aNewDomain — Tuesday’s Democratic debate highlighted the current frontrunners, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders, in a long and sometimes heated conversation about guns, race relations, the brokenness of the criminal justice system, economics, the environment and U.S. involvement in foreign wars.
But at the end of the day the Republican field once again appears to have pulled ahead in the presidential horserace. I say that because the Democrats haven’t yet shown exactly who’s in charge of their party.
On Those “Damn Emails” And Trump Ace Cards
The winner in the majority of polls, according to The Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, was Bernie Sanders (I-Vt). The self-described Democratic Socialist conducted himself with class and dignity and cleared the board on a range of issues, particularly on the penultimate topics of war, economics and racial reconciliation.
Sanders also wisely sidestepped the leading issue facing Hillary Clinton: her emails. Clinton has been in the midst of the FBI’s investigation of her private server due to emails she sent as Secretary of State on her personal mobile phone. After initially declaring what she did was lawful, Clinton apologized to the public. The issue is perilous: cyberwarfare rages globally and includes Chinese, Russian, Korean, and Middle-Eastern operatives, among others, who are attempting to scrape every piece of Big Data to endanger and threaten U.S. national security. This has the potential to negatively effect the future generations of all Americans.
Although some pundits found her presence “commanding,” Clinton’s admission of her poor judgment in this regard casts doubts about her leadership potential in a prospective presidency. It’s common sense — even football coaches and mob bosses know to cover their mouths while they game the system and strategize the next move. The reality is that we all live in a surveillance state. Our opponents will stop at nothing to gain secrets and advance their place in the world, economically and militarily.
Didn’t the Sony and Ashley Madison hacks expose the underbelly of corporate arrogance and the “disease of conceit,” as Bob Dylan set to lyrics decades ago? Obviously, corporate moguls and political candidates need to measure their words carefully, particularly in electronic transmissions of privileged content. More often than not, they hang themselves with their own words.
This is a truism in most cases, but there are exceptions. The unrepentant billionaire real estate mogul, Donald Trump, who is always slyly playing the jester and heckler, was constantly tweeting during the Democratic debate. His style is to launch venomous insults, and his campaign has dominated the Republican race by conquest flowing from his signature shoot-from-the-hip style, which hasn’t backfired as of yet.
Even Peggy Noonan, Ronald Reagan’s eloquent White House speechwriter, who previously struggled to get a handle on the “freakshow” of the Trump card, has changed her tune, praising the “Trump Revolution” in her recent WSJ article. She attributes the mogul’s aura to the following factors:
One is the deepening estrangement between the elites and the non-elites in America. This is the area in which Trumpism flourishes …
Second, Mr. Trump’s support is not limited to Republicans, not by any means.
Third, the traditional mediating or guiding institutions within the Republican universe — its establishment, respected voices in conservative media, sober-minded state party officials — have little to no impact on Mr. Trump’s rise. Some say voices of authority should stand up to oppose him, which will lower his standing. But Republican powers don’t have that kind of juice anymore. Mr. Trump’s supporters aren’t just bucking a party, they’re bucking everything around, within and connected to it.”
The irony of Clinton’s imbroglio from the GOP’s flagrant sandbagging attacks against her in the email controversy is that this practice of “playing loose” with classified information is routine by federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies. It most commonly takes place in the form of “parallell construction” — i.e., constantly swapping classified data between the agencies to usurp and undermine the constitutional protections of the citizenry against unlawful search and seizure.
This dubious practice was highlighted in the colorful television spy drama, “The Good Wife,” where the spy protagonist parodies the business-as-usual federal practice of parallel construction by satirically shoving it down the throats of privacy advocates: “It’s parallel construction, bitches.”
Ultimate Presidential Star Qualities
This is the rub between the Democrats and Republicans: Has any candidate on the stage distinguished themselves in the two most important domains which define any presidency — leadership and rock salt patriotism?
Great presidencies have incorporated these central pillars in the eyes of ordinary, able-bodied Americans who bear the brunt of taxes, which fund foreign wars (promoting freedom) and subsidizing the welfare state to assist the poor and disabled. Republicans have consistently blended these themes into every single major stand-off against Democratic foes, who usually use their intellectual prowess to analyze and dissect policy issues that impact Middle America, with an emphasis on class warfare and marginalization of the upper-crust effete society.
However, somehow Americans — a melting pot that fancies themselves the descendants of the kings and queens of ancient regimes from the Americas, Europe, Africa and the Far East — remain dreamily beholden by the lyrical strains and spells of political dynasties.
The strength of Trump is that the U.S. is witnessing a hostile, corporate takeover of the political establishment. His take-no-prisoners approach consistently sets him apart from the pack. He is the lone wolf, well known to throw his competitors under the truck and win over his shareholders at any price (which is a feat in the corrupt and morally bankrupt dominion of Wall Street’s creed of greed and avarice). Trump shrewdly remains one step ahead of the law and regulators as the banks gamble on him.
