Friday, July 29, 2016

Hillary Clinton: "Stronger Together"

Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic Party's nomination as their candidate for president, a historic moment in American history. "When there are no ceilings, the sky's the limit," she promised convention delegates.   Her speech reflected the party's progressive platform in an effort to rally her base, but it offered little for Republicans uneasy about Donald Trump.

This was arguably the most important speech of Clinton's political career.  She has been plagued by concerns about her trustworthiness, and had overcome a difficult primary challenge from Senator Bernie Sanders, whose loyal delegates still had to be convinced about her candidacy.  

Speaking directly to Sanders' supporters, Clinton said, "Our country needs your ideas, your energy, and passion.  That's the only way we can turn our progressive platform into real change for America," she said.  "We wrote it together -- now let's go out there and make it happen together." 

Referencing the courage of the Founding Fathers in standing up to a king, she said, "America is once again at a moment of reckoning." She then asked for unity, "We have to decide whether we all will work together so we all can rise together."  The theme of her campaign is "Stronger Together" and much of her speech carried that message, which she described as a guiding principle for the country.  

Clinton's speech was filled with attacks on Donald Trump.  "He's taken the Republican Party a long way from "Morning in America" to "Midnight in America," she said.  "He wants us to fear the future and fear each other."   She asserted that, "We are clear-eyed about what our country is up against...but we are not afraid."   She continued, "We will not build a wall.  Instead, we will build an economy where everyone who wants a good paying job can get one."   She called for a clear path to citizenship for immigrants, and said she would not ban a religion.

"Don't let anyone tell you our country is weak.  We're not," she proclaimed.  "And most of all, don't believe anyone who says, 'I alone can fix it," she said referring to Trump's claim in his acceptance speech a week earlier.  "Donald Trump says he wants to make America great again-- well, he could start by actually making things in America again," she said of Trump's off shore manufacturers. 

Clinton attacked Trump's lack of temperament and experience.  "Imagine, if you dare imagine--imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis.  A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons."

Clinton, who was affectionately introduced by her daughter Chelsea, talked about her upbringing, her family and her career.  It was part of an effort to re-introduce herself as genuine, authentic and a person committed to service.  President Bill Clinton, who was at times emotional, watched his wife from the seats below the stage.

Hillary Clinton covered many of the issues important to progressives.  She called for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizen's United, expansion of voting rights, comprehensive immigration reform, Wall Street reform, equal pay, expanded social security and health care, and she declared climate change is real.  Declaring that Donald Trump is in the pocket of the gun lobby, she said she would not repeal the Second Amendment, but would enact common-sense gun reforms. 

Clinton's speech came on the final night of a convention that had heard from many impressive speakers over the course of the week.  Perhaps the most powerful moment in Thursday night's program was provided by the father of Captain Humayun Khan, a Muslim American soldier who was killed in Iraq in 2004.  "Have you read the Constitution?" Khizr Khan asked Trump while pulling a copy out of his suit pocket.  "Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery?  Go look at the graves of brave Americans who died defending the United States of America." he said.  "You will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities.  You have sacrificed nothing."

In contrast, Hillary Clinton's speech was not powerful, it was not soaring, it was not inspirational.  It certainly did nothing to excite Republicans, and it failed to convert Hillary haters to her campaign. While she is the first woman to be nominated by a major party as their candidate for president, her speech will not standout in history. 

Clinton will almost certainly get a bump in the polls because of the highly polished Democratic Convention.  But she will have a fight to the finish in November against a flawed candidate who is promising change and that he alone can fix everything. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Obama: Passing the Baton

"America is already great," President Barack Obama proclaimed to delegates at the Democratic Convention is his speech that highlighted his accomplishments in office, attacked Donald Trump, and enthusiastically endorsed Hillary Clinton to be his successor. The president's speech was brilliantly written and masterfully delivered.  

Delegates welcomed the president with thunderous applause, the man who first appeared before them 12 years earlier as an Illinois State Senator.  It will be the last time that he addresses delegates as president, and this may have been his best speech.  "I stand before you again tonight, after almost two terms as president, to tell you I am even more optimistic about the future of America,"  he told delegates.

The president highlighted his achievements in office, including guiding the country out of the worst recession in 80 years, saving the auto industry, creating 15 million new jobs, enacting the Affordable Care Act, which expanded health insurance coverage to millions, the growth of clean energy, a global climate agreement, a nuclear agreement with Iran, the opening of relations with Cuba, and the death of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.   He also highlighted his actions on immigration, student loans, consumer protection and marriage equality.  "By so many measures, our country is stronger and more prosperous than it was when we started," the president asserted.   

