Party Unity

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While it may be a consummation devoutly to be wished, the question of unity within the Democratic Party remains in doubt. Or does it? A poll released yesterday suggests that 90% of hard-core Bernie Sanders supporters intend to vote for Clinton in November. Despite protests at the Democratic convention, it turns out that just as Bernie Sanders doesn’t control or even speak for his most rabid partisans, they, in turn, don’t speak for the majority of Sanders less active supporters.

Nothing new here. People who go to conventions are not the same is ordinary voters – they have more ego invested. Having been battle tested, they are always ready for the fight even if every victory they achieve is bound to by pyrrhic.

What will happen to the Bernie or Bust people? I expect a lot of them will take their ball and go home and won’t be heard from again until after the election. Others may turn their frustrated energy towards a campaign for the Greens or, illogical as it may seem, for the right wing Libertarian Party candidate. A few may even campaign for Trump. But most of those who remain active will work to get Democrats elected – they may not support Clinton directly but will pick local candidates for Congress or Governor to try to break the Republican stranglehold on those elected bodies.

The same cannot be said for the situation in Republican Party. Whereas the second place finisher for the Democrats, Bernie Sanders, called on people to elect Clinton, Ted Cruz, who finished second for the GOP, refused to endorse Trump and was actually booed off the stage. Meanwhile, numerous Republican leaders have been lukewarm in their endorsements or are actively working for the defeat of their own candidate. How that works out on Election Day is anyone’s guess, but the same Pew poll that showed the shift in Sanders supporters found that fewer than 80% of those who worked for another GOP candidate will vote for Trump. I doubt if many of those will wind up working for Clinton but it may give the Libertarian candidate a boost. Or, more likely, it will add to the huge number of Americans who simply don’t vote.

While many progressives and independents were somewhat shocked at the rhetoric at the GOP convention, they might take comfort in the fact that most of the convention-goers there, like the Bernie or Bust folks protesting at the DNC, don’t represent anyone but themselves. Radicals make great TV but seldom deliver what they promise. Trust me, after 45 years of activism on the left, I know.

And that’s ten minutes.

 

Memes

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Yesterday I saw a meme on Facebook which consisted of an unflattering picture of an angry looking Hilary Clinton and a caption “I’ll get you and your little bird, too,” a reference to the finch that landed on the podium during a Bernie Sanders speech. It was posted by a progressive woman (a Sanders supporter) with a note saying that it should be taken as humorous.

Let’s be clear: this was meant to remind you of the wicked witch from Wizard of Oz (who is eventually killed). The word ‘witch’ is often used as a euphemism for the word ‘bitch.’ What struck me about this is the number of times I’ve heard right wing white men make misogynistic and racist remarks and then excuse it with: It’s just a joke. Don’t you have a sense of humour?

I get it. We often make rude jokes among ourselves – denigrating people for aspects of their character or background because attacking their policies is just too time and energy consuming. My wife and I have often said that it’s a good thing our living room isn’t bugged, given some of the snarky remarks we’ve made about politicians and, even, about tragic public events. We say things to each other that we would never dream of saying in public. Or on Facebook.

What’s the harm, you might say? When politics is reduced to memes, discourse is reduced to angry shouts, democracy becomes demagoguery and racists and sexists are given a free hand. It is no more acceptable for those on the left to do it than those on the right.

But it is so damn easy, isn’t it? I’ve been guilty myself. I made a meme showing a smarmy looking Ted Cruz with the logo beneath his face saying “Five Affairs” as if he were bragging. Below that was Vezzini from the Princess Bride (Cruz is a big fan) saying “Inconceivable.” With two images and three words I both call attention to the rumours around Cruz and question his ‘manhood.’

Here’s an easy one for Clinton supporters to use. Find a picture of Sanders making a speech – hand raised, preferably in a fist. The caption? “Old Man Shouting at Clouds” Now we get to point out that Sanders is indeed the oldest candidate for President ever and suggest that his policies are not only fuelled by anger but also that they are unlikely to change anything.

Would that be fair? Not in the least. Would it be funny? To some people maybe; others would see it as ageist and simple-minded. That’s what memes do. Make light of everything and reduce it to the lowest common denominator – usually by playing on half-truths or outright lies. Lies seem to be the main currency of modern politics in America.

The solution to division in America is not more insults, lies, invective or bad and unpleasant jokes. The solution is honest discourse and spirited but reasoned debate. You actually see that, for the most part, between Sanders and Clinton. It even, from time to time, appeared in the Republican debates. Maybe, whoever becomes the candidate for their respective parties, we’ll see it in the presidential debates.

