Really? Another Government Shutdown?

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Sources disagree on who made that famous remark, some suggest Einstein, others suggest it was Benjamin Franklin. Regardless, it’s a true statement in most cases, and it’s something Speaker Boehner and the GOP need to pay attention to. Shutting down the government – or in this case, part of it – by refusing to grant funds backfired spectacularly the last time around, and there’s no reason to think the result this time will be any different.

After November’s mid-terms, the Republicans should have been in the driving seat, but Obama, ever the scheming politician, forced a serious and hugely damaging immigration reform bill through the lame-duck session of Congress before the Republicans took over – a by-product of what is, frankly, an outdated system of delaying the transition of power after such an election. Obama was wrong to do that, but, to use another cliché, two wrongs don’t make a right.

As on healthcare, the Republican leadership needs to come up with a viable alternative to Obama’s executive action, and let the courts strike it down as unconstitutional down the road. Tying national security, of all things, to Obama’s immigration policy is just plain stupid – and it isn’t going to work. If Republicans expect to be taken seriously as an alternative government, not merely an opposition, they need to set out serious policy proposals and get legislation passed through Congress. If they continue down this road of blind opposition without proposing alternatives, they will have already dealt a serious blow to whoever wins the Presidential nomination next year.

Precedent should be enough to tell them this is a bad idea. It’s better to climb down and face the momentary embarrassment that would bring than to drag this fight out for days or weeks when everyone can see there’s no chance of winning. Obama won’t back down – he has the media on side, for goodness’ sake. He has no reason to back down, because he knows shutting down any part of the government will play well for him politically. This is a lame-duck President who should be increasingly irrelevant, whose pitiful legacy of one major legislative accomplishment should right now be in jeopardy. This is not a man who should be dominating the discussion, but he is. Why? Because the Republicans are playing right into his hand. They’re damning themselves and damaging their future electoral chances, and Obama knows it.

I hope that Speaker Boehner can find a way to back down quietly before it’s too late. We can all agree that Obama is wrong on immigration, but him being wrong doesn’t mean the Republicans are right by default. They don’t even have an alternative plan, save for vague comments about “border security”. The next two years – or rather, eighteen months – offer the GOP its first chance in eight years to show that they are capable of governing, and that they can be a responsible governing party. Shutting down part of the government doesn’t accomplish that. The message gets lost in the method. And the message is very important, it’s one the American people need to hear. So Boehner, pick a different method to deliver it. Back down on the shutdown.


Speaker Boehner did, thankfully, step back from the brink. Congress is a master at stalling and delaying, and by granting himself a two-week extension Boehner has bought himself and his party colleagues a little time to figure out an alternative strategy. For a slow-moving body like Congress, though, two weeks isn’t a great deal of time. Having backed himself into a corner, Boehner will have to work hard to turn things around and present a viable alternative to Obama’s immigration package. Defunding DHS wasn’t a good idea, and it’s weakened Boehner’s hand pretty substantially, but the costs of backing down now are less bad than the costs of being blamed for shutting down a vital government department. It was the least bad option for Boehner, and he made the right choice from his limited options.

The Democrats’ Clinton Gamble

Former Senator Jim Webb is the latest Democrat who has been dipping his toe in the proverbial waters of the 2016 Presidential election. Webb, who left the Senate in 2012 supposedly because he was disillusioned with the way politics was conducted in Congress, would be an interesting candidate for the Democrats, not least because of his military background.

But current polling says that Jim Webb, just like other supposed party “heavyweights” like Senator Elizabeth Warren, former Governor Martin O’Malley, and even Vice President Joe Biden, wouldn’t even come close to catching Hillary Clinton in the race for the nomination. So how did the Democratic Party effectively become the party of a single candidate? And is it really the right strategy to turn their 2016 primary process into what some have dubbed a “coronation”?

