Brooks, Cohen and Krugman

Bobo has extruded a thing called “Hillary Clinton’s Opportunist Solution!” in which he babbles that Hillary Clinton no longer even pretends to be consistent or authentic, but maybe that can work with voters and in office.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “Hillary Clinton is running as a Democrat, and she is shifting her policy positions to accommodate what Democrats want. Duhhhhhh. Republicans pretend to be scientifically-ignorant bible-thumping gun-loving homophobes to accommodate their base. Well, I hope they’re pretending. I’d respect them more if I thought they were opportunistic liars than if they actually believed what they say.  In short, I’d rather organize an administration under Hillary’s uncertain trumpet than around a dead-certain Trump.  (And 50 points from Slytherin for Brooks’ mentioning Bernie Sanders and Ben Carson in the same sentence.)”  Mr. Cohen, in “Indifference Kills,” says Milan’s Holocaust memorial houses refugees, turning its back on the indifference that kills.  Prof. Krugman points out that “It’s All Benghazi” and that the House hearings intended to hurt Hillary Clinton are just one case of politicians capitalizing on a nonissue. Remember the debt crisis?  Here’s Bobo:

All presidential candidates face a core problem. To win their party’s nomination in an age of growing polarization they have to adopt base-pleasing, pseudo-extreme policy positions. But to win a general election and actually govern they have to adopt semi-centrist majority positions.

How can one person do both?

Nobody had figured this out until, brilliantly, Hillary Clinton. She is campaigning on a series of positions that she transparently does not believe in. She’ll say what she needs to say now to become Bernie Sanders in a pantsuit (wait, Bernie Sanders already wears a pantsuit!). Then, nomination in hand and White House won, she will, it appears, transparently flip back and embrace whatever other positions she doesn’t believe in that will help her succeed in her new role.

In other words, one of the causes of polarized gridlock and political dysfunction is that we have too many politicians with ideological convictions. Clinton seems to be eliding this problem.

Her most impressive elision concerns trade, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. When she announced her opposition to Judy Woodruff on the “PBS NewsHour” she was performing a flip-flop of the sort that leaves gymnasts gaping and applauding. As CNN pointed out, she’s praised the deal 45 separate times, at one point calling it “the gold standard in trade agreements.”

This was not only a substantive flip-flop. It was so naked it amounted to a bold and clarion statement of faith on behalf of flip-flopping itself. It suggested a whole style of campaigning and method of governing based on the principle of unprincipledness.

In order to navigate her way through the wilds of politics and the morass of an ungovernable nation, she’ll do whatever she needs to do, say whatever needs to be said and fight for whatever constituency is most useful at the moment.

She’ll get things done. (Whatever those things happen to be.)

This flexibility has become something of a leitmotif. The most exhaustively reported account of her various policy adjustments comes from Evan Popp, a journalism student at Ithaca College who documented Clinton’s shifts while he interned at the Institute for Public Accuracy. He has collected Clinton’s statements on either side of various issues.

In 2000 she supported the Defense of Marriage Act, though now she is pro-gay marriage. In the 1990s she was for more incarceration. “We need more prisons to keep violent offenders for as long as it takes to keep them off the streets.” Now she’s against mass incarceration.

In 2007 she was against allowing undocumented immigrants to have driver’s licenses. Now she supports them. In 2002, she was against ethanol subsidies, but now she’s bullish.

We all get to change our mind in response to the facts, but each of these intellectual inquiries happens to have led her in a politically convenient direction.

This deftness could, if used wisely, help Clinton placate the left in order to get the nomination and then placate the powerful in order, as president, to pass legislation. By contrast, if a conviction politician like Sanders or Ben Carson got elected, he wouldn’t be able to get 35 votes for anything he proposed.

But there are downsides to the Opportunist Solution. First, politically. The Clinton theory of the campaign seems to be that people vote on the basis of what policy a candidate can deliver or what interest group he or she kowtows to. But it could be that voters actually vote on the basis of authenticity and trustworthiness. In that case, Clinton could be hurt by the fact that only 35 percent of, say, Floridians think she is honest and trustworthy, according to a Quinnipiac poll, whereas, just to pick a random name, 71 percent think that of Joe Biden.

Second, as a matter of practical governing, it’s hard to organize an administration around an uncertain trumpet. Administrations generally work best when everybody on the team knows consistently what the president stands for. As the old wisdom goes, the problem with pragmatism is that it doesn’t work.

