THE CALVINBALL TOURNAMENT

I like teaching, generally. One of the best things about it is the discretion it allows. Yes, there are certain things one must include in a course – I can't teach American government without talking about the Constitution or how a bill becomes a law – but there is a wide amount of latitude. No one hands me a script and says "You are obligated to tell the students that evolution is just a theory." There is no standardized test to prepare for. I like that because it means I never feel like a fraud, telling students that something is true when I believe otherwise.

It's getting increasingly difficult with time to talk about the presidential nominating process. I have to do things like take the Iowa Caucuses seriously and pretend that the primaries are interesting to me. They aren't. Not at all. This is all a big circus to me. The candidates are so bad it's almost surreal, the outcome isn't terribly relevant (Hell, it barely matters which party wins, let alone which candidates the parties choose), and most of the so-called "contenders" haven't a chance in hell of winning the nomination anyway. But most of all, the process itself is simply ludicrous. The pre-McGovern-Fraser system, which allowed party insider delegates to hand pick nominees irrespective of public preferences, was hardly a great one. Compared to what we do today, however, at least its incestuous politics and corruption had some semblance of dignity since most of the dirty work happened behind the scenes. What we do now is just embarrassing. It makes no sense whatsoever.

I get paid to pay attention to this stuff and it's supposed to be interesting to me, and even given those circumstances I can't muster the energy to get into it right now. These candidates are so bad, the amount of money in the process so absurd, and the failure of the media so complete that I'd be lying if I said I took it seriously or thought the outcome was important. Sifting through the waves of misinformation and accounting for the idiosyncratic rules of the Caucus itself (which make polling particularly ill-suited to predicting the outcome) is far more trouble than it is worth.

When will this process get so absurd that it will change? It's not impossible. It happened in 1824, it happened during the Progressive Era with the introduction of primaries, and it happened in 1968. The question is, given the current health of our political system and electorate as a whole, would we end up replacing it with something worse? The evidence suggests that we would. And that has become the guiding principle in American politics – disgust followed by detachment, apathy based on the conviction that we can always make things worse by opening them up to change.

35 thoughts on “THE CALVINBALL TOURNAMENT”

  • The truth of your observations is particularly evident in current coverage of Santorum. Regardless of the Iowa results, he's not going to win the nomination let alone the presidency, and meanwhile isn't an especially intriguing character. But the media has time/space to fill, commercials/ads to sell, so it pretends he's a serious contender until something else to glom onto comes along.

  • Then teach exactly what you've just written, and challenge your students to see the positives in it. Complete with the historical context. You can build an entire class around walking in and stating the proposition you've just written and see what kind of carbon life forms make an effort to change your mind.

  • And then, in the next class, walk in, pop up a copy of the documentary Election, and fall asleep hung over at the lectern.

  • True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.

    Kurt Vonnegut

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Usually, I agree with you.
    But, let me ask – did you make a really stupid New Years resolution, or drink away a whole lot of brain cells?

    "The candidates are so bad it's almost surreal, the outcome isn't terribly relevant (Hell, it barely matters which party wins, let alone which candidates the parties choose),.."

    Yes, there's clearly no difference at all.
    None.
    Zip, zero, zilch!!!

    John McCain, a few years after signing "The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act,"and ACA, would have gotten us out of Iraq right after allowing DADT to end.
    Actually, now that I think about it – he might have gotten our troops out or Iraq – only to send them to Iran. But if you're gay, just keep your mouth shut, and your gun loaded.

    And like Little Boots Bush, Al Gore would have been on a long-ass vacation, and completely ignored terrorist attack warnings.
    Then invaded a country that had nothing to do with 9/11.
    Set stem cell research back almost a decade.
    Shit on Habeas Corpus and wiped his ass with The Constitution.

    Nope, you're right – no difference at all.

    "I can't teach American government…"
    Maybe it's not "can't," but 'shouldn't.'
    Sheeeeeeeesh…

    And with all of the Dominionist Christians out there, I'm more worried about the reality of "CALVINISTBALL," than I am in your imagined "CALVINBALL."

    Because, you know – that could also be a real part of the difference that you don't acknowledge,

  • I won't go into the argument basically dittoes what was just said above.

    No, here in Ioway, on this, the holy day of Caucus Madness!, I can only express my condolences for the shitstorm of adds that will now leave my airwaves and befoul the skies of New Hampshire and other states.

  • The smoke filled room gave us Warren Harding, the Anonymous Bearded Ohions, a raft of Jim Crow Democrats. Pass.

    The problem with the primary system is entirely one of the calender and the absurd focus on two unrepresentative states. Change the calender, change the system.

    And the Naderite idea that there is no difference between the two parties is really beneath you. Yes, there are a ton of corporatist Democrats, but one party is about tax cuts for the rich and endless wars. And that's not the Democratic party, no matter how much you want to equate a drone strike in Yemen with bombing Tehran.

  • San Narciso State University says:

    "Nope, you're right – no difference at all."

    Amen and well said. I'm tired of the bogus argument that the parties and their candidates are identical, and that elections don't matter. I understand the frustration that gives root to it, but come on: it can't be that hard to identify a few positive events in the last few years that directly resulted from Obama's election. They do exist.

    I know it's almost cliche to bring up the Supreme Court in arguments like this, but isn't the absence of a couple more Scalias on the court reason enough to acknowledge that there's a difference between the parties and how they govern?

  • Not to offend many of my distinguished colleagues in the cheap seats, but you do realize that Ed was talking about the _nomination_ system, right? The primary system? Not the actual formal national 'vote' on who gets to be President. I mean, I realize that actual election are less and less about votes cast, but about votes counted, and that primaries should, at least theoretically should be about the Will of the People (TM), but really; how long has it been that the primaries really mattered that much. The press and the bookies no doubt love the appearance of an actual, unrigged sporting event, but if you take a step back from the pleasure of our Fantasy Political League competitions and actually think about it – does it really matter who wins any individual primary? How often has a "surprise primary victory" actually affected the eventual nomination in the past couple decades?

  • I've got to agree with the previous commenters, Ed. It's true that this sort of three ring circus is frustrating and incredibly difficult to take seriously. But the nominations DO matter. The 2008 Democratic campaign is just the most recent example.

    We'd be better off with a system that doesn't emphasize the opinions of the relatively unrepresentative Iowa and New Hampshire. Honestly, changes that would emphasize other states won't work any better. The super regional system that was talked about quite a bit during the '08 campaign seems to me to be the answer. But that doesn't change the fact that there are difference between the two major parties and there are differences between individual candidates. And, knowing the current thinking of Republican voters, I'm not sure I'm willing to discount the chances of any of these kooks in winning the nomination.

  • johnsmith1882 says:

    another ditto to the comments above. i'll chalk it up to post-holiday blahs. obama has been disappointing in many ways, but you don't seriously see no difference between a noot or mittens presidency and a second obama term? are you in a rush to just get the throat-cutting done and over with?

  • I was starting to feel sorry for Ed, given that theory and practice in his chosen field span such a cavernous gulf. Then it occurred to me that since I'm retired from teaching painting and drawing, I no longer have to explain why crap sells for six figures and bedecks the walls of major museums.

    If only we could be SURE we're going to hell. Then we could thoroughly enjoy the farce, Bachmann saying right-to-life is a "seminal issue" and Santorum saying a victim of rape or incest shouldn't be asked to endure the "trauma of abortion"… the list is truly endless.

    Nine nine nine

  • Since the Iowa shitshow bores you, is there any chance of bringing back the coveted Cocksucker of the Year trophy? 2011 offered an expansive field.

    @daphne:
    "Santorum Surge" value-added: It really twists the knife in Gingrich, the most embarrassing of the GOP's many embarrassing recent one-night-stands.

  • Only a straight white male could look back at US history and lament how badly we've fucked our society up in the last 50 years and be worried we'll make our soceity worse if we keep changing aspects of it.

    Thats probably to harsh, but really, we've been electing morons, know-nothings, and grifters into political office for the entire history of the USA.

  • Acer beat me to it. The COTY is one of my usual pick-me-ups in the face of "yet another year of this bullshit," which is my mantra for the first few days after the ball drops.

