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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Republican Convention

Most of my posts so far have been following the horse race of the primary elections, or giving analysis and predictions of what might happen down the road.  I have not expressed very many of my personal opinions thus far.  Today, I plan to discuss my impressions of the Republican convention after the first two days.

Where to Watch

I have been watching much of the convention speakers, on C-span, where they don't continually break away from the speakers to give commentary, like most other news channels.  I want to listen to the words of those speaking, not the pundits.  The main speakers have been relatively competent. But some of the lesser speakers, ignored by other coverage, have been deeply disturbing.

Quality of Speakers

Many of the speakers have been wrestlers, athletes, and soap opera stars.  I suppose it is part of the strategy to have many speakers from non-traditional backgrounds for a political convention.  But listening to their overly simplistic and factually challenged speeches, I've only become more disturbed about the direction of the Republican party.

The fact that there are so many non-traditional speakers may also have to do with the fact that many politicians are already distancing themselves from the Presidential elections this year.  I think it speaks volumes about how divided things are that four of the five living former Republican Presidential candidates are no-shows.  Absent are Romney, McCain, Bush Jr. & Bush Sr.  Only Bob Dole showed up for the Convention, and he is not speaking.  Numerous Governors, Senators, and Congressmen have also found scheduling conflicts this week.

Keep America Safe

To the Convention itself:  The theme of Day 1 was "keep America safe".  Lots of harping on police shootings, ISIS inspired attacks and chaos abroad.  The reality, of course is that killings by police, killings of police and crime overall are all at historic lows right now.  Yes, one unjustified killing it too many, but the notion that these jokers have a plan to improve things is crazy.  At least I have not heard anything said on the first day that convinces me otherwise.

It is standard practice for the opposition to criticize the administration and paint everything is terrible while out of office, just like when you are in power everything is wonderful.  I still remember when gas was over $5/gallon during the last Bush administration and Republican columnists coming up with every excuse in the world why it was not the Administration's fault.  One columnist suggested it was because the average weight of an American had increased by 35 pounds over the previous generation, thus reducing gas mileage!  As soon as Obama took office, they were screaming that gas was $4/gallon under Obama as if it was all his fault.  Now that it is around $2 you don't exactly hear them singing Obama's praises.  Rather, they are still screaming about the refusal to build the Keystone Pipeline.  Not sure why since in retrospect it seems like a good decision not to build it. Most tar sands drilling has stopped due to the low gas prices.  The pipeline would have been an expensive boondoggle.  Still, Obama hates business and progress.  Let's try to stay on message.

Plagiarism Scandal

The big takeaway from Day 1 was the "scandal" over the fact that Melania Trump's borrowing a few phrases from Michelle Obama's 2008 convention speech.  I can't say I care much about that.   Virtually all the major speeches are written by others.  Since political speeches spout the same sort of empty rhetoric year after year, I'm not surprised many sound the same.  So some lazy speechwriter grabbed a few lines from an earlier speech.  It happens all the time.

Attacking Clinton

I was much more bothered by some of the vitriol leveled at Hillary Clinton.  I am not a fan of Clinton myself.  I disagree with most of the political positions she has taken.  Part of any convention is going to be attacking the other party opponent.  But hearing thousands of Republicans chanting, for the imprisonment their political opponent is something I would expect in some third world country or a communist dictatorship.

The criminal system as a political tool is a dangerous one, fraught with peril for a democracy.  It's one reason the British Parliament traditionally granted immunity to its members, or why the US Constitution prevents the arrest of members of Congress when travelling two or from congressional sessions. All modern Presidents have probably at least arguably broken some criminal law. The danger of criminally charging one's criminal opponents though, threatens the peaceful transition of power between parties that we in this country take for granted.  Obama could have prosecuted Bush and Cheney for their authorization of torture but   wisely did not.  Cheney could have been prosecuted for shooting a guy in the face (negligent assault).  I think it was appropriate not to pursue charges for the reasons outlined above.  This is one of those fundamental traditions of a democracy that makes it work.  Even just talking about it can have real consequences for the country.

Benghazi

Two of the major partisan attacks on Clinton are "Benghazi" and "email server".  I have always been perplexed about why people care much about either.  Benghazi, of course was tragic loss of a US Ambassador and other embassy officials.  I can understand why Republicans might want to keep the issue alive for political gain.   But what exactly are they accusing Obama, or Clinton of doing?  Do they think that they wanted their people to die, or that they did not care at all?  That seems absurd.  If the argument is that there were not sufficient protections in place or that the government was ineptly slow in attempting a rescue, that seems like a poor political argument.  Embassies in unstable or hostile countries are inherently risky.  People take those jobs knowing the risk, much like soldiers do. We spend billions on embassy security, but it will never be enough to ensure 100% security.

