The Josh Hansen Review of 2016 Iowa Victory Speeches; or, Anguish of the Political Independent

I just watched the Iowa “victory” speeches of Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Marco Rubio. Here are my notes on the themes struck by the candidates, and how their speeches came across to me, an idiosyncratic nonpartisan who isn’t anybody’s target audience.

Everybody

Everybody seems to agree on a few things. All or almost all of the candidates either did say or could have said the following:

  • “The country is in crisis.”
  • “Power should reside in the people.”
  • “My [defeated] opponents in our party are wonderful people who fought a good fight.”
  • “My opponents in the other party are devious and divisive.”

Sanders

The Bernie Sanders speech was vigorous and interesting.

  • Punching bag: wealthy businessmen, Koch bros, etc.
  • Against campaign finance corruption; proud of not having SuperPAC
  • Says healthcare is a right, not a privilege (without qualification)
  • Says public colleges and universities should be tuition-free; pay for it using tax on Wall Street speculation
  • $15 minimum wage
  • Rails against wealth inequality, says will do something about it but does not specify
  • Says he needs the help of a “political revolution”
  • 2.3 million donors, average donation of $27
  • Climate change
  • Mentions of unions: 0

Cruz

Ted Cruz‘s speech was boring. He thanked each and every supporter and volunteer and endorser, his mom, his cousin, his dad. Then a long thing about Ronald Reagan. Then a list of conservative issues. Not an ideas speech but a long-winded consolidating support speech.

  • Punching bag: Washington establishment in both parties; “the Washington cartel”; “a corrupt class that enriches itself and leaves behind the working men and women of this country”
  • Mentions of Constitution: 4
  • Mentions of God: 3
  • Mentions of prayer: 2
  • Scripture quotations: 1
  • Mentions of Ronald Reagan: 5 (yes, Reagan is invoked more often than God)
  • Lengthy disquisitions on Ronald Reagan: 1
  • “it’s morning”; “morning is coming” (an implicit Reagan reference)
  • Obligatory but insubstantial mentions of conservative causes: free markets, Judeo-Christian values, Obamacare repeal, 2nd Amendment, Israel, limited government, economic growth, military strength, life, marriage, religious liberty
  • 800,000 donors, average donation of $67
  • Stop immigration amnesty, secure borders, end sanctuary cities
  • National security, “radical Islamic terrorism”, ISIS
  • @TheMilitary: rules of engagement have been wrong, immoral, and will end under me. (Sounds like Nixon re: Vietnam)
  • @LawEnforcement: no more being demonized
  • Margaret Thatcher reference re: socialism

Clinton

Hillary Clinton‘s speech was ho-hum. She did the “victory” speech she was obligated to do. The most interesting idea was that the Democratic party faces a choice about what it stands for, with her and Sanders representing two distinct paths.

  • We’re deciding what the Democratic party stands for [choosing between her and Sanders]
  • I’m a progressive
  • Mentions reformers against the status quo
  • More good-paying jobs, raise incomes
  • Finish the job of universal healthcare coverage
  • Combat climate change
  • Education system work for every one of our children
  • Make college affordable, reduce student debt
  • Protect rights: women’s, gay, voting, immigrant, workers’
  • “Common sense gun safety measures” against the gun lobby
  • “Determined to push forward on the great goals and values that unite us as Americans”
  • Mentions of God: 1

Trump

Donald Trump was unfocused but mercifully short.

  • So happy, nobody thought we could do this well, thanks to my family, etc.
  • “We’re at 28 points ahead” in New Hampshire
  • Trump at his humblest: “I think we’re going to be proclaiming victory, I hope.”
  • Boasts of soundly beating whoever the Democrats pick

Rubio

Marco Rubio came across as energetic and passionate.

  • “For months they told us… we had no chance.” Not old enough, etc. “They told me… that I needed to wait in line.”
  • “Everything that makes this nation great is hanging in the balance.”
  • Mentions of God: 4
  • Mentions of Constitution: 2
  • Mentions of Reagan: 0
  • 2nd Amendment
  • Says we need to rebuild the military (as if it were too small)
  • 2016 is a referendum on our identity as a nation. If Sanders/Clinton win, we’ll be a great nation in decline.
  • Obamacare, executive orders, military decline, liberal justices in supreme court
  • Hillary Clinton: is disqualified because of classified info in private email server; because she lied to armed forces (a jab at her Benghazi testimony?)
  • We’ll grow the conservative movement
  • People living paycheck-to-paycheck, students with debt, families trying to raise children with values
  • Defeat Clinton/Sanders/whoever
  • American Declaration of Independence, rights come from Creator not government
  • Rubio’s immigrant parents helped him see what was special about America. This isn’t just my story, it’s our story, it’s America’s story.
  • America isn’t special by accident; each generation sacrificed to make things better off; it’s our turn to do the same; when I’m elected, we will do our part
  • What history will say about us: we remembered who we were, confronted our problems, expanded the American dream, because we did what needed to be done. A new American century.
  • I’ll be back as our nominee.

Conclusion

The two candidates that felt like they actually cared about the substance of their campaigns were Sanders and Rubio. The others felt like they were just checking boxes by listing off hot-button issues that excite their supporters. Or they were just maintaining their existing overbearing, bombastic persona (Trump).

Assuming these distillations from the Iowa caucus speeches represent the priorities of each candidate accurately, I feel deeply torn about the visions of the future presented. Within the strange bundling of issues known as the left and the likewise weird concoction of issues known as the right are many excellent ideas. The critical importance of our founding document, the Constitution. The importance of mitigating what appears to be human-caused climate change. The dangers of a sprawling federal bureaucracy that consumes increasingly much of our economic output. The peril to social cohesion presented by extreme inequality of wealth and income. The vital contributions to our country made by immigrants, but the problems posed by our current disorderly immigration policy as well. These are all things I can get behind.

