Stuff Happens

“Jeb!” is done.

Regarding the recent Oregon shooting, “Jeb!” summarized the situation succinctly: “stuff happens”.

“Jeb!” had heretofore been polling at a whopping 4% according to Pew Research.  Now he’ll be lucky to pull Scott Walker numbers.  (Scott had to leave the race when he was polling at a fraction that embarrassingly rounded down to zero.)

But in an odd way, I have finally gotten a long-standing wish on something.

For years, I have deeply suspected that at their core, gun advocates truly and sincerely do not care when people get shot up in a mass shooting.  It’s somebody else’s problem.  I have long suspected that gun advocates perform a perverse sort of callous calculus.  They know that it has become sort of inevitable that once a month a bunch of people are going to get shot up by some mentally ill person who shouldn’t have a gun.  But the odds are very slim that it will be them getting shot up, or anyone they know.  And in this calculus, they would rather have completely unregulated, unfettered access to guns because they love the guns more than they care about people getting shot up.

My longstanding wish has been to hear someone just admit that.

That’s because I’m weary of all the maudlin, crocodile tears that gun advocates always proffer up.  “Oh, it’s a tragedy, but…”  And “Oh, our thoughts and prayers are with the families, but…”  And “I know that our impulse is to try to do something about this, but….

Well, with “Jeb!” the “but” stops here.

Finally, at last, one politician has had the callous courage to concede what I’ve known all along.  The gun advocates simply do not care.  Their thoughts and prayers aren’t even with the families of the shootings.  For years they have pretended that they do care about the victims of shootings but we must take a principled stand for the Second Amendment.  That has always been the pretense.  Thankfully, “Jeb!” has shot down that pretense.  Thankfully, “Jeb!” has finally admitted what I’ve known all along.

The gun lovers simply don’t care when other people get shot up.

Stuff happens.

So “Jeb!” has really done us a great service in the national dialogue about sensible gun control.  At last we can challenge the gun lovers and ammosexuals when they claim that they really, truly care about people getting shot up all across the nation, but we must take a principled stand for the Second Amendment, and the Founding Fathers, and What If The Government Becomes Totalitarian Someday doomsday scenarios.  Thanks to “Jeb!” we can cut through all that bullcrap, and say, look.  One of your own summarized succinctly the actual emotional response that you guys experience when people get shot up.

Stuff happens.  That’s it.

So don’t come around here with your “thoughts and prayers” jazz.  It’s not “thoughts and prayers” anymore.  It’s “stuff happens.”

Transitioning a little here by way of contrast, there is a whole other presidential candidate that you should consider supporting.  His name is Bernie Sanders.  Here’s why.

If you really want the shootings to stop, you should support Bernie Sanders.  Now, this will sound a little bit like a Rube Goldberg puzzle, but it’s really true, if you’ll bear with me.

If you want sensible gun control laws, you have to get a bill through congress.

That can’t happen right now because congress is a wholly owned subsidiary of the NRA and the legalized bribery we euphemistically refer to as “lobbying.”

So we need to get the money out of politics.  We need robust campaign finance reform.

There is only one presidential candidate with a serious proposal for campaign finance reform.

That’s Bernie Sanders.

Hillary Clinton has a mediocre proposal for campaign finance reform that would multiply small donor contributions with a public fund.  That will do nothing to get the big money SuperPACs out of politics.  She takes SuperPAC money; Sanders does not.  Sanders, by contrast, wants public funding for elections and equal distribution of campaign finance among candidates, and the overturning of Citizens United as a litmus test for Supreme Court justices.  Sanders is the vastly superior candidate on the campaign finance reform front.

With campaign finance reform in place, the NRA would not own congress anymore, and then we might be able to pass some laws with some teeth that could mitigate against all these shootings.  Don’t tell me that gun control laws don’t work.  They work in every civilized, industrialized so-called First World country.  Except ours.

Stuff happens.  Let’s make Bernie Sanders happen.  Let’s make campaign finance reform happen.

And let’s make “Jeb!” dropping out of the race and slinking back to Florida in disgrace happen.

-Robert Gross

Center Court

What the Republican Crazies Don’t Get, And What We Don’t Get About Them

Maeve Reston and Stephen Collinson for CNN accurately spell out the reasons why John Boehner’s woes in the House could mean trouble for candidate “Jeb!” Bush, who sits on top of an underwhelming 9% or so in the polls (a good number if you’re George Pataki, but a bad number if you were at one point strutting through life as the presumptive nominee as was “Jeb!”).  Furthermore, influential House Republicans Paul Ryan (of failed Mitt Romney runningmate fame) and Jeb (not to be confused with “Jeb!”) Hensarling have endorsed cray-cray Tea Party wacko Tom Price of Georgia for the position of House Majority Leader.

Of course, Price may be a stalking horse to see how far to the right the party as a whole can get away with in terms of doling out influential leadership positions to the hardliners.  As Kevin McCarthy locks down the Speakership, he may be testing the waters vicariously to see if he is going to be a governing-and-compromising moderate speaker (if he is using his brain) or a never-compromise-shut-down-the-government-every-week rabid Tea Party speaker (if he is using his heart).

Whatever sane Republicans remain (and there are a few in the Republican presidential contender cohort, including “Jeb!” and Gov. John Kasich, the latter of whom vociferously praised the outgoing Tea-Party-Hated Boehner) must be astounded.  Don’t they understand that by advancing their principled-but-crazy hard-line agenda they are going to lose 2016 for everybody? they must be thinking.  Don’t they understand that government shutdowns are deeply unpopular?  Don’t they understand that Planned Parenthood is actually popular?  Don’t they understand that they are practically giving away the White House, risking a Democratic takeover of the Senate, and stand to see significant Democratic gains in the House?

The short answer to all of that, I think, is no.  They don’t understand that.  At all.

I don’t have any hard empirical evidence, but I think that a study must be commissioned in short order to test the degree to which Tea Party activists believe that their agenda is actually popular, mainstream, and representative of middle America.  Because I think they think that their viewpoints are popular.

I realize this is anecdotal evidence.  My oldest brother is a Tea Party style right-wing hardliner who hates immigrants, Obama, liberals, you name it.  But for years he described his views as “center court,” to use the exact phrase he used.  Center court.  Think about that.

We progressives often, to a fault, have no illusions about our place on the political spectrum and the degree to which our viewpoints sometimes fail to align with centrism.  Furthermore, I have absolutely no self-deluded illusions about where I stand on the political spectrum.  I’m a lefty and I know it.  I don’t have a problem admitting that because I don’t happen to think that being a lefty is a bad thing.

But the hard right is deeply invested in the idea that they are representative of America.  That their feelings about immigrants, that their racism, that their intolerance of religious minorities, their misogyny and misogynist policies, and their antipathy toward the sitting president, whom they consider illegitimate, are in fact the mainstream American orientation politically.  They are deeply invested in the idea that they are the real America.  That they are “center court.”

So when you assume for the sake of argument that this is their orientation, they are completely oblivious to the idea that they could lose elections by taking what they think are principled center-court stands for things in Congress.  Shut down Congress over Planned Parenthood?  I suspect they think that’s a winning issue for them.  They hate Planned Parenthood, so everyone must hate Planned Parenthood.  And the only people hurt by a government shutdown would be people on “entitlement” programs, and they hate “entitlement” programs, so, in their calculus, everyone must hate “entitlement” programs.

What they’re not getting is how out of step with the mainstream they really are.  How many Tea Party crazies who live in a bubble of Fox “News” and A.M. Hate Radio were convinced up to the last that Romney was going to win in 2012?  Even smart conservatives had to publish primers on how to explain Romney’s loss to the dummies.

What we’re not getting is how much they think that they are the mainstream.  That’s why they behave as they do.  It’s not that they see how crazy their actions are— like potentially shutting down the government over Planned Parenthood funding— and are going the cray-cray route anyway.  They don’t think they are crazy.  They think they have America behind them.  They think that America is going to rally to their side because the principled guys on the white horses have finally cut through the B.S. and stopped Planned Parenthood at last and kicked a bunch of people on “entitlement” programs to the curb.  They think they’re going to gain in the House and Senate and win the White House.

In other words, they think they’re “center court.”

It’s the only explanation.

-Robert Gross

UPDATE 9-29-15: For support of the central thesis of this article, look no further than this comment by Senator Ted Cruz, throwing a tantrum on the floor of the Senate yesterday as his attempts to shut down the government went up in smoke:

“The Speaker of the House John Boehner announced he was going to resign. There was lots of speculation on the media as to why [Boehner] resigned. Mr. President, I’m going to tell you why he resigned: It’s actually a direct manifestation of this disconnect between the voters back home and Republican leadership. Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell had promised there will be no shutdown, so therefore they will fund every single priority of Barack Obama.”

(Emphasis added.)

It’s exactly as I’ve maintained.  Ted Cruz and his ilk think that they represent mainstream America, i.e., “the voters back home”; it is— in their minds— only a hopelessly, deeply entrenched Washington D.C. corruption that thwarts things that mainstream America so obviously wants, like a government shutdown, the defunding of Planned Parenthood, war with Iran, and an open rebuke to President Obama (who was inexplicably elected twice).

