Theresa May: The UK’s Hillary Clinton

by Cinzia Croce

What began as a sure bet is turning out to be a white knuckles experience for the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom. After ruling it out as “self-serving” and sure to lead to uncertainty, Prime Minister Theresa May stunned the British political scene by changing her mind and calling for a snap election. Initially, her surprising move was regarded as brilliant, and Tories rejoiced at the prospect of increasing their majority in Parliament. The main opposition party, Labour, was deeply divided, stuck at historic lows in the polls, and led by Jeremy Corbyn, who was widely viewed as an unacceptable alternative by the chattering classes, including Blairites. All the ingredients were in place for a Tory landslide not seen since the days of Margaret Thatcher — initially, there were even attempts to portray May as the new Maggie. But it seems that Tory political strategists are afflicted by the same lack of imagination as their Republican cousins who try to market every GOP candidate as the new Reagan.

If the Tories believed they had a modern day Thatcher leading their party, they soon learned that they are saddled with their own Hillary Clinton. To be fair, unlike Hillary, who is drenched in the stench of scandal and corruption, there is not a tinge of impropriety about May. Where she draws parallels with Hillary is in her dull, uninspiring campaign: she is a candidate unable to connect with voters and totally lacking a substantive record on which she can run. There are no parallels between May and Thatcher other than sharing the same gender and political party. Thatcher was energetic, passionate, and confident in her views. Above all, Thatcher was able to withstand political heat, while May melts away at the first hint of controversy. Continue reading

Final Predictions, Final Thoughts

by Alex Knepper

Here we are! It has been an exhausting campaign season, but I am proud of the work we have done at New American Perspective. Cinzia and I have had some spirited debates, and I think we have gotten a lot more right than we have gotten wrong. Here is my final prediction:

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prediction

VA: Clinton +8 – WI: Clinton +7 – MI: Clinton +6
CO: Clinton +6 – NH: Clinton +5 – NV: Clinton +5
PA: Clinton +5 – FL: Clinton +2 – NC: Clinton +1
OH: Trump +1 – IA: Trump +2 – AZ: Trump +2
GA: Trump +3 – UT: Trump +8

Like many of the pundits at whom I rolled my eyes during the primary season, I badly misread the mood of the country. A comprehensive postmortem is forthcoming…

Today, I anticipate that America will smash the nationalist personality cult of Donald J. Trump. And when we do, we should not indulge the desire to issue phony, faux-gracious bromides about setting aside our differences after a difficult campaign season. The differences between the two nominees are as stark as they have been in 50 years. This election cycle played out like a war, and those who thought it would be a good idea to put an American Caesar in power should not be simply rewarded. We must consider the prudence of Lincoln and remember that there can be no compromise on the fundamentals. Threatening to disrupt the peaceful transition of power, threatening to imprison the opposition, promising to commit war crimes, using cruelty and humiliation as tools of debate, and scapegoating minorities and foreigners are never permissible in a liberal democracy. After this demoralizing, draining, long, ugly slog, we will be able to exhale. But we will not be able to just make nice and come together. That does not mean that the issues of immigration, trade, and political correctness should be suppressed or ignored — but it does mean that we should not reflexively move in a more populist direction to try to appease a movement that was fueled on anger and resentment.

Comey’s Audacious Gambit

by Alex Knepper

Like Chief Justice John Roberts, who foisted a slippery interpretation of Congress’ intent onto Obamacare to save it for political reasons, FBI Director James Comey is stuck with the unenviable task of trying to preserve the legitimacy of the institution he heads against a litany of heated factions with mutually irreconcilable demands. His agency, institutionally and politically conservative, was tasked not only with impartially investigating the possibility of wrongdoing on the part of the Democratic presidential nominee — but with doing so while facing fire from a Republican Party and nominee that would call any outcome ‘rigged’ that did not result in her indictment and prosecution.

Cognizant of this political death-trap, Comey attempted to split the difference in July by not indicting Clinton, but also taking the unprecedented step of staging a remarkable piece of political theater to scold her. He was livid that he’d been placed in the position he was in — and it showed. There should be little doubt that Republicans do not want impartial justice: they want the FBI to rid them of a political opponent they have unsuccessfully tried to nail down for the last 25 years. And they were not going to accept any explanation to the contrary. But perhaps, Comey thought, a harsh reprimand would mollify them.

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It is this backdrop against which Comey’s also-unprecedented letter to Congress was sent. Donald Trump and the Republican Party have suddenly decided that the justice system might not be ‘rigged’ after all, which must please Comey — but the contents of the letter are highly ambiguous — outrageously so, given the gravity of the situation. Comey wrote in his internal memo to the FBI that he wanted to clear up the potential for speculative misinterpretation — which is either mendacious or malicious. It is simply not possible that Comey could be ignorant of how the press and Republicans would interpret this — and it is jarring that he claims simultaneously that he has no clue whether the new material is significant but yet that he was somehow duty-bound to reveal its existence a week and a half out from the election. His astonishingly irresponsible ambiguity resulted in hours of false interpretations — that the original case was being re-opened — wild speculation — that there must be a bombshell lurking — and inflamed partisan innuendo. Perhaps some of the angry agents working under him have been pacified: livid as he is at being placed in this situation, it is hardly inconceivable that Comey has simply decided to ‘go rogue’ and protect his own reputation first and foremost.

