A Majority Agree With Sanders & Trump That The System Is Rigged

Elections rigged

Our two-party political system generally acts to limit consideration of political views to those in one corner of the authoritarian right political spectrum. In a typical election year we would not have discussion of subjects such as eliminating the influence of Wall Street,  ending the drug war, and opposition to American interventionism. Bernie Sanders, despite trying to limit his campaign to economic issues, did broaden the range of discussion this year. In addition, the campaigns of both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump exposed how undemocratic our system is.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll showed that over half of voters consider the system to be rigged:

More than half of American voters believe that the system U.S. political parties use to pick their candidates for the White House is “rigged” and more than two-thirds want to see the process changed, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

The results echo complaints from Republican front-runner Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders that the system is stacked against them in favor of candidates with close ties to their parties – a critique that has triggered a nationwide debate over whether the process is fair.

The United States is one of just a handful of countries that gives regular voters any say in who should make it onto the presidential ballot. But the state-by-state system of primaries, caucuses and conventions is complex. The contests historically were always party events, and while the popular vote has grown in influence since the mid-20th century, the parties still have considerable sway.

Trump and Sanders have encountered different obstacles to beat the establishment of their party. Trump has led in the delegate race, but there has been talk of using convention rules to keep  him from winning the nomination, especially if he fails to win on the first ballot.

Sanders has had to deal with party rules which have made it difficult for insurgent candidates to win since George McGovern won the nomination. Party leaders subsequently thought the party was best off with moderate candidates who do well in the south despite significant changes in the country since 1972. The use of super delegates, restrictions on independents voting in may states, and front loading of southern primaries make it harder for insurgent candidates to win. Plus the Democratic Party showed even more favoritism this year, including with the debate schedule, failing to release the popular vote in Iowa, as was done eight years ago, which Sanders very likely won, Harry Reid’s actions in Nevada, and changing rules on contributions from lobbyists to help Clinton.

Imagine how different things could have been if Sanders was declared the winner of the popular vote in Iowa, Harry Reid hadn’t intervened and Sanders won or came closer in Nevada, Sanders wasn’t faced with a string of early southern losses, and if the news media wasn’t showing Sanders to be far behind  from the start by counting the super delegates into the totals. Plus we have seen how much better Sanders does in states where independents can vote.

If we lived in a European parliamentary system, where it was possible for new parties to get established, then it might make sense to limit who can vote in a party primary to allow a party to preserve its ideological identity. However, the structure of our system is quite different. It would be very difficult for other parties to seriously challenge the two major parties. This creates a greater need for voters to be able to influence the candidates chosen by each party. With such input being artificially limited by the Democratic Party, we are seeing the party nominate a candidate who is popular with a majority of hard core partisans, but who is vastly out of step with those who lean towards voting Democratic. At the same time Clinton is probably clinching the nomination, her popularity is falling, she is struggling against Donald Trump and other Republicans in head to head polls, and she has lost in multiple recent states where independents were allowed to vote.

Clinton Campaign Underestimated Sanders–But Also Underestimated Clinton’s Weaknesses

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton listens to a speaker during a campaign stop at the YMCA in Rochester, New Hampshire June 15, 2015.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder - RTX1GLP8

With Clinton falling in the polls and acting desperate, it is no surprise to see The New York Times run a headline saying, Clinton Campaign Underestimated Sanders Strengths, Allies Say.

Advisers to Hillary Clinton, including former President Bill Clinton, believe that her campaign made serious miscalculations by forgoing early attacks on Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and failing to undercut his archliberal message before it grew into a political movement that has now put him within striking distance of beating her in Iowa and New Hampshire.

According to Democrats close to the Clintons and involved with her campaign, Mrs. Clinton and the former president are also unnerved by the possibility that Mr. Sanders will foment a large wave of first-time voters and liberals that will derail her in Iowa, not unlike Barack Obama’s success in 2008, which consigned Mrs. Clinton to a third-place finish. They have asked her advisers about the strength of the campaign’s data modeling and turnout assumptions in Iowa, given that her 2008 campaign’s predictions were so inaccurate.

…Mrs. Clinton’s problems are broader than just her message: Opinion polls show that some Democrats and other voters continue to question her trustworthiness and whether she cares about their problems. Recent polls show that her once-formidable lead over Mr. Sanders in Iowa has all but vanished, while he is holding on to a slight lead over her in New Hampshire.

While they have underestimated Sanders, as they underestimated Obama eight years ago, this isn’t the real problem. The problem for the Clinton campaign is that they failed to see the weaknesses in their candidate and they hopefully underestimated the ability of Democratic voters to recognize them. Clinton lost in 2008 and is struggling today not only because of the attributes of Obama and Sanders, but because Clinton does not have what it takes to a leader in the Democratic Party. She should have remained a Republican.

As the linked article notes, she is weak on ethics. She is weak in policy, both in terms of a history of showing poor judgment on the big issues and in term of opposing liberal viewpoints. By now everyone is aware of the considerable differences between the two with regards to Wall Street, despite Clinton’s attempts to distort the issueThe Nation did an excellent job of succinctly summarizing how often she has been wrong on foreign policy in their endorsement, briefly quoted here. Democratic voters, especially the young, also do not want a candidate who is so conservative on social issues that she teamed up with The Fellowship in the Senate, or who who has a long history of taking conservative stands on civil liberties and government transparency. She has similarly opposed campaign finance reform in the past as she has benefited from money from the special interests, making it hard to believe she will take serious action on the issue. Her record on the environment suggests she is more concerned about protecting the special interests she is indebted to as opposed to supporting any serious change to deal with climate change.

These are many of the same issues which led Democrats to support Obama over Clinton eight years ago.

Clinton’s campaign based upon inevitability and electability against Sanders has fallen apart, as the same strategy did eight years ago, as her lead in the polls has evaporated, and as many head to head polls against Republicans show that Sanders is more electable than Clinton is. Plus, as a general rule of thumb, it is not wise for a political party to nominate a candidate involved in a major scandal, and who has the FBI investigating their actions.

As Van Jones put it last week, the Democratic base is in “full-on rebellion” against Hillary Clinton. This can also be seen in the endorsements from MoveOn and Democracy for America, as well as in DFA’s defense of Sanders from the dishonest attacks from the Clinton campaign.

If there wasn’t a Barack Obama in 2008 and a Bernie Sanders today, somebody else would be challenging Clinton as they are because of the weaknesses of Hillary Clinton.

Clinton’s Weaknesses With Independents & Young Voters Make Bernie A Better Bet In General Election

Sanders Clinton There Is A Difference

Recent posts have noted criticism of Clinton from the left for her attacks on Bernie Sanders and single payer health plans, along with repeating neoconservative talking points and citing 9/11 to justify both her hawkish foreign policy views and the level of her contributions from Wall Street. At times she  is campaigning as if she already won the nomination. It could be risky for Clinton if she continues to alienate the progressive vote in this era in which elections are often won by motivating the base to turn out. This strategy is made even riskier considering Clinton’s weaknesses with independents and in the battleground states.

Albert Hunt, former executive editor of Bloomberg News, looked at Clinton’s weaknesses in the general election:

To be sure, a number of women, especially middle-aged ones, are energized by the prospect of electing the first female U.S. president. That’s a strong asset.

But Clinton has a striking problem with young voters. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed a solid plurality of young voters has a negative view of Clinton. She did even worse in Bloomberg Politics national poll.

Here’s a result to unnerve her Brooklyn campaign headquarters. Both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton get a 60 percent favorable rating with 18-to-29-year-olds. She gets 35 percent approval and 57 percent unfavorable.

In the last presidential election, 19 percent of the voters were in that age cohort, which Obama won, 60 percent to 37 percent, providing his overall margin. There was a substantial decline in the number of young voters in the off-year elections, probably costing Democrats a couple Senate seats; a similar drop-off in 2016 might be decisive in a close election.

Clinton also has big problems with independent voters. In the nomination contest, she’s running well ahead of her chief challenger, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. But she loses to him among Democratic-leaning independents. Over all, independents are negative about her by a margin of better than 3-to-2.

In 2012, almost three in 10 voters were independents and Obama came close to splitting that vote with Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate.

There is little doubt that Clinton easily would defeat any Republican among blacks and Hispanics. It’s far from certain, however, that these voters would be motivated to turn out in as large numbers as they did for Obama: In 2012, 13 percent of the electorate was black, and went more than 90 percent for Obama; 10 percent was Hispanics, who gave 71 percent of their vote to the president.

While Clinton might benefit politically from fear following the recent terrorist attack in Paris, this generally helps more with those who vote Republican, although a recent poll does show her beating Donald Trump on handling terrorism. (I would hope Clinton could beat a candidate such as Trump, who is relying on fear mongering with talk of resuming waterboarding and  debunked claims of Muslims in New Jersey cheering when the World Trade Center crumbled). I do not think that Clinton can count on beating the Republicans by creating more alarm over terrorism, along with promoting a plan which is not likely work.

It will be even harder for Clinton to win among voters who desire a reform agenda. Her defenses based upon a noun, a verb, a gender reference, and 9/11 will not alter the facts around her Wall Street connections, and view that she is too indebted to Wall Street to push reform. Any claims of supporting campaign finance reform are undermined by the manner in which she not only relies on Super PACS but violates the rules prohibiting campaigns from coordinating with them. She violated the transparency rules established when Obama took office, along with prior rules, in responses to the abuses under George Bush. While she might be preferable to whoever the Republican nominate, Clinton will be too much like the Republicans in supporting a hawkish and bellicose foreign policy,continuation of the drug war, continuation of the surveillance state, and showing a lack of respect for civil liberties and separation of church and state.

The Clinton strategy comes down to hoping to win because the Republicans are worse. It is one thing to get people to tell pollsters they prefer your candidate to the opposition. It is an entirely different matter to get people to turn out in big enough numbers to win by running as the lesser of two evils. We saw in 2014 that voters are less likely to turn out when Democrats are running as Republican-lite.

In the recent past we have seen Sanders embrace the principles of FDR while Clinton has been embracing the foreign policy views of George W. Bush and citing bogus attacks from the Wall Street Journal. This is not how to get Democratic-leaning voters to turn out to vote. A candidate such as Sanders, who excites crowds and is motivating more people to register to vote Democratic, is a far safer bet in the general election.

There is strong evidence that Sanders is electable in a general election. While it might turn out that the Republicans nominate a candidate anyone could beat, there are big question marks when looking at a Clinton candidacy. Plus the same views and history which make Clinton a weak candidate also make her a far less desirable president than Sanders, even if it turns out that either could win.

In Major Economic Speech Sanders Explains That He Supports Principles Of FDR & LBJ, Not Communism As Donald Trump Claims

Bernie Sanders Georgetown Speech

In a speech at Georgetown University, Bernie Sanders explained his economic views, showing that Democratic Socialism is not a form of socialism which opposes free enterprise, and that he is definitely not a Communist as Donald Trump claimed. Full transcript here.

Sanders showed how his economic principles are along the lines of those of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson as opposed to Karl Marx, explaining how Roosevelt’s economic programs were called socialist:

Against the ferocious opposition of the ruling class of his day, people he called economic royalists, Roosevelt implemented a series of programs that put millions of people back to work, took them out of poverty and restored their faith in government. He redefined the relationship of the federal government to the people of our country. He combatted cynicism, fear and despair. He reinvigorated democracy. He transformed the country.

And that is what we have to do today.

And, by the way, almost everything he proposed was called “socialist.” Social Security, which transformed life for the elderly in this country was “socialist.” The concept of the “minimum wage” was seen as a radical intrusion into the marketplace and was described as “socialist.” Unemployment insurance, abolishing child labor, the 40-hour work week, collective bargaining, strong banking regulations, deposit insurance, and job programs that put millions of people to work were all described, in one way or another, as “socialist.” Yet, these programs have become the fabric of our nation and the foundation of the middle class.

Thirty years later, in the 1960s, President Johnson passed Medicare and Medicaid to provide health care to millions of senior citizens and families with children, persons with disabilities and some of the most vulnerable people in this county. Once again these vitally important programs were derided by the right wing as socialist programs that were a threat to our American way of life.

Sanders described the economic challenges we face today:

But, here is a very hard truth that we must acknowledge and address. Despite a huge increase in technology and productivity, despite major growth in the U.S. and global economy, tens of millions of American families continue to lack the basic necessities of life, while millions more struggle every day to provide a minimal standard of living for their families. The reality is that for the last 40 years the great middle class of this country has been in decline and faith in our political system is now extremely low.

The rich get much richer. Almost everyone else gets poorer. Super PACs funded by billionaires buy elections. Ordinary people don’t vote. We have an economic and political crisis in this country and the same old, same old establishment politics and economics will not effectively address it.

Sanders continued to provide considerable detail as to the economic problems we face. For the sake of brevity, and as these are arguments he has repeated multiple times, I advise reading the full speech but will not quote more on this portion of the speech here.

He next explained what he means by democratic socialism:

So let me define for you, simply and straightforwardly, what democratic socialism means to me. It builds on what Franklin Delano Roosevelt said when he fought for guaranteed economic rights for all Americans. And it builds on what Martin Luther King, Jr. said in 1968 when he stated that; “This country has socialism for the rich, and rugged individualism for the poor.” It builds on the success of many other countries around the world that have done a far better job than we have in protecting the needs of their working families, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor.

Democratic socialism means that we must create an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy.

Democratic socialism means that we must reform a political system in America today which is not only grossly unfair but, in many respects, corrupt.

He explained further, but I thought that the portion which might best clear up misconceptions was when he said what democratic socialism is not:

So the next time you hear me attacked as a socialist, remember this:

I don’t believe government should own the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a fair deal.

I believe in private companies that thrive and invest and grow in America instead of shipping jobs and profits overseas.

I believe that most Americans can pay lower taxes – if hedge fund managers who make billions manipulating the marketplace finally pay the taxes they should.

I don’t believe in special treatment for the top 1%, but I do believe in equal treatment for African-Americans who are right to proclaim the moral principle that Black Lives Matter.

I despise appeals to nativism and prejudice, and I do believe in immigration reform that gives Hispanics and others a pathway to citizenship and a better life.

I don’t believe in some foreign “ism”, but I believe deeply in American idealism.

I’m not running for president because it’s my turn, but because it’s the turn of all of us to live in a nation of hope and opportunity not for some, not for the few, but for all.

No one understood better than FDR the connection between American strength at home and our ability to defend America at home and across the world. That is why he proposed a second Bill of Rights in 1944, and said in that State of the Union:

“America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for all our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.”

I’m not running to pursue reckless adventures abroad, but to rebuild America’s strength at home. I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will never send our sons and daughters to war under false pretense or pretenses or into dubious battles with no end in sight.

In other words, despite the scare tactics employed by his opponents, including Clinton surrogates and some supporters, we are no more in danger of a Red Dawn in America than in Vermont when he was a mayor who was friendly to small business development. Sanders seeks to reform capitalism, not to replace it with true socialism.

Sanders also discussed his principles for handling ISIS after the terrorist attacks in Paris. While Hillary Clinton was calling for more military intervention in a speech the same day, Sanders pointed out that we must also avoid the mistakes of the past–the types of mistakes advocated by hawks such as Hillary Clinton:

Our response must begin with an understanding of past mistakes and missteps in our previous approaches to foreign policy. It begins with the acknowledgment that unilateral military action should be a last resort, not a first resort, and that ill-conceived military decisions, such as the invasion of Iraq, can wreak far-reaching devastation and destabilize entire regions for decades. It begins with the reflection that the failed policy decisions of the past – rushing to war, regime change in Iraq, or toppling Mossadegh in Iran in 1953, or Guatemalan President Árbenz in 1954, Brazilian President Goulart in 1964, Chilean President Allende in 1973. These are the sorts of policies do not work, do not make us safer, and must not be repeated.

Sanders called for more international cooperation, including from countries in the region. After considerably more discussion on this topic, Sanders concluded:

The bottom line is that ISIS must be destroyed, but it cannot be defeated by the United States alone. A new and effective coalition must be formed with the Muslim nations leading the effort on the ground, while the United States and other major forces provide the support they need.

