Hillary’s debilitating illness: worse than Trump’s?

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I was reflecting on the fact that many political conservatives are speculating about Hillary Clinton’s health; particularly, the idea she might have been covering up Parkinson’s disease for ten years.

This speculation has an unseemly air about it. For all I know, it may be true. Yet, generally speaking, we have an intellectual responsibility to be careful as to the beliefs we hold. One major problem with asserting a public figure has a certain illness is that due to limited access, it is hard verify by balanced expert testimony.

When Barry Goldwater ran for president in 1964, many psychiatrists opined in public that he was crazy or otherwise unfit for office. Subsequently, the American Psychiatry Association implemented the Goldwater rule, which bars diagnosis of public figures in one’s professional capacity, particularly when being interviewed or speaking in public. I am unaware of such a rule for physicians, but since in Clinton’s case Parkinson’s disease tocuhes on cognitive ability, I think the same principle applies.

But what about everyday citizens? In this regard I think of many liberals and progressives who hold to the rumor that the end of, or even all of, Reagan’s presidency was impacted by Alzheimer’s. Again, these allegations as to cognitive ability inherently have a cheapness and air of disrespect to them, even if they turn out to be true.

So what then if one really believes these infirmities, whether of Clinton or Reagan, to be the case? On the one hand, we should hope that the medical professionals who attend a presidential candidate are honest and fully forthcoming given that a president’s health is essential knowledge for a democracy looking to entrust him or her with crucial executive judgments. On the other hand, since it is wholly possible that medical professionals may be less than forthcoming, the average citizen can be within her rights to speculate about the candidate’s health. Nonetheless, because election season is a very heated and pitched time, and such talk has an air of disrespect or cheapness to it, it is an area where I think it wise to put forth the view as tentative rather than firm, lest one be accused, perhaps rightfully so, of wishful thinking.

Incapacitations, Physical and Dispositional

One more thing I’d like to observe. It seems to me that if cognitive and executive capacities are fair game in conversation among citizens generally, then Donald Trump may well be as incapacitated as a chronically ill Clinton. Whereas one with Parkinson’s will be incapacitated by physical disease, Trump quite arguably could be incapacitated due to spiritual disease. What I mean is not a crude holy roller judgment. Rather, as a function of character or personal disposition, Trump seems to exhibit underdeveloped, or insufficiently actualized, capacities for self-restraint. Witness his late night tweets. He also seems to lack patience or wherewithal to do policy homework. Think of the primary debate where Marco Rubio goaded Trump for more health insurance policy substance than “lines around the states.”

By contrast, recall back to the primaries when Ben Carson was initially not well informed about foreign policy, but later showed increased knowledge. The simple ability to listen and learn, so as to acquire and apply new knowledge, is so important to the average American job, let alone the presidency. It is a testament to circumstantial privilege, perhaps being so inescapably beholden to his own inflated ego, that Trump could surf on his charisma, such as it is, to arrive where he is. Or we might say he has the vice of stubbornness, which amounts effectively to being unable to listen and adjust. At any rate, the story of skating to higher office is actually similar for President Obama and Hillary Clinton. The promise of an “articulate and bright and clean” black man, to use Joe Biden’s words, or the first female president, allows these people to sail quite far on whatever other privileges, skills, and connections they enjoy.

Back to Trump’s disposition. My emphasis on actualized or developed capacities, abilities, and habits, comes from virtue ethics. These are questions of character. Not just judgment, but discipline and habit. Conservatives often get slammed for suggesting that some people who are chronicly poor are so because of underdeveloped capacities acquired through discipline. But to observe the absence of discipline is not necessarily a moral judgment of blame upon them. They may be victims of circumstance. Yet it is true that their capacity is underdeveloped nonetheless. That’s why, whether one refers to the stereotype of the “Welfare Queen” or to Donald Trump, we should all want to encourage or demand the development of capacities, where they can occur. For Hillary Clinton, this would mean an increased capacity to be honest rather than covering up anthing that remotely makes her look blameworthy. But then again, for both Clinton and Trump, the maxim may hold that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Now it is true that since the primaries, Trump has come to deliver substantive policy speeches, which, while not necessarily principally conservative, nonetheless show he is capable of having substance issue forth from his mouth. But I do not see him speak with facility about these issues without a teleprompter.

