2016 Republican Presidential Debate #2

I skipped the first of these interminable Republican presidential debates because I simply couldn’t stomach it. I did watch the second debate last night with some misgivings, mostly because like everyone else I wanted to see if Donald Trump would get his comeuppance. Still, I have limits and yesterday’s was two hours worth. I kind of felt sorry for them forced to stand there for three hours with Reagan’s Air Force One as a backdrop. I know my bladder wouldn’t hold out for three hours and I’m betting most of the men on the stage have enlarged prostates too. I’m betting they were wearing Adult Depends.

Trump did not exactly did get his comeuppance but he was sort of neutered because the moderators wouldn’t allow him to yammer on and hog the stage like he did during the first debate. This was good because it gave other candidates a chance to talk about issues instead of personalities. With the exceptions of John Kasich and Ben Carson though the rest seemed shopworn, irritating at worst and uninteresting at best. Carson was clearly going for the nice guy angle, which helped contrast him not only with The Donald but everyone else except Kasich. Granted that Carson’s actual policies are just as wacky as the others’ are, and are in some cases even wackier. Kasich was the sole moderate on the stage, although even Ronald Reagan would not have recognized him as a moderate Republican. Kasich at least sounded reasonable and pragmatic, as did Carson at times simply because he wouldn’t raise his voice or criticize any of his fellow candidates. That doesn’t seem to be what Republican voters want in a nominee this time, but we’ll see.

Carly Fiorina generated the most buzz. She did so right near the start with some false statements about the highly doctored Planned Parenthood videos. She essentially inflamed the Planned Parenthood funding issue in highly emotional and clinical terms to shamelessly draw attention to herself and it obviously worked. She also one-upped The Donald with her caustic reply to a question about Trump’s earlier remarks about her ugly face. I hope that Republicans are wising up to Trump, who is basically a very rich bully. In any event these two events allowed Fiorina to look sort of presidential, at least by comparison to the low standards the other candidates set. Trump’s rampant sexism and plain bad taste seem to have finally become counterproductive. He also made a snide remark about Rand Paul’s disheveled hair, perhaps because his hair is a frequent news story in itself.

More revealing was his degree of sexism, which should disqualify any thinking female from voting for him. He had already criticized Megyn Kelly with a vague reference to menstruation. In trying to dodge his remarks about Fiorina’s ugly face, he dug himself in further. He had earlier said he meant her persona was unpresidential, not her face. In the debate, after Fiorina caustically replied to his comment, he said she had a beautiful face. Would he say this about one of the handsomer men on the stage, like Marco Rubio? Not likely. He sees beauty as an important aspect of a woman. Beauty however is simply a matter of genetics and taking care of yourself. Beauty has nothing to do with judgment. By seeming to suggest it’s important for a woman to be beautiful to be successful suggests that he is handicapping all women that are not or won’t try to be. It must be his cluelessness because there is nothing clever about this at all.

It’s not surprising that when they weren’t criticizing each other or the minutia in their policy differences they were complaining about President Obama and his “disastrous” presidency. They said he was weak on foreign policy, which was laughable as he was the president that got Osama bin Laden, a goal George W. Bush saw as unimportant. Obama also got us out of an unwinnable war in Iraq and is getting out of a similar one in Afghanistan. They chastised him for the nuclear agreement on Iran, even though it keeps us out of the folly of a pointless war and reduces Iran’s potential to develop nuclear weapons. They said he was a disaster for the economy, even though he created more jobs than any other modern president and dropped the unemployment rate lower than their hero Ronald Reagan ever did. It all sounded so hollow. Obama is simply a projection of their own inner frustration at his many accomplishments in spite of their relentless obfuscation. Their solutions to his alleged deficiencies were to do more of the same failed things that haven’t worked before. Not one of them had the courage to admit this was retarded.

At least there was more debate about issues last night and less blather from Trump. Their solutions did not vary much, but it took the focus off of Trump, who seemed out of his element. Trump spent much of his time off camera giving peculiar stairs at the other candidates when they spoke. He seemed to have lost his footing and was only willing to engage when it gave him the opportunity to be judgmental about other candidates. He is a one trick pony who looked very played last night.

