When the media and political establishment gang up against Donald Trump by calling him out for racism, idiocy and promoting violence, they’re absolutely right. Given how unpopular and discredited they are, however, they may be pushing some voters into Trump’s column.
“If Donald wins the general election, who the heck knows what he’d do as president?” —Ted Cruz
March 15, 2017 — In the most devastating attack on American soil, a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile carrying at least two nuclear warheads struck downtown Seattle just after 8 am, killing tens of thousands of residents at the height of the morning commute. “There’s nothing left…the city is just gone,” a spokesperson for the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced after hours of silence from the nation’s capital, which went on lockdown after the explosion. There has been no word from President Trump, who has presumably been taken to a safe location.
“The imperialist forces should now understand that Seattle is but the beginning, and the whole of the United States might turn into a sea of fire due to the foolhardy insults of the American tyrant,” Pyongyang announced in a statement released through its official Korean Central News Agency.
January 20, 2017 — Derided as a carnival barker who can read a crowd but never reads a book, President Donald Trump defied the pundits at an inauguration ceremony observers from across the American political spectrum called artful, unifying and universally inspiring.
Taking the microphone on a chilly but beautiful Washington morning before a crowd of several hundred thousand spectators — all of whom were treated to a People’s Breakfast on the Washington Mall beforehand — Trump focused on bringing the nation together after last year’s brutal four-way race between him, Democrat Hillary Clinton and independents Bernie Sanders and Paul Ryan.
“We may disagree about how to make America great again,” he said, an open smile across his face, “but we all want to make her great — and we love her. Toward that end,” he said, citing presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, “Mine will be a team of rivals — a team of smart, talented, diverse people. And I will listen to them!” he said, drawing applause as he pointed to Vice President Clinton and new economic czars Sanders and Paul Krugman.
Referencing one of his key campaign promises, he pledged to “begin building the wall” along the border with Mexico, but allowed that “there’s no way we can or should ask Mexico to pay for it.” At the same time, Trump said, “I’ve been listening to my excellent brain and my conscience, both of which say the same thing: if you haven’t committed a serious crime, you’re welcome to stay here — in your new home — and citizenship is yours if you want it.”
December 24, 2016 — During her primary battle against Bernie Sanders, President-Elect Hillary Clinton co-opted many of Sanders’ campaign promises to alleviate poverty and income inequality, and to go after Wall Street. Analysts say tacking left helped her seal the deal with the progressive base of the Democratic party.
Today, however, the Clinton transition office released a list of her cabinet picks — which read like business as usual. “It’s as though the Bernie surge never happened,” approvingly editorialized The New York Times, which endorsed Clinton.
Clinton’s choices are drawn from familiar center-right figures who served in the Obama and Bill Clinton administrations. Private equity executive Timothy Geithner is returning to his former post as secretary of the treasury. Clinton plans to nominate controversial Harvard economist Lawrence Summers to replace Janet Yellen as the head of the Federal Reserve Bank. In a move sure to dispirit liberals, she plans to nominate Republicans like Senator Orrin Hatch — “best friend I ever had in the senate” — as secretary of state and, most controversially, nonagenarian Henry Kissinger as national security adviser and to a new position, Director of Unmanned Aerial Defense — running the nation’s drone program, which Clinton announced last week she plans to expand.
With all the major posts filled, liberal supporters are pushing for ex-Obamaite Van Jones to get a spot like deputy undersecretary of agriculture.
January 21, 2017 — As expected, newly inaugurated President Bernie Sanders threw down the gauntlet, telling a joint session of the Republican-dominated Congress, “Enough is enough. The American people elected me to carry out a political revolution and now, goddammit, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
Decrying Republican intransigence — “the politics of saying no for its own sake, and for the sake of the top 1%” — Sanders warned congressmen and senators that they would pay a heavy price if they refuse to pass three pieces of legislation within the next 10 days: a $15 minimum wage, free public college tuition and Medicare for all.
“You can do this the easy way, and respect the mandate represented by my victory,” he said, “or you can make tens of millions of Americans come here to Washington, surround your offices and your homes, and refuse to leave until you do the right thing.”
Senate Majority Mitch McConnell struck a defiant tone following Sanders’ speech, calling it “blackmail” and “using democracy as a cudgel.” But GOP insiders say Sanders is likely to get much of what he wants.
“He ran on this income inequality stuff,” said a top-ranking party official who requested anonymity. “He’s been talking about it for decades. No one can claim there’s a bait and switch, or that they didn’t know exactly what he’d do if elected. How can we justify blocking the people’s will when it’s this clear?”
