When a Country Reeling from Crisis Turns to an Aging Father Figure

Vichy/ Free France and Lead up

Not long ago, there was a country whose people were suffering a devastating moral, political and economic crisis. Before the crash they were certain of their place in the world; theirs was, even in the opinion of their adversaries, an exceptionally prosperous, powerful and politically vibrant civilization whose culture had disproportionate influence around the planet.

Then everything collapsed. Just like that, seemingly out of nowhere, they were laid low, lost, no hope in sight.

No one was sure why. But there was no shortage of scapegoats. The left blamed the right, the right blamed the left, and everyone wondered whether it was simply a meta case of nothing good lasts forever.

Before the collapse this nation had been a military and economic colossus, a superpower possessing one of the world’s biggest navies and one of its strongest armies. It controlled a vast empire. What had happened was unthinkable. Yet there it was.

This was France in 1940. In just six weeks, Germany—itself defeated and humiliated by France 20 years earlier—had invaded and subjugated this proudest of peoples. How, the French asked themselves, could they have been so unprepared? Why had their much-vaunted democracy, first in the West, failed?

In their time of need this desperate people turned to the leadership of a revered father figure, an elder statesman. His advanced age and halting manner worried some. (He was probably suffering from Alzheimer’s.) The leader “is good for three or four hours a day… but when he is tired, especially in the evening, you can get him to sign what you want without him realizing,” one of his ministers said at the time.

The old man’s politics included unwholesome dalliances with reactionaries. But he had a long record of service to the nation. His patriotism was unquestioned. He claimed not to have sought power; he had stepped up, he reassured the people, to protect and guide them through a terrible time. “I make France,” Marshal Philippe Pétain told the French after ordering the army to surrender, “the gift of my person.”

France should have returned that gift.

Some wondered whether, at age 84, Pétain was too old to understand that he was being used. Playing on his name, critics called him “maréchal péteux”—senile. The Marshal had certainly lost a lot of sharpness since World War I when he led the miraculous victory at the Battle of Verdun—“on les aura!” he had cried to his dispirited troops, deliberately echoing Joan of Arc—that many believed to have turned the tide of what had felt like a doomed war.

It is more likely that the Hero of Verdun, a vain and reactionary man who had always been stubbornly resistant to suggestions he might be on a wrong course, felt vindicated by the catastrophe. In his view, and he was hardly alone, louche liberalism had led France to a sorry fate. It was his fate to salvage the mess and keep the Germans at bay—and his opportunity to create a cult of personality under a pathetic sub-dictatorship.

As the rot of his brain proceeded, Pétain became apathetic and withdrawn, leaving the outright fascists in his puppet administration to collaborate with the Nazis enthusiastically. His government protected no one. It deported tens of thousands of Jews to Nazi death camps, tortured and shot members of the communist-led Resistance and turned over so much cash and food to the Reich that France soon had the highest hunger rate in occupied Europe. Today Pétain’s name is synonymous with weakness and treason.

Unless Trumpian legal challenges to mail-in ballots don’t trigger a 12th Amendment scenario, polls indicate that desperate Americans are about to turn to a father figure with visibly diminished mental capacity to lead them out of a deep crisis whose causes and nature they have not yet internalized.

While it is undeniable that Donald Trump’s initial non-response to the COVID-19 pandemic and his bizarre refusal to embrace basic medical protocols increased the economic costs and killed more patients, the fundamental causes of the crisis were structural: predatory corporate capitalism that long predated his presidency, a for-profit healthcare system without a social safety net, poor diet and obesity, staggering disparity of wealth, previous administrations’ outsourcing the manufacture of vital supplies such as masks, too much power vested in local and state governments.

I do not expect President Joe Biden to sell us out to foreign enemies. He will not fill his cabinet with proto-fascists, as did Pétain. Like Pétain, however, he has neither the vigor nor the vision nor  the political orientation required to get us through the coronavirus crisis or to correct the systemic flaws that made a terrible problem unnecessarily worse. When he was called upon to defend Anita Hill and block the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court but enabled him instead, when he ought to have taken a stand for African-American men systemically condemned to draconian prison terms but joined the racist jail-them-all crowd, when he had doubts about the Obama Administration’s decisions to destroy Libya and Syria and remained silent—whenever he was required to stand tall and speak up—Biden failed the test of leadership. And that was when he was a more lucid, younger man.

