Sunday, September 18, 2016
Last Friday Donald Trump teased the press about a major statement he was going to make on the birthplace of President Barack Obama. First, after forcing the TV press to sit through what was essentially an infomercial for his new hotel, he gave a terse statement:" President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period, now, we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.” Unable to resist, he, in typical fashion, managed to work both a lie and a boast into his next statement: “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy,” Mr. Trump said. “I finished it.”
Now, it is normal for Presidential candidates to run further to the right or the left during the primaries and then return to the center during the national race, when appealing to swing voters and moderates. But, it's a sad state of affairs when a major party's candidate return to the center means abandoning a crazy, discredited conspiracy theory! And like he does so often, Trump wants the American public to listen to and believe whatever is saying at any given moment and ignore everything he has said before (which works far better for him than it should). Trump's assertion that Clinton herself began the birther theory back in 2008 has been fact checked and debunked thoroughly; while there may have been a few low level staffers who batted the idea around while she was running against Obama in the primaries, Clinton herself never pushed the theory. But not only did Clinton not start the birther movement, she certainly never loudly and wholeheartedly embraced it the way that Trump did. Remember that in 2011 Trump considered running for the presidency against Obama by giving one interview after another saying that Obama's birthplace was in question. He made vague, ludicrous statements about how he had sent investigators to Hawaii who were finding out "incredible things" about Obama, and kept it up even after the President released his long form birth certificate that year. As late as 2014 he tweeted "Attention all hackers: You are hacking everything else so please hack Obama's college records (destroyed?) and check "place of birth". " The notion that he had put this issue to rest after keeping it alive for far too long is the height of hubris. And, unfortunately, his statement on the issue allowed for no questions from the press and offered no apology to President Obama or the American people for wasting so much time on such a preposterous conspiracy.
To me the real tragedy of this whole mess is not Trump's hanging on to birtherism for as long as he has, it's how many American citizens clung to it, and still do. In the eight years that Obama has been President, the percentage of Republicans who don't think he was born in the country or aren't sure has never hovered below forty percent. Why do literally tens of millions of Americans cling to this notion despite a complete lack of evidence? The sad truth is that an awful lot of white Americans have never been comfortable with an African American President and hold on to the birther movement as a safe place to express this discomfort without just coming out and admitting it. And Trump has been capitalizing on that discomfort right from the start, and will continue to find ways to do so, even as he abandons birtherism.
It is truly horrific to consider that Trump may ride birtherism to the White House, and while the edge may be still in Clinton's favor, this race is far too close. Even more horrid is the fact that if only white people voted, Trump would be well in the lead, and if only white men voted, he'd win in a land slide. So here's a thought, since white men have held back voting rights to other Americans for so long, why don't we forfeit ours for the next, say, 100 years? Personally, I would gladly give up my right to vote if every other white man in the country had to also. I'm just saying....
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
And the craziest national election is modern history just keep getting crazier. Recently, Republican Donald Trump supporters have been pushing the idea that Hillary Clinton has some kind of serious ailment (ranging from Parkinson's to epilepsy) that she is concealing from the public. Last month, former New York Mayor turned bug-eyed Trump supporting fear monger Rudy Giuliani gave an interview in which he encouraged people to "go online and put down 'Hillary Clinton illness' and take a look at the videos for themselves." The videos in question were childishly slowed down images of Clinton reacting to things while right wing "experts" claimed that they proved existence of her brain damage, or whatever.
Sadly, what's going on here is obvious: just as the so called "birther movement", that claimed that President Barack Obama was lying about being born in America, gave a smoke screen to racist comments by implying that Obama's Presidency wasn't legitimate, this new movement is allowing right wingers to make sexist comments about Clinton. (Trump, it must be mentioned, was a prominent birther back in 2011, and he has never admitted that he was wrong about it). Although no one is saying that a woman can't be President, by talking about her alleged medical issues, it lets them use words like "toughness", "strength" and "stamina", all things normally associated with male strength, when talking about her. The right wing media has always been good about dog whistles, playing up to its mostly white male audience's fears without coming right out and saying women and minorities aren't fit for office.
