The conventional wisdom is that anybody who wins a presidential election is a political genius but are they really? Winning a general election is much more about the fundamentals than anything else, political scientists have very solid models for this that even worked in 2016 (there was just limited data in some states, not outright contradictory data). You can suck and still win that if the fundamentals are right. Winning a primary is much more difficult and political scientists don’t really have very solid models for that, but it’s difficult mainly because it’s always sort of a clusterfuck. You’re asking voters to make a political decision with the most pertinent piece of information–party affiliation–rendered irrelevant. It’s a hard decision to make, and it’s not uncommon for them to turn on fairly fluky stuff. The Dean Scream. Jimmy Carter’s entire campaign. Nixonian spin that Muskie cried once. Whatever the hell was going on in 2016. You can usually make some sense out of it in retrospect but the reality is that nominations turn on things that are fairly random, which is why it really is up to party elites to winnow out people who are flat-out unacceptable (as Republicans largely declined to do with Trump).

So it’s entirely possible you get the combination of someone whose shtick catches fire at just the right time to lead to a fluke wave into a nomination, and then wins the presidency based on favorable fundamentals. Well, more than possible, it’s happened more than once, even before the modern presidential system. But considering who won last year, you clearly don’t have to be a genius of any sort to get to the White House. If Trump were a genius (or even just sorta good), he could have splintered Democrats off the bat by giving Schumer and Pelosi the infrastructure bill they wanted. If he were even moderately good at this, he’d issue a veto threat against anything resembling the Republicans’ ripoff tax bill. Because it’s also a bill that lets Democrats run against him like they ran against Mittens.

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Honestly I’m still not sure I have much to say about this. Democrats regularly purge their sex offender politicians and Republicans don’t because Democrats do not believe that they are so inherently virtuous that they are above basic morality and Republicans do believe that. Perhaps not all, but enough do. I’m not sure how you really explain Donald Trump, let alone Roy Moore, or even their atrocity of a tax plan, without this. People are so amazed that Trump has such lofty numbers among evangelicals but really, why wouldn’t he? As Moore shows even more clearly, these are people who are singlemindedly obsessed with how awful liberals are to such an extent that a single “whatabout” red herring is enough for them to forget any reservations and support a pedophile who also has insane views about society, religion, et al. There simply isn’t a parallel there.

FWIW I do view Roy Moore supporters as moral degenerates but not out of any inherent quality, simply because of what they do.

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Bill Clinton really cared about Israel-Palestine, and so did George Bush Sr. George W. Bush didn’t. I mean, there were buzzwords like “roadmap” and “Annapolis,” but unlike his daddy he didn’t want to ruffle any Israeli feathers. I think Obama cared somewhat but he also wasn’t willing to ruffle any Israeli feathers until he was practically out the door, which kind of made any progress there impossible. Trump seems to care in an abstract sense as some kind of big deal to be made that would redound glory to himself, though of course he doesn’t really care about peace. The amazing (and stupid) thing is that he doesn’t seem to think that giving free major concessions to one side is going to harm the negotiations in any way. I mean, if he didn’t give a shit he could just say nothing about it, but he talks about it a lot. Does he really think he can do both? The Art of the Deal, I suppose.

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I can’t even comprehend how shitty this game must be.

The Plot: James Kirk, uneasy with retirement, decides to go out on the maiden voyage of the brand-new Enterprise-B. The ship almost gets destroyed by an energy ribbon and Kirk apparently dies saving it. Meanwhile Seventy-eight years later, the Enterprise-D finds a survivor of a Klingon raid who also happens to have been one of the people Kirk saved who is obsessed with that same ribbon, which it turns out is the gateway to The Nexus. Picard gets into The Nexus through the back door and enlists one James Kirk to help him out. Together they save the day, and Kirk dies in a not terribly-befitting way (though the original conception of his death was a lot worse):

What Works: Usually for a screenplay written by more than one person, it’s not easy to figure out who wrote what. But with this one (and also, to an extent, with First Contact), it’s almost comically easy, and not just because some parts are shit and others aren’t (though mainly that). Generations doesn’t benefit from the team-up of Brannon Braga and Ron Moore. It’s a team-up that on paper could have worked but in reality doesn’t: both have different strengths but rather than complementing each other they sort of clash. Yes, this is part of “what works” in that Moore’s scenes largely do. Picard’s scene with Troi where he talks about his family dying, for example, is so Moore-ian that the only thing missing is an honorable, beaten-down warrior to get the entire package. Picard’s scene with Data in Stellar Cartography is also Moore-ian and quite good. Some of the exchanges between Picard and Soran are interesting too. In essence, a lot of the stuff about death and what it means to be human is good, in isolation at least.

