The Obama Years

The Obama Years

 

When I was in fifth year, our History teacher asked us to write an essay on the importance of Obama’s election. This was puzzling to me as this was not history. This was the present. Still, I managed to churn out some vague ramblings on the hope he inspired with the rhetoric of his speeches. You have to remember that back in 2008, Obama was like a celestial being sent from the heavens to save us from eight years of horror. Even if you knew nothing about the man, his days as a Community Organiser on the Southside of Chicago, or his political accomplishments in the Senate, you still held the innate sense that this was a good man who really was capable of enacting change and ushering in a new period of American prosperity. Eight years later, he has done just that, though perhaps not in the ways many of us would have imagined. His ascension to the highest office in the land, despite any beliefs you may hold of what came after, remains an historic moment. So, without further ado, let’s foolhardily tackle a legacy that will take years (if not decades) to fully understand, and appreciate.

The Audacity of Hope

“Yes, we can” was always a banal and slightly cringe-inducing soundbite but its utterance at the Democratic National Convention last year and during Obama’s farewell address nevertheless made our hearts leap. I used to think that Obama’s great speeches weren’t that important- that what mattered were his actions. Looking back in history however, how can one simply dismiss the power of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the comfort FDR brought with his radio addresses, or the tone Kennedy set for the Space Race as mere populist fluff? The truth of the matter is that a president leads not only with bills and the military, but with their words. From the get-go, Obama was a breath of fresh air because he spoke and acted with optimism, ebullience, caution, and consideration, not with bravado, brashness, and all guns blazing.  As Stephen Walt put it in an early New York Times’ assessment two years ago; “[Even} when one disagreed with his choices, one knew that his acts were never impulsive or cavalier.” This helped restore not only peoples’ faith in America across the world; it helped restore general morale in an era dominated by economic hardship and political division. Particularly in light of what is to come, this will matter.

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That famous 2008 poster

New World Terrors

The US was engaged in two wars when Obama took office. Many would argue that his decision to withdraw the US from Iraq was premature and facilitated the rise of ISIS. His policy on Afghanistan was somewhat wistful, quixotic, and naïve, which resulted in the stark realisation that nation building was not a feasible option. Many would contend that his condonation of drone warfare was abject and distant. Many would also assert that Obama’s foreign policy was, for the better part, a mere extension of the Bush administration’s. It’s a difficult area to assess because any of the repercussions from his actions will take years to manifest. However, it is pudent to remember the context in which his decisions were made:

There was the Arab Spring in his first term; which sparked the fervent outcry for democracy violently across the Middle East, resulting in a cascade of falling governments along with the end of the Gaddafi reign. There was the capture and assassination of Osama Bin Laden, which closed the chapter on an event that was a cathartic moment for all Americans. There was Benghazi, which undermined the credibility of his Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, and set a stage for scathing Republican backlash. There was the Iran Nuclear Deal, which to most reasonable people, was a step forward but which nevertheless further divided the nation writ large. There was Syria – an avenue Obama wanted to pursue but was discouraged from doing so by Congress (his seeking authority to enter may yet be seen as an aberration in the attitude of previous presidential administrations). There was Cuba, a country shunned for 50 years, a status that Obama felt deserved to be reevaluated. There was Putin; a man emboldened by the supposed appearance of weakness on Obama’s part, who entered Crimea, alighting fears of a Second Cold War. Then there has been the proliferation of terrorist threats across the world from Paris, Berlin, and Istanbul, which have consolidated the last decade and a half as the “Age of Terror.”

Republicans consistently go too far with their half-formed criticisms of the President. What they have failed to grasp time and time again is that “diplomacy” is not a dirty word. Obama understood that. He tread these waters, possibly a little too carefully, but next to Bush and Trump, are we not glad that there was a president who was willing to consider compromise before warfare? Just what will happen when Trump, the capricious braggadocio, gets his tiny hands on the most powerful military in the world? Obama’s heuristic leadership will surely seem a distant and sought after memory.

