INHERENT APPEAL

Posted in Rants on August 11th, 2016 by Ed

These are halcyon days for conspiracy theorists. It's possible that with the help of the internet such theories will propagate exponentially forever and we'll look back on 2016 as a more innocent time, but I don't relish the opportunity to live in a world where a wider range of conspiracy theories are more gleefully embraced than they are today.

Conspiracy theories are appealing for two reasons: they make the world seem more interesting and exciting than it really is ("Hillary stole the nomination" is a much better hook than "It was unlikely that a 74 year old Vermont socialist who isn't a member of the Democratic Party was looking at an uphill battle to win the Democratic nomination, and honestly if there was a conspiracy against him he wouldn't have come nearly as close to winning as he did") and they allow people to shift responsibility. We didn't lose, we were cheated. I'm not a failure, the (Jews, Unions, Liberals, feminists, immigrants) stole what I deserve. Both of these things make conspiracy theories inherently appealing, and for valid reasons. Nobody likes being bored or having to blame themselves for the things they aren't happy about.

Not all conspiracy theories enjoy equal acceptance, though, and the most plausible ones – the ones that seem like they have enough circumstantial evidence to make them true-ish – have the upper hand. You don't hear anyone but the most fringe unstable types talking about chemtrails, but large numbers of people believe, for example, that global warming or the price of gasoline are the products of conspiracies. Identifying a group of people who could benefit (Scientists! Environmentalists! Liberals!) a theory seems more plausible, and identifying individuals or groups who seem to have control over a fluctuating commodity (OPEC! Obama! The Saudis! The Jews, because it's always Jews!) allows people who don't care to bother with the details below the surface to take comfort in having found the answer.

I do not for a moment endorse the conspiracy theory that Trump is tanking this election on purpose to ensure that his supposed close buddy Hillary Clinton wins – Look, they stood next to each other in a picture in 1994, what more evidence to you need? What other explanation could there be for the First Lady and a famous rich person to have been in the same room together? – but the past three weeks have made it perfectly clear why so many people have latched onto it. I don't believe it, because there is no evidence to support it. But Trump has melted down so completely and seems to be going so far out of his way to think of what he can say that will finally get his acolytes to stop cheering for him that it's only logical for people who are cynical and pay limited attention to politics to seize upon this as an explanation for his otherwise inexplicable behavior. Trying to make sense out of nonsense is normal.

The truth, as usual, is more mundane: the man has a personality disorder, and an attention-craving narcissist who relies on shock value has to continually up the ante in order to keep achieving the same effect (think Howard Stern, Marilyn Manson, etc.) And once you've attacked a dead US Army soldier's parents and asked Russian agents to steal classified information to help your campaign, I guess the only way to increase the shock value from there is to make "jokes" about your supporters killing Hillary Clinton. That's why it seems like this is playing out to a script, like each week brings a calculated increase in the extent to which Trump seemingly goes out of his way to get people not to vote for him.

I don't believe Trump cares about anyone but Trump, or that he is trying to help Clinton win. I do understand how people could look at this shitshow and come to that conclusion, though. The popularity of that theory is the best testament to just how bad he and his campaign are. We're witnessing something historic here. Think of how badly a team would have to lose the Super Bowl, for example, before it would enter your mind (and seem plausible) that they were losing on purpose to help their friends on the other sideline.

POURING YOUR HEART AND SOUL

Posted in Rants on August 8th, 2016 by Ed

Of all the places a person could look for happiness and fulfillment, I can't think of one more likely to produce constant disappointment than the American electoral process.

Studying elections for a living has taken most of the shine off of them for me. As a kid they seemed like the most important thing in the world, and the process of voting was an almost mystical expression of rights inextricable from lofty concepts like freedom and justice. Maybe political science has reduced the moving parts involved to numbers, formal models, and abstract data points, but over time I've developed an outlook toward voting that is no different than paying the electric bill. It's a thing we do for practical reasons. You don't have to pour your heart and soul into it. It's not a goddamn spiritual quest; it's an election.

