Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
They Said It:
The old conventional explanation of Jackson’s rise to power was simple. “A mob of malcontents,” as John W. Burgess put it, got together, gave a strong pull, and brought the old order toppling in ruins. This mob represented a combination of South and West against the propertied, conservative East; but the group also held control of two Eastern States – New York, where the wily Van Buren had gained power, and Pennsylvania, where Jackson’s martial feats had given him immense popularity.
The revolution, according to stock explanations, emphasized frontier “individualism” and Western “egalitarianism.” In its inception it was purely political, a revolt against the old monopoly of office holding by the rich, the well-born, and the well-educated.
When the mob filled Washington in 1829 to roar applause of the old hero and romp through the White House, there was little indication that the change would sharply modify economic policies and social structure.
Allan Nevins, “At the Roots of Democracy,” The New York Times, September 16, 1945.
TRUMP, THE PARTIES, AND THE LONG WAR.
After watching last week’s Republican debate and this weekend’s Democratic debacle, a few things are now obvious, to the point of incontrovertibility. First, Hillary Clinton is, as we’ve long argued, the worst major party “presumptive nominee” in modern history. She is a terrible politician. She is a terrible liar – which is to say that she is really bad at it, despite having more practice than almost anyone this side of Pinocchio. She was a terrible Secretary of State. And she would make a terrible president. She combines the worst characteristics of her husband and Richard Nixon, and would make either look wholesome and competent by comparison.
Additionally, Donald Trump is for real. Ted Cruz is too and should now be considered the most formidable post-Boomer politician in the country. Bernie Sanders makes ol’ Don Quixote look perfectly sane, but also makes Hillary Clinton look even worse than she looks when she’s on stage by herself. John Kasich is a lot more boring than we remember him being and may, in fact, be the most boring politician in our lifetimes. Jeb Bush is just kinda sad, pathetic really. And the Democrats have a security problem, meaning that some mysterious drifter named O’Malley has managed to make his way on stage during all of the party’s presidential debates.
Taken in sum, all of these now indisputable truths tell us one thing: BOTH parties are headed for complete and utter collapse AT THE SAME; a fate that has not befallen the nation since just before the Civil War. Worse still, this partisan collapse is exacerbated by the fact that there is a third force operating in the political realm, one which cares not one whit about the piddling worries of the people and their parties. This third political force – call it what you will: a Corporatist union, the Administrative State, the collusion of Big Government and Big Business – is both enormous and well entrenched, which means that it is largely resistant to partisan concerns and deeds. In turn, therefore, the populist anger that is tearing the parties apart will not be quelled, no matter who wins the presidency next November, and the next four years at least will be dominated by political anger, bitterness, and perhaps even violence.
Let us start today with the GOP, which only makes sense given that its collapse is probably the obvious to anyone paying even the slightest attention. Indeed, the media, the Democrats, and even most of the Republicans in the public eye long ago conceded that the GOP is being torn asunder.
Some six years ago, the Tea Party became the obvious manifestation of the Republican base’s dissatisfaction with its party leaders. The media and most Democrats missed this, of course, preferring to see the Tea Party as an attack – often racist – on the nation’s first black president. Accordingly, they were caught off guard last summer when the rank-and-file insurgency manifested as support for Donald Trump. Anyone sane and/or honest, however, saw this coming and knew that the Grand Old Party as it has existed for 150 years was in serious jeopardy. Way back in January 2010, two of the best political writers in the business — yours truly — put it this way in their domestic politics forecast piece:
Both major parties are guilty here of perverting the function of democratic governance. And both parties will pay a price. But one party is likely to see its establishment figures punished more severely. And that is the GOP.
This isn’t to say that the GOP is doomed or even that it will suffer immediate electoral losses. It isn’t and it probably won’t. But guys like House Minority Leader John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are more likely to be seen by disgruntled conservatives as part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. And they are likely to pay a political price. They had their chances, and they did nothing with them. Time to move on.
