Whoa! An actual debate.

Brian_LambertWell, that was actually interesting. And not because it was a night filled with hysteria and off-the-leash narcissism.

In case we’ve forgotten what a “substantive debate” sounds like, Bernie v. Hillary Thursday night in New Hampshire was a refreshing reminder. Two people arguing stuff that matters … most … right now … and not trying to out hyper-ventilate the other guy in imagining bloodthirsty, color-other-than-white terrorists gunning us down in our pickups on our way to Wednesday night prayer service.

Predictably, the morning after pundits are seizing on Hillary’s “artful smear” line against Bernie, by which she was plainly trying to coax him into saying directly that she’s taken bribes from Wall St. The line didn’t play well. Sanders is simply too honorable and too defiant (some might say “courageous”) in his attack on the country’s most dominant minority (the super-super wealthy) for a shot like that to land with the feel of validity and with any sticking power, especially from Hillary Clinton. I seriously doubt she’ll go there again.

And not because her kissing-cousins relationship with Goldman, Sachs and the rest of the .1% mob will go away … ever. But because Clinton, as she demonstrated again last night, both adapts well to the combat of politics and has plenty of fight in her. And I say that as two good things. The Clintons are unrivaled in their facility with the machinery of the political game, which is one reason Bubba not only swatted back the Gingrich Revolution in ’94-’95, but survived impeachment and left office with an approval rating higher than dottering St. Ronnie.

I keep imagining what the first Clinton years might have been like if they knew as much about neutralizing Republican cynicism as they do now and had no interest in compliant interns.

Someone was saying this morning that the Sanders phenomena is much more about the message than Bernie himself, and that sounds right. You could swap Bernie out with anyone saying the same thing and be in pretty much the same level of contention. But it helps that Ol’ Bern comes off simultaneously as fair-minded and mightily pissed-off.

Certainly until the general election, Hillary will be on serious defensive for her “establishment” (i.e. there’s no way in hell you can call this “progressive”) pas de deux with our 21st-century robber barons. (And this new crew gives guys like Andrew Carnegie and J.D. Rockefeller a bad name). That’s her punishment. The hope has to be that she is aware of how much she has to prove she has not been bought off, as so many suspect.

I thought Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow, who did a very good job with both the line and quality of questions and their willingness to play back and let Bernie and Hillary have at it, missed at least one juicy follow-up.

After Bernie reiterated his familiar charge that Wall St. today — still paying off billions in fines for fraudulent behavior — is really, let’s call it what it is, a massive on-going systematic fraud, Todd and Maddow should have turned to Hillary and asked, “Madam Secretary do you agree that Wall St. as it functions today is a systematic fraud?”

Personally, I would have gone a step further and asked, “Madam Secretary, do you believe JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon should be indicted for fraud?” But that’s just me.

Todd, and certainly Maddow, might have also pursued a line of questioning along these lines: “Senator Sanders, your essential message, talking of a revolution, has demonstrated substantial appeal. But you seem to gloss over the steadfast opposition the current Republican majority has to literally everything a Democratic president proposes, and that includes minor policy shifts they themselves have previously championed. Aren’t you showing a rather blithe disregard for the size and virulence of the opposition to the enormous and fundamental changes you’re proposing, to the banking and health insurance industry in particular? Your reluctance to lay out how, with minorities in both houses, your plans could survive such a torrent of opposition leaves many people deeply concerned you have not fully accepted the probability of that scenario.”

I’m still waiting for a convincing answer from Bernie on that one.

Still, by way of stark contrast, the debate’s focus on financial corruption and that disease’s impact on middle-class Americans was like sucking in a chestful of pure oxygen after the relentless freak-outs and idiocy of the Republican brawls. Everyone’s sense of real-time security will improve immeasurably when we get a license-to-indict grip on our supremely entitled class.

Bernie’s limitations vis a vis Hillary though were dramatically apparent when the topic turned to foreign policy, a range of issues pretty much on the periphery of his appeal. There was no comparison. There’s simply no one in this race or in any race since Bush 41 who rivals Clinton on first-hand understanding of who’s who in the world and how to handle the best and worst players. The question of course remains, facing the next international crisis, does she go with the option that is best or Halliburton et al, or follow Barack Obama’s much less trigger happy strategies?

(The crowd selling Clinton as an inveterate war-monger, primarily for her Iraq invasion vote, is engaging in its own brand of hysteria.)

Not being a believer in perfect candidates, Thursday’s debate was a satisfying confrontation of two sets of valuable virtues and vices, aspirational and idealistic vs. pragmatic and battlefield savvy.

The Health Reform Middle Ground Between Bernie and Hillary

Cursor_and_bernie_hillary_debate_msnbc_-_Google_SearchTo hear Senator Hillary Clinton’s campaign tell it, you would think that there is absolutely no way to transition from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) world of today to an eventual Medicare-for-All world that her opponent Senator Bernie Sanders promotes.

The Clinton campaign asserts that the ACA and Medicare-for-All are effectively mutually exclusive. That is, they claim that if you support Medicare-for-All, you must be against the ACA. For instance, former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton was put out on the stump to play Chicken Little:

“Senator Sanders wants to dismantle Obamacare, dismantle the CHIP program, dismantle Medicare, and dismantle private insurance. I worry if we give Republicans Democratic permission to do that, we’ll go back to an era — before we had the Affordable Care Act — that would strip millions and millions and millions of people off their health insurance.”

Chelsea’s mom, a bona fide health care policy expert, knows better. She knows that Senator Sanders proposes to consolidate public insurance programs to make coverage better and more efficient, not eliminate public coverage.

The Clinton campaign’s dire warnings aside, there is a potential middle ground between Senator Sanders’ Medicare-for-All Model and Secretary Clinton’s Stick With The ACA Model.  It’s a middle ground that is more politically viable than what Sanders proposes, and more progressive than what Clinton proposes.

The middle ground is this: Amend the Affordable Care Act to allow ACA exchange shoppers the option of voluntarily buying into Medicare.

This middle ground approach would effectively empower patients to decide the fate of Medicare-for-All.  Here’s how:  If over the years enough ACA exchange shoppers choose of their own free will to buy into Medicare, we will be making progress towards a public single payer system, which in numerous other western countries has proven to be a more effective and efficient model than America’s current model.

On the other hand, if private insurance options prove to be the most attractive, on a quality and/or price basis, the Medicare buy-in option will die off, because it will be exposed as being as inferior as Republicans claim it to be.

But with this Medicare buy-in option, patients would effectively decide Medicare-for-All’s ultimate fate, not politicians.  That’s why it’s a middle ground position.

Senator Clinton maintains that a public option lacks sufficient congressional support to pass, and that is certainly a distinct possibility. But if she proves to be correct and it gets defeated, the ACA will still be there. At that point, we would simply stay with the status quo ACA model.

But I’d like to see an aspirational President who was willing to lead a campaign to enact this middle ground approach.  Because this would be merely optional for patients, it is much more politically feasible than Sanders’ proposal to mandate Medicare-for-All.  Even if a Medicare buy-in option loses, promoting the issue now may pave the way for eventual passage in the future.   It moves the national debate forward.

I actually think a passionate, committed President would have an outside shot of passing this.  After all, there already is a great deal of support for this approach. GBA Strategies recently asked 1,500 likely 2016 voters whether they supporting giving “all Americans the choice of buying health insurance through Medicare or private insurances, which would provide competition for insurance companies and more options for consumers.”

An overwhelming 71% supported this Medicare buy-in option, including 63% of Republicans and 71% of Independents. Only 13% opposed. 

After the special interests start their multi-million distortion and lobbying campaigns, the Medicare buy-in option may well get defeated in a Congress that defeats just about everything. (In fact, any of Senator Clinton’s ideas for incrementally improving the ACA also face a steep uphill battle with a Republican-controlled House).   But this survey tells me that there is a solid foundation of support to build on. So why not lead the American people towards this place halfway between Bernie and Hillary, and at least try to make some progress.

Note:  This post was featured in MinnPost’s Blog Cabin.

Caucuses: Democracy Of, For and By the Extroverts

minnesota_caucus_-_Google_SearchOn March 1, Minnesota’s two major political parties will select its presidential nominees with a caucus system.  Iowa will use a similar system in just a few days.  So maybe we should take a moment to consider who gets the most and least representation out of this system.

The caucus approach requires that party members gather in groups in various locations to debate issues and candidates before they vote.   If a citizen wants to be a party delegate, they must attend additional lengthy gatherings.

In contrast, with a primary system for nominating candidates, party members simply cast a vote and leave.

Who is Over-Represented?  

Ideological Extremists.  It’s pretty well established that the caucus system over-represents ideological extremists. As Brigham Young University researchers Christopher Karpowitz and Jeremy Pople  found:

“The average primary voter is not at the center of the spectrum either, but such voters tend to be center-left or center-right. Caucus-goers, on the other hand, tend to be much more ideologically extreme. In fact, in their issue attitudes, caucus attenders are indistinguishable from representatives currently serving in our polarized Congress.”

People With More Time. Beyond over-representing ideological extreme party members, the caucus system works best for those who have free time.  For instance, citizens who you have children or other dependents, travel for work, and/or work long hours are going to find it more difficult to attend a caucus than to cast a primary vote. The caucus system doesn’t work very well for them.

Extroverts.  But there is also a less obvious type of group that the caucus system inadvertently discriminates against – introverts.

Introverts have a preference for less stimulating environments over more stimulating environments, using the definition used by many psychologists. Obviously, bustling caucus meetings and conventions are significantly more stimulating than sedate voting booths, so the former is much more off-putting to introverts.

Sure, some introverts attend caucuses, but overall introverts are about as attracted to frenetic caucuses and conventions as extroverts are attracted to all-silent retreats. You could hardly design a better system for driving away many introverts.

Why Care About Introvert Non-Participation?

Introversion isn’t just any trait.  Psychologists say it is a particularly influential one. Susan Cain, author of the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking describes it like this:

“Our lives are shaped as profoundly by personality as by gender or race. And the single most aspect of personality — the “north and south of temperament,” as one scientist puts it — is where we fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum.”

Not A Small Group.  Experts estimate that between one-third and one-half of Americans are introverts who have a preference for less stimulating environments. So, depending on which estimate is correct, introverts are a sub-population that may be as large as many major religions, races and ethnic communities.

If political parties designed a nomination system that they knew drove away any of those groups, would we okay with that?  So, why are party leaders comfortable with an approach that many introverts will be strongly inclined to avoid?

If party leaders did a personality profile of party members who regularly sit out caucuses and conventions, it’s a fair bet that they would find that a disproportionate number of the non-participants are introverts. Extroverted party activists may think these introverts are so far outside the mainstream that they should be shrugged off, but the parties do pay a price for effectively driving away up to half of the electorate.

Important Perspectives.  Researchers describe a range of positive traits that introverts could be bringing to political party decisions. For instance, introverts are highly empathetic. They tend to be more spiritual and philosophical, and less materialistic. They notice subtleties that others miss. They like to think before they speak. These are not bad things for any political party to have in the mix.

Party leaders should be uncomfortable driving away the participation of introverts, given that people like Abraham Lincoln, J.K. Rowling, Bill Gates, Laura Bush, George Stephanopoulos, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Mark Zuckerberg, and Warren Buffet fall into that category.

I understand that this will strike many as a peculiar argument.  Contemporary society is much more inclined to divide the world by gender, race, ethnicity and income than by personality types. I also know this argument will particularly baffle extrovert party activists, who are so profoundly energized by caucus and convention gatherings that it can be almost impossible for them to comprehend that so many others could be repelled by those gatherings.

It’s awfully easy for extroverted party leaders to dismiss introverts as being an insignificant and odd minority that is flawed, lazy, or not civic-minded. But ignoring the strong preferences of up to half of Americans is pretty bull-headed and self-defeating for leaders who need attract every vote they can get.

Note:  This post was featured in MinnPost’s Blog Cabin.

Bernie v. Reality

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterFor the past week the trending buzzword for Bernie Sanders has been “reality”. As in: “Is Bernie out of touch with reality?” “Bernie’s ability to win is not connected to reality.” And, “Revolution in 2016 America is not a concept rooted in reality.”

If he weren’t about to throw a serious scare into Hillary Clinton, who is sort of Reality-Plus, or Reality-Minus, depending on your enthusiasm for her, no one would bother to think too long about Bernie Sanders setting up as Our Guy. I mean, Bernie as the one sent out to do battle with all the massed forces of the Wall St. kleptocracy, Big Pharma, UnitedHealth and all the other richer-than-Croesus “managed care insurers”? Not to mention chilling out every panicked authoritarian convinced “total war” with someone now is the only way to keep rabid jihadis from stepping off the 7 bus and cutting all our heads off. Until recently not too many of us actually stopped and considered Bernie Sanders being that guy.

Like a lot of the people I hang around with, I get a big smile on my face whenever I hear Bernie laying into the 1%, which as he is quick to point out is really the .1%.

“[Bleeping]-A right, Bern!”, I yell back at the TV, scaring the dog.

In terms of isolating and drawing big, bold neon-colored circles around the fundamental issues, no one comes close to Bernie. He’s absolutely right. Income inequality in the USA is off the charts, at least for an alleged democracy. The system is rigged. Big money has bought off not just Congress but most of the conglomerate media as well, to the point that at this moment, there is, truly and genuinely, no effective resistance or counter-narrative to the most affluent forces in the country accumulating even greater control over our supposedly free markets, government and culture.

Other than the issue of how to best achieve effective gun control, which has to be a federal system, I don’t really disagree with Bernie on anything. Medicare for all. Check. Free tuition for higher education. Check. And on and on.

My problem — my “reality” dilemma — is that I haven’t believed in the one-man revolution theory in a long, long time. Every empirical piece of data you can gather and pretty much every historical touchstone you can summon tells us it It is a physical, sociological, intellectual impossibility for one man (or woman) to make sweeping, radical, revolutionary change in the way the United States does business.

Can one person crank the rudder another 5 or 6 points starboard or port? Maybe. But even that’s easier if it’s a conservative “trimming big government” and cutting taxes for big donors than a Democratic Socialist handing the fat cats a big new tax bill and adding to the authority of government.

But come on. Pulling the control, the profits, the share-holder value out from under UnitedHealth and Cigna and the others? Essentially dismantling them? And not just “breaking up the big banks” but larding them with serious levels of unavoidable taxation to fund free-tuition and infrastructure repair? Am I really supposed to wonder if one guy, and in this case a cranky 74 year-old, can pull this off in four years? A 180-degree financial revolution? In the United States as it is today, if it took less than 100 years without a counter-revolutionary firestorm it be would be a miracle.

I just don’t see it. I wish I did. But I don’t. Life doesn’t work that way. It never has. Anywhere.

The “primal forces of nature”, as Mr. Jensen explained to Howard Beale in “Network” are simply so big, so vastly more influential and, as public-companies, so deeply integrated into middle-class dreams for an RV and a few winters in Florida, that President Bernie Sanders would first have to have a Congress as progressive as he is to achieve even his most modest proposal, like improving veterans health care or some small beer like that.

And that’s the key to “Bernie reality.” As it is currently elected and convened, Congress has one overriding goal, and that is to hustle and shill for enough money to stay in office. Anything it ever does for middle class voters is strictly a happy, residual accident. Bernie’s entirely admirable progressive agenda, his fervid revolutionary dream, requires that that equally progressive Congress to be there when he arrives, and that ain’t going to happen. Citizens United and gerrymandering are years if not decades away from being gutted and replaced with something, you know, democratic.

Further, many of the people most eager for Bernie’s revolution have a bad habit of taking Congressional elections off. They get whipped up every eight to twelve years, and then fade off when the one-man revolution fails to single-handedly dethrone the royal families in the first couple weeks. And this crowd isn’t all dewy-eyed college kids. It was striking to listen to adults my age grumbling and throwing up their hands over Barack Obama within a year of his first election. The naivete, from allegedly intelligent adults, that one guy could swiftly transform everything they despised into gems of unblemished purity was startling to behold.

Startling, but utterly familiar to any student of human nature.

So what then? Cautious, triangulating, incremental Hillary Clinton?

Well, I gotta tell ya, when you look at Mitch McConnell controlling the Senate and Tea Party holding the House hostage and the banks and corporations controlling controlling all of the above, not to mention the banks and corporations controlling most every other Democrat too, (including Clinton), there’s something to be said for a couple more rounds of Obama-style pragmatism. Something to be said for someone who is (way) smarter than the raving Tea Party lunatics and wily enough about how the game works to balance the feudal greed of JP Morgan Chase, K Street and UnitedHealth with the goals of progressives, labor, women and minorities.

The reality of Bernie’s revolution is pitched warfare, which is fine and righteous and noble, but a lot better idea when you have a good chance of victory.

I wish it were different. But right now Bernie doesn’t have enough firepower on the front line.

When Sarah Met Donald. The Transcript.

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterBy sheer good fortune we have been able to obtain a transcript of Donald Trump and Sarah Palin in an Iowa hotel suite prepping for her endorsement speech a couple days ago. Some editing has been required.

Trump: Sarah! Hello! Welcome! You’re looking fabulous, just terrific. Why is at all the smartest women are also the best looking?

Palin: Well thanks, thank you. (Sound of cheek kissing.) I’m just so thrilled and ready to you know fight and talk and get out there and say all the stuff that …  .

Trump: Yeah. Terrific. And I like the shoes by the way. Jimmy Choo, am I right? Melania wears Jimmy Choo. He’s the best. Classiest, smartest designer out there. Knows what women want. Like me. I have a deal for his stores in all my best buildings. They’re all the best, obviously, my buildings. But some don’t have stores … .

Palin: You know, I don’t know if now is the right time, but I was going to ask you, I might need, you know, to spiff up my look a little if we’re going to be out there and on TV a lot. We will be on a lot, right? The McCain people, they were a lot of fuddy duddies as you know, but  … .

Trump: They were losers, just say it. Come on! It’s you and me. Losers. Those people understood nothing about winning. Nothing. If they flipped a coin a hundred times they’d lose a hundred times. Pathetic. Really pathetic.

Palin: Oh fer sure, fer sure. And they never listened to me. I told them, “Go big! Go bigger! Don’t be such a bunch of scaredy cats. Strut your stuff. A wink and a wiggle, you know?” Heck almighty, I learned that covering hockey on Alaska TV. There’s a reason they call it show biz, am I right?

Trump: (Chuckling). When you’re right, you’re right. And I only put people on my team who are right. All the time. If they’re wrong they’re gone. I don’t apologize for that.

Palin: But what I was going to say is McCain’s people … .

Trump: Losers … .

Palin: Fer sure. But they put aside a little, you know, a little allowance to freshen up my look. Just a little. Not much. Because, you know, the people who come out to see me expect to see something other than dumb-o, baggy pantsuits and tacky old lady jewelry. Democrat looking … .

Trump: We’ll see what we can do. I know some people at Lord & Taylor … .

Palin: Bergdorf Goodman?

Trump: We’ll fix it. This is first class, all the way. It’s the only way. Second class might as well be steerage. I expect my people to look like winners. But listen, I’ve got TV thing with “Fox & Friends” here in about 15 minutes, so let’s just get a taste of what you’re going to say at the “reveal” today, OK?

Palin: Okey dokey. Todd and I put something together on the plane coming over here. (Sound of paper crinkling.) I thought I’d open with … .

Trump: Listen, Sarah. I think you’re terrific. You know that. You and I wouldn’t be sitting here if I didn’t. I only bring in terrific people.

Palin: The terrificest!

Trump: Right. But the thing is, we don’t do, you know, speeches. TelePrompter stuff.

Palin: Like our Hopey Changer in Chief … .

Trump: Exactly. The crowds coming to see me, and I get the biggest crowds. We could rent football stadiums and I’d still be turning people away. Except it’s too cold out here today so we’re indoors. But they like it spontaneous, from the soul. People don’t think of me as a big soul guy, but I’m the biggest. I saw a poll just the other day … .

Palin: So … no speech?

Trump: No, no. But just say it. Get up there and do your thing. Go, what is it you say you go again?

Palin: “Go again”? Oh, you mean rogue? Go roguey?

Trump: Right. Rogue. We’re not doing the same old thing. There’s no win in same old same old. Look at my numbers. They never go down. Only up. I do an hour, just telling people what I know.

Palin: Like how His Majesty the  Obama-issar has messed everything up so bad.

Trump: Exactly. Who needs a speech? Everything’s a mess, a total disaster. That’s what people want to hear. A complete disaster. Nothing but losing. Terrible stuff everywhere. Killers. Thieves. So, and I have to get a little makeup on before this Fox thing, so just give me some of that rogue stuff and I’ll give you a little feedback. You’ll be great. Don’t worry about it.

Palin: Who does your hair? I think I need a cut and blow out … .

Trump: So hit me with it. Give me your best shot.

Palin: (Sound of standing up.) OK. Just hear me roar? Right?

Trump: Like the baddest lion on the Serengeti.

Palin: Oh, I love Italy. Todd and I went there on a cruise one time. I had a linguini … .

Trump: Let it fly. Be the best you you’ve ever been.

Palin: OK. So this is after I come out and we do the little kissy huggy thing and everyone stops all their clapping and cheering and applauding stuff, OK?

Trump: Great.

Palin: OK … . (Deep breath.) Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Wow! It just so terrific and awesome to be back here with you. I love South Carolina … .

Trump: Iowa.

Palin: Oh, sorry. Iowa! The other one had the flag thingie, right?

Trump: Right.

Palin: OK, so all the cheering stops and I start by saying … let’s see. Go strong right from the getty-go, right?

Trump: Right. You’ll be great. Just let it fly. Right from the gut.

Palin: Right. (Another deep breath.) So Iowa, are you ready to put a chill, a chill as cold and icey as the weather outside, so cold your snow machine doesn’t start on the first try, into the snobby, elitey people who sit there in their comfortable chairs, which are so high up in big cities, way way far away from a Sam’s Club where they’re too good to be seen shopping for things you like to shop for, for your family, which you’re trying to protect from the ISIS’s terrorists who want to cut off your children’s heads but can’t as long you still have the right to be a militia for yourself and your family with the guns you have, which it says right there in the Constitution you have a right to buy and own, without you know, any fancy-word talker that used to be an organizer of, you know, communities in Chicago, where people are always being shot with guns that they wouldn’t have shot if you had guns to shoot back at them back first?

Because I am! And Mr. Trump, Donald, here is too, because we know what you want. Because we are just like you specially when I go outside my house in Alaska, where I hunt a lot to protect my family, for moose that aren’t “endangered” like the scaredy-cats in Washington and in the New York Times are always saying, but are lots and lots everywhere you see, and which I see from the helicopter when me and my beautiful, at least I think he’s beautiful, husband Todd, go out and look at the beautiful country that is being taken from us, with all our rights, by the same people who made you pay for Obamacare with its death squads that tell you when the government says you have to die and when you can’t get pills for whatever is your problem, which is a lot of things after eight years of hopei-ness and changei-ness, especially how, you know, when it means you can’t drill baby drill on the land your forefathers made and the government, this elitey government in Washington but that is really all from Chicago, where gangsters shoot decent people all the time, says you can’t graze on even though you live right next to it and … .

Trump: Uh, OK. Good. I like it. I would say maybe slow down just a little. A little pause to let it sink in a bit. I do it on “The Apprentice” all the time. Pause for effect. It makes the audience, and mine was yuge by the way, all the time, NBC begged me to stay, it makes them eager to hear what you say next. They’re hanging on that next line. And, also, even though this is Iowa, which is not, you know, down South, give it a little Southern kick, something that’ll tease the ear just a bit when the media, which always plays everything I say, runs this in Georgia and places like that. Southern fried. Paula Deen. Just a little. Try it.

Palin: Southern?

Trump: Just a little, and churchy, too. You know, Jesus this, Jesus that. The Bible. Old time religion. Just a little. For flavor. But be hip. Young and Southern.

Palin: Okey. I can do that. (Another breath.) And what is also true even though y’all never hear those other folks, who aren’t like you or me or the good old boys that ride their snow machines with Todd and do all that huntin’ on Sundays after church but before the big games come on is that the Bible, what the Great Creator up there even farther north than Alaska has always said, even back before Hollywood started fillin’ our kids minds with all that loosey goosey talk about sex and hippy hoppy stuff is that you got to have codes, codes like Jesus had and we all have but the media doesn’t have because Jesus is a dirty word to them when they’re eating their expensive bagels on top of the Empire Building looking down on all of us like they do, like they don’t want to get their fingers dirty eating good old home-cooked chicken, that has been fried and tastes really good if you have to get up early and protect your family for a living the way the Lord said in the Bible, in the Book of Leviciousness, where if they poke you in the eye, like ISIS, you poke them in the eye, too. Maybe even poke them out.

