Talk about the issues (Whipple)

ENOUGH OF THE PERSONAL ATTACKS - The purpose of commentary on the presidential race is presumably to help voters make an informed choice. Judged by that standard, several recent essays fell short.

Would it be ethical for someone to vote for Clinton if they considered her a lesser evil than Trump? Sure, but the opposite possibility – which research scholar Travis Reider acknowledges only in passing – would just as logically support a vote for Trump.

Is Trump revamping his campaign because he expects to lose and wants to go down with guns blazing? That’s how Eugene Robinson paints the picture (downplaying any issues on Clinton’s side of the ledger); he ends by advising Republicans to disavow Trump so as to save their own skins. Newsflash: After a 3-week slump, Trump’s campaign seems to be on the upswing; it may be a bit early to sound the death knell.

Is it standard practice among members of the Republican elite to blame President Obama for Trump’s nomination? Yes, says Steven Strauss (a visiting professor at Princeton University), and Jeb Bush et al. are way off base. Strauss proceeds to blame all of America’s problems on former President George W. Bush and other Republicans, with nary a word of criticism for President Obama or the Democratic nominee.

In lieu of veiled attacks of this nature, I would suggest an informative dialog about the problems facing America in 2017 and beyond – shoring up the military, promoting faster economic growth, balancing the budget, etc. - and the merits of the solutions being proposed by the respective candidates. There is still time for this, but the clock is ticking and November 8 will be here before we know it.

William Whipple III

Text in red font (deleted from the letter as submitted) would have helped to convey the degree of partisanship of the referenced columns. See recaps that follow (previously posted in Delaware Chatter for more details). Also see the News Journal editorial (at the end) that was published the day after this letter was submitted.

8/19/16, Is “lesser of two evils” [an] ethical choice? Travis Reider [research scholar at Berman Institute of Bioethics, Johns Hopkins Univ.] – Let’s say that you’re a swing state voter who agrees with the following four statements: (a) Donald Trump presidency would be a disaster, (b) Hillary Clinton presidency would be better, (c) A third-party candidate would be better still, and (d) Neither third-party candidate has a serious chance of becoming president. Would you be morally required to vote for Clinton? Supposedly it doesn’t matter what the author thinks about these statements, the point simply being that “there are people who do accept them.” It’s also stated that a similar “dilemma applies to many on the right as well,” but no anti-Clinton beliefs are recited throughout the long and laborious discussion. While one is entitled to take action as a matter of principle, this can degenerate into self-indulgence if carried to far. How deep is your principle, how important the feared consequences if you act on it? Predictably, the essay concludes that “if you believe Trump is a moral disaster, then you may well be obligated to vote for Clinton – even if that means getting your hands a little dirty.”

8/20/16A, Trump’s shakeup further imperils Republican Party, Eugene Robinson – “Shaken by the fact that he’s losing, Donald Trump has fled into the parallel universe of the extreme right – and apparently plans to stay there for the rest of the campaign. Let’s see if the rest of the Republican Party is dumb enough to follow him.” Stephen Bannon, who runs Breitbart News, really! According to the Breitbart website, Hillary Clinton has serious, undisclosed health problems (her doctor says she is just fine), one of Clinton’s aides has “very clear ties” to radical Islam (totally untrue), and Clinton is linked to Vladimir Putin (it’s Trump who often reveals his “mancrush” on the Russian leader). As Breitbart paints the picture, our nation is in grave peril. Muslims are scheming to impose Sharia law, Mexican immigrants are running amok in a way that only Trump can control, and polls are being manipulated to indicate that Trump is far behind when he’s actually doing fine. Trump “has decided that his best chance of winning is to peddle this garbage,” and he may actually believe some of it. Not only is Trump doomed, but it appears to be a “good bet” that Republicans will lose control of the Senate. Even the GOP majority in the House isn’t safe if there is a “wave” election, although it’s far too early to predict something like that. Like all would-be revolutionaries, Bannon “first wants to heighten the contradictions within the system he ultimately seeks to destroy.” If Republicans aren’t willing to desert Trump based on their principles, perhaps they will now do so as a matter of self-preservation. How noble to provide Republicans with this sage counsel; one might think Robinson would want to see them crushed in November.

8/22/16, Donald Trump 2016 is not Obama’s fault, Steven Strauss (Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School) – This heavily slanted political essay attempts to blame a raft of problems (the 9/11 terrorist attack, failure to track down Osama bin Laden, two major wars, soaring national debt, and “the American economy in a tailspin, bordering on national collapse”) on George W. Bush while exonerating the current president (who has been in office for nearly 8 years). The only qualifier: “Obama didn’t solve all the problems he inherited, and his policies should be discussed, improved, and if necessary, replaced.” Query: Which inherited problems remain unsolved, and have any new problems arisen on the president’s watch? Professor Strauss’s essay also appeared in USA Today, 8/17.

8/24/16, Tired of this presidential “campaign” – NJ editorial professes to be tired of “the e-mails – flip-flopping – race-baiting – misogyny – lies and half-truths – pandering – 24/7 news cycle – tweets – misleading commercials – finger pointing – name calling – big money influence.” What ever happened to “our No. 1 priority: the future of the United States of America”? What ever happened to the hope that Obama was offering in 2008, which “motivated many to strive for a better America.” With nary a mention of Trump’s “let’s make America great again” slogan, nor the fact that the “hope and change” slogan in 2008 was conveniently vague, the situation this year is characterized as “depressing,” “frightening,” or even “disgusting.” So here’s a message for “all decided voters.” Your favorite’s opponent is not about to quit the race, and it’s futile to keep digging into their backgrounds because “we already know” the pasts of both candidates, and “hear every sordid detail every single day.” What “we want and deserve” to hear is “how, Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton, are you going to make our country better.” Don’t just refer to your websites – we want to hear the plans from your own mouths, spoken with conviction. Who knows, maybe some common ground will be found, and “the next president will take office with a mandate supported by all Americans.” Or maybe that thinking is a bit delusional, but humor us because the human “mind doesn’t work as well when [people are] as exhausted as we are.” More talk about the issues would be great, but the media could help by posing intelligent questions instead of placing all of the onus to “be good” on Trump and Clinton. It’s not as though personal attacks were new to US campaigns; they have been around since the birth of the republic.
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