Hillary’s Hero

Henry Kissinger was the master of Realpolitik – the amoral assessment of national interests. He was certainly aware of humanitarian concerns and doing the right thing and all that idealistic talk about spreading freedom and democracy, but that was irrelevant to his work. His work was diplomacy and he was the ultimate pragmatist. We could support brutal dictators, or those who overthrew brutal dictators – it didn’t matter. He held that the only thing that really mattered was our basic national interests – safety and prosperity – and that usually left only one geopolitical alternative. Sometimes you do awful things – send in a team to take out a newly elected leader who is obviously going to cause trouble, support a genocidal murderer who will be on our side in important other matters, bomb the crap out of Cambodia or whatever. This does ignore an array of values that almost everyone has – common decency and the sense that killing a whole lot of people might be a bit wrong. Kissinger pretty much shrugged at anyone who had that sort of sense of right and wrong. That had nothing to do with his work.

Kissinger obviously got no points for being warm and fuzzy, and many came to see him as a bit of a moral monster. The late Christopher Hitchens wrote a long thundering book about that – the man was a mass murderer – but the man did win the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the end of our war in Vietnam, giving us the “peace with honor” the Nixon had promised. We got neither from that Paris treaty – the war would actually end two years later when our last chopper lifted off from the roof of our embassy in Saigon – we ended up giving up everything – but somehow Kissinger’s reputation didn’t suffer. He was a wise man. He knew things. He wasn’t a nice man, but he knew things, and he could get things done. He was born in Fürth, Bavaria, in Germany. He never lost the accent. Germans get things done, and he was our secretary of state for most of the seventies. He defined those times. It was a brutal time.

Henry Kissinger is ninety-two now. No one any longer asks him for advice – the world has changed and he’s a frail old man – but somehow he’s back in the news. Gary Bass at Politico explains how that happened:

Of all the dastardly deeds for which Henry Kissinger can be blamed, here’s an especially odd one: he made Hillary Clinton lose a foreign policy debate with Bernie Sanders. Last night at the Democratic presidential debate in Milwaukee, in a moment to baffle the youthful voters who helped give Sanders his crushing victory over Clinton in the New Hampshire primary, Sanders (age 74) blasted his opponent (age 68) for being too cozy with Kissinger (age 92).

Yes, that happened, and it was odd:

Kissinger usually gets a free pass in Washington, where celebrity has a way of overshadowing historical analysis, but it’s still jarring to see Hillary Clinton embracing him. After all, in her youth, she protested against the Vietnam War and served as a staffer on the House Judiciary Committee considering impeaching President Richard Nixon for Watergate. But in more recent days, she lauded Kissinger’s historic outreach to China in her 2014 memoir Hard Choices, and wrote a fawning Washington Post review of his latest book in September 2014, calling him a personal friend and adviser while praising the book as “vintage Kissinger, with his singular combination of breadth and acuity.”

It takes a stone-cold pragmatist to know one, but Bass notes that this one is troublesome:

Despite Kissinger’s efforts to cultivate Clinton and other grandees, his reputation has been undermined by the realities revealed on the White House tapes. In 1969, he recommended a risky nuclear alert in 1969 to spook the Soviet Union. In September 1971, he privately told Nixon, “If we had done Cambodia in ’66 and Laos in ’67, the war would be history.” And in 1971, in one of the darkest American chapters of the Cold War, he and Nixon supported a brutal military dictatorship in Pakistan while it unleashed a devastating crackdown on what was then East Pakistan and is now Bangladesh. Both the CIA and the State Department conservatively estimated that about two hundred thousand people perished, while ten million desperate Bengali refugees fled into India. Kissinger joked about the massacre of Bengali Hindus, and privately scorned those Americans who “bleed” for “the dying Bengalis.”

That’s what Hitchens was talking about, and now this:

In the Milwaukee debate, Sanders announced that he had a “very profound difference” with Clinton. “In her book and in this last debate, she talked about getting the approval or the support or the mentoring of Henry Kissinger,” he said with disbelief. “Now I find it rather amazing, because I happen to believe that Henry Kissinger was one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the modern history of this country. I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend. I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger.” He slammed Kissinger for bombing Cambodia, which “created the instability for Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge to come in, who then butchered some three million innocent people, one of the worst genocides in the history of the world. So count me in as somebody who will not be listening to Henry Kissinger.”

Bass was impressed:

Sanders’ attack was doubly effective, giving him a rare chance to put his rival – a confident former secretary of state who is noticeably more adept on world politics – on the defensive on foreign policy, while also tarring Clinton as a profane creature of Washington. He got to showcase himself as someone who hadn’t been slowly corrupted by establishment cronyism. And the voters who are likeliest to care about this 1970s flashback aren’t Sanders’ young enthusiasts, but baby boomers who should be in Clinton’s camp.

That’s good politics:

Hillary Clinton’s response in the Milwaukee debate was flat-footed. Surely there must be issues where she disagrees with Kissinger. But rather than offering any criticism of him, or mentioning her own opposition to the Vietnam war, she ducked by saying that “whatever the complaints you want to make about him are,” Kissinger is worth talking to because of his “his ongoing relationships with the leaders of China” – a formulation which, while correctly noting Kissinger’s formidable guanxi in Beijing, sounds like cronyism taken to a global level.

And this may have echoes:

It’s unlikely that Kissinger is going to be too upset about the disfavor of a Vermont socialist, but this fracas still makes a disagreeable change of pace for someone whose experience of primary season usually consists of Republican presidential candidates lining up to pay homage to him. Sanders gave a welcome reminder of how insipid American political debates about foreign policy usually are, which was momentarily bad for Hillary Clinton and, if it sticks, more lastingly bad for Henry Kissinger. Despite Kissinger’s impressive efforts to gloss his historical legacy, the truth has a way of coming out.

Bass is the author of The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide – Bass is not a disinterested observer, if that matters. It doesn’t. Bernie Sanders did point out something essential here. It’s not just that “the establishment” hangs together no matter what – Kissinger can be a mass murderer but he’s one of the movers and shakers – it’s that Hillary Clinton admires a man who as coldly pragmatic as she says she is.

That is who she is. In 2008, she mocked Obama:

“Now, I could stand up here and say, ‘Let’s just get everybody together. Let’s get unified,'” Clinton said to laughter of the crowd.

“The skies will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing and everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect,” she said dryly as the crowd erupted.

“Maybe I’ve just lived a little long, but I have no illusions about how hard this is going to be,” Clinton continued. “You are not going to wave a magic wand to make special interests disappear.”

Forget that hope and change nonsense. Abandon hope. The next president needs to be cold and calculating. Feelings might get hurt, people might get hurt, but what did that matter? She could get things done.

That might have sounded better in the original German, or with Kissinger’s German accent, but she hasn’t changed. Sanders wants single-payer healthcare? Get real. It can’t be done. He wants to break up the big banks? Don’t be stupid. Drop the emotions and the moral arguments. Do the cold calculation. Do a Kissinger. She didn’t bring him up by accident.

Dan Froomkin adds a bit more:

Clinton and Sanders stand on opposite sides of that divide. One represents the hawkish Washington foreign policy establishment, which reveres and in some cases actually works for Kissinger. The other represents the marginalized non-interventionists, who can’t possibly forgive someone with the blood of millions of brown people on his hands.

Kissinger is an amazing and appropriate lens through which to see what’s at stake in the choice between Clinton and Sanders. But that only works, of course, if you understand who Kissinger is – which surely many of today’s voters don’t.

She’s counting on that, but she has her advisors:

Clinton is clearly picking from the usual suspects – the “securocrats in waiting” who make up the Washington, D.C., foreign policy establishment.

They work at places like Albright Stoneridge, the powerhouse global consulting firm led by former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, a staunch Clinton backer. They work at places like Beacon Global Strategies, which is providing high-profile foreign policy guidance to Clinton – as well as to Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. And they work at places like Kissinger Associates. In fact, Bob Hormats, who was a Goldman Sachs vice chairman before serving as Clinton’s undersecretary of state, is now advising Clinton’s campaign even while serving as the vice chairman of Kissinger Associates.

Despite the wildly bellicose and human rights-averse rhetoric from the leading Republican presidential candidates, they’re picking from essentially the same pool as well.

That’s Kissinger and Goldman Sachs and Hillary Clinton all tied up with a nice little bow. Bernie Sanders seems to sense that, but he’s outnumbered:

Imagine two types of people: those who would schmooze with Kissinger at a cocktail party, and those who would spit in his eye. The elite Washington media is almost without exception in that first category. In fact, they’d probably have anyone who spit in Kissinger’s eye arrested.

Since they only see one side, they don’t want to get into it. And there was a little indicator at Thursday night’s debate, hosted by PBS, of just how eagerly the elite political media welcomes an honest exploration of the subject.

Just as Sanders raised the issue of Kissinger’s legacy in Vietnam either Gwen Ifill or Judy Woodruff – both of whom are very conventional, establishment, Washington cocktail-party celebrities – was caught audibly muttering, “Oh, God.”

This seems almost personal, and David Corn says it is:

What Clinton did not mention was that her bond with Kissinger was personal as well as professional, as she and her husband have for years regularly spent their winter holidays with Kissinger and his wife, Nancy, at the beachfront villa of fashion designer Oscar de la Renta, who died in 2014, and his wife, Annette, in the Dominican Republic. …

They pal around together. On June 3, 2013, Hillary Clinton presented an award to de la Renta, a good friend who for years had provided her dresses and fashion advice, and then the two of them hopped over to a 90th birthday party for Kissinger. In fact, the schedule of the award ceremony had been shifted to allow Clinton and de la Renta to make it to the Kissinger bash. (Secretary of State John Kerry also attended the party.) The Kissingers and the de la Rentas were longtime buddies. Kissinger wrote one of his recent books while staying at de la Rentas’ mansion in the Dominican Republic and dedicated the book to the fashion designer and his wife.

The Clintons and Kissingers appear to spend a chunk of their quality time together at that de la Renta estate in the Punta Cana resort. Last year, the Associated Press noted that this is where the Clintons take their annual Christmas holiday.

That just makes this even odder:

When awarding herself the Kissinger seal of approval to bolster her standing as a competent diplomat and government official, Hillary Clinton has not referred to the annual hobnobbing at the de la Renta villa. So when Sanders criticized Clinton for playing the Kissinger card – “not my kind of guy,” he declared – whether he realized it or not, he was hitting very close to home.

Lawrence Korb, who was an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration and leads the think-tank-life now, brings this back to policy:

On CNN last week and on Meet the Press this week, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders cited me as someone who has given him foreign policy advice. I admit I was surprised to hear this – I have spoken to Senator Sanders only once since he declared his candidacy, in October. In the time since, this fact has been used by the media and his opponents to cast doubt on Sanders’ foreign policy credibility, to point out a supposed weak spot in a surging candidacy: Since I’m not on his campaign, and have met with him only once, how serious could Sanders – the socialist crusader battling the former secretary of state – really be?

The answer is: serious. Since Sanders’ public mention of me, I have been asked repeatedly whether I think his foreign policy positions and experience are sound. I do.

That’s because the guy isn’t Henry Kissinger:

In my dealings with him, and in analyzing his record in Congress over the past 25 years, I have found that Sanders has taken balanced, realistic positions on many of the most critical foreign policy issues facing the country. In the mold of realists like Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to Presidents Richard Nixon and George H. W. Bush, Sanders voted against the invasion of Iraq in 2002, while wisely supporting the war against in Afghanistan in 2001 and the intervention in the Balkans in 1990s. And Sanders certainly isn’t a foreign policy lightweight: In fact, given his long tenure in the House and Senate, he has more foreign policy experience than Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama did when they were running for office the first time.

What would a President Sanders’ foreign policy look like? Based on his record and my conversation with him, I believe it would be rooted in a number of key principles. First is restraint in using American force abroad. As he has stated, and as is demonstrated by his vote against the Iraq War and the first Gulf War, Sanders believes military action should be the last, not first, option and that, when taken, such action should be multilateral. I also believe, based on our conversation, that he would follow the Weinberger Doctrine (also known as the Powell Doctrine): When the United States uses military force abroad, our objectives should be clear, we should be prepared to use all the force necessary to achieve those objectives, and we should know when they have been achieved.

Korb then makes curious comparisons:

A President Sanders would govern more like a President Dwight Eisenhower, who refused to give in to the demands of the military-industrial complex even after the Russians launched Sputnik, and focused on nation-building at home rather than spending billions on unnecessary weapons systems. Or like Nixon, who cut defense spending dramatically and developed a health care plan more inclusive than Obamacare. Or like Obama, who not only reached out to Iran, but also has tried to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons, and who restored diplomatic relations with Cuba.

And experience, like Hillary’s, isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be:

It is hard to know what challenges the next president might face. That’s why, ultimately, judgment matters more than experience for a potential president. The presidents I have advised – Reagan and Obama, as well as George H. W. Bush and Secretary of State John Kerry – all showed great judgment in considering, but not bowing to, the advice of the foreign policy establishment. Reagan proved wise in choosing to withdraw from Lebanon and negotiate with Mikhail Gorbachev, and Obama has smartly avoided getting involved in the Syrian civil war, negotiated an arms-control deal with Iran and set a deadline to end the surge in Afghanistan.

I have no doubt that Sanders will be willing to challenge the foreign policy establishment, as Obama did on such issues.

Does Sanders have the same amount of foreign policy experience as Hillary Clinton? Obviously not. But Bill Clinton had far less foreign policy experience than George H. W. Bush, and Obama had less than John McCain – and both presidents had effective foreign policies. If he is elected, I believe Sanders will also be able to attract a competent foreign policy cohort, just as Obama did – including many of the current Clinton team. With the right partners in place – and, above all, the right principals and instincts – a President Sanders could be just the foreign policy president we need.

If so, then why is Hillary Clinton bringing up her good friend Henry Kissinger, the master of amoral if not immoral Realpolitik, as her hero? This may be more than a bit of shameless name-dropping. She seems to be saying that she has the same principals and instincts. Do we want to go there again? How many millions of dead people do we want this time? It’s too bad that, for most people, Henry Kissinger is just a vaguely-remembered name of someone or other from long ago. But others remember. That was a frightening moment at that debate.

