Belmont Club

It Happened on the Way to the Legacy

An Unexpected Problem

One of the current media themes is that people are too stupid to realize how good they’ve got it. For example, Matthew Yglesias tweets that the people are worried about terrorism simply because they have quit worrying about the economy. “Dems’ big problem — improving economy is leading to terrorism paranoia not a more upbeat outlook.” This is his way of explaining a Gallup poll showing a dramatic uptick in public worry about terrorism. “Satisfaction with security from terrorism down 16 percentage points since 2015.  This year’s drop follows a 10-point drop from 2014 to 2015.”

The administration narrative — which is Hillary’s too — is that is all is well. Obamacare is fine, the  economy great, world peace at hand. If you’re worried, it’s because you’re irrational; a dumb hater.  By contrast, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are running on the theme that things are bad and the average Joe is being screwed over by the banks, the insiders and the Man.

One side is running on Hope and Reassurance. The other is running on Anger. So far, anger is holding its own and may be gaining the upper hand.

The denial of anger is baffling Hillary Clinton’s strategists.  Ann Althouse quotes a New York Times article titled “Clinton underestimated Sanders strengths” which notes that, unable to spot the anger, Hillary is focusing on improving her style and delivery vs Bernie. Clinton’s poll numbers are falling because “they did not push for more debates…. Some Democrats also believe Mrs. Clinton may have benefited from a more competitive primary season with big-name rivals, like Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., who might have brought out the fighter in her.”

In this view she needs a better hairdresser, a more talented speech coach, better lighting.  Althouse, citing one of the most popular comments on the NYT piece, argues Hillary is missing the point.  The comment goes, “it’s a sad commentary that Hilary Clinton’s campaign sees her mistake as a failure to ‘undercut’ Bernie Sanders…rather than a failure to realize just how desperately many people are seeking what Bernie has to offer.”

But Bernie’s not offering anything, not really, except a chance to throw a pie at the Clintons’ collective face.  Althouse writes:

What gets me is the cession of the party to the Clintons. How can a party be so inert, so uninspiring? Why did Obama leave it in such a condition that it should offer up only the elderly woman who lost to him 8 years ago, offer her up as if she’s so decidedly right that no one else should even compete? What deadness! Such deadness that a significantly more elderly man drops in and feels like the future. How could a party lapse into this predicament?

How? Maybe because liberalism is in a holding pattern. All it knows how to do is buy off competitors with taxpayer money and “send” anointees, like it’s done since the end of WW2. It used to work. The problem is that it doesn’t work anymore. In his book, Spoiled Rotten, Jay Cost argues that the Democratic Party “first formed by Andrew Jackson in 1824, that has always prided itself as the party of the poor, the working class, the little guy, is anything but that—rather, it’s a corrupt tool of special interest groups that feed off of the federal government … a modern-day national Tammany Hall.”

Hillary’s problem is she’s Boss Hillary, like Tweed was Boss Tweed.  Her qualifications are her damnation.  The historical Tammany Hall finally collapsed not from the efforts of its political opponents, but from the consequences of its own corruption.  It finally provoked “an international crisis of confidence in New York City’s finances, and, in particular, in its ability to repay its debts. European investors were heavily positioned in the city’s bonds and were already nervous about its management – only the reputations of the underwriters were preventing a run on the city’s securities. New York’s financial and business community knew that if the city’s credit was to collapse, it could potentially bring down every bank in the city with it.”

A similar process of decline may now be threatening the status quo. The trillion dollar debt, the foreign failure, the economic insecurity.  The themes that Donald Trump beats on relentlessly.  It’s not reeling from the punches of the Republican party.  It’s staggering under the weight of its own failures.  The significance of Clinton’s weakness is that it represents unrest among Democrats, from people who are supposed to have benefited from the system but have not — and are mad as hell.  As Alan Rappeport of the New York Times notes in his post-debate survey, Sanders is channeling anger while Hillary is still selling faith in Hope and Change.

“If Hillary hugged Obama any tighter tonight Michelle would’ve had to step in.” — Jason Johnson, political science professor at Hiram College and politics editor at The Root.

“Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders offered the louder and bolder vision tonight in South Carolina, channeling some of the anger that’s blossoming in both parties in 2016.” — Rick Klein, political director of ABC News.

Unrest from the faithful is the most dangerous kind of rebellions. Even so, the only way the Hall knows how to deal with such problems is to buy silence or suppress dissent and that’s not working as well as it used to, even though it is being applied in ever-larger doses.  How large a dose was illustrated by reports that the administration is considering demoting David Petraeus retroactively. “The Pentagon is considering retroactively demoting retired Gen. David Petraeus after he admitted to giving classified information to his biographer and mistress while he was still in uniform, three people with knowledge of the matter told The Daily Beast.”

Reducing Petraeus’s rank, most likely to lieutenant general, could mean he’d have to pay back the difference in pension payments and other benefits that he received as a retired four-star general. That would amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars over his retirement. According to Pentagon figures, a four-star general with roughly the same years of experience as Petraeus was entitled to receive a yearly pension of nearly $220,000. A three-star officer would receive about $170,000.

Dissatisfaction with Obama’s — and Hillary’s — foreign policy now runs through 3 former administration Secdefs and its most famous general officer. Does Yglesias still believe terror fears are all imaginary?  Of course he does.  To admit otherwise is not to concede error, it is to admit despair.

Glenn Reynolds writing in USA Today argues that the giant administrative state is straining to keep the gravy train rolling uphill at all costs.  For this reason, it opposes a proposed constitutional convention that may outflank the current practice of changing the Constitution by administrative or judicial processes.

opposition to a convention is more about locking in changes made through other means — Supreme Court decisions like Roe v. Wade and Baker v. Carr, or just longstanding bureaucratic practice that courts and the public have come to accept — rather than through a formal convention where the changes would have to be approved by the American people as a whole.

The real fear, I suspect, is that the proposals urged by Abbott, which would roll back much of the political class’s successful power-grab over the past century, would prove popular enough to pass. If that happened, the federal government would become both smaller and more accountable, two political-class nightmares.

The status quo really has no other strategy except to push blindly on. The rebels on both sides are dangerously close to challenging the Narrative. The successes of Sanders and Trump are principally due to a real, not an imaginary, dissatisfaction.  While the Democratic rebels and the Tea Party may not share a single principle, they share a common perception.  Each feels that the current system isn’t working.

Clinton’s fatal weakness is that she was a big part of the Obama administration.  Hillary’s Royal Progress is faltering not from any defect in her wardrobe, mien or inflection.  Her problem is that the commoners are fed up with queens.

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