Trump isn’t Goldwater… He might win.

Published: Salon (July 2, 2016), The Good Men Project (June 28, 2016)

Back in March, I observed that Donald Trump had transformed the Republican Party in a similar way as Barry Goldwater. For those of you unfamiliar with the reference, Goldwater was a plucky arch-conservative Senator from Arizona who defied the GOP establishment by winning their party’s presidential nomination in 1964. Although Goldwater was subsequently trounced in the general election by President Lyndon Johnson, his influence lived on in the policies pursued by Ronald Reagan and the two George Bushes.

Having said that, it is important that we not stretch the Goldwater-equals-Trump analogy too far. Otherwise we will wind up doing a disservice to Goldwater… and, in the process, misunderstand the exact nature of how Trump could win this thing.

Unfortunately, Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard did precisely those things in a recent editorial for The Wall Street Journal. Here is the most pertinent passage:

“Donald Trump has committed the Barry Goldwater mistake. In his 1964 speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination, Goldwater said that ‘extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice’ and ‘moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.’ His declaration sent two messages: Goldwater wouldn’t seek to reconcile with his GOP opponents in the cause of party unity. And he was every bit the uncompromising conservative his critics had said he was.

Mr. Trump, since becoming the presumptive Republican nominee after winning the Indiana primary on May 3, has sent pretty much the same message. Rather than concentrate on unifying the GOP, he has spent considerable time bashing Republicans who haven’t endorsed him and even some who have. Though he would like to have party leaders on his side, Mr. Trump says he can win the White House without them.

Barnes’ op-ed in The Wall Street Journal assumes that this presidential election still follows the traditional rules of political baseball, but Trump has created a brand new game. It’s time to start paying attention to it.

He also insists he won’t change his wild-and-woolly campaign style, though it tends to buttress the idea, popular among Democrats and the media, that he’s unfit to be president. It is one thing for Hillary Clinton to suggest that. But some Republicans agree and say so, usually privately but occasionally in public.”


There are three critical details overlooked in Barnes’ analysis.

  1. Unlike Goldwater, Trump doesn’t have a consistent political philosophy. Although both men stoked the fires of racism in order to galvanize supporters, Goldwater’s opposition to civil rights was part of a larger ideology that wanted to slash taxes to the bone, reduce the federal government’s power on economic and social issues, and beef up the military-industrial complex. For better or worse, Goldwater was an intellectual with a coherent right-wing belief system – and, consequently, adhering to one plank in his platform required a voter to adhere to all of them. By contrast, Trump has been all over the board in his stated political views, which gives him greater flexibility to adjust his stated positions and thereby win over reluctant voters.
  2. Unlike Goldwater, Trump’s campaign has been fueled almost entirely by his own personality. Although Goldwater’s most zealous supporters tried to develop a cult of personality surrounding their champion, the man himself was noticeably reserved and preferred whenever possible to redirect attention to the issues that mattered most to him. When Goldwater seized the Republican nomination in 1964, it was because his supporters had developed a sophisticated grassroots campaign that the establishment candidates of his time simply could not match. Trump’s campaign staff, on the other hand, has been remarkably small, with Trump rallying supporters by attracting obsessive coverage from a media that can’t get enough of him. This lack of any organizational framework could prove Trump’s undoing – or it could give his candidacy a versatility that will defy political precedent.
  3. Lyndon Johnson benefited from a good will that Hillary Clinton sorely lacks. While Goldwater probably would have lost the 1964 election regardless of who he was running against, the fact remains that Johnson had been in the White House for less than a year by the time Election Day rolled around. Because he came to power as a result of John Kennedy’s assassination and was widely praised for his masterful soothing of the nation’s collective trauma, voters were generally inclined to approve of his presidency and wanted to give him a chance to lead the nation with his own mandate. Clinton, on the other hand, has negativity ratings so high that she would likely be easy prey for any Republican candidate other than Trump. The good news is that, according to recent polls, Trump’s negatives are hurting him more than Clinton’s are hurting her. Because Clinton is no Johnson, however, this may not always be the case.


Does this mean that Trump should disregard Barnes’ advice? Not necessarily. As long as he doesn’t alienate his core supporters by cozying up to the GOP establishment, it certainly couldn’t hurt him to build bridges, and quite possibly could help. That said, I suspect the 2016 presidential election is going to boil down to three variables:

  1. How much will bigotry toward Mexicans, Muslims, and women help Trump?
  2. How badly will Clinton’s scandals hurt her?
  3. How many votes will third-party candidates like the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein siphon from the Democratic and Republican tickets?

