Spotted lily

Spotted lily

Monday, September 26, 2016

Sympathy for a Clinton??

This election cycle has brought many surprising developments that we wouldn’t have thought possible less than two years ago.  I personally would never have expected to find myself motivated to spring to the defense of Hillary Clinton, but this has been a very topsy-turvy year in politics.  So, such as they are, I’d like to offer a few thoughts related to recent criticisms of the Democratic presidential nominee.

I must say that I’ve found much of the reaction to Hillary Clinton’s recent health problems both a bit puzzling and disappointing.  Generally, I just don’t see “health-gate” as some sort of big scandal.  People have cited the “failure” to promptly disclose her pneumonia diagnosis or the details of her unsteadiness following the 9/11 memorial event as further evidence of a tendency towards secrecy and a lack of openness, but I think that they should stick to other areas in seeking to make those points.  Getting such a sickness is not a character flaw, nor does it render a person incapable of serving in high office.  I don’t think that it’s particularly shocking that a candidate diagnosed with what she expects to be a short-term illness that she can work through would not see the need to broadcast the information, especially when it is likely to divert attention from the more substantive issues of the campaign.   I also think it’s completely understandable for anyone actually feeling quite unwell and possibly faint at a particular moment to seek the opportunity for a couple  of hours of rest away from the press or other outside attention.  Hillary is still just a candidate, so we were not dealing with a situation where the public should feel a need to know whether a President’s health had become compromised to the point that the Vice President was now actually in charge.  I realize that, not without some good reasons, many people, including Republican and conservative media figures, dislike Mrs. Clinton.  Still, it seems to me that reacting to news that a person has pneumonia and nearly collapsed while leaving an event by attacking her for not sharing all of her health details with the press as they happen is more than a little uncharitable.  Some brief comments wishing her a quick recovery would have seemed more appropriate, even if followed by discussion of issue-related reasons for opposition to her candidacy.  Along these same lines, I find online headlines mocking Clinton as “old and sick Hillary” or commercials including her cough as a strike against her very unseemly.  People have frequently characterized Hillary Clinton as robotic, but -- news flash -- she is a human being.  Even if you don’t think she or other Democrats would return the favor, please try to treat her health problems with a little compassion, at least publicly.  

Hillary Clinton’s remarks at a fundraiser a few weeks ago, in which she referred to some of Donald Trump’s supporters as “deplorable,” caused quite a controversy.  To  me, the outrage over her comments is overblown, as was the negative reaction to Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” statement four years ago.  It is clearly not politically wise for a candidate to criticize any sizable groups of the American electorate, but perhaps those commenting on races from the outside could acknowledge that the American voting public is not comprised entirely of perfect people who are above reproach and that some critical assessments of voters may be true.  There are some Trump backers who do hold the types of hateful views to which Clinton referred and who engage in terrible rhetoric to match on social media and in other places, and I don’t think it’s inappropriate to call these people “deplorable.”  They are, of course, nowhere near half of Trump’s supporters, and Hillary did acknowledge that she had overgeneralized in her comments. I think it’s unfortunate that so many on Trump’s side (including those sending out Republican fund-raising appeals), rather than emphasizing that the individuals who would fit in Hillary’s basket are rejected by the vast majority of those in their camp, instead preferred to act as though she’d condemned everyone intending to vote for the Republican in November’s election.  Many “regular” people also seem to have embraced the “deplorable” label (in online names, for example), which seems an odd response.  Even if you somehow feel that being criticized by Hillary Clinton is some sort of badge of honor, why would you place yourself into a targeted group that doesn’t actually include you?

The second half of Clinton’s statements about Trump supporters at the above-mentioned event did not receive as much attention, but I think they were also interesting and seemed to be an attempt to express a more balanced attitude toward Republicans, including Trump enthusiasts.  Mrs. Clinton described a second group of Trump supporters who feel hurt by economic developments, let down by the government, ignored, etc. and who are therefore mainly seeking change in backing Trump, and she said that it was necessary to understand and empathize with these people.  Bill Kristol (noted anti-Trump editor of The Weekly Standard, but also no fan of Clinton) characterized Hillary’s remarks as treating the people about whom she was talking as a “pitiable other” and as no way to successfully reach out or win anyone over.  I admire Mr. Kristol, but I don’t see it that way.  Clinton’s comments actually seemed to me to reflect some “lessons” many on the Right have been saying Republicans should learn from Donald Trump’s campaign success ever since he took off in primary polling.  I’ve never been at all convinced that there are any logical reasons for sensible American voters to believe Trump is a good presidential choice or that he’s the only one paying attention to their concerns, but perhaps Hillary Clinton should have gotten a little credit for showing some respect to many of Trump’s supporters instead of being accused of attacking all of them as racists, Islamophobes, etc. 

