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.

Posted in Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Marco Rubio, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Impossible Political Differences, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

She Grew

Things change. There was the Los Angeles Democratic Presidential Debate, January 31, 2008, at the Kodak Theater (now the Dolby Theater) on Hollywood Boulevard, sponsored and run by CNN – and it was good to have a friend who was a senior executive at CNN because that meant press credentials. That debate was covered live here – and one should always take a camera. What was happening outside, just before the debate began, was amusing. See The Big Event and Gathering Opinion and The Media and Partisans and CNN Broadcasting – those links still work, sort of. You’ll get the idea. The crowds were strange as only Hollywood crowds can be strange, but this was the big face-off between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, one on one – John Edwards was long gone. Enthusiasm ran high – cranked up to eleven.

This was a big deal, but even then it was becoming clear that Obama was going to win the nomination. He was cool. Hillary was a bit shrill, and depressingly conventional. Obama seemed smart and fresh, and deft in his responses, and her vote for the Iraq war sunk her. Wolf Blitzer asked her why she just wouldn’t say she was wrong. She wouldn’t go there – she said she had been right, but Bush didn’t understand what she and others really wanted, coercive diplomacy, not war. Yeah, sure – there was no reaction from the audience. It was embarrassing.

The rest, as they say, is history. Obama won the nomination, and then the presidency, and then won the presidency again. Hillary Clinton became his secretary of state, and before the Republicans knew she’d be running to succeed Obama, had said she was doing a fine job. Now they all say she’s the worst secretary of state we’ve ever had – but that was to be expected – Benghazi and all that. Still, she learned a thing or two. She knows all the players. She knows their motivations. She knows the complexity of all the disputes in all the hot spots. She no longer falls back on conventional bullshit. She grew. It will be interesting to see her mop the floor with Donald Trump in the autumn, if it comes to that. He’s all bullshit, but we’re not there yet. Where we are is eight years and a few days later, and the debate this time was with Bernie Sanders, and far from Hollywood. Durham, New Hampshire, is far from Hollywood in every imaginable way.

There is a parallel of course. This was the big one on one – Martin O’Malley is long gone – but this time Hillary Clinton mopped the floor with Bernie Sanders. This was not embarrassing. She knew her stuff. He didn’t. His thing is economic justice – taking back the country from the billionaires – but that’s all he’s got. It was his answers on foreign policy that were embarrassing this time. She may be the only fully competent person, from either party, running this time. She no longer does conventional bullshit.

That was the tone of the thing and not just on foreign policy. The Washington Post’s account shows that:

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, meeting Thursday night for their last debate before the New Hampshire primary, squared off fiercely on the question of whether the party should strive toward its liberal aspirations or set its sights on the achievable…

Clinton used her opening statement to needle the senator from Vermont, who describes himself as a democratic socialist, over what she has contended are unrealistically liberal plans for universal health care, free college and other programs.

“I’m fighting for people who cannot wait for those changes, and I’m not making promises that I cannot keep,” the former secretary of state said.

Sanders replied that a number of European countries had approved single-payer health-care systems. “I do not accept the belief that the United States of America cannot do that,” he said.

He doesn’t seem to know how hard it is to get things through a hostile Congress, as Obama learned, and then there was the personal stuff:

Sanders, who enjoys enormous enthusiasm among the party’s liberal base, continued to make the argument that Clinton is too heavily dependent on those who have financed her campaign and made her personally wealthy. He said that he does “not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. I am very proud to be the only candidate up here that does not have a super PAC.”

Clinton accused Sanders of engaging in a “very artful smear” of her character. She insisted she had never changed her position on any issue based on having received contributions from special interests.

“Senator Sanders has said he wants to run a positive campaign. I’ve tried to keep my disagreements over issues, as it should be. But time and time again, by innuendo, by insinuation, there is this attack that he is putting forth,” Clinton said.

That is a tricky business, addressed earlier in the day by Greg Sargent:

Sanders constantly points to the funding of her campaign – and her acceptance of speaking fees – as symptomatic of this problem. But Sanders does not want to take the final step and say that Clinton personally is making the policy choices she does precisely because she is beholden to the oligarchy, due to its funding of her campaign. The upshot is that Sanders is indicting the entire system, but doesn’t want to question the integrity of Clinton herself – or perhaps doesn’t want to be seen doing that. This is the central tension at the heart of Sanders’s whole argument.

That caught up with him, but there was Kevin Drum:

Is it true that Sanders is just too nice a guy to name names? Maybe. But I’m a little less inclined to be generous about this kind of thing. To my ears, it sounds more like typical political smarm. “Hey, I’m not saying she’s a crook. I’m just saying she drives a pretty nice car, amirite?” Contra Sargent, I’d say that Sanders is very much questioning the integrity of Clinton herself, and doing it in a pretty familiar way.

After the debate Drum said this:

Hillary was more aggressive than I’ve seen her before. Her complaint early on that Bernie was slandering her with innuendo and insinuation (and “artful smears”) was tough but, I think, also fair. And I have a feeling Bernie felt a little embarrassed by it. He was certainly careful to pull things back to a civil tone after that. Hillary is not a natural campaigner, but she’s a good debater, and this was Hillary at her pugnacious best.

And there was that other matter:

Sanders, pressed earlier about his experience in foreign affairs, repeatedly cited his 2002 vote against the Iraq War as evidence that he could be trusted to make foreign policy decisions.

“Experience is not the only point. Judgment is. And once again, back in 2002 when we both looked at the same evidence about the wisdom of the war in Iraq, one of us voted the right way, and one of us didn’t,” Sanders said, addressing Clinton.

Clinton voted in favor of the war, a vote that has become a centerpiece of Sanders’s case against her. But Clinton offered a counter-argument. She has apologized for the vote, but said that Sanders’s vote was not enough.

“We did differ. A vote in 2002 is not a plan to defeat ISIS” in the present day, Clinton said, using another name for the Islamic State.

She grew, and he only offered this:

Sanders, asked to give more details about his foreign policy, said it flows out of the experience of the Iraq War. “That lesson is… the United States cannot do it alone. We cannot be the policeman of the world,” Sanders said. He added: “The key doctrine of the Sanders administration would be, no, we can’t continue to do it alone. We need to work in coalition.”

And the sky is blue. This was conventional bullshit, as Kevin Drum notes here:

Obviously foreign affairs are not Bernie’s strong point, but I was still a little surprised at just how poorly prepared he was to say much of anything or to draw much of a contrast with Hillary’s views. Either he really doesn’t know much, or else he thinks his dovish views are losers even among the Democratic base. I won’t pretend that Hillary was a genius on this stuff – almost nobody is on a debate stage – but at least she sounded well briefed and confident.

And during the debate:

Bernie really needs to have a foreign policy other than “I voted against the Iraq War.” … Why is there bipartisan loathing of being “the policeman of the world”? What does this even mean?

I hate to say this, but Bernie on North Korea sounds about as well briefed as Donald Trump. Very strange situation. Handful of dictators – or, um, maybe just one. Gotta put pressure on China. “I worry very much about an isolated, paranoid country with atomic bombs.”

Bernie does himself no favors on national security. I’m closer to his position than Hillary’s, but Bernie honestly sounds like he’s never given this stuff a moment’s thought. At least Hillary has some views and sounds confident in her abilities.

Drum was not impressed at all:

On financial issues, Bernie was surprisingly weak. This really is his strong point, but he continues to have a hard time getting much beyond platitudes. I get that it’s a debate and 90 seconds isn’t much, but it’s still enough time for a little more detail than “the system is rigged.” Hillary didn’t do much better, but she held her own and gave a strong response to the two (!) questions about her Goldman Sachs speeches.