    I also agree with the groundswell who thinks that this stuff matters. Yes, we're currently stuck with a cadre of Democrats who don't have the stones/spines to be, you know, Democrats: Obama, Reid, etc. But is this necessarily indicative of a systemic problem, or simply the result of a few individuals in temporary positions of power? The nominating process matters because it's the only way we can do what we can to get the candidates who'll actually govern according to our shared beliefs. Granted, we kinda got rooked by Obama (though, as I've argued elsewhere, he seems to be providing precisely the kind of governance the multitudes desire), but if we let ourselves despair, we do so in the face of history (as you yourself have noted), which tells us that sometimes things do get better.

    Mind you, if Obama wins (and I think he will), it's gonna be a long four years of laissez-faire surrender to a GOP dominated Congress, so I entirely get where the despair is coming from.

  • Death Panel Truck says:

    Sorry, but it does matter which party wins:

    Obama: Ended the clusterfuck in Iraq.
    McCain: Would have doubled down, and attacked Iran for good measure.

    It matters.

  • @daphne, con't:
    Perhaps I'm being far too cynical here, but I think that as much as right-wing hardliners dislike Romney, the news media at large dig him even less. An Obama/Romney general is guaranteed to put America to sleep by mid-August. '96-level Zzzs. Throw any of these other knuckle-draggers in there instead, and you've got a party. If I worked for a news agency and cared about ratings, I'd have a strong interest in seeing the likes of Santorum or Paul win over Mittens.

  • evil is still evil, no matter how you dress it up/greater or lesser. or that famous line about teaching a pig how to sing/or putting lipstick on a pig. lol.

    i just love it/sarcasm/ when there is some argument about how Obama is so infinitely better than Santorum or Romney.degrees of insanity, yes. i guess it depends on what shit is most important to you now, what didn't happen today, insted of what will happen tomorrow. time lines matter.

    when you are sliding down the road to hell, getting brushburns may be what you focus on at that moment. the problem is you still wind up going to hell.

    degress of desperation is all i can surmise here. that there are so many Americans who don't care one iota by voting Republican and bought Reagan's "Morning in America: BS, and haven't cared one iota for so long, well, it's way too late now. way way too late.

    Germany had the Weimar Era devolve into Hitler because of the "genius" of the propaganda and the willingness of the "Good Germans" to settle for the "lesser of Two Evils". and that's about where we are now. oh but they didn't know, goes the argument.

    the die is cast, the spell is spoken as i remember Shakespeare said. We are on that ride, this is the American Weimar period.

    i guess if i were to concede something to Obama, i would say, at least Obama provides entertainment to those of us who found the last 40 years worse than a Nightmare on Elm St. the Great Black Overseer to the White Plantation. who could have imagined such?

    Go Team Go.

  • @bernard – 'Germany had the Weimar Era devolve into Hitler because of the "genius" of the propaganda and the willingness of the "Good Germans" to settle for the "lesser of Two Evils".'

    I thought that happened because Germans thought things were so bad, they decided that any change was better than no change. And then Hitler showed them where that logic gets you.

    I think Ed might have been getting at something like that in his last paragraph.

    In politics, as in life, it only takes a moment or two to fall in a hole. Getting out of the hole is takes longer.

  • Second Cromartie's suggestion. Well, obviously it's your class … but you do have passion about the nomination, you just don't have passion about the conventional narrative around the nomination.

    Also: The movie "Election" is a great choice too!

  • Oh, pshaw, c; [I was going to put in some smart-ass comment to cover, but then I actually had a thought. Not a good thought, but it's worth a try…]
    So, think about this – you think Romney is facing a stiff headwind now? The odds are actually stacked in his favor because he's the one the core GOP (what's left of the cartoon Monopoly men who figure they own the joint) want. The difference here is that Clinton, like Dean before her, was _not_ wanted by the core Democrats. That's what the core Democrats (whoever they are) do any more – they decide who they _don't_ want and let the primaries be about who they're reluctantly going to settle for. I suppose the GOP primaries are the same but from the opposite angle. It's like the old joke about Communism vs. Capitalism.
    There – does that sound plausible? I hope so; it took a good thirty seconds to flesh it all out.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    JohnR,
    Thanks for the lack of snark! :-)

    And you bring up some very good points.
    With Republicans, you can usually predict who's going to be the nominee – the guy who didn't win the last time, but made a good showing. Hence, we had Reagan, Bush I "The Lesser," Dole, and, because of his Daddy, Bush II "The Least," and then McCain. Now, my money's on Romney, magic underpants and all. And I'll be shocked if it's someone else.

