Praying for Populism?

I despise when pundits and other People You Follow On Twitter crown political candidates a full three years before election cycle begins. I suspect this is done to test the nerve and writing skills (read: increased visibility and page hits) of these people before the actual horse race begins in earnest in 2016. Truth be told, I do not know which is worse, pontificating on 2016 or all these goddamned Christmas sales and decorations stores are putting up 2 weeks before Thanksgiving. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Hillary Clinton is not my ideal choice for the 45th President, especially as so many media outlets are declaring her the presumptive Democratic nominee short of the convention, even devoting full-time coverage on her every move (or moves on her behalf). Aside from the fact that a coronation like this already took place  in 2008, a second Clinton era would be a return to the days of old-school D.C. culture, full of drama and scandals that did not require shoddily-written press releases from Darrell Issa’s office to gain traction, or the current hand-wringing over the slow Affordable Care Act rollout.

From my personal perspective, a new age of Clintons in the Executive would be yet another example of entitled baby boomers that never seem to go away coming back to claim another position of power as a vanity. Familiar faces and retreads from the 1990s seemed to magically reappear when Obama was elected the first time, with Hillary herself becoming his Secretary of State. For too many people, it is not the proverbial “Clinton fatigue” people are experiencing; it is the baggage of arrogance that comes with it.

That said, Noam Scheiber of The New Republic makes a great case for Sen. Elizabeth Warren making a run in 2016, as there seems to be a recent wave of populist candidates running and winning elections in significant places, most notably Bill deBlasio’s win in New York City. In his long-read from Sunday, Scheiber explains why the shifting in the cultural priorities of the base may end up being big trouble for the Queen of the Establishment:

It’s hard to look at the Democratic Party these days and not feel as if all the energy is behind Warren. Before she was even elected, her fund-raising e-mails would net the party more cash than any Democrat’s besides Obama or Hillary Clinton. According to the Times, Warren’s recent speech at the annual League of Conservation Voters banquet drew the largest crowd in 15 years. Or consider a website called Upworthy, which packages online videos with clever headlines and encourages users to share them. Obama barely registers on the site; Warren’s videos go viral. An appearance on cable this summer—“CNBC HOST DECIDES TO TEACH SENATOR WARREN HOW REGULATION WORKS. PROBABLY SHOULDN’T HAVE DONE THAT”—was viewed more than a million times. A Warren floor speech during the recent stalemate in Congress—“A SENATOR BLUNTLY SAYS WHAT WE’RE ALL THINKING ABOUT THE OBNOXIOUS GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN”—tallied more than two million views.

The poll numbers also suggest the Democratic Party is becoming Elizabeth Warren’s party. Gallup finds that the percentage of Democrats with “very negative” views of the banking industry increased more than fivefold since 2007, while the percentage who have positive views fell from 51 to 31. Between 2001 and 2011, the percentage of Democrats who were dissatisfied with the “size and influence of major corporations” rose from 51 to a remarkable 79.

Scheiber’s not the only one singing Sen. Warren’s praises. Katrina vanden Heuvel writes this today:

Coming out of the Great Recession, the wealthiest few are capturing nearly all the rewards of growth, while most American families are struggling to stay afloat. The new majority forged by Obama — the “rising American electorate” of millennials, people of color, and single women — is struggling the most.

And now leaders of the “Democratic wing” are standing up, naming names and calling for a more equitable, just politics. After all, this extreme inequality isn’t an accident. It comes, as Warren put it, because entrenched interests have endeavored to rig the rules to work for them.

Warren, I believe, has a great chance at challenging Hillary. However, the rise of populism that matters most ultimately lies in the Legislative branch, which calls for a much broader focus on winning the House and strengthening the Senate next year. Hope this happens, and soon.

And The Hysterics That Follow…

While settling in to my seat to get my morning cup of coffee, I spoke with a friend that frequents the coffee shop as well. As we exchanged pleasantries, I asked him if he had heard about the piece Richard Cohen wrote, that has earned him the scorn of many of the Liberals You Follow on Twitter. My friend, a fellow Black man, read the offending original paragraph from Cohen’s column, and shared with me a surprising analysis: he actually understood what Cohen was trying to say, and agreed with him completely.

Let’s go over Richard Cohen’s piece again, but with a twist:

Today’s GOP insists is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party.Instead they declare that it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional conservative views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.

The above is the offending paragraph, containing in bold three simple edits I added to it. When considering the rest of what Cohen was trying to convey in his column, these edits give the piece way more continuity, and correctly brings home the truth Cohen told about the bigoted ethnocentrism of the Right writ large. As a former conservative familiar with the voting patterns and fanatical fervor of the base of the Republican Party, Cohen was absolutely right: Chris Christie does not stand a chance in the 2016 presidential primary, so long as the man who shut the government down (Ted Cruz) and a plagiarist (Rand Paul) still dominate the conversation about possible presidential candidates.

