The Awkward Joe Biden

The Awkward Joe Biden

There are nearly 20 declared Democratic candidates for next year’s election and yet one key figure remains aloof and undecided. Yes, hanging out there, somewhere in the horizon with a winning smile but a shadow cast in a question mark is none other than Joe Biden. You know him best as Obama’s other half but he’s also served in the past as a Senator for 36 years with a host of positions including Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He’s got the best experience of any of these Democratic hopefuls, charisma, and something most politicians lack; a genuine personality. So why not declare? Well, let’s get straight to the first and most pertinent stumbling block and fair warning, it’s a touchy subject…. okay, sorry.

Joe Biden’s been caught in a whirlwind of controversy this last week over a number of women claiming his “personal touch” to be a little invasive and inappropriate. This is by no means an explosive or recent discovery. In the past, many commentators and comedians like Jon Stewart have squirmed at Biden’s holding of shoulders, heads, and hugs for prolonged periods. It’s never been described as sexual harassment as such but rather just uncomfortable and strange. In the context of the #metoo era, perceptions have of course shifted however and Biden is now being asked to account for these instances.

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In a statement last Wednesday, he explained that any handshakes or hugs were always given as marks of “affection, support, and comfort”. He said he was not sorry for his “intentions” but acknowledged that “social norms are changing” while promising to be “more mindful” in the future. On Friday however, at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Construction Conference, after hugging the IBEW president, he joked that “he had permission” and then later made the same joke when others joined him on stage. (A bit sloppy, yes.) Well naturally, some people took this in jest and others with more affront, such as Tarana Burke (founder of #metoo movement) who said the jokes were “disrespectful and inexcusable” and that it was not enough for him to be “mindful,” he needed to make an effort to apologize properly.

Is this an overreaction? Part of me wants to say yes and defend Biden outright. After all, sensationalism in today’s media is driven by headlines rather than analysis. Most people who catch a whiff of these headlines, I hope, would delve deeper and read a bit into it. But words like “allegations,” “accusations”, and so forth have such a weight to them now that I fear Biden will be dragged into the company of far worse offenders. He certainly did himself no favors with his jokes but he did, at least, respond and yes, I do think “intentions” matter. I don’t think most people honestly consider this man to be a true creep like say, the President of the United States.

Biden’s of a different generation and age; a fact some commentators don’t think matters given the gravitas of this cultural change we’re experiencing but context is always crucial. Our backgrounds shape us, for better or worse. Biden, has suffered the loss of a wife, a daughter, and son in his tragic past and often made a connection with people in hard times through words or hugs. Most politicians do this, albeit to lesser extents. He’s 76 as well so his customs and mannerisms may be off tilt with younger generations.

That’s all just pause for thought, more than anything though. Before we #cancel Biden, we need to examine what value is to be attained in judging people’s morals and conduct retrospectively. If it’s for the cause of attaining a better 2020 candidate for the Democrats, then maybe there is something there. After all, the party has become more liberal and with so many alternatives on board, why should we accept the obvious choice like so many did with Hillary in 2016? There’s a few reasons:

  1. Some of these candidates suck, are disingenuous, and do nothing but pander to the liberal waves like Kirsten Gillibrand
  2. The aforementioned level of experience
  3. He has the highest polling
  4. He can appeal to moderates who might otherwise side with Trump
  5. He’s charismatic and likable; marketable too
  6. Association with Obama

There’s definitely reasonable debate on whether or not he should run. I would agree with Ross Douhat (New York Times) that, if he does, he should run on his record rather than against it. Any sharp left-wing moves will be preyed upon by the media, his fellow candidates, and online trolls and then mocked by Trump. There is a section of Trump’s base to be swayed too who actually do care about labor unions, health care, and other important issues, which Biden can speak to with precision as others might vaguely address. Plus, if nothing else, it’ll at least give Democratic voters some alternative to the growing liberalism represented by candidates like Booker, Sanders, Warren, and O’Rourke. Then, they can’t whine come November 2020.

Biden has always been “awkward”, prone to gaffes, and toneless remarks (e.g. wishing he “could” have done something about the Anita Hill sexual harassment trial in the early 90s, despite then being chair of the Judiciary Committee.) His record is not squeaky clean. He’s even run twice before and failed. In the Democratic Party’s quest for greater wokeness however, it can’t be worthwhile to decry and discard every ally who’s ever done wrong. When the bar is set this high, the likelihood for success becomes increasingly narrow and the bigger picture gets lost. The Republicans understand this much, if anything. I also don’t want to see Trump re-elected because his opponents couldn’t find their Messiah.

