BY BOB D. ROUNSAVELL
As President-elect Trump builds his governing administration, America watches and wonders if or when he will start carrying out his campaign promises. Rather than speculate about that at this early date, I’d rather look back at the presidential campaign to glean any lessons from that significant historical event.
Is it still a major national goal of ours to pursue justice for all and to provide meaningful, well-paying jobs to all? Will America’s promise of a good education still be available for all to pursue? What about jobs for everyone? These are a few questions requiring answers.
Back in mid-June before the election, Time magazine’s long-time columnist Joe Klein wrote an insightful article about how Hillary just might miss the main theme to pursue if she was going to be the next president of the U.S.
As a journalist, Klein recognizes what’s going on with media coverage. According to him, “winning the news cycle” is considered one of the more odious concepts in American politics today. A recent media invention, it rewards superficiality while punishing substance. Klein feels it is a nano-measurement of micro-momentum.
Most importantly, it states that anything measurable is news, therefore, easier to cover than subjects that require actual thought, making it perfect for Donald Trump.
Trump used the daily news cycle brilliantly almost always being in the evening news. He understood that capturing a controversial issue for the day guarantees media attention. For instance, did Clinton’s friend Vince Foster really commit suicide, or was there more to it than that? When Trump is duly criticized by right-thinking people, it makes no difference at the end of the day: it has accomplished its objective of diverting public attention from the more important and embarrassing concerns like release of his tax returns.
Clinton’s campaign failed to follow up on Trump’s problems, thus almost always he was able to win the next news cycle. Eventually he won and she lost.
Another example Klein highlights was the happening on May 24. The Clinton campaign launched a startling attack against Trump that should have won that day’s news cycle but it did not. A film clip showed Trump rooting for a housing bust in 2006; his famous quote about it was, “I sort of hope that happens because then people like me will go in, buy properties and make a lot of money.”
As Klein points out, this was a different sort of observation from Trump’s earlier remarks about Mexican “rapists” or a joke about a disabled reporter. It was all about his desire to fleece electoral supporters who saw him as their great white hope.
Who were these sharks taking advantage of all their fellow Americans who losing their homes and seemingly lacking compassion for the loss of their most important possession? A scary scenario for a lot of people indeed and a perfect opportunity for the Clinton campaign to show Trump as he really was. But it failed.
According to Clinton pollster Joel Benenson, “We didn’t even test it.” An important opportunity was blown, an early sign of the ultimate result. Even using Elizabeth Warren with righteous criticism of Trump led to nothing.
Of course, we now know what did happen but should not have happened. Klein’s final paragraph in his Time piece pretty well says it all:
This will, no doubt, be seen as another example of Trump’s Teflon: his willingness to be “honest” about screwing the middle class somehow is more real, that is, less “political” than the life savings his supporters lost. If so, he could win this election. But I suspect Clinton’s campaign will return to Trump’s reaction to the housing bubble, and other issues like it, and perhaps even have the patience to stick with them beyond a news cycle. She will have to do this if she wants to win.
Sadly, her campaign did not return to the issues and win the election. Klein’s insights, when combined with the election outcome, offer an amazing perspective on what did and did not occur in the Clinton campaign for the presidency.
In the waning days of the campaign, the Clintons had a knock-down, drag-out fight about her effort to blame FBI Director James Comey for her slump in the polls and the looming defeat.
“I was with Bill in Little Rock when he had this shouting match with Hillary on the phone and she blamed Comey for renewing the investigation into her use of a private email server and therefore reversing her campaign’s momentum,” said one of Bill’s closest advisors. “Bill didn’t buy the excuse that Comey would cost Hillary the election.”
To Bill, the blame belonged to campaign manager Robby Mook, campaign chairman John Podesta and Hillary: they displayed a tone-deaf attitude about the feeble economy and its important impact on millions and millions of working-class voters.
During the campaign, Bill Clinton felt ignored by Hillary’s top advisors. He had urged them to make the economy her campaign centerpiece. He repeatedly advised them to connect with people left behind by the revolution in technology and globalization.
Bill Clinton was concerned that constantly attacking Trump for his defects made Hillary’s staff and the media happy, but this message did not resonate with voters, especially in the Rust Belt.
Bill was the guy who felt your pain, but Hillary came across as someone who was pissed off at her enemy [Trump], not someone reaching out and trying to make life better for the white working class. For example, she did not feel, as Bill did, that white Catholics were the audience she needed to reach. Bill also felt that many African-Americans were deeply disappointed. Despite eight years of Obama, they were not better off economically and black-on-black crime was destroying their communities.
A large part of Bill’s anger was his being sidelined by her advisers during the entire campaign. A friend’s observation:
“He can’t be effective if he sees himself as just another hired hand. He wasn’t listened to and that infuriated him. After all, he knows something about political campaigns and he told me in early October that Hillary and her advisers were blowing it.”
Unfortunately Hillary did not listen to her savvy husband. In fact, she described his ideas as old and him as out of touch. Now we know who was out of touch. She lost the election despite – or maybe because of – all the polls displaying her big advantage. In 2017 we’ll begin to feel the brunt of her miscalculation.
Sad, indeed, that Hillary failed to listen to the campaign’s most seasoned veteran, Bill Clinton. His advice was not accepted by the campaign staff and there was nothing he could do: they would not listen to him.
An election is all about listening to the people and sincerely responding to their expressed or – more significant – their unarticulated but strong needs. Our experiment in democracy will continue until those in power begin to listen and act on behalf of all. If not, then the experiment fails.
Surely we can do better. But more people need to become active politically, especially at the local level. More people need to attend their Town Hall meetings and their County Commission sessions. Go to OKC whenever there’s important legislation and drop by the governor’s office, as well. Visit your state representative and your state senator; let them know you are there to see how they’re doing. Don’t forget the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which is the utilities’ watchdog and investigates the state’s earthquakes arising from injection into wells of excess wastewater from oil drilling.
It doesn’t hurt to be known at these government entities. Our elected reps have to realize we are monitoring them, then they’ll not be so quick to vote for legislation that harms more than helps. They also need our support.
Government works better when elected officials and citizens get to know one another. It will take all of us to make that happen.
– Bob D. Rounsavell, president of the Carrie Dickerson Foundation, lives in Oologah, OK.