Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Incredible Shrinking American Presidency

Perhaps we should all breathe a sigh of relief: now there are three. Or so it seems until the New Hampshire primary.

I have argued, from the onset, that the Republican party had far too many vanity candidates. This tended to make it look like the vanity party and vanity parties do not look like they take the office seriously.

Worse yet, many Republican voters took a look at all of the vanity candidates and decided that they were being asked to decide which one was the most vain.

If you care about experience and qualifications, there were precious few candidates who really had put in the time and work to be considered for the office of the American presidency. And yet, most voters do not seem to care. Experienced candidates fell by the wayside far more quickly than did vanity candidates.

Putting aside Trump, how can anyone imagine that Ben Carson has anything resembling a qualification for the office? Or that Carly Fiorina, as impressive as she is on a stage, should be considered, on the basis of her experience, for the office. Or that the also rans, like Huckabee, Santorum, Pataki, Gilmore, Graham, Jindal had any business presenting themselves as candidates for anything other than a vanity award.

A bunch of governors had some real experience and qualifications, but they were all sober and boring. Perhaps one of them will shine in New Hampshire, but once the Southern primaries begin in earnest, it looks like today’s top three will be the top three.

This morning Bret Stephens opined about this: why do American voters expect so little of their presidential candidates? But, Stephens did not limit himself to the motley Republican crew. He noted astutely that the Democratic field is being led by a superannuated socialist and a pathological liar.

Many people think that the nation’s leading pathological liar is eminently qualified for the office of the presidency, but anyone who thinks that she achieved anything while holding office does not understand what the word “achievement” means.

Stephens waxed nostalgic for the old days when a candidate for the presidency brought experience, wisdom and accomplishment to his quest:

There was a time when some form of military experience or outstanding civilian service was considered a prerequisite for the presidency. Or when first-term senators did not presume to run for the White House without putting in time, paying dues, making friends and authoring some significant piece of legislation. Or when conspicuous character flaws or pending legal jeopardies were automatic and irrevocable disqualifications.

I don’t agree with Stephens that the fault lies with Bill Clinton-- or with his legions of defenders-- but his argument is worth examining:

But all that is in the past now, and the moment that happened can be precisely dated. It began with Bubba. It began when America made its first presidential-level accommodation with the mores of the 1960s, and when it made a self-conscious choice to redefine, and demote, the concept of character in the hierarchy of political virtues.

Jimmy Carter came to office promising never to lie; he pledged an American government “as good as its people.” Bill Clinton lied, flagrantly and frequently, and he made us complicit in his lies. With Bubba we became a nation of pseudo-sophisticates, people who believed that the mark of the discerning voter was to see through—and past—the “character” issue. What mattered were results. In the halcyon 1990s, that seemed to work.

Today’s degraded politics is partly a result of that moral accommodation. It’s also the result of an intellectual accommodation. Let’s face it: If Mr. Clinton brought dishonor to the Oval Office, George W. Bush brought shallowness to it. Presidential aspirants were once expected to deliver finely tuned debating points about Quemoy and Matsu. After W, it became pedantic to expect candidates to know the names of the leaders of India and Pakistan.

Strictly speaking, both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were experienced governors. Perhaps that is why no one wants to vote for an experienced governor ever again.

For my part I would point out that Bill Clinton was running less on his experience governing a small state like Arkansas and more on his celebrity status. Had it been otherwise he would never have survived the Gennifer Flowers scandal. But, we should also mention that Bill Clinton was an excellent politician. As opposed to our current, highly unqualified celebrity president, Bubba was willing to compromise with Republicans.

More importantly, Stephens was correct to note that Bubba helped America to make a moral accommodation with the Vietnam era counterculture. In that and especially in his notably depraved treatment of women he was one of America’s few celebrity presidents. Most importantly—because it is beyond dispute—Bubba and his wife Jezebel have excelled at using their post-presidential time to cash in on their fame, to get rich off of it.

Jimmy Carter has been building homes for poor people. George W. Bush has mostly disappeared from the scene. Bill Clinton cashed in; he got very, very rich.

