Farewell to Eight Years of Adriftness

by Alex Knepper

Except in comparison to Donald Trump, I can’t say I’ll miss President Barack Obama. From the very beginning of his first presidential campaign, I was deeply suspicious of what I viewed as a cult of personality: the slick, too-cool cultural phantasmagoria eliciting orgiastic joy from my peers: I was a freshman at American University in 2008, after all. I supported the moderate-but-hawkish Rudy Giuliani in the Republican primary contest (and Hillary Clinton against Obama) and eventually voted in the general election for John McCain, despite serious reservations over his temperament and the Palin pick, simply because I did not trust that someone such as Obama, with so little experience, could really have a successful presidency. Unlike my frightened conservative colleagues, I did not fear he would be a radically anti-war president, a wild-eyed socialist, or what-have-you, once he actually stepped into office and surveyed the tasks at hand. I merely believed that, despite being an intelligent, charismatic, capable man, the scope of the office and its responsibilities are overwhelming, and he had never been in charge of anything other than his campaign. You can have all the potential in the world, but experience counts — it takes more than a vision to force an idea to life. Moreover, hailing from safely blue Illinois and waltzing to his Senate victory, Obama never had to endure the full force of conservative opposition, and had no clue what he was in for.

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Melania Meets the Media

by Cinzia Croce

Although Melania Trump’s convention speech was initially met with universal praise, the pundits quickly began to breathlessly report that potential First Lady Melania Trump’s speech contained two paragraphs that were strikingly similar to a speech current First Lady Michelle Obama delivered during the 2008 Democratic Party Convention. Steve Schmidt, former McCain campaign manager and current MSNBC contributor, declared “Now you have brought scandal to a potential First Lady.” Scandal? Plagiarizing Deval Patrick certainly did not impede Barack Obama from reaching the White House. It didn’t even hurt his reputation as a thoughtful wordsmith and orator. But we live in a world where if President Obama borrows lines, it is an unfortunate coincidence, but if anyone else does the same it is a crippling “scandal” — even when the person in question is not even seeking elective office.

It must be very difficult, if not impossible, to write an original speech for the wife of a candidate who cannot engage in a long discussion of policy proposals. That would be too reminiscent of Bill and Hillary’s “two for the price of one” approach, which was a complete failure. It turns out that the American public is not a fan of ‘co-presidencies’ or the sharing of any public office. But once policy is off the table, the topics a wife can touch upon are limited to praising her husband; speaking about his softer side that is hidden from the public; charity work, children, and values. Notions of passing along what we’ve worked for to the next generation, the value of hard work and keeping your word, and the importance of treating people with respect are common bromides that have filled countless political speeches. If pundits really cared to be honest in their criticism, they would acknowledge that we have been hearing the same basic political speech for the last several decades — talking about the greatness of America, the need to come together, providing opportunity to all Americans, and offering a better future to the next generation. In Democratic speeches, references to social justice are peppered throughout, while in Republican speeches the references are to Reagan and traditional values. Every election is “the most important election in a lifetime” that presents “a stark choice” to the voters. Our politicians have been reading from the same script for a very long time, and the first candidate who went off it, Donald Trump, is assailed every day by the media for being undisciplined. Continue reading

Hillary Clinton for President: There is No Alternative

by Alex Knepper

Although Hillary Clinton’s historic primary victory has turned out to be decisive, there is undoubtedly a streak of joylessness to it. Her major victories were concentrated in the three ‘Super Tuesdays’ of the calendar, while losing constantly in the caucus-heavy lull periods, making the path to the nomination feel like a bit of a long slog at times. Between this, her seeming inability to escape the constant drip-drip-drip of harmful new information about her use of a private server while Secretary of State, and an unusually ideological and tenacious opponent, being a Clinton supporter has often felt like — how to put this? — less a reason to be excited than a responsibility.

Before we proceed, let us not forget that the final outcome of this race has been clear for some time; at least since the first Super Tuesday, in which Clinton swept the South — and that any candidate but Bernie, who, unusually, owes nothing to the Democratic Party and has hated it for decades, would be out by now. Ultimately, Clinton will have won over 55% of the popular vote, command a pledged-delegate lead in the 300-400 range, and hold the near-entirety of the Mid-Atlantic, Southwest, and Deep South, as well as most of the country’s major states, including NY, FL, TX, IL, PA, VA, and even MA. Her victory would have been even more decisive had it not been for Bernie’s string of non-representative caucus victories. Consider that Bernie won Washington state by 50 points but that Clinton actually won the state’s non-binding primary. Hillary also won Nebraska’s non-binding primary, despite losing the caucus and hence losing in the state’s delegate count. Who is really the candidate with the silent majority?

