C’mon, Joe

Below is a link to a YouTube clip of a heavier-set Iowa voter who, after acknowledging the untoward behavior of President Trump and his cohort in Ukraine, challenged former Vice President Joe Biden face-to-face regarding the involvement of his son, Hunter, in the Ukrainian energy company, Burisma. While the voter made an unfounded allegation – that Mr. Biden had sent young Biden over to Ukraine to get a job at Burisma for which he had no experience so as to sell the Ukrainans access to the presidency – his tone didn’t seem to me to be particularly antagonistic.  Mr. Biden responded with what under the circumstances was, in my view, inappropriate fervor – not unlike how I would expect Mr. Trump to react — calling the voter, a “Damn Liar,” and not so obliquely poking fun at the voter’s physique by challenging him to do pushups. Toward the end of the exchange, Mr. Biden declared: “No one has said that my son has done anything wrong.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g51dwY0wuak

C’mon, Joe.

Many of us have children, and we place the wellbeing of our kids above all else. We can understand your reluctance at a period in your life when your son, Beau, was dying during the waning months of your Vice Presidency, to deal with your other son, Hunter – who has by at least some reports achieved relatively little without using your name and position – and the lucrative, legal but patently sordid opportunity that was obviously offered to him only because he was your son and you were Vice President of the United States. The impeachment hearings made clear that the State Department raised concerns about the perception of conflict of interest manifest in Hunter’s Burisma arrangement. By all accounts, you’re an honorable man; we can sympathize with what we might surmise was your irritation and frustration that Hunter had placed you in such an embarrassing position.

At the same time, did you figure: What the hell? Hillary had the 2016 Democratic nomination sewed up; you’d never run for office again. In influential American circles, you were about to be somebody that used to be Joe Biden … so if Hunter could make a little money in a legal if smarmy way, what was the harm? If he managed to not fritter the money away, it might even help alleviate any worry you had about what would happen to him as you aged and died.

Any parent will get that. Play straight with us. We’ll understand if you use gentle language in describing your son, but play it straight. We already suspect that Hunter can’t run a two-car funeral on his own, and may have questionable scruples. We parents know that kids … are who they are. We’ll understand that you love your son, and wanted to see him get ahead as long as it was legal, even if he didn’t earn it.

Those reading these pages that know me personally are acutely aware that at times, I can be a bit … Irish, and that I’m very tribal about our children. Even so: Joe, you’re too obviously defensive. Don’t insult us by calling a voter who makes an incorrect but not (given the circumstances) entirely outrageous allegation, a “Damn Liar,” and impugn the voter’s physical appearance. Admit what all of us – even those of us that consider you the most qualified of the announced candidates to be the next president – know: that your son had no business on that board. It may not have been illegal, but it was, indeed, wrong. He should have declined the offer, but since he didn’t, you should have quashed it. Quit dodging it. Own it, and move on.

Nancy’s Percolating Brew … and a Pitch for Mitch

Two unrelated — or perhaps in one respect, not so unrelated — impressions arising from the week’s events …

I suggested not long ago that I suspected that Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi’s goal in instituting impeachment proceedings is — through the continual drip of incriminating information about President Trump and his agents and without regard to the outcome of the inevitable Senate trial — to politically weaken the President with that small (but likely electorally decisive) segment of voters who aren’t already irrevocably committed to or against him. (This goal being in addition to the most important: that Mr. Trump’s undisputed interaction with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy constituted an abuse of power sufficient to warrant his removal from office.) Some opine that the hearings won’t change any minds. I disagree. While the testimony of State Department Officials William Taylor and George Kent perhaps merely reinforced the pre-existing impressions of the voters following the proceedings, I thought Friday’s testimony by Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine that Mr. Trump summarily dismissed after she was shamelessly smeared by his agent, Rudy Giuliani, and whom Mr. Trump himself maligned during his July 25 phone call with Mr. Zelenskyy … was, politically, devastatingly effective. Although the President’s Republican House defenders were technically correct that Amb. Yovanovitch, having been removed months before the Presidents’ July call, had little to add to the crux of the Democrats’ central impeachment allegations (although her testimony did demonstrate a pattern of behavior by the President’s agents to pursue his interests above the nation’s), her controlled but obviously distraught (at times, you could see her eyes glisten) description of the way she was driven out of her post by bullies when she had done nothing wrong, her career irreparably changed and leaving her and her family emotionally abused – was, in my view, a damning account. Mr. Trump is already relatively weaker with women, our majority voting segment. If the Democrats can’t develop 2020 campaign ads — depicting the President’s live tweet during the hearing, “Everywhere Marie Yavonovitch went turned bad,” and Ms. Yovanovitch’s visibly distressed reaction — that will viscerally resonate with those Republican and Independent women in swing states who are already uncomfortable with Mr. Trump’s selfish bullyboy tactics, they don’t deserve to win the election. I would submit that Ms. Pelosi’s percolating Election Day brew got a notable boost in flavor this week.

