One of the things that has gotten us to this point in American politics is the erosion of norms…and the development of new ones. Nothing is a bigger exemplar of this than the filibuster, which was once the sort of thing where you actually had to stand up and talk and hold the floor if you wanted to bring the Senate to a screeching halt. The ability to filibuster by saying you were filibustering (so that other things could move along) was the stupidest move in history, because it had the functional impact of normalizing a requirement for 60 votes for anything in the Senate.  I’ve lost count of how many things have gone down to “defeat” in the last six to eight years with 53 or 57 votes simply because a paper filibuster is without cost and nobody in the public both knows any better and cares enough to make a fuss about it.

The other norm that’s gone by the boards is the notion that any and every presidential appointment an be routinely held up by these paper filibusters. Countless appointees twist in the wind, only to find themselves confirmed with 90+ votes once the filibuster is broken. This isn’t about going after some specific wingnut, as happened with Robert Bork – which has been used to justify al manner of foolishness – this is a scorched-earth approach, the ability to routinely deny the President the basic function of government. And it’s a huge risk and amazingly cynical, because it decouples blame from where it belongs.

See, people are losing their mind to the point that they’ll consider Donald Trump a viable candidate because “government doesn’t work.” And why doesn’t government work? Because the government’s been shut down twice in the last five years, because there’s a Supreme Court vacancy sitting untouched, because people are literally dying while they wait for Senate approval, because the normal budgeting process literally doesn’t happen anymore. And all because one side dug in its heels and said NO – and as a result, the partisans of that side scream that government doesn’t work and that only a polyester-haired tosspot can be their savior.

It’s insane. It’s the sort of thing that makes you wonder if Nixon could be impeached in 2016. If a seated President were found to have approved breaking into and bugging the headquarters of the other party, and used Federal resources to cover up the crime, and instructed his attorney general to fire the investigating officer – who would push back on that now? Could you even get impeachment now? Probably not, because the entire concept of impeachment was tarnished when it was used against Clinton – get a special prosecutor to chase conspiracy theories and rumors to the ends of the earth, with an ever expanding remit, get sworn testimony from someone and then get conflicting testimony from the President to create a perjury trap, and impeach on that basis? When the most fearsome tools of government are reduced to instruments of political slap-fighting to undo the result of an election, what possible check does the system have on itself?

That’s the ultimate flaw in our system of government: it relies on a society capable of norms and shame. Neither of those are honored even in the breach at this point, and without those, our system sinks into paralysis because it was meant to rely on negotiation and collaboration, and the idea that eventually you have to make some sort of agreement. That simply isn’t possible anymore, and Mann and Ornstein will be happy to elucidate why. One hopes that the Trump fever will be enough to kill that particular patient and leave the remaining parties able and willing to do a deal…but it’s not always good to hope, and hope is the furthest thing in the world from a plan.

Brucking Brell

Well, they only went and did it. The narrative is pretty clear from the polling totals: the vote for Britain to leave the EU was old and English. The Scots, the Norn Iron, the youth and London were all in favor of remaining, but in the end, it wasn’t enough to get over the hump. Leave won, 52-48.

David Cameron fucked up, and he knows he fucked up, which is why he’s trying to get the hell out of town and leave this steaming pile for the next guy (probably Boris Johnson, the amiable doofus who thought he was the public face of Leave). The irony is, Cameron agreed to this referendum to try to quiet his own Euroskeptics and keep UKIP at arm’s length – and now Nigel Farage, the eminently-punchable leader of UKIP, is out there as the public face of the Leave victory. As more than one person said “not all the Leave voters are racist but all the racists voted Leave.”

And the truly ironic thing is that the straitened economic circumstances that drove the non-racist Leave vote are less a result of EU policy than of the Cameron government’s own commitment to austerity-based recovery. Thanks to the new five-year Parliaments with no snap elections, this is the closest thing people had to a vote against the status quo, a vote against Cameron, and they took it and swung hard. And now it looks like we could seriously see moves toward Scottish secession and Northern Ireland reunification – so Cameron may go down in history as the man who took Britain out of the EU and England out of the United Kingdom. 

Here’s the thing: while the UK has a reasonably sturdy economy, any time you upset the applecart it’s going to make things rough. It’s not surprising at all that the pound dropped 10% literally overnight and hasn’t gone back up; a lot of people the world round are going to hold their cards and see how things end up for Britain, and in the meantime, the pound trades at its lowest level against the dollar in three decades.  From a strictly selfish point of view, this is a great time to be headed to the UK as a tourist, but you wonder what happens when the next Prime Minister has to go back to square one renegotiating all the trade relationships.

Because here’s the thing: Britain was already loosely tied to the EU. Out of the Euro, given exemptions and rebates, all kinds of extra stuff – and do you think any attempt to get back into the EU is going to come with all those exceptions again? If they go back to the EU with hat in hand, they’re going to be told to shove ha’penny (and rightly so), so I don’t know where Boris is getting this idea that they can suddenly have free movement of Brits around the EU area and free trade while getting concessions on immigration. But then, Boris didn’t have a plan. Nobody did, except for the delusional old farts and their racist fellow travelers who looked at this the way the South looks at Donald Trump or George Wallace: as the avatar of “we’re gonna make things like they used to be.”