"I am here to tell you yes, we have more work to do," the president continued.  He pointed to those still in need of jobs or a raise, paid leave, a decent retirement, and to children in poverty, and called for safer streets and a fairer criminal justice system.  "That work involves a big choice this November," he said.  "This is a more fundamental choice about who we are as a people."

President Obama then said, "But what we heard in Cleveland last week wasn't particularly Republican -- and it sure wasn't conservative.  What we heard was a very pessimistic vision of a country where we turn against each other, and turn from the rest of the world."  He continued, "There were no serious solutions to pressing problems -- just the fanning of resentment, and blame, and anger, and hate.  And that's not the America I know."

The president then made a strong case for Hillary Clinton, describing her as a leader with plans to break down barriers, blast through glass ceilings, and to give opportunity to more Americans. "That's the Hillary I know.  That's the Hillary I've come to admire.  And that is why I can say with confidence there has never been a man or woman, not me, not Bill (Clinton), nobody more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States of America."  

President Obama then harshly attacked Trump.  "He's not really a plans guy.  Not really a facts guy either," he said.  "Does anyone really believe that a guy who's spent his 70 years on the earth showing no regard for working people is suddenly going to be your champion?"   President Obama then criticized Trump for calling America's military a disaster, for suggesting America is weak, for cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, for praising Iraq's late dictator Saddam Hussein, and telling NATO allies they will have to pay for U.S. protection.    

Saying that Trump just offers slogans and fear, he countered that, "America is already strong.  And I promise you, our strength, our greatness, does not depend on Donald Trump."  Later, he added, "Our power doesn't come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order.  We don't look to be ruled."  

President Obama then returned to the spirit, values and character of the American people, "The American Dream is something no wall will ever contain."  He said that America is about what we can achieve together, "not about what one person says he'll do for us."  Then, acknowledging the "vocal and persistent" supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders, he urged delegates to vote for Democrats up and down the ticket.  

Calling Hillary Clinton a fighter, a stateswoman, a patriot, he said, "That's the America she is fighting for."  He concluded his speech by saying, "I am asking you to join me--to reject cynicism, to reject fear, to summon what's best in us; to elect Hillary Clinton as the next President of the United States, and show the world we still believe in the promise of this great nation."

Presidential historian Michael Beschloss described Obama's speech on MSNBC as the best endorsement ever given in convention history by an incumbent president for his party's nominee.   The president's speech spoke to independent voters and Republicans who are uneasy with Trump.  Obama was poised, confident, warm and presidential in his delivery.   His speech was a rich tapestry of words and ideals meant to unite the delegates behind their party's candidate.  

All in all, Wednesday was a fabulous day for Democrats, and it may well be an important pivot point for their convention. President Obama now has handed the baton to Hillary Clinton, who will give her acceptance speech Thursday evening.  And it very well may will the most important speech of her political career.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Democratic Convention Opens

The opening night of the Democratic Convention was emotional and raucous.  It reflected a hard fought primary campaign between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders.  

Many Sanders' supporters were fighting mad as a result of the release of emails by Wikileaks which showed that the Democratic National Committee was working against their candidate.   The resignation of Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC chairperson, did little to quell Sanders' supporters.  As a result, they made their voices heard throughout the proceedings.  So much so that comedian Sarah Silverman, who had been a devoted Sanders supporter but now endorses Clinton, admonished them from the dais.  "Can I say to the Bernie-or-bust people," she said, "you're being ridiculous!" 

Democrats had hoped to exhibit a unified party to the millions of viewers watching the convention on television, which is taking place in Philadelphia.  But Sanders led a massive and passionately loyal movement that garnered nearly 45% of the delegates.  While polls show that 90% of Sanders' supporters will vote for Clinton, it was still hard for his delegates to accept they had lost.

In contrast to the dark and disjointed Republican Convention a week earlier, the Democrats wanted to present a united front and a progressive vision for the future.   They did so with a powerful and diverse array of prime time speakers.  New Jersey Senator Cory Booker railed against complacency and cynicism.  He attacked Donald Trump, saying, "When Trump spews insults and demeaning words about our fellow Americans, I think of the poem by Maya Angelou.  You know it begins: 'You may write me down in history/With your bitter, twisted lies/You may trod me in the very dirt/But still, like dust, I'll rise.'"  He concluded, "With Hillary Clinton as our president, America, we will rise."

Perhaps the highlight of the evening was the speech by First Lady Michelle Obama, whose impassioned remarks quieted even the most ardent Sanders' supporters.  "I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves," she said.  "And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters--and all our sons and daughters--now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States."  She then directed her remarks to Trump.  "So don't let anyone ever tell you that this country isn't great, that somehow we need to make it great again.  Because this, right now, is the greatest country on earth."   

