Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Hillary Clinton's Campaign Memoir

The latest issue of The New York Review of Books contains a long essay by Annette Gordon-Reed discussing the 2016 campaign, and Clinton's book What Happened about that campaignThe essay was quite disappointing in its preoccupation with the gender (non)issue.

The reasons Clinton lost are quite obvious to any objective observer, and have little or nothing to do with gender. Clinton simply failed to connect with the average voter. To put the same thing another way, she failed to articulate any compelling reason for why she was running for president, and hence, for why anyone should vote for her.

Clinton lost because she came across as stiff, stilted, dull, boring, robotic, lacking in spontaneity, uninspiring, lacking in passion, uncomfortable in her own skin, unable to think on her feet, and without a sense of humor. This observation has nothing to do with gender--many male candidates have suffered from the same type of problem (Jimmy Carter in 1980, Michael Dukakis in 1988, Al Gore in 2000, and George Romney in 2012, to name a few recent ones).

I will be glad when politicians and the media get away from this whole "identity politics" obsession, and start focusing instead on real issues and honest evaluations of why voters vote for a particular candidate. And yes, like it or not, "likability" is a big factor, regardless of gender.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

"Grant", By Ron Chernow

This new biography of our eighteenth president seeks to upgrade the image of Grant among historians. It seems to have succeeded, as Grant is now ranked in the middle of the latest C-SPAN rankings, instead of near the bottom as he used to be. Chernow's thesis is that, while Grant got many of the small things wrong, he got the big things right.

It is a very thorough book, running to about a thousand pages.A major theme running throughout the book is Grant's guileless, overly trusting nature. This caused him to keep men in office who turned out to be crooks. Similarly, after his presidency, he trusted a bonds trader with all his savings, and all of his children's savings, only to learn too late that the guy was a narcissistic crook.

Another theme is Grant's ability to make major decisions in an instant. As a Civil War general this trait stood him in good stead, and he was much admired for it. However, as a president the result was just the opposite, as he seemed incapable of consulting with others before making decisions. For example, he kept his cabinet appointments secret from everyone, and then announced them en masse on his first day in office. He was lucky in getting a top-notch Secretary of State in Hamilton Fish, but his other appointments were mostly failures.

Misplaced loyalty was another theme, as Grant refused to abandon his bad appointments, even after they had proven to be failures at their jobs, or, in many cases, crooks.

Grant's great strength as president, according to Chernow, is his humane treatment of the freed slaves. He acted as best he could to use federal power to protect blacks from the persecution they faced throughout the South during his presidency. However, during the last two years of his presidency, the north had grown tired of being in charge of the southern states, and Grant became limited in what he could get away with politically in policing the south.

Similarly, Grant was humane and inclusive in his treatment of Jews during his presidency, atoning for a Civil War blunder in which he issued an order banishing all Jews from the three southern states under his control. He said later that he had issued the order in haste, and had he thought about it first he never would have issued it. At any rate, at his death Jewish organizations were universal in their praise of his humane treatment of Jews during his lifetime.

A major foreign policy accomplishment was his peaceful resolution of a conflict with Great Britain over Britain's providing the ship Alabama to the South during the Civil War. The Alabama inflicted great damage on the North, and the more radical element in the North blamed it for prolonging the war by several years. Grant and his Secretary of State Fish were able to get Britain to agree to binding international arbitration of the claim, resulting in an award that settled all issues and made it possible for the U.S. and Britain to become good friends, instead of going to war. This is said to be the first such use of arbitration to settle an international dispute.

My own conclusion after reading his book is to elevate Grant to a slightly higher ranking, but not quite all the way to the middle of the pack.

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Archaic Senate Rules

An article by Edward Whelan in the latest issue of "National Review" highlights the archaic nature of Senate rules. Whelan describes how easy it would be for the Democratic minority in the Senate to block consideration of Trump appointments to the existing 70 vacancies in the federal court system.

Even though cloture (cutting off debate) now requires only 51 votes, instead of 60 as was previously the case, the cloture process itself is still quite cumbersome and time-consuming. Whelan says that the rules require that the Senate must wait two business days before voting on a cloture motion. If the cloture motion is successful, debate can still continue for 30 more floor hours. It is easy to see that, under these rules, the Democrats could conceivably tie up the Senate for the bulk of the 2018 year with delaying tactics on the 70 different nominees for judgeships.

What I'm wondering is this: why doesn't the Senate simply change the rules with regard to how cloture motions are handled? It would seem to be a simple matter to do so, just as the Senate changed the required majority for a cloture vote from three-fifths to a simple majority.

In a long article entitled "Nuclear Option", Wikipedia describes how the prevailing view is that it requires only a simple majority for the Senate to change its rules. In light of this, the continuation of archaic rules is inexplicable, as well as inexcusable.