You all know by now that I don’t believe Barack Obama has been a good or a particularly effective President, but if there’s one thing I can say about him in a positive sense it’s this: he is an excellent campaigner. He came from almost nowhere in 2008 to win the Presidency, and he did that by convincing Democratic voters during the primaries that he was the man to win them back the Oval Office after eight years of Republican government. He won the nomination by beating the front-runner, Hillary Clinton, and second-placed John Edwards, and to his credit, he repaid the faith Democratic primary voters showed in him by running a strong campaign and winning the White House. For the Democrats, a two- or three-horse race for the nomination certainly did no harm in 2008, so why should they now go to a strategy of having essentially handed Mrs Clinton the nomination already? It doesn’t make sense, does it?

Hillary Clinton’s popularity and reputation are already under fire from the GOP. Their candidates have been campaigning against her since before the mid-terms, and it seems that practically every would-be GOP Presidential candidate is asking themselves one question – “could I beat Hillary Clinton?” It’s also the question that the Republican Party will ask of its candidates, and all the hypothetical match-ups are between Mrs Clinton and one of the GOP candidates. So far, the only Republican that the polls say could beat Mrs Clinton was Chris Christie of New Jersey, but as we’ve already said, polls this far out from the election are highly unreliable.

Given the almost constant attacks from the GOP already, is there a danger for the Democrats that some of what’s being said will dog Mrs Clinton until election day? That’s surely what the Republicans are hoping for, so would it be wise for the Dems to take another look at possible candidates within their party, and see if they’ve overlooked someone in their rush to proclaim Mrs Clinton as their nominee? Well, if you look at the kind of people who are suggesting that the Dems pick someone else, you’ll see that they fall broadly into two camps – the far-left wing of the Democratic Party, and Republicans. Yes, that’s right, Republicans. The GOP and their supporters are among the most vocal advocates of an “anti-Hillary” candidate, and there’s got to be a reason for that. Sure, we could say that they genuinely want to give the Democratic Party a choice, or that they have real policy differences with Mrs Clinton, but let’s be honest – this is politics we’re dealing with here, so it’s safe to say that the reason many Republican supporters are so keen to see Mrs Clinton beaten in the primaries again is because they’re fearful that she would be a very strong candidate in the general election, regardless of who they nominate. A left-wing zealot like Elizabeth Warren, for example, is seen as less of a serious challenge to the Republicans, so naturally they want to encourage a situation like that.

That being said, the GOP does have some compelling arguments against Mrs Clinton, including allegations of corruption at the Clinton Foundation which are only just beginning to emerge. As someone who’s already tried and failed to become President, and who’s been on the national scene since her husband was running for President in the early ’90s, has the time come for Mrs Clinton to let someone else in the party have a go? We’ve already mentioned two possibles, Jim Webb and Elizabeth Warren, both candidates who might have broader appeal within the party, and both who are highly unlikely to win the nomination in a race against Mrs Clinton. And poor Joe Biden, who, as the serving Vice President, should be in with a real chance at winning the nomination (something he clearly wants) is left to wait for Mrs Clinton to make her announcement before he can make up his mind.

There is a risk for the Dems in this “coronation” approach. Setting aside the fact that the GOP are less keen to face off against Mrs Clinton than any of her “rivals”, she has several major issues which she will have to overcome over the course of her campaign, issues which are already causing alarm in some Democratic circles. The Democrats risk backing themselves into a corner, where their only choice may be to nominate Mrs Clinton because of her massive support within the party, but knowing full well that she would really struggle in the general election campaign with twenty-five years worth of issues dragging her down – it just depends on which issues manifest themselves, and their staying power.

The Benghazi scandal has, shamefully, been ignored by many in the mainstream media, and even the GOP, now in full control of both houses of Congress, seem less keen to push it. That infamous soundbite “what difference, at this point, does it make” may haunt her, but with the media firmly on-side it’s unlikely to be fatal to her campaign. The scandal which has recently emerged from the Clinton Foundation, however, has potential staying power. Mrs Clinton, it would seem, accepted money from foreign governments while she was Secretary of State, America’s chief diplomat responsible for dealing and negotiating with foreign governments. If it can be shown, or even alleged, that she accepted foreign money in exchange for State Department favours, or if any of that money has been backchanneled to her political campaigns (which, let’s be honest, it probably has been, though proving it is another matter) then she could be in real trouble. As this story continues to emerge we’ll all need to pay close attention, because this could be something big.

