Monday, September 12, 2016

all fall down

Even dreadful movies have their moments.

Take The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. One of its best scenes* is a perfectly-timed philosophical ramble on the nature of fate and circumstances. The screenplay sets up the scene with: 

Sometimes we are on a collision course and we just don't know it ...
Whether it's by accident or by design, there's not a thing we can do about it.
Politics is not immune to the force of circumstances. If anything, it is far more subject to the unexpected than most pursuits in life -- because politicians love trying to control the flow of events. And they almost always fail. With small events starting ripples that have unforeseen consequences.

Richard Nixon had one of those moments on 27 September 1960. As he was stepping out of his car to enter the CBS studio, he banged his knee against the edge of the door. The same knee he had injured two weeks earlier and had left him hospitalized and eight pounds lighter. According to Thedore White in The Making of the President 1960, Nixon's face went "all white and pasty."

We will never know if that little circumstance may have caused Nixon to completely miss responding to Kennedy's use of classified information in the debate when he accused the Eisenhower administration of not taking action to overthrow Castro. But he didn't. And, as Nixon stood there mopping his lips, it was possible to hear Hail to the Chief playing at that very moment -- for Kennedy.

But Nixon was not alone. His successor, President Ford, suffered a series of pratfalls that were almost emblematic of his attempt to get both the American political system and the American economy running again.

For symbolism, though, it would be hard to beat President Carter's collapse in an October 1979 road race. His presidency was unraveling at the time with attacks from both parties in Congress: with animosity so strong from the left that Teddy Kennedy mounted a challenge in the 1980 primaries.

The photograph summed up the verdict a majority of the American public was about to deliver -- as president, he was out of his depth.

I remember Andy Rooney admonishing his watchers on Sixty Minutes for mocking Carter's physical failing. What offended Rooney was that Carter was wearing black socks for exercise.

All of this is to put some context around Hillary Clinton's collapse while getting into her van yesterday. I am perfectly willing to accept the campaign's announcement that she has been suffering pneumonia for several days and that the heat had caused her to feel dizzy.

But there are plenty of voters who are not going to accept that explanation. She has managed to earn a reputation for untrustworthiness amongst a majority of American voters. And there are reasons for voters to feel that way. It is no secret that at least one of her staffers calls her Hillary Milhous Clinton -- an appellation from the 1990s pages of The American Spectator.

I have no reason to believe that Mrs. Clinton has any health problems beyond what her doctor disclosed yesterday. Most of the conspiracy theories I have heard are as ill-founded in fact as the attacks on President Obama's birthplace. And I wish her a speedy recovery -- as we all should for someone suffering an illness.

The video of her collapse, though, is something that will haunt the campaign until November. If only for its symbolism.

This week's edition of The Economist contains a very interesting essay on post-truth politics -- especially, in America. The thrust of the article is that post-truth arguments ("
a reliance on assertions that 'feel true' but have no basis in fact) are a danger to the democratic process because voters are making decisions based on feelings, rather than facts.

I generally agree with the essay. People who believe that flies will be repelled by tacking up plastic bags filled with water or that the American moon landings are faked just leave me shaking my head.

But The Economist suffers from its own dualism -- that feelings and facts are somehow unrelated. And the essay freely admits that: "
If, like this newspaper, you believe that politics should be based on evidence, this is worrying."

Well, most of us believe that evidence is very important and we base a lot of our decisions on it. But, so are feelings. Of course, the dichotomy is rather silly. Logic, feelings, emotions -- they are all types of thought and they provide us with the tools to navigate through life.

And I suspect that is part of Hilary Clinton's problem. Not only is her campaign unquestionably one of the worst presidential campaigns in this nation's history, she has completely failed to win over the feelings of a majority of American voters.

They feel she is untrustworthy. And I am one of them.

As a result, during the last two weeks, polls have shown her electoral college vote slip from the mid-280s (well over the 270 a candidate requires for election) to 209 this morning -- according to RealClearPolitics.

This is the map that should have her worried.

* -- If you are interested in watching the full narrative, here it is:

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