Thursday, September 3, 2015

Will Republican lemmings jump off cliff with Ted Cruz & vote to shut down government rather than fund Planned Parenthood?

By Marc Jampole

Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz is once again at the forefront of a movement to shut down the federal government by not passing a spending bill as a means to inflict his harsh social vision on the country. And once again the threatened action will not achieve its results.

Two years ago, Senator Cruz convinced his Republican brethren in the House to stonewall passing a budget unless the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was defunded. For about 16 days, the federal government curtailed routine operations and went into emergency mode. Approximately 800,000 federal employees were laid off and another 1.3 million were ordered to work with no pay—at least until an appropriations authorization bill passed. Hundreds of thousands of private sector workers for government contractors were laid off on a temporary basis.

And it was all for naught, since the federal government finances are structured in such a way that even during the shutdown, most of Obamacare money could still be spent.

When Ronald Reagan, patron saint of the hard right once said “There you go again” in a debate with Jimmy Carter during the 1980 election campaign, it was his way of sloughing off Carter’s accurate description of Reagan’s objections to Medicare.

“There you go again” thus takes a completely different meaning when uttered to Cruz and his crazies, who are threatening to block an appropriations measure and thereby shut the government this fall, unless Congress defunds Planned Parenthood.  And as it turns out, the government shutdown once again won’t have the impact its supporters want, since much of Planned Parenthood’s funding from the federal government will not be affected by a shutdown. Not only that, the shutdown will certainly lead to increased support of the organization by private donors. Neither women nor most men like it when you start messing with their birth control! 

So once again, just like in 2013, the shutdown would be symbolic only, and once again the symbolism would come at a great cost to the economy and the many Americans who depend on the efficient operation of the federal government. Once again, it would make the United States a laughing stock in the eyes of the world.

When I first read about the possibility of yet another government shutdown over an issue of people’s healthcare, I thought it was an idle threat or a trial balloon. But the past few days have been filled with news media speculation about the threatened shutdown. Most of the pundits commenting on both sides of the aisle seem to agree that voters will not like the shutdown and will blame the Republicans.  Of course, a year after 2013, all was forgotten and forgiven and Republicans swept the off-year Congressional election, albeit with the help of a fawning news media, new voter suppression laws and gerrymandered districts.

What are these guys thinking? Let’s forget about the immature petulance of trying to punish an honorable and popular organization that does so much to bring low-cost medical services to women—and men—just because 3% of its budget is dedicated to performing a legal procedure that these self-proclaimed moralists don’t like.  Think instead about the absurdity of forcing a $3.5 trillion operation to grind to a halt because you don’t like an organization that receives less than two hundredths of one percent of the budget (approximately .0156%), especially given that the organization gets absolutely no money from the government to perform the services that its opponents dislike.

Regardless of one’s place on the political spectrum, anyone who does the numbers must realize that the campaign to shut the government down rather than fund Planned Parenthood is a fool’s mission.

I wonder if Cruz is thinking that if he leads a shutdown attempt it will help him gain in the polls. After all, he is currently the leading candidate in Iowa among Republicans who have ever been elected to any office. Of course his standing among elected Republicans puts him in fourth place, with a mere 9% of likely Republican voters supporting him in Iowa, behind amateurs Donald Trump and Ben Carson, tied with 23% each, and Carly Fiorina, with 10%. Perhaps advanced secret surveys suggest that Iowans like it when the federal government shuts down. Except, of course, those who get social security checks, have to use the informational or research services of the government, know someone with a case in immigration court, are expecting refunds from the Internal Revenue Service, are victims of domestic abuse, have a child in Head Start, visit national parks, or have or work for businesses that serve the government or depends on imports.    

Monday, August 31, 2015

Is the key to Trump’s success that his speaking style resembles standup comedy?

Most candidates use the same speaking style, starting with the organization of their speeches into distinct sections in which they talk about one or a few related issues. Each section will handle the issues using similar rhetorical and syntactical devices: employing more words than are necessary; using anecdotes instead of statistics; hedging bets with such weaselly phrases as “anticipate” “start to address” and “return to American traditions”; reducing issues into slogans and one-liners; using repetition to drive home points (almost always in imitation of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” style); taking a humble approach except in the constant use of the royal “we.” To all current Republicans and a goodly share of Democrats, we can add using misinformation and disproven assumptions to the mix.

