Thursday, June 22, 2017

Your Argument on Nancy Pelosi is Wrong...But That Doesn't Mean She Should Stay

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)
The Georgia Democratic race this past week, coupled with a shockingly close contest in South Carolina, once again has the Democrats scratching their heads.  Between 2014 and 2016, now coupled with a series of close-but-no-cigar losses in special elections where they can boast they did better than Hillary, but not well enough to get an actual seat, Democrats appear profoundly lost and Republicans are emboldened once again.

There are quite a few thoughts I had after the race, but this isn't a list article because I'm going to focus on one the internet had.  However, I want to get them out there to start off this article.  First, it's worth noting that these special elections were on Republican territory-Trump didn't, say, appoint Erik Paulsen to a particular office, thus giving the Democrats a chance at a seat they would be favored for in this environment.  The Democrats still dramatically out-performed Hillary Clinton in all but Georgia, suggesting that there are voters willing to send a Democratic Congress to Trump, and also making perhaps more marginal rural seats in places like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin a lot more palatable for recruitment.  And while this can't be encouraging for fundraising or getting candidates, it's not going to stop things for the Democrats; in the past 24 hours, For example, Democrats landed a very solid candidate in Nebraska's 2nd district, one of the more marginal seats in the country, and it appears likely that they now have a Senate challenger in Nevada.  This was bad for the Democrats from a morale perspective and perhaps even a policy one (losing both Georgia and South Carolina may well have stopped Trumpcare, proving that you should always vote), but it wasn't the death knell some made it out to be.

But immediately after the race a postmortem idea set in that it was Nancy Pelosi who cost the Democrats the special election in Georgia.  Indeed, Pelosi, despite being the minority leader, was used in more attack ads in the district than Trump (a strategy that shows how toothless Ben Lujan is at DCCC, but that's a thought for another day), and they clearly worked.  While some could make the argument that the increased focus on the seat saved Handel, or that the recent Steve Scalise shooting, being framed by noteworthy Republicans as a violent liberal attack on conservatives, helped her out, Pelosi was not a help for Ossoff, which begged the question: should she be forced to leave her post as leader?

These sorts of conversations always make me roll my eyes, in part, admittedly, because I like Nancy Pelosi a lot, and you only have to look at the tenures of John Boehner and Paul Ryan to see why.  Boehner and Ryan consistently missed (or miss) their goals in office, are railroaded by their caucus, and are constantly having to go to the Democrats to make concessions.  Pelosi, on the other hand, during her four years as Speaker, was the Terminator on bills.  One could argue this was to her downfall (cap and trade, anyone?), but by-and-large the California Democrat counts votes and gets where she needs to go better than anyone in Washington.  She's arguably the most powerful minority leader in the House in a generation, and she raises money like no one else.

Also, it's worth noting that there is no obvious contender for the Democratic leader right now.  The next two men in the leadership ladder are one year older and one year younger than Pelosi, respectively.  I can list people like Terri Sewell, Krysten Sinema, Joaquin Castro, and Linda Sanchez who could be superstars at some point, but they don't appear ready now nor are they as obvious of successors as Chris van Hollen or Xavier Becerra, both of whom got tired of waiting to be Speaker and took a different office.  Tim Ryan ran this past fall, but someone as moderate as him, particularly on abortion rights, could be a disaster for a party that has a strong contingent of Bernie Sanders supporters to deal with.  The Democrats could go with someone famous or beloved in the caucus the way the Republicans did with Paul Ryan, but Elijah Cummings and Adam Schiff don't really have the same cache as Ryan, and arguably the only person who does (John Lewis) is the same age as Pelosi, hardly the face of a new generation.

Of course, if Pelosi is truly and uniquely toxic, that shouldn't matter; the Democrats have people who are competent, and certainly House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer in particular could lead the caucus until the Midterms.  But that's assuming a few things here, and here's where this argument always bugs me.  Sure, Pelosi is attacked repeatedly on the road, but whose to say that Hoyer or Clyburn or Sewell won't be as well?

After all, the Republicans have done an outstanding job of turning pretty much any Democratic luminary into a swear word; Pelosi is not alone in this regard.  The Clintons, Al Gore, John Kerry, Harry Reid, Elizabeth Warren-hell, Trump went after John Lewis, a Civil Rights icon, endlessly in the past year.  If anyone really believes they can't turn Steny Hoyer, a career politician with patrician roots (he's a descendant to a signer of the Declaration of Independence), I've got some land to sell you near Chambers Street.  Same could be said for Tim Ryan (abortion flip-flopper, constantly being attacked by the left) or Elijah Cummings (I think we all saw what the GOP did to a black man in power) or really anyone on that list above, because the leaders of the Democratic Party are now constantly being attacked by the Republicans.  Let's be clear-the opposite does happen as well, though I'd argue to not quite the same level of personal detail (save perhaps for the attacks on Donald Trump's and Mitch McConnell's physical appearances), but it's a fact of life that the leader of the party is going to be fodder for attacks.  Pelosi, though, because we know what they are going to be (San Fran Nan, generally sexist attacks on her appearance, etc), may be easier fodder to attack, but if the right can go after a pro-life Mormon like Harry Reid, no one is really going to be safe in this regard.

