The last week has given us a crash course on why voters feel so cynical about politics. And, no, I am not talking about the anti-establishment venom reflected in the Brexit vote and the impending Donald Trump nomination.
Let’s start with the Supreme Court, hobbled by a missing justice due to Republican obstinance. It didn’t matter Monday when the eight justices unanimously overturned the conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell for what most citizens would regard as bribery.
Writing for the entire court, Chief Justice John Roberts declared, “There is no doubt that this case is distasteful; it may be worse than that. But our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes and ball gowns.”
In the eyes of the Supreme Court, “worse than distasteful” is not a crime. Since Virginia at the time conveniently lacked any gift ban for governors, McDonnell gets off the hook for doing favors for a dubious diet supplement company in exchange for tokens of friendship like a much-needed Rolex and an Oscar de la Renta inaugural ballgown for his wife.
Florida is usually a good state for those tempted to scorn politicians. And last week, Sen. Marco Rubio didn’t disappoint. After ballyhooing his unhappiness with life in the Senate during the presidential primaries, Wrong Way Rubio reversed field last week and announced that — surprise — he would be running for reelection.
Florida Democrats are in no position to chortle.
An investigative report by CBS4 in Miami found that the establishment’s favored Senate candidate, 33-year-old Rep. Patrick Murphy, had wildly inflated his sketchy resume. Murphy, it turns out, was not a Florida-licensed CPA nor did he advise Fortune 500 companies. And despite campaign trail boasts, Murphy’s work helping clean up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was close to non-existent.
Rep. Alan Grayson is the other major Democrat in the Aug. 30 Senate primary. He is such a braying say-anything-to-get-attention partisan that Grayson may actually be that rare public figure who is too loud for cable TV. And Grayson is currently under an ethics investigation for running, while in the House, a hedge fund based in the Cayman Islands — a locale routinely ridiculed in Democratic attack ads.
All this brings us to Trump, that paragon of intellectual seriousness and policy heft. In rambling interviews while he was touring his Scottish golf courses over the weekend, the highly likely GOP nominee pulled back from many of the extreme positions he took during the primaries.
Banning all Muslim visitors to this country? Well, not exactly, said the bilious billionaire, who now claims he’s only concerned with unspecified “terrorist countries.”
No trade deals? That’s so yesterday. Trump told Bloomberg News, “I like the idea of making deals with individual countries.” By the way, the hated NAFTA was merely a three-way deal with Canada and Mexico.
Mass deportations of undocumented immigrants? Nah, nothing like that. For Trump now brags, “I will have the biggest heart of anybody.”
(Trump, a Yankee fan, may not remember the song “Heart ” from the musical “Damn Yankees.” Especially the lyrics that fit his plummeting poll numbers: “When the odds are sayin’ you’ll never win/That’s when the grin should start.”)
Since Trump’s policy pronouncements are stream-of-consciousness literature, it is almost impossible to tell what, if anything, he really believes. But if you were a voter inspired by the stark clarity of Trump’s views during the primaries then you may be in for a bitter surprise. Because that may turn out to the “Primaries Only” model, now replaced by the “General Election” update.
Trump — who hailed the Brexit as good for his business interests — should be a bit troubled by what has happened since the vote, assuming someone has bothered to brief him.
With the pound plunging and the stock market devastated, the remnants of the British ruling class are, in effect, shouting, “Please, let’s not be hasty here.” With Scotland teetering on the edge of another independence referendum and Northern Ireland talking of uniting with the Republic of Ireland, panicked politicians are concocting schemes to make the Brexit vote an empty symbolic gesture.
British voters, who believe that the European Union is a repository of all evil, may soon be cynically grousing about how their votes were discarded by the London establishment who never intended to allow a fair referendum.
Against this backdrop of trans-Atlantic disdain for the voters, Hillary Clinton exudes a different kind of cynicism. She can act as if normal rules do not apply to her (the home brew email server) and be grasping about money (the Goldman Sachs speeches).
But she also takes policy seriously.
No one is going to feel betrayed by her issue stances in the White House. Voters should know what they’re getting: Clinton (like her husband) is a center-left Democrat who is closer to Wall Street than the Bernie Brigades would like. And she is a moderate hawk who is more interventionist than many Barack Obama supporters would prefer. On domestic policy, she is an incrementalist who is also concerned with the budget deficit.
Few would call this cautious positioning thrilling. But it is also in keeping with who she is — and who she has been. And these days, there is much to be said for consistency.
Roll Call columnist Walter Shapiro is a veteran of Politics Daily, USA Today, Time, Newsweek and the Washington Post. His book on his con-man great-uncle was just published: “Hustling Hitler: The Jewish Vaudevillian Who Fooled the Fuhrer.” Follow him on Twitter @MrWalterShapiro.
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