Looking to the distant future, what this means, we think, is that actual outsiders will fare far better in the GOP presidential primary process than they have in the past. Republicans tend, over time, to want to nominate the guy who is “next in line” and who has “paid his dues.” We suspect that this practice may come to an end. . .
What we can say for sure is that we have reached a new point in American politics. Our oft-forecasted new paradigm is here . . .
The last six years has seen the “new paradigm” flourish and evolve. The populist undercurrents that inspired the Tea Party have matured and now dominate the political scene. The rank-and-file members of Republican Party are in a state of full-fledged rebellion against the party establishment, to the point where even erstwhile Tea Party darlings now find themselves on the wrong side of the fight and have no idea how they got there or what to do about it.
Once upon a time, for example, Marco Rubio was the future of the GOP’s insurgent wing. Today, he fights for his presidential life by courting the “moderate” vote. Rand Paul was once seen as the man who would succeed where so many before him – including his father – had failed. He would complete the “fusion” project, merging libertarianism and conservatism into an anti-statist juggernaut. Today, he can’t even find his way onto the main stage in his party’s debates. Paul Ryan was thought to be too “hard-core” a conservative for most independents just four years ago when he was Mitt Romney’s running mate. And yet today, as the new Speaker of the House, he is widely considered to be a traitor to his party, to its voters, and to the country, a “RiNO” in right-wingers clothing. And the list goes on.
Last Tuesday night, Obama gave the final State of the Union Address of his presidency. One of the GOP’s “rising stars” and once a Tea Party darling in her own right, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, gave the Republican response. And she whiffed. Apparently upset at the drubbing the party’s mainstream candidates are taking at the hands of the GOP rabble, she defended the mediocre and attacked the rebels, much to the delight of the both the White House and the mainstream media. As the inimitable Mark Steyn put it, with Haley’s attack, the Stupid Party got stupider. To wit:
Governor Haley wasn’t done:
There’s an important lesson in this. In many parts of society today, whether in popular culture, academia, the media, or politics, there’s a tendency to falsely equate noise with results.
Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference. That is just not true. Often, the best thing we can do is turn down the volume. When the sound is quieter, you can actually hear what someone else is saying. And that can make a world of difference.
That was intended as a dig at Trump, but in fact it applies more accurately to the McConnell/Boehner/Ryan GOP, which offers noise as a substitute for results. In the 2010 and 2014 election cycles, they promised loudly to roll back government, reduce debt, repeal ObamaCare and reject unconstitutional executive amnesty . . . and then on the Wednesday morning after the Tuesday night before, they turned down the volume so thoroughly that all you can hear is the sound of Obama’s multi-trillion-dollar steamrollers rolling noisily all over them with nary a whimper. . .
What is Mrs Haley offering instead?
If we held the White House, taxes would be lower for working families, and we’d put the brakes on runaway spending and debt.
Really? You don’t get that impression from the Ryan budget.
We would reform education so it worked best for students, parents, and teachers, not Washington bureaucrats and union bosses.
Like No Child Left Behind and Common Core?
We would end a disastrous health care program, and replace it with reforms that lowered costs and actually let you keep your doctor.
And they say Trump lacks specifics. . . .
We would respect differences in modern families, but we would also insist on respect for religious liberty as a cornerstone of our democracy.
So where do you stand on state-enforced baking of gay wedding cakes? . . .
So the usual vapid cookie-cutter split-the-difference slippery bromides indifferently delivered. That’s what the GOP panjandrums decided America wanted to hear in a campaign season when their own base has told them that it’s insufficient. By the way, that’s true not just for Trump and Cruz voters, but to one degree or another for Carson, Fiorina, Paul, Huckabee and Santorum guys, too. Defining the “moderate” vote as Rubio, Bush, Christie and Kasich, that adds up to a combined 21 per cent in recent polls.
So these days the GOP can’t even schedule an insipid forgettable SOTU response without insulting the overwhelming majority of its actual voters.
