Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
You wouldn’t know it from the stock market’s record-breaking tear since Hillary Clinton snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, but the mood among Trump-averse Americans remains bleak.
Blinkered with rage and disbelief because Clinton won more votes than any other presidential candidate in US history (except Obama in 2008), the despondent blame her stunning upset on nefarious reasons such as “whitelash” bigotry, as CNN’s Van Jones fumed on election night, leading many to sever relations with friends and family.
For partisans inhabiting thought silos influenced by social media’s curated tribalism, the election was rigged, if not by hacked voting machines in rustbelt states or by hacked journalism’s “fake news,” then by Russian email hackers who exposed Democrat dirt, including revelations about how Democrat primaries were rigged against Bernie Sanders.
No credible intelligence source maintains Russia tipped the election in Trump’s favor, only that they meddled to sow chaos and discord regarding the election’s integrity and the winner’s legitimacy. With Clinton supporters clamoring to hack the 227-year old Electoral College, demanding its electors Think Again about making Trump president, you can almost hear Vladimir Putin’s evil-maniacal cackling.
The scheming of 2016’s losers negates Clinton’s laudable concession speech, politicizing and muddling serious matters like Russian malfeasance and cyber-security, and sullying the electoral process by which presidential power peacefully transfers under the world’s oldest constitution.
Unfortunately, political elites – including Trump, the master media manipulator – are being played by Putin whose long-term strategy is to discredit American-style democracy and the liberal order we lead. Considering the post-election freak-out, it’s as if the combatants are double agents working for Russia.
All Americans should agree that Russian covert influence in our democracy is an intolerable threat. It’s one reason why Mitt Romney considered Russia our top geopolitical foe, a claim famously mocked by President Obama who scolded, “The 1980’s are calling. They want their foreign policy back.”
That wisecrack followed the Obama-Clinton “reset” with Russia and Obama’s assurance to former-Russian President Medvedev (caught on an open-mic) that he’d have “more flexibility” after the 2012 election – such as disregarding Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian and Georgian territories. Meanwhile, foreign cyber-intruders have repeatedly hacked federal agencies, without much consequence.
Now, despite dismissing Clinton’s Espionage Act violations related to her unsecured email server and her foundation’s international solicitation fraud, and after denouncing as un-American Trump’s assertion that the election might be “rigged,” Dump-Trumpers insist Clinton would be President-elect, but for Russian cyber-rattling.
On his “The Messy Truth” program, CNN’s Jones heard otherwise from two-time Obama voters who switched to Trump, flipping six states. “If she’d spoken to the blue-collar worker, she’d have won,” explained Ohioan Scott Seitz about Clinton, who hardly campaigned behind her “blue wall.”
In the industrial heartland left behind in America’s asymmetric recovery, long-suffering voters believed Trump would address the issues affecting their livelihoods, preferring Trump’s message of “I’m with you,” to Hillary’s “I’m with Her,” as Seitz framed it. Clinton’s elitist sneer about Trump’s “basket of deplorables” didn’t help.
Rather than grapple with their staggering electoral losses since 2010 – Congress, governorships, state legislatures and now the presidency – or their aged and weak leadership bench, Democrats prefer to fundraise off claims that Russian saboteurs stole the election and Trump-voters are stupid or racist.
If the last 18-months have taught us anything, it’s that Trump shouldn’t be underestimated, nor should his outsider appeal. According to his “Art of the Deal” playbook, “controversy sells,” and he’ll manufacture it if necessary, as he showed en route to the White House.
Speaking bluntly and carrying a big Twitter stick, Trump outlasted 16 primary rivals, the well-funded Bush and Clinton dynasties, and an unprecedentedly hostile media, which he trolls to perfection.
Like all reality-TV stars, Trump is a survivor who’ll outlast the current freak-out too, assuming he revives blue-collar jobs. Hopefully his compulsion to trumpet cronyist deals like Carrier will fade as his economic growth plans make America ripe for private-sector deal making again, as the stock market expects, even amid rising interest rates.
Among history’s greatest dealmakers were America’s founders whose constitution was a heavily negotiated compromise designed to assure that unaccountable power couldn’t be centralized. They believed the boundless potential of individuals operating free from government intrusion would make America great, and they were right.
Unfortunately, as ruling elites have circumvented constitutional guardrails, concentrating power in the ever-growing, unaccountable federal bureaucracy, presidential elections have become life-or-death slugfests. Now half the country quakes in fear that the other half will punish them if they gain power.
The solution is not to further erode constitutional guardrails by defacing the Electoral College; it’s to return the role of Congress, the Supreme Court and the president to their original proscribed limits.
Think Again – Wouldn’t it make America great again if we didn’t have to care so much about who won the White House?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
“All the great inspiring leaders and organizations…think, act and communicate the exact same way… opposite to everyone else,” Simon Sinek revealed in his famous TED talk. They “start with why they do what they do.”
Consider how these transformational Whys moved masses to Think Again: “All men are created equal,” declared America’s founders; “I have a dream” – not a five-point plan – proclaimed Martin Luther King; “Think different” and “Just do it” urged Apple and Nike en route to brand domination.
In 2008, Barack Obama’s “Hope and Change” mantra quenched a thirst to challenge the status quo, helping him become the political equivalent of an iPad whose novelty rendered Hillary Clinton a vintage desktop.
As Obama predicted in his autobiography “Audacity of Hope,” he became a human Rorschach test, serving ”as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views."
Chanting “yes we can” while staring at Obama’s inkblot, supporters agreed with him that his nomination was “the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless… when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal… when we ended a war, secured our nation and restored our image.”
