Knowing How to Play the Game

Two outs, bases loaded in a tie game, the bottom of the ninth – and there’s that high pop fly to shallow right. Three guys converge on it, shouting something or other to each other, and they run into each other, landing on their asses. The ball drops in for a hit. The guy on third scoots home. The game is lost and the manager shouts out that classic line – “Does anyone here know how to play this game?”

That’s a good all-purpose line. It’s useful in politics too. Someone should have shouted it to the congressional Republicans in 2013 – that two-week government shutdown backfired. It didn’t force Obama to end Obamacare. It just pissed people off and cost a lot of money – and Obama could wait, as more and more vital services shut down. Everyone knew who was making life miserable for them, to get what they couldn’t get with votes or court decisions – the Republicans. Did they want to make themselves look like spoiled brats? They decided they didn’t want that. They gave in. They got nothing. That’s not how you play the game.

They may not know how to play this game. Everyone remembers this past March and the day the leader of the free world came to the United States to address a Joint Session of Congress, to upbraid and shame the young and hopelessly naïve president – invited to do so by the few remaining Real Americans. That would be the Republicans of course. Everything had been arranged. The leader of the free world was invited to come, and to set things straight, behind our useless president’s back. There was no need to tell him what was up – and the Real Americans would thus show the rest of the other whining and useless Americans, who voted the wrong way, twice, what a real leader does, or at least what a real leader says. That seemed to be the general idea. After this, no one would ever vote for a Democrat again, not even for dogcatcher.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel would speak on how the Obama deal with Iran, to end Iran’s nuclear weapons program, was awful. America could be tougher. America could force a better deal, forcing Iran to change everything they did. All it took was a leader with balls. Everyone knows this.

That’s why National Review columnist Quin Hillyer wrote that “Netanyahu, not Obama, speaks for us” and called him “the leader of the free world” – as if Netanyahu was his president, not Obama. There was a lot of that sort of thing and it backfired – we have our own president, thank you very much. One of the rules of the game seems to be that you don’t tell the American people to reject their own president and do exactly what some foreign leader says, even the leader of Israel, the Holy Land. Americans are picky that way. Oops.

Two weeks earlier, forty-seven Republican senators sent a signed letter to Iran’s leaders warning them against cutting a nuclear deal with the Obama administration. Any deal that is not approved by the Congress is nothing more than an executive agreement between Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. The next president could revoke that with the stroke of a pen, and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time. The first sentence said it all – “It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.”

Ah, yes – Congress has all the power. Congress can reject agreements a president makes. They’re not worth much, and he is only their servant after all – and so on and so forth.

The backlash was severe – folks called them traitors and invoked the Logan Act and whatnot. You don’t go telling foreign powers that you, not the president, represent the United States. There are laws against that. There are rules. Does anyone here know how to play this game?

Obama does. The high pop fly dropped when these guys ran into each other, and they lost the game:

Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland on Wednesday came out in support of President Obama’s Iran nuclear accord, the 34th Democrat in favor. Her decision gives Mr. Obama the votes needed to assure the deal will survive a congressional challenge.

“Some have suggested we reject this deal and impose unilateral sanctions to force Iran back to the table. But maintaining or stepping up sanctions will only work if the sanction coalition holds together,” Ms. Mikulski, the longest serving female senator in history, said in a statement.

“It’s unclear if the European Union, Russia, China, India and others would continue sanctions if Congress rejects this deal. At best, sanctions would be porous or limited to unilateral sanctions by the U.S.”

And that was that:

Ms. Mikulski’s decision came a day after Senators Chris Coons of Delaware and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania also announced they would support the deal. With 34 senators favoring the accord between Iran and six world powers limiting the country’s nuclear program, opponents may still be able to pass a resolution disapproving the deal later this month, but they do not have the votes to override Mr. Obama’s promised veto.

And with momentum on their side, the White House and Senate Democrats next week hope to find seven more votes to filibuster the Republican resolution of disapproval. That would ensure the resolution would never leave the Senate, and Mr. Obama would not be forced to use a veto.

Despite the continuing rancor on Capitol Hill, there was also growing recognition, even among some accord opponents, that the other nations – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, and especially Iran – would be unwilling to renegotiate the agreement even if Congress formally rejected it.

They recognized that this wasn’t the game everyone thought it was. George Bisharat, a professor emeritus at the UC Hastings College of the Law up in Sacramento, and John Whitbeck, a Paris-based international lawyer, explain what the game really is:

Democrats, including President Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry, apparently also take for granted that it is within American power to kill the deal. During his recent grilling by Republican members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry predicted that if Congress passed a resolution against the deal and then overrode a presidential veto, the deal would be dead and Iran would then sprint toward a nuclear bomb, triggering an attack by Israel and igniting a catastrophic new war into which the United States might irresistibly be drawn.

Perhaps this was a case of fighting overheated rhetoric with equally overheated rhetoric, but it seems legally, logically and politically wrong. Neither a congressional resolution of disapproval nor a veto override will, or can, kill the deal.

It seems that we don’t matter:

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed in Vienna on July 14 is not a bilateral agreement between Iran and the United States. It is a multilateral agreement signed by seven countries (China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia, Britain and the United States). Its merits being clear, it was subsequently endorsed by a unanimous resolution of the U.N. Security Council, and only one of the U.N.’s 193 member states – Israel – is publicly opposed to it.

This multilateral executive agreement signed by the United States is not a treaty; it does not require Senate ratification to be binding on the United States. Still, Congress could cause the United States to breach its obligations under the agreement by not releasing Iranian funds held in U.S.-controlled banks and by not lifting unilateral American sanctions against Iran.

However, this would not nullify the deal for other signatories. It would simply constitute a decision to opt out and not participate in the agreement, reminiscent of earlier American opt-outs from the League of Nations and the International Criminal Court. The other signatories would be perfectly free to honor the Iran deal and would be far more likely to do so than to follow the U.S. example.

We’d be left out and powerless:

Iran has every incentive to uphold the deal and, by doing so, reap the benefits of its reintegration in the global community and the world economy. An American opt-out would only serve to isolate the U.S. and prove to the world that its word cannot be trusted. …

Since World War II, American leaders have felt a right and an obligation to lead the world. Were the United States to isolate itself over the Iran nuclear deal, it would not risk imminent war but, rather, grave damage to its credibility and potential for future world leadership.

That’s a game you don’t want to lose, so there was this:

Just before the Senate left town for its August break, a dozen or so undecided Democrats met in the Capitol with senior diplomats from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia who delivered a blunt, joint message: Their nuclear agreement with Iran was the best they could expect. The five world powers had no intention of returning to the negotiating table.

“They basically said unanimously this is as good a deal as you could get and we are moving ahead with it,” recalled Senator Chris Coons, the Delaware Democrat who lent crucial support to the deal this week despite some reservations. “They were clear and strong that we will not join you in re-imposing sanctions.”

For many if not most Democrats, it was that message that ultimately solidified their decisions, leading to President Obama on Wednesday securing enough votes to put the agreement in place over fierce and united Republican opposition. One after another, lawmakers pointed to the warnings from foreign leaders that their own sanctions against Iran would be lifted regardless of what the United States did.

Doug Mataconis covers the rest:

With Senate support sufficient to stop a veto override in place, the question now will become whether Democrats will have enough votes to filibuster the initial Disapproval Resolution, thus preventing a Senate vote before the expiration of the 60 day review period. With 34 confirmed votes, and possibly as many as 36 votes if Senators Blumenthal and Manchin end up supporting the deal as they have hinted in the past, Democrats need seven of the remaining nine undecided Democrats to vote for cloture. Even if all or most of these Senators end up supporting the deal, it’s not guaranteed that they’ll support a filibuster. Delaware Senator Chris Coons, for example, has said that he would prefer to see the Senate have an up-or-down vote on the bill even though he supports the deal. If even just a handful of other Democrats feel the same way, then they might vote with the GOP to allow the resolution to pass cloture and proceed to a final vote.

However the vote counting turns out on Capitol Hill goes, though, the result is the same – the deal will go forward, starting with the end of certain sanctions against Tehran and the beginnings of the inspection regime.

The game is over, or it’s not:

Several GOP presidential candidates have threatened to “terminate this deal on day one,” as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker did again Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Walker said he was sending a “clear message today” to the rest of the world that if he won the White House, tough sanctions would be imposed on Tehran. And he warned America’s negotiating partners and other nations that start dealing with Tehran: “If you want to do business, you have got to decide, are you going to do it with Iran or are you going to do it with America?”

We could cut off all trade with China, France, Germany, Russia, and Britain – no goods and services would flow either way with any of them. How would they like that?

American corporations might be a bit unhappy with that, and American consumers, but there’s this:

Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) have a pending bill to authorize a 10-year extension of the Iran Sanctions Act, which expires next year. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said last month that the sanctions extension would be brought up and passed after the debate on the nuclear pact.

Iranian officials have said that extending the authorization for sanctions could be considered a violation of the agreement.

Not that it matters – everyone else will keep to the agreement. We’ll just do our Cuba thing on Iran – except we just gave that up after more than fifty years, because it didn’t accomplish a thing. Unilateral sanctions, when everyone else is engaged in trade and talk, don’t damage their target. They only make the sole sanctioning nation look foolish, and tiresomely self-righteous. Everyone else has moved on.

The Washington Post’s Paul Waldman says that’s the real shift here:

If you’re too young to remember the time before the Iraq War turned into a disaster, you may not realize the state of constant fear Democrats used to live in when it came to national security. Particularly since Ronald Reagan’s presidency, Republicans were always ready to ridicule them as being “soft” – soft on defense, soft on the communists, soft on anything involving foreign threats. After 9/11, this attack went into a higher gear, as did Democrats’ fear that any show of softness would instantly be met with, “Why are you on the terrorists’ side?” and “Why don’t you support our troops?”

That’s why it was widely understood among Democrats in 2002 that no one with any national ambitions could vote against the Iraq War when the drums were beating so loudly. With only one exception (Florida’s Bob Graham), all the Senate Democrats who would run for president in 2004 or 2008 voted Yea, including Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and John Kerry. Everyone assumed that was the only safe vote to take. And when Kerry became the party’s nominee in 2004, he centered his entire campaign on the story of his service in Vietnam, on the theory that a couple of chicken hawks like George Bush and Dick Cheney would never attack the patriotism of a war hero (that theory proved to be mistaken).

Now it’s time to take some risks:

The failure of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars enabled Democrats to feel that they didn’t have to constantly bend over backward to show that they’re tough, when toughness is what cost the country so much in recent years. But the Iran debate put that belief to the test. That’s because for Democrats, there really is some risk in supporting this deal.

If the agreement proves to be a failure – let’s say that Iran manages to conduct a nuclear weapons program in secret, then announces to the world that they have a nuclear weapon – it will indeed be front-page news, and the Democrats who supported the deal might suffer grave political consequences. So in order to vote yes, they had to look seriously at the deal and its alternatives, and accept some long term political peril.

They will vote yes, making the gamble, even if no Republican had to risk anything:

It’s true that if the deal does achieve its goals, it will be added to a list of things on which Republicans were spectacularly wrong, but which led them to change their opinions not a whit. The Iraq War didn’t have an appreciable impact on their views about the wisdom of starting new military engagements in the Middle East. Nor did their failed predictions about Bill Clinton’s tax-increasing 1993 budget (they all said it would cause a “job-killing recession” and every one of them voted against it) and George Bush’s tax cuts (they said the cuts would lead to an explosion of economic growth) alter their views on what effect tax increases have on the economy.

But if the deal works as intended, what will be the outcome be? Iran without nuclear weapons, of course, but that is a state of being rather than an event. There will be no blaring headlines saying, “Iran Still Has No Nukes – Dems Proven Right!” Five or ten years from now, Republicans will continue to argue that the deal was dreadful even if Iran’s nuclear ambitions have been contained.

Maybe these guys do know how to play the game:

My guess is that now that the practical fight over this deal is essentially over, Republicans won’t bother to keep arguing about it too much. In the primaries, the presidential candidates will throw in a perfunctory line or two in their speeches about how awful it is, how they’ll tear it up on their first day in office, and how it shows that Democrats are weak. But with the deal now facing the lengthy task of implementation and no substantive victory possible for them, they won’t see much to be gained in harping on it. But they’ll probably continue to believe that calling Democrats weak on national security is tremendously effective, even if the Democrats themselves aren’t as afraid of that attack as they used to be.

That’s the traditional game and Kevin Drum adds this:

In a way, it’s actually worse than this. Even if Iran doesn’t get nukes there will be endless opportunities to raise alarms that it’s going to happen any day now. Israeli leaders have been warning that Iran is three months away from a nuclear bomb for over two decades. There will always be new studies, new developments, and new conflicts that provide excuses for hysterical Fox News segments telling us we’re all about to die at the hands of the ayatollahs. To see this in action, just take a look at Obamacare. All the top line evidence suggests it’s working surprisingly well. Maybe better than even its own supporters thought it would. But that hasn’t stopped a torrent of alarming reports that provide countless pretexts for predicting Obamacare’s imminent doom. Premiums are going up 40 percent! Workers’ hours are being slashed! You won’t be able to see your family doctor anymore! Death panels!