Let us be perfectly clear about this. The Republican voters are not fed up with Democrats. They are fed up with politics and politicians, which is to say that they are fed up with Republicans as well as Democrats. Nikki Haley seems not only to dislike this, but to not understand it, which explains why the GOP is embroiled in utter chaos this election season. The best argument that self-styled conservative “purists” seem to be able make in defense of their anger is with him that Trump is not a bona fide conservative, arguing that he is and has been a crony capitalist whose policy positions are inconsistent and incoherent at best. We are somewhat sympathetic to this argument, but the truth is that policy and ideology are entirely irrelevant in this campaign. At present, the Republican base does not care about conservative bona fides any more than it cares about Barack Obama’s plans to end partisan acrimony in his last year in office. Right now, the base hates professional politicians and the mess they have made in Washington. Period. And Trump’s lack of political credentials is, in this case, one of his greatest assets.
Of course, most of you know all of this by now. The Great Republican Crack-Up is the perpetual human-interest story of the year for the mainstream press. They predict it, they discuss it, and they report it every year, without fail. And they were bound to be right eventually, weren’t they? You predict and discuss something often enough, eventually you’ll be right. Or so we figure (and hey, have you heard that the euro is done, kaput, fini?).
The catch is that they are right for all the wrong reasons. According to their long-held belief, the crazy conservatives would just get too crazy, eventually alienating the moderates and driving them out of the party. Yawn. Indeed, they have been saying this for forty years now, ever since Reagan challenged Ford for the 1976 presidential nomination. And while the moderate-conservative divide might have been a problem way back when, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the current crack-up in the party. And that’s the critical point here. As we have noted many times in these pages, the real tension in American politics today is between the people and the powerful, a theme about which Democrats constantly blather, but which they really never quite grasp, which is why their own collapse has caught them and the mainstream press (but we repeat not ourselves!) unawares.
Indeed, the biggest takeaway from this past Sunday’s Democratic debate is that that the people (Bernie) vs. the powerful (Hillary) theme – or if you prefer, the Country Class vs. the Ruling Class – is every bit as divisive among Democrats as it is among Republicans, which only makes sense, since Democrats comprise the majority of the Ruling Class. The difference is that the Republican alternative has a reasonable chance not merely of winning this fall’s election, but of altering the course of electoral politics for some time to come. The Democratic alternative, by contrast, would be an electoral disaster.
You see, the other thing that came through during the Democratic debate is that Hillary is a terrible spokesperson for the Ruling Class. No matter how much she tries to appear folksy and unpretentious, her profound political and social clumsiness prevents her from hiding the fact that she is a ranking member of the ruling class, and that the ruling class is distressingly corrupt and decrepit at best. Barack Obama, at least, possessed the deep-seated guile that allowed him to fake it, to be elected president twice on a platform of helping the poor, downtrodden, and minorities, even as his policies overwhelmingly promoted the progress and growth of the much-despised .1% while thoroughly devastating the poor, downtrodden, and minorities. But Hillary lacks even this.
Not surprisingly, therefore, even Democratic voters are starting to figure out the ruse and are starting to get upset about it, which is why Bernie Sanders is doing so well in various polls. Sanders, bless his heart, may be completely irrational and illogical in his belief that the problems caused by too much government can be fixed by even more government. But he at least understands that the Country Class has legitimate problems for which the Ruling Class is, in large part, responsible. And this past Sunday, he used that understanding to “mop the floor with Hillary,” as John Podhoretz put it:
Mainstream Democrats breathed a sigh of relief in October when Hillary Clinton dominated the first debate with Bernie Sanders — but after Sunday night’s debate, they’re probably hyperventilating. Or ought to be.
The Sanders surge in the Democratic primaries, which suggests he’s on the verge of beating her in the first two states and closing in on her nationwide, was mirrored in the way he ate her lunch Sunday night. And, for good measure, gobbled up her breakfast and dinner, too.