Third, there’s the humanitarian issue. Clinton once supported the Pacific trade deal for good reason. According to a report from the Peterson Institute for International Economics, the deal would bolster U.S. gross domestic product growth and jobs over the next decade. It would lift Malaysian growth by 6.6 percent and Vietnamese growth by 14 percent. It would also build a solid Asian alliance to balance Chinese hegemony. If Clinton’s flip-flop ends up sinking the deal, she will have helped sentence millions of people to further poverty and destabilized the world’s most dynamic region.

Still, it would be interesting to see how government by flip-flop might work. If we had a president hopping opportunistically from issue to issue, that might disrupt our ossified landscape and tear down the old-fashioned partisan walls.

In an era of polarization and dysfunction, maybe authenticity, conviction, consistency and principle are the hobgoblins of little minds!

Next up we have Mr. Cohen, writing from Milan:

“Indifference” is the word engraved on the stark wall at the entrance to Milan’s Holocaust memorial, housed beneath the central railway station from which Jews were deported to Auschwitz and other Nazi camps. The premises vibrate when trains depart overhead, as if mirroring the shudder the place provokes.

A survivor of the deportation, Liliana Segre, whose father, Alberto, was killed at Auschwitz, suggested that “indifference” was the most appropriate word to greet visitors to the memorial, which opened in 2013. Nobody had cared when, from 1943 onward, Jews were hauled through the elegant avenues of Milan to the station. They were unloaded from trucks and packed into wooden boxcars made to transport six horses but used for some 80 doomed human beings.

So it was perhaps inevitable that when Roberto Jarach, the vice president of the memorial, was asked if he could help with Milan’s refugee crisis, he saw that word flash through his mind. As hundreds of desperate refugees converged daily on Milan’s central station — opened during the rule of the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini — the memorial could not show “indifference.”

“I immediately came down here to measure the space we have,” Jarach told me. “These people hardly know where they are.”

And so, for a few months now, camp beds have been set out every night to the left of the main entrance. In all, about 3,500 people have been sheltered, mainly Eritreans, but also Syrians and Afghans, part of the largest movement of refugees and migrants since the end of World War II.

Children are given toys and crayons. Adults get a new pair of shoes: A pile of discarded footwear testifies to their popularity. A jury-rigged pipe provides a shower in the washrooms. When I visited, 38 refugees had spent the previous night at the memorial. They come in the evening from the station, where municipal authorities and an organization called Progetto Arca have set up a processing center. They sleep near the Indifference Wall. They leave the next morning, usually headed north toward Germany.

There is no direct analogy between the situation of millions of refugees today and the Jews who were deported from Milan’s Platform 21 (as the memorial is also known). The refugees are fleeing war — not, in general, targeted annihilation. They are victims of weak states, not an all-powerful one. Their plight often reflects the crisis of a religion, Islam — its uneasy adaptation to modernity — not the depredations of a single murderous ideology.

Still, there are echoes, not least in that word, indifference.

The indifference of Hungary, with its self-appointed little exercise in bigotry: the defense of Europe as Christian Club. The indifference of Britain, where the prime minister speaks of “swarms,” the foreign secretary of “desperate migrants marauding,” and the home secretary of threats “to a cohesive society.” The indifference of a Europe that cannot rouse itself to establish adequate legal routes to refugee status that would stem trafficking that has left about 3,000 people dead this year in the Mediterranean.

Then there is the indifference of an America that seems to have forgotten its role as haven for refugees of every stripe. The indifference of a world unready to acknowledge that more than 4 million Syrian refugees absorbed by Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon need a massive program of economic and educational aid over the next decade to confront the crisis. “It’s a trend and not a blip,” David Miliband, the president of the International Rescue Committee, told me.

If the counter-indifference gesture of Milan’s Holocaust memorial were repeated myriad times across a European Union of more than half a billion people, the impact would be dramatic. One quarter of Lebanon’s population is now composed of Syrian refugees; the numbers reaching the E.U. constitute less than 0.5 percent of its population.

Another echo, for Jews, lies in their own situation in Europe a little over a century ago. They were often marginalized. As Rabbi Julia Neuberger pointed out in a recent sermon at the West London Synagogue, around 150,000 Jews, often fleeing pogroms, arrived in Britain between 1881 and 1914. An anti-immigrant group called the British Brothers’ League declared then that Britain could not become “the dumping ground for the scum of Europe.”

Sound familiar?

