Archive for the ‘Flop sweat’ Category

Brooks and Krugman

June 10, 2016

Bobo has a bad case of the flop sweats.  In “The Unity Illusion” he moans that you can’t be teammates with Donald Trump.  In the comments “Sha” from Redwood City, CA had this to say:  “Trump once said: ” I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?”
Now he can confidently say he could shoot somebody and the Republican party will still support him. It’s a disgrace.”  Prof. Krugman, in “Hillary and the Horizontals,” says that in America, you can’t avoid the race question.  Oh, Paul, don’t be silly.  Ask any Republican and they’ll tell you that Nothing Is Ever About Race.  Here’s Bobo:

Paul Ryan says it’s time for Republicans to unite with the presumptive nominee Donald Trump. Sure, Trump says racist things sometimes and disagrees with most of our proposals, but Republicans have to go into this campaign as a team. There has to be a Republican majority in Congress to give ballast to a Trump presidency or block the excesses of a Clinton one. If Republicans are divided from now until Election Day they will lose everything.

Unity will also be good for the conservative agenda. Congressional Republicans are currently laying out a series of policy proposals. If they hug Trump, maybe he’ll embrace some of them. Or, as a Wall Street Journal editorial put it this week: “There’s no guarantee Mr. Trump would agree to Mr. Ryan’s agenda, but there’s no chance if Mr. Ryan publicly refuses to vote for him.”

These are decent arguments. Unfortunately, they are philosophically unsound and completely unworkable.

For starters, this line of thinking is deeply anticonservative. Conservatives believe that politics is a limited activity. Culture, psychology and morality come first. What happens in the family, neighborhood, house of worship and the heart is more fundamental and important than what happens in a legislature.

Ryan’s argument inverts all this. It puts political positions first and character and morality second. Sure Trump’s a scoundrel, but he might agree with our tax proposal. Sure, he is a racist, but he might like our position on the defense budget. Policy agreement can paper over a moral chasm. Nobody calling themselves a conservative can agree to this hierarchy of values.

The classic conservative belief, by contrast, is that character is destiny. Temperament is foundational. Each candidate has to cross some basic threshold of dependability as a human being before it’s even relevant to judge his or her policy agenda. Trump doesn’t cross that threshold.

Second, it just won’t work. The Republican Party can’t unify around Donald Trump for the same reason it can’t unify around a tornado. Trump, by his very essence, undermines cooperation, reciprocity, solidarity, stability or any other component of unity. He is a lone operator, a disloyal diva, who is incapable of horizontal relationships. He has demeaned and humiliated everybody who has tried to be his friend, from Chris Christie to Paul Ryan.

Some conservatives believe they can educate, convert or civilize Trump. This belief is a sign both of intellectual arrogance and psychological naïveté.

The man who just crushed them is in no mood to submit to them. Furthermore, Trump’s personality is pathological. It is driven by deep inner compulsions that defy friendly advice, political interest and common sense.

It’s useful to go back and read the Trump profiles in Vanity Fair and other places from the 1980s and 1990s. He has always behaved exactly as he does now: the constant flow of insults, the endless bragging, the casual cruelty, the need to destroy allies and hog the spotlight. “Donald was the child who would throw the cake at the birthday parties,” his brother Robert once said.

Psychologists are not supposed to diagnose candidates from afar, but there is a well-developed literature on narcissism that tracks with what we have seen of Trump. By one theory narcissism flows from a developmental disorder called alexithymia, the inability to identify and describe emotions in the self. Sufferers have no inner voice to understand their own feelings and reflect honestly on their own actions.

Unable to know themselves, or truly love themselves, they hunger for a never-ending supply of admiration from outside. They act at all times like they are performing before a crowd and cannot rest unless they are in the spotlight.

To make decisions, these narcissists create a rigid set of external standards, often based around admiration and contempt. Their valuing criteria are based on simple division — winners and losers, victory or humiliation. They are preoccupied with luxury, appearance or anything that signals wealth, beauty, power and success. They take Christian, Jewish and Muslim values — based on humility, charity and love — and they invert them.

Incapable of understanding themselves, they are also incapable of having empathy for others. They simply don’t know what it feels like to put themselves in another’s shoes. Other people are simply to be put to use as suppliers of admiration or as victims to be crushed as part of some dominance display.

Therefore, they go out daily in search of enemies to insult and friends to degrade. Trump, for example, reportedly sets members of his campaign staff off against each other. Each person is up one day and belittled another — always kept perpetually on edge, waiting for the Sun King to decide the person’s temporary worth.

Paul Ryan and the Republicans can try to be loyal to Trump, but he won’t be loyal to them. There’s really no choice. Congressional Republicans have to run their own separate campaign. Donald Trump does not share.

So, Bobo, who are YOU going to vote for in November?  I’ll bet I know, and I’ll bet it’s not for a Democrat, you pusillanimous turd.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

I spent much of this politically momentous week at a workshop on inequality, where papers were presented on everything from the causes of wage disparities to the effects of inequality on happiness. As so often happens at conferences, however, what really got me thinking was a question during coffee break: “Why don’t you talk more about horizontal inequality?”

What? Horizontal inequality is the term of art for inequality measured, not between individuals, but between racially or culturally defined groups. (Of course, race itself is mainly a cultural construct rather than a fact of nature — Americans of Italian or even Irish extraction weren’t always considered white.) And it struck me that horizontal thinking is what you need to understand what went down in both parties’ nominating seasons: It’s what led to Donald Trump, and also why Hillary Clinton beat back Bernie Sanders. And like it or not, horizontal inequality, racial inequality above all, will define the general election.

You can argue that it shouldn’t be that way. One way to think about the Sanders campaign is that it was based on the premise that if only progressives were to make a clear enough case about the evils of inequality among individuals, they could win over the whole working class, regardless of race. In one interview Mr. Sanders declared that if the media was doing its job, Republicans would be a fringe party receiving only 5 or 10 percent of the vote.

But that’s a pipe dream. Defining oneself at least in part by membership in a group is part of human nature. Even if you try to step away from such definitions, other people won’t. A rueful old line from my own heritage says that if you should happen to forget that you’re Jewish, someone will remind you: a truth reconfirmed by the upsurge in vocal anti-Semitism unleashed by the Trump phenomenon.

So group identity is an unavoidable part of politics, especially in America with its history of slavery and its ethnic diversity. Racial and ethnic minorities know that very well, which is one reason they overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton, who gets it, over Mr. Sanders, with his exclusive focus on individual inequality. And politicians know it too.

Indeed, the road to Trumpism began with ideological conservatives cynically exploiting America’s racial divisions. The modern Republican Party’s central policy agenda of cutting taxes on the rich while slashing benefits has never been very popular, even among its own voters. It won elections nonetheless by getting working-class whites to think of themselves as a group under siege, and to see government programs as giveaways to Those People.

Or to put it another way, the G.O.P. was able to serve the interests of the 1 percent by posing as the defender of the 80 percent — for that was the white share of the electorate when Ronald Reagan was elected.

But demographic change — rapid growth in the Hispanic and Asian population — has brought the non-Hispanic white share of the electorate down to 62 percent and falling. Republicans need to broaden their base; but the base wants candidates who will defend the old racial order. Hence Trumpism.

And race-based political mobilization cuts both ways. Black and Hispanic support for Democrats makes obvious sense, given the fact that these are relatively low-income groups that benefit disproportionately from progressive policies. They have, for example, seen very sharp reductions in the number of uninsured since Obamacare went into effect. But the overwhelming nature of that support reflects group identity.

Furthermore, some groups with relatively high income, like Jews and, increasingly, Asian-Americans, also vote strongly Democratic. Why? The answer in both cases, surely, is the suspicion that the same racial animus that drives many people to vote Republican could, all too easily, turn against other groups with a long history of persecution. And as I’ve already mentioned, we are indeed seeing a lot of right-wing anti-Semitism breaking out into the open. Does anyone doubt that a reservoir of anti-Asian prejudice is similarly lurking just under the surface?

So now comes the general election. I wish I could say that it will be a battle of ideas. But it mostly won’t, and not just because Mr. Trump doesn’t have any coherent policy ideas.

No, this is going to be mostly an election about identity. The Republican nominee represents little more than the rage of white men over a changing nation. And he’ll be facing a woman — yes, gender is another important dimension in this story — who owes her nomination to the very groups his base hates and fears.

The odds are that Mrs. Clinton will prevail, because the country has already moved a long way in her direction. But one thing is for sure: It’s going to be ugly.

Brooks and Cohen

March 8, 2016

In “It’s Not Too Late!” Bobo moans that Republicans still have time to reject Donald Trump, avoid Ted Cruz and pick a nominee who allows them to maintain their standards.  The poor S.O.B.  I’d almost feel sorry for him if he hadn’t been playing Gunga Din to the worst of the worst for decades.  In the comments “soxared040713” from Crete, IL had this to say:  “Mr. Brooks, the desperation in your column (and the panic in the headline over it) reveal the barren landscape that has defined your party for half a century.”  Mr. Cohen is seeing “An Anti-Semitism of the Left” and says this was overheard at Oberlin: The Holocaust was mere “white on white crime.”  He got taken to the woodshed in the comments.  “Peter Feld” from New York had this to say:  “Any definition of anti-Semitism that relies on attitudes toward Zionism, Israel or the Palestinians is corrupt. How does rejecting settler-colonialism, or showing “uncritical” support for Palestinians (who had their land stolen by Israel and now live under ethnic repression or in exile) make anyone anti-Semitic? I will never condone anti-Semitism but it is we Jews who have turned our own Star of David into a symbol of terror and apartheid by putting it on the flag of a supremacist ethnocracy.”  Here’s Bobo:

It’s 2 a.m. The bar is closing. Republicans have had a series of strong and nasty Trump cocktails. Suddenly Ted Cruz is beginning to look kind of attractive. At least he’s sort of predictable, and he doesn’t talk about his sexual organs in presidential debates!

Well, Republicans, have your standards really fallen so low so fast? Are you really that desperate? Can you remember your 8 p.m. selves, and all the hope you had about entering a campaign with such a deep bench of talented candidates?

Back in the early evening, before the current panic set in, Republicans understood that Ted Cruz would be a terrible general election candidate, at least as unelectable as Donald Trump and maybe more so. He is the single most conservative Republican in Congress, far adrift from the American mainstream. He’s been doing well in primaries because of the support of “extremely conservative” voters in very conservative states, and he really hasn’t broken out of that lane. His political profile is a slightly enlarged Rick Santorum but without the heart.

On policy grounds, he would be unacceptable to a large majority in this country. But his policy disadvantages are overshadowed by his public image ones. His rhetorical style will come across to young and independent voters as smarmy and oleaginous. In Congress, he had two accomplishments: the disastrous government shutdown and persuading all his colleagues to dislike him.

There is another path, one that doesn’t leave you self-loathing in the morning. It’s a long shot, but given the alternatives, it’s worth trying. First, hit the pause button on the rush to Cruz. Second, continue the Romneyesque assault on Trump. The results on Saturday, when late voters swung sharply against the Donald, suggest it may be working.

Third, work for a Marco Rubio miracle in Florida on March 15. Fourth, clear the field for John Kasich in Ohio. If Rubio and Kasich win their home states, Trump will need to take nearly 70 percent of the remaining delegates to secure a majority. That would be unlikely; he’s only winning 44 percent of the delegates now.

The party would go to the convention without a clear nominee. It would be bedlam for a few days, but a broadly acceptable new option might emerge. It would be better than going into the fall with Trump, which would be a moral error, or Cruz, who in November would manage to win several important counties in Mississippi.

This isn’t about winning the presidency in 2016 anymore. This is about something much bigger. Every 50 or 60 years, parties undergo a transformation. The G.O.P. is undergoing one right now. What happens this year will set the party’s trajectory for decades.