Senator Elizabeth Warren, beloved by progressive Democrats, attacked what she called the "great Trump hot-air machine."  She charged, "Donald Trump goes on and on about being a successful businessman but he file for bankruptcy six times, always to protect his own money and stick investors and contractors with the bill."  She added, "So what kind of man acts like this?  What kind of man roots for an economic crash that caused millions of people their jobs, their homes, their life savings?"  She continued, "I'll tell you what kind of a man--a man who must never be president of the United States.  And for one low, low price, he'll throw in a goofy hat."  

But this was to be Bernie Sanders' night whose appearance brought the house down.   "I think it's fair to say that no one is more disappointed than I am," he said speaking of his primary defeat.  "But to all of our supporters--here and around the country--I hope you take enormous pride in the historical accomplishments we have achieved," he said as many of his delegates watched with tears in their eyes.  Sanders detailed the party's platform, which now reflects many of his progressive positions.  He then forcefully concluded, "Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding president and I am proud to stand with her tonight."

Even with the rocky start, the Democratic Convention offered a more positive outlook for the country.  Perhaps time will heal all wounds for even the most ardent Sanders supporters.  And maybe the thought of a Trump presidency will help convert them.  But uniting the party will take more than a great convention week and an opponent who plays on hate and fear.  

Even with Monday evening's impressive endorsements, Hillary Clinton has a lot of work to do to overcome questions about her trustworthiness.   

Friday, July 22, 2016

Trump: "I Alone Can Fix It"

"I am your voice," Republican nominee Donald J. Trump told convention delegates in Cleveland as he accepted his party's nomination in a speech filled with anger but lacking soaring rhetoric. His delivery was not presidential, rather it was harsh and indignant. It resonated with resentful Trump supporters who feel they are the victims of an America that has left them behind.
Trump railed against a rigged system. "No one knows the system better than me," he said pausing to smile, "which is why I alone can fix it." Declaring that he is the "law and order candidate," he said, "Our convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation. The attacks on our police, and terrorism is our cities, threaten our way of life." He promised, "the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon, very soon, come to an end. Beginning on January 20 (Inauguration Day) safety will be restored."
Trump said, "The number of police officers killed in the line of duty has risen by almost 50% compared to this point last year." He then played on fear, "Nearly 180,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records, ordered deported from our country, are roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens." He promised to build a wall along the Mexican border, but didn't mention that Mexico would pay for it. By the way, under President Barack Obama immigration is down, killings of police officers is down, and illegal immigration is down compared to previous presidents.
In his one-hour and fourteen minute speech he listed a series of domestic initiatives. He promised to renegotiate trade deals, reduce taxes, invest in infrastructure, reduce government regulations, lift restrictions on American energy, and "repeal and replace disastrous Obamacare!" He said he would address the student debt problem and appoint justices "who will uphold our laws and constitution."
Trump failed to recognize members of the American military, including those serving overseas. But he said he would "rebuild our depleted military." "Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo. As long as we are led by politicians will not put America first, then we can be assured that other nations will not treat America with respect." He spoke of NATO, and said, "Countries we are protecting at a massive cost to us will be asked to pay their fair share."
Trump attacked Hillary Clinton's record as Secretary of State. "Iran is on the path to nuclear weapons. Syria is engulfed in civil war and a refugee crisis that now threatens the West." He continued, "After fifteen years of wars in the Middle East, after trillions of dollars spent and thousands of lives lost, the situation is worse than it has ever been before." He concluded, "This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction and weakness." Trump said, "We are going to defeat the barbarians of ISIS and we are going to defeat them fast."
He took time to that the evangelicals who supported him, noting, "I am not totally sure I deserve it." And he thanked his wife Melania, and his children for their support. The Trump children were impressive, especially Ivanka, who introduced her father.
Trump concluded, "I'm with you, and I will fight for you, and I will win for you!" He continued, "We will make America strong again. We will make America proud again. We will make America Safe again. We will make America great again!"
Trump's speech was not about optimism, hope, the American spirit, or President Ronald Reagan's "Bright shining light on a hill." Instead, it was filled with the same themes that secured him the Republican Party's nomination. It wasn't a typical Republican speech, especially his attacks against business and free trade, and it was short on specifics. It will not appeal to Democrats who support Hillary Clinton, and it may not play well with independents.
But nothing about Trump's campaign so far has gone according to conventional wisdom.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Republican Convention Controversy

The centerpiece of the opening night of the Republican Convention was the speech by Melania Trump, the wife of Donald Trump.  But her pleasant performance was soon overshadowed by allegations of plagiarism. 