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Some of the People All the Time

“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

There’s no direct evidence Abraham Lincoln ever said that – two decades after Lincoln died, someone said he said that – but that doesn’t matter much now. He should have said that. That sounds like him, and it’s a useful observation, cleverly put.

It’s also the key proposition against which all American politics is tested. Running for political office is a matter of fooling people into thinking you’re wonderful, all of them for a brief period, if possible, a few of them forever, if possible, while knowing that no one is perfect and knowing you’ll never really pull it off. You cannot fool all the people all the time – but you can come close. You just have to find the sweet spot, where just enough people decide you’re not bullshitting them and you might be okay – just enough people to win that one election on that one specific day. Then you can move on and do whatever you were going to do anyway. Those who voted for you might be disappointed, but it’s too late for that, isn’t it? You won.

There’s a less cynical way to look at that – if you cannot fool all the people all the time, or anyone, really, then the only way to win elections is to be totally authentic, to be unapologetically honest at all times. People sense bullshit, eventually. Avoid it – advice no successful politician was ever given. Tailor your message to specific constituencies, first one then the other, or lose them. You do need to fool some of the people all the time, making sure they understand where you stand on their particular issues, which is with them, even if no one noticed before. This was the “triangulation” strategy that Bill Clinton used so successfully – a little something for everybody with as little disappointment as possible elsewhere. He was the Democrat who said “the era of big government was over” – he outflanked the Republicans, even if many liberal Democrats grumbled – but he was with them on other issues. He successfully kept everyone off balance.

Can his wife do that? She’s having a little more difficulty with that:

Hillary Clinton, scrambling to recover from her double-digit defeat in the New Hampshire primary, repeatedly challenged Bernie Sanders’s trillion-dollar policy plans at their presidential debate on Thursday night and portrayed him as a big talker who needed to “level” with voters about the difficulty of accomplishing his agenda.

This new line of attack was a risky attempt to puncture Mr. Sanders’s growing popularity before the next nominating contests in Nevada and South Carolina. Mrs. Clinton is wagering that voters will care that Mr. Sanders has not provided a political strategy or clear financing plan to enact Medicare for all and provide free public colleges, and that such details will matter more to voters than his inspiring political message.

Yes, another debate – she says don’t be fooled by Bernie Sanders – what he wants to do, while wonderful, cannot possible be done. He says don’t be fooled by Hillary Clinton – she’s more of the same – nothing good will ever get done by someone who doesn’t dream big, however experienced and competent that person is. It was more of the same – read on if you want the details – but there was a twist to this one. The caucuses in overwhelmingly white evangelical Iowa are over – the two of them essentially tied. The primary in overwhelmingly white flinty and grumpy New Hampshire is over – she lost badly. But next is heavily Hispanic Nevada with its caucuses, followed by the primary in South Carolina, where more than sixty percent of the Democrats are African-American. It was time to adjust:

Several of Mrs. Clinton’s answers reflected an urgent political imperative: to maintain and energize her deep support among minority voters in order to offset Mr. Sanders’s popularity with young people, liberals and some working-class white voters. Mr. Sanders won support from 83 percent of New Hampshire voters ages 18 to 29, and 60 percent of the liberal base there, according to exit polls, while Mrs. Clinton did best with older and wealthier voters.

She has pivoted quickly this week to highlight new endorsements from the political arm of the Congressional Black Caucus and to target a new television commercial at black voters in South Carolina, where the Feb. 27 primary is now a must-win contest for her.

That might not be easy:

In her opening statement, Mrs. Clinton denounced discrimination against African-Americans in employment, education, housing and the criminal justice system. But she was matched by Mr. Sanders as he railed against a legal system in which young people have criminal records because of petty drug offenses while Wall Street executives escaped culpability for the great recession.

“Look, we are fighting for every vote that we can get, from women, from men, straight, gay, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans,” Mr. Sanders said. “We are trying to bring America together around an agenda that works for working families and the middle class.”

He has a point, and Michelle Alexander says she doesn’t in Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote:

Hillary Clinton loves black people. And black people love Hillary – or so it seems. Black politicians have lined up in droves to endorse her, eager to prove their loyalty to the Clintons in the hopes that their faithfulness will be remembered and rewarded. Black pastors are opening their church doors, and the Clintons are making themselves comfortably at home once again, engaging effortlessly in all the usual rituals associated with “courting the black vote,” a pursuit that typically begins and ends with Democratic politicians making black people feel liked and taken seriously. Doing something concrete to improve the conditions under which most black people live is generally not required.

Hillary is looking to gain momentum on the campaign trail as the primaries move out of Iowa and New Hampshire and into states like South Carolina, where large pockets of black voters can be found. According to some polls, she leads Bernie Sanders by as much as 60 percent among African Americans. It seems that we – black people – are her winning card, one that Hillary is eager to play.

And it seems we’re eager to get played. Again.

Yes, there’s a history here:

The love affair between black folks and the Clintons has been going on for a long time. It began back in 1992, when Bill Clinton was running for president. He threw on some shades and played the saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show. It seems silly in retrospect, but many of us fell for that. At a time when a popular slogan was “It’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand,” Bill Clinton seemed to get us. When Toni Morrison dubbed him our first black president, we nodded our heads. We had our boy in the White House. Or at least we thought we did.

Black voters have been remarkably loyal to the Clintons for more than twenty-five years. It’s true that we eventually lined up behind Barack Obama in 2008, but it’s a measure of the Clinton allure that Hillary led Obama among black voters until he started winning caucuses and primaries. Now Hillary is running again. This time she’s facing a democratic socialist who promises a political revolution that will bring universal healthcare, a living wage, an end to rampant Wall Street greed, and the dismantling of the vast prison state – many of the same goals that Martin Luther King Jr. championed at the end of his life. Even so, black folks are sticking with the Clinton brand.

Alexander doesn’t get it:

What have the Clintons done to earn such devotion? Did they take extreme political risks to defend the rights of African Americans? Did they courageously stand up to right-wing demagoguery about black communities? Did they help usher in a new era of hope and prosperity for neighborhoods devastated by deindustrialization, globalization, and the disappearance of work?

The answer to that should be obvious:

When Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992, urban black communities across America were suffering from economic collapse. Hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs had vanished as factories moved overseas in search of cheaper labor, a new plantation. Globalization and deindustrialization affected workers of all colors but hit African Americans particularly hard. Unemployment rates among young black men had quadrupled as the rate of industrial employment plummeted. Crime rates spiked in inner-city communities that had been dependent on factory jobs, while hopelessness, despair, and crack addiction swept neighborhoods that had once been solidly working-class. Millions of black folks – many of whom had fled Jim Crow segregation in the South with the hope of obtaining decent work in Northern factories – were suddenly trapped in racially segregated, jobless ghettos.

On the campaign trail, Bill Clinton made the economy his top priority and argued persuasively that conservatives were using race to divide the nation and divert attention from the failed economy. In practice, however, he capitulated entirely to the right-wing backlash against the civil-rights movement and embraced former president Ronald Reagan’s agenda on race, crime, welfare, and taxes – ultimately doing more harm to black communities than Reagan ever did.

Yeah, someone was fooled:

We should have seen it coming. Back then, Clinton was the standard-bearer for the New Democrats, a group that firmly believed the only way to win back the millions of white voters in the South who had defected to the Republican Party was to adopt the right-wing narrative that black communities ought to be disciplined with harsh punishment rather than coddled with welfare. Reagan had won the presidency by dog-whistling to poor and working-class whites with coded racial appeals: railing against “welfare queens” and criminal “predators” and condemning “big government.” Clinton aimed to win them back, vowing that he would never permit any Republican to be perceived as tougher on crime than he.

Just weeks before the critical New Hampshire primary, Clinton proved his toughness by flying back to Arkansas to oversee the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a mentally impaired black man who had so little conception of what was about to happen to him that he asked for the dessert from his last meal to be saved for him for later. After the execution, Clinton remarked, “I can be nicked a lot, but no one can say I’m soft on crime.”

That was a warning sign of things to come:

Bill Clinton presided over the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history. Clinton did not declare the War on Crime or the War on Drugs – those wars were declared before Reagan was elected and long before crack hit the streets – but he escalated it beyond what many conservatives had imagined possible. He supported the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity for crack versus powder cocaine, which produced staggering racial injustice in sentencing and boosted funding for drug-law enforcement.

Clinton championed the idea of a federal “three strikes” law in his 1994 State of the Union address and, months later, signed a $30 billion crime bill that created dozens of new federal capital crimes, mandated life sentences for some three-time offenders, and authorized more than $16 billion for state prison grants and the expansion of police forces. The legislation was hailed by mainstream-media outlets as a victory for the Democrats, who “were able to wrest the crime issue from the Republicans and make it their own.”

When Clinton left office in 2001, the United States had the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Human Rights Watch reported that in seven states, African Americans constituted 80 to 90 percent of all drug offenders sent to prison, even though they were no more likely than whites to use or sell illegal drugs. Prison admissions for drug offenses reached a level in 2000 for African Americans more than 26 times the level in 1983. All of the presidents since 1980 have contributed to mass incarceration, but as Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson recently observed, “President Clinton’s tenure was the worst.”

Well, it happened, but what about Hillary Clinton? Alexander is not impressed:

Some might argue that it’s unfair to judge Hillary Clinton for the policies her husband championed years ago. But Hillary wasn’t picking out china while she was first lady. She bravely broke the mold and redefined that job in ways no woman ever had before. She not only campaigned for Bill; she also wielded power and significant influence once he was elected, lobbying for legislation and other measures. That record, and her statements from that era, should be scrutinized. In her support for the 1994 crime bill, for example, she used racially coded rhetoric to cast black children as animals. “They are not just gangs of kids anymore,” she said. “They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”

Both Clintons now express regret over the crime bill, and Hillary says she supports criminal-justice reforms to undo some of the damage that was done by her husband’s administration. … To be fair, the Clintons now feel bad about how their politics and policies have worked out for black people. Bill says that he “overshot the mark” with his crime policies; and Hillary has put forth a plan to ban racial profiling, eliminate the sentencing disparities between crack and cocaine, and abolish private prisons, among other measures.

But what about a larger agenda that would not just reverse some of the policies adopted during the Clinton era, but would rebuild the communities decimated by them? If you listen closely here, you’ll notice that Hillary Clinton is still singing the same old tune in a slightly different key. She is arguing that we ought not to be seduced by Bernie’s rhetoric because we must be “pragmatic,” “face political realities,” and not get tempted to believe that we can fight for economic justice and win. When politicians start telling you that it is “unrealistic” to support candidates who want to build a movement for greater equality, fair wages, universal healthcare, and an end to corporate control of our political system, it’s probably best to leave the room.

Alexander sees what’s what here:

Sanders opposed the 1996 welfare-reform law. He also opposed bank deregulation and the Iraq War, both of which Hillary supported, and both of which have proved disastrous. In short, there is such a thing as a lesser evil, and Hillary is not it.

In short, Alexander is not impressed with the Clintons continuing to test the proposition that you can fool at least some of the people all the time, and the New York Times’ Charles Blow adds this:

This support for Clinton, particular among African-American voters, is for some perplexing and for others irritating.

I cannot tell you the number of people who have commented to me on social media that they don’t understand this support. “Don’t black folks understand that Bernie best represents their interests?” the argument generally goes. But from there, it can lead to a comparison between Sanders and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; to an assertion that Sanders is the Barack Obama that we really wanted and needed; to an exasperated “black people are voting against their interests” stance.

If only black people knew more, understood better, where the candidates stood – now and over their lifetimes – they would make a better choice, the right choice. The level of condescension in these comments is staggering.

No only likes being taken for a fool, but that may be what is going on here:

Tucked among all this Bernie-splaining by some supporters, it appears to me, is a not-so-subtle, not-so-innocuous savior syndrome and paternalistic patronage that I find so grossly offensive that it boggles the mind that such language should emanate from the mouths – or keyboards – of supposed progressives.

But then I am reminded that the idea that black folks are infantile and must be told what to do and what to think is not confined by ideological barriers. The ideological difference is that one side prefers punishment and the other pity, and neither is a thing in which most black folks delight.

Think of it this way:

It is not so much that black voters love Clinton and loathe Sanders. … For many there isn’t much passion for either candidate. Instead, black folks are trying to keep their feet planted in reality and choose from among politicians who have historically promised much and delivered little. It is often a choice between the devil you know and the one you don’t, or more precisely, among the friend who betrays you, the stranger who entices you and the enemy who seeks to destroy you.

That’s not much of a choice, and also a black thing:

It is not black folks who need to come to a new understanding, but those whose privileged gaze prevents them from seeing that black thought and consciousness is informed by a bitter history, a mountain of disappointment and an ocean of tears.

And to illustrate that he cites a passage from James Baldwin:

Of all Americans, Negroes distrust politicians most, or, more accurately, they have been best trained to expect nothing from them; more than other Americans, they are always aware of the enormous gap between election promises and their daily lives. It is true that the promises excite them, but this is not because they are taken as proof of good intentions. They are the proof of something more concrete than intentions: that the Negro situation is not static, that changes have occurred, and are occurring and will occur – this, in spite of the daily, dead-end monotony. It is this daily, dead-end monotony, though, as well as the wise desire not to be betrayed by too much hoping, which causes them to look on politicians with such an extraordinarily disenchanted eye.

This fatalistic indifference is something that drives the optimistic American liberal quite mad; he is prone, in his more exasperated moments, to refer to Negroes as political children, an appellation not entirely just. Negro liberals, being consulted, assure us that this is something that will disappear with “education,” a vast, all-purpose term, conjuring up visions of sunlit housing projects, stacks of copybooks and a race of well-soaped, dark-skinned people who never slur their R’s. Actually, this is not so much political irresponsibility as the product of experience, experience which no amount of education can quite efface.

Baldwin then speaks to being used:

“Our people” have functioned in this country for nearly a century as political weapons, the trump card up the enemies’ sleeve; anything promised Negroes at election time is also a threat leveled at the opposition; in the struggle for mastery the Negro is the pawn.