(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Bernie” is now on sale online and at all good bookstores.)
If you’re reading this, you probably follow the news. So you’ve probably heard of the latest iteration of the “crisis at the border”: tens of thousands of children, many of them unaccompanied by an adult, crossing the desert from Mexico into the United States, where they surrender to the Border Patrol in hope of being allowed to remain here permanently. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s detention and hearing system has been overwhelmed by the surge of children and, in some cases, their parents. The Obama Administration has asked Congress to approve new funding to speed up processing and deportations of these illegal immigrants.
Even if you’ve followed this story closely, you probably haven’t heard the depressing backstory — the reason so many Central Americans are sending their children on a dangerous thousand-mile journey up the spine of Mexico, where they ride atop freight trains, endure shakedowns by corrupt police and face rapists, bandits and other predators. (For a sense of what it’s like, check out the excellent 2009 film “Sin Nombre.”)
NPR and other mainstream news outlets are parroting the White House, which blames unscrupulous “coyotes” (human smugglers) for “lying to parents, telling them that if they put their kids in the hands of traffickers and get to the United States that they will be able to stay.” True: the coyotes are saying that in order to gin up business. Also true: U.S. law has changed, and many of these kids have a strong legal case for asylum. Unfortunately, U.S. officials are ignoring the law.
The sad truth is that this “crisis at the border” is yet another example of “blowback.”
Blowback is an unintended negative consequence of U.S. political, military and/or economic intervention overseas — when something we did in the past comes back to bite us in the ass. 9/11 is the classic example; arming and funding radical Islamists in the Middle East and South Asia who were less grateful for our help than angry at the U.S.’ simultaneous backing for oppressive governments (The House of Saud, Saddam, Assad, etc.) in the region.
More recent cases include U.S. support for Islamist insurgents in Libya and Syria, which destabilized both countries and led to the murders of U.S. consular officials in Benghazi, and the rise of ISIS, the guerilla army that imperils the U.S.-backed Maliki regime in Baghdad, respectively.
Confusing the issue for casual American news consumers is that the current border crisis doesn’t involve the usual Mexicans traveling north in search of work. Instead, we’re talking about people from Central American nations devastated by a century of American colonialism and imperialism, much of that intervention surprisingly recent. Central American refugees are merely transiting through Mexico.
“The unaccompanied children crossing the border into the United States are leaving behind mainly three Central American countries, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The first two are among the world’s most violent and all three have deep poverty, according to a Pew Research report based on Department of Homeland Security (DHS) information,” reports NBC News. “El Salvador ranked second in terms of homicides in Latin America in 2011, and it is still high on the list. Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are among the poorest nations in Latin America. Thirty percent of Hondurans, 17 percent of Salvadorans and 26 percent of Guatemalans live on less than $2 a day.”
The fact that Honduras is the biggest source of the exodus jumped out at me. That’s because, in 2009, the United States government — under President Obama — tacitly supported a military coup that overthrew the democratically elected president of Honduras. “Washington has a very close relationship with the Honduran military, which goes back decades,” The Guardian noted at the time. “During the 1980s, the US used bases in Honduras to train and arm the Contras, Nicaraguan paramilitaries who became known for their atrocities in their war against the Sandinista government in neighbouring Nicaragua.”
Honduras wasn’t paradise under President Manuel Zelaya. Since the coup, however, the country has entered a downward death spiral of drug-related bloodshed and political revenge killings that crashed the economy, brought an end to law, order and civil society, and now has some analysts calling it a “failed state” along the lines of Somalia and Afghanistan during the 1990s.
“Zelaya’s overthrow created a vacuum in security in which military and police were now focused more on political protest, and also led to a freeze in international aid that markedly worsened socio-economic conditions,” Mark Ungar, professor of political science at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York, told The International Business Times. “The 2009 coup, asserts [Tulane] professor Aaron Schneider, gave the Honduran military more political and economic leverage, at the same time as the state and political elites lost their legitimacy, resources and the capacity to govern large parts of the country.”
El Salvador and Guatemala, also narcostates devastated by decades of U.S. support for oppressive, corrupt right-wing dictatorships, are suffering similar conditions.
