Bill Clinton’s Re-Evaluation

Bill Clinton’s Re-Evaluation

History is always being rewritten. The heroes of yesterday become the villains of today. We’ve seen this with the toppling of statues recently and the scathing rebukes of once-beloved or admired figures such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, After all, our values change and once ignored facts (inconveniences), such as Churchill’s white supremacy , come into greater light with new appreciation (or lack thereof). This revisionism is natural and no historical evaluation is without fault.

But something’s changed as of late. Our fervent grasps for social justice have left us empty-handed too often when it comes to a nuanced appreciation of certain historical figures. We fail to see these figures as a whole because one nibbling, doubtful, pernicious defect often overrides all common sense. In this case, I’m referring to the scandals that detract from the legacy of William Jefferson Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States (1993-2001).

Speculation and Scandals

Now, don’t get me wrong. The man is problematic, if we must indulge that favored millennial word. Some of the decisions made under his administration have had negative consequences, ranging from the short-sighted (crime bills, economic impairments linked to the 2008 crash) to the devastating (initial inaction in Bosnia and Rwanda). But really, what people focus on, in their retribution, is the man’s personal life. How many affairs has he had? Is his marriage an arranged partnership? What exactly was the nature of his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein? At the very least, the latter one should be investigated because of the differences in accounts being brought forward (it’s said he may have taken up to 26 flights on Epstein’s private jet and visited the island, although no affairs with any of the girls have been exposed). As for the other questions, one could defend him and say he has the right to a private life and that it’s unimportant in the larger scheme of things but instead of doing that, I will touch on the nature of speculation that surrounds the Clintons.

Speculation has hindered both Bill and Hillary’s public image more than any other figure in American politics. There’s always been this pervasive feeling that they’ve been up to something, be it through business connections or the Clinton Global Initiative, which arouses suspicion in the form of a lingering, shadowy question mark. The more questions that arise, the darker that shadow gets, even if there’s no substance or merit behind the question. What was Whitewater? I don’t know, man, but there’s something there. What were in Hillary’s emails? Shrug. And why did Vince Foster kill himself? Did he know something the Clintons wanted kept secret?

Indeed, the latter episode was a most shameful one in American history given the man’s longtime friendship to Bill. But when the Deputy White House Counsel committed suicide, Bill wasn’t even afforded a common level of decency in his grief. Ken Starr and the Republicans spent all their energy trying to discredit the man with a new, nasty kind of politics that involved personal injury at whatever cost. When the Whitewater investigation, which began looking into the real estate dealings of the Clintons, proved unfruitful, they simply kept the heat going. The Paula Jones’ sexual harassment allegations also persevered, though the Republicans were quite ready to redirect their focus when the “gift” of Monica Lewinsky came around.

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Clinton’s famous “I did not have sexual relations” moment.

In this regard, Bill deservedly brought some of the wrath upon himself. In a deposition, he was blind sighted by Lewinsky’s name being brought up and denied any “sexual relations”, given the legal definition provided by the Starr counsel. It was a technically correct answer but an unwise and immoral move that reinforced his image as a dodgy, snake-like politician. For months, he would deny the nature of their relationship, even to his staff and Hillary, until it became too obvious he was lying, or in his words “misleading” the nation. It was a personal embarrassment and a horrible thing to do to both Hillary and Monica, whose life would be greatly affected as a result (although, this enters the realm of cyber bullying for which many millions more than Bill also deserve a portion of blame).

Many people today, in light of the #metoo movement, point to this scandal as a demonstrable abuse of power. A couple of years back, Clinton’s attempts to salvage himself and take on an interviewer who brought it up, only served to convey a seeming lack of empathy on his part. Lewinksy, too, has been critical of the president, who never apologized directly to her.

That’s something he really should have done, straight away. He should have apologized to Monica and her family because they were given an unwarranted amount of press, that was relentless and downright mean. That’s not necessarily his fault but he could’ve stepped in and said “enough is enough, we’ve all made mistakes, leave her alone.” I think that would’ve helped but I also believe nothing he could have said or done would ever have been enough. Remember, this scandal came about, not because the people were concerned with Clinton’s supposed weakness for women but because the Republicans were attempting to destroy his presidency.

The impeachment which resulted was largely a joke, made in a last-ditch effort to humiliate Bill. Already, the Democrats had won back the House while his and Hillary’s approval ratings shot up. Back then, people had a better understanding of what was actually going on and in a universal middle-finger to the GOP, took to the polls. Ordinary people and leaders of other nations, including Neslon Mandela and Tony Blair, would stand by Clinton with the belief that he was a decent man who had done a bad thing. Today, I can’t imagine the same thing would play out and that’s not an effort to outright dismiss our morals. Integrity is important and we should expect it in our world leaders but let’s face it, there are more important things at play in shaping that integrity than personal scandals and failings.

The Record: A Moderate Democrat

Another interesting nugget you might hear about Bill Clinton was that he was not all that progressive or liberal. Correct. In the 1980s, the Democratic Party weren’t exactly on their A-game. Following the largely besmirched Carter Presidency (and for the record, he’s my favorite president), which was plagued by a struggle between moderacy and liberalism in the 1980 primaries, they had a hard time finding their footing. Eventually, the party’s liberals acquiesced to the more pragmatic middle-ground ideologies of the likes of Clinton, which gave way to a presidential victory after three consecutive Republican terms bolstered by the Reagan revolution and a strong but faltering economy. Reaganomics was good politics but very much the “voodoo economics” George HW Bush had called it when up against Reagan in 1980. By 1990, Bush had to rescind his “no new taxes” pledge for the good of the nation. It was a bold but noble move that damaged him in the 1992 election.

