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I'll have to say that the electorate hasn't had much to be proud of over the last fifty-five years. Can we do better in 2016? Yes, we can!
Why Jim Webb should be our next President
October 2015The United States is fortunate this year to have a sensible, experienced, and competent candidate for President: former Secretary of the Navy, Assistant Secretary of Defense, Senator, and genuine war hero Jim Webb of Virginia, who is not beholden to either big-money interests or the political power structure. The big money, as we know well, is used to incessantly hammer inane slogans about candidates – sugared generalities about one's own candidate and poisonous innuendo about the opponent – into the heads of voters, while the power structure is itself beholden to the big donors in order to secure itself in power. Given that, Jim Webb's chances may look poor: he lacks both big-money support and backing of the political power structure. Until we remember that each vote is an individual decision about what is best for the country. And that, the private decisions of each of us, can overcome all the loud screaming of the money-men's advertising and actually elect the best candidate for the job.
What kind of president do we want?
A U.S. election for president is normally about choosing one candidate out of a limited group. I've often found this a frustrating experience: it has too often been a matter of picking the least objectionable candidate. So, what are the core qualities that a U.S. president should possess? My short list includes honesty (or at least trustworthiness), leadership experience and skill, a good understanding of world affairs and domestic issues, non-dogmatism – that is, willingness and ability to to negotiate (especially with Congress), and a vision for the USA and its role in the world.
It's a long time since I've felt that we have elected a president that the country could feel relatively proud of. The last may have been Eisenhower. (Optional *footnote.)
Jim Webb, former Senator from Virginia is the superior candidate at this point. Webb has a refreshingly diverse background for a politician (I hesitate to call him that). As a Marine Corps officer leading combat troops in Viet Nam, he was decorated with the Navy Cross and the Silver Star (those are serious awards) "for exceptional heroism" in the face of mortal danger. Seriously wounded (he still carries shrapnel at several locations in his body), he was promoted early and was assigned to work in the Secretary of the Navy's office in the Pentagon. After leaving the service, he attended law school and received a J.D. degree in 1975, at the same time authoring a book on U.S. strategy in the Pacific region. Webb then served as Assistant Secretary of Defense, and later as Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan. He left the Republican Party in protest over George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, and in 2006 Webb was elected to the U.S. Senate from the state of Virginia as a Democrat. After a productive six-year term he did not stand for reelection in 2012.
Webb has found time to write movie scripts and ten books (by my count), about half of them novels, the others on history or political issues. He has also written a large number of articles for political journals or newspapers. He served as an Emmy-award-winning journalist embedded with the troops in Afghanistan. Of great significance to me is Webb's grasp of international issues, where he has specialized particularly in U.S.-Asian relations and strategy. He is the one candidate who has distinguished himself by a number of subtle and knowledgeable writings about international events. At the time of the congressional debate in 2002 on the resolution to allow President George W. Bush to invade Iraq, he wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post warning of the consequences of such an invasion. He saw clearly that there was "no exit strategy" and that we would be bogged down for years in a quagmire, that the U.S. would be seen throughout the Muslim world not as liberators but as Christian invaders, and that the artificial nation of Iraq could very well fractionate into sectarian conflict once the strong hand of Saddam Hussein and his security apparatus was removed. Senator Ted Kennedy and Representative Bernie Sanders also made the same points, but these were lonely voices in Washington at the time. The few clear heads in Congress were sadly outvoted by those, like Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, who rushed to judgement and voted for war, with the disastrous consequences that we all now see – consequences foreseen by Webb, Sanders, and a few others. Webb has made it clear that he opposes casual use of U.S. military forces around the world, and insists on congressional authorization for the use of military force.
In addition to his foreign policy acumen, Webb has garnered accolades for his leadership and ability to achieve goals through cooperative problem solving. Among his chief domestic goals is reducing the growing income gap between the rich and the middle class in the U.S. – now one of the widest in the industrial world – as well as providing help and upward mobility for the poor, who have hardly been mentioned by the current administration. Another of Webb's domestic priorities is review and overhaul of the U.S. criminal justice system; the percentage of our population in jail is currently the highest in the world. Webb also believes that the unlimited injection of money into elections, allowed since 2012 by the Supreme Court, has been and continues to be corrupting and should be overturned. None of the other candidates have made a credible commitment to this, while Webb's commitment extends to refusing help from big-money "super-PACs". We recall that Mr.Obama declared his opposition to the Supreme Court's decision, but his opposition faded away as his party's members in Congress discovered that the decision would in fact favor them as incumbents in their reelection campaigns. I believe Mr.Webb's opposition will be firm, and perhaps even productive. (And the best way to support a President Webb would be to elect Independent representatives and senators.) In contrast, Mrs. Clinton's empty words in support of campaign finance reform are contradicted by the vast campaign funds that will be spent by her superpacs, much of it coming from Wall Street and other corporate financial interests who count on her to serve their cause.) Webb blends an empathetic social consciousness with a responsible and thoughtful approach to policy that I think will give him the ability to draw voters from much of the political spectrum.
