Someone with a knowledge of Minnesota politics can disabuse me of pieties, I trust. I…really have nothing bad to say about Walter Mondale. He was often right when fighting Jimmy Carter, who selected him as a running mate, empowered him like no other vice president in our history (and set the standard for every successor save Dan Quayle), and listened to him except when it upset his ego. He didn’t lie to his constituents about the good of liberalism. He didn’t pander to Democrats in 1984 — he told them he would raise taxes! A decision whose obstinacy showed his debt to Carter after all. He had no chance against Ronald Reagan anyway yet defeat didn’t embitter him. Continue reading
For certain bluebloods in the Beltway commentariat, a government should be as coherent, organized, and commonsensical as a Sunday column. Hence the appeal of bipartisanship. W.H. Auden, as we say, had their number. “A society which was really like a good poem, embodying the aesthetic virtues of beauty, order, economy and subordination of detail to the whole, would be a nightmare of horror,” he wrote, “for…such a society could only come into being through selective breeding, extermination of the physically and mentally unfit, absolute obedience to its Director, and a large slave kept out of sight in cellars.” More dangerous than ablutions for the sake of a false god, more toxic than a pathogen, bipartisanship exerts an influence on feeble minds who may not realize how it results in a paralysis that in turn produces the cynicism that rewards the GOP in midterm elections. If both parties suck, better to reward the party that didn’t play by the rules. Continue reading
Writers overestimate the erudition of politicos. Alfred Kazin, watching with amazement at the number of poets and novelists cozying up to John F. Kennedy, suggested a sentimentality at work whereby writers, shunned by mass culture, suddenly find validation when a president has memorized one of their book titles. Continue reading
Listening to Joseph Robinette Biden and Kamala Harris’ platitudinous speeches last night with three of my closest friends, I thought, what a relief to listen to a platitudinous speech. More than five years after Donald Trump descended the escalator at Trump Tower, his filth is beginning to wash away, and the detergents consist of a mixing of words into the kind of elegant salad we expect from slightly above average polls. A good day. Driving through Westchester in the middle of a Trump caravan, Biden-Harris signs aloft, while the losers yell COMMUNISTA and DESGRACIADO will rank among the high points of my life. Continue reading
I’m no lawyer but have always shown interest in the Supreme Court as an institution: its history, personalities, decisions. Not immune to appropriating the language of their enemies, liberals annoy me when they decry “judicial activism” or conservatives when they regard a political document written over two centuries ago as inviolate. Isn’t it funny how originalism produces the most conservative results? Continue reading
“All told, liberal society in the U.S. is, at best, just over half a century old: If it were a person, it would be too young to qualify for Medicare,” Osita Nwanevu writes in “The Willful Blindness of Reactionary Liberalism,” his response to liberal critics — Jonathan Chait types — of progressive identity politics. “Reactionary liberals,” he calls them, signatories to “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate” published in Harper. Readers will recognize, with dismay, the names of Greil Marcus, Dahlia Lithwick, David W. Blight, and Helen Vendler; others like Bari Weiss appear as predictably as infectious spread at a Trump rally. They lent their reputations to statements like this:
While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.
As Charles Pierce is fond of saying, bull, and also, shit. “Blinding moral certainty” confronting a MAGA-ite is the least we can arm ourselves with; maybe the courage to say, “Fuck you, racist asshole” too, but perhaps the obscenity is too morally blinding for these intellectuals, who must rue the day Susan Sontag died so she could join them (who knows, maybe she wouldn’t have). Continue reading
I don’t have a good feel for how many readers watch cable news. I peek at “Morning” Joe and “Mika”‘s children’s entertainment hour a couple times a week to learn which way the winds of conventional wisdom will blow (this Monday’s CW: Bernie Sanders will win, Chris Matthews will choke on the word “McGovern”). Saner people nursed post-Superbowl hangovers and discussed Jennifer Lopez-Shakira instead of worrying what thousands of white people in Iowa will do. Continue reading
“Sanders’ progressivism does not keep him or his supporters from making the same kinds of problematic merit-based claims to presidential employment that white men in every other industry make,” Brittney Cooper writes. Further:
Wanting a woman to rise to the top of an almost all-male pack is not a position that needs defending. What should be defended is the uncritical desire to elect yet another man to a position that 45 men and zero women have held. That choice, to choose another man for President, should be held up to the strictest scrutiny and the highest standard. Gender alone is not a sufficient qualification to be President (though I can think of a few recent Presidents for which this seems to be the only qualification they had). But I am convinced that it should offer an edge in a situation where no cisgender women, trans people or gender nonbinary people have ever had a position. I think race should work similarly. The experiences one gains from being marginalized because of racism and sexism offer invaluable perspectives that often make candidates inclined to be more egalitarian and inclusive, precisely because they know intimately what exclusion feels like. We have another opportunity in this election to make clear that gender is not the stepchild of radical politics, and it is long past time that we take it.
