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Hope is Not a Strategy

By James Moore

“Joe Biden is a good president. The country is better off. The Democratic Party is strong.” – Simon Rosenberg, The Hopium Chronicles

Hope is not a strategy. And it feels like there is too much hope in the engine of the campaign to defeat Donald Trump and save the American republic. We hope he is convicted of his multiple criminal acts and that half of his Republican support will melt away, as pollsters claim. We hope voters will recognize that President Biden has improved the economy, created 15 million new jobs, controlled inflation, is fighting for a woman’s right to choose, saved NATO, got us through Covid, convinced Congress to approve a massive infrastructure plan while Trump only talked about one, and for those reasons voters will recognize Biden deserves another four years.

But hoping is not a strategy. Because we think good things are going to happen and the 74 million people who supported Trump last time, or at least a statistically significant portion, will come to their senses. There are those who publicly wish the former president dead, hoping his cardiovascular disease will put him to the ground, or his habits of bad food and no exercise combined with an alleged addiction to Adderall. We hope multiple juries will find him guilty and that people will realize what a great risk his restoration will mean to this country. We hope he will be treated like all citizens and will face prison time for any convictions, and that this election will be such a dominating political win for Biden that Trump will be swept like peanut shells from the floor of our national beer joint.

When my first book about George W. Bush was published and became a New York Times bestseller, I was invited to speak at a film festival in Bergen, Norway. The documentary produced from “Bush’s Brain” was featured at the event and I was asked to give a talk and answer questions after its conclusion. The overwhelming nature of the inquiries I received was centered around how disappointed Europe and Scandinavia were in our voting public. “We never thought America could elect such a person,” was the recurrent theme. Neither had I, frankly, and the popular vote proved we did not. The high court chose Bush, not Americans. But I had not planned an apologia for my fellow citizens and did not offer one for I was as disgusted as that film audience. I did, however, provide a dash of hope.

“Look,” I said, “Americans make mistakes, but we have a decent history of learning from them and correcting our course. I don’t think there is any way voters give Bush a second term after his WMD lies and the invasion of Iraq and this will all be undone.”

My failure as a political seer was not a complete loss. After the 2004 reelection of Bush, the same Norwegian film festival sent a ticket to return with the express purpose of explaining myself and how Bush had been given a second chance by voters. I had no real answers and mumbled something from the podium about Ronald Reagan and his presidency and how he pretended AIDS didn’t exist and let people die and ran up the national debt by giving huge corporate tax cuts while believing in the absurdist “trickle down economics” and mortally wounded many unions by firing air traffic controllers for going on strike. Of course, my logic gave lie to my original premise that we fix what we break, and reelecting Reagan was as damned foolish as putting Bush back in the job, which we did even though he launched a war costing hundreds of billions of dollars at the same time he gave corporate tax cut checks to big business.

And those are a few of the reasons why we cannot just hope that things will fall apart for Trump. Fascism has jumped the fence and is banging on our back door. The apparent inevitability that Trump will become the GOP’s nominee for the third straight time ought to force Democrats into extreme introspection on their armaments in the coming battle for the republic, instead of making unsafe assumptions about its outcome. Anyone who has ever worked hard, accomplished much for their employer, and still got passed over for a promotion, knows the dangers faced by Joe Biden. Nonetheless, Democratic analysts like Simon Rosenberg believe that Americans simply cannot stomach Trump’s awfulness, and Rosenberg continues to offer optimism in his Substack that explains what he calls political “Hopium.”

 

 

As much as I respect Rosenberg and his heartening analyses, I am equally bothered by the contraindications, and the biggest of these is the president’s age. Every poll taken seems to show that the public is concerned about dementia or senility or even death should he win another four years. No matter how much the staunchest of Democrats support Mr. Biden, the shadow walking with him through the campaign is his age and potential deterioration of his health. Trump’s age and vitality, which ought to be just as worrisome given his disdain for healthy living, seems not to register with voters even though he consistently bumbles language and misspeaks with malapropisms that would make him a comedian in any other endeavor. Because no horror visited upon our national discourse by Trump seems to matter, and Biden is viewed as a well-meaning octogenarian whose time has passed, their contest seems to suggest there is no positive outcome to this November 5 election.

