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29 July 2016

Values Have Consequences

Every August, just before the new school year begins, I reread the introduction of Richard Weaver's seminal Ideas Have Consequences (1948), one of the foundational texts of the modern conservative movement.  It is one of the most eminently quotable books I've ever read, and every page of the introduction contains a gem.  I undertake this annual ritual as a way to prepare myself mentally, spiritually, and morally for the year ahead, and because philosophy is hugely important.

The crux of Weaver's argument is that a relatively innocuous notion, William of Occam's nominalism, "which denies that universals have a real existence," ultimately led philosophy "to banish the reality which is perceived by the intellect and to posit as reality that which is perceived by the senses.  With this change in the affirmation of what is real, the whole orientation of culture takes a turn, and we are on the road to modern empiricism."  As such, the "denial of universals carries with it the denial of everything transcending experience," and ultimately "the denial of truth."  (Weaver, 3-4)

In other words, Weaver argues that nominalism set man on the path to moral relativism, which now dominates Western culture.

 
Those glasses probably had consequences for Weaver's dating life.
(Image Source and Attribution:  By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46415555)

Throughout his work--which I hope to explore more thoroughly in future posts--Weaver makes his case eloquently and succinctly (the whole book runs to just over 100 pages).  Anyone who has ever experienced a general sense of displacement in the postmodern world will find much in Weaver's work that rings true:  the decadence of modern society, the sense of alienation that haunts men, the gradual erosion of basic rights (after all, how can there be universal rights if there are no universals, or any true foundation upon which to base those rights).

Weaver argues that a single idea--nominalism--possessed ramifications that reverberated throughout the centuries.  Similarly, I would contend that the erosion of belief in the transcendental has resulted in a debasement of culture.

The story of the West is the story of philosophical inquiry and the quest for Truth.  I agree with Weaver--ideas have consequences, and shape everything from public policy and political theory to the fine arts and morality--and Western civilization gradually came to articulate rights that derive from that Truth (or God).  These rights are universal and precious.  They are woven into the very fabric of existence.

"[E]rosion of belief in the transcendental has resulted in a debasement of culture."

Thus emerged, from a marriage of Judeo-Christian faith, Greco-Roman philosophy, and (much later) Anglo-Saxon constitutionalism, ideas such as individual liberty, the sanctity of private property, the importance of freedom of religion and tolerance to protect men's thoughts and souls.

Once faith in these transcendental values was shaken by a cold, unflinching empiricism--after all, one cannot see justice, honor, or virtue--the cracks in the foundation slowly spread, until, one by one, the pillars of a Truth-oriented society crumbled.

Words once imbued with awe and power have been distorted or reduced to meaningless platitudes; some examples:

- "Justice" now is often "social justice," which amounts to a vindictive form of score-settling for historically-aggrieved groups.  There is no blind balancing of the scales, but bitter accusations of "privilege" and "cultural appropriation."

- "Community" has been replaced with "globalism" and "cosmopolitanism," which demand an artificial reduction of identities into an arid, sleek denominator.  Focusing on those near us, and to committing to a place and its traditions, are denounced as narrow and parochial interests.

- "Art" is doing anything that's "trangressive," but if there are no boundaries, how can they be pushed?  Rather than study great artists, learn their techniques, and then strive to build upon and actually create something genuinely new and artistically exciting, "artists" put their unmade beds into museums.

- "Family" is no longer the stable foundation upon which a free society is built.  Instead, it's an amorphous term that validates any number of arrangements that don't recognize the obligations, duties, and relationships of family members to one another.  The state will provide, so who needs the support of the nuclear family?

***


 "Once faith in these transcendental values was shaken by a cold, unflinching empiricism... the pillars of a Truth-oriented society crumbled."

The examples are, sadly, numberless.

Without any firm foundation in a moral universe, such dislocation and distortion are inevitable.  The lack of a unifying acceptance of transcendentals is why, more than anything else, there is such division in the United States and the West today.

There are, broadly, two camps:  those who reject transcendental Truth (and, ironically, create their own orthodoxies and religious precepts in the process) and those who accept it.  I fear the latter is losing--and has been for some time--this struggle for the soul of the West.

If the important things--family, community, justice, art, culture, tolerance, republican self-government--are to survive, it will take a re-dedication to the quest for Truth in an age that has, I'm afraid, utterly rejected it.

As such, I will dedicate the next few Fridays to exploring why tradition, morality, and Truth matter to a free society, and how we can restore them.

27 July 2016

Disastrous National Convention

I knew there would be some lingering frustration from supporters of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the fiery, crusty "democratic socialist" who fought tenaciously to secure the Democratic Party's nomination against the ultimate nominee, Hillary Clinton.  However, I never thought the frustration would manifest itself in such boisterous rebellion against the Democratic National Convention, the Democratic National Committee, and Mrs. Clinton.

As I've written before, the Democratic Party enforces remarkable party unity, and I expect that many discouraged Sandernistas will ultimately, if not enthusiastically, support Hillary Clinton.  That being said, the Democratic National Convention has so far been much more contentious than I imagined.

It's certainly been more frayed than the Republican National Convention.  To watch media coverage of last week's convention in Cleveland, one would have thought delegates were on the verge of running Trump out on a rail and nominating John Kasich instead.

 
Aging socialist Bernie Sanders--beloved by 20-something, upper-middle class liberal arts majors everywhere

What exactly were the major "scandals" of the RNC?  Melania Trump gave a speech that contained one paragraph of broad, saccharine, generic platitudes that (admittedly) tracked very closely to a similar section of a speech First Lady Michelle Obama gave; Never Trump delegates essentially demanded a roll call vote by delegation; and Ted Cruz offered a non-endorsement of Donald Trump.  If anything, Cruz's non-endorsement actually did a great deal to bring Republicans together around their nominee, as did Trump's strong acceptance speech Thursday night.

Contrast that with the first two days of the DNC:  Bernie Sanders supporters booed when their hero encouraged them to vote for Hillary Clinton; the DNC stalled to avoid accepting paperwork that would have challenged Senator Tim Kaine's nomination as Clinton's running mate; the Sandernistas booed the California Congressman Nancy Pelosi--and Sanders again!--at a meeting Tuesday morning; and Clinton's team crafted a plan to drown out unruly Sanders supporters during Tuesday night's nominating vote.

Oh, and disgraced former Chairwoman of the DNC--and now honorary chair of Clinton's campaign team--Debbie Wasserman Schultz was denounced loudly by her own Florida delegation.

"[Sanders supporters] were listening to their messiah, and he'd been crucified by the very party and candidate at whose convention he spoke."

Add to this flurry of disaffection last week's Democratic National Committee e-mail scandal, which saw WikiLeaks release nearly 20,000 DNC e-mails--some of which demonstrate the open collusion between the DNC, the Clinton campaign, and reporters--and the Democratic National Convention is a tinderbox.

The Sanders movement has evolved beyond the control of its titular leader.  As I watched Senator Sanders give his speech at the DNC Monday night, I was struck by the number of people--mostly women, but some men--who were openly weeping as he spoke.  I also noticed the absolutely awe-struck gaze some of these (mostly young) people had.  They were listening to their messiah, and he'd been crucified by the very party and candidate at whose convention he spoke.

"For some Democrats, the cry of 'I'm With Her' sounds more like 'Long Live the Queen.'"