But that’s not how the world works.

Final Impressions

To be honest, this wasn’t clinched until yesterday, when the Wall Street Journal reported that the notional iPhone 7, so-called, will indeed feature the removal of the analog headphone jack in the cause of making the phone even thinner. This is an alarming decision on a number of fronts, assuming the report can be trusted – but given that most Apple kremlinologists regard the WSJ as the pre-announce channel for all things AAPL, it probably can be.

First off, of course, is the drive for all-things-thinner, which is stupid. The iPhone 6 design is already too thin to contain its own camera entirely within the body of the phone; shaving almost a millimeter off the case is borderline mentally defective at this point. Unless there’s some sort of miracle arc reactor sandwiched into that thinner case, there’s a very real chance you won’t see battery life commensurate with the 6 either, and the 6 was no great shakes to begin with. But phone battery life clearly isn’t a priority for Apple at this point; the 6S came with an even smaller battery than the 6 for the sake of accommodating the technology necessary to facilitate 3D Touch.

(Note here that the Apple Watch tends to finish the day with a good 30-40% of battery left if you put it on in the morning; since the first iPhone, Apple has always gone overboard cutting things down for the sake of battery preservation in 1st-gen hardware, sometimes at the expense of performance. The iPhone 3G had a smaller battery than the iPhone AND more power-draining 3G and A-GPS technology, but the first-gen phone HAD to make it through the day. Same with the watch.)

So here we have an iPhone 7 which of necessity almost cannot have a larger battery than the 6S, and will rely on digital headphones to boot. You’d think the move would be to introduce Lightning-based headphones here, alongside the analog jack, and wait for the next generation of the phone (the purported glass-body all-screen iPhone) to cut out analog, give the market some time to build and people to get used to the idea that yes this can be done and it won’t suck. You’d think. And yet.

More nefarious yet is something that’s being kicked around in different quarters: the notion that digital headphones mean the same restricted audio-out that we now have with video thanks to HDCP as part of the HDMI standard. That’s not an idle concern, not when I can’t play movies downloaded from the Apple store on my Mac mini with the 10-year-old DVI monitor cabled through it. Not when the trend seems to be toward media rental – whereas Steve was firmly in the “buy this song and it’s yours to keep” camp, the rest of the industry keeps shoving its chips in on the celestial-jukebox model. Instead of buying songs, or DVDs, you pay $10 to this provider or that provider or Netflix or Spotify and just stream everything, and that $50 or so a month becomes your new media utility cost (presumably replacing your cable bill, depending on how good your internet access is and how many friends will let you sponge). Like cable TV, it sounds like you’re getting good value for money…until you realize you’ve gone from 15 channels you watch and 10 you couldn’t care less about to 20 channels you watch, 200 you couldn’t care less about, 50 of just infomercials and a bill quadruple what you started with.

Well, here’s the thing: I’ve had this little iPhone SE for a month now. The under-the-hood guts of the 6S without the 3D Touch gimmick shit, crammed into the body of a 5S, with a smaller and thus less power-sucking screen and a larger battery than the 5S had. And in that month, do you know how many times I’ve pulled out the 6?  Zero. It went in a drawer at work the next day and hasn’t been taken out since, let alone turned on or used. I miss the larger screen size not at all. I get home every day with half the battery still there even when I don’t plug in. It fits comfortably in my hand. I haven’t dropped it once. It works fine with every piece of my pre-existing phone infrastructure (except for the dicky Bluetooth headphones, which is surprising not at all because they never work consistently with anything, and the SE connects just fine to Bluetooth in the car without having to do a thing).

Best of all, this phone is mine. I bought it unlocked and un-SIM’d directly from Apple, so I have the choice of keeping the work account there or just popping a T-Mob SIM in for the dirt-cheap $30 plan if I decide I don’t want to be on work’s dime any longer. On current form, I stand to get updates at least through iOS 12 if I want them. Goes in any pocket, nothing protrudes if I don’t have a case, there’s four years’ worth of accessories and infrastructure out there supporting it.

This is what happens when you prioritize a quality product and value for money over design wankery and too-clever-by-half bullshit. No regrets whatsoever. Would do it again, and based on feedback from others, I’m not the only one who thinks so. For all the derision in Silly Con Valley and its amen corner in the tech media, this was the best new iPhone Apple’s produced in years.

The Storm

Just finished a re-read of Before The Storm, Rick Perlstein’s superlative account of the Goldwater campaign of 1964. The first in his trilogy tracing the development of contemporary conservatism in the 1960s and 1970s – or perhaps, tracing the decline and fall of traditional Republicanism – it informs a lot of the nonsense we see going on today.

