Our American Discourse, Ep. 8: Who’s Really in Charge? Government Bureaucracy Under Attack

Bureaucracy is so boring. The word is just dripping with lethargy. Who cares? Not you, right? Well then, you’re in for an unwelcome surprise because the people who run our government from day to day aren’t the ones you voted for. They’re the bureaucracy, and the very survival of our democracy depends on them. They execute the laws of this nation, and lately they’ve been doing it without supportive leadership, without the trust of the public, without a voice.

In this episode, William Resh is their voice, and we would be wise to listen.

Prof. Resh is an assistant professor at the Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California. His recent book, Rethinking the Administrative Presidency: Trust, Intellectual Capital, and Appointee-Careerist Relations in the George W. Bush Administration, was published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2015.

To listen to this episode of Our American Discourse, click the orange arrow in the Soundcloud player at the top of this post. Or you can download it and subscribe through iTunes, Soundcloud, or Google Play.

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“Our American Discourse” is produced by Aubrey HicksJonathan Schwartz, and myself, and mixed by Corey and Ryan Hedden.

Letter to a Trump Supporter #8: Hillary Clinton’s Character

This is the eighth in my series of “Letters to a Trump Supporter,” from correspondence with a family friend who supports Mr. Trump.

With two days left in this election season, I will dedicate my last two letters to the issue that has attracted the most attention in the race: the character of the candidates. Today, I will begin with Hillary Clinton.

My interlocutor sent me a series of “debate questions“ that Rush Limbaugh wanted to ask Secretary Clinton, along with a couple other conspiracy theories that are floating around the Internet.

Below is my response.

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Dear Mr. ——,

Thanks for sending this list of questions. Obviously, I don’t know how Hillary Clinton would answer them, but I can tell you what I would say if I were her:

(1.) When you were Secretary of State, why did you let a Russian company purchase half of the United States uranium reserves?

The Secretary of State cannot veto foreign purchases of American companies. Only the President has that power.

The deal you’re referring to, I assume, is when the Russian company JSC Atomoredzoloto purchased Uranium One, a Canadian firm. Their U.S. reserves account for 20 percent of America’s uranium production capacity, not “half.”

If you’re worried that Russia will somehow use that uranium to build bombs, they can’t. They’re not allowed to export it. It stays here, and we continue to regulate it as before. That’s why nine government agencies and two independent regulatory agencies approved the deal.

(2.) How much money was donated by Russian companies to your Foundation?

How much money has Donald Trump made in Russia? I’ll answer yours when he answers mine. All he has to do is release his tax records like I’ve done

If you’re implying that Russian donations were bribes, you’ll be relieved to learn that my Foundation has been thoroughly investigated by the press, and there has been no evidence of corruption.

The Trump Foundation, in contrast, actually has engaged in corrupt behavior. Donald Trump used $250,000 from his Foundation for personal business disputes. They conveniently forgot to register with the State of New York, leading to an investigation by the Attorney General. And the Trump Organization is actively expanding into the Middle East, Ukraine, and…surprise, surprise: Russia.

Somehow no one ever asks Donald Trump about all the profits he’s planning to reap in Russia. All they care about is the money I raised to help sick kids in Africa.

Maybe that explains why Mr. Trump has professed his admiration for Vladimir Putin, why he hired a campaign manager who advised the top Putin ally in Ukraine, why his foreign policy advisor on Russia has spent a career working with their oil and gas companies, and why Mr. Putin’s media outlets are actively supporting Mr. Trump.

Given all those facts, maybe you can identify the author of this quote: “Russians make up a disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

You think it was me? Or maybe my husband? Or my daughter?

Nope. It was Donald Trump Jr.

(3.) When you worked for the State Department, how did you conduct Secret Classified business without using a secure email server?

Because I was careless. Out of tens of thousands of emails that the FBI investigated, they only found three with classification markers. They concluded that there’s no evidence that I intentionally mishandled the information.

In hindsight, it was a mistake to follow Colin Powell’s advice to use a private email account. I assume Donald Trump plans to thoroughly investigate Secretary Powell’s private emails if he is elected president.

(4.) What kind of assault weapons were you funneling through Benghazi to ISIS in Syria before Ambassador Stevens was murdered?

We didn’t funnel arms through Benghazi to ISIS. We funneled them through our ally Qatar to Libyan rebels to overthrow the murderous dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi, the exact same strategy that Republican administrations have been using for decades. Perhaps you recall the Iran-Contra scandal orchestrated by Ronald Reagan?

