Showing Up On Sunday

Some Sundays are unsatisfactory because no one shows up. Sunday, September 19, the New England Patriots didn’t show up, and that collection of goofy oddballs, the New York Jets, won the game easily – a sort of practice scrimmage against a phantom team. And the New York Giants were supposed to show up in Indianapolis, but that couldn’t have been them. The Indianapolis Colts held a practice session with someone or other. It wasn’t worth watching. But the Colts are a phantom team themselves – they used to be the Baltimore Colts, but in 1984 they skipped town in the middle of the night – literally, with all their equipment in unmarked trucks – and headed west. It’s all very puzzling. As an adult American male you’re supposed to follow these things, avidly. But it’s hard to take professional football seriously. How did it come to a nation willingly spending a full day watching giant mutant multimillionaires on steroids bash each other senseless for no particular reason?

But, save for the steroids and the size, the same sort of thing precedes the football games on television – the Sunday morning political talk shows, where mutant multimillionaires try to bash each other senseless, politically. And it seems we’re actually supposed to take this seriously. After all, we should all be informed citizens. Democracy depends on that. Yes, we don’t have a direct democracy, really – we elect an array of multimillionaire citizens to pretend they represent our interests and to pretend they’ll run the country in a way that keeps us safe and free from too many catastrophes happening all at once. It’s a pleasant fiction, and it’s a necessary arrangement – there are too many of us for anything like a direct democracy, where we all vote on all issues, and anyway, we’d rather have someone handle the messy details for us. They’re the hired help to do just that – public servants. It’s nice to have servants to handle all the bothersome details of life.

Of course that doesn’t mean that you don’t get a collection of goofy oddballs. And unlike some football teams, they do show up. They live for it. Sunday is when you win political points. You bring your best game. And on the day of quite unwatchable football games, the man many consider the Senate’s most severely conservative member, Jim DeMint of South Carolina – the voice of the Tea Party in the Senate – argued on CNN that his Republican Party had been far too liberal when it was in the majority. But more Republicans should be elected and should take back control of Congress, because they will do better next time, or die:

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said the Republican Party – even if it regains control only of the House – is “dead” unless it follows Americans’ demands to rein in government spending.

“I came into the Senate in the majority, Candy. Fifty-five senators, large majority in the House, Bush in the White House, and Republicans didn’t do what we said we were going to do,” DeMint said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We spent too much, we borrowed too much. And frankly, if we get the majority again, even if it’s just in the House, and we don’t do what we say, I think the Republican Party is dead.”

DeMint went on to say that he wasn’t really bashing Republicans – “the urgency for me here is the Democrat Party” – because the Democrat Party is “completely dysfunctional.” Then he added the kicker – “They’re the left of Europe.”

That was supposed to be the touchdown or something.

But here’s a suggestion – the next time you’re in Paris plop yourself down at the Le Bonaparte on the Left Bank – a little café on the small square right next to the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, where the hyper-rational Descartes is buried. The existentialists and that crowd hung around at the Flore and Les Deux Magots on the other side of the square, but the guys of the political left, who were into what passes for communism in France, hung out at the Bonaparte. It’s a fine and pleasant place. Have a café crème, and smoke of course, and watch the world go by. The left of Europe knew how to live. DeMint – whose name sounds suspiciously French – didn’t score a touchdown with some of us.

But that’s neither here nor there, as Steve Benen explains here:

…the larger point is that DeMint, something of a kingmaker in recent GOP primaries, is absolutely convinced of two things: (1) the Republican Party of the Bush/Cheney era was recklessly liberal; and (2) the American electorate would be thrilled when the GOP governs as radical conservatives dismantling much of United States government.

It’s his right-wing vision, DeMint added, that is “kind of uniting America.”

Do you score points for advocating dismantling much of the United States government? Benen thinks not:

I’d love to see DeMint put that to the test in a more straightforward way. Why not go into specifics, telling voters before the election precisely how hysterically conservative Republicans would govern if given a chance? If a reactionary, right-wing vision of the country is “kind of uniting America,” and the Republican Party has been just too darn liberal to win elections, why not share the details of that vision and try to reap the rewards?

Yes, when will conservatives actually make the serious case for smaller government? Regarding that – at taxpolicycenter.org – Howard Gleckman balances the budget for one of DeMint’s buddies:

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wants to permanently extend all of the Bush-era tax cuts. He’s also rejected even modest efforts by President Obama to restrain the growth of Medicare. He is opposed to efforts by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to control future Pentagon spending. And he favors a constitutional amendment that would require a balanced budget. It all got me wondering: What would such a McConnell government look like?

Read the whole thing – there would be no government at all. These guys are advocating anarchy and chaos and the country shutting down – close the doors and shut off the lights. The numbers don’t work, of course. If this were football this would be the fake punt with the triple reverse then the Hail Mary pass, on forth and twenty-eight with four seconds to play. It’s hoping the absurd works when you know it won’t. But of course it pleases the fans.