Obama’s inkblot sent a “thrill up my leg” for MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and convinced conservative David Brooks he’d be “a great president.” Newsweek compared the new president to Abraham Lincoln, and 65 percent of voters believed they’d be better off in four years.
Reflecting on the media’s role in creating the Obama phenomenon, CBS’s Bob Schieffer recently acknowledged, “Maybe we were not skeptical enough.”
The same is true of the soaring candidacies of anti-Washington insurgents Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. In their inkblots, supporters see trustworthy leaders whose Whys resonate. To voters hurt by our cronyist political system, and revolted by self-dealing politicians and their special interests, Trump’s “Make America Great Again” and Sanders’ “A Political Revolution Is Coming” are the “Hope and Change” of 2016.
Hard-working Americans play by the rules and resent politicians who don’t. They’ve watched Wall Street and Washington boom while enduring stagnant wages, job insecurity, rising health-care costs and reduced living standards.
Now, with the economy growing at half its 100-year historic average, small businesses failures exceeding starts, U.S. debt approaching Greek proportions, and national security threats looming, many fear we’re bequeathing our children a less secure and prosperous America.
But on what rational basis do Trump and Sanders merit such unbridled loyalty? Even Trump is amazed, joking recently, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn't lose any voters.”
History shows that when politicians are elevated before winning in the marketplace of ideas, they stop answering questions and being held accountable, and then everybody gets trumped.
Case in point: Trump. The reality-TV star now refuses to appear at the last pre-primary debate, drawing plaudits from minions who celebrate his bullying and bombast. Meanwhile, inquiring minds want him to persuade his way to victory.
How would the self-described insider-dealer dismantle the cronyist system that rewards political connections over competitive excellence? If he’s free of special interests, why not end corporate welfare, such as ethanol subsidies favored in Iowa?
How does Trump reconcile his penchant for unilateral action with the constitution’s separation of powers, never mind America’s founding purpose – democratic self-governance of a free people?
How can Trump defend religious liberty while proposing a blanket ban on Muslims entering the US? How does he justify “eminent domain” whereby government can seize an individual’s property, even for private use, such as a casino parking lot?
Sanders is similarly vague. At CNN’s town hall, he described democratic socialism as “an economy that works for all,” a benign vision -- especially for younger voters -- considering its devastating track record. Socialism is a discredited idea because, Time’s Joe Klein wrote, “it dampens incentives, which dampens creativity, which leads to poverty.”
That’s why the Scandinavian social-democracies Sanders touts reformed their economies, reducing taxes and regulations. Doesn’t Sanders worry that his ideas will disincentive the very entrepreneurialism that transformed America from an agrarian backwater into history’s greatest economic wonder?
Sanders argues “the 1%” will pay for trillions in new government spending, though they rarely do. Instead, they pay lobbyists and lawyers to avoid taxes, and often stop working or move overseas. These are luxuries unavailable to the middle class and debt-saddled future generations who invariably pay when government grows.
America’s founders understood what Sanders doesn’t. Poverty is humanity’s natural state, and free enterprise is the best system for moving people toward productive and prosperous lives. What government-planner can design “an economy that works for all” that's better than the free market, where endless autonomous decisions are made efficiently, creatively and cooperatively?
Think Again – Sanders is right. A few rich people shouldn’t run America. Hopefully, voters willing to look beyond 2016’s inkblots will insist that a handful of politicians shouldn’t run the country either.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Ancient Talmudic wisdom teaches that whoever destroys a soul, destroys an entire world. So it’s understandable that in unveiling heightened gun control measures last week before an audience of shooting victims’ relatives, President Obama shed tears.
Inspired by the San Bernardino massacre to take unilateral action he admits “will save few lives” (nor would they have prevented any recent mass shooting), the president urged Americans to Think Again about “common-sense” gun reforms.
Obama’s executive actions bypass bipartisan congressional majorities, and 58 percent of voters who say “the government should only do what the president and Congress agree on,” according to last week’s Rasmussen poll.
“We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees this kind of mass violence,” Obama frequently laments, a claim judged false by Politifact and the Washington Post who called his language “slippery.”
In fact, the US ranks 11th in per capita fatalities from mass public shootings – behind European countries with stricter gun control laws such as France, Switzerland, Norway and Belgium – according to a Crime Prevention Research Center analysis of the period 2009 through 2015. Meanwhile, total U.S. homicides are at historic lows.
Turns out, Obama is a better salesman for guns than gun control, the New York Times noted. During Obama’s tenure, gun ownership has nearly doubled, with women and concealed-carry owners representing the fastest-growing segments. Even as the stock market suffered its worst yearly start ever, shares of firearm manufacturers soared.
At his CNN town hall meeting, Obama faced gun rights defenders, including rape victim Kimberly Corban. “I have been unspeakably victimized once already and I refuse to let that happen again,” Corban explained in asking Obama to understand that restrictions make it harder for her to possess a gun, “making my kids and I less safe.”
While Obama was repeating his “if you like your guns you can keep them” mantra, presidential frontrunner Donald Trump drew deafening applause in Vermont after saying, “You know what a gun-free zone is to a sicko? That’s bait!”
Even in Bernie Sanders country, people wonder why after a shooting spree lawmakers reflexively seek to limit the gun rights of law-abiding citizens, making them vulnerable to criminals who account for the vast majority of gun violence.
America’s killing fields aren’t in suburbia; they’re urban centers blighted by societal decay, gang warfare and beleaguered law enforcement. The perpetrators aren’t mentally ill loners; they’re mostly criminals killing criminals.