Of these three factors, Variable #1 is by far the most important here. If the economy takes a turn for the worse and swing voters blame undocumented immigrants; or if fear of Muslims spreads due to future militant Islamic terrorist attacks on American soil; or if latent misogyny convinces voters to cast their ballot against the major party candidate who happens to be a woman; or if any combination of these three things occurs, Trump could pull off the greatest political upset in American history. Clinton’s scandals and the threat of losing support to third-party candidates are the backdrop against which these issues will play out, but ultimately America’s fate depends on how Variable #1 plays out.

Barnes’ op-ed in The Wall Street Journal assumes that this presidential election still follows the traditional rules of political baseball, but Trump has created a brand new game. It’s time to start paying attention to it.

A Warning About Donald Trump

Published: Quartz (June 24, 2016)

If Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is any indication, Americans cannot become complacent about Donald Trump.

Trust me, I understand why many of my fellow political writers on the North American side of the Atlantic are breathing early signs of relief. Trump is behind Hillary Clinton in all but a handful of recent national polls and has been far outpaced by her campaign in vital metrics, likefundraising. Could the long national nightmare of his campaign—one defined in large part by messaging that was anti-Mexican, anti-Muslim, and anti-woman—be nearing its end?

It’s not time to celebrate just yet. Despite the rush of negative press Trump has received over the past two weeks, the election is a long four-and-a-half months away. More importantly, however, there are some reasons to believe Trump could still win this thing, becoming in the process one of the most powerful US presidents in generations. Trump could still win this thing, becoming in the process one of the most powerful US presidents in generations. 

We should start with the incredibly complex and confusing US Electoral College map. According to the statistical averages at RealClearPolitics, if the election were held today, Clinton would have 211 electoral votes and Trump would have 164, leaving 163 left up for grabs in 12 toss-up states (a candidate must win 270 to make it to the White House). Even if Trump lost in the popular vote, he could win by turning enough of these states, even if he did so by small margins.

Remember, Trump has defied expectations in the past (including my own), so it would be foolish for the “experts” to count him out at this point. And despite the media’s reliance on them, polls are unreliable tools—especially when such a high percentage of voters remain undecided and both candidates struggle to maintain voter enthusiasm. Many in the UK wrote off early polls that showed the Leave side was gaining strength. Conventional wisdom seemed to be that ultimately, voters would “do the right thing.” Today, Americans woke up to a very different Europe, and it should give us all pause at home.

Then there are the handful of domestic factors that could yet become relevant between now in November. These scenarios include:

1. Clinton is indicted.

Because this is a wild card and completely beyond the control of anyone other than the FBI (who really need to stop dragging their feet on the investigation), it isn’t worth exploring in greater detail here. That said, it stands to reason that a sudden shift of focus to Clinton’s email scandal could be a game changer. Trump recent speculated that Bernie Sanders was refusing to concede the Democratic nomination for precisely this reason. However, experts are far from confident.

2. National voter turnout is low.

It is an axiom of American politics that low voter turnout favors Republican candidates, mainly because the predominantly conservative white base to which the GOP appeals makes a point of going to the polls. When it comes to the politics of 2016, that base’s activities have been impressive: According to a Pew study, Trump has inspired a higher voter turnout than any Republican primary year since at least 1980. While the Democrats have also seen a record turnout, it’s only the highest since 2008—and much of that seems to have been inspired by the campaign of Bernie Sanders, an undetermined percentage of whose supporters have expressed reluctance to back Clinton.

3. Anti-trade and anti-immigration sentiment increases.

Much as the simultaneous elections of Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom and Ronald Reagan in the United States foreshadowed the rise of the New Right, so too does Britain’s exit from the European Union signal a similar simmering of tensions. We may not face the exact same problems as our allies across the Atlantic, but certainly Trump has tapped into a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment and fear of transnational financial alliances that both sides share. Indeed, there is some validity to the claim that the TPP doesn’t really has America’s best interests at heart. Nevertheless, there is also a great deal of xenophobia and conspiratorializing at work in the protectionist and separatist movements. And there’s nothing that Trump loves more than some good old fashioned protectionism.

