The Trump Factor

His naked transformation into a full-spectrum right-winger, sudden professions of religiosity, and weird dive into the fever swamps of Birtherism definitely seem to indicate that Donald Trump’s serious about seeking the Republican presidential nomination. Some are tempted to dismiss him as another Ross Perot, but I think John Ziegler hits the nail on the head as to why his candidacy is resonating with conservative voters:

Trump is now in a position where he could be extremely dangerous. Conservatives are aching for someone with the gonads to take it to Obama and really shake things up in Washington if he happens to win. Many are so fed up that they are willing to jump on almost any bandwagon that even appears to be headed in that direction, even if the driver, like Trump, is totally unreliable.

Despite all the substantive reasons Trump shouldn’t be the nominee, he’s gaining traction because he’s got the presentation – gutsy, bold, aggressive – that the right kind of nominee should have, which puts the rest of the mostly-milquetoast field to shame. Conservatives know that we’re in perilous times, and they’re looking for a leader who seems to get the stakes and doesn’t care whether or not the bad guys say mean things about his tone.
 
If the rest of the nominees are smart, they’ll take notice, and draw the right lesson. But I’m not holding my breath.
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Governor Walker, Please Reconsider

Not your policies – on the merits, you’ve been great so far. But I beg you to reconsider what you recently told National Review Online:

Walker, to be sure, has every intention of pursuing all elements of his muscular budget proposal in coming weeks. Yet the key for him, he says, is making Democrats realize that he is not looking to make enemies with them, regardless of how angry they are about the budget-repair bill. “[The budget-repair bill] was not about getting a political victory,” he says. “It was about getting our economy on track. It’s time to move forward.”

This is exactly the wrong way to react to what’s transpired – the lies, the venom, the shameless attempt to grind the democratic process to a halt – over the past month. Above all, any Republican leader who wants to get meaningful results has to recognize one critical truth: regardless of whether or not you’re “looking to make enemies with them,” the Democrats are always looking to make enemies with you. No matter what you do, the Democratic Party is your enemy, because that’s what they’ve chosen to be. They’re operating on a fundamentally incompatible set of first principles and partisan interests. No amount of olive branches or appeasement will soften their ideology or their treachery, but will just result in needless concessions from us and leave our opponents convinced that their tactics work. Failure to recognize this fact always kills Republicans.

"I hope you’re embarassed to call yourselves sentaors."

In commenting on the return of Wisconsin’s 14 runaway Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald strikes exactly the right tone:

Today, the most shameful 14 people in the state of Wisconsin are going to pat themselves on the back and smile for the cameras. They’re going to pretend they’re heroes for taking a three-week vacation […] To the Senate Democrats: when you smile for the cameras today and pretend you’re heroes, I hope you look at that beautiful Capitol building you insulted. And I hope you’re embarrassed to call yourselves senators.

This is the tone Governor Scott Walker should emulate going forward. Republicans invariably turn out to be their own worst enemies by failing to treat disgraceful conduct as disgraceful.

The Tucson Shooting and the True State of American Political Discourse (Updated)

Bill Clinton. Keith Olbermann. Chris Matthews. Dick Durbin. Scott Feldstein. Jay Bullock. David Frum. Paul Krugman. The New York Times. Jonathan Alter. Bob Kerrey. James Clyburn. Joan Walsh. Robert Brady. Jon Justice, Jane Fonda, Michael Moore, Patton Oswald, Elizabeth Banks, Roger Ebert, John Legend, Josh Groban. Markos Moulitsas. Stuart Shapiro. Patrick Kennedy. Chris Liebenthal. John Kerry. Ed Schultz and Bill Press. Clarence Dupnik. Aaron Mehta.

This is but a partial list of politicians, journalists, bloggers, and celebrities who have chosen to use the horrific shooting in Tucson – which left six people dead, including a little girl, and a Congresswoman fighting for her life – as an opportunity to condemn conservatives and Republicans for allegedly inflammatory rhetoric. Some explicitly claim figures such as Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin are culpable for Jared Loughner’s actions, while others insinuate they are dangerously cultivating the sort of hatred and fear that could trigger similar acts in the future. *

Never mind that the perpetrator’s mentally-disturbed, violent tendencies are unrelated to politics. Never mind that the political indicators in his record, if anything, suggest hostility to God and an affinity for radical leftism.  Never mind that his hatred of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had nothing to do with her or her party’s policies.

Jared Loughner thinks in gibberish, processes what he sees and hears in gibberish, and acts on gibberish. Yet we’re asked to hang our heads in shame about an alleged cause-effect relationship that leads from Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin straight to Loughner’s trigger finger?

Bull. I get the intent behind respectfully critiquing this line of attack as Allahpundit does, but doing so misses the point. The point is: this record has already been played time and time again. It’s broken. The people using this to smear conservatives know better. Some of the more shameless ones, like Frum and Feldstein, admit as much—they acknowledge Loughner’s real motives yet proceed to say we should use the opportunity to bash the Right’s “dangerous, irresponsible rhetoric” anyway.