Republicans in Congress had been trying to cut embassy security prior to this incident and the State Department went along by not proposing some of the more expensive options.  If anything, this is a bipartisan scandal. However, there is also no reason to think that more measures would have been enough to save them.  I've seen or heard nothing in all of the investigations that  indicates the President or the Secretary of State personally did anything to prevent the tragedy. It's much like blaming Bush the younger for 9/11.  Yes, it happened on his watch, but Presidents don't micromanage security issues, nor should they.  Embassy attacks in a hostile world are inevitable and unpreventable.

Email Server

The private email server is the other big scandal.  Of the many things Clinton has done or been accused of, this probably ranks near the bottom of my list.  She used a personal email for work, something almost everyone does.   Yes, it's different because she works with secret materials.  Personally, I don't think negligent handling of secret materials should be a crime (as opposed to deliberately providing them to our enemies).  It is used to attack good, well meaning people.  I have read of numerous incidences of its use to fire and imprison low level government officials that higher ups want to get rid of for completely different reasons.  Decisions to prosecute are biased and fraught with abuses of power.  If Republicans really cared about the security implications, why don't they seek the arrest of all State Department officials who emailed secret information to Clinton's private address?  This is another example of using criminal laws for political gain, nothing more.

Security Goals

Putting aside the attacks on Clinton, the Convention is also an opportunity for the candidate to showcase his own agenda.  While I'm not expecting people to get up and read policy papers, the level of generality in these speeches is worse than most.  Making America great, without more, is not an expression of policy.  The theme of Day 1 was making America safe.  There were criticisms of Obama and Clinton for allowing ISIS to grow.  Yes, Obama pulled out of Iraq.  Many on the right think this was a mistake that led to ISIS.  I agree that if we maintain a force of tens of thousands of US military in the region, we might have been able to suppress the growth of ISIS.  However, at the cost of probably trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives, the result would be continued suppressed rage at America, and the ability of all mid-east leaders to blame America for the continued misery in the region.  Attacks in the US inspired by Internet messages to US citizens encouraging them to commit these attacks would probably happen at a more alarming rate.

If the Republican argument is that we need to spend over $1 trillion per year on the military and government security apparatus and that we need to involve ourselves aggressively in every part of the world where we dislike a foreign government's policies, then they will never get my vote.  But I've not heard more than hints that the Republicans think we should do that.  They have criticized Obama for pulling out but have not said that they would go back in and put boots on the ground.  If that is their plan, they should say so.

I genuinely have no idea how Trump might plan to make America safe.  How will he use the military?  Will he increase internal state security?  What are his plans.  Other than someone vague and outlandish claims to reduce immigration or even visits from certain countries, or blocking members of certain religious faiths from entering  the country, I'm not sure what he has planned.  The Convention speeches did not help with any of that.

Good Speeches

Of the many speeches I heard, there were two that I generally liked.  Speaker Ryan gave a good speech.  It was, of course general and has been criticizing for not mentioning Trump very much.  He tried to outline his vision of being a Republican and contrasting it with the liberal Democrat agenda.  I didn't agree with everything he said, but found it to be an intelligent, well written, and compelling convention speech.

Surprisingly, the other speech I liked so far came from Donald Trump, Jr.  His speech touched on a host of Republican polices, again not getting into detail but laying out the general ideas Republicans have and why they are better than those of the Democrats.  I think he also did a good job of praising his father without making it sound as forced or phony as many of the other speeches did .  If his father had given speeches like that throughout the campaign, I might even be talking about voting Republican this year.  Again, I did not agree with everything he said but thought it was a good speech.  There are again "plagiarism" accusations as a few lines are similar to some magazine article. This is again nonsense.  Convention speeches are not 100% original ideas.  The fact that ideas expressed were similarly expressed in one of thousands of other speeches or articles on the same subject does not concern me.

Trump Nomination Secure

The biggest success so far is what did not happen.  Attempts to contest the nomination or change the rules to bring the nomination into doubt have all been shot down.  Trump will receive the nomination with little on camera controversy and the party will transition into the general election.

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