Essex column: Looking for substance in deplorable race
Isn’t this presidential campaign a deplorable basket case?
With the first and likely most important of three debates between the two most disliked presidential candidates in history scheduled for tonight, one could land a memorable and devastating blow that decides the election.
That’s a dangerous possibility, because the winner in November will have to actually lead, and the best quip or put-down won’t cut it.
A number of readers are convinced that the Post Independent and I have been arguing Hillary Clinton’s case all along, but they haven’t actually been reading.
In August 2015, I wrote of Clinton: “The well-financed, supposedly inevitable Democratic nominee is an uninspiring candidate who might be the best thing the Republicans have going for them next year.
“Her candidacy … strikes me as destined to be an unenthusiastic trudge to defeat and Republican control of both the White House and Congress.”
Nothing I’ve seen so far changes that view, except that polling suggests Donald Trump doesn’t even have a coat, let along coattails.
I’ve also written that if Trump wins, it’s as much the Democrats’ fault as anything. The Democratic Party has become elitist, serving Wall Street more than Main Street and paying mostly lip service to the middle class “as it has shrunk, oblivious to the loss of security and dignity that globalization and an otherwise changing world have wrought.”
The Post Independent as an institution won’t make an editorial endorsement in the presidential race. We will save our editorial voice for local races where we get to meet in depth with the candidates.
This column is my personal view.
Like many people, I find no joy in the prospect of voting for Clinton. I will, because, as the Washington Post wrote, Trump is a “unique and present danger.” While it’s tempting to cast a protest vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, they are both unvetted, unqualified and unelectable — and the stakes are too high.
Robert Gates, secretary of defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “On national security, I believe Mr. Trump is beyond repair. He is stubbornly uninformed about the world and how to lead our country and government, and temperamentally unsuited to lead our men and women in uniform.”
Trump’s rise in political prominence — as opposed to the prominence of a beauty pageant owner, philandering rich guy, reality show star — was built on a fiction that unpatriotically sought to undermine an American president. Proving Josef Goebbels’ assertion, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it,” a disturbing number of Americans actually swallowed the fallacy that Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
If you believe that Hillary Clinton will say anything to get elected — such as her incongruous conversion to supposedly being an opponent of the Trans-Pacific Partnership — and you doubt Obama’s citizenship, how is Trump’s disavowal of his birther lie different from the typical flip-flopping of a say-anything politician?
I thought the appeal of this guy is that he’s not a politician and tells it like it is. (Which in reality is a delusion about a string of lies that have fooled some people into thinking that this vain elitist is of the people.)
Trump has enriched himself through business failure and bankruptcies, failed to pay bills and used his foundation for self-dealing and improper political gifts. He has hired a campaign leader with ties to pro-Putin forces in Ukraine and cited as a foreign policy adviser a businessman with Russian ties who’s now being investigated for opening back-channel talks with Russia about lifting sanctions if Trump is elected.
That’s just a partial list of things that normally would destroy a political campaign. Trump lies at a rate unprecedented even for politicians, he intimates violence, insults prisoners of war and Gold Star families, emboldens bigots and clearly has something to hide in his tax returns.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has a record. All long public records have flaws, such as poor follow-through on the ouster of Gaddafi in Libya. Clinton has determined critics who have smeared her since the 1990s and seized on tragedies such as Benghazi to exaggerate her shortcomings.
A political science thesis could be written on terror attacks against U.S. interests abroad, such as the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut in 1983 that killed 237 more Americans than died in Benghazi.
But, fairly or not, a lot of the criticism has stuck, and Clinton hasn’t done herself favors. It’s a bad idea to give your opponents a rallying cry by calling them deplorable. Her effort to power through pneumonia — itself certainly not a character flaw or, for goodness’ sakes, an indication of failing health — was indicative of the penchant for secrecy that consistently hurts her, never more than through her email practices as secretary of state.
She also has done the hard work of governing. Eight million American children have health insurance in significant part because of her efforts. She has stood up to the Chinese (“Women’s rights are human rights”) and to Putin (“He doesn’t have a soul”).
Donald Trump can say anything, but has actually done nothing of the sort.
So we have a debate tonight between two imperfect candidates. I hope people listen for substance. In our divided, sound-bite-driven, horse-race-focused nation, tonight could decide the election for all the wrong reasons.
Randy Essex is publisher and editor of the Post Independent.
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