Hillary Clinton’s goal was clear — to make the point that she’s the serious and sober candidate and Bernie Sanders is a pie-in-the-sky fantasist. Indeed, Sanders more than once said he wanted “revolutionary change.” But if there’s one thing we’ve learned about the political mood of the United States going into 2016, it’s that the public doesn’t seem especially sober or even all that serious. The country is in a rage, Democrats as well as Republicans, at the brokenness of our politics and the stagnation of the middle class. Hillary cannot find a way to tap into that — and tapping into that is all Sanders does.
Bernie Sanders is Donald Trump without the charisma. Or, if you prefer, Donald Trump is Bernie Sanders without the crazy, radical Marxist past that will prevent him from winning the election, in spite of his talents as a political agitator and regardless of the mood of the country.
For months now, we’ve been told that Trump can’t win, that he is unelectable, that he’s a buffoon, a jerk, a bully. He may be all of that, except, of course, unelectable. We made the case for Trump against Hillary last month (“Donald Trump, the Ruling Class’s Worst Nightmare?”) But if the Democratic Party’s collapse accelerates and Hillary loses the nomination, or is indicted, or decides to “spend more time with her family,” then the GOP nominee will, obviously, face someone else, Sanders or a last-minute emergency substitute like Joe Biden. Either way, the Democrats would be in big trouble, but Sanders would represent serious and largely irreparable damage to the party’s near-term prospects. As it turns out, the GOP is lucky to have Trump (and Cruz), while the Democrats deserve to have Sanders.
You see, Sanders is not just a harmless “progressive.” He’s a crackpot, a Marxist. Sanders says that his views have evolved over the years, that he is not a Communist, but is, rather, a “democratic socialist.” We have no reason to doubt his sincerity or his “evolution,” although we think that in the post-Cold War world, that’s a distinction without a difference. His ideas, plans, and policies are no less ridiculous, dangerous, and potentially violent than those of every Marxist, from Lenin to Hugo Chavez. More to the point, those ideas, plans, and policies would be disastrous for this country, not merely expanding the size, power, and reach of the state, but bankrupting an already nearly bankrupt nation in the process. Late on Sunday, just before his debate with Hillary (and the drifter), Sanders released his health care plan. It was, as one might expect, short on specifics and long ideological positioning. His fellow leftist and fellow single-payer advocate, the journalist Ezra Klein, described the plan as follows:
Sanders has offered a puppies-and-rainbows approach to single-payer — he promises his plan will cover everything while costing the average family almost nothing. This is what Republicans fear liberals truly believe: that they can deliver expansive, unlimited benefits to the vast majority of Americans by stacking increasingly implausible, and economically harmful, taxes on the rich. Sanders is proving them right.
A few days ago, I criticized Hillary Clinton for not leveling with the American people. She seemed, I wrote, “scared to tell voters what she really thinks for fear they’ll disagree.” Here, Sanders shows he doesn’t trust voters either. Rather than making the trade-offs of a single-payer plan clear, he’s obscured them further. In answering Clinton’s criticisms, he’s raised real concerns about the plausibility of his own ideas.
As the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal noted last week, Sanders is “a sincere socialist who follows his principles, however unrealistic or calamitous, to their logical conclusions.” Fortunately, the likelihood of a “sincere socialist” winning the American presidency is slim, which is why most American Leftists continue to hide their real ambitions and plans and adopt euphemistic names like “progressive” and “liberal.” Or, as the Journal noted about Sanders’ opponent, “Mrs. Clinton will conceal her true ambitions if that’s what it takes to win, and she’ll drop on her opponents any political anvils that happen to be handy.” She does this, of course, because that is what it takes to win a general election in this country. Sanders may be unique, in the Journal’s words, because he demonstrates “political character,” neither hiding his Marxist past nor his present-day socialism. But he is almost certainly unelectable as a result.
By contrast, Donald Trump embraces no robust ideology and no uniform policy platform. His appeal is populist, in that it scorns the elites. But it is populist in the classic American tradition. Indeed, his populism appeals to the very heart of the traditional American political core. Walter Russell Mead explains:
What we are seeing in American politics today is a Jacksonian surge. It is not yet a revolution on the scale of Old Hickory’s movement that transformed American politics for a generation. . . .