 4. Racist fear mongering remains part of the news cycle.

This would hardly be the first time a Republican president has been elected because of racism and paranoia. Richard Nixon’s victory in 1968was in no small part attributable to fears of racial rioting, a backlash not dissimilar to the way Trump supporters have denounced Black Lives Matters protesters and other racial minority dissidents. Ronald Reagan did the same thing in 1980 his attack on “big government” as a not-so-subtle way to attack impoverished racial minorities (much as Trump does with undocumented Mexican immigrants today). Reagan also portrayed himself as a strongman who could stand up to Iran during the 1979-1981 hostage crisis (something Trump has tried to do as well, specifically in regards the perceived threats of Islamist terrorism). While his comments following Orlando were widely panned, some pollsters (although not all—see what we mean about polling?) believe Trump did receive a bump in support following the San Bernardino and Paris attacks.

In any other election year, the idea that Donald Trump could be president would seem ludicrous. But Trump is not an ordinary presidential candidate and this is not an ordinary election year. If Trump wins the presidency in November, he will ascend to power in 2017 with a Congress that will likely be overwhelmingly Republican (both houses of Congress are already controlled by Republicans and low voter turnout is unlikely to favor local Democrats.) Equally important, he will be armed with a brand new US Supreme Court pick. In any other election year, the idea that Donald Trump could be president would seem ludicrous. 

While political gridlock has been a common occurrence over the past eight years, I also suspect the dynamics of a Trumpian 2017 would be quite different. Riding into the White House after pulling off the partisan equivalent of a revolution, Trump could convince Republican leaders to feel beholden to the voter uprising that elected him. This would provide the newly minted executive with some vital political capital, especially in his first term.

And what would a radical Trump agenda even look like in practice? Would America spend trillions of dollars on an ineffective wall on the Mexican border? Would we see mass deportations of undocumented immigrants? A ban on Muslims entering this country? Could he follow through on his threats to start a trade war with China, or prosecute journalists who criticize him?

Hopefully not, but your guess is as good as mine. But the fact that even one of those options might happen should be enough to worry even the most jaded pundits. While I agree with the conventional wisdom that holds that Clinton holds a slightly better hand, common sense demonstrates that a lot could happen before all the cards are played. Consequently, the prospect of Trump’s victory should be treated with gravity. The media erred by writing him off early in the election cycle. The stakes are too high for us to repeat the same mistake twice.


Why “Finding Dory” speaks to me as an autistic man

Published: Salon (June 17, 2016)

There is a Yiddish word, verklempt, that roughly translates as being choked up to the point of near-tears without actually crying. If you grew up with a learning disability or raised a child with one, there are plenty of scenes in Pixar’s “Finding Dory” which will have that effect on you… and considering that quality family films about learning disabled characters are a rarity, it is refreshing to see “Finding Dory” rise to that challenge.

One scene in particular resonated with me: Dory’s parents, who recognize her short-term memory problems when she’s very young, are discussing whether she’ll be able to have a future. Her mother is hysterically crying because she’s terrified that her child won’t be able to make it on her own, and the father’s efforts at reassurance are as much for his own benefit as hers. Shortly thereafter she is whisked away in an accident, no doubt confirming their own worst fears.

While I’ve never had a child myself, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome as a child, and I can only imagine that my parents had doubts similar to Dory’s when they heard the news. I know for sure that, like Dory, the awareness of my limitations had a profound (if at times subtle) effect on how I behaved toward others. When you spend your entire life knowing that you’re “different,” you apologize more often (as Dory does in the film), just in case you’ve messed up in some way indiscernible to yourself; you blame yourself for the hardships caused to your parents (again, like Dory); and when you find people who accept you for who you are, and even point out that your weaknesses can become strengths, the notion frequently comes as a shock (points again to Dory).

Indeed, there aren’t many films that depict the struggles of having a learning disability quite as effectively as “Finding Dory.” Part of the film’s advantage is that, instead of focusing on a specific real-life syndrome, it uses Dory’s generic short-term memory loss as a stand-in for any disability that comes to mind. Whether you suffer from dyslexia or OCD or ADD, there is probably some aspect of Dory’s perspective with which you can identify. The common thread binding all such conditions isn’t a particular symptom or set of symptoms, but rather the inability to meet society’s expectations about what a “functional” individual is able to do. Everyone around Dory can remember things, so the assumption is that she can, too. When she can’t, the default is to blame her.

This is a lonely way to go through life, and the most powerful visual moments of “Finding Dory” are illustrations of that theme: Dory’s tiny bright blue form swimming against a vast expanse of ocean, in chilling blues or murky greens. It is easy to understand her state of mind when set against such a literal physical isolation, and one of the movie’s greatest strengths is understanding that this loneliness is the real heart of its story — not the ins-and-outs of memory loss. One of the earliest scenes of the movie shows young Dory asking her parents, “What if I forget you? Would you ever forget me?”

There is a deep underlying truth to Dory’s question. All of us, learning disabled and otherwise, are driven by a fundamental need to know that our lives are important. We must know not only that we won’t forget the people who are important to us, but that they will remember us — that we matter. Fortunately for Dory, she has a cheerful disposition, creative mind, and genuinely good heart, so there are plenty of characters around to reassure her of her own significance.

This isn’t true for everyone, though, and if there is one message I hope each moviegoer can take from “Finding Dory” – and especially those who have learning disabilities, or love someone who does — it is to embrace your own special place in the lives of those who mean the most to you. We live in a threatening and cynical time, one that makes it very easy to pen lengthy op-eds about what is wrong with man and society, but this simple truth needs to be reiterated if we’re going to preserve anything worth keeping about the human condition. All of us are flawed, and while some of those flaws are more conspicuous than others, each human being nevertheless possesses the innate ability to make the lives of the people around them happier and more meaningful by simple virtue of being who they are.

If “Finding Dory” can make that message part of our cultural zeitgeist when confronting learning disabilities, it will have performed a truly wonderful public service. Who would have thought one of the deepest films ever made about learning disabilities would star a talking blue fish?

It’s time for Democrats to unify: Why even the most idealistic Sanders voter should support Clinton

Published: Salon (June 16, 2016)

We don’t know what Bernie Sanders discussed with Hillary Clinton when the two of them met Tuesday night, but it’s fair to assume that the conversation revolved around Clinton’s new status as the presumptive Democratic nominee. As the burgeoning Bernie or Bust movement clearly demonstrates, a lot of Sanders supporters are unhappy with the prospect of backing Clinton. Of course, because Green Party candidate Jill Stein has offered to run on a joint ticket with Sanders, they may not actually have to do so.

And so we find ourselves at a crucial junction in American political history. If Sanders and his supporters swallow their pride and acknowledge that, despite her flaws, Clinton offers them their best chance of achieving progressive policy changes, they will use their newfound leverage to push her to the left and then elect her president. On the other hand, if they place ideological pride over doing the right thing, they can contest Clinton’s nomination up to the Democratic convention or join Jill Stein on a third-party ticket… and their legacy might wind up being the election of President Donald Trump.

Before I encourage both Sanders and the Bernie or Bust movement to support Clinton, it is first necessary to dispense with the popular arguments used against doing so. The most common refrain that I hear from those in the Sanders camp is that Clinton somehow “stole” the nomination. Although she undeniably had far more support from the party establishment, this in its own right doesn’t constitute stealing (after all, Trump was also overwhelmingly opposed by his party establishment, with well-known results). Yes, Clinton has 581 superdelegates to Sanders’ 49… but she also won 2,219 pledged delegates to Sanders’ 1,832. More importantly, she won 15.8 million popular votes to Sanders’ 12 million, making her without question the preferred choice of a majority of Democratic primary voters.

This leaves the policy differences between Clinton and Sanders, which though meaningful are hardly prohibitive. Sure, Stein has opportunistically claimed that Clinton might be worse than Trump, but if you share Sanders’ values that assertion simply doesn’t hold up. As I’ve explained in the past, Clinton wants to invest $275 million in job-creating infrastructure spending (compared to $1 trillion for Sanders), raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour (compared to $15 for Sanders), maintain Obamacare (compared to Sanders’ support for a fully socialized health care system), and establish debt-free college tuition for low-income families (compared to free college for all public university students under Sanders). On every major issue in this election, Clinton’s stances are moderate versions of those taken by Sanders. Trump, on the other hand, favors economic policies that blatantly favor the wealthy… and, unlike both Clinton and Sanders, has focused his campaign on pandering to bigotry against Hispanics and Muslims instead of addressing the real economic problems facing ordinary Americans.