If addressing gun violence is such an urgent priority, why have weapons convictions declined six percent since last year and 35 percent since peaking in 2006? Why is Obama releasing dangerous gun felons and hardcore Guantanamo Bay jihadists? Why insist on resettling Syrian refugees whom the FBI says it can’t vet and Islamic radicals intend to infiltrate?
Why does Obama sanction “sanctuary city” policies that ignore immigration laws by releasing criminal illegal immigrants into unsuspecting populaces? Between 2010 and 2014, 121 released illegals proceeded to commit murder – that’s two souls lost per month.
Obama’s gun fiats came amid an ominous 2016 debut: escalating Middle Eastern conflict; a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan; mass sexual assaults by Arab refugees in Germany; a hydrogen bomb test in North Korea; sanctions-violating ballistic missile facilities in Iran; captured footage exposing ISIS’s “jihadi university”; and an ISIS-inspired terrorist ambushing a Philadelphia policeman with a stolen gun.
Seemingly indifferent to these life-imperiling events, Obama intends to override the will of the people – as with his 2014 executive order to grant amnesty to 5 million illegals, and the Iran deal, granting them $150 billion to fund terrorism and build ballistic missiles – setting dangerous precedents for our constitutional system.
Testifying before Congress about accumulating separation of powers violations – over-reaches for which the Supreme Court unanimously rebuked the White House 12 times – constitutional law professor and Obama-voter Jonathan Turley said Obama is “becoming the very danger the Constitution was designed to avoid -- the concentration of power in any single branch.” Turley insists the President “can’t say the solution to gridlock is you simply have to resolve it on my terms.”
By forcing his agenda on Americans, Obama is building a Trump Tower of insecurity and distrust, an edifice Trump unapologetically promises to destroy to “make America great again.” He’s tapping into Americans’ “dissatisfaction with government,” which tops Gallup’s latest list of voter concerns, with gun control barely rating.
That such an unlikely and flawed candidate is contending for the presidency speaks to America’s state of disunion. It’s tear inducing considering Obama ascended to the White House with this plea for national unity:
“There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America…There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United State of America.”
Think Again – Since elections are designed to punish failures and reward success, may 2016 reveal a statesman capable of delivering the legitimate government Americans deserve.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
With the civilized world reeling from the Islamic State’s “no-lives-matter” terrorism, it’s worth recalling how General George Patton inspired college-age G.I.’s to vacate their safe spaces for D-Day’s virtual suicide mission. Rallying them to Think Again about their lives’ purpose, Patton’s micro-aggression-laced appeal established, “Americans play to win.”
Could college students cocooned on today’s morally confused campuses appreciate such stridency in defense of liberty, or would they banish Patton as they have other unfashionable voices, including former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice?
“We’ll win this war,” Patton proclaimed, “by fighting and showing the Germans that we’ve got more guts than they have…. We’re not going to just shoot the bastards,” he clarified, “we’re going to rip out their living goddamned guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks.”
Responding more fearlessly than today’s campus “crybullies” could fathom, Patton’s troops helped crush Nazism while others extinguished Imperial Japan, ending tyrannical threats to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Seven decades after winning World War II, the greatest threat to individual rights is not Islamic radicalism, but a fading commitment to bedrock democratic values – free expression, equality under the law, and pluralism.
As Abraham Lincoln understood, "America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms,” he predicted, “it will be because we destroyed ourselves."
To appreciate the freedoms we’re in jeopardy of losing – and the medievalism to which jihadists want to return – recall humanity’s condition before our rights-assuring ideals civilized the world. As 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes described, life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
Oscar Wilde once observed how America’s youth, “are always ready to give to those who are older than themselves the full benefits of their inexperience.” Proving Wilde’s point, 40 percent of millenials support government restrictions on offensive speech, according to a recent Pew poll, compared to 12 percent of seniors.
That America’s youth disproportionately favor speech suppression explains headline-grabbing campus meltdowns – and refusals by Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld to perform for students too sensitive to take a joke.
Most distressing is how adults charged with teaching the young to thrive in a world of potential offenses are ceding control to children who are ill-equipped to govern themselves never mind society, creating what essayist Joseph Epstein calls “Kindergarchy.”
Instead of learning how to cope with divergent ideas, values, and speech, many young adults in our Kindergarchy invert the Golden Rule, doing unto others what they wouldn’t want done to them. Increasingly, they’re disrespectful – even hostile – to those with different viewpoints.
Consider these campus absurdities: Mount Holyoke canceled “The Vagina Monologues” for lack of “transgender inclusivity”; Wesleyan’s student government cut funding for a newspaper that published an “offensive” op-ed; Columbia students claimed Greek mythology “marginalizes student identities,” requiring trigger warnings; Brown created a secret group for discussing controversial topics freely; Amherst activists demanded banning free speech posters.
Under pressure to promote the toxic concept of “microaggression” (subconscious bigotry), University of California campuses discourage phrases deemed offensive, including “America is the land of opportunity,” and “There’s only one race, the human race.”
Missouri’s recent protests over alleged racism devolved into demands for the now former university president to write a handwritten resignation letter apologizing for “white, male privilege.”
Yale’s debate over potentially insensitive Halloween costumes morphed into outrage after a faculty member suggested, “free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are the hallmarks of a free and open society.” Is there room, she wondered, to be “obnoxious,” “inappropriate,” or offensive” on campuses that are increasingly “places of censure and prohibition?” In response, a student whined, “I don’t want to debate. I want to talk about my pain.”