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“The Situation Room”- 2011

A Nation Divided

Abraham Lincoln was a model of hope in an era of bitter division, preceded and succeeded by terrible leaders. Obama’s time draws similar parallels.

Political, economic, and social division have evidently dogged these past eight years however. To take the former case of division; we have seen from day one, the GOP’s effort to dismantle the President’s domestic efforts and undermine his legitimacy on a scale of determination even more reprehensible than during the Clinton years. The Affordable Health Care Act (arguably Obama’s magnum opus), may be a source of contention for many Americans, some see it as hyper-liberalism aiding a modern welfare state. The Republicans’  alternative however (still outstanding), simply cannot be taken seriously in this discussion; their opposition is based on nothing more than political gratification. Of course, the bill is not perfect but with 50 years’ efforts of trying to get some sort of coverage passed and 20 million more people insured, there’s something undeniably historic about this act.

In terms of economic division then, the wealth gap has only continued to grow. Dodd-Frank was an amiable step towards reform but Wall Street was never properly disciplined and for this, Obama should be criticised. The Occupy movement was propelled by such injustice in this climate and so was Bernie Sanders, whose message, resonated with the youth, far more than Obama’s or Clinton’s. This problem, which Obama has on some level recognised, will no doubt continue to fester over the course of the next four years (if Trump’s tax plans are to be taken seriously) and it will dominate the 2020 election. To his credit, as an aside, he has made a substantive effort to promote the minimum wage and saved the country from another Great Depression (this particularly shouldn’t be forgotten).

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The Occupy Movement

The rise of Social Media has meanwhile projected unto millions more the reality of racial, sexual, and gendered inequality. Despite having their first Black president, many members of the Black community felt disheartened by his seeming disinterest in tackling police brutality and discriminatory laws. Events like Ferguson have been a brutal reminder of the privilege afforded to White people over Blacks. With sexual equality then, Obama was not initially a champion of Gay Marriage but its passage into law in 2015 became a victory for his administration, as the culture wars took a massive swing to the left. Women’s rights, were seemingly thrown aside with the election of Trump, but Obama’s been a proponent of greater equity, particularly in the workforce.

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Ferguson- gives rise to the “Black Lives Matter” movement

Guns

The fight over the Second Amendment cannot solely be hallmarked as an issue of the Obama years but it has been spread increasingly across social media lately. In a recent interview, Obama said his meeting with the families of the Sandy Hook victims in 2012 was the most difficult moment he endured in all his eight years and he meant that genuinely. Who could forget last year’s emotional speech when through tears, he told us, “every time I think about [them] it gets me mad”? Although nothing significant has been accomplished in all this time, Obama’s empathy will be remembered poignantly.

2016 Election

Obama’s own popularity rose throughout 2015 and 2016 despite an all-time low at the start of those years. He has since acknowledged however that this popularity did not transfer over to the Democratic base. Was the party, in some ways, damaged during his Presidency? November’s results would attest to just that but the election was of course anything but logical. Still, it may be argued in years to come that Obama’s greatest failure as President was to mobilise his party effectively and prevent the election of the Donald. Bill Clinton hasn’t exactly borne the grudge of Bush’s election. Carter’s leadership, on the other hand, certainly caused friction with the more liberal sides of his party and helped propel Reagan to power.

A Frustrated Presidency?

There are many areas this article hasn’t covered, including Climate Change, Obama’s generational image, the Auto-Industry, Immigration, and Citizens United. The overriding image these issues convey however is that of a “frustrated” presidency. The promises were many and the hopes were high; too high to ever formally be realized. Set against the schism of a society at odds culturally and politically, there were in many respects, very few avenues for this President to pursue without controversy. At first, he seemed a tad hesitant, especially given the Democrats’ initial majority. He was building the blocks of his legacy however, as a man of the people, not the politicians. Obamacare, I would argue, needed to be sold to the public. Politically, it would always be burdened. Indeed, many of his programs needed popular support. (Perhaps this is why he made so many chat show appearances!) And while his approval ratings have ended on a relative high, in many ways, this man and his team must be heartbroken; for just as so many greater heights could have been reached, so too could the measures he’s taken be torn apart in years to come.

