iOS app Android app More

Money Matters (in Presidential Elections)

Kirby Goidel   |   February 8, 2016    4:38 PM ET

One of the observations currently being made about the 2016 presidential elections involves the ineffectiveness of money as a campaign resource. Anecdotally, there appears to be good reason for such skepticism. Raising large sums in mostly small increments, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has raised over $74 million, enough money to compete with the Clinton fundraising machine. Sanders has been successful enough raising money that he has opted out of the public financing system that, at least in theory, he supports. Perhaps ironically, Sanders fundraising success against Clinton might be the best argument against his own campaign platform. If the campaign finance system is broken by Wall Street influence, how has a self-described "democratic socialist" raised more money in individual contributions than any single candidate in the Republican field, and more small donor contributions than any candidate in history?
2016-02-08-1454966397-4506335-Money12.png

On the other side of the aisle, Jeb Bush and his affiliated Super PACs have raised over $150 million to barely register as a blip in the national polls or in the Iowa caucuses. There may be previous candidates who have won fewer votes with more resources and organizational support, but it is hard to think of them. While it is possible that Jeb will emerge Lazarus-like in New Hampshire or South Carolina or beyond, it seems increasingly unlikely. In this campaign cycle, voters don't seem inclined to buy what he is selling no matter how hard he is peddling it. The lesson for campaign finance is relatively straightforward, money can't fix a weak campaign or a struggling candidate.

For at least some observers of the campaign, such anecdotes serve as evidence that money matters far less than we imagine. The campaign so far, however, is fairly consistent with what we understand about the effects of money on the electoral process. That is, money is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for winning an election. Candidates who can't raise money necessarily lose, but raising (or spending) the most money is no guarantee of victory. How the money is spent, the effectiveness of candidate messaging, and the overall political mood set boundaries around the effectiveness of campaign spending in any given electoral context. From the standpoint of democratic theory, this is mostly (though not entirely) good news: Voters aren't malleable balls of clay who can easily be molded by candidates with unlimited resources.

At the same time, however, it is a mistake to underestimate the importance of money in the political process. Money matters in all sorts of ways, some obvious, some more subtle, but its effects are pervasive and far-reaching. Here, we can draw several conclusions from the 2016 presidential race.

1. Candidates who drop out of an election typically do so because their funding sources dry up. Funding sources dry up when donors start to believe the chances of victory are near zero. Unable to show any momentum during the 2016 presidential campaign, Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, and Martin O'Malley saw their financial support dwindle and were subsequently forced out of the race. Other candidates, especially candidates with little cash on hand, will follow after New Hampshire (February 9) and South Carolina (February 20). Jeb Bush has raised enough money to hang around for a while, but if he looks increasingly unlikely his financial supporters will migrate to other candidates.

2016-02-08-1454966455-7314247-Money22.png

There is another less visible effect of money on candidates. Candidates who aren't perceived as viable are typically never able to raise enough money to mount a credible campaign. This is particularly important in races below the presidential level where candidates challenging incumbent office-holders find it difficult to raise enough money to mount a competitive campaign. If we think of campaign finance as market-based, it is a decidedly risk-averse, preferring likely winners and incumbents over challengers.

2. Thanks to Citizen's United and the ease of creating and funding Super PACs, more candidates cannot only run for president but can stay in the race much longer. Traditional candidate campaign committees face significant limits in the amount of money they can raise from individuals, parties, and groups. Individual contributions to campaign committees, for example, are limited to $2,700 per cycle. Because Super PACs can accept unlimited contributions, they can be funded by a handful of large donors.

One unintended consequence is that more candidates are running and running longer this election cycle because they can rely on designated Super PACs to support their campaigns. The free-for-all for the Republican nomination is at least partly the result of the availability of campaign funding for a diverse range of candidates - many outside the mainstream of the Republican Party. To date, however, we have yet to see much evidence that being able to stick around has helped struggling candidates become more competitive. Where the Super PAC is primarily the financial tool of a single benefactor (or a limited number of benefactors), the money dries up slowly, allowing candidates to continue to spend money on flailing campaigns. The reality is that much Super PAC spending is wasted on candidates who can't (or won't) win.

3. The exponential growth of campaign spending over the past several election cycles has led some observers to worry that billionaires would buy the 2016 elections. This turned out to be wrong not because the billionaires weren't trying but because they preferred different candidates. The idea that billionaires, united in their preferences, could control election outcomes by controlling the flow of money to candidates only works if they mostly agree on who the best candidates are and the direction of the country. At least in 2016, there is little or no agreement among the donor class about the "best" candidates.

4. Super PACs are often confused with "dark money" groups that hide the identity of major donors. There is good reason for the confusion. While Super PACs must disclose their donors, donations can be filtered through 501(c)(4) which hide the identity of contributors In most cases, however, Super PACs can easily to be tied to a single large contributor or a limited number of contributors. These donors contribute directly to the Super PAC and their contributions are disclosed because they want their influence to be recognized. If you want to be a king-maker or want to reap later policy benefits, you typically don't hide the shadows.

5. Small dollar contributions are not necessarily more democratic or better for the political system. Perhaps the biggest surprise this electoral cycle has been the fundraising success of democratic socialist Bernie Sanders who raked in a record number of small contributions (>$200). While the overall amounts are staggering, Sanders' success in raising small contributions reflects one of the truisms about campaign fundraising. Ideological and issue-based candidates tend to attract small individual contributions. The modern conservative movement, for example, was built on small contributions solicited through innovative uses of direct mail fundraising during the 1970s and 1980s.

While the research on this point is not entirely conclusive, there is significant evidence that money from small contributions contributes to political polarization. As Florida Democratic Representative Chris Murphy (as quoted by Ezra Klein) observed: "We have to admit that everybody who is giving is giving for a reason. Some of them are your friends and family and they care about you. But most of the time they care about an issue, whether they're a corporation or an individual. We draw these arbitrary lines, but corporations want things from the government, and so do individuals." If large contributions are corrupting, Klein concludes, small contributions are polarizing because small donors value partisanship.

6. Within this context, only a small percentage of Americans contribute any money in any campaign cycle. According to the American National Election Studies (ANES), only 12 percent of Americans contributed to a campaign during 2012. Campaign contributors are notably older, wealthier, and better educated than the general population. An even small percent (0.23 percent according to Open Secrets) contribute $200 or more. Campaign contributors - small or large - are not the huddled masses. They aren't even the median voter. While online fundraising makes raising small contributions easier, it by no means changes this basic reality. Contributors do not resemble the great majority of Americans who do not contribute to political campaigns.

7. Candidates don't have Super PACs. By definition, Super PACs may align with candidates but are officially run independently from the campaign. This means the PACs associated with various candidates are not supposed to coordinate expenditures though enforcement is minimal and the lines are thin and blurred. When Bernie Sanders says he doesn't have a Super PAC what he really means is that no one has organized a Super PAC specifically with the goal of electing him president. There are Super PACs, however, spending on his behalf. National Nurses United has spent over $500,000 on his behalf, and Communication Workers of America has agreed to "use all legal and possible resources to get him elected."

One might argue union-based Super PACs are less concerning from a perspective of democratic theory but they are Super PACs nonetheless. More generally, political scientists have long argued that money in politics is like water flowing downhill, it will find a way into the political system. A candidate like Sanders might reject Super PACs but that doesn't mean he can control the flow of money supporting (or opposing) him during this campaign.

If you want to get rid of Super PACs, the simplest mechanism for doing so may be by removing the contribution limits to campaign committees. That won't change the influence of money over the political process but it would assure that the money is directed through, rather than around, candidate campaign committees.

Overall, campaign finance continues to play a critical, if not defining, role in the 2016 presidential campaign. It affects not only who decides to run, it also affects their ability to compete in early primaries and their ability to stay in the race. As in the corporate world, unlimited campaign spending can't make voters buy into candidates or ideas they don't want, but no candidate can compete without continuing and sustained financial support. Candidates like Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump may challenge the system by raising money in smaller increments or by self-financing much of their campaigns, but they aren't altering the basic equation of American politics whereby money is a critical ingredient to electoral success. Money might not buy elections but without it, you aren't even in the running.

A Feminist's Guide To Critiquing Hillary Clinton

Kelly Wilz   |   February 8, 2016    3:52 PM ET

Fair warning: This blog is not going to be angry. It will not be written in all caps. There will be no vulgarity. And it probably won't go viral. I don't care.

What I do care about is the fact I've read over 70-plus articles in the past two weeks alone discussing the 2016 election and what I see is a total lack of nuance and a lot of critiques that overgeneralize or underplay the very real role gender plays when people talk about Clinton and/or any other women who dare to step into positions that for so long have only been held by men.

What I do care about is how on my Facebook feed and elsewhere, I see well-meaning folks called out as sexist jerks for simply offering legitimate critiques of Clinton and what a Clinton presidency might look like.

I like nuance. I like messy. I don't like soundbites and simplicity.

So, let's play the nuance game.

For folks who love Clinton, realize that not every critique poised against her is based in sexism. For those who love Sanders, realize that sexism is very alive in 2016, and that you can love your candidate and embrace the reality that politicking while female is still an incredibly difficult thing to do. Imagine that. Both/and. For those who haven't yet made up their minds, or don't fall into either of these categories, this is for you, too.

"For folks who love Clinton, realize that not every critique poised against her is based in sexism."

So, here is my attempt to create a list of productive ways to critique Hillary Clinton without being a sexist jerk.

Do not talk about her voice. Really. Just don't.

Last week (and pretty much throughout Clinton's existence), we've seen pundits and others criticize her shrillness, her voice, and her "masculine" speaking style. Soraya Chemaly argues, "Anger in a man doesn't make the world wonder out loud if his hormones have taken over his brain and rendered him an incoherent idiot who can't be trusted with Important Things. How many words for 'angry' men are there? Ones that have the powerful and controlling cultural resonance of yelling, and shouting, b-tch, nag? Or, yep, shrill."

