PEYOTE BREAK AT THE RNC

I'm going to have to defer NPF on account of…whatever the hell we just saw. This is the strangest non-Admiral Stockdale thing I can recall seeing in the context of a presidential election.

It's safe to say that whoever approved, "So the 82 year old loose cannon is going to go out there and ad-lib for 10 minutes" has been fired. Watching this shitshow unfold on stage must have been like water torture for the slick, highly polished, overproduced Romney campaign.

Poor Mittens. Try as he did, I'm almost certain that this is the only part of the convention anyone is going to remember.

THE NARRATIVE

It doesn't take an expensive survey or a tremendous amount of insight to realize that as a campaign Obama 2012 is going to lack the unprecedented wave of enthusiasm that carried Obama 2008 to victory. Regardless, we might be on the verge of a historical anomaly: a sitting President with an approval rating under 50% who, Palin-esque momentary surge of interest in Paul Ryan during Convention week aside, appears to be on the way to a comfortable (if not exactly overwhelming) victory in the Electoral College.

In 2008 and 2009 I taught classes about the 2008 election at one of my previous institutions, and I was often asked what the long term forecast held for 2012. I said that for a president elected in a recession, such predictions are not exactly rocket science: either the economy would get better and 2012 would be Obama's coronation, or the economy wouldn't get better and he'd be in real trouble. The wild card, which was apparent even back in 2008, was the GOP's lack of an obvious quality challenger. Their best hope at that time appeared to be the emergence of some heretofore unknown superstar between then (2008/2009) and now. It didn't happen, and they were left to choose a candidate from a pool of old, recycled losers. They had to spend months seriously considering nominating Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich; if that doesn't scream "We've scraped clear through the bottom of the barrel into the foul-smelling swamp beneath it" then I don't know what does.

I'm generally pretty bad at predictions but this was an easy one. Here we are four years later with an economy that, some tout-able statistics aside, is still mired in a recession with high unemployment. Obama is predictably suffering on account of that (along with his general lack of effective leadership and his baffling decision to pay a stratospheric price for the pitiful wages of moderation and centrism) and by historical standards appears ripe to go down in flames after one term. But the best candidate the Republicans could find is a guy that even they can't stand. Much as in 2004 when the Democrats nominated their own "Yeah, there's no one else so I guess the rich guy with name recognition will do" candidate, there is no such thing as Romney Supporters right now. His "support" is merely people who hate Obama so much that they literally will vote for anyone but.

This is setting up one hell of an amusing post-election narrative on the right. If Obama wins – certainly no slam dunk, but if you had to bet your life savings on the race right now you'd probably put your money on him – we might expect a right wing meltdown that will put the shitshow that was November of 2008 to shame. I think we will be disappointed, however. The narrative is already being constructed: There's nothing wrong with our ideology. It was all Romney's fault. It's painfully obvious that conservative newspapers, magazines, and bobbleheads are laying the groundwork for countless post-election "None of us actually liked this guy, and you didn't either" pieces. The funny thing is that they will actually have a point; nobody likes this guy. When bastions of communist agitprop like the Wall Street Journal and The Economist are opining that, you know, we want to like this guy but we really can't find a reason, it's fair to say that the candidate was a big part of the problem.

The likely result is a Republican Party that once again doubles down on its entire platform and if anything moves even farther to the right in preparation for 2014 and 2016. That worries me, especially considering that they have a potential 2016 candidate (Marco Rubio) who legitimately has the charisma, personality, and self-presentation to do very well in our modern media-driven elections. The Democratic opponent, conversely, either will be a recycled name from the Oldies but Goodies pile (you know who) or a still-to-be-discovered superstar who will emerge over the next few years. I'm not so sure that the latter exists.

GOOD NEWS, EVERYONE!

(Foreword: If you didn't read the title like this, you did it wrong.)

