Blow, Kristof, and Collins

In “Hillary Clinton’s Crucible” Mr. Blow says at the town hall, her back was against the wall, and she was brilliant. That seems to be when she gives her best performances.  It isn’t often that I disagree violently with Mr. Kristof, but today’s one of those days.  He gives us “Compassionate Conservatives, Hello?” in which he whines that Democrats are too quick to assume they have a monopoly on caring. He then says bravo to efforts by some Republicans to disprove them.  The “some Republicans” are headed up by the Zombie Eyed Granny Starver — Paul Ryan, of all people.  In the comments “JABarry” from Maryland had this to say:  “I’m sorry Mr. Kristof, but “Compassionate Conservative” is an oxymoron. Republicans have shown over many decades that their pretense of compassion is misleading advertisement…you must read the small print. For instance, you say Republicans “were right that the best way to spell aid is often j-o-b.” Progressives agree, a job is a pathway out of poverty, BUT what do Republicans say in the small print? They say that you must give the wealthy class more tax cuts, then jobs will trickle down. They say, NO to raising the minimum wage because they don’t believe in a living wage; they are quite satisfied that people work for slave-pay. Republicans don’t believe in labor unions, they don’t believe in employment benefits such as healthcare, maternity leave, childcare leave, or equal pay for women. They don’t believe in social security, which is earned based on work. The bottom-line is Republicans actually spell aid: s-e-r-v-i-t-u-d-e. Servitude fits in with their vision of serfs serving the interests of the privileged wealthy class–that is the small print Republican definition of “Compassionate Conservative.””  Amen.  Ms. Collins is “Deconstructing Hillary and Bernie” and says let’s look at how the two Democratic candidates — Martin who? — differ.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Monday night’s presidential town hall provided the best format and platform yet for the Democratic candidates. Each was able to play to his or her strengths without the back-and-forth conflict-baiting that debate moderators seem to demand.

Even so, Hillary Clinton stood out.

Not only did she seem completely at ease in this environment, but she was also confident and wide-ranging in her answers, delivering many in an assertive tone that was one tick below yelling, and displaying a depth and breadth of knowledge that few can match.

She was at the top of her game.

She had to be. Senator Bernie Sanders is breathing down her neck in Iowa with a message that’s increasingly popular among dissatisfied liberals and that she hasn’t been able to counter sufficiently. Furthermore, at the previous debate, she made a huge tactical error by attacking Sanders’s motives and integrity, a move that made her appear smaller, desperate and hostile.

At the town hall, Clinton’s back was against the wall, and she performed brilliantly. Indeed, that seems to be when she gives her best performances — when her back is against the wall. But she is often in that position because of her own doing, her own lapses in judgment, her own miscalculations.

It is an odd, cyclical exercise to continue to praise her for climbing out of holes she digs for herself. There almost seems to be a self-destructive, self-defeating impulse at play, a need to be perpetually down so that she can perpetually fight her way back up, a sort of crisis dependency.

It is hard to see how this seesawing can produce a winning campaign or a successful presidency, should she win it. She’s going to have to stay at or near the top of her game for the duration.

Then there is the strange reality that the ritual of her fighting her way back, even with strong showings like Monday’s, can take on air of disingenuousness in and of itself.

The cynical read is that these command performances are calculated, the maneuvering of a purely political being with a gift for guile.

That assessment isn’t particularly fair, but it is quite real. I believe it happens in part because there can be an animatronic plasticity present in her comportment and conveyance that raises questions of ambition versus authenticity. She is hands down the most broadly qualified and experienced among the candidates. But there remains an intangible quality that eludes her: connectivity. Even many people who admire her simply don’t trust her.

This is the same problem that, to varying degrees, Mitt Romney, Al Gore and Bob Dole had. It’s not fixable. Indeed, attempts to fix it feel even more forced and phony.

Another part of this problem stems from something far more tangible: the taint of scandal that has trailed her and her husband much of their lives.

One of the questions she got Monday night cut to the quick of this issue for her.

A young man rose and asked the following:

“It feels like there is a lot of young people like myself who are very passionate supporters of Bernie Sanders. And I just don’t see the same enthusiasm from younger people for you. In fact, I’ve heard from quite a few people my age that they think you’re dishonest, but I’d like to hear from you on why you feel the enthusiasm isn’t there.”

These are Clinton’s biggest weaknesses: people’s sense of her trustworthiness, and the relative lack of excitement she engenders, particularly among young voters.

Perceptions of honesty and trustworthiness are bad and getting worse, even among Democrats. According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Wednesday, among Democrats and independents leaning that way:

“Sanders now leads by 12 points, 48-36 percent, in being seen as more honest and trustworthy, vs. 6 points last month and an even split in October.”

Then there is Clinton’s mounting younger-voter problem.

