On Political Fear and Loathing

“When a sieve is shaken, the husks appear; so do one’s faults when one speaks … one’s speech disclose[s] the bent of one’s mind.” Sirach 27:4-6

I didn’t watch Michael Cohen’s full testimony on Wednesday before the House Oversight and Governmental Reform Committee, but did see Reps. Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows and other Committee Republicans harangue and stage grandstanding attacks upon Mr. Cohen’s credibility. Although these are far from unique reactions, it did strike me real time (1) that the Republicans were abandoning their constitutional duty to ascertain the facts and (2) that they knew – they knew – that Mr. Cohen was substantially telling the truth. The only motive that I could conjure up for their behavior at the time was that they were trying to provide any remaining naïve Trump supporters with a rationalization for keeping the wool pulled down over their eyes. Mine was a fatuous thought. The lack of any meaningful political fallout for President Trump in the days since the hearing shows that Mr. Trump’s most diehard supporters already recognized and accepted the flawed nature of his character, something the Congressional Republicans almost certainly understood. It took me a little while to realize that they were motivated by baser emotions: fear and loathing.

I would suggest that Republicans’ abject defense of the President has little to do with substantive policy considerations, since if Mr. Trump left the presidency, he would be replaced by Vice President Mike Pence, who has been an obsequious supporter of the president’s agenda and would probably exert a stronger hand in confronting Russian aggression. (I’m confident that even the President’s most avid supporters recognize that Vladimir Putin is a bad guy.) Their unwillingness to seek truth seems manifestly driven by fear of retribution from Mr. Trump’s core supporters … combined with an aberrant desire not to let the Democrats win, even if they’re right – as they are – in demonstrating Mr. Trump a scoundrel unworthy of the presidency.

In the summer of 2018, a friend sent me an email string which had been forwarded to him entitled, “This is why you can’t vote democratic.” It was – there is no kinder description for it – an unhinged rant primarily focused on former Sec. Hillary Clinton and former FBI Director James Comey, primarily addressing Uranium One and Benghazi. Although no one would consider Ms. Clinton a saint and it is undisputed even by Mr. Comey that he made serious missteps prior to the 2016 Presidential election, this email completely ignored the fact that Republicans used their congressional investigatory powers ad nauseam on Uranium One and Benghazi without uncovering evidence of wrongdoing, and that Mr. Trump himself initially privately acknowledged that Mr. Comey’s public missteps regarding the FBI’s investigation of Ms. Clinton’s lost emails were probably the deciding factor in the election. This note demonstrated no indication of any desire to understand or accept facts; it was purely a manifestation of hatred of Democrats. Although the Committee Republicans were perhaps a bit smoother during the Cohen hearing, the emotions they feel are clearly the same. We are a long way from Republican TN Sen. Howard Baker’s effort to discover the truth in the Watergate scandal: “What did [Republican President Richard Nixon] know, and when did he know it?”

Democrats love grabbing the moral high ground – with Mr. Trump in the White House, admittedly easy ground to command – but recent accounts make them appear no better. Since January, a House of Representatives procedural maneuver known as the “Motion to Recommit” has, due to the aid of the votes of some moderate Democrats, allowed the Republicans to make small dents in certain progressive initiatives, thereby stirring the anger of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and young progressives, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has reportedly “suggested” to these moderate Democrats that should their behavior continue, she will alert her chain of progressive activists of their failure to stand with the Democratic majority on these votes. I would submit that by this posturing, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is seeking to sow political fear among the moderates – and by doing so, is no better for it than Mr. Trump. As for unrestrained vilification of the opposition, over the weekend, former Vice President Joe Biden was lambasted by the left after suggesting that Mr. Pence is a “decent guy”; Progressives have loudly rejected any notion that Mr. Pence can be “decent” due to his staunch Evangelical stance against LBGT rights. Think what you will of the fawning way he has conducted the Vice Presidency or his position on gender rights or other issues, Mr. Pence apparently is a decent man on a personal level, motivated by what he sees as moral principles; South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay person to seek the presidency, has called Mr. Pence “a super-nice guy,” although Mr. Buttigieg obviously vehemently disagrees with Mr. Pence on virtually all issues. There is as great a need on the left to disparage all aspects of all political opponents – to see only malevolence in the other side — as there is on the right.