It was so painful to watch certain candidates. They are all pretty grating, but Ted Cruz just oozes obnoxiousness. No wonder he doesn’t have a single friend in the U.S. Senate. Ditto Scott Walker and Chris Christie, both well seasoned bullies. Cruz though just has this look that is totally off-putting. Seeing someone like him on the street I reflexively move to the other side. Memo to Cruz: picking fights all the time and saying “my way or the highway” is not leadership. Taking the initiative to solve problems, generally by collaborating with others to find common ground, is leadership.

Jeb Bush tried hard to sound reasonable and affable but none of it made him particularly interesting or helped him shine. Did you notice him standing on his tippy toes when pictures were taken? He was already the tallest candidate but he had to be seen as taller, maybe because he knows history tends to favor the tallest candidate. He wants to look as dominating as possible but this was over the top.

Most of the other candidates tried to get words in edgewise but didn’t have much luck. None of these candidates though, not even Donald Trump, can master a stage like Barack Obama. Of course he’s not running although they were talking about him so much he did sort of command the stage in abstention.

My dream would be to have a debate between Trump and Obama. Trump thinks he’s a wizard on the stage. On the same stage with Obama debating the issues, he would be road kill under Obama’s shoes. I hope during the final campaign the Democratic nominee is wise enough to bring Obama on the road with him/her. History will vindicate Obama’s presidency. None of these potential Republican nominees is ten percent of the person that he is.

I’ll try to critique more of these debates in the future, but it is a struggle. It is intensely painful at times to hear such ridiculous tripe and such nonsensical and counterproductive solutions to our many vexing problems. With the possible exception of John Kasich, it’s horrifying to think what wreckage any of these people would be likely to do if they actually became president. On the plus side, any of these candidates except Kasich might actually make George W. Bush look the better president in retrospect.

Donald Trump proves that Republicans prefer assholes

Long time readers will know that I find Republicans to be both fascinating and appalling. They are my number one tag. I obviously don’t share many of their values. In many ways though some small part of me is Republican, the way my grandfather was.

I do think hard work should be rewarded, for example. Republicans agree with the principle in the abstract, but not in the specific. To them, hard work does not mean labor-intensive work. Watch fast food workers or bus boys working and tell me if you think they aren’t working hard. To me their hard work should be rewarded with a living wage of at least $15 an hour and probably more in higher cost of living areas. To Republicans, their wages should probably be cut so they can work harder and harder and achieve … well, that part is not too clear. Maybe they figure their boss will promote them to lead fryer chief or drive thru manager after seeing them run around like headless chickens for twelve hours a day. It’s clear that what they really hope for is that they can keep exploiting them. They hope that they will die young and that their tremendous productivity, made possible by low wages and plentiful poor people that they help create, will filter up to them in the form of higher stock prices and dividends, or possibly cheaper Happy Meals when they bring the grandkids by.

I’ve said Republicans are a party of sadists but after watching the reaction to Donald Trump’s misogynist statements during and after the first presidential debate the other night made me realize something for some reason I hadn’t before: Republicans prefer assholes for candidates probably because most of them are assholes too.

I’ve wracked my brain and I simply can’t think of an alternate explanation. Donald Trump has been a complete asshole throughout his professional life. He is a bully and his weapons are his wealth, his reckless mouth and his lawyers. He goes out of his way to offend people. When debate moderator Megyn Kelly asked probing questions about his behavior that he didn’t like, he reflexively and gleefully doubled down. If he gets a further negative reaction he double-doubles down some more. And since he is filthy rich, if he can throw some high priced lawyers at them to make their lives miserable and put their standard of living in jeopardy, he is happy to do so. He figures his wealth and success gives him the right to speak his mind freely without consequence and to toss aside common rules of etiquette or basic politeness.

Normal people of course have their jaws agape at his outrageous behavior. It’s no wonder he dominates the domestic news cycle. Except for the fact that he knows how to make gobs of money, he is a train wreck of a human being: a perfect example that money is the root of all evil. Normal people are just appalled by his behavior. And while some Republicans including the misogynist owner of redstate.com Erick Erickson who abruptly disinvited Trump from his convention feel they have to make a stand, at best most of them are mute. With the exception of Lindsay Graham and Carly Fiorina, none of the other presidential aspirants in the Republican fold have the courage to call him an asshole. As for the others, it could be they are waiting for his fall and then hope to pick off his supporters. But mainly I think they aren’t saying anything because they generally agree with him.

In fact, most of them wish they could emulate him but can’t find the courage, perhaps because they don’t have a big enough bank account. Mind you they say a lot of the same things, just more politely, and in the abstract without naming names. What they can’t imitate, with the possible exception of Ted Cruz, is his compulsive and reflexive nastiness. In a less civilized age, Donald Trump would be the king, those who disagreed with him would get the rack, and The Donald would be tightening the rack personally until their limbs left their sockets and his victims were a massive blob of blood, tissue, bones and protoplasm on the dungeon floor. That’s because The Donald is a reflexive barbarian at heart.

And you know Republicans agree by looking at his poll numbers. There is a batch of polls out since this first debate and at worst Trump’s poll numbers have stayed steady. By some poll numbers, they have improved. A Morning Consult poll show’s Trump has the support of 32% of Republicans nationally, versus 25% before the debate. His favorability ratings among Republicans went from 40%/40% to 46%/40% according to Public Policy Polling. But he is hardly the only asshole candidate in the race. The other clearly asshole candidates running include Scott Walker (6% favorite), Chris Christie (3% favorite), Ted Cruz (4% favorite) and Bobby Jindal (1% favorite).

This means that roughly half of Republicans prefer candidates that are known, public and pugnacious assholes. So by association at least roughly half of Republicans prefer a known asshole for their president. Why? It’s because they identify with them, and that’s because they too are assholes. They want someone that will not only implement their conservative vision of America, but do it in a showy, obnoxious, “I don’t give a damn who I offend or what the consequences may be” way. In short, they want an asshole for president.

The way to win the Republican nomination is now clear: to try to be more of an asshole than Donald Trump. The problem is Trump has set such a high bar and is running the carnival show so it’s unlikely that they could say or do anything that could be anything worse that what Donald Trump is already doing.

All these candidates will breathlessly say they think that the United States is the greatest country on earth, but if they had their way they would ensure the next president was also the most loathsome, vile and disgusting asshole possible. But if your party consists of assholes, you are simply electing one of your own. You can relate to that kind of president.

The evidence is in the polls.

In Wisconsin: a bridge too far

There is so much exciting news happening in the world these days that it is hard to keep up on it all. Much of my attention is drawn toward the Middle East, where its oppressed people are removing autocrats and trying to stand up institutions that may actually resemble a functioning democracy. Here at home, my attention is also focused on Madison, Wisconsin and the great surprise that occurred there as both organized labor and ordinary people fight back against an obsessed governor and legislature. Both seem determined to end most collective bargaining rights by public workers, causing alarmed Wisconsin Senate Democrats to flee across the border to Illinois so the Senate could not reach a quorum. In addition, here in Washington, D.C. it is fascinating and scary to watch a deeply divided Congress at work as it does this weird Kabuki fiscal dance. In fits and starts, it is trying not to shut down the government, a task that you would think would come naturally. We federal employees appear to have a two-week reprieve from a possible indefinite layoff while the mighty titans on Capitol Hill and in the White House simultaneously try to have everything their way while compromising without really roiling their base.

The common theme is that for a change people everywhere are politically engaged. This is actually heartwarming in a way. At least here in America, while the fringes tend to be politically engaged, the masses tend toward inertia and ignorance, feeling they are destined to have to make do with whatever spoils the power brokers toss their way.