So, honestly, I don't really see removing Pelosi because she's being attacked as a solid argument here.  I'm also uncomfortable because of why she's being attacked as to being a reason for her being removed from office.  After all, the fact that she's a woman and from San Francisco seems to be a lot of the bogeyman situations, and while I'm willing to occasionally concede that certain political positions make you unfit to hold a Democratic position of leadership (or that you have to be practical on policy), saying that someone shouldn't be our leader based on their gender or their geographic location is unacceptable to me.  I don't want to be in a party that won't let a progressive woman lead it-if that becomes the rallying cry, count me out as a donor.  That seems to be where most people focus this argument (even if they're petrified to say it out loud), and it makes me, someone who admires Pelosi immensely, very uncomfortable.  I have stood by this principle with people I liked far less than Pelosi (I backed Debbie Wasserman Schulz in her primary last year in part because it felt like she was being unfairly maligned because of her gender rather than her incompetence at the DNC, and you don't have to search long on this blog to see I'm not a fan of DWS).  Going after Pelosi in this way and saying she can't be a leader because she can be attacked for being from California and being a woman is something I find repugnant.

That being said, there is an argument for Pelosi leaving office, but few people are going with this tactic, and in this way I'd say I might agree at this point.  Nancy Pelosi lost her majority in 2010, and has failed to regain it since.  Yes, you can point to gerrymandering or the historically bad midterms of an incumbent president, but being 24 seats shy is pretty paltry for a track record after four attempt at the majority.  Gerrymandering doesn't explain why Democrats don't hold the seats of, say, Mike Coffman or David Valadao.  Pelosi has now lost four midtern cycles in a row, and quite frankly that's probably enough to say it's time to go.  While I think she's a stupendous leader and honestly no one else in the chain of command seems like they would be better, it has to be said that Pelosi has not sunk the basket where it's most important, and her choices to head the DCCC have not been successful.  The Democrats should have more seats than they currently have, and if that's the way the caucus wants to head on this, I'd be amenable and willing to try out Hoyer for a term.  But don't give me this crap that "she's dead weight" for Democratic candidates in an era where Trump has a mid-30's approval rating, because it's sexist bullshit.  And don't give me this crap that the Democrats can't win because she'd be speaker, because I have a story about a man named Jeremy Corbyn to tell you then.  The Democrats botched this race up, and have learned a thing or two about what Trump voters will convert and which ones won't.  It's certainly in part Nancy Pelosi's fault that Jon Ossoff isn't taking the oath of office, but she's not alone there, and throwing her out simply because she's the focus of attack ads is foolish.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

5 Thoughts on Last Night's Primaries

I must admit, I wasn't expecting last night's primary in Virginia to be the source of much conversation, but in politics lately you should never really count on any election to return the expected norms, and the Old Dominion was no exception.  As is our usual on the blog, here are five thoughts I have about last night's results:

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA)
1. Local > National

National pundits who won't let a narrative go until it's dead in the ground wanted to frame the race last night as one between the Bernie Sanders wing of the party and the Hillary Clinton wing of the party, but the reality is that that narrative felt pretty false.  After all, Tom Perriello had received endorsements from Bernie Sanders, John Podesta, David Plouffe, Elizabeth Warren-the Sanders, Clinton, and Obama wings were pretty well covered-while Northam was largely forgotten by national politicians and instead had to rely upon a robust slate of local politicians.  Northam's win proved that local still matters, even in primaries (though it clearly didn't hurt his results in Northern Virginia by winning the Washington Post endorsement, one of the few newspaper endorsements that still seems to carry some heft).

Northam's win, though, could have major ramifications for 2018, however.  I'm going to get into this a bit this weekend on the blog (I've had bronchitis, which is why I haven't been writing as much), but there are a lot of members (either current or former) of Congress running for governor in 2018.  Northam's win, though, could be a sign that states may be willing to go anti-Trump in Democratic primaries, but Congress still remains wildly unpopular.  States like Colorado, South Dakota, and Minnesota all have primaries coming up that pit statewide constitutional officers similar to Northam against members of Congress similar to Perriello.  Those constitutional officers, many of whom I feel pundits are underestimating because congressional representatives have a bigger megaphone they're used to hearing, could look to Northam's race as a blueprint to winning.

RNC Chair Ed Gillespie (R-VA)
2. Trump is Not an Anomaly in the Republican Party

It has to be said that last night's Democratic Primary was expected to be the place where all of the scuttle was supposed to be taking place, but it was in fact the Republican Party contest that was the nail-biter.  Former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie, who almost pulled off an enormous upset in 2014 when he ran closer-than-expected against Sen. Mark Warner, ended up winning, but by less than 5000 votes against Corey Stewart, a local county supervisor.

It cannot be underscored how strange this is.  One could argue this was another case of local nearly trumping national (considering Gillespie's most famous political peak was as RNC chairman), but the reality is that this feels more like a Trump vs. establishment sort of race.  Stewart, despite being from Minnesota, ran as a southern country boy, speaking like a more ostentatious version of the president.  While Gillespie stayed focused entirely on the general election, where a Republican in a Hillary state starts out far behind, Stewart talked about wanting to keep his Confederate statues and was an adamant defender of Donald Trump's Access Hollywood tapes, stating it's "how frat boys talk."  That nearly paid off in a primary where the Republicans couldn't remotely equal Democratic turnout, and poses a challenge for Republicans next year: how are you going to be able to appeal to the Trump base in a primary without screwing over your general election chances?

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
3. Bernie Sanders is Winning...but He's Also Losing

While last night was hardly a Bernie vs. Hillary moment that so many people wanted to frame it as, it has to be said that Bernie Sanders continued his losing streak.  Sanders has been making multiple arguments that the DNC should embrace more progressive candidates in red districts, but from Kansas to Montana, it seems like his strategy is failing; Democrats are doing well in these places, but they aren't sinking the basket.  With Perriello, he would have had a surrogate that likely would have won the general, and could have become the poster boy for the Bernie movement headed into the midterms.  With Perriello out and Sanders not wild about Jon Ossoff, it appears that Sanders is largely without anyone to get behind for the remainder of the calendar year, and without a victory to show for 2017.