Barry Goldwater was in no way orthogonal to the conservative movement in the 1950s and early 1960s – he was in sympathy with the people Perlstein opens the book by describing: the traditional Midwestern manufacturing firms, family-owned, who felt tremendously hard-done-by in the aftermath of depression and war by an emerging political consensus that was pro-union, pro-government and agreeable to Eastern money interests rather than Midwestern business. That belief system was neatly bundled with anti-Communist paranoia from Birchers and the like, and the whole thing dovetailed neatly into the Southern doctrine of massive resistance to desegregation and civil rights, and before you know it, Barry Goldwater – stalwart libertarian, NAACP sympathizer, generally mistrustful of big government, and a Senator who would crack wise late in life about being an “honorary homosexual” for defending the rights of gay soldiers to join and remain in the service – Barry Goldwater found himself riding a noisy racist tiger with no easy way to climb off.

The description of the movement – paranoid, anti-government, looking for Reds under every flat surface, convinced the United States was being led down the road to ruin – is functionally indistinguishable from the Tea Party GOP as it exists today. It found its perfect avatar in Sarah Palin and led eight years on to Donald Trump – no politician at all, no experience in government of any kind, just a notionally-self-funded barbaric yawp, the id of the worst of America made manifest. Unlike Senator Goldwater, he seems to be in this thing mostly for the greater glory of Trump, as one yahoo after another makes an ass of themselves proclaiming how great he is and how he’s gonna stick it to the Mooslims or the Messicans or whatever else.

This is the dilemma – yes, there are serious issues in American life right now as the economy crumbles underneath the feet of the have-nots. Silicon Valley is firmly committed to its goal of abstracting away the Morlocks to the Eloi can enjoy their best life, while it becomes rapidly apparently that nobody has a plan once every cashier is automated away by an app and that we can’t have a hundred million people driving delivery. Especially when the self-driving cars arrive. And God help you if all you have is a 401(k), because it’s starting to become apparent that basing your retirement on someone else’s stock speculation was a fool’s errand. If you feel like the whole world is turning on you and that the game is rigged and you’re getting the short end of the stick, guess what? It’s not paranoia if they’re genuinely out to get you.


If you think Trump is the answer – if you think a reality-TV hairpiece driven by the comment section at and the kinds of things that aging white men think sound great on Twitter is the person who’s going to solve everything – then you are stupid. Full stop. You want political correctness run amuck, here it is: thirty percent of the country is stupid enough to vote for this idiot for President and we’re not allowed to call a spade a spade. Miss me with this shit about how it’s wrong and dangerous to mock these people. Some of their problems are real. Some of their concerns are very legitimate. We’ve spent years nursing this doctrine that everyone can be a tremendous success and that it’s all your fault if you aren’t, and it’s not unreasonable to expect people to be looking for someone to blame, but scapegoating grounded in racism and bigotry and the notion that somehow “Mr. Trump” is going to wind the clock back fifty years so that white people can stay immune to the consequences of their actions – that. is. fucking. stupid.

And the truly ironic thing is that all of this paranoia, all of this anti-government rage, all of this THANGS AIN’T JESUS LIKE THEY USTA BE, all this idea that the wealth creators and the well-to-do are the ones REALLY being done wrong in the modern economy and that the working class and poor are the lucky duckies – every bit of that is sitting right there in the late 1950s, in that golden era that people want to go back to now. Replace the Mexicans and the Muslims with the blacks and the Communists and piss and moan about the New Deal and Social Security instead of Obamacare and it’s exactly the same. Dubya didn’t invent I Got Mine Fuck You. Neither did Reagan. Neither did Goldwater, for crying out loud. This has been with us for three generations and probably beyond, and you can probably take it back to the “malefactors of great wealth” that another Republican railed against in his day if you want to dig. They’re selling the same old vintage-1959 liquid shit in shiny new bottles with two-day Prime delivery for free, and our political consensus is too battered by forty years of fuckery to tell them to shove that shit back where they got it from.

The GOP has been riding this tiger in some form or another for fifty years and change. Now they’ve fallen off in front of it. It’s important for us as a society to shoot that tiger dead before it can do any more harm…once it’s done with lunch.

The Big Rock Candy Mountain

I haven’t said much about the case of Brock Turner here, if anything. It’s not that surprising, in a world of FSU and Baylor and God only knows how many other schools covering for athletes. At least he withdrew from Stanford under duress in a couple of weeks and they don’t appear to have done much to cover for him. (NB: in the 24 hours since I wrote this part, it’s come out that the Stanford women’s swim team wanted to attest to this dude’s inherent creep factor and inappropriate behavior and may have been discouraged from doing so; if true, Stanford Athletics is a rapist-enabling cesspool. But I digress.)

(An instructive comparison is to a school that had a horrifying incident in 2013. That institution called the cops themselves, expelled the perpetrators within 48 hours, kicked another player off the team for obstructing the investigation, and three years on, the establishment the perpetrators drank at beforehand is STILL off limits to all varsity athletes. But I don’t want a cookie for that, because you don’t deserve hurrahs and hosannas for some shit you’re SUPPOSED to do.)