Donald Trump, for now, is serving as a kind of blank screen on which Jacksonians project their hopes. Proposing himself as a strong leader who ‘gets’ America but is above party, Trump appeals to Jacksonian ideas about leadership. Trump’s Jacksonian appeal has left the Republican Party in deep disarray, demonstrating the gulf between contemporary conservative ideology and Jacksonian nationalism. Indeed, one of the reasons that Trump hasn’t been hurt by attacks that highlight his lack of long term commitment to the boilerplate conservative agenda (either in the social or economic conservative variant) is that Jacksonian voters are less dogmatic and less conservative than some of their would-be political representatives care to acknowledge. Jacksonians like Social Security and Medicare much more than most Republican intellectuals, and they like immigration and free trade much less.
Whatever happens to the Trump candidacy, it now seems clear that Jacksonian America is rousing itself to fight for its identity, its culture and its primacy in a country that it believes it should own. Its cultural values have been traduced, its economic interests disregarded, and its future as the center of gravity of American political life is under attack. Overseas, it sees traditional rivals like Russia, China, North Korea and Iran making headway against a President that it distrusts; more troubling still, in ISIS and jihadi terror it sees the rapid spread of a movement aiming at the mass murder of Americans. Jacksonian America has lost all confidence in the will or the ability of the political establishment to fight the threats it sees abroad and at home. It wants what it has always wanted: to take its future into its own hands.
The biggest story in American politics today is this: Andrew Jackson is mad as hell, and he’s not going to take it anymore.
The bottom line here is a point we’ve made before, namely that both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders constitute a threat to the political establishment and to the two major parties as we know them. The difference between the two is that Trump’s election would remake the GOP, perhaps splitting it, while Sanders would practically destroy the Democrats, leaving it a rump party competing for political table scraps.
This is not, however, to say that Donald Trump’s election – or Ted Cruz’s election, which we have predicted – would or even could change the nature of the political disorder in this country. As we have noted countless times before in these pages, the democratic and republican government created and bequeathed to us by the Founders has been undermined and perverted by the Administrative State. As such, we believe that the vast bureaucratic Leviathan, coupled with its powerful corporate allies, makes any serious populist reform in this country nigh on impossible. Trump and Sanders and Cruz are right to challenge “the establishment,” but said establishment cannot be vanquished simply by winning an election. “The establishment” will still be around after election day and will still control most of the levers of power in this country.
Anyone who wishes to reform the republic and return it to its constitutional principles will be fighting more than one battle. He or she will have to battle the rest of the elected officials in Washington, whose power and prestige is tied directly to their offices. Moreover, he or she will also have to battle a hostile and treacherous bureaucracy that is unwilling to give up any of its power and prestige and unbound any longer by any pretense of professionalism or impartiality. And then there is the media, the state governments and bureaucracies, and a host of millionaires and billionaires who have invested countless years and countless dollars in a federal racket designed and augmented to create rents, kill competition, and make the very rich even richer. In short, anyone who wants to be the savior of the republic will have to be resigned to waging war against at least half of the country; and the most powerful half at that.
What this means in the long run is that the populist thirst that has afflicted the electorate for the past seven or eight years is unlikely to be slaked, no matter who wins the election and no matter what happens to the parties. And this, in turn, means that both parties will continue to be hotbeds of political instability and conflict between the populists and the establishment.
As countless wags have noted, the last time both parties fell apart at the same time, it took a massive and bloody Civil War to sort out the mess. We doubt seriously that such a violent and bloody war is likely this time around. But that’s not to say that a war of some sort can be avoided. After all, the ruling elites within the government have promised “the people” far, far more than they can possibly deliver. This “war over resources,” as we have called it, will rage for years to come, pitting Left against Right, the people vs. the powerful, Republicans vs. Republicans, and Democrats vs. Democrats. Trump and Sanders, in other words, are only just the start.