Category Archives: Campaigns

Staying aloof from the Sanders-Clinton battle

I admit that I’ve been trying to stay out of the increasingly bitter arguments between supporters of the two Democratic presidential candidates.

I’m not a fan of Senator Sanders, despite agreeing with most of his big picture political critiques.

On the other hand, I had some personal history with the Clintons during my reporting career, stemming back to my reporting on at least one part of what became known as the Asian fundraising scandal that grew out of Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. In fact, my first story after joining the staff of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 1993 was about the initial stages of an FBI investigation into the activities of a couple from Hawaii who had moved to the mainland to do fundraising for the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign. It gave me insights into the larger campaign and the insider relationships with the Clinton camp that were very unsettling. And although that’s somewhat ancient history, the experience leaves me less than enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Here are a few of the stories from that period.

The first published account of the links between former Hawaii
consultant Nora Lum and then-Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, and
allegations of campaign fundraising abuses involving a company they
controlled, appeared in the Star-Bulletin in September 1995, months
before the issues broke in the national media. Nora Lum and her
husband, Gene, later became the first to be convicted in the
fundraising investigation.

  • Ex-islander “looted” Oklahoma firm, suit claims. Case involves
    links to Clinton administration. Sept
    1, 1995
  • Ron Brown not involved, official says, but Commerce
    Secretary’s son is company director. Sept
    2, 1995
  • Oklahoma company headed by ex-islanders linked to illegal
    $15,000 campaign gift.
    Oct 18, 1995
  • Lums linked to golf course projects and contributions. Gene
    Lum cited Fifth Amendment when questioned last year about $10,000
    contribution to Gov. Waihee. Oct
    18, 1995
  • Isle woman part of campaign probe. Former resident Nora Lum
    figures in a congressional investigation into ’92 finances.
    Congressional investigators have renewed a probe of former Hawaii
    resident Nora T. Lum, and a 1992 campaign project which she
    headed. Oct
    28, 1996
  • Lum’s windfall, Dem donations under scrutiny. A “no money
    down” investment apparently yielded a windfall of $8 million or
    more in just a few months for an Oklahoma company controlled by
    Democratic contributor and fundraiser Nora Lum. Nov
    4, 1996

And I recall how terrible it was to see President Bill Clinton take anti-progressive positions on criminal justice issues and welfare reform. At the time, it was argued that these positions were necessary to ward off even worse legislation that would otherwise have come out of the Congress. Perhaps. But it didn’t make it any easier to swallow Clinton’s pivot to the right.

So this year, I’m not enthusiastic about either Sanders’ “idealism” or Hillary Clinton’s “realism”.

I know that I’m far from alone in feeling the fact that there were really no more than two potentially viable candidates is unfortunate. Hillary really was successful at sucking up political resources very early on, leaving other potential rivals with little to work with.

There’s a disquieting sense that Clinton’s early insider organizing artificially limited the choices for Democratic voters.

And a friend recently shared his concern that this could very well backfire on the party before the convention. He agrees with the view that Clinton’s campaign will likely lead to the nomination, despite all her problems.

He summarizes his view in query aimed at Clinton: “Is it right to lose, or risk losing, the presidency because you feel entitled?”

He fears that her campaign could melt down if any one of the many bits of political baggage she carries suddenly blows up into a hot new public scandal.

Realistically, she’s not about to withdraw.

Equally realistically, Democrats need to ponder that “what if”…

Our friend believes there’s still a chance for Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren to step up if “drafted”…A brokered convention, perhaps, sidestepping both candidates?

And the campaign season marches on.

Answering Clinton’s Wall Street challenge

This from Bob, a friend and former neighbor in Kaaawa.

First, he flagged this excerpt from a story in today’s New York Times regarding last night’s Democratic debate (“Hillary Clinton Is Again Put on the Defensive Over Perceived Ties to Wall Street“).

At one point, she challenged her opponent to identify even one example of how her Wall Street contributions or paid speaking fees resulted in a favor from her, calling the implication an “artful smear” by Mr. Sanders. “If you’ve got something to say, say it directly, but you will not find that I ever changed a view or a vote because of any donation that I ever received,” Mrs. Clinton said.

