Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Clinton: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Eight years ago, in what was really my first few months as a blogger, I opened a post like this:
The most important question to ask tonight is:

Can a woman be elected President of the United States?

I think the answer, at the end of Hillary Clinton's campaign, has to be a resounding "Yes."

No, she didn't win. No, she is not going to be the next President. But it's no longer possible to say that a woman couldn't do it. It is now undeniable that a woman can be a powerful contender for the White House, and that if a few things had gone differently (her campaign strategy; her vote on Iraq) Senator Clinton would have had the nomination.
That was the night Hillary Clinton's first campaign for President ended, with the close of the 2008 California primary.
Last night she proved me wrong and right. I was right that she had paved the way for a woman to gain the nomination and to win the White House. But I did not foresee that the next woman candidate, the first to be nominated by a major party, would be Clinton herself. She has become her own successor, her own political descendant. I wish my mother had lived to see this day.
She didn't go easily eight years ago, and I was in the opposing camp. But I was moved by what she had achieved then, and moved more deeply by her accomplishments today.
In 2008 there were also mutterings that the fix was in, that she had had the race stolen from her by sexism. And then, as now, I thought those mutterings diminished then-Senator Clinton's place in history:
Least of all should her achievement be diminished by claims that the nomination was wrongly denied her, or that it was stolen. It wrongs Senator Clinton, and ill serves the women who will come after her, to imagine her not as the pioneer, the power broker, the master politician that she has become but instead as a victim.

[snip]

Don't tell your daughters that the nomination was taken from Hillary Clinton. Don't tell them that the door to the Oval Office will always be closed, that no matter how well they do they will never get a fair accounting. Don't tell them that even the best candidate, with the best message and best campaign, will always be cheated by sexism, that a woman's best will never be good enough, or that even great women end up as victims. Tell them the truth: that there is a chance for them no matter what they do, that sexism will always have to be confronted and defeated but that it can be, and that while they will have to work harder and fight longer that in the end they will have the chance both to fail and to succeed, to take upon themselves the responsibility for their own defeats and their victories. Do Senator Clinton justice as a woman who made her own decisions, as a historic figure who held much of her political destiny in her own hands.

Tell your daughters that Hillary Clinton ran a great campaign, but not a perfect campaign. Tell them that she was a great woman, but not the last great woman. There was a better campaign to run, and there will be another woman, on another day, to run it.
The next day has come, and the next campaign, and the next great woman in American politics is Hillary Clinton herself. As long as I have thought I have known her, she never ceases to amaze.

History, here she comes.

cross-posted from, and all comments welcome at Dagblog

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Trump and Consequences

This seems to be the week that it began to sink in, even among the people who had bought into the conventional Beltway wisdom: Trump means what he says. And this is Trump, the only Trump there is. He's not going to "pivot toward the general election" like the wised-up insiders have been saying he would. He's not capable of change. Trump is deeply dishonest, but he believes what he says. When he says that if he's elected he will do things that are destructive, illegal, or unconstitutional, we should believe him.

Donald Trump says he would change libel laws so he could punish journalists who make him angry, because that's what he wants to do. He attacks the judge presiding over his fraud lawsuit, because he would like to punish that judge. He talks about using the power of the Presidency to attack his personal enemies, as he sees them, because that is what he wants to do. Anyone who thinks that Trump would not do those things if given a chance is deluding him- or herself.

Up until now, the conventional wisdom among certain journalists, politicians, and assorted hacks has been not to worry about what Trump says, because in time he will follow the usual political script and do what the conventional wisdom expects. (As if Trump has followed the conventional script at any point up until now.) The wised-up types haven't been worried about what Trump says at his rallies because they pride themselves on being smarter than the audience, and Trump's act is so obviously phony that only an idiot would buy it. But they forgot that Trump actually is one of the idiots who buys Trump's act.

