What They Should Have Said

That was quite a weekend – three ambitious men, who each tell us that they are the only one among all those other fools running who should be our next president, said what they really shouldn’t have said. One apologized, one said he really didn’t what to talk about it, and the third refused to take anything back, because he never takes anything back, and that’s why people love him, even if the polls show most people despise him. The third was Donald Trump, of course.

No one was surprised – but if voters have to choose who gets to be our next president, they have to choose between different ways of making adjustments when you really step in it – when you should have known better. That sort of thing comes up in every presidency. There will be things a president really shouldn’t have said – George H. W. Bush shouting “Read my lips, no new taxes” – Bill Clinton pounding the podium and declaring that he “did NOT have sex with that woman” – George W. Bush quite publicly telling the bad guys in Iraq to “bring it on” (they did) – Barack Obama talking about “red lines” that Syria shouldn’t cross. Oops. That’s four presidents in a row. It will happen again, and what do the American people want their president to do with these unfortunate statements? Take it back or at least explain it better? That shows you’re a flip-flopper who will say anything and who believes in nothing. Refuse to talk about it? You’ll look like you’re hiding something. Say the same dumb thing over and over again, but louder, until everyone gives up and moves on? That shows you’re strong, with unshakable convictions, that you’re a rock – or that shows that you’re dumb as a rock, and proud of it. There are no good options here.

The forgotten Democrat in the race at the moment chose the first option:

Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley apologized on Saturday for saying “All lives matter” while discussing police violence against African-Americans with liberal demonstrators.

Several dozen demonstrators interrupted the former Maryland governor while he was speaking here at the Netroots Nation conference, a gathering of liberal activists, demanding that he address criminal justice and police brutality. When they shouted, “Black lives matter!” a rallying-cry of protests that broke out after several black Americans were killed at the hands of police in recent months, O’Malley responded: “Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter.”

Later that day, O’Malley apologized for using the phrase in that context if it was perceived that he was minimizing the importance of blacks killed by police.

“I meant no disrespect,” O’Malley said in an interview on This Week in Blackness, a digital show. “That was a mistake on my part and I meant no disrespect. I did not mean to be insensitive in any way or communicate that I did not understand the tremendous passion, commitment and feeling and depth of feeling that all of us should be attaching to this issue.”

He figured it out. Say “All Lives Matter” and you’re telling a whole lot of outraged black folks that they’re not so special, so sit down and shut up. If they want to hear that sort of thing they can tune into Fox News all day. “Black Lives Matter Too” might have been a little better. That hints at equal treatment under the law. What he seems to have been trying to say, however, is “BLACK LIVES MATTER AS MUCH AS WHITE LIVES” – that’s nicely militant and a challenge to the Fox News crowd. Are those folks going to deny that? Let them pull out their little pocket-Constitutions and try – but O’Malley didn’t say that. He threw out a compressed platitude.

Hillary Clinton made the same mistake in June and skipped this Netroots Nation conference in July. She learned her lesson. She has built a careful campaign on endless nice-sounding unremarkable platitudes – she doesn’t want to offend anybody. These Netroots Nation folks would have eaten her alive, so O’Malley now knows what Hilary knew. You don’t have to walk back statements you never made – and white votes matter too. You can’t be too careful. There are a lot of angry white folks who want to tell these outraged black folks that they’re not so special, so sit down and shut up – everyone’s got problems. You win elections with strategic silence.

Scott Walker tried that:

Republican presidential hopeful Scott Walker is continuing to struggle over questions about gay rights, telling CNN this weekend that he does not know whether being gay is a choice.

“I don’t have an opinion on every single issue out there,” Walker told CNN in an interview aboard the Winnebago that is transporting him around Iowa, where he is focusing much of his time and campaign resources. “I mean, to me, that’s, I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that question.”

That’s curious. He may not have an opinion on every single issue out there, but he ought to on this one:

After the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to allow gay marriage in all 50 states, he called for a constitutional amendment that would allow states to ban same-sex marriage. Walker’s two college-age sons have said that they support gay marriage. Tonette Walker, Walker’s wife, has said that she’s emotionally torn on the issue, as a close relative is gay and recently married her partner, but that she stands with her husband on the issue.