Since Goldwater/Reagan, the G.O.P. has been governed by a free-market, anti-government philosophy. But over the ensuing decades new problems have emerged. First, the economy has gotten crueler. Technology is displacing workers and globalization is dampening wages. Second, the social structure has atomized and frayed, especially among the less educated. Third, demography is shifting.

Orthodox Republicans, seeing no positive role for government, have had no affirmative agenda to help people deal with these new problems. Occasionally some conservative policy mavens have proposed such an agenda — anti-poverty programs, human capital policies, wage subsidies and the like — but the proposals were killed, usually in the House, by the anti-government crowd.

The 1980s anti-government orthodoxy still has many followers; Ted Cruz is the extreme embodiment of this tendency. But it has grown increasingly rigid, unresponsive and obsolete.

Along comes Donald Trump offering to replace it and change the nature of the G.O.P. He tramples all over the anti-government ideology of modern Republicanism. He would replace the free-market orthodoxy with authoritarian nationalism.

He offers to use government on behalf of the American working class, but in negative and defensive ways: to build walls, to close trade, to ban outside groups, to smash enemies. According to him, America’s problems aren’t caused by deep structural shifts. They’re caused by morons and parasites. The Great Leader will take them down.

If the G.O.P. is going to survive as a decent and viable national party, it can’t cling to the fading orthodoxy Cruz represents. But it can’t shift to ugly Trumpian nationalism, either. It has to find a third alternative: limited but energetic use of government to expand mobility and widen openness and opportunity. That is what Kasich, Rubio, Paul Ryan and others are stumbling toward.

Amid all the vulgarity and pettiness, that is what is being fought over this month: going back to the past, veering into an ugly future, or finding a third way. This is something worth fighting for, worth burning the boats behind you for.

The hour is late and the odds may be long. But there is still hope. It’s a moment for audacity, not settling for Ted Cruz simply because he’s the Titanic you know.

And then he tottered off to his fainting couch…  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

Last month, a co-chairman of the Oxford University Labour Club, Alex Chalmers, quit in protest at what he described as rampant anti-Semitism among members. A “large proportion” of the club “and the student left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews,” he said in a statement.

Chalmers referred to members of the executive committee “throwing around the term ‘Zio’” — an insult used by the Ku Klux Klan; high-level expressions of “solidarity with Hamas” and explicit defense of “their tactics of indiscriminately murdering civilians”; and the dismissal of any concern about anti-Semitism as “just the Zionists crying wolf.”

The zeitgeist on campuses these days, on both sides of the Atlantic, is one of identity and liberation politics. Jews, of course, are a minority, but through a fashionable cultural prism they are seen as the minority that isn’t — that is to say white, privileged and identified with an “imperialist-colonialist” state, Israel. They are the anti-victims in a prevalent culture of victimhood; Jews, it seems, are the sole historical victim whose claim is dubious.

A recent Oberlin alumna, Isabel Storch Sherrell, wrote in a Facebook post of the students she’d heard dismissing the Holocaust as mere “white on white crime.” As reported by David Bernstein in The Washington Post, she wrote of Jewish students, “Our struggle does not intersect with other forms of racism.”

Noa Lessof-Gendler, a student at Cambridge University, complained last month in Varsity, a campus newspaper, that anti-Semitism was felt “in the word ‘Zio’” flung around in left-wing groups.” She wrote, “I’m Jewish, but that doesn’t mean I have Palestinian blood on my hands,” or should feel nervous “about conversations in Hall when an Israeli speaker visits.”

The rise of the leftist Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of Britain’s opposition Labour Party appears to have empowered a far left for whom support of the Palestinians is uncritical and for whom, in the words of Alan Johnson, a British political theorist, “that which the demonological Jew once was, demonological Israel now is.”

Corbyn is no anti-Semite. But he has called Hamas and Hezbollah agents of “long-term peace and social justice and political justice in the whole region,” and once invited to Parliament a Palestinian Islamist, Raed Salah, who has suggested Jews were absent from the World Trade Center on 9/11. Corbyn called him an “honored citizen.” The “Corbynistas” on British campuses extol their fight against the “racist colonization of Palestine,” as one Oxford student, James Elliott, put it. Elliott was narrowly defeated last month in a bid to become youth representative on Labour’s national executive committee.

What is striking about the anti-Zionism derangement syndrome that spills over into anti-Semitism is its ahistorical nature. It denies the long Jewish presence in, and bond with, the Holy Land. It disregards the fundamental link between murderous European anti-Semitism and the decision of surviving Jews to embrace Zionism in the conviction that only a Jewish homeland could keep them safe. It dismisses the legal basis for the modern Jewish state in United Nations Resolution 181 of 1947. This was not “colonialism” but the post-Holocaust will of the world: Arab armies went to war against it and lost.

As Simon Schama, the historian, put it last month in The Financial Times, the Israel of 1948 came into being as a result of the “centuries-long dehumanization of the Jews.”

The Jewish state was needed. History had demonstrated that. That is why I am a Zionist — now a dirty word in Europe.

Today, it is Palestinians in the West Bank who are dehumanized through Israeli dominion, settlement expansion and violence. The West Bank is the tomb of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Palestinians, in turn, incite against Jews and resort to violence, including random stabbings.

The oppression of Palestinians should trouble every Jewish conscience. But nothing can justify the odious “anti-Semitic anti-Zionism” (Johnson’s term) that caused Chalmers to quit and is seeping into British and American campuses.

I talked to Aaron Simons, an Oxford student who was president of the university’s Jewish society. “There’s an odd mental noise,” he said. “In tone and attitude the way you are talked to as a Jew in these left political circles reeks of hostility. These people have an astonishingly high bar for what constitutes anti-Semitism.”

Johnson, writing in Fathom Journal, outlined three components to left-wing anti-Semitic anti-Zionism. First, “the abolition of the Jewish homeland; not Palestine alongside Israel, but Palestine instead of Israel.” Second, “a demonizing intellectual discourse” that holds that “Zionism is racism” and pursues the “systematic Nazification of Israel.” Third, a global social movement to “exclude one state — and only one state — from the economic, cultural and educational life of humanity.”

Criticism of Israel is one thing; it’s needed in vigorous form. Demonization of Israel is another, a familiar scourge refashioned by the very politics — of identity and liberation — that should comprehend the millennial Jewish struggle against persecution.

Brooks, Bruni, and Krugman

March 4, 2016

Another outpouring of angst from Bobo.  In “Donald Trump, the Great Betrayer” he wails that Republican officials have a responsibility to their country to spread the nasty truths about Trump.  Right, Bobo.  But in their debate last night all the others said they’d vote for The Donald if he got the nomination.  In the comments “Jack Chicago” from Chicago had this to say:  “That Trump’s leading competitors for the nomination can express their opposition to him in such crude terms, that he admittedly introduced, and yet then state their support if he wins the nomination, says it all. GOP politics is about the sacrifice of principle for power. The electorate don’t know which way to turn when their supposed leaders are such a cynical bunch of rogues! I cannot express adequately my feeling of helplessness as the country seems to be circling the drains.”  And “gemli” from Boston began his comment with this:  “This is rich. The party of scammers, betrayers and lying egomaniacs is warning us about Trump.”  Mr. Bruni has “Five Big Questions After a Vulgar Republican Debate,” and says it was a night of truth, consequences and puerile boasting for Donald Trump.  Prof. Krugman considers the “Clash of Republican Con Artists” and says Donald Trump isn’t the only fraud running for the Republican nomination.  Here’s Bobo, drenched in flop sweat:

Now, at long last, the big guns are being brought to bear. Now, at long last, some major Republicans like Mitt Romney are speaking up to lay waste to Donald Trump.

For months Trump’s rivals and other Republicans have either retreated in silence or tentatively and ineptly criticized him for exactly those traits that voters like about him: for being a slapdash, politically incorrect money-hungry bully.

But now finally — at long last — major Republicans are raising their heads and highlighting Trump’s actual vulnerability: his inability to think for an extended time about anybody but himself.

He seduces people with his confidence and his promises. People invest time, love and money in him. But in the end he cares only about himself. He betrays those who trust him and leaves them high and dry.

It’s unpleasant to have to play politics on this personal level. But this is a message that can sway potential Trump supporters, many of whom have only the barest information on what Trump’s life and career have actually been like.

This is a message that can work in a sour and cynical time among voters who already feel betrayed. This is a message that can work because it’s a personality type everyone understands. This is a time when it is not in fact too late, when it may still be possible to prevent his nomination.

The campaign against Trump has to be specific and relentless: a series of clear examples, rolled out day upon day with the same message. Donald Trump betrays.

It can start with Trump University, where Trump betrayed schoolteachers and others who dreamed of building a better life for themselves.

Trump billed his university as a place people could go to learn everything necessary about real estate investing. According to a 2013 lawsuit filed by New York’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, more than 5,000 people paid $40 million, a quarter of which went to Trump himself.

Internal Trump University documents suggest that the university wasn’t really oriented around teaching, but rather around luring customers into buying more and more courses.

According to the New York lawsuit, instructors filled out course evaluations themselves or had students fill out the non-anonymous forms in front of them, pressuring them into giving positive reviews. During breaks students were told to call their credit card companies to increase their credit limits. They were given a script encouraging them to exaggerate their incomes. The Better Business Bureau gave the school a D- rating in 2010.

“They lure you in with false promises,” one student, Patricia Murphy, toldThe Times in 2011. Murphy said she had spent about $12,000 on Trump University classes, much of it racked up on her credit cards. “I was scammed,” she said.

The barrage can continue with Trump Mortgage. On the campaign trail, Trump tells people he saw the mortgage crisis coming. “I told a lot of people,” he has said, “and I was right. You know, I’m pretty good at that stuff.”

Trump’s biggest lies are the ones he tells himself. The reality is that Trump opened his mortgage company in 2006. Others smelled a bubble, but not Trump. “I think it’s a great time to start a mortgage company,” he told CNBC. “The real estate market is going to be very strong for a long time to come.”

Part of the operation was a boiler room where people cold-called clients, sometimes pushing subprime loans and offering easy approval.

Jennifer McGovern had trusted Trump and went to work for him. But she got stiffed in the end. In 2008 a New York State Supreme Court judgeordered Trump Mortgage to pay her the $298,274 she was owed. The bill wasn’t paid. “The company was set up in a way that we could never recover what we were owed,” she told The Washington Post.

The stories can go on and on. The betrayal of investors when his casino businesses went bankrupt. The betrayal of his first wife with his flagrant public affair with Marla Maples. The betrayal of American workers when he decided to hire illegals. The people left in the wake of other debacles: Trump Air, Trump Vodka, Trump Financial, etc.

These weren’t just risks that went bad. They were shams, built like his campaign around empty promises and on Trump’s fragile and overweening pride.

The burden of responsibility now falls on Republican officials, elected and nonelected, at all levels. For years they have built relationships in their communities, earned the right to be heard. If they now feel that Donald Trump would be a reckless and dangerous president, then they have a responsibility to their country to tell those people the truth, to rally all their energies against this man.

Since the start of his campaign Trump has had more energy and more courage than his opponents. Maybe that’s now changing.

Brooks and Cohen

February 16, 2016

Bobo continues to ooze flop sweat.  In “The Roosevelt Approach” he whines that you candidates running against Trump and Sanders, you need a new emotional tone, one appealing to comradeship, not anger.  Sometimes it takes someone from away to point out the obvious.  In the comments “Expat Annie” from Germany has this to say:  “No, Mr. Brooks, what has happened in America is not a “natural” disaster. Rather, it is a disaster purposefully brought about by 35 years of trickle-down economics and relentless tax-cutting that has benefited only those at the very top–while the rest of the country has been left with reduced services, underfunded schools, a crumbling infrastructure, unaffordable higher education, etc.  After supporting all of these Republican policies over the years, your attempt now to exhort the Republican candidates to “emphasize the warm bonds of neighbor helping neighbor” and to get to work on repairing the social fabric seems patently absurd. And given the way the Republicans have treated President Obama over the past 7 years, the complete disrespect they have shown him and, by extension,   the people who voted for him, where in the world do you get the idea that they would now be interested in restoring “the basic respect diverse Americans have for one another?””  Mr. Cohen has a question:  “Will Merkel Pay for Doing the Right Thing?”  He says the German chancellor needs to set limits on the number of refugees, but she also needs help from her Western allies.  Here’s Bobo:

Dear Hillary, Jeb, Marco and John,

You all find yourselves running against a whirlwind. Hillary, for you the whirlwind is Bernie Sanders. For the rest of you it’s Donald Trump.

