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Just Wrong

Hard to see how he sinks any lower from here, but who knows. At first it was kind of a curiosity that he was favoring comedies so heavily, though as much as I didn’t care for them it’s hard to deny that Meet The Parents and Analyse This were basically successful films on their own terms. Now it’s frankly bizarre that he’s taking roles that could plausibly be portrayed by Rob Schneider, though Schneider’s comedy skill set remains vastly superior to De Niro’s, which in the computer science game would be known as a null set (or, perhaps, a set with one item, if you count mugging as an item). It’s as though Michael Jordan were still playing minor-league baseball today for some reason. I can’t explain it.

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This weekend, the Des Moines Register issued its endorsements for its preferred candidates in both the Democratic and Republican races: Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio, respectively. These two articles make for extremely strange reading. Clinton’s endorsement is fairly straightforward and unsurprising, and the whole thing goes along the expected, establishmentarian lines: she’s experienced and accomplished, as evidenced by her history of working with Republicans and securing sanctions against Iran (which…are now gone…and it’s unclear if she’s satisfied with this or not). The article dings her for the goddamn email fracas, which was about 15% Hillary doing something stupid and 85% “fuck it, where there’s smoke there’s fire, let’s run with it” MSM nonsense, of which even bringing it up now seems pathetic, like someone calling into a radio station now to request Steve Forbert. And this is particularly obtuse:

Her changing stance on gay marriage, immigration and other issues has invited accusations that she is guided less by personal conviction than by political calculations. She refutes that, and argues persuasively that a willingness to change one’s thinking on specific issues, while remaining true to what she calls “the same values and principles,” is a virtue, one lacking in most politicians.

This is the flipside of having all that experience: you leave behind a record. Some things look good in retrospect, some things not so good. At this point, other than a basically good economy, virtually all the major accomplishments of the Clinton Administration are hated by Democrats and either disowned or forgotten (or distorted) by the Clintons themselves. You won’t see Chelsea Clinton bragging about how happy her mother was when NAFTA passed, or Bill boasting about signing the prison-busting crime bill, or Hillary herself touting the various gay-bashing and banker-friendly bills her husband signed, ever. (It’s entirely possible that they may brag about the DMCA in private techno confabs, the unsung abomination of Clinton I.) “Experience” is again treated as some kind of abstract currency rather than something specific, which a personal pet peeve–in the foreign policy realm, of course, her experience seems to lead her to promoting the same disastrous policies again and again. And again. Time being a flat circle, you see. But these are mostly gripes, it’s a reasonable case overall.

It’s in the Rubio endorsement that it becomes a bizarre, reality-warping experience, starting as a ridiculous non-case that twists into a strange semi-nonendorsement. The criteria the DMR board uses to evaluate Clinton are the length and depth of her experience, her record of accomplishment, and her ability to shift to accommodate the political environment. So it’s bizarre that the same editorial board would endorse Rubio, who has little experience, essentially no record of accomplishment, and with only one recanted exception has remained a dogmatic hard-liner throughout his senatorial tenure. One might expect an editorial board making presidential endorsements to apply the same criteria to candidates of both parties, regardless of ideology. That is, simply, not the case. Rubio is frequently given credit for things that are ridiculously implausible, like standing up for worker’s rights:

Republicans have the opportunity to define their party’s future in this election. They could choose anger, pessimism and fear. Or they could take a different path.

The party could channel that frustration and pursue true reform. It could renounce its fealty to the economic elite and its fixation with tax cuts for the wealthy.

It could instead emphasize the interests of the middle class and promote policies, not just rhetoric, that champion workers, families and small businesses. It could be the party of opportunity and optimism.

This is the opening of the article, and it’s not hard-headed realism, it’s straight-up fantasy. Rubio seems unlikely to sign the Employee Free Choice Act as his party has set out to destroy unions outright. A candidate (Rubio again) who has proposed a tax cut that dwarfs G.W. Bush’s seems unlikely to break the Republicans’ addiction to tax cuts for the wealthy. The Register is setting up Rubio as the candidate of “opportunity and optimism,” even though most recently he’s bragged about buying a gun to defend his family from ISIS. Nope, no anger, pessimism, or fear there.

It is pretty clear at this point that the DMR board (how close it is to DNR, just saying) has either completely bought into Rubio’s spin, or has devolved into Norma Desmond-level delusions about Senator Rubio. It acts as though Rubio is coming up with mind-blowing new ideas, like…vocational training (a major policy priority of George W. Bush) and job retraining (a favorite of globalist Democrats for decades), along with classic privatization and deregulation cant. And there’s also this, “He’d require a cost-benefit analysis of federal regulations.” It may not surprise you that this is standard practice, though apparently the Register thought this akin to some sort of flying automobile. Either Rubio genuinely doesn’t know this happens already or doesn’t believe it, or figures he can cynically use it to make it seem as though he actually has an original idea on what to do. But as we now know, he doesn’t have a single idea, not one. He staffs that out:

Dur­ing his speech, Ru­bio—dressed in a dark suit with a red rose on his left lapel—asked House mem­bers to ex­am­ine their desks. In­side, law­makers found, wrapped in gift pa­per, a hard­cov­er book titled 100 In­nov­at­ive Ideas For Flor­ida’s Fu­ture. It was blank. Ru­bio then told his vis­ibly per­plexed col­leagues that they would fill in the pages to­geth­er dur­ing the run-up to his speak­er­ship. The ideas would come from or­din­ary Flor­idi­ans, he said, and mem­bers would col­lect them at town hall-style meet­ings called “idear­aisers.”

And just in case the silliness of this isn’t apparent, there’s this:

The gam­bit quickly won rave re­views from na­tion­al fig­ures, in­clud­ing Newt Gin­grich, who called the concept “a work of geni­us.”

QED. This is all standard nonsense. But the bizarre thing is that the article eventually just stops bothering to make the case for Rubio and just asks a bunch of questions about his policy plans, character, work ethic, and initiative, that range from fair to naive. (“Will his ideas truly help that struggling single mom or debt-laden student? Or will his loyalty to wealthy donors win out?”) Clinton is the most known of commodities, to be sure, and there aren’t too many questions about what she’d do as president, and not every politician is quite so well-known, but in Rubio’s case it’s frankly amazing that even in an endorsement of a candidate the board basically just left half the test blank. It’s as though they were no longer able to even entertain the fantasy version of Rubio that they sort of believed in. This is the triumphant close:

We hope Marco Rubio and his party take a different path, one that can lead to the opportunity and optimism he so eloquently articulates.

That’s the endorsement? Why even endorse the guy at all? The answer appears to be, basically, because they personally liked the guy and his message and because they’ve taken to playing pundit:

That hope rests partly in the electoral calculus of the country. Republicans should have learned from 2012 that they cannot win with Republicans alone. Recent polling shows Rubio has higher favorability ratings among independents than all candidates but Ben Carson, as well as positive ratings among Latinos. […]

The editorial board also values the executive experience, pragmatism and thoughtful policies of John Kasich, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush. Yet most Republicans aren’t interested in rewarding a long resume this year. They want new and different.

There’s none of this shit in the Clinton endorsement. Their case for Clinton is made on real things she’s done. It’s sort of a shocking indictment of the superficiality of this particular corner of the mainstream media: sure, we could endorse John Kasich, that would make the most sense based on our criteria for endorsing Clinton, he’s the most experienced, relatively moderate candidate, and heck, he’s also from the Midwest! But he’s very unlikely to do well here, and we’re certainly not picking Trump or Ted Cruz, so we have to come up with a case for Rubio. They managed half a case, and an unconvincing one at that, one that they seemed to just tack stuff onto at the end, such that the last few sentences are unintentionally highlighted. Seriously, read the thing: you’ll have more questions after you’re done than before. One senses that endorsing someone with no chance of winning (Kasich, Christie, Bush) because they’re putting it all into New Hampshire is the sort of thing that demeans the power that is a Des Moines Register endorsement, and that’s fundamentally why third-placer Rubio got the nod. Demeaning avoided.

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Bernie Sanders is honing in on the right argument:

“I think on the crucial foreign policy issue of our time, it turns out that Secretary Clinton, with all of her experience, was wrong and I was right,” Sanders said. “Experience is important. [Former vice president] Dick Cheney had a lot of experience. A whole lot of people have experience but do not necessarily have the right judgment. I think I have the right judgment to conduct sensible foreign policy.”

The Iraq focus actually weakens the argument, as it was 14 years ago and has been put to bed as an active issue in Democratic party politics. Better to integrate it into a pattern of behavior that includes Libya–which was a smaller-scale version of the same mistake as Iraq, in that it assumed destroying a government would do anything other than create a vacuum, leading to a civil war, violent extremism and all the rest. And she (along with most of Washington) wants to do much the same in Syria. It’s about people who think that getting the bad guys = peacefreedomcapitalismdemocracy. It doesn’t. That’s what you say.

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The only way to interpret this is that Hillary needs more Haim Saban bucks because her crappy, triangulating campaign is faring poorly in the early state polls. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll vote for her if she gets the Democratic nomination. But there’s no earthly reason to settle until we need to.

By the way, Bernie Sanders isn’t a much better candidate when you get down to it. Her saying to lay back on the sanctions Obama just took off of Iran would be what you might call a point that undermined her embrace of the Obama record. It’s to Sanders’s credit that he’s gotten this far, but it is brutal to see all these missed opportunities.

