sensationalism

The Clinton Nexus: Critique and Purpose

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses supporters at the Navy Yard in Brooklyn, New York, 7 June 2016, after vote projections achieved a majority of pledged delegates in the Democratic presidential primary. (Detail of photo by Steve Sands/WireImage)

As editorials in the guise of reportage go, Niall Stanage’s effort to get into the presidential race for The Hill isn’t as completely terrible as it could be:

In the general election, Clinton can offer a depth of policy experience that far exceeds that of Trump, who has never held elected office. But she also has no slogan as simple and straightforward as his exhortation to “Make America Great Again.”

It’s a failure that some Democratic insiders find perplexing.

“It’s not clear what the over-arching message is yet,” said New York-based Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf. “It is clear that being the anti-Trump has some value; it is clear that offering economic policy has some value. But there is no over-arching message.”

An anonymous Democratic strategist asks, “What’s her vision for the country?” In a way it seems a pertinent question, but in the end it is just another reporter complaining about a non-traditional year.

Part of the difficulty, Democrats say, resides in Clinton’s cautious personality and her past political experiences. Her tendency toward incrementalism doesn’t lend itself to bumper sticker slogans, but she learned the hard way how tough it is to enact sweeping change. Her push for health care reform during the first term of her husband, President Bill Clinton, ended in utter failure.

Those past political experiences help explain why Clinton exhibits a mild disdain for the soundbites that Sanders and Trump―and other candidates―can deploy so readily.

When Clinton met with Black Lives Matter activists almost a year ago, she told them, “Look, I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate.”

Her arguments are such moments may well be fair, or at least plausible. But “change allocation of resources” is not the kind of call to thrill the masses.

In addition, some people suggest that the sheer length of Clinton’s record means that it is hard for to her to gin up the same enthusiasm as new arrivals on the political scene.

Trump “can say anything and he gets applause because he’s fresh and new. She doesn’t get the same applause because she’s not fresh and new,” Sheinkopf said. “It’s more difficult for her than it is for him because Trump has no political history and can therefore say anything and do anything.”

The answer exists within the explanation; it’s just not necessarily apparent because we are all supposed to be looking elsewhere. Stanage’s entire article orbits a presupposition that Hillary Clinton is making a mistake, yet here we encounter an occasion when the question of a mistake seems counterintuitive.

(more…)

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The Rand Paul Show (Chainsaw, Chuckle, and Sigh)

'Now why was that?'

This is … well, okay, we might suggest this is interesting, but only the way an obvious joke might be when it occurs that you haven’t yet recognized it. A brief chuckle, then a sigh.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) released an intense new video on Tuesday where he appears to be literally destroying the US tax code.

Paul has made tax reform central to his presidential campaign. To draw attention to his plan, Paul is asking his supporters to vote how they want to see him shred the current tax system.

The options for his supporters are: chainsaw, fire, and wood chipper.

(Campbell)

2016 GOP presidential nomination campaign advert showing Sen. Rand Paul using a chainsaw to destroy the tax code.  The junior Republican senator from Kentucky is asking fans to vote for how he should destroy the tax code, by fire, chainsaw, or wood chipper.  (21 July 2015)There really isn’t much to add. After all, it’s Rand Paul doing something stupid to beg for everyone’s attention while he reminds us how much he hates taxes. Maybe next time he could try being a bit more original. Like, you know, having a point. Or being something other than a predictably petulant brat. I mean, he could try being intelligent for once, perhaps … if, you know, that isn’t asking too much of the man.

Or, you know, perhaps that’s not fair. In the reality television show known as the 2016 Republican Presidential Nomination Super Fun Happy Patriot Time Show … er … ah … yeah, we’ll work on that title. That is to say, this year spectacular is the new black.

Goddess grant, that sounds even worse than usual. You know, can we finally be done with assertions of the new black? I mean, black is black is black, and the only reason orange, or pink and silver with brown, or whatever the season demands, must necessarily be the new black is because we can’t be bothered to think of anything more intelligent to say.

To wit, the point being that the theme of this year’s Republican nomination contest would seem to have something to do with necessary sensationalism. It’s kind of an open thesis right now, observing the question of candidates playing to national polls instead of early state voters, and also the fact that Donald Trump is in the race and pretty much basking the overwhelming chatter and noise drowning out his competitors. Some might wonder about the dignity and assertion of presidential demeanor about publicity stunts involving maniacal wielding of chainsaws, but this is also the 2016 Republican presidential nomination contest. Spectacle is the rule of thumb, and watch the candidates pander for attention. In a way, Rand Paul chainsawing the tax code makes perfect sense. Nor is that a justification; Republicans did this to themselves.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Rand Paul Show.

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Image notes: Top ― “Now, why was it?” Mamimi loses her train of thought. (FLCL, episode 1, “Fooly Cooly”) Right ― Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) wields a chainsaw for a campaign advertisement, 21 July 2015.

Campbell, Colin. “Watch Rand Paul literally shred the US tax code with a chainsaw”. Business Insider. 21 July 2015.

The Dignity of the Great State of Texas (and Other Notes)

Texas

See, the thing about Texas ....

It is, actually, a difficult proposition to pick on a whole state. After all, no population is monolithic. Still, though, there is a reason why one might note, as Tim Murphy of Mother Jones did last week, that—

As a Texas state senator, Dan Patrick has conducted himself in a manner consistent with the shock jock he once was. Patrick—who is now the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor—has railed against everything from separation of church and state to Mexican coyotes who supposedly speak Urdu. He’s even advised his followers that God is speaking to them through Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson.

—and others will simply nod and mutter to themselves something about how that sounds right. Nor will those folks be surprised to find that the article only goes downhill from there.

And it is true that we see this over and over again, and while it is not some rarified view from an emerald tower to the far horizon, it is a difficult calculation to express just what it is they are doing wrong. Like art and obscenity, though, sometimes it is just plain apparent.

Whether it’s advocating violence against journalists, offering women money to abandon babies, tinkering with history in textbooks, trying to cram small government between women’s legs, showing his tolerance through intolerance, something about coyotes speaking Urdu, denigrating migrants, touting his own piety in order to be seen by other men, breaking Senate rules in order to try to force a bill through because, well, you know, God, mocking Asians, or arguing against the separation of church and state, there really isn’t anything about Murphy’s profile of the shoe-in to what is described as the most powerful office in Texas that doesn’t “sound Texas”.

One of the things about states’ rights is that in our democratic society, how our majority votes is one of the most apparent projections of what our society believes. It’s kind of like wondering what the Joni Ernst campaign means as an expression of Iowa values. Does any of this embarrass supporters?

And Texas? Come on, we saw Rick Perry in the 2012 primary. And it is still hard to explain the two presidential terms of George W. Bush. But for all the miserable disaster about Perry or Bush, or Ron “Legitimate Rape” Paul? Really? Does none of this embarrass the Texans who support these people?

Take Rep. Vance McAllister. The Republican from Louisiana’s Fifth Congressional District is best known as the “kissing congressman”, and sure, it’s not the worst thing in the world for a member of Congress to be caught cheating on his wife. And some would make the point that, hey, it was just a kiss, you know? But what was really, really embarrassing about that episode, what seemed so unreal, was the back and forth about whether he would resign, or maybe simply not run for Congress again, and, well, now he actually trails the lone Democrat in a six-way race otherwise rated Safe Republican. Still, the only people annoyed by the controversy seem to be his opponents. And in truth, it is hard for outsiders to comprehend the context of Times-Picayune political reporter James Varney’s recent explanation of the race for LA5CD:

Is McAllister this bad? Does he actually have a chance of being re-elected?

Well, as for the first question, maybe not. He’s a veteran, for one thing. And he earned all that money through savvy personal business moves, for another. In addition, as his campaign stresses, he holds a bunch of excellent positions: he’s against amnesty; he thinks Obamacare is terrible.

So, taken all in all, McAllister is the sort of guy who could have kept his seat in Congress and a Robertson family duck blind forever if he could have simply resisted his married staffer.

Whether he has a chance or not is hard to determine. The Robertson clan, maintaining the Old Testament stance that jibes with their unshaven look, is backing and bankrolling a relative, Zach Dasher. Dasher, a political rookie, is also supported by outside groups like the Club for Growth.

It’s a crowded Republican field, too. The third candidate most people familiar with the field identify as a guy with a shot at the runoff is Ralph Abraham. Abraham holds both medical and veterinary degrees so he’s overqualified for the job. There isn’t a whole lot of daylight between the three men on the issues.

There’s also a Democrat in the race and, somewhat surprisingly, he’s reportedly got a shot at a spot in the runoff. There appears to be little reliable, objective polling data on the race. More than a month ago The News-Star in Monroe had McAllister leading the race with 27 percent followed by the Democrat, former Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo.

At some point, it seems as if we are reading a satire on Poe’s Law, which essentially asserts that at some point it becomes impossible to discern between satire or even parody to the one, and reality to the other. And when this sort of question was largely restricted to internet arguments about anything under the sun, it was whatever it was. As a particular notion was explained to me in 1995, “Remember, this is the internet. Any moron with a connection can have a soapbox.” To what degree the surfactant has permeated the social discourse is a complex question, of course, but there does come a point when it seems almost impossible to dismiss the simple fact of certain results. Dan Patrick and Rick Perry in Texas? Vance McAllister in Louisiana? “Fangate”, for heaven’s sake? Really, it sounds like a cruel joke, “America’s Wang”, except that, well, it’s Florida, so one nods and mutters, “Sounds about right.”

In the end, it’s not that we hate these people in these states, because we don’t. And we might hope that despite the general contempt they show the rest of American society they don’t actually hate us. But, damn it, what kind of friends, family, or neighbors would we be if we stood by, watching them denigrate and even hurt themselves, and simply say nothing?

Sometimes people embarrass themselves. And, yes, sometimes it’s really, really funny. But the point is to be able to look back on this, someday, and laugh. These aren’t storts of things we should be laughing at, though. The implications are serious. And when the history is written, and the damage is tallied, the indictments will be hideous. At this point, simply admitting there is a problem might be a generational process for some of these states.

And we can complain about the media all we want, but in the end, the only way to change it is to stop paying attention to what the stenographers journalists say. And in truth, not everybody is suited to read the news backwards, to start from the editorials and work back to the sources. Sometimes this proves fruitful, such as when one hears conservative commentators ranting about liberal judicial activism on the Supreme Court, and then finding the case they are talking about, and it turns out all the Court actually did was refuse to overturn the opinion of one of the most conservative state supreme courts in the nation.α To the one, however, it is a laborious process, and sometimes source documents can be hard to find. To the other, there are some people who simply do not seem to understand how government works. And those would be the sort who would complain about the Supreme Court imposing its will on the states, but then be unable to figure out that had Missouri not pushed its losing cause in front of the Supreme Court, it would have stayed in the states. In this case, though, Missouri really, wanted to execute someone, demanded the Supreme Court’s attention, got it, and then failed to make the case. And if you put the question to certain people—How did the Supreme Court impose its will by leaving a state supreme court decision to stand?—it seems somehow incompatible with whatever is going on in their minds to understand that had the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, the outcome would have been the same. Strangely, the dissonance of the complaint against liberal judicial activism creates an argument whereby the U.S. Supreme Court rejecting and overturning a state supreme court is the only outcome that would not constitute an imposition of will.

No, really, think about it. The three potential outcomes of Roper: (1) SCOTUS refuses to hear appeal, state supreme court decision stands; (2) SCOTUS hears appeal, upholds state supreme court decision; (3) SCOTUS hears appeal, overturns state supreme court decision. By the complaint of liberal judicial activism against the second possibility above—the one that came about—the first is similarly indicted for arriving at the same result; the third, technically, remains a mystery, but in this context of imposing against the states, the outcome that sees SCOTUS reject the state supreme court becomes the only one that does not impose the federal judiciary’s will on the states. The difference is in what part of a state one is looking at. It was the Missouri judiciary that imposed its judgment against the will of the state’s executive branch. And since the U.S. Supreme Court did not impose its will against the state judiciary, it imposed its will against the state executive branch. If it seems like a complicated accommodation for the executive branch of Missouri having asked the Supreme Court of the United States to impose its will? Well, right. That’s the problem with the rhetoric we hear from cable news commentary. And, really, considering what we know or believe about the “average voter”, who the hell has time to figure all that out? About everything?

And while all of this might seem a long and winding road from seeking divine inspiration in Duck Dynasty, we might hope to illustrate a larger issue. American society is lowering the proverbial bar for this crowd. And everybody selling something has a reason to play along. Simplistic sensationalism draws a news audience, which attends to the money biasβ. Simplified issue dynamics make for an appearance of greater efficiency and potency for campaign operations. And the candidates themselves have fewer details and quandaries to manage. In truth, the only losers in such a marketplace are the consumers, i.e., voters.

Stupidity is both simple and spectacular.

So, yes. We look to the low end of the data set, to what is dragging down the averages, and this is what we see? Yeah, the question persists: Aren’t they even a little bit embarrassed by all this?

It would be reassuring to believe they are.

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α That decision would be Roper v. Simmons (2005), in which the Supreme Court declined to overturn the Supreme Court of Missouri. In this case, reading backwards from the editorial complaint about liberal judicial activism, we find the underlying accusation to be that the Supreme Court of Missouri is apparently too liberal and activist. And, frankly, if the Supreme Court of Missouri is too liberal and activist, one wonders what the threshold actually is.

β You know that phantom liberal media conspiracy we hear about from time to time? It has always been about money, and part of the appearance of disparity in coverage is that while both sides indeed have their clowns, not all clowns are equal. What is the other side’s version of a Ted Haggard or George Rekers? Or Sarah Palin? Or Bryan Fischer? Or Ted Cruz? Really, if one asked about the other side’s John Boehner, it would be historically inaccurate to point to Nancy Pelosi. And there are reasons for this, and no, not all of them are moral or ethical indictments of conservative politics; much of it is just the fact of accelerating societal transformation and the resulting destabilization of prevailing cultural standards. That is to say, while conservatism itself is not inherently evil, there are reasons why it has come to this. That, in turn, is a larger discussion of its own.

Murphy, Tim. “Man Who Believes God Speaks to Us Through ‘Duck Dynasty’ Is About to Be Texas’ Second-in-Command”. Mother Jones. 21 October 2014.

Bowman, Bridget. “Poll Shows McAllister Race Is Wide Open”. Roll Call. 7 October 2014.

Everett, Burgess. “The passion of the ‘kissing congressman'”. Politico. 20 October 2014.

Varney, James. “Is Rep. Vance McAllister, R-La., a big, fat slob or just a cheater?” The Times-Picayune. 21 October 2014.