Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Jebanator


Last year The Omnivore made a small set of predictions for 2014 and 2016. These were:

  1. By the November midterm elections (2014) Obamacare would (a) have a working web-site, (b) have achieved sufficient success that it was no longer an unqualified abysmal failure, and (c) still be slightly underwater on the polling despite that. I imagined that (d) the Republican message machine might have felt it put too many eggs in that basket—but that’s not an actual prediction per-se—just an observation.
  2. That Rand Paul (still too weird), Dr. Ben Carson (too new), and Chris Christie (too fat) would not be president as a result of the 2016 elections.

I’m feeling pretty good about #1 and I’m watching the #2 batch closely. Christie almost skunked me with the weight-loss surgery (he wouldn’t be an underwear model  by 2016 but he might be trim enough so that societal prejudice against fat wouldn’t prevent a victory). Rand Paul would scare me if I thought topping the polls really meant anything—it doesn’t—and I’m still solid on Ben Carson. He may be president one day—but 2016 is not that day.

Which brings us to Jeb. Jeb Bush, that is.

Why Jeb?

If you are asking “Why would Jeb be the Republican 2016 nominee?” that’s an easy question. He has establishment donors backed up around the block ready to shovel money into his campaign. He presents as someone Hispanics would maybe like—someone moderate on, like education (Common Core) and, hey, he’s not crazy. He isn’t a witch or a heretic—what’s not to like?

Well, he’s also not a conservative—or, at least, not what a lot of people think of today as a conservative. He’s also a ‘Bush’ which means he’ll either refudiate his own brother or else own the Iraq war. So, hey: that’s Jeb—losing the polls but winning the invisible primary.

If you’re asking “Why are we, uh, talking about Jeb Bush instead of poll-leader Rand Paul” that’s actually a harder question—and a more interesting one. The reason we are talking about the Jebanator is this: The Republican party has no current foreign policy.

Rand Paul, if he is to possibly be the nominee, will in fact be a foreign policy president. Oh, sure, he’ll have a tide of people behind him for his economic policy—but those will be Libertarians. If the general populace elects a president for economic reasons it’ll be Paul Ryan, not Rand Paul. If they go based on JOBS-JOBS-JOBS it’ll be Rick Perry, Scott Walker, or … uhmm … oops. Probably Scott Walker.

On the other hand, if the current front-runner gets into scoring position (much less the White House) it’ll be because we think his semi-noninterventionist platform is decent. It’ll be because we’ve collectively (or, at least, the people voting in the Republican primary have said collectively) ‘fuck it, we’re staying home.’ If we reach that point, Rand Paul has actually got a chance.

Basically, the fact that Jeb Bush is the ‘sane / establishment candidate’ is relevant only because the actual frontrunner, Rand Paul, is handicapped as the GOP has a serious deficiency in one of its three traditional pillars.

Why Doesn’t The GOP Have A Foreign Policy?

The reason the GOP doesn’t have a foreign policy is because, essentially, the Democrats stole it. Back in the heady days of the Afghanistan invasion no one spoke out against going into the Graveyard of Empires (TM) and well they shouldn’t have. On the other hand, almost no one spoke out against going into Iraq either and, you know, maybe someone should’ve? By the time we got to Obama the Democrats had (a) killed Osama Bin Laden in what was, really, a fairly bold set of moves and (b) wound down Iraq, killed Kadaffi, and (c) managed not to get us embroiled on Syria.

Now, the Republicans have hammered Obama for everything he’s done (save for killing Bin Laden) but the problem is this: there is no other-solution out there. The Republicans don’t really have a good plan for Syria. Maybe give some other guys some other weapons? There is no good plan for Iraq—should we leave a few more people there? Get out entirely? There’s no consistence stance—but even worse:there is no specific principal.

Back in the day of Ronald Reagan we knew where the Democrats stood—and where the Republicans stood—on the Soviet Union. Carter was going to be the grownup in the room. Reagan was going to literally build Star Wars. Clear choice—and we know how that turned out. It turned out that building the fuck out of Star Wars didn’t produce much by way of light sabers but did bankrupt the USSR who felt compelled to try and keep up. Huzzah!

Today, without a clear foreign policy platform (is it Attack Iran Now? Really?) and without a set of unique guiding principals (is it Don’t Drone Americans—But It Is Ok To Torture?) the Republicans have a problem when it comes to flexing their candidate—they don’t have a position that differentiates them from, say, Hillary Clinton. Well, except one of them does: Rand Paul.

Rand Paul’s foreign policy views are actually not as concrete as you might think—and his current kerfuffle around suggesting that Iraq was launched for profit by Halliburton could be copy-pasted off a left-wing web site—but whatever he thinks (or you think he thinks) we are pretty sure that he’s a contrast to “All Drones All The Time” (Obama) or “You Mean THIS Army?” Bush.

In other words, Rand Paul may or may not have a shot at the White House (The Omnivore says: still looks like ‘No’)—but he does have something that no one else in the GOP seems to—a part of their identity (Foreign Policy Platform) that was once a core-component of the brand differentiation the GOP enjoyed.


  1. I think you're miscrediting "Star Wars" for bankrupting the USSR. I'm sure it contributed - it's been said that America "won" the Cold War because we were able to shovel money into the fire faster than our enemies could - but most of the economic damage appears to have been caused by manipulation of the oil markets. Specifically, the Reagan Administration pressured / bribed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (the world's only remaining oil producer with any reserve capacity back then) to open up their taps, flood the market with cheap crude, and temporarily crash oil prices. Since the USSR derived most of their GDP and hard-currency reserves from state-owned petro-monopolies such as Gazprom, even a 10% price drop was sure to cause serious damage. That, combined with the Kremlin's desperate attempt to outspend the American military-industrial complex, was why Mr. Gorbachev couldn't afford to keep guarding that accursed wall any longer.

    Now, of course, reserve oil-production capacity is a thing of the past, and, consequently, that particular lever of control / suasion is gone for good.

    By the way, some would say that lack of an articulable foreign policy is the least of the GOP's problems. You've also alluded to their widespread perception as being crazy, out of touch, and reflexively hostile to everyone who isn't, well, them. Not exactly a party of inclusion.

    Until and unless they can put up a candidate who can perform a creditable karaoke sing-along to Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls", I'm not interested. Do I see Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden or John Kerry passing this test either? No, I most certainly do not.

    And that's the problem.

    -- Ω

    1. Biden might be better at karaoke than you'd expect. I worked with a guy who ran a nuclear weapons team in Europe during the 80's. He said that his unit (a large NATO unit) would constantly do "maneuvers" that forced the soviets to respond in kind--a very expensive always-on proposition.

      I think what you say about the oil markets is reasonable as well--it was a multi-front battle.

      -The Omnivore

  2. (Veronica here.)

    I have a Facebook anecdote. Once I was shopping over on and looking at a particular pair of Prada wedge boots. Which, okay, these are certainly a rather *specific* product to look at. Then I browse over to Facebook, which pops up a Norstrom’s ad for those very boots.

    There is no way that could be a coincidence.

    Thing is, I have no idea if this a good strategy or not. I mean, they know I am interested in the boots. On the other hand, I already know where to find them, for how much, and exactly what to do to get them. I was just on the Nordstom’s site.

    I don’t assume super competence, but nor do I assume incompetence. These companies do metrics, and “conversion” is a big deal. It’s possible that posting follow up ads like that on Facebook has some percentage of conversion that makes it worthwhile. Maybe not.

    I bought the boots.

    Data mining is a complex topic. For some things, these techniques are very good. For others, not so much. There are diminishing returns. Plus there is the “Curse of Dimensionality” (Google it), which severely limits finding those *most subtle* patterns.

    We’ve already picked much of the low hanging fruit.

    Thing is, for every person who knows a thing or two about the actual math, there are a hundred online journalists who read crap articles by other online journalists (and maybe skim an O’Reilly book), and who breathlessly repeat golly-gee predictions.