No, the horrifying thing here in Santa Clara County is that the jury found this brat guilty, and the judge – on the advice of the probation officer, it appears – sentenced him to a whopping six months in jail, when the average sentence is six years in the state pen. And made things even worse by going on at length about how the perpetrator is already suffering and shouldn’t have his life ruined.

Which is offensive enough even without taking into account the statements from the rest of his family and friends – yes, you expect them to make the best of things in imploring the judge not to sentence their little boy to be married to the guy with the most cigarettes, fair enough. But the staggering tone-deafness of the statements suggests that these people actually think that Brock Turner is the victim of Demon Rum, and that exposure to alcohol is the true perpetrator of this crime and ruined everyone’s life.

To borrow the sardonic words of PJ O’Rourke, “he’s not a criminal. If he were, he’d be poorer and darker-skinned.”

Santa Clara County in 2016 is the Big Rock Candy Mountain for well-to-do white guys. You come here to live it up and get rich. VCs will shoot money out of a firehouse if you look like Mark Zuckerberg. (This is not a lie or an exaggeration. I am not making this shit up.) And you sort of have to ask yourself: what has Silly Con Valley churned out in the last three years? The phone has crossed the finish line, the Apple Watch is officially back to the drawing board (watchOS 3 is basically an admission that the UX needs to be torn up and started over), we have incremental changes at best to things like laptops and networking and buzzword-compliant stuff like “big data” and “deep learning” and the like. The action, the growth, the big noise is in the likes of Uber, which will drive you around. Or Doordash or Postmates, which will bring you dinner. Or Snapchat, which will maybe get the girl to send them nudes if she thinks they disappear in 10 seconds.

It is very very difficult not to get the sense that Silly Con Valley’s main focus is currently set on making it possible to be a fifteen-year-old boy, forever.

It’s the Whiffle Life, as PJ himself eloquently described it. Corners rounded off, edges dulled, difficulty set on Rookie – if you are young and white and male and well-to-do, the red carpet is rolled out for you to come here and live it up, and never mind the hassle and inconvenience of other people in the world. Everything can be somebody else’s problem or somebody else’s fault. If you fucked up, you can be safely caught and placed back on the carousel, because it’s a learning experience. And that’s how a candyflipping rapist gets to become a poor naif who never expected that drinking in college would lead him into such an awful situation and he must dedicate his life to fighting the scourge of alcohol which placed a gun to his temple and forced him into this tragic turn of events for his future.

Here’s what I’d love. I’d love to roll up behind Brock Turner at Stanford Shopping Center and break his ribs with a ball bat before he ever sees what’s coming. I’d love for him to start to step into the Marguerite bus and suddenly find himself knocked to the ground and stampeded by everyone getting off.  I’d love for him to walk down University Avenue at 1 AM and walk faster and faster because half a dozen shadowy figures are behind him with another one joining the crowd every block.  You aren’t special. You aren’t bulletproof. You aren’t safe from the world. There is no Whiffle Life, there is no force field, there is no bubble, and you will not be protected from the consequences of your actions.

And when he’s gone insane living in fear, maybe the rest of those fuckers will get the message. But probably not.

Final impressions

It was somewhere on the outskirts of Manteca where it set in: I really like this car.

Not just because the mileage is better than anything I’ve ever driven up to and including my Saturn SC2, which could eke out over 35 mpg if you filled it with premium and drove it on fresh asphalt at freeway speed. Not just because of the sensor array that provides extra warning of blind-spot cars or crossing pedestrians behind or imminent curbs in front. Not just because it’s the third straight car to carry the plates affirming my loyalty to my squad, though that still means a lot.

No, the reason it clicked for good was because I was out behind the wheel on a bright sunny day in rural California, orchards of almonds to either side of a two-lane road, blue sky shining through a panoramic glass roof, the wife and I luxuriating in black leather bucket seats with plenty of legroom, steering a big yet agile yet comfortable Chevy through the parts of California most people don’t think about while swing music from the 1940s played through the sat-radio.

It does me no end of good to get the hell out of Silly Con Valley, for reasons I have elucidated before and doubtless will again (probably in the very next post). The last ride for Harvey was to Santa Barbara and back on 101; that drive is one of my favorite things to do because most of the world knows Hollywood, San Francisco, “L.A.” and “Silicon Valley” and there is SO much else in the nation’s most populous state and the world’s sixth largest economy. This is where your food comes from. This is where a lot of your lumber probably comes from. There are towns here that you drive through of a Friday evening and think – the African-American people are Latino instead and the churches are Catholic rather than Baptist, and the sporting obsession is probably the Giants instead of the Crimson Tide, but in almost any other respect, you could be back in Alabama, in any town of 8000 or so. It’s not a long leap from Fultondale to Gonzales.

Five years ago, my wife had the presence of mind to rent a Dodge Charger for our trip to Louisiana and Alabama. I drove this big growling car through the byways of the South, from New Orleans to Mobile then up to Birmingham and back to Canal Street, and something about it just felt right. Big comfortable domestic car, away from town, seeing the countryside. I didn’t realize how much that hearkened back to the days of riding around in my Monte Carlo with a sackful of Milo’s, listening to Alabama football games. There’s something akin to that in the haul down 101, getting around traffic by taking the Monterrey Road instead until you get closer to Gilroy, and then winding down the same route as historic El Camino Real with the sun setting. Distant sight of fields of produce, or dusty warehouses, or the silhouette of an oil well, or a train passing in the night.

Get out. Get away. Go further than the Caltrain or the VTA can take you, away from the bubble, away from the echo chamber, and see the rest of the world. That’s what this car can do for me now. And at 40+ miles per gallon, we can actually do it in a way that just wasn’t possible at 25mpg. And I can see the whole of California, not just the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

Of which more presently.

Still Right, By The Way

June 2, 2008:

In our reality-based world, of course, you go for the nomination with the delegate-selection system you have, not the one you try to shat out halfway through the fifteenth round of the fight. Yes, caucuses were created to stimulate popular participation and build a base more inclined to activist participation, and superdelegates were created to counteract the influence of caucuses, and Iowa and New Hampshire get their special privileges because…because…shit, I got nothing. Nor does anyone else. At some point, the Dems will revert to a model like the GOPs, and the GOP will move closer to the Dem model to prevent what happened to them this year, and the lion will lie down with the porterhouse…

…Game Over. Everything else is bookkeeping.

This is an object lesson for Team Bernie, who failed to go to school on the shortcomings of Team HRC eight years before. Some states have primaries, and some have caucuses. Those primaries may be open to non-registered voters or they may not. Some states hand out delegates in differing proportions, some have no delegates pledged, it’s a gigantic mishmash. Your choices are to learn the system and use it to best effect, or modify and change the system – before you start. If you’ve decided that all the fines in Monopoly go to the bank instead of Free Parking, you can’t demand a chunk of change because you landed on it first after your opponent built eight houses and a hotel on the green spaces.

If you’re going to try to steal something, the smash-and-grab is never preferable to picking the lock. It’s hard to learn to pick a lock. It takes time to case the joint. You have to have a plan. That’s why heists get entire motion pictures and smash-and-grab jobs get 20 seconds in a montage with “Take My Breath Away” as comedy background music. 

The Democratic Party is ripe for a heist. It’s been done before. George McGovern was the Danny Ocean of 1970, and rebuilt a system that he could crack himself in 1972 with the greatest of ease. That he was a disastrous candidate in the general election doesn’t reflect on his cleverness in getting that nomination for himself, and it’s arguable that the superdelegates that Sanders alternately decried and banked on were a reaction to both McGovern’s cleverness and Kennedy’s kamikaze run in 1980 which fatally crippled the Carter campaign. (And arguably to Reagan’s similar feat in 1976. At that point, looking at both teams, you have to start taking precautions. Republicans didn’t, and now, Trump.)

I suspect that HRC may throw Team Sanders the sop of a place on the rules committee for 2020, and it’s possible that we may see the end of the superdelegates (who, after all this time, have never swung the nomination away from the popular-vote frontrunner). Their presence is an atavistic reminder of a time when state parties and state conventions sent delegates unhindered by caucus or primary outcomes, and the convention was a decision-making process instead of a four-night infomercial and Spring Break for poli-sci majors and small-town lawyers. But the kind of signaling process they offer can just as easily be done via endorsement now, and the elimination of the supers is probably going to be the price of peace through the autumn. One hopes that the candidates of 2020 will profit by the lesson of 1972, though: when the game starts, make sure more than one person has read the inside of the box lid.

Updates And Mea Culpas

May 23, 2008:


Think about it: Al Smith broke the seal on a Catholic running for national office. JFK got elected. By the time Kerry ran in 2004, it was essentially an afterthought. You couldn’t name all the Catholics on either side of the two primary races this year. Meanwhile, Jesse Jackson finished a mighty strong second for the Ds in 1988, and Obama more or less has it wrapped up now. Give it another generation and it won’t even be that big a deal. In the past, you’ve had women who were marginal candidates for President at best – Shirley Chisolm, Pat Schroeder, Carol Mosely-Braun – but none who were contenders. Hillary was serious, and by virtue of running a hard second the whole way, she’s basically made it possible for the next woman to close the deal.

And ultimately, I think that’s why the Tab-and-Virginia-Slims cohort is so outraged. It’s not that a woman’s not going to get there, because it’s going to happen inevitably, and probably sooner than you’d expect. No, the reason Ferarro, Steinem, et al are so outraged is because it’s not going to be one of them. Because when the triumph comes, and a woman puts her hand on that Bible, it’s going to be somebody other than a second-wave Baby Boomer feminist.

In the end, this is the flip side of my last post, and the reason (drum roll…here comes the worst kept secret in the entire Interweb tubes) that I’m officially backing Barack Obama for President: because he’s 47 years old. When Woodstock happened, he was 8. When Saigon fell, he was 14. He didn’t get out of high school until 2 years after Star Wars came out, and his college and graduate career was spent in the go-go 1980s. He is chronologically incapable of continuing the 40-year proxy war of the baby boomers.