Years and years ago, due to his support of legislation that would be very beneficial to my organization’s primary customers, I gave a very small personal contribution to a campaign of Republican U.S. IA Sen. Chuck Grassley. My reward for that contribution was being placed on Sen. Grassley’s contributors list. For years, I received his solicitations, which I tossed. I was finally moved to write Mr. Grassley — in an appropriate tone 😉 – taking issue with his partisanship and positions. The Senator did not thereafter cease the behavior that concerned me; he did, however, seemingly take me off his mailing list.

Until this week. Perhaps through a glitch in the Republican National Committee’s direct mail systems, I got a letter from Sen. Grassley, asking me to contribute – not to his campaign, but to that of … U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Mr. Grassley declares how Mr. McConnell “… as Senate Majority Leader … is showing everyone that he’ll stand strongly in the face of a radical Democratic Party that is embracing socialism and is rabidly obsessed with destroying President Trump …. [Democrats will] spend millions of dollars smearing Senator McConnell with reckless, false attacks …. [U]ltra-rich leftists, radical environmentalists, anti-gun activists, pro-abortion supporters, coastal elites, and a nationwide army of angry liberals will do whatever it takes to try to defeat President Trump…. [If Mr. McConnell] is defeated in Kentucky … there [will] be another liberal in the Senate taking marching orders from Chuck Schumer …. That is why I am asking you to support Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign. It’s important for Iowa, and for all of America, for him to continue leading Republicans in the Senate.”

I’ve never received a Democratic solicitation; I suspect that they are similarly full of inflammatory hyperbole. It did occur to me how seemingly odd it was for Sen. McConnell to be reaching all the way into the Midwest for support in a race that he should handily win in a strongly red state. It brought to mind comments I’ve heard in recent months from a close friend located much closer to the Bluegrass State than I am, who asserts that Mr. McConnell can be beaten by the Kentucky Democrats’ leading Senate candidate, Amy McGrath, a 20-year Lt. Col. Marine fighter pilot. By the looks of this solicitation, Mr. McConnell agrees with our friend. Mr. McConnell’s stout support of a President who appears to enjoy intimidating women may not serve him so well if he’s up against a 20-year celebrated female Marine …

A Conversation in a Bar

A friend and I were perched on stools at a table in the darkish far corner of a Wisconsin tavern located outside the Madison liberal bubble. The rest of the customers were sitting at the bar enjoying a refresher after a long day on the job – made harder by the unusual cold that had gripped the state. Our conversation had – not atypical of my conversations 😉 – turned to politics. Even so, we were talking in low tones, and the specific topic was not an emotive one – the psychological moral foundations Jonathan Haidt lists in The Righteous Mind, and Mr. Haidt’s description of how liberals’ and conservatives’ gut instincts give respectively different weights to what are all indisputably worthy values. At least I was only vaguely aware that a man had started playing a video game within a few feet of us. Having apparently heard at least part of our conversation, he approached our table – mid-30’s, Caucasian, dark longish beard, not large in stature, stocking cap on his head pulled down almost to his eyebrows — pardoned himself for interrupting, and, not at all aggressively, proceeded on what was a fairly long monologue — his frustration and resentment evident although his tone was even – about what his life was like: married with a child, how he and his wife both worked, how he had gone to school and worked for a couple of companies before starting his own business, how he had thousands of dollars’ worth of tools in his truck but couldn’t get ahead. His friends in the trades felt the same way.  “Child care costs so much.” “I’d be better off working for $7.50 an hour – then I’d get assistance. They get assistance. I get nothing.” “The older generation doesn’t get it – they could get ahead by working hard. We can’t.” “The middle class is dead — there is no more middle class.” “Social security is there for you [no offense intended or taken; I am obviously of Social Security-eligible age 😉 ] — do you think it’s going to be there for me? [Rhetorical – clearly he thinks not].”

