Is There No Way Out for the Republicans?

Brian BeutlerBrian Beutler wrote quite an interesting take on tonight’s big event, What’s at Stake in the Second Republican Debate: Full Panic in the GOP. In it, he discussed Ramesh Ponnuru’s contention that eventually the party would “consolidate behind a consensus choice” and thus make Trump “a nuisance, not a nightmare.” That’s a reasonable narrative. That’s more or less the narrative of 2012. Mitt Romney was attacked again and again, but he prevailed because he was the establishment — the “electable” — choice. (Fun fact: he wasn’t elected.) But as Beutler pointed out, Romney was always doing better the current establishment candidates, and his numbers only grew over time.

The best option for the Republicans, at least according to Beutler who I think is right, is for the establishment candidates to go after each other. The big problem is not so much Trump but the fact that there are four establishment candidates: Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and Scott Walker. Together, those four now have 17% of the vote according CBS News / New York Times poll. That is certainly something that could be built on. The Christie and Fiorina voters would probably join in. And so too might a number of Ben Carson’s supporters.

Of course, it is kind of sad that the four establishment candidates combined manage only a fairly crummy third place. And I don’t think this is just a matter of the Republican base wanting change or whatever. What we are seeing in the presidential nomination contest is what Republicans have stood for my entire life: this idea that politics is not a skill and all we need is someone to stand firm. Or as Grover Norquist put it back in 2012, “We are not auditioning for fearless leader. We don’t need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We know what direction to go. We want the Ryan budget… We just need a president to sign this stuff.” (Fun fact: this is not what most Republican voters want; just what Norquist and his plutocratic friends want.)

So we have the top two candidates with not a second of political experience in the traditional sense. As I’ve noted before, Ben Carson is just racial Valium for a certain part of the GOP base — a candidate who reduces their anxiety that they are a racist party without requiring anything at all from the voter. And Trump is performing a standard Republican trick of claiming that he has special, but vague, skills that will save the nation. It’s like Richard Nixon’s secret plan to end the Vietnam War or Reagan’s refusing to say what he would do on foreign affairs because he wasn’t president yet and didn’t have all the information.

There is a bigger problem, I’m afraid, with the four establishment candidates: not one of them is very charismatic. I think the most charismatic is Kasich, and he’s the one who accepted Obamacare and comes off as a (relatively) decent human being. There ain’t a big appetite for that among the GOP faithful. I’ll admit: if any one of them put in a “memorable performance,” it could help. But imagine if that is memorable in the way that Rick Perry’s performance was memorable when he said that people against the DREAMers had no heart. I don’t see their supporters running directly to one of the other three candidates.

Partisanship Is Not the Problem

Scott LemieuxTo see the limitations… we just need to go back to mid-20th century American politics… Turnout in presidential elections generally exceeded 60%. More stringent campaign finance reforms were in place, and campaigns were a lot cheaper, reducing the role of money in politics. So this was when American politics was actually functional and representative, right?

Hardly. Between 1938 and 1963, Congress was dominated by a coalition of conservative Democrats and Republicans that consistently thwarted progressive reforms and civil rights legislation. Probably the most important legislation of the period was the Taft-Hartley Act, in which veto-proof bipartisan coalitions reached across the aisle to eviscerate American labor. The statute remains a major source of American inequality today.

—Scott Lemieux
Partisanship Isn’t the Enemy of Reform — It’s a Necessary Condition of It

Bernie Sanders Brings Jesus’ Message to Liberty

Bernie SandersThe Devil went down to Lynchburg. Okay, it was Jewish, but not very religious, Bernie Sanders. And he went down and spoke to the kids at Liberty University. Or as Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig put, Bernie Sanders Isn’t Crazy to Court Evangelicals. But Here’s Why It’s a Tough Sell. I think it speaks really well of Sanders to give a talk there. One of Sanders’ greatest attributes is his authenticity. There is no doubt that he believes in what he says. And he didn’t hide the fact that he disagreed with most of the students on the issue of abortion.

But as Bruenig pointed out, there is a lot that Sanders believes that is right in line with what the young evangelicals believe. And those mostly have to do with economic justice. And that is basically Sanders’ whole campaign. That’s the stuff he cares most about. And there’s something interesting about abortion anyway: it’s a crummy single issue. Regardless of who becomes the next president, abortion isn’t going to be made illegal. But there are a lot of matters having to do with true family values that can change. So are these kids really going to vote for Scott Walker because he agrees with them about that one issue and pretty much nothing else? (Well, yes — most likely.)

It is important, Sanders added, “to try to communicate with those who do not agree with us on every issue … and to see where, if possible … we can find common ground.”

There’s another issue: if people really care about the unborn, then they ought to be interested in economic policies that will limit abortions. For example, paying women to carry their pregnancies to term is an idea that would decrease the number of abortions. Mandating paid leave for pregnant women and new mothers would do the same thing. The Republican Party only promises the stick: to make abortion illegal. And as mentioned, that’s a promise it can’t deliver on. So what is it that they are actually willing to vote for? I smell a rat.

I don’t doubt that most of the anti-choicers are sincere. But they are mostly operating based upon the vision of a third-trimester fetus. Yet they are absolutists. Not only is abortion wrong in all cases, even the IUD is wrong. That is some seriously messed up thinking. As we know, the leaders of American protestantism didn’t much care about abortion as an issue as recently as Roe v Wade. So I mostly see the students at Liberty as being naive — manipulated to vote for a party that mostly doesn’t deliver for them except on one issue.

But the only way this changes is if people like Bernie Sanders talks to them. He seems to have made a good case that there is more that they should care about than abortion and same sex marriage. Young evangelicals have a choice to make. They are not going to get everything they want from either party. And I’m glad that Sanders is reminding them that the Democratic Party has a lot to offer.

