Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Meet the Insufferable Chuck Todd

My column in the American Thinker on Meet the Press host's Chuck Todd's inexcusable journalistic malpractice.  

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

No, Democratic Presidents aren't Great Job Creators

My article in the American Thinker explains the discrepancy in job creation numbers between Clinton, Obama, and Bush, and offers a blueprint for Republicans on how to counter the Democrats' talking point that Bill Clinton and Obama are great job creators.  

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

My Serendipitous Discovery of Marcus Aurelius

A few months ago, I stumbled on the philosophy of 2nd century AD Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. I highly recommend his best known work, Meditations, which crystallizes and expands on the Stoic philosophy. The essence of Stoicism is that virtue (i.e. acting according to principle and doing what is right) is the root of happiness, regardless of what calamities befall you.

A few days into reading Meditations, for no reason other than to provide interesting content to my fiercely loyal minions, I started to post Marcus Aurelius’s  quotes on my book’s Facebook page, A Life of Misery and Triumph.

Last night, I was at the gym reading Meditations in between sets (I cannot get Pandora to work at my new gym--which is one calamity befalling me that I will never get over--so I’m forced to read on my phone’s Kindle app). As I posted another enlightening quote, I realized that the main character’s name in ALOMT is MARCUS and that he founds a pseudo-religion/philosophy grounded in Stoic ethics (and in drinking).

Incredibly, this was the first time I made the connection between the protagonist Marcus and the Roman Emperor Marcus. Also incredible is the fact that I had never heard of Marcus Aurelius until AFTER I had written and published ALOMT, at least not that I remember. Perhaps I had encountered the name at some point and it seeped into my subconscious like when Elaine inadvertently plagiarized a Ziggy cartoon in the New Yorker, eliciting Mr. Peterman’s indignation.  

So in fact, I had been casually and unwittingly posting Marcus Aurelius’s quotes on a page promoting a book whose protagonist Marcus is the philosophical heir to Stoicism. Sort of. He’s primarily a degenerate drunk. But that’s neither here nor there.

And the kicker? Serendipity is a major motif in ALOMT. My stumbling on Marcus Aurelius and randomly posting his quotes on the ALOMT page without discerning the obvious connection is quite serendipitous indeed.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Deconstructing the Trump Voter

There’s arguably no greater mystery in the land of punditry than Donald Trump’s continued dominance in the polls, both nationally and in early primary states.

Political analysts on the right and left are befuddled as to how a man who had a public feud with Rosie O’Donnell replete with sophomoric insult swinging is the Republican frontrunner in an election that most Republicans and many neutral analysts believe is eminently winnable for the GOP. 

It’s inexplicable. Except it isn’t.  

Donald Trump has been on every side of every issue for most of his public life. He has supported single payer healthcare (a far more radical version of ObamaCare) and most incredibly, he has publicly praised Hillary Clinton AND given her money. Hillary Clinton. The presumptive Democrat nominee and the most prominent Republican villain.

Yet, he’s leading in the polls.

Every time we predict his demise, he emerges unscathed or even stronger. Surely his shameful smear of John McCain’s heroism would sink his campaign. Didn’t happen. Well how about his terrible first debate performance? Actually, a plurality (not a majority) of GOP voters said he was the winner. Ok, surely, his attack on respected and well liked Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly would be his Waterloo? Yeah, no. He was still far ahead in the polls.

Poll numbers are beginning to trickle in post second debate. We won’t know for sure if he remains untouchable or if it’s the beginning of the end for Trump—a beginning pretty much everyone thought would commence a long time ago—until next week.    

Trump appears to be impervious to the pitfalls that have traditionally destroyed campaigns.  In fact, campaigns have been sunk by missteps and gaffes far less egregious than Trump’s. In 1980, Ted Kennedy never recovered after he couldn’t articulate why he wants to be president. A messaging blunder to be sure, but infinitely less cringe worthy than Donald Trump retweeting a vile Megyn Kelly insult. Or any of his other antics for that matter.

As counterintuitive as Trump’s rise is, it does have a rationale. An excellent CNN documentary, "Evocateur," about 80's bellicose political TV host Morton Downey Jr. indirectly elucidates the Trump appeal.

As a brilliant businessman and self-promoter (he is unquestionably both, his Atlantic City bankruptcies not withstanding) Trump gets the niche entertainment formula. He understands that the quickest path to celebrity is not to make everyone like you, but to carve out a niche of people who love you. This is the classic branding strategy that Trump excels at.

Trump's niche is bold, unapologetic populism. Never back down, never show hesitation or reflection. Tell it like it is, never apologize, and above everything else, be entertaining or really funny.

It's the Morton Downey Jr. brand, and that brand has a big fan base.

Howard Stern and all the other shock jocks are the disk jockey versions of Morton Downey Jr. Not in terms of political leanings (conservatives and liberals listen to Stern), but in terms of here's the truth as I see it, and here's why anyone who disagrees with me is wrong and stupid.

Stern was the first disk jockey to embody the Morton brand. Trump is the first famous politician to embody the Morton brand.

The other aspect of Trump’s appeal is his “Make America great again” campaign theme. As any political consultant will tell you, a strong campaign theme is key to winning elections. As a branding guru, Trump understand that, and so he’s running with a theme that resonates with a significant bloc of the GOP base that thinks Obama has precipitated America’s decline.

