Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Weekly Rant

A new feature... just because...

Call this self-therapy.  I’m writing this down to work through a thought problem, but I need to set the stage first.  Here’s the thing – I have been a political animal since I was a kid, and like to think of myself as someone who’s able to make intelligent guesses based on history and intuition.  For example, I’m used to knowing who’s going to win the Presidential election well in advance of the election.  Actually, this is something I’ve known every single Presidential election in my lifetime.  Seriously, a not-brief historical primer for everyone:[1]

n      1976: According to my folks, I spent most of the Bicentennial year saying “Katter, Katter, Katter!”[2]  Still not sure why I liked the name so much, but I was predicting (and, much to my chagrin, cheering) a Jimmy Carter victory.  As everyone can tell, I’ve been trying to live down that idiotic decision by cheerleading/voting for the GOP ever since.[3] 
n      1980:  I was a big Ronald Reagan fan for a simple reason – he liked jelly beans.  By contrast, Jimmy Carter liked peanuts.[4]  For a six year old, jelly beans are far more tasty than peanuts.  Plus, even when I was six, I could tell Dutch was an asskicking leader, while Carter was a cardigan-wearing ninny.[5]  And before we decide that everyone knew Reagan was going to clean Carter’s clock due to the craptastic nature of the malaise economy, polls in winter 1979 and early 1980 showed Ted Kennedy beating Carter and blowing Reagan out of the water.[6]  I’m pretty sure this is because everyone was still experiencing a drug-induced hangover from the rest of the 70’s, but the numbers were there.  Even leading into the debates, Dutch was viewed as an underdog, probably because the mainstream media couldn’t fathom the idea of an extremist like Reagan winning the election.[7]  Then America saw Dutch onstage across from Carter and… well, that was that.[8]
n      1984:  In the summer of 1983, Walter Mondale led Reagan in polls.  Of course, the economy was just climbing out of recession, and once it did, Reagan got to run on the “Morning in America” theme and cruised to a blowout of Mondale.[9]  I knew better, even in the summer of 1983, that Americans were not going to ditch my man Dutch for Jimmy Carter’s former VP, or anyone else from his party.  This is one more reason I found the Reagan-Obama comparisons offensive – the only way Obama wins 49 states[10] in next year’s election would be if we split California and New York into 40 or so independent states.[11]
n      1988:  Bush 41 trailed Dukakis by double digits in August 1988.  I didn’t think America was going to toss aside the VP when the incumbent President had presided over a roaring economic recovery, despite second term scandals that had hurt the President – that would only happen if the VP was a thoroughly dislikeable jackass.[12]  Plus, I was reading about politics enough that I already knew about Willie Horton prior to the ad blitz by Lee Atwater.  This race taught me two enduring lessons: stiff Massachusetts liberals will not win national elections, no matter how much baby boomer lefties want to relive Camelot,[13] and VP choices mean squat to deciding an election.[14]  Seriously, picking Lloyd Bentsen was a masterstroke, while Bush’s choice of Quayle, no matter how much I liked Quayle, looked like it was a decision made by someone who just had a stroke.  And this all meant jack three months later.  In fact, it kind of hurt Dukakis, because after his stupid photo-op in the tank and Bentsen’s debate performance, people wanted to flip the Dem ticket.[15]
n      1992:  I knew Bush was in trouble when he went back on his “read my lips” pledge on taxes, even with his sky-high approval ratings in the wake of the Gulf War.  Those ratings were illusory[16] – a truly popular President that will cruise to victory does not inspire a primary challenge and a third party candidacy.  Hell, even I considered voting for Ross Perot during that spring and summer.[17]  And Bill Clinton ran a great campaign, aided by a compliant media that conveniently pretended that an economy that was emerging from a recession was still stuck in one.[18]