This presidential election appears to be bringing out the worst in the electorate in so many ways. One is the habit we have as Americans of thinking that our feelings are important in a process that is a practical and means-to-end oriented. My view is that the primary process is the time for big ideas, for hopes and dreams and attempting to steer the ship, so to speak. Once the primary process is over, voting becomes no different than picking a cable company. You pick the one that gives you the most of what you want at the lowest cost. And, like with cable and internet service, you usually have a very narrow range of choices. And you usually don't like any of them.

Now that I think about it, picking a cable and internet provider is more like American presidential elections than anyone realizes.

I didn't vote for Hillary Clinton in the primaries, where she was my second preference in a field of two. Now that process is over, and I have two choices. There are about four things about Hillary Clinton that I like and the rest crap. Trump is not merely 100% crap, he is the actual diametric opposite of everything I like. So, being a rational person who understands how elections work and that the rules of our process virtually ensure that only one of the major party candidates can win, I pick the one who gives me more of what I like. I could punish myself by writing in someone who isn't going to win (to extend the analogy, that would be choosing HughesNet satellite internet, which, for the record, is the most expensive and ludicrously bad internet service since the obsolescence of the 26k modem) but what would that accomplish. In the din of 100 million-plus people voting this year, the "message" of staying home or throwing away a vote on a joke candidate isn't going to be heard.

"But I don't like either candidate" is the background refrain of this entire election, and my reaction (at least internally) is always the same: Who cares? How often in life are you really making choices among great options? The mechanical process of choosing who will represent us in the various elected positions of power in the United States is important, but it's hardly a place to look for fulfillment and self-expression. You don't have to go down into the Fuhrerbunker because you don't like either the Americans or the Russians. You pick one to surrender to (probably the one that isn't going to shoot you on sight or ship you off to the Gulag) and go from there. In the end, too many people are simply too invested in a process that is not designed – not in the slightest – to fluff your self esteem and sense of self worth. If you can't make a choice in a practical decision-making process without invoking your integrity, pride, and self esteem, that says more about you than it does about the process.

NPF: CITIUS, ALTIUS, FORTIUS

Posted in No Politics Friday on August 4th, 2016 by Ed

(Note: I'm going on vacation as of Friday morning. Posts will continue, although there may be interruptions. Not only do I have to return to teaching imminently, but if I don't take a break from this election I won't survive to November.)

With everything that has happened in the world in the last few years, not to mention the uninterrupted shitshow that has been 2016, it's hard to believe they're even going forward with the Olympics in Rio. The internet can give you thousands of stories about how totally unprepared the city is and how little of what was promised has been delivered (side note: I visited Brazil three weeks prior to the 2014 World Cup, and nothing was ready. The new terminal supposedly being build at the airport in Brasilia had a plastic sheet stapled to 2×4 boards for two of its walls). Beyond that, the likelihood of the Games going off without – I don't want to jinx it – a serious "security issue" at some point seems nearly nil. If international terrorists have found ways to exploit the weaknesses of France, Germany, and Belgium in recent months then Rio, where the cops aren't even competent to handle basic street crime…well, it's not a pleasant thought.

It's becoming clear to the international community what a boondoggle these events are, which is why we see authoritarian or semi-authoritarian states like Russia, Qatar, China, Brazil, and Turkey making the biggest (and most often successful) bids to host Olympics and World Cups. Despite all the promises of economic development, inevitably the huge government expenditures end up in the pockets of a small, predictable group of people with financial and political power. Then the moment the competition ends, the costly infrastructure becomes useless. Remember all that fancy stuff they built in Beijing? Yeah. So, nations with democratically elected leaders are shying away from taking it in the neck financially in exchange for the dubious benefit of turning a major city into a disaster area for the better part of a month.

It might be time to revisit the idea of holding the Olympics in the same city every time. Athens seems to be a popular proposal, but essentially any city big enough to house people for a couple weeks in hotels or dormitories can handle it. Pay once to build facilities and then reuse them with only the costs of maintenance, not new construction, to worry about four years down the line. As for the World Cup, limit it to nations where no new stadium construction would be required. Places like France, Germany, the US, Japan, Brazil, and others could work the games into existing facilities that are more than able to handle it.

