Is There A Democratic Party Policy Agenda?

WASHINGTON – If you watch most of the cable news channels these days you get a steady diet of endless, in fact almost obsessive, commentary on what President Donald Trump said or twitted today, and what the seasoned analysts around the table think about it.

Endless coverage 

As President Trump relishes being unconventional and breaking all the established “Washington rules”, plenty for the experts to talk about. Fine. Except that this –Trump– is all they talk about. Which is to say that if you watch CNN or MSNBC what passes as “the news” is the endless effort to score the latest Trump outrageous tweet. And as different talk shows follow each other on the same cable news channel, the new anchor picks up exactly where his/her colleague left it and repeats the very same tweet of the day, and asks a different panel of supposedly savvy experts what we should make of it. The variations in all this are limited to the degree of (feigned I believe) amazement and/or outrage.

Again, this is not happening on occasion. This is now the standard offering throughout the 24/7 news cycle. Look, I do understand that the media has a duty to report on what the President of the United States says or tweets. And certainly, since Mr. Trump enjoys being unconventional and controversial, his statements give fodder for talk shows.

Is there a Democratic Party agenda? 

Still, my point here is that there is practically nothing else in the news. The one thing that is missing, probably because it does not really exist, is a thoughtful alternative policy agenda coming from the Democratic Party. Cable news shows do not report on it because most likely there is nothing to report.

And this is truly astonishing. We have an entire news media apparatus supported by scores of pundits who keep telling us that we have a strange President sitting in the White House who says and occasionally does unpredictable things, while the Republican majority in Congress is in (terminal?) disarray. And yet no alternative vision to this (apparently) unsatisfactory state of affairs is presented by the Democrats and discussed by the media.

Sit back and watch the Republican Party implosion

Are we to conclude that the Democratic Party strategy is just to sit back and watch the hoped for Trump implosion and the eventual dissolution of a Republican Party torn apart by incurable internal ideological battles? This may be a clever tactical approach.

But this is not a strategy for a national political force aspiring to govern the United States of America. Let us not forget that the Democratic Party in 2016 lost its momentum and ability to connect with millions of voters. It lost the White House to a complete outsider with zero political or campaign experience, and it failed to regain control of the Senate even though the odds favored it. Some party!

No compelling message in 2016

In 2016 the Democrats best hope was Hillary Clinton, a  shop worn, uninspiring candidate who represented a retread of the tired Clinton Brand. And, notwithstanding the Clinton machine open effort to game the system via the guaranteed support of the super delegates at the Democratic Party Convention, Clinton had to fight until the end against Bernie Sanders, a feisty old socialist whose astonishingly outdated policy agenda was all about redistributing (ill gotten) wealth accumulated by the demonized 1% in a more equitable way. That’s all the Democrats had to offer: Clinton and Sanders.

What’s the alternative?

Today, precisely because the Republican Party policy program seems confused and confusing, the American voters need to hear about a credible and thoughtful Democratic Party alternative agenda. It is OK for the late night comedy shows to use the latest Trump outrage as material for their jokes. This is fine. Political satire is healthy in a vibrant democracy.

Show America how the Democrats will govern

But the news media should stop this obsessive Donald Trump saturation coverage, while the Democratic opposition, instead of relishing the Republicans’ self-inflicted wounds, should rise to the occasion and offer a new and inspiring vision on how they intend to govern America.

As of now, I have seen none of that. And the reason for this, I suspect, is that the Democrats do not have anything new to say. And this is sad. A healthy republic needs a healthy debate on policy alternatives. Right now we have mostly noise.

 




Obama Is The Big Loser In This Election

WASHINGTON – Outgoing President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle actively campaigned for Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton. In fact Obama spent more time campaigning for Clinton than any other sitting president ever did on behalf of the presidential nominee of his party. And why such a big effort? Because it was all about his legacy.

Indeed, a Clinton victory, especially if it had taken place with a significant margin, would have amounted to a final and lasting endorsement of Obama’s eight year presidency. Hillary Clinton would have been portrayed as the rightful and competent heir to his (great?) legacy. She would have moved America towards even higher achievements, by building on Obama’s record of success and the solid foundations they created for future accomplishments.

It did not work 

Well, it did not turn out this way, as we know. It is not just that Clinton lost. She lost badly. The numbers look pretty awful for Clinton, if we compare them with how well Obama did when he ran for office.

In 2012, Obama won a convincing re-election campaign against Republican Mitt Romney. In that election, Obama got 65,915,795 votes, or 51.1%. Romney got 60,933,504, or 47%.

Well, guess what. On November 8 Hillary Clinton got only 60,839,922 votes, or 48% of total votes cast. Which is to say that she got almost 5 million fewer votes than Obama in 2012 –and in fact even fewer votes than losing contender Mitt Romney.

Democrats did not vote 

Which is to say that a large number of Democrats or Independents leaning Democrat simply did not bother to get out and vote. I doubt that former Obama supporters voted for Trump in large numbers, although a small number probably did. The unpleasant truth –for both Clinton and Obama– is that millions of Obama Democrats stayed at home. They did not show up. They did not vote.

Well, so much for the legacy of the great transformational presidency of Barack Obama, the man who had promised in 2008 that we would re-engineer America, by bringing everybody together. The sad truth is that millions of people who belong to his own Democratic Party did not bother to show up and vote for his officially anointed successor, Hillary Clinton, this way paving the way for Trump’s victory.

Trump’s victory

As for Donald Trump, it is clear that he won. But he won with a small margin against Hillary Clinton, a very weak candidate deserted by many in her own Democratic Party.

Yes, Trump the total outsider achieved something quite remarkable. He gained traditionally Democratic states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin –and this is almost unprecedented. But his overall numbers, while more than enough to get him into the White House, are not overwhelming, and this should induce careful reflection among his key advisers.