Either way, you’re running against a candidate who generates passionate intensity. At some level those candidates’ followers must know that there’s something wildly impractical about the candidacy they are fervently supporting. Trump has no actual policies and Sanders has little chance of getting his passed.

And yet the supporters don’t care. Sanders and Trump make them feel known. Finally, somebody is saying what they feel. Finally, somebody is outraged by the things that outrage them. There’s a deep passion embedded in the Trump and Sanders phenomena, arousing energy, magical thinking and some suspension of disbelief.

And the rest of you are basically asking voters to snap out of it. All of you, but especially you, Hillary, are asking voters to calm down and be pragmatic: Consider electability! Vote for the one who can get laws passed!

And it’s not working. In debates Sanders is uninhibited by the constraints of reality, so his answers are always bolder. Trump speaks from the id, not from any policy paper, so his answers are always more vivid.

The brute fact is you can’t beat passion with pragmatism. The human heart is not built that way. You can’t beat angry passion with bloodless calculation. If you’re going to have any chance against these hotheads, you have to set a rival and stronger emotional tone. I’d ask you to think of the ancient ideal of comradeship.

Many Americans feel like they are the victims of a slow-moving natural disaster. Sanders and Trump try to put the blame for this disaster on discrete groups of people — Wall Street or immigrants. But in reality it’s a natural disaster caused by structural forces — globalization, technological change, the dissolution of the family, racism.

A great nation doesn’t divide in times of natural disaster. It doesn’t choose leaders who angrily tear it apart. Instead, it chooses leaders like Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower, leaders who radiate sunny confidence, joy and neighborliness.

You may think of neighborliness as a sentimental, soft virtue. And I suppose in times of peace, prosperity and ease it is a sweet and tender thing.

But look at what happens to neighbors when one friend is threatened or when times are hard. Then neighborliness takes on a different hue. Friends become comrades in arms.

That is what F.D.R. and Ike were able to do with their leadership styles. With fireside chats and golf jokes, they were neighborly even in times of great difficulty and stress. But they were also able to set an emotional tone that brought people together and changed the nature of Americans’ relationships with one another.

During their presidencies, the bonds of solidarity grew stronger and the country more formidable. They were able to cultivate a deep sense of unity, responsibility and sacrifice. They didn’t call for sacrifice as something painful, but as what one did for one’s friends.

I’d love to see one of you counter the Trump and Sanders emotional tones with a bold shift in psychology. This would be a shift toward the cheerful resolve of an F.D.R. or an Eisenhower.

Let Trump and Sanders shout, harangue and lecture. You respond to difficulty with warmth, confidence and optimism.

Let them deliver long, repetitive and uninterrupted lectures. You converse, interact, chat and listen.

Let them stand angry and solitary. You run as part of a team, a band of brothers, with diverse advisers and buddies joining you onstage at event after event.

Let them assert that all our problems can be solved if other people sacrifice — the immigrants or the top 1 percent. You call for shared sacrifice. The rich can give more in taxes, but the rich, the middle class and the poor can all give more in civic engagement.

Let them emphasize the cold relations of business (Trump) or of the state (Sanders). You emphasize the warm bonds of neighbor helping neighbor. While they dwell in the land of impersonal bureaucracies, you point out that the primary task before us to repair the social fabric — the basic respect diverse Americans have for one another.

Let them preach pessimism. You emphasize a warm nationalism — a basic confidence that America is not going down in decline, that it is still the nation best positioned to dominate the 21st century, that confidence is a better guide than anger or fear.

Sanders and Trump have adopted emotional tones that are going to offend and exhaust people over time. Watching the G.O.P. South Carolina debate I got the impression that Trump’s exhaustion moment is at hand.

The candidate who has the audacity to change the emotional tone of this whole election will win the White House and have a shot at rebinding the civic fabric of this nation.

We won’t even address how he conflates Trump and Sanders…  Here’s Mr. Cohen, writing from Berlin:

A former German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, recently calledAngela Merkel’s decision to open the door to an unlimited number of refugees a “mistake” and offered this verdict: Merkel had a “heart, but no plan.”

This view of the German leader, who is beloved but now begrudged, is gaining ground as refugees from a ravaged Syria and elsewhere pour in. Local authorities are strained to the limit. Billions of euros have been spent with no end in sight. Many people came in whose identities are unknown; they have to register if they want handouts, but some have not and there are security concerns. Cologne has become a byword for concern over how a large influx of Muslim men will affect the place and security of women in German society.

Three important state elections loom next month. It seems inevitable the far-right Alternative for Germany Party will surge. Merkel will be blamed. Her support has already tumbled. One poll this month showed 46 percent of Germans support her, compared with 75 percent in April last year — and that’s with a strong economy. She could be vulnerable if her Christian Democratic Party turns on her. Europe without Merkel will sink.

So why did this customarily prudent chancellor do it? Because she is a German, and to be German is to carry a special responsibility for those terrorized in their homeland and forced into flight. Because she once lived in a country, East Germany, that shot people who tried to cross its border. Because a united Europe ushered Germany from its darkest hour to prosperity, and she is not about to let the European Union pitch into mayhem on her watch — as it would with more than a million ragged refugees adrift. And, yes, because she has a heart.

Merkel did the right thing. The question now is how she handles the consequences. Management involves setting limits. After taking in more than one million refugees last year, Germany cannot take in that number again in 2016. As Germany’s president, Joachim Gauck, said recently: “A limitation strategy may even be both morally and politically necessary in order to preserve the state’s ability to function.” He added, “If democrats refuse to talk about limits, they leave the field open to populists and xenophobes.”

But setting limits is not a just a German issue. It’s a Syrian issue. It’s a Turkish issue. It’s a Russian issue. It’s an American issue. It’s a European issue. Merkel needs Europe to have a functioning external border if it is to remain borderless within the 20-plus-nation Schengen zone. Otherwise national borders will go up. The European Union will unmake itself. “No European border, no Schengen!” Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, Gauck’s chief adviser, told me.

Merkel’s domestic dilemma demands international answers.

She needs the Syrian war, the main source of the refugee outflow, to end, but the latest American-Russian plan for a cessation of hostilities almost looks more likely to unravel in the weeks ahead than hold. She needs Turkey, in exchange for billions of euros, to tighten its borders and stop the refugee exodus. But Turkey is playing an extortion game, and is not above a little schadenfreude at seeing the Europe that rejected it fray.

In Russia, she needs President Vladimir Putin’s cooperation, but his strategy is the undermining of a united Europe; a “weaponized” refugee flow achieves just that. Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian prime minister, declared in Munich this weekend that, “We are rapidly rolling into a period of a new cold war.” He asked: “Is this 2016 or 1962?” Around Aleppo, a world war in miniature unfolds.

Merkel needs the United States to exercise its power in a way President Obama has refused to do through the inexorable spread of the Syrian crisis. Unless the United States is prepared to establish a safe area in northern Syria and put pressure on Turkey to turn a chaotic refugee flow into an orderly process, the current untenable situation will persist. If America is unprepared to reverse Russian-Iranian gains in Syria, it must at least show commitment to managing the consequences. She needs European countries like Poland and Hungary — recipients of huge injections of cash from the European Union — to snap out of their ungrateful moods of nationalist xenophobia, but that’s not going to happen soon.

The European idea has not been this weak since the march to unity began in the 1950s. Germany is awash in so-called Putinversteher — broadly Putin sympathizers like Schröder — who admire him for his strong assertion of Russian national interests. Michael Naumann, a former minister of culture, told me: “The United States has left us, we are the orphaned kids in the playground, and there’s one tough guy, Putin. It’s really that simple.”

Germany is Europe’s core, its dominant power. If Merkel’s refugee gambit implodes, the reverberations will be felt everywhere. The country feels restive, placid on the surface, tense beneath. A woman told me of how a 15-year-old Syrian refugee was admitted to her daughter’s class. The girl’s cellphone rang, the ring tone was a muezzin’s call to prayer, and the teacher burst out: “So next you’ll have a suicide belt!” There was embarrassment all around, apologies and parental letters. “The situation’s out of control,” the woman said.

At the Berlin state office for health and social affairs, a sprawling maze of buildings, white tents have gone up. Long lines of refugees make their way through the various bureaucratic hurdles to identity cards. They huddle in the rain, their sneakers muddy, their jackets too flimsy for the cold.

Mustafa Dilaneh left Latakia, Syria’s main port, in August, and paid $6,000 for his passage to Germany. He has been granted German residency until Feb. 22; he hopes for a passport after that. He is learning German. He wants to return home, but first, he says, President Bashar al-Assad “must go or die.” Failing that, he has a dream of America. “I love New York so much,” he told me. “The city no sleep.”

A Facebook friend taught Dilaneh that phrase. This is the world’s first massive smartphone coordinated migration. Syrians don’t see the West as alien; they know it through countless images, brands and tunes. But for some Germans, these Middle Eastern refugees are an alien threat.

I went out to Nauen, a small dismal town near Berlin where unemployment is high. Signs brandished at rightist demonstrations last year said, “Nauen will stay white.” In August, a gymnasium that was to have housed refugees was burned down in an unsolved act of arson. The charred skeleton of the building with its blackened pillars and piles of rubble still stands. It cost about four million euros to build and will need at least that amount to replace.

A new emergency center for several hundred refugees is planned nearby, with a view of this stark symbol of hatred. To say Nauen is combustible would be an understatement. “There will more protests,” Volker Müller, who works to promote intercultural understanding, told me. “In some ways this feels like a bigger problem than German reunification.”

The scale of Germany’s challenge is evident at Tempelhof Airport in Berlin, built to last by the Nazis, and used in 1948 and 1949 for the Berlin Airlift that, at its height, saw American C-47s landing every 90 seconds to bring the supplies essential for the preservation of freedom in part of the divided German capital. Now the vast 52-foot high hangars are being converted into shelters for thousands of refugees who sleep, 12 to each screened white rectangular bedroom unit, where aircraft were once housed. Already there are 2,600 or so refugees; there may eventually be 7,000. “It’s our duty to find a place for them,” Sascha Langenbach, a spokesman on Berlin social issues, told me. He predicted another 60,000 may come to the capital this year.

I spoke to a couple of young refugees from Aleppo, Mahmoud Sultan and Mulham (he preferred not to give his family name out of concern for his family’s safety). They complained about the food, about the noise, about the difficulty of studying German, about how weeks stretched into months at this “emergency” center.

They had not wanted to leave Aleppo. But, as Mulham put it: “You have this hope the war will end. For one year, two years, three years, you keep this hope. You think, I owe my country something and I will stay. Until in the fifth year you realize there are five wars! The rebels against Assad, ISIS against the Free Syrian Army, the Saudis against Iran, the Kurds against ISIS, and Russia against America! And you lose hope.”

The refugees did not leave because they had a choice. They left because they concluded they had none. Merkel, given her personal history and her nation’s, had little choice but to take them in.

Now she needs those five wars to abate, and Western allies to come together with something of the resolve that Tempelhof symbolizes, if she is to calm a strained Germany, hold Europe together, and survive. That will require leadership and determination of a kind she demonstrated but that is in short supply in the social-media echo chamber of our times.

This column has been updated to reflect news developments.

Bobo from yesterday, Friedman and Bruni

February 10, 2016

I had some minor eye surgery yesterday, so didn’t spend any time on the computer.  But I couldn’t POSSIBLY not post Bobo’s cri de coeur from yesterday, titled, and you can’t make this stuff up, “I Miss Barack Obama.”  Turns out that President Obama is okay after all…  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “Let’s skip the disingenuous ode to Obama. Of course he’s a decent man. But instead of mourning the upcoming loss of his grace and equanimity, we ought to be lamenting the loss of eight years of potential that Republicans squandered in their utter refusal to work with him. Conservatives like Mr. Brooks have undermined everything he’s stood for, and helped to create the polarized chaos out of which these embarrassing excuses for Republican candidates have emerged.  Brooks dismisses them all, except that he find Rubio charming when he breaks out in a nervous sweat and robotically repeats talking points under the pressure of a Republican debate. Imagine how charming he’ll be when North Korea launches missiles.”  Poor Bobo has a terrible case of the flop sweats.  Today The Moustache of Wisdom ponders “The Many Mideast Solutions” and says our presidential candidates can retire their platitudes about standing with Israeli and Sunni Arab allies.  Mr. Bruni considers “Feminism, Hell and Hillary Clinton” and says gender informs her quest, but it’s not the main reason to be for or against her.  Here’s Bobo from yesterday:

As this primary season has gone along, a strange sensation has come over me: I miss Barack Obama. Now, obviously I disagree with a lot of Obama’s policy decisions. I’ve been disappointed by aspects of his presidency. I hope the next presidency is a philosophic departure.

But over the course of this campaign it feels as if there’s been a decline in behavioral standards across the board. Many of the traits of character and leadership that Obama possesses, and that maybe we have taken too much for granted, have suddenly gone missing or are in short supply.

The first and most important of these is basic integrity. The Obama administration has been remarkably scandal-free. Think of the way Iran-contra or the Lewinsky scandals swallowed years from Reagan and Clinton.

We’ve had very little of that from Obama. He and his staff have generally behaved with basic rectitude. Hillary Clinton is constantly having to hold these defensive press conferences when she’s trying to explain away some vaguely shady shortcut she’s taken, or decision she has made, but Obama has not had to do that.

He and his wife have not only displayed superior integrity themselves, they have mostly attracted and hired people with high personal standards. There are all sorts of unsightly characters floating around politics, including in the Clinton camp and in Gov. Chris Christie’s administration. This sort has been blocked from team Obama.

Second, a sense of basic humanity. Donald Trump has spent much of this campaign vowing to block Muslim immigration. You can only say that if you treat Muslim Americans as an abstraction. President Obama, meanwhile, went to a mosque, looked into people’s eyes and gave a wonderful speech reasserting their place as Americans.

He’s exuded this basic care and respect for the dignity of others time and time again. Let’s put it this way: Imagine if Barack and Michelle Obama joined the board of a charity you’re involved in. You’d be happy to have such people in your community. Could you say that comfortably about Ted Cruz? The quality of a president’s humanity flows out in the unexpected but important moments.

Third, a soundness in his decision-making process. Over the years I have spoken to many members of this administration who were disappointed that the president didn’t take their advice. But those disappointed staffers almost always felt that their views had been considered in depth.

Obama’s basic approach is to promote his values as much as he can within the limits of the situation. Bernie Sanders, by contrast, has been so blinded by his values that the reality of the situation does not seem to penetrate his mind.

Take health care. Passing Obamacare was a mighty lift that led to two gigantic midterm election defeats. As Megan McArdle pointed out in her Bloomberg View column, Obamacare took coverage away from only a small minority of Americans. Sanderscare would take employer coverage away from tens of millions of satisfied customers, destroy the health insurance business and levy massive new tax hikes. This is epic social disruption.

To think you could pass Sanderscare through a polarized Washington and in a country deeply suspicious of government is to live in intellectual fairyland. President Obama may have been too cautious, especially in the Middle East, but at least he’s able to grasp the reality of the situation.

Fourth, grace under pressure. I happen to find it charming that Marco Rubio gets nervous on the big occasions — that he grabs for the bottle of water, breaks out in a sweat and went robotic in the last debate. It shows Rubio is a normal person. And I happen to think overconfidence is one of Obama’s great flaws. But a president has to maintain equipoise under enormous pressure. Obama has done that, especially amid the financial crisis. After Saturday night, this is now an open question about Rubio.

Fifth, a resilient sense of optimism. To hear Sanders or Trump, Cruz and Ben Carson campaign is to wallow in the pornography of pessimism, to conclude that this country is on the verge of complete collapse. That’s simply not true. We have problems, but they are less serious than those faced by just about any other nation on earth.

People are motivated to make wise choices more by hope and opportunity than by fear, cynicism, hatred and despair. Unlike many current candidates, Obama has not appealed to those passions.

No, Obama has not been temperamentally perfect. Too often he’s been disdainful, aloof, resentful and insular. But there is a tone of ugliness creeping across the world, as democracies retreat, as tribalism mounts, as suspiciousness and authoritarianism take center stage.

Obama radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance that I’m beginning to miss, and that I suspect we will all miss a bit, regardless of who replaces him.

About the only thing I’ll add to that is to take everything he said with a larger than usual pinch of pink Himalayan salt because he cited Megan “Where Does That Decimal Point Go?” McArdle.  Now we get to TMOW:

In December at the Brookings Saban Forum on the Middle East, Atlantic magazine reporter Jeff Goldberg asked the right-wing former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman this provocative question: “Things are shifting radically not only in non-Jewish America but in Jewish America as it concerns Israel and its reputation. My question is: (A) Do you care? (B) What are you going to do about it? And (C) how important is it to you?”

“To speak frankly, I don’t care,” Lieberman responded, adding that Israel lived in a dangerous neighborhood. Give Lieberman credit for honesty: I don’t really care what American Jews or non-Jews think about Israel.

That conversation came back to me as I listened to the Democratic and Republican debates when they briefly veered into foreign policy, with candidates spouting the usual platitudes about standing with our Israeli and Sunni Arab allies. Here’s a news flash: You can retire those platitudes. Whoever becomes the next president will have to deal with a totally different Middle East.

It will be a Middle East shaped by struggle over a one-state solution, a no-state solution, a non-state solution and a rogue-state solution.

That is, a one-state solution in Israel, a no-state solution in Syria, Yemen and Libya, a non-state solution offered by the Islamic caliphate and a rogue-state solution offered by Iran.

Start with Israel. The peace process is dead. It’s over, folks, so please stop sending the New York Times Op-Ed page editor your proposals for a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. The next U.S. president will have to deal with an Israel determined to permanently occupy all the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, including where 2.5 million West Bank Palestinians live.

How did we get there? So many people stuck knives into the peace process it’s hard to know who delivered the mortal blow. Was it the fanatical Jewish settlers determined to keep expanding their footprint in the West Bank and able to sabotage any Israeli politician or army officer who opposed them? Was it right-wing Jewish billionaires, like Sheldon Adelson, who used their influence to blunt any U.S. congressional criticism of Bibi Netanyahu?

Or was it Netanyahu, whose lust to hold onto his seat of power is only surpassed by his lack of imagination to find a secure way to separate from the Palestinians? Bibi won: He’s now a historic figure — the founding father of the one-state solution.

And Hamas is the mother. Hamas devoted all its resources to digging tunnels to attack Israelis from Gaza rather than turning Gaza into Singapore, making a laughingstock of Israeli peace advocates. And Hamas launched a rocket close enough to Tel Aviv’s airport that the U.S. banned all American flights for a day, signaling to every Israeli, dove or hawk, what could happen if they ceded the West Bank.

But Hamas was not alone. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, sacked the only effective Palestinian prime minister ever, Salam Fayyad, who was dedicated to fighting corruption and proving that Palestinians deserved a state by focusing on building institutions, not U.N. resolutions.

They all killed the two-state solution. Let the one-state era begin. It will involve a steady low-grade civil war between Palestinians and Israelis and a growing Israeli isolation in Europe and on college campuses that the next U.S. president will have to navigate.

Meanwhile, a no-state Syria — a Syria that Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers only partly control — will be a chest wound bleeding refugees into Europe. I am certain that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is deliberately bombing anti-regime Syrians to drive them into Europe in hopes of creating a rift in the European Union, strain its resources and make it a weaker rival to Russia and a weaker ally for America.

And the non-state Sunni caliphate (ISIS) and rogue-state Shiite Iran will feed off each other. I love it when both Democratic and Republican candidates say, “When I am president, I’ll get Sunni Arabs to take the lead in fighting ISIS.” Gosh, I bet Obama never thought of that!

The Sunni Arabs are never going to destroy a non-state ISIS as long as Iran behaves like a Shiite rogue state, not a normal one. It’s true, Iran is a great civilization. It could dominate the region with the dynamism of its business class, universities, science and arts. But Iran’s ayatollahs don’t trust their soft power. They prefer instead to go rogue, to look for dignity in all the wrong places — by using Shiite proxies to dominate four Arab capitals: Beirut, Damascus, Sana and Baghdad.

So my advice to all the candidates is: Keep talking about the fantasy Middle East. I can always use a good bedtime story to fall asleep. But get ready for the real thing. This is not your grandfather’s Israel anymore, it’s not your oil company’s Saudi Arabia anymore, it’s not your NATO’s Turkey anymore, it’s not your cabdriver’s Iran anymore and it’s not your radical chic college professor’s Palestine anymore. It’s a wholly different beast now, slouching toward Bethlehem.

And now we get to Mr. Bruni:

I’m 51. My health is decent. And while my mother died young, there’s longevity elsewhere in the family tree.

I could live to see an openly gay presidential candidate with a real chance of victory.

Will there be a “special place in hell” for me if I, as a gay man, don’t support him or her?

I can guess Madeleine Albright’s answer. She more or less told women that they’re damned if they’re not on Hillary Clinton’s team.

I’m still trying to get my head around that — and around Gloria Steinem’s breathtakingly demeaning assertion that young women who back Bernie Sanders are in thrall to pheromones, not ideas or idealism, and angling to score dates with the young bucks in the Sanders brigade.

That’s right, “democratic socialism” is a known aphrodisiac: the oyster of politics. There’s nothing like denunciations of oligarchs to put you in the mood.

Also, has Steinem forgotten about lesbians? More than a few of them support Sanders, and it’s not because of the way some 26-year-old doctoral candidate looks in his L. L. Bean flannel.

There’s a weird strain of thought swirling around Clinton’s campaign: that we should vote for her because she’s a woman. Or that she’s inoculated from certain flaws or accusations by dint of gender. Or that, at the least, there’s an onus on forward-looking people who care about gender inequality to promote her candidacy.

I care about gender inequality, and I don’t buy it. It’s bad logic. It’s even worse strategy. People don’t vote out of shame. They vote out of hope.

Perhaps that was among the lessons of Clinton’s defeat in New Hampshire on Tuesday, where she lost to Sanders among all women by at least seven percentage points, according to exit polling, and among women under 30 by more than 60 points.

Clinton is on sturdy ground, morally and tactically, when she mentions a double standard for women. So are her surrogates. Actually, there are so many double standards that you couldn’t fit them in a column eight times the length of this one, and she has bumped into plenty, including, yes, the fuss over her raised voice.

But the argument that she’s somehow not a full-fledged member of the establishment because she’s a woman — as she contended during the most recent Democratic debate — is nonsense. On that night, she also echoed a past statement to CBS News that she “cannot imagine anyone being more of an outsider than the first woman president.”

Really? Anyone? Off the top of my head I can think of a person who might quibble with that. His name is Barack Obama.

Admittedly, there’s no easy way to navigate the terrain she inhabits. Eight years ago, she denied her campaign the romantic sweep of Obama’s by playing down and trying to correct for gender. This time around, she was advised, rightly, not to repeat that mistake. But how to do that without going too far?

