The Privilege of George H W Bush

In my recent blog entry on presidential qualifications I remarked that the pre-presidency of George H W Bush rivaled that of Hillary Clinton today.   

While true, it underscored something that’s been nagging at me for nearly 30 years.  If you look at his resume in the box to the right of the preamble of the Wikipedia page about him, you see something very interesting: a lot of different posts for relatively short terms, at least until he was elected Vice President in 1980.   Indeed, by the time he was elected Vice President, he had lost as many elections (US Senate in 1970, republican presidential nomination in 1980) as he had won (US congress in 1966 and 1968).  From a pure electoral history, his resume was quite thin.   Add in the truism that people don’t actually vote for the vice presidential candidate on a ticket, and you can discount the elections of 1980 and 1984 as being not so much victories for him as they are victories for Reagan.  

Bush was the first sitting Vice President to be elected president since Martin Van Buren in 1836, although Nixon does deserve the honor of being in between the two if you take out the word “sitting” and add in a footnote about not rising to the presidency following the death of the president.  (Take out the footnote and you can also add Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson.)

The path to the presidency is usually through elective office, not appointments to powerful positions.  Or, if not elective office, then career military service, usually after attainment of the position of general or admiral.   While Bush did have some elective office experience, it was pretty meager.  He served two terms in the House of Representatives in the minority party in both terms.  While this was before the so-called “Hastert Rule” which basically strips the minority party of having any say in what will get voted on, it still doesn’t wield a whole lot of clout, politically.   (At least Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) was a senator…)

Bush’s path definitely was quite atypical by most standards.  

So when Nixon, and then Ford, nominated Bush for some very powerful positions, what was the basis of these appointments?  The answer seems fairly obvious: he was the son of a powerful senator.  Indeed, a mere four years passed between Prescott Bush’s retirement and George’s first election.   One wonders if the death of the father was at least partially a basis of the nominations of the son.  

George H W Bush had — and still has — enjoyed an exceptional amount of privilege in his life.   It led him to the highest office in the land at a pivotal point in world history.   I do find it interesting that, when future historians look at his term and his legacy, they’re likely to see it as mostly unremarkable.  His presidency can be summed up with the first Iraq war, most-favored nation trading status with China, and NAFTA.   And maybe Manuel Noriega.   He’s not likely to be viewed as a major player with the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the Soviet Union.  

That seems fairly consistent with the fact that he struggled with what he called the “vision thing” for why he even wanted to be president.  

And that same privilege is what led two of his children to seek the presidency, one who achieved it and one whose failure to achieve it could be the stuff of a Greek tragedy.   

They don’t need to apologize for their privilege but nobody can deny that their privilege probably doesn’t guide them to the wisest decisions.  

This family should be the stuff of textbooks.  

What qualifies a person to be president?

There’s an article over at Slate that asks how liberals would respond if the choice for president were between a liberal version of Donald Trump (they use Sean Penn as their example but it could be anyone on the political left who is sufficiently famous outside of the world of politics) and the likes of Ted Cruz or Rick Santorum.  It’s a fascinating article and definitely worth the read.   

While I haven’t tried making that particular argument, it raises a good point.   I have been making two related arguments, though, that tie in a little bit with this, and that also represent arguments I wish those on the left would stop making.  

The first is with regard to Donald Trump’s qualifications to be president.   This has nothing to do with whether or not he should be president but instead to whether he meets the criteria put forth by the constitution: since he is over age 35, a natural-born citizen who has lived the last fourteen years in this country, and is not term-limited under the 22nd amendment, he checks off every necessary box to be president.  That says absolutely nothing about whether he deserves any votes, but he does qualify.   Then again, so do I.  So feel free to vote for me.  

The other argument is about Hillary’s experience putting her in a good position to be president.   Eight years as First Lady, eight years as a senator, and four as Secretary of State, and yes she does have a fair amount of experience.  (It’s questionable whether that makes her the most experienced in history, as President Obama said during the convention a couple of weeks ago; even in recent memory, George H W Bush rivaled her experience when you figure that he was Vice President for eight years, after having been head of the CIA, ambassador to China, and a congressman; and that’s not even getting into the fact that he was a senator’s son…)  But when it comes to the presidency, how much experience is ideal?  We have a lot of respect for many presidents who had relatively little experience (Lincoln, JFK, Obama and many others come to mind) and many of the presidents with the most experience actually rank among our worst (Buchanan, William Henry Harrison, Hoover).  The simple truth right now is that no amount of experience can truly prepare a person for the presidency.   There are only five people alive today who can honestly say that they’re currently prepared for the needs of the presidency.   Three of them are term-limited and therefore can’t seek the office and the other two are both in their 90s.   