Enough votes 

Donald Trump won enough states to become president. But he lost the popular vote, even though by a small margin. And all this happened in a year in which a lower number of Americans voted. Trump got only 60,265,858 votes. A good number; but not impressive. Barack Obama won 5 million more votes than he did in 2012. And do keep in mind that millions more were entitled to vote in 2016 as compared to 2012.

So, here is the thing. Trump won because he managed to energize millions of Americans who felt betrayed by the traditional political establishment run by Washington insiders, this is true; while Clinton failed to fire up her own Democratic Party base. And so he won and she lost. But do keep in mind that this is not “a wave election”. Trump won in some measure by default, because many on the opposite side simply did not show up.

Ronald Reagan in 1980 

In contrast, Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980 was a real “wave election”. In a three candidates contest in which Independent John Anderson got a respectable 6% of the total vote, Reagan got 50.75% of the votes. He carried 44 states and 489 electoral votes. Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter did not just lose, he got crushed. He got 41% of the vote. He carried just 6 states and only 49 electoral votes.

A mandate 

After his 1980 electoral triumph Ronald Reagan could reasonably claim “a mandate” from the American people. Donald Trump is the clear winner in 2016. But I do not see the same mandate. His numbers are good enough to get him into the White House; but they are not overwhelming.

His political and policy advisers should ponder on these results and decide how far can this new president push into uncharted territory when it comes to bold new policies. Based on these numbers, there is some political margin for him, but not a very big one. And, please, do keep in mind that history shows how quickly American voters can turn love into resentment towards their elected leaders.

Barack Obama is the real loser 

The interpretation of the significance of this vote in this unusual 2016 presidential election has just begun. How strong and, most importantly, how resilient is Trump’s political base? Can it be expanded? How seriously wounded is the Democratic Party after this surprising (for the party elites anyway) defeat?

While all this is still being discussed, as I indicated at the beginning, a clear result of this election is that Barack Obama has been rejected by most Americans. Based on these elections numbers, it is clear that he left no strong legacy.

Therefore, he is the real loser in these elections.

The American people –among them millions of Democrats– who voted for him twice, in 2008 and in 2012, at this most critical juncture chose not to go out and vote for his chosen successor –a successor on whose behalf he strongly campaigned. American voters implicitly rejected Hillary Clinton, the candidate of his Democratic Party, and therefore the candidate who would have inherited Obama’s great policy achievements, while moving America to even greater heights.

Rejection across the board 

And the rejection does not stop with the presidential race. The American voters also rejected almost all the Democrats who tried to unseat Republicans in the Senate, even though all prognostications indicated that they had a great chance to succeed in becoming the majority party in the Senate after this vote.

So, here is the score. Republican Donald Trump is now president. The Republicans keep the House and the Senate, while advancing across the country at the state level. Indeed, on November 8 the GOP gained 3 Governors, for a total of 33 republicans versus 17 Democrats.

As I said, no Obama legacy. Sad, but true.

 

 

 




Can Clinton Unify Left And Center Against Trump?

WASHINGTON – Hillary Clinton’s performance at the Democratic National convention in Philadelphia was “mission impossible”. Now the anointed presidential candidate of a Democratic Party that has once more moved decidedly to the left, Clinton needs to patch together the centrist base and the noisy far left Sanders’ crowds.

A progressive and a centrist 

Clinton’s objective was to reintroduce herself to America as a progressive, (wink to Sanders’ people), but also as a reliable, pragmatic unifier (wink to the center, and hopefully some Republicans), who can get things done.

Still, too many conflicting messages were packed in her speech: continuity with the Obama policies which she called very successful; and at the same time a strong indictment of injustice, enduring racism, and widening inequality in America, all of which apparently did not diminish during the 8 long Obama years.

So, her speech gave good marks to Obama’s progressive agenda, and at the same time bad marks to Obama’s America for being so far behind in implementing a true progressive agenda, this way causing misery and suffering among the under privileged. A clear contradiction here. Is she proposing continuity or disruption?

Appeal to the middle 

At the same time, Clinton wanted to appeal to middle of the road Republicans truly worried about the possibility of a Trump victory. However, she also had to shore up her now left leaning Democratic Party base by endorsing the essence, if not the details, of the Bernie Sanders far left economic agenda.

Something for everybody 

So here are the ingredients of this political and policy stew: Clinton is the candidate who stands for continuity and disruption. She is with both the far left and the center, and may be some conservatives. And, mind you, this convoluted message is coming from an aged, quintessentially establishment, professional politician with extremely high negatives. Many voters will simply not buy this catch all “agenda”.

Stronger Together? 

Supposedly, the magic glue that would unite all these diverse and in fact mutually exclusive themes is the “Stronger Together” slogan adopted by the Clinton campaign. In her acceptance speech Clinton tried to paint a picture of how her administration would operate. She would get everybody to work together–congressional Democrats and Republicans, disgruntled Republicans longing for centrist policies, and Bernie Sanders’ “revolutionaries” who want radical economic and societal transformation.

Nice idea, may be inspiring for some; but hardly the articulation of a clear and compelling policy program.

A leftist agenda 

In fact, her speech was rich in anecdotes and vignettes but thin on policy details. To the extent that there were any, they show a Democratic Party that has moved to the left, in fact the far left. Indeed, Hillary Clinton now looks very much like a female George McGovern leading a leftists party that may have lost its connection with America’s more centrist middle.

In her speech, there was absolutely nothing about reducing the national debt, the need to have common sense entitlement reform, or enacting pro-business tax reform. So, nothing on fiscal responsibility and measures leading to the promotion of higher economic growth.

On the contrary, plenty on more money for an expanded Social Security system, free college for everybody, and higher taxes for the rich to pay for all this. Lace that with full legalization of illegal immigrants and syrupy stuff about “Love Trumps Hate” and you get a Europe-style Socialist-lite agenda big on income redistribution, economic equality, fiscally irresponsible and instinctively pacifist.

This is quite frankly the Sanders agenda.

Just tactics? 