Even black folks who don’t explicitly articulate this intuitively understand it. History and experience have burned into the black American psyche a sort of functional pragmatism that will be hard to erase. It is a coping mechanism, a survival mechanism, and its existence doesn’t depend on others’ understanding or approval.

However, that pragmatism could work against the idealism of a candidate like Sanders. Black folks don’t want to be “betrayed by too much hoping,” and Sanders’s proposals, as good as they sound, can also sound too good to be true. There is a whiff of fancifulness.

It seems it’s going to be harder to fool at least some of the people, this constituency, all the time, this time around, but it’s not just a black thing. Gail Collins notes another constituency:

It’s a sad time for Hillary Clinton’s fans. Well, I guess that’s obvious, since she got clobbered in New Hampshire. But it’s the way she went down that was particularly painful. Bernie Sanders got more than half the women’s vote, mainly because younger women raced off to his corner in droves.

That triggered a generational cross-fire. “I’m frustrated and outraged by being constantly attacked by older feminists for my refusal to vote according to my gender,” a college sophomore told CNN.

Women tend to vote for candidates who support a strong social safety net, which is not exactly a problem in the current Democratic race. Historically, they’ve been less likely to show a particular preference for other women. I’ve always generalized that they won’t vote for men who yell. However, it appears that is totally inaccurate when the man in question is shouting, “Medicare for all!”

What worked before just isn’t working now:

The idea of a woman as president is a very important marker for people who grew up in a time when medical schools had tiny quotas for female students, newspapers had “help wanted” ads that divided everything by sex and half the population could get credit only in their husband’s or father’s name. Younger women don’t seem to share that yearning, and there are wounded feelings on both sides.

This is hardly the first time progressive women have had a generational conflict. Once women won the right to vote, the older suffragists wanted to keep battling for equal rights, while many of their juniors felt they had other things to do. “‘Feminism’ has become a term of opprobrium to the modern young woman,” wrote Dorothy Dunbar Bromley in a famous 1927 essay that suggested militants of the old school had a demoralizing tendency to wear unflattering shoes.

In the modern era, whenever cross-generational sniping occurred, younger women always had a champion in Gloria Steinem. “Their activism is fantastic,” she told me in a post-New Hampshire phone interview. Steinem, a Clinton supporter, was drawn into the fray when, during a TV appearance, she seemed to be suggesting that younger women were supporting Sanders because they wanted to meet boys. She says she misspoke, that she was talking about issues of power, not sex: “The person who’s being written about is not me.” Garbling a message is something that can definitely happen on the umpteenth leg of a book tour, and if anybody has earned the right to be taken at her word, it’s Steinem.

It’s easy to see why Sanders is attracting the youth vote. His events are electric. When he demands free tuition at public colleges and universities, the audience is practically orating with him, calling out their student loans (“Over 200,000, Columbia University graduate school!”). When he goes into his Medicare-for-all health care system, they shout their insurance deductibles (“5,000 … for a single person!”).

Many of those shouting out are young women, so there was this at the debate:

Hillary Clinton defended Madeleine Albright’s comment that “there’s a special place in Hell for women who don’t help other women,” remarking that there are still “some barriers to knock down.”

“Well, look I think that she’s been saying that for as long as I’ve known her,” Clinton said of the former secretary of state.

She added that it does not change her goal of empowering everyone, women and men, to make the best decisions on issues related to equal pay and paid family leave.

Turning to moderators Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill, Clinton remarked upon the situation on the stage.

“I would note, just for a historic aside, somebody told me earlier we’ve had like 200 presidential primary debates, and this is the first time there have been a majority of women on stage,” she said. “So you know, we’ll take our progress wherever we can find it.”

And just for a historic aside, note that Lincoln was wrong. You cannot fool some of the people – women, blacks – all the time. No one wants to be taken for a fool, but then Lincoln probably never said any of that. He wasn’t that cynical. We are.

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The Two Disruptors

“I do, like many of you, appreciate the comforts of every day routine – the security of the familiar, the tranquility of repetition. I enjoy them as much as any bloke.”

That’s how the guy in the Guy Fawkes mask opens his address to the British people in that odd futuristic movie – and then he systematically brings down the nation’s neo-fascist government. He was asking for help. The security of the familiar was the problem. People had become resigned to their own repression, from the endless curfews to the neighbor suddenly being carried off in a black bag. It was time to rise up and do something about this – and yes, unlike in 1605, Parliament is actually blown up this time. It’s a fantasy. Liberals love the movie, and Natalie Portman is damned cute as the waif who gets caught up in all this. But it’s only a movie.

In real life people do like the security of the familiar and the tranquility of repetition. Everyone knows what’s what – Republicans act like Republicans, and Jeb Bush will be our next president, unless that’s Hillary Clinton. All the rest is noise, except that this year things are different. Donald Trump is running away with the Republican nomination and Hillary Clinton was just smoked in the New Hampshire primary – by Bernie Sanders, who likes to call himself a democratic socialist – a seventy-four-year-old Jew from Brooklyn who wasn’t even a Democrat before this year. He won in a landslide, and Donald Trump, who never before had much to do with the Republican Party before, had twice as many votes as the nearest lifelong Republican. Something is up. Nothing is what it’s supposed to be. Forget blowing up Parliament – these two have blown up our two political parties.

This has made many uncomfortable. There’s this from Janet Shan:

I will say it loud and clear, for now, I am a Hillary Clinton supporter but I would support John Kasich if he were to become the Republican presidential nominee over her. I am a moderate who leans left on some issues and right on others. What I cannot bring myself to do in good conscience is to support either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders – a racist, sexist and xenophobe on the GOP side, and an avowed Socialist on the Democratic side. If both become the respective presidential nominees, then this is one election I may have to sit out and that would be a real shame.

Perhaps so, but she may have to sit out this election. John Cassidy, in the New Yorker, explains it all – Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump Ride the Populist Wave – a discussion of how these two are oddly alike, or at least riding the same wave, and Kenneth Walsh offers Trump, Sanders Ride Voter Anger to Victory:

Trump and Sanders, although they belong to different parties, possess different temperaments, and offer different policies, have much in common in their core appeal. They berate special interests, including the super-rich and big contributors; argue that the middle class has been getting a raw deal; say the Washington establishment doesn’t represent the people, and oppose the United States being the world’s policeman.

That makes them just alike – everyone seems to be saying that now – but the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent isn’t so sure about that:

On Morning Joe Wednesday morning, Donald Trump explained his – and Bernie Sanders’s – big wins in New Hampshire this way:

“We’re being ripped off by everybody. And I guess that’s the thing that Bernie Sanders and myself have in common. We know about the trade. But unfortunately he can’t do anything to fix it, whereas I will. I have the best people in the world. We’re losing hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars a year. And we will fix it. And we’ll make it good. And we’ll bring our jobs back. Bernie Sanders can’t even think in terms of that. The only thing he does know, and he’s right about, is that we’re being ripped off; he says that constantly; and I guess he and I are the only two that really say that.”

We’re being ripped off, and Trump and Sanders are the only two candidates who are really saying that. They are speaking to people’s sense that our economic and political systems are cheating them, that they are being failed because the underlying rules of those systems have themselves been rigged.

Well, that’s what Trump says, but what Sanders said in his victory speech Tuesday night isn’t that much different:

“Tonight, we served notice to the political and economic establishment of this country that the American people will not continue to accept a corrupt campaign finance system that is undermining American democracy, and we will not accept a rigged economy in which ordinary Americans work longer hours for lower wages, while almost all new income and wealth goes to the top one percent.”

In one sentence, Sanders blamed flat wages and soaring inequality on an economy whose rules have been written to benefit a tiny elite at the expense of everyone else, and tied this directly to a political system whose rules have been written to dis-empower the American people from doing anything about it.

It’s the same thing, but Sargent says it isn’t the same thing at all:

Trump says our elites are weak, stupid, and corrupt. Sanders says our elites are being corrupted. The difference between those two things is subtle, but important. Trump says the elites are cheating ordinary Americans by helping illegals, major corporations, and China, and vows to break this corrupt system over his knee and get it working again, because he’s not one of those elites. This is what Trump really means when he says he “can’t be bought”; Trump is not making a sustained argument for political and campaign finance reform; he’s just saying he’s not a member of the class that is cheating you, and he will come in and bust up that class’s party.

Sanders, by contrast, is making a sustained argument for political and campaign finance reform. For him, the culprit is not an elite that is actively trying to help illegals and China and allowing the country to slide into ruin out of national security weakness and ineffectiveness. Rather, it’s an oligarchy that has enriched itself by rigging the economy to effect a massive transfer of wealth upwards and to paralyze our political system from doing anything about it, thus corrupting our political classes. Sanders’s whole policy agenda is framed around this idea. While [Hillary] Clinton tends to focus on incremental solutions aimed at boosting wages and opportunity, and mitigating people’s economic difficulties on the margins, Sanders wants to rid the system entirely of its dependence on big money in order to actively reverse the upward redistribution of wealth that, he says, poses an existential threat to our economy and middle class.

Those are two different things and Hillary mistakenly confuses them:

In her concession speech, Clinton tried to get back to a more reform-oriented posture by alluding to the very good campaign finance and voting reform proposals she’s rolled out. But Clinton continued to describe Sanders’s success in limited emotional terms – as if he is merely speaking to people’s anger and frustration. Some pundits similarly describe Trump’s appeal as an ability to harness “anger.” Yet there’s more to it than this. What both Trump and Sanders share is that they treat the problem as one of political economy, in which both the economic and political systems are rigged in intertwined ways, thus speaking directly to people’s understandable intellectual assessment of what is deeply wrong with our system and why it no longer works for them.

The long term danger for Clinton is that Sanders has framed the whole race in a way that will make it very hard for her to counter this argument. If the Democratic establishment steps in to rally for Clinton, that risks making her look more like an old-guard political creature of the very establishment that Sanders is indicting, only now it will be rigging the system on her behalf.

She’s trapped. Bernie Sanders wins this one, or Donald Trump does. Either of their views of what has gone terribly wrong trumps the tranquility of repetition. Stephen Rose, the labor economist, discusses this in The Triumph of the Untested:

While not unexpected, the results of primary election in New Hampshire provide an interesting reading of how a lot of Americans are feeling.

Let’s start with where the election took place: New Hampshire is an overwhelming white state with a highly educated population, an extremely low unemployment rate, and incomes that are 20 percent higher than the national average. If any group of people has reason to be confident about their economic future, it is the people of this state.

Yet the two anti-establishment winners base their appeal on what is wrong with America today. And they couldn’t be more different. One is super-rich and is running on a platform of reducing taxes and regulations. The other is a self-proclaimed democratic socialist running on increasing taxes, providing more services, and increasing regulations on business. One never ran for elective office and touts his qualifications as a successful businessman; the other is a career politician but of a very unique sort – officially an independent who is gadfly with little legislative clout. Yet media reports found a number of people in the days before the elections who were trying to decide which one of these two to vote for.

What Sanders and Trump share is a commitment to major changes and a passionate style which is interpreted as “authenticity.”

But there’s nothing new there:

Running on change has been a prominent theme in many recent elections. Obama’s original campaign slogans were “yes we can” and “hope.” Tea Party and other strongly conservative Republicans have promised going to Washington and shaking things up. Yet the last five years in Washington have been mostly characterized by major confrontations that have led to last minute compromises that pleased no one.

Looking objectively at the Obama record, we see a modest rebound from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The passing of the Affordable Care Act was the major early accomplishment followed by managing the recovery of the financial system while enacting the Dodd-Frank regulatory framework meant to ensure that there wouldn’t be another financial meltdown. While these are modest achievements, they look very good in comparison to what has happened in Japan, most countries in Western Europe, Russia, and Brazil.

Sure, but people are angry anyway, and Rose sees several reasons for that:

A key difference today is change in how the news is reported. On the one hand, the mass media went from neutral reporter of major events to specialized channels and talk shows on radio and TV that were advocates of extreme positions. On the other hand, the huge presence of hyper-partisan internet blogs and sites has made people choose sides. And once they have chosen a side, they tend to hear lots of self-reinforcing commentaries and tune out other narratives (what behavioral scientists call confirmation and inattention biases).

But it’s more than that:

First, all sides agree that our political system is failing us without realizing that their partisanship is one of the basic reasons for this gridlock. Conservatives have a visceral dislike of Obama and accuse of him of being a socialist tyrant (and were even worried that war games in the US might be a plan to take over Texas). In contrast, liberals repeatedly complain about the corrosive effects of big money in politics in rigging the game in favor of the super-rich. Note the chasm between these two arguments.

Second, conservatives feel that they have lost the cultural wars and that their beliefs are under attack, e.g. same sex marriage, out of wedlock sex and births, secularism, and militant Islam. They rail against the mass media, political correctness, and a welfare state that is too generous to immigrants and people of color. As Stan Greenberg documents in his book America Ascendant, these people are desperate to defend their way of life against long-term demographic and cultural trends.

That book would be America Ascendant: A Revolutionary Nation’s Path to Addressing Its Deepest Problems and Leading the 21st Century – explained here:

Bill Clinton’s former pollster thinks it’s a mistake for Democratic presidential candidates to essentially run for President Barack Obama’s “third term.”

“That’s not what the country wants. It’s not what the base of the Democratic Party wants,” said longtime Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg, whose past clients include Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. “The Democratic Party is waiting for a president who will articulate the scale of the problems we face and challenge them to address it.”

Greenberg thinks it’s time to go bigger.

Enter Bernie Sanders, stage left, of course, but Rose is more interested in the economic dread out there:

On the one hand, a 2015 poll by the Pew Research Center found that: 40 percent say that the big recession didn’t negatively affect them; 30 percent said that recession hurt them but that they have now recovered; and 30 percent were negatively affected and haven’t recovered. With 30 percent losing ground, this provides a pool of angry people and another group who worry some untoward event could happen to them. Overall, there is economic anxiety about a globalized world in which things changing too fast and too unpredictably. In a couple of stories before the election about NH voters saying that “I’m doing okay now but…”

In this environment, the untested – Trump, Sanders, Cruz, and Rubio – have flourished with big promises and great bombast. Because the economy isn’t in disastrous state, people seem willing to give these candidates the benefit of the doubt

They were waiting for someone to show up in a Guy Fawkes mask – the movie was V for Vendetta by the way – but vendettas are scary. Bernie Sanders is a fine fellow – decent and generous and kind – but Donald Trump is a different matter. In fact, Ezra Klein says that the rise of Donald Trump is a terrifying moment in American politics:

On Monday, Donald Trump held a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, where he merrily repeated a woman in the crowd who called Ted Cruz a pussy. Twenty-four hours later, Donald Trump won the New Hampshire primary in a landslide.

