Photo of the day

I’ve seen lots of great snow photos from the recent blizzard in the Eastern US, but wow do I feel for this poor snow shoveller.  Via a nice snowy gallery from In Focus:

A resident shovels snow from the entrance to his home in Union City, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from Midtown Manhattan, after the second-biggest winter storm in New York history, on January 24, 2016.

Rickey Rogers / Reuters


Bernie vs. Barack

Nice take from Jon Cohn:

But lurking behind this argument about the future is a dispute that’s really about the past. It’s a debate over what Obama accomplished in office — in particular, how significant those accomplishments really are. And it’s been simmering on the left for most of the last seven years.

On one side of this divide are activists and intellectuals who are ambivalent,disappointed or flat-outfrustrated with what Obama has gotten done. They acknowledge what they consider modest achievements — like helping some of the uninsured and preventing the Great Recession from becoming another Great Depression. But they are convinced that the president could have accomplished much more if only he’d fought harder for his agenda and been less quick to compromise.

They dwell on the opportunities missed, like the lack of a public option in health care reform or the failure to break up the big banks. They want those things now — and more. In Sanders, they are hearing a candidate who thinks the same way.

On the other side are partisans and thinkers who consider Obama’s achievements substantial, even historic. They acknowledge that his victories were partial and his legislation flawed. This group recognizes that there are still millions of people struggling to find good jobs or pay their medical bills, and that the planet is still on a path to catastrophically high temperatures. But they see in the last seven yearsmajor advances in the liberal crusade to bolster economic security for the poor and middle class. They think the progress on climate change is real, and likely to beget more in the future…

To be clear, these differences of emphasis belie the relatively similar views that Sanders and Clinton have when it comes to what America should really look like. Both are committed progressives. Both want government playing an active role in guaranteeing economic security, setting rules for the economy, protecting traditional victims of discrimination and preserving the environment. Both think Obama advanced this agenda, but that there is still more to do…

In this [Sanders’] view, voters within and outside the Democratic Party are craving a radical change, something more sweeping and transformative than anything Obama achieved. And while enacting such an agenda may not be politically possible in the next two years, Sanders can use the inevitable Republican resistance to rally the public behind Democrats in the 2018 midterms — a point a top Sanders adviser made to The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein earlier this week. In the meantime, Sanders supporters, he will be generating support for a much more liberal agenda, and setting the terms of debate in a way that pushes legislative compromises further to the left. It’s not a crazy argument.

But ignoring or denying the progress of the Obama era also carries risks, as Clinton supporters point out. Republican politicians and their allies in the conservative movement speak in one consistent voice, arguing that the Obama agenda has been not just a failure, but a catastrophe. Absent a strong defense of these programs, average voters may listen and conclude that his programs must not have done much good. In the long run, that can undermine the public’s faith in government activism of any kind. It can also set up liberals for a perpetual cycle of disappointment, as they discover over and over again that the compromised progressive reforms coming out of Washington don’t match their lofty expectations.

Reasonable argument.  Reasonable people can disagree.  My experience and knowledge put me firmly in the Clinton camp.  Maybe I’m wrong, but we’ll very likely never now as I still think it highly unlikely Bernie could ever get the nomination, much less win the presidency.

Understanding Trump’s alpha-male appeal

Okay, so forget my last post about Trump’s issue based appeal (no, I really do agree with Frum’s points), but oh man do I love this take from Josh Marshall:

In the present context I would put it like this: Pundits and political obsessives tend to get distracted by process and policy literalism. But politics generally and especially intra-Republican political battles are really about demonstrating dominance – not policy mastery or polling leads but a series of symbols and actions that mark the dominating from the dominated. [emphases mine]

I’ve seen various people say, ‘Well this is awful for Trump. He’s missing his opportunity to make his closing argument to Iowa caucusgoers!’ But that’s not getting what’s happening. Maybe this will be a disaster for Trump. But it won’t be because he missed out on 15 minutes of airtime.

The misunderstanding is similar to all the other times over the last six months when observers thought Trump had tripped himself up by violating some political taboo, showing he didn’t understand some basic policy issue or just flat out lying about something in a easily demonstrable way. Focusing on these indicators is like watching an opera and fixating on the libretto rather than the score. Yes, it’s part of what’s happening. But it’s not what’s generating the energy and motion. It’s just a ripple on the surface of a deep sea. How much do you need to know German to get Wagner?