Drum sees how this all plays out:

Bernie insisted that we can dream. Hillary insisted that we figure out what’s doable. I’d score it a clear win for Hillary based on her aggressiveness and generally solid answers compared to Bernie’s platitudes and obvious reluctance to attack hard.

And then there’s Josh Marshall:

I think we have two basic questions coming out of this debate – vision for the Democratic Party and electability. Nor are these questions distinct. The issue of electability goes to the heart of the vision for the party, since it goes to the root of questions about pragmatism, risk aversion, settling for half or quarter loaves or ending up with nothing. After several of these encounters – after last night and tonight – these basic questions, dividing points seem very clear and well-illustrated.

In terms of the debate itself, the first segment was very hot. In part, the pressure of the campaign is boiling over in the exchanges between the two. Campaigns involve millions of people, with each candidate as a fulcrum for the directives, hopes, antipathies, aspirations of so many people. The intensity of emotion, pressure, and the stakes can be overwhelming. And you could see some of that coming out this evening.

That said, I also think the Clinton camp made a decision to shake things up, to push Sen. Sanders maybe more than he’s used to being pushed. It got intense and kind of personal.

But the differences were clear:

Sanders has the virtue of coherence, a tightly argued, interlocking set of critiques and explanations of what is wrong, how the different parts fit together and what he believes needs to change. There’s very little of that with Clinton. It’s more of a barrage: I’m going to do my best to improve things on each front. I’m also going to protect our gains.

Bernie Sanders is the kind of people I come from. I like the guy a lot. I could explain the various ways. Some negatives and positives. I think he’d be cut to pieces in a general election. As a general matter, I think Democrats underestimate the structural challenges to winning the 2016 election with any candidate. And the damage Sen. Clinton has sustained to perceptions of her trustworthiness is a big, big deal in political terms – though I think many Democrats are dishonest with themselves not recognizing the concerted campaign from the right that is behind much of it.

With all that said, though, I’ve become more impressed with her over the course of the campaign. The hours-long Benghazi testimony was a turning point for me – not because of the political optics but because of what it showed me about her steadiness and the depth of her knowledge. She strikes me as a far more seasoned and experienced person than she was eight years ago.

Yeah, she grew:

In a way that’s hardly surprising. She served as Secretary of State during a critical four years. In all of these debates, when the topic is domestic policy she’s a candidate. When it moves to foreign and national security policy, you can see that’s where she lives. I think that’s clear whether you agree with her or not. The confidence, grasp of a broad range of topics is very clear. The difference in tone is clear.

As I said, the basic divisions – in many ways ones of tone and manner more than policy – seem very clear.

Perhaps she won this debate, and won it all this one night – maybe. David Graham at the Atlantic puts it this way:

In their first one-on-one matchup, the duo seemed determined to illustrate Archilochus’ classic binary between the fox, who knows many things, and the hedgehog, who knows one important thing. Sanders knows that what the country needs – the only thing it needs – is a political and economic revolution. Clinton knows the country needs progressive policies on a range of matters and a pragmatic, realistic strategy to implement them.

Which do you prefer? Obama was a Fox – he drove those on the idealist left nuts with his calm willingness to consider compromise, until he finally realized those other guys wouldn’t ever compromise on anything – but he was, for a time, willing to go there, simply to get things done. In fact, Obamacare was a compromise. It wasn’t single-payer, just a way to subsidize the purchase of private insurance in the old system, and add a few sensible rules and regulations. Hillary is the same kind of fox. Bernie is wrong – forget the single-payer idea he’s pushing – it cannot be passed by any Congress in this sorry world. Improve Obamacare. That’s it. There is no more. Obama said “Yes we can!” He was misunderstood. That was conditional. There is the real world. We can do a bit, and we should. Hillary is saying the same thing. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good and all that. Do the possible. Good stuff is better than no stuff.

That’s what she was saying in this debate, but Brent Budowsky, who has been around Washington forever, offers the other view:

Young people do not support Sanders because he is cool. They support Sanders because they believe he is real, honest and authentic in an age when politicians are obsessed with who gives them the money to purchase their policies and buy television campaign ads laced with platitudes, spin and often falsehoods.

Young people and many independents and others support Sanders because he believes in the power and nobility of the dream, while cynics claim those dreams are “naive” and “unrealistic” and should be abandoned before the battle to make them come true has even begun.

Thank goodness the Roosevelts and Kennedys never heeded such words of caution and calculation when they waged their heroic, uphill and ultimately successful battles to create Social Security and Medicare.

Of course single-payer healthcare will not be enacted during the next president’s first hundred days, but it is a dream that’s come true for citizens in democratic nations around the world. It should be praised and not mocked; why can’t Clinton support adding a public option to ObamaCare, as President Obama himself proposed?

Just do it:

Instead of conducting focus groups about what position to take, Clinton should convene a private meeting with 10 young women who support Sanders to chat about their dreams, views and aspirations.

There are reasons why Sanders is opposed by virtually the entire political, Wall Street and corporate media establishment that for many months has turned coverage about America’s decision to choose the next leader of our great nation into an idiot’s delight of nonstop homage to the bigoted insults and phony conservatism of Donald Trump.

These establishments, which are courted by Clinton and challenged by Sanders, are among the most distrusted institutions in America.

The message that Clinton needs to hear – and needs to understand – is that despite her overpowering and overwhelming advantages of money and power and the virtually unanimous support from the Democratic establishment, it was Sanders who won the most important battle of the Iowa caucuses by fighting her to a draw.

Instead of attacking Sanders for having dreams too great, the former first lady should share with the nation the dreams she has, without fear or favor about which interest group might be offended. She should speak of her dreams with passion, principle, courage and authenticity with her voice, as Sanders does with his.

And so on and so forth – there’s more – but there is the simple counterargument to all that. Oh, grow up. She did, and if nominated, which is likely, that’s what she’ll say to Donald Trump or whoever they finally come up with. Now THAT will be a debate. This one was just a preview. Hillary Clinton learned a few things in the last eight years. This is a long way from Hollywood, which is, after all, a silly place.

Posted in Hillary Clinton, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

As Seen From a Distance

It was December 14 in Paris many years ago, cold and dark at dawn, followed by heavy rain all day – an odd day – after staying up all night watching CNN-International in the hotel room. Somewhere in the middle of the night there was Al Gore on the screen, conceding the presidential election to George Bush.

So that was that. And a few hours later, across the street at the Café Bonaparte, it was that French breakfast thing – lots of black coffee and smoking the pipe, and leafing through Libération and Le Figaro and Le Monde, trying to get a sense of what people made of the whole thing – and there was that dark old church next door, where Descartes is buried. Yeah, think deep thoughts.

They didn’t come. American politics seemed absurd from a distance – but two weeks alone in Paris in early December each year, far from Los Angeles, can clear your head. Walking the rainy December streets, with the pipe, is fine, in a Hemingway sort of way – and after all, he wrote those first stories, about Upper Michigan, in Paris. Fitzgerald wrote about the essence of America – the oddly driven Jay Gatsby in his mansion on Long Island – in Paris and down in Antibes. Sometimes things are clearer when seen from a distance.

That’s all in the past now – old men stay at home – but now, in another absurd year in American politics, there are ways to find that distance that clarifies. Read the foreign press – all of it now a click away – or simply read this from Alex Massie:

If you think millions of Americans are terrified by the looming prospect of Donald Trump securing the Republican presidential nomination, you should see what we Brits think of him. Many of us – and countless millions of other Europeans – are wondering, not always politely, if the United States has succumbed to a kind of mass outbreak of madness.