n      1996:  Bubba’s approval ratings were stubbornly high, and even after the GOP revolution of 1994, the party wanted to nominate the epitome of the GOP establishment in Bob Dole for President.  The race was over long before it began.[19]  And I say that as someone who thinks Bob Dole got the short shrift from everyone, including me – we’re talking about a true American hero and a smart and dedicated public servant.  These qualities did not make him the best candidate for the GOP to nominate for President – in a better world, they might, but not the one in which we live.[20]  Oh, and by the way, he made an inspired choice for VP in Jack Kemp, and it meant diddly, again.[21]
n      2000:  I was stunned when Gore won the popular vote.  Stunned.  We’re talking about a guy who couldn’t win his home state, couldn’t figure out that sending Bubba on the campaign trail would be a good idea,[22] had somehow frittered away the advantage of a decent economy and quasi-incumbent status by being a dislikeable jackass,[23] and imitated a manic-depressive nutjob in the debates.[24]  This election should not have been close – W. had the Big Mo (to steal a phrase from his dad) all fall, especially following the debates.  I firmly recall being ticked that he took a day off from campaigning to spend time with his family down the stretch, and Gore almost won thanks to massive Dem turnout operations.[25]  In any case, I had W. winning the 2000 GOP nod prior to Dole’s loss in 1996, and grew convinced that Gore was beatable by the winter of 2000 if W. could hold off McCain for the nomination.  Why?  The beer test is a pretty reliable indicator – in nearly every election for the last half-century, the candidate you’d rather have a beer with has won.[26]  Which is one more reason for GOP voters to be apprehensive about Romney.[27]
n      2004:  Beer test, check.[28]  Stiff Massachusetts liberal on the top line of the ticket, check.  The mere fact that this was close should be embarrassing, except that Bush was stuck in a situation that parallels his father more than people realized --- the economy was trending up (far more than the media or the Dems acknowledged) but recovering from a recession, and Bush’s approval ratings were in decline following high points after 9/11 and the initial portion of the war in Iraq.  Add in a fervent anti-war left still carrying a torch of anger about the “stolen election” of 2000, and this could have turned bad.  Luckily, the Dems nominated a guy who may be the most easily lampooned candidate ever, figuring he was the sane alternative to Howard Dean[29] and figuring the media would avoid all those nasty little stories from his past and pretend he was your normal war hero.[30]  Kerry didn’t even match the one smart thing Dukakis did, since he picked John Edwards as his running mate.[31]  Watching Edwards debate Dick Cheney was like watching a fluffy little disingenuous bunny try to match wits with a bear.  I kept thinking Cheney was going to bear his fangs and eat Edwards.[32]
n      2008:  Obama’s cult of personality was in full swing.  Ask people who know me – I predicted that if Obama won the nomination, he would be President, despite all the silly crap about America being too racist to elect a black President.[33]  At a couple points, I thought McCain was gaining ground, but that was more wishful thinking than anything else – Bush’s approval rating was an anchor on McCain, who then proceeded to try to drown himself with a spectacularly craptastic campaign, treating Obama with kid gloves and then acting panicking during the economic crisis that fall.  Most of America didn’t just want to have a beer with Obama, they wanted to go to a concert with him and get invited to his pickup basketball game the next day.  It didn’t seem to matter that the entire Democratic ticket had approximately the same level of executive experience as I did when running for treasurer of my fraternity in college[34] – we all wanted to be part of the Barack Obama Experience.[35]  And now we are.[36]

