If there is one pattern that is emerging from this year’s political campaigns, it is that rhetoric beats reality — in both parties.
The biggest surprise among the Democrats is Bernie Sanders, and among the Republicans is Donald Trump. Although they are each seeking to be put in charge of the nation’s government, does anyone know — or care — what their actual track record in government has been?
Trump of course has no track record at all in government. If Sanders has anything to show for his many years in Congress, no one seems to know what it is. But both are great at rhetoric.
Hillary Clinton’s biggest selling point is that she has lots of “experience” in government, having been a Senator and a Secretary of State. But what she actually accomplished in those roles gets remarkably little attention.
The foreign policies under Secretary Clinton have led to one disaster after another, whether in the Middle East, in Ukraine, or in North Korea. Where are her successes?
The Republicans began this primary election campaign with a number of candidates who did have track records as governors that could have been examined, debated and critiqued. But Donald Trump’s rhetoric and antics got the lion’s share of the attention. Governors Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal were gone before most people knew much of anything about their track records.
Partly this was due to the media’s obsession with Donald Trump. But the public shares responsibility for the triumph of glitter over substance, because polls repeatedly showed that the public was far more attracted to the glitter.
The current angry outcries because there was no primary vote in Colorado to choose delegates, supposedly because “the system” was “rigged” against Donald Trump, is only the latest sign of a widespread lack of interest in facts.
The Colorado rules were there before the time for delegates to be chosen. If Donald Trump did not bother to learn those rules, or to hire people to keep on top of such things, that was his fault. But it is all too typical of Trump to cover up his own lack of knowledge or understanding by making wild accusations against others and inciting the gullible.
The convention rules that require a candidate to get a majority of the delegates, in order to become the party’s nominee for President, are also nothing new. But, here again, Trump and his followers are raising an outcry by saying that it would not be “fair” or “democratic” to “steal” the nomination from Trump and give it to some other candidate.
First of all, it is not Trump’s nomination until after he has earned it, under the rules that apply to all candidates. Nobody can “steal” what was not his in the first place.
The rules are the rules. As an old New York Yankees fan, I still have a painful memory of the 1960 World Series, where the Yankees scored 53 runs and the Pittsburgh Pirates scored 27. But the Pirates won the World Series, because the rules go by how many games were won, not how many runs were scored.
As for “undemocratic,” institutions do not exist to exalt some principle, but to carry out whatever the missions of those institutions are. In even the most democratic countries, undemocratic institutions abound.
Families are one of those institutions. In a family with 3 children and 2 adults, the children do not run the family. In a military unit, democratic decision-making on a battlefield can cost a lot more lives.
Political parties are private institutions. They exist to choose candidates they think can win elections. How they do it is their business. Nobody has a Constitutional “right” to vote to choose a party’s nominees.
A party may decide to have voters in the primaries elect delegates. But, if that method fails to turn up anyone capable of winning a majority of the delegates’ votes on the first ballot, the party can then turn to Plan B, as has happened before, long before Donald Trump came along.
The time to change rules is before the game starts. If the current rules need changing, there will be four long years before the 2020 elections in which to try to create better rules. The 1960 Yankees never whined that the World Series had been “stolen” from them. They were adults who knew the rules in advance.
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Photo credit: By Krassotkin (derivative), Gage Skidmore (Donald Trump), Gage Skidmore (Hillary Clinton) – Derivative work of File:Donald Trump by Gage Skidmore 3.jpg (CC-BY-SA 3.0) and File:Hillary Clinton (24037852830).jpg (CC-BY-SA 2.0), CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons
Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.
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