Lastly, and only half-fatuously, the Olympics have lost all of their veneer of friendly, amateur international competition. It feels no different than watching pro sports now. Maybe it would revive interest if instead of relying on star athletes, citizens of each nation were picked out of a lottery. If we really want to see if the US is better than Argentina at basketball, the purest form of competition would be to grab a random sample of people and throw them out on the court. We already know Lebron James can dunk on everyone. Let's see how your dentist handles the rock.

SCOOBY DOO MYSTERY

Posted in Quick Hits on August 3rd, 2016 by Ed

The journalistic low hanging fruit of the summer is overwrought "Who are Trump supporters?" pieces, sometimes using that exact phrase as a title in a truly impressive feat of laziness. The format varies only rarely. Attend a Trump rally, interview a bunch of morons, interview one or two people who seem nice and sincere albeit misinformed and weird (for balance), and make sweeping generalizations about how everything is now Different in some way that nobody can quantify.

If this all feels strangely familiar, that's because it's almost identical to all of the "Who are the Tea Party?" pieces from 2010. Some of these articles read like the authors did little more than ctrl-F those pieces and replace the proper nouns to reflect 2016. If you're a journalist and you're reading this (I know, I know. Just pretend they might be.) let me save you the trouble and point out that Trump supporters are the same as the Tea Party enthusiasts, and in both cases the question "Who are they?" has a very simple answer: They're Republicans.

We already sat through years of rampant speculation about the Tea Party. Are they blue collar disaffected Democrats? Working class poor people fed up with ineffective government? Previously apolitical people being brought into the political process by economic difficulties? A nonpartisan social movement with no historical antecedent? Well, it turned out that Tea Partiers were Republicans. Old, white Republicans. The angriest, loudest, least informed portion of the Republican base. Oh, and a good number of them seemed more than a little put off by the idea of having a black president.

When all of the survey data is collected, political scientists will plow through the numbers dutifully and show, once again, that this is the profile of a Trump supporter. They're Republicans. Perhaps they will skew a bit younger than the Tea Partiers did – finding someone under 55 at a TP rally was nearly impossible, suffering children under 10 notwithstanding – but the magical diversity and "newness" that journalists and pundits are desperate to read into the Trump phenomenon simply isn't going to be found. They're not Democrats. They're not "independents." They're not people who do not regularly participate in electoral politics. They're Republicans. Far-right, really angry Republicans who have obvious issues with people who do not look, act, and believe like they do.

I understand the impulse to write the story. What journalist could resist the temptation of seeing the shitshow that is Trump 2016 firsthand? The story practically writes itself and is guaranteed to generate clicks. But understand that there is no real story here, there is no real question that can't be answered. Trump supporters are Tea Partiers, and both are simply the part of the party that the Republican establishment has tried very, very hard to keep away from public view for a long time.

KRESKIN

Posted in Quick Hits on August 2nd, 2016 by Ed

Veteran readers know that making predictions about the future is not a thing I love to do. Very little of political science is predictive, and the processes of politics are too complex for the conditions of something like an election to be replicated across time. But having gone all-in on predicting Trump will get his lunch handed to him in November, I'm surprised at how rapidly the wheels are coming off his campaign all of one week into the general election period. Like any good Third World strongman-bully / man-child, Trump is already setting up the stab-in-back legend of his own defeat, telling audiences he's "afraid the election is going to be rigged." So clearly he has a pretty firm sense of what's coming. Who are we to disagree with him. Because of the tantalizing possibility that I could look like a smart person in the future if I put a few things in writing now, here are four predictions I'm willing to bet my life savings ($57.38) on in the 99 remaining days until we put this grotesque carnival to an end.

1. The first one's easy: Trump is going to show up to one debate with Clinton and then refuse to do any more. He played this game throughout the primary process, making a big show of agreeing to or refusing to show up to various debates depending on his infantile whims. Primary debates are not only a dime a dozen but are comparatively rinky-dink, unstructured affairs. The general election debates organized by the CPD are planned well in advance and the organization feels like it has sufficient clout to resist interference (although it does iron out debate details in consultation with the campaigns to try to make sure everyone is placated). Insisting on date and venue changes isn't going to fly. After the humiliating experience of having to try to answer real questions without a script on live TV once, he's going to demand all kinds of concessions to show up to additional debates. They will be rejected out of hand, and he'll insist that he can't do any more debates because it's "unfair" or something.

2. When the outlook is particularly bleak Trump will attempt to replace Mike Pence. Playing off the popularity of his lame reality TV series, he'll do some big, cheesy "You're fired!" publicity stunt and replace him with whoever exists in the political-entertainment universe that is willing to get on board with (and attach their name to) the worst presidential campaign in American history. Now that the nomination is official and ballot deadlines have passed it isn't even technically possible for him to replace a running mate (Even a person on the ticket who died between now and Election Day would appear on the ballot in most states) but don't pretend like that will stop him.

3. When he really starts flailing around once he becomes a pure laughingstock, he's going to go full racist. "He already is," you say. No, this is still soft racism by right-wing standards. He's using coded language for the most part. When the memories of the adulation he received during the primaries have long since faded, he's going to use at least one racial slur on camera. I'd bet my house on it if I had one.

4. This might go without saying, but when he comes to grips with how badly he's going to lose he will insist that he was never really serious about running and that he never really wanted to be president anyway. The presidency and the American people are beneath him, he'll announce, and he has better and more important things to do than to lead a nation of ingrates like pearls before swine.

One way or another I'll bump this after the election. I won't duck out of the line of fire like a certain candidate is going to.

EVERYTHING BUT THE CONCLUSION IS WRONG

Posted in Rants on August 1st, 2016 by Ed

Rarely am I ever interested in following internet pissing contests – especially when they revolve around identity politics and pop culture phenomena that will be forgotten almost immediately – so I paid very little attention when the brief hysteria erupted in 2014/2015 about remaking Ghostbusters with a female cast. It seemed plausible from afar (having seen the trailers and read no more than a few articles about it) that the strong backlash against the movie might have been explained by the fact that it looked like garbage, a cynical cash grab even among the dozens of other nostalgia mining projects of recent years. Maybe the outrage among people who care about such things wasn't a result of the decision to go with a female cast.

Then I thought about all of the other cynical, shitty remakes, reboots, and soulless franchise products that have been churned out over the years without any similar reactions. If these fans / critics really were upset because the movie looked like it would suck, then the reaction to Ghostbusters 2016 would not have stood out as exceptional. So, it seems impossible that a demographic of teenage boys and adult losers that line up gladly to pay to see the 25th reboot of Spider-man or some other obviously idiotic comic book-turned-movie could really be so upset about the perceived poor quality of Ghostbusters. It's pretty obvious they were just really pissed off that they made the characters women.

The movie did well at the box office despite the negative pre-release publicity, so here we go: "Replace male character with female" is going to be the next gimmick, starting with (yet another) remake. The mediocre 1991 live-action Disney film The Rocketeer is getting remade – in itself a good sign of how the bottom of the barrel is being scraped for source material – with a female lead. As if that makes the concept of making the same movie a second time somehow fresh or interesting.

I had no intention of seeing Ghostbusters not because the cast was female, but because almost nothing in the landfill of sequels, comic / video game adaptations, reboots, remakes, and other recycled ideas interests me. If I have a hankering to see Ghostbusters I'm sure I could find a way to watch the real one. Ditto The Rocketeer. Ditto every other idea currently in the process of being turned upside down and shaken until no more money will fall out. I find changing characters from male to female irritating not because I don't want to see women playing the roles, but because I don't want to see anyone playing the same goddamn roles over and over again. And replacing the (describe original character) with (some kind of person not identical to the original) is the kind of cheap, lazy thinking ("Wow, a female Rocketeer? What a twist! When can you start?") that passes for creativity these days. It's the kind of thing dumb people think is clever. You could remake Patton with RuPaul in the title role and you're still remaking Patton. Only so much can be done to cover the stale odor of making a movie that has already been made.

DIDN'T WE DESERVE A LOOK AT YOU THE WAY YOU REALLY ARE

Posted in Rants on July 27th, 2016 by Ed

Wednesday morning we all got a glimpse of why I've been predicting that Trump will hang himself given enough time and rope. He delivered a lot sooner than expected. I assumed it would happen during the debates. It's OK – it'll probably happen then too. It's going to keep happening until this is over.

There have been dozens of "Well certainly he must be finished now, right?" moments throughout the campaign. Nothing, now that he has won the nomination, is going to "end" his campaign. But the unhinged, half-assed comments inviting Russia to commit espionage to help him dig up dirt on Hillary Clinton are – unlike the other unhinged, half-assed comments so far – are not going to go away. They've undermined one of the only effective plays he had against Clinton.

Personally I couldn't care less about the "emails" pseudo-scandal, but there's no question there was a legitimate (if overblown) point to be made. To people who think that's a big deal, she didn't have much of a valid response to criticisms about what has been deleted, where it was stored, etc. Again, I find this all ridiculous, but to someone suddenly deeply concerned about emails sent years ago then I guess it's an issue one could press.

Now, every single time someone says "emails" the Clinton campaign doesn't have to respond in detail about the minutiae of server space. They can say, over and over again, "I showed bad judgment? I compromised national security? You actively invited a foreign government leak classified material. Who's judgment is questionable here?" And believe me, they are going to run that into the f-ing ground. They are NEVER going to let up on him for this, because even if it's not the most shocking, inflammatory, or outrageous thing he's said it is beyond any doubt the one that shows the most glaring flaws in him. It's the kind of inappropriate that anyone who isn't a Trump die-hard will hear and say, this guy is out of his mind – unless you think the Russians are suddenly popular with middle America.

Nothing hurts Trump per se because his supporters are a cult and they don't care about facts. This doesn't hurt Trump either. But it hurts his ability to attack Clinton. Had he thought about this for more than ten seconds and if he had a modicum of self-control and an adult attention span, he certainly would not have turned his best weapon into a Bugs Bunny gun that shoots himself in the face every time he pulls the trigger. But that's just it: He will never stop himself. He can't stop himself. He can't censor. He can't hide what he is. He is an unserious, petulant child in a bloated adult body. And now every time he tries to attack Clinton and question her judgment, anyone paying attention will be reminded of all of those characteristics and reminded of how dangerous they are in an elected leader.

"His supporters won't care," you say. And you're right. But here's the thing: the core of Trump supporters isn't even as large as the Republican Party, because there are a not-insignificant number of Republicans who can't bring themselves to vote for this guy. They'll either skip the presidential race or waste a vote on Gary Johnson. The united "We must defeat Obama" GOP was not enough to get Romney anywhere close to victory. So how is a portion of the GOP – the Tea Party plus some – going to do it? It isn't. That's why I'm confident, even though Clinton would be toast against a stronger GOP candidate. This guy has zero appeal outside his already fanatical followers. He is running an American version of a far-right European party's campaign, and they get 10-15% support at best. The people who like that message really like it, but it's hard to expand beyond that core. There are no "casual" neo-Nazis. You're in or you're out.

Independent and undecided voters are always overstated during elections, but the few genuine ones that exist are likely to be swayed by just this sort of thing – nothing that requires detailed policy understanding and knowledge. Instead, something that immediately and undeniably shows him to be an dangerously unpredictable fool. Like McCain in 2008, the convention week will prove to be Trump's peak. It's all downhill from here. Remember, people reacted very positively to Sarah Palin for about a week. Then she had to talk, and we know how that turned out.

LET IT ALL OUT

Posted in Rants on July 26th, 2016 by Ed

I'm getting to the point of personal overload on this election and hoped to take a little break for some different topics this week, but who am I kidding. So, quick roundup of Day 1 of the DNC.

This was well-scheduled. Give the first night to Sanders and Sanders supporters. He gave a terrific speech, as did Michelle Obama. Elizabeth Warren, meh. She had a zinger or two. But that address gave me a little more insight on what her potential limitations as a presidential candidate could be. She, like Barack Obama, has a Professor Mode. She's more of a lecturer than a "Let's go burn this motherfucker down" orator. She didn't do badly. It was just "meh."

Sanders insisting on a roll-call vote for the nomination is irrelevant. If that formality makes his supporters feel a little better, great. The outcome is the same whether the vote is counted or done by acclimation. Nothing gives any candidate the right to be elected by acclimation, so there's zero benefit to pushing for it.

And this is the part where I'm going to try very hard to be Good. To be Nice.

