The Republican Party – Art of the Bad Deal

GOP - Art of the Bad Deal
Contemporary Republicans often like to grab some semblance of righteousness by claiming (correctly) that it was the Grand Ole Party that became the political vessel to end the immoral practice of slavery in this country, and brought forth the 13th through 15th amendments. However, the Party of Lincoln has been dead for decades now and has more in common with George Wallace. In fact, the obscure political party (American Independent Party) who nominated Wallace in ’68 finally did win the presidency because their nominee in 2016 won. That nominee was Donald J. Trump — 45th President of the United States.

A Dispatch from Trumpistan —

I didn’t know where to start with this one. I’ve been putting this one off for awhile now. The events of the last week regarding President Trump’s (yes folks, he’s our president, just not a particularly good one) saber-rattling with North Korea, a country of 25 billion in GDP, which is less than most U.S. states, his bizarre tweets and statements inflaming the situation, and his continued disrespect for the office of the Presidency, made this one hard to focus on without addressing the elephant in the room.

Last night and today #Charlottesville has been trending and the videos we’ve witnessed have been terrifying, saddening, maddening, and any other adjective you could use to describe what is more or less a moral rock bottom. President Trump described the collection of “Unite the Right” activists from Alt-Right, Neo-Nazi, and other White Supremacists organizations and addressed the violence, and hatred spewing from this Virginia community as such:

We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides.

In this tweet there was not a mention of calling the rally for what it was: white supremacy. As of this writing, there has been one death and 19 injuries. The victims were counter-protesters, ran over by a truck–which quickly sped away (he has since been apprehended by the Charlottesville PD).

If Donald Trump and many on the Alt-Right, Alt-Reich, Corporate Media-Right, and their moderate to conservative enablers within the Republican Party are going to dish out eight years of lambasting President Obama for not using the phrase “radical, Islamic terrorism” then surely Trump and the GOP can be rightfully called out for refusing to call this what it is–white supremacy. A doctrine that has lived on and on in this country despite many grassroots movements throughout our history to alleviate the worst effects of it. One of such effort culminated in the creation of the last third party in this country to replace a major party, the Republican Party. The Republican Party grew out of the abolitionist movement, it grew out of the collective failure of the two parties of the time: the Whigs and the Democrats, to properly address the issue at hand that was fracturing the union and eventually led to a civil war.

Many members of the early Republican Party were profoundly radical, profoundly righteous, profoundly patriotic, and ultimately–they were the progressives of their day. Had I been alive in 1855, I would have fled my former party the Whigs (as future President Lincoln did) and joined this new party in Illinois.

History demanded a new party and drastic solutions to brings us closer to a more perfect union. But that Republican Party is no more and they have not existed for over a 100 years. They are not the party of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, or even George W. Bush either. They are now the American Independent Party, which nominated George Wallace for president in 1968. In 2016 this obscure but still active political party nominated Donald Trump as their candidate in the state of California. Trump was the first GOP nominee that the American Independent Party ever nominated, Wallace included (who was southern Democrat).

And now the GOP and the movement conservative project started in ’55, combined with the Powell memo of ’71 has achieved their dream–completely one party control of the US Government at all levels. Although if Buckley were alive today I think he’d be likely to call it a failure already, and a nightmare. Who still wants to associate with this madness? Was it worth the change to enact the long-term policy dreams of Ayn Rand worshippers of the invisible hands and the God of money like Speaker Paul Ryan (who has condemned the events of today in much stronger tones than the President has).

The GOP tried to stop Trump, it failed. The Democrats tried to stop Trump, they also failed. Perhaps primarily because they had underestimated how many mainstream Republicans would hold their nose and say: “the Supreme Court.” Agreeing Loudly never had such fantasies (see below).

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Agreeing Loudly humorist, historian, and noted public intellectual Allan Branstiter understands the dynamics of U.S. elections more than (permanent) Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (“for every working class vote we lose, we’ll pick up 2 or 3 professional class voters.”)

The Grand Old Party of Lincoln and TR is dead. Long dead. The GOP of today made a deal for power, which corrupts, and corrupts absolutely, especially when absolutely given. That deal is now a nightmare for the majority of the American people, and is being felt every day within the corridors of power by longtime D.C. observers. This is the Art of the Bad Deal.

Nothing is sacred with this administration, and the effects of that are clearly influencing the populace, especially the newly embolden and previously hidden dark corners of this country, who were out in full force in Virginia this weekend.

During the 2016 campaign Trump, who is a full-on draft-dodger and once compared not contracting STDs in the 1970’s as his “personal Vietnam”, mocked John McCain (“he got caught, I like my war heroes to not get caught”), criticized the U.S. military and its service-members, lied about his financial charitable support for veterans’ charities, and ridiculed for political purpose, the Gold Star parents of a fallen soldier. But none of that matters because the “tyranny of political correctness” or something….

Well please allow me to switch to my political incorrect mode then.

The modern-day Republican Party has become a moral abomination. Notice I’m talking about the political party itself and the issue-stances it carries publicly, as well as privately. I’m not talking about Republican voters. I know many of them are good and decent people who simply cannot bring themselves to vote for a Democrat. I understand that most modern-day voter turnout is motivated first and foremost, by hatred of the “other side.” But think about that for a minute… is this sustainable for even another election cycle or two? 

Trump isn’t some isolated incident and bizarre series of unfortunate events. Rather, he is the natural conclusion and culmination of four decades of political, economic, social, and cultural trends in American life.

But while many of the voters that supply the Republican Party with its electoral power may be motivated by fear of immigrants and terrorism (see: 2016 election, Trump won on voters who cited immigration and terrorism as their top issues, Clinton won on the economy and foreign policy). Not only did Trump win in the manner that this website, on its podcast feared back in 2015/early ’16, through running a campaign on overt themes of white nationalism, and fear-based rhetoric around immigration and terrorism (all irrational fears, because nearly everything else is what is actually more likely to harm or kill you), but its perhaps more important to note why this is the strategy of the GOP now, rather than how.

I would argue it is to provide distractions from the policies that otherwise, the vast majority of the American people would never sign onto. It is the same agenda they have been trying for and striving toward for decades.

1. Elimination of social insurance programs (the incredibly popular Medicare, Social Security) and other cuts to social service programs;

2. Privatization of as many public services as possible (up next: education); and,

3. Continuing to rig electoral laws to their forever advantage.

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1860 political cartoon lampooning the then-new and righteous Republican Party, which started as a third party that grew out of the abolitionist movement to become the legal and political vessel for power when the major parties of the day (Whig and Democratic) proved incapable of reform, and incapable of rising to the historical moment. We are at a similar crossroads today….

Republican policy aims (long-term) are what encouraged them to go along with this…  it is what encouraged them to sign this bargain–the Art of the Bad Deal, and while it is (and could in the future now that the path is clear and while the Democrats remain incompetent) electorally successful, it will ultimately be long-remembered and the beginning of the end for the once-proud GOP, a party formed out of the abolitionist movement, formed with righteousness on their side, only to be reduced to an intellectual and moral embarrassment.

Joe Scarborough has left the party. Evan McMullin did in 2016. While others have joined it, like West Virginia Governor Jim Justice.

