David Leonhardt, whom I sometimes think is the worst of the horrible stable of New York Times op-ed writers until Michelle Goldberg launches into another fact-free rant or Charles M. Blow authors the latest escalation in his campaign to convince readers that President Trump is the spawn of Satan, wrote an op-ed last week attacking the parties’ nominating processes and asserting that “We have an unnecessarily weak presidential field, especially the incumbent.” Read the article. There is no logic to it, nor consistency; it is yet another “I wonder how gullible and ignorant my readers are?” experiment. Essentially the piece is anti-democratic, as a majority of progressives seem to have soured on democracy once it “failed” by not electing Hillary Clinton President. (I regard the election of Donald Trump over Clinton as one of the most important and exhilarating expressions of democracy in our history, though it was substantially due to moral luck.) Leonhardt’s argument is also historical nonsense, as he claims that the parties were better at picking qualified and electable candidates in the past. They most certainly were not: overage generals like Winfield Scott*, W.H. Harrison and Zachary Taylor, the latter two who, though elected, promptly died, thus elevating to the White House VPs that nobody ever wanted or envisioned as Presidents…popular generals with no governing experience whatsoever, like U.S. Grant and John C. Fremont…wildly popular outgoing Presidents’ handpicked successors who would never have been nominated otherwise, like Van Buren, Taft, and Bush? Packaged puppets like Warren G. Harding and William McKinley? Doomed losers like Horace Greeley, James Cox, Bob Dole, Walter Mondale, George McGovern, Mike Dukakis and (yechh) John Kerry? Already once or twice beaten past candidates like Henry Clay, William Jennings Bryan, Thomas Dewey and Adlai Stevenson? Brilliant!
Leonhardt even offers Abraham Lincoln as an example of the effectiveness of past party nominating systems, ignoring, or, based on his established level of acuity, unaware of the fact that Abe won despite getting only 38% of the vote, or about the same proportion Barry Goldwater and George McGovern received while losing in landslides. That he turned out to be a great President was more moral luck: Lincoln had no executive governing experience at all before being thrust into the most difficult challenge a President had faced since Washington, hadn’t even been a general, and was known mostly for his wit and oratory. With the nation teetering on destruction, the candidates selected by the Democratic and Republican parties in 1860 consisted of Lincoln, John Breckinridge, Buchanan’s inert Vice-President, who had also no executive governing experience, and Stephen Douglas, who also had never run anything and had been a full-time legislator for two decades. In his favor, he had a lot more relevant experience than Lincoln. On the deficit side, he would die in 1861, meaning that if Douglas had been elected the new President would have been the immortal Herschel Vespasian Johnson.
Leonhardt explains why the current field of Democrats is so weak, as if that wasn’t already depressingly obvious, but he never points to a single current non-candidate who would be any more promising, because there aren’t any. He muses about Democratic governors who might be more promising: Like who, exactly…the ridiculous Andrew Cuomo? How many Democratic governors have distinguished themselves enough to have any national name recognition at all, other than Cuomo and Virginia’s Ralph Northam, of blackface fame?
It’s not the process, obviously, it’s the people. Then Leonhardt ends with “Of course, the biggest sign that the process is broken isn’t any of those seven. It is the man in the Oval Office.” Got it. The op-ed is just more anti-Trump teeth gnashing.
Whatever Donald Trump may be, the fact that he beat a supposed Democratic star overwhelmingly expected to win proves that he was not a weak candidate by definition, and as an incumbent President, he is stronger now. Incumbent Presidents are usually strong candidates because no matter who they are, if the economy is thriving, their foreign policy weaknesses haven’t crippled them, and there’s no prominent third party candidate to siphon votes away, they win, like Obama, Bush, Clinton, Reagan, Nixon, Ike, Truman and FDR (and going back further yet to the beginning of the 20th Century, , Wilson, Teddy, and McKinley).
But I digress. The shocking deficiencies of the current Democratic hopefuls were on full display as the awful awful, awful December debate wound down.
Pete Buttigieg began the worst pander-fest of the evening:
BUTTIGIEG: When I am president, based on those experiences, I will make sure that this is a country of laws and of values. And that means not only ending these unspeakable, cruel practices at the border, but finally and truly fixing the immigration system that has needed a full overhaul since the 1980s.
