Bubble Boys and Hot Air Balloons

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Iowa did shake up the Republican race for President, but it may have impacted the candidates who are staying in the race as much as those who left. Ted Cruz remains his nasty self but those who came directly behind him may now be compared to bubble boys and hot air balloons.

In this roiling Republican race for President, nothing goes unnoticed, especially a lack of authenticity.

Chris Christie used the former moniker to describe Marco Rubio who is always “on message” and appears to repeat the same platitudes whether he is giving a stump speech or responding to a question. It’s just a matter of a transition sentence and then “section 1 B.”

In this roiling Republican race for President, nothing goes unnoticed, especially a lack of authenticity. Marco is being criticized, basically, for being too smooth and too rehearsed.

Donald Trump is the other contender most affected by the race in Iowa. Mr. Trump used to love quoting polls in his giant rallies. It animated and reinforced his ego. Now, however, some of the air has gone out of his balloon. He is slowly returning to normal, but he definitely gave the shortest speech of his career for his concession statement.

Mr. Trump is also raising a valid point about the campaign tactics of Ted Cruz. Cruz’s staff directly spread the rumor that Ben Carson was dropping out of the race in order to reduce the competition for the evangelical vote. This lie directly affected the results, and if anyone other than Trump were complaining, the press would take greater notice. As it is, it just looks like sour grapes.

With New Hampshire coming close on the heels of Iowa, none of these caricatures will stay constant. The results will generate a whole new set of dynamics and will go a long way to clarifying the race. A primary election provides a much easier way of expressing your opinion, and I would look for Mr. Cruz to falter behind the hot air balloon and the bubble boy.

The Meaning of Iowa

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What did Iowa mean to the Democratic and Republican race for President? The impact of expectations plays a central role in interpreting the results.

Someone who promised us victories without end must now contend with being a loser in the first test of his philosophy.

Marco Rubio, who finished third in the race, clearly gained more momentum than Donald Trump, who finished second. Bernie Sanders, who finished a very close second on the Democratic side, clearly gained more than Hillary Clinton, who won.

Who sets up these expectations and why do they seem to overrule the intent of the voters? Once again, polling and the opinions of media pundits figure prominently in the process. These experts interpret the voting results and thus drive public opinion in an influential manner.

Hillary Clinton was touted as gaining momentum in the final days so the fact that the race was so close for so long punctured her air of invincibility and drove the campaign staff into damage control mode. She claimed victory when the final results were far from certain, and the fact that she eked it out in the end did little to boost her campaign.

On  the Republican side, finishing first among the Republican establishment candidates gave Mr. Rubio an aura of destiny as the focal point for moderate conservatives, someone to rally around to prevent the more unconventional impact of a Cruz victory.

And what about poor Donald Trump? Someone who promised us victories without end must now contend with being a loser in the first test of his philosophy. Many thought he was “closing” the deal in the final days, that his ferocious attacks on Ted Cruz would save the day. They didn’t.

Now, it’s on to New Hampshire and a more conventional election. We’ll see if Mr. Trump can hold on there in a way he failed to do in Iowa. But the person who told us we would win so much we would become bored with it may find it harder to fulfill that promise.

Presidential Debate Strategy

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It’s not rocket science. When you’re the challenger or behind in the polls, you want as many debating opportunities as possible to help close the gap. When you’re the frontrunner, you play a “Rose Garden” strategy, eschewing any risks that could torpedo your candidacy.

One wonders though about the effect on Donald Trump. His unconventional strategy and his loyal followers just might overwhelm the laws of political gravity.

That’s why all the Democratic debates were scheduled on a weekend when relatively few people would be watching. The DNC was protective of Hillary Clinton and acted accordingly. Now, all of a sudden, with Bernie Sanders surging, Hillary wants more debates.

A similar dynamic is occurring on the Republican side. With Donald Trump back up in the polls after a scare by Ted Cruz, he does not want to risk his momentum by a poor performance. It’s far more than Megyn Kelly prompting him to avoid the upcoming debate. It’s hardball political strategy.

Only the voters can change these considerations. When a politician is viewed unfavorably because he is avoiding a debate, if his opponents can start to gain traction on the issue, he will reconsider fast.

One wonders though about the effect on Donald Trump. His unconventional strategy and his loyal followers just might overwhelm the laws of political gravity. With the Donald holding an event for veterans in a competing time slot, Fox News might reconsider their staunch support of Megyn Kelly. Losing out on viewers and ratings means real money, and if the viewership declines significantly, Mr. Trump just might find himself back in the driver’s seat for future debate negotiations.

Moreover, the increasingly negative tone the Republican candidates have adopted may start to turn off potential viewers without the entertainment value of a Donald Trump to interest them. Whether a third candidate can emerge while Trump and Cruz battle it out remains to be seen. It’s happened in the past during more conventional years. But don’t bet on it this time around.

Hillary Strikes Back

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Something tells me we’ve all been underestimating Hillary Clinton. Her performance at the town hall last night was superlative. She was forceful yet compassionate, flexible yet committed to her values. She was every bit at eloquent as Barack Obama was in 2008.

She deserves kudos for her long record of service to this nation, and attempts by the Republicans to demonize her will only backfire.

Here’s the thing about Hillary. She does her homework, and she learns. When she ran for Senate in New York, in her first bid for elective office, she went on a listening tour first. The thing was this just wasn’t a political ploy as so many assumed. She really did interact with people and incorporate their concerns.

When Hillary is playing it safe,  she doesn’t exude a favorable aura. But when push comes to shove, she knows how to deliver. She deserves kudos for her long record of service to this nation, and attempts by the Republicans to demonize her will only backfire. Yes, she lacks the drama of a Bernie Sanders, but does anyone really think Democrats will throw away their chance to confirm President Obama’s legacy, to preserve the Affordable Care Act and the agreement with Iran?

Yes, other qualified candidates in the race for the Presidency demand our attention. Even Donald Trump deserves a nod for his upending of the political establishment and his one-man-against-the-system campaign. His speeches are riveting, and there’s more there than just entertainment and the condemnation of Mexicans and Muslims as some would try to depict it.

But this time around, Hillary is poised for a well-deserved victory. She has learned a lot since 2008, and she knows how to fight for her beliefs because she has been doing so for her entire life. This pit bull of compassion speaks out for minorities and the dispossessed as if she were one of them and perhaps in some sense she is. She certainly knows what it feels like to endure public shame, and her poise during the Monica Lewinsky scandal endeared her to the nation. The possibilities during a Clinton presidency are virtually limitless.

Negative Campaigning in Political Horse Race

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The public and the candidates repeatedly express frustration with the negative campaign ad, 30 or 60 second television spots inevitably designed to distort opponents weak spots, shot in black and white for increased effect and repeated over the airwaves again and again ad nauseum.

Empirical evidence shows that negative campaign ads move the polling results more quickly than positive ones.

So why do campaigns continue to create these monstrosities? Unfortunately, they work.

Empirical evidence shows that negative campaign ads move the polling results more quickly than positive ones. So as a campaign winds down to the end, especially if it’s close, these advertisements proliferate.

So that’s one reason why the gloves have come off in the Trump versus Cruz “cage match.” With just a few points separating them in some polls, both sides have resorted to sharp attacks on the other. In a sentence, “the knives have come out.”

However, this is Trump territory, and no one is going to win a trash-talking or trash-advertising contest against him. Cruz’s one foray, an attempt to tar Trump by accusing him of “New York values,” backfired big-time with the New York Post putting the banner headline “Drop dead, Ted,” on its home page. And Trump got to trumpet the city’s recovery from 9/11, causing even Cruz to applaud that response in a recent debate.

The birther issue may become even more potent. The real meaning of “natural-born system” has never been litigated by the courts and Cruz’s birth in Canada has let Trump use it against him with an insidious effect.

And, in a statement with wide consensus, Trump has noted that Cruz “doesn’t have any friends.” Everyone in the Senate hates Cruz, and the Republican establishment has even come around to supporting Trump as a result.

The basic lines of attack have now been opened and expect each campaign to stick to those talking points through the next 10 days. Both sides will accuse the other of political calculation, of not being a true conservative, and they will probably beat each other to a tie over the issue. Then, perhaps, the campaign in Iowa will end the same way it began, with the issue of immigration taking front and center stage.

Iran and the Axis of Evil

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The virulent criticism of the Iran agreement by certain elements within the Republican Party illustrates the power of the neocons and their propensity to involve the United States in new conflicts in the Middle East.

One of the reasons why President Obama does not want to utter words such as “the war on our terror” involves the never-ending conflict it implies.

Those so willing to commit our Armed Forces to new battles, to project American power around the globe, certainly lack empathy for military families and the impact of our aggression on their well being. Many of these “hawkish” individuals have never fought themselves and so fail to understand the unique hell of military conflict and its debilitating effect on our nation.

One of the reasons why President Obama does not want to utter words such as “the war on our terror” involves the never-ending conflict it implies. A Republican, President Eisenhower, understood the nature of the “military industrial complex” and its untoward influence on government policy. President Obama has tried to avoid new engagements in the Middle East; thus, his reluctance to become involved in Syria or to stop Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon through force.

Instead of branding Iran’s government as part of an axis of evil, President Obama understood many of our goals could be achieved through the art of diplomacy instead. And by tightening sanctions, he brought Iran to the negotiating table and pushed through an agreement despite the tremendous odds against it. Secretary of State Kerry deserves kudos for his role in the process as well.

Critics of the deal should remember our key allies in the European Union participated as well, and Iran’s hard-line government reluctantly made some key concessions. Yes, the deal required some sweeteners to convince Iran of its best interests, but we live in the real world, and Iran needed to save some face as well.

No one likes to be called evil, no matter what their ideology, and we must remember we are dealing with human beings on the other side of the table who can be pushed only so far. Talking to our enemies and making agreements for our mutual benefit represents a key goal of diplomacy, and if one member of the military lives because of it, there is no telling what that individual might contribute to society. The next Steve Jobs may very well be puttering around in his parents’ garage.

The Unconventional Candidacy of Donald J. Trump

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Donald Trump is more than an entertainer despite the efforts of his political foes to brand him as such. He is a shrewd and cunning politician who has read the Republican electorate extremely well and knows how to meet its needs.

Mr. Trump continues on an upswing, and no one, no one, knows how far that will take him.

Mr. Trump’s success dates back to his announcement speech when he was willing to adopt a controversial stand against illegal immigration and offer to build a wall across our southern border … and have Mexico pay for it!

This pledge struck all our pundits as nonsense until his poll numbers began to rise as a result. Mr. Trump’s willingness to pepper his speeches with superlatives and, yes, the hugeness of his vision for our country complemented and reinforced that promise, and none of the traditional candidates could match it.

Now, as a liberal Democrat, I do have some problems with some of Mr. Trump’s policy prescriptions, but his willingness to take on the entire system is something this country hasn’t seen since Bob Dylan. That provides an allure to his unconventional candidacy, and it remains to be seen how far it will go.

Already, Republican insiders are starting to say they would prefer Trump over Ted Cruz, an odious individual who can’t seem to get along with anyone. And Trump’s numbers continue to climb while Cruz seems to have peaked too early.

Some pundits say that Trump is made of teflon; nothing seems to stick against him or affect his candidacy. But that ignores the central fuel of his campaign: the American people are sick and tired of being lied to by standard politicians.

One can argue President Obama has accomplished a great deal during his time in office: saving the country from a recession, providing national healthcare, reforming Wall Street through Dodd Frank. He can inspire his base, one reason why Hillary Clinton is trying to cling to him so tightly. But while she has her own struggles, Mr. Trump continues on an upswing, and no one, no one, knows how far that will take him.

 

Christmas and Politics

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As the political season winds down until 2016, and Christmas approaches, it is worthwhile to consider the differences between the two and their places in our lives.

Politics is full of sound and fury, self promotion and a shading of the truth, even among the most conscientious public servant.

There is a soullessness to politics, no matter the candidate, party or election. Politics is full of sound and fury, self promotion and a shading of the truth, even among the most conscientious public servant. Yes, politics can be noble, and it does address issues that matter. But it doesn’t fill the aching inside of us all, the desire for something more in this life.