Unquestionably, the situation in Wisconsin has captured the attention of the nation, and not just at its political fringes but also the typically inert masses. If health care reform fired up the Republican Party last year, Wisconsin’s bold attempt to crush public employee unions has become a compelling story that virtually anyone can relate to. It is hard to be apathetic on the issue. You either want to see those evil public employee labor unions finally crushed or you feel like these workers are the last gasp of our great middle class and we need to stand by them. It’s hard to hate a firefighter, police office or a teacher, when at best they are living in a modest brownstone, particularly when you encounter Miss Jones at Back to School night.

This is not a Reagan vs. PATCO situation. Public employees in Wisconsin are not out on strike. They have already conceded that the tough economy will require sacrifices to their standard of living and have agreed to further wage and benefit concessions. That is not good enough though for Governor Scott Walker and the Republican dominated legislature. They want to end collective bargaining rights for public employees except when negotiating pay, except they cannot really negotiate pay beyond what the legislature decides their pay will be. Presumably, they could negotiate if they want less pay. This means, effectively, that their public employee unions would be toothless entities. To Wisconsin public workers, this is like being knifed and twisting in the knife. It’s not only unnecessary, it’s downright cruel and demonstrates contempt and sadism by those running government for those who do public work.

This standoff is in many ways a watershed moment. It is coincidental that is happening at the exact time that democracy is spreading in the Middle East. Yet it still seems weird. The people of the Middle East want democracy and freedoms. Here in the United States, using the rube of lean times those allegedly pro-freedom loving Republicans in power are trying to take away freedoms, including the right to collectively bargain. The lesson that the unwashed masses are taking from all of this, and why they are on the side of public employees for a change, is that those in power not only want to cut our wages and benefits but they want to disenfranchise them as well, permanently taking away some of our hard earned rights. Many of these people were sympathetic to the need for smaller government. Until now, they did not understand that when Republicans are in charge they also work to permanently disenfranchise ordinary working people.

Even if Scott Walker and Wisconsin Republicans prevail in this fight, as looks likely, it is likely that these reforms will not stick for long. This is a bridge too far. It crossed some sort of hitherto uncrossed line on what is and is not acceptable. Just because you can do something does not mean does not mean that you should, and in doing so you can cross a moral line in the sand that Republicans hitherto did not see. You might say it’s one of their blind spots, because Republicans (like many of us Democrats) will not walk in someone else’s shoes for a while.

Why this should come as a surprise to working class America is perhaps a surprise in itself. It’s not like Republicans have not been consistently anti-union and anti-labor. It’s not like they have not tried tactics like this before. Americans tend to like change incrementally, rather than radically. It was why the Affordable Care Act stirred a ruckus and frightened the working class. It was a big change. The status quo may be unaffordable in the long term, but at least it is reasonably comfortable. Wise Republicans like Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana know they can press an issue only so far. Mitch Daniels is also busy trying to cut wages and benefits for public employees, but he so far won’t cross the Rubicon and try to dismantle public employee unions as well. Wise Republicans know that they way to dismantle unions is not explicitly, but implicitly. The tactic has worked for years. It was encouraged by obsessive right to work laws, pension reforms that let corporations ditch pension obligations, and other laws that blessed corporations and marginalized workers. Right now only seven percent of the American workforce is unionized, down from its peak of 22 percent in 1972. At some point if a group is marginalized enough, they become irrelevant.

Press too hard and the oppressed, rather than grumble, will rebel. The line was crossed in Wisconsin and it is energizing those engaged in workers’ rights and well as Democrats and progressives in general. Moreover, America is paying close attention. Republicans in the House should pay attention as well, as there are eighty-seven new Republicans anxious to take a meat cleaver to government. They say it is necessary and perhaps they are right, but it will prove counterproductive to their hold on power if they actually succeed.

Changes that stick require consensus from all parties, and are not dictated from those who have the power. Democrats may learn that because of the passage of the Affordable Care Act, because it put eighty-seven new Republicans in the House. Republicans who refuse to find common ground with the minority will also find the predictable reaction as well, the prequel of which can now be seen in Wisconsin and read in opinion polls. If they do not find common ground, Republicans will find that their hold on the House and in Wisconsin short lived indeed.