And even if it’s not, it could be the final straw. As more and more doubts about Mrs Clinton emerge as the campaign draws near, as more and more issues pile on her prospective candidacy, there will be a growing section of the Democratic Party no longer content to simply turn their 2016 primaries into a one-woman show.

Agendas aside, it would be good for democracy to avoid a political “coronation”, doubly so because Mrs Clinton is a member of what I have described as a “political dynasty”; a family at the centre of American politics. Jeb Bush is the same on the GOP side, and it isn’t good for democracy to allow single families to become so dominant. A vibrant democracy selects the best candidate for the office, not the wealthiest candidate, not the best-connected candidate, not the candidate whose “time has come”. The real risk for the Democrats in nominating Mrs Clinton is that many voters, especially younger voters, will want something – and someone – new. For all her strengths, Mrs Clinton isn’t the candidate of “change”, she isn’t a “new face”, and she offers no new direction for the American political scene. She’s an insider. And that’s already cost her the Presidency once.

Rick Santorum and the “Iowa Strategy”

Rick Santorum won the 2012 Iowa caucuses. Well, sort of. He technically won, but since his victory wasn’t discovered until well after the fact (news outlets were reporting Mitt Romney won on the night) he feels somewhat aggrieved at being robbed of any post-Iowa momentum that he might’ve expected had he been declared the winner in time. It ultimately didn’t matter, because he finished well behind Romney in other key states, and Iowa’s total number of delegates is small compared to the number of delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

Former Pennsylvania Senator and 2012 Presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

Former Pennsylvania Senator and 2012 Presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

In the run-up to the Presidential election cycle, an inordinate amount of attention is focused on Iowa. Activities of any and all politicians who pay a visit to the Hawkeye State are scrutinised even years out from Iowans going to the polls, with the media on the lookout for the next possible front-runner. To a would-be Presidential candidate, a strong showing in Iowa is very important, and a weak result on caucus night has ended more than one Presidential bid in recent years.

So Iowa is important. Big deal, right? We already knew that. So it makes sense for Rick Santorum to focus his 2016 efforts there. Or does it? Santorum is currently way down in the polls, behind almost every other candidate, even some who haven’t declared or expressed an interest in running. He won the Iowa caucuses in 2012, but since then he’s lost almost all of the progress he made in the Hawkeye State between early 2011 and caucus day. He’s got a mountain to climb to just get back to where he was three years ago, but is it worth it?

Rick Santorum’s Iowa strategy is unlikely to work for one key reason – it puts too much importance on a single state, and neglects other key early-voting states like New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. While Santorum’s campaign may not expect him to do particularly well in New England, it’s foolish to ignore that constituency altogether, because even a resounding win in Iowa won’t mean much if a few days later he’s slumped to a dismal seventh- or eighth-placed finish in the Granite State. All that momentum will be lost, and months of work will have been undone. Just like “establishment” candidates like Jeb Bush or Chris Christie need to have a reasonably good showing in conservative Iowa – a place arguably outside of their native political turf – so too does Rick Santorum need to have the ground game in place to compete for a respectable finish in New Hampshire and other states where the evangelical Christian vote is far less important. In short, a serious candidate for President needs to be able to demonstrate in these early primary votes that he has a broader range of support within his own party than simply his own faction.

For better or worse, Rick Santorum is seen by most pundits and commentators as a representative of the GOP’s Christian conservative wing. He has messages on economics, foreign policy, and so on, but his native constituency, his core support, comes from evangelicals, and they play a disproportionately large role in determining the outcome of the Iowa caucuses when compared to the primaries as a whole. It’s why Rick Santorum managed to sneak across the finish line in 2012, because he spent a lot of time there courting those voters. It’s also why he fell away to a distant fourth a few days later in New Hampshire, with less than 10% of the vote.