That being said, it cannot be underscored how much of an effect Sanders has had.  In a similar fashion to how Hillary Clinton had to take a hard-left turn to compete with Sanders last year, Ralph Northam went from a guy that was rumored to be wanting to switch parties in 2009 to being a progressive who ran hard-left against Donald Trump.  This would have been unthinkable in a Democratic Primary in Virginia even four years ago-that we'd be in a place where the Old Dominion would have a "run to the left" primary and that victor would be the frontrunner headed into the general.  Northam became a "late converter" progressive almost entirely due to pressure from the Sanders wing of the party.  It may be little comfort to Sanders, an ambitious politician who is trying to prove he could win in 2020, but his ideas are being translated, even if that means his team can't actually translate to a victory.

Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA)
4. Polls are Terrible

This is a problem that I don't think anyone can really underline more severely, but it's also a problem without a solution: yet again, polling was a disaster headed into last night.  Only one poll on the Republican side had showed Ed Gillespie remotely vulnerable, yet he nearly was upset in a Eric Cantor-like upset, while most recent polling had showed Perriello gaining or at least a tied match, but Northam won in a huge 12-point victory, not even close considering the quality of both candidates.

The thing here is that polling companies could not be in hotter demand (public interest in polls continues to rise with more political engagement through social media on both sides), but their reliability and credibility could not be lower.  Headed into a Georgia special election next week that shows a tied election, will we also have a situation where either Jon Ossoff or Karen Handel end up winning by a double-digit victory, further hurting their credibility?  At what point do we go back to listening to simple dynamics of a race and completely ignore poll numbers?  And when will a polling company break through and find a way to accurately reflect the current of a race in an era of cell phones where no one picks up an unknown number?  These are all questions that are going to make some firm very rich if they can figure out the answers.

Jon Ossoff (D-GA)
5. The Democrats Have to Win Here

Northam now sets up what is going to be one of three races the Democrats need to win in 2017.  At this point, considering their minority status, the Democrats have done surprisingly well this year-they've held off most of the Trump agenda, have been able to raise oodles of cash, and enthusiasm is extremely high.  However, that can't sustain until they have actual victories to trumpet.  Races in Montana and Kansas proved there's a shocking amount of enthusiasm for the Democratic side, but Republicans still hold those seats-the Democrats have yet to actually pick up a major Republican seat or hold a competitive election with a progressive.

That now changes with the next three major races of the year: next week's special election in Georgia, and the November gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia.  The national dynamics make the governor's races very likely wins for the Democrats, but they still need to sink the baskets (and it's worth noting that New Jersey is a pickup), whereas Georgia would indicate that 2018 is very much in play for the House D's, and would help in terms of fundraising and candidate recruitment.  My argument is that the Democrats need all three of these seats to keep their momentum going into next year, when the House could well be in play, as could over a dozen governor's mansions.  I don't know that margin matters a whole lot (particularly in Georgia), but they need W's.  The Democrats have a solid hand, but it's soon time to see if they will win the pot or continue to be a party that gets a close second place.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Strangest Side Effect of Being Alone

I spend most of my free time alone.  In fact, I'd say about 90% of my free time is either spent entirely alone or with strangers who are only nameless faces in my life like cashiers or movie ushers.  As a result of this, I have learned a number of things about myself, my life, and have reflected enormously on this subject, of what it is to be alone-not just single, but alone.  And while I've written about it on here, one of the strangest things that I have come across is a subject I haven't really heard about on other sites: that no one really cares how you're doing.

Now, before I get raised eyebrows or rolled eyes, I want to put a caveat here that this isn't the rantings of an emo 14-year-old.  I don't mean that no one cares in the sense that they don't love you or that they don't, when asked about it, want what's best for you, but instead I mean that people don't really actively care about you, not unless you're smack dab in front of you or you have something to celebrate.  If you have a promotion, or a new car, or a trip, they will be all about it.  They will remember your birthdays or Christmas and will be there if something tragic happens to you.

No, what I'm talking about is that no one really cares what I do with my free time, or really any of my time, as long it's not an inconvenience to them.  What makes this particularly hard is that essentially you have little to no support system if you're single and alone (and not single, and, say, living with other single people or your friend group is largely single still).  Case in point-today I have the day off from work to run errands and to get a number of things done on my To Do list.  I even spent a good chunk of time with my bucket list, looking over some goals I have for myself in the coming year and seeing how I'm doing, or if there's perhaps some things I can do tonight to work on an item on my list.

But the reality is that if I had spent the entire day doing nothing but watching Murder, She Wrote episodes and eating tacos, no one remotely would have cared.  They might have asked what I'm doing, but other than listening for a cursory twenty seconds, then focusing on something we have mutually in common, I wouldn't get in trouble for it.  This wouldn't be the case if I were married-if you had promised a spouse you were using a vacation day to go to the DMV and get groceries and get the oil changed in your car but you decided to laze about, you would have gotten in trouble.  Social pressure is there to ensure that you stick to your goals.  This is true for small things, but also for larger things too.  Saving up for a house, going on a vacation, making sure that you have friends over-this is all something that social pressure helps you to do.  The reality is that without that social pressure, you have no one who holds you accountable.