I’m not here to clutch my pearls over Trump’s vulgarity; what was telling, rather, was the immaturity of the moment, the glee Trump took in his “she said it, I didn’t” game. The media, which has grown used to covering Trump as a sideshow, delighted in the moment along with him – it was funny, and it meant clicks, takes, traffic. But it was more than that. It was the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president showing off the demagogue’s instinct for amplifying the angriest voice in the mob.

And yes, that’s seductive, and dangerously so:

It is undeniably enjoyable to watch Trump. He’s red-faced, discursive, funny, angry, strange, unpredictable, and real. He speaks without filter and tweets with reckless abandon. The Donald Trump phenomenon is a riotous union of candidate ego and voter id. America’s most skilled political entertainer is putting on the greatest show we’ve ever seen.

It’s so fun to watch that it’s easy to lose sight of how terrifying it really is.

Trump is the most dangerous major candidate for president in memory. He pairs terrible ideas with an alarming temperament; he’s a racist, a sexist, and a demagogue, but he’s also a narcissist, a bully, and a dilettante. He lies so constantly and so fluently that it’s hard to know if he even realizes he’s lying. He delights in schoolyard taunts and luxuriates in backlash.

No good will come of this:

His triumph in a general election is unlikely, but it is far from impossible. He’s not a joke and he’s not a clown. He’s a man who could soon be making decisions of war and peace, who would decide which regulations are enforced and which are lifted, who would be responsible for nominating Supreme Court justices and representing America in the community of nations. This is not political entertainment. This is politics.

And he’s no Bernie Sanders – mayor, congressman, senator:

Trump’s path to power has been unnerving. His business is licensing out his own name as a symbol of opulence. He has endured bankruptcies and scandal by bragging his way out of them. He rose to prominence in the Republican Party as a leader of the birther movement. He climbed to the top of the polls in this election by calling Mexicans rapists and killers. He defended a poor debate performance by accusing Megyn Kelly of being on her period. He responded to rival Ted Cruz’s surge by calling for a travel ban on Muslims. When two of his supporters attacked a homeless man and said they did it because “Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported,” he brushed off complaints that he’s inspiring violence by saying his supporters are “very passionate.”

Behind Trump’s success is an unerring instinct for harnessing anger, resentment, and fear. His view of the economy is entirely zero-sum – for Americans to win, others must lose. “We’re going to make America great again,” he said in his New Hampshire victory speech, “but we’re going to do it the old-fashioned way. We’re going to beat China, Japan, beat Mexico at trade. We’re going to beat all of these countries that are taking so much of our money away from us on a daily basis. It’s not going to happen anymore.”

Trump answers America’s rage with more rage… Trump doesn’t offer solutions so much as he offers villains. His message isn’t so much that he’ll help you as he’ll hurt them.

Other than that he’s fine fellow, except for his complete lack of shame:

It’s easy to underestimate how important shame is in American politics. But shame is our most powerful restraint on politicians who would find success through demagoguery. Most people feel shame when they’re exposed as liars, when they’re seen as uninformed, when their behavior is thought cruel, when respected figures in their party condemn their actions, when experts dismiss their proposals, when they are mocked and booed and protested.

Trump doesn’t. He has the reality television star’s ability to operate entirely without shame, and that permits him to operate entirely without restraint. It is the single scariest facet of his personality. It is the one that allows him to go where others won’t, to say what others can’t, to do what others wouldn’t.

Trump lives by the reality television trope that he’s not here to make friends. But the reason reality television villains always say they’re not there to make friends is because it sets them apart, makes them unpredictable and fun to watch. “I’m not here to make friends” is another way of saying, “I’m not bound by the social conventions of normal people.” The rest of us are here to make friends, and it makes us boring, gentle, kind.

That is what scares Klein:

There are places where I think his instincts are an improvement on the Republican field. He seems more dovish than neoconservatives like Marco Rubio and less dismissive of the social safety net than libertarians like Rand Paul. But those candidates are checked by institutions and incentives that hold no sway over Trump; his temperament is so immature, his narcissism so clear, his political base so unique, his reactions so strange, that I honestly have no idea what he would do – or what he wouldn’t do.

That’s not so with Sanders. Everyone knows exactly what Sanders would or would not do. You may hate his ideas, or merely think they’re just plain dumb, but you know. It would never be a reflexive vendetta. These two are not alike.

Anyone can see that, but Josh Keating says that’s not exactly so:

The people of New Hampshire, both Democrat and Republican, voiced their anger at the American political establishment last night, and they did it in a thick New York accent.

The two insurgent candidates shaking up the contest are a Jewish socialist from Flatbush and a Queens-bred Manhattan real estate developer, both typifying different strains of what one might call “New York values.” Yes, Sanders made his career in Vermont, but as his own brother puts it, “he is 100 percent Brooklyn,” which his attacks on the “millionayuhs and billionayuhs” make obvious. In his speech after his New Hampshire victory last night – a speech aimed at introducing himself to a national audience – Sanders didn’t once mention neighboring Vermont but instead touted his upbringing in a “small three and a half room, rent controlled apartment in Brooklyn, New York.”

As for Trump: I, a son of New York, had initially dismissed his electoral chances for the same reason I never really took Rudy Giuliani or Mike Bloomberg seriously as national candidates: too socially liberal, too secular, too brash, and too, well, New York to win over Republicans outside the Northeast. But primary voters throughout the country sure are taken with Trump’s tough guy, outer-borough, xenophobic shtick. You could call it Sal’s Pizzeria conservatism even though Trump’s famous “yuuuuges” and “fantaaastics” mask a privileged upbringing and Wharton education.

Keating is fine with that:

New York candidates have faced the attack that they’re not quite American enough since at least 1928, when Democrats nominated another guy with a thick New Yawk accent, the progressive governor Al Smith, to run against Herbert Hoover. Smith grew up in poverty on the Lower East Side and used “The Sidewalks of New York” as his campaign song but faced vicious attacks on his Irish heritage and Roman Catholicism and was tailed on the campaign trail by the Ku Klux Klan.

The last president from New York was the patrician Franklin Roosevelt of the Hudson Valley. Since then it’s been a rough ride. New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller tried unsuccessfully to win the nomination three times in the 1960s as a liberal Republican with a scandalous personal life in an era when his party was moving rapidly to the right. He eventually became Gerald Ford’s unelected vice president but was unceremoniously dropped from the ticket in 1976 when Ford needed to appeal to conservatives.

Prominent New York political figures including John Lindsay, Al Sharpton, George Pataki, and Giuliani, have made dismally unsuccessful runs for the presidency. Mario Cuomo, Colin Powell, and Bloomberg have managed to generate fevered media speculation without ever actually running.

Keating goes on with more examples, because he sees something has changed:

If Democrats ultimately reject Sanders, they’ll be backing a former New York senator who calls Chappaqua home. The specter of a third-party run by Bloomberg still hangs over the contest. The American electorate as a whole is becoming more urban, more socially liberal, and more culturally diverse – a source of hope for some and terror for others. In short, America is looking more like New York. New York values, of one brand or another, may be exactly what voters are looking for.

Does that explain everything that’s happening this year? Probably not – but that is one way these two are alike – and maybe the only way. Still, it is an odd year. The security of the familiar and the tranquility of repetition are long gone. So, let’s go blow up Parliament, shall we? Or maybe not… These two guys are really not alike at all.

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Such People

There’s Miranda’s speech in The Tempest – Act V, Scene I – “How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world that has such people in it!”

Shakespeare is one thing, and Aldous Huxley is another. His famous novel Brave New World turns those words inside out – the future that he imagines isn’t nice at all, and the people in it are rather awful. Natural reproduction has been abolished – that’s engineered. Educating children is done with a sort of hypnosis, to make sure everyone fits in properly, and critical thinking is gone – most folks are bred for low intelligence and conditioned not to think – and the individual is gone too. Spending time alone is considered abnormal and just plain wrong – so well-adjusted citizens spend their free time in communal activities requiring no thought – but at least group sex and drugs are fine. And everyone has lots of stuff. Citizens are conditioned to promote consumption – that keeps things humming along.

That sounds familiar, and the irony is that Huxley ended up out here in Hollywood, in a fine house at the top of Beachwood Canyon, just under the Hollywood sign. That burned down years ago, but he did spend his last years looking straight down on that Brave New World he had imagined. Hollywood is all that he imagined. In the novel, the hero, blessed, or cursed, with some real self-awareness, tries to escape that world. He can’t. That’s a bummer.

So, imagine Aldous Huxley out here in Hollywood looking down at those miles of bright lights below, at that brave new world that has such people in it – lost souls who don’t even know who they are anymore, but with lots of stuff, and pleasantly and perpetually sedated too. Now, this evening, imagine him glancing at the television, and trying to make sense of America’s first presidential primary. What kind of world has such people in it? The preposterous Donald Trump won on the Republican side? Yes, and on the Democratic side, the “democratic socialist” actually won, big. What?

A quick review of the basics:

Donald J. Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont harnessed working-class fury on Tuesday to surge to commanding victories in a New Hampshire primary that drew a huge turnout across the state.

The success by two outsider candidates dealt a remarkable rebuke to the political establishment, and all but guaranteed protracted, bruising races for each party’s presidential nomination.

Mr. Trump, the wealthy businessman whose blunt language and outsider image have electrified many Republicans and horrified others, benefited from an unusually large field of candidates that split the vote among traditional politicians like Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, who finished second, and former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida.

But Mr. Trump also tapped into a deep well of anxiety among Republicans and independents in New Hampshire, according to exit polling data, and he ran strongest among voters who were worried about illegal immigrants, incipient economic turmoil and the threat of a terrorist attack in the United States.

That got him all of thirty-five percent of the vote, but that was far more than anyone else, as so many others were running, but Sanders got sixty percent of the vote available to him, and that was a big deal:

The win for Mr. Sanders amounted to a powerful and painful rejection of Hillary Clinton, who has a deep history with New Hampshire voters and offered policy ideas that seemed to reflect the flinty, moderate politics of the state. But Mr. Sanders, who has proposed an emphatically liberal agenda to raise taxes and impose regulations on Wall Street, drew support from a wide cross-section of voters, even edging her out among women, boosted by his appeal among the young.

At his victory party, Mr. Sanders, flashing a wide, toothy grin, pointed to the large voter turnout as evidence that only he could energize the Democratic electorate to defeat the Republicans in November.

“Together we have sent a message that will echo from Wall Street to Washington, from Maine to California,” Mr. Sanders said. “And that is that the government of our great country belongs to all of the people, and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors and their ‘super PACs.'”

This worries some folks:

While Mr. Sanders led New Hampshire polls for the last month, and Mr. Trump was ahead here since July, the wave of support for both men was nonetheless stunning to leaders of both parties who believed that in the end, voters would embrace more experienced candidates like Mrs. Clinton or one of the Republican governors in the race. Yet the two men won significant support from voters who felt betrayed by their parties and were dissatisfied or angry with the federal government.

It is a new world, or maybe not:

Mr. Kasich’s surprise second-place finish was driven by voters who described themselves as moderates and independents and were charmed by his pragmatism and his upbeat campaign. Effectively skipping Iowa, Mr. Kasich spent 62 days in New Hampshire, holding 106 town hall-style events.

“We never went negative because we have more good to sell than to spend our time being critical of somebody else,” an ebullient Mr. Kasich told supporters, vowing “to re-shine America, to restore the spirit of America and to leave no one behind.”

And Marco Rubio fizzled, Ted Cruz, who won the Iowa caucuses, went nowhere, and Jeb Bush finally joined them in the group of the marginally okay but not quite good enough for second place. Chris Christie started his exit:

With little money left and a slim chance of being eligible for a Republican debate on Saturday, the governor said he was going back to New Jersey on Wednesday “to take a deep breath.”

He came in sixth. It’s over, and it was Trump’s night:

At an exuberant victory party at a banquet hall in Manchester, people waved foam fingers reading “You’re hired!” or “Make America great again!” Mr. Trump’s remarks ranged from emotional expressions of thanks to his late parents to more belligerent assertions that echoed his stump speech.

“I am going to be the greatest jobs president that God ever created,” vowed Mr. Trump, adding that he would “knock the hell out of ISIS,” or the Islamic State.

There’s more, but Josh Marshall nicely summarizes it this way:

Me. Me. Me.

This is the perfect Trump speech. My family is awesome. I’m awesome. My campaign is awesome. It’s awesome. Me. Me. Me. And then the key transition. I will make us winners again. Because I know. Because I’m a winner. Don’t be a loser. I’m a winner. People won’t laugh at us anymore. We’ll stop losing.

There’s almost a vicarious, soteriological aspect to it. Elect me and you can participate in my awesomeness.

Who are these people running for president? Consider Marco Rubio:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) apologized Tuesday to his supporters for not doing well at the final GOP debate before the New Hampshire primary and said he was disappointed for not winning the Granite State. But he promised to return to the state “to win the general election.”

“I’m disappointed with tonight. But I want you to understand something. I want you to understand something. Our disappointment tonight is not on you – it’s on me,” Rubio said. “I did not do well on Saturday night. So listen to this: that will never happen again.”