Not unlike Pétain, Biden seems unable to work more than a few hours a day.

If Biden wins, only three things can save us from this crisis. If he dies or is incapacitated and President Kamala Harris turns out to listen to better angels she didn’t reveal as DA, we may have a shot at recovery. If Biden’s cabinet turns out to be a remarkable collection of Best and Brightest and he serves as their figurehead, we could muddle through. If the American people rise up and overthrow this corrupt and moribund government and replace it with one that serves our needs, and we somehow manage to avoid the despotism that often follows revolution, we might emerge better than ever.

I am not optimistic.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

After The Donald, The Deluge?

French Revolution Series Ordered at Netflix - ComingSoon.net

           Joe Biden enjoys a double-digit lead over the incumbent president because he promises a return to normalcy—not the platonic ideal of objective normalcy in a country that doesn’t torture or spy on its citizens or let them starve because their coding chops are a few years out of date. Americans desperately want to resume “normal” political life as Americans knew it before the last four years of manic presidential tweetstorms, authoritarian strongman antics and pandemic pandemonium. As Michigan voter Katybeth Davis told The Guardian, “I just want it [the Trump presidency] to be over with. I really do.”

            Be careful what you wish for. Things could get even crazier under Biden.

            Even though it’s only a few weeks away, I am hesitant to call the election. Biden has a huge lead in the polls but Trump has an ace in the hole: an unprecedented volume of mail-in ballots due to the COVID pandemic, which will run predominantly Democratic and provide attractive targets for Republican attorneys to drag out state vote counts past the December 14th electoral college certification deadline, which would trigger the obscure 12th Amendment scenario in which 50 states each get one vote for president in the next House of Representatives, in which case Trump wins even if Biden wins the popular vote by a lot.

            But let’s assume Biden prevails. Let’s say it’s a blue wave election and the Democrats expand their majority in the House and take control of the Senate. What happens next? Revolution, maybe.

            Revolution would certainly be likelier under Biden than under Trump.

            One of history’s least-discussed ironies is a counterintuitive pattern: it is not the vicious tyrants who are overthrown by angry mobs, but well-meaning liberal reformers who promise to fix a broken system and fall short of expectations.

            A Biden Administration will face several daunting existential challenges. Unlike Obama, whose high approval rating at inauguration prolonged his political honeymoon into his second year, Biden will enjoy little to no support from Republican voters or elected representatives. Progressives will pressure him from the left. Worse, Biden will inherit problems that have been neglected or exacerbated for so long that no solution will be able to come fast enough.

A president who will have achieved victory by campaigning against his predecessor’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic will be expected to quickly turn around the ongoing medical and economic disasters with lightning quick results. Like Obama, Biden has promised to add a “public option” to the Affordable Care Act; he’ll need to do that right away. That’s only the beginning: the ACA will collapse unless Congress vastly increases premium subsidies to middle-class patients and orders Medicaid expansion nationally.

The $600-a-week supplemental unemployment benefits that both parties allowed to expire during the summer will have to be replaced in some form. There will need to be meaningful broad-based relief for distressed renters and homeowners facing eviction or foreclosure; without an infusion of cash millions of people who formerly belonged to the middle and working classes will become homeless, adding to social and political instability. Billions will have to be pumped into the economy in the form of direct stimulus checks to every man, woman and child. The alternative is economic collapse.

The presidency, of course, is about more than policy. Many Americans who believed in exceptionalism a few years ago are wondering aloud whether the U.S. is literally over and done. During times of crisis, leaders are called upon to reassure citizens that a wise and steady hand is at the helm and that a team of intelligent and innovative advisors is running the show behind the scenes.

Can Biden deliver? On most fronts, probably not.

The Democratic Party is too beholden to its corporate donors to enact the FDR-style stimulus and social programs that are required to dig out of an economic hole filled with tens of millions of newly unemployed workers and where one out of five businesses have gone broke. Biden comes out of the Clinton/Obama/Democratic Leadership Council austerity wing of his party. His instinct will be to spend as little as possible in order to try to balance the budget.