I have to, essentially, find ways to compensate for this thing that most people in relationships take for granted.  I have to, say, force myself to invite people over to clean my apartment, otherwise I might go weeks without using a vacuum or sweeping my front entryway.  I will frequently make an appointment with someone to ensure that I stick to a plan, or I will (when feeling ambitious) set myself up by making lunches for the full week to keep me from eating out.  I pay a trainer an exorbitant amount of money each week in part to give me a new routine, but mostly I do it because I want someone who is invested in my well-being, who wants me to lose weight because otherwise I will rely entirely upon myself to drive me to accomplish goals.  It sounds pathetic to say I'm paying him to care about me for an hour, but, well, it's not far from the truth.

Because the reality is that it's very, very hard to keep yourself motivated knowing that everything you do doesn't really matter to anyone but yourself.  I think that people in relationships take this for granted because it's something they've never experienced-most of them went from having parents minding them to college roommates to romantic partners.  It's rare that most people experience a large gap where they are entirely responsible for themselves, where they can't rely upon another person for support and that "push" to achieve.  It's rare that you aren't financially co-dependent for another human life.  Aside from a couple of people like my boss (who cares that I finish my work), my parents (who care that I show up at Christmas), and the common community (that care that I follow the law), no one actively cares about my dreams or what I do with my time.  This isn't to say that they aren't proud, but what I am doing right now is not on their minds...perhaps more importantly, what I hope to be doing with my time is surely not on their minds.

This is a very lonely and isolating feeling, and one that I must admit I am still getting used to enduring.  I used to share openly with coworkers and friends goals that I'm working upon, but as the years have gotten past it's become harder and harder to share with them as they feel so small compared to the divergent goals of someone else.  Writing a book or losing weight is something I've wanted to do for so long, no one really believes in me anymore, particularly when compared to their own success stories of family, career, and children.  I find more and more that I keep projects that I am working on hidden from the world, whereas once I crowed about them proudly.  This, in turn, means that I have less support because people around me don't even know what I'm doing.  I convince myself that I do this because I don't want to disappoint those around me, but to be honest I sometimes wonder if it's the fact that my pronouncement will be greeted with apathy, not with disapproval or even pity, that keeps me from talking about where life is going.

There are things to envy in your single friends, and there are things I love about my independence.  But it is impossible to understate how much no one caring about your future, about your dreams and aspirations, does to your sense of determination and drive.  Even people like me, who used to find all of their identity and self-value in learning new projects and achieving, find that over time it's too tempting to just do nothing, because at worst the only person you're going to disappoint is yourself.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Picking Principles Over Party Isn't Always Easy

Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT)
One of my great pet peeves in discussions of politics is "I vote for the person, not the party."  This isn't quite as bad for me as "there's no difference between the two parties" (which is the metaphorical equivalent of slamming my head through a plate glass window), but I will physically catch myself trying to start a tirade against someone who says that they're above party politics, instead basing their decisions on an inert feeling about someone they've never met.

This is partially because it's ridiculously high school and partially because it's stupid.  The reality is that you should vote on issues, not parties or candidates, but how a candidate will vote in a legislative body.  This is how decisions should be made-picking someone because of how you feel about them is moronic, because unless you know them personally you don't know them.  This is something that I get into CONSTANT arguments about with people, particularly when it comes to female politicians like Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton.  You personally have no idea if these people are kind or mean, wonderfully caring or unsympathetically cruel, because all you see is a very well-choreographed person who is presenting themselves to the world.  Particularly with famous politicians like this, ones who have been in the public eye for decades, unforced errors are few and accidentally showing a side of themselves you didn't expect is rare.  This makes them seem cold to some people, but if you had every single waking moment of your life under scrutiny, you'd also be calculating about what you put it out into the universe.

Now, I'm not saying you can't have a feeling about a person or that visions of a candidate can't shine through publicly, but your vote shouldn't be based solely on whether you'd want someone to come over for nachos.  As I mentioned above, you should vote based on issues, but ignoring party is a foolish thing to do, because of the way that most legislative bodies work.

Take, for example, the case of Susan Collins, one of the most popular senators both in Washington and in her home state.  Collins is a pro-gay marriage, pro-choice senator who didn't vote for Donald Trump in 2016, is routinely lambasting the House-backed version of the AHCA and did not support President Trump's travel ban.  She is relatively moderate on gun rights, environmental policy, and has even voted against Trump cabinet nominees Scott Pruitt and Betsy DeVos.  She does hold some more traditional Republican beliefs, particularly when it comes to taxes and foreign affairs, but she is, on-paper, a moderate in every sense of the word.  If she was what the Republican Party represented to the country, Democrats would be a decidedly minority party.

But the problem is that on the first day of the new Congress, Susan Collins casts her vote for Mitch McConnell, a man who then runs the agenda.  Despite Collins not backing any of these decisions, this results in bills like the AHCA getting to the Senate floor, Pruitt & DeVos being confirmed, LGBT rights bills being delayed, and environmental deregulation.  This is because McConnell shapes the agenda, and what actually gets voted upon.  It's not a case where every senator can just put their bills on the floor willy-nilly; it's up to McConnell to direct what goes to the floor of the body.  As a result, Collins really is endorsing all of these beliefs even if she doesn't personally believe them by endorsing a party that won't let her viewpoints be heard.  Quite frankly, were it not for that first vote, I'd happily cast a ballot for Collins, but knowing her support for Mitch McConnell makes it impossible for me to support her.

You can call me a partisan for choosing Collins (rather than, say, Joe Machin who is in the opposite boat), but the point is this-political party matters.  A lot.  It shapes the agenda more than pretty much every other bill.  Yes, it's not a guarantee (look at how little has been done during the first five months of the Trump administration despite the Republicans holding the White House and both houses of Congress), but generally the party that holds the seats holds the agenda.  As a result, you vote against your own political party at your own peril.