Bill Kristol is the most accurate prognosticator in the media by far; when he predicts something, it is 100% guaranteed not to happen. Take it to the bank. Nothing he has predicted has ever happened. At social functions, when he says "Excuse me, I'm going to use the restroom" he actually ends up outside working on his car. When he says "I think I'm coming down with a cold," it turns out that he's just horny. He is spectacularly wrong, and with the kind of consistency that makes an atomic clock look erratic. Here is just a partial list of highlights from his long career as the Amazing Kreskin's bipolar opposite, and it omits perhaps his most brilliant bit of prescience so far: his hand-selection of Sarah Palin as the next superstar of the GOP and as John McCain's savior in 2008.

But here's the good part: Kristol heartily approves of the choice of Paul Ryan, who he is certain will energize the race and make the moribund Romney campaign compelling to voters. I've tried to help you out by editing it, but read as much of this detritus as you can tolerate:

(M)aybe Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan won’t end up making much difference. But we think it will. The selection has changed the nature of the 2012 presidential contest. It means we now have a big campaign, about big issues and big choices. During the summer months, the Romney campaign was fighting and losing a trench warfare battle. Now the Romney-Ryan ticket has a good chance to win a large-scale electoral war of maneuver.

Just want to pop in quickly to point out that the last sentence is never explained, nor is the "large-scale war" metaphor carried forward. Nothing. No explanation of how this will be accomplished or why we should expect it.

Furthermore, Ryan will help in the Midwest—as Gephardt would have in 2004. The addition of a bold reforming conservative gives the GOP ticket a new character, even more than Clinton’s addition of Gore helped confirm a changed Democratic image in 1992. And the selection of Ryan is a strong, self-confident pick, reflecting well on Romney, as the pick of Bush in 1980 spoke well in a somewhat different way of Reagan.

But perhaps the most important effect of the Ryan pick is this: It turns the GOP effort from a campaign into a movement. It transforms a mere electoral effort into a political cause. The Romney 2012 campaign no longer brings to mind its Republican predecessor, the McCain campaign of 2008. Instead, Romney-Ryan could end up more closely resembling Obama 2008.

In 2008, Obama was the young forward-looking reformer, running on a big (if gauzy) message. He was able to capitalize on opposition to the Bush administration without seeming merely oppositional. He was able to enliven his campaign by his own presence and skills. Now it’s the Republicans who are running on a newly bold conservative message, presenting a hopeful choice for change rather than mere opposition to the status quo, and on a ticket enlivened by Ryan’s presence and skills.

Until last week, the Romney campaign was a few hundred operatives working hard in Boston trying to win a presidential election. Now Romney-Ryan is a groundswell of citizens spontaneously writing, volunteering, and proselytizing on behalf of a cause. The first was going to be a grueling uphill climb. The second could be more like running downhill with the wind at your back. Even in the second instance, of course, the candidate still has to jump the hurdles and avoid the obstacles. But it's a lot easier to prevail when you stand for a cause citizens are eager to join than when you're engaged in a campaign voters may diffidently support.

And there you have it, straight from the horse's ass. If anything expressed in this piece existed in any reality outside of Bill Kristol's febrile imagination I would be panicking. As is stands, though, the Kristol stamp of approval on the arranged marriage between Ryan and Romney is an unqualified positive for Obama.

THAT WORD, IT DOES NOT MEAN WHAT YOU THINK IT MEANS

It should surprise no one that the bar for qualifying as an intelligent person is pretty low in America, especially in our glurge factory of a media. Yet the most alarming aspect of Mitt Romney's "bold" decision to cave to the big GOP money and shackle himself to the anchor that is Paul Ryan is the repeated references to his new partner's considerable intellectual gifts. Given that we now live in a world in which shows about Honey Boo Boo and married couples with 19 children are on something with the gall to call itself "The Learning Channel", it makes sense that Paul Ryan would qualify as an "intellectual". But it is a Book of Revelations-level warning sign of the misguided Moderation Worship among the bobbleheads of the Beltway media that in their desperation to say something good about the cargo cult of nihilists that is the modern GOP, they have decided that Paul Ryan is a deeply intellectual man of ideas and principles – a leading thinker of his day.