One might wonder where he stands:

Early last week, Walker told the Independent Journal Review, an online news outlet aimed at young conservatives, that the Boy Scouts of America should keep its ban on gay leaders because it “protected children and advanced Scout values.” That immediately ignited a backlash, with gay rights activists saying he needed to apologize for implying that young boys must be protected from gay leaders. Walker later said that he wants to protect Boy Scouts from a “political and media discussion.” He has since said that it is up to the Boy Scouts, not him, to decide whether the policy should be changed.

But he wants a constitutional amendment that would allow states to ban same-sex marriage, but when CNN asked whether being gay is a choice, Walker said that’s “not even an issue for me to be involved in” – so go figure. If being gay is a choice, these people should be shunned and humiliated and excluded from marriage, and much else, because they made that choice – until they choose to be straight. If being gay is not a choice, then why exclude them from marriage and all the rest? They didn’t “do” anything. The question Walker was asked goes to the underlying premise that drives his efforts to exclude gays from much of American life. Are you trying to exclude them for being who they cannot help being? That doesn’t seem fair. We stopped excluding black folks from much of American life, because, after all, they didn’t exactly choose to be black. They are who they are, so we decided they had the same rights as the rest of us. Isn’t this the same sort of thing? Or did they choose to be evil and thus forfeit their rights? Which is it?

Walker wouldn’t say. He’s hiding his answer, for political reasons – two thirds of the country is fine with gay marriage but he really needs that evangelical vote – or he has no answer, because he never really thought this through. Either way he looks bad. He won’t talk or he doesn’t know. And he wants to be president? That’ll be a tough sell. What’s the campaign slogan? “Don’t bother me”?

Of course Donald Trump won’t shut up:

Presidential candidate Donald Trump refused to apologize on Sunday for his remarks about the war record of U.S. Senator John McCain despite a growing fire storm among fellow Republicans, and said he had no plans to drop out of the race.

Asked on ABC’s “This Week” if he owed McCain an apology for saying the former prisoner in North Vietnam was only considered a war hero because he was captured, Trump said, “No, not at all.” He again blasted McCain’s support for fellow veterans.

“John McCain has failed,” Trump said, citing delays in healthcare for veterans. “I believe that I will do far more for veterans than John McCain has done for many, many years, with all talk no action … Nothing gets done.”

McCain, a Navy fighter pilot, was imprisoned and tortured in a Hanoi prison for five years during the Vietnam War after being shot down.

Trump drew fire on Saturday for telling an audience in Iowa that McCain was “not a war hero,” and got that distinction only because he was captured…

All he had to say is McCain is a hero for surviving and for how he held up in that Hanoi prison for five years – McCain was fighting for us, after all – but say that sometimes heroes end up being jerks, after they were heroes. Don’t deny the heroism. Thank him for his service, and then talk about what happened after that. How hard could that be? That would have avoided this:

Republican commentators said the latest remarks could mark the beginning of the end of his presidential bid.

Trump rejected calls by fellow Republicans that he drop out of the presidential race and said they were simply upset about his lead in recent polls in North Carolina, Nevada and other states.

On Saturday, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said Trump’s comments were “shameful”.

“And so is the fact that it took so long for his fellow Republican candidates to start standing up to him,” Clinton was quoted as saying in Politico.

Forget her:

Two fellow Republican presidential candidates, Texas Governor Rick Perry and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, speaking on different Sunday talk shows, said Trump’s remarks made him unfit to serve as commander in chief.

“This is not just an insult to John McCain, who clearly is a war hero and a great man,” Rubio told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “It’s not just absurd. It’s offensive. It’s ridiculous. And I do think it is a disqualifier as commander in chief.”

Perry told NBC’s “Meet the Press” the Republican Party needed to reach out to diverse populations, not drive them away, citing Trump’s recent, widely criticized comments about Mexican immigrants.

Trump predicted he would win the Hispanic vote if he won the Republican presidential nomination.

Campaign manager Corey Lewandowski did not indicate the candidate would be changing tack, or holding back.

