Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, June 27, 2017
They Said It:
The early apples were now ripening, and the grass of the orchard was littered with windfalls. The animals had assumed as a matter of course that these would be shared out equally; one day, however, the order went forth that all the windfalls were to be collected and brought to the harness-room for the use of the pigs. At this some of the other animals murmured, but it was no use. All the pigs were in full agreement on this point, even Snowball and Napoleon. Squealer was sent to make the necessary explanations to the others.
“Comrades!” he cried. “You do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege? Many of us actually dislike milk and apples. I dislike them myself. Our sole object in taking these things is to preserve our health. Milk and apples (this has been proved by Science, comrades) contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig. We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organisation of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for YOUR sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples. Do you know what would happen if we pigs failed in our duty? Jones would come back! Yes, Jones would come back! Surely, comrades,” cried Squealer almost pleadingly, skipping from side to side and whisking his tail, “surely there is no one among you who wants to see Jones come back?”
Now if there was one thing that the animals were completely certain of, it was that they did not want Jones back. When it was put to them in this light, they had no more to say. The importance of keeping the pigs in good health was all too obvious. So it was agreed without further argument that the milk and the windfall apples (and also the main crop of apples when they ripened) should be reserved for the pigs alone.
George Orwell, Animal Farm, 1945.
WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH THE DEMOCRATS?
Last week, the Democrats turned an otherwise unimportant special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District into a referendum on Trump. And once again, their unceasing and increasingly tiresome attempt to stop the President’s political momentum crashed and burned.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. You see, while Georgia’s 6th District is home to a fairly strong Republican seat in suburban Atlanta, it is a changing district, more semi-urban than suburban, not as conservative as it once was, and therefore precisely the type of seat Democrats need if they are to regain the majority status anytime soon. Thus, when Trump chose the district’s solidly conservative representative, Tom Price, to be Director of Health and Human Services, Democrats saw the special election as an opportunity not only to pick up a seat but to send a message to the GOP that its policies are out-of-alignment with new Southern voters and will cause them to lose their stranglehold on the “solid” South. Liberals from all over the country contributed so much money to their candidate Jon Ossoff that it became the most expensive House contest in history.
Amusingly, and surprisingly, they can’t figure out why they lost. Interestingly enough, we have some thoughts on the matter.
Our first thought is that Democrats need to learn of the oldest truths in the history of modern man, namely that money doesn’t buy happiness. Or more specifically, money in politics is no substitute for a comprehensive and attractive message. Lacking such a message, Democrats have become obsessed with money. Indeed, Ossoff was the Democratic establishment’s choice specifically because he could raise money – and lots of it. Think about what the Dems did here: they threw their institutional support behind a political neophyte who didn’t even live in the district and who raised almost 10 TIMES as much money from donors in California and he did from donors in Georgia. In the great fundraising game, Fulton County and DeKalb County – both of which comprise part of the district – were far less important than Marin County, the leftist stronghold in Northern California, where Ossoff raised big bucks and was immensely popular. And they figured that would be enough. But it wasn’t.
You would have thought that some of this might have sunk in last November, after the inevitable 45th President of the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton, spent a record amount on her campaign and somehow managed to be rather evitable after all. New York’s Observer provides the gory details:
According to figures compiled by the Center for Competitive Politics, an Alexandria group that opposes caps on political spending, Clinton’s campaign outspent the Trump campaign by more than 2 to 1. While full spending reports are not yet compiled, campaigns typically spend just about all they raise. As of October 28, Clinton had raised $687 million compared to Trump’s $307 million—a 124 percent advantage.
And that doesn’t even count the spending by outside groups (better known as “outside groups”). When added to the candidates’ own ads, Pro-Clinton ads outnumbered pro-Trump ads 3 to 1—a mind-numbing 383,512 ads for Clinton compared to 125,617 supporting Trump. Outside groups raised and spent more than three times as much on Clinton as on Trump. Super PACs and other groups supporting Clinton raised almost $190 million; those supporting Trump pocketed only $60 million.
