Not So Crazy Uncle Joe

When George H. W. Bush chose the intellectually challenged Dan Quayle to be his running mate, everyone thought it was a joke. This had to be, but it really wasn’t a joke at all – the folks of what might be called the True Right, at least in their eyes, the Goldwater crowd, had threatened to walk out of the 1988 convention unless Bush chose someone they saw as “a flesh and blood conservative” who was also young, to show where the party would be headed in the future. They held that the elder Bush was not sufficiently conservative. He had been ruined by his own years as vice president and his year and a half running the CIA – jobs that required him to listen to others and consider their views. That meant he was no longer pure, or purely conservative. Dan Quayle, however, was serenely and impenetrably conservative, even if he was a bit of a dim bulb. But that was the whole idea. No dangerous alternative ideas could, in fact, enter his deliberately or congenitally limited mind.

Unfortunately, few ideas at all could enter his mind. In the debate with Lloyd Bentsen, when Quayle ventured that he himself, because he was young and sure of what he did know, was kind of like Jack Kennedy, Bentsen destroyed him on national television with a few simple words – “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

The audience roared. Quayle stood there in stunned silence. There was nothing he could say and that should have ended it all, except that the Democrats that year ran the woeful and charismatically challenged Michael Dukakis, and Bush won easily, and thus Dan Quayle spent four years as our vice president. But he was still a joke. There was his speech to the United Negro College Fund in 1999 – “When you take the UNCF model that, what a waste it is to lose one’s mind, or not to have a mind is being very wasteful, how true that is.”

What? The slogan of the United Negro College Fund has always been “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” – and Dan Quayle somehow proved that. His four years as vice president were an ongoing deep embarrassment, and a gift to every stand-up comic in America, and to the Democrats. He really was a joke, and although the younger Bush chose Dick Cheney to be his vice president, a man far smarter and meaner and more experienced than the smirking and shallow man that he himself was, this sort of thing happens a lot on the right. John McCain chose Sarah Palin for much the same reason that the first Bush chose Dan Quayle – his own party didn’t trust John McCain to toe the conservative line. They had reasons for that. John McCain never talked much about abortion and gays and sin, if he ever did, and he was all for immigration reform too, often saying that was a matter of family values, as “those people” had families and so on – we should be humane about these matters. He’s since changed his tune on immigration reform, but at the time, to the True Right, he seemed a squish, or at best, unpredictable. The only thing they could depend on was that the man would always argue for war – new ones, big ones – but somehow that wasn’t quite enough.

Sarah Palin could fix that, but she was even more serenely and impenetrably conservative than Dan Quayle. If Dan Quayle was a dim bulb, she was an aggressively dim bulb, proud of what she didn’t know – and then Tina Fey assumed the role of Lloyd Bentsen. “I can see Russia from my house” was as effective as that “You’re no Jack Kennedy” line, or even more effective. Sarah Palin turned out to be a joke too, and Mitt Romney finally seemed to understand what was going on here. Almost all Republicans despised him as much as they had deeply mistrusted the first Bush and then John McCain, but he had his own way of dealing with their qualms. Romney chose Paul Ryan as his young and impenetrably conservative running mate. Ryan was a wonk. He had ideas – abstract Ayn Rand ideas about the Makers and Takers that the majority of Americans decided were repulsive and dangerous – but ideas nonetheless.

The cycle was broken, in a way, or bypassed this one time. No one knows what will happen in 2016, when the Republicans have to run someone they think has a chance of winning the White House, given the increasing diversity of the nation balanced against their insistence on a totally uncompromising conservative, who must insist that the nation must never change. Their usual solution is to run a presidential candidate to care of the first task, winning the votes of that not conservative wildly diverse middle of America, and a dissimilar vice-presidential candidate to take care of the other, satisfying the angry base of the party that doesn’t much like the rest of the country.

This should be interesting, but we’ll never see anyone like Dan Quayle again. Americans don’t like jokes like that any longer. Things are too dire.

On the other side, however, many also consider Joe Biden, Obama’s vice president, a bit of a joke. He’s a loose and happy guy, and often a bit goofy, and he’s made his share of gaffes – but he knows his stuff. His decades in the Senate, chairing committees at higher and higher levels, has given him vast foreign policy experience – he knows the actual world out there and personally knows many of the key players – and he has worked for decades in defense of the working stiffs here at home, and the poor and minorities. Obama chose him for all that hard-won experience, to advise him – because Obama seems to be aware of what he doesn’t know. The choice was, above all else, logical, even if he got a guy with a big smile who sometimes makes bad jokes that clear the room. The man may be a joker, but he’s no joke.

This has always confused many on the right, who dismiss him all the time, because everyone knows he’s a goofball. That means they dismissed this:

Vice President Biden began laying out the Democratic Party’s argument for voters in this year’s elections Friday morning by suggesting that Republicans remain splintered and would quickly seek to pass fiscal policies rejected in recent years if they retake control of Congress.

“There isn’t a Republican party. I wish there were, I wish there was a Republican party. I wish there was one person we could sit across the table from and make a deal and make the compromise and know when you got up from the table that the deal was done,” Biden said in remarks at the House Democratic policy conference being held here.

“There is no – all you had to do was look at their response to the State of the Union, what were there, three or four? I think we should get a little focused here, let’s get a little focused,” he added later.

Republicans laugh at such stupid talk, and then argue with each other about who should tell Joe Biden he’s full of crap, and who should be forbidden to make a statement. The Tea Party crowd will hammer the old-hands again, but Biden was just saying the obvious:

“On every major issue,” he said, “the American people agree with the Democratic Party.”

Biden cited Democratic positions on the minimum wage, debt ceiling, same-sex marriage, early childhood education, infrastructure spending and “pay equity” for women. He said 90 percent of Americans support stricter background checks on gun buyers, an issue that went nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate, let alone the GOP-run House.

“I can’t think of a time when the issues that most affect the American people, most affect the middle class, overwhelmingly, overwhelmingly, they support us,” Biden said.

Yeah, the polling shows that, but polls don’t matter:

Republicans scoff at such sentiments. They note that voters have handed them control of the House and the governorships of swing states such as Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida.

Biden’s comments reflect “a 50,000-foot view” rather than political realities on the ground in key states that will determine control of the Senate, said GOP consultant Brian Walsh.

“What’s popular in California isn’t necessarily popular in Louisiana, Arkansas and North Carolina,” he said. Those are among the seven states that Obama lost in 2012 and where Democrats are trying to protect Senate seats this fall.

The Democrats’ happy talk, Walsh said, ignores the fact that Obama’s health care overhaul “is deeply unpopular in those states.”

The argument here is that Biden is still a joke. The man is as dumb as their own Dan Quayle was all those years ago. Republicans will win on the granular level. If ninety percent of the American public wants this or that or the other thing, a few key votes in the Deep South, by the right people in just the right place, and ninety percent of America can go to hell, which is where they’re probably going anyway. That’s what happens to sluts, even married sluts, who take birth control pills, and black, brown, and yellow people who think the rest of us should take care of them, and what happens to gay people too. They go to hell.

Maybe so, but Paul Waldman points out that perfectly placed granular resistance to change may not cut it anymore:

2013 was not a good year for opponents of marriage equality. Maryland, Delaware, Rhode Island, Illinois, New Mexico, California, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Minnesota were added to the list of states allowing same-sex marriage. The Defense of Marriage Act was struck down by the Supreme Court. And if anything, 2014 is shaping up to move even faster. Earlier this week, a judge in Kentucky ruled that the state must honor same-sex marriages performed in other states. And last night, a federal judge in Virginia struck down the ban on same-sex marriage the state passed in 2006.

The judge stayed her decision until a higher court can rule on the inevitable appeal. But with these cases piling up, it seems obvious that the Supreme Court is going to rule sooner rather than later on the legality of same-sex marriage bans, something they’ve been trying to avoid until now. And with the continued evolution of American culture and public opinion in favor of equality, the chance that those bans will be declared unconstitutional seems to grow every day.

Biden may be a joke, but this battle is over:

At this point, advocates of marriage equality can afford to spare a moment of sympathy for their opponents, to say: look, we understand that change can be unsettling. You’re worried about the demise of the traditions you accepted as absolute. But as the judge in the Virginia case wrote, “Tradition is revered in the Commonwealth, and often rightly so. However, tradition alone cannot justify denying same-sex couples the right to marry any more than it could justify Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage.”

