COST vs BENEFIT

Recently I overheard on public transit two twenties/thirties Frat Bro types praising Carly Fiorina's appearance. I listened for a while and thought, well, they probably wouldn't do the same thing to a male candidate, although I could just as easily picture them making path of least resistance cracks about Trump's hair or Christie's turkey waddle and girth. In the end I contributed only "If you think she looks good now, you should have seen her when she was alive" before exiting the train. Should I have asked them why they were focusing on appearance with the only woman in the GOP race or suggested that they think about her issue positions rather than superficial factors? Probably. But here's the thing. I was tired, and ultimately talking about what Carly Fiorina thinks ("thinks") is about as interesting or relevant as talking about her face.

Imagine the following set of options for how you can spend the next hour of your life. You could push a round stone the size of a minivan up a steep incline. You could run up a staircase that never ends. You could read the user manual and instructions for a selection of pop-up toasters. Or you could explain at length, point by point, why Ben Carson is insane or Carly Fiorina's ideas are not good ones.

Take your time.

I understand on an intellectual level why making cracks about the candidates' appearance or other superficial characteristics is, in the grand sense, Wrong. It makes me and anyone else who does it, by the most literal definition, a Bad Person. The reason I do it sometimes, and the reason I don't get as bent out of shape as a lot of people do when I hear someone else do it, is that there is nothing I can imagine at this point in my life and in American politics that is more tedious, more of a waste of effort, or less engaging than explaining why the "ideas" presented by these candidates are stupid. I'm going to be honest; if my options are to point out that Chris Christie looks like an unemployed pipefitter from Bayonne, NJ or to explain, point by point, why his stale, thirty year old set of Republican talking points rephrased as policy positions is wrong, I'm going to pick the former more often than not.

Think of it this way. If I devoted this space to explaining that supply side economics doesn't work, starting wars is a bad idea, or opposition to gay marriage is hypocritical, Constitutionally unjustifiable, and ignorant, how interesting would that be for you to read? In the last 15 years how many times would you estimate you've read those arguments? How many times have you made them or explained this to someone unwilling or unable to understand them? How many sentences into that post would your eyes glaze over and your mouse begin poking around for something more interesting?

It's just too much effort to continue to take these people seriously. The leading GOP candidates are an actual reality TV troll, a clinically insane man who hears voices from god, a woman whose entire resume is a series of staggering failures in the corporate world, and George W. Bush's dumber brother. There are only so many times you can say "Hey everyone, I don't think cutting taxes on the wealthy is an effective economic strategy!" or "The things these candidates say seem incorrect and outrageous most of the time!" Their barrage of stupidity and falsehoods is too constant for anyone with a normal attention span to keep shooting down for very long. We get it. I get it. You get it. These people are all goddamn insane, and the ones that aren't insane are dangerously stupid, and the ones that aren't insane or stupid are bloodless, craven sociopaths who will say anything if they think it will make morons vote for them. Pointing that out over and over again is tedious and pointless. To engage them on the merits of their "ideas" – not a single one of which is of more recent vintage than about 1990, excepting the occasional new and completely insane theory they cook up for attention in this cacophony of monkey howls – adds as much to our intellectual lives as Chris Christie fat jokes, which is to say not a goddamn thing.

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50 Responses to “COST vs BENEFIT”

  1. Andrew Laurence Says:

    It's possible to have opinions about someone's physical appearance alongside separate opinions of their competency at their job or the job they want. Sarah Palin is very good looking, but her "ideas" are utter crap. Golda Meir may have been a good leader, but she was extremely homely, at least in her later years. Cristina Fernandez appears to be driving Argentina into the ground, but she's quite lovely. Yulia Timoshenko and Benazir Bhutto are probably at the top of the female world leader attractiveness scale, but I don't know a thing about them other than that the latter was assassinated.

    Obviously a person's physical appearance shouldn't count in your assessment of whether they should hold office, but you're absolutely right that there's nothing in Fiorina's "thoughts" that is more worthy of discussion.

  2. J.D. Says:

    The last paragraph is incredible.

  3. cekman Says:

    You're dead right about that, and you were right about what an irredeemably bad candidate Jeb is. On Sunday and Monday, he holed up with his families, advisors and biggest donors to figure out how to save his campaign. Then yesterday, he unveiled his plan for 'entitlement reform.' He wants to raise the retirement age for Social Security, and move towards privatizing Medicare, a la the Ryan Plan. Even Paul Ryan, when he was on the ticket with Romney, had sense enough not to run on the Ryan Plan.