The results speak for themselves, obviously, but the striking thing here is that Clinton actually did worse in the places where spending was highest. In the six states where Clinton targeted the most spending—Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Iowa—she and groups supporting her ran 299,067 ads compared to 89,995 supporting Trump—a ratio of 3.3 to 1. She lost all of those states except Nevada.
And this leads us to our second observation, that being that Democrats need to figure out how better to appeal to minority voters. Yes, you read that right. Democrats need to better appeal to minority voters. Seriously. A year-and-a-half ago, before any of the presidential primaries or caucuses had occurred, we warned Democrats that they should hope that someone other than Trump would win the Republican nomination. Contrary to conventional wisdom at the time – and for a great while thereafter – we thought that Trump would represent Hillary Clinton’s worst nightmare as an opponent. We based that idea in large part on demographics and specifically on our expectation that Hillary would be unlikely to reassemble the Obama coalition and would also be hard-pressed to reassemble her husband’s winning coalition, particularly against Trump, who was targeting key components of the latter.
We penned a piece to that end for The Political Forum, titled “Donald Trump: The Ruling Class’s Worst Nightmare?” A couple of weeks later, we abbreviated that piece and turned it into an op-ed for The Hill, retitling it “Trump v. Clinton: Hillary’s Nightmare?“ Matt Drudge picked up the piece and stuck it on his page, where it was seen and tweeted about by the Trump campaign itself, which then followed the blueprint we described almost perfectly. In The Hill version, we put it this way:
Conventional wisdom has it that Hillary Clinton will crush Donald Trump next November, if they both happen to be their respective parties’ nominees. We’re told that Trump is too brash, too crude, too inexperienced, and too offensive to present a real challenge to a seasoned pro like Clinton.
As has been the case repeatedly where Trump is concerned, however, that conventional wisdom may prove not simply wrong, but entirely backward . . .
Trump 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 . . . 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, 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 serious doubts about the ability of the political process to address their concerns, meaning that they may well stay home on Election Day.
As fate would have it, minority voters – and black voters especially – did, in fact, stay home on Election Day, which is a big part of the reason that Hillary lost and Donald Trump won. But this wasn’t just a problem for Hillary. It was a problem for Jon Ossoff too, in April and then again last week. Black voters in particular stayed home. They didn’t vote for the Republican, just as they didn’t vote for Trump. They just stayed home. And for the post-Obama Democratic Party, this is a HUGE problem. Writing at the highly respected election/polling site fivethirtyeight.com, Patrick Ruffini explained why:
The Georgia 6 April primary was a continuation of some 2016 turnout trends too — trends that should worry Democrats. In 2016, turnout among whites was up across the country, and in highly educated areas like the 6th District in the suburbs of Atlanta. This redounded to Democrats’ advantage. At the same time, black turnout was down precipitously, from 66 percent in 2012 to 59 percent in 2016. This black-white turnout gap continued in the first round of Georgia’s special election, where the Democrats got impressive turnout levels from all races and ethnicities — except African-Americans . . .
Elections are decided by two chief factors: Who turns out and which candidate they vote for. It’s been pointed out that turnout alone did not decide the 2016 election — and that the key factor in Trump’s success with groups like the white working class was not that he got way more of them to the polls than Mitt Romney did, but simply that he won a much higher share of their votes.
But if there was one area where Democratic turnout was undeniably weaker in 2016 than 2012, it was among African-Americans . . .
We saw last year how lower engagement among African-American voters is a serious problem for the Democrats, as black turnout declined nearly uniformly across all the swing states in 2016 . . .
Turnout did not decline equally among all parts of the African-American electorate. The dropoff was particularly steep among men, and especially young men. Across the swing states for which we have voter files, turnout among black men aged 18-29 was 22 percent lower than 2012 levels, while it rose 7 percent among white men in the same age group. Age aside, we also see steeper differences in turnout rates along gender lines among African-Americans than any other racial group.
We and countless conservative commentators have noted that the Democratic strategy to woo black voters, and black men in particular, has been substantively dubious. Their appeal has largely focused on claims of Republican racism and promises that Democrats and Democrats alone have black Americans’ real interests at heart. And yet the Obama years suggested differently. Over the course of the Obama presidency, black men suffered. They suffered from (much) higher unemployment than their age cohorts. They suffered from slower wage growth. They continued to suffer from higher rates of incarceration. And so on. Countless black leaders and countless black conservatives assailed Obama for his lack of leadership, his lack of direction. He offered “hope and change,” but provided black America with the former but not the latter.