None of this is sincere. We know because these leftist lies about conservatives are nothing new. When a Communist circulated Obama-as-Hitler posters, conservatives were blamed. MSNBC ran selective footage of a black man with a gun, to characterize him as a potentially trigger-happy white supremacist. Leftists have publicly advocated impersonating Tea Partiers. The media misrepresents polls to defame Tea Partiers. Phony quotes attributed to prominent conservatives are disseminated without hesitation.

We know because we have a decade’s worth of hatred, terrorism, anger, bigotry, dishonesty, and violence-inciting from scores of left-wing activists, celebrities, journalists, and public officials on the record. We have violence committed by leftists against conservatives, and violence committed by radical Islamists, for which leftists have a different standard. The online savagery of leftist commenters is the stuff of legend.

If any of these lying, two-faced, murder-exploiting bastards were even remotely concerned about the “tone” of American politics, they would have piped up when it was their side—their fellow travelers, their elected leaders, their favored media personalities—doing the “coarsening.” But with rare exception, they either ignore it outright, make excuses for it, or tell bald-faced lies about their side’s filth coming from “marginalized, unimportant people whose voices don’t carry too far.”

Sure. “Marginalized, unimportant people” like prominent MSNBC commentators Schultz and Olbermann. Like Rep. Alan Grayson, who Obama has showered with praise. Like the current Senate Majority Leader. Like Sen. Dick Durbin. Like Sen. Robert Byrd. Like Rep. Keith Ellison. Like the late Ted Kennedy. Like former DNC chair Terry McAuliffe and numerous other Democrat officeholders. Like former President Jimmy Carter. Like current President Barack Obama. Nah, those “voices don’t carry too far” at all…

You want to know why America’s got problems? Why our political discourse seems so degraded, so futile? Re-read the names comprising the first paragraph, and you’ll have one of the biggest answers. The answer isn’t that we don’t scrupulously follow arbitrary rules of decorum. The answer is that the conduct of bad people in government, in the media, and in the blogosphere has gone unchallenged for far too long. We criticize their misconduct one day, yet we smile at them and act as if it never happened the next. We’re so eager to demonstrate our reasonableness, our maturity that we keep reaching out to the other side, no matter what they do. It never seems to occur to us that they might be giving us a glimpse at their souls.

But these cretins—so consumed by hatred and bias, so devoid of morality, that they’ll exploit murder to hurt their political enemies—bring shame upon their professions and upon our country. Treating these smears like they’re sincere concerns legitimizes them, and guarantees that we’ll see more of this defamation in the future.

Enough. It’s time to stop pretending the participants of this smear campaign are decent people who’re simply misguided. It’s time to stop extending olive branches. To stop pretending it’s respectable to cast votes for them.  To stop giving their blogs and publications our attention and business.

And given the topic, let me be perfectly clear, to preempt anyone who would consider twisting my words against me: this is not a call to violence. The only just response to even evil speech is to exercise your own freedoms of speech and free association. To respond with physical force would be a failure of our human capacity for self-control, a violation of our foes’ God-given, unalienable rights, a betrayal of our respect for the rule of law as citizens in a free society, and a vote of no confidence in our ability to solve our problems through the public discourse and the democratic process.

This much is true: American political discourse is sick. How we react to the murder-exploiters among us will reveal whether or not we’re finally serious about healing it.

* UPDATE: The second paragraph has been modified from its original version to more accurately reflect the caveats made by some of those named. In the comments, Scott Feldstein requests that I remove his name entirely. That’s not going to happen, but his complaint did convince me that this change was in order, because I value truth and accuracy regardless of which political agendas they advance or hinder.

Kurtz on Why "Speech Policeman" Frum Should Turn In His Badge (Updated)

At National Review, Stanley Kurtz, author of the acclaimed new Obama expose Radical-in-Chief, has a great article taking David Frum to task for his war against those who use harsh rhetoric Frum wants to place out of bounds. He explains that Frum’s idea of “reckless demonization” actually includes reasonable, substantive arguments:

What exactly do Galston and Frum mean when they say they intend to “call out” those who use labels like “racist” and “socialist” in public debate? I think I can answer that question, since a series of attacks engineered by Frum on my then-unpublished book, Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism, appears to have been a dress rehearsal of sorts for the operation of No Labels.


On July 27, 2010, I announced the forthcoming publication of my book at National Review Online’s blog, the Corner. The announcement made it clear that my book was the result of more than two years of empirical and historical research into Barack Obama’s political past, and would marshal “a wide array of never-before-seen evidence to establish that the president of the United States is indeed a socialist.” Frum, however, didn’t wait to consider my evidence or argument, or even bother to read my book. Instead, he invited a self-described Democratic activist who writes under the pseudonym “Eugene Victor Debs” to attack the very idea of my book — before either had read it.


I would probably not have responded to an anonymous attack on an unpublished book were it not for the fact that I knew and respected Frum, who warned me in advance that Debs’s piece was coming and invited me to respond. I did reply to Debs, after which, to my surprise, the attacks kept coming, both from Debs and from Frum himself . In my responses to Frum and Debs, I finally began to speak more frankly about my dismay and puzzlement at their persistent attacks on a raft of new evidence that I had not yet even had a chance to present to the public. Oddly, since the actual publication of Radical-in-Chief, there has been not a word about the book from either Frum or Debs.