The first baby-boomer president made the economy one of his top priorities and actually left the country with a surplus, three years in a row at the end of his tenure. This had not been achieved since the post-war years under Harry Truman. Given Bush’s concession to the Democrats in 1990 and some of the negative consequences that resulted in 2008 (although that can be attributed to several administrations), this achievement has appropriately been lessened but it still remains a positive in most historians’ eyes. In the following years that would see major tax cuts and costly wars, people would naturally look back on the Clinton Presidency, in this regard, with nostalgia. It was a relatively prosperous time, helped by the rise of the Internet but also by a set of steady hands.

Social unrest was also another major concern which helped Clinton get elected. He pledged to invest in more police forces to keep the streets safe. This was a popular stance to take and received bi-partisanship support, resulting in the lowest crime rate America had in decades. Unfortunately however, this also led to a rise in mass-incarceration with arrests of minorities and low-grade drug offenders. Undoubtedly this has tainted his legacy and deservedly so, with both Bill and Hillary admitting that aspects of the crime bill needing to be revisited. Part of the problem, as most people now see it however, also lies with pervasive racism in certain areas and unaccountable police officers; a common trend that stretches back way before this crime bill passed.

The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy of 1993 was another controversial measure. Bill had pledged in his campaign that gays could serve in the military. Many opposed this. So, quite quickly, they compromised. Basically, gays could serve but couldn’t come out as gay. Better than nothing? Possibly but ultimately, a pretty feeble gesture, which Bill was quite happy to get rid of, given the controversy surrounding such a topic at the time.

What’s interesting about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, along with some of Clinton’s other compromises is that they demonstrated a strategic tactfulness to his administration. Elected as essentially a moderate, he was willing to settle for what he could get, aware that the Republicans (who swept into power in the 1994 midterms) would accept only certain things. Another example: Hillary’s health-care led initiative essentially stalled that same year with fervent opposition. Aware of this, they worked to at least provide health care to children with CHIP (Children Healthcare Insurance Program).

Compromise is often seen as a dirty word. The Clintons were largely pragmatic though, aware of the political game and very much willing to play it. Even in his memoir, My Life, Bill Clinton can’t help but admire the strategy Newt Gingrich employed to lead his party to victory in 1994. The problem arises when people perceive their party as moving away from their traditional values and causes. The Republicans’ success and move to the right in the 1980s didn’t result in the Democrats following suit towards their side. Rather, they also moved to the right. This meant, for many, that a moderate Democrat was essentially an old-style conservative. Of course, now that the Democratic Party has actually started to move to the left, we’re in a whole different scenario, which lends credence to the liberal critics of the Clinton administration.

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Bill Clinton delivers his State of the Union address in 1995.

Political pragmatism is important though, even if perceived as selling out. Had Ted Kennedy been more willing to work with Jimmy Carter’s more pragmatic approach to health care, then they might have actually gotten something achieved instead of nothing. The Clintons failed to get health care too, as so many before had, but at least they tried and got something done. After all, millions of children as a result were given a safety net they otherwise would not have had.

This pragmatism became all the more crucial however in Clinton’s foreign affairs, which began on a rocky trajectory before steadily improving. First, there was Black Hawk Down, which cast doubt over whether Clinton could really manage a humanitarian crisis. Initially, the US had been successful in their Somalian dealings at the end of Bush’s presidency (Bush being, by most accounts, a masterful player on the world stage). Then Bosnia followed, which saw a massive ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population. At first, the US were hesitant in their approach but by 1995, Clinton came into his own as commander-in-chief, sending in forces. Perhaps he had learned from the Rwandan genocide, which he always regretted inaction about. Part of the problem was public opposition to US intervention elsewhere, given the disaster of Somalia. It seemed navigating the morality of the US’ role in these conflicts was not always that black and white. You were damned if you acted and damned if you didn’t.

By the late 1990s however, Bill Clinton was very much a respected leader around the world. The intervention in Kosovo in 1999 was seen as a prudent step across the board, between Democrats and Republicans, and he had helped negotiate the terms of the Good Friday Agreement the year before, which greatly helped the situation in Northern Ireland. While his efforts to formulate a lasting peace agreement between Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at Camp David ultimately stalled in 2000, it was seen later as one of the better attempts made by a US president at resolving the problem.

Legacy

Towards the end of his presidency, when asked about his legacy, Bill Clinton saw it in terms of navigating the shift from one American age (Industrial) to another (the Information Age) as had occurred a century before. He felt the historians would wonder whether he had succeeded in preparing America for the new century but he was realistic even in his thinking, realizing that if George W. was elected and the Republicans regained power, much of what he had achieved could be undone. Indeed, that became the case notably when the Brady Bill (which acquired some gun control legislation) wasn’t renewed.

It may not stand in the mercurial tide of politics as one of the most important presidencies of American history but in my opinion, it was a good one. Despite personal setbacks and a new norm of vitriolic partisanship, Clinton was able to hone in on what could be achieved and act accordingly. While negative consequences arose as tributaries to the main functions of certain bills (like the crime bill), the overall objectives were usually sound and reasoned. His foreign relations too were smart without recklessness (queue an analysis of the Bush II administration) and where he failed (e.g. Rwanda, Somalia), he at least had the decency to learn and make adjustments so he could help (queue an analysis of the Trump administration).

Of course, consensus and absolute certainty make for a dismal appreciation of any historical figure when discussing nuance. Most US presidents have been imperfect with wildly mixed legacies. It can’t be helped when you’re playing chess on such a massive scale. I decided to write this long piece and read his ridiculously long memoir (958 pages) because I felt we were in danger of simplifying this man’s legacy. In the years that have passed since his presidency, he’s gone from one of the most respected world leaders to a figure of disdain, even for many from his own party. I wouldn’t go so far as to point to Hillary’s loss in 2016 as a referendum on their legacy but in this new age of evaluation, I feel the constraints of examining history through a modern lens should be acknowledged.

