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“Party Affiliation Ought To Account For Something”: Instead Of Banning Closed Primaries, Just Make It Easier To Change Parties

One of the more difficult demands the Bernie Sanders campaign is regularly making is a future ban on closed Democratic primaries in which independent (and Republican) voters are excluded from participating. It’s unclear how such a ban would work (since state governments, not the national party, usually make these determinations), and the idea is also offensive to many Democrats who think party affiliation ought to account for something in party-nomination contests.

Fortunately, there is a reform available that makes participation in Democratic primaries by independents much easier without abandoning party affiliation requirements: eliminating re-registration deadlines so that independents can become Democrats at the primary or caucus site just before they vote. That’s already the case in some states (notably Iowa). This would deal with the handful of extreme cases (most famously New York, with its re-registration deadline that is 193 days before the primary) where deadlines have often passed by the time voters even form the intention to vote.

Easy re-registration, moreover, could help with problems faced by independents, even in open-primary states. In California, for example, independents will be allowed to vote in the June 7 Democratic primary. But as the Los Angeles Times revealed in April after a study of the situation, hundreds of thousands of Californians who consider themselves independents accidentally registered as members of the American Independent Party, the ancient right-wing vehicle invented by George Wallace for his 1968 presidential run. It’s managed to maintain ballot status largely because of such mistakes.

An update by the Times indicates that the AIP suffered a net loss of about 21,000 voters in the two weeks after its initial report — which got a lot of publicity in California — was published.  That leaves 473,000 registered AIP members, with an estimated two-thirds or so having no intention of belonging to any party, much less the wacky Wallace party. Sure, some more AIP members have re-registered since early May, but the deadline for doing so is Monday. That is frustrating for a Bernie Sanders campaign that is desperately relying on independents to play a big role in the kind of overwhelming upset win they need to come within shouting distance of Hillary Clinton in pledged delegates. Instead, Lord knows how many tens of thousands of self-identified Democratic-leaning independents will get their mail ballots or show up at the polls to discover their choices include not Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton but a group of anonymous right-wing schmoes.

Hillary Clinton would be smart to propose same-day re-registration as a counter to the Sanders call for universal open primaries. It’s a way to keep the door open to independents — including those who make mistakes in their original registration — without diminishing the value of calling oneself a Democrat. Most of these indies will probably stick around, just as Bernie Sanders has pledged to do.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 20, 2016

May 24, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Closed Primaries, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Hillary And ‘The Discipline Of Gratitude'”: A Moment No Briefing Book Could Have Prepared Her To Answer

At a CNN town hall, in Derry, New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton got the opportunity she was looking for— the chance to tell the country who she is. It was a moment that no briefing book loaded with talking points could have prepared her to answer.

Without fanfare, Clinton opened a window of intimacy that has, until now, proven elusive. Without speaking the words explicitly, she said, “Here’s why you can trust me.”

She wasn’t responding to a question involving domestic or foreign policy, nor was it a query aimed at drawing contrasts with her competitors. Instead, the question posed by Rabbi Jonathan Spira-Savett was decidedly more personal and required a brand of introspection that has become all too rare in the public discourse.

“How do you cultivate the ego, the ego that we all know you must have, a person must have to be the leader of the free world, and also the humility to recognize that we know that you can’t be expected to be wise about all the things that the president has to be responsible for?”

She could’ve sputtered something about grace or offered feigned humility. She could’ve talked about the profound challenges before us a nation and trumpeted her experience in various policy areas. It is doubtful that Clinton was thinking about her polling numbers as she began to speak. Instead, in an unanticipated dose of candor, she talked openly about her personal faith and how those convictions guide her.

If only for a fleeting moment, Clinton appeared vulnerable—giving in to her own human frailty.

Spira-Savett, leader of the Conservative Beth Abraham in Nashua, started by quoting a Hassidic tale from the 18th century sage Rabbi Simcha Bunim about finding a balance between ego and humility.

“Every person has to have two pockets and in each pocket they have to carry a different note. And the note in one pocket says the universe was created for me. And in the other pocket the note says I am just dust and ashes,” the rabbi said, reciting the anecdote.

The answer was intriguing, if not revealing.

“It’s not anything I’ve ever talked about much publicly,” she said. “Everybody knows that I’ve lived a very public life for the last 25 years. So I’ve had to be in public dealing with some very difficult issues.”

Sometimes she “roars” and sometimes she “retreats,” Clinton answered, alluding to some of the public scandals she and her husband have endured. She could have easily said Monica Lewinski, Whitewater, Travel Gate, or Benghazi. There was no need to call them by name. More critically, however, Clinton focused her response on a professed adherence to a contemporary theology popularized by Dutch theologian Henri Nouwen: the discipline of gratitude.

