VICTORIAN DIET

Posted in Rants on July 25th, 2016 by Ed

I read a great deal of history, none of which fascinates me more than 19th Century European and American history. A rough period beginning with the Industrial Revolution and ending with World War saw the world change more than it did in any similar span of time before or since. People born in the West in 1800 were born into a world that was essentially Medieval in medicine, technology, communication, travel, diet, and social organization. If that person lived to 1900, they died in a world with prototypical versions of all the same technologies we have today. It's truly amazing.

One thing Victorians had in common with pre-20th Century Americans – you could argue that this still has not changed – was a preference for indescribably bland food. Brits and Americans really nailed the whole concept of food that doesn't taste like much; no other cultures anywhere on Earth can lay a finger on us in that arena. This was partly out of necessity, as the spicier and more flavorful foods tend not to be found in cold climates, but also from distinct cultural preference. Victorians believed like no other people ever have any foods even slightly more exciting than a boiled potato or piece of white bread with a little butter was bound to cause great harm to one's constitution. "Exciting" foods were thought to be harmful to the digestive system, inappropriately arousing to the imagination and loins, and an invitation to countless maladies for which medicine had no cure.

Yes, I have a point.

The logic behind that is dubious. I find really spicy food to be the best medicine for some things like sinus problems. But when you're weak or recovering from a bad bout of the flu, the standard Middle Class American remedy of weak tea or flat soda combined with saltine crackers or pretzels does in fact do the trick. Those are not things that you'd ever get passionate about eating, but if you've been hurling your stomach lining up for a weekend they make a lot of sense.

That brings us to Tim Kaine. A big slice of white bread with some room temperature tap water. It's tempting to say he's not the most exciting pick for a running mate, but he may in fact be the least exciting.

It makes perfect sense from two perspectives. One is that Hillary Clinton is a politician, period. She makes decisions strategically, not ideologically. Moreover, she is the most risk-averse politician in modern memory. "Safe" would be the best description of every choice she makes. To her, an ideal candidate is one who doesn't expose the campaign to criticism, not one who somehow boosts the campaign over the top. Obama did the same thing; he didn't need a VP to help him win, so he just picked whoever he wanted. That worked out alright. The second way Kaine makes sense is that he is boring. It's an asset to be seen as dull, competent, safe, and reliable when one's opponent is a red-faced bellowing lunatic. This fits perfectly with how I described Clinton's campaign strategy last week – the goal is to be Adults in the Room while the Trump campaign operates like a circus run by a lunatic. Is that going to make many Democrats and liberals excited? No. Is it likely to lead to victory? Yeah. It's a good strategy if one's goal is simply to win. And we all know that winning is what this is all about for a career politician like Clinton.

Face it: He may not be exciting, but Kaine checks the boxes like no other. He has age, experience (legislative and executive), and swing state cred. There was no other choice that anyone familiar with Hillary Clinton could find plausible. She and Warren can't stand each other. Julian Castro is 41 and has five years as a mayor on his resume, making him a major "Not ready" liability. Thomas Perez has never been elected to anything. Cory Booker was probably the runner-up, but his love of the spotlight probably hurt him. So the optimal strategy here was to play defense, to play it safe, to pick someone who would Not Hurt the campaign more than he would Help it. He might not be a very exciting or interesting choice, but strategically it makes perfect sense. No one is more cold, calculating, and cynical than a staff of campaign professionals, and Clinton's obviously concluded that Trump had done enough to chase away the black and Hispanic vote and no VP choice aimed at firming those bases up was necessary. Cynical? Certainly. Correct? Yeah, probably.

When your opponent is a human ulcer spewing bile and acid in every direction, Clinton is betting that tap water and saltines will look pretty appealing in contrast. It's not exciting. That's the point.