Thursday, February 25, 2016

The 2016 Presidential Election

As many of you know, I began my career working in electoral politics, but honestly, that was a long time ago, and aside from my avidly following US campaigns, I am no more qualified than you to comment on the 2016 election.  So, after reading this, I honestly welcome your feedback.

The Republicans

Let me start that as a lifelong Democrat, I am continually baffled by which candidates wind up as the Republican nominees for President and Vice President.  After all, how was John McCain, a decent man and long-term public servant, duped into selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate?  And does anyone think that if the Romney/Ryan ticket were running now, they wouldn't have a better shot at winning than they did running against an incumbent Democrat in 2012--certainly a better shot than any of the current candidates?

But instead, we have the field now narrowed to five candidates, about whom I will write in inverse order of their current standing:
  • Ben Carson: Really?  The guy must be smart, because he's an accomplished brain surgeon.  So why has he seemed so stupid on the campaign trail?  Fortunately, he's gone from being a front-runner to an afterthought.
  • John Kasich: He's the greatest living symbol of the fact that the Republican Party has been hijacked by the Koch bothers and the Tea Party.  If there's anyone in the race who truly represents traditional Republican values, it's Kasich, but nobody is voting for him.
  • Ted Cruz: Whoever thought before now that amongst a field of candidates, he'd be considered reasonable?  The man built his reputation being an ultra-right-wing firebrand.  Yet, people are describing him as a "mainstream" alternative to Trump.
  • Marco Rubio: Am I the only one who thinks he looks, and acts, like a guy running for president of his high school student government?  He's arguably the most extreme right-wing candidate on the ballot, and his experience level is very low.  Does anyone remember how vehemently the Republicans berated Obama as being a "first-term senator?"  Yet, Rubio is in the same boat, except that he's missed a higher percentage of Senate votes than anyone else currently holding that job.
  • Donald Trump: I don't think I've ever before agreed with Lindsey Graham, but how did this media clown become the presumptive nominee?  And how must lifelong Republicans feel about the demise of their party in favor of hateful zealots?
A lot of my liberal friends are hoping that Trump wins the nomination, because they feel he will definitely lose in November.  I disagree.  Let's face it, you never know what will happen in a general election.  Clinton and Sanders may take off the gloves to the point where the winner is bloodied and must regroup.  I will address the Democrats shortly, but the thought of President Trump makes my skin crawl.

After all, this is the "Grand Old Party" (GOP)...the party of Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Nelson Rockefeller, who would be considered a leftist by today's Republican standards.  You'll notice I didn't mention Reagan, because I believe he started this movement toward the right that is leading to the party's demise.  The candidates each claim to be the most "conservative," but that very word indicates being in favor or preserving the status quo, not turning back the clock.  Historically, conservatives favor a reduction of excessive spending, including military spending, but that's not the case with any current Republicans.

I believe we need two parties--it makes us stronger--and it shouldn't be the Democrats vs. the Crazies or the Democrats vs. the Obstructionists.  A strong Republican party is good for America, but the current version appears to have lost its bearings.

The Democrats

As an idealist, I appreciate what Bernie Sanders is saying, and as someone who struggles to pay his monthly bills, I agree that the system is rigged.  In 1976, I was on the national staff of the Fred Harris for President campaign, and Fred's platform then ("a fundamental redistribution of wealth, income, and power") was similar to Sanders's today.  However, that was a long time ago--before two or three corporations controlled every industry and the word "regulation" was seen as taboo.

What Bernie is advocating can't happen in four years or eight years, and if he tries to make it happen during that timespan, he could trigger a worldwide depression.  In addition, his advocacy of free universal health care, free public college tuition, forgiving college debt, and enlarging Social Security, as great as they might sound, are hollow promises that cannot be adequately funded by increasing the income tax on the top one or two percent, especially when our budget deficit is already greater than $16 trillion.

On top of that, Sanders is clearly out of his league when it comes to discussing foreign policy, and I'd worry about his temperament when facing down Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-un.  Of course, I'd enjoy seeing a Jewish president, but in Sanders, there are just too many question marks.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton, for whatever reason, rubs many people the wrong way.  Maybe, like Adlai Stevenson in the 50s, she's just too smart for most people, or maybe they just don't like it that a woman is that smart.  I find it humorous that someone with Clinton's progressive credentials and general success as Secretary of State could be seen by so many as too much of an "establishment" candidate.

I want to return to the "smart woman" issue.  Just as there is an underlying current of racism in the opposition to Obama, there is a similar anti-woman current running beneath the anti-Clinton rhetoric.  I can only wonder why major democracies and US allies like the UK, India, Germany, and Israel have all had female leaders while the US has never even had a woman as the presidential nominee of one of its major parties.

Joni (my wife) has told the story of speaking with her grandmother many years ago and asking about politics.  Her grandmother responded that she couldn't always vote and Joni asked her why, surprised to learn that when her grandmother turned 21, women didn't have the right to vote.

As I get older, and remember campaigning alongside Gloria Steinem, Sissy Farenthold, LaDonna Harris, and Shirley Maclaine, it distresses me that many young women don't appreciate how hard it has been to get to this point, when a woman could be considered a front-runner in a US presidential contest.  Of course those women should vote for the candidate who best represents their interests (as some say Sanders does), but who better than a qualified, experienced, progressive woman to represent positions including equal pay, gun control, and abortion rights, which are being restricted in state after state (if you don't believe that, watch the recent John Oliver show)?

In Conclusion

So, as you've probably guessed by now, my ideal contest would be Kasich (admittedly a longshot) vs. Clinton.  I believe that would give us the best shot at an honest, issues-oriented debate between experienced candidates, and isn't that what we really deserve?  In addition, whichever of those candidates were to win, it would not encourage me to move to Sweden, as a Trump presidency might.

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