Again: Republicans Win in 2016 If Economy Sucks

Mitt Romney - NopeDavid Atkins is a keen observer of politics — especially on issues related to global warming. He’s always worth reading. But yesterday at Political Animal, he wrote, Don’t Count Out Mitt Romney. His argument is that Romney could, in fact, be the Republican’s presidential nominee in 2016. I suppose that’s true. But he ended the article with a warning about that possibility, “Progressives would do well to take it more seriously.” Really?!

Let’s start with what progressives would do to take the possibility more seriously. Would we nominate someone different? Would we investigate Romney in more depth than the Obama administration did for the 2012 election? Would we stockpile food and water? Really, it’s just an absurd thought. If the Republicans run Romney again, there is nothing we can do now to prepare for it.

But the truth is that if the Democrats had to run against Romney again, it would make our job easier, not harder. But Atkins seems to think it is otherwise. He wrote, “There are a number of voters out there with buyer’s remorse over their 2012 vote, and Mitt could run on the ‘none of this would have happened if you had voted for me’ platform.” What is the “this” that wouldn’t have happened? Did Atkins not see Friday’s job report? The best prediction for the first nine months of 2016 is that the economy will be doing quite well. So I don’t think Romney is going to have much luck with the “buyer’s remorse” vote.

But let’s suppose the economy is bad. Let’s suppose that 2016 is a repeat of 2008 and there is a total breakdown of the economy. What then? Will Romney be able to win the presidency in that case? Yes! And so would Ted Cruz or even Louie Gohmert, should the Republicans choose to nominate either of these men. Atkins is committing an error that is far beneath him, but which is sadly typical of people who write about politics. He seems to think that Clinton is pretty much unbeatable but that other candidates are more vulnerable. This just isn’t what the political science tells us.

In this regard, I would be thrilled if the Republicans nominated Mitt Romney. As Republicans go, he’s one of the more reasonable ones. He would listen to Greg Mankiw on economic policy, and we would end up with far more Keynesian stimulus than we’ve ever gotten under Obama. (Greg Mankiw, of course, is always against Keynesian economics when a Democrat is in the White House.) Yes, overall, Romney would be terrible. But worse than Rand Paul or Ted Cruz? I don’t think so.

Given that we are really dependent upon the vagaries of the economy, I don’t see any reason why I should take Mitt Romney 2016 more seriously. Mitt Romney continues to be a joke. And if the Republicans nominate him, well, they nominate him. Let’s hope that the economy continues to do well so we can watch him go down in flames again and talk about how he lost because the Democrats gave poor people things, even while his entire campaign was about promising things to the rich and the old.

What I really want is for my fellow liberals to stop thinking the presidential elections depend so much on candidates. In addition to this simply being wrong, it has bad effects. It means that the Democratic Party continues to push moderate to conservative candidates like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in years where literally any Democrat would win. If we would get past the idea of “electability,” we could get some actual liberals in the White House. What an idea!

See also: Romney in ’16? Republicans Have No Good Ideas.

Questions Don Lemon Has to Ask

Don LemonEach issue of The Progessive magazine has a page titled, “No Comment.” They are quotes — progressive but mostly anti-progressive — that speak for themselves. They require no comment. In fact, that’s what my quotations category is all about. But in the vast majority of those cases, I do agree. What’s more, because I have to give them all a title, I usually do get to comment on them. The truth is that I like the idea of “no comment” quotes but there is very little that I have nothing to add to.

When I saw that Don Lemon of CNN asked human rights lawyer Arsalan Iftikhar, who happens to be a Muslim, “Do you support ISIS?” I was initially dumbstruck. I just had to share it. It does speak for itself. I think we all know that Don Lemon is an idiot. After all, he’s a guy who asked one of Bill Cosby’s rape accusers why she didn’t just bite his penis — but in a family friendly way. And if that didn’t get him fired, really, what would? Maybe he’ll get a chance by asking a family member of one of the victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre why he (there was only one female victim) wasn’t packing heat.

I know if Lemon did that, he would preface it with, “I have to ask…” That’s how he prefaced his rape deterrence question to Joan Tarshis. And that’s how he prefaced his question to Iftikhar. It’s a weird kind of interviewing tick that Lemon has. And it clearly demonstrates that he understands that he is asking offensive questions. I don’t suspect that he would ever say to the president, “I have to ask: what’s in that new college tuition proposal?” No, it’s always something inappropriate. He ought to interview John McCain, “I have to ask: were you ever anally raped when you were a POW?”

And that gets to the heart of the matter. The truth is that Don Lemon does not have to ask these questions. I think we all understand why a woman who’s been drugged and is feeling intimidated would not bite her rapist’s penis. And we know that Arsalan Iftikhar is not a supporter of ISIS. He is a better man and I am. I would have tracked down Lemon and punched him. Iftikhar responded with a shocked, “Wait, did you just ask if I support ISIS?!” It was an amazing thing.

Remember, this is CNN — not Fox News. You would think that the network would learned that this is just as offensive and racist as asking an African American man if he supports police killer Ismaaiyl Abdullah Brinsley. I discussed this issue last month, The Bigoted “Muslims Condemn” Ritual. The issue (which Bill Maher still doesn’t get) is that it is bigoted to treat some individual as just a representative of some group you’ve made up. Don Lemon should know better. But at very least, CNN should know better and get memos out to all its “talent.”