He is who he is. Why listen to McCain or Romney or the rest of the Republicans? McCain and Romney lost presidential elections – and at this point, Trump leads in all the polls on the Republican side of things. Sure, he’s a buffoon who says increasingly more outrageous things. Sure, the base of the party is increasingly more outraged – the Supreme Court, which they had counted on as their own, ruled once again that Obamacare was just fine, legally, and that no state could ban gay marriage, as gays had a legal right to marry, just like everyone else. Then the Confederate flag came down in South Carolina, and it’s coming down everywhere. They lost their proud symbol of sticking it to big government – the one in Washington. Or that was about a proud heritage? And abortion is still legal. And every time they call to complain about their cable service being out again, the disembodied voice says “Press 1 for English” – and that’s really irritating. The country is full of Mexicans. Most of them must be here illegally. They’re everywhere – in the schools, in the emergency rooms, in the streets. They’re taking over. Donald Trump says they’re rapists and murderers, or at least drug dealers. He understands the outrage about those folks and about everything else – and that explains why he’s doing so well.

Ah well. Cooler heads in the Republican Party will work to marginalize Trump in subtle ways, or wait for the outrage to burn itself out. They don’t want to lose a third presidential election because all they offer the nation is a loud temper tantrum. The smart money is on Jeb Bush. He understands the outrage that the base feels. He gets it. But he’s careful not to be a buffoon about any of it. America doesn’t elect buffoons – and the cooler heads in the Republican Party lucked out with Trump’s John McCain comments. Maybe they can force him out now.

William Frey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a professor at the University of Michigan, thinks that might be dangerous:

The billionaire may play the buffoon, but he is an important one – one whom Americans appear to adore. A USA Today-Suffolk University poll released Tuesday shows him leading all Republican presidential hopefuls. And while establishment candidates in both parties might want to ignore him, or express a milder version of his anti-immigration opinions, an enormous number of voters clearly like his views. Pretending they don’t allows Trump and other immigration firebrands, such as Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz, to resuscitate a century-old nativism that could stick around beyond this election. Given that the United States is undergoing a demographic diversity explosion, our workforce – our very future – is tied to people Trump is rallying support against.

Trump’s message is a call to 1950s American greatness and a simmering, mad-as-hell populism that blames Chinese imports, freeloading Saudis and Mexican immigrants (and Mexico) for the nation’s ills. It appeals to a vein of the U.S. electorate that will remain a significant voting bloc for several election cycles to come: older whites. Trump calls his supporters the “silent majority,” the same name Richard Nixon used to marshal support from a white, middle-class, middle-aged population that felt underappreciated and feared the dramatic social change wrought by activist, antiwar youths and the civil rights movement.

Don’t ignore those folks:

Pew Research Center data from 2012 showed that more than half of white baby boomers and seniors believed that increasing numbers of newcomers from other countries represented a threat to traditional American values. They were less likely than minorities and younger whites to hold a positive opinion of the growing numbers of Hispanics and Asians in the United States. These views translate into negative attitudes toward government programs they see as not benefitting their own children and grandchildren. A 2013 Pew survey showed that, given the choice between a larger government that offered more services and a smaller government that offered fewer, less than a quarter of white baby boomers favored larger government, compared with 7 in 10 minorities of the Gen X and millennial generations.

Trump has targeted them:

It is fitting that Arizona was the site of Trump’s biggest splash so far. Last weekend, he held court there with an enthusiastic throng of mostly older supporters after an introduction by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a renowned immigration hard-liner. Arizona leads the nation in an emerging generation gap that reflects both culture and race. Because of its continued draw of mostly white seniors from other parts of the country and its sharp gain in youthful immigrants and U.S.-born minorities over the past 20 years, the state’s over-65 population is far whiter than its child population (82 percent vs. 41 percent white). It has, in many ways, become ground zero for the politics of fear, famous for tamping down ethnic studies in public schools and passing strict immigration measures, such as the law that requires police to ascertain immigration status when they have “reasonable suspicion” that a person is in the country illegally. (When the bill was proposed, it was favored by 65 percent of whites but only 21 percent of Hispanics; 62 percent of those ages 55 and over but only 45 percent of those under age 35.)

Trump is more dangerous because of this:

Democrats cannot make the politics of fear go away simply by courting the young-adult and minority voting blocs. While it is true that the supersize turnout and support of those groups helped elect President Obama twice, the white portion of the electorate, which votes strongly Republican, underperformed in support of John McCain in 2008, and white turnout was down in 2012. Rhetoric playing to the fears of older Americans could change that pattern and draw more white voters to the polls in 2016.