I was thinking about this yesterday when Greg Gianforte won the special election to fill Montana's open House seat.  Gianforte, despite committing a violent crime on the eve of the election, still won a seat in Congress.  He attacked a reporter, committing a misdemeanor (not to mention opening himself up for a lawsuit), but was rewarded with a seat in the House,overnight becoming one of the most powerful people in the country.  It feels like electing a criminal should be something you shouldn't want to do, but would it, in the confidentiality of a ballot box, actually make the difference?

Former Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-NC)
Now, granted, I am not a Republican so I wouldn't have been voting for Gianforte anyway, but the point is this has happened on the other side of the aisle too.  In 2010, Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-NC) was asked questions about his views on President Obama by two conservative activists on a street corner.  Despite no clear threat to his personal safety (there's video tape so you can tell that this is the case), the congressman grabbed one of the activists by the hand and wrist, and didn't let go of the activist despite the fact that that he asked multiple times for Etheridge to let go of him.  Etheridge, a 7-term incumbent, went on to lose reelection to Republican Renee Ellmers by only 1,483 votes, arguably so minuscule that one could claim he lost because of this incident.

There are distinctions between Gianforte and Etheridge, of course.  Etheridge had a long career of votes and a more thoughtful connection with his constituents, having served in public office for 32 years.  His interaction with an activist was coordinated by a Republican strategist, whereas Gianforte was attacking a member of the press.  Etheridge came out and apologized vociferously for his actions, while Gianforte waited until after the election to issue a statement.  But at the end of the day, the similarities cannot be denied-both men, upon being asked a question that, as politicians, they owed the public, chose to indulge in violence rather than patiently put up with queries into their beliefs that might alienate supporters, or simply walking away.

I really want to tell you that I wouldn't have voted for Etheridge in that situation.  I have, after all, endorsed Republicans or the concept of not voting before when the Democratic nominee was too extreme or too corrupt for me to get behind.  Most notably, I was supportive of Joseph Cao's campaign against William Jefferson in 2008 since Jefferson had clearly broken the law repeatedly (he's now in jail).  I supported Mazie Ferguson's write-in campaign in 2010 when the Democrats nominated someone wholly unfit for the office of senator in South Carolina.  I probably would have voted for Lisa Murkowski in 2010 to keep Joe Miller out of the Senate, even if the Democrat had done nothing wrong (same with Angus King in 2012).  If there is a moral issue or a criminal one, I am willing to stand on principle if need be (if the Democrats had nominated someone like Donald Trump, I'd have been willing to back John Kasich or Jeb Bush...or considered staying home if it was Trump v. Cruz).  But I'm going to be honest here-I can't say with a straight face I wouldn't have voted for Bob Etheridge in 2010.

This bothers me, because quite frankly I think it's repugnant that Gianforte is now headed to Congress, and I want to say that I wouldn't support someone like him under any circumstances, but I can't.  I can console myself that Etheridge had been a longtime public servant for 30+ years, and that he was purposefully provoked into acting that way, but the reality is that I truly believe violence is never the answer.  It should be an issue that rises above politics, that should transcend what anyone tolerates.  But knowing how close that election was and knowing how similar my views are to Etheridge, and knowing how close the battle for the House was thought to be at the time, I would be lying if there wasn't a part of me that might have considered Etheridge rather than voting for Ellmers or third party or staying home.  I'm not uncomfortable with that in myself, but there it is.

Thankfully I've never been put in this position.  I've voted for men that I wasn't particularly thrilled about, who were more conservative than I am or whom I knew from personal experience (not anecdotal) to be smarmy or kind of a jerk.  But I've never felt like my principles were ever compromised in casting a vote-I never voted for someone I felt was unfit for that office.  I think we need to continue to challenge our politicians to be better people, and to be worthy of the offices to which they aspire, but we (and I include myself here) need to also be willing to sacrifice party if principle is at stake.  Otherwise we give political parties a free check to behave however they see fit.  The behavior of Greg Gianforte or Bob Etheridge should not be tolerated by their constituencies, and punishment (including at the ballot box) should be dished out if members of the office act beneath its dignity.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Why Greg Gianforte is Not a Good Enough Reason to End Early Voting

Greg Gianforte (R-MT)
I'm going to admit-up until about 12 hours ago I did not have particularly high hopes for the Montana special election in terms of it being truly competitive.  While the race was starting to tighten, and the amount of money spent on the race was psychotic, the reality is that the seat seemed headed toward Republican Greg Gianforte.  The Republicans had spent twice as much on their candidate, it was a district that Trump won by 21 points, and in my opinion the Democrats botched by having a candidate that could be considered as flawed as the Republican in some respects.  After all, there were better candidates like Monica Lindeen, Linda McCulloch, and Denise Juneau who have actually won statewide office before who could have used that experience to sink what has been a surprisingly difficult seat considering the state's luck with the Senate (Democrats haven't held the seat since Pat Williams retired in 1996, while for all of that time the Democrats have had one, sometimes two, of the Senate seats).

But last night, in one of the more stunning 11th-hour surprises I've seen in politics (and considering recent events, that's saying something), Gianforte totally upended his campaign to replace Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke in the House.  At an event, Gianforte reportedly body-slammed into Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, with witnesses there to see the event take place, and was charged with misdemeanor assault.  In a different time-and-place, this would have been a death knell for him.  Polls were closing, but people wouldn't stand for a member of Congress physically attacking a reporter, as good of a metaphor for stomping on the First Amendment as one can create.