Candidate Trump, the ultimate showman, made an unprecedented and dramatic appearance on the first night of the convention to introduce his wife.  Mrs. Trump praised her husband, speaking in a Slovenian accent, to an enthusiastic reception from the delegates.  But shortly after the convention wrapped up she became the center of a swirling controversy.  Two of the passages she read were strikingly similar to the speech Michele Obama made to the Democratic National Convention in 2008.

"From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life," a poised Mrs. Trump said, "that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect. They taught and showed me values and morals in their daily life."  In her 2008 speech to the Democratic Convention Mrs. Obama said, "And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: like, you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond, that you do what you say you're going to do, that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don't know them and even if you don't agree with them."

Mrs. Trump then added, "We need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow... Because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them."  Back in 2008, Mrs. Obama added,  "Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values and to pass them onto the next generation, because we want our children — and all children in this nation — to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work hard for them."

Earlier in the day Mrs. Trump told NBC News that she had written the speech.  Whether she did or not someone in the campaign should have caught the similarities.  Instead, reactions to the convention speeches focused on whether Mrs. Trump had plagiarized Mrs. Obama.  Had Mrs. Obama done the plagiarizing the Republicans would have called for a Congressional investigation.

Monday evening's convention theme was "Make America Safe Again."  It is usually the practice of a political party to feature their values and positions on key issues on the first night.  But this was an evening that reflected Mr. Trump's combative tone.  Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani electrified delegates, especially with an attack against the presumptive Democratic nominee.  "It was Hillary Clinton who advocated the overthrow of Qaddafi in Libya. Now Libya is in chaos," he charged.  "Hillary Clinton is accountable for this and much more. For dereliction of duty and failure to keep our people safe played a major role."   At times seeming almost unhinged, he took a swipe at President Obama. "We must not be afraid to define our enemies. It is it Islamic. Extremist," he yelled. "For the purposes of the media...I said Islamic. Extremist. Terrorism."

The evening's most emotional speech was delivered before the broadcast networks were telecasting the proceedings.   Pat Smith, the mother of US diplomat Sean Smith who was killed during the 2012 attack in Benghazi, drew the rapt attention of delegates as she blamed Hillary Clinton for the death of her son.  "I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son," she said and accused Clinton of lying to her.  "If Hillary Clinton can't give us the truth, why should we give her the presidency," she added.   However, Smith's speech came before the prime time audience tuned in.  So too did the floor fight over rules led by the anti-Trump forces that failed.   

But Tuesday's news headlines focused on Mrs. Trump's speech.  Trump campaign officials scrambled to explain the controversy.  Campaign manager Paul Manafort tried to quell the dispute Tuesday, "There's no cribbing of Michele Obama's speech," he told CNN.  "These were common words and values that she cares about -- her family, things like that."   However, Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman, said that someone has to be fired for the plagiarism.   And it is likely  that Donald Trump will have to find a scapegoat to fire in order to save his wife's reputation.  

In many ways opening night of the Republican Convention reflected the unpredictable and at times disorganized approach of the Trump campaign.  The theme for day two of the convention is "Make America Work Again."  But Trump clearly has a lot of work to do to make his nominating convention work.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Extremely Careless Hillary Clinton

The FBI's recommendation that no charges be brought against Hillary Clinton for her handling of email as secretary of state is an important victory for the presumptive Democrat presidential nominee.  However, this finding will not bring an end to Republican criticism of the investigation and of Clinton's lack of trustworthiness.  

FBI Director James Comey said Tuesday that "no reasonable prosecutor" would bring a case against Clinton, but he noted that Clinton and her staff were "extremely careless" in their email use.   Clinton had used a private email server located at her New York residence while she was secretary of state.  A year ago the inspector general for intelligence agencies informed the Justice Department that he had found classified information among emails Clinton had sent and received.  Comey said today that a small number were found to be marked classified at the time they were sent, and such information is not to be sent on an unclassified system.  

The House Select Committee on Benghazi discovered that Clinton was using a private server in their investigation of the attack on an American outpost that resulted in the deaths of four Americans.  Subsequently, Clinton agreed to turn over 30,000 emails from her tenure as secretary of state.  She did not turn over those she deemed as personal.  Ultimately, government agencies determined that several hundred should have been marked classified, including a couple dozen that should have been designated top secret.  In his statement, Comey also said, "We found no additional evidence that any of the additional work-related emails were intentionally deleted in an effort to conceal them."