Clinton will now desperately try to regain the Party's composure.  Upcoming speeches from President Obama and other Democratic Party stalwarts will have to convince disaffected Sanders supporters that their favorite programs and policies will be advanced under a Clinton administration.  Senator Tim Kaine, Clinton's bland but safe running mate, will have to make the case that a Clinton-Kaine ticket offers the same progressive punch as a Sanders-Warren one.

Through it all, look to media commentators to downplay the divisions.  There will also be a lot of tut-tutting over the behavior of Sandernistas, and smug remonstrances to "get behind her."

The popular, populist, anti-establishment candidate--for better or for worse--won the Republican Party and staved off a full-scale civil war.  The corrupt, corporatist, establishment crony of the Democratic Party will have to do the same.  Fortunately for her, she already has ample media, institutional, and political support behind her, ready to quell any further rebellions.

For some Democrats, the cry of "I'm With Her" sounds more like "Long Live the Queen."

25 July 2016

The Democratic National Convention - What to Expect

With a sometimes rough, sometimes raucous, but ultimately uneventful (in the sense that "no one got hurt physically"; it was a big success for Trump) Republican National Convention in the history books, the nation's attention turns to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.  Donald Trump's seminal acceptance speech--the best he's ever given, and which I'll discuss in a later post--sparked immediate speculation as to the Clinton campaign's next move.  Hillary Clinton's announcement on Friday of her running mate, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, failed to steal attention away from the Trump campaign, nor did it boost the Clinton campaign as hoped.

Instead, a breaking host of scandals emanating from the leaking of nearly 20,000 Democratic National Committee e-mails has diverted the wrong kind of attention to Clinton, the Democratic Party, and their convention.  It appears the DNC actively worked against Senator Bernie Sanders, cooking up ways to undermine his energetic campaignDNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is the first casualty of these leaks.  It seems the Democratic Party struggles with e-mail encryption.

 
At least one Democrat will be brought down by an e-mail scandal this year.


In light of these events, here are some things to look for at this week's Democratic National Convention:

- The E-Mails:  I'm very curious to see how, if at all, Democrats address this leak.  While I sympathize with their organization's plight--probably the only time I'll ever be able to write such a thing--and abhor such hacking chicanery, the e-mails are out and there's no going back.  Wasserman Schultz will step down as Chairwoman of the DNC, and CNN is already reporting that she won't be speaking at the convention.

There are two possible responses:  don't talk about the e-mails at all, or play for sympathy.  I could see Clinton (or some Democratic operative or B-list congressman) denouncing hacker Guccifer 2.0 as an agent of the Trump campaign or some such nonsense.  They would be right to point out the wickedness of such criminal activity, but explaining the contents of their e-mails--especially open collusion with reporters and media outlets to run stories favorable to Clinton--is going to be very difficult.  I imagine it will be so difficult, they won't even try.

"[A] breaking host of scandals emanating from the leaking of nearly 20,000 Democratic National Committee e-mails has diverted the wrong kind of attention to Clinton, the Democratic Party, and their convention."

- Tim Kaine:  Clinton's pick of Tim Kaine as her running mate is significant.  Rather than go for a progressive firebrand like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren--a pick that would have fired up the base--Secretary Clinton went for a safe, reliable Senator with extensive public service and executive experience.  Kaine is a compromiser--a "progressive who knows how to get things done," Clinton said, echoing her description of herself from a Democratic primary debate last fall--and is apparently well-liked on both sides of the aisle, even by Texas Senator and die-hard conservative Ted Cruz.

Clinton's pick sends two messages:  one is that her ticket is the safe pick, and that establishment Republicans squeamish about Trump have a place to turn.  The latter is a long shot; yes, there will be Republicans who will vote for Clinton, but their numbers are dwindling.  Kaine also leaves the ultra-progressive, Warren/Sanders wing of the Democratic Party unfulfilled.  As I've written elsewhere, Democratic Party unity is often a remarkable thing to behold, but in light of the blatantly pro-Clinton position of the DNC the leaked e-mails reveal, that wing could be dissatisfied enough to stay home on November 8, or to vote for the Green Party's Jill Stein.

"Just as Trump's acceptance speech breathed life into his campaign... Clinton's acceptance speech will have to electrify the Democratic base."

- Clinton's Acceptance Speech:  Just as Trump's acceptance speech breathed life into his campaign and helped to assuage many Republicans' fears, Clinton's acceptance speech will have to electrify the Democratic base.  I imagine she'll use a good chunk of it attempting to discredit Trump, and she'll continue the claim that his speech was based on fear, while her campaign will be about hope.  She'll also promise to continue "fighting"--something she says she loves to do--for greater equality, access, and wages, but Trump has stolen her thunder on some of these issues.

***

Throughout this week, be on the lookout for a parade of telegenic, preferred-identity "victims" who will talk about how this or that government program saved their lives, or how the lack of free college and two-years paid maternity leave made their lives difficult.  The Democratic Party loves nothing more than to march out useful mouthpieces for whatever their cause-of-the-moment happens to be.

There was a diverse array of speakers at the RNC, in part as an attempt to dispel the myth that Republicans are just a bunch of old, white men (just look at South Carolina's elected officials and you'll realize right away diversity of the Republican Party).  It's also very difficult being an openly conservative minority--there's no great financial or professional benefit to being, say, a black Republican, and a great deal of scorn that can come with it.  Being a minority Democratic, on the other hand, comes with unlimited praise and media accolades, as we'll see this week.

(To be clear, there's nothing wrong with hosting speakers of multiple ethnic backgrounds at any function, but I think any reasonably honest person will recognize the unfortunate, racialist games our politicians play, either to avoid criticism or to garner praise from those who care about such skin-deep "diversity."  This statement is merely to clarify that my issue isn't with minorities speaking their minds--race shouldn't matter, ideas should--but rather with the portrayal of certain groups as deserving of or requiring special treatment, and of exploiting sympathy for those groups to push a coercive political agenda.)

Otherwise, the three items above are the big ones, and I'll be interested to see what unfolds this week.  Regardless, let's hope for a peaceful convention; love them or hate them, the Dems deserve their chance to make their case to the American people.

22 July 2016

Ted Cruz - Conservative Hero, or Traitor to His Party?

On Wednesday, 20 July 2016, Texas Senator Ted Cruz delivered a speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, in which he congratulated his primary opponent and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on his victory, then urged voters to "vote your conscience" in November.  Boos filled the arena.

What convention delegates were booing was not the admonition to vote their conscience--for many of them, that means voting for Donald Trump--but the lack of an explicit endorsement from Senator Cruz to endorse Trump.

 
Ted Cruz - not the Zodiac Killer, but almost in as much trouble.
(Image Source:  By Frank Fey (U.S. Senate Photographic Studio) - Office of Senator Ted Cruz, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25195114)

Immediately, two camps formed:  the majority pro-Trump camp, and the dwindling minority of Never Trumpers.  Within the former there are, broadly, two groups:  die-hard Trump fans, who have supported the candidate since last summer; and more tepid supporters who have given their support to Trump because they support their party's nominee, they won't support Hillary Clinton, they support elements of Trumpism, or some combination of the three.

The latter camp--I suspect--will continue to lose momentum now that the nomination process is complete.  Some of those voters will reluctantly vote for Trump for fear that a Clinton presidency will irrevocably shift the Supreme Court toward constitutional adaptavism and judicial activism.  Some will vote third-party, probably for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, or not vote at all.  A very small minority will vote for Clinton.

The kerfuffle highlights well the tensions inherent in party politics:  when does loyalty to party overcome adherence to principles, and vice-versa?

