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Debates? Here is a Better Idea

Here is an idea as good as the one I proposed, or maybe better. Thomas L. Friedman is a columnist with excellent insights on foreign and domestic matters, and one I have long respected.

Biden Should Not Debate Trump Unless …

Memo to Joe Biden: Skip the Debates

In the normal course of recent presidential campaigns (since 1960), the TV debates between the major party candidates have been a fixture of the process. That does not mean they are required. This year and this campaign are very different from any in the past century, in large part because the incumbent president is different — way different — from any in our country’s history. And because of who the incumbent president is, the democratic challenger would be wise to decline the invitation to participate in any TV debates with him.

There is one basic reason for this, and numerous variations on it: Trump is unable and unwilling to participate in a civilized debate.

Any debate will become yet another Trump circus with insults, name-calling, lies, posturing, and distractions. It will be mean and divisive because that’s what Trump’s presidency has been about: divisiveness, distractions, and lies.

My view would be the same if the nominee were anyone other than Biden. Any nominee would face the same impossible task: you can’t participate in mud wrestling without getting dirty. You would be talking to…

…one who sings with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape from society’s pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole
That he’s in

– Bob Dylan

Hillary Clinton tried in 2016 (“When they go low, we go high”), but it didn’t work. During the Republican primary race in 2016, Trump bullied and insulted all his opponents into incoherence.

Trump still imagines that he can win if he just doubles down on everything he has done before. There is zero chance he will rise to the occasion. Quite the contrary. He knows a debate could not help Biden, only diminish him. It would only tarnish the campaign and give Americans yet another reason to be disgusted with politics.

Of course, Trump will rant and rave when Biden announces that he won’t debate, claiming it’s because Biden is weak, etc. People will ignore that, as Trump has been ranting about practically everything for the past 4 years. Let that not be a concern, most have tuned him out. Having the debates will have much greater negative outcomes. Refusing to debate is the courageous decision.

Most Americans are desperate to end this time of multiple plagues, divisions, and unrest. Biden can articulate that vision and show himself to be the leader that will begin and pursue the hard work that it will take to make America, yes, great again. Begin to repair and restore all that Trump has sullied in these four years and take up the long-simmering challenges around racism, medical care, equal opportunity, and climate. Trying to talk about any of those things with Trump in the room is impossible. Biden must take the message directly to the people and treat Trump as uninterested in the process and irrelevant after January 20, 2021.

We Have Seen this Movie Before

“Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”

Here in 2020, the Democrats seem to have forgotten or never learned the lessons of 1972 and are on the path to a reprise. In case you weren’t around then, they lost the presidential election to the incumbent Republican, winning only a single state (Massachusetts) in the Electoral College.

Let’s set the stage. We had a Republican president, Richard Nixon, with solid control of his party and extremely disliked by the left. Although we didn’t know it at the time, he was also quite willing to support illegal activities and “dirty tricks” against the opposing party. Our current president, who admires Nixon but says it was a mistake to have resigned, is very public about his intention to use the power of his office against the opposing party, given that he has already tried it, been impeached for it, and walked away with an acquittal.

The Democrats were the party of youth — the leading edge of the baby boomers who opposed the Viet Nam war (and especially being drafted to fight it) and embraced the chant “power to the people”. The Democratic convention, promising to be totally inclusive and politically correct, was chaotic, contentious, and self-destructive. Schedule discipline disappeared, everybody had to have their say, and the nominee didn’t get to give his acceptance speech until after midnight, when most Americans had already given up and gone to bed.

It was not a performance that inspired confidence that these people could run the country.

The convention is still a ways off, but the Democrats running for president are showing all too well that they would rather fight each other than work together to beat Trump.  A comment I saw on Facebook described the last debate as “a circular shooting contest.”  The public (to the extent anyone was watching) will remember the accusations (mostly based on political correctness and liberal orthodoxy), including those against the eventual nominee.

If this pattern continues, the convention could be a rerun of 1972.  Similarly, believing that some kind of new ultra-liberal wave is just waiting out there is likely to produce the same result that it did in 1972.  That wave will once again be AWOL.

Mike Bloomberg is the only candidate showing that he sees the big picture and is spending, not only to boost his candidacy but to counteract Trump’s heavy advertising already running in many states.  Without Bloomberg’s ads, people in these states would be hearing only pro-Trump advertising.  Yes, his performance in the debate was weak, but in a mud-wrestling match, nobody comes out looking good.

The Democrats, and Democratic nominee, have to start showing that they actually know how run a railroad — this railroad called the federal government.  Their recent record is not good: the Iowa caucuses.  The 2016 election where the DNC had such an amateurish IT organization that their emails were easily hacked into. They were largely clueless about social media attacks, and their TV advertising was dated and uninspiring.

