James Carville’s famous maxim – “It’s the Economy, Stupid” – has become an article of faith for Democrats, both positively and negatively. In 1992 Bill Clinton went round the country claiming that George H. W. Bush had given us “the worst economy since the Great Depression.” Mr. Bush thought the charge too absurd to answer, but Mr. Clinton convinced many young people – who wouldn’t know the Great Depression from the Great Gatsby – that it was true. This helped the virtually unknown Arkansas governor to win (with a little help from Ross Perot). Soon after, the media discovered that (surprise!) the economy wasn’t as bad as they had claimed.
In 2012, however, the shoe was on the other foot. Mr. Obama’s economy – for which he was still trying to blame George W. Bush – really was a mess. Realizing that this could be fatal to Mr. Obama’s re-election prospects, his team contrived a series of raucous distractions during the campaign-year to keep voters focused on anything but the economy. First, there was the huge political stink produced by Mr. Obama’s insistence that health-care insurance provided by Catholic schools and hospitals must supply contraceptives and “reproductive services” – e.g., abortion – to employees and students. I observed then that the only plausible explanation for doing this during an election-year that was that it steered public attention away from the economy. The Obamanistas kept the issue stirred up for months.
Mr. Obama’s support for gay marriage was another “Kabuki Theater” event – worthy of Tokyo itself – that produced a wonderful, economy-obscuring uproar during the campaign year. After Vice-president Joe Biden appeared to stumble into supporting Gay Marriage, Mr. Obama came out (so to speak) in support of it, too. The result was a glorious, weeks-long media feeding frenzy that completely eclipsed any news about the faltering economy. Gay Marriage was worth almost a full month of media diversion away from Mr. Obama’s most damaging issue. (Not bad work in a tough campaign.) In addition to dividing Republicans on the issue, it also pleased an important, moneyed constituency.
Soon after the gay-marriage uproar, Mr. Obama announced that he would halt deportation of illegal immigrants who were brought to the USA as children – provided that they met various respectable criteria (e.g., no criminal record, a high school or college education, possible service in the military, service in law-enforcement, etc.) This issue also divided Republicans, pandered to another valuable constituency, and caused a huge political argument.
Republicans who favored the move evidently didn’t see that enrollment in college, enlistment in the military, and police-jobs require a social security number. Any enrollee or enlistee who has supplied a false one for those purposes would thus be guilty of a felony. Is rewarding a crime with citizenship wise policy? Again, more fuel was added to the “diversionary fire.”
Attorney General Eric Holder also did his part to keep public attention off the economy. His resistance to providing full documentation to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, regarding the Justice Department’s “Fast and Furious” gun-running program, created another political donnybrook that was never really resolved. The GOP-controlled House of Representatives was preparing to cite Mr. Holder for Contempt of Congress when Mr. Obama unexpectedly raised the Kabuki Theater-ante by placing the requested Fast and Furious documentation under presidential “executive privilege.” This produced a new media and political debate over the possibility that Mr. Obama knew of and/or was involved in the failed program. Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi stirred the pot with the old stand-by, “racism.” She charged that Republicans wanted to destroy Attorney General Holder in order to suppress minority votes. Mr. Holder had blocked laws requiring picture-IDs for voting in some states, claiming that this would keep some minorities from voting. (Where he got the authority to do all this remains a mystery.)
These diversions certainly kept media- and voter-attention off the economy, but the Obama-campaign’s pièce de résistance was the “war on women,” fashioned entirely out of whole cloth. A steady drumbeat throughout the campaign smeared the GOP – including the exemplary Mitt Romney – as the “anti-woman” party. Republicans were accused of every sin in the catalog, including raging heterosexuality and even (gasp!) college-matriculation. (My god! Is there no limit to the GOP’s degeneracy?)
For good measure, Democrats threw in the proverbial kitchen sink, twisting incidents from Mr. Romney’s past to brand him as a playground bully, an abuser of animals, and a heartless corporate malefactor who denied health insurance to a woman who was dying of cancer. Mr. Romney did no such thing to the woman mentioned. The other absurd charges were smears meant to soil his upright reputation. But unanswered they stuck like mud-balls thrown against a wall. Many Republicans – discouraged by Mr. Romney’s unwillingness to fight back – failed to vote for him. Against all common sense, Mr. Obama was re-elected.
