One of the best features of American politics used to be its reliability. I’m not saying it ran well, but at least you knew what the parts did. Democrats tried to increase social services and tax rich people to pay for them. Republicans tried to invade the Middle East and lower taxes to pay for it. The shouting pundits, flacks posing as reporters, vampire consultants and party hacks all shook out along recognizable strategic and political lines. Then 2016 happened. Today is Friday, and the old verities no longer apply. Won’t you try to tell the players without a scorecard with me?
Obvi, the most dangerous piece of legislation Congress ever passed was the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which encouraged armed posses to cross the Mason-Dixon line and abduct black people. You know who agrees with me? Rep. Bill O’Brien (R-NH)—that’s why he put Obamacare and the Fugitive Slave Act in a tie. He seems to have been wrong, along with a great many pundits, commentators, chimerical celebrity/politician hybrids—you name it. Lots of people were vociferously wrong about Obamacare, as Krug Man points out in the New York Times. Shouldn’t they have to admit their mistakes? Bring them to Krug Man, so they may be cleansed. All hail Krug Man!
Everybody loves a scoundrel. Who can resist the raffish charm of Han Solo, the ironized confidence of Chael Sonnen, the armed troops of Francisco Franco? Not Americans—Americans love an anti-hero, a fellow who does bad but deep down is good, somehow. Our penchant for anti-heroes is so strong that, as many critics observe, we have damn few regular heroes left. I am not worried about the hero population, though. I’m worried about our supply of villains, which dwindles to near zero as they are all declared likable scoundrels. Today is Friday, and the week that was does not look so bad in retrospect. It was actually total dicks, though, and a scoundrel is a scoundrel no matter how much the princess loves him in Jedi. Won’t you shoot first with me?
It’s Friday, but more importantly we stand on the cusp of Halloween weekend. I don’t know about you, but I like Halloween. It’s a holiday we can all celebrate comfortably. Halloween doesn’t come with the weirdo baggage of a Christmas or a Columbus Day; it’s a perfectly innocent time devoted to images of death, elision of individual identity and the sexualization of pirates. The best part of Halloween is, of course, the masquerade. For one night of the year and maybe the preceding Saturday, the social conventions that govern dress and age-appropriate behavior are lifted, and we confront the real freedom we possess. Here is carnival in the root sense of the word—a society governed not by mores but by appetites, mostly for Reese’s and Apple Pucker, but also for truth. Paradoxically, we become most ourselves when we put on a costume. This week’s link roundup is all about the truth that reveals itself only in the lie, the confrontation with the masquerade. Also midget tossing. Trick or treat, kids. Why don’t you reach into this sack without really knowing what’s in it?
In the course of last Friday’s Link Roundup, we mentioned that members of the Department of the Interior tasked with regulating the oil industry were revealed to have “[taken] bribes and engaged in drug use and sex with oil industry officials” in 2008. That was awesome. In his New York Times column today, Paul Krugman promises more cops-‘n-robbers-get-together-to-do-coke-and-shout-out-the-window-of-the-squad-car frivolity with the headline, “Sex & Drugs & the Spill.” It turns out that’s just a come on, though, for a column about how anti-government sentiment can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is the kind of thing you need to do when you’re competing for eyes with Freakonomics. It’s like when Maureen Dowd wrote about the hot, throbbing need for derivatives regulation.*