So have no worries. Iran could be nuclear free in 2050 and Bill Kristol’s grandkids will still be warning everyone else’s grandkids that the ayatollahs are this close to getting a bomb. It’s kind of soothing, in a way, like a squeaky door that you’d miss if you ever oiled it.

Does that mean they win? In a way they do – they know how to play that game – but that’s the only victory they get. The rest of us get a better world. Everyone else is now playing a different game.

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Uncle Ben

There are those who insist that the Washington Redskins change their name. The Cleveland Indians’ name is fine. That’s generic. The Atlanta Braves’ name is a compliment. In college football, the Florida Seminoles’ name is regionally and historically descriptive. But calling someone a “redskin” is a slur – that’s like calling someone a nigger – not that it matters. The owners of the Washington Redskins aren’t changing the name.

Why should they? No one is petitioning the Quaker Oats Company to rename their Aunt Jemima brand of pancake mix and syrup and whatnot – even if the woman in the trademark logo is a stock blackface character from the old minstrel shows. No one is petitioning the Mars candy and consumer-good conglomerate to rename Uncle Ben’s Rice – even if “Uncle” was used in the South to refer to older male black slaves or servants, the kindly old harmless ones, the ones who never made trouble. They’d even dance with Shirley Temple in the movies. That’s the generic face in their trademark logo – such a nice man – but black activists in the sixties called those who said slow down and don’t make trouble Uncle Toms. They knew what that word “uncle” meant. Worried white folks, however, liked those uncles, and they probably bought a lot of Uncle Ben’s Rice back then. The name was comforting. The name is also problematic.

Given that, it’s only appropriate that the Republicans have found their own Uncle Ben – Ben Carson, the former neurosurgeon and motivational speaker, and the only black man or woman officially seeking the Republican nomination. He’s harmless and nice – one of the “good” ones – and drawing even with Donald Trump in many of the polls, even if no one has noticed yet. Were Shirley Temple still around – she was a lifelong Republican – Richard Nixon made her our United Nations ambassador – Ben Carson would dance with her. Well, maybe not, but he is that nice man on the small box of rice.

Obama won’t do, as seen in the new Public Policy Polling results:

Our new poll finds that Trump is benefiting from a GOP electorate that thinks Barack Obama is a Muslim and was born in another country, and that immigrant children should be deported. 66% of Trump’s supporters believe that Obama is a Muslim to just 12% that grant he’s a Christian. 61% think Obama was not born in the United States to only 21% who accept that he was. And 63% want to amend the Constitution to eliminate birthright citizenship, to only 20% who want to keep things the way they are.

Trump’s beliefs represent the consensus among the GOP electorate. 51% overall want to eliminate birthright citizenship. 54% think President Obama is a Muslim. And only 29% grant that President Obama was born in the United States. That’s less than the 40% who think Canadian born Ted Cruz was born in the United States.

That’s a bit alarming, but the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza says calm down:

It’s no secret that the public is deeply divided about Obama as he enters the final year of his presidency. Democrats generally like him. Republicans, almost uniformly, do not. So when Republicans – and this PPP poll asked only Republicans the Muslim question – are given the chance to say something negative (or even untrue) about Obama, they will take it.

Remember back in February, when almost seven in 10 Republicans in an online YouGov poll said that Obama doesn’t love America? What we wrote then still holds true today: It’s easy to get people who already don’t like someone to say or believe something bad about them. Some of those people truly hold those beliefs; most of the others are really just saying “I don’t like Obama.”

That is, of course, not super newsy.

It only means this:

Yes, there are a decent number of GOPers who say that Obama is a Muslim. But when presented with LOTS of options – Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu etc. – the number of Republicans who say Obama is a Muslim is FAR less than a majority.

None of the above is meant to discount the fact that there exists a strain of thinking primarily prevalent in the GOP that views Obama as exotic and different – and not in a good way. My only point is that by using poll numbers like these from PPP, we over-simplify negative views of Obama and, in so doing, dumb down a national political conversation that is on shaky ground as it is.

That’s a useful corrective – the bulk of Cillizza’s column covers his objections to specific poll questions and general methodology – but that doesn’t change the basic dynamic here. Obama is exotic and different and certainly not harmless. Obama has been inflaming racial tensions since the very first day he took office, telling the blacks to rise up against the whites, hasn’t he? No one else sees that, but the angry right does. Obama is no uncle.

Ben Carson is, and he is doing well:

The spotlight rarely found Ben Carson this summer. While other presidential candidates shot flaming arrows at rivals and sometimes the news media, the soft-spoken Mr. Carson seemed to struggle to be noticed. “Well, thank you,” he told moderators in the first Republican debate. “I wasn’t sure if I would get to speak again.”

But while almost all Republicans were upstaged by the bombast of Donald J. Trump in recent months, Mr. Carson, a retired neurosurgeon whose low-key personality and celebrated medical career are the antithesis of a politician’s usual path, gained ground as few seemed to notice.

A recent Quinnipiac University national poll showed him in second place in the Republican field, and a Monmouth University survey of Iowa Republicans released on Monday had him tied with Mr. Trump. Another Iowa poll, by The Des Moines Register and Bloomberg, had the two candidates running closely within the poll’s margin of sampling error.

No one expected this, but he’s not Obama, and he’s certainly not Donald Trump:

He is almost professorial, where Mr. Trump is loud, combative and unfiltered.

“At the end of the day, I attribute it to the power of nice,” said Rob Taylor, a chairman of Mr. Carson’s campaign in Iowa, reflecting on the rise of his candidate.

Mr. Carson has worked hard to tame his habit of making highly provocative statements, often on homosexuality, a move that advisers said had saved his campaign after it nearly derailed amid negative early headlines. They predicted that Mr. Trump’s own tendency toward such statements, whether directed at illegal immigrants or in personal attacks on Twitter, could undermine his headline-grabbing run.

“We’ve been there and realize no matter how much the base will love you for it, people will not think it’s presidential,” said Armstrong Williams, a close adviser to Mr. Carson.

Be that harmless uncle:

A little-known figure to most voters before the first Republican debate in Cleveland on Aug. 6, Mr. Carson clearly benefited from the huge number of viewers who tuned in because of Mr. Trump’s flamboyance.

Mr. Carson spoke of separating conjoined twins and removing half a brain as qualifications for the Oval Office in his closing statement – made off the cuff, his advisers say. Many commentators shrugged, but social media lit up. Polling, before and after the debate, showed Carson with one of the biggest upticks.

His favorable rating among likely Republican caucus-goers in Iowa was a towering 81 percent in the Monmouth University poll, with only 6 percent holding an unfavorable view.

Mr. Carson tied with Mr. Trump for the top spot in the poll at 23 percent, and pulled ahead of him with female voters and evangelical Christians.

On the other hand, he has said some odd things:

On whether being gay is a choice: “Because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight and when they come out, they’re gay. So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question.”

On political correctness: “I mean, [our society is] very much like Nazi Germany. And I know you’re not supposed to say ‘Nazi Germany,’ but I don’t care about political correctness. You know, you had a government using its tools to intimidate the population. We now live in a society where people are afraid to say what they actually believe.”

On the IRS: “You know, we live in a Gestapo age, people don’t realize it.”

On Advanced Placement history class: “I think most people, when they finish that course, they’d be ready to go sign up for ISIS.”

On veterans dying waiting for medical care from the Department of Veterans Affairs: “I think what’s happening with the veterans is a gift from God to show us what happens when you take layers and layers of bureaucracy and place them between the patients and the health care provider. And if we can’t get it right, with the relatively small number of veterans, how in the world are you going to do it with the entire population?”

On Obamacare: “You know, Obamacare is really, I think, the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery. And it is, in a way it is slavery in a way because it is making all of us subservient to the government.”

On Obama’s appearance: When a colleague said the president “looks clean. Shirt’s white. The tie. He looks elegant,” Carson responded: “Like most psychopaths. That’s why they’re successful. That’s the way they look. They all look great.” He later said: “But he knows he’s telling a lie! He’s trying to sell what he thinks is not true! He’s sitting there saying, ‘These Americans are so stupid I can tell them anything.'”

On similarities between the Founding Fathers, who were “willing to die for what they believed,” and ISIS: “They’ve [ISIS] got the wrong philosophy, but they’re willing to die for what they believe, while we’re busily giving away every value and every belief for the sake of political correctness.”

None of that is very “nice” but it may not matter:

Carson, an African-American man raised by a single mother in Detroit who went on to become the head of pediatric neurosurgery at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital, is something of a triple threat, says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.

Firstly, “he’s viewed as principled,” Mr. O’Connell told the Christian Science Monitor’s Linda Feldmann. “Second, he’s widely seen as likeable. And third, he doesn’t talk like a politician. Any time voters hear something that sounds like political double talk, they tune out.”

Is his likability enough to outpace the less-likable Trump?

No one knows. But consider this: When Trump visited Phoenix for a rally last month, some 5,000 supporters were there to greet him. When Carson visited Phoenix last week, he was overwhelmed to find an estimated 12,000 supporters cheering him on.

Something is up. The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart explains it this way:

For a party in thrall to a natural showman with little known allegiance to Republican ideology, what explains the rise of an otherwise boring doctor who made a name for himself telling off President Obama at the prayer breakfast in 2013?

“Trump satisfies the id. Carson satisfies the superego,” said Rick Wilson, a Republican ad maker and strategist told me in an e-mail. “Trump feeds the nationalist, isolationist, sometimes revanchist sentiment of a lost working and lower middle class overcome by change and economic dislocation. He’s the avatar of their anger, even if he asks them to look past all their conservative values to support him.”

As for Carson, Wilson said, “Carson is the aspirational story that fills people’s hearts and makes them look at a miracle that could only happen here. Evidently brilliant mindfully, but firmly conservative, in for the country not just for his ego…”

Uncle Ben is such a nice man:

Carson is the antithesis of Trump. The neurosurgeon mumbles. The builder bellows. The demeanor of the man known as “Gifted Hands” is painfully humble compared with the swagger of the Manhattan real estate mogul. Trump is loud, obnoxious and tells you how great he is whether you want to hear it or not – whether you truly care or not. He’s so high-octane that anyone else is “low-energy.” But Carson is the very definition of low-energy. You could practicality hear crickets chirping every time he spoke at the first Republican debate.

He’s the man on the rice box, but Slate’s Jim Newell sees something else:

Iowa Republicans have spent the summer watching seventeen presidential candidates sport blue jeans and eat fried sugar-lard in order to secure their support. After all of it, the overriding feeling right now appears to be: If you’ve held political office before, then these are lean times.

“Regardless of who you support,” the new Monmouth survey asks, “what do you think the country needs more in the next president: someone with government experience who knows how to get things done OR someone outside of government who can bring a new approach to Washington?” Twenty-three percent of Iowans preferred the former, 66 percent the latter – and Trump, Carson, and Fiorina, naturally, are soaking up those votes.

No past or present officeholders – whether they are perceived as establishment or anti-establishment candidates – are catching fire in Iowa. We can all agree that Cruz or Huckabee play up their anti-establishment credentials, but they’re not faring much better in Iowa than the likes of Jeb Bush or Sen. Marco Rubio. That isn’t the rift that matters right now. It’s between politicians and nonpoliticians.

The three candidates who have no idea how government works are the only ones doing well, and Donald Trump set this up:

His well-publicized rhetoric against “all talk, no action” politicians who are “stupid” and so on opened a great wide lane down which he, Carson, and Fiorina have been speeding. Anger-prone voters who once directed their rage at the GOP establishment still do that, but the Summer of Trump has now conditioned them to widen that circle to include all politicians.

This is what makes a strategic rethink like the one Scott Walker is attempting so irrelevant. Walker’s precipitous collapse in Iowa, where he had been leading just long enough to solidify expectations that he needed to win it, set off some bells on his team. It was time to retire “Fortress Walker,” the overprotected, monotonous black hole of charisma who’d been coasting off the inertia of a single, rousing speech in January. Trump had applied the necessary friction to slow Walker’s Iowa coronation, and Walker’s response would be to adopt a more “Trump-like” tone “in which he would take on the Republican establishment.”

But Trumpism, when harnessed by non-Trump actors, can badly misfire. It is a dark magic that takes control over its practitioner and leads him to a place where he’s describing the construction of a 5,000-plus-mile-long wall with Canada as a “legitimate” idea. And so on.

That misses the whole point:

Adopting a tone more “fiery,” “anti-establishment,” “confrontational,” or whatever other inexact term we use to describe a politician who’s made the decision to irrationally please base voters misdiagnoses the moment. Walker has been running for office since he was 22 years old and serving since he was 25. He is a career politician whether he likes it or not. It’s not a good look right now.

You can understand the temptation for Walker, Bush, or any other viable candidate to start smashing lamps or burning Chinese flags. But the best bet is still just to hold steady, not overreact, and wait for the nonpoliticians to crash. Heightened scrutiny and the compression of time typically serve as a career politician’s best friend. Pat Buchanan and Steve Forbes and Herman Cain had their moments, maybe even won a state, but in the end a majority of voters would not entrust them with the nuclear codes, the American military, and oversight of the vast federal bureaucracy.

