Friday, January 13, 2017

Let It Go

“Republican America is now so vast that a traveler could drive 3,600 miles across the continent, from Key West, Fla., to the Canadian border crossing at Porthill, Idaho, without ever leaving a state under total GOP control.”
—Lead paragraph of a front-page Wall Street Journal article by Reid J. Epstein and Janet Hook, November 19
I had an epiphany this morning. Bill Clinton cost his wife the election.

For the record, I do not actually believe that, but it does seem as plausible an explanation for Hillary Clinton’s shocking loss as any excuse being bandied about non-stop in the media these days. Personally, I was ready to move on from the election weeks ago—months ago, if truth be told—but the chattering classes do not want to let me.

Further for the record, I owe my epiphany to Mara Liasson. She is a journalist I have been listening to for ages, and she amazes me because she manages to divide her time between National Public Radio and Fox News Channel. Juan Williams tried doing the same thing for a while, but at the first opportunity the angry purists in the NPR audience demanded and got his resignation, so now only Fox has him. Meanwhile, Liasson manages to balance both audiences where, I am guessing, there is precious little overlap. Anyway, she was on a panel yesterday discussing the Justice Department’s inspector general’s decision to look into FBI Director James Comey’s handling of the probe into Hillary Clinton’s email practices as Secretary of State. Liasson made the obvious observation that few others in the media think is worth mentioning. Comey would not have been making statements, writing letters or giving testimony about any of that if not for Bill Clinton and Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Normally all of that would have been Lynch’s job, but she stepped back and left it all to Comey after the (understandable) fuss when, days before the FBI report was due, Lynch had a friendly chat with the former president aboard her jet.

I have nothing but sympathy for Comey. He had a sterling reputation going into the election period, but he wound up in a situation where he was guaranteed to have political activists on all sides livid at him. He clearly did not want to be discussing the investigation at all, but his boss Attorney General Lynch left him no alternative. When new emails on Anthony Wiener’s laptop surfaced, he had the impossible dilemma of choosing to say nothing publicly and risk accusations of a cover-up later or opting to do what he did and bring down Democrats’ ire on himself. Either way, there was nothing wrong with what he did in terms of the voters’ interest. All he did, after all, was give the public more information than they already had. (That is also true, by the way, of Wikileaks and the Russians, who merely confirmed what was already obvious: the Democratic establishment made sure Bernie Sanders would not have a prayer of getting nominated.) The damage was actually done by that meeting on the airport tarmac and, since Bill Clinton initiated it, he deserves more blame than Lynch. Of course, that meeting would not have been a problem at all if not for—and this is where all “explanations” of the electoral loss ultimately lead—Hillary Clinton. If she had not been so reckless with her State Department emails, there would have been no investigation. If her campaign had had even a single clue about cybersecurity, the Russians would not have had a field day with the campaign emails.

It is normal for political parties, like individuals, to go through an angry period of woulda/coulda/shoulda after a devastating setback, but its benefit is more emotional than practical. It does absolutely nothing—in fact it hinders—moving forward and solving the problems that caused the setback in the first place. The more Democrats harp on the unfairness of the election, the more it makes them look like hypocrites. After years of rubbishing Republican talk of electoral fraud and antagonism toward Russia, are swing voters really supposed to accept that Dems are now speaking out of principle rather than political expediency?

When Democrats finally calm down, they would do well to work on recruiting younger candidates and in more parts of the country. If they are calculating instead that it is only a matter of time before shifting demographics put them in charge, they may find themselves disappointed—especially if the economy becomes more robust and inclusive during the Trump presidency.

The last thing they should want to do the next time around is to repeat Hillary Clinton’s performance. In hindsight, her decisions are absolutely baffling. The way she kept going back to states she could not lose and avoiding states that could be potentially close made no sense. It was as though she did not understand how the American electoral system worked, pumping up her popular vote while taking reckless chances with the Electoral College.

And that brings us to another prominent excuse being bruited that is of absolutely no use to future Democratic prospects—attempted de-legitimization, directly or by implication, of the Electoral College. Is it strange that an election’s loser could have nearly 3 million more votes than the winner? Yes. Is it a scandal?

A lot of Irish commentators I listen to seem to think so. Well, let me explain it to them in terms they can understand. How many direct votes did Ireland’s current head of government, Enda Kenny, get in last February’s election? He got 13,318 out of 2,132,895 votes cast in the country. How could his total possibly be so small? Because only people actually residing in his district, or constituency, were able to vote for him directly. You see, Ireland also has an “electoral college.” It is called Dáil Éireann. (In most countries it is called Parliament.) So how many indirect votes (i.e. votes for his political party, Fine Gael) did Kenny get? That would be 544,230, or 25.52 percent of the total. Again, how is the total so small? Because the other 74.48 percent was divided among 19 other political parties and alliances as well as some 136 independent candidates.

Yes, Kenny’s party—unlike Donald Trump—did at least get a plurality. That does not, however, change the fact that three-quarters of the Irish electorate voted for something other than a government led by Enda Kenny. And, at least as far as I have heard anyway, no one has questioned the legitimacy of the current Irish government or of the Irish constitution.

Definitely time to move on from the U.S. election, is it not?

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