Monday, June 6, 2016

Surely, Comrades, You Do Not Want Bush Back?

I probably picked a bad time to visit California: I got in yesterday, and will be here until Wednesday morning, the day after the primary election.  Not that it matters, really -- this circus is everywhere in the media, impossible to get away from without simply unplugging altogether, and I'm not ready to do that.  Yet.

I've been noticing that Democrats are flip-flopping between treating Donald Trump as a stupid, bigoted clown, with whom either of the Democratic front runners will easily mop up the floor; and as a dangerous neo-Hitler who will win in November if we don't dig deep into our pockets to donate to the Democrats, and generally devoting all our energy to Stopping Trump.  Sanders's supporters are already being blamed in advance for Clinton's defeat in December, with sober Democrats warning of the dreadful consequences of their refusing to vote for our only hope against the Trump juggernaut.  If Trump does win in November -- and one of the most annoying things about the way the campaign is covered and discussed is this tendency to issue predictions about the outcome of such a complex process over many months, when so much can and will change in ways that can't be predicted -- the last thing establishment Democrats will do is blame themselves for supporting an unpopular candidate, when the polls they take so seriously have indicated that at present her opponent has a better chance of beating Trump.

Similarly, Clinton and her supporters flipflop between distancing her from her husband and invoking his wonderfulness.  On the first move, Clinton's critics are attacked for assuming that she supported Bill's policies and actions while he was president, because she was just his wife, okay?  She wasn't in power.  On the second, I think I only need to point to her promise -- or more accurately her threat -- to put Bill ("my husband") in charge of "revitalizing the economy, because you know he knows how to do it."  As CNN Money (not exactly a radical-left organ) commented:
Giving Clinton's policies full credit for boosting the economy isn't entirely fair. The rapid growth of the Internet during his eight years in office greatly increased business productivity and profits and helped to fuel the hiring boom. There was also a bubble in Internet stocks, which poured money into the tech sector and helped spurred hiring.

But government policies did help also. The federal government actually ran surpluses rather than deficits durin Clinton's final three years in office, and that reduced the need for government borrowing and helped to keep interest rates relatively low. 
Still, CNN Money's account is partial at best.  The bubbles were nurtured by the Clinton administration, and it was certainly convenient that they popped when they did, not just for Clinton but for Gore, who'd have had to cope with a recession if he'd become president in 2009.  The surpluses were due, at least in part, to Clinton's austerity measures, especially in welfare "reform."  The "hiring boom," like Reagan's a decade earlier, was concentrated in low-wage, low- or no-benefit, often part-time jobs.  Wages stagnated for most American workers until Clinton's second term, and they never rose much compared to stock prices, corporate profits, and the salaries of the top echelons.

The first defense, of course, is absurd: Bill and Hillary had marketed themselves as a team ("Billary"), and when he ran for President Bill made it clear that Hillary wouldn't be a merely ceremonial First Lady but a working member of his administration.  While the responsibility for his actions does finally rest with him, she was no bystander, and as her claim about his economic record shows, she's perfectly happy to stand by him when it's expedient.  It's typical campaign sleight-of-hand, of course: dodge inconvenient questions by throwing up verbal dust in the critic's face; by the time the dust clears, the candidate has moved on to the next state.

The Clintons are despicable, but Bernie Sanders looks good mainly by comparison.  It's important to remember, for example, his foreign policy record, which is marginally better than Clinton's but nothing to brag about.  I had an interesting exchange with one Sanders fan, who protested that "Sanders voted against Iraq and Afghanistan didn't he?" and added "I'm genuinely asking." Yes, Sanders did vote against Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq, but he voted for appropriations once the invasion and occupation were under way.  (Here he resembles Barack Obama.)  But if he voted "against Afghanistan," I haven't been able to find any evidence of that.  Only Barbara Lee, in the Senate, voted against the 2001 resolution authorizing Bush's attack on Afghanistan.  I also told the partisan that you'd think Iraq and Afghanistan were the only wars.  Sanders supported Bill Clinton's attack on Kosovo, which took many innocent lives, and voted for the bill that authorized the 1998 terror-bombing of Iraq.  He supported the Israeli attacks on Gaza and Lebanon, which were given material and political support by the US, and he has progressively moderated his stance on the Israel-Palestine until there's little daylight between him and Clinton on that issue.  Though he often talks vaguely about putting pressure on Israel, this doesn't translate into votes, let alone any other action:
Sanders’ defense was that he did not cosponsor the legislation before Congress that praised Israel’s war on Gaza. But his failure to do anything to block it (it passed by unanimous consent) reinforces the idea that while Sanders does hold somewhat dissident views on Palestine, he fails to vote his beliefs.
Of course most of Sanders's fans, and not just the young ones, are ignorant not only about their guy's record but about the historical context in which he worked.  Kosovo was almost 20 years ago, which no American can be expected to remember, and so was the bombing of Baghdad.   It is a little bit odd that Clinton's fans have trouble remembering her support for Bush's invasion of Iraq, let alone Obama's bombing of Libya, but that was the past, and we must look forward to the future.

Vanity Fair just ran an article on the disarray and incompetence of Trump's campaign organization.  It may well be accurate, but if so it only raises the question of how much better he'd have done if his organization were competent and well-organized.  (Clinton's continued unpopularity shows how little a competent, well-organized organization is actually worth.  If she hadn't had a decade's head start and a lot more money, she probably would not have done as well against Bernie Sanders as she has; and despite her tactical and material advantages, she hasn't won the nomination yet.)  The writer, Tina Nguyen, wonders:
Yet it is unclear how much longer the billionaire real estate mogul can continue to count on new troubles to effectively bail him out of older ones. Trump can dismiss some of the criticism of his campaign as media bias, but there’s a growing sense that his improprieties are catching up to him.
Maybe so, but this refrain has been sung regularly ever since Trump announced his candidacy.  Like the Second Coming, the Trump Implosion is constantly just around the corner, a few Friedman Units away -- yet it never quite arrives.  I agree with Nguyen about "what Trump’s inability to run a competent campaign portends for his ability to manage the White House, let alone the country. As Nobel-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz recently wrote for Vanity Fair, there is no larger organization in the United States than the federal government, and Trump has demonstrated little talent for delegation."  Trump's fans aren't worried about that, because they don't realize how hard it is to run a national government any more than he does.  I don't believe they care about his "improprieties" either, because judging by everything I've seen from them, they like his improprieties.  They're not bothered by his flipflopping any more than Clinton's (or Obama's) fans care about hers.  By the time they start paying attention, we'll probably be well into Trump's first term, or maybe even his second.  It took that long for many Republicans to figure out that George W. Bush wasn't what they thought he was, and many Obama fans haven't figured it about him yet.