need of a good job or a raise, paid leave or a decent retirement; for every child who needs a sturdier ladder out of poverty or a world-class education; for everyone who has not yet felt the progress of these past seven and a half years.

Look, we Democrats have always had plenty of differences with the Republican Party, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s precisely this contest of idea that pushes our country forward. But what we heard in Cleveland last week wasn’t particularly Republican -- and it sure wasn’t conservative. What we heard was a deeply pessimistic vision of a country where we turn against each other, and turn away from the rest of the world. There were no serious solutions to pressing problems -- just the fanning of resentment, and blame, and anger, and hate.

Read the full transcript of the speech

And that is not the America I know. The America I know is full of courage, and optimism, and ingenuity. The America I know is decent and generous. Sure, we have real anxieties -- about paying the bills, and protecting our kids, caring for a sick parent. We get frustrated with political gridlock, and worry about racial divisions. We are shocked and saddened by the madness of Orlando or Nice. ...

All of that is real. We are challenged to do better; to be better.

But as I’ve traveled this country, through all 50 states, as I’ve rejoiced with you and mourned with you, what I have also seen, more than anything, is what is right with America. I see people working hard and starting businesses. I see people teaching kids and serving our country. I see engineers inventing stuff, doctors coming up with new cures. I see a younger generation full of energy and new ideas, not constrained by what is, ready to seize what ought to be.

And most of all, I see Americans of every party, every background, every faith who believe that we are stronger together -- black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American; young, old; gay, straight; men, women, folks with disabilities, all pledging allegiance, under the same proud flag, to this big, bold country that we love. That's what I see. That's the America I know!

And there is only one candidate in this race who believes in that future, has devoted her life to that future; a mother and a grandmother who would do anything to help our children thrive; a leader with real plans to break down barriers, and blast through glass ceilings, and widen the circle of opportunity to every single American -- the next president of the United States, Hillary Clinton.

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You know, the Donald is not really a plans guy. He’s not really a facts guy, either. He calls himself a business guy, which is true, but I have to say, I know plenty of businessmen and women who’ve achieved remarkable success without leaving a trail of lawsuits, and unpaid workers, and people feeling like they got cheated.
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