October 21, 2018

Bernie has it. Trump has it. Joe has it. Does Hillary?

As Joe Biden polls family and friends about entering the presidential fray, he’s getting two kinds of advice – personal and political.  The personal is about his life, his values and what he can give to his country.  The political is about Hillary Clinton’s vulnerability.

Honesty and trustworthiness are top issues for voters, but majorities in swing states “>said on “Face the Nation,” “because he’s a billionaire.” The “logical consequence” of Trump’s argument: “The only people who can run for office in America who don’t have to curry favors are billionaires themselves.” Sanders’ alternative is the 350,000 people who’ve contributed an average of $31 to his campaign.  This is peanuts, but it makes him real.

Clinton, too, wants campaign finance reform, and Sanders’ catching fire with the base on that issue is probably what got her to talk more about it.  At the same time, her campaign plans to raise $2.5 billion.  Barack Obama’s credibility on campaign finance reform cratered in 2008, when he became the first major candidate “>voters’ top issue in NBC/Wall Street Journal and New York Times polls.  Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig has even launched a quixotic presidential campaign on this one issue. 

Clinton won’t go as far as Lessig wants her to, and she won’t go as far as Sanders is, but she can’t afford to be seen as any less credible on money in politics than Trump.  Straight talk from her would be electrifying. Did the hours she spent dialing for dollars ever make her want to take a shower? Was there a contribution to her Senate campaigns she regrets accepting?  Have donors asked for things that crossed a line?  Where does she draw that line? (And did she really go to Trump’s wedding just because she thought “>More than half of the money that Republican candidates have raised has come from just 130 families and their businesses.  Trump’s candor about the contributor class – his rupture with donor omertà – has turned the other candidates’ evasions into anvils around their ankles. Questions about Clinton’s money machine won’t go away.  They give her an opportunity. But if her answers sound as weasely as Jeb Bush’s, it won’t do wonders for her trustworthiness.

Another taboo Trump broke:  he trumpeted the Cleveland debate’s TV ratings.  “There should have been 2 million people watching,” he said, but instead there were 24 million. “Who do you think they were watching – Jeb Bush? I don’t think so.”  It’s a casual admission that campaigns are spectacles, candidates are infotainment talent and news is a corporate cash cow. The debate contained more than 17 minutes of paid ads and Fox News self-promotion.  Networks and stations monetize the eyeballs of the audiences that their political programming attracts.  Candidates win or lose, but media oligarchs always come out ahead.

It didn’t used to be that way (hello, League of Women Voters!), and it doesn’t have to be that way now. Why should parties and networks run the debate schedule and format? Why should Fox News or CNN get to say who gets prime time, who gets the children’s table, whether there’s a live audience and whether they’re encouraged to emote, as they were in Cleveland, where “>proposed that primary debates randomly mix Republican and Democratic candidates, he distanced himself from bipartisan compliance with corporate media kabuki. Clinton could spring herself, too. Unless a candidate picks a fight, the only It prize at an establishment debate is an Authentic Hack badge.

“You know, they’re calling it ‘the summer of Trump,’” Trump martyk@jewishjournal.com.