Better to go high than low

As a college debater, I learned the hard way that it was a mistake to trust the judges.  Every once in a while, my partner and I would find ourselves debating against a poorly informed or angrily hyperbolic team.  Early in our competitive career, we would stand back and count on the judge to notice that our opponents were self-immolating.  After one too many judge somehow accepted a flatly untrue statement or seemed moved by unhinged passion, we changed course.  In every competitive round, we worked hard to make sure that there was no room for anyone to question the outcome.  We ran the risk of appearing too aggressive in order to ensure that we won.  And it worked.  Sunday night, as I watched Hillary Clinton stand back while Donald Trump huffed, puffed and threatened to put her in jail, I wondered why she did not strike as hard as she might.  The answer is that politics is not competitive debate and that Michelle Obama’s maxim: “when they go low, we go high” is how elections, as opposed to debates, are won.

All by himself, Donald Trump demonstrated that he does not think that the tape of his bragging about sexually assaulting women matters (“locker room talk); that he has conceded Syria to the Russians (Aleppo has “essentially fallen); that he does not see the difference between religion and terror (his horrific answer to the muslim woman); and that he has no respect for basic tenets of constitutional democracy (his threat to imprison Secretary Clinton).  He also showed himself to be badly uninformed about: taxes; economic growth; health care; our inner cities; race; and even the facts of the Bill Clinton era scandals.  Notwithstanding all of this low-hanging fruit, Hillary Clinton trundled through the debate explaining what she would do as President and only sometimes briefly urging viewers to fact check her opponent.

In so doing, she lost many of the pundit judges.  CNN and other news networks lamented her failure to land a knockout blow.  The news Monday, at least at first, suggested that Trump had somehow righted the ship of his bizarre campaign.  Clinton, though, was smart.  Because behind those headlines lies Sunday evening’s truth.  First, she knows her stuff; he does not.  Second, she handled the physicality of the town hall well – she was either talking to the voter or at her chair.  In contrast, he loomed, sniffed, walked and sighed, behaving in an appreciably animalistic way throughout.  Third, she let him fall into traps that will spring of their own accord throughout this week: (1) he denied that he had done the things described in the now famous tape; (2) he disagreed with Mike Pence; (3) he admitted that he does not pay personal income tax; and (4) most dramatically, he threatened to jail her if he won.  All of these moments will resonate across time.  The last is, by my measure, the single most remarkable comment ever made in a Presidential debate.  Our constitutional democracy is, quite literally, defined by the peaceful and graceful transition of power.  Donald Trump, as his threat reveals, is antithetical to who we are.

So too, and Clinton seems to know this, is his effort to mask bragging about tic-tac enabled sexual assault as “locker room talk.”  It’s not.  Men who respect women never speak like this.  Indeed, civilized people never speak like this.  Even more so, they do not act like this.  In a world now increasingly aware of the horror of sexual assault and the need for clear and informed consent, Trump’s effort to minimize his conduct is beyond offensive.  It is this simple:  a person who says and does such things cannot be a serious candidate for President in 2016.

This last sentence is what Hillary Clinton is willing to trust that the real judges, the voters, know.  For the Clinton campaign, Sunday night was about contrast.  On the one hand, the rampaging Donald Trump, looking every bit like a man who believes he is entitled to kiss and grab with impunity.  And, on the other, the frustrated but dignified former Secretary of State, looking very much like a President.  The moments that make up this contrast will resonate and mean more across time than the immediate reactions of the pundits.  In sticking to her approach in the face of bombast and hatred, Hillary Clinton looked very much like a President of the United States.

