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I wrote my silly little piece about yesterday’s debate last night because I found the entirety of the debate to be silly, meriting no real deep analysis. For the most part, it was eleven grown-ups alternating between truthy bullshit and rageful hysteria, a setup for the punchline that one of these people will actually wind up with a decent chance of being President of the United States. It’s hilarious that they spent any time arguing over whether Donald Trump passes muster when you have Huckabee’s bad acid trip, Rubio’s apparent attempt to steal Dinesh D’Souza’s act and offer the nation a bunch of alarmist hypothetical future nonsense, Carson sounding like some civilian who they just picked off the street, etc. If this country had a press that wasn’t full of cynics and people just generally ignorant of policy, politics and power, todays headlines would have been in the vein of, “Major Political Party’s Collapse Embarrassingly Caught On National Television.” On foreign affairs, the attitudes ranged from war right away (Christie) to let’s wait until we get a good pretext for war (Kasich). Shibboleths of resolve and respect were invoked repeatedly with no pushback. On domestic policy, virtually all of these folks tried to sound like they supported the stupidest government shutdown in history while maintaining plausible deniability, with the exceptions of Cruz, who outright favored it, and Kasich, who seemed to oppose it due to past experiences, not because of the facts of the situation. And then there was that time when several candidates played footsie with anti-vaxxers. All in all, a tough night for the sorts of people who need to find “sane” Republicans in which to put an unrealistic amount of hope and then still hold up as some example of something long after any kind of relevance, i.e. the narrative-obsessed political press, you know, the ones who still talk to John McCain every weekend for some reason.

Still, while “All these people are crazy” would have been an awesome headline if the left had a Murdoch-style tabloid (HuffPo doesn’t count since Murdoch pays his writers), there was never any chance of that. So, instead, the narrative-smiths went to work and came up with a result that hit me with equal amounts of dismay and giddy enthusiasm: this was Carly’s night! No less a narrative master than Joe Klein had the hubris to argue that this debate had given a blueprint to neutralize Donald Trump (as if Trump’s success in the polls came from this sort of setting) and hailed Fiorina and, tellingly, Rubio as standouts. Rubio does indeed speak fluently, but the content is utter nonsense, little different from the discredited neocon pabulum of a Dick Cheney. Proving, perhaps, that the media only dings people who aren’t polished media presenters, the sort of clubbish bullshit that everybody recognizes and properly hates them for. But it is Fiorina’s performance that is shaking up the intertubes. And it should be admitted that Fiorina has a command of the conventions of modern political debating: the theatricality of her abortion bit was well-executed, sure, and she provided enough moments of drama to be endlessly replayed on Morning Joe and such over the next couple of days. She even managed to fight Donald Trump to a draw on their respective business records, which is frankly nuts if you think about it. Whatever you might say about Trump’s failed businesses–remember when he tried to start an airline?–it’s nowhere near the devastation that Fiorina visited upon HP. I lived quite near their corporate headquarters during this time, had lots of friends whose parents worked there. It wasn’t exactly like a Bruce Springsteen song or anything, though I did know people who lost jobs there, but the universal feeling was that Fiorina cared more about being featured in business magazines than in effectively managing the company, which in any event she seemed to have little talent at doing. Her lame excuse that the dot-com bubble bursting wrecked HP’s fortunes just isn’t going to cut it as her tenure corresponded with Apple’s big resurgence, the success of Dell, etc. Companies that took chunks out of HP’s market share while HP was reeling from a merger that Fiorina did not inherit and was not forced to make. People were buying fucking computers and digital cameras in the early aughts–lots of them!–even though a bunch of ill-conceived web ventures went belly-up. There’s no argument there, merely distraction.

But focusing solely on HP ignores her vast history of failure that has been exhaustively documented on this blog. To paraphrase Pesci’s character from Casino, this gal could fuck up a cup of coffee. The fact that she threw away the Republicans’ best chance to win a California Senate seat in decades and then had a hand in the party’s embarrassing 2012 Senate failure, along with getting yanked as a McCain campaign surrogate, should convince Republican elites even if her business record doesn’t that this woman is a walking disaster who has no business being anywhere the main stage. But it hasn’t. Fiorina is the perfect match for a party in denial about its history since she is, like St. Ronald Reagan, in complete denial of her own, including her apparent belief that she’s an “outsider” even though everything she’s done since branching into politics has been thanks to party contacts, certainly not due to her own record of escalating failures. And this makes her the perfect match for a party that likes to deploy rhetoric about meritocracy but is in reality committed to consolidating power among a small circle of insiders. She doesn’t have to learn that double game, she lives it. No failure is too great to wreck the reputation of someone who is on the inside, after all, as D’Souza, Ralph Reed, etc. have continually proven. I would say that she could be the Republicans’ presidential nominee except that it’s going to be impossible to paper over the HP problem. Romney’s record could be (and was) interpreted in multiple ways, but Fiorina’s can only be interpreted as a story of overreaching, incompetence and failure. But my original prediction stands, in fact, the probability of her failing upward to a veep nomination is I think an especially good possibility now. It will be amusing to see how she blows that up too.