Was Clinton just paying lip service to the themes loved by the party left in her speech simply because she had no choice? The truth may be that she had to endorse the Sanders agenda, because she did not want to be heckled by his supporters who filled the convention venue, and because she fully realizes that she is now the presidential candidate of a Democratic Party where socialist leaning ideas have become core beliefs.

Tough road ahead 

While Clinton will get the usual “post-convention bump” in the upcoming polls, for the moment Trump, notwithstanding his boisterous style and open disunity within his own party, is doing quite well in the polls.

Unpredictable Trump 

No matter what he said about dumping NATO allies who do not spend enough on defense and inviting Russia to disclose hacked Clinton e-mails, Trump is surprisingly competitive in all the critical swing states. Is this a reflection of his strength, or a clear sign that Clinton is even more unpopular than we thought? Probably the latter.

 

 

 

 




Will Tim Kaine Help Hillary Clinton Get Elected?

WASHINGTON – Hillary Clinton, about to be nominated presidential candidate for the Democratic Party, just veered back to the political center. By picking moderate Tim Kaine, Senator from Virginia and former Governor of the State, as her choice for Vice President Hillary Clinton wants to reassure middle America  –independent voters in particular. No, a Hillary Clinton administration will not be hostage to the far left of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Senator Kaine, her pick for VP, is a solid centrist.

Experience 

But there is more. Kaine is also an experienced public servant. He served as Mayor of Richmond, later on Lieutenant Governor, then Governor of Virginia, and now Senator from the state. (By the way, Virginia is a very important state that the Democrats must win in order to get Clinton into the White House).

When it comes to policy positions, Kaine could not be more different from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the self-declared Socialist who turned out to be a formidable challenger for Clinton during the primaries.

Most fundamentally, based on this resume, Kaine knows a great deal about government. Therefore, here is the larger, reassuring message to America coming from the Clinton campaign: the Clinton-Kaine ticket will be about experience, reliability, good judgement, and proven ability to govern: “Don’t be crazy, America. Do not allow a mercurial and totally inexperienced Trump into the White House. The Clinton-Kaine ticket offers you a far better choice: steady hands on the wheel”. 

Kaine will speak in Spanish to Latino voters 

Besides, Kaine speaks fluent Spanish, a significant asset. (As a young man he served as a volunteer in Honduras). It will be a huge advantage for Clinton to have a running mate who can speak in Spanish to increasingly important Latino voters. Indeed, given the changed U.S. demographics, it is clear that it is almost impossible to get elected president of the United States without getting a majority, or at least a significant minority of the Latino population.

(With his harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric and promises to build a wall on the southern border with Mexico, Donald Trump has managed to burn all the bridges with this significant and growing Latino constituency).

Sanders endorsed Clinton 

We know that Senator Bernie Sanders recently endorsed Hillary Clinton. This gesture from Clinton’s feisty (and surprisingly popular) primaries opponent, albeit a little late, was expected. But will this endorsement from the chief representative of the party left recreate real, as opposed to cosmetic, party unity? Many Sanders supporters clearly do not like Clinton, and they will like even less her choice of (boring?) centrist Kaine as her running mate.

Problems on the left 

Down the line this may be a serious problem when it comes to real party unity and the ability to get all Democrats, whatever their ideological leanings, to really show up and vote for Clinton on election day in November. The problem for Clinton is that at least some hard-core Sanders supporters –those who really believed the old Vermont Senator when he was calling himself leader of a revolutionary movement aimed at radically transforming American politics– will not follow their leader’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton, the quintessential establishment politician who in their eyes symbolizes corruption and collusion with Wall Street.

Sanders’ supporters will not like Kaine as VP

And now, with Clinton signaling a move back to the center with the selection of Kaine as VP candidate, it is possible that many of these leftists Democratic voters who wanted Sanders to be the party nominee may stay home, come November. Indeed, various polls indicate that may be up to 1/3 of those enthusiasts for radical change who voted for Sanders in the primaries will not vote for Clinton in the general election. These polls of course are only indicative. Election Day is still a few months away. A lot can change between now and November.

Still, for the moment, Sanders’ endorsement is a plus for Clinton. It formally ended the political rift that had become quite bitter during the Democratic primaries. It unifies the party, creating a perception of strength in numbers. However, now that she pocketed Sanders’ endorsement, and hopefully the support of many of his leftist followers, Clinton is moving back to the center, as the Kaine choice for VP indicates. How will this Clinton center-to-left-and-back-to-center dance look to the Sanders people? Probably not very appealing.

Trump’s unity problems 

That said, while the recent Sanders-Clinton unity announcement may look very uninspiring to some hard-core Sanders supporters, (they truly believed they had joined an anti-system political revolution that they know will never be carried on by Clinton), Republican nominee Donald Trump does not even have fake unity behind him, as the GOP Convention in Cleveland demonstrated.

Party notables did not show up 

Indeed, many Republican Party national leaders did not even attend. That includes John McCain, and Mitt Romney, the party nominees in 2008 and 2012. Most notably, Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Trump opponent during the GOP primaries, did not show up. Imagine that. The Republican Governor of Ohio not showing up for the event, held in his own state of Ohio, that led to the nomination of the Republican presidential contender. And forget about the Bush Clan and many other notables.

The only one who showed up is arch-enemy Ted Cruz. But Cruz had no intention to be conciliatory. In his speech at the Convention he failed to endorse Trump, thus telling everybody that the political rift is still wide open.

No real unity 

Trump is now the candidate. However, as the Cleveland “non shows” indicate, he is not leading a unified party. Which is to say that, if the authenticity of the Democrats unity is questionable, the Republicans show deep, wide open rifts.

Combine this with the lack of a real Trump campaign field organization, especially in critical swing states, and it becomes clear how Clinton may indeed prevail in November.

Clinton is a weak candidate, but stronger than Trump 

While Clinton is a weak candidate, (just like Trump’s, her negatives are also very high), all told she is in a much better position to win in November than Trump is.