This too will pass, unless it doesn’t. Trump could win the nomination. Carson could win the nomination. Each seems proud that they have no idea how government works, because it doesn’t work and they’ll do something different, although what that might be is unclear now. You’ll just have to trust them – and right now Uncle Ben seems more trustworthy. He’s a nice man.

Is that enough? Perhaps it is, and then there’s this:

Dan White, senior economist at Moody’s Analytics – Our Moody’s Analytics election model now predicts a Democratic electoral landslide in the 2016 presidential vote. A small change in the forecast data in August has swung the outcome from the statistical tie predicted in July, to a razor-edge ballot outcome that nevertheless gives the incumbent party 326 electoral votes to the Republican challenger’s 212.

But this is an economic model:

The primary factor driving the results further to the incumbent party in August is lower gasoline prices. Plummeting prices and changing dynamics in global energy markets from Chinese weakness and the Iranian nuclear deal have caused us to significantly lower our gasoline price forecast for the next several years. This variable is very significant to voter sentiment in the model, with lower prices favoring incumbents.

It is important to note that the model does not reflect results if an election were held today, but relies on Moody’s Analytics economic forecasts to determine what the world will look like in November 2016. Should gasoline prices rebound above the current baseline forecast by election time, the results of the model will move more in favor of the challenging Republicans. The forecast for house prices also accelerated moderately.

The election model’s other main drivers saw little to no change from the previous month. No new historical data were available for real personal income per household, though September’s quarterly update from the Bureau of Economic Analysis has potential to swing the model back toward the challengers if data come in weaker than forecast.

That’s it? It doesn’t matter if Donald Trump sneers his way into the hearts of all white Americans? It doesn’t matter that no one anywhere trusts Hillary Clinton on anything? It doesn’t matter than Uncle Ben is such a nice old man and so seemingly harmless? Apparently not:

The Moody’s Analytics Presidential Election model forecasts whether or not the incumbent party will maintain control over the White House using a mixture of economic, demographic and political data. The model successfully predicts every election back to 1980, including a perfect electoral vote prediction in the 2012 election.

Then what is all the fuss about? The Republican Party, which has now become the party of the South, now has their harmless “uncle” – who may snatch the nomination from the “huge” reality-show star – and the Democrats will never have another Obama – it’ll be careful evasive ordinary politicians from here on out – and it all comes down to the price of gasoline. Who knew?

But the rise of Ben Carson was a surprise.

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Getting Nasty Again

History has been kind to Harry Truman. During his presidency no one thought much of him, but years later his bluntness and honesty made up for him being a bit of a hick. He did give ’em hell. On the other hand, he did give the Japanese hell. Eisenhower was fine, but now, his decision, in 1953, to have the CIA engineer a coup to remove the newly-elected democratic government in Iran and bring back the Shah, seems unforgivable. Few in the Middle East will ever forgive that. We’re still paying for that – and as for Kennedy, his assassination made him a hero and a martyr, but the accomplishments of his administration are few. What did he actually do? Lyndon Johnson got done what Kennedy was only edging toward, all the civil rights legislation and all the Great Society stuff – Medicare and Medicaid and Head Start and all the rest. But Johnson sent us all-in, full-speed, into Vietnam. That disaster is his legacy. He knew it. He wouldn’t run again in 1968, and with Bobby Kennedy swiftly assassinated and the Democrats left with Hubert Humphrey, Richard Nixon was next up. What was his legacy – years and years of more war in Vietnam, the bombing of Cambodia and the incursion into Laos, and, finally a peace treaty that meant little, as we eventually just left, ceding the place to the North Vietnamese? That’s not much of a legacy – but there was the opening with China and creating the EPA – but then there was Watergate. Being the only president to resign in disgrace doesn’t burnish your legacy.

Gerald Ford was next – an amiable caretaker who did no harm – followed by Jimmy Carter – introspective and puzzling and gone after one term. Then it was Ronald Reagan, who simultaneously won the Cold War and proved to everyone that government is totally useless, neither of which is quite true. It doesn’t matter. If people believe that’s true that’s Reagan’s legacy, and George H. W. Bush has no legacy. He was so plodding and prudent he angered his own party, and impressed no one else. He too was gone after one term, followed by Bill Clinton – all scandal, all the time, and eight years of peace and prosperity, with a booming economy and jobs for everyone, and a surplus, not a deficit, the day he left office. Still, there was Monica Lewinsky.

The less said about George W. Bush the better. Iraq, Afghanistan, torture, Katrina, the total collapse of the economy – that’s his legacy. There’s a reason he’s been hiding since the day he left office. Obama’s legacy may be Obamacare, inching us closer to the rest of the world in making some sort of healthcare available to all citizens, or reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, or the Iran deal that will keep those folks from developing nuclear weapons, setting up a whole new way of dealing with the Middle East – talk, listen, and work things out – as an alternative to endless wars. Other lists could be devised, covering trade deals, and that climate deal with China, and his executive actions on immigration reform, and all sorts of things. If you’re one of those who hates all these things you still say all this is Obama’s legacy – you simply say he should be ashamed of all of it. There are those who are still angry that FDR created Social Security – but they don’t say that didn’t happen. Obama has a legacy.

There’s also a different sort of legacy. Historians may look back on the eight years of the Obama administration as a brief anomalous period of uneasy racial civility. Obama was our first black president, and we may not ever have another, but because he was our president, few felt comfortable saying he did this or that only because he was black. That sort of thing was confined to talk radio. When Glenn Beck argued, passionately, that President Obama hates white people, even Fox News dumped Beck. Stick to policy. Don’t talk about race – and of course Obama made that easier. He avoided being too black. He would not play the Angry Black Man. That just wasn’t him. He was, by nature, calm and gracious and thoughtful, and also absurdly well-educated, and well-spoken. There was nothing “black” to latch onto.

This was new. There was no way to inject “race” into any discussion of public policy, unless you wanted to look like a jerk. All the talk that Obama was born in Kenya, or that somehow he inherited a Mau-Mau anti-colonial mindset from some grandfather long ago, was greeted with a weary shrug. Stick to policy. There’s no need to be nasty.

That’s worked for the last six and a half years, but as Obama’s second term draws to a close, with the certainty that he’ll be gone soon enough, racial nastiness is certain to return – and with the last year of news of one white cop after another killing an unarmed black man, or a black kid, racial tensions are running high. The nastiness is back:

After a white Houston sheriff’s deputy was ambushed and fatally shot by a black man at a gas station, the sheriff linked the killing to heightened tension over the treatment of African-Americans by police, citing the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

Shannon J. Miles, whose criminal record includes convictions for resisting arrest and disorderly conduct with a firearm, was to be arraigned Monday in the shooting of Darren Goforth, a 10-year veteran of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. Miles’ arrest Saturday came less than 24 hours after authorities said he ambushed Goforth at a suburban Houston Chevron station. …

“Our assumption is that he (Goforth) was a target because he wore a uniform,” the sheriff said. Hickman and Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson pushed back against the criticism of police.

“We’ve heard Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter. Well, cops’ lives matter, too,” Hickman said Saturday.

You want a race war, you’ll get a race war, although he did say “So why don’t we just drop the qualifier, and say ‘Lives matter.'” – but the damage was done:

The nationwide “Black Lives Matter” movement that formed after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri has sought sweeping reforms of policing. Related protests erupted in Texas recently after a 28-year-old Chicago-area black woman, Sandra Bland, was found dead in a county jail about 50 miles northwest of Houston three days after her arrest on a traffic violation. Texas authorities said she committed suicide but her family is skeptical of that.

Deray McKesson, a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement, told the Houston Chronicle: “It is unfortunate that Sheriff Hickman has chosen to politicize this tragedy and to attribute the officer’s death to a movement that seeks to end violence.”

This already is political:

A prayer walk in Goforth’s honor drew hundreds of people Sunday evening. As the group marched through the streets escorted by law enforcement vehicles, traffic in the opposite lanes came to a halt, video from news helicopters showed. Onlookers stood along the road, some waving American flags and others snapping photos. …

This is not the first time the issues of racial tension and anti-police sentiment have emerged following a fatal shooting of an officer. Authorities said the man who ambushed and killed two NYPD cops in Brooklyn last year made online posts that were “very anti-police” and cited Ferguson. The suspect, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, wrote on an Instagram account: “I’m putting wings on pigs today. They take 1 of ours, let’s take 2 of theirs.”

And there’s this:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) suggested President Obama bore some of the blame for Friday’s fatal shooting of a sheriff’s deputy in Houston, Texas. During a campaign stop in New Hampshire, Cruz told reporters that “cops across this country are feeling the assault” thanks to the “vilification” of law enforcement by administration officials, the Dallas Morning News reported.

“These are brave heroes who risk their lives keeping us safe,” Cruz said. “And I do think we’re seeing the manifestation of the rhetoric and vilification of law enforcement, of police, that is coming from the president of the United States and it’s coming from senior officials.”

Those black kids SHOULD have been shot:

Cruz suggested President Obama’s condemnation of the fatal shootings of unarmed black teenagers in cities including Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland helped to inflame anti-cop sentiment.

“I’m proud to stand with law enforcement,” Cruz said. “We need a president who doesn’t attack and vilify them, and who doesn’t seek to tear us apart along racial lines, to inflame racial divisions.”

Question a cop killing another unarmed black kid and you’re a racist tearing the country apart. You can say that now that Obama is leaving soon, but Donald Trump was already there, weeks earlier on Meet the Press:

CHUCK TODD: I want to ask you about Black Lives Matter. The latest shooting of a white police officer shooting an unarmed black man. Do you see this as a crisis in America?

DONALD TRUMP: It’s a massive crisis. It’s a double crisis. What’s happening and people. You know, I look at things. And I see it on television. And some horrible mistakes are made. At the same time, we have to give power back to the police because crime is rampant. And I’m a big person that believes in very big – you know, we need police. And we need protection. Look, I look at some of the cities. You look at Baltimore. You look at so many different places in this country. Chicago. Certain areas of Chicago. They need strong police protection. And those police can do the job. But their jobs are being taken away from them. At the same time, you’ve got these other problems. And there’s no question about it. They are problems. There is turmoil in our country.

CHUCK TODD: Do you understand why African Americans don’t trust the police right now?

DONALD TRUMP: Well, I can certainly see it when I see what’s going on. But at the same time, we have to give power back to the police because we have to have law and order… We have to give strength and power back to the police.

The police need absolute power again? They don’t have that? And now there’s Fox News’ Elisabeth Hasselbeck – “Why has the Black Lives Matter movement not been classified yet as a hate group?”

But there’s Aurin Squire:

On Wednesday a disgruntled former employee named Vester Lee Flanagan, a black man, shot and killed two white TV news reporters on air in Roanoke, Virginia. On Saturday Shannon J. Miles, also African American, was arrested for shooting a Texas deputy. These incidents are the latest in a long, numbing progression of recent tragedies at the nexus of gun control, mental health, and a violent culture reacting in rage at a sense of helplessness.

These mass shootings are also usually perpetrated by mentally disturbed white men. But when I found out that an African American man was the killer in one incident and the accused in another, I knew conservative sites like Breitbart would seek to frame the incidents, like any black-on-white crime, as indicative of reverse racism, and a political dog whistle that they are under attack. “RACE MURDER IN VIRGINIA: BLACK REPORTER SUSPECTED OF EXECUTING WHITE COLLEAGUES – ON LIVE TELEVISION!” blared the initial Breitbart headline. On Fox, “Justice with Jeanine” used the Texas story as an opportunity to blame Obama and call Black Lives Matter “black slime that needs to be eradicated.”

American Thinker, a conservative blog, claimed that the “evil” things put in the [Virginia] murderer’s head were the result of Obama liberalism.

That was curious as was Justice with Jeanine and that talk of black slime that needs to be eradicated. Obama is leaving office. Anything goes now:

The local weather is cold so global climate warming isn’t real; if women have greater access to birth control they will become hard-drinking promiscuous abortioneers; the Second Amendment means the government should never take actions in prohibiting gun access to any adult; and taking care of poor people incentivizes poverty. But racial false equivalency is one of the right wing’s most consistent rhetorical tricks. …

In response to the immigration debate, Donald Trump trots out the tragedy of an illegal Mexican immigrant shooting a woman as a sign that all immigrants are a violent threat. When the growing video evidence of police brutality began popping up on screens last summer, the shooting of two NYPD cops by a deeply paranoid African-American man was the perfect opportunity for the New York City’s police union and Fox News to attack Obama and Mayor Bill de Blasio for their alleged hatred toward police.

In light of the Virginia murders, Fox News and conservative bloggers are trotting out one of their old false equivalence standards: Black people commit crimes in hatred against white people, so therefore they should be treated the same as hate crimes against blacks.

Aurin Squire isn’t happy about that – there’s a power imbalance – but the race war is coming:

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump released a chilling video Monday attacking opponent Jeb Bush for once suggesting that undocumented immigrants entered the United States as “an act of love.”

The 15-second video, which Trump posted to Instagram and Twitter, begins with the text: “Jeb Bush’s Thoughts on Illegal Immigration.”