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Lev filed this under: , ,  

MV5BMTUzMjAzMjMyMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTUzNDIyMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR1,0,214,317_AL_A couple of observations:

  • An hour and a half in, and neither Rubio, nor Walker, nor (especially) Bush has had the Big Night that they were said to need. Bush in particular managed to diminish himself on almost every exchange, often trying to hit Trump but frequently and never really threatening the latter’s control on things. Walker really doesn’t belong here, and most likely won’t be for much longer. Easily the most inert thing on stage, including his podium.
  • Obviously, I’m a wildly biased observer, so take this with whatever quantity of salt you wish. But Carly Fiorina has to have one of the least appealing personalities of any politician to reach this point I’ve ever seen. Obviously, she can talk, and she has some command of details and specifics. She sounds credible even when saying nutty things. But there is a brittleness and a coldness that is frankly remarkable in such a public-facing role, not to mention an unfortunate tendency toward sour looks (i.e. defensiveness) when being challenged, and further not to mention that she is clearly a member of the club of people who should never, ever, ever smile (which also includes Bob Filner and Steve Buscemi). No trace of humor or charm (which Christie possesses in spades), and no apparent ability to project hope or optimism, even (especially?) when launching furious attacks. Their beloved Reagan could pull that off, recall. Obviously personality isn’t the only or most important characteristic in a potential president. But let’s face it, most people connect to politicians through personality, or at least the personality projected to the public. Fiorina is well suited to be an attack dog but I can’t imagine she has any real fans. Say what you will about Trump, but he can do all the things she can’t.
  • I don’t get Ben Carson at all. But I do get Trump. Even if you think of him as a racist, vulgar buffoon as I do, there’s no denying that he’s fun to watch. “Higher energy today Jeb, I like it!” Come on, that’s fucking funny.
  • Kasich did fairly well, and should probably continue to rise. Christie did pretty well as well–this is definitely his arena–but he has no chance. Everyone else both boring and crazy, a uniquely modern Republican combination.

All in all, not a ton of surprises–Tapper intended to stir up conflict and aside from Trump, none of the other candidates took the bait. Trump definitely seems to have taken some steps forward as a candidate–even though the topic of the first twenty minutes was basically, “Is Donald Trump a joke?” it is now patently clear that he isn’t one, nor is he the craziest person on stage. It’s passe to think of him as any more of a joke than Huckabee or Cruz or Carson. They’re all jokes. Except maybe for Kasich? I dunno. I can’t believe they expect people to sit through three hours of this.

Lev filed this under: , ,  

Spend it with Mort:

Why do I find Downey so fascinating? The rapidity of the rise and fall narrative, of course, along with the multivariate nature of his ambitions (at one point, he even tried to break into country music). But his views could defy easy categorization: find me any other right-wing media personality who would go to Harlem and spend an hour insulting and belittling neo-Nazis and white supremacists. It’s interesting. Most of his successors I think just want to avoid antagonizing all that potential audience (while also not mentally accepting that they are a potential audience). I also feel like for liberals who want to understand the emotional appeal of FOX News, watching this clip provides a pretty excellent hit of it, as Downey is more or less on the liberal end of the issue but he’s using his usual approach.

Lev filed this under: ,  

Is why Republicans, despite knowing full well that the best (only?) way to stop Donald Trump is to simply ignore him and freeze him out, have chosen not to do so. I honestly don’t know why this hasn’t happened, it seems so utterly obvious that this has to happen. Partly I think it’s a collective action problem: for it to work everybody would have to do it, and the media wing of the party has shown no interest in doing this whatsoever, so individual candidates have been unable to ignore him. Roger Ailes may or may not desperately want a non-Trump Republican President, but he indisputably wants ratings. Perhaps it’s the whole toughness/The Last American Male thing that leads doughy middle-aged desk-pushers like Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal and Bill Kristol–men who between them may have one successful arm-wrestle in their lives–to show that they do indeed possess cojones by refusing to take a passive, wussy strategy that might work and instead going on the attack, which is of course in keeping with Kristol’s past. At any rate, we keep hearing about Jeb Bush attacking Trump and Bobby Jindal attacking Trump and Billy Cristal attacking Trump and the Grand Republican Plan to attack Trump, coming out in a Friedman Unit or two, no doubt. It’s done not a goddamn thing. Apparently his fans don’t care that he held (holds?) some lefty positions, since his tone is correct and he has the right priorities (to them). And Jindal’s attacks were not merely ineffective, but immediately damaging to himself, simply reminding people of what a goddamn dork he is.

I’m not sure I’m ready to think that these clowns are actually going to fail to stop Trump from wrecking the entire party, but I must admit, if these guys would rather spend their time trying to convince some unknown audience that they’re all tough macho men while on their way to losing, it does give a person hope.

I’m not really prepared to evaluate Trevor Noah’s credentials as a comedian and potential talk show host–all I know of him is the interview from this episode of WTF from nearly two years ago, which was informative and interesting but that I don’t recall being that funny. What is at this point quite easy to evaluate, sadly, is that he’s not very good at the whole “talking to the media thing” and seems to have some flimsy notions about sensitive issues that he then, unfortunately, talks about:

“I don’t agree with the notion that there are no women in comedy,” Noah told the publication. “I would even argue that women are more powerful than men in comedy right now. If you look at the top comedy actors, Melissa McCarthy by far is killing most of the numbers of other actors. You look at Amy Schumer right now—I would argue that there is no more preeminent voice in comedy. Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, their movies coming out.”

First off, obviously there are women in comedy, this particular controversy was that they weren’t represented in the Vanity Fair picture (or indeed in late night hosting gigs, as Chelsea Handler has left the scene). It’s pretty silly to say that women are more powerful than men on the basis of several successful female comedians, particularly given Hollywood’s chronic (and undoubtedly fixable) deficits of female executives, writers, directors, and even actors, not to mention the blatantly obvious truth that far more male-oriented than female-oriented films get made. Noah’s argument is superficial rather than trenchant and doesn’t get to the depths in which this particular power imbalance resides. It is true that in recent years we have seen more mainstream releases for mainstream audiences starring women, though as the Vanity Fair picture reminds, there is still quite a lot of ground to make up.

In all fairness, the point Noah was trying to make is apparent enough: he’s welcoming the strides women are making in the field and encouraging them. If Noah were just another comedian, I’d be the first one to say to just lay off the guy, his heart is in the right place, perhaps he’s just not great off the cuff. But Noah is taking over one of the media’s toughest gigs, filling the shoes of one of our age’s most popular, accomplished and incisive media critics. Polished media presentation–not to mention intellectual and political sophistication–seem to be a pretty obvious prerequisites for the job and it increasingly seems that Noah doesn’t have enough of them. I’m not rooting for him to fail or anything but I just don’t know about this whole situation.

Lev filed this under: , , ,  

Gary Younge has a very good explanation of why it happened and what it all means going forward. I’d just like to say that I doubt that Corbyn’s staunch noninterventionist views will hurt him much, as this amounts to groupthink among media commentators and elites on both sides of the Atlantic. Public opinion measurements have portrayed the British public as much less inclined to commit to military interventions as their elites in the major parties. They just don’t care much about Great Britain’s ability to project power globally, so if anything, this could be a potent wedge issue for Corbyn. The real danger is if Corbyn’s gamble is wrong, and the gains from absentee voters and defectors to other parties aren’t enough to build a majority. But it is at least a plan and this is more than the Blair wing was able to articulate.

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New Order releasing new music for first time in over a decade. This is pretty good:

Yeah, I know, I have been AWOL from you good people for a while now. Partly it’s due to work things: I work for a major telecom and early fall is traditionally a crazy time thanks to sports packages rolling over, among other things. Also been doing some traveling as well. And also, there’s only so many things a person can write about Donald Trump, not to mention the sheer underwhelming cast of characters in addition to him. But it’s really the Democratic primary that’s dispiriting to me. Is there a way that a Hillary Clinton presidency wouldn’t be an endless series of “scandals” and foreign adventures that would end with an approval rating in the 30s, deep divisions in the base of the party and a GOP president taking the reins? Wouldn’t that, you know, be a bad thing, something to be avoided? Just saying, Democrats, that ignoring that Clinton’s record is the most mindlessly and consistently hawkish of any Democratic candidate’s since LBJ isn’t going to make that any less real. I suspect that when Clinton tries to outhawk whatever statesman the Republicans nominate as the general election gets underway, there’s going to be a great deal of grumbling that could have been easily avoided. But she served Obama loyally! By being a Secretary of State who seemed to loathe diplomacy as much as Samantha Power hates the UN. Makes sense to someone I guess.


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