Fact-check Trump tonight? Expose him? No. Just own the reform that angry voters are ravenous for.”>
TheSaturdaybefore the big debate, Hillary Clinton was closeted with staff doing what she does best: prepare. Donald Trump was out doing what he does best: lie. Trump is the worst and best of liars; easy to catch, impossible to shame. Clintons staff, still telegraphing every punch, says shell try to expose and thus provoke him. Its a high risk strategy and even if it works it wont be enough.
Clinton cant trade epithets with Trump. The stage is littered with corpses of candidates (Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio) who played that game and lost. In her brief twitter war with Trump, Elizabeth Warren did Democrats no favors; its how he legitimates himself; by dragging others down to his level. If Clinton sounds like Trump she undercuts her best case, that hes unfit to hold public office, let alone be president.
All pre-debate TV chatter is of tactics or style. Her people say she must appear less wooden and more forthright. Its a tall order. Its hard to relax under the bright lights, and you cant tell people youre honest, you have to show them.
In any case, Obama had it right. Shes likable enough. Her problem isnt personality, its policy. If she loses to Trump it wont be because shes less respected than hethat would hardly be possible but because shes so closely linked to the overarching system failures of global finance capitalism and pay to play politics.
In the `90s, when she shaped White House policy more than any First Lady, vice president or chief of staff in history, she partook of a bipartisan, elite consensus. There was no partisan gridlock at the top, not on the big stuff. Bill, Hillary, Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich all thought the information age would create more jobs than it would destroy, that deregulating finance and trade would usher in an era of global prosperity and that fiscal responsibility meant cuts in Social Security.
Every big bill that Bill Clinton or George W. Bush passed was a conservative idea embraced by neoliberal Democrats. For Clinton: crime, welfare, the deregulations of finance and communications, and NAFTA. For Bush: No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D and the Iraq war. All are in disrepute, but what people hate most is what the elites love most: the pay to pay politics that keeps the enterprise afloat.
Most voters see what elites still deny; that global finance capitalism runs more on corruption than innovation. It is what voters mean when they say the system is rigged, and its what the primaries were all about. Bernie Sanderss whole campaign came down to three points: 1. the democracy is corrupt; 2. the middle class is dying; 3. the reason the middle class is dying is that the democracy is corrupt.
In rallies and debates Trump talked more about the rigged system than immigration or terrorism. He traffics heavily in racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and conspiracy theories daft enough for a supermarket tabloid or even the Internet. But in the GOP primaries he was the only one to challenge both the political and economic status quo. For Tea Partiers who cry crony capitalism hes a dream come true. Lets hope his nomination marks the apex of their ascendancy.
We live in a time of global insurrection against political corruption and economic oligarchy. In the primaries the United States seemed part of the revolt. But something odd happened at the conventions. Political and economic reform were taken off the agenda. Republicans conjured up a dystopian nightmare in hopes of scaring us all into voting for Trump. Democrats countered with a sunlit dream of patriotism and national reconciliation.
After all the talk of a rigged system, the Republican platform contains not a syllable on political reform. (The only reform Trump has ever proposed is electing him.) Democrats dropped vows to close revolving doors, defend whistleblowers and end no bid contracts from their platform, retaining only the obligatory call to overturn Citizens United.
The same goes for economic populism. Trumps consists solely of feigned hostility to free trade. Hes not really against it, he just brags that when hes president hell cut better deals on account of his having such a big brain. (Contrary to what you hear on TV, neither nominee opposes the TPP, only some unspecified portions of it as currently construed.)
Clintons for a minimum wage hike, a public option and most of Bernies plan for tuition free public colleges and universities. She has proclaimed the 2016 platform the most progressive platform in history. If youve read many you know it isnt true. The one from 2008 was better on foreign policy and curbing the power of big money. In any case, voters know that what a platform says matters far less than whether those running on it mean what they say.
This is a huge problem for Clinton, not just because voters doubt her sincerity, but because she often takes positions as one takes an opponents chess piece; to get it off the table. You see it happen when, after adopting a policy, she never mentions it again without prompting. (See TPP, Keystone pipeline, public option, etc.)
When the conventions broke camp, Clinton disappeared into donor land and Trump went back to running his mouth. Both parties reverted to form, focusing on cultural divisions rather than political or economic reform, when they werent busy tearing each other down. Events put racial tension and fear of terrorism front and center, thus reinforcing each partys proclivities. In the resultant policy vacuum Clinton was put on the defensive.
The first candidate to return to the themes of the primaries can win the general election. That politicians no longer talk about reform doesnt mean voters no longer hunger for it. As things stand, Hillary Clinton is the European Union and Trump is Brexit. Her one sure path to victory is to embrace political and economic reform and hold on to it so tight voters believe shell fight to make it happen.
This too is a tall order for her, but while she has her obvious weaknesses, she also has many strengths. Unlike Trump, she has a platform she can run on. In the battle over the platform her staff didnt give on the public option till the last night. The public option isnt a liberal fetish, its the only way other than single payer to make health care affordable for millions of middle-aged, middle-class small business owners.She can explain it in two sentences. All she has to do then is run on it.
The same goes for political reform. She is far from the best messenger. But there are ways she can address it. In the last CNN debate, when Dana Bash asked Sanders to name one vote Clinton sold for money, he flubbed the answer, citing her Wall Street ties but no vote. He should have said the problem wasnt that she was corrupt but that the whole system was corrupt and she didnt seem to know it.
Clinton could defuse the email scandal just by admitting what its really about. Republicans talk as if it were about espionage and corruption, but a yearlong FBI probe found no proof of either. The real issue is secrecy. Clinton should admit her penchant for it. More important, she should tell us she that has learned from her ordeal how much we want the business of government, especially its foreign policy, transacted in broad daylight, and then make a solemn pledge to do just that.
The temptation to expose Trump his fraudulent life story, proto-fascist politics and sheer crazinessis hard to resist. The media didnt begin seriously vetting him till after hed consolidated the nomination. Pundits still muse about whether he can be presidential as if they dont already know who and what he is. Treating Trump as a serious candidate because he can hold it together for a 90-minute debate is like paroling Jeffrey Dahmer because he went a week without eating anyone. In truth, if the media cant expose him Clinton must try, but she should do it quickly and stick strictly to the facts, trusting the audience to draw the right conclusions.
Its the corruption, stupid. Its causing the slow death of the American middle class. Voters want to see a blueprint for fixing it. If none is on offer, theyll settle for whoever sounds as angry as they feel.