Thursday, August 15, 2019

Democrats Need a Better Strategy to Defeat Trump in 2020

(Reuters)

“If you're confused about what to do, it's a sign that your enemy is winning.” 
-Toba Beta

The general consensus in the liberal media was that the Democratic Party squandered an important opportunity during the recently televised debates to show voters outside of their base that they have nationally electable candidates. The party instead seemed to move further to the left in the first debate, and spent much time infighting during the second, only serving to highlight that they are a deeply divided and leaderless party. I fear that this observation, made by the most supportive news outlets and friendly commentators is correct and unless the party works to remedy their current trajectory, they are likely to face another humiliating defeat in 2020.

Here are five things Democrats need to do if they are serious about defeating Trump.

One: Democratic National Committee Must Wrest Control of the Debate Process
It is wonderful that the party wants to show that it supports a transparent and democratic process, after the cloak and daggers they were caught doing with Hillary Clinton, but this does not mean that they should have a free-for-all circus. Part of the issue is that to stand out in such a crowded field the candidates have no choice but to resort to positing extremist views.

To remedy this, the DNC needs to change the criteria for the next round of debates, so that only a handful of the candidates are able to qualify. Further, they should hold one debate with the frontrunners - candidates who record double digit support in the polls - and a second for the next five contenders. This way they would ensure a more substantive debate, covering a wider range of issues in more depth than will ever be possible with ten candidates on stage.

The DNC also needs to take control of the format, rather than allow news outlets to determine it. This will prevent juvenile hand raising questions that oversimplify complex issues or childish ones, like CNN’s moderators kept asking in a bid to get candidates to attack each other.

Two: Stop Crying for Impeachment
Saying that she is going to Clorox the Oval Office before moving in certainly provided Kirsten Gillibrand a viral moment, but it did nothing to win middle and low-income voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, who voted twice for Mr. Obama before turning to Mr. Trump. Neither will hysterically pushing the case for impeachment, in a partisan manner.

An NBC News poll found that the support for impeachment had steadily declined among registered voters before Mr. Mueller’s testimony, with just “21 percent of registered voters saying there is enough evidence for Congress to begin impeachment hearings.”  After Mueller’s testimony, which many Democrats had hoped would be a watershed moment, an ABC News/Ipsos poll found that little had changed in voters’ minds on the issue”.
Even if Democrats in the House find the votes to impeach (they don’t currently have them), the GOP-controlled Senate will likely exonerate the President. Both Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are acutely aware that such an outcome, while placating a minority in their base, will also play right into Mr. Trump’s hands. The President has claimed all along that this is nothing more than a naked partisan witch hunt and a Senate trial clearing him will be the final vindication he needs to claim his false victimhood.

Democrats would be wise to stop publicly calling for impeachment and focus instead on the pocketbook issues that people vote on. Privately, they should absolutely continue to pursue the numerous investigations already under way into the Trump administration and his family business and allow these to reach their natural conclusions. There is nothing protecting a President from prosecution once he leaves office.

Three: Build a Rational Case against Trump (not a moral one)
Democrats need to understand that the people did not elect them to be the moral guardians of this country. So instead of feigning outrage and trying to be the moral police, they need to focus their energies more on holding the President accountable for his actions and lack thereof, and less on offensive tweets and insensitive words.

To defeat Trump they should focus on both his numerous broken promises to the working class and farmers, and on his routinely erratic behaviour. They should build a non-partisan case explaining how the President is putting every American’s national and economic security at risk with his shoot-from-the-hip, go-with-his-gut policies.

He has dangerously conflated trade and national security issues with the Huawei case in a bid to score easy concessions in his ill-conceived trade war. The issue is not that he is being tough with China, but that he has picked a fight with the second largest economic and military power in the world without a plan or a long-term strategy, which makes it likely that the outcome will be damaging for American manufacturers and consumers.

Also, why aren’t Democrats questioning the invisible line between affairs of state and the President’s personal business? It is clear that Mr. Trump draws no distinction between self-promotion and official business; family members regularly accompany him on state visits to places where the Trump enterprise has business interests. This should be a legitimate concern for all Americans, who need to understand that when foreign policy decisions are made based on personal motives, they will never align with the interests of the country and its citizens. So much for America first because it seems more like Trump first.

Another issue Democrats should be raising is the fact that there has been a marked drop in the number of warning letters issued by the FDA under this administration. These letters have long been considered a vital tool to protect consumers from unsafe drugs and food products, and a way to ensure the safety and quality of medical devices. At a time when we are facing rising healthcare costs and increasing corporate abuse, peeling away these protections will likely lead to dangerous health and safety consequences for all Americans.

Even our foreign policy is in complete disarray. From Venezuela to Iran and Syria to North Korea, beyond bullying allies, touting his personal charm and creating photo ops, it is clear the President again has no game plan. Democrats would do well to remind Americans that the last time a US president winged and went it alone on foreign policy; we wasted trillions of taxpayer dollars on two wars with no tangible results.

Four: Present a full-throated defense of Capitalism
If government were in the business of running businesses, we would all be raving about the DMV’s ease and efficiency, and the TSA’s world-class customer service. Visit any government website - federal, state or local and let me know how simple the language is, and how easy the process to do anything is - from registering a small business to filing a claim.

Take the example of the US department of education. Their stated mission is to promote student achievement. In the thirty-six years they have been a cabinet-level agency, their taxpayer funded total annual budget has increased from approximately $14 billion in 1980 to $70 billion in 2018, while improvement in student test results has been negligible. For 17-year-olds, math scores have improved by only 1.6 percentage points from 1982 to the most recent test. In reading, scores are up 0.4 percentage points since 1980.”

Now think about who finances all government enterprise and consider how much accountability, transparency and results we get for our tax dollars from federal, state and local agencies – do you truly believe that MORE government is the answer to our problems?

There is no question that there are many things that are broken with our current system of Capitalism, but the solution is not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Instead, we need to focus our efforts on improving the systems and processes that are not working and to rebuild trust in public and private institutions by creating greater transparency and demanding more accountability from elected and unelected officials. We also need to use the law to prosecute those who have misused power; from abusive cardinals to errant CEO’s.

John Delaney put it best when he suggested in the first debate that Democrats should be the party “that keeps what’s working but fixes what’s broken”.

Five: Don’t Ignore a Winning Strategy
Winning more votes in California is completely pointless. The path to defeating Trump requires winning the Electoral College and the only way for Democrats to do this is by appealing to a broader cross-section of voters beyond their base. Consider that 35% of Americans describe themselves conservative, 34% moderate and 4% refuse to identify themselves according to Gallup. Only 26% call themselves liberal. Given this, I cannot fathom why the majority of Democratic candidates seem hell-bent on alienating 76% of the voting population.

As I have written before, the most valuable lesson learned from the 2018 midterms is that Democrats can successfully flip Republican districts and turn red strongholds blue when they campaign as centrists. The majority of Democratic newcomers who scored surprising victories in historically red districts said they were tired of the partisan gamesmanship. They promised to solve problems like healthcare costs and income inequality by reaching across the aisle, not by going it alone. Importantly, not one of these candidates ran on the promise to remove the President from office. The majority of them won.


Friday, April 5, 2019

Elizabeth Warren is Wrong About the Electoral College

“Voting is the only way to make change in a democracy.” 
-Christine Todd Whitman

I was mad when George W. Bush defeated Al Gore to become President, despite getting less votes. I was in my twenties and viewed life simplistically, in terms of outcomes I liked or disliked. At the time I did not care to understand why we needed an Electoral College which in my mind clearly suppressed the will of the majority and prevented the right outcome.

In 2016 Mr. Trump again won the presidency despite getting fewer votes than Mrs. Clinton. Her margin was five times greater than Mr. Gore’s had been over Mr. Bush. However, now I am in my forties and the intervening years have instilled wisdom and maturity that was missing before. I am not a supporter of Mr. Trump’s, but instead of questioning the outcome simply because I did not like it and crying foul about the Electoral College, I decided to try and understand why our founding fathers had incorporated this seemingly unfair mechanism into our election process.

The simplest way to explain what I have come to understand is as follows. Imagine a family of five that has two sons and a daughter. This family aspires to have a democratic process within the household and allows the kids to vote for family outings, movies and vacations with the majority vote determining the outcome; all good so far.