But I digress. We eventually learned that Qatar was giving some of the arms to Islamic militants, and we urged them not to do so.

It’s basically impossible to prevent this from happening, though, since there are Islamic militants on both sides of most fights.

Either you work with them to defeat your enemies, or you retreat from the Middle East entirely. Donald Trump would face the exact same problem if he wanted to, in his words, “utterly destroy ISIS.”

(5.) When you left the White House after your husband’s last term as president, why did you steal $200,000 worth of furniture, China, and artwork that you were forced to return?

We didn’t steal anything. We returned some gifts when the National Park Service decided that they were gifts to the government, not to us, although they were donated during my husband’s administration.

(6.) When you were Secretary of State, why did you solicit contributions from foreign governments for the Clinton Foundation after you promised President Obama you would not?

I never made such a promise, and there’s no evidence that I solicited contributions from foreign governments while I was Secretary of State. The Foundation did receive foreign contributions at the time, but I was not involved.

(8.) Why do you and your husband claim to contribute millions of dollars to charity for a tax write-off when it goes to your family foundation that gives out less than 15% of the funds you collect, and you use the balance to support yourself tax-free?

Unlike Donald Trump, I don’t use my charity to “support myself.” So, you just made that up.

And my family foundation does not give “out less than 15% of the funds“ it collects. That’s a lie too.

You really want to talk about who runs their foundation better? Alright, you asked for it…

Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities based on financial health and accountability/transparency, gives the Clinton Foundation their highest rating. Charity Watch, a similar organization that uses an A-F scale, gives the Clinton Foundation an “A.” Guidestar, yet another nonprofit watchdog, awarded the Clinton Foundation with its “transparency seal.”

The Trump Foundation, on the other hand, doesn’t even qualify for such ratings. Why? Because, as Guidestar says, “the Trump Foundation’s approach would certainly not meet the standard of focused, proactive grant making.”

Oh, and for what it’s worth, Guidestar also says, “the Clinton family has — at least over the last several years — donated more money (and at a far higher proportion of their wealth) than the Trump family.”

(9.) Why are you unable to account for $6 billion of State Department funds that seem to have disappeared while you were Secretary of State?

We were not “unable to account for $6 billion.” The Inspector General found that the contract files were incomplete. He specifically wrote a letter to the editor of the Washington Post to clarify the misconception. None of the money is missing. Some of the paperwork was just inadequate, a problem that happens in every large organization in the world.

(10.) Why did you say you were broke when you left the White House, but you purchased a $2 million home, built an addition for the Secret Service, and charge the taxpayers of the United States rent in an amount equal to the entire mortgage?

I should not have said “dead broke.” That was a regrettable phrase, though not as offensive as when Donald Trump bragged about profiting from American families losing their homes in the last recession.

What I meant was that our liabilities exceeded our assets, meaning we were technically insolvent because we were deeply in debt. The only reason we got a mortgage was because the bank knew we would earn more income after we left the White House.

We have never charged the taxpayers any rent. That’s a ridiculous lie. On the contrary, the Secret Service offered to pay rent, as is customary in these situations, and we refused to take it.

(11.) How is it that your daughter, Chelsea, can afford to buy a $10.5 million apartment in New York City shortly after you left the White House?

Chelsea and her husband bought the apartment thirteen years after we left the White House, not “shortly after.” She has earned a six-figure salary at NBC News, as have George W. Bush’s daughter Jenna (at NBC News) and John McCain’s daughter Megan (at MSNBC and Fox News). But most of their $15 million net worth comes from her husband, who is a successful investment banker.

In other words, they didn’t get any of that money from us…unlike Donald Trump’s children, who are each worth about $150 million thanks to their father’s company.

(12.) Speaking of Chelsea, how is it that her first paying job, in her late 20s, was for more than the salary of the President of the United States? Was there a quid pro quo of any sort involved?

I’m glad you mentioned the salary of the President of the United States. The President earns $400,000. The average Fortune 500 CEO earns $16 million. Since Republicans are always complaining that public workers are overpaid, they should be very proud of the fact that our Presidents have been paid so little compared to their peers, despite managing an organization that is far larger than any Fortune 500 company.

But, to your point, if there was a quid pro quo, it wasn’t a very good one. Harvard’s media experts scoured all the major news reports and found that I received far more negative coverage than any of the other candidates, and Donald Trump’s coverage was unusually positive.

(13.) Why did you lose your law license? Why did your husband lose his?

I didn’t lose my law license. That’s a complete lie. I stopped practicing because I was busy being a U.S. Senator.

My husband’s law license was suspended for lying under oath about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

Of course, Donald Trump has also committed infidelity, and he has lied more than any other presidential candidate in modern history, according to expert fact-checkers.

(14.) Why did you lie to the American people about the terrorist attack in Benghazi but managed to tell the truth to your daughter the same night it happened?

I never lied to the American people about the terrorist attack in Benghazi. You can read the transcripts. I announced the attack that night. I did not confirm who perpetrated the attack. I speculated in an email to my daughter that it might be “an al Qaeda-like group,” but I didn’t have enough information to confirm that speculation to the public until later. This is standard protocol, as well as just being good sense and good morals not to accuse people without solid evidence.

(15.) Why were multiple commando teams given the order to “stand down” when the diplomatic compound was attacked in Benghazi?

There was no “stand down” order. The CIA annex, which was a mile away from the compound, told the security team to wait a half hour until they figured out who was attacking the compound. They didn’t want to accidentally get into a fight with friendly militia, which is a real possibility in these situations. They were not told to “stand down.” That’s a completely different kind of order, where they’re not on alert anymore. They were on alert, they just waited for confirmation that it was an enemy attack. It’s standard protocol.

And to be very clear: It was the CIA annex that made this call, not the White House or the State Department. Neither Barack Obama nor I had been alerted yet. When they did finally call us, we ordered them to do everything in their power to save the Ambassador and his team.

(16.) Why did you ignore pleas from Benghazi for more security? Why did you send Ambassador Chris Stevens into harm’s way?

Why did Ronald Reagan send 800 Marines into harm’s way in Lebanon in 1982? Why did he leave them there after militants bombed the embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people? Why did a Congressional investigation find that “very serious errors in judgment” led to the death of 241 Americans six months later?

Why did George W. Bush ignore multiple warnings that Osama bin Laden was going to attack the United States before 9/11?

And why didn’t Republicans investigate those mistakes as relentlessly as they have investigated Benghazi?

Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House majority leader, gave one answer: “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.”

If you actually want to know the facts, here they are:

First, we actually did make security improvements in the year before the attack.

Second, I didn’t send Ambassador Stevens to Benghazi. According to two former ambassadors, “In-country travel is solely at the discretion of the ambassador, and he did not need to seek Department of State approval.”

And third, the chief counsel of the Republican-led investigation committee said “nothing could have affected what occurred in Benghazi.” He told my counterpart Leon Panetta, the Defense Secretary at the time, “I think you ordered the right forces… I don’t disagree with the actions you took, the recommendations you made, and the decisions you directed.”

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I don’t think there’s any doubt that Hillary Clinton has made mistakes in her career. (Who hasn’t?) But the evidence points in a completely different direction than these lies and character attacks suggest.

That, of course, is how conspiracies get started. They begin with one little grain of truth, especially if it’s a grain of truth that upsets a lot of people, and then they draw ridiculous, false conclusions that people will believe because they want to believe it.

The trick is not to let our beliefs about a person get in the way of judging them fairly based on the facts.

Best regards,
Anthony

Letter to a Trump Supporter #5: Affirmative Action

This is the fifth in my series of “Letters to a Trump Supporter,” from correspondence with a family friend who supports Mr. Trump.

Continuing our conversation about Barack Obama, he sent me a so-called “Newsweek” article blaming affirmative action for the Obama presidency.

Below is my response.

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Dear Mr. ——,

This is an interesting argument. Thank you for sending it. Before addressing it, I should note that it wasn’t published in the reputable Newsweek, but rather on a conservative website called “American Thinker.”

I also don’t think it’s fair to call Newsweek “liberal,” especially without any proof to back it up. It’s not easy to measure media bias, but the economists Tim Groseclose and Jeffrey Milyo came up with a clever way in the one of the top research journals in 2005. They rated each news outlet by how often they cited more conservative or liberal think tanks, where “conservative” or “liberal” was judged based on the legislators they were associated with. They came up with a score of 66 for Newsweek, making them more conservative than Republican Rep. Constance Morella and significantly more conservative than the average Democrat, but more liberal than the average Republican. Basically, middle of the road.

But that’s beside the point. The author, Matt Patterson, makes some astonishingly incorrect claims.

First, it’s not just Barack Obama who hasn’t released his transcripts from college. George W. Bush didn’t release his. John McCain didn’t release his. Donald Trump didn’t release his. Basically, no presidential candidate has done it.

Second, he did not have bad grades in school. On the contrary, he graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, which by the way is how I graduated from UPenn. In fact, his classmates said “he was a natural leader, an impressive student, a nice guy.” One of his professors said he was so smart that the professor once joked, “Barack, I’m teaching this class, not you!”