The simple truth is that the American political right doesn’t actually have someone to vote for this year.   If Trump represents anyone, it’s himself (and white supremacists and Nazis).   And that could happen to the left in a future year.  Some might vote for Hillary.  Some might vote for Trump.  Some might vote third party and some might not vote at all.  Is that a consequence of the uneasy coalition that is the modern Republican Party?  Many pundits have been talking about the demise of the party for some time.   Not that I’d expect any party to be absolutely uniform in their views, but the religious and economic conservatives really don’t have enough in common to hold them together, other than saying they’re “not liberal”.  

Would I vote for Sean Penn?  I don’t know.  I voted for Al Gore in 2000 and sent him an email afterwards where I said that he should not take my vote as an approval of his campaign or candidacy.   I just felt that Bush would’ve been a disaster for the country.   

A postmortem on the 2016 election

Yes, I know that the general election is still 3 1/2 months away.  As I write this, only one of the two parties has formally nominated their candidate.  No general election polls are even remotely reliable at this point.  A lot can and will happen between now and when we actually vote.  

But, as often happens after an election, the losing party looks at why they lost, and makes recommendations for what must be done to improve their chances next time.  

Whatever else is true, the Republican Party didn’t listen to the recommendations of the 2012 postmortem.  They performed horribly with women and minorities and the recommendation was to do outreach to both groups.   And then they nominated a racist and sexist candidate this year who makes the 2012 nominee look reasonable to women and minirities.  

But this year, I think both parties would do well to examine the campaign seasons and recommend changes for 2020, without regard to the victor.  

Let me start with the republicans.  All of the 2012 recommendations apply for this time around too.  

One of the big problems they faced this year — which enabled Donald Trump to win as many state primaries and caucuses as he did — was the sheer number of candidates seeking the nomination.  At various points in time, the evangelical vote was split amongst multiple candidates (usually Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, and/or Rick Santorum).  If it had only been one person, Trump would have had less of a chance of besting them all.  

Seventeen candidates is just too many people.   Yes, five of them dropped out before the Iowa caucuses (Perry, Walker, Jindal, Graham, and Pataki) but that still leaves twelve others.  I previously compared 2016 to 1988 based upon the sheer number of candidates of the party not in the White House.  A large pool makes the candidate who merely receives a plurality of votes the victor, and leaves him or her vulnerable later on.  I don’t know the magic number of candidates for a party, but it surely must be in the single digits.  And, interestingly, this didn’t give anyone the chance to vet the candidates properly.  Too many of Trump’s skeletons have come to light since he clinched the nomination.  

I imagine that the bigwigs of the Republican Party might also think that the idea of superdelegates as used by the Democratic Party is pretty appealing.   If the GOP’s rules had been the same as the Dems’, the candidate would have been decided at the convention.   The ones who wish Trump weren’t their candidate must be wishing they were dealing with the problems faced by the DNC right now.  

Which brings me to the democrats.   Let me state for the record that I think the general idea of superdelegates is a good one, although there’s room for debate about the correct number relative to the total delegate count.  The idea of superdelegates came about after 1968 and the chaos of the democratic convention in Chicago that year.   By design it shifted some responsibility of choosing the nominee away from the voters and more to the party itself.  

Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been in congress for over a decade representing districts in Florida and by all accounts, is a good hardworking representative.  And she’s a great example of the “Peter principle”, which holds that people will rise to the level of their incompetence.  She was out of her league running the DNC and anyone who argues otherwise, hasn’t been paying attention.  The circumstances that led to her departure never should have happened, period.  If Obama, who really wanted to campaign on behalf of the democratic nominee, stayed out of it until Clinton clinched the nomination, Mrs Wasserman Schultz should have done the same.  

Some ideas for both parties:

Get rid of “open primaries”, where people not registered as a member of a given party can still vote for that party’s candidate.  We can never know how many partisans for the other party voted for either Trump or Sanders because they wanted to sabotage the other party.  

Level out the timing of the primaries.   Why spread it out over such a long period of time?  

While we’re at it, disallow campaigning too long before the primaries begin.  (Open for discussion, the definition of “too long”.)  Someone who joined the race as late as Bill Clinton did in 1992 wouldn’t stand a chance any more.  Ted Cruz is already running for the 2020 nomination.   Does it need to last this long?

And maybe some day, we can do away with the parties entirely.   I’d rather see a national primary with a larger field of candidates (from all parties), and then the top two vote getters (without regard to party affiliation) face off in November. 