Unfortunately, as was evidenced by a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women being elected president, this isn't a time that always punishes violent actions, and it's questionable at this point what effect Gianforte's behavior will have on his chances of winning.  Perhaps because it was so late and the facts are still unfolding or perhaps because Trump's core supporters hate journalists so much they won't care...or it's possible this will be a stake through the campaign, being different somehow because there were witnesses or because Gianforte's running against a man (sorry, it's true).

But one thing that could also impact this situation is the fact that most people have already voted.  According to Kyle Kondik of Sabato's Crystal Ball, one of the leading elections resources in the country, if you use 2014 as a judge as many as 2/3 of the votes in Montana have already been cast for a candidate.  It's questionable whether this helps or hurts Gianforte, of course, as we don't know where those ballots are from or whom they were cast for; while early voting has traditionally favored Democrats in recent close elections, it's possible that with the upcoming holiday weekend that trend may be misleading.  Either way, these ballots will be cast not knowing that one of the candidates attacked a member of the press and was charged with a crime the day before the election.

Online, this has led to some arguing that this is a reason that early voting needs to be abolished, and on the surface-level this isn't unreasonable.  After all, this is the sort of action that should affect how people vote.  It's certainly affected the newspaper endorsements for Gianforte, since he had gained the approval of all three of Montana's largest papers, but they all rescinded their endorsements yesterday evening in the wake of the assault.  If newspapers can do it, why can't people?

The problem here is twofold.  One, early voting is not just about convenience.  Early voting is about allowing people who cannot easily go to the polls on a random midweek day to vote.  Even if we made Election Day a national holiday, not all employment could shutdown for the day.  Emergency services, military personnel, and private enterprise (particularly retailers, dining establishments, and tourism-related industries) would surely still stay open to take advantage of all of the people home from work.  As a result, the people who work in those fields have a minuscule amount of time, sometimes no time, to be able to vote, and asking an employer to let you out to vote may be the law, but it's not always pragmatic, particularly for people who work two jobs.  Early voting solves a problem for those in our society who have limited mobility, either physically or due to employment, and they shouldn't be discounted as citizens because of their economic situation.

The second reason is that early voting can stand because there is another solution that can solve this problem: allowing people to alter their absentee ballot in-person on Election Day.  Admittedly, no state quite has a statute (from what I'm finding) that would allow for something so close to the election as Gianforte's incident, but at least three states do allow you to change your vote if it's close to the election, even if you've voted absentee: Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan.  There's no reason that ballots need to start being counted until the close of polls on Election Day (really, there's none other than itchy political reporters and armchair pundits watching at home), so why not change the law to allow people to pick a different candidate at the last minute.  This isn't an isolated incident.  For the good or the bad, we had a number of last minute events in 2016 that could have impacted people's votes (the Access Hollywood tape, the late-breaking investigation by James Comey into Huma Abedin's emails).  There should be a mechanism to change your vote if you feel that a candidate has no longer earned the checkmark you cast for them.  But sacrificing early voting is not the answer.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

OVP: Always in My Heart (1942)

Film: Always in My Heart (1942)
Stars: Kay Francis, Walter Huston, Gloria Warren, Patti Hale, Frankie Thomas, Una O'Connor
Director: Jo Graham
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Original Song-"Always in My Heart")
Snap Judgment Ranking: 1/5 stars

I am sure I've told this story before, but it probably bares repeating occasionally considering it's become the heart of this blog, that is the story of why I initially restarted Many Rantings of John nearly five years ago, specifically the Oscar Viewing Project.  Part of me at the time wanted to simply see if I could pull off writing 1500 words a day, seeing if I had the skills as a writer to push myself into sitting in front of a keyboard long enough to actually accomplish something.  The second thing, though was that I wanted to be able to have a record of movies that I had seen.  I was going through a list of Best Actress contenders, and I realized upon looking at one of the films that I had virtually no memory of seeing the film.  This was (and is) relatively uncommon as if I'm known for anything it is that I can recall most things, but even upon reading a synopsis of the movie I couldn't recall anything about it, other than that I had written "2 stars" next to the nominee in my tracking grid.  As a result of that, I decided then and there that I would be writing a review of every Oscar-nominated film I saw from then on-out, so that when the time came for me to honor the goal of the OVP (and pick a winner) I would be able to rank a 2-star winner next to another without too much difficulty.

(Spoilers Ahead) As you might be able to tell, this isn't a flattering way to introduce a review, but suffice it to say Always in My Heart is the sort of film that I was thinking of when I wanted a "backlog" of movies I could not remember seeing.  The film centers around a woman named Victoria (Francis) who is in love with two men: her husband Mac (Huston), who is in jail for a crime that he didn't commit and a wealthy paramour named Philip (Sidney Blackmer), who is trying to woo the woman he assumes to be a stately widow.  The film progresses with Mac, after telling his wife that she should marry him (everyone assumes that Mac is dead, including his children), getting a pardon and coming out of jail, but because he can provide nothing but love (and a song) while Philip can give his two grown children education and status, he stays "dead."  However, a chance encounter with his daughter (Warren), who doesn't recognize him, eventually leads to the ruse being discovered and the family being reunited.

