The Silliest Criticism Ever

Over the last quarter of a century, there have been countless allegations and criticisms hurled at Hillary Clinton. Some of them have had merit. Others have been silly. Not a small number have been outlandish. (“She murdered Vince Foster,” for example.)

But by far the most ridiculous criticism ever leveled at Clinton is that she may, on occasion, have said some nasty things about the women who went to bed with her husband. This bit of foolishness is rearing its head again today, as Donald Trump apologists attempt to draw a parallel between his outrageously sexist and porcine statements, revealed this weekend, and how Bill Clinton has behaved with women over the years. Inevitably, Clinton supporters counter that Bill Clinton, unlike Trump, is not running for office, and that Hillary Clinton is not to blame for his behavior. And Trump’s remaining apologists counter, “Yes, but she degraded the women her husband preyed on.”

First, Bill Clinton didn’t prey on anybody, despite Republicans’ repeated insistence over the years that he somehow tricked or pressured impressionable young women into bed. He committed adultery with consenting adults who, like him, should have known better.

Second, and this is an important point, wouldn’t anybody whose spouse cheated have some negative things to say about the person or people he/she cheated with?

Seriously, if you find yourself criticizing Hillary Clinton for voicing a poor opinion of her husband’s mistresses, do yourself and everyone else a favor and just stop talking. You’re being ridiculous.

The Debates Won’t Make A Nickel’s Worth Of Difference

Don’t be expecting too much from tomorrow’s presidential debate, or any of the debates. We live in a time in which most people already have their minds made up and can’t be swayed by anything. If Donald Trump climbs up on the moderator table, drops his pants and defecates right there, his supporters will cheer.

The country is locked into two ideological camps. People are going to tune in tomorrow night largely to cheer for their side, much like a sports contest. They’ll boo if their candidate gets a tough question, in the same way sports fans boo every call against their own team. Most of the few who don’t tune in to cheer or boo will just be watching to see if a train wreck occurs.

Rah-rahs and gawkers. That’s the American electorate. We have met the enemy, and it is us.

Twittered Out

It would be no exaggeration to say that I owe my position as a columnist with the New York Observer to Twitter. I happened to get into a Tweet-out with an Observer columnist about a year ago, and the editor noticed, took a look at my blog, and offered me the opportunity to write for him—an offer it took me roughly four-tenths of a second to accept.

By that time, I had been an avid Tweeter for some time and was beginning to grow a small following of people who liked my political analysis. I had a strict policy: nothing but political analysis. I soon found other serious political analysts liking and re-Tweeting my tweets, not to mention hundreds of regular Joes and Josephines with an interest in the topic.

Somewhere along the way, I went from learning how to master the medium to being mastered by it. I’m not sure exactly when that happened, but I soon found myself typing anything that I thought was going to get eyeballs, the more outrageous the better. And it worked. I kept getting new followers. It was still a modest following, but one that went up by about 30% in a year’s time.

It became addictive. It was like a sugar rush to throw out the snappy comeback and to get the cascade of likes and retweets. It meant I was finally being noticed; that I had something to say that people wanted to read. It was a giant ego boost to have all these people cheering me on whenever I landed a punch.

I found that I, introvert of introverts, had all kinds of new friends I’d never met. And suddenly, I was sucked in. I found myself compulsively checking my phone to see the latest Tweets. It began to be where I got most of my news and, increasingly, a disturbingly large share of my social interactions—a substitute for the real social interactions I increasingly failed to seek out in a new city.

Somewhere along the line, the line got crossed. It became personal. And I found myself getting into increasingly nasty arguments with trolls. Or was I the troll? I guess that would depend on one’s point of view, wouldn’t it?

The more invested I got in it, the less fun it became and the more it seemed like an unhealthy escape from real life. I began to treat occurrences on Twitter as if they really mattered to me personally. I actually stressed over whether somebody I’d never met, and never would meet, managed to get the better of me in an argument. I guess you could say the people on Twitter did matter and they do matter, because the people I interact with are indeed real people with real lives, but it’s dangerous to forget that you’ve got to live your life where you are. You can’t live it in the Twitterverse, even if it seems like a more interesting world than the one you actually inhabit physically. I began to forget that. Hell, I forgot it entirely.

So here’s the dilemma. How do I pull myself back from this overindulgence in Twitter without cutting off the opportunity to interact, to influence, and most importantly, to market myself as a political analyst and columnist with valuable things to say? How do I keep attracting an audience without overdoing the personal touch?

I guess that’s the trick, isn’t it? Maybe one day I’ll discover the answer.

Don’t Take Ryan’s Pledge At Face Value

Much has been made of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s pledge that he will not accept the Republican presidential nomination if an open convention chooses him this July. We are expected to believe that this mere statement has definitively settled the issue and that there are no circumstances under which the Wisconsin Republican will be the party’s nominee.

Hogwash. Ryan’s statement settled nothing. In fact, his recent behavior — making a highly publicized speech and cutting a web video in which he went out of his way to be statesmanlike — indicates the opposite. These moves give every appearance of Ryan making himself available as an alternative. Even his protestations of disinterest are part of the silly dance expected of candidates.

History shows us that declarative statements are not binding. In 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt released an open letter in which he said that if he were a delegate to that year’s Democratic convention, he would vote to renominate his vice president, the ultra-liberal Henry Wallace. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Roosevelt was actively working with Wallace’s detractors to ensure the nod would go to Senator Harry Truman, who succeeded Roosevelt as president when FDR died months later.

Politicians lie about their intentions all the time, so why should we automatically believe Ryan?

Oh, but we are told that this pledge is so ironclad that if he broke it, he’d be finished in politics.

Nonsense. There are all kinds of ways to wiggle out of a pledge. Imagine we’re going on the third or fourth ballot at a chaotic GOP convention, and Ryan says this:

“As I have repeatedly said, I did not want the nomination. But many leaders in our party who I respect greatly have told me that I am the only person who can unite our party and lead us to victory in the fall. I cannot in good conscience refuse this call, and so it is with great personal reluctance that I have decided to accept my party’s nomination for president of the United States.”

There. It almost sounds noble, doesn’t it?

Never take any politician at face value if he or she disclaims any interest whatsoever in being president. If the nomination is gift-wrapped and handed to Ryan on a platter, he’ll take it, just the same way he took the speakership he said he had absolutely no interest whatsoever in taking. Don’t be naive. Ryan’s past pledge meant nothing, so why is this one guaranteed to be for real?

Cleaning Up Other People’s Messes

I live in an apartment complex in a town of about 75,000 people, right across the street from San Francisco Bay. It’s a nice place to live, and the scenery is astonishingly beautiful.

We have two shared laundry units in the complex, and this morning, when I went down to move some laundry from the washers to the dryers, I saw that somebody had left a mess of powdered laundry detergent all over the floor.

My initial reaction was to get upset with whoever had been so irresponsible as to leave such a mess for someone else to clean up. Aren’t we all taught, at some point in our lives, that if you make a mess, you should clean it up yourself?

Then I turned my thoughts to more practical considerations. It was only 9:30, and the complex office doesn’t open until 11, so it wasn’t going to get cleaned up anytime soon. And sometimes, when I am moving the laundry from the washers to the dryers, I inadvertently drop an occasional item on the floor. I realized that the only way this situation was going to get any better, for me or for anyone using the laundry room for the next couple hours, was if I went back to my apartment, grabbed a broom and dustpan, and cleaned the mess up myself.

Was it fair, or right, that I had to clean up somebody else’s mess so that I wouldn’t have to deal with it? No. It wasn’t fair, and it wasn’t right. But I realized I could either complain about somebody else shirking his or her responsibility, and still have the powder all over the floor, or I could clean it up myself. Those were the only options.

And then I thought about this situation as a metaphor for community and country, and I thought about all the homeless people I see on the streets of San Francisco five days a week when I commute to and from the city. No doubt many of these people are just unlucky, and no doubt many of them have issues they can’t cope with. And certainly, there must be some among them who are just too lazy to take care of themselves. No doubt, there are those among them who were shipped here from Nevada, where state budget decisions have led to a phenomenon called “Greyhound Therapy.” No, this doesn’t mean giving the mentally ill kindly service animals for their benefit. It refers to putting mental patients on a bus and shipping them off to San Francisco, where some might find help, but others inevitably end up on the streets. In the latter two cases, we have examples of people refusing to clean up their own messes.

And many of us see these people and see “lazy, irresponsible drunks/drug addicts,” and gripe about how they need to take responsibility for themselves. Maybe there are some who could or should. But in the meantime, while we complain, they continue to be in the streets, and this is bad for everybody—both for them and for the rest of us. While we bitch and moan about the “takers,” we also abdicate responsibility for our communities.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We can make a better society, if we are willing to get past what’s “fair” or “right” and just see a problem and take steps to solve it.

And it doesn’t have to be partisan either. The state of Utah, dominated by the Republican Party for generations, has all but ended chronic homelessness by essentially giving housing to the chronically homeless, no questions asked. By so doing, the state has saved itself many of the myriad costs associated with homelessness.

Sometimes, the only way to improve your own life, your relationships, your community, your society, your country, is to recognize that being part of a community—part of being alive and connected to other human beings—means that sometimes you’re going to have to clean up other people’s messes. To do otherwise is to cut off your nose to spite your face.

So let’s all pick up that broom and get to work.

President Obama Should Nominate Elizabeth Warren

We know, of course, that the Republican majority in the United States Senate is not going to approve any candidate President Obama nominates to the Supreme Court. With the death of Antonin Scalia, the conservatives have lost their 5-4 majority on the court and whoever is chosen to replace him will tip the balance. The Republicans would far rather take their chances on the coming election and wait it out in the hopes that they’ll be able to appoint another conservative in January 2017.

Of course, Twitter is abuzz today with all of the potential “blue state” Republicans and halfway reasonable GOP Senators who might be persuaded to join Democrats in approving a nominee, but this is a fantasy. These theories all leave out the facts that there will never be enough aisle-crossers to break a filibuster (which would require any nominee to get 14 Republican votes, not four), or that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) does not even have to call a vote.

So clearly this isn’t going to happen. The next president and the next Senate will select Scalia’s replacement, period.

With this understanding, President Obama and the Democrats should be thinking about how to gain the maximum political benefit from Republican intransigence. And the way to do that is to nominate Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) to fill the vacancy.

There is no question of Warren’s qualifications. The former Harvard Law professor has impeccable credentials, so Republicans could not claim she is unqualified. It would therefore become clear, if it wasn’t already, that they were blocking her for strictly political reasons, and this would diminish their standing with the few true swing voters.

But there are greater political benefits to be had. First, a Warren nomination would provide a jolt of energy to progressives who adore her, which could be crucial in terms of base turnout in the upcoming election. Secondly, nominating a fourth woman to the court would reiterate that Democrats are the party of equality.

Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders could take this ball and run with it, hammering the Republicans for blocking an eminently qualified (progressive, female) nominee. Meanwhile, the president can also exploit this situation to hammer the Republicans every day.

There is no need to worry about who would replace Warren in the Senate because, as noted above, there is no chance in hell the Republicans will approve her (or anybody) between now and the next presidential inauguration. So if the Republicans want to play hardball, the Democrats have a great way to win the war by losing the battle.