Here is what we do not know: when were these e-mails uncovered? Who sent them? Are they from the server, to the server, both, or simply about the server? Are they duplicates of previously-reviewed e-mails, or are they brand-new? Does the FBI even know enough at this point to answer these questions? Comey claims that he does not know whether there is anything significant in play — so it seems as though nobody actually knows what is actually at stake — the FBI included. But how can we be sure? These are basic questions to which we have not a hint of an answer. And by his own admission, the decision to send the letter to Congress in the first place was highly unorthodox. So why make this information public without any substantiating details? Why kick open the door to speculation and innuendo — and then deny that is his intent?

Well, we can answer that question: if this information had come to light only after the election, or — worse — if it had leaked, then Comey’s reputation — and that of the FBI — among conservatives could have been permanently scarred. He is in the position of having to preserve the FBI’s reputation as an independent actor in a hyper-polarized political environment over a case in which the presidency is possibly at stake. In other words: he faced a no-win situation. Faced with bad options all around, he chose a bad option.

Will this even have any effect on the race at this point? It is difficult to imagine that many opinions can be fundamentally changed after a year and a half of this saga unfolding, especially given the extremely questionable timing of the revelations and the emerging backlash to it. But it is also easy to imagine it making enough of a difference at the margins to flip states whose polls show razor-thin margins, like Ohio and Arizona. Of course, much depends on how the next ten days play out — and anyone who says they know what will happen isn’t telling the truth.

Hillary Clinton Is the Empty Suit In the Race

by Cinzia Croce

With a month to go before the end of the long process of selecting the next president of the United States,  it should be clear to every voter by now that Hillary Clinton cannot run on her record.

Initially, Hillary and her supporters claimed the moral high ground. She was the experienced, knowledgeable candidate with a plethora of specific policy positions running against an unaccomplished “reality star.” But on closer inspection, her vaunted experience turned out to be a series of titles she was able to obtain because she was married to Bill Clinton. Her knowledge and policy proposals turned out to be the same old talking points that the American electorate has heard for decades and have produced a declining middle class, $20 trillion in debt and a foreign policy in shambles.  Whenever Hillary is asked about she has accomplished in her decades of public service, she replies with a vague statement about “fighting for women and children,” or something like that. When pressed for more details, she might mentions the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which was first championed by Ted Kennedy, not her — or that, as Secretary of State, she traveled to 112 countries. If taking credit for other people’s initiatives and accumulating a record number of travel miles were achievements, then Hillary would have a stellar record to run on — but they aren’t, and she doesn’t. Continue reading

The Malaise of Conservatism

by Alex Knepper

I have argued elsewhere that liberalism — from its so-called ‘classical’ roots to its modern/progressive outgrowth — is the engine that moves America, and that the role of conservatism is largely to moderate or restrain liberal excesses. In this sense, the right is almost necessarily defined by what it opposes. The great conservative (or, right-liberal) triumph of the 20th century within liberalism was the rise of Ronald Reagan, who decisively repudiated the infinite growth of the welfare state and reinvigorated the power of our civic mythology. But it only took the center-left a couple of election cycles to accept and absorb that new consensus and integrate it into its economic platform. Democrats in the 1990s embraced welfare reform, middle class tax cuts, budgetary prudence, and even American exceptionalism, thereby ensuring a bulwark against greater reaction. Obama has not overtly repudiated this approach, and has embraced a successor set to continue it. So what is the point of conservatism today? Quite simply, Reaganism’s success domestically has left the American right without a unifying cause in the post-Soviet era. Once Trump is defeated, the Republican Party will have lost the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections — and the one they won was a terribly narrow victory during wartime, three years after the worst attack on the country in our history.

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And why not? Who needs Republicans? The variety of conservatism offered by most of the Republican Party is fundamentally in agreement with the variety of liberalism offered by most of the Democratic Party. They both aim toward maximizing material luxury, coupled with expanded individual choice and social access (prosperity, liberty, equality). The most evocative international threat comes from a sprawling network of paramilitary operations, and Democrats have been at least as successful at confronting it as Republicans — so the idea of a new ‘fusionism’ is useless. (We should note here that ‘fusionism’ was about fusing against something, not for something!) Rates of crime, divorce, abortion, teen pregnancy, and other ‘social indicators’ are better than they have been in decades. The last Republican president has been judged to have been a supreme screw-up economically. Maybe John Kasich could have defeated Hillary Clinton this year, but the populists are right: aside from a few social issues primarily of interest to niche factions, Kasich is not actually terribly different than Clinton.

