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Politics as a Contact Sport

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When I think that political discourse has hit a new low–twice a week these days–I sometimes remind myself of the brutal caning of Senator Charles Sumner on the floor of the U.S. Senate in 1856. The subject was slavery. Sumner was nearly killed and his attacker, Representative Preston Brooks, widely praised across the South.

It was one of many events that led to the Civil War. As attacks go, it reduces Vice President Dick Cheney telling Senator Patrick Lehey to “go fuck yourself”—also on the Senate floor—to an amusing anecdote.

 

Cheney got it back eventually (see above), on camera during an interview following Hurricane Katrina’s devastation in 2005. Mr. Dick deflected the insult with his usual aplomb and the man was handcuffed and questioned for more than 30 minutes by the Secret Service. There really are no consequences for some people.

Following the New Hampshire primary, Chuck Todd of NBC predicted that the ten days leading up to the South Carolina Republican primary would be “like a Tarantino movie” … let’s say, Reservoir Dogs or True Romance, where the climax has characters firing guns at each other point-blank.

The Republicans didn’t disappoint. Trump, Cruz and Rubio fired at each other repeatedly. You heard a lot of “liar liar liar!”–either by way of accusing or complaining about being accused.

Bush called in his brother and his mother. Trump trumped that by trashing “W” over 9-11 and the lack of WMD in Iraq, then trumped himself by trashing Pope Francis. To be fair, Francis trashed him first, not realizing that you cannot attack The Donald and get away with it.

To prove it, Trump won the primary by double digits.

It’s a stark slap in the face to the moneyed interests that dominate our politics–or thought they did until Trump came along. He has his own money, yes, but he hasn’t spent much of it. His true advantage is media savvy.

And a mouth. The conventional wisdom has been: Trump’s mouth will sink him. I thought so too, and we were all wrong. He says such outrageous things that he can dominate a news cycle simply by opening his mouth.

And that mouth connects perfectly with the Archie Bunkers of this country. I’m dating myself by referencing All in the Family‘s beloved bigot, but I do it because I always wondered how many of Archie’s fans actually agreed with him.

A lot, it turns out. And they didn’t all die off as Donovan promised in a song several years before then (hour marker 01:25:05 in this 1967 concert). They made more, and they remain a considerable electoral force. To these people, Donald Trump has truthiness. I spent an entire column describing that trait so I’ll sum it here to “telling people what they want to believe.”

Doesn’t sound particularly original, does it? It reminds me of an old adage about politics, that Trump has smashed along with so many others:

“Republicans fall in line. Democrats fall in love.”

It’s actually been the opposite this time around. Until Bernie came along, the Democratic side of the race seemed a slow march to Hillary’s coronation. And it may become that again, with the South and Midwest primaries coming up. Not that she’d be a bad president; I believe she’s worthy of the office. But she has seemed from the beginning to be inevitable, and thus not especially exciting.

Then Bernie came along and Democrats fell in love. At least the young ones. I can hardly blame them: he describes a U.S.A. I would surely like to live in. Unfortunately, not one that is doable with the Congress he would inherit as president.

So we’ll see how the primaries play out. Prognostications for Bernie’s future are not especially positive. But Hillary’s campaign has been committing some tone-deaf gaffes. So anything’s possible.

I’m thinking of Madeline Albright telling women they’d burn in hell for not supporting Hillary, and Gloria Steinem speculating that the reason they don’t support her is their boyfriends. Yikes. LA Times cartoonist David Horsey riffed on that theme perfectly, with Hillary scolding two annoyed teenagers over their love for a man way too old for them: Bernie.

The second gaffe was Hillary herself telling young women they should support her for her gender. I do think government needs more women (put another way, less testosterone) but I also think that Hillary is the most qualified of all candidates from either party. And of course I share her politics. Mostly.

The Democratic National Committee has committed gaffes of its own, most notably in limiting the numer of debates and placing them at inconvenient viewing times, in a seeming effort to bolster Hillary’s candidacy.