But in America in 2016, I suspect it will all be reduced to an insulting picture and a few simplistic insults. Funny? In a sick kind of way, I suppose. I’m sure anti-democratic thugs the world over are laughing their heads off.

And that’s ten minutes.

Down in The Gutter

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American politics may have hit a new low with accusations that Ted Cruz engaged in extra-marital affairs. This comes after a nude picture of Donald Trump’s wife was used in an attack ad by a pro-Cruz SuperPAC. Never have such tactics appeared in American politics. Well, if you don’t count the outing of John Edwards and Gary Hart, the vicious attacks on serial monogamist Newt Gingrich, efforts to impeach Clinton over a blowjob, the various Senators and congressmen caught doing the dirty in public washrooms or the various rumours spread about Presidential infidelities going right back to the founding fathers.

Sex and politics have always been mixed up in the United States – not surprising for a country founded by Puritans and other fundamentalist Christians. Of course, this is also the country that gave us Mormonism, the religion that solved the problem of philandering males by letting them “marry” as many young girls as they like.

Of course, everyone says that it is not the sex that matters but the hypocrisy. I’m sure that if Cruz hadn’t been so rigid, I mean, firm, or rather, determined in his sexual purity, none of this would have come up. In any case, after a brief spurt of outrage, I’m sure we’ll soon return to more usual discourse – idiot, snivelling coward, jerk, liar – to which we’ve become accustomed.

All this is being driven by the on-going uncertainty about who will get the Republican nomination. Analysis of the latest polls suggest that Donald Trump will win just enough delegates for victory before the convention is held. Or he will be a few dozen short. Neither result will ensure he gets the nomination if the organizers adjust the rules to let delegates become unbound before the first vote. It’s all very complicated but you can read about it here. Trump has threatened lawsuits and predicted riots if such shenanigans occur. I think I’ll avoid Cleveland this July (or, well, forever. I mean, Cleveland!)

On the Democratic side, Sanders supporters have begun a ‘we was robbed’ narrative, starting some time ago but reaching a crescendo with the total mess that came down in Arizona. No one questions that it was a voting disaster but it was run by the state of Arizona and its hard-right Republican government. The gutting of the Fair Voting Act – which was implemented precisely because of states like Arizona with a history of depriving minorities with the vote – coupled by the archaic rules used by the state for registering voters was the source of the problem. It’s notable that voters were particularly impeded from voting in counties with high black and Hispanic populations, hardly fertile ground for Sanders based on past performance.

Of course, a few Sanders supporters probably think the clearly liberal, Ms. Clinton, is in cahoots with the Republicans to keep their guy out of the White House – highly plausible given the warm and cozy relationship the GOP has had with the Clintons over the years. Of course, Clinton hasn’t been exactly nice to Mr. Sanders either – though so far she hasn’t suggested he’s a closet communist. But as June approaches and if the race stays close – I wouldn’t be surprised if photographs of baby Bernie in the arms of Joseph Stalin appear.

And that’s ten minutes.

The Progressive Problem

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I’ve spent a certain amount of time talking about the Republican race for the Presidential nomination but it is worth looking at what is going on in the Democratic side as well. Unlike the Republican race, there were never more than two serious candidates – which is quite something in itself. A year ago there was only one. The rise of Bernie Sanders can only be viewed as a good thing – if only to sharpen the Democratic progressive agenda and to present a radically different view of how politics can be conducted. Sanders and Clinton have their differences but have mostly – though hardly entirely – avoided the vitriol of the Republican race.

Bernie Sanders is – like Donald Trump in one way at least – an outsider. While he had held elected office for 35 years (25 years at the Federal level), he comes across as a non-politician. In part, this comes from the fact that for most of his life he has sat as an independent – an independent democratic socialist to be exact – rather than within one of the two mainstream parties in America. Perhaps because of the security he feels in his Senate seat – Vermont is unlikely to turn on him now – or because of his age, Sanders has a refreshing candor. And he is a good, natural speaker unlike his rival Hilary Clinton who sometimes seems earnest but wooden.

Sanders has been particularly effective at motivating young voters, much like Barrack Obama. In most other respects Sanders is nothing like Obama. He has so far shown himself unable to bring large numbers of blacks or Hispanics into his camp. Other than the young, Sanders biggest group of supports are angry working class white men – the same demographic that Trump draws his support from. Of course, the BernieBros – as they are called – are not the same as Trump’s adherents. They are hope-filled rather than hate-filled. But, still, some of their attacks against Hillary have been sufficiently misogynistic that Sanders has had to disavow them.