So in the end, if Hillary Clinton does have some debilitating malady, it may well be that Trump has one as well. Would I rather the national debate be about policy substance rather than personal disabilities and defects.

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Feelings Trump facts? Four arguments against the Donald

Donald Trump is leading the pack for the GOP presidential nomination, and many attribute his popularity to the raw anger out there in America. I’ve never been one for unconstructive anger. So let’s say you are angry, and you don’t just want to emote, but want our country to be doing better again. What’s the way forward? Here are four reasons why it’s not Trump.

1. High unfavorable numbers

One recent poll reportedly puts Trump’s overall unfavorability at 59%, higher than even Hillary Clinton. What does it take to be even more unpopular than America’s robotic grandma, the secretive, defensive, and definitively Nixonian Mrs. Clinton?

2. Peforms worse than other GOP candidates in matchups

A recent swing state poll by Quinippiac showed not just that Hillary Clinton does worse than Joe Biden in head-to-head matchups, but that Trump consistently underperforms in those matchups compared to Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. In Florida, Rubio and Bush comfortably beat Clinton and Biden in respective contests, while Trump eeks 2 percent past Clinton and falls to Biden by 3. In Ohio, Rubio and Bush best Clinton, but Trump trails her by 5, and goes down to Biden by 10. And in Pennsylvania, Rubio and Bush each beat the Dems while Trump loses to them. The pattern from this poll is clear: Rubio performs best overall, followed by Bush. Right now Trump doesn’t have what it takes to beat likely Democrat opponents. And given his stratospheric unfavorables, that is unlikely to change.


Tom Simpson / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

3. The stay-at-home conservative voter is a myth

There has been a “stupid myth” floating around since 2012 that three or four million conservatives stayed home rather than vote for patrician, RINO-squish Mitt Romney. Commentator Laura Ingraham has warned that conservative anger needs a chance to play itself out this cycle. According to common wisdom, Trump is the prime shot at that.

Before we buy this premise, let’s go back and check the numbers. According to Michael Medved, Romney gained more than a million votes over McCain. When I crunched Wikipedia’s numbers, Romney’s gain was 985,177. And this gain happened amidst a decline of three million total voters between 2008 and 2012.

If historical observations by Kim Strassel and Ed Morrissey are reliable, then the myth of disaffected conservative voters arose before all the votes had even been counted! As Churchill has been quoted, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to gets its pants on.” The snarling, anti-establishment Right is not as powerful or predictably peeved as typically touted.

4. Birthright citizenship trilemma: jobs, the rule of law, or unreasonable

Mr. Trump released policy statement last week that includes ending so-called birthright citizenship. This is an innovation in the debate on immigration, but it is a non-sequitur. Stopping illegal immigration has been, for conservatives at least, about a couple of more foundational principles: jobs for Americans and the rule of law. While I respect the drive to immigration reform that’s based on a concern for the rule of law, and the need to enforce laws, I don’t buy that ending birthright citizenship significantly increases job opportunity for American citizens. It is an arcane pursuit and any change to the job market will be indirect. So all of the energy for ending birthright citizenship must either come from a pure concern for the rule of law, or something more nefarious. Of course, many in the media and on the Left will gladly attribute xenophobia as the motivation. But if we give Trump the benefit of the doubt, his desire to end birthright citizenship must be about restoring some obvious mistake in interpreting the Constitution. He must be a candidate who champions the rule of law.

The problem for Trump is that he has bragged about paying off politicians and he trades off of the force of his personal charisma. He does not inspire confidence that he will uphold the rule of law. Someone who supports both Trump and ending birthright citizenship owes an explanation as to their priorities: jobs or the rule of law? If the rule of law, then why Trump and not a more principled conservative? If jobs, then why so fervent about the arcane task of ending birthright citizenship? The third alternative is that the supporter is not a reasonable conservative, but a xenophobe or just an unreasonable voter. The latter, sadly for America today, almost seems par for the course.

So, whether you are a Trump fan or suffer daily combat with a friend or relative who is one, I hope I’ve given you some food for thought. There are a lot of great candidates out there this cycle. Let’s be sure to elect one of them.

