Author Archives: Matthew Dickinson

Why I’m Telling The Donald: You’re Hired!

My students (and their parents) as well as long-time readers of this blog know by now that I don’t vote in national elections. As I’ve explained (and as George Stephanopoulos recently reminded us) my reason for not voting is that I don’t want my readers to view me as simply another partisan pundit trumpeting the party line under the guise of “independent” analysis. (It’s also irrational at the individual level to vote, but that’s an argument for another day.)

But I’m here to tell you that I’m breaking my pledge this election cycle. I’m voting for The Donald. And I think if you watch his announcement, you’ll vote for him too.

If you can’t make it through the entire video, let me just point out the highlights as a way of justifying my decision. It was a sprawling presentation (much like The Donald’s real estate empire, or his marriages) and he covered an astonishing array of topics in just this one event, and did so with a degree of confidence and creativity that is hard to convey without watching the video. But I will give it my best shot.  You expect no less, I know.

Let me begin with his stances on the important issues of the day. Obviously, we want a president who knows what he’s doing. Well, it’s hard to exaggerate the number of policies on which he can speak knowledgeably and in depth, but let’s be clear – by the end of this speech The Donald left no doubt about how he would solve some of the most pressing problems facing the country today. He would do it The Donald way.

Take illegal immigration, especially from Mexico. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” The Donald would build a very big, inexpensive wall. And, guess who will pay for that wall? Not the American taxpayers! “I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively, I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall.” You heard that right. Mexico will pay for the wall! And, by the way, The Donald will immediately “terminate President Obama’s illegal executive order on immigration.”

Gun control? The Donald will “fully support and back up the Second Amendment.” As he noted, if you live near the Clinton correction facility in upstate New York, the site of a recent breakout by two murderers, those area residents with guns are certainly sleeping better right now, particularly since law enforcement has no clue where the escapees are. Indeed, The Donald recently talked to a resident there who told him, “We now have a gun on every table. We’re ready to start shooting.” (Note also that the prison is named “Clinton” – I hadn’t realized the significance of this until The Donald pointed it out. Think about it.)

Obamacare? “You have to be hit by a tractor, literally, a tractor, to use it, because the deductibles are so high, it’s virtually useless.” The Donald would repeal it, along with its $5 billion, nonfunctional website. The Donald has many websites – “They are all over the place” – but he pays his people $3 – not $5 billion – to create one. Which would you rather have? A three-dollar website, or a $5 billion dollar one? And what would he replace Obamacare with? Something “much better and much less expensive for people and for the government.” How can you oppose that policy? I know I can’t.

Defeating ISIS? “Nobody would be tougher on ISIS than Donald Trump. Nobody. I will find — within our military, I will find the General Patton or I will find General MacArthur, I will find the right guy.”

Ending Iran’s nuclear program? “I will stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. And we won’t be using a man like Secretary Kerry that has absolutely no concept of negotiation, who’s making a horrible and laughable deal, who’s just being tapped along as they make weapons right now, and then goes into a bicycle race at 72 years old, and falls and breaks his leg. I won’t be doing that. And I promise I will never be in a bicycle race. That I can tell you.” I believe The Donald when he says he will end Iran’s nuclear program and that he won’t be in a bicycle race. After all, this is a man who wrote, “The Art of the Deal”.

Repairing the nation’s crumbling infrastructure? “Nobody can do that like me. Believe me. It will be done on time, on budget, way below cost, way below what anyone ever thought. I look at the roads being built all over the country, and I say I can build those things for one-third.” One-third the cost! Who could oppose that? Not me!

Reforming entitlement programs? The Donald would “Save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security without cuts…Get rid of the fraud. Get rid of the waste and abuse, but save it.” Why haven’t our current politicians thought of this?

Free trade? The Donald is for free trade, but the key is who is doing the trading. “Free trade can be wonderful if you have smart people, but we have people that are stupid.” You can be sure The Donald will hire only smart people, and will get rid of the stupid ones. Stupid people, you’re fired!