I actually like how the Enterprise looks in this movie. Sue me. It looks cool and cinematic.

What Doesn’t Work: Oh good lord.

Star Trek Generations is a movie that simply couldn’t have been good, not with the basic framework and concepts it was playing with. I actually do not think that is true of a lot of the other lesser movies in the series. But man alive is it true for this one. The real problem here is the lack of a strong theme. As I stated, there are some strong individual moments, and there might have been a way to tie in the destruction of the Enterprise-D and Kirk’s death into a theme of mortality. But honestly we’ve kind of been there, done that with this series. Kirk’s mortality was examined pretty thoroughly in The Wrath Of Khan and The Undiscovered Country, i.e., the prior movie in the series. Actually killing him off after all that seems kind of pointless. More than kind of, in fact. It seems perverse to me to have a character have a triumph over age in one movie and then just kill him off in the next.

The thing is, even if we buy this as a movie about morality, why the fuck are we dealing with Data’s emotion chip? Or spending countless minutes with the Duras sisters? And then there’s the Nexus, which strikes me as one of the worst takes on heaven ever put to screen. It’s really just Adam Sandler’s Click, only with a spare Guinan in place of a remote control. The real problem with this to me is that giving people control of what they see in this way just kills the illusion, not to mention that it populates characters that are not living, contradicting the person’s memory. It takes no time at all for Picard to piece it together. Admittedly, it’s very hard to envision heaven, but positing it as a souped-up DVD player is really unimaginative. There’s probably some similar version of this concept that could have been fine but it’s not this one. I’ll give Patrick Stewart credit for selling it as best he can, but this just doesn’t work. Nor does Kirk’s beat of being tempted by the Nexus. It’s so pointless to simply redo life experiences in a shifting timeframe that bears no relationship to actual reality. It really gets the fantasy all wrong.

I don’t really want to talk about the awfulness of Data’s comic relief in this. It’s just really unfunny and bad for the character. Having the ending be an action setpiece, though, really begins what was so wrong about the Berman-era movies. The climax of The Undiscovered Country had a ship-to-ship fight and then a little gunplay, but really the heart of it was Kirk’s emotional epiphany and renewed optimism. With this movie, the climax really just is all explosions and punches. They devote half an hour to all of this, more if you include the “original” version of events, before history is changed.

This movie doesn’t often get included as a Wrath Of Khan ripoff but if you think about it, it really is. Picard is having an crisis over his mortality, Kirk sets him straight before sacrificing himself, then Picard’s gone through it at the end a little older and wiser. Supposedly. The emotional beats are, largely, the same. But the emotional resonance is seriously not there. There’s no David, no real concrete thing he’s gained from the process. The speech about time at the end of the film to Riker just kind of feels hollow and unearned as a result. Kirk at the end of Khan seems to have pivoted into a different phase of his life. They want us to think that this happened to Picard, but it didn’t. And, also, Kirk didn’t really mean anything to him personally, and neither did Soran. This really is the beginning of the dreaded formula.

Also, Malcolm McDowell totally phones it in as Soran. The moment where Picard comes at him with the Borg thing is the one moment where I feel he really is dialed into the character, otherwise, not so much. Still, this is probably on the higher end of projects that McDowell took after his prime era.

Also too, the score is wholly unmemorable. The Berman era truly is upon us.

Legacy: Well, it was so poor that it gave us the first Plinkett review, so that’s something. Mostly it’s just forgotten. No doubt it has its fans, but I’ve never met one.

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No.

It’s weird and I don’t get it. George H.W. Bush’s reputation increased during the Dubya era but it basically went from “meh” to “meh-plus” which is fine. It’s about where he belongs, I have no issue with that. But to go from “George W. Bush was the worst president ever” to “I guess he was fine” among Democrats is really, really weird. I get that people really, really hate Trump in a way that redefines the curve, which is fair enough, but what is there suddenly to like about Bush, to the extent that he gets majority-favorable ratings from Democrats on polls now? I mean, most of the things that liberals fear Trump doing–using a terror attack to suspend civil liberties, crashing the economy, getting us involved in a disastrous war of choice–are all things that George W. Bush actually did. He set up the template for a bad Republican president that we’re now worried Trump will follow, which he fully hasn’t yet. It’s true that Dubya wasn’t a rampant misogynist or an open bigot toward multiple nationalities like Trump, but he was also really dumb and had massive character flaws that rendered him unfit to be president. And people who are mad about the Republican tactics over the tax bill (as they should be!) are forgetting that Bush Republicans fired the Senate Parliamentarian when he told them what they didn’t want to hear on taxes, violated House norms to pass Medicare D, outright bribed a guy on the House floor and did a mid-decade redistricting of Texas in their favor just ’cause they could. And much more besides. I mean, perhaps Trump, Ryan and McConnell will get there one day, but that’s a lot of really horrible shit that has yet to come close to being lived up to. Do we really want to reduce all that to a guy who talked funny and spoke sort of respectfully about groups that he didn’t do shit for?

TL;DR Bush nostalgics, stop it. Republicans were bad then, and they’re bad now. And frankly, the scariest ones are the ones who would easily have fit in with the Bush people, like H.R. McMaster.

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Here’s a good piece on why we should cool it a bit with George Orwell. There’s no denying the man’s literary genius, and he does have a lot to offer, but it is undeniable that far too many people have made him a mascot for their causes, including a lot of causes we know he would have wanted nothing to do with. His writing is so romantic, dramatic, and cut and dried morally. Really, anybody who gets to be such an unassailable argument-ender should be reappraised regardless. Also, as Judah notes, he was not such a fan of the Jews. Probably had a lot to do with the times but that’s the danger in elevating anybody into an all-time conscience of humanity on everything. Because that’s impossible. We’re all prisoners of our times.

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Is it wrong that I’m just a little excited to find out which shitty sexually harassing media/politics dudes are going to fall next? Not only does it mean fewer awful guys with power harassing people, but the guys in question (aside from Al Franken) range from worthless to outright awful at their jobs. Okay, maybe Kevin Spacey is a good actor, though his best work in the ’90s is equivalent to Jack Nicholson’s best work in the ’70s, before each became a movie star with a defined persona that they just riffed off in everything they did after a point. But he’s sort of a unique case in all this. Not that the poor women who had to suffer advances from Matt Lauer or Brett Ratner or Charlie Rose were “worth it” in making them go, but it is good that they’re gone.

Anybody you’re sort of surprised hasn’t come up yet? Honestly, Alec Baldwin and Chris Cillizza are moderate surprises. Just sort of seem like the types.

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The thing that I really can’t stand from Democrats is when there’s an issue identified with the party that they also hold, but they try to pretend they don’t hold it or just talk around it ad infinitum. Think Alison Lundergan Grimes’s famous unwillingness to say whether or not she voted for Obama. I blame this 100% on Bill Clinton, with all his “I would have voted with the majority but I agreed with the minority,” “Safe, legal and rare,” “Smoked but didn’t inhale” nonsense. Somehow every Democrat from a red area decided to emulate this behavior and it’s been a complete disaster for the party. You can’t run away from what the party is. (Obviously, you have some Democrats who differ from the party on what I’d describe as core values and in the case of Joe Manchin or Heidi Heitkamp, you gotta do what you gotta do to win in those states, and a Republican would be way worse than them. But they actually disagree with those policies. They’re not just pretending to.)

All of this is by way of saying that I really, really hope that Doug Jones wins next week. Honestly, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the guy and his win could maybe change some things for Democrats, given the visibility of the race. Jones hasn’t bullshitted on abortion and has run a tough campaign based on a message that he thinks would appeal to his electorate. That’s how it’s supposed to work! Not trying to obscure every single goddamn issue that cuts against you, having your message be focus-grouped garbage and just hoping that the Republican is so unacceptable that you win by default. It’s sad that Jones’s campaign is so noteworthy for doing the obvious things but it is, and too many others haven’t.

This idea of sanding off every rough edge just fails every time, it just makes people see you as untrustworthy. Not everybody is going to like any politician, nor should they. And just in case you want to argue that it worked for Bill Clinton, I’m really not sure that it did. Look at any poll from his presidency and you’ll find that upward of 60% of the country mistrusted him. That wasn’t entirely the work of the right-wing conspiracy. It’s because he wanted everybody to like him and he told everybody what they wanted to hear. That’s the real motivation of the no hard edges strategy, not any political goal. Admittedly, the economy of the ’90s was so fucking good that it mattered not at all. But this wasn’t a brilliant innovation of his, honestly, it was a liability that was generally outweighed.

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