“When we get in, the pantry is going to be bare,” says Ted Kaufman, who will run the transition office that will select Biden’s top personnel. “When you see what Trump’s done to the deficit…forget about COVID-19, all the deficits that he built with the incredible tax cuts. So we’re going to be limited.” Kaufman, a former Delaware senator, promises that Biden won’t significantly increase federal spending.

The streets are already seething. Austerity will bring things to a boil.

Political suicide by fiscal means.

The Soviet Union didn’t collapse under Josef Stalin. It couldn’t have. He would have ruthlessly crushed any meaningful opposition. Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev presided over graduated liberalization but it was under Mikhail Gorbachev, architect of perestroika, that the USSR went out of business. Gorbachev, arguably the best, brightest and most decent premier the Soviet system could allow to come to power and the best the Russian people could hope for, failed to deliver the improvements in living standards and personal freedoms people wanted and needed. It was precisely the fact that he was so excellent, yet couldn’t deliver, that exposed the corruption and incompetence inherent to the system.

Neither Khrushchev nor Brezhnev nor Gorbachev were the problem. The system itself was. It had to go.

Similarly, the French Revolution couldn’t have succeeded under Louis XIV; the Sun King was too brutal and autocratic. Louis XVI attempted numerous reforms to make life better for the French, including the free distribution of grain, slashing the royal budget and the abolition of torture and servitude. He granted equal rights to Jews and Protestants, tried to tax the nobility (they refused) and began a transition toward parliamentary monarchy as in Great Britain. But the reforms were insufficient, internal forces were intransigent and resentments had built up for too long. The French were hungry and angry so Louis XVI lost his head to the guillotine.

So it went in Russia. Although Czar Nicholas II was a bit of a clueless dolt, he recognized the crisis and desperately tried to save a collapsing system. He introduced civil liberties, worked to increase literacy, granted representation to local districts throughout the country and modernized the empire’s infrastructure. Again, it wasn’t enough. He destroyed the economy by squandering the treasury on wars of choice, refused to consider democratization and ultimately succumbed to the resistance of shortsighted Russian aristocrats. Lenin and the Bolsheviks had long argued that the Russian government was corrupt and unwilling to provide for the needs of the people. Only when Nicholas II’s reforms proved to be too little too late did they agree and rise up.

Like Gorbachev, Louis XVI and Nicholas II, President Biden will disappoint at the worst possible time.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

 

What to Expect from Tonight’s Vice Presidential Debate

Executive summary: Mike Pence is a more formidable adversary than you think. Kamala Harris is a worse debater than you remember.

Kamala Harris is known for one thing from her failed presidential primary run: kneecapping Joe Biden, her future running mate, with her “I was that girl on the bus” cheese ball. But there’s a reason she only scored 2% in those primaries: she isn’t much of a campaigner and, in general, she’s not quick on her feet. Not to mention, voters aren’t particularly fond of mean people who send innocent people of color to prison, fight in court to deny their right to get DNA testing, don’t apologize, and don’t try to get them out. She’s evil and we know it.

Mike Pence, on the other hand, his remembered mainly for referring to his wife as “mother“ and for gazing adoringly at President Trump for elevating him from representing Indiana.

Many Democrats I know are salivating at the thought of the former prosecutor eating Trump’s number two alive. I don’t think it’s going to go that way.

Like most vice presidential debates, tonight will be a fight between two surrogates mainly talking about their bosses, President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden. This will be like that even more than usual. Neither figure here has a major profile like Dick Cheney. But don’t be surprised if Pence goes after her personally for her record as a prosecutor.

The major point of interest here is the wild difference in their personalities and speaking styles. In a way, they will be speaking completely different languages so they might not really connect against each other. The question is, will they connect with the television audience watching at home?

Mike Pence is creepy and weird but he’s going to do better than you think. He is methodical, calm and not easily flustered. Harris, ever the prosecutor, is best when rehearsed so she will come with plenty of prepackaged “girl on the bus” type of zingers. But she’s not used to being attacked one on one so Pence could easily throw her off balance if he comes at her hard or from an unexpected angle.