Talk about brass! The United States does it everything it can to screw up Central America — and then acts surprised when desperate people show up at its front gate trying to escape the (U.S.-caused) carnage. Letting the kids stay — along with their families — is less than the least we could do.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
“By early next year,” reports The Times’ Ben Welsh and Robert J. Lopez, the [Los Angeles Fire Department] expects its dispatchers to be using new, streamlined scripted questions that will help get LAFD ambulances en route seconds — even minutes — faster during cases of cardiac arrest and other time-critical emergencies.”
I won’t be so churlish as to greet this decidedly positive news with a question: Isn’t it a bit odd to announce that “time-critical emergencies” occurring between now and “early next year” will be treated like they’re not, well, time-critical?
If you could just hold off on your next heart attack until, say, April 2015, that’d be awesome.
More from the report: “The changes follow a barrage of criticism of the department’s 911 response system, including what experts say are sometimes lengthy and confusing pre-written questions that panicked callers must answer before dispatchers can get help on the way.”
If you’ve ever had to call 911, you’re nodding your head right now. The old/current/won’t change until 2015 system has long deployed a “what’s the rush” that belies the whole idea behind 911.
In the movies, emergency response is high-tech and manically efficient.
911 Operator: “911.”
Caller: “Oh my God — someone’s in the house! [Line goes dead.]
911 Operator to Police Dispatcher: “A woman is in trouble. Address: 422 Patterson, Unit 302.”
Dispatch: “Units due to arrive in 20 seconds. SWAT backup team on the way. Probably drones. Maybe Mel Gibson.”
911 Operator to Dispatcher: “For God sake, hurry — a woman may be in trouble, and she may be a hot starlet!”
When I call 911 in real life, the response is…efficient? Not so much .
911 Operator: “911.”
Me: “I just saw a car lose control on the 405 and flip over.”
911 Operator: “What’s your name?”
Me (thinking): “What difference does that make?”
911 Operator: “What is your phone number?”
Me (thinking): “Can’t you ask the NSA? I mean, aren’t you supposed to know that? Or do you guys not have caller ID? And also, shouldn’t you first be asking me where the accident is?”
911 Operator: “Are there any injuries?”
Me (thinking): “Do you seriously think I’d be talking to you on the phone — i.e., not helping — if I’d pulled over to help?”
911 Operator (not thinking): OK, we’re sending someone out.
Me: Shouldn’t you have done that, like, three minutes ago?
So yeah, good on the LAFD for this change. The new 911 will save lives. Next year.
But who knows? We might miss the chit-chat.
I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).
This week: Gov. Jerry Brown’s new budget projects paying off $28 billion in state debt. But the debt actually totals hundreds of billions of dollars. Possible solutions to paying off the whole thing? Maybe we could start by nationalizing Apple Computer.
I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles). This week: U.S. Border Patrol agents are asking Mexican and Central American TV stations to discourage illegal immigration. But simply reporting the news about the terrible US economy ought to do the trick.
The interconnectedness of the world economy means that US economic woes will have severe effects on others.
During the Tajik Civil War of the late 1990s soldiers loyal to the central government found an ingeniously simple way to conserve bullets while massacring members of the Taliban-trained opposition movement. They tied their victims together with rope and chucked them into the Pyanj, the river that marks the border with Afghanistan. “As long as one of them couldn’t swim,” explained a survivor of that forgotten hangover of the Soviet collapse as he walked me to one of the promontories used for this act of genocide, “they all died.”
Such is the state of today’s integrated global economy.
Interdependence, liberal economists believe, furthers peace—a sort of economic mutual assured destruction. If China or the United States were to attack the other, the attacker would suffer grave consequences. But as the U.S. economy deteriorates from the Lost Decade of the 2000s through the post-2008 meltdown into what is increasingly looking like Marx’s classic crisis of late-stage capitalism, internationalization looks more like a suicide pact.
Like those Tajiks whose fates were linked by tightly-tied lengths of cheap rope, Europe, China and most of the rest of the world are bound to the United States—a nation that seems both unable to swim and unwilling to learn.
The collapse of the Soviet Union, a process that began in the 1970s and culminated with dissolution in 1991, had wide-ranging international implications. Russia became a mafia-run narco-state; millions perished of famine. Weakened Russian control of Central Asia, especially Afghanistan, set the stage for an emboldened and highly organized radical Islamist movement. Not least, it left the United States as the world’s last remaining superpower.
From an economic perspective, however, the effects were basically neutral. Coupled with its reliance on state-owned manufacturing industries to minimize dependence upon foreign trade, the USSR’s use of a closed currency ensured that other countries were not significantly impacted when the ruble went into a tailspin.
