Musings on Thomas Hobbes 431st Birthday.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader raised a glass of whisky this past Friday (April 5th) and toasted Thomas Hobbes. Thomas Hobbes is on a very short list of political philosophers that your Maximum Leader greatly admires. Thomas Hobbes. Michael Oakeshott. Edmund Burke. Those are the big three…

Anyhoo…

Your Maximum Leader wrote recently about how to classify Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He was using old Cold War Soviet terms for his classification. So he had the Soviet Union on his mind. Bringing the Soviet Union more to the forefront of his mind was his watching (probably for the 100th time) “The Death of Stalin.” It happened to be on cable on Friday night. He caught it about 15 minutes in…

NB: Your Maximum Leader loves (LURVES!) “The Death of Stalin.” It is funny. It is intelligent. It is so well acted and well written and well directed. He rented it to watch on a flight to California last year. He saw it and knew he had to own it. He bought it upon landing and watched it three more times that weekend. He’s watched it a bunch since. In the past five years there have been two films that your Maximum Leader has found rewatchable over and over again. They are “Stalin” and “Deadpool.”

So, moving along…

Your Maximum Leader had been thinking about nomenklatura. Then he had been watching the comic antics of the Soviet Politburo jockeying for power in 1953. Then his mind wandered in a bourbon infused fog. At that point he had something of a revelation. And Hobbes has something to do with it too…

The revelation was that many liberals of today genuinely believe that a Soviet/Socialist/Communist political system is a good thing. Now you are saying to yourself, “Self, how it is that my Maximum Leader is just realising this? Is he stupid?” Well, not exactly. You see, intellectually speaking your Maximum Leader has known that many liberals think this way. But there was something of a series of subtle connections that were made in that fog that made things clearer.

You see, your Maximum Leader, in his heart shares a belief espoused by ole Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes famously wrote that in a state of nature life was a war of all against all. His famous sound bite was that life in such a condition was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. Now, Hobbes’s view of humanity is more nuanced than this. You can pick up his writings and read a few hundred pages and figure this out for yourself. But here is the rub. Ultimately Hobbes, and your Maximum Leader, believed that human nature is inherently egoistic. We want what we want. We want to do what we want to do. If we think we can get away with something to our advantage, without fear of reprisal, we will do it. To use religious terminology (because in this the religious and political are closely intertwined), man’s nature is fallen. As a being with a fallen nature, we need to be constrained. Constrained, in Hobbes’ mind, by an autocratic state. (At least this the the broad theme of Leviathan.) Please keep this in your mind…

Of course, on the other side of this equation (as it were) are those who prefer the state of nature described by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Man was a perfectible, noble, creature. The nature of man was not fallen, or sinful, or bad. Mankind was corrupted by society, but society could be reformed and likewise man will be reformed as a result. Of course, your Maximum Leader is oversimplifying here, but bear with him.

So, broadly speaking, Your Maximum Leader thinks we can all agree that the best (theoretical) type of government to live under would be an autocracy ruled over by a wise, just, and benevolent autocrat. The Philosopher-King of Plato’s musings as it were. A good, wise, just, and benevolent autocrat has the power to “get things done” as well as the restraint to “keep from going too far.” Just laws, just taxes, and justice in general would flow quickly and efficiently from the Philosopher-King at the head of such a state. Things would be good…

Of course, the problem with autocracies is that you aren’t always guaranteed a good autocrat. The odds of a bad one are better than the odds of a good one. This is especially true if you believe, as your Maximum Leader and Hobbes do, in the not-so-good nature of man. But let’s say, you fall more under the Rousseauian theory of mankind. Well, even then you know that you are bound to get a bad egg from time to time. No matter how well you educate and train an autocrat, sometimes you are going to get a bad one. But if you give autocratic power to a bunch of perfectible people. People who are well-trained, well-experienced, and well-educated. Well then, that is a different story…

This is the root of the liberal’s love of technocracy. If mankind is perfectible and generally good, if you give power to right group of technocrats you will get a good outcome. If it doesn’t work out, it is because the “true formula” hasn’t really been tried. Ah… The ole “true socialism has never been tried trope!” Yes. Of course it all comes back to a fervent starting principal. If man is good it is all bound to work out! We just have had the wrong people in place…

Your Maximum Leader, in thinking all this, was musing on a column that Paul Krugman wrote some years ago (and he can’t find on the Google with ease and has given up with trying to link it) in which Krugman waxed admiration on the Chinese Communist government. In his musings, your Maximum Leader thought to himself that if you could look past the human rights abuses, the lack of personal freedoms, the rampant corruption, and the cronyism, there is a lot to like with the style of Chinese Communist rule from Deng Ziaoping through Hu Jintao. The Chinese Communist Politburo was populated by well-educated, experienced technocrats. These technocrats had well-constructed plans for moving their country ahead. They executed those plans (without any hindrance to their power). And presto-chango! China is the second greatest power in the world (and some could argue they are tied for the greatest power in the world). The Chinese Communist leaders are like half a loaf of bread in the argument about Socialism. They get so much right that they are admired, but there is that unsightly side. (All that lack of human rights, corruption, etc. etc.) It is like they are a beta version that just needs some more work.

You see, your Maximum Leader never really “saw” this aspect of how many liberals choose to look at socialism. He couldn’t get past his starting point, namely that humanity is not inherently good or truly perfectible. If you can’t get past that point, you’ll never get to where they are… Of course, your Maximum Leader likes freedom and liberty. He likes republican (truly little “r” republican) government. He likes restraint on government power. He likes it all because he doesn’t fully trust other people’s nature. We (humanity/mankind if you like) constrain our nature within society. We set up institutions and rules to constrain ourselves and others. It makes life better when we have boundaries and constrains, but also have the liberty to act as our own free-will agents.

It is possible that, at some point in the growing ever more distant past, he had this revelation before. But it seemed pretty enlightening the other night. It is possible that he’s never really tried to understand the whole “true Socialism” or “true Communism” hasn’t been tried argument. It’s never been tried, because it isn’t possible for it to be tried. If the nature of man is not predisposed towards it working, true Socialism/Communism just can’t ever work. Of course, many people don’t think as I do. So there is that.

Your Maximum Leader isn’t going to round them up and send them out for re-education or anything…

Carry on.

Classifications

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader was musing the other day about Democratic Congressman and Wunderkinder Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He wasn’t just musing about her lovely complexion, ample bosom, but over-large teeth either. He was thinking about her as a political phenomena of our day. He wondered how, other than her general good looks - which don’t hurt when gaining celebrity, she became such a spokesman for the Democratic Party. Here a 29 years old woman, elected by about 100,000 voters in liberal Brooklyn, New York, seems to have become one of the standard bearers for her party. All that and she is a spokesman for what your Maximum Leader thinks of as the far left-wing element of her party.

Then he started to think back to his youth during the bad ole days of the Cold War. Then something came to him. Was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez an apparatchik or a nomenklatura? He posted this, mostly rhetorical, question on the ole Tweety-box. (Your Maximum Leader’s handle by the by is @maximumleader.) One of your Maximum Leader’s tweeps (@arethusaf) suggested that she wasn’t detail oriented enough to be an apparatchik, and that she was certainly now, by virtue of her position, a nomenklatura.

NB: Any of you out there who might stumble across this post would likely know what apparatchiks and nomenklatura are. But in case you don’t here are the wiki definitions. Apparatchik. Nomenklatura. They will suit our purposes here tonight.

So back to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Apparatchik or nomenklatura. Your Maximum Leader agrees with Arethusa that by virtue of her position in Congress she is certainly a member of the Democratic nomenklatura. But she evinces, in your Maximum Leader’s eyes, many of the qualities of an apparatchik. He says this because she is a good reciter of the “party line.” She knows all the lines, everything she should say about all the hot-button issues for the Democratic constituency. You know them: the environment, health care, the environment some more, equal justice, equal pay, the environment even more, and a highly idealised and mostly imagined democratic-socialism of the Nordic type. She knows what to say on these subjects, how to say it, and more importantly how to communicate in Tweet-length soundbites.

NB: Your Maximum Leader wishes we would get legit soundbites. Remember them? People of a certain age remember lamenting the popularisation of the soundbite. Oh how, as a younger man, your Maximum Leader mused “What happened to the American attention span? When did we stop being able to listen to a person for more than 3 minutes? When did we lose the ability to concentrate for over 15 minutes at a time? Why must we be subjected to a 2-3 minute soundbite that doesn’t really give us any information or nuance?” The soundbite was the king of newsworthy statements in the late 80’s and 90’s. Now we don’t even get the soundbite. It is all tweet-length nowadays. If you are lucky you get the Twitter version of the soundbite - the thread… Pretty soon we’ll only understand emojis.

