Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
They Said It:
God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, & always well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had 13. states independent 11. years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century & a half for each state. What country before ever existed a century & a half without a rebellion? & what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.
Thomas Jefferson, Letter to William Smith, November 13, 1787.
DONALD TRUMP: THE RULING CLASS’S WORST NIGHTMARE?
Ever since Donald Trump surged to the top of the polls last summer, we have viewed him as a threat to the Republican establishment, one that builds on and amplifies the danger posed to the ruling-class Republicans for several years now by the Tea Party movement. Today, we will go one step further and say that Trump represents a threat not just to the GOP establishment, but to the political establishment more broadly and especially to the ruling-class’s presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.
Yes, Trump seems genuinely confused about the powers that are constitutionally invested in the chief executive. And yes, he antagonizes a very large portion of the voting public. But that said, his intense appeal to a politically forgotten but still formidable constituency, coupled with his outsider status, allows him to make arguments that could not only bury Hillary Clinton but could severely damage America’s entire ruling class as well.
The first of these advantages, which has been discussed endlessly by us and by countless others, is that he appeals in a unique and powerful way to white, working-class voters, the demographic group that used to determine presidential elections, but which has, by and large, been abandoned by both parties and by the Democrats especially.
It is worth noting here that these voters still decided elections as recently as a decade or two ago. Indeed, they decided both of Bill Clinton’s two victories in the 1990s and George W. Bush’s two victories after that. But their power waned, and Barack Obama became the first president in history to be elected while losing this demographic. Obama assembled his own coalition that was far different from that assembled by any of his predecessors, even his Democratic predecessor. Indeed, the contrasts between the demographic characteristics of Bill’s victories and those of Obama are stunning. Bill was the last Democrat to win anything in the South, where the white, working-class, Scots-Irish or “Jacksonian” Democrats still dominate. Obama, by contrast, won without any support at all from the Scots-Irish working class, but instead won by turning out minority voters in record numbers.
Now, it has always been doubtful that Hillary would be able to reassemble the Obama coalition. For a variety of reasons – some patently obvious – she offers far less to minority voters than Obama did. Additionally, after eight years of Obama’s broken promises and failures, many of these voters have severe doubts about the ability of the political process to address their concerns and are thus likely to stay home on election day.
That means that in order to win, Hillary will have to find at least some votes that Obama couldn’t, which is to say among the white-working class. Or, barring that, she will have to convince these voters that they have no stake in the election, no champion at all, and that they should stay home on Election Day. As for the first of these tacks, Hillary’s prospects are pretty slim, as we noted last year, in the wake of the Democrats’ midterm defeat:
Throughout the campaign, Democratic candidates from places like Arkansas, and Kentucky, and West Virginia all tried to distance themselves from Barack Obama by insisting that they are “Clinton Democrats.” This was supposed to reassure conservative voters and make them feel comfortable with a Democrat – just as they once felt comfortable with Bill . . . The problem here is the Clinton Democrats no longer exist. They are a relic of a bygone era, every bit as extinct as dodo birds and wooly mammoths. The erstwhile Clinton Democrats aren’t Democrats at all any more. They’re Republicans. Or they’re independents. But they are NOT Democrats, and they never will be Democrats again. All of which is to say that Hillary cannot and will not win their votes. And that, in turn, means that she cannot and will not follow her husband’s path to the presidency.
As for the second tack, a Trump nomination would make that very hard for Hillary to dispirit the white working class. In an otherwise discourteous recent column, Francis Wilkinson, writing for Bloomberg View, explained why Trump’s voters are among the most ardent and loyal in the country, unwilling to abandon their candidate, regardless of the “gaffes” he makes. She put it this way:
Average hourly wages in the U.S. have been stagnant for half a century. Median household income has only risen for those toward the top of the income distribution. Earnings for male high school graduates have plummeted since 1970.
But who in the American power grid is actively pursuing the goal of elevating such people?
Neither Democratic nor Republican elites seem overly concerned with Trump’s crowd. Bernie Sanders would surely make a play for their support if he could get a hearing. But the Democrats are otherwise dreaming of dominance with their coalition of the ascendant. That coalition, the product of decades of politically costly investments that have only begun to pay a return, is female, black, Hispanic and Asian, with highly educated whites pitching in. It relies less and less on the votes of white males without college educations, and the coalition’s new members, many of whom have suffered discrimination, aren’t much saddened by the relative decline of white male status.
The Republicans, on the other hand, have seemed to heartily endorse white male working-class rage, wearing their constituents’ class grudges on their rolled-up sleeves. But they have shown scant interest in the efforts of so-called reform conservatives, for example, to address the economic plight of the working class (or to salvage their hard-pressed families). Republicans are devoted instead to cutting the taxes paid by their donors and others at the top of the wealth-distribution scale, and abolishing the regulations applied to their businesses.
The elites of both parties have mostly abandoned Trump’s Coalition of the Descending. Its members have only Trump. . .
There is, of course, an off-chance that Hillary might be able to make up for the loss of the white working class by reaching out to the jilted Republican establishmentarians, those who are wedded ideologically and financially to all that Jeb Bush represents. Some of these voters, politicos, and donors – including Jeb himself – are already signaling their displeasure and their willingness to abandon the party if Trump is nominated. Nevertheless, Hillary can hardly count on this eventuality.
Of course, Hillary and her party aren’t the only ones troubled by Trump’s presence. As we indicated above, the Republican establishment is deeply threatened by him also. And given the fact that Hillary and the Republican establishment espouse many of the same foreign policy positions, we think that her foreign policy problems help explain the risk to the entirety of the ruling class – Republican and Democratic. Let us explain:
Almost exactly seven years ago, when Hillary was named the Secretary-of-State-designate for the incoming Obama administration, we assumed that her tenure at State would be extremely short-lived. We figured she’d take the job, put in some time, and then make a break for it as quickly as she could, thereby distancing herself from any potential Obama foreign-policy disasters. We figured that she and Bill had planned it all out carefully and would position her to challenge Obama in 2012, if things got really ugly, or to “restore” the Democratic Party to its full glory in 2016, if he managed to win a second term.
We were wrong. Or, to put it more accurately, Bill and Hillary were wrong in that they didn’t heed our advice. Instead of bailing out when she should have, Hillary hung around for the entire first term, which is to say that she hung around for and was part of all of the disasters of that period.
Indeed, Hillary Clinton’s service in the Obama State Department will forever be linked with the word “Benghazi.” Politically speaking, it doesn’t matter whether anything could have been done differently or if the Americans killed there could have been saved. All that matters is that Hillary didn’t get Ambassador Chris Stevens the security upgrades he requested, that she went home and slept through the attack, that she lied to the families of the dead about the cause of the attacks (and then lied about lying to the families), and then blew up at her Congressional inquisitors when they asked for answers. Even more than Obama, Hillary owns Benghazi.
She also owns Libya more broadly, having been the architect and the chief advocate of the policy that helped overthrow the Desert Drag Queen Muammar Ghaddafi. She encouraged Obama to get involved in and provide support for a plan that overthrew a pacified terrorist regime and left in its stead a political vacuum. That vacuum has since been filled by al Qaeda and the Islamic State. As countless wags have noted, ISIS is now but a short half-day sail from Sicily and thus from Europe in its entirety. Hillary helped facilitate that.
Additionally, Hillary is guilty by association with the Obama debacle in Iraq. She was there when the decisions were made to remove all troops and to ignore the Iraqi regime’s request for a post-occupation stabilization force. And so she was part of the process by which the Islamic State was born and fashioned out of the unlikely victory delivered by the Bush/Petraeus surge. Obama will forever own that miscalculation, but Hillary is complicit as well.
Worst of all, of course, is the fact that Hillary needs Obama to win and thus she is unable to distance herself from or apologize for any of these disasters. She and Bill did not make the move to reclaim the party for themselves, but rather decided to melt smoothly into Obama’s Democratic Party. And they are now and will continue to pay a price for that. They cannot rid themselves of the Obama albatross, if for no other reason than they need it more than they hate it.
All of which brings us back to Donald Trump and the unique set of problems he poses for the broader political establishment. Last week, in the Republican Party’s CNN foreign policy debate, most of the media focused their attention on Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, the putative isolationist vs. the Wilsonian-Bushian-interventionist. Both men did reasonably well, although Cruz probably won the argument. Nevertheless, the most important and perhaps most far-reaching statement of the night was delivered – once again – by Trump, whom most observers had considered a foreign-policy afterthought at best. With respect to the last 15 years of American foreign policy – that’s Bush plus Obama – Trump said the following:
In my opinion, we’ve spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that frankly, if they were there and if we could’ve spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges, and all of the other problems; our airports and all of the other problems we’ve had, we would’ve been a lot better off. I can tell you that right now.
We have done a tremendous disservice, not only to Middle East, we’ve done a tremendous disservice to humanity. The people that have been killed, the people that have wiped away, and for what? It’s not like we had victory.
It’s a mess. The Middle East is totally destabilized. A total and complete mess. I wish we had the $4 trillion or $5 trillion. I wish it were spent right here in the United States, on our schools, hospitals, roads, airports, and everything else that are all falling apart.
And after a brief interruption from Carly Fiorina, he continued:
Well, there’s nothing to respond to . . . the fact is Benghazi was a disaster because of Libya, everything just fell into place. It could not have been worse.
What do we have now? We have nothing. We’ve spent $3 trillion and probably much more – I have no idea what we’ve spent. Thousands and thousands of lives, we have nothing. Wounded warriors all over the place who I love, we have nothing for it.
This is a remarkable statement, to put it mildly. And as Ross Douthat put it in the New York Times, it is “not the kind of thing that Republican politicians can easily say, because after all the Iraq invasion was the last Republican administration’s signature idea.”
More to the point, though, and again as Douthat points out, “it’s also not the kind of thing that Democratic politicians can easily say….” And the reason they can’t say it is because to do so would undercut not only the current president, but his presumed successor, i.e. the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.
For Republicans, attacking the foreign policy of the last 15 years is tough, but it is, at least, an attack on a president who has been out of office, living in Dallas, painting portraits for the last nearly seven years. For Democrats, by contrast, such a statement would put them in direct conflict with the CURRENT president and by extension, his onetime foreign policy guru. For Democrats, there is, as Sartre might put it, no exit from this hell. Obama has, at the very least, presided over countless foreign policy catastrophes, from the withdrawal of troops in Iraq to the constantly changing mission and withdrawal date in Afghanistan; from the souring of the Arab Spring to the collapse of Libya into chaos; from the rebirth of the Soviet strongman to the rise of the “new caliphate.” And the Democrats have no choice but to bite their tongues and hope that the electorate doesn’t notice that the only differences between the Bush and Obama foreign policies is that Bush was MORE successful.
The only man who comes out of this with no wounds is Donald Trump, whom Douthat calls “the freest man in politics.” In a sense, Trump is the foreign policy opposite of Hillary. She supported the Iraq war initially but then backtracked later, when the war became a political liability. Even so, she ran a very Bush-ian, interventionist, nation-building State Department. Trump, by contrast, opposed Iraq from the start and has really never wavered. He may not have anything close to a coherent foreign policy strategy, but he knows that the last 15 years have been disastrous and should not be repeated under any circumstances. In short, then, on foreign policy, as on demographics, Donald Trump is not only Hillary’s worst nightmare but the political establishment’s nightmare as well.
Does this mean that Trump can win the White House? Yes it does. Anyone who suggests otherwise at this late date simply hasn’t been paying attention. Republican voters are not the only ones in full rebellion. Independents are as well. And this is, frankly, uncharted territory.
That’s not to say that Trump will win or even that he’ll be the nominee. But he is a force heretofore unimaginable in contemporary American politics. He is the ultimate maverick, the type of renegade that John McCain could only dream of being. He is bound to no one and to nothing and is thus free to say and do as he pleases.
Now, we continue to believe that these characteristics – along with his unmistakable arrogance – would serve him and the nation poorly in the Oval Office. But they also make him a helluva candidate and a helluva a threat to the best laid plans of Bill and Hill.
ADELSON AND GRAMSCI.
Perhaps the most important story of the week was also one of the least reported stories of the week. Most of the big time papers, TV talk shows, and high-profile political columnists paid it very little attention, and those who covered it chose to report it mostly as a business story, a mystery finally solved, or a human interest tale. In its “Media” section last Thursday, the New York Times reported the story as follows, which was typical for most of the mainstream press:
The billionaire casino magnate and Republican donor Sheldon Adelson is behind the mysterious purchase of The Las Vegas Review-Journal for $140 million, his family confirmed in a statement Thursday.
The revelation solves a riddle that had fascinated those in political and news media circles since the sale, for a lavish price, was announced last week and attached only to a newly incorporated company called the News and Media Capital Group.
Even the newsroom was kept in the dark, and the only person formally attached to the company, a Connecticut newspaperman named Michael E. Schroeder, declined to comment.
In a statement printed next to a news article in The Review-Journal, the family said: “We understand the desire of the hard-working staff at the R-J and others in the community to know the identity of the paper’s new owners, and it was always our intention to publicly announce our ownership.”
The Times – which you might assume would be unhappy about the whole business – almost glosses over the fact that Adelson is as big a Republican donor as there is. Hey, the guy who bought a paper gave more than $100 million to GOP candidates and Super-PACs last election cycle. Yet, to the Times, this is just a media story, a silly little vanity purchase by a guy who got his start in business selling newspapers on the corner and who wants to have a mouthpiece. Times business columnist Rob Cox even went so far as to question Adelson’s purchase, given that it makes little sense in the casino business:
[W]hy Sheldon Adelson, who controls the casino operator Las Vegas Sands, snapped up Nevada’s top paper remains unclear. Acquiring The South China Morning Post might have made more business sense. . .
Vegas represents just a sliver of Mr. Adelson’s gambling empire. The $35 billion Las Vegas Sands reported adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, or Ebitda, of $208 million from its Las Vegas properties in the first nine months of 2015. Sands casinos in the former Portuguese colony of Macau, now administered by China, generated $1.6 billion of Ebitda — eight times as much, even after a 36 percent drop from the same period in 2014. The United States company’s 70 percent stake in the Hong Kong–listed parent of the Macau casinos accounts for more than half of its market capitalization. And the Macau operations need the most help….
For Mr. Adelson, the bully pulpit of a prominent newspaper in Hong Kong, close to the gambling pits of Macau, might do more for business than one in Vegas.
No offense to Rob Cox, who has a job to do – writing about business – but this is nuts. Adelson bought the Las Vegas paper not because he wants a mouthpiece for his gambling business, but because he wants a mouthpiece for his political business. He wants a paper that will help him do what his $100 million investment in “campaigns” and PACs failed to do four years ago, stop the Democrats, advance Republican ideas, and safeguard the relationship between the United States and Israel.
Regular readers will note that we have often quoted from and used as an example the works of Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist who focused less on the physical revolution (the “war of manoeuvre”) and more on the cultural revolution (the “war of position”). Among other things, Gramsci argued that the physical revolution could not be successful in the West unless and until the cultural revolution was won. The “cultural hegemony” of the bourgeois ruling class would always prevent the working classes from comprehending or acting on their interests, and so the cultural hegemony had to be broken or reversed. The “war of position” therefore involved capturing the institutions of culture – the intellectuals, the media, etc. – and using them to alter the cultural atmosphere, paving the way for the Marxist state. Rudi Dutschke, a German Marxist student leader in the 1960s, famously summarized Gramsci’s approach to the revolution as making “the long march through the institutions.”
In the United States and the rest of the West, of course, the Leftists made that long march and reversed the cultural hegemony far more successfully than Gramsci could ever have imagined. We won’t waste your time today with a detailed rant on the Leftism that pervades both higher education and the mainstream press in this country. It should suffice to say that the Left won the war of position handily and has thus controlled the culture ever since.
Or at least it has controlled most of the culture. Over the past couple of decades, of course, the Right has started fighting back, waging its own war of position. Fox News, the Drudge Report and other online bastions of conservative thought, talk radio, etc. have been among the successes in the conservative cultural pushback. But despite this success, the mainstream press remains largely in leftist hands – the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, being the major exceptions.
Conservative and libertarian commentators – most notably Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds – have spent the better part of a decade arguing that conservatives who want to make a real difference in this country’s politics should quit wasting their money on campaign contributions that do little except make consultants rich, and should start investing in media properties. In his USA Today column last month, Reynolds made the case again, putting it this way:
Earlier this week on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, libertarian billionaire Charles Koch lamented that his campaign donations haven’t accomplished all that much. Well, Charles Koch is a smart man, as multi-billionaires tend to be. But he shouldn’t be surprised. Political contributions seldom accomplish much. If you want to change the system, there are a lot of better places to put the money . . . .
[I]f you want to affect politics in the United States — especially if you’re a conservative or a libertarian — you can get a lot more bang for your buck by getting involved in media, which right now is pretty much a left-leaning Democrat monoculture, as the recent CNBC debate foofaraw illustrates. An unnamed CNBC staffer quoted in a Yahoo! TV story noted that the problem is not just John Harwood’s obvious bias and partisanship but that management is blind to the problem.
Back during the 2012 election, Reynolds encouraged none other than Sheldon Adelson to quit wasting his money on Newt Gingrich ads and start buying up women’s magazines and women’s web sites, where he could actually have an impact on the culture. Adelson didn’t listen then, but it appears that he may have listened now. The guy owns several newspapers in Israel, which he uses to affect the culture there and to support the policies of Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. It’s unsurprising but still extremely significant that he has, at last, decided to do the same here.
Will this one purchase alone be enough to change the culture? Of course not. But the idea is that it might be the start of something meaningful. We certainly wouldn’t go as far as does Matthew Sheffiled, who wrote for the online publication Bold that “the purchase is going to revolutionize politics,” but we do think it is potentially a very big deal. As Sheffield notes, “Democratic billionaires like Warren Buffett have been doing [this] for decades . . . .As of this writing, Buffett’s company Berkshire Hathaway owns 71 newspapers across America including swing states Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida.”
Adelson, it appears, has decided to join the formerly solitary conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch in waging the counter-revolution. If he buys a few more properties here, while the Kochs buy a few more there, and a handful of others buy some at the other place, the Left could, conceivably, lose its grip on the mainstream media. And that coupled with the inevitable bursting of the higher education bubble could very well produce the counter-revolution for which Sheffield is looking.
At the very least, the notion is tantalizing. Conservatives, we think, have never given Gramsci the credit he deserves as a visionary. Maybe now that’s staring to change.