This election cycle is not exactly “déjà vu all over again” – especially with respect to the war on women. Some attempts have been made to brand Donald Trump as an anti-woman war-criminal, as we shall mention later. But this time Hillary Clinton – posing as the heroic champion of women – has painted her campaign as an epic struggle of the “children of light” (Democrats) against the “powers of darkness” (Republicans). Donald Trump – today’s Republican arch-villain – must struck down and utterly destroyed.
Democrat strategists imagined that this heroic pose would automatically give Mrs. Clinton a strong majority of the female vote – thus assuring victory in her historic run for the office. The strategy did entail a certain risk, however, since Hill’s big, loveable lug of a husband (Bubba) was not exactly a paragon of, ah (shall we say), gentlemanly behavior toward the fair sex. Yes, (the Clinton brain-trust evidently thought) some of Bill’s sordid sexual past might be dredged up, but it could all be denied and treated as just more lies thrown out by the “vast right-wing conspiracy” (as Hillary famously described it in 1998).
The Warrior-Princess strategy was going swimmingly, until some of the “bimbos” from Bill’s lusty past surfaced to tell their stories in the first person. They added a few flourishes and blessings by also describing, in alarming detail, Mrs. Clinton’s role as “bimbo-eruption” enforcer. This was news to millions of young people who had no memory of those halcyon days. The reviews were not encouraging. Big media tried to ignore the salacious tales, but the story was just too juicy to suppress.
This threw a spanner into the gears of the well-oiled Clinton machine, prompting Mrs. Clinton to play a high-risk card against Mr. Trump. This was bringing the former Miss Universe (of 1996), Alicia Machado, who is now 38 (age, not measurement), into her campaign. In her debate with Mr. Trump, last week, Mrs. Clinton caused a stir by claiming that Mr. Trump – the pageant’s owner then – had called Ms. Machado “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping” – supposedly because she had gained a little weight (evidently 60 pounds) and because of her Latin origins.
The media subsequently had a glorious couple of days obsessing over this dynamite “news,” as well as over some ill-advised, midnight tweets Mr. Trump made to “clarify” what occurred with the former Miss Universe. Oh happy day! It looked like Mrs. Clinton had finally found the “silver bullet” that would cripple Mr. Trump and destroy his campaign for good.
Alas, however, reporters soon learned that the saintly Ms. Machado had a past. She had been an unindicted party in a murder case, and had evidently appeared in some soft porn films, as well as (possibly) some hard porn flicks. Clinton aficionados in the media dropped her like a hot potato, and she disappeared from the front pages as quickly as she had landed there. (One imagines that some Clinton-campaign operatives had painful sessions in the woodshed for their failure to check on Ms. Machado’s history and bona fides before putting her in Mrs. Clinton’s deck.)
Obviously we are again at that point when Dems throw in the kitchen sink. Soon after the Miss Universe stratagem imploded, the New York Times published Donald Trump’s federal tax return from 20 years ago. It showed – may Allah be praised! – that Mr. Trump had paid no income tax because his income was offset by business losses of nearly $1 billion. Yee-hah! This was finally going to do it. The purloined report – release of which is actually illegal – was thought to represent a mortal blow to Mr. Trump’s campaign on two counts:
1. Because it showed him paying no taxes – a fact immediately pounced on by Mrs. Clinton, who labeled Mr. Trump as a net “taker,” not a contributor, to the country. This would certainly convince the hoi polloi that they must not give a tax-dodging Donald Trump the presidency.
2. Because those staggering losses (supposedly) indicate incompetence. How can we trust someone who conducts his business affairs this poorly to manage the nation’s economy? This was the question shamelessly posed by Mrs. Clinton (who has never managed a business or met a payroll in her entire life).
This kitchen sink toss seemed decisive for a few days, until reporters found that both the New York Times and Mrs. Clinton, herself, had used the same tax provisions to reduce (or eliminate) their income taxes in some years. Poof! The scandal evaporated. Samples of opinions from ordinary voters also indicated that many small businessmen and investors also employ this important provision of the tax law. Without it, fewer businessmen would take the risk of starting or expanding a business. Commentators also noted that those provisions were written into the law, years ago, by Democrat Congresses.
With a month to go until the election, more October surprises might appear, and more kitchen sinks are sure to fly. Democrats will almost certainly keep trying this, as they have very little else to sell to voters weary from eight years of lackluster economic performance, increasing voter-anxiety over national security, and a chaotic domestic scene. Diversion is all they’ve got.
But Hillary and her gang hadn’t figured on tangling with a tough customer like Mr. Trump. He is not Milt Romney II. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see a kitchen sink or two launched from his camp. Could be an interesting month.