Not only should Republicans be aware that there will be life after Mr. Trump; Democrats should be as well. Those of us that see neither party as the font of all virtue or the source of all depravity are concerned that neither side recognizes that formulating constructive policy requires trust of and well-intended engagement with the other.

Joint Declaration Disputing President Trump’s Emergency Declaration

An event seemingly meriting a second post in one day.

Although most who read these pages are probably already aware of this, today 58 former national security officials published a “Joint Declaration” disputing President Trump’s claim of a national emergency that justifies the diversion of federal funds to add further wall at our southern border. From a quick review of this Joint Declaration, it would appear that about a quarter of the signatories provided at least part of their national service to Republican Administrations, including three that served in the Trump Administration (although to be fair, two of the three were holdovers from the Obama Administration).

The Joint Declaration’s introduction provides in part:

“On February 15, 2019, the President declared a “national emergency” for the purpose of diverting appropriated funds from previously designated uses to build a wall along the southern border. We are aware of no emergency that remotely justifies such a step. The President’s actions are at odds with the overwhelming evidence in the public record, including the administration’s own data and estimates. We have lived and worked through national emergencies, and we support the President’s power to mobilize the Executive Branch to respond quickly in genuine national emergencies. But under no plausible assessment of the evidence is there a national emergency today that entitles the President to tap into funds appropriated for other purposes to build a wall at the southern border.”

A link to the Joint Declaration appears below.

http://cdn.cnn.com/cnn/2019/images/02/25/2019-2-21.final.national.emergency.decl.pdf

I understand that a House Resolution terminating the National Emergency declared by the President will be passed by the House on Tuesday and sent to the Senate. Although there is no indication that if the Senate passes the measure it will survive a certain presidential veto, the most revealing part of this process will be ascertaining which and how many Republican Senators are willing to confront Mr. Trump, given indications that many have significant misgivings about what they reportedly consider an unwarranted presidential usurpation of Congressional power.  This Joint Declaration will seemingly add to those misgivings.  I will be watching Utah Sen. Mitt Romney.

 

On Amy Klobuchar: Part II

If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there 😉

In Part I of this note, I offered that subject to events that could alter the national mood, MN Senator Amy Klobuchar has the best chance of the currently-announced Democratic presidential candidates to defeat President Trump in the fall of 2020. Those outside the Upper Midwest think of Minnesota as a deep blue state, but it is actually “two states,” consisting of the Twin Cities on the one hand and most of the rest of the state on the other – the latter made up of conservative, rural towns. Sec. Clinton’s narrow Minnesota victory in 2016 primarily resulted from overwhelming Twin Cities support. What might show that Sen. Klobuchar would be a challenging opponent for President Trump in 2020 is that she won every Minnesota congressional district in her 2018 Senate race. Perhaps in contrast to the coastal candidates, against the President Sen. Klobuchar would certainly hold Minnesota, have excellent prospects to hold or reclaim Colorado, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa (a state which the Democrats will otherwise probably write off) and seemingly have a favorable opportunity to hold or reclaim New Hampshire, Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina.

I have previously suggested that presidential elections are about matchups; I would venture that nominating contests are frequently about lanes. It would seem that Sen. Klobuchar currently has the center lane in this race all to herself. If she is fortunate enough to keep the center lane to herself (an entry by Mr. Biden would significantly adversely affect her prospects) and campaigns ably, she would – subject to the hurdles described below – seemingly have a path to the nomination. Lanes matter.

