Bob Schwartz

Tag: Chris Christie

Saturday Night Political Comedy and Science Fiction

Manchurian Candidate

There were two moments of comedy from Saturday night politics, one spontaneous, one planned. And a weird science fiction scene in between.

Comedy. The chaotic opening of the Republican debate was described by Politico as a “train wreck.” But a really funny train wreck:

As Gov. Chris Christie walked out on stage, moderators David Muir and Martha Raddatz called out Dr. Ben Carson. A camera backstage showed Carson starting to walk out, but he stopped himself once he heard the moderators announce the next candidate, Ted Cruz.

Cruz walked out, and Carson stayed put as a stage manager tried to wave Carson on stage. He didn’t move. Donald Trump then walked up next to Carson as his name was called, but also stopped next to Carson.

Marco Rubio was called up next, walking past both Trump and Carson onto the stage, as did Jeb Bush. John Kasich initially didn’t make it out onto the stage at all.

The moderators thought they were done. “Ladies and gentlemen, the Republican candidates.”

But they weren’t. “Dr. Ben Carson, please come out on the stage. He’s standing there, as well. Dr. Carson.

“And Donald Trump,” they added.

Then Carson chimed in. “I can introduce Kasich?”

“Yes, yes, we’re going to introduce Ohio governor John Kasich,” the moderators said.

All that was missing from the botched introductions was the candidates colliding with each other and falling all over the stage. Keystone Cops style (that’s for you, Mitt Romney). This hilarious mess didn’t quite make the endless hours of blah blah that followed tolerable.

Then there was this bit of absolute weirdness at the debate:

Science fiction. Chris Christie attacked Marco Rubio for giving the same canned speech every time, no matter what the question. Rubio responded by giving the exact same speech he had just given. Later in the debate, Rubio did it again, word for word. And then again.

It was like a sci-fi movie where a robot is running for President and the mission is to push him to the point of meltdown. The only way we did know that Rubio was not a robot is that later on he began to sweat. Aha!

Or maybe it was like The Manchurian Candidate, where Christie would show Rubio the Queen of Diamonds from a deck of cards, and Rubio would walk off stage in a hypnotic trance.

Comedy. Bernie Sanders went on Saturday Night Live with his doppelganger Larry David. SNL concocted a bit in which Larry David was the captain of a Titanic-type ship that was sinking. The captain was trying to jump ahead of the women and children getting into the lifeboats. Bernie appeared on deck as a radical immigrant who had had “Enough! Enough!” of the privileged one-percent pushing ordinary people around. The happy ending is that the ship has hit not an iceberg but the Statue of Liberty. Bernie did a charming and self-effacing job of delivering his lines with comic gusto.

Ebola Stress Test

Kaci Hickox

Stress tests. We see them in medicine, in banking, in construction.

How well will the patient’s heart perform when he is on a treadmill? How sound are a bank’s finances in the worst case scenario? How will building materials stand up under maximum pressure?

Public crises are stress tests. So far, Ebola is the latest demonstration of the tendency for our civic infrastructure to crack—or show signs of it—under pressure.

Quietly, where no one can hear, some leaders and citizens are probably worried that if this was a real Ebola outbreak in the U.S., and not the thankfully tiny and so far isolated problem it is, we would fall apart. Utterly fail the test.

The latest episode concerns this weekend’s rapid response by multiple states to Craig Spencer, a doctor returning from West Africa and becoming sick with Ebola in New York City last week. In addition to New York and New Jersey, other states are now or may be requiring returning health care workers to be quarantined.

There is a problem: none of these states appear to have thought through any of it—most especially the practical aspects of whisking someone coming home from a heroic medical mission into isolation that is supposed to be comfortable, suitable, sensible, and sensitive under the circumstances. It now seems the scenario is act first, plan later.

Nurse Kaci Hickox is the first one caught in this trap. She is not sick and is showing no symptoms. Arriving at Newark Airport Friday night, she was taken to a tent behind a hospital, with a portable toilet, no shower, no television, and little cellphone reception. She castigated all involved, particularly Governor Chris Christie, who said she had symptoms and was sick, when she hadn’t and wasn’t. She plans a federal lawsuit challenging the quarantine.

“I also want to be treated with compassion and humanity, and I don’t feel I’ve been treated that way in the past three days. I think this is an extreme that is really unacceptable. I feel like my basic human rights have been violated.”

(Update: Governor Christie has relented, allowing her to return home to Maine, where, if you read between the lines, the message is that it will then be Maine’s problem to monitor her and where, if something goes wrong, it will be on their head.)

We seem to have forgotten how to solve problems, enthralled by our own voice either positing solutions, making points, or complaining. Or maybe it is that this is America, with a history of being bigger, stronger, smarter, and most of all, righter, in all circumstances. Even if that was ever true, politics—in the big sense of privileging positions over effective and thoughtful answers—has poisoned that well. Worthy questions and deliberate solutions are rejected out of hand because of the source, because they don’t fit some preconceived notion or program, or simply because they won’t help win or not lose elections.

Whether or not quarantine of heroic Ebola care givers returning from West Africa is a good idea, it is certainly a good idea to evaluate and plan exactly how you are going to practically handle it. Maybe, though, we shouldn’t be at all surprised. In recent years we did, after all, send hundreds of thousands of troops abroad, and when the promised rewards for their heroic service came due, we seemed unable to fulfill and, worse, were suddenly unenthusiastic about keeping the promise anyway.

If this is a war on Ebola, we better make sure we are committed to those who are sacrificing, part of which is actual planning and resourcing, not ignorant and reflexive pontificating and politicking. So far, this is looking too much like some of our other recent wars. Maybe we can use this as an opportunity to get better and be better at it.

The VP Guessing Game: Too Much Is Never Enough

Come on, political junkies, admit it: You say you’ve had enough of the Republican VP speculation, but like that bag of barbecue potato chips, you kind of hope it never ends.

Character is destiny, and the character of this Republican nominating process has been so wacky that you would expect nothing less from the Vice Presidential selection.

We are beyond “you can’t tell the players without a program,” so if you haven’t kept up, here’s where we stand, as best as anyone can tell.

The supposed short list of possibilities includes Tim Pawlenty, Rob Portman and, lately talked about, Paul Ryan.

The list of those speculated about but almost certainly not to be picked is long, and even longer if you include never-going-to-happen-in-a-million-years names such as Newt Gingrich. This season, it’s not so much an insult not to be picked as it is not to be included in the longshot list. Herman Cain deserved to have somebody floating his name.

In between are those who have or had a colorable chance of being picked, though they aren’t on the short list. Chris Christie appears to be out, since he will be giving the keynote address at the convention. From a spectator’s perspective this is too bad: with Biden and Christie as the designated loyal-to-the-death hitmen, this could have been a battle for the ages.

Marco Rubio is a strange case. Some polls show him as the preference of Republican and Republican-leaning voters, though this probably has more to do with name-recognition than anything else. Rubio is viewed as flawed in terms of experience, maturity, baggage and positions, which overweigh any Latino advantage.

Back to the top three, every day brings a different leader—kind of like the much-missed days of the Republican primaries. Just within the past few days, Ryan is being pushed as the true conservative with some real public appeal. Portman is viewed as boring, but solid and from Ohio, two real pluses. Pawlenty has governing experience, but proved in his brief Presidential run that he may lack the right stuff, or even the just okay stuff.

Strategically, it is thought that the selection will come this week. The Romney campaign doesn’t so much need a game changer as a topic changer. It needs a second candidate who can start fighting right now. And it needs to end the polarizing that is now developing around the selection among Republicans, and particularly conservatives.

Everybody is never happy with the selection of a VP candidate. In close nominating contests, the second place finisher is a politically logical choice, so complaints are muted. That’s how we get Kennedy-Johnson and Reagan-Bush. (And when dynamics trump political logic, how we don’t get Obama-Clinton.)

But there is no mandated logic to this VP pick. The longer this goes on, the more the factions will feel free to push their own ideas about what’s best for the ticket and the party. And the more that goes on, the deeper will be the disappointment when the choice is actually, finally made.

Of the top three, any prediction is subject to change in fifteen minutes.

Portman is undynamic, and there is no proof that his selection will “deliver” Ohio. He is haunted by the ghost of an Administration and budgets past. It is an invitation to bring George W. Bush to the convention he is not attending. If Portman is asked whether prosecuting two wars while offering tax breaks is sound budgeting, and whether that contributed to economic instability, he is stuck. If he says yes, he puts into question his role as Bush’s budget chief; if no, his credibility is at stake, since even some Republicans have concluded that the Bush budget was a bad idea that made things worse.

Ryan is instead haunted by the ghost of budgets future, specifically the proposed budget that bears his name. Some Republican pundits have openly said this is a good thing, since the budget should be a central issue, and Ryan will do a better job than Mitt Romney explaining, defending and promoting that budget. That may be the case, given Romney’s unwillingness to be specific about budget issues, other than his general support for…the Ryan budget. Ryan, despite being the most dynamic and appealing of the three, also shares Portman’s lack of elected executive experience.

Pawlenty is more dynamic than Portman, less than Ryan. He has executive experience as governor of Minnesota. His brief run for the Republican nomination was far from stellar, especially given the strange lineup of competitors. Set aside the clichéd test of whether you can see the VP taking over if needed. Set aside all the political calculations, including those above. Just picture the team taking that stagecoach down the home stretch, Romney driving, someone else riding shotgun. For the moment, that someone else looks like Tim Pawlenty.

At least for the next fifteen minutes.

Note: The illustration above is a photo of Vice President Thomas Riley Marshall, who served President Woodrow Wilson from 1913-1921. As a matter of political and historical trivia (for junkies who use both), Marshall was the last President or Vice President with facial hair; the last such President was William Howard Taft, who preceded Wilson in office. Almost a hundred years without a mustache or beard in an Administration explains the real reason that Herman Cain did not go further in the process: it wasn’t Pokemon, it was his mustache.