I Did Not See That Coming (Political Edition)

I’ve been pretty quiet on the subject of politics this year, having burned myself out on the subject back in 2013. It was my prolific year on this blog, but also the most frustrating, in part because I ended up politi-blogging so much that I ended up seeking out content that infuriated me just so I’d have something to write about. That ain’t no way to go through life, son. I also wanted this blog to really focus on fiction more, hence the shift in content.

That said, I’m in a rare mood today and I’d really like to go on the record for just how badly one of my predictions turned out, so here are my thoughts on this bit of news: candidate Scott Walker is going to drop out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

I didn’t write a post about this (see the previous paragraph about political blogging), but I had opinions and predictions. And when the Republican primary process kicked into gear earlier this year, I predicted Walker would be the eventual nominee.

If we could rewind to a few months ago (circa April 2015), here’s what a slightly younger version of Matt would say:

On the subject of the Republican candidates: It’s going to be Walker vs. Clinton in 2016. He’s an obvious choice: he’s from a Democratic stronghold state (Wisconsin has voted blue in every presidential election since 1984) and his big claim to fame is union-busting, which is abhorrent to me, but it’s the kind of thing that can win broad appeal without alienating too many demographics, especially since blue-collar Republicans vote against their own interests so often. He’s not doing great in the polls right now, but let’s look at his competition and you’ll see why I think he’s going to be the guy (not to mention polls this early are basically worthless anyway; just ask President Cain or President Gingrich).

Walker doesn’t have a last name with a ton of baggage like Bush.

He’s not too religious, which gives him more moderate appeal than Jindal or other religious conservatives, but still seems religious enough to win over the base.

Huckabee might be in the lead right now, but that’ll never last. Ditto Santorum.

Christie is damaged goods after the bridge thing.

Paul and Cruz might be serious contenders, but I think they’ve been on the stage too long and people are tired of them.

Of them all, I’d say Rubio could be the strongest candidate for a general election, but I don’t think the current Republican party can handle someone with his background (i.e. non-whiteness) and relative youth, even though he’d be a great candidate to field against the Democrats, especially if he can peel away Latino voters.

Trump is just this cycle’s Herman Cain. Or this cycle’s Trump. Take your pick.

In short: I predict it’ll be Walker vs. Clinton 2016, in which case “go Hillary!”

Yeah.

Obviously, I was wrong; thoroughly, utterly, completely wrong. Walker is the second drop out after Rick Perry resigned a few weeks ago. He was the guy I’d have bet money on. Keep in mind that he’s not the guy I’d have voted for; I’m not a Republican and even if I was, I’m far too pro-union to like the guy. But he seemed like a solid pick at the time, certainly a more sane choice than Trump (who wasn’t even running at that point and was just doing his Trump thing of talking a lot).

Of course, I’d also predicted that Hillary would basically run unopposed, with Bernie Sanders providing a token opposition in an effort to push her platform in a more left-leaning direction. And maaaybe there would be a Biden run, because why not? And now there are a few polls showing the Bern in the lead? Craziness! At this point, I’ve already been so wrong that I’m just going to throw out all my previous predictions and start making new ones.

So, here goes: you saw it here first, I’m calling it for President Bernie Sanders in 2016. Woo, feel the Bern!

But you might not want to take my word on it; after all, my track record for predictions so far has been pretty terrible.

I Read Harry Potter At An Impressionable Age (Which Is Why I Voted For Obama)

I absolutely love this story that was making the rounds through the feeds of my more literary-minded friends and colleagues (which is pretty much everyone that I know.)

Are you a millenial? Did you read Harry Potter at a formative age? DID YOU VOTE FOR BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA?! If so, you are proof that we’ve all been brainwashed by one J. K. Rowling.

Harry Potter is a liberal plot! Observe:

The seven Harry Potter books by JK Rowling might have played a significant role in President Barack Obama’s 2008 election victory, a new study claims.

The Millennials — people born after 1980 — were brainwashed by the Harry Potter books, which chronicled the life of a young wizard and his friends, Anthony Gierzynski, a University of Vermont political science professor, said in his study.

