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So Jeb Bush has finally executed one of the most public, painful 180s ever by a politician, taking nearly a half dozen separate stances on the Iraq War before finally just admitting that it was a mistake. So, now it’s over. Just another gaffe that will be forgotten about within a couple of weeks, right?

I actually don’t think so, in part because it points to something unusual about this particular Bush candidacy. Jeb Bush not only bears the burden of his brother’s disastrous presidency, but also of his father’s better-looking-in-retrospect but still not particularly beloved presidency. Remember, it wasn’t so long ago that GOP hawks were beating up on Bush because he considered James Baker an adviser. Bush’s views bore little resemblance to Baker’s–the latter being the dean of the GOP Old School of restraint and prudence in foreign policy. But the fact remains that he’s said some things about Israel (and, frankly, because he is James Baker) and thus called back to Poppy Bush’s foreign policy, which is (to say the least) out of fashion in Republican politics these days. So within the space of a month, Bush has been publicly savaged for being both too meek on foreign policy, as well as for being idiotically stubborn. That’s pretty impressive.

I think this points to the fundamental problem with Bush’s candidacy: he has to pay for two wildly different sets of sins, his brother’s and his father’s. This is nothing new. Garry Wills’s book The Kennedy Imprisonment argues persuasively that Ted Kennedy wound up taking a lot of shrapnel from his brothers’ mistakes and for how they used power. To name some examples: Teddy got slammed for womanizing, even though his forays into the area were both less voluminous (and, Wills argues, less selfish and narcissistic) than John’s. He was continually mocked for his drinking in ways that few national figures are, because of the fetishization of control and machismo that were linked to the Kennedy brand. He took more fallout for his (admittedly inexcusable) college plagiarism than John took for his phony authorship of Profiles In Courage (in actuality, the book was fully written by Ted Sorenson). And even Chappaquiddick–which hung (not unfairly) over his entire career–was linked to the sins of his father and brothers. If you dispense with the conservative conspiracy theories that posit that the whole thing was some weird version of Death Proof, what you’re left with is a man so used to using the personal power of the Kennedy family, of keeping things within closed doors, of making use of family “fixers” that it never occurred to him that his first call should be to the police, instead of to family cronies in order to lock it down and hush it up. He abused the power of the Kennedy family to save his hide, and was horrendously wrong to do so. But he was hardly the first Kennedy man to do that. He was not even the third.

Point being, Kennedy’s 1980 run–even on its face, a tough proposition to unseat a sitting president in a primary–was hobbled by this stuff. As the brother who lived, he became the channel for people to punish everything that was wrong with the Kennedys, even though his character flaws were objectively of a substantially lesser degree than his father and his still-beloved brothers’ were (Wills argues this). The ways in which the Kennedy family used power in effect formed a prison that trapped Ted Kennedy. And this is with a family that is hugely popular among the American public! The Bush name may still have meaning among a large subset of Republicans, but among the general public, it isn’t much of an asset. And the Iraq controversy provides an interesting example of just how bad this dual imprisonment of Jeb’s can be. Today’s GOP hawks are very willing to use Jeb’s father’s legacy against him, to extract more substantive promises from him. On the other hand, his adoption of certain positions simply makes them poisonous because of the Bush legacy. Jeb’s embrace of the Iraq dead-enders turned that position into something of a dead letter in Republican politics, as other GOP hopefuls couldn’t wait to hang him out to dry. This surprises some, but it’s basic politics. They realize what a weakness it is to have the brother of the guy who started the Iraq War–and indirectly gave us Obamacare, if you think about it–sitting out there, defending it. It’s in the interest of Bush’s opponents to make him run against his brother (and father) as much as they can, because it undermines the rationale of his candidacy. It’s a weakness that’s just sitting there to be exploited. Ironically, the exact same thing happened with Robert Kennedy’s presidential run, in which Gene McCarthy constantly tried to use John against him. Wills writes about when McCarthy sprung a clever trap by which he promised to fire J. Edgar Hoover as FBI Director if he were elected president, which not only highlighted Bobby’s refusal to do so (and John’s earlier refusal to do so), but also made the irresistible subtext poignant that the reason why they couldn’t was because Hoover had something on (at least) John. McCarthy explicitly used the strategy that other Republicans made use of so recently, and this really explains why Kennedy struggled so mightily against a (no offense intended) second-tier Minnesota Senator (not to mention the man outpacing both of them, Vice President Hubert Humphrey) to compete despite the still very recent, and very raw, memories of his brother’s assassination.

The other thing it’s important to say is that we’ve merely seen the beginning of this dynamic. What happens when Jeb Bush becomes an official candidate and releases his tax plans? You can immediately imagine Grover Norquist (and other Republican candidates) invoking the memory of George H.W. Bush’s tax hikes to try to get more out of him. You can also imagine Bush receiving lots of mainstream criticism for following the legacy of his brother when he introduces a plan with hugely regressive cuts, which he undoubtedly will, and being again befuddled by this dual onslaught. Obviously, his immigration position follows closely those of both his brother and his father, which is also a liability in Republican politics as well. Wherever you look, Bush has to constantly try to thread the needle, to emphasize the family legacy that allows him the chance to run. But that legacy also makes him uniquely vulnerable to being attacked, since he is connected to two presidential legacies in very direct ways. Ted Kennedy–the best politician of the entire family–fell flat on his face when attempting to do that. Jeb Bush, it must be said, is running a less difficult race than the one Ted chose in 1980. But he faces a similar situation: his greatest asset is also his greatest weakness. He may yet still win the nomination: it’s difficult to imagine Marco Rubio defeating Bush since Rubio is Bush’s base’s second choice, and Scott Walker remains a hothouse flower who seems to wither once outside of the safe environment of the Milwaukee suburbs. I say it’s still Bush’s race to lose. But after the past week, it’s a lot easier to see how that happens than it was before.

moneyIn recent years, particularly on the Republican side, the prevalence of candidates who lack what are commonly called conventional credentials has become hard to miss. This was much commented upon in 2012, where it seemed like a good portion of the field was merely running in order to increase their notoriety and advance their personal brand: to grab a FOX News gig, say, or a book or radio deal. This seemed a pretty puzzling grift: running for president, even a Potemkin campaign, requires real fundraising/self-funding, after all, and the additional scrutiny could lead to public humiliation that would otherwise never have occurred (even though Herman Cain actually did manage to parlay his run into a radio gig, he had to have his extramarital affairs dragged out over the media, for starters). So I just went ahead and looked at how that business plan worked out for the people who ran (I’ve excluded Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, all of whom seemed to actually want to be president and had some real base of support, regardless of whether they held onto it):

  • Newt Gingrich: Turned out pretty bad, actually. Saw his existing business empire crumble. Alienated many of his conservative fans by dissing Paul Ryan. More ignored now than ever before (which is a good thing).
  • Buddy Roemer: Who?
  • Jon Huntsman, Jr.: I honestly don’t know why he ran in the first place. He had an awesome job, after all. Then again, it was also hard to figure why he took Ambassador to China from Obama in the first place, if his goal was to run in 2012. May not qualify as a business plan candidate so much as completely delusional. Now the guy who pretended to be moderate and got Beltway hearts fluttering is running Tea Partying Sen. Mike Lee’s re-election campaign. Then again, he’s about as close to being president as he was before, though minus the hype
  • Michele Bachmann: No regular FOX News gig. Hasn’t appeared on the network since last year, apparently. No new book, no radio show, nothing but increasingly desperate sound bytes, making her Palin without the media savvy. She’d probably still be in the House now if she hadn’t run. Also, she really thinks 100% of Americans are Tea Partiers.
  • Gary Johnson: Became a Libertarian.
  • Herman Cain: Things worked out quite well for him, aside from the mockery and humiliation he endured in 2012.
  • Thaddeus McCotter: Dumb motherfucker lost everything over a longshot presidential bid. If he’d just not run and paid attention to getting those signatures in, he’d probably still be in the House.
  • Tim Pawlenty: Doomed by friendship? Why’d he even run if he wasn’t willing to throw a punch at the frontrunner. Also this.

So, by my count, you have one who is in an objectively better situation (Cain), a few who are basically in the same place as they were before (Roemer, Johnson, Huntsman) and the rest are worse off in some significant way (Gingrich, Bachmann, McCotter, and Pawlenty). If you wanted to include everyone, then it’s apparent that Perry is worse off after his forgetful, alienating 2012 run, while Romney, Santorum and Paul are essentially in the same place (Paul could have run for both his seat and president in 2012 as he did in 2008 but did not, so he would have wound up in the same place regardless). As it turns out, running for president is hardly a cost-free proposition for a second-tier Republican to build their brand. In fact, going by the empirical evidence, there’s an even chance that running for president will ruin your career, and only a one in eight chance that it will improve it.

It is interesting that Cain is the only real success story here, if you discount the collateral damage to his marriage. It makes sense: he was one of the least known and got to score points by attacking Obama with less danger of being called out for being a racist. Since Obama’s on his way out, the odds of Dr. Ben Carson following in his footsteps seem remote, but for say Carly Fiorina, a new spot may be opening up…

So, just as I predicted, the UK Election was a complete fiasco for the left aside from Scotland. Though I have to admit that even I didn’t expect the Liberal Democrats to wind up with less than ten seats. In retrospect, though, it makes perfect sense. Good summary here:

If the electorate felt an anti-incumbent impulse, they directed it not at the Tories but almost exclusively at their coalition partners. One-time supporters who leaned left abandoned the Lib Dems long ago; those who leaned right preferred to vote for the real thing.

Ultimately, I think, this is why it was such a stupid idea for the Liberal Democrats to join in a coalition. Nick Clegg often talks about the party carrying on this political and intellectual tradition down from John Stewart Mill and all that, but fundamentally, the party was two separate protest movements rolled into one: left-liberals who dislike the Labour Party (many due to the Iraq War), and conservatives who dislike the Tories (many over the party’s stance toward Europe), along with narrowly tailored appeals to specific voters in Scotland and Wales. The Liberal Democrats offered a perfect vehicle for all sorts of discontent: they had a definite presence in British politics and always got to take the high road, to stand on broadly appealing principle in part because they never exercised power (and it didn’t seem they ever would). As soon as they actually held power (or, at any rate, couldn’t avoid responsibility for its exercise), the entire thing crumbled like a fusilli hydra. And then there’s this detail, dealing with the intracasies of British politics that almost nobody here knows about:

Afterwards there was much talk of Lib Dem familiarity with disaster and historic resilience in the face of it. But now there must be a question over the viability of theparty. They lost a fortune – £170,000 – in forfeited deposits. They will no longer qualify for much of the parliamentary subsidy known as Short money. Their funding base in the prosperous London seats they once held has gone.

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It seems as though we’re living through a particularly long string of dispiriting elections: the Democrats’ disgraceful performance in the midterms, Israel’s further descent by rewarding Benjamin Netanyahu’s racism and panic, Rahm Emanuel, the UK elections (technically the future, but I’m not very hopeful). On the bright side, the Canadian left managed to wrest control of conservative Alberta for the first time in nearly a half-century. Kind of amazing.

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Carly Fiorina will not be president. But that’s not her goal. She’s clearly aiming for the vice presidency, which seems crazy, but I don’t know. Since it seems as though her campaign is essentially going to boil down to attacking Hillary Clinton with the implicit argument that, “if I say it, then it cannot be sexist,” an experienced attack dog who just happens to be a woman wouldn’t be, you know, wildly out of sync with what a Jeb Bush or a Scott Walker might need out of a veepster. Plus, she’s less of an obvious screw-up than Palin was. The fact that she keeps failing upward indicates that she must have some connections in the GOP to make this less than a joke. Given that she has that anti-Midas touch you have to think this would be a non-starter, but the last guy they picked was Paul Ryan, who may have even been a worse pick than Fiorina would be. To get your attacks recognized, it’s probably not a good idea to have them delivered in a bland monotone.

So, it’s probably not very likely, but not exactly impossible either. What I’m really excited to see is what she fails at next.

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I admit I haven’t watched Letterman regularly in years, but I watched religiously in high school and definitely revere the man for many reasons. I think history will record his NBC run as the last time late night was even remotely dangerous (give or take Conan’s last week on The Tonight Show). YouTube, as always, is indispensable, and there are numerous full episodes available, quality obviously varied. Check out his fifth anniversary show:

kool aid guy

Oh yeah! It really does look as though the NSA’s metadata bulk collection could end soon. This is genuinely good news, and especially surprising given the 2014 outcomes.

Oh no! Obama decides to create pseudo-NATO for Arab “allies” to US. I swear to God, if progressives spent one tenth the energy they dedicate to debating whether the Affordable Care Act could have been slightly more progressive if Obama had used his bully pulpit to debating whether Obama’s legacy- and politically-driven war decisions are optimal, then maybe we would not be in a place where endless Middle Eastern war has essentially been institutionalized without a peep of dissent. Shameful.

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