That’s just pathetic, but the day before, McKay Coppins explained Rubio’s disastrous performance at the debate just before the voting:

To those who have known him longest, Rubio’s flustered performance Saturday night fit perfectly with an all-too-familiar strain of his personality, one that his handlers and image-makers have labored for years to keep out of public view. Though generally seen as cool-headed and quick on his feet, Rubio is known to friends, allies, and advisers for a kind of incurable anxiousness – and an occasional propensity to panic in moments of crisis, both real and imagined. …

More than age, record, or wardrobe, it is Rubio’s natural nervousness that makes him seem to so many who know him like he is swimming in his dad’s sport coat… From the moment the 2010 primary turned negative, the candidate needed a fainting couch every time an attack was lobbed his way, his aides recalled to me… When a state senator who was backing the governor referred to Rubio as a “slick package from Miami,” he was aghast and ordered his aides to cry foul. Dog whistle! Anti-Cuban! Racist! When opponents accused Rubio of steering state funds toward Florida International University in exchange for a faculty job after he left office, he was indignant. Outrageous! Slander!

“He just lets these little things get to him, and he worries too much,” a Miami Republican complained after spending close to an hour sitting next to Rubio on a flight as he fretted over a mildly critical process story about him in the National Journal. “I’m just like, ‘Marco, calm down.'”

Who are these people running for president? And Slate’s Josh Voorhees argues the Kasich “win” (a quite surprising second place) doesn’t fix much:

Kasich isn’t going home. He’s going on to South Carolina. The problem for the Republican Party, though, is that Kasich is unlikely to go much further than that. In the meantime, he’ll siphon off momentum, media attention, and money from his fellow party-approved rivals who are actually in a position to capitalize on a post-primary bump. Kasich’s surprise showing actually turns the GOP’s Trump-themed headache into a migraine.

The guy just isn’t one of them:

Kasich’s bigger problem is just how out of line his (relatively!) moderate worldview appears to be with that of the Republican voters he’ll need to unite. He doesn’t just have a history of going against the conservative line – he has a history of unapologetic conservative apostasy, often seeming to take great joy in telling conservative voters that they’re wrong. In a world where a former reality TV star can win New Hampshire, anything is possible. But in a world where Donald J. Trump does win New Hampshire, it’s hard to imagine a critical mass of Republican voters will be excited about Kasich’s positions on hot-button topics like immigration, Common Core, Medicaid expansion, and marriage equality.

He’s a moderate on such things, and then there’s this:

The Ohio Republican’s already difficult job will get that much more so now that the race is leaving New Hampshire, a state where the candidate he’s most often compared with, Jon Huntsman, won roughly the same share of the GOP vote four years ago as Kasich did on Tuesday. (Huntsman, you probably won’t remember, dropped out shortly after.) Next come South Carolina and then Nevada, neither of which will be anywhere near as friendly to Kasich’s particular brand of politics. If he is still standing come March, he’ll then need to survive a Super Tuesday dominated by delegate-rich southern states like Texas, Georgia, and Alabama. In other words, Kasich will leave New Hampshire as a winner – but a winner the race will soon forget.

So the relatively humane guy is as good as gone, and Isaac Chotiner covers Clinton:

Hillary Clinton’s impressive concession speech Tuesday night, which followed Bernie Sanders’ even more impressive win in the New Hampshire primary, was a bracing call for getting real. Clinton is making a version of the case she made against Barack Obama in 2008: Voters may be inspired by her opponent, but they should vote for her if they actually want change to occur. The argument didn’t quite succeed in 2008, although Clinton and Obama battled to what was nearly a tie. Against a weaker (if surprisingly formidable) opponent this time, will it be enough?

Perhaps not, but she gave it a try:

In her speech, Clinton mentioned Flint, Michigan, and health care, along with a couple other old standbys, and acknowledged that voters were right to be angry. But rather than appeal emotionally to that anger, she urged them to be pragmatic, saying that people should be “hungry for solutions” and labeling herself the “best change-maker.” It was a clever use of a key Obama word, and it highlighted her argument: If you want change, don’t rely on hope.

But she wasn’t being cynical:

What made the speech better than many of her previous efforts – I’m not including her Goldman Sachs speeches, since we haven’t seen those – was that she mixed this practical approach to leadership with a surprising amount of heart. “I know I have some work to do, particularly with young people,” she intoned. “Even if they are not supporting me now, I support them.” This reference to her low levels of support from Kids These Days led to several other relatively heartfelt lines about her awareness of “what it’s like to stumble and fall.” (Against Obama, Clinton had her best moments when under attack or when voters were reminded of her past troubles.) Clinton also mixed in a passionate appeal for racial justice of the sort that neither she nor any candidate would have included eight years ago.

Fine, she’ll get past this, barely:

Clinton has had several strong debates, she has given several impressive speeches, and she has released an impressive set of policy proposals. She occasionally seems to have transcended her previous flaws as a candidate and public figure. But then there is the constant stream of stories about possible staff shakeups; about Bill misbehaving, or speaking out of turn; about coziness with Wall Street that rightly makes Democrats squirm; about emails. Her argument for experience and pragmatism should be enough to get her past Bernie Sanders, but mainly by default.

That may be good enough, and then she can get past Donald Trump in November, by default. By then he’ll probably be calling for the death of all Muslims, worldwide. He’s already promising “something much worse than torture” as official policy. A plodding and unpleasant pragmatist is better than a proud uninformed sadist with no doubts about anything, maybe. The vote could still be close. Oh brave new world that has such people in it!

Is this the brave new world? The New York Times’ older in-house conservative, David Brooks, wonders about that, and admits he’ll miss Obama:

Many of the traits of character and leadership that Obama possesses, and that maybe we have taken too much for granted, have suddenly gone missing or are in short supply.

The first and most important of these is basic integrity. The Obama administration has been remarkably scandal-free. Think of the way Iran-contra or the Lewinsky scandals swallowed years from Reagan and Clinton.

We’ve had very little of that from Obama. He and his staff have generally behaved with basic rectitude. Hillary Clinton is constantly having to hold these defensive press conferences when she’s trying to explain away some vaguely shady shortcut she’s taken, or decision she has made, but Obama has not had to do that.

He and his wife have not only displayed superior integrity themselves, they have mostly attracted and hired people with high personal standards. There are all sorts of unsightly characters floating around politics, including in the Clinton camp and in Gov. Chris Christie’s administration. This sort has been blocked from team Obama.

And then there’s the issue of basic humanity:

Donald Trump has spent much of this campaign vowing to block Muslim immigration. You can only say that if you treat Muslim Americans as an abstraction. President Obama, meanwhile, went to a mosque, looked into people’s eyes and gave a wonderful speech reasserting their place as Americans.

He’s exuded this basic care and respect for the dignity of others time and time again. Let’s put it this way: Imagine if Barack and Michelle Obama joined the board of a charity you’re involved in. You’d be happy to have such people in your community. Could you say that comfortably about Ted Cruz? The quality of a president’s humanity flows out in the unexpected but important moments.

And the guy thinks things through:

Over the years I have spoken to many members of this administration who were disappointed that the president didn’t take their advice. But those disappointed staffers almost always felt that their views had been considered in depth.

Obama’s basic approach is to promote his values as much as he can within the limits of the situation. Bernie Sanders, by contrast, has been so blinded by his values that the reality of the situation does not seem to penetrate his mind.

Take health care. Passing Obamacare was a mighty lift that led to two gigantic midterm election defeats. As Megan McArdle pointed out in her Bloomberg View column, Obamacare took coverage away from only a small minority of Americans. Sanderscare would take employer coverage away from tens of millions of satisfied customers, destroy the health insurance business and levy massive new tax hikes. This is epic social disruption.

To think you could pass Sanderscare through a polarized Washington and in a country deeply suspicious of government is to live in intellectual fairyland. President Obama may have been too cautious, especially in the Middle East, but at least he’s able to grasp the reality of the situation.

And there is grace under pressure:

I happen to find it charming that Marco Rubio gets nervous on the big occasions – that he grabs for the bottle of water, breaks out in a sweat and went robotic in the last debate. It shows Rubio is a normal person. And I happen to think overconfidence is one of Obama’s great flaws. But a president has to maintain equipoise under enormous pressure. Obama has done that, especially amid the financial crisis. After Saturday night, this is now an open question about Rubio.

Now add optimism:

To hear Sanders or Trump, and Cruz and Ben Carson campaign, is to wallow in the pornography of pessimism, to conclude that this country is on the verge of complete collapse. That’s simply not true. We have problems, but they are less serious than those faced by just about any other nation on earth.

People are motivated to make wise choices more by hope and opportunity than by fear, cynicism, hatred and despair. Unlike many current candidates, Obama has not appealed to those passions.

No, Obama has not been temperamentally perfect. Too often he’s been disdainful, aloof, resentful and insular. But there is a tone of ugliness creeping across the world, as democracies retreat, as tribalism mounts, as suspiciousness and authoritarianism take center stage.

Yeah, a lot of people are noticing that, and not noticing this:

Obama radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance that I’m beginning to miss…

This man needs to get used to the brave new world. New Hampshire is only the start of it. Think of Huxley looking down on the lights of Hollywood. Sigh.

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The Big Dog Barks

Bill Clinton, once known as President William Jefferson Clinton, is now called the Big Dog, affectionately. When he talks he takes over the room. He can explain incredibly complex matters with grace and humor – he knows his stuff, in detail – and suddenly everything is clear. At the 2012 Democratic Convention he gave a stunning speech that explained Obamacare and the Democrats’ economic policies so clearly, and with such good humor, that Obama would laughingly call him the Explainer-in Chief. He was a lot better at that than Obama ever was, and damn, that made Obama happy. This guy was good, and his record as president wasn’t bad either. Except for that at-a-distance dust-up in Kosovo, we didn’t go to war anywhere to transform the world. We found other ways to advance our national interests, and at home, Clinton actually pulled off the rarest of feats. He actually balanced the budget. No one ever does that, but Clinton did, working with the key budget guy in the House, John Kasich, oddly enough. There was the Monica Lewinsky business of course, and the subsequent impeachment, but Clinton was cleared – no conviction on anything – and throughout that whole thing his approval numbers soared. No one approved of what he and young Monica had been up to, but that seemed a minor matter compared to the gleeful sniggering priggishness of the Republicans. He had been a bad boy, but they came off as thoroughly unpleasant sanctimonious sex-obsessed jerks. Then, of all things, when he left office, we had a federal surplus, not a deficit. The economy had boomed for eight years – not his doing, actually – but wages had risen for those eight years and there had been jobs for everyone. He really was the Big Dog.

The second George Bush took that massive surplus out for a spin and crashed it into a tree – two unfunded major wars in the Middle East, massive tax cuts for the rich offset by nothing at all, and then the completely unfunded Medicare Part D will do that – and then in 2007-2008 the economy crashed and burned. Major important banks were failing, the credit markets seized up, we were losing eight hundred thousand jobs a month, millions of Americans were losing their homes, and there was only one thing to do – pump seven hundred billion dollars into the banking system immediately, or sooner.

Where would that money come from? We put that on the tab. We sold treasury bonds to anyone who would buy them – a promise to pay interest on those and to pay back the principle at a fixed date, ten or thirty years out. We were good for that. This is America, not some flaky South American joke of a country. Everyone knows that, and anyway, we could always sell more bonds to pay the interest and then the principle on those first ones – but that’s a vicious cycle. We were deep in the hole again. The deficit spending was necessary – forget anything like a balanced budget – and the massive new debt was inevitable. George Bush had ruined everything.

It was obviously time for another Clinton, so Hillary ran in 2008 and deployed the Big Dog to explain why she, and not this young upstart Obama, should be brought in to set things straight again. She was a Clinton, right?

That was a disaster. The Big Dog explained, on a black talk-radio show, just before the South Carolina primary, that everything Obama had been saying was a big fairy tale – and then she lost that primary to Obama. The black voters of South Carolina didn’t want to hear that “Hope” was a fairy tale. What were they supposed to do, sit quietly for another hundred years? And there was more – it really was unwise to imply that sure, Obama would win South Carolina, but he was kind of a boutique candidate, like Jesse Jackson who had once done well there, so it didn’t matter much. The black voters of South Carolina didn’t matter? That is actually what he seemed to be saying. He complained that everyone was playing the “race card” on him but that only made things worse. He shut up for the rest of the campaign, and yes, four years later he was saying that Obama was wonderful. He’d learned his lesson, or Hillary had learned her lesson. The Big Dog is dangerous. His bark is worse than his bite.

Maybe she didn’t learn her lesson:

Bill Clinton launched a sustained attack on Bernie Sanders at a New Hampshire campaign rally Sunday, tearing into the senator’s rhetoric against Hillary Clinton and picking apart his spending plans.

The former president appeared angry as he poured scorn on his wife’s opponent, portraying the Sanders campaign as dishonest and his healthcare proposals as unrealistic.

Bill Clinton said Sanders’ message was “hermetically-sealed” from reality and ridiculed its implication that “anybody that doesn’t agree… is a tool of the establishment.'”

Yes, he’s barking again, because she’s far behind in New Hampshire and that ticks him off:

Bill Clinton appeared visibly frustrated at criticism over his wife’s ties to Wall Street as he spoke to a crowd of about 300 at a middle school in Milford, New Hampshire.

“She’s getting it from the right, she’s getting it from the left,” he said. “If she were really so weak on Wall Street, would there really be two hedge fund managers setting up two super PACs and spending millions of dollars to attack her? No, they’d be attacking her opponent. But they’re not, they’re attacking her. Because they know that she’s got a stronger plan and they know that when she says she’s going to do something, she’s going to do it,” Bill Clinton told the crowd.

That’s one thing and this is another:

He also called Sanders’ healthcare plan unnecessary, saying that even progressive experts agree the costs “don’t add up.”

“You can’t offer a healthcare program if you don’t know what it costs,” Bill Clinton said. “And we don’t need to do it … just implement the law we’ve got, fix the payment systems and get the drug prices down.”

He’s still talking about fairy tales:

The former president also hit out at the Sanders campaign for “looting information from our computers” – likening the episode to stealing a car with the keys in the ignition – and sent a message to young voters, who polls have suggested currently favor Sanders over Hillary Clinton by as much as two to one.

“Free college for everyone sounds better than what I said … [but] we can’t afford everything,” Bill Clinton told the audience.

He seemed to be telling the Sanders crowd that hope was bullshit:

He set out his wife’s record of achievements, contrasting them with the rhetoric of the Sanders campaign. “It makes you feel good to condemn but it makes more difference if you make something happen,” he said.