It is time for a level-headed, practical, and capable president in the U.S., a president who understands national and international problems that cry out for solution. We usually find specific matters where we disagree with a candidate, and that is sometimes taken as a reason to dismiss that candidate. But it shouldn't be; there are several issues where I don't agree with Jim webb's stance, but I know that Webb is committed to work with both parties in Congress, to overcome the obstructionist head-butting politics that has prevented effective governance in Washington for a decade or more. That is the key at this moment: to get Congress working again, and to have a president who neither party feels obliged to oppose on partisan grounds, and who therefore can effectively lead.
Just like in the '90s, to get to the White House you have to deal with the First Lady. We remember her first from when she was hired by her husband, the president, to chair a task force that would develop recommendations for an overhaul of the health care system. She had no significant experience with the intricacies of health care, and the project bombed; the Clintons, as the Boston Globe put it, "elbowed aside some of the most experienced health care economists in the world to form a little task force at the pinnacle of the administration to fix the American health care system themselves." After a year and a half of closed-doors work, the Clintons gave up, and it was left to Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell to declare the effort dead. Lack of leadership and appropriate skill, along with secrecy and minimal consultation was the general assessment of Mrs.Clinton's task force. We remember Hillary also, during Bill's "Monica" escapade, blaming that story on lies by the Republicans, while she was fully aware of the truth. Bill had of course shown the same faithlessness throughout their marriage, often with long-term and well-known sexual relationships, all denied by both Clintons. We remember also Bill and Hillary's practice of using the White House as a campaign fundraising tool, by rewarding and wooing major donors with nights in the Lincoln bedroom (you were expected to pay at least $200,000 for that pleasure), and charging $100,000 or more for coffee with the President at the White House. All in all, the word that attached itself to the Clintons in the White House was "sleaze."
And we remember our amazement in 2000, when after the retirement of NY senator Daniel P. Moynihan the members of the NY Democratic House delegation were eager to run for the vacant senate job. Suddenly, it seemed, they all lost interest, when the president announced that his wife – an Arkansas woman who had never lived in New York – wanted the job. The nomination was hers; no questions asked. No one knows what that cost the Clintons. My guess is several pardons. And indeed, it was later found that Bill had received a letter from a New York congressman suggesting that Hillary's senate bid would be helped in the New York Puerto Rican community by a presidential commutation of sentences of a group of incarcerated Puerto Rican (FALN) terrorists, convicted of bombings that resulted in at least six deaths and dozens of maimings. Bill did as he was asked, and Congress voted overwhelmingly (Senate: 95-2, House 311-41) to condemn the commutations.
Speaking of pardons: When Bill Clinton pardoned several criminal friends and associates, family members and big donors to his party and to his presidential library on his last day in office, that was the last straw for many, even for supporters. Prominent among those receiving pardons was Marc Rich, a financier indicted for defrauding investors out of millions, hiding in Europe. The FBI Director, Clinton's Vice President Al Gore, former President Carter, and countless other politicians and media commenters condemned these unethical pardons. (Which, by the way, included a pardon for Bill's own brother (!), and on top of that Hillary's brother was hired by successful pardon applicants to argue their case to his brother-in-law!) What does that have to do with Hillary? Marc Rich's wife donated at least $100,000 to Hillary's senate election campaign, as well as a large sum to the Clinton library. Are we to think that Hillary, who Bill consulted about everything, had nothing to do with this obscene pardon? It was typical of the Clintons' flexible ethics that an open (and substantial) checkbook would remove ethical obstacles. It's not without good reasons that the behavior of the Clintons' became the very definition of sleaze.