“The lessons fans internalized about tolerance, diversity, violence, torture, skepticism and authority made the Democratic Party and Barack Obama more appealing to fans of ‘Harry Potter’ in the current political environment,” Gierzynski said, according to The College Fix.

The fantasy series helped Americans develop a better understanding of diversity and instilled a positive attitude towards tolerance, his research found.

 This logic is unassaible. Here, take a look:

Fact One: Young people read a lot of Harry Potter.

Fact Two: Young people voted for Barack Obama in large margins.

Conclusion: Harry Potter is the reason young people voted for Obama.

There’s clearly no other possible interpretation of this data. It has to be those durn magical books and not the fact that the Republican party is growing increasingly removed from younger generations as its most far-right fringe elements dominate its perception.

I especially like the study’s claim that Harry Potter is responsible for “tolerance, diversity, violence, torture, skepticism and authority,” and that “the fantasy series helped Americans develop a better understanding of diversity and instilled a positive attitude towards tolerance.”

So, basically: kids read Harry Potter and they appreciate diversity. They tolerate people who are different from themselves. They are skeptical of authority. They are critical of torture (Harry getting tortured by Voldemort are some of the series’ darkest moments).

In other words, these kids are NOT Republicans. The article doesn’t specificy which party Voldemort would join, but then again, with the Dark Lord’s obsession with “bloodline purity,” it’s really not hard to imagine where his political affiliations would fall.

Personally, I think the Republicans should just run with it at this point. Get your 2016 presidential candidate out there sporting the Dark Mark and court the Slytherin vote. Print out some Voldemort Votes Republican bumper stickers, except not as a joke.

That, or change the perception of your party away from “the party of authority, intolerance, and torture.”

Rise Of The Third Party?

When I first became interested in politics as a young man, one of the things that bothered me most about our political system was the complete dominance of the two parties. You were either a Republican or you were a Democrat. Sure, you could cast your vote for some other party, assuming there was a suitable candidate. But a vote cast for the Green Party or the Libertarian Party was largely symbolic. Even the most successful party in recent history – the Reform Party – managed a mere 8% of the popular vote in the 1996 presidential election. They did manage to elect a governor, though, so . . . that’s good, I guess.

But even though my youthful enthusiasm for a multi-party political system has waned, I’ve long wondered if I might see a new third party emerge within my lifetime. It’s not without historical precedent. Parties come and go, wax and wane. We don’t have a Whig Party these days. We don’t have a Federalist Party.  The Democratic-Republican Party, oddly enough, split into what eventually became the modern Democratic and Republican Parties (via a detour through Whig Town for the Republicans).

My secret dream has always been that the Green Party would eventually rise up and gain some real teeth in the political process; a longshot, I know, but when you’re an early political idealist, you think just about anything is possible. I’m still holding out for that future, in case anyone is thinking about accusing me of giving up on my dreams.

Laugh if you must.

What I didn’t predict was that our rising third party would be hewn from the fragments of the schismatic and possibly irreparably broken Republican Party:

For nearly 150 years, there was something in America called the Republican Party. It was far from perfect. It often faltered. It made mistakes. But it was predictable; when it was in power, you knew, for the most part, what you were getting.

Cut to now and things look mighty different. The Republican Party today is, as Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein put it, “an insurgent outlier in American politics … ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.” But, to borrow the title of Mann and Ornstein’s recent book, it’s even worse than it looks. There’s the Tea Party and then there’s a rump of spineless moderates. The GOP, quite simply, has been split in two.

So, I guess my long-held wish for a third party may be on the verge of fruition. With House Majority Leader Eric Cantor losing to the Tea Party candidate Eric Brat, it seems like a permanent split between the mainstream Republicans and the Tea Parties might well be here. Or maybe not; it’s a little too early in the primary season to say how this will all shake down.

Maybe Cantor’s defeat is an outlier. Maybe not. Regardless, it’s going to be interesting to observe.

 

I Don’t Understand The Current GOP

If you’d ask me to sum up Republicans in a few stereotypes, one of the big ones would be “loving the military and everything that the military does is super awesome.”