Donald J. Trump is suffering from a serious psychiatric disorder. (Disclosure: I am not a psychiatrist or a psychologist. On the other hand, I am not wrong.) That disorder is incurable, and Trump would refuse treatment if it were offered to him. He's a narcissist, and he likes himself this way. But that major personality disorder limits him. He can lie with enormous conviction, and then tell a contradictory lie with the same intense emotional belief a few seconds later. But what Trump cannot do is stop believing in his own lies. He has no sense of an authentic self outside of those lies. He's not a guy who puts on act to bullshit the rubes. The bullshit is his identity. He is the act, and he has no other character to play. So his psychiatric condition makes Trump enormously rigid in ways healthy people would not expect. He can change the details of the bullshit at lightning speed, but he can't change the basic act, because there's no Trump outside the act.

There's not going to be any "pivot" to a more presidential or conciliatory Trump for the general election. He's not capable of that. And if he were elected, there would not be any shift from campaign mode to governing mode. Hell, no. This is not campaign mode. This is Trump mode, the only mode he has. The only difference if he were elected would be that Trump's sense of grandiosity would be rewarded and intensified, to everyone else's danger, because Trump would be even more convinced that he could do anything he wants.

So the media has fed Trump's campaign, because he fits neatly into their crassest and most cynical business strategies. But if Trump wins, he will destroy the American media by attacking press freedom. Actions have consequences. Those who enabled Trump will pay the price, because Trump himself will punish them.

The Republican politicians making the craven decision to endorse Trump are likewise courting the destruction of their own party. I'm not sure what happens to the Republicans after a Trump loss, but I'm pretty sure a Trump victory would mean the end of the Republican Party. This is the predictable consequence of various party actors' actions.

Donald Trump is a liar, but we should take him at his word. If he is elected he will blow up America's foreign alliances, just as he says he would. He will attempt to deport 11 million people. He will run up a massive deficit with more tax cuts for millionaires, just as he promises. And he will bankrupt the country trying to pay for his asinine wall with Mexico, because he has talked about the wall so much that there is no going back. Trump can lie and backtrack, but he cannot bear to be seen backing down. He couldn't build the wall, because it's impossible and impractical. But he also can't not build the wall.

No one should be surprised at how crazy Trump is. He's been telling us at the top of his lungs for a year. But various people have, for their own reasons, tried to rationalize away Trump's obvious break with reason and treat him like a normal candidate. Those people have been extraordinarily reckless, and they have put our country in real danger. Trump should never have gotten this close. And those who have helped him should never be trusted again.

Trump will spend the next five months demonstrating how profoundly unfit he is. He can't help himself. But he will also be establishing, beyond any reasonable doubt, his enablers' unfitness for public trust. And those people had a choice.

cross-posted from, and all comments welcome at, Dagblog

Sunday, May 29, 2016

JFK's Birthday

Today would have been John F. Kennedy's 99th birthday. I doubt he would have seen it, even if he had lived out his natural days. He was never in good health. But I grew up with a huge JFK poster in my childhood bedroom, and a little bronze bust of him, the kind banks used to give away, on my shelf. I was born Catholic in Massachusetts in the 60s; Kennedy loomed large in my childhood.

Today is also the end of my 25th college reunion at Harvard. I have been having a great time with my classmates, and it's ending before I'm ready. I feel like I've only spoken to half as many people as I'd like, and only for half as long as I'd like. But at least I got to come; JFK did not live to his 25th. I've been joking that I will soon have achieved two things John Kennedy never managed: going to my 25th Harvard reunion and turning 47. But it's not funny. It's just true.

Fifteen of my classmates are already gone, all too soon. Some I knew and some I didn't. And two of the seven people I roomed with over those years have already passed away. I wasn't in touch with them as much as I would have liked. I wish I had taken the chance while I had it.

Mortality has been on my mind, because of my mother's passing a few months ago. Some of my college classmates knew about her death before this weekend, because of social media. Some old friends didn't know, and I told them over the last few days when there seemed like a reasonable moment to tell them. Others I didn't tell, because the time was never right or because we have never been more than casual friends.

I've grown obsessed over the last few years with the Grant Study of Adult Development, a longitudinal study of human aging that tracked 268 Harvard boys over the rest of their long, complicated lives, trying to assess their mental and physical health and growth. They are the worst social science sample possible, so over privileged that they can't be representative. I mean, the guys in that study had a 1 in 268 chance of actually being JFK. But I think about them a lot, because the study illustrates so much about growth in the second half of life, and I am coming to the second half of life. And the Grant Study promises that there is a continuing process of maturation and growth after, for example, a 25th reunion. It is at once comforting and challenging to think that I still have a chance to grow, and to become a better man.