That their decision to so label Ryan coincides almost perfectly with the storyline pitched in the campaign press releases is irrelevant, as they decided back in 2010 that, apparently on account of the fact that he has no personality whatsoever, he must be a man of great intellectual Seriousness. We have all made the mistake in our social lives of assuming that someone who is really quiet and reserved must have something interesting to say. We generally learn our lesson after a few bad dates, however, and the stakes are nowhere near as high as they are when the media decides to take leave of its senses. Whatever the psychology, there is not enough alarm at the fact that our media have decided that the quiet, weasely, dead-eyed weirdo who likes to write manifestos (!!!) of his Darwinist view of the world must be, by virtue of his lack of car salesman / televangelist bluster, a genuine, bona fide Intellectual. If he's not politician handsome or articulate, surely he must be brilliant; to conclude otherwise would be to admit that his ancestors' money got him elected. Somewhere in Janesville, Wisconsin an equivalent man without wealth and means looks at Ryan on the TV during his night shift at Shoney's and laments, "That could have been me."

Ryan's qualifications as a Great Thinker appear to be as follows:

1. He can write something 96 whole pages long. Even though much of it is alarming-looking but factually errant graphs, no one who can write almost 100 pages about a Serious subject like the budget can be less than a genius to the Wolf Blitzers of the world.

2. He "makes tough choices", which is to say that he enjoys writing about ideas that will make a lot of people suffer. He didn't come up with any of said ideas, but he says things (on paper – more on that in a second) that are politically unpopular. And they are politically unpopular because they are essentially recitations of his idol Ayn Rand's "The rich are different, and they owe no one anything" worldview. His ideas are unpopular because, unless you are a titan of industry or child of inherited wealth, he is trying very hard to fuck you.

3. He talks a lot about ideas. Terrible ideas, yes, but ideas nonetheless. The media are so desperate for any politician, especially on the right, to meet their superficial criteria for Seriousness that they're too busy making goo-goo eyes and trying to hide their erections to ask if the ideas are any good. Or, you know, if they are total, fabricated-from-whole-cloth bullshit. He has Ideas. That's enough.

4. His ideas have been around long enough to be digested with ease in the Beltway. That is, nothing he's saying is original, so the Panelists and Columnists and Hosts don't actually have to learn anything new. This is just standard Drown It In the Bathtub boilerplate with some shiny graphics and a rambling, college research paper-style introduction.

In the three-ring idiot circus of 21st Century American politics, that is what it takes to be a certified Thinker. When you're in love you can overlook a lot of flaws in the target of your affections, often with painful results. The slobbering love affair with Ryan, driven by the media's mortal terror at being accused of Dreaded Liberal Bias if they fail to treat Republicans and their ideas as just-as-good in every way, has prominent media personalities to overlook some glaring holes in the Congressman's intellectual foundations.

First, his copiously lauded budget proposal is more vague than anyone who has not read it would believe. If I told you, for example, that the basis of his entire proposal is trillions of dollars in tax cuts (almost all for the…well, go ahead and guess who) to be offset by "closing loopholes in the tax code" you would not be shocked. If I then told you that not one single specific example is given in the entire document, you would not believe me. You would accuse me of orchestrating a smear on his budget, because no one could possibly take it seriously if it was based on decimating tax revenue and then, uh, somehow balancing this out with, uh, something else. Yet that is exactly what is found in his Brilliant Repository of Economic Genius: nothing. It is an Underpants Gnome proposal: cut taxes + ???? = PROFITS!

Second, and far more importantly, a Man of Ideas would not feel the need to misrepresent them in the face of even the most mildly skeptical audience. Ryan can enrapture an audience at the Cato Institute or local Objectivist society and he can sound downright brilliant to the Steve Kings and Jim Inhofes of the world. But give him something other than a softball or a blowjob and suddenly he doesn't hate government nearly as much as you've been led to believe, as Charles Pierce notes.

