Reluctant Conservatives For Hillary

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Conservatives who feel forced to vote for Hillary Clinton are not “With Her”. They are putting country before party, and ahead of their own political preferences

I don’t always agree with David Frum, but his latest piece in The Atlantic, advancing the conservative case for choosing Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in this most depressing of presidential elections, is well worth a read.

Frum is under no illusions that a Clinton presidency will do anything to promote or further conservative ideals. He is wide eyed in his acknowledgement of Clinton’s character flaws and ethical shortcomings. But he recognises that by voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016, we stand the best chance of ensuring that the Republic does not become immeasurably worse off before conservatives have an opportunity to regain the White House in 2020. In other words, he believes that Clinton will do little good, but Trump could do existential harm.

Frum’s conclusion is worth quoting at length:

I have no illusions about Hillary Clinton. I expect policies that will seem to me at best counter-productive, at worst actively harmful. America needs more private-market competition in healthcare, not less; lighter regulation of enterprise, not heavier; reduced immigration, not expanded; lower taxes, not higher. On almost every domestic issue, I stand on one side; she stands on the other. I do not imagine that she will meet me, or those who think like me, anywhere within a country mile of half-way.

But she is a patriot. She will uphold the sovereignty and independence of the United States. She will defend allies. She will execute the laws with reasonable impartiality. She may bend some rules for her own and her supporters’ advantage. She will not outright defy legality altogether. Above all, she can govern herself; the first indispensable qualification for governing others.

So I will vote for the candidate who rejects my preferences and offends my opinions. (In fact, I already have voted for her.) Previous generations accepted infinitely heavier sacrifices and more dangerous duties to defend democracy. I’ll miss the tax cut I’d get from united Republican government. But there will be other elections, other chances to vote for what I regard as more sensible policies. My party will recover to counter her agenda in Congress, moderate her nominations to the courts, and defeat her bid for re-election in 2020. I look forward to supporting Republican recovery and renewal.

This November, however, I am voting not to advance my wish-list on taxes, entitlements, regulation, and judicial appointments. I am voting to defend Americans’ profoundest shared commitment: a commitment to norms and rules that today protect my rights under a president I don’t favor, and that will tomorrow do the same service for you.

Vote the wrong way in November, and those norms and rules will shudder and shake in a way unequaled since the Union won the Civil War.

I appreciate that Donald Trump is too slovenly and incompetent to qualify as a true dictator. This country is not so broken as to allow a President Trump to arrest opponents or silence the media. Trump is a man without political ideas. Trump’s main interest has been and will continue to be self-enrichment by any means, no matter how crooked. His next interest after that is never to be criticized by anybody for any reason, no matter how justified—maybe most especially when justified. Yet Trump does not need to achieve a dictatorship to subvert democracy. This is the age of “illiberal democracy,” as Fareed Zakaria calls it, and across the world we’ve seen formally elected leaders corrode democratic systems from within. Surely the American system of government is more robust than the Turkish or Hungarian or Polish or Malaysian or Italian systems. But that is not automatically true. It is true because of the active vigilance of freedom-loving citizens who put country first, party second. Not in many decades has that vigilance been required as it is required now.

Your hand may hesitate to put a mark beside the name, Hillary Clinton. You’re not doing it for her. The vote you cast is for the republic and the Constitution.

That is precisely where I find myself (though not quite yet a US citizen, so spared from the pain of having to personally make that call – roll on 2020). I don’t believe that Hillary Clinton stands for any real, fixed political values and I have grave concerns about aspects of her judgement and ethical compass – and so did many Democrats, until the DNC furtively helped to push Clinton over the line in her unnecessarily tough primary battle.

But these concerns pale in comparison to the danger presented by Donald Trump, whose supposed miraculous Damascene conversion to conservatism I do not believe for one moment, whose appalling personal behaviour is the subject of hard evidence rather than partly-conspiratorial conjecture (as it is with Clinton) and whose temperament makes him the absolute worst person to assume the role of Commander in Chief and Chief National Voodoo Doll, a focus for the endless complaints of an entire nation.

Like him or not, Barack Obama has served his terms of office with grace and dignity, even when under withering personal attack. This will not be so under Trump. As comedian Louis CK said in his endorsement of Clinton on the Conan O’Brien show, when Donald Trump is personally attacked everything stops so that Trump can punch back. That is simply not a luxury which the President can afford.

