Political drama…

When I’m tinkering around on the computer in the evenings I’ve gotten into the habit of running long since cancelled television shows as background noise. Currently I’m playing my way through season four of The West Wing… which after watching the utter jackassery of a real presidential debate last night reminds me how much more I’d rather live under a Sorkin scripted presidency. Even with some of his more unpleasant left-leaning tendencies.

I wish I had something more insightful to say on the topic of the real candidates, the actual debate, or the current state of American politics. Unfortunately there isn’t, so I’m stuck with dreaming of a world that resembles a nearly 20-year old political drama far more than it resembles our reality.

The great debate…

I’ve noticed that one of the major news networks is advertising tonight’s debate with the same style commercials that are usually reserved for the UFC fights or boxing matches. It’s good imagery… and as much as I’d like to sit here tonight and tell you that I’m not going to tune in, I just can’t bring myself to spin that yarn.

It’s going to be a great debate. I don’t, of course, mean that it’s going to rise to the standards set by Lincoln and Douglass, but rather I’m just assuming it’s going to be an epic shitshow worthy of the best (or worst) reality TV we’ve ever seen.

I don’t see how it can avoid being a train wreck. The only three scenarios I can envision are all equally bad. 1) Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump spend the whole night beating on each other; or 2) Mr. Trump spends the whole night perfecting his carnival barker routine while Secretary Clinton watches him implode; 3) Secretary Clinton collapses on stage while Mr. Trump dances around her like Apollo Creed at the beginning of Rocky IV. None of those, given these two candidates, bodes particularly well for the future of American democracy.

Most of the time I can take comfort in the fact that somehow, the Republic endures. These days even that feels like it could be more and more of a stretch.

Starting around 9PM I’ll be live tweeting the debate @jdtharp for as long as I can stomach it.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Hard right. Since Mr. Trump has bailed out of the primary debate this week as part of his ongoing “strained relationship” with Fox News, I’ve been quite literally stunned with the number of times I’ve run across posts labeling Fox a part of the “left wing media establishment.” I get my news from a lot of sources, both domestic and international, and thinking of FNC as a lefty mouthpiece just boggles the mind. See, that’s the real problem with the current Republican party. If you’re not in lockstep on abortion, marriage equality, and Jesus, well there’s just no room in the party for you. Sorry gang, but I’m going to call bullshit on that. I’m a Republican the same way Reagan was a Republican. The same way Goldwater was a Republican. The same way Eisenhower was a Republican. What I’m not is a fanatic who assumes mine is the One True Way. I’m a Republican. We use to be a “big tent” party and we could be again, if only we the rest of us have the personal courage to stand up and tell the dogmatic hardliners to GTFO. Otherwise we might as well fold the tent and go on back to the house, because the days of expecting a platform of “be like me or else” winning at the national level are profoundly numbered.

2. Underutilization. There’s not many jobs I’d consider myself too proud to do. From slopping barns, to stacking hay, flipping burgers, dropping fries, parking cars, accounting for tarps and body bags, ordering hundreds of thousands of tons of ice, or managing 1000-person events. I’ve done all of them and too many more to bother listing. The point isn’t that I’m too proud to do any of these things. The point is that it makes absolutely no economic sense for me to some of them. There’s always an opportunity cost that no one takes into account. Because I’m schlepping buckets of rock salt, that means there are five or six other things that aren’t getting done in a timely manner – things that generally tend to require thought, analysis, and problem solving. With half a career’s worth of experience behind me, my services don’t come cheap. The all-in “fully burdened” cost of having me on the clock is something approaching $100 an hour. Whether that money is spent on turning ice into water or on making sure the uber-boss gets the information he wants is decided by someone else. I’ll go where and do what I’m told, but I’ll always wonder why we so rarely seem to take the time to match the skill set with the person instead of just grabbing the nearest body and making it fit.

3. Cities. Watching the news out of Baltimore all week and wondering how in seven hells they’ve managed to spend an entire week tinkering around with their plows and not give every street at least a courtesy pass with one of their trucks. Yes, cities are densely packed and often streets are narrow, but still. Come on. You’ve had a week to give everyone at least a fighting chance at getting out of their frozen prison. I live in a subdivision in what might charitably be called an out of the way location. By Sunday evening we’d had enough of a route cut that someone with 4-wheel drive could safely navigate out to our principle access road. By Monday night it was largely down to blacktop. I’m simply perplexed that a major American city – especially one prone to snow in the winter – has this much trouble figuring out what to do. I avoid Baltimore as much as humanly possible, but in this case I’m throughly annoyed by a city government that seems largely made up by the gang that can’t shoot straight.

The lesser of “who cares…”

It’s the 3,743rd and final Republican primary debate of 2015, where I will once more attempt to will myself into cheering on whatever candidate I can only describe as the lesser of “who cares?” Being a student of history, I can’t help but to compare and contrast the people on stage to the men who’ve filled the chair they seek. It seems to me that there was a time when presidents stood like giants on the national stage – Reagan, Nixon, LBJ, Kennedy, FDR. They were outsized men who used big words and challenged America and Americans to to great things. Watching these debates (on both sides) leaves me with a feeling that there isn’t a candidate out there who’s fit to carry water for any of the bunch.