Not the blog entry I had planned to write

After the Wikileaks website released the emails that revealed that some people in the DNC had tried to derail Bernie Sanders’s campaign I went back and reread my blog entry from last February, in which I asked his supporters what makes him different from the more progressive democratic candidates since 1968 (although in hindsight, I should’ve probably mentioned Jesse Jackson in 1988).  And I realized something: when you compare Bernie to the other names on that list, Bernie is probably my least favorite of all of them.  

So I planned to write a blog entry talking about how the DNC certainly doesn’t owe him any favors.  After all, he’s still an independent in the Senate so an argument can be made that he shouldn’t even have sought the nomination of a party to which he didn’t even belong.  (At least Trump registered as a republican first…)  And the money he raised only funded his own campaign, while Clinton supported the DNC and countless house and senate races throughout the primaries.   

I was even prepared to point out that the idea of having primaries across the country to allow the voters themselves choose the nominees of both parties are actually a relatively new invention so there are always ways to tweak and improve the greater process.   Hell, I even planned on writing that the email that toyed with using Sanders’s alleged atheism against him (if he is an atheist, I see that as a plus anyway) was nothing more than an idea that was rightly thrown away.   In both my professional and personal dealings, I’ve pointed out that there’s no such thing as a bad idea when brainstorming.   When we move beyond brainstorming, is when we discard ideas like that.  

The arguments I planned on making here were supposed to be more of an indictment of the two-party system that has pretty much dominated American politics since 1828.  

But today’s news changed that.  Not the news that Debbie Wasserman-Schultz has announced her resignation as chair of the DNC.   That was expected, to be honest.  It was no secret that she personally favored Hillary Clinton, so at best, her impartiality was questionable. 

Buried in some of the reports that she was out, though, is the story that she is taking on a role as an “honorary chair” of Hillary Clinton’s national campaign.   

I want to reserve judgment here.   I don’t have all of the information I need.   After all, I don’t know what an “honorary chair” of any specific committee is supposed to do, as opposed to the official chair or committee leader.  But this just looks bad.  

George W Bush rightly deserved criticism for nominating cronies — either his own friends or friends of his father — to influential positions within his cabinet without regard to their ability to do the job at hand.  Neither John Ashcroft nor Alberto Gonzales was qualified to lead the Department of Justice.   I’m not sure what made Tom Ridge qualified to be the first Secretary of Homeland Security.  (Although I will admit that he surprised me that he wasn’t as ineffective at that job as he was as governor of Pennsylvania…). And of course, there was the former horse trainer who knew nothing about emergency management.   Heckuva job, Brownie…

If we wish to criticize Bush for those nominations, then yes, we should also criticize Hillary Clinton for doing the same with Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  It just looks bad.  

Maybe I’m overreacting.   Maybe this is just supposed to allow DWS to save face and bow out more gracefully.   Maybe she won’t actually do anything of any major import.   Maybe now is exactly the time to do this, since Hillary hasn’t yet had her own post-convention “bounce” and the election is still more than three months away, so she can easily make the corrections she needs to make.  Time will tell on all of this.   At least for now, though, this just looks bad.  

Come Out Come Out, Wherever You Are…..

As a straight white American male, I enjoy a fair amount of privilege.   I recognize it and, in the interest of being as “politically incorrect” as possible, I’m not going to apologize for it.  

But what I will do, is acknowledge that such privilege exists and, more importantly, make an effort not to exploit my privilege at the expense of others who do not enjoy the same privileges.   I will call out injustice and work to provide some degree of accommodation.   A rising tide lifts all ships and thus, if I put my privilege to good use, I will benefit if for no other reason than the improvements to society as a whole.  

Or, to paraphrase Harry Chapin, I’m a selfish, greedy bastard.  I want the fact that I existed to mean something.  That’s my privilege talking.   And looking at things in the long term.   

Of course, other people with the same privileges might prefer to protect them, guard them tightly, and prevent even the slightest encroaches upon the privilege.   It’s a short term thinking, and it encourages racism, xenophobia, and/or misogyny.   

I do derive a certain perverse amusement in reading the words of a group of internet misogynists who call themselves MRA’s.   MRA is an acronym for “Men’s Rights Advocates“.  Because men, of course, are so reviled and despised by society, with unreasonable expectations of beauty and intelligence, nothing more than eye candy for women, getting paid less for the same work……  I could go on, but I figure that at some point your eyes would roll so far, you’d have to chase them down the street.   I don’t really recommend following the link I just provided.

One position many, if not most, MRA’s take, is that somehow women are obligated to have sex with men, at least under some conditions.   It’s a notion that feeds into what’s becoming known as rape culture.   And if the girls don’t put out, then you should force or intimidate them.   