In sizing up Trump’s support, Frum also makes a devastating indictment of modern America:

The lesson Trump has taught is not only that certain Republican dogmas have passed out of date, but that American democracy itself is much more vulnerable than anyone would have believed only 24 months ago. Incredibly, a country that—through wars and depression—so magnificently resisted the authoritarian temptations of the mid-20th century has half-yielded to a more farcical version of that same threat without any of the same excuse. The hungry and houseless Americans of the Great Depression sustained a constitutional republic. How shameful that the Americans of today—so vastly better off in so many ways, despite their undoubted problems—have done so much less well.

How true this is. Now, this blog has every sympathy for many of Donald Trump’s supporters, who feel utterly let down by an American political class which has alternately pandered to them before betraying them, ignored them or held them in open contempt. And while this blog is very much pro free trade and managed immigration, the fact that Americans have not even had a choice when it comes to these issues based on the position of the two main parties is sufficient reason alone for the rise of a populist like Trump, albeit not necessarily a candidate with Donald Trump’s gargantuan personal flaws.

So yes, things are bad, and yes, the political class has not been responsive. But America managed to survive world war and economic depression in the twentieth century without coming this close to electing a dangerous authoritarian. Whatever afflictions the struggling “left behind” class said to make up much of Trump’s support may now be experiencing is nothing compared to the suffering of, say, the Dust Bowl. To react to these present circumstances by reaching for Donald Trump when their ancestors typically bore their tribulations far more stoically is in some way a reflection of American moral decline, which is very worrying indeed.

This blog would have loved to have seen a radical right-wing candidate willing to question failing old mantras about immigration and trade deals and other issues. I may be a #NeverTrump person, but I acknowledge that Trump often raises valid problems which have received scant attention from other politicians. The only miracle is that Trump manages to betray those causes by somehow managing to be an even more imperfect vehicle for his policies than Hillary Clinton is for hers.

There is no sugar-coating that the next four years are going to be depressing and barren of achievements for American conservatives. But as Frum rightly points out, sometimes there are more important things than getting one’s own way in a traditional left-right political dispute. Sometimes the cost of letting the nation drift a little further to the left is less than the cost of handing it over to somebody as unstable as Donald Trump.

After all, Republicans screamed for eight years that President Obama would turn America into a socialist hellhole and usher in the end of the Republic, and it didn’t happen. Hillary Clinton is no more left-wing than Obama, though a cannier and more ruthless political operator, but if America didn’t turn into North Korea on Obama’s watch it is unlikely to do so in four years of a Hillary Clinton presidency.

The people who will vote for Donald Trump on November 8th deserve to have their political views represented by someone better than the thin-skinned egomaniac who gets into Twitter wars with D-list celebrities in the early hours of the morning. Even if one agreed with all of Trump’s policies – many of which are actually profoundly un-conservative and much closer to being nakedly authoritarian – that would be no excuse for electing a man with such huge and concerning personality flaws.

David Frum did the right thing. This most eye-catching of elections has been the most depressing presidential campaign in my lifetime, but at least if Clinton wins we will have a shot at making 2020’s campaign a bit more inspiring, substantive, policy-based and (hopefully) less existentially threatening.

 

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Top Image: Kristopher Harris / Wikimedia Commons

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SEMI PARTISAN SUMMARY

CULTURE

Slate magazine thinks that fastidious chefs are doing it wrong and that everyone needs to relax when it comes to worrying about the perfect oven temperature to cook their masterpieces – because the perfect oven temperature is a myth. Apparently some people pay people to “calibrate” their ovens every year, a waste of money given the fact that ovens heat above the set temperature and allow it to cool below before reheating, and the fact that different parts of the oven will maintain different temperatures to the area with the thermostat. This is a total vindication of my “make it up as you go along, don’t measure things and see what happens” philosophy of cooking.

Neil Armstrong is recovering well from heart surgery according to a report from NPR. Armstrong, the first man on the moon, now aged 82, recently had heart bypass surgery according to his wife. Neil Armstrong is an outspoken opponent of recent cutbacks to the NASA budget, recently telling Congress: “For a country that has invested so much for so long to achieve a leadership position in space exploration and exploitation, this condition is viewed by many as lamentably embarrassing and unacceptable”.

PoliticalOmnivore writes a smart review of David Frum’s first novel, “Patriots”, which I am currently also reading. Frum, a leading American and Canadian conservative intellectual, and former Bush administration official, has written an excellent novel which provides an insider’s glimpse into the seedy underside of Washington D.C., and the way that recent political trends (the Tea Party etc.) are influencing the behaviour of the thousands of political operatives working in D.C., serving the powers that be. I will be publishing my own review of “Patriots” on this blog in the coming days.