Sorry about that:

Same-sex marriage opponents refer to themselves as advocates of “traditional marriage,” but they backed themselves into a corner by assuming we’d all agree that because something is “traditional,” it has an inherently superior moral value. “Traditional” means nothing more than “we’ve been doing it this way for a while.” As soon as our values change and a tradition gets discarded, we tend to decide it wasn’t traditional in the first place. Polygamy is traditional; it goes back thousands of years, is Bible-approved, and is still practiced in many places. But that doesn’t tell us whether it’s good or bad for individuals or for society.

So yes, the tradition is changing around you, because the society’s values have evolved even when yours haven’t, and we get that this makes you upset. But you’ll get over it, just as people did every one of the many times that we changed the definition of marriage just in the past hundred years or so. If you don’t, this is going to be a difficult year.

It is going to be a difficult year:

Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) have introduced a Senate version of the “State Marriage Defense Act,” a bill that would prohibit the federal government from recognizing same-sex couples’ marriages if they live in a state that doesn’t recognize them. This “You’re Not Married Anymore” bill would mean that families would lose all their federal protections simply by crossing the border into another state.

Ah, a “You’re Not Married Anymore” bill will put these people in their place, which is outside the everyday life of all Real Americans: championed Cruz and Lee’s bill as a defense of state’s rights, reprising the argument advanced by anti-civil rights figures that supported placing racial minorities’ constitutional rights at the whim of state authorities. The website’s William Bigelow asserted that the bill “protects the states from having the federal government encroach” on their ability to deny equal rights to same-sex couples.

Following the same narrative, The Daily Caller touted the bill as an effort “to prevent the federal government from imposing conflicting definitions of marriage on the states,” promoting Cruz’s claim that President Obama “should not be trying to force gay marriage on all 50 states.” PJ Media also acted as stenographer for the bill’s sponsors, extensively quoting the bill in addition to Cruz and Lee. The bill, PJ Media’s headline read, tells the federal government to “mind states’ rights on same-sex marriage.”

Newsmax proved just as eager to frame the extension of equal marriage rights as an assault on freedom, characterizing the bill as legislation “to keep states from being forced to recognize” same-sex marriages. The website quoted the Heritage Foundation’s in-house pro-discrimination champion Ryan T. Anderson praising the bill as a noble bid to preserve “the truth about marriage.”

That’s just the start of a long list of such stuff. Change can be stopped, at this granular level, although the way things are going in the courts, this “You’re Not Married Anymore” bill, if passed, will be shot down in the courts soon enough. The states’ rights issue was settled with the Civil War and last year the Supreme Court shot down the Defense of Marriage Act rather thoroughly. Things are changing. Biden is not a joke either, because what he was saying about who is with whom on the issues is becoming clearer.

That’s what Ron Brownstein is seeing:

To understand the rolling demographic and cultural trends threatening the GOP in presidential elections, a good place to start might be with the polychromatic ads Chevrolet is running during the Olympics.

First, consider the source. Chevrolet is not a company that equates buying its product with saving the planet. It doesn’t champion the rain forest, organic farmers, or artisanal suppliers with beards like Civil War soldiers. In the past, its ads have linked the company, without apparent irony, to “baseball, hot dogs, [and] apple pie.”

But Chevy’s latest ads, under the title “The New Us,” celebrate the transformation of the American family into a kaleidoscopic array of new forms. In cascading images, one ad warmly portrays couples of every race and ethnicity, interracial couples, gay male couples, gay female couples—all raising what appear to be happy, well-adjusted children. Not only does Heather have two mommies; in the world Chevrolet evokes, she’s perfectly fine with it. “While what it means to be a family hasn’t changed, what a family looks like, has,” the ad intones. “This is the new us.”

The “new us” bears more than a passing resemblance to the new coalition that has allowed Democrats to win the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections. As the veteran Democratic pollster Stanley B. Greenberg has said, the modern Democratic national coalition is essentially diverse America and the portions of white America (largely white-collar whites, especially women) that are comfortable with diverse America.