Exporting jobs overseas? The Donald would bring the U.S. executives responsible for shipping jobs abroad into the Oval Office and make them an offer they couldn’t refuse. Consider the executive who recently set up a Ford plant in Mexico. Here is what The Donald would say to that unfortunate executive: “Congratulations. That’s the good news. Let me give you the bad news. Every car and every truck and every part manufactured in this plant that comes across the border, we’re going to charge you a 35-percent tax, and that tax is going to be paid simultaneously with the transaction, and that’s it.” How will the Ford executive respond? This is how: “‘Please, please, please.’ He’ll beg for a little while, and I’ll say, ‘No interest.’ Then he’ll call all sorts of political people, and I’ll say, ‘Sorry, fellas. No interest,’ because I don’t need anybody’s money. It’s nice. I don’t need anybody’s money. I’m using my own money. I’m not using the lobbyists. I’m not using donors. I don’t care. I’m really rich.”

That’s right. We all know that The Donald is a great man. But the key to his presidency will be that he is really rich. He has a net worth of $8,737,540,00. That’s billions of dollars. I know because he said so. This means that unlike other politicians, he’s not in it for the money. His campaign isn’t some gambit designed to boost the ratings of his television show, or to feed his own ego. No, The Donald can’t be bought and he is already a great man. He is doing this for us. That is why he will be “the greatest jobs president that God ever created.” He told us that, and I believe him. After all, he is a man who has declared bankruptcy on multiple occasions! How many times have his opponents declared bankruptcy? What do they know about running up excessive debt and not being able to pay bills? How can they possibly understand the American experience like The Donald can?

But beyond his fabulous wealth, his golf courses, convention centers and magnificent hotels, The Donald is also a kind person. I know because he said so. “I think I am a nice person. People that know me, like me. Does my family like me? I think so, right…I give a lot of money away to charities and other things.” What are those “other things”?  I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter why people like The Donald – they just do.

And as a kind person, he loves other people – all types of people. Among them are:
• His family, who he introduced during the event. It was his lovely daughter Ivanka who hyped the crowd before The Donald’s magnificent entrance coming down from his board room above, using the escalator, to greet the “thousands” in the audience. Surely The Donald is blessed with multiple wives and loving children. “I love my life. I have a wonderful family.”
• Soldiers (especially wounded ones). “We have wounded soldiers, who I love, I love — they’re great — all over the place.”
• Republican presidential candidates. “…[T]hey’re wonderful people”.
• Lobbyists. “I have lobbyists that can produce anything for me. They’re great”.
• Cheerleaders. “And we also need a cheerleader…Obama wasn’t a cheerleader. He’s actually a negative force”.
• The Chinese. “I like China. I sell apartments for — I just sold an apartment for $15 million to somebody from China. Am I supposed to dislike them?”
• Tom Brady and the Patriots. “It’s like take the New England Patriots and Tom Brady and have them play your high school football team. That’s the difference between China’s leaders and our leaders.”
• The Saudis. “I love the Saudis. Many are in this building. They make a billion dollars a day.”

The Donald is truly a loving person.  A rich, loving person.

So, that’s why I’m voting for The Donald. He will solve our critical problems by using common sense and hiring good people and making deals and threatening opponents and doing it all for pennies on the dollar. I know because he said he will.

And he is a kind person, one who is also rich. Really rich.

Some of you might think I am trumpeting his candidacy to boost his polls so that he will be included in the debates. Do you really think I would support The Donald for his entertainment value? Have I ever been anything but a sober-minded, empirical-driven analyst? I didn’t think so.

This is an election about competence. The Donald said so. And who is more competent than he? Don’t take my word for it – here’s what the hyper-competent Gary Busey had to say about The Donald back in 2012:

So join me and Gary Busey and Terrell Owens and the thousands of others would-be apprentices who watched The Donald’s speech and came away thinking, “Donald, you’re hired!”

Hillary Clinton: Campaigning in Prose

“You campaign in poetry; you govern in prose,” former New Yorker Governor Mario Cuomo famously proclaimed. Hillary Clinton is likely to prove Cuomo wrong; her campaign rollout speech yesterday on New York’s Roosevelt Island suggests she is determined to campaign in prose as well. Indeed, it was about as prosaic a speech as one could image; with its litany of policy proposals and homage to constituency groups it felt more like a State of the Union address than a stirring call to campaign arms. Not surprisingly, reporters in the major newspapers struggled to fashion a lead to their stories that adequately captured a single overarching theme in the speech. Some emphasized its “populist” message, particularly her focus on reducing economic inequities. Others focused on her four “fights”, alluding to both her own political career as well as FDR’s “four freedoms” but focusing particularly on Clinton’s homage to the lessons she had learned from her mother who overcame a difficult upbringing.

