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Could you say no to that face?

My skepticism of Hillary Clinton remains unaddressed. Between her largely terrible, fanatically hawkish foreign policy record and her long history of being a poor judge of character and ability, you really have the makings of a very special presidency in terms of staffing the government and running foreign policy, two of the biggest responsibilities of any president. I am leaning towards Sanders at the moment because he seems like the best overall package–O’Malley has the administrative side covered and Webb has a foreign policy I largely like, but both have major deficiencies apart from those areas–but I’m not really sure he’s got what I’m looking for either. I agree with Bernie’s message and I do think he connects, but ultimately people concerned with the issues he’s discussing should be working to elect a better Congress. That would make more of an impact. The difference between Clinton and Sanders with a Congress like the present one would be fairly small on domestic policy, I think. Working for that seems a bit pointless. OTOH, the difference between a president who once joined with Joe Lieberman to essentially declare pre-emptive war on Iran and one who might actually keep us out of every damn conflict that doesn’t concern us that the media picks up and shakes around is a very different story. Sanders might be such a person–he did vote against Lieberman-Kyl, after all, along with a depressingly small number of Democrats even after everyone had turned against the Iraq War–but he talks about foreign policy even less than Clinton. Still, he’s my choice at this point.

Does Biden fit the bill? Well, the guy certainly has been right more often than Clinton on foreign policy. The federal structure he proposed for Iraq way back in the day has recently been quite vindicated by events, and during his time as Vice President he’s counseled restraint more often than never, which is how often Clinton has done it. But I fear that his entry into the race is based on a reaction to the bullshit Clinton scandals rather than a desire to hold her accountable for the actual mistakes she’s made. If he wanted to run on that basis, nothing’s been stopping him before now. So I’m wary of it.

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Jeb Bush apparently comes out in favor of demanding plain text communication only on electronic devices. It should be noted that he’s not the first authoritarian “conservative” from an Anglophone country to do so, a sure sign that our overlords are rattled by the notion of privacy that they can’t actually break with impunity if they want to. It’s difficult to even properly rant about this because it’s clearly an uninformed old guy shooting from the hip on the stump. Bush couldn’t explain any of this stuff if he was asked. I doubt he could tell you what PGP even stood for. So we have a struggling Republican candidate, who’s basically just running to serve out his duty to keep Bushworld’s lights on for a few more years, making wild and ignorant statements about subjects he doesn’t understand, and feels the need to accent this with fearmongering moralism (“evildoers” brings you back, doesn’t it?).

This has never been more ironic:

george w bush miss me yet

It’s like the fucker never left.

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It’s one of my pet peeves. Moral relativism as a concept isn’t interchangeable with hedonism, as conservatives commonly use the term. That may be revealing of something in their way of thinking but it just ain’t true. Real moral relativism can be found in the fact that people who are “in the tribe” can ask for and expect forgiveness while people on the outside are ostracized for basically the same offense. Such as, Bill Clinton on the one hand, and David Vitter or now Josh Duggar on the other. Or, say, a belief that other sides’ fighters can be tortured, but obviously not our own. It is inextricable from tribalism, an oversimplified and even childish morality, and strong feelings of superiority. Needless to say, the major practitioners of moral relativism in America are and for some time have been conservatives.

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Reading about the Donald Trump campaign day after day has gotten me thinking about one of the most influential–and mostly forgotten–media figures of our modern era, Morton Downey Jr. No, he wasn’t Iron Man’s brother, he was a career media guy who, among other things, had a right-wing talk radio show in the very time slot on Sacramento radio that Rush Limbaugh took over after he left (we native Sacramentans have so much to be proud of) and later had a televised talk show that was, for a moment, the biggest thing on television. It was a very big deal, actually–the obvious progenitor of the angry political confrontationalism of Bill O’Reilly, though it included a lot of the trashy/sleazy material that would later find a home with Jerry Springer and Maury Povich. Hell, even someone as anodyne as Jay Leno borrowed some moves from the guy, namely the running into the audience and shaking hands bit. Seriously, all of that stuff gets traced right back to Downey. And, for a year or so, people couldn’t get enough of it. Downey became a TV superstar who somehow managed to fit a music career alongside taping a daily show into what wound up being a very short window of fame. (Seriously, you have to check out his music. It’s insane.) Watch this (featuring a surprise special guest) and tell me that Trump isn’t cribbing Downey perfectly:

Downey’s show keyed off of confrontation. It was a sort of fantasy for very, very angry people: Mort Downey would tell the smartypants pointyheads to their face exactly what they wanted to say to them. There’s no intellectual component to the debate whatsoever. The clip is interesting because Paul is clearly getting the better of the argument on intellectual terms, and obviously is used to dealing with a hostile audience. But he clearly wasn’t used to dealing with someone who had no interest in debating ideas, and was only using Paul as a prop, in effect. He starts to get rattled. Downey keeps escalating, invades his space, lobs gratuitous insults at Paul. And yet Paul winds up looking not much better in the end. Now, admittedly, Ron Paul is a crank in real life, and is perhaps not the best example of a stable person. But this shows just how brilliantly Downey’s method of confrontation worked. Downey is clearly able to reach down into a person’s emotional core, bully them, shatter their composure. Paul after a point just sounds crazy, even though the points he makes are generally solid. It’s Downey who maintains his composure and control, so he ultimately “wins” in the eyes of his audience. Downey may prefer “scum” to Trump’s “loser”, but it’s the same basic strategy of using confrontation to allow an audience to experience some measure of uptake on their anger, vicariously of course. (Also, if you watch long enough, you get a spiel from Congressman Charles Rangel which serves as a forgotten reminder of just how avidly black elected officials supported the war on drugs, once upon a time.)

What ended Downey’s brief reign as the hottest star on television? As the truly excellent documentary about Downey from a few years back tells us, the show ran out of gas because, after a certain point, they couldn’t book guests anymore. Nobody was desperate enough to air their views and get subjected to such savage treatment. As a result, the show simply couldn’t provide the sort of confrontation that set it apart in the first place, and became increasingly reliant on the sort of sleazy programming that would become commonplace on Springer in the next decade. Didn’t save Downey, though, as his show was canceled not quite two years after it began, a mere part of the cycle of self-destruction that characterized Downey’s life generally. (Modern equivalents of Downey–O’Reilly and Bill Maher come to mind, though the latter obviously has different politics, both only go up to a certain point in their confrontations in order to keep guests coming and ensuring a steady dose of conflict that keeps those ratings aloft. Downey didn’t and maybe couldn’t.) Trump’s campaign has been highly successful in much the same way Downey was: by providing the thrill of confrontation with all manner of superior know-it-alls: the mainstream media, John McCain, Megyn Kelly. He knows how to deal with all of them, the respectable types are shocked, Trump wins. But eventually he’ll run out of targets, just like Downey ran out of guests. There are only so many people he can get into a public spat with, and eventually when he runs out of new ones, the thrill will be gone. Then and only then will his poll numbers begin to fade. The real question is: when does this happen? November? Next August? You really have to wonder if the Republican Party will actually be able to field someone other than Trump as the nominee if he’s able to suck all the oxygen out of the room until then. Couldn’t happen, you say? Keep in mind that Silvio Berlusconi–an extremely Trumplike figure–actually served multiple terms as Prime Minister of Italy. During which time he did such things as: have (not alleged, he was convicted) sex with underage prostitutes, comment incessantly and crudely on the attractiveness of female politicians, have all manner of tangles with legal authorities over enriching himself at public expense, not to mention speaking positively of Mussolini and Hitler. His Wikipedia controversies section is longer than most peoples’ full entries. Didn’t matter. After years of political instability and politicians’ scandals, people were extremely, utterly pissed off, didn’t trust politicians, loved the brash anti-politician. In fact, were he not legally ineligible to run for office, he could be running the country right now. Obviously, that’s a different country with a different political system. But people are people.