Prime Minister David Cameron – Trump’s would-be partner in the special relationship, and a conservative – considers Trump “divisive, stupid and wrong.” George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, decries Trump’s “nonsense.” Not to be outdone, London Mayor Boris Johnson recently noted, “The only reason I wouldn’t want to go to some parts of New York is the real risk of meeting Donald Trump.” It was perhaps Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling who put it best when she said that, compared with Trump, “Voldemort was nowhere near as bad.” At least 500,000 other Brits appear to agree: In response to Trump’s call to ban any Muslim from entering the United States, they signed a petition calling to ban Trump from Britain.

That went nowhere, but there’s worry:

The choosing time is almost upon you, and you still – I am afraid there is no soft way of saying this – appear to be out of your minds.

Of course, snake-oil peddlers and two-bit hucksters have a long and dishonorable history in American affairs, and most Brits think all U.S. presidential elections are a circus on a P. T. Barnum scale. (A little secret: That’s one reason they have such a devoted international following.) But this one seems, at least for now, to have taken the circus to places never previously enjoyed, or endured. I mean, when the alternative to Trump is Ted Cruz – whose hatred for the government he aspires to run remains a thing of wonder – you begin to worry there might be something in the water.

But Massie says the Europeans do “get” Trump:

I will let you in on a little secret: As offensive and unpredictable and provocative as he may be, we Europeans know the type. Our smug assumptions of superiority can go only so far. After all, this clattering Republican catastrophe is not so far removed from the European way of doing politics as you might think (and not just because Trump’s self-funding has minimized one of American politics’ greatest distinguishing features: the need to raise gobs of money). In fact, all across Europe, the establishment, or the established order, is running scared. As migrants fleeing war zones arrive on the continent, nationalism is surging. Borders, once dissolved, are being resurrected – in some cases, literally. Far-right populist parties, with messages not unlike Trump’s, are gaining power.

There are many of those:

In Italy, the Five Star Movement – a populist, antiestablishment party headed by the comedian Beppe Grillo – won 25 percent of the vote in 2013. In France, everyone expects Marine Le Pen’s ultranationalist Front National to advance to the second round of voting in the forthcoming presidential elections. In Spain, 1 in 5 voters supported the anti-austerity party, Podemos, in last year’s elections. In Greece, Syriza was swept to power last fall on the crest of a wave of outrage. Even Scandinavia, that den of socialism Americans love to loathe, is not immune. In Sweden, the nationalist, anti-immigration Democrats could emerge as the largest party after the next election. And Finland’s True Finns, another nativist, anti-establishment, party, received the second-highest number of seats in last year’s general election. Last week, as if to confirm the trend, the Danish parliament passed a law authorizing the confiscation of asylum seekers’ assets.

These uprisings each have individual explanations. But collectively, they demonstrate a continent in a state of insurrection. Many Europeans, especially those in the working and lower-middle classes, have been buffeted by the cold winds of globalization. Wages are stagnant and unemployment is high. Capitalism might not be in crisis, but there is a sense, all across the developed world, that it no longer spreads its dividends in an equitable fashion. The response to the economy’s near-Armageddon in 2008 confirmed to many citizens that government would leap to the rescue of major financial institutions with vastly greater alacrity than it would assist the average working family. Couple theses economic troubles with high levels of immigration, and you have the conditions within which populism can flourish. 

Trumpism, in this sense, is simply an American variant on a theme Europeans know only too well.

Still, this seems different: 

To be fair to Cameron, Rowling and all those Brits and Europeans bemoaning Trump’s rise, the man has taken familiar rhetorical tropes about American exceptionalism to the extreme. Presidential candidates always insist that time is short, the stakes are sky-high and the United States has only one more chance to restore its rightful position in the world, to “take America back” and smite the enemy like they have never been smitten before. But even compared with the loopiest American presidential candidates of yore (hello, Michele Bachmann), Trump’s braggadocio – the Mexicans will pay for the wall! – seems exaggerated. 

That’s the view from a distance – but at least Trump came in second in Iowa – he lost. In Paris, Libération wrote that while there were few delegates at stake in Iowa, and Trump still leads in national polls, his ego had “claquer le beignet,” which literally translates as “hit the doughnut” but basically means he had to shut up for once. That won’t last. They too sense the absurdity of all this.

And now President Obama has visited a Baltimore mosque and said this:

If we’re serious about freedom of religion – and I’m speaking now to my fellow Christians who remain the majority in this country – we have to understand an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths. And when any religious group is targeted, we all have a responsibility to speak up. And we have to reject a politics that seeks to manipulate prejudice or bias, and targets people because of religion.

That sounds reasonable. The logic is clear. The response was somewhat the opposite:

Republican front-runner Donald Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) are questioning President Obama’s visit to a mosque in a Baltimore suburb on Wednesday, where he preached religious tolerance, recognized the achievements of Muslim Americans and encouraged young Muslim Americans to feel accepted.

Trump, who has long slyly suggested that Obama is not a Christian, said on Fox News on Wednesday night that Obama might have visited the mosque because “maybe he feels comfortable there.” Meanwhile, Rubio said at a town hall at a pub in New Hampshire that Obama’s decision to give a speech at a mosque is yet another example of him dividing the country.

Rubio said this:

Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today: he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims… It’s this constant pitting people against each other that I can’t stand.

Kevin Drum’s dry comment:

There you have it. Ask Christians to reject the politics of bigotry, and you’re pitting people against each other. And Marco Rubio, for one, will have no part of that.

This might be that mass outbreak of madness that Massie noted, but not every Republican is mad as a hatter, because there’s always the new Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. Everyone says he can pull the party’s crazies and the party’s pragmatists together and keep the Republicans from blowing up the government again – at least everyone hopes he can do that. He needs to talk to these people, and the Washington Post’s Paul Waldman notes that he did just that:

Today, Paul Ryan gave a fascinating speech at Heritage Action, a tea party-allied organization that has fashioned itself as the guardian of conservative purity. The speech called for unity. “To quote William Wallace in Braveheart,” he said, “we have to unite the clans.”

Invoking a character played by Mel Gibson, famous for his drunken rants about how the damned Jews are taking over the world, may have been ill-advised, but let that pass. Ryan did his thing:

Not surprisingly, for much of the speech he blamed conservatives’ own sins on progressives, Democrats, and Barack Obama. That has become a familiar refrain. It’s their fault that we’ve become such monsters! But when you say that, you’re still acknowledging that the sins exist.

We’re horrible monsters but Obama made us monsters? What? That’s sort of what Ryan actually said:

My theory of the case is this: We win when we have an ideas contest. We lose when we have a personality contest. We can’t fall into the progressives’ trap of acting like angry reactionaries. The Left would love nothing more than for a fragmented conservative movement to stand in a circular firing squad, so the progressives can win by default.

This president is struggling to remain relevant in an election year when he’s not on the ballot. He is going to do all he can to elect another progressive by distracting the American people. So he’s going to try to get us talking about guns or some other hot-button issue and not about his failures on ISIS or the economy or national security. He’s going to try to knock us off our game. We have to understand his distractions for what they are. Otherwise, we’re going to have a distraction this week, next week, and the week after that. And that’s going to be the Obama playbook all year long.

Waldman is not amused:

Yes, the party of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, cares not for “personality.” And look, nobody “trapped” Republicans into “acting like angry reactionaries.” They did that all on their own. But it’s interesting that Ryan cites guns as a distracting hot-button issue that is important only because Barack Obama is forcing conservatives to talk about it against their will. Last time I checked, lots of Republicans thought the gun issue is absolutely vital to maintaining liberty. The same is true of any other hot-button issue you could name, whether it’s abortion or same-sex marriage or something else: the issue might or might not be advantageous to Democrats, but it’s also very important to at least a significant chunk of the Republican electorate. It’s hard to tell where Ryan draws the line between real issues and distractions, but every time you define an issue as the latter, you’re telling some major Republican constituency to shut its mouth.