When I first wrote about this a dozen years ago I called it the “bitch slap theory of politics.” I’m no longer comfortable using that phrase. But I do think the heavily gendered, violent nature of that phrase is one of the only ways to really capture the nature of what’s happening in these dramas.

Take Trump’s evisceration of Jeb Bush.

Trump’s comment about Jeb’s being “weak”, “low energy”, “pitiful” … these are demeaning and denigrating phrases. They seem frankly gross, with an emotional tenor we’d expect from street toughs or frat boys trash talking each other. It’s raw and primal and all about dominating by denigrating. But what has really hurt Bush is not so much that Trump is calling him names. It’s that Trump has used these attacks to demonstrate that Jeb is unable or unwilling to defend himself. Trump hits him and Jeb takes it…

Trump doesn’t apologize. He hurts people and they go away. He says things that would kill a political mortal (ban members of an entire religion from entering the country) and yet he doesn’t get hurt. Virtually everything Trump has done over the last six months, whether it’s a policy proposal or personal attack, has driven home this basic point: Trump is strong. He does things other people can’t.

This is why Trump has so shaken up and so dominated the GOP primary cycle, at least thus far. As I’ve said, this kind of dominance symbolism is pervasive in GOP politics. It’s not new with Trump at all. Most successful Republican politicians speak this language. And yet somehow for most it is nonetheless a second language. But it’s Trump’s native language.

Yes!  Marshall’s column perfectly captures ideas which I’ve had inchoately floating around my brain and it’s one of those things that you read it and just know that it is true.

Why Republicans love Trump

Nice piece from David Frum:

One question has been asked over and over about the 2016 Republican contest: Where is the cavalry? When does the fabled Republican establishment use its vast reserves of cash to fill the airwaves with negative ads against Donald Trump? This was how Mitt Romney overwhelmed Gingrich’s brief surge in 2012. Trump is surely an even more vulnerable target than Gingrich, right?

But Donald Trump has come under repeated attack…

The attacks have been fired. They failed.

There’s certainly room for plenty more, but that still doesn’t explain the unique appeal of Trump.  This does:

For a very long time, the voting base of the Republican Party has been signaling desperate economic and cultural distress.

A poll published on Tuesday in The Washington Post sounds the klaxon again:

The Republican electorate is in a sour mood as its members prepare to begin the process of picking a presidential nominee. Almost 9 in 10 say the country is seriously off on the wrong track, and more than 8 in 10 are dissatisfied with the way the federal government works, including nearly 4 in 10 who say they’re angry about it.

Two-thirds worry about maintaining their current living standard, more than 6 in 10 say people with similar values are losing influence in American life, and about half say the nation’s best days are behind it. Half also say immigrants mainly weaken American society, compared with 55 percent of the overall population who say immigrants strengthen America.

Donald Trump’s response to this dilemma is protectionism, immigration restriction, and a big helping of his own often-claimed superhuman toughness and competence. It’s maybe not a very adequate answer, but it’s an answer. What’s Marco Rubio’s answer? What’s Jeb Bush’s? What’s Chris Christie’s? [emphasis mine]…

Listen to Marco Rubio describe his priorities for his first day in office. They include repealing Environmental Protection Agency rules, repealing the Common Core, and canceling the Iran deal.

Ted Cruz’s first priorities are ordering the Justice Department to investigate Planned Parenthood, ordering the IRS to stop persecuting religious liberty, canceling the Iran deal, and moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Jeb Bush’s first priorities include repealing Obamacare, lifting regulatory burdens on businesses, and eliminating gun restrictions…

Or maybe it’s time for the party’s elites to let go of some of their cherished inward-facing policy priorities, as the boy released some of the nuts from his grasp. Instead, they might try actually addressing the fears and anxieties of the American middle class: jobs, wages, retirement security. Negative advertising has been aired without success. Perhaps a positive program would do better? Before it’s too late?

Definitely something to that.  Donald Trump is certainly offering something different from more tax cuts (though, that he is offering, too, of course), and less regulation.  Clearly, there’s a good-sized segment of the GOP electorate who wants a lot more than that to assuage their concerns.  And, not that Trump is the answer, but you can certainly see why people are not going to get all fired up by the all-purpose and ever-lasting call for less taxes and less regulation.

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