To the shock and awe of the pundit class, this election cycle has been dominated by The Donald, the Last Trump, the man the Deseret News columnist Sven Wilson calls “a human whoopee cushion; apply some pressure, and disgusting noises come out.” Trump is bombastic, egocentric, and rude. He’s also either racist, or perfectly capable of saying racist things without embarrassment. And he’s ahead, by a lot, in all major polls. He also holds, on a few issues, policy positions that are (you have no idea how much it hurts to say this, but it’s true), reasonable and moderate. Meanwhile, much more mild-mannered, quiet, personally pleasant-seeming candidates in the race have been, quietly and politely saying awful, and untrue things. And getting away with it, because they’re not Donald Trump.
Case in point: Dr. Ben Carson:
I guess it depends on what that faith is. If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution, no problem. I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I would absolutely not agree with that.
Just for the record, the Constitution that Dr. Carson holds so dear states, in Article VI, that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Even if they’re (gasp, shudder!) Muslims.
To be fair, Dr. Carson has walked that back, a little. And I’m going to let go the fact that he’s a creationist, or that he once called the Affordable Care Act the “worst thing to happen to this country since slavery.” Or that he once seriously suggested that the 2016 election might be called off, due to anarchy. Or his suggestion that homosexuality is a choice, because people “go into prison straight – and when they come out, they’re gay.” In fact, Dr. Carson does sometimes walk back his more controversial comments; he’s a master of those ‘if anyone was offended, I’m sorry’ apologies. The point is that Dr. Carson, though ostensibly a very nice man, holds extreme views on almost every major political issue of this season.
Let’s turn to Carly Fiorina. She was widely perceived as having won the last Republican debate. And in a sense, she probably did. She is articulate, smart and a superb debater. And honestly, I enjoyed watching her perfect response to Donald Trump’s insults about her appearance. Her star is rising among Republican voters, and for good reason. She’s an excellent communicator.
But then there’s this. Describing those horrific Planned Parenthood videos, she said this:
Anyone who has watched this videotape, I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’
Wow. That’s powerful stuff. And so we think, inevitably, ‘those Planned Parenthood doctors are moral monsters.’ Except for one little problem; the image she so memorably describes never happened. It’s not on the video. Those videos are misleadingly edited anyway, and we do see a very brief shot of a still-born infant. But the image, and text she describes never happened.
She’s essentially accusing doctors of murder. The doctors in that video, and Planned Parenthood itself, could well sue her for malicious prosecution, a lawsuit they would win. I understand that conservatives are morally opposed to abortion, and that the Planned Parenthood videos are offensive to the sensibilities of many good religious people. They were intentionally edited to provoke precisely that response. Just consider this: shutting down Planned Parenthood will certainly increase, not decrease, the numbers of elective abortions performed in this country.
Ms. Fiorina was recently interviewed by Katie Couric, and they ended up talking at length about global climate change. Kudos to Ms. Fiorina! That’s an important issue, and one that most Republican candidates would rather not address. Again, she came across as reasonable and moderate. Again, she’s very impressive in interviews; well spoken and smart.
Except that essentially everything she said was dead wrong. Vox.com called her on it. My favorite moment was when Fiorina said that California “destroys lives and livelihoods with environmental regulations.” California does indeed have stringent environmental regulations. California also created more jobs than any other state in the nation last year, and is fifth in GDP growth. And a lot of that growth is in, wait for it, yes, clean energy.
But my favorite is still Ted Cruz. And he was on Stephen Colbert last night, and he said this:
From 1978 to 1982, economic growth averaged less than 1 percent a year. There’s only one other four year period where that’s true. From 2008 to 2012, and what Reagan did was, he cut taxes, he cut regulations, unchained small businesses, and economic growth boomed, millions of people were lifted out of poverty. . . As I travel the country, I haven’t seen anyone saying, the thing we want from Republicans is to give in more to Barack Obama and the direction we’re going.
Sounds reasonable, sounds principled. And Cruz’s manner is, again, fairly mild. Except that what he said is complete horsefeathers. Politifact checked this out recently. During Ronald Reagan’s Presidency, the number of Americans ‘raised from poverty’ was 294,000. By instructive contrast, during Bill Clinton’s Presidency, the number of Americans in poverty declined by 6.5 million.
It’s certainly true that poverty has increased during President Obama’s time in office. The numbers of Americans in poverty did go up from 2008-2012. The poverty rate has been in rapid decline since 2012, however.
And we all know why. Everyone in America knows why. The Great Recession hit in 2008. The economy nearly collapsed, not just here, but also in most of the developed world. Of course poverty has been high during Obama’s Presidency. He inherited an American economy in free-fall. And he’s done a splendid job of reversing it. Obama’s stimulus, so lamented on the right, created millions of new jobs. The benefits far outweighed the costs.
The simple-minded narrative would be that George W. Bush wrecked the economy, and Barack Obama has saved it. But the root cause of the Great Recession, the deregulation of the financial sector, was signed into law by Bill Clinton. But Clinton was a moderate Democrat, who occasionally embraced conservative principles. In reality, conservatism destroyed our economy, and Keynesian economics saved it. And Ronald Reagan did not lift millions of Americans from poverty, and what people really want is for the Obama recovery to continue. Ted Cruz’s comments, on Colbert, were really very silly.
Someone who speaks quietly will always seem reasonable, even if he is saying horrific things softly. Someone who speaks in full, grammatical sentences, with vivid examples to illustrate her point, will always come across as informed and sensible. Even if nothing she says can survive the most rudimentary fact-checking. Ted Cruz may seem like the Dad in a fifties sitcom, but Ward Cleaver would never stoop to vitriolic and untrue attacks on a sitting President. Style matters. Content matters a good deal more.