Partly due to its wild deficit spending on the gigantic military infrastructure it claimed was necessary to fight the Cold War—and then, after brief talk of a “peace dividend” during the 1990s, even more profligacy on the Global War on Terror—now the United States is, like the Soviet Union before it, staring down the barrel of economic apocalypse.
I am pleased to announce that I am now writing a weekly long-form column for Al Jazeera English. Here is my second piece for Al Jazeera:
One Year Early, Obama’s Reelection Far From Certain
The American punditocracy (and, perhaps more importantly, Las Vegas oddsmakers) currently cite Barack Obama as their odds-on favorite to win next year’s presidential election. Some even predict a landslide.
Mainstream media politicos acknowledge the atrocious economy, with its real unemployment rate nearly matching the worst years of the Great Depression of the 1930s, as an obstacle to reelection. But most of them believe that other factors will prove decisive: disarray in the field of candidates for the nomination of the opposition Republican Party, the GOP’s reliance on discredited Reagan-style austerity measures for the masses coupled with tax cuts for the wealthy, and Obama’s assassination of Osama bin Laden.
Maybe they’re right. But if I were the President, I wouldn’t be offering the White House chef a contract renewal any time soon. Count me among the majority of Americans (54 to 44 percent) who told a March 2011 CNN/Opinion Research poll they think Obama will lose the 2012 election.
I could be wrong.
Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center, doesn’t think much of these so-called “trial-run” polls. “A review of polls conducted in the first quarter of the year preceding the election found many of them forecasting the wrong winner—often by substantial margins,” Keeter wrote in 2007, citing three elections as far back as 1968.
However, a historical analysis of the more recent presidential races, those over the two decades, reveals an even bigger gap. The year before a U.S. presidential election, the conventional wisdom is almost always wrong. The early favorite at this point on the calendar usually loses. So betting against the pundits—in this case, against Obama—is the safe bet at this point.
The meta question is: what difference does it make who wins next year? In practical terms, not much.
For one thing, American presidents tend to find more heartbreak than political success during their second terms. Had Richard Nixon retired in 1972, for example, he would have been fondly remembered as the architect of the Paris peace talks that ended the Vietnam War, the founder of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the defender of the working and middle class (for imposing wage and price controls to soften the effect of inflation). His second term saw him sinking into, and ultimately succumbing, to the morass of the Watergate scandal.
The next second termer, Ronald Reagan, was similarly preoccupied by scandal, in case the Iran-Contra imbroglio in which the United States traded arms to Iran in return for hostages held by students in Tehran and illegally funded right-wing death squads in Central America. Bill Clinton’s last four years were overshadowed by his developing romance, and the consequences of the revelation thereof, with intern Monica Lewinsky. George W. Bush’s second term, from 2005 to 2009, was defined by his administration’s inept response to hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the deteriorating security situation in U.S.-occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, and the economic collapse that began in 2008. His number-one political priority, privatizing the U.S. Social Security system, never got off the ground.
Presidents rarely accomplish much of significance during their second term. So why do they bother to run again? Good question. Whether it’s ego—1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is one hell of an address—or something else, I don’t know. Whatever, I have long maintained that a sane president would think of himself as standing for one four-year term, then announce his intention not to run again at the last possible moment.
From the standpoint of the American people and the citizens of countries directly affected by U.S. foreign policy, it is unlikely that the basic nature of the beast will change much regardless of Obama’s fortunes in the next election. One only has to consider the subtle “differences” between the tenures of Presidents Bush and Obama.
On the domestic front Obama continued and expanded upon Bush’s non-reaction to the economic crisis, exploiting the panic created by widespread unemployment, the bursting of the housing bubble and a massive foreclosure crisis that put tens of millions of Americans out of their homes in order to pour hundreds of billions of federal dollars into the pockets of the top executives of the nation’s largest banks, with no resulting stimulus effect whatsoever. Controversial attacks on privacy rights and civil liberties inaugurated by the Bush years were expanded and extended: the USA-Patriot Act, the National Security Agency “domestic surveillance” program that allowed the government to spy on U.S. citizens’ phone calls, emails and other communications. Obama even formalized Bush’s assertion that the president has the right to unilaterally order the assassination of anyone, including a U.S. citizen, without evidence or proof that he or she has committed a crime.