I happen to disagree with Hillary Clinton about a great many things, and I’d say that she doesn’t have the most naturally engaging speaking style, so she is far from my ideal presidential candidate.  However, especially as the race seems to have tightened in the last several weeks, there have been plenty of people suggesting that Trump only remains anywhere within striking distance because Hillary is such a terrible candidate.  The implication is that basically any other Democrat would be convincingly defeating Donald Trump by now, and I’m not at all sure that that is the case.  Does this mean that Trump would not have won the Republican nomination if only there had been at least one decent candidate in the field??  Please -- his opponents were a stellar group, but a plurality of voters wanted Trump.  Although I  can’t understand why anyone would make that choice, the same might hold true in the general election.  Might a different Democrat nominee (Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Tim Kaine, etc.) attract more voters?  Maybe, but I don’t think it’s a sure thing.  (I do wonder how tempted the party was during Hillary’s bout of pneumonia to use concern for her health as an opportunity to let someone else take over as nominee and test out the theory...)

One last point:  many right-leaning commentators have complained that Hillary Clinton has gotten a “free pass” from the media regarding topics such as her e-mail server and the Clinton Foundation, but I wouldn’t describe it that way.  The stories about these issues are in the news all the time.  Even if they are only mentioned briefly and don’t include editorial conclusions that Hillary was not honest or broke laws regarding classified information, these developments are not being ignored, and it seems likely they have been damaging to her campaign.  She may get friendlier treatment from the mainstream media than Trump does, but she hasn’t received a “free pass.”

Hillary Clinton has had a rough time lately in her run for the presidency, with criticism coming at her for everything from legitimate issues, such as the mishandling of classified e-mails, to things that would seem outside politics or her control, such as coming down with an illness.  As Election Day approaches, I’d expect the scrutiny to continue and even intensify, and the way she handles it will likely have a big impact on her chances of prevailing in November.  I’m willing to offer her a little sympathy, particularly when people “pile on” or kick her while she’s down.  How many others, especially among swing voters, will also feel this way?  This, too, may make a significant difference in determining who our next President will be.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Concerned about Honesty and Trust in a President? Trump's not your Guy

Although this particular nightmare of a presidential campaign has already been causing me anguish for what seems like far longer than its fifteen months, now that Labor Day has come and gone, many say that we have moved into what has traditionally been considered general election season.  Judging by some of the latest developments, it would appear that the political world will continue to be crazily disturbing during the final months of this campaign and very possibly for the next few years.

As a conservative whose first presidential election as an eligible voter saw a victory by the... ummm... rather shady Bill Clinton over the much more upstanding President George H. W. Bush, and who has seen the only two subsequent results that favored my preferred candidate take place in quite harrowing and narrow fashion, I have for a very long time been quite disappointed by and critical of the choices many of my fellow citizens have made in selecting so many liberal Democrats as our Chief Executives.  Now, though, trying to make sense of what people find acceptable or desirable in a president or what they see as making someone a good leader is even more incredibly baffling, as I find myself also disagreeing with those who support the Republican nominee. 

Donald Trump’s numbers in more recent polls have shown a much closer race between him and Hillary Clinton, so it appears that more and more potential voters are deciding that this tabloid and reality show “celebrity” is qualified to be the President of the United States.  I am well aware that Mrs. Clinton is a candidate with many flaws, but it seems to me that the extent to which Trump shares those faults is largely being disregarded.  For example, it is often reported that polls show most people do not think Clinton is honest or trustworthy, and the almost-daily stream of stories about her e-mails and the Clinton Foundation are unlikely to help her improve those perceptions.  However, I don’t find the argument that “Clinton is dishonest and corrupt, therefore we must vote for Trump” at all persuasive.  In fact, I find it rather mind-boggling, so let’s take a quick tour of just a few of Trump’s less-than stellar qualities.

Donald Trump is a habitually dishonest man.  He has been lying about things big and small throughout this campaign.  From his claims that he, in his superior wisdom, always opposed the war in Iraq and that his strong Christianity has led the IRS to hound him with constant audits since the administration of George W. Bush (not-previously known for an anti-religious bias), to his assertions that he was the one to promote Cleveland as the site for the Republican convention and that the NFL had written him a letter expressing dissatisfaction with the fall debate schedule, Trump apparently has no qualms about foisting an amazing number of untruths on the American public.  Since he does this even when his statements can easily be proven false, he doesn’t seem worried that a lack of honesty will hurt him, which is interesting for someone who felt assigning the nickname “Lyin’ Ted” to one of his chief primary opponents would be particularly damaging.  Perhaps Trump expects that, no matter how much contrary evidence there may be, voters will actually believe what may be his biggest lie of all:  that he will always tell them the truth.

During his run for president, Donald Trump has taken multiple and often-shifting positions on many issues.  Recently, he even spent around a week very publicly dithering about whether or not he would “soften” the tough stance on illegal immigration that people have come to identify as one of the most prominent features of his campaign.  In the end, he stuck to some plans about the topic and left others up in the air for the future.  To me, this was just another indication that no one should have much confidence that a President Trump (perish the thought) would actually pursue any particular policy that he proposes as a candidate, but Trump’s supporters don’t seem to let such things trouble them for long.  I don’t know if they assume that whichever of his contradictory ideas they like are the ones he really  means or if they just trust Trump so much that they believe whatever he finally decides to do will be the right thing.  For the latter scenario to be true for any significant number of people would be a pretty scary and depressing thought.  After all, in addition to his frequent flip-flopping, Trump’s long record of breaking promises and violating people’s trust, including his failure to live up to contracts and business deals, his personal/marital history, and his questionable business enterprises, should serve as ample demonstration that he is completely undeserving of any such devoted faith.  (By the way, why was that Trump University fraud court case postponed from summertime until after the election, again?)

It’s certainly understandable that many people are concerned about corruption in government and about the possibility of politicians using their positions for personal gain.  Donald Trump has spent quite a bit of time telling us that pretty much everyone in political life, especially in Washington, is bought and paid for by their campaign donors and that he would be different because he was paying for his own campaign.  This may sound good to voters at first glance, but Trump also told us that he knows about this terribly corrupt system because he himself was part of it for years, donating to various politicians so that they would do things for him down the line.  Furthermore, Trump’s claims to be self-funding during the   primaries weren’t really true, but, in any case, he openly moved to a donation-seeking model for the general election phase of the campaign.  Others have pointed out before that Trump’s own characterization of the relationship between donors and candidates would seem to mean that he would now be “owned” by those who give him money, but we needn’t dwell on that at the moment.  More to the point are eyebrow-raising stories about Trump spending some of the money donated to his campaign in ways that  benefit him, his family, and his businesses.  Using campaign funds to cover steadily increasing office-space rent at Trump properties or to purchase large quantities of Trump books for distribution to convention-goers, for example, don’t exactly epitomize good stewardship of supporters’ money or altruistic public service.  I would also point out that it seems those wishing to wield influence over Mr. Trump’s judgment don’t necessarily need to give him money or material gifts, but can merely offer a bit of flattery to sway his opinion.  For instance, Trump has repeatedly praised and defended Russian leader Vladimir Putin, even when interviewers point out that Putin has invaded neighboring countries and is believed to have had opponents and journalists killed.  Why does Trump have a positive view of Putin?  Well, in his own words, “if he says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him.”  How reassuring to think that the pronouncements of our president might be determined by such criteria.  Finally, for those who believe that, no matter what, the Clintons and their friends are the champions of self-serving political corruption, we should not forget that, until very recently, Donald Trump was part of that very circle himself.  He praised Mrs. Clinton’s work at the State Department, said she would make a good president, and donated to both the Clinton Foundation and to Hillary’s 2008 presidential campaign, and she (in return, according to his comments in a debate last year) attended his most recent wedding. 

It would be wonderful to have an honest, trustworthy candidate free from suspicion of corruption to wholeheartedly support in the presidential election, but the primary process has ensured that no such option is available from the major parties this year.  Hillary Clinton’s shortcomings in these areas are under near-constant discussion, but if dishonesty and questionable political or financial dealings disqualify her from the presidency, we’ll have to rule Donald Trump out of consideration, as well.   Of course, barring some stunning development, one of the two will be our next president, and it seems that, for whatever reason, Trump’s chances improved quite a bit during August.  We’ll see how things turn out, but no one should be under the illusion that, should Trump win, we’d have a Lincolnian “Honest Donald” rather than a Nixonian “Tricky Trump” in the White House.