Who Makes Policy Campaign 2016 Edition

Just the Facts–Not



The director of the CIA is supposed to stay out of the policy advice business. (Whether they actually keep to that behind closed doors is unlikely.) So it is extraordinary to see John Brennan –in an interview with the BBC reported in the Times–publicly warning the next president against cozying up to Vladimir Putin, reinstating waterboarding, or tearing up the Iran nuclear accord which he said would be “the height of folly” and “disastrous.”

(In other words, he told President-elect Trump to drop nearly every one of his declared national security positions.)

The DCI, who is on his way out the door, was careful not to attribute this wrong headedness to malign intent. Instead he suggested that the incoming Trumpsters have been working on faulty intelligence:

“There are a lot of people out there who read the papers and listened to news broadcasts where the facts may be a bit — you know — off.  And so I want to make sure the new team understands what the reality is. It ultimately will be up to them to decide how to carry out their responsibilities.”

Maybe they would pay more attention if he tweeted his advice.

Alt-Right Lite White House



President-elect Donald Trump announced today that RNC Chairman Reince Priebus will be his chief of staff. But more important, he announced that Steve Bannon–former head of Breitbart News and CEO of the Trump campaign–will be his chief strategist.

Bannon’s work at Breitbart has been described as “Alt-Right Lite,” but that shouldn’t make it any more tolerable. The racist, anti-semitic, homophobic messages are all there.  Now we know they will be sullying the White House.

This August profile of Bannon from Vanity Fair quotes a former Breitbart employee describing him as “Donald Trump but more intelligent.” It goes on to say:

 He didn’t mean it as a compliment, and was instead referring to the opportunism, the personal vindictiveness, and the lack of a moral center that have become defining characteristics of Trump.


Boris, Natasha and Obama’s Options


Late last week the Obama administration went public, formally accusing Russia of hacking the US elections. So what happens now?   This news analysis in Sunday’s Times lays out some of President Obama’s options. Well worth a read, especially as you think about your final policy options memo. Aides are paid to give their bosses a range of choices–while honestly laying out the pros, cons and uncertainties of each.

Wild and Crazy Bill




Michael Kinsley–a truly brilliant commentator–once defined a gaffe as when a politician tells the truth. Former President Bill Clinton committed just that on Monday when he said this about the ACA:

“So you’ve got this crazy system where all of a sudden 25 million more people have health care and then the people who are out there busting it, sometimes 60 hours a week, wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half. It’s the craziest thing in the world.” 

He clarified his remarks on Tuesday, when he said Obamacare had done “a world of good,” despite its problems. And it has. But like all enormous programs–government or private–it needs testing and reform. And the GOP-controlled Congress has refused to consider anything except its demand for repeal.

We will be discussing the origin and possible future of the ACA in Thursday’s class. Before we meet, read this piece in this week’s Times on some of the changes the “ailing” ACA may need to make to survive.

The Way They Do the Things They Do



There is no comparison between Trump’s ethical challenges and that of the Clintons. The Clintons have a lifetime of public service and their Foundation–unlike Trump’s–has done an enormous amount of good in the world. But it is important to remind ourselves why so many Americans say they mistrust Secretary Clinton. Here’s my review from last weekend’s Washington Post of Joe Conason’s book on Bill Clinton’s post-POTUS adventures. While Conason is a serial enabler of Clinton-world, his attempts to justify their more dubious actions tell you a lot about why they keep tripping themselves up.

Trump–Here Today Gone Tomorrow? (Fingers Crossed)



An intriguing piece in the New Yorker argues that we may be overstating the lasting impact of Trump or the persistence of the sociological forces behind his campaign. Worth a read and a hope.

But there is another explanation for the limitations of the Trump phenomenon: that it was shaped by the specific circumstances of the Presidency—as the first black President leaves office and the prospect of the first female President draws nearer—as much as by a more general malaise.

Must See TV

If you’re feeling bombarded by empty calorie campaign ads, here are a few classics from the past that are must see political TV (and one that never made it to the screen).

Daisy, by the Johnson campaign, is the most famous attack ad of all times. It only ran once.


Confessions of a Republican, also targeting Goldwater in the 1964 campaign, could run today if anyone had the attention span to listen at this length.


I like Ike could have been made by the Disney JV team.


Any Questions  Of the 13 people featured who said they had “served with John Kerry,” only one actually did. If you’ve heard the term “swiftboating,” this is it.

The Willie Horton ad was the racist masterpiece of Lee Atwater, the modern father of dirty campaigning.


Morning in America for Ronald Reagan sounds like it’s pitching margarine or beef for dinner (is that the same narrator?). But it worked.


Way back in 2008, there were still questions about whether Hillary Rodham Clinton, or any woman, could pass the ‘commander-in-chief test’. 3 AM was supposed to set those to rest–“It’s 3 AM. Who do you want answering the phone?”–while implicitly attacking Barack Obama’s lack of foreign policy experience. (Of course, at the time her 3 AM experience came primarily from being a First Lady. But never mind.)


This 4 1/2 minute ad for Gerry Ford never ran, as the Times recounts today. It’s chilling references to the Kennedy assassination, contrasted with upbeat marching band music, was horrifying to focus groups. Check out his red shirt.

Laughter attacking Spiro Agnew (look him up if you don’t know who he is) is about as meta as you can get. They could have run it against Sarah Palin or Trump as well.


Vlad and Boris singing “Mrs. Palin” is, of course, my favorite– even if it isn’t a political ad and they aren’t Russians. And here’s their background (I think) according to one of their professors.