Per­son­al­ity, pol­icy ex­per­tise open to de­bate

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - Jonah Gold­berg is syn­di­cated by Tri­bune Me­dia Ser­vices. Jonah Gold­berg The Na­tional Re­view

To­day we will see Hillary Clin­ton bat­tle Don­ald Trump in their first pres­i­den­tial de­bate.

It’s dif­fi­cult to cap­ture the oth­er­world­li­ness of it all. Most of the com­men­tary cen­ters around Trump — and for good rea­son. He’s the X fac­tor. Some see him as a bril­liant, me­dia-savvy dis­rup­tor, shak­ing the foun­da­tion of the po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment. Oth­ers see him as a Rodney Danger­field-es­que char­ac­ter (with a touch of Peter Sell­ers’ Chauncey Gard­ner) who man­aged to bluff his way onto the na­tional stage, de­mand­ing re­spect. And that barely scratches the sur­face. Be­tween friends and foes the de­scrip­tions get more ridicu­lous by the hour. He’s Cincin­na­tus, he’s Hitler, he’s Rea­gan, he’s “or­ange Mup­pet Hitler” (in the words of some celebri­ties), he’s Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton, he’s some other kind of Hitler. And so on.

But it’s worth re­mem­ber­ing that Clin­ton, in her own ex­cru­ci­at­ingly dull, grat­ing and pedan­tic way, has long been a larger-thanlife fig­ure, too. It may not seem like it given that she of­ten sounds like a lun­cheon speaker at a con­fer­ence of in­sur­ance in­dus­try ac­tu­ar­ies. But if you were a stu­dent of the lady, you’d know that the flinty de­meanor is widely be­lieved to be a tightly man­aged ve­neer, hid­ing a thor­oughly ide­o­log­i­cal, some­what para­noid and testy woman.

One needn’t credit all of the wild ru­mors and al­le­ga­tions about lamp throw­ing, hurled ex­ple­tives and petty re­venge-seek­ing to still be­lieve that there’s more to Clin­ton than the re­lent­less stream of clichés and plat­i­tudes that she spouts with metro­nomic monotony.

She clearly has the abil­ity to elicit loy­alty from very pow­er­ful peo­ple (and to be­queath power to very loyal peo­ple) with­out hav­ing to make them sign nondis­clo­sure agree­ments the way her op­po­nent does. That alone sug­gests there’s some­thing more to her than meets the eye. Her sup­port­ers, in fact, in­sist that’s the case: that the real Hillary is like a ver­dant oa­sis of wit and charm hid­den in the vast desert of her pub­lic per­sona. To bor­row a phrase from The Who, the Hillary we see is an em­i­nence front, a put-on.

In­trigu­ingly, this is al­most the mir­ror ver­sion of what many of Trump’s big­gest fans say about him, ex­cept they claim that the blus­ter and bul­ly­ing, the stunted, ill-fit­ted vo­cab­u­lary and seem­ingly bone-dry reser­voir of pol­icy ex­per­tise is what you might call an ev­ery­man front.

He may talk like a Joe Six­pack work­ing one of his con­struc­tions sites, but un­der­neath — al­legedly — is one of the most clever and shrewd busi­ness­men ever to walk the earth, play­ing chess 10 moves ahead.

The po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tants no doubt have a long to-do list for each of them. Clin­ton has al­most cer­tainly com­mit­ted to mem­ory a whole cat­a­log of nec­es­sary mi­cropan­ders to spe­cific con­stituen­cies and de­mo­graph­ics (left-handed 19-year-old Asian-Amer­i­can di­a­betic English ma­jors at­tend­ing com­mu­nity col­lege, etc.). And it seems a sure bet that Trump cam­paign man­ager Kellyanne Con­way has en­deav­ored to im­press upon her can­di­date the im­por­tance of be­ing on his best be­hav­ior.

The first de­bate — there will be three, and then, if prophe­cies hold true, the rivers turn to blood — will prob­a­bly be fought de­fen­sively. Both are suf­fi­ciently un­pop­u­lar with vot­ers out­side their re­spec­tive bases that each is prob­a­bly most fear­ful (or should be) of push­ing un­de­cid­eds away with a gaffe.

But looked at more broadly, the most re­mark­able thing is how Clin­ton’s weak­nesses mir­ror Trump’s strengths, and vice versa.

Trump’s big­gest vul­ner­a­bil­ity is that vot­ers are wor­ried about his tem­per­a­ment and in­tel­lec­tual grasp of the rel­e­vant is­sues. If he can demon­strate a frac­tion of Clin­ton’s pol­icy chops and steadi­ness, it would go very, very far to re­as­sure doubters. Clin­ton’s most sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge is to con­vince vot­ers that un­der­neath the an­i­ma­tronic fa­cade (and rep­u­ta­tion for dis­hon­esty) there’s a real per­son in there.

Th­ese are, es­sen­tially, mir­ror prob­lems. No one can deny he’s all per­son­al­ity. Mean­while, she has a seven-point pre­sen­ta­tion ex­plain­ing that she has one.

Pre­dic­tions are fool­ish in this po­lit­i­cally ridicu­lous year. But I think it’s a safe bet that by the time the de­bates are over, both camps will de­clare their can­di­date the win­ner.

Be­yond the mean­ing­less dec­la­ra­tions of vic­tory, Team Clin­ton will likely also in­sist that Clin­ton ex­posed her op­po­nent’s dis­may­ingly shal­low grasp of facts and pol­icy. And, just as likely, Team Trump will shout that their guy pulled the mask off “crooked Hillary” and ex­posed her for the cor­rupt and du­plic­i­tous woman that she is.

Given the aw­ful choices be­fore us, both will prob­a­bly be right.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.