Unfortunately for Clinton, this crazy conspiracy got a boost this weekend when she, while attending a 9/11 memorial, had to leave early. Although it was initially chalked up to heat exhaustion, once a video of her needing help to get into a vehicle surfaced, she admitted that two days earlier she had been diagnosed with pneumonia. Thinking that it was, in her own words, no big deal, she soldiered on with her campaign, not even telling some of her advisers about the diagnosis, until her collapse on Sunday. So, just as the White Water investigation back in the 90's eventually led to the Monica Lewinsky scandal, once again we have a Clinton accused of covering something up that turns out to be partially true. Hopefully, her bout with sickness will not hurt her in the coming election, while convincing her to release a full medical report sometime soon. Both she and Trump have been too reticent on this issue, especially when one considers that Clinton is 68 and Trump is 70. (At 69, Ronald Reagan was the oldest when he took office in 1980.) Considering just how much being President appeared to rapidly age both George W Bush and Obama while they were in office, good mental health is important. (Physical health not so much, remember Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran the country from a wheelchair). And hey, if health is going to be an issue in this election, I would encourage people to consider that Trump is an admitted junk food junkie who works himself into a red faced lather during each speech. The picture of modern health he isn't!
Friday, September 9, 2016
Last Wednesday, in a preview of the upcoming debates, Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump gave back to back interviews with NBC morning news host Matt Lauer. Lauer's performance during the interviews has been widely criticized, and with good reason. While talking to Clinton, Lauer asked her time and time again about her emails, and then rushed her answers on other matters, basically stepping on her talking points. But while talking to Trump, Lauer allowed Trump's assertion that he opposed the 2004 Iraq war from the start to go unchallenged, even though there is documented video proof that he did support the war, from a Howard Stern interview Trump did before the war started (Clinton even mentioned the interview in her part of the show). Sadly, Lauer let Trump's lie float into the ether, letting him get away with it. He also allowed Trump to lie about a similar opposition he claimed to have about America's military intervention in Libya.
Lauer's weak kneed response to Trump's falsehoods shows the media's problem with dealing with a candidate like Trump. Trump lies so often, at such an alarming rate, that taking time to debunk one lie becomes difficult when he's already moving onto another. And he lies with with such confidence, with so much righteous anger and certitude, that it becomes hard to challenge him. Indeed, it's possible that he himself has no idea that he's lying; his short attention span and lack of focus has been well documented.
There's another problem that the media faces; it has been a talking point for decades that the mainstream media has a liberal bias. Ironically, this statement usually comes from right wing media, where a completely biased opinion is expected! While media bias is a debatable point (there certainly wasn't any media bias during the 2004 build up to the Iraq war, when serious questions went unasked), many members of the media take the criticism to heart and overcompensate by going after Democrats more than Republicans. So we now have spent far too much media time and attention on Clinton's "scandals", while so little time has been spent on Trump's ethical problems over the years. Why hasn't there been as much attention given to the fact that Trump and his father Fred were sued by the Federal Government in the 1970's for refusing to rent their properties to black people? (They settled out of court). What about the $25,000 campaign donation that a Trump PAC made to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi just before she decided not to join a class action lawsuit against his bogus Trump University? What about the fact that a man who boasts about his business acumen has declared bankruptcy at least four times? Or that he also brags about his monetary worth without releasing his tax returns, calling into question just how wealthy he is? And this all is just a partial list, off the top of my head. None of these things have been investigated as much as Clinton's emails, even though FBI Director James Comey has clearly said that no crime was committed by her.
It really seems that there are two kinds of coverage of the candidates, one in which Clinton is portrayed as being deceitful and untrustworthy and Trump is praised when he can properly read a speech off a teleprompter without spewing lies and childish insults. The effect is like clapping for a toddler who successfully takes his first step while complaining about a track star for not racing fast enough! Sadly, the cumulative effect of this coverage is starting to take it's toll, with Trump clearly gaining on Clinton's lead in the polls. While the odds are still in her favor, this election should be a land slide, not a squeaker. Is it asking too much for the media to do it's job properly and give Trump's various scandals the same weight as Clinton's? Sadly, given Lauer's ridiculously biased performance on Wednesday, the answer is yes.
