Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Campaign Musings 2016

     The news isn’t terribly inspiring this morning. That was to be expected: it’s mostly about the presidential campaign, which is about as uninspiring as a visit to the dentist. Nevertheless, if that’s what people are thinking and talking about, I suppose it will do for a topic on the first of March in this Year of Our Lord 2016.


     Presidential campaigns have been fraught with angry contentions for as long as I’ve paid attention to them. The trend has been perceptibly downward to ever lower levels of civility, and has been accelerating in recent years. The contestants in the current one seem to have cast aside all restraints, all bounds, and all considerations of how to get along after the thing is over.

     That frightens me – not because I much care about relations between power-mongers and their hangers-on, but because in our time, the behavioral standards displayed by celebrities invariably “trickle down” to the general population. Politicians are merely celebrities without appreciable talent.

     A few years back, Vice President Dan Quayle noted that Candice Bergen’s “Murphy Brown” character, by becoming an unwed mother, was setting an example for many of her fans that she could afford to indulge but they could not. It immediately made him Public Enemy #1 in the entertainment world. You’d have thought he’d called for Bergen to be exposed in stocks like a Twentieth Century Hester Prynne. Yet he’d only pointed out a truth that no one could refute.

     So it is also with disregard for politeness and courteous conduct among politicians. I once had a character say that:

     “Politeness is like the grease in a bearing, or the oil in an engine. So is dressing neatly and conservatively. These things make it possible for people to work together without constant friction. We can concentrate on our work instead of our dealings with one another.”

     That character was speaking of an office environment, in which persons who might not like one another all that much are nevertheless compelled to share a roof, a copier, and a coffee maker for eight to ten hours five days a week. Yet his observation applies with undiminished force to general relations among us.


     Anger appears to be the dominant force in the current campaign, both on the Democrat and the Republican sides.

     It’s not hard to grasp. The Obama regime, raised to power largely by the votes of young people, Negroes, and Hispanics – at the very least, Obama wouldn’t have become “The Won” without them – has impoverished those constituencies more effectively than any previous administration. Simultaneously it’s inflamed all manner of racial, ethnic, and sectarian tensions to the boiling point. Thus, many who otherwise would have automatically ticked their primary ballots for Hillary Clinton are flocking to Senator Bernard Sanders, an outright socialist of absolutely no achievements, simply to “flip the bird” at the outgoing regime.

     No one who’s paid the least attention to the political news can be unaware of the rise of “outsider” candidate Donald Trump: who once said openly that he considered himself “more of a Democrat,” who’s in favor of government mandated, government funded universal medical insurance, who’s openly pro-abortion, pro-same sex marriage, pro-eminent domain – as long as it will line his pockets – and pro-gun control. Even on illegal immigration, his trademark issue, Trump’s record of statements and behavior cast doubt on the sincerity of his furious proclamations. His appeal to the electorate is entirely founded on anger at the Republican Party and its failure to use its Congressional majorities as its candidates promised.

     Unleavened by cool, sober consideration of where our self-interest really lies, anger at the powers that be could easily give us a Mussolini. Either Sanders or Trump would fill the bill.


     Concerning the general election that will take place on November 2, all that we have is speculation. Despite her maculate past, her current legal jeopardy, her lack of personal appeal, and her ties to Obama’s policies, Hillary Clinton would be a formidable candidate. No one on the GOP side of the contest would be guaranteed to defeat her.

     If we imagine a Clinton / Trump finale, the outcome of the election would be likely to depend on factors other than their policy prescriptions. As noted above, Trump can hardly stand on his record. The political machine behind Clinton is famed for its penchant and its facility for throwing mud. However, Clinton has enough skeletons in her closet to equip all the teaching hospitals in New York, and Trump has shown no aversion to slinging mud himself.

     The final determinant of that contest could well be which candidate has more funds with which to slander the other. While American voters have often voted defensively – i.e., against the more disliked of the major-party candidates – in this case we’d be compelled to hold our noses regardless of which lever we choose to pull.


     Owing to public anger and overall dissatisfaction with the American political class, talk of third parties is in the air once more. It’s a bit more overt on the Republican side, owing to the open clash between the conservative “base” and the GOP’s “Establishment / donor” class. However, it should not be discounted among typical Democrat voters, as the unexpected strength of the Sanders campaign has shown us.

     Third parties are typically unimportant at the polls. When they do matter, it’s usually as whipping boys. I’ve lost count of the times when a defeated Republican has blamed his loss on the Libertarian candidate for “stealing” votes that would have put him over the top.

     Where third parties have traditionally mattered is in delineating those issues about which people feel strongly enough to donate their time, effort, and money to a “guaranteed loser.” For example, in New York the Conservative and Right-to-Life parties persist, and maintain surprisingly effective fundraising efforts, owing to the flaccidity of Northeastern Republicans, who’d qualify as Democrats virtually anywhere outside New England and the Mid-Atlantic sectors. Socialist and populist minor parties tend to flourish in “rust belt” states, and other states where “blue collar” working-class voters are numerous. Toward the end of a campaign, the major party candidates will do whatever they can within the blue laws to persuade the allegiants of minor parties to refrain from “wasting your vote” and “back a winner” instead.

     While the minor parties are unlikely to influence the outcome of the presidential contest, it’s wise to keep an eye on the “down ticket” races, both at the federal and state levels. There, a mere trickle of votes can be enough to throw an election. Candidates for legislative seats thus have more incentive to pursue minor-party voters...and they’ll often make important statements and commitments in the attempt.

     Stay tuned.

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