Quist is a deadbeat. Gianforte is rich. You love the rich guy, right?

From an ad by friends of in-touch tech multimillionaire Greg Gianforte

Montana’s special election is one week away, and the Rob Quist campaign is starting to look like a series of unforced errors. Let us begin with his nomination. Quist was handpicked by the Democratic Party, not by the usual primary system. Somehow, no one in that august political body thought to run a credit check. Pretty much the first story that came out was about the liens filed against their candidate for unpaid property taxes in 2011 and the bill for which he stiffed a contractor in 2001. I can see such problems haunting a popular favorite, but the Democrats chose Quist for his electability. Surely there was some other Democrat in the state who lacked not just political experience but also a debt trail.

Fortunately, the Quist campaign is staffed by experienced operatives from the state party. These old hands know the voters of Montana well enough to find sure ways to distinguish Quist from his opponent—for example, by running the exact same campaign ads. That’s how you win as a Democrat: by acting like a Republican. This principle explains why Quist downplayed his support for single-payer health care and emphasized his support for guns. It also explains why Hillary Clinton is president now. It does not explain why campaign manager Les Braswell accidentally tweeted  as The Montana Cowgirl from the Quist campaign account, but we can’t explain everything. He probably got hacked.

Anyway, the Democratic Party is incompetent, even in the last best place. Facing an opponent who just lost a statewide election for governor in which he underperformed the top of his ticket by 20 points, they appear to be headed for defeat. Now is the time to reflect on deep questions. My deepest: In the present economic climate, how is being rich not the biggest obstacle a candidate can face?

American inequality is the worst it’s been in 100 years. Montana has the second-lowest per capita income of any state in the Union, and a politically inexperienced billionaire is on the verge of impeachment in Washington. Yet Quist has said nothing meaningful about inequality. Republicans, convinced we love millionaires as much as they do, are using his personal debts as a cudgel. Call me a pinko, but I wonder if voters might identify more with the guy whose $20,000 debt is wrecking his life than the guy who sold his company to Oracle for $1.5 billion. You can read all about this strange discrepancy in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. It’s a particularly exciting issue, containing not just my inchoate palaver but also the story of a growing schism in the Montana Libertarian Party and your girl Michael Siebert’s feature-length essay on why the left should embrace gun ownership. Check ’em out. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!

Both candidates in Montana now running ads where they shoot TVs

Real Montanans Rob Quist and Greg Gianforte, with guns

In only three weeks, the voters of Montana will select a new congressman to replace former Rep. Ryan Zinke, who vacated his seat as our sole representative in the US House to become Donald Trump’s Secretary of the Interior. It’s an exciting race. Democrat Rob Quist, at left above, is a locally famous folk singer who has never held public office. Republican Greg Gianforte, at right, is a millionaire tech entrepreneur who ran for governor in 2016 but has also never held public office. Both men were chosen by their parties, rather than by the usual primary process, to run in the special election. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t real Montanans like me and, to a lesser extent, you. Why, just look at how they shoot guns!

That’s Greg Gianforte, wearing very clean work clothes and shooting a twelve-gauge at some office equipment in a field. Whoever did the voiceover for this one belongs in the Scary Ad Voice hall of fame. He says “national gun registry” in the scandalized tone most of us would reserve for “lobster in her vagina.” As you can see from this spot, candidate Gianforte loves guns and hates computers. That’s a sharp contrast with candidate Quist, who loves guns and hates Gianforte.

In the future, all political discourse will be conducted by shooting things that represent ideas. All candidates will be celebrities and tycoons with no record of public service, who are operated by their parties via remote control. What’s striking about these two ads is their near-total similarity. Creeping similarity has been a real problem in this contest between two supposedly different candidates for the House, which has amounted to a dance-off of affected pandering to a political consultant’s idea of Montana.

What if Montanans picked their leaders based on something other than who shoots a gun and lives on a ranch? What if the parties gave us to understand that our decisions could mean something besides “support Trump” or “stop Trump?” What if Montana politics were not, at this moment, captured entirely by cynics? These questions are academic. You can read all about them in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to find an object that represents exemptions for pre-existing conditions on the individual health insurance market and prop it up on a fencepost. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links.

Friday links! Extremely smart edition

A Smart Car

Statistically, the smartest human being who ever lived probably couldn’t read. Anatomically modern humans appeared about 200,000 years ago, meaning that for 95% of human history, written language didn’t even exist. The smartest human might easily have been born before spoken language. Perhaps she died of cholera in the 18th century, when the most brilliant minds of the western hemisphere agreed on the miasma theory of disease. Or maybe she lived in Kansas circa 1906, when only 6 percent of Americans graduated from high school. Perhaps she made terrible decisions about her life, routinely burned her hand while cooking, tripped over the threshold on her way out the door each morning and was just preternaturally good at playing the harpsichord. Today is Friday, and “smart” is a term so vague and relative as to bear no meaning. Won’t you look out for what’s dumb with me?

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“Illegitimate” Trump is a seductive idea, and dangerous

A nesting doll in a Moscow souvenir shop—photo by Andrey Rudakov

Like many people, I would like to believe that Russia made Donald Trump president of the United States. That would solve a lot of problems for me—for example, the problem of reconciling tomorrow’s inauguration with my faith in American democracy and the people who operate it. That took kind of a hit in November. As a person who would not like to see Trump and his ilk win again and again, believing Russians hacked the election would also relieve me of my concern that Democrats could not beat the worst presidential candidate in American history.

But that phrase—“Russia hacked the election”—is simplistic and dumb. There is no evidence that Russia or its agents did anything to interfere with ballots or their counting. No election-related computer systems were compromised. Russians “hacked the election” by releasing to the public emails from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta. Surely, Russia favored Trump, because it could have done the same thing to him but didn’t. But the fact remains that Russia “hacked the election” only in the sense that it gave voters accurate information about Clinton they didn’t already know.

The actual election—the part where Trump becomes president by winning the electoral college—happened at the will of the American people in accordance with our constitution. It’s completely terrifying and sad that it happened that way—more terrifying and sad, probably, than if the Russians changed the vote count. But we should confront this state of affairs in our politics, so we can cure it. Blaming the Russians and declaring Trump illegitimate only denies that we are sick.

It is for this reason I must humbly disagree with Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who told Meet the Press he will not attend the inauguration because he does not consider Trump a legitimate president. Lewis is a damn hero, and he can do whatever he wants. But I think it’s a mistake to pretend that Trump did not ascend to the presidency within our existing system, according to the will of the American people constitutionally expressed. Russia didn’t do this. We did. I think we should reckon with that, and the narrative that Russian interference renders the result of this election illegitimate lets us off the hook. You can read all about it in this week’s column in the Missoula Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!

Clinton took Michigan for granted, non-Russsian source reports

If you want to know how the Democratic Party is both not wrong and not likely to win an election ever again, consider this sentence from a recent letter to the Missoula Independent:

Blaming the Democratic Party for the election of Donald Trump excuses the real culprit: the uninformed electorate.

If you programmed a computer to identify Yogi Berra aperçus, this one might fool it. It’s not my fault I lost; they were the ones who didn’t vote for me. Anyway, Beth Taylor Wilson of Missoula is right: on every issue, Hillary compared to Trump as sense compares to nonsense, and the Democratic Party put up a progressive platform this year. They were also the only major party not to nominate a walking personality disorder. And yet they lost. They lost even though the admittedly uninformed electorate did its job and picked Clinton, by a margin of three million votes.

My question for the B.T. Wilsons of the world: How is it the voters’ fault that Hillary lost the electoral college? Perhaps some share of the blame lies with the professionals who spent nearly one billion dollars in donations to get her into office. Like you, I assumed the Democratic Party attracted the canniest politicians in America. Then I read this Politico story about how they campaigned in Michigan. Here’s a morsel:

The only metric that people involved in the operations say they ever heard headquarters interested in was how many volunteer shifts had been signed up — though the volunteers were never given the now-standard handheld devices to input the responses they got in the field, and Brooklyn mandated that they not worry about data entry. Existing packets with notes from the volunteers, including highlighting how much Trump inclination there was among some of the white male union members the Clinton campaign was sure would be with her, were tossed in the garbage.

I don’t want to be a negative Nancy Pelosi, but this is the second time Clinton has blown a sure thing. Sure, it’s mostly Russia’s fault. But sometimes I wonder whether Democrats are overestimating how many people are still with them. They might even be taking some of their constituents for granted. That’s easy to do when the Republican Party has gone berserk and nominated a Batman villain for president. Only an idiot would vote for that, obviously. It was so obvious that here we are, now, a nation of idiots without even a smart lady to lead us.

“The voters were too dumb to pick Clinton” might be true. It sure looks that way from a certain perspective. But if that is your perspective, “it’s the voters’ fault” is a poisonous idea. If you believe electing Trump was a mistake, as I do, then you have to consider how the Democratic Party allowed that to happen given the electorate we have. Democracy means the customer is always right.