The game this time is going to be four years more advanced.  Plus, reports have now confirmed what we expected, or should have expected: the national security agencies have confirmed Russian intention to influence the US election again, specifically to support Trump.  Trump does not like that truth, and is using his powers as president against it.  Are the Democrats preparing for the real game ahead?  Or are they just going to repaint the flagpole?

At least say it on the record: Trump was wrong

In the next few days, there will be a ceremonial vote in the Senate trial that will acquit Trump of both articles of impeachment. There is zero chance that a two-thirds majority will vote to convict. It is likely that no Republicans will vote to convict, and even a few Democrats from states where Trump won in 2016 may also vote against it.

All but two of the Republicans have voted against calling witnesses – people that could provide first-hand information. That is a position that means “My mind is made up. I already know the facts.” However, some Senators have said publicly that they don’t need more witnesses because they already accept that yes, Trump withheld the Ukraine funds in order to pressure Ukraine’s President to announce an investigation that might be damaging to Trump’s opponent in the upcoming US presidential election. In other words, yes, it was a quid pro quo, and yes, it was wrong to have done that. Some senators said “inappropriate”, but in any event rejected Trump’s claims that he did “nothing wrong” and that his phone call and other actions were “perfect.” There are no Senators who have publicly said Trump’s actions were “perfect”, but all by their vote to acquit are at least saying those actions were not bad enough to require removal from office.

That, at least, is a logical, if also debatable, position. I said the same thing during the Clinton impeachment — he did some things that were wrong, but they were not remotely serious enough to justify conviction and removal.

So what, then? Just walk away with nothing more that “acquitted” as the result? There is another option – censure – which would at least say formally that the President’s actions were not “perfect.” The Senate can use censure to express disapproval for the record but not remove the office holder or legally restrict his future actions. A vote on censure would require all Senators to state publicly and for the record whether they believe the President did anything wrong at all.

Their duty to the Constitution and to their constituents requires them to be on the record on that point. If they refuse, the voters are entitled to conclude that they don’t have the guts to own their opinion.

Here is a more thorough description of the desperate state of Republican members of Congress under Trump.

Don’t Bother Me With Facts

Republican senators: “My mind is made up! Don’t bother me with facts.” As Nancy Pelosi said, “They’re afraid of the truth. They don’t want to see documents. They don’t want to hear from eyewitnesses. They want to ignore anything new that comes up.”

It is a basic truth that everyone knows from childhood: An innocent person will put forward any evidence they have that proves their innocence. Nobody hides evidence in their own favor.  In other words, nobody covers up their innocence, they only cover up their guilt.

If the R senators vote against witnesses, it means they have joined Trump in a massive cover-up, while at the same time claiming the evidence isn’t there to prove guilt. The Republican party has declined a lot since 1974 when R senators told Nixon to step down or be impeached.

Update 1/30/2020 Nancy Pelosi nails it: “You cannot be acquitted if you don’t have a trial. You don’t have a trial if you don’t have witnesses and documentation. If Republican Senators choose a cover-up, the American people and history will judge it with the harshness it deserves.”

Thank you, Cory Booker.

Cory Booker for President

I first saw Cory Booker last spring and was greatly impressed by his message and character. He has been my #1 choice among the Democratic presidential field since then. Alas, his campaign didn’t catch fire enough to get the poll numbers that would keep him in the debates, so he missed the last one and did not qualify for the next one.

He has now made the sensible decision to suspend his campaign. I wish him luck and hope to see him again in a future presidential run.

The Primary Calendar Hurts Democrats

I have lived in New Hampshire since 1986 and enjoyed our role as FITN – First In The Nation primary. However, I agree with Bloomberg that Dems need to spend more time in swing states with more electoral college votes and do so from the beginning, not just after NH and Iowa have spoken. He pointed out previously that while Dems are all over NH and Iowa, they have no presence in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, etc. while TRUMP is all over those states with ads and rallies. We must stop rearranging the deck chairs and get the ship pointed away from the iceberg.

Choosing on character or principles

As this election season has ground along, I have become increasingly amazed at the amount of support Trump still has, despite all the revelations about his character – the person that he is – that have become glaringly visible over the past year plus.  Even after the infamous tape was revealed where he talked about groping and sexually assaulting women, most of his supporters stayed with him.  Yes, some party leaders finally broke with him, but he still has tens of millions of people who will be voting for him.

I found this especially perplexing since a large core of Trump’s support is from people who identify as evangelical, people who identify as Christian, etc. – the same people who used to be known as “the moral majority.”  They continue to support a man whose morality is diametrically opposed to what they usually demand.  (To be fair, there are some among those groups who have denounced Trump since early in the campaign.)