Bernie Sanders Has Excellent Night At Democratic Forum While Hillary Clinton Dodges Questions On Her Record

MSNBC Democratic Forum

We might  have had a full debate rather than a series of interviews at Democratic Forum hosted by Rachel Maddow if not for the limitations on debates imposed by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, but Friday did have a series of good interviews with the Democratic candidates.  Martin O’Malley was interviewed first and overall did well, including taking jabs at both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Still he felt like the warm up act before the main show, with his campaign remaining in serious trouble.

Salon is calling Bernie Sanders’ interview his best moment in weeks,  and he  also received excellent reviews at Slate. This included Sanders getting  the opportunity to explain his strong civil rights record as seen in this video:

And the event included this opportunity for Sanders to be charming and funny:

Plus Sanders  criticized Hillary Clinton on issues including the Keystone Pipeline, campaign finance reform, and deploying troops to Syria:

“Now to me, as opposed to maybe some other unnamed candidates, the issue of Keystone was kind of a no-brainer,” Sanders said, pointing to President Obama’s decision earlier that day to block the TransCanadian oil pipeline. “So I said no to the Keystone on day one.”

Though Sanders complained that it was largely the media trying to play up animosity between the two, “begging me to beat up on Hillary Clinton,” Sanders did take the bait in a way he hasn’t in the past.

“Now, I have many disagreements with Hillary Clinton. And one of them is that I don’t think it’s good enough just to talk the talk on campaign finance reform. You’ve got to walk the walk,” he said.

Sanders also said he was opposed to President Obama’s recent decision to deploy special operation forces to Syria to help battle ISIS. Pointing out he had opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, unlike Clinton, the Vermont senator said he did “not want to see us get in — sucked into a quagmire of which there may be no end.”

Sanders also criticized Republicans for being cowards in trying to suppress the vote, and criticized campaign coverage by corporate media.

Hillary Clinton did have to dodge a bunch of questions. This included her relationship with Wall Street and her opposition to ending capital punishment:

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton says the Wall Street bankers who gave her millions of dollars don’t have any influence over her policy positions.

Asked whether she is too close to Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street special interests to “reel them in,” Clinton replied that “anybody who thinks that they can influence what I can do doesn’t know me very well.”

“They can actually look and see what I have said and done throughout my career,” Clinton told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow at the First in the South Presidential Candidates Forum at Rock Hill, S.C. on Friday.

“I went to Wall Street. I went to the NASDAQ in December 2007 and basically said, ‘You guys have got to stop it. What you are doing is not only a disaster for home owners because of the mortgage foreclosures … but it’s going to have dire consequences for our country.’ ”

Clinton answered most questions confidently, but seemed to get tripped up when Maddow asked about her support for the death penalty – a position opposed by many on the left, including Democratic primary rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Clinton’s answer — crammed with qualifiers — suggested an extreme ambivalence in her position.

Saying they have to stop it is no more convincing than when she said she told Wall Street to cut it out in the first debate.

Maddow also challenged Clinton on her recent fallacious comments on DOMA. She listed areas where Clinton wanted to go use military force contrary to others in the Obama administration, questioning if the election of Hillary Clinton would be more likely to get us into a war. Clinton ignored the examples cited by Maddow, and her long hawkish history, claiming she preferred diplomacy, despite her record, including Libya, Syria, and Iraq. Both Sanders and O’Malley have recently disagreed with Clinton on deploying troops to  Syria.

Clinton also dodged answering questions as to whether she was an introvert or extrovert, and one question which she cannot be blamed for not being able to answer. Maddow asked which of the Republican candidates she would chose as her running mate if they were her only choices, and who could blame Clinton for rejecting them all?

Update: Saturday Night Live’s take on the Democratic Forum can be seen here. Larry David was again fantastic with his impersonation of Bernie Sanders.

Lawrence Lessig–Long Time Critic Of Clinton’s Ethics–May Run For Democratic Nomination

Lawrence Lessig

Lawrence Lessig, director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University and prominent government reform activist, has stated he plans to run for the Democratic nomination, provided he can raise one million dollars by Labor Day. He says that if elected he would only remain in office long enough to enact government reforms, and then turn over the job to his vice president. He has suggested Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders as possible running mates:

“Until we find a way to fix the rigged system, none of the other things that people talk about doing are going to be possible,” Lessig said in an interview with The Washington Post, borrowing a phrase that has become Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s rallying cry. “We have this fantasy politics right now where people are talking about all the wonderful things they’re going to do while we know these things can’t happen inside the rigged system.”

In the interview, conducted by phone on Monday ahead of his announcement, Lessig said he would serve as president only as long as it takes to pass a package of government reforms and then resign the office and turn the reins over to his vice president. He said he would pick a vice president “who is really, clearly, strongly identified with the ideals of the Democratic Party right now,” offering Warren as one possibility. He said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), whom he considers a friend and has drawn huge crowds in his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, was another option…

The singular focus of Lessig’s campaign would be passing the Citizens Equality Act, a package of reforms that would guarantee the freedom to vote with automatic registration, end partisan gerrymandering and fund campaigns with a mix of small-dollar donations and public funds.

Lessig has noted that Bernie Sanders has many of the same goals, but objects that this is not his top priority.