Clinton seems like a career politician – mostly because she has been in the public eye since her husband was elected President. In fact she has spent far fewer years in electoral politics – and a much smaller percentage of her life – than Sanders. His obscurity has, well, obscured how much of a Washington insider he is. Clinton is also sometimes accused by progressives of being Republican-lite though her voting record is nearly as progressive as that of Bernie Sanders. Her proposals are not nearly as radical as the ones that Sanders has made but probably have a higher percentage chance of being implemented – if she becomes President.

Bernie Sanders and his supporters are a serious obstacle to that goal. Not because Sanders is likely to win the Democratic nomination. Sorry, but at this stage, that is hardly an outrageous statement even if it provokes outrage. It has nothing to do with super delegates who might switch allegiance if Sanders wins a majority of primary delegates – the party establishment is driven by pragmatism not ideology and might swallow the fact that Sanders has never been (and may not now be) a Democrat.

But the numbers don’t lie. Sanders is 300 delegates behind and while his best states may not have voted yet, neither have some of his worst states (Arizona and New York are likely to be won by Clinton). He not only has to win most of the rest of the states, he has to win them by sizable margins. So far, he hasn’t shown the ability to do that.

And, of course, Sanders hasn’t faced twenty years of character assassination by the right the way Clinton has. Perhaps that is the most striking thing about Clinton – that she has endured so much abuse, almost all of it based in lies and innuendo, rather than evidence, yet is still standing and still strong. The biggest question that must – or at least should – weigh on the minds of Democrats is whether Sanders can do as well in what is certain to be a vicious fight for the White House.

At some point Sanders may have to accept that he won’t win the Democratic nomination; then he has to decide if he wants to be another Ralph Nader and hand the White House to the Republicans. And even if Sanders throws his support behind Clinton, will his supporters follow him? Or will they stay home, or worse yet, vote for Trump?

And that’s a little more than ten minutes.

Changes

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It has been a busy week both North and South of the border and maybe it’s time to take a pause and try to figure out what it all means.

Donald Trump has declined to participate in the next GOP debate; Fox News decided to cancel it. Trump accomplishes two things by this tactic – he assumes the role of front runner and proves it by essentially being able to pick and choose where he will appear. He has nothing more to gain from the debates – all the insults have been doled out and Trump needs to start looking more Presidential which he can start to do. His supporters are certainly convinced but they don’t make up a majority of the Republican Party let alone the country. Unless he mends fences (rather than build walls) with women and minorities, his winning ways will likely come to an end in November.

Meanwhile, Barrack Obama has done the tactically smart thing – appoint a moderate for his nominee to the Supreme Court. Judge Garland has won praise from both sides of the great divide including from a number of current GOP Senators. Already a few moderates – among those few that are left – on that side of the house have indicated their desire to hold hearings, Mitch McConnell be damned. They may still block the appointment but are then faced with the unenviable prospect of facing a much more progressive nominee if Clinton (or Sanders) is elected and who knows what if Trump becomes President. There is no certainty that he will appoint a hard-line conservative to the bench. He is nothing if not unpredictable.

In Canada, our Senate will take on a significantly different face today with the appointment of seven new Senators. All will sit as independents though one, Peter Harder, will be the government representative with the job of moving legislation through the upper chamber. He is a long time and well-respected bureaucrat who led the transition team for Justin Trudeau – so mostly non-partisan but clearly sympathetic to the government. Of the rest, only one has a political background, a former Cabinet Minister in the Ontario NDP government some 20 years ago. The others include a former Olympian, Chantal Petitclerc, and the judge, Murray Sinclair, who recently headed up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission dealing with Indian Residential Schools. One impact of the appointments is to reduce the Conservative majority to a plurality – a change which was helped by the decision of four of their caucus to sit as independents.

Finally, the CBC has announced that it will no longer allow commenters on its news stories to remain anonymous. This follows the decision to moderate all stories on Indigenous people in order to get rid of racists. While some will complain that this silences those who fear for their jobs or friendships if their identity is known, it is a significant step forward for public civility. Maybe some of the trolls will find the courage to come out from under their bridges – if not, their voices surely will be missed by no one but themselves.

And that is a very public ten minutes.

 

The Winnowing of the Right

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It’s a bit like watching a slow motion train wreck. You want to look away but you can’t. Where will the cars land; how much destruction will we see? I am of course referring to the Republican nomination race.

The Clinton-Sanders contest is interesting from a policy point of view as Clinton is pulled into the uncomfortable left by a persistent social democratic campaigner. It’s not over yet – though it will be tough for Sanders to overtake Clinton now. But there is no sense of long-term damage to the party as a result of their fairly polite contestation.

