Thursday, April 30, 2015

Tom Fina's Letter from Washington, April 2015

To Democrats Abroad
28 April 2015
Tom Fina
Executive Director Emeritus

The 2016 Presidential campaign has now begun and will dog us for the next 18

However it plays out, Paul Krugman in the NYT makes the fundamental point that the choice in November will be less about the individual candidate and more about the party. Any Democrat will try to maintain our basic social insurance programs - Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. Any Republican would try to destroy Obamacare, cut Medicaid and try to make Medicare a voucher program. Any Democrat would try to keep the 2013 upper income tax rates and perhaps try to raise them.
Republicans would try to cut upper income taxes and cut programs for low income earners. Any Democrat would try to keep the 2010 financial reforms while any Republican would try to eviscerate them. Any Democrat would try to act to slow climate change and any Republican would oppose actions to reduce pollution.

Nevertheless, it is likely that the campaign will center more on personalities than on policies - much to the detriment of the common good.

Another piece of electoral scenery needs to be noted: the role of big money. As much as $10 billion may be spent. Both Clinton and Bush could have $2 billion each to spend - twice the amounts spent by Obama and Romney in 2012.) The Koch brothers network is planning on $900 million. Money is unlikely to decide the presidential race, but it will have an impact down-ticket in the states. Optimists dream that this obscene pollution of the electoral process with big money will lead to legislation to overturn the Supreme Court decisions that have brought us to the replacement of “one man one vote” by “one dollar, one vote”. Or “one million, one vote”.

Candidates will compete in the 50 states throughout 2016 with choice of the party candidates at the Republican convention in Cleveland in late June or early July and the Democratic convention in Philadelphia shortly thereafter.

The first declared candidate out of the box was Republican Ted Cruz on March 23. Mrs Clinton surprised no one when she declared on April 12.

As of this date, there are some 19 Republicans considered to be after the nomination. The first tier consists of Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson and Rick Santorum follow and the others lag

The most recent polling released on April 23 (Quinnipiac) has Rubio leading by 2 points over Bush and 4 points over Walker. Fox on April 24 also showed Rubio leading Walker by 1 point and Bush by 4.

On the Democratic side, the April 23 Quinnipiac poll gives Clinton a 50 point lead over Elizabeth Warren (who says she is not a candidate) and Joe Biden who has not said and a larger lead over Martin O’Malley, Jim Web, Bernie Sanders, and Lincoln Chaffee. There are no others. The April 24 Fox poll also gives Clinton a 50 point lead.

When Quinnipiac matched Clinton against each of the 7 most likely Republican candidates, she led them all by between 2 points (Rubio) and 7 points (Bush and Cruz).

Fox matched her against only 5 Republican candidates and she led them by 3 points (Paul) to 6 points (Walker).

The Republican aspirants are so numerous that any one of them has great difficulty in standing out. The only apparent point of agreement is that Clinton embodies all that is wrong. That has driven them, so far, to compete with the extremes of their attacks on her. That is central to their race to the right to capture the right wing evangelical base. But, positions that win the right in the primaries lose Independents in the general election in November.

No one issue seems to divide the Republican candidates more than the issue of same sex marriage. Their primary electorate is solidly opposed to it. The May 14 Gallup poll shows that only 30% of Republicans think it should be legal. But, the general public- has moved rapidly toward acceptance. Among all Americans, 55% favor its legality and Independents do so by 58%. Republican candidates are all over the lot in their positions knowing that winning their base means losing Independents in November. They must be united in the prayer that the Supreme Court will decide the issue to be argued on April 28 in favor of its legality to get that issue out of their hair.

Mrs Clinton has circles to square with her voters in the general election, too, since there seems little chance that any imaginable Democratic contender could defeat her in the primaries. Until late April, it seems that her challenge would be to satisfy the left wing of the Democratic electorate which is thrilled by the fire-eating championship of liberal causes by Senator Elizabeth Warren. And, to what degree would she embrace Obama’s positions on Cuba, Iran, drone warfare, upper income taxation, education, new reciprocal trade treaties.

That suddenly changed in mid-April with leaks about a book by a right wing author (Peter Schweizer) to be published shortly. It claims that contributions to the Clinton Foundation by foreign governments and donors raised questions about some of them being a quid pro quo for Hillary as Secretary of State and should she be elected President. That triggered investigations by the Washington Post, the NYT and Reuters that have clouded Mrs Clinton's campaign rollout.

The central claim is that the Clinton Foundation failed to report significant contributions by Canadian donors who were principals in a multi-billion dollar uranium mining deal that ended with the Russian uranium agency acquiring about 20% of US uranium resources. That was a transaction requiring US government approval by an inter-agency panel (CFIUS -Committee on Foreign Investment in the US composed of the secretaries of Treasury, Justice, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Homeland Security and State et al) while she was Secretary of State. CFIUS approved. The author of the book, Schweizer, now claims that she is at fault for having failed to veto the CFIUS decision. The Clinton Foundation has also been criticized for accepting donations from foreign governments that have abysmal human rights policies. During Mrs Clinton's service as Secretary of State, the Clinton foundation was to have accepted no foreign government contributions. When she resigned from that post, the Foundation resumed accepting those contributions.

The Clinton camp claims that Mrs Clinton was never involved in approving the uranium deal and in mid-April the Foundation restored the ban on foreign government contributions except from Australia, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Norway and the UK. The Foundation has admitted errors in its reporting the details of contributions which it says it is now correcting. It says that the correct information has been available on its website. As for the failure to provide the names of the Canadian donors, it explains that Canadian law bars release of the names of charitable donors without the express approval of each. In fact, the structure of the Clinton foundation is so complex that the layman will probably never get a clear picture of its world-wide philanthropic operations.

It is too early to know how this will play out other than to be certain that it will be a political poison that Republicans drip into voter veins until (and after) election day.

The April 24 Quinnipiac poll found 54% to 38% that Mrs Clinton was “not honest and trustworthy”. But, her favorability rating is still 46-47% while Rubio’s is favourable 35-25% and all the rest of the Republican aspirants are either negative or evenly divided.

If the Clinton Foundation story had broken in late October 2016, Mrs Clinton would have a serious problem. It seems unlikely that it will count for much 18 months from now. 30


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