Top 10 uncogitated posts of 2013, part I

Photo credit: Puzzler4879 / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Hi cogitators!  Somehow it came upon me, now that we’re at the end of the year, to post a list of of the top 10 posts that did not make the cutting floor in 2013.  Since I have written a bit on each item, I will split the list into two posts, counting down to the most remarkable posts of the year.  I will supply the top five on the flip side of Christmas.  Without further ado.

10. Sam Harris’ s Free Will.  A Facebook conversation about the implications of a Libet-type neurological study prompted me to Sam Harris’ brief 2012 monograph Free Will.  He attempts to bury the concept by inviting us to imagine a hypothetically completed science.  That is, we are meant to indulge a  science of the gaps.

As for the root of cognition, Mr. Harris thinks free will libertarians are hopelessly lost in the blizzard that is the unending chain of causality.  He doesn’t consider that he is equally adrift as a determinist.  Neither does he engage much philosophy beyond Daniel Dennett.   Hardly a comprehensive take on the question.

I think Harris tries to be clever in his final pages with a “meta” discourse about what he is thinking and writing on the page as he is writing it.  But the worst offense is his reverse psychological claim that people who earn their income and wealth are not actually responsible for the acquisition, and are therefore not entitled to it.

I’ve mentioned Ayn Rand’s statist scientist character, Floyd Ferris before.  Dr. Ferris authors a book titled, Why do you think you think?  It’s fitting that his name rhymes with Harris.  If you want to see the utter inadequacy of this popular pseudo-yourself, the book is short enough to dispatch in a couple of hours.

9.  Steven Pinker’s scientism apologia.  Social scientist Steven Pinker sparked quite a conversation in August with his New Republic article extolling the virtues of scientism.  I think it caused some added hand wringing among the humanities community, even though it was purported to dispel such concerns.  Good thing scientism is a self-refuting theory of knowledge; that is, the scientific method is principally incapable of inducting itself into its own body of knowledge.

8.  Paul Ryan, Scott Walker ascend in GOP 2016 field.  After Paul Ryan and Patty Murray coauthored a politically viable if universally reviled compromise federal budget, Mr. Ryan’s 2016 presidential prospects shot up.  As I often learn first from Michael Medved, an Iowa poll put him far atop the GOP field.  Of course the usual disclaimer follows, that the next presidential election is very far away, and much can change by then.  Further, Ryan has signaled no clear intention to run.

Ryan’s boost, and recent attention on Scott Walker are welcome at a time when many commentators are still spewing a lot of hot air about how “mainstream” or “establishment” Republicans are not true conservatives, whatever that means.  Last I checked, winning elections so as to govern the country was still a part of the conservative platform.

7.  Presidential approval, Democrats’ 2014 chances tank. Nothing has been as remarkable in politics this year as the stark turn around in public opinion that occurred in October.  One day, there was that silly poll about how Congressional Republicans were as popular as toe fungus.  Then, the President and Congressional Democrats tanked on the Obamacare roll-out, and more significantly, the “if you like it, you can keep it” prevarication.  Clearly, government shut downs are not popular.  And neither is that disaster extraordinaire, Obamacare.

6. Millennials care less for culture war; culture war still cares for them.  Progressive evangelical blogger Rachel Held Evans used her highly visible CNN Belief Blog to disown the culture wars on behalf of millennials.  If the writing at Relevant magazine bears any truth, the rhetorical volleys between millennials and their elders have been exchanged for quite some time.  I know that in the public sphere, the back and forth gets old, especially when each camp is just indulging its own echo chamber.

Hat tip to Dr. Craig for bringing his own frank critique of Evan’s piece to bear in his current events podcast.  I don’t think the culture warrior label is to be shunned.  Indeed, there’s a real war going on.  As Medved notes, it’s not cultural conservatives who are the instigators, but cultural progressives, who are continually extending newly invented rights, even into grade school bathrooms for crying out loud.

That rounds out the second tier of 2013’s counterfactual cogitations.  Now enjoy the holiday, with thanks and reverence for the God who subjected himself as an infant to humanity’s mercies so that in time he could extend to us the gift of his mercy.  Merry Christmas!

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