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We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Policy Papers

Like many folks, I’m a bit confused by the rise and persistent success of Donald J. Trump as Presidential candidate. People, supposedly smarter than I in these matters, say that without specific policy positions Trump will soon take a nose dive in the polls.

When I heard this theory on the car radio today, I had an epiphany. How many voters read policy papers? How many voters know the nitty gritty details of their favorite candidate’s positions? I’m not saying there aren’t some well informed voters out there but as I discussed in a recent essay, most American voters can barely find their way to the polling place.

Long before Barack Obama’s cult of personality, presidential candidates appealed to voters for purely emotional, cathartic reasons. We had Reagan’s grandfatherly, sunny optimism. We had Kennedy’s youth and (apparent) vitality. Eisenhower was a war hero. Most of these folks had experience in politics. That’s just the nature of the game. But their voting record as a Senator? Puhleeze. The only change we are seeing in 2015 is this:

THE TRUTH

For once, the populace is saying “we don’t need no stinkin’ policy papers”. Those who like Trump like him because he seems to shoot from the hip. He ignores the “rules of politics”. He doesn’t pretend that you are going to study his ideas. He simply says, “don’t worry, I’ll handle it, and it will be terrific!” Seriously folks, what more does the average American need to know? Want to know how to handle China? Don’t worry about the specifics. We are gonna send Carl Icahn over there to get the job done. DC doesn’t know crap about negotiation. Icahn is a “killer”.

Here we have a candidate who has busted the myth of the functional president. Trump’s an entertainer and he is letting us all in on the truth that the President’s primary job is to be an entertainer … an entertainer who gets the right folks around him to get the job done. Trump is down on Obama (to put it mildly) but what is one of his chief complaints? He complains that Caroline Kennedy is our Ambassador to Japan. He calls it a joke. And of course, it is kind of a joke, isn’t it?

My theory is that Trump is laying bare what fringe elements have been saying for some time, namely that the presidency is largely ceremonial, largely a puppet show with special interests’ hands shoved up the ass of the puppet. And again, how appealing is it to hear a candidate say “I can’t be bought. In fact, I DO the buying.” Trump is defying pundit’s expectations because he’s showing the emperor to be naked in a way no candidate has done. He is changing the rules of the game and none of his opponents nor the media in general know what to do with him.

A Side Note about Bernie Sanders

Because Trump is still seen by many as a side show and spectacle, he is being used to discredit the campaign of Bernie Sanders. Just about no one is making the comparison between the two as a compliment to Bernie. The fact is Bernie and Donald share one key trait. They are telling their audiences a truth that their opponents cannot do convincingly, Hillary Clinton is a phony populist. Martin O’Malley is an old school pol. It’s hard to tell if Jim Webb is even really a liberal. And Lincoln Chafee is … Lincoln Chafee. When it comes to the message of income inequality and that we are all getting the short end of the stick, Bernie is the real deal. And when it comes to exposing the charade that is our presidency and government, Donald is the real deal too.

What do you think? The bar is open.

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The Folly of Expanding the Franchise 

Before our Constitution was amended, voting rights were basically left to the states and usually defaulted to property owners. Since then, amendments and federal legislation has expanded the right to vote to blacks, women and people between the ages of 18 and 21 with property ownership not a requirement.

After watching a focus group of Donald Trump supporters I’m beginning to think the notion of voting being an exclusive privilege rather than a right is the proper way to go. Bloomberg’s John Heilemann interviewed a focus group of Trump supporters. A few things became clear:

  1. Most had no idea of Trump’s prior, less conservative views on such things as healthcare and abortion rights.
  2. One said Trump was like one of us except for the rich part. That’s like saying a porcupine is like a kitty cat except for the needles.
  3. They liked that he was blunt and “honest” which gave him a pass for characterizing illegal immigrants as killers and rapists (and he “assumes” some good folks too).

In short, the group sounded like a bunch of thirteen year olds. That was their level of sophistication in choosing the next leader of the free world. Mind you, I don’t argue with some of their assessment. I like Trump’s in your face style. I like that he holds over all the other candidates their history of begging HIM for money and endorsement. But does that really qualify him for the biggest job in America?

Now before conservatives get their dander up, I admit this next-to-baseless infatuation is not unprecedented. In 2008, many Americans, including me, became enthralled with a man with near zero meaningful government experience. He had no executive experience. He was articulate, handsome, youthful and most of all black. Besides that, basically a blank slate. And millions, including me, fell in love and put him in the White House. How much CRITICAL thinking went into the decision? And I don’t mean stupid critiques like he was a closet Muslim. I mean serious consideration of his proposed solutions to our problems.

During this go-round I’m on slightly firmer ground but only slightly. I have rejected Hillary Clinton, a political operative and proven liar. But “my guy” has his own major weakness. While Bernie Sanders has a long legislative record and a consistent outlook, as a candidate he’s proven great at defining the problem but not as great at defining the solution. Forget foreign policy. It’s not his thing. I love his straight talk and I share his view of what ails us but how does that make me much different from the members of the Trump focus group?

Now I certainly don’t want to give up my right to vote. But do I work hard enough to make the right decision? Do you? Hasn’t our presidential selection process devolved into American Idol? I don’t know what the proper “test” is for voter eligibility but I have to admit that under the current come one-come all system, our country is probably not in the best of hands.

What do you think? The bar is open.

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Is America Serious Enough for Bernie Sanders?

As I consume my daily dose of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”, cohost Mika Brzezinski is, to quote Ed Grimley, “driving me mental”. She seems to want radical change. Get the money out of politics. Raise the minimum wage. Solve income inequality. Improve infrastructure. She seems to see only two alternatives: either Senator Elizabeth Warren enters the presidential race (which she won’t) or Hillary Clinton ups her game. And every morning I sit in front of the TV screaming, “BERNIE SANDERS!”. You see, the only major difference between Sanders and Warren is that he is actually running for president.

So why would Mika, a supposedly intelligent woman and author of two books about finding and growing your power, have such blinders on? I say because she is more caught up in personality than policy. Clinton is, to quote her old boss, “the one we have been waiting for”, the first real chance to put a woman in the White House. Warren would also fit that bill and she comes across as a far more genuine champion of the little guy than Hillary. Bernie, on the other hand is a slightly disheveled old Jew with a hybrid New England/New Yawk accent. An accent one part Kennedy, one part Jackie Mason. Get past the cover of the book and you find a firebrand advocate for the average American. Mika is not seeing it.

As goes Mika, sadly so goes the nation. Sanders, a self proclaimed democratic socialist, has warned us that this election is not a Mets v Cubs game. It’s not a soap opera. But that is what dumbed down America wants. They want sexy. They want sound bites. They want demographic boundaries torn asunder (despite the mixed results of boundary breaker Barack Obama).

Bernie Sanders is clearly the adult in the room calling for radical change and serious discussion. Most of America wants a celebrity. The biggest barrier to Sanders’ success is he wants to seriously lead an unserious nation, a nation so unserious they overwhelmingly endorse a candidate they readily admit is not trustworthy.

I will back Bernie until the end. Then I will bow my head in shame as my fellow liberals sign up for eight years of soap opera.

What do you think? The bar is open.