Explaining and Losing

When my father first ran for the U.S. Senate in 1992, his Democratic opponent was a congressman named Wayne Owens, who had been caught up in the House Post Office Scandal. (You’ve probably forgotten about that. It was a big brouhaha back in the day, but measured against 21st Century political sleaze, it seems almost quaint.) Owens spent the entire campaign playing defense and trying to justify why he had mishandled taxpayer money to his own benefit. His stump speech began with an apology and was followed by a lengthy explanation before he could proceed to any sort of positive message. 

For his part, Dad never brought up the issue at all. “I don’t need to,” he said. “Regardless of what I say, Wayne has to explain himself. And when you’re explaining, you’re losing.”

That bit of political wisdom has stuck with me, and it proved to be all too true when Dad ran unsuccessfully for a fourth term in 2010. He had been one of the primary architects of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) that staved off a worldwide financial meltdown and without costing taxpayers a dime, since all the money was repaid – with interest. If you listened to Dad’s very cogent explanation, you would understand what he did and why he did it, and you may actually be convinced that he did the right thing. But the substance of his explanation ultimately didn’t matter. When he was defeated in the state convention, chants of “TARP! TARP! TARP!” filled the hall. The fact that he spent his whole campaign explaining was clear evidence that he was losing. 

I offer this as context for a better understanding of how to process the bombshell news that the FBI is looking at emails discovered on Anthony Weiner’s laptop. (Which is icky in and of itself. Who wants to even think about anything that may or may not have been on Anthony Weiner’s lap?!) When the news broke, my FB feed exploded with indignation, followed by explanation. 


People were furious that my congressman, Jason Chaffetz, had tweeted that the email investigation had been “reopened.” That single word triggered a great deal of outrage, although I’m still not sure why. Yes, technically, the case hasn’t been reopened, mainly because it was never closed. So how is pursuing a new lead in an open case somehow less troubling than reopening an old one? 

Regardless, there was also a bunch of people and articles insisting that this letter was being misinterpreted, and one article went so far as to claim that the scandal “has been killed by a slew of new facts,” including the so-called “fact” that the newly-discovered emails “have nothing to do with Hillary Clinton.” (If that’s true, you’d think someone would tell Hillary Clinton, who very clearly thinks these emails have something to do with her.) One FB friend insisted that Comey’s letter wasn’t referring to Hillary’s case at all, and every media organization was simply reading it wrong. Again, shouldn’t Hillary be informed of this? Because she’s reading it wrong, too, right? 

And on it goes. Some of the explanations are cogent; some are silly. But the substance of the explanations is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if what your explanation is sagacious or stupid. What matters is that you’re explaining. 

And when you’re explaining, you’re losing. 

So here’s how I see the race at this point. 

When the Access Hollywood groping tape came out, everyone, including me, assumed Trump was done. (Although I was surprised at the intensity of the public reaction, as all this tape did was confirm that Trump is precisely the sort of misogynist pig he reveals himself to be almost every time he opens his mouth.) 

Then came the legion of Trump’s accusers, and Trump went on an explanation tour, trying to debunk the women saying that Trump did all the things he said on tape that he did. Again, if you apply my father’s axiom, it doesn’t matter whether or not Trump’s explanations were valid. He was explaining, and he was losing. The media spotlight was on Trump’s squirming, which meant that many of the truly troublesome Wikileaks info we were getting about Hillary was going unnoticed. Sure, Trump would try to get Hillary to explain herself, but nobody cared, so Hillary was winning because she wasn’t forced to explain anything. 

What this letter has done is move the spotlight from Trump to Clinton, and now it’s Hillary’s turn to squirm. (And may I say that watching a Clinton squirm gives me a schadenfreude sugar rush.) This means that the person on defense in the final runup to Election Day is Clinton, not Trump. That’s not a good place to be. 

Does that mean I think Hillary will lose the election? No, not necessarily. I don’t know or pretend to know the extent of the damage done here, and I don’t think anyone else does, either. I do know that detailed rebuttals, or cries of “This is unfair!” or calls for James Comey’s head won’t make the slightest bit of difference. Those are all just more losing explanations. 