Context is key to any historical understanding and we can learn from history. But just as the problems of today don’t necessarily require the attitudes and solutions of years before, so too did the problems of those years not necessarily requite the outlook we would hold now.

The 2010s: A Premature Evaluation

The 2010s: A Premature Evaluation

Hindsight Is Key

In 1992, Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History… suggested that with the end of the Cold War, humanity had reached an end/block point to the ideological evolution of the 20th century resulting in a broad acceptance of Western liberal democratic values. It was a stupendously general claim to make and one that would be criticised as new problems rose to take the place of the old. But if you take a step back, you’ll see how it is sometimes crucial for our understanding of history to get a broad overview before splitting stones because back then the US had very much started a new chapter of its story.

Hindsight is key for any proper historical evaluation. This article will simply not be able to capture the essence, key themes and ideas of the last decade; at least, not in a lasting way- primarily because, we don’t know what’s going to be important six months from now, let alone in 20 years. New information always becomes available and our core values change with each generation. Obama may be considered left of centre today but for future generations, he could be positively right-wing. Heck, Richard Nixon (the most flabbergasted of Republican presidents) established the Environmental Protection Agency.

Enough dawdling though; this context is important for the purpose of humility but it does not advance the story of the 2010s. What was this decade all about? How did America get from point A to point B? From Hope to Trump.

A New Generation

The millennials came of age this decade. Cast in the shadow of global austerity measures and economic hardship following the Financial Collapse of 2008, theirs (I say theirs, ours really) was a generation fraught with a unique level of anxiety. Many degrees were becoming increasingly less advantageous as job opportunities dried up and the unpaid internship net widened. It’s no wonder why, in this context, a sea of resentment festered; particularly against Boomers who wreaked prosperous opportunities in less tech-automated times whilst ignoring the most pressing issues facing the youth of today. As such, we’ve seen more people living at home for longer, trying for MAs, and adapting to a range of career positions; fluidity and creativity all the more pertinent.

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Did the Obama administration fail this generation then by following in Bush’s lead in bailing out the banks? Intentions are certainly important; Obama did save America from the brink of a depression but the seeds of discord were planted in 2009 and the early 2010s. If millennials were to be denied the opportunities of their fathers or grandfathers, they’d at least strive to make their voices heard- which they very much have; for better and worse.

With regards the better, they (and Generation Z) have called for increasingly liberal stances on issues such as student fees, climate change, and health care. Whilst not altogether effective yet, the knocking on the government’s door has been getting louder and louder in recent years. How else would one explain the sensation that is Bernie Sanders; a candidate who probably wouldn’t have prospered this way in the 2000s. In another area, they have been more effective; calling for increased diversity in workplaces, media, and arts. Today’s music, TV, and film scene is a lot less white than it was 20 years ago.

With regards the worse, millennials are often seen (seen, don’t cancel me) as petty and entitled by the older generations (who in turn, have seemingly forgotten their responsibility to rear and guide their children). Is there truth to this? It’s a wild stereotype that’s limited but keeping in mind, the general overview from the intro, I’m inclined to believe that for all the good done with social media justice, there is an equal and lamentable drive for over-reaction. It is far too easy to get a rise out of people on social media or to have their television or film contract reassessed due to some stupid but ultimately unimportant remarks made in the past. On college campuses, speakers are protested for merely holding non-liberal views and as a result, many fear the very idea of free speech is under threat (especially when the term “hate speech” gets added to the mix). Outrage is an industry in and of itself.

Millennials can be said to be tolerant of anything but intolerance. Again, generally. At first glance, this may seem amicable and perfectly reasonable. Look at the strides made by the LGBTQ community this decade; today, people assess sexuality and gender in a far broader context than ten years ago. On the other hand, judgment has become popular and forgiveness is in short supply. This is not meant to advocate some false equivalency of opinion between liberals and conservatives but rather to point out that to effect change among certain groups, it is sometimes wise to speak rather than shout, listen so as to at least be cordial. This is as much a question of generational divide as it is political ideology; a great gulf has split people on subjects ranging from health care to gender neutral bathrooms. I believe we should let decency prevail where political correctness fails because there are numbers to be gained from the other side, especially in 2020.

With all that in mind, I don’t think millennials can be faulted for their intentions. Climate change does need to be addressed and for this reason alone, there is more hope to be found with 20- to 30-somethings than with our elders. The question looming over the 2020s on this issue, among others (like gun control) will be did they manage to tackle the problem effectively as well as righteously.

The Culture Wars (On Steroids)

To explore this generational/ideological gulf further, we must assess why and how everything became so political. What do I mean? What talk show today doesn’t feature a joke about Trump? What books or movies or genres of music do well with one camp or with another? This isn’t exactly a new idea- the culture wars have long been prevalent in American society but nowadays, even a movie like Star Wars: The Last Jedi is read by some as a feminist assault on traditional cinema. The reactions to divisive projects like this are often downright ridiculous but they do have origins tales of their own; for just as diversity promised to enrich America’ cultural experience, there were those who felt the pendulum was moving a little too fast and in places with a little too much force (e.g. female reboots, politically correct re-workings). With the recent reaction to John Legend’s version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, it’s fair to say that “woke culture” (to broaden this horizon) was given a bit of a slap in the face. The condemning of past opinions too (like John Wayne’s on race relations), while right, also seem trivial and petty. Will it be a case that liberals have to learn to pick their battles or will a dignified if self-righteous sense of morality prevail?

John Legend and Kelly Clarkson’s new version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has been criticised as an example of the left pandering to minute sensitivities and PC culture.

