That sub-headline may take the prize for the most bizarre we've ever offered up, although it'd have to beat the current champion -- which is, of course: "The Corpse-Like Stench Of Washington's Giant Misshapen Penis." That's pretty tough to beat, if truth be told.
In other words, welcome back to "Friday Talking Points," everyone! And a happy 2016 to one and all! Before we get to the Underpants Gnomes, we'd like to point out that this column has been on hiatus for the past three weeks, as we enjoyed our holidays and as we also got pre-empted by our annual "best and worst year-end roundup" column series (Part 1 and Part 2, in case you missed them). With three weeks of news to make up for, we're not even going to try highlighting all the political idiocy for the entire period, instead we'll just focus on the post-New-Year's-hangover period instead. That'll have to do.
"Ah, but what of the Underpants Gnomes?" you wonder. As well you might (unless you're a regular viewer of South Park, of course). The term came up in two recent articles (one quoting the other), which were interesting because they show how the Left and the Right are still struggling with the concept that Donald Trump could indeed become the Republican presidential nominee. This firm belief of many inside the Beltway has always involved what is usually termed "magical thinking," since nobody could really come up with a good reason why Trump's fall was so inevitable. [Program Note: We have in the past used the Underpants Gnome theory ourselves, to ridicule Republican idiocy and flim-flammery, but we admit we hadn't heard it used in the presidential race before now.] Now that the primaries are getting a lot closer, some are doing mental pretzel-bends to rationalize their gut feeling about Trump's inevitable loss (since their gut feeling can't possibly be wrong, of course).
Righty Ross Douthat begins his New York Times article by admitting the scope of the problem:
Donald Trump isn't going to be the Republican nominee.
Six months ago, that was a truism. Three months ago, it was the conventional wisdom. Now it's an assertion that inspires sympathetic glances, the kind you get when you tell friends that you think your new personal-investment strategy is sure to beat the market.
I know you really want that to be true, the glances say, but you just might be kidding yourself.
What set this all in motion was a "TRUTH BOMB" (capitals his) from Mike Allen of Politico, which read:
For all you Republicans and pundits who are still talking about a Cruz-Rubio final, here's a wake-up data point: It's been 168 days since Trump took a big lead in national polling, and he has widened his margin by 10 points since then. It's 28 days to Iowa, 36 days to New Hampshire, 47 days to South Carolina, 50 days to Nevada and 57 days to the SEC primary. If you think voters will suddenly get serious -- and that Trump is a "lampshade candidate" who'll eventually wear out his welcome -- you're running out of time to be right. But at least it's 309 days to Election Day.
Lefty Ezra Klein of Vox responded with a column of his own. Which is where the Underpants Gnomes come in. For those who are still wondering what the heck Underpants Gnomes are, we refer you to a synopsis of the "Gnomes" episode of South Park, or to a short video of their infamous business plan. Underpants Gnomes, you see, sneak around at night stealing children's underpants, as part of a grand get-rich-quick scheme. Here is their business plan, in all its glory:
Phase 1: Collect underpants
Phase 2: ?
Phase 3: Profit
Which is how Klein admits precisely what is missing in the conventional Washington "Trump must lose" wisdom:
It's the Underpants Gnomes theory of Trump's loss. Step 1: Trump leads the polls for month after month. Step 2: ??? Step 3: He loses! Even if you think that's likely, it sounds a bit ridiculous when you say it aloud.
So both Klein and Douthat (who included that paragraph above from Klein in his own article) then try to put some meat on the bones of Step 2. Klein's answer is, essentially, that Howard Dean lost and therefore Trump is going to lose. No, really. Douthat's answer isn't much better. He notes that Trump is only at around 30 percent support in the early states, and asserts that he'll never get any higher:
There is no credible scenario in which a consistent 30 percent of the vote will deliver the delegates required to be the Republican nominee. So for Trump to lose, he doesn't actually have to collapse; he just has to fail to expand his support. And in the states where candidates are actually campaigning, voters are paying the most attention, and the polling screens for likely voters are tightening, he hasn't expanded his support meaningfully since he first climbed into the lead.
This sounds a little less magical than other explanations, to be sure, but then Douthat blows it by ending with (you can't make this stuff up): "Loki does not rule in Asgard. And Donald Trump isn't going to be the Republican nominee." Um, what does Loki have to do with anything?
All in all, this is just the first wave of the freakout that's going to become widespread should Donald Trump start consistently winning primaries. And even if all this magical thinking does come true, the alternative might be even worse for establishment Republicans to contemplate -- Ted Cruz as their nominee. So hold onto your hats (and, of course, your underpants), folks, because it's going to be a wild ride indeed!
In other presidential news, Gary Johnson has jumped into the race, vying for the Libertarian ticket once again.
In non-presidential news, a bunch of yahoos took over a federal wildlife refuge, because they had nothing better to do than wave guns around while dressed in camo. While the media moved their usual circus out to East Podunk, Oregon (or wherever this refuge actually is), so far the feds seem to be doing nothing more than ignoring them. Maybe all their jackboots are still out for their yearly polishing, or something.
Speaking of media idiocy, Saudi Arabia beheaded 47 prisoners, which set off a powderkeg in the region (one of the executed was a Shi'ite cleric, which enraged Iran). While every time the Islamic State performs such executions the words "beheaded" or "beheading" can prominently be found in American news articles, because it was the Saudis, the word was seldom mentioned. Yes, Saudi Arabia executes people (dissidents most definitely included) by lopping their heads off with a sword in a public square. But even the editorials condemning the Saudi actions (here are two examples, if you don't believe me) can't quite bring themselves to use the word "beheaded." Strange, isn't it?
OK, we realize there is a ton of political stuff we've missed from the last three weeks, but this is going to be long enough as it is, so let's just move on to the awards.
We had two candidates for the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. The first was Representative Frank Pallone from New Jersey, who wrote a commonsense environmental bill (banning microbeads from cosmetics, due to how they pollute the water) and actually got it passed and signed into law. From the Washington Post story: "There was an environmental problem; Congress stepped in to solve it. In a time when it seems as though the two parties are at loggerheads on everything, and particularly on issues pertaining to the environment, that seems remarkable." Yes, it does. For achieving this remarkable victory, Representative Pallone gets an Honorable Mention.
But this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to President Barack Obama, for doing what he can to further the cause of gun safety. Obama cried when he announced his plans (remembering the slaughtered children at Sandy Hook), and then followed up his announcement with a town hall that was so balanced even pro-gun-rights folks had nice things to say about the CNN forum. Obama did what he legally could to tighten the "gun show loophole" which allows something like 40 percent of all gun sales to sidestep the background check.
Obama's actions are limited, of course. Real gun safety legislation is going to have to come from Congress, which Obama noted is in thrall to the National Rifle Association (meaning it's not going to happen any time soon, no matter how many kids get shot). Obama's frustration on this issue has been simmering for a long time now, so he decided to kick off his final year in office to take whatever limited steps the executive branch could.
The shocking thing is how popular Obama's newly-announced policies are. The numbers are in:
A new CNN-ORC survey of 1,000 Americans finds that the public supports Obama's plan by a 2-to-1 ratio: 67 percent of respondents favored the executive actions, while 32 percent opposed them. Even more striking, a similar share of people in gun-owning households -- 63 percent -- supported the measures.
Even more striking: 51 percent of Republicans support Obama's executive action on guns. When's the last time 51 percent of Republicans agreed with Obama on anything?
This is even more notable because of the way the survey asked the question -- even with Obama's name clearly attached to the idea, it still got overwhelming support from the public. Here's how the question was asked:
As you may know, this week Barack Obama announced several executive orders that change the nation's gun laws so that background checks are required for more purchases online and at gun shows, and which make it easier for the F.B.I. to complete background checks efficiently. Overall, do you favor or oppose these changes?
Even with Obama's name right up front, a majority of the public -- even Republicans -- agree with the new policy.
That's pretty downright impressive. Which is why President Obama is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.
[Congratulate President Barack Obama via the White House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
OK, we understand where he's coming from, really we do. Still, "vowing to file a lawsuit" is just unnecessary to point out how birtherism has always been nonsense and always will be nonsense, whether the subject is Barack Obama or Ted Cruz. Here's the story:
Rep. Alan Grayson, a Democratic gadfly running for the Senate in Florida, vows to file a lawsuit challenging Cruz's eligibility if he wins the nomination. Grayson would try to argue that both parents of Cruz, born in Canada to an American mother and a Cuban father, had to be American citizens for Cruz to be considered a "natural born" citizen under the Constitution. Grayson also has questions about the U.S. birth of Cruz's mother. "The Obama birthers are loons," Grayson told U.S. News this week. But "there's a very good legal argument that Ted Cruz is not qualified to be president."
Watch out who you're calling a loon, there, Alan, because it could come back to bite you later. There's a "good legal argument," after all, to be made that anyone born by C-section isn't a "natural-born citizen," but you don't see us making it. Well, OK, there was that one time, but we were obviously just kidding around... not filing federal lawsuits.
For taking this joke seriously, instead of just sitting back and watching Republicans flounder in self-induced self-destruction, Alan Grayson is (sadly) our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. A light touch is what's called for here, and not imitating the right's previous looney behavior.
[Contact Representative Alan Grayson on his House contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 373 (1/8/16)
A mixed bag of talking points this week. As always, use responsibly!
Doom and gloom that never happened
I'm sure President Obama will be mentioning this in his upcoming State Of The Union address, but perhaps not in such a snarky way.
"When President Obama ran for re-election, Republicans predicted a heavy dose of doom-and-gloom for America. Looking back on some of these predictions shows how little attention should be paid to conservatives' dire warnings, of course. Gas was supposed to be over six bucks a gallon by now. Unemployment was supposed to be stuck at eight percent. Obamacare was supposed to have entered a death spiral. Instead, take a look around you. Gas is cheap, the economy is adding 300,000 jobs per month. Obama has averaged more jobs added to the economy per year than George W. Bush and his father combined, in fact. Unemployment is at five percent -- a full point lower than Mitt Romney promised by the end of his first term, mind you -- and over 11 million people have signed up for Obamacare already this year. The reality is a lot brighter than Republican predictions -- keep that in mind as you listen to them campaign this year, folks."
Be afraid! Be very afraid!
Of course, being wrong never stopped them before, right?
"Take a look at the Republican candidates' ads, and all you see is naked fear. Fear of this, fear of that, fear of just about everything under the sun. Donald Trump is selling fear of hordes crossing our border, even though his first ad showed a border in North Africa, not North America. But when people are afraid, they discount such important details. If there's one common theme running through the Republican Party, it is: 'Be afraid -- be very afraid!' Whatever happened to the optimism of Ronald Reagan? There doesn't seem to be much 'morning in America' thinking left in the GOP, does there?"
One candidate has actual proposals
You just know who I'm talking about, don't you?
"Bernie Sanders continues to offer up progressive policies that are wildly popular with the public, even when the media refuses to report on the specifics. Bernie just gave a speech on economics and Wall Street where he announced he would push for laws to cap all credit card rates at 15 percent and ATM fees at two bucks. That is the type of change the American people truly want from the government. And yet the media completely ignored such a fundamental proposal for fairness. Think credit card interest rates are obscene? Think ATM fees are outrageous? Then Bernie's your candidate!"
Rubio admits Republican Congress is a joke
This was pretty jaw-dropping... considering who is running the place, after all.
"Marco Rubio just admitted that: 'We're not going to fix America with senators and congressmen,' because 'presidents set the public policy agenda.' He offered this up as an answer to why he is blowing off so many votes in the Senate, even though he's being paid over $170,000 a year to represent the citizens of Florida. If Rubio believes that Congress is this powerless -- a Republican Congress, mind you -- then why shouldn't he step down from such a worthless job? If I lived in Florida, I'd be pretty annoyed at a well-paid civil servant who continually refused to do his job while still cashing his paycheck every week. If showing leadership in the Senate is beyond Rubio's abilities, then he should step aside and let someone else take a crack at it."
Maybe Rubio's right, though...
It was a good week for naked hypocrisy in the hallowed halls of Congress.
"Maybe Marco Rubio is right, though. Paul Ryan began the legislative year by voting on a bill to defund Planned Parenthood and kill off Obamacare, which he knew full well was going to be vetoed. Immediately afterwards, Politico reported that: 'Senior House Republican aides and lawmakers say they do not plan to hold votes on many of the agenda items the party plans to unveil -- such as a health care plan to replace Obamacare, or tax reform -- because of a tight legislative calendar over the next few months and the reality that none of the bills would be signed by the president, anyway.' Got that, folks? We're going to start off the year passing a bill we know the president will veto, and then we're going to follow it up by not passing any of our agenda because we don't have enough time -- in the entire freakin' year -- to vote on any of it. No wonder Republican voters are so upset with the Republican congressional leadership! The first week of the new year, and all they've got is: 'Here's one bill that won't become law, and then we can just wrap things up for the whole year because we won't have time to get to anything else.' Man, that's truly pathetic."
A new term, but an apt one.
"Donald Trump is the master of a new phenomenon known as 'just asking questions' -- or, more colloquially, 'JAQ-ing off.' Trump never comes out and directly attacks his Republican competitors, he almost always frames it as 'some people are asking,' or 'the question has been raised,' while he keeps his own fingerprints off the attack. This seems to be catching on. Trump just JAQ-ed off on how -- you know, some people are saying -- Ted Cruz might not be eligible to be president because of his Canadian birth. This was amusingly followed by Senator John McCain joining in the fun with his own 'Jeez, I dunno,' sort of answer to Cruz's eligibility -- even though McCain himself wasn't born within the United States! The most hilarious aspect for Democrats in this whole fracas, though, is hearing Republicans finally admit that a child born to an American mother is a natural-born American citizen whether he was born in Hawai'i, in Kenya, in Canada, or on the moon. All of that Obama birtherism nonsense was precisely that -- utter idiocy, unconnected with reality. As the case of Ted Cruz proves, it doesn't matter where future presidents are born as long as one parent is an American citizen."
Lock up the white women!
And their underpants, of course.
"The title of 'most embarrassing governor in the nation' gets passed around from state to state, as time goes by. It used to be Jesse Ventura, or Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Rod Blagojevich. But these days, the clear winner is the governor of Maine, who recently warned of drug traffickers named 'D-Money' coming up from the big cities to sell heroin. As if this weren't bad enough, according to the governor: 'half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave.' Wow. Normally, I'd say something like 'what year does he think we're in,' but in this case it would have to be 'what century guides his thinking?' Congratulations, Maine, he's all yours."
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