Trump’s behavior resembles that of former Las Vegas mayor and mob attorney, Oscar Goodman, who took photos along the Vegas Strip with Elvis impersonators and beautiful showgirls adorned in feathers. Goodman’s infamous words for his closing argument in defense of a Mafia hitman, explaining why the police found a pistol on the assassin’s person with a silencer affixed to the muzzle, reeks of Trump. To paraphrase: “Hey, the guy is a sportsman and didn’t want to disturb the flock of birds as he fired away.”
Juries, perhaps much like the electorate, give points to the best clown with a clever one-liner — the guy who happens to bring a smile to their tired faces with guilty pleasure and sinful artifice.
Historical Presidential Gravitas
Overcoming their own physical disabilities, two historical political leaders of a dynasty come to mind. They had dueling agendas, but epitomized the personification of serious leadership and unwavering patriotism. The first is the hawkish “trustbuster” Republican Theodore Roosevelt, who defied Wall Street and brought scores of antitrust lawsuits against the robber barons that tired to build America on the backs and pocketbooks of the hardworking Americans. Then, of course, there’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), who triumphed in one of the greatest American wars and died nearly at its finish line, much as Abraham Lincoln did.
From Moscow, upon hearing of the death of his most powerful ally, Joseph Stalin was convinced that FDR was poisoned. This was due to FDR’s global image — he was like a god, entirely invincible. Teddy Roosevelt famously told FDR, upon the announcement that he would run as a Democrat, “Well, then you show them who’s boss.”
In his own time, Teddy Roosevelt was unanimously endorsed. He received the blessings of the king-making industrial giants of iron and steel and, in turn, Roosevelt courageously instituted anti-monopoly laws in the Sherman Antitrust Act, which divested the control of pure capitalist materialism, exploitation and profiteering to promote healthier and more robust competition. He created national parks as an avowed conservationist of America’s grand and beautiful wilderness and never bowed to international leaders fascinated by him, given his cocky pugilist origins.
To Teddy’s chagrin of his legacy, he never had the opportunity to lead the U.S. into victorious battle, other than his early crusade with the Rough Riders in the Mexican-American War. The circumstance of his peaceful presidency was perhaps because no other world leader wished to pick a fight with Teddy, who was a plucky and energetic warrior and sportsman.
In this context, the Democratic debate hardly harkened to the famous Republican Lincoln-Douglas debates, which are known for their deep reservoirs of wisdom. Lincoln’s solemn words about the state of the union contrasted heavily to Douglas’ brash and sharp pitbull demagoguery, which sunk any serious consideration of his candidacy by the people or for the people.
Bernie Hits Hard
In this week’s modern debate, despite the vast oversimplification of issues, Sanders appeared to strike the strongest blow in his response to the difficult question on foreign policy:
Well, let’s understand that when we talk about Syria, you’re talking about a quagmire in a quagmire. You’re talking about groups of people trying to overthrow (Syrian President Bashar) Assad, other groups of people fighting ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). You’re talking about people who are fighting ISIS using their guns to overthrow Assad, and vice versa.
… I will do everything that I can to make sure that the United States does not get involved in another quagmire like we did in Iraq, the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of this country.”
Saying such things so simply is one of his strengths, and continuing in this rhetoric Sanders placed veterans at the forefront of his goals as president. Wounded soldiers have returned to a nation appreciative of their valiant efforts, but with a War Department that lends meek medical and disability assistance. Not everyone survived the battlefield abroad; nor did some of the veterans live through the readjustment upon returning home.
As written in this week’s editorial in The Hill, although Clinton still has strong support among nonwhite Democrats, Sanders stole her thunder on the issue of racial justice. He spoke in clear and moral tones on the question “Do black lives matter, or do all lives matter?” Sanders’ response was:
Black lives matter. And the reason — the reason those words matter is the African-American community knows that on any given day, some innocent person like Sandra Bland can get into a car, and then three days later she’s going to end up dead in jail, or their kids are going to get shot. We need to combat institutional racism from top to bottom, and we need major, major reforms in a broken criminal justice system.”
Emphasis has been placed on Clinton’s moderate race relations stance, but this may also signal that she is out of touch with the difficult and tension-filled eruptions that occur across the U.S. Meanwhile, Sanders appears to have a grip on the enormous threats of a “house divided,” which appears beyond the grasp of Clinton, who has spent more time in the crosshairs of political opposition and has been unable to shirk dogging controversies unlike Trump, Sanders or Bush, who have the freedom of having “nothing to lose.”
Despite an enormous war chest, Clinton sits in the unenviable and tenuous spot of having everything to lose.
Clinton will need to triumph by transcendence over her male adversaries steeped in the good old boy system and become as distinguished as the Iron Maiden — former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — whose disarming resilience impressed even the worst of her enemies. Because, in the plainest of terms, as Teddy informed his progeny, Hillary Clinton will need “to show them who’s boss.”
Images in order: Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton courtesy Reuters; Sanders and Clinton on Emails screenshot of Live Debate courtesy CNN; Donald Trump by Gage Skidmore via Flickr; American Flag by Tom Thai via Flickr; Teddy Roosevelt via Wikimedia Commons; Franklin D. Roosevelt via Wikimedia.