The more I listen to them, the more it's clear that the fundamental disconnect between Sanders supporters who will vote for Hillary and Sanders supporters who will not vote for Hillary is not an ideological one. It is a difference in worldview. And while not all of the "No Hillary" Sanders supporters are young, they seem to share in common a worldview that is often stereotypically ascribed to "millennials" (if that term even means anything anymore). There have been moments in my career dealing with college students in which I've been left speechless – you can appreciate how rarely I'm unable to fill the air around me with words – by their worldview. It's not a liberal-conservative thing, it is the apparent expectation that the world somehow has to make itself appealing to them. For example, I've had exasperating conversations with students who refuse to accept their only job offer because it either doesn't pay them what they have decided they're worth or it isn't "fun" enough for them. And I ask them sincerely, "So do you expect to just wait until the job market gives you what you'd like it to give you?" And you'll have to take my word on this: Some of them say yes. Some of them really do move back in with mom and dad and not work at all for years – years – waiting for something they think is worthy of them to come along. And of course it never does.

The "No Hillary" people they interviewed on MSNBC may have been cherry picked, but the ones that didn't sound dumb as a post expressed a large, visible amount of frustration with this process and with the fact that the choices available to them are unpleasant. People feel this kind of frustration all the time in all areas of their lives. The thing I just do not understand though – and here is the unbridgeable divide – is why they feel that if the choices don't please them, then they can refuse to make a choice until they get one they feel is worthy of them.

Nobody has to vote. The Sanders people are not in any way obligated to vote for Hillary Clinton or at all. Similarly, the students who don't like the jobs they're offered are free to refuse and wait for something else to come along. However, in both cases they seem destined to learn the hard way that refusing to do anything that you're not over-the-moon enthusiastic about doing is not an effective way of bringing better options to the table for the future. I just feel sorry for anyone whose approach to any part of life, including politics, is "I'm devastated if I don't get exactly what I want." God almighty, life must be one crushing disappointment after another to a person with that attitude. There are a handful of Hillary loyalists who really super-duper love Hillary Clinton, but they are a distinct minority. As with any other candidate, most people who plan to vote for her just like her better than the other options. Nobody promised us a rose garden. Sometimes you make a choice you don't love because you admit to yourself that the alternatives are worse. Is anyone reading this really excited about getting up and going to work tomorrow? I bet not. But you're going to do it – we're all going to do it – because it's the best choice we have at the moment.

To people whose worldview precludes that, politics, and I daresay a lot of other parts of life, is indeed bound to be extremely disappointing and frustrating.

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.

ONE IN THREE

Posted in Quick Hits on July 21st, 2016 by Ed

So, as of Thursday morning we've had a speaker give Trump a Nazi salute for some reason, a crowd of yokels taking a break from their usual schedule of filling up local newspaper comment sections to chant creepy, third world ideas about how the democratic process works, six billion references to Benghazi and more uses of the words Hillary and Clinton than either Donald or Trump, a campaign team so inept that they gave Ted Cruz a primetime slot to spend twice his allotted speaking time taking a shit on Trump, a deranged man talking about Saul Alinsky and comparing Hillary Clinton to lucifer, a bizarre spectacle of Trump calling in to do a live interview with Bill O'Reilly because his own convention was so boring that apparently he didn't want to watch it, and an opening night of the convention basically devoted to a bunch of random nobodies talking about Benghazi and why America needs to worship law enforcement and the military more.

Meanwhile, other than the House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader, of whom the GOP appeared to mandate their appearance and pretend enthusiasm, fewer than ten members of the Republican Party in Congress (and, unless I missed someone, no governors other than future ex-Governor Pence) bothered to show up to their party's own convention. And here's the thing – regardless of any of this, regardless of the obvious fact that the candidate is a giant child-sociopath with zero interest in anything other than himself, about a third of the country is going to vote for him. Of everyone you see today of voting age, roughly one out of three of them think this is all great. Just what the doctor ordered for America.

The sad part about this whole degraded and degrading spectacle is not that Trump is going to win. It's the number of your fellow Americans who have retreated so far into their own fantasy world that they actually believe this person should be given access to nuclear weapons, American diplomacy, appointment power, and the legislative process. We don't need to elect Trump to know we're deeply messed up as an electorate; any number of votes he receives above zero is sufficient evidence of that.