She will probably lose some disaffected young and leftist Democrats in November. However, she can count on the powerful support of all the labor unions and of their significant grass-roots organizations. She will have women, Blacks, Latinos and more young voters in her camp.

On the other side of the divide, Trump is also likely to lose many Republicans. And there are more Democrats than Republicans.

In order to win the general election, Trump would have to surprise everybody by getting most of his GOP base behind him and most of the independents, the unaffiliated American voters whose support is generally decisive in presidential contests.

To get elected you need a broad base

Clinton’s decision to pick Tim Kaine as VP is a clear move aimed at increasing the ticket’s appeal among moderates (this may include some centrist Republicans who really detest Trump) and independents. If Kaine proves to be an effective campaigner, especially with critical Latino voters, really hard to see a path to victory for Trump.

Trump’s support is really strong among older, white, mostly male voters without a college education. The trouble is that this group is no longer the majority in America. Great to have their enthusiastic backing. But it is simply not enough to get elected president.

 
 



Dealing With The Terror Threat in America

WASHINGTON – As we are entering the heated phase of the US presidential campaign, the Orlando massacre perpetrated by Omar Mateen, a self-radicalized second generation US born Muslim, has immediately become a major political issue.

Terror and politics 

Both Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump felt the pressure to articulate a (supposedly) credible anti-terror strategy aimed at preventing more terror attacks in the US. But the expectation that either of them can come up with a winning strategy that will destroy terrorism while providing total protection to all Americans is patently absurd.

The terror threat

The “Terror Threat” is not a monolith led by an organized command. It is composed of multiple, mostly independent factions spread around at least a dozen countries, with support from a myriad of diverse foot soldiers. They can be citizens of Arab countries. But they can also be European or US national citizens of Arab or other Muslim descent. They can be from Bosnia, Chechnya or Kosovo. Some of them may have received training in Syria. Others may have been convinced to join the global jihad through Islamic propaganda delivered via the internet.

ISIL in Syria and Iraq 

Sure enough, America and the West have a tangible target in the self-declared Caliphate, chunks of Syria and Iraq now occupied by ISIL. It can be plausibly argued that the existence of a somewhat functioning “Islamic State” provides encouragement to assorted young dreamers around the world who now are convinced that this new religious-political entity, supposedly founded on total adherence to the True Faith, is the clear sign of an unfolding global revolution of which they are the vanguard.

People believe in crazy things

Yes, this is absolutely crazy. But, as history amply demonstrates, some people at times believe in crazy things. Therefore, redoubling our efforts to destroy the Islamic State is probably a good thing.

But let’s not harbor any illusions. The genie of Islamic Fundamentalism is out of the bottle. Even assuming ISIL’s quick defeat, (not a sure thing), this millenarian ideology now embraced by ISIL will find another vehicle. It will probably find a new home and new followers in other parts of the world.

Is there are a plan?

Given all of the above, what should a new US President do to protect all Americans? Nothing new, really. America is not confronted with a frontal assault orchestrated by Islamic radicals. ISIL and its associates did not land here as an organized army attacking us. We have a few (certainly not tens of thousands) ISIL followers, spread around, here and there, within America.

Some of them harbor jihadist beliefs and intentions. A small number of them are willing to plot and execute terror attacks –just like Omar Mateen did in Orlando. And the sad reality is that small numbers can do great damage.

Asymmetric warfare 

Omar Mateen, the young man of Afghan descent who plotted and executed the Orlando massacre was all by himself. He was not acting (as far as we know) under direct orders of some kind of ISIL supreme leader in the U.S. or the Middle East.

In other words, this horrible Orlando massacre did not require any master plan, structure or chain of command. Again, Mateen did it by all by himself. And look at what he did. Just one man –acting alone– killed 50 people and injured more than 50 others. A real carnage. This is what is known as “asymmetric warfare”. You do not need an army, or even a platoon to kill a large number of unarmed civilians gathered in one place.

Better police work

Is this is so, what is to be done? Realistically, the only thing that a responsible new US President can promise to America is to do his/her best to have and possibly beef up a robust intelligence and police apparatus that hopefully will catch the bad guys before they can act.

But nobody in his right mind can promise 100% success. The home-grown terrorists are likely to be just like the young man responsible for the Orlando massacre. Most likely they are psychopaths acting on their own who have adopted this ideological veneer –Islamic fundamentalism– in order to justify their violent intentions. Indeed, no sane individual would seriously believe that firing into a crowd of unarmed people will bring about a major, constructive political transformation.

Unrealistic expectations

In a more sober political environment in which voters would avoid harboring unrealistic expectations, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump would say precisely this. “We shall do our best. But it is impossible to monitor millions of people 24/7. Some of the bad guys will slip through. More attacks are unfortunately possible.”

But saying this sounds like hopelessness. The candidates for the highest office in the land “must” offer a “perfect plan”. And so they do, even though they know (and we should know) that this is mostly hot air.

Again, better intelligence and coordinated police work can do something, probably a lot, to mitigate the risk of more attacks. But we cannot expect perfection.

Living with the threat

So, are we going to live with this latent terror threat indefinitely? The answer is yes. Until at least some individuals scattered here and there in the United States (and elsewhere) will be inspired by crazy ideologies that order violence as the best tool to bring about a new order finally based on the True Faith, we should expect more terror plots.

Even if we managed to destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria very quickly, this would not kill –for good– the crazy ideology that breeds terrorists and new terror threats.

A different version of this article was published in www.globalpi.org, the website of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank.




Orlando Shooting Strengthens Trump’s Position On Muslims

WASHINGTON – In a U.S. presidential campaign that is and will be dominated by emotional slogans and over simplified narratives, the horrible Orlando shooting (50 people killed, 53 injured) by the son of Afghan immigrants will be used by Donald Trump as clear evidence that his tough anti-Muslim and anti-immigrants positions are the only way to protect American lives from the supreme existential threat of Islamic terrorism.

Muslim killer?