Another piece from Slate, scolding us for admiring the physiques of the female Olympic beach volleyball competitors, rather than their athletic skills. Justin Peters, the author, makes a fair point, though I think he goes a little too far in referring to Boris Johnson as an “asshole couch dweller”.

The astronauts currently aboard the International Space Station have a unique perspective on the London 2012 Olympic Games, writes astronaut Joe Acaba on his NASA blog. He writes: “I think watching the Olympics reminds us that we share one planet and that we can respect one another no matter what our differences, yet at the same time we can be proud of who we are and what we represent”.

A moving memorial from The Economist to recent failed missions to Mars, against the background of the recent success of NASA’s Curiosity rover in landing successfully on the surface of the red planet.

 

BRITISH POLITICS

The same left-wing blogs who so viscerally oppose the idea of unpaid internships, or the government’s welfare-to-work plans for unpaid work experience in exchange for benefits, are apparently posting recruitment advertisements for people to work as interns in a “voluntary” capacity. Blogger Guido Fawkes calls them out for their blatant hypocrisy.

<< Nothing else worthwhile to report on British politics. The Olympics eclipses everything… >>

 

AMERICAN POLITICS

A rare voice of sense in today’s Republican party, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md) has spoken out against the hysteria and apocalyptic language being used by some of his GOP colleagues as the budget “sequester” – the compulsory draconian spending cuts designed to kick into effect if the two parties could not agree a comprehensive spending deal – comes closer to becoming a reality. Appealing to the better nature of lawmakers, Bartlett says: “We need to stop with all the superlatives about the thing and be rational about it and involve the American people on it. It’s their country. It’s their kids that will have to fight the next war. They have a right to be involved, don’t they?” Hear, hear.

The Economist ponders the difference between “buying a little social justice with your coffee and buying a little Christian traditionalism with your chicken”. Their conclusion: “… the best arena for moral disagreement is not the marketplace, but our intellectual and democratic institutions. We hash out our disagreements, as best we can, in public deliberation. The outcome of this deliberation becomes input to official policymaking, which in turn determines the rules of the game for business.”

Tim Stanley, writing in The Telegraph, cries a river for Mitt Romney over the recent harsh campaign ads that the Obama campaign has unleashed upon the Republican nominee-in-waiting. Pulling the partisan blinkers firmly into position over his eyes, he conveniently skips any mention of Republican “death panel” talk, or GOP intransigence on striking a bipartisan deal on the budget and deficit reduction. According to Dr. Stanley, “… we can also detect a strategy for winning that runs counter to liberal faith in his powerful personality. In short: hope and change are out; divide to win is in.”

SEMI PARTISAN SUMMARY

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CULTURE

Free speech continues to be squashed in Britain as a teenage Twitter user is arrested for sending mean-spirited and hurtful tweets to British driver Tom Daley. In a wonderful piece of journalism, the BBC neglect to tell us the precise wording of the tweets in question, saying only that “the 18-year-old received a message telling him he had let down his father”. Unhelpful, BBC. They go on to report: “A 17-year-old boy was arrested at a guest house in the Weymouth area on suspicion of malicious communications”. Apparently this is a crime in Britain, now. It goes without saying that mocking an Olympic athlete and making insulting reference to his late father is reprehensible and in very bad taste; equally it should go without saying that it should not lead to arrest, criminal charges or incarceration

Email may be king for most of us these days, but in Japan the humble fax machine is still alive and well, and in frequent use, both in the workplace and at home. This is partly attributable to the aging population – with one in five Japanese being over 65 years of age, many of these older citizens are more comfortable with the familiar fax technology. Also a factor is the perceived impersonality of the email as a medium for communicating with valued clients, or sending time-critical messages.

An extremely valuable Stradivarius violin was left on a train in Switzerland by an absent-minded musician. This makes me feel slightly better about losing my bank card last month.

At the conclusion of his Beethoven symphony cycle with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra at the BBC Proms, Daniel Barenboim gave a moving impromptu speech thanking the audience and the organisers for the opportunity. In his remarks, he said: “Our gratitude to the BBC who gave us this wonderful, unique opportunity to be here and play all the Beethoven symphonies – and in every concert one, and sometimes two, works by Pierre Boulez – and have all that televised. Ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you, we travel a lot, there is no country in the world that would do that for music and for culture”. Barenboim is not my favourite musician in the world, but the work that he is doing here is priceless.