In contrast, Lessig has often criticized the ethics of both Bill and Hillary Clinton. In 2008, in explaining his endorsement of Barack Obama, Lessig criticized Bill Clinton for his “consistent refusal to stand up for for what were strong principles, at least as he articulated them, in his campaign.” He expressed fears that with Hillary there “are things to make one suspect that she lets principle yield in the face of expedience.” He condemned Hillary for her “lack of moral character, moral courage” and criticized Hillary Clinton’s conduct during the 2008 campaign, accusing her of dishonesty and “swiftboating” Barack Obama.

More recently Lessig has been critical of Clinton’s conduct as Secretary of State in accepting contributions to the Foundation and unusually high speaking fees for Bill Clinton from those with business before her as Secretary of State:

Hillary Clinton’s willingness to allow those with business before the State Department to finance her foundation heightens concerns about how she would manage such relationships as president, said Lawrence Lessig, the director of Harvard University’s Safra Center for Ethics.

“These continuing revelations raise a fundamental question of judgment,” Lessig told IBTimes. “Can it really be that the Clintons didn’t recognize the questions these transactions would raise? And if they did, what does that say about their sense of the appropriate relationship between private gain and public good?”

I quoted additional criticism by Lessig of Clinton’s conduct here.

It is hard to see this campaign really going anywhere. Those who have concerns about corruption in government are increasingly backing Bernie Sanders, and would not be likely to vote for Lessig over Sanders in the primaries. I think it would make more sense for Lessig to speak out on these issues while backing Sanders, and pushing Sanders to place greater emphasis on government reform in his campaign. There are many potential supporters of Sanders who are interested in issues beyond his economic platform, including government reform, support for civil liberties, and opposition to the greater military interventionism supported by Clinton.

Fox Republican Debate Dominated By The Donald

Fox Debate August 2015

Fox brought in a record 24 million viewers for the first Republican debate on Thursday night , and nobody doubts it was because of Donald Trump. CNN explained what this number means:

For perspective, the first GOP primary debate four years ago, also on Fox, attracted 3.2 million viewers.

The most-watched primary debate that year, broadcast by ABC, reached 7.6 million.

Thursday’s debate audience more than tripled that one.

The audience easily exceeded pretty much everything that’s been on American television this year, from the finale of “The Walking Dead” to the final episode of David Letterman’s “Late Show.”

The debate was bigger than all of this year’s NBA Finals and MLB World Series games, and most of the year’s NFL match-ups.

It also trumped Jon Stewart’s Thursday night’s sign-off from “The Daily Show,” which averaged 3.5 million viewers.

Trump is a known ratings magnet. His reality show “The Celebrity Apprentice” used to reach 20 million viewers a week. But it has slipped over the years, averaging 6 to 8 million viewers for recent seasons.

The debate, as well as most of the talk afterwards, was about Donald Trump. They might as well have named it Presidential Apprentice. By the end, many viewers might have been expecting to go to the boardroom to see who Trump would fire. Hint–it might not have been one of the candidates considering what he has been saying about Megyn Kelley and the other Fox correspondents. Among the most crude:

Trump was the center of attention from the start when the very first question was a show of hands  as to “who is unwilling tonight to pledge your support to the eventual nominee of the Republican party and pledge to not run an independent campaign against that person.” Only Donald Trump raised his hand. (Full transcript of the debate can be found here).

Donald Trump did make a great case for campaign finance reform:

I will tell you that our system is broken. I gave to many people, before this, before two months ago, I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give.

And do you know what?

When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me.

QUESTION: So what did you get?

TRUMP: And that’s a broken system.

QUESTION: What did you get from Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi?

TRUMP: Well, I’ll tell you what, with Hillary Clinton, I said be at my wedding and she came to my wedding.

You know why?

She didn’t have a choice because I gave. I gave to a foundation that, frankly, that foundation is supposed to do good. I didn’t know her money would be used on private jets going all over the world. It was.

Trump also restated his opposition to the Iraq war but flip-flopped on his previous support for a single payer system. Trump could have been the best candidate in the room if he hadn’t turned into a Tea Party clown.

There were some other moments when Republican candidates deserved credit. This includes Rand Paul criticizing both his fellow Republican candidates and Hillary Clinton for their policies which on sending more arms to middle east:

I’ve been fighting amidst a lot of opposition from both Hillary Clinton, as well as some Republicans who wanted to send arms to the allies of ISIS. ISIS rides around in a billion dollars worth of U.S. Humvees. It’s a disgrace. We’ve got to stop — we shouldn’t fund our enemies, for goodness sakes.

This was followed by John Kasich defending taking funds for the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare:

First of all, Megyn, you should know that — that President Reagan expanded Medicaid three or four times.

Secondly, I had an opportunity to bring resources back to Ohio to do what?

To treat the mentally ill. Ten thousand of them sit in our prisons. It costs $22,500 a year to keep them in prison. I’d rather get them their medication so they could lead a decent life.

Rand Paul made a another good point when he argued with Chris Christie over NSA surveillance:

The Fourth Amendment was what we fought the Revolution over! John Adams said it was the spark that led to our war for independence, and I’m proud of standing for the Bill of Rights, and I will continue to stand for the Bill of Rights.

Beyond this, we primarily learned from the debates that Republicans hate Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Obamacare, and Planned Parenthood.

I am looking forward to seeing Bernie Sanders debate Hillary Clinton on foreign military intervention and suppression of civil liberties. Clinton’s record on these topics does fit well in the GOP mainstream.