Criticism like this the Sanders campaign is familiar with, and despite Hilary and Bill Clinton’s vacillating support for the problems of gay Americans she earned their vote, not Sanders, in 2016. And much has changed in four years. Cooper, however, addresses not a historic divide so much as an impatience — century-long, I’ll add — among leaders on the left and radical left with questions of gender, sexuality, and race: what thousands of people, mostly men, call, without hiding their condescension, “identity politics.”
Moreover, to concentrate on the Warren-vs-Sanders nonsense exemplifies a political situation in which the American left gets inordinate blame for ideological clashes because the American right is having no clashes at all; the conservative movement, at last having expunged its discordant elements, has recast itself as the shining city on the hill about wich Ronald Reagan rhapsodized on January 20, 1981.
To date, Elizabeth Warren has proven effective at, first, explaining policy, then effecting policy. Her failure to stop the 2005 bankruptcy bill proved educational. When it looked like the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau would be another farrago, she figured out how to get it through Congress even if it meant she couldn’t head it – and, as we knew then and for which we need reminders now, earning the enmity of corporate Obamans. Continue reading
Uh, I thought this started at 9 p.m.! Welcome. So far I hear less interruptions.
10:47 p.m. Time to refill my water glass and read Elizabeth Taylor’s A Game of Hide and Seek. ‘Night!
10:44 p.m. Should Trump choose to “debate” Joe Biden in September 2020, he’ll destroy Biden. I can’t believe this is a point of discussion.
10:36 p.m. “Let me share the secrets of entrepreneurship…” No, don’t.
10:34 p.m. The crowd may have been too exhausted to hear Buttigieg’s Mike Pence burn.
10:30 p.m. And Warren’s lapses into autobiography (dollies?) don’t become her. She turns garrulous — to Warren watchers a sign that she’s running on reflexes.
10:28 p.m. Kierkegaard and his dad mentioned in one hundred-twenty minutes. The deaths in Biden’s family have given him purpose as a candidate. That’s his pitch.
10:24 p.m. Another half hour?! I may return to watching the Shawn Mendes-Camila Cabello kiss another six dozen times.
10:20 p.m. Please note the time. Not a single mention about abortion rights.
10:15 p.m. Biden babbles and corrects himself about record players and the number of words kids don’t learn (“Make sure you have the record player on at night”). Glad Biden’s aware of the spike in vinyl sales.
10:13 p.m. I admire how Sanders doesn’t shilly-shally: no bullshit lachrymose anecdote about Ms. McGillicuddy in the third grade.
10:07 p.m. “My kid’s school was so good that I didn’t need to be there for my son’s first day — I was running for president!” *applause*
10:06 p.m. Andrew Yang: “I am ‘pro good schools.'” About good schools….But he’s right about the perfidy of tests.
10:05 p.m. A HUNDRED DEMOCRACY DOLLARS
10:01. The Day After Tomorrow — an example of terrible art being more influential than good art.
10 p.m. …but Ramos compensates with a fucking question — at last — about the effect of climate change.
9:54 p.m. Ramos asks Bernie Sanders what’s the difference between his socialism and Venezuela and Cuba. He asks Booker whether we should follow his, Booker’s, lead and go vegan. Is he this dense or is he talking to putative conservative Dems?
9:53 p.m. Yang had a simple mission: say, “The Iraq War was bullshit.” He didn’t.
9:49 p.m. Biden on surge: “What I said at the beginning was that the fact that they were there, which we predicted, was predicated on what we said later.” Or some such nonsense. A salad with croutons, shaved cheese, and pepper.
9:45 p.m. We must stop assuming military service gives one a unique experience into government.
9:44 p.m. UGH. Warren mentions John McCain.
9:43 p.m. Warren’s Afghanistan answer is a weasel’s response. Pull out, sure. “We need a foreign policy that is about our security and about leading on our values,” in large part by consulting “all” our allies. Okay.
9:41 p.m. Helluva law firm, Senator Booker: “Merkel & Macron.”