In short, anyone who shares the ideals professed by Sanders during this campaign (including Sanders himself) is morally compelled to see that while Clinton may profess a watered down version of those values, Trump embodies their direct antithesis. As a consequence, it is unconscionable to risk a repeat of the 1968 presidential election, in which a liberal insurgent (Eugene McCarthy) took his protest candidacy to the Democratic Convention and thus weakened nominee Hubert Humphrey in his unsuccessful campaign against Richard Nixon. Similarly, if Sanders accepts Stein’s offer and runs as the Green Party nominee, he risks repeating the role played by Ralph Nader in the 2000 presidential election, when his third-party candidacy siphoned enough votes away from Democrat Al Gore to throw the election to Republican George W. Bush.

That said, it’s not enough to simply point out the overlap between Sanders’ message and Clinton’s campaign platform, though. If we’re going to be ideologically honest in this election, we must remember that the Democratic Party has a long history of delivering on its promises. Franklin Roosevelt spent the 1930s passing economic and social reforms that relieved the rampant misery of the Great Depression and provided a safety net for working class Americans; Lyndon Johnson’s administration spent the 1960s passing civil rights legislation, creating Medicaid and Medicare, and waging a successful war on poverty; and Barack Obama, despite the ferocious opposition of a Do-Nothing Congress, managed to end the war in Iraq and pass comprehensive health care reform.

This is why, when a progressive like me urges Sanders and his backers to rally behind Clinton, we are the ones being principled — not the intransigents who would throw out the baby with the bathwater. The Democratic Party, for all of its flaws, is the only institution within our existing political system that could realistically achieve the objectives laid out by the Sanders campaign. Because Sanders has put in such a strong showing against Clinton, he is in a position to demand that she spend her presidency addressing the problems of income inequality and plutocracy to which he has so eloquently drawn attention. To throw all of this away in a fit of pique, or because our backers cling to the fanciful idea that a miraculous Green Party revolution might occur (despite the lack of any statistical evidence that it would win in the general election), is worse than quixotic. It is downright foolish.

If Sanders wants to make a point, he will force a contested convention and/or run as a third-party candidate. On the other hand, if we want history to remember the Bernie Sanders campaign as one that made a real difference, we will demand that he instruct his supporters to do the right thing and vote for Hillary Clinton.

A First Amendment Pioneer’s Take on the Second Amendment (republished after the Orlando mass shooting)

Published: GirlieGirlArmy (June 12, 2016, July 3, 2014)

Liskula Cohen and Matt Rozsa

co-author: Liskula Cohen

Editor’s Note: This was republished because, at a time when the media is fanning the flames of Islamophobia, we need to remember that if it wasn’t for our lax gun control laws and belligerent pro-gun culture, that mass shooter may have never had a firearm in the first place.

I have, shall we say, an interesting relationship with the Constitution. Back in 2009, I was involved in a lawsuit with Google over whether libelous speech (in this case that of a cyberbully against me) was protected by the First Amendment. When a Manhattan Supreme Court judge ruled in my favor, a precedent was established that protected victims of bullying against their attackers.

Now there is another constitutional question that has a direct effect on me – and, indeed, on every mother who fears for her children’s safety. That is the issue of gun control and the Second Amendment.

Over the last month, mass shootings have dominated our national headlines. On May 23rd, a violently misogynistic college student killed seven people and wounded thirteen at the University of California, Santa Barbara; on June 5th, a man who “wanted to feel the hate” killed one person and wounded three at Seattle Pacific University; on June 8th, two right-wing extremists killed three people at a Las Vegas shopping mall; and on June 10th, a high school freshman in Oregon killed two people and wounded another.

And those are simply the stories that make the headlines. Since the December 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, there have been 74 school shootings throughout the nation, to say nothing of the hundreds of additional shootings that took place in other locations. As Hillary Clinton put it in a recent live CNN town hall, “We cannot let a minority of people, and that’s what it is, it is a minority of people, hold a viewpoint that terrorizes the majority of people.”

Clinton knows what she’s talking about. When a CBS News/New York Times poll asked Americans whether they would support stricter gun control laws in a general sense, 54% wanted laws made more strict, 36% wanted them kept as they are, and only 9% wanted them weakened. In fact, every CBS News/New York Times poll taken on this subject since 2013 has shown 47-54% of Americans wanting stricter gun laws, with 33-39% wanting them kept as is and 9-12% wanting them weakened. More importantly, Americans who were asked how they felt about the specific gun control policy that President Obama and the Democrats tried to pass last year – one that would have required background checks on all potential gun buyers – a whopping 85-92% supported the regulation throughout 2013 (compared to 7-12% who opposed it), with 69% wanting Congress to pass Obama’s bill (including 58% of Republicans).

In short, Clinton was correct when she observed that the people who claimed Obama’s gun control was un-Constitutional are in the minority. But are they wrong?


That depends on who you ask. While the pro-gun lobby acts like their interpretation of the Second Amendment is beyond question, the truth is that judges and legal scholars have been fiercely debating it almost since the Constitution was first ratified. In the 19th century there were cases like Bliss v. Commonwealth in Kentucky (which found that “the right of citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State must be preserved entire”) and State v. Buzzard in Arkansas (which ruled that “the people, neither individually nor collectively, have the right to keep and bear arms”). The 20th century yielded cases like Salina v. Blaksley in Kansas, which determined that the Second Amendment “applies only to the right to bear arms as a member of the state militia, or some other military organization provided by law” (and was later overturned by an amendment to that state’s constitution) and United States v. Miller in the Supreme Court, which declared that unless a weapon “has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument.” Surprisingly, it wasn’t until District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008 and McDonald v. Chicago in 2010 that the Supreme Court officially recognized an individual “right to bear arms”… and even then pointed out that “the Second Amendment right is not unlimited.”


As I see it, the Constitution is a wonderful piece of American history, one that should be defended when it is practical and in the best interest of the majority of the population. At the same time, it was written when the national population was less than 4 million (as opposed to more than 300 million today), when women had few legal rights and hundreds of thousands of African Americans were slaves. Even if you believe the Second Amendment was intended to protect an individual’s right to bear arms (which, as already established, is hardly a given), we will cripple ourselves in the eyes of the world if we can’t amend the Constitution as our society evolves. If women still couldn’t vote, and if slavery still existed, there would be no American Dream today.

There are common sense regulations that could effectively address this problem. I don’t have a problem with people wanting to have a gun at home to protect their families… but that should be regulated with background checks similar to those proposed by President Obama last year. Our society needs to view the responsibility of owning a gun in the same way that we treat owning a car: If you loan a car to your friend and he hits someone, you are held responsible. The person who left his machine gun in a Target, or the parents whose children find their weapons and kill themselves or other people, should be held liable. Similarly, just like you can’t buy a car if you don’t have a government-issued driver’s license and insurance, so too should you be unable to buy a gun without some form of regulation. It all comes down to personal accountability – a premise with which conservatives, ostensibly at least, agree.

We should also demand that our media change the way it cover these mass and school shootings. Instead of focusing on the victims, the media sensationalizes the stories of the killers. Their reasoning is obvious: The more salacious they make the story, the more you watch and the higher their ratings will be. While that makes sense from a business standpoint, it is wrong for news stations to glamorize these killers to put money in their own pockets. Young people who are lost and confused, who feel like giving up, can see these stories and believe that a mass shooting offers them a chance to go out with a bang and be famous.

Finally, we need to acknowledge the role of race in this issue. According to a study published last year on the open-access peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS One, there is a link between gun ownership, opposition to gun control, and what they referred to as “symbolic racism” – or racist attitudes that, though not apparent, influence how they view the world. People who agreed with the prejudiced attitudes posed in the eight questions on the Symbolic Racism Scale (which you can see here) were far more likely to own a gun, support concealed handgun laws, and oppose gun control measures. Not coincidentally, this explains why many minorities feel the “right to bear arms” slogan is explicitly not intended for them (when I told an African American friend of mine about this article, he remarked that “there is no way blacks are allowed to walk around openly with firearms without an immediate challenge from those in authority. We would be labeled and perceived as thieves and dealt with by extreme force… While the Constitution is an amazing document, it has no relevance to the black experience in America as it was originally structured, with blacks being 3/5ths of a human being at the time of the signing and many of the writers being slave owners.”)


Just as anyone who has been bullied can understand why I acted as I did during the Google lawsuit, so too can anyone who is a mother understand why I feel the way I do about guns. As a mother, I am afraid to send my child to school. It disturbs me that I have to ask the parents of my child’s friends if they locked up their guns – a question my mother never had to ask when she raised me – and that every week brings the story of another school shooting. Nothing matters more to me than protecting my child, and to paraphrase Clinton, I am tired of being terrorized by the small minority of people who value their guns more than my child’s life.