    On the Democratic side, it's less predictable.
    And I know when I decided to support Obama as early as 2007, my friends in the NC Democratic Party told me I was nuts. That a black man, with that name, was absolutely unelectable. They were split between Hillary, John Edwards, and/or return runs by Gore and Kerry.
    The fact that it was a fairly tight contest between Obama and Hillary was not expected. He, for his race and name, and Hillary, because the right had a ton of ready-made attack material rarin' to go.

    And I was on the call a couple of nights before the NC primary, where we at the local Obama HQ talked to him and his team in Chicago, where we were told to make sure we made every effort to win, because if Hillary won NC, then Obama was going to end his campaign so as not to hurt her chances in the general. And after he won NC, the nomination was pretty much in the bank.

    And who knows what might have happened if the entire economy didn't go "BOOM!" and McCain and Palin badly misplayed their hand. They were in the lead in the polls around that time. Now, I'm not saying they would have beat Obama/Biden, I'm saying it was a possibility.
    So, my point is that the Democrats, because of their nature, are harder to peg than Republicans, where you can follow the money and track record.

  • Totally agree. Normally, I am a political junkie. But, this year has been different for me. I didn't watch one debate. Last night, I tuned in for five minutes at about 12:15 AM to see the results but that was about as much as I followed Iowa. I'm not quite sure why it's different for me this year. Perhaps it's because I can't accept that this is the best-of-the-best that 50% of the country has to offer. Or, perhaps it's because I cringe now whenever I watch a panel of my fellow Americans "discuss" the issues. The intellectually shallow nature of most of these discussions scares me which is why I want to paste the following link. For me, our military interventionist policy is the number one issue. It's connected to our addiction to oil. It's connected to our lopsided military dependent economy. It's connected to our poor educational trends because it caters to the basest of the base (neanderthal thinking—no offense meant to neanderthals, BTW).

    I wouldn't vote for Ron Paul because he's a GOPer. But, as crazy as he is on so many other issues, I'd still vote for him, if he ran as an independent, simply because of his position on the military's overly dominant role in this country.

    http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/The-Vote/2012/0103/Does-Ron-Paul-want-to-be-president-or-a-prophet

  • Oh, man, Da Moose – did you really say that? That's rather like saying that you'd like to have Jeffery Dahmer as your personal chef because he does such good things with salads.

  • When you teach American government, why talk about the Constitution or how a bill is supposed to become a law? Yeah those are historically relevant but things just don't work that way anymore and if you need an example, the last time Congress declared a war was in 1941. I realize your post was about the nominating process & specifically the Iowa caucuses but your opening paragraph caught my eye. Seriously, how does one teach civics these days? How it is supposed to work or how it really works?

  • @JohnR,

    The reality is that I wouldn't vote for Ron Paul if I actually had the option. I certainly don't plan on writing him in. I just like what he says about the military because I think it's a much larger and insidious problem than a lot of people realize. It is my belief that the militarization of our economy, our culture, our government, our collective national psyche is THE issue. If you read the content in the second link I posted, I think you will get a better idea as to where I was headed with my initial post. Anyways, I do appreciate you trying to keep me in check. It is necessary at times. I am just so desperate for something different at the table of politics in this country. Perhaps I would entertain a Dahmer Delight at this point. :)

  • WAIT A MINUTE!!!

    @acer. I realize that Daphne spoke about Santorum's Iowa showing, but really, this is a family show. Santorum Surge? #spittake

    I dunno if you meant it to be that funny, but….er…. it was…

    And really, if nothing else the Republican Nomination process frankly is nothing more than potty humor, anyway.

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