In their widely-discussed Atlantic essay, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” co-authors Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff argue “teaching students that their emotions can be used effectively as weapons…may be training students in thinking styles that will damage their careers and friendships, along with their mental health.”
Herein lies the problem with the “victimhood culture” that permeates our Kindergarchy – it disempowers and hurts people. Wouldn’t young adults “be better prepared to flourish,” Haidt and Lukianoff ask, “if we taught them to question their own emotional reactions, and to give people the benefit of the doubt?”
Ultimately, coerced silence kills democracy for as Edmund Burke noted, “the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Americans have always been a people willing to do something about evil, but as Patton understood, defeating evil is a choice, not a destiny.
To secure the open and vibrant society from which America’s creativity, prosperity and decency spring, we must continuously defend our democratic values, at home and abroad.
Think Again – without America as a bulwark of liberty, how will the Islamic world ever embrace freedom and modernity?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
“I often long for the realism and sincerity of Hollywood,” joked Sen. Fred Thompson, the “Law & Order” star who died recently. A real-life prosecutor and Watergate counsel, Thompson formulated the famous question that hastened Richard Nixon’s downfall: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”
If you believe this question still delivers political accountability, Think Again. Alas, the Watergate era’s bipartisan commitment to equal and impartial justice has been rendered obsolete by lawmakers who often operate lawlessly. Capturing the hypocrisy, comedian Bill Murray tweeted “So, if we lie to the government, it’s a felony. But if they lie to us its politics…”
Bernie Sanders is right. A few rich people shouldn’t run the country. But neither should entitled politicians, as America’s founders understood. That’s because “even good people do bad things,” Thompson lamented, observing, “Some of our folks went to Washington to drain the swamp and made partnership with the alligators instead.”
Designed to limit and restrain power-hungry alligators, our liberty-preserving system reflected our founders’ insight that “men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious,” as Alexander Hamilton put it. “Let no more be heard of confidence in man,” Thomas Jefferson argued, “but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”
Yet so politicized is Washington, even institutions charged with equal enforcement of laws (the Justice Department and the IRS) ride a merry-go-round of evasion and unaccountability, abetted by politicians who defend the indefensible, and a political media whose untrustworthiness rivals that of Congress.
Not surprisingly, Americans are searching for “anti-politicians” and rejecting the herd-like media’s monopoly. Witness Ben Carson’s recent $4-million fundraising haul from small donors. Viewing the media as more interested in discrediting than investigating, the concern isn’t media scrutiny but its unequal application.
Comparing the IRS and Benghazi scandals to Watergate, journalistic sleuths Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein have criticized the media for abandoning its role to safeguard the people from the government, appearing instead to protect government officials from Americans.
Unlike Watergate, both controversies were dismissed as political witch-hunts. Virtually unnoticed was last month’s Justice Department decision to drop charges against IRS officials – notably Lois Lerner – for abuses of power. Will the FBI criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s classified information violations also be whitewashed, unlike the cases of two former CIA directors who were held accountable for similar violations?
Also headed for history’s dustbin is the Benghazi tragedy that resulted in four American deaths. After Clinton testified before the House Select Committee on Benghazi last month, reporters marveled at her lawyerly obfuscations, calling her testimony a “political victory.”
Though the hearings established what Clinton knew and when she knew it, reporters noted instead her calm demeanor under questioning. Imagine Woodward and Bernstein covering Nixon’s burglars as if they were Broadway performers.
Her never-before-seen emails confirmed that she intentionally lied when she publicly blamed an anti-Muslim video for what she simultaneously told her family was a premeditated al-Qaeda-like attack on our consulate.
But as Clinton once asked, “What difference at this point does it make?” Do the incompetence, avoidable deaths, lied-to victims’ families, stonewalling, covert server, and unaccountability really not matter?
National Journal pundit Ron Fournier, a longtime Clinton-fan, thinks “it makes all the difference” to an electorate that’s lost trust in government and politics. About Clinton – whose honesty rating in the Quinnipiac poll is the lowest among presidential candidates – Fournier wrote, “Only the most blindly loyal and partisan voters will accept her word and ignore the serial deception.”
Voters also feel deceived by Congress, especially after former House Speaker John Boehner’s last official act – the secretly negotiated, accounting gimmick-laden budget bill that passed in the dead of night, without review or debate.
Suspending the debt ceiling and painstakingly negotiated spending caps, this deal means that by 2017, Congress will have authorized an additional $15 trillion in debt since George W. Bush’s 2001 inauguration. That’s three times more debt in 16 years than was accumulated the prior 200 years.
Touted as bipartisan, the irresponsible budget deal confirms retired Sen. Tom Coburn’s insight: the problem isn’t that politicians can’t agree, it’s that they’ve agreed for decades “to borrow and spend far beyond our means” and the Constitution’s boundaries. It’s “the very problem our founders sought to avoid – a deeply indebted government that’s threatening the survival of our republic.”
Absent Constitutional guardrails, a shared belief that no one is above the law, and a watchdog media that enforces accountability, Nixon-like alligators now rule Washington. Thompson was onto the solution when he joked that should scientists ever learn to resurrect extinct species, we “might want to start with the Founding Fathers.”
Think Again – while we can’t bring back our Founders, we can restrain Washington’s alligators by being informed and engaged citizens, and by heeding Jefferson’s warning: “The greatest danger to American freedom is a government that ignores the Constitution.”
