Saturday, September 17, 2016


I recently heard a political pundit on MSNBC’s Morning Joe say that in politics, “style always wins over substance.” Is this true? If so, beat the November rush and panic now. I remember the famous 1960 Kennedy/ Nixon debate that prompted very different reactions. Those who saw it on TV, who saw the handsome, cool JFK vs. the sweaty, nervous Nixon, said JFK won, and those who heard it on the radio thought Nixon won. Which is to say, for all political intents and purposes: perception is reality. Apparently, what is actually so is less important to voters than how candidates appear and how they make us feel. In 1960, stylish and substantive prevailed over unappetizing and incompetent. But it was a very close race. So is this one.

Which brings me to transparency. Both Trump and Clinton are accused of not being transparent about different things: his taxes, business affairs, health, foundation, etc.; her health, veracity, the emails, foundation, etc. However, this does not reflect the most accurate use of the word transparency. In the instances just mentioned, the candidates don’t seem to be forthcoming with information.

But as people and candidates, they are glaringly transparent. He is clearly unhinged, dishonest, uninformed, bigoted, and uniquely unqualified to be the leader of the free world. He personifies “inappropriate” and takes it to a shocking level by any political measure. She is clearly an old-school politician with a Scrooge-length chain of political sins tied to her, stiff as a board, and talks like a lawyer. But she’s extremely intelligent, disciplined, experienced, well-informed, and completely capable of being the leader of the free world without blowing it up. In short: he’s dangerous and she’s flawed. Take your pick.

If you choose dangerous over flawed, it’s probably because you crave change of any kind at any price – which in my opinion is immature, impatient, and ill-advised. You believe our admittedly dysfunctional political system has let you down and done you harm. Fair enough. You’re also charmed by Trump’s appearance of brute strength as well as his conversational demagoguery. You think he’s protective, entertaining, exciting. You actually like him. I get it and accordingly refer all readers to my 12/17/15 post, “Who’s Your Daddy?” and hasten to remind Trump supporters that this is a presidential election, not a search on Match.Com for your next boyfriend.

If you choose flawed over dangerous, it may be that, as I do, you genuinely like Hillary Clinton and forgive her alleged transgressions. If that’s not it, then it’s because you’re not willing to risk unnecessarily additional national and global danger. The world is dangerous enough without an American Putin at the helm. You’re willing to settle for same-old and unexciting in the name of competence and sanity. You may not like her, but you acknowledge her intelligence, experience, restraint and toughness. As Robin Williams once said of Hillary and past formidable female heads of state, chiefly Golda Meir and Indira Gandhi (Angela Merkel wasn’t on the radar yet), “You may not want to fuck them, but you sure as hell don’t want to fuck with them.” You may think that’s sexist. I think it’s funny, but I make no effort to be politically correct.

He’s not stupid, he’s shrewd. She’s not shrewd, she’s smart. Shrewd is style. Smart is substance. The difference is clear – although it seems a lot of people don’t see it. Indeed, what a lot of people on both sides don’t seem to see as they over-react to every word, cough, gaff, and convoluted remark that comes out of both their mouths, is that both of them are victims of language being decimated in the 21st Century. People speak poorly and often use words incorrectly – and “people” includes political office-seekers of all stripes.

He just casually lies, gets things wrong, speaks without thinking, and gives new meaning to chutzpah. She calls him out on his buffoonery, bluster, and bullshit. In the course of doing that, she said half his supporters were a “basketful of deplorables.” I thought she was engaging in word-play: you know, deplorable vs. deportable. The basket thing, once it registered with me, reminded me of Mitt Romney’s binders full of women. Democrats jumped all over that, remember? But that was excessive (and humorless). Romney was obviously referring to folders of résumés, he just spoke poorly. There was enough wrong with Romney that was undeniably transparent. Why break a sweat over “binders”?

I also didn’t care that Romney was prepared to dismiss the “47%” who were never going to buy into his millionaire-mindset about what many Americans are and want. And he was right. That’s why he lost. Similarly, Clinton is right when she dismisses many of Trump’s supporters as racist, xenophobic, homophobic, etc., but as with Romney, being right doesn’t ipso-facto get you the win. Only if Democrats, Independents, and some Republicans all turn out in droves and vote for her will she win – baskets, emails, and pneumonia notwith- standing. So ignore what the candidates say. As Bernie Sanders advises, focus on the issues and look at what the candidates have and have not accomplished – and toward what ends. The difference is transparent. And urgent.

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