If I have to handicap this — and I guess I do – I’m going to give the advantage to Mike Pence.

President Trump Neither Needs Nor Deserves Our Thoughts and Prayers

Salem • View topic - Know Your Enemy.

            I don’t give a damn if Donald Trump lives or dies. I don’t wish him well. I don’t send him thoughts or prayers. If COVID-19 or green men from Mars or liopleurodon take him to his despicable maker, so be it. Everyone dies. Being famous and or a billionaire and or President of the United States does not entitle you to universal goodwill.

            Neither do I wish Trump ill. That’s how little I care.

            Republicans, members of the self-proclaimed Party of Personal Responsibility, ought to acknowledge that this man has been asking for this. I’m not talking about karmic retribution for the 200,000+ Americans who died on his watch while he plainly didn’t much care. Trump has been cruising for COVID-19 spring, summer and fall, avoiding masks and social distancing the way he dodges the construction contractors he chisels out of pay. If you drink like a fish, you’re cruising for liver disease. If you like to run red lights, don’t whine if you get broadsided by a semi-truck. Trump wanted this virus and he got it.

            What’s fascinating and enlightening though is the semiotic contortions that liberal Democrats twist themselves through in order to simultaneously dogwhistle their glee at the President’s medical misfortune while patting themselves on the back for their phony compassion.

            MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, the former progressive to whom I point whenever I’m trying to instance the term “sellout,” tweeted a watered-down liberal version of “hearts and prayers” in response to the big news: “God bless the president and the first lady. If you pray, please pray for their speedy and complete recovery — and for everyone infected, everywhere.” Atheists, thank the Lord, are apparently off the hook.

            Maddow continued sympathy shaming for Trump on her nightly TV show.

“If you know someone who smoked for years and years and years and never even tried to quit despite knowing the risks of lung cancer from smoking and then that person who you know got lung cancer, how do you react to that?” she asked. “Well, part of the way you react is that you understand why they likely got it. Your instinct might even be to blame them for getting it. Go right ahead. Enjoy that schadenfreude.” Internet searches for schadenfreude soared over the weekend.

“But also, you’re a human being in this situation,” Maddow went on. “If your friend has lung cancer now, regardless of what you feel about how he or she, how he or she got it, once you find out that they’re ill, you wish and hope and try to save them, right? You get them into treatment. You help them try to survive it. You move heaven and earth to cure them. That’s how we do as humans, right? That’s how this works!”

Well, yes. The keyword is “friend.” If your friend screws up, you are there for them. But Trump is not my friend.

Trump made excuses for and let Saudi Arabia off the hook for butchering Jamal Khashoggi. Trump bombs innocent people with drones. Trump kills the poor in Yemen. Trump coddles neo-Nazis and cops, who are often the same people. Trump doesn’t care if I die due to lack of healthcare. Trump doesn’t care about all the homeless people sleeping outside tonight.

So Trump is my enemy.

He’s probably yours too.

And when your enemy suffers, you have no obligation whatsoever to care. You are allowed to laugh. Pretending that you care about your enemy, especially when they are a mass murderer—every American president is—is the pinnacle of psychological alienation. Make no mistake: your enemy would do the same to you. That is, if he even knows you exist.

            It’s interesting that Maddow used the F-word. I don’t know if she is friends with President Trump the same way that Ellen DeGeneres chills with George W. Bush, but there’s an important similarity: both men and both women belong to a privileged class of ruling elites for whom rules and laws do not apply as stringently as for the rest of us. Maddow earns $7 million a year and is worth $20 million. The rich are different from you and me: they don’t care about us.

            From a class perspective, Trump and Maddow might not be friends. But they are part of the same clique. And if anything makes these insanely wealthy people nervous—aside from succumbing to a mysterious disease or getting strung up by an angry mob of revolutionaries —it’s their suspicion that we might not like them. That we might not consider them “friends.” Not only that we might not give a damn about them, but that we might actually take pleasure in their suffering.

            40% of Democratic voters told a poll that they were happy that Trump had COVID-19. I was surprised that anyone took such a poll and that any media organization published the results. That wouldn’t have happened 40 years ago.