Karlyn Kohrs Campbell wrote an incredibly thoughtful piece discussing how our culture has negatively responded to Clinton's inability to fit within the parameters set in terms of how one should act and speak as a woman in the political sphere. She says:

[Clinton] symbolizes the problems of public women writ large, the continuing demand that women who play public roles or function in the public sphere discursively enact their femininity, and that women who do not or who do so to only a limited degree, women whose training and personal history fit them for the roles of rhetor, lawyer, expert, and advocate, roles that are gender coded masculine, will arouse the intensely hostile responses that seem so baffling.

Overall, what Campbell is arguing is that women in the political sphere, in order to be taken seriously, must enact just the right amount of femininity and masculinity, and that Clinton's failure to be "appropriately feminine" has hindered her for decades.

She continues to thoughtfully lay out a "masculine" and "feminine" rhetorical style of speaking and discusses what that sounds like:

In rhetorical terms, performing or enacting femininity has meant adopting a personal or self-disclosing tone (signifying nurturance, intimacy, and domesticity) and assuming a feminine persona, e.g., mother, or an ungendered persona, e.g., mediator or prophet, while speaking. It has meant preferring anecdotal evidence (reflecting women's experiential learning in contrast to men's expertise), developing ideas inductively (so the audience thinks that it, not this presumptuous woman, drew the conclusions), and appropriating strategies associated with women -- such as domestic metaphors, emotional appeals to motherhood, and the like -- and avoiding such 'macho' strategies as tough language, confrontation or direct refutation, and any appearance of debating one's opponents. Note, however, that feminine style does not preclude substantive depth and argumentative cogency.

Presidents Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton use/used a "feminine" rhetorical style of speaking-something which men can do and not be criticized for. Reagan was the great communicator. Both Clinton and Obama have been called some of the greatest orators in American history.

Hillary Clinton cannot "perform" femininity and her inability to play into this script Campbell argues reveals *our deficiencies*-not Clinton's. Campbell states:

Our failure to appreciate the highly developed argumentative skills of an expert advocate, when the advocate is female, reveals our deficiencies, not hers. Legislation attendant on the second wave of feminism opened doors for able women who seek to exercise their skills in all areas of life, including the formation of public policy. If we reject all of those who lack the feminizing skills of Elizabeth Dole, we shall deprive ourselves of a vast array of talent.

Please don't talk about her "likeability."

As with the sound of her voice and her rhetorical speaking style, her "likeability" should have nothing to do with whether or not she would make a qualified president. Yes, I realize all candidates have to somewhat pass the likeability test, but for Clinton, because of the years long Hillary hating stemming from her time as first lady, this issue is in fact gendered, and to criticize her for not being likable reeks of sexism.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. argues, "Hillary hating has become one of those national past times that unite the elite and the lumpen." Gary Wills notes:

Hillary Hate is a large-scale psychic phenomenon. At the Republican convention there was a dismemberment doll on sale. For twenty dollars you could buy a rag-doll Hillary with arms and legs made to tear off and throw on the floor. ... Talk shows are full of speculation about Hillary's purported lesbianism and drug use. Fine conspiratorial reasoning sifts whether she was Vince Foster's mistress or murderer or both. The Don Imus show plays a version of the song 'The Lady is a Tramp' with new lyrics about the way the lady 'fornicates' and 'menstruates' and 'urinates,' concluding, 'That's why the First Lady is a tramp.'

As Nico Lang points out:

She was a working woman and full political partner with (gasp) feminist tendencies. Among would-be first ladies in the early 1990s, these were exotic qualities. Clinton has continued to occupy that same space for the better part of three decades now, a one-woman culture war who plays the political game the same way the men around her do. But unlike those men, Clinton is chided for being 'disingenuous' and a 'political insider.' Everyone else just gets to do their job. There are real reasons to have reservations about a Clinton presidency -- including her oft-cited ties to Wall Street and her hawkish foreign policy -- but how often are they the central force of the criticism lodged against her campaign? In an August poll, Quinnipac found that while political respondents felt that Hillary Clinton was 'strong' and a candidate with 'experience,' the words they most associated with her are 'liar,' 'dishonest,' and 'untrustworthy.' These designations appear to be motivated by her Emailgate scandal and the ongoing questions about Benghazi -- but none of the myriad investigations into either have turned up anything close to a smoking gun.
2016-02-08-1454960465-2579341-hillarynutcracker.jpg
Image

Rebecca Traister also notes:

Recall the days following the 2008 Iowa caucus, when the media took advantage of Clinton's defeat to let loose with their resentment and animosity toward her. That was when conservative Marc Rudov told Fox News that Clinton lost because 'When Barack Obama speaks, men hear 'Take off for the future!' When Hillary Clinton speaks, men hear 'Take out the garbage!' It was in the days after Iowa that Clinton infamously got asked about how voters believed her to be 'the most experienced and the most electable' candidate but 'are hesitating on the likability issue.' In late January, columnist Mike Barnicle told a laughing all-male panel on Morning Joe that Clinton's challenge was that she looks 'like everyone's first wife standing outside of probate court.'" In Diana B. Carlin and Kelly L. Winfrey's analysis of the various ways Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton were portrayed during the 2008 campaign, they note, "Women who exhibited too many masculine traits are often ridiculed and lose trust because they are going against type or play into male political stereotypes that voters are rejecting.

More recently, Sady Doyle argues that:

This plays out on the level of personal expression, too: Women are supposedly over-emotional, whereas men make stern, logical, intelligent judgments. So, if Hillary raises her voice, gets angry, cries, or (apparently) even makes a sarcastic joke at a man's expense, she will be seen as bitchy, crazy, cruel and dangerous. (Remember the 'NO WONDER BILL'S AFRAID' headlines after she raised her voice at a Benghazi hearing; remember the mass freak-out over her 'emotional meltdown' when someone thought she might be crying during a concession speech.) She absolutely cannot express negative emotion in public. But people have emotions, and women are supposed to have more of them than men, so if Hillary avoids them - if she speaks strictly in calm, logical, detached terms, to avoid being seen as crazy - we find her 'cold,' call her 'robotic' and 'calculating,' and wonder why she doesn't express her 'feminine side.' Again, she's going to be faulted for feminine weakness or lack of femininity, and both are damaging. Okay, so she can never be sad, angry, or impatient. That's not a ban on all emotion, right? You'd think the one clear path to avoiding the 'bitchy' or 'cold' descriptors would be to put on a happy face, and admit to emotions only when they are positive. You'd think that, and you'd be wrong: It turns out, people hate it when Hillary Clinton smiles or laughs in public. Hillary Clinton's laugh gets played in attack ads; it has routinely been called 'a cackle' (like a witch, right? Because she's old, and female, like a witch); frozen stills of Hillary laughing are routinely used to make her look 'crazy' in conservative media. She can't be sad or angry, but she also can't be happy or amused, and she also can't refrain from expressing any of those emotions. There is literally no way out of this one. Anything she does is wrong.

Given these constraints, Doyle argues it is impossible for Clinton to be likeable.

Look at how she's tried to address this issue. Dancing like a fool, talking about fashion, laughing more. What has it gotten her? Nothing but backlash.

Dave Holmes writes in Esquire, "You're not fun. Stop trying to pretend you're fun." The Onion writes an entire faux op-ed from Clinton entitled "I am Fun" painting her attempt at being "fun" as insincere and manufactured.

"I don't care if my president knows how to dance or even knows how to dress well. And you shouldn't either."

In the eyes of the American public, Hillary Clinton will never be fun. Or likeable. Or someone you'd want to have a beer with. And it shouldn't matter. Period. So quit it with the likeability stuff, already. It's stupid and petty. I don't care if my president knows how to dance or even knows how to dress well. And you shouldn't either.

Do criticize her on substantive issues.

As Kevin Young and Diana C. Sierra Becerra argue, "Clinton is the embodiment of corporate feminism." In their piece, they cite many areas where Clinton could have been and could still be a better advocate for women's rights. It's a fair critique but one that falls under the radar when we're so concerned with her voice, appearance, and dance skills.

Know your history, do some research and when criticizing, be fair.

One of the claims I often hear as to why some don't trust Clinton, or why some feel she's untrustworthy is because she sat on the board of Walmart. Ok. But let's dig a little deeper.

Ann Klefstad notes:

Not to take anything away from Bernie and Jane, but think what an advantage this is: to build a career in a location of your choosing, with the strong support of a highly qualified and intelligent person who is unconditionally loyal to you. This was also Bill Clinton's situation  --  after Yale, finding Hillary, heading home to Arkansas, and building a brilliant career in politics. But hey  --  what about Hillary? After getting a law degree from Yale (an all-male institution a few years previously) she meets Bill. She dumps her career as a congressional aide to move to Arkansas with Bill. I can imagine her dilemma.

This was the 1970s. If she wanted to be with Bill, she would be riding on the ship he was captain of. There were consequences to that. She would be a partner in creating a political career that would accomplish many of the goals she wanted to accomplish. Bill very much admired her superb intellect and political skills as well. So they embarked.

They're in Arkansas. Vermont politics have a pretty clean record. Arkansas? Not so much. You do make your own choices, but the context you're in, well, it matters. The Arkansas economy was in the toilet. The only bright star was the Walton family and Walmart, which was on track to become the biggest retailer in the world. They provided (in Arkansas) an expanding number of well-paid jobs. Bill was governor.

Should Hillary have dumped his political career for a chance to spit in Sam Walton's eye? Well, that wasn't going to happen. She sat on the Walmart board and did what she could to both ensure the prosperity of the state of which her husband was governor and to do the right thing. She has almost always chosen the path (sometimes not the one you'd pick -- ) that would enable her to accomplish some good actions, rather than the pure path that tends to lead to inaction, or to exile from the power than enables you to make change.

Still don't like the fact she sat on the board? Fine. Don't like her stances on foreign policy? Totally ok. But understand the choices Clinton made in the context in which she lived-not in a vacuum. This goes for all of her political choices. Never assume anything about any candidate without doing a little research first. It's amazing how much you can find out on this magical thing called the interwebs.

Don't assume critiques against Clinton are automatically rooted in sexism.

And when calling out someone for critiquing Clinton, don't assume they, are in fact, sexist either. Take the #BernieBro label, for example. According to Glenn Greenwald:

Have pro-Clinton journalists and pundits been subjected to some vile, abusive, and misogynistic rhetoric from random, anonymous internet supporters of Sanders who are angry over their Clinton support? Of course they have. Does that reflect in any way on the Sanders campaign or which candidate should win the Democratic primary? Of course it does not. The reason pro-Clinton journalists are targeted with vile abuse online has nothing specifically to do with the Sanders campaign or its supporters. It has everything to do with the internet.

There are literally no polarizing views one can advocate online -- including criticizing Democratic Party leaders such as Clinton or Barack Obama -- that will not subject one to a torrent of intense anger and vile abuse. It's not remotely unique to supporting Hillary Clinton: Ask Megyn Kelly about that, or the Sanders-supporting Susan Sarandon and Cornel West, or anyone with a Twitter account or blog. I've seen online TV and film critics get hauled before vicious internet mobs for expressing unpopular views about a TV program or a movie.

Amanda Hess pushes further arguing:

...as soon as the Bernie Bro materialized, the conversation around it deteriorated. As the meme gained momentum, some popularizers stopped bothering to marshal any kind of evidence that Sanders supporters were sexist ... This is a familiar online phenomenon. Just as mansplaining 'morphed from a useful descriptor of a real problem in contemporary gender dynamics to an increasingly vague catchall expression,' as Salon's Benjamin Hart put it in 2014, the Bernie Bro argument has been stretched beyond recognition by both its champions and its critics. What began as a necessary critique of leftist sexism has been replaced by a pair of straw men waving their arms in the wind.

If the label applies, absolutely use it. Call out sexism and misogyny -- especially if it's coming from someone who claims to be progressive. However, I worry the label is being thrown around loosely and being applied to many well-meaning, non-sexist male critics of Clinton. And that only silences debate. I don't want anyone to feel as though they cannot legitimately critique Clinton for fear of being called sexist, a Bernie Bro or other names.

"Call out sexism and misogyny -- especially if it's coming from someone who claims to be progressive. However, I worry the label is being thrown around loosely..."

Overall, as with most of my writing, this piece was for me. Every time I read an article about Clinton or Sanders or sexism or the fight for the soul of the Democratic Party, I find myself wishing for more nuance, less click-bait, and sound and civil discourse. I'm tired of seeing the same soundbites repeated on my Facebook wall, seeing good friends of mine unfriend each other or worse because they're on Team Sanders or Team Clinton and can't find common ground to have a legitimate debate about what this election is really about.

In the words of my good friend Greg Wright:

If you can imagine a better opportunity to demand the world we want, I'd like to hear when you think it will come. When will better circumstances reveal themselves again? What political climate are you relying on to thrust the most unlikely candidate into the realm of possible? You want to know what will make this all the more likely to happen again? Demanding that it happen now.

We are at a historic moment in American history, not unlike the second wave feminist movement. Gloria Steinem once said of Betty Friedan: "I believe that she was looking to join society as it existed, and the slightly younger parts of the movement were trying to transform society. And those were kind of two different goals."

Like Friedan, I would argue that Clinton wants to work within the structure we have, while Sanders wants to transform society. He wants a revolution. In the words of Robert Reich:

I've known Hillary Clinton since she was 19 years old, and have nothing but respect for her. In my view, she's the most qualified candidate for president of the political system we now have. But Bernie Sanders is the most qualified candidate to create the political system we should have, because he's leading a political movement for change.

Sexism is real, and I love the fact that we are even talking about the ugly face of sexism in politics. However, we must be able to criticize a female candidate without resorting to sexist tactics, or be called sexist for critiquing her in the first place.

Overall, as many have pointed out, both Sanders and Clinton would be undeniably better as our next commander in chief than anyone currently running in the Republican arena. So I would caution democrats to get too entrenched within their teams that they refuse to see the bigger picture of the need to elect a Democrat in this next election.

There are ways to disagree with one another that don't need to devolve into name-calling or soundbite repeating. On Facebook and elsewhere, engage with those on either side in mindful and productive ways. This is an incredibly important election for so many reasons, but that doesn't mean we can't have thoughtful debates.

So keep reading. Keep posting. Keep fighting for your team. Just don't embrace the ugly.

There's enough of that out there already.

Lead image credit: Her Campus

This post originally appeared on AAUP's Academe blog here.

Inside Hillary's Head

David Edmund Moody   |   February 5, 2016   12:45 PM ET

After watching Hillary Clinton debate Bernie Sanders one more time, we must sooner or later ask ourselves, what is actually going on in this woman's head? At a strictly intellectual level, she is polished and knowledgeable, highly skilled in the art of articulating policy positions. The transcript of her remarks must be impressive.

And yet in listening to her, one cannot fail to succumb to a case of Hillary Fatigue Syndrome. The impulse to turn off the TV when she is speaking, or at least to lower the volume, soon becomes intense. Evidently there is something non-verbal, something in her personal manner or style on stage that is painful to watch. What is that quality? What is its source?

The first question is more easily answered than the second. The non-verbal element that prompts one to turn away is her tone, the tone of her voice, as well as the larger attitude she projects from the stage. The tone of her voice is loud; it is monotonous; and it has embedded within it a sense of tension or stress, something rigid and conflicted, as if her voice is being forced at high pressure through a narrow tube.

From these characteristics, we intuitively infer Hillary's larger attitude: this is a woman, we sense, who is intensely driven but not fully aware of herself. Were she able to sense within herself the actual qualities she personifies, surely she would modify them; no one running for office wants to viscerally turn people away. Clinton is evidently unable to see or sense her own state of mind, a little bit like a robot programmed to perform skillfully, but with no awareness of itself.

People report that in small groups or private conversations, Hillary is more personable, relaxed, congenial. No doubt she has that side, under the right conditions. But on stage something else takes over. She becomes a one-trick pony, trying hard to project an image of strength; but rather than seeming strong, she seems strident.

Now for the more difficult question: What is the source of this attitude? What is actually going on in Hillary's head? No one can know for certain what is happening within someone else, but after watching Clinton for a while, certain inferences seem warranted, or even irresistible.

Here is a woman who is profoundly scripted. She has been running for the presidency for ten solid years: from the run-up to the 2008 election, all through her tenure as Secretary of State, as well as ever since. She has absorbed a mega-ton of advice regarding what attitude she should project, especially because it is known within her camp that she does not connect well with many voters. Of one thing we may be certain: whatever she projects represents her concept of what she should project. She is trying with all her might not just to say something but to be something, or at least to appear to be something. She is trying to shape who she is as much as she is trying to shape her policy positions.

And so that is what we see at a gut level when we watch her on TV: here is a woman who is trying very hard to be, or appear to be, a certain type or quality of human being: capable, tough, a commander-in-chief.

But no one wants a leader who is trying to be anything in particular. One wants a leader who is strong, not one who is trying to be strong, or trying to appear strong. If Clinton were in fact what she is trying to project, she would not have to try so hard to project it. That is the non-verbal verdict we feel in watching her on stage. That is the take-away message no matter what is actually said in the debates.

Contradictions from Across the Aisle: Hillary vs. Sanders

Nora Dunn   |   February 4, 2016    1:34 PM ET

Now that Sanders' campaign has picked up steam, the rhetoric of democratic unity is taking its gloves off.

Senator Sanders says that Mrs. Clinton cannot be both progressive and moderate. Well, that's campaign talk. That's a handler's line though Bernie's camp would never admit it.
Once you get into the Oval Office things are known to change, and in getting there every candidate has to widen their base. The presidency itself is a tightrope walk, and if you want bi-partisan support and votes from the floor you can't lean too far either way.

Sanders is challenging Hillary's ground, and has accused her of wanting it both ways. At the same time his communications director, Michael Briggs, has claimed that Sanders wants to build on President Obama's legacy, a legacy Sanders has not exactly embraced. (Sanders' slogan is "A Future We Can Believe In," while Obama's was "Change We Can Believe In," so there's that). Briggs prickled when asked to expound more on this claim but did not quite explain it. Mrs. Clinton isn't the only one stealing from somebody else's playbook.

Senator Sanders has been critical of Obama and there are reasons to be. But can he have it both ways while Hillary cannot?

Last weekend in Iowa, Sanders welcomed Princeton Law Professor Cornell West on his campaign stage. West is the progressive African-American who has derided the president for the lack of progress for black people during his tenure and for the president's his penchant for drone attacks. But he has also called President Obama a "niggerized president," a term he explains as a black person who's intimidated by putting a spotlight on white supremacy. He has called Obama a "Rockefeller in blackface," "a brown-faced Clinton," and has said Obama has "a certain fear of free black men."

If Sanders had West speaking at his rally to galvanize the black vote he lags in, it may not have been the perfect choice. Young voters will get on board, but older voters have a longer memory. Obama was handed a white man's mess and was expected to clean it up. He was met with a bigoted blockade from the right who obstructed his every idea and policy. America's boat wasn't listing, it was sinking, so we've come a long way under Obama, and many voters will take umbrage with West's insults.

