Another Political Fantasy

Apparently, I’ve been living in a fantasy world lately.  The fantasy that I want to share this time is quite unrealistic.  It is like hoping that we elect a wise unicorn to the presidency.  It simply cannot happen.  So, if I were getting paid to philosophize, I’d call this a thought experiment.  But, since no one is paying me, I’ll stick to fantasy.  It sounds more fun that way.

My current fantasy is for elections to be anonymous.  And I don’t mean the current secret ballot kind of anonymous.  I mean the candidates would remain anonymous.  Basically, anyone who wants to be president would submit their names to their parties.  The parties would each choose a candidate, but would not announce the name of the candidate.  If anyone disclosed the name of a candidate, that candidate would be disqualified and the snitch would be imprisoned for election tampering.  Then, each party’s candidate would write up a speech outlining their positions and governing philosophy.  The anonymous speeches would be sealed in envelopes randomly labeled A, B, C, D. . . (I would also limit the number of parties.  We don’t want a thousand candidates.  But I’m not sure what a good limit would be.)  The envelopes would be delivered to a prominent actor to be read publicly.  (I like the idea of Morgan Freeman reading them, but it should change with each election cycle.  Meryl Streep would do an excellent job as well.)  They should also be printed in the news and made available online.  There would be a two week period where people would discuss the speeches.  Then, each candidate would present another speech in the same way as before, but modified (if they so choose) to incorporate the feedback.

Election day would be two weeks after the second set of speeches is presented to the public.  People would go to the polls and vote for Candidate A, B, C or D based entirely on the content of the two speeches.  The one who receives the most votes wins and that person’s name is revealed and sworn in as president.  The losers could out themselves if they so choose, but nothing official would disclose their identities.  And, finally, to keep the system honest, the speeches would be considered binding contracts.  Congress and the courts would treat ignoring or contradicting the contents of the speeches that resulted in election to be an impeachable offense.

Clearly, this is fantasy because we’d have to chuck more than half the Constitution to make it happen.  But just think how great it would be.  The entire election cycle would be less than two months.  Everyone could be an informed and engaged voter just paying attention while a famous person speaks.  It would remove sexism, racism, homophobia, ageism, etc. as factors in the election since no one would know any of those things about the candidates.  Since the parties would pick their candidates, they would be a kind of filter.  We wouldn’t have to worry about nut-jobs like Trump that are despised by their own party.  It would break the current duopoly.  And it would completely remove likeability as a factor, since no one would know who was running.  And likeability might be the dumbest criteria for choosing a president there is.

I know it is a fantasy, but it is one worth indulging.  It takes some imagination, but get a transcript of some of the campaign speeches and read them in Morgan Freeman’s voice.  You might be surprised at what they have to say.  With many of the candidates being famous, everyone goes into the election knowing who they love and who they hate.  That’s a huge barrier to electing the best person for the job.  I wish we could find a realistic way of changing it.


A Political Fantasy

I have a fantasy every four years and I want to share it.  It isn’t fantasy as in impossible.  I don’t want to elect a wise unicorn to the presidency or anything like that.  My fantasy is entirely possible, it just won’t ever happen.

In a nutshell, my fantasy is for all of the people running for president to only talk about things that the president has the legitimate power to do.  I’m struck every four years by the fact that almost nothing the candidates say falls under legitimate presidential powers.  They talk about taxes, but it’s Congress that decides taxes.  They talk about education, but it’s states and towns that make real education policy.  They talk about abortion, but (barring a Constitutional amendment) only the Supreme Court can overturn Roe v. Wade.  The list goes on and on.  All the candidates do is talk about things that can only be done through Congress, the states or the Supreme Court.  It’s weird.

In my fantasy world, Donald Trump would tell us who he would appoint to the Supreme Court and why.  Bernie Sanders would tell us who he would name Secretary of the Treasury and why.  Hillary Clinton would tell us how she would instruct the Department of Justice to respond to cases like Colorado where there is a conflict between state and federal drug laws.  Ted Cruz would tell us what his criteria for pardons would be.  John Kasich would tell us how he would use executive orders within the current regulatory framework.  And it would be marvelous.

