There is a lesson that should be learned by American politics from what happened during the Arab Spring. It will be remembered that the people who went out into the Square to bring down the Mubarak government were what we would call liberals or modernizers. They were students and techies and women. They were backed by the Army, which got them the first and only fair election in Egyptian history. But look what happened then. They could not come together around a single candidate to represent their interests, neither one of the young people, like the IBM executive who got the international media spotlight for a few days, nor Barudi, the distinguished international civil servant who had lived outside the country for many years, nor some indigenous political figure. The result was that the Arab Brotherhood, not expecting to gain power, won the election and its head, much praised by the international community as a potential enlightened figure, and given credit for having put down some unrest among the Bedouin living in the Sinai, nonetheless proved too sympathetic to Islamist forces and so was dispatched by the army who got their own leader elected president without much resistance by the international community, which had given up much hope that the Arab Spring was a democratic reform movement. And now to America.
The Republican Party was faced with much the same problem in 2016. They had a plentitude of candidates every one of whom had reason to remain in the race even if without much chance of garnering the nomination. With relative light funding and merely the willingness to show up for debates, they held out the hope for themselves that they could get either the Vice Presidential nomination or maybe a cabinet post. Gov. of Texas got the Department of Energy even though one of his campaign promises was to abolish it and Ben Carson got the Department of Health and Human Services. All those people in the race meant that Trump could exploit his own charms or whatever they are to their fullest: bluster on, insult his competitors, appeal to the out and out racists in the population. He got running room because he was already a celebrity. But didn’t the Republican Party realize that they didn’t want this guy to be President? They never got together to suggest that some candidates leave the race so that there could be a competition between the more serious of the candidates-- though the one considered the most serious, Jeb Bush, despite a large stockpile of money and name recognition, ran out of steam because he was just not a very magnetic candidate, however mainstream were most of his positions. So the Republican Senate lined up behind Donald Trump once he became President because the people had elected him and because he would give them what they wanted in the way of tax policy, never mind that they disagreed with him on foreign policy. I don't think they disagreed with him on racial policy, however much they may say they are not racists. Republican national politics have been racist since Nixon embraced affirmative action as a way to divide African Americans from Liberals. Arnold Birenbaum’s recent book “A Nation Apart” shows how consistently anti-black have been Republican politics ever since the Dixiecrats became Republicans in 1972.
Will the Democratic National Committee be willing in 2020 to knock heads together to help winnow down the field so that only the serious people are in the final rounds? They can do so by how the tier the various debates, what with so many candidates in the running. If they have even as many as ten on the platform at any one time, it will result in the candidate with the best one-liners to shine out, which is also what happened with Trump during the Republican Primary Debates in 2016. Or they could, after the first few primaries, arrange for three or four at a time, and mix and match those so that there is a balance between Progressive and Mainstream Democrats or where one of the four is a more outspoken sort who will either be able or not to mix it up with his more sober antagonists. In that case, the Democratic Committee would be acting like fight promoters out to get the most entertaining match by considering whether the two fighters have contrasting styles or not. Do you want two boxers or two brawlers or do you want one of each? Not an easy decision to make.
On the other hand, the candidates may have already defined the way they are going to go about presenting themselves all by themselves. The Democratic candidates are in the midst of their initial shake down cruises, crafting their messages and their styles. With the exception of Bernie, who has clung to his idea of Medicare for All, the other Democrats have corrected themselves so that the term means nothing more than the expansion of health care coverage to as many people as possible and includes the idea that most people will retain their private, employee based insurance, while those without insurance at the moment can sign up for buy ibns into Medicare or receive larger subsidies so that they can afford private insurance, all this leading to a serious diminution in the thirty million people who as yeet are not covered by insurance. That, by the way, is why I think Bernie will fade. His socialism will finally catch up with him. The best or most rational is enemy of the good or what is much better than what we now have. Even Elizabeth Warren has figured out the need for loopholes in medical insurance plans and has also found a way to call herself a capitalist (by saying capitalism needs regulation), a test which John Hickenlooper failed when he would not admit he was a capitalist, a mistake he won’t recover from. Whether you are for or against capitalism is, of course, a silly litmus test for candidates, something that would only occur to journalists who know nothing about political theory. Being against or for capitalism is like being for or against dinosaurs. They happened; it happened. We are still making adjustments to the system of economic life that emerged in the West some four centuries ago.