He then linked to a short 2004 interview with Elizabeth Warren, which provides at least one response to Clinton’s challenge.

Elizabeth Warren on when Hillary changed position after taking money from Wall Street.”

Demographics of Sanders-Clinton backers spells trouble for Dems

Here’s an excerpt from a New Yorker article following the Iowa caucuses (“Bernie Sanders Just Changed the Democratic Party” by John Cassidy).

Speaking on CNN as it got late, David Axelrod, President Obama’s former campaign manager, made an acute point. One of Hillary’s problems is that her campaign is largely about her—her experience, her electability, and her toughness. “I will keep doing what I have done my entire life,” she said in her non-victory speech. “I will keep standing up for you. I will keep fighting for you.” Sanders, on the other hand, rarely mentions himself in his speeches. His campaign is all about his message of taking America back from the billionaires. And, as Axelrod pointed out, it is often easier to inspire people, particularly young people, with an uplifting theme than with a résumé.

And the article highlights the significant age gap between the two candidates.

Sanders captures the under-40 voters by a large margin, while Clinton did far better than Sanders among voters over 40.

A Washington Post analysis points out that this exceeds the youth support claimed by President Obama in 2008 (“Bernie Sanders crushed Hillary Clinton by 70 points among young voters in Iowa“)

The most amazing stat coming out of the Iowa Democratic caucuses is this one: Among voters between the ages of 17 and 29, Bernie Sanders won 84 percent of the vote to Hillary Clinton’s 14 percent.

That’s astounding, even given the fact that we knew going into the caucuses that Sanders, a 74-year-old socialist, was clearly the choice of young people in the state. How astounding? Barack Obama won the 17-29 vote by “only” 43 points in the 2008 Iowa Democratic caucuses. (Clinton finished third among young voters in Iowa in 2008; she got 11 percent of the vote.) Yes, Obama faced more — and more serious —opponents. But still.

If Iowa proved that Sanders is the candidate of Democratic youths, it also showed why young people aren’t likely to carry him to the nomination. Why? There just aren’t enough of them.

For the Democratic Party, this is a troubling and dangerous bifurcation between younger and older voters. Once a candidate is selected, the divide somehow has to be bridged if the party isn’t going to flounder in the general election.

Questions about Bernie

As Bernie Sander’s presidential campaign continues to push ahead, the candidate has also been drawing more scrutiny.

Here are several recent stories that caught my eye.

Boston Globe, “Bernie Sanders doesn’t get how politics works,” Michael A. Cohen.

I’m sorry, but that [Sanders view that money is the root evil in the political system] is a maddeningly simplistic — and wrong — explanation of how American politics works.

Take single-payer health care, which Sanders claims has been difficult to enact because of a corrupt campaign finance system that allows the “pharmaceutical industry” and private insurance companies to spend millions in “campaign contributions and lobbying.”

On the one hand, Sanders is right — those are powerful interests. But so are doctors and hospitals, who’d pay a huge price if single payer became law; so are Republicans, who fought tooth and nail to defeat Obamacare and would do the same for a single-payer plan; so are Democrats, who couldn’t even support a public option for Obamacare and are unlikely to support single payer; so are Americans, who may not be inclined to support another restructuring of the health care system — a few years after the last one. It’s not just about money; it’s also about a political system constructed and reinforced to block the kind of massive reform Sanders is advocating. Money is important, but it’s not even close to the whole story.

City Pulse, “The trouble with Bernie,” Mickey Hirten.

I followed him carefully when I was editor of the Burlington Free Press in Vermont. Sanders was the state’s sole congressman, lived in Burlington, and would periodically visit with the newspaper’s editors and publisher.

Considering that the Free Press’ editorial positions were very liberal, reflecting the nature of a very liberal Vermont community, one might think that meetings with Sanders were cordial, even celebratory.