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
“There’s no trick to being a humorist when you have the entire government working for you,” Will Rogers quipped, capturing his era’s zeitgeist, and explaining the popularity of our moment’s outsider presidential candidates.
It’s good to be a non-politician when 75 percent of Americans say government corruption is widespread, up from 66 percent in 2009, and half say government is an immediate threat to lives and freedoms, according to Gallup.
It’s bad to be the debate-shy “candidate of destiny,” Hillary Clinton, when the first three words voters associate with her are “liar,” “dishonest,” and “untrustworthy,” according to a Quinnipiac poll.
Even early GOP front-runner and heroic “outsider” Scott Walker succumbed to skepticism, exiting the race after getting trumped by voters who won’t Think Again about his policy reversals.
With median incomes down 6.5 percent since 2007, U.S. debt surging to perilous heights, and the world melting down, voters resist limiting their choice to donor favorites – Clinton 2.0 or Bush 3.0.
If there’s a “Rosetta Stone” deciphering Americans’ malaise, it’s the unprecedented and often extra-constitutional way lawmakers make consequential decisions, in defiance of public opinion.
Fans of self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders and conservative Ted Cruz meet at the intersection of their contempt for a government that gives sweetheart deals to well-connected cronies.
The newly-elected may arrive in Washington convinced it’s a cesspool, but after harnessing governmental power and dispensing billions, they discover it’s an inviting Jacuzzi, where big government and big special interests collude to enrich the few, trumping the interests of the many.
Consider Obamacare, which passed on a party-line vote using political payoffs and parliamentary trickeries never before deployed for such far-reaching legislation. As consumers suffer choice and affordability frustrations, the health industry’s largest stakeholders – drug, hospital and insurance companies – profit, at taxpayers’ expense.
Now it’s the high-stakes Iran nuclear deal – perhaps history’s most consequential – that’s advancing without congressional review, never mind Senate ratification, trumping Americans who overwhelmingly agree with George Washington, “Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains to bring it to light.”
Our government’s Iran deal Kabuki Theater, featuring protagonists from both parties, renders obsolete Will Rogers’ famous jest: “The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn't get worse every time Congress meets.”
The Iranian theocracy’s aim – “Death to America” and the destruction of Western civilization – is, after all, the ultimate trumping of the American people. Hence, our long-standing bi-partisan policy to deny the world’s most dangerous regime the planet’s most lethal weapons.
The Iran deal’s break with consensus prompted me to join a Colorado delegation to meet with our senator Michael Bennet on September 9th. Despite “deep concerns about what the shape of Iran’s nuclear program could look like,” Bennet had broken with a bipartisan majority of 58 senators who opposed the pact and the secret side deals involving Iranian self-inspection.
Our goal was to confirm that Bennet wouldn’t filibuster the Iran deal, voting instead with at least 60 senators to allow the agreement’s merits to be considered by the people’s representatives, an expectation Bennet set by co-sponsoring the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which passed 98-1 in May.
Disappointingly, Bennet didn’t show. But his cowering staffers assured us he wouldn’t filibuster, just as the anti-Iran deal rally at the Capitol with headliner Trump was starting. The next day Bennet proved his partisan chops by voting to filibuster, trumping the will of the American people.
President John F. Kennedy said, “A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” Eager to restore our sovereignty, Americans are searching for an independent leader, one they believe will “make America great again.”
In his New York Magazine commentary, Frank Rich argues Trump is saving our democracy by “exposing, however crudely and at times inadvertently, the posturings of both the Republicans and the Democrats and the foolishness and obsolescence of much of the political culture they share.”
Perhaps so, but the truth is, when politicians are elevated before winning in the free marketplace of ideas, they stop answering questions and being held accountable, and then everybody gets trumped.
Americans want candidates who are serious, knowledgeable and responsive, which explains why Sanders’s crowds trump Clinton’s, and why idea-filled debate performances by Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio turbocharged their campaigns. It’s why Democrats are starving for their own debates.
For the American people to trump Washington’s agenda, we mustn’t allow cults of personality to cocoon candidates, or divide ourselves into “virtuous” and “dishonorable” camps. Most importantly, we must demand accountability.
Think Again – As Will Rogers eventually conceded: “This country has gotten where it is in spite of politics, not by the aid of it. That we have carried as much political bunk as we have and still survived shows we are a super nation."
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Last week during the most-watched primary debate in history, a U.S. senator fired a cogently argued objection at his party’s leader, drawing a contemptuous and insulting personal attack.
No, it wasn’t Sen. Rand Paul who chastised Donald Trump for being “on every side of every issue,” criticism for which Trump poked Paul for “having a bad night.”
It was Sen. Chuck Schumer who, after taking a month to Think Again about the Iranian nuclear agreement, announced his carefully considered rationale for opposing President Obama’s controversial foreign policy objective – an accord that reverses America’s long-standing policy to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon and the proliferation it would spawn.
Schumer judged the deal not on “whether the agreement is ideal, but whether we are better with or without it.” He concluded we’d be worse off and less able to thwart the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism after giving Iran’s “brutal, theocratic” regime $50-150 billion in unfrozen assets to “pursue nefarious goals,” and allowing them to become a nuclear-threshold state.
Schumer’s conclusion reflects the opinion of experts who’ve appeared before Congress, including Amb. Robert Joseph, chief U.S. negotiator of the 2003 Libya deal that dismantled the country’s nuclear program.
Calling the Iran deal a “bad agreement” with “fatal flaws,” Joseph testified “the threat to the U.S. homeland and to our NATO allies of an Iran armed with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles will increase, not decrease, under the anticipated agreement.”
