Belmont Club

The Rebellion Comes Out in the Open

Everyone is talking about what the recent caucuses in Iowa means. Not who won, but what it signifies.  One interpretation is events show the establishments of both parties are under siege. David Corn, writing in Mother Jones says “after Iowa, both parties are facing hostile takeovers”, the Democrats facing a challenge from the left and the Republicans from what is called the conservative wing.

But there is more to it than that. As Roger Simon pointed out from Iowa, the Narrative itself is coming under question.

“The actual winners and losers of the caucuses were a bit surprising, but you could sense it coming on the ground. There’s kind of weird zeitgeist when you’re there I don’t know how to explain.

“Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were the big losers; Cruz, Rubio and Sanders the big winners.

Trump lost because his almost complete absence of a ground game showed him to be a surprisingly disorganized candidate, curiously devoid of, of all things, executive skills — not a good sign for someone who wants to be president.
Trump may have been the victim, in part, of his own rhetoric. All his “I’m a winner” talk may have gone to his head.

On Monday night, people were fleeing his “victory” party at the West Des Moines Sheraton, where I was staying, like lemmings. Coming, as we did, from the Rubio “victory” party, which really sounded and felt like one, the atmospheric comparisons couldn’t have been more stark.

Hillary lost because she only beat Bernie, if she did, by winning an extraordinary streak of six coin tosses at even-steven caucuses.

In fact, by some metrics Hillary may not have won Iowa at all. Quinn Hillyer at the National Review wrote: “I’ve seen nobody point out what should be obvious: If “delegate equivalents” are supposed to fairly represent the actual voting behavior of caucus attendees, even down to narrow fractions, then in terms of actual votes, Sanders slightly defeated Clinton. The final count of delegates to the state convention (aside from the seven won by Martin O’Malley) was Clinton 699, Sanders 695. But by actual voter decisions, the count was Sanders 695, Clinton 693, and six ties. Sure, Clinton right now goes to the state convention with four more committed delegates than Sanders, but she didn’t win her margin via voters, but by a mathematically bizarre series of coin flips.”

Hillary’s razor-thin victory was despite the vehemence of her machine’s onset.  John Wagner of the Washington Post reports that like some bloody Pacific battlefield, the political results were so mangled by the clash that the actual results of the Democratic Iowa caucus “may never be known”.  It was as if Hillary climbed her Mount Surabachi over a mound of wreckage to reach the summit.

“As an empirical matter, we’re not likely to ever know what the actual result was,” said Jeff Weaver, Sanders’s campaign manager, who cited as complicating factors the narrow margin, the “arcane” rules of the caucuses, the delayed reporting of some precincts and the technology used to reports the results.”

Such triumphs can be Pyrrhic. Perhaps the most prescient metaphor was contained in a prediction by former Rep. John LeBoutillier (R-N.Y.).  “We are witnessing the end of the House of Clinton” adding that “the House of Bush is also falling. So is the Establishment of both political parties.”

Ending the Clinton dynasty by itself would be quite an achievement.  Her political machine is the first known apparatus capable of surviving in the political wilderness for extended periods . Unlike earlier political factions which could only wait out one or two terms out of power without running out of air, the Clinton machine like some advanced type of U-boat has found a way to renew itself in more the 15 years since Bill Clinton left the White House.  There it lay, fully charged, waiting for the time when it should recover the presidency.

As Simon Head in the New York Review of Books explained, its endurance was due to a political snorkel called the Clinton Foundation which operated like a quasi government organization, sucking in contributions and exhaling influence.

there is the stream of six-figure lecture fees paid to Bill and Hillary Clinton, mostly from large corporations and banks, which have earned them more than $125 million in the fifteen years since Bill Clinton left office in 2001. There are the direct payments to Hillary Clinton’s political campaigns, including for the Senate in 2000 and for the presidency in 2008 and now in 2016, which had reached a total of $712.4 million as of September 30, 2015, the most recent figures compiled by Open Secrets. Four of the top five sources of these funds are major banks: Citigroup Inc, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase & Co, and Morgan Stanley. The Clinton campaign meanwhile has set a goal of raising $1 billion for her Super PAC for the 2016 election. …

there is the nearly $2 billion that donors have contributed to the Clinton Foundation and its satellite organizations since Bill Clinton left office. …

Further research done by Sirota and Perez of International Business Times and based on US government and Clinton Foundation data shows that during her term the State Department authorized $165 billion in commercial arms sales to twenty nations that had given money to the Clinton Foundation. These include the governments of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Algeria, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, all of whose records on human rights had been criticized by the State Department itself. During Hillary Clinton’s years as secretary of state, arms sales to the countries that donated to the Clinton Foundation ran at nearly double the value of sales to the same nations during George W. Bush’s second term. There was also an additional $151 billion worth of armaments sold to sixteen nations that had donated funds to the Clinton Foundation; these were deals organized by the Pentagon but which could only be completed with Hillary Clinton’s authorization as secretary of state. They were worth nearly one and a half times the value of equivalent sales during Bush’s second term.

That Sanders could force such a powerful machine to turn away, even temporarily, is a notable demonstration of insurgent power.  Thus balked it is visibly weakned, because even the Clinton System cannot stay submerged forever. Rush Limbaugh watching Hillary’s “screeching” victory speech, thought he saw the unmistakable signs of fatigue in the once-mighty duo.

“Bill Clinton standing behind Hillary … I saw it all. I saw Prep H. I saw Geritol. I saw Fixodent. I saw Depends. … I saw it all, folks. It was…it was…it was astounding.”

He might also have heard Hillary’s frank appropriation of the Bernie Sander’s left-wing talking points, including the abandonment of Obamacare in favor of something universal.  She was understandably eager to outflank Sanders and had reinvented herself on the spot as “a progressive who can get things done” in contradistinction to Sanders who was portrayed as the absentminded Communist professor.

But it wasn’t just the Democrats who were trying to steal the insurgent thunder or at least cut a deal. There was a lot of chatter about the GOP leadership trying to get behind one of the rebels.  They have to.  If the old Republican Houses can no longer ascend to the throne they must at least try to be the power behind it.

Rupert Murdoch, Tweeting just before Iowa, cryptically hinted at at the existence of various “Plan Bs” in case Hillary faltered. He wrote that if  “Hillary email troubles get really serious. WH has surprising alternates if things get worse.” The stakes are so high it’s imperative for all the parties to stay in the game, even by proxy.  Too much depends on Washington — it sustains a vast government workforce, supports huge spending programs, pays for giant contracts, etc — to really put it at risk.

Perhaps the two party insurgency represents the end of an arc that started in 1968 or perhaps even the New Deal that marked the rise of a certain kind of big government expansion in American politics which can go no further.  Surely it represents the end of the road for something. Barack Obama was the apotheosis of the old trajectory. But having gone so far it may now be falling back. Big government and rule by the elite is, to paraphrase Marco Rubio’s post-Iowa speech, at that point where it must either proceed to an uber-Obama, or begin a slow retreat.

The odds are that it will begin a slow retreat.  America’s huge postwar success had the same destructive effect upon its political class that the famous “resource curse” has upon Third World countries. It made possible the rise of a parasite class whose voracity required ever more tax dollars to satisfy.  At last it may have outrun its means.

For a long time it was deemed “too big to fail”. The 2016 elections marks the first real indication that a real push-back is possible, but for varying reasons.  The Democratic grassroots believe the system will not give them what they want while the conservatives are equally convinced it cannot give them what they need.  Either way the discontent has broken out.

The ideal outcome is for the big government pendulum to swing back without destructive strife so a rebalancing may gradually be achieved. But this depends on the current system being solid enough to take the transition. The challenge facing America is that the Obama years may have weakened it too much to adapt smoothly.

If the “message” of Iowa is that “both parties are facing hostile takeovers” the critical issue must be which candidate can carry it off.  Who represents the strategy which can endure in the crisis surely before us.  For the Cold War is officially back. The Washington Post reports the Pentagon’s priority is rebuilding the capability to counter both Russia and China.  The New York Times reports that the US is “fortifying” Eastern Europe to resist Putin. The Pentagon is seeking $13 billion from Congress to rebuild the submarine-based nuclear deterrent.

The War on Terror — even if the administration refuses to call it that — is back as well. There are now 6,000 combatants in Syria and Iraq and probably more to join them. John Kerry has warned that Libya is now as a great a threat to international security as Syria.  America is now engaged fighting Islamic expansionism in Africa and has given up any pretense of withdrawing from Afghanistan.

In summary the world has reverted to precisely that condition which Barack Obama promised to save it from.  Like a rock climber who has slipped at every foothold the president is now below the point from which he started. This particular circumstance modifies the question posed by insurgent voters in Iowa. The issue is not which course to follow alone, but also which candidate can better sail the ship in gale.

Will it be Bernie Sanders with his unabashed socialism? Or Donald Trump with his emphasis on personalistic leadership, albeit or so he claims, of a superior kind to that offered by the incumbent? Is Ted Cruz whose emphasis on the restoration of national Judao-Christian the man to lead when discouraging darkness descends? Or will it be Marco Rubio with his stress on rediscovering the uses of American power in a world riven with fear, danger and doubt? Is it someone else, a figure from even further out in the periphery who is the best man for the job?

If Iowa represents the beginning of the end for the postwar political orthodoxy, it is also represents what Winston Churchill in another crisis called “the end of the beginning”. It marks the start of uncharted waters.  It is not the end of the contest, but its proper beginning. Adapting his classic speech we can venture that from here on things will be subtly different.

henceforth the elites will meet equally well prepared, and perhaps better opponents not just domestically but abroad. Henceforth they will have to face in many theaters that moral superiority which they once unquestionably boasted was theirs alone and which they intended to use as an instrument for convincing all other peoples that all resistance to them was hopeless.

There was a time, not long ago, when there was no alternative to them. Those days, thank God, have gone.

Roger Simon caught the sense of creative challenge on the ground.  He wrote:

I am one of those who was saying for years, “Why Iowa?… Why do those white-bread hicks get to decide who runs for president before everybody else? And on top of that, half the time they don’t even pick the winner anyway.”

Now that I have “been there and done that,” I have to admit I couldn’t have been more wrong. (Well, maybe not about the winner thing. We’ll have to wait on that.)

The Iowa caucuses are a thrilling exercise in direct democracy. They make you proud to be an American. Not only that, they are open to everyone. You can walk right in and watch. I recommend the experience to everyone, at least once in a lifetime.

So the rebellion is on in the shape of ordinary people making ordinary demands. The prize is a chance to avoid disaster and nothing more. “And this is much, and all which will not pass away.”

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