The film is at best a curiosity.  It's strange to see Gloria Warren, an actress almost completely forgotten by Hollywood, headlining a picture like this, particularly in a role that you'd expect would be portrayed by Deanna Durbin.  One wonders if Warner Brothers was trying to duplicate Universal's success with Durbin by signing Warren, but this was just one of five films she ever made, and she largely disappeared from the silver screen afterwards so it was obviously not an investment they enjoyed.  I will admit I didn't like her performance-she was too earnest, her soprano too pronounced (it feels like you're getting whiplash from the sound man), and it's hard to tell at times whether she's supposed to be twenty or twelve.  Huston and Francis, are better, but never really rising above serviceable.  Both of them had long careers at this point (as opposed to Warren), and so they could find ways to at least make relatively bland dreck at least somewhat watchable.  But both have also been much, much better.

The film would be forgotten today were it not for its random Oscar nomination for Best Song.  The song itself is fine, if a bit standard and feels like the dusty sort of tune you can find in the back of a piano bench.  Even in the film it feels old, perhaps because it is most memorably sung by Huston (who always looked older than he was), and other than the title hook, you'd be hard-pressed to remember any of the lyrics ten minutes after you watch it.  All-in-all, the only credit I can really give it is that it is the centerpiece of the movie, causing most of the action.  But that nothing really happens around it is the film's biggest indictment.

Those are my thoughts-how about yours?  Anyone out there actually have seen Always in My Heart (like I said, it's obscure unless you're an ardent fan of Francis or Huston)?  If not, anyone want to weigh in on Gloria Warren, whom I had never heard of before this picture?  Share below!

John's Ten Favorite Tips for Writers

Confession time: I don't always write posts on this blog in order.  Frequently I'll, say, write four reviews in a row or write all of the political articles for the week at once or stick to mostly the rants and avoid trying to come up with an entertainment-related article (I don't know why, but I have been struggling to come up with entertainment-related articles lately-if you want to see more of this style, let me know what you like from past articles so I know the direction to take them).

As a result of this, I'm actually going to write an article initially inspired by the review I did for this afternoon, where in the opening paragraph I talked about writing, and decided that since I'd never done this before, I would go through some of my favorite tips for writers.  This is a minefield, partially because discussing tips for writers makes you deeply self-conscious.  Is the writing I'm doing good enough to actually qualify me to give tips for writing, or am I just someone who is gaining a series of snickers on your end of the computer screen?  Do I approach this sincerely, risking a litany of cliches, or do I instead approach this from the sardonic viewpoint of Dorothy Parker and just toss off bon mots while dismissing the topic at hand?

With all due respect to Ms. Parker, I'm better at sincere, but I'm going to throw in a qualifier-I'm giving this advice as a writer on how to successfully write.  Not to publish, not to write like Marilynne Robinson or Zadie Smith, but simply to actually get something out into your own personal universe.  I have loved writing since I was a little boy, and have been actively writing for over a decade.  I can't give advice on getting published (Google is there if that's your game), but I can share how I am able to get 1500 words out on a regular basis, and how I'm able to see three books with my name on them on a shelf nearby, albeit in an unpublished binder.  Below you will find my ten tips that I think are essential to actually calling yourself a writer:

1. Read

Yes, I'm aware this is a cliche, but I can't deal with people who want to be a writer but don't read, and it's surprisingly common.  I find that my writing is nearly always at its worst and that writer's block is rearing its ugly head when I haven't had a book in my hands in a while.  Reading teaches you how to see a sentence, how paragraphs form, how language unfolds onto a paper.  If you want to write, you have to read, and you really should read every genre, every volume you can get your hands upon-being a genre snob or limiting yourself to only books similar to what you're writing shows a profound lack of creativity, something that is a death knell for a writer.  I found that one of the easiest ways to start writing about fantasy was actually to read through a horror novel, as it gave me insights into the way plots are similarly-structured.  And, I'm sorry, reading articles on your phone doesn't count.  If you want to write creatively or even memoirs, you need to surround yourself with books, plays, poetry, and stories.  There is no exception to this rule; writing demands that you read.  If you aren't doing one, it's probable that despite your best efforts, you're not doing the other.

2. There is No Such Thing as "Having Enough Time"

The greatest complaint I hear from people who want to write is that they don't have enough time.  This is actually the complaint I hear from everyone about not accomplishing their goals.  And the shocking thing about this excuse is that it's worthless.  Writers write-they find the time to write.  If it's important to you, if it's something that you need to have happen and get on the page, you will find the time.  You will forego a party, you will eat a quick dinner, you will skip that night of Netflix.  If ever I find myself using this excuse, in the same way that I might for exercising, I realize I don't have enough time because I don't want to write.  It's that simple-if you are saying this, it's because "you don't want to write," it's not due to a lack of time.  Any protestations to the contrary are bullshit.

3. The Muse is a Unicorn

The other complaint I hear is that "I'm just not feeling it," and like "not having enough time," this is ludicrous.  You can always write.  You might not always have this magical being above you, but relying upon a stroke of inspiration is a pitiful state for a writer to exist within-after all, what if the muse never comes and let's you finish your story?  In my opinion, the best way to avoid the trappings of the muse is to simply force yourself to write every day.  Every single day.  You can make it the same time, or you can force yourself to not stand up until you get a specific amount of words onto the page, but you need to write regularly, on a routine, in order not to be a writer who never writes.  It doesn't matter if that writing isn't always good (then you might be finding out what doesn't work), but it treats writing like the hard work it is rather than just a romantic pursuit.