This killing rampage (the worst in U.S. history) planned and executed by Omar Mateen, 29, will be used as a powerful argument to severely restrict immigration, ban refugees from the Middle East, place a hold on all would be visitors/immigrants of Muslim faith, and redouble U.S. military efforts against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

This sounds absurd. However horrible, this is only one episode, orchestrated it seems by just one person. No, America is not facing armies of domestic Islamic terrorists. But in this political climate, for almost half of America, this is not over reaction. This sounds logical and rational. And you can bet that this is the argument that will be made. And you can also bet that Donald Trump will lead this charge, with the clear expectation that his anti-Muslim policies will help him get to the White House.

We are at war

Here is the “truth” according to the Trump/anti-immigrant camp. As we all know, a large part of the Muslim world is at war with us. We are the innocent targets and victims. The violent acts perpetrated on U.S. soil against Americans by Muslims, including Muslims born in the U.S. who became radicals as young adults, is evidence that we are facing a mortal danger and that the U.S. Government (led as we know by weak and incompetent Democrats who simply do not want to acknowledge that Islamic Terrorism declared war on us) is not doing enough to protect the American people against a mounting terror threat.

To those who argue that these scattered violent episodes –however gruesome– do not constitute evidence of a massive, ongoing campaign to kill Americans, the anti-immigrants reply forcefully that this is just the beginning. They “know” that there are hundreds, possibly thousands of would-be terrorists warming up and getting ready to unleash their vicious attacks against innocent Americans.

We need to protect ourselves 

As I said, this is a presidential campaign that is and will be dominated by over simplifications and raw emotions. Forget about balanced and nuanced positions. If most Americans buy the idea that “the terrorists are already among us and are ready to kill us all” and that for this very reason we need drastic measures to protect our lives, then Donald Trump gains a powerful edge in this unfolding race for the White House.

He is the Tough Guy who will have the courage to take the drastic steps that will finally get us protection from this looming terror threat. He will do his very best to paint Hillary Clinton and the entire Democratic establishment as weak on terrorism and national defense and therefore unfit to govern America.

We need a determined leader 

And the Tough Guy will propose tough responses. If this includes undertaking measures that may infringe on the civil rights of law-abiding, innocent Muslims who have nothing to do with terror plots, so be it. Better safe than sorry. They are Muslims, and therefore by definition suspects. The priority here is to protect Americans.

Voice of reason? 

Hillary Clinton will try to be the balanced voice of reason. But this presidential campaign has nothing to do with reason. And fear of terrorism is the quintessential emotional issue. It is mostly about fear of unknown dangers that are easily magnified by those who want you to believe that this is the number one existential threat confronting all of us.

Those who support Donald Trump believe that in this hour of supreme danger only a New Leader, not tainted by the corrupt ways of Washington, DC, will create a new era of security, self-confidence, prosperity and eventually regained national prestige.

Are these the feelings of the majority of Americans? In a few months we shall find out.




Angry American Voters Cannot Coalesce Around A Real National Leader

WASHINGTON – The American voters are angry and upset. They “feel” more than know that the country is losing ground. Many look at their own circumstances and see that they are not moving ahead in terms of disposable income and new opportunities. In fact, millions have been treading water, or lost ground.

The game is rigged

Right at this juncture, the same despondent and disgruntled Americans are told by aspiring national leaders that this is happening because a few clever scoundrels, domestic and foreign, rigged the game, (“Wall Street”, the 1%”, “large corporations”, “big oil”, “China”, “Japan”, you name it). The wealthy and powerful and our dishonest international competitors get all the financial gains squeezed out of a not so hot US economy, while the vast majority of the American people is left with nothing.

Confused people, confused politics 

All this –unhappy citizens and populist politicians promising quick and sweeping change– is coming together, (in a rather confused and disjointed way), in this election year.

The Republican Party, excluded from real power since it lost the White House in November 2008, decided that the best course of action was to tear itself apart.

There are some within the party who think that only a radical conservative revolution could save them, and the country. Motivated by this belief, they proceeded to attack all the “Establishment Republicans”, found guilty of having sold out. These are politicians willing to compromise with the other side, essentially traitors who need to be humiliated and defeated, so that the true orthodox principles can be restored.

But then there are many other Republicans who do not want to go back to first principles of pristine conservatism. They want something completely different. They want national leaders who are completely outside the existing parameters of professional politicians beholden to the “special interests’.

No more “Establishment Politicians” 

The net result of this confused political upheaval is that the (once respected) experienced candidates for the GOP nomination have been wiped out, simply because they are “same old”.

In his quest for the Republican party nomination, early favorite Jeb Bush, (twice Governor of Florida, and a recognized national leader in education reform), hardly registered anywhere. Despite enormous financial backing, and despite spending much of it on hundreds of expensive TV ads, he failed –miserably. So, he is gone. And so are all the others.

Who’s left standing? Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a right-wing populist, (ostensibly a
“true conservative”), and Donald Trump, a wealthy celebrity TV  personality, (he is the populist with no well-defined program, except for his promise to “change everything” in Washington in order to make “America Great”.)

Trump’s moment

The considerable (although not overwhelming) support Trump is getting represents the purest expression of a yearning for “something totally different”. Oddly enough, Trump’s main qualification for the highest office in the land, according to his supporters, is that he is a complete novice.

Indeed, the fact that he plainly admits that he does not know much about the complex policy implications of complicated issues is viewed by his supporters as refreshing. And they are not worried about electing to the highest office in the land someone who does not have governing experience. “Trump is rich. He is very successful. Therefore, he must be clever. Of course, he will figure out some common sense solution for this and that, once he is in the White House.”

This is where we are now 

That said, here is the odd (provisional, as we are months away from the actual nominations, and then the elections) outcome of the generic anger vented by the Republican base. The old guard (Walker, Bush, Christie, Jindal, and Rubio) has been attacked and discredited by the “revolutionaries” and wiped out. They all abandoned their quest for the Republican nomination. (Ohio Governor John Kasich survives as a contender. But his chances of getting anywhere are very, very low).

No national leader 

The yearning for total change promoted two potential candidates, Trump and Cruz. However, both of them have limited appeal beyond their grass-roots supporters.

In other words, this revolution produced  mostly internal disruption and feisty factional leaders. There is no new  Republican leader here with a good chance of getting real national support.

Disaster 

And here is why this odd season most likely will spell political disaster for the Republicans. Trump is the most likely Republican nominee. However, this is not due to his ability to attract broad-based support from a variety of Republican constituencies, hopefully extending it later on to millions of independents who will vote in the November general elections. No, this is due to the fact that he has a strong, but limited base of support among the “insurrectionists”, while the other more “traditional” candidates have been abandoned by the base.

Trump’s support at 40% looks a lot more impressive when the number two contender gets 18% and number three, four and five (when they were still in the race) were way behind, in single digits. Trump has won most Republican primaries. But usually with strong pluralities, hardly ever with clear majorities.

This is important. The fact is that Trump, although clearly on top, is not an exceptionally strong candidate. In reality he looks stronger that he is because very few primaries voters were supporting the other candidates. Again, getting 40% or even 45% of Republican primaries voters is impressive; but it is not good enough to win a national election in November.

High negatives 

But this is only half the story. The other half is that, while  40%  to 45% of Republican primaries voters are definitely for Trump, the rest of the country finds Trump an unappealing (or worse) choice. Trump has an incredibly high unfavorable score. According to the most recent polls, about 63% of all voters (this includes Republicans, Democrats and Independents) do not like him, while 30% like him. Many Republicans have stated that if Trump is the nominee they will not vote for him.

Trump will not get elected 

So, here is the thing. Trump in the end may get the GOP nomination because a large plurality of Republican primaries voters supports him, while nobody else has emerged who looks like a plausible alternative, not even number two Ted Cruz.

However, the support Trump is getting represents less than half of the GOP base, and 1/3 or less of the national electorate. If these polls do not change, nominating Trump spells defeat for the Republicans in November.

The Democrats have their own problems 

Yes, this would definitely be the case, if the Democrats would nominate a strong candidate. But guess what, they will not. In the Democratic Party we also see an insurrection against the establishment. But it played out differently.

The Republicans essentially “killed” the Establishment candidates and promoted populists like Trump and Cruz. The Democrats are still going with Hillary Clinton, their anointed “Establishment Candidate”; but many are having buyers remorse. Hence the rise of ultra-leftist Senator Bernie Sanders.

The surprising resilience of this most improbable challenger may be due to the fact that Clinton also has high negatives. She started with 40% and now she is at 54%. Not as bad as Trump. But not very promising either, for a national politician with a long CV, (former Senator and former Secretary of State), who wants to be President.

In what is now a two candidates race, Clinton is definitely ahead and likely to finish ahead. But it is astonishing that Senator Bernie Sanders, until yesterday a complete nobody who promotes idiotic ideas about wealth redistribution and “free everything” for the masses, has become a real challenger, with a massive national following and unsuspected fund-raising abilities.

Voting for a lunatic

Many Democrats go for Sanders as their way to show that they do not want Clinton, that is business as usual. They want someone entirely different. And, boy, is Sanders “different”. That he is.

However, the very notion that mature voters would vote for a left-wing lunatic who would destroy the American economy just to show that they are fed up with the Establishment represented by “Clinton Inc.” gives you pause.

Again, let me stress that Sanders’ chances of getting the Democratic Party nomination are really slim. Still, on a national basis, Democrat Sanders is getting millions of votes, while Republican Jeb Bush, an accomplished Governor with a real record, got almost nothing. But who is Sanders? What has he done? What following and national recognition did he have prior to these primaries? Notwithstanding years in national politics, practically zero.

Populists and lunatics

So, here is the thing. These days, populists (Trump) and lunatics (Sanders) are in. Experienced politicians, (granted some of them shopworn and fatigued), are out.

Just like what is happening in Europe, here in America voters are also upset and angry. They want immediate positive change (impossible in any democracy); and they are willing to vote for the clever (or unhinged) new aspiring leaders who promise it.

Dangerous immaturity 

Whatever the outcome of this confused political year, one thing is certain. The American society is not becoming more mature. Picking untested populists and “socialists” as the best people to run the most important country on earth is not a sign of maturity.

On the contrary, as these strange (frankly dangerous) political choices reveal, we are regressing into infantile temper tantrums, (“kick everybody out”), mitigated by foolish dreams of complete fixes magically carried out by super smart outsiders.

If this is the approach that most Americans these days have towards the political process, let me just say that emotions and childish dreams are a pretty lousy foundation for a functioning modern republic.




Hillary Clinton Will Ban Fracking -Less Energy For America

WASHINGTON – When it comes to America’s energy needs and viable alternatives to fossil fuels, it looks as if Democrats running for the White House live on another planet. Front runner Hillary Clinton recently declared that, as President, she would place so many restrictions on extracting oil and natural gas from shale formations using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that this will amount to a complete ban. Her opponent Bernie Sanders declared that he is totally against fracking.

The benefits of fracking 

Indeed. And yet fracking has been one of the few pieces of real economic good news of the last decade. Thanks to fracking America doubled its oil production. This means importing less crude oil, and keeping billions of dollars at home, every day. And fracking used to produce natural gas means abundant supply and lower electricity prices.

But no, this is not good news. The Democrats are telling us that this energy revolution that increased supply and lowered prices is actually bad, because of the environmental impact of fracking. Well, this allegation, even though endlessly repeated by the green movement, is almost entirely baseless.

Fracking is safe 

Of course there have been incidents of pollution deriving from poorly constructed wells and other sub standard practices. But there is no evidence of any systemic risk. If energy companies follow best practices and established industry standards, and most of them do, fracking is safe. And, by the way, this industry is regulated, and heavily monitored.

