Scott Walker Is a Follower and the Base Knows It

Scott WalkerFor much of this year, I really thought that Scott Walker was the most likely person for the Republicans to pick for their nominee. Part of this was just that I thought the Republicans would not pick another Bush. I mean, really: it’s embarrassing. This is the top pick of the “deep bench”? A third Bush?! Republicans don’t even like the first one. And everyone knows that the second one was a catastrophe. But Walker was everything that Republicans dream of: a hardcore union buster who is also washed in Jesus’ blood. And he even seemed to be getting a little fiery on the campaign trail. But now: nothing.

It seems to me the biggest problem is that Scott Walker is a follower, not a leader. And frankly, this is a big problem in the Republican field. It is probably one of the reasons that Trump is getting so much traction. Most of the others seem like they are afraid of going off script. This is especially true of Scott Walker. I don’t feel any passion in him. If he became president, it would be hard not to see him as a puppet of the Koch brothers. It’s hard for the Republican base to get excited about him when they see themselves as “bold” and “decisive” and (this is really funny) “independent.”

But the most obvious manifestation of this is the fact that Scott Walker is boring. And Matt Yglesias noticed that the newest ad for the guy just highlights this. It “casts Walker’s 2011 showdown with Wisconsin’s civilian public sector labor unions as a kind of awesome, exciting action movie.” It also, it should be added, totally distorts the whole thing. (“Liberal activists”? I think they were actually workers.) But Walker has been doing that all along. To me, all his talk of death threats just makes him seem weak. “Don’t get out of the car! Ordinary Americans are scary!” Again: he’s just being the good soldier for the Koch brothers.

Still, this campaign ad looks pretty good — right up to the part where Walker starts talking:

Yglesias’ argument is that Walker is the Tim Pawlenty of this campaign cycle. In a lot of ways, that seems to be fair. In particular, they look good on paper but they just don’t excite the voters. And maybe that’s a big part of the problem. Looking good on paper is good for a job interview or getting into college. But it doesn’t get you named prom queen. And that’s especially so when all the other people you are running against look fairly good on paper too.

But Yglesias attacks Pawlenty for the following video. His point is “the more amped up your video content gets, the more it sends the dullness of the candidate into stark relief.” I don’t think that’s the problem. I think Pawlenty’s ad works great. Maybe it didn’t contrast well to the candidate on the stump; but just looking at this ad, Pawlenty looks impressive:

Tim Pawlenty didn’t inspire in 2012. Part of that was his campaign. And given the way the campaign went — with Rick Santorum becoming a contender — I think Pawlenty might have succeeded if he had stayed in. There are fundamental differences between him and Scott Walker. First, he was clearly smart. Second, he seemed like he was at least in charge of himself. I really think that the way the Republican base sees Walker can be summed up in an honest slogan, “Scott Walker: He’ll Do As He’s Told!” And that is his ultimate problem.

Going on in Guatemala

Erik LoomisCitizens finally came together to stand up to the kleptocracy that has run the country since the end of the civil war of the 80s. Protests have brought down Otto Pérez Molina after already taking out most of his administration. This is a great moment of democratic protest in a nation where political violence has been endemic for a very long time.

But I am pretty skeptical that the nation’s political climate changes that significantly. The factors against it are so high. First, it’s not like the movement against Pérez Molina has any program except protesting the corruption of one administration. Second, the military and oligarchs who dominate the nation are not going away. Third, the culture of corruption in politics there is powerful.

Still, this is an unabashed good thing and at least there is a moment of hope in a nation that offers far too few of those.

—Erik Loomis

Reform Conservatives Are as Beholden to Plutocrats as All the Rest

Josh BarroSteve M at No More Mister Nice Blog has a message worth heeding, Dear Reform Conservatives: the Anti-Reform Plutocrats Who Finance Your Party Won’t Magically Disappear. It is in reference to a recent article by Josh Barro, Is Trump the Candidate Reform Conservatives Are Seeking? In that article, Barro is more or less making the argument that Trump can cause a “reform conservative” to gain traction in the Republican primary. Barro seems to just get more and more silly as he ages. But that’s true of the “reform conservative” movement. These people will be waiting a long time for the conservative movement to reform itself. And the “reform conservatives” aren’t really helping.

Steve M scoffed at the notion that support for Trump does not, as David Frum was quoted as saying, serve “notice that the donors’ platform isn’t even acceptable inside the party.” The Tea Party — as I seem to repeat at least weekly — started not because of some libertarian concern about “big government.” It didn’t rise up when the banks got bailed out. It rose up when the government started talking about helping home owners. Of course, what it really meant is that the Tea Party isn’t an independent thing. It is just a new name for the Republican base. They’re always pissed off. It was just that the big money donors were willing to fund organizing against helping out ordinary Americans. The money wasn’t there to fund organizing against the bank bailout.

But the point stands. As Steve M said, “These same voters pulled the lever for a hell of a lot of Republicans running on precisely the donors’ platform in the past few years. What do you think the agenda was when Republicans blew out the Democrats in the 2014 midterms? It certainly wasn’t a rebuke-the-Koch-brothers agenda. It certainly wasn’t a rebuke-the-Koch-brothers agenda when Scott Walker won those three elections.” They actually do want to protect Social Security and do think that the oligarchs are manipulating the system for their own benefit. But these are minor issues compared to what all the Republican candidates deliver: demagoguery against the weak.

Even Reihan Salam in Barro’s article indicates that the Tea Party movement isn’t libertarian. Of course, that was clear from the start. The Tea Party movement has never made much sense. But the one aspect of it that binds them all together are conservative social issues. And in particular, it is all about abortion. A radical anti-choice position is the one thing you can depend upon with a Tea Party candidate. It’s probably because they are so focused on such issues that the plutocrats have no problem getting their own way on the economic issues that they care about.

The main thing for me is just to be reminded about how silly the “reform conservative” movement is. The truth is that it is filled with really smart people like Barro and Frum and Salam. Yet they are totally deluded. They can’t get past their own ideology to focus on the practical matters at hand. Are they really interested in policies that would help the middle class? Then why don’t they stand up for union rights? But the answer to that is obvious: they are far more committed to conservatism than they are to the middle class that their “reforms” are supposed to help. And that means that it isn’t just the Republican base that is willing to carry water for the rich — it’s the “reform conservatives” themselves.

See also: Josh Barro Phenomenon. That article, which caused me a lot of grief two years ago, looks pretty damned good now. I’d be curious to hear what Barro now thinks of Christie’s great decision on the tunnel. Was it really a good idea to kill it because it was too costly? If that was the reason he killed it (and I don’t accept that for a moment), then it is a whole lot more costly now.

There Are Two Evangelical Movements and the Conservative One Supported Slavery

Elizabeth Stoker BruenigElizabeth Stoker Bruenig wrote a great article over at New Republic, Can the Evangelical Left Rise Again? Now, I’m not very interested in the question she raised there. But for the record: probably not. It is true that in recent years, the GOP has treated Evangelicals fairly poorly under George W Bush. Remember the 2004 election that for Evangelicals was all about same sex marriage, but suddenly turned into “privatizing Social Security” as soon as Bush won? That does tend to foster a certain amount of resentment. Just the same: conservative Evangelicals support the Republican Party for mostly non-Christian reasons. Both sides are really focused on hatred of “those” people.

When it comes to the evangelical left, they just aren’t as much in sync with the Democratic Party. For example, my neighbor across the street is a loyal Democrat, but also an Evangelical. He isn’t keen on the party’s positions on abortion or same sex marriage. But the economic issues trump that. I’m not sure that Bruenig is correct to suggest that Evangelicals are “in lockstep with the GOP.” It’s just that they don’t about care issues like economic fairness. Liberal Evangelicals just seem to be more aware of the issues.

But what I found most interesting about Bruenig’s article was the history of it. The United States used to have a really big liberal evangelical movement. These were the people who were fighting for the end of slavery. There were conservative Evangelicals then too. They were the ones who (Quite rightly!) pointed out that slavery was in the Bible — in a very positive way. And later, they were the ones defending Jim Crow and segregation with Genesis 9:27, “May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be their servant.”