There isn’t much historical data to compare to but it’s a fair bet that most Democrats felt sympathy for Ronald Reagan when he was shot in an assassination attempt in 1981. I was a leftist and I hated Reagan. His financial aid cuts forced me to work multiple jobs through college and pushed many of my classmates to drop out of school. But I was glad he recovered. At the time, an attack on the majesty of the presidency was shocking.

            The presidency no longer has much majesty; I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

            The liberal Democrats who fall over themselves in order to shed crocodile tears for a man they excoriate every day and every night showcase the nature of the system under which we live and the separate class interests that divide the American people. While talking heads on CNN and columnists for the New York Times virtue-signal their concern for the latest murderous president, policemen are shooting unarmed people of color in their cars and in their homes with impunity, renters who lost their homes to the COVID-19 lockdown are being evicted, unemployment benefits still haven’t been renewed, people in the Middle East are getting blown up by Hellfire missiles and cultural gatekeepers have nothing to say.

            We might not have internalized the fact that they are our enemies.

But they know we are theirs.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

President’s Trump’s Karmic Krisis

The news that President Trump (and the First Lady) have COVID-19 throws the political landscape into unknown territory. Because he is 74 years old, male and obese, there’s a 34% chance that he might die. However, he will obviously – unlike you and me – receive the best possible medical care. His odds will be better.

Still, he might meet his maker in a development that makes even the most hardened atheist wonder if there’s someone Up There. And even if he doesn’t, he’s going to come out of this seriously physically weakened. I know from personal experience. So what happens next?

This is a development that everybody believed impossible: it weakens him with his base. Not only is his stance that COVID-19 is no big deal now lying in tatters, the mere fact that he is sick and incapacitated and quarantine makes him look like less of a big man in the eyes of his right-wing testosterone-obsessed supporters. They hate nothing more than weakness. Trump understands that a strongman has to be, well, strong.

If Trump dies before November 3, it falls to the GOP to choose a replacement nominee. The Republican National Committee could simply go with the path of least resistance, Mike Pence. But Pence himself may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus as well due to his close proximity to Trump. And the general consensus is that he doesn’t have what it takes to win a presidential election. If Trump dies, I think Joe Biden will win automatically. But the Republicans will do their best, and they would more likely turn to an also-ran like Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.

What if Trump and Pence are both incapacitated? Then we get acting president Nancy Pelosi.

Of course, the odds are that Trump will not die. He will probably recover, more slowly than anyone will ever know. He will never quite be the same guy and he will not live as long as he would have otherwise. If he is reelected after a recount crisis of epic proportions, the man we see in the Oval Office will be diminished. Ironically, he will be weak physically as well as mentally. Unless Biden himself prevails, we will end up with a Republican Joe Biden.

So this is the way America ends, not with a bang but a whimper.

Debate 1: A Bully and a Weakling

Anyone appalled by Donald Trump‘s relentless interruptions and refusal to follow debate rules in last night’s first presidential debate is both right and obviously hasn’t paid much attention to the president, like ever. This is his usual shtick, and you have to assume that Biden’s team was ready for it.

What I saw last night was a bully and a weakling unable to fight back. Biden had several prepackaged zingers at the ready but the one he chose to unleash towards the end, a clumsy — hey, this is Joe Biden, man – defense of his deceased son Beau Biden appeared out of thin air, not after Trump said anything about it or him, and then itself got derailed by Trump talking about Hunter.

Ugliness all around.

Yesterday in the space I wondered who would show up on the Democratic side, rabid Biden or sleepy Joe? The man on the right side of the stage with somewhere in between but closer to somnolence than anything else. It did have the effect of showcasing Trump’s rudeness. But I don’t think it gave Democratic voters cause for confidence.

If last night encapsulates the decision faced by the electorate on November 3, they have to choose between a madman who coddles white nationalists— blink and you would miss his call out to the Proud Boys —and a befuddled corporatist who isn’t up to any job, much less leader of the free world. On its face, the choice may feel obvious. What is less obvious, and I think more important, is that it’s hard to get people off their couch to do anything on election day, especially when it is a grim duty like trying to cast a vote for Joe Biden.

If the typical American voter had a gun to his or her head and had to choose, Biden wins. But that’s not how voting works. It’s voluntary. The problem for Biden is enthusiasm, and last night shows why.