Environmental protection agencies at the state level keep an eye on it. At the federal level the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA –certainly no friend of oil and gas companies– reviewed the entire US fracking industry and could not come up with anything bad to say about it. Again, while the Obama EPA is certainly not in the pocket of the energy lobby, it could not come up with any justifications to restrict fracking, let alone banning it.

Renewable energy will become more important… 

If we look at the broader world context, it is clear that fossil fuels, (and natural gas in particular), will continue to dominate as essential energy sources. It is true that the most recent energy outlook produced by the energy company BP clearly indicates that the renewable energy sector is rapidly growing. It is gaining a bigger share of total energy consumption. But it starts from a very low base. Therefore, even if it continues its impressive growth, it will take years before it will be able to displace fossil fuels.

…But oil and gas cannot be replaced

In the meantime, oil and gas will continue to dominate. In particular, natural gas share of total energy consumption will grow significantly. And –guess what– most of the new natural gas produced in the USA comes from fracking shale formations.

The very tangible economic benefits coming from new natural gas extracted via fracking are stable or lower electric rates, (natural gas is used mostly for electric power generation), and huge advantages for US petro-chemical industries that use natural gas as feed stock. Cheaper natural gas means lower costs, and therefore more competitive prices for finished products.

Therefore, all sane people know that until we shall have truly cost-effective alternatives to oil and gas the fracking revolution is and will continue to be a major asset for the US economy. It allowed America to become once again a major energy producer, with clear advantages for industry, US global competitiveness, and huge savings for millions of consumers in terms of lower energy bills.

Politics 

So, why do Clinton and Sanders make such outlandish statements about banning or restricting fracking? Very simple. This is just politics. They both want to appeal to the Democratic Party far left where the greens and the pure environmentalists are strongly positioned. In order to get their precious votes, they need to assuage these ideologues with ritualistic anti hydrocarbon policy statements.

This makes no sense 

And yet, if you think of it, all this is absolutely crazy. In the real world, for would be presidents of the USA –one of the largest oil and gas producers on this planet — to state that they will ban a significant component of the production of this vital source of energy should be dismissed as totally preposterous.

But no, nothing happens. Both Clinton and Sanders declared that they will ban fracking. And no one says anything. I wonder how will Democrats in North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas –all of them major energy producers– react to this nonsense.




The Moral Case For Capitalism

WASHINGTON – Would Hillary Clinton make a moral case for American capitalism? I am not so sure. First of all, let’s point out that Hillary Clinton will not be Bill Clinton 2.0. Remember that Bill Clinton came along in 1992 as a “sobered up” new centrist Democrat who proclaimed the end of the era of Big Government and actually as President passed welfare reform, notwithstanding the fierce resistance of the left of the party. (More on this later).

But that was then. Today, strongly challenged from the left by a vociferous Bernie Sanders openly advocating wealth redistribution, Hillary Clinton’s message is about expanding benefits, subsidies, tax breaks to the poor, the disadvantaged and the minorities. Her presidency will be about more of the neo-Keynesian deficit-spending stuff that failed over and over again, and yet seems to be the only medication in the cabinet of most Western left of center political forces.

More failed neo-Keynesian remedies 

Therefore, should Clinton become President, this will be America’s death by a thousand cuts. More public programs, more welfare, more aid and assistance to this or that needy constituency. More unproductive publicly funded jobs. More stupid and counter productive regulations; and, of course, higher taxes needed to finance all this ill-advised social engineering. The combination of ad instincts and bad policies will stifle innovation, enterprise and private sector jobs creation.

Nobody makes the case for capitalism 

Here is the real tragedy of American politics. In this critical election year, no one has been able to articulate in a simple, clear and cogent manner the moral case for free market capitalism. (In fact those who tried, mostly Jeb Bush and John Kasich, did not do it well, and got no attention)

By this I mean the ability to convince people, especially the poor and disadvantaged, that capitalism and free enterprise are good for everybody, including those who are currently at the bottom of the pile. And by that I do not mean that people should be convinced that on balance capitalism delivers better results than social democracy. This is true in principle. But this truth does not resonate with people who are and feel helpless because they believe that they do have any open path forward.

By “morally superior” I mean the ability to explain how capitalism empowers people, and therefore makes them better human beings.

Here is the simple truth. Even if well-intentioned, welfare programs make recipients perpetually dependent and listless. Whereas a system that fosters personal responsibility encourages people to take charge of their own lives. And this makes them more self-confident, more optimistic.

Bill Clinton’s welfare reform worked 

Let’s go back to Bill Clinton’s partial welfare reforms. That was about public aid to single mothers. These were mostly uneducated, poor African American young women with small children, trapped in an endless cycle of dependence on public subsidies.

Being poor, they were entitled to get enough money to survive. But the programs as designed provided no incentives so that recipients had to do something in order to get out of poverty. The reform passed by Clinton was about sun setting benefits, while giving the women tools, so that they could find work.

“It will not work” 

The critics cried that this would never work. This bad reform was about taking the life jackets away from shipwrecked, defenseless women, thereby drowning them.

Well, the reformers argued instead  that the goal was to teach these women how to swim before taking their life jackets away.

And, on balance, it worked. With assistance, women found jobs. There were lots of testimonials by women who had received training, and found work, so that they could care of themselves and their children. As a result, they felt more optimistic and more confident.

The “moral case” for capitalism

This is what I mean when I talk about “the moral case for capitalism”. An economic system that encourages people to become self-reliant and independent is morally superior.

If we recognize this basic premise, then the purpose of enlightened public policy should be to make sure that all citizens “learn how to swim”, so that they do not need the perpetual life jacket of public assistance.

In today’s ultra competitive world, this means that all children should have access to quality public education. And meaningful adult education and/or training should be made available to all adults who did not have a chance to get an education as children.

Educated citizens do not need welfare 

I am not suggesting that this is easy. It is not. But deep down this is the case for a rules based competitive system in which all participants have a fair shot at doing something and making a decent living without help, because they are empowered by a good education that gives them the tool to become active participants.