As promised during the 2008 campaign, Obama expanded the U.S. war against Afghanistan, transforming what Bush described as a short-term attempt to find Osama bin Laden after 9/11 into the most protracted military conflict in the history of the United States. The war continued in Iraq, albeit with “combat” troops redefined as “trainers.” During the last few years, the “global war on terror” expanded into Pakistan, east Africa, Libya and Yemen. Drone attacks escalated. Violating his campaign promises, he continued to keep torture available as a legal option—indeed, he ordered it against a U.S. solder, Private First Class Bradley Manning—and kept Guantánamo and other Bush-era concentration camps open.
If Obama goes down to defeat next year, then, the results should be viewed less as a shift in overall U.S. policy—hegemonic, imperialistic, increasingly authoritarian—than one that is symbolic. An Obama defeat would reflect the anger of ordinary Americans caught in the “two-party trap,” flailing back and forth between the Dems and the Reps, voting against the party in power to express their impotent rage, particularly at the economy. Mr. Hopey-Changey’s trip back to Chicago would mark the end of a brief, giddy, moment of reformism.
The argument that an overextended, indebted empire can be repaired via internal changes of personnel would be dead. With the reformism that Obama embodied no longer politically viable, American voters would be once again faced, as are the citizens of other repressive states, with the choice between sullen apathy and revolution.
Obamaism is currently believed to be unstoppable. If history serves as an accurate predictor, that belief is good cause to predict its defeat next November.
During the late spring and early summer of 1991, just over a year before the 1992 election, President George H.W. Bush was soaring in the polls in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, which the American media positively portrayed as successful, quick, internationalist, and cost the lives of few America soldiers. A March 1991 CBS poll gave him an 88 percent approval rating—a record high.
By October 1991 Bush was heavily favored to win. A Pew Research poll found that 78 percent of Democratic voters thought Bush would defeat any Democratic nominee. New York governor Mario Cuomo, an eloquent, charismatic liberal star of the party, sized up 1992 as unwinnable and decided not to run.
When the votes were counted, however, Democrat Bill Clinton defeated Bush, 43 to 37.5 percent. Although Republicans blamed insurgent billionaire Ross Perot’s independent candidacy for siphoning away votes from Bush, subsequent analyses do not bear this out. In fact, Perot’s appeal had been bipartisan, attracting liberals opposed to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the U.S., Canada and Mexico and globalization in general, as well as conservative deficit hawks.
The most credible explanation for Bush’s defeat was handwritten on a sign that the victorious Bill Clinton’s campaign manager famously taped to the wall of the Dems’ war room: “It’s the economy, stupid.” As the 1989-1993 recession deepened Bush’s ratings tumbled to around 30 percent. A February 1992 incident, in which Bush was depicted by The New York Times as wearing “a look of wonder” when confronted with a supermarket price scanning machine, solidified his reputation with voters as patrician, out of touch, and unwilling to act to stimulate the economy or alleviate the suffering of the under- and unemployed. “Exit polls,” considered exceptionally reliable because they query voters seconds after exiting balloting places, showed that 75 percent of Americans thought the economy was “bad” or “very bad.”
In 1995, Bill Clinton was preparing his reelection bid. On the Republican side, Kansas senator and 1976 vice presidential candidate Bob Dole was expected to (and did) win his party’s nomination. Perot ran again, but suffered from a media blackout; newspapers and broadcast outlets had lost interest in him after a bizarre meltdown during the 1992 race in which he accused unnamed conspirators of plotting to violently disrupt his daughter’s wedding. He received eight percent in 1996.
Clinton trounced Dole, 49 to 40 percent. In 1995, however, that outcome was anything but certain. Bill Clinton had been severely wounded by a series of missteps during his first two years in office. His first major policy proposal, to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. military, was so unpopular that he was forced to water it down into the current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” compromise. Clinton’s 1993 attempt to deprivatize the healthcare system, mocked as HillaryCare after he put his wife in charge of marketing it, went down to defeat. He signed the pro-corporate, Republican-backed trade agreement, NAFTA, alienating his party’s liberal and progressive base. Low voter turnout by the American left in the 1994 midterm elections led to the “Republican Revolution,” a historic sweep of both houses of the American Congress by right-wing conservatives led by the fiery new Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.
1995 saw the so-called “co-presidency” between Gingrich and a cowed Bill Clinton, who was reduced to telling a press conference that “the president is relevant.” The United States, which does not have a European-style parliamentary system, had never seen a president so politically weak while remaining in office.