Clinton's handling of emails has been used by her critics as further evidence that she is not trustworthy.  The FBI's recommendation will now go to the Justice Department for final action.  It is unlikely that the Justice Department will bring charges.  But questions have been raised about the department's independence following President Bill Clinton's awkward meeting last week with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who subsequently said she would accept the recommendation of the FBI.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump wasted no time to express his reaction on Twitter.  "The system is rigged.  General Patraeus got in trouble for far less.  Very very unfair! As usual, bad judgment," he tweeted.  Moments later he wrote on Twitter, "FBI director said crooked Hillary compromised our national security.  No charges. Wow!  #RiggedSystem."   It is clear that Trump and Republicans will use this finding as an example of the Clintons getting special treatment, and they will continue to attack her on the issue.

Clinton supporters welcomed the findings.  Virginia Senator Tim Kaine told CNN,  "I never believed that this was going to be something in the criminal realm or even close to it."   Nonetheless, the FBI finding that Clinton was extremely careless in her email is very damning.   And Clinton has mishandled the email probe from the very beginning, saying on several occasions that, "I am confident that I never sent or received any information that was classified at the time it was sent and received."  The FBI finding is that she should have known.   

The cloud of controversy surrounding Clinton's email use at the State Department will continue to hang over her campaign for the White House.  She has yet to offer a credible explanation for using a private server while she was secretary of state.  Later this month Democrats will nominate her as their candidate for president.   But, because of her "mistake," as she now calls it, her lack of judgment and trustworthiness will continue to be questioned by Clinton opponents.  

Friday, July 1, 2016

Task Master Bill Clinton

With just over four months to go before the national elections, both Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump are limping into their party's conventions, which will be held later this month.  While it is unlikely that either of their nominations will be derailed, both candidates have been plagued by large unfavorable ratings in opinion polls and many unforced errors.  

Perhaps Clinton's biggest liability is that a majority of likely voters view her as not trustworthy, even more so than Trump.   Her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state has hung like a dark cloud over her campaign.  The FBI is investigating the matter, and there are reports that they will interview Clinton this weekend at her home in Washington.  This could signal that the FBI is close to wrapping up their probe, one that could lead to the indictment of Clinton or some of her former department staffers.

Clinton has mishandled the email matter right from the get go.  To make matters worse, former President Bill Clinton decided to meet with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on her government aircraft at the Phoenix airport.  He delayed his flight out of the city when he learned that the attorney general would soon be arriving.  What was the former president thinking?   Lynch already had been asked by Republicans to recuse herself from the FBI investigation into his wife's emails, the findings of which the department would bring to the attorney general for the final decision on whether to bring charges.  

When asked Friday at the Aspen Ideas Festival what she wished former Attorney General Eric Holder had told her, she replied, "Where the lock on the plane door was."   Because Lynch is a political appointee she has previously indicated she would accept the FBI findings.  She stated that clearly on Friday, noting, "I understand that my meeting on the plane with former President Clinton could give another reason to have questions and concerns."  She described the Clinton meeting, which lasted a half-hour, as social, adding, "I certainly wouldn't do that again." 

President Clinton's blunder casts another shadow over his wife's campaign at a time when she was trying to open up a lead over Trump.  Recent national polls show that Clinton has a small lead over Trump.  This after Trump's campaign had been damaged by organizational problems and the candidate has made racist statements about a federal judge and had called for a ban against Muslims entering this country.    

Clinton has appeared to gain momentum following her enthusiastic joint appearance with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a darling of the progressives.  And, while popular Senator Bernie Sanders is still seeking the Democratic nomination, he has indicated he would vote for Clinton.  Last week the House Select Committee on Benghazi released a report that found no evidence of wrongdoing by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton following its exhaustive investigation into the deaths of four Americans in 2012.   Additionally, the sister of the ambassador killed in Benghazi, Chris Stevens, said she did not blame Clinton for her brother's death.  Instead, Dr. Anne Stevens blamed Congress for underfunding the State Department.  

Nonetheless, Trump will continue to assail "Crooked Hillary" in an effort to leverage her perceived lack of trustworthiness.  While Trump is viewed as only slightly more trustworthy than Clinton according to polls, he speaks with swagger.  "I'm honest, I'm trustworthy, I tell it like it is," he said on Fox News.   His supporters seem to overlook his miscues, his misdeeds, his lack or temperament, perhaps because they are frustrated with Washington and just want change.

Hillary Clinton has many challenges ahead in her pursuit of the presidency.  Uniting the party, picking a strong vice presidential candidate, motivating voters to support her, clearly articulating a compelling vision for her presidency that appeals to all Americans are among her hurdles.  But the biggest hurdle may be dealing with the outcome of the FBI probe into her use of a private server. 

Former President Bill Clinton has just made that task a lot harder.