Why Hillary should tap into ’90s nostalgia

Published: Salon (June 11, 2016)

Now that Hillary Clinton is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, I have a congratulatory observation for her. When I talk to strangers about politics these days, the subject inevitably turns to the 2016 presidential election. Most of them have strong feelings one way or the other about Donald Trump, but unless they’re a partisan Democrat or simply proud of the feminist milestone signified by her nomination, their feelings toward Clinton’s candidacy are tepid at best and hostile at worst. Most of them seem to respect her experience but don’t trust her character. While that is expected among conservatives, it has spread to independents and Bernie Sanders supporters… and if they don’t turn out to vote for Clinton in November, she could lose to Trump.

Considering that Trump’s record high negatives are matched only by Clinton’s, it would stand to reason that a Democrat like myself would find it impossible to change any minds here. Yet there is one observation that I’ve noticed does the trick more often than not: Just bring up the ’90s to one of the millions of Americans with a nostalgic fondness for that halcyon decade. Particularly for those of us who were raised in it, we will always have a fondness not only for the prosperity of Bill Clinton’s presidency, but the cultural milieu that surrounded it. If Bill deserves to benefit from it, however, Hillary does too — as Americans knew would happen when they elected Bill Clinton in 1992, the First Lady was his co-president. Bring that up, and suddenly many of them told me they could see the logic in pulling the Democratic lever in November.

If my personal experience is reflective of the larger reality, progressives should focus on this angle. So why don’t they?

Part of it is that Bernie Sanders has moved the Democratic Party’s base much farther to the left than anyone anticipated in this election. Now large swaths of Bill Clinton’s presidential legacy have become suspect — and rightly so. As liberal pundit Thomas Frank wrote in The Guardian, Clinton’s signature anti-crime bill in 1994 was responsible for the mass incarceration of millions of Americans, “thousands of people who have had decades of their lives ruined by zealous prosecutors and local politicians using the tools Clinton accidentally gave them.” The left has been similarly harsh with Clinton’s welfare reform package in 1996, which made sense during the low unemployment of the late ’90s but left many of the poor without a safety net in subsequent decades. The Clintons’ worst legacy, though, was the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, which had thrown almost 700,000 Americansout of work by 2010 (there is a good reason why Americans of all ideologies are united in their opposition to free trade).

Yet while these criticisms are valid, there are also legitimate reasons for respecting the Clintons’ main achievement from this period — their economic record, which can be made appealing to Americans of all ideological persuasions. Liberals can take pride in the Clinton administration’s courageous refusal to bow to Republican intimidation over Medicare cuts, allowing a government shutdown over surrendering a program on which millions of Americans depend. Conservatives can admire the fiscal discipline that led to deficit reductions and a balanced budget (although liberals may lament its human consequences), which he did even as Republicans denounced it for being the “largest tax increase in history” (which it wasn’t). Clinton was by no means solely responsible for the booming economy, but it would be disingenuous to deny that these were major factors in creating 22 million jobs.

There is also the emotional logic of appealing to ’90s nostalgia. Whenever I discuss the Clinton era with strangers, they recall the sheer charisma that emanated from the White House. Even the notorious sex scandals that got him impeached were a part of it. His oratory was always eloquent, he exuded empathy, and the man played the saxophone like nobody’s business. People just liked the guy… and as a result, he has become as much a part of the ’90s zeitgeist as Ronald Reagan is associated with the ’80s or Dwight Eisenhower with the ’50s. This can have its benefits. ’90s nostalgiais very popular in our culture right now; as Kurt Andersen succinctly put it in the New York Times, “It was simply the happiest decade of our American lifetimes.” Presidential candidates who can be linked to happier days frequently become presidents — see Richard Nixon in the 1968 election (he loved to point out that he was Eisenhower’s vice president) or the endless parade of Republicans claiming to be Reagan’s successor.

This is a potent force that Democrats can use to their advantage… and liberals should want them to do so. As I’ve written before, the Clintons have evolved from their ideological stances in the ’90s. Hillary is running for president on a platform that vows to oppose free trade deals, raise the minimum wage and focus on creating jobs instead of slashing social welfare. There is no reason to believe that, if elected, she wouldn’t strive to achieve these goals, much as her husband followed through on the conservative promises he made during his 1992 and 1996 campaigns. If you genuinely subscribe to the values of Bernie Sanders — of using your vote to help as many of your fellow citizens as possible, with a special emphasis on those who are disenfranchised — then it becomes imperative to do the right thing here. To the extent that we can be certain of these things, Clinton’s election would help a lot of people, just as Trump’s would hurt many.