Whether I like it or not, my life is in transition. This week, before I left for Boston, we had a visit from my father and brother at our new house. And I was sitting at my dining room sharing a meal with my family, and Mom wasn't there. It's a new place, and the same old family, but not the same old family. My family changes, and my place in my family changes. There is so much left to do between the middle of life and the end.

The Grant Study also emphasizes the crucial importance of relationships and emotional connections. And perhaps that's why my reunion seems like such a gift. But it is bittersweet to see all these faces for such swift moments, when I want to sit them all down for long, open-ended conversations. And so I guess that's my lesson this Memorial Day weekend: how it all goes by so very, very soon.

cross-posted from, and all comments welcome at, Dagblog

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Hillary's E-mail Dilemma

Let's get one thing straight: people are not out to get Hillary Clinton because of her private e-mail server. Hillary Clinton used a private e-mail server because people are out to get her. Yes, she apparently bent and broke the rules, and everyone,  including Clinton, has said how stupid this was. I don't think it's stupid. I think it was the best of several bad choices.

You see, Hillary Clinton doesn't have the option of doing the right thing and not getting attacked. She has not been allowed that option in twenty years.

If Clinton had used a government e-mail address, she would be getting hammered, right now, for using her government e-mail address for political purposes. Count on it. Because try as she might, some personal and political e-mail would have been sent to her clinton@state.gov address, and this would be treated as a huge scandal.

Really? Would people really make an objection to that? Sure. Let's not forget the big, terrible Al Gore scandal where he was raked over the coals for "illegally fund-raising on federal property" because he made some phone calls from his office. This is the Vice-President of the United States, who not only worked but lived on federal property, and was only occasionally off federal property. The press went right along with that scandal, and it became a major Bush talking point in the 2000 election. This is all on record. If you've forgotten, well, you're lucky. Hillary Clinton does not have the luxury of forgetting. In fact, the luxury of forgetting is part of her problem, in that it frees the rest of us -- the press, the Republicans, the voters -- from any obligation to even basic consistency in how we treat her.

But come on, you say. How hard is it to keep two e-mail accounts separate? Can't everyone do that? as someone who uses multiple e-mail accounts, let me say: no. You can't. It's impossible. Or rather, YOU can keep your work and personal accounts strictly separate, and only send the appropriate messages from each one. What you can't do is make everyone else keep your e-mails separate. You will, I promise you, get some e-mail sent to the wrong address every week, That is inevitable. So Secretary Clinton would have been exposed every time one of her political connections forgot to type "hillary@chappaquahouse.com" and typed "clinton@state.gov" instead. Every piece of misrouted polling data, unsolicited political advice, or personal gossip would have exposed Clinton to trumped-up charges of using federal resources for political ends.

(That would have been the play: she misused government property, the State Department's web server and routers, for campaign purposes. And everyone would have nodded very solemnly about how terrible that was.)

And of course, anything sent to her government account would have been ripe for leaking, including embarrassing personal tidbits and actual political strategy (which no longer works if the opposition knows it, yes?). If you feel any doubt that people would actually leak that stuff, you're allowing yourself the luxury of amnesia again. Because things like that just got leaked in this investigation. It was in all of the papers: this e-mail with Sidney Blumenthal, that e-mail with Huma Abedin, all of the things that Clinton had an interest in keeping private and the public had no legitimate security interest in knowing. And all of that was illegally leaked by sworn government agents who were allegedly investigating e-mail security.

You may have forgotten, but Clinton can't, that she and Bill have been pummeled for years by leaks of material that is illegal to disclose to the press. The impeachment days sailed on a daily tide of sealed grand jury testimony leaked by the investigators. The people investigating Bill in search of a crime actually committed the crime of violating grand jury secrecy on a weekly basis. Why would Clinton think this time would be different? Looking back over the last year, it is clearly not different.