What To Expect Tonight in the First Debate Between Biden and Trump

            Conventional wisdom says that tonight’s first presidential debate of 2020 won’t move the needle. It also says that Donald Trump made a mistake by setting low expectations for Joe Biden’s mental acuity.

            As usual, conventional wisdom is wrong.

            95% of American voters have never heard Joe Biden speak for more than five minutes. They didn’t watch the Democratic primary debates. Obama didn’t give Biden many high-profile speaking opportunities as vice president. The last time Biden was on the national stage was during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings — 28 years ago. You have to be over 50 years old to remember them and even then, he didn’t say or do anything worth remembering as chairman of the Senate judiciary committee. For all practical purposes, only one of these two men has actually been running a semblance of a campaign this year. Biden has not. All that people know is that Biden was Obama’s vice president and that he’s been in DC a long time.

            Biden’s support is almost entirely a negative reaction to President Trump. No one is talking about Biden’s affirmative agenda, such as it is. People aren’t voting for Biden, they are voting against Donald Trump. Therefore, tonight is about Joe Biden.

Tonight’s debate will therefore be Joe Biden’s first true introduction to the American people. Many of the people who have already decided to vote for Joe Biden will be disappointed when they finally focus on the election and Biden himself over the course of 90 long minutes. Some voters could feel buyer’s remorse. That could certainly feed the enthusiasm gap that already favors Trump.

For Donald Trump, nothing much is at stake. His support is baked in. Everyone knows the president and has formed their opinion. Nothing he says, no matter how outrageous, will get Trump into serious trouble. His goal, or at least it ought be his goal, is to expose Joe Biden as unfit for office. He will do what Trump does best, goad and troll and poke and prod in the hope that Biden decompensates into unseemly anger or nonsensical rants.

Whether that works or not will depend on which Joe Biden shows up tonight. Will it be the ghostly half-dead victim of dementia who, during the primary debates, couldn’t wait for his 60 seconds to be over? Or will it be Biden in honey badger mode, the guy who shoves voters and calls them dog-faced pony soldiers? If it’s Sleepy Joe, the debate is over and so is this campaign. If it’s Weird Malarkey Joe, things could get interesting.

Reports from inside the campaign say that Biden intends to focus on Trump’s incompetent and counterproductive reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. The recent New York Times stories about Trump’s finances and taxes will certainly add more grist for the mill.

If I were preparing Biden, I would advise him to come out of the gate the way Kamala Harris did against him during the primary, balls to the wall: “You killed 200,000 innocent Americans. I want you to stand up here and apologize to their friends and families.” Obviously Biden has to use the tax issue, but I wouldn’t linger on it. All Donald Trump has to do is mention Hunter Biden, Burisma, Ukraine and then it becomes a game of I know what I am but what are you?

Aside from Biden’s advanced age and the obvious mental issues that go with it, one thing Democratic voters are going to want to see is a willingness and ability to fight and be aggressive. Voters always expect the president to exude strength. Democrats, however, tend to fall short on that metric and Biden even more so than most. Biden has an opportunity to show that he knows how to attack and how to punch back. I am not optimistic on this front.

Donald Trump’s biggest disadvantage tonight is that he never prepares for debates or any public appearances. He won’t be able to cite statistics or draw upon details in any kind of credible way. But I don’t think that’s going to matter. Ultimately this is a contest of personalities and tone, and nobody’s going to care about who knows the capital of Vanuatu. If I were Trump, I would keep up the attacks on Biden’s mental state and acuity and provoke him into losing it over something personal.

Tomorrow morning Democrats are going to say that Joe Biden won and Republicans are going to say that Donald Trump won. When historians look back with some objectivity, I think they will write that Trump carried the night.

Joe Biden Will Be a Republican President

Image: US-POLITICS-VOTE-DEMOCRATS

Past performance is no guarantee of future returns but there are few more reliable ways to predict what comes next than to examine the historical record because, most of the time, history really does repeat.

What kind of president would Joe Biden be? His centrist supporters assure progressives that he will be one of them, pushing an aggressive legislative agenda reminiscent of FDR’s New Deal. His Republican opponents portray him as a socialist. But Biden hasn’t actually promised anything ambitious.