Actually, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s ability to tweet is likely as responsible for her meteoric rise in her party as much as her beating Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary in her district (NY - 14). She is a mirror image of our President when it comes to tweeting. To make an old Dungeons & Dragons analogy, Ocasio-Cortez is a Paladin on the Twitter and Donald Trump is the Anti-Paladin on the Twitter. She is on-point and always saying exactly what you think she will (if you are into predicting these things). He is wild and untamed and all over the place. They both are happy to bend the truth while tweeting, but Ocasio-Cortez’s “facts” are generally more popular than Trumps and she is largely immune (in the mainstream) from actual fact-checking. Unlike the President who is oft (and rightfully) fact-checked and exposed as a liar (which he is).

Anyhooo… Back to the classification…

Your Maximum Leader thinks that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a failed apparatchik that has stumbled into the nomenklatura by a happy confluence of events (not the least of which was the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States).

NB: Your Maximum Leader can’t imagine that he’s going to have to spend the rest of his life looking at Trump’s ugly mug on a placemat depicting all the Presidents of the United States. Your Maximum Leader might have to swear off Presidential placemats in favor of Civil War generals, the States, or world flags placemats.

Ocasio-Cortez isn’t a bureaucratic functionary. She doesn’t have the talent for details (at least not that your Maximum Leader can observe). But she knows the party line, and that will get her far. It already has gotten her far. Your Maximum Leader wagers that she will serve in Congress long enough to receive a full pension. Ocasio-Cortez will likely be with us (at least those of us who follow politics to some degree) for some time. Your Maximum Leader hopes she’ll at least be entertaining for some of that time. He does not wish, however, that she will be particularly successful and implementing that which she so easily professes on the Twitter.

Carry on.

“Presidents Day” +1

Greetings, loyal minions. Often, in the past, on the Federal holiday popularly known as “Presidents Day” your Maximum Leader has given his list of the greatest Presidents of the United States of America.

Well, as we all know, the holiday is actually George Washington’s Birthday (with a nod to Abraham Lincoln). We should celebrate it as such. We should remember Washington (and Lincoln) and be done with it. Don’t give lip service to the “office” and don’t go around ginning up how great this or that President was (or is). The presidency is a job in our Republic. The person in it (Washington and Lincoln notwithstanding) is just a normal citizen doing a job. We don’t need more cults of personality in the world.

And lets be honest… There were many duds and idiots that served as President of the United States… So for this “Presidents Day” (+1) let us throw out the names of some of those duds and idiots to have served as chief executive of our nation…

1) James Buchanan - arguably the worst in our history. Let us not forget that the ineptitude of his man led to the American Civil War.
2) Andrew Johnson. The first president to be impeached (though not removed from office). He was completely out of step with his times and an arrogant bastard to boot.
3) Ulysses Grant. Great general. Great writer. No-so-great President. Scandals ruined it for Grant. (NB: No, I’ve not read the new Chernow biography on Grant yet. I may not ever to be honest. I doubt it will change my view that Grant is a great American overall, but a miserable President.)
4) Millard Filmore. The man’s very name is a synonym for mediocre.
5) Richard Nixon. It pains me to type that, but it is true. We really need a special category for Richard Nixon all by himself. He can be neither great, nor terrible because he was both in equal measures. For every good or great thing you can attribute to Nixon, there is an equally awful or destructive thing you can name. On the balance, the negatives probably outweigh the positives. If Nixon’s presidency should have taught us anything (which it apparently has not) it is that executive power should be limited. Many of the problems that those on the right and left have with a president with whom they do not agree is how they use the power that they have been given by Congress. Give less power to the president and there will be less to be upset about…

Anyway… There you have it. The five worst presidents according to your Maximum Leader…

Carry on.

Smollett

Greetings, loyal minions. This whole Jussie Smollett situation should fill you with the wide range of emotions and thoughts. To recap: Jussie Smollett, a gay, black actor, claimed to have been assaulted in Chicago by two men. During the assault he had a noose thrown around his neck, a liquid poured on him, and was beaten. The men, Smollett claimed, were wearing “Make American Great Again” caps. In the ensuing days and weeks (it seems like weeks - but time has taken on a peculiar quality since 2017 it seems) two camps appeared. The first camp, mostly populated by liberals/progressives, stood by Smollett and decried how racism and racial hatred and racially-based hate crimes were a symptom of “Donald Trump’s America.” The second camp, mostly populated by conservatives/right-wingers, stood back and said “something doesn’t seem right with this story.”

As it seems to be turning out, there is something wrong with the story and those of the second camp I just described seem to be justified. According to news reports coming out of the Chicago Police Department, the two (black) men (immigrants from Nigeria it seems) were paid by Smollett to assault him. The hired assailants bought rope and plain red hats to carry out the staged attack. Smollett is, apparently, sticking by the story that he’s maintained publicly (including in an interview with Robin Roberts on ABC). Slowly the facts of the case seem to be going is a much different direction.

I am much more active on the Twitter than here. (@maximumleader) But I steered away from this story. I was shocked when it was first reported. I continue to be horrified by the racially charged nature of so many crimes and incidents in America over the past two years. It seemed plausible that such an assault could have happened. But as the facts started to ebb out I started to be sceptical. The attackers were allegedly black men. It seemed a little implausible that there would be two black Trump supporters in Chicago looking to assault another black man. Then there was the absence of CCTV footage. There were questions about the police getting to examine Smollett’s cell phone. There were questions… Now it seems like it was all a terrible contrivance.

The real tragedy here is that this whole incident further widens the already widening chasms between the various factions within America. Liberals are rending their shirts and covering themselves with ash while saying how this will affect how society will view future (and real) claims of racist attacks. And they are right to do so. A false claim, and even worse - a staged incident - does, I believe, cause people to be more cautious and sceptical of future claims by future victims. It is a society-wide expansion of the boy who cried wolf - but writ over a whole class of crimes and victims. Conservatives on the other hand are pointing fingers at liberals and especially the media and cheering themselves for being vindicated. They, rightly, claim that the whole incident was never investigated seriously when the claims were first made. The media believed because they wanted to believe because it fit the narrative they want to advance. I believe that this is also pretty true. If you are inclined to look for evidence of racism and racial hatred everywhere you aren’t going to question a big story like this one when it comes along.

All in all, I’m willing to go with the pox on both your houses. Our age of social media and instant commentary on anything has lead us to become reflexively partisan on just about any issue. It also give everyone the ability to comment in real time on anything. There is no time to gather facts. (NB: as if facts matter. Echo chambers of social media don’t appreciate facts that don’t fit the narrative. It is appearances that matter.) There is no time, and frankly no desire, to learn the facts and use them to create an intelligent opinion. As a result, the echo chambers resound. The divides harden. The sides grow further apart.

I don’t mind disagreement. But I want to encourage discussion of a serious sort. That being said, our society doesn’t value serious discussion and calm acceptance of differences. So the whole Smollett thing will just go down as another hoax that sets to wear down the bonds of civil society.

Carry on.

My Poor Commonwealth

Greetings, loyal minions.

Well, well, well. The regularly uninteresting political situation in my home, the Commonwealth of Virginia, has become rather noteworthy of late. Unless you’ve lived under a rock, or just ignored politics generally, you have likely heard about what has happened recently in Richmond. Allow me to summarize:

1) Governor Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook has part of a page dedicated to him that shows a man in blackface and another in a KKK outfit. The Governor may or may not be in the photo. And he may or may not have been responsible for selecting the photo to be put in the yearbook.

2) Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax has been accused by two women of sexual assault. One alleges she was assaulted during the Democratic National Convention in 2004. The other alleges she was assaulted while she and Fairfax were students at Duke University.

3) Attorney General Mark Herring has admitted that he wore makeup to darken his skin (but apparently not full-out blackface) during a his time at the University of Virginia.

4) State Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment edited the Virginia Military Institute’s (VMI) yearbook in 1968. A yearbook that is filled with racist photos and statements.

That is the shortened jist of what has come out. That is also the order in which this news was made public. Except for the second accuser coming forward about Justin Fairfax, that happened after the Tommy Norment story broke. The Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General are all Democrats. Senator Norment is a Republican.