In the final reflection, one has to wonder if Obama had ceded to Clinton in 2008 and ran, in perhaps 2020, would he had been better positioned to enact his powerful rhetoric of real change and unbridled hope for America? We’ll never know. When the dust has settled on his presidency, and equipped with the glorious retrospective vehicle of historical analysis, I think the 44th President of the United States will stand out as a coruscating example of a man, who in the face of constant adversity, lead the nation with progressive, principled, resolve.

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The Farewell Address

Presidential Debate Tips For Trump & Clinton

Presidential Debate Tips For Trump & Clinton

On Monday, the 26th September, Clinton and Trump will engage in the first of three national televised presidential debates. Anyone who caught the back-and-forth between Trump and Jeb or Trump and Cruz or Trump and Rubio during the Republican primaries will understand just how pivotal these forums can be. Simple gaffes can destroy a candidate’s legitimacy. Poor phrasing can undermine a crucial point they want to convey. Even the wrong body language can result in severe repercussions. So what should Clinton and Trump take note of? We here at the Walrus thought it would be worth taking a trip down memory lane.

Kennedy vs. Nixon (1960)

This race heralded the first national televised debate, as the young and charismatic John F. Kennedy squared off against the raging jowls of Richard M. Nixon. Whilst many Americans, listening to the debate on their radios, felt that the Vice-President succeeded in offering a better vision for America, the television viewers felt differently. A wearisome, sick Nixon simply came off as less confident and able on the black-and-white screen. Kennedy, on the other hand, understood this medium in the way FDR understood how the radio could be used to communicate. He spoke clearly and held himself firmly- a man who was comfortable with nothing to hide.

Trump, of course, is no stranger to the televised medium and despite his outlandish hairdo, comes across as quite a unique and exciting figure to beheld. Hillary however, whilst experienced, often appears stiff and calculated, like she’s reading from a prompter.

Ford vs. Carter (1976)

Jerry Ford was one of the most affable presidents America ever had. He didn’t boast the sharpest of wits however, as evident in one of his and Carter’s national televised debates, when he stated that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.” Carter wryly smiled whilst the stunned moderator, Max Frankel, responded, “I’m sorry. What?…” This performance only served to reflect and reaffirm the credibility of Chevy Chase’s SNL Ford; a bumbling, awkward man barely getting on by in the job. It may have been a just a little slip, but it cost Ford dearly in the media and public’s perception of him. Trump, in particular, should take note here. He may have gotten away with his random gesticulations in the primaries but Clinton, unlike most the GOP, is hawkish and ready to pounce on any little mis-step.

Carter vs. Reagan/ Mondale vs. Reagan (1980 and 1984)

Ronald Reagan was hardly the smartest of US presidents either but he was a great communicator. He had a way of brushing off criticism and making his opponents feel a bit overbearing. Against Carter, we saw this when he said “there you go again,” in response to a criticism the President made about Reagan’s stance on a past healthcare bill. Against Mondale, we saw this when he quipped “I will not make age an  an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” In that brilliant soundbite, he not only pushed aside any genuine concerns about his age, but also posed a good counterpoint and reinforced his likability as a humorous man. So if Hillary could crack a few more lines like “you heard none of this at the Republican convention and Trump went on for 70-odd minutes- and they were odd,” that would be just dandy. This kind of reflex is perfect for the Youtube generation.

Bush I vs. Clinton vs. Perot (1992)

Don’t look at your watch! The Commander-in-Chief George HW Bush made this fatal error in a three-way debate against Slick Willy and a more credulous billionaire than Trump. While Bush may have had pressing matters on his hands, this quick, likely subconscious act, reflected the media’s perception of him as a man both out-of-touch with/ not interested in the common man. Bill, in contrast, not only didn’t get distracted, he stood up and walked out from the center of the stage to make eye contact with the people asking questions. He is of course, in a league of his own, but it’s worth noting nonetheless that you must always respect the time given for these debates, even if they are repetitive and pointless.

