The Democratic establishment is freaking about the fact that Bernie “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders is now the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination.
After an election season in which nothing they predicted came true — their confidence that Donald Trump would never be the Republican nominee comes to mind — you’d think our losing-streak corporate pundits would be reluctant to underestimate Trump’s chance of winning the presidency in November.
Alas, there is no limit to the willfully oblivious hubris of the barking dogs of the political class. Despite last week’s cataclysm the airwaves and opinion pages are still dominated by the smug meme that It Can’t Happen Here.
Never mind that half of that It, Trump’s capture of the nomination, has Happened. But this is where Trump’s juggernaut stops, say the center-right prognosticators. Polls show him losing to Hillary Clinton by 14% — er, now it’s 2%. But still.
Trump’s disapproval ratings are as big as his ego. Women hate the guy. So do Latinos; Republicans can’t win without them. Trump, they assure, has a ceiling: 45%. No way no how will more than 45% of Americans vote for him. (Remember when the same folks told us his ceiling was 30% — of Republicans?) He’s a guaranteed loosah.
If Hillary Clinton prevails over Bernie Sanders and the Department of Justice to become the Democratic standard-bearer, she’ll be welcomed as a liberator against Trump, Democratic leaders say. Most GOP insiders say/fear the same thing: she’ll win by a landslide.
I wouldn’t be so sure.
There are plenty of good reasons to believe that Trump will defeat the former secretary of state.
Before we list them, please bear in mind something no one talks about: what an amazing candidate Trump has proven to be. Not only does Trump have no political experience, this is his first run for president, or for any elected office. For a novice to win a major party nomination on his first time out, spending hardly any of his own money, is a triumph, a trifecta without historical precedent. (True, there was Eisenhower. But Ike was the supreme commander of Allied forces during World War II, and president of Columbia University. Those were essentially political positions.) With Trump, we are in uncharted territory. The man is a beast.
Now for the factors that run counter to the widely accepted Hillary-is-a-shoo-in narrative.
First, Hillary is a weak candidate.
Her negatives are nearly as high as Trump’s. A recent poll shows her even or losing against Trump in key battleground states: Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. The liberal base of the Democratic Party, which mostly supports Bernie Sanders, is not at all Ready for Hillary. If the Bernie or Bust movement convinces even a few percentage points worth of Dems to stay home, write in Bernie’s name or vote for Jill Stein, that shortfall of support could be enough to throw the race The Donald’s way. If anything, Hillary is the one with a ceiling: she’s been in public life so long that it’s hard to believe that anyone who doesn’t like her now will find a reason to do so in the next six months. Politically, we’re just getting to know Trump.
Also, Americans’ hardwired historical amnesia is tailor-made for Trump.
His insane pronouncements would sink a conventional candidate. But when his racist or idiotic statements stir controversy, he doesn’t apologize: he denies that he ever said them. Then he doubles down. He constantly contradicts himself, sometimes in the same speech. This drives the media crazy. But it doesn’t touch Teflon Don. Thanks to Ronald Reagan and his ideological progeny, we’re living at a time when we choose our own facts along with our opinions — and no one is held accountable for their broken promises, hypocrisies or flip-flops. The past? Even when it isn’t past, even in real time, the past so doesn’t matter. As a conventional politician, Hillary will be forced to defend herself and her long record in public service from Trump’s attacks. Because he has no such record, and the record he does have is something he’ll just lie about — and voters will be perfectly fine with it — she can’t go after him the same way.
Because GOP campaigning is so much more effective, Democratic presidential candidates need to be at least 10% ahead of Republicans in August in order to win in November. Trump and Clinton are single digits apart, and it’s only May. Just wait until the zillions of GOP attack ads do their thing.
Trump’s Republican Party may not be as unified as they would like. But it will be unified enough to beat Hillary. Because she’s unwilling to make the policy and personnel concessions necessary to bring Sanders’ supporters into her fold — $15/hour minimum wage, offer Sanders veep — she’ll never be able to recover from the bruising primaries. Her party will be the more fractured one.
Trump is also in the unique position of being positioned to attack her from both the left and the right. He’ll go after her as a warmonger and a free trader and fiscally irresponsible and corrupt. As we’ve seen in the primaries, he has an uncanny ability to hone in on his rivals’ Achilles’ heels. Then he kicks them until they fall.
In the end, Hillary’s biggest liability may be overconfidence. She clearly doesn’t think much of Trump’s intellect, his political acumen or his campaign chops. Big mistake. This guy is many things, some of them very bad. But he is not stupid. Donald Trump is one of the most formidable politicians of our lifetimes. He can win.
David Ignatius is to The Washington Post what Thomas Friedman is to The New York Times, the 50-yard line of the world as seen by political elites. Like Friedman (but minus the Mustachioed One’s tortured syntax and penchant for airport-to-Four-Seasons taxicab policy briefings), Ignatius mirrors the views of our wealthy, powerful and oblivious leaders at any given hour of the day.
Like the president and his advisors and Congress and the Pentagon brass, he never spies a crisis abroad that couldn’t be improved by firing explosives at it. Long after everyone, including even the media, tires of the carnage (in Iraq, in Afghanistan, etc.), he continues to defend it until the war’s approval ratings dip into fractions of a percentage point, at which point he pivots, bravely arguing that intervention is a mistake.
At this writing, we are at the start of America’s war cycle: (post-beheading video) anger, bombing, more bombing, withdrawal.
Obama’s bombing campaign against ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) in Syria is in its larval form. Which means Ignatius is cheerleading what the U.S. does best: turning living human beings into corpses.
Ignatius, a right-winger, is more pro-war than pro-Republican. Which earns the president official Ignatian praise as — no, really! — a “reluctant warrior.”
Obama, writes Ignatius, “certainly didn’t go looking for another war in the Middle East.” He “contorted himself almost to the breaking point to avoid one.” He “had no choice.”
Ignatius approvingly cites fellow Iraq War neo-con Stephen Hadley (last seen in the desert searching for Saddam’s WMDs, rather than in prison where he belongs): “Hadley noted that Obama’s stance as a reluctant warrior will help him reassure foreigners and Americans alike that this isn’t a reckless, unilatateral U.S. crusade,” Ignatius writes.
Beware of warmongers bearing the “no choice” argument. In matters of war, especially against a foe like ISIS deemed by U.S. government’s own professional intelligence analysts to pose no imminent threat to the U.S., there is always a choice.
To war or not to war?
You might also want to be wary of warmongers whose last war, and the one before, and the one before that, didn’t work out well — guys who are always, reliably wrong. Though, to be fair to Iggy, that’s also true about most of his colleagues.
More galling than Ignatius’ Lucy-and-the-football “no, really, this time really will be awesome” here-we-go-again shtick is this “mainstream” columnist’s belief that Americans can’t remember the last five years of U.S. history.
When it comes to killing, Obama is anything but reluctant. To the contrary — he makes George W. Bush look like a dirty peace hippie.
Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008 by running against the “stupid war” against Iraq. Once in office, however, he issued order after order extending said stupid war with tens of thousands of soldiers and U.S. private “contractors” (corporate mercenaries).
Obama doubled down in Afghanistan with the failed “surge” of additional troops.
It’s pretty much forgotten now, but in 2011 Obama went in deep against Libya, assassinating dictator Col. Moammar Gaddaffi with a drone. The collapse of Gaddaffi’s government opened a vacuum instantly filled by Benghazi-based radical Islamist militias and sparked a civil war that has reduced a formerly viable nation to a failed state.
Speaking of drones…
Does anyone need reminding that Obama aggressively expanded Bush’s illegal program of drone assassinations in Yemen, east Africa and Pakistan, killing thousands of people, 98% or so of whom have been innocent civilians? Or that, rather than grant the victims of the 9/11 attacks justice in the form of a trial, he ordered the assassination and midnight body dump of Osama bin Laden?
From Iraq to Afghanistan to Libya to now Iraq all over again, Barack Obama is as much of a “reluctant warrior” as Genghis Khan.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Stifling Liberal Dissent Under Obama
After they called the presidency for Obama, emails poured in. “You must be relieved now that the Democrats are taking over,” an old college buddy told me. “There will be less pressure on you.”
That would have been nice.
In the late 1990s my cartoons ran in Time, Fortune and Bloomberg Personal magazines and over 100 daily and alternative weekly newspapers. I was a staff writer for two major magazines.
Then Bush came in. And 9/11 happened.
The media gorged on an orgy of psychotic right-wing rhetoric. Flags everywhere. Torture suddenly OK. In a nation where mainstream political discourse was redefined between Dick Cheney on the right and libertarian Bill Maher on the not-as-right, there wasn’t any room in the paper for a left-of-center cartoonist. My business was savaged. Income plunged.
My editor at Time called me on September 13, 2001. “We’re discontinuing all cartoons,” she told me. I was one of four cartoonists at the newsweekly. “Humor is dead.” I snorted. They never brought back cartoons.
McCarthyism—blackballing—made a big comeback. I had been drawing a monthly comic strip, “The Testosterone Diaries,” for Men’s Health. No politics. It was about guy stuff: dating, job insecurity, prostate tests, that sort of thing. They fired me. Not because of anything I drew for them. It was because of my syndicated editorial cartoons, which attacked Bush and his policies. The publisher worried about pissing off right-wingers during a period of nationalism on steroids.
Desperate and going broke, I called an editor who’d given me lots of work at the magazines he ran during the 1990s. “Sorry, dude, I can’t help,” he replied. “You’re radioactive.”
It was tempting, when Obama’s Democrats swept into office in 2008, to think that the bad old days were coming to an end. I wasn’t looking for any favors, just a swing of the political pendulum back to the Clinton years when it was still OK to be a liberal.