I will say that I think this email scandal, as well as all the Wikileaks bombshells currently being ignored, will linger well past November, regardless of who wins. I can imagine voters who despise both candidates looking at the possibility of another Clinton era, complete with old and new scandals bubbling up on an almost daily basis, and thinking a vote for Trump might be the best way to avoid four years of endless and pointless investigations. Clinton fatigue is a rational response to the tiresome antics of a couple who have devoted their lives to normalizing corruption.

You may disagree. Indeed, you may have a host of explanations for why I’m dead wrong. By all means, start explaining, and see where it gets you. 

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Oh! Right! I shall change it forthwith…

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Iowa Narratives

It’s all about “narratives.”

What happened last night in Iowa matters far less than the stories that are being told about it. Santorum pulled off a stunning upset? Mitt failed to meet/met/exceeded expectations? Ron Paul is a contender/a joke/a spoiler? Which of these narratives will harden into “the” narrative that will define the race going forward?

Here are a few tales being told that deserve our attention:

Narrative 1: The Romney Ceiling

Kellyanne Conway was on TV last night saying, breathlessly, that “this proves that the Romney Ceiling is real.” One commenter over at Lucianne.com refers to Mitt as “Romney25,” explaining that the former governor is incapable of getting more than 25% of the vote in any situation.

This is a crock.

Romney is about 25 points ahead of his nearest rival in New Hampshire, a state which has no appetite to rubber stamp the preferences of Iowan, Mormon-hating evangelicals. Nothing that happened last night will erode Mitt’s considerable lead, and the “Romney Ceiling” will come shattering down, which will have Kellyanne and others insisting that New Hampshire doesn’t really count.

Narrative 2: Santorum Is Now a Real Contender

No, he isn’t. He is simply the latest repository of votes for people who can’t stand Mitt, especially those who hate Mormons. Yes, he was lucky enough to have his surge coincide with actual voting, and he will likely collapse under the same scrutiny that sank previous flashes in the pan. He has no money and no organization, and he’s going to lose big in New Hampshire.

Recall that Mike Huckabee won Iowa, too. After McCain stomped everyone in New Hampshire, Huckabee was done, despite being far more prepared, financially and organizationally, to conduct a nationwide campaign than Santorum is.

Narrative 3: Last Night = Bad Night for Mitt

That’s only true if this narrative takes hold. Remember, Mitt’s initial plan was to skip Iowa, where the anti-Mormon dynamics that created the Huckabeast are still in full force. Yet without any campaigning, he was still at the top of most polls, and it was only about two months ago that he decided to seriously compete. He won this thing – yes, by only eight votes, but that’s better than losing by eight votes – with about a tenth of the time, people, and money he sank into it four years ago.

The issue here is expectations. Mitt’s people unsuccessfully tried to downplay his chances, but expectations were raised despite the Romney campaign’s best efforts. Given the heavy evangelical vote, it is impossible to imagine Mitt doing any better in Iowa than he did. The fact that he did it with so little effort is almost miraculous. That’s my narrative, and I’m sticking to it.

Narrative 4: Romney Can’t Lose

Of course he can. He’s going to lose South Carolina, for instance – no way a Mormon can survive there. South Carolina, unlike Iowa, is usually representative of who gets the nomination. If Santorum can survive a devastating loss in New Hampshire and come back to win South Carolina, then it’s easy to imagine a long, hard slog to the nomination. I don’t think Mitt will lose, as he is easily the best equipped to survive a long, hard slog, but a lot can happen between now and then. Plus Gingrich is out for blood, although I think he’s now something of a spent force.

Narrative 5: Mitt Romney Stole The Victory

This was the first thing out of Rush Limbaugh’s mouth this morning, and it’s utter poppycock. According to Rush, Mitt and the “establishment” held the totals in two counties to make sure that Mitt would win by eight instead of losing by five. First off, how did Mitt do that? Second, why would he do it? Did he know that he would be able to pull of a tiny victory with literally a handful of votes? Does he have two counties on the payroll? If he’s going to steal the thing via fraud, why couldn’t he pull off a bigger margin than eight measly ballots?

Incidentally, all the talk of the Republican “establishment” always strikes me as ridiculous. Who’s pulling the strings in this “establishment,” and why are Rush and Glenn Beck and Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum not in it? Is the establishment simply Karl Rove with a bunch of winged monkeys?

So here’s my narrative.

Narrative El Stallion: Mitt Romney Wins the Nomination and Loses the Election

Mitt will win the nomination – maybe quickly, more likely after a long slog – because the Republicans don’t have anybody else. Bachmann’s gone, but Rick Perry is apparently staying in the race, which is nice, because Perry and Gingrich may be able to dilute Santorum’s likely South Carolina win and weaken him for the slog.

And then Mitt loses to Obama, mainly due to the fact that a Mormon can’t win a general election. I state that not to be a victim, but rather as a recognition of reality. The Mormon thing matters, and nobody wants to talk about how much. But both Iowa and South Carolina provide plentiful evidence that there are oodles of evangelical voters who would rather suffer through four more years of Obama than legitimize the LDS Church by putting someone from such an alien cult into the White House.

Golly. And you all thought this narrative would have a happy ending.

UPDATE: Intrade has Mitt with a 75% chance at winning the nomination vs. a 4% chance for Santorum. So much for the Santorum-the-Contender narrative.

UPDATE II: Newt was on the radio a minute ago complaining about the “establishment” and calling himself an “outsider.” Newt Gingrich is many things – a genius, an innovator, and, over the past few days, an insufferable whiner. An outsider he is not.

His current whining is particularly surprising. Oooooh, did the big bad Womney give you a boo-boo, Newtie? What on earth did you think Barack Obama would do to you if you became the nominee?

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My Musicological, Scatological Christmas Gift

It’s that time of year, and I figure my dozens of loyal readers of this blog deserve a gift as compensation for your pain and suffering. Before you get it, however, please indulge me as I provide a little background.

Several months ago – 188 days ago, to be precise – I took the advice of many of you and put a bunch of my songs on iTunes and other online music stores. I created an album, titled it Stalker Tunes, gave it a weird, altered-Yul-face cover, and then uploaded a bunch of my demo tracks and waited for the money to roll in. I figured I should at least get enough to cover expenses, as it cost me $50 at tunecore.com to get my album online. I figured there were somebody might be interested, or maybe there were some weirdos who download goofy songs from albums that have Yul Brynner’s face on them.

To date, I’ve made 81 cents.

My song “I Am a Cow” has sold one copy on iTunes, and it’s streamed 14 times on Spotify, and I get a penny per stream. (Inexplicably, it seems especially popular in Great Britain, where one p is worth 1.5 cents!) My song “Avalon” has streamed once; “Bad Lovin’” has streamed once, and “Bright Yellow Can (The Mustard Song)” has streamed twice.

You may now refer to me as “Stallion Cornell, Professional Musician.”

Yes, yes, I know it’s not much, but I’m pretty sure I’ve made more money off of my music than Andrew Fullen – AKA Languatron – has made off of his books.  (Actually, that’s not true, as I bought one once in order to mock it, so he’s probably still ahead. But his publishing costs are probably higher, so it all evens out.)

So, given my unparalleled success as a musician, you should be intensely grateful for what I’m about to give you: free Stallion Cornell, Christmas-themed music! Huzzah!

In case you’re interested, much of the following tune was actually recorded on GarageBand for iPhone, which is a remarkable muscular little program. It only lets you record eight tracks, and you can’t get into the notation the way you can with the regular program, but it’s a great tool for the musician on the go. I actually recorded the tin whistle and harmonica solos while I was sitting in an accident-induced virtual parking lot on Interstate 15. yes, I know you’re not supposed to text and drive, but there’s no law against recording music while driving is there? Because, you know, there should be. (Honestly, we weren’t moving for about half an hour. I feel OK about this.)

You may have heard this tune via this blog or Facebook, but I’ve finally recorded a more professional version, which chronicles this story which has been told and retold numerous times. I keep waiting for Hollywood to come calling for the movie rights, but alas, it has not happened. Yet.

So, unless you decide to add a Stalker Tunes CD to your stocking/stalking, here’s your dose of Cornell for Christmas:

Your very own .mp3 of The Miracle of the Christmas Poo, free of charge.

(Click on it to play; right-click on the link to download. And Merry Christmas. And Happy Hanukkah. Kwanzaa can bite me.)

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Mrs. Cornell’s Christmas Card/Thank You

We’re trying to send out Christmas cards/thank yous to everyone who was so supportive after our oldest daughter’s skiing accident this year. If you’d like a card, please send me a message at stallioncornell@yahoo.com with your address.

Below is the letter that the lovely Mrs. Cornell wrote to accompany the cards.

We’re trying to send out Christmas cards/thank you letters today to all of you wonderful people who helped us after Cleta’s accident, but we don’t have all of your addresses. If you’d like a card, please message me with your address. In any case, below is the message Laurel wrote to go along with the cards. Please know that we love you and miss you and are thinking of you this Christmas season. _________________

December 2011

Dear Loved Ones Everywhere,

I’ve been putting off sending thank you notes to all the many, many people that I need to send them to because I kept hoping to plan a big shebang that I could invite everyone to as a thank you. However, it’s now December and I haven’t done it, so I’m going to kill at least a couple of birds with one stone. I’m still going to plan that big shebang, so be looking for that invitation.

But until that happens…Thank you! Thank you to all of you that sent cards, drawings, emails, texts (I did get them all. I was just too overwhelmed to respond), cookies, candy, games, comfy socks, knitted hats, blankets, books, movies, letters, etc. Thank you to all of you who called Cleta and other members of our family (again, I did listen to the messages and was grateful for them). Thank you to everyone who supported the kids at my house by bringing in meals (it was very fun when a delivery car showed up with pizza ordered from California), taking them to practices, taking over my carpools, and just watching out for them. Thank you to all who came to the fundraiser. Thank you to a wonderful friend who organized that fundraiser. Thank you to all of Cleta’s friends and their parents who brought them up to the hospital. Thank you to all of our adult friends who also came up to the hospital. Thank you to the kind souls that waited with us during Cleta’s 5-hour surgery. Thank you to our wonderful neighbors who outdid themselves redoing Cleta’s bedroom (and Chloe’s) as a welcome home surprise. Thank you to the men who donated their time to make our home accessible to Cleta. Thank you to two wonderful Grandmas who dropped everything in their lives to take up residence here. And thank you to everyone who said a prayer for Cleta or for our family. They were felt.

So instead of listing the highlights of our year, I figured I’d list the top 5 lessons learned this year.

1. Obamacare isn’t all that bad. We just got our insurance renewal and it only went up by $50 a month. We immediately told our kids they could stop eating shoe leather.
2. Don’t wait until you’re rich to start giving generously to charities. Those charities hold the keys to the miracles that many people are waiting for.
3. Thank goodness for TLC (the TV network, that is). Cake Boss and Say Yes to the Dress can get you through a lot of long hospital nights.
4. Never let your kids, spouse, parents (and any other straggler that lives with you) leave the house without telling them you love them.
5. Never get a dog to try to de-stress your life. (Oh, did I mention we got a puppy in July???)
6. And never let a year go by without letting all the wonderful, magnificent, almost perfect people in your life know how much they mean to you.

We love you all and wish you the very best during this Christmas season and 2012.

Sincerely,

Stallion, Mrs. Cornell, Cleta, Chloe, Corbin, Cornelius, and Stalliondo Cornell

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Another Mormon’s Take: Go Newt!

Orson Scott Card still considers himself a Democrat. Nobody else does, but there you are.

Regardless of what his party affiliation may be, he’s a stupendous writer who generally makes a whole lot of sense, and he’s also an active Latter-Day Saint besides. He’s written an opus on the same subject I did last time, and he recognizes the same things I did – namely, Newt produced solid results in the ’90s, and Mitt’s Mormonism makes him unelectable, even in comparison to Newt’s plethora of baggage. However, he reaches a vastly different conclusion: this is a good thing, and we ought to vote for Newt.

[I]f you Republicans actually want to get rid of Obama, stop looking at “true conservatives” — they won’t get the votes of independents and swing Democrats like me.

And don’t nominate Romney, either — he’s too fragile and, being a Mormon, too easy to tear down and destroy. The Left will be so glad to do it.

I think Gingrich is your best choice, because despite his negatives, there is nobody smarter or more capable or with a better record of good government seeking the office of President right now.

Interesting. Although it overlooks the reality that Newt will never be president. His baggage may be more tolerable to the evangelical base than Romney’s Mormonism, but said baggage still makes Newt unelectable in November.

The Republicans should win this one in a walk, and and yet they’re very, very close to throwing the whole thing away. It seems we don’t have anybody on the bench that can prevent four more years of Barack Obama, a good man who has proven to be the biggest failure of any president I’ve seen in my lifetime.

The moral of the story: politics blows.

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Newt’s Lesson for Mormons

Newt? Really?

One of the reasons this is so surprising is that I actually like Newt. He’s undeniably brilliant; he’s reasonable, and he’s produced real, substantial, conservative solutions. Wildly successful welfare reform? That was all Newt. Balanced budget in the 90s? Newt again. Child tax credit? Capital gains tax cut? The first Republican majority since Eisenhower? Newt, Newt, and Newt.

Given how effective and mainstream the man has been, he should be anathema to the Tea Party zealots who have cycled through a series of nondescript clowns and finally settled on Newt as the current non-Romney candidate. The only other one left is Huntsman, and even the Tea Party isn’t dumb enough to go there.

I’ve actually met Newt. I found him to be bright, personable, and extraordinarily gracious. I’d be very comfortable with America being led by a President Gingrich.

But that’s the problem. America isn’t going to be led by a President Gingrich.

There is no possible way that Newt Gingrich can win a general election. Yes, he’s brilliant. He’s also a serial adulterer who has flipped and flopped on all the same stuff Mitt has, including Romneycare. He’s made global warming commercials with Nancy Pelosi; he’s earned millions from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and, perhaps most importantly, his quirky, brainy, and ofttimes prickly persona doesn’t wear well with Middle America.

Yet the Tea Party still prefers him to Mitt.

This is in spite of the fact that Gingrich is as much of a heretic on flashpoint conservative issues as Mitt is, and, on immigration, he’s even more so. He’s also indisputably a creature of Washington, which the Tea Party supposedly hates, and he’s even attacked Tea Party darling Paul Ryan for engaging in “right wing social engineering.”

And still, all of this is acceptable when compared to the Tea Party’s loathing of Mitt Romney.

I am forced into the unavoidable conclusion that Newt’s colossal personal and political baggage is not nearly as offensive to the Tea Party faithful as Mitt Romney’s Mormonism.

I hate to think that. I don’t like to consider myself a societal victim or a member of some kind of oppressed minority group. But if it’s not Mitt’s Mormonism, then what is it?

He’s a flip-flopper? So is Newt, and on the same issues as Mitt. He’s personally distant? So is Newt, and Mitt isn’t nearly as abrasive as Newt has often proven to be. He’s been faithful to his wife and lived his life without a whiff of personal scandal? Certainly Newt can’t say the same, but, then again, Newt can’t call himself a Mormon, either.

Four years ago, I was astonished by how deeply my faith was mistrusted by the evangelical wing of the Republican Party. In 2012, such mistrust is no longer fashionable, but that only means that it’s gone underground, not that it’s gone away. Tea Party zealots are certain to take that mistrust with them into the secure privacy of the voting booth.

Certainly all this flies in the face of the goals of the Utah Tea Party, which believes that Mormons are the ones who are going to save the Constitution as it’s hanging by a thread. Tea Party anti-Mormonism ought to give pause to Utah’s zealots, but it won’t. They’re either too deluded or just too damn stupid to notice that they have saddled themselves to an intolerant political movement that truly loathes them.

The bottom line, then, is that the Republicans are willing to nominate an unelectable candidate before they’re willing to nominate a Mormon. But that’s kind of a redundant statement, isn’t it? The lesson of Newt Gingrich’s unlikely rise in the polls is that a Mormon candidate is the most unelectable candidate of all.

Go Newt.

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