Gore vs. Bush II (2000)

To borrow a term from W’s lexicon, Al Gore misunderestimated his opponent. Whilst the second Bush was clearly nowhere near as clever as the Vice-President, he did manage to come across to a great many people as a likable and relatable individual. Gore tried to pounce on his basic understanding of the issues with a multitude of condescending mannerisms. At one point, he walked over to Bush as if to confront him man-to-man on a question he felt he gave the better answer to. At another point, he loudly sighed. It’s not exactly fair but the public do like an underdog and in this case, they gave Bush II enough wriggle room for the contentious count-up that followed. In this year’s case, it may be tempting for Hillary to act this exact same way, but there is a line between humouring your base and offending the other. Reagan understood this; Gore didn’t.

 

And so Clinton and Trump should now be well prepared for September 26th if they have read this. Naturally we have only scratched the surface but it is clear from these cases that a winning personality and sharp wit does the job best. Hillary has the latter and to some- let’s call them progressively challenged people- Trump boasts the former. We may be given stiff, unintelligible, and ambiguous answers next week but one thing’s for sure, the entertainment factor will be huuuuuge. 

 

 

Why Bernie Didn’t Sell Out

Why Bernie Didn’t Sell Out

Last week marked the unofficial end of the rivalry between Hillary Rodham Clinton and that ever cantankerous Senator Sanders. In a speech delivered before the people of New Hampshire, who voted in his favour, he addressed the question of his movement’s future and where his loyalty lay. I watched this as it streamed live on Facebook, torn between the body language of the two figures at the podium and the incoming flood of knee-jerk reactions from half-wits and the odd informed. Many complimented this change in tone; it had after all been a long and arduous primary season. Others lamented however Bernie’s decision to stand by the Devil and surrender everything he had ever stood for. And that’s where we stop because (and I’ll put this plainly), Bernie didn’t sell out. Here’s why:

  1. He won on the issues- if you listened to Clinton’s speech, which directly followed Sanders’ endorsement, you will have noticed how clever SNL were with their skit on Clinton becoming more and more Sanders’ like (to the point where Kate McKinnon ended up with a bald cap). At first, I gave her the benefit of the doubt on the assumption that she just isn’t as conservative as the uber-liberals have suggested. When it came to Wall Street however and her bargaining plea to overturn Citizen’s United, it became clear that she was taking note of the issues that prevailed in the debates, brought about because of Sanders’ longstanding rhetoric. She delved into college fees and global warming too, which made for a nice combination, leading me to believe that she has moved far more to the left than even the most hawkish of critics could have guessed.
  2. It’s not just about the Presidency- Sanders’ movement and the rise of the Left cannot solely rely on an office tampered with more than ever. It needs to endure beyond one or two terms into a progressive model by which the future of the Democratic Party can be shaped. Yes, Hillary has, in many senses, won the battle but the future could be Sanders, so long as the issues on which he based his candidacy, continue to resonate. As mentioned above, I think they already have to the point that Hillary can’t afford to ignore them. As well as that however, he can also serve as a highly influential figure outside of the White House. Who, for example, had more of an effect on American culture in the 1960s than Martin Luther King? Has Jimmy Carter not accomplished some of his best work out of office? The presidency is a convenient altar, through which many channels, from foreign aid to educational reform, can be distributed but as Bill Clinton himself has noted, it’s also prey to circumstances beyond a president’s control (e.g. 9/11).
  3. Trump must be defeated- I’ll admit that this is not my favourite argument as I do not believe elections should be contested on the basis of fighting against, rather than for something. It is an important one though and whether it depresses you or not, voting for the lesser of two so-called evils is still worthwhile. Bernie’s candidacy, has gone as far it needs to, in my opinion. With the Democratic National Convention coming up, it has become clear that his issues and supporters will not simply be sidelined but incorporated into the party’s agenda for the coming years. For now, he needs to ensure, if his own visions are to be realised though, that this party does as well as it can come November. Otherwise, the country will head in the exact opposite direction with Trump.
  4. Listen to the speech again- Sanders didn’t have to necessarily endorse Clinton but it was the responsible thing to do; what purpose would their rivalry have served after all? Not enough to sway you? Listen to the speech again then and tell me where exactly he abandons the principles on which he built his campaign? Still not enough? Take a trip through his YouTube interviews and go back to a year ago when he expressed his admiration for Hillary Clinton whilst acknowledging their differences of opinions. Granted, the race heated up and nostrils flared during the primary season but the gulf in rhetoric that existed between their camps, was never as deep as many of Sanders’ less reasonable supporters suggested. He fought a good battle and we can only admire him for what he did but that battle is over now and at some point, you have to concede and look to the positives.