In the 1976 Democratic Presidential nominating contest, there was initially a cluster of liberal candidates that entered the race in the party’s left lane. AL Gov. George Wallace claimed the right lane (indeed, Mr. Wallace was the first modern politician to tap into what is now the Trump base). Virtually alone in the center lane was former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter. There has perhaps not been a modern campaign to a nomination run as brilliantly as Mr. Carter’s, but to succeed, he needed good fortune as well as shrewd planning. An unknown Born-Again Christian with a navy and farming background, Mr. Carter recognized that he had to sneak up on the field, and focused on winning the Iowa caucuses – which, up to that time, had been of no national interest. Mr. Carter “camped out” in Iowa for a year, talking to Iowans in fields and coffee shops, sharing his faith and his farming and service background … and won. The media loves novelty, and he rode it. Mr. Carter understood that he had to carry southern states to win the nomination; he narrowly defeated Mr. Wallace in the early Florida primary, cementing his image as a winner. He secured the nomination by taking the entire centrist vote in primary after primary while the liberals, to their frustration, kept splitting the (overall larger) liberal vote.

There is, however, a daunting reality for Ms. Klobuchar underpinning this rosy Carter scenario: Mr. Carter won early when he had to. Had he not won the Iowa caucuses and gained momentum, his candidacy would have floundered. Even with the Iowa surprise, had he not beaten Mr. Wallace in Florida – showing that he could win (as he did, in November) a region that the party had lost to Richard Nixon in 1968 and 1972 – he would have been finished.

Those with even longer memories – and political junkies – will recall what is perhaps the classic accounting of an American presidential campaign: Theodore H. White’s The Making of the President 1960. Mr. White described in detail the 1960 Wisconsin Democratic primary contest between MA Sen. John F. Kennedy and MN Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey. Mr. Kennedy, on the strength of a strong Catholic vote, narrowly defeated Mr. Humphrey. Mr. Humphrey publicly claimed a moral victory by winning a strong minority against the much-better-financed Mr. Kennedy. Mr. White wrote: “But the reading of politics by hard men across the nation could only be otherwise. If Humphrey could not carry Wisconsin, a neighbor state so similar in culture and sociology to his own, then he could carry nothing in the Midwest. Thus, in hard politics, he could not deliver his base; therefore, he had been eliminated.”

I would suggest that to maintain a viable candidacy, Ms. Klobuchar must win the Iowa caucuses. If she loses, her candidacy would seemingly be ended out of the gate. Even if she wins in Iowa, I would offer that since the premise of her candidacy is that she can win in the Midwest, she … needs to win in the Midwest. She will need to win (or score impressive results with commensurate delegate counts) in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, and stage a surprise or two on the coasts (perhaps more conservative New Hampshire, where a victory over Ms. Warren would be impressive; Washington or Oregon, where Ms. Harris’ glitz may not sit well with grounded liberals) or in states that Democrats hope to claim where her Midwest background could appeal (Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina). Even then, while such victories might have impressed the 1960s “hard men” that Mr. White referred to, under the current rules, the delegate totals that candidates like Ms. Harris can claim by winning their own state primaries present Ms. Klobuchar with a formidable challenge.

The persistent stream of stories since Sen. Klobuchar announced her candidacy, describing her abrasive treatment of her staff – coming at such an early stage in the campaign – seemingly underscores the importance to her of the early caucus and primary contests. Ms. Klobuchar’s “Minnesota Nice” image is one of her core strengths, and one or more of her opponents apparently sees that chipping away at that part of her appeal now may be the best way to cripple her candidacy. Again citing the observation of Finley Peter Dunne’s fictional Mr. Dooley [which I recognize that I could use 100 times in the next two years, but pledge to restrain myself ;)] : “… [P]olitics ain’t bean-bag.” More to come …

On Amy Klobuchar: Part I

I’ve suggested over the last several weeks that I believe that the Democrats’ best hope of reclaiming the White House in 2020 lies in nominating a candidate whose views run to the left center of the political spectrum, rather than to the avowedly progressive. My premise is based on Electoral College math: that what I have called a “reasonably acceptable” Democratic nominee should readily claim the states that provided Secretary Hillary Clinton 232 Electoral College votes in 2016, enabling such candidate to concentrate on winning those traditionally Democratic states that President Trump narrowly won in 2016 – Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. As I have stated, I think that subject to events that could alter the national mood, today the President would have an opportunity to beat an avid progressive in these three states and perhaps in states that Ms. Clinton narrowly won in 2016. I’ve indicated that I consider former VP Joe Biden and former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg to be favorable Democratic matchups if Mr. Trump is the Republican nominee.