When I pointed out to Ryan that government spending programs were at the heart of his home town's recovery, he didn't disagree. But he insisted that he has been misunderstood. "Obama is trying to paint us as a caricature," he said. "As if we're some bizarre individualists who are hardcore libertarians. It's a false dichotomy and intellectually lazy." He added, "Of course we believe in government. We think government should do what it does really well, but that it has limits, and obviously within those limits are things like infrastructure, interstate highways, and airports."(Nick Lizza, New Yorker)

To understand Ryan, his worship of Rand, Hayek, and the like, and his own budget proposal is to understand that he believes nothing of the sort. He might believe that government should pay private corporations to build things like infrastructure, highways, and airports, but that is another story altogether. Paul Ryan, Boy Genius, is such an intellectual coward that he will not even be honest about what he believes and what his proposals would do to government. He wants the social safety net to disappear, but only with the caveat of excluding anyone currently enjoying its benefits – you know, the people who might vote against him if they have to make any sacrifices on his account.

The Republican Party never has been good at the soft sell, but you can't say they don't try. A long string of pitch men, alternating between phony populists (Bush, Reagan, etc.) and pseudo-intellectuals (Phil Gramm, Newt, Ryan, etc.), has tried its damndest to convince you, the Little Guy, that the GOP is really on your side. That Ryan is the latest choice to deliver its message – Serve the Plutocracy and it will reward you! – is puzzling. Here is a guy who can't even pull off enough of a smile to qualify as a smiling killer, an elected official with so few of the skills native to politicians that the media must pretend he is brilliant in order to give him a redeeming quality. And that will be his ultimate downfall. No matter how often we are told that he is an Intellectual, he lacks the guile to hide what he really is: a Randian hatchet man who learned everything from his privileged upbringing except how to act like he cares about other people.

BURNING A HOLE

I'm not sure how widespread this expression is, but when someone appears to have an urge to buy something frivolous or has more money than they know what to do with my dad always says, "What, is the money burnin' a hole in your pocket?" I was about four years old the first time he explained what this meant. It has always stuck with me as a gentle reminder to resist the temptation to spend money just to spend it. Not a bad parenting lesson (although complicated by the fact that he often spends money as though it is radioactive).

Thanks to Citizens United and the exponential growth of the cost of elections even before that decision, we are about to be subjected to a record-breaking amount of advertising in this election – just as we were in 2008, and 2004, and 2000, and etc. Candidates are getting better at raising money and they can always, always come up with new ways to spend it. One of the problems with campaign finance is that there is a threshold beyond which raising additional money doesn't really help a campaign, yet the candidates continue to fund raise regardless. In 2008 the Obama campaign raised so much money that they had to make up "I dare you" stunts – running TV ads in Arizona just to see if they could make McCain's head explode or buying 30 minutes of network airtime for a ridiculous infomercial-style narrative ad – just because, well, why not? So, nothing dissuades candidates from raising money – that is, they will never stop and declare "Eh, this is enough." – and some of them raise so much that they will spend it just to spend it, often with little or no return. When all else fails, advertise more.

We who live in the trenches and research electoral politics have made some pretty darn solid findings over the years. One of the most useful, in my view, is the rapidly diminishing returns that advertising brings. The first time you see an ad it might have some small effect on you – even something as slight as learning or remembering the candidate's name. The next two or three exposures will reinforce what you've learned. The next 80 times you see it are essentially pointless. Yes, repetition is the key to making sure that the greatest number of different people see the ad, but TV/radio/web ads also have a tendency to reach the same viewers over and over again. Living in a swing state in 2008 (Indiana), I can soberly estimate that I saw most of the Obama campaign's Midwest ads several hundred times each. I'm not even kidding. There were individual commercial breaks in which the same ad would play five or six times. And this went on for months.

Post Citizens United, the doors have opened for anyone with a checkbook to air campaign advertising. Many of us are justifiably disgusted with that Supreme Court decision, yet it's worth asking what all of these additional hundreds of millions of Koch-and-friends dollars are really going to buy; they're going to buy more advertising. And as 2008 proved, presidential campaigns have already approached or even exceeded the point of complete saturation. The only thing to do is to saturate the airwaves with even more commercials that will have little to no impact on viewers and engage in even more microtargeting – such as the Obama campaign's use of in-game advertising in multiplayer video games to reach young males or Google's newly announced ability to target web advertising to specific congressional districts.