While we – at least I – will probably never be able to viscerally feel the indignation this gentleman feels, my friend and I have sympathy for what he and so many Americans are facing, and he could see that; our tones remained even, as they should have – Americans civilly exchanging contrasting viewpoints. My friend ventured: Was he for Trump? “Trump all the way,” he replied. Mr. Trump wasn’t perfect, but finally, someone was taking on China, somebody was trying to bring back the middle class. I indicated that at least one of his concerns – Social Security – could be fixed if the politicians got their heads together; he respectfully waved that off. I asked what he thought of Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate with the seemingly widest working class appeal. “He’s just in it to put money in his pocket. That’s what all politicians do – just put money in their pockets.”

I’ve probably mentioned The Righteous Mind in these pages more than any other book I’ve read since retiring. Since it seems so blatantly obvious to me that President Trump is a self-interested blackguard willing to sacrifice national interests for his own while doing nothing to objectively better the circumstances of those who most fervently believe in him (caveat: he has well served anti-abortionists by packing the federal courts with young conservative judges), I have increasingly reflected upon why approximately 40% of my fellow citizens feel so vehemently differently than I think they should feel about the President. Putting aside the bigots, I reject the notion that the vast majority of the President’s supporters are “deplorable.” They are not stupid. So what is it? Is it gut resistance to the country’s inevitable technological and demographic change? Antipathy to cultural change – a longing for a time when – to quote Carroll O’Connor’s and Jean Stapleton’s Archie and Edith Bunker – “Girls were girls and men were men” and we “Didn’t need no welfare state; everybody pulled his weight”? Resentment at obviously condescending intellectuals? Outrage at the disparagement of religious faith that many of them (and I) consider central to our beings? A lack of hope born of the realization that they’re too many touchdowns behind to catch up no matter how hard they work? A product of propaganda – one turns to sources with which one is most comfortable, and Fox News commentators and alt-right social media outlets, driven by profit, have given them tangible targets to blame?

Probably all of the above. Clearly many of our people have been overtaken by despair. Despite all of his transparent bluster and lying, a segment see the President “telling it like it is” – that he’s given voice to their anger that they’ve been betrayed by the educated and affluent class that they trusted to lead the nation. Judging by President Obama’s electoral majorities, many of them believed in him, but as uncomfortable as it is for some progressives to acknowledge, Mr. Obama did little to help them. Mr. Trump at least provides the impression that he hears them together with the satisfaction of sticking it in the eye of the snobs who have undeniable disdain for them.

These divisions are deep. In its retrospective on President Ronald Reagan at the time of Mr. Reagan’s death, Newsweek stated, “[At the time Mr. Reagan became President] [s]erious people began to wonder whether the presidency was too big a job for any one [person].” One cannot help but ponder how any one person can adequately address the sharp divisions and diverse challenges we have today.

It had reached the hour my friend and I had planned to part. We rose from our bar stools, stood. I said to the young gentleman who had engaged us – gently, because we had had a completely amicable exchange, and I had benefited much more from our talk than he had — “I fear that you’re placing your faith in a mirage.”

“I base it on facts”, he replied with assurance, but without rancor. I didn’t ask from whom he gets his facts. It was time to go. It was dark outside, and unseasonably cold.

Contrasting Matt Bevin and Roy Moore with … Foxconn

Liberal talking heads are currently reveling in Kentucky Democratic Governor-Elect Andy Beshear’s apparent (albeit narrow) victory over KY Republican Governor Matt Bevin. While I understand a certain amount of liberal chortling – President Trump held a big rally in Kentucky the night before the election, unwisely declaring that the outcome would be a referendum on him — Gov. Bevin’s electoral weakness in a solid Republican state, although particularly heartening to a couple of readers of these pages literally or viscerally closer to the Bluegrass State than I am, was seemingly due to local issues related to his abrasive manner and the state’s public teachers’ organized and spirited opposition. I don’t think any pundit is opining that even a centrist Democratic presidential nominee can win Kentucky’s Electoral College votes in 2020. Likewise, Alabama voters’ narrow 2017 selection of U.S. AL Sen. Doug Jones over former AL Chief Judge Roy Moore – the latter then facing multiple credible accusations of sexual misconduct – seems an understandable idiosyncratic result in an otherwise-solidly Republican state. As with Kentucky, I doubt any commentator considers Sen. Jones’ election a harbinger of electoral risk for any Republican presidential nominee in Alabama in 2020.