Third, he did not become president of the Harvard Law Review because of affirmative action. On the contrary, it was the conservatives on the editorial board who swung the election because, as one of them said, “they had a sense that he was more open-minded and would listen to the conservatives, and would value and accept their contributions in a way that some of the other candidates would not.”

And it turns out they were right. “He ended up upsetting many more of his colleagues on the far left than those of us who were on the right,” recalls this particular editor, “in part because the bottom line for him as president of the law review always remained putting out a first-class publication.”

I should note that the editor who said those things went on to work for George W. Bush’s administration. Hardly a biased source.

Fourth, it’s false that he “authored no signature legislation as legislator.” He crossed the aisle to co-sponsor the Lugar-Obama Act with Republican Sen. Richard Lugar to help our allies detect and interdict illegal shipments of weapons of mass destruction. He also joined with Republican Sen. Tom Coburn to sponsor the Coburn-Obama Transparency Act, which created a website to show Americans how all their money is being spent. He contributed key provisions to the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, prohibiting lobbyists from flying Congress members on corporate jets for free and requiring them to disclose bundled campaign contributions. All three bills were signed into law by George W. Bush.

So, the truth is actually the opposite of what Patterson claims: Barack Obama was a high achiever for many years in multiple facets of life before he ran for president.

When you think about it, it’s pretty surprising that anyone would question his intellect. We all watch him on TV, and we hear how thoughtful, poised, and articulate he is — to the point that many Republicans have criticized him for being too professorial. He quotes the great philosophers off the top of his head. He never loses his temper, never engages in name-calling, always tries to see a problem from multiple angles.

In all these ways, he is the type of man I was raised to be — by my father and all the men I grew up around, including you.

The thing that amazes me the most, though, is that Patterson thinks any of these things is evidence of “affirmative action.” After all, he could make the exact same argument about plenty of white presidential candidates. George H. W. Bush, Dan Quayle, George W. Bush, and John McCain were all terrible students. Did they become successful because of affirmative action?

Well, actually, in part, they did. See, the thing we often forget is that black Americans were prohibited from occupying most high-paying professions until a few decades ago, and racial discrimination persists to this day. Experiments, statistical analyses, and surveys all show that employerslenders, and voters are less likely to choose a black person, even if they are slightly more qualified, than a white person.

Less likely, not more likely. Affirmative action exists, and has existed for centuries, but it’s been in favor of whites, not blacks.

Funny how Matt Patterson never wrote about that problem.

Best regards,
Anthony

Letter to a Trump Supporter #4: Barack Obama’s Christian Faith

This is the fourth in my series of “Letters to a Trump Supporter,” from correspondence with a family friend who supports Mr. Trump.

Continuing our conversation about Christianity, he sent me a chain email accusing President Obama of silencing Christians and promoting Islam.

Below is my response.

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Dear Mr. ——,

Thanks for passing along this email on America’s relationship with prayer. Some of it is true, but not all of it.

President Obama did not encourage schools to teach the Quran for extra credit, for example, and the so-called “Muslim Prayer Day” was not an official event hosted by either Congress or the President, but rather an unaffiliated group of Muslims exercising their right to peaceful assembly.

Actually, I would expect most Americans to be thrilled at the news of Muslims gathering peacefully, since that’s exactly what we’ve been wanting them to do, rather than turning toward violent extremism. “We need to change the face of Islam,” said one of the event organizers, “because we love America.” That sounds to me like something a Republican politician would say.

Similarly, there’s only a grain of truth in the claim that President Obama dismissed the National Day of Prayer ceremony. He never said anything about “not wanting to offend anyone.” George W. Bush is the only president who consistently held a ceremony at the White House. George H. W. Bush only did it once in four years, and Ronald Reagan only did it once in eight years. So they “dismissed” it too.

I have to say, I’m continually shocked at how Christian Americans can accuse President Obama of being anti-Christian, when he has spoken more eloquently about his Christian faith than any president since Lincoln.

I don’t know if you’ve ever read either of his memoirs, but he writes about his conversion to Christianity in great depth and vulnerability. “I felt God’s spirit beckoning me,” he says. “I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.”

Contrary to accusations that he’s against public prayer, he talks about his desire for it when he first joined a church, “I thought being part of a community and affirming my faith in a public fashion was important.”

He openly admits that his Christian beliefs shape his political decisions, “It’s hard for me to imagine being true to my faith — and not thinking beyond myself, and not thinking about what’s good for other people, and not acting in a moral and ethical way.”