Chew on this: our politics have gotten to a place where the Secretary of State could not trust her e-mail to a government server because she could not trust other government officials, including law enforcement officials, to keep it secure. She had to take as granted that federal law enforcement officials would illegally leak confidential material to cause her harm. Confidential material was held on a private server because the Secretary of State believed -- quite rightly -- that her fellow government officials would not keep it safe. Think about that one for a while.

cross-posted from, and all comments welcome at, Dagblog

Friday, May 20, 2016

Bill Weld Goes Rogue

So, William F. Weld, former Republican governor of Massachusetts, is running for Vice-President on the Libertarian ticket. That's a ridiculous thing, but it's a ridiculous year, and I'm less interested in this trivial fringe campaign than in what it says that Weld, who was once seen as a real comer in national politics, would even bother with this.

Now, let's get one thing out of the way: Weld has a very old connection to Hillary Clinton. They worked together as lawyers for the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate. Later, Bill Clinton appointed Weld to be US Ambassador to Mexico, an appointment sabotaged by Weld's fellow Republican Jesse Helms. (This after Weld had already resigned his governorship, so some real intraparty payback. Did I mention that Weld got his start in politics going after Nixon?)

So a conspiracy-minded type might see Weld's move as an attempt to help Clinton. Which, you know, it is. The whole goal here is to leach a few votes from Trump in the general election. But, like most conspiracy theories, it doesn't really make sense when you do a cost benefit analysis. Weld could probably help Clinton more by defecting to the Democrats outright, or by starting some Republicans Against Trump group. And there's no clear way for Clinton to pay Weld back after she wins. If Senate Republicans were willing to sabotage a Weld appointment in 1997, the 2017 Senate Republicans aren't about to welcome a new Weld nomination with open arms. So there's no payoff here. Weld has nothing to gain.

So why is someone like William Weld,  who has all the money and accomplishment he could possibly need, doing this? I think the answer is that the Republican Party, in his current incarnation, has orphaned him. William Weld has become a man without a party. He has nothing left to lose.

This is striking because Weld is as Old Republican Establishment as it comes. He's from a very old, very rich Boston family. The Welds aren't the kind of family who have a building at Harvard named after them. They're the kind of family that has two buildings at Harvard named after them. And that's a pretty short list. Weld is descended from a hero of the Massachusetts Indian wars, and from an important Union general from the Civil War. He's descended, on his mother's side, from a signer of the Declaration of Independence. (The F. in his name is from that ancestor, William Floyd.) When I say the Welds are Republican Establishment, I mean that some of the Welds were there when the Republican Party was established.

Oh, and Weld spent a quarter-century married to a Roosevelt. Teddy's side family, not Franklin's. These people are not Democrats.

Now that guy -- that guy! -- is running as a third-party spoiler to derail the Republican nominee. Something fundamental has changed.

There hasn't been a place for Weld's brand of socially-liberal, economically-conservative Republicanism in the party for a while now. (I've always suspected that Weld's version of Utopia would be the most inclusive and broad-minded country club imaginable.) Remember, Weld's ambassadorship got torpedoed by a hard-right race-baiter who'd started his career as a Democrat. Northern moderates and liberals have been squeezed out. (This is why former Republican Lincoln Chafee briefly ran for the Democratic nomination this year, like former Republican Jim Webb. Today's GOP has no room for Northern guys named "Lincoln.") But Weld is clearly not going to defect to the Democrats. Being Republican is part of, well, his DNA. He's got nowhere else to go. So now he's on the street making (extremely polite and wittily self-deprecating) trouble.

In the long run, this is going to be trivial. The Johnson/Weld ticket is not going into the history books as a game-changer. But it is a reminder that in turbulent times, the upheaval doesn't move in a single direction. The chaos takes many forms, in contradictory ways. It isn't that Trump gets to upend one of the major political parties and everybody else carries on as normal. Today a talented and loyal son of the Republican Party, a man whose Republican roots go back before Lincoln's election, has become an agent of electoral anarchy. We're living in weird times. And even the pros are getting weird.

cross-posted from (and all comments welcome at) Dagblog