What almost everyone agreed on was that the speech was big on broad themes – promoting inclusiveness and economic equality – and more concrete policy objectives – universal preschool, expanded family leave – but weak on the specifics regarding how to achieve those goals. And she largely stayed clear of the more controversial issues – the 12-nation Pacific trade pact, her tenure heading the State Department, or even how to deal with ISIS – that potentially divide the Democratic Party. The sprawling presentation was clearly designed to appeal to a litany of groups – women, labor unions, racial and ethnic minorities, the LGBT community, truckers, veterans, nurses, small business owners – and to tout a broad range of progressive policies presented as common-sense centrist ideas. In short, there was something for everyone, but little to provoke opposition.

Of course, this should not surprise anyone. Clinton is dominating the polls, and the money race as well, and it makes absolutely no sense for her to wade into areas of controversy, or to weigh herself down by embracing policy specifics that are sure to attract fire from opponents. Candidates may campaign in poetry (or, in Clinton’s case in prose), but they also do so in generalities. Details come later, after the election is over.

For me, three aspects of the speech stood out. The first was her self-deprecating reference to her age (if elected, Clinton would be the oldest person other than Ronald Reagan to take the oath of office) and her hair color – allusions that she then turned to her advantage by reminding her audience that she is running a historic campaign: “I may not be the youngest candidate in this race, but I will be the youngest woman president in the history of the United States.”

But she followed this with a rather awkward reference to a Beatles’ song, Yesterday, in a somewhat forced attempt to accuse the Republicans of peddling old ideas: “There may be some new voices in the presidential Republican choir. But they’re all singing the same old song. It’s a song called ‘Yesterday. They believe in yesterday.” Well, perhaps, but it was hard not to listen to that reference and wonder if it more appropriately describes her political career.

A second awkward moment occurred as she sought to flesh out her biography by discussing her mother Dorothy Rodham’s difficult upbringing; Rodham was abandoned by her parents and struggled to establish her own life. But in transitioning to describing how she learned from her mother’s experiences, Clinton’s recitation of her own efforts after graduating from Yale Law School to help the underprivileged seemed to fall flat. It’s not hard to imagine more than one listener contrasting Rodham’s difficult life with Hillary’s financially comfortable existence.

In the end, the speech (you can read it in full here) was unlikely to move voters much; those who support Hillary undoubtedly found much to like – it was a reminder that she has extensive political experience, embraces mainstream Democratic policies, and as a woman represents a bloc of voters who feel their representation in the White House is long overdue. On the other hand, those who view her as an opportunist who lacks strong convictions, who plays by her own rules and whose ties to the financial elite blinds her to the need of the middle class, aren’t likely to have been swayed to think any differently.

Can she win? She certainly has an audience; yesterday’s speech was very well attended, but it did not elicit roars of approval so much as polite cheers and applause at the appropriate moments. That response is a reminder that candidates running for a third successive presidential term for their party face a difficult challenge. They must simultaneously carve out their own political identity while not fully repudiating their predecessor’s record. Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush, Al Gore and John McCain all struggled with finding the appropriate balance of paying homage to the incumbent and his record but also achieving separation, and of these only the elder Bush was successful in securing his party’s third presidential term. For Clinton, the issue is further complicated by the dynastic element of her candidacy – a issue that was on full display Saturday, as these pictures by Middlebury’s Elsa Alvarado from the rally demonstrate. They remind us that when Hillary takes the political stage, her husband is invariably somewhere behind her – for better and for worse:

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America, Do You Feel The Bern?

Psst. Hey, you there. Yes, you – the one drinking from the “Bernie Speaks for Me” coffee mug.  Are you like me? Did you wake up this morning, brow furrowed, worried about the future of the “yuman” race? Did you find yourself dropping your “r’s” from the end of words, emphasizing the beginning t of words and generally yelling out everything you said? Did you decide to pluck your hair, dye what was left white and comb the remnants with a battery cable? Did you put on yesterday’s rumpled shirt? Are you constantly barking out the words to “This Land is Your Land” everywhere you go?