How these two groups have interpreted Cruz's speech is predictable.  For the pro-Trump/party unity crowd, they see Cruz's non-endorsement as a traitorous, duplicitous swipe at the nominee and his supporters, someone who went back on his word to endorse the winner of the primary process.

For the anti-Trump side, Cruz is a hero who stands on principle, even in the face of overwhelming pressure from his party to support explicitly the GOP nominee.  They argue that his pledge to support the candidate became null and void when the Trump campaign attacked Cruz's wife, Heidi, and insinuated that his father was involved in the Kennedy assassination.

The kerfuffle highlights well the tensions inherent in party politics:  when does loyalty to party overcome adherence to principles, and vice-versa?  To what extent should a voter temper his principles for the sake of political advantage, expediency, or compromise?

These are difficult questions, and they did not start with the 2016 election cycle.  Movement conservatives were frustrated, for example, with the 2008 and 2012 GOP nominees.  They perceived Arizona Senator John McCain and Massachusetts Senator Mitt Romney, respectively, as being inconsistently conservative.  Some conservatives refused to vote for those candidates; many did.  Some voted for them enthusiastically, reasoning that their flaws were better than accepting the progressivism of President Barack Obama, or changing their thinking to align with the candidates.  Others did so more reluctantly.

***

(Full disclosure--and a disclaimer:  I voted for Senator Cruz in the 2016 South Carolina GOP primary.  The analysis to follow does not represent an endorsement or criticism of Senator Cruz's speech or positions, but rather is an attempt--as fully as possible--at an objective analysis of the reasons for his position, and the consequences of it.  Angry advocates of both sides take note.)

So, which is it?  Is Ted Cruz a hero of the conservative movement, standing on principle at the expense of party unity?  Or is he an opportunistic traitor to the Republican Party?

It's a tricky question, and both sides have merit.  The pro-Trump majority is broadly correct that, having committed to endorsing the ultimate nominee, Cruz should hold up that endorsement, as many other Republicans have done, if reluctantly.  Take, for example, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who has endorsed Trump, but also been quick to criticize the nominee when his statement's violated Ryan's principles.

"...while Cruz didn't outright endorse Trump, he didn't not endorse him, either, and in no way maimed Trump.  If anything, he mostly hurt himself."

On the other hand, Cruz in no way denigrated Donald Trump, or even suggested that voters should not vote for him.  Given in any other context, his speech would have received uproarious applause and plaudits from conservatives.  It did not explicitly fulfill his pledge to support the nominee, but it did not seek to criticize or harm the nominee overtly.

Lost in this debate--and in media coverage of the Cruz incident--was one of the best moments of party unity and statesmanship, which came when former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich started his speech by saying, essentially, that Senator Cruz had encouraged voters to vote their conscience for the candidate most likely to uphold the Constitution.  As Gingrich put it, the only viable candidate for president who would plausibly do so is Trump.

Some may object that Newt's entreaty was a neat verbal trick, or point out the possibility of voting third-party (though Gary Johnson isn't viable), but it demonstrated his ability to think on his feet and his skills at diplomacy.  He was able to restore some sense of decorum and unity to the proceedings.

In short, while Cruz didn't outright endorse Trump, he didn't not endorse him, either, and in no way maimed Trump.  If anything, he mostly hurt himself.

***

That gets to another question, one that I think is equally interesting:  what, if anything, did Cruz hope to gain from this speech?  Some will say it was free of any political motivation, but that seems unlikely.  Call me a cynic, but I think Cruz has his eye on the future.

I suspect--and, naturally, I could be very wrong--that Cruz is setting himself to win over the support of conservatives who either won't vote for Trump, or will vote for him with deep misgivings.  He's also looking for those voters who are becoming more enthusiastic about Trump, but have lingering feelings that they've had to talk themselves into liking the candidate a bit too much.  If anything goes majorly wrong in a Trump presidency, these voters may turn to Cruz in four or eight years.

Whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump wins in November, Cruz will cast himself as the principled conservative who took a stand when the overwhelming force of his party's opinion pressured him to do otherwise.  In the event of a Clinton victory, Cruz will attempt to win the GOP nomination in 2020.  In the event of a Trump victory, Cruz is betting on Trump making enough mistakes that enthusiasm for him sours, and in their hour of need, Republicans will say, "this was the man with the wisdom to resist."  That's a much tougher path, as it is extremely difficult to challenge successfully an incumbent president for his party's nomination.

In both cases, it's assuming an awful lot, and if the reaction at the Quicken Loans Arena Wednesday night is any indication, Cruz miscalculated badly.  But politics is a fickle mistress, and the political scene could look very different in four years.

***

Will Cruz's speech galvanize the dwindling Never Trump forces?  Or will he spur more conservatives to support the party as a rallying cry against him?  Will he be blamed for splitting the party if Clinton wins?  Or will his gambit pay off, with voters of some distant election year seeing in him a man of principle?

These are interesting questions; ultimately, they are for the voters to decide.

20 July 2016

Music is for Everyone

On the opening night of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump made the grandest entrance in American political history (as far as I know):

Pageantry.

Whether or not you love The Donald, hate his guts, or would rather watch reruns of The Celebrity Apprentice, surely we can all unite in acknowledging that his entrance was freaking amazing.  Heck, even The Washington Post thought it was cool.  I was watching alone in my not-so-portly bungalow and began hooping and hollering like a silver-backed gorilla.

Substantive?  No.  Reason to vote Trump-Pence this November?  Hardly.  An awesome display of pageantry?  Heck, yes.

 
 The Mustache of a Champion.

The showman in me--I am, after all, an over-the-top indie musician with delusions of grandeur--had to share my elation with the world.  No thought can be left unsaid these days, so I took to Facebook.

Here's my Facebook post, and the exchange that is the subject of this piece:

A bitter progressive rains on a parade before taxing and placing racial quotas on it.

Here's a transcript:

TPP:  Whether you love or hate Donald Trump, his entrance at the Republican National Convention just now was EXACTLY how I would have done it--striding in to the strains of a Queen song as a podium rises from the floor. Holy crap...

Bitter ProgressiveTrump opens a party convention that features a platform heavily biased against marriage equality and gay rights by strolling on stage to a song written and performed by a gay man who died of AIDS.

I'm not sure which is stronger, the 2016 GOP's innate knack for unintentional self-parody ("The national seal should include an AR-15!") or its total obliviousness to the concept of irony.


TPPMaybe a good song is just a good song.

BPThe cool thing about music is that there's ALWAYS something deeper.

TPPListen to my EP and you'll learn otherwise. :D

(Note how I cleverly defuse the bitterness with self-deprecating humor that also doubles as shameless promotion for my debut solo EP, Contest Winner EP, available now on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, and elsewhere.)

For a post about a major political party's convention and controversial nominee, it was probably the least possible political statement I could make... except that, in our present age, everything is politicized.

"Tolerance isn't enough; bitter progressives demand total acceptance, even celebration, of whatever happens to be their cause-of-the-moment."

A quick aside:  I'm going to ignore the "unintentional self-parody" and the GOP's "total obliviousness to the concept of irony," except to ask the following:  how exactly is a political party supposed to acknowledge irony?  Do kill-joy progressives want Donald Trump to say, "Okay, okay, that was awesome, and I'm up here to introduce my wife, but first let me acknowledge that 'We Are the Champions' was written by a gay man, so let's take a moment to check our privilege and reconsider our platform's plank on same-sex marriage"?  I suspect that, even if he did, there'd be a slew of "too little, too late" articles on HuffPo the next day.

