Presidential politics: party platforms, conventions, candidates and veeps

Who are they, and where do they stand?

In the course of the past week, we saw the entire Republican convention play out with the formal nomination of Donald Trump and his acceptance speech laying out his vision and plans if elected. And we’re about to see the Democratic convention unfold, as Hilary Clinton is officially nominated candidate and formally accepts on the final night. These are historic events, we’ve often been reminded in this election cycle. But while there’s a certain ‘first ever’ historic nature in the two candidates, the reality of their party platforms and their individual visions for America—what, at the end of the day, they actually stand for and they would actually do in the Oval Office—is what America must (or should) consider now that we’ve heard Trump and prepare to hear Clinton.

In the course of the last week, we also learned the running-mates of the two candidates. While neither Trump nor Clinton are, or ever were Catholic, the two running-mates have significant connections to the Catholic Church. Trump V.P. pick Mike Pence, Governor of Indiana, was raised as a Catholic, but is  now a devout Evangelical Christian. Clinton choice Tim Kaine, U.S. Senator from Virginia, is a Catholic who worked as a missionary with the Jesuits in Latin America and, according to his Pastor, still actively practices the faith.

However, it’s only on the actual position of a person—what they espouse and what they promise to do—that American citizens can make a choice. And while the Democratic ticket has the only Catholic in the race, and the Republic ticket has been called the most “anti-Catholic” in recent history (especially given Trump’s verbal spat with Pope Francis over his trademark promise to build a Wall, a promise the candidate repeated in his recent keynote speech at the Republic Convention), when it comes to life issues across the spectrum—from the womb to natural death—the platforms could not be more different.

The Democrats’ has never been more pro-abortion, (USA Today claims ‘anti-abortion’ Democrats are outraged over it) and the Republicans’ has never been more pro-life.

Divisions are clear in this particular election year. None, perhaps, more clearly so than here.

Election 2016 launches, another surprise for Hillary

“Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders locked in dead heat in Iowa.”

That headline very late on the night of the Iowa Caucuses, before a few final counts came in, declared a big and early setback for Hillary’s aspirations for the presidency yet again. In 2008, she and her campaign were shocked by a third place finish in that first of many primaries.

“I think Hillary Clinton is going to eke this out in the end,” said a longtime Democratic campaign manager, strategist and news commentator.

‘A 74 year old Socialist candidate is giving Hillary Clinton the run of her life’ said the correspondent assigned to the Sanders campaign.

So, once again, this won’t be a ‘waltz to coronation’ in the Democratic Party for Mrs. Clinton, as many political writers have dubbed it for so long now. No, it’s starting off on a bumpy road, that’s headed next to Sanders’ territory in New England.

It’s been evident for some time that Clinton supporters have been having a hard time supporting her, especially as more revelations have emerged. The congressional hearings on what really happened in Benghazi further damaged her credibility as a member of government.

By the evening hours of September 11, 2012, the Obama administration knew that the deadly assault on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, was a planned terrorist attack, yet for several days afterward top administration officials attributed the attack to a spontaneous protest of an anti-Muslim video. Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, participated in that cover-up.

Getting away with having a private email server, while serving as Secretary of State, has finally run out of facilitators, and she’s not getting away with what investigators have been able to recover from that server, even after her attempts to destroy evidence.

A new report that Hillary Clinton’s personal server contained information about “special access programs” makes her handling of sensitive material “worse than what Snowden did,” Charles Krauthammer said tonight.  “What people have to understand is that there is nothing higher, more secret than an SAP,” Krauthammer said on Tuesday’s Special Report. “From some people I have talked to, this is worse than what Snowden did because he didn’t have access to SAP.” “The reason it’s [so sensitive] is if it’s compromised, people die,” he said. “It also means that operations that have been embedded for years and years get destroyed and cannot be reconstituted. This is very serious.”

The New York Times reported it with the gravity it deserves.

That the Times turned around and endorsed Clinton for president was not surprising, but not that convincing.

The Clinton campaign’s relationship with the Times has been troubled at times over the past year following the revelations that she maintained a private email server while leading the State Department.

Which, the Times noted most recently, had emails not only heavily redacted before they were turned over to federal authorities for investigation, but 22 of them “withheld entirely” because they contained top secret information.

Hillary Clinton has been losing support from her own base for a long while, and these problems only exacerbated that core weakness of her candidacy as the Democratic Party nominee for the presidency in 2016. The first cracks in that foundation came in 2008. The New York Times explains best, in this revealing piece, out just ahead of the Iowa Caucuses, about the women who should be Clinton’s most staunchly ardent supporters.