That’s not going to work, but Ryan also said this about that evil Obama fellow setting them up:

And so what I want to say to you today is this: Don’t take the bait. Don’t fight over tactics. And don’t impugn people’s motives. It’s fine if you disagree. And there’s a lot that’s rotten in Washington. There’s no doubt about that. But we can’t let how you vote on an amendment to an appropriations bill define what it means to be a conservative. Because, it’s setting our sights too low. Frankly, that’s letting the president define us. That’s what he wants us to do. That’s defining ourselves as an opposition party, instead of a proposition party.

So we have to be straight with each other, and more importantly, we have to be straight with the American people. We can’t promise that we can repeal Obamacare when a guy with the last name Obama is president. All that does is set us up for failure… and disappointment… and recriminations.

When voices in the conservative movement demand things that they know we can’t achieve with a Democrat in the White House, all that does is depress our base and in turn help Democrats stay in the White House. We can’t do that anymore.

Waldman explains the absurdity here:

“Don’t fight over tactics.” That’s just about all Republicans have been fighting about for years. The substantive differences within the party are often minor, and what tends to differentiate a tea partier from an accommodationist squish is just that, tactics. The tea partier and the squish both want to repeal Obamacare; the only difference between them is that the tea partier thinks shutting down the government is an appropriate tactic to make it happen. They both want to reduce the size of government, but the tea partier thinks forcing the United States of America to default on its debts is a good tactic to bring that about. They both want to defund Planned Parenthood; the only difference is whether they think it’s a fight worth having right now.

And so on and so forth – Waldman then goes into detail – but then he gets to the heart of the matter:

Ryan says: “We can’t promise that we can repeal Obamacare when a guy with the last name Obama is president… When voices in the conservative movement demand things that they know we can’t achieve with a Democrat in the White House, all that does is depress our base and in turn help Democrats stay in the White House.”

This is the very heart of the battle that has consumed the party and fed the rebellion playing out in the presidential race. Republican base voters are fed up with a congressional leadership that told them that if those voters helped take back the House and then the Senate – that they’d stop Barack Obama in his tracks – but then failed to deliver. Ryan is correctly arguing that it was stupid to make promises that couldn’t possibly be kept, but he’s arguing that it was making the promise that was the problem, while tea partiers and the base still believe it was the not keeping the promise that was the far greater sin. They see Mitch McConnell and Ryan’s predecessor John Boehner as feckless and weak, lacking the courage to stand up to Barack Obama. In their view, McConnell and Boehner are contemptible not because they lied to them about what could be achieved but because they didn’t achieve the impossible.

But these words from Ryan really infuriate Waldman:

So we need to be inspirational. We need to be inclusive. We need to show how our principles and policies are universal and how they apply to everybody. We know that the economy is weak. We know that the world is on fire. We know that the future is uncertain. There’s a lot of frustration and anger out there. And is it justified? It sure is.

But we should not follow the Democrats and play identity politics. Let’s talk to people in ways that unite us and that are unique to America’s founding. That’s what I think people are hungry for.

Waldman calls bullshit on that:

In case you didn’t notice, the GOP presidential candidates are also playing identity politics right now. The frontrunner for the Republican nomination has proposed banning Muslims from the United States and building a wall across our southern border, called Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers, and questioned one of his opponents’ standing as an American. Another candidate said that no Muslim should be elected president. The Republican establishment’s golden boy could barely open his mouth in the last couple of weeks without invoking Jesus (though maybe now that Iowa is behind him, that’ll change). Identity politics has been central to Republican campaigns for the White House for the last half-century, though I guess if it’s white identity politics then it doesn’t count.

Yes, it only gets more absurd, as Amanda Marcotte discusses Ted Cruz:

For the religious right, especially the most skin-crawlingly creepy folks in the religious right, Cruz’s edging Donald Trump out at the polls represents a huge victory. Because Monday night meant that while their influence might seem to be on the decline, the religious right proved, once again, that they are still a powerful force on the right. Unfortunately, the Republican Party will still have to pay tribute to the nasty crews that use Jesus as a cover to push their lifelong obsession with controlling other people’s sex lives, especially if those people are female or queer.

This is getting creepy:

A lot of attention has been paid to Trump’s oversized ego, but Cruz’s may be even worse. While Trump likes to portray himself as a “winner,” Cruz clawed his way to victory in Iowa by implying – well, more than implying – that he’s a religious messiah, a prophet who is the next best thing to the second coming of Jesus. While denouncing Barack Obama for his supposed “messiah complex,” Cruz has been suggesting that he is the real deal, and that he will win because “the body of Christ” will “rise up to pull us back from the abyss.”

Cruz has been portraying his campaign, in fact, as a religious war in which the true believers will assert themselves as the rightful rulers of this nation. “Strap on the full armor of God, get ready for the attacks that are coming,” he told supporters, who are treated more like believers, at a campaign stop in Iowa.

Cruz’s father, Rafael Cruz, has gone even further in suggesting that his son is quite literally God’s emissary sent to turn America into a Christian nation (which tends to be defined as a nation that keeps heavy tabs on what you’re doing with your genitals, instead of one that makes sure there are enough loaves and fishes for everyone). In an interview on Glenn Beck’s show, the senior Cruz and Beck both pushed this notion that Cruz is a prophetic figure come to save us all.

“Everybody was born for a reason,” Beck told Rafael Cruz, while sitting in – no joke – a replica of the Oval Office built for his show. “As I learned your story and saw the fruit of that story, now in your son, I am more and more convinced in the hand of divine providence.”

“Oh, absolutely,” Cruz replied. Who doesn’t want to be the father of the messiah? The last one was literally God himself, after all. 

This is the sort of thing Alex Massie was talking about, but there’s more:

As Cruz noted in his victory speech Monday night, Bob Vander Plaats and Rep. Steve King are national co-chairs for his campaign. King, of course, is a notoriously loony right wing nut who has argued that legalizing same-sex marriage means people will now marry lawnmowers and has equated undocumented immigration with the Holocaust.

Vander Plaats, who heads up Iowa’s religious right behemoth, the Family Leader, has argued that his interpretation of “God’s law” should trump the actual laws of our country, that gay marriage will lead to parents marrying their children, and that Vladimir Putin was right to sign a law criminalizing those who speak out for gay rights.

And there’s this:

Cruz also enjoys the support of David Barton, a powerful crank who rose in the ranks of the religious right by feeding the masses totally false but pleasing stories about American history, designed to create the illusion that our country was basically formed as a theocracy… Barton loves to do things like claim the Bible forbids progressive income taxes or the capital gains tax, or that Jesus forbade the minimum wage.

Is that enough? Marcotte has more. There’s always more – with Cruz, with Trump, with Rubio, even with Paul Ryan. Maybe we’re too close to see it. We’re in it, not looking at it with the distance that adds understanding. Perhaps we should all catch the next fight to Paris and sip cognac on a rainy afternoon at that café next to the dark old church that holds the bones of Descartes. London is good too. Want to understand America? Step back.

Posted in Republican Madness, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Our Perpetual Possession of Being Well-Deceived

In 1704, Jonathan Swift published his first major work, the satire A Tale of a Tub – admittedly thorny and difficult but worth the work, because it’s a brilliant exploration of where what sounds so reasonable turns in on itself and becomes absurd. That is explained in the tale’s Digression on Madness (A DIGRESSION CONCERNING THE ORIGINAL, THE USE, AND IMPROVEMENT OF MADNESS IN A COMMONWEALTH) which might have been written for our political world today:

For if we take an examination of what is generally understood by happiness, as it has respect either to the understanding or the senses, we shall find all its properties and adjuncts will herd under this short definition, that it is a perpetual possession of being well-deceived. And first, with relation to the mind or understanding, it is manifest what mighty advantages fiction has over truth, and the reason is just at our elbow: because imagination can build nobler scenes and produce more wonderful revolutions than fortune or Nature will be at the expense to furnish.