I think she started out perfectly, with incontestable reflections on women’s challenges in the workplace and with casual asides about the historic nature of her bid. Discussing her age, she said, “I will be the youngest woman president in the history of the United States.”

But more recently, things have fallen out of whack. Bill Clinton’s diatribeabout the misogyny of some Sanders supporters sounded like a defensive outsourcing of blame for the Clinton campaign’s disappointments in the polls and the returns: the narrowest of victories in Iowa followed by the resounding New Hampshire defeat.

The Clintons are always quick to point fingers and slow to look in the mirror. On top of which, Bill Clinton’s invocation of sexism felt too pat, his citation of gross language on Twitter (which, sadly, brims with it) too easy.

Clinton’s gender indeed matters. Just as you couldn’t properly evaluate Obama’s arc without factoring in race, you can’t see her accurately without recognizing that she’s a woman of her time, with all the attendant obstacles, hurts, compromises and tenacity.

That informs — and, ideally, illuminates — her perspective. And her presidency would carry a powerful, constructive symbolism that can’t and shouldn’t be ignored.

But those are considerations among many, many others in taking her measure and in casting a vote. To focus only or primarily on them is more reductive than respectful, and to tell women in particular what kind of politics they should practice is the antithesis of feminism, which advocates independence and choices.

We’re all complicated people voting for complicated people. We’re not census subgroups falling in line.

I’ll go to the barricades for that imagined gay candidate if he or she has talents I trust, positions I respect and a character I admire. If not, I’ll probably go elsewhere, because being gay won’t be the sum of that person, just as womanhood isn’t where Clinton begins and ends.

Brooks and Krugman

December 4, 2015

Bobo, drenched in flop sweat, is whistling past the graveyard.  In “No, Donald Trump Won’t Win” he tries to convince us that in the voting booth, responsible will top exciting but risky.  Bobo, I wouldn’t bet on that if I were you.  Y’all have spent 40 years creating the monster, and now you seem to be terrified of it.  Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.  My schadens are freuded…  Prof. Krugman, in “Republican’s Climate Change Denial Denial,” says elected Republicans deny climate change and moderate unelected Republicans who recognize it are in denial that the deniers will smarten up.  Here’s Bobo:

A little while ago I went rug shopping. Four rugs were laid out on the floor and among them was one with a pink motif that was dazzlingly beautiful. It was complex and sophisticated. If you had asked me at that moment which rug I wanted, I would have said the pink one.

This conviction lasted about five minutes. But then my mentality flipped and I started asking some questions. Would the furniture go with this rug? Would this rug clash with the wall hangings? Would I get tired of its electric vibrancy?

Suddenly a subtler and more prosaic blue rug grabbed center stage. The rugs had not changed, but suddenly I wanted the blue rug. The pink rug had done an excellent job of being eye-popping on its own. The blue rug was doing an excellent job of being a rug I could enjoy living with.

For many Republicans, Donald Trump is their pink rug. He does the job that they want done at this moment. He reflects their disgust with the political establishment. He gives them the pleasurable sensation that somebody can come to Washington, kick some tail and shake things up.

But decision-making is a journey, not an early December snapshot. It goes in stages.

The campaign may seem old, but we are still in the casual attention stage. Every four years pollsters ask Iowa and New Hampshire voters when they made up their minds. Roughly 70 or 80 percent make up their minds in the final month of the race. Up until then they are busy with life and work and just glancing at the campaign. If you ask them which candidate they support, that question may generate an answer, but that doesn’t mean they are actually committed to electing the name they happen to utter.

Over at the FiveThirtyEight blog, Nate Silver looked at campaign-related Google searches in past years in the weeks before the Iowa caucuses. Until a week or two before the caucuses very few people are doing any serious investigations of the candidates. Then just before and after the caucuses voters get engaged and Google searches surge.

Silver produced a chart showing what this year’s polling would look like if we actually took the current levels of casual attention and uncertainty seriously. In that chart “Undecided” had 80 percent support. Trump had 5 percent support; Carson, 4; Cruz, 3; and Rubio, 2.

That’s about the best description of where the Republican race is right now.

Just because voters aren’t making final decisions doesn’t mean they are passive. They’re in the dressing room. They’re trying on different outfits. Most of them are finding they like a lot of different conflicting choices.

Human beings have multiple selves. The mind dances from this module to that module. When Montaigne tried to describe his mind, he wrote, “I cannot keep my subject still. It goes along befuddled and staggering, with a natural drunkenness.” In one mood Trump seems pretty attractive to some people. In another it’s Carson, or Cruz or Rubio.

But in the final month the mentality shifts. The question is no longer, What shiny object makes me feel good? The question is, Who do I need at this moment to do the job? Different sorts of decision-making styles kick in.

For example, there are two contrasting types of decision-making mentalities, maximizing and satisficing. If you’re choosing a marriage partner, you probably want to maximize. You want to find the very best person you are totally in love with. You’ll need that passion to fuse you two together so you can survive the tough times. You want somebody who can inspire and be a messenger to your best future.

But politics is not like that. Politics is a prosaic activity most of the time. You probably want to satisfice, pick the person who’s good enough, who seems reasonably responsible.

When campaigns enter that final month, voters tend to gravitate toward the person who seems most orderly. As the primary season advances, voters’ tolerance for risk declines. They focus on the potential downsides of each contender and wonder, Could this person make things even worse?

When this mental shift happens, I suspect Trump will slide. All the traits that seem charming will suddenly seem risky. The voters’ hopes for transformation will give way to a fear of chaos. When the polls shift from registered voters to likely voters, cautious party loyalists will make up a greater share of those counted.

The voting booth focuses the mind. The experience is no longer about self-expression and feeling good in the moment. It’s about the finger on the nuclear trigger for the next four years. In an era of high anxiety, I doubt Republican voters will take a flyer on their party’s future — or their country’s future.

Bobo seems to forget that the entire Republican party has lost its collective mind.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

Future historians — if there are any future historians — will almost surely say that the most important thing happening in the world during December 2015 was the climate talks in Paris. True, nothing agreed to in Paris will be enough, by itself, to solve the problem of global warming. But the talks could mark a turning point, the beginning of the kind of international action needed to avert catastrophe.

Then again, they might not; we may be doomed. And if we are, you know who will be responsible: the Republican Party.

O.K., I know the reaction of many readers: How partisan! How over the top! But what I said is, in fact, the obvious truth. And the inability of our news media, our pundits and our political establishment in general to face up to that truth is an important contributing factor to the danger we face.

Anyone who follows U.S. political debates on the environment knows that Republican politicians overwhelmingly oppose any action to limit emissions of greenhouse gases, and that the great majority reject the scientific consensus on climate change. Last year PolitiFact could find only eight Republicans in Congress, out of 278 in the caucus, who had made on-the-record comments accepting the reality of man-made global warming. And most of the contenders for the Republican presidential nomination aresolidly in the anti-science camp.

What people may not realize, however, is how extraordinary the G.O.P.’s wall of denial is, both in the U.S. context and on the global scene.

I often hear from people claiming that the American left is just as bad as the right on scientific issues, citing, say, hysteria over genetically modified food or nuclear power. But even if you think such views are really comparable to climate denial (which they aren’t), they’re views held by only some people on the left, not orthodoxies enforced on a whole party by what even my conservative colleague David Brooks calls the “thought police.”

And climate-denial orthodoxy doesn’t just say that the scientific consensus is wrong. Senior Republican members of Congress routinely indulge in wild conspiracy theories, alleging that all the evidence for climate change is the product of a giant hoax perpetrated by thousands of scientists around the world. And they do all they can to harass and intimidate individual scientists.

In a way, this is part of a long tradition: Richard Hofstadter’s famous essay“The Paranoid Style in American Politics” was published half a century ago. But having that style completely take over one of our two major parties is something new.

It’s also something with no counterpart abroad.

It’s true that conservative parties across the West tend to be less favorable to climate action than parties to their left. But in most countries — actually, everywhere except America and Australia — these parties nonetheless support measures to limit emissions. And U.S. Republicans are unique in refusing to accept that there is even a problem. Unfortunately, given the importance of the United States, the extremism of one party in one country has enormous global implications.

By rights, then, the 2016 election should be seen as a referendum on that extremism. But it probably won’t be reported that way. Which brings me to what you might call the problem of climate denial denial.

Some of this denial comes from moderate Republicans, who do still exist — just not in elected office. These moderates may admit that their party has gone off the deep end on the climate issue, but they tend to argue that it won’t last, that the party will start talking sense any day now. (And they will, of course, find reasons to support whatever climate-denier the G.O.P. nominates for president.)

Everything we know about the process that brought Republicans to this point says that this is pure fantasy. But it’s a fantasy that will cloud public perception.

More important, probably, is the denial inherent in the conventions of political journalism, which say that you must always portray the parties as symmetric — that any report on extreme positions taken by one side must be framed in a way that makes it sound as if both sides do it. We saw this on budget issues, where some self-proclaimed centrist commentators, while criticizing Republicans for their absolute refusal to consider tax hikes, also made a point of criticizing President Obama for opposing spending cuts that he actually supported. My guess is that climate disputes will receive the same treatment.

But I hope I’m wrong, and I’d urge everyone outside the climate-denial bubble to frankly acknowledge the awesome, terrifying reality. We’re looking at a party that has turned its back on science at a time when doing so puts the very future of civilization at risk. That’s the truth, and it needs to be faced head-on.

Brooks and Krugman

November 13, 2015

Bobo’s got a bad case of the flop sweats.  In “The G.O.P. at an Immigration Crossroads” he wrings his hands and moans that the Republican Party is about to secure either its future or its demise.  I think I know which it will be, given the current occupants of the clown car…  Prof. Krugman considers “Republicans’ Lust for Gold” and says the party’s presidential candidates are falling in behind — and falling for — hard-money policies.  Here’s Bobo:

It’s no exaggeration to say that the next six months will determine the viability of the Republican Party. The demographics of this country are changing. This will be the last presidential election cycle in which the G.O.P., in its current form, has even a shot at winning the White House. And so the large question Republicans must ask themselves is: Are we as a party willing to champion the new America that is inexorably rising around us, or are we the receding roar of an old America that is never coming back?

Within that large question the G.O.P. will have to face several other questions.

The first is: How is 21st-century America going to view outsiders? For Republicans in the Donald Trump camp, the metaphor is very clear: A wall. Outsiders are a threat and a wall will keep them out.

Republicans in the Jeb Bush camp have a very different metaphor. As Bush and his co-author Clint Bolick wrote in their book, “Immigration Wars,” “When immigration policy is working right it is like a hydroelectric dam: a sturdy wall whose valves allow torrents of water to pour through, creating massive amounts of dynamic energy.” Under this metaphor the outside world is not a threat; it’s a source of creativity, dynamism and perpetual renewal.

The second question Republicans have to ask is: Can the party see reality? The great Victorian critic John Ruskin once wrote: “The more I think of it I find this conclusion more impressed upon me — that the greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see.”

Some Republican leaders simply lack the ability or willingness to acknowledge reality. Deporting 11 million people is not reality. Building a physical wall across the southern border is not reality. I’m sorry, Ted Cruz, but going back to the gold standard is not reality.

The third G.O.P. question is: How does the party view leadership? For a rising number of Republicans — congregating around Trump and Ben Carson — leadership is about ignorance and inexperience. Actually having prepared for the job is a disqualifying factor. Knowing the substance of government is a negative.

On the other side, people like John Kasich and Bush are becoming more aggressive in their defense of experience, knowledge and craftsmanship. They’ve become more aggressive in making the case that governance is hard and you’ve got to know how things fit together.

In the realm of immigration, the first conclusion any pragmatist draws is that it’s ridiculous to say we just need to start enforcing the laws. The problem, as Bush has argued, is that the laws are dysfunctional. The whole system is wildly broken and it would cause massive dislocation if the rules were actually enforced. The system needs to be reformed.

The other conclusion any pragmatist draws is that for political and practical reasons, the whole system has to be reformed comprehensively and at once. You can’t do anything effective unless all the pieces fit together. As Bush and Bolick argued in their book, “A goal of sealing the border is hopeless without creating an immigration pipeline that provides a viable alternative to illegal immigration.”

As anybody with legislative experience knows, nothing can be passed unless Republican interests are rallied along with Democratic interests, unless Silicon Valley’s political influence is joined by the farm state’s political influence. Doing that requires experience and knowledge.

Republican craftsmen understand this reality. Political naïfs do not.

The fourth question is: How does the Republican Party treat the distrust that is so pervasive in our society?

For some in the Cruz, Trump and Bobby Jindal camps, this distrust is to be exploited. This produces a kind of nihilism. Tear down. Oppose. Scorn. Shut down government but do not have an actual plan to achieve your goals once it’s shut down. Depose a House speaker but have no viable path forward once he is gone.

The other approach is to see distrust as a problem that can be reduced with effective conservative governance. Under Ronald Reagan, faith in government actually rose, because people saw things like tax reform getting done. Republicans in this camp view cynicism as a poison to be drained, not a kerosene to be lit.

On all these levels, the Republican Party faces a crossroads moment. Immigration is the key issue around which Republicans will determine the course of their party. It’ll be fascinating to see which way they go.

One more point. I’m sorry, Marco Rubio, when your party faces a choice this stark, with consequences this monumental, you’re probably not going to be able to get away with being a little on both sides.

Bobo, this is what happens when you leave the lunatics in charge of the asylum.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

It’s not too hard to understand why everyone seeking the Republican presidential nomination is proposing huge tax cuts for the rich. Just follow the money: Candidates in the G.O.P. primary draw the bulk of their financial support from a few dozen extremely wealthy families. Furthermore, decades of indoctrination have made an essentially religious faith in the virtues of high-end tax cuts — a faith impervious to evidence — a central part of Republican identity.

But what we saw in Tuesday’s presidential debate was something relatively new on the policy front: an increasingly unified Republican demand for hard-money policies, even in a depressed economy. Ted Cruz demands a return to the gold standard. Jeb Bush says he isn’t sure about that, but is open to the idea. Marco Rubio wants the Fed to focus solely on price stability, and stop worrying about unemployment. Donald Trump and Ben Carson see a pro-Obama conspiracy behind the Federal Reserve’s low-interest rate policy.

And let’s not forget that Paul Ryan, the new speaker of the House, has spent years berating the Fed for policies that, he insisted, would “debase” the dollar and lead to high inflation. Oh, and he has flirted with Carson/Trump-style conspiracy theories, too, suggesting that the Fed’s efforts since the financial crisis were not about trying to boost the economy but instead aimed at “bailing out fiscal policy,” that is, letting President Obama get away with deficit spending.

As I said, this hard-money orthodoxy is relatively new. Republicans used to base their monetary recommendations on the ideas of Milton Friedman, who opposed Keynesian policies to fight depressions, but only because he thought easy money could do the job better, and who called on Japan to adopt the same strategy of “quantitative easing” that today’s Republicans denounce.

George W. Bush’s economists praised the “aggressive monetary policy” that, they declared, had helped the economy recover from the 2001 recession. And Mr. Bush appointed Ben Bernanke, who used to consider himself a Republican, to lead the Fed.

But now it’s hard money all the way. Republicans have turned their back on Friedman, whether they know it or not, and draw their monetary doctrine from “Austrian” economists like Friedrich Hayek — whose ideas Friedman described as an “atrophied and rigid caricature” — when they aren’t turning directly to Ayn Rand.

This turn wasn’t driven by experience. The new Republican monetary orthodoxy has already failed the reality test with flying colors: that “debased” dollar has risen 30 percent against other major currencies since 2011, while inflation has stayed low. In fact, the failure of conservative monetary predictions has been so abject that news reports, always looking for “balance,” tend to whitewash the record by pretending that Republican Fed critics didn’t say what they said. But years of predictive failure haven’t stopped the orthodoxy from tightening its grip on the party. What’s going on?

My main answer would be that the Friedman compromise — trash-talking government activism in general, but asserting that monetary policy is different — has proved politically unsustainable. You can’t, in the long run, keep telling your base that government bureaucrats are invariably incompetent, evil or both, then say that the Fed, which is, when all is said and done, basically a government agency run by bureaucrats, should be left free to print money as it sees fit.

Politicians who lump it all together, who warn darkly that the Fed is inflating away your hard-earned wealth and enabling giveaways to Those People, are always going to have the advantage in intraparty struggles.

You might think that the overwhelming empirical evidence against the hard-money view would count for something. But you’d only think that if you were paying no attention to any other policy debate.

Leading political figures insist that climate change is a gigantic hoax perpetrated by a vast international scientific conspiracy. Do you really think that their party will be persuaded to change its economic views by inconvenient macroeconomic data?

The interesting question is what will happen to monetary policy if a Republican wins next year’s election. As best as I can tell, most economists believe that it’s all talk, that once in the White House someone like Mr. Rubio or even Mr. Cruz would return to Bush-style monetary pragmatism. Financial markets seem to believe the same. At any rate, there’s no sign in current asset prices that investors see a significant chance of the catastrophe that would follow a return to gold.

But I wouldn’t be so sure. True, a new president who looked at the evidence and listened to the experts wouldn’t go down that path. But evidence and expertise have a well-known liberal bias.

Brooks and Nocera

October 27, 2015

Bobo has decided to deal in an oxymoron today, with an emphasis on “moron.”  In “A Sensible Version of Donald Trump” [snort] he gurgles that a superior outsider — not just from outside the political system, like Trump, but outside partisan thinking — could offer a great deal to America.  In the comments “Expat Annie” had this to say:  “The problem — and you know it, Mr. Brooks — is that there is no such fantasy candidate waiting in the wings. And even if there were, that person would not have a chance, nor would any of the programs you have suggested, for the simple reason that they all cost money — and the Republicans have shown quite clearly over the past years that they are not interested in investing in society or improving anyone’s lot (except for that of their wealthy benefactors). Their specialty, in the meantime, is tearing things down. No way would they agree to invest a dime in any of the things outlined here.”  Mr. Nocera has a question:  “Is Valeant Pharmaceuticals the Next Enron?”  He says allegations about Valeant’s practices and its own disclosures while under pressure cause one to wonder.  Here’s Bobo:

The voters, especially on the Republican side, seem to be despising experience this year and are looking for outsiders. Hence we have the rise of Donald Trump and Ben Carson. People like me keep predicting that these implausibles will collapse, but so far, as someone tweeted, they keep collapsing upward.

But imagine if we had a sensible Trump in the race. Suppose there was some former general or business leader with impeccable outsider status but also a steady temperament, deep knowledge and good sense.

What would that person sound like? Maybe something like this:

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m no politician. I’m just a boring guy who knows how to run things. But I’ve been paying close attention and it seems to me that of all the problems that face the nation, two stand out. The first is that we have a polarized, dysfunctional, semi-corrupt political culture that prevents us from getting anything done. To reverse that gridlock we’ve got to find some policy area where there’s a basis for bipartisan action.

The second big problem is that things are going badly for those in the lower half of the income distribution. People with less education are seeing their wages fall, their men drop out of the labor force, their marriage rates plummet and their social networks dissolve.

The first piece of good news is that conservative and progressive writers see this reality similarly, which is a rare thing these days. The second piece of good news is that we have new research that suggests fresh ways to address this problem, ways that may appeal to both Democrats and Republicans.

The studies I’m talking about were done at Harvard by Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren and Lawrence Katz. They looked at the results of a Clinton-era program called Moving to Opportunity, which took poor families and moved them to middle-class neighborhoods. At first the results were disappointing. The families who moved didn’t see their earnings rise. Their kids didn’t do much better in school.

But as years went by and newer data accumulated, different and more promising results came in. Children who were raised in better environments had remarkable earnings gains. The girls raised in the better neighborhoods were more likely to marry and raise their own children in two-parent homes.

The first implication of this research is that neighborhood matters a lot. When we think about ways to improve the lot of the working class, it’s insufficient to just help individuals and families. We have to improve entire neighborhoods.

Second, the research reminds us that to improve conditions for the working class it’s necessary to both create jobs and improve culture. Every time conservatives say culture plays a large role in limiting mobility, progressives accuse them of blaming the victim.

But this research shows the importance of environment. The younger the children were when they moved to these middle-class environments, the more their outcomes improved. It’s likely they benefited from being in environments with different norms, with more information about how to thrive, with few traumatic events down the block.

I know the professional politicians are going to want to continue their wars, but I see an opportunity: We launch a series of initiatives to create environments of opportunity in middle-, working- and lower-class neighborhoods.

 

This will mean doing some things Republicans like. We’ve got to devolve a lot of power from Washington back to local communities. These neighborhoods can’t thrive if they are not responsible for themselves. Then we’ve got to expand charter schools. The best charter schools radiate diverse but strong cultures of achievement. Locally administered social entrepreneurship funds could help churches and other groups expand their influence.

This will mean doing some things Democrats like. We’ve got to reform and expand early childhood education programs, complete with wraparound programs for parents. They would turn into community hubs. Infrastructure programs could increase employment.

Basically we’ve got to get socialist. No, I don’t mean the way Bernie Sanders is a socialist. He’s a statist, not a socialist. I mean we have to put the quality of the social fabric at the center of our politics. And we’ve got to get personalist: to treat people as full human beings, not just economic units you fix by writing checks.

Then we’ve got to get integrationist, to integrate different races and classes through national service and school and relocation vouchers. And finally, we have to get a little moralistic. There are certain patterns of behavior, like marrying before you have kids and sticking around to parent the kids you conceive, that contribute to better communities.

Look, I don’t know if I’m red or blue. If you want a true outsider, don’t just pick someone outside the political system. Pick someone outside the rigid partisan mentalities that are the real problem here.

Bobo doesn’t know if he’s red or blue?  I had no idea the poor bastard was color blind…  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

Valeant Pharmaceuticals is a sleazy company.

Although it existed as a relatively small company before 2010, it did a deal that year that put it on the map. The deal was with Biovail, one of Canada’s largest drugmakers — and a company that had run afoul of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In 2008, the S.E.C. sued Biovail for “repeatedly” overstating earnings and “actively” misleading investors. Biovail settled the case for $10 million.

As it happens, 2008 was the same year that a management consultant named J. Michael Pearson became Valeant’s chief executive. Pearson had an unusual idea about how to grow a modern pharmaceutical company. The pharma business model has long called for a hefty percentage of revenue to be spent on company scientists who try to develop new drugs. The failure rate is high — but a successful new drug can generate over $1 billion in annual revenue, which makes up for a lot of failures.

Pearson didn’t have much patience for research and development. And while he certainly wanted moneymaking drugs, he didn’t really need blockbusters to make his business model work. His plan was to acquire pharmaceutical companies, fire most of their scientists and jack up the price of their drugs. Biovail gave him the heft to put his plan in action.

And so he has done, to the delight of Valeant’s shareholders, and the dismay of most everyone else.

Before Pearson took control of Valeant, it spent 14 percent of its revenue developing new drugs. Last year, that number was under 3 percent. Meanwhile, Pearson has been ruthless about price hikes; in February, according to The Wall Street Journal, the company raised the price of one heart drug by 525 and another by 212 percent — on the very day it acquired the rights to the drugs. Complaints from patients, doctors and insurance companies have prompted investigations by federal prosecutors in Massachusetts and New York.

In the seven years Pearson has run the company, Valeant has done more than 100 deals. Its growth has been supercharged, and so has its stock price. Pearson has become a billionaire.

Fast forward to Oct. 19. During a conference call with investors, Valeant disclosed a relationship with a specialty pharmacy called Philidor RX Services, a relationship in which Philidor seemingly does business with no one besides Valeant, and that is so close that Valeant consolidates Philidor’s financials while holding Philidor’s inventory on its books. During the call, Valeant also disclosed that it had paid for an option to buy Philidor, though it had not actually made the purchase — a very strange deal indeed.

It made these disclosures because Roddy Boyd, a former New York Post reporter who now runs the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation, had found out about the Philidor relationship and begun asking questions. So had several Wall Street critics of the company, including John Hemptonof Bronte Capital.

Valeant’s disclosures last week — along with subsequent allegations by Citron Research that Valeant was cooking the books — as well as stories by Boyd and several others have caused the stock to tank.

On Monday, Pearson and his executive team held a lengthy conference call with investors in which they insisted Valeant had complied with “applicable law.” But Valeant also announced that a committee of the board would investigate the ties with Philidor. And it urged the S.E.C. to investigate Citron. This was also a tactic Biovail once used to silence its critics; it backfired spectacularly when the S.E.C. concluded that the critics were the ones who had it right.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to understand all the implications of the Philidor-Valeant relationship, or whether anything genuinely illegal has taken place. But the whole thing looks pretty, well, sleazy.

As The Times’s Andrew Pollack pointed out last week, Valeant uses Philidor to keep patients from getting generics instead of its high-priced drugs. Philidor negotiates directly with the insurance companies, saving patients from feeling the sticker shock their price hikes would otherwise cause. The co-pay is often waived, which only adds to the allure of using Philidor.

The evidence strongly suggests that Philidor is controlled by Valeant, even though it is supposed to be an independent company. The Wall Street Journal reported that certain Valeant employees work at Philidor using fake names.

But why? And why did Valeant fail to disclose the relationship for so long? If there was really nothing wrong, why did Valeant keep it a secret? Why, even now, are there more questions than answers?

Maybe it will all turn out to be innocent. But I remember another company that Wall Street once swooned over, a company that had eye-popping growth, but also had secrets, which eventually destroyed it.

You probably remember that company, too. Its name was Enron.

Brooks, Cohen and Nocer

October 13, 2015

Oh, it is too, too, too rich for words.  Bobo is wringing his hands…  In “The Republicans’ Incompetence Caucus” he wails that the party’s capacity to govern has degraded over recent decades as the G.O.P. has become prisoner to its own bombastic rhetoric.  Poor, poor Bobo…  In the comments “Masud M.” from Tucson had this to say:  “If you’re searching for a culprit, please look into the mirror, Mr. Brooks. You’ve been one of the so-called “intellectual” enablers of the crazies. Go back and read some of your past articles: insulting President Obama on flimsy grounds, giving credit (where no credit was due) to the Republicans in the House and the Senate, supporting the Iraq invasion, claiming that the Iran deal was bad for the nation, promoting trickle-down economics… The crazies don’t have brains of their own, so one cannot really criticize them. The crazies listen to their “intellectual” leaders. You’ve been one of those leaders, and it’s shameful that you do not recognize this — and fail to apologize for your past sins. This would be a first step, Mr. Brooks, if you want the Republican Party (your Party) to return to some semblance of normalcy.”  Mr. Cohen considers “Obama’s Doctrine of Restraint” and says for Putin it’s clear where the weakness lies: in the White House.  Mr. Nocera takes a look at “Aaron Sorkin’s ‘Steve Jobs’ Con” and says the screenwriter says his new movie is not a biopic. So true. The film simply doesn’t understand its subject.  Here, FSM help us, is Bobo:

The House Republican caucus is close to ungovernable these days. How did this situation come about?

This was not just the work of the Freedom Caucus or Ted Cruz or one month’s activity. The Republican Party’s capacity for effective self-governance degraded slowly, over the course of a long chain of rhetorical excesses, mental corruptions and philosophical betrayals. Basically, the party abandoned traditional conservatism for right-wing radicalism. Republicans came to see themselves as insurgents and revolutionaries, and every revolution tends toward anarchy and ends up devouring its own.

By traditional definitions, conservatism stands for intellectual humility, a belief in steady, incremental change, a preference for reform rather than revolution, a respect for hierarchy, precedence, balance and order, and a tone of voice that is prudent, measured and responsible. Conservatives of this disposition can be dull, but they know how to nurture and run institutions. They also see the nation as one organic whole. Citizens may fall into different classes and political factions, but they are still joined by chains of affection that command ultimate loyalty and love.

All of this has been overturned in dangerous parts of the Republican Party. Over the past 30 years, or at least since Rush Limbaugh came on the scene, the Republican rhetorical tone has grown ever more bombastic, hyperbolic and imbalanced. Public figures are prisoners of their own prose styles, and Republicans from Newt Gingrich through Ben Carson have become addicted to a crisis mentality. Civilization was always on the brink of collapse. Every setback, like the passage of Obamacare, became the ruination of the republic. Comparisons to Nazi Germany became a staple.

This produced a radical mind-set. Conservatives started talking about the Reagan “revolution,” the Gingrich “revolution.” Among people too ill educated to understand the different spheres, political practitioners adopted the mental habits of the entrepreneur. Everything had to be transformational and disruptive. Hierarchy and authority were equated with injustice. Self-expression became more valued than self-restraint and coalition building. A contempt for politics infested the Republican mind.

Politics is the process of making decisions amid diverse opinions. It involves conversation, calm deliberation, self-discipline, the capacity to listen to other points of view and balance valid but competing ideas and interests.

But this new Republican faction regards the messy business of politics as soiled and impure. Compromise is corruption. Inconvenient facts are ignored. Countrymen with different views are regarded as aliens. Political identity became a sort of ethnic identity, and any compromise was regarded as a blood betrayal.

A weird contradictory mentality replaced traditional conservatism. Republican radicals have contempt for politics, but they still believe that transformational political change can rescue the nation. Republicans developed a contempt for Washington and government, but they elected leaders who made the most lavish promises imaginable. Government would be reduced by a quarter! Shutdowns would happen! The nation would be saved by transformational change! As Steven Bilakovics writes in his book “Democracy Without Politics,” “even as we expect ever less ofdemocracy we apparently expect ever more from democracy.”

This anti-political political ethos produced elected leaders of jaw-dropping incompetence. Running a government is a craft, like carpentry. But the new Republican officials did not believe in government and so did not respect its traditions, its disciplines and its craftsmanship. They do not accept the hierarchical structures of authority inherent in political activity.

In his masterwork, “Politics as a Vocation,” Max Weber argues that the pre-eminent qualities for a politician are passion, a feeling of responsibility and a sense of proportion. A politician needs warm passion to impel action but a cool sense of responsibility and proportion to make careful decisions in a complex landscape.

If a politician lacks the quality of detachment — the ability to let the difficult facts of reality work their way into the mind — then, Weber argues, the politician ends up striving for the “boastful but entirely empty gesture.” His work “leads nowhere and is senseless.”

Welcome to Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and the Freedom Caucus.

Really, have we ever seen bumbling on this scale, people at once so cynical and so naïve, so willfully ignorant in using levers of power to produce some tangible if incremental good? These insurgents can’t even acknowledge democracy’s legitimacy — if you can’t persuade a majority of your colleagues, maybe you should accept their position. You might be wrong!

People who don’t accept democracy will be bad at conversation. They won’t respect tradition, institutions or precedent. These figures are masters at destruction but incompetent at construction.

These insurgents are incompetent at governing and unwilling to be governed. But they are not a spontaneous growth. It took a thousand small betrayals of conservatism to get to the dysfunction we see all around.

You can feel the panic…  My schadens are all very, very freuded.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

One way to define Barack Obama’s foreign policy is as a Doctrine of Restraint. It is clear, not least to the Kremlin, that this president is skeptical of the efficacy of military force, wary of foreign interventions that may become long-term commitments, convinced the era of American-imposed solutions is over, and inclined to see the United States as less an indispensable power than an indispensable partner. He has, in effect, been talking down American power.

President Vladimir Putin has seized on this profound foreign policy shift in the White House. He has probed where he could, most conspicuously in Ukraine, and now in Syria. Obama may call this a form of Russian weakness. He may mock Putin’s forays as distractions from a plummeting Russian economy. But the fact remains that Putin has reasserted Russian power in the vacuum created by American retrenchment and appears determined to shape the outcome in Syria using means that Obama has chosen never to deploy. For Putin, it’s clear where the weakness lies: in the White House.

Russia’s Syrian foray may be overreach. It may fall into the category of the “stupid stuff” (read reckless intervention) Obama shuns. Quagmires can be Russian, too. But for now the initiative appears to lie in the Kremlin, with the White House as reactive power. Not since the end of the Cold War a quarter-century ago has Russia been as assertive or Washington as acquiescent.

Obama’s Doctrine of Restraint reflects circumstance and temperament. He was elected to lead a nation exhausted by the two longest and most expensive wars in its history. Iraq and Afghanistan consumed trillions without yielding victory. His priority was domestic: first recovery from the 2008 meltdown and then a more equitable and inclusive society. The real pivot was not to Asia but to home.

Besides, American power in the 21st century could not be what it was in the 20th, not with the Chinese economy quintupling in size since 1990. The president was intellectually persuaded of the need to redefine America’s foreign-policy heft in an interconnected world of more equal powers, and temperamentally inclined to prudence and diplomacy over force. Republican obstructionism and the politicization of foreign policy in a polarized Washington did not help him. American power, in his view, might still be dominant but could no longer be determinant.

As Obama put it to The New Republic in 2013, “I am more mindful probably than most of not only our incredible strengths and capabilities, but also our limitations.” After Iraq and Afghanistan, giant repositories of American frustration, who could blame him?

But when the most powerful nation on earth and chief underwriter of global security focuses on its limitations, others take note, perceiving new opportunity and new risk. Instability can become contagious. Unraveling can set in, as it has in the Middle East. The center cannot hold because there is none.

“I think Obama exaggerates the limits and underestimates the upside of American power, even if the trend is toward a more difficult environment for translating power and influence,” Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, told me. “By doing so, he runs the risk of actually reinforcing the very trends that give him pause. Too often during his presidency the gap between ends and means has been our undoing.”

In Afghanistan, in Libya and most devastatingly in Syria, Obama has seemed beset by ambivalence: a surge undermined by a date certain for Afghan withdrawal; a lead-from-behind military campaign to oust Libya’s dictator with zero follow-up plan; a statement more than four years ago that “the time has come” for President Bashar al-Assad to “step aside” without any strategy to make that happen, and a “red line” on chemical weapons that was not upheld. All this has said to Putin and China’s President Xi Jinping that this is a time of wound-licking American incoherence.

Yet Obama does not lack courage. Nor is he unprepared to take risks. It required courage to conclude the Iran nuclear deal — a signal achievement arrived at in the face of a vitriolic cacophony from Israel and the Republican-controlled Congress. It took courage to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough with Cuba. The successful operation to kill Osama bin Laden was fraught with risk. His foreign policy has delivered in significant areas. America has wound down its wars. The home pivot has yielded a revived economy (at least for some) and given all Americans access to health insurance.

Yet the cost of the Doctrine of Restraint has been very high. How high we do not yet know, but the world is more dangerous than in recent memory. Obama’s skepticism about American power, his readiness to disengage from Europe and his catastrophic tiptoeing on Syria have left the Middle East in generational conflict and fracture, Europe unstable and Putin strutting the stage. Where this rudderless reality is likely to lead I will examine in my next column.

Oh, I can hardly wait.  No doubt we’ll have some saber rattling and dick swinging.  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

When “The Social Network” came out in 2010, I wrote a column praising it for the way it captured the obsessional quality that marks great entrepreneurs.

The movie, you’ll recall, was about Mark Zuckerberg and the creation of Facebook. The screenplay was written by Aaron Sorkin, who won an Oscar for it. I knew that Sorkin had taken generous liberties with the facts, but hey, isn’t that what always happens when the movies adapt a true story?

Although I wasn’t particularly knowledgeable about Facebook’s origins, I nonetheless argued that the insights of “The Social Network” into the culture of Silicon Valley trumped any niggling facts Sorkin might have ignored or distorted.

But now that I’ve seen Sorkin’s latest treatment of a Silicon Valley icon — Steve Jobs — I’m revising that opinion. Unlike Zuckerberg, Jobs is somebody I followed closely for much of my career, even spending a week in the mid-1980s embedded at NeXT, the company Jobs founded after being tossed out of Apple in 1985. And although “Steve Jobs,” the movie, which opened in a handful of theaters on Friday, is highly entertaining, what struck me most was how little it had to do with the flesh and blood Steve Jobs.

Sorkin has arranged the movie like a three-act play, building it around three product launches, for the Macintosh computer in 1984, the NeXT computer in 1988 and the iMac in 1998, after Jobs returned to Apple.

Although this structure necessitates inventing virtually every moment in the film out of whole cloth, that’s not the real problem. The structure would be fine if, within its contours, it had conveyed the complicated reality of Steve Jobs.

But it doesn’t. In ways both large and small, Sorkin — as well as Michael Fassbender, the actor who plays Jobs — has failed to capture him in any meaningful sense. Fassbender exhibits none of Jobs’s many youthful mannerisms, and uses none of his oft-repeated phrases, like “really, really neat” when he liked something, or “bozo” for people he didn’t think measured up. Jobs as a young man was surprisingly emotional — that’s missing.

There are moments in the film, like the big “reconciliation” scene with his out-of-wedlock daughter, Lisa, that are almost offensively in opposition to the truth. (Although Jobs’s relationship with Lisa could be volatile at times, she had in fact lived with him and his family all through high school.)

More important, the film simply doesn’t understand who he was and why he was successful.

For instance, one character mentions Jobs’s ability to create a “reality distortion field.” But we never see the charismatic man who could convince people that the sky was green instead of blue. Especially in the NeXT section, Sorkin’s Jobs is a cynic who knows his product will fail, rather than the dreamer he was, certain his overpriced NeXT machine will “change the world.” Most important, Sorkin fails to convey Jobs’s unmatched ability to draw talented people to him, and get them to produce their best work.

As it turns out, Sorkin is quite proud of his disregard for facts. “What is the big deal about accuracy purely for accuracy’s sake?” he told New York magazine around the time “The Social Network” came out. The way he sees it, he is no mere screenwriter; rather, he’s an artist who can’t be bound by the events of a person’s life — even when he’s writing a movie about that person.

“Art isn’t about what happened,” he said in that interview. “And the properties of people and the properties of ‘characters’ are two completely different things.”

The problem is that Steve Jobs isn’t just a “character”; he was a real person who lived a real life. Tom Mallon, who writes wonderful historical fiction about politics, including books about Watergate, and most recently, Ronald Reagan, told me that he thought it was important, even in his fiction, not to rewrite the public record, and to try to capture the essence of the real person he is writing about, even though he is inventing thoughts and scenes and dialogue.

“If you deviate too much from the actual historical record,” he said, “the illusion is going to collapse.” Mallon added, “If the real Steve Jobs is interesting enough to make a movie about, why go and create another character that the filmmakers presumably find more interesting?”

Tim Cook, Apple’s current chief executive, has decried the recent spate of Jobs movies as “opportunistic.” In the case of “Steve Jobs,” at least, that strikes me as exactly right. Sorkin and his fellow moviemakers are taking advantage of the feelings people have for the real Steve Jobs to sell tickets, yet the Steve Jobs he created is a complete figment of his imagination. It’s a con.

In a recent interview with Wired magazine, Sorkin insisted that “Steve Jobs” was “not a biopic.” He added, “I’m not quite sure what to call it.”

That’s easy. Fiction.

Brooks and Krugman

October 2, 2015

Bobo, drenched in flop sweat while he whistles past the graveyard, now casts his eye to Carly.  (The Donald has them all terrified…)  In “Carly Fiorina: The Marketing Genius” he gurgles that Carly Fiorina’s rise will quickly flame out unless she develops an understanding of middle-class challenges necessary to back up her impressive rhetoric.  “Marketing genius” and “impressive rhetoric…”  Wow.  Just wow.  Here’s what “gemli” in Boston had to say in the comments:  “What an interesting rhetorical exercise this is. Brooks has penned an anti-paean, or maybe it’s an odious ode, to Carly Fiorina. He highlights her the way ISIS might highlight an ancient temple, first focusing our attention on it and then blowing it to pieces.”  Prof. Krugman tells us that “Voodoo Never Dies” and that the tax cuts favored by every Republican candidate just happen to be exactly what rich donors want.  How surprising…  Here’s Bobo:

Carly Fiorina’s presidential campaign has been built on confrontational moments. With impregnable self-confidence and a fearless intensity, she has out-Trumped Trump and landed the most telling and quotable blows on Hillary Clinton.

In such a giant field of candidates what matters most is the ability to grab the spotlight. The era of YouTube and FaceTime video links has further magnified the power of a candidate who can create significant moments. Fiorina is great at it, perfectly suited to this environment.

She can go on MSNBC or some other outlet and bludgeon a host with a barrage of forcefully delivered bullet points, which then goes viral. When challenged on the accuracy or fairness of her assertions, she blasts straight through.

Clinton and Fiorina appeared back to back on “Meet the Press” recently. Clinton was challenged on the email issue and tried affably to defend her conduct. Fiorina was challenged on the existence of a Planned Parenthood video she claims to have seen.

In contrast to Clinton, Fiorina simply refused to adopt a defensive posture. She ignored the challenges and just hit Planned Parenthood harder. The factual issue sort of got lost in her torrent. She was stylistically indomitable even if she didn’t address the substance of the critique.

She is in tune with an electorate that is disgusted with the political class. In her stump speech she tells story after story in which she walks into this or that lion’s den and takes on the establishment. Some of her stories involve taking on the male establishment in corporate America. Others involve taking on the inside-the-Beltway crowd where she lives.

And yet for all her feisty outsider bravado, if you actually look at her views on substance and her behavior in the past, she is a completely conventional Republican. She was a strong supporter of John McCain and Mitt Romney, the last two nominees. A lot of her language is the normal, vague corporate-speak about “leadership,” “unlocking potential,” and understanding the economy.

On policy grounds her views are orthodox. She doesn’t want to move the party to the left or right, or in a more populist, libertarian or moderate direction. Her core argument on the stump is that government has gotten too big and is crushing business, which is hardly an innovative message in a Republican primary.

On issues where her views once contradicted the current fashion, like No Child Left Behind, and a path to citizenship for immigrants, she has moved to be where Republican voters now are. She is where the consumers want her to be.

In short, stylistically she is a renegade outsider, but substantively she’s completely establishmentarian. Another way to say it is that her campaign is brilliantly creative in its marketing arm, but unimaginative when it comes to product development.

And this is where her business background comes into view. When she ran Hewlett-Packard the core critique against her was that she was really good at marketing but not good at tech or operations.

Different people have very different takes on her performance at HP, but when you talk to close observers and read some of the voluminous literature on her tenure, it’s hard to come away feeling sanguine. Most tellingly, she made the classic marketer’s error, letting her promises get far out in front of reality. As my colleague Joseph Nocera pointed out, under her, HP failed to meets it revenue and profit projections nine times. One time it missed its earnings projections by a gigantic 23 percent.

The positive theory of her campaign is that she’s perfectly suited for a Republican electorate that wants to vent its outrage at the political class and the timid party leadership, but which doesn’t really believe in any alternative direction. She gives the G.O.P. establishment rebellious fire, but is actually one of them.

The more likely scenario is that Fiorina fades over the next few months. In this race there’s been a huge gap between the campaigners, like Trump, Carson and Fiorina, and the governors — those with actual experience in government.

In this early phase the voters are indulging in a little free outrage, enjoying the campaigners. But history teaches that parties invariably nominate government officials. Sooner or later, voters want a candidate rooted in something more than a marketing strategy. They want someone authentically connected to middle-class concerns and with strategies for their specific challenges, like wage stagnation.

Opposing the political class is not an agenda. Unless Fiorina can become a lot more creative and sympathetically connected to working-class voters, she’ll fall to an opponent who will turn to her in debate and ask, “Where’s the beef?”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

So Donald Trump has unveiled his tax plan. It would, it turns out, lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit.

This is in contrast to Jeb Bush’s plan, which would lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit, and Marco Rubio’s plan, which would lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit.

For what it’s worth, it looks as if Trump’s plan would make an even bigger hole in the budget than Jeb’s. Jeb justifies his plan by claiming that it would double America’s rate of growth; The Donald, ahem, trumps this by claiming that he would triple the rate of growth. But really, why sweat the details? It’s all voodoo. The interesting question is why every Republican candidate feels compelled to go down this path.

You might think that there was a defensible economic case for the obsession with cutting taxes on the rich. That is, you might think that if you’d spent the past 20 years in a cave (or a conservative think tank). Otherwise, you’d be aware that tax-cut enthusiasts have a remarkable track record: They’ve been wrong about everything, year after year.

Some readers may remember the forecasts of economic doom back in 1993, when Bill Clinton raised the top tax rate. What happened instead was a sustained boom, surpassing the Reagan years by every measure.

Undaunted, the same people predicted great things as a result of George W. Bush’s tax cuts. What happened instead was a sluggish recovery followed by a catastrophic economic crash.

Most recently, the usual suspects once again predicted doom in 2013, when taxes on the 1 percent rose sharply due to the expiration of some of the Bush tax cuts and new taxes that help pay for health reform. What happened instead was job growth at rates not seen since the 1990s.

Then there’s the recent state-level evidence. Kansas slashed taxes, in what its right-wing governor described as a “real live experiment” in economic policy; the state’s growth has lagged ever since. California moved in the opposite direction, raising taxes; it has recently led the nation in job growth.

True, you can find self-proclaimed economic experts claiming to find overall evidence that low tax rates spur economic growth, but such experts invariably turn out to be on the payroll of right-wing pressure groups (and have an interesting habit of getting their numbers wrong). Independent studies of the correlation between tax rates and economic growth, for example by the Congressional Research Service, consistently find no relationship at all. There is no serious economic case for the tax-cut obsession.

Still, tax cuts are politically popular, right? Actually, no, at least when it comes to tax cuts for the wealthy. According to Gallup, only 13 percent of Americans believe that upper-income individuals pay too much in taxes, while 61 percent believe that they pay too little. Even among self-identified Republicans, those who say that the rich should pay more outnumber those who say they should pay less by two to one.

So every Republican who would be president is committed to a policy that is both demonstrably bad economics and deeply unpopular. What’s going on?

Well, consider the trajectory of Marco Rubio, who may at this point be the most likely Republican nominee. Last year he supported a tax-cut plan devised by Senator Mike Lee that purported to be aimed at the poor and the middle class. In reality, its benefits were strongly tilted toward high incomes — but it still drew harsh criticism from the right for giving too much to ordinary families while not cutting taxes on top incomes enough.

So Mr. Rubio came back with a plan that eliminated taxes on dividends, capital gains, and inherited wealth, providing a huge windfall to the very wealthy. And suddenly he was gaining a lot of buzz among Republican donors. The new plan would add trillions to the deficit, which conservatives claim to care about, but never mind.

In other words, it’s straightforward and quite stark: Republicans support big tax cuts for the wealthy because that’s what wealthy donors want. No doubt most of those donors have managed to convince themselves that what’s good for them is good for America. But at root it’s about rich people supporting politicians who will make them richer. Everything else is just rationalization.

Of course, once the Republicans settle on a nominee, an army of hired guns will be mobilized to obscure this stark truth. We’ll see claims that it’s really a middle-class tax cut, that it will too do great things for economic growth, and look over there — emails! And given the conventions of he-said-she-said journalism, this campaign of obfuscation may work.

But never forget that what it’s really about is top-down class warfare. That may sound simplistic, but it’s the way the world works.