It plays sound of Bush, a former Florida governor, saying of undocumented immigrants, “Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love.”

Over the sound of Bush talking, with harrowing music playing, the Trump video flashes mug shots of Francisco Sanchez, who was charged in the San Francisco killing of Kate Steinle; Santana Gaona, a Texas man found guilty of a murder; and Brian Omar Hyde, who was charged with three killings in Florida.

Then the screen turns black and, in white lettering, asks: “Love? Forget love. It’s time to get tough!”

And the obvious:

Trump’s video – his latest play in an escalating feud with Bush – awakens memories of the 1988 “Willie Horton” ad, one of the most notorious political attacks in recent decades. The ad was used to devastating effect to undermine then-Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis on criminal justice issues.

Here we go again, but some are unhappy:

After losing the 2012 presidential election, Republican Party leaders vowed to craft a message they thought would be more in tune with the middle class, promising to deliver faster economic growth and to help all workers, not just the very rich. The message was built on the bedrock GOP notion that the primary enemy of the American economy is an oversized and overreaching federal government.

But those careful plans have hit a large and brash-talking obstacle in the form of current Republican front-runner Donald J. Trump.

Trump’s surging campaign has pushed the party in a different direction, one that often clashes with free-market principles that have long underpinned GOP economic policy. Some establishment Republicans worry that the turn could damage the economy, and their party, for years to come.

It comes down to this:

Trump criticizes government, but he shot to the top of the GOP field by rallying voters against another enemy: immigrants from Mexico and low-wage workers in China, whom he blames for lost jobs and stagnant wages in America. He has proposed levying tariffs on imported goods, deporting millions of immigrants who entered America illegally and reducing the number of legal immigrants allowed in each year. In a further blow against conservative orthodoxy, he has said in recent interviews that he favors higher taxes on the rich and on investment income.

Critics, including many leading conservative economists in Washington, call Trump’s plans “nativist,” “protectionist” and incompatible with the party’s core pro-market beliefs. They also worry Trump’s ideas could spread to other GOP contenders.

“This is a very dangerous moment, I think, for the Republican Party,” said Stephen Moore, a conservative economist and co-founder of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, which has been meeting with candidates to urge them to adopt low-tax, low-regulation policies to grow the economy.

“What Trump is saying about trade and immigration is a political and economic disaster,” Moore said. “He’s almost now making it cool and acceptable to be nativist on immigration and protectionist on trade. That’s destroying a lot of the progress we’ve made as a party in the last 30 years.”

Moore and the others want Trump to talk policy, but with the moderating influence of Obama soon to be gone, being nasty is back, and acceptable.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn column for the Washington Post and sees this:

Republican operatives, insiders affiliated with no campaign and donors with whom Right Turn spoke last week are not pleased about the state of the GOP race. … They are angst-ridden over Donald Trump’s staying power, but more than that, the inability of the other candidates to respond effectively and present themselves as an effective alternative.

These Republicans, on one hand, despair that an egocentric bully with no discernible political principles should be leading in polls. They observe that his incoherent mix of authoritarianism, protectionism and cronyism is antithetical to the modern conservative movement, and in tone is 180 degrees from Ronald Reagan. But they also note that he is building an organization and displaying “P.T. Barnum showmanship,” as one veteran of GOP presidential campaigns put it. They shake their heads, unable to fully comprehend Trump’s appeal, but more than that they are disturbed by the rest of the field. They do not believe Trump will be the nominee, but high hopes for a deep, quality field have not been met. In particular, they are worried that Trump’s embrace of “nativism” will doom the party if mimicked by others.

It may be too late for that:

Donald Trump is “emasculating” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush with his attacks and his performance in state and national polling, prominent Republican strategist Steve Schmidt said Monday.

“Look, Jeb Bush was a very successful governor, he’s a thoughtful man – he was a good, conservative governor. But every day, Donald Trump is emasculating Jeb Bush, and Republican primary voters are not going to default to the establishment candidate who is being weakened by these attacks that go unresponded to.”

Nancy LeTourneau sees what’s happening here:

We’re hearing a lot these days about how boys/men are being emasculated. It has become a regular theme on Fox News (who also call it the “wussification of America”) and talk radio. Why is that?

The message aimed at boys is to suggest that the only way to be a “real man” is to be a bully. Whether it’s with your fists, your bombs, or your words, it’s all about putting others down as a childish way of lifting yourself up.

But it’s also a way of denigrating men who demonstrate the capacity for compassion, empathy, thoughtfulness and cooperation. In other words, men who display characteristics we normally associate with women. That’s because in a patriarchal culture, those qualities represent weakness.

That made this inevitable:

At a time when the right wing in this country is consumed with a backlash against the inevitable demise of white male heterosexual dominance, Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign might have failed because of this – even if he weren’t showing himself to be incredibly gaffe-prone.

But this call to “manliness” from our leaders hasn’t just come from the right. While not as harsh or widespread as the conservative version, there have been many suggestions that President Obama needs to “man up” or take off his tutu and put on his boxing gloves. Calling Obama “feminized” is the heart of Maureen Dowd’s critique of this President.

All of this is a kind of sexist dog-whistle.

Of course it is, but that only matches the racist dog-whistles now heard throughout the land. Saying that black lives matter is hate speech from a hate group that gets cops killed, so those people had better shut up? It only gets worse from here on out – and when historians look back on the Obama presidency they will probably note the most curious thing about it – the relatively low level of overt and blatant nastiness. But that’s not a legacy. That’s an anomaly. We won’t see that again. Our future presidents will be white. We’ll get nasty again.

Posted in Black Lives Matter, Donald Trump, Obama Legacy, Racist Dog-Whistles | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Out in the Midday Sun

Gilbert and Sullivan may have invented and perfected the patter-song with that Model Major-General ditty but Noel Coward was no slouch with his Mad Dogs and Englishmen number. Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun – as do tourists here in Hollywood. No one else does. No one’s that crazy. The only pleasant time of day here is just after dawn, when the sun is just edging up over Griffith Observatory out east. The air is light. There’s black coffee and the morning paper. After that, hide.

It was even worse this year. These last days of August in Los Angeles brought record heat – one hundred and rising fast each day at noon, with the brutal sun turning the air into a sepia photochemical goop, in the fourth year of a drought so severe we may have to fold up the state and call it a day. This year, in late August, you’d be crazy to walk out your door after nine in the morning. The only ones out there are the tourists from Iowa ready to slit each other’s throats by early afternoon – because the corollary to the mad dogs and Englishmen hypothesis – that some folks (Englishmen) are inherently crazy – is that the heat itself drives you crazy.

It does. Raymond Chandler opened one of his short stories with this:

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Ana’s that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

It’s like that out here in late August. It may be like that everywhere in late August. Anything can happen. It’s the heat. Disregard anything anyone says in late August. In particular, disregard anything politicians say, and in particular, disregard Scott Walker:

It’s not just the southern border: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says it is “legitimate” to discuss building a wall separating the United States from Canada, as well.

The Republican presidential contender said the idea of a northern border has come up while he has campaigned in New Hampshire.

In an interview for NBC’s “Meet the Press” available online, Walker said his tough talk to securing the borders and enforcing U.S. laws extends to the 5,525-mile Canadian border as well.

He wants to do Donald Trump one better, one wall better, specifically, but he’s floundering:

He ran into trouble two weeks ago after GOP front-runner Donald Trump proposed repealing the Fourteenth Amendment’s mandate that children born in the United States automatically become citizens, regardless of their parents’ legal status.

Walker first said he favored Trump’s idea of repealing birthright citizenship. He backed off that stance days later, telling a reporter that he hasn’t taken a position. And then last Sunday, he said that he isn’t advocating any changes to laws on the books – including the Fourteenth Amendment.

Despite taking three different positions in the course of a week, Walker insisted Sunday on NBC, his stance has been consistent.

As for this new Big Northern Wall, the Canadians were not happy with the idea:

That kind of chatter – as idle as it might be – can make Canadians jittery given that more than one-third of Canada’s Gross Domestic Product involves trade with the U.S., and that the tightened border after the 9-11 attacks caused a ripple-effect that still hasn’t completely subsided.

Canada’s defense minister weighed in when asked about Walker’s remarks Sunday, although he said he hadn’t yet heard them. In response, Jason Kenney said Canada would protect what he called the largest bilateral trading relationship in economic history.

“Of course we would vigorously oppose any thickening of the border,” he told an Ottawa news conference.

Trump has pissed off the Mexican government. Walker has pissed off the Canadian government. It’s been that kind of August, but Doug Mataconis adds some cold common sense:

The odds that such a proposal would get past Congress and the decades-old international agreements that govern the relationship between the United States and Canada are extremely small. Additionally, even if one were to concede Walker’s contention that the Canadian border is some of kind of security threat, his proposal is quite obviously not a practical solution to that problem. For one thing, the border in question runs well over 5,000 miles and includes not only the border between the Continental United States and Canada, but also the border between Canada and Alaska. A good portion of this border region consists of highly inhospitable areas in which it would be entirely impossible to construct any part of the barrier. The border also cuts through Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario, and I’m not aware of any viable way to construct a water barrier.

Yeah, well – it’s August. The heat got to him, and it got to Chris Christie:

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said on Saturday that if he were elected president he would combat illegal immigration by creating a system to track foreign visitors the way FedEx tracks packages.

Mr. Christie, who is far back in the pack of candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, said at a campaign event in New Hampshire that he would ask the chief executive of FedEx, Frederick W. Smith, to devise the tracking system.

The idea here is one that’s been around since the Reagan years, that the government can never do things right, ever, but the private sector can do things right, and always does:

“At any moment, FedEx can tell you where that package is. It’s on the truck. It’s at the station. It’s on the airplane,” Mr. Christie told the crowd in Laconia, N.H. “Yet we let people come to this country with visas, and the minute they come in, we lose track of them.”

He added: “We need to have a system that tracks you from the moment you come in.”

For those who believe the government should be run like a business, and by businessmen, this must have sounded wonderful, but for this:

Mr. Christie did not say specifically how a system would track people the same way packages are tracked by FedEx, which scans a bar code on the package at each step of its delivery. A FedEx spokeswoman declined to comment on Mr. Christie’s remarks.

Heather Parton suggests why:

FedEx bar codes all its packages and puts them through scanners everywhere they go. Is he suggesting that we tattoo bar-codes on humans and put them through scanners everywhere they go? I don’t know what else he could be talking about.

There’s a history of tattooing people to keep track of them. Not a good history.

Dorian De Wind at The Moderate Voice adds this:

Using a barcode scanning system for people might be problematic. First, where would you stamp the barcode? On the forehead? Nah, too reminiscent of the Yellow Star “method.”

Second, how would you continuously scan the barcode? With drones perhaps? Nah, too costly, plus “real Americans” would probably object to such collateral invasion of their privacy.

A much better system would be one that implants chips in our visitors and tracks them using satellite GPS. Much more reliable, accurate, and hopefully less reminiscent of bad-things-past.

Which will it be? Christie has obviously spent too much time in the midday sun, and the blogger BooMan states the obvious:

Do you think there is anything even mildly offensive about saying that you’d like to treat undocumented people living in our country exactly like FedEx treats packages? It is stuff like this that makes minority outreach so unsuccessful for Republicans. Because, you know, the rest of us can hear you when you think you’re just talking to your base.

That happens a lot, but to be fair to Scott Walker, Ben Carson wants to seal all the nation’s borders:

We have laws and we need to be able to pay attention to our laws and what I have said consistently is we need to seal our borders – but not just the southern border, the northern border, the Pacific border, the Atlantic border, every border.

We go to full lockdown, and Carson has also called for employing armed drones to snuff out drug cartels that may have hidden caves on our soil. El Paso becomes Yemen. We simply wipe out drug cartels, not terrorists, in this case – and we don’t have to make a case or arrest and try anyone. We just wipe them out.

Carson may need to think this through. The president, through secret executive orders, bypassing law enforcement and the judicial system, and the law, ordering death to certain parties, on American soil, might set a bad precedent. Where would it stop? There are those who are a bit queasy with Obama secretly ordering the death, by drone strike, of American citizens on foreign soil, even if they have gone all ISIS on us. Few feel that way, but the precedent is troubling.

Still, all of this is August-talk. It’s the “Summer of Trump” and all that. Things will cool down in September, unless something else is going on here, and the fetching conservative cutie S. E. Cupp says that something else is liberal political correctness:

Thanks to unrelenting demands by the left for increasingly preposterous levels of political correctness over the past decade, people are simply fed up. Trump survives – nay, thrives! – because he is seen as the antidote, bravely and unimpeachably standing athwart political correctness.

The new era of liberal political correctness – in which colleges designate “free speech zones,” words like “American” and “mother” are considered discriminatory, and children are suspended from school for firing make-believe weapons – has reached critical mass. If not for the loony sensitivities foisted upon us by the left, someone like Trump would be immediately dismissed as unprofessional and unserious, an incoherent blurter. Instead, he’s the equally extreme response to extreme correctness – if everything is offensive in Liberalville, then nothing will be offensive in Trumpland.