Of course, the culture wars don’t matter to most people and outrage (built on Twitter feeds) has never truly reflected the actuality of common opinion. Clickbait journalism and not-even-trying-to-be-objective-anymore news stations have amplified once barely prevalent tensions. Controversy sells and as long as people relinquish their sacred duty for critical thinking (on the left and right), the battleground will continue to get muddier.

It’s also become harder to blend opposing facets of oneself. You vote Blue so you must adhere to every liberal constitution, right? Your favourite movie is Moonlight and you drive a hybrid? Where the divide between Democrats and Republicans has intensified on the actual issues, so too have the values associated with social liberals and conservatives. It may not come across on your social media field but there have been gay republicans and fervently religious but vegan democrats. Contradictions may arise if you take everything literally but people aren’t just what they wear, what they vote, or what they listen to. The idea of groupthink and identity politics may be useful for our understanding of certain privileges and economic disadvantages but it is fundamentally important to remember the individuals (sometimes) trapped within.

From Hope to Trump

So far, we have largely explored the emerging tide of liberal values among millennials as well as their shortcomings. While their voices may be heard across social media and campuses however, the real power now lies with a bizarre authoritarian right wing. Is this a reaction to political correctness? A reaction to an America older white people don’t recognise? To the failure and stalling of democracy? Obama? It’s hard to pin it down to one reason but most people would agree it is indeed a reaction.

Let’s go back to 2010. The economy is poor and health care legislation has been passed. The Republicans have amped up their objection to an 11. Will they undo Obama’s key piece of legislation? No. But they will use it as bait to take back both the House and Senate later that year and for the next six, make Obama’s presidency as much of a struggle as possible. Every time, a shooting occurs, they will keep focused and ensure protection of the NRA… I mean, the 2nd Amendment. Every time, a liberal piece of legislation comes forward from Obama, they will block it because they understand it to be good politics; the attack strategies of the last twenty years have worked, so why not? Thus, Obama is confined to foreign policy measures and acting where he can. To many, he appears weak.

Obama’s team is not willing to give up that easily however. There are cards to play and victories do emerge, even if they take time. One such victory was the assassination of Bin Laden in 2011, which undoubtedly helped push the re-election campaign along nicely. Beating Romney the following year also cemented his popularity, meaning he could argue his case to the public more frequently. The Iran Nuclear Deal and Gay Marriage followed in 2015 and all things considered, Obama had done a pretty good job with what he was given. So why was there such a fundamental shift in 2016?

For one, people underestimated just how important the appeal of Obama, himself, was. Hillarys politics may not have been miles off his but she simply couldn’t inspire the loyalty he did; he was one of the greatest orators of all time. As well as that however, Obama was unable to translate his messages across as those of the Democratic establishment. After all, they lost handily in 2014, even before Trump entered the picture. Perhaps because, for all their gesticulation, they couldn’t advertise themselves half as well as the GOP. Confidence it seems can be as toxic as it is appealing. That’s where Trump comes in.

Trump won, not because of the substance of his arguments but because of the way he projected them and himself. The Republican field toppled in the debates of late 2015 and all the while, throughout the primaries, we fooled ourselves into thinking this was some kind of joke. Brexit should’ve rang alarm bells. Trump getting the nomination should have too. But like an age-old tragedy, we followed the path blindly and suffered as a result.

If Trump wasn’t a traditional conservative, it didn’t matter at all. As stated earlier, Nixon established the EPA; so clearly this party’s open to whatever. And just like that, they all relinquished honesty and their duty for the sake of power (… Paul Ryan). The Democrats, on the other hand, may not have exactly appeased their camp but they did little to persuade voters, who could be turned, why theirs was a better one to join. Many liberals simply took to labelling Trump supporters stupid, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and so on. This continues to be a mistake, in my view, and a crucial one differentiating many working class people struggling with every day economic opportunities from the elitist self-righteous liberals who know nothing of them.

Trump’s impeachment may get rid of the man but it won’t get rid of the problem because he’s as much a symptom of the ills dominating the bi-polarity of politics this decade as obtuse NRA support or further tax breaks for the 1% are. In a strange way, it’s odd that it’s taken so long for a clown to ascend to the throne considering the acrobatics and pantomime politicians perform but if anything should be clear to the Democrats now, it is that their battle will not end in 2020. Complacency has always been their problem.

A New Left

There is a spark of hope to be found in the Democratic Party however as we end the 2010s. For just as the right has moved beyond any nuance of centrism, the left has recognised its need to stake its own ground too. The campaign of Bernie in 2016 mobilised a movement the corporate Democrats simply didn’t understand; one that has already flourished with the election of candidates like Alexandria Occasion Cortes last year and the adoption of more liberal stances in the election field this year. The party is undergoing a period of transformation, having essentially spent the last 30 years meeting their adversaries in a compromised middle. Whether this will prove wise remains to be seen. Two schools of thought are currently battling it out to see who can take back those Trump voters; the more centrist likes of Joe Biden and the others like Bernie/Warren. Again, we see the political and the cultural dominoes of America falling in tandem.

As I’ve often stated in pieces on this site, I believe the issues should remain central to Bernie’s and other’s campaigns, not the bait Republicans masquerade as issues (e.g. patriotism) nor the scandals that get blown out of proportion (e.g. Hillary’s emails). So far, they seem to be on track but as the other elections of the 2010s have shown, the Republicans aren’t bad at winning.

In Summation

How strange the Clinton-Blair years now seem to us in a world turned upside down. Forests are burning, debts are rising, automation threatens millions of jobs, racism appears more openly acceptable, and James Corden has a chat show. The 2010s have been a scary time and they’ve only gotten more so; the fresh fruit of the Obama years now rotten to its core. Were we misguided by hope as we may be now? Possibly. I think, more likely however, voter apathy and perennial compromise by liberals beset on preaching without acting led to desperation.