Republicans love the military. They love military spending, they love cool fighter jets and big tanks and awesome guns that can kill people from three miles away. They love thinking about how America is the world’s greatest military superpower. Republicans believe that the only time it’s acceptable for a man to cry in front of another man is during the honoring of military heroism or remembering the fallen. Republicans believe that the sacredness of the veteran is second only to Jesus, who is the Christ, and even then . . . it’d be tough to choose if you asked a Republican to say which one was more sacred.

That sounds right, doesn’t it? It’s certainly not those Democrats who have the stereotype of being all about the veterans and the military. I’m not saying that Democrats are anti-military. I’m just saying we have the stereotype of being not on board. We have to worry about swift-boating. We get called “traitors” a lot because of criticism of the military. We’re definitely considered to be a bunch of tree-huggers.

One of my favorite Democrats wanted to replace the Department of Defense with the Department of Peace. There isn’t a Republican worth his domestic beer that would suggest such a thing.

With all that in mind, somebody please tell me what the fuck is going on with this Bowe Bergdahl thing?

Seriously. I can’t fucking understand it. The man’s a soldier. A veteran. One of America’s “fighting men,” as John McCain would say. He wears the uniform of the United States military.

“No one gets left behind” isn’t just a cornerstone of the American military, it’s pretty much its most sacred commandment. Marines are trained not to leave a man behind, even if you know that he’s dead. You bring your brother (or sister!) back home. You don’t leave anyone to the enemy. Risk your life if you have to. Carry him out on your shoulders or drag him behind you, but don’t leave him behind.

No. Matter. What.

It’s like, Jesus Christ, even a tree-hugging, vegetarian liberal like me understands and respects that basic truth about the military. I respect the hell out of this particular truth.

Regardless of why we went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, regardless of the morality of why we’re fighting, it doesn’t change the fact that the men and women who did that fighting volunteered for it. The fact that they volunteered meant that I didn’t have to fight.

So the Obama administration brings Bergdahl home. The last Afghanistan War POW is returned home.

And suddenly, this is a bad thing? Suddenly, there are qualifiers about who gets left behind and who doesn’t?

Fucking explain this to me. Explain this to me as anything other than evidence that the GOP has lost its goddamn collective mind over how much it hates anything Obama does.

Because honestly, at this point, it looks like if Obama declared that being able to breathe oxygen was the right of every American, Republicans would declare that free, breathable oxygen was an evil socialist plot and that the market should decide whether Americans deserve oxygen or one of the other market-based alternatives, such as argon or chlorine. You know, I’ve heard good things about some of those noble gases; maybe we should try some of those instead. Xenon might be fun.

I realized that I’m incrediably biased when it comes to politics. I’m really, really far to the left on, well, nearly everything. My opinion on what Republicans do isn’t going to be reasonable a lot of the time. I’m not always willing to admit that some the things my side does are fucking stupid, even though they sometimes are.

But the military? Republicans are mad that a POW was returned to American soil? How the hell is bringing home a POW a controversy?

It’s supposed to be “no one gets left behind.” Not “no one gets left behind . . . as long as we like you enough to bother trying to save your ass. If we don’t like you, fuck off and die.”

And yes, I recognize that there are some Democrats complaining about Bergdahl’s return as well. But I expect Democrats to bitch about anything related to the military. That’s nothing new. It isn’t even surprising.

Seriously, I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. I think back to the Bush years and how much the military and “support our troops” were the hallmarks of the Republican identity. It really does illustrate just how much the past five-and-a-half years of Obama have made the GOP go absolutely insane.

Damn It, PETA

Stop making environmentalists, animal activists, conservationists, ecologists, vegetarians, and vegans look bad. Yes, know that they’re not all the same, but most people don’t. We’re all one big, pot-addicted, tree-hugging, save the whales, kumbaya collective. And we all get judged by whoever is making the most noise or saying the most obnoxious thing.

I know this because I do it all the time whenever I decide to blame the entire Republican Party for whatever stupid thing their most fringe Tea Party candidate decides to do or say. The reality is that the Republican Party is a vast organism with many different competing aspects, individuals, and motivations. But it’s much more emotionally satisfying the blame the entire crowd for the most egregious behavior of the distant fringe.

That’s not to say that I like or even respect the Republican Party. I’m just being emotionally disingenous.

PETA actually does a lot of good in the world. Most people like animals and think that being kind to them is a good idea, even if they make those choices based entirely on which ones are fuzzy and cute. But people also tend to hate PETA and go completely deaf whenever PETA (or another animal activist) tries to raise legitimate concerns or discussion.

Shit like this? This isn’t helping. There is such a thing as bad publicity.

About That “Abuse Of Executive Orders” Thing

I didn’t watch the State of the Union address live, so I’ve had to play catch up in the past few days. Fortunately, the Internet makes this a very easy proposition and I’m now fully informed on, among other things, the current status of the union.

My initial thoughts: sounds like we have a lot of work to do as a union. That’s okay with me, though. Work is good, because work is progress and if there’s a term I love more than liberal, it’s progressive.

Another thought: is it just me or did this speech remind anybody of the Obama who ran for president in 2008? The man is a damn fine orator when he focuses on it. This speech felt like a return to form for the president which I, as a member of the liberal loyalist base, found especially invigorating. I think the base needed that shot of adrenaline after the debacle that was the healthcare.gov rollout.

My favorite part, however, isn’t the speech itself, but the political reaction from the other side. I swear I’m not trying to intentionally poke them with a stick, but the Republicans make it so easy. There’s the three different official Republican responses to the state of the union; way to look like a unified and coherent party there, guys. Seriously, well done.

I’m glad we covered all the different flavors of the Republican party: there’s the Republican Party response delivered by Cathy McMorris Rodgers, then there’s the Republican Tea Party response delivered by Mike Lee, and of course, the Rand Paul Tea Party Republican Party response delivered by Rand Paul, because hey, why not.

But for my money, the best punchline comes from Obama’s abuse of executive authority. Dictator! Emperor! King! How dare the president abuse his authority in so improper a fashion! It’s the death of the Constitution! The end of checks and balances. President Obama is going to unleash so many executive orders that we might as well start melting down the gold and platinum to make the man a crown.

Clearly, that’s his aim here, right? He’s going to flood the republic with executive orders. Take a look at the number of executive orders Obama has issued so far during his presidency compared to previous presidents:

Source: Nymag.com

Wait, what?

Where’s Obama on this list? Oh, there he is: one up from the bottom.

I think it’s safe to say that if unleashing a tide of executive orders was going to be President Obama’s modus operandi, he would have already started to do so instead of waiting until the sixth year of his presidency. Just a thought.

As an aside, it’s also interesting to note how few executive orders George W. Bush issued. I would have assumed his number would have been higher. But that’s the great thing about dealing with facts and reality; if facts contradict your view on a particular topic, you change your view.

Ahab Syndrome

Last time, I called the government shutdown a poker game, one where the Republicans were trying to bluff out the Democrats despite only holding a pair of threes. Upon retrospect, I think it was actually worse than that.

I think this budget fight was more akin to a game of Russian Roulette in which every chamber was loaded and the Republicans were the first ones to pick up the gun even though they knew every chamber was loaded and their opponents knew it too.

“I’ll do it,” they said. “I’ll go first and I’ll play and you’ll look like a wimp because I’m taking charge and doing what’s right.”

“Okay,” the Democrats said. “Go right ahead.”

And what was gained, for all this effort and all this spent political capital? You exhausted your good will with all but the most ardent of your base, surely it was for a reason? Nope. Nothing happened. Nothing was accomplished, unless you count costing the economy an estimated $24 billion dollars an accomplishment. Certainly I have never managed to spend $24 billion dollars. So, achievement unlocked! I guess.

At this point, I think it’s safe to say that there is an element within the Republican Party that can be diagnosed with Ahab Syndrome. It’s not a real psychiatric disease as far as I know (monomania would be the medical term, but this is more pleasantly literary).

Obamacare is their white whale. It’s the one thing that must be stopped, must be crushed, must be killed. It is the ENEMY. Does it matter if your crew dies around you? Does it matter if your ship is crushed and sunk beneath the waves?

No. All that matters is the objective. All that matters is the end of Obamacare, even if the country burns in the process, even if it costs America its position as the world’s sole superpower.