(And let me quickly take a moment to acknowledge the irony of writing a post lamenting excessive politicization on a blog that basically has "politics" in the name.)

***

So, let's unpack the first paragraph of Bitter Progressive's first post.  He complains that Trump entered to a Queen song, because the Republican Party platform supports traditional marriage, and Freddie Mercury was gay.  While BP intends this statement to be a slam at the GOP--and as a way of virtue-signalling his own support for gay rights--he essentially reduces a talented musician to one dimension, one personal trait.

I wish homosexual Americans all the best, but I, too, question the wisdom of same-sex marriage.  Does this mean I can't listen to and appreciate Queen, simply because Freddie Mercury happened to be gay?  By this logic, I shouldn't associate with gay people at all, nor should the roughly half of Americans who vote Republican.

Aren't we supposed to reach out to people--regardless of their sexual orientation--and treat them with respect, even if we disagree?  How does demanding an effective ban on music by gay artists for half the population help bridge that gap (and what are Log Cabin Republicans to do)?  How does it increase understanding and tolerance?

"None of [Freddie Mercury's] other qualities matter... until and unless they can be used as a convenient bludgeon to force conformity to the unforeseen priorities of a future age."

It doesn't, and that's not the point.  Tolerance isn't enough; bitter progressives demand total acceptance, even celebration, of whatever happens to be their cause-of-the-moment.

The logic of BP's post also dehumanizes Freddie Mercury (and, by extension, all gay men).  No more is he a phenomenal, groundbreaking singer and songwriter.  Instead, he's defined almost entirely based on who he likes to sleep with, and in turn, our anachronistic opinions about whether or not Mercury can formalize that sexual relationship in a legal forum is supposed to dictate whether or not we are allowed to enjoy his music.  None of his other qualities matter--being a man, having an awesome mustache, possessing an amazing voice--until and unless they can be used as a convenient bludgeon to force conformity to the unforeseen priorities of a future age.

Another pop culture example:  I disagree vehemently with pretty much everything Lady Gaga has ever said or done.  Her live concerts are like modern-day Dianic rituals to some pagan fertility goddess.  She prioritizes sexual libertinism over all else.  But, damn if I don't like "Bad Romance"--and even "Born This Way," an (inaccurate) anthem for the gay rights movement.  Should I not listen to her music because I disagree with her political and social views (there are other, better, aesthetic reasons to do so)?  If BP had his way, I suppose not.

A more useful, valid critique of Trump's epic entrance would point out the danger to a free republic of falling for grand pageantry... as a substitute for responsible self-government.

A more useful, valid critique of Trump's epic entrance would point out the danger to a free republic of falling for grand pageantry--"bread and circuses," as one of my colleagues put it--as a substitute for responsible self-government.  I'll admit that I loved every second of Trump's approach, but I'm not making an important voting decision based on a fifteen second stroll.  However, some people will love it too much, and make a decision based solely on pageantry.

That's a legitimate concern.  Freddie Mercury's sex life forty years ago--which magically makes "We Are the Champions," an incredibly politics-neutral song off-limits--isn't.

***

Music should be for everyone to enjoy (songwriters should, of course, retain the rights to their works, but that's not the issue here).  If we want to build a productive civil society--one with disagreements, but common respect--we shouldn't criticize one group for enjoying a song because of an incidental personal characteristic of the songwriter.  Some of my best fans are liberals and progressives.  Should I be offended that they listen to "Hipster Girl Next Door" even if it describes their lifestyle-liberalism to a tee (surely some of them fail to recognize the irony)?  Should they shun me from their slam poetry readings and drum circles because I don't think the government should pay for urine-soaked "art"?

Of course not.  Let's grow up and just let a good song be a good song.  Maybe we'll learn something while singing together.

18 July 2016

In the Pickle Barrel - All Week Long!

Last summer, I appeared (most) every Tuesday on my friend Bill Pickle's daily podcast, In the Pickle Barrel, which airs Monday through Friday on American Patriot Radio.  I haven't been able to make my "Tuesdays with Tyler" segment this summer, and I've really missed the opportunity to wax political on the air.

 Get a good brine going.

So when Bill contacted me a couple of weeks ago about guest-hosting while he's at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, I jumped at the chance.  This whole week (18-22 July 2016) I'll be hosting In the Pickle Barrel.  I've filled in for Bill before for a day here and there, but never for five days.  I feel like a less talented, less funny version of Mark Steyn.

Join me on air!  Call (605) 562-3140 and enter PIN 263151 all this week, M-F 8-10 AM. Listen LIVE at www.americanpatriotradio.com/apr-live.

What's on the agenda for the next week?  Here's a rough outline (subject to change):

- Monday - Let's learn about Mike Pence!  Also, who might show up in a Trump cabinet?  What's going down at the Republican National Convention?  In the second hour, we'll discuss the latest round of terror attacks in France, the recent shootings in the United States, and the coup in Turkey.  If you wish hard enough, Bill Pickle himself might call in with an update from Cleveland.

- Tuesday - We'll kick off the show discussing some core American values.  At 8:30, special guest Iva Reed joins the program to talk about her world travels, as well as her upcoming book on the impact of the War on Drugs.

- Wednesday - What's going down at the RNC?  We'll discuss during the first hour.  At 9 AM, we're joined by one of my former students, Jacqueline Lawson, who will discuss faith and missionary work in New York City.

- Thursday - Margaret Thatcher said that "Europe was created by history.  America was created by philosophy."  What does this mean?  We'll unpack this important quotation during the first hour.  ***UPDATE:  At 8:30, singer-songwriter Frederick Ingram joins the program to discuss music and politics.***  During the second hour, we'll go over the latest news from the convention and the world at large.

- Friday -  It's a Bill Pickle tradition:  Anything Goes Friday!  Call in at (605) 562-3140, then enter PIN 263151 to join the conversation.  We'll also review Trump's nomination speech.

So, there you have it.  I'll be back Wednesday with a full blog post about the Republican National Convention.

15 July 2016

Clinton's Running Mate - Analysis and Prognostications

It appears that Donald Trump has selected Mike Pence, Governor of Indiana, as his running mate.  Pence is a solid social conservative who may help assuage the fears of movement conservatives about Trump's policies.  While I'm disappointed that my science-fiction-loving, history-writing, jowl-shaking favorite, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, didn't make the cut, Pence was a strong choice, especially against more questionable figures like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (too much like Trump, not conservative enough) or Iowa Senator Joni Ernst (too inexperienced, not enough name recognition).  He'll bring a sense of stability and experience to the ticket, even if he lacks Newt's erudition and pizzazz.

So now we turn our attention to Hillary Clinton's vice presidential search.  Secretary Clinton indicated that she would wait to make an official selection after Trump's decision was finalized; with the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia just a little over a week away, look for her to make a decision soon (possibly during the Republican National Convention next week in Cleveland).

I'm not as steeped in Democratic Party politics to the same extent as the Republican Party, and even there I'm mostly wading in the shallow end of the pool.  That being said, the Democrats seem to be experiencing the same internal power struggle as the Republican Party.  Just as the Republican Party consists of various factions (broadly falling into the "establishment" and Tea Party sections, and now with a new Trumpist element, although the real breakdown is far more complicated than these categories), the Democrats increasingly seem divided between Clinton-style corporatism--a cozy relationship between government and certain key firms--and social progressivism and economic socialism.

"...Democrats exercise amazing party unity...."