    Donald Trump has been pledging to defend Social Security against cuts for months. He's been testing attacks against Ben Carson all week, and his most successful attack so far is that Carson wants to abolish Medicare. Tonight is a GOP debate that will be entirely focused on the economy. What better gift could Jeb have given Donald than this? If this were a prize fight, I'd say Jeb was trying to throw it.

  4. duquesne_pdx Says:

    These people are all goddamn insane, and the ones that aren't insane are dangerously stupid, and the ones that aren't insane or stupid are bloodless, craven sociopaths who will say anything if they think it will make morons vote for them.

    What is this "or" of which you speak? Most of them peg two out of three, when they don't hit the trifecta. Otherwise, spot on.

    Anecdotally, I have a desktop wallpaper at work that I shamelessly stole from driftglass that states, "The Left: taking shit for being right since before you were born." I only have the energy to say, "if you don't agree, feel free to ignore it," leaving "like you do reality" out.

  5. Skipper Says:

    There are several forces at work here. One is that the American political system is media driven. So the same rules apply to candidates that apply to everyone else. It used to be that news reporters on TV weren't necessarily star quality as regards their looks. They were hired for their knowledge and expertise as news reporters. Now, the main qualifications for appearing on the tube are hair and teeth — and the ability to read off of a cue card. The same goes for politicians.

    But beyond that, a peculiarity of the American system is that the head of state and the head of government are the same person. The head of state represents the country, represents us, to the outside world. So people are torn between deciding on a good-looking person to exemplify the country or someone who is "competent" to run a government.

    People seemed to like Reagan. So, he probably would have made a good head of state. He was shitty at running a government. Mike Dukakis is smart and honest. He would have made a good head of government — not so much head of state.

    When you're choosing a head of government, it shouldn't come down to their looks or whether you want to have a beer with them. You want someone who can get down into the weeds and do the dirty work. When it comes to a head of state, maybe you want looks and some kind of an admirable public persona, maybe someone who can stay above the fray.

    But we're looking for both qualities in the same person — and that creates a kind of split personality in the voter.

    Just a comment on the 20-something assessment of looks. I was sitting in an outdoor coffee shop space in Boston one day. A 20-something guy came along and started talking to the other 20-somethings (it seems everyone in Boston is a 20-something) at the next table. They were talking about Madeleine Albright. The first 20-something guy said he thought she was hot and, if he had the opportunity, he'd "do her." I passed an entire mouthful of coffee through my nose.

  6. Anubis Bard Says:

    It's not easy to simultaneously audition for the position of Chief Lackey to Plutocrats, the Rebeller in Chief for the Government-we-all-hate, and the Commander in Chief of the Greatest Country in the Goddamned World. Policy is the least of their problems.

  7. Mo Says:

    J.D. –
    Count me, too, as slack-jawed in awe of that last paragraph.

    No More Mister Nice Blog has been doing anthropology on the topic of the GOP's primitive tribes and the candidates they adore:

    El Trumpo:

    Well, you have to think about what the GOP's crazy base wants. The base wants Republicans in Congress to smash the status quo right now, despite the fact that this is literally impossible, because the GOP doesn't hold the White House and doesn't have congressional majorities big enough to overturn vetoes.

    But when Republican base voters perceive tyranny in America, they don't just perceive it in government. They think the culture is tyrannical. They see the culture — the "politically correct" culture, in their words — as a liberal-fascist dictatorship, just like the Obama presidency.

    Xanax Ben:

    I don't believe religion is exclusively or even primarily about religion for these people — it's about tribal identification and tribal solidarity. The tribe in this case isn't the members of a particular faith tradition, but rather the overall group of heartlanders who wear their Christianity on their sleeve. They're proud Christians who talk about God a lot, and we liberals and moderates aren't, as far as they're concerned — even those of us who believe in God aren't as demonstrative about religion as Christian conservative heartlanders of a number of faiths. They see anyone who thumps the Bible a lot and holds right-wing political beliefs and they think: one of us.

    The trend-piece writers in the political press are itching to declare that the current craziness in the GOP is temporary. It's not. It's endemic, and it's only going to get worse.

  8. jtr Says:

    Agreed with duquesne_pdx that most of the candidates fit into multiple of the categories of insane; stupid; and bloodless, craven sociopaths who will say anything if they think it will make morons vote for them.

    Carson: Insane, stupid
    Trump: Stupid, sociopath (I don't know that he actually believes his own crazy)
    Cruz: Trifecta!
    Walker: Stupid, sociopath with a double serving of bloodless and craven
    Fiorina: Insane, stupid
    Huckabee: Stupid, double dose of insane

  9. J. Dryden Says:

    As long as we're talking about appearance/gender, can we also talk about race? Because I have the sneaking suspicion that Carson is doing so well because of the Morgan Freeman effect. That is, he is what racists think a 'One Of The Good Ones' black man looks/sounds like. (This is not to disparage Mr. Freeman, who in himself is a goddamned national treasure.) Breaking down what Dr. Carson has to say, there is little to no difference between his policy positions and those of his rivals (apart from his startling willingness to invoke historical atrocity as a way of characterizing public policy with which he does not agree.) Yet he presents himself as a wise, soft-spoken, gentle fellow who speaks from a place of weary reflection–he's pulling a Morgan Freeman, in other words–the one black man in America who could play God to the acceptance of the racist masses.

    To be clear, it is POSSIBLE that race plays no factor in this whatsoever–that his increasing number of admirers simply support Dr. Carson for his ideas and life story. That's possible. But given that his followers are Primary-Voting-Conservatives, nah, I'm gonna go with "they're racists, and they like him because he reminds them of a Magical Negro."

  10. Brian Says:

    I believe the 'or' in question is the logical 'OR' not the rhetorical, in that Republican candidates must necessarily have at least one of the given traits (stupid, insane, or sociopathy).

    It is not meant to be read as exclusively having one trait.

  11. Chris Says:

    Trump at least has new strategies for the same old ideas: tell people he will raise taxes on the rich, but release a tax plan that will cut them.

  12. Bitter Scribe Says:

    Aw, you're not giving them enough credit for new ideas, Ed. For instance, "Europe's Jews could have shot their way out of the Holocaust" is one I hadn't heard before.

  13. Spiffy McBang Says:

    This is why I hit the actual notes of what's wrong with the ideas only on a case by case basis- when someone genuinely doesn't know but will listen, which is unusual to say the least. Most of the time, though, I end up pointing out the most lunatic of the lunatic behavior, like Carson's predilection for comparing everything in America to the Nazis. Lots of people have no idea what he's said and think he seems like a nice enough guy, so that winds up being pretty effective in turning them away from him.

    Sometimes, though, I wonder if I should wait until after the nomination to do that. Maybe he'll win it and then we can sabotage him with all the Nazi shit. I'm just not sure I want to take the chance he'd win the presidency anyway.

  14. Tim H. Says:

    When I had religion, it was the denomination Ben Carson belongs to. Run Away! Don't look back!

  15. other bill Says:

    The only good reason to keep pointing out these things is that you are an influence on newer/younger readers. Some folks who now have the power of vote haven't yet been annoyed by hearing about this shit for the 500th time. They need to hear it from someone with a solid think-lump atop their melon.

  16. other bill Says:

    … and, unfortunately, these same young folk need to hear it often, lest it be forgotten in last week's interests.

  17. carrstone Says:

    If you're going to mention Christie's "thirty year old set of Republican talking points", shouldn't you also, for the sake of fainess and 'equal time', mention Sanders's rehashed FDR script from eighty-plus years ago?

  18. Tim H. Says:

    FDR's antique ideas do have the virtue of having demonstrably worked. If his economic bill of rights had been enacted, we'd be better off today.

  19. Brian M Says:

    Ed:

    Can I just say I love you?

    How can you write so clearly and strongly and not be a millionaire columnist with a massive estate in the posher part of New Jersey.

  20. cromartie Says:

    FDR wasn't batshit crazy. Nor is Sanders.

    And with all due respect, the real brilliance in this post resides in this turn of a phrase:

    The leading GOP candidates are an actual reality TV troll, a clinically insane man who hears voices from god, a woman whose entire resume is a series of staggering failures in the corporate world, and George W. Bush's dumber brother.

  21. Andrew Laurence Says:

    @carrstone: No. We can let our opponents (like you) do that.

  22. Andrew Laurence Says:

    An an atheist, I'm curious as to why we, as a society, define HEARING God as clinically insane, but believing in God as perfectly normal.

  23. Andrew Laurence Says:

    I mean, if the Abrahamic god is real, as believers claim he is, wouldn't making his actual voice and his actual words appear in the minds of humans be within his remit?

  24. Skepticalist Says:

    Watching Jeb Bush stumble all over himself is painful. Seeing what else the GOP has puts one in mind of attending a Abbott & Costello convention. The thing is the GOP expects us to take them seriously. One of my nervous GOP friends gets it. He wanted one of my old Nixon bumper stickers from my political collection. "Nixon Now" sits next to one for Ross Perot on his van. Who says Republicans have no sense of humor?