The worst part? The very worst part? I’m worried that this isn’t going to change. I keep hoping that the Republican party will oust its far right wing element and unshackle itself from the religious right. I keep hoping for the resurgence of the Rockefeller Republican. Not that I would vote Republican even if that was the case, because I am too far to the left, but it’d be nice to work with those guys. I think we could come to compromises more easily and find some common ground.

I’m still hoping this fiasco will mobilize the moderate elements in the party (assuming there are any left) and say, okay, enough is enough, let’s get back to business. Being crazy is bad for business.

And then I read something like this and I worry that all my hopes are in vain:

For a certain block of House conservatives, the ones who drove Speaker John Boehner toward a government shutdown and near-default against his will, the lesson of the last few weeks isn’t that they overreached. Not that they made unachievable demands, put their leadership in an impossible position, damaged their party’s position with the public and left a deep uncertainty about whether the GOP conference can recover and legislate.

No, what they’re taking away from the 2013 crisis is: They didn’t go far enough.

They aren’t angry with Speaker John Boehner for ultimately capitulating to Democratic demands. They’re frustrated with their more mainstream colleagues who put him in that position.

Despite my rhetorical tendency to elaborate and exaggerate (like in the Russian Roulette example above), my general position is to assume that the person on the other side of an argument is not an idiot. Most people are rational. Most people are trying to do the best they can and want to do what they think is right. Very few people wake up in the morning and say, mwahaha, how best might I destabilize the country and run the government into the ground? The ones that do tend to explode or get gunned down by police, not elected to office.

It seems to me that a rational person would look at this situation and say, “wow, you know, we really alienated everybody here. Everybody thinks we’re crazy and extremist. We need to tone things down and win back the respect of the moderate elements.” Make no mistake, the self-reporting moderate element is the largest in the country.

I don’t know how anybody can look at this situation and say, “we didn’t lose because we went too far. We didn’t lose because we were too extreme on this issue. WE LOST BECAUSE WE WEREN’T EXTREME ENOUGH!!!!!1

I had hoped the message learned here is that dysfunction cannot be tolerated for the sake of disagreement. Disagree if you want, argue if you want, but above all else, keep the gears of the machine moving. Don’t jam a wrench into the cogs because you didn’t get your way.

In Which I Agree With Jeff Flake About Something

So the government shut down today. Fortunately for yours truly, I’m employed by a level of government that has so far managed to remain functional, so I get to keep coming into work every day. I am very relieved by this fact, although I admit that the idea of not having to work did sound pretty good this morning when my alarm started chiming away.

I wanted to point out something my state Senator, Jeff Flake, said in an article, if only because before today, I don’t think I’ve agreed with Jeff Flake about anything. From an article in the New York Times:

The Republican leadership in both houses of Congress have accused their Democratic counterparts and Mr. Obama of failing to entertain even the smallest changes to the health care law, which they have said is deeply flawed and harmful to businesses.

But among the rank and file, more and more Republicans are saying they believe they have no cards left to play.

“We’ve called their bluff, and they didn’t blink,” said Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona. “At this point it would kind of strain logic to assume that going deeper into this when Republicans are likely to get the blame will benefit us more.”

Bold emphasis is mine.

Last week, I was discussing the then-hypothetical government shutdown and described the situation as a game of Poker (Texas Hold ‘Em, of course). The Republicans are trying to bluff with a pair of threes while the Democrats are sitting comfortably on a nice King-high straight. The only difference between my assessment and Flake’s is that Flake suggests the Democrats kept their nerve even when Republicans called their bluff. In my scenario, the Democrats weren’t even trying to bluff. They didn’t need to bluff. They knew who did not have the political capital to keep up in this high stakes game and they knew who would be paying out the nose for the resulting fallout. Hint: not them.

The frustrating and somewhat scary part is that the Republicans played their hand anyway even though rationally, they should have folded as soon as the cards were dealt. It speaks to the level of dysfunction within a particular group of that particular party, which is frankly terrifying.

The sooner Republican voters oust this fringe element that has turned their party into a gibbering mess, the better it will be for all of us. Right now, we’re not stuck with a deep schism between a conservative party and a liberal party. We’re watching the struggle between a slightly-right-of-center party and an insane party.