According to a USA TODAY/Rock the Vote poll conducted this month, Sanders leads Clinton among millennial Democrats and independents (those age 18 to 34) 46 percent to 35 percent. Among millennial Democratic and independent women, Sanders’s lead in the poll was even greater: 50 percent to Clinton’s 31 percent. Sanders’s strength, and Clinton’s weakness, is mostly driven by the youngest millennials. According to the paper:

“Among both genders, Sanders has 57 percent backing in the 18-25 age group, according to the USA Today/Rock the Vote poll. That drops to 36 percent for those ages 26-34. For Clinton, the opposite is true. She gets 44 percent of those ages 26 to 34 and 25 percent of those 18-25.”

Sanders has become the cool uncle and Clinton has become the cold aunt.

Although many of Sanders’s plans appear on their face to be unworkable and, if they were workable, would cause a massive, possibly unprecedented, expansion of government in this country, I don’t think young people think about it that way. I believe that many of them see Sanders as someone committed to dismantling a broken system and its component broken institutions — financial, political and educational.

Millennials are notoriously distrusting of institutions. Sanders is anti-institution. The Clintons are an institution.

Clinton answered the question at the town hall mostly by evading it, and turning her attention to the constant in her life: her enemies and their attacks on her. She said at one point:

“You know, look, I’ve been around a long time. People have thrown all kinds of things at me. And you know I can’t keep up with it. I just keep going forward.”

Survival doesn’t excite, and it’s not proof of moral rectitude. But it is evidence of a certain kind of I-will-survive resilience and an I-know-how-to-survive savvy.

And that informs the choice Democrats have to make in choosing a nominee: Do they want to put forth a survivor in chief, of whom many are suspicious and about whom few are truly excited, or a dream in chief (in the candidacy of Sanders) who says all the things they want to hear but that they quietly know he’ll never be able to deliver?

Now here’s the oh-so-wrong Mr. Kristof:

Back in 2000, George W. Bush did something fascinating: On the campaign trail he preached “compassionate conservatism,” telling wealthy Republicans about the travails of Mexican-American immigrants and declaring to women in pearls that “the hardest job in America” is that of a single mother.

Those well-heeled audiences looked baffled, but applauded.

That instinct to show a little heart helped elect Bush but then largely disappeared from Republican playbooks and policy. Yet now, amid the Republican Party’s civil war, there are intriguing initiatives by the House speaker, Paul Ryan, and some other conservatives to revive an interest in the needy.

Liberals like myself may be tempted to dismiss these new efforts as mere marketing gestures, meant to whitewash what one of the initiatives acknowledges is “the longstanding view of a meanspirited conservatism.”

Maybe the liberal skeptics will be proved right. But we should still all root for these efforts, because ultimately whether the poor get help may depend less on Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders than on Republicans at every level. Whether Medicaid is expanded, whether we get high-quality pre-K, whether we tackle addiction, family planning and job training, whether lead continues to poison American children — all these will depend mostly on Republicans who control Congress and most states.

Moreover, Democrats are too quick to assume that they have a monopoly on compassion. President Bush, for example, didn’t govern nearly as compassionately as he campaigned. Yet his program against AIDS saved millions of lives. He did a stellar job battling malaria and pressing the fight against sex trafficking.

This will be even harder for Democrats to accept, but Republicans have also sometimes been proved right on poverty issues. They were right that the best way to spell aid is often j-o-b. They were right on the importance of strong two-parent families: We now know that children in single-mother families are five times as likely to live in poverty as those in married households.

So I’d be thrilled if Republicans participated in debates about poverty, rather than forfeited the terrain. A real debate would also elevate issues that now are largely neglected, and it would create an opening to hold politicians’ feet to the fire: If Ryan cares, then why did he try to slash budgets for evidence-based programs that help children?

One of the new initiatives is “Challenging the Caricature,” based on a document that will be presented at an event at Stanford’s Hoover Institution next week. Written by Michael Horowitz, Michael Novak, John O’Sullivan, Mona Charen, Linda Chavez and other prominent conservatives, it calls on the right to tackle human rights issues so as to shatter “the caricatures that define conservatives as uncaring.”

“Our values are regarded by millions of Americans as inconsistent with theirs and with America’s inherent decency,” the document warns.

Ryan moderated a forum this month on poverty that drew six Republican presidential hopefuls and tried to frame a G.O.P. perspective on the issue. “We now have a safety net that is designed to catch people falling into poverty,” Ryan said, “when what we really need is a safety net that is designed to help get people out of poverty.”

One reason for skepticism that any of this will get traction: Among the candidates who skipped the forum were the front-runners, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Neither seems interested in this arena.

A final initiative is an excellent plan to reduce poverty put together by a team from the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the liberal Brookings Institution. The report pushes work requirements for government benefits, but also a modest rise in the minimum wage. Instead of increasing public funds for higher education, it suggests taking financial assistance that now goes to higher-income families and redirecting it to the neediest.

