Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Remnick on Presidential Candidates

David Remnick comments on the 2016 Presidential candidates in The New Yorker.

History may look back on the Las Vegas debate as the event that elevated Clinton the way that Barack Obama’s eloquent victory speech after the Iowa caucuses elevated him, nearly eight years ago. It might even be regarded as the moment when she boxed out Biden, raked away the underbrush of Mssrs. Chafee, Webb, and O’Malley, and made Sanders look less like a plausible contender than like a protest candidate who forced his opponent to grapple with a political system poisoned by the outsized influence of an American oligarchy comprising, as the Times has reported, a hundred and fifty-eight families.

One debate will not erase all of what many voters see as Clinton’s complications: the lingering perception of her sense of moneyed entitlement, her lawyerly slipperiness under questioning, the walled garden of her political circle, her interventionist reflexes, her belatedness on gay marriage, comprehensive immigration, and Wall Street reforms. But if Clinton was not flawless she and her debating partners managed one distinct achievement: they accentuated the chaos, the intellectual barrenness, and the general collapse of their rivals in the Republican Party.

Consider the political spectacle on Capitol Hill, in which Speaker John Boehner, hardly a Rockefeller Republican, could no longer deal with his caucus and, with little more than a chorus of “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” announced his early retirement. Members of the caucus stepped forward to admit that the hearings on Benghazi were aimed less at uncovering the truth than at burying Hillary Clinton. An ambitious Party loyalist, Paul Ryan, is reluctant to run for Boehner’s chair because the House Republicans are the new Wild Bunch and, as a friend of Ryan’s put it to Politico, “he’s not a f—ing moron.”

Consider, too, the G.O.P. candidates for the White House. Donald Trump and Ben Carson, the only Republicans polling in double digits, daily clear their throats with that ritual preface of modern self-satisfaction—“I am not politically correct”—and then unleash statements, positions, and postures so willfully detached from fact that they embarrass the political culture that harbors them. Trump is willing to say anything—anything racist, anything false, anything “funny”—to terrify voters, or rile them, or amuse them, depending on the moment. The worst of his demagogic arousals are reminiscent of Lindbergh’s speeches at America First rallies and his fear, as he wrote in Reader’s Digest, of a “pressing sea of Yellow, Black and Brown.” Carson, who seems as historically confused as he is surgically skilled, has said that Obamacare is worse than 9/11, “because 9/11 is an isolated incident.” What’s more, the two men’s rivals either fall into line or lack the persuasive powers and the courage to marginalize candidates they know to be dangerous.

In electoral terms, Democrats had to view the week’s events with confidence. But there is pathos and foreboding here for the republic. In the debate, Clinton was clear who her enemies were: “the Republicans.” Reports of the death of the radical right are premature. In 2016, the G.O.P. is likely, at a minimum, to hold its majority in the House. If there is a campaign promise in 2016 that is almost sure to be fulfilled, it is that obstructionism and political war will continue, for within the G.O.P. the politics of perpetual fear goes on corroding not just a party but a nation.

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