So it’s not the heat, but Ed Kilgore isn’t so sure:

Is that the source of all this hysteria? Conservative media accounts of random college speech code incidents and the occasional dumb move by a school principal? Something that affects maybe a tenth of one percent of the population? That has conservatives backing a deliberately offensive celebrity like Trump and a conspiracy theorist like Carson?

I’m sorry, I don’t buy it. The Trump supporters and proto-Trump supporters I know are upset by things like having to listen to Spanish-language messages on customer service lines, not being able to call women “chicks” without someone frowning at them, and having to stop telling racist jokes at work. That’s what “political correctness” is the code for: having to worry about the sensitivities of people who were invisible or submissive not that very long ago.

If Cupp is right and I’m not, then let’s all cooperate in convincing Republican politicians and conservative pundits to stop using the term “political correctness” and come right and tell us what the beef is about. Is it really “trigger warning” requirements at scattered liberal arts colleges? Or is it this whole new world we’re in where people have to question old habits? When Ben Carson calls inhibitions about torturing terrorism suspects “political correctness,” it’s pretty clear he’s yet another apostle for the Church of the Day Before Yesterday, when America was never wrong and dissenters kept their mouths shut.

Kevin Drum adds this:

I could do with a little less speech policing from all sides, frankly. It gets a little tiresome sometimes. Still, the truth is that Ed is right: for the vast, vast majority of us, it leaves our lives entirely unaffected as long as you can avoid flat-out slurs against women, blacks, gays, Jews, and so forth. Really, that’s about 99 percent of it. Is that really so hard?

Maybe it is, or maybe it’s just the August sun, frying politicians’ brains. Nancy LeTourneau says they’ll pay for that:

We’ve all been witness lately to the fact that Donald Trump is free to suggest that Mexican immigrants are criminals and racists. He’s even free to run for president on a platform of “deport ’em all.” And Ben Carson is free to suggest that the United States should discard things like the Geneva Conventions and torture prisoners of war.

When people complain about political correctness, they are suggesting that they want the freedom to say obnoxious hateful things. But they have always been free to do so. Just don’t expect the rest of us to be quiet when they do. In other words, expect it to backfire.

Perhaps it will, but elsewhere Drum has some interesting questions:

The Democrats have such a weak bench this year that there’s literally only one truly plausible candidate in the entire field. And this isn’t because Hillary Clinton is so widely beloved: there’s just no one else around who seems to have the usual bona fides to run for president. Hell, even the sitting vice president, usually a shoo-in to run, has a public persona that’s a little too goofy to make him a strong candidate.

In other words, there are hardly any decent candidates in the entire country. What the hell is going on?

And there’s this:

Is there anyone out there who could be the Democratic equivalent of Donald Trump? There was some inane blather earlier this month comparing him to Bernie Sanders, but that was always pretty preposterous. Bernie Sanders is a serious, longtime politician. He may be too extreme for you, but he’s not a buffoon. 

More specifically: Is it even possible that someone like Trump – no political experience, buffoonish, populist, boorish – could ever make a big impact in a Democratic primary? It’s never happened before, but then, it’s never happened quite this way in the Republican primary either.

Something odd is going on here. Drum says he’s glad August is almost over, and Nancy LeTourneau sees this madness ending:

If you have any doubts about that – just look at the September calendar. Congress comes back into session this month and right off the bat they’ll have to tackle a vote on the Iran deal (it looks like Boehner will also throw in a vote in the House to block funding to Planned Parenthood – but since that already failed in the Senate, it’s all for show until government shutdown time arrives). The conversation about the Iran deal has shifted from whether President Obama will have to use his veto pen to whether Republicans will have enough votes to override a filibuster. The countdown continues with Senator Merkley signing on to support the deal today.

Right on the heels of that, Pope Francis comes to America and addresses a Joint Session of Congress:

That will provide quite a shift in the conversation. Of course we can expect a lot of his visit to focus on the need to act on climate change. But the Pope has also been outspoken on the issue of income inequality as well as immigration reform. He was instrumental in forging the opening between the United States and Cuba and has spoken out in support of the agreement with Iran on nuclear weapons.

Then add this:

Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic, said the pope’s Sept. 23 visit will mark an important moment not only for Catholics but for all Americans.

“Pope Francis has breathed new life into what I believe is the central mission of our faith: Catholic social doctrine,” Biden said in a statement to The Associated Press. Invoking key elements of Obama’s agenda, Biden added that Francis “has become a moral rudder for the world on some of the most important issues of our time, from inequality to climate change.”

LeTourneau says it doesn’t end there:

The day after the Pope departs marks the opening session of the General Assembly at the United Nations. Scheduled to speak on the same day are: President Obama, Hassan Rouhani of Iran, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China. No doubt that the eyes of the world will be on that stage.

While all of that is happening, Majority Leader McConnell and Speaker Boehner will be working on a way to pass a federal budget and avoid a government shutdown. They have until the end of September to do that.

Hold onto your hats. Things are about to get very interesting. And before long, we might be asking, “Donald who?”

At that point August will really be over. The “Summer of Trump” will be over, but, at Salon, Jack Mirkinson says think again:

Every network has given over hours and hours of precious airtime to cover even the most minuscule rantings from the GOP frontrunner – and that’s before we’ve even gotten to the endless interviews they’ve done with Trump, nearly all of them over the phone. If Trump came in liquid form, every television executive in America would inject him.

It has gotten so out of hand that even Trump himself is mocking the media.

“Every time I go on television it’s gotta be live!” he said at a recent Alabama rally that was being covered on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. “How come it always has to be live? Why don’t they just cover me like anybody else where they go the next day and they show little clips? Every time I speak it has to be live. It’s ridiculous, but it’s okay.”

The guy is just too addictive:

Trump is a celebrity waging a campaign that is almost entirely made up of attacks on other famous people. He’s the perfect candidate for our ADHD age. It may be more responsible to give Trump a bit of a rest, but that won’t lead to higher ratings or more page views. For now, Trump and the media have formed an unholy sort of alliance, a cynical partnership of mutual convenience. He gives them numbers, and in return they give him what amounts to millions of dollars of free publicity. Everyone’s a winner.

If there is a lesson to be drawn from this sorry spectacle, it is this: The next time you see some millionaire pundit throw his hands up and say that, as much as he’d like to cover the issues, he has to go where the public mood is, remember how some of our top news outlets are handling the presidential election. When CNN decides that it is more important for you to listen to a former reality show contestant talk about Donald Trump than to revisit the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, CNN is making a very particular choice. When every single network is nothing but Trump all the time, they are making very particular choices too. The same, really, goes for all of us in the media. We can’t get enough of Trump.

That means it will be August forever. The heat makes your nerves jump and your skin itch. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. And mad dogs and Englishmen, and politicians, go out in the midday sun. Anything can happen in perpetual August. Damn. Global warming will be the death of us.

Posted in Republican Extremism | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Adaptive Christianity

Pope Francis will address a joint session of Congress on September 24, the first time the head of the Roman Catholic Church has ever done that. House Speaker John Boehner, the Republican from Ohio, himself a Catholic, invited him, without thinking things through. Sure, the Catholic Church has always opposed abortion, as no more than murder, and contraception too – so the Church was a useful ally in the Republican efforts to get rid of Obamacare. But this new Pope has issued an encyclical on global warming – it’s real and it’s every Christian’s moral duty to do something about it. God does not approve of us ruining the planet, for profit. He put a lot of work into it. So this is a difficulty for Republicans. In fact, the new Pope has been saying it’s time to ease up on obsessing about abortion and contraception, and on demonizing gays, and on deciding who’s got the doctrine just right and who should be shunned and ridiculed for not being angry enough about this minor doctrinal issue or that. There are more important things, or so the new Pope has said:

Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.

Oh shit! This guy is attacking everything the Republicans have been saying for generations. Sure, Catholic social theory always demanded universal healthcare, but this goes even further:

How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

This guy sounds like Obama, particularly since he sees a need for state action, not just vague trust in the big-heartedness of the powerful. He’s all for economic regulation and democratic supervision of the capitalist system, where the people, in general, get to curb the actions of the rich few:

While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules.

Yep, the new Pope recommends vigilance for the common good, perhaps as with Dodd-Frank and the new Consumer Protection Bureau, which the Republicans have done their best to destroy, but there is such a thing as common decency, and he’s not seeing a whole lot of that:

In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.

The Pope thinks we should deify the Deity, not the market. There’s only one Invisible Hand, and it’s not the one Adam Smith was talking about. Talk of the highly moral Makers versus the lazy immoral Takers doesn’t impress him either. This guy is coming to Washington to say the unthinkable – Jesus was not a Republican – and this should be interesting. For at least thirty years, give or take, Americans have been told that He was. Most Americans shrugged – whatever. This was a given. Democrats talked about solving problems. Republicans asked what Jesus would do. So what else is new?

That’s not to say there weren’t some difficult moments. In 2010, Bill O’Reilly reminded all Americans that it says right there in the Bible that “the Lord helps those who help themselves” – so Jesus really thought stuff like unemployment insurance and welfare and food stamps and all the rest were immoral, because charity creates a “moral hazard” for those who receive it. That would mean that when Jesus said that “the poor are always with us” it’s obvious that He was simply exasperated with such losers, who can’t ever seem to get their act together.

That devastating quote from the Bible that O’Reilly thought he found caused quite a stir – because there are no such words in the Bible. Stephen Colbert reminded O’Reilly that Bill was actually quoting Ben Franklin. In subsequent interviews, O’Reilly sputtered that that’s what was clearly implied in the Bible, if you thought about it. O’Reilly also protested that he was a fine Irish lad, who had gone to Catholic schools all his life, and the nuns had taught him that kindness, which the Church calls Charity, can ruin everything.

This was not Bill O’Reilly’s finest moment, but the moment passed. Equilibrium was restored. Americans knew what they knew. Democrats were the practical secular people, talking about fairness and common decency and common sense. They don’t talk about God. We can solve this stuff. Republicans were the highly moral people, talking about God’s wrath, and about what must be done because God says so. Sometimes that means disregarding fairness and common decency and common sense, because there are certain people – gays and the poor and the unlucky – who must be shunned and shamed and marginalized. Yes, that’s unfair. So be it.

Fine – Jesus was a Republican once again and we can expect the Republicans to scold the Pope in late September – with sad regret of course. But that doesn’t solve the current problem, which Frank Bruni explains here:

Let me get this straight. If I want the admiration and blessings of the most flamboyant, judgmental Christians in America, I should marry three times, do a queasy-making amount of sexual boasting, verbally degrade women, talk trash about pretty much everyone else while I’m at it, encourage gamblers to hemorrhage their savings in casinos bearing my name and crow incessantly about how much money I’ve amassed?

Well, this seems to work for Donald Trump:

Polls show him to be the preferred candidate among not just all Republican voters but also the party’s vocal evangelical subset. He’s more beloved than Mike Huckabee, a former evangelical pastor, or Ted Cruz, an evangelical pastor’s son, or Scott Walker, who said during the recent Republican debate: “It’s only by the blood of Jesus Christ that I’ve been redeemed.”

Scott Walker is getting a bit desperate these days but Bruni sees “the selective and incoherent religiosity” of this crowd:

What’s different and fascinating about the Trump worship is that he doesn’t even try that hard for a righteous facade – for Potemkin piety. Sure, he speaks of enthusiastic churchgoing, and he’s careful to curse Planned Parenthood and to insist that matrimony be reserved for heterosexuals as demonstrably inept at it as he is.

But beyond that? He just about runs the table on the seven deadly sins. He personifies greed, embodies pride, he radiates lust. Wrath is covered by his anti-immigrant, anti-“losers” rants, and if we interpret gluttony to include big buildings and not just Big Macs, he’s a glutton through and through. That leaves envy and sloth. I’m betting that he harbors plenty of the former, though I’ll concede that he exhibits none of the latter.

But they love him anyway, and Bruni is puzzled:

Maybe it’s Trump’s jingoism they adore. They venerated Ronald Reagan though he’d divorced, remarried and spent much of his career in the godless clutch of Hollywood.

Maybe their fealty to Trump is payback for his donations to conservative religious groups.

Or maybe his pompadour has mesmerized them. It could, in the right wind, be mistaken for a halo.

I’m grasping at straws, because there’s no sense in the fact that many of the people who most frequently espouse the Christian spirit then proceed to vilify immigrants, demonize minorities and line up behind a candidate who’s a one-man masterclass in such misanthropy.

From Trump’s Twitter account gushes an endless stream of un-Christian rudeness, and he was at it again on Monday night, retweeting someone else’s denigration of Kelly as a “bimbo.” Shouldn’t he be turning the other cheek?

Bruni doesn’t get it:

I must not be watching the same campaign that his evangelical fans are, because I don’t see someone interested in serving God. I see someone interested in being God.

Heather Parton at Salon is less flippant:

In South Carolina this week, Trump explained that evangelicals love him, and he loves them. And he loves the Bible more than anything, even his own book, “The Art of the Deal,” which he loves very, very much. He declined to identify his favorite Bible passages, because he says the Bible is so intensely personal to him, but he was more forthcoming awhile back when pollster Frank Luntz asked him if he’d ever asked God for forgiveness.

