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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Trumpism is not conservatism

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USA Today reports on how thirty black students were ejected from a Trump rally in Valdosta, Georgia the night before Super Tuesday. Without knowing all the details, it is safe to say that on its face, the optics are disgraceful. This feeds the narrative that Trump is a strongman for bigots.

In recent weeks, movement conservatives have intensified their opposition to Trump. Famously, National Review withdrew its sponsorship from a GOP debate in order to come out in print against the orange mogul.

Trump makes it very easy for conservatives to disown him. Fewer than 100 words from the USA Today article readily exemplify how Trump has nothing to do with American conservatism:

During his remarks in Valdosta, Trump said he’s leading a movement. “I’m just a messenger,” he said.

Later, Trump said his whole life has been about making money, but “now I’m going to be greedy for the United States,” as the audience roared. “I’m going to take, take, take and we’re going to become rich again.”

Karen Clendenin, 58, a victims advocate in the local district attorney’s office, said she was very impressed and that she’ll vote for Trump on Tuesday in Georgia’s primary. Clendenin said she wore her “Trump” T-shirt Monday even though she was “a little embarrassed.”

  1. Trump doesn’t own his positions. By saying “I’m just a messenger,” Trump refuses to take responsibility for his own words and actions. He is comfortable as a demagogue and opportunist, but a coward when it comes to committing to ideas and people in the real world. If nothing else, American conservatives are loyal to ideas and institutions that have a past track record of serving the common good. Failure to own, defend, and advance these ideas and institutions is not conservative.
  2. Trump is a redistributionist. “I’m going to be greedy for the United States” is essentially the same promise a Democrat makes to redistribute wealth by making college free, erasing student debt, or raising the minimum wage. This is not the free market under the rule of law that Reagan conservatives advocate.
  3. Trump is a one-man lawyer employment agency. Conservatives despise how overly litigious America has become. The conservative’s bible about this is Philip K. Howard’s The Death of Common Sense. One major conservative plank for reforming healthcare is tort reform. When I read that one Trump’s supporters is a legal “victim’s advocate,” I take this to mean ambulance chaser, like the 2004 Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards. The way progressives bring lawsuits, political correctness re-education and other vindictive instruments to bear on fellow Americans is anathema to conservatism. Trump’s constant threats to sue are much more at home with progressive tactics to silence and punish political enemies than with conservatism.

Bringing it back to race, opposition to immigration is populist protectionism, not free market conservatism which embraces competition and invites the best and brightest to become part of the American fold. Whatever Trumpism is, it is not conservatism.

Photo credit: markahuna via Imgur.

Amnesty, conservatism, and reality

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Scott Greer at the Daily Caller warns that “Pro-amnesty hawks are in for a rude surprise.” His analysis is questionable on several points.
1. No Republican supports amnesty. Which specific GOP-backed proposal, by a magic snap of the fingers, automatically grants illegal immigrants legal status without paying penalties?
2. Greer’s all-or-nothing vision is false. He predicts immigration reform will create “millions of new Democrats overnight,” but what specific legislative provision is he referring to? Republican-backed reforms typically mean that undocumented immigrants have to pay a fine and wait for several years before getting in back of the line just to apply for citizenship. And mere legal status is no ringing victory for Democrats. Meanwhile, he thinks Republicans like Bret Stephens naively anticipate a tidal wave of minority voter support if only they could pass immigration reform. I can’t see behind The Wall Street Journal’s paywall, but I’ve not heard or read anything to that effect from Stephens or others. The depiction is a straw man to boot.
3. There is no moderate wing of the Republican party. Greer pegs certain Republicans as “self-proclaimed moderates” without explicitly stating who does so. Neither do we know what they are moderate about: rhetorical tone or policy substance? In terms of tone, self-restraint, patience and foresight are marks of being a grown up. Bombastic rhetoric puts you on the loser’s path in the general election. Americans go for the happy warrior instead. In terms of policy substance, conservatism is a matter of principle, not what tribe one belongs to. Besides, isn’t identity politics what Democrats do? And no, “neocon” is not a tribe. Interestingly, Greer has made no case whatsoever as to which of the purported wings of the GOP is more conservative.
4. Greer offers no practical alternative. Assuming that demographic doom is written in the stars (and it isn’t), what is the real path to GOP electoral victory? Refusing to grant illegal immigrants any legal status whatsoever will turn off more independents than win them; they will see such a candidate, as Ted Cruz is shaping up to be, as callously bull-headed, not a hero with backbone. As Michael Medved astutely asks, what would Trump or Cruz’s plan be to win swing states like Ohio, Florida, and Virginia? There is no hidden army of conservatives that stayed home in 2012. Rhetorical bombast won’t materialize that army. The progressive media will only use it to turn crucial independents away from the GOP.
5. Conservatives inhabit reality, not fantasy. Trump has promised to build a big beautiful wall and get Mexico to pay for it. He’s insisted that all illegals will have to leave America and touchback in their home country. Even those who have been economically and socially integrated for more than a decade. This is fantasy talk, and fantasy is the province of the deluded and of dreamers. That’s the base of the Democratic party, not the GOP. Politics is the art of the possible, not the bottom line of an anger retail industry.

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.

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