That being said, this version of the Republican Party, at least for me, has actually validated some of the better rhetorical pieces of authentic American conservatism (which I hold does not exist as a relevant political force anymore: hence my often-told joke “conservatives don’t exist, Democrats don’t exist”) that sound nice to some if not many, but that we now know the Republican Party is completely unserious about.

Liberals and progressives and moderates (because centrists don’t exist, except in think-tanks and Democratic candidate creation labs) alike should be thinking locally, should re-engage with federalism and constitutionalism, and whether you value or consider yourself religious or a Christian, it is of vital national security and civilizational importance that we re-engage with our faith lives, because there truly are a lot of good lessons to be learned there, and what is currently characterizing Christianity in this country cannot continue.

There is no monopoly on civic virtue, belief, patriotism, etc. But there is the law and theory of dominance politics. Therefore, we cannot let what happened today and last night in Virginia become a national normal otherwise we are doomed to permanent civic and societal decline.

In addition to those silver linings, the GOP and this current administration have accidentally given us a couple of gifts–if we utilize and recognize them as such, and if we snap out of the “history is already written” syndrome that has washed over so many good-hearted Americans, who feel increasingly hopeless in 2017. In years past we had to do some research and infer certain coded themes. Those days are no more. Things are open and notorious now, clear and obvious.

Tucker Carlson replacing Bill O’Reilly symbolizes the distinction between the old “hidden or more disguised” GOP demagoguery, and the new obvious kind by going after not just illegal immigration, but the immigration population generally.

This obviousness is similarly true within government itself. The GOP has long been a partner with the Corporate State. They were the first ones to sign onto the Corporate States of America (founded in 1971, their constitution: the Powell Memo) and their corruption and cronyism, and evidence of big business buying out and colluding with big government to enact the agenda of corporate American, rather than the preferences and beliefs of the vast majority of the American people, manifests itself quite clearly in someone like Secretary of State Tillerson, who is literally the CEO of Exxon Mobil.

This isn’t hard to do anymore. In Trumpistan–no one is even bothering with the dog and pony show, no one is even trying cover up the grift, graft, and rift-raft. And the American people, especially the young generation, the largest one in our history, will long-remember this. Generational solidarity and class solidarity is more likely to happen in our time than ever before.

The major political parties, while legally entrenched with power for now, and economically and financially secure, with propaganda networks at their disposal, despite all these advantages–they are eroding before our eyes. Armed with the traditional sources of power, their societal credibility and integrity has hit rock bottom. A bottom from which it may never emerge from.

So what now? What am I proposing? How do we unravel the Art of the Bad Deal and save the New Deal? How do we save democracy in this country, constitutional governance, and keep this country from unraveling in our time?

It’s quite simple to me now. We have to be for and positively contribute to whatever political movement and counter-force (and the energy and evidence exist everywhere you look right now for the possibilities) that drives the Art of the Bad Deal and this Republican Party into electoral irrelevancy and into the dustbin of history.

 

Welcome to Thunderdome

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Agreeing Loudly’s Empiricist-In-Chief correctly predicted the naming of a Special Prosecutor, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who was named just prior to this going to publication.

“Ladies and gentlemen. Boys and Girls. Dying Time is Here…” — Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

By Justin Norris

As we watch the slowing moving car crash that is the Trump administration, and as we watch the GOP in Congress react to said car crash, it is important to remember a few important points.

First, Trump was never popular with most of the GOP elite writ large. Not just in Congress, but across the nation.

Second, like much of the country, it is doubtful that the GOP political establishment believed Trump was going to win the 2016 election.

Third, The Republican civil war was, and is, real.

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When you take these things into account it goes a long way towards explaining the peculiar predicament we find ourselves in today. There was no real plan, and the political establishment for both parties are playing it by ear.

To lend some context here, we should discuss the nature of governance in the American political system. As any student of American politics can tell you, eliciting lasting change within the separation of powers system is difficult under the best of circumstances. Because of how our system is structured there are numerous choke points throughout the legislative process for which bills can die. Indeed, the most likely outcome for any given bill is an unceremonious death. If one has any hope of getting bills enacted into law it requires large enough political coalitions in both chambers of Congress to circumvent the many different choke points, and then it must get past presidential action. And things have only become more difficult as political polarization has increased in recent times.

Since the political parties have become increasingly ideologically homogenous, and because the political parties have moved farther apart both ideologically and politically unified government has become critical for the political parties if they have any hope of enacting their agendas. This is why the GOP elites have been willing thus far to seemingly ignore anything approaching principles. They know this may be their only real chance to push through their agenda for some time. So like any good political opportunists, and most of the denizens of Washington are political opportunists, they know they would be fools to not at least try to take advantage of the hand they’ve been dealt.

This is precisely why folks like Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and much of the GOP rank and file in Congress have been willing to play along up to this point, and why most of them will continue to play along. They have their eyes on the prize.

Like all good cons, this includes a gamble. The GOP elite know that Trump is deeply unpopular. They also know that Trump is incompetent. They’re hoping that despite this they can get through much of their agenda before everything implodes. They hope that winning the legislative victories their political base so deeply craves will be sufficient to shore up enough political support as to withstand the likely backlash they will face in the 2018 midterm elections. And even if the majority does not survive the midterm, they will have at least moved the agenda forward and hopefully put some points on the board by making lasting policy changes.

As far as plans go in American politics this is not a bad one. Indeed, if these were normal times, and if this was a normal president, I’d say this plan would have better than fair odds of working.

But these aren’t normal times, and this isn’t a normal president.

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Some people will read the preceding statements as partisan or ideological. I want to be crystal clear on this point. They are not. Yes, I absolutely have my own political preferences, but I am not discussing those preferences here.

If these were normal political conditions we would not have a sitting president with record low approval ratings for this point in a presidency. We are only a little more than 100 days in, and to date the president has fired an attorney general, fired a national security advisor, fired the head of the FBI, given code word intelligence to the Russians (in the White House no less), and if reporting is to be believed, the president is likely going to fire more members of White House staff by the end of the week. And these are only but a handful of the things that have happened thus far.

Within a little more than 100 days we have had John McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, state in a public forum that things are starting to look a lot like Watergate. Jason Chaffetz, the epitome of political opportunism, and chair of the House oversight committee has gotten the Speaker of the House to sign on to a letter formally demanding that the FBI hand over all materials related to communications between former director Comey and the president.

This is not normal. Not by a long shot.

As previously stated, the Republicans in Congress knew Trump was inept. To be fair, Trump is, by all accounts a complete and total political amateur, so some ineptitude would likely be inevitable, even he had good instincts for governance. However, Trump has shown a shocking level of ignorance as it relates to the separation of powers system in general, and the nature of governance for the executive branch in particular. In other words, the GOP had no idea just how incompetent Trump really is. Nor did they know how petty and vindictive he really is. And they are all together unprepared to deal with it.

Another wrinkle in the plan is the lack of a plan. Since the GOP didn’t think they were going to win, they did not have any cohesive policy initiatives ready at the starting gate. Paul Ryan has had a list of talking points and unscored, half-baked, initiatives he has been selling for years, but none of them were ready for them to pull the trigger. This has left the GOP scrambling to cobble things together as they have gone. And the results have been disastrous.

Part of the reason the GOP was left flat footed stems from the nature of the GOP caucus in the House, and to a lesser extent, the nature of the GOP conference in the Senate. The GOP, especially in the House, has been fighting its own intraparty war for years now. Though it is cliché to say, the different party factions really do believe they are fighting for the soul of the Republican Party. For outsiders, the differences between the GOP factions may seem trivial, but for insiders they are deeply important, and within the more extreme factions there is a rallying cry for purity at all costs. In other words, there is a lot more disagreement among Republicans than many realize.

This conflict was apparent in the fight waged between House Republicans to get the healthcare bill through the House. The party nearly ripped itself to shreds getting the bill through to the Senate, and the resulting bill is so unpopular the Senate GOP essentially declared it DOA. And repealing and replacing Obamacare was supposed to be the easy part of the agenda. It will only get harder from there.

Despite this, the Republicans in Congress are still largely standing by the president, at least publicly, because they know they may not have this kind of opportunity again for some time. Trump may be deeply flawed but he is still the only viable political option they have at this juncture. But as the scandals deepen, and the drip, drip, drip of news stories continue, the likelihood of political derailment increases. And the longer this goes on, the harder it will become.

Which begs the question, what now?

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As the public moves farther away from Trump, and as his unpopularity deepens, the likelihood that Trump will take the GOP down with him increases. The signs are already coming into place that the 2018 midterm elections could be disastrous for the GOP in Congress.

For example, despite flooding special elections with unheard of amounts of money Republicans have either narrowly held on to a seat that they normally carry by over 20 points, or the race has been forced into a runoff. The GOP will not be able to defend all of their districts this way in the midterm, and some analyses suggest that if the midterms were held today only between 100-150 ‘safe’ Republican seats could withstand the backlash.

Moreover, several credible polls have come out in the last two weeks suggesting that Democrats hold a double-digit lead in the so-called ‘generic ballot,’ a routine polling question asking respondents to either state their preference for who should run Congress or state which party they would vote for. One poll puts the gap at sixteen points. To put this in context, an eight to nine point gap often signals a defeat for the majority party.

However, the election is not being held tomorrow, and a week can be a lifetime in American politics, let alone almost two years. The Republicans have time, and unless things get worse, or even if they stay the same, the GOP in Congress will have little incentive to break away from the Trump administration for some time.

But what about Watergate? This is a question I’ve heard often in the last few days, and I readily admit that the comparison easily comes to mind. It is true that the Republicans in Congress turned against Nixon, and stood for the republic against their own president. However, it’s important to point out that the Republicans were the minority party at that time, and most Republicans did not turn against Nixon until the end, after two long years. Even still, some Republicans stood with Nixon to the bitter end. It is entirely possible that if Republicans controlled Congress the situation would have played out quite differently.

That being said, cracks are beginning to form. Some rank and file Republicans are openly discussing impeachment, and some GOP leaders are calling for more stringent investigations. But that’s all it is at this point, talk. If things remain as they are, and do not get worse, it is possible that the GOP will stick with Trump and take their chances in the midterm elections. But if things continue to get worse, which I think is likely, I fully expect more and more rank and file Republicans will break ranks and openly run against Trump because they want to try and save their seats. If things continue to get worse we will reach a point where congressional leadership will cut their losses and turn against Trump to try and salvage the party brand, if not the majorities themselves.

And this may not result in impeachment. At this juncture impeachment is a real possibility, which is not something I was willing to say two weeks ago, but I still don’t think it’s likely. At least not soon. I think it’s more likely that if things continue to deteriorate GOP leadership will cave and put together a bipartisan commission to investigate. If things get really bad they may move to appoint a special prosecutor. It is also possible that events will connive to take things out of their hands.

For example, the Justice Department could conceivably appoint a special prosecutor, or the different grand juries could deliver indictments. In which case the calculus for the GOP largely remains the same. Except now they have some additional cover, because they can point to the nonpartisan investigations and say, ‘we should not be hasty until the investigations conclude.’

However, I think it’s likely that most of the GOP’s legislative agenda is dead. Credible polling data consistently shows that a solid majority of likely voters are strongly opposed to Trump and the GOP legislative agenda. Solid majorities also favor thorough nonpartisan investigations. And as the media dedicates more time and resources to covering the cascading Trump scandals it will destroy any momentum behind legislative prerogatives, regardless of whether there is ultimately an independent investigation(s).

Given how egregiously the GOP in Congress broke from norms, protocol, and traditions during the Obama administration I don’t feel bad for them.

Unfortunately, as it was during the Obama administration, this is bad for the republic.

But if Republicans in Congress are indeed reaping what they have sewn then my response is this:

Welcome to Thunderdome.  

The Tragedy in Aleppo and the Assassination of the Russian Ambassador.

 

aleppo
The above map (sources indicated) and timeline speaks for itself. The situation in Syria, and especially in Aleppo is deep and complex, there are no good sides, no good or easy answers, and so far — nothing but tragic outcomes.

In the midst of the U.S. Presidential Election this year, nearly everyone in the media, and far too many Americans, have ignored the humanitarian catastrophe that is currently unfolding its latest tragic chapter in Syria. The city of Aleppo, which one or more candidates for the highest office in the land, were clueless about, at least in name (and probably many other areas as well). It has been unfolding for the last five years or so. Its roots go back even further.

We have ignored it, and this website, dedicated to cultural and political commentary, is no exception.

My first inklings of things going awfully wrong in Syria were during my deployment to the Middle East in 2011 and 2012. I, like most soldiers, was singularly focused on our specific mission or would-be missions at the time. However, throughout the ESNN (Enlisted Soldiers News Network) there were plenty of rumors about the situation exploding in Syria and worries over re-deployment there from where we were at in Kuwait (completely unfounded at the time of course). By the time I got back to the United States, and certainly after President Obama was re-elected, ISIS, or ISL, or the Islamic State, very much became a “thing” and a new “wedge” in American political discourse. Much of the discourse was hysterical and unfounded rhetoric, ill-informed and ignorant of the history in the region, let alone recent history. The Syrian civil war, is so complex, that I cannot even begin to explain it in this thousand word article. Instead–I’ll arrive at the timeless news of today. Thousands are dead in Aleppo, many of them innocent children. The complete and utter breakdown in humanity is staggering, and disappointing.

President Barack Obama is a great man, a great example to follow, but a good President. Not a great one.

There have only been three great Presidents — Washington, Lincoln, and FDR. President Obama, while historic, does not belong in the “great” category. He is Woodrow Wilson. Some great ideals, some of the right instincts, a professor-like image, certainly historical, but a lasting legacy that will be shaped more from what he is, rather than what he did or did not do. The Obama policy record on socio-cultural issues is comparatively strong, but very muddled and mixed on economic and foreign policy issues, which are issues the President has far more influence and control over. To be fair, he is still the best President of most of our lifetimes. To be fair to his overall foreign policy record: here are a few select areas where he did well:

  • He has removed over 3/4 the troop levels that he inherited from the Bush administration in Afghanistan and Iraq. While he incorrectly “surged” in Afghanistan in the beginning to do so, getting down to historically low levels of troops in the post-9/11 era is no small feat.
  • Despite lowering troop levels, through his use of special forces and our vast intelligence network, he oversaw the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden.
  • He has overseen a policy that has removed roughly 3/4 of the numbers of the Islamic State and suffered very few American casualties while doing so.
  • He understands “smart power” and the limits of American power in the 21st century. He likes to do foreign policy quietly, and he understands that patience is very, very important sometimes to achieve goals that exclusive use of military force cannot achieve.
  • He understands that it is only through using every tool in the toolbox: economic, diplomatic, and the military, that the U.S. can achieve or get closer to achieving its foreign policy goals.