Yeah, me too. And do you know why? Because we have Bernie-mentum! We are part of the 99%! Yeah, that’s right – we feel the Bern! And yes, Hillary, you should be afraid – very, very afraid! Two days ago Bernie shocked the world by winning 41% of the vote among Democratic activists in the Wisconsin straw poll, thus preventing Hillary from winning a majority (she only pulled 49%). No other Democrat – not Lincoln Chaffee, not Joe Biden, not Martin O’Malley – won more than 3% of the vote. And this despite the fact that the pro-Clinton booth was stationed right outside the straw poll voting location! Clearly this has become a two-person race, and the momentum is with Bernie!

Oh sure, the media naysayers carp that it was a low-turnout, non-random voting event that’s not representative of the actual Democratic electorate. Heck, Clinton didn’t even bother to campaign there. But what do you expect from the right-wing plutocracy that passes for the mainstream media these days? They have consistently ignored Bernie’s candidacy from the day he announced. In a show of how much they fear Bernie’s candidacy, the corporate lackey New York Times buried its coverage of Bernie’s declaration on page 21. No wonder independent journalists are questioning whether Bernie will get a fair shake with the mainstream media.

Despite this negative news coverage – or perhaps because of it – Bernie is drawing huge, raucous crowds everywhere he goes, beginning with the estimated 5,000 who crowded the Burlington waterfront to see Bernie kick off his campaign. The day after he drew the largest crowd of the current campaign season in Iowa. Standing room only events characterize his campaign stops in New Hampshire as well. And why not? Bernie’s progressive message is resonating everywhere with voters, and it’s forcing Clinton to take notice too. That doesn’t make the crony capitalists on Wall St. very happy; already some are raising the alarm that Clinton will try to adopt Bernie’s common-sense progressive agenda in order to preempt his rising support. As one member of the Wall St. criminal class and former Clinton supporter put it, “My fear is that she is just going to get pulled too far left by people who want her to just hammer the banks and stand in opposition to all these things she’s against.”

But it may be too late to stop Bernie. As Clinton’s poll numbers founder amidst rising negativity and a growing sense that she is untrustworthy, Sanders has vaulted into second place among Democratic voters nationwide. And if, as polls now suggest, Sanders comes out of Iowa with a top-two finish, who knows what will happen in New Hampshire, which is in Bernie’s backyard?

And while official totals won’t be released until July, early media reports suggest that Bernie’s rise in the polls has been matched by a slew of small donations – average size about $43 – that collectively add up to an impressive $1.5 million within the first day of his formal announcement.  His fundraising totals are all the more impressive considering he is not taking PAC money and has eschewed big donors. Heck, he’s one of the rare elected officials who has seen his wealth shrink while holding office! How can you not support someone who is carrying a debt of between $25,000 and $65,000 on his two credit cards? What is more American than that?

So, go ahead. Pass the mug. Drink in the Bernie-mentum. Feel the Bern, America!

Addendum (1:46 p.m.):  Bernie is kicking Hillary’s …er…derriere on this Daily Kos poll too!

Sanders vs. Todd: Fifty Shades of Bad

Is it time to take Bernie Sanders’ candidacy seriously? Apparently not – at least that’s the impression one might get based on Chuck Todd’s disturbing interview of Sanders on yesterday’s Meet the Press.

Rather than provide any evidence on which to evaluate Sanders’ candidacy, Todd instead reminded us why, as political scientist Tom Patterson documents in his very fine book Out of Order, the media remains ill-suited for covering presidential campaigns. Writing in 1994, Patterson argued that in the post-1972 primary-centered nominating era, the media had anointed itself as the main intermediary between voters and presidential candidates. The problem, Patterson argued, is that the incentives driving media coverage, including the need to draw an audience, maintain ratings and earn advertising revenue, are not conducive to providing the information that can help voters determine whether candidates are qualified for the presidency. Rather than examining the details of candidates’ policy views and qualifications, journalists instead cover the presidential campaign as a horse race, focusing in particular on candidates’ campaign strategy and personalities. And rather than allow candidates to speak for themselves, journalists substitute their own interpretation of candidate statements in the context of the horse race, with a focus on negative reporting and (often media-created) controversy.