I got some insight into this puzzle from an article I read recently, talking about those who are still supporting Trump and quoting a number of them.  To paraphrase, many of the quotes said something like, “yes, he is a horrible person, but I will vote for him as President because (I believe) he will appoint Supreme Court justices who will  overturn Roe v. Wade and gay marriage; because he will repeal Obamacare, and protect gun rights, and …”

In other words, for them, those principles are more important than his character.

Do I disapprove?

When I look within myself, I realize I would do exactly the same thing.

That is to say, I would — and will — vote for the candidate who I believe would appoint Supreme Court justices that will support and affirm all existing individual human rights, including a woman’s right to choose, gay marriage, LGBTQ rights, etc; one who will work to fix and improve Obamacare, not repeal it first with some vague promise of a replacement; one who will maintain and strengthen Social Security and Medicare; and one who has the intelligence and experience in dealing with foreign leaders to keep America safe and out of unnecessary and unwinnable wars. Someone who will stand strong at home for inclusiveness, not divisiveness; one who will build bridges, not walls.

I would vote for that candidate even if that person had the character of a Donald Trump.

It’s what I would do in my own self-interest and that of my family and future generations.

Fortunately, I am not faced by that choice.  The candidate I support on principle is also the candidate with the character I want in a President and will be proud to have as a role model for upcoming generations.

I realize that many on the right and across the political spectrum do not see HRC as I do.  I happen to think that much of that perception is based on 24 years of almost continuous lies, insinuations, and accusations from well-funded political opponents and media that make money by exploiting fear.

Nonetheless, I understand and respect that those people are acting in what they see as their own self-interest, the same as I do.

The dog’s tail

You’ve probably heard this one: A mother tells her small son, “Stop pulling the dog’s tail.” He replies, “I’m just holding it. It’s the dog that’s pulling.”  His mother knew, of course, that the boy, not the dog, was in the wrong.

The little boy knew it too, but he somehow thought everybody else in the world, including his mother, wasn’t as smart as he was and would be fooled by his assertion.

Sound familiar?  It should.  That little boy grew up to be a Republican in the US House of Representatives.

Most kids learn not to expect others to be fooled by specious claims such as this, but a few don’t.  The Tea Party Republicans seem to have a disproportionate number of followers who somehow didn’t get that gene.

They don’t even seem to get it that they lost the last election.  That is, when the whole country voted, the Republicans lost.  Now they are threatening the whole country for that perceived insult.  Perhaps they forget that they live here too.  Like one House member said, “It’s like putting a gun to your own head and saying, do what I want or I’ll shoot.”  That was even a Republican House member, so not all of them have swallowed the Cool-Aid.

As we all know, those that do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.  The TP Republicans aren’t too fond of learning in general, especially anything that is counter to their preconceived dogmas.  However, it seems we all are condemned to repeat this bit of history – a government shutdown followed by the R’s getting their knuckles rapped and finally letting go of the dog’s tail.

You might think they would learn this time, but no.  The lesson they learn will be more like what some of them are saying now: “we lost last time because we weren’t radical enough and didn’t do enough damage to the country to make the other side give up.”

Oh, and what happened to that little boy?  He was sent to his room for a long “time out”. Know what I’m sayin’?

The Evolution of Privacy

The revelation of massive monitoring of phone calls in the past couple weeks is only the latest step in the erosion of privacy as we have traditionally understood it.  The founders of this country understood the importance of privacy as the defense against the ‘tyranny of the majority’.  I believe we are crossing a threshold where ‘privacy’ in the traditional sense is impossible, and consequently, we must disempower the tyranny of majority opinion.  We must accept that everything about us can be known, and demand that it can’t be used against us.

It is only when we (believe we have to) keep secrets that we give away our power. If we all stop keeping secrets, then those who control us with threats of disclosure will be rendered powerless. If many people are ‘doing it’, then news that some particular person is ‘doing it’ is not news.

Hear: this is the essential reason that gay rights have advanced over the past 4 decades – up to and including the Supreme Court decision this past week. Gays in increasing numbers stopped accepting that they were fundamentally bad and had to ‘keep their secret’.  They ‘came out of the closet’ – demanding they they be accepted as equals just as they are. I don’t like the erosion of privacy either, but I think it is a lost battle to fight against it.

What we need to do now is demand that nothing known about us can be used against us short of a clear threat of violence – a “clear and present danger”. If I read Communist literature, so what? If I read Islamist literature, so what? If I make contacts on kinky sex websites or visit prostitutes, so what? Yes, there are still a lot of self-righteous people out there who want to make these and many other things ‘wrong’. They still have some, if diminishing, power. The more we defy their moral dictates, the quicker will we empower ourselves and render them powerless.