President Obama was and still is a good foreign policy President, I strongly suspect history will be relatively kind to him, but he is most certainly not a great foreign policy President. Very few are.

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Turning back to the humanitarian catastrophe and breakdown of systems and humanity in Syria — there is no longer any running away from the fact that regarding the Syrian Civil War, the international community, regional organizations and power-players, and yes, the United States of America — has failed. This failure of leadership, includes our current President, Barack Obama. No one is safe from it.

Certainly, we’re all human and we make mistakes. A situation like Syria however, where a lack of leadership on the international stage has transpired, will only get worse and more frequent under a Trump administration.

Make no mistake about it — Pax America, for all its warts and faults, is dead.

There is still, however, a great need for solid American leadership on the world stage. There is a need for smart, effective, proportional, and humble American leadership.

For the next four to eight years at least, we will not have that.

Earlier today our time, the Russian ambassador to Turkey was assassinated in Ankara. A lone Turkish gunman stepped right out of a James Bond film, and shot and killed the Russian ambassador, shouting “don’t forget Aleppo!”

All acts of violence represent a failure in the human character and a failure of political systems to solve problems and disagreements. Russia and many others have failed humanity by propping up an Assad regime that is at least as terrible as the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq that the United States spent more than $2 trillion on, at the cost of thousands of American soldiers’ lives, and well over a hundred thousand civilian lives.

The assassination of the Russian ambassador today is similarly reprehensible. However, it does not represent what Franz Ferdinand represented in the lead-up to World War I.

World War I was caused by many factors, the chief driving one, being nationalism and two power-blocs codifying that system of nationalism via treaties. In general terms — we can describe that as the world retreating to comfortable, but worn corners. That is also what is happening today. Be worried, but do not freak out and do not lose hope. Not only is the Russian ambassador not Franz Ferdinand–but Franz Ferdinand himself is not Franz Ferdinand. In 1914, only folks like Lord Grantham cared about Franz Ferdinand. Ferdinand represented the excuse to do what the powers that be wanted to do anyway. Remember this: large and powerful nation-states only go to war when they think they have something to gain. There is a country that looks like that today: Russia.

But it will not be now and it will not be here.

If you are now very concerned, you should have already been concerned. Russian aggression, combined with rising nationalism in Europe, and the world retreating to “comfortable, but worn corners”, has been going on for nearly a decade. Recent Russian aggressions in Ukraine, Georgia and the ones that will likely transpire in the future (next four to eight years), most likely in Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania (all NATO  member-countries), should concern us all. I dearly hope I’m wrong about those last three predictions, but thus far, this website has a track record of being relatively right about political predictions, and ridiculously wrong about sports predictions.

Like the slow burn of the last decade or so, we will continue to see the rise of far right-wing, national front-type parties in Europe. And if that battle over the future of history is not fought now rhetorically at home, and abroad, I cannot promise anyone anything.

In Order to Win the Future — We Must Rediscover the Past

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The above photograph (courtesy of either Jacqueline Van Moer or myself…I don’t remember) is Alexander Hamilton’s “the Grange” homestead. Hamilton completed this home a few years before he was famously shot by Aaron Burr, another New Yorker, in the famous duel just across the Hudson River from where we live. Hamilton, although born elsewhere, is the quintessential first generation American. Hard-working, enterprising, ambitious, and brilliant. He served as Aide-de-camp to General Washington during the American Revolution and was our nation’s first Treasury Secretary. You may recognize him from the ten dollar bill, and now Lin Manuel Miranda’s famous musical.

Full disclosure, I’m an amateur historian. But I’ve always read and loved history. Much of my private, personal (not academic or campaign experience) political education has been learned and read through a historical lens. I’ll do my best, but I’m no pro.

Agreeing Loudly dot com introduces you to two new historical series; one that will be locally-based, at least my version of local (New York), and the other a national story intended to give the read perspective on our ongoing, beleaguered, but bizarrely nonexistent national conversation.

I invite you all to help me out on this journey, and point things out that I am overlooking or may have missed. Give your thoughts and feedback and contribute, especially *actual* historian Allan Branstiter of “The Margin of Error” and a frequent “Agreeing Loudly” guest and contributor. As well as Justin Norris, especially for the latter half (discussed below).

Also, especially for longtime residents of NYC and NYS — feel free to join in on the conversation. Come one, come all, and bring friends.

For anyone friends, family, acquaintances, or readers that will be visiting the area — I’ll also try to use this space to recommend really good walking tours or double-decker bus tours that are affordable and valuable.

In the spirit of “piercing bubbles” I’d also like to invite any other amateur or professional historians to contribute to this site and explore their states in a similar or unique manner.

I’ll be covering the New York-focused series in two places: right here at AL.com in the form of longer articles and in more photographic and anecdotal form on Instagram @nycwalkinghistory – which will no doubt be changed to @nywalkingonhistory or @nyswalkingonhistory as goals are accomplished. What goals? Read below:

Double-decker bus tour in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn.

Goal — in the next three years (2017, 2018, and 2019) — my beautiful wife, Jacki, and I (and sometimes just me) will be doing a walking historical tour on the streets of every neighborhood in the five boroughs of New York City. We’ve already covered nearly every neighborhood in the Borough of Manhattan, and have been pretty decent progress in the Bronx and Brooklyn as well. In the years to come, we’ll be covering the rest of Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn, as well as venturing past CitiField (where the New York Mets, my National League loyalties lie there) in Queens and getting out to Staten Island.

Furthermore, and especially as we get closer to covering every neighborhood in New York City, we’ll be venturing Upstate via the Hudson Valley and into Long Island past JFK airport and be doing for the 62 Counties of New York State what we did for the neighborhoods of New York City.

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Unfortunately and unfairly, New York City hogs most of attention and spotlight in the public imagination (for understandable reasons). However, there is so much history in each and every county. A lot of it — I don’t even know yet, but I’m excited to find out. In addition to NYC, Long Island, and the Hudson Valley, you’ll find seven other main regions Upstate. I speculate (and we’ll see if I’m right) that the Finger Lakes area is not too different from the Lakes Area of Minnesota where I grew up. I’m also really excited to see Buffalo, NY — and see how similar it is to Duluth, MN, my only previous exposure to a Great Lakes city outside of Chicago, IL.

The second major historical running series that will begin relatively soon is the story of US History as told through Consequential Presidential Elections.

Ideally, I’ll get a bit of an assist from resident scholar Justin Norris, Carson Starkey, Allan Branstiter, etc. for this series. Once again, I’m an amateur historian. And I’ll do my best.

There will be no schedule and the new articles will be published as they are researched, completed, and edited. No time-table and no promises. But I promise this won’t become like Aaron Gleeman’s top 40 Twins of all time series.

A brief rundown of what elections and the time periods around them that I will be researching and writing on:

1800

(Jefferson v. Adams, and the first peaceful transfer of power)

1828

(Jackson v. Quincy Adams, and beginnings of the rural Democratic Party tradition)

1860

(Lincoln v. Douglass v. Breckenridge v. Bell, and the Civil War)

1896

(McKinley v. Jennings Bryan, and Populism on the Prairie)

1912

(Wilson v. Roosevelt v. Taft, the two party system holds, and the Grand Ole Party rejects progressivism for good)

1932

(FDR vs. Hoover, the New Deal, the new policy consensus, and the leader that history called for)

1960-1964-1968

(JFK v. Nixon, LBJ v. Goldwater, Humphrey v. Nixon, a New Generation, a second New Deal, the tumultuous year that was 1968, and the beginnings of the break-up of the New Deal coalition and the New Deal itself)

1980

(Reagan vs. Carter, American Optimism, the opening of an era of boomer short-sightedness, and the beginning of the end for the New Deal)

1992

(Clinton v. H.W. Bush v. Perot, the Democratic Party sells its soul to win back the White House, betrays working people and families, and the boomer Clinton Party triumphant)

2008

(Obama vs. McCain, History made, Opportunities Missed, and the first Information Age election)

 

In Our Post-Factual World, Kayfabe is King

by Carson Starkey

Nation_of_Domination
“By Any Means Necessary”

At some point in the not-so-distant future, The Nation of Domination will “interrupt” a Donald Trump rally/speech. They will appear suddenly in a doorway, bathed in spotlights, wielding baseball bats, chains, and tire irons. They will begin marching towards the main stage, advancing on scattered groups of terrified, hysterical, elderly white Fox News viewers to the sounds of NWA’s “Fuck Tha’ Police.” Images of Barack Obama transforming into Malcolm X will adorn the venue’s Jumbotrons.

Moments before The Nation can reach Trump’s podium to complete their attack on freedom and destroy America, Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Chuck Norris, and Hulk Hogan will emerge from behind a curtain on the stage. They will be armed with American flags and steel chairs emblazoned with “Made in America,” as well as the United Steelworkers logo. Their spotlights will be larger. They will be surrounded by pyrotechnics while Bruce Springsteen’s immortal “Born in the USA” seizes control of the sound system, drowning out the evil, morally deficient, food stamp-encouraging hippity hop jungle music of the savage, unpatriotic attackers. Michaels, Austin, Norris, and Hogan will dispatch every member of The Nation with a combination of their signature finishers, and blows leveled with their white nationalist accouterments.

After Hogan levels Farooq/Ron Simmons with a dose of freedom, “Barack Obama” (played by Jay Pharoah) and “Hillary Clinton” (played by Kate McKinnon) will descend from the rafters, screaming “DEATH TO AMERICA!” The Illegitimate Kenyan Pretender and the Chief Feminazi Conspirator of Benghazi will attempt to aid their subversive nonwhite comrades.

Before Obama Hussein and Jane Fonda Clinton can enslave Real America, “George W. Bush” (played by George W. Bush) and “Dick Cheney” (played by Dick Cheney) will emerge from a previously undetected space beneath the stage. Bush-Cheney will overwhelm Obama-Clinton with respect for traditional values, devotion to capitalism, and freedom. Bush and Cheney will incapacitate Obama with a double vertical suplex through a table. America’s greatest cowboy hat-bedecked duo will complete their triumph with a double powerbomb of Clinton from atop of the main stage, onto a conveniently placed stack of Rachel Maddow books.

America’s glorious heroes will embrace. The crowd will shriek “TRUMP, TRUMP, TRUMP!” Trump will raise his hands high in victory, humbled by the show of conservative solidarity, and ready to win a general election.

Get used to saying “President Trump,” an America without social insurance, and seeing a whole lot more of Vince McMahon for the next eight years.

Kleiner Mann Joe Blue Collar, Was Nun?: The Way Forward for Those Who Don’t Care About The Heritage Foundation’s Agenda

By Carson Starkey

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Darren McCollester | Getty Images

Hans Fallada’s “Little Man, What Now?” was first published in 1932. Johannes Pinneberg, the protagonist, faces constant economic anxieties, petty humiliations, and social disillusionment in post-World War One Germany. He travels through a broad range of emotions, but most of all, he feels disconnected and abandoned…abandoned by faceless, uncaring “leaders.” As he sees it, somebody should be looking out for him. He doesn’t hold grandiose, sophisticated ideas about public policy, history, economics, or politics. He wants a steady job, a place to live free from his repulsive mother-in-law, affordable healthcare for his wife Emma, and food for his son Horst. He’s not angry about socialism, trade unionism, or fascism. He’s angry that self-declared “serious” people in government can’t or won’t protect him from avoidable misery. A fair number of scholars assert that the book acts a broad explanation for the future political success of fascism in Germany. Johannes Blue Collar wasn’t obsessed with waging expensive, seemingly endless warfare or subjugating everyone that disagreed with him politically. He just wanted to pay his bills and maintain some measure of human dignity. Of course that was true in 1932. It has been true throughout the course of human history. It’s true today. Which brings us to Joe Blue Collar in contemporary America and his broad interest in, if not sympathy with, Donald Trump.

What has been most intriguing, in my view anyway, about the rise of Trumpism (broad, detail-free populist declarations about making America great) are the reactions among Establishment or respectable conservatives. “Establishment conservatives” has come to mean Republican Party voters that favor millionaire welfare checks, eternal warfare with Muslims, and racial segregation without the burden of supporting a politically inexperienced, orange-skinned, toupee-adorned grifter who plies shoddy products at Macy’s. Now that Trump is going to be the Republican presidential nominee, respectable conservatives are melting down in highly public, Mel Gibson-esque spectacles that reveal the ugly yet honest ideological foundations of American conservatism. Respectable, establishment conservatives claim to care about intellectually serious matters like Supreme Court nominees, small government, or fiscal restraint…although no evidence exists to support the contention that those same conservatives have ever worried about such matters in the past three quarters of a century, unless we mean preserving low tax rates for rich people or criminalizing the existence of non-white people. No, what rankles self-proclaimed grown-up conservatives about Trump is that he’s giving away the inside game by verifying an uncomfortable suspicion that Heritage Foundation “scholars” have always attempted to suppress during campaigns. That is, most self-proclaimed conservative voters don’t care about the Ayn Rand agenda. While abolishing taxation, dissolving social insurance, and building Pax Americana are important causes to people who work at The Wall Street Journal, all that Jane or Joe Blue Collar care about relates to making financial ends meet. Which makes conservative aristocrats angry bordering on hysterical.

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The United Center Casts a Long, Uncomfortable Shadow Over Garfield Park and Lawndale: On the Road with Springsteen in Chicago, and the Price We Pay for “Our Most American City”

By Carson Starkey

Little girl down on the strand

With that pretty little baby in your hands

Do you remember the story of the promised land

How he crossed the desert sands

And could not enter the chosen land

On the banks of the river he stayed

To face the price you pay

I saw Ta-Nehisi Coates speak at Roosevelt University (my wife Suzie’s graduate school alma mater) on October 9th, 2014. He was on a tour of America’s campuses, promoting his spectacularly important article “The Case for Reparations” that appeared in the June 2014 edition of The Atlantic. His appearance in Chicago was significant because his article focuses on the long-term imposition of economic misery on the overwhelmingly black neighborhoods of the city’s west and south sides. He spent the first thirty minutes or so of his time at the podium summarizing America’s history of political/economic choices that encourage white people taking from black people (Social Security, the GI Bill, housing ordinances). He pointed out reparations, at least the version he proposed in the article, are not meant to address historically distant outcomes, but rather present day injustices. He explained that we don’t have to talk about individual payments to/legislative spending aimed at descendants of slaves based on outcomes that are hundreds of years old (other arguments for other occasions) because the nonwhite people that have suffered under systematic, legalized cheating are very much alive in parts of America (the people that he interviewed during his research who live in Chicago to this day). After a question-and-answer session during which white liberals delivered statements about themselves that lacked relevance, discernible points, or punctuation, most of all question marks, and consumed substantial amounts of time, Mr. Coates described Chicago in a way that I will carry with me forever. “When my European friends ask me about which cities they should visit when they come to this country, I tell them, don’t go to New York or Los Angeles. Go to Chicago. I say that because Chicago is our most American city, for all that entails, both good and bad.” Amen to that.

I was reminded of that moment, and its many layers of truth, when I made my first of three holy pilgrimages to The United Center on January 19th, 2016 to see Bruce Springsteen perform on the second night of “The River” tour. It was one of those moments, along with the time we spend surveying the demographics of Springsteen crowds, that makes/should make every Springsteen fan uncomfortable. Allow me to explain why that is the case. The United Center occupies its own patch of highly profitable real estate in the Near West Side, just slightly set apart from the West Loop, east of Garfield Park and Lawndale. While the United Center is one of America’s rare exceptions as sports stadiums go in that it owes its existence to private funding, the owners of the United Center (Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz and (Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf) fall firmly within the mainstream of the our nation’s mega-rich, as they derive astronomical financial benefits from property tax subsidies (“Nothing But Net Profit: Jerry Reinsdorf, Property Tax Relief, and Corporate School Reform on Chicago’s Near West Side,” January 2013).

If showering billionaires with welfare handouts doesn’t upset you, because that’s just the price of freedom or whatever the socially awkward, celibate, casually bigoted young National Review readers are claiming these days, you might choose to examine The United Center’s location in relation to the neighborhoods around it, specifically Garfield Park and Lawndale. Garfield Park and Lawndale, both overwhelmingly black, are often found among the top ten poorest, most violent neighborhoods in our nation. So of course their residents should be able to cast their gaze regularly upon an enormous monument to obscene, publicly subsidized excess, because they wouldn’t be able to put that same money to use in their neighborhoods, obviously. Because investing money in black people is always welfare fraud. Because white people need The United Center to be of top notch quality so that they can enjoy professional sports competitions and live music concerts…that most residents of Garfield Park and Lawndale can’t afford to attend. Because Chicago is “our most American city.”

As I mentioned two paragraphs ago, most Springsteen fans have to confront at least one other unsettling experience when they attend his live performances-the demographics of their fellow travelers. After we finished our meals in the West Loop, strong recommendation for Kaiser Tiger, we hiked to our gate and stood among the trembling faithful (trembling from a mixture of blistering wind and joyful anticipation). Nothing but smiling white people, as far as they eye could behold. Some were talking about how many Springsteen live performances they’ve seen, which one woman in her early sixties estimated to be around twenty-plus. Some were talking about the urgent need, as this was early in the current tour, for Springsteen to add more dates in Europe because, in the words of an Englishwoman, she wanted “more than anything in the world,” and would “pay any amount of money to hear ‘Born in the USA’ live in London.” Whatever they were talking about, everyone was talking about spending substantial amounts of money, and everyone was white. I won’t insult your intelligence by claiming that I refused to buy merchandise because my baseball hat, t-shirt, and poster (all made in America) are intensely cool. But the truth is that I was uneasy with the fact my musical hero, our most vocally left-wing rock n’roll star national treasure, draws a fan base of such minimal diversity. There is no pithy segue or smooth transition for this conclusion. Just discomfort.

We found our seats. I wasn’t entirely certain about how I would respond to “The River.” It’s never been my favorite album. Prior to this tour, I have always been loyal to “Born in the USA,” “Born to Run,” “The Seeger Sessions,” and “Wrecking Ball,” in that order. Although the more I read about this tour, the more I found that E Street Band members all say that “The River” is their favorite album because it replicates the live concert experience with the greatest authenticity (“Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The River’: Steve Van Zandt Looks Back,” Rolling Stone, February 11th, 2016, and “Max Weinberg on ‘River’ Tour: What He Learned From Bruce Springsteen,” Rolling Stone, February 9th, 2016).

Suzie and I shrieked along to the first five songs (“Meet Me In The City,” “The Ties That Bind,” “Sherry Darling,” “Jackson Cage,” and “Two Hearts,”), standing and dancing in place with total disregard for rhythm or talent. I won’t spend much time explaining Springsteen’s material that deals with fast cars, attractive women, and weekend road trips because there’s no need to do so. These are the songs that everyone can agree upon for any occasion. If you seek bipartisanship/the spirit of compromise anywhere in America, in any form, put members of different communities, or different political views in a sedan and play “Pink Cadillac.” You will have earned a genuine respite from the crushing sadness of ideological rancor that afflicts our society.

We sat down, as standard stadium rock concert etiquette dictates when ballads are playing, for “Independence Day,” which is the definitive father-son airing of grievances-irreconcilable differences among generations anthem of contemporary Western society. Bruce graced us with one of his famous monologues before he started the song, which captured the attention of every person in the building with the collectively somber reverence usually reserved for presidential speechmaking prior to a major war. The signature “Springsteen: Just the Stories” moment set me up for what followed, undoubtedly because I was swept away with overwhelming joy when he started speaking. Those that know me complain, frequently, that I rely on humor far too often to draw attention, deflect sadness, or derail conversation that I find less than compelling, but I swear on my devotion to collective bargaining, that after the first verse, I was sobbing hysterically. Not quiet sniffles followed by watery eyes that went unnoticed. Choking, gasping, uncontrolled spasms of weeping, chest heaving, cascading streams of tears, cheeks glistening, without a shred of self-awareness. Totally out of nowhere. Suzie didn’t know what to do. Nearby spectators must have thought that I was having a nervous breakdown. I would have assured them, no, not the case at all fellow Americana enthusiasts. Just a supernova of emotional clarity, human compassion, and self-reflection. Every petty, savage, low-stakes argument that I ever had with my father came flooding back…battles over car repairs, the 2000 presidential election, Paul Wellstone, my younger brother, my return from the Iraq War…I was vowing to do better, because I couldn’t imagine feeling this way ever again. I don’t remember when, or at what point in the song exactly, I stopped crying. Not terribly important. What I do remember is feeling exhausted…six songs into the show. That can be problematic if the specific performer you’re seeing is famous for consistently delivering three to four hour marathon concerts.