That said, Wisconsin’s 2020 Electoral College votes could in part hinge on a local issue because it is the rare local issue that can be tied directly to Mr. Trump. As most are well aware, in late June, 2018, to significant fanfare, Mr. Trump, together with Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou and such Republican luminaries as then-Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan and then-WI Gov. Scott Walker, broke ground for a Foxconn manufacturing plant in Mount Pleasant, WI, in the Racine/Kenosha southeastern corner of the state between Chicago and Milwaukee. Mr. Trump offered lengthy remarks at the ceremony (more on that below). Below this paragraph are links to three articles respectively published in July, September, and October of 2019, recounting: that Foxconn has reduced the number of jobs it projects for the facility from 13,000 to 1,500; that Foxconn has canceled the announced 20 million-square foot manufacturing facility while instead breaking ground on a 1 million-square-foot facility [with its announced operation commencement date to be at or about the time of the 2020 presidential election (wink, wink)]; that the implementation of Foxconn “Innovation Centers” around the state, projected to provide hundreds of sophisticated jobs, has been suspended; claims that Foxconn has a history of delivering a fraction of its promises and that the Mount Pleasant project is a “snow job”; and displacement of hundreds of homeowners allegedly “railroaded” by local governmental deceit.

https://www.theverge.com/2019/7/10/20689021/foxconn-wisconsin-governor-jobs-tony-evers-manufacturing

https://www.minnpost.com/politics-policy/2019/09/owners-near-foxconn-say-they-were-misled-now-their-homes-are-gone/

https://www.theverge.com/2019/10/23/20929453/foxconn-innovation-centers-on-hold-wisconsin-mount-pleasant-trump-deal

On July 31, 2019, the W.E. Upjohn Institute issued a report, “Costs and Benefits of a Revised Foxconn Project,” in response to a request by the Wisconsin Department of Administration. A link to the report is below. The Upjohn analyst, Timothy Bartik, makes clear in the report that neither he nor Upjohn was compensated for the analysis. He indicates:  that even a reduced Foxconn arrangement that follows the credit rates of the original arrangement would result in incentives to Foxconn in the range of $100K to $200K a job, compared with average U.S. incentives to prospective employers of $24K a job; that the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s report that the project would fiscally break even in 2042-43 was “incomplete and overly optimistic”; and that “the Foxconn deals are far greater than … the [recent] Amazon deals in New York or Virginia.”  Mr. Bartik concludes:

“The most important conclusion of this analysis is that … a revised Foxconn incentive contract, which offers similar credit rates to the original contract, has … incentives [that] are so costly per job that it is hard to see how likely benefits will offset these costs.”

https://research.upjohn.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1244&context=reports

A link to the transcript of the June, 2018, Mount Pleasant groundbreaking ceremony attended by Messrs. Trump, Gou, Walker, and Ryan is included below (given what has transpired, it is not tinged, but rather drips, with irony).

Amongst his remarks, the President declared:

“Moments ago, we broke ground on a plant that will provide jobs for much more than 13,000 Wisconsin workers.”

“Terry [Gou] is a friend of mine and I recommended Wisconsin, in this case… this was something that just seemed right.”

“I said, ‘Terry, this place is such a great place.’ … And I said to Terry, ‘This would be an incredible place.’”

“So I had this incredible company going to invest someplace in the world — not [in the U.S.] necessarily. And I will tell you they wouldn’t have done it here, except that I became President …. And I immediately thought of the state of Wisconsin.”

Mr. Walker chimed in: “Well, thanks, Mr. President. As you mentioned, you got the ball rolling …. And we couldn’t be more proud to have [Foxconn] … in the state of Wisconsin.”

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-foxconn-facility/

Given this apparently undisputable Foxconn fiasco, it would seem that any Democratic Presidential nominee should, by merely uttering, “Foxconn,” whenever entering Wisconsin, easily carry the state against Mr. Trump. It will obviously not be that simple.

An irrelevant but irresistible aside: in the transcript of the groundbreaking ceremony, one finds that the President also declared: “I just realized the other day, they told me — when we won the state of Wisconsin, it hadn’t been won by a Republican since [President] Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952. Did you know that? And I won Wisconsin. And I like Wisconsin a lot, but we won Wisconsin. And Ronald Reagan — remember, Wisconsin was the state that Ronald Reagan did not win. And that was in 1952. [My emphasis].” (In fact, Mr. Eisenhower won Wisconsin again in 1956; Republican President Richard Nixon won Wisconsin in 1960 (in a losing effort), 1968, and 1972; and – certainly not least – Republican President Reagan carried Wisconsin in both 1980 and 1984.) The description of Mr. Trump coming to mind is that attributed to and never denied by former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson …

The Impeachment Kaleidoscope: Part III

If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Parts I and II (which are immediately below), I would start with those 😉

The most impressive figure in our current impeachment saga is obviously Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi. She is literally running the clock down on the President. Through the continual drip of damning information about Mr. Trump’s coercion of the Ukrainians — including this week’s testimony by Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman — Ms. Pelosi is shaping the attitude of that sliver of the electorate – I would guess between 10 and 20 percent — who aren’t already irrevocably committed to or against the President. She has so far withstood both the Republicans’ efforts to speed the process (the longer this goes, the shorter the President’s and their time to politically recover) and kept the inquiry focused on the President’s pressure on the Ukrainians (which polls show that a majority of Americans viscerally consider wrong) despite her own caucus’ desire to broaden it (which will blur the voters’ focus and give the Republicans more opportunity for distraction).

I’ve mentioned in these pages my concern that Congressional Impeachment proceedings would ultimately redound to the President’s benefit. Now, I’m not so sure. Although the Republicans’ impeachment initiative against President Bill Clinton ultimately politically benefited the Democrats, what Mr. Trump indisputably did with the Ukrainians seems different in kind from Mr. Clinton’s inappropriate relationship with Monica Lewinsky and his attendant falsehoods (although I believe in retrospect that Mr. Clinton should have been removed from office for perjury). Since Ms. Pelosi has made it plain that she considers Mr. Trump manifestly unfit for the presidency, I hope she hopes (more on that below) that for the good of the country, Mr. Trump will be removed from office after the Senate trial; but there may be even greater Democratic political advantage arising from the proceedings – in which the evidence of the President’s and his agents’ activities will be brought before the American people once in the House, and again in the Senate — if the President is acquitted. Any Senate acquittal is likely to look like a Republican whitewash to the electoral sliver Ms. Pelosi is targeting and will put swing state Republican Senators running for reelection in 2020 in a bind between Trump loyalists and independents. I would suggest that in the seemingly unlikely event that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell conjures up a Senate procedural maneuver to avoid bringing the House’s articles to a vote, enough of the electorate will be sufficiently outraged that such would result in an even greater national electoral rout of Republicans – and perhaps cost Mr. McConnell his seat.

I indicated above that I hope that Ms. Pelosi hopes that for the good of the country, President Trump should be removed from office as expeditiously as possible. That said, I’m not sure that a presumed succession by Vice President Mike Pence helps Democrats’ 2020 national prospects. By the time any such transition would occur, it will be too late for another Republican to meaningfully challenge Mr. Pence for the 2020 GOP nomination; it seems overwhelming probable that the Republican base, infuriated at Mr. Trump’s removal, will rally to the Republican cause; and Mr. Pence would have the power of the incumbency. Query, had Senate Democrats not acquitted Mr. Clinton when he was impeached, whether a President Al Gore might not have eked out an Electoral College victory over then-TX Gov. George W. Bush in a contest in which Mr. Gore won the popular vote. President Gerald Ford lost by only the slimmest of margins to then-former GA Gov. Jimmy Carter in 1976 although Mr. Ford was politically weakened by his pardon of President Richard Nixon (a decision with which I agree) and the disappointment of the diehard followers of then-former CA Gov. Ronald Reagan. I pose this: given the demographics that are still likely to prevail in 2020, if Mr. Pence succeeds to the presidency without being directly implicated in the President’s untoward interactions with the Ukrainians or other malign activities, and has former U.S. Amb. Nikki Haley or perhaps U.S. FL Sen. Marco Rubio join his ticket, which likely Democratic presidential candidate can beat him? A candidate’s prospects are in part measured by the candidate’s opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. I would submit that contrasted with Mr. Pence, to many independents Mr. Biden could look too old, U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders could look too old and crazy, U.S. MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren could look too feisty and disruptive, South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg could look too young and inexperienced, and U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris could look too “California.” Either U.S. NJ Sen. Cory Booker or U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar might have a chance against Mr. Pence, but they appear too far behind the other Democratic candidates to have a meaningful opportunity to secure the Democratic nomination and Mr. Pence’s election odds would still be better than either of theirs. Mr. Pence would have to finesse one hurdle similar to that faced by Mr. Ford: how to deal with the fallout – either way – arising from Trumpers’ demands that he pardon his predecessor.

As we plunge into the impeachment maelstrom, perhaps its facets are best considered not a kaleidoscope … but a roulette wheel. Clearly, much more to come.