Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Ballot Box Beckons

Last week my sample ballot for New Jersey's 2016 Primary Election coming up on June 7th arrived in the mail.

Amidst the turmoil of a busy work schedule last week and an assortment of tasks related to the arrival of family for the Memorial Day weekend, it was a sobering reminder that I'm going to have to get off the fence and make a decision about which presidential candidate I'm going to back for the 2016 race.

Which for me means choosing between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Like millions of other people over the past months, I've watched televised debates between candidates from both parties and it was pretty clear that a divided Republican party just couldn't overcome the rigid partisan extremists who've seized control of the GOP and pushed more moderate conservative candidates with broader appeal over to the fringes.

Remarkably, Republicans have settled on a dangerously unpredictable former reality TV host-real estate magnate with a sketchy business record who openly peddles bigotry as a major platform position as their candidate.

Feeling The Donald? North Korean leader Kim Jong-un
Donald Trump has no experience as an elected public official in any capacity, and his grasp of macro-economics and foreign policy is almost as simplistic as it is non-existent.

But that didn't stop an editorial that was published in DPRK Today, a heavily-censored media outlet / propaganda tool of the North Korean government from praising him as a "wise politician" (whose never held public office?) and endorsing his candidacy.
So lets review.

Essentially, some of the very same Republican Congressional leaders, including Senators Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham, who applauded George W. Bush for lumping North Korea in with Iraq, Iran and Syria as part of an "Axis of Evil" in the 2002 State of the Union address to drum up support for the most disastrous foreign policy decision in U.S. History, are now getting behind a presidential candidate who was just endorsed by North Korea.

An endorsement which would horrify most presidential candidates but which Trump can now apparently stack up next to ringing endorsements from ex-KKK Grand Wizard David Duke and an assortment of patriotic neo-Nazi and white supremacist organizations.

Regardless, droves of angry Republican primary voters, apparently intoxicated by his open embrace of racism, misogyny and seemingly immune to his continual flip-flopping on issues, distortion of facts and outright lying, have elevated him as the guy they want to see as the next President of the United States.

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders and fellow progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren have been going after Trump for being a lackey for the billionaire class for months.

The war of words on Twitter between Trump and Warren got hot enough last week that Tump reached into his bottomless Lowest Common Denominator bag and called her "Pochahontas" in a trite but racist reference to her Native American heritage.

On the more mainstream side, the Clinton campaign hasn't wasted any time going after Trump on his steadfast refusal to release his tax returns to the media as part of a broader effort to portray him as a shifty con-man billionaire whose fiery rhetoric about supporting the working class is nothing but hot air; seriously, did Republicans learn nothing from Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign?

As Politico.com reported last week, the Clinton campaign is mining that excerpt lifted from a Trump University instructional tape (where The Donald admits he's looking forward to a housing market collapse to make a few bucks) for all it's worth - a shrewd move on the part of the Clinton campaign that could attract some of the fence-sitting Bernie Sanders supporters.

As much as I think the next president needs to bring a more balanced progressive world-view to the Oval Office, at the moment I'm more motivated by Democratic party unity and making sure that the unmitigated disaster of a Donald Trump presidency never happens.

Given Elizabeth Warren's popularity, there's no doubt Bernie's progressive message will resonate beyond the 2016 presidential race, and the ever-shifting polls could be correct that he would match up better against Trump in a national election in the fall.

Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia - 2016 DNC site
But as a long-time registered Democrat, the time is coming when party unity needs to become the bigger priority here - and defeating Trump and winning the White House must be the primary objectives over some kind of drawn-out ideological battle over progressive policy positions.

I'll think long and hard before I cast my ballot in the New Jersey primary next Tuesday, as I said Bernie's message and calls for meaningful systematic change have resonated with me, but I just haven't made up my mind.

But Hillary is a highly-skilled debater and a shrewd political candidate who, by the accounts of members of Congress on both sides of the political aisle in Washington, was an intelligent and well regarded U.S. Senator who was always meticulously prepared for committee assignments and key floor votes.

Her foreign policy experience as a former Secretary of State is certainly unmatched by any of the 2016 presidential candidates, Republican or Democrat.

My mind isn't made up yet, but right now, Hillary is looking like the candidate in the best position to win in the fall. No candidate is perfect, but they must be able to win the general election.

Anyway, those are my thoughts as May comes to a close, the critical California primary approaches and I prepare to cast my own primary vote in New Jersey primary next week.

However California and its large cache of delegates turns out, my hope is that both Democratic candidates will have the fortitude and vision to do what's right for the party and the country - and start mobilizing to keep Trump as far from the White House as possible in 2016.

That in itself would be a pretty good start to a progressive movement in this country.

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