I’ve written before about my opinions on rape (more than once, actually) so I don’t think it’s overly necessary to reiterate them.   There’s a question on the dating site OKCupid that asks if there’s ever a time when someone is obligated to have sex with someone else.  Of course I said no to that question although I did, tongue-in-cheek, acknowledge that there are times when it’d be nice.   

Which brings me to one of the big news items that’s currently going on.  It started a couple of weeks ago, when Roger Ailes, the CEO of Fox News, was sued by former anchor Gretchen Carlson for sexual harassment.  In the following days, multiple other women came forward with similar allegations, bolstered most recently by Fox News superstar Megyn Kelly.   As I write these words, he’s still in charge but is in the process of negotiating his graceful exit.  

If the allegations are true, then Ailes put a lot of women in an extremely uncomfortable position.   He basically gave them a choice between choosing to perform a sex act on him (and later hating themselves for it) and jeopardizing their careers, their ambitions, their very livelihoods by saying no.  Were I a woman, I honestly don’t know what I would choose if those were my options.   

And that’s where I give a slight chuckle of thanks for my privilege that I don’t have to worry about that kind of choice.  At least, not for myself.  

But it’s curious.   More than two weeks have passed and I have yet to see a single MRA complaining about how unfairly Ailes is being treated.  Surely the arguments they could be making are there for the taking, aren’t they?   The media have found him guilty without the benefit of a trial.   It’s a conspiracy to discredit him.   He’s innocent until proven guilty.   Why should he be made to suffer before he has the right to confront his accusers?  What about his rights?

Okay.   I need to stop before I make myself sick.   

So let’s say it unequivocally: he’ll get his day in court and will be afforded all of the rights the accused get, in full accordance with the way they are spelled out in the constitution.   But that’s irrelevant to either the newsworthiness of the accusations themselves (and the freedom of the press that enables them to be reported on) or the rumors that he’s about to be pushed out of his current role at Fox News.   Assuming he loses his job, his constitutional rights will remain intact, without regard to the color of his parachute.   

So where are the MRA’s who should be rushing to his defense?  Sure.  There are reports of an exodus of staffers who would follow him if he goes, but they’d probably leave anyway when the news channel ends up under new management.   I really haven’t seen much of anything in that sphere.   

Maybe they’re just exercising their privilege and going after other women….

When Anger Boils Over

I am not, and have never been, a fan of former president George W Bush.   Even in the aftermath of the Sptember 11 attacks, when he enjoyed a 91% approval rating, I was among the 9% who disapproved of the job he was doing.   

Part of my reason for my disapproval even then, was he patently false “they hate us for our freedom” line he gave as his reasoning behind that horrible day nearly fifteen years ago.   While I wouldn’t expect the justification for such actions to be easily answered this answer was just too facile, too simplistic, too grossly unrealistic to be even within the top ten reasons for hijacking four airplanes destroying two large buildings and trying to destroy two more, killing nearly three thousand people in the process.  

If any introspection occurred within the Bush administration, asking the question of what of our actions might have yielded such a horrific backlash, it did not take place publicly.   When you add on the observations of Timothy McVeigh during his time in combat during the first Iraq war, it seems to me as though some things we might be doing, aren’t exactly hobgoblins of the freedoms our enemies allegedly hate us for.   

That’s not to say we need now or have ever needed to give in to their demands.  But it’s a fair question to ask.  

I mention this because another horrific event took place in America while I slept last night.   I woke up to numerous notifications on my phone about a sniper in a garage, later identified as Micah Johnson, who shot twelve police officers keeping the peace at a Black Lives Matter protest.  As of this writing, five of those officers died.  

Unlike those of the organizers of the September 11 attacks, Johnson’s motives were patently obvious for anyone willing to pay attention.   The protest itself was in response to two highly publicized incidents from the prior 48 hours where a police officer apparently used excessive, nay lethal, force in a traffic stop.   That the deceased in both incidents happened to be African American is not a coincidence.   There have been numerous such incidents around the country for quite some time, and in recent years we have seen them far more often than anyone, regardless of skin color, should be comfortable with.   

That’s why we have the Black Lives Matter movement in the first place.  I am not defending Johnson or his actions here, but extreme, prejudiced violence is a consequence of patience wearing too thin.   When you see a community terrorized by the people who are supposed to protect them, you will get backlash.   

We often see blurbs about the criminal records of the people killed by the cops when the confrontation took place.   And to those people I ask, “so what?  Is petty larceny or any other minor infraction cause for a death sentence?”  We also often see blurbs about how not to provoke the cops; don’t give them reason to mistrust you.   But the mistrust — on both sides — has been fomenting for generations.   Sure, the cops might not be donning white sheets for a lynching during their off-hours but profiling still persists.   And when there is no accountability in the courts, it bespeaks a system that the African American community would not be wrong for regarding as racist or so badly in need of reform, one questions whether it ought to be dismantled completely.  

Not all cops are bad cops.   Any more than all black people are criminals.  If the cop who kills someone over a broken tail light is a bad example for police officers, so, too, is Micah Johnson for the African American community.  

Now what can we do to help heal and actually make progress?

Extending Skepticism Even Further

A good friend of mine read my recent blog entry on getting past preconceived notions where I confessed to not being as good a skeptic as I ought to be. He pointed out that the first seven paragraphs, which were little more than a bit of trivia the answer to which might surprise you, seemed a bit too much.

And he’s not wrong. The truth is that that was actually the third anecdote I toyed with before writing that article. I decided against using the first two because they are both the stuff of separate blog posts, either of which would have detracted more from the fact that I wanted to make a public mea culpa than a bit of historical trivia about Andrew Jackson.

The simple truth of the matter is, when people are shown evidence of their incorrect assumptions, they are prone to become defensive. That’s human nature. And it’s part of why I deleted the facebook entries I wrote about in that earlier entry. I still maintain that I did it because it ceased to be funny; you can draw your own judgment about it.

But it does become dangerous when that defense mechanism results in doubling down on the incorrect information, and that’s where I originally went as I contemplated what I would write.

The first person I thought of using, was Andrew Wakefield, whom I wrote about in the middle of a lengthy entry on the responses to a posting I had made on the facebook site of the Institute for Creation Research.

While it would be wrong to argue that, without Wakefield, there wouldn’t be an anti-vaccination movement, but his easily debunked “study” (I use the term loosely) has almost definitely done more to enable the movement than any other single person or event. Wakefield himself, when he doubled-down on his critics — sometimes trying to use courts of law — has become a poster boy for what not to do when the evidence isn’t in your favor.

I realize that what I say comes dangerously close to an ad hominem attack, but I don’t think I can ever trust a word coming out of Wakefield’s mouth, especially when it comes to vaccines, preventative medicine, or overall well-being. I think the only thing keeping it from being an ad hominem would be if he were to acknowledge his own wrongdoing and then actively demonstrate that he has heard the voices of his critics and learned his lesson.

For those who don’t know what an ad hominem attack is, it’s a logical fallacy whereby a person attempts to discredit the opinion of a person by discrediting the person him- or herself. A few years ago, the satirical website The Onion, in one of their mock radio-news segments, demonstrated the use of the fallacy to humorous effect. Go ahead. Listen to it. It’ll only take a minute of your time. I can wait.

Which brings me to the current king of ad hominem attacks and the second person I considered talking about in my posting the other day. A man whose words should be frightening to anyone who actually wants to see real progress get made in this country. Someone whose words, if spoken by a person who doesn’t have the same clout and name recognition, would be easily dismissed so that the grown-ups can have a grown-up conversation.

I’m talking, of course, about Donald Trump.

If you look closely at Trump’s speeches, there’s actually very little in terms of policy in them. In fact, if you look away from the proposal to build a wall along the Mexican border (and make the Mexicans pay for it), and the list of names he said he would nominate to the Supreme Court should an opening arise, he hasn’t offered any specifics on any of his policies.

His speeches are otherwise a mixture of two things: first, self-serving pronouncements about his own greatness and that he can “win” at whatever the topic is; and second, attacking those who disagree with him (either personally or as a group).

There’s way too much that he’s said and done that illustrates this, and I’ll let the professional pundits do all of the fact checking and refutation. My foray into directly addressing it, was in the form of the following exchange on Twitter:

Trump response

The very existence of the Spoils System, as introduced by Andrew Jackson, feeds corruption.

I do find it interesting that Ronald Reagan, a man currently revered by Donald Trump’s political party — to the point of deification — has the dubious distinction of having had the most corrupt administration in American history, at least if measured by the sheer number of times a prosecutor has had to look into the goings on within the administration itself. (Other measurements would certainly put Ulysses Grant and Warren Harding ahead of Reagan, to be fair…)

But note that Trump doesn’t actually say anything about Secretary Clinton’s policies should she be elected president. He calls her “crooked Hillary” just like he called the senators he faced for the nomination “Little Marco” Rubio and “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz.

It’s really amazing how he has run a completely substance-free campaign, with more effort dedicated to ad hominem attacks than anything else and has yet to be truly called out on it by the voters.

Yes, Trump is dangerous. Let’s not let him get closer to the White House than he already is.