This report emphasizes that one way to bridge the political divide is to focus on evidence. We now have robust results showing that vocational programs like career academies help disadvantaged young people get jobs and raise their marriage rates.  Parent-coaching programs improve disadvantaged children’s outcomes so much that they save public money.

If you’re a liberal, you may be rolling your eyes. You’re sure that Republicans are just layering compassion camouflage over policies meant to benefit billionaires. Sure, be skeptical. But at least now there can be a debate about how to help, about what the evidence says, about whether Ryan and others act the way they speak.

The parties see each other as the root of all evil. But when they have cooperated on humanitarian efforts, real progress has been made: on AIDS, on prison rape, on the earned-income tax credit.

The sad truth is that neither party has done enough to address the shame of deep-rooted poverty in America. So let’s hope for a real contest in this area, because everybody loses — above all, America’s neediest — when most of the time one party doesn’t even bother to show up.

I’ll believe that ZEGS and the rest of the mole people give a crap about the poor when pigs fly.  Now here’s Ms. Collins:

The Democratic presidential race hasn’t been getting as much attention as the Republican side. This is for the same reason that professional wrestling gets more viewers than “Book TV.” There’s something compelling about a lot of grunting and body slams.

Let’s get focused. Time to discuss how Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton differ on the issues.

You forgot to mention Martin O’Malley.

No, I didn’t.

About Clinton and Sanders. Their positions on most things are similar. They both favor universal prekindergarten and support gay marriage, reproductive rights and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. They both want to raise the minimum wage, but Sanders is shooting for $15 while Clinton says $12. They both have ambitious plans to fight climate change. Clinton wants to see more than half a billion solar panels in operation by 2020; Sanders has called for 10 million.

Ha! Who’s the transformational thinker there, Bernie?

Well, his campaign says it meant solar roofs. The more important point is that Sanders also wants a major tax on businesses that keep using fossil fuels. As we go along here, you will note that his proposals are almost all much bolder and that practically everything on his shopping list includes new or higher taxes on somebody. Occasionally everybody, although Sanders would argue that the little people will get their money back through things like free health care and generous family leave policies.

Clinton doesn’t want to raise taxes?

Some, but mainly on the superrich. Nothing on couples making less than $250,000.

I vote the person, not the platform. Who would I like more?

You’d like them both. These are politicians. They spend their lives trying to please people. You don’t get to this level if nobody can stand being around you. Unless, of course, you’re Ted Cruz.

Do you think Sanders has so many young supporters because he’s transformational or because he wants to make college free?

That’s certainly a big applause line. This is another good way of looking at the candidates’ differences. Sanders has a sweeping plan: free tuition at public colleges and universities, period. Clinton has a similar goal, but her plan is more complicated because she wants to screen out kids whose parents could afford to pay the freight themselves.

So his is easier to understand, while she avoids the problem of having to explain in the final election why the taxpayers should be underwriting chemistry class for Donald Trump’s grandchildren.

Are you going to talk about Wall Street? Preferably briefly. Without mentioning the repeal of Glass-Steagall.

Very, very basically, Bernie Sanders has a dramatic plan to regulate the big banks, tax the speculators and punish Wall Street evildoers. Clinton would argue that the banks have been pretty well taken care of by the Dodd-Frank law and that what you really need to do is focus on the hedge funds. This is so oversimplified, I’m kind of ashamed. Maybe we should go back and …

That’s plenty. Really! So Clinton isn’t in the pocket of big special interests who paid her millions of dollars to give speeches?

Many people think her Wall Street reform plan is O.K. But on a personal level, it was inexcusable of her to give those $200,000 speeches for investment bankers and the like when she knew she was going to be running for president. Not good at all.

You’d better say something positive about Hillary Clinton now or I’m going to call this quits.

She’s stupendously smart. She has a lifetime record of fighting for good causes, particularly children and women’s rights. She would almost certainly be a lot better at working with Congress than President Obama has been.

What about a President Sanders? Could he actually do any of the stuff he’s talking about?

It’s hard to imagine getting Congress to upgrade Obamacare to a single-payer system — what he describes as Medicare for all. You remember what an enormous lift it was to get any health care reform at all passed. But Sanders’s theory is that by electing him, the people will be sending a message so strong even Congress can’t ignore it.

Wow, do you think that could happen?

That’s the bottom line of the whole contest. Vote for Bernie: Send a message. Vote for Hillary: She knows how to make things work.

I would like to elect someone who can make things work while simultaneously sending a message.

Do you ever watch those house-hunting shows where people make the list of what they want in their next home, and it’s always a place in the heart of the city that’s quiet and has green space for the dog and four bedrooms so guests can come visit, for no more than $500 a month?

You’re saying I can’t have everything.

Hey, wait until I ask you to choose between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

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