“I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so. I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t…” Trump said. “When I drink my little wine – which is about the only wine I drink – and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed. I think in terms of ‘let’s go on and let’s make it right.'”

Who needs God’s forgiveness? He has work to do.

Even that didn’t turn the evangelicals away, but something else may be going on here:

According to writer Amy Sullivan, who covers the religion beat, evangelicals are not that different from other Republicans, in that they are perpetually let down and disappointed by their leaders, but more than anything are just looking for a winner after eight years of living in a liberal horror movie. Apparently, they are just as mad as hell as the rest of the GOP base and Lord knows, Trump is the one who’s most effectively channeling that rage.

But this article in The Daily Beast, by Betsy Woodruff, shows that Trump has surprisingly been cultivating the religious right for several years, making substantial donations to various Christian organizations and reaching out to Christian leaders and groups. All the way back in 2012, he spoke at Liberty University, where Jerry Falwell Jr. called him “one of the great visionaries of our time” and praised him for his leadership and political skills in “singlehandedly forcing President Obama to release his birth certificate.”

Parton can only offer this:

The evangelicals are very upset with the status quo and like the fact that Trump isn’t taking any guff from the GOP establishment. And rather than thinking he might be wobbly on the issues they care about, they seem to be impressed with the only kind of evolution they believe in: the evolution from pro-choice to pro-life, which Trump has embraced with the fervor of the recently converted. This stands in sharp contrast with their concerns about Scott Walker, who has been a committed evangelical his entire life and yet has been put on notice by the leadership for having very slightly deviated from approved religious-right rhetoric.

And there’s another possible factor:

They actually appreciate it when someone respects their power enough to pander to them and pretend that they believe something they don’t. Perhaps the conservative Christians in particular see religious hypocrisy in terms of the old cliché that it’s “the tribute vice pays to virtue,” and feel that a blatant phony like Trump might actually be more likely to follow through on his promises to them, whereas someone like Walker took them for granted.

And there’s this:

Trump announced yesterday in South Carolina that he’s going to partner with Cruz on a big event in Washington next month to stop the Iran nuclear agreement. This agreement is loathed by virtually all Republicans for a variety of reasons, but the Christian right hates it because they believe it is bad for Israel, which is central to their political involvement.

Israel is Jesus Land after all, but Parton is worried:

It always feels as though Trump is winging it, running off at the mouth, not knowing what he’s going to say and basically just riding the wave without any idea where it’s going to crash. What this religious outreach shows, though, is that Trump has been strategizing this presidential run much more consciously than perhaps anyone realized. It’s hard to know what’s more disconcerting – that Trump is winning because he’s crazy, or that he’s winning because he’s crazy like a fox.

As for winging it, there’s Trump’s interview with Mark Halperin and John Heilemann:

I’m wondering what one or two of your most favorite Bible verses are and why.

Well, I wouldn’t want to get into it because to me that’s very personal. You know, when I talk about the Bible it’s very personal. So I don’t want to get into verses, I don’t want to get into—the Bible means a lot to me, but I don’t want to get into specifics.

Even to cite a verse that you like?

No, I don’t want to do that.

Are you an Old Testament guy or a New Testament guy?

Uh, probably… equal. I think it’s just an incredible… the whole Bible is an incredible… I joke… very much so. They always hold up The Art of the Deal, I say it’s my second favorite book of all time. But, uh, I just think the Bible is just something very special.

At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum sees this:

We’ve seen this shtick from Trump before, of course. He’s stunningly ignorant, and routinely refuses to answer whenever someone asks about a factual detail more than an inch below the surface. Needless to say, he refuses because he doesn’t know, but he always pretends it’s for some other reason. “I don’t want to insult anyone by naming names,” he’ll say, as if this isn’t his entire stock in trade. Or, in this case, “It’s personal,” as if he’s a guy who leads a deep personal life that he never talks about.

The interesting thing is that this shtick also shows how lazy he is. It’s been evident for several days that someone was eventually going to ask him for his favorite Bible verse, but he couldn’t be bothered to bone up even a little bit in order to have one on tap. … Even when he says something that’s going to raise obvious questions the next day, he never bothers to learn anything about the subject. I guess he figures he’s got people for that.

Of course, there is an advantage to handling things this way. By shutting down the Bible talk completely, he guarantees he’ll never have to talk about it again.

That works. This doesn’t work:

Donald Trump – who says the Bible is his favorite book but is unwilling to cite his favorite verses – is now facing scrutiny for his church-going record. Marble Collegiate Church, a church in Manhattan which Trump has claimed he attends, told CNN that Trump is “not an active member.”

Earlier this week, when Trump was asked by reporters about his religious practices, he said, “I’ve just had great experiences at church, whether it is Sunday school or whatever it may be, but now I go to Marble Collegiate Church.”

He also said he was “Presbyterian Protestant.” The denomination of Marble Collegiate Church is a Reformed Church in America, according to CNN.

“Donald Trump has had a longstanding history with Marble Collegiate Church, where his parents were active members for years and one of his children was baptized. However, as he indicates, he is a Presbyterian, and is not an active member of Marble,” the church’s statement to CNN said.

They may forgive him that, and at the New Republic, Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig sees this:

Everything that might register as an obvious lack of affinity with evangelical values – his inability to name a favorite Bible verse, his open Christmas-and-Easter attendance patterns, his ranking of the Bible as only a smidgen better than his own book – might be coming off as a sight better than the same old GOP pitch. Before joining his campaign, Trump’s national co-chairman Sam Clovis wrote in an email that “Trump left him with questions about Trump’s moral center and his foundational beliefs” – adding that Trump’s “comments reveal no foundation in Christ, which is a big deal.'” And it might be, but Trump is brazenly straightforward about the whole affair, routinely supplying very little religious window dressing for what is primarily a revanchist campaign against the un-American, the un-patriotic, and the effeminate.

Meanwhile, Trump’s competitors for evangelical attention have compromised their credibility with Christian voters. In September of last year, Ted Cruz inexplicably took pot shots at Middle Eastern Christians gathered to protest violence against their countrymen because, in Cruz’s view, they were not sufficiently supportive of Israel. Mike Huckabee has busied himself making off-color remarks about the Holocaust and ingratiating himself in the most public way possible with the Duggar family, now marred by a child sex abuse cover-up scandal along with confessions of infidelity. Trump, for all his filthy dealings, has at least never painted his deeds with a veneer of Christian righteousness.

Trump never gets specific, which keeps him out of trouble, and he gets the big picture:

He has been a thoroughgoing antagonist of President Obama, who is in some evangelical imaginations the anti-Christ; he has a certain machismo, which appeals to evangelicals disgruntled with the ‘feminized’ state of our culture; he’s somehow fused issues of religious liberty in America (think lawsuits over wedding cakes) with issues of religious persecution abroad (think ISIS slaughtering Christians and Yazidis).

And Bruenig offers this:

If I had to surmise which subset of the evangelical category Trump has struck a chord with, I would guess it would be that intransigent Pat Robertson crowd, the evangelicals who are perpetually dismayed with the Republican establishment Trump is now confounding. Does this mean they won’t fall in line when the eventual Republican nominee is chosen? Probably not – but between then and now there is plenty of time for cathartic polling.

These are, then, political power struggles, informed by religion. There’s actually very little theology involved. That was settled long ago – Jesus was a Republican. Maybe he wasn’t, but He was adapted to their purposes, or adopted as a mascot – and that means Trump will do just fine here. He understands power politics, even if he’s a bit hazy on theology. The only question now is how these people will handle Pope Francis’ little chat with America in late September. Perhaps they’ll sic Donald Trump on him. The two of them can discuss what’s moral and what’s not. And then Donald Trump can turn to Pope Francis and say “You’re fired!”

It could happen.

Posted in Donald Trump, Evangelicals for Trump | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

America’s Women

From 1969 through 1974 Israel was fine with Golda Meir. From 1979 through 1990 the Brits were fine with Margaret Thatcher. Since 2005 the Germans have been fine with Angela Merkel. A woman can lead a nation. It’s no big deal, but we haven’t tried it yet, and those three ran for office and then governed as gender-neutral. The issues were national security and the economy. They weren’t champions for women – they wanted to keep things from falling apart. Women didn’t vote for them out of solidarity. Women voted for them for practical reasons. Each could do the job.

We haven’t got the hang of this yet. Hillary Clinton, the first woman with a reasonable chance to become president, knows we haven’t got the hang of it. America cannot be gender-neutral quite yet. Too many Americans see women as pretty little things, all sweetness and fluff, or as repulsive ball-busting dykes who refuse to act like a lady – as they should. Even many women feel that way, so Hillary Clinton has had to make adjustments, as she did in her 2008 campaign and as she is doing now. Be a policy wonk, but be soft and friendly about it. Be warm and open, but show that you’re tough as nails underneath. Show that you’re as severe and bloodthirsty as any guy talking about ISIS or Iran – but that you’ll bring a woman’s clear compassion to the situation.

This is an impossible balancing act. That may be why Hillary Clinton seems to have shifted to being a champion for women. More than half the voters are women. She can get their vote, and win the presidency, by addressing their specific issues, not national security and the economy and all the rest. America isn’t ready for that – so play the women’s issues. There are enough votes there. Cause a stir.

That’s what she did:

The weekly firestorm in the 2016 presidential campaign was lit Thursday in Ohio by Hillary Clinton when she likened GOP candidates’ views on women to those of terrorists.

“What an obscene person,” was the reaction of Ohio Republican Chairman Matt Borges.

Ohio Right to Life’s Michael Gonidakis tweeted: “If HRC can’t tell difference b/t pro-life supporters & murderous rapists in ISIS it’s no wonder she messed up Benghazi so badly!”

Republican National Committee press secretary Allison Moore called for an immediate apology “for her inflammatory rhetoric.” Moore said, “For Hillary Clinton to equate her political opponents to terrorists is a new low for her flailing campaign.”

No, this is not a new low. It’s an attempt to grab the votes she needs by shifting to issues where she doesn’t have to be not quite a man and not quite a woman day in and day out. There’s no ambiguity here:

While saying “this election can’t be a race to the bottom” in her first official Ohio campaign speech this year, Clinton took shots at Ohio Gov. John Kasich as well as other GOP presidential hopefuls for their anti-abortion stances and calls to defund Planned Parenthood.

“I would like these Republican candidates to look the mom in the eye who caught her breast cancer early because she was able to get a screening for cancer, or the teenager who didn’t get pregnant because she had access to contraception, or anyone who’s ever been protected by an HIV test,” Clinton told several hundred supporters at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

“Now, extreme views about women? We expect that from some of the terrorist groups. We expect that from people who don’t want to live in the modern world. But it’s a little hard to take coming from Republicans who want to be president of the United States.”

Clinton’s swipe at Kasich – she didn’t mention him by name – came in response to the 2013 state budget bill he signed that included a ban on state-funded rape-crisis centers counseling women about abortion…

If no one will take her seriously on all the other stuff – America is not Israel or Britain or Germany – there are these women’s issues, and women decide presidential elections – and the Republicans have made themselves vulnerable. Deal with it.

One of them did deal with it:

Donald Trump pledged Thursday that supporting women’s health will be “a very major thing” in his presidential campaign.

“I will take care of women’s health and women’s health issues better than anybody and far better than Hillary Clinton, who doesn’t have a clue,” he told reporters after an afternoon rally here.

What was he saying? She’s a woman and what does a woman know about such things? That’s an odd argument, but Republicans know they have to deal with this:

The Republican, campaigning in the Bible Belt, also slammed Jeb Bush for saying recently that he’s “not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues.” The former Florida governor later said he misspoke.

But Trump said it’s a window into what he really thinks.

“That was a terrible thing for him to say,” he said of Bush. “I cherish women, and I say it all the time. I will take a care of women. Women under my administration will be taken care of, not like Jeb Bush; what he said was a disgrace.”

Bush’s campaign was having none of that:

“Mr. Trump is trying to overcompensate for the fact that he knows Jeb has experience as a successful pro-life conservative Governor who funded women’s health initiatives, while Trump has spent his life as a liberal New York socialite who has supported partial birth abortion and socialized health care,” Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said in an email. “Governor Bush remains committed to defunding Planned Parenthood and ensuring those dollars instead to the many quality women’s healthcare programs across the nation.”

Yeah, but Donald Trump cherishes women, whatever that means.

Actually that means a lot, as MSNBC’s Aliyah Frumin explains here:

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s public life has long been littered with demeaning, sexist remarks about women. And for just as long, he has refused to apologize. But so far, potential female voters aren’t running away from the billionaire real estate mogul’s 2016 candidacy.

In fact, even after his epic debate exchange with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly – in which Kelly asked the GOPer about calling women he dislikes “fat pigs,” “slobs” and “disgusting animals” – and then later suggesting that Kelly asked those questions because she was menstruating – Trump’s popularity among female voters did not take a hit, according to a Gallup survey. In fact, 29% of female voters viewed Trump favorably before the debate compared to 30% the week after.