    Ben Carson is the least amusing to me. I think he's the nastiest shithead of the bunch. Donald is comic opera and makes wonderful copy. The rest of them, at least those who are close to polling in double digits, are promising that evangelicals can wait for the rapture in gated communities far from the border in every sense.

    Maybe no more Mr. Niceguy is something to think about.

  25. Andrew Laurence Says:

    I feel Democrats could win more elections if they weren't so hesitant to play dirty. I don't believe there's anything wrong with being gay, but Mitch McConnell's supporters probably do, so we should have outed him.

  26. Greg Says:

    Nice to see you resurrected your sock puppet alter-ego, Ed! Welcome back, "carrstone." I was getting worried we might need to start importing trolls to ensure the quality comment threads of yore!

  27. Scout Says:

    The whole post was bloggy gold, but I agree, that last paragraph was poetry. The Republican field is so bereft of workable policy ideas, science, common sense, common decency, compassion, humanity… or anything at all that depicts the capability to lead this most powerful country on earth, that trying to even point this out to the True Believers is absolutely pointless. Might as well talk about the combover, the vacant eyes, the rolls of fat, the befuddled weasel expression (fits a few of them), if we must talk about this collection of maleficent misfits for the next year.

  28. Brandon Says:

    "Aw, you're not giving them enough credit for new ideas, Ed. For instance, "Europe's Jews could have shot their way out of the Holocaust" is one I hadn't heard before."

    Bitter Scribe: You're giving Mr. Carson a bit too much credit for creativity…the "Holocaust happened because gun control" argument is actually a fairly common meme on the right.

  29. Skepticalist Says:

    I guess what I saw somewhere is right.

    The 20th Century with its off and on periods of progressive thinking and behavior is close to a thing of the past. This time another war won't help..us anyway.

  30. Tim H. Says:

    If progressives were as nasty as right-wing nuts, there'd already be pamphlets describing reasonable men and women doing pilgrimage to the caves of bewilderment, to gnaw bat shit off the walls and stumble back into sunlight prepared to deliver to the teabaggers their preferred messages.

  31. sluggo Says:

    carrstone is actually Ben Carson.

  32. Al Says:

    In light of Ed's correct assessment that the Republican candidates are all insane and/or stupid and/or sociopathic, I wonder what the Koch brothers and their allies are thinking. In their quest for candidates that are anti-regulation, anti-union, and for lower taxes on the rich, do they ever consider the full consequences of electing any of the candidates? Do they even care that any one of the candidates could lead us into endless war and even revolution? What on balance do the plutocrats gain if their candidate destroys America. "For what would it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?"

  33. Brian M Says:

    Al: I imaging the Koch Brothers believe (and they may be right) that they can just gate themselves away from the rabble and the chaos. Or, like Chinese millionaires, that they can simply expatriate their families. I hear Monaco is still nice.

  34. Skepticalist Says:

    It's important to realize that most of these billionaires are no more and often much less brighter than the rest of us. It doesn't matter to them. We are part of a sitcom episode to the Kochs of the world that needs constant tweaking to be interesting.

    They can afford to hire people to do their worrying but they don't like to keep their mouths shut.

  35. Al Says:

    Skepticalist, I don't think anyone would argue that the Koch brothers are not very bright as measured by IQ–Charles and David both have MS's in Chemical Engineering, and that can't be just because of their wealth. I think the problem with both of them is that they grew up with wealth and can't relate to people who are not rich. They believe they deserve everything they inherited and "earned" on their own. The problem is not that they aren't bright, but that they are amoral.

  36. Kaleberg Says:

    Back in the 1930s Fiorello La Guardia, the mayor of NYC, was given a lot of flack about his fat ass. Newspapers and magazines called him steatopygous or rump-sprung. I haven't heard anyone call Chris Christie or Jerrold Nadler (before his bariatric surgery) fat as casually as in the following:

    From 11/10/41, Time Magazine: "On the eve of New York's mayoralty election, steatopygous Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, whose tongue is a potent weapon but an unruly member, cut loose with an all-out show for the voters, mixing mock tears with invective, prayers with abuse, fireworks with slaps of the cold towel. His language got him in the kind of trouble …"

    Personally, some kinds of invective add to the discourse. I always liked Hearst describing McKinley as a man "with the backbone of a chocolate eclair".

  37. quixote Says:

    @Andrew Laurence, about Benazir Bhutto: She was the (a?) daughter of Pakistan's long-time strong man. she graduated from Radcliffe/Harvard. She was elected to the presidency, and once there started the collaboration with the Taliban that has been causing problems ever since.