“And it basically is: Practice the discipline of gratitude,” she continued.

“The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy,” Nouwen wrote.

The philosophy that follows dictates that giving freely of oneself—not necessarily regular, systematic, even strategic—is a conscious choice to be a good steward of God’s blessings. It is a reminder that believers are not free possessors but acting out of obligation to their faith. It is a recognition that all of life is a gift, according to Nouwen.

The question now is how has that driven Clinton’s previous policy positions, including controversial Senate votes and even her support for her husband’s White House agenda, and how will the doctrine inform how she chooses to govern.

It is not that Clinton, who was reared in the United Methodist tradition, had not previously written or spoken about her spirituality. Those closest to Clinton will tell you that she is “deeply religious.”

In It Takes a Village and Other Lessons Children Teach Us, for instance, she wrote, “Our spiritual life as a family was spirited and constant. We talked with God, walked with God, ate, studied and argued with God. Each night, we knelt by our beds to pray before we went to sleep.”

And it was not the first time she referenced Nouwen, a widely published Catholic priest, professor, and writer. Before his death in 1996, Nouwen authored 39 books and hundreds of articles. It was in 1994, two years before he died, that his most prominent work found its way into the then-First Lady’s hands. And it could not have come at a more crucial time—a year after Bill Clinton was sworn in as commander-in-chief and amid a period of mourning and swelling controversies.

“It was given to me by a friend in 1994 after I had experienced some tragic and painful losses—my father, my mother-in-law, and our dear friend Vince Foster all died,” she said of Nouwen’s book The Return of the Prodigal Son. “I was reading a lot of Scripture and theology and other books of inspiration at the time. This book struck a responsive chord, because the story is such a moving and constructive parable about what matters in life.”

That Clinton took refuge in prayer and meditation should be not surprising. If one were to point to one of the more seminal points in Clinton’s history, 1994 might take second only to 1998—the year Monica Lewinski entered the national discourse.

“By consciously reminding myself of my blessings,” she wrote for Oprah.com, “I could move from pessimism to optimism, from grief to hopefulness.”

If only for a fleeting moment on prime time television, Clinton confronted the same question she has faced from onset of her political life: Who am I?

Depending on what you believe about Clinton, her reference to Nouwen was either a premeditated ploy or a window into her soul. Her naysayers would readily tell you that Clinton is a calculated fraud. Her supporters, on the other hand, will tell you that she is a pragmatic, yet tireless fighter for the least of these. Both certainly cannot be true. And if Clinton is going to win, she’ll have to prove the former wrong and woo a good many skeptical independents (and left-wing Democrats) into the fold. Clinton understands that divide better than anyone—even better than those who work daily to exploit that weakness.

“I’ve had to deal and struggle with a lot of these issues about ambition and humility about service and self-gratification, all of the human questions that all of us deal with,” she said at the town hall. “But when you put yourself out into the public arena, I think it is incumbent upon you to be as self-conscious as possible.”

Despite the early and impassioned rise of Bernie Sanders and the fisticuffs going on in the Republican primary, it is difficult not to believe that Clinton will be our nation’s 45th president. Maybe that’s hasty to say since the race has barely begun to unfold, but—for better or worse—as a nation we appear to be resigned to the idea that Bill Clinton will soon be picking out curtains and china patterns.

Yet, in the midst of a hard-fought presidential primary, the near-bout-presumptive nominee and all-too-likely next occupant of the Oval Office now faces the most unlikely and formidable opponent of them all: herself.

Her challenge now is to keep that window of intimacy open and to introduce herself to the country—not the one standing under the Klieg lights waving at crowds of supporters or the one batting back a debate moderator’s questions, but the one who will answer the proverbial 3 a.m. call, whether it comes from Flint or Moscow, from Syria, Paris, or Baltimore.

It is admittedly a challenge not to see Clinton in political terms, though it’s a footing that she has fashioned for herself.  She has been nowhere and achieved nothing by accident. Happenstance has never been her calling card.

Clinton has spent much of her public life on a plane—jetting around the globe meeting with heads of state, brokering coalitions for both peace and war, hopscotching the country to galvanize primary voters in her first (and now second) bid for the presidency, campaigning on behalf of down-ticket Democrats far and wide, delivering high-dollar speeches, and raising money for her family foundation. Even when her name is not on the ballot, Clinton’s proverbial hat is always in the ring.