Jade Helm 15’s Failure Just Proves That the Government Is Coming for Your Guns!

The Great PumpkinYesterday marked the end of Jade Helm 15. Martial law was not imposed. No guns were seized. Real patriots were not housed in abandoned Walmart buildings. But should we be making fun of people like Chuck Norris who claimed it was “more than a military exercise”? Or Texas Governor Greg Abbott who ordered the state guard to monitor the operation? Or Texas Senator Ted Cruz who said people were right to be suspicious because of all the lies Obama told? (This from a Republican after eight years of George W Bush!) Sure. But don’t expect any of them or the “concerned citizens” who bought into all this nonsense to think they were wrong.

In 1956, the book When Prophecy Fails was first published. It was written by three social psychologists, who looked into the Seekers UFO cult that predicted the end of the world by flood on 21 December 1954. The believers were to be picked up by spacecraft at midnight and the flood was to come at 7:00 am. Very well organized this apocalypse! But of course, the world did not end. So the Seekers decided that God changed his mind. Up until the failed prophecy, the Seekers were fairly private. After the failed prophecy, they went very public. In other words, as is normally the case in these situations, the believers became more convinced because of the failure of their prophecy.

It’s not like yesterday marked anything special. Jade Helm 15 has been going on for two months. So gradually, those certain of its nefarious nature have gradually changed their characterization of its true nature. This makes the whole thing much easier. One of the ways that the Millerites dealt with the Great Disappointment (Jesus not returning by 21 March 1844 — these people do love their solstices and equinoxes!) was to say that Jesus actually did come back but then decided to put off all that end of the world business.

I’m not sure what the Jade Helm 15 people will tell themselves. As early as May, Jim Shea reported that conspiracy theorists were offering the ultimate “get out of jail free” card, “That Jade Helm 15 is actually a psychological operation aimed at getting people used to seeing the military on the streets so they will not be tipped off when the invasion actually happens.” That’s it! Of course, Jade Helm was something that happened in the desert, so this one doesn’t make sense. But look at that operation map! It’s clearly preparing the people for something! Stockpile canned food and ammo!

As a fairly reasonable guy, I often find myself falling into the trap of thinking that Republican voters and Alex Jones listeners will eventually turn around because they figure out that none of the promises and prophecies turn out. But that is “gut thinking.” That’s just how it seems like it ought to be. Like all those who came before them, those who thought that Jade Helm 15 meant that the government was coming for their guns are only going to become more certain that the government is coming for their guns. Jade Helm 15 was just a feint; the next time they really will take the guns!

Just wait till next year, Charlie Brown. You’ll see! Next year at this same time, I’ll find a pumpkin patch that is real sincere and I’ll sit in that pumpkin patch until the Great Pumpkin appears. He’ll rise out of that pumpkin patch and he’ll fly through the air with his bag of toys. The Great Pumpkin will appear and I’ll be waiting for him! I’ll be there! I’ll be sitting there in that pumpkin patch, and I’ll see the Great Pumpkin. Just wait and see, Charlie Brown. I’ll see that Great Pumpkin. I’ll see the Great Pumpkin! Just you wait, Charlie Brown. The Great Pumpkin will appear, and I’ll be waiting for him…


Now that I think about it, what people will mostly say is that it is only because the patriots called attention to what the government was up to that it wasn’t able to take all the guns away. But it does depend upon the person. The main thing is that there will always be a reason why failure means they were right all along.

Morning Music: Fly

Nick DrakeNick Drake was only 26 when he died. It’s remarkable when you consider how much regret permeates so much of his work. It seems to me that as one gets old, regret becomes a bigger and bigger issue. I just don’t remember regretting that much when I was 26. I wasn’t aware enough — of the outside world or myself. But then, I wasn’t an artist like Drake.

Today, we are sticking with his second album, Bryter Layter. The song is “Fly,” which is probably one of my favorites. But I don’t much know what it is about. But that can largely be said of all his work. It communicates a feeling of regret and the details are beautiful, but vague. I love the line: “I’ve fallen so far; for the people you are.” Yes, the people each of us are.

Anniversary Post: Montreal Protocol

Montreal ProtocolOn this day in 1987, the Montreal Protocol was agreed to by the nations of the world. This was the treaty that was designed to reverse the antarctic ozone hole. In particular, it banned the two most potent ozone killers: F-11 and F-12. Hooray! We saved the ozone layer!

So a normal person would think that we could do the same thing about global warming. Indeed, the ozone hole disproves one of the most common complaints that I hear from global warming deniers: humans couldn’t have a global impact on the environment. It also disproves the Christian claim that God would never allow us to screw up the planet. But most people have forgotten all about the ozone layer, even though, as I recall, F-11 and F-12 both have something like a 100 year lifetime in the atmosphere.

But there was a reason that the world could ban these chemicals: they were out of patent or soon would be. DuPont had patents on the newer HFCs and HCFCs. Admittedly, they weren’t nearly as bad for the environment. But the point is that CFCs were easy to ban because big business wasn’t making money on them. In fact, the Montreal Protocol was doubtless a moneymaker for DuPont and other chemical companies.

With global warming, there is nothing but downside for big business. And so, at least in the United States, we have to talk about this for the next century or two — when Exxon is diversified and has patents that stop people from getting energy free from the sun. If I sound bitter, you’ve got it right. There is no democracy here. There is no compromise. Unless we can make doing something to make fighting global warming a moneymaker for the hydrocarbon industry, nothing will be done.

But if we could do that today, tomorrow Fox News and Rush Limbaugh would be ranting about the importance of doing something about the warming planet. Every time I hear “Montreal Protocol,” I am reminded of just how screwed up the human race is. All hope is lost. It is just a matter of time.