The field of candidates for 2016 is arguably much stronger than it was in 2012, with several high-profile current and former governors and senators already battling for the nomination. I didn’t even include Rick Santorum on my list of Republican presidential contenders when made that list mid-way through last year – and that was no oversight. It was done because Santorum, for all his efforts, simply isn’t polling anywhere near most of the other candidates right now. Even in Iowa, he’s an awfully long way off the pace, and considering that Iowa has been his sole focus, that doesn’t bode well for his campaign.

Once you have been branded by the media in a particular way, it can be very difficult to change perceptions, and after already having hit the national stage with his 2012 campaign, Santorum now has the added hurdle of having to run against ingrained perceptions of him from back then. A candidate known solely as an “evangelical” would find it nearly impossible to win the general election, and Republican primary voters know that. Having lost the White House in 2008, and with the anti-Hillary feeling in the party being so strong, there is a sense that nominating a man like Rick Santorum would leave the party open to obvious lines of attack by a Democratic-leaning media. It isn’t good enough for Rick Santorum to campaign in Iowa and win over the evangelicals who supported him last time. That will only re-emphasise that he struggles to pick up support in other areas. He needs some of those evangelical supporters, no question, but if there’s a lesson from his 2012 campaign it’s that it won’t be enough unless he can find a way to place a strong showing in other, less-evangelical states.

Unfortunately, languishing in the polls as he is at present, Rick Santorum will find it very difficult to raise the kind of money needed to mount a serious challenge. The likes of Ted Cruz and even Scott Walker are picking away at some of those evangelicals who voted for him in 2012, and there’s a danger that a Santorum campaign will be marginalised with the focus increasingly being on Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and others. It’s not impossible for him to pull off another unexpected win in Iowa, but it will be just that – unexpected. And if he does manage it, it will be costly in terms of time and money which could have been spent in other states – states which he will need if he is to win the nomination.

An Iowa-focused strategy can work, but Santorum will have to balance Iowa against other states which he cannot afford to neglect. With limited resources and money, that will be very tricky to pull off.

Sarah Palin’s Presidential Chances

Sarah Palin is one of the leading figures in the Tea Party, and many of her supporters would love to see her run for President. She would offer Americans a real choice about their first woman President if she were to go head-to-head with Hillary Clinton, but does she have what it takes to win either the nomination or the general election?

In 2008, Sarah Palin was a surprising choice for John McCain’s running mate. McCain always had that maverick streak, so in that sense, picking a lesser-known figure was true to form for him and his campaign, but on the other hand, many have alleged since that the VP vetting process for Sarah Palin was incomplete and may have let the McCain campaign down. Had they taken the time to complete a more thorough check and perhaps she would never have been chosen, and never hit the national stage in the way she did. But those are all “what-ifs”, and not really relevant to the issue at hand.

Many were expecting Mrs Palin to make a campaign of her own in 2012. Previous running mates and VPs often do well in primaries the next time around, but she chose to sit it out. It probably wouldn’t have made a difference anyway, the Romney juggernaut would have rolled on past her just as it did all of his challengers. But the 2016 primaries are wide open, and so that expectation is back.

Former Alaska Governor, and 2008 Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

Former Alaska Governor, and 2008 Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

In a year in which the Democrats will almost certainly run Hillary Clinton, putting a woman at the top of the GOP ticket could be seen as a shrewd political move – or a shameless piece of political plagarism. It all depends on who the woman in question is, and looking over the crowded GOP field one thing is obvious – there aren’t very many women who are being considered as serious candidates. Besides Mrs Palin there’s former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, but she has said she’s “happy” to remain a professor at Stanford University, a statement many are taking to mean she’s not even considering a run (though she remains in contention until she properly rules herself out). But who else besides Mrs Palin could be taken seriously for the GOP? Michele Bachmann’s campaign got off to a good start in 2012 but quickly faltered, and the Congresswoman has since stepped down. She hasn’t ruled out a second Presidential run, but she’s very much an outsider. Carly Fiorina is another Republican woman who’s expressed interest, but she couldn’t even manage to get elected to the Senate from her home state of California, so she would also be an outsider. New Mexico’s governor Susana Martinez is perhaps the only other woman on the GOP side capable of mounting a campaign, but she doesn’t even figure in opinion polling in crucial early states like Iowa and New Hampshire. So is Sarah Palin the GOP’s only chance to put a woman on the ballot?

In an age where the Democrats are using a “divide-and-conquer” style of politics, it’s important for the GOP to appear inclusive. However, nominating a woman purely on gender grounds has the potential to be catastrophic if she is not well qualified to be President. Obama is a case in point for this kind of mistake. There were many who voted for him because “it was time” for a black American to hold the country’s top job. But racial and gender factors are entirely irrelevant in determining whether or not a candidate is capable of actually doing the job – and many would argue that in some areas, particularly foreign policy, Obama’s inexperience and naivety have been a very high price to pay for electing the country’s first black President. So would nominating a woman like Sarah Palin be risking compounding the mistake of the Obama years?

Hillary Clinton’s claims of Presidential experience are somewhat stronger since 2012, but were positively weak in 2008. Being the First Lady shouldn’t even count as experience, and a few years as a Senator from a state she moved to specifically to get elected to the Senate doesn’t help much, either. Even as early as 2000 when she made that run for the Senate she clearly had her eye on the White House. Her time as Secretary of State, however, does help her a lot. For arguably the first time in her career she has something that’s fully her own. Now we all know her tenure at State wasn’t stellar, but that’s something to be debated during the campaign. The point is she has something to work from. Sarah Palin’s tenure as governor of Alaska is great from the point of view of executive experience, but in 2008 it was widely attacked by a hostile media as being unimportant or irrelevant compared to running the country. There’s no reason to think those accusations will go away, and indeed they will be compounded by her sudden resignation from that post a few years ago.

And what has Mrs Palin done since? Well she’s rallied the Tea Party, campaigned for candidates, raised money, toured around the country on behalf of the GOP. But those are the actions of a career politician, a partly loyalist, not the DC outsider she would like to be portrayed as. In short, a few short years as governor of Alaska, and a failed 2008 VP run, followed by more years on a perpetual campaign trail won’t look good next to Mrs Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State and a Senator. Peel back the layers and you can see Clinton’s is a record of failure, but the sad truth is many voters don’t look beyond what they see, and what they would see when comparing Palin and Clinton is that Mrs Clinton looks better on the surface. It would take one heck of a campaign team for Sarah Palin to be able to beat Hillary Clinton.

And that’s the kicker – the GOP need to nominate someone capable of defeating Mrs Clinton, not someone who shares her gender and hope the rest of the campaign work will settle itself. That simply will not happen. Ever since 2008, many in the media have been positively drooling at the chance to have Sarah Palin back in the political spotlight so they can attack her over and over again. Much of the criticism may be unfair, and a reasonable person who stopped and thought about it would realise that. However, we all know that elections are usually decided by “low information voters” – an innuendo for the majority of people who are politically switched off until a few days before polling day. Those voters don’t dive into track records or pay much attention to poorly-chosen words at Congressional committee hearings years previously. They look at shiny campaign ads, weigh up each candidate based on likability and perhaps experience. On both counts, Hillary wins. On both counts, it’s because of the media.

Sarah Palin’s biggest enemy in her Presidential ambitions is surely the mainstream media. We all know a majority of journalists and political commentators are firmly in the Democratic Party camp, and will be backing a Clinton campaign, so whoever the GOP nominate is already at a disadvantage, but nominating Sarah Palin would compound that already significant problem because of her own unpopularity – however ill-deserved it may be – with such a large section of the media. No candidate can hope to win without at least some support from the media to build on, and unfortunately for Mrs Palin, that support won’t be forthcoming.

There’s also the issue of her recent speech in Iowa, which didn’t go down well with almost anyone listening. Described at best as “rambling”, her 30-something minute speech was designed to garner support in the crucial early voting state, but fell flat and has harmed her campaign before she has even got started. Current opinion polls in Iowa, taken after her speech, put her well down the rankings of potential 2016 candidates, behind the likes of Jeb Bush and Ben Carson. On the Tea Party front, Senator Ted Cruz has overtaken her as the front-runner from that wing of the party.