The polls are too close for comfort. Most show a toss up, though there are encouraging signs in some cases. It is hard, however, to discern movement in the electorate. Trump wishes for the economy to crash and talks of killing the Affordable Care Act after a record 20 million Americans signed up for coverage as polling shows Biden leading him by eight points in New Hampshire, which is the margin the president won in 2020. Biden gave stirring and persuasive speeches to launch his campaign at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania and Charleston, South Carolina, while Trump was in court fighting for the life of his businesses against claims he defrauded lenders out of hundreds of millions of dollars. How much contrast do Americans require to move their sentiments away from a man promising to be dictator for a day and to destroy the “vermin” who are polluting our blood with immigration? And yet, the contest remains close.

Even if the incumbent were to remain in front and win the popular vote by a few percentage points, the electoral college landscape is tilting increasingly in the wrong direction. One recent survey had Biden down by eight points to Trump in Michigan, a state the president narrowly won in 2020 and that is presently politically dominated by Democrats and popular governor Gretchen Whitmer. In one sampling of the Michigan voters, pitting her against Trump, the governor defeated him by five points. Part of the reason Biden won the “Mitten” in the last election was because of wide support by the nation’s largest Arab community, which is located in Dearborn, outside Detroit. His unilateral political, financial, and military support of Israel as it commits what the wider world sees increasingly as genocide on Palestine, has harmed the president with potential fatal wounds in an important Michigan demographic. His position on Israel also continues to alienate the progressive left and an increasing number of the young.

What, then, do voters want? The data all point to a different choice, not a man who presents the possibility of an authoritarian America, nor one who is overwhelmingly viewed by his own party as too old for the coming tasks. Such an argument against Biden is, given his record of accomplishments, a bit facile, but there is a sense the nation is ready to move on to another generation of leadership. A decision not to run, similar to LBJ’s in 1968, would be a noble act endearing him to history and the electorate. The inevitable conclusion by historians about Biden to be expected, if he chose to step aside, is that he will be, possibly, most consequential one-term president to ever hold the office. His legislative achievements with a narrow majority in just one chamber of Congress are more than remarkable and will have long-term, positive impacts on the nation. If just a majority of the individuals who have gotten jobs as a result of his lawmaking were to vote for him, Biden would win a Reaganesque landslide victory for a second term.

But that’s not how this works.

Polls are, admittedly, like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s description of the human heart, “not an instrument of precision.” We learned that fact distinctively in 2016 when Hillary Clinton was queen of the data. Before the patriarch of the golden elevator was inaugurated, though, pollsters began their deconstruction of methodologies. Accuracy gets harder to argue even after new types of sampling have been developed and live phones are combined with online surveys and Area Based Sampling. There is too much self-selection, it seems to me, in many of these protocols and biases that emerge by surveying “likely” rather than “registered” voters or even demographic pools of previous voters. Unknown numbers showing up on cell phones are not likely to be engaged, either. How does any of that create accuracy? Can we truly know voter sentiments?

The polls cannot all be wrong, though, and the president ought not be struggling this far out from Election Day against an indicted opponent and a man campaigning on a platform of delivering retribution while destroying important institutions. A certain amount of derangement has surfaced in our electoral process even though it is difficult to know anything ten months out from the vote. Obama trailed significantly in 2011 as he prepared to run for reelection and handily regained the office, but, as a friend has pointed out, he was not 81 years of age. With all due apologies to Mr. Rosenberg’s prescriptive Hopium, I believe there is an unspoken dread about Mr. Biden moving through the subterranean thinking of Democrats. A fatalism has taken root that there is no one else to oppose Mr. Trump and save us from American fascism. We are indulging in what I heard described as an “autopsy preceding death,” a fatality that is utterly preventable. Ideas like Nikki Haley joining with Ron DeSantis to prevent Trump’s nomination quickly become a kind of palliative for Democrats stuck in the stasis of their belief nothing can be done to change their course.

There are some dynamics about which to be optimistic, however. Democrats have been winning elections since 2022, especially those related to abortion rights. Issues and referendum voting, though, is considerably different than choosing a candidate. They can be predictive, however, and the results over the past year have been hopeful, and possibly clarifying, for 2024. They might not be, though, and the unmeasured dynamic is that Trump’s far right is animated, angry that their man-god is being crucified by the legal process and that he actually won the 2020 election and had it stolen from him by manipulated voting machines and stuffed ballot boxes. The electoral terrain has shifted since 2020 and the earth beneath Biden might be eroding even as Trump calls our service men and women “suckers and losers” and will likely be convicted of federal crimes for trying to overthrow the last presidential election. Trump’s full sociopathy was abundantly evident the last time and there were still 74 million Americans who gave him their vote, and despite his legal troubles and histrionics in the subsequent four years, his support seems not to have wavered.