If a man walks into a store with money that is burning a hole in his pocket, the salespeople surely will find a way to relieve him of it. Advertising professionals and the political media (which relies on election season like regular networks look forward to the Super Bowl) are similarly prepared to relieve campaigns, plutocrats, interest groups, and other relevant parties of their money knowing well that the mentality governing modern elections is, "Do everything, and do lots of it" and no one will ask too many questions about what all that money really bought.

MITTSTERIOUS

Last year, as part of his "Republicans like some of you older folks might remember, back before the entire party lost its mind" character, Mitt Romney had the following to say about climate change:

I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that. It's important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors.

About six months later – this time in Campaigning Romney mode – he sounded a different note:

My view is that we don't know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.

And now with Election Day slowly creeping into view, the campaign is taking pains to clarify that Romney is "certainly not a denier" of climate change. Well, that should clear things up.

Two things.

First, I do not believe, nor have I ever believed, that giving different answers to a question at different points in time is a sign of inherent character flaws or a lack of honesty. People can change their minds about things. Ideally candidates DO change their stances as issues evolve.

Second, I am not naive enough to believe that candidates or elected officials do not play to audiences. The same question answered in different settings (and before different groups of voters/donors/etc) are going to sound different. It has been claimed that one of FDR's greatest gifts was to give a single speech that would lead opposing sides on the same issue to conclude that he agreed with their viewpoint. This is inherent to politics.

With those caveats, there is something difficult to define that feeds the perception among both Republican primary voters and the electorate in general that Romney is completely insincere. I don't think he is a bad person, and other candidates have gotten passes in the past on issue positions that, um, "evolve" over time. Why can't he get a pass on anything?

It's subjective and difficult to define, but something about this guy just screams "I will say anything to get elected." It's the same label Kerry had to wear in 2004 (nb: we'll talk more about the similarities between these two campaigns as the election progresses) and it is often fatal in elections. Eight years ago, Rove & Co. exploited this weakness, real or perceived, to devastating effect. We may be in for a repeat of that in 2012. The truth is that even when Romney answers a question directly and completely, we still walk away feeling like we have no idea where he stands because everything about him, his career, and his self-presentation screams "I will tell you whatever you want to hear if you'll please just love me."

Maybe I'm projecting that onto Mittens just as Obama's detractors see lies, hate, and manipulation behind every word he speaks. The perception does not appear to be limited to raging liberals, though. Why? Is it the hair? The obvious daddy issues? The slick, upper class glibness? The used car salesman tone of voice? Or is it merely the frequency with which he changes issue positions, the cumulative impact of which is to lead us to assume that nothing he says is to be taken seriously? If Romney can't find a way to prevent potential voters from visualizing an "All statements subject to change" subtitle under everything he says, even the billions of corporate dollars being poured into the campaign won't make it dramatic or interesting.

WE FUCKIN' STOLE IT, MAN

Many viewers expressed disappointment with The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the Bill Murray / Wes Anderson follow-up to the wildly successful The Royal Tenenbaums. That I enjoyed the movie as a whole is beside the point; even if it was terrible, this made me laugh harder than any single scene from a movie made in the last decade:

For the audio-less, the Zissou crew has pilfered the workplace of his professional enemy Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum). After a series of events brings Hennessey to Zissou's ship, he spots his stolen coffee maker and demands to know why they have it. After a short pause to consider potential lies and excuses, Bond Company Stooge Bill Ubell (Bud Cort) shrugs and says "Well, uh…we fuckin' stole it, man." Despite having been robbed, even Hennessey must appreciate the straightforward nature of this response. Never before have we seen a bond company stooge stick his neck out like that.

We can all appreciate the value of honesty in tense situations. In my professional life I much prefer hearing "Uh, I slept through the exam" to some melodramatic fiction about dead relatives or life-threatening illnesses. There's rarely anything to gain from lying, primarily because lying usually is quite transparent. Good liars are rare. For most people, lying accomplishes little beyond insulting the intelligence of the listener.

