Category Archives: Politics

GO WASTE, YOUNG MAN

“Don’t waste your vote.”

That’s the message conveyed to the electorate in this, the autumn of our discontent. Vote for Hillary Clinton or vote for Donald Trump. A vote for a third-party or write-in candidate is a wasted gesture.

It’s a difficult message to stomach because in Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the nation has the worst electoral menu in its history. Just look at how their more articulate supporters justify their preference.

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William Bennett served as Secretary of Education in the Reagan administration. He supports Trump. In a November 1 piece for FoxNews Opinion, Bennett and co-author F.H. Buckley called  Trump “a Sam Slick who seemingly has taken every legal advantage offered by the Tax and Bankruptcy Codes. And you expected something better from a New York City businessman?”

On the same day that column appeared, Conor Friederdorf, political staff writer for The Atlantic, offered this ringing endorsement of Hillary Clinton: “There are so many politicians, many Republicans among them, that I would rather have as America’s president. If not for Trump, I would not even consider voting for her.”

That’s what their supporters are saying, so one can understand the vitriol spewed by their opponents. Not surprisingly, the New York Times reports today that more than eight out of ten voters are repulsed rather than excited by the campaign.

But wouldn’t a vote for anyone other than these two tawdry products be wasted?

In fact, the opposite may be true. Voting for Hillary or Trump would be wasteful because neither will be in a position to accomplish anything after winning the election. Both will face congressional or judicial investigations. Trump is scheduled to go on trial later this month for fraud concerning Trump University. If elected, he will face investigations into his Foundation, his taxes, and his supposed ties to Russia. Meanwhile, Hillary already faces investigations into her family Foundation, as well her private email server.

Neither candidate is likely to find Congress cooperative. Trump will not only face the unified opposition (and disdain) of congressional Democrats, he will also face opposition from his own party. At an October meeting of Republican activists and intellectuals at the Hoover Institution, the consensus was that the Party is “in for a pretty long civil war” after the election. Meanwhile, Republicans have already begun discussing grounds for impeachment of a President Hillary Clinton.

But even if a President Trump or a President Clinton is unable to accomplish anything, why vote for an alternative who cannot possibly win?

Well, not so fast. One outsider actually does have at least a theoretical chance. Continue reading

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NO, THE SYRIAN REFUGEES ARE NOT JEWISH

For Jews, these are the Days of Awe, the ten days between with the New Year and the Day of Atonement, when Jews repent for past sins and make resolutions for the future. One topic Jews may ponder is the special place assigned them among the peoples of the world. This is a distinction most Jews would rather do without. Injustices to which they have been subjected over the millennia are constantly diluted and devalued into a kind of common currency of calamity, with which all may identify. On the other hand, injustices which they have (supposedly) visited upon others are constantly magnified into unique catastrophes,to which history offers no parallels.                                                                                                                                            723_small-shofar_1

One sees evidence of the first phenomenon in the comparison of the plight of the Syrian refugees with the Jewish refugees of 1938.  Pundits, and even a questioner at the second presidential debate, repeatedly mention the supposed equivalency.

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CHURCHILL ON THE 2016 CAMPAIGN

Friends, foes, and even casual acquaintances of the Republican Party insist that disaster looms. And, indeed, the odds are that the Grand Old Party will lose in November. But that’s the short run. In the long run, the Democrats, not the Republicans, face calamity.

churchill                                          both-parties

The parties’ respective situations are illustrated by the legendary exchange between Winston Churchill and Bessie Braddock, when the plumpish Labor Party MP spied the Prime Minister deep in his cups. “Sir Winston,” she said, “you are drunk.” “Bessie,” he replied, “you are ugly. But tomorrow, I’ll be sober.”

This year, the Republican Party is drunk. But its inebriation with Trump is a short term affliction. In due course, the Party will sober up and dump him.  The Democratic Party, on the other hand, is stuck with a set of ugly positions which they cannot disavow or abandon. Whether the Democrats win or lose in November, those positions are likely to grow even more repellent with time, and they will weigh the Party down.

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REGRETFULLY YOURS, DONALD TRUMP

The 2016 Republican and Democratic Party conventions are history, but nothing said there can be aptly labeled historic. Of course, partisans on both sides insisted that their favorites delivered oratorical performances that were one part Winston Churchill and two parts Hank Aaron. The preferred phrase was: “He (or, equally often, she) hit it out of the ballpark.” In fact, even though many speakers did creditable jobs reading the words others wrote for them, no one really hit it out of the infield.