There’s more. I’m not sure how responsible the DNC is for all the “establishment” support behind Hillary, in the form of so-called super delegates. But I read that after losing to Bernie by 20 points in New Hampshire, she wound up with the same number of convention delegates–because the Granite State’s entire slate of super delegates went to her.

That ain’t fair, folks, and it’s not going to win over Bernie’s supporters if he loses to her. It’s not the mudslinging that we so often envision during a campaign, but it is hardball politics nonetheless.

If that kind of back-room dealing keeps happening, the Democrats will be in bad shape when the general election comes around. There’s a lot of electoral excitement on the Republican side now, and I no longer think that common sense will dominate at the ballot box. It hasn’t so far, but then I don’t see many candidates with common sense anyway.

I did get to refill my cup with fresh Schadefreude as I watched watched Jeb! concede the South Carolina primary as well as his quest to become the third Bush president. Then I watched Ted Cruz ignore the fact that he finished in third, below Marco Rubio, and below expectations. His repeated claims to the contrary were pathologically delusional.

Cruz did opine, quite correctly, that the President’s role in Supreme Court nominations has taken center stage in this election. There was a time when I would have chuckled at Republicans denying Obama the nomination to replace Antonin Scalia on that bench. Knowing as I did then, that they’d like any nominee of Hillary’s WAY less.

But the truth is, now I can envision, and not only in my wildest dreams, Trump or Cruz winning the election–with Republicans holding on to both houses of Congress.

Mitch McConnell’s hardball tactics regarding the Supreme Court nomination may be repugnant and against what the Constitution mandates, but they are totally in line with his opposition to Obama from November 5, 2008, onward.

Writing in Salon.com, Amanda Marcotte stated it perfectly: “The ugly fact of the matter is that conservatives simply don’t believe Obama has a right to be the President. Yes, he won the general election by a landslide, but, in both 2008 and 2012, the majority of white voters voted against Obama. … From day one of Obama’s presidency, the opposition has been rooted in this belief that white Americans are more legitimate, as voters and citizens…”

The one funny thing about Republicans forcing the Supreme Court to operate with eight justices for nearly a year is that they will lose a number of important close cases because the best conservatives can do now is a 4-4 tie with justice Kennedy voting conservatively. Or they can lose 3-5 with Kennedy voting liberal.

That’s because cases kicked up to the Supreme Court revert to judgements rendered by the regional circuit courts that they came from. In most cases–but not all–those judgements went against conservative desires.

Interestingly enough, although a neolithic conservative in so many ways, Scalia himself was human enough to take a joke. On his Late Show, Stephen Colbert described how he and Scalia traded Italian flip-offs. This at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner just before Colbert, in his conservative character, brilliantly took down Bush: “…thinks the same thing on Wednesday that he did on Monday, no matter what happened on Tuesday.”

One last bit of hardball to tell you about, and it’s a reveal of true character…

Ted Cruz and his people decided to send bottled water to Flint, Michigan residents whose city water became poisoned with lead through governmental malfeasance: but only for residents who are demonstrably opposed to abortion. (Wow, and their kids, too?)

MSNBC’s Chris Matthews compared it to Passover, memorably visualized in the movie The Ten Commandments where Jewish houseld doors were marked with sheep’s blood and all other households lost their firstborn sons.

It makes you pine for the good old days of name calling. I offer as a going-away gift, some reminders of that gold-tinted yesteryear: a web page of sometimes hilarious campaign posters: in #4, Eisenhower looks like a bulldog–or do I mean J. Edgar Hoover? And #7 looks like a movie poster.

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Written by

Steve Schlich is retired after 35 years of writing fiction about software: “easy to use,” “does what you want,” and the like. Hobbies include webmaster for www.RodSerling.com, writing songs and short stories. In 2004, he created www.NakedWashington.com, a website chronicling the naughty public art in Washington, D.C. He lives happily with his wife and cats, north of San Francisco.

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