Editor’s Note: In the run-up to the 2016 election, the Republican mantra seems to be that politicians can’t do anything right, so we should nominate people who are unqualified for the job of president, and people who have platforms that are fact-free and preposterous. Hence, Donald Trump and Ben Carson lead the field.


In the Year of the Amateur

 

With the election still a year away, we’re enjoying the most entertaining presidential campaign in recent memory. One party has two clown cars filled with prospective candidates, being driven by a real estate developer and a brain surgeon who don’t even try to run on coherent or workable policies. Meanwhile, the “inevitable” standard bearer of the other party has her hands full with a self-described socialist.

When voters decide government doesn’t work, a good resume is unimportant or detrimental. This explains why Donald Trump and Ben Carson are running away with the GOP race, and Bernie Sanders, a veteran senator who’s not even a Democrat, is speaking to huge crowds of enthusiastic Democrats, while calling himself an “outsider.”

The trouble with “Washington can’t do anything right” is that, even if it’s true — and saying it’s true is trending in our hyperpartisan environment — it’s still the only government we’ve got. If the qualified can’t govern, who should?

When Jeb Bush claimed his brother “kept us safe,” Trump quickly pointed out that 9/11 had happened on W’s watch. That seemed a bit harsh — I spent years writing that W was the worst president of my lifetime, but even I never blamed him for 9/11. (Plus Jeb was probably referring to the seven years after 9/11.) However, it was smart politics for Trump to force Jeb to waste time defending his brother, which was a less-than-rousing comeback strategy for Jeb’s still-floundering, low-energy campaign.

This also has a certain irony. As Hillary Clinton was being pilloried in Congress by a partisan committee for four deaths in Benghazi, Jeb was defending a president with nearly 3,000 casualties on his watch. The position that 9/11 and its two subsequent wars were things government “got right” is hard even for McCain Republicans to support.

In a divisive primary atmosphere, Trump may blame Bush for 9/11, but, eventually, he’ll come around to the orthodox right-wing position that it was Bill Clinton’s fault for not killing bin Laden when he was commander-in-chief. Although Bush never got bin Laden either, and Obama did, Republicans have consistently applied historical revisionism to avoid crediting a Democrat for bin Laden’s demise by attributing it to “Bush’s policies.”

This type of revisionism is similar to the notion that Ronald Reagan destroyed the Iron Curtain. In their zeal to turn the patron saint of deficit spending into the demigod who single-handedly defeated communism, Republicans disrespected the cold warriors in both parties — from Truman and Eisenhower to Johnson and Bush 41 — who protected us from the Red Menace for decades. However, many conservatives prefer partisanship to the real-world view that winning the Cold War was something government did right.

We shouldn’t be playing this game with the World Trade Center tragedy. If someone had told me on September 12, 2001 how well homeland security was going to work for the next 14 years, I wouldn’t have believed them. That there’s been nothing even close to a repeat of 9/11 here in America would have seemed the wishful thinking of a Pollyanna in the fall of 2001, so our government deserves credit for this reality.

I’d like to be uncharacteristically nonpartisan (or, more accurately, bipartisan) here. For the last seven years of the Bush administration and the first seven of Obama’s, we’ve been kept amazingly safe. It’s amazing because, in a society as open and free as ours, it would be easy for terrorists to regularly kill large numbers of American civilians. Recall how a sociopathic sniper and his idiot nephew nearly brought the state of Maryland to a standstill in 2002, with no training or outside support.

Domestic Islamic terrorism, such as the 2009 Ft. Hood massacre, has barely stood out against the background of the run-of-the-mill shootings (e.g., Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech) we’ve come to accept as the cost of living in our locked-and-loaded culture. Maybe it’s just dumb luck, or our enemies are less adept at killing us than we’d feared. Or, just maybe, U.S. government agencies have effectively protected us.

Despite a polarized primary season, with each side accusing the other of wanting to ruin the country, both parties deserve our thanks. If “the other side” truly hated America, then there’d be no reason to support either party. If the politicians can’t do anything right, slogans such as “Jeb Can Fix It” are ridiculous, and our elections are exercises in cynicism. It’s not a good thing that we’ve lost interest in the candidates’ experience and expertise, and voter turnout is so abysmal.

As bad as Democrats think W was, Republicans accuse Obama of being even worse. And you can bet that, by 2017, roughly half the country will be saying our 45th president, no matter his or her party, is the worst in history. (And they’ll probably start talking up impeachment during the inaugural ball.) The more important question, however, is whether the opposition will actively work against the next president — and, by extension, America — as so many conservatives have done since Obama’s election.

In November 2008, Rush Limbaugh openly rooted for Obama to fail, while Sen. Mitch McConnell said Republicans’ most important mission was ensuring Obama was not re-elected. I’m not expecting conservatives to suddenly experience a rebirth of public spiritedness or patriotism if Hillary Clinton is elected. And if the next president is a Republican, how much cooperation will the liberals who’ve witnessed Obama’s treatment be likely to offer?

Most of the GOP candidates have made it clear that “any Republican” — from carnival barker Trump to the unqualified and seriously uninformed Carson — would make a better president than Hillary or any other Democratic candidate. In fairness, although they may not be as open about it, the Democrats are equally partisan. How else can you explain overwhelmingly Democratic voters in Bridgeport electing Joe Ganim, a corrupt, convicted felon as mayor over a Republican opponent who wasn’t even an ex-convict?

In addition to being the year of hyperpartisanship, 2015 has been, in the words of libertarian talk show host Bill Maher, “the year of the amateur.” Donald Trump’s rabble-rousing, combined with a nonsensical and content-free platform, gives him a good chance of becoming president — and probably a really terrible one. What sort of outsider candidates can we expect to see in 2020 as a protest against a failed Trump first term, or, even worse, a Carson administration?

Reagan speechwriter and establishment Republican Peggy Noonan probably summed up the 2016 election best: “You can get an outsider, and he can still make it worse.”

 


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