The latter group gained a powerful voice in the form of (formerly Independent) Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, who went from polling around 4% last summer to losing only narrowly to Clinton in the Democratic primaries in June.  Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren also represents this aggressive, progressive, economic populist wing of the Democratic Party, and both Sanders and Warren have had Clinton running further to the left than normal.

Unlike Republicans, though, national Democrats exercise amazing party unity, and once a nominee is selected, they tend to stick doggedly to their party's pick.  This discipline applies, at least, to elected officials; voters, of course, often don't demonstrate the same degree of party loyalty.  For example, there is the so-called "Bernie or Bust" group (much like the #NeverTrump and #NeverHillary crowds), some of whom are breaking for Trump over Hillary.  However, I expect most Democratic voters will "hold their noses" and vote for Clinton, just as many Republicans will do for Trump.

"[Hillary Clinton] is the living embodiment of the Washington elite and insider establishment."

Much like Trump, then, a lackluster Clinton campaign potentially has much to gain from a prudent VP pick.  Whereas an unscripted, shoot-from-the-hip Trump was probably wise to pick a more established, reliable, mildly boring figure (as Dinesh D'Souza said on Sean Hannity's radio show Thursday, Trump went for "white bread" over the spicier Gingrich), Clinton may benefit from an unconventional running mate.  She is the living embodiment of the Washington elite and insider establishment, having lived in a cossetted world of taxpayer-funded luxury for most of her adult life.  A scrappy outsider could be her best bet, and could throw some red meat to the Democratic Party's increasingly progressive base.

On the other hand, Clinton may want to double down on her establishment bona fides, making the argument that her campaign is the "serious" one that will maintain the status quo and incrementally advance progressive pet projects like a higher minimum wage and "free" college (among other taxpayer-funded goodies).

The tight-lipped smile and beady eyes of vice-presidential contender Senator Tim Kaine.

***

So, who are Clinton's potential nominees?  Here's a list, pulled from this article at CNN.com:

1.) Virginia Senator Tim Kaine

2.) Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren

3.) Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown

4.) Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack

- Honorable Mention:  Labor Secretary Tom Perez

- Wild Cards:  Housing Secretary Julian Castro and California Congressmen Xavier Beccerra

Most of the reading I've done (and, admittedly, it's not much) indicates that Tim Kaine is the likely choice.  He certainly seems to be the safe choice--he's generally inoffensive, experienced, and bilingual--but that might not be the best move for Clinton.  While the CNN article linked above indicates that the Democratic base isn't as important this time around, that assumption is premised on Bernie Sanders's endorsement.  It appears that endorsement was fairly hollow, if consistent with the Democratic Party's strong party discipline.

What about a Clinton-Warren ticket?  Clinton could double down on the "historic first" aspect of her campaign--pretty much her only real selling point--saying, "why not elect the first female Vice President, too"?  But how much would that benefit her, really?  It would neutralize a potentially powerful opponent to Clinton's left, and Warren has a demonstrated ability to fire up crowds, but her fiery, socialistic rhetoric ("you didn't build that") could hurt Clinton with moderate voters.

At one point there was quite a bit of buzz around Julian Castro and his brother, both of whom seemed to be Hispanic Obamas--young, dynamic, ethnic, hip--but that possibility appears unlikely.  Indeed, most of the rest of the names on this list appear to be cabinet members in a Clinton administration, but not running mates (except possibly Tom Vilsack).

"...Washington, D.C., has awarded its three electoral votes to the Democratic candidate in every presidential election since it could first vote in 1964:  the bureaucrats want to keep their jobs."

It's unwise, however, to underestimate the power of identity politics to the Democratic Party.  While the Republican Party is historically made up of three factions--national security conservatives, social conservatives, and economic conservatives--the Democratic Party is a vast hodge-podge of clients looking to government to serve as their patron.  This phenomenon explains why Washington, D.C., has awarded its three electoral votes to the Democratic candidate in every presidential election since it could first vote in 1964:  the bureaucrats want to keep their jobs.

With so many clients--and with the odious racial balkanization pushed by far left groups like Black Lives Matter, et. al.--any Democratic administration and presidential ticket has to perform a delicate balancing act of patronage to appease the myriad factions demanding a seat at the table.  Clinton's VP pick will be a part of that broader calculation.

***

Who do I think Clinton will pick?  I have no idea.  I've heard talk of a Clinton-Sanders reconciliation ticket, but that strains credulity.  I get the impression the two can barely stand each other, and Clinton needs someone younger to step into the presidency in the event that her health problems worsen.  An elderly, bitter socialist is probably not the best person to have one heartbeat away from the presidency.

Tim Kaine does seem like the kind of blandly conformist, minimally inoffensive pick Clinton would make.  More importantly, he doesn't threaten her in any way, and she could safely ignore him for four or eight years.  I don't think she'd have that luxury with Elizabeth Warren.  I also suspect that Warren has her eyes on the White House herself, and might hold back for a run in 2020 in the event of a Trump victory.

Regardless, I can guarantee that Clinton's pick will be calculated and focus-grouped to nth degree to benefit her electoral prospects as much as possible.  For Republicans, let's hope Mike Pence takes debating lessons from Newt Gingrich before the Vice Presidential Debate this autumn.

13 July 2016

Third Party Opportunity?

This election cycle, both major American political parties nominated figures with low likeability and favorability in most polls.  Many hard-left progressive Democrats despair that their party nominated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who they view as a political chameleon and corporatist.  Similarly, some Republicans, both of the movement conservative (such as National Review) and establishment (think Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham) varieties, are dismayed that GOP voters elected Donald Trump as their party's standard-bearer.

The question, inevitably, is "why not a third-party candidate?"  Indeed, the Libertarian Party saw a doubling of registrations after Trump secured the Republican nomination in May.  A number of dissatisfied progressives are turning to Jill Stein, perennial favorite of the Green Party (more interestingly, a significant minority of Bernie Sanders supporters are morphing into Trump fans).  If both major political parties have such negative figures at the helm, why not reject both and vote for a third party?

I received an e-mail today from a student with exactly that question.  Rather than discuss Hillary Clinton's vice-presidential picks--a topic I'll save for Friday, and which I need to research further, anyway--I'd like to address this young man's questions.  Note, this student is the same precocious young man who e-mailed me about Brexit last month.

Here's a screenshot of the e-mail, with a transcript:

Kids say the darnedest things.

Transcript:
With the somewhat radical left and right candidates in the major parties, how is Libertarian Gary Johnson not capitalizing on the 1/3 of independents and the rough 1/6 of soft Rs and Ds. He is somewhat centralist, having a neutral point of view and usually agreeing with the US population in policy issues. So far he hasn't garnered enough points to be in a debate, however with his support in the west, he is the former Governor of New Mexico, he might be in one soon. If Gary is able to get on the floor and be seen as the middle ground between Hillary and Trump, do you believe he could actual contend for presidency or would he just get walked over. Also, if he does garner some electoral votes come November, what candidate would he hurt the most? 

My L'il Politico brings up some interesting points, though I imagine there are many Democrats who would disagree with his assessment of Hillary Clinton, who strikes me as a chameleon who shifts policy positions with the wind; if she's part of the "radical left," it's only because that seems to be what the Democratic base wants.  Regardless, why hasn't Governor Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate, garnered more attention, or done better at seizing the squishy middle of American politics?

"...Gary Johnson... won't be winning the presidency this year, much less any electoral votes."