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What’s the cause of that facial expression?

The dominance of New Labour over the Labour Party in the UK has been shattered by two major events. First, the May elections, in which they proved that they had no better idea on how to win an election than anyone else. (Admittedly, Ed Miliband wasn’t a typical Blairite and had some quirks, but he did support austerity and ran an election campaign that was textbook New Labour.) The second was the decision by Labour’s post-election interim leadership to abstain from voting on a welfare cuts bill. Either of these events alone could have been survivable, just as New Labour survived the Iraq War and the many scandals of Tony Blair’s last years in office. Both, however, were not, and have triggered a surprise surge in favor of an actual progressive leftist, Jeremy Corbyn, to lead the party. To Blairites, this is an absolute calamity. The pitch of New Labour going back to the 1990s was that (a) New Labour could win while Old Labour couldn’t, and (b) New Labour shared the same values as Old Labour, but just preferred newer, more sophisticated methods of advancing them. Suddenly, tons of Labour members find themselves doubting both of these assertions, so New Labour found itself needing a New case and a New spokesman to give the party-within-a-party a New direction. So naturally, they turned to the freshest, newest, most innovative leader they can muster: Tony Blair.

Blair’s pitch in The Guardian is quite interesting by what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t reference either of the key events that have led to a revolt against New Labour. Needless to say, the Iraq War and Blair’s postwar career of helping dictatorial regimes improve their image are similarly not addressed. Blair smartly acknowledges his controversial status in the actual headline, which is a solid hook, but the article offers little new data or argumentation. It does, however, contain this bizarre threat:

If Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader it won’t be a defeat like 1983 or 2015 at the next election. It will mean rout, possibly annihilation. If he wins the leadership, the public will at first be amused, bemused and even intrigued. But as the years roll on, as Tory policies bite and the need for an effective opposition mounts – and oppositions are only effective if they stand a hope of winning – the public mood will turn to anger. They will seek to punish us. They will see themselves as victims not only of the Tory government but of our self-indulgence.

This is actually quite audacious: Blair is claiming a negative-sum theory of politics, in which Tory policies make their party less popular, which winds up making the Labour Party even less popular because its leader is unelectable and therefore incapable of effective opposition. Some might argue that a leader that actually opposes the policies of the other side might be a more effective opposition leader, but whatever. Woo hoo, Daschle and Gephardt forever! Never disagreeing with the other side can see your party go from running the Senate to having a ten seat deficit in four short years, and simultaneously multiplying its House deficit by a factor of ten. Traditionally, in two party systems, one party becoming less popular gives the other party another hearing, and in spite of what the pundits predicted, the UK outside of Scotland is just as much a two-party state as it ever was, given the flattening of the Liberal Democrats and the failure of UKIP to win more than a single seat. Given this, though, Blair argues that the Labour Party will suffer a logic-defying voter apocalypse for the crime of not picking a leader that Tony Blair deems electable. It may well be that Corbyn is unelectable at the present (though so was Barry Goldwater in 1964, and from his supporters’ perspective they were not wrong to back him), but Blair fails to offer an affirmative case for New Labour on substance. He merely tries to scare people into continuing to support them, a cycle that continues to play out to Corbyn’s advantage, as the latter has gotten great mileage out of his hopeful message. All Blair has to offer them are the eternal history lessons and dubious predictions of doom. Perhaps it is time he took a page from his good buddy George and retired from the political arena, and who knows? In a few years, perhaps he too can stop being hated, and instead merely become a subject of ironic fascination.

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167405_600Sometimes I really do wonder if rabid conservatives were put on this earth specifically with the purpose of making my brain melt.