4. Interruptions are Death

When I am actually intent on doing a night of long writing where I want to devote myself to the creation of new characters, I eliminate all distractions.  I tell people in my life I'm "burying the cell phone."  I will go to the only room of my apartment without food or a television or a shower (all too distracting).  I will occasionally, if I'm actually typing rather than editing, disconnect the WiFi and put the book I'm reading in my car four stories away from my computer.  The point is-the internet, social media, video games-whatever your vice is can too easily get in your way if you aren't careful.  What would have been three productive hours buried in prose becomes two paragraphs and a Twitter post with a dozen retweets.  Don't get religious about writing to the point where you can only get there during a full moon on a Waikiki Beach (unless you live in Hawaii and that's a regular occurrence), but eliminate distractions as needed.

5. Pile Drive Through Your Work

This is more for novels than for, say, blogging or poetry (I've tried all three, I've learned I'm only good at two).  It is too easy to spend your entire writing process storyboarding or creating outlines.  You can spend days, weeks, months, even 14 years (cough cough) trying to figure out what happens next in a story, but occasionally you just need to push through and write without worrying about what happens next.  If you've spent longer than, say, two weeks on how to get to the next point in the book, just write something, anything, and see if that works.  If it doesn't, delete it and go back.  But in that process, realize why it didn't work and see if that can inform your next steps.  But if you're stuck, or you're claiming writer's block, just force yourself to write something-if it sucks, you'll at least know.

6. Don't Edit as You Write

I believe I got this advice from Stephen King if I remember correctly, but some of the best advice I ever got was to not edit while you write, and gain some space between you and the novel/poetry (again, blogging doesn't really allow this for the most part...if you want a separate article specifically focused on blogging, ask for it in the comments and I'll provide) before you begin the editing process.  I used to write a chapter, then immediately go back and edit it for grammar, falling in love with certain sections and hating others, and thus in the process I wouldn't move on from that chapter I'd fallen so in love with it.  As a result I never moved forward.

A better strategy that I now employ that King recommends-if I'm doing a first draft, I write until I get to the end, only looking back to reference a name or a place if I'm unsure of what I'd called it (and even then, I prefer to reference the notebook I'm using for the writing process...also, advice within a bullet-get a notebook).  Then I put it in a drawer and pretend it doesn't exist for a month.  I write other things or I read, but the book or story doesn't exist until I have given it time to collect dust and breath.  That way I can gain some distance on it.  I don't fully subscribe to "kill your darlings" (another idea championed by King), but this process will at least let you know if the darlings are out-of-place or unnecessary.

7. Editing Needs to Be Objective

Perhaps the hardest part of editing, for most authors, is realizing that the chapter or story you spent the most amount of time in is totally unnecessary.  I think this is also the piece of advice that I am most reluctant to share with people whose writing I've read-it's almost always that what they wrote is too long, that it drags because they weren't willing to cut a flourish or a paragraph or a character.  I'm not saying that you can't have flowery language (the minimalist trend when it comes to prose frequently gets boring), but I will say that staying objective and admitting when something doesn't work is critical.  If you finish your editing with more words than you started, you're doing something wrong.

8. Don't Let Anyone Read It Until You're Done

This is such an easy trap for people who are beginning to creatively write, in that you want to share what you're working on for a variety of reasons.  Perhaps you want to see if what you're pouring out is any good, or you want to have the satisfaction of someone else realizing that you're writing and got past page sixteen.  But the reality is that the second you give your work to someone else, unless you're done or an experienced writer who knows how to move past that, you're going to take that validation and want to end right there.  The high of someone else seeing what you're doing is going to be impossible to duplicate, and you'll want to do it for every chapter, never letting the story breath and suddenly you're in a place where you're quitting because, well, you know you "could" write a book even though of course you never actually did.  Wait until you're done-ask advice if need be or talk through a problem, but wait until you're done to hand over the pages.

9.  Don't Be a Jerk to the Person Reading Your Book

Eventually, though, you need to let someone else read what you're writing.  Even with a blog, you need to click publish at some point.  With that comes a host of vulnerabilities, as the thing you've been writing, your baby that may have taken up years of your life, is in the hands of some other soul. As a result of this, be careful who you choose and how you react.

Don't, for example, pick someone you're planning on having sex with to be the first person who reads your book, as your reaction may delay or completely deny the possibility of that sex happening.  Don't be a jerk to them when they give you constructive feedback, or state that they didn't like it.  It's hard to hear, and you shouldn't take it as gospel, but don't sit there reassuring yourself that JK Rowling got rejection letters for Harry Potter and not change a thing.  A writer who doesn't edit and who completely disregards other people's opinions isn't a writer, they're just an ego trip with a typewriter.  Ask what didn't work, prod into what they did like and what they didn't.  Be prepared for disappointment, and if they give unilateral praise, figure out what they loved to make it better (because it can get better).

Oh, and if it's a novel or a longer book, ask them to mark when they stopped reading (and don't listen to their excuses that they were tired when they protest that they put it down).  If you notice a trend of when people stopped reading to take a break, that's probably because that portion of the book is boring.  Fix it.

10. Eventually You Have to End the Book

I have been working on three books in a series for about fifteen years.  I have tinkered, edited, perused, reread, thrown them asunder-I know every nook and cranny of these books.  Left to my own devices, I would probably be very content spending the next sixty years continually editing these books, never quite being satisfied.  This is because writers view their work as a living, breathing thing.  A new life experience or something as random as a book about the Mongolian Empire may give you a new character insight you want to insert into the story.

But you need to eventually let the work exist on its own.  Put it out there and let it age without change.  This is easy if you're published, but even if you're not, you eventually have to let it sit on a shelf so that you can create something else.  Because at some point those tinkers start to make the book too long, too cluttered, too bloated.  Once you're done editing, let it live and bring those creative ideas to the next work you invest your time in...trust me, that novel will appreciate the added flavor just as much.