It’s undoubtedly sad to see Bernie leave the race; he shook things up and set the country’s vision towards a better tomorrow, in a manner we just couldn’t have expected over a year ago with the “inevitable” Clinton candidacy. His role however in this race will at least go down in the history books and his role to come will remain that of an inspiring spokesman for a disenfranchised generation.

Who Will Be The Donald’s VP?

Who Will Be The Donald’s VP?

Since he announced his candidacy one year ago, Donald Trump has been drawing consistent headlines for his outlandish remarks, wildfire debate performances, and of course, the odd lapse in logic. It seems by this point that there is no way he can truly surprise us but just like Game of Thrones, he manages to reel you in every week to see if that threat beyond the wall is indeed serious or just a way to waste some time. And guess what? We are only a month and a half off from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio where he’ll presumably hold his hand up with another’s and bark sentiments of making America great again. So who’s hand will it be? Will it be a hook?

First, let’s consider the factors that go into choosing a running mate. In 1960, JFK chose LBJ to compensate for his lack of support in the South. Obama got Biden on board so that he could add experience to his cabinet’s credentials. Similar concerns will no doubt be dogging the otherwise muddled minds of Trump’s camp. As it is, he’s doing well across the country with many speculative polls tying him with Clinton but women and Hispanics aren’t flocking to his side. Having some insiders would also be a good measure as his business acumen will not compensate for political naivety. So without further ado, let’s take a look at a cluster of depressing possibilities.

Chris Christie

The New Jersey governor was one of the first Republican candidates to sell his soul to the Devil. We all remember that moment in March when he stood behind the Donald at a rally, conveying all the confidence of a Cosby apologist. Despite this, his loyalty has been noted by the Republican candidate in several interviews.

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Newt Gingrich

You may remember him as the crazed Speaker of the House from the mid 1990s but did you know Newt attempted a Presidential bid in 2012? He has ambitions still. As a stalwart of the GOP, Gingrich could help Trump solidify the party’s base, although that may not prove an issue considering how easy it’s been for him already in building that momentum.

Ben Carson

The former neurosurgeon and bat-shit crazy candidate was at one point last year, the gravest threat to Donald’s victory. He’s another person Trump has said he “respects” and his help could sway those easily fooled by the race card. And in terms of image too, he projects a level of calmness lacking from the frothing jowls of Trump.

Sarah Palin

It was the death nail for McCain eight years ago but it says a lot about America that the wacky Sarah Palin still has a part to play in the party that pretty much disowned her a couple years ago. Some folk have speculated that Trump has just given up courting the female vote but if he has a woman as his running mate, he can’t be sexist, right? Sneaky stuff, Don but this would definitely be the worst bet.

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Joni Ernst

Another female Republican but one who has been critical of Trump’s sexist comments, many feel Ernst could be the perfect counterweight to Trump. She’s an able communicator and can help Trump with the Midwestern vote. She’s a bit less colourful of course than the others though which may not go down well with the man who paints himself orange.

Ted Cruz

Cruz’ exit surprised me somewhat considering the fact that he himself had chosen a running mate in Carly Fiorina just before. Trump has repeatedly called Cruz a slime-ball and launched personal attacks, even against his wife. The senator’s exit may have been a calculated move for a greater cause however. This would seem a hypocritical move but many pundits are nonetheless intrigued as Cruz has a large following. After all, they don’t have to like each other (JFK and LBJ certainly didn’t).