Sarah Palin speaking at a recent event in Iowa.

Sarah Palin speaking at a recent event in Iowa.

On current form, Sarah Palin would seriously struggle to win the GOP nomination next year. Many of her challengers have more experience, greater nationwide popularity, and a better-developed network of fundraisers and supporters. It would be helpful for the GOP if she were to run, if only for the appearance of inclusiveness in another election which may be about electing the “first” of something, but not essential. Hillary Clinton’s record is well-known, and whoever the GOP nominate should be able to tear into the fiction that she is a well-suited President-in-waiting. It is also highly unlikely that Mrs Palin would secure the VP slot. It seems particularly likely that the GOP’s nominee would select a woman as their running mate, but as Paul Ryan, and indeed Mrs Palin herself proved, there’s no reason why that person needs to be someone currently with the standing to mount a Presidential campaign of their own. Mia Love, perhaps? Just putting that out there.

Does Ben Carson have the right prescription for America?

Dr Ben Carson, a former paediatric neurosurgeon, first hit the headlines for the way he tackled President Obama over Obamacare. Since he first made those comments in 2013, many have pressured him to make a Presidential run in 2016, believing his outsider status would make him an excellent candidate. Recent polling seems to give some truth to that opinion, as he placed ahead of party heavyweights like Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz in recent polls in the key State of Iowa.

Retired pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr Ben Carson.

Retired pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr Ben Carson.

Someone like Dr Carson would be the preferred candidate of many of the Founding Fathers. This isn’t an evaluation of policy or personality, but simply background. The reason why the United States didn’t become a monarchy is because those revolutionary thinkers, products of the Age of Enlightenment, believed that power should not be something inherited, nor even something coveted, but something awarded to those who have proven themselves to be genuinely outstanding leaders in their fields. George Washington would not look kindly on the likes of career politicians like Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, who, skilled though they may be in their own ways, lacked any kind of outside experience. To the Founding Fathers, the Presidency was just another form of public service, something to be undertaken after a successful career in some other area, and for a brief period of time, not something to devote one’s life to. They would have looked scornfully on such career politicians as a kind of aristocratic class.

If we look at both parties’ prospective candidates, career politicians are pretty much all that we see. Some may have been out of office for a while, like Jeb Bush, Sarah Palin, or Hillary Clinton, but they are nevertheless politicians by vocation, and many of them have spent years or even decades coveting the Oval Office. Dr Carson isn’t such a figure. While he may have harboured a wish to be President during his many years at Johns Hopkins, he certainly made no moves in that direction. He came out of nowhere after his retirement from that distinguished position and took many political commentators and even those within the GOP by surprise. A Carson Presidency would be the closest thing to a return to the founders’ intentions that the United States has seen since the Presidencies of Ulysses S. Grant in the 1870s, or Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s.

That would be a good move for the country. One of the most repeated complaints is that politicians “don’t get” the real world. Why should someone with no experience in, for example, the teaching field be appointed to make government education policy? It doesn’t make sense. Positions on committees and especially within the cabinet were intended to be filled by the best people available to perform the role in question. People who had a deep understanding of what their department does, what it’s supposed to do, and the issues at hand. Nobody could possibly argue that Hillary Clinton was the best-qualified person to become Secretary of State in 2009. It was a political appointment, no doubt part of a backroom deal Obama made to secure her support and, more importantly perhaps, her husband’s support in the 2008 campaign. And let’s not even start on John Kerry, whose knowledge of international affairs is atrocious at best.

Dr Ben Carson could put a stop to that kind of political nepotism and restore the Presidency to its proper standing. But he won’t, and for one simple reason. He can’t win the nomination.

Right now he’s holding his own against the likes of Bush, Christie, and Paul, but when the campaign starts in earnest, Dr Carson is at an immediate and very serious disadvantage. Ironically, the reasons why he would make such an excellent President are going to be the reasons why he will never win. He lacks any kind of experience in the political arena. He will have to deal firstly with the mudslinging that will inevitably happen in the wide-open GOP primaries, but also the underhanded moves and backroom deals which don’t always hit the headlines. And on top of all that, he’ll have to face the voting public telling them that he has no real experience of domestic or foreign policy. All he’s got are ideas, and that won’t be good enough for most voters.