Now I have a candidate I like better: Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

By this time, all with an interest have probably seen clips of Sen. Klobuchar’s announcement of her candidacy in Boom Island, MN (from which she hails), but if you haven’t, a link to a YouTube of the event is below. She isn’t flashy, but to me … it was pure gold. I recently listed criteria that I think might be pivotal to the Democratic nominee’s chances to beat Mr. Trump; although at the time I wrote that note, I was only aware of Sen. Klobuchar due to the Bret Kavanaugh hearings, it was if I wrote the post with her in mind:

  1. The ability to look strong on the stage against the President. At one point during her announcement, Ms. Klobuchar declared, “I have grit,” and no one watching her speak in the driving snow, hatless and gloveless, could doubt it. [Indeed, if she wins the nomination, I’d advise her to challenge the President to an outdoor debate in Lambeau Field ;)]. She, like CA Sen. Kamala Harris, got her start as a prosecutor, which projects strength. Although there are stories circulating indicating that she is hard on her staff, I’m not sure that these accounts don’t help her on the “strength” issue; Americans know the presidency is a tough job, and my instincts say they will somewhat discount the stories because she seems so sunny (see below) while being reassured at having a President reputedly not afraid to push staff to get the job done.

 

  1. Possessed of the requisite knowledge and experience. Sen. Klobuchar is starting her third term in the Senate; she knows the ropes – indeed, has earned praise from a number of her Republican Senate colleagues for her ability, pragmatism, and collaborative approach. I note that she has not served on a Senate Committee dealing with foreign policy, but her overall national experience equals that of Sens. Sanders and Warren and dwarfs the rest of the announced field.

 

  1. Not an “identity” candidate. In her announcement, Ms. Klobuchar didn’t mention that she was … a woman. She focused on how she intended to help our people.

 

  1. Not overtly progressive. If one listens to Sen. Klobuchar’s announcement and reviews her record, she is clearly emerging as one of the more centrist alternatives in the field. Interestingly, some liberal commentators seem to recognize the Democrats’ need for a centrist alternative; Ms. Klobuchar has received favorable commentary from MSNBC’s Morning Joe team, and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow – perhaps the most influential cable commentator on the left – is clearly taken with her.

 

  1. She is likeable – friendly, upbeat; indeed, the rap against her is that she seems “too nice” to run for or win the presidency. Although she is not smooth like Ronald Reagan, the way she projects a sunny outlook actually reminded me of Mr. Reagan’s delivery – a clear contrast to Mr. Trump’s dark fear mongering.

 

  1. Have a credible plan to address the needs of a large swath of our economically desperate people. Sen. Klobuchar has pledged to present programs to ready us for the economy of the future and make healthcare available for all, while expressing reservations about the practicality of the New Green Deal and Medicare for All (reservations I share). In short, a left center philosophy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Z5-jDkC4XY

The fact that Sen. Klobuchar hails from the middle of the country (indeed, from right on the Mississippi), that she is happily married with a daughter, that her grandparents were immigrants, her grandfather was an iron mine worker and her mother a teacher, that she is proud that her father was a newspaperman, that – in her words — “I don’t have money or a machine,” all add up to the image of a sunny but tough Minnesotan that will seemingly have appeal across the great middle of this nation. Acknowledging what my sainted mother used to say — “There’s many the slip ‘tween the cup and the lip”  😉 – Ms. Klobuchar is an experienced campaigner and winner.

Nonetheless … there is obviously more to winning a major party’s nomination for the presidency than having experience and being able to smile and speak in the snow. More on other aspects of Sen. Klobuchar’s candidacy in Part II.

On the Foxconn Unraveling and Related Reflections

This supplements earlier references in these pages to Wisconsin’s relationship with Foxconn: a transaction that is now becoming almost undisputedly recognized as a fiasco. Despite Foxconn’s recent declaration – after jawboning by President Trump – that the facility will include manufacturing capability, upon hearing of the Foxconn statement, I had the same thought as set forth by Charlie Sykes in The Bulwark article linked below:

“[The Foxconn statement about maintaining manufacturing at the Wisconsin facility] seemed driven more by a desire to kiss the president’s ring than by business realities. So what will Foxconn do? Short term, they are likely to maintain a sort of Trumpian Potemkin village in Wisconsin to keep up the appearance that the company is doing Trump’s bidding. [My emphasis].”

https://thebulwark.com/the-foxconn-boondoggle-was-even-worse-than-we-thought/

Mr. Sykes clearly implies that he believes that Foxconn simply intends to wait out Mr. Trump. If the President’s political fortunes continue to slide, it would seem likely that Foxconn will ultimately quietly scuttle its Racine manufacturing plans with no real fear of U. S. reprisal … but with possibly significant consequences for Mr. Trump’s potentially-pivotal 2020 Wisconsin electoral prospects.

Mr. Sykes’ comment reminded me of a reference in a recent Wall Street Journal piece about current U.S. – E.U. trade negotiations, which suggested that in the face of aggressive U.S. demands, one of the E.U.’s strategies may be simply … to wait out the Trump Administration.  As recently as last Friday, the Journal similarly reported that in current U.S.-China trade negotiations, “…Chinese officials seem confident of a deal because they believe Mr. Trump needs the political boost … The Chinese team came [to the negotiating table the week of January 28] with very few new proposals … Instead, the officials largely reiterated [past Chinese] pledges ….”

If the President’s political standing doesn’t improve, Mr. Trump and his team may find that over the next two years, delay and retrenchment become favored tactics across a wide spectrum of those from whom the Administration is seeking concessions.

On William Barr’s Nomination for Attorney General: Part II

If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there ;).

I understand that William Barr’s nomination for Attorney General will be reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee today. While I appreciate the unease that Democrats feel regarding the prospect of Mr. Barr’s directing the Special Counsel inquiry, I would suggest that their concerns are insufficient to reject his nomination. I would vote to confirm Mr. Barr as Attorney General.

As noted in Part I of this post, no one questions Mr. Barr’s objective qualifications to serve as U.S. Attorney General. The majority of Democrats’ concerns center on the memo he provided to the Justice Department (and President Trump’s legal team) in June of this year. While it strains credulity to discount the notion that Mr. Barr intended this memo as an application for the A.G. position, surprisingly little of the commentary I have heard has remarked upon what I consider a pertinent fact: that Mr. Barr’s apparent defense of the President was limited to what he considered, on public policy grounds, as an inappropriate expansion of the applicability of the federal obstruction of justice statute to acts of Executive discretion. Interestingly, he was making the case against such expansion at a time when conventional wisdom held (and apparently the President and his advisors believed) that Mr. Trump’s legal transgression, if any, had more or less arisen from an inadvertent obstruction of justice borne of his New York real estate instincts.

Beginning with Donald Trump, Jr.’s 2017 admission that the 2016 Trump Tower meeting involved a discussion of how Russian representatives could provide the Trump Campaign information damaging to Secretary Hillary Clinton’s campaign, a string of ever-more-damning revelations seems to be casting aside the previously prevailing impression that in their dealings with the Russians, members of the Trump campaign were shady dupes rather than active conspirators. Now, we have seen serious indications that (1) agents of the Russian government hacked the Democratic National Committee’s email server; (2) the Russian agents delivered the hacked emails to Wikileaks; and (3) Wikileaks was in communication with Mr. Trump’s longtime confidant, Roger Stone. Subject to correction by the learned eyes that read these pages, I understand that if Mr. Mueller is able to establish that Wikileaks affirmatively coordinated with the Trump Campaign, through Mr. Stone or otherwise, to “drop” electronically stolen DNC emails damaging to Ms. Clinton at times opportune to the Trump Campaign … that’s a criminal conspiracy.

It should seemingly be noted that Mr. Barr said little in his memo regarding the ramifications that would ensue if the Special Counsel presented solid evidence showing that the Trump Campaign had criminally conspired with the Russian Government against Sec. Clinton – and that what he did say, in light of current circumstances, may provide scant comfort to the President: “If [the President and his campaign engaged in illegal collusion], then the issue of ‘obstruction’ is a sideshow … Mueller should get on with the task at hand and reach a conclusion on collusion.

Partisans on both sides are currently all too-ready to impute ulterior motives to those with whom they disagree. If solid evidence that senior members of the Trump Campaign illegally colluded with Russia is presented to Mr. Barr by a universally-respected investigator, I suggest that one need assume either that he will bring the information to the Congress, or that he is a partisan – indeed, traitorous – blackguard. I am willing to believe, unless and until I have evidence to the contrary, that Mr. Barr will do what is necessary to protect the United States while conducting his duty. While he clearly auditioned for the position he will now hold, it should not be forgotten: that his opinions regarding the President’s constitutional prerogatives and the limitations of the federal obstruction of justice statute are legally defensible; that he is not a longtime confidant of President Trump, having risen in the G.H.W. Bush administration; that he has testified that he has respect for the Special Counsel, and does not believe that Mr. Mueller would engage in a “Witch Hunt”; and that he has indicated that he will release as much of the Mueller Report to the public as he can in accordance with DOJ guidelines. I judge his qualified responses regarding release of the Mueller report and any conflict of issues he might have to comport with what one would expect from an able, savvy public servant intent on keeping his options open. Even if he doesn’t release Mr. Mueller’s full report to the public (which could be for completely justifiable grounds such as protection of CIA and FBI sources and methods), it doesn’t mean that he won’t make the entire report available in closed session to appropriate members of Congress if there is evidence of behavior threatening to the Republic. I suspect that he will ultimately opt to release the full report, for two reasons: his failure to do so will raise doubts about his role in the process, and … it will inevitably get out anyway.

There is reportedly some Democratic concern that Mr. Barr might redact parts of the Mueller Report dealing with President Trump’s behavior because there can be no recourse against Mr. Trump arising out of the Special Counsel’s investigation; a sitting President cannot be indicted under DOJ guidelines. Even if such would be the case, I would offer that Democrats’ concerns are misplaced. I don’t believe that there is a DOJ policy against indicting a President’s relatives. If the Mueller team has uncovered solid evidence of collusion between senior Trump Campaign officials and Russian operatives, it will almost certainly implicate Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner; if indictments of those worthies are handed down, the media focus on their criminal proceedings will not only be tantamount to indicting the President, it will emasculate what remains of his presidency. We could ironically end up with a situation in which Republicans want the President removed from office, so they can begin a political recovery under then-President Pence, while Democrats are content to have Mr. Trump swing in the political winds.

Making Federal Election Day a National Holiday

I assume that most are now aware that Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has sharply criticized House Democrats’ Bill HR-1, which includes, among other electoral reform changes, a provision designating federal election days as paid holidays for federal workers. (There are many parts of the bill that seem, at least as reported, sensible to me, but I haven’t read the bill and a reaction to its overall effect is beyond the scope of this note and at least as of today, my ken.) No end of pundits have hooted at Sen. McConnell’s comments, noting that they constitute a tacit admission of what voting statistics have consistently shown for quite a while: at least in politically purple areas of the country, the more people that vote, the better the Democrats fare.

While I deplore Mr. McConnell’s obvious sentiment – as dewy-eyed as I know it sounds, every American should hope that every American that is legally eligible to vote does so – I concur with the premise that we do not need additional federal cost without productivity at a time of spiraling deficits. I would suggest that Democrats call Mr. McConnell’s bid, and raise: offer a separate bill that makes federal election days national holidays (a counter that would cover all of our nation’s workers, not just federal employees) while providing that Presidents’ Day (which is apparently technically still called, “Washington’s Birthday”) shall only be observed as a national holiday in years in which federal elections are not held. (I originally considered the notion that Election Day replace Columbus Day, which is closer on the calendar to federal election days, but I understand that not all states heed Columbus Day.) It does not seem Noise to suggest that the Father of our Nation might consider a change to federal law that made it easier for more Americans to vote a greater testament to his legacy than remembering his birthday; I know I would.

Such a modification to the Democrats’ current measure would facilitate voting by our citizens while not increasing federal costs. [Somehow, I still don’t think Sen. McConnell will go for it ;)].