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A Divided Left?

A Divided Left?

As Philadelphia prepares to host throngs of Democratic Party delegates for the upcoming Democratic National Convention next month, authorities are gearing up for the inevitable ‘Bernie or Bust’ protestors. This wildly loyal cadre of Sanders’ supporters, most of whom are Independents young and old, are eager to voice their displeasure with the internal processes of the Democratic Party, and their vehement dissatisfaction with the manner in which this primary season has been managed.

Yet, there is always a hope and purpose that through the carnival-esque mechanisms of the convention process, the nominee will emerge and successfully unite the party behind their banner. This incredibly tough challenge falls not only to the presumptive nominee, Hilary Clinton, but also to the yolk of the Democratic Party and those pious super delegates. However, the outcome of disunity and a growing chasm of indifference is often the result. Will it be the same this time?

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Sanders said that he will vote for Clinton in November to stop Trump

In short, no! Yesterday, Bernie Sanders stated that he will vote for Hilary Clinton in November in order to stop the meretricious master of tautology, Trump. Though Sanders’ concession to Clinton is long overdue, one cannot help but get the feeling that the political revolution at the foundation of his incredibly successful campaign will endure in some form.

For Sanders and his millions of dedicated supporters who continue to feel the ‘Bern,’ a revision (and in some cases overhaul) of Democratic electoral processes and procedures is desideratum. Following a meeting of the two Democratic primary candidates this week in Washington DC, the task fell to Hilary Clinton to placate the Sanders’ campaign in the interest of uniting the party and securing a larger voter base this coming Autumn. Both campaigns issued similar statements in the wake of the meeting saying that the candidates and their aids spoke constructively about beating their opponent and ‘progressive ideas.’

 It is no surprise that the Vermont senator has called for the ousting of leadership from the convention committee all the way to the upper echelons of the party. He has been especially critical of DNC Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The Floridian Representative, Schultz, was this week replaced by Brandon Davies – a Clinton surrogate. This move likely came as a conciliatory tactic by camp Clinton following comments made by Sanders’ campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, on MSNBC. These overtures were clearly an attempt to placate Sanders’ stoic efforts. Caveat Emptor!

Supporters hold signs and cheer as U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Sanders speaks during a campaign rally at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa
Hordes of Sanders’ supporters hungry for political revolution and reform

In a Washington Post article that Sanders composed this past Thursday, the obstinate senator laid out his 95 theses that, should we be living in the 1500s, he would nail to the doors of both the Wells Fargo Center and the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Sanders consistently and emotively repeats the question, ‘what do we want?’ at the beginning of each new point – appealing to the union and solidarity of his support base. Scansion aside, there is nothing new from Bernie here, yet he makes some incredibly salient points about the flawed criminal justice system and climate change.

If Bernie Sanders can auspiciously carry his brand of revolutionary politics to the convention floor and begin a comprehensive dialogue in a public forum the mollification process may continue. Among the alterations that the senator is lobbying for is the abolition of closed primaries, automatic voter registration, and the monitoring of voting machine software.

Sanders needs to show the Democratic Party that he still holds some of the chips, but will have to temper his approach if he is to garner any substantive gains. On the flip side, Clinton and the Democratic establishment know that the Sanders’ promissory note is a valuable asset and have slowly come around to his $15 an hour minimum wage, ban on fracking, and Wall Street reform. Though, according to a Bloomberg poll published on Wednesday, only 55 percent of Sanders’ supporters said that they would vote for Clinton – proving that the ball is now firmly in the establishment’s court.

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The National Guard were heavily utilised at the DNC in Chicago, 1968

For Democrats, the malaise of the 1968 DNC held in Chicago haunts the party to this very day, as it became a lacerating event that distilled a year of heartbreak, assassinations, riots and a breakdown in law and order. For many American’s, it symbolised the fragility and chaos of the nation. The present environment is equally as delicate and anarchic loaded with pernicious potential. While the issue of unity within the Democratic camp is tenuous, it’s not nearly as tensile as the threads holding the Republican Party together.

Matthew O’Brien

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.

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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