The last two Democratic presidencies provide a good indication of what a Biden Administration would look like. Like Biden, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama hail from the centrist party establishment. If personnel is policy, the three men hang out with many of the same advisors, businesspeople and elected officials. They’re not identical: Clinton is a charismatic retail politician, Obama is aloof and professorial, and Biden is an LBJ-style buttonholer minus Johnson’s secret idealism. But they’re ideologically and temperamentally similar to a remarkable extent.

I remembered Clinton and Obama as deeply disappointing to voters with traditional liberal Democratic values. I remembered that most of their major legislative accomplishments would not have been out of place under a Republican administration.

When I checked the historical record recently, however, it was even worse than I remembered.

Clinton used his political capital to push through free trade deals like NAFTA and the WTO, which killed manufacturing jobs and drove the final nails into the coffin of big labor. He “ended welfare as we know it,” making it even more difficult for people who lost their jobs to get back on their feet and adding the chronically poor to the ranks of the homeless. Clinton signed Joe Biden’s now infamous 1994 crime bill into law, codifying a racist judicial system that disproportionately punishes black men for relatively minor offenses.

Clinton repealed the 1930s-era Glass-Steagall Act, banking deregulation set the stage for banks to wallow in the reckless predatory lending practices that tanked the global economy in 2008-09.

His most impressive achievement was balancing the federal budget and paying off the deficit, but he didn’t do it by raising taxes on the rich. He imposed austerity on social programs—just like a Republican would do.

I searched hard for Clintonian achievements that could credibly be called liberal or at least left of center, but aside from a few minor regulations here and there, there aren’t any. “So we liberals and radicals searched the Clinton administration for vast new programs to applaud. But nothing loomed into view,” Paul Berman wrote in The New Republic at the end of Clinton’s presidency in 2000. Clinton was a moderate Republican president.

In some ways—especially foreign policy—Obama was even worse. Clinton bombed with the bloody relentlessness of a Reagan or a Bush: Bosnia, Sudan, Afghanistan and, forgotten now, Iraq so much and so often that pilots dumped their bombs in the desert to cover for the fact that they were running out of fresh targets. His sanctions stopped everything, including medical supplies, from entering Afghanistan. But he had nothing on Obama.

After Col. Muammar Gaddafi signed a peace deal with Bush that ended Libya’s nuclear program, Obama assassinated him with a drone, plunging that nation into a bloody civil war. Thanks to Obama, Libya, formerly the most literate and prosperous country in Africa, is now a failed state where slavery has been restored. Obama similarly wrecked Syria, where he also funded and armed jihadi extremists against secular socialist leaders. Obama radically expanded Bush’s drone program, kept Gitmo open, effectively pardoned Bush’s torturers, expanded the USA-Patriot Act and NSA spying on your phone calls and emails.

With Democrats like these, you don’t need Republicans!

For liberals, there is one relatively bright spot in these 16 years of Democratic rule: the Affordable Care Act. Obamacare was the first major health-sector reform in decades and brought coverage to tens of millions of patients, most beneficially via Medicaid expansion.

Let’s face it. The last two Democratic presidents didn’t really govern like Democrats. Compare the ACA to the achievements of Republican presidents like Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Donald Trump. Republicans push through huge changes when they are in office.

And I’m not even going to point out—well, yes I am—that Obamacare was conceived by the right-wing Heritage Foundation.

As I wrote at the beginning of this essay, what happened under Clinton and Obama won’t necessarily be replicated by Joe Biden. But it almost certainly will be.

There’s a reason Biden considered picking a Republican running mate and a reason Republicans are endorsing him and a reason he gave Republicans more speaking time at the Democratic National Convention than AOC—he’s one of them, not one of us.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

Mail-in Balloting, the 12th Amendment and Impending Doom

Letters to the editor: On vote-by-mail

            More than 80 million Americans are expected to cast mail-in ballots this fall, representing a 16-fold increase over 2016.

            This is probably going to cause a constitutional crisis of epic proportions.

            The problem isn’t the possibility of fraud that Donald Trump has been going on about. Cases of possible double voting or voting on behalf of dead people Daley-machine-style are statistically insignificant, amounting to at most 0.0025% of mail-in votes.