Saturday, September 3, 2016
The continuing saga of the ups and downs of the life of Hillary Rodham Clinton has got me thinking; politicians are really a breed apart from the rest of us. Some people, it is said, are just natural born leaders, and I think it's safe to believe that Clinton was already that way as a child, even though she was from a family of relatively modest means . Who knows how young she was when she first got the idea of being our nation's first female president. Way back in the 1970's, I think it's very likely that as she mapped out her husband Bill's path to the Governorship and the White House, she was already working on her own way there. To me, Hillary has always seemed like the kid in the class that you voted for for class president not because she was popular or you wanted her as a friend, but because she was clearly the hardest working, smartest kid in the class. The one who put her head down and studied, earning respect if not admiration. She may lack her husband's seemingly effortless ability to connect with a crowd, but when it comes to knowledge of details, and the nuts and bolts of political office, she knows what's she's doing.
One of the other qualities that politicians have that sets them so far apart from the rest of us is how thick skinned they have to be, and Hillary shows this in spades. I can remember that in 1992, the hatred of her husband from the right when he was elected was almost palpable: after a 12 year stranglehold on the presidency, the idea that a Democrat that had avoided the draft in Viet Nam, with a history of pot smoking and philandering, was about to be President was shocking to them. And if the Republicans hated Bill, they seemed even more vitriolic towards Hillary; in his book BLINDED BY THE RIGHT, former conservative journalist David Brock recalls an article in the right wing magazine SPECTATOR when Bill was still governor of Arkansas that referred to Hillary as "the lady Macbeth of Little Rock." And Bill's ascension to the White House just increased that virtiol; for eight years the right wing media dumped on her, from accusations of past criminal financial dealings with what came to be known as the Whitewater scandal, to even implying that she had former aide Vince Foster murdered after he committed suicide. And when the Republicans finally hit pay dirt, catching Bill lying under oath about an affair with an intern, the resulting media firestorm was almost as much an embarrassment for her as it was for him, with inevitable questions about how much she knew about the affair and why she remained with Bill arising from all quarters.
Given all of this, it would have been perfectly reasonable on her part to mostly exit from politics after Bill's second term, emerging only to write a book and perhaps give a few speeches. But no, she dove head first into the lion's den all over again, successfully running to become a US Senator from New York. The fact that she was perfectly willing to run for political office, knowing full well how despised she was by the right, illustrates just how different politicians are then the rest of us, with our normal thin skins. It is a testament to her individual drive and determination that she never let a little thing like her husband almost being impeached from the presidency, slow her down! Personally, I can't even imagine accepting the disapproval of literally millions of Americans so blithely. I am reminded of the famous quote from former President Franklin D Roosevelt discussing business interests: "They are unanimous in their hate for me-and I welcome their hatred."
Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton also shows another aspect of the unique nature of politicians: their continual belief that they are above the masses and live by their own rules. Like most Americans, I don't think that Bill Clinton lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky while he was President, warranted impeachment, but it was certainly a stupid thing to do. After all, when the Republican party took the House of Representatives in 1994, House Speaker Newt Gingrich was openly contemptuous towards the President, and clearly relished the idea of throwing every globule of mud at him that could be found. In other words, it was a really bad time for Bill to start a secret affair. But politicians can't seem to control themselves, as we are finding out now with recent stories about the Clinton Foundation, a non profit charity organization founded in 2013, which it appears may have accepted donations from foreign countries for access to Hillary when she was Secretary of State. And some of those contributing countries are places with terrible human rights records. Once again we have a politician abandoning common sense: don't set up a possible conflict of interest when you are thinking about running for President! This, combined with her ongoing email scandal, paints a definite picture of a political animal that sees herself above the rules and regulations of ordinary people. Like her husband, she is a smart person who does foolish things because she considers herself bulletproof. While I still will gladly vote for her, I do wish she would realize that American politicians are not like members of royalty or the Pope: that is, they are fallible.