Friday, March 11, 2016


Sitting here on my comfy couch,
Guzzling black and tans,
Watching a terrible old Godzilla movie,
While my wife and beagle sleep,
I think to myself,
"Is this truly my purpose in life?
Is this my highest calling?"

Eh. Maybe.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Wow, Bernie! Wow!

I was going to let Monday's post stand as my presidential primary analysis for the year, but since Bernie Sanders pulled off one of the biggest upsets in history in Michigan, I reckoned I'd write down a few fairly random thoughts on what happened last night, and where things might go from here:

1. Turnout in Michigan college towns was enormous -- College students are overwhelmingly pro-Bernie. They know they're getting the generational shaft on higher education costs and Hillary hasn't been convincing on that point. Bernie's point is really clear: public colleges and universities should once again be tuition-free.

2. Free-trade agreements -- This issue really resonates within the Democratic Party base in Michigan because of the auto industry and manufacturing. Everybody trusts Bernie more on that front. Hillary sometimes articulates a more nuanced policy approach involving overall trade quantities, services, intellectual property, and the impact of automation. She's right in many ways about that. But what voters in the Rust Belt see is that Ross Perot guaranteed "a big sucking sound" from NAFTA twenty years ago, and industrial employment has sucked ever since. Then they look at Bernie and he says, "No." A clear "No" feels a lot better than four paragraphs of nuance.

3. Enthusiasm gap -- This one is a biggie. Few people that I've spoken to are genuinely enthused for Hillary. Yes, the party structure jumped on board early for a variety of reasons, but most of them seemed enthused about the possibility of a Democrat winning in November and finding a niche in her administration, not about Hillary herself. Every pro-Hillary item I saw on Facebook the last couple of weeks came from one of my friends from Democratic Party politics. Most of the pro-Bernie items came from my friends through work, rugby, community events, etc.

I have talked to a few excited Hillary supporters, so there are exceptions. But for every person I've found eager to cast a Hillary vote, I've probably talked to two dozen genuinely enthused Bernie voters. Hillary still isn't a natural campaigner. She's better at it technically than she was in 2008, but let's face it, the campaign trail is painful for her and it shows. That dampens enthusiasm. Bernie is a much stronger campaigner. You don't go to Congress for 30 years as an independent Socialist candidate without crushing the campaign trail. Vermont didn't have a liberal reputation before Bernie came along.

   3A. Example of enthusiasm -- As a true undecided coming into this weekend, I went looking for both Bernie and Hillary rallies or speeches, so that I could get a look at both of them in person. The Bernie event was easy as pie to find and attend. Hillary was spending her time in various meetings and closed-attendance fundraisers. Darned if I could find a single in-person event for her or Bill that I could attend, and I looked. Could she have packed thousands of people into a rally, as Bernie did in several places in Michigan over the last week of the election? Maybe. I don't know if her campaign even tried.

  3B. Cross-over voters -- Since most potential Hillary voters weren't all that enthused, many of them did cross over and cast a Kasich vote as an anti-Trump measure. Hell, I might've done it myself if I wouldn't have had to take a Republican ballot on the record to do so. It wasn't a huge number, but it was probably a few percentage points. Since Bernie only won by 1.5% that might've been enough to tilt the final decision.

   3C. The precedent --  In a lot of ways this thing reminds me of 2004, when the Democratic Party establishment decided from the outset that John Kerry was their man and set out to shove him down the throats of Democratic primary voters, despite a lot of evidence that he's not a great campaigner, either. That bit us all in the ass in November '04.

4. The polls -- Most of the polls were at least two weeks old, and the most up-to-date one stopped sampling on Sunday before the debate. Earlier in the day Tuesday Nate Silver did say that he had a gut feeling that Bernie would beat his polling in Michigan, and he had a couple of pretty good reasons. But he's always been clear on the notion that forecasters should trust the data and the polls, not gut feelings. Yesterday was the exceptional case in which what our eyes told us mattered more than the data.

5. The African-American vote -- Bernie did a lot better with African Americans in Michigan than he's done with southern blacks. He only lost that demographic group by 2:1 in Michigan instead of by the 4:1 and 5:1 margins Clinton has racked up in the South. Theories aplenty are being sown today for why that is, but I suspect it has a lot to do with the industrial free-trade message and perhaps the damage done to Michigan by the Wall Street meltdown in '08. I heard a commentator on CNN last night say that northern blacks lost a lot more wealth via the collapse of home-prices in '08 and '09 than southern blacks. If true, that would definitely fit well in that theory.

Those issues resonated with whites in Michigan. There's no reason to think they didn't resonate equally strongly with blacks, too. It might also mean that Bernie will not get crushed by the urban black vote in places like Illinois and Ohio next week.

6. Despite today's media narrative touting Bernie's triumphant Tuesday -- and the media is biased in favor of keeping a horse race alive above all else -- Hillary still netted more delegates yesterday because she crushed Bernie in Mississippi. She's going to be the nominee. The math is just a compelling for her over Bernie as it was for Obama over Hillary in 2008. But keeping Bernie in the race is forcing her to continue to improve as a candidate and also giving her more of a free-media platform. In much the same way that the long primary against Hillary helped Obama in '08, this primary might ultimately help Hillary in November.

And frankly, if it does turn out that she can't beat a 74-year-old Jewish socialist from Vermont in the primary, she has no business being the nominee.

7. All-in-all, I'm pretty happy today. -- I put off the day on which I have to vote for Hillary Clinton until November -- and yes, I'm still pissed about her Iraq War vote! -- and I got to cast a vote for Bernie, which is something I've wanted to do for 30 years. (Since I grew up in Eastern New York near the Vermont border, Bernie's a longtime known quantity for me, and I've always appreciated having his voice out there.)

As for the rest of it in Michigan?

Once every four years these presidential primaries blow through here for a couple weeks. All the locals get excited, and it serves as a nice fund-raising and organizational platform for the state Dems. Then after the votes are counted we all sing "Kumbaya" and shift our focus on the various state primaries coming up in August.

It was fun while it lasted, but the circus has now packed up the tents and left town.  All that's left is sweeping up the empty popcorn boxes and taking down the posters.

Maybe the circus will come back this Fall if Michigan looks close. And if Trump is ultimately the GOP's nominee, a circus atmosphere is guaranteed for one and all.**

We shall see.

**"We're going to have a magnificent circus! There'll be gold-plated monkeys swinging from the trapeze and beautiful diamond-encrusted shoes on every clown! We're getting rid of the tattered old popcorn vendors, too! I don't want to say they weren't good, but did you ever look at one of them? They were losers! We'll have fully trained supermodels feeding Trump(TM) Caviar to everybody! And instead of bleachers you'll all be sitting in exclusive leather-covered Trump(TM) Lounge Chairs. I guarantee you've never see such a fabulous circus! ...."

Sunday, March 6, 2016

A few thoughts on the 2016 Presidential primary

So, all seven of my long-time readers have probably noticed a dearth of commentary on this year's Presidential campaign hereabouts. As with the general recent lack of posts on the ol' Patio Boat lately, it's mostly just been a reflection of a lack of coherent time and energy to put some thoughts in writing.

But I also made a conscious decision to step back from the process this cycle. So for most of 2015 I kept away from campaign news. So, other than the occasional newspaper article and a few email exchanges with some of my politically obsessed friends, I tended other fields until the first Vermin Supreme sighting in New Hampshire officially kicked off the silly season.

So, with less than 48 hours until I have to cast my own vote in Michigan's Presidential primary, here are my two cents on this two-bit process.

The Democratic Party

This is where I'll be casting my vote, of course, and for the first time that I can remember, I'm still genuinely undecided less than 48 hours before the election. Both candidates have strengths and weaknesses, but neither would've been close to my top pick for president if I looked across the whole party. To be honest, though, I care much less about the details of their policy positions than I do about making sure a Democrat wins in November so as to have a reasonably reliable veto over our gerrymandered and increasingly loopy right-wing Republican Congress.

I did drop a small donation on Bernie last month because I wanted to help give his message on campaign finance reform a signal boost. I'd probably drop a small donation on Hillary, but she has the high-rollers financing her, so there are probably better uses for my next small-roller donation than Hillary's primary campaign. Since she seems well on her way towards wrapping this thing up, it feels to me as if my vote Tuesday might be more about how long I'd like Bernie to have a platform than who I think would be the best candidate or president.

In any case, I reckoned I'd try to catch an event for each candidate to see if that brought any clarity. As it turns out, Bernie was hosting a rally this weekend at Macomb Community College. (The only live local event I could find for Hillary was a Michigan Democratic Party fundraiser at the MGM Grand Casino. Somehow that figures.) So, Bernie won my in-person attendance this weekend, and yesterday Monique and I went to his rally in Warren at Macomb Community College.

It was great fun, the usual mix of "stand around forever, then cheer when the TV lights come on" that you see at any of these events. Not surprisingly, the crowd skewed pretty young. And oh my God some of the volunteers are so earnest that it breaks my heart to know that they're likely to have to recover from Bernie's ultimate electoral demise. (Maybe I've just been in politics long enough that I'm used to candidates that I like getting beaten. What a depressing thought.)