Yesterday’s “scum” often proves to be the invigorating lifeblood of renewal. Churchill opposed the Aliens’ Act of 1905, designed to control Jewish immigration, on the grounds that “free entry and asylum” were practices from which Britain “has so greatly gained.”

Europe is awash in small-mindedness, prejudice and amnesia. On Syria, the United States is not far behind.

Jarach, whose Jewish family arrived in Milan in the late 19th century, is assisted by Adhil Rabhi, a Moroccan immigrant. They showed me around the memorial, explained how each boxcar was filled with Jews and then shunted to an elevator that took them up to the platform.

Nobody saw the Jews. Nobody wanted to see them. Indifference kills. As Syria demonstrates.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

So Representative Kevin McCarthy, who was supposed to succeed John Boehner as speaker of the House, won’t be pursuing the job after all. He would have faced a rough ride both winning the post and handling it under the best of circumstances, thanks to the doomsday caucus — the fairly large bloc of Republicans demanding that the party cut off funds to Planned Parenthood, or kill Obamacare, or anyway damage something liberals like, by shutting down the government and forcing it into default.

Still, he finished off his chances by admitting — boasting, actually — that the endless House hearings on Benghazi had nothing to do with national security, that they were all about inflicting political damage on Hillary Clinton.

But we all knew that, didn’t we?

I often wonder about commentators who write about things like those hearings as if there were some real issue involved, who keep going on about the Clinton email controversy as if all these months of scrutiny had produced any evidence of wrongdoing, as opposed to sloppiness.

Surely they have to know better, whether they admit it to themselves or not. And surely the long history of Clinton nonscandals and retracted allegations — remember, there never was anything to the Whitewater accusations — should serve as a cautionary tale.

Somehow, though, politicians who pretend to be concerned about issues, but are obviously just milking those issues for political gain, keep getting a free pass. And it’s not just a Clinton story.

Consider the example of an issue that might seem completely different, one that dominated much of our political discourse just a few years ago: federal debt.

Many prominent politicians made warnings about the dangers posed by U.S. debt, especially debt owned by China, a central part of their political image. Paul Ryan, when he was chairman of the House Budget Committee, portrayed himself as a heroic crusader against deficits. Mitt Romney made denunciations of borrowing from China a centerpiece of his campaign for president. And by and large, commentators treated this posturing as if it were serious. But it wasn’t.

I don’t mean that it was bad economics, although it was. Remember all the dire warnings about what would happen if China stopped buying our debt, or worse yet, starting selling it? Remember how interest rates would soar and America would find itself in crisis?

Well, don’t tell anyone, but the much feared event has happened: China is no longer buying our debt, and is in fact selling tens of billions of dollars in U.S. debt every month as it tries to support its troubled currency. And what has happened is what serious economic analysis always told us would happen: nothing. It was always a false alarm.

Beyond that, however, it was a fake alarm.

If you looked at all closely at the plans and proposals released by politicians who claimed to be deeply worried about deficits, it soon became obvious that they were just pretending to care about fiscal responsibility. People who really worry about government debt don’t propose huge tax cuts for the rich, only partly offset by savage cuts in aid to the poor and middle class, and base all claims of debt reduction on unspecified savings to be announced on some future occasion.

And once fiscal scare tactics started to lose political traction, even the pretense went away. Just look at the people seeking the Republican presidential nomination. One after another, they have been proposing giant tax cuts that would add trillions to the deficit.

Debt, it seems, only matters when there’s a Democrat in the White House. Or more accurately, all the talk about debt wasn’t about fiscal prudence; it was about trying to inflict political damage on President Obama, and it stopped when the tactic lost effectiveness.

Again, none of this should come as news to anyone who follows politics and policy even moderately closely. But I’m not sure that normal people, who have jobs to do and families to raise, are getting the message. After all, who will tell them?

Sometimes I have the impression that many people in the media consider it uncouth to acknowledge, even to themselves, the fraudulence of much political posturing. The done thing, it seems, is to pretend that we’re having real debates about national security or economics even when it’s both obvious and easy to show that nothing of the kind is actually taking place.

But turning our eyes away from political fakery, pretending that we’re having a serious discussion when we aren’t, is itself a kind of fraudulence. Mr. McCarthy inadvertently did the nation a big favor with his ill-advised honesty, but telling the public what’s really going on shouldn’t depend on politicians with loose lips.

Sometimes — all too often — there’s no substance under the shouting. And then we need to tell the truth, and say that it’s all Benghazi.

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