There are a number of possible explanations.  As I've already stated, there was a brief surge for the Libertarian Party after Trump's nomination.  Of course, Trump received his own bump in the polls, a typical occurrence once a candidate has won his party's nomination nod (Clinton similarly benefited from the nomination bump in June).  I imagine that, while there was an initial boomlet for the Libertarian Party, traditionally Republican or Republican-leaning voters have gotten used to or come to terms with Trump's nomination, and are naturally returning to familiar (if somewhat altered) waters.

That, of course, would only partially explain why Gary Johnson--or any third-party candidate--won't be winning the presidency this year, much less any electoral votes.

Third-party candidates suffer a number of disadvantages in the American presidential system, most of them structural.  Unintentionally, our Constitution contributed greatly to the creation of the two-party system, a system which has endured, with only temporary interruptions, for most of the nation's history.  Despite George Washington's warning against the formation of political parties in his Farewell Address, the two-party system was almost an inevitability.

For one, most States require a simple majority for a candidate to win elected office.  Unlike Britain's "first past the post" system, which allows the candidate with the most votes to win a seat in Parliament, most States require an actual majority (50% + 1), and will hold run-off elections accordingly.  In effect, then, a third-party candidate of any significant ability or recognition only really succeeds in sucking votes away from the candidate he is most akin to politically.

In presidential elections, it is possible for third-party candidates to win electoral votes--just ask Theodore Roosevelt, who won twenty-two electoral votes in 1912, beating incumbent President William Howard Taft by sixteen votes, but losing hugely to Woodrow Wilson--but it is similarly difficult even to receive a plurality of votes (as I understand it, a "first past the post" plurality is all that is necessary in most States to win all of those States' votes).  Again, third-party candidates tend to wound candidates that are most similar to them on issues, or (in the case of TR in 1912) they completely supplant one of the major party candidates, only to go down with the ship.

 "[T]he two-party system was almost an inevitability."

Just look at the example of Ross Perot in 1992, a kind of spiritual predecessor to Trump in many ways.  Perot was the most successful third-party candidate since Theodore Roosevelt ran on the Progressive Party ticket in 1912, and while Perot won millions of votes nationally, he didn't pocket a single electoral vote.  He did, however, drain just enough votes away from incumbent President George H. W. Bush to ensure that then-Governor Bill Clinton could win the States necessary to secure the presidency.

One can look at multiple examples from US history:  the Populist Party in 1892 (in 1896, they wised up, nominated the Democratic Party's nominee, William Jennings Bryan, and still lost to the Republican candidate, William McKinley); the Socialist Party in 1920 (Eugene V. Debs won a million votes--from prison); the Progressive Party; and on and on.  Third parties are victims of their own failure, too--voters vote for and donate to perceived winners far more than to perceived losers.

Historically, only one party has successfully moved from third-party status to two-party dominance--the Republican Party--and that was in the throes of the 1860 election on the eve of the Civil War, which saw the Democrats split into two (the Northern Democrats and the Southern Democrats) and the formation of the Constitutional Union Party.  In such an environment, it was much more likely for an upstart Republican Party (only six years old at the time) to win the presidency, and the Republican Party benefited in part from the infrastructure left behind by the old Whig Party.

"Right now, we're witnessing a major political realignment in both political parties."

Also, an important point that's easy to forget (the political establishment certainly did over the past year) is that political parties are broad coalitions, and they tend to reform internally or experience revolutions from within.  They are not monolithic, Stalinistic organizations (most of the time), and they strive (often with difficulty) to appeal to and to appease multiple interest groups.  These groups often coalesce around a shared set of values (for Republicans, it tends to be limited and/or efficient government; for Democrats, it tends to be an elaborate system of patron-clientele payouts to wildly disparate interest and identity groups), but there's never perfect unity.

Right now, we're witnessing a major political realignment in both political parties, although the Republican Party is certainly receiving more of the attention due to the nature of Trump's over-the-top personality and bombastic antics.  Notice, however, that Hillary Clinton (and the Democratic Party at large) has moved much further to left, especially as the progressive, social justice warrior wing of the Party has become louder and more aggressive.  In turn, that move to radical social justice has alienated many economic Democrats, who turned either to socialist Bernie Sanders, or to protectionist Donald Trump.

So, despite the low favorability ratings, Trump scratches an itch (as I heard one political pundit put it recently) that many Americans want scratched, even if many others are cautious of him.  Similarly, many voters view Clinton as a crook, a liar, and crony, but they feel safer voting for the devil they know than the one they don't.

***

But what of poor Gary Johnson, the lovable, doobie-smoking former Governor of New Mexico?  Surely he can fill the vacuum of dissatisfied voters who don't like either option, right?

Perhaps, but for the reasons listed above, it's very unlikely.  Johnson was an effective governor in New Mexico (he apparently vetoed more than even former SC Governor Mark Sanford), but since then his biggest claim to fame is that he talks openly about smoking pot (legalization, of course, is a big issue for the Libertarians, as it is for a growing segment of the Republican Party).  Like many libertarian-minded candidates (Mark Sanford, again, comes to mind), Johnson comes across as a bit of a weirdo.  There's no doubt he's an eccentric fellow.  Should this disqualify him from the presidency?  Probably not, but, again, voters respond to emotion and perception more than to policy or positions.

 
The face of a man who won't be President.
(Image Sourcehttps://johnsonweld.com/)

The Libertarian Party itself is a party for the dissatisfied--that's essentially why it formed in the early 1970s, when it had legitimate beefs with President Richard Nixon's heavy-handed imperial presidency and tendency to expand the size and scope of government--and the dissatisfied voted for Trump this yearTrump has brilliantly co-opted the libertarian momentum that in years past went to Congressman Ron Paul or his son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.

This fact confirms for me a long-held suspicion:  despite grand talk of ideological consistency and purity, the Libertarian Party consists, rather, of large numbers of disaffected weirdos--much like the two major political parties--that care more about presenting a certain Ayn Randian "I-am-really-the-smart-one-here" attitude than anything else.  I've rarely met a serious, consistent libertarian.  Most hard-core libertarians I've known are positively insufferable (I've experienced this phenomenon with self-described philosophical existentialists and nihilists, too), or they're really just progressivesthey want total freedom to engage in society-killing activities but become all-too willing to use the power of the state when it suits their purposes.

For better or for worse, many of these individuals have moved to support Trump or Sanders.  But could squishy voters in the middle who aren't traditionally Libertarian move to the party?

Again, I think not.  Most of these voters will stick with what they know.  A few will move from one to the other of the two major parties, and a very small few will vote third party as a protest or as a legitimate act of conscious.  Those that want to give a middle finger to "The System"--a description that fits my perception of most self-described libertarians--are going to vote for Trump.

***

But what if Gary Johnson does well enough in the polls to get on-stage at the presidential debates?  That's a possibility, although I don't think it's likely at this point for the reasons stated above.  If he does, it would certainly help his profile, and he would likely win over some voters--especially those that lean Republican, or believe the Republican Party has left them behind by nominating Trump--but not enough to win.  It would certainly be healthy for the body politic to hear another set of ideas.  Regardless,  I would be surprised if Gary Johnson won any electoral votes in 2016.

However, in this scenario it's very likely that he could suck enough votes away from Trump that a Clinton victory would be assured.  Trump--or any Republican--has a very fine line to walk in the Electoral College, where the Democrats automatically enjoy a huge advantage thanks to California, New York, Illinois, and several other high-population, deep-blue States.  Trump needs to win several Midwestern Rust Belt states and Florida to have a shot; that shot disappears with a mildly interesting, somewhat conservative third-party candidate.