For all of her globetrotting—and maybe because of it—there is little left unknown about the Democratic front-runner. Once the nation’s top diplomat, the wife of a man once known as “the leader of the free world” and a former U.S. senator, her public record has been litigated with an unenviable (and often breathtaking) level of granularity. Political foes, journalists, congressional committees, government investigators, civil attorneys, and anyone else with an Internet connection hailing from sea to shining sea has collectively poured millions into “vetting” Clinton and her husband.

Clinton is the living embodiment of a Rorschach test—a perfect reflection of every negative and positive attribute cast upon her. The issue of her “likeability” appears to be hinged not on her experience or command of the issues, but on whether or not Americans find the former First Lady trustworthy—can you believe what she tells you about this or that? Perceptions about her authenticity have certainly dogged Clinton almost from the inception of her 25 years in public life.

But once one gets beyond the well-polished veneers, craftsman-like hewn talking points and the entire pretense that comes along with living out a life on the public stage, can we truly say what motivates her? Clinton tells us it is that discipline of gratitude.

“Be grateful for your limitations, know that you have to reach out to have more people be with you, to support you, to advise you,” Clinton said in her answer at the town hall. “Listen to your critics, answer the questions, but at the end, be grateful.”

Certainly, those limitations and the depth of her gratitude will be tested in the coming weeks and months of the campaign. Clinton may well win the White House, but how tightly the country embraces her may depend on how willing she is to keep the window open.

 

By: Goldie Taylor, The Daily Beast, February 7, 2016

February 8, 2016 Posted by | Faith, Hillary Clinton, New Hampshire Primaries | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Nowhere To Go”: There Is No Brilliant Strategy Waiting For Mitt Romney To Use

I’m sure that right about now Mitt Romney is drowning in unsolicited advice. That’s what happens when you’re behind—everybody from the consultants you weren’t wise enough to employ to the donors funding your campaign to the guy who delivers your mail fancies themselves a political genius, and will be happy to tell you that all your problems would be solved if only you’d follow their advice. But I wonder: Is there anything all these people are telling Romney and the people who work for him that might help?

Because I don’t know what it might be. Sure, we can all agree that the Romney campaign hasn’t exactly been deft, but their biggest problem isn’t one of strategy or message, it’s that their candidate is unskilled and unappealing. In a long article out today, the National Journal explains that people’s expectations of the economy have just been lowered, and the Romney campaign’s belief that eventually voters would come around to blaming Obama for the country’s troubles just hasn’t materialized: “Each passing day and each new poll brings further evidence that the Romney team has miscalculated. Obama has erased a once-formidable Romney lead on the question of who would handle the economy better as president; in some polls, the president has seized the advantage on that front. Economy-first independent voters are drifting Obama’s way. Voters increasingly say that the economy is on the right track.”

OK, but what was the alternative for the Romney campaign? You can argue that they should have come up with something “bold,” but then you’d have to answer, what exactly? A 9-9-9 plan? When was the last time a president got elected not because of who he was and the national conditions surrounding the election, but because of a particularly striking policy proposal? Never, that’s when.

I’m guessing that most of the people giving Romney that unsolicited advice are telling him to “take the gloves off.” Because it’s obvious, to them at least, that Barack Obama is a horrible president and a horrible person, and if you just tell the voters that, eventually they’ll realize the truth. In that vein, here’s an interesting article in the Boston Globe (h/t Andrew Sullivan) explaining how Romney came from behind to win his 2002 governor race by getting tough:

Shortly after the poll came out, Romney huddled with his aides during a barbecue at his Belmont home, and they decided to shift tactics. He would drop the gentlemanly role he had assumed, one that prompted some voters to see him as a smug, programmed front-runner.

The campaign would drop the feel-good, family-focused ads in favor of sharper, more combative ones criticizing O’Brien’s management of the state treasury. Romney would start delivering attack lines himself, rather than leaving the dirty work to surrogates.

“We knew we needed to use debates and other methods to get our message out in a crystal-clear way,” said Mike Murphy, who was one of Romney’s chief strategists. “We needed to turn the boat a little bit, so to speak. Mitt was totally on board and we hit our stride.”

Within weeks, the polls began to shift. Voters responded to Romney’s negative ads, the most memorable of which portrayed O’Brien as a hapless, sleeping basset hound instead of a watchdog on Beacon Hill. The ad — humorous, yet cutting — is still talked about by political observers in Massachusetts.

The problem is, Shannon O’Brien was the state Treasurer, not the incumbent president of the United States. Voters already know Obama pretty well, so you aren’t going to change what they think about him with a few pointed attacks. And for the last year, Romney has been doing little except attacking Obama, saying that he doesn’t understand or care about America, and that everything he’s done in office has been a disaster. It’s not like there’s some place of greater toughness Romney could go to—at least not one that’s likely to work.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, October 2, 2012

October 3, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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