Just think about it.  The people running for President would actually try to let us know what their presidency would look like.  Instead we get all these promises that would be difficult even with a sympathetic legislature and judiciary.  It’s not like Trump could build a wall since Congress would refuse to fund it.  Clinton isn’t getting universal pre-K as long as Republicans control the majority of the states.  And Sanders certainly isn’t breaking up the banks without a super-majority in Congress and a much more sympathetic judiciary.  As long as presidential candidates keep trying to sell us fantasies to get elected, my fantasy will remain for them to talk about the realities of the presidency.

One More Try

For some reason, many (not all) people are either unable or unwilling to see the sexism being directed at Hillary Clinton this primary season.  I know I’ve been going on about this, but I thought I’d give it one more try.  But, this time I’m going to go about it differently.  I’m going to provide a list, for those having difficulty avoiding sexism, of legitimate reasons not to vote for Clinton.

  1. If you are against women controlling their own reproductive freedom and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  You probably want a Republican.
  2. If you are anti-immigration, either because of wage depression or xenophobia, and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  All of the other candidates are better for you.
  3. If you believe that the gun industry (or any industry) should be protected by Congress from civil litigation and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  Again, all of the other candidates are better for you.
  4. If you are against universal pre-K, and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  You’re going to want a Republican in this election.
  5. If you are for massive amounts of debt for public colleges and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  The Republicans are better for you on this.
  6. If you want to keep tax rates as low or lower than they are now and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  The Republican candidates are much more likely to keep tax rates down.
  7. If you are against free trade agreements and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  All of the other candidates are against free trade.
  8. If you are against the Affordable Care Act, either because government should stay out of healthcare or because it doesn’t go far enough and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  The Republicans will help if you want government out of healthcare and Sanders is your man if idealism is that important.
  9. If you are a pacifist and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  Bernie Sanders or a third party candidate will be your best bet for pacifism.
  10. If you are against trying to mitigate the effects of global warming and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  The Republicans have this covered.

Obviously, this is not a complete list.  I just want to point out the important features of this list.  First, it sticks to actual issues and positions of the candidates.  Second, at no point does it assume that Clinton is nothing more than an extension of her husband.  Whatever you think of her, she is her own person with her own ideas and agency.  Third, it doesn’t play into any pre-existing stereotypes.  Let’s face it, when people try to make issues out of Clinton’s work, looks, decisiveness, income and shrillness (among other things) they are playing into those stereotypes.  I know this will raise hackles, but there is nothing you can say about Clinton in these areas that doesn’t also apply to all of the other candidates in this, and any other, election cycle.  Even Bernie Sanders is rich (certainly by my standards, and most regular people’s standards), has excepted compensation from institutions most people despise (The House of Representatives and Senate), fails to look presidential, yells a lot and has voted for things in the past (like the Crime Bill) that he now feels differently about.  Finally, I avoided talk of Clinton’s personality altogether.  This isn’t an election to decide who we’d like to hang out with.  And, I’d really like to think that people’s decision to not vote for Trump or Cruz or Sanders has nothing to do with their personalities because it shouldn’t.  The decision should be based solely on the issues.

And, just as a reminder, I know this list isn’t for everyone.  Many people have already made up their minds for non-sexist reasons.  Also, this shouldn’t be taken as advocating a vote for Clinton.  It is just to aid those of you who don’t want to vote for Clinton, but are struggling to find a non-sexist way to do that because I’m really sick of trying to navigate through the truly abhorrent mass of sexism every morning as I try to read the news.  I hope this helps.

The Real Problem With Bernie’s Unqualified Comment

I wasn’t going to comment on this.  When I saw on the news on Thursday that Bernie Sanders had said that Hillary Clinton is not qualified to be president, I was going to ignore it.  I was sure about a million other people would talk about it, so why add my voice?  Plus, I’m completely sick of this election.

I was partly right.  About a million other people did talk about it.  The problem was that no one seemed to talk about the actual problem with the statement.  Some people came to Clinton’s defense and spelled out her qualifications.  Others attacked Sanders by saying that he is less qualified than Clinton.  And still others agreed with Sanders saying that Clinton isn’t qualified.  No one that I saw, though, commented on the first thing I noticed in the statement, sexism.

I have no idea what Sanders was thinking when he made the statement, but it is really the perfect example of dog-whistle sexism.  He didn’t mention gender at all, but the only way questioning the qualifications of a former senator and secretary of state could land is by picking up on some kind of bigotry.  That may not have been his intention, and I’m willing to give Sanders the benefit of the doubt, but even unintentional sexism is wrong and Sanders needs to stop it.  And someone much more important than I am should let him know.