We need better players here. And David Broder, the Dean of the Washington Press Corps as they say, back in 2007 told us who we really need:

In the years since I first met him in 1974, I have learned that it’s wise to take Newt Gingrich seriously. He has many character flaws, and his language is often exaggerated and imprudent. But if there is any politician of the current generation who has earned the label “visionary,” it is probably the Georgia Republican and former speaker of the House.

Apparently one becomes the Dean of the Washington Press Corps by simply outliving everyone else, as Newt Gingrich is getting into the absurd:

Perhaps the former House Speaker’s loudest applause [at the Values Voter Summit] came when he weighed in on the controversial Islamic center and Mosque proposed to be built near Ground Zero, declaring, “We as Americans don’t have to tolerate people who are supportive of violence against us, building something at the site of the violence.”

“This is not about religious liberty, if they want to build that mosque in the South Bronx, frankly they need the jobs,” he continued. “But I am totally opposed to any effort to impose Sharia on the United States, and we should have a federal law that says under no circumstance, in any jurisdiction in the United States, will Sharia be used in any court to apply to any judgment made about American law.”

Steve Benen also comments on this:

Note the classic non-sequitur – converting a clothing store into a community center, in Newt’s twisted mind, is part of an effort to impose Sharia on the United States. At least, that is, what he wants his easily-confused audience to believe.

But I’m especially impressed with the legislation Gingrich wants to see. To hear him tell it, we need a law to prevent U.S. courts from basing rulings on Sharia. Are there any U.S. courts doing this? Well, no. Have there ever been any U.S. courts doing this? Nope, not one. Is there any evidence at all to suggest U.S. courts might ever do this? Not even a little. This is the talking point of fringe, unhinged radicals.

But of course Gingrich wants a law anyway:

I was disappointed he didn’t also call for a federal law that says, under no circumstances, will Bigfoot be allowed to run for Congress. Also, unicorns must not be permitted to roam the streets, and flying saucers must not land within 100 yards of a school. We must think of the children, you know.

But this is part of a larger game plan:

The disgraced former Speaker added that the Democrats’ “secular socialist machine” is comparable to “radical Islamists,” and that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius relies on “the spirit of Soviet tyranny.”

Major media outlets, however, have no qualms about considering Gingrich a credible, mainstream figure.

One of Josh Marshall’s readers offers this:

I know it’s obscure and hidden in the voluminous federal law and Supreme Court Decisions so possibly Newt would have missed it, but there is already fairly well established federal law making it illegal to impose Sharia law on the United States. After an exhaustive search, I found this:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Oh, that. Can anyone actually play this game? It wasn’t just the Sunday football games that were pathetic.

And, as in football, there’s always the problem with rookies:

Karl Rove, political mastermind for former President George W. Bush, said Sunday that Christine O’Donnell, the Tea Party insurgent who won an upset victory in Delaware for the GOP Senate nomination, “can’t simply ignore” the controversy stirred over the disclosure that she “dabbled in witchcraft” and has to find a way to “explain it and put it in its most sympathetic light and move on.”

“In southern Delaware, where there are a lot of church-going people, they’re probably going to want to know what was that all about,” Rove said on Fox News Sunday. “And again, she said it on television when she went on the … the Bill Maher show.”

Rove was referring to an October 1999 appearance O’Donnell made on Maher’s “Politically Incorrect” show where she said,” I dabbled into witchcraft — I never joined a coven. … One of my first dates with a witch was on a satanic altar, and I didn’t know it.” O’Donnell had been on Maher’s show frequently in the 1990s, and Maher has said he is going to show an O’Donnell clip each week until she agrees to appear again.

It was a rookie mistake, and Rove pounced on it:

Rove said that in whatever way O’Donnell deals with the quote from her past, she can’t say, “These are unfactual and not true and … go to my website and ignore them.”

“I don’t think the people of Delaware have or are accepting that as a reasonable explanation,” Rove said. “And until they do, they’re going to be resistant to hearing the bigger, broader, more important message.”

But then it got interesting:

Speaking at a Republican picnic in southern Delaware on Sunday, O’Donnell responded to Rove’s comments. “How many of you didn’t hang out with questionable folks in high school?” she said, according to The Associated Press. “There’s been no witchcraft since. If there was, Karl Rove would be a supporter now.”

Oh, meow – scratch, scratch – it’s a cat fight. But at least she was smart enough to cancel all of her Sunday show interviews – don’t take the field if you can’t play the game.

But that has its downsides, as David Kurtz explained here:

It’s become a staple of the tea party candidacy. You make a big splash onto the national stage then quickly retreat from any press scrutiny because you are so unprepared and ill-equipped for the rigors of the job that tough questions will expose you as the charlatan you are.

Sarah Palin, a lot of people forget, ducked the national press for days after she was picked for vice president by John McCain. Only after careful scripting and staging, did Palin finally do interviews with the national press – only to get ground to bits by Katie Couric no less. Rand Paul is the exception that proves the rule: after capturing the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate from Kentucky, he made disastrous TV appearances first and then vanished from the scene. Taking that lesson to heart, Senate GOP nominee Sharron Angle declined any national TV appearances after her primary win in Nevada.

And now comes Christine O’Donnell, who has long experience doing TV – 22 appearances on Bill Maher’s old show alone – but who is so not ready for prime time, or Sunday morning, that she’s canceled her appearances tomorrow on CBS’ Face The Nation and Fox News Sunday.

She can’t even handle Fox.

The usual excuse is that the press is lame and everyone knows where you stand, and obviously agrees with you, so why go out there and deal with the petty and stupid questions at all? It’s kind of like Tom Brady, the New England quarterback, saying that everyone knows he’s the best there is, and that the Patriots are winners, so why even bother to play those lame New York Jets? Of course you cannot pull that off in professional football. They’d laugh in your face. But the operating theory here is that you can do just that very thing in politics.

Daniel Larison suggests that theory is nonsense:

The basic argument against O’Donnell can be made against Palin: outside the bubble of her devoted followers, very few people like her, and even fewer believe she is qualified for the office. The main difference is that Palin has a slightly larger bubble, but even this bubble doesn’t include most of the GOP.

And the party needs to understand this:

Delaware could be a reality check and a cautionary tale about “ideological purism,” and most attentive and savvy voters (which are what a lot of early primary voters are) will see it that way. Defeating an incumbent President is difficult. There’s a reason that it has only happened four times in the last century. If Republicans want to have a chance, they will nominate someone other than Palin, and if there is one thing that is obvious from the last two years it is that most Republicans are desperate to have a realistic chance of defeating Obama.

Yep, if you want to have a realist chance of winning you do need to show up each Sunday, and bring your first team, not the goofballs, and bring your A-Game.

And you don’t play rookies like O’Donnell:

She has struggled for years with personal finance problems – she has reported earnings of only $5,800 between most of this year and last and she has defaulted on her mortgage – and fudged her educational background and past campaign achievement, much of which was dredged up and disseminated by her own party.

She was also attacked by Republicans and Democrats both for her right-of-center positions – including her role in an abstinence organization in the 1990s that denounced masturbation as a form of adultery and her characterization of President Obama in 2008 as “anti-American” – in a state that has been traditionally proudly centrist.

She was ripped into in an interview with a conservative talk radio host for overstating how close she once came to beating Joseph R. Biden Jr., whose former Senate seat she seeks again, and denounced by Karl Rove as unelectable, untruthful and “nutty” moments after her victory.

And you don’t tell your own team that they’re losers and idiots:

If Ms. O’Donnell is concerned about beginning her campaign with something less than unbridled enthusiasm from her party (the state Republican Party’s Web site did not even acknowledge her victory) and what that may portend for raising money in a state that a month ago looked solidly in Republican hands, it is not evident.

“Karl Rove said I could never win a primary,” she said Tuesday night in a brief interview. “It would be great if I could have their help, but if they choose to be sore losers that’s okay.” Grass-roots supporters would get her through the general election, too, she said.

And now she has to stand behind her claim that the Clintons probably murdered Vince Foster.

Can anyone actually play this game?

And you have to think of the opposition:

President Obama’s political advisers, looking for ways to help Democrats and alter the course of the midterm elections in the final weeks, are considering a national advertising campaign that would cast the Republican Party as all but taken over by Tea Party extremists, people involved in the discussion said.

That is among a range of options and plans under consideration at the White House for energizing dispirited Democratic voters over the coming six weeks, in hopes of limiting the party’s losses and keeping control of the House and Senate. Democratic strategists are seeing new openings to exploit after a string of Tea Party successes split Republicans and culminated last week with developments that scrambled Senate races in Delaware and Alaska.

“We need to get out the message that it’s now really dangerous to re-empower the Republican Party because the people who have taken over the party are radical,” said one Democratic strategist who has spoken with White House advisers but requested anonymity to discuss private strategy talks.

But of course the key words that follow are what one expects. Democrats are divided:

The party’s House and Senate campaign committees are resistant, not wanting to do anything that smacks of nationalizing the midterm elections when high unemployment and the drop in Mr. Obama’s popularity have made the climate so hostile to Democrats. Endangered Congressional candidates want any available money to go to their localized campaigns.

Can anyone actually play this game?

There’s a lesson here. Don’t watch television on Sundays. It’s always disappointing.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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