This, you have no doubt correctly guessed, is the part where I tell you I was wrong.
I didn’t count on the cult of personality around Barack Obama.
In the 1990s it was OK to attack Clinton from the left. I went after the Man From Hope and his centrist, “triangulation”-obsessed Democratic Leadership Council for selling out progressive principles. Along with like-minded political cartoonists including Tom Tomorrow and Lloyd Dangle, my cartoons and columns took Clinton’s militant moderates to the woodshed for NAFTA, the WTO and welfare reform. A pal who worked in the White House informed me that the President, known for his short temper, stormed into his office and slammed a copy of that morning’s Washington Post down on the desk with my cartoon showing. “How dare your friend compare me to Bush?” he shouted. (The first Bush.)
It was better than winning a Pulitzer.
It feels a little weird to write this, like I’m telling tales out of school and ratting out the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy. But it’s true: there’s less room for a leftie during the Age of Obama than there was under Bush.
I didn’t realize how besotted progressives were by Mr. Hopey Changey.
Obama lost me before Inauguration Day, when he announced cabinet appointments that didn’t include a single liberal.
It got worse after that: Obama extended and expanded Bush’s TARP giveaway to the banks; continued Bush’s spying on our phone calls; ignored the foreclosure crisis; refused to investigate, much less prosecute, Bush’s torturers; his healthcare plan was a sellout to Big Pharma; he kept Gitmo open; expanded the war against Afghanistan; dispatched more drone bombers; used weasel words to redefine the troops in Iraq as “non-combat”; extended the Bush tax cuts for the rich; claiming the right to assassinate U.S. citizens; most recently, there was the forced nudity torture of PFC Bradley Manning and expanding oil drilling offshore and on national lands.
I was merciless to Obama. I was cruel in my criticisms of Obama’s sellouts to the right. In my writings and drawings I tried to tell it as it was, or anyway, as I saw it. I thought—still think—that’s my job. I’m a critic, not a suck-up. The Obama Administration doesn’t need journalists or pundits to carry its water. That’s what press secretaries and PR flacks are for.
Does Obama ever do anything right? Not often, but sure. And when he does, I shut up about it. Cartoonists and columnists who promote government policy are an embarrassment.
But that’s what “liberal” media outlets want in the age of Obama.
I can’t prove it in every case. (That’s how blackballing works.) The Nation and Mother Jones and Harper’s, liberal magazines that gave me freelance work under Clinton and Bush, now ignore my queries. Even when I offered them first-person, unembedded war reporting from Afghanistan. Hey, maybe they’re too busy to answer email or voicemail. You never know.
Other censors are brazen.
There’s been a push among political cartoonists to get our work into the big editorial blogs and online magazines that seem poised to displace traditional print political magazines like The Progressive. In the past, editorial rejections had numerous causes: low budgets, lack of space, an editor who simply preferred another creator’s work over yours.
Now there’ s a new cause for refusal: Too tough on the president.
I’ve heard that from enough “liberal” websites and print publications to consider it a significant trend.
A sample of recent rejections, each from editors at different left-of-center media outlets:
• “I am familiar with and enjoy your cartoons. However the readers of our site would not be comfortable with your (admittedly on point) criticism of Obama.”
• “Don’t be such a hater on O and we could use your stuff. Can’t you focus more on the GOP?”
• “Our first African-American president deserves a chance to clean up Bush’s mess without being attacked by us.”
I have many more like that.
What’s weird is that these cultish attitudes come from editors and publishers whose politics line up neatly with mine. They oppose the bailouts. They want us out of Afghanistan and Iraq. They disapprove of Obama’s new war against Libya. They want Obama to renounce torture and Guantánamo.
Obama is the one they ought to be blackballing. He has been a terrible disappointment to the American left. He has forsaken liberals at every turn. Yet they continue to stand by him. Which means that, in effect, they are not liberals at all. They are militant Democrats. They are Obamabots.
As long as Democrats win elections, they are happy. Nevermind that their policies are the same as, or to the right of, the Republicans.
“So what should I think about [the war in Libya]?,” asks Kevin Drum in Mother Jones. “If it had been my call, I wouldn’t have gone into Libya. But the reason I voted for Obama in 2008 is because I trust his judgment. And not in any merely abstract way, either: I mean that if he and I were in a room and disagreed about some issue on which I had any doubt at all, I’d literally trust his judgment over my own. I think he’s smarter than me, better informed, better able to understand the consequences of his actions, and more farsighted.”
Mr. Drum, call your office. Someone found your brain in the break room.
Barack Obama and the Democrats have made it perfectly clear that they don’t care about the issues and concerns that I care about. Unlike Kevin Drum, I think—I know—I’m smarter than Barack Obama. I wouldn’t have made half the mistakes he has.
So I don’t care about Obama. Or the Democrats. I care about America and the world and the people who live in them.
Hey, Obamabots: when the man you support betrays your principles, he has to go—not your principles.
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL