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  1. This might just be the best thing to happen to the Democrats’ chances in November since Trump. Yes, of course, the stakes of a Supreme Court vacancy will motivate Christian Right types to get out to the polls, but they show up pretty regularly anyway. Unclear how much juice is left to squeeze from that lemon. But this is absolute acid to weak Repub partisans and moderates who do not want to see Roe overturned. It’s difficult to see how a Republican is able to both convince the public that they won’t take the chance to overturn Roe and their own anti-choice fanatics that they will. More than likely, the eventual Republican nominee is going to spend September and October running away from the promises they’re going to enthusiastically make over the next few days as they try to outflank each other in making commitments to appoint a Scalia-clone to replace Scalia. And while Mark Kirk and Ron Johnson are essentially dead men walking with terrible poll numbers in very liberal states, the comparatively better-off purple-staters like Kelly Ayotte and Pat Toomey are the ones who are really going to have to deal with the nuclear warhead just dropped in their lap. They’ll have some time to formulate answers but it’s not going to be pretty.
  2. My guess is that this is what will make Clinton pull away from Sanders–much of the left doesn’t much like or trust her, but the stakes are now raised and the appetite for risk-taking is about to diminish significantly. I still rate her as fairly likely to be a one-term president–a superhawk who more than likely is going to see a crappy economy and (if history is any guide) endless scandal, she’ll alienate all except for her core of Boomer women supporters–but appointing a fifth Dem-leaning justice is generational stuff.
  3. Barack Obama will never serve on the Supreme Court. Come on, guys, give it up: Obama’s own lack of interest, plus the security arrangements, plus figuring out how to deal with the political baggage. But he’ll be asked, of course.
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Kathleen Kane should resign from office, as should Rick Snyder and Rahm Emmanuel. But they won’t, of course. It used to be the case that people in public office after being disgraced would quietly resign and move on. While that still occasionally happens sometimes it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that things that would have led to immediate resignations a generation ago (getting exposed as an aficionado of prostitutes and diaper play, say, or taking a couple of weeks off to “hike the Appalachian Trail”), while they may well destroy political careers, don’t actually lead to resignations as often as they used to. Why is that? I think there are several possible reasons, none mutually exclusive:

  1. Distraction. A generation ago the media was much less fractured, now even when something is major news, it’s not as impactful as it used to be when the media was more top-down. There are always a bunch of other stories coming out at the same time, and still more to come shortly, leading to the temptation to ride it out.
  2. Polarization. The swing voter is dead, so regardless of how awful you are, you’ll still probably be able to count on quite a lot of your own party members bailing you out because the alternative is unthinkable. (And no, I don’t think partisanship is bad per se, but it does have some bad affects no doubt.) Mark Sanford even managed a second life after scandal back in Congress, after all, in large part due to this.
  3. Shamelessness. Part of the post-resignation era is part of a post-shame era in general, as recently exemplified by the ascendancy of Donald Trump among a large portion of voters. The oversharing era means some things just don’t shock like they used to, for better and worse. And the fracturing of media also makes avoiding tough questions a whole lot easier as well.
  4. Sunk cost. It’s never been more expensive to mount a campaign, which is why our politicians spend most of their time fundraising. The greater ascendancy of money also means you have backers with a lot invested in you that may not want to cut you loose. Or, if you’re a super-wealthy dude like Rick Snyder, you don’t want to have wasted the money to buy yourself a political gig.

Any others?

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I just rewatched Gattaca recently, and it strikes me as one of the most surprisingly radical Hollywood films of the past few decades, and a very rare example of a film that could be considered hard sci-fi. Now, I often tend to find that label a little precious and irritating–there is plenty of good “soft” sci-fi that explores human nature, politics and society with depth and perceptiveness, and plenty of hard sci-fi that is pointless and boring. It’s a label that tends to automatically confer a certain level of quality or respectability on a work, regardless of how imaginative it is or what fictional qualities it brings to the table, and tends toward self-importance a la Martin Starr’s Party Down character. Still, it is a real distinction, and this movie definitely passes the test by playing around with big ideas and presenting a scientifically possible (if admittedly allegorical) future. What’s really great about the film is how it visualizes the perfect meritocracy–peoples’ lives are essentially determined at birth due to how they happen to be genetically designed, with the implicit understanding that the only people having natural children are either poor people or “weirdos” who are made to regret it. All the strengths and weaknesses, all the contradictory impulses and unknown potentials of a human being are reduced to a single, binary piece of data which is ubiquitously, endlessly tested, which is, if not the logical conclusion of Big Data, most definitely a logical conclusion, and probably not all that far off. When Ethan Hawke’s character applies for a job, the “interview” is just one of these tests, not any real sort of assessment of his qualifications or fitness for the job. He is part of the “impartially” determined elite, which after all is based on science and for which there are endless justifications within arm’s reach. It’s a system that looks at itself as promoting excellence on fair, objective grounds, and that even has de facto legal protection against genetic discrimination. It’s Mike Bloomberg’s paradise.

And yet, it doesn’t work. That legal protection isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. Ethan Hawke’s character is out of the in group based purely on the possibility that he may develop a fatal heart condition, which means it’s a waste to devote precious resources to developing him to be anything more than a janitor, despite his being a brilliant scientist. The tests, it turn out, just measure what the tests measure, regardless of the actual possibility of the individual. He switches identities with Jude Law, who is part of the in group but is an embittered, unemployable drunk who bears the burden of having failed to live up to the meritocratic ideal due to having been disabled (and, it is hinted, wasn’t living up to it even before his accident). Much of the plot has to do with how Hawke avoids the hilariously obtrusive attempts by the “Valid” group to keep out the rest, but it’s largely about just how ridiculous this extensive apparatus is. The effort seems more than desperate, reflecting enormous insecurity on the part of the Valids as they frantically preserve a power structure that continually fails to work as advertised. Lots of other interesting stuff at play here–Hawke’s former janitorial supervisor not even recognizing him after he makes the switch, say, or how Alan Arkin’s detective immediately follows the lead of an “In-Valid” (not exactly subtle, but still) exclusively, when it turns out that the supposedly genetically non-violent Valid was the killer. The movie is very effective at pointing out the necessary prejudices needed to keep up a meritocratic system, and the blindness, the lack of examination of them that keeps it going. And it’s not as though Hawke brings it all down at the end–he is able to beat the system to accomplish his personal dream, and there’s the hope that his example might bring some truth to the proceedings. But other than that, it’s going to continue, at least for now. Contrast this with the slick bullshit of Elysium, say. Or Serenity, where a dominant power structure is brought down by a YouTube clip. That’s a movie that too many Firefly fans embraced despite it being a mash-up between a generic action movie (replete with a fight over a bottomless chasm!) and a political change message about as accurate as an off episode of the US House Of Cards. But I’ll hold that for another day.

Gattaca has a few flaws–the romance between Hawke and Uma Thurman is pretty perfunctory (hard to believe the marriage didn’t last with that chemistry), and there are the usual inconsistencies that you find in any movie. But the movie–in addition to being well-plotted, acted, and all the rest–takes on some big issues in the best science-fiction tradition with palpable righteous anger, and it came out a decade and a half before people were even talking about these sorts of things. It’s aged beautifully. Give him credit, Andrew Niccol really managed to slip this under the wire.

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Paul Waldman has written perhaps the most significant single piece about the Democratic election to date. Definitely read it. The basic contention is that Clinton has failed to tell the story (or a story) of her campaign well, or to provide a coherent vision of what she’d like to see happen. Sanders, of course, has done quite a bit of each, to criticism both fair and unfair. Maybe Hillary Clinton just isn’t as great a politician as people think she is? No doubt she’s smart and knows a lot about policy and details about how the government works. Staying relevant for so long is also a sign of something. But there’s no gut-level element to her pitch, just like there wasn’t in 2008. It’s lamentable but true that voters go more by personality than policy, by impression rather than by rigorous study. It’s the difference between Bill Clinton and Barack Obama on the one hand, and Al Gore and John Kerry on the other–similar enough on policy to the others, but not able to hit that gut-level. At least, not when they ran.

This is why something like her giving those Goldman Sachs speeches is so immensely damaging to Hillary Clinton: it provides that gut-level element and tells a story which is deeply unflattering, and in the absence of an affirmative story, it becomes her story. Hillary definitely understands that it is a problem, hence her rhetoric about how she cannot be bought. But not why it is a problem. If you or I were offered six figures to give a speech, of course we’d say yes (within reason–I’m not taking 675 grand from the Aryan Nation, obviously). But while I am a Bay Area tech industry type and thus made a pretty good living, I could still use the money (have you looked at housing prices up here recently?). And my guess is so can you. For someone who doesn’t need the money to just pocket it from a hated company that nearly made the world go boom (unsurprisingly, heaping praise on the old vampire squid), and then turn around and say it meant nothing and, hey, look at my stringent plans to reform Wall Street–it just doesn’t cut it. There’s no way to square it. Obviously, the reason is because the Clintons live in a world where taking cash to give a speech to Goldman Sachs is entirely unremarkable–nothing that needs to be answered for, nothing that should ever be questioned. That is the problem. That world is inherently unrelatable to 99.5% of us. And all the policy plans in the world are not going to make up for the impact of that story.

Ultimately, what Clinton does have is nostalgia, which is what you get when you implicitly run on the ’90s while disowning or ignoring the actual laws passed during that era. GenX-ers who remember the awesome job market they got into back in the ’90s. Boomers who spent the 1990s in solidarity with the Clintons, rallying to their defense, controversy after controversy, whether invented or idiotically self-inflicted. And so on. Young people care nothing about any of this. Sanders speaks to their problems now, connects, gets it. I can easily think of politicians–mostly Democrats–who continually bought into the fiction that policy and probity alone would bring them to the top: Gore, Kerry, Bruce Braley, Martha Coakley. Each of whom was better on policy than their counterparts, for all the good it did them.

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Err, not so much:

The real estate mogul’s win is likely to send shudders through the Republican establishment, which fears his explosive rhetoric targeting women, Mexicans and Muslims could hamper the GOP’s chances of appealing to a general-election audience.

A hoarse but jubilant Sanders proclaimed his victory to be the result of a “huuuuge” turnout. His emphatic performance will now propel him into a nationwide battle against Clinton as he attempts to shatter the firewall among ethnically diverse voters that she has built in South Carolina and other Southern states.

My own predictions were kinda sorta accurate. On the Democratic side, pretty much dead on. As for the other, swap Rubio and Cruz and it looks about right. Trump overperformed rather than underperformed. But Christie is likely dropping out–meaning Carly “If You Think My Resume Sucks, Wait Until You Find Out About My Character” Fiorina is next. Honestly I’m surprised that Rubio fell so far–one might have figured that the beating he got would engender some sympathy and might make some NH voters protect the guy from the vicious mainstream media. But no. Instead they basically killed his campaign. Clearly nobody outside of the DC/NY area with a disposable income under $275,000 per annum ever gave a damn about him. At. All. The haste with which the MSM pivoted from the “Republican Savior” narrative to the “Damaged Robot” narrative was pretty startling. Still, it’s hard to feel sorry for a guy who did choose to run for president and advocates all manner of truly horrible things (“no exemptions” anti-abortion policy, John McCain’s foreign policy, a tax cut the size of the Pacific Ocean). Not to mention someone who called the President of the United States a willful traitor on television. Marco Rubio is in so many ways the perfect example of everything that is wrong with modern politics, and while his downfall will not fix all that, at least the bad guys will not be rewarded for once.

Looking ahead, South Carolina promises to be interesting. It’s been underpolled, though while the conventional wisdom seems to be reasonable in suggesting a Clinton victory, Sanders has been improving his position. If he gets a bump from New Hampshire, it’s hardly impossible to imagine him getting to 40-45% of the vote there, which would mean he’d get a good share of delegates. He may be there already, for all we know, as the last poll was several weeks ago. As for the Republicans, a Trump-Cruz-Jeb! trifecta strikes me as the almost certain outcome. The Bush family knows how to play dirty there, after all, and a second consecutive third place might mark that Bush comeback that narrative-creators keep attempting to will into existence. Kasich has nothing going on there, and while Rubio does have a credible organization, he’s going to have to overcome several extremely negative news cycles, as well as a recent impression that he’s unable to handle the pressure in a state well renowned for knife fight politics. Carson should drop out after that, though I tend to doubt he will. He’s taking directions from The Man Upstairs, after all, as well as a cabal of grifters, and I suspect all parties will want him to remain in the race. It would be like Tony Soprano leaving the sporting goods store before it gets closed down:

Update: Carly’s out.

 

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My prediction is that Bernie beats Hillary about 60-40 on the Dem side. Bernie outperformed his polls in Iowa and HRC isn’t even in the state right now. It’s a writeoff for her. Still, she’s not going to lose by 30 or some such.

On the Republican side, if Rubio tanks and finishes in fourth or fifth he’s probably done. But purely out of partisan self-intrest, I don’t want him out just yet, nor do I think that bad a finish is in the cards. Rubio remaining in the race as a diminished force would mean that he’d continue to split up the establishment-inclined voters with Kasich (for sure) and Bush (most likely), though probably not Christie. A third-place tie with Bush well behind Trump and Kasich would be a rough outcome for him–even though objectively he would have done as well or better than Bush in both primaries to date, it’s likely Rubio who will be more pressured to step aside in favor of Kasich or Jeb! Here’s my prediction:

Trump 27
Kasich 18
Rubio 15
Bush 15
Cruz 12
Christie 8
Fiorina 2
Carson 2

Trump underperformed a bit in Iowa and will probably underperform a bit here, since he apparently just learned what a ground game was and I don’t think there are many people flirting with Trump–they’re either on board or really not on board. But he’ll still win. Kasich will take second and then lose a couple of contests for want of campaign infrastructure while trying to consolidate the establishment behind him. Rubio will have his “strong third place finish” which will, unlike his last one, be treated as a defeat. Bush and Carson will not exit the race. Christie and Carly Fiorina will.

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It used to be that every four years, Donald Trump would make some kind of vague rumbling about maybe running for president as a radical centrist, and then everyone would take it seriously. Then Trump would back out, again, having secured his goal of making us all pay attention to him. Now that he’s quit that game for a different one. So it’s up to Michael Bloomberg to fill the gap I guess. He’s once again floating interest in a presidential run, not coincidentally right before the New Hampshire Primary. Does anyone care?

Whether it’s Bloomberg or someone else, if the general election match-up winds up being Trump vs. Sanders, there’s going to be a third-party centrist candidacy. It’s a natural opening, as such a match-up would amount to a double-rejection of party establishments, or alternatively a rejection of much of the bipartisan consensus points–trade, “entitlement reform,” endless war–that the public dislikes but is rarely given a choice to have a voice in. Still, there are some people who support this agenda and Bloomberg would undoubtedly put all of it front and center in his pitch. Whatever success you think he might have depends largely on your assumptions about the electorate. The view among many of our nation’s narrative-makers, if I had to boil it down, would be that Americans are tired of partisan politics, and are just waiting for politicians to reach across the aisle and work together. Under this view, a Bloomberg bid would be very successful. But a more reasonable view is that much of the American public has simply had it with the nation’s business and political elites, and that while this is expressing itself in different ways among Republicans and Democrats, there is a true appetite for fundamental change. Hillary Clinton’s campaign has had difficulties because she, like much of Washington, has no idea how to respond to this, and I’m not sure Michael Bloomberg would fare any better.

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