This should be enough to say about Hillary Clinton, except that as a senator she was put in the position of advising the president on important foreign policy matters, of which the most important was the decision whether to send American soldiers to Iraq in a combat role. Along with Senator John Kerry and a majority of the Senate, Hillary voted to start the war in Iraq. Let's keep this in mind: She started the war in Iraq! Not alone, it's true, but each senator who voted for the war started the war. It was a decision based on her ignorance of the Middle East, particularly Iraq, and on her ignorance of what it means to send soldiers to war. The result of this disastrous decision – surely the worst American foreign policy decision in the past 70 years or more – has been the destruction of Iraq and many other Arab countries, as well as a growth in terrorism and the death of at least a million persons, along with thousands of American men and women in uniform. It was such an ignorant and tragic decision that it should have disqualified Hillary from any future policy role in foreign affairs.
Unfortunately, she was then given the chief foreign policy position in the Obama administration. Here she continued her foreign policy ineptitude by advising the president to involve the U.S. in the bombing of Libya, with the aim of toppling the Libyan head of state, Col. Muammar Gaddafi. President Obama followed her advice, with the result that Libya is wrecked and is now an ungoverned territory that has become the center of recruitment, training, and weapons supplies for the ISIS-related Islamist terror groups operating in sub-Saharan Africa. It is also the center for the disastrous human trafficking of migrants across the Mediterranean to Europe, an operation that has resulted in tens of thousands of migrants being drowned at sea. All this should be on the conscience of Hillary Clinton, if she has one. Hillary also urged Obama to send American ground troops into Syria to die in that hell-hole. Fortunately, the President this time refused to follow her ill-conceived advice. There's also the Bengazi disaster, where Hillary's State Department repeatedly ignored the consulate's pleas for security assistance, and about which Hillary has limited herself to obfuscatory and unhelpful statements, even when quizzed by a congressional committee. And let's not bother about her little lie about being "under fire" in Bosnia. (How could she know that someone would check?)
Enough about Hillary Clinton. There's no need to deal with the amazing lack of ethics shown by her husband accepting speaking engagements netting the family and the "Clinton Foundation" millions from foreign firms whose business success in the U.S. depended on a favorable ruling by Hillary's State Department, which they typically got. There's no need to repeat the story of her amazing lack of understanding of elementary communications security, when she decided to use a private server set up in her home for sensitive State Department business. We do understand, however, the short-term political benefit from shielding her communications from "Freedom of Information Act" requests by the press. By violating federal policy Hillary has been able to choose which communications she would make public. And we might remind the reader that in 2012, the U.S. ambassador to Kenya – Obama's close friend Scott Gration – was fired by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for incompetence (well, he was allowed to resign just before the Inspector General's damning report on his work was published), and one of the serious charges against him was that he established a private email account and used it for official and confidential business, putting State Department operations at risk! Way to go, Hillary. We can't have people like that in sensitive positions.
"Teflon" Bill (who nothing would stick to) and Hillary (she seems to deserve the same moniker) left the White House in disgrace in 2001. If Hillary and Bill Clinton together do not paint a picture of the ultimate in political sleaze and unethical conduct, I don't know where you'd find it. Who on the White House security detail will procure women for Bill this time around? Hillary, in addition, has such a history of policy ineptitude, of lack of grasp and leadership, and a seemingly natural penchant for disingenuousness, deception, and outright lying that it's remarkable that she has been able to sweettalk a large portion of our population into believing her assurances that she will be different in the future. I'd say the chances of that are minuscule. We have better, more capable and honest leaders available. Let's get past the Iraq war, and not elect someone who actually started that disaster!
* Footnote on 55 years of presidents:
After Ike we had the amphetamine-doped skirt-chasing glamour boy Kennedy, who nearly got us into WWIII;
Then the devious LBJ who dragged us deeper into the Viet Nam war through the Big Tonkin Gulf Lie;
Then the paranoid Nixon and the dull Mr.Ford;
The inept moralist Carter, who confessed to Playboy that he had "lusted in his heart" on seeing a sexy woman;
Then the laissez-faire Reagan, whose ill-considered deregulation of the financial industry led to the financial disasters of both the 1980s' and the 2000's;
Then the drab G.H.Bush, a nice man but totally lacking in vision;
The embarrassing Mr.Clinton – the "teflon man" with the morals of a goat, whose last minute pardon of criminal donors netted Bill and Hillary a good nest-egg;
The bumbling G.W.Bush who – with Senator Clinton's help – dragged us into Iraq "by mistake;"
And finally Barack Obama, a flexible man whose "line in the sand" drifted with the sand, whose opinions seem tuned to the latest opinion poll, and whose lack of leadership experience proved fatal to his program – such as it was.
© 2015 H. Paul Lillebo
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