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I have less than no use for Ted Cruz, but this mainly just shows how silly the “natural born” requirement is to be president. Seriously, we’re going to let 14th century English law settle who our president is going to be? It might or might not mean born within the United States exclusively, but could this language, in all its absurdity, be used to keep someone delivered by C-section from becoming president? It seems as though it could be read that way–recall that Macbeth was done in by a similar loophole. The phrase is ambiguous at best, and deliberately obscure at worst, and given what I know of lawyers and how they draft documents, obscure terms are only used if obscurity is the objective. Given that my basic take on the Founding Fathers is that, among other things, they came up with as many ways as possible to subvert the democratic will of the people as they could, inserting some vague language may well have been such a feature to be used later, if needed. Who knows? But it seems less than useless at this point.

In any event, I’m still waiting for a solid argument as to why someone who undergoes the severe vetting of a presidential campaign and is able to convince most Americans (or so) to vote for them should not be able to become president if that person was born in another country, as opposed to governor of a state or a Supreme Court Justice. There’s just no argument there.

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Here’s something for a somewhat gloomy day (damn you, Powerball). It’s a sad story, but the music will haunt you.  Read the whole article, it’s fascinating.

Dan Dzula first heard Connie Converse’s music on NPR in 2004. It was an amateur recording, taken in someone’s kitchen, but he felt an intense emotional connection to the woman behind the song. It was unlike anything he’d ever experienced before. 

“I had a very instant read on it,” Dzula remembers. “Her music was so wonderful to me that it just seemed obvious a record would come out soon.”

At the time, Converse was what the music industry calls “undiscovered talent.” She had never released an album, never signed to a label, never even really performed in public. Dzula, a music producer and recording artist making his living in advertising, was sure a record label would snatch her up in no time. When time passed and no album came out, Dzula realized hecould produce her.

There was just one problem: nobody knew where Connie Converse was.

And nobody had for a long, long time. One day, she had just packed her life into a Volkswagen bug, sent goodbye letters to her friends and family, and was never heard from again. That was in 1974. She had recorded the tape Dzula heard back in the 1950s.

 

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So nobody seems to have noticed this fairly significant milestone. Reading this contemporary article about the war vote is quite interesting. For one thing, it’s surprising to see just how close Desert Storm came to not happening. The Senate vote was 52-47, a surprising squeaker of a vote. Under today’s filibuster norms, the filibuster would not have been broken. It’s sort of mindblowing, really, in so many ways. Nowadays, presidents just decide to have a war, and Congress doesn’t vote. It seems an eternity since that wasn’t the case, though it wasn’t all that long ago in the grand scheme.

I don’t really blame Bush 41 for the hell that broke loose later on after the taboo on use of force had officially been lifted–the guy truly did believe in restraint, to the unrelenting fury of the neocons who went on to make that trait radioactive in Republican foreign policy, but who ironically made the strongest case for it when their Iraq misadventure backfired. It’s probably overstating the case to say that the Gulf War and the collapse of the USSR at the end of the same year together were what moved America into its present hypermilitaristic state–it’s not as though the military-industrial complex went away after 1972 and Reagan in particular was as interventionist as he could be, regularly attempting to circumvent Congressional bans on helping right-wing militias topple left-wing governments and such, though rarely was he able to use brute force. But certainly those two events were pivotal steps down the path to 1997, which was the year when our it became apparent our elites had decided we’d had enough peace already–that was the year when President Clinton replaced non-hawk Warren Christopher with ultra-hawk Madeleine Albright at the State Department, who along with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair (first elected the same year) did much to get Bill Clinton to become even more involved in complicated international messes than he had before, including Iraq. That was also the year that the Project for a New American Century opened its doors–its brand of shoot-first hawkery had all but conquered the GOP by the end of the decade, with most of the holdouts (Colin Powell, Chuck Hagel, Dick Lugar, Linc Chafee) reduced to waging impotent opposition at best before leaving office early. By the next year, elites had already begun trying to sell us on a new era of conflict in ways that are in retrospect obvious–it’s no coincidence that Tom Brokaw published his insult to everyone born after 1925 in 1998–“greatest” is a comparison term, after all, and if the WWII Generation was the greatest because they fought the war, what does that make everyone else, and why? But that book and Kristol’s WWII obsession give away the game: it’s on some level about Baby Boomers who want their own WWII. Rather than being thankful that we don’t have to fight one, these folks seemingly can’t live their lives without the thought of being involved in a similar conflict. So we got “islamofascism” and “Axis of Evil” and endless Churchill at Munich analogies, which are not only silly but deeply pathetic, an attempt to hijack the glory of that “good” war. But President Obama is correct–the Middle East poses security problems to the West, but no existential threat on par with the Nazis. Dangerous and damaging as they are, the Bill Kristols of the world seem simply pathetic, desperate to live in a historical moment that they have the luxury not to live in. And the effective use of American military power on a large scale in the Gulf War undoubtedly did much to goad this along, not only breaking the taboo and changing public attitudes toward military force, but burnishing the Republican Party’s durable foreign policy advantage in the 1990s, which was certainly part of why Bush 43 was trusted to mess with Iraq. Again, not Bush 41’s fault per se. But historically speaking, something we would have been better off not doing.

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