In times of economic upheaval and vulnerability, radical ideologies become all the more appealing. That is not to say we will face a direct parallel with the 1930s and devolve into a fight between fascism, democracy, and communism but this sharp split is somewhat reminiscent. It will play out dramatically in next year’s election, which will be about much more than electing a new president; it’ll be about ratifying the course American culture will head in under the auspices of ideological, generational, and human values (or as Joe Biden put it, the “soul of America”).

The 2010s are yet foggy and there was a great deal more I could have explored (e.g. foreign policy, keyboard warriors, police brutality, #metoo, etc.) but a feint trajectory permeates this hew nonetheless; one linking our apathy and disinterest to upheaval and renewed activism. The people of today speak of politics far more than they did ten years ago. This is both a good and bad thing.

Paul Ryan Fades Into The Mist…

Paul Ryan Fades Into The Mist…

It’s no secret that we here at the Washington Walrus hold Speaker Paul Ryan in low regard. It’s not that he’s as knuckle drawn and villainous as his contemporary right wingers, but rather that he’s so spineless and tepid in his approaches within this political sphere that he appears lame and useless as a result. In fact, we even covered this last year in a piece on just how pathetic he is, in case you want to read that.

Still, that word feels almost a little too cruel for this boy among beasts. Despite the level of authority and respect his position should merit, he has never really shined the way he should have- that is within the confines of a Republican snowglobe. No, he’s just been there somehow, haunting the halls of Congress like a a specter of mediocrity or Wormtongue-like essence- waiting for justification to leave; a legacy on which he can stand.

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Paul Ryan during his service years to King Theoden

Has he achieved any sort of legacy therein? Not really. He may posit that his conservative agenda, with the likes of tax reform, has seen great strides in recent months but this has only haphazardly come to proposal under the tumultuous reigns of a man who pays porn stars to keep their mouths shut. He may argue that he never really wanted the position of Speaker and merely stood in to keep the reigns on the severing factions of the GOP. Even within that framework, he has largely failed- as evidenced by the election of a man he refused to even support one month out from voting. In fact, he has largely traipsed a line of abandoning any so called principles we thought he had in favor of appeasing a president who’s put him down more flagrantly than most political commentators. He may say he’s leaving to be more than a “weekend dad”, but does his family really want him at home?

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Ryan wonders where it all went wrong.

Okay, so admittedly these musings are a little slanted. Let’s take a shot at assessing a more objective truth:

  1. He may very well miss some quality family time. Republicans are all about the family unit and Ryan, compared to many of his cohorts, does seem like more of a traditional Republican.
  2. Perhaps he needs some time to lay low and relax. The Trump Presidency has been an exhausting experience and Ryan hardly needs the stress of the job.
  3. Strategically, this doesn’t seem to be a promising year for Republican candidates. They’ll all be held, to some extent, accountable for all the chaos that’s ensued the last two years. By taking the LBJ route and removing himself from the game altogether, Ryan need not get entangled in what will surely be a contentious and hard-fought race. (Even if his team were confident he would win, it seems likely that the Democrats are due a comeback of some kind this year).
  4. Ryan doesn’t like ‘identity’ politics and that’s something you better get used to in 2018. Maybe the environment’s just become too toxic for a man like him. Maybe this party has just gotten too crazy for him.
  5. Maybe he’ll return in some years for a Presidential run or some sort of other role. Hypothetically, if he was going for the top job, a bit of a break might do him some good. To follow up on point 3, it’d allow him to escape the embarrassment of a potential loss and to remove himself from the tendrils of the Trump campaign; give him some time to become his own man again. He could even write a book and earn a few bucks.
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He also had a beard at one point…

When one considers these five points, Ryan’s decision becomes all the more logical but truth be told, we can’t determine exactly why it’s time for him to step down. His overturning, like Boehner’s some years back, seems unlikely, given his stature and position within the GOP. Indeed, even his frothy relationship with Trump has stilled, probably owing to his decision to deal with the President increasingly in person, instead of in a public forum. One would hope, he finally came to the realization that ‘enough was enough’, but that seems a rather hapless and gullible approach to understanding this.

It may not matter- at least for now, our attention will turn to who will contest his seat on both sides come November and who, thereafter, will take the mantle of Speaker in January 2019. With many pundits already speculating about a Democratic takeover in the House, liberals will undoubtedly read this as a significant blow to their adversaries but if history has taught us anything, it’s that the GOP always have something up their sleeves (even if unintentionally).

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Trump’s Sinking Ship

Trump’s Sinking Ship

As the Trump Administration stumbles its way out of its seventh month, one can only begin to wonder when exactly this vessel of chaos will finally crumble. Given the preponderance of Hurricane Harvey, one can of course be forgiven for forgetting that the Breitbart phantom, Steve Bannon, only left his position as Chief Strategist a mere two weeks ago. Indeed, it seems each scandal or road-bump along the way has been subsumed by another. This one shouldn’t be quickly skipped over, however, for it highlights what has already become crystal clear that Trump seems hell-bent on attaining a higher turnover rate than an unpaid McDonald’s internship.

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Steve Bannon did not waste a second’s hesitation turning against Trump with an immediate return to Breitbart.

On January 30, a mere ten days into the Age of Truly Fantastic Ratings, the attorney general Sally Yates was the first to go, after directing lawyers not to defend Trump’s Muslim ban.  Michael Flynn soon after resigned as National Security Adviser, pressured by the ongoing scrutiny of the Russian hacks. James Comey, the unfortunate FBI director who clearly didn’t pay attention to Flynn’s resignation, was fired on May 9 in the course of his investigation into the same subject. On July 21, Press Secretary Sean Spicer resigned, after being found hiding in a bush and opposing the appointment of Anthony Scaramucci (the Communications Director) who would be gone ten days later and ten before his official start date. Even in that narrow gap however, we also lost Rince Priebus, the Chief of Staff, who just couldn’t whip the White House staff into shape. Then, as already mentioned, was the departure of Steve Bannon, who gradually fell out of favour somehow with the usually steadfast Commander-in-Chief. Of course, that’s not all the company Trump’s kept that has fallen by the wayside but it’s simply unrealistic to expect us to comment on every single one.

