brad-listi-thoughts-on-election-2016

This week on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, Brad Listi offers his thoughts on Election 2016.

 

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In an interview over at the Findings blog, Clay Shirky responds to the question “How is publishing changing?”:

Publishing is not evolving. Publishing is going away. Because the word “publishing” means a cadre of professionals who are taking on the incredible difficulty and complexity and expense of making something public. That’s not a job anymore. That’s a button. There’s a button that says “publish,” and when you press it, it’s done.

In ye olden times of 1997, it was difficult and expensive to make things public, and it was easy and cheap to keep things private. Privacy was the default setting. We had a class of people called publishers because it took special professional skill to make words and images visible to the public. Now it doesn’t take professional skills. It doesn’t take any skills. It takes a WordPress install.

Taking a gentlemanly, congratulatory phone call from Sen. John McCain after he stuffed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucus in January of 2008, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is reported to have chuckled — with a little too much venom — “I beat Romney here, now you take him in New Hampshire.” Which is exactly what happened. And Huckabee meant it, too.  That shiv neatly sums up the animosity Republicans who run for president tend to feel towards the feckless Romney, now 1-0 in 2012, and on the verge of being 2-0 if his firewall in New Hampshire holds firm next week and new polls in South Carolina showing him with a strong lead there turn out to be correct.

But before New Hampshire votes next week and makes Romney 2-0 and the presumptive nominee, it’s worth asking one question: Can he be stopped?

Big answer: Maybe, maybe not, because the same five reasons Romney has the nomination locked up are the exact five reasons he could still lose.

 

Lock.

He’s got so much money — that of his campaign, his Super Pac that spent $3 million destroying Newt Gingrich in a matter of weeks on Iowans’ TV screens, and his own private fortune estimated at over $200 million. After New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada comes Florida — an expensive market in which to campaign.  And no other candidate can hit the airwaves with us much force or range as Romney.

He’s got the establishment falling into line behind his candidacy. The Tea Party has already put a noose around the House of Representatives, and establishment conservatives are desperate that it not do the same to the presidential standard-bearer, what with President Obama’s approval still stuck slightly below 50 percent. In state after state, governors and representatives are falling in line to support Romney with party stars like New Jersey’s bully of a governor, Chris Christie, leading the way. As Romney’s wins pile up, elected Republicans will endorse so as not to lose favor with their party’s eventual nominee.

The other candidates will continue to split the right wing vote. Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul divvied up some 75 percent of the vote in Iowa and, because of that split, they each lost to Romney — albeit by a “landslide” of eight votes in Santorum’s case. That might be Romney’s low ceiling, true, but if the other candidates continue to vie for three-quarters of the GOP pie, Romney’s 25 percent slice could be enough in state after state to rack up delegates and be crowned the nominee in Tampa. And 25 percent probably isn’t his ceiling.

Santorum and Perry want to be the Vice Presidential nominee. Gingrich and Paul couldn’t care less about their future in the Republican party (though Paul surely is interested in protecting his fringe of the nutty wing for a future presidential run by his son, Kentucky’s junior senator, Rand Paul). But Santorum and Perry both can hope to make an argument that they would bring right wing enthusiasm with them into a fall campaign (much as George Bush, Sr. made the same, but reverse, argument to Ronald Reagan in 1980, that Bush could bring the moderate and establishment wings to unite with the conservative Reaganites). Jack Kemp, Dan Quayle, and Sarah Palin were all figureheads for the right wing of a party that was simply holding its nose for the more moderate top of the ticket. Santorum or Perry could vie to be next in the VP in that fated line.

The GOP is full of amateur pundits. Even if they don’t like Romney, Republicans have told pollsters that they believe he is the most electable. Of all the GOP candidates, he still polls best nationally against Obama, trailing the president by just 2.2 percentage points, according to Real Clear Politics’ average of a dozen of the most recent national polls. And in state by state polling — because the only number that matters in the general election is 270, the number of electoral votes needed to win the presidency — Romney is running competitively against the president in the bell weather battleground states of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, all states Obama won in 2008 and needs to win in 2012.

 

Lose.

He’s got so much money — but the populist revolts that gave rise to both the Tea Party in 2010 and the Occupy movement in 2011 have hardly abated. And rich white guys are their target. Santorum is hitting hard the Tea Party, Buchananesque, blue collar argument that government is ruining industry, manufacturing, and the social fabric of America. Romney’s personal wealth and what he represents as a corporate businessman running for high office may be the very totems of ultra-affluence that work against him — especially if he makes another bizarre statement like “corporations are people.” This is why Gingrich has taken to saying that Romney is trying to buy the nomination. It’s an argument that may take hold if the race tightens.

He’s got the establishment falling in line — but the leading figures of that endorsing establishment are George Bush, Sr., Bob Dole, and John McCain, who combined lost three out of the last five presidential races. And none were favored by the conservative-I-hate-you reactionaries in the Republican party. If the reactionaries rally behind a single candidate — say, Santorum — and ditch Gingrich, Perry, and Paul, then Romney’s 25 percent threshold will not hold against a party eager for a happy, reactionary warrior to run against Obama.

Santorum and Perry want to be the Vice Presidential nominee. Unless one or the other is the Presidential nominee. In 2008, pundits were certain that Barack Obama was only running for — and could only win — the Vice Presidential nod against Hillary Clinton. What they didn’t know was that Obama’s campaign had developed a February strategy to sweep the caucus contests that immediately followed Super Tuesday. Santorum could quickly become the darling of the right — and Perry has the fund-raising chops to stay in the fight — so if the campaign drags on past Florida and Romney can’t sew it up and no surprise candidate enters late, then playing hard but respectful in order to get the number two spot may fall away. In its place? Playing all out for the win.

The GOP is full of amateur pundits — but only a very few predicted Santorum’s amazing Iowa finish. So for all the windbaggery, attention must be paid to the voters, no? And God love them for that. Given all the loopy twists of the 2012 primaries so far, and knowing that GOP voters down the line just don’t seem to like Mitt Romney, anything could happen.

 

A friend of mine is going through an emotional upheaval. She’s in her forties, married, with two children. She is no longer effervescent. She tells me that she is incapacitated by sadness and fear. Things are happening in her life that drain her of her will to live.

“What kind of things?” I ask.

Family things,” she whispers.

Because she won’t tell me, I fear the worst. Though I’ve asked, she refuses to tell me exactly what is happening. She’s painfully shy, secretive about the things she cherishes most. To better cope with her inner turmoil, she’s taken up smoking again. Whatever happened has affected her for months, yet she cannot bring herself to tell another living soul about it.

In an email, she writes about the weight she’s lost since whatever happened happened—“down to [x lbs], my weight at time of marriage–but I look fabulous!” Because I know her to be sensitive about her appearance, I read this as a proud boast. I write back that this is good news, but what I really think is how profound her depression must be to have caused this loss of appetite.

A number of weeks ago, an article on MSNBC.com caught my eye. A woman who survived a lupus-induced stroke tells of how impressed her friends of her resulting severe weight loss.

“The crazy thing was people thought I looked great because I was so thin. They’d ask if I was working out and I didn’t have one muscle. You could see every bone protruding out of my shoulders, my elbows, my wrists.”

She tried to tell people how dire her weight loss was, how much it jeopardized her health, yet her friends prodded her for diet tips.

“It was like the skinnier I got, the more I heard about how great I looked. Men, in particular, thought my body looked fabulous. I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s really sick. I have to be anorexic to make you think I’m attractive.’”

Stories like this get to me. I’ve been writing a novel lampooning how obsessed we can be with false ideas of feminine beauty. Much has been written elsewhere about the psychologically damaging effects that our culture’s focus on body image can have on women, yet it still startles me to see how alarmingly short-sighted people can be. What’s the value of weight loss when it is achieved as a consequence of emotional despair? Or life-threatening medical conditions?

When beauty is concerned, misplaced priorities are rampant.

In August, Jane Fonda appeared in Harper’s Bazaar. The occasion? A new movie by the two-time Oscar-winning actress? A new political cause for this activist who has helped shape public opinion about crucial events for over forty years? Nope. Appearing in a revealingly sheer Stella McCartney dress, the 73-year-old Fonda announces to the world that she is still beautiful.

Fonda, who has an artificial hip and an artificial knee (“I set off as many bells and whistles at an airport as I did [at a Cannes fashion show.]”), freely concedes vanity. She still has the need to show off her figure. “I wear what will show off my best parts, which are my waist and my butt.”

While I have nothing against people taking pride in their personal appearance, it’s appalling that someone as accomplished as Fonda feels she can only assert her continued relevance through brash boasts of youthful beauty. Beauty is confining pedestal. One senses from reading Fonda’s comments that its pursuit has obscured her ability to take satisfaction from other facets of her life.

One needn’t be a cynic to suspect that a septuagenarian’s the outward appearance of beauty is maintained by a fair amount of make-up and, perhaps, cosmetic surgery. Beauty is a wasteful pursuit. Worldwide, the cosmetics industry raked in $170 billion in 2007 (the most recent year for which I can locate reliable figures). Anti-aging facial serums are the most expensive products. A 1.7 ounce jar of La Prairie “Cellular Cream Platinum Rare” will set you back a cool grand at Neiman Marcus.

Do these products work? A 2005 Forbes article suggests maybe not. While the cosmetic industry touts these products as “clinically proven” to reduce wrinkles, their studies lacked clinical control groups to test their findings. As Forbes writes, “If these studies were repeated using, say, olive oil, or even a generic lotion of any kind, it is possible that the results would be the same.”

Dollars are not the only thing that being wasted in the pursuit of beauty. Anxieties and false expectations are being needlessly thrust upon women.

I feel sorry for Fonda.

“I was raised in the ’50s,” Fonda says. “I was taught by my father that how I looked was all that mattered, frankly. He was a good man, and I was mad for him, but he sent messages to me that fathers should not send: Unless you look perfect, you’re not going to be loved.”

As a father of a six-year-old girl, I hope never to wittingly or unwittingly impart that same message. Yet some days, it’s a struggle. My daughter now has longish hair, hair that frankly gets untidy if not brushed. Am I sending her the wrong message every time I brush her hair before she goes to school?

As much as we like to believe that we’ve washed away the blatant sexism that has existed to subjugate or otherwise limit opportunities for women in our society, the expectations we place on women to maintain physical beauty place them at a tremendous disadvantage. Just think of how much time Fonda put in over the years maintaining the comeliness of her butt. Now think of all that she might have accomplished with that time had she devoted it to some other cause.

During the 2008 Presidential campaign, when Hillary Clinton still fiercely contested for the Democratic nomination, Michael Kinsley wrote a Washington Post thought piece about how much time candidates spent each morning readying their physical appearances. Whereas a man can quickly shower, brush his hair, and toss on a suit, greater care is expected from women. Attention must be given to the color co-ordination of their wardrobe. They must apply make-up and style their hair. Sadly, appearances matter as much as policy stances. Should a hastily made-up female politician greet an audience or television interviewer, votes would likely be lost.

These extra preparations, Kinsley conservatively estimated, cost Hillary Clinton twenty minutes more each morning than Barack Obama.

“In most occupations this 20 minutes doesn’t make much difference — especially compared with the disproportionate time that women still spend housekeeping and child-rearing. It will make no difference after the election; no one will care if the president is well-coiffed when answering that 3 a.m. phone call. But in a close-fought election campaign, every minute counts. If you figure 20 minutes a day over a year and a half of 14-hour days and six-day weeks, it comes out to an extra two weeks of campaigning or sleep for a male candidate.”

Just as no one really cares what a president may look like at 3 a.m., I doubt anyone really cares about the state of an actress’s derriere. When a friend emails us at three a.m. with her emotional woes, we don’t really care if she’s lost a lot of weight lately. We don’t ask about the wrinkles that might be crowing her eyes, or the brand of lipstick she might be swishing over her lips. What we want is her emotional well-being, which seems to be the first thing we lose sight of when our thoughts turn to beauty.