Think about it: literally every single Presidential election in my lifetime has been a re-fight of 1968. The Silent Majority vs. the Great Other. The good decent hardworking white people against the coloreds, the bra-burners, the dirty hippies, the eggheads, the Communists. This is why Kevin Phillips deserves a frying pan in the nuts, no matter how much he’s repented: what he gave us was a self-propelled bullshit machine that turns our national politics into Groundhog Day with a constant loop of Buffalo Springfield in the background.

National politics will not move forward until the last Wallace supporter is strangled with the entrails of the last McGovern supporter.

Barack Obama is our best chance to break the endless cycle of Boomer narcissism…because he’s not one of them. He’s somebody who can say, yes, the Sixties were a pivotal historical moment…but guess what? The moment’s over. Put the bong and the sandals and the Confederate flags back in the attic and deal with the world as it is in 2008.


So. Yeah. About that.

I genuinely thought that Obama would break through. Not that he would be loved and embraced by all and lead us to the land of sweet reason and moderation, but that he would appeal to enough people that the old Sixties modality could and would be left behind, and that having him at the top of the stack rather than Hillary would mean an end to the Clinton Rules and the 90s-conspiracy-hysteria mode of politics in this country.

Man. I fucked that up.

Ninety percent of the “Clinton scandals” were giant nothingburgers invented out of whole cloth by Arkansas rubes, inflated by the right-wing noise machine and carried to term by a clueless national press. Obama doesn’t even have the peg to hang the other 10% on. And yet, for years and years we were required to act as if clinical insanity was a valid part of our national political discourse and that scorched earth was the time-honored right and proper response to a decisive presidential election.

And the GOP continues on its same accelerating path which has brought us here…to Donald Trump as its standard-bearer. And people have the gall to ask “how can this happen?” It can happen because this is what the Republican Party is. It’s what it has been aiming for since 1994. This is the inevitable result of a political party that completely eschews policy and governance in favor of sloganeering, hysterics, and good ol’ courthouse-steps shit-slinging. Don’t let the Queens accent fool you: Trump as nominee is the crowning achievement of the nationalization of Southern politics.

More mysterious to me is where the rest of the field is. Sure, Hillary seemed unbeatable as the nominee – but people thought she was in 2008 and that didn’t stop Obama and Edwards and Biden and others from jumping in the mix. Bush seemed unstoppable in 1991, but when Cuomo and Bradley dipped, there were still plenty of takers – Tsongas and Brown and Kerrey and Harkin and Clinton. There were four total challengers to Hillary, none of whom was serious and only one of whom acquired enough horsepower to become so – and ultimately it’s only in part because of him. A huge chunk of what Bernie Sanders rode in on was the “Anyone but Hillary” crowd, most of whom are probably responsible for the BernieBro phenomenon.

This is worrying. Democrats who lose don’t get another bite, not since Stevenson flopped a second time against Eisenhower in ’56. If Hillary loses in November, who’s going to carry the ball in 2020? Joe Biden, at 77? Bernie again, at 78? California governor Jerry Brown, again, at age 82 and going for a third bite at a White House he aimed for in 1976?? I don’t know anymore. There were always the young-ish Senators and governors in years gone by, or the stalwart names like a Mario Cuomo or Bill Bradley that you could easily jot down as likely contenders (and Mario Cuomo could have won in 1988, don’t think he couldn’t). Now…Cory Booker? Maybe? Gavin Newsome, if only he hadn’t committed to the state-politics track and could have stopped banging everyone in sight? Kamala Harris, if four years as a California Senator are enough to launch a national campaign?

And that lays open the biggest problem of the Obama era: the Democratic machine, nationally, is not what it used to be. State races have gone Republican because the younger Democrats seem to have forgotten that you vote for anything but President. Why were there seventeen contenders for the GOP nomination? Because even when you eliminate the jokes (Trump, Fiorina, Carson) and the has-bens and never-weres (Pataki, Gilmore), the credentials of the rest sounded broadly feasible. Young Latino Senator from Florida. Young Latino Senator from Texas. Governor of New Jersey. Governor of Wisconsin. Governor of Ohio. (Badly failed but roll with it) Young minority former-Rhodes-Scholar Governor of Louisiana. Right there you have a bigger field than the Democrats, who tried to go at Hillary with a former Governor, two former Senators and a socialist gadfly from Vermont who didn’t belong to the party a year ago.

It’s all in at this point. Win or get ready to suffer a calamity for the ages. We, as a nation, literally cannot afford for Hillary to lose, because four years of Trump would play hell with our economy – never mind our standing in the world or a million other things. This is the race of her life and she absolutely cannot blow it.

But here’s the thing…remember the turnout for Obama? Remember the beatific expressions of African-American voters of a certain age for whom Jim Crow and dogs and firehoses and the back of the bus were living memory?