While racial minorities now account for 95 percent of U.S. population growth and represent 38 percent of the population, as reported by the Census Bureau last month, there is a sharp lag in diversity between the overall population and the portion that turns out on Election Day. A disproportionate number of Hispanics and Asians are either too young to vote, are not citizens or are not registered, qualities that will not change for several more election cycles. Even in 2012, with strong minority turnout, whites made up 74 percent of all voters. And within the white voting bloc, it is the older electorate – those most greatly fearing change – that will be gaining as baby boomers continue to age. By my calculation, the number of (mostly white) eligible voters over age 45 will be 26 percent larger in 2024 than those under age 45. This disparity will be further widened by the higher turnout of older white voters, who may not determine future elections but will continue to have a strong voice.

We’ve been warned, and a background item in the New York Times offers this:

In what passes for normal inside Donald J. Trump’s unorthodox campaign for president, he flew from Arkansas to Iowa on his Trump-emblazoned jet on Friday, arrived the next morning at a candidate forum without any prepared remarks and, wearing a bright red tie that evoked his days on “The Apprentice,” told the world exactly what he thought about Senator John McCain’s reputation as a war hero.

It was an improvised fit of pique, roundly and vigorously denounced by his rivals all weekend, that exposed the biggest vulnerability of Mr. Trump’s campaign for president: It is built entirely around the instincts and grievances of its unpredictable candidate – and does not rely on a conventional political operation that protects presidential hopefuls from themselves.

There you have it. Martin O’Malley apologized and clarified. Scott Walker would say nothing. Donald Trump makes it up as he goes along:

The remarks about Mr. McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, ended any qualms party officials had about criticizing Mr. Trump for fear of alienating his supporters and might normally have led to days of backpedaling and extended explanations. Even as Mr. Trump insisted that no one was troubled by his comments, his small group of aides emailed one another about how to respond to the growing criticism. But the word “sorry” is not in Mr. Trump’s lexicon, and apologizing was not an option that was discussed, people privy to the internal debate said.

In a sign of the seat-of-the-pants nature of his campaign, it sent out a series of dissonant messages, some trying to tamp down the controversy (by showing support from veterans) and others going on the attack (especially of the media).

This is not a typical campaign:

Never mind that his top rivals for the Republican nomination treat campaigning like a full-time job. For Mr. Trump, the task of seeking the White House occupies half his time, he estimated in an interview. (“It’s probably 50-50,” he said.)

The rest of the Republican field’s top tier has cast a wide net to find experienced political aides. But Mr. Trump has plucked much of his team from inside his own corporate empire. (The résumé of his Iowa co-chairwoman: She was a contestant on “The Apprentice.”)

While his competitors may be busy working through thick stacks of books on world affairs to prove their qualifications, Mr. Trump says he has little use for such. (“One of the problems with foreign policy,” he explained, “is that it changes on a daily basis.” As a busy man, he added, he prefers newspapers.)

There is no real policy shop churning out position papers, or for that matter a well-staffed central headquarters plotting his long-term message, or speechwriters drafting – or modulating – his words. And there is a circular, interoffice quality to what the campaign does with its money.

That may work a bit longer:

Is the man known for the catchphrase “You’re fired!” willing to soften his caustic language? Will he slog through the grueling rituals of a long campaign? And, above all, will his message keep resonating – or will his own outlandishness undermine his candidacy, turning it into his latest exercise in brand-building?

So far, tellingly, he is continuing to criticize Mr. McCain, and has shown little interest in building a conventional campaign…

The reality is that Mr. Trump is pulling off something that, for now, requires little planning, spending or organization: He is giving voice to a profound rage in the Republican electorate – over economic displacement, illegal immigration and America’s diminished place in the world.

“I have a pulse to the ground,” he added. “I think I know what’s wrong with the country, and I think I’ve been able to portray that in a way that people agree with.”

Or else he’s got it all wrong. He speaks for only angry white baby boomers, and this is their last hurrah. But he does speak. He doesn’t apologize. He doesn’t just shut up. He says whatever comes to mind. That’s his appeal, until everyone realizes the quality of that mind. One should be careful about what one says. People will figure out what you really think.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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4 Responses to What They Should Have Said

