Friday, July 29, 2016

DNC Wrap-up and Two Reasons Why Hillary Clinton Needs More Speech Reviewers

General John Allen; Source: Getty
Gratefully, both major party conventions are finally over. And like the Republicans, the Democrats emphasized nationalist themes on the final day in an effort to rally their supporters.

Captain Khan's Needless Death
To this end, one speech was particularly noteworthy. Khizr Khan delivered an emotional speech about his son, Captain Khan, who was a Muslim US soldier who died in action in Iraq. The purpose of the speech was to (appropriately) criticize Donald Trump's previous calls to ban immigration of Muslims. Captain Khan was just as American as anyone else, his father said. At one point in the speech, his father held up a copy of the US Constitution and encouraged Trump to read it. Khizr Khan said his son had made the ultimate sacrifice for this country, while Donald Trump had sacrificed nothing.

That's true enough. But it's worth asking why Captain Khan had to sacrifice at all. In one of the more powerful passages, his father made the following contrast:
Hillary Clinton was right when she called my son "the best of America." 
If it was up to Donald Trump, he never would have been in America.
Again, that's true. But remember, Captain Khan died in Iraq. That means, in some ways, Captain Khan's fate really was up to Hillary Clinton. And when his fate--and that of thousands of other American soldiers and Iraqi civilians was in her hands--she was an indispensable supporting voice in the Senate that made the Iraq War possible.

Donald Trump's rhetoric on Muslims and foreign policy is often appalling, but when it comes to actual, practical records on the topic, Hillary Clinton has few equals. And not in a good way.

General Allen, Or How Democrats Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Militarism
Of course, when sympathy might not be enough, there's nothing quite like bombast to inspire nationalist unity. That need was fulfilled by retired 4-star General John Allen of the Marine Corps, who gave a speech that consisted of a series of shouted orders.

After marching out with an entourage of military brass to a snare drum, General Allen's speech was put together well; it just sounded like something one would typically hear at a Republican gathering. Here are a few quotes to give you an idea (our snark in parentheses):
The free people of the world look to America as the last best hope for peace and liberty for all human kind. (And the people that aren't free are likely ruled by an American-backed dictatorship, so they're probably looking somewhere else.)
We believe in her vision of an America as a just and strong leader, against the forces of hatred, the forces of chaos and darkness. 
With [Hillary] as commander-in-chief, we will continue to lead this volatile world. We will oppose and resist tyranny and we will defeat evil. (I really hope no one tells Saudi Arabia or Bahrain about this.)
But I also know, with her as our commander-in-chief, our international relations will not be reduced to business transactions. (Of course not. A business transaction is voluntary and both sides get something of value in exchange. That does beg the question though. If our international relations aren't a business transaction, what are they exactly: charity or extortion?)
It is telling that in the course of General Allen's speech, chants of "USA! USA!" broke out spontaneously at moments that made no sense. At first, it seems like they are just enthusiastic nationalists. But when you listen more closely, you here weaker chants of "No More War!" in the background just as happened to Leon Panetta the day before. The DNC got wise to this tactic, however, and thus instructed loyal Clinton delegates to chant the rhythmically similar "USA!" to drown it out. It was generally an effective strategy. It's also a great metaphor for the Democratic Party's nomination of Hillary Clinton.

A weaker, smaller contingent holding true to its principles calls for peace, only to be overcome by an establishment candidate whose views are every bit as hawkish as Donald Trump's.

Hillary's Big Speech
Hillary Clinton wrapped things up with a headline speech that was predictable and professional, yet decidedly unimpressive when compared to the performances earlier this week from Bernie, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.

It's not news that public speaking isn't Hillary's strongest suit, but it will be interesting to see how it affects poll numbers after the convention. If you were undecided at the beginning of this week, there's a chance that Bernie or President Obama might have persuaded you to vote for the Democratic nominee in November--Hillary's speech probably did not.

In essence, Hillary's platform is the standard progressive agenda, minus the good parts. If you start with the ideas of Bernie Sanders and then remove his professed opposition to war, his occasional nod to the fact that Palestinians are humans too, his opposition to marijuana prohibition, and his general disdain for corporate welfare, then you end up with Hillary Clinton. From a libertarian perspective, that means there's nothing left to support, unless you believe she's serious about reforming the criminal justice system. But given that she was actually instrumental in helping to make the criminal justice system as bad as it is, that ought to be a tough sell.

There were no outright gaffes in the speech, but there were also parts that were so ready for mockery that one almost imagines there was a mole working to put them in. Or they're just counting on Americans to be completely ignorant of both American history and news that happened last week. For example:
Well, a great Democratic President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, came up with the perfect rebuke to Trump more than eighty years ago, during a much more perilous time. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Yeah, about that. See, the trouble here is that among Trump's most outlandish positions are rounding up illegal immigrants for deportation, rounding up Syrian refugees in particular, and banning Muslims from entering the country. While the first is a slightly separate issue, the others are clearly playing on the idea of divided loyalties, terrorism, and national security. So if that's the problem with Trump, you could scarcely choose a worse figure from history to offer a rebuttal than FDR. After all, to my knowledge, FDR was the only President in the post-Civil War period who deliberately and systematically targeted a group, Japanese-Americans, based on its national origin and threw them in internment camps. The justification was the idea that they were disloyal and dangerous to the US--precisely the idea that Trump is playing on when he makes awful policy suggestions about Muslims.

Simply stated, FDR's presidency doesn't offer a rebuttal to Donald Trump, but it might have offered some inspiration. FDR is viewed as a hero. Maybe Trump just wants to earn the same acclaim from left-leaning historians of the future.

Another moment from Hillary's speech ripe for ridicule related to playing the Woman Card:
And you know what, if fighting for affordable child care and paid family leave is playing the “woman card,” then Deal Me In!
From a purely political angle, I think emphasizing the Woman Card is probably going to be counterproductive. But whatever one thinks of that strategy in general, this is an exceedingly poor application of it. Why? Because, just one week ago at the RNC, Trump's daughter Ivanka stressed that these exact same issues were part of Trump's platform as well (emphasis added):
This has long been the philosophy at the Trump Organization. At my father’s company, there are more female than male executives. Women are paid equally for the work that we do and when a woman becomes a mother, she is supported, not shut out.

Women represent 46 percent of the total U.S. labor force, and 40 percent of American households have female primary breadwinners. In 2014, women made 83 cents for every dollar made by a man. Single women without children earn 94 cents for each dollar earned by a man, whereas married mothers made only 77 cents. As researchers have noted, gender is no longer the factor creating the greatest wage discrepancy in this country, motherhood is. 
As President, my father will change the labor laws that were put into place at a time when women were not a significant portion of the workforce. And he will focus on making quality childcare affordable and accessible for all.
Again, set aside whatever you may think of these ideas. Trump and Hillary are advocating for the exact same concepts. If doing so in Hillary's case means playing the Woman Card, then does that make Trump a feminist? Awkward.

These similarities could be found throughout. Trump supports raising the minimum wage now, and so does Hillary. Hillary wants to say no to trade deals (now), and so does Trump. Hillary wants to expand government dramatically without solving the deficit or debt, and so does Trump. And so on down the line.

There are differences, to be sure--on immigration, Russia, and, if we're charitable to Hillary, criminal justice reform to name a few. But the candidates agree on much more than is commonly supposed. As with past elections between Republicans and Democrats, the biggest difference is probably found in rhetoric, not policy. And if you want Hillary to win, that's bad news.

Because while the Secretary may be many things, an engaging speaker is not one of them. She's long on policy and political details, but short on clever rhetoric. Broadly speaking, that description also fit the one-time Republican favorite Jeb Bush. And I, for one, expect Hillary Clinton to meet the same fate--failure. Indeed, the most recent polls suggest it might already be happening.

*Standard Disclaimer: I don't support Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump for President; I think the actions they take will be generally awful, but the unintended consequences of those actions will ultimately be beneficial. I probably prefer the unintended benefits of Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump, if forced to choose. Fortunately, just like everyone else I'm not forced to choose, and I will be voting for a third-party candidate instead.

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