They weren’t. Sanders was always full of himself: pious, self-righteous and utterly humorless. Burdened by the cross of his socialist crusade, he was a scold whose counter-culture moralizing appealed to the state’s liberal sensibilities as well as its conservatives, who embraced his gun ownership stance, his defense of individual rights, an antipathy toward big corporations and, generally speaking, his stick-it-to-them approach to politics.

Seven Days, “Anger Management: Sanders Fights for Employees, Except His Own,” Paul Heintz.

According to some who have worked closely with Sanders over the years, “grumpy grandpa” doesn’t even begin to describe it. They characterize the senator as rude, short-tempered and, occasionally, downright hostile. Though Sanders has spent much of his life fighting for working Vermonters, they say he mistreats the people working for him.

“As a supervisor, he was unbelievably abusive,” says one former campaign staffer, who claims to have endured frequent verbal assaults. The double standard was clear: “He did things that, if he found out that another supervisor was doing in a workplace, he would go after them. You can’t treat employees that way.”

Like several others quoted in this column, the campaign worker would speak only on the condition of anonymity, saying that to do otherwise would constitute “career suicide” in a small state such as Vermont. But others echoed the former employee’s story, saying the senator is prone to fits of anger.

The Intercept, “Dissent on Israel not permitted at Bernie Sanders Event,” Murtaza Hussain.

To a certain extent, the episode reflects an underlying tension between Sanders’ base of young progressives and his comparatively friendly posture toward Israel. A 2014 Pew Research Center poll found minority and millennial Democrats markedly more critical of Israeli military actions. At a town hall event last August, Sanders lost his temper with supporters who had interrupted him to question him about U.S. support for Israel, telling them to “shut up,” and attempting to change the subject to ISIS. During Israel’s 2014 military campaign against the Gaza Strip a plurality of Democrats described the action as “unjustified,” while Sanders was part of the unanimous Senate consent supporting Israel’s actions. He has continued to defend the “Protective Edge” operation as a legitimate act of self-defense, albeit one in which Israel “overreacted.”

The New Yorker, “Bernie Sanders and the Realists,” by John Cassidy.

In a debate where one of Sanders’s most important goals was to fire up his supporters in the early primary states, his was a good answer. However, if he wins Iowa and New Hampshire, it will no longer suffice. In seeking to make the transition from a popular protest candidate to one with a realistic—that word again—chance of winning the nomination, he will be forced to get more specific and to defend his policy proposals.

It’s also worth looking at the collection of stories by Seven Days, an alternative voice in Vermont, which has pulled together its coverage of Sanders over the years, as well as coverage of the current campaign.

Star-Advertiser does a good job of presenting poll results in potential mayoral matchup

Star-Advertiser reporter Gordon Pang has an excellent story this morning explaining the newspaper’s new poll results showing Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell running behind former Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona in a hypothetical mayor’s race (“Aiona, still undecided on a run for mayor, is on top for now“).

Pang summarizes the results–Aiona was ahead with 43%, while Caldwell stood at 38%. The story then provides basic information about the poll itself.

The Hawaii Poll, conducted by Ward Research Inc. Dec. 28-Jan. 9 on cellphones and landlines, included 433 registered voters on Oahu. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4.7 points.

The story then relies on former Honolulu Advertiser Editorial Editor, Jerry Burris, to put the results in context. And Burris does an excellent job.

Burris described Caldwell’s current poll numbers as an understandable byproduct of being in office and confronting hard issues.

“Every decision a chief executive makes and accumulates makes someone happy and someone unhappy,” he said.

Aiona, on the other hand, has been out of the public eye, so hasn’t generated any recent negative news.

I also really liked Burris’ comment on City Council Chairman, Ernie Martin, who drew support from just 8 percent of those responding to the survey.

Burris said he was surprised with Martin’s numbers. “The numbers don’t look good for him,” he said. “Around City Hall, and among the chattering classes, he’s very well known. But out there in the general public … he’s not that well known.”

I don’t know whether “the chattering classes” is a Burris original, but it’s a great phrase with lots of suggestive explanatory value.

Finally, the story is accompanied by the full poll results with cross-tabulations that break down the numbers further.

All in all, an excellent presentation of these early polling data. Thanks, Gordon.