The Democratic candidates are also honing their campaign spiels. They look like they are in training to be motivational speakers. They are glib, fill their time with a lot of fast paced and non garbled messages and avoid dead time or hems and haws. Slickness is what they convey even if that means being a bit slippery, as when Kirsten Gillibrand says to auto workers that she will bring back manufacturing jobs by supporting strong unions (yes!) and arranging for American manufacture, this last highly questionable since auto assembly depends on a vast international supply chain and is ever more automated. It is like claiming to bring back coal mining jobs, a silly hope, since we don’t need coal and coal mines are also ever more automated. Rather, retrain the new generation of workers and pension off the old timers. Capital moves on, which means it dispenses with old industries while creating new ones.
What is important is that Democrats come together to stand behind a standard bearer who can stand up to Trump and his anger and vitriol. It isn’t that Democrats should run against him. That he is a despicable human being is hardly open to question, even among his supporters. The question is whether the Democrats can offer someone who is better, who is of sound character as well as of sound policy. Remember that the economy is doing pretty well and so those who vote for trump are doing so not because they are taking out their economic woes by picking an angry candidate but because they like his obnoxious personality. So economic issues are, for the Democrats, just a cover for demonstrating a sincere concern for the welfare of the American people. Coming across as a nice and pragmatic personality is Amy Klobuchar's strong suit, and being approachable is also how Cory Booker is making his way. We will see whether Joe Biden’s slower delivery serves him better than do the speaking styles of the fast talkers. The candidates know it is all about personality, and so it is no use hoping to go back to the smoke filled rooms where candidates, from Lincoln to Warren G. Harding, were chosen for how they would unite the party rather than because of their stage manner.
The spotlight shifts to the campaign rather than to Congress because of the unexpected findings in the Mueller Report. I had expected the Mueller Report to be a blockbuster that connected up all the breadcrumbs and led to impeachment hearings. There were those meetings with the Russians, the change in the Republican Party platform, Trump's fawning on Putin, and the Russian influenced Deutsche Bank serving as a source of funds for Trump when no respectable banker would lend him money. But Mueller said it did not add up to conspiracy, and I will have to take his word for it because politically impeachment is now impossible because moving in that direction would have required bipartisan support which is now impossible. And I never thought the obstruction charges stood up. It is not illegal for a president to ask his acting Attorney General whether he can substitute one SDNY prosecutor for another and then not try to do so when he is told that he can't do that. Ranting in public against the special prosecutor is also not obstruction of justice. I agree with Alan Dershowitz that what a President does legally cannot constitute obstruction of justice. I also agree with all of those Hillary backers who say that if Comey decided not to indict her, he was not entitled to comment on her case, he having called her handling of her e-mails "reckless". If the President is not to be indicted, then the special prosecutor should stand otherwise mute, however lingering the suspicions.
I, for one, am relieved that there will be no impeachment procedures. It would have split and preoccupied the country for a long time and is a remedy to be used only when the Constitution is in danger, as was the case with Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon, but not with Bill Clinton. It was a remedy the Founding Fathers put in place so that chief executives like Charles I could be removed from office without chopping off their heads. It is not that the Founding Fathers did not consider the possibility that the President might be a traitor to his country. That is why they insisted that only a native born citizen could hold that office, lest some Englishman loyal to his king should come to this country and rise to the Presidency. But I am glad that Trump did not turn out to be a traitor. He would have been the first President to be one and that would have been a stain on the Republic. Remember that Trump and his people had been willing to back birtherism, which said that Obama was somehow disloyal to the country. So we have been spared a lot of grief and the Democratic candidates for the nomination will have to hone their messages so that they are more charming, more winsome, than Trump. That shouldn't be too tough, should it?