            The real issue is that the ballots may not be counted on time, triggering the insanity of the 12th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

            The date to remember is December 14th, when the delegations of the Electoral College meet in their respective states. That’s a hard deadline. Each delegation can only certify their state’s vote counts if they are 100% complete—machine votes cast in person at polling places on election day, early votes, absentee ballots, write-ins and, this year, COVID-19 mail-in ballots. If the state fails to certify on time, its electoral college votes aren’t counted.

            Within each state, there is a canvassing/certification deadline for county officials to submit their results. Most are in late November. California, with a December 11th deadline, cuts it close and usually files its national certification last.

            State election officials are doing their best to meet the challenge. They are hiring additional staff, buying new tabulation machines and installing drop boxes. Even assuming that they will be able to hire the additional personnel they need in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the practical impediments to meeting the December 14th deadline are daunting. Mail-in ballots are manually opened and signatures must be visually compared, sometimes several times, to Board of Election records.

Then there are technicalities. For example, 16 states require mail-in ballots to be submitted with an extra “privacy envelope.” In the battleground state of Pennsylvania, 6.4% of absentee ballots submitted in a 2019 election were rejected because voters neglected to insert their ballot inside the privacy envelope inside the mailing envelope—a significant margin that could change the outcome on a national level. Both parties are gearing up for legal challenges about issues like this across the nation.

“Every absentee or mailed ballot, even if dropped off directly at the designated county drop box or polling center, most likely will not get counted on Election Day, and it can easily be challenged and delayed and even rejected on a technicality,” Jed Shugerman writes at Time. “Every mailed or absentee ballot, in an envelope with signatures, is its own hanging chad, its own built-in legal delay.”

            If enough states are embroiled in vote-counting controversies to prevent either President Trump or former Vice President Biden from achieving the 270 electoral votes required to declare them president-elect on December 14th, the obscure 12th Amendment kicks in.

            Used only once—in 1825 to elect John Quincy Adams—the 12th Amendment triggers a bizarre “House of Cards” series of remedies guaranteed to eliminate any remaining belief that the Framers wrote a perfect document designed to withstand the test of time, or that the United States is a democracy.

            After the new 117th Congress convenes on January 3rd, the House of Representatives would vote to elect the president and the Senate would elect the vice president. “Each state delegation gets one vote, and 26 votes are required to win [out of 50 states],” reports the Associated Press. “In the Senate…each senator gets a vote, with 51 votes [out of 100 seats] required to win.”

            Even if Democrats enjoy another “blue wave” election that allows them to pick up congressional seats, they will not capture 26 state delegations in the House of Representatives. Trump would win. If Democrats have taken back the Senate, they could select a vice president to replace Mike Pence.

            It wouldn’t matter if a newspaper recount were to determine later on that Biden should have won both a popular and electoral vote landslide. Trump would remain in the White House.

            The Democratic Party and its allies in the media have been pushing mail-in balloting, but voters who want to see Joe Biden elected and are willing to brave the health risks should consider showing up for early in-person voting. In-person ballots are far less susceptible to rejection over technical issues like security envelopes, they are counted immediately and they thus meet the December 14th deadline for certification.

            As my readers are aware, I do not support either Trump or Biden and will be voting third party, probably for the Greens, this fall. But I don’t support disenfranchisement either. I want everyone’s will to be expressed.

            No matter what happens, no matter who wins, American politics are about to become extremely dangerous. Democracy fails when the losing side refuses to accept the legitimacy of the winning side. That will certainly be the case this year.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

The Stringer

April 21, 2021

Ted Rall’s new graphic novel is ripped from the headlines.

Suffering from budget cuts, layoffs, and a growing suspicion that his search for the truth has become obsolete, veteran war correspondent Mark Scribner is about to throw in the towel on journalism when he discovers that his hard-earned knowledge can save his career and make him wealthy and famous. All he has to do is pivot to social media and, with a few cynical twists, abandon everything he cares about most.

Graphic Novel, 2021
NBM Publishing Hardback, 8.5″x11″, 152 pp., $24.99

Click here to Order Online.