I think this is really important to remember: there are liberal and conservative Evangelicals — and there always have been. It’s long annoyed me that conservative Christians run around grabbing onto the liberal Evangelical legacies from abolitionism through Martin Luther King. I knew it wasn’t right. I knew that during King’s day, the John Birch Society — a major conservative Christian organization — was totally against the Civil Rights movement. They were the ones claiming that King was a communist. I knew that these were not the kind of Christians who were fighting for African slaves in the Antebellum Period. I just didn’t have a narrative to explain it.

As recently as the 1960s, liberal Evangelicals were a well established group. “These left Evangelicals were anti-war, pro-civil rights, and deeply concerned with people on the margins of society.” And they are still around, just not a defined group. The reason that “Evangelical” has become synonymous with “conservative Christian,” is that the right has done so much to promote that. It’s pretty much the same thing that they did with the Tea Party movement. It’s a whole lot easier to have a clear “movement” when there are evil rich people ponying up money for conferences and other get togethers.

But the bottom line is the same: when these Republican Evangelicals claim that their movement is an extension of abolitionist movement, they are either ignorant or just disingenuous.

Morning Music: May You Never

Solid Air - John MartynAt long last we get a live performance of John Martyn. We are now in 1973, and Martyn has fully arrived with his album Solid Air. What is it? Folk? Jazz? Blues? Pop? It is all these things and none. It is John Martyn. The title tune was written about and for Nike Drake. I mentioned Drake at the beginning of this week, because he and Martyn are similar in many ways. I didn’t realize that they were friends. But the tune is very clear about Drake’s mental problems. But it includes these touching lyrics, “I know you, I love you; And I can be your friend; I can follow you anywhere; Even through solid air.”

But “Solid Air” is actually too depressing to listen to, given that Drake would be dead less than two years later. Anyway, I prefer another song on the album, “May You Never.” It’s a beautiful song about friendship and love. I could interpret it in a number of ways, so I’m not going to go into it. Anyway, the lyrics don’t matter that much. And it would probably only be in the sixth or seventh listen that you started to really grok them. But I’ll bet “may you never lay your head down without a hand to hold” will be going through your head all day.

Anniversary Post: Star Trek

Star TrekOn this day in 1966, Star Trek debuted on television. I remember my brother was really into it. The only episode I remember seeing was doubtlessly a rerun of “Arena.” This was where Kirk is forced to fight some reptilian species known as “Gorn.” It is some kind of trial by combat thing, where Kirk shows he is a Good Guy™ by refusing to kill the Gorn when he has the opportunity. It is one of the silliest episodes of the first season.

When I was older, I became friends with Will who was a Star Trek fanatic. In junior high school (middle school now), he wore a Star Trek shirt. It seems like he always did, but that can’t be correct. Regardless, I still wasn’t that into the show. To be honest, I’ve never really been into science fiction. What finally made me take Star Trek seriously was my first wife, who was also a huge fan.

That was during the first years of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I don’t even much remember it. I must have liked it. I may be a terrible romantic partner, but I am good at embracing whatever my partners are interested in. But TNG made me appreciate the original series (TOS). TNG was just too perfect — everyone was so well adjusted. Who thinks that is a good idea for a drama?! Spock and Bones might have had ridiculous arguments and pathetically developed characters, but at least they disliked each other!

And I came to appreciate Kirk as a Romantic hero. TNG is everything that conservatives (wrongly) claim liberals want in society. But the truth is that it mightn’t be such a bad thing in society, but it’s damned boring on the screen. And it ended up with the episodes being more like puzzles than plays. There was always some perfect trick that would make everything work out. And after a while: who cares!

Today, I like Star Trek for what I originally didn’t like: it is cheesy. And it was at its best when it was doing comedy. “A Piece of the Action” is probably my favorite episode, because it is so clear that they are all in on the joke. And that is something that has been sorely missing since then.

Happy birthday Star Trek!