A Member of his Family

This seems like a ridiculous prospect but not an unpopular one. Ivanka, in particular, seems to be drawing a lot of attention. They’ve had gainful employment in his business ventures so clearly he has no qualms with nepotism.

A Mountain Bear?

Why not? It’s not as if making sense is high on Trump’s agenda. The mountain bear, or any bear in fact, would sure up the support of those who enjoyed either this year’s The Revenant or The Jungle Book. They also convey a level of toughness that even Putin would flinch at.

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Nothing is of course yet finalised though we expect to hear an announcement in the coming weeks as Donald continues to rail assaults against Hillary and that wild husband of hers. Whoever he picks, it can be assured that there will be a lot of “winning.”

 

 

 

Superdelegates: Another Obstacle Towards Democracy?

Superdelegates: Another Obstacle Towards Democracy?

If there’s a central theme to the 2016 election, it is outrage against Washington. Whether it’s with the Panama Papers or Campaign Financing, the majority of Americans feel great frustration with an establishment that seems bent on obstructing any meaningful change. The superdelegate system, in this regard, may be seen as just another obstacle in the path of democracy; with its concern rising higher on the agenda as the clash between Sanders and Clinton sparks towards New York. Others however, would argue its significance remains as crucial today as did back in the 1980s when it was conceived for the consolidation of the Democratic Party.

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Hillary has the backing of the party’s elites. She even has a former President at her side.

There are 718 superdelegates involved in this year’s DNC. They are essentially unelected delegates, comprised of party leaders, governors, congressmen, and DNC members, who are free to cast their vote of their own volition this July in Philadelphia at the convention. Presently, their pledges therefore don’t count for anything but political pundits and avid supporters are nevertheless paying attention to the 472 pledged to Clinton, 32 to Sanders, and 207 uncommitted. It’s important in that these so-called pledges hold influence over some voters (who may be unwilling to support a ruffian like Sanders) and in that they have been toted up irresponsibly by many as assumed votes already, thus giving the impression that Sanders’ campaign is beyond hope.

 

The system came about as a result of disappointing election results for the Democrats. As Jim Hunt, the 1982 Chairman of the Democratic Party Commission explained eight years ago in a Washington Post piece, 1972 saw a Democratic Party ‘out of step with mainstream Democratic leaders.’ George McGovern, the nominee that year, lost a devastating defeat to Richard Nixon. Four years later, Carter prevailed but his Presidency and defeat in 1980 proved that it wasn’t even ‘enough just to win;’ clarity and cooperation between all branches of the party was needed. It was a means by which the party’s greater interests could be accounted for with 1984 seeing its first contenders rise to the fore. They exist ‘really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grass roots activists,’ according to today’s Democratic Chairwoman, Debbie Schultz. Today, of course, superdelegates account for 15% of overall votes in the party’s nominating process; a troubling portion to many.

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Debbie Schultz, Chairwoman DNC

To address its defenders first, it must be acknowledged that in  1980 the Democratic Party was bitterly divided with Carter’s own nomination being called into question by the challenger, Ted Kennedy. To defeat the Republicans, some kind of system was likely needed and this system, whilst democratically questionable, seemed reasonable to many at the time . Indeed their presence could be taken with a grain of salt as the Democratic Party’s rules dictate that these delegates should ‘in all good conscience reflect the sentiments of those who elected them.’ Are they doing that, though?

The Sanders’ campaign is playing a much tougher game today than it was a couple of months ago when the New Hampshire primary resulted in a virtual tie on an account of these premature pledges, despite Sander’s 60% public vote. Since then, reports have circulated that superdelegates are relentlessly being messaged with calls for support on his side. For some superdelegates vowed to Clinton’s side, this is causing great agitation amongst those who believe these delegates aren’t representing the people of their states. As aforementioned though, they are not voted for and their allegiances mainly derive from statehood and past representations; some are merely old stalwarts of the party. Others, like Peggy Schaffer of Maine for example, are less certain on their final decision. Having been a longtime Clinton supporter but witnessed Sanders win her state, she has decided to opt for whichever candidate winds up with the most pledged delegates. And those who have outright ‘offended’ Sanders’ most valiant supporters, like Akilah R. Ensley of the Young Democrats of America, have been bombarded with messages bordering on abuse via Social Media for her support of Clinton.