Latest example?  Roger Ailes doing everything short of a reach-around to beg The Donald to steer his mindless wolverines back into the Fox News fold after Megyn Kelly dared to ask him tough questions.

While Trump barnstormed rival media outlets over the last few days, dissing Kelly and Fox at virtually every turn, Ailes remained surprisingly restrained in his response, even after Trump told CNN on Friday that Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever” during the debate. Paralyzed by the volume of pro-Trump emails from Fox’s loyal viewers, Ailes’s only statement, released a day after the debate, said that he was “extremely proud of all of the moderators.” … After Trump told Sean Hannity in a weekend phone call that he was “never doing Fox again,” appeared on four non-Fox public-affairs shows on Sunday, and did interviews with Today and Morning Joe on Monday, Ailes raised the white flag and picked up the phone on Monday morning. “Roger wanted a friendly relationship,” the source explained.

What was Ailes worried about?

Fox cannot afford to alienate Mr. Trump — or, more important, the network’s core audience. Fox News viewers view the channel as an alternative to a media they see as leaning left. If the network pushes too hard against Mr. Trump, it risks being seen as part of the mainstream media, rather than the antidote to it.

Where the heck would all the mouthbreathers go for “fair and balanced” commentary if Fox News were to suddenly get branded with the now-all-too-common “traitor” tag?  RedState?  Oops, not so much:

 RedState editor-in-chief and Fox News contributor Erick Erickson, whose site has become a hub for activism on the right, disinvited Trump from his annual RedState Gathering over the weekend over Trump’s remark that Fox News’ Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever” when she questioned him about his treatment of women. Since then, Erickson has gone off on Trump in a nonstop string of speeches, blog posts, interviews and tweets. Trump in turn has called Erickson a “loser” and, through a campaign spokesman, a “weak and pathetic leader.”

Which outlet is next to fall?  Stormfront?  WorldNewsDaily?

I will never understand how rabid conservatives are able to tie their shoes, much less live and go to work every day, with brains this limited in breadth and functioning.

I’ve just about had it with the theory that because Carly Fiorina is a woman, therefore she cannot be sexist/misogynist, and as a result can use whatever language she wants without giving offense. It’s profoundly silly. It’s perfectly possible to have self-loathing that manifests itself as a hatred for your own race/ethnicity/gender. It doesn’t count for any more or less than if someone of a different group does it. It makes me think of one of the Coen Brothers least-loved, most underrated films, The Man Who Wasn’t There, which is obsessive in its attempt to recreate the postwar era (many argue too much so), but it brings some interesting, often forgotten things to light. In the movie, Frances McDormand plays a full-blooded Italian woman who displays nothing but open contempt for Italian people, employs the usual stereotypes and uses derogatory language about them. This is because the character aspires to a certain WASPy suburban ideal, which leads to her disastrous marriage to the main character, played by Billy Bob Thornton, and these attitudes continue to work and lead to her affair with her boss at work, who is richer and more socially successful than BBT, and who is ironically played by James Gandolfini, though with a hearty hail-fellow affect. What we’re talking about here is identity politics, basically, though the flip side of the usual kind of identity politics, in which people aspire to a more “desirable” identity by dragging down the one they were assigned. FOX News makes the most of these folks when they happen to be women or minorities, of course. But it’s a sign of some kind of delusion at work to think that they will to any degree work in solving the Republican Party’s many diversity problems, as the only reason to make use of them is to convince older white FOX viewers that they’re right-on, everyone’s a right-winger deep down, they’re just being brainwashed, etc. Just let Michelle Malkin tell you all about it. Pushing Carly Fiorina’s candidacy is thus too clever by half: it is a non-serious bid by a notorious self-aggrandizer which is more likely to convince Republicans that horribly abusive language toward women is fine, which will ultimately be a disadvantage. The fact that she was, as Trump might say, a total disaster as a CEO and a loser at every political position she’s been in are beside the point.

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