That’s why politicians say what they say, and Stephen Colbert got to the same place in 2005 when he invented the word Truthiness – named Word of the Year for 2005 by the American Dialect Society and for 2006 by Merriam-Webster, to Colbert’s delight:

Now I’m sure some of the “word police” – the “wordinistas” over at Webster’s – are gonna say, “Hey, that’s not a word.” Well, anybody who knows me knows I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true. Or what did or didn’t happen.

Colbert had won – the word was useful for describing the political advantages fiction has over truth. It was a one word compression of what Swift said way back when. Some things feel true so they must be true, because your gut tells you so, in spite of all empirical evidence to the contrary. That one thing feels right, and thus happiness, or smug satisfaction, has to do with the perpetual possession of being well-deceived – and this year Marco Rubio actually won the Iowa caucuses and Donald Trump is toast.

What? There’s that despairing last line of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises – “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

It is, but Ted Cruz won – the nasty and vindictive and clever little man who is loathed by everyone who has ever had to work with him, especially every Republican in Washington – had the most votes. The Iowa voters stuck it to the Republican Party. More than half of those Republicans out there in Iowa are evangelicals who have long felt used and abused by the party – betrayed – promised no more abortion, and government-mandated Christian prayer in public schools, and no more of this gay marriage nonsense and who knows what – only to find the party wanted tax cuts for the rich and no more regulation of Wall Street and an end to the EPA and maybe Medicare too.

That was never their fight and Ted Cruz was, he said, just as evangelical as they were. Donald Trump, the thrice-married billionaire from New York City, just couldn’t fake that. All the late polling showed Trump leading – he was a winner who would make America great again. That notion seemed irresistible – but then that seemed absurd. How was he going to do that? He never said. The folks in Iowa must have sensed bullshit – and Cruz was a man of God. Trump ended up pretty much tied for second with Marco Rubio, the young senator from Florida with that frightened look in his eyes, all the time, the man-child who had memorized all the right things to say. Push the button and he recites all those right things, but he’s the establishment candidate – the national party loves him – and a few people in Iowa must have decided he was far more electable than Trump or Cruz. And really, Cruz has maxed out – there are no more than a handful of full-Jesus states left out there for him. What else has he got? And he really is a nasty fellow, but Trump said he, Donald Trump, was a winner – he never loses and he’d make sure America never loses, ever again, on anything – and he lost. What else has he got?

So Rubio won. That was the talk of the day after the Iowa caucuses. The frightened young kid won.

At Slate, the thoughtful (read, establishment) conservative Reihan Salam said not so fast:

Monday night’s outcome means less than you might think for Trump’s prospects going forward. Cruz often speaks of his fight against “the Washington cartel.” Yet it is Trump who has violated almost every tenet of movement conservative orthodoxy and who has maligned professional politicians, Republican or Democratic, as the pathetic cat’s paws of billionaires like himself. He has demonstrated that there is a large constituency of Republicans who are indifferent to the fight against Obamacare and the battle to cut capital gains taxes, and who are instead passionate about restricting immigration and protecting America’s industries against Chinese competition. Trump is threatening to transform the ideological configuration of the GOP, and all his Republican rivals can do is react to his erratic moves. This dynamic won’t suddenly come to an end because of Iowa, and it has allowed him to shape the Republican race to fit his strengths.

In short, don’t count Trump out:

There is a widespread belief that because Trump so often emphasizes his talent for winning, any setback will prove devastating to his all-important aura of invincibility. Keep in mind, however, that Trump lost his lead on more than one occasion in the months leading up to Iowa, yet he kept pressing ahead. Trump’s reality distortion field proved even more powerful than the polls, and it may yet prove more powerful than the Iowa caucuses.

The truth is that Iowa was never the most favorable terrain for Trump’s brand of populism. Indeed, one could argue that Trump would have been wise to play down expectations for the caucuses, though doing so would have been very off-brand for a man loved and admired for his brashness. His real strength lies not among the devoutly religious Republican caucus-goers of Iowa, 61 percent of whom identified as evangelical or born-again Christians in an entrance poll conducted on Monday night. Rather, Trump appeals most to working-class Republicans in rural stretches of the Deep South, Appalachia, and the Northeast, and in particular to those of a more secular bent.

Face it, Rubio is just a kid, and Trump will do fine in New Hampshire:

For one thing, New Hampshire voters are far less religiously observant, and there is at least some reason to believe that Trump’s aggressive style doesn’t appeal to all God-fearing Christians. And though much has changed in New Hampshire since 1996, it is worth remembering that it’s the state where Pat Buchanan’s nationalist challenge to the GOP establishment enjoyed its greatest success. Unless something dramatic changes between now and next week, there is every reason to believe that Trump will defeat Cruz and Rubio in New Hampshire, where he enjoys a wide lead in the polls, and there is an excellent chance that he will do the same in South Carolina, where he fares almost as well.

Add to that, Rubio has a target on his back:

Despite his abysmal performance in Iowa, Jeb Bush continues to have considerable resources at his disposal, and the super PAC allied with his campaign has already devoted vast sums of money to savage attacks on Rubio, Bush’s erstwhile mentee. John Kasich and Chris Christie are not nearly as well-situated financially, but they also have nothing to lose. What reason do they have not to join Bush in savaging Rubio in the days to come?

Rubio is going nowhere. Salam prefers truth to truthiness, and so does Hillary Clinton. She’s not one of the perpetually well-deceived. She’s not worried about Rubio. Politico reports that her team is devising a careful plan to go after Donald Trump:

“There’s plenty of material out there,” said longtime Clinton confidant James Carville. “We just have to figure it all out.”

And that’s exactly what they’re trying to do:

With her campaign intensely focused on fending off an unexpectedly strong challenge from Sanders, the man tasked with leading off an eventual anti-Trump offensive is David Brock, the former Clinton foe turned ally who spearheaded the first sharp attacks against the Vermont socialist.

In November, a subsidiary of the Democratic National Committee paid the Brock-run American Bridge $144,000 for “research services,” according to elections filings. That research was devoted almost entirely to building a “Trump Book,” a compendium of clips and other records that could be used for future attacks, a campaign official familiar with the situation told POLITICO. In early December, the Clinton campaign paid the group a further $22,000 for similar work, the official added, and another David Brock-affiliated group, Correct the Record, began a cursory vetting of Trump over the summer.

The emerging approach to defining Trump is an updated iteration of the “Bain Strategy” – the Obama 2012 campaign’s devastating attacks on Mitt Romney’s dealings with investment firm Bain Capital, according to a dozen Democratic operatives and campaign aides familiar with the accelerating planning inside Clinton’s orbit. This time, Democrats would highlight the impact of Trump’s four business bankruptcies – and his opposition to wage hikes at his casinos and residential properties – on the families of his workers.

One Obama ally who helped frame the 2012 Bain strategy added another line of likely attack: “He’s a landlord. Everybody fucking hates their landlord.”

So, Trump is a great businessman, worth billions? Attack your opponent’s strengths. That’s the ticket:

“Why didn’t the Republicans do this against Trump already? The business stuff is really good fodder,” says veteran Democratic consultant Hilary Rosen, a Clinton supporter who is close to the campaign. “Look, there are real people who have been hurt from his multiple business dealings – real people with real problems. … Those are charges the Republicans were reluctant to make. Democrats won’t make that mistake. Think Bain.”

