Sunday, May 22, 2016

Mr. May vs. Ms. October

Those of us old enough to remember the halcyon days of the late 1970s and early 1980s when crime was high and so, it seems, was everyone else, might also remember the great New York Yankee teams of that era and their owner, George Steinbrenner. George knew greatness and proved it when he went out and bought Reggie Jackson to patrol right field for the 1977 and 1978 World Series champions. Reggie excelled when it counted and sealed the team's 1978 title with three home runs in the final game of the series. For that he was lauded as Mr. October. Clutch. In 1980, Steinbrenner bought Dave Winfield to play for the team, and he promptly fizzled in the 1981 series, going 1 for 22. For that, the Boss labeled him Mr. May. Unclutch.

I think we're dealing with the same phenomenon in the presidential race. Donald Trump has shown that he can win primaries and woo (some) voters with a message that's brazen, loud, racist, xenophobic, and politically incorrect, which is just an excuse to say terribly nasty things about women, Muslims, immigrants and members of minority groups. His economic policies are incoherent and his foreign policies would make the isolationists of the 1920s and 30s proud. He shifts his positions daily and repeats his signature slogan to mask the fact that he doesn't really have anything meaningful to say. It's an emotional appeal based on the time-tested media strategy that made him, and countless others, into wealthy television stars. he's run his campaign on the backs of the national media, using free air time and phone-in interviews to spout his vitriol and to deflect any criticism as nay-saying and negativity. Trump has no idea what's coming as he becomes the sole focus of investigations into his business practices, income, taxes and everything else that's bared in a national election campaign. He's already shown a Christie-like thinness to his skin when it comes to attacks and when the press really starts looking into his affairs he will have some memorably bad moments.

In short, Mr. May.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton has actually won an election and understands what it takes to gather resources and organize a campaign. She has real, practical policies that would move our country forward, would honor all people and would continue to value America's place in the world. She has a positive message, and the experience being the focus of unrelenting attacks on her character and gender to draw from during the campaign. Does she have baggage? Enough to make me want to buy Samsonite stock. Emails, speeches, ties to Wall Street, the Clinton name and an unfortunate stint as the point person for her husband's failed health care reform effort. Will these hurt her in the campaign? You bet, but she's been through this before, has an experienced team of advisors and actual ideas that will help the United States. And sh'e also a terrific debater. She will come through when it counts.

Ms. October.

Right now, Republicans are coalescing around Trump and getting used to the idea that he's going to be the nominee. There are distinct pockets of opposition and many big GOP donors have said they will not be giving to his campaign. Some of the other money that would normally go to the top of the ticket is being funneled to House and Senate races as the party says one thing, that Trump is their guy, while whispering quite another, that Trump is likely to lose and bring our majorities down with him.

Meanwhile, the fun is on the left as Bernie Sanders makes a last ditch plea to voters in New Jersey and California to back him and send a message to the Super-delegates that they should back him instead of Hillary. I don't see this happening, but it's prolonging the campaign beyond what the party, and Hillary, wants. That will end by the end of June and I could see a Clinton-Sanders ticket in the fall. In fact, I would heartily welcome it. As for the polls, talk to me on July 30. That's when I'll start being interested.

Right now, it's Mr. May vs. Ms. October. In the end, the clutch hitter will win.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Baño Too Far:The Bathroom Wars Erupt

Add the latest skirmish to the list of phony wars the conservatives believe we are fighting in this country over issues that should have been settled long ago.

Like voter fraud, those opposed to bathroom choice have created an image of a transgender man, or in the nightmare scenario, a man pretending to be transgender, going into the women's bathroom and abusing the real women there. Because this has happened how many times? Almost never? Really and truly never? I appreciate that conservatives want to anticipate problems before they appear, but why couldn't they have done it with a real issue like, say, climate change, smoking causing cancer or school testing, where the evidence was clear that these were terribly harmful to people?

Obviously, this is more than just a concern over bathrooms. It's the last gasp fight that many people in this country believe we need to have in order to save the United States from truly recognizing that all people living here have civil rights that the government needs to respect and protect. After all, we need to have enemies, the other, and the outsider in order to properly set them apart from so-called normal Americans who live with their body parts, their heterosexuality, Judaeo-Christian (only) beliefs, and who reject New York values. Losing the bathroom war might mean that we'd have to recognize that gender identity is not binary but fluid, and that it exists on a continuum that can shift daily.

And besides, this issue is taking attention away from the real national concern, which is how to use religious beliefs to deny engaged or married gay couples their rights. You can't use religion to deny the use of the bathroom because, well, you know.

As a educator for the past 30 years, I understand completely why parents and students would be concerned about the bathroom. But what I also understand is that without fanfare, transgender students have been quietly and dutifully going to the bathroom for generations without much fuss, and I suspect that many of them have gone to the bathroom in which they felt the most comfortable, which has been difficult because many transgender students have been made to feel distinctly uncomfortable in their own skin for millennia. I will also say that my colleagues and I have witnessed a remarkable shift in student attitudes towards their LGBTQ classmates in just the past two years because of the Supreme Court's marriage decision. One of the results is that my school district has a policy that recognizes the inherent dignity of all people and allows them to make their own choice of bathroom.

The big issue in the 1980s and 90s was coming out of the closet. For today's youth, it's going to whatever Water Closet they want to go into.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Don't Like Trump? Does Trump-Christie Make You Feel Better?

I've read some scary headlines over the past few months about the primaries and the Trump march to the GOP nomination, but now that it's all-but-official, the race for his running mate is beginning to take shape.

The early signs are, of course, terrible: Chris Christie, the roach of the GOP, is back in the national kitchen baseboard.  You read that right, and I hope you weren't eating.

In a truly remarkable political year, the party that runs on wars--on Christmas, Coal, and Women--has finally declared war on itself.  Both presidents Bush, and the one who did not get there, have all said that they will not go to the GOP convention in Cleveland this summer and will likely not even vote for president in November, even though they could write in Jeb. What a family. Conservatives across the country, from George Will to Russ Douthat to Mitt Romney and myriad others, have urged their fellow Republicans to oppose Trump, nominate a third party candidate or, apostasy!, vote for Hillary. And they're doing this because they believe that Donald Trump is not temperamentally suited for the Oval Office (the man's not even suited for Ovaltine, if truth be told). On this, they are correct.

But there is another reason the GOP faithful are abandoning Trump, and that's because he hasn't supported the Reaganite vision of conservatism the party has been pushing since the 1970s. Never mind that Reagan couldn't get elected in a Ted Cruz party, but the sentiment is clear. On this point, that the party needs a true conservative, they are absolutely wrong, and that's why Trump is the nominee. The GOP has alienated its base so thoroughly, they'll follow Trump's isolationist, anti-immigrant, misogynistic, racist rantings all the way to November (of course, many Trump supporters do agree with his ideas). The base doesn't care about the economics of tax cuts or shrinking the government programs that have kept them afloat for the past few decades. They want their power and their middle class wage jobs back. A more conservative candidate, they have rightfully identified, will not help. So what's really happened is that the conservatives think the party needs to go farther to the right, but the evidence is showing exactly the opposite. That's not a recipe for success in November.

How will Chris Christie help? He can be a true conservative even though he isn't one. He can also, perhaps, batter the Democratic VP candidate into submission the way he did Marco Rubio. He can be Trump's pit bull on the campaign trail. While these are important attributes, I doubt that they will help Trump, which is why I don't think Christie will be his running mate. Then again, who thought we'd be where we are now? A unified GOP could not elect John McCain or Mitt Romney. A fatally split party will have a hard time electing Donald Trump.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest