If you go to Hillary Clinton’s web site (hillaryclinton.com) looking for her position on the opioid crisis, as I did, you will find yourself forced to wade, unaided, through a bland index of topics, leading to a passionless, impersonal set of quite reasonable policy proscriptions.
Go to Donald Trump’s (donaldjtrump.com), and you’ll get to view the man himself, speaking to you on video directly into the camera lens, boasting confidently that “believe me, I will solve the problem.” How? “I’m going to create borders,” via his giant wall—an absurd notion for stopping a problem that stems from prescription medication.
Intentional or not, the issues sections of the two apparent general-election foes certainly does reflect, and amplify, their campaigns. Clinton, the overly cautious candidate—she avoids press conferences and gaggles even more stubbornly than the previous champion, Mitt Romney—with the voluminous knowledge but little personal appeal; versus Trump, the substance-free but oddly gravitational candidate running on pure ego and personality.
I’ve been looking at candidate Presidential web sites for a long time—at least since the 2000 election cycle, when John McCain stunned the political establishment by raising $2 million through its site, ensuring that campaigns would take the medium seriously from then on.
Since then, the sites have become as ubiquitous a part of politics as lawn signs and bumper stickers. And, chasing after that McCain miracle, the campaigns have focused on using the sites to extract from supporters—their information, volunteerism, votes, and of course money—rather than what potential voters might want to extract from them, including policy information.
Hoping for better, I set out to explore the two sites, testing them by trying to learn the candidates’ positions on several issues of my choosing: the opioid addiction problem, Puerto Rico’s debt crisis, diplomacy with Iran, and others.
I don’t recommend following my lead. While it might seem obvious that candidate web sites should facilitate such inquiries, in practice they make the process excruciating and mostly fruitless.
Trump’s site is aggressively vague; Clinton’s is passively detailed. Trump’s site emphasizes personality but is nearly void of substance; Clinton’s has endless substance, all as impersonal and impenetrable as a task force white paper.
Clinton’s is deep and impressively comprehensive, with serious proposals and priorities on a wide range of topics—but unnecessarily dry, impersonal, difficult to navigate, and generally off-putting.
Trump’s is shallow to the point of absurdity, with slap-dash videos, vague boasts, and questionable claims—but conveys the big personality and confidence that attracts so many.
I found those videos by clicking on “Issues” from the main menu; the 20 quickie videos of Trump speaking to the camera for 30 to 60 seconds, are perfect encapsulations of either the idiocy or the power of Trump’s appeal, depending on your view; they are blustering, vague, confident claims that he will succeed against whatever America might be up against. “I will tell you this, and I can say it with certainty: I will be the greatest jobs-producing President that God ever created,” Trump says in “Jobs.” For “Military,” here is his entire message: “I’m going to make our military so big, so powerful, so strong, that nobody, absolutely nobody, is going to mess with us. We’re going to take care of our vets, and we’re going to get rid of ISIS. We’re going to get rid of them fast.”
These 20 videos are presented in no apparent rational order, and contain little useful information (and a significant amount of dishonesty)—but they actually capture and convey pretty well the Trump message, priorities, and approach.
For actual policy proposals, Trump offers a separate “Positions” page. Though few in number to date, the offerings there are fairly thorough, if not especially detailed, overviews on health care, tax reform, gun rights, and immigration, to name a few.
Unfortunately, finding Trump’s position on any specific issue is maddeningly elusive. The site offers no search function that I could find; locating a specific topic on either the Positions or Issues page is a fishing expedition, at best.
It’s no less a fishing expedition for policy questions at the Clinton site, which also provides no search function on its main site page or Issues section; just one where you’re more likely to eventually catch your fish.
Clinton’s “Issues” page lists 31 topics, presented in a plain, unadorned, unillustrated list—oddly, in alphabetical order rather than grouped by topic—that you click on to reach a position paper. The selection and indexing of these 31 topics is a haphazard mess. Why is there a separate entry for “Paid leave,” which is also covered under “Women’s rights and opportunity,” but not for equal pay or reproductive rights? Why does the treatment of animals rate its own entry, and who would possibly think to look for it under P (for “Protecting animals and wildlife”)?
Each of the 31 issues has a policy paper, heavy on bullet points and jargon-laden wonk-language. “Hillary’s plan will enhance transparency and reduce volatility in the shadow banking system, which includes certain activities of hedge funds, investment banks, and other non-financial companies,” declares one typically eye-glaze-inducing bullet point under “Wall Street reform.”
Where Trump’s site is aggressively vague, Clinton’s is passively detailed. That shadow banking system line above? Click through a link at the bottom of the page and you get to a Fact Sheet on Clinton’s Wall Street policy, which not only contains a more thorough explanation of the shadow banking system problem, but seven additional sub-bullet-points of policy prescriptions on that specific subset of financial industry reform.
That Fact Sheet is part of the “Briefings” section of the site—which, if you’re lucky enough to find it, contains a gold mine of what appears to be material sent out to the press along the course of the Clinton campaign: policy Fact Sheets like the one on Wall Street reform, but also hit pieces on other candidates, speech transcripts, statements from the campaign, and various other releases. The “Briefings” section is not listed on the site’s menu. It is touted with just the words “Read now/Get the facts/The Briefing” in a small clickable box near the bottom of the web or mobile site’s page.
I stumbled upon the Briefings section via links on the Clinton “Issues” pages, and upon further exploration found to my great excitement that it offers a search function. It gives results only within that section, and the items—many of which were put out in response to specific campaign incidents or events—carry no date. One of my queries, on Iran, brought up a one-pager bashing Scott Walker, which presumably originated as a press email blast sometime during the three months or so last year when he was a Presidential candidate.
Unlike the Trump site, Clinton’s probably has an answer to your policy question. Unfortunately, without a way to navigate to what you want on either site, Trump’s limited fare is far easier to wade through than Clinton’s voluminous smorgasbord.