Forget about Clinton’s sexual behaviors. His financial behavior degraded the presidency by making it look like something you could parlay into extreme wealth. With Clinton presidential humility took a body blow.

As it happened, Bill Clinton was really just imitating his mentor. The first celebrity president in the modern era, the first man who was elected on the basis of his charm, charisma and good looks and wit was John F. Kennedy. His presidency was not about what he could do for the country but what the country could do for him... and, not incidentally, for his father's reputation.

People did not know it at the time, but JFK was as much the skirt chaser as Bill Clinton was. They did know that Kennedy hung around with Hollywood celebrities and that Marilyn Monroe had sung Happy Birthday to him in Madison Square Garden in 1962. One notes that the performance was grossly insulting to Kennedy’s wife, who sagely chose not to attend.

People also knew that JFK surrounded himself with academics and other itinerant intellectuals, the best and the brightest. His was a presidency defined by the influence of what Plato would have called the guardian class… people who dealt in big ideas and who had little relevant practical experience.

Under Kennedy’s leadership, the best and the brightest were responsible for the greatest foreign policy debacle in American history: the Vietnam War.

And yet, people today consider John Kennedy a great president. The reason is that he was martyred, assassinated in Dallas in 1963. Media elites made sure that everyone got the true message of the Kennedy martyrdom: America was so seriously in his debt that it needed to venerate the values that he believed in and practiced.

The Vietnam counterculture was, effectively a cult to the memory of the martyred president. But it was also, in its ferocious anti-war rhetoric, an effort to shield John Kennedy and to shield American liberalism from responsibility for a catastrophic foreign policy failure. If you are going to lose a war it's best to pin it on someone else. In the world of moral depravity that is about as bad as it gets.


Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: Under Kennedy’s leadership, the best and the brightest were responsible for the greatest foreign policy debacle in American history: the Vietnam War.

So we're agreed, the U.S. military should be about defending our borders, not about cold war chess games and body counts for neocons.

I'd tend to call the Iraq war the greater debacle, but at least Bush didn't do weekly enemy body counts to keep up the moral for our attempt to convert Viet Nam into a parking lot. Although Bush did have his deck of cards.
Ironically, although condemned as wildly inflated, the U.S. body counts reflecting heavy North Vietnamese and Viet Cong casualties were borne out. North Vietnam's defense minister, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, admitted in an interview with an Italian reporter in 1969 that he had lost 500,000 soldiers killed from 1964 to 1969 alone. But accurate or not, the figures were meaningless.

And how many died in Iraq in our shock and awe, since we're counting?
PLOS Medicine Survey[2] Approximately 500,000 deaths in Iraq as direct or indirect result of the war. March 2003 to June, 2011

And don't forget Albright's imfamous defense of an estimated 500,000 children dying in Iraq due to the sanctions after the first gulf war.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omnskeu-puE Madeleine Albright says 500,000 dead Iraqi Children was "worth it" wins Medal of Freedom
On May 12, 1996, Madeleine Albright (then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations) appeared on a 60 Minutes segment in which Lesley Stahl asked her "We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?" and Albright replied "we think the price is worth it." Albright wrote later that Saddam Hussein, not the sanctions, was to blame. She criticized Stahl's segment as "amount[ing] to Iraqi propaganda"; said that her question was a loaded question; wrote "I had fallen into a trap and said something I did not mean"; and regretted coming "across as cold-blooded and cruel".

Myself, I actually went to Washington DC in 2000 to encourage lifting of the sactions after hearing Kathy Kelly speak about her experiences seeing the effects of the sanctions, i.e. the sanctions hurt the people, and Saddam blames the deaths on us, and we on him, and meanwhile he stayed as strong and ruthless as ever.

Perhaps Obama's biggest legacy in the history books will be lifting sanctions against Iran, and no need to "bomb bomb bomb bomb Iran" Beach boy songs needed like McCain jokingly proposed as a military expert in "getting captured".

I don't have much faith in this global economy, but it beats bombing everyone you don't like into parking lots.

Good presidents would surely agree, and I think Rand Paul is the only sensible one on the GOP side right now.

Anonymous said...

Bubba appealed to the Baby Boomers who grew up in the free love, birth control, drugs, sex, rock and roll lifestyle.