Or don’t, because Trump isn’t Romney:

One former Obama campaign and White House adviser said that Romney was wounded by the attacks on his business practices because it contradicted his compassionate-conservative pitch to swing voters. “We nailed it because it nailed Mitt on his motivation: He wasn’t this nice guy he claimed to be,” the former staffer said. “Trump never claimed to be nice. … No, the way to attack him is on temperament – a guy like this just isn’t fit to be president.”

The Clinton team will have to work this out, and that may not be easy:

Trump has confused pundits, reporters, political professionals, his opponents, and not least Clinton and her army of operatives. “The truth is we are as puzzled by this as everybody else, and have no idea what the hell is going to happen with him,” the Clinton insider said. “Democrats knew what they were getting in 2008 with McCain; they knew early in 2012 they’d be getting Romney. You could plan for those guys. You can’t really plan for Trump yet because he’s so unpredictable.”

Clinton’s top advisers, moreover, are still divided over how to deal with him: Initially, she and her team viewed him as a clamorous godsend, an unelectable party-buster who, along with Ted Cruz, would ensure her victory.

But Trump’s rising appeal with white, working-class voters and his willingness to bring up the ugliest Clinton scandals of the 1990s have unnerved the former first family, according to people in their orbit.

A Clinton-Trump contest would feature two candidates with disapproval ratings traditionally deemed too high for national electoral success: Clinton’s disapprovals hover around the 50 percent range, while Trump’s have rocketed as high as 60 percent, an unprecedented number that should preclude the possibility of his winning a general election.

Add too that the guy fights back:

When NBC’s Chuck Todd asked Trump how he would respond if the Clintons attacked him, he suggested he’d delve more deeply into their personal history.

“Well, I don’t want to say it’s a threat. But it is a threat,” he said on “Meet the Press.”

Even if Trump doesn’t follow through on the threat – or if America yawns – Carville thinks that the Republican front-runner is wily enough to figure out a new way to get under Clinton’s skin.

“Trump’s got talent. He can hold the line when he’s attacked. He uses irony,” he added.

Oh no! Irony! Team Clinton wants to attack Donald Trump with truth, but they know his truthiness is more powerful. The Huffington Post now appends this to every item that mentions Donald Trump:

Note to our readers: Donald Trump is a serial liarrampant xenophoberacistmisogynist, birther and bully who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims – 1.6 billion members of an entire religion – from entering the U.S.

That’s unlikely to change any minds. The minds they want to change don’t ever go to their site. They don’t like smug liberals. No one does, and at Vanity Fair, Tina Nguyen adds this:

A strategy that paints Trump as a ruthless capitalist isn’t entirely without merit. The Club for Growth claimed to cause a slight dip in the front-runner’s poll numbers when it attacked him with the message that Trump “literally bulldozed over the little guy to get his way.” But other outside spending groups failed to join in the attack, and Trump’s electoral juggernaut continued on its way, unimpeded. …

An attack on Trump’s temperament could be more successful, highlighting Clinton’s competency and grace under pressure, as during the nine-hour-long Benghazi hearings. And it could remind voters that the presidency is too serious to entrust to a candidate who boycotted a debate rather than face a moderator he disliked. But Trump’s Republican opponents have all tried to attack his personality, and so far, they’ve all failed. Trump has turned rudeness into a virtue and political correctness into a four-letter word. He has already brought up old rape allegations against Bill Clinton, and the attacks will only get dirtier if the two face off in a general election.

And then everyone will be well-deceived, and as for the most recent attacks on Hillary Clinton, about those emails, Josh Marshall offers this:

Over the weekend there was a stir because a New York Times reporter, Peter Baker, told CNN’s Sunday morning show that Democrats are “quietly absolutely petrified” of a mid-summer indictment. This ‘hot take’ was immediately picked by Mike Allen’s Politico Playbook. The stage was then set for yet another DC bubble derp freakout. Are Democrats “petrified”? I think that’s an overstatement. But are some nervous? I have no doubt they are. But I know people are stocking up on ammo for when ISIS mounts an operation against their house. For most people fear is generated by press coverage, often ignorant or tendentious press coverage. And with the breathless coverage of developments that more or less obviously have no legal impact whatsoever, I don’t doubt that many are nervous.

They shouldn’t be – this will just be another derp freakout, but perhaps that needs clarification:

Roughly defined, derp is an onomatopoeic exclamation uttered in response to a boneheaded action of some kind. Its adjective form, derpy, describes someone who is prone to acting like an idiot. Derpitude is the persistent state of being derpy. Over the past few years, the political class on Twitter has appropriated the term as a pejorative to point out an obtuse or stupid argument.

Jonathan Swift’s language was more elegant, in the days before Twitter, but Marshall has a point:

Here’s the reality. Who knows what we will learn in the future? And this has nothing to do with the political impact of the “emails controversy”. But as a legal matter, the chances of Hillary Clinton facing any kind of indictment are very, very low.

Start with the fact that as far as we know, she is not actually even being investigated for anything, let alone facing a looming indictment. The simple facts, as we know them, just don’t put her in line for an indictment. The first reason is the facts, which rest heavily on intent and reckless negligence. The second is tradition and DOJ regulations which make professional prosecutors very leery of issuing indictments that might be perceived or in fact influence an election.

This was my thinking. But as the press coverage has become increasingly heated, I started trying to figure out if there was something I was missing – some fact I didn’t know, some blind spot in my perception. So I’ve spoken to a number of law professors and former federal prosecutors – based on the facts we know now even from the most aggressive reporting. Not like, is this theoretically possible? Not, what the penalties would be if it happened. But is an indictment at all likely or is this whole idea very far-fetched. To a person, very far-fetched.

But that has not stopped the perpetually well-deceived:

So why the press coverage? I think it’s a combination of reasons. The most irreducible and perhaps most significant is simply prestige reporter derp and general ignorance of the legal system. Second is journalists’ perennial inability to resist a process story. And third, let’s be honest, wingnut page views.

As I’ve said, the political calculus and potential political damage is a different matter altogether. There is little doubt that this whole on-going controversy, along with stuff in the background about the Clinton Foundation, has hurt Clinton badly on public estimations of her honesty and trustworthiness. But again, on the possibility of an indictment, most of this chatter is just plain ridiculous – a mix of ignorance and tendentiousness.

But there’s more:

Do we need to put up a Trump Wall along the Canadian border to keep out the terrorists? In the closing days of the Iowa caucus campaign Ben Carson and Marco Rubio have been pushing the national security threat the US faces along its northern border. Yes, from Canada. Particularly, terrorists infiltrated the US along the generally porous US-Canada border.

According to The Wall Street Journal, a man at a Rubio townhall on Friday asked the senator, “Once the wall is placed down in Mexico, you and I know terrorists will try to come through Canada. What’s going to be done about that?”

Rubio was totally on board. “The threat to the Canadian border is real as well, we need an additional 20,000 border agents. Not just on the southern border, but to partner with the Canadians on the northern border.”

Added to the hysteria are the 25,000 Syrian refugees who Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has very conspicuously welcomed into the country. According to Ben Carson on Wednesday, “We also have to, you know, harden our defense at our seaports and our air terminals, everywhere. Our northern border in Canada, you know, because Trudeau is taking tens of thousands of Syrians. Believe me, those people, the radical Islamists… they will infiltrate those people, just like they will infiltrate them if we bring them here.”

Marshall despairs:

One must almost become a full-fledged archeologist of derp to dig through the many levels of evidence-less assumptions upon which these fears are based. The assumption is that ISIS, al Qaeda or just “the terrorists” more generally are routinely infiltrating terrorists into the United States to mount terror operations. We need to secure the Southern border against terrorist infiltration. And having cut off that entry way they will focus instead on the northern border.