Experience is one way voters, especially primary voters, look at candidates. Remember Hillary’s famous “2am phone call” advert back in 2008? It was designed to play on exactly that feeling. And before anyone gets upset and tells me that Hillary lost that campaign, or that Obama was badly inexperienced, remember that Obama had exactly the kind of experience needed to win a campaign. I’ve often described his charisma as “empty”, but on the campaign trail that doesn’t matter. And as a man who had spent almost his entire adult life working in the political arena, he knew how to form the kind of political alliances and conceal from voters that lack of experience in the real world that would’ve hurt him. Picking Joe Biden as his running mate was a smart move, because the long-serving Senator was supposedly something of a foreign policy whiz, and the benefits of Obama’s sudden friendship with the Clinton clan is obvious. So when GOP primary voters look at their candidates in 2016, what are they going to see? Chris Christie has executive experience, and an ability to work across the aisle in a Blue State. Jeb Bush has executive experience and more importantly could help carry Florida, vital to any Republican’s 2016 strategy. Scott Walker and Rick Perry both have executive experience as governors, and even someone like Sarah Palin can make claims on having solid foundations on which to build should she be elected to the Presidency. Dr Carson and his campaign would face the monumental task of having to explain to voters how experience in the medical field would translate over to governing the country. And in an awful lot of cases, that will be an impossible task. Many simply lack the attention span or interest to understand how being a surgeon is comparable to running the country.

Right now, Carson’s high poll numbers come from his outsider status and his popularity with conservatives. But they won’t hold. As the race gets started this year, with announcements from party heavyweights to come and an increase in media scrutiny, Dr Carson’s campaign will falter. The sad fact is that most voters would rather opt for a candidate that has some kind of political background, and some kind of experience within the executive or legislative field. As he doesn’t have that, Dr Carson is very much a long-shot candidate.

Overcomplicating Things

Don’t you just hate bureaucracy? It seems that almost everyone does, well, everyone except for politicians, that is. If there’s one thing a politician is good at it’s overcomplicating something which should be simple.

In Britain right now, a debate is rumbling on about the future of devolution. Scotland held a referendum in September of last year in which a substantial majority of voters opted to stay in the United Kingdom, but only after politicians in the UK had promised further powers to the devolved Scottish parliament. This kicked up something of a storm in England, where allegations of unfairness were levelled at the British parliament. How, it was asked, could Scottish Members of Parliament be allowed to have a say over important matters like taxation, healthcare, or education policy when these matters only affected English people? That is a seriously unfair situation, because Scottish MPs could (and indeed many would, for political reasons) support tax hikes, spending cuts, and other unpopular measures knowing that their constituents would be exempt, and by extension, exempt them from criticism.

The answer is ridiculously simple. All MPs should be allowed to participate in debates, just as they are allowed to participate in debates on matters concerning a single town or single constituency. But when it comes time to vote on matters which only concern England, only English MPs (or English and Welsh MPs if the issue also effects Wales) should be allowed to vote.

But the proposals brought forward by the current coalition government (though admittedly, with less than 100 days to go before the next General Election this may be more of a campaign pledge than an actual policy) are anything but simple. Instead of “English votes for English laws”, what is proposed is yet another level of parliamentary bureaucracy. A “grand committee” of English MPs would meet separately from the main parliament to consider any piece of legislation which would effect only England after it had been approved by the responsible department committee. If it met with their approval, the bill would then proceed to the House of Commons where all MPs – including those from Scotland – would have a vote.

The disappointing thing is that this silly proposal is the brainchild of the otherwise sensible and well-respected former Conservative Party leader William Hague, a man on the verge of retiring from the Commons after many years as an MP. How someone like Hague could come up with such a plan is beyond me, especially when such a simple solution was right there. Overcomplicating things doesn’t work. In its current form, this proposal will add financial and time costs to any piece of legislation, instead of streamlining the process, and it fails in its overall ambition in that Scottish MPs could still in theory derail any piece of legislation intended for England.