Schumer cited the ayatollahs’ long track record of deceit and deception, and their "tight and undiminished grip on Iran," in deciding it’s “better to keep U.S. sanctions in place, strengthen them, enforce secondary sanctions on other nations, and pursue the hard-trodden path of diplomacy once more, difficult as it may be.”
Unwilling to tolerate principled opposition, deal supporters launched a vicious smear campaign, branding Schumer “Warmonger Chuck,” even though Americans by a two-to-one margin oppose the Iran deal and believe it will make the world less safe, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll.
About the presumptive next Senate Minority Leader, White House Spokesman Josh Earnest suggested Democrats should “consider the voting record of those who want to lead the caucus,” proving Voltaire’s observation: “it’s dangerous to be right in matters where established men are wrong.”
Schumer’s lambasting followed Obama’s speech at American University, the stage from which President Kennedy made his case for the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. “Let us not be blind to our differences,” Kennedy encouraged, “but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved.” The Senate voted 80-19 to ratify the treaty.
Standing in Kennedy’s place, Obama dismissed critics who are concerned the Iran accord doesn’t reflect pre-negotiation promises, saying it’s not a “tough call” to support the deal. After insisting the only alternative is “another war in the Middle East,” Obama denounced opponents’ “knee-jerk partisanship,” “stridency” and “lobbyists” demanding war.
“It's those hardliners chanting ‘Death to America’ who have been most opposed to the deal. They're making common cause with the Republican Caucus,” Obama charged, as if America’s duly-elected representatives are the moral equivalents of unelected theocrats who stone women, hang gays, and shoot peaceful protestors.
Supreme Leader Ali Khameni has already violated the deal, most significantly by having his top aid declare, “entry into our military sites is absolutely forbidden.” Yet Obama maintained the deal “permanently prohibits Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” one of many evidence-free assertions that underscore Kennedy’s key insight: "no treaty ... can provide absolute security against the risks of deception and evasion."
Equally practiced in the art of evidence-free political rhetoric, Trump is a word salad-spewing colossus atop an untidy Republican presidential field. The ultimate anti-politician to disaffected voters enraged by ruling elites and political correctness, Trump wins plaudits for disparaging “stupid people” and those who “don’t treat me nice” – not for persuasive abilities.
All style and no substance, even on issues that make supporters swoon – illegal immigration, trade deals, Planned Parenthood – Trump is imprecise, incoherent, and inconsistent, though it matters not to his champions. Asked about Iran in last week’s debate, Trump mustered “I would be so different from what you have right now. Like, the polar opposite.”
Our democratic system relies on leaders who say what they mean and then get elected to go do what they said. More than celebrity, Trump’s surge derives from a smoldering frustration with politicians who don’t respect their contract with the people.
On the high-stakes Iran deal, Obama is poised to override the will of the people, and an overwhelming bi-partisan majority in Congress, unless Americans insist otherwise. Kennedy was right, “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer.”
Think Again – May the right answer on the Iran deal emerge from an open, informed and respectful debate in Congress next month.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
At a recent 11,000-strong Netroots Nation conference, irate activists booed off the stage presidential candidate Martin O’Malley for proclaiming “black lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter.”
That O’Malley was jeered for his echo of “all men are created equal” – the self-evident truth that fueled America’s civil rights movement – reflects a disturbing phenomenon, one social critic Aldous Huxley called the propagandist’s purpose: “to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human.”
By emphasizing differences and distorting reality, propagandists incite mistrust and hostility, compelling followers to line up dutifully behind partisan agendas, never to Think Again.
Yet as Adolf Hitler understood – and history proves – blind partisanship is dangerous. “What good fortune for governments that the people do not think,” observed modern history’s greatest propagandist and destroyer of humanity.
A 2013 experiment conducted by pollster Mark Mellman for the Bipartisan Policy Center confirmed Hitler’s insight, revealing how partisanship often overrides informed policy preferences, blinding people to the consequences of their choices.
Two groups of respondents were asked to select between Republican and Democrat education plans, with the labels on each plan reversed in each group. Rather than choose a plan based on policy preferences, Republicans and Democrats in each group overwhelmingly opted for their party’s plan.
“The evidence suggests that parties have considerable latitude to alter their positions without losing voters,” Melman concluded, “driving voters further apart on the issues if they choose.”
Consider how the Obama Administration is severing the long-standing bipartisan consensus to use all elements of American foreign policy -- diplomatic, economic, and military -- to prevent Iran’s theocratic regime, and the world’s most lethal terrorist state, from acquiring nuclear weapons.
On the most consequential life and death issue facing Americans, administration officials have reversed their pledges to prevent an Iranian bomb while ridiculing those who won’t renege, branding them the equivalent of warmongers.
Meanwhile, the Iran deal would convey a jackpot of sanctions-relief, conventional arms and intercontinental ballistic missiles, enabling the world’s worst warmongers – the tyrannical ayatollahs whose declared goal is to establish a global caliphate and “raise the banner of Islam over the White House.”
Unfortunately, by prematurely sidelining diplomatic and economic leverage, the deal leaves America with few peaceful ways to counter Iran, or secure our hostages’ release.
Normally, far-reaching international agreements – particularly nuclear-related treaties – require a two-thirds Senate majority to assure domestic support. Fearful of constitutionally mandated scrutiny, the administration framed the deal as an executive agreement requiring no congressional approval. To reassert its treaty authority, Congress agreed that disapproval requires an unprecedented two-thirds majority in both houses.