Contrary to popular conservative depictions of socialist liberals such as myself, the majority of us don’t look forward to the Republican party’s spectacular and implosive collapse. Indeed, we’re rational enough to realize that in such a scenario, the deposed would do all in their power to drag everyone down with them. Which, come to think of it, seems to be exactly what’s happening right now.

And In Other News

I’m related to a lot of people who vote for the GOP. This is something I really, really don’t understand. I don’t understand how we can have the same DNA, the same stuff that programs our brains and such, look at the same actions by Republicans and have completely divergent reactions.

For example, my reaction to  the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act is one of abject horror that something this misogynistic passed through the House of Representatives. The fact that it will likely die in the Senate is a cold consolation; what would make me happy is knowing that bullshit like this couldn’t survive long enough to make it to the House at all.

And yet, you don’t have to go far along the family tree to find beings who are almost exactly like me in terms of DNA who likely think that this is a great idea, who would have almost certainly voted for Franks if he was representing our district (he’s actually representing a district in Phoenix, which should come as no surprise to anyone ever).

The only answer that makes sense to me is that I’m a genetic aberration, a mutant who was born with a defective brain bucket that renders me incapable of understanding the wisdom of this action, or anything else that the GOP does. That must be it.

Arizona: A Great Place To Be A Gun

The news today was great if you’re a gun. Or if you’re a person who makes and sells guns. Or if you – well, you get the point. Let’s talk about Arizona’s Gun Buyback program first.

The plan was to try and get some unwanted guns out of people’s homes with the guarantee that those guns wouldn’t end up in the hands of those who might do harm. Not an unreasonable concern, considering how easy it is to acquire a firearm without a background check of any kind. It was going to be a drop in the bucket anyway compared to the number of guns still out there, but you never know; one less gun could mean the difference to at least one person. It was, you might say, a symbolic action in the same vein as Bisbee’s proposed civil union law.

And like Bisbee’s symbolic civil union law, the gun buyback program has been blocked. Well, not blocked exactly, but gutted all the same. You can still turn your unwanted gun in. However, the city or county now must take that gun and sell it to a federally licensed dealer instead of destroying it as was intended. Guns seized by police already have to be sold in this fashion, per Arizona law, which means that, as Bob Christie notes in his article, “the gun used to shoot U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords might end up back on the street.” Great law, that.

Here’s the thing that really brings my blood to a boil:

It’s not about protecting Second Amendment rights, it’s about protecting the taxpayers,” said Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Peoria. He also argued that the state doesn’t require the destruction of cars involved in fatal accidents, so requiring guns to be destroyed is simply a feel-good measure that protects no one.

Bull. Fucking. Shit.

Look, I get the fact that as a Republican, you have to bow to the almighty power of the gun lobby, but at least be fucking honest about it. Stand up and cop to it; you’re opposing this because the NRA demands that you oppose everything that even has the faintest springtime scent of gun control. Admit that this is what you’re doing, because it’s agonizingly obvious to the rest of us that this is what you’re doing.

Furthermore, the argument Rep. Murphy uses to justify his bullshit rhetoric is that we don’t require the destruction of cars in fatal automobile accidents. This ignores the fact that in many instances, a collision severe enough to kill a person is usually enough to destroy the vehicle involved. So, you know, you have that working against your claim. Furthermore, you’re not even addressing the same fucking issue! This isn’t even about the law requiring the state to sell seized guns. This was about a program designed to take some guns off the street and keep them from circulating.

Democrats argued that Republicans complain about the federal government when it requires the state to take action, yet they’re quick to force local governments to do what they want. “We hate it when the federal government mandates it to the state, and we’re doing the same thing,” said Sen. Lynne Pancrazi, D-Yuma.

How the hell anybody can argue that the Republican party is the party of small government is beyond me at this point. This is not the action of a small government philosophy! These are the blatant actions of a party that has capitulated to its most powerful lobbying group because to do otherwise would mean the effective end of the party as a political entity.

I get why they’re doing it. I guess at this point, I’d just appreciate a little bit of honesty as they do it.