Some snips:

“Polls don’t quantify doubts, but anecdotally, enthusiasm for her is anemic. Ambivalence is seeping in about her authenticity and the power of her symbolism as a woman. Once again, she has been caught coasting on inevitability by a grass-roots idealist with a universal health care plan. And there’s a sense that those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, from 2008, were historic enough.”…

“I’m feeling Clinton fatigue. Even exhaustion.”…

“A lot of women vote from a compassionate, nurturing place, and those are not qualities you feel from her.”

On her authenticity and her symbolic power as a woman, there is much to say. Especially as it relates to “women who vote from a compassionate, nurturing place”. More on that next time.

What really is the state of America now?

President Obama’s final SOTU was a ‘what’s wrong with this picture?’ snapshot.

Starting with the political theater of the whole thing. Which is embarrassing for everyone.

Political commentator Ed Morrissey saw it as “a parody of monarchical excess“, altogether unnecessary and irrelevant. Right. Return to the Jeffersonian practice of sending in a report and save us all from the “droning, laundry-list campaign speeches of grand spectacle, but very little import.”

Fact-checkers looked at the speech on paper, and laid out a list of claims the president got wrong.

Bill McGurn had keen foresight of the single visual that would capture what the president got wrong, even before he arrived to great fanfare or spoke, because

a White House teaser reveals one of his planned props for the evening: “We leave one seat empty in the First Lady’s State of the Union Guest Box for the victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice.”

Every time I think this president can’t outdo his audacity, he does. He recently held an emotional press conference to announce executive action on gun violence, choked up over the innocent children gunned down senselessly. Where has this emotion been for the past seven years of his presidency while in his and my hometown, innocent children, women, men, grandparents, teens, promising youth have been shot and killed in gun violence every single day on the south side of Chicago, the very familiar territory of his early days as a community organizer and fledgling politician? Even some community leaders there who hold rallies have called out the president for his lack of presence or voice on this most notorious of neighborhood turf wars by street gangs, year in and year out. I recall once when he virtually phoned in a message to be delivered at the rally, delivered by proxy. Why seven years of the bully pulpit not directed to that, to them, to promising young lives snuffed out by guns and gangs? Only to have the final SOTU address gun violence with an empty chair, for the missing?

How symbolic, McGurn continues.

The spectacle is made for President Obama. After all, this is the man who strode out on a stage of foam Greek columns when he accepted his party’s nomination for the presidency. How appropriate that in his last State of the Union he now opts for the empty chair routine used to such derision by Clint Eastwood at the last Republican National Convention.

Then again, for Mr. Obama the maneuver has always been the message. From his 2008 campaign appearance before the Berlin Wall (where he declared himself “a fellow citizen of the world”) to his decision to accept the Nobel Peace Prize before he had in fact done anything, the stage has always upstaged the substance. Unfortunately, Mr. Obama’s penchant for the beau geste carries a high price for Americans, not to mention other, less fortunate citizens of the world.

Start with foreign policy. Though Candidate Obama inveighed mightily against the U.S. intervention in Iraq, he also campaigned on the idea that Iraq had distracted us from winning “the necessary war” in Afghanistan. When he announced to the American people his own surge of 30,000 troops to Afghanistan in December 2009, the cadets at West Point were drafted to serve as the dramatic backdrop.

Today we can see the same speech shows that more important to him than winning this war was the withdrawal date he tucked in the next sentence. Later his own defense secretary, Robert Gates, would record in his memoir how he came to the conclusion that his boss “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his.” Meanwhile, Americans in uniform would continue to die for this strategy.

The painful truth.

The domestic side has also been decided by high theater. When Mr. Obama was first elected, such was his popularity (and the low standing of the GOP), he could have done almost anything. On cue he opted for what he called “the most sweeping economic recovery package in our history,” an $800 billion stimulus that never did stimulate.

ObamaCare followed a year later. Notwithstanding lopsided Democratic majorities in both houses, Mr. Obama still had trouble getting his signature issue through. A more modest president might have found ways to address the problem—i.e., the millions of Americans who could not afford health insurance—without upending the entire market…

This has been the steady fare of the Obama years. Overseas his insistence on the grand gesture has led the president to pretend that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan means we’re no longer at war. This may be popular in the faculty lounge, but in the real world Islamic State beheads Americans, Afghanistan teeters on chaos and Iraqi cities such as Ramadi, liberated from al Qaeda in the original surge, now have to be re-liberated all over again from Islamic State.

At home the president’s Big Ideas (unintended consequences be damned) have seen millions of citizens losing the health-care plans the president promised them they could keep, a record number of Americans giving up on work, and an anemic growth rate of 2%.

The gimmick Mr. Obama has now chosen for his final State of the Union, meant to highlight his end run around the Second Amendment, is fully consistent with this past. But seven years in, an empty chair in the first lady’s box only reinforces images of an empty suit at the podium.