The UK needs to address its one-sided federal framework. While almost nobody there would be in favour of more bureaucracy and more politicians, if the UK wishes to continue to act like a federation of semi-independent states, then each state must be treated equally within that framework, and that means a separate English parliament on a par with the one in Scotland. That means each constituent country having equal powers, not one having tax-raising powers while the others don’t.

This newly-opened can of worms is the legacy of former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, who resigned from that position after being roundly defeated in September’s referendum. But he now wants to get back into politics and is seeking a seat in, would you believe it, Westmister at the next election. Do English people want a rotten little man like Salmond being able to vote on taxation and spending policies which are only valid in England? Who knows, maybe he’d try to take advantage of that situation to “punish” England for whatever historical wrong he feels like on the day. Prime Minister David Cameron promised that increased devolution to Scotland could only progress if there were a solution to the problem of Scottish MPs voting on English matters at Westminster. This silly proposal is not an effective solution to that issue.

Christie, Paul, Clinton, and the Vaccine Debate

Hillary Clinton couldn’t resist attacking two of her GOP rivals for the Presidency on Twitter yesterday, following remarks from Chris Christie and Rand Paul regarding vaccinations. A decline in vaccine use in some areas, fuelled by baseless fears about autism, has seen a recurrence of preventable diseases like measles. Hillary’s snide twitter post using the hash-tag “vaccineswork” may have been sarcastic in tone and unhelpful to the debate as a whole, but did she miss the point?

Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie.

Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie.

Chris Christie is in the UK this week, and after visiting a research lab there was asked about vaccines. Christie took a sensible stance, saying that, while he had vaccinated his own children, it was not strictly a matter for the government to mandate vaccinations. In this regard it’s the same as safety belts in cars – we all know that it’s safer to buckle up, but is it the government’s place to enforce that safety on citizens? Don’t we have a choice? In the safety belt example, if I’m hopping in the car to drive two minutes to the shops and decide to risk not wearing my belt, that’s my prerogative. It’s my car, and my risk to take. There’s no threat to anyone else, so if I choose not to buckle up that’s on me.

There is a difference between winning an argument and forcing someone to comply. In the case of vaccinations, the government could in theory force parents to have their children vaccinated, but that would be heavy-handed and unnecessary. What the government and pro-vaccine campaigners need to do is win the argument and make the choice an easy one. If the government goes on the offensive and enforces a vaccination programme, it leaves itself open not merely to charges of overextending its authority, but to accusations from already-sceptical parents that there is some kind of evil conspiracy behind the vaccinations. In short, enforcement doesn’t work.

There are some less-severe things the government can do to encourage vaccinations. For example, pupils could be refused places in most public schools if they were unvaccinated. This policy would not prevent die-hard conspiracy theorists from refusing to vaccinate, but it would make it a lot more difficult for them – and essentially forcing them to homeschool would keep their unvaccinated and therefore at-risk children out of circulation and therefore less likely to pick up or transmit diseases. So Chris Christie seems to have got the vaccination policy spot-on: vaccinations are good, they work, and they’re the right thing to do, but it’s not the government’s place to strip that choice away from parents.

Senator from Kentucky Rand Paul.

Senator from Kentucky Rand Paul.

Rand Paul, on the other hand, comes off sounding rather foolish, especially for someone trained in the medical profession. Paul seemed to imply the dreaded link between vaccinations and autism – a link which study after study has failed to find. In short, Rand Paul was wrong on the facts of the debate, and by spewing out such nonsense is contributing to the problem of declining vaccinations. It was unfortunate that his comments and Christie’s coincided, because there’s a world of difference between the two standpoints, but one that the Hillary-supporting media will ignore. Christie will be associated with Paul’s idiocy, and his sensible stance on vaccinations lost in a reinvigorated debate between pro- and anti-vaccination campaigners. Hillary’s sarcastic twitter outburst won’t have helped, either.

Once the campaign really gets going, I hope we can hear more from the Christie camp about sensible healthcare policies. If this is anything to go by, he’s got the balance about right.