I think it may be Senator Sanders who is trying to have it more than one way now. I think saying that one cannot be moderate and progressive is like saying one can't be both a mother and daughter, or that we can't admit that on some issues we are liberal and on some we are conservative. If Sanders does not like what Obama has done in office, own it.

Senator Sanders endorsed Bill Press's book, Buyers Remorse, How Obama Let Progressives Down. It was an above the title blurb and I take that as a validation. Why not? Progressives were let down. So why is Briggs backing off on that now and saying it wasn't an "endorsement" and that Sanders only meant that people should read the book?

That'd be campaign strategy. But can Sander's have it both ways?

Questions about Sanders do not sit well with many progressives, I have found. For pointing out that Sanders' base is not diverse enough I have been called a shill, an idiot, a Lesbian (why is that an insult?) and a woman who "loves her some pussy." I guess because I like Hillary it must mean I'd go down on her. It's as if Sarah Palin's supporters invaded the progressive's Twitter feed and are writing the sound bites.

I'm not decided when it comes to whom I want for president. I'm a progressive who leans toward the center, so I lean toward Mrs. Clinton. She has been endorsed by smart and solid liberals like Al Franken, whom I greatly respect, and by Cher, who also gets my vote.

She's no shill. I like the fact that Hillary stuck her neck out years ago for health care reform and her plan was as close to single payer as we will get in the next ten years. She was before her time on that and took a clobbering. As First Lady, she wouldn't talk to Katie Couric about how she keeps the White House rugs clean and was involved instead in policy. She took a beating for that too. She is still standing, and has in the meantime served in the Senate and as Secretary of State.

Now, the Republicans started the smear campaign that labeled Mrs. Clinton as sneaky and shady before the embassy in Benghazi was attacked. Still, up until that point, she had been pretty untouchable in her performance. They went after her server and her emails, even though Colin Powell admitted he used his private email, too. It has yet to be proved that Hillary leaked any classified information nor that she was some kind of international boob as Secretary of State.

Hillary is guarded and measured in her words. She flips both sides of the coin. She's running for president and that's her style. She's an enigma of sorts, but that doesn't bother me. She started out as a progressive in her early days and she's still rooted in liberalism. She's a private person and not warm to the touch. So what? I am not prepared to write her off or not give her my vote because of it. And I won't go along with the republican agenda regarding her.

Sanders says he works across the aisle, and he has, but what he came up with for his effort in this divisive Congress is been a handful of good amendments, not a cache of meaningful bills. This congress has not been willing to negotiate nor legislate. And Sanders did not literally "help write" Obamacare as he claims. That insinuates he sat down and helped craft the bill with the committee, which he did not. He wrote a different bill actually, which was single payer. Obamacare is closer to Medicare while Sanders' current plan is 100% government single payer with no co-pay. He got a very important provision into Obamacare, however; $11billion for community health care centers, which was a great addition before the vote. Sanders bill was denied one.

Actually, I wanted Elizabeth Warren to run for president. What happened? While Twitter was lit up weeks ago with talk of a deal between Clinton and Trump, why did no one question a deal between Sanders and Warren? Were two socialists on the menu too hard for us to choose from? Why is Sanders running as a Democrat when he says he a Socialist? He's not a Democrat, or can a Democrat also be a Socialist? That would be having it both ways.

A political revolution is happening, I agree. But I would include in my revolution more than one serious female candidate for president. My progressive revolution would mean more than three women on the Supreme Court and one African American. There would be serious Latino women and men in the forefront. So, the current revolution isn't quite as radical as I'd like it to be.

For making these observations about Senator Sanders I can count on being called a shill, an idiot, a Lesbian, and someone who loves me some pussy. But all that name calling makes a good case for my case. We don't have to be just one thing. In fact, we never are.

I am a daughter and a sister. An actress and a writer. A dog lover and cat lover. I am a morning person who likes to stay up late. I confess that I want a woman for president, and I think Hillary Clinton should be that woman. Not Fiorina. I am not just for any woman. Years ago I was a friend of Pat Schroeder, the Colorado Congresswoman, who ran for president. She was bright and funny and fully capable but didn't get far. She fell flat when she cried in public and the press played her tears as often as they played Howard Dean's victory yelp. Hillary has been called out for not showing us her tears. That makes her heart cold and dark.

I understand why many women won't vote for Hillary and why others don't like her. They have every right. I myself feel cheated that Warren did not throw her hat in the ring. She lives in a cold weather state so I know she has one. I am disappointed it's Sanders and not Warren who is running.

I'm weary of the bigotry in Congress, the hatred and disrespect. I'm weary of insulting comments from all sides. I'm annoyed that not enough has been said about the racism that reared up as Obama took oath. As our steward he brought us back from near death. If Sanders really wants to carry on Obama's legacy, explain it to me. Otherwise, don't say it.

President Obama himself was a revolution. Breaking the color barrier on the highest level gave America some dignity. In spite of any policy, he gave us what he promised. Hope.

Mrs. Clinton may be an island. She seems to stand alone, regardless of her husband and her PAC money. It's the contradictions about her that draws me to her. Her ambition has always been transparent. She is a dichotomy, but I find that presidential.

Why Sanders Won by Losing in Iowa

David Edmund Moody   |   February 2, 2016    1:16 PM ET

Let's look at exactly what happened in Iowa. By virtue of its peculiar caucus system, Iowa's two hundred thousand Democratic votes were reduced to 1406 votes for electoral delegates. Of those 1406, eight went to Martin O'Malley, so Sanders and Clinton split the remaining 1398 delegate votes. If it were an actual tie, each of them would have received 699 votes. But instead of a tie, two more than 699 went to Clinton, and two less than 699 went to Sanders. That's how close it was.

The real news out of Iowa, therefore, is just how razor-thin was Clinton's margin. The headline should have been: Photo Finish. Dead Heat. But that's not how the news media spun it. They like to declare winners and losers, so the headline was: Clinton Wins. And they add, as an afterthought, "Oh, by the way, it was very close."

So one might be tempted to go away thinking, "Too bad Sanders lost in Iowa." But while he lost the actual vote count by a tiny sum, Sanders won in Iowa in a larger sense. As Woody Allen put it succinctly, eighty percent of success is showing up. And Sanders not only showed up in Iowa, he showed up with class. He showed up with distinction. He made the front-runner sweat, right down to the very end. For a guy who three months ago was forty points behind in the polls, that is a win in every sense of the word.

But there's another reason Iowa was a win for Sanders, a reason only apparent when one takes a longer view. There's a very real phenomenon in politics and in life called "peaking too soon." Some long-distance runners do that, and it can cost them the race. If Sanders had won the vote count in Iowa, he probably would have peaked too soon. Everything after that would have seemed anti-climactic. Suddenly he would be the front-runner, with a series of difficult contests looming in less than a month.

Now he goes into New Hampshire strong, but not quite on top. Sanders is still in the process of gaining momentum. Now a win in New Hampshire will be a game-changer, instead of an after-thought. By losing by an eye-lash in Iowa, Sanders has nowhere to go but up. That's why Sanders's narrow loss in Iowa was a win for him.

Against NY Times Endorsement of Clinton

David Edmund Moody   |   February 1, 2016   11:34 AM ET

On the eve of the Iowa caucuses, the editors of the NY Times have declared their endorsement of Hillary Clinton for President. The endorsement is fundamentally disingenuous, for two reasons. First: The rationale for such an endorsement is empty unless it looks frankly at the reasonable objections to the candidate endorsed, and answers those objections as well as possible. This endorsement only addresses superficial objections to Clinton's candidacy, not the deeper issues. Second: Such an endorsement is meaningful only to the extent that it fairly evaluates the qualities of a candidate's opponents. The Times endorsement of Clinton severely underestimates and in some cases distorts the characteristics that make Sanders attractive.

Let's look more closely at the reasonable objections to Clinton. Remarkably, the Times endorsement only considers two of these. One, which it considers reasonable and legitimate, is her use of her private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State. The other, which it declares "outrageous," is her husband's sexual misconduct.

But neither of these represents the fundamental objection to Clinton. The first question posed to Clinton from the audience at the most recent debate nailed this objection: many people feel viscerally that there is something phony about her. There is a trust factor involved which is wholly absent in considering Bernie Sanders.

Moreover, is it really outrageous to recall her husband's private behavior when considering Hillary's suitability for office? It takes an exercise in willful blindness to separate the two. Whoever claims they can forget about Monica Lewinsky et al. when they think about Hillary Clinton is hard to believe. Strict logic suggests her husband's behavior is not relevant to Hillary's candidacy. But the heart and the gut have a different way of evaluating things, and they are not so lenient in this case. Surely the Republicans will be ruthless in exploiting this distinction.

Now let's see what the Times says about Sanders. It seems to admire his policy proposals, but in the next breath dismisses them - with no reason given - as "unrealistic." Really? Is the Times so superior that it can declare a major candidate's policy positions unrealistic without so much as a breath of explanation? Are we all supposed to fall in line as soon as the Times utters "unrealistic"? This is either an exercise in arrogance, or a transparent effort to sidestep the issues - or both.

The Times piles on with Clinton in harping about Sanders' record on gun control: it says his record is "relatively weak." But the NRA considers Sanders' record a D-minus. How can he be a D-minus in the eyes of the NRA and simultaneously weak in the eyes of the Times? Such a discrepancy makes no sense unless the Times were to offer some elaboration, but it offers none.

Finally, the Times makes no mention of Sanders' extensive experience, likeability and integrity, major factors among those who support him. The Times has reduced his candidacy to a policy position, without considering the characteristics of the candidate.

For all these reasons, the NY Times endorsement of Hillary Clinton fails to be convincing. It looks at the world through tired old eyes, and fails to see that something new is afoot within the American electorate. What a breath of fresh air would have been injected into the current campaign had the Times had the courage to endorse Sanders. What an opportunity has been lost, both for the Times and for us.

