Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Message and The Messenger

The big debate roiling Democratic circles is how Democrats should find their way out of the wilderness that November thrust them into.  Here is a mildly representative piece, naturally from Daily Kos.  The basic assumption of issue advocates is, naturally, that a failure to address their issue is what led to Trump's victory* and therefore Democrats must jump on board their message, which is usually something that Bernie Sanders said.  Because Clinton lost, the assumption is that the person who got 3 million more votes than the loser despite high personal unfavorables was bearing a flawed message.

To some degree there is some truth to this, as Clinton was especially vulnerable to the sort of economic and political populism Trump was spouting.  Trump was the barbaric yawp against the "Establishment" and Clinton was a perfect representation of that Establishment.

The argument breaks down when you consider the OTHER part of Clinton's flaws: She was way too wonky.  Clinton had plans upon plans upon plans.  And while many of them didn't go as far as Sanders' plans, they had the advantage of being realistic.  Sanders wanted to send everyone to college for free, which is actually kind of a crappy idea.  Clinton wanted to reduce current college debt and make college more affordable.  That is a good idea, and possibly achievable in a world without a GOP controlled Congress.

Clinton didn't lack for PLANS.  Her problem was that Trump managed to set the terms under which the campaign was fought.  With Trump's high negatives, you HAD to hit that.  How many things did Trump do that were disqualifying for any previous presidential candidate?  How do you NOT address that?

Since Clinton lost, the assumption has been that simply running against Trump in 2018 and 2020 won't be enough to win back the Congress and the White House.

I think that's largely wrong.  Ruy Teixeira has always been the most optimistic of liberal thinkers - he co-authored The Emerging Democratic Majority - which still seems to hold, even if we have to account for Trump's win.  Trump voters are much older than non-Trump voters and there will simply be fewer of them with each election.  Meanwhile the young embrace actual socialism in numbers we haven't seen before.

Anyway, Teixeira says that Trump is basically the best thing to happen to liberal ideas.  He has a TON of data to back it up, so go take a gander.  The key to understanding how something like Trump happens is two things, one of which Teixeira addresses: Americans are "symbolically conservative" and "operationally liberal."

Americans define themselves philosophically as conservative, but tend to embrace liberal policy positions.  This has been true for decades, and it drives me insane.  On just about every single issue in 2000, more people preferred Al Gore's position to George Bush's.  Same goes for 2004 and 2016 with Kerry and Clinton.  However, their symbolic conservatism makes them susceptible to conservative messaging.  Add in the poor geographic distribution of Democratic voters, and you have the electoral results that we have seen time and again.  Democrats get more votes and Republicans get more power.

That leads me to the point that Teixeira doesn't specifically address: the small-c conservatism of Americans doesn't mean Movement Conservatism.  Americans don't really want the apple cart overturned.  Obamacare was change and that freaked people out.  What's more, the party that holds the White House is held responsible for, well, everything.  If things are good, the party in power benefits; if things are bad, the party in power suffers.

This is a powerful argument in favor of continued protests.  I'm not a huge fan of political theater, but the left needs to have as many big protests as possible, to drive home the idea that things simply aren't OK.

What Teixeira really demonstrates though is that the message already exists.  Democrats don't need a "new message."  They need to talk about expanding Obamacare via a public option with a general move towards universal single payer.  They need to talk about taxing the rich to pay for infrastructure and education, especially college debt.  They need to talk about ethics in government.

That's it.  And that is largely what Clinton ran on, when she wasn't trying to respond to the latest outrage against civility and decency from Cheetoh, Benito.

Trump is a dumpster fire.  We are barely four months into his administration and people are seriously using the term impeachment.  The main message the Democrats should be harping on is Trump and Paul Ryan's policies: less health care, more tax cuts for the rich.  Less spending on, well, everything.  More corruption, well, everywhere.

The problem is NOT the message.  The problem is that Democrats need a great messenger.  They had one in Bill Clinton, not Hillary.  They had one in Barack Obama, not Al Gore or John Kerry.  They need someone who jumps through the screen and grabs the viewer's imagination.

And when they do get that person in the White House, they need a Democratic Congress to actually accomplish what they said they would do.  Obama ran into the McConnell stratagem of  universal obstruction and therefore had to water down every proposal to appease Joe Fucking Lieberman.  And then they lost the House and control over redistricting in 2010.

The Democrats have their message.  It is the same message they always have had and it's a winning message.  Trump alone makes that message more appealing.  Now they just need to find someone who can deliver it.

Morons. We Are Working With Morons.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross gushes over the fact there were no protests in Saudi Arabia.  Given that Trump basically gave a speech that could've been written by the Saudi royal family and, oh, the fact that Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive regimes in the world, it's actually not a surprise.

You want to know why so much of the GOP admires Putin?  It's because so many of them crave the sort of political control he has.

What We Are Talking About, When We Talk About Russia

Josh Marshall has been all over one aspect of the Trump story, which is Trump's longtime financial dependency on Russian money.  As he summarizes here, the special counsel has pretty free rein to investigate any tangents from the original probe of Russian interference in the election.  If they are looking at Trump's crimes beyond the idea that he colluded with the Russians over Wikileaks and other acts, then Trump is likely in trouble.

The problem, of course, is that we are likely to see the following outcomes:

1) A bunch of Trump's campaign people go to jail for working with the Russians.

2) Trump gets exposed as a money launderer with extensive ties to organized crime.

3) No one cares, because there's no blow job involved.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The King's Speech

Trumpelthinskin was pumped full of Thorazine and rolled out in front of the TelePrompTer to give a speech that will probably be touted by the same desperate journalists who said his SOTU address was "the pivot."  There are some who are dying for Trump to "pivot" into a normal president.  Certainly, when he gets in front of a prepared text, he can do a poor impression of a normal person.  In listening to his address this morning, he sounded drugged and defeated. Unable to let his freak flag fly, he was reduced to making anodyne statements about good and evil.

He also - gasp! - did not use the magical phrase "Radical Islam" to call forth the demons of the Islamic world that they might be destroyed by the very words "Radical Islam," which Obama never uttered because he hates America.  And puppies.

The problem I had with the speech was that might as well have been written by King Salman of Saudi Arabia. It did not address the complex socio-economic factors and disenfranchisement that drives most of the young recruits into the arms of ISIS.  It therefore absolved regimes like that of Saudi Arabia that use corruption and oil wealth to enrich themselves while their younger subjects search in vain for a meaningful, fulfilling future.

An additional bit of text that sounded like it was written by the Saudis was the usual denunciation of Iran.  This is painfully ironic, in that Iran just had a very successful election that returned President Rouhani to power - a man dedicated to bringing Iran into greater concert with the rest of the world.  We had a similar opportunity under President Khatami in the late '90s and early '00s, but the Axis of Evil Speech undercut all efforts by Khatami to open to the West and led to the rise of Ahmadinejad.

This speech took a bland, cartoonish interpretation of the violence of the Middle East - it's all Iran's fault for supporting Assad, leaving aside Russia's role and absolving Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States for empowering ISIS - and throws the door shut in Rouhani's face, just as he can plausibly claim a mandate to bring Iran back into the community of nations.

An Iran that is powerful and integrated into global norms is a real threat to Saudi Arabia.  More so, arguably, than a nuclear armed Iran.  Iran has elections, however flawed. Iran has some rights for women, however circumscribed.  Iran has the potential to help stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan, however little.

The constant thrall of DC to Saudi antipathy towards Iran is based somewhat on our own fraught history with the Islamic Republic, but it is also bought and paid for by Saudi billions.  And it's a damned shame.

But Trump didn't step on his own dick, so...pivot!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Here's Some Good News

Iran President Hassan Rouhani has been overwhelmingly re-elected in the face of a hardline challenger.  While we should never overstate the degree of democracy in Iran, at this point, we can at least applaud the decision the Iranian people made from the choices they were allowed.

Rouhani will hopefully be allowed to continue his process of re-integrating Iran with the rest of the world.  That is unless Trumpelthinskin decides to destroy the whole thing.

Friday, May 19, 2017

FFS

Lieberman?  Really?

The Heir Apparent

Efforts are underway to inoculate Mike Pence from the burgeoning scandals of Trumpistan.  They are mostly bullshit. 

You can, of course, understand what's going on.  Pence is a classic troglodyte conservative who lacks the cognitive abilities of a border collie, although to be fair, border collies are pretty smart.  However, he's infinitely preferable to Twitler.  It's difficult for a day to go by without Trump admitting to a crime on camera.

Pence has the charisma of a brick, but he might not drag the Republican party down.  First, however, they have to distance him from the legal cesspool of the current occupant of the West Wing.

Good luck with that.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Oh. Just Shut Up

Trump is the whiniest manbaby I've ever come across.  Read these Tweets.

If you can't take a little criticism slink off to Mar A Lago you whiny little child.  Just shut the fuck up and let the grown ups talk, OK?

Oh, and Jabba the Hutt Cosplay Enthusiast Roger Ailes has died.  Hopefully this is the beginning of a trend for the Silent Generation of petulant cry babies, who only take time off from advertising their own victimhood and specialness to criticize 7 year olds for getting participation trophies.

The Payoff

Yesterday, the Trump Administration - in between acts of obstructing justice - took some time to follow through on "the very worst deal, the Iran deal, very weak.  Sad!"  The US followed through on our commitments, because Iran is following through on theirs.

Meanwhile, tomorrow Iran heads to the polls to elect their president.  Rouhani - the architect of the nuclear deal - is running for re-election against a conservative hard-liner.  Following through on our commitments is his best chance to win re-election and the best outcome for the US and really the entire region.

It's almost like careful, considered actions are preferable to half-assed Twittergasms of rage.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Genuinely Mystifying

As Martin Longman notes, parties will protect their presidents because they have ideological and personal stakes in that presidency succeeding.

It's also worth noting that Trump has no real personal ties with the establishment GOP.  Mike Pence does.