Think about the Tab-and-Virginia-Slims cohort.  Think about women of a certain age, for whom living memory means a time without legal abortion. A time without legal birth control. A time without the birth control pill at all, never mind only for married women. A time when you could only get a credit card in your husband’s name. A time when you couldn’t get an apartment by yourself without your parents’ signing the lease. A time when a woman got death threats for trying to drive the time trials in the Indy 500. A time when it was taken as read that you would be obligated to quit your job because you got married.

And for these women, who thought eight years ago that they would have to live with the knowledge that even when it did happen, it wouldn’t be one of them – that second-wave feminism would be relegated to modern-day paving the way for someone in the future, that HRC would just be another step on the stairs with Stanton and Anthony and Mott and “suffragettes” and Steinem and Abzug – all of a sudden, like the Undertaker sitting bolt upright just as the ref counts two, MAH GAWD THAT’S HILLARY CLINTON’S MUSIC. No chance has suddenly become one chance. One shot. One opportunity for a generation of women to finally close the deal for one of their own.

If you don’t think they’re going to storm the gates, you might better brace yourself. Because to borrow the words of the Vice-President, this is a big fucking deal. The Women’s Libbers are going to war one last time and they aren’t gonna leave anything on the field. And if you don’t think a bunch of angry old women won’t get what they came down here for, well, you’ve never worked in local politics, have you?

So yeah, I was was wrong. 68 is plenty of time to get back in the ring for one more attempt (not least in an office where your primary opponent is 74 and your general opponent is about to turn 70). And I was wrong to think that we could get shut of the baby boomer generation without driving a stake through its heart and chopping off its head – but one of them has an opportunity to set things right before they go. We should help her take it.

Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war

So here we are.  Everybody thought it would be Hillary for the Democrats, although nobody expected it to take this long. No one seriously thought it would be Donald Trump for the Republicans until about six months ago, when it became apparent that nobody was taking shots at him and nothing he did – no stumbles, no gaffes, no outlandish statements – were enough to dent his support.  And so we get here.

Hillary is less surprising. Twenty-five years ago, I asked a friend in New England what she thought of the Democrats who were orbiting New Hampshire ahead of the 1992 race. She thought for a moment and said “you know, the only one who really impresses me is the Arkansas governor’s wife.” And a quarter-century on, after a long and winding road that no one could have predicted, here she stands, the first woman to grasp the brass ring for a major American political party.  Put her resume on a random white man – one term and change as Senator from New York, four years as Secretary of State, a decade as the functional equivalent of Special Advisor to the President – and it’s certainly as plausible as most of the candidates you get these days. Put it on, say, Hillary Smith, and in 2016 it’s by no means too thin to run on in a world where people treat Ben Carson or Carly Fiorina as anything but a joke.

But there’s that word: Clinton. Couple it with Hillary and you get the ur-demon of Republican nightmares since before Al Gore’s mule ploughed the furrow in which the first T1 cable would be laid. Hillary Clinton is shorthand for every single thing in the demonology of American conservatism: liberal, feminist, shrill, lawyer, ballbreaker, Your First Wife, corrupt and conniving and eager to enslave hardworking Americans and feed our military into the chipper shredder of Islam and political correctness. There is nothing you can say about her – or against her – that hasn’t been said multiple times already in the last two decades. If she seems stiff, paranoid, defensive – well, it’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you. And they are. And they have been.

California voters under 30 plump for Bernie over Hillary by a margin of almost 5 to 1. Part of it could be attributed to the 2008 campaign, where her march of inevitability ran on the rocks of Obama-mania and her team was rather graceless in the slow spiral to defeat. And in a potentially fatal error, much of the left bought into the memes of the right: the Clintons are corrupt, the Clintons are shady, the Clintons are conniving weasels in thrall to billionaires, perpetually on the make and eager to stab you in the back for their own gain. And a generation too young to remember Travelgate, to remember Whitewater, to remember Jerry Falwell selling lurid expose tapes about cocaine smuggling in Mena, to remember a Congressman shooting a melon or a pumpkin in his yard to prove Vince Foster couldn’t have committed suicide, too young to remember the Clinton Rules: those kids swallowed the old GOP story, hook line and sinker. And so a generation of millenials has genuinely convinced itself that a seventy-something gadfly from Vermont, an avowed socialist in a time where the GOP makes that the description for anyone left of Meghan Kelly and an avowed atheist when polling shows Americans would rather elect a Muslim or a homosexual first – that Bernie Sanders is somehow the Chosen One and that the superdelegates whose existence they decried four months ago should step in to elevate the second place finisher to the nomination as if he were a Bush.

But all Bernie can do at this point is make things worse. And he might. He’s not a Democrat, never has been, only joined the party a year ago to vie for the nomination (much to the chagrin of voters who can’t understand why you have to be a Democrat to vote in the Democratic primary in most states). Right now he’s in the same spot as Reagan in 1976 or Kennedy in 1980 or possibly Jesse Jackson in 1988 or Jerry Brown in 1992 – a second place finisher who could choose to fatally cripple the nominee. And an unpleasant number of his supporters are in the Ralph Nader 2000 spot, masturbating to their own purity and proclaiming that better Trump win than Hillary because it will cause the scales to fall from the eyes of The People and they will rise to claim their victory, and never mind how badly things go in the meantime. Electing George W. Bush was supposed to heighten the contradictions, and it got us an endless war and a jobless recession and basically stopped us entering the 21st Century.

And that matters, because waiting at the other end of the podium is the most improbable of candidates: a reality-TV figure claiming to be worth ten billion dollars who may not actually earn a half-million a year, a self-proclaimed real estate mogul whose present fortune mostly stems from licensing his name and image, an heir to great wealth who has seen four bankruptcies and three marriages and literally thousands of lawsuits. This bigot, this walking joke, this unreconstructable asshole is the Republican candidate for President of the United States, and he could yet win the office.

Because the rules have changed, and the traditional norms have been thrown out. No one would ever have considered the Presidency an entry-level job. Barack Obama’s four years in the Senate were considered dangerously thin at one point. You needed to be a governor, with executive experience, or a Senator with time served in national politics, if you wanted to be a candidate for the Oval Office.  But at one point this year, the top three GOP candidates had not a day of elected service combined between them.

The norms have gone out the door, have been going out the door since Newt Gingrich ripped up “Folkways of the Senate” and attempted to elevate Speaker of the House to Prime Minister of the United States. The vast majority of Congress knows only life since the Contract With America, when the party sorting finally completed and the white South became irrevocably Republican. And the Republicans became irrevocably white-Southern, prone to that diabolical promise of the Dixie Sickness: you can make things how they used to be again. And the Southern style of politics took hold: with no policy differences of any kind within the party, everything came down to who could sling the shit. Who would promise the biggest tax cuts. Who would promise the biggest stick of military might. Who would come closest to the line in slandering and scapegoating immigrants, or Muslims, or African-Americans, or gays, or whatever was this year’s Other.

Government ground to a halt. Candidates for executive service literally died awaiting confirmation by a Republican Congress. There were multiple shutdowns, there was very nearly a default on sovereign debt, there was the first-ever dimunition of the credit rating of the United States of America – all in the service of slinging the shit. The seated President of the United States, duly elected, was somehow not qualified for office because he was secretly Muslim, secretly Kenyan, secretly a Soviet sleeper of some kind. None of the cultural or institutional standards of American politics were left standing in the service of slinging the shit.

In such circumstances, who would the Republican faithful choose for their standard-bearer but the most adept slinger of shit? A man who would leap over the line and openly appeal to racism? A man who would say exactly what came to mind and tell people exactly what they wanted to hear, no matter how impossible or outrageous or in open conflict with reality? The message of the last decade-plus of Republican politics has been that you, the taxpayer, are not only entitled to your own opinion; you are entitled to your own facts, and there is an entire media bubble of television stations and talk radio hosts and cable news and websites and email forwards that will gladly confirm those facts for you. And this Mighty Wurlitzer, this gigantic engine of hot air and bullshit, wheezed and coughed its way to the inevitable apotheosis of what American conservative thinking has degenerated to. Fifty years from Barry Goldwater to Donald Trump, from “A choice not an echo” to “We’re going to build a wall and Mexico will pay for it.” For the GOP, every electoral victory in the 21st century has been a vindication of moving to the right – and every defeat proof that moving even further right is required. Now, there is no policy position, there is no manifesto, there’s no set of underlying beliefs – there’s just slinging the shit.

And into this void steps the best available candidate. Better than an aging socialist from Ben & Jerry country, better than a second-string mayor and governor from Maryland, better than a barely-interested Southern white male who would have been a great DLC candidate in 1992. Is she the best candidate? Not at all. She’s fatally flawed in several ways, many of which are not even her fault. In a more sane election year, with a John McCain or Bob Dole or even a John Kasich at the top of the ticket, she’d probably be deader than fucking fried chicken.  Too old (even if Reagan or Dole or McCain were older), too shrill (or any other sexist jibe you like), too scandal-riddled (even if most were the work of a lapdog press eager to feed on ‘controversy’), too much yesterday’s news. A candidate for the fantasies of aging second-wave feminists dreaming through their Tab and Virginia Slims, not for today, not for now.

But that’s not the choice on offer right now. There is no door number three. There is no splitting the difference. The choice is between a flawed woman with three decades in the public political eye and all the baggage and all the wisdom that goes with it, and the abyss.  It’s not Hillary or some blow-dried manic pixie dream governor, it’s Hillary or leadership skills honed by posing on Celebrity Apprentice. It’s Hillary or the most openly racist national candidate for office since George Wallace. It’s Hillary or admit that we don’t really care about what happens to America – and Americans – anymore, possibly for good.

Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton, age 68, of Chicago, Illinois, Wellesley ’69, Yale Law ’73 – you have exactly five months to save the world.