Bubba affirmed their choice of life style. AS Rush put it, he was a "Phony baloney plastic banana good time rock n roller" just like his Boomer supporters were.

Meanwhile the feminazis confirmed their status as a Marxist front movement by adopting someone with whom they philosophically disagreed, but who was capable of winning and thus pushing their agenda. Didn't hurt that Bubba as a perceived "Alpha" male had a twinkle in his eye and a smile the gave lots of tingles to lots of unthinking, emotional vaginas!

Also didn't hurt Bubba's opposition was divided by that jug-eared whacko from Texas! Bubba never secured a majority of the popular vote in either of his big wins.

Ares Olympus said...

Anon, let's see those majority numbers for recent presidents:
1992: Bill Clinton 44,909,806 (43.0%), George H. W. Bush 39,104,550 (37.4%), Ross Perot 19,743,821 (18.9%), MARGIN 5.6%, Turnout 55.2%
1996: Bill Clinton 47,401,185 (49.2%), Bob Dole 39,197,469 (40.7%), Ross Perot 8,085,294 (8.4%) MARGIN 8.5%, Turnout 49.0%
2000: George W. Bush 50,456,002 (47.9%), Al Gore 50,999,897 (48.4%) MARGIN -0.5%, Turnout 51.2%
2004: George W. Bush 62,040,610 (50.7%), John Kerry 59,028,444 (48.3%) MARGIN 2.4%, Turnout 56.7%
2008: Barack Obama 69,498,516 (52.9%), John McCain 59,948,323 (45.7%) MARGIN 7.2%, Turnout 58.2%
2012: Barack Obama 65,915,796 (51.1%), Mitt Romney 60,933,500 (47.2%) MARGIN 3.9% Turnout 54.9%

3-way races are tricky for majorities, since we don't have runoffs, and trickier since popular votes don't even count.

I might say Clinton's 1996 reelection margin of 8.5% is most impressive, and Obama's 7.2% margin also very good.

It's comforting to know Mitt got the second most votes ever for a Republican candidate, 60,933,500, after Bush 2004's 62,040,610 and record turnout 56.7%.

Although if you count voter turnout, only 54.7%, I'm wondering which 47% that Romney was worried about. Are those all Obama supporters, or should we consider Romney only got 47.2% of 54.7% or 25.8%.

Majorities are always tricky. Maybe Trump can keep the circus going, so we'll have a new record voter turn out for 2016! Well, we might need Trump to run third party of course, but who would betray a republican party endorsed candidate and vote for a clown Trump?!

priss rules said...

When Deep State rules, there isn't much that the prez can do.


Ares Olympus said...

Priss rules, a good interview of Mike Lofgren by Bill Moyers, original video is here:
Mike Lofgren, a congressional staff member for 28 years, joins Bill Moyers to talk about what he calls Washington's "Deep State," in which elected and unelected figures collude to protect and serve powerful vested interests. "It is how we had deregulation, financialization of the economy, the Wall Street bust, the erosion or our civil liberties and perpetual war," Lofgren tells Moyers.

And it is a good doorway to show "liberals" of the weakness of their centralized federal government power ideal. The more responsibility you want to give the federal government, the more rationalizations are available for those in power to do "whatever it takes" to protect status quo, or the image of status quo, and including spying on citizens, while enabling unlimited powers in wielding economic and actual warfare against the rest of the world.

And that's why reactions to Edward Snowden's embarrassing leaks are so varied. If you're afraid of an external enemy who "hates us because of our freedom", or of social chaos itself, you want the Deep State there to "protect us".

In contrast if you see we're moving in the wrong direction, and we're become more vulnerable over time to chaotic forces and institutional breakdowns, then you're more willing to expose the Wizards behind the curtains and hope that "The truth will set us free", even if its messy and embarressing, shameful, and demoralizing in the short run.

For me the first step in exposing the wizard is to make sure your own house is cleaned up, and you're not 100% dependent upon the breadcrumbs for your livelihood. I see debt (along with imaginary future pensions and investment returns) are the modern form of slavery that keeps everyone in the system silent to what they know that isn't right.

Or as Upton Sinclair said "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it."