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Sauron, who also resigned from his advisory role on August 19, was concerned that Trump was not adequately addressing the national debt. “I was shocked” the dark lord admitted.

Naturally, turnovers occur and previous administrations have experienced their own tumultuous periods. In 1979, Carter fired five members of his cabinet in one foul sweep that backfired against his wishes to renew his administration’s credibility. In 1987, Reagan lost seven members of his cabinet when the Iran-Contra scandal came to light and threatened to take down his presidency. George W. Bush’s cabinet were hardly the bedrock of stability and even Obama’s, whilst relatively secure, was not the same in 2016 or 2012 as it was in 2009. Typically, according to a political science blog from Middlesbury College (2010), 75% of the president’s senior cabinet and advisers are retained through to the second year. Again however, Trump is only seven months in and he has already gone through a National Security Adviser, Press Secretary, and Chief of Staff. These are hardly the foyer decorators.

It is like jumping from a sinking ship that hit an iceberg November 8. Some analysts have opined that this turnover rate can be credited to the fact that Trump is a terrible leader. In conclusion, this fracture will undoubtedly plague any re-election hopes he might hold, for by 2020, it seems unlikely there’ll be any Republicans left to work for him.

Is Paul Ryan The Most Pathetic Politician In America?

Is Paul Ryan The Most Pathetic Politician In America?

Yes, you read that title correctly. Now, I know most of you will propose that Trump or one of his cabinet members deserves this title but even the top dog himself pursues his reckless course of world destruction with an unapologetic pantomime of confidence. Ryan, on the other hand, is more like a snake, slithering his way to the top of a tree, crossing any and all branches to pursue his ultimate goal of a government that’s… well, we’re not quite sure of that even. Unlike most snakes of course, he’s not that cunning, sneaky, or threatening. He does however try to be all these things and for that reason, we’ll stick with the metaphor.

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Last week, former FBI Director James Comey testified against Trump, resulting in a ripple across the GOP’s collective nerve system. Paul Ryan, likely hoping to remind America that he exists (despite his significant position), responded to the allegations of corruptions in the White House by saying that the President was ‘just new to this.’ It was a pitiful display for the straight-laced gym-bound Speaker and one yet of mild disappointment for the people who might have thought him a voice of (some) reason in a party so lost in its way; for this man was not always a reliable source of support for the Trump administration…

It was in May 2016 when the Republican Primaries were effectively over that the Washington Post ran a story on the Speaker ’emerging’ as the party’s leading anti-Trump figure. Like many, he was astounded at the rhetoric being used during the great Orange Surge. After all, Ryan, ever the serpentine, was the archetypal Republican; all about family values, pro-NRA, a Climate Change skeptic, anti-Obamacare, anti-Same-Sex marriage, anti-abortion, and anti-reason. In 2014, he even wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, in which he divided the American people into ‘takers’ and ‘makers,’ which he would later flip-flop on- just like a true Republican. So what he saw before his eyes at the RNC last summer must have disquieted him and moderates subsequently hoped he would stand his own ground. Unfortunately however, he had a lackluster answer even then when he finally decided to support one of his own most vocal critics; ‘Hillary isn’t the answer.’

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Ever since, Ryan has been lost in some sort of strange limbo where his agenda is being pushed but he seems all the more insignificant. He can’t keep up with the fresh slew of news being generated by the Trump administration on a daily basis. He’s constantly reacting, in off-beat time, to whatever the latest hurdle is. He denounces Trump every now and again and then stands by him steadfastly, as if to ensure the safety nets stay on a trampoline shot into outer space. He is the stalwart of a party whose principles are as expendable as his own time, for all the people care. Even his haircut betrays the possibility that this man might at all be genuine or interesting.

So why do we pay so much credence to this shadow of a man? The fact of the matter is he is important, or will be again when Trump is impeached and the guy who looks like he’s from Thunderbirds takes over. It will be at that point or some other in the future when he releases his pulped autobiography when he will have to answer for all the hypocrisy he presided over during his tenure. With the likes of former Republican Representative Bob Inglis calling him out (‘You know that you would be inquiring into impeachment if this were a Democrat’), the Speaker has to determine the point of no-return, when none of his party’s principles coalesce with the trajectory of the current administration. Only then, will he be able to justify a non-microwaveable dinner.

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

Once More Unto The Breach – Trump Vs. Clinton – Round Two

Once More Unto The Breach – Trump Vs. Clinton – Round Two

Tonight, while you’re fast asleep in your bed with subconscious rumblings of the dreaded Monday morning work alarm, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump dual once again, this time at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. The general consensus among most lucid pundits in the wake of the first debate was that Clinton managed to sink her teeth into a drowning Trump and came out on top – there is billionaire blood in the water.

Their first war of words coaxed a record audience of 84 million, which surpassed the 81 million that had watched Reagan battle Carter in 1980. While two weeks ago, the candidates faced each other in a traditional format, tonight’s platform offers up something wholly more tantalising and engaging, a town hall styled debate. For those of you not familiar with the Town Hall format, candidates must field questions from not only the moderators but also the audience in what is usually a partisan setting. Que drama, consternation, chaos, and plenty of uncomfortable dry sniffing…

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This was the Town Hall set up when Mitt Romney faced off against Barack Obama in 2012 at Hofstra University – the venue of the first debate between Clinton and Trump

This year, however, with thanks to a civic group named the Open Debate Coalition, questions submitted via an online portal have been permitted. These questions have been whittled down to the thirty most popular and will feature in tonight’s debate marking the first time this variation has been used in the history of the Presidential debate. The task of meriting a question’s popularity falls to co-anchors CNN and ABC so expect a very slight left of field filter.