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But if most of the noise was sound and fury signifying nothing inside the convention halls, at least one memorable statement was made outside. That statement was made by Donald Trump, and it was a statement that he, the nation, and the world, may live to rue.   Continue reading

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THE PURSUIT OF IMPERFECTIONS

Andrew Jackson will soon be removed from the front of the $20 bill. The family crest of Isaac Royall, the benefactor whose bequest funded the first professorship at Harvard Law School, is about to be erased from campus. The seal of New Mexico University, which features an Anglo settler and a Spanish conquistador, is under attack. Woodrow Wilson’s name has survived a challenge to remove it from Princeton’s School of Public Policy and International Affairs, but just barely.1424959335741.Andrew Jackson

These, and many other comparable campaigns, constitute expeditions into the past in the relentless pursuit of imperfections. Why are these expeditions undertaken, and what  do they tell us about the searchers? Continue reading

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THE POLITICS OF JUDICIAL CONFIRMATION

In light of President Obama’s nomination of D.C. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, partisans on both sides of the political aisle are shocked – shocked – to discover that the other side is playing politics. But there is an important difference. The Democrats are playing smart. The Republicans are playing dumb.

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That should not come as a surprise. After all, this is the year the Republicans have shown themselves hell-bent on ensuring that they lose the presidential election. While the Democrats proceed to nominate Hillary Clinton — a figure so shady that she is widely viewed by her own Party as untrustworthy —  the Republicans are en route to nominate Donald Trump, their one candidate who consistently lags well behind Clinton in the polls. And for good measure, he lags even farther behind Bernie Sanders.

That is dumb politics. But the Republican Party position on the nomination of Judge Garland is, if possible, even dumber. Continue reading

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WILL THE REPUBLICAN PARTY SURVIVE DONALD TRUMP?

The success of Donald Trump – until recently, a non-Republican – has caused panic in Republican Party ranks. Many are even wondering whether the Republican Party will survive. It may seem extraordinary that anyone could seriously entertain the notion of the Grand Old Party passing away. After all, since the election of Barack Obama in 2008, Republicans have gained 69 seats in the House, 13 seats in the Senate, 12 governorships, and over 900 state legislature seats. Yet the possible death of the Party has become a popular topic among pundits.

History provides ample precedent for third parties dying or fading away. Ross Perot’s Reform Party, the Progressives, the Prohibitionists, the Socialists, the Know-Nothings—all enjoyed their moment in the electoral sun, amassing impressive vote tallies and influencing the major parties’ platforms, before disappearing or dissolving into irrelevancy.

But examples of a major party — one capable of electing presidents – dying are very rare.

The last one to do so was the Whig Party.

The Whig Party was organized to compete in the congressional elections of 1834, not so much to advance an agenda as to thwart one. The Whigs opposed the policies and politics of President Andrew Jackson. They dubbed him “King Andrew I.” They saw themselves as the anti-establishment party of the time, and called themselves “Whigs” to invoke the English party which traditionally strove to limit the power of the King.

The Whigs were an odd amalgam of interest groups. They included remnants of the defunct Federalist Party, states-rights Democrats, Northern manufacturers, and Southern planters. The Whigs nominated not one, not two, but three candidates in 1836, in the hope that the resulting split in the vote would somehow prevent Jackson’s hand-picked successor, Martin Van Buren, from retaining the White House. Just as the only common theme among the candidates at the Republican debates of this election season has been an abiding aversion to Barack Obama, the only common theme among the component parts of the Whig Party was hostility to Andrew Jackson.

The Whigs lost the presidential election in 1836, but they developed new tactics which enabled them to win the next two out of three presidential elections. In 1840 and 1848, they nominated war heroes, men with outsized reputations but little or no political experience: William Henry Harrison (known as “Old Tippecanoe”) and Zachary Taylor (“Old Rough and Ready”). Unfortunately for the Whig Party, and for the men themselves, Harrison and Taylor both died early in office. Their Vice Presidents, who had been selected solely for their electoral value rather than for their positions on any issues, were shunned by the Party and accomplished nothing of note.

The Whigs lost in 1852, and their fortunes rapidly declined thereafter. The main reason was the rise of a new party, a party that actually stood for something. That party was the Republican Party, and the issue on which it was founded was opposition to slavery. Whigs opposed to slavery joined the Republicans; most others gravitated back to the Democrats.

The Republicans fielded their first presidential candidate in 1856. He lost, but their next candidate, an Illinois lawyer and one-term Congressman named Lincoln, won. His victory marked the the beginning of the most remarkable winning streak in American political history. In the course of 72 years, the Republicans occupied the White House for 56 years, winning 14 of the next 18 elections.

Now that same Republican Party might do well to consider the experience of the Whigs.

Parties capable of electing presidents rarely expire, but it has happened, as it did to the Whigs. It can happen again. The main reason for the demise of the Whig Party was that it never stood for anything clear or definable. The Party was skilled at generating noise. It achieved political victories when it nominated celebrity war heroes. But its successes were never based on any solid platform of ideas. They were spectacular but ephemeral.

History suggests that the Republican Party will probably survive Donald Trump’s candidacy. But political survival is not a given. If nothing else, the experience of the Whig Party cautions that there is danger in foregoing ideology for animosity, and substance for bombast.

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