I am hesitant to write about winners because we have learned that the winner of a debate is not based upon the debate itself, but the perception of the candidates after people have listened to the talking heads in the days following the debate. This is further complicated with the Republican Party as most of their voters receive their thoughts from Fox. Criticism from the Fox commentators could make Donald Trump look like a loser, but so far he has managed to survive better than the pundits have predicted, and it is not looking like Fox will be successful against him.

From my perspective, which could be quite different from that of Fox, the winners were John Kasich and Marco Rubio. Kasich barely squeaked into the prime time debate, and the two debates did show that Kasich really did deserve to be there more than Rick Perry, who was excluded, possibly by fudging the results of the polls. Kasich and Jeb Bush looked the most stable in the group. Bush already has his position as top contender after Trump, but now Kasich might replace Scott Walker as the leading challenger to Bush and move into the top tier.

I also downgraded Bush for his discussion of his brother’s policies. It wasn’t faulty intelligence which got us in Iraq as he claimed, but his brother twisting the intelligence to justify the war he wanted to start. Jeb! also seemed oblivious to the fact that ISIS and the other problems now occurring in Iraq are due to his brother destabilizing the region. They all seemed oblivious, when talking about the deficit, to the fact that the deficit is a consequence of George W. Bush both fighting the war on credit and cutting taxes on the wealthy.

The other Republican who looked good, if you ignore his actual views, was Marco Rubio. He could make a good candidate in a television-based campaign. The entry of Trump into the race made it hard for candidates like Rubio to get attention, but he did get a shot at being noticed Thursday.

On the other hand, it seemed a battle throughout the evening between Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz to be the most bat-shit candidate on stage, which was impressive considering that Donald Trump was on the same stage. I was edging towards awarding this to Huckabee, with lines such as, “The purpose of the military is kill people and break things,” until Cruz gave his closing statement, and clinched the title:

If I’m elected president, let me tell you about my first day in office. The first thing I intend to do is to rescind every illegal and unconstitutional executive action taken by Barack Obama.

The next thing I intend to do is instruct the Department of Justice to open an investigation into these videos and to prosecute Planned Parenthood for any criminal violations.

The next thing I intend to do is instruct the Department of Justice and the IRS to start (sic) persecuting religious liberty, and then intend to cancel the Iran deal, and finally move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

I will keep my word. My father fled Cuba, and I will fight to defend liberty because my family knows what it’s like to lose it.

In contrast, Huckabee went for the laugh as opposed to Cruz’s tirade:

It seems like this election has been a whole lot about a person who’s very high in the polls, that doesn’t have a clue about how to govern.

A person who has been filled with scandals, and who could not lead, and, of course, I’m talking about Hillary Clinton.

So, in conclusion, Trump wins for continuing to totally dominate the discussion, Kasich and Rubio had smaller victories which might improve their position if the race should return to be about the more conventional candidates, and Cruz edged Huckabee for the scariest Republican in the room. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders must really have felt happy seeing this debate and the caliber of candidate they might come up against in the general election.

Hillary Clinton Is Correct On Voting Rights But Cannot Get Away With Cherry Picking Her Fights Forever

Clinton Voting Rights

Sometimes the Clintons are masterful politicians. Staking out a strong position in favor of protection of voting rights was an excellent move by Hillary Clinton for many reasons. It contrasts her with her Republican opponents on the right–as opposed to where she is weak on the issues against her Democratic opponents on the left. It helps expose the Republicans who oppose her as opposing voting rights, leaving them with weak arguments such as raising claims of virtually non-existent voting fraud. Republicans are not in a good position when they whine that allowing more people to vote will mean more people will vote for Democrats. Unlike many liberal positions which go against the grain of Clinton’s cultural conservatism, this is an issue where she undoubtedly does feel comfortable taking the liberal side, as it is not only the right position, but the one which helps her in the election.

This very likely will be Clinton’s strategy. Take liberal positions which will receive popular support (but avoid taking questions so she still has plenty of wiggle room to move to the right), stay quiet on other controversial issues, and stonewall on her personal strategies.

It remains questionable as to how long this will work. She certainly should manage to continue to find some liberal positions to try to shore up Democratic support, even if she leaves some liberals unsatisfied in the cases where she leaves out all important specifics and refuses to answer questions. At this early stage she might get away with avoiding talk about issues where she is to the right of the Democratic Party, from trade to NSA surveillance, but sooner or later voters might start to wonder why she is keeping quiet on so many issues.

The biggest problem might turn out to be the major ethical violations which she refuses to honestly answer questions about. Initially the conventional wisdom was that people already had their minds made up about the Clintons and a couple more scandal wouldn’t matter. That was until the latest polls, showing Clinton losing leads over the top Republican candidates, and falling tremendously on measures such as favorability and honesty. As long as Clinton remains unable to provide any honest answers the scandals will probably continue to hurt her. Some old Clinton hands, along with groups such as Media Matters which are closely aligned with the Clinton campaign. will continue to spin and distort the facts in her favor, but there might be a growing number who abandon her in favor of the truth. For example, when ABC News asked Robert Reich about the latest polls his response was not at all supportive:

The number of people, according to a new ABC News-Washington Post poll, who see Hillary Clinton as trustworthy has dropped in recent months. Why do you think this is?

RR: She hasn’t yet given a convincing explanation for why she used a private email account when she was secretary of state, and why she and her husband have made so many speeches for hundreds of thousands of dollars a pop from special interests that presumably want something in return. In other words, she needs to be more open and transparent about everything.

Yes. about everything. But that is never how Hillary Clinton has operated, showing a long history of opposition to both personal and government transparency.