I pulled myself together, and was composed for most of the remaining songs. I strained muscles in my back, shoulders, ribs, neck, and stomach singing along to “Ramrod” and “Cadillac Ranch” because they are my favorite tracks from the album, and because I live under the comical delusion that my Springsteen impression gets magically better for those particular songs. I thought that I would be okay until at least the fan favorite portion of the show (greatest hits that he plays after he completes “The River” album in its entirety) until we reached “The Price You Pay.” Easy to pin down the reason for this meltdown in retrospect. Story of working class misery, same style as “The Promised Land,” he even uses the phrase in the song. Important note-I always cry while screaming along to “The Promised Land.” One of my top five favorite Springsteen songs. So…maybe I was consumed with sadness about America’s vast economic inequality. Maybe I was thinking about Chicago’s ugly contradictions. Maybe I had other, more subtle, below the surface, selfish reasons for that outburst of tears. All I know is that I “felt” everything, deeply, maximally, and with unbridled severity.

Bruce finished “The River,” and moved on to the fan favorite portion, which is synonymous with “Born to Run” and “Thunder Road,” those marquee climaxes of any Springsteen live performance. Before he reached those two most cherished icons, he threw in “The Rising.” All of the Millenials stood and wailed in unison, as we time traveled back to the heady, exuberant summer days of 2008, when we knocked doors for Senator Barry Obama, when The Boss traveled with Senator Barry, rallying stadiums full of liberals, when Senator Barry himself explained his reason for wanting to reside in the White House (“Because I can’t be Bruce Springsteen,” “Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel Form Supergroup for Obama in NYC,” Rolling Stone, October 17th, 2008), and we shook the pillars of American society with our illustrious optimism born from disgust with Iraq and overt Bush administration criminality. I had to stop smiling like a lunatic, and take stock of it all. Damn Bruce…why does everything have to be so “real” with you?

I was fine during “Born to Run.” No tsunami of emotions. Again, I can’t explain it. I know that it’s supposed to be every Springsteen fan’s favorite song according to the standard music critic/journalist narrative. Sang every word, loved it, but nothing compares to “Thunder Road.” I stood, sang, cried, swayed, hugged, and felt my knees buckle numerous times. There is no drug, prescription or illicit, no artificial substance in the universe that can replicate how I feel when I’m singing that Springsteen song.

After three hours and twenty minutes of crowd surfing, mad dashes between stages, and ZERO set breaks because anything less than one hundred percent effort is for America-hating subversives, it was over. Bruce and the E Street Band stepped away from their instruments, bowed, and walked backstage. We had just “seen the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, hard-rocking, earth-quaking, booty-shaking, Viagra-taking, love-making, legendary E STREET BAND!” That’s Springsteen’s bit at the end of every performance…basically an homage to James Brown, although most reasonably informed fans know that a majority of Springsteen’s live act is an homage to James Brown. Another examination for another day, valued readers, no doubt.

I was disappointed that he didn’t play “Glory Days” or “Born in The USA,” (bucket list goals) but such is the reality of “The River” tour. Too many songs, not enough time in an evening to hit everything before municipal police forces shut down operations, although I would argue that all Springsteen concerts should be legally required to run five hours, minimum. The more complicated problem, as far as seeing those two particular songs, is that The Boss tends to reserve them for his European shows, where the audiences sing with evangelical fervor when they have opportunities to appropriate American cultural experiences. To paraphrase the colonel from “Full Metal Jacket,” inside every European, there is a Bruce Springsteen fan trying to claim American citizenship. I’m not exaggerating when I say that contemporary industrialized society sometimes can’t handle the length and ferocity of live Springsteen performances (“Bruce Springsteen’s Microphone Switched Off at Hyde Park Gig,” The Guardian, July 14th, 2012).

We left The United Center, fatigued, satisfied with our artistic sensibilities, pleased with our intellectual superiority, and filled with security in our status as comfortable white people.Many thanks to Allan Branstiter for allowing public use of that copyrighted term.

We still had to face a world in which a war with Iran (2018, ask Troy Olson) looks inevitable, where The United Center mocks the poverty of Garfield Park and Lawndale with total impunity, and where millionaire welfare checks constitute wise investments but social insurance for working people means big government waste in the language of “respectable” (code for always wrong about outcomes) political/policy discourse. Bruce Springsteen’s concert didn’t and couldn’t solve our problems, and as he would be quick to point out, only we could do that by voting, fundraising, and persuading our fellow citizens. We didn’t have comforting answers, but we had the power of rock n’roll. That would have to suffice as we navigated the perils of “our most American city” in the New Gilded Age.

Let’s hope that Bruce Springsteen and Ta-Nehisi Coates hold a joint event together at some point. The combined fan bases interacting with each other would be worth any price of admission. All proceeds would go to worthy liberal charities. #LeftyLifeGoals #GreatestLiveEventEver

2016: Challengers, Incumbents, and Successors.

by Troy M. Olson

It's the economy, stupid
Screen cap courtesy of the 1993 documentary The War Room, popularized by James Carville, top strategist for Bill Clinton on the 1992 Presidential campaign.

One of the most fascinating aspects to the 2016 Presidential campaign thus far is the shakeup in the traditional breakdown of Presidential campaign politics.

Historically, Presidential runs have fallen into three types of campaigns: the “challenger” campaign, the “incumbent” campaign, and the “successor” campaign. The differences are fairly self explanatory.

Challengers are from the political party that has not held the White House the last four years. Recent examples of this would be Barack Obama in 2008, Mitt Romney in 2012, or any Republican candidate for President this year.

Incumbents are one-term Presidents running for re-election. Recent examples of this would be Barack Obama in 2012 and George W. Bush in 2004.

Successors are candidates from the same political party as the President exiting the White House (or theoretically, stepping down after one full term for various reasons like LBJ did in 1968) and are running to try and keep their party in the White House. Recent examples of this are Al Gore in 2000, John McCain in 2008, and now Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Each type of Presidential campaign has different challenges and obstacles to overcome. Generally speaking, challenger candidates have the easiest path to the Presidency, incumbents have a tougher path, and successors have the most challenges and obstacles to the Presidency.

I don’t mean to minimize the path to the Presidency for challenger candidates, since every path to the Presidency is a long and arduous one. Any successful campaign requires not only not only solid planning and organizational abilities, but also name ID, a compelling narrative, money, and loyal followers. Any good candidate also needs to be resilient, flexible and—most important of all—needs a campaign that compliments their unique personality and public image. One of the main reasons the heavily-favored Hillary Clinton lost to Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic Primary was that she ran more like an incumbent rather than the challenger candidate that she truly was (or at least should have positioned herself to be). By running like an incumbent she created unnecessary hurdles for herself.

This brings us to 2016: a successor campaign (the Democrat seeking to succeed Obama in the White House) vs. a challenger campaign (all the Republican candidates).

As mentioned in the “Case for Losing in 2016” article last week, history says it’s unlikely that the same party holds the White House for more than three consecutive terms, and it is actually quite hard to even win it for the third term, let alone a fourth time. That is because “successor” campaigns have the most obstacles and hurdles to clear. While the argument for re-electing a President is “stay the course, don’t change horses in mid-steam, etc.” the successor campaign has to make the case that “while we are changing horses now, let’s have the new horse going in the same direction.” If you have a relatively popular two-term President about to leave office, this would seem like a benefit, but the historical reality is always much more difficult.

In modern Presidential campaigns, sitting and former Vice Presidents have had trouble parlaying their position into the Presidency. Richard Nixon in 1960, Hubert Humphrey in 1968, George H.W. Bush in 1988, and Al Gore in 2000 all struggled to grasp what “type” of campaign they need to be running. Only Bush the Elder was able to capture the Presidency and succeed as a successor candidate.