When you’ve lost Walter Cronkite, or Chevrolet, you’ve lost the nation, and the granular approach seems to be doomed:

Although polls now consistently show majority support for gay marriage, not more than one-fourth of Republicans agree, only modestly more than 15 years ago. This cultural fault-line looms as the greatest barrier Republicans must cross to win back the White House in 2016…

The evidence, in fact, suggests that Republicans are further from addressing those challenges than they were the day after Obama’s reelection. The rush by GOP leaders to champion Phil Robertson, the Duck Dynasty star, after his recent anti-gay remarks, shows the pressure the party faces to reflect those disapproving beliefs. That pressure is even more vivid in the decision by House Republican leaders to shelve legislation barring workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation—and the fact that every Senate Republican considering the 2016 presidential race felt compelled to vote against it when the bill passed that chamber, even though polls show two-thirds of Americans support the idea.

House Speaker John Boehner captured an even larger problem last week when he abandoned immigration reform just days after unveiling “principles” that might have produced a deal. Though some analysts see a strategic retreat designed to resurface an initiative later, Boehner’s abject surrender has emboldened the party’s immigration opponents in a manner that will make it tougher for the House to ever act, or for the party’s 2016 candidates to reposition themselves on the issue. It’s not hard to draw a line between Boehner’s capitulation and the first 2016 GOP presidential debate where Sean Hannity asks anyone who supports “President Obama’s amnesty” to raise his hand.

With its “The New Us” commercial, Chevrolet (like Coca-Cola and Cheerios in similarly themed recent ads) acknowledged it is competing in a changing America. The GOP’s recent actions suggest it still hasn’t crossed that threshold.

All they can say is that Biden is a joke, and they certainly can make certain people’s marriages just go away, but Ed Kilgore suggests this:

Republicans really aren’t waking up to this reality just yet, and very well may mistake a very good 2014 election cycle (if it happens) as confirmation they don’t need to change… Just as its 2010 landslide misled Republicans about the kind of 2012 campaign they needed to run, we may see a similar phenomenon if the GOP does even faintly as well in 2014.

That’s possible. That’s actually likely, and maybe Crazy Uncle Joe, saying there’s no Republican Party out there now, not any longer, and that the American public agrees with the Democrats on all the major issues anyway, isn’t crazy after all. Republicans fail to realize that they’re the one party whose vice presidents – and those they tell us would be fine vice presidents, or presidents, as could happen – have been jokes, year after year. Guess what? Biden isn’t Dan Quayle. So the joke is on them. But Republicans have always been a humorless lot, who never do seem to get the joke, especial when they’re the butt of the joke. Remember the look on the face of Dan Quayle on the stage at that 1988 debate. That says it all, and it’s going to happen again.

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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One Response to Not So Crazy Uncle Joe

  1. Rick says:

    “While what it means to be a family hasn’t changed, what a family looks like, has,” the [Chevrolet] ad intones. “This is the new us.”

    To put a finer point on it, this means Chevrolet is actually taking sides in the Republican-Democratic divide, and it’s choosing the Democrats!

    And if it had to make a choice between the two, why would it choose the Dems? Chevrolet, in case we need reminding of this, is part of General Motors. So think back: When GM was up against it a few years ago, which of the two parties saved their bacon, and which argued it shouldn’t be done?

    Bingo! After all, what’s the long-term percentage in remaining neutral?

    Not that this is all the ad was all about, but I think it was at least part of it.

    But to change the subject a bit:

    “Republicans scoff at such sentiments. They note that voters have handed them control of the House …”

    Okay, but more accurately, “voters” didn’t do it, Republican governors and state legislators did.

    In truth, as we all know, there were more votes for Democratic House candidates in 2012 than Republican ones, no matter who ended up with the seats. But we tend to forget this, and we shouldn’t, any more than we would likely forget altogether that a president lost the popular vote even if he won the election.

    Or, in that case of the presidency, while we might overlook it once or twice, if it happened all the time, there might finally be that great groundswell among the populace to fix that problem –and maybe, while we’re at it, also fix that “gerrymandering” problem that brings about the same anti-majority rule effect in the House of Representatives as it does in the White House.

    After all, I’m sure there are limits to our tolerance for this governance by technicality that lately seems to be overruling the will of the people, which is pretty much what Biden so wisely was pointing out.


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