During the spring and summer of 1995 Bob Dole was already the heir apparent to the nomination of a Republican Party that traditionally rewards those who wait their turn. Dole was a seasoned campaigner, a Plains States centrist whose gentlemanly demeanor and credentials as a hero of World War II. Conventional wisdom had him beating Clinton. So did the polls. A March 1995 Los Angeles Times poll had Dole defeating Clinton, 52 to 44 percent in a head-to-head match-up. “Among all voters, Clinton’s generic reelect remains dismal, with 40 percent inclined to vote him in again and 53% tilting or definitely planning a vote against him,” reported the Times.
By late autumn, however, the polls had flipped. Though statisticians differ about how big a factor it was, a summer 1995 shutdown of the federal government blamed on the refusal of Gingrich’s hardline Republicans to approve the budget turned the tide. At the end of the year the die was cast. As Americans began to pay more attention to his challenger they recoiled at Dole’s age—if elected, he would have been the oldest president in history, even older than Reagan—as it contrasted with Clinton’s youthful vigor. The Democrat coasted to reelection. But that’s not how things looked at this stage in the game.
When analyzing the 2000 race, remember that Republican George W. Bush lost the election to Al Gore by a bizarre quirk of the American system, the Electoral College. The U.S. popular vote actually determines the outcome of elected delegates to the College from each of the 50 states. The winner of those delegates is elected president.
Most of the time, the same candidate wins the national popular vote and the Electoral College tally. In 2000, there is no dispute: Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote, 48.4 to 47.9 percent. There was a legal dispute over 25 electoral votes cast by the state of Florida; ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court decided, along party lines, to award the state to Bush despite clear indications that Gore would have won recounts by tens of thousands of votes in that state.
Regardless of one’s views of the 2000 Florida recount controversy, from a predictive standpoint, one should assume that Gore won because no one could have anticipated a difference between the results of the electoral and popular votes.
Under normal circumstances Gore should have faced, as Dick Cheney said about the Iraq invasion, a cakewalk. A popular sitting vice president, he enjoyed the trappings of incumbency and a reputation as a thoughtful environmentalist and government efficiency expert. The economy was booming—always a good argument for the “don’t change horses in midstream” sales pitch. The early favorite on the Republican side, George W. Bush, was considered an intellectual lightweight who would get eaten alive the first time the two met in a presidential debate. But Monicagate had wounded Bill Clinton to the extent that Gore made a fateful decision to disassociate himself from the president who had appointed him.
A January 1999 CNN poll had Bush over Gore, 49 to 46 percent. By June 2000 the same poll had barely budged: now it was 49 to 45 percent. “The results indicate that the public is far more likely to view Texas Governor George W. Bush as a strong and decisive leader, and is also more confident in Bush’s ability to handle an international crisis—a worrisome finding for a vice president with eight years of international policy experience,” analyzed CNN in one of the most frightening summaries of the American people’s poor judgment ever recorded.
Gore didn’t become president. But he won the 2000 election. Once again, the media was wrong.
In the 2004 election, it was my turn to screw up. Howard Dean, the combative liberal darling and former Vermont governor, was heavily favored to win the Democratic nomination against incumbent George W. Bush. I was so convinced at his inevitability after early primary elections and by the importance of unifying the Democratic Party behind a man who could defeat Bush that I authored a column I wish I could chuck down the memory hole calling for the party to suspend remaining primaries and back Dean. In 2004, John Kerry won the nomination.
But I wasn’t alone. Polls and pundits agreed that George W. Bush, deeply embarrassed by the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, would lose to Kerry, a Democrat with a rare combination of credentials: he was a bonafide war hero during the Vietnam War and a noted opponent of the war after his service there.
Bush trounced Kerry. “How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?” asked Britain’s Daily Mirror. Good question. Maybe that’s why no one saw it coming.
Which brings us to the most recent presidential election. First, the pundit class was wrong about the likely Democratic nominee. Former First Lady and New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, everyone “knew,” would win. It wasn’t even close. An August 2007 Gallup/USA Today poll had Clinton ahead of Obama, 48 to 26 percent. As it turned out, many Democratic primary voters were wowed by Obama’s charisma and annoyed by Clinton’s refusal to apologize for her brazenly cynical vote in favor of the Iraq war in 2003. Aging Arizona Senator John McCain, on the other hand, remained the best-funded, and thus the continuous favorite, on the Republican side.
Obama’s advantages over McCain became clear by 2008. “The political landscape overwhelmingly favors Obama,” reported USA Today in June. At this point in 2007?
He didn’t stand a chance.
Ted Rall is an American political cartoonist, columnist and author. His most recent book is The Anti-American Manifesto. His website is rall.com.