  1. Dick Bernard says:

    Back in the spring of 1998 I was at a big convention of public school teachers in Minnesota, and all nine then prospective candidates for Governor of Minnesota were invited to give a two minute talk to the several hundred delegates. All did the usual thing, and got a polite response, except one, James Janos, aka “Jesse Ventura”, who wowed the crowd. Somebody hollered “Go, Jesse”.
    The rest is history, of course.
    Nobody, including Jesse, thought he would win in November, but win he did. Republicans who didn’t like the Republican candidate voted for Jesse; Democrats who didn’t like the Democrat candidate voted for Jesse. His winning margin was, succinctly, from the “he won’t win anyway, so what the hell…?” I’m constantly amazed at who has told me, later, that they voted for Jesse, for that reason….
    He really didn’t turn out to be too bad a Governor in many ways, except he never had much interest anyway, and then he lost interest, and his focus was on what he wanted, not representing the best interests of the whole state. As Garrison Keillor’s novel “Me”, about Jesse, helped make clear, Jesse was in it for Jesse. And he never really changed.
    I think of Jesse Ventura a lot these days, when “the Donald” struts around claiming he can run the country like a corporate executive, saying “you’re fired” to whomever he wishes, and getting away with it.
    Most everybody breathed a sigh of relief when Jesse’s term was over, and he exited, not interested in running for reelection.
    But the “what the hell?” crowd had only themselves to blame, and they weren’t the folks who’d never voted for anybody, ever…as a lot of Jesse’s margin of victory were that year…those sloppy Democrats and Republicans gave us all the “gift” of Jesse Ventura.
    We run the same risk with “the Donald” in 2016.

    • Rick says:

      Spot on, Dick!

      Too many people who are so sure their vote doesn’t count, casting comical “protest votes” against the lack of any good candidates out there, who then find they accidentally elected someone nobody really wanted in the first place, but who nobody thought had a chance.

      Anyone who thinks that could never happen needs to be reminded of the case of Jesse Ventura!


  2. Norman Nichols says:

    Excellent reminder Dick: Jesse Ventura. I sometimes have a fleeting thought that at this age, 84, I’ll vote for Donald Trump and just sit back, rock, and watch what happens next. Could that be the thoughts of those who don’t ordinarily vote at all…having the chance for a little cage-rattling mischief and really being a part, and seeing results, of Democracy.
    Norm Nichols

  3. Rick says:

    I have to admit, it’s not only Republicans who wallow in the politics of fear that the “wrong people” will soon be running the country. I, too, am fearful, but my very real fear is that the Republicans will take over.

    And especially if their winning candidate turns out to be all three of the Stooges, all wrapped up into one person — with the weird hair of Larry, the worldly smarts of Curly, and the temperament of Moe, right down to seemingly always wanting to stick his fingers in someone’s eyes. Maybe this analogy explains his popularity with so many of my fellow senior males, but it also helps explain the totally unserious, almost comical nature of his shoot-from-the-hip campaign.

    And have you noticed that his campaign is almost completely negative? No real positive vision of what America can be, it’s all anti-this and anti-that, just like his “Apprentice” TV show, where all the interest seemed to focus on his telling someone off, and then “firing” them. Makes for compelling television, but it’s not the management style we want to see in our chief executive.

    As much as I’m not a fan of John McCain, nor of the war he fought in, I think only a doofus would deny he was a “war hero”. He willingly endured a whole lot of pain that he could have avoided as the son of a famous admiral, and he did it in honor of his country, which — whether you agree with the war or not — is what we would hope, and more than we could expect, of one of our captured servicemen.

    But the question isn’t whether that makes him a hero — it does! — the question is whether it qualifies him as a “foreign policy expert”, as he sometimes seems to imply — it doesn’t! And if Trump were to rely on his positive brain (if he has one) instead of his media-friendly negative one, he might be able to make that distinction.

    McCain is an odd duck when it comes to politics; while he mostly toes the conservative line, he occasionally pulls back from it, such as his disagreeing with most of his fellow Republicans on torture — and even immigration, for a while — and, of course, it’s the fact that he sometimes breaks away that makes the traditionalists not trust him, and that he doesn’t always break from the traditionalists that makes the Tea Party types, such as Trump, distrust him.

    But as for Trump’s actual chances of becoming the Republican nominee, I guess many of us are counting on it being just too early in the campaign for these “frontrunner” polls to actually mean anything. I, for one, am hoping that at some point in the future, when more people weigh in, his famous 61% negatives will overwhelm the opinions of all those people who are, at this early stage, putting him in the lead.

    But what if I’m wrong about this being too early for the poll numbers to mean anything?

    Okay, just try to picture President Moe, presenting his annual address to the U.N. General Assembly.


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