Note: I have determined, after months of listening and reading, that Mayor Pete is the #1 Panderer among the Un-Magnificent Seven. Warren is the obfuscating demagogue; Joe Biden is the empty suit, Bernie is the socialist lunatic, Yang and Streyer are the irrelevant distractions, and Amy Klobuchar is the token moderate who doesn’t seem senile. The last three have no chance at the nomination. That the first four do validates at least part of Leonhardt’s thesis.
Can Buttigieg explain how a country “of laws and values” can ignore its immigration laws and reward non-Americans who deliberately break those law? His statement is self-contradictory. The “unspeakable, cruel practices” did not original with the Trump administration, and are necessary because lawbreakers have overwhelmed enforcement at our border. Anyone who talks about “truly fixing the immigration system” without specifying what that would involve is a fake: this is the immigration equivalent of promising “sensible gun regulations.”
Buttigieg was sucked into this embarrassing discourse by this question:
Mayor Buttigieg, a new question to you, Mr. Mayor. You said last month that the U.S. owes compensation to children separated from their families at the southern border. The consensus among child welfare experts is that those thousands of children will likely suffer lifelong trauma as a result of that separation. Are you committing as president to financial compensation for those thousands of children?
The idea is bats, and a candidate of integrity would say so. Parents drag their children long distances to cynically and irresponsibly use them as human shields impeding U.S. enforcement of our borders. Any psychological traumas the children encounter are completely the fault of their parents, who put them in peril, and any other position invites and encourages scams.
Nevertheless, Mayor Pete did what he does:
BUTTIGIEG: Yes, and they should have a fast track to citizenship, because what the United States did under this president to them was wrong. We have a moral obligation to make right what was broken.
What a great system! Foreign parents create an impossible situation at the border while endangering their children (if they really are their children) and by making certain any effort to keep the parents from violating our borders “traumatizes” those children, guarantee the kids a “fast track to citizenshi” !
Does anyone listen to what Buttigieg says, or is he just so darn cute that everyone’s eyes glaze over?
[In related news, Julian Castro finally quit the race, but not before advocating the complete decriminalizing of illegal border crossings. To his credit, at least Castro specified what “truly fixing the immigration system” means to him, and I strongly believe that’s what it means to Buttigieg and others, but they don’t have the guts, or the foolishness, to admit it.]
Then the South Bend mayor was asked if he advocated reparations for slavery, and outdid himself ith biggest, craziest pander of them all, saying,
I support H.R. 40, which is the bill that has been proposed in Congress to establish a commission to look at reparations. But we shouldn’t wait for that commission to do its work to do things that are reparative.
Remember, we’re not talking about a gift to anybody. We’re talking about mending what was broken. We’re talking about the generational theft of the wealth of generations of African-Americans. And just crossing out a racist policy and replacing it with a neutral one is not enough to deliver equality.
Harms compound, just like a dollar saved in its value compounds over time. So does the value of a dollars stolen. And that is why the United States must act immediately with investments in minority-owned businesses, with investments in health equity, with investments in HBCUs, and on the longer term look at reparations so that we can mend what has been broken.
Reparations are perhaps the most racially divisive and harmful policy imaginable; it is probably unconstitutional, it would be impossible to manage, and it will never, never happen, but never mind, Buttigieg and the entire field are dedicated to pander to the African American base with promises of riches for, you know, just being black.
The moderators’ intended to get every candidate to endorse reparations, but Biden ducked the question, and one after another among the group on stage, especially Sanders, segued into the “free stuff for all” mode. “Make public colleges and universities tuition-free….cancel all student debt in this country” [Bernie] “$1,000 a month into everybody’s hands…” [Yang] “Medicare for all” [Warren and Sanders]
Finally, the debate collapsed into silliness, as the moderators asked everyone to either “ask forgiveness for something maybe that was said tonight or another time, or a candidate to whom you would like to give a gift.”
And these were the best moderators so far….
Sure, the system for choosing candidates is lousy, but if the field is terrible, what difference, at this point, does it make?
*CORRECTION NOTICE: In the first version of this post, I wrote “Winfield Hancock,” when I meant Winfield Scott. Scott was the old general nominated by the Whigs in 1852, losing to Pierce. Winfield Scott Hancock was named after Scott (hence my brain fart) and ran as the Democratic candidate against James Garfield in 1880.
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