He was actually insulting the intelligence of the Sanders crowd, which might not have been wise, and he seems to sense that:

Not letting up his attacks on Bernie Sanders the day before New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, former President Bill Clinton suggested he was biting his tongue in going after his wife’s Democratic opponent.

“Here is what I want to say. The hotter this election gets, the more I wish I was just a former president for just a few months, not the spouse of the next one because I have to be careful what I say,” Clinton said at a get-out-the-vote rally here for Hillary Clinton Monday afternoon.

But they’re tag-teaming this:

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, played the good cop to her husband’s bad cop. “To all the people who are supporting my opponent, I thank you too,” she said. “You may not support me now, but I will always support you.”

It’s a role reversal for the former first couple.

In Iowa, it was Clinton who delivered withering critiques from behind the podium in early January, while Bill Clinton stuck to softer terrain of vouching for his wife qualifications as president, as well as a spouse and mother.

Still, this is troubling. Watch the video:

Chris Matthews reacts to former President Bill Clinton telling NBC’s Andrea Mitchell young voters are mad and apprehensive, and they should be, but should listen to someone who will empower them, like his wife former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“I have to tell you, this is a hard call, but I think Bernie Sanders right now is a better campaigner than Bill Clinton,” MSNBC’s Matthews said.

“Bernie is on his game while Bill is rusty,” Matthews added.

And it only gets worse:

On Bill Maher’s show Friday night, Gloria Steinem suggested that young women are backing Sanders’ campaign because “when you’re young, you’re thinking, ‘Where are the boys?’ The boys are with Bernie.” Maher promptly told Steinem that she’d “smack” him if he suggested the same thing.

Executive director of Progressive Democrats of America said in response to Steinem’s comments that if you’re pro-choice “presumably that includes the right to our own political decisions as well.”

Steinem apologized on her Facebook page. “In a case of talk-show Interruptus, I misspoke on the Bill Maher show recently, and apologize for what’s been misinterpreted as implying young women aren’t serious in their politics… Whether they gravitate to Bernie or Hillary, young women are activist and feminist in greater numbers than ever before.”

Oops. Don’t insult the intelligence of the people on your side, but that wasn’t the end of it:

While campaigning with Hillary at a Concord rally on Saturday, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright proclaimed, “Young women have to support Hillary Clinton. The story is not over!”

“They’re going to want to push us back,” she said. “It’s not done and you have to help. Hillary Clinton will always be there for you. And just remember, there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”

Then late Sunday, former President Bill Clinton accused Sanders’ backers of launching sexist attacks on his wife.

“People who have gone online to defend Hillary and explain – just explain why they supported her – have been subject to attacks that are literally too profane, often – not to mention sexist – to repeat,” he said during an event in Milford, N.H.

The Big Dog is losing it, but the other guy remained calm:

Sanders told MSNBC in an interview aired today that Albright’s comments were “unfortunate.”

“I think women should women, women should help men. Men should help women. Men should help men. That’s what life is about. But we’re now talking about electing the president of United States and people should make their decision based on who they think can do the job best,” the senator said.

Sanders stressed that “anybody who supports me who is engaged in sexist attacks is unacceptable.”

“I don’t want that support. But you know, we have millions of people out there and we cannot control every single person, but I don’t want anybody, anybody to be supportive of me who is engaged in sexism,” he said.

But that’s life:

“I know every day, Hillary Clinton’s people send out ten e-mails telling the world how terrible I am.”

It’s best to shrug, not snarl and bark – chill, Bill, chill. That’s what Josh Marshall recommends:

As someone who’s just loved Bill Clinton since I was right out of college, I feel like this is about to get painful. He’s now going after Bernie Sanders. And he’s (rightly) saying he needs to be careful about what he says as the election gets “hotter.” Yes, you do, Bill. You really do.

The attacks I heard yesterday don’t seem terribly out of line. I think there’s a good argument that Sanders somewhat one-dimensional diagnosis of the country’s ills doesn’t capture the fullness of the challenges we face as a country. But now we’re also seeing the inevitable rumor mill about a post New Hampshire Clinton campaign shake up. This is starting to feel a lot like how 2008 did when Barack Obama started to look like he was an existential threat to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

If so, barking, again, may not be wise:

I want to be clear that there are few better campaigners than Bill Clinton. And virtually anyone would want him speaking and campaigning on their behalf in a tight race. Look at the speech he gave on behalf of President Obama at the 2012 convention. But when I say ‘virtually’ Hillary Clinton may be one of the few who shouldn’t.

No, I don’t expect she’ll take him off the trail and she probably shouldn’t. But I remember how this went down eight years again and man, the pitched battle with Barack Obama just got Bill all unhinged. He said a bunch of things he never should have said and I think he probably realized he should never have said. As you’d expect, when Bill is campaigning for Hillary it’s personal. And he doesn’t quite think straight. So it’s not that I think Bill shouldn’t campaign for Hillary or that he shouldn’t be allowed to. But I have real doubts about whether he helps her when he gets in that mode.

There’s something especially combustible about Bill campaigning for Hillary in a Democratic primary… I think the unique dynamics of personal and political just sort of unhinges the guy. It didn’t start too bad with Obama in 2008 but it got real dark real quick.

It’s already dark – Politico talked to early-state strategists, operatives, and activists about the economy, and a majority agreed that Sanders was winning on message:

Among Democratic insiders surveyed this week in the early states, 60 percent said Sanders is winning the economic argument – an assessment with which more than three-quarters of Republicans agreed.

“Bernie Sanders is saying what Democrats want to hear – that there is a cause to their economic uncertainty (Wall Street and the billionaires), and that the remedy is a revolution,” said one New Hampshire Democrat, who, like all insiders, completed the survey anonymously. “Unless Hillary can re-pivot her messaging on the economic insecurity so many of us (even her supporters) feel, Bernie will continue to win the argument and dominate the conversation when it comes to economic issues.”

“Clinton’s message is a laundry list of center-left specific proposals, with little universal theme,” added another New Hampshire Democrat. “Sanders is the opposite – he focuses on a universal theme of a rigged system of crooked capitalism and campaign financing to explain why people should feel as angry as they do.”

And that drives the Big Dog crazy, so he barks, and this video interview with the Atlantic’s Molly Ball might make him scream:

“Bernie’s supporters are much more personal against Hillary Clinton than he is,” she says. “We’ve talked to supporters – these young women that you meet at Bernie Sanders rallies. It is a really interesting phenomenon where, there is this really strong feminist consciousness in young liberal women on college campuses.”

“I went to a Bernie Sanders rally on a college campus here in New Hampshire yesterday, and these women all say, I’m a feminist, I’m concerned about rape culture, I share all these liberal feminist views, and I think Bernie is the better feminist in the race.”

“They look at Hillary, I had one young woman say to me she thinks Hillary is only there because of her husband, and I want a strong independent woman [in the White House] – so there’s a real scorching attitude against Hillary Clinton.”

And there’s this report from the road:

Donna Manion of Bow came to Clinton’s nearby Concord rally still trying to make up her mind. Even though she likes Clinton and voted for her in the 2008 primary, Manion said there’s just something special about the 74-year-old Sanders that reminds her of a young John F. Kennedy.

“I can, in my mind, think I’m pro-Hillary all the way, and then Bernie Sanders’ ideas that he exposes me to really cause me to think in ways I hadn’t thought before,” she admitted. “I think in terms of ‘us’ a lot when I listen to Bernie talk. Whereas, when I listen to Hillary, even though I respect so much of what she has done and the person that she is, I hear the word ‘I,’ ‘I, ‘I’ a lot.”

Of course she does. After all these years this is now all personal for Hillary Clinton. She’s taken a lot of shit over the years. For her husband it’s ultra-mega-super-personal. He was a good president, damn it! Why are these people not listening to him? They’re fools! His wife would make just as good a president – and Bernie Sanders, damn him, doesn’t talk about himself. What’s he hiding? Why is he always talking about what’s good for the country. He’s as irritating as Obama was back in 2008, doing just that, and so on and so forth. Perhaps there’s too much history here.

It’s no wonder voters find this tiresome. It’s tone-deaf and their personal issues aren’t really our problem, or rather, the series of problems we all face. Slate’s Josh Voorhees gives an example of that:

Pressed during Thursday’s Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton said that she would “certainly look into” releasing the transcripts of the paid speeches she gave in private to Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street institutions. By Sunday, her promised careful consideration was apparently complete. “Let everybody who’s ever given a speech to any private group under any circumstances release them – we’ll all release them at the same time,” Clinton said on ABC’s This Week, noting that her opponents from both parties have also “given speeches to groups.” Her conclusion: “These rules need to apply to everyone.”

That was a bad move:

The answer was both tone-deaf and disingenuous. Clinton’s six-figure speeches are a point of contention in the Democratic race not because she was paid to give them but because of who paid her to give them. Bernie Sanders is running on the idea that Washington and Wall Street are too cozy and that the former will never be able to effectively regulate the latter as long as the status quo continues. He’s not challenging Clinton because he thinks she rigged the game; he simply contends that she is playing it like everyone else in politics.

Bernie says it’s not personal, because it isn’t really, but Hillary makes it personal as she always does:

Clinton’s decision to ignore the transcript controversy in hopes it will go away is hardly a surprise. She deployed a similar strategy early last year in the face of questions about the overlap between her family’s financial interests and those of the Clinton Foundation’s global donors, and to defend her use of a private email server to conduct official government business while secretary of state. Hillary responded to those controversies like she is responding to this one: by suggesting they are not controversies at all. Most politicians, she says, do the same thing, but she alone is treated differently.

That’s called whining, and it misses the point, and it’s coldly calculating, and calculated badly:

In a vacuum, the transcripts are a relatively minor issue. She is under no legal obligation to release them, and no one is seriously accusing Clinton of promising a roomful of bankers that she’d do whatever they want if she ends up in the White House. The worst anyone would probably discover from reading the transcripts is that Hillary said some relatively nice things about the financial industry while talking of the need for Washington and Wall Street to work together, a message many politicians might give in the same situation. But Clinton knows that’s not a message many progressives want to hear right now. She has every reason to fear that snippets of her Goldman speeches would be quoted in attack ads and on cable news shows for days and weeks to come. She’s betting that it is better to risk reminding voters of her less-than-transparent ways – which have been well-documented – than it is to provide tangible evidence that she says one thing in public to working-class voters and another in private to the 1 percent.

Her more immediate problem, though, is that she’ll continue to pay a price for keeping the transcripts under lock and key. The media’s coverage of the controversy will only remind voters that Clinton was paid millions from people working in the very industry she promises to reform. The questions will also keep her on the defensive at a time when she needs to be going on the offensive… and making matters even more awkward is that her but-all-politicians-do-it defense actually plays directly into Sanders’ larger argument, which is that too many politicians do it.

And Bill Clinton barks – “If she were really so weak on Wall Street, would there really be two hedge fund managers setting up two super PACs and spending millions of dollars to attack her? No, they’d be attacking her opponent. But they’re not, they’re attacking her. Because they know that she’s got a stronger plan and they know that when she says she’s going to do something, she’s going to do it.”

Yeah, those two hedge fund managers probably should be worried about her, she probably will crack down on the likes of them a bit, and of all the folks running on both sides, she’s the most likely to end up in the White House. They’re hedging their bets. That’s what they do for a living – but no one really knows what she’ll do. She’s being very careful, and she has an attack dog. And it’s personal this time. And that really is tiresome.

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Breaking the Spell

Repetition can be effective. The recent death of Glenn Fry – the founder and driving force behind the Eagles, the iconic rock band from the seventies, one more product of Laurel Canyon up the street here – had everyone playing the Eagles’ biggest hit, Hotel California – six and a half minutes of a simple melody that never changes over a simple figured base that also never changes at all. It’s hypnotic. It’s meant to be. The musical form is called a canon – it’s been around since the Middle Ages, not that these guys knew that. They just wanted to cast a spell.

Repetition does that, or it doesn’t. Ravel’s Boléro may be his most famous composition but he knew it was garbage – it had “no form, properly speaking, no development, no or almost no modulation” – he had actually predicted that most orchestras would refuse to play it. At the premiere performance, a woman was heard shouting that Ravel was mad. Ravel is said to have dryly commented that she had actually understood the piece. No one has ever confirmed that he actually said that, but he knew the same thing, over and over, louder and louder, was no more than just the same thing – it was nothing much. The success of the piece puzzled him, and the less said about Phillip Glass the better. Listen to a bit of him – it’s always a long strange trip to nowhere in particular. Repetition must be handled carefully.

Politicians should know this. They say the same thing over and over, hoping to cast a spell. Hey, no one ever put it that way before! Say it again! Yes we can! Make America great again! A chicken in every pot! Let’s take our country back! You can check out any time you want, but you can never leave!

No, wait – that last one was the Eagles. One must not veer into nonsense, but that’s the problem. There’s casting a spell, and then there’s saying the same thing over and over, louder and louder, on a long strange trip to nowhere in particular – the way most people see most politicians, actually. They just say stuff.

They have to. Running for office is a tricky business, and the Republicans seem to have just had a meta-debate about which words are empty and which are full of deep meaning. Chris Christie attacked Marco Rubio for offering Boléro not Hotel California. That was the big story from the weekend’s New Hampshire debate. Brian Beutler called it a panic-inducing night for the GOP establishment:

The Republican establishment’s fondest hope before Saturday night’s debate was that Marco Rubio would deliver yet another solid (if unmemorable) debate performance, and that Donald Trump would fall on his face -compounding the damage he suffered in Iowa, and surrendering more, if not all, of his lead in New Hampshire over to Rubio, who’s in second place and climbing.

Instead, the establishment got almost exactly the opposite.

The single biggest spoiler wasn’t Trump, or even Ted Cruz, but New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who – let’s not euphemize – humiliated Rubio in an exchange about Rubio’s dearth of experience and accomplishments. Christie became the first Republican presidential candidate this cycle to weaponize Rubio’s grating habit of pivoting to relevant portions of his stump speech rather than answering the questions posed to him.

Repetition must be handled carefully:

“I want the people at home to think about this,” Christie said. “That’s what Washington, D.C. does. The drive-by shot at the beginning with incorrect and incomplete information, and then the memorized 25-second speech that is exactly what his advisers gave him.”

