Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Finessing Trump

August 16, 2015

It’s like trying to make fun of a clown. What, are you going to make fun of his tiny car? His floppy shoes? It just doesn’t work.  (Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik)

Holkins and Krahulik weren’t talking about Donald Trump, but their observation fits.  He’s unmockable and unshameable.  Can we ignore him?  We don’t have the willpower for that.

So how do you deal with a clown?  Two ways.  The first is to make him boring.  Forget his views on women, Mexicans, or African-Americans.  Quiz him on the dullest possible details of domestic policy.  Not as a gotcha – quite the reverse.  Seriously engage him on ethanol subsidies, single transferable vote, or banking reform.  He will quip his way out of it at first, but eventually the dull will stick.

The most powerful way is by overexposure. We need not less Trump, but more and more and more – until we have heard every crazy thing he might possibly say, and he is as played out as the macarena.  The more airtime we give him, the quicker his 15 minutes will be up, and then we can get back to serious candidates like Huckabee, Cruz, and Martin O’Malley.

(Thanks to John Mount for pointing to the Holkins / Krahulik quote).


Scotland’s choice

September 17, 2014

Scotland is voting on independence, and it’s neck and neck.

It’s unarguable that the United Kingdom has done many significant things, for good and ill. Scottish nationalists like to claim Scotland as a victim of imperialism, but the reality is more complicated. Scots took a leading role in the British Empire, and were as willing to enslave and exploit (and sometimes assist) as the English. To pretend victimization now should draw scorn from those who had a real claim to it.

So why seek independence now, when Scotland has been moving towards greater autonomy? It’s part of the crisis of confidence in the British state. Britons have learned that their society had been rotten to the core for a long while, with rings of sexual abuse and corruption at its highest levels. The windfall of North Sea oil was squandered, and the people’s party led the country into a worse than pointless war with Iraq. The once-proud Liberal party sold all its principles for a Deputy Prime Ministership and a failed attempt at electoral reform. Scotland was caught between uncaring Tories and a Labour party filled with Blairite careerists and time-serving numpties.

Could Scotland be any worse off? Perhaps, if it goes for independence. An independence where the SNP proposes to keep on using the pound and threatens default if it doesn’t get its way. Why do they want to keep the pound? Well, it’s stable, it’s a known quantity, and it makes sense, given the border and close trade relationships between England and Scotland. JUST LIKE THE ENTIRE IDEA OF THE U.K.!

The nationalists would retort that even if there were problems, they could be resolved eventually. And they are right – what is even thirty years of downturn compared to the lifetime of a nation? But that cuts both ways. Eventually Cameron will be as little-remembered as the 1st Viscount Sidmouth, and Britain will continue on, one way or another. Against all the wrongs of the U.K., set the defeat of fascism, the successful union of nations, the benefits of liberty without the harshness of the U.S., the invention of television, and Dr. Who. In the final analysis, the Scots are much more similar than different to the rest of the U.K. And we are all better together.

Notes on Crimea

April 4, 2014

The most important thing about Crimea is that Crimea is not that important.  What does it have?  Some beaches that are nice enough if you’ve never seen Hawaii.  A few natural resources.  The Russian Black Sea fleet, their key to projecting power in the Mediterranean, if you forget about Istanbul being in the way.

Putin’s seizing of Crimea is a crime, of course, and one that should be protested, but it’s a curious one – like a mugger who holds you at gunpoint, but is only interested in taking a lucky penny.  In fact, Ukraine is better off without Crimea – it’s poor and full of ethnic minorities suspicious of their central government.  Plus Ukraine no longer has to pay maintenance on the Ukrainian fleet which turned out to be even more useless than the Russian Black Sea fleet.  Crimea was only in Ukraine in the first place because Khrushchev put it there.  Why?  Nobody knows, but then nobody knows why Khrushchev did anything he did.

But isn’t Crimea like the Sudetenland – Russia’s first step to global domination that will end up with the reconquest of Alaska and the annexation of San Francisco’s Russian Hill?  Not really.  First, the Sudetenland was actually useful.  Second, Germany was an economic powerhouse.  And most importantly, the Russians have somehow saddled themselves with nationalism – an ideology even less appealing to the rest of the world than fascism.  The Nazis said most of the rest of the world was fit only to serve Germany, but still managed to get allies in France, Italy, Eastern Europe – even Japan.  Who are Russia’s friends?  Belarus, Serbia, and half of Syria.

This is not to say that Putin has no ambitions.  If you’re a non-NATO country bordering Russia, you should probably Finlandize now and save yourself the trouble.   But on the list of things the West should be worried about, this is pretty low.

What should the administration do?  Formal protests, some sanctions, maybe toss Ukraine some money, have a couple of exercises defending the Baltic states against unspecified aggressors – basically nothing.  Luckily, gridlock and a sputtering economy means that the United States now has doing nothing down to a fine art.

Double Down – A Review

March 3, 2014

“Double Down” is a behind-the-scenes look at the U.S. 2012 election and primaries.

We already know the broad outlines – Romney was the best of a bad bunch of Republican candidates, but limped from gaffe to gaffe.  Obama had a lackluster performance in the first debate, but landed a knockout punch on Benghazi in the second, and cruised to a big victory.  So the book reads like a director’s commentary on a familiar movie.

What do we learn?  Obama’s heart was not in the debates initially, and his mocks were consistently bad.  Partly this was because of his general ambivalence to the whole process, and partly because he didn’t feel his second term agenda had anything big worth running on.  But with a lot of drilling and prep from his team, he was able to get the job done in the end.

During the campaign, Biden came out for gay marriage before Obama.  It turns out that this was a simple blunder rather than a move in five-dimensional chess – the administration had planned for the President to make a big announcement at a particular time, but neglected to let Joe in on the plan.  Biden comes off reasonably well – not the most polished, but ferociously loyal to the President, realizing that their fortunes are inextricably linked.

Also interesting in the light of recent events – Romney had considered Christie as a VP, but rejected him as there were too many unanswered questions in his background.  Romney felt mistreated by the media, and this book indirectly claims he had a bit of a case, whether it be the NYT writing the misleading “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” headline for his op-ed, or Candy Crowley breaking debate rules to fact-check him over Benghazi.  On the other hand, he should have known that going in, and been more cautious in wording his article, or finding out just what Obama said.

What does the book miss?  It only touches briefly on Obama’s hugely successful analytics team, and Romney’s analytical fiasco.  Nate Silver is not mentioned, though he is arguably the most important non–partisan figure of 2012.

Indeed, the central puzzle of the election is why Mr. Fix-It Romney was unable to fix his own campaign.  Partly it’s that hostility to mainstream media blinded him to useful truths (e.g. that he was losing, or that independents didn’t think of Benghazi as a big strike against the administration), partly that he had to run against his moderate record (e.g. Romneycare), and partly that his success in business didn’t signify as much as you might think.  Having worked for would-be Romneys, there is often less to them than meets the eye.

Should you buy this book?  The main argument against is that we should not be encouraging this type of personality-driven narrative – fundamental demographic forces, and data-driven fundraising and microtargeting were much more important to the election than anything Clint Eastwood or Valerie Jarrett did.  I’m sympathetic to this view, but feel it misses some important points.  First, Obama’s initially poor debate performance had a noticeable impact on the polls.  Without at least a reversion to average, Romney would have won.  More fundamentally, it’s not enough to just have the ingredients for victory – “dust does not sweep itself”, as Mao said.

Will you enjoy this book?  If you’re a Democrat, and follow political trivia enough that you could recognize Axelrod or Messina, then you will love it.  If you’re a Republican, then you will hate it.  Everyone else will bored.

“Double Down” is the sequel to the successful “Game Change” and includes many of the same characters.  The authors are probably tossing around names for their 2016 book right now.

Grandpa, what’s a Republican?

December 4, 2012

– Grandpa, what’s a Republican?
– Republican? I haven’t heard that word in a long time. Where did you hear it?
– It’s for a school project. We have to talk about something from old-people times, like record players or dial phones.
– I see. Well, the Republicans were a big political party once.
– Like the Democrats?
– Kind of, but more right-wing.
– What did they stand for?
– Well, they were pro-life, for one thing.
– You mean they were vegetarians like the Greens?
– No, people didn’t really think about food politically in those days.
– So they were for gun control and against the death penalty?
– No, not usually. They thought everyone should have a gun, to be safe.
– They thought we shouldn’t have an army, like the Libertarians?
– No, they wanted a very big army, and they used it to invade some other countries.
– Grandpa, I think you’re confused. Maybe you mean they were pro-death?
– Maybe. It was kind of confusing.
– What did they want to do about global warming?
– Well, they really didn’t think it was a problem.
– You mean because people didn’t know about it?
– No, I mean they didn’t believe in it. It was before the Great Fires, you see.
– Oh. OK. But everyone else believed in it?
– Kind of. But nobody really thought it was a big deal. Back then you could do all sorts of things. Everyone had a car, even poor people, and they could drive it whenever they liked. And there were machines which would give you as much water as you liked – even ice – even in the summer.
– It sounds pretty wasteful, Grandpa.
– Maybe it was. But things were very different then.
– So how come there aren’t any Republicans any more?
– I’m not sure. I think they just started winning fewer and fewer elections, and eventually they just gave up. We could ask your other grandpas, or we could Google it.
– That’s OK. I think I have enough to write about now. Oh, but Grandpa?
– Yes?
– What’s a Google?
– Let’s talk about that some other time.

Republican political correctness

August 15, 2012

The latest mini-flap? Biden’s saying to a partly black audience that Republicans want to put them in chains by reversing Wall St reform. Team Romney has vigorously objected, but it’s hard to see why. First, there’s plausible Bidenability – the VP has such a gaffe-prone reputation that nobody cares what he says. Second, the audience didn’t object. Third, Republicans should be spending all their time talking about the economy, and avoiding this sort of distraction. But most importantly, Republicans never look good when they play the “political correctness” card. Republican Meg Whitman’s campaign for California governor was generally uninspired, but her complaining about Jerry Brown’s associate calling her a (political) whore did her no favors – it just made her look whiny. Unfair? Probably. But Audre Lorde told us that the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. Republicans are learning that you can’t build the master’s house with the slave’s tools.

Plausible Bidenability

May 9, 2012

When Joe Biden came out for gay marriage, was he making a cunning move in the administration’s game of eleven-dimensional chess, or just blundering around?  I don’t know, you don’t know, and even Biden might not be sure.  It’s another reason Biden was a great pick for VP – his reputation as an amiable doofus leads to plausible Bidenability.  Obama can use Biden to float a trial balloon, and if it doesn’t work out, he can say it was just Biden being Biden, something that would be impossible with a more disciplined politician like Gore or Hillary Clinton.  And this worked out spectacularly well – Obama got to test the waters, lower expectations, and then sucker-kiss progressives with a bold and historic declaration.  The President’s idealism and courage now stands in sharp contrast to the cynicism and cowardice of Team Romney.  Of course, some will say that this was just a move taken for political advantage.  I’m not sure what they’re looking for – should the President be making cautious decisions instead and not trying to win the election?  And would they have predicted this a couple of months ago?

So three cheers for Obama and Biden.  Whether by accident or design, they’ve come a long way since the inauguration, encouraged supporters, and confounded opponents.  If this is opportunism, let’s seize the opportunity!