And one more thing, the one thing that got to me more than any other, and there were plenty of others. It was the moment I talked back to the TV, the galling moment when he lectured us all once again, and this time, once too often. Columnist Stephen Hayes had the exact same reaction I did, and expressed it on television in a panel roundup following the speech.

Hayes told Bret Baier he found it a little unbelievable that the president devoted a whole section of his speech to lamenting our broken politics and calling for civility.

Bingo. A jaw-dropper. He was lecturing us on civility.

He brought up a White House advisor comparing the GOP’s fight on the budget to “people with a bomb strapped to their chest,” Obama himself saying Iranian hardliners have “common cause” with the GOP, and the president saying Republican candidates are “doing the work of the terrorists.”

“And now this guy’s gonna lecture us about civility?!” Hayes bewilderedly cried. “The president––it’s not just that he misdiagnoses the problem, the fact that there is this incivility… it’s that he doesn’t understand he’s the cause of so much incivility in our politics!”

There it is. That was the moment when I said the same thing to the television. Our country is more fractured, splintered, divided, intolerant, angry, hostile and uncivil now than it was before he came into office, or so it seems. The president who has used his office in a very unpresidential way, beneath the dignity of the Office of the President, to target for criticism political ‘enemies’, a whole cable news network, particular reporters, the party opposing his party and politics, citizens who hold certain beliefs he opposes, his predecessor, police officers in certain locales, religious groups and others, now lecturing us on incivility in our country, was just too much.

The state of America is actually better than that, but it’s up to Americans to prove it now.

Early campaign 2016

Summed up in a few lines, in a week of ‘big announcements.’

Like Peggy Noonan, I have emerged from a virtual bunker packed with too much work to allow blogging, only because she says it here.

Two points on the general feel of the 2016 campaign so far.

One is that in the case of Mrs. Clinton we are going to see the press act either like the press of a great nation—hungry, raucous, alive, demanding—or like a hopelessly sickened organism, a big flailing octopus with no strength in its arms, lying like a greasy blob at the bottom of the sea, dying of ideology poisoning.

Yep, that’s it in brief, pithy, well-defined sum.

Please God, let us have a press acting once again like the press of a great nation, hungry, raucous, alive, demanding. And further…challenging, engaging, insightful (and dear God, let them finally be self-reflective for a change, examining how they’ve handled political reporting for years and decades now). And finally, honest and honorable. Is that too much to ask? A lively and engaged press, open to all sides and all views, eager to enter the arena of ideas and work them out and pick them apart and apply critical thinking skills so we can once again have vigorous, robust debate covered well by professional journalists?

Or will we continue to get ‘the blob, dying of ideological poisoning’? So much is yet to be determined, some of it now declared.

A bit more on that in the early going, from Noonan’s WSJ column:

On the Republican side there is a good deep bench and there will be a hell of a fight among serious and estimable contenders. A handful of them—Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Rubio, maybe Bobby Jindal—are first-rate debaters, sharp advancers of a thought and a direction. Their debates, their campaigning, their oppo geniuses, their negative ads—it’s all going to be bloody. Will the American people look at them in 2016 and see dynamism and excitement and youth and actual ideas and serious debate? Will it look like that’s where the lightning’s striking and the words have meaning? Will it fortify and revivify the Republican brand? Or will it all look like mayhem and chaos? Will the eventual winner emerge a year from now too bloodied, too damaged to go on and win in November? Will the party itself look bloody and damaged?

On the Democratic side we have Mrs. Clinton, gliding. If she has no serious competition, will the singularity of her situation make her look stable, worthy of reflexive respect, accomplished, serene, the obvious superior choice? Or will Hillary alone on the stage, or the couch, or in the tinted-window SUV, look entitled, presumptuous, old, boring, imperious, yesterday?

Will it all come down to bloody versus boring?

And which would America prefer?

Enough said, for now.

Who Mitt Romney is

Or, who is Mitt Romney? That’s the question of the week, and this is the week it’s due to get answered.

The Republican convention opened Monday, sort of.

The truncated 2012 Republican convention gets underway in earnest Tuesday, delayed by a storm threat and distracted by fears of a hurricane aiming at the northern Gulf Coast…

There is a risk of seeming tone deaf “if the rest of the county is riveted on any kind of horrific weather event,” Republican strategist Rick Davis [said].

It was a cautious start to an uncertain week. But the fact that it was scheduled to be four days in the first place, with the Democrats by necessity already shortening their convention next week to three days, calls this historical event into question, and rightfully so.

“These are very expensive propositions to put on,” [House Speaker John] Boehner said at a lunch hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “I think, given as much news as people get today and the way they get their news, I’m not sure having a four-day convention in the future makes a lot of sense.”