This is at the forefront of my thought process as I watch Florida's latest attempt to pull ahead of Arizona in the race to see which state can get back to the 19th Century first: yet another blatant attempt at voter suppression. Despite a Federal Court injunction (Nullification! States Rights! Loud Noises!) the Secretary of State continues to send letters to registered voters demanding proof of citizenship within 30 days. Leaving aside the obvious "Huh?" of putting the burden of proving their eligibility on voters, Florida's ingenious methodology is to compare Social Security records with state drivers' license databases. Since it's, like, totally impossible for anyone to become a citizen and register to vote after getting a license, that should be foolproof and result in no false positives.

No one is surprised. I mean, voter suppression is an integral part of the modern GOP playbook. True, Florida is taking it much farther than usual – shutting down early voting locations, indiscriminately purging ex-felons, targeting Hispanics (while magically missing all of the Cubans) – but this is standard operating procedure at this point. I'll give every reader a dollar if we don't have another round of fake robocalls as Election Day approaches. The media will barely bother to mention it (try to find stories about the Florida purge outside of the state), although we'll certainly hear about it if two black guys stand in front of a single polling place in Philadelphia again.

We get it. This is how it works. It would be nice, however, if the GOP could spare the rest of us the bullshit about "voter fraud". Aside from their repeated, decade-long inability to come up with actual examples that would be prevented by their proposed changes in the law, we know they don't really care about fraud per se. If we suddenly uncovered cases of teabaggers voting twice, the GOP would trip over itself to excuse it. So the best course of action would seem to be to carry on and own up to their motives. Don't feed us the fraud story when Florida Republicans threaten the League of Women Voters out of registering college students – just say "We want fewer college students to vote." Don't make up ludicrous tales of illegal immigrants swarming the polling places – just say "We're hoping fewer Hispanics will turn out." Don't pretend that clerical errors resulted in some mildly overzealous purging of the voter rolls based on criminal records – say "We don't want black people to vote." Stop with the winking and the nudging and the grave warnings about voter fraud. We know what you're doing. It's really obvious.

An honesty-first policy won't change any outcomes, but it certainly will be refreshing.

UP NEXT, INVESTING TIPS FROM JAMIE DIMON

There are few universal truths in this postmodern world in which nothing is what it seems and we constantly struggle to determine if our society is being serious or if it is attempting some sort of winking, ironic metacommentary on, like, the media, dude. One thing you can take to the bank, however, is that when Bill Kristol gives you advice, you should do the exact opposite. 180°. Literal, polar, diametric opposition. If he tells you to bet on black, the ball will land on red. If he says to try the fish, get the steak. If he says it's sunny, bring your umbrella. If he touts the Yankees, bet on the Red Sox. If he's gripping his chest and gasping for breath in a really, eerily convincing impression of a man having a heart attack, don't call 9-1-1.

In short, Bill Kristol has the longest, most baffling track record of obtaining paid, high profile media gigs from which to offer his opinions without ever having been right about anything. And rarely is he merely wrong – more often he is profoundly, even staggeringly wrong. Dewey defeats Truman wrong. "They can't hit anything from this distance" wrong. "Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau" wrong. He manages to be wrong so completely and his predictions plow into the side of the mountain at such spectacular speed that we can scarcely comprehend how anyone takes him seriously. That he has not been laughed into an institution for the mentally unwell is difficult to believe.

So when Bill Kristol concern trolls writes a "sincere" column recommending that Obama replace Joe Biden with Hillary Clinton, the one and only correct course of action for the President is to do the exact opposite:

For our part, we'd like to see a decisive triumph for Romney and his running mate over two formidable representatives of contemporary liberalism, rather than a discounted victory over a flawed ticket with only one strong candidate. So we sincerely suggest to President Obama: Dump Joe Biden.

We're sure the thought has occurred to the president. He knows his undisciplined vice president did him no service by popping off about same-sex marriage on Meet the Press, thereby forcing Obama to engage the issue prematurely. Instead of making his announcement of his evolution in a well-prepared speech for which the groundwork had been laid, the president arranged a rushed interview in which he rather inarticulately expressed his personal view in a way that persuaded no one who wasn't already convinced.