Christmas is different. Not the bustle and the rush, not the shopping and cooking, not all the preparations. Christmas speaks of something better, something too wonderful to even contemplate. If you do believe in God, the Christmas story sounds just like the way He would arrange things. It rings of the truth, the truth with a capital T. And the love of God fits with the facts. John 3:15 makes sense in a logical manner, even going beyond one’s faith.

There are realities in this world we must address during our lives, both individually and collectively. And politics tries to do this in an earthly manner. Spiritual necessities, on the other hand, transcend our daily grind and force us to transcend ourselves in a way politics never can.

For the skeptics among us, consider the following: a long list of facts proving the existence of God and a long list doing the opposite sometimes seem to fight each other to a fifty-fifty tie. And that percentage proves the existence of God more than anything else. Isn’t that just the way God would arrange things? So to break the tie, we need to take a leap of faith. And once that leap is taken, the scales fall from our eyes, and we can’t believe how blind we have been. And that’s when we know that we know that we know. And we begin on the road to sanctification.

Politics, no matter how noble, can never take us on a journey like this. It can never fill the deep yearnings of the soul, though God knows it often tries to do so. Its upside-down world rewards self-promotion when humility is the real answer.

Keeping Terrorism in Perspective

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Last night’s Republican Presidential debate was dominated by discussions about  terrorism and national security. Yet while Paris and San Bernardino have captivated U.S. news coverage recently, it may be useful to take a moment to keep these events in perspective.

But we give terrorists too much credit when we react to a handful of deaths as if the sky were falling.

Thousands of people died during 9/11 and two iconic American structures, the buildings of the World Trade Center, came crashing down. But that tragedy occurred more than a decade ago, and the subsequent attacks have been more than minor in comparison.

Your chance of being decimated by a terrorist attack is approximately the same as being hit by lightning, and while the shooting in San Bernardino was a tragedy, when you compare it to the geographical and population of the entire United States, it is just a blip on the map.

That’s not to say that the lives needlessly lost are not worth troubling about. It’s just that if this is the best the terrorists can do, we should not obsess about it.

The United States does remain vulnerable to terrorist attack, and we must thwart these criminals wherever they wish to strike. And there are indeed other more horrible scenarios to contemplate, generally concerning germ or chemical warfare, or even God forbid, a nuclear weapon. But when we overreact to minor strikes, we can lose the focus we need to maintain on these true vulnerabilities.

Cyber warfare remains a major concern, especially concerning our electrical infrastructure, and nuclear power plants could be another source of trouble, especially when located near population centers such as Indian Point and New York City. But we give terrorists too much credit when we react to a handful of deaths as if the sky were falling.

Consider the Boston Marathon bombings. An entire city was paralyzed by an act of violence perpetrated by a small bomb, and one that was not even very effective at that. Yes, let’s fight terrorism, but let’s not give more credit to the terrorists than is there due.

Talking About Terrorism

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The bubble of Fox News watchers, those who get all their news from that illustrious channel, are living in a different world than the rest of us. With their information strictly controlled, they have become fearful and jittery by the coverage, part of the reason why President Obama felt compelled to give a speech from the Oval Office last night.

That doesn’t mean sending 100,000 troops to die in the Middle East, an action that could only be described as a temporary loss of sanity.

Of course, the Republican Presidential candidates panned the speech; they would have done so no matter what he said. But is their talk about terrorism any more realistic?

In a land where more than 10,000 people die by gun violence every year, and murder rates are surging across the United States in 2015, the impact of terrorism is miniscule at best. Of course, the calling card of terrorism, the unexpected nature of it, the impact on young and old alike, does deserve a muscular response.

But the loudest response should be coming from the Muslim community itself. God forbid, if Christianity or Judaism were generating violence, you would see all kinds of Pastors and Rabbis rushing to the pulpit to condemn it. We still don’t see that kind of response from Imams in the United States, or if it is occurring, the media has failed to report it.

Meanwhile, we need to respond in kind to the attacks against us. That doesn’t mean sending 100,000 troops to die in the Middle East, an action that could only be described as a temporary loss of sanity. It may require a temporary no-fly zone over Syria and the establishment of “safe places.”

But we need to push back against “the sky is falling” rhetoric being waged by Republican Presidential nominees. Their comments are aimed at a small minority of the Republican electorate and should not needlessly alarm our citizenry.