But I understand. From Don Lemon’s position, the question is a good thing. He knew it is an offensive question. But he also knew that Iftikhar does not support ISIS. So he was trying to have a little Kumbaya moment where the two of them shared the solidarity of being against the widely despised terrorist group. It was Lemon’s way of showing all of America that Muslims are not all out to kill us. But what he instead did was cast more suspicion on Muslims.

But I just have to ask this of Don Lemon, “Did you start out this stupid, or is this something you learned in broadcast journalism school?”

One More Time With Feeling: Obama Isn’t Liberal

Thomas FrankWhen historians seek to explain the failures of the Obama years, they will likely focus on a glaringly obvious, and indeed still more hard-headed explanation that the apologists for Obama’s enfeeblement now overlook: that perhaps Obama didn’t act forcefully to press a populist economic agenda because he didn’t want to. That maybe he didn’t do certain of the things his liberal supporters wanted him to do because he didn’t believe in them

He did everything he could to “foam the runways” and never showed any real interest in taking on the big banks. Shall I recite the dolorous list one more time? The bailouts he failed to unwind or even to question. The bad regulators he didn’t fire. The AIG bonuses that his team defended. The cramdown he never pushed for. The receivership of the zombie banks that never happened. The FBI agents who were never shifted over to white-collar crime. The criminal referral programs at the regulatory agencies that were never restored. The executives of bailed-out banks who were never fired. The standing outrage of too-big-to-fail institutions that was never truly addressed. The top bankers who were never prosecuted for anything on the long, sordid list of apparent frauds.

Obama didn’t play this greatest-of-all issues the way he did because the white working class rose up to defend its friends in the investment banking community. He didn’t play it this way because forcing the Republicans to defend Wall Street would have been really bad politics. Nor did he do it the way he did because the presidency lacks sufficient power. In fact, everything I just mentioned “can be done by the president,” says noted former bank regulator Bill Black. “It just requires some will and some imagination and a lot of planning and determination.”

What I am suggesting, in other words, is that the financial crisis worked out the way it did in large part because Obama and his team wanted it to work out that way.

—Thomas Frank
It’s Not Just Fox News

Thomas Frank announced today that he will not be writing his weekly Salon column for a while, because he is going on leave to write a new book. I assume he will be back in a couple of months.

Barbara Boxer and California’s Broken Primaries

Barbara BoxerWith Barbara Boxer retiring from the Senate after two decades, California is looking at a potentially bad situation in the 2016 Senate race. I am talking about my state’s stupid top two primaries. These are where everyone runs in the primary and then the general election is just a runoff between the top two candidates. The problem with this is that the people can end up with two choices they hate in the general election. And as Jonathan Bernstein noted last week, the risk is even higher for this election.

The problem we have is that California has had two Democratic Senators (Boxer and Dianne Feinstein) since the beginning of 1992. The state is solidly Democratic, even though we have an annoying habit of electing Republican body builders as governors. What that means is that there are a lot of Democrats who want their shots at the Senate. So it is quite possible that the Democratic field will be swamped, allowing two relatively strong Republican candidates to win the primary with 20% each.

This is not just theory. As I discussed last year in California’s Stupid Top Two Primaries, this almost happened in the House of Representatives District 31. In that primary, Republican Paul Chabot got 26.6% of the vote. Democrat Pete Aguilar came in second with 17.4%. He only beat the second most popular Republican by 209 votes. Otherwise, it would have been a two Republican general election. Instead, the general election was between the Democrat and the Republican. And the Democrat won by 3.4 percentage points.

Bernstein explained that the system is supposedly intended to stop extremist candidates from getting in. But of course, it doesn’t work that way at all, “In reality, the rules force parties to game the system by adding an extra tier of pre-‘primary’ endorsements, either formally or informally.” But it also means that just by random chance, we can end up with a system that is profoundly anti-democratic. And this is not just an issue for Democrats. This problem can hurt Republicans in conservative districts. And it reminds me of what people always complained about in the Soviet Union: that people only got to vote for one party.

I think it is unlikely that we will end up with a two-Republican general election for the California Senate. The seat is too important to the Democratic Party and so it will, as Bernstein noted, “game the system.” Of course, this is its own kind anti-democracy. But it is a lot better than the other option. There is one thing that would be good about a two-Republican general election, however: it would mean the end of these top two primaries. I think the people of California would rebel at the idea that they only had two Republicans to choose from. But it would be a damned high price to pay.


ParmigianinoOn this day in 1503, the great painter Parmigianino was born. He was one of the great Mannerist painters — highly influenced by Antonio da Correggio. His work is know for its elongated figures such as Madonna with the Long Neck. What I find compelling about Mannerism generally, is that it isn’t slavishly dedicated to perspective like the High Renaissance. It was a move to make art not so much as nature is, but as nature ought to be. Parmigianino was very important in the development of the school.

Most of what we know Parmigianino for is his religious work, but he was better known as a portrait painter during his own life. It is hard to find much of his stuff online. And the following image of Gian Galeazzo Sanvitale is not the greatest, with the light reflection. But you will get the idea:

Gian Galeazzo Sanvitale - Parmigianino

The image at the beginning of this article is a self-portrait from the year Parmigianino died at the age of 37 from a “fever.” He looks like he’s in his sixties. Times were hard. But the following self portrait was made when he was 21. It was painted on a convex panel by looking at himself in a convex mirror. It’s an amazing piece:

Convex Self-Portrait - Parmigianino

Happy birthday Parmigianino!