[Sent April 27, 2015]
HELLOOO FOLKS! I hope your Monday’s going well. News! I’ve started archiving these things on a WordPress here if you don’t like reading emails.
Apologies for the late email. I meant to write this yesterday, but I was too busy seeing the thriller and early Oscar contender Unfriended.
So. The 2016 U.S. presidential election. We’re a solid year and a half away but the election Wikipedia page already has more citations than the page for the Presidency itself. For a while there I had this idealistic dream that I would ignore the horse race and only start writing about the election when it officially started, but the recent candidacy announcements are just dominating the news cycle and there are some interesting things going on so here we are.
The 2016 presidential election will be notable primarily because of the sheer amount of cash that’s going to be involved. This is the first open election for America’s highest elected office since the 2010 Citizens United decision, and the first presidential election since McCutcheon vs. FEC, and in terms of legal analysis we can just cut through all the bullshit and say that in 2016, people can give as much money as they can to however many candidates(‘s Super PACs) they want. People meaning corporations and billionaires, and money meaning speech.
In the 2012 race, Obama and Romney and their various PACs spent a bit over $2 billion dollars. They’re saying this one might be $10 billion. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in Citizens United that “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption … the appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in this democracy” seemed naive at the time, but the 2016 election is where we will really see how destructive that naivete has been to the American experiment.
Who’s running, anyway? The Republicans have a gigantic and of course very classy field of wingnuts including (in order of odds of being elected) Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, John Kasich, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush. The last four are at least vaguely electable, and Kasich, Rubio, and Bush have the advantage of just pretending to be wingnuts, but everyone on the list either has or will have their own private billionaires whose cash will keep them active deep into the primary.
The other thing is that there are virtually no policy differences on this list. They’re all running in the same deep-red primary, and they’ll all toe the line. Pundits talk about Jeb Bush the moderate, but when he rolls out a platform next month we’re going to see boilerplate conservative talking points. Same with Rand Paul, who as a “libertarian” would in some other electoral system be capable of exploiting the natural divisions in American politics (obviously isolationist and warhawk Republicans, but also classical liberal Freedom Democrats and social democracy Equality Democrats), but in this one ends up saying the same shit as everyone else. This is unfortunate for the party. Young people and minorities broadly disapprove of the Republican platform, and the solution to that problem is not, as the party seems to believe, trotting out gleaming young robots like Marco Rubio who say they like Tupac.
This is going to be a long, entertaining brawl, but all this talk of the True Conservative Candidate finally winning the nomination is going to fizzle out like it has every four years since Barry Goldwater nuked that little girl in 1964. Just like in 2012, the establishment candidate will steamroll the rabid conservative opposition with his millions, and just like in 2012, the rabid conservative opposition will get its revenge by pushing the candidate (Jeb) so far to the right as to make him unelectable. (Which isn’t really a negative. These days it seems like modern conservatives, like liberals in the 50s, seem to fetishize losing, as if it’s just evidence of Mitt or Adlai’s holy purity).
And then there’s Hillary. After intimidating the rest of the Democratic Party out of the race, she now only has to contend with the copacetic but spectacularly doomed Martin “Eat It, Windmill!” O’Malley, who will probably end up digging ditches in Antarctica when Clinton wins this thing. It’s remarkable how this ultimate global elite insider who has been the center of a vast, venal network dealing in money, power, influence, and secrecy for more than two decades is now the Voice of the Downtrodden, but, hell, at least she’s not Ted Cruz (I’m assuming that’ll be her campaign slogan). Lately you can see a rhetorical shift leftwards in terms of economics, but honestly, just as you have to ignore the Republican field’s records (and instead look to the far-right party platform) when thinking about the candidates’ possible policy directions, you have to ignore every word Hillary says between now and November 8, 2016 because we already know her politics (centrist, interventionist, business-friendly, technocratic) and her governing style (aspirationally but ineptly secretive, combative, effective). It’s times like these that I have to remind myself what world we live in, and that voting for the lesser evil is part of democracy. But that’s all eighteen months away.
In other news, the two most ineffective groups in Washington gather for some joyous mutual masturbation, Ben Affleck continues his assault on history, Slate’s crack news team determines that Chipotle’s new delivery option inspires a “complex blend of emotions,” George W. Bush displays his deep grasp of irony, and after six short months we have a new attorney general!
On a positive note, courtesy of the wonderful Ms. Laura Hughes, an anonymous donor in Seattle pays off a landslide victim’s $350,000 mortgage!
1. Susan Ager, “Tough, Cheap, and Real, Detroit is Cool Again” for National Geographic.
Really well-written story about the beginning of Detroit’s long comeback. Gritty, raw, occasionally heartwarming.
2. Julian Assange, “How ‘The Guardian’ Milked Edward Snowden’s Story” for Newsweek.
Kind of legendarily nasty review of Guardian writer Luke Harding’s new Snowden book from a guy who knows a little something about the story. “As hack jobs by Luke Harding go, a lot of work has gone into this one.”
3. Ed Cumming, “Matthew Crawford: ‘Distraction is a kind of obesity of the mind'” in the Guardian.
And a Guardian piece for fairness’ sake. Interesting book about how us moderns are all a screen away from the real world.
4. Tim Judah, “Ukraine: Inside the Deadlock” in the New York Review of Books.
Great, short piece on the current state of affairs in Ukraine. Good background and anecdotes.
5. Ken Armstrong, “Broken on the Wheel” for the Paris Review.
One of those lovely history-nerd pieces about how Voltaire started the modern anti death penalty crusade. Awesome story.
6. Ellie Hall, “Gone Girl: An Interview with an American in ISIS” for Buzzfeed.
Buzzfeed coming in with some great journalism. Fascinating and stunning throughout.
1. Iggy Pop just killing “China Girl” at the peak of his Iggyness at the Ritz in New York, 1986.
2. Johnny Cash doing “Five Feet High and Rising” in the early 60s. How high’s the water, Mama?
3. Elvis Costello and the Attractions, “Less Than Zero” at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, NJ, 1978.
“A pistol was still smoking, a man lay on the floor / Mr. Oswald said he had an understanding with the law…”