Even on the Republican side, the remaining three candidates seem to be trying to be a little less bellicose though how long that will last is anyone’s guess. After yesterday, Trump has taken a commanding lead but would still need to win over 60% of the remaining delegates to win the nomination before the convention. (By comparison, Clinton needs about 40% to retain her lead). With only a few winner-take-all contests left, that may be difficult as long as Kasich remains in the race.

And if Kasich leaves, Cruz – strangely enough – may be the biggest beneficiary. But Kasich will certainly hang in for a few more weeks. He’ll pick up a lot of Rubio’s votes and what is left of establishment Republican money. His goal is to arrive at the convention with enough delegates to survive the first round of voting and hope that delegates ‘see the light’ in the second or third rounds. Given that some of the delegates are even more committed than the people they support – this seems doubtful. But three rounds of voting might leave the party too demoralized to be effective come November.

Meanwhile, Trump will be trolling for additional endorsements. Christie gave one – and was quickly ushered off the stage. There was speculation that he was hoping to be the VP but that makes no sense. Trump, from New York, is unlikely to choose someone from neighbouring New Jersey, even if he does shore up his moderate credentials. I expect Trump will pick a nobody who will keep out of the limelight for 8 years (assuming Trump can win – still very much in doubt).

Ben Carson also endorsed Trump and was apparently quoted as saying he didn’t want to but Trump offered him a job in the Cabinet. You might want to Snopes that but it does seem like something Carson might say. Carson always came across as crazy but honest unlike the man he just backed.

In the meantime, the train keeps rolling while the people inside keep screaming, though whether in rage, fear or despair it is hard to tell from where I’m sitting. Probably a little of each. In any case, I’m going to try to stop probing this sore tooth for a few weeks to see if it makes me feel better.

I’d rather spend my days thinking about ‘sunny ways’ then the Sturm und Drang of American politics.

And that’s ten minutes.

Illegal

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I saw a post on Facebook today – and yes, I know I spend too damn much time there – where someone is holding a sign that says: Without immigrants, Trump would have no wives. Cute but hardly relevant to the current debate. It was the comment below that riled me up. It essentially said Trump has no problems with immigrants but with illegal aliens, which the commentator then compared to the difference between invited guests and people who break and enter.

That seems reasonable, right?

One should never confuse a grammatical sentence using a well-constructed metaphor for reason.

To say that Trump has no problem with immigrants is to ignore everything he has said about Muslims. Of course, he doesn’t just fear immigrant Muslims, he fears American-born Muslims, too. And I use the word ‘fear’ rather than ‘hate’ because I’ve finally concluded that, above all else, Donny Trump is a coward, right down to his lily-liver, his rubber spine and the stains in his underwear.

I put that out there so you know where I stand. But if you want to know where all that anger comes from, you know who to blame — and it’s not Obama. But I digress.

If you notice the shift from legal immigrant to illegal alien, you might not be surprised to know that it is a deliberate semantic distinction. When you call someone an ‘alien,’ you are, especially in the 21st Century, implying that they aren’t human – and therefore don’t have to be treated as such. Moreover, you are implying that, like all invading aliens, they are DANGEROUS. See, there’s that fear again.

And then there is that metaphor. Immigrant equals invited guest. Except that the United States (and Canada) let people buy their way into the country. Pony up enough investment dollars and the door swings wide. From now on, the next time I throw a party, I’m going to give preferential access to people who buy a ticket.

Then there is the other side of metaphor. Illegal aliens are all criminals. Well, in a sense they are since they broke immigration law to come to the country. One estimate says that 11 million did that. But so what? Somewhere between 30 and 45 million Americans deliberately evade their taxes – which is also against the law.

And studies have shown that other criminal behavior is no more likely among illegal immigrants than among legal ones or for that matter among natural-born Americans. In fact some show quite the opposite.

And what constitutes an invitation anyway? Maybe a job offer? Don’t want to think about Mexicans? Then take a typical Maritimer in Canada. There is a shortage of decent jobs in eastern Canada. Meanwhile, in Toronto (back in the 60s and 70s) and in Alberta and Saskatchewan more recently (well until a year ago) are begging for workers. Maritime lads move there for the work and the locals accuse them of stealing their jobs – jobs they themselves won’t take because they are dirty or don’t pay as well. Oh, yeah, and they call them lazy, too.

Like Tea Party radicals who simultaneously accuse Mexicans of being lazy and stealing their jobs. Pick one. Because really, if Trump (or Cruz) throws out all the Mexicans (and, by the way, he won’t), who will clean his pool, look after his kids, build his hotels or cook the meals in them? The Bundys? Yeah, right.

And that’s ten minutes.