Once we got rolling Bernie pretty much gave his standard stump speech, but since so much of it gets chopped up on TV it was nice to see it as a set piece. And, of course, for this crowd it was a bit like watching some classic rock band perform its greatest hits in concert. They all knew the the points and the cheering and booing sections. Bernie's good with the crowd, too. All the years he's spent stumping really show.

We recorded CNN and MSNBC to watch afterwards, which was interesting. Both channels spent more time talking about what Bernie was saying than showing the speech ... while he was still giving the speech! And then they'd pretty much show the video of the speech in a corner as they'd run long commercial breaks or talk about what he was saying. In fairness, they pretty much do that with all of the candidates but Trump, yet another symptom of how awful cable TV news is.

So, how to vote? How to vote? I'll watch tonight's debate and let them make their closing arguments. I'm probably leaning towards Bernie a bit, I suppose. I'm still not in convinced that a 74-year-old Bernie Sanders would genuinely make a good president. And I don't agree with him on a lot of policy details. But he makes a great spokesman for a lot of things that I care about that nobody else with a platform seems to give a damn about. Plus, I suspect that Hillary will pivot to the center faster than Hakeem Olajuwon in his prime the moment she thinks she has this thing wrapped up. I'd like to hold her feet to the fire a bit longer on campaign finance reform and breaking the grip of billionaires over our political process.

Also, I find that as the moment approaches, I'm still really, really, really pissed at Hillary for voting for the Iraq War. And the thing that still makes me angriest about it is that I still don't think she voted for it because she thought it was a good idea or that Hussein had WMDs. I still think she voted for it because she thought voting against it would hurt her presidential ambitions. It felt good to punish her electorally for it in 2008, and I suspect it would still feel good in 2016.

So why the hesitation? Well, to be honest Hillary really is more electable in the general election than a 74-year-old socialist from Vermont. More than anything else, I guess voting for Bernie helps make the case that he should continue to make his case. But I absolutely, positively don't want to do anything that would help the Republican Party in November.

We shall see. I still really don't know. I've never been an undecided before. It's an interesting experience.

The Republican Party

I suppose my opinion of this year's Republican nominating race can best be summed up by my recent Facebook post in which I opined that Thursday night's GOP Presidential debate, "was neither presidential nor a debate. It did, however, succeed in making me sad for the Republican Party. And I didn't think anything could make me sad for the Republican Party."

I guess what's worst about the rise of Donald Trump is that it's made a lot of people feel it's okay to openly express the sort of racist and fascist notions that the GOP has often implied with coded language in recent years. It's the ugliest thing and scariest thing I've seen in politics in recent years. Part of me thinks that the GOP brought this on themselves, so good riddance. But it's not good for anybody in America that one of our two major parties has gone so far off the rails.

As for the candidates themselves?

Donald Trump -- #NeverTrump. Who could've known that Mitt Romney and I would find such solid common ground? 'Nuff said.

Ted Cruz -- Cruz is doing a good job of convincing me that he might be a worse president than The Donald, most because he's convincing me that he shouldn't be permitted to have his finger anywhere near the nuclear button. At least Trump's such a self-serving hedonist that I doubt he'd risk the inconvenience of a nuclear war.

Marco Rubio -- Rubio has used the campaign to pretty clearly shown himself lacking in the sort of character or depth of thought I'd expect in a president. Honestly, I'm a bit perplexed as to who ever told him he was presidential timber in the first place. And no matter how many endorsements he racks up because he's not as loopy as Trump or Cruz, it doesn't seem the Republican voters are buying Rubio, either.

... which leaves us with John Kasich -- I used to think that if you were going to elect a president whose political philosophy you disagreed with, it would be better to elect an incompetent, since he'd do a worse job of advancing his agenda. George W. Bush cured me of that notion. I strongly disagree with a lot of Kasich's agenda, especially with regard to women's rights. But I reckon he'd be least likely to get us involved in a needless land war in Asia, so that's something. And he has managed to somehow keep most of his dignity intact despite appearing on stage in debates with those other three. That's something, too.

Naturally, that means Kasich is badly trailing the other three, and his only reason to stay in the race at this point is the hope that he can at least deny Trump Ohio's hefty winner-take-all delegate count. Honest to Pete, something has gone badly, badly awry with the Republican Party. They brought it on themselves, but more than anything else this Republican campaign has led me to feel genuinely mystified by the thought process of so many of my fellow Americans.

I just don't get it.

Maybe that's my real epitaph for this campaign. I just don't get it.