We are, perhaps, too stuck with our norms, and believe we must give the incumbent president the nomination, especially because of his manifest achievements. Both parties have a tradition of nominating the next person in line, which gave the GOP a failed Bob Dole and the Democrats Walter Mondale. Biden is at the front of the line, and Kamala Harris is next up. What are the political complications if Biden were to step aside? There are polls that show Whitmer of Michigan, California Governor Gavin Newsom, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, would all make strong candidates, and, most likely handily defeat Trump. Vice President Harris, however, does not fare as well in those analyses, but what happens to the Black vote if she is marginalized by White Democrats? There are two other African-American females who would also likely defeat Trump by a considerable margin: Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey.

But how do any of those scenarios work? It is difficult to assemble such puzzle parts and the hour feels late for change. Nominating rules of the Democratic National Committee, which runs the presidential convention, suggest there might be a chance for doubt to thrive on the convention floor. Of the 3788 pledged delegates that will be on the convention floor, only 300 are needed to sign a petition and submit to the chairperson to nominate a second candidate. Mr. Biden will likely have more than the 1895 pledged delegates to win his party’s nomination, but the odds of a brokered convention are more than zero. If the president’s health falters, or another popular Democrat’s name is submitted in defiance of Biden, there might be multiple floor votes to pick the nominee. I realize the odds are long for such a thing to happen.

But that’s what they said about Trump winning in 2016.

 

This article was originally published in Texas to the World.

James Moore is the New York Times bestselling author of “Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential,” three other books on Bush and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, as well as two novels, and a biography entitled, “Give Back the Light,” on a famed eye surgeon and inventor. His newest book will be released mid- 2023. Mr. Moore has been honored with an Emmy from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for his documentary work and is a former TV news correspondent who has traveled extensively on every presidential campaign since 1976.

He has been a retained on-air political analyst for MSNBC and has appeared on Morning Edition on National Public Radio, NBC Nightly News, Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, CBS Evening News, CNN, Real Time with Bill Maher, and Hardball with Chris Matthews, among numerous other programs. Mr. Moore’s written political and media analyses have been published at CNN, Boston Globe, L.A. Times, Guardian of London, Sunday Independent of London, Salon, Financial Times of London, Huffington Post, and numerous other outlets. He also appeared as an expert on presidential politics in the highest-grossing documentary film of all time, Fahrenheit 911, (not related to the film’s producer Michael Moore).

His other honors include the Dartmouth College National Media Award for Economic Understanding, the Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio Television News Directors’ Association, the Individual Broadcast Achievement Award from the Texas Headliners Foundation, and a Gold Medal for Script Writing from the Houston International Film Festival. He was frequently named best reporter in Texas by the AP, UPI, and the Houston Press Club. The film produced from his book “Bush’s Brain” premiered at The Cannes Film Festival prior to a successful 30-city theater run in the U.S.

Mr. Moore has reported on the major stories and historical events of our time, which have ranged from Iran-Contra to the Waco standoff, the Oklahoma City bombing, the border immigration crisis, and other headlining events. His journalism has put him in Cuba, Central America, Mexico, Australia, Canada, the UK, and most of Europe, interviewing figures as diverse as Fidel Castro and Willie Nelson. He has been writing about Texas politics, culture, and history since 1975, and continues with political opinion pieces for CNN and regularly at his Substack newsletter: “Texas to the World.”

 

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7 comments

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  1. Steve Davis

    “Fascism has jumped the fence and is banging on our back door. ”

    Sorry, but that horse has bolted, that train has left the station, that ship has sailed.

    The problem is not Trump.
    The problem is not Biden.
    The problem is the USA.

    And we are so joined at the hip to the US that we are also the problem.
    We are a fascism problem.
    Our responses to the Gaza uprising demonstrates this clearly.

  2. Mike

    Here’s a list (originally posted as BARELY tongue-in-cheek in 1994) that is a good reference. Please note #71:

    Organization: NETCOM On-line Communication Services (408 261-4700 guest) ~Date: Wed, 28 Dec 1994 14:31:13 GMT 83 SLOGANS FOR THE MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL PARTY by W.H.F.O.S.

    Recently, I heard Paul Tsongas mention Colin Powell as a possible third party Presidential candidate. Powell, as you’ll recall, played a prominent role in that most famous of “new world order” wars, the Persian Gulf War. If Powell is nominated by this party, I propose that it be named the “Military-Industrial Party”, in honor of its sponsors. The virtue of this party is that it will take us to our destination faster than the Democrats and Republicans can take us. A third party for the taxpayers? A party which nominates candidates electronically, candidates who contract with the people to carry out their political wishes? Too dangerous. The people can’t be trusted. Government should be left to these patriotic men. To honor these defenders of our country, I propose the following campaign slogans. They are free to use them however they see fit. Good luck, gentlemen!