What’s Good For His Revolution Won’t Be Good For Bernie’s Presidential Hopes

Bernie Sanders wants to be President of the United States.  He also wants to start a “revolution” against the “billionaire class.”  Unfortunately for him, these are incompatible goals.  In fact, Bernie’s ascent to the Oval Office would be about the worst thing that could happen to his revolution.

This is something I’ve been feeling for a while, but I’ve been having trouble articulating it.  While reading this piece in Bookforum, though, I finally figured it out.  The piece is worth a read, but it is a little long, so let me summarize.  The piece is about two new books, The Black Presidency by Michael Eric Dyson and Democracy In Black by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.  Dyson is, and has been, a fan of Obama.  He praises a lot of things that Obama has done and tends to find excuses, like Republican obstructionism, for Obama’s failings.  Glaude was an “Obamaphile” in 2008, but has since become a vocal critic.  He says that Obama has utterly failed the African American community.

Now, you may be wondering what this has to do with Bernie and his revolution.  Basically, Glaude was to Obama in 2008 what people who are “feeling the Bern” are to Sanders now.  Glaude bought the “Hope and Change” rhetoric completely.  He believed Obama was going to be a transformative president.  When Obama failed to live up to those hopes, Glaude became completely disillusioned.  And that’s not uncommon.  Many of Obama’s most ardent supporters from 2008 are now completely incapable of seeing any of the good he has done.  Bernie’s supporters believe in the revolution.  They believe that he will take on Wall Street and the billionaire class.  They believe he will do something about income inequality.  Plus, he’ll get us single payer health care and free education once he has broken up the banks.  The thing is, though, as president, he won’t do any of those things.  Being wildly optimistic, the best we can hope for out of a Sanders presidency is Obama part II.

The President of the United States just isn’t a revolutionary position.  It is the most elite position in the establishment, but it is fully entrenched in the establishment.  Revolutions, at least the type of populist revolution that Bernie is talking about, work from the bottom up, not the top down.  There is simply no mechanism in place for the president to break up the banks or raise the minimum wage or forgive student debt.  All of the things that Sanders wants require cooperation with Congress or the courts or both.  Since the Senate has consistently refused to fill court vacancies with Obama’s picks, the judiciary won’t have enough sympathetic judges to help the revolution.  And since Bernie seems completely disinterested in the Democratic under-ticket, the Republicans are going to retain control of Congress which means that there will be no support for the revolution in Congress.  In other words, none of the things that Bernie talks about will come to pass.

When all of Sanders’ rhetoric comes to naught, his most ardent followers will become disillusioned, just like Glaude did with Obama.  When that happens, the revolution will die.  Disillusionment cannot sustain a revolution.  A revolution needs either anger or success.  A Bernie presidency cannot provide either.


One Issue Candidates

In 1996, I took a class on political communication.  Since it was a presidential election year, our big project was to follow a candidate from January through May and write a report about them, specifically focusing on their communication style.  It was a good project and I learned a lot.  I was assigned Steve Forbes.  The professor warned us that we would either grow to love or to hate our candidates and she was right.  I detest Steve Forbes.  And, what’s more, I now have an almost visceral hatred of any one issue candidate.

For those who don’t remember, Steve Forbes is the son and heir of Malcolm Forbes.  He inherited a fortune and control of Forbes magazine.  For some reason, Steve decided that inheriting a lot of money and not bankrupting a successful business qualified him to be President.  His entire candidacy can be summed up in two words, “Flat tax.”  He seemed to think that every problem in America is a direct result of the graduated income tax.  He believed that if the tax code were changed so that everyone paid a 17% flat tax, every other issue would go away.  It wasn’t the sheer lunacy of his idea that irked me.  It was the way he answered every question that was put to him.

“Mr. Forbes, what is your stance on abortion?”

“If we had a flat tax, unwanted pregnancies would no longer be a problem and abortion would be a non-issue.”

“Mr. Forbes, Do you think the police were justified in beating Rodney King?”

“If we had a flat tax, Rodney King would not have turned to drugs and the police would have had no reason to bother him.”

“Mr. Forbes, do you prefer baseball or basketball?

“Flax tax.”

This was 20 years ago, and I’m quoting from memory, so the exact wording may not be right, but it also might be.  That’s how ridiculous he was.

In the years since 1996, I can’t help but notice that there is a Steve Forbes in every election.  It might be Ron Paul insisting that liberty is the only thing that matters or it might be Michael Peroutka who believes that we need to bring America back to its Christian heritage, but there’s always at least one.

This election is different because the one issue candidate has gained traction and is now among the frontrunners, Bernie Sanders.  Bernie seems to think that every issue is reducible to class.  It’s all about inequality.  This has created a quandary for me.  As this election’s Steve Forbes, I feel like I should hate Bernie on principal.  The thing is, I don’t hate him.  I think he’s wrong about the power of economic equality to fix non-economic issues, but I’m somewhat sympathetic to his old fashioned Keynesian approach to the economy.

In some ways, he has tried to talk about other issues since people started treating him as a viable candidate, but it seems pretty obvious, to me at least, that his heart isn’t in any of those other issues.  He just doesn’t seem to care about guns or crime or the environment or race or feminism except so far as the 1% (or the establishment) is causing harm in those areas.  That’s too bad.  As an undecided voter, I really want one of the candidates to give me a reason to support them.  As this year’s Steve Forbes, all Bernie would need to do is embrace another issue.  Sadly, I don’t think that’s likely to happen.

Recognizing Sexism – Hillary Clinton Edition

There has been something disturbing about the 2016 presidential election.  I should probably be more specific.  There have been a lot of disturbing things about the 2016 presidential election.  For right now, though, I’m thinking of one thing in particular.  That thing is the fact that so many people are failing to notice the rampant sexism directed at Hillary Clinton.  It’s sad that I have to get that specific.  Hillary Clinton has been the target of unbelievable sexism for her entire public life.  Last time she ran for president, I was pretty shocked by it.  This time, I was ready for it.  I still find it disturbing, but I’m not shocked by it.

That fact that people claim not to see the sexism, or really do not see the sexism, is what I am currently finding shocking.  Even some of Sanders’ supporters are failing in this regard.  If a person is progressive enough to support Sanders, I don’t get how they could miss blatant sexism, but they do (I should emphasize that I said “some” earlier.  I don’t believe that everyone who prefers Sanders to Clinton is being sexist.  There are legitimate reasons for that.  But, it is crazy to think that Clinton and Sanders are on a level playing field.).

Here is an easy way to spot sexist comments.  When someone says something about Hillary Clinton, simply substitute one of the male candidates’ names for her name and see if the comment still makes sense.  If it does, the statement is probably OK.  But, if it doesn’t, the statement is probably sexist.  Let’s look at some examples of typical statements about Clinton:

  1. Hillary* should just enjoy being a grandmother.
  2. Hillary should not have used a private email server.
  3. Hillary is too ambitious.
  4. Hillary should have left her husband.

Now let’s look at them again with my substitutions:

  1. Bernie should just enjoy being a grandfather.
  2. Donald should not have used a private email server.
  3. Ted is too ambitious.
  4. Marco should have left his wife.

It seems pretty obvious that 2 is the only one of those statements that works in both cases.  If 1 is true for Clinton, it is certainly true for Sanders who is older and has more grandchildren, but no one ever says Bernie should just enjoy being a grandfather.  3 is almost too ridiculous to talk about.  We are talking about someone who is campaigning to be President of the United States of America.  Of course she is ambitious.  Every single person who has ever run for the office is incredibly ambitious.  Bernie Sanders is ambitious.  Abraham Lincoln was ambitious.  Even Jimmy Carter is ambitious.  Ambition is considered a good thing in men, but people seem to think Clinton’s ambition is a problem.  4 is bad on several counts.  First, it’s no one’s business.  Second, how could any of us possibly know what Bill and Hillary Clinton’s relationship is like?  Maybe they truly love and respect each other, despite Bill’s transgressions.  Maybe it’s a marriage of convenience.  I have no idea and neither do you.  Third, people just don’t say those kinds of things about men.  The implication is that Clinton lacks agency or lacks willpower.

I’m not saying any of this as a partisan.  I’m not trying to get you to vote for Clinton.  I’m just trying to get people to notice sexism.  Sexism is a big problem and making it invisible just makes it worse.

*In general, it is annoying that men are referred to by their last names while women are by their first names.  You see it in politics, entertainment, sports and everywhere else.  I don’t want to belabor the point here, however, because Bernie and Jeb are frequently referred to by first name, and the fact that Clinton’s husband is a former president can make it confusing.  It’s just another thing to think about.