It doesn’t even make a little sense. Political campaigns have become mind-bogglingly expensive with gargantuan spending on saturation campaigns and way too much time spent by candidates on fundraising instead of more important matters, like governing (the incumbant) or policy formation and coalition building (the challenger). And all in the age when we do have near total and constant access to information on the candidates. As well as an inter-generational crushing debt requiring austerity measures all around.

Anyway, thus began the GOP convention week, and it will be interesting to see how coverage goes when the Democrats open theirs next week.

For example, and here’s just one, if media ask for more revelation on a candidate’s worldview and its evolution – very fair question – they should ask the same for both party’s candidates.

So, Mitt, what do you really believe?
Too much about the Republican candidate for the presidency is far too mysterious

That’s just the headline and sub-head of the Economist Leader piece this week. Which makes one wonder…did they ask those very questions of candidate Barack Obama in 2008? Would they dare ask it now?

We want to know all about both men who seek to lead this nation and influence the world over the next four, consequential years.

WSJ picks up the question.

The leader Republicans will nominate for president this week is a man of many paradoxes, a figure well known yet not entirely understood, someone who has been examined for two full presidential campaigns but whose personal beliefs remain the subject of intense debate.

The only part of that sentence that differs from the other candidate is the party designation. No wait…the other part is the “someone who has been examined” description. Because the president never was, though the rest applies.

My Monday radio show, on the sort-of opening day of the GOP convention, anticipating the Democratic convention next week, reflected on the meaning of it all in this day of instant and near-global information access, and whether folks are tuned in after all.

But this AP piece captures it well, I think. At least right now, at this point in time.

The conventions are made for TV. But that means made for all to see, across America and even the world. And the audience now gets to talk back, drafting its own instant platform via Twitter and Facebook and all our other electronic impulses.

The conventions are taxpayer-subsidized political commercials. But if they were only that, few would watch. We’ve seen too many mean ads already. By now most voters have made up their minds about Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, anyway.

At their best, every four years, these mud-slinging, self-serving, partisan-by-definition displays rise to offer something more: moments that transcend politics.

Together, the two conventions make up a national stock-taking, a pause to remember our roots, figure out who we are and decide what’s truly important, without feeling too hokey about it. Like a virtual family reunion, Americans gather around their televisions, computers or smartphones to argue or agree, celebrate the good stuff, mourn our losses and regret our mistakes, to regroup, to look ahead.

The conventions are Barbara Jordan, Jesse Jackson and Obama, their very presence on the podium insisting that the American dream no longer be deferred. And Ferraro and Sarah Palin and Hillary Rodham Clinton, bursting through doors once locked to them.

They are the thousands of Vietnam War protesters chanting outside the 1968 Democratic meeting, who couldn’t be silenced by the tear gas and billy clubs of the Chicago police.

They are Robert Kennedy eulogizing the slain president who was also his big brother Jack. Nancy Reagan telling America that its Great Communicator is being hushed by Alzheimer’s. Mary Fisher pleading with the nation to come to its senses and find its compassion so her children wouldn’t feel ashamed someday to say out loud their mother died of AIDS.

Every four years, the political conventions come along to remind us how wrong we were about some things in the past. And that we know nothing, really, about what’s to come.

It’s no coincidence that Ronald Reagan, a genius at wielding metaphor, chose to speak at the 1976 GOP convention about what he would write in a time capsule letter to the future.

The conventions are time capsules, lovingly created and then buried in the rush to Election Day.

Dig through past conventions, their speeches and platforms, and you’ll find a record not just of Americans’ politics but also of their worries and fears, longings and dreams. Not just how the parties gave us Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. But also how passion to do something about slavery and civil rights and women’s rights and poverty percolated up from the people and into the convention halls and the White House.

This year’s speakers will talk about gay marriage, religious freedom, women’s health, the national debt, joblessness. And someone may say something in a way that sticks in the national consciousness and helps build a consensus that one day, in hindsight, will seem blazingly obvious.

Conventions are far from perfect. Too much of their time is wasted on things parochial and elitist and just silly. Not much has changed since Bob Dole summed up the GOP event of 1980: “The introducers spoke longer than the speakers. And the speakers spoke too long.”

But what else have we got? Self-consciously triumphant inaugurals, ponderous State of the Union speeches. Debates promise some spontaneity, but they’re too narrow, focused only on four candidates.

The conventions are a political Olympics, democracy as spectator sport: Score the best efforts of mayors and governors and senators who might be president someday. Catch those candidates and insiders who claim to hate Washington and loathe politics openly reveling in the raucous, strapping national debate, whatever they prefer to call it. Watch regular folks still willing to turn out, in silly hats and buttons, to cheer for something they believe in.

Well said. True, and well said.

I hope and pray the tropical storm somehow deflects or dissolves and spares lives and property, first and foremost. And then the raucous and rousing experiences of the party conventions get fully underway. Let the competition of two very different visions for America proceed.