In the immediate aftermath of learning about the Governor’s yearbook page (apparently “leaked” to a right-wing web site in the aftermath of a stunningly horrifying interview by the Governor in which he seemed to advocate infanticide) there were - and one supposes there remain - widespread calls for the Governor to resign. The Governor issued a video statement in which he expressed regret over the yearbook. Then a day after his statement of regret, the Governor held a press conference that was best described as somewhat surreal in which he denied that the was in the photo, didn’t know how the photo got there, admitted to dressing like Michael Jackson at another time, and nearly demonstrated his moonwalking skills. The Governor has since given another television interview in which he stated that black Africans were first bought to Virginia as indentured servants, not slaves. (NB: It has been a very very long time since I’ve read/studied this so I may be wrong and/or the scholarship may have changed in the intervening decades; but the Governor may not be technically wrong on this - though he should have just learned a lesson from all his other missteps and just shut the hell up about slavery. As I recall, among the first Africans brought to Jamestown some may have been given indenture papers. But this practice was short-lived at best and slavery came to Virginia shortly after Jamestown was founded. Again, my memory is hazy and I am open to being wrong on this point. More broadly speaking - it doesn’t matter one iota in the grand scheme - except to pedantic history nerds. Slaves came. If one is trying to be sensitive to over 400 years of slavery, racism, and inequality you ought not to try to score pedantic points.) So that is where the Governor is…

The Lt. Governor is calling for investigations into the allegations. Allegations he flatly denies. There have been calls for his resignation as well.

The Attorney General has seemed to benefit from all the other news stories as he now seems to be laying low and hoping it all blows past.

Senator Norment, too, is laying low and hoping it all blows past.

In my opinion, laying low and hoping it all blows past is the right strategery (as it were) for everyone, except Mr. Fairfax.

In the cases of Governor Northam, Attorney General Herring, and Senator Norment, all these incidents were decades ago. In my opinion, which as we all know is not worth a hill of beans in this crazy world, all three of these men have a long record of associations and public service that do not show signs of persistent or lingering racism. Some may choose to point out that a campaign flyer for the (eventually winning) Democratic ticket that was circulated in Southwestern Virginia only showed Mr. Northam and Mr. Herring, both of whom are white. It conspicuously omitted Mr. Fairfax who is black. It was said at the time that this was to help the ticket in an area of the state where it was believed that some whites would not vote for a black man. It is my belief that someone responsible for the printing of that flyer did make that calculation. I don’t believe that Mr. Northam, Herring, or Fairfax had any personal involvment with it. And it is interesting to note that Mr. Norment, while a student at VMI, advocated the full integration of VMI - an unpopular stance even in 1968. So, once again, I feel you have a long public record for these three men that doesn’t support they are racists. I don’t feel that this long record is outweighed by self-evidently awful behavior decades ago. Others may disagree.

I suppose my position comes down to when is long enough? If Governor Northam, while he was a state senator, went to a party in blackface I would sing a different tune. I suppose I might sing a different tune if he did so during his time as a doctor in private practice. And while I fully admit that a man in medical school should know better, it was a long time ago and he doesn’t seem to be “that guy” any more. This position also goes for Herring and Norment.

This is an unsatisfying position for many true believers out there. Both of the Left and the Right. But it is where I am on this.

Sadly, the allegations made against Mr. Fairfax are more troubling and may require his resignation. I say may because they are, at this point, allegations. Nothing is proven to any threshold of evidence. There does need to be an investigation. But even that is troubling. The General Assembly of Virginia isn’t the type of body that does investigations. Should the Attorney General’s Office do an investigation? Should it be left to the authorities in Massachusetts (site of the Democratic Convention) or North Carolina (for Duke)? I don’t have an answer for that. My inclination would be for the General Assembly to set up a special commission of Senators and Delegates (in equal number from both parties) with the authority to hire investigator - or use State Police investigators - to conduct an official inquiry. But I’ll be honest, I’ll have to re-read the State Constitution because I’m not sure the General Assembly even has the authority to do this. (NB: They probably do in that they can make all sorts of rules for their own behavior. But it is possible that they may have to write a special law to do this, and the legislature is part-time and their session is winding down. To make a law would be an extraordinary task that might require the Governor to sign off on it - which would be awkward to say the least.)

If there is an investigation, what should be the threshold for action? If the Kavanaugh Hearings over the summer show us anything in this matter they show that there is no level of evidence with a widespread acceptance for action. Beyond a reasonable doubt, the threshold for criminal convictions, seems too high. Clear and convincing evidence may also be too high. But is a basic preponderance of evidence too low? (NB: For clarity, beyond a reasonable doubt is 99% sure, clear and convincing is 75% sure, preponderance is 51% sure.) For myself, I think that if you are going to work to get an elected official ousted from his position for things done while not in office you probably need to be at least 75% sure.

For those out there that think impeachment of one (or all) of the three top elected officials is the way to go, that door should be closed. Closed for two reasons. The Constitution of Virginia clearly defines impeachable offenses and they all involve actions taken while in office. Secondly, a Republican majority legislature is not inclined, for obvious political reasons, to go down that path.

So what then? Well… I think that Northam weathers the storm but is a shadow of what he could have been in the last two years of his term. Since Governors in Virginia cannot serve consecutive terms and Northam never seemed to aspire to other offices in Virginia or with the Federal Government, he could just wait it out. He will likely serve out his remaining two years and retire from office and return to the (beautiful) Eastern Shore of Virginia and go back to private medical practice.

Fairfax and Herring are the wild cards here. Both men want to be Governor. In fact, Herring “waited” last time to let Northam run for Governor while he ran for a second term as Attorney General. Fairfax is also an ambitious man. It looked like he was going to give Herring his “turn” to run for Governor, then run himself. I don’t know what happens to either of them now. I don’t see how either man fends off any sort of primary challenge from another Democrat. That is going to be the more interesting thing to look at as time passes.

All in all, I’m sad for my state. This is the type of news no one wants…

Carry on.

George H.W. Bush, RIP

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader sees that former President George H.W. Bush has died at his home in Houston. Your Maximum Leader suspected that President Bush, the Elder, would not long survive after the death of his beloved wife, Barbara. Your Maximum Leader can hardly imagine the grief consuming the close-knit Bush family for having lost their Matriarch and Patriarch in the same year. He sends his deepest condolences out to the Bush family.

Of course, this is a blog and don’t bloggers find a way to make everything all about themselves? So how can your Maximum Leader make this about him. Well… Read on…

Your Maximum Leader is of an age that came to be politically aware during the Reagan years. Your Maximum Leader was a Reagan-loving, National Review reading, conservative in the 1980s. All these things are still true today, but what that appellation means now is, he thinks, up for some debate in the current political climate. Back in the 80’s your Maximum Leader viewed Bush the Elder as a good, decent, distinguished, and eminently qualified man to be Vice-President to Ronald Reagan. He was a bridge to the broad swath of the Republican party (and some Democrats) that weren’t conservative Republicans. In 1988, your Maximum Leader thought it was G.H.W. Bush’s “turn” and he supported Bush for President in 1988. But your Maximum Leader was a bit of a snot back then and when it came time for Bush to run for re-election, your Maximum Leader briefly supported Patrick Buchanan as a primary opponent to President Bush. Your Maximum Leader wanted someone more “conservative.” It wasn’t that Bush wasn’t a great chief executive, he was. But your Maximum Leader wanted more Reagan. Of course, when the President soundly trounced Buchanan in the primaries, your Maximum Leader happily supported the President in his unsuccessful re-election bid.

Well, time has caused your Maximum Leader to think more and more favourably of George H.W. Bush. Not just think of him more favourably as a person (that wasn’t possible, George H.W. Bush is likely one of the best people to ever serve our Nation as President). He’s come to regard Bush as a better President as time moves on. President Bush (41) was the right man for the time he was elected. His practical nature. His good humour. His experience. His vision. And his natural restraint all were better suited to the job of President than your Maximum Leader thought at the time. Your Maximum Leader thinks that it is quite possible that Bush 41 will continue to grow in his esteem as time progresses. Indeed, your Maximum Leader wishes we had more men of George Herbert Walker Bush’s character and temperament willing to run and serve as President. Our nation is better off in every way for electing leaders like George Bush. He hopes we are soon gifted with another man or woman similar to serve in our highest office.

On a more personal note, your Maximum Leader has shaken the hand of four of our Nation’s Presidents in his life. He exchanged pleasantries with three of them. Your Maximum Leader shook Gerald Ford’s hand in a rope line once. He shook the hand of and spoke (with a group of others) with Richard Nixon. Of course, he has already recounted his meeting with Ronald Reagan. (More thoughts on Reagan’s funeral here.) Your Maximum Leader happened to be in a few places in 1988 and 1989 where he was able to shake hands and talk (briefly) with Vice-President then President Bush 41. There were a few campaign events in Virginia and DC where your Maximum Leader knew some people that could get him close to the Vice-President. Hands were shook. Words exchanged. Then there were a few rope lines and a receiving line in 1989. In every encounter Bush the Elder seemed to be kind, engaged, and considerate.

A surprising side note to these encounters came every Christmas from 1989 to 1992, when your Maximum Leader received an official White House Christmas Card from the Bushes.

So there you go, your Maximum Leader made it all about him…

George Herbert Walker Bush - Husband, Father, Grandfather, Great Grandfather, War Hero, and President.

Gus am bris an latha agus an teich na sgailean.

Carry on.

Well, That Didn’t Go As Expected

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader is surprised. He wasn’t sure what to expect last night, but he didn’t anticipate what happened. He didn’t think the Democrats would take the Senate, but he also didn’t foresee the Republicans doing as well as they did. (Rick Scott knocking off Bill Nelson? Didn’t see that coming.) He thought the Democrats had a better than even chance at taking the House. Which they narrowly appear to have done. The outcome of Governor’s races, to the extent we know them, are also more positive for Republicans than your Maximum Leader expected.

If there are takeaways from this election for your Maximum Leader they are:

1 ) Contest every seat available. This has been a position of your Maximum Leader for many years. If you don’t field a candidate, you can’t win a seat. Democrats fielded many more candidates and contested more seats. That helped set the table for a House win.

2 ) Don’t fight extreme policies with other extreme policies. If you only choice on immigration is between “build a wall” and “abolish ICE,” people will choose on self-interest. Democrats allowed this issue, as an example, to be framed by Republicans, and they paid for it.

Those are the big two. Of course, every political thought your Maximum Leader has had for the past 2 years has been wrong. So what does he know…

Carry on.

Random Thoughts This Election Day

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader did his civic duty today and voted. He didn’t vote at the crack of dawn as is his habit. He voted a little later (before lunch). Normally his ballot is one of the first 100 or so in the counting machine. In your Maximum Leader’s county there is a tally displayed on the counting machine that ticks up by one every time a ballot is entered into it. It is always interesting to compare the number he gets on his little ticket to the number on the counting machine. (One confirms one’s identity and then is given a ticket that is exchanged for a ballot.) In most years when your Maximum Leader exercises his franchise the ticket number and the counting machine number are within a digit or two of each other. Normally, those numbers are under 100. Today, around 10:45 am your Maximum Leader’s counting machine number was 677.

That number of 677 caused your Maximum Leader to think. As he remembered, in the elections last year (state and local elections) there were a total of about 1,300 votes cast. So he asked a poll worker he knows and said that turnout seems to be higher than normal non-Presidential years. The poll worker confirmed that if the trends continued today, this would look more like a Presidential election year than a standard mid-term.

(NB: If there are any Democrats reading this, don’t get your hopes up. Your Maximum Leader’s precinct is reliably and heavily Republican.)

So, anecdotally, this is shaping up to be a very atypical mid-term election year…

Then again… For the past 4 years or so everything in our politics has been atypical. And in addition to being atypical, he would further characterize our politics as “bad.”

Now your Maximum Leader is not without historical perspective in this. He knows how vicious politics were in the Age of Jackson. And how brutal they were leading up to the Civil War. I don’t know that we are approaching a Civil War (though there are a disturbing number of people on both sides of the aisle that seem to be predicting - and some welcoming - another Civil War). But we are probably in a period that is just as bad as the time of Andrew Jackson. It may seem worse because of how media (the news, newspapers, social media - literally all of it “media”) seems to amplify everything political. But there is a disturbing trend towards tribalism and incivility.

On your Maximum Leader’s Twitter feed (@MaximumLeader) he has pinned Tweet. It reads: “Civility is the spanx holding in the barbarism of humanity.” That was true in January 2016, and more true today. American society, at least as it is being portrayed in the broad media, is growing less civil. Good manners and politeness don’t seem to be the order of the day. It is important that you harangue public figures as they dine, or walk the streets. Resistance is a full-time occupation. That is really too bad. Perhaps it is better to talk and try to understand people before you write them off as incorrigible. There are some incorrigibles out there. You can’t reason with them or talk to them. They need to be shunned. Don’t engage. Ignore. Isolate. But it is more dramatic to engage and make a scene. Show that you are resisting.

Was it Winston Churchill who said that a fanatic is someone who’ll not change there mind and won’t change the subject? Your Maximum Leader thinks so. He also thinks more and more people are happy to be fanatics.

But this post was billed as “random thoughts.” What other thoughts are going through your Maximum Leader’s mind that are not political? Well a bunch. Here are some:

1) Should he make a seafood chowder for dinner Friday night? He made one about 10 days ago and it was great. He’s thought of improvements he could make on his approach and thinks he needs to implement them.

2) Would vampires be affected by tattoos of crosses/crucifixes on the flesh of a potential victim? This one has been on his mind since Halloween and his Universal Monsters movie marathon.

3) Speaking of Universal Monsters… Someone at that studio needs to come up with a single unified grand plan to revitalize that fictional milieu (The Dark Universe) - if the studio is actually considering doing so. They need to focus on a single character or group of characters, that are not the monsters, to act as the focal point of the films…

4) Your Maximum Leader really used to dislike (nay - actively hate) chicken pot pie growing up. But he really really loves it now. Mrs. Villain made one last night and your Maximum Leader devoured it.

5) Will there ever be justice for Jamal Khashoggi? Well, not justice for Mr. Khashoggi. No justice but divine mercy can be given to him now. But will those responsible for his brutal murder ever be brought to temporal justice? By this your Maximum Leader doesn’t mean only those that carried out the grisly crime. But will the man apparently ultimately responsible, Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, ever be brought to justice. Your Maximum Leader doesn’t think so…

6) When will your Maximum Leader get the time to spend a day watching orangutans in the zoo?

7) How much longer will your Maximum Leader’s phone battery (and backup battery) hold out on his iPhone 6? How long before he has to get a new phone?

8 ) When will the next season of “Norsemen” come out on Netflix?

9) Speaking of Norsemen… Your Maximum Leader believes that “American Gods” may have supplanted “Shogun” as his favorite work of general (popular) fiction. He’s now read AG at least 3 times (perhaps 4). He can’t remember how many times he’s read “Shogun.” But it has been a lot. He finds he can’t recall many parts until he is reading them again and has an, “Oh, I remember this now.” moment.

10) Your Maximum Leader needs to renew his passport so that he can: A) visit Venice before it is swallowed by the Adriatic; B) visit Iceland. Those are the two foreign places at the top of his list right now. He thinks he’s going to have to go to Iceland twice. Once in the summer and once in the winter. That way he can see all the things he wants to. (Some things - like certain waterfalls and trails - are only accessible during the summer. Others - like the Northern Lights - are only in the winter.)

That is about all from here. Your Maximum Leader will monitor election results and wonder about the future of our Republic.

Carry on.

A Link for your Edification

Greetings, loyal minions. Back in the heady days of blogging, some 15 years ago now, it was common for bloggers to link to entries on other blogs. Sometimes these links with be with comment, sometimes without. Your Maximum Leader’s moribund blog hasn’t linked another blogger in some time. This is going to be rectified right now.

A little while back there circulated around the interwebs an interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates on Vox.com. Your Maximum Leader listened to part of the podcast and read some of the piece. He can’t say that he fully digested either, because of the furor of the subject. Coates is a revolutionary waiting to happen. He is intellectually loaded and standing by. He awaits his moment to set the world straight through bloodshed. It makes your Maximum Leader shudder. There is danger in words and ideas on both ends of the political spectrum. One hopes that the dangers in both sides can be kept in check with clear thinking and civility.

Your Maximum Leader’s blogging friend FLG read the piece too. His reading of the piece caused him to remember some passages he’d read. They are worth your time. Take a moment and read FLG’s: Politics and the English Language. It is short and clear. Just as Orwell would have wanted it.

Carry on.

TWP - 4, Rights and Stuff

Greetings, loyal minions. I suppose it is time to put some thoughts down on the blog about guns, gun rights, individual rights, and political discourse…

Like any decent person, I was horrified at the mass shooting in Las Vegas. In fact, I can’t imagine anyone who wasn’t. Now, one week removed, we are into the cycle of argument and recrimination. Sadly, this cycle is just that, a cycle. It has phases that are more or less predictable and will eventually come to an end with all sides remaining angry at one another. There are so many reasons for this and to unpack them all is going to take more time than I am willing to spend writing, but I’ll take a shot at addressing some of the broader topics in the public square.

It should be no secret that I am a gun owner and supporter of the Second Amendment. Further, I am a member of the NRA. If that causes you to stop at this point, fine, but I hope that you might proceed a bit further.

Because I am a gun owner and NRA member doesn’t mean that I am part of a monolithic block of Americans. I find that gun owners opinions on various aspects of gun rights will vary between them. In this we (I?) am no different that other Americans that may not agree when we discuss the nature and possible limitations to our rights in our Republic. In one important point of discussion we are unified, we believe that Americans have a right, enshrined in the Constitution, to keep and bear arms.

And we immediately hit the first sticking point in the broader discussion of guns, such as that discussion is able to be had. The Second Amendment does enshrine the right of Americans to keep and bear arms - that is to own guns. There are many people who will parse the wording of the Second Amendment to say that the right exists only as part of an organized militia. Those people, are now, wrong. This particular piece of debate was ended when the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller that the right to keep and bear arms was an individual right. This ruling confirmed what I had always believed. And it is the law of the land now.

There are, as one might expect, those who believe Heller was wrongly decided and that they would like to see it overturned. I don’t believe it will be, at least not under the Supreme Court’s current make up. And if Heller is not overturned soon, it will not be overturned.

I am going to take a dangerous turn here to illustrate and illuminate my thinking on this point. My point is that Heller affirms an individual right to keep and bear arms. It is currently the law of the land. As such, it’s authority is shaping our view of the law across the nation. If it is not overturned or limited soon, the hold of that decision will become more a part of the fabric of our legal system and will become less and less able to be overturned. To illustrate this point I will direct you to Roe v. Wade. Roe was decided in 1973. It has been the law of the land forty-four years. During those 44 years attempts to overturn it have been unsuccessful. Many of the attempts to limit the potential scope of the decision have been made, to various degrees success. To be frank, most of those attempts have been unsuccessful. I will posit to you that it will never be overturned and limitations to abortion rights will be minimal.

I use this example to help to frame the way in which the issue of guns is discussed, or not discussed, in America. As a people, many Americans have strong opinions on abortion. These opinions are quite polarized and the two sides mostly talk past each other when they even try to talk. Those who are pro-abortion can always fall back on the legal fact that abortion is legal, and it is enshrined as a right by a decision of the Supreme Court. A right that was not specifically enumerated in text of the Constitution but has been determined to exist nonetheless. Those who are pro-life hope that they can limit this right through legal and judicial means, or have the Supreme Court change its mind. After years of observing, I don’t think the pro-life side will ever get Roe overturned. I also have my doubts that they will ever be successful at limiting the scope of legal abortion.

Now take the Second Amendment. Here is a right that is specifically enumerated in the Constitution. The actual right to keep and bear arms is right there in the text for anyone to read. The right to keep and bear arms doesn’t emanate from a penumbra of another enumerated right. To hear or read many of those who want to restrict the right to keep and bear arms, you wouldn’t know it. This is not to say that all rights are unlimited, there can and ought to be limits on our rights. The first that should jump to your mind is not being able to yell fire in a crowded theatre. But many gun control advocates do want to severely curtail or eliminate the right to own a gun.

If you have not, you probably ought to read a very good piece from Meredith Dake-O’Connor at The Federalist. I want to cite two of her “6 Reasons Your Right-Wing Friend Isn’t Coming To Your Side On Gun Control.” They are reasons 1 and 6. Here they are:

1. We Rarely Get to Come to the Conversation in Good Faith
The most destructive, divisive response when dealing with Second Amendment advocates is the notion that we aren’t on your side of the issue because we “don’t care” about the tragedy and loss of life. Two years ago at Christmas I had a family member, exasperated that I wasn’t agreeing about gun control, snarl, “It appears that if your [step] daughter was killed because of gun violence you wouldn’t even care!”

I’ve seen journalists, politicians, and friends in recent days say something to the effect of “If children dying (in Newtown) won’t change their minds, nothing will!” The obvious implication is that we are unmoved by the loss of life.

It is a true dehumanization of Second Amendment advocates to think that we didn’t see the events unfolding in Las Vegas and have the same ache deep in our souls. That we, too, haven’t read the memorials of those who gave their lives for others and silently cried over our computers or phones. We felt it, and we hurt, and some of us even died or were heroes and rescued others. As hard as it may be to imagine, a person can watch this, ache, hurt, and be profoundly affected by these events and not change his or her position on the Second Amendment.

You may be thinking that the right-wing kneejerk response to assume that progressives just want to confiscate guns is also a denial of coming to the table in good faith. You would be right. However, I suggest assuming progressives just want to ban guns, or some other policy, is not equivalent to thinking, “If you really cared that people died you would agree with me.”

6. We Really Do Consider Owning Firearms a Right
I view the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as declaring the intrinsic and inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I believe the framers knew that liberty is only achieved when the citizenry is known to keep tyrannical government, and those who would do me harm, at bay. My favorite explainer on citizens and their relation with tyrannical government is James Otis’ “Rights of the British Colonies” essay, but many like to use Hamilton’s Federalist Paper No. 29.

Beyond that, part of having liberty is personal safety from harm. Outside of the grace of God, I am the one primarily responsible for my safety, because I am able to be responsible for my safety. While I view the government’s primary responsibility the safety of its citizens, I am first responsible for my safety. Further, because I am able to be responsible for my safety, I have a duty as a good citizen to be prepared to protect others who cannot protect themselves. This is part of liberty. And the primary way I can ensure my liberty is by owning a firearm (and voting for those in favor of limited government—but that’s another debate).

Second Amendment advocates truly view owning a firearm as an intrinsic right and a must to preserve liberty. It has nothing to do with hunting. It has nothing to do with hobbies. That’s why when discussions of firearms that aren’t meant for hunting come into the debate you don’t see many advocates conceding they aren’t needed. Further, it’s the primary reason we seem unwilling to budge on this policy when tragedies occur. Evil acts don’t cancel out a law-abiding citizen’s rights.

So many gun control advocates are begging for a conversation on this issue, and it’s unfortunate they don’t see the Second Amendment advocates as willing to engage. I find it hard to have an honest and vulnerable conversation about a deeply held right when the starting point is often challenging my motives while coming from a place of ignorance on firearms. If you’re really looking to win over your gun-loving friend, try reading up on firearms, dumping anti-NRA talking points, and assume her or she is equally committed to preventing these evil acts.

I agree very strongly with Ms. Dake-O’Connor in this. It is hard, almost impossible in fact, to have a discussion about guns in America when one side denies that owning guns is a right, and furthermore starts the discussion from the position of “we must do something” and “something” is restricting your rights.

This is a good a time as any to address that favorite trope of “if there is a right to own a gun, it would be a flintlock or other gun available in 1787.” This particular point upsets me greatly. More than it should really. If you put forth this argument are you also willing to apply it to the First Amendment? Your free speech rights are perfectly secure, as long as they are only exercised in a way that they would have been in 1787… Published paper broadsheets? Protected speech! Talking to your neighbor face to face? Protected speech! Internet? Not protected speech. Talking on the telephone, radio, or TV? Not protected speech. Is that really the heart of the argument? It would seem you have to believe the people who wrote the Constitution didn’t know that flintlocks were improvements on hand-cannons, which were better than crossbows, which were better than a regular bow, which was an improvement over a thrown spear, which was better than a thrown rock. I really wish we could retire this whole line of “argument.” And by the way, I will direct you to my previous point on the dangerous issue of abortion. If your right to bear arms were to be restricted to an 18th century firearm, do you want your abortion to be an 18th century affair as well?

So if it is the right of Americans to own guns, what then do we do about gun violence? There again, we’ve hit a very sticky wicket. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had discussions that all boil down to me talking about reasonable restrictions on purchasing guns, and the person I’m talking to throwing up their hands in disgust because that will not prevent all gun violence. Should I just go full Sadiq Khan on guns and declare that mass shootings are “part and parcel” of living in America and we all have to learn to live with it? On the face of it that seems to be a pretty awful thing to say. But at some level it might be what we have to say.

I feel I have to state that we might have to deal with mass shootings in America, just as we are having to live with terror attacks around the world, because I am not willing to seriously curtail the rights of law abiding Americans. There is never going to be a foolproof system that will prevent a person wanting to do violence with a gun and who can legally acquire a gun from doing so. I am all for strict enforcement of the existing laws that can prevent those who should not be able to get guns from getting them. I also would be amenable to the restriction of transfers of guns between private citizens. (NB: I think there could be a system whereby a dealer who can run a background check for a nominal fee can be used to make sure transfers between non-related people don’t result in someone who shouldn’t have a gun getting one.) The fact remains that there has never been a foolproof system for preventing bad, even evil, things from happening. There will not be one on this issue either.

This is as good a place to address a proposal put forward by a great number of people. I’ve read about proposals to insure that anyone on a “terror watch list” to not be able to buy a gun. This seems like a reasonable proposal on its face, but it is rife with difficulties. It doesn’t actually take suspicion of terrorist ties to get on a terror watch list. Having a similar name to a terrorist could be enough. Posting something to Facebook or Twitter (or your blog) could get you on a watch list. A whole range of items can get you on a watch list. The big problem is discovering you’re on a watch list, and then getting off of it. I think it is bad policy to restrict a person’s Constitutional rights without a judicial hearing with due process to make it happen. Again, just like I have stated a number of times already in this missive, would you apply this standard to other Constitutional rights? Are you okay with having a person’s right against search and seizure to be restricted or eliminated because they were on a terror watch list? How about their right to free speech or religion? I am not. Neither am I okay with restricting access to a gun because someone is on a watch list.

So have I thrown up my hands and said that there is nothing we can do about gun violence? In some sense I have. Don’t think I don’t feel awful about it either. While we can’t stop every violent act committed with a gun, there are things we can do on the periphery to start to address some of the causes of gun violence. The recent and oft quoted op-ed piece by Leah Libresco entitled “I used to think gun control was the answer. My research told me otherwise.” is a good starting point. Many gun control advocates point to Great Britain and Australia as places where gun control and confiscation was enacted to some success. However, if you’ve read some of the linked pieces I’ve provided here, they are not analogous situations at all. First off, neither of those countries has a written Bill of Rights that specifically and clearly states that there is a right to keep and bear arms. Rights in Britain and Australia are more able to be changed by a law passed by their Parliaments. They don’t have the same tradition, or Constitution, that we do. Believe it or not, that makes it a hugely different matter.

This post has been, at so many levels, a sad and unfulfilling exercise. I make no apology for my support of the Second Amendment, and for the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution more broadly. But, after an atrocity is committed it is hard to feel like a full-throated statement of support is the proper thing to do. But it IS the proper thing to do. It is when it is most difficult to support your rights as an American that those rights need the most support. I strongly support the First Amendment, and I believe it is being severely and sometimes violently curtailed on college campuses across the country. I believe that the power of the police and state is expanding and our rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments are being diminished. It is in this time that we must stand up for our rights and fight that they not be reduced.

No matter what the costs may be.

Carry on.

TWP - 3, Political Brain Dump.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader has, if you noticed, decided in the header line of these posts to abbreviate “The Writing Project” as “TWP.” No big deal really. At some point it will make sense to drop the “TWP” all together. But it will stay for now as a reminder that this is still a project. If the “project” takes and writing returns to being a habit, then the “TWP” will probably be dropped…

So what to write about…

This episode will be on politics.

On Friday night I had a long conversation with Villainette #2. My younger daughter is a freshman at Virginia Tech. She is also 18 and eligible to vote in November. As you may know, we here in Virginia have elections every year. We love democracy so much we have to keep practicing it every year. In odd numbered years we have state and local elections. On November 7, 2017, Virginians will elect a new Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and House of Delegates. We will also elect county Supervisors and School Board members.

Villainette #2 has a very logical and reasoned mind. She approaches things very analytically. She received her absentee ballot earlier in the week, and between the date she got the absentee ballot and last Friday she watched all the gubernatorial debates on YouTube and found all the websites of all of the candidates on her ballot. Then she called me for questions.

Without violating her confidence in any way, we had a very wide-ranging talk that took about two and a half hours. We concluded that either of the men running for Governor (Ralph Northam - D, or Ed Gillespie - R) would probably be pretty good. I find them both to be good and honorable men who would serve the Commonwealth well. I plan on voting Gillespie myself. I do think, from the polling I’ve seen and the people I’ve spoken to, that Northam has an edge. I don’t know if Virginia will lead the way in a much-desired-by-Democrats wave of anti-Trump sentiment. We very well could be the leading edge of such a wave. I am not sure we will be, but the race will get heated in these last four weeks.

We also concluded that the people running for Lt. Governor are spending a lot of time and energy talking about issues that they will not have ability to do anything about once elected. We also had a very tactile conversation about the Attorney General’s job and the two men running for the job.

I don’t feel it is my place to say much about our conversations, but let it suffice to say that I am very proud of my daughter and her diligence in finding out what the issues are and where candidates stand on various issues.

I’ll probably write a little more about state political races in the next few weeks…

Here is a thought for you to mull over…

What if the only skill a politician has is getting elected?

Think about that for a minute. Office holders are skilled at getting elected, but might be (perhap probably might be) inept or unlearned at other things. Say you have a Congressman that is good at getting elected, but not all that savvy in understanding the nuances of public policy. I will submit to you that at least a slight majority of office holders in this nation are good at getting elected, and mostly inept at the jobs to which they are elected. There are notable exceptions at all levels, but they tend to prove the rule of ineptitude…

Or perhaps I am being particularly cynical today.

One that thing, concerning Puerto Rico. I am, like I think the majority of Americans are, concerned about the speed at which recovery/rebuilding/relief activities are taking place in Puerto Rico. The citizens of Puerto Rico are Americans. They are our brethren. I want them to get the same treatment that any other place in the United States would get. That being said, I am well aware of logistical difficulties of getting supplies to an island that is pretty far from the mainland. All this being said, let me get to the heart of the matter. I am disappointed that I can’t get a straight answer about what is actually going on in Puerto Rico. Things are not good. That is clear. But the Mayor of San Juan is proclaiming that “We are dying.” The official death count has gone from 13 to 16 over the past few days. If they dying the Mayor is describing is metaphorical and not literal, she should ratchet down the hyperbole. I see reports of towns without supplies. I see images of acres of containers with supplies sitting at the docks. Depending on the source, either the roads are not not passable and there is no way to get supplies to where they are needed, OR the truckers are on strike and will not drive the supplies to where they are needed. Both of these situations are plausible. I have no idea the scope of either. This is a major problem with news coverage. It seems very slanted and trying to fit a narrative. I realize that this is nothing new, but it is also not helping.

This is just griping of course. I’m not empowered to take decisions that will change the situation quickly. I am just a guy typing away on a computer and pushing his ranting out into the ether.

I am, though, a voter and will be able to exercise what power I do have at some point. I also have a long memory.

Carry on.

What to say

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader doesn’t know what to say. After a few weeks of a Trump Presidency he isn’t sure what to think, say, or do. Here are some thoughts in random listicle form:

1) Your Maximum Leader feels that Trump’s cabinet is a mixed bag. Mattis & Chao are fine. Tillerson and Mnuchin are unknowns (frankly most are) and do not elicit much reaction now. Your Maximum Leader doesn’t approve of Sessions, Carson, or Perry. (NB: Though in all honesty, your Maximum Leader wouldn’t piss on Rick Perry if he was on fire.) Towards the rest of the picks he is largely ambivalent. We’ll see what happens with any, or all, of them. Though when you work for someone who has the attention span and impulsivity of a prepubescent ADHD boy hopped up on caffeine it is hard to do a good job…

2) Your Maximum Leader likes the pick of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. He is very pleased indeed. To be open, your Maximum Leader thought that Merrick Garland should have at least had a Senate Hearing. If you pressed your Maximum Leader, he’d even go so far as to say that the Senate should have confirmed Garland. Not because your Maximum Leader would have liked it. (He genuinely prefers Gorsuch.) But rather, the process is the process and delaying for nearly a year is too long. Delaying for six months seems too long, but probably isn’t. There is a fine line to it and your Maximum Leader doesn’t want to draw a hard line. Nearly a year until the election seems too long… And while speaking about the Gorsuch nod… Your Maximum Leader wonders if the Senate will be without a filibuster by the end of the year… He honestly thinks it could happen…

3) Your Maximum Leader has mixed, but mostly negative, feelings about the immigration ban. While he can support a temporary ban on immigration & refugees from a list of countries, the way Trump did this was awful. It speaks to amateurism, willfulness, impetuousness, and impulsiveness. None of which are good things. Just a few more days of consulting with the agencies tasked with implementing the ban would have done wonders on that issue.

4) Liberals/Progressives/Democrats… Dear God! All this rioting and protesting is getting tiresome. The rioting especially. It is disheartening for the future to think that there are many in our country who believe (and act on) the idea that the answer to bad speech (in the case of Berkeley today) or election results that don’t please you is to riot. Your Maximum Leader is getting tired of the term “violent protest.” A “violent protest” is a riot. Riots are lawless mobs bent on destroying property and injuring others. We can’t have riots… If the rioters think that more rioting is going to affect Trump in any way they really ought to think again. Trump is the type of person (if you haven’t figured it out now you probably are downright stupid) that when threatened will threaten back. If you take a swing at him, he’ll take a swing back. And if you take a swing at the Chief Executive of the United States, you are likely going to be hit with much more force than you bargain for…

5) Your Maximum Leader is dismayed by Trump’s calls for tariffs, roll-back of trade agreements, and pulling out of TPP. All these things are bad and will have bad outcomes…

But other than than that… How was the play Mrs. Lincoln?

Carry on.

I Was Wrong. Terribly, Terribly Wrong.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader should have his amateur pundit status revoked. He got the results of the late Presidential election very, very, (and he can’t emphasize this enough - VERY) wrong. It is little consolation that most everyone else got it wrong too. Even the esteemed Larry Sabato and his “Crystal Ball” - which is your Maximum Leader’s favorite site for political punditry - got it waaaaaaay wrong.

Your Maximum Leader will try to digest what has happened and comment on it when he has some cogent thoughts on the matter. But here are a few items he’d like to put out there:

1 ) Not every person who voted for Donald Trump is a racist, woman-hating, sex-addicted, Islamophobe, degenerate. There are a lot of decent people out there who voted for Trump because they couldn’t abide by Hillary Clinton. Your Maximum Leader has been on the record stating that he’ll never vote for another Clinton, Bush, Kennedy, Roosevelt, or even Adams. Your Maximum Leader knows a great many people who voted for Trump because they wouldn’t vote for Clinton and “a vote for a 3rd party was a vote for Clinton.” (By the way, your Maximum Leader was told, often, that the reverse was also true, “a vote for a 3rd party was a vote for Trump.)

2 ) A vote for a candidate other than Clinton or Trump was, in fact, a vote for someone other than Clinton or Trump. Your Maximum Leader is a little embarrassed by his vote for Gary Johnson. Not because it was one vote less for a major party candidate. He’s a little embarrassed by his vote because, as he’s stated before, Johnson was a weak candidate who didn’t have mastery of foreign policy issues. Your Maximum Leader, if he had it to do all over again, would likely cast the same vote.

3 ) As hard as it may be for some, it would behoove everyone to try and give Donald Trump, President-elect Donald Trump, a chance to be a better President than he was a candidate.

4 ) Your Maximum Leader must tip his bejeweled mylan cap to Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon. From what your Maximum Leader can gather, they are the masterminds behind Trumps strategy to hit “safe blue” state rural areas. They seem, at this point, to have had the vision to project a path to victory and convinced Trump to take it. Trump must also be credited for being a tireless campaigner and doing all he could to get out to actually talk to the voters he needed. It is a tremendous accomplishment.

5 ) Your Maximum Leader can’t state it enough… Hillary Clinton was a weak candidate. Certainly your Maximum Leader thought that the one Republican she could knock off was Donald Trump. But he was wrong. She couldn’t even do that. Your Maximum Leader would admonish Democrats stop blaming their shortcomings on voters and seriously examine their candidate and her campaign.

6 ) Though he doesn’t normally read post-election books on how campaigns were run, he may make an exception for this election year.

7 ) It is at a time like this that your Maximum Leader wishes that there was more civility among the political classes in Washington. The worm turns. The wheel of karma rolls on. The shoe always comes to be on the other foot. It is precisely at the change of administrations when one party or the other comes to regret the things they have previously said. Specifically your Maximum Leader is thinking about President Obama’s “you lost” and “elections have consequences” comments to Congressional Republicans shortly after taking office. Your Maximum Leader can imagine President Trump using much saltier language to the same affect against Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer in January 2017.

8 ) Your Maximum Leader hopes, but doesn’t really expect, that Mike Pence (Vice-President-elect Mike Pence), Speaker Ryan, and Senator McConnell, will be able to influence President-elect Trump with an agenda that can get done and can repair some of the damage done all around, by both candidates, in this campaign.

9 ) Get over attacks on James Comey. While your Maximum Leader would not have made the same decisions he did about releasing information about ongoing investigations, Comey did what he thought best and has been as bipartisan as it is possible for an FBI Director to be. It may also be that Comey’s letters may have had less impact than we all have thought. (Please see #5 above.)

10 ) Pollsters and pundits really need to figure out what the hell they are doing and do better. The Brexit vote should have been a red flag telling pollsters that people lie to pollsters - especially if by being honest they think that they will be branded as racists, bigots, and degenerates. Apparently only the USC/LA Times polling picked Trump. Your Maximum Leader seems to recall reading somewhere along the line how the USC/LAT polls were “complex” and “poorly weighted.” So he dismissed them. He thinks now that the method used to collect this poll data will be replicated by others. Particularly the identification of people to participate in long-term polling and seeing the evolution of opinion. Also, by talking to the same people month after month, a level of trust - and a level of honesty with the pollster - is established. Your Maximum Leader doesn’t know how this would work out, but it deserves being looked at.

That is all for now…

Carry on.

Follow your Maximum Leader on Twitter and Gab.ai. His handle: @maximumleader

A Last Thought

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader will grace you all with his last thoughts on the impending election. He’ll even do this in the first person, for your reading pleasure.

I’ve not commented on the 2016 election as some might have expected. Afterall, I am an amateur student of politics and have, since I was very young, had a keen interest in it. But this year’s election went off the rails early and I’ve never been so disgusted in all my life by the state of political discourse in our Republic.

Perhaps I am growing older, more cynical, more bitter, more everything. I still find myself watching, reading and listening to commentary, news and the thoughts of others when it has come to the 2016 election. And the whole thing continues to disgust me. Not only is it disgusting, I actually have fears for the future of our Republic.

These fears may just be a general feeling of dread that come from hour after hour, day after day, week after week, and month after month of election coverage that doesn’t really change, it just continues down the tawdry path it started on. Maybe it is more than just general dread.

Well, let me begin at the end…

As I tweeted back in June that Hillary Clinton will become the next President of the United States. I stand by that. She will win tomorrow and will have achieved her ambitious goal. She will succeed to the office held once by her husband and be the first woman to hold the office. That being said… Hillary Clinton is an ambitious, corrupt, self-serving, paranoid, small-thinking person who under any normal circumstances would never get the nomination of the Democratic Party much less be elected President. As I’ve said to many people in person, Hillary Clinton has most of Richard Nixon’s negative traits with none of his positive traits.

I have to agree with many people who say that Hillary has an impressive resume. She does. But what really has she done in any of her positions? Nothing. From the moment Bill Clinton left office it has been painfully clear that any position Hillary Clinton aspired to was only a stepping stone to becoming President. She’s not been building a resume of qualifications. She has been ticking boxes on a checklist as she looks up to the ultimate goal.

Now, in order to be President you have to have ambition. I know that. Everyone with any sense knows it. But there is ambition and there is what Hillary has been doing. John McCain, after years in the Senate, got to thinking - as every Senator does at one point in their political career - that he would make a great President. He didn’t go to the Senate to become President. It was an eventual aspiration. Often people who are so unabashedly envious of the highest office in the land don’t actually ever get the chance to run. Because that ambition seems tawdry and unseemly. I think of Bill Nelson of Florida. He is currently the senior Senator from Florida. He was overly ambitious. The proverbial man in a hurry. His colleagues (and detractors) in Florida recognized his ambition for what it was and started jokingly calling him “Mr. President.” His ambition was the end of him. Sure, being a US Senator from a large state is a good gig, but it wasn’t where he wanted to be. People saw his ambition and were concerned. This concern goes back to the beginning of the Republic. If someone wanted to be President so badly, it was a disqualification of sorts. They had their own interests in front of those of the nation. If anyone other than Hillary Clinton had so shamelessly sought the office - from the beginning - I firmly believe that they would never have gotten far along in the primaries because people would have been suspicious of their motives and avoided her. But lucky for Hillary Clinton, she has always benefited from common perceptions not seeming to apply to her. She’s always wanted to be President and many people have just been fine with that. Frankly, this probably upsets me more than others.

Hillary Clinton’s ambition is, I believe, largely at fault for her many shortcomings. Her email scandals, her penchant for secrecy, her contempt for the press are all manifestations of her ambition. She has seen so many ways in which the path to her goal could be derailed, that she has made every effort to avoid the situations that could be problematic. But those avoidance tactics have just complicated her path and made her the phenomenally weak candidate that she is.

In fact, Hillary Clinton is such a weak candidate she would have been crushed in a general election by any person the Republican Party put forward.

Except one.

Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is a narcissistic, megalomaniacal, carnival barker. He has no real understanding of how government works. He has blatant disregard for the institutions of government and of civil society. He is, as well I believe, an awful person.

It is hard to fully explain how bad a candidate Donald Trump is. I would try to point out bad policies. But it is hard to tell what his true beliefs are. I don’t honestly know that we know what Trump actually believes on anything. He says what he says without thought, reflection, or deeply held philosophy. Donald Trump is out for Donald Trump.

I’ve been told by Republican friends that Trump is better than Hillary. I don’t know how I could arrive at that position. Is he pro-life? Is he pro-choice? He’s been both. He seems to be against “globalism” and most every trade deal out there. I am for free-trade and think that globalism is generally a good thing. Trade deals don’t give everyone everything they want, because they are negotiated deals. One would think that Trump would understand how to make a deal. He has made business deals. But Trump can find a way out of a business deal by hiring a slew of lawyers and beating down his opponents. You don’t do that with a trade deal, or a military alliance, or a treaty obligation. Trump is against illegal immigration. I am too. But I am in favor of a radical overhaul of how we let people in from Central & South America. (For what it is worth, I am in favor of granting large numbers of temporary work visas for migrant workers. Many industries in the US would grind to a halt without immigrants - currently many illegal immigrants. I would prefer we establish a system to track coming and going and grant some legal status to the immigrant laborers who do much to build our nation.) Maybe Donald Trump is for comprehensive immigration reform. We don’t know. All we know is that he wants to build a wall. A big, beautiful, fucking wall. That is the extent of his discourse on immigration.

Donald Trump seems to be a rather vile person overall and I don’t want a vile person becoming President. I know he’s been accused of racism over the campaign. I don’t think that there is a lot of evidence of racism in his career prior to running for President, but he has been happy to play up the racist (at worst), or at least troubling (at best), prejudices of many Americans. That being said, Donald Trump hasn’t done anything to make anyone who isn’t white feel comfortable about how they would be regarded in “Trump’s America.”

I could go on and on about the negative qualities of both candidates. But I’ll stop here. It doesn’t matter. I don’t believe in the “undecided voter.” At least not this year. The only indecision in this year’s election was the type I had. Do you vote or not? That is being “undecided.”

I have voted in every election since I was eligible to vote. I live in Virginia and we have elections every year. Yes. Every. Single. Year. I’ve not missed one. President, Senate, Congress, Governor, County Board, Sheriff, Commissioner of Revenue, even Clerk of the Circuit Court. I’ve voted in all of them. I’ve voted for men, women, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. I’m a voter. Most of the time I’ve voted Republican. I’ve considered myself a “Conservative Republican” since the Reagan years. Sure I’ve pulled the trigger for some Democrats. (I voted for Chuck Robb for Senate in 1994 - when he ran against Oliver North. I also voted for Dave Crute as Mayor of Farmville, VA. I have also voted for other local office holders who are/were Democrats.) In Presidential Elections I’ve voted for Republicans. In primaries I’ve supported Republicans - and not always the winners. (I’ll admit that I flirted with Steve Forbes in ‘96, and before that Pat Buchanan against George H.W. Bush. Because I wanted Bush to be “more conservative.” In retrospect, I regret that. I should have had more appreciation in the moment for the elder Bush… Hell, this year I supported John Kasich. Frankly, I still support him and hope that he chooses to run in 2020.) But 2016 is the year I’m not voting for the “Republican” for President.

Donald Trump is no more a Republican than Vladimir Putin is a peacenik. Trump is Trump. All is about and for Trump. And just as assuredly as Donald Trump is not a Republican he is not conservative.

I’ve known my whole life that not all conservatives are Republicans and not all Republicans are conservatives. But since the 1980s it has been safe to say that Republicans were closer to my brand of conservatism than were Democrats. Today I don’t know what the party is for a conservative. Frankly, I’m not sure what will be left of the traditional party system in four years. Because either way you cut it, the parties are going to burn.

Yes. Both of them. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are disastrous for the parties for which they are standard bearers. It will happen first and harder for the Republicans. Over the decades I’ve heard, and been told more than once, that the Republican party is doomed and will split. But this is the first year I seriously think it could happen. It has been happening over the past four years. It happens when your party doesn’t have a firm set of beliefs and policy goals. The only thing unifying the Republican party has been opposition to Barack Obama. In many ways that is enough to get by, until the election comes around. Donald Trump has successfully driven out many conservatives. He has done all he can possibly do to alienate minorities from coming to the Republican party. And he’s doing all he can to burn down the party apparatus by making the election all about him - no matter what he says or does.

Now many of my Republican friends point out that the party “elites” have grown away from the “base.” In many respects that is true. But I prefer to think that no one in the Republican party has tried to provide leadership and vision to the base to move them forward. Many Republicans are no better than or different from Democrats when it comes to keeping their jobs and doing very little. That is a serious problem. But the solution to the problem is not Donald Trump. He only makes the problems worse. I know many people who have said for years “if only the Republicans would put up a “real conservative” - then we could really show the Democrats and change America.” These people didn’t like John McCain or Mitt Romney. Those nominees “weren’t conservative enough.” Well… Here’s the thing. There aren’t enough conservatives in America to win the Presidency on the basis of only winning conservative votes. You have to appeal to conservatives, moderates, some liberals, and to idiots in order to get elected. Having said all that, Donald Trump isn’t a conservative. He is a populist carnie who is appealing to the most base feelings of a significant portion of the population. He is not the leader of a broad-based movement that will save America. He is a flame that has already damaged political discourse and political institutions. No good can come from him.

I don’t know what the future will bring for the Republican party. But there is some serious soul-searching and work to be done. If they want to be a serious party for the future they will have to purge some of the voices that echo the worst of Trump. They will have to come up with an ideology and a standard bearer for that ideology. If not, they will become a marginal group that will shrink to irrelevance. It is possible that some conservatives will bolt and form another party. One that is more conservative. I don’t know. But change is coming.

Of course, the Democrats are not out of the woods themselves. Hillary Clinton will be a disaster for them and for the nation. All the problems that have beset her as a candidate will magnify themselves 100 fold as President. Her penchant for secrecy will be viewed as Nixonian - and as much as they press may not like to do it I believe that they will ultimately have to report on the misdeeds that will surely come. Hillary Clinton’s first reaction to criticism is attack the source, circle the wagons, and protect herself. The press will go along for a time, but they eventually come around to defending themselves. Hillary Clinton will continue to use the Democratic party as an extension of her ambition and the disillusionment that is currently being felt by Bernie Sanders supporters who think that she used dirty tricks to cheat their guy out of the nomination will grow. I suspect that we’ll see that Hillary Clinton has, or will, use the party apparatus in some way that she shouldn’t and it will cause lasting damage to the party.

And when both parties are damaged, and when both candidates are so terribly flawed it can only hurt the Republic. Neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton care a wit about the nation. They are in it for themselves. As such, they can’t be transformational leaders, or even leaders. They only know blunt force. When the only tool you have in your kit is blunt force, you meet nothing but resistance. If you think that Hillary Clinton can “bring America together” then you need to share whatever you’re smoking with Gary Johnson. She can’t. She’ll never bring along anyone who isn’t already supporting her. You can’t govern a diverse nation without reaching out. And she’s incapable of doing that.

So gird your loins for four years of partisanship, bitterness, invective, investigation, and accusation that will make the last eight years of Barack Obama seem like the Era of Good Feelings.

So if you are wondering, after this rambling wreck of a blog post, “who will Mike be voting for?” Well let me tell you. This is the year where I’ve realized that the franchise is only an affirmative franchise. We vote “for” someone. A vote “for” someone is a positive affirmation of that candidate. There isn’t a vote that relates that the recipient of that vote is the “lesser of possible evils.” And we don’t have a “no” or “none of the above” category. Up until 2016 I’ve been able to vote “for” everyone I’ve ever marked a ballot for. I may not have agreed with them on everything. I know that I’ve held my nose voting for some. But I’ve always been able to assure myself that the person receiving my vote was qualified to hold the office and wouldn’t engage in malfeasance in office. I can’t say that about either major party candidate this year. I thought for a long time I’d vote for Gary Johnson. But the more I’ve learned, the less impressed I’ve been. Johnson doesn’t seem up to the job. I suspect that I’ll go into the voting booth tomorrow and leave blank the spot where I vote for President. (I’ll cast a vote for Rob Whitman - my Congressman. And I’ll vote against the Constitutional measures on the ballot.) I’ll not endorse anyone for President - because not one of them are worth my imprimatur. They are all an awful lot and not worthy of the office for which they run.

There is some small nagging voice within me that says I should vote for someone. I may get into the voting booth and realize that I just HAVE TO vote for someone to be President. I don’t know. I may yet vote for Gary Johnson - if only to boost the future prospects of the Libertarian Party. I might vote for Evan McMullin - who doesn’t seem to be ill-informed, ill-mannered, or incompetent. One thing is certain, I’ll not vote for Clinton or Trump.

All this being written… I could be wrong. I doubt it. But I could be. I also encourage you to vote. (If you haven’t already. And aren’t dead.)

As I say as your Maximum Leader,

Carry on.

UPDATED: Ballot completed. Was voter 268 in my precinct. Felt compelled to cast vote for President. It was Johnson. Don’t feel good about that. But it is finished.

A Revised Electoral College Prediction

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader posted his Electoral College map back in July. If you have visited this site since July, you’ve surely wondered, “Is my Maximum Leader still confident of his Electoral College predictions?” Well, your Maximum Leader has made some adjustments. The outcome is the same, but here is his revised Electoral Map:


Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com

Congratulations, President-Elect Clinton and Vice-President-Elect Tim Kaine.

Carry on.

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