Members of the same party but outside of the administration (Senate, Governor, or another official) have not fared much better, which I think explains Hillary’s troubles a great deal. Not only is she tied to the faults of the previous Democratic administration (Obama), she also is tied to the faults of Bill Clinton’s administration, while also receiving very little credit for the positive roles played. Historically, the successor candidacy is the toughest campaign to win, even if you have the institutional advantages of being the incumbent Vice President.

Constitutionally VP’s do very little, but throughout the last 70 years they have taken on more and more pet projects and policy responsibilities inside the White House. The degree to which the VP gets to actually do things depends greatly on their relationship with the President, but overall the office has come a long way from 1945 when Harry Truman came into office after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

When Truman assumed the office, he had met Roosevelt in person only a few times. The new President had not been briefed at all on the post-War situation or the upcoming Potsdam conference. Perhaps most galling was the fact that he was completely unaware of the Manhattan Project and the looming atomic age. Through no fault of his own, Truman arguably inherited the worst possible situation in American history in terms of how prepared he was to take over the highest office in the land. Thankfully Presidential transitions, whether within the same party or the other major party, have improved a great deal since.

**********

In the 2016 Republican Primary, every candidate can credibly lay claim to the mantle of “challenger” candidate, except perhaps Jeb Bush, who (like Hillary Clinton) has characteristics of both incumbency and successor, which have hampered both of their campaigns from the start. In 2008, Clinton’s status as a former First Lady and a Senator who voted in favor of the Iraq War hindered her ability to position herself as a “challenger” candidate. In a “change” campaign, she looked more and more like a deposed Monarch, seeking to return to the throne. Jeb Bush has fared far worse on the Republican side in 2016. While Hillary has learned from several of her 2008 mistakes, while proving to be quite agile and resilient in 2016, she has not learned from all of them. Her team and organization, while better, still leaves a lot to be desired.

While Hillary is positioned well enough to be the first successful “successor” campaign since George H.W. Bush’s 1988 win over “challenger” Michael Dukakis, a more fresh-faced and upstart “challenger” candidate like Marco Rubio or a complete outsider-“challenger” candidate like Donald Trump would be a poor match in the early going. Many members of the Democratic establishment and voting base do not understand how perilous this election cycle is because of it. While Sanders has successfully positioned himself as the “challenger” candidate that he is, nominating him has its own downsides to it.

This is why early last year on the “Agreeing Loudly” podcast, I argued for who I thought was “the safe horse in midstream,” Vice President Joe Biden, who was torn between his private anguish and grief, and his sense of public duty. To me, Biden represented the most sure-fire candidate in 2016 because he had the support and record as VP to earn at least a term as President. A Biden presidency would have allowed the party a four year window to rebuild and create a deeper bench at every level all the way up to potential 2020 Presidential candidates. Instead, Democrats are left with a hotly contested primary and an extremely shallow pool of future candidates.

Understandably, Biden chose not to run in 2016. While I predicted at the end of the year that Hillary Clinton would win narrowly in the fall, I also explained this would weaken the future of the Democratic Party. This is not necessarily an argument to nominate Sanders, who I think would also lose in 2020 even if he managed to win in 2016. For Democrats, what is most important right now is to continue to have a substantive debate on the issues—like the very one Clinton and Sanders are currently having.

I cannot say the same, however, about Clinton and Sanders supporters. Divided generationally more than anything else, Democratic primary voters are throwing increasingly ridiculous accusations at each other.

We are in the beginning of a political age where all of the cynicism toward politics that began in the 1960’s and 1970’s has crescendoed into a rejection of our two-party system from within the two-party system, just as it has typically occurred throughout history. The rise of Sanders on left running on a plank of true egalitarianism, and the rise of Trump’s amateur big government paleo-conservativism on the right, is evidence of this fact.

Whether this leads to a slight shake-up of the sixth party system, or the eventual creation of a seventh party system, it will be sorted out in the next decade and a half. While the art of Presidential campaigning is somewhat in flux, a few things will never change. Presidential elections will often be about, “it’s the economy, stupid.” And Presidential campaign teams need to know who they are to the electorate—challengers, incumbents, or successors—and prepare the campaign’s messaging around that reality.

For Further Reading/Study on This Topic and Related Topics, Check Out:

Plouffe, David. The Audacity To Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama’s Historic Victory. New York: Viking-Penguin, 2009. Print.

Popkin, Samuel L. The Candidate: What It Takes to Win-And Hold-The White House. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.

The War Room. Dir. Chris Hegedu and DA Pennebaker. Feat. James Carville and George Stephanopoulos. Universal/Focus Features, 1993. Film.

The Law Bends Towards White Supremacy

The standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge ended yesterday. Many people asked why it was allowed to go on so long. The reasons have less to do with racist police, and more to do with how our laws use land to reinforce white supremacy.

by Allan Branstiter

Cowboy Dwane Ehmer, of Irrigon, Ore., a supporter of the group occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, walks his horse Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, near Burns, Ore. The group has said repeatedly that local people should control federal lands, but critics say the lands are already managed to help everyone from ranchers to recreationalists. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Cowboy Dwane Ehmer, of Irrigon, Ore., a supporter of the group occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, walks his horse Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, near Burns, Ore. The group has said repeatedly that local people should control federal lands, but critics say the lands are already managed to help everyone from ranchers to recreationalists. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

David Fry, the final holdout occupying the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon, surrendered to federal authorities yesterday. Before he did so, negotiators asked him what he thought Jesus would do in his situation. With the creativity and political acumen of an Ayn Rand novel, he responded with a demand for pizza and marijuana, something about U.F.O.s, and criticism for a government condones both abortions and drone strikes. Finally, after weeks of pointless bluster, artifact-fingering, and laying down weird sumo wrestling challenges to Chris Christie, Fry ate one last cookie, muttered “Alrighty then,” and exited his tent. Ammon and Randy Bundy’s dumb revolution ended with an Ace Ventura quote.

It’s easy to make light of these sagebrush constitutional scholars because their understanding of the American legal code and its history inaccurate. The fact that the likes of Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly embraced, then rejected, then embraced, then rejected (maybe?) their cause also enhances its comedic value. As dumb as these protester lookwith their livefeeds, shipments of junk food, and Gadsden flags—as futile and pointless as LaVoy Finicum’s death for this cause appears—it has a very serious history.

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Are We Overlooking Generation X?

Forget the Boomers and Millennials, this is the Gen-X Election Cycle

by Allan Branstiter

blacklistedandlovingit

During Marco Rubio’s triumphal bronze medal speech in Iowa he used the word “generation” seven times in less than a minute. I couldn’t help but wonder what generation he was trying to speak to. Rubio’s speech was more or less the rehearsed “New American Century” schtick he’s been polishing since last year, but last night speech was notable to me because it was an odd Frankenstein of Boomer sanctimony, Millennial idealism, and (more importantly) Gen X cynicism.

Boomer v. Millennial gets a ton of airtime these days (see: Weber, Meacham, Nentl, et al.), but this leads me to wonder if we are overlooking Generation X’s more silent influence over the 2016 Republican primary campaign? Let’s make the (wholly unscientific) case:

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