Now, with Obama out of the political picture, the party is suffering and will continue to suffer the repercussions of decades of taking black voters for granted. Some of you old-timers may remember that we started predicting the inevitable growth of conservatism among black voters way back in the mid-1990s, only to be disappointed repeatedly. We won’t make that mistake again.
At the same time, the Democratic Party has a problem. After Bill Clinton left office in 2000, the Democrats abandoned many of their former constituencies and put all of their eggs in the same proverbial basket, what they called “the coalition of the ascendant.” In order for this coalition to succeed, however, its constituent components have to “ascend,” meaning that they have to grow AND they they have to continue to participate, at incredibly high rates and on exclusively Democratic terms. The black unemployment rate has been falling since February and fell to 7.5% in May, the lowest in 17 years. That’s great news for black men and women seeking work. It’s not so great for the “coalition of the ascendant.” And it hurt Jon Ossoff, whose campaign platform consisted exclusively of “stick it to Trump!” – the guy who has been president since . . . well . . . eleven days before February.
Unless Democrats can figure out a way to win back the black voters who have grown tired of them and their fear-mongering, Ossoff’s struggles will serve as a harbinger. Just as Hillary’s did.
Our third and perhaps most important thought about the Democratic debacle last week in Georgia is that while the Left in this country knows it has a problem, it doesn’t have a clue what that problem is. If you ask three Democratic leaders to define this problem, all will likely tell you that the real issue is “authenticity.” But then, each will then proceed to give you a different explanation as to what that means. One will tell you that the party is too centrist and not distinct enough from the GOP; one will tell you that the party is too far Left and needs to appeal to voters in the middle; one will tell you that the party needs to return to its contemporary roots, to its New Deal way of thinking, reassembling the New Deal coalition, including white working-class voters. And so on. All are right. And none are right. The real “authenticity” issue that the Democrats have is one that we will, for lack of a better term, call a “Brady Problem.”
It’s probably not likely that many of you recall this, but back in the summer of 2012, as Barack Obama was running for reelection, we penned one of our favorite pieces of all time, a piece called “A Very Brady Presidency.” In the piece, we argued that Barack Obama was a political shape-shifter of sorts, a man who was whatever he needed to be to win votes. He was, we argued, like Greg Brady in the Johnny Bravo episode of “The Brady Bunch,” the guy who “fit the suit” and therefore was marked for superstardom.
Unfortunately, that piece is not available in the archives on our web site, as it was published during the transition from the old, old website to our new old website. Luckily, we still have a copy in our digital files and can share with you our small joy. Five years ago, we put it this way:
Suppose you are a record producer. Or want to be a record producer. You have a smokin’ hot girlfriend, and the two of you are “talent managers” in the swinging California music scene. You have a song you just know will be a monster hit. You have super-groovy offices that have everything a hip record mogul could want, except a gold record to hang on the wall. You have some recording equipment and a proto-version of “auto-tune,” which virtually guarantees that your “artist” will sound great, if a little robotic, singing your record. Best of all, you have this really “far out” rock-n’-roll outfit – sort of a matador jacket with rhinestones and sequins – that you’ve dropped a bundle of dough on and that is certain to make your new artist a smash with the target demographic group, which is to say teenage girls. You’re ready, baby, ready to hit the big time.
You only have one, teensy, weensy little problem: you have no singer for your song, no “artist,” no dude to wow the chicks. So what do you do?
Well, if the year is 1973, and your name is Buddy Berkman, then you send your girlfriend, Tami Cutler, out to scout some of the local talent. And when she stumbles upon a strange, funky, six-person singing-dancing act made up of three brothers and three sisters, she directs them – or one of them, at least – to your talent agency, “Big Hit Management Company.” And the next thing you know, the oldest brother, a happenin’ dude with a sweet perm, is in your office, laying down your track, wearing his new suit. Oh, and one more thing, you’ve taken his square name, Greg Brady, and traded it in for something much cooler, much more in keeping with his new, hip persona: Johnny Bravo!