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Young folk are especially annoyed with the superdelegate system

 

In many instances, this doesn’t paint a wholly positive picture of the Sanders’ campaign but as many have argued, this system may justify such responses. Sally Kohn of CNN, for example has reiterated the DNC’s account of  the superdelegates’ role as one which exists ‘to preserve the power and influence of the Democratic Party’s elite.’ Naturally in this day and age, online petitions have therefore  begun to gather momentum, with some calling for the removal of superdelegates altogether whilst others simply ask for them to align their vote with the choice of the regular voters. Then, there is Spencer Thayer’s ‘Superdelegate Hit List,’ a sinister sounding but simple website list of superdelegate contact information, which has served to only add fuel to this fire. It will of course remain to be seen whether some of them end up feeling the blame but as it is now,  he will need to muster landslide defeats in the next few contests to secure the 2,383 votes needed for nomination.

The superdelegate system may not be a complete barrier to winning the Presidency but like Citizen’s United, it is hard to argue that it doesn’t make things much more difficult for candidates like Sanders. Many argue that it’s still possible that those pledged to Clinton would change their mind (as they did in 2008) but many more seem to fear, even given success in states like New York and California, the superdelegates would screw Sanders over. The memory of those defeated liberals between 1968 and 1988 remains a sore note for the Democratic Party and Clinton, in the end, may just be the safer bet.

Andrew Carolan

A Contested Republican National Convention in 2016?

A Contested Republican National Convention in 2016?

It is often said that history repeats itself, and like so many platitudes, this is true most of the time. Yet, while fundamental historical tenets and axioms that govern the discipline rarely change, the context and players certainly do. Let’s apply this to the present situation that is currently facing the Republican Party in the United States and the distinct possibility of a contested Republican National Convention this summer.

The last contested convention took place in August of 1976 and pitted B-star Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan against the establishment curry favourer and incumbent, Gerald Ford. This was the first contested convention since the brokered Democratic National Convention of 1952 in which there were 6 hopefuls vying for the nominations. The 1976 card however had just two Republican runners.

As the convention got under way at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Missouri, Ford had amassed a greater number of primary delegates than Reagan, coupled with a plurality in popular vote. This was not enough however to get him to the magic number of pledged delegates needed to secure the nomination. As the convention kicked off in the Show-Me State, Ford and Reagan went on the charm offensive.

The President was able to use his executive prerogative to lure straggling delegates to his side by offering luxuries such as: exclusive flights aboard Air Force One, gourmet dinners in the White House (that were accompanied by wanton firework displays), or executive “favours,” the cornerstone of political leverage, longevity, and legacy.

Among the many bulwarks that Reagan’s managers tried to construct in an attempt to stymie Ford’s lead, was the pursuit of Rule 16-C, which stipulated that convention rules would be changed to require any presidential candidate to name his vice-presidential choice prior to mass ballot. This backfired though when Reagan shocked the nation with liberal Senator, Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania.

Schweiker was rated 89 percent by the liberal Americans for Democratic Action, and 47 percent by the American Conservative Union, making him an unattractive choice. The risk taken by Reagan’s staff was injurious to his ambition and the vote on Rule 16-C wasn’t passed. President Ford managed to garner the necessary momentum to rubber-stamp his name on the ballot securing 1187 votes to Reagan’s 1070.

Interestingly, Reagan was viewed as an outsider to the Republican establishment, and was disparaged by many within the party elite – akin to Trump, though lacking the profound animus that Trump garners. Reagan left an indelible mark on the 1976 convention with his humble, extemporaneous closing stump speech that was a clarion call for unity within the party in preparation for the general election. It was at this moment when the charged Republican congregation witnessed the content of the former Californian Governor’s character – there was no equivocation, he would return.