If we look at both candidates’ strengths in terms of how they react and respond to the environments they occupy, it becomes glaringly obvious that Clinton prefers smaller, more intimate settings – much like her husband (not in that way). Trump, on the other hand, thrives on addressing his dirigible, ire bloated, cadre in prodigious arenas and gargantuan sporting centres – reflecting his bumptious gestalt.

Trump’s gauche behaviour cannot now be un-coupled from his publicly enshrined lewd internal monologues that reaffirm his capricious, deleterious true nature. One can only guess how much practice that he has put into his latest debate strategy – if you can call it that. In light of recent events, the GOP are attempting to collectively pressure Trump. Many Republicans who had previously endorsed Trump have pulled their support. In Utah, for example, Governor Gary Herbert, and Rep. Jason Chaffetz have stated that they can no longer support their nominee, while others such as Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Chris Stewart have called for Trump to drop out of the race altogether.

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Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has pulled his support of Donald Trump this week amidst mounting GOP pressure following the nominee’s perverse audio leak from 2005

The derision within the GOP is absolutely anticipated. How many more times can Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, appear before the cameras with the same hollowed out response to the party’s miscreant nominee? It’s a worn out scenario and clearly one that has left many Republicans notably frustrated.

Trump has responded by lambasting the party through his bully-pulpit, Twitter, and at the same time he has been praising his devout supporters who appear to be sticking by him no matter what.

The toxic rhetoric that has propagated the 2016 election thus far will once again come to a head this evening. While the debate may not be as substantive as many would like, one thing will be both incredibly interesting and entertaining: just how will Donald Trump engage with the average American citizen. If we return to the 1992 Presidential debate that featured incumbent George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot, viewers witnessed a masterclass in how to relate to common concerns while appearing professional, intelligible, attentive, and dare I say it, presidential. Bush seemed uninterested and irritable at times, and Perot, well lets face it, he just seemed happy to be there. Check out Bill’s cool performance below.

While Hillary Clinton can appear robotic and cold, she has one quality that Trump doesn’t possess in his political arsenal, empathy (feigned or not, he is a terrible actor). Shane Ross, the current Minister of Transport once referred to Taoiseach Enda Kenny as a political corpse – if Trump doesn’t have a strong showing this evening, he is likely to be atrophied by the Republican Party.

Matthew O’Brien

 

The Plight of the 3rd Party

The Plight of the 3rd Party

In recent weeks, Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Libertarian, Gary Johnson, have been making the rounds in the media, hoping to draw up the support of the loose stragglers of the Bernie camp, among other disenfranchised souls weary of the Donald and HRC. Chasing that elusive 15% (required to enter the national debates) has so far proved a challenge however, with current polling placing Johnson just under the 10% bracket and Stein at a mere 3%.  Is it that these candidates are lackluster? Do they simply lack the magnitude bestowed upon others by the mainstream media? Or is it that old adage at play that affirms a vote cast for an independent is a vote thrown in the garbage? As always, it’s a bit of everything but history, once again, speaks loudest.

Despite the occasional disruption, America, for the most part of its recent history (20th Century), has championed a two-party system. This has developed as a result of natural inclination and artificial structures placed on its political thresholds. With regards to the former point, these two parties have essentially been afforded the right to prosper, owing to conditional and enterprise funding over the years as well as historical gravitas. The party of FDR, for instance, is an institution in itself and tradition, while valued, is often upheld merely for the sake of its own legacy. With the moral decay of the GOP and its hopeful actual decay in the future, one would think a third-party  could possibly build itself on the crumbling mounds of another, but a three- or four-way battle is rarely as marketable for the media and public. In America, commercial tendencies encroach on all avenues of life.

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See? Even the RNC had its own ridiculous ad!

In relation to these artificial constructs then, we must remind ourselves of the unfortunate nature of America’s election cycle and government. They do not facilitate a parliamentary-like system, the way ourselves or the UK do. With most of their votes, plurality laws eliminate the point of acknowledging where the minority votes lie- even if that is a very slight minority. Basically, winner-takes-all. This, of course, simplifies the already tedious process of the election cycle but it also obfuscates the diverse range of public opinion. Even with many of the latter Republican primaries for example, this applied so that Donald Trump, though opponent-less later on, would be the unrelenting winner. (Surpassing 50% isn’t even mandatory for this reasoning.) This hardly seems necessary for establishing the preferred candidate, when everything is only officially tallied up at the conventions. Math is not the GOP’s forte however. With single-district representation and plurality at play, the scientific study of Duverger’s law has found that such countries will thus be more likely to develop a two-party system.

Theoretically speaking then, a third-party candidate’s ascension to the White House is not impossible. The climb however is steeper than the one even Bernie had to climb (he was after all, an independent who adopted the Democratic Party to his advantage.) Huge wads of cash won’t do it alone; even with his popular inclusion in the televised debates, Ross Perot wasn’t able to budge a single electoral vote in either the 1992 or 1996 elections. Framing yourself as a genuine alternative may prove appealing to some but as Ralph Nader’s candidacy proved in 2000, without enough steam, you can cause significant damage by taking votes that would have been cast for another candidate. (This humorously led to Bill Maher and Michael Moore begging him not to run in 2004.) In fact, the last actual candidate of a third-party persuasion to make any notable stride was George Wallace in 1968, who took 46/538 electoral votes. And who was the most successful third-party candidate of all time? Well, they fared a great deal better in the 1800s when the two-party system was still in development but the answer is Theodore Roosevelt from 1912, who for obvious reasons, was an exception.