While I disagree with much of what Megan McArdle wrote (especially her mischaracterization of Martin O’Malley’s record), she very will might be right that Clinton Support Has Nowhere to Go But Down. Clinton might  improve in the polls from time to time, but she is looking like a progressively weaker candidate for a general election campaign. Fred Barnes is also right that “Stonewalls can work, but not forever and not in the midst of a presidential campaign. A minimal requirement of candidates is that they converse with the press. It looks bad when they don’t. It looks like they’re hiding something.”

The sad thing is that, while Clinton takes the high road on voting rights, her overall conduct leaves her so wide upon to such valid criticism from the right. She is going to have to do better for Democrats to avoid a repeat of 2014 when running Republican-lite candidates led to Democratic voters staying home.

Clinton’s Unethical Behavior Has Already Been Well Established–And It Has Nothing To Do With The Right

Clinton Email

As I discussed once again yesterday, many Democrats are ignoring the serious ethical breaches which have been written about Hillary Clinton, both in the past couple of months and further back, from liberal as well as conservative sources. To a certain degree the right gives her cover as, in addition to the many proven accusations against her raised by the left, there are additional false accusations against her from the right, leading some to falsely conclude that all accusations against Clinton are as bogus as Benghazi. Clinton apologists are now using a rather irrelevant article  in The New York Times to justify ignoring the strong case against Clinton. The article cites actions from the past months by conservative groups, ignoring the fact that many on the left has felt that Clinton is both unethical and too conservative for many years.

A post at The Moderate Voice (where many of my posts are reposted) which cites this article takes on the surface might be called a moderate viewpoint but actually ignores the facts of the matter:

I will wait for the results of impartial, independent investigations on allegations such as “E-Mail Gate” and the Clinton Foundation.

And I will definitely not fall for what the extreme right, or the extreme left, allege about Hillary Clinton.

In actuality, while additional facts will likely continue to be found, all the information to prove Clinton’s ethical misconduct and violation of rules in effect when she was Secretary of State are already in. Criticism of Clinton comes from all parts of the political spectrum, not just the extreme right and left. There is no such thing as an “impartial, independent investigation” to occur on a public official out of office, especially those as powerful as the Clintons. There are no such “independent investigations” of candidates other than from the media. We must go by the well-established facts that we do have to judge whether she is fit to be president. Here is what we do know:

When Hillary Clinton was made Secretary of State there was tremendous concern, from members of both parties, about the conflicts of interest this entails. Two rules were established to attempt to prevent conflicts of interest. The first applied to all cabinet officials after the email scandals of the Bush years (which Clinton included in her attacks on the Bush administration for shredding the Constitution). To increase transparency, rules were established by the Obama administration in 2009 for all email to be archived on government servers. Clinton violated this, and used the private server  to keep information both from Congress and the media. The top Freedom of Information Act official at the Justice Department has stated that Clinton was in violation of the rules and the State Department’s top Freedom of Information Act officer has called her use of a private server unacceptable. An ambassador under Clinton was even fired with failure to abide by rules related to not using private email being cited as a reason by the Inspector General (pdf of report here). Buzzfeed recently obtained email showing that the  top lawyer for the National Archives also expressed concern over Clinton’s use of a private server.

After Clinton’s press conference about the email scandal, news media fact checkers showed ares in which she was lying, especially with her claim of not breaking the rules. AP subsequently also found that her claim about not wanting to use two devices out of convenience did not hold up as she was actually using two devices for email when Secretary of State.

Not only did Clinton fail to abide by the policies in effect, when this became publicly known she destroyed evidence in wiping the server.

The second rule which applied exclusively to Hillary Clinton’s situation was that the contributions to the Clinton Foundation be disclosed. Hillary Clinton agreed to this, but failed to abide by the agreement and did not disclose over a thousand donors. The Foundation also failed to disclose many of these on their tax forms and was  caught lying about this issue.

We also know that Bill Clinton saw an unprecedented increase in payments for giving speeches when Hillary became Secretary of State from organizations and countries which subsequently received favorable intervention from Clinton. His speaking fees jumped from 150,000 to typically 500,000, and as high as 750,000. Contributions to the Clinton Foundation raise similar ethical concerns. This week we also received evidence that Hillary Clinton personally benefited financially.Ezra Klein discussed how this was both unethical and showed poor judgment.

Clinton apologists have argued that there is not evidence of a quid pro quo, but to require this is a higher standard of proof which others are subjected to. Direct evidence of a Instead guilt is generally established based upon patterns of behavior, including failing to follow the rules in effect and such transfers of money to a politician from those who have received benefits. Destruction of evidence is typically interpreted to mean that the destroyed evidence is unfavorable to the accused.  Lawrence Lessig, director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, recently wrote:

Even if no deals are made, the influence of special-interest super PACs is a corrupting influence on American democracy. Even without a quid pro quo, the incredible concentration of direct contributions from a tiny fraction of the wealthiest 1 percent of the population is a corrupting ­influence.

Corruption is not just a contract. Corruption is also a kind of economy — an economy of influence that leads any sane soul to the fair belief that private influence has affected public policy. It is for this reason that practically every Democrat has insisted that the court’s Citizens United decision (and its progeny) needs to be reversed. It is this idea that has motivated millions to petition Congress to propose an amendment for that reversal…

That consensus among Democrats has now been shattered by a book by conservative writer Peter Schweizer. In “Clinton Cash,” Schweizer charges Bill and Hillary Clinton with corruption. Not because there is evidence of any particular bribe. Instead, their corruption, Schweizer says, comes from a pattern of behavior: a constant (and, by the end of the book, practically grotesque) story of cash passing from people seeking the government’s favor to either Bill Clinton (and hence Hillary Clinton) or the Clinton Foundation. The rapaciousness alone is enough to give one pause: Seriously, don’t we pay former presidents enough?

