Thursday, October 22, 2015

by Reed Galen

Days Until Iowa Caucus: 102

Quote by A Smart Person: “Chaos is inherent in all compound things. Strive on with diligence.” – Buddha

Welcome to the American Singularity.

Why the Singularity?

•    The presidential nominating process is one in which everything, large and small, is sucked into its gravitational maw, allowing nothing to escape its grasp as events pass through the campaign cycle’s event horizon.
•    There is no more singular political experience on the planet than electing the President of the United States.
•    The United States is still the most free, most prosperous and brightest beacon of hope to billions around the world.

Every action and reaction feeds into this black hole of press coverage, donor reactions, voter sentiment and activist opinions. Nothing goes unnoticed and nothing is forgotten. Legions of reporters, bloggers, opposition researchers, trackers, social media monitoring services, vacuum up every last syllable.

Every week we’ll take a look at the campaign as it unfolds, and how events reflect the campaigns, the issues of the day and the country at large. Have a tip, piece of advice or something to add? Email me – reed@jedburghs.com

The American Singularity - Week 31: 2015's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Mixed Up, Very Bad Politics

In late 2000 I spent a night sitting in a back hallway of the Palm Beach County Emergency Operations Center. With me were a colleague from the Bush campaign, two guys from the Gore campaign and two Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputies. We were guarding a blue steel door that had been sealed with pieces of red evidence tape. Behind the door were ballots to be counted the following day. After my weeks-long experience during the 2000 Florida Recount I told myself I’d never be part of something crazier in politics than that. And just about every year since, I’ve been proven wrong.

2015 is just the latest head-scratcher. We’re in bizarro-land. Up is down. Down is up. Black is white. White is black. Outsiders are In. Insiders are Out. It’s like the whole country is taking crazy pills. While many of us might have thought that the fall of 2011 with its carnival-like atmosphere was the weirdest thing we’d seen, we always knew that ultimately Mitt Romney would bring the flag home for Team Establishment. Just this week, the narrative among GOP insiders is that Donald Trump might actually win the Republican nomination. And just what does that mean?

Ultraviolet

Our traditional ideas on left versus right politics have been scrambled this year. And the two who are helping to do that most are the unlikeliest of bedfellows: uber-capitalist Trump and self-identified Democratic Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders.

Despite running in different parties, they both rail on the rigged game that is Washington, DC, how Wall Streeters don’t pay enough in taxes and how we need fair trade deals that protect American workers. They fire up the populist bases of their respective parties – middle class Whites for the Republicans and old hippies and college kids for the Democrats.

Candidate ideology based on donations received. Courtesy Crowdpac.

Candidate ideology based on donations received. Courtesy Crowdpac.

They have, for the moment, transcended traditional ideas about the political spectrum and broken the prism by which we normally discern a candidate’s larger belief system. By comparison, the establishment candidates in their respective parties look downright boring and worse – bought and paid for.

Plate Tectonics

In the GOP race for President we’ve seen a dramatic shift away from traditional candidates, giving rise to the Trumps, Carsons and Carly’s of the world. In a recent Pew Research study, 69% of Republican primary voters surveyed said they wanted a candidate who espoused new ideas over government experience. Aside from the shock of that number, just six months before, the “want an outsider” number was only 36%.

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That is a dramatic shift that can only attributed in part to Trump. It may well be that as outsiders have gained popularity in other surveys, voters have come to see them as desirable. The governors, all of whom have excellent records on which to run, find themselves buried deep in the pack as their strategy of actually telling voters what they’ll do in office just isn’t breaking through the noise this year.

For the Democrats, this will be Hillary Clinton’s last run (or second to last run should she win) for the Presidency. Aside from Sanders, the other candidates are barely worth mentioning, as evidenced by Jim Webb’s retirement from the race and O’Malley and Chaffee’s status as asterisks. After eight years in the White House, this was the best field they could come up with? Should they lose in 2016, where does the liberal party go from here? Where is their bench?

What's more, during the Democrats' first debate in Las Vegas, the topic of Sanders' socialism was discussed at length. Think about this: It's 2015 and Democrats on national television are debating the relative merits of socialism. While many may deride the right wing of the GOP for having gone straight to nihilism, we should not ignore the fact that the left wing of the Democratic Party is now openly and publicly espousing true European-style economics.

Wait, Who’s Running?

Republicans have a reputation for being the party of old, white men. Democrats are the party of inclusion and diversity. But to look at the parties’ respective fields this way, one would be hard-pressed to tell which is which. The Democratic field of (now locked in at four for now) is exclusively Anglo and old. With an average age of 64.8 years, it’s hard for me to see how they can claim the mantle of “party of the future.”

The GOP on the other hand, offers voters two young Latino candidates of humble origins, an African American doctor born in Detroit and a female former CEO of a Fortune 500 company who started her career as a secretary. On paper, it sure looks like the Republicans represent what we like to think of as the American dream - upward economic and social mobility. And the Democrats…well they represent many ideas that FDR first promulgated in 1932.

Crossroads

Recreational marijuana use is now legal in three states. By November of next year, another handful may be added to the list. Both parties’ panels have been asked about marijuana during their debates. Only Gov. Chris Christie has taken a hard line against its legalization at a national level, not surprising given his background as a federal prosecutor. But in 2015, weed isn’t a big deal for either party. Of all the things there are to worry about, lighting up a joint just doesn’t make the list anymore.

Discussion about marijuana, its use, and those incarcerated for weed-related crimes has also spurred members of both parties to begin pushing for true criminal justice reform. Politicians as diverse as Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul have discussed the need to reform the way we imprison people. It was not so long ago (think Bill Clinton’s 1990s) that discussion of letting non-violent offenders out of prison would have made a candidate look soft on crime. Today, it’s the humane, just and Constitutional thing to do.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has told his Republican House colleagues that he’d be willing to accept the Speakership if they unite behind him and put their factionalism aside. One of his key sticking points, though, is that unlike most Speakers, he’s going to be a part of his kids’ lives. If Ryan does indeed ascend to the Gavel, we will have hit an inflection point in American politics – Generation X will be on the march.

Wasn’t It The Economy, Stupid?

Despite having a job market that still hasn’t fully recovered from the crash of 2008-2009, a workforce that is increasingly mobile, heavy industry that needs less people and the emergence of the sharing economy (Uber, Airbnb) we've spent precious little time actually discussing what any of these candidates plan to do to spur economic growth over the next four or eight years.

In both GOP debates so far, the economy has been given short shrift as moderators played the Whack-A-Trump game for 45 minutes. The Democrats discussed what they were going to do for people, (free college, healthcare) but not how they plan on getting us above 2% growth.

Some of the candidates have put out white papers and plans that no one will likely ever read. But we haven’t yet had the opportunity to observe whether the candidates actually understand the dramatic shift that has happened in American life when it comes to work. Working in the US is not the same as it was 50 years ago. It’s not even the same as 25 years ago. I submit that we should ask candidates not what they plan to do in the next four or eight years to create economic growth, but how they plan to use that time to put the country on constructive path 20, 30 or 50 years from now. Technology has allowed innovation to move so quickly that tinkering around the edges of a $14 trillion economy is unlikely to have much positive impact. Instead we need a holistic plan that allows the job sector to take advantage of the assets we have, and those we can’t yet see.

 

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AuthorReed Galen