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Maher and Moore- liberal mavericks

With Trump and Clinton being the two least popular candidates in decades however, is it not plausible that 2016 could do another flip and present the so-called impossible alternative? Logically speaking, this is a sound theory but as aforementioned, the 15% is still out of reach and the first debate is coming up at the end of this month. After that point, if not already so, most people will have decided if they’re wearing blue or red this November. If a third color is to succeed in breaking this fashion trend (which I do not mean literally, I intend to wear an array of clothes), then it will be because of a strong mass organisation which eschews the notion that a third-party vote is a wasted one. Any other kind of philosophy will continue to hold back the prospect of a third-party president ever existing.

 

A Comedy of Errors: Voting Hurdles in the Race for the White House

A Comedy of Errors: Voting Hurdles in the Race for the White House

On the evening of March 22, the residents of Maricopa County, Arizona, left their homes to vote in the Grand Canyon States’ primaries. Little were they aware that excruciatingly long voter lines would obstruct their path as residents scattered the pavements that wended from the bloated polling stations. The evenings polling swiftly descended into farce, leaving many locals without a vote, and seething at the poorly handled event. But, what went wrong, and who was to blame?

Maricopa County Recorder, Helen Purcell, fell on her sword, proclaiming that she “screwed up”. Purcell was responsible for planning polling locations ahead of elections, which were reduced by a whopping 70 percent this year in contrast to the 2012 primaries, from 200 locations to a paltry 60. This was a ludicrous decision – the agency of hindsight is not required. Maricopa County is the most populous statewide, and includes its largest city, Phoenix, which just happens to have a non-white majority and is predominantly a Democratic Elysium situated within a Republican Nirvana.

To put things in perspective, four years ago 300,000 citizens voted compared to the 800,000 that were trying to cast their ballots last month. Looking at it from another angle: there was one polling facility for every 21,000 voters, compared with one facility for every 2,500 voters throughout the rest of the state. This is a serious oversight particularly with the knowledge that this years primaries have been acerbically divisive, resulting in huge voter turnout nationwide, it is simply deplorable that this was allowed to happen.

Purcell nonchalantly claimed afterward that the number of polling stations reflected the early voting lists and that one third of the people registered in the county could not officially mark a ballot, as they were Independents. The latter is an unfortunate, obstructive by-product of Arizona’s closed primary system in which one must be registered to vote for a designated party.

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Maricopa County residents faced lengthy queues while trying to vote in Arizona’s primaries last month. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Much to the chagrin of many Independent voters (who have the option to change, or choose a party at the time of voting), many were left disillusioned as they were turned away upon reaching the top of the lengthy queues. Some were given provisional ballots, or simply told that their votes would not be counted, fueling the frustration.

In the aftermath of the fiasco and bearing in mind that many Independents would have voted for Bernie Sanders if they had been given the opportunity, a whitehouse.gov petition emerged that charged voter fraud and voter suppression in Arizona. As of April 8, there have been 213,306 signatures meaning that the White House is required to provide an official response (the threshold being 100,000 signatures).

What transpired at the polling stations across Maricopa County is hardly a new phenomenon, yet it serves as a useful, and worrying precedent. The Mayor of Phoenix, Greg Stanton, illuminated the saliency of the issue and disparaged the lack of organisation. He expounded that the allocation of stations was more favourable in predominately Anglo communities and that there were fewer voting locations in parts of the county with greater minority populations.

Furthermore, Stanton highlighted the plight of poorer voters, “if you’re a single mother with two kids, you’re not going to wait for hours, you’re going to leave that line,” he added that “tens of thousands of people were deprived of the right to vote.” This iniquity is nestled in the bosom of voting bulwarks that have been mainly constructed by the GOP across the United States in recent years.

Leading the way with such studies is the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. Michael Waldman, president of the center, argues that Republicans have been positioning to pass laws around the U.S. with the end goal of making it more difficult and convoluted for people to cast their vote. According to the Brennan Centre, in 2016 17 states will have new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election. These new laws vary, from strict photo ID requirements, to early voting cutbacks, to registration restrictions.

Some of the more punitive and heterogeneous cases feature an amendment in Texas that stipulates residents must show a state or federal issued form of ID to vote, or that the only ID issuing office in Sauk City, Wisconsin, is open 8:15am to 4:00pm on the fifth Wednesday of each month (there are only 4 fifth Wednesdays this year).

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Voter ID is an increasingly pressing issue facing the Presidential election (AP Photo/Matt York)

The presentation of relevant identification at polling stations was the cause of puzzlement during the Wisconsin primaries last Tuesday evening. Wisconsin has been thrust centre stage over the last few weeks as it became apparent that Governor Scott Walker (formerly of the presidential hopeful parish) signed a bill into law that would make it harder for the poor and minorities to register to vote in the upcoming presidential election. The new legislation will allow Wisconsinites to register to vote online.

While this sounds like a positive step in the right direction, many community organisers, such as the the League of Women Voters, et al, have argued that it will disenfranchise the poor or marginalised as these groups are more likely to register through voter registration drives. There are other obstacles that face these groups too, such as the lack of a driver’s license.

Historically, a larger voter turnout for presidential elections has favoured the Democratic nominee, a philosophy that the Sanders’ campaign has firmly grasped. That being said, high turnouts this primary season for Donald Trump have helped catapult him to the top of the withering GOP tree. Yet, it is apparent that the GOP establishment is holding out hope for a contested RNC. The abjectly handled primaries in Arizona, and Wisconsin on Tuesday evening are telltale signs of an ominous portend for the general election in November. Voter suppression is a cog in a larger machine that asphyxiates the very fabric of American ideals, a moralistic tapestry that continues to fray with much contrition.

Matthew O’Brien 

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