All posts in Politics

In response to Donald Trump’s apparent suggestion that someone kill Hillary Clinton to protect gun rights, Congressman Paul Ryan dismissed it as “a joke gone bad.”  Although trivializing another Trump appeal to violence probably isn’t a good thing, I think Ryan has put a button on the whole Trump phenomena.  The whole Trump campaign is a joke gone bad.

When Trump began his campaign with supporters he had to pay for at Trump Tower, there was every indication he had no intention of actually winning. He had no platform, no organization, had done no research, and hardly had any idea of the issues.

But that was OK.  For some years now, Republicans ran for president not to be president, but to sell books, increase their speaking fees, and if they’re incredibly successful, get a gig on Fox News.  Newt, Huckabee, the pizza guy, are all examples of this trend, and Sarah Palin is their shining example of national elections as a get-rich-quick scheme.

Trump’s TV show was falling in the ratings; he knew it wouldn’t last much longer.  His best shot was to get a show on Fox, and his best shot at doing that was making a splash by running for president.

Tragically, Trump has a history of failing upwards, making bigger mistakes the higher up the ladder he goes.  And this last one was a whopper — he actually became the nominee.  At first, it was great: he left a field of wanna-bes in his wake; he sucked up all the attention in the country; every night, thousands of strangers would cheer him.  This was primo heroin to an addict; life couldn’t be better; he was making Trump Great Again.

But then he needed to run a convention and then build and manage a real national campaign.  Both projects were beyond him. So he’s left with his same old racist act, saying outrageous things to get media attention, and watching his poll numbers slip away.  He won’t just lose, he’ll be humiliated, and then he’ll be assigned to the Republican dustbin.  No Fox News, no high speaking fees.  Just a joke gone bad.

In 1964, Nelson Rockefeller was the odd man out at the Republican National Convention. His brand of big government, socially progressive Republicanism had been killed by Barry Goldwater, who took the nomination.

Goldwater was humiliated by President Johnson in the election, but he had redefined the Party. Richard Nixon won the 1968 Republican nomination and the presidency with the ‘Southern Strategy” — coded racist appeals to white Southerners to win the South for the Republicans, while holding onto the traditional Republican base — small town voters and the rich.

The Republicans have been drifting to the right ever since.

We had a similar Rockefeller moment this year with Ted Cruz. Cruz no doubt had a variety of reasons not to endorse Trump (Trump calling Cruz’s wife ugly and his father an associate of Lee Harvey Oswald certainly didn’t help.) But like Rockefeller, Cruz was preaching an old vision of Republican ideology to a crowd that has moved on. The new Republican Party of 2016 is a knockoff of nationalist movements in Europe — direct appeals to racism, fear of white’s loss of control, and a dose of xenophobia.

This change has been driven by economic stagnation of the middle class, as more and more of the wealth the economy generates goes to the one percent. (The increase in the concentration of wealth since the Reagan years have been staggering.) But demographic changes have also been a major factor. With more and more Latinos moving into Southern States — or at least the promise of it — the imbalance of power between whites and blacks might change. This is the loss of control in peoples’ lives Trump likes to talk about.

Although Trump’s political amateurishness and evil buffoonery will, I suspect, cause him to lose this election, Tom Cotton or another Republican politico will be this generation’s Richard Nixon in 2020, turning down the heat a tad, but mainstreaming Republican white nationalism. Cruz thought he was standing up for principal and paving the way for his own 2020 nomination by striking out against Trump, but instead, he’s consigned himself to the past.

What America needs is a Bill James of politics — someone who can crunch the numbers to predict elections not simply based on polls, but before meaningful polls even occur.  I am not that person, but I am prepared whoever the right person is to give him or her a good start.

Unlike our mates, where we find ourselves attracted to the same kind of person (“mommy” or “daddy”) despite our best intentions, we are not so emotionally involved in electoral choices.  We vote for someone, maybe even enthusiastically, but our enthusiasm almost always wains, and we look for another candidate.

My observation is that the candidate we choose next is not based on party or ideology (which few people in America really know much about) but on personality.  The current president is always found wanting, and we want someone new, someone different — in fact, someone who is as much the opposite as the existing president.

These comparisons are easy to generate for those playing at home, but let me give you 2 examples and you’ll see what I mean:


1992 Election
Poppy Bush Bill Clinton
Intelligence Not so much Smart
Class Upper Lower
Temper Reserved Hot
Body Type Lean Not so much


2000 Election
Bush Jr. Obama
Intelligence Not so much Smart
Class Upper Lower
Temper Obstinate Cerebral
Body Type Athletic Athletic

I think the political Bill James can build this out, but it’s easy to see that each successful presidential candidate is almost exactly the opposite of the other, with the exception of body type.

So let’s use this simple rubric to examine how might be the next president.

Chris Christie is extraordinarily well positioned (negating even the body type), even though he might have gone a bridge too far.  Hillary is in trouble if she runs on her intelligence and extensive experience.  She needs to dumb it down while emphasizing her somewhat bourgeois roots.  Jeb Bush would also have to dumb it down (although for him, maybe not a whole lot).  Rand Paul, however, really shines.

I’m sure there are many other variables that need to be considered (by the Bill James type), but until then, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the next president of the United States — the dumb, rich and obstinate Rand Paul.



Bush Clinton
Intelligence Lean Not so much

There’s an interesting post an Alexander Stille in the New Yorker with some information from a recent poll in France:

Seven per cent of French people (according to the last C.N.C.D.H. report) acknowledge being “rather racist,” while another twenty-two per cent consider themselves “a little racist,” twenty-five per cent “not very racist,” and forty-four per cent described themselves as “not at all racist,” down by ten per cent.

I suppose it’s great that racist people have the self-knowledge to call themselves “rather racist.”  And the twenty-two percent who consider themselves “a little racist,” for all we know, could be liberals with a sense of realism and not a little guilt. (“C’mon, folks, we’re all prejudiced on some level.”)

The really intriguing group to me is the twenty-five percent who consider themselves “not very racist.”  Who, exactly, are they comparing themselves to?  “Sure I’m a racist.  But my next door neighbor, boy, is that guy really a racist!”  Of course, the next door neighbor is saying the same thing about him.

Like pregnancy, I don’t think that racism ultimately is a question of degree.  You either are or you aren’t.  Everything else is a detail.

What also impresses me is how up front the French are with their racism.  It seems that in America, everyone but the fringe will deny being a racist, even as they are saying something racist: “Well, you know, I’m no racist, but…”  Actually, I don’t know, and you are a racist.

I’m not sure which version I prefer — French or American — naked xenophobia or shallow self-delusion.


What I find most interesting about the Wiener scandal is everyone’s assumption that he should quit the race.  In politics, once you’ve been caught in a lie about your personal life, you typically resign (Lying in your professional life, however, is completely acceptable.)

But Wiener won’t quit the race until the absolute last second.  I’m not suggesting he’s running to redeem himself.  I’m not even suggesting he’s running to fight to regain some shred of dignity, and I’m certainly not suggesting he’s running for some set of issues.

Quite the contrary.  Wiener knew more revelations about his private life would come out — he told the reporters as much when he announced.  Wiener, in fact, wanted those reports to come out.

For Anthony Wiener, running for office is the ultimate sex act.

Which makes us all participants.  Eeek.

In his new article, The Decline of Black Power in the South, The NY Times Thomas Edsall nails it.

The long-term importance of Republican success controlling the redistricting process is that it provides the party with a tool to counter the growing strength of black, Hispanic and Asian-American voters. Republican control of Congressional district lines in 2012 allowed the party to maintain a 34-seat majority in the United States House of Representatives while winning one million fewer votes than the Democrats over all.

As the United States moves inexorably toward becoming a minority majority country, the Republican Party needs every available weapon to survive what it perceives as a siege. The Shelby County v. Holder decision issued by the five conservative members of the Supreme Court gives Republicans even wider latitude to use the manipulation of district lines through “bleaching,” “packing” and “cracking,” in order to maintain its control over state legislatures. This, in turn, grants Republicans control of the House of Representatives.


The pundit argument coming out of the last election that the Republican Party must make an immigration deal to appeal to Latino voters has just gone out the window. Rather than changing the Party’s message or even its positions to appeal to Latinos, it’s a heck of a lot easier to just disenfranchise them — which the Supreme Court has just enabled the Republicans to do.

The recent Supreme Court decision to gut the Voting Rights Act marks the end of Reconstruction 2.0.  The first Reconstruction, after the Civil War, ended in 1877 with a deal between the Republicans and Democrats — the Republicans got the White House (Rutherford B. Hayes became president), while the Democrats got an end to Federal intervention in the South.  This enabled Southern Whites to disenfranchise Blacks and retake control of Southern politics.