…Who should replace Biden? Everyone knows the answer. Hillary Clinton received nearly 18 million votes in the race for the 2008 Democratic nomination. Her rating in a Washington Post survey a couple of weeks ago was 65 percent favorable, 27 percent unfavorable. Biden hurts Obama. She would help him.

What's more, she'd help with precisely the undecided voters Obama needs in November. Many of them are white, working- and middle-class Americans who supported her in the 2008 primaries. They overcame their disappointment at Clinton's defeat to vote for Obama that November. But many became disillusioned and voted Republican in 2010, producing that year's GOP landslide. Barack Obama needs to win back as many of them as possible in 2012. They voted for Hillary Clinton once. Surely they'd be more likely to return to Obama if given the opportunity to vote for her again as part of the ticket.

Ignore the obvious for a moment – Obama has way to justify making desperation moves at this point, Obama and Hillary personally hate each other, Obama wants Bill Clinton as far away from the White House as possible, Hillary as a candidate is actually a deeply polarizing and rather unpopular figure – and look at this from a purely Kristol-centric perspective. If Bill Kristol thinks this is the right move, then it is the worst idea since the Edsel. I temper that last remark only to the extent that it is unfair to the Edsel, which, despite being almost comically ugly and saddled with a chrome vagina for a grille, actually worked.

SUPREME MOTIVATION

It is often said that every argument on the internet eventually boils down to a Hitler/Nazi analogy if allowed to run its course. Certainly we all have witnessed Godwin's Law in action or perhaps even fulfilled its predictions ourselves. It's time to add a corollary – perhaps named something catchy like "Gin and Tacos Law" – for discussions about presidential elections. As discussions and arguments continue, the odds of Supreme Court appointments being used to rationalize supporting an obviously uninspiring candidate approach 1.

Every discussion about the tepid vat of weaksauce that has been Obama's first term (compared to his 2008 campaign rhetoric and, unfairly, to expectations projected onto him) effectively ends with something about Alito, Roberts, Thomas, and Scalia followed by warnings about who President Romney-Santorum-Gingrich would appoint. Republicans are now engaging in the same logic to talk themselves into supporting a nominee about whom they are clearly ambivalent at the very best. We can't let that Kenyan usurper appoint another one of his Marxist academic buddies, so I guess it's time to suck it up and vote for the automaton.

The problem with this argument is not that it is wrong. It's quite obviously valid; the Supreme Court is important and the president has few restraints on who he can appoint. The problem is that resorting to the "We have to vote for Obama because Romney will appoint lunatics to the Court" argument is a glaring indication that your candidate is in trouble. It's the kind of argument of last resort that arises only when all of the arguments that would imply actual enthusiasm about the candidates have been exhaustive and, in most cases, contradicted.

I'm a big believer in the idea that presidential elections are decided by turnout. In any given election the number of persuadable ("undecided") voters is comparatively small. The outcome is more likely determined by the turnout differential between the most likely supporters of each party. In 2008, for example, Barack Obama blew McCain away because a lot of people got really, really excited about his candidacy and drove turnout to its highest level since the Sixties. Conversely, McCain was unpalatable from the beginning to some conservatives and by late October 2008 his campaign was such a debacle that even the most optimistic Republican knew what was coming.

What happens when nobody's enthusiastic on either side? Well, you get elections like 1996 or 2000, and they're usually extremely close. Turning out the base takes on additional importance in close elections, so The Faithful are rallied with every rhetorical tool at the campaign professionals' disposal. And nothing says desperation and lack of interest quite as clearly as "Well Ginsburg's probably gonna die soon, so get excited about Mitt!"

It's obviously incorrect to say that Obama has no accomplishments on which to run, but it is not a good sign that the liberal base is being fired up with hypotheticals – warnings about Mitt Romney's potential Court appointments and Obama's recent endorsement of a position on an issue that, if re-elected, he will never actually vote on. For better or worse, 2008 saw quite a bit of the kind of I Love This Guy, He's Gonna Change the Country enthusiasm that Obama's campaign is going to have to do without this time around. Clearly Romney will be going without it as well since everything about him just screams "default candidate".