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Elie Wiesel and Donald Trump


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Radio this morning — Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and SCOTUS

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It’s time for Bernie and Hillary to take on Trump

My thoughts —

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Cable News is Helping the Donald

At last night’s GOP debate– safe for work edition — Donald Trump excused the violence at his campaign rallies by saying that some of the protestors were “bad, bad dudes.”  He repeated his claim that “Islam hates us,” and he managed to avoid uttering a single paragraph that could properly be called policy.  Nevertheless, notwithstanding the hatred, CNN’s post-debate commentary lauded the “substantive debate” and gave Trump a nearly complete pass on his obvious lack of even the most rudimentary knowledge of how our government works.  In so doing, CNN joined almost every single major news source in enabling Trump’s self-marketing as a qualified candidate for President of the United States.  When and if he wins, we will all have been failed by our media.  First Amendment notwithstanding, the press has largely failed to inform the voters of either the degree of Trump’s deceit, or his sheer lack of knowledge of policy.  Trump is a dangerous man, and the fact that he drives ratings should not prevent the press from letting the people know that there is real cause for concern.

Facts, for example, are stubborn things.  There is an audio tape capturing Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski’s assault of Michelle Fields. Here.  A Washington Post reporter witnessed the altercation.  Nevertheless, Donald Trump denies that it happened.  And CNN, and other news outlets, report the denial as news, suggesting that there is some question as to the underlying truth of the matter.  Here.  There is not.  Similarly, Trump’s comment that “Islam hates us” is not a subject for debate.  It goes beyond Islamaphobia, and genuinely resembles the anti-semitism that propelled Hitler’s rise in Germany.  Nevertheless, the media reports on a debate in which he repeats that claim as a substantive discussion in which Trump did well.  Here.  In so doing, the reporting minimizes the danger Trump presents and, instead, suggests that he did well in a battle among equals last night.  From where I sit, I find it hard to think that there is any real news from last night other than the Trump’s view that one of the world’s largest religions, of which 3.3 million adherents live in the United States, hates our country.

Here’s another fact — Donald Trump did not do well in last night’s substantive discussion.  Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich all demonstrated far superior command of policy and detail than he did.  The discussion of the looming Social Security crisis demonstrates this point.  Rubio, Cruz and Kasich each acknowledged the need for change and each presented a slightly different substantive approach to the problem.  Trump suggested, repeatedly, that by making America Great Again, and by cutting unspecified waste — through open bidding, there would somehow be enough money to solve the looming crisis.  His answer wasn’t substantive; it was nonsense.  But the reporters covering the campaign focused not on the substance but on his bearing — he kept his cool!!  Similarly, in a back and forth about tariffs with Cruz, Trump seemed genuinely not to appreciate the impact of tariffs on consumers, let alone to know what the Smoot-Hawley Tariff was or why it is a negative precedent.

The evidence that Donald Trump is not qualified to be President is everywhere but in the polls.  It’s in the steaks that aren’t ‘Trump Steaks”; it’s in Trump University, which wasn’t a University at all; it’s in the violence at the rallies; it’s in the utter emptiness of his rhetoric.  Years ago in Massachusetts, Ed King explained that he beat Mike Dukakis by putting “all the hate groups in a pot and letting them boil.”  You can see the hate boiling in the crowds around Donald Trump.  Indeed, last night he literally bragged about how angry his supporters are.  It is the news media’s responsibility to tell us about it, and to tell us about it again and again until we listen.

On the Democratic side of this race, Bernie Sanders keeps saying that there must be a reason that Wall Street gives so much money to political candidates.  Last night, Donald Trump essentially confirmed it, suggesting that his political donations to candidates had allowed him to “own” politicians.  The coverage of the Republican race teaches another lesson — ratings can allow a candidate to own a news organization.  No network has the courage to take Donald Trump down.  Instead, they sit in the gold plated rooms at Mar-A-Lago and ask sycophantic questions.  And then, most glaringly, many of them watch a debate in which an ill-prepared, racist liar fails to engage meaningfully with a single issue of policy and report that he prevailed. Here.  The essential failure to report the truth about Trump makes much of the media complicit in whatever havoc he ultimately wreaks on his party and our republic.

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Primary Day in NH

Here’s my take on the choice between Bernie and Hillary —

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Radio Today

Here is today’s show on Boston Herald Radio.  We get started at the 8 minute mark —

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