Hillary Clinton Releases Rap Video

  |   February 1, 2016    6:52 AM ET

Read More:

Trump and Cruz Are the Worst Nightmare for the GOP, Not the Democrats

Earl Ofari Hutchinson   |   January 31, 2016    6:58 PM ET

Vice President Joe Biden was not auditioning for a stint on SNL or appealing to divine providence when he quipped to a packed crowd of Democrats recently that the Republicans may have given the Democrats a "gift from the Lord" in the presidential race. The heavenly gift Biden referred to comes in the form of a Trump or Cruz presidential candidacy. Biden and many other Democrats practically salivate at the thought of either one of them getting the GOP presidential nomination.

The conventional wisdom is that this will deliver the White House back to the Democrats in a hand basket. The election walk-over for presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is the nightmare that has haunted the GOP party leaders from the moment that Trump and Cruz declared their candidacies. Both men are the most polarizing presidential ticket candidates since Sarah Palin turned the GOP White House bid into a running Comedy Central riff.

This election go-round, it's far worse than when Palin was on the ticket in 2008, and later made some soundings about a 2012 presidential bid. Trump and Cruz have stayed at or near the top of the polls from the start of their campaigns. They both have big, angry and aroused constituencies, be it Cruz's evangelicals or Trump's fed up, white blue collar workers. They are mostly white, older voters, and they would likely show up at the polls on Election Day for one of the two.

In the past, it was fairly easy for GOP party leaders to rid themselves of a party nuisance such as Palin. After all, they controlled the money, media spin and party apparatus. They banked that they could maneuver and massage the primaries and convention to ensure that the noise and mischief the outsiders could make would die before the primary season began. That won't happen this time. Trump has got, and will continue to get, non-stop, headline coverage from a slavish, fawning media; he will maintain his mass poll support from the disaffected millions of voters; and, he will likely get a proportional share of delegates in a number of GOP primaries, win or not. Cruz has a mountainous campaign war chest, the solid support of white protestant conservative evangelicals, and the prestige of holding a national office.

They also have gotten a huge lift from the cast of GOP presidential hopeful competitors. With the exception of the momentary fascination with Ben Carson, the other contenders have wallowed in single digits in the polls, have gotten little to no traction in their campaigns and have been swallowed in the media rush to Trump and Cruz. The bigger problem for GOP leaders are the voter demographics. The average GOP voter is white, older and conservative. Legions of these voters are polarized and put-out with their party.

This didn't just happen overnight. The disaffection has been building for almost a decade. They lambasted Presidential contenders John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 for being too deeply tainted by the Washington bureaucratic, compromising and deal-making establishment. A huge swatch of the GOP stayed away from the polls in droves during both campaigns. Their sleep-in on Election Day was a big reason for McCain and Romney's defeats. In the near eight year tenure of Obama in the White House, the fury of much of the GOP base to a traditional play by the established Washington rules presidential candidate has risen to a fever pitch. The prospect of a Clinton White House which is tantamount to a third Obama term to them further insures that Trump rallies and appearances will take on the appearance of a crusade rather than a campaign rally.

GOP party leaders, in the event of a Trump or Cruz break-away in the caucuses and primaries, can do one of three things. They can continue try to rally support behind a Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, the party establishment's preferred respectable choices. They can pretend to remain neutral, which just gives Cruz and Trump even more room to roam. They can jump on the bandwagon of either one of them. If either one is the eventual party nominee, GOP party leaders, donors and bundlers, and the national and state committees will have no choice but to go full throttle in support of the nominee. Anything less would insure a runaway win for Hillary Clinton, the possible loss of the Senate to the Democrats, put at risk the loss of some GOP controlled statehouses to the Democrats, and worse, split the GOP. A Trump or Cruz presidential nomination snub would risk incurring the anger of millions of GOP grassroots voters. That's a catastrophe that GOP leaders will do all to ensure doesn't happen, even if it means holding their nose and backing a Trump or Cruz.

Trump and Cruz, then, are the GOP's textbook Catch-22. One of them figures as a real possibility for the presidential nomination. For GOP leaders to not support them almost guarantees a flaming Election Day defeat. But to support them could mean the same. That's the GOP's much deserved worst nightmare.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is Trump and the GOP: Race Baiting to the White House (Amazon Kindle) He is a frequent MSNBC contributor. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network

What I Learned in Iowa

Anna Musky-Goldwyn   |   January 31, 2016    2:47 PM ET

I sat in the airport in Dallas. We just missed a connecting flight. We found out we were redirected to Omaha and would have a two-hour drive awaiting us to reach our final destination of Des Moines. I had one thought running through my head -- this better be worth it. I can admit this shameful inner monologue now because my trip to Iowa to help campaign for Hillary Clinton was in fact very, very worth it.

I had never been to Iowa before but as I sat in the car, gazing out at the flat fields of land I couldn't help but be excited. I very quickly remembered the importance of this state and its people in the presidential election -- they are the first primary. When we stepped into the first room of supporters I took a look around -- all shapes, sizes, colors and genders stared back. And thanks to some of these people, within my first hour in Des Moines I learned about the crazy, passionate and frankly medieval political process of caucusing. I was fascinated. "So you literally just stand in the corner of the room assigned to your candidate?", I asked. "Yep," they responded. "And then you try to convince people over to your side?" "Yep." It's like picking teams for kickball in 6th grade PE class -- except that the future of our country is on the line.

When I was 18 I voted in my first election for the young senator named Barack Obama. I knew I liked him but, admittedly, I wasn't totally sure why. I listened to the news and heard sound bytes but I didn't really do my homework. As young people, it's easy to be apathetic, it's easy to worry about starting a career or being in a relationship. Life in your twenties is tough -- trust me, I know. But as I made my way through rooms and rooms of young Hillary supporters it dawned on me -- yes, it is easy to be apathetic, but it is just as easy to care. I was taken back with admiration at some of the so-called selfish/lazy/greedy Millennials I talked with. I met a guy around my age (25) who makes 200 phone calls a day in the name of environmental conservation. Next to him were two post-college girls who worked in social media strategy and stressed the sheer power of a Facebook post in this campaign. I met a field hockey player who had just graduated from Dartmouth who told me that campaigning for Hillary was the most exciting thing she could be doing with her life right now. She and another young campaign organizer drove miles and miles through northern Iowa (read: the middle of nowhere), where it can take up to half an hour to simply reach the next driveway, pushing people to come out and caucus. I spent a lot of time with a girl who just moved to Iowa, was experiencing her first caucus, and had boldly volunteer to lead her precinct, a huge responsibility. And I met one high school student who spent hours canvassing for Hillary in the pouring rain, talking to strangers and getting them to commit, because he knows how gravely important this election is.

And it is that -- gravely important. I am not a politician, I am not an expert, but I am a young person who does in fact care and can see that we are at a huge turning point. As we traveled through Iowa, I learned about the issues I've always taken to heart from the people they have affected first-hand. I spoke with a Planned Parenthood staff member about how all of the important work she and her organization do is at stake. I met a retired pediatrician who worked on national health policy for decades and stressed the fragile state of our country's health care laws if they fall into the wrong hands. I heard the story of a woman who, because of Obamacare (which Hillary intends to amend and improve as opposed to simply throw away), was able to go to the doctor when she felt like something was wrong and she found a pre-cancerous tumor. This same woman comes from a mixed Muslim and Christian family and she asked me, "What would Trump do? Throw out a husband but let the wife stay?"

In Iowa, there is the caucus. This sets the stage for how the election will play out - and Iowan's know this. They are aware of their responsibility and take it extremely seriously. The caucus is inspiring because it really pushes people to learn about why they feel the way they do. It stresses community building and lets ideas flourish instead of arbitrary, uninformed statements. But, people must get out of bed and take the couple hours out of their day and let their voice be heard. Some have to find sitters for their kids, others have to forfeit a couple hours of pay. They must commit. Now I am not an Iowan, I have never caucused (although I one day hope to go watch one because it sounds incredible), but the commitment of the people of Iowa was infectious.

One night, some Hillary supporters welcomed us into their home. In Iowa it is very common to have house parties to talk about issues and give people the information they need (remember that community building?). I stood patiently as I watched my dad (who I was following studiously) give his short speech about why he so fervently supports Hillary. Then, one of the hosts turned to me and asked me to speak about why I support Hillary. I blushed, my palms were sweaty, all eyes turned to me, I wasn't expecting this. But, I gathered some thoughts and this is what I had to say:

Frankly, I am scared. I am scared that the country I will raise my future family in will not be the country I had always envisioned. We are on the brink of crisis both within our country and outside our borders and I want someone averting that crisis that I can trust. For me, that is Hillary. As a young writer I spend a lot of time picking the brains of older, more seasoned writers and try to internalize their advice. The message that I always get is: there is no match for experience. In my eyes, from my research, Hillary is the candidate with that experience. She has been prominently on the national and international stage with resounding success. However I, the social-media-addicted Millennial, see posts and videos about Bernie and the revolution he plans to have our country partake in. At first glance, this sounds great. But while I am an optimist, I am also a realist. Personally, when I have goals I want to know how I can accomplish them. When I hear Bernie's goals and I read about how he wants to accomplish them, I am left totally puzzled -- will that really work in our extremely politically divided government? No. Does Hillary know how to work over those political lines and get things done? Yes -- because she has, time and time again. I do not want to be naïve because as far as I can tell, naïveté doesn't do very well in politics. So when I think about that country I want to raise my family in, when I mull over the people and issues I encountered in Iowa, there is only one sensible answer -- Hillary.

Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. Without these opinions there would be no progress. All I can hope is that our opinions are informed and thoughtful because there is simply too much on the chopping block this time around.