All that being said, I respect those third-partiers who are deeply committed to their organization, or who believe they must vote for a third party as an act of conscious.  Fortunately, our political system affords us this freedom.  However, the most effective way to impact political change is within the traditional two-party system.  Parties can be changed from within; after all, they are made up of normal people.  With a little dedication and a lot of hard work, people can use the structural advantages of the established parties to push for their views and beliefs.

In other words, why reinvent the wheel, when the wagon's already moving?  Hop on board, and have a say in where it's heading.

11 July 2016

Trump's Running Mate - Analysis and Prognostications

On Friday, I dashed off some reflections about the office of the Vice President, and promised a run-down of those on Donald Trump's alleged "short list" of potential running mates.  Today, I offer up my take on these possible picks, and offer up some predictions.

Here are the candidates I will explore today:

1.) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

2.) Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton

3.) Iowa Senator Joni Ernst

4.) Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich

5.) Indiana Governor Mike Pence

- Honorable Mention:  Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions

- Wild Card:  Lieutenant General Michael Flynn

1.) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie - Christie was the first major Republican presidential candidate to endorse Trump after suspending his own campaign shortly after the New Hampshire primary.  As a conservative, I've always had mixed feelings about Christie:  I know I shouldn't like him, but I do.  In his exchange with Kentucky Senator Rand Paul in the first GOP debate last fall, I thought Christie came off looking like a responsible adult concerned with national security, while Paul appeared petulant and childish.  My libertarian readers will disagree with this assessment vehemently, and Christie's style might not sit well with some, but I think Christie won that exchange, and was very effective in addressing the American people, not just his opponents on stage.

Nevertheless, I would argue that a Trump-Christie ticket would be doubling down on too much New Yorker/New Jerseyite brashness.  Christie failed as a candidate because Trump stole his thunder.  There were two loud, brassy Northeasterners on stage, and Trump was the more entertaining and, for many voters, compelling of the two.  Christie would certainly bring strong prosecutorial chops to a debate--and a Trump administration--but such a heavily Northeastern ticket could turn off conservatives who might be wary of a Trump presidency as it is.

Here's a piece arguing that Christie should be the VP:  http://www.cbsnews.com/news/chris-christie-donald-trumps-best-choice-for-veep/

2.) Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton - I don't know much about Cotton, although I did hear him speak at the 2016 Silver Elephant Banquet (no, it's not a Republican strip club--it's the annual fundraising dinner for the South Carolina GOP).  I had to slip out early, but I was not too terribly impressed.  What he lacked in on-stage chutzpah, however, he makes up for with a strong, attractive background:  admirable military service, a tenacity in Congress, and youthful energy.  Cotton would appear to fulfill for Trump what Paul Ryan was to Mitt Romney:  a young, dynamic, wonky guy who could eagerly assist his older commander-in-chief.

"...[M]ost voters... vote for emotional, rather than rational, reasons."

3.) Iowa Senator Joni Ernst - Similarly, I don't know much about Ernst, so I can't say much.  Like Cotton, she's a rising star in the GOP.  Her primary appeal seems to be that she's a woman.  To be clear, I abhor identity politics--no one should ever vote for a person simply because that person is a certain race or gender--but I've heard the argument that "Trump struggles with women, so he needs a woman VP to show he's not a cad."

Political pundit Dick Morris has made this case for months (he pushed for New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez as a VP pick before Trump dissed her), and it's an interesting approach:  essentially, Trump's VP would be part of a public political "marriage," and Trump would show women voters that he does treat women well, by doing so with his female running mate (in this case, Ernst).

That might not be too flattering to women--who strongly favor Hillary Clinton over The Donald--but there is some wisdom to it; after all, most voters (not just women!) vote for emotional, rather than rational, reasons.  If the ploy worked, it could help Trump shore up his numbers among the fairer sex.

But what of Joni Ernst herself?  She's only been in the Senate two years; before that, she served a brief stint in the Iowa State Senate and as auditor for her home county in Iowa.  All that being said, her Senate run in 2014 was ingenious, and she's a huge star in some quarters of the conservative movement.  Like Cotton, she has an admirable record of military service (she's the first female combat vet to serve in the Senate); like Texas Senator Ted Cruz, she's proposed eliminating the Internal Revenue Service.

Nevertheless, it might be wise to let Ernst gain more experience in the Senate.  Trump's camp could probably use a more seasoned hand to reassure voters that there's a steady hand at the helm.

4.) Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (full disclosure:  I voted for Gingrich in the 2012 South Carolina primaries) - Newt was an early Trump apologist (if not outspoken supporter), and I think he probably "gets" Trump the most of any of the folks on this list.  Speaker Gingrich would bring to the Trump ticket the experience and policy knowledge it lacks, but without losing its slightly crazy, unpredictable, outsider edge.  Gingrich, in other words, provides the perceived benefits of the establishment without really being a part of it (even though he probably is).

Gingrich also approaches problems in unique ways--you've got to love a politician who counts Isaac Asimov's Foundation series as a major influence on his thinking--and is a fierce, knowledgeable debater.  His debate performance in a South Carolina Republican primary debate in 2012 pretty much won him the state, although he flamed out in Florida after vowing to have a functioning lunar research facility on the moon by the end of his second term.

And that's Gingrich's biggest flaw as a running mate:  as the man who would be the steady hand of the Trump campaign, Gingrich is not always predictable.  This could be a strength--a "doubling down" on the Trump formula--but it could also prove problematic for messaging in the general election.

Still, wouldn't you like to see a vice-presidential debate between Newt Gingrich and Elizabeth Warren?

The Jowls of an Angel

5.) Indiana Governor Mike Pence - Like Cotton and Ernst, my depth of knowledge about Pence is relatively shallow, although I know he has a reputation as a solid and effective governor in the State of Indiana.  Indiana is probably the reddest of the Upper Midwestern states, a crucial belt with swing states like Ohio.

Pence on the ticket would be the straight-man to Trump's pantheric chameleon, and would provide a great deal of stability to the campaign.  Pence strikes me as a less-embattled version of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (my initial favorite in the GOP presidential primary field before he dropped out of the race)--blandly inoffensive, a bit boring, but effective at bringing together the disparate factions of the fraying Republican coalition.

Pence could also help in a part of the country where blue-collar Democratic defection is crucial to swinging states to Trump.  Trump's electoral strategy seems to depend upon driving up white male voter turnout, and he's popular among those voters who have been hit hardest by globalization.  If enough of these "Trump Democrats" vote Republican, Trump could edge out wins in key states.

Of course, does Trump need a figure like Pence?  Pence's name recognition is not huge outside of the Midwest, and he doesn't seem to fit Trump's style.  That could be a useful contrast, but it could also deflate some of the excitement around Trump's campaign.  Controversial polemicist and die-hard Trump supporter Ann Coulter argues this very point in a recent piece for Human Events, "My VP Prediction:  Trump's First Mistake."

For further reading, here's a pro-Pence op-ed:  http://www.indystar.com/story/news/2016/07/05/donald-trump-vp-search-mike-pence-rings-most-bells/86719122/

- Honorable Mention:  Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions -Senator Sessions is the poster-boy for stopping illegal immigration, but also for limiting legal immigration, a stance that was rare in both the Republican and Democratic parties prior to Trump's candidacy.  Ann Coulter argues in the piece linked above that Trump needs Sessions to stay in the Senate for precisely that reason.

For much of American history, having a Southerner on the ticket was often crucial to presidential victory, especially for Democratic candidates.  I don't think that holds true anymore (although Clinton and Gore were both Southerners, if you count Arkansas and East Tennessee as "the South").  The consistency of Southern states is such that vice-presidential candidates can be from further afield; if anything, it seems prudent to have a Midwesterner on the ticket.