Yet all this, the Clintons and their defenders insist, is not corruption because Schweizer has provided no smoking gun. He has offered “no evidence” of a quid pro quo trade.

Welcome to Wonderland: Were the alleged influencers the Koch brothers, with the same kind of pattern charged against them — their channeling support to Republican representatives, those representatives in turn acting in a way that reflected the desires of the Kochs — there would be no doubt that Democrats would rally to attack that influence as Exhibit No. 1 in the case against the corruption of Washington. But apparently now those loyal to the Democratic presidential front-runner will have to be more careful in their criticism. Apparently now the party line must be: Even if someone benefited personally, and enormously, and even if there is a repeated series of victories for those exercising their influence, there’s no corruption unless Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. would see it as corruption — meaning again, no corruption unless a quid pro quo.

Democrats need to think carefully about whether this is really a principle they want to defend — while they insist that we need to amend the Constitution to ban independent contributions and expenditures as corrupt even if no quid pro quo is shown.

Likewise, the Republicans now railing against the Clintons need to recognize just how easy it is for them to see corruption even where no one can show a quid pro quo.

We all should agree that the economy of influence that Washington has become is corrupt, the Supreme Court notwithstanding, and all finally move on to the only important question: What can we do to fix it?

On any fair reading, the pattern of behavior that Schweizer has charged is corruption. If the Clintons are going to defend against it, they need to do more than to cite Chief Justice Roberts. And soon.

David Sirota  has also recently written in Salon about the hypocrisy of Democrats who oppose the Citizens United ruling while giving Hillary Clinton a free pass.

Common Cause has called for an independent audit of the Clinton Foundation. Charity watch dog organizations such as Charity Navigator have placed the Foundation on their watchlist.

Clinton would be receiving this criticism even if conservative groups were not further publicizing her actions. The case against the Clintons is based upon what the Clintons have done–not actions by any conservative group the last couple of months.While we have more information, this is not anything new.  The Clintons have been criticized for similar ethical problems for many years by both liberal and nonpartisan organizations concerned with ethics and transparency in government.  For example, The Sunlight Foundation has archived an article from The New York Times criticizing Hillary Clinton for similar ethical violations in 2009.

Liberals have objected to Clinton’s conservative views, along with her ethical violations, during the 2008 campaign and earlier. Hillary Clinton is essentially a Joe Lieberman Democrat on foreign policy, civil liberties, and social issues, and many liberals have felt for a long time that she should be ostracized by Democrats as Lieberman ultimately was. I discussed how her hawkish foreign policy views were unacceptable to the left in this post from August 2014, along with past posts. I pointed out her long history of poor judgment on policy issues in this post from June 2014, citing an article from The National Journal. I recently cited an article from Mother Jones written in 2007 on Clinton’s cultural conservatism, including her poor record regarding separation of church and state. Clinton has received similar criticism from liberals, and those concerned about ethics in government, going back much longer. Criticism of Clinton from the left has nothing to do with actions from conservatives.

Russ Feingold Needed Back In The Senate

Russ Feingold has announced plans to attempt to win back the Senate seat he lost six years ago in the video above.

“People tell me all the time that our politics and Washington are broken. And that multi-millionaires, billionaires and big corporations are calling the shots,” Feingold says in the video. “They especially say this about the U.S. Senate, and it’s hard not to agree. But what are we going to do? Get rid of the Senate?

“Actually, no one I’ve listened to says we should throw in the towel and give up — and I don’t think that either,” he adds. “Instead, let’s fight together for change. That means helping to bring back to the U.S. Senate strong independence, bipartisanship and honesty.”

Feingold lost his seat in the Republican sweep of 2010, and is considered to have a better than even chance of winning it back in a presidential election year. It would be unusual in recent years for this to occur:

While Feingold is seen as a very strong candidate with perhaps better than even odds to pick up the seat he lost to Ron Johnson during the 2010 Republican tsunami, his return to the chamber would certainly be a rarity in the modern political era.

Smart Politics first reported in February that only two U.S. Senators have returned to the chamber after losing their seat at the ballot box since 1956.

The last U.S. Senator to be defeated at the ballot box and then later win an election back to the chamber was Washington Republican Slade Gorton

From the beginning of direct elections in 1913 until the mid-1950s, such comebacks were much more common, with 14 defeated ex-U.S. Senators winning back a seat in the chamber…

Feingold’s return to the Senate is very important for those of us who vote Democratic based upon issues such as civil liberties, opposition to unnecessary wars, campaign finance reform, and transparency in government. If Hillary Clinton should win the Democratic nomination as most expect, this would leave us with a choice of both a Democrat and most likely also a Republican who is very conservative on all of these issues. (The lone exception on these issues might be Ron Paul, but he has been flip-flopping to sound like a more conventional Republican).

Russ Feingold has battled with Clinton in the past, and he will hopefully be a strong voice in the Senate for liberalism as opposed to Clintonian conservatism. Feingold would also make a far better presidential candidate than Clinton, but it is understandable he would concentrate on winning back his Senate seat as opposed to an uphill battle for the presidential nomination.