Joni Ernst for VP Is Actually A Pretty Good Pick


So Donald Trump is fawning over Joni Ernst, which is getting the right people excited about his picking her to be his Vice President. And honestly, compared to a lot of other choices (Newt!) she might be the best pick.

Politically, I mean. Certainly not in terms of being good for the country, or being anywhere near the Oval Office. But given that, if she is Vice-President, her one boss is the single most dangerously-unqualified person to ever “serve” (a term that would lose all meaning in the Age of Trump), she might seem ready to go just by dint of comparison.

The Junior Senator from Iowa made her rise to right-wing prominence by releasing a pro-castration ad where she threatened to make big pork-barrel spenders “squeal”, the way she used to do with hogs. This mix of anti-PC bingo and juvenile sexuality made hearts stir, nethers tingle, and launched her into talk-radio superstardom (she remains, as far as I can tell, the only sitting senator for whom “castration” is a google autofill, though I could recommend some others).

She’s pretty, with a nice smile. She is a 20-yr veteran. She’s a hog farmer. If we want to compare her to her most obvious antecedents, she’s smarter and more polished than Sarah Palin and less of a loon than Michelle Bachman. That may seem like small beer, but it matters. She’s a pretty good talker, and most importantly, she’s amazing at lying about just how incredibly conservative she is. Let’s go over some hits.

  1.  She’s anti-Agenda 21, which means she believes that the UN is going to come in and take our vital fluids. That’s garden-level wackadoodleness, but it is pretty damning for a grownup to believe.
  2. It’s not really needed to say, but she’s fairly pro-gun.
  3. She believes strongly that the states should decide minimum wage. That isn’t a “state vs feds” issue, solely. Or rather it is, but it is one that gets right to the heart of the issue. She thinks that states should be able to do whatever they want to people, with no Constitutional oversight, and no protection. It’s a mentality that encourages a race to the bottom, allowing states like Mississippi to become “business friendly” by removing all workers’ rights.
  4. More to the point, she believes strongly in nullification. It’s not incidental; it’s the core of her beliefs. She wants to essentially make the federal government subservient to the states. That’s the whole damn project. If you do so, you can strip any environmental protection, any workers’ rights, sell off all the public land, and impose whatever racial theocracy you want. That’s key to Ernst. You might think it a strange position for a senior member of the Executive Branch to have (that is, that the executive branch shouldn’t do anything), but here we are.
  5. I guess it isn’t that she doesn’t believe the Executive should do anything. She very strongly supports a Personhood amendment. And this is why I think she’s a good pick. During her Senate campaign, she was very clear about being very muddled on the issue, saying time and time again that such an Amendment was merely definitional, and wouldn’t change anything, so what’s the big deal. It was merely a “statement of support for Life.” It raised the question: if it didn’t do anything, why did she care? It’s a strange idea for an Amendment. Most Amendments aren’t just statements. But she was excellent about obfuscating what for the far right are important totems, but for low-information voters are confusing.

But it worked! And what’s more, though I can’t find any links now, the media was happy to let her get away with it, praising her for tacking to the middle without alienating the base (in other words, totally lying). She’s smart like that, and better at it than most Republicans.

She’s someone the media likes because they know they shouldn’t but it makes them feel very catholic to do so. Yes, if Trump picks her, her record will be taken apart, but not as much as with Newt or Sessions, for god’s sake. We’ll hear how Trump is softening his image with women, and how it’s a smart strategy to fire up the conservative base (as if they needed it). I don’t know if it’ll get him more votes. But I don’t think she’ll be a Palin-level disaster, and it might help with some extremely-low-information voters. He’ll still lose, but what the hell. It’s not like he’s going to get some steady hand on the till of the state. He’s not going to drag, say, Dick Lugar into this mess. Shit, the next best choice is Mike Pence, and he managed to make NASCAR and Wal-Mart slap down Indiana. Ernst might be the best possible pick, and that says everything you need to know.

Paul Ryan and Gun Control: Profile in Courage


“I’m in line for the Presidency!” 

Nearly two weeks after House Democrats staged a historic sit-in to demand action on gun control legislation, the Republican speaker of the House has agreed to hold a vote on a single gun-related bill: a measure to allow the attorney general to delay the sale of a gun to a suspected terrorist for three days, similar to a Senate measure backed by the National Rifle Association. (The Guardian)

At the blog, we have a saying: if the NRA supports it, there’s a decent chance it might not be the super best idea. I understand that’s not much of a saying, but the bluenoses at the bumper-sticker shop won’t let me go with “Fuck The NRA.” Also, that seems like a dangerous sticker with which to drive around. In life, I’ve found that it isn’t a good idea to piss off the irrational and heavily-armed.

Paul Ryan has learned the same lesson, and quickly, reacting to the hideous level of gun violence in America by backing the most toothless possible bill, and one that should make civil libertarians squirm, beside. Not only will this do extremely little to stop mass shootings- I’m guessing that neither Jared Laughner nor Adam Lanza not his mom were on that list- but will do nothing to stop the daily thrum of handgun-based murder, accidents, and suicide that threaten to revoke our status in the civilized world.

Ryan’s response to violence is to pretend that he was outraged by the sit-in in Congress, led by John Lewis, a man with more courage in his shoes than Ryan has accumulated in a life of cheese-filled toadying. Our previous VP nominee, who couldn’t even carry his hometown, called the action a “publicity stunt” and a “low moment” for Congress, which surprised a lot of us who are old enough to remember shutdowns over budgets, dozens of attempts to repeal the ACA, and the continuing career of Louis Gohmert.

He was right though, that it was a publicity stunt. A lot that John Lewis has done in his life has been for “publicity”, which is a cynical way of saying “getting people to pay attention to something I’d rather sweep under the rug.” It turns out that’s the way to get things done. Raise awareness, march in the streets, get people fired up, and then go out and vote. It worked in the 60s (the repudiation of Goldwaterism and Johnson’s supermajority), and it worked for the Tea Party, who turned their atavistic outrage into electoral success, at least at district levels.

That’s the only way to make a change. Democrats have to win big, and sweep out the bastards. It isn’t enough to put pressure on them. As we’ve argued here a few times, a lot of the mooks in Congress aren’t dancing to the NRA’s tune because of money; they are true believers. They buy the whole spiel about freedom. They won’t change because of politics. Yes, the NRA’s money, along with gerrymandering, keeps them safe from having to make a choice, but the bulk of them would choose guns. Guns over everything else.

That’s why they have to lose. The anger has to translate to votes. Polls showing American outrage don’t matter to them. Sweeping out enough to give the gun control side the power is the only thing that will work.

Above, I kind of joked that “In life, I’ve found that it isn’t a good idea to piss off the irrational and heavily-armed,” but that’s really the nut of it, isn’t it? The “freedom” to carry guns everywhere takes away everyone else’s freedom to feel safe. I don’t know if the person walking into the store is a mass-shooter or just a gun-nut, who could turn into a shooter if I told him that he’s making everyone else feel nervous. You just don’t know. And so, like with ISIS, we’re all on the front lines of the NRA’s war on human decency, and their generational battle against human life. Unlike with ISIS, we can do something about it.


Better the Infidel Than The Apostate: Medina Bombings and the ISIS Endgame


Saudi Press Agency/EPA

It’s been a particularly bloody week in ISIS’s history of violence. Since Tuesday, we’ve seen an attack on Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, a slaughter in Bangladesh that was carried out by radicalized elites, an apocalyptic bombing in Baghdad that was mostly overlooked, and the suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia, including near the Prophet’s Tomb in Medina, Islam’s second-holiest city. As of this writing, ISIS has yet to claim responsibility for the Medina bombings, which means it may not have been an attack planned by ISIS, but rather one “just” inspired by it. However, the wave of bombings throughout Saudi Arabia is indicative of some coordination.

This has led, understandably, to a lot of talk about the next phase of ISIS. Speaking to the CFR last week, John Brennan  “warned that the trajectories for the ISIS religious state, or caliphate, and global violence point in opposite directions. ‘As the pressure mounts on ISIL,” he said, “we judge that it will intensify its global terror campaign to maintain its dominance of the global terrorism agenda.'” The headline to the Times piece linked above captures most of the analysis: “As ISIS Loses Land, It Gains Ground In Overseas Terror.”

I think this is largely true. There’s no doubt that they are doubling down on large-scale overseas attacks, and are mutating to the point where it is hard to say what ISIS even is: is it caliphate-based and centrally-coordinated like pre-9/11 al-Qaeda, or is it franchised out, like Qaeda starting in the middle of last decade? Or, perhaps more frightening, is it just a particularly carnage-based idea?

I think it is the latter, which is why I think we’re seeing the endgame of what ISIS has been. Note that endgame doesn’t mean the world is particularly close to defeating ISIS, mostly because I don’t think “defeating” is even possible. It’s a generational battle to have the ideology be discredited and to have them stop serving as an inspiration for those who feel that life should be offering more.

Because that is what they do: they offer a sense of greatness in a world that seems to have lost its moorings. This doesn’t mean that they only appeal to the poor and dispossessed; if the last 100 years have taught us anything, it is that the truly scary people are the ones who are comfortable and feel guilty about it, or feel that they shouldn’t be comfortable, but be truly great. Think of the middling student who reads Ayn Rand and begins to believe that his relative failure is due to a conspiracy of the weak. That’s the mindset.

That’s why these attacks, during Ramadan, are so important to ISIS, but also represent their eventual breaking apart. Going after Medina, and attacking largely Muslims (the Bangladesh attack partially notwithstanding) is key to their success. That’s how they attract the truly dispossessed, because they further cut up the world, slicing belief into an ever-narrower portion. It’s exciting to say that, yes, the Turks are Muslims, but bad ones. I mean, Ataturk should pay, symbolically, for being secular. It’s thrilling to say that bombing Baghdad is the blood price that has to be paid for a more just world. It’s radical and dangerous to attack the holy cities. That’s the kind of sick passion that inspires people into being radicalized: the idea that they are the most committed. It makes up for a lifetime of drifting, even if (especially if) that lifetime is only 19 or 20 years. A wasted year or two seems longer to the young, and a certain kind of mindset wants to rectify that through absolute purity.

(It’s important to remember that in many ways the modern radical Islamic movement wasn’t kicked off by the Iranian revolution, which was more concurrent, or even by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but by the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, also in 1979. It’s weirdly a footnote now, but this audacious attack on the corrupt monarchy was inspirational to the future leaders of al-Qaeda.)

Why this represents their eventual breaking apart, though, is the same reason any revolutionary group ends up either coalescing into an actual political entity (Hezbollah) or burning itself out (Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda). The need to up the ante constantly, to keep swimming, means that you’ll alienate more people than you attract. The entire Muslim world seems to be speaking out against the Medina attacks.  The well from which they draw their legitimacy- the well of violence- is the one that will eventually poison them, and they’ll discredit themselves.

It’s a long and uphill battle, and whether through direct coordination or through inspiration, it’s one in which we’re all on the undrafted frontline. As they break apart, and as the slowly lose militarily (and don’t expect progress here to be a straight line), they’ll increase these attacks in an attempt to maintain primacy. It’s no comfort to the dead that this will also be their downfall.