This is quite simply an entire edifice of bullshit.

Marshall goes on to prove that with a devastating array of actual facts – truth versus truthiness – but imagination can build nobler scenes and produce more wonderful revolutions than fortune or Nature will be at the expense to furnish. That’s derp – being perpetually well-deceived. That’s also our politics now. There may be no fixing this. Donald Trump might be our next president.

Posted in Political Delusions, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

After Iowa

Iowa is over. As it nears midnight here in Los Angeles – the middle of the night in the middle of the country – Donald Trump no longer seems invincible. Ted Cruz – the nasty and vindictive and clever little man who is loathed by everyone who has ever had to work with him, especially every Republican in Washington – won the Iowa caucuses. The Iowa voters stuck it to the Republican Party. More than half of those Republicans in Iowa are evangelicals who have long felt used and abused by the party – betrayed – promised no more abortion, and government-mandated Christian prayer in public schools, and no more of this gay marriage nonsense, and who knows what – only to find the party wanted tax cuts for the rich and no more regulation of Wall Street and an end to the EPA and maybe Medicare too. That was never their fight and Ted Cruz was, he said, as evangelical as they were. Donald Trump, the thrice-married billionaire from New York City, just couldn’t fake that. All the late polling showed Trump leading – he was a winner who would make America great again and that notion seemed irresistible – but then it seemed absurd. How was he going to do that? He never said. The folks in Iowa must have sensed bullshit – and Cruz was a man of God. Trump ended up pretty much tied for second with Marco Rubio, the young senator from Florida with that frightened look in his eyes, all the time, the man-child who had memorized all the right things to say. Push the button, he says them. He’s the establishment candidate – the national party loves him – and a few people in Iowa must have decided he was far more electable than Trump or Cruz. And that’s it – now no one else matters. Mike Huckabee dropped out. Jeb Bush didn’t – but he came in almost dead last. The family, and the family friends who came up with well over one hundred million dollars to fund his campaign, have no idea what happened – but Jeb will soldier on, for no apparent reason.

That’s a quick summary of what you’ll find in this more detailed New York Times account:

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, powered by a surge of support from evangelical Christians, dealt a humbling loss to Donald J. Trump in the Iowa caucuses on Monday, throwing into question the depth of support for Mr. Trump’s unconventional candidacy.

In the first contest of what so far has been more a populist revolt against the political order than a traditional Republican primary, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida finished a strong third, bolstering his case to consolidate the support of Republicans uneasy about the two top finishers. …

Mr. Cruz’s victory was hard-earned. He fought off a barrage of attacks in the campaign’s final weeks from Mr. Trump as well as from Iowa’s longtime governor, Terry E. Branstad, and Republican leaders in Washington who warned that the hardline Mr. Cruz would lead the party to electoral disaster this fall.

Having felled the brash Mr. Trump, who unceasingly predicted victory and dominated the race up until the first voting, Mr. Cruz can credibly portray himself, to conservatives who have yearned to unite behind a strong champion, as a giant-killer.

“To God be the glory,” Mr. Cruz told jubilant supporters. “Tonight is a victory for the grass roots. Tonight is a victory for courageous conservatives all across Iowa and our great nation.”

And so it goes:

“I love you people. I love you people,” a subdued-sounding Mr. Trump unconvincingly told a crowd of Iowans in West Des Moines. “We will go on to get the Republican nomination, and we will go on to easily beat Hillary or Bernie or whoever the hell they throw out there.” …

Portraying his third-place showing in the best possible light, Mr. Rubio subtly took aim at both Mr. Cruz and Mr. Trump on Monday, suggesting they could not defeat Mrs. Clinton. “When I’m the nominee, we are going to unify our party and we are going to unify the conservative movement,” Mr. Rubio said to hundreds of supporters in Des Moines.

And on the other side there was this:

Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont were locked in an intensely tight race in the Iowa caucuses on Monday as Mrs. Clinton’s strong support among women and older voters was matched by the passionate liberal foot soldiers that Mr. Sanders has been calling to political revolution.

The close results were deeply unnerving to Mrs. Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, as well as her advisers, some of whom had expressed growing confidence in recent days that they had recaptured political momentum after weeks when Mr. Sanders was drawing huge crowds and rising in the polls. The Clintons had appeared optimistic at rallies over the weekend, thanking Iowans for their support as much as urging them to turn out to vote.

The close vote means that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders are likely to split Iowa’s share of delegates to the Democratic convention, and Mr. Sanders will be able to argue that the Iowa result was a virtual tie.

When the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard out here, in a few hours, this still won’t be decided. Hillary Clinton did declare victory. That may have been a bad move. Iowa resolved nothing there.

What was resolved? At Talking Points Memo, John B. Judis suggests this:

I believe the Republicans came out ahead in the Iowa Caucuses. If Donald Trump had won the caucus, he may have been able to close out the nomination battle by winning Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. But the Republicans now have a three-man race, and one of the candidates, Marco Rubio, would be difficult for the Democrats to defeat in November.

The Democratic results – a virtual tie between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders – suggest that the Democratic contest will go well into March. I love Bernie Sanders, and I think his campaign is making an enormous contribution to America’s future, but I don’t think he can win in November. He’ll run up against deep-seated skepticism about big government and tax increases. For the time being, he is too far to the left to win a national election unless he faced someone who was equally on the far right. And his age could also be a handicap.

But Hillary is no better:

With her extensive experience, and credibility as a future president, Clinton could be a more formidable candidate, but she is once again running a dreadful campaign. Her speech tonight was typical: a set of lists of what needs to be done delivered in a shout. And the results showed again that she is failing to inspire young voters, who have to come out in large number for a Democrat to win the presidency. In polls, she lost 18 to 29 year old voters to Sanders by 84 to 13 percent.

Clinton also displayed continuing weakness in connecting with voters. The quarter of Democratic voters who want a candidate who “cares about people like you” preferred Sanders by three to one. Those who wanted a candidate who was “honest and trustworthy” preferred Sanders by 82 to 11 percent. These kinds of concerns could plague Clinton in the general election.

Ah, but on the other side:

Cruz won the primary by bringing out Iowa’s hard right voters – a constituency that is somewhat unrepresentative, outside the Deep South and a few prairie states, of the Republican or American electorate. He did best among the 40 percent of Iowa caucus goers who identified themselves as “very conservative.” He got only 9 percent of the moderate Republican vote. He also did best of the candidates among born-again Christians. Trump did best among voters with a high school degree or less (who made up only 16 percent of the GOP caucus goers) and among the 13 percent who thought immigration was the most important issue.

That’s pretty dismal, and then there’s the third man:

Rubio got all the late-comers to the election, and if you look at the difference between the final polls and the results, he seems to have shifted about six or seven percent of the vote from Trump to himself. Among the 20 percent of the caucus goers who put a priority on a candidate who could win in November, he got 43 percent of their vote. He did well among young voters, college-educated voters, moderates and somewhat conservatives.

This bodes well for later Republican primaries in big states that Obama won, as well in the South, and also can make him a formidable candidate in November. Trump still has to be the favorite in New Hampshire, but Rubio could gain second place and find himself in a strong position as the campaign moves south. The Democrats should worry.

Okay, Rubio won Iowa, but Josh Marshall sees trouble:

Trump’s campaign from the start has been about immigration – booted out undocumented workers, slamming the door on Muslims. There was never much to hit Cruz on on the immigration front. There’s a ton to hit Rubio with. He made his pitch to be the Republican who delivered his party for comprehensive immigration reform. And he failed miserably. Trump’s script writes itself. Even more than usual.

And Marshall adds this:

The big story is what can only be called a body blow for Donald Trump. If Trump had won or won big, I think he would have blown out New Hampshire next week and quite possibly been unstoppable. Now Trump isn’t a winner, but a loser. We’ll see how he responds to that.

