We knew even before he was shrewdly sandbagged by Chris Matthews that Donald Trump is opposed to, or (more likely) is pretending to oppose legal abortion, so there’s no good reason for pro-choicers to suddenly act outraged simply because the candidate is supposedly a pro-lifer. Like many people who take a legal position (any legal position, not just abortion), Trump had failed to consider the punishment aspect. Matthews made him realize it’s necessary to think about it lest the candidate really have no meaningful position at all concerning the legality or illegality of abortion. It was perfectly fair of Matthews to do so, but it’s nonetheless worth noting that the unexpected interrogation is what's unusual here, not the anti-abortion stance, and not Trump's failure to have previously considered the punishment aspect. As soon as I saw a clip of the interview yesterday shortly after it first started circulating, I predicted Trump would soon retract what he had said. To me it was very obviously a bad answer that reflected a lack of forethought. Sure enough, Trump’s position evolved within hours, and he now more reasonably says only doctors should be punished if abortion becomes illegal.
Two hot-button issues – Trump’s candidacy and abortion – have come together to create a highly combustible situation. That’s why the reaction has been so apoplectic. But there’s really no rational reason to conclude Trump is a misogynist, unless one believes opposition to abortion is inherently misogynistic. Some people undoubtedly hold that belief, but the Matthews interview revealed no previously unknown disposition. I would challenge anyone who disagrees to try refuting my contention that Trump had apparently not previously contemplated the punishment aspect, and that he hemmed and hawed until Matthews ultimately pressed him into saying that banning abortion would necessitate punishing women.
I’ve been longing for someone to confront Bernie Sanders et al. about regulating what’s spent on speech, in the same way Matthews confronted Trump about banning abortion. I think Sanders and others have failed to grapple with how unjust it is to imprison people for simply paying a fee to share information or opinions. It’s not some tit for tat, politically-motivated thought that came to me only as a way to defend Trump. I really do think Americans in general are too often guilty of reaching knee-jerk conclusions about legal controversies. We owe it to each other to be very thoughtful and principled about who is imprisoned, and how punishable behavior is distinguishable from behavior that’s objectionable but not punishable. Trump failed in that regard as too many of us do all the time.
This story was also published by The Huffington Post.
Sarah Silverman is very funny, but she’s also either ignorant or intentionally dishonest. In her new video supporting Bernie Sanders, she falsely claims: “Every politician takes money from big money ever since it was made legal with Citizens United…Bernie Sanders is the senator from Vermont who miraculously has not and will not take money from super PACs.”
Actually, the Citizens United case had nothing to do with the amount of money individuals can donate to a politician or party, and corporations are still banned from making direct donations to politicians. Likewise, it's illegal for a politician to take money from super PACs. As far as we know, no presidential candidate has violated that prohibition, so it’s not miraculous at all that Sanders hasn’t done it.
Let us now observe how Sandersnistas and others rave about Silverman's video, and say nothing about her failure to tell the truth while they complain about Donald Trump's dishonesty. Funny indeed. In more ways than one!
As I wrote in September, "Bernie Sanders has an achilles heal…[which is his] constitutional amendment that would empower Congress to regulate any spending by anyone that could somehow affect an election.” Such expansive authority would be unprecedented, as would the litmus test Sanders and Hillary Clinton say they'll apply to Supreme Court nominees if either of them gets to make any judicial appointments. Jeb Bush recently said he also wants to limit what can be spent on so-called political speech. But unlike the two leading Democratic candidates, Bush would not require his appointees to commit in advance to delivering a specific judicial outcome. Regardless of any other factors, no officeholder or candidate who believes independent political expenditures should be restricted or banned can be taken seriously unless he or she explains how to distinguish what’s regulable from what isn’t. Until they see a principled way to draw such lines, legislators and judges can’t possibly make the necessary determinations. In other words, if Sanders were to offer a lousy idea, it would be an improvement. As it stands, he has no idea at all. The senator has only a hunch that someone else will figure out what apparently has him stumped.
Sanders deserves especially strong condemnation, because he's not just spewing campaign rhetoric as Clinton and Bush are. He’s also pushing a constitutional amendment that would allow Congress to pass legislation subjecting Americans to imprisonment for merely paying a fee to share information or opinions. What could be more predictive of how he would conduct himself as president than how he has conducted himself as senator?
Given the increasing possibility of Sanders winning the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, and how his ascension coincides with the Supreme Court vacancy created by Antonin Scalia’s unexpected death, the need to thwart efforts to “overturn” Citizens United has emerged anew. Sanders will undoubtedly step up his call to amend the Constitution in an effort to circumvent the Court’s ruling, and when he does, he will face fierce resistance from unPAC USA, a new committee-media hybrid established to address confusion and misconceptions about independent political expenditures. I am leading that offensive, and forming a cross-partisan/nonpartisan coalition to hold candidates and elected representatives accountable for their unlettered opposition to Citizens United. The primary goal is not to extinguish anyone's political viability, but to serve notice that a candidate or officeholder who advocates the regulation of independent speech will suffer a devastating downfall as an inevitable consequence.
The notion of limiting what can be spent on influence is preposterous and infeasible in so many ways that the average person, who hasn't given the issue a lot of thought, is unlikely to grasp. So unPAC USA will gradually create and disseminate easily-digested content in all forms until an extensive, comprehensible and winning argument has been made. I’ll be hosting live discussions and strategy sessions with scholars, artists and the public on a new social media platform called Blab that facilitates online video chats with up to four people simultaneously plus an unlimited amount of people who can watch, listen and participate via text. My first guest is former FEC Chairman Bradley Smith, who is currently a law professor at Capital University, and Chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics.