But my personal political platform as represented by this list is a hand-picked splice of select parts of numerous candidates’ platforms. There is no party that represents me. Not even close. To get the good things offered by either party would require me to accept their numerous unpalatable positions: the Republicans’ obsession with the military and irresponsibly bellicose foreign policy; Sanders’ disregard for the massive tax increases necessary to support his expanded social programs, and the distorting influence of single-payer health systems; Republicans’ deification of Ronald Reagan; both parties not caring enough about our $20 trillion debt to dare speak truth to the American people about it; xenophobia; pharisaic invocation of religion for what feel like purely political purposes; capture by the gun lobby; capture by the unions; capture by the business lobby. So much nonsense.

The anguish of the political independent is that nobody speaks for them. And yet we must decide, we must game out, we must estimate which of all the evils best represents our interests. At times it feels like an impossible task.

Dump Trump

By Michael Vadon. CC-BY-SA 4.0

By Michael Vadon. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Can we as a nation finally be done with Donald Trump? He doesn’t just talk nonsense—these days he actively spews the worst of ideas, verging on Hitlerian.

For example, today in an official campaign press release candidate Trump proposed barring all Muslims from entering the country:

Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.

This follows his support for surveillance of mosques and his publicly declared openness to requiring all Muslims to register in a national database.

Mr. Trump did not immediately unveil plans for a Final Solution to the Muslim Question, but we can expect this any day now.

Not convinced that Trump is in the wrong?

Imagine that instead of Islam it is your religion or your ethnic group or whatever that he’s targeting. For example:

Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of white people entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.

Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Christians entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.

Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of women entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.

Treating all of Islam as our enemy makes 23% of the world’s population our enemy. That’s insane. It’s almost the least effective possible way to attempt to target terrorists—it’s a class of people so large that it’s almost meaningless. It’s not too far removed from, for example, targeting all men simply because most terrorists are men.

I hope that this outrageous man has finally crossed some line with his supporters and that his candidacy will soon go down in flames. And yet I don’t actually expect that to happen, given his resiliency so far. But please, America, let’s keep this man as far away from the presidency as we can manage.

France and America

Me and EiffelFrance is a lovely country. Paris, a delightful city. The attacks last week were a disgusting expression of an empty ideology that hurts its practitioners and its victims both.

The outpouring of support and solidarity that people around me have shown for France frankly caught me by surprise. It seems we’re past the old pettiness of “freedom fries” and francophobia. I say it’s an improvement. In the long run I think it’s our natural state to have these warm fraternal feelings for France, at very least because we Americans owe the French a great debt of gratitude for their assistance in the Revolutionary War. In 1919, shortly after the First World War, Woodrow Wilson urged the Senate to sign a treaty with France, declaring:

We are bound to France by ties of friendship which we have always regarded, and shall always regard, as peculiarly sacred. She assisted us to win our freedom as a nation. It is seriously to be doubted whether we could have won it without her gallant and timely aid. We have recently had the privilege of assisting in driving enemies, who were also enemies of the world, from her soil; but that does not pay our debt to her. Nothing can pay such a debt. She now desires that we should promise to lend our great force to keep her safe against the power she has had most reason to fear…. A new day has dawned. Old antagonisms are forgotten. The common cause of freedom and enlightenment has created new comradeships and a new perception of what it is wise and necessary for great nations to do to free the world of intolerable fear.

—Message of President Wilson Transmitting to the Senate the Treaty with France of June 28, 1919

We seem to be in a new age of needing to “free the world of intolerable fear”, and these nearly century-old words are strikingly relevant today. But the pro-French fervor in the air right now is concerning as well as inspiring. It reminds me strongly of the feeling immediately after the September 11th attacks. There’s the unity in the face of violence and madness, the cohesion around what makes our western culture distinctive, but there’s also the risk of overreacting and bumbling our way into quagmires.

It seems France is already proceeding down that road. Their first instinct now is the same we acted out in the United States after our national tragedy 14 years ago: to solve the problem by militarizing it. An attack on us killing X people becomes hundreds of attacks in a foreign land killing 100X people, inspiring a new generation of terrorists who will wish to avenge their dead comrades, wives, and children.

At Versailles 4 June 2007

In fact, last week’s attacks seem partly to be a consequence of America’s overreaction to 9/11. We invaded Iraq, then we got out, leaving a feeble government that provided fertile ground for the growth of the Islamic State—the very organization claiming credit for the attacks in Paris. And so we see violence begetting violence begetting violence.

We need to take the Islamic State threat seriously. We need to find ways to tackle the root causes of these attacks—to help people to stop wanting to attack us and our way of life. The terrorist attacks aren’t the problem—they’re a symptom of underlying problems of political oppression, economic stagnation, and deep-seated anger at bearing the brunt of various American and European imperialist projects through the decades.

But why am I telling you this? Isn’t this obvious to everybody, hasn’t it been for the last 14 years? Don’t we all realize already that neither we, nor the French, nor anyone else, can war our way out of this problem?

I hope it is obvious. Maybe military action will be necessary, but then again, maybe it does more harm than good. At very least it must be recognized for the worst-case option that it is. Every time we resort to it, we do so because we’re still losing the war of ideas.

Until we start fighting and winning in the realm of ideology, these attacks will keep happening, no matter the military hardware, nor the sweeping surveillance powers, nor the national security state we throw at it.

On résiste à l’invasion des armées; on ne résiste pas à l’invasion des idées.
One withstands the invasion of armies; one does not withstand the invasion of ideas.

—Victor Hugo, “History of a Crime”, Conclusion, Chapter 10