Trumping Political Science? Lessons from Donald Trump's Surprising Campaign

Kirby Goidel   |   January 31, 2016   11:43 AM ET

It is unclear if Donald Trump has rewritten the rules of political campaigning but he has unquestionably left pundits and political scientists baffled by his success. Most careful observers of politics (present authors included) believed Trump would have washed out quickly and decisively. His seemingly off-the-cuff banter and Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, vitriol sprayed - rather than carefully targeted -- at political opponents, fellow partisans, and journalists portended a half-life as a presidential candidate that might rival Herman Cain's 2012 presidential run. Yet, time and again, Trump has turned what would have been fatal gaffes if uttered by any other candidate into rally points for voters tired of political correctness and ready for a candidate to speak abrasively if not truthfully.

2016-01-31-1454257023-355029-WordCloudofTrumpInsults.png

Perhaps even more surprisingly, in a party that regularly casts out more conservative candidates as RINOS (Republicans in Name Only), the ideologically ambidextrous and trans-partisan Trump has not only endured but has emerged as the GOP frontrunner. Forget that from 2001 to 2009 he was a registered Democrat and that as recently as 2011 he was registered as an independent. Forget too that his mishmash of policy positions makes him more populist than conservative, he is now positioned such that winning the Republican nomination seems more real than laughable.

This is too is an odd turn of events. In an election where public anger at the financial and partisan establishment serves as the campaign's driving narrative; the well-established Trump, a generous contributor to Democrats and Republicans alike and recipient of profitable political favors that drove much of his business success, has crafted himself an outsider. Amidst lingering outrage at the financial manipulations that dragged the economy into the Great Recession, the bankrupt Trump admitted to using bankruptcy laws to avoid losing money in bad deals he negotiated. Four times from 1991 to 2009, Trump hotels and casinos were too big to fail. Yet, the billionaire gambler and builder of bankrupt casinos has emerged as the voice of marginalized working class whites. Even Donald Trump appears surprised at the depth and breadth of his support. "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody," he declared, "and not lose any voters."

Despite our bafflement, there are lessons to be learned in Trump's success. Perhaps surprisingly, many of them confirm rather than challenge what we know about campaigns and elections.

1. We live in a polarized political era with the parties more clearly and consistently defined by ideology than at any time in the recent past. Yet, ideology matters more as a symbolic attachment than as a well-defined and consistent set of issue positions, and ideological positioning shifts in accordance with the positions staked out by political elites. By current definitions, Donald Trump is a poor reflection of a conservative Republican. But if he wins, he will redefine the terms, and conservatism will look more like Donald Trump than Ronald Reagan.


2. Even in an age where the political parties are more clearly defined by ideology, parties are comprised of factions of voters united under a common label. The modern Republican Party has long welcomed racially resentful but economically populist white voters. These voters served as a key voting bloc for Richard Nixon's southern strategy and comprised much of what were termed "Reagan Democrats." Twelve years ago, Thomas Frank pondered "What is the Matter with Kansas," questioning why working class voters whose economic interests resided with the Democratic Party were persuaded to support Republican candidates and causes. Trump's 2016 campaign elevates populist angst above the twin pillars of religious and economic conservatism, thus threatening the mainstream Republican base built on a small government philosophy, economic conservatism, and evangelical voters. In this respect, Trump's campaign is not dissimilar from Pat Buchanan's insurgent campaign in 1992 or Rick Santorum's 2012 campaign, but he benefits from a divided Republican Party and thus stands a much better chance of winning the nomination and rattling the balance of power within the GOP.

3. Campaigns are not just contests where candidates compete over the best set of issue stances, they are emotionally driven where candidates connect with subsets of voters. In 1992, Bill Clinton famously "felt the pain" of voters concerned about their economic future. His emotional connectedness during a time of economic uncertainty was more critical to his success than any set of policies he endorsed. Barack Obama similarly fueled his 2008 campaign with the positive emotion of hope, promising a stronger economy and better future.

No emotion is better at mobilizing voters than anger, and Trump's insulting low-brow campaign fuels - and is fueled off of - voter anger and resentment. Partisan polarization, driven as much by a deep dislike of the other side, gives these appeals greater resonance. In a 2014 study, the Pew Center for the People and the Press discovered Republicans and Democrats alike were increasingly willing to say the other party was "a threat to the nation's future."

Trump's bluster plays well in this context. What is perhaps remarkable about the emotional tenor of the Trump campaign isn't that it is using anger as a central emotional appeal, but rather that it has no other emotional gear.

4. Most political campaigns work incredibly hard to get "earned media," coverage by news networks that is "free" and subsequently has greater credibility than paid advertisements. Donald Trump has received more free media coverage than all of his Republican opponents combined. Indeed, during the early stage of his campaign, he received so much coverage that he spent little or no money actually campaigning.

He has done so by playing to well-known media biases; i.e., controversy and conflict make for great news. Trump rarely says a non-controversial word. On any given Sunday morning, it is not unusual to hear Trump calling into multiple news programs while the news networks have provided nearly wall-to-wall coverage. When other candidates do a get a chance to appear, it is often to respond to an incendiary comment made by Trump. The effect is two-fold. Trump benefits from the coverage directly and drowns out the other candidates who might have otherwise received air time.

A lesser candidate might have used controversy to generate coverage, but would have failed to generate greater political support. In this respect, news coverage is a fickle friend, sometimes it helps but often it hurts political campaigns. Trump has masterfully turned this coverage mostly in his favor building support among Republican voters.


5. The strategic decisions of other candidates matter. The other Republicans in this race (like most pundits) underestimated Trump's potential appeal. His campaign seemed at best a curious sideshow that would eventually self-destruct. The best thing to do, these candidates reasoned, was to get out of the way until the circus was over and the real campaign could begin. Ted Cruz, in particular, played nice for as long as possible hoping for a political payoff in Trump voters once the Trump campaign ended. The result was that candidates mostly held their fire, preferring instead to target seemingly more serious and threatening opponents. Trump helped this process by threatening an independent campaign if treated unfairly that would likely guarantee a Democratic presidency. These decisions allowed Trump to avoid the sort of sustained negative campaign that might have undermined his political support. They also allowed him the time to grow into a stronger and more viable political candidate.

All of this said, Donald Trump still has significant barriers to overcome and his campaign, more successful than most of us would have predicted, may well prove his undoing. First, he is the least favorably viewed of all the presidential candidates, and his ratings among independents and Democrats are particularly low. Using controversy to generate news coverage has generated support but also has deepened animosities. Second, he is pushing the Republican Party into issue positions that will make it more difficult for Republicans to win elections among an increasingly diverse electorate. Working class white voters are an important voting bloc, but as we have noted in previous posts (link) they are a shrinking share of the electorate.

Overall, the Trump campaign has challenged our thinking about the nature of political campaigns but mainly by highlighting and recasting lessons we have already learned. The most important of these may be that campaigns are about emotional attachments rather than set ideological views, even in an increasingly conservative Republican Party. If Donald Trump wins the nomination, he will have succeeded in redefining what it means to be a conservative and a Republican, and he will have done so by tapping into anger at the Republican establishment.

Paul Krugman Misunderstands Bernie Sanders

Mark Weisbrot   |   January 29, 2016    5:59 PM ET

I have to say it is puzzling to see Paul Krugman supporting Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders, at least to people who read his writings. Krugman has repeatedly expressed more actual contempt for what Sanders calls "the billionaire class" than Sanders himself has, citing research showing that rich people are "less likely to exhibit empathy, less likely to respect norms and even laws, more likely to cheat, than those occupying lower rungs on the economic ladder." Krugman's positions on fiscal policy, Wall Street, the Federal Reserve, and most economic issues that he writes and cares about are considerably closer to those of Sanders than of Clinton. Most journalists covering the campaign also recognize that Sanders has pushed Clinton to adopt more progressive positions such as a surtax on incomes over $5 million; or her opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership, which the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce just forecast will likely disappear sometime between now and her presidency if she gets there.

Furthermore, Krugman is smart enough to know that someone who gets millions of dollars from Wall Street and the plutocracy is less likely to implement policies that these donors don't like, than someone who owes them nothing.

Even on foreign policy, which Krugman does not write about that often, he is much closer to Sanders and the left of the Democratic party than he is to Clinton. Krugman was the only writer at the New York Times to point out, correctly in my view, that part of the motivation for the build-up to the Iraq war was to help the Republicans win the 2002 congressional elections. In his book, "The Conscience of a Liberal," he explains how this kind of U.S. foreign policy hurts Americans by allowing the right to move the political debate away from domestic issues in which the majority have a big stake. And yet he gives Hillary Clinton a pass for voting for the Iraq War (and defending her vote for 12 years).

As others have noted, members of Congress had access to U.S. intelligence files that contradicted the Bush administration's justifications for the war, and some of them looked at the intelligence and voted "no." Twenty-one of 50 Democratic senators voted no. This was a war that took thousands of American lives and killed about a million Iraqis, and as President Obama has noted, was responsible for the creation of ISIS. It has destabilized the Middle East into a state of permanent warfare. But Clinton has also shown by her recent bellicose speech on Iran that she is more than ready for another unnecessary war. Her foreign policy leanings are considerably to the right of many mainstream Democratic leaders, including President Obama himself and Secretary of State John Kerry.

In his latest New York Times column, Krugman argues that Sanders has a flawed analysis of American politics, and contrasts it to that of Clinton:

To oversimplify a bit -- but only, I think, a bit -- the Sanders view is that money is the root of all evil. Or more specifically, the corrupting influence of big money, of the 1 percent and the corporate elite, is the overarching source of the political ugliness we see all around us.

The Clinton view, on the other hand, seems to be that money is the root of some evil, maybe a lot of evil, but it isn't the whole story. Instead, racism, sexism and other forms of prejudice are powerful forces in their own right. This may not seem like a very big difference -- both candidates oppose prejudice, both want to reduce economic inequality. But it matters for political strategy.