Regardless, Sessions would be a good pick for the anti-globalist and immigration reform sides of Trump's campaign.  He would also provide some of the senatorial dignity that Trump lacks.  Alternatively, Sessions's rhetoric against globalization and immigration could be too much for some voters.  The GOP is already going to be slammed (I think unfairly) as "nativist" and "xenophobic," so maybe that doesn't matter, but perhaps an ounce of prevention could save a pound of troubles later.

- Wild Card - Lieutenant General Michael Flynn - As I predicted in my last post, Trump has thrown out a wild card.  Apparently, he's heavily considering bringing on a retired general, even against the advice of his advisors (either a sign of his "let Trump be Trump" media savvy, or a bad move on his part; we'll see).  One name he's floated is that of retired Lt. General Michael Flynn.  Flynn is a registered Democrat who the Obama Administration forced into retirement due to his (accurate) characterization of the threat of radical Islamism.  There's plenty there for Republicans to like.

Generals seem to do really well as presidential candidates, but have a spottier record when running for veep.  Consider, for example, Ross Perot's running mate, Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale, who's enigmatic utterances and strange campaign demands proved to be almost as big a liability to Perot's run as his own withdrawal and re-entrance in 1992.

Still, we can't judge the success or prudence of a military figure based on one example.  Trump could certainly benefit from having a general on the ticket, which could lend credence to his "speak loudly and carry a big stick, but don't use it too often" brand of foreign policy.  Trump is clearly positioning himself as the candidate of law and order, and he hopes to be the pro-military candidate, too.

***

These are my (admittedly unstructured) reflections.  I do not think this list is exhaustive, and I suspect it's almost a form of misdirection.  I would not be surprised if Trump pulled out a candidate that none of us suspect, al a John McCain with Sarah Palin in 2008 (though hopefully not quite so disastrous).

If this list is the One True List, I'd personally be very interested to see a Trump-Gingrich ticket.  The dynamism of such a ticket--Trump as the ever-jabbing pugilist, Gingrich as the precision bomber--would surely keep the Clinton campaign on its heels.  It would also lend Trump some credibility, but with a guy who's also just a little bit crazy himself.

Regardless, the next two weeks of VP speculation should be fun.

Now:  who will Hillary Clinton pick to be her running mate?

08 July 2016

Preview: The Vice Presidency and Trump's Potential Running Mate

Normally, I prefer to write about "big picture" topics--what is popular sovereigntyWhy is America exceptionalWhat are the core American values upon which our nation is founded?--because they tend to possess timeless qualities.  I also teach a philosophy course from time to time, and I believe that ideas--as the great Richard Weaver put it--have consequences.  Ideas shape and affect us, I would argue, far more than individuals or even large institutions.  It's a bold claim, I concede, but it makes sense when you consider individuals, institutions, and even nation-states and empires are motivated not just by rational Realpolitik, but also by ideas and values.

More practically, focusing on these broader, evergreen topics generally shields me from the pitfall of making bold predictions that turn out horribly wrong (although my post-Brexit predictions post has already been proven so:  it appears Boris Johnson will not be running for leadership of the Conservative Party, much to my chagrin).

That being said, on Monday I'm going to give a quick run-down of some of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's potential vice-presidential picks, then share my own thoughts.

But first, a word about the vice-presidency (here comes the "big picture" stuff):  the vice presidency is one of the most enigmatic offices in our constitutional system.  Constitutionally (and historically), the vice president doesn't do much.  His sole constitutional duty (other than monitoring the space-time continuum) is to cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate, which he does in his capacity as the President of the that chamber.  In fact, prior to the passage of the XII Amendment in 1804, the vice president was simply the candidate who won second place in the Electoral College (imagine an Obama Administration with Mitt Romney as VP).  It almost seems like the office was an afterthought (it wasn't--someone's got to take the president's place if he dies--but the second-place-becomes-veep rule did not anticipate the emergence of the two-party system).

John Adams famously hated the vice presidency (it probably didn't help that Senators derisively called him "His Rotundity"), primarily because it was boring.  He was the first to realize the vice presidency is the "consolation prize" of politics, and for most of American history it was where political careers went to die.  Only in the second half of the twentieth century did it become the stepping stone to the presidency that it is today (that stepping stone used to be Secretary of State, and it may prove to be so again).  Indeed, Theodore Roosevelt's Old Guard Republican rivals in 1900 hoped he would become President McKinley's new VP because it would get the troublesome progressive out of real power!  No one dreamed that McKinley would die from an assassin's bullet only a few months into his second term.

John Adams:  He ain't heavy--he's my Founding Father.

(Note:  the famous Jay's Treaty scene from the HBO mini-series John Adams, in which Adams cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate to ratify the controversial treaty, was completely fabricated.  Treaties require a 2/3rds vote to become the law of the land, not a simple majority.  Therefore, it would be constitutionally and numerically impossible for a vice president to ever cast a tie-breaking vote on a treaty; indeed, he would have no right to vote at all.  The writers for the show just wanted to create some high political drama, showing Adams making a tough, unpopular choice for the good of the country.  They did so to the detriment of history and constitutional literacy, and unnecessarily--there were plenty of real instances from Adams's life that demonstrated his nobility and selflessness.)

As the power of the presidency expanded throughout the twentieth century, however, vice presidents began to assume more active roles, primarily as a sort of substitute diplomat or pinch-hitting cabinet member for the president.  Richard Nixon, for example, worked as a sort of diplomatic envoy to Southeast Asia during President Dwight Eisenhower's administration.  Now vice presidents routinely travel the country and the world, giving speeches and making appearances on behalf of their respective presidents.

"John Adams famously hated the vice presidency... because it was boring."

For all that, the office is rarely of huge significance in any electoral sense, but it can matter.  Candidates often pick their running mates to shore up real or perceived deficiencies in their own campaigns.  To wit:

- Then-Senator Barack Obama (like John F. Kennedy), for example, chose seasoned Senator Joe Biden (as Kennedy chose Lyndon Johnson) to address concerns that he lacked the depth and experience to run the country.

- Ronald Reagan chose his primary opponent, George H.W. Bush, as a sign of reconciliation and to hold together the Republican coalition of 1980.

- Even Abraham Lincoln engaged in this game:  his first VP, Hannibal Hamlin, was picked because he was ferociously anti-slavery; his second VP, Andrew Johnson--a pro-slavery, pro-Union Democrat--was chosen to appease the so-called "Peace Democrats" in the North.

***

So, what about Trump's potential picks?  I would caution that we should take his so-called "short list" with a grain of salt.  I suspect that, in true Trump fashion, he's engaging in a great deal of misdirection, and will announce a surprise candidate at the Republican National Convention.  However, I have no real evidence to support this contention--that's why it's a "suspicion," not a theory--so I'll ask that we take him at his word.

For the purposes of Monday's post, then, let's consider his five potential choices (I realize there are others to whom Trump has alluded, but I'm sticking with the ones I've read about most frequently):

1.) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

2.) Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton

3.) Iowa Senator Joni Ernst

4.) Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich

5.) Indiana Governor Mike Pence

Honorable Mention:  Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions

I'll go through these candidates one by one (and make additions or subtractions based on any developments over the weekend) and give my shoot-from-the-hip analysis of their strengths, weaknesses, and secret desires (well, maybe not that last one).

Tune in Monday!