Loathe though I am to praise John Cornyn, you know, the other Senator from my state of Texas, it should be duly noted by Texans everywhere that Cornyn (R-Sanity) was instrumental in knocking down procedural attempts by Cruz (R-Insanity) to get his shutdown.  That’s what it has come to for the Republicans: Cornyn must know that there is actually a contingent of Tea Party Texans sympathetic to Cruz, whom he risks alienating.  Cornyn took one for the team yesterday so that the grown-ups can remain in charge, so the Republicans might actually stand an electoral chance in 2016, and, most importantly, so the government, which so many widows, widowers, orphans and people with disabilities rely upon, can continue to function.

Free Stuff

Apparently, “Jeb!” Bush attempting to court the racist GOP base by coming out against multiculturalism was (as we pointed out here) too subtle and heady to connect.  So “Jeb!” doubled down by being more overtly racist, by claiming that black people vote for Democrats because Democrats give black people “free stuff,” echoing similar ill-fated comments made by Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential election.  Philip Bump of the Washington Post brilliantly, if quixotically, debunks five persistent myths surrounding the “blacks want free stuff” meme: one, more whites than blacks are on food stamps; two, votes don’t follow food stamp use (so there is no quid-pro-quo between votes for Democrats and receipt of food stamps); three, President Obama has not invented any new “free stuff” giveaway programs since taking office; four, black support for the Democrats coincides with the 1964 Civil Rights Act not “free stuff” giveaways; and five, the definition of “free stuff” is not clear, and he points out that seniors, who vote Republican more often, receive plenty of “free stuff” depending on how one defines it.

Why do I say “quixotically”?  Because facts don’t matter to the Republican base.  They’re not reading the Washington Post; they’re watching Fox “News” and listening to A.M. Hate Radio.  This article, correct though it is, will change very few— perhaps not any— minds that are predisposed to be receptive to “Jeb!”‘s stereotypical message about black people.

Of course, “Jeb!” comes by this political lesson honestly, since his father was Vice President to the master of racial rhetoric.  Reagan famously told stories about welfare queens in Chicago and, if you were in the south, “strapping young bucks” buying T-bone steaks with food stamps.  So this is nothing new, but the thing is, this was 1976 and 1980 we are talking about, and it would appear that the son of Reagan’s Vice President in 2015 is recycling the same tired, racist memes.  Why?  Because he has to.  In 2015, “Jeb!” and his classic dog-whistle race-baiting playbook is not racist enough. 

In 1976, we had dog-whistles.  In 2015, we have “Mexicans are rapists and murderers” stated overtly, and “We have a problem in this country and it’s called Muslims” stated overtly (by a follower of Trump, but without any correction by Trump).  What happened?  How did we go from covert to overt in forty years?  How did things get so much worse?

Part of it, of course, is that things got a little better before they got a whole lot worse.  We actually managed to elect a black president for once.  And that has induced so much panic in the racist right-wing that they simply have no time nor patience anymore for dog-whistles.  They tried the classic dog-whistle playbook via Romney against Obama in 2012, and it didn’t work.  The “free stuff” argument didn’t play.  So the base is ready to take the gloves and the pretense off, and support a candidate that will overtly and without reservation put its ugly racism on full naked display.

That’s why “Jeb!”‘s second attempt in as many weeks to “me too” dog-whistle his way into Trump’s racist vote will not work.  If you are a racist, and you have Unvarnished Racism and Racism Lite to choose from, and Racism Lite seems not to be working any more (after all, we elected a black guy president twice— twice!), for what are you going to opt?

As for Philip Bump and his well-meaning article, it is still important to be armed with the facts.  Every presidential election we are held hostage by a 10% vote in the mushy middle that is apathetic, can’t be bothered to get acquainted with basic civics, doesn’t know a Republicrat from a Demublican, but will, for whatever reason, come hell or high water, actually vote.  Those are the people that progressives have to reach with the facts.  We can’t reach the racists.  But we can outnumber them by building a coalition with the mushy middle based on facts and reason.  So this Thanksgiving, when we’re at the dinner table, and a mushy middle voter relative asks you, but, doesn’t Bernie Sanders want to give free stuff to the blacks like “Jeb!” says?  You can counter with some facts.

1. More whites than blacks get free stuff.  2. More Republicans than Democrats get free stuff because the elderly get more free stuff.  3. More Republicans than Democrats get free stuff because the red states get more free stuff than the blue states.  4. We’re going to pay for the free stuff by taxing the uber-wealthy, and, sorry, Aunt Bernice, but that’s not you.  5. It’s not really free stuff, it’s stuff that other civilized countries provide as services to their people to enhance their standard of living.  If other civilized countries are doing this, why aren’t we?  And 6. Why do corporations get free stuff, like roads and bridges and coined currency and a literate workforce, without paying taxes for it?  While shipping jobs overseas?

A few words about the perniciousness of evil, racist stereotypes like those “Jeb!” is promulgating would not be out of order, either.

-Robert Gross

Memo to “Jeb!” from the Base: Go Racist or Go Home

Republican presidential contender “Jeb!” Bush recently came out against multiculturalism.

“We should not have a multicultural society,” he said.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Then, the article goes on to explain:

But Bush, who’s a self-admitted policy wonk and tends to use nuanced language, was referring to “multicultural” in the literal sense — a social model in which cultures live in “isolated pockets,” as he described them, rather than assimilating into society.

See, here’s the amusing thing.  Bush is trying to “me too!” his way into the racist Republican vote, which is considerable.  It’s very obviously the basis of Trump’s 31-35% support.  But he’s trying to do it the old fashioned Republican way, which is to use dog-whistles.

“Jeb!” isn’t getting it.  The Republican electorate is in no mood for “nuanced” language.  All the Republican candidates, “Jeb!” included, have been hoisted on the petard of the nonstop drumbeat toward overt racism that has been proliferated by their media arms, most notably Fox “News” and AM hate radio.  The base is not in the mood to hear about the evils of “multiculturalism,” which is a seven-syllable word.  

They want to hear about how the Mexicans are rapists and murderers. They want to hear about how there’s a problem in this country and it’s called Muslims.  They don’t want to hear about multiculturalism.  They don’t even know what the hell that is.

“Jeb!” was raised in polite society, of course, where we just don’t say things like that out loud.  You say things like that in dog-whistle language.  You don’t say that all blacks are lazy moochers out loud.  You instead do like Reagan did, and tell anecdotes about Cadillac-driving “Welfare Queens” and let the coded language do the rest.  You don’t say that you’re for the return of segregation, you say you’re simply for “states rights.”  You don’t call Michael Dukakis an n-word-lover.  You put Willie Horton, black rapist and murderer in television ads in order to scare people into voting for the tough-on-crime white guy (who was, incidentally, in that case, “Jeb!”‘s father, George H. W. Bush).  (Oddly enough, there were no radio ads about Willie Horton.  Why was that, you suppose?)

But what you certainly don’t say that you’re not down with “multiculturalism.”  You might as well say “cultural hegemony promotes greater disaffection among the proletariat, risking upheaval of the overall social strata” to the base.  See how far that gets you.

You’re not getting it, “Jeb!”.  Your base wants overt racism in all its venal, ugly, base glory.  And you may want to ditch that Latina wife of yours.  The base is not going to be down with that either.  Don’t whine about it, just ditch her.  Now.  Do you want the nomination or not?

However, if you are sane, and not a racist, there is a candidate for you.  And he does more than pander to black voters by dancing the nae nae on the Ellen DeGeneres show.  His name is Bernie Sanders, and he has a lot to say about race relations, including solid policy proposals.

In the meantime, let us enjoy the Schadenfreude that comes with watching “Jeb!” flapping there in the wind, desperately trying to “me too!” his way into the racist Trump vote, but in such an awkward way that is commensurate with the congeniality of his hoity-to-the-toity upbringing.  This is has been coming for years.  Fox News and AM Hate Radio have been pushing the envelope and pushing the envelope and pushing the envelope to see how far the bounds of acceptability will go, and they have finally found out— there are no bounds!  So they have created for themselves a climate where their base electorate can demand of their candidates: Go Racist or Go Home.

Dog-whistles about “multiculturalism”?  That was last year’s culture war.  You have to keep up with the times, “Jeb!”.

If “Jeb!” really wants to put his racist bona fides on the table, he could remind us about that time he managed to get 58,000 voters arbitrarily thrown off the voter rolls in Florida in an effort to target black voters.  But that would raise the thorny issue of how “Jeb!” helped his brother steal the 2000 election, and I don’t think “Jeb!” wants to remind anybody of that.

Let’s face it, “Jeb!”  You can’t just “me too” your way into Trump’s racist vote.  You have to out-racist and out-venal the king of venal racism, but that goes against the entire Bush Family way of doing things (dog-whistles and whisper campaigns).

Looks like you’re in a bind.

-Robert Gross