At most, there are some disagreements between party establishmentarians about how to reach the liberal goal of free and equal prosperity: how high we should aim in what period of time, which entities should oversee the administration and distribution of various goods and services, whose needs are to be prioritized first, etc. Even the nationalist/internationalist divide is something of a chimera, since everyone agrees on the overarching goal — in a vital sense, even the hardcore nationalists think liberalism is actually pretty great, but that too many Muslims and Mexicans will end up ruining it for everyone. If Democrats agreed to limit immigration and insist on assimilation, the right would be robbed of yet another argument.

But isn’t this okay, or even good? Isn’t this how it is supposed to work? The right’s skepticism toward mass immigration and so-called ‘globalism’ is not without merit, after all, and democratic governments must satisfy (or at least pacify) their right-leaning factions. If liberalism is the engine and conservatives are the moderating forces (in a historical sense, not a temperamental one!), then isn’t the theatrical bluster of election season little but noise? We must assume Trump, Brexit, and the German refugee crisis will be sufficient warning signs for ‘elites’ that something has to give. (If not, the impending right-wing reaction will be practically deserved.) But as the liberal project advances and more large-scale questions are decided, the differences in the visions between the two parties is bound to become even smaller, and the purpose of politics is bound to narrow further, and the stakes decrease. We are quite possibly rushing toward what amounts to a virtual consensus. Eventually, the need for high-stakes politics might be eliminated entirely.

What is the point of a center-right party in an era of global liberal hegemony, then, beyond opposition to excessive multiculturalism and social permissiveness? Are there possibilities for liberalism beyond the ideological consensus? Is it possible to forge a vision that goes beyond identity politics and class politics without dismissing the truths of either? The right is running out of things to oppose — it’s time to start innovating. A clever conservative might be elected president if he (or she!) can provide a compelling answer to that question — one that looks beyond merely trying to agitate against the left — and toward a loftier vision of the possibilities afforded by liberal democracy. That might get sucked into the consensus, too — but it will at least serve the noble goal of elevating it beyond mere ‘identity’ and consumption.

Why Trump Can’t Hide Behind Bill Clinton

by Alex Knepper

Sex crime accusations are gut-wrenching to deal with because the gravity of the offense is so heavy — and our tools for sorting truth from falsehood are profoundly and necessarily limited. On the one hand, we want to believe and console those who have been victimized — but we also don’t want to condemn a man as a monster unless we have incontrovertible evidence against him. It is difficult enough to neutrally evaluate sex crime accusations without partisan and ideological concerns getting in the way — but when we apply that political layer to an accusation, it is nearly impossible to have an even-handed discussion, since much is at stake beyond the simple guilt or innocence of the accused. Whether one gives Bill Clinton the benefit of the doubt seems to be motivated in almost every instance by partisan concerns, it seems — and I look at myself, too, and recognize that, as a supporter of Hillary Clinton, I want to believe he didn’t do what he’s accused of doing. So I will say here that I cannot state decisively that Bill Clinton is innocent. What I can say is that there are good reasons to give him the benefit of the doubt.

We know that Bill Clinton has a history of being a user and a cheater. We must remember that cheating is not assault, nor is it indicative of a greater likelihood to commit assault. Trump supporters love to sneakily cluster all sexual impropriety under the same umbrella — but while both are examples of bad behavior, only one is a crime. With this in mind, I will not bother addressing anything about Gennifer Flowers, Monica Lewinsky, or other episodes in which the consensual nature of the affair is not in doubt. There are three primary accusers Republicans point to as evidence that Bill is a sex criminal: Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, and Juanita Broaddrick.

I cannot decisively say that any of these women are lying. But I can say that there are good reasons to be skeptical of their claims, and that pro-Trump Republicans are exploiting both people’s ignorance about the details of the cases, as well as the popular progressive tendency to insist that we ought to always believe accusers. I do not accept the notion that we must always believe the accuser. We should always take accusations seriously — but from there, we must look at the evidence and only then decide how much weight to assign them. The weight of the evidence shows that there is good reason to give Bill Clinton the benefit of the doubt.

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Cheer Up, Trump Fans!

by Cinzia Croce

After the first presidential debate four years ago between President Obama and Mitt Romney, the president’s supporters were frustrated with their candidate for not bringing up Romney’s infamous “47%” remark. Last night, it was Trump’s supporters’ turn to feel frustrated: somehow, their candidate neglected to mention some of the most familiar attacks on Hillary Clinton — particularly, about Benghazi and the Clinton Foundation.

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Four years ago, I argued that bringing up the 47% remark — or Bain Capital — would have simply provided a prepared Romney an opportunity to respond with a rehearsed line before an audience of millions. Last night, Trump denied a prepared Hillary an opportunity to respond to the Benghazi accusations and attacks over the Clinton Foundation and spin them to her advantage. The Clintons’ greatest asset has always been Republicans who can’t help but overplay their hand. It helped Bill Clinton survive the Monica Lewinsky scandal, for instance. And last night, Hillary made use of her best comeback to questions about her stamina when she reminded the audience about her 11 hour testimony before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, itself a product of Republican overreach. Partisans are disappointed — but undecided voters were probably relieved not to hear the all too familiar attacks.

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