So by all means, keep bringing up the Supreme Court. It's a valid point for either candidate. Be aware, though, that in doing so you're tacitly admitting that you've punted on generating actual enthusiasm for the candidate – unless, of course, you envision an electorate full of people who say things like, "Fuck yeah! We better get out and vote for Obama in case there might be a Supreme Court vacancy!" I'm a tad skeptical about how many such voters exist.

ON TIMING, OPPORTUNISM, AND PRAGMATISM

I'm supposed to be impressed right now at our President's change of heart / Evolution / newfound enthusiasm for same-sex marriage. It's great news if for no reasons other than that A) it's fundamentally correct and B) it guarantees us a solid week of pure, unalloyed, hysterical pant-shitting from the right, which is always fun to watch. That aside, I'm not terribly impressed, as I tend not to be impressed by things that are cynically crafted to impress me by marketing professionals. This campaign-year announcement reads like the annual deluge of Oscar-baiting dramas, usually about mentally handicapped people, released into theaters every January – it comes off less as a genuine expression of belief and more as a Karl Rovian appeal to an issue that will fire up the base and receive absolutely no attention after the election.

If something is a right, or more importantly if one understands it as a right, it shouldn't take 15 years into one's political career to express support for it. We don't have to be wildly enthusiastic about things that are rights; I recognize that white supremacists have a right to publish their beliefs, and believe it or not I'm not wild about white supremacists. So if Barack Obama believes that marriage is a right that belongs to same-sex couples, his "personal beliefs" or however the carefully crafted press release phrased it are not relevant. If a right exists according to the Constitution and the law, then your and my personal beliefs about it are irrelevant.

These things are always patiently explained as a matter of pragmatism, of political reality. Americans are ambivalent or worse about SSM, so a candidate who endorses it openly is unlikely to get elected, so the candidate who secretly kinda supports it but doesn't say so is superior to the Republican who will outright oppose it, because Supreme Court nominations &ec &ec. I understand a thing or two about how politics and elections work. Perhaps, however, there is some respect to be won and political support to be enjoyed from being forthright and honest about one's core beliefs. In this era of deeply cynical politics, it's plausible that a Jimmy McMillan-style "You wanna marry a shoe? I'll marry you to a shoe. Next question." position might appeal to the overwhelming majority of people for whom gay marriage is not a political issue of the utmost importance. At least the stance would not come off as an expression of opportunism carefully timed to disrupt what was becoming a dangerously Romney-centric news cycle for the past few weeks.

There are many things that People dislike about politics, and the idea that our elected officials and candidates simply tell us what we want to hear is among the most repellent. Very few of us enjoy a good, solid pandering. It's possible that a "Yeah, I believe a right to marry exists and applies broadly" Obama loses in 2008, but I doubt it unless he happened to make it the dominant issue in the campaign (which, of course, he would not have). Despite the fact that it is extremely important to some of the loudest voices in the Beltway chorus, particularly on the right, the bottom line is that most people don't spend much time thinking about it. Though many people will express support or opposition to it when asked, even those in opposition would gladly vote for a candidate who appeals to them on other, more significant issues. The people most likely to flip their lids – religious conservatives – aren't voting for him anyway. So what was there to lose?

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad he said what he said. There is little chance it will produce any policy or substantively different outcomes – this one's eventually going to be decided in the courts, after all – but I guess it's nice to hear. It would be even nicer, though, to hear what the candidates think sooner than four years into their term when the disaffected electorate needs a little firing up. Absent your willingness to buy the contrived, silly "I just had a change of heart, never mind the timing" cover story, this is just another in what will be an unbroken string of campaign stunts on the candidates' part over the next few months. If you're wondering "How can it be opportunistic if it has the potential to cost him support?" consider both the intended audience – the left wing base – and the timing of the announcement and the motives become much clearer.

But, you know, hey, the legal argument for gay marriage is pretty obvious. So I'm glad he finally supports it.