I don’t for a moment believe America is broken, but I can’t get past the feeling that we’re simply meandering from pillar to post for want of any kind of meaningful leadership. History is replete with examples of the convergence of man and moment, but so very many of the options presented to us are precisely the wrong people at precisely the wrong moment.

In all likelihood in April I’m going to have to hold my nose and push a button for one of these chumps. I’m convinced that’s one of the real reasons so many people are utterly apathetic about politics. I’m informed and can barely get my pulse to register while watching any of the candidates. What chance does someone who only tunes in only a few days before an election have of making a connection – and paying attention long enough to see it through?

Sigh. Let me go tune in to tonight’s edition of Shut Up Jerkface, I’m Shouting Louder than You.

Assessing the competition…

I watched as much of the Democratic primary debate last night as I could manage. Based on an hour or so of direct observation, here’s the impression I came away with of the candidates:

1. Clinton. It doesn’t matter what she says, every time I see her all I can think of is the fact that I’d most likely be sitting in federal prison if I treated classified material the way she did. It’s not a matter of whether the candidates think the American people care or not, it’s a simple matter of personal integrity and standards of conduct that I expect of a senior leader, especially one that would be king.

2. Sanders. I oppose almost everything this guy stands for, but for the most part I find him to be consistent about his principles. His platform seems to be “Free Everything for Everyone.” That’s fine I guess, except it all has to be paid for eventually. Even if he crammed through a 100% tax on the 1% it’s a budget buster. I could never vote for him, but I can certainly admire the fight he brings to the campaign.

3. O’Malley. As a Maryland resident, one raised in the West, who lived in the great suburban belt between DC and Baltimore, and now resides on the upper reaches of the Eastern Shore, any time this guy talks about respecting the culture of rural Maryland I throw up a little in my mouth. He didn’t give a tinker’s damn about rural Maryland when he was in office as governor and if anyone thinks he’ll do rural America anything but dirty as president, well, you can’t fix stupid.

4. Chafee. The guy seems nice enough but he’s a two-legged sleeping pill. If his fate wasn’t sealed already, he was done when he essentially told the world that as a new Senator he voted on bills without any clear understanding of what he was doing. That rarely plays well on TV.

5. Webb. I’m not sure this one was even at the right debate. He sounded a lot like a Republican.

The unsurprising result of viewing the debate is that there is no apparent reason I would consider voting for one of these candidates. They don’t speak to many of my issues, and when they do they mostly take the “wrong” side. I’ll have to do my candidate shopping elsewhere.

What’s changed?

The great debate over the virtue of the Second Amendment rages today as loudly as ever. Both sides scream past each other, fearing that giving an inch of ground will inexorably lead to the tide running hard against them.

There have been firearms in the United States since before we were the United States. The first colonists to wade ashore in Jamestown brought ball and powder in equal parts to hunt on and defend the new world they intended to carve out of the American wilderness.

What you don’t hear about them doing is walking into a tavern or church and taking a pot shot at their neighbors. I’ve not done an exhaustive study on the topic, but I can’t think of a large number of historical example of what we’d commonly call random acts of “mass violence” in schools, businesses, and public places until the latter half of the last century. I have no doubt they happened, what with humans being a particularly violence prone species and all, but a quick look doesn’t point to seeing it happen with particularly great frequency.

So my question, then, is what’s changed? What makes the average American in 2015 more likely to walk into a church to unload both proverbial barrels than his counterpart in 1815 or 1915? Access to firearms isn’t a satisfactory answer. If anything, a gun was easier to get throughout most of American history than they are today. They hung on the mantle, were propped in the corner, or lived in bedside tables without benefit of trigger locks or gun safes. I’m old enough to remember a time when a rifle behind a truck’s bench seat in the school parking lot meant that hunting season was open, not that one of the students (or the teachers) was plotting mayhem and chaos.

What’s changed? Are we intrinsically worse human beings than our predecessors? Are we less able to judge the relationship between action and consequence? Or do we just tend more towards being batshit crazy than our saintly ancestors?

They’re not master debaters…

Tonight is the next in what promises to be a mind-numbingly endless series of Republican primary debates. Say what you may about the group of people who have ended up on that stage, but you don’t tend to rise to that level in American political life without convincing a fair number of people – and more than a few people with very deep pockets – that you’re The One.

One thing I know based on observing the last go around with this bunch, but none of them are master debaters. I didn’t see any sign of one of them being able to simply mop the floor with the others. I don’t expect any of them to land a knockout punch tonight. Hitting that hard just isn’t likely when you’re in the ring with that many other people. We’re still in the phase of the nominating process where death by a thousand cuts is most likely. I fully expect some of the old familiar faces will fall and a few new ones are yet to make an appearance before we get around to any real voting (or caucusing – Iowa, you freak).

This early in the game I’m not sure I even know what a “win” for tonight looks like. For some, it might be as simple as not wetting themselves on national television. For others it might be advancing a policy point or two. For Donald Trump it’s probably to say something outlandish enough to make sure none of the others get any coverage at all after the event.

All I know is we’re still one hell of a long way from Election Day 2016… and I’m not sure I can deal with watching these guys playing with themselves that long.