If the GOP wants to ram through its cruel, retrograde agenda of funneling wealth upwards, why not do it with Mike Pence in the Oval Office?  OK, he's stupid and uncharismatic, but doesn't that make him perfect for the job?  If anything, Pence's thundering blandness would be a welcome respite from the non-stop shitshow we are enduring now.

Why should the congressional GOP protect Trump?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Trial Run

OK, I just posited the lifecycle of a Trump story.  Now we have another one: Trump obstructed justice.

We should have some form of denial from hapless fartbag Sean Spicer soon, followed by Trump tweeting something outrageous in the wee hours of the morning.

Let's see if the pattern holds.

UPDATE: White House issues anodyne defense.  We are at stage two!

Lifecycle Of A Trump Story

At this point, it doesn't make any sense to react to the latest shitshow coming out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  The story will basically follow this pattern:

1) Fed up members of the government leak damaging information to a newspaper (probably the WaPo).

2) Trump's media team tries to carefully word a denial.

3) Trump ragetweets in the early morning that in fact he did exactly what the original story said he did and screw you,

4) Trump's media team bangs head against a wall until the screaming in their head stops.

5) Everyone rewinds the SNL clip of "Lester Holt" saying, "Nothing matters anymore."

I honestly don't know how we survive this moronic lunatic for three years and 8 months more.

Monday, May 15, 2017

A Victory, However Impermanent

The Supreme Court won't hear the case about North Carolina's naked voter suppression law.

This is good news, as North Carolina has been gerrymandered to death and adding voter suppression to the table would turn a purple state red.  This feels like a rearguard action by the GOP, as they seek to avoid having North Carolina go the way of Virginia.  However, I think we know that Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III will likely unleash some form of voter suppression on the national level, sooner rather than later.

There is substantial evidence that Wisconsin went for Trump because of the Voter ID law passed in that state. Reducing the access to the polls and the Electoral College are the only things that allow Republicans to hang on to power.

It's your democracy, America, cherish it.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Serious Question

Why are white supremacists always objectively the biggest losers on the planet?

They can chant and troll 4-chan all they want.  They will still be "fat virgins living in their parent's basement."

Yeesh.

Baffling


What a week, amirite?

You have the following revelations:

- Trump asked Comey for loyalty to himself rather than the law and doesn't see anything wrong with that.

- Trump flat out admits to obstructing justice in his firing of James Comey.

- Trump hints that he is recording conversations in the Oval Office, a practice he engaged in while in business.

So, to recap, we have basically the Watergate timeline that took Woodward and Bernstein and Archibald Cox almost two years to unravel basically occurring in a couple of news cycles.  In the words of Ron Burgundy, "Well, that escalated quickly."

Of course, as soon as the Saturday Night Massacre comparisons started to be made, the question becomes, What next?  Recall the Watergate timeline:
June 17, 1972 - The Plumbers are arrested bugging the DNC headquarter in the Watergate building.
October 10 - The Post reports that the bugging was tied to the reelection of Nixon.
November 11 - Nixon wins a landslide
January 30, 1973 - Liddy and McCord are convicted.
April 30 - Haldeman, Ehrlichman and Dean resign or are fired.
May 18 - Senate Watergate hearings begin.
July 13 - Butterfield lets slip that the White House tapes everything
July 23 - Nixon refuses to turn over the tapes.
October 20 - Saturday Night Massacre, Nixon fires AG, Asst AG and Cox
December 7 - The 18 minute gap is revealed.
July 24, 1974 - Supreme Court rules all tapes must be turned over.
August 8 - Nixon resigns.

That's two years.  Trump managed to compress that into two days.  He says he fired Comey over the "Russia thing" and that he might be tape recording stuff.  There are also reports he might be ready to fire a bunch more people.  Whatever, it's not Sean Spicer's fault that Trump routinely undercuts him in real time.

Like with Watergate, the problem is that the true problem resides in the Oval Office.  You can fire as many staffers as you want, but as long as Trump is president we are in for a rolling crisis in governance that seriously undermines the country.

This is bad.

Whenever Watergate comes up, the examples of Howard Baker and Barry Goldwater are dredged up to show how Republicans acted with honor and put their country first.  The problem, of course, is the timeline.  The Republicans at first defended Nixon.  Again and again they defended him.  And of course Democrats controlled the Congress in the mid-'70s.  Republicans can't react to Democrats exposing the dark secrets of the Nixon White House, they have to react to their own President revealing his crimes.

The question becomes when will Republicans break with the President.  And the answer is, "Most likely never."  Republicans are so afraid of the mouth breathing morons who elevated this would-be dictator and charlatan that they dare not cross their voters.  Sharp partisanship means that, while I imagine every single Republican Congressman would prefer to work with President Pence, they will be left to cower in the corners in fear of exciting their own voters against them.  That leaves us with Profiles in Cowardice like this.

This story is moving incredibly fast.  It is impossible to keep up with the revelations in real time.  Perhaps as this story sinks in, some of that Republican support for Trump softens and the institutional GOP ousts him in favor of Pence.

I can't see that from here.

But as we go into 2018, we need to express loud and clear and often that this is not a Trump Problem, this is a Republican Problem.  They've sold out their constitutional duty to keep a grip on power.

Shame on them.