In the best of times, our nation’s leaders properly balanced politics and governance, and our press acted like journalists. No more. Last week’s Benghazi fiasco is the latest example of the subordination of governance to politics and the subordination of journalism to ideology. The administration’s response to the attack was openly and defiantly political, and the majority of the press/media bought into it without question. Whenever the Benghazi political lie is (re)exposed, most of the major media simply ignore it (again), being unable to hide their knee-jerk adoration for Hillary Clinton.
We have a presidential election coming up after two terms of the most political and least governing administration in history, and a candidate of the same party who, in the words of the late William Safire (almost 20 years ago kiddies!), is a “congenital liar.” That Secretary Clinton re-lied about this in the hearings is not news. She lied, and either you are not surprised or you don’t care. The real question is why did she lie? Is it “congenital?” Perhaps it was merely, albeit extremely, political.
Another example: an outstandingly bright, thoughtful conservative and former Vice Presidential candidate is dragged into a leadership position in the House and blasted by radio personalities and their Twitting twits because he has a realistic (and again that word “thoughtful”) approach to solving immigration issues. Immigration in the country will only be solved by good governance. The current president eschews governance on this issue in favor of politics. Can a national Republican do the opposite and be nominated and elected, or have the rules changed forever?
The craven, calculating nature of contemporary media and politics needs to be challenged by folks who care about the future. Mr. Trump has zeroed in on this quite nicely, although not in so many words. When people complain that Washington is “broken,” they are likely driven by economic concerns, which underlie everything, but what they see and don’t like in D.C. is this overemphasis on politics at the expense of governance. They see lazy media focus on style over substance and campaign talking points presented as journalism. Mr. Trump says they are all stupid and corrupt and the crowd cheers.
In the past, elected leaders and major media have felt some sort of non-ideological responsibility to lead, govern, and seek truth based on facts. The candidate would need to extoll the virtues of a republic with checks and balances, admit to a willingness to “work with the other side,” and combat or ignore the howling of citizens who simply want to yell and not listen. The good news is that there is a long time to keep making the case until it starts to break through.
The key points of such a platform could be:
De-politicization of national government. IRS, EPA, State Dept (see above), et. al. to be returned to politically neutral status and just do their jobs. Of course, what those jobs should be under a Republican President should change somewhat, but we may now have a new Speaker with the juice and determination to start moving in the direction of good governance and step up to the responsibilities of Congress to budget priorities and missions for bureaucrats rather than just continuing to re-up appropriations on auto-pilot.
Presentation of facts and evidence to media consumed with chatter about the “horse race.” This is hard work. Again, there is a lot of time. A foreign policy strategy of engagement in the Middle East is not a sound bite. Making America Great Again could use some specifics. Trump’s specifics are easily refuted with evidence (e.g., imposition of a trade war, trying to round up and deport all illegals). If you make it easy enough for lazy TV media to present fact-based positions, they will come around. Back in the day, regular folks would clap when a candidate shook a fist at “the rich,” but in the voting booth they knew that capital precedes jobs. An economy that creates new wealth is required to create new jobs. Jeb Bush has tried to point this out, and he is fading fast, but that doesn’t mean that someone else shouldn’t try.
Proper use of “social,” or un-social, media. Technology has forever changed politics and government. Donald Trump is simply a current manifestation of this. Would he be where he is without Twitter? Great tools to use wisely, but no need to be cowed by the pitchfork-waving crowds being ginned up by modern day mob-inciters, whether they be candidates or radio hosts. More good news: those who live by the Twitter will die by the Twitter. We can already see the ramifications of Mr. Trump blaming “an intern” for insulting Iowans. He’s dug in now. He is tethered to his keyboard. Live by the TV ratings, die by the TV ratings. He no longer gets instant live TV coverage for every speech. He is becoming, gasp, old news. It is starting to happen. Even the missing airplane finally stopped being the main story for CNN.
If Mr. Trump were able to convincingly transition to a thoughtful (again that word!) candidate, he could move in these directions. It appears, though, that he is who he is, a self-described “counter-puncher.” Punch or counter-punch, it only goes so far. His responses to Dr. Carson’s new lead in Iowa are a.) I don’t believe the polls, b.) Dr. Carson practices a suspect religion, or c.) Quinnipiac doesn’t like me. He is not capable of changing his approach. His responses to not being #1 will look sadly desperate. It will result in a hole that the right candidate can drive a truck through if they don’t underestimate the American people.
This is all so terribly naïve that it just might work.