    Vote for us today; ponder the implications tomorrow.
    What’s good for Lockheed, General Dynamics, and the Trilateral Commission may not be good for the country, but that’s really none of your concern.
    Pushing Utopia off until well past the Next Millennium.
    Put us into office, and let us show you our contingency plans.
    Give war a chance.
    We want to be the ones to give you permission.
    The spectrum must be narrowed.
    The enemy is within.
    Trust us with your life.
    You’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto!
    We’re tired of chomping at the bit.
    The RAND corporation can out-legislate Congress with two hands tied behind your back.
    The shadow government was just a dress rehearsal.
    We play for keeps.
    Wait ’till you see the third act.
    Some day you’ll tell your grandkids, “I put them in power.” And you’ll be glad you did.
    You won’t know what hit you.
    We can be your last mistake — if you’ll let us.
    We’re more professional now.
    Giving natural selection a shot in the arm.
    Novus Ordo Seclorum.
    Caveat Emptor.
    Who knew?
    It’s time to pay the ignorance tax.
    Give us everything you’ve got.
    Orwell had a better idea.
    The Eye in the Pyramid wants YOU!
    Uncle Sam died, but he left a son.
    Take off our leash.
    We will, we will, rock you.
    We’ll find rights in the Constitution you never knew were possible.
    When we talk, you listen.
    You can make our dreams come true.
    Our power to create what you’ll see as truth is no illusion.
    If you’ve got the means, we’ve got the end.
    Watch our smoke.
    This will sting just for a moment.
    Don’t mess with us.
    Our power will dazzle you.
    Let the Games begin.
    Leave the dirty work to us.
    What you don’t know won’t hurt us.
    Give us a fight, and see what happens.
    Follow, or get out of the way.
    We know where you live.
    Start praying.
    When we wear out our welcome, give us a second chance.

    48 We want to put you in the spotlight.

    We’ve waited a long time for this moment.
    We’ve got a ballot with your name on it.
    Ask us for directions.
    We have ways of making you talk.
    Any job worth doing is worth doing well.
    People are our business; our only business.
    Put on the feedbag.
    All work and no play makes a strong, healthy economy.
    Wills were meant to be broken.
    If you have the power to choose, we have the menu.
    We only have eyes for you.
    Fifth gear is more your speed.
    Spare the rod and spoil the dissidents.
    No more limits.
    Join, or die.
    A promise is a tool.
    You can run, but you can’t hide.
    Government isn’t a popularity contest.
    The tyranny of the majority won’t be your problem.
    You’ll know how big a dog you are by the size of the leash we give you.
    We’ll let you live.
    What have you done for us lately?
    Hope is for the examples.
    Your home is our home.
    All the doors are sealed.
    Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.
    People who don’t learn from our version of history are doomed to repeat the course until they do.
    With liberty and justice for all who cooperate.
    Don’t try any funny stuff.
    Don’t worry — we’ll still call it a “democracy”.
    No pain, no gain.
    If you’ll hand over your benefits to us, we’ll shift our costs to you.
    The party is over.
    We shall overcome.
    We’ll count to three before we shoot.

    (c) 1994 The When-Hell-Freezes-Over Society. Re-transmission is encouraged

  3. andyfiftysix

    i saw a post by another fool called Brandis in the age. He was all gushing about how if trump wins its because of democracy and isnt it good. Honestly, the guy was the top legal dick in australia. How fucking thick do you have to be to not see the danger?
    To not understand its own self destruction, but to revel in all its glory……….BILL BURR where are you….hahahaha

  4. leefe

    Trump is a stumbling posterboy for dementia – look at his posture, listen to him speak, etc. Biden comes across as a youngster in comparison.
    But wilful blindness and cognitive dissonance seem to be built in for MAGAts, so …

    Gretchen Wilmer would be a wonderful choice and probably one of the USA’s better presidents, but first the country would have to rein in its misogyny.

  5. GL

    It has always been about The Donald’s malignant narcissism and his monstrous, but very fragile, ego from day one. The Maganuts and unwashed masses are just emotional food and cash cows to keep himself pumped up (in reality as we all know he doesn’t give a shit about them either way). He has progressed from being The Orange Clown to becoming a major looming threat to the whole world and not just the US. Dog help us all if he becomes president again.

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