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Yes, Trump’s Foreign Policy is Coherent

by Cinzia Croce

All of us have experienced moments when everything comes into focus and questions that lingered in one’s mind for a long time find their answer. For years I wondered why America’s foreign policy – ever since the end of the Cold War – has been marked by a series of debacles and a high level of incompetence. Supposedly our foreign policy was being shaped by the best and the brightest, individuals with long, impressive resumes and a deep knowledge of ‘how the world works’. With such an illustrious brain trust working on behalf of the American people how does one explain the decades of failure? After watching the reaction to Donald Trump’s foreign policy speech, I finally have my answer.

The persistent criticism of Trump’s foreign policy approach is that it is “incoherent”. Much of the consternation seems to be caused by Trump stating that “America is going to be a reliable friend and ally again” and later in speech he calls for our “nation, be more unpredictable.” One cannot be both reliable and unpredictable, declared pundits, editorial boards and former foreign policy advisors. It is contradictory, incoherent. Trump criticizes Obama for “picked fights with our oldest friends” and says he “bows to our enemies” while pledging to end the “horrible cycle of hostility” toward Russia. It is contradictory, incoherent. Trump states first that our weakened economic state means we can longer afford to fund defense commitments — and later laments our depleted military and pledges to make it stronger. It is contradictory, incoherent.  Continue reading

Intervening in Libya Was the Right Thing to Do

By Alex Knepper

It is ironic that foreign policy interventionists are so frequently accused by our critics of overestimating the reach of American power. Since the disappointments of the ‘Arab Spring,’ it has become commonplace to lay the blame for the ongoing chaos in Libya at the feet of President Obama — and especially then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was decisive in pushing the president to intervene — as well as those who have generally pushed for greater American intervention since 9/11. Non-interventionists are sure that Libya is their ace in the hole: how can anyone defend Clinton’s urging to force out Qaddafi, given that ISIS has found a foothold in Libya and there is no resolution in sight? Haven’t we learned our lesson by now?

Despite non-interventionists’ foolish overestimation of the reach of American power, is not always simply up to the United States whether a tyrant stays or goes, and it is seldom within our power to prevent a badly deteriorating political situation from collapsing into chaos. Often we are given the choice between — to paraphrase Lindsey Graham on Ted Cruz — being shot or being poisoned. Of course, it is easy for pundits to declare that we should seek health — but if a nation’s political culture is sick to the core, then recovery will take decades — not years, and certainly not months — and pretending we can avoid the problem simply by keeping our hands from getting dirty is nothing but kicking the can down the road.

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From North Africa to Syria, the ‘Arab Spring’ was first and foremost a revolt against secular authoritarianism. We have learned that the removal of tyrants in the Arab world is likely to open a path for Islamists. This was relatively predictable, and many did predict it at the time. But when the will of the people is overwhelming, there is little the United States can do to contain the situation in a way that is tantamount to anything but a short-term fix. Looking at Egypt, for instance: if we actually had successfully propped up Hosni Mubarak — who, unlike Qaddafi, actually was ‘our bastard’ — we would have necessarily given Islamists many more years to spread their ideology, giving them a fresh chance to appeal to festering resentments and new fuel for anti-Americanism in response to our meddling in propping up Mubarak. Instead, we accepted the inevitable and watched his regime collapse. Islamists have since had to attempt to turn their preaching into policy. Today, we see the many failures of Islamists in Egypt — and so do Egyptians. In the short-term, America is put into a more difficult situation in the Middle East for what has happened in Egypt — but in the long-term, we may have avoided something far worse, and helped to open up the path to new alternatives for the Middle East by allowing Islamists to put their limitations as rulers on display for all to see. The alternative — Mubarak-style secular tyranny in perpetuity — is inconceivable. Something had to give, and it’s better to deal with it upfront than to let the situation fester.

Unlike Mubarak, of course, Qaddafi was a sworn enemy of the United States and its allies. In 2011, the situation in Libya was not radically different from the one in Syria today. There are no obviously ‘good’ actors involved, the few ‘moderates’ involved are moderate only in a relative sense — and hence there is no easy choice for America, especially in the short-term. But as with Assad in Syria, it had become blindingly evident in 2011 that Gaddafi had become intolerable to a large enough segment of the population that to assist in propping him up would be nothing but a short-term fix. Let’s consider the alternatives: if we had not intervened and Qaddafi mercilessly slaughtered his people, Assad-style, Obama and Clinton would be blamed for that mess, too. If we had not intervened and Islamists were successful in ousting Qaddafi, Obama and Clinton would be blamed for that mess, too. The USA didn’t ‘break’ Libya; Libya was bound for chaos, and the only question was how we were going to respond to it.