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The Republican National Convention showcasing it’s pageantry in 2012

Many commentators have, in recent weeks, teased out the potential for a contested Republican convention this summer. In fact, it has become a highly popularised suggestion as a method of stopping the rogue Trump machine that seems to be getting more vitriolic and abhorrent by the day.

The last two weeks have been telling with Trump’s loyal troops marching on, propagating his language of hate and raw xenophobia. It is the results over the next few weeks which will contribute towards a degree of certitude on whether the convention will be a formality, or a tilt-a-whirl of political jockeying. This process can be obfuscating and frustrating to unravel and navigate. The confusion that perforates the aura of the process is muddied further by the semantics of the RNC Rulebook. Indeed, some of the rules referenced through the document are contradictory.

To parse the current situation: Trump has 741 delegates, Cruz has 461, and Kasich trails with 145. If Trump can sustain the momentum throughout the duration of the primaries, he may very well hit the desired 1237 delegate count. Traditionally, if this were the case, Trump would secure the Republican presidential nomination following the first count at this year’s RNC much to the party’s chagrin. Though, it is still unclear whether he can do this. The 2016 election cycle has been unprecedented for many reasons, and it seems set to continue in a carnival style of discourse.

While Donald Trump says that he is confident of securing the nomination after the first count, he has suggested that if this doesn’t happen and a contested convention takes place, there will be rioting in Cleveland – an ominous, but predictable portend from the demagogue. It appears that the establishment wing of the Republican Party, through a series of machinations, are doing all they can to downplay the electability of the billionaire bigot.

Curly Haugland, a member of the RNC Rules Committee, stated this past week in an interview with CNBC that the power is in the hands of the delegates, not the voters. He added, “The political parties choose their nominees, not the general public, contrary to popular belief.” Is this a clumsy warning shot of animosity across Trump’s golden bow? It looks that way. This bumbling anti-democratic statement is corroborated by the RNC rulebook, which whimsically states that:

“BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the following be and hereby are adopted as The Rules of the Republican Party, composed of the rules for the election and government of the Republican National Committee until the next national convention…”

As these rules were adopted before the 2016 election cycle, technically like-minded Republican’s could possibly interpret the phrase, “until the next convention,” to suit their agenda by altering the rules to block Trump’s path to the nomination.

Looking at this from the other candidates’ perspectives, Ted Cruz remains confident that he will showcase a strong performance in the remaining primaries reiterating on Monday to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that his was the only campaign to have bested Trump on a number of occasions. Meanwhile, John Kasich remains steadfast in the face of adversity. He reinforced this stance on CNN’s State of Union exclaiming that he is confident in his electability and that he expects the delegates to act seriously and select the right man for the job when the time comes.

Reince Priebus
Reince Priebus could be facing a very divided RNC this coming summer

Chairman of the RNC, Reince Priebus, commented that the Republicans are “preparing for the possibility” of a convention in Cleveland. Meanwhile Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, has downplayed the possibility of a 2016 run for the White House if a contested convention is called. That being said, he has not openly denied this media speculated, Twitter trending, notion. Ryan’s predecessor, John Boehner endorsed the current speaker for GOP nominee this past week, though he added further that his comments were off the cuff – good save!

One thing is for sure, the phantasmagoria that is this 2016 Republican primary race is set to get even more nebulous as the convention approaches. It has become apparent that the protectorate of the GOP kernel has realised that Ted Cruz, a man who is not entirely representative of their values, is the lesser of two evils when stacked against Trump. Frankly, the marshaling of ‘establishment’ politicians, Mitt Romney, and now Jeb Bush, may have come too late.

Just like Ford in 1976, the importance of a united front is desiderata in order to mount a successful campaign against either Hilary Clinton or Bernie Sanders in the autumn. Should Trump be denied the glory in Cleveland, expect rapture. The Republican loyalists have only themselves to blame.

Matthew O’Brien