Trump seems to be beating Clinton at her own new game:

The former reality TV show host continued to jab Kelly on Monday, engaging in a vindictive tweet-storm during Kelly’s show, resulting in Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes demanding that Trump apologize. But so far, none of it seems to be hurting Trump. And looking at Republican women specifically, while Trump had a lower favorability among that group compared to Republican men (by a 50% to 59% margin), that gender gap in favorability was typical among GOP candidates.

Frumin is not sure what to make of this:

Not only does Trump say sexist things, but his invariably macho stance on everything from foreign policy to immigration is the sort of testosterone-fueled bravado that typically rubs many female voters the wrong way. But with Trump, apparently, that’s not the case.

Take, for example, the battle against the terrorist group known as ISIS. Trump said his plan to beat ISIS involves “boots on the ground” and to “knock the hell out of them.” Meanwhile, according to Pew Research, there’s a 14-point gender gap when it comes to favoring ground troops in Iraq and Syria, with 51% of men being in favor and just 37% of women.

Even so, his numbers keep rising with Republican women, so Frumin looks into this:

“I like that he’s not politically correct,” said Michelle Letner, a 48-year-old commercial cleaner from Medina, Ohio, who donated $225 to Team Trump. On the derogatory names Kelly brought up during the debate, Letner – who said she’s never donated to a candidate in the past – said, “I have no problem with a man being a man. I like him because he’s real. He’s saying it like it is. If you want to be treated like a lady, act like a lady.”

Susan Speros, the CEO of a business technology company in Savannah, Georgia, who donated $500 to the campaign, said she too wasn’t concerned with Trump’s remarks. “Everyone needs to take their offended-hats off and needs to worry about what’s happening in this country,” like the economy and national security, she said. “I think Trump is a smart man and what he doesn’t know, he’ll surround himself with smart people and he’ll get the job done.”

Lori Pesta, creator of the Women for Donald Trump Facebook page – which has nearly 2,000 likes – is going as far to organize a “national women for Trump” day across the country on Oct. 18. “We want to show our support that women are behind Donald Trump, as are men as well … I think Donald Trump is very pro-women,” said the Atlanta resident.

He is? This is odd, or maybe it isn’t:

Jennifer Lawless, the director of American University’s Women & Politics Institute, argues that conservative women’s support for Trump is understandable. After all, “the records of other Republican candidates are just as half-full on women’s interests.” She also pointed to Trump’s soaring rhetoric on women when he’s pressed – declarations like “I cherish women” and “I would be the best for women.” Lawless said, “It’s vague, but it may mitigate concerns people may have.”

That’ll do. Everyone is vague. “Cherish” is a nice word, and there’s this:

The support may also stem from voters’ overall dissatisfaction with Washington, D.C. politics and Trump pitching himself as an outsider. “I think it’s frustration with the status quo,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “I do think he’s tapping into this general frustration and anger that government isn’t working and it’s not getting things done.”

And “even though his macho tone might turn some people off, what they perceive as authenticity may counteract that,” added Lawless.

That’s the argument that he’s a pig, but at least he’s honest about it, and honesty is everything, but Frumin comes back to the intentional vagueness of Trump’s positions:

In many ways, he’s all hat and no cattle – talking a big game about being “the best for women” without offering any details, policy-wise, on how he’d actually do that. When recently asked about those issues on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Trump said, “As far as questions like that … I’m not going to do it on this show and I don’t want to discuss it on this show. I want to discuss those questions at a debate. But all I can say on women’s issues and women’s health issues, there will be nobody better than Donald Trump.”

That’s it? That’s it, and Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick provides some perspective:

By almost all accounts, 2012 was the year of the woman, as female voters opted for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney 56-44. For a while there, all we seemed to be talking about was the way in which women would not be talked down to again.

A series of remarkable gaffes by various GOP politicians that evinced a lack of concern about basic women’s health issues aided and abetted that effort. The various stupidisms of the 2012 campaign ranged from the assertion by Missouri Rep. Todd Akin that “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” to Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s fervent belief that pregnancy from “rape … is something that God intended to happen.” Wisconsin state Rep. Roger Rivard thoughtfully opined that “some girls rape easy,” and Mitt Romney’s infamous claim that he was in possession of “binders full of women” probably became the single most notorious episode, because it signified what a gender gaffe truly is: an inadvertent blurting out of a statement you secretly believe to be wholly true.

The attendant outcry from those gaffes led to some significant spinning and walking back, and the system seemed to finally be in perfect equipoise: GOP men said dopey things about women, women punched back, and GOP men retreated to their man caves of bewilderment to await 2016.

But nothing changed:

The genius of Donald Trump’s run for the White House is that he has almost single-handedly upended the national gender stupidity/umbrage continuum. We have, seemingly without warning, reached the point in time at which when Trump says something hateful and misogynistic, nobody evinces any surprise, he declines to apologize, and nothing changes in the polls.

This new dynamic has stupefied Trump’s critics on the left, with the Onion putting it all pretty bluntly in a headline that reads: “Female Trump Supporters Just Feel More Comfortable with GOP Candidate Who’s Openly Horrible to Them.”

She notes the puzzlement of MSNBC’s Aliyah Frumin and shares it:

I confess to be equally baffled by the meh-reaction by GOP women to Trump’s decades of Pretty Woman–style musings on gender, including global statements about women being manipulative craven vixens who outsmart men largely by way of their extremely large boobs. (One tiny gem, from his 1997 book The Art of the Comeback: “Women have one of the great acts of all time. The smart ones act very feminine and needy, but inside they are real killers. The person who came up with the expression ‘the weaker sex’ was either very naive or had to be kidding. I have seen women manipulate men with just a twitch of their eye – or perhaps another body part.”)

Of late, poor Lindsey Graham has been reduced to sputtering that “the way he attacks women is going to be a death blow to the future of our party,” as he sags further and further behind Trump in the polls. Perhaps Trump’s greatest gift, as a steaming misogynist, is that he is basically always the drunk guy in the bar slurring “nice tits.” Serious women don’t take him seriously, and everyone else just thinks he’s deranged. Worse, he is the unrepentant drunk in the bar; he’s not sorry for calling women pigs or gold-diggers. Unlike the Romneys or the Mourdocks, he doesn’t let himself get “bullied” by politically correct women. He just sends them mail telling them they’re ugly.

Lithwick does, however, recommend Amanda Marcotte on how trashing women and defending doing just that has become a way of life in some conservative circles:

Conservative media and Fox News in particular have spent years – decades, if you count talk radio – training their audiences to believe that exhortations against sexism and racism are nothing but the “political correctness” police trying to kill your good time. Indeed, one reason that Trump was able to get so much attention for his presidential run in the first place is that Fox has spent years building him up, knowing that their audience enjoys vicariously needling imagined liberals and feminists with his loud-mouthed insult comic act.

As Jill Filipovic of Cosmopolitan recently explained in a feature piece about the conservative website Twitchy, there are entire sectors of the conservative media dedicated to getting the audiences to spend all day and night trying to piss off liberals, believing themselves to be courageous freedom fighters against the P.C. police. Women, in particular, are favorite targets. There’s apparently no getting tired of the pleasure of feeling naughty because you say mean things about women and racial minorities for conservative audiences.

So one thing leads to another and Megyn Kelly gets slammed:

You can’t tell people, day in and day out, that nothing is more fun than putting some mouthy broad in her place and then get upset when they continue to think that it’s fun, even when the mouthy broad is one of yours.

“Bossy” women are treated, in conservative media, like the great Darth Vaders of the world who need to be harassed and resisted and abused at all costs. Of this, there can be no doubt. Michelle Obama started a program to encourage exercise and healthy eating, and conservative media reacted like she was holding a gun to your dog’s head and telling you to eat broccoli or the pooch gets it. The news that women sometimes make more money than their husbands was treated like a national emergency on Fox, with Lou Dobbs suggesting that “society” is “dissolving around us” and Erick Erickson arguing that women’s inability to stay in our place is “tearing us apart.” The possibility of women being Army Rangers has created a similar meltdown at the network, with Andrea Tantaros whining, “Men can’t have anything to themselves anymore.”

Hell, this is a network where a man literally told a female host, “Know your role and shut your mouth.” [You could look it up.]

America is not Israel or Britain or Germany:

No one should understand this better than the people at Fox News. After all, this is the monster they created. They should know what it wants and what it’s capable of. But instead, they seem to think that if you just shake your finger at the right wing base and tell them to be nice to the lady who dared talk back to their hero, Donald Trump, they will somehow realize that they’re not actually courageous warriors holding back the forces of political correctness, but that they are instead just a bunch of jerks. But it doesn’t work that way.

There are some lines that Trump could cross that would derail his campaign. … But dog-piling a woman for daring to tell a man that sexist language isn’t cool? That’s just business as usual. Trump and his audience may seem like a bunch of idiots, but they know that there’s no good argument for why it’s cool to do it to liberals, but not cool when the victim is a conservative. And that’s why there’s no reason to think that telling them to cut it out will do anything but encourage them to do it more.

That’s where we are, and Lithwick adds this:

Since Trump’s putative opponent this year is Hillary Clinton, his gloves-off attitude toward gender may actually help him. One recent focus group, treated to details of Trump attacking Rosie O’Donnell as a fat pig, liked him more afterward than they did before. This, goes the theory, is how to take down a woman who keeps banging on and on and on about women.

That, however, is Hillary Clinton’s new strategy, given that America isn’t yet where Israel was in 1969, where the issue was who could best do the job, even, by the way, a woman, as if that really mattered. That still seems to matter in America today. We “cherish” women. We don’t let them run things. They may be getting tired of that.

Posted in Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Not Ready for Women President | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Committing Journalism

The seventies were an odd time – CNN just presented a series on those years – something to fill the summer months – but of course much was left out. They didn’t mention the cultural shift that happened in 1976 with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Woodward and Bernstein in All the President’s Men – suddenly reporters were heroes, saving the country from disaster, essentially removing an unbalanced paranoid leader. Jason Robards played Ben Bradlee, their tough-as-nails heroic editor – and this was a reversal from what all baby boomers grew up with – The Adventures of Superman – where Noel Neill played Lois Lane, a wide-eyed naïve reporter of sorts. From 1952 through 1958, George Reeves as Superman, when he wasn’t Clark Kent, had to save her sorry ass when she got in over her head – week after week after week. John Hamilton played Perry White, the perpetually clueless editor of the Daily Planet. He never knew what was going on. He was no Ben Bradlee. He was comic relief – but things changed in the seventies.

Of course there was a period of transition when reporters were trying to figure out how far they could push it. Could they challenge power? In a press conference on October 26, 1973, Richard Nixon did slap down Robert C. Pierpoint of CBS News:

Q. Mr. President, you have lambasted the television networks pretty well. Could I ask you, at the risk of reopening an obvious wound, you say after you have put on a lot of heat that you don’t blame anyone. I find that a little puzzling. What is it about the television coverage of you in these past weeks and months that has so aroused your anger?

THE PRESIDENT: Don’t get the impression that you arouse my anger. [Laughter]

Q. I’m afraid, sir, that I have that impression. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT: You see, one can only be angry with those he respects.

Everyone in the room gasped, but Nixon was fed up with these fools pestering him about Watergate. This was a message to his dwindling base, and to the nation. Reporters with all their questions deserve no respect at all. They’re lucky he even talks to them. Perhaps he considered each one as a hapless Lois Lane.

That was a mistake. He demanded respect. He got more investigative journalism. He was gone soon enough. Times had changed. Sneer at the press, now, and bad things happen.

Donald Trump doesn’t agree:

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump booted Univision anchor Jorge Ramos from a press conference in Dubuque, Iowa, on Tuesday, leading to the veteran journalist’s temporary ouster from the event.

On Wednesday morning, Trump said on TODAY that Ramos was “totally, absolutely out of line.”

The confrontation began when Ramos tried to ask a question out of turn while another reporter spoke.

“Sit down, you weren’t called,” Trump snapped at Ramos. “Go back to Univision.”

The real estate mogul continued to shut down the Mexican-American journalist, leading Ramos to be escorted out of the room by security. But Ramos was eventually allowed back in to ask two questions.

“He was totally out of line last night,” Trump told Today’s Matt Lauer.

It was October 26, 1973, all over again:

Lauer then asked Trump why he lets people get under his skin, and suggested that a renewed feud with another journalist – Fox News host Megyn Kelly – has put him in an unfavorable light.

“I’m not a bully,” he said about public perceptions. “In fact, I think it’s just the opposite way.”

He just thinks that Megyn Kelly owes him an apology, not the other way around. He thinks like Richard Nixon.

Jack Shafer sees that too:

The high solemnity of political news conferences confers upon a politician priest-like or kinglike status: He stands a foot or two higher than the mortals questioning him, looking down. He makes them wait for their turn to be called on. He begins and ends the questioning by decree. Far from opposing these imperious ways, many reporters, especially those who consider themselves members of the journalistic guild, applaud the arrangement. Not to get all Chomskian on you, but by virtue of their obedience, the guildsmen can count on the king’s attention and convert that attention into bylines.

