Thursday, July 28, 2016

Thank You CNBC

This was going to be a post about the naivete of the mainstream press falling into the trap laid by Donald Trump "asking" Russia to find and distribute the missing 30,000 emails, based on the gullible reporting by New York Times, NPR and others today. Instead, it turns out a CNBC story saw right through the Trumpian ploy, mitigating the need for me to write that new post.

The Trump statements were clearly sarcasm, not to be taken seriously. Therefore, a reasonable response from the Democrats and the press might have been - "OK, we know you can deflect attention from yourself so that no one can see how little you know or understand about the workings of our government and the global community. We see how deft you are at making accusations about your opponents that are so outrageous that they clear the room of intelligent conversation.

And how you accuse some reporters of favoring your opponent- "Be quiet - I know you wanna, you know, save her." (See how easy it is to deflect attention from answering a relevant question by hurling an accusation at a reporter.)

 while denying press credentials to organizations like the Washington Post when they report accurately, but are even a little tough on your candidacy. We live in a complex world, but you claim there are simple answers to every problem and never elaborate on how you will actually accomplish anything that requires working collaboratively with Congress at home and U.S. allies abroad. Will you be providing substantive credible answers any time soon? "

Let's see if the Democratic strategists catch on any time soon. By focusing on the Trump sarcasm and treating it seriously, they exhibited muddled thinking, which puts them in a bad position to call Trump out on his muddled thinking, even with the important distinction between being muddled about campaign strategy versus being muddled about international policy. We can look back to the example of Jeb Bush, whose best shot was "You can't bully your way to the presidency, Donald". Oh yes he can if no one figures out how to expose him. A starting point would be to work with calling him out more directly on his modus operandi - "Donald, everything you say amounts to - deny, accuse, deflect, distract, ignore. You can bully your way past the issues during a campaign because the press struggles to deal with you due to their constrictions around being "fair and balanced" to appear objective, but people need to think about what it is like to have a President who does not know anything about our government and our institutions."

There is a reason that Sarah Palin, who endorsed Trump early, has been largely absent from the campaign at the national level. A larger presence for her would be a reminder that incompetence of a candidate actually matters and that comparisons of Trump with Palin would be both accurate and damning.

What Ailes America

At one time, some people decided to try new tactics to defeat their opponents. When they found those tactics successful, they refined and perfected them.

Michele Obama said this week, "When they go low, we go high", but that response has not always been successful.

Roger Ailes probably has had more to do with reshaping the Amercan competitive political landscape than anyone else over the past 50 years. He worked for Richard Nixon. In 1972 Ed Muskie at first seemed like a formidable opponent to then President Nixon who was up for reelection as the Vietnam war and anti-war sentiment and battles over societal changes continued to tear at the nation. Muskie was seen as uniquely qualified as a U.S. Senator who also had executive experience as Governor of Maine. Muskie's downfall in the primaries came when he was viewed as weak and purportedly crying during a stump speech defending his wife's reputation which had been dragged into the campaign and denouncing an accusatory letter in a NH newspaper. Both incidents turned out later to be part of an orchestrated campaign of dirty tricks of the Nixon White House.

Among the dirty tricks was the Watergate "break-in". Of course, burglary is a crime, but the White House act of bugging the telephone of the head of the Democratic National Committee to obtain the contents of phone calls went far beyond the usual campaign tactics of 1972. Although that effort at intelligence collection came up short, the apparent Russian government/Wikileaks alliance to collect and distribute the DNC emails timed for maximum impact has been a great success as a distraction from the Democratic Convention.

The Trump playbook is very different. Best described as a sufferer of a narcissistic personality disorder, he is always ready to go on the offensive. Attack, attack, attack. Deny, deflect, accuse, distract, not necessarily in that order. It comes naturally to him and helps distract from his lack of qualification for the office.  The accusations are not limited to political opponents. In the midst of a press conference, he will accuse reporters of favoring his opponent as a technique to distract and get them off their game. More in the next post.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Now What? Whatever Works

Now that the FBI has today recommended no prosecution of Hillary Clinton, what can we expect from Republicans as the next tactical move in the presidential campaign. Never mind the back and forth of accusations and denials, but what will be the next tactical maneuver?
After all, the tiebreaker Justice of the Supreme Court is at stake with the Senate Republican majority refusal to hold hearings on President Obama's March 16 nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

Imagine a world where, instead of Breaking News emblazoned in a red banner across the home page, one of the major news outlets blared "America Held Hostage - Day 111 of the Supreme Court Impasse". There was a time that reporters built their careers on such stuff.


OK, not going to happen. Breaking News has to be new and people do not get excited about stalemates until the system collapses.

We can learn from similar history what comes next. The Republican campaigns against Bill Clinton while he was President, Hillary Clinton ever since she was First Lady, and Barack Obama since he first ran for President have been all about destroying trust in these leaders. In the ideal case, democracy depends upon differing philosophies competing in the marketplace of ideas for acceptance based on the merits of the arguments and policy is crafted through compromise by those who agree on some issues of substance and disagree on others. Instead, Clinton, Obama, and Clinton were each well positioned to garner too much popularity based on personal qualities of leadership and demographic advantage among supporters.

If we look back to the President Clinton era, we see that when the Lewinsky scandal emerged, all resources of the Independent Counsel which had been conducting many different investigations was shifted to that single investigation. The treatment of candidate and later President Obama was less in the legal and investigative realm and more a matter of deeply offensive innuendo and stark bigotry - "pal-ing" with terrorists, "he's a Muslim", and the "birther"  allegations. Now with Hillary Clinton, what began with allegations of scandalously firing travel office personnel and even murder of Vince Foster in the early 1990s morphed further in this decade. The strategy of her detractors continues to be to throw everything possible at her and see if any of it sticks. Just as the Office of Independent Counsel by all appearances in the late 1990s was looking for anything they could make stick to President Clinton, so the Benghazi investigators in the House subpoenaed emails and as much information as possible to see what they could find. Sure enough, it turned out the maintenance of those very emails on personal servers became the next opportunity for investigation and much hoped for prosecution.

The reward for the endless investigations of Hillary Clinton with nothing to show for it in a sane world might be sympathy for a leader who has devoted most of her adult life to public service. Instead, surveys show HRC right up there with Trump in the level of mistrust among voters. There is a natural human tendency to infer that a target of multiple accusations and investigations must be guilty of something. Unfortunately, we can expect the Republican tactic of investigating the most successful and popular Democratic presidents and presidential hopefuls to continue unabated due to this ability to engender mistrust.

Our democratic system can only survive if differing philosophies compete on the merits. Ours has devolved into a system where the differences of opinion on policy are downplayed in the election cycle into a tactical battle of Republican attacks on the character of the Democratic candidate. In the case of Obama, the attackers were unable to gain much traction on the character issue, but had some success on their manufactured legitimacy issue. The occasional success of scurrilous attacks causes continued deterioration of our system of government which otherwise depends upon a certain amount of good will and good faith of political players.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Bad Polls is the Answer Or Do Not Use a Hammer as a ScrewDriver

Bad Pols or Bad Polls was the question we posed June 20th regarding the conspiracy theories that some unnamed person or persons were engineering election fraud on Hillary Clinton's behalf throughout the primary process.
Exit Polls, and Why the Primary was not Stolen from Bernie Sanders is the answer from the NYT Upshot Column of June 27.
In other words, do not try to use a tool for a purpose for which it is not designed or if you do, have a good reason and know what you are doing. Exit polls in the U.S. are not designed to detect voter fraud.
Note that the NYT kept silent on the issue and had not run any stories saying there are all kinds of right wing conspiracy theories until there was too much noise to ignore. Innuendo is not their business. Innuendo is Donald Trump's modus operandi. "You know, a lot of people are saying..." or "A lot of people think..."  and similar vague but insinuating phrases are commonly used by Trump as support for his stance on matters of fact. A president can not get away with that. We will see if a presidential candidate can.