Why does all of the preceding crap matter at all?[37]  Simple.  I don’t know who’s winning next year’s election.

Actually, I think I do – I’m just afraid that my underlying bias is effecting my prognostication abilities.  If you had asked me at any point for the last three years (including prior to Obama’s election), I would have told you to bet the house on Obama.[38]  And now?  Even money, at best.  In fact, ask me after I have a couple beers,[39] and I’ll tell you my real feeling – Obama’s going to lose.  There, I actually wrote it.  I don’t know if I’m just trying to talk myself into something that I’m hoping for, so we’ll need to break this down.

 How?  I'll get to that some other time.  This one’s long enough.[40]

[1] There is a self-therapy component to all this, but lots of this just nostalgia and smartass commentary.
[2] There’s a part of me hoping ABC was running incessant ads previewing “Welcome Back, Kotter!” because a two-year old like me would have found Kaplan’s mustache and Washington’s fro fascinating.  Alas, the timeframe doesn’t fit.  Damn Interweb for killing that illusion.
[3] I would accept part of the blame for the ascent of History’s Greatest Monster to the Presidency, but I was two years old, spoke extremely limited English, and didn’t have a vote.  Not only that, but the only people who heard my babbles (Mom and Dad) were not citizens and therefore ineligible to vote (granted, in 2011, ACORN or some similar liberal affiliate would have had each member of the family, including any dead pets, voting five or more times).  I’m not sure what excuse the rest of America has, other than the fact that it was the 1970’s and seemingly everything in that decade was completely fucked up.  If you don’t believe me, consider that the most respected of our three Presidents from that decade was the one who was lampooned by Chevy Chase as a stumbling idiot.  And I haven’t even mentioned disco music or the prevailing fashions of the time.  If it wasn’t for Lorne Michaels, Francis Ford Coppola, and George Lucas, I’d suggest pretending the entire decade didn’t exist.
[4] I hated peanuts then and barely tolerate them today.  It could be their association with Carter, or maybe I learned to hate Carter because I hated peanuts.  This is my personal version of a chicken-and-egg problem.
[5] I’d like to claim that I was fully versed in issues like Reagan’s willingness to stand up to the evils of Communism and his staunch belief in free market economics, but my understanding of the free market was pretty confused by the socialist teachings inherent in Sesame Street.  As for foreign policy, I was watching a lot of Star Blazers and they seemed to indicate that the future Earth was inhabited entirely by Americans and Japanese, so I figured the Commies weren’t much of a threat long-term.
[6] Honestly, I wrote the “blowing Reagan out of the water” line without thinking of the inherent tragic irony of referring to Ted Kennedy and bodies of water.  Granted, anytime I hear Ted's name, I think Chappaquiddick, but I swear this was unintended.
[7] This is why it’s really foolish to entirely discount Michelle Bachman’s Presidential run based on what the mainstream media tells us.  There are good reasons to discount her chances, but they have nothing to do with the fact that David Gergen and Wolf Blitzer find her chances remote.
[8] Seriously, we were talking about a race between (1) a telegenic former actor with a clear set of principles and policies who talked tough and spoke with pride about America, running against (2) a guy who claimed to consult his teenage daughter on foreign policy decisions, looked like he sucked on a lemon all the time, spoke of the country being stuck in a malaise, and had managed the economy right into the crapper.  I’m not even getting into the weird Killer Rabbit attack.  The mere fact that the polls spoke of the election being close makes me question the polling methods, but also speaks to the power of incumbency.
[9] Obama keeps hoping this will be the historical model for 2012, but the last seven quarters prior to the 1984 election featured only one quarter where the economy grew at a clip slower than 5%, and even that quarter featured 3.9% growth.  Unemployment was still 7.2% on Election Day that year, but it was steadily trending downward for almost two years.  Right now, Obama would kill for 3.5% growth, let alone anything north of 5%.  As for unemployment, I don’t think even Joe Biden thinks it’s heading downward to 7.2% anytime soon.
[10] I haven’t gone back to check, but I seem to recall that in 1984, the GOP states on the big maps got colored blue, while the Dem states Minnesota and DC were colored red.  Which was entirely appropriate, since we all know that Mondale was a Communist.  What, he wasn’t?  Then how did he lose 49 states?  Oh, yeah – his biggest domestic policy proposal was a tax hike.  You know, he might have been better off running as a Communist.
[11] I’m expecting Harry Reid to make such a proposal in early 2012.
[12] Let’s call that the “Al Gore Factor.”  Um, no reason.
[13] This lesson should have been obvious, but the Dems forgot it by 2004.  To be fair, John Kennedy was a dashing figure with a sense of humor, a willingness to cut taxes to spur economic growth, and  a dedicated anti-Communist, and John Kerry… had the same initials.  Oh, and decent hair.  Never let it be said that the Democratic Party is superficial.
[14] I keep forgetting to point the VP thing out when people claim Sarah Palin somehow cost McCain the 2008 election.  Palin had (and has) flaws, but John McCain was not going to win the 2008 election even if we dug up Abe Lincoln or George Washington to be his running mate.  Although watching Honest Abe smack Joe Biden around in debates would have been fun.
[15] To his credit, John Kerry sure didn’t make that mistake with his VP choice in 2004.  He picked a guy whose sole redeeming virtue was his hair. 
[16] The best way to analogize my feelings about Bush’s slow decline and loss to Clinton would be that it’s the same sinking feeling a sports fan gets when he’s watching his team whittle away a huge lead.  Even when the lead is still pretty big, you have a sinking feeling in your stomach and just hope the clock will run out and save you.  Miami Heat fans would understand.
[17] In my defense, I  was a senior in high school.  Call it my brief period of rebellion against the man.  It lasted a couple months before I snapped out of it and returned to steadfast support of the Galactic Empir… uh, GOP. 