There is no excuse — on the part of the Obama Administration or our NATO allies — for not attempting to do more to follow up on its actions not only in Libya, but also in Syria and Iraq. ISIS will eventually have to be wiped out, which means there will need to be not only boots on the ground but a long-term commitment from a grand coalition of NATO allies, led by the United States, to oversee the maintenance of a new provisional government. But the need to destroy ISIS was going to materialize regardless of whether we intervened to take out Qaddafi — and Libya would still be chaotic, too. It is convenient for non-interventionists — and for opportunists like Donald Trump — to blame the the United States for every mess in the world — but sometimes all we can do is swallow the poison instead of taking the bullet.

Why Aren’t Black People Voting for Bernie Sanders?

By Alex Knepper

Black voters have overwhelmingly rejected Bernie Sanders, leaving his supporters reeling and perplexed. What’s going on? Are black people ignorant? Are they brainwashed? Are they simply uneducated? Do we have a Thomas Frank-style situation — ‘What’s the Matter With Mississippi?’ — on our hands?

Let’s see. The people voting for Bernie are largely white, under-40, and pissed off at ‘the system,’ many for the first time: the median Bernie voter is one who was among those screwed the hardest by the still-escalating student-loan scam — including the devaluation of the Bachelor’s Degree — and the financial crisis of 2008, and they have realized that, despite soothing federal statistics, the economy is very far from being ‘back to normal.’ It is arguable that young white college graduates have proportionally lost the most opportunity since 2008. Recent economic struggles have been especially painful for people in their 20s and 30s since we were promised the moon by our parents and by society at-large in the 80s and 90s. If I can sympathize with Bernie supporters, it is to that extent.

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For most Southern black voters, though, the sense of being screwed over by historical forces, corporate indifference, and self-serving politicians is nothing new. Indeed, most black people’s sense of American history is radically different than anything most white people are even capable of imagining. It is possible for someone like Bernie Sanders to wax nostalgic about the golden era of unions while conveniently forgetting what conditions were like for black people during that time. He can fantasize about America becoming more like Denmark or Finland without it ever occurring to him that those countries are home to virtually no black people. He can toss around the idea of whether President Obama deserved a primary challenge in 2012, casually discuss progressive ‘buyer’s remorse’ about him, and deem his health-care reforms — which barely passed, even in a strongly Democratic Congress, and were barely upheld by the Supreme Court — and not think about what that symbolizes to a people whose ancestors were brought here as slaves.

Too many pundits are overlooking the fact that President Obama is still a hero to most black voters. They are not disappointed in him, but rather perceive him as doing the best he can against a reactionary Congress acting out against a talented black president who twice electorally slaughtered them. They admire his efforts — and when an elderly Jewish man from a tiny, lily-white Northeastern enclave says that it was Obama’s ‘weakness’ that prevented a ‘political revolution’ from materializing, many of them simply roll their eyes.

Black voters are savvier than Bernie’s supporters give them credit for. They overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama in 2008 despite a history of supporting the Clintons and despite Hillary’s super-delegate lead — but only after he proved in Iowa that he could win in white states. And — sorry, but the knee-jerk white reaction isn’t true: it was not just because he is black. Black voters overwhelmingly rejected Al Sharpton for John Kerry in 2004. Lest we think this is because Sharpton was a fringe candidate, let us remember too that Jesse Jackson won the black vote in 1988. It’s not easy to pigeonhole black primary voters, though they tend to wield their power as a bloc.

In the end, the fundamental error Bernie supporters make is to tacitly assume that class and race are inextricably linked; that if black voters prioritized their ‘true’ interests, they’d throw in their lot with the class warrior. Once we tear down economic barriers, racial barriers will fall with them, so goes this line of thinking. Black voters disagree. And — this bears repeating — black voters are far more used to living with economic disappointment than white voters, as Bernie himself acknowledged when he inartfully suggested that white people don’t know what it’s like to be poor. A high unemployment/underemployment rate, corporate indifference, and political corruption might shock young white people who came of age in idyllic times, but it isn’t new for the majority of black voters. Well-meaning progressives since Lyndon Johnson have made exorbitant promises to them, and have largely failed to deliver. A 25-year-old white progressive inspired by Bernie to get involved in politics for the first time might earnestly believe Bernie is special, that he is different — but the median black voter is a middle-aged woman, and she’s heard it all before and will stick with the devil she knows. At least Hillary is a known quantity — someone who has been listening to black voters regularly since the 1980s — and someone who has a vested interest in upholding Obama’s legacy rather than shredding it and promising to start over from scratch.

Last month, Charles Blow of the New York Times urged Bernie supporters to stop ‘Bernie-splaining’ to black people, and cautioned them to keep in mind that the mentality of black voters has been shaped by “an ocean of tears” — an endless string of disappointments. What’s inspiring to someone is based on their sense of history — and it’s past time for Bernie’s supporters to think more seriously about what that means.