He also explains how Frum’s mission will likely have the opposite of the affect Frum claims to want:

All Galston and Frum have done is to make explicit — and reinforce — the mainstream press’s existing determination to ignore and silence critics of Obama’s radicalism. Once No Labels gets going, public resentment at these silencing techniques is bound to increase. Contrary to Galston and Frum, the way to reduce polarization is not to suppress disagreement but to invite reasoned debate on the issues that actually divide us. Since a substantial portion of the public views the president as a covert radical, let the topic be debated in the widest and most respectable forums. If the president’s accusers offer mere bluster, or his defenders are living in denial, we shall see it all then. A true public debate on this issue in the pages of the mainstream press would rivet the public’s attention and immediately raise the level of discussion. By further suppressing this debate, on the other hand, Galston and Frum promote distrust and enmity between Left and Right.


None of this is particularly mysterious — or at least it ought not to be to those who have learned from the classical liberal approach to democratic debate recommended by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty. Mill discourages the creation of implicit or explicit rules banning any substantive claim in public debate, calling on us instead to judge a given argument according to the quality of its reasoning and the degree to which it fairly represents and successfully parries opposing points of view […]


It is not the job of those who cherish liberty of thought and discussion to ban claims of Obama’s socialism or of Tea Party racism, but to subject all of these assertions to the scrutiny of serious debate. While many or most accusations of Tea Party racism are baseless, legitimate complaints are possible and cannot be ruled out in advance. If Tea Party critics have serious evidence of racism, let them present it. If their evidence is tissue-paper thin (as most of it has been), that weakness can be (and has been) exposed.

It’s a great read. Needless to say, I agree with Kurtz 100%, and have little patience for Frum-style civility crap. It’s worth noting one additional thing, though – Frum doesn’t actually believe in his professed mission. If he did, he wouldn’t have developed a record as one of the most vicious, dishonest character assassins around.

UPDATE: My NewsReal colleague Mark Meed has more sharp analysis of this “No Labels” nonsense, including Frum’s selective reading of surveys to reach his preferred picture of what the American people want.

Civility Is Overrated

At Politico, PR guy Mark DeMoss laments the lousy reception to the Civility Pledge he and Clinton hack Lanny Davis have been circulating:

It’s only 32 words. Yet, only two sitting members of Congress or governors have signed the civility pledge.


So what was it about civility that all the other 537 elected officials couldn’t agree to? Read it and decide for yourself.

  • I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior.
  • I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them. 
  • I will stand against incivility when I see it.

In May, Lanny Davis, my friend and co-founder of the Civility Project, and I sent a letter to all 535 members of Congress and 50 sitting governors inviting them to sign a civility pledge.


We made it easy, enclosing a response form, return envelope and fax number. I’m sorry to report, six months later, that only two responded: Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).

This is a shame, DeMoss says, because the American people are sick of how nasty the political discourse has become, and because incivility is just plain wrong:
We share a conviction about the importance of at least trying to change a polarizing, uncivil political culture that now appears to be the norm.

Call it old-fashioned, but we believe debates should be won on the strength of ideas and words — not on the volume of our voices or the outrageousness of our ads. Yet some emails I’ve received on our website are so filled with obscenities that they could not be printed in a newspaper.

Incivility is not just a political problem, according to Yale law professor Stephen Carter. “Rules of civility are thus rules of morality,” Carter said, “it is morally proper to treat our fellow citizens with respect, and morally improper not to. Our crisis of incivility is part of a larger crisis of morality.” 

I hate to fit someone’s definition of “morally improper,” but the fact is, there’s way too much hand-wringing over civility in politics these days. For one thing, sleazy invective, while lamentable, has been around since the beginning, so not only is this not some new development, but if it was going to destroy the country, it would have done so by now.

That’s not to say politicians should be given a pass for trafficking in lies and rumors, far from it. But that brings us to the second, and far more important, reason these guys are barking up the wrong tree: we currently define negativity and incivility so broadly that they’re not only virtually meaningless, but they actually serve to stifle a lot of things that need to be said.

Simply put, there are a lot of bad people active, and bad things done, in politics today, things that deserve not just disagreement, but demand moral condemnation. Advocating the murder of unborn babies, lying about an issue, defaming someone, trying to violate the Constitution, controlling free speech…all these things run deeper than mere disagreements between equally-decent people. These are things that should shock and disgust men and women of goodwill, and compel them to drive them out of the sphere of public respectability – along with their practitioners.

Instead, our “civility” obsession all too often leads to pitiful spectacles like playing dumb about the integrity of backstabbers, and meekly wondering why opponents believe vicious lies about us (here’s a hint: they don’t). Such rhetorical cowardice and incompetence enables the dishonest and the hateful to go about their business without serious challenge, all but ensuring a culture that’s less civil, not more.

Real civility is a fine value, but a healthy political culture needs to understand it’s not the highest value. Every American must hold truth and justice as more important than decorum.