As soon as we have adequate funding, we’ll begin making videos that are destined to go viral. Because we're an unPAC, we can accept unlimited and anonymous donations, and Bernie Sanders can’t do a damn thing about it.
Bradley Smith (former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission): "Remember, if not for Citizens United, this is probably an illegal video.” Click here to watch my interview with him live online at noon PT/3 ET on February 16.
Syndicated radio host-author Maria Armoudian joins me for a discussion about media coverage of the presidential campaigns, and how the new media landscape has impacted legacy media. Check out Maria’s book, Kill the Messenger: The Media’s Role in the Fate of the World, and a blog post by Naval Ravikant about how social media has replaced the elites with direct democracy.
A discussion about "anchor babies" and the persuasion techniques Donald Trump uses in his presidential campaign. Guests: cultural critic Geza X and immigration attorney Alex Voschinsky. Related post: The Art of Political Persuasion in the Age of Trump
Even though Donald Trump wrote The Art of the Deal and frequently flaunts his entrepreneurial, branding and management skills as qualifications to run the country, very few people have caught on that he’s using familiar negotiating techniques in his presidential campaign. Maybe the most obvious example is the magnate-cum-candidate's call to deport 11 million immigrants, the political equivalent of making an outlandish demand in a business proposal that one doesn’t really expect to be met. Asking capitalists for way more than is needed might raise eyebrows, but it doesn't generally provoke the sort of outrage Trump’s so-called immigration policy has evinced among Americans. A typical response to an aggressive opening volley in the world of commerce is to simply make a counteroffer. Which usually leads to more back-and-forth, and ultimately a deal that works for all parties.
Trump is making up his own rules if not his own game, and many Americans just aren’t ready for a salesman's posturing to be applied so crassly to the political arena. But unless he’s eliminated from the race sooner rather than later, look for Trump in the coming months to unveil a creative yet realistic immigration policy that everyone can live with. If he fails to transition from alarmism to pragmatism by Election Day, it will expose a profoundly flawed marketing strategy, and it will then be time to declare the emperor has no clothes. Not yet, though. It’s fair to call Trump a carnival barker, but he's also an accomplished storyteller and master of mass communication. Stories have arcs, and they take a while to be told. Consider this possibility: Trump's timing is better than yours.
Consider also, as if it were a negotiating position or film narrative, the Second Amendment argument made by Dorothy Samuels in the #4 most popular story on BillMoyers.com in 2015 (originally published by The Nation). Samuels was a member of The New York Times editorial board for 31 years, and is now a senior fellow at NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice. She denies the right to bear arms applies to individuals, and insists the Supreme Court's 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller is the product of rightwing bias that came about as a result of the National Rifle Association (NRA) “winning over…the conservative justices.” Samuels not-too-subtly characterizes the Court’s opinion as “radical,” “appalling,” “judicial activism” (natch) and “an epic feat of jurisprudential magic.” Her tall talk is as disconnected from reality as Trump’s immigration rhetoric.
Actually, the Court was influenced by renowned liberal law professors – including Laurence Tribe, arguably the nation’s preeminent constitutional scholar – and the Heller lawsuit was filed by then small-fry attorneys who regarded the NRA as interlopers more than allies. If Samuels were deploying conventional negotiating tactics, she would follow up the false premise she initially floated with a more reasonable position that at least concedes the meaning of the Second Amendment is debatable. After all, the ambiguity of "a well regulated militia" is the very reason its interpretation is so controversial. But according to Samuels, it’s obvious the amendment’s drafters didn’t believe firearms should be used in defense of one’s home, and the legal experts who concluded otherwise are outliers who lack credibility and deserve no mention.
Just as Trump will have failed if he doesn’t eventually espouse a truly viable immigration policy, people like Samuels must at some point stop pretending the majority opinion in Heller is judicial malpractice. How is it fair to impugn conservative justices whose reasoning is in alignment with well-respected liberal jurists? Moreover, millions of Americans believe they are constitutionally entitled to own guns, and that using deadly force in self-defense is sometimes necessary. Because they’re up against so many people who already have what they want, gun control advocates have a greater need to engage their ideological opponents than vice versa. It’s self-defeating to dismiss gun rights advocates as incorrigible nuts, because if they're perpetually brushed off, they will inevitably walk away from the “bargaining table" in disgust – and acquire more weapons.
Any good storyteller knows the audience won’t be satisfied unless the protagonists’ problems are resolved. It appears Samuels is bent on alienating gun owners by clinging to a trite myth that is more likely to prolong cultural stagnation than lead to a resolution. Trump seems to be fostering similar estrangement with other segments of the population, but his story is a much fresher work in progress, and his background suggests he has a more strategic game plan in mind. One needn’t endorse his methodology to recognize its usefulness as a frame of reference that helps us understand how influence is brought to bear in America. Second Amendment discourse is only one such comparison. You could likewise consider almost any issue of the day.
This story was also published by The Huffington Post.
Even though he disavowed personal attacks, negative campaigning, etc., Bernie Sanders thinks it’s perfectly fine to ridicule at least one presidential candidate. His skewering of Donald Trump is a comedic triumph, but it won't help Sanders defeat Hillary Clinton, whom he’s sadly afraid to criticize, especially in her presence. When Sanders knocks Trump for the same flaws he overlooks in Clinton, it reveals two things about the senator: 1) He's more fond of mockery than he admits, and 2) He’s not serious about competing.