He quotes Saint Augustine and the great theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, showing a rich understanding of the religion that few politicians can equal.

In fact, arguably the most memorable speech of the Obama presidency was his eulogy at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, where he wove together the American experience and the Christian experience, tracing our Christian values from the Declaration of Independence through Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. to today.

If you haven’t seen it, you really owe it to yourself. Not only is his oratory masterful, but he sings “Amazing Grace,” a testament to his Christian beliefs more powerful than anything I’ve ever seen from an American politician.

But the thing that Republicans should love about this speech, especially in this heated time of racial debate and protests, is how he argues that Christianity teaches us to forgive the white murderer who killed the innocent black Americans whom he’s eulogizing. “The essence of what is right about Christianity is embedded here,” he told his staff before the funeral. “They welcomed the stranger. They forgave the worst violence.”

Those words came from the heart. His speechwriter drafted different words for much of that speech, but the president scratched them out and wrote his own. He explained to the young speechwriter that he knew what he wanted to say because he’d been “thinking about this stuff for 30 years.” This is a man who has dedicated himself to a lifetime of faith with impressive study and contemplation.

It’s not difficult to understand why so many myths have been promulgated about Barack Obama’s faith. He doesn’t look like what many Americans think a Christian looks like, and he takes the freedom of religion enshrined in our Constitution seriously.

But it is difficult to watch him be persecuted for his heritage and his tolerance. At least we can say that, in these experiences, he is following in the steps of many great Christians who have come before him, paving the way toward a kinder, more peaceful future against all the odds.

Best regards,
Anthony

Letter to a Trump Supporter #1: Undocumented Immigration

We will all remember this election. Our children and grandchildren will read about it. They will ask us what it was like to live through it. They will want to know what we did, where we stood, how we voted.

This is the record I will leave behind.

Throughout this election season, I have been corresponding with a family friend who supports Donald Trump. I have explained, point by point, why I oppose Mr. Trump and why I see the country so differently than he does. In this final month leading up to Election Day, I will publish these “Letters to a Trump Supporter” on this blog.

I will begin with the issue that started it all: undocumented immigration.

He sent me this video as an argument in favor of Mr. Trump’s rhetoric on this issue. Below is my response.

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Dear Mr. ——,

Thank you for sending this video. It’s interesting to see the fears that people have about undocumented immigration.

Hopefully, it’ll comfort you to learn that most of those fears are unwarranted.

First and most importantly, the undocumented immigrant population is shrinking. It peaked in 2007 at 12.2 million people. Now, there are only 11.1 million. So, contrary to all the accusations in this video, undocumented immigrants have been leaving more than they’ve been coming here during the Obama administration.

Contrast that with the Bush administration, during which the population grew from 8 to 12 million…a 50 percent increase!

Second, President Obama never said that he welcomed undocumented immigrants to cross the border. Notice that they never show him saying such a thing. That’s because such a video doesn’t exist. He never said it.

Third, immigrants actually commit fewer crimes than native-born American citizens. This shouldn’t be surprising, when you consider the fact that violent crime rates have plummeted nationally over the past couple decades when undocumented immigration has been rising. What this video is doing is pure racism, assuming that foreigners are more “dangerous” when the facts say the exact opposite.

They’re trying to scare you. Don’t be fooled.

Fourth, there are very, very few undocumented immigrants who are granted asylum on the border. In 2013, for example, only 155 Mexican immigrants were granted “defensive asylum.” The numbers from other Central American countries are even lower.

That shouldn’t be surprising, since it’s not nearly as easy as this video alleges. The Border Patrol has no control over it, and neither does the President. The asylum-seeker has to prove their case before an immigration judge.

Fifth, it is not true that immigrants run to the Border Patrol. On the contrary, the Border Patrol is regularly accused of using excessive force, to the point that it “has normalized policing practices that would be considered patently unconstitutional if carried out by local police.”

Sixth, undocumented immigrants cannot receive “free heart surgery.” The Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) explicitly prohibited undocumented immigrants from receiving subsidized health insurance. Some community clinics provide charity care, but they do not do expensive operations. Even those options are few, however, and too underfunded to serve most of the undocumented population.

Finally, I want to point out how this is a classic case of biased, unprofessional journalism. Notice that he only presents one side of the case: He only interviews Border Patrol workers. He never interviews a single undocumented immigrant!

This presentation would fail even the most basic journalism class. It’s not news. It’s propaganda.

Best regards,
Anthony