Of course, there are special circumstances in which public assistance is warranted. But these should be the exceptions, not the rule. Temporary relief should not morph into a permanent subsidy.

Making a case

What both Democrats and Republicans have failed to do is to make a moral case for free market economics and the role of public policy in enabling and fostering it. Indeed, if we are convinced that free market capitalism on balance works, then public policy should be about making sure that everybody can and will participate.

Public policy is about giving everybody a good chance 

Good public policy is not about more subsidies or about creating fake jobs. It should be about making sure that all citizens get into adulthood “knowing how to swim”. And this means that everybody –all Americans– should be reasonably healthy and educated.

It is obvious that education is the functional equivalent of knowing how to swim. Without good to superior public education, the poor do not have a chance to get out of poverty. They really do not. Again, if we want capitalism to be fair, then all people should have good tools, so that they will be able to participate.

Until know we have tried to deal with poverty attacking the symptoms. While well-intentioned, this approach has done nothing to eliminate it, or substantially reduce it.

Capitalism works well if all citizens are active participants 

The “moral case” for capitalism is about reaffirming the superiority of a free market economy, because it empowers people; making them self-reliant and self-confident, therefore better human beings.

At the same time, the goal of public policy, (this is the job of elected officials), must be to enable everybody to participate. Sound public policy will focus on health and education, so that all Americans can do their best, without the burden of feeling perennially disadvantaged.

It is going to be difficult

I realize that transforming our value systems and the content of public policy so that it will focus on these objectives is very difficult. But this is a worthwhile cause. Perhaps the most critical one we can think of.

In the end, a successful moral case for capitalism is about more prosperity, and about self-confident citizens who know that they have the ability to take care of themselves.

 




Trump Leads a Large Movement – But It Is Not A National Wave

WASHINGTON – After Super Tuesday, we can say that Donald Trump is still very much in the lead among the Republican contenders for the presidential nomination. However, he certainly did not exceed expectations.

Solid, but not overwhelming victories 

Trump won several states in different parts of the country; but only with about 35% of the votes cast. He is ahead; but he has not obliterated his opponents. Ted Cruz won big in his own state of Texas. Then he added Oklahoma and Alaska. This gives him enough reasons to stay in the race as a credible contender. (Rubio instead turned out to be a “light weight”, just as Trump described him. He won the Minnesota caucus, and that’s his only victory to date).

Still, be that as it may, if Trump keeps winning with good but not overwhelming margins, it will take him quite a while to get the majority of delegates that will secure his nomination at the Republican Convention. If his percentage of the vote shrinks a bit in future contests, he may not get a majority by the time of the Convention. (Of course, if Trump ends up ahead, even by small margins, in “winner take all states” this will change the dynamics of the race. He can jump ahead in the delegates count, even having gained only a plurality of the votes in some key states).

Bad news

Here is the thing. Steady but slow progress is bad news for the self-proclaimed leader of a national movement that is supposedly revolutionizing American politics.

Indeed, part of the Trump mystique is his inevitability. A large component of his appeal is that he is the historic political tsunami that is sweeping the country, turning millions of disillusioned voters into a vast army of enthusiastic supporters.

Well, now that we are counting votes, we see that the Trump supporters are there, but their numbers are a quite bit less impressive than we thought. 35% is good. But not that good.

Will Trump be the nominee? 

My point is that If Trump keeps advancing, but not at lightning speed, this will give many voters the chance to think again about what they want to do. Will they think twice before jumping on the Trump band wagon?

And keep in mind that many non-Trump Republican voters have declared in several polls that they will never vote for him –under any circumstances.

Still, even if we discount all this, and assume that Trump will pick up speed and quickly secure the Republican nomination, then what?

Strong but narrow support 

Well, as things stand now, his chances of getting elected President do not look so good. Even leaving aside opinion polls that see Hillary Clinton beating him by a decent margin in November, (polls so early in the race do not mean that much), any dispassionate analysis reveals that Trump’s base of support, while solid, is too narrow to win a national election. And his chances of expanding it are not that good. His “negatives” as noted above are really strong.

Best case scenario, Trump will be able to get the nomination and the support of a vast majority of Republicans, come November. But nationally Republicans are not the majority.

Therefore this achievement will not easily translate into a majority of American voters, if he is unable to sway millions of independents. Besides, it is clear that there are many moderate Republicans who will not vote for him. In fact they may end up voting for Clinton, or not voting at all.

Clinton likely to win 

As the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton will be able to count on the votes of most White union members, women, young people, Blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities. And if you add to her natural constituencies many moderate Republicans and millions of independents who may vote for her, because they are seriously worried about the possibility of a Trump presidency, this easily adds to a Clinton national majority.

The Trump phenomenon 

So, what do we make of the Trump phenomenon? Based on what we know so far, even in the light of Trump’s Super Tuesday victories, we can say that Trump convinced a substantial percentage of Republicans, and may be many independents and a few disgruntled Democrats, that he is the Man of the Future. The New Leader who will take over and (magically?) transform Washington.

Not a majority 

But this core base of Trump supporters is not a majority of Americans –not even close. In fact, as the Super Tuesday numbers revealed, this is not even close to a clear majority of Republican primaries voters.

And I do not see how Trump will be able to expand his base, considerable as it is, so that it will become a solid national majority.

Undoubtedly many Republican primaries voters like him, a lot. But many more do not like him. And among them, there are many who absolutely loath him.

And this is just within the Republican Party.

Not a national revolution 

No doubt, Trump created a political revolution. But it is a revolution affecting the Republican Party, whose final outcome, by the way, is not yet clear.

One thing however is clear. Whatever Trump provoked, it is not a national revolution.  A large majority of Americans are not on board, and are unlikely to jump on board.

If Trump wins the internal battle and becomes the Republican Party nominee, Hillary Clinton will be America’s next President.