Although now two decades old, Patterson’s argument is perhaps even more relevant in today’s era in which the mainstream media finds their election coverage dominance challenged by cable news and social media. As evidence, one need look no further than yesterday’s Meet the Press fiasco of an interview. As one of Sanders’ first nationwide appearances as a presidential candidate, you might think Todd would take the opportunity to probe more deeply into the Senator’s not uncontroversial policy proposals, such as providing free tuition to students attending public colleges, or raising the marginal tax rates, or how he might deal with ISIS. But you would be wrong. To begin, Todd spend the first part of the program discussing the unfolding Dennis Hastert scandal in a not-so-subtle effort to tell us what it says about Congress as a whole. (Answer: nothing, but that’s not newsworthy so….) When Sanders finally made his appearance about midway through the program, Todd begin with one useful question regarding whether the Senator would support the House bill to extend the U.S. Patriot Act then under debate in the Senate. Sanders said he likely would, reluctantly, although he expressed concern about protecting civil liberties.

At that point, the interview degenerated into full horse-race, candidate-personality mode.  Specifically, Todd  sought Sanders’ views on a topic arguably of far less relevance to the Senator’s qualifications to be president: Hillary Clinton. He began indirectly by asking Sanders to weigh the relative merits of Bill Clinton’s presidency versus Barack Obama’s. When Sanders appeared to praise Obama more than Clinton, Todd pressed further: “You singled out President Obama for praise but not President Clinton. Why?” You might wonder why Todd raised this issue, since Bill is not a candidate for higher office, but Todd’s intention soon became clear when he asked Sanders to comment on Hillary Clinton’s apparent leftward movement on a number of issues, including “same-sex marriage, on immigration … on NAFTA, on trade, on the Iraq War, on Cuba. She has moved from a position, basically, in disagreement with you, to a position that comes closer to your view. So I guess is, do you take her at her word?”

Cue the horse race! To his credit, Sanders refused to take the bait. Instead, he expressed hope that “the media will allow us to have a serious debate in this campaign on the enormous issues facing the American people” and tried to move the conversation to his policy views. Todd, however, had no interest in having a serious debate on the issues; he followed up with: “Do you trust these changes that Hillary Clinton has made? Or do you think she’s been doing it just for primary politics?”

When Sanders again refused to engage Todd in a discussion of Clinton’s motives, the MTP moderator closed with his zinger: Sanders’ 43-year old essay discussing women’s “rape fantasy.” Naturally, Todd chose to highlight the most controversial portion of the essay, while disingenuously implying it was the only portion he was comfortable reading on air: “I’ll be honest with you, Senator Sanders, it’s uncomfortable to read. The only excerpt I’m going to put up is, you wrote this in February of ’72, was sort of a fantasy of men and women, you said, ‘A woman enjoys intercourse with her man as she fantasizes being raped by three men simultaneously.’ Your campaign described it as satire. Can you explain this essay?”

Sanders explained that it was a poorly-written attempt to discuss gender roles in the 1970’s, and likened portions of it to Fifty Shades of Grey (who says the 73-year-old Bernie is not hip?!) Here is his full interview – his discussion of the essay begins at the 4:38 minute mark:

Frankly, having read the essay, I still have no idea what Sanders’ was trying to say. (You can read it here.) But I am persuaded, Todd’s questioning notwithstanding, that it is far less relevant to Sanders’ candidacy than are his policy views or his voting record from almost three decades serving in Congress – none of which Todd deemed worthy of asking about during the entire interview, save for the opening query about the Patriot Act.

Of course, one needs to be careful about generalizing to the entire mainstream media based on Chuck Todd’s abysmal performance yesterday. To date, Todd has not distinguished himself as moderator of MTP, although he may get better as he gains more experience in this format. And Sanders, unlike former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, showed that he could handle himself on the national stage which perhaps should not surprise us given his years in public office at the national level. Still, as we begin another lengthy campaign season, Todd’s performance does not give me confidence that the mainstream media is any more qualified to cover a presidential campaign today than it was two decades ago, when Patterson concluded that for “an institution that asks so much of others, the press has become remarkably derelict in the discharge of its public duty.” Amen.

Here in Vermont, It’s All Bernie, All the Time

Bernia mania has struck Vermont! Can the rest of the U.S.  be far behind?

Vermont’s latest presidential hopeful is slated to kick off his presidential campaign in 15  minutes, and we will be right there (virtually, not literally) with Bernie, live blogging the event.  The kickoff event is taking place at Waterfront Park in Burlington, complete with free Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.  The site has more than a little symbolism – it is public land he fought for while Burlington’s mayor.  We expect Bernie to take the podium shortly, but right now the crowd is being treated to a series of rally-the-base presentations in anticipation of Bernie’s entrance.