Rubio responded to Christie by proving his point, pivoting not just to a portion of his stump speech, but the exact same portion of the stump speech he had just recited.

“There it is,” Christie gloated. “There it is. The memorized 25-second speech. There it is, everybody.”

Then Rubio did it again. When he repeated the same lines, nearly verbatim, a fourth time – “Let’s dispel once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing” – the audience booed him.

Rubio had said that in countless stump speech to polite and sometimes enthusiastic applause, but there was no applause, and he himself was stumped:

The exchange left Rubio rattled, and his tone halting. He stammered through a comment about North Korea launching a long-range missile, and didn’t find his footing again (confidently, but forgettably repeating more stump-speech snippets) until the debate’s second half. By then, it was too late.

Even Donald Trump knows better:

Trump floated above the fray. He offered a convincing, unrehearsed defense of his conservatism. He even managed to turn his apparent support for universal health care into a compelling call for solidarity, to not allow the poor and ill to die in the street for lack of health care. In 2011, a Republican debate crowd cheered loudly the opposite proposition – that the uninsured should be left to die. Trump’s clarion call for good citizenship garnered modest applause.

That’s odd, and now the Rubio backers, the “establishment” Republicans who are appalled by Trump and loathe Ted Cruz, are in a fix:

Christie performed well tonight. So did Jeb Bush and John Kasich. If they weren’t so prohibitively behind Trump, it would be worth considering whether they might still pull off an upset in Tuesday’s primary. But the upset they might pull off is to deny Rubio a second-place finish in New Hampshire, and send the GOP establishment into disarray once again.

Now, Rubio won’t do. Slate’s Elias Isquith saw things this way:

Things got started when Rubio was asked to respond to Christie’s allegation that, after experiencing the presidency of Barack Obama, who was elected as a first-term U.S. senator, it would be especially unfortunate if the Republican Party were itself to nominate Marco Rubio, a first term U.S. senator, for the White House. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me,” Christie had said (bettering his former benefactor, George).

Rubio’s comeback was pretty good, if a little obvious in its intent: He argued that experience was overrated; if it mattered, Vice President Joe Biden would be a good candidate for commander-in-chief. He then argued that an unspoken premise of the criticism – that Obama has failed in part due to his inexperience – is faulty. Obama knows exactly what he’s doing, Rubio said. The president is not a fool; he’s a menace.

Christie wasn’t having it, dismissing Rubio’s Biden straw man and recommitting to his initial attack. Rubio’s a nice guy, a smart guy, Christie said, but the simple fact is that he’s never had to make an important decision. This got a noticeable round of applause from the audience. And perhaps that’s why Rubio then proceeded to self-destruct.

What Rubio’s next five or so minutes such a disaster wasn’t really what he said – but the fact that he had already just said it.

And then things got tough:

Looking mighty flummoxed, Rubio tried to parry Christie’s second attack by pivoting once again to Obama, hoping to bring the crowd around to his side by using generous helpings of ideological red meat to help their tribal identification overwhelm their intellect. It had already failed, but he was doing it again. Worse still, his second answer was almost a verbatim repeat of his first.

Remember: The knock on Rubio has always been, essentially, that he’s a lightweight. He’s young, pretty good-looking, and he exudes the kind of Kennedy-esque earnest, “idealistic” machismo that seems to send a thrill up the legs of the Republican Party’s aged voter base (as well the aging ranks of the elite political press). As they once said of that cherubic whippersnapper Al Gore, Rubio is an older person’s idea of a young person. …

Well, it’s hard to imagine anything Rubio could have possibly done that would more immediately, and humorously, affirm the caricature. Here he was, really being challenged for the first time – and by Christie, a world-class bully, no less – and he was wilting. He was like an artificially intelligent robot confronted with a logical question his programming couldn’t handle.

It was sad:

Whether due to incompetence or pity, the moderators tried to move on. But like a really big, mean, and sadistic shark, Christie was all over it. He mocked Rubio for falling back on his talking points – something all politicians do, but rarely so conspicuously – and continued to shred the senator’s (lack of a) record, as well as tout his own hands-on experience governing New Jersey.

Rubio tried to tu quoque [counter] Christie, noting that the governor had only grudgingly returned to the Garden State during a recent snowstorm. Christie all but rolled his eyes and laughed it off while the audience booed – at Rubio. And then, unbelievably, Rubio started to fall back into repeating the talking point (let’s not pretend Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing…) yet again. “There it is!” Christie interjected. The crowd was with him. Rubio’s emasculation was all but complete.

And, I swear to God, about forty minutes later, he used the same line again.

And that was that:

I’m guessing that the whole rest of the debate put together won’t matter nearly as much as those five minutes. Because perhaps more than any other single traditional element of a presidential campaign, the response to debates – especially primary debates, and especially primary debates on a Saturday night – is influenced by the media. Sometimes it’s a negative influence, granted. But that’s influence all the same.

And the media, I promise you, is going to be obsessed with this first, most dramatic Christie-Rubio confrontation. Because not only does it make for good television and good copy….but it’ll make for great late night jokes and “Saturday Night Live” skits, too. That’s thanks, in part, to its already fitting a pre-established narrative. Christie, the bully you like despite yourself; Rubio, the young, handsome and über-ambitious empty suit.

Ah, but this may be a good thing:

If nothing else, it showed that professional bullies like Chris Christie can provide a valuable public service every now and then.

Well, at that first performance of Boléro, long ago, that woman did shout out that Ravel was mad. Someone had to say it. Over and over, louder and louder, can be a long strange trip to nowhere in particular, but Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog offers this:

I share the widespread belief that Chris Christie wiped the floor with Marco Rubio last night – and for that we may owe him a debt of gratitude. Rubio’s struggles last night could be the “Oops” moment that will haunt him forever – and so the guy who was potentially the strongest general election candidate of the three Republican front-runners might struggle in New Hampshire and fade. That’s good news.

And here’s a bonus: If that does happen, and if Donald Trump or Ted Cruz goes on to lose the general election this fall, Chris Christie will be, in the eyes of many members of the Republican Establishment, the man who cost the GOP two straight presidential elections, the first one by cozying up to Barack Obama after Sandy, then this one by going after Rubio.

Yes, I know that the polls all favored Obama even before Sandy, but a lot of Republicans still believe, erroneously, that Romney had it in the bag until Sandy hit. Will the Establishment hate Christie for this? Look at how angry the insiders have been at Jeb Bush for pounding on Rubio all this time, in a doomed effort to save his own campaign. Christie’s campaign is almost certainly doomed as well, and now he might be blamed for tarnishing Golden Boy. Smooth move, Chris.

But there was a better answer available to Rubio to what Christie actually said to him:

See, Marco, the thing is this: When you’re president of the United States, when you are a governor of a state, the memorized 30-second speech where you talk about how great America is doesn’t solve one problem for one person. They expect you to plow the snow. They expect you to get the schools open. And when the worst natural disaster in your state’s history hits you, they expect you to rebuild their state, which is what I’ve done. None of that stuff happens on the floor of the United State Senate.

Steve M:

What was Christie saying here? He was saying that being required to deal with strictly domestic problems makes him more qualified to be president that a U.S. senator, even though senators deal with foreign as well as domestic policy. He was saying that getting the streets plowed is all the job experience a potential president needs.

That makes no sense:

What Rubio should have done was to summarize the complexities of, say, the war in Syria – ISIS and Assad and Putin and the Kurds and Turkey and so on – and then asked Christie, “And you think what qualifies you to take this on is that you know how to get six inches of snow plowed in Bayonne?”

But Rubio stuck with his talking point:

“But I would add this,” he said. “Let’s dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He is trying to change this country. He wants America to become more like the rest of the world…” And then shortly afterward, “Here’s the bottom line. This notion that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing is just not -“

“There it is!” Christie interjected.

“That’s the reason why this campaign is so important,” Rubio protested. “Because I think this notion – I think this is an important point. We have to understand what we’re going through here. We are not facing a president that doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows what he is doing.”

Steve M doesn’t get it:

I don’t understand why this was supposed to be effective at all, even said once. Rubio was being accused of having the same level of inexperience that Barack Obama had in 2008 – an experience deficit that some Obama-haters think put this country in peril. Rubio countered by saying that Barack Obama wasn’t an incapable naïf, he was a highly capable nihilist deliberately and capably destroying America by design. Conclusion: And I’m just as qualified as the America-destroyer!

Really, Marco? That was your message? Vote for me because I’m just as qualified to be president as the guy we all think brought America to his knees? In this context, Rubio shouldn’t have even said that once.

But he did, but Kevin Drum once described Rubio this way:

To me he seems like a robot: he’s memorized a whole bunch of virtual index cards, and whenever you ask a question he performs a database search and recites whatever comes up. The index cards aren’t bad, mind you, and I suppose they allow him to emulate a dumb person’s notion what a smart person sounds like. This is despite the fact that he normally talks with the same kind of hurried clip employed by nervous eighth graders reading off actual index cards.

Now Drum says this:

This has always been my basic take on Rubio, and it makes me a little puzzled by his appeal among the conservative intelligentsia. But maybe they don’t really care? Maybe they agree with Grover Norquist’s take on the presidency from four years ago:

“We don’t need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We know what direction to go… We just need a president to sign this stuff… Pick a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen to become president of the United States.”

Well, Rubio has the requisite number of working digits, and he’s reliably conservative even if he’s not one of the great thinkers of our age. So maybe it doesn’t matter if he’s a callow empty suit. As long as he signs the stuff that Ryan and McConnell send him, and can give a good speech now and then defending it, he’s aces. At a minimum, though, this requires Rubio to effectively hide his inability to think outside of sound bites. Christie shattered that illusion for good last night when he bluntly pointed out Rubio’s robotic repetition of the exact same puerile talking point within the space of a couple of minutes.

It’s hard to know what to make of this:

Will this hurt Rubio? If he’s smart, he’ll own it. He’ll make it the centerpiece of his campaign going forward, sort of like “Make America great again.” Unfortunately, now that Christie has pointed out Rubio’s index-card habit, everyone is going to be looking for it on every other subject too. Reporters will be combing through his debates and stump speeches looking for canned talking points, and then doing side-by-side comparisons as if he’s an author being accused of plagiarism.

No, he’ll own it. David Corn reports from New Hampshire the next morning:

The morning after Rubio’s malfunction, at a pancake breakfast in Londonderry – where Democrat operatives appeared in cardboard outfits depicting the candidate as “Marco Roboto” – Rubio offered his much-anticipated response to this stumble: “After last night’s debate, everyone is saying, ‘Oh, you repeated yourself.’ Well I’m going to be saying it again.” Meaning that he would persist in proclaiming that Obama knows what he’s doing as he supposedly wrecks America. And on ABC News, Rubio said, uh, the same thing: “It’s what I believe and it’s what I’m going to continue to say, because it happens to be one of the main reasons why I am running.”

The last time Rubio messed up big-time – when he awkwardly grabbed a bottle of water and took a swig while delivering the official GOP reply to Obama’s State of the Union address – he chose to respond with humor and made a series jokes about that awkward incident. This time, he’s going with defiance. That may be an indication that his advisers believe that this mess is damn serious and cannot be joked away. No doubt, this hang-tough approach will work fine with his pre-existing fans. But can Robo-Rubio sell it to a wider audience?

No – you can check out any time you want, but you can never leave. The Eagles did sing that song about being trapped in a nightmare. Welcome to the Hotel California, Marco – and as for the others there, the New Yorker’s Amy Davidson covers that:

Ted Cruz used his closing statement at Saturday night’s Republican Presidential debate, in Manchester, New Hampshire, to praise, in sonorous terms, his own political bravery. He had been told that opposing ethanol subsidies would be “political suicide”; he stood up anyway, and Iowa’s caucus-goers had put “country and our children above the cronyism and corporate welfare” to vote for him. It was a classic Cruzian set of lines, rendering his supporters as worshippers and his opponents as people of bad will. Cruz had just wrapped up when Donald Trump threw out an alternative explanation for Cruz’s victory in Iowa.

“That’s because he got Ben Carson’s votes, by the way,” Trump said. He was referring to the Cruz campaign’s dirty tricks in Iowa, particularly a concerted effort to persuade caucus-goers that Carson had dropped out of the race. (The assumption was that Cruz, a religious conservative like Carson, would be the second choice for many of them.) Trump half-sneered at Cruz, but it was, by his standards, fairly lightly done. He hadn’t gone after Cruz much personally during the debate, even when the moderators, ABC News’s Martha Raddatz and David Muir, began the proceedings by reading Trump a quote from Cruz saying that he, Trump, might drop nuclear weapons on Denmark. Indeed, Trump, despite a solid dose of talk about wall-building and oil-seizing, left most of the job of attacking his opponents to the others.

They obliged, with the result that this Republican debate, like the previous one, and like the Iowa caucus, failed to winnow the field.

In fact, this Republican debate, like the previous one, and like all their campaigning this year, is the same words, with the same melody, played over an endlessly repeating figured bass. The idea is to cast a spell, but it seems they’re saying the same thing over and over, louder and louder, on a long strange trip to nowhere in particular. That made a great Eagles song. That doesn’t make great politics.

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The Competition

This is the weekend – the Super Bowl, and it’s Super Bowl 50 this time. This seems to have become an institution that defines America, or maybe it’s simply the only experience left that everyone actually shares in our fragmented culture. We do self-select the news we want to hear and hang around with like-minded people. Much has been made of the Big Sort – Americans have been sorting themselves into startlingly homogeneous communities for years now – tribes, really – but (almost) everyone watches the Super Bowl. We can share that, and this one should be good. Denver has that wily old quarterback who has lost most of his skills, other than his superb ability to read defenses and immediately find the one weak spot, over and over. Peyton Manning can humiliate those big hulks and speedsters on the other side – and Denver’s defense is the best in the league this year. They could shut down the immensely talented Charlotte offense led by their absurdly talented young quarterback, Cam Newton – full of life and fun and sheer happiness and as entertaining as the young Muhammad Ali ever was in his deeply ironic brash boasting – and Cam Newton is a nice guy too. He’s deeply cool and it’s not boasting if you can do it. Damn, it’s the highly talented and articulate and intelligent and pleasant young black man versus the wily old white guy from another age, fading away – it’s Obama versus McCain or something. This should be good.