I don't question Krugman's sincerity, but I think this is a serious misunderstanding of Sanders' views as compared to Clinton's. Sanders is quite intelligent and has been involved in politics for more than 40 years. He understands very well the roles of "racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice" in American society and politics. Here is what he said Thursday on MSNBC:


I think there is not widespread understanding in the white community of what it is like to be Black in America today, especially a Black male; when we know that something like one out of four African-American males born today stand a likelihood of ending up in prison. That is a tragedy that is beyond comprehension. When we know that our jails - we have more people in jail than any other country - are disproportionately Black and Latino, that is a major crisis. When we know that the Black and white communities do marijuana at about equal rates, and yet four times more Blacks are arrested for marijuana, what does that tell you? What does it tell you that Blacks are much more likely to be stopped by police officers for traffic violations than whites? So we got some serious problems in this country with institutional racism, and a broken criminal justice system, and that will be a major priority for a Sanders administration.

I have never heard anything like this from Hillary Clinton and I doubt that we will hear something like it on the campaign trail.

I raise these points with great respect for Krugman, who has contributed more than anyone in the United States to improving the debate over some crucial economic issues, and also helped advance the political debate. I am sorry that some on the left have attacked him and his motivation. I am quite sure that he is not looking for any political gain; when more than 250,000 people signed a petition for him to be appointed Treasury Secretary, he immediately and flatly refused. He is also one of the few prominent writers on economic and political issues who has, on a number of occasions, admitted when he was mistaken, and forthrightly changed his position. I hope that he will reconsider his ideas in this case.

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington, D.C., and the author of the new book "Failed: What the 'Experts' Got Wrong About the Global Economy" (2015, Oxford University Press). The views expressed in this article are his own and do not represent those of CEPR.

Bringing Out the Big Guns

Emma Weaver   |   January 29, 2016   12:41 PM ET

WAVERLY, Iowa - Former President Bill Clinton launched a four-day blitz across eastern Iowa at Wartburg College Thursday morning.

The event was the first of nine solo events which the former President will hold in Iowa this weekend as he seeks to boost support for his wife's presidential campaign.

As the Democratic race has tightened, presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has brought out the big guns; her husband, Bill Clinton.

And with only five days left until caucus night, the former president will focus three of this weekend's nine solo events on college campuses - perhaps in an attempt to soothe the Berning sensation inside many millennials.

But are Bill Clinton's efforts swaying millennial voters toward Hillary?

2016-01-29-1454088889-512869-DSC_2622Ecopy.jpg

Liz Rucker and Jordan Nash, 21-year-olds of Waverly, were supporters of Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) before the Wartburg speech. Now, they are undecided.

"I think I was pretty set on Bernie before I came here, now I'm kind of torn between Bernie and Hillary," Rucker said.

Rucker and Nash attended both Republican and Democratic town halls in recent weeks, but said Thursday's Wartburg event was especially interesting. Although Hillary Clinton has received flack from opponents for utilizing Bill Clinton in the race, Rucker and Nash saw the campaign choice as reasonable and effective.

"It's a big advantage for her," Rucker said. "No one else can say they have a previous president campaigning for them. I can see how people who oppose Clinton think that's kind of not fair, but they would do the same if it was them."

Lacee Sleezer, a 21-year-old conservative who attends Wartburg College, agreed with Rucker and Nash.

"I think him coming brings a lot of people that might have not cared enough to come," Sleezer said. "Candidates are one thing, but seeing a former President is way bigger. So I think it's really effective."

For Sleezer, seeing the former president was so effective that she was seriously considering caucusing for Hillary by the end of the event.

2016-01-29-1454088934-5436889-DSC_2616Ecopy.jpg

"I come from a very conservative family, so I haven't really thought about voting for Hillary," Sleezer said. "After today, they kind of changed my mind."

But while Rucker, Nash and Sleezer were swayed at least a little by Bill Clinton's campaigning, 18-year-old Trygve Anderson's Berning sensation could not be soothed.

"Having a former president back you is a pretty big deal, especially when it's someone as talented as Bill Clinton," said Anderson, a freshman at Wartburg. "I was definitely impressed, but I plan to caucus for Bernie. I really like where Bernie stands on a lot of issues - but if Bernie doesn't get the democratic nomination, I'm definitely voting for Hillary."

2016-01-29-1454088987-1429766-DSC_2659Ecopy.jpg

Bill Clinton will also join his wife onstage for three events before Monday, as the couple's daughter, Chelsea Clinton, also campaigns for her mother across Iowa.

Co-reported with Lindsey Gomez

With the Elections Looming, The Supreme Court Approaches Judgment Day

Bill Blum   |   January 26, 2016    5:11 PM ET

[This post was originally published by Truthdig.com]

I know you've heard this before, but this time the future of the Supreme Court really is up for grabs in the coming presidential election. By the time November rolls around, three of the justices--Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy--will be octogenarians. Right behind them, Justice Stephen Breyer will be 78.

Unless Father Time goes on permanent leave or the laws of nature are suspended, all four could resign on short notice, allowing the next occupant of the White House to appoint their successors.

Since the average tenure of justices appointed since 1970 has exceeded 26 years, the next president will have the opportunity to reshape the nation's most powerful judicial body for a generation or more. And with the power to reshape the court will come the power to redefine the meaning and application of the Constitution.

It's not only liberals and progressives like me or folks at watchdog groups like People For the American Way who are fretting about the direction of the court. If anything, conservatives are even more on edge.

At the Federalist Society's annual lawyers convention late last year, according to the Washington Times, seasoned Supreme Court litigator Michael Carvin voiced the angst shared by many on the right in the most dramatic terms, declaring: "If the election goes wrong ... we will all descend into a hellish existence from which we will never emerge."

Carvin's anxiety was echoed by professor Michael Paulsen, a constitutional scholar from the University of St. Thomas School of Law. "Ideology matters," Paulsen told the crowd gathered at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. "Judicial philosophy matters. Sometimes it's literally a matter of life and death who[m] you appoint to the court."

It's easy to understand such concerns. The replacement of even a single justice could swing the tribunal's voting balance on a variety of pivotal legal issues, prompting reconsideration of a host of recent, landmark 5-4 decisions. Since those decisions are a mixed bag, some liberal in outlook and effect and others conservative, both ends of the political spectrum have plenty of skin in the game of remaking the court.

Among the issues and cases most likely to be re-evaluated by a new panel of justices are these five headliners:

Citizens United v. FEC, and Campaign Finance

Of the plethora of pro-business rulings handed down since Chief Justice John Roberts assumed office in 2005, none has done more to consolidate the oligarchy's hold on government than the Citizens United decision of January 2010.

In his majority opinion, Justice Kennedy invoked the First Amendment and the legal fiction of corporate personhood to sweep away decades of legislative and judicial precedent that had prohibited corporations and unions from spending their general treasury funds on federal elections. Two months later, invoking the reasoning of Citizens United in the case of SpeechNow.org v. FEC, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit approved the formation of super PACs, the so-called "expenditure-only" entities that cannot give money directly to candidates but can independently raise and spend unlimited sums on their behalf.

In 2014, in McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court struck again by a 5-4 margin, this time in an opinion penned by Roberts, lifting the long-established aggregate limits on the amount of money that wealthy individuals can donate directly to candidates in any given election cycle.

Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have vowed that, if elected, they will place justices on the court committed to reversing Citizens United, McCutcheon and presumably earlier rulings such as Buckley v. Valeo, decided in 1976, to limit the role of money in politics. Their opponents have promised to do exactly the opposite.

Heller v. District of Columbia, and the Second Amendment

Prior to Scalia's 5-4 paean to gun rights in 2008's Heller decision, the dominant view expressed both by academics and judges in the few court cases that addressed the issue was that the Second Amendment protected individual gun ownership only in connection with service in antiquated state militias. All that changed, however, with the triumph of Scalia's "originalist" interpretation of the amendment, which asserts that the Founding Fathers intended to secure constitutional protections for the personal right to bear arms.

And while the Heller decision was limited to gun ownership in the nation's capital and other federal venues, the court extended its analysis to the states two years later in McDonald v. Chicago.

Despite being widely panned by Second Amendment experts such as Fordham University's Saul Cornell as a "constitutional scam" based on a sloppy reading of colonial history, Scalia's originalism is now the law of the land, venerated as holy writ by every Republican presidential hopeful.

By contrast, Clinton--and to a lesser extent Sanders--supports such gun control measures as mandatory background checks, assault weapons bans, trigger-lock laws and prohibitions on cross-state, concealed-carry permits.

Sooner or later, the Supreme Court will take up another major firearms case. When it does, depending on who wields the gavel, Heller and McDonald could well be overturned--or be further entrenched in the bedrock of our constitutional law.

National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius, and Obamacare

In what many conservatives regard as a great betrayal, Chief Justice Roberts authored the bitterly divided, 5-4 opinion that upheld the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate in 2012. What's largely been forgotten is that Roberts' opinion was anything but an enthusiastic endorsement of the ACA. The mandate survived, but barely--and not as an exercise of the federal government's constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce, as the Obama administration had urged, but as a function of Congress' authority to levy taxes.

Since then, the ACA has been repeatedly attacked, politically and legally. Last term, in a 6-3 decision (King v. Burwell), again written by Roberts, the court turned away a highly technical suit argued by Michael Carvin that sought to invalidate federal income tax subsidies for low-income purchasers of health insurance in states that have not set up their own marketplace exchanges.

The King decision sent Scalia into a tizzy, prompting him to lambaste the majority's holding as "interpretive jiggery-pokery" for its allegedly shoddy reasoning and as "pure applesauce" for what he argued was an undeserved windfall it bestowed on ACA beneficiaries. The case also sparked widespread calls on the right for Roberts' impeachment.