Following the sad death of author Gore Vidal at age 86, The Guardian has assembled a selection of 26 of his most memorable quotes. My personal favourite: “I never miss a chance to have sex or appear on television”. Or perhaps: “There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise”.

 

BRITISH POLITICS

The BBC reports that many disabled people feel that media coverage about benefit cheats has worsened attitudes toward them. The article states: “When asked what could be contributing to such hostility, 87% singled out people claiming disability benefits to which they are not entitled. And 84% highlighted negative media coverage about benefit cheats”. Based on these numbers, you might be forgiven for thinking that the thing that would make the most improvement for genuine claimants would then be to crack down harder on illegitimate claimants. But apparently 84% trumps 87%, and what we actually have to do is have the government tone down its rhetoric about fraudulent claims, and have the media stop reporting about it. Who knew?

The Labour Party was forced to apologise and disassociate itself from comments made by supporters, eagerly anticipating the death of the former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. The Telegraph reports: “Last night, Louise Mensch, the backbench Conservative MP, called on Labour to respond after being sent a message by a follower who claimed to have worked for the Party inviting her to a party following Lady Thatcher’s death”. Labour responded, saying “Language like this has no place on politics or civilised society. No one should be wanting to celebrate the death of anyone.”

 

AMERICAN POLITICS

We have it all wrong, according to Rush Limbaugh. Mitt Romney’s overseas trip to the United Kingdom, Israel and Poland was actually not a complete disaster. We just think that it was because the US press pool travelling with Romney are deliberately harassing him (by this, I think he means asking him questions at press conferences) and trying to trick him into making mistakes. Like Sarah Palin’s famous “gotcha questions”. Says Limbaugh: “They’re trying to create gaffes. They’re working on behalf of Barack Obama. They are attempting to carry forth the meme that Romney’s foreign trip is a disaster, that it’s one gaffe after another. They’re trying to do this in the mainstream. And the fact of the matter is Romney is having a home run of a trip”. Well, that’s good, then. Insulting your best ally on day 1, fawning to appease the views of one particular Israeli party (despite promising not to create new foreign policy as a candidate travelling abroad) and being rebuffed by the Polish Solidarity movement are all good things, in Limbaugh’s world view. Of course, if you want to make the argument that these things don’t matter because the only important thing is the perception of the trip back home, as Romney’s aides are trying to do, it might help if the candidate actually spoke with the US press pool that are travelling with him.

Tim Stanley, writing in his Daily Telegraph column, comes late to the Chick-fil-A party but essentially agrees with the view taken by Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Greenwald, many others and myself, that attempts by local politicians to bully Chick-fil-A by withholding permits to open new outlets as punishment for the views of their executives is unseemly, unwise and unconstitutional. He does close with a good point though, aimed at Rahm Emanuel: “Someone should explain to Rahm Emanuel that gay rights was supposed to be about guaranteeing privacy, abolishing legal discrimination and defending the dignity of the individual against the prejudice of the mob. It wasn’t supposed to be about creating a new standard of acceptable opinion and enforcing it with the muscle of the state. Liberalism without a profound respect for difference is just fascism by another name.”

Mark Oppenheimer, writing in The Nation, has an interesting profile of Canadian/American conservative thinker and former Bush Administration aide, David Frum. I’m quite an admirer of Frum’s (though we would disagree strongly on some issues), particularly since he penned the famous “Waterloo” piece criticising the Republican tactics opposing US healthcare reform, which got him fired from one of the jobs that he held at the time. This long-form piece looks in some depth at the evolution in Frum’s thinking, showing the areas where he has moved (gay marriage, tax policy) and those where he has definitely not moved (foreign policy). In an interesting aside, the author characterises David Frum’s new position thus: “Frum has found a new synthesis, according to which a moderate welfare state stabilizes the United States so that it can remain internationally strong. A little liberalism at home helps keep us neoconservative abroad.”

 

MISCELLANEOUS

What happens when an electricity grid failure knocks out power for half the population of one of the most populous nations in the world? Well, apparently, the story gets buried deep down at the bottom of the BBC News homepage. I did not know that it was possible for a technical fault or excessive consumption to cause such a widespread failure, but given that it is, I hope that the British and American governments are taking suitable precautions to guard against a similar failure, perhaps caused by malicious intent rather than technical fault.

In another bold signal of intent, China has announced plans to land an unmanned probe on the surface of the moon next year, as part of their wider project to land a man on the moon at an unspecified time. China has already achieved significant milestones in terms of human spaceflight, recently including their first spacewalks, first manual docking manoeuvre and first female astronaut.