Perhaps if Fred Hiatt, Cohen’s editor, had done a better job of checking through this piece for any type of flow errors (which he admitted he did not), calls for his forced retirement from everyone from Ana Marie Cox, The Huffington Post, Salon and the piece’s comment thread would never have happened. Ta-Nehisi Coates was mistaken in his polemic when he commented that this was not a matter of a breakdown in reading comprehension; not only was it a breakdown, it also shows how people can selectively read things to pick out the most offensive parts, especially when Cohen has written pieces that have offended on more than one occasion.

For my part, I respectfully decline to join with the liberal orthodoxy on this one in demanding Cohen’s ouster. While no doubt an offensive paragraph, I agree that calling for someone’s job because over a disagreement is completely unnecessary, especially with other major journalistic institutions actually peddling in lies and outright deceit. Cohen has said that he was attempting to show what the Right believes, and with much to support his statement these days, I am inclined to take him at his word on this matter.

Yet Another “Accidental” Racist

I’ve read Richard Cohen’s article several times over now, trying to see if I had missed something in translation. After all, I thought the original premise of the piece was pretty accurate: that Chris Christie, the newly re-elected governor of New Jersey and the presumptive Republican nominee for President in 2016 (according to The Narrative, anyway), has absolutely no shot of winning in the general election among an electorate that is arguably the most vitriolic and hate-filled in the GOP’s history. In times that has seen the successful rise of a political entity proudly hell-bent on causing the destruction of the federal government, and standing idly by as white men waved the Rebel banner in front of the home of the Black man that occupies the office of the Executive, Cohen was admittedly spot-on.

Cohen’s column seemed to do everything right, from denigrating the Half-Governor Sarah Palin (who never met a camera opportunity she didn’t like) to pointing out that conservatives, in their ever-strident quest to seek ideological purity, make political hay defeating those they see as capitulating RINOs like Christie in primaries, who dared to hug President Obama when Sandy laid waste to the Jersey Shore, especially as Iowa has indeed been a fomenting ground of sorts for the conservative rage seen throughout the country.

But then, in one of the most bizarre, disjointed paragraphs I’ve ever read, Cohen says this:

Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.

When I first read this, my first instincts were that this was a really bad job on the part of the copy editors. That operative word–conventional–kept sticking out to me. Conventional, to whom exactly? Did he mean conservative? Was he intending to take a potshot at the xenophobes on the Right that long for a return to the white male power structure?

Or was Cohen projecting his own ethnocentrism onto the piece, as he has on previous occasions? Was this a way for him to express his racism on his platform at The Washington Post in a high-minded manner that most (he thought) would not catch? Why would he go so far out of his way to insult the incoming Mayor of New York City and his entire family to establish his point about Governor Christie?

Richard Cohen has written much in the way of crass, unenlightened, and misogynistic columns, but what makes this one worse is that proper editing may have been able to turn this column into a piece that had much more to say than the offending paragraph. Whatever the case, if you happen to be a person that gags when you see an interracial family, or any type of racial coming together, that does indeed make you a bigot, regardless of how upset you may be when called out on it.

Rand Paul Must Resign

There is one hard, fast rule in the worlds of academia and journalism, made absolutely and unequivocally clear when entering college: Do NOT plagiarize. Always cite your sources, and NEVER steal other people’s work and claim it as your own. This must always remain non-negotiable. As the editor-in-chief of a university newspaper, this is a standard I am required to hold myself and the writers and editors under my charge. Ensuring that information is properly disseminated is of the highest importance.

English: United States Senate candidate , at a...

Rand Paul, then-United States Senate candidate , at a forum in Louisville, . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jayson Blair’s name still infamously rings bells among journalists and writers all across the country. In May of 2003, his career came to an inglorious end as he was fired from The New York Times for a long string of fabrications, plagiarism and outright lies over a five-year career there. With a long history of journalistic malfeasance dating back to his days as editor-in-chief of The DiamondbackBlair would reign as the gold standard of how not to be a journalist, until one Jonah Lehrer began his rise.

Lehrer was hailed as a science wunderkind, a writing phenom that seemingly churned out books at will at the height of his career. With stints at The New Yorker and Wired before the age of thirty, Lehrer would eventually go down for making up quotes and passing them off as Bob Dylan’s own words in 2012, as well as self-plagiarism, entering previously written work without proper citation. Despite deep apologies, and a recent speech in February for which he was paid $20,000 for by the Knight Foundation, Lehrer is pretty much a ghost, his last Twitter post dating Feb. 13.

While the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential earnings is one thing, the throwing-away of the most important intangible every journalist and academic needs–integrity–is the most tragic loss of all. Reliability and trust is absolutely critical to every facet of life, but even more so when trafficking in information that shapes public opinion and policy. To lose everything and endure public shaming is the deserved punishment of all who would dare pass off lies as truth.

If this was the case with Jonah Lehrer, and Jayson Blair before him, why should this not apply to Rand Paul?

The Republican senator from Kentucky has now been busted for blatant plagiarism by BuzzFeed and Politico, and has received blistering excoriations from Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell on their shows. In an amazing show of integrity, The Washington Times ended their column from the junior senator Tuesday after Paul lifted pieces of an article from Dan Stewart’s column in The Week for his own op-ed. By this very public exposure, Rand Paul is now known to be an unoriginal, discredited liar, which apparently made him a perfect candidate for the fact and reality-averse Breitbart.com.

What makes Paul even more unfit is his attitude about his wrongdoing, which has been that of apathetic petulance. In speaking to the Times, Paul wondered aloud when people would just “leave him the hell alone” about this misconduct, even whining about how long he had to “sit in detention” as punishment for what he’s done.

Short answer? Indefinitely.

If Rand Paul wants to return to Kentucky and his ophthalmology practice as he has threatened to do, he should do it now, and save himself the pain of humiliation. Though it go against his Ayn Rand-inspired ideological bent, it is time for him to resign his seat and take responsibility for his actions.

Humanity of a Black President

No doubt this goes directly against the field I have chosen to enter, but I truly despise the fact that stagecraft is necessary to project issues at all, much less the importance of them. Throughout my short time as a writer and blogger, I have reluctantly begun to understand that acting, embellishment and other elements of theater are often necessary in crafting the way people at large think. 

This, I fear, has the potential to hamper my career as it progresses. As someone that up until recently was a card-carrying, raised-from-birth conservative, I truly believe that liberal public policy–taking care of the poor, protecting the rights of women and minorities, and infrastructure spending, to name a few–is not simply something that is the proverbial “right thing to do”; it is what is integral in the advancement of true progress of American culture, made much more imperative by the petulant, strident vehemence of conservatism, a movement hell-bent on bringing America to a form of anarchic, feudalistic rule. But I digress.

As I have been going through the book This Town, Mark Leibovich’s account of the Washington politico-journalist class in a constant state of gamesmanship and strategic self-importance, it has been hard to tell where the reality lies. In a place where the city is a stage for a country to pontificate over, shreds of humanity and truth are treated as gaffes, things that are shunned, or worse. 

President Barack Obama has been something of a hero in Leibovich’s tome, as one of the few people who remains a fierce opponent to this culture. In their highly anticipated sequel to their book Game Change, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin recall a moment which shows our President not as the weakling asked all the time why he “won’t lead”, or the Kenyan socialist Muslim interloper the Right cannot stand the sight of. Instead, we are given Barack Hussein Obama, II as what he has always been: human.

From New York magazine’s excerpts Saturday:

Obama didn’t flinch. “Guys, I’m struggling,” he said somberly. “Last night wasn’t good, and I know that. Here’s why I think I’m having trouble. I’m having a hard time squaring up what I know I need to do, what you guys are telling me I need to do, with where my mind takes me, which is: I’m a lawyer, and I want to argue things out. I want to peel back layers.”

“When I get a question,” he said, “I go right to the logical.” You ask me a question about health care. There’s a problem, and there’s a response. Here’s what my opponent might say about it, so I’m going to counteract that. Okay, we’re gonna talk about immigration. Here’s what I’d like to say—but I can’t say that. Think about what that means. I know what I want to say, I know where my mind takes me, but I have to tell myself, No, no, don’t do that—do this other thing. It’s against my instincts just to perform. It’s easy for me to slip back into what I know, which is basically to dissect arguments. I think when I talk. It can be halting. I start slow. It’s hard for me to just go into my answer. I’m having to teach my brain to function differently. I’m left-handed; this is like you’re asking me to start writing right-handed.

Heilemann and Halperin  go further:

All through his career, Obama had played by his own rules. He had won the presidency as an outsider, without the succor of the Democratic Establishment. He owed it little, offered less. He had ignored the traditional social niceties of the office, and largely resisted the media freak show, swatting away its asininities. He had refused to stomp his feet or shed crocodile tears over the BP spill, because neither would plug the pipe spewing oil from the ocean floor. He had eschewed sloganeering to sell his health-care plan, although it meant the world to him.

Now he was faced with an event that demanded an astronomical degree of fakery, histrionics, and stagecraft—and while he was ready to capitulate, trying to capitulate, he found himself incapable of performing not just to his own exalted standards but to the bare minimum of competence. Acres of evidence and the illusions of his fans to the contrary, Barack Obama, it turned out, was all too human.

And so is revealed the man I twice voted for: conflicted, pragmatic, and desirous of the unfiltered purity of truth. While a country yearns for vagaries with which to “drive the conversation”, we see a man wanting to govern, devoid of the style points and political drama. 

In times like these, this is refreshing to see.