The end of Reconstruction 2.0 was much slicker.  The majority of the Court essentially decided they were tired of the old rule, that America had somehow moved beyond racism and didn’t need Federal oversight of state law, or at least, not this particular rule. Of course, hours after the decision was made, North Carolina and Texas immediately announced they would bring back to the floor bills the Justice Department had killed, claiming they would only serve to disenfranchise Blacks and Latinos.  To the Republicans of those two states, disenfranchisement was the point.

Now these states — and all the other states with Republican-dominated legislatures — will soon be enacting every sort of law they can think of to eliminate minority voting.  Say goodbye to Sunday voting (Black churches organize drives to bring their parishioners from the church to the polls).  Say goodbye to early voting (early voters are predominantly Democrats).  Say hello to Voter ID laws (many poor people don’t have driver’s licenses).

Although disenfranchised voters can still sue, the burden is now on private groups to contest the laws through the courts, rather than just the Justice Department making a decision, greatly increasing the cost and complexity of fighting the states.

It’s unclear how many poor people, Blacks and Latinos will now be prevented from voting — 10%? 40%?  But even small changes to the voting population will have major effects on state and national races.

So the Republicans have bought themselves another decade, maybe even two, before they have to worry much about broadening their appeal.  They may lose a few more presidential elections, but they will maintain their control of the Congress, and maybe at some point even gain the Senate.  It’s going to be a long, tough slog from here.A


Say you have one country — for instance, the US — that isn’t allowed to examine data of it’s own citizens, but can examine the data of the rest of the world’s citizens.  Say you have another country — let’s call it the UK — that adheres to the same rules.  Let’s further say that the intelligence agencies of these countries work closely together and share information.  This seems a massive legal loophole that I haven’t heard anyone discuss.

It’s typical in US history for us (the public and then the government) to panic for a good decade when there’s any kind of threat.  Then when the dust settles a bit, we revise our policies and feel pretty apologetic for our mistakes (internment camps, anyone?)  I hope and expect we’re beginning that phase now with the “war on terror,” especially since Obama said recently that war is over.

Democracies can be run by the mob, but only for a while.  Then rationality begins to take hold.

At least that’s my hope.

There’s a great article in the Times today about the real power behind the thrown of the NRA — the gun manufacturers themselves.  Based on testimony the gun makers gave around 2005, it’s remarkable how closely their beliefs parallel their economic self-interest.

…a review of the documents, which were obtained by The New York Times, show the industry’s leaders arguing, often with detachment and defiance, that their companies bear little responsibility, beyond what the law requires, for monitoring the distributors and dealers who sell their guns to the public.

The article reminds me of a classic Tom Lehrer song about a certain Nazi-turned-NASA scientist.

Once the rockets go up
who cares where they come down?
"That's not my department,"
says Werner von Braun.

Washington is currently bogged down in meaningless nonsense about the IRS, the AP investigation and Benghazi — scandals that don’t amount to much.  They are valuable to the Republicans because of exactly that — their meaninglessness.  No one wants to talk about long term debt declining as an economic issue, or the bankruptcy of conservative economic ideas, or the slow motion collapse of the EU, or spending more Federal dollars to expand the economy, or immigration reform.  These are all too complex and too threatening for the Republicans to talk about, so better to talk about nonsense.

Here’s something else we are not paying attention to:

Government troops and supporting militias went house to house, killing entire families and smashing men’s heads with concrete blocks.

Antigovernment activists provided lists of 322 victims they said had been identified. Videos showed at least a dozen dead children. Hundreds more people are reported missing.

This is a quote from the NY Times about what’s going on in Syria.  It’s moved from revolution, to civil war, and now to ethnic cleansing.  The article is about the Syrian government’s forces, but there have also been and will continue to be mass murder of civilians by the Sunni forces as well. How could there not at this point?

This is more than just a human tragedy.  This also indicates that Syria will not be put back together — the hatred has become too deep.  If Syria is divided between Alawite and Sunni, should it also be divided with a section for the Kurds?  the Druze?  What happens to the Christians?  And who will enforce the peace between these borders?

My fear is that Syria is way past saving — and we’ll end up trying to save it anyway.