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.

Source: adweek.com

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.

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