However if we look beyond the simple vote tally we will notice that the boys, being closer in age and interests, always gang-up against the sister and vote together. As a result the little girl never gets to have her activities picked because she is always in the minority. This no longer feels like a fair system.

In our example the parents now serve as the Electoral College. They are an added layer in this family’s democratic process, not because they control purse strings, but in order to maintain fairness in the voting. Their role is to ensure that the minority voice is heard and has the ability to affect outcomes. Without this parental check our little girl would never have her voice heard.

Senator Warren recently called for the abolishment of the Electoral College. Interestingly, she said “I believe we need a constitutional amendment that protects the right to vote for every American citizen and makes sure that vote gets counted…” Understandably, this idea is popular among Democrats who feel they were cheated in 2000 and again in 2016. However, if we look beyond simplistic vote totals it becomes clear, like with our family, why we need the Electoral College to ensure that every vote actually counts.

Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote by a margin of 2.8 million votes but the majority of these votes came from one state; California. If we eliminate California from her vote total she loses the national popular vote to Mr. Trump. This means that if we get rid of the Electoral College, the most populous states would always determine the outcome. Conveniently, the populous states happen to be coastal states with dense urban populations which are liberal and reliably blue. If this transpires then the votes from Red states across the rural heartland, which have small populations, would no longer matter. How does this help every vote count?”

Eliminating the Electoral College would also ensure that candidates no longer needed to waste money or time campaigning beyond two or three states with large population centers. Mrs. Clinton was criticised by her husband and President Obama for not spending enough time in the rust belt states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. She assumed that she had votes locked down in these blue wall states and along with her guaranteed coastal majority, she had an automatic path to the White House. 

We now know that the reliable blue working class voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were feeling so neglected by the Democratic Party, that this small minority banded together to swing the election in favour of Mr. Trump. That is exactly what the Electoral College was designed to do - give the minority a voice. 

Had Mrs. Clinton bothered to campaign there she might have picked up on the depth of their disenfranchisement. She could have broadened her message to appeal to the 8.4 million voters frustrated enough with Washington elites to hold their nose and vote for Mr. Trump. These were people who voted for Mr. Obama, many of them twice, before breaking for Mr. Trump in 2016.

I did not like the outcome of the 2016 election, nor do I agree with the reason people felt they needed to vote for Mr. Trump, but I refuse to get rid of a check simply because I am unhappy with the outcome. As someone who values fairness and integrity above all else, I understand why we need the Electoral College. At a time when we see deep political and ideological divisions across our country, it is one way to ensure that every candidate running for President is forced to appeal to a broader national coalition and cannot get away with lazily appealing to voters in a few large states.

The irony is that, while Mrs. Warren is suggesting we eliminate the Electoral College, she is also championing the breakup of big tech companies. Her argument goes that monopolies are harmful for society because human beings are fallible and power concentrated in a few hands inevitably leads to corruption, selfishness and greed. Yet, in the same breath she wants to remove the most important check in our electoral system, one designed to protect us from the tyranny of the majority.

Liberals claim to fight for the rights of minorities and to get these voices is heard. By removing the Electoral College they will be taking away the most important right for minority populations across America - to make their votes count. I am not suggesting that the Electoral College has no flaws or that it must not be updated, but such recommendations must come from an independent commission of scholars and professors and not partisan politicians. What is clear is that by simply eliminating the Electoral College we will create a less fair and representative democracy.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Jussie Smollett and the Righteous Race to Judgement




“Trust, But Verify.” 
-Russian Proverb

I first learned about the attack on Jussie Smollett when the news was blowing up on social media. My immediate reaction was one of horror and sympathy. However, once I began to read about the details of the attack, my antennae went up.

Mr. Smollett is a black man who is gay, and that made him the perfect target. His claim that the attackers put a rope around his neck and poured bleach on him powerfully re-enforced the victimization narrative on the left. The fact that his attackers also proclaimed proudly “this is MAGA country” seemed to leave no room for doubt in the minds of the left, in terms of the presumption of guilt.

Journalists and celebrities immediately seized on the attack as vindication of the fact that Mr. Trump’s rhetoric was responsible for another reprehensible attack. Politicians, who are supposed to keep their heads when all of us are losing ours, also rushed to judgement. Democratic presidential hopefuls Kamala Harris and Corey Booker, who were preparing for a Senate vote on a bi-partisan anti-lynching bill, used the attack as proof of “modern-day lynching”.

The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, tweeted that The racist, homophobic attack on Jussie Smollett is an affront to our humanity and Adam Schiff, the head of the House’s investigative panel tweeted that he had personally met with Jussie Smollett and had “…seen the passion and moral clarity of his activism first hand”. Both have since deleted their tweets.

I am not suggesting that I knew that Mr. Smollett was lying; I had not even considered the possibility. The problem for me was that the whole thing felt perfect, almost scripted to fit the narrative on the left about Trump and anyone who voted for him; and that bothered me.

In addition, I also thought it best to reserve judgement on the heels of the media’s recently botched Covington Catholic School student’s story. That was another case of a dangerous rush to judgement before the full facts were apparent. We now know that the boys, who were summarily branded racist Trump supporters by the mainstream media, have been fully vindicated. The Washington Post noted that an independent investigation into the incident revealed “no evidence of ‘racist or offensive statements’ by Covington Catholic students.”  

It turns out the Native American man, who claimed to be the victim of the boys’ racist taunts, lied about it, and the offensive and racist chants came from a group calling themselves the black Hebrew Israelites. It would seem that the boys’ only crime was wearing MAGA hats.

Yet, here we were again with media, politicians and celebrities presuming innocence and blindly attributing guilt before the police had even launched their investigation. More worryingly, even after Mr. Smollett refused to hand over his cellphone to the police, the conviction of many was not shaken. It would seem these people were not interested in the facts, so confident in the belief that a gay man, a man of colour, a liberal would never lie, leave alone do anything as heinous as fake the whole crime.

We live in an age where social media encourages a constant rush to judgement, on both the left and the right. We seek refuge in events that fit a pre-determined narrative and we side only with those who confirm our biases, while rejecting outright any facts that challenge them. This ensures a loss of integrity and fair-mindedness in our debates. Further, there is a growing trend, on both sides, to gauge “truth” based not on hard facts but on political beliefs, sex or colour of skin.

What is even more troubling is that there is a nonsensical belief among many on the left that anyone who did not vote for Trump has some claim to moral superiority, and is a better human being. For example many on the left accept as gospel that anyone who voted for Trump is a racist, and Clinton voters are not. If that is true, then how do we explain the fact that over 8 million people who voted for Obama in 2012 chose Trump in 2016? Or an IPSOS/Reuters poll from 2016 that found nearly one-third of Clinton supporters described black people as more “violent” and “criminal” than whites; this is not an insignificant number. A more recent study done by Yale University also found that Democrats and white liberals have a tendency to downplay their own verbal competence in exchanges with racial minorities, while there was no statistical significance when it came to Republicans.

The fact is that no group has any moral or ethical superiority over another based on religion, political beliefs, sexual orientation or skin colour. If this were true, we would still have faith in the Catholic Church and Bill Cosby would be ‘America’s Dad’. It is true that minorities have suffered disproportionately more discrimination than their white counterparts in this country, but none of this changes the fact that we still need to judge every person based on his or her actions, and the punishment must fit the crime. There is a good reason why justice is meant to be blind.

Indian, Jewish, White, Muslim, Black or Asian husbands are all equally likely to cheat on their wives or beat them. Similarly, it is ludicrous to suggest that liberal women cheat more often than conservative women, or suggest that gay men cheat less than straight men. People are people and all human beings have the same propensity for good and bad within them - it depends entirely on the individual; as an Indian social activist who spent his life championing minority rights eloquently said “no community has a monopoly over virtue or vice”.

As long as we fail to see the faults in the people we love, or to acknowledge the virtues in those we profess to hate and continue to apply different standards to both for the same actions, we will only serve to propagate bigotry and division. If we truly want an equal society, then the question we all need to answer is “do we want to live in a country that judges everyone based on the content of their character, or the colour of their skin?”