No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.… Winston Churchill; 1947, the House of Commons.
Democracy is hard - hard for the activists who walk precincts, make phone calls, cajole their friends, and donate; hard for the paid operatives whose livelihood depends on being able to latch onto funded campaigns; hard for the massive group of passive observers who get their hopes up only to see their preferred candidate defeated. Psychologists and campaign managers know that the public is more easily motivated by negative attacks than by positive support; the media know that readers and viewers are attracted to the dark side of the human situation. In the American version, campaigning is interminably long.
The net is that it is tempting to opt out. Once your team gets eliminated from the basketball or hockey playoffs you can turn your attention to baseball. Not so with democracy - the voter who has been filled with enthusiasm believes that who gets elected actually makes a difference to the country, to their community, and to them. Out here in California, where any Democrat will win in a landslide, we can relapse into our "whatever" mode. But for the thirteen or so states where the election will be decided it is worth reminding ourselves why opting out - voting for the symbolic Libertarian candidate or not voting at all - is a monumentally bad idea.
In Donald Rumsfeld terms, the known knowns:
1. The untimely death of Antonin Scalia has magnified the importance of who gets to nominate Supreme Court justices. With Ruth Bader Ginsberg being 83, Anthony Kennedy 79, Stephen Breyer 77, Clarence Thomas 67, and Samuel Alito 66, it is likely that the first term of the new president will see at least four vacancies - including the replacement of Scalia. While the effective Senate requirement for 60 votes for confirmation provides some protection, all four of the current liberal bloc were appointed by Clinton or Obama, while all of the conservative bloc were appointed by Reagan or Bush, so with members of both blocs likely to be replaced, there is every reason to expect that the next president will tilt the court for many years to come, beginning immediately with the replacement of Scalia.
In 2016 - a representative year - the Court will decide (or defer lacking a full bench) cases on One Person/One Vote; Affirmative Action in college admissions; mandatory union dues for public employee unions; restrictions on the availability of abortion; and the birth control requirement in Obamacare. In the near future there will be challenges to a range of President Obama's executive orders - immigration; restrictions on gun sales; and climate change.
More broadly, President Obama has successfully appointed 55 justices to the 12 Federal Appeals courts and 266 justices to Federal District courts as well as a couple dozen to courts dealing with international trade, veterans, taxes, and the armed forces. Before the Republicans won control of the Senate in 2014, the Democrats changed the rules to allow a simple majority for confirmation to courts other than the Supreme Court, unlocking appointments which flipped several courts from Republican majority to Democratic majority - most notably the DC Court of Appeals which hears most cases on executive overreach. Openings have been backing up since the Republicans took back the Senate, so 2017 will see an unusually high number of appointments - for better or worse.
2. There are a number of major policy differences between Republicans (including Donald Trump) and Democrats (particularly as Hillary gets pulled further to the left by Bernie Sanders).
- It is clear that Obama's principal domestic accomplishment, Obamacare, is unpopular and unworkable. Insurance premiums will increase another 10 to 20 % in 2017 as healthy Millenials refuse to subsidize less healthy Baby Boomers and the administration's promise to protect insurance companies from losses has proven illusory. Whether the alternative is a free market system or migration toward "Medicare for All" may well depend on the next president.
- Paul Ryan has a plan for reformation of personal and corporate taxes which would make American companies more competitive internationally and simplify the code for small businesses and individuals. Hillary would emphasize increasing taxes on the upper and upper middle class to pay for more free stuff.
- Donald Trump's central premise is a fairer deal for America in international arrangements - we should not tax ourselves to have 4% of GDP go to defend countries that spend less than 2% of GDP on their military; we should not continue trade policies which result in an ongoing $50 billion per month imbalance of imports over exports; we should look at immigration in terms of what is good for the US rather than what is good for the immigrants. Hillary would be status quo at best.
3. Hillary was an architect of the bipartisan foreign policy of deposing Middle East governments which we did not like in favor of unknown successors - Afghanistan; Iraq; Libya; Syria. She and Obama have refused to seriously address the threat of Islamic terrorism in the Middle East and globally. Trump would follow the Powell Doctrine - "when a nation is engaging in war, every resource and tool should be used to achieve decisive force against the enemy, minimizing U.S. casualties and ending the conflict quickly by forcing the weaker force to capitulate."
4. Energy policy would be hugely different. Under Trump: opening of public lands for exploration; slowing down the EPA's war on coal; expansion of pipelines to move our new-found energy riches to market; a more skeptical view of "climate change" - is it real?, what is causing it?, what are the options for addressing it?, what is the cost/benefit analysis for environmentalist proposals? Hillary: the opposite.
5. The businessman would have higher standards for the performance of government - the Veterans Administration; the Internal Revenue Service; the Transportation Security Administration; the Department of Health and Human Services. Hillary could be a better manager than Obama, but she would appoint the department heads from the same pool of applicants.
Relative to Benghazi, Hillary cynically asked Senator Ron Johnson, "what difference does it make?" The 2016 presidential election will make a huge difference. If you are in a state that matters, show up.
With this election season promising to degenerate into a wave of cynicism, this week's bonus is Joan Baez' rendition of "Forever Young". Bad politics; great music.
bill bowen - 5/27/16