[18] Those sky-high approval ratings of Bush following the Gulf War probably helped Bubba and actually hurt Bush. Because without those ratings, serial tease Mario Cuomo might have run for the Dem nomination and won it with ease.  Bush could have dusted off the 1988 campaign materials, substituted Cuomo’s name for Dukakis, and probably won despite the economy. I know Atwater was dead, but I’m sure someone in the GOP could have cut an ad with Cuomo looking like Brando in The Godfather, stroking and killing a cat.  Now that I’m thinking about this, I’m really pissed this didn’t happen.  Not for the political reasons so much as the entertainment value of something like that cat ad.
[19] What cinched it for me was the picture of Dole working out after the GOP convention, trying to show he wasn’t some old guy running against a vigorous young incumbent.  Instead, he somehow looked older and more frail than he had before – Dole in his suit looked like an aging but tough SOB.  In his workout clothes, he looked like Grandpa Simpson with better hair.
[20] Yes, this is a lesson the GOP failed to learn, because they repeated the mistake in 2008.  To be fair, the competition for Dole and McCain pretty much sucked or ran crappy campaigns, and Glenn Beck is right that the GOP traditionally defaults their nomination to whoever finished second most recently.  Which is another way of saying, I should probably purchase that Romney bumper sticker now… 
[21] According to Bob Novak’s autobiography Prince of Darkness, Reagan almost picked Kemp as his VP in 1980, but got talked out of it, in part because there were lingering rumors that Kemp was gay (he was not (not that there's anything wrong with that) (well, maybe there was in 1980)).  Reagan didn’t care that Kemp was gay – he just didn’t want Kemp to get outed or even have that question come up.  Stunning to think how different the world would be today if Dutch had opted for Kemp over Bush.  And kudos to Dutch for his political instinct in wanting to put Kemp on the ticket – Kemp was a fantastic salesman for free markets and would have been awesome.
[22] On the downside for Gore, if he had won because Bubba made sure he carried Arkansas, Gore would have still been living Bubba’s shadow.  I probably would have eventually taken solace in watching Gore struggle with that.  In case you haven’t noticed, I think Gore’s a dick.
[23] The mere fact that most loyal Dems I knew were secretly longing for Bill Bradley said it all.  I know Gore isn’t Mr. Excitement, but I’m pretty sure Bill Bradley could put my four year old to sleep even if I fed her six or seven espressos.
[24] Of course, it’s possible that Al Gore is a manic-depressive nutjob.
[25] This should dent the Karl Rove as Evil Genius meme… unless Rove planned this all along, to make Dems look like sore losers, while planting the butterfly ballot to make sure the GOP won.  Damn, he is an evil genius!
[26] The only definite exception is 1976, although maybe I was too young to appreciate the appeal of Billy Beer.
[27] Although I’m not sure I’d want to have a beer with Obama (I’ve had my share of beers with liberal Ivy League elitists, thanks), I think most Americans would be willing to do so due to the star power, fading as the cult of personality may be.  Frankly, I’d rather have a beer with Biden – the conversation would feature some serious f--- bombs, and we could probably find common ground on the Phillies.
[28] Forget beer.  I wouldn’t want to get a cup of coffee with John Kerry.  Anyone who tries to order his cheesesteak with Swiss cheese should be declared incompetent to hold public office.
[29] Of course, a rabid wolverine (either a real one or the comic book character) would have been a sane alternative to Dean.
[30] I cannot believe Kerry tried to make his bio as a veteran the centerpiece of his campaign in 2004 when he had so many skeletons in his closet regarding his post-Vietnam comments, let alone the fact that most of his fellow soldiers apparently hated the guy more than I hate the Dallas Cowboys.  I mean, no one saw the Swift Boat Vets coming?  Of course, I should probably remember that Kerry’s inspired choice for VP was John Edwards.  In light of that, I should be impressed that he didn’t make a massive tax hike on the middle class the centerpiece of his policy agenda.
[31] I want it noted for the record that I found Edwards to be a vapid, superficial jackass before it was proven to be true.  Edwards reminded me of a sleazy used-car salesman; it was like listening to Bill Clinton drained of substance and whatever remnants of integrity existed in Bubba.  In retrospect, Edwards might be the most reprehensible person to appear on a major party presidential ticket in my lifetime, and this comes from someone who thinks Al Gore is a prick.  As an aside, anyone who voted for Kerry-Edwards in 2004 and criticizes Sarah Palin as dumb should be forced to listen to John Kerry speeches set to Yanni’s music while being waterboarded.
[32] In retrospect, that would have been awesome.
[33] Actually, based on the treatment Hillary, Palin, and now Bachmann are getting, it’s far easier to argue that the country’s too misogynist to elect a woman.  Although I think that’s BS – in a world without Obama, the media would have rallied behind Hillary.  I think they attack conservative women who seek national office largely for partisan reasons, not sexist ones.  They fear that these women might break the Dem stranglehold on the female vote, so it has a component of sexism to it, but it’s mostly ideological fear.
[34] The person with the most relevant executive experience on either ticket was the much-derided GOP VP candidate.  Maybe I need to think about that misogynist thing again.
[35] Some of us did not want to be part of it, and yet are stuck along for the ride.  I liken it to being dragged to a Grateful Dead concert while disliking the music and being allergic to pot.  Think about how much that would suck.
[36] Maybe the better analogy is waking up in the morning coming off a bender with no memory of the preceding evening to find tons of crap you don’t remember buying, a massive credit card bill, a missing wallet, and someone you don’t know using the shower.  Actually, scratch the analogy, because I don’t want to try to figure out which Dem is in the shower.
[37] Beyond the mere educational value of understanding the importance of the beer test and knowing that the 1970’s were insane, of course.
[38] Granted, many folks could not bet their houses due to foreclosure proceedings, but it’s just a saying.
[39] Of course, after a couple beers, I become capable of talking myself into the Eagles winning a Super Bowl under Andy Reid.
[40] That’s what she said.

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