Most worrisome, the administration has circumvented voters, the Constitution and American sovereignty by obtaining UN approval of the Iran accord – including secret side deals – before Congress’s review. Should Congress reject the deal, administration officials argue America would be violating international law.
Whose lives will matter most: Those of pressured lawmakers, or Americans whose lives, and way of life, are imperiled by the agreement?
The same question can be asked of policymakers who put the lives of criminal aliens ahead of law-abiding innocents by allowing immigration laws to go unenforced.
This month, an illegal immigrant with seven convictions, five deportations and multiple returns to San Francisco’s “sanctuary city,” shot and killed 32-year old Kate Steinle while she was strolling with her Dad.
Like San Francisco, more than 300 sanctuary jurisdictions routinely ignore immigration laws, as tens of thousands of criminal aliens have been released into unsuspecting populaces. Between 2010 and 2014, 121 released illegals proceeded to commit murder – that’s two preventable tragedies per month. Yet propagandists obscuring these facts call opponents of sanctuary policies racist.
Similarly, it’s a “war on women” to be critical of Planned Parenthood, even after secretly recorded videos exposed the human cost – and price – of saleable baby parts, harvested from late-term abortions at their clinics.
In two videos that went viral, Planned Parenthood officials explain why their “less crunchy” techniques make them “very good at getting heart, lung, liver.” They crush above and below to “get it all intact.” A third video shows doctors discussing how to maximize fetal tissue revenue.
It’s hard to reconcile a belief that “all lives matter” with the routine and lawful crushing of emerging human life. Yet a mother’s life and right to control her body also matter. Acknowledging these conflicting truisms is a mark of a healthy society, one capable of breaking through the propaganda to consider the question: at what point does the mother’s right to control her life stop trumping a baby’s right to life?
George Orwell said, “the further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it,” which is why O’Malley was booed for saying “all lives matter.” Reversing society’s drift requires citizens willing to risk vilification to search for the truth, people who’ll resist reality-distorting partisans.
Think Again – by reversing Hitler’s insight, imagine the good fortune for society when the people do think.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
As capitulations to Iran’s theocracy dragged on, numbing Americans to the civilization-imperiling consequences of the planet’s most lethal terrorist state possessing nuclear weapons capability, a political sideshow emerged.
Two blunt iconoclasts, billionaire Donald Trump and self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, are encouraging Americans to Think Again about policies that undercut our interests, drawing surprisingly large crowds, breathless media attention, and lofty poll numbers.
Causing the collective eyes of the political class to roll, Trump and Sanders resonate with a pablum-fed electorate starving for authentic debate, policies aligned with citizens’ concerns, and leaders who say what they mean and mean what they say.
Witness the deceptions being used to normalize the mortal threat posed by Tuesday’s nuclear deal with Iran’s genocidal Ayatollahs. They’ve sponsored a slow-motion jihad against America ever since revolutionaries seized our embassy and hostages in 1979, asserting their constitution’s commitment to “universal holy government and the downfall of all others.”
Do politicians mean what they’ve consistently said about dismantling the nuclear program of the “Death to America”-dedicated Iranian theocracy? Will they claim the accord prevents an Iranian bomb when it merely delays it? Are they intentionally confusing us about what “verifiable” means, insisting the accord’s Iranian-approved “access where necessary, when necessary” meets the original “go anywhere-anytime” inspection standard?
It’s déjà vu considering Britain’s Neville Chamberlain hailed the Munich Agreement with Hitler for delivering “peace with honor,” and President Clinton called the North Korea nuclear deal – which relied on verification – “the first step on the road to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.”
Will lawmakers reject the concession-laden deal criticized by five former Obama Administration national security advisors for falling “short of meeting the administration’s own standard of a ‘good agreement’?” Their assessment supports Henry Kissinger and George Shultz’s conclusion: “Negotiations …to prevent an Iranian capability to develop a nuclear arsenal are ending with an agreement that concedes this very capability.”
Regarding bi-partisan dissension, Yale University foreign policy scholar Walter Russell Meade commented, “This is not what diplomatic success usually looks like. In fact, it’s hard to think of another moment in American diplomatic history in which so many warning lights from so many places have flashed so brightly.”
That’s because the agreement grants the Supreme Leader’s core demands: preserving Iran’s entire nuclear infrastructure, allowing near-zero breakout time to a bomb if it cheats, a decade if it doesn’t; gradual sanctions relief unlocking an estimated $150 billion; limiting intrusive inspections; and jettisoning the conventional weapons embargo and international legal regime branding Iran a rogue state – without requiring Iran to renounce terrorism or release American prisoners.
Are lawmakers listening to voters of whom 76 percent rated terrorism their top priority in a January Pew poll while 52 percent now believe America is a more dangerous place than it was before 9/11, according to Rasmussen’s July survey?
Senators were right to vote 99-0 in 2010 for painstakingly conceived coercive sanctions – relaxed when Iran negotiations began – to force the self-described deceivers to dismantle their nuclear program, as six UN resolutions ordered. Are Senators now willing to bet American lives on rebooting sanctions if Iran continues its murderous ways?
Declaring an Iranian bomb “would be a game-changer,” presidential candidate Barack Obama re-iterated pledges to prevent it. “The deal we’ll accept is – they end their nuclear program. It’s very straightforward.” He also promised to “take no options off the table… including all elements of American power: A political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to … ensure the Iranian program is monitored; an economic effort that imposes crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort."
The truth is, every president since Carter has failed to deploy these powers to oppose Iranian hostility, allowing committed revolutionaries and skilled diplomats to out-flank and out-negotiate the mightiest nation on earth.
Iran doesn’t control all terrorists, but it’s the head of an Islamic supremacist snake seeking to subjugate humanity and destroy freedom. Responsible for killing and maiming thousands of Americans, and posing threats we’ve neither anticipated nor mitigated, their unanswered aggression has stimulated more aggression.
We’ve failed to retaliate after successive attacks; conflated our “national interest” with democracy promotion, “nation-building” and détente with avowed enemies; and enunciated “redlines” we haven’t backed up. With U.S. credibility diluted, we’re harmless as an enemy, treacherous as a friend and weaker guardians of American security.
The Iranian nuclear deal reflects our self-crippling foreign policy. But as Winston Churchill noted, “you can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.” Having led efforts to extinguish Nazi, Imperial Japan and Soviet threats, America can do the same against aggressors with far less economic and military strength.
Think Again – The Berlin Wall turned to rubble twenty-nine months after President Reagan told Soviet leader Gorbachev, “if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity …tear down this wall!” Why can't the same be said of Iran’s nuclear installations? Then they can rejoin the civilized world.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
It’s not a Mad Max world into which students are graduating, but it’s a Mad, Mad one, fraught with genocidal fanaticism, proliferating scandals, and morally deficient leadership.
As terrorists claimed swaths of Iraq and Syria for the Islamic State, and “death to America”-seeking Iran crept closer to nuclear weapons capability, recent headlines featured indictments of international soccer officials at FIFA and former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. Distrust of civil institutions pervades society.
Meanwhile, the conflicts of interest surrounding Hillary Clinton prompted CNN’s John King to note “you can’t go 20 minutes...without some story…. that gives you a little bit of the creeps.” Will Americans ignore behavior in a presidential candidate that they’d normally deem reprehensible?
The question before graduates is whether they’ll “party on” – accepting a world of imperiled liberties and moral retreat – or whether they’ll Think Again and try to improve it.
Can a generation more informed about Bruce Jenner’s transformation than the Constitution adhere to a founding principle of our democracy, that “only a virtuous people are capable of freedom,” as Benjamin Franklin insisted?
Will iPhone-era Americans raised in the freest, richest and most decent society the world has ever known demand the civic trust, honesty, and accountability on which America’s extraordinariness has depended?
Unfortunately, for over half a century, many institutions charged with cultivating civic virtue – family, faith and education – have failed to transmit the moral values vital to healthy societies. Skyrocketing numbers of single households, a struggling middle class and a crisis in higher education have combined to deprive us of citizens with the requisite moral character for self-government.
Author J.D. Salinger captured education’s problem in his 1961 book “Franny and Zooey:” His heroine grumbles, “You never even hear any hints dropped on a campus that wisdom is supposed to be the goal of knowledge. You hardly ever even hear the word ‘wisdom’ mentioned!”
Professor Allan Bloom of the University of Chicago had a more scholarly take in his 1987 bestseller, “The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Student.”
Bemoaning the demotion of the humanities’ “great books” and academia’s “openness” trend, Bloom argued that because education was no longer a quest for wisdom and “truth,” it was eroding the intellectual foundations of liberty and morality. After all, 18-22 years olds don’t just self-actualize morally.
“Openness used to be the virtue that permitted us to seek the good by using reason,” Bloom contended, lamenting, “It now means accepting everything and denying reason’s power” to distinguish good from evil, right from wrong, and justice from injustice.
Safe from reflective thought, potential insult or conflicting ideas, and without the ennobling insights and discipline gleaned from studying Aristotle, Shakespeare or Twain, is it surprising that our “best and brightest” converted housing finance into a high-stakes casino, rendered our foreign policy incoherent, and encumbered generations of American taxpayers with more debt than the world has ever known?
Campus horribles reached a zenith with the lauding of Columbia University undergraduate Emma Sulkowicz – aka “Mattress Girl” – who accused a friend of brutally raping her. Though the University and district attorney cleared him, Sulkowicz continued to tote a mattress -- the scene of the alleged crime -- on her back, garnering media plaudits, an invitation from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to the State of the Union address, and a celebratory shout-out at commencement.
To Sulkowicz’s champions, it doesn’t matter that the truth interfered with their popular narrative about "campus rape culture," or that their irresponsible statements increase the scrutiny given to rape victims and irreparably damage the reputations of the truly innocent. Those things are a trifle compared to their political agenda.
As if addressing Sulkowicz, actor Matthew McConaughey told University of Houston graduates “Life’s not fair. It never was, isn’t now and won’t ever be. Do not fall into the entitled trap of feeling like you’re a victim. You’re not.” McConaughey echoed Franklin’s maxim: “The Constitution only guarantees you the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”
Last year, Admiral William McRaven, who commanded the Osama bin Laden operation, mined his Navy SEAL training to offer University of Texas graduates tips on how to change “ourselves and the world around us.”
In his widely admired address, he counseled, “Start each day with a task completed. Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone…You will fail often, but if you take some risks, step up when times are toughest, face down bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up,” then subsequent generations will live in a better world.
In truth, our Mad, Mad world isn’t a safe place and our era’s existential and moral challenges aren’t unprecedented. If graduates haven’t yet grappled with mind-bending questions – what’s a good person, how to make ethical judgments, what are civic duties – they will. As they struggle, may humanity’s wisdom guide them.
Think Again – “The only thing more expensive than education is ignorance,” Franklin said. To recall why, consider Adolf Hitler’s observation: “lucky for governments that people don’t think.”