Voice off: Mr. Trump Fox is ready for you.

Trump: Listen, I think you’ve got it, Sarah. This is terrific stuff. Really terrific. See if you can work in something about pickup trucks and dogs, like you did with McCain, and we’re good to go. Did I tell you you look great? I don’t know how you do it. But all my people look great. I only hire people who look the best. The best. The best people look great. Its not difficult. Why some people can’t I don’t understand. And it’s the only thing I don’t understand. But thanks for coming in. These Fox people need me. It’s a favor I do them. They’d have no ratings if it weren’t for me. So, see you at the rally, OK?

Palin: Gee thanks, Donald.

(Sound of Trump moving away).

Palin: Could you call your people at Bergdorf … ?

 

 

 

 

 

Why Trump Can Win it All, and I Mean “All”

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterI missed the Hillary and Bernie show last night, partly because I am still fighting off the depression of last Thursday’s “No, I Am More Apocalyptic Than Thou” Republican shoot out, in particular the moment when I realized that Donald Trump could win it all, as in become not just the anointed candidate of The Doomsayer Party, but POTUS 45.

The argument is this: After six months of doing presidential campaigning his way, traditional courtesies and decorum be damned, Trump is at worst as strong as he’s ever been, and all others, with the exception of Ted Cruz, are demonstrably weaker, to the point of irrelevance. Moreover, Trump continues to demonstrate a quality — a talent — none of the other Republicans possess, least of all Cruz, which is  … wait for it … likability.

In a pond of alternately flailing lost causes (Kasich, Christie, Bush) and panicking empty suits (Rubio), Trump has not only maintained his cool, but continued to flash an everyman sense of humor as well, or at least sustain a style of rebuttal the infamous, mythical “average voter” not only relates to but is familiar with, thanks to our pervasive pop culture. Sure, to prissy, wine-sipping elites like me his standard comeback of, “Who cares what you say? You’re a loser” seems beneath the dignity of a President of the United States. But I’m not the crowd that could put Trump up on the south steps of the Capitol Jan. 20 2017.

Trump’s game, and so far he’s succeeding at it, is to rally millions of your and my fellow ‘Muricans who haven’t voted in probably 25 years, and even then Ross Perot didn’t have anything like Trump’s pop personality appeal. The psycho/sociological specs on this large herd of regularly untapped voters are pretty well known. They’re not ideological. They’re not particularly religious. They’re certainly not evangelical unicorn people. But they are pissed off. Chronically, and pretty much about everything, certainly everything that reminds them that for one reason or another they’ll never be “great again”, never mind that they never were.

These people, fueled by a vast methane-like sea of resentments, are indisputably ill-informed. But so what? Their vote counts as much as yours and mine.

So, if the first choice comes down to Trump or Cruz, it’s, IMHO, a no-brainer. Cruz’ palpable vibe is that of a fer de lance, a truly dangerous untrustworthy snake with no redeeming personal qualities whatsoever, other than that he’s not Hillary Clinton or a pathetic, mumbling nob like Jeb Bush. If this heretofore untapped crowd slides off their bar stools and turns out to vote — and that’s the question Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina will begin to answer — they go with Trump, a guy who cracks lines they laugh at instinctively, as he confirms that the whole country has gone to shit, 99 times out of 100 over Cruz.

Then … the great revolutionary dynamic becomes this: Does that same crowd — chronically angry and ill-informed — feel a mojo they’ve never before felt in their lifetimes, a pleasurable tingling sensation that says, “My time has finally come”?

A time to pull the damn rug out from all the self-serving, prevaricating, “smartest kids in the class” who have deprived them of their, well, self-respect to put a fancy phrase on it, and install someone totally different? Someone who sees, or at least describes a world exactly as they see it, full of thieves and killers, and with whom they feel entirely comfortable, in part because he’s already so familiar to them by virtue of having been on TV most of their adult lives?

The choice then is Trump, as the official Doomsayer Party nominee, still taunting, confident and funny or Hillary Clinton, yet another one of them, and who cares if she uses the other rest room? 99 out of 100 at that point becomes 100 out of 100.

A Trump coronation by the Doomsayers will energize Democrats like no other election I can think of, not even Bush in ’04, which we all thought was ours to lose, and we did. (Thank you, Ken Blackwell and Ohio.)

My theory is that Trump has the potential to tap a bloc of voters — this would be the “rarely-if-ever” vote crowd — far larger than Clinton, even with with the full Democratic coalition of liberals, minorities and every catalyzed woman. Trump after all, and let’s be honest about this, is this year’s “transformational candidate”. Hillary is nothing of the sort. Never mind the pantsuits.

Moreover, Trump has the enormous advantage of not being tethered to anything more than a fleeting whiff of fact-based reality. Nothing he says has to be true, at least as you and I know it. It just has to feel right … to millions of people who have been waiting for an engaging character who sees the world exactly as they see it.

Trump does not have to lay out a single tedious position paper, demean himself with one “Hey look, I’m a manly dude out hunting in fresh-off-the-rack camo gear” photo op, or even really press all that much flesh with the people who want him so badly.

Ask yourself, what line of attack could Clinton or any institutional/Beltway/political lifer make on Trump that hasn’t already been leveled and that he can’t shrug off — to the utter delight of the crowd I’m talking about — with another variation of, “Well you say that because you’re a loser.”

For some reason, the potential in this reserve of until now disaffected, apathetic voters reminded me, as so much in ‘Murica today does, of this snippet from Richard “Boyhood”, “Dazed and Confused” Linklater’s under-appreciated film, “Waking Life”, a clever, dream-within-a-dream concept full of questions about the primary conflicts of life.

At one point our REM-drifting hero has a drink with University of Texas philosophy professor, Louis Mackey, who asks him, ” … which is most universal human characteristic? Fear … or laziness?”

Trump has the line on both.

 

 

Characters from the Not So New West

AMMO AND ME“I never learned anything listening to myself talk.”

Me.

(Although I probably heard it from someone else).

 

A road trip is one of life’s simple pleasures. Get in the car with only a vague notion of where to go. Take it as it comes. See what happens and who you meet.

Over the recent holiday week I took a 2000-mile spin up from Phoenix around central Nevada and back, veering through Death Valley in hopes of shaking off the high plains chill. I had no explicit intention of feeling out Trumpist America. But I have an affinity for the truly unaffected, or at least the unconsciously unaffected, although that’s a bit of an oxymoron. Point being: Spend enough time around media and PR types and you develop an appreciation for people who say whatever is on their minds, cautious, delicate, socially-strategic parsing be damned.

Here are vignettes of a few characters of the new west.

Gene and friends. Manhattan Bar. Manhattan, Nevada.

DSC07959 018996e8-063d-4272-a881-6ef5bd0bf674

You get to Manhattan by turning east off Nevada 376, a 120-mile long north-south parallel to the stunning  Toiyabe Range, the longest range in the state. The winter snow made the range, arcing over the north horizon,  look a couple thousand feet taller. Maybe seven miles up the hill you reach the town, such as it is, years past its brief prime in the silver business. Keep going further up the hill from Manhattan and you get to Belmont, which is literally off the grid. Generators provide all the juice. Another 20 miles up 376 is Round Mountain Mine, a truly gargantuan gold mining operation with tailings bulldozed up high as a 30-story building.

In the Manhattan Bar a tired old lab had staked out prime real estate on an oily piece of carpet remnant directly in front of the wood-burning stove, which was putting out an impressive blast of BTUs.

Gene, the guy in the white shirt in the photo, asked where I was from, then asked, “Why are you here?” “To see the Statue of Liberty”, I said, which made the rest of them laugh, even though I’m pretty sure they hear that a lot. Or at least whenever some rube wanders up the hill.

Gene told me he had just moved to town from Seattle. “My wife’s from here, and I caught on with the mine”, grading the giant pit he said.

“You liking it?”

“Yeah. It takes a little getting used to. Not a lot to do. But I like being outdoors, hiking and walking the mountains. And the money’s good. Nothing to spend it on, either, so it adds up.”

“So you a hunter? I ran into a bunch of kids back in Caliente all stocked up for a week up somewhere hunting elk.”

“Nah. Not my thing.”

I told him about a dead coyote I found while I was taking pictures of the abandoned bar at Warm Springs. The beast was feet from the steaming sulphur spring, making me wonder if it was so desperate it drank the water.

“Nah, somebody shot it. They shoot everything around here. I was up past Belmont a while ago and I came across a pile of coyotes, stacked by the road. Maybe 20 of them.”

“Twenty? What do they pay a bounty on ’em?”

“Nope. People just shoot ’em. I don’t get it.”

***

DSC07963 d9bdd7e3-8424-4d19-8ea7-d38920bb7162

 

Gail and Victor. Owners of the International Serbian Bar. Austin, Nevada.

 

Austin is a forlorn mining town 7000 feet up in the Toiyabe Range on U.S. 50, a.k.a. “The Loneliest Road in America”. Appropriately, there was no one in the cafe or bar either the night I arrived in town or the morning I left. Just them and me. Even if there was another place open, the giant “Make America Great Again” banner hanging off the second floor porch and the “Silent Majority Stands with Trump” signs plastered everywhere the eyes settled told me I had to have a burger and beverage with whoever was responsible for all that.

Turns out it was mostly Gail. Her iPad is her constant companion and she bought the banner for god knows how much off some Trump website. When I said, “You know, Trump’s got plenty of money. He should have sent you one for free.” She said, “I don’t care. I wanted one now.”

She cooked a burger that Shake Shack back in Vegas would have charged me $12 for, after I stood in line for 45 minutes. I could tell Gail was stifling a torrent of opinions, but I wanted to get at least one beer in me before hearing how a buffoonish billionaire living high above Fifth Avenue way, way back in New York City was going to make her … great again.

“Damn cold, isn’t it?” said I. “The car thermometer showed 2 degrees coming over the pass.”

“Yeah, and some billionaire is making it that way.”

“Uh, what? Really? Who?”

She started tapping on the iPad. “He’s been doing stuff in the sky. I read it. Tests and rockets to change the weather, making it colder.” Tap tap.

“Really? Well, there are drones everywhere.”

“His name is … ” tap, swipe. “Bill … Gates.”

He’s changing the weather? Bill Gates? From Microsoft?”

“Oh, is that who he is?”

“Well, I don’t know. Is that what it says there? What are you reading?”

“Just a thing I like. It’s got a lot of good information.”

She wouldn’t tell me what site she was getting this news about Bill Gates Controller of Weather from, but pretty obviously it was the same one that was telling her and husband Victor about Muslim terrorists’ plans to take over the country right after the government confiscates all the guns. I met Victor the next morning. He’s a wiry, taciturn guy in his mid-Sixties, or maybe mid-Fifties. His meaty leathery hands suggest he probably has restored the 1863 building all by himself and as a side job repairs refrigeration units around the sprawling county. We sat at the counter and he ordered the same breakfast I did: Two eggs over easy and toast.

While Gail seemed more the proselytizer of the two, Victor played the deeply suspicious, war-weary savant with a (very) dark cautionary tale for every topic you could suggest. Like for example getting Historical Preservation status for his building, with the ornate bar that he says was cut apart in England 150 years ago, floated around the horn to San Francisco, then disassembled again and trucked up into the mountains during Austin’s boom days.

“Then they own you. We’ve talked. But those [Historical Preservation] people get involved and it’s not yours anymore. You can’t do anything to it. Can’t paint. Can’t change a light bulb.” Somehow this soon led to a tale of being a 12 year-old kid back in the old country and sitting at an outdoor cafe drinking coffee with a relative when Communist troops showed up and started machine-gunning everyone in sight.

“He told me, ‘Open that manhole and jump in. Now!”

The message? Never trust any government and stay ready to shoot back.

***

Greg De La Posa. Middlegate Station. U.S. 50. Nevada.

Middlegate

Greg

 

 

 

Middlegate Station is on the old Pony Express route. We’ve milked a lot of tourist shtick out of an episode of history that barely lasted a year. Every stop along the route, which more or less follows U.S. 50, is chock full of Pony Express tchotchkes. But since I collect refrigerator magnets I was a happy chump.

Greg helps manage Middlegate in some way and the empty stool was next to him. He was on the phone ordering supplies from Fallon, over by Reno. At the other end of the bar, which featured a stripper doll on a miniature pole, were four twenty-somethings in heavy duty hunting gear. They were trying to impress the cute-enough bartender that they were so badassed they were going to need “two bottles of Jager” to do the serious shootin’ they had come to do. Oddly, the only other vehicle out front was a wimpy looking Chevy Equinox. They weren’t going up country in that thing.

Once we had semi-sorted out his “hired hand” role around the bar, Greg, who could be anywhere from 45 to 70, told me he was adopted Sicilian. “My folks came over from the hill country.”

“Tough crowd, the Sicilians,” I joked. “They love a good feud.”

“Damn right. Especially with other Sicilians.”

When I asked to take his picture, explaining it was just a thing I did with characters I met along the way, he stood up, walked behind the bar and pulled down a big, glossy coffee table book. It was in German. Underwritten by National Geographic, it was the photo essay of guy’s solo bicycle trip across America, including U.S. 50, Middlegate Station and Greg, looking 15 to 20 years younger.

“Long ways from anywhere out here,” I said, nursing my beverage.

“Yeah, I guess. But it’s one of those places interestin’ people pass through. Like to say they’ve been here.”

That might have been a compliment. Not sure.

***

 

Russ and Diane. Chili Burro Bar. Beatty, Nevada.

 

DSC08054 10636636_10153404013871795_2801170568068892042_o

Beatty is barely a reason to stop if you’re driving from Vegas to Reno. Some cat pretty well owns the whole town as I was led to understand. In the summer, tech guys from Audi and BMW rent out garages in Beatty for next years’ models they test in the heat of Death Valley 30 miles west down Daylight Pass. They leave behind a lot of top quality tools for the local school’s shop classes rather than ship them home. And they drink a lot of beer at the Chili Burro.

Years ago I dropped the only quarter I’ve ever gambled into a slot machine at a ratty casino on the main intersection. It’s now a hardware store. The Big Dude, I forget his name, owned that place and has since thrown up the Stagecoach Hotel and Casino, where in what counted as a low moment of the trip I ate breakfast in a Denny’s.

The Chili Burro is something else. It’s about as big as the average suburban garage and, I was told, has made some BuzzFeed list of “America’s 12 Best Dive Bars”. In fact, it’s kind of cozy. A tall German kid and his stunning black girlfriend were huddled in a corner, maybe thankful they weren’t at the joint next door, where 30 or 40 bikers were throwing up a lot of noise and smoke.

“Sit over here with us,” said Diane, the better half of a friendly, happy hour-loving couple. In his 40s, Russ was part of the Iraq invasion in ’03, and then talked himself into six months at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Since all I know about the poles comes from movies I told him about a documentary I had seen where these guys had to sno-kat out from McMurdo to a weather station across the bay. In summer it’s a 10-minute jaunt. In winter it took six hours. He had been there.

Diane worked “for the government” for 35 years until the day someone explained just how much her annuity would pay her. “I quit on the spot,” she laughed, taking another swig of beer. The two of them, she says, “Use Beatty as a base. We have places up north of Austin we go to a lot and other places around the country.”

Pleasant “normal” folks. We joked with another patron in wall-to-wall squeaky clean camo about his hunting rig, a $60,000 pickup, tricked out for the back country, and what that worked out to per pound of elk, or coyote.

About then Russ mentioned in passing, and with a laugh, that “You know, Beatty may be the safest city the country.” At first I didn’t pay it any attention. But on second thought, “OK, I’ll bite. Why is that?”

“Well, I’ll tell you why. Because we’ve got 300 permanent residents here in town, 3000 registered guns and over two million rounds of ammunition.”

***

Eli. Furnace Creek Ranch. Death Valley.

1451443588211Eli asked if he could sit next to me at counter of the 49er Restaurant. He works for the park concessionaire and was stopping in on his morning off to razz the waitresses and line cooks.

He played high school football back in Springfield, Mass. and was one of those (rare) guys you can have what seems like an intelligent conversation about … football with, if such a thing is ever possible. He had a pretty good breakdown of the NFL play-offs, including the part where the Vikings have, “too one-dimensional an offense. Bridgewater has talent. He’s calm. You can see he’s learning. But he isn’t there yet, and may never be a good passer. So right now it’s too much Peterson.”

After a while I told him the story of Beatty being “the safest city in America”. He shook his head. “It’s crazy man. But that’s what it’s like out here. That’s the way it is. That isn’t unusual. You been to Pahrump? [60 miles south]. It’s where you go to disappear.

“I tell you, last week I had to go over to North Vegas to a Kirby vacuum cleaner store to get some vacuum bags. Vacuum bags! I find the place in this strip mall and when I walk in I see this skinny little old lady. Couldn’t weigh more than 90 pounds, and she’s got not only a .45 in a holster on her hip, she’s got a damn Doberman on leash. Are you kidding me? In a vacuum cleaner store!”

Bob. Texas Spring Campground. Death Valley.

DSC08144

 

After a cruising some of my favorite haunts in the park, including a long walk out on the enormous salt pan, I rolled back to my campsite well past sunset. As I unpacked a few items from the car a shape emerged out of the darkness. I could make out an extended hand. “My name’s Bob, I’m camping over there”, pointing to a cobbled-together trailer with gear spilling out all over into a tamarisk-like tree. Clearly, he had been there a while. Nearly a month, it turned out. Built the trailer/camper himself. Drove down from Alaska. Had a dirt bike for day trips. (Had another stashed in Bulgaria waiting for him to ride it again next summer.) Heading to Tucson eventually and some relatives he wasn’t all that wild to see.

But before that, before he really said anything after, “My name’s Bob”, he launched into the story of the ex-EMT driver from British Columbia who had been camped where I was.

It seems that after a week the EMT guy came over and told Bob the reason why he was solo camping in the desert, 1200 miles from home.

“The guy’s on duty and he gets the call there’s a drug overdose or something at a local hotel. A guy is passed out. So he roars over there and goes charging in through the lobby with his equipment and everything. But this is a small town and the people at the desk know him. They yell something like, ‘Uh, Bill … Bill ...’ trying to get his attention. But he charges on by up to the room where the OD’d guy is laid out on the floor.

“What he finds is this dude in a Superman costume. Big ‘S’ on the chest, cape, boots, the whole thing, but with the crotch cut out of the tights and his dick hanging out. The guy’s out cold. It’s a drug deal.  But then, out of the corner of his eye he sees his wife, spread-eagled naked and tied to the bed. And now she’s screaming at him, ‘Untie me you idiot! Untie me!’. Turns out she’d been boinking not only Superman, but every guy in the EMT unit. So that’s why he was out here in the desert.”

While the part where the hotel staff wouldn’t have untied the naked woman on the bed in the time it took the EMT guy to arrive didn’t compute, as introductory tales told by a dark figure in a desert night go, it was pretty damned funny. I opened a bottle of Pinot Noir. He cracked a bottle of whiskey, we drew up folding chairs and sat, in the 40-degree darkness, under a deep black sky and talked for another three hours, the Milky Way ablaze overhead.

“Up in Alaska there are three different Republican parties. I’m not shitting you, and each one is more motherfucking batshit than the last one,” was one of Bob’s many memorable lines.

The other was after I told him the story of Gail and Victor, the Trumpers up in Austin, the heavily-fortified folks in Beatty and a couple other tales of irrational fear and suspect wisdom I had come across in the past few days.

“Yeah, you know, there is no end of crazy out there, and I’m as guilty as anyone of getting pissed off at it. People tell me I’m too direct. My ex-wife told me that, too. But you know what? After a while, after you listen to all the crazy ass shit they say and what they believe, I still think most people are doing the best they can. Really. It’s the best they can do. Maybe they’re just not very smart. Maybe their parents were fuck-ups. Maybe they never had anyone in their life who pointed them at what was real and what mattered. They never learned any better. So they’re going through life … .”

“Playing with what they’ve got.”

“Yeah. They’re doing the best they can with what they’ve got.”

 

 

An Unlikely Liberal Explains Himself

I have a nearly perfect profile for a political conservative. I check all the “right” boxes: I’m a straight white male. I’m a native born American, with northern European heritage, and my family’s immigration happened several generations ago.   I was raised in a middle class family with a stay-at-home mom in a small city in a bright red state. I attended a religious elementary school.

Now, I am married with three kids. I go to a protestant church. I worked in the corporate world for a while, and started my own successful small business 16 years ago.  I’m beyond middle age, in my mid-50s.  I’m financially comfortable.

That’s a whole lot of right wing risk factors. If you presented that profile to a political scientist or demographer and asked them to guess my political leanings, they’d surely guess that I’m a conservative.   After all, Pew Research has found the following about contemporary political conservatives:

More than nine-in-ten (92%) non-Hispanic white and 56% male. The oldest of the groups (61% ages 50 and older). Married (79%), Protestant (72%, including 43% white evangelical), and financially comfortable (70% say paying the bills is not a problem). Many are gun owners (57%) and regular churchgoers (57% attend weekly or more often), and fully 81% are homeowners.

Other than the gun, that is me. You might as well fit me from my Tea Party tricorne hat right now.

So how is it that the guy who would be Central Casting’s idea of conservative is a liberal?  My conservative friends speculate that I must be a) uninformed, b) brain-washed by the liberal media; c) deranged; and/or c) stupid.

But I have a different explanation: I’m liberal because I recognize a few fundamental things about myself.

I GOT A HEAD START, AND OTHERS DESERVE OPPORTUNTIES TOO. First, I recognize that I had a head start in life, and others deserve an opportunity to catch up. I have come to realize that being a straight, white, male, Christian American who was not born into poverty has given me unearned societal privilege.  After all, we’re a nation whose private and public sector have always been controlled by straight, white, male, Christians of means, and that fact has given me significant built-in advantages that others don’t enjoy.

I often try to deny it, and chalk up my successes to my hard work, charm and talent. But the fact is, in many ways I was just plain lucky. Through an accident of birth, I was born with traits that the ruling class shares, and that helped me enjoy extremely important things in life, such as a stable childhood, a solid education, good jobs, raises, wealth and equal protection under the law.

For this reason, I support public policies that bring equal opportunity for those who, through no fault of their own, didn’t have that kind of head start — poor people, non-whites, non-Christians, and new immigrants, among others. Fairness dictates that those folks have equal opportunities, and that’s why I support affirmative action, law enforcement reforms, targeted education scholarships, targeted income supports, pay equity legislation, progressive taxation, and civil rights laws.

Instead of protecting the privilege that fell into my lap as a newborn, the fair thing to do is to take steps to level the playing field for people who weren’t lucky enough to win the birth lottery.  Extending equal opportunity to less privileged Americans is how the American Dream of upward mobility lives on, and I want it to live on.

Equity_and_equality_graphic

I’M SELFISH, AND I NEED TO BE SAVED FROM MYSELF. Second, I’m a liberal because I recognize that I and all humans need to be saved from ourselves. I know that we are all continually tempted to do things that helps us individually, but hurt the community as a whole. For instance, to feather our own nest many of us will cheat on our taxes, pollute, mislead fellow citizens, or otherwise harm others. Given that unfortunate part of our collective human nature, we need governmental rules and enforcement bodies to deter us from selfishly harming the community on which we all rely.

Because humans are selfish, we need the IRS, cops, soldiers, environmental and business regulations and civil and criminal laws.  We need laws and law enforcement to have the stable, safe, fair and efficient communities that individuals and businesses need to thrive.  And if you agree that administration and enforcement of laws is necessary, you have to be willing to, sigh, pay for it.

I BENEFITED FROM GOVERNMENT, AND NEED TO PAY IT FORWARD. I’m also a liberal because I recognize that government played a big role in my success. To some extent, I actually did “pull myself up by my bootstraps,” as the conservatives like to say. After all, I studied and worked hard, and overcame difficulties. But fortunately, I wasn’t alone in my pulling.   I pulled, but so did past generations of taxpayers, with the government services and public goods they funded. The taxpayer-funded GI Bill, public schools, Social Security and Medicare pulled my parents up into the middle class, so that I could have a stable household in which to develop.  My parents’ generation of taxpayers pulled me and my wife up, so that we could attend subsidized schools and universities, own a home, and benefit, directly and indirectly, from a government-funded infrastructure, safety net, regulatory structure and security force.

A lot of folks in past generations paid to lift up my family, and I appreciate their sacrifices. So now that I have benefited, fairness dictates that I return the favor to the people coming up the ladder behind me.

I NEED GREAT COMMUNITIES FOR SELFISH REASONS. The things I just mentioned may sound very altruistic, and I do hope the Golden Rule underpins my liberalism. But there is also a very selfish reason I am a liberal.

I support liberal policies because I, my kids and my grandkids will all benefit from living in stable, pleasant, efficient, and stimulating communities full of a diverse group of happy and successful people.  It would suck to live in a gated community surrounded by a chaotic society, a crumbling infrastructure, crime, squalor and people who hated me, even if it meant my taxes were  lower. That’s a more selfish reason why I’m willing to pay to help the community-as-a-whole succeed together.

This is not to say that I support unlimited government.  Of course, I want government to continually strive to get more effective and efficient. Of course, I oppose illogical and unnecessary laws and regulations. Of course, I want incentives for people to work hard, and take personal responsibility for their actions.  Of course, I want equal opportunity rather than equal outcomes.

But there are still plenty of very good reasons for successful white males like me to support progressive policies.

My Vikings Legacy Brick

Vikings_brickMy kids are all too aware of my unhealthy obsession with the Minnesota Vikings, so for Christmas they splurged and got me a “Legacy Brick”, which will be part of the plaza on the front porch of the Vikings new stadium.

I’m embarrassed to admit how much this gift pleased me.  After all, I’m a grown ass man. I understand this is just an appeal to vanity and hero worship as a means to have rubes like me finance an asset that will make billionaire Vikings owner Zygi Wilf wealthier.

But come on, it’s granite, with my name on it, in the Vikings’ front yard! How AWESOME is that? The Vikings and I were both born in 1961, and I and other family members, living and dead, have closely followed them for as long as I can remember.  This is a chance to memorialize our collective misery.

Cursor_and_vikings_plaza_-_Google_Search

Better yet for a guy who likes to write, the accompanying brochure pledges that “your personal message” will be engraved on the brick. Hot damn, a blank slate!

As a long-suffering fan of the historically snake bit franchise, my mind immediately went to trolling. That is, I considered capturing a grievances in granite.

For instance, in homage to the embattled offensive tackle Matt Kalil, who fans particularly love to hate when the offense is sputtering, I considered a paver inscribed, “Walk all over me, just like Kalil gets walked on.” Petty, but gratifying.  Similarly, to celebrate the storied career of the plodding tight end Jimmy Kleinsasser, I thought about submitting “This brick is faster than Kleinsasser.”  Or to honor running back Adrian Peterson (AP), who has 33 maddening fumbles as part of his Hall of Fame career, I was tempted to go with “Me: One on the ground for my team. AP: 33.”

And then there are the numerous scandals that could have been cathartic fodder for brick copy.  The Love Boat sex scandal.  The Adrian Peterson child abuse.  The endless player prosecutions.  The arrogance and immaturity of Randy Moss.

I also considered commemorating my own lameness as a fan. I waxed nostalgic about a frigid day in December 1980 when a boyhood friend and I left a game at Met Stadium early. As it turns out, we missed seeing the greatest comeback victory in Vikings history against the Cleveland Browns, only to be scolded by a highway patrolman during our solemn drive back to South Dakota. The paver could mock us, just as that officer did that day: “You boys left early, huh? 12-14-80.”

That friend also suggested a granite haiku that captured the epic tragedy that is Vikings fandom:

Left early against Browns,
Take a knee, wide left Atlanta.
Life of a Vikings fan.

I don’t mind telling you, that one made me misty.

Political animal that I am, I also really would have loved to make a political statement, such as “Bought this brick for a billionaire.” That would really stick it to The Man, and bring some progressive awareness to the old town square!  It also would effectively clarify that “yeah, I’m a chump alright, but I’m a politically savvy chump!”

Naturally, I considered Packer hating: “Packers fans got 13 championships. I got this brick.” I also wondered if I could get this past the censors “Puck the Fackers.” See what I did there?

But alas, after all of my fantasizing, I finally read the fine print on the Vikings’ website:

Discriminatory, political, offensive, or inappropriate messages as determined by the Minnesota Vikings and MSFA will be declined. References to other NFL teams will not be accepted. The Minnesota Vikings and MSFA reserve the right to approve all brick inscriptions. Inscriptions that do not conform to these inscription guidelines or that are deemed unsuitable will be declined and will require a new inscription to be submitted.

My creative visions all were ruined by the Vikings. Between this censorship and a rather severe character restriction, my options were very limited. So, I played it straight:

Skol or uffda,
bleeding purple
since 1961.
Loveland Family

Booooooring. Schmaltzy!

Hey, but it’s my name, in granite, in the Vikings’ front yard!

Why Do Big Newspapers Still Allow Ugly, Racist Comments?

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterOne of the things that comes with a writer’s territory is a story that never gets published, for reasons that are not entirely clear. This is one of those. The topic of public comments on newspaper web sites is interesting for a number of reasons, among them the way anonymity may (or may not) encourage truly ugly racial invective, something you’d think a large newspaper with a sense of civic responsibility would seek to avoid whenever possible and at the very least edit out prior to publication, particularly in times of racial tensions, such we’ve seen here in Minneapolis this fall.

Anyway, as I say, this media column didn’t pass muster, so I’m  posting it here. Because I believe it’s a discussion worth having.

IT BEGINS:

Anyone even remotely familiar with the internet is aware of and frequently appalled by how quickly any “discussion” among website commenters, especially a big city newspaper’s site, degenerates into juvenile name-calling and worse. It was definitely worse recently when Star Tribune readers piled in on what was, ironically, an uplifting story by John Reinan about a Muslim family’s successful home-owning experience with the help of Habitat for Humanity.

Rather than embrace an opportunity for some holiday season good-will-among-men, the Strib’s commenters immediately, predictably, descended into all-too familiar hostility and racist epithets. (The Strib has removed that particular comment thread.) The waves of vitriol, mainly against the family featured in the story, led Abdi Mohamed, the homeowner to respond with a letter to the Strib several days later.

“I don’t think this awful name-calling would have happened had we had American-sounding names,” he wrote. “We have always considered ourselves American, by any measure, and have been good citizens, paying our fair share of taxes and volunteering in our community. But my faith as a Minnesotan is shaken. I have been calling Minnesota my home for the last 17 years, and my kids were born right here in Minneapolis. My take from the readers is that ‘you don’t belong here in America’.” Dozens wrote in in support. But very soon a minor flame war broke out even on that thread over one anonymous commenter’s admonition to Muslims like Mohammed’s wife, to “lose the costume.”

In other words, all-in-all, real edifying, high-caliber stuff.

Comment sections have an undeniable voyeuristic appeal. Commenters say things most of us would never imagine ourselves saying, much less in public. Our reaction varies between snorts of derision, guffaws and utter dismay.

The conventional argument in favor of comment sections is that they offer an unfiltered vox populi. Like it or not, delighted or horrified, this is what your neighbors are thinking. The question though is this: Is there a point where reader comments become too ugly and cruel that a large public entity like a daily newspaper has a civic obligation to turn them off? Does an important community asset like the Star Tribune have a responsibility to re-assess its attitude toward commenters and draw a line at the point where a vicious, repugnant and — key word here — anonymous few hijack the paper’s social media heft to incite others to spasms of racist verbal attack?

In a perfect world someone among the Strib’s top editorial echelon would offer an answer to this question, or more specifically, as I asked, “What is your best argument for keeping the Star Tribune’s comment policy as it is?” Unfortunately, calls and e-mails to editor Rene Sanchez, Sr. Managing editor Suki Dardarian were not returned. Only Asst. Managing Editor Eric Wieffering responded, and then only to confirm that Strib editorial management had no interest in discussing the topic. So much for an informed, civil dialogue.

If the topic ever does interest them we’ll revisit it. Until that time the conversation is this: The Strib might strongly consider adjusting its comment policy and following the lead of either us here at MinnPost or, failing that, Popular Science, (or USA Today, or The Wall Street Journal).

Recognizing the near inevitability that anonymous commenting will quickly degenerate into a battle of flaming trolls and grossly under-informed invective, MinnPost’s policy from the get go requires commenters to, A: Register and post using their full, real name and, B: Submit to moderation. No doubt the policy seriously diminishes the quantity of comments. But the upside is that commenters maintain a dramatically higher level of civility while arguing their ideological points. If they don’t they’re deleted before they are published.

A case may also be made that a full-disclosure, moderated comment forum provides a safer harbor for the articulate if fainter-hearted souls who recoil at the thought of being assaulted in public by some unidentified CAPS-LOCKING!!! troll.

Or, if moderation, which would require a pretty much full-time employee, is a step too far, the Strib may consider the path Popular Science took two years ago and disconnect the comment option entirely. At the time, the venerable tech and DIY magazine essentially threw up its hands at the way anonymous commenters regularly hijacked discussions of god-knows-what, — hyper-sonic jets graphene or climate change — with rants about Barack Obama … the Kenyan Muslim terrorist sympathizer.

Said Suzanne LaBarre for the magazine, “A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics. Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again. Scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to ‘debate’ on television. And because comments sections tend to be a grotesque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science.”

LaBarre referred to a University of Wisconsin study on the peculiar psychological effect anonymity has on people, on-line commenters in particular. Among the findings, which come as no surprise to anyone who follows this stuff, the loudest and most active of the anonymous commenters were also those in least possession of accurate information about a given topic and yet the most certain — defiantly certain — of their point of view. (Her central point was that the study also showed how ugly, defiantly ignorant comments had the effect of eroding casual readers’ trust in the accuracy of the story itself.)

Writing about Popular Science’s decision, Maria Konnikova in The New Yorker a month later added, “Multiple studies have also illustrated that when people don’t think they are going to be held immediately accountable for their words they are more likely to fall back on mental shortcuts in their thinking and writing, processing information less thoroughly. They become, as a result, more likely to resort to simplistic evaluations of complicated issues, as the psychologist Philip Tetlock has repeatedly found over several decades of research on accountability.”

Konnikova also cites a couple studies suggesting that the most vitriolic of the anonymous crowd are, thank god for small blessings, given less credence by the sum of all readers. But the response to that, from a large broadly-marketed community entity like the Star Tribune, should be a concern for the effect vitriol has the smaller, shall we say, “most impressionable” fraction of their audience.

Over at the Pioneer Press, editor Mike Burbach found time and sufficient interest to return the call and refer me to Jen Westphal, the paper’s Deputy Editor for Digital News and Social Media. She explained that the PiPress, while requiring registration with a valid IP and e-mail address making the commenter known to the paper, still permits anonymity as well post-publication moderation, which is to say someone at the PiPress steps in only when alerted to egregious behavior.

The Star Tribune policy appears to be much the same, although as I say, no one in the paper’s editorial management or its digital services department would discuss it. Clearly though, given the ugly flame wars that break out with depressing regularity, no one is moderating/approving comments prior to publication.

There are also filters a the PiPress, Westphal says, for certain key words — the usual cussing — and the obvious racial/ethnic invective. But otherwise vox populi rules.

“We used to use Facebook commenting,” she says, “which theoretically required them to use their real name, even though there are ways to get around that, too. We used it for about two years, I think. But we found it didn’t help with what you’re talking about. People said things just as bad as when they were anonymous.”

Coincidentally, Facebook was under criticism this past week for prohibiting anonymity. “Vulnerable communities” demanded a special exemption, to avoid being targeted by trolls.

Facebook consented, but reiterated it’s policy. “We require people to use the name their friends and family know them by. the company said. When people use the names they are known by, their actions and words carry more weight because they are more accountable for what they say. We’re firmly committed to this policy, and it is not changing. However, after hearing feedback from our community, we recognise that it’s also important that this policy works for everyone, especially for communities who are marginalised or face discrimination.”

Sad Westphal at the PiPress, “We prefer to keep comments, at least for now, things can always change, and we have talked about it, because we still see them as a valuable forum for public discussion. It’s the best place a normal resident of St. Paul can go to discuss parking meters on Grand Avenue or whatever.

The flare-up over the Reinan story erupted simultaneous with racial tensions spiking in Minneapolis following the terror attacks in Paris and the police shooting of Jamar Clark. Far too much demagoguery was already in the air. Which is why it is fair to ask whether responsible establishments with broad and deep community roots, like a daily newspaper, are reexamining the role they play in churning the cesspool.

Essentially: Why offer a venue for adding fuel to these fires?

None of which is to say that if the Strib pulls the plug on comments, vitriolic anonymous trolls will slink away and observe some kind of monastic silence. There are literally millions of other websites where they can and do collect. Fringy places where they can huddle and out-vitriol each other and whoever stumbles in. But those sites aren’t hosted by an organization of professional journalists, a company speaking to and representing hundreds of thousands of reader/citizens more interested in information than hyperbolic attack.

Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Tea Boys

When I watch coverage of the 2015 Republican presidential rallies and look out into the audiences roaring their approval of every outrageous statement, I sometimes hear an old tune going through my head.  With  apologies to Waylon and Willie:

Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be tea boys.
Don’t let ‘em blame brown folks and new immigrants.
Let ‘em be learned and lucid and such.
Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be tea boys.
‘Cuz they’ll always be bitter and troll us on Twitter,
even with someone they love.

Tea_Party

Tea boys ain’t easy to love, if you’ve ever been trolled.
He’d rather cut taxes for Koch bros than help your household.
Grim, grey, and grumpy: “Get offa my lawn, boys!”
Keepin’ his weaponry near.
We can’t understand him, conspiracy delusions.
He’s gotta heart full of fear.

Tea_party_racistMamas don’t let your babies grow up to be tea boys.
Don’t let ‘em blame brown folks and new immigrants.
Let ‘em be learned and lucid and such.
Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be tea boys.
‘Cuz they’ll always be bitter and troll us on Twitter,
even with someone they love.

tricorn_hat_and_tea_bag

Tea boys like Rush rantin’ mornings and Fox Newsin’ evenins,
whole lotta snake flags and tea bags and black machine guns.
Them that don’t “ditto” won’t like him, and them that do
sometimes look awesome in tricorns.
He’s quite well-intentioned, but his angst won’t let him,
resist the extreme far right.

Tea_Party_guns_2Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be tea boys.
Don’t let ‘em blame brown folks and new immigrants.
Let ‘em be learned and lucid and such.
Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be tea boys.
‘Cuz they’ll always be bitter and troll us on Twitter,
even with someone they love.

GOP_presidential_candidates_tea_party

Think Marco Rubio is “Moderate?” Think Again.

The popularity of Donald Trump among Republicans poses huge long-term threats to the Republican Party. In a nation that is increasingly diverse, the nomination of Trump could further cement the party’s image as the party of bullying white bigots and misogynists. But if there is a silver lining associated with the dark Trump cloud, it is this: It sometimes creates the perception that Trump rivals like Senator Marco Rubio are “moderate” by comparison.  If Rubio gets the nomination, such a “moderate” label would serve him well.

That’s quite a gift to Senator Rubio, because he is far from a moderate. Rubio’s positions put him far, far to the right on the American political spectrum. For instance:

  • Marco_Rubio_Tea_PartyRubio ran for Senate in Florida as the candidate of the extremist Tea Party, not as the moderate alternative to the Tea Party.
  • He has a lifetime pro-choice record of 0% from NARAL Pro-choice America.
  • On safety net issues, the Alliance for Retired Americans gives him a lifetime voting record rating of just 5%.
  • On environmental issues, the League of Conservation Voters gives him a lifetime voting record score of only 9%.
  • On science issues, the Evolution Institute rates his voting record a rock bottom 0%.
  • On veterans issues, the Disabled Veterans of America gave the flag waving Rubio a 0% on its most recent rating.
  • Overall, the American Conservative Union (ACU) gives Rubio a lifetime voting record rating of 98%. In other words, Senator Rubio favored this ultra-conservative group’s positions 98% of the time. For context, conservative Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) got an 87% rating, conservative House Speaker John Boehner got an 83% rating, and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), an actual “moderate,” got a 47% ACU rating.

Admittedly, the definition of a political “moderate” is not a precise one. But I think we all can agree that the definition of “moderate” is not “one who supports conservative or liberal positions 98% of the time.”

no_moderate_Rebulicans_chartBy any reasonable measure, Senator Rubio is a far-right extremist, as is Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich (88% lifetime ACU rating), who is also sometimes inaccurately labeled a moderate by simplistic pundits.  Political scientists have documented the fact that Republican members of Congress have moved sharply to the right in recent years, and that seismic shift away from the political center is reflected in this year’s field of Republican presidential contenders.

Senator Rubio is not even a moderate in comparison to Mr. Trump. Rubio is more considerably conservative than Trump on several issues, such as affirmative action, Planned Parenthood funding, a progressive income tax, gay rights, and an assault weapon ban.

It is true that Senator Rubio’s rhetorical tone is more mild than Trump’s, and that often drives shallow pundits’ characterization of him as a “moderate.” The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart explains Rubio’s smooth style well:

Rubio has mastered the same technique Barack Obama used so effectively when he was seeking the presidency. When faced with a controversial issue, he doffs his cap to the other side, pleads for civility and respect, insists that it’s a hard call—and then comes out exactly where you’d expect him to come out. On social issues, Rubio is as predictably conservative as Obama is predictably liberal. What they share is their moderate-sounding rhetorical style.

But in the end, moderation is not a function of decibels and diplomacy. Ultimately, it is a function of positions on the issues. If moderate voters are searching for a substantive moderate in this year’s Republican presidential field, the truth is they’re not going to find one.

The Home of the Brave Has Gotten Irrationally Fearful

Elevator_crashThese are very scary times. Who among us does not lie awake at night worrying about dying in an elevator? I mean, what if one came crashing down while you were riding in it? Makes me shudder just thinking about it.

So I don’t care how tall the building is, I’m taking the stairs.  So are all of my family members. Better yet, we usually avoid going into structures with elevators.  Frankly, I wish they’d just outlaw them.

Or dogs. Oh sure, dogs look cute and all. I do understand that some of them actually aren’t killers. But still, I don’t let my family near dogs, because some have killed humans. Therefore, my family usually carries concealed firearms to protect themselves from being killed by vicious canines.  For goodness sake people, let’s not let any more dogs into our communities!

Paranoid, you say? I should accept the relatively low risk associated with elevators and dogs?  I shouldn’t let irrational levels of fear steal my peace-of-mind and quality-of-life?

Well, the risk of being killed by a dog (1-in-18,000,000) or dying in an elevator (1-in-10,440,000) is actually a bit higher than the risk of being killed by terrorism (1-in-20,000,000).  As context, consider that 1-in-100 Americans will die in a car crash in our lifetimes, yet Americans routinely ride in cars and don’t get particularly stressed about it.

Fear_of_terrorism_surveyDespite this relatively low level of risk, many Americans are overcome by our fear of terrorism. Even in June 2015, well before the recent Paris and California terrorist attacks, Gallup was finding that about half (49%) of Americans were worried that they or someone in their family would personally become a victim of terrorism.  Given the 1-in-20,000,000 odds, that level of fear is not rational.

Because of Americans’ extreme level of fear, we’re stocking up on guns. We’re betraying our national values by persecuting people who look and worship differently than us. Surveys even show that we’re willing to send young Americans to fight in yet another lethal, mega-expensive, and terrorism-provoking middle east quagmire.

Terrorism is a threat. We absolutely should take reasonable steps to limit and reduce the undeniable risk terrorism poses.   But we also need to keep the risk in proper perspective, so that we can continue to truthfully say that we are the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

Note:  This post was also featured in MinnPost’s Blog Cabin.

“Trump Wave” Is Only In A Very Small Pond, Except When It Comes To The Issue of Terrorism

Cursor_and_trump_supporters_-_Google_SearchWatching the news coverage of the Republican presidential campaign, you get the feeling that there is a wave of support for the ideas of leading Republican candidates like Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. For example, Talking Points Memo recently reported:

GOP Campaign Official to Senate Candidates: Ride That Trump Wave

The Republican Party is preparing Senate candidates for the very real possibility that Donald Trump could be the party’s presidential nominee.

According to a seven-page memo obtained by the Washington Post, National Republican Senatorial Committee Executive Director Ward Baker is encouraging Senate candidates to understand Trumpmentum, use it to their advantage, and then ignore Trump’s most bombastic positions.

But is there really a national wave in support of the positions of Trump and the other extremely conservative contenders? Remember, only about one-third of the general election electorate votes in Republican primaries, so even front runner Trump is only winning about 31% of one-third the overall electorate. So, yes, Trump is riding a wave of sorts, but it is still a relatively modest wave on a relatively small pond.

Ideological Wave?

So, in the midst of all of this Republican primary coverage, it’s important to keep an eye on what the nation as a whole — as opposed to the narrow slide of Republican primary voters — thinks of the positions of the Republican contenders. Public opinion surveys show that there is no wave of support for most of their extremely conservative positions.

  • Americans oppose deportation of undocumented immigrants. While bombast about mass deportation of immigrants fueled Trump’s rise to the top of the Republican heap, Gallup finds that only 14% of Americans support deporting all undocumented immigrants to their home country. Among the Independent voters Republicans need to persuade in order to win in November, only 19% support such deportation.  In the general election, this position is a liability, not an asset.
  • Americans oppose repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Every major Republican candidate wants to repeal the ACA, and primary voters love them for it.  But among all Americans, a November 2015 Kaiser survey finds that 42% either want to expand the ACA (26%) or keep it as is (16%), while only 30% support the Republicans candidates’ repeal position.
  • Americans oppose tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. Every major candidate’s tax proposal dramatically cuts taxes for the wealthiest Americans and corporations. But an April 2015 Gallup survey finds that 62% of Americans say that upper income people pay too little in taxes, not too much. The same survey found that 69% of Americans think that corporations are paying too little in taxes.  Americans want to increase taxes on the wealth and corporations, while Trump, Carson, Cruz and Rubio all want to cut them.  Again, in the general election, this position will be a leg iron for the Republican nominee.
  • Americans want stricter gun control laws. Every major Republican candidate opposes stricter gun control laws, a wildly popular position at Republican rallies. But an August 2015 Pew survey finds that Americans actually overwhelming support a wide range of stricter gun control laws. For instance, there is huge support for background checks for gun shows and private sales (85% support), laws to prevent the mentally ill from obtaining guns (79% support), a federal database to track gun sales (70% support), and a ban on assault-style weapons (57% support).

So for the most part, the Republican candidates’ ideas are extremely unpopular with the Americans who will pick the next President less than a year from now.

The Anti-Democratic Wave

But there is one major exception to this trend, and it’s a very significant one.  According to a November 2015 ABC News/Washington Post poll, battling terrorism is currently the second most important issue to Americans.  It ranks just behind the economy, and ahead of health care, immigration and tax policy. On that issue, a majority of Americans are much more aligned with Trump, Carson, Cruz and Rubio than they are with Clinton and Sanders.

  • Americans want military intervention to counter terrorism. In the direct aftermath of the Paris terrorist assaults, an NBC News poll finds that 65% of Americans want to send troops to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Also, 58% believe that “overwhelming military force is the way to defeat terrorism,” while only 38% believe that “too much military force creates hatred that only leads to more terrorism.” Similarly, Democrats have a losing position when it comes to Syrian refugees, with 56% of Americans opposed to increasing the number of Syrian refugees in the nation.

Public_Attitudes_Toward_the_War_in_Iraq__2003-2008___Pew_Research_CenterIn other words, the national mood is much like  when America rushed into the Iraq War in 2003.  Pew found that public support for that military action was 72% in 2003, but ultimately decreased to 38% by the end of the war.

While Vice President Dick Cheney estimated that war would cost about $80 billion and end quickly, the last Iraq War lasted seven years and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says it cost about $1.9 trillion, or about $6,500 per American.  The human toll for America was also high – 4,487 American troops died and at least another 32,226 were seriously wounded.  Still, almost three-fourths of Americans are ready to do it all over again.

Overall, this notion of a Trump wave is not supported by public opinion data. Americans are not buying most of what Trump and the other Republican contenders are selling. But if the election becomes dominated by the need to combat terrorism with military interventions, such as if there are a steady stream of ISIS attacks, Democrats could be in big trouble.

Five Reasons Why Democrats Shouldn’t Downplay Their Debates

As has been widely discussed, this year the Democratic presidential debates are on the down-low.  Democratic National Committee (DNC) leaders have decided to downplay their presidential debates, by limiting the sheer number of them, and airing some of them on Friday and Saturday evenings, when viewership levels are always very low.  Finding a Democratic presidential debate in the 2016 campaign is like finding Waldo, and it’s very much by design.So_far__the_Republican_debates_are_way_more_popular_than_the_Democratic_debates_-_Vox

I understand party leaders’ thinking.  They are all too aware that presidential debates highlight divisive intra-party squabbles in front of millions of viewers, and they sincerely believe that this kind of public bickering is bad for party unity.  They are concerned that wounds opened in debates won’t heal quickly enough, and that the intra-party criticisms will be used by Republicans in the General Election to embarrass and damage the party’s nominee.

Moreover, party leaders worry that a large number of divisive debates could make the contentious primary season last longer than it would if the establishment-friendly front-runner wins early in the process, as a result of challengers being starved of public attention by a dearth of debate exposure.  A short primary season makes for a more stable and better funded nominee, the thinking goes.

I understand all that, and agree that a series of prominent debates does pose risks to a political party.  Goodness knows, Democratic leaders watching the flame-throwing in the Republican debates probably feel vindicated by their decision to keep their debates in the shadows.

But in the final analysis, the strategy is short-sighted.  Here are five reasons why:

1.  IT FREES REPUBLICANS TO LEVEL CHARGES REPEATEDLY AND UNREBUTTED.  When Republican debates are many and prominent, while Democratic debates are few and obscure, that means that Republican key messages, claims and rebuttals dominate.   That makes most news cycles heavily slanted in a pro-Republican way, particularly because reporters increasingly shirk from holding Republicans accountable for  demonstrably false assertions.   “Democrats have destroyed the economy.”  “Nation building in the middle east is easy.”  “Tax cuts for the wealthy create jobs.”  “Obamacare isn’t helping anyone.” “The stimulus and bailouts didn’t work.” “Minimum wage increases kill jobs.”  In politics, a lie unrebutted is a lie believed.  When Republicans effectively gets the news media stage to themselves  for many months, the risk is that swing voters will swing Republican.  Moreover, all  of this message pounding can demoralize the Democrats’ electoral base, which can mean that the Democratic faithful fail to vote in November.

2.  IT RUNS THE RISK OF KILLING OFF THE PARTY’S MOST COMPETITIVE CANDIDATE. Debates are auditions of sorts, and sometimes they reveal surprising truths about political competitiveness.  For instance, in part because the debates were numerous and heavily watched in 2008, Barack Obama was able to show voters that he, to the surprise of many party leaders, was the most capable candidate to lead the party to victory.  It would be very difficult for an Obama to defeat a front-runner in the current debate-poor environment.  Healthy parties need auditions that are not rigged.

3.  IT HURTS THE PARTY’S ABILITY TO DEVELOP A “DEEP BENCH.”  Political parties need to develop rising stars, or lesser known leaders who are talented and becoming increasingly known and admired by voters.    Having a a full pipeline of such rising stars ensures that the party will have energizing and viable candidates in future elections.   For instance, even if someone like Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley isn’t viable in the 2016 primaries, debate experience and exposure can help a leader like him become a rising star.  Developing a pipeline of such rising stars is an understated but hugely important benefit of multiple prime time presidential debates.

4.  LOOKING ANTI-DEMOCRATIC COMPROMISES THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY’S BRAND.  All of these stories about party leaders intentionally limiting  debates tarnishes the Democratic Party brand.  In an electoral environment that is very hostile towards the DC partisan establishment, it makes the Democratic establishment look heavy handed, insecure, cynical, top-down, manipulative, power hungry and/or ashamed of its policies, ideas and leaders.  The resulting brand damage might make it a bit more difficult to attract establishment-wary swing voters in the General Election.

5.  IT LEAVES THE FRONT-RUNNER RHETORICALLY OUT-OF-SHAPE.  Just as athletes need stiff competition to reach their full potential, presidential candidates need competition to improve.  Prominent debates under the klieg lights provide that competitive arena.  Candidates need to get good at presenting their ideas and proposals in crisp, compelling ways.  They need to learn how to defend against their personal and political vulnerabilities.  They need to prepare themselves to inspire confidence on literally hundreds of policy and non-policy topics.  So in an environment with just a few, obscure debates, a front-runner can get fat and happy, rhetorically speaking.   That can mean that the party finds itself with a weak and vulnerable campaigner during the intense summer and fall General Election season.

So, DNC, let’s ease up on the Machiavellian reigns a bit.  Let them debate, even though it will get dirty and bloody.  Prominent presidential debates ultimately will do the party more good than harm.

What Not to Do in Response to Paris.

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterBy the sound of the usual drum beaters you’d think 2003 was 1200 years ago not just 12. After the attacks in Paris the other night you’ll be relieved to know that once again the solution to this problem is “relatively easy”, certainly if you’re listening to someone, a wandering minstrel candidate for example, who doesn’t really have to do anything.

Eight guys with machine guns and suicide belts creating horror and havoc in big, pleasant city Westerners are both familiar with and care about, (i.e. not Baghdad or Beirut), is qualitatively different. Therefore, just like 2003, our pathway to peace is obvious. Invade someone. Syria in this case, maybe a part of Iraq too (again). Kill the dictator. Assad. And ISIS. Wherever they are. And take over the country. Then, although this tends to get all boring and nuancy, restore all the usual government functions like courts and sewage systems and Departments of Motor Vehicles and then, after a while toss the keys to some reasonable people and book a flight home.

For the life of these deep thinkers, they can’t understand why Barack Obama and his hand-wringers wasted seven years crippling us with socialized medicine and strangling off the innovation of Wall Street instead of killing Muslims, somewhere, anywhere. Hell, it’s gotten so bad a guy can’t take his date to the movies in America without the fear of being machine-gunned down by some maniac.

Oh wait. Sorry. I had my psychotic terrorists confused there for a second.

I have to remember. We’re only talking Muslims here. THEY are the ones (the only ones) who want to come here and kill us.

Lacking any kind of productive ideas from the conservative intelligentsia (sic), all of whom, like a chorus of wind up toys, are chanting for a re-run of “shock and awe” and “nation-building”, serious-minded adults who can remember all the way back to the dim twilight of 2003 have to apply a set of (very) hard-learned lessons.

For example:

A: Precisely like Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, what ISIS wants more than anything is an apocalyptic war with the infidels. That’s us. Or really anyone who let’s women drive cars and practice total patriarchal control. And that would be a war,  preferably in a place where ISIS can most easily marshal a constant supply of fresh recruits. In 2003 the Bushies gave al-Qaeda everything they wanted plus a wet kiss, by not only coming to war in the Middle East, but by storming into the wrong country, oblivious to the centuries-old tribal insanities they were setting loose.

B: Whacking a dictator sounds like great fun, but replacing him with something better means accepting — at best — a couple decades of civil war, suicide bombings, insurgent whack-a-mole and ruinously expensive corruption on an epic scale, with no guarantee, ever, that “good guys” will eventually settle in and keep the water and electricity flowing, much less allow girls to go to school. And who gets handed the check for this?

C: The cry of “war!” plays well to arm chair commandos watching FoxNews. But fighting an “apocalyptic cult” like ISIS, which can cause more hysteria with eight guys invading via the AutoRoute in rental cars from Belgium than holding an entire city of two million people (Mosul, Iraq) argues less for a coalition of 100,000 crusaders charging across the sand into Damascus then another Orwellian step up in cyber-spying. And not just on 22 year-old jiihadis pissed-off by the loose morals of the West, but their oil rich/Saudi benefactors funneling money to them, very likely via sacrosanct Swiss banks. There’s no fist-pumping fun in nerds somewhere voiding a bank account.

But even if you know and accept all this, and aren’t fear-mongering for votes in a Republican primary, the horror in Paris … this horror in Paris … is going to require a more aggressive response to ISIS and religious radicalization.

A proper sequencing of tactics demands first weakening both ISIS on the ground and its world-wide supply and training network by attacking their revenue/quartermaster stream. I have no doubt Team Obama is well aware of this. But getting richer-than-Croesus Sunni sheiks to comply with American foreign policy goals is the stuff of fantasy. Their tribes are going to outlive any tribe in D.C. Leverage on that crowd will require a very deep and broad financial/intelligence coalition, meaning the Chinese as well, if not the Russians, too. Good luck with that.

Then, American liberals, weighing the alternative of yet another recklessly prosecuted ground war favored by the usual chickenhawks — take a bow Lindsay Graham, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Marco Rubio — may have to accept a heightened level of racial profiling, if only as a consequence of better intelligence-sharing with Western Europe. Personally, I’m certain this is already going on, with the FBI and others under the strictest orders to be as circumspect and low-profile as possible. But it’ll have to get tighter.

Finally, someone should start encouraging Americans to grow a little perspective and toughen up, before something happens here, again.

Our heavily-armed homegrown terrorists are regularly slaughtering more of us in schools, restaurants and movie theaters than any ISIS fanatic could ever dream of, and we accept it as a price we must pay for our freedom. (That of course would be the freedom to imagine that like some B-movie hero we’ll be the guy with the conceal-carry permit who riddles the fanatic with bullets, saves the day and gets the girl).

If we can avoid hysteria over the semi-weekly rampages we endure here with such unsettling equanimity in the Homeland, we need to remind ourselves to react with the same dispassion when eight guys in rental cars roll over the Canadian border and do a Paris number on The West Village or Yankee Stadium.

Thank God for Rand Paul in Milwaukee

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterMy favorite moment in last night’s Republican debate/barnstorming reality TV show, was Rand Paul butting in after one of Donald Trump’s rants about how the Chinese are always winning … because Barack Obama has turned America into such a pathetic no-class loser. It was a question about the Trans Pacific Partnership that got him whipped up. Wiley damn Chinese vs. Loser Americans who can’t negotiate a good deal. A Trump staple.

But then Paul, who was once the average adult’s idea of a delusional whack-job, piped up and suggested the Fox Business News panel, which included Gerard Baker, the editor of the Wall Street Journal, (you know, every shrewd businessman’s first source for the complete story on money and the bastards beating them to it), that it might be useful to pint out that the Chinese aren’t even a part of this deal.

Oh.

But as much as I was hoping for an Emily Latella moment from Trump, it was not forthcoming. What we got was, be thankful for small favors, a little filler commentary from Paul on the fact that the Chinese actually aren’t all that wild about this TPP thing either, since it’s greasing the skids for more trading between us and other folks around the Pacific. (This would argue in favor of the TPP if you were a serious China hater.)

Now, not being an international trade expert, all I knew about the TPP was what I read in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. And frankly, as Trump was ranting the best I could come up with was a niggling ring tone that something wasn’t right with his argument. But come on! After three and a half of these trips to Toon Town, I have something like an air raid siren going off in my head every three or four seconds over “things that don’t sound right”. Giant damned air horns howling that what I just heard is utter bullshit of a nuclear order. After that, “niggling” kind of gets lost in the reverb.

Here’s a small sampling of fact-checking on last night’s BS.

So yes, I was grateful when Sen. Paul reminded his opponents, the Fox Business panel, and everyone scoring at home about this teeny, tiny little Chinese detail.

Being in the news biz what immediately went through my head was why none of the Fox money mavens had butted in and corrected Trump? He had been ranting for a while. I mean, if I was vaguely aware of this critical detail just from reading Mr. Baker’s paper you’d think he’d be a little faster on the draw having, you know, published it.

Baker did follow up with a classic Wall Street Journal explainer about how even though the Chinese aren’t involved there are fears they’ll still exploit the deal to their advantage. But that’s only if the Senate passes it, which everyone in Milwaukee agreed would be, you know, yet another episode of liberal-induced Armageddon. Right after … Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, “amnesty” of illegal immigrants, ISIS, the gutting of our military, Hillary Clinton’s pant suits and every regulation ever authored by anyone under Barack Obama. In other words, a kind of serial Armageddon, you understand. (When you’re talking to the Republican base you can’t invoke too many Armageddon scenarios.)

Fox Business is being credited for a more composed debate than CNBC two weeks ago in Denver. And, frankly, some of the questions were pretty good. Like Maria Bartiromo, (aka “The Money Honey”) putting this one to Carly Fiorina.

 …in seven years under President Obama, the U.S. has added an average of 107,000 jobs a month. Under President Clinton, the economy added about 240,000 jobs a month. Under George W. Bush, it was only 13,000 a month. If you win the nomination, you’ll probably be facing a Democrat named Clinton. How are you going to respond to the claim that Democratic presidents are better at creating jobs than Republicans?

Heh.

Naturally, Fiorina, who previously urged everyone to watch a sickening abortion video … that doesn’t exist, completely ignored the question and hammered home instead her pet Road to Armageddon messages, most of which can be avoided by a three page tax form and a green room chat with Vladimir Putin.

(BTW, didn’t you love it when Trump said, “I’m the biggest militarist on this stage”?)

Point being, somewhere along with asking these fearsome socialist slayers if they’re a “comic book version of a presidential candidate” (glib, but not all that far off the point) and hitting them with actual facts on job creation, (implicitly proving that the U.S economy invariably performs better under the active governance of Democrats), there’s a place for aggressive follow-ups.

Bartiromo et al injected quite a few, “Too be clear, sir/madams” last night trying to pull an actual answer out of the bombardment of stump speech messaging. But they never got so rude as to, you know, demand an answer and/or correct a flagrant blast of bullshit.

Which is why Rand Paul, who has clearly decided, “What the hell, I’m letting it fly” was so valuable last night. Like his old man, Paul is 85% crackers and 15% rational. That lesser percentage covered a lot of the timidity of the Fox Business moderators. Like that shot at slippery little Marco Rubio — such an adorable weasel, you just want to pinch his cheeks — about adding another $2 trillion in tax credits and military spending (for hard-working ISIS-fearing American families, you isolationist bastard!) … without even trying to pay for it.

Since Paul’s chances of winning a million bucks on FanDuel are better than out-Armageddoning the likes of Ted Cruz, Rubio or Fiorina, I propose dropping him out as a candidate and in as a moderator for the next debate, which, damn it anyway, is a whole month from now.

What am I’m going to have to do until then? Switch back to “Naked Dating” for my reality fix?

A Holiday Letter to My Christian Friends

Dear Christian Friends:

Cursor_and_happy_holiday_war_on_christmas_-_Google_SearchI confess, I say “happy holidays.” Not always, but pretty often.  But I promise, we are not at war.

For the record, these ARE NOT the reasons I say “happy holidays:”

  • No, I’m not a Jesus hater, or a Christian hater. Just because I don’t give Jesus’s birthday exclusive billing in every  single November and December greeting doesn’t mean that I am ignoring or disrespecting him or his followers.
  • No, I haven’t lost track of the “true meaning of Christmas.” I am fully aware that Christians celebrate Christmas to honor Jesus’s coming, and my use of the term “holiday” is not evidence to the contrary.
  • No, I’m not too afraid to stand up to “the PC crowd.” Trust me, I’m saying “happy holidays” of my own free will. I promise, there are no nefarious PC puppet strings controlling me.

These ARE the relatively benign reasons why I say “happy holidays:”

  • happy_holiday_bing_crosby_-_Google_SearchI’ve used the phrase my whole life. Remember the song “Happy Holiday?” That song was written in 1942 by Irving Berlin, not in the past decade by “the PC crowd.”  Point being: The phrase “happy holidays” has been bouncing around in my head for half a century.  It’s traditional.
  • The season is not only about Christians. I recognize that my holiday is not everyone’s holiday. Out of respect, I want to express best wishes to both my Christian and non-Christian friends, and “happy holidays” is an effective term for doing so.
  • It’s handy shorthand.  Finally, and most practically, there are a glut of holidays happening in the six-week “holiday season,” namely Thanksgiving, Christmas, Kwanza, Hanukah, and New Years. So “holidays” is an accurate, inclusive and handy umbrella term.  That’s particularly appealing to a lazy guy always looking for linguistic short-cut.

Oh and by the way, “happy holidays” and “merry Christmas” are hardly exclusive. After all, in the days closer to December 25th, I still say “Merry Christmas” to my Christian friends.

war_on_christmas_-_Bill_O_ReillyBill O’Reilly, and the other “War on Christmas” mongers on Fox News and conservative talk radio are working overtime to convince us that we are at “war.”  That’s nonsense.  My “happy holidays” greeting is not an act of “war” against anyone, any religion or any culture.  It’s merely a polite, flexible and traditional statement of well wishes in a pluralistic society. So how about we all lighten up about this “war on Christmas” nonsense, and enjoy the season together.

Where’s Our Achievement Gap Urgency?

The Minnesota Legislature is crisis driven. It has a brief amount of time to address a long list of requests, so every year it tends to prioritize relatively small number of issues that legislators view as being most urgent. Those prioritization decisions are the most impactful decisions they make in any given year.

So, what should the Legislature’s top priority be for the brief 2016 session? Job-creation? Crime? Homelessness? Social issues? Health improvement? Economic competitiveness? Reducing the cost of government to ease tax burdens?

Each legislator has different priorities, but the one issue that will profoundly impact all of those issues for decades to come is Minnesota’s education achievement gap. If we can narrow the achievement gap in our increasingly diverse schools, it will go a long way to making progress on all of the issues just mentioned.

EdWeek summarizes Minnesota’s situation when it comes to the achievement gap:

Overall, Minnesota is a high-performing state academically, but it has some of the highest achievement gaps in the country between white minority students, and between low-income students and their more affluent peers. Those gaps have caught the attention of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who in a January 2011 speech to the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce criticized the state for its “lack of urgency” and its stalled progress in raising the achievement of disadvantaged students.

Well guess what, Arne? Five years later, I still don’t feel that sense of urgency.

Sense of Urgency, Anyone?

For example, we know that retaining effective teachers, and removing ineffective ones, is one of the most important things that can be done to improve student performance. Yet Minnesota is one of a very small number of states that continues a policy of retaining k-12 public school teachers based on seniority, instead of measured effectiveness. This “last in first out” policy makes it makes it difficult to retain high performing young teachers, who disproportionately work in schools serving low-income students.  Though a huge majority of Minnesotans agree this policy should be changed, the teacher’s union’s insistence on protecting the seniority-driven status quo prevails at the Legislature year-after-year.  That doesn’t sound like a state with a sense of urgency about the achievement gap.

Equity_and_equality_graphicWe also know that research shows that education achievement gaps can be measured in children as young as 9 months old. So, clearly the most vulnerable children need help very early in life, not just at age 4.  To catch up, low-income children need extra help as early in life as possible.  Yet, some state education leaders recommend heavily subsidizing pre-k services for parents of 4 year olds who can already afford services before we help the thousands of low-income kids under five who currently can’t afford high quality home visiting and early learning programs.  If narrowing the achievement gap was truly driving education policymaking, we would be helping those most at-risk kids first and fully.

More k-12 funding is also needed to fund gap-narrowing strategies, such as intensive remedial tutoring.  But leaders aren’t acting with sufficient urgency on this front either.   As of FY 2013, Minnesota ranked an underwhelming 21st among states in inflation-adjusted spending, at $11,089 per student. Oh to be investing at the level of even sixth ranked Wyoming, which is at $15,700 per student.  If Minnesota could just be a little more like Wyoming, we could use the additional $4,600 per student to better support our most gap-vulnerable students.

More Rhetoric Than Reform

I’m not saying that Minnesota is ignoring the achievement gap.  It is mentioned ad nauseam at the State Capitol, by people of all political stripes.  Discussing the problem is a necessary first step, but it has to lead to reform of the status quo.

Leaders who are truly feeling a sense of urgency about the education achievement gap don’t continue to fire effective young teachers in low-income schools, ignore the plight of its youngest and most vulnerable children, and remain complacent with middle-of-the-pack investments.  Both the political right and left can do better.

If we don’t start getting more serious about addressing the k-12 achievement gap, Minnesota won’t have the highly educated workforce it needs to compete in the global economy. As Minnesota’s workforce become less competitive, jobs will be less plentiful and will pay less.  When that happens, our state and local revenues will decrease, and our state and local government costs will increase. The resulting fiscal squeeze won’t just hurt those “other people” from different races, ethnicities and neighborhoods; it will hurt all Minnesotans, and our collective future.

That’s why the k-12 achievement gap can’t be considered “just another issue” on a long laundry list of issues. An issue of this magnitude needs to be treated like the Legislature’s top priority. Legislative initiatives to narrow the achievement gap should attract the most intensive focus, the best thinking, the most thoughtful and courageous leadership, the most bipartisan cooperation, and necessary resources.  If we don’t get more serious about the achievement gap soon, the state known for an education-driven “Minnesota Miracle” in the 1970s could become known for an education-driven Minnesota Meltdown in the not too distant future.

Note:  This post was also selected for MinnPost’s Blog Cabin feature.

Disclosure: In addition to being a blogger expressing personal opinons, the author is a communications consultant. Among many other clients, he works with a nonprofit that advocates for income-targeted investments in pre-k early education.  As with all blog posts, this reflects solely the author’s personal opinion.

The GOP in Colorado, Out-Played by the Royals.

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterI’m committed to this thing. I swear it. But when the 2015 Republicans debate it’s a tough choice. Baseball or group psychosis? This crowd puts on a show more like “Jersey Shore” without the spray-on tans and tattoos (although who really knows?) than a stale civics class. You know something genuinely weird and over-the-top will happen. It’s practically guaranteed.

So yeah, a guy feels kind of conflicted. On the one hand the World Series (with my second favorite team, the Kansas City Royals). On the other hand, Mike Huckabee and the rest of the scenery-chewing crew? I mention Huckabee, the minister, because he fears that after Barack Obama the country we’ll be leaving to our children will be nothing more than “charred ashes”? So you see the dilemma. Grit and hustle or apocalyptic fantasy? Which will be more entertaining?

The Royals are simply too much fun to watch to spend anything more than commercial breaks with the Republicans, allegedly debating economic policies last night in Boulder. Maybe I just got lucky, though. Because between every inning when I flipped back to CNBC — the business network blistered by Ted Cruz for being another miserable example of running dog liberal loathing of freedom, motherhood and unfettered capitalism — something gloriously nutty was going on.

One time Ben Carson was defending his tax plan, which, being a super-Christian, is really more like a tithe, you see. 10% from everyone. You’re down to your last dollar? The Lord wants a dime. When moderator Becky Quick, who is kind of cute besides being pretty up on her facts, pointed out the multi-trillion dollar debt this alone would ring up, Carson, the scientist who believes in neither evolution or climate change and isn’t an economist either, calmly said that wasn’t true. And besides, he said, his real plan, a flat-tax scheme with no “deductions or loopholes”, would be closer to 15% … which as Quick correctly asserted would still be multi-trillion.

Now, I love a good flat-tax fight. And I think just about everyone other than John Kasich, who decided shouting was the go-to strategy for a Mile High debate, hyped some variation on “cleaning up the tax code”, which of course is TrickleDownSpeak for, “Give Me and My Sugar Daddies More Room to Roam”. (My favorite response to the flat-tax/”no deductions” spiel: How many restaurants — run by “hard-working Americans” — would go out of business the next day if everyone and their dog wasn’t deducting “business lunches” from their returns?)

During another break in the action, with Johnny Cueto mowing down the Mets, I caught Trump being asked about some shot he took at Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Naturally, Trump flat-out denied he ever said anything of the sort AND accused the moderator (and by extension all of the press) of making it up. The problem with that being that the quote came off his own website.

At this point in RepublicanLife I’ve waay overworked the image of fact-checkers “melting down”. Gotta come up with something new. But even in snippets between innings, last night’s talk with all those numbers and Carly Fiorina, whose voice produces a strange, twisting contraction in my groin area, still selling the triumph of her Compaq-Hewlett-Packard merger/tenure, smoke had to have been billowing from Google’s search engines. You know thousands scoring at home were furiously looking for how any of the plans hyped put more cash in the pockets of “hard-working” Americans than “Wall Street bankers”.

And, before I cut back to the Royals’ big fifth inning rally, I had to wonder: Was I the only one baffled by the likes of Fiorina (of the $23 million golden parachute fame after laying off 30,000 “hard-working Americans”), Jeb Bush, Cruz and all these other boot-strappers railing against the ruling class? Would someone like to do a search on how many of these populists are either living off either their own family’s tax avoidance scams/investment earnings or those of some Daddy Warbucks puppet master? I mean, (I ask again), “Who buys this act?”

With the Royals in full command I caught one other fascinating moment. It was one where Mike “charred ashes” Huckabee I thought was actually making sense. Somehow he got on to the big drivers of health costs in America, citing diseases, specifically cancer and diabetes (i.e. obesity) and how, by God, we have to do something! So OK, no Republican is ever going to propose anything so French and outrageous as using taxpayer money to fund research to eradicate diseases that kill taxpayers. That would be rank Socialism. But still, as far as he went, Huckabee was actually making a valid point. Maybe the first in his tortured career.

But it was the reaction from the audience that fascinated me. The crowd had cheered wildly when Marco Rubio, (and Lord how I hope he’s the slick and sweaty suit they eventually push forward), took his obligatory shot at the liberal media. “Yeah baby! You tell ’em, Marco! Those bastards always calling us crazy and saying we’re detached from reality! Bias! Don’t tread on me! Watch the contrails! Where’s my gun?” It was like that was what they came for. Screw all this decimal point stuff.

And cancer and diabetes.

To Huckabee’s little speech … nothing. Crickets. “WTF does THAT have to do with the liberal media and Hillary Clinton leaving the USA! USA! USA! in charred ashes? Get back on the bus, man! You’re sounding crazy!”

Which is to say, not crazy enough.

In stark contrast to the Republicans, the Royals are winning because they almost never strike out.