    No, I don't understand it either.

  38. el mago Says:

    Ah, yes. Hablando al viento, talking to the wind, a phenomenon with which I'm well familiar. I interact with 40 something educated individuals who wear the label "progressive" and are woefully uninformed about politics and world events because they obtain their information by giving passing and limited attention to MSM. I don't engage conversations in those areas with them any more than I would with my conservative brother, because why bother?

    Hey, who let Carrstone out of his cage?

  39. The Pale Scot Says:

    What?

    Yuogotta problem with Bayonne?

  40. cekman Says:

    I just made the mistake of watching the Republican debate. As Ed said, the 'ideas' presented were all stale, cruel, and/or ludicrous. But there was one potentially interesting thread through the evening.

    All the candidates were firmly right-wing. But when describing the ills of the nation, they often used left-wing rhetoric.

    Carly Fiorina attacked "crony capitalism" and the consolidation of banks. John Kasich attacked "corporate welfare" and mentioned "income inequality." Ted Cruz said "the top 1 percent earn a higher share of our income than any year since 1928." Mike Huckabee said "when CEO income has risen 90 percent above the average worker, when the bottom 90 percent of this country's economy has had stagnant wages for the past 40 years, somebody is taking it in the teeth."

    This led to absurdities, though nobody seemed to notice. For instance, Fiorina was asked if the federal government should help set up 401(k)s for people who can't get them through their employers. She said no, of course; the whole field was united in the belief that the federal government should never do anything at all. But then she skipped to another issue:

    "There is no Constitutional role for the federal government in setting up retirement plans. There is no Constitutional role for the federal government to be setting minimum wages[…] The more the government gets engaged in the economy, it is demonstrably true… the more the big, the powerful, the wealthy and the well-connected are advantaged."

    Nobody thought to ask her whether she wants to abolish the minimum wage. But more importantly, nobody asked her if she meant what she said: that the minimum wage advantages the wealthy and the powerful. Perhaps because we'd already gone through the looking-glass hours ago. Still, that a right-wing ex-CEO felt compelled to attack the wealthy and the powerful, however briefly, is an interesting sign. Maybe some of them have noticed that Bernie is on to something.

  41. Rob Says:

    Simply Fabulous post. One of your best. The last paragraph was howlingly [sorry] funny.

  42. Major Kong Says:

    Carson is a walking chain email. Someone needs to sit him down in front of snopes.com and not let him up until the next debate.

  43. waldo Says:

    There's only one candidate in the whole field that's worth talking about; Bernie Sanders:

    http://feelthebern.org/

    I hope you do.

  44. duquesne_pdx Says:

    @jtr:
    Thanks for quantifying the list. I agree with you on most of them, but I'd have to put Fiorina in the "Trifecta!" category, simply based on her performance — and justification of same — at HP. It is virtually impossible to be a corporate executive in this economy without a significant sociopathy quotient, and she did nothing to disprove that during her stint there.

    @Brian
    The logical 'OR', rather than the rhetorical 'or' (which is the logical 'XOR'), makes a lot more sense. It's been too long since my Boolean algebra days.

  45. Mike D Says:

    > …a clinically insane man who hears voices from god…

    Sorry, I need clarification on that point. There's at least 3.

  46. doug Says:

    Great blog, Ed. Now I see little about how bad Rubio is/was/will be. His strategy is playing out well, which is scary as hell to me. He is a vacuous, purchased, inexperienced carcass….Just what oligarchs desire.

  47. Skepticalist Says:

    Rubio reminds me of a Jehovah's Witness that tries to wreck Sunday football. Carson reminds me of smiley. One that would put up with German politics in the 1920s.

    The description of Jeb as being George's dumber brother is perfect!

  48. anotherbozo Says:

    On the display of grotesqueries known as the Republican debate, what's horrifying is that they're a mirror for our process. They are Us. How did we get to this point, Ed? Or has the political process in the country always been this bad, this corrupt as to yield up only (searches vainly for a p.c. equivalent) whores willing to trade any attempt at honesty or even coherence for the vanity of vanities, the ultimate political prize, position of Leader of the Free World?

    On the Democratic side, no, I wouldn't call Bernie a whore. Hillary is a sometime (Wall) streetwalker, of course. And we need desperately to elect one or the other.

    But as to the clown show: 1. Do the billionaire puppeteers really think we're this stupid? 2. Are we?

    3. Is Charles Pierce's "Idiot America" still timely? Does it need new chapters?

  49. vidéos voleur Says:

    Yes! Finally something about sleeve surgery.

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