The other weekend competitions are tribal. The Thursday before the Super Bowl, the Democrats had their final debate before the New Hampshire primary. This was the big one-on-one. Martin O’Malley was long gone. This was Hillary Clinton facing off against Bernie Sanders and it got nasty – not that any Republican gave a hoot. That’s okay. The evening before the Super Bowl, the Republicans will have their own New Hampshire debate – and Donald Trump will show up for this one. Slate’s Josh Voorhees says Marco Rubio will take a beating at this one – not that any Democrat gives a hoot. Let those guys work it out. None of them is much of a threat to Hillary Clinton, or even Bernie Sanders, maybe. If that’s how they want to spend their Saturday evening, fine. Democrats will drive the Volvo to that new vegan restaurant and discuss income inequality and racial justice over gluten-free something or other and then catch that new French art film. Let the Republicans argue over who is the toughest and most ruthless, about who we bomb the shit out of next, and who shouldn’t really be here, and who doesn’t really deserve any kind of healthcare at all, because the rest of us sure as hell aren’t paying for their problems. Democrats find such talk depressing. What’s their problem?

That leaves only one remaining completion for the weekend. Who is really cool? That’s always decided on Saturday Night Live. Hillary Clinton appeared on the show in October – she was the bartender who commiserates with Kate McKinnon’s impersonation of Hillary Clinton. Maybe that was cool. Donald Trump hosted the show in November and did a bit of a goof on what a buffoon he can be in various sketches, but that fell flat. Saturday Night Live had its best ratings in decades that night, but Trump didn’t seem to get his own jokes. His massive ego got in the way. He’s just not cool, but now, a few hours after the Republican debate wraps up, there’s a third competitor:

Bernie Sanders is headed to “Saturday Night Live,” the Vermont senator’s campaign confirmed on Friday.

Saturday’s live sketch-comedy show will be hosted by Larry David, who impersonated the Democratic presidential candidate on “SNL” back in October.

It is unclear to what the senator’s role will be on the late-night show.

That may not matter. That’s what S. E. Cupp, the fetching young conservative now a regular on CNN, argues. She notes that the guy is already cool:

At CNN’s Democratic town hall this week, Hillary Clinton highlighted the biggest problem for her campaign in one answer: “That’s what they offered.”

The question was why she took a whopping $675,000 fee to speak to the Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs. To be sure, for a once-proclaimed moderate and newly branded progressive, there is no good answer to this question. But as bad ones go, the only worse response would have been “because I really, really love money” – particularly as Hillary struggles to get out in front of the formidable challenge from Bernie Sanders.

But it’s not just the dissonance between her record and her image that is giving Bernie oxygen in what should have been a much easier primary. It’s that he is cool. And she is not.

That’s not my opinion, mind you. I am not cool, nor do I pretend to know what is cool. But the standard-bearing arbiters of cool — millennials, or people whose souls have yet to be crushed by later life — do know. And they have anointed Bernie as the ultimate hipster.

Cupp runs through all the data that shows that, and then adds this:

In context this should make little sense. For one, he’s a thousand years old. He looks and talks like a resort standup working the Borscht Belt – but without the jokes. He hammers the gloomy reality of income inequality and greedy establishment corporatists with all the spunk and charm of an executioner. He was first elected to office the year MS-DOS debuted.

And yet, in the same way Tony Bennett and Betty White probably have more young fans now than they do boomers, Bernie is retro, old school, hip to be square.

Hillary is just square.

Bernie is not:

Bernie is a true believer. He’s local, where she’s global. He’s the artisan bacon selection at a hip Williamsburg microbrewery, and Hillary is a plate of loaded potato skins at the mall TGI Friday’s.

He’s a cause; she’s a corporation. He’s one of a kind; she’s a chain. He’s a bumper sticker; she’s an infomercial.

Her Goldman Sachs mess-up was just another fresh reminder that for all of her slick messaging and careful branding, Hillary doesn’t see that taking more than half a million from a Wall Street bank because “that’s what they offered” is off-brand. But millennials do.

Okay, fine – he’s cool – but Kevin Drum argues that this is arguing about nothing much. The difference between these two is about something else, and he opens with this:

Michigan senator Debbie Stabenow supports Hillary Clinton: “I think Bernie’s terrific as an advocate. There’s a difference between a strong community advocate and being someone who can get things done.” Martin Longman says this is an example of how nasty things are getting: “Breaking out the Sarah Palin talking points isn’t smart. Talk about how people view socialism all you want, but don’t dismiss community organizers or advocates. This isn’t a Republican campaign.”

I had to laugh at that. Nasty? I’d rate it about a 1 on the Atwater Scale. Toughen up, folks.

Yeah, in 2008, Sarah Palin was saying that Obama was no more than a community organizer – he didn’t know shit (not that she put it that way) while she had been an actual mayor, even if it was tiny Wasilla, and knew how to run things, so he had no clue about the presidency. Some people bought that. Some people once bought Edsel station wagons. It doesn’t matter. Drum thinks this is pretty simple. Bernie Sanders is more progressive than Clinton. Hillary Clinton is more electable than Sanders. That’s it. End of story.

Maybe it’s time to get serious:

I mean, come on. They’re both lefties, but Sanders is further left. The opposing arguments from the Clinton camp are laughable. Clinton is more progressive because she can get more done? Sorry. That’s ridiculous. She and Bill Clinton have always been moderate liberals, both politically and temperamentally. We have over two decades of evidence for this.

As for electability, I admire Sanders’ argument that he can drive a bigger turnout, which is good for Democrats. But it’s special pleading. The guy cops to being a socialist. He’s the most liberal member of the Senate by quite a margin (Elizabeth Warren is the only senator who’s close). He’s already promised to raise middle-class taxes. He can’t be bothered to even pretend that he cares about national security issues, which are likely to play a big role in this year’s election. He wants to spend vast amounts of money on social programs. It’s certainly true that some of this stuff might appeal to people like me, but it’s equally true that there just aren’t a lot of voters like me. Liberals have been gaining ground over the past few years, but even now only 24 percent of Americans describe themselves that way. Republicans would tear Sanders to shreds with hardly an effort, and there’s no reason to think he’d be especially skilled at fending off their attacks.

I like both Sanders and Clinton. But let’s stop kidding ourselves about what they are and aren’t.

What does being cool have to do with any of this? And things on the other side are just as absurd:

First up is Donald Trump, who canceled an event today because airports were closed in New Hampshire… CNN reports that Trump’s operator at LaGuardia was open for business, and the operator in Manchester says it is “always open for business, 24 hours a day.” And even if Trump did have airport trouble, it was only because he insists on going home to New York every night. Apparently the man of the people just can’t stand the thought of spending a few nights at a local Hilton.

This whole thing cracks me up because of Trump’s insistence that he’s a “high energy” guy. But he can’t handle a real campaign, the kind where you spend weeks at a time on the road doing four or five events a day. He flies in for a speech every few days and thinks he’s showing real fortitude. He’d probably drop from exhaustion if he followed the same schedule as Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush.

And then there’s Marco Rubio:

To me he seems like a robot: he’s memorized a whole bunch of virtual index cards, and whenever you ask a question he performs a database search and recites whatever comes up. The index cards aren’t bad, mind you, and I suppose they allow him to emulate a dumb person’s notion what a smart person sounds like. This is despite the fact that he normally talks with the same kind of hurried clip employed by nervous eighth graders reading off actual index cards.

Of course, this is just a specific example of a more general problem. Every four years, it looks to me like none of the Republican candidates can win. They all seem to have too many obvious problems. But of course someone has to win. So sure, Rubio reminds me of an over-ambitious teacher’s pet running for student council president, but compared to Trump or Carson or Cruz or Fiorina or Christie – well, I guess I can see how he might look good.

And then there’s Ted Cruz:

Cruz really pissed off Ben Carson in Iowa, just like he seems to piss off nearly everyone who actually gets a whiff of him up close. This is bad for Cruz because he’s trying to appeal to evangelical voters. Unfortunately, Carson has apparently decided that as long as he’s going to lose, he might as well mount a kamikaze attack against Cruz on the way down. And evangelicals listen to Carson. If he says Cruz bears false witness, then he bears false witness.

Drum is talking about this:

Ben Carson compared Ted Cruz’s mea culpa for spreading rumors about his campaign to the “attitude” Hillary Clinton expressed after the Benghazi attacks, Buzzfeed reported.

Carson was asked by Todd Starnes on a podcast posted Thursday night about whether Cruz “handled himself as a Christian” in response to reports that the Cruz campaign circulated rumors among supporters the night of the Iowa caucus that Carson was suspending his campaign.

Carson took issue with Cruz failing to take what Carson called “corrective action.”

“Not to take corrective action is tacitly saying it’s okay, or it’s sort of like, as Hillary Clinton said after Benghazi, ‘What difference does it make,'” Carson said.

Starnes followed-up with Carson on the comparison, to which Carson added, “I’m not saying that it rises to the level up Benghazi, I’m saying it’s the same kind of attitude.”

There is a lot of unhinged competition out there, but Drum is more interested in the real competition on his side of things:

Let’s face it: Hillary Clinton has never been a natural politician. Most Democrats like her, but they don’t love her, and this makes Sanders dangerous. What’s more, since Clinton already has a record for blowing a seemingly insurmountable lead to a charismatic opponent, he’s doubly dangerous. If Democrats convince themselves that they don’t have to vote for Clinton, they just might not. She has lots of baggage, after all.

Is this fair? No. It’s politics. But Clinton still has more money, more endorsements, more superdelegates, more state operations, and – let’s be fair here – a pretty long track record as a sincerely liberal Democrat who works hard to implement good policies. Sanders may damage her, but she’s almost certain to still win.

Yep, everyone should calm down, but they won’t. In 2012, Jonathan Haidt gave us The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion:

As America descends deeper into polarization and paralysis, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has done the seemingly impossible – challenged conventional thinking about morality, politics, and religion in a way that speaks to everyone on the political spectrum. Drawing on his twenty five years of groundbreaking research on moral psychology, he shows how moral judgments arise not from reason but from gut feelings. He shows why liberals, conservatives, and libertarians have such different intuitions about right and wrong, and he shows why each side is actually right about many of its central concerns.

Drum summarizes:

In a nutshell, Haidt suggests that we all view morality through the lens of six different “foundations” – and the amount we value each foundation is crucial to understanding our political differences. Conservatives, for example, tend to view “proportionality” – an eye for an eye – as a key moral concern, while liberals tend to view “care/harm” – showing kindness to other people – as a key moral attribute.

This is the full array:

1) Care/harm: This foundation is related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.

2) Fairness/cheating: This foundation is related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. It generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, as we reformulated the theory in 2011 based on new data, we emphasize proportionality, which is endorsed by everyone, but is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]

3) Loyalty/betrayal: This foundation is related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. It underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it’s “one for all, and all for one.”

4) Authority/subversion: This foundation was shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. It underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.

5) Sanctity/degradation: This foundation was shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. It underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).

6) Liberty/oppression: This foundation is about the feelings of reactance and resentment people feel toward those who dominate them and restrict their liberty. Its intuitions are often in tension with those of the authority foundation. The hatred of bullies and dominators motivates people to come together, in solidarity, to oppose or take down the oppressor. We report some preliminary work on this potential foundation in this paper, on the psychology of libertarianism and liberty.

That may be a bit much to digest, but in a new article Haidt and Emily Ekins write about new research that uses their theory to analyze supporters of an array of the current presidential candidates, and Drum summarizes that:

Democrats tend to value care but not proportionality. Republicans are just the opposite. No surprise there. But were there any moral values that were unusually strong for different candidates even after controlling for ideology and demographics?

Yes. Sanders supporters scored extremely low on the authority axis while Trump supporters scored high on authority and low on the care axis. Outside of the usual finding for proportionality, that’s it. Hillary Clinton supporters, in particular, were entirely middle-of-the-road: “Moral Foundations do not significantly predict a vote for Hillary Clinton; demographic variables seem to be all you need to predict her support (being female, nonwhite, and higher-income are all good predictors).”

So there you have it. Generally speaking, if you value proportionality but not care, you’re a Republican. If you value care but not proportionality, you’re a Democrat. Beyond that, if your world view values authority – even compared to others who are similar to you – you’re probably attracted to Donald Trump. If you’re unusually resistant to authority, you’re probably attracted to Bernie Sanders.

Haidt and Ekins put that this way:

Bernie Sanders draws young liberal voters who have a strong desire for individual autonomy and place less value on social conformity and tradition. This likely leads them to appreciate Sanders’s libertarian streak and non-interventionist foreign policy. Once again, Hillary Clinton finds herself attracting more conservative Democratic voters who respect her tougher style, moderated positions, and more hawkish stance on foreign policy. …

On the Republican side… despite Trump’s longevity in the polls, authoritarianism is clearly not the only dynamic going on in the Republican race. In fact, the greatest differences by far in the simple foundation scores are on proportionality. Cruz and Rubio draw the extreme proportionalists – the Republicans who think it’s important to “let unsuccessful people fail and suffer the consequences,” as one of our questions put it. …

One surprise in our data was that Trump supporters were not extreme on any of the foundations. This means that Trump supporters are more centrist than is commonly realized; consequently, Trump’s prospects in the general election may be better than many pundits have thought. Cruz meanwhile, with a further-right moral profile, may have more difficulty attracting centrist Democrats and independents than would Trump.

Perhaps much of this is obvious. If you value proportionality but not care, you’re a Republican, and if you value care but not proportionality, you’re a Democrat – but that means both sides talk past each other. They don’t disagree. There’s nothing to talk about. They inhabit different moral universes. Who is the toughest and most ruthless? Who is the most decent and caring? Each side wonders why those folks over there are asking such dumb questions. Who is the coolest? That’s an easier question, but not a particularly useful question. Who cares?

The Super Bowl is easier. One team will score more touchdowns than the other. Everyone agrees that that’s how it works. At least one thing unites all Americans.

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