His brashness, political incorrectness, cockiness, and even crassness are all refreshing qualities to voters who have come to resent and even hate the tedious predictability of the political class. Coupled with the inherent attractiveness of his underlying theme, Trump is able to maintain a passionate and loyal base of support that doesn’t care about any of the things that his detractors point to as proof of Trump’s un-presidential demeanor or utter lack of principled  conviction.

And then there’s the three-pronged message that buttresses his goal to “make America great again”: immigration, trade, and bravado. Trump promises to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it, renegotiate current free trade deals, and force his will on friends and enemies alike. In other words, he is going to solve the immigration problem (something that a significant portion of the GOP base cares about deeply), end free trade deals that Trump alleges are hurting the American worker (this was a major theme in both the Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan populist campaigns, and many conservatives don’t buy the mainstream conservative argument that free trade is good), and act like a tough guy winner doing these things the whole time.

These are the traits that make Trump so appealing to a large enough faction of voters to make him the frontrunner in a preposterously crowded field. They don’t care that he is prone to personal insults, or that he’s not a principled conservative. They don’t even care that he donated money to Clinton and the Democrats. None of those weaknesses rank as high in terms of issues his supporters care about as Trump’s anti politically correct bravado, the impression that he’s not beholden to anyone, and his stance on immigration and trade.

Voters almost always choose imperfect candidates with whom they agree on some issues, disagree on others. What ultimately determines who you vote for is issue intensity: how much do you care about issue X compared to issue Y. For Trump voters, immigration is the central issue. So as long as he toes their line on immigration (build a wall, enforce the law) they’ll give him a pass on all his other positions, even if those positions directly violate conservative principles.

Donald Trump will not be the Republican nominee, but his sustained surge is explained by a combination of niche branding, a powerful campaign theme, skilled messaging, and personality.       


Thursday, August 6, 2015

On Jon Stewart

A mistake some conservatives make is trying to convince people that Jon Stewart isn't funny. 

First, if people think he is funny, you're not going to change their sense of humor by writing 800 unfunny words. 

Second, he is funny. 

The problem with Jon Stewart is that he's every bit as biased as the people he excoriates for bias, he oversimplifies complex issues as readily as the people he excoriates for oversimplifying complex issues, and he is every bit as intellectually shallow as the people he excoriates for intellectual shallowness. 

To his credit, Stewart does occasionally mock his political brethren, unlike Colbert who only mocks conservatives. Stewart is not as rabid of a partisan as Colbert is a compliment I would pay Stewart.

That, and he's legitimately funny. And seems like a good guy.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

John Kasich Is a Game Changer

John Kasich injects even more intrigue into the most fascinating primary in US history. He is a two term governor of a must-win state for Republicans who won reelection in a landslide. His political leadership spans decades.

He was instrumental in passing the 1986 Goldwater–Nichols act, which streamlined the military's chain of command, and despite fierce opposition by some in the military establishment (the act removed the chiefs of staff form the chain of command), the reorganization was vindicated 5 years later during the Gulf War. He was also the Chairman of the House Budget Committee that balanced the budget in the 90s.

Kasich is by far the most experienced candidate in the race, he is a conservative who appeals to centrists, and just as important, he is likable and does well on TV. His weaknesses include that many conservatives don't trust him because he expanded Ohio's Obamacare medicaid provision.

He is primarily going to peel mainstream conservative votes from Walker and Bush, which will help Cruz--whose base is exclusively tea party/movement conservative--by diluting the others' votes.

The fundamental strategic challenge for Kasich, Walker and Bush, is how to solidify the mainstream conservative bloc.

The fundamental strategic challenge for Rubio is how to form a winning coalition of mainstream conservatives and movement conservatives.

This is thrilling stuff.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Yes Iran, America is Better Than You

Iran's Vice President, a woman who was incidentally (not incidentally) the spokesman for the students holding American hostages in 1979, told ABC's Martha Radditz, in a calm and dispassionate tone, she resents the view harbored by some Americans that America's objectives are “superior” to Iran's objectives.

She suggested that the aura of American superiority shouldn’t underlie the talks. This was an indirect, but obvious, knock on the notion of American exceptionalism.

Fortunately for the purveyors of this much maligned notion, I'm here to offer a defense. It's not very nuanced, but it is angry, so everyone wins. Here it goes.

Seeing as how the government you represent, madam, (the government that uses you as a pawn to soften its image) is ruled by a cabal whose leader is awaiting the return of the twelfth Imam to usher in a glorious apocalypse, a cabal that controls all levers of government--with the media, the Parliament and the military under the Supreme Leader's direct control--a cabal that KILLS homosexuals, imprisons political dissidents, oppresses women, funds paramilitary organizations that brazenly and unapologetically violate every rule of war, and is a fucking police state, I think I'll go ahead and emphatically declare that America IS in fact on a higher moral ground.
That is not the same thing as saying the Iranian people are inferior to American people, which would be blatantly racist. But culture matters.

I am of Russian descent. Do I think Russian society is inferior to American society? Yes, without question. Does that make me a self-loathing Russian? Yes, without question. I mean no, no, it doesn’t. I got carried away with the "without question" idiom, it’s very catchy and powerful. What the hell was I talking about?? Culture! Culture matters. The Iranian people, God bless them, are enslaved by a 7th century dictatorship. Just like Russians have been enslaved by tyrants (some worse than others) since the beginning of time. So you better fucking believe that a free republic negotiating with a theocratic dictatorship has the moral high ground. Call it American exceptionalism, call it common sense, just don’t play the underdog card by implying that the US is a big bad bully and you’re just a meek, noble nation seeking a fair shake. Actually do that, because it’s apparently working.