The Phony Campaign

2015-10-11 Update

Pun Salad took a small hiatus to check out Nashville, Tennessee last week, but we're back again, and plenty of phoniness has gone on in the interim. There are no changes to our PredictWise-based lineup. Carly Fiorina proved to be a one-week wonder at the top of the phony charts; Jeb resumes his usual position in first, with Hillary nipping at his heels:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jeb Bush" phony 1,110,000 +10,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 534,000 +52,000
"Carly Fiorina" phony 511,000 -1,959,000
"Donald Trump" phony 445,000 +78,000
"Ben Carson" phony 229,000 +121,000
"Joe Biden" phony 206,000 +53,000
"Bernie Sanders" phony 178,000 +32,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 133,000 +2,000
"Chris Christie" phony 117,000 +1,000

Note: today's image is just one of the many results gettyimages returns when searching for "distrust". Something about it appealed to me… but I can't put my finger on it.

  • Phoniness is a perennial pundit topic; when you can't think of anything to write about, and a deadline approacheth, you can always write about authenticity at least once every campaign season. NYT writer (and Dartmouth prof) Brendan Nyhan grabbed that life preserver a few days ago: "Hillary Clinton’s Authenticity Problem, and Ours" Is Hillary really all that phony?

    In reality, all politicians are strategic about the image and behaviors they present to voters. Some just hide the artifice better than others.

    Prof Nyhan's article contains no points we haven't seen (and linked to) before, but it's link-filled as befits his even-handed academic take. He glosses over the particular manifestation of Hillary's phoniness: she does a very poor job of masking her lust for political power.

  • Another professor, Greg Mankiw of Harvard, illustrates our thesis with a concrete example: Hillary's recent flipflop on the TPP trade deal: for it before she was against it. Prof Mankiw notes that most economists favor freer trade, and a lot of them have come out in favor of TPP. But a lot of economists (especally in academia) are also Democrats. The obvious question:

    So, will those economists who like Clinton start to turn against her? I doubt it. My guess is that most of them don't believe what she is now saying. They expect that once she moves back into the White House, she will return to the moderate view of trade deals that her husband championed. In other words, they are counting on her being untrustworthy. If they had reason to doubt her mendacity, then they would start to worry.

    Possible new slogan for the paraphernalia on sale Hillary store: "Trust her, she's lying."

  • Jonah Goldberg's column is similar in theme and tactfully headlined: "Flip-Flops Show Hillary’s Long on Ambition, Short on Principles". I would have gone with the first-paragraph zinger: "little more than political ambition wrapped in a pantsuit." Jonah reminds us that TPP is just the latest:

    In fact, finding evidence that Clinton operates this way is like looking for evidence that fire is hot. In 2008, when it was in her interest, Clinton was against federal “blanket rules” on guns; now she’s making extra-constitutional gun-grabbing the centerpiece of her campaign (at least this week, while a recent mass murder is still fresh in our memories). She long opposed same-sex marriage on principle, until the times required a new position. She initially thought the undercover videos of Planned Parenthood were “disturbing.” But within 48 hours, she was a stalwart defender of Planned Parenthood. As more — and more disturbing — videos emerged, she grew more adamant that the outrage wasn’t the fetal organ harvesting, but the videos exposing them.

    … and that's just the start.

  • Fox news personality Greta Van Susteren offers: "Free debate advice for Secretary Hillary Clinton: don’t be a phony". Strikes us as advising water not to be wet, (as Jonah notes) fire not to be so hot, or uranium nuclei to try to get along with fewer protons. But:

    “Tell us your views without careful hairsplitting to avoid taking on President Obama where you disagree or where you might disagree with certain segments of your party. In other words, blunt, straight talk – whatever it may be.”

    Can you imagine what that would sound like? If she were restricted to "blunt, straight talk" revealing her inner thoughts and core values, ungilded, unframed? Here's my take:

    "I want to be president."

    I think that's about all she could say. Over and over, until her time was up.

  • Thomas Sowell has—count 'em—a one, two, three part set of columns written around the theme of "Charlatans and Sheep". Although none of our current candidates are mentioned, this is worth keeping in mind anyway:

    One of the secrets of successful magicians on stage is directing the audience's attention to something that is attractive or distracting, but irrelevant to what is actually being done. That is also the secret of successful political charlatans.

    Consider the message directed at business owners by Senator Elizabeth Warren and President Barack Obama -- "You didn't build that!"

    Assuming for the sake of argument that a man who owns a business simply inherited it from his father, what follows? That politicians can use the inherited resources better than the heir? Such a sweeping assumption has neither logic nor evidence behind it -- but rhetoric doesn't have to have logic or evidence to be politically effective.

    OK, those are the charlatans. The sheep? Those who are gullible enough to buy the spiel. I.e., way too many of today's voters.

The Martian

[5.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I was in Nashville, Mrs. Salad was off to her meeting, and I was unenthusiastic about going to yet another money-sucking tourist trap. Nashville, bless its pecuniary heart, doesn't seem to have a lot of free stuff to do. Even its replica of the Parthenon will set you back $6. So I went to the movies. Only slightly more expensive than the Parthenon, even when you splurge, as I did, on 3-D.

The plot is simplicity itself: a Martian exploratory mission finds its survival threatened by a surprise sandstorm which threatens to tip over the rocket they plan to use to get off the planet. So they need to leave in a hurry. But the storm rips off their communication antenna, which careens into hapless botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon), carrying them both off into parts unknown. The remaining crew decide that Watney is certainly dead, and take off.

Why did they take a botanist to Mars anyway? The book's in my TBR pile, so maybe that's explained there.

But (guess what?) Watney's not dead. But it appears he might as well be: his supplies will run out long before there's any hope of a rescue mission from Earth. His only hope, as he puts it: "I'm gonna have to science the shit out of this."

What follows is a tour de force of scientific resourcefulness, sacrifice, and bravery. Adding to Watney's efforts, the bureaucratic/scientific maneuverings at NASA/JPL and the returning crew's ship are portrayed, far more interestingly than I would have thought possible. (And it's genuinely funny in a number of spots.)

All in all, thoroughly enjoyable. Matt Damon probably couldn't even cook a potato in real life, but he (sorry) acts the shit out of this role. (Everybody else is fine too, but no question: this is Damon's movie.) The movie is also amazingly realistic: I know (slightly) better, but I can see how some people thought it was (a) based on a true story and/or (b) shot on location.

I'm not sure it's worth seeing in 3-D though.

Last Modified 2016-01-06 5:56 AM EDT

The Fifth Witness

[Amazon Link]

Another Kindlized Michael Connelly book read during the ordeal that is modern air travel. (It was $2.99 when I got it at Amazon a few years back, a deal that is no longer available.)

Defense lawyer Mickey Haller has fallen on tough times. Prosecutors have become much more successful at avoiding expensive criminal trials, his usual bread and butter. So he has altered his professional course, shifting into defending underwater homeowners against foreclosure on their homes. It's the Little Guy™ against greedy, sleazy banks! Never mind that Haller bills almost as much money from his clients than they owe their creditors!

But one of Haller's clients, Lisa Trammel, is accused of the grisly murder of a executive of the bank holding her mortgage. Mickey immediately shifts back to criminal defense mode; in addition, he gets Lisa to assign him representational rights to whatever eventual TV movies or best selling books are produced by this lurid ripped-from-the-headlines case. (Mickey is all about getting paid, and he's very unsentimental about it.)

Lisa is dreadful: self-promotional, self-regarding, self-dramatic and generally whiny. But did she do the deed? Mickey keeps telling himself and his co-workers that it doesn't matter: he just has to find a credible alternate hypothesis of the crime to instill a reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors.

It's another fine page-turner (or Kindle button-pusher) from Mr. Connelly. The outcome of the case causes Mickey to make a life-changing decision at the end. Will it work out? I guess we'll see in the next book!

The Reversal

[Amazon Link]

I picked up the Kindle version of this book a couple years back for the sweet price of $2.99, but it languished in my cybernetic to-be-read pile. It turned out to be ideal reading on my recent trip to Nashville. (The Kindle is a godsend to easily-bored travellers.)

A heinous murder committed a quarter-century ago put Jason Jessup in the slammer. But modern technology allows DNA analysis of evidence from back then, and—oops!—it tends to exonerate Jessup. Instead of letting Jessup go free, the state decides to go for a new trial. And they manage to wangle defense lawyer Mickey Haller over to their side to lead the prosecution.

In a welcome development, Mickey demands the state provide an investigator of his choice: half-brother Harry Bosch. (This is nearly a 50/50 Bosch/Haller book, a gimmick that worked for me. FBI profiler Rachel Walling also makes a significant appearance.)

The case has plenty of dramatic twists and mysteries. But there is never any doubt that the Bosch/Haller combination will eventually reveal the actual murderer.