But Rubio has a strong showing, greatly beating expectations. He’s clearly the only hope for establishment Republicans. And in a one on one with Cruz, I think Rubio wins. So a damaged Trump, a one on one between Cruz and Rubio, that creates a path toward a Rubio nomination in my mind. Not certainty or perhaps even a likelihood – but a path. A path out of the choice between a Trump or a Cruz nomination is a path out of catastrophe. And that’s a win in itself.

But the whole business on both sides is still dismal. It’s this dismal:

About 1-in-4 federal employees would consider leaving their jobs if Donald Trump is elected president, according the results of a recent survey conducted by the Government Business Council.

Overall, about 2-in-3, or 67 percent said they would not think about leaving the federal government if Trump becomes president, but 14 percent said they would and 11 percent said they would “maybe” leave. Just 8 percent said they did not know. The share of Democrats who said they would leave is higher, with 42 percent indicating that they would exit or could exit.

Among all of those surveyed, 59 percent said they would be embarrassed to have Trump as president, compared to 49 percent who said the same for Hillary Clinton, 45 percent who would be embarrassed with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, 37 percent with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and just 20 percent for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Hey, Rubio wins again, for what that’s worth. Perhaps he’s mainly harmless. That may be the best we can hope for, but the New Yorker’s Amy Davidson sees only trouble ahead:

Senator Ted Cruz, of Texas, has won the Iowa Republican caucus, with close to twenty-eight per cent of the vote, a result that will likely leave his party in an even more queasy state than if Donald Trump, the New York businessman, had beaten him. Until recently, a Cruz victory would not have been a surprise: he had put most of his campaign’s energy into getting out the vote and appealing to the evangelical activists whose opinions tend to be amplified in the caucuses. But then Trump began calling him “the Canadian” (Cruz was born in Calgary, to an American mother) and wondering why “nobody likes Ted” (the Party leaders, especially those who have worked with Cruz, seem to despise him) and pulled ahead in the polls. If Trump had triumphed, and then gone on to win New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada – he is leading in the polls in all three states – Republicans might have just told themselves that a deal-maker was better than a nobody, which is what the other candidates were looking like, and slapped some gold paint on the establishment. Now they still have Ted Cruz, the single most conservative member of the Senate, and no clear idea of what to do with him.

And the third guy doesn’t help either:

In the most recent Republican debate, Cruz, in Trump’s absence, had wilted; Rubio, and not Trump, seems to have been the beneficiary of Trump’s no-show tactic. Rubio did well in the debate, in part, by calling Cruz a liar to his face. There was a general expectation among commentators that the Republican establishment would now give Rubio money, to try to beat both Cruz and Trump. The complication is that the establishment donors, before the campaigning started, gave more than a hundred million dollars to Jeb Bush’s super PAC, Right to Rise. The group still has more than fifty million left, which it has been spending furiously on attacking Rubio. Jeb Bush got only about three per cent of the Iowa-caucus vote, behind not only the three front-runners but also Ben Carson and even Rand Paul. (John Kasich, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, and Mike Huckabee each got less than two per cent; Huckabee announced that he was suspending his campaign.) But Bush had once been a mentor to Rubio, and now he seems to believe that Rubio ought never to have run. The last time a Bush-family grudge distorted American political culture, the target was Saddam Hussein, who at least was a brutal dictator. Now the storm of pettiness is directed at a one-term Florida Senator.

Then there is the matter of how Cruz seems to have won, with fraudulent mailers, xenophobic warnings, his own calls to build a wall on the border, attacks on “New York values.” He suggested that President Obama wanted to help terrorists. He appealed in ever-starker terms to evangelical voters, presenting himself as the sole defender of the faith in the field. (In his speech, Cruz said that his victory was, in part, a testament to “the Judeo-Christian values that built this great nation.”) … The Cruz campaign had dormitories of volunteers working to turn out the vote, and the candidate himself visited each of Iowa’s ninety-nine counties. (“The full Grassley,” as it’s called.) But Cruz didn’t sneak in with just a few activists; Iowa is small and unrepresentative, but turnout in the caucuses may have reached or come close to a record high.

And the guy is poison:

There is a strain in the Party that Cruz both speaks to and, with his sneering attacks on even his ideological allies, sours. And, in recent days, he threw in lines such as this one, from a rally in Sioux City on Saturday: “Donald Trump, right now today, as a Presidential candidate, is advocating full-on socialized medicine – expanding Obamacare.” Also, “Marco Rubio’s position in this race is that, if he’s President, he wants to grant amnesty, full citizenship to all twelve million people here illegally.” Neither of those sentences is true. And neither heralds a Party that is pushing back against Trump’s bigotry. Cruz didn’t renounce Trumpism; he sold his own cheap knock-off.

This is a mess:

Trump came out after learning that he’d lost and talked about how “we’re just so happy with how it worked out.” Despite the impression he often gives, Trump has plenty of experience with losing, and with carrying on as if he had won. Sometimes, it works for him. It might in New Hampshire. The stubborn, multifarious uncertainty that various candidates are unelectable – especially the ones who are winning votes – will keep the race unsettled. Ted Cruz’s victory makes a brokered convention a little more likely.

In December, Frank Bruni, of the Times, quoted someone who had worked with Cruz on George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign as saying, “Why do people take such an instant dislike to Ted Cruz? It just saves time.” If that is so, Cruz seems to have beaten the clock in Iowa. And the Republican Party has a lot more time to waste.

Do we have to watch? Yes, and from Sam Stein and Jennifer Bendery there’s this:

Things were even more muddied on the Democratic side of the aisle, where former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton clung to a marginal lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), with just few votes remaining to be counted. If she ultimately emerges victorious, and based on the critical delegate count it appears she will, it will be something of a Pyrrhic victory. Rather than show herself to be the inevitable nominee on Monday — blessed with a bloodless and quick primary fight – she struggled to handle a man she once led by more than 50 points in the polls.

Now, Clinton faces the prospect of an upcoming loss in New Hampshire, where Sanders enjoys a healthy lead, and a drawn-out fight for the nomination. Whoever wins will inevitably be forced to empty his or her copious war chest and resort to more personal attacks in the process. Even before Sanders spoke Monday night, his supporters were booing Clinton and calling her a liar when she appeared on the TV screens. There was a huge cheer when the feed froze.

Expect more of that, and more of this:

The Iowa caucuses bring many celebrities to the state to rally last-minute support for candidates, and this weekend, Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson was the latest to make the trek to support Republican Ted Cruz. Introducing the competitive candidate at a rally Sunday, the reality show patriarch not only attacked marriage equality as “evil,” but suggested that its supporters needed to be literally obliterated.

“Don’t you understand that when a fellow like me looks at the landscape and sees the depravity, the perversion – redefining marriage and telling us that marriage is not between a man and a woman? Come on Iowa! It’s nonsense. It is evil. It’s wicked,” Robertson told the crowd.

“It’s sinful. They want us to swallow it, you say. We have to run this bunch out of Washington, D.C. We have to rid the earth of them. Get them out of there. Ted Cruz loves God.”

And more of this:

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump told the crowd gathered at his campaign rally on Monday to “knock the crap” out of anybody who threw a tomato at him.

Trump said the event’s security staff told him there was a risk people would throw the juicy fruit.

“So if you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them,” Trump said at his rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

“I will pay for the legal fees. I promise,” he added. “They won’t be so much because the courts agree with us too.”

A protester was arrested last week for throwing tomatoes at Trump at a different Iowa event.

What comes after Iowa? This comes after Iowa. Iowa was only the beginning.

Posted in Iowa Caucuses, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments