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During Barack Obama’s second term, the White House let it be known the President had abandoned lofty foreign policy goals in favor of a more pragmatic one. His new mantra: “Don’t do stupid stuff,” or perhaps a more colorful version thereof.

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Carl P. Leubsdorf is a columnist for Dallas Morning News.

History will determine the extent to which the 44th president met that standard. But it’s fair to say that, in recent weeks, stupidity has reigned within both major political parties, reminding us again why, in politics as in football, more elections are lost than won.

For the Republicans, President Donald Trump’s decision to slap tariffs on products from an array of countries, including China and our closest allies, has exacerbated international tensions and could jeopardize the strong economy that Trump inherited from Obama and has spurred with tax cuts and regulatory relief.

For the Democrats, increasing demands from many leading liberals and presidential hopefuls to dismantle the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has given the White House a convenient excuse to avoid questions about the real issue, its decision to fight illegal immigration by separating children from their parents.

Those are hardly the only current examples of “stupid stuff” clouding the political landscape. Recurring examples of the sorry ethics record of Trump, his family members and top administration officials underscore the inadequacy of executive branch oversight by a Republican Congress more interested in reprising problems from the previous administration. It’s hardly surprising that polls show a major voting issue this November is the desire of voters for lawmakers more willing to challenge Trump.

Meanwhile, some leading Democrats like California firebrand Maxine Waters are playing into Trump’s hands by continually talking about impeaching the president. That ignores advice of party leaders and shifts attention from issues like health care and the need for job-creating infrastructure projects where the Trump administration’s shortcomings are far more likely to turn swing voters against GOP candidates.

Interestingly, a Democrat who best defined the issues on which the party should be running this November was Anastasia Ocasio-Cortez, the young woman who unexpectedly ousted veteran Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley in a recent New York Democratic primary.

In her campaign, she said little about either Trump or impeachment, noting in a post-primary interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that she won with “a laser-focused message of economic, social and racial dignity for working-class Americans.”

To win in November, she added, “What we need to do is to lay out a plan and a vision ... that is going to earn and deserve the support of every working-class American,” citing what sounded very much like a 2018 version of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 platform: Medicare for all, free college tuition and the government guarantee of a job for all.

To be fair, she was also one of the first to urge abolishing ICE, which seems to have prompted prospective 2020 contenders like Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren to ignore her broader message and latch on to that more simplistic goal.

Like talk of impeachment, demands to dismantle ICE detract from targeting the real problem with the Trump immigration policy, which is the policy, not the agency implementing it. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., had the right idea on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday when he called the Trump policy “a convergence of cruelty and incompetence.”

Meanwhile, Trump may be undercutting Republican hopes of benefitting this November from the strong economy by starting a trade war that only he thinks can benefit the United States.

So far, the tariffs themselves have been relatively modest, compared with overall trade. But there are already signs of negative impact on industries ranging from agriculture to automobile manufacturing, especially in areas where Trump did well in 2016.

If this continues, it could complicate the chances of GOP lawmakers from swing districts who tend to oppose Trump’s trade policy but have been reluctant to criticize the president himself.

As for their impact abroad, Trump himself suggested in a tweet Monday the tariffs may be spurring China to pressure North Korea against carrying out promises of denuclearization. And they seem certain to aggravate tensions at this week’s NATO meetings with European leaders already annoyed with how Trump has criticized them while cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, the predictably partisan and often overheated reactions to Trump’s choice of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court add an unpredictable new factor this fall. Assuming no surprises, the chief political impact may stem from the votes of several Democratic senators facing re-election in states Trump carried in 2016.

But the November elections seem more likely to turn on whether voters feel a need to place a restraint on Trump or think the Democrats would be no more likely to deal with persistent problems like trade and immigration.

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Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him via email at: carl.p.leubsdorf@gmail.com.

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(12) comments

mocha1

I am amused when I hear the lefty cry of free, free free. Nothing is free, we will all have to pay for it and if the government runs it it will be less. I further chuckle when I hear Medicare for all. Makes a good slogan but most do not understand Medicare and how it works and the negative impact this would have on Seniors and healthcare in general.


oldhomey

I am SO grateful that you are amused, mocha. I agree nothing is free. I agree that the capitalist system has relieved more misery and poverty from this world than any other economic system. I agree that people who are entrepreneurial and develop ideas that change economic dynamics for the better, whether it is new inventions, improved products, improved distribution systems, better pricing or whatever, should be rewarded handsomely, so that they enjoy wealth of a different magnitude from the rest of us. It is a great impetus. But I also feel that can only go so far, and people who achieve such success actually could not have done it all on their own, that our system of government and the dynamics of our culture and our people all form the foundation that allows such growth. So we cannot have a world in which a few hundred or thousand people can amass multi-billion dollar fortunes while we see the ability of the masses to make any kind of decent living recede, particularly in view of the coming revolution of artificial intelligence replacing both manual and white collar intellectual work. We can and should have the rich, but they should not be impossibly rich at the expense of everybody else. We will have basic healthcare, we will have employment and income for all, or we won't have any sort of world that you or I would like to live in.

oldhomey

I am a liberal Democrat, probably even a little to the left of the mainstream Democrats. I would like to see Medicare for all, free universities and guaranteed employment. But I don't think that is a viable platform for the 2018 and 2020 elections. It may play well in NYC, but not all that well yet in much of the rest of the country. I think we will see those become accepted and even beloved policy in the future, but it is too big a leap to hope for in the here and now. On the other hand, I am in my middle 70s, and I may not fully understand the political currents of younger age cohorts. Still, I would hope that the Democrats zero in on one thing for now, Medicare for all, and use that as the banner under which they march for the next two elections. I think it is doable, I think America is ready for it, and I would like to see it in place before I pass from this vale of tears. With artificial intelligence on the near horizon, the world is not going to stand by and watch it enrich a few power brokers who manage to grab control of it while leaving the rest of humanity begging. So guaranteed employment will have to become reality in due course simply out of necessity. It will cease to be a political hot potato, as will free education.

Cassandra2

Well put, Homey. But while you are looking toward the future, the wingnuts can only look backward.

new2Lax

No, you are a Socialist and you should say so. The policies you support mirror those of Alexandra Ocasio Cortez of New York and Pocan of Wisconsin in many of his beliefs. The only guarantee I can see going forward is that fact that what you seem to want will never happen here. I think the correct way to a good education , employment and security is the way it is now being accomplished. The fact Obama could not accomplish anything in his eight year Administration means little when you see what a Trump Administration has accomplished in only 500 days. If the Constitution is followed as it has been, the US will be just fine and should there be a need for some kind of change, we have a process for that change. The Constitution has been the bedrock of America and we are the proof it works. Now tell me, what form of government works better and if you think so much of a Socialist system of government, why have you not provided your family with what you seem to believe would be the best for them. There are countries with many diverse forms of government, why would you subject your family to a lesser system of government.

oldhomey

I am SO relieved! new2 has concluded "There are countries with many diverse forms of government, why would you subject your family to a lesser system of government." He now has seen the light, that the other great industrial democracies of the west and Japan have for decades been providing better services to their people than the U.S. has been doing, and it is time to rectify our "lesser system of government" with tried and proven methods our closest allies have adopted, particularly the idea that healthcare is not a privileged service but a basic human right. Good going, new2! But you really should stop this silliness of your identity politics, calling people who are Democrats "Socialists". It doesn't do justice to your new-found wisdom.

johnnybragatti

The Trump is obviously pretty uneducated when it comes to economics. The Lyin" King
and his ignorance toward foreign affairs, besides a severe inability, to EVER tell any kind of truth,
is making it quite easy for the United States to become the most hated country on the face of the Earth. Of course kissing behinds, with the killer dictators of the world , doesn"t help. Soon Trump will be known as the : "Killer in Chief"., a title he will,no doubt, be proud of.

Cassandra2

The real danger lies in the wingnuts being able to maintain their minority grip on Congress. Purity tests and grousing about progressive candidates will only suppress voter turnout. Progressives and whatever few sane republicans remain need to make common cause to rescue the republic.

oldhomey

Hmm. So Trump and Putin unbeknownst to the rest of the world, have secretly been hatching a plan they will reveal next week that will the Democratic and Republican parties in this country, not to mention democratic institution globally. And just how do you define the word "cabal", Snow? And whom were you in contact with on 6/28 who reassured you of this unfolding plan? Was it Guccifer 2.0, your old reliable GRU propaganda and disinformation source? May I revisit you with all this on, say next Wednesday, and see how all this played out? Do you think you might yourself be in a PANIC when your sick, unstable pronouncements have collapsed around your shoes?

oldhomey

I tell you what, Snow, I am certainly no genius. In fact, I am probably not even all that smart. But I think quite a bit about things, and when I read something like "Cabal: think JFK . . . " I know that I am being invited into cuckoo land. And you did not disappoint. You have serious delusions that obviously are disrupting your life. You ought to take care of this.

new2Lax

Check the economy under the community organizer.

oldhomey

Is that the same thing as checking under my bed for the bogeyman, new2? You really should work at trying to write sensible things that are easily understood by the rest of us.

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