Except for the arguing by anecdote and the use of misinformation, Donald Trump’s speaking style is none of that, which may be why he continues to build a lead in Republican polls.

First and most importantly, there is no formal structure to the Trump stump speech. He seems to meander from one subject to another, and he is never comprehensive the way Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush is. He talks only about the hot button issues that have seemed to enliven his supporters: immigration, getting tough with the rest of the world and his personal feuds with various news media personalities. He will occasionally add an extremist version of standard Republican cant, such as the condemnation of Planned Parenthood. Far from humble, he goes out of his way to remind the audience that he’s right, even when he’s wrong. He rarely completes a thought before a new topic pops into his head or he skips back to something he mentioned earlier. Many candidates such as both Bush presidents have cultivated changing the grammatical subject of a sentence in mid-sentence, but Trump takes this dislocated style a step further, changing not only the grammatical subject, but the topic of the entire sentence as well.

But if his style seems alien to political arenas, it is familiar and perhaps soothing to the majority of Americans who watch a lot of TV, for his characteristic performance resembles that of a contemporary (post-Dangerfield) comedian.

The contemporary comic for the most part doesn’t tell jokes, but rambles from topic to topic, free form, occasionally saying something funny or zinging a sacred cow or well-known human foible. You never have the feeling that the contemporary comic is scripted, but rather speaking a spontaneous stream of conscious rap. Doesn’t that sound like Trump?

The contemporary comic, be it Sarah Silverman, Chris Rock or Ron White, often trades in stereotypes, and assumes that we do, too. Doesn’t that sound like Trump?

The contemporary comic is self-referential, ether drawing from her or his own life or interrupting a thought process to refer to her or himself—how the performance is going, the personal effect of the story on the comic or something else just as extraneous. Doesn’t that sound like Trump?

The contemporary comic relies on slang as opposed to speaking in a formal language. Doesn’t that sound like Trump?

The contemporary comic will take a complex social issue, reduce it to one or two points which will be inflammatory but not necessarily salient and then melts away our anxiety about the complex issue with simplistic, often aggressive and senseless exhortations. Doesn’t that sound like Trump?

And while there are some comics who specialize in insults, virtually all comics will insult someone. Now we know that sounds just like Trump.

In short, Trump’s speaking style and its easy distillation into outrageous one-liners for the news media are something that many voters are more used to than the more organized, if equally duplicitous, style of other Republican candidates.

Another similarity between Trump and a standup is that Trump’s public character is a laughable cliché. Some comics pretend to be hicks, some pretend to be promiscuous, some affect a rage at the world, some are “mama’s boys.” In Trump’s case, he’s a puffed-up and vain buffoon—a wealthy fool, someone with a lot of money but no taste. The properties he built were garish. His private life exemplified what used to be called the “nouveau riche,” those who have money but spend it tastelessly and foolishly. His “Apprentice” TV show was a parody version of the business world, his gruff and insulting style a parody of a type of executive who is not all that prevalent nowadays.  I thought he embarrassed himself with his intimations that Barack Obama was not an American citizen. His “birther” pronouncements also added racism to Trump’s reputation, already sullied by frequent misogynistic comments.

At least Reagan played heroes and good guys, or a genial executive for General Electric. And at least, when Al Franken went into politics, he shed his comic persona (which in some ways parodied the parody that is Trump) and became a policy expert.

I’m certain that some people don’t realize that Trump started as a buffoon, or are enamored of the gaudy, materialistic, self-aggrandizing life that was and is his public persona. While many people share my disdain for celebrity culture, I’m sure at least 7% of American voters buy into it—and that’s what Trump’s Republican supporters add up to right now: 28% of a party with which 25% of all voters affiliate, or 7% of all voters.  Of course, that’s still a heck of a lot more than Jeb Bush, John Kasich or Marco Rubio.