Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Smart Kids

Susan Demas argues that the reason pundits are so persistently cool on Elizabeth Warren is simply that she is one of the smart kids. Like Obama, she is sniffed at for being professorial, elitist, schoolmarmish, and so on.
The common thread between them is that they’re usually the smartest people in any room — something that particularly irks pundits who pretend to be experts on all manner of policy (but usually are just glorified theater critics).
This checks out, and I'd date the phenomenon back even further to Al Gore in 2000. That election was very much formative in my political development, and not just because of how it ended.

Al Gore was also a smart, wonkish, thoughtful guy -- obviously more qualified than his dim-bulb pseudo-cowboy of an opponent. But the narrative going into the election was that Al Gore's intelligence and wonkishness was his biggest electoral liability. He made people uncomfortable. He was awkward. Who would really want to have a beer with him?

As a studious and somewhat wonkish kid, this made a very large imprint on me. To that point, my only experience with "democracy" was in student government elections, where -- no matter how much the teachers lectured us to vote for the best candidate who will do the best job -- everyone just voted for the popular kid who promised pizza for lunch every day. And even then I think we all thought that was kind of silly, but we did it because student elections were silly and kids are silly and once we grew up and voted in grown-up elections we'd vote based on the serious reasons we were supposed to.

And then we flicked on the news, and it turned out that the grown-ups were being just as frivolous -- deciding the election as if it were a drinking game. If I had any nascent interest in a political career, it was squashed at that moment.

I suspect that there are more than a few young women -- and hey, maybe some young men too! -- who are having a similarly formative experience right now with Elizabeth Warren. They see her as smart and studious and talented and attentive to details. And they see not just that this doesn't matter, but that it is viewed as a deficit -- it is hurting her political chances.

It's a very depressing thing to live through. All I can say to those kids going through it now is: been there.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Susan Collins as Marie-Reine Le Gougne

If you're my age or older, the name "Marie-Reine Le Gougne" may ring a faint bell of recognition. Better known as "the French judge", Le Gougne was at the center of 2002 Olympic figure skating scandal which saw a Russian pair win gold over the seemingly far more deserving Canadian duo of Jamie Salé and David Pelletie. Le Gougne voted for the Russians and immediately attracted suspicion for it -- she soon confessed that she had been pressured into her vote by the head of the French federation as part of a trade where a French couple would receive a scoring advantage in the ice dance competition later in the games. Le Gougne was suspended and disgraced; eventually the decision was made to give both pairs a shared gold medal.

Here's the thing though: there were nine judges in the 2002 Olympic figure skating competition. Five voted for the Russian pair. Four went for the Canadian. So why was Le Gougne, "the French judge", singled out?

The answer is simple: everyone knew that the four eastern bloc judges (from Russia, Ukraine, China and Poland) would vote for the Russian pair. And everyone "knew" that the western judges (from the USA, Canada, Germany, and France) would vote for the Canadian. The only real decider was the Japanese judge -- who passed for neutral. He picked the Canadians. But it didn't matter once Le Gougne didn't vote for her "side". A 5-4 vote gave the Russians the victory.

It is a testament to just how deeply this sort of corruption was ingrained in the Olympics that nobody even thought to be aggrieved by the fact that the regional blocs were guaranteed to vote for "their" skater regardless of performance. Indeed, the entire fix was premised on the assumption that they would do just that. And yet, despite the fact that their votes if anything represent a deeper rot inside the body of Olympic figure skating, unlike Le Gougne, these judges received no punishment and no public attention whatsoever. Everything fell on the head of Le Gougne, because her corruption wasn't assumed from the get-go.

And that brings us to Susan Collins. Collins has had a rough year, politically-speaking: she's seen her approvals tank over the course of the Trump administration; and she's now in a statistical dead heat with her 2020 Democratic challenger Sara Gideon. This brings me almost indescribable joy. Time after time, Susan Collins has been a loyal water-carrier for the worst excesses of the Trump administration. She may grumble or pout or furrow her brow in grave concern, but when push comes to shove she has almost unerringly toed the party line. If a "moderate Republican" is someone who "talks about voting differently from other Republicans before voting exactly the same as other Republicans," Susan Collins is indeed Washington's quintessential moderate Republican. And this identity has made her one of the true, great villains of the Trump era.

In a sense, this is unfair. Susan Collins isn't voting any differently from Tom Cotton or Josh Hawley or Ted Cruz. Indeed, that's the very indictment against her: she votes just like they do. But like the eastern bloc judges, the corruption of Cotton and Hawley and Cruz is assumed. Everyone knows they're in the bag for whatever Trump would have them do. Collins has cultivated a public identity predicated on the idea that we should not "know" this about her. So it is more of a shock (even if by this point it should have ceased to be one) when she inevitably caves.

But still -- if Susan Collins feels that this is all unfair, I do think she has a point. She is not, objectively speaking, any worse than Cotton or Hawley or Cruz.

She has a point, and that point should be reflected in how we see her. And so when Collins loses her seat in 2020 (and I expect she will), and all the columnists race to write their eulogies for her Washington career, this is the only point about her truly worth making: Susan Collins was, at root, no different -- no better, no worse -- than Ted Cruz.

That is her legacy. And it is completely, entirely, deserved

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Republican Jewish Coalition Supports the Most Antisemitic Congressman in Recent Minnesota History

You might recall a brief blip of news last year where Ilhan Omar was deemed antisemitic for implying that pro-Israel Americans may have dual loyalty with Israel.

It was, to be sure, problematic. But here's the thing: Ilhan Omar is not the most antisemitic politician in America. Hell, even if we restrict the terrain to "most antisemitic member of Congress from the greater Minneapolis area who ran for election during the Trump administration", she still wouldn't place first. That honor has to go to ex-Rep. Jason Lewis (R-MN), who did not imply, but outright stated, that many pro-Israel actors in American politics had "dual loyalties" with Israel and that congressional Republicans were controlled by the "Jewish lobby". Everything Omar hinted at, Lewis outright said. He's the easiest of easy cases.

But alas. Overt antisemitism should hardly be expected to stop the Republican Jewish Coalition from fundraising on Lewis' behalf as he seeks to parlay his 2018 congressional loss into a 2020 U.S. Senate seat. Because while there are many Jewish organizations that earnestly care about antisemitism regardless of source, the RJC is most certainly not one of them.