This term, the ACA faces another Supreme Court test, akin to 2014's Hobby Lobby litigation, in Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged v. Burwell and five related appeals that once more challenge the statute's contraceptive services mandate. The plaintiffs are nonprofit religious organizations that, like Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., argue that the ACA's birth-control insurance provisions violate their rights as employers under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

Given the Hobby Lobby precedent, it's easy to see the current court handing a narrow, 5-4 victory to the Little Sisters. But if we remove Ginsburg from the equation in future ACA lawsuits and replace her with a clone of Thomas or Justice Samuel Alito, the entire structure of Obamacare conceivably could crumble.

Obergefell v. Hodges, and Same-Sex Marriage

If Scalia was sent into orbit by the King case, he positively lost his jurisprudential bearings when Kennedy teamed up with the panel's four liberals to write the majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, recognizing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

Raging in dissent, Scalia branded Kennedy's opinion "a naked judicial claim to legislative--indeed, super-legislative--power." Lamenting the end of federalism and states' rights, he charged that a "system of government that makes the People subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy."

As if yielding to paranoid fantasy, he continued: "Who ever thought that intimacy and spirituality (whatever that means) were freedoms? And if intimacy is, one would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest hippie." Not quite finished, he added in a boorish footnote: "The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of a fortune cookie."

It boggles the mind to think that if Kennedy, Breyer and/or Ginsburg leave the bench before Scalia and are replaced by hard-line conservatives, Scalia's homophobia could command a new majority and wind up toppling marriage equality.

Obergefell represents the greatest formal advance for constitutional and human rights achieved in this country in decades. It literally hangs in the balance.

The Death Penalty

Although the court has nibbled away at the periphery of capital punishment in recent years, holding it unconstitutional as applied to juveniles and the mentally ill and overturning Florida's capital sentencing procedures (Hurst v. Florida), it has consistently declined to abolish the death penalty outright.

The rest of the civilized world, however, is turning away from capital punishment, and only six American states conducted executions in 2015. Last term, in Glossip v. Gross, the court passed on yet another opportunity to join the enlightenment.

As I have previously written in this column, Richard Glossip was convicted of a 1997 murder in Oklahoma but may very well be innocent. Technically, the issue before the court in his case was not whether he had committed the homicide, but whether the state's use of a new and highly controversial three-drug cocktail in its lethal injection protocol violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

Alito's majority opinion, joined by the court's other Republican appointees, answered the issue with a ringing endorsement of the protocol, despite the fact that the cocktail had caused prolonged agony in two executions.

While Alito's decision came as no surprise, Breyer's dissent broke serious new ground. Writing for himself and Ginsburg, Breyer declared not only that he would have granted Glossip's petition (which had been filed both for him and several other Oklahoma prisoners facing imminent execution), but that he would have taken another, far bolder step--calling for a re-examination of the death penalty itself. "[R]ather than try to patch up the death penalty's legal wounds one at a time," Breyer reasoned, "I would ask for full briefing on a more basic question: whether the death penalty violates the Constitution."

Breyer's opinion marked the first time since the late Justice Harry Blackmun's dissent, in a case from Texas, that a sitting member of the court has formally taken an abolitionist stance on the death penalty.

As Breyer's dissent illustrates, the future of capital punishment, like the overall direction of the court, is in play. In the meantime, Glossip remains under a sentence of death, although his execution has been stayed pending a review of the Oklahoma protocol by the state's attorney general.

The five cases I've singled out comprise only a sliver of the hot-button issues that may come before a reconstituted Supreme Court dominated by justices appointed by President Obama's successor. No doubt other critical cases also will arrive before the new court, raising questions that touch the most sensitive and intimate aspects of our daily lives--from abortion rights to police brutality, from global warming and immigration to voting rights and government surveillance.

Few of us may be satisfied with the ultimate nominees of the two main parties, and you can count me among the likely disgruntled if anyone but an aging, slightly stoop-shouldered senator from Vermont captures the Democratic nod. But none of us can plausibly argue that the election won't matter, especially when it comes to the future of the Supreme Court and the laws it oversees.

U.S. Economic Outlook and the IMF Managing Director Appointment

Peter Doyle   |   January 22, 2016    6:36 AM ET

Yesterday, the IMF, which was originally mandated to prevent another global Great Depression, announced that the process to appoint its Managing Director for the 2016-21 term had commenced.

In the midst of a U.S. presidential primary season focussed on asserting the proper U.S. role in the world and preventing a recurrence of the economic crash of 2008-10, and with the U.S. Congress having just authorized funds to double the U.S. equity contribution to the IMF, one might expect that an American should be given a fair chance to get this key job.

But, as things stand, no Americans need apply.

There are two reasons.

First, under a long-standing "informal arrangement" with Europe, re-endorsed by the Secretary of State when the incumbent Managing Director, Madame Lagarde was appointed in 2011, this job is always reserved for a European, regardless of merit. In return, the president of the World Bank is always an American. As a result, every IMF Managing Director in its 70-plus year history has been a European.

Second, this is no open competition. Like a closed country club, candidates have to be nominated first to be considered. Jack Lew, the Treasury Secretary, has the authority to nominate and vote on this matter on behalf of the US. But if he chooses to follow the precedent of the informal US-Europe arrangement, he will not nominate an American. And if someone else nominates an American, Mr. Lew will not vote for that American.

There are two reasons why this is a bad deal for America.

First, the World Bank is declining towards irrelevance as developing countries increasingly rely on private finance. Indeed, this has gone so far that Professor Woods of Oxford University says the World Bank needs to be "saved." Meanwhile, the IMF rises inexorably, boosted by serial global crises, including that reflected in the crash in global stock and commodities markets this year.

So the "informal arrangement" means that the US gets the lesser job and the Europeans get the greater job.

Second, the IMF says that the selection process is "merit-based". But the process of country club-style nominations means that most global talent is excluded from any consideration. If a candidate lacks a political "friend" among the 24 global politicians empowered to nominate, their excellent resume is not even considered. This is no "merit-based system"; it is an "are you one of us system."

Not surprisingly, all this has produced bad results. The three European incumbents prior to Madame Lagarde have all been the subjects to legal proceedings and/or scandal. And the IMF, tasked to prevent Global Depression, has evidently failed to do so, as the Lehman's, Euro, and ongoing crashes illustrate.

So this is not all a matter of murky machinations in some arcane international bureaucracy; IMF failures are directly reflected in both the US economic crisis from 2008-2010 and in the ongoing global market mayhem in 2016. The most ordinary of Americans have paid dearly, including in soaring unemployment and crashing home values after 2007, for these IMF failures.

And, as pointed out in these pages yesterday, the performance of the incumbent in the job continues these shortcomings.

With the global economy under renewed threat now, the US and the World urgently needs the IMF to do its job better than this.

This establishes a compelling American interest to terminate the "informal agreement" with the Europeans at the IMF with immediate effect.

That is because following heavy borrowing in 2010, the Euro Area became the IMF's largest debtor, by far.

So when the U.S. re-endorsed the "informal agreement" with Europe in 2011, a political representative of the IMF's biggest debtor was put in charge of it.

That was then, and is still now, an obvious recipe for conflict of interest.

Such a situation would not be tolerated by the Federal Reserve or any other US financial regulator in any U.S. credit institution.

It is exactly the sort of problem that all our financial regulatory reforms from 2010 onwards have been designed to prevent.

And the IMF itself condemns such arrangements anywhere in the world that it finds them.

Rightly so.

But this elementary prudential common sense has not been applied to the IMF itself, despite it being the cornerstone global credit institution.

This accounts for many of the shortcomings in its global work in recent years.

But, as the largest debtor to the IMF, the Europeans are now extremely anxious to keep control over it. So within hours of the appointment process being announced, many of them--France, Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, and others--quickly announced that they would nominate a European politician to hold the post again. They have all renominated the incumbent, Madame Lagarde.

And their plan is to sew this all up as quickly as possible. Nominations close as early as February 10, with the successful candidate to be announced in early March. If they succeed, Madame Lagarde's reappointment will ensure that a European politician will retain control of the IMF reins on behalf of the European debtors for at least another half-decade.

It is up to Mr. Lew, on our behalf, to address this challenge to US economic stability over the next five years now.

Accordingly, in defense of common sense best financial practice, he should terminate the informal agreement with Europe with immediate effect.

In particular, he can nominate and vote for one of many excellent American candidates. As the US is the largest single IMF shareholder, and we hold a blocking vote there, Mr. Lew's assent to any candidate, including the incumbent, is required.

So, for example, he could nominate someone of the high calibre of Christina Romer, former Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors.

But he can do even better.

If there is a global citizen whose technical credentials outshine even the best American, Mr. Lew should nominate and vote for that person. Because what America needs for its economic security in the next five years is not an American in that job, but the best person in that job.

But so long as Europe is the IMF's largest debtor, that job cannot be held by a European, least of all by a European politician, because of the evident conflict of interest.

So once voting on the nominee for IMF Managing Director begins in February, Mr. Lew's bottom line on behalf of the United States should be as follows: no Europeans, and amongst the others, only the most highly professionally qualified, of whatever other nationality, including American.

If Mr. Lew will not commit to do this now, the US Presidential candidates, on both sides, should demand to know why this is not to be part of America's economic plan over the next five years to avoid another economic crisis.


References

Clinton: US welcomes women to lead the IMF. Associated Press 2011.
https://www.highbeam.com/doc/1A1-5976098370994d369d7465fa173f232e.html

How to save the World Bank. Ngaire Woods.
https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/saving-the-world-bank-by-ngaire-woods-2016-01

The IMF needs less Lagarde. Peter Doyle
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-doyle/the-imf-needs-less-lagard_b_9037736.html?utm_hp_ref=business&ir=Business