If it isn’t easy for you to swallow that idea, well, hopefully the Clinton campaign fully appreciates the magnitude of that fact. Hillary may not be as likable as Bill, but that shouldn’t eclipse the logic of the current situation. She may not be an exciting candidate for president, but there is still an emotional core to the rationale behind her candidacy. It’s time her supporters started mentioning that.

How Gary Johnson can win my liberal vote

Published: The Huffington Post (June 9, 2016), The Good Men Project (June 4, 2016)

I’m a Bernie Sanders supporter, but in the likely event that the Democrats don’t nominate him, I will most likely cast my vote for Hillary Clinton.

That said, I have my reservations.

Foremost among them is Clinton’s long trail of scandals, which lead me to worry that she might not make it through her first term without being impeached. Aside from that, though, I’d prefer a president who would radically transform our nation – curb the unseemly influence of lobbyists, end the war on drugs, protect the rights of women and the LGBTQ community, and roll back America’s military adventurism overseas.

Do you know who would do these things, though? The Libertarian candidate for president, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. Normally a vote for Johnson would be a vote thrown away, but considering that Johnson polls at ten percent right now (an astonishingly high number for a third-party candidate right out of the gate) and both Clinton and Donald Trump are more unpopular than any major party nominees in recorded history, it is quite possible that Johnson will emerge a viable candidate in his own right.

Johnson must listen to the inner-city minority who is being targeted by the police and feels stigmatized in the job market. He must listen to the single mother who works at a breakneck pace in order to support herself and her children. He must listen to the college student with high hopes who is willing to work hard but is saddled with debt. He must listen to what ails these individuals, and countless others who find themselves on the wrong side of America’s economic dream, and come up with policy solutions that they find convincing.

That said, like most liberals, I couldn’t bring myself to vote for Johnson for one reason – namely, his stances on economic issues. Like most libertarians, Johnson believes that the government shouldn’t get involved in economic matters – even though, by remaining neutral, it gives advantage to the strong (big business, the wealthy in general) and disadvantages the weak (working class Americans everywhere). From a libertarian point-of-view, unnecessary taxes of any kind inherently limit human freedom. From a left-wing perspective, however, taxes that provide social welfare to the poor, create jobs, protect labor unions, and build infrastructure are necessary.


After all, freedom isn’t only political in nature, as Franklin D. Roosevelt famously pointed out in his Economic Bill of Rights:

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.


This isn’t to say that Johnson could never win my support, mind you. He has made it clear that he hopes to win over disaffected Bernie Sanders supporters like myself, and once he that demonstrates a vote for him won’t help elect Trump, I am open to considering that option. That said, he cannot win my support without acknowledging Roosevelt’s economic bill of rights because, until those rights are assured, all the talk of political freedom means nothing to Sanders supporters like myself.

How can Johnson do this? First, he needs to do something that neither Clinton nor Trump have excelled at – he needs to listen. Johnson must listen to the inner-city minority who is being targeted by the police and feels stigmatized in the job market. He must listen to the single mother who works at a breakneck pace in order to support herself and her children. He must listen to the college student with high hopes who is willing to work hard but is saddled with debt. He must listen to what ails these individuals, and countless others who find themselves on the wrong side of America’s economic dream, and come up with policy solutions that they find convincing.

[Johnson] cannot win my support without acknowledging Roosevelt’s economic bill of rights because, until those rights are assured, all the talk of political freedom means nothing to Sanders supporters like myself.

This brings me to the second part of what Johnson must do, and that is find a creative approach to governing. He cannot answer the questions posed by those who have been denied their economic bill of rights by prattling on about the free market and claiming that unfettered capitalism will solve their woes. If you’ll notice, the first thing that FDR pointed to after listing our economic rights was the importance of “security.” For Johnson to convince us that he cares about our economic interests, we must feel secure in the knowledge that his policies will provide jobs to those who are willing to work, and an income capable of supporting individuals or families at a decent standard of living. We need facts, not theories, and if Johnson can’t provide the former, he will come across as no more hopeful than Trump on economic matters – and my vote, along with those of many (though by no means all) Sanders supporters, will go to Clinton.

There isn’t much else to say right now. Johnson’s candidacy is young, and this election has barely started. As I’ve explained before, I don’t think Clinton is far enough removed from Sanders to justify electing Trump as an alternative, so Johnson will need to at least start placing a strong second for me to feel comfortable risking my vote on him. Should he do that, however, I will keep an open mind… assuming, of course, that he does likewise.