Later, when Greg/Johnny hears the “auto-tuned” playback of him singing and complains that “that’s not what I sound like!” you say, “so what? Did you think that any of this was real?” “Real,” you tell him, doesn’t matter. Sure, that’s not his “real” voice. But that’s not really his song. And his new name? Johnny Bravo? Come on! That’s not real either. Johnny Bravo doesn’t exist. He’s a fake, a concoction. Someone created out of whole cloth. Your new superstar-in-waiting gets a little confused and wonders what is going on, at which point you remind him of the chicks, the glory, and the power. And when he asks, “why me?” you tell him simply, “Because you fit the suit, man.”…
Back then, we were writing in response to a new biography of Obama written by the Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist David Maraniss. Maraniss’s book, Barack Obama: The Story, told the real tale of Obama’s intellectual and political coming of age – and it was NOTHING like the story Obama himself told in his fictionalized “memoir” Dreams from My Father. Ben Smith, a sympathetic lefty journalist, was among the countless reviewers of the book who conceded that it “debunked” the “core narrative” of Obama’s memoir. For our part, we argued that Smith was wrong, and that, in fact the biography actually debunked the “core narrative of Barack Obama, the man – as sold to the American public.” We continued:
The thoughtful, postracial politician, shaped by the experiences of his exotic Indonesian youth and his Hawaiian adolescence; the inquisitive Ivy League intellectual, informed by the diverse experiences of his white mother, his white grandparents, his colonially oppressed grandfather and his absentee yet misunderstood intellectual father; the brilliant, yet sensitive populist whose sense of self was forged through a black identity crisis and the realization of his responsibilities to those whose skin color he shares, despite his unique and inimitable background: NONE OF THESE EXIST in any real sense of the word. All of them were fabricated. All were created completely out of whole cloth. None has any foundations in reality at all. Which is to say that the American electorate voted in 2008 for a candidate who was simply “made up.”
Sometime in the early 1990s, when he signed the contract and received the advances for “his” “memoir,” a strange but happenin’ dude named Barry Soetoro walked into some groovy offices somewhere and emerged as Johnny Bravo . . . errr . . . Barack Obama! He wasn’t really singing, mind you. And it wasn’t really his song. But as a young, black man, erstwhile Muslim, son of an African post-colonialist and a white Socialist social scientist, graduate of an Ivy League law school, and dynamic community organizer, he sure as hell fit the suit, man! Indeed, nobody ever fit the suit better.
Last month, another Pulitzer-Prize winner, the historian David J. Garrow, published another biography of Barack Obama, this one called Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama. And as you might have guessed by the title, the story it tells is also one of “fabricating” the perfect candidate, the perfect dude to fit the suit. One excerpt from the write-ups about the biography caught our eye (and no, we will NOT be reading the full 1400-page monstrosity). The Daily Caller sums up the episode in question as follows:
Former President Barack Obama considered being homosexual as a young man, according to a forthcoming biography of the president . . . In a chapter about the former president’s two years at Occidental College, Garrow reveals a close relationship Obama had with an openly gay assistant professor named Lawrence Goldyn.
“Goldyn made a huge impact on Barry Obama,” Garrow wrote in the book. “Almost a quarter century later, asked about his understanding of gay issues, Obama enthusiastically said, ‘my favorite professor my first year in college was one of the first openly gay people that I knew . . . He was a terrific guy” with whom Obama developed a ‘friendship beyond the classroom.’” . . .
“Three years later, Obama wrote somewhat elusively to his first intimate girlfriend that he had thought about and considered gayness, but ultimately had decided that a same-sex relationship would be less challenging and demanding than developing one with the opposite sex,” Garrow wrote.
We don’t mean to sound insensitive or rude or anything, but what on God’s green earth is this? Obama “considered” being gay? He thought about it, but decided against it? Really?