9:40 p.m. Harris and Warren’s trade policy ideas weren’t bad, but the truth is, no one understands this shit.
9:37 p.m. “That guy in The Wizard of Oz?” Uh, the Wizard, Senator Harris? A joke by someone who never cracks jokes.
9:36 p.m. Warren: “I wouldn’t negotiate trade deals by myself. I’d negotiate deals for America with small farmers at the table, with human rights activists at the table, with small businesses and entrepreneurs at the table…”
9:34 p.m. As readers know, I like plans, especially Warren’s, as much as anyone, but to assume that these candidates have answers about China tariff policy right now is folly.
9:31 p.m. When Amy Klobuchar speaks about tariffs, she sounds like Andrew Yang applying for a job as a host at Seasons 52.
9:29 p.m. When Andrew Yang gets passionate, he sounds like the guy in Mulholland Drive describing the nightmare to his friend at a Winkies.
9:24 p.m. Commercial break. Unless the Warren and Sanders camps said pax with ABC News’ people, this is a debate surrendered to the second-tier candidates and The Gaping Cotton Ball Known as Joe Biden. Andrew Yang exists, like Jon Huntsman on the GOP side in 2012, to remind primary voters that their parties have fringe centrist voters who believe in common sense. Yang is too sane for politics. So is Pete Buttigieg. Amy Klobuchar is not: she’ll punch you for not seeing the wisdom in her addled moderateness.
9:21 p.m. Whenever O’Bourke speaks Spanish, he turns into Andrew Yang talking.
9:21 p.m. I don’t know how to rewrite the United States’ immigration laws. The moment is so charged.
9:17 p.m. “If you look at our history, over half of our Fortune 500 companies…” — Andrew Yang, interviewing for Publix’s director of IT.
9:12 p.m. Wow. In essence Ramos shrugged Biden off.
9:10 p.m. Biden is right to scoff at moderator Jorge Ramos’ comparison between Barack Obama and Donald Trump’s border policies. But few on this stage, Castro excepted, understand what the problem means in personal terms.
9:07 p.m. When asked about guns, Warren points to the Senate, corrupt beyond measure and protected by the filibuster. I’m not sure if she intends this, but this is the “systemic” problem stopping civil rights legislation outlined in Robert Caro’s Master of the Senate.
9:06 p.m. “So, Senator Warren…” Good morning!
9:04 p.m. Sure, Cory, “we have a crisis of empathy” in this country. But the paradox is you need a president to crack skulls. You ain’t winning by pleading.
9:01 p.m. I have not heard Elizabeth Warren so much as exhale in the last thirty-one minutes.
9 p.m. “Hell yes” Beto is going after your AR-15s and AK-47s!
8:57 p.m. Kamala Harris cracks an incoherent joke involving “Yes, We Can!”
8:51 p.m. Ageism, of course, but let me say again: Joe Biden looks tired. Exhausted. And no matter his “detailed plans” to “reform” the prison system, he wasn’t there in decades.
8:48 p.m. Whenever a candidate quotes his or her own press, they’re in trouble; it’s the equivalent of, “Visit my website electmartinomalley.com.
8:46 p.m. So far this debate has focused, almost desperately, on the candidates least likely to excite voters but most likely to excite assistant vice presidents of human resources at Target.
8:43 p.m. Cory Booker proposes a White House office when he’s president to deal with white supremacy.
8:42 p.m. Julian Castro has clever advisers. After praising O’Bourke for his passion after the El Paso shooters, he gently reminds the audience that the shooter targeted “people like me.” #shade
8:40 p.m. Beto O’Bourke signals that he’s aware of the NYT’s 1619 Project.
8:37 p.m. Why do we need someone “who has run a business” for expertise? Why do we still give a shit about this? Andrew Yang, without a tie, has swept in to save us all. Yet he talks as if he wore a tie.
8:35 p.m. Julian Castro, careful to give Barack Obama his props. “Barack Obama’s vision was not to live ten million people uncovered,” Castro said. The crowd boos. Gasps. Biden, querulous, leans into Bernie Sanders, who, in a gentlemanly fashion, throws him a life preserver.
As 2020 and the Iowa caucus get closer, expect to see Rahm Emmanuel and Claire McCaskill types bemoan the leftward lurch of the Democratic Party. Expect allusions to George McGovern, whom the Democratic candidate establishment despises more than the GOP as an Eeyore, a symbol of failure as profound as the substitution of Swanson’s English Style Fish ‘n’ Chops for edible cuisine. Continue reading