The much-awaited debate between the U.S. presidential candidates has not much altered the race. It is generally conceded that
Hillary Clinton got the better of Donald Trump if it is scored like a prize fight. But she was not impressive and was rather less capable than had been expected, where Trump, though given to tangents and grating eccentricities, was sensible and his views were not immoderate.
As he pointed out, the Democrats have squandered $200 million in attack advertising that Trump is effectively a mental case who would fire nuclear weapons at Rosie O’Donnell, but he said nothing extreme or embarrassing. Clinton’s efforts to portray him as a xenophobe, racist, warmonger and misogynist all failed.
It was indicative of the feebleness of the extreme versions of anti-Trumpism that she was reduced to citing the birther issue as evidence of racism. There are plenty of reasons to dislike Trump, but not because of his extreme views, as he is a moderate in all policy areas and only reached for the Archie Bunker vote with pyrotechnics about illegal immigration and trade deals that have yielded poor results for the United States. (He has no concern with trade with Canada and recognizes Canada as a fair-trading country, and his attacks on the North American Free Trade Agreement are about the trade imbalance with Mexico, not U.S.-Canada free trade.)
Of course the birther issue was absurd; even if President Barack Obama had been technically ineligible to be president, by the time it got going as a controversy, he had served several years in the office and there was nothing to be done about it. But the question was of his parents’ nationality; it had nothing to do with race, religion, or pigmentation. Trump’s entire voluminous record of public comments can be ransacked without finding a scintilla of evidence to support the charge of racism or sectarian prejudice.
As he mentioned, he has sometimes said rude things about some women, usually very obnoxious women, but never about the female sex. Clinton has scorched her fingers getting into this before, when Trump has responded that she was the greatest facilitator of chauvinistic disregard for the sensibilities of women in American history by her toleration of the tawdry peccadilloes of her husband. (Many other U.S. presidents have had extra-marital sexual relationships, but discreetly and with mature women.) Everyone who has followed this campaign at all knew what Trump meant in graciously responding near the end of Monday night’s encounter that he had shown great forbearance in resisting the temptation to reply unkindly to her claims that he disrespected women.
This highlighted the dangers that afflict the Clinton campaign: she has no new ideas and no strong argument, except abuse of her opponent, for why the Obama-Clinton regime should be extended. In a signally sour and nasty action, the usually gentlemanly George H.W. Bush (the senior president Bush), said last week he would vote for Clinton. Bush has served his country with distinction as a combat naval aviator all the way through to its highest office. But he was handed victory in the Cold War and an economic boom and a strong Republican party by Ronald Reagan. He allowed his party to be splintered by the billionaire charlatan Ross Perot in 1992, and fumbled the White House into the hands of the Clintons, who would not have been nationally known but for Bush’s ineptitude as party leader.
For the United States, the last 20 years have been a multiple disaster — in the Middle East, endless war, national fragmentation and humanitarian tragedy; the greatest economic debacle since the 1930s; the admission of millions of unskilled peasants into the country illegally; doubling the national debt of 233 years in seven years to achieve annual economic growth of one per cent; and truckling to Iranian sectarian zealotry and sponsorship of terrorism while the entire alliance system has putrefied. President Obama and secretary Clinton have led the West to make common cause with the Russians and Iranians in the remnants of Iraq that both Bushes invaded, while exchanging fire in the neighbouring rubble heap of Syria with the same Russians and Iranians. It is impossible to imagine any American president of living memory conducting the West into such a ludicrous crossfire.
One member or another of the Bush and Clinton families was president, vice-president, or secretary of state for eight straight terms (1981-2013) and both families put up candidates for the White House this year. The Adams and Roosevelts had distinguished presidents 20 years apart, and Teddy Roosevelt and FDR were sixth cousins and in different parties. This recent handing around of the nation’s highest offices almost without interruption for decades is not based on dazzling merit and has become, as Hillary Clinton’s endless falsehoods suggest, a corrupt practice. (Obama only managed to intrude into this bi-regency because the Democratic party’s grandees, the unelected ex officio delegates to the Democratic convention in 2008, concluded that it was time for a non-white president. The conclusion was the right one but the beneficiary of it was not.)
All polls show that two-thirds of Americans think the country is going in “the wrong direction.” They are angry and disgusted. Clinton represents continuity and Trump represents change. Continuity isn’t all bad and Trump isn’t the ideal personification of change, but the system has produced the menu it has. It is hard to see how Clinton can get any better than she was on Monday, and that, contrary to her star billing, was nothing to write home about.
Trump held back his best ammunition: Benghazi, the Clinton Foundation shenanigans (the pay-to-play numbers are thousands of times the quaint little kerfuffle in Ottawa about Gerry Butts and Katie Telford’s moving expenses). Despite his tendency to take the bait and shoot from the lip, he is holding the big broadside for the game-ending exchanges of fire. He is using the same play-book as when he served raw meat to the Archie Bunker vote early, expanding the Republican primary vote by 60 per cent from 2012, and has been relatively uncontroversial since. (I doubt if polling techniques reflect the expanded Republican electorate; Trump generally ran ahead of the polls in the primaries.)
At the risk of seeming a supercilious Canadian, the verbal facility of the American nominees was inadequate, and quite inferior to our three main party leaders last year. Neither Clinton nor Trump always bothered to speak in sentences, and there were occasions of misspeaking that would forfeit collegiate debates. Clinton said “praiseworthy” when she meant “laudatory” (the opposite of her intended meaning), and Trump, in his commendable if half-hearted quest for modesty, denied having spoken “braggadociously.” Those who remember the Nixon-Kennedy debates, Reagan’s presidential debate with John Anderson, or even Bill Clinton vs. Bob Dole, may wonder uneasily where this downward forensic trajectory will end.
Apart from fear of Trump or irreconcilable aversion to him, or the most hackneyed pandering to feminism, there is no reason to vote for Clinton. Trump stands for tax reform, much less hypocritical favouritism to Wall Street and special interests than has greased the wheels for the Clintons for 25 years, serious health care and not the hemorrhaging ineffectuality of Obamacare, the ability to utter the words “Islamist terror” (and to do something about it beyond apologizing to the Muslims), and a foreign policy down the middle between George W. Bush’s trigger-happy, locker room towel-snapping quick draw, and Obama’s Peter Pan peace offerings to America’s mortal enemies. From Archie Bunker to the Honeymooners (Jackie Gleason and Audrey Meadows and Art Carney), to Pleasantville, America wants change, and unless Trump really stumbles, he is still it.
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