By show of hands, how many of you “thought about,” deliberated on, and then consciously chose your sexual orientation? Go ahead. Don’t be embarrassed. Raise your hand . . . No one? Well . . . that’s . . . perfectly normal. To the best of our knowledge, nobody – straight, gay, or otherwise – chooses his or her orientation. You are who you are. Unless, that is, you’re Barack Obama. Or any other Democratic politician, we suppose.
Do you remember what Bill Clinton wrote in his infamous draft letter back in 1969, when he was studying at Oxford in England? He wrote that he had lied. He had received a draft deferment on the condition that he would join an ROTC program he never intended to join because he was thoroughly and totally opposed to both the war and the draft. But why did he lie? Why didn’t he just stand up and refuse like so many of his contemporaries? Because he too had to “fit the suit,” or, as he put it in the letter “to maintain my political viability within the system.”
For at least twenty-five years then – and by our account, far longer – Democratic political leaders have been “grooming” themselves for high office, which is to say that they have been hiding who they really are, or embellishing what they’ve really done. People who do such things are known as “liars.” People who do such things consistently, constantly, repeatedly over years and decades are known as “sociopaths.”
Barack Obama and Bill Clinton were able to get away with their deceptions because they were both, as Bob Kerrey said of the latter, “unusually good liars.” But not all politicians are so unusually good. Indeed, most are not. Bill Clinton’s wife, for example, was transparently dishonest and transparently contrived. No one believed that she was a Cubs fan. No one believed that she was a Yankees fan. No one believed that she baked cookies or anything else she claimed to have done. No one believed any of it, because they could tell she was lying – and pandering. And they can tell the same about most Democratic politicians these days.
Now, we will concede that Republican candidates are contrived as well, but not nearly as contrived as Democratic candidates have been of late. Again, Democratic candidates can’t figure out whether to be moderates or progressives, largely because they aren’t either and they are trying to figure out what persona will win them the most votes. If I’m in favor of “multiculturalism” and I wave a rainbow flag, but am against nationalization of health care, will I win more votes than if I advocate free college, student loan forgiveness, and a single-payer system, but don’t support Black Lives Matter? Decisions . . . decisions . . .
Last year, Bernie Sanders shook up the political world by almost beating the inevitably evitable Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary. What’s interesting about Sanders is that he did so while being a relic in his adopted party, a full-blown economic leftist in a party that traded economic leftism for cultural leftism decades ago. Sanders succeeded – nominally, at least – in spite of himself and in spite of economic beliefs his party jettisoned before he took his honeymoon in the Soviet Union. And he succeeded because he was and is truly authentic. Sanders knows what he believes, and he believes it deeply. And he doesn’t really care how well it polls or who else agrees with him. Those are attractive attributes in politicians at any time, but they are especially attractive today, when many Americans – on both sides of the aisle – are completely fed up with consultant-driven campaigns and contrived politicians who are interested less in real, substantive political dogmas and more in their own personal accumulation of power.
Jon Ossoff lost last week, in part because the Democratic powers that be thought he might fit the suit. He didn’t though, or at least he didn’t fit it well enough to overcome the structural disadvantages he faced. Of course, that won’t stop the party leaders from trying again next time, trying harder to find someone to fit the suit. The suit is magic, you see. It can turn any old Tom, Dick, or Barack into Johnny Bravo. Or so they’d like to believe.
The truth of the matter is that the Democratic Party has one major problem, under which all of the other problems are mere subsets: it values power over governance. It believes in nothing other than the accumulation of authority for its members, its supporters, and especially the state. It really believes in nothing else. And to this point, at least, voters in the post-Obama world are leery of granting them any more of the power they crave.
The GOP, for its part, is a different kind of disaster, one not especially attractive to the voters. We suspect that it will, however, remain the more popular choice until the Democrats figure out something that they can really believe in and support – other than themselves, that is.
Copyright 2017. The Political Forum. 3350 Longview Ct., Lincoln NE 68506, tel. 402-261-3175, fax 402-261-3175. All rights reserved. Information contained herein is based on data obtained from recognized services, issuer reports or communications, or other sources believed to be reliable. However, such information has not been verified by us, and we do not make any representations as to its accuracy or completeness, and we are not responsible for typographical errors. Any statements nonfactual in nature constitute only current opinions which are subject to change without notice.