That’s how it used to work, but times change:

At the beginning of his presidency, Ronald Reagan pacified the howlers in attendance at news conferences. No more jumping up and down and shouting, “Mr. President! Mr. President!” Reagan’s people decreed. By 1987, Reagan had gone too far in controlling the news, holding only two news conferences in the first 10 months of the year. Journalists like Sam Donaldson of ABC News and Chris Wallace of NBC News were right to start screaming their questions any time he appeared in public. The “competition” between Donaldson and Wallace grew so heated, the New York Times reported, that the two “engaged in a shoving match over positions in the briefing room to broadcast their reports.” At least Ramos didn’t push anybody.

But this isn’t 1973:

A modern article of journalistic faith holds that journalists should never become the story – and by putting himself out there to unsettle the Trump show, Ramos did just that. Again, not every news conference can be improved by a reporter’s showboating. But in the asymmetrical dynamic of a news conference, in which the interviewee holds all the power, an occasional breach of etiquette such as the one Ramos engaged in does not spell the end of civil culture. Ramos didn’t splash Trump with pig’s blood or anything, he merely violated convention in an attempt to break news on his own terms by speaking out of turn.

Trump needs to understand this was no big deal and accept the inevitable:

One strike against Ramos, offered by the journalistic orthodoxy, is that he’s not an “objective” journalist but an advocacy journalist, therefore he and his work can’t be trusted. Yet advocacy journalism has enjoyed a rich and glowing history in the United States: Such partisans as Tom Paine, William Lloyd Garrison, Elijah Lovejoy, Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, John Swinton and Jacob Riis broke vital news in decades past. Then came the muckrakers and their contemporary inheritors – Jessica Mitford, Michael Harrington, Ralph Nader, Jack Anderson, the gangs at Ramparts and Mother Jones magazines, and such current partisans as Glenn Greenwald, David Corn and others who have made important news without sacrificing their personal views.

By virtue of Trump’s immigration views and the coarse way he expresses them, his collision with Spanish-language media was inevitable. Add to that the fact that Trump has already filed suit against Univision for dropping his Miss Universe pageant, and his tirade against the network’s most high-profile journalist was doubly inevitable. Disrespected by Ramos, the always-ready-to-insult mogul did what he always does when he feels abused – he took out the verbal strap and started whipping.

That’s what Nixon did, but Shafer sees something else going on here:

The Trump-Ramos incident will likely redound to the mutual benefit of both. Trump wisely allowed Ramos back in the room and took his questions, positioning himself as the disciplinarian who can humanize himself when necessary by adding a sprinkle of mensch, as they volleyed back and forth. Ramos comes out of the rumble similarly fortified. He went after the king, he was banished by the king, he returned to the king’s court to battle the king once again.

In the name of news, this calls for a repeat match. I can’t wait for Ramos’ extended interview with Trump on Univision.

Shafer may be kidding. That interview is unlikely now, and Glenn Greenwald points out there are still Lois Lane reporters out there:

Politico’s political reporter Marc Caputo unleashed a Twitter rant this morning against Ramos. “This is bias: taking the news personally, explicitly advocating an agenda,” he began. Then: “Trump can and should be pressed on this. Reporters can do this without being activists” and “some reporters still try to approach their stories fairly & decently. & doing so does not prevent good reporting.” Not only did Ramos not do journalism, Caputo argued, but he actually ruins journalism: “My issue is his reporting is imbued with take-it-personally bias… we fend off phony bias allegations & Ramos only helps to wrongly justify them… One can ask and report without the bias. I’ve done it for years & will continue 2 do so.”

A Washington Post article about the incident actually equated the two figures, beginning with the headline: “Jorge Ramos is a conflict junkie, just like his latest target: Donald Trump.” The article twice suggested that Ramos’ behavior was something other than journalism, claiming that his advocacy of immigration reform “blurred the line between journalist and activist” and that “by owning the issue of immigration, Ramos has also blurred the line between journalist and activist.” That Ramos was acting more as an “activist” than a “journalist” was a commonly expressed criticism among media elites this morning.

Greenwald calls bullshit on that:

Here we find, yet again, the enforcement of unwritten, very recent, distinctively corporatized rules of supposed “neutrality” and faux objectivity which all Real Journalists must obey, upon pain of being expelled from the profession. A Good Journalist must pretend they have no opinions, feign utter indifference to the outcome of political debates, never take any sides, be utterly devoid of any human connection to or passion for the issues they cover, and most of all, have no role to play whatsoever in opposing even the most extreme injustices.

Thus: you do not call torture “torture” if the U.S. government falsely denies that it is; you do not say that the chronic shooting of unarmed black citizens by the police is a major problem since not everyone agrees that it is; and you do not object when a major presidential candidate stokes dangerous nativist resentments while demanding mass deportation of millions of people. These are the strictures that have utterly neutered American journalism, drained it of its vitality and core purpose, and ensured that it does little other than serve those who wield the greatest power and have the highest interest in preserving the status quo.

What is more noble for a journalist to do: confront a dangerous, powerful billionaire-demagogue spouting hatemongering nonsense about mass deportation, or sit by quietly and pretend to have no opinions on any of it and that “both sides” are equally deserving of respect and have equal claims to validity? As Ramos put it simply, in what should not even need to be said: “I’m a reporter. My job is to ask questions. What’s ‘totally out of line’ is to eject a reporter from a press conference for asking questions.”

But something has changed since the seventies:

The notion that journalists must be beacons of opinion-free, passion-devoid, staid, impotent neutrality is an extremely new one, the byproduct of the increasing corporatization of American journalism. That’s not hard to understand: One of the supreme values of large corporations is fear of offending anyone, particularly those in power, since that’s bad for business. The way that conflict-avoiding value is infused into the media outlets that these corporations own is to inculcate their journalists that their primary duty is to avoid offending anyone, especially those who wield power, which above all means never taking a clear position about anything, instead just serving as a mindless, uncritical vessel for “both sides,” what NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen has dubbed “the view from nowhere.” Whatever else that is, it is most certainly not a universal or long-standing principle of how journalism should be conducted. …

Ultimately, demands for “neutrality” and “objectivity” are little more than rules designed to shield those with the greatest power from meaningful challenge. As BuzzFeed’s Adam Serwer insightfully put it this morning, “‘Objective’ reporters were openly mocking Trump not that long ago, but Ramos has not reacted to Trump’s poll numbers with appropriate deference… Just a reminder that what is considered objective reporting is intimately tied to power or the perception of power.”

This means Greenwald has his new hero:

What Ramos did here was pure journalism in its classic and most noble expression: He aggressively confronted a politician wielding a significant amount of power over some pretty horrible things that the politician is doing and saying.

Perhaps so, but not everyone agrees:

Even after Univision host Jorge Ramos was kicked out of a Donald Trump press conference for challenging the GOP 2016 frontrunner, the angry language didn’t stop once Ramos had been escorted to the hallway.

“Get out of my country. Get out,” a Trump supporter told Ramos after he had been escorted from the press conference in a video posted by Fusion. In the video, Ramos calmly responds to the supporter that he is, in fact, a U.S. citizen.

“Well, whatever … it’s not about you,” the supporter said, aggressively gesturing at the Univision host.

What is it about then? Josh Marshall reposts an email he received from a reader:

If you go to right now, the video is on the front page top. Not top of the news section; top center of the whole website (at least on a phone). There is a headline like “Trump Kicks Jorge Ramos out of Press Conference” and then the money quote: “Go Back to Univision”.

The video has no set up or commentary from any Univision reporter or news anchor. None is required. This is one powerfully self-explanatory clip. It is hard to imagine the message being any clearer to the millions of Univision viewers, spat straight from the sneering, hateful mouth of a big, blonde-haired and red-faced White Man…

You are not welcome in Trump’s America. Go the fuck back where you came from. Let’s be serious, I don’t care if you are legal or illegal. Hell, I don’t care if you are one of the most prominent, respected and powerful members of the Mexican-American community. You are still just a Mexican, so shut up and get the fuck out. What did you say, boy? You think you have the right to be heard? You think you have the right to speak to me without being spoken to? Well, guess what, you have no rights. You don’t even have the right to be here. Guards!! Seize, silence and deport this Mexican imposter immediately!

And now it gets nasty:

I have to believe the Ramos exchange is going to open the gates for more media coverage of denunciations and counter punches from those, like Ramos, who the mainstream media deem coverage-worthy spokespersons for the communities Trump is attacking and vilifying. As we know, if this happens Trump’s instinctual response will be to double-down, escalate and attack (although, let’s face it, he blinked letting Ramos back in the room and engaging him).

If this “conversation” (aka shouting match) does play out on Fox and CNN and Sunday shows it will doubtless be ugly, at least based on what comes out of Trump’s mouth, but it could be interesting and perhaps not all bad if dissenting voices and a few facts actually start getting some air time.

There is that. Facts are nice, but the conversation won’t be:

If the GOP thought they had lost control of the process and the narrative up to now in the Trumpcycle, I have a feeling it will pale in comparison to Stage Two, when it’s “Trump v. Ramos, LIVE on FOX!” Up to now, Trump had been masterfully controlling the narrative and the media. Thanks to Mr. Ramos, I think in this next stage he is going to lose control, too, and we are heading into uncharted waters.

Trump won’t know what hit him, at least that’s the thrust of the Los Angeles Times profile of Ramos:

The 57-year-old has anchored “Noticiero Univision,” Spanish-language TV’s No. 1 ranked newscast, for nearly three decades and is considered a trusted source of news. A 2010 study by the Pew Hispanic Center found that among Latinos, Ramos was the second-most recognized Latino leader behind Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and other polls have shown he is one of the most trusted public figures among Latinos.

“Spanish-language news has almost the same pull as the priest in the pulpit,” Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), told the Los Angeles Times in 2013. “And Jorge Ramos is the pope, he’s the big kahuna.”

Ramos has a lot of followers: According to Nielsen ratings, more than 2 million viewers tune in to “Noticiero Univision” nightly. For perspective, in 2013, that was three times the audience of CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.”

And according to recently published research, the GOP’s presidential nominee would need to win nearly half of the Latino vote to make it to the White House. (President Obama won reelection with 71% of the Latino vote).

During the last presidential election cycle, Washington Monthly called Ramos the broadcaster who would most determine the outcome of the 2012 election.

Despite that, Trump at one point on Tuesday night said he “didn’t know much about him.”

What you don’t know can hurt you:

Earlier this year, Ramos defended his focus on immigration in an open letter to Republicans.

“The Republican Party has been complaining lately about how some Latino journalists, including me, only ask them about immigration,” he wrote. “That is correct, but what Republicans don’t understand is that for us, the immigration issue is the most pressing symbolically and emotionally, and the stance a politician takes on this defines whether he is with us or against us.”

Ramos has been unapologetic about his and the network’s stance.

“Our position is clearly pro-Latino or pro-immigrant,” he said in 2013. “We are simply being the voice of those who don’t have a voice.”

Latinos, in turn, see Ramos as a leader. According to the Pew Hispanic Center survey, 38% of Latinos surveyed considered Ramos a major Latino leader.

And this is personal:

A native of Mexico City, Ramos moved to Los Angeles as a student in 1983 and took UCLA Extension classes in journalism. He landed an on-air job at KMEX-TV, Los Angeles’ Spanish-language station. Three years later, he was named an anchor for Univision, becoming one of the youngest national news anchors in television.

Ramos, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen seven years ago, has consistently used his position to unabashedly push for immigration reform.

“I am emotionally linked to this issue,” Ramos told The Times in 2013. “Because once you are an immigrant, you never forget that you are one.”

And Jorge Ramos is not Lois Lane:

At a University of Texas at Austin forum this year, Univision News President Isaac Lee summed up the network’s perspective: “Univision’s audience knows that Jorge is representing them,” Lee said. “He is not asking the questions to be celebrated as a fair and balanced journalist.… He’s going to ask the person whatever is necessary to push the agenda for a more fair society, for a more inclusive society and for the Hispanic community to be better.”

Univision brass also stood up for Ramos on Wednesday evening, calling Trump’s behavior “beyond contempt.” “Mr. Trump demonstrated complete disregard for him and for the countless Hispanics whom Jorge seeks to represent,” Univision Communications Chief Executive Randy Falco said in a statement.

And Ramos doesn’t fold:

Ramos quit his first reporting job at a Mexico City TV station after his bosses demanded he soften a piece critical of the Mexican government and he refused.

Ramos has said he approaches interviews with world leaders in the context of warfare. “My only weapon is the question,” he told The Times in 2013.

During the 2012 presidential campaign, Ramos moderated a series of Univision candidate forums, and pressed Mitt Romney and President Obama hard on immigration issues. After confronting Romney about his proposed “self-deportation” policy, Ramos turned to Obama.

“A promise is a promise,” he said, prodding the president over the administration’s deportation of more than 1.4 million people and failure to tackle immigration in his first term. “And, in all due respect, you didn’t keep that promise.”

Ramos doesn’t let anyone off easy. He gets in their face, and in fact that’s been an American tradition since the seventies, when things shifted and reporters suddenly became heroes. Donald Trump didn’t get the memo.

On the other hand it’s always been that way. There’s Thomas Jefferson’s 1823 letter to Lafayette – “The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.”

The agitation it produces must be submitted to? Someone tell Donald.

Posted in Advocacy Journalism, Donald Trump, Jorge Ramos | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment