The California Primary is over, we have presumptive nominees from the major parties, and I’ve got a collection of Decision 2016 News Chum just waiting to be posted. In thinking about these articles over lunch, I realized they fit a theme: just like history is more complicated than people realize, politics is more complicated than people realize. Often the simple tropes and sound bites that circulate in the social media world are too abstracted to discuss the real issue, and when you investigate the complicated real issue, you often find much more than you would have thought. Let’s explore some of these:
- False Simplification = The People Elect the President. A lot of people believe the process of electing a President is just like electing a Senator or Congresscritter: we have a primary where we narrow down the field to the top candidate in each party, and then pit those candidates in an election where the one with the largest number of votes wins. But that’s not how the process works. We don’t have a democracy; we have a representative form of government. For President, each parties chooses — using their own processes — how they will pick their nominee at their convention. In the past, this was the literal smoke-filled room, which gave us some of our greatest presidents. Lincoln never had a primary election. Roosevelt never had a primary election. Picking the nominee at a convention is done by the delegates who attend those conventions. Each state defines its own process to pick those delegates, as we have seen. Each state has its own rules. This indirection is even true for the general election. Each state has rules on how it allocates its electors to the electoral college, and it is the electoral college that actually elects the President. Changing this system would require changing the Constitution, as well as the rules within each state. That won’t happen immediately, especially when we only realize these problems every four years.
- False Simplification = Bernie Can Win the Nomination. This is a big one from the Bernie Sanders supporters, who at this point believe Bernie could be the Democratic nominee if only he could get those superdelegates to switch sides. The excellent Electoral-Vote website had some interesting commentary on this, noting that even if Bernie got what he wanted — superdelegates in proportion to his winnings — he still would not get the nomination. The math just isn’t there to support him, unless Bernie is advocating that the superdelegates should completely ignore the wishes of the voters in the Democratic primaries. Basically, Hillary will be the nominee because she got the most votes in the primaries; for all the indirection and games in the process, it actually worked to sync with the voters. By the way, this is also true on the Republican side: Trump got the nomination because a majority of Republicans voted for him. Further, the other candidates did not stay around to provide a viable alternative to Trump, leaving the Republican voter with only one distasteful choice. As to the question of whether Sanders should drop out: I don’t think so — at least not until after the DC Primary. His presence there demonstrates that the Democrats believe in providing the choice.
- False Simplification = Hillary is a War Hawk. Now we start to get to some of the tropes that have been going around about Hillary trying to discredit her. We’ll start with this: that she’s a hawk and wants to bring the US to war. However, a study of her foreign policy shows that she is not a hawk. That record suggests she’d be more hawkish than President Obama — and many of her fellow Democrats. But don’t expect her to go overboard. She knows all too well the political price that can come with military intervention. She knows foreign policy; she’s very concerned with relationships and alliances. One gets the impression that she’ll use military intervention only when it is really needed — and remember, she’ll need congress’ approval to do so (at least for any extended action).
- False Simplification = Hillary is Corrupt. I posted this article a while back, but it is worth reposting. The gist is that if you believe that Hillary is corrupt — and in particular, more corrupt than other politicians — you’ve swallowed the conspiracy theories fed to you by the GOP. Furthermore, unlike Monica, you didn’t spit it out as distasteful. If you look at the history objectively, you’ll discover that most of these “scandals” really have no substance to them, and what is there is truly insignificant in the scheme of how the Presidency works. Moreover, you’ll see that both Hillary and Bill have devoted their life to public service and working for the people. They’ve become wealthy by the fact that they are lawyers (a high income profession), and as politicians in the limelight, get paid well to speak and write about their experiences and observations.
- False Simplification = Hillary is Out of Touch with the Poor. This claim has come to a head this week with the kerfuffle about the $12K dress. Snopes has something to say about that: pointing out that the jacket was really half the price, and was likely donated. I’ll go further and say that the question itself is misogynistic. When Bernie Sanders talks about income inequality, does anyone ask how much his suit costs? When President Obama talks? If Trump talked about it at all, would anyone ask him? No. But we ask women what they wear as if it is something important, and we will pick on them if they don’t look right, or wear the same clothes over and over. Focus on the substance of what she says, and what she has done when in office — not what she is wearing.
- False Simplification = Hillary is not the Candidate of the People. Say what you will about Bernie and the Donald: they see inequities, and they get angry about it. They get so angry they yell from the campaign trail. What would the reaction be if Hillary did that? Here’s an interesting article that shows how Hillary is a very apt, but very different politician. The thing is: her approach to politics is unlike the typical male candidates — and especially the male candidates that our election process rewards. Hillary works in the background building coalitions and nurturing relationships. This is a very feminine approach, and one that people do not see.
- False Simplification = Hillary is Dishonest. This appears to be a favorite of Donald Trump. But guess what: it isn’t true — in fact, Hillary is fundamentally honest. So, the question continues, if she is honest, why does she refuse to release all the information about her speeches. The answer is noted in the linked article: “Some of it she brings on herself by insisting on a perimeter or “zone of privacy” that she protects too fiercely. It’s a natural impulse, given the level of scrutiny she’s attracted, more than any male politician I can think of.” But when it comes to honesty, and objective analysis demonstrates that she is fundamentally honest.
Let’s look at these characteristics as they relate to the other major candidate: Donald Trump. Trump has no demonstrated record of working in public service or in the public interest; in fact, it is clear that the only interest he has been interested in supporting to date is his own. This is why he has valued his businesses differently when talking about them on the trail vs. when they are subject to asset taxation. We don’t know his position on war, but we do know he has been fast to come off the handle and threaten war. We also know he doesn’t care about relationships with allies — America First. Is he corrupt? There is evidence he has made major donations to states attorneys general to get them to drop cases against Trump University. He has also clearly misrepresented his interests, and drove many of his businesses into bankruptcy. I shouldn’t even need to ask the honesty question.
But even with all of that, I’m not going to say “Vote Against Trump” (I’ll believe it, but I won’t say it). Rather, I’ll say that you should vote “for” a candidate. Look at the published positions of the candidates (and by that I mean all the candidates: Dems, Repubs, Libertarians, Greens, etc.) — not what the media says they are, but what they are saying about their positions. Look who is endorsing them. Look at their experience and their demeanor. Consider their knowledge of all the complexities that go into being President: working with the Senate and House, dealing with all the hidden complications of the Federal Budget; dealing with the nuances of foreign policy; thinking about long term impacts of actions; thinking about the ramification and costs of actions both domestically and abroad. Select your candidate based on those characteristics, not the manufactured stories and tropes manufactured by the media to bring eyeballs to their properties.