Democrat Jon Ossoff has lost the most expensive race for a House seat in US history. Republican Karen Handel beat him by pert near four points, becoming the new representative of Georgia’s sixth congressional district and shattering Democrats’ hope of retaking the House with the aid of a fortunate meteor strike. This election was not very important. To hear FiveThirtyEight and various other pundits tell it, it wasn’t even good for a bellwether. The only thing we can say conclusively is that it occasioned the spending of more money—about $55 million, by the Times’s count—than was ever before spent on a congressional race.
Was it worth it? Not for Democrats, who only managed to wedge another loss for low-agenda centrism into their electoral postseason. I hesitate to say it was worth it for Republicans, either. They squeezed donors tightly to increase by one their majority in a chamber that seats 435. But at least a shitload of consultants got paid—and in an off year, no less. Say what you will about the Democrats’ recent streak of expensive moral victories; at least it’s funded commercials like this:
I’m no veteran campaign operative, but I think the idea for this advertisement was actually an idea for some tweets. What does this message gain from becoming a video? Maybe the campaign wanted to reach voters who watch television instead of using the internet but still admire people who stare numbly at their phones. Perhaps their research found that voters in GA-6 liked Jon Ossoff but wanted him to more strongly resemble a two-episode character on Veep. Or maybe the old ad-budget pie got sliced up in a way that left an off piece.
But wait, you say, ever on the lookout for opportunities to be charitable, this looks like B-roll footage. Maybe this ad was made from the kind of bland, soundless footage campaigns release publicly so that unaffiliated groups can use it in their own spots. The whole tweeting conceit is probably just a clever workaround. But no, the last frames inform us that the ad was paid for by Jon Ossoff for Congress and, almost as improbably, approved by Jon Ossoff.
It’s easy to second-guess the Democratic Party lately, and I think now is a good time to remember that no one else has demonstrated any better understanding of how to beat Republican candidates. But ads like this one explore the limits of campaigning without a strong policy agenda. To a lot of viewers, this is footage of a bland corporate type promising not to be Donald Trump. That doesn’t offer much to voters who worry that bland corporate types are running the country into the ground—a description that covers a substantial portion of the electorate, plus many of the people who hold themselves outside it. It’s funny how limp Democratic messaging has become. But only for a second, and then I get scared.
I’ve spent the last several hours writing blurbs for the Indy’s upcoming Best of Missoula issue, and boy are my arms…glib. Remember yesterday, when I said there would be Friday links? I’ve got some bad news, champ. Fortunately for us, the president is refreshing the news cycle so rapidly there’s no time to look back on the week that was. This morning, he took to Twitter for this quasi-official statement:
I worry that the bizarre content of this tweet will distract from the bizarre punctuation. The president who has spent the last few weeks trying to get various members of the Department of Justice to say that he is not being investigated is, apparently, being investigated. While attempting to defend himself, he became the first person to reveal that publicly. He also thinks Witch Hunt is a title, like Duck Hunt.
This behavior is very much like that of a character in comedy. First he becomes monomaniacally dedicated to a goal—in this case, getting the word out that he is not under investigation. Then his efforts to pursue that goal bring about the opposite result—in this case, telling the world that he is under investigation. It’s times like this I’m glad there’s nothing funny about his speech patterns, or the president would seem ridiculous.
Or perhaps this is a genius gambit! Maybe, at the moment when it most appears that Trump doesn’t want people to think he is being investigated, he tells everyone he is being investigated to deprive his enemies of the opportunity to tell us themselves. It is a plan fiendish in its intricacies. Surely it is the work of a mastermind—the kind of mastermind who uses his inherited wealth to rise to the presidency and then, like a phoenix, fails at literally everything else he attempts. You’ve fooled us again, President Trump. We almost thought you were incompetent, for a second.
I stopped reading about War Machine after Sir Nigel Longstock, a character I play on the Co-Main Event Podcast, banned him from MasterTweet Theatre. His offense was that he nearly beat a woman to death. Up to that point, our funny mixed martial arts podcast had regarded him as a resource. For example, he legally changed his name from Jon Koppenhaver to War Machine approximately two weeks before he was cut from the UFC. Then he ventured into adult cinema. Finally he went to jail, where his use of Twitter skyrocketed. It also got less funny.
He was still an aggressively dumb person pronouncing on his own excellence, but in the context of an assault conviction, it didn’t strike the right tone. As his tweets went from defiant to self-pitying to Jesus, using him on the show started feel like hackery, at best. Then he did that thing to Christie Mack, and it was over. The guy named War Machine who loses prize fights is funny. The guy named War Machine who assaults and rapes people is not.
At first I typed that he did that thing to Christie Mack and we knew he was a bad person, but that’s not true. We knew before that. The time he spent in jail, Tweeting aggressively-capitalized critiques of Society, was for attacking ordinary people in parking lots and bars. He got blackballed from pornography because he stormed around a party punching strangers. Even before he assaulted Mack, he was a pro fighter who pressed his advantage outside the ring. He was evidently awful. He just hadn’t done anything life-defining yet.
Is this the salient difference between a comic figure and a sociopath? We care how the sociopath has hurt people? War Machine is going to spend the rest of his life in prison. The sentence he received today makes him eligible for parole in 36 years. He will be 71. The body he used to punch and rape people will be gone. The mind that chose to do those things will probably be gone, too. The man will be gone, and what comes out of prison in 2053, still legally known as War Machine, will be a relic of this world.
This world will be gone. Good, one is tempted to think, when considering the operation that produced this person and turned him loose to hurt other people until, collectively, we decided to hurt him forever. I could stand to let that one go. But first, show me what else you’ve got.
Donald Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
Yesterday, President Trump divulged classified US intelligence during a meeting with Russian diplomats Sergey Kislyak and Sergey Lavrov. According to the Washington Post, the disclosure pertained to a plot by ISIS to smuggle bombs onto planes in laptops. Of less concern than the material itself is the possibility that its divulgence could compromise intelligence sources and methods, since “a Middle Eastern ally that closely guards its own secrets provided the information.” There’s also the aspect of this situation where Trump actually does on purpose exactly what he attacked Hillary Clinton for potentially doing by accident with her emails. So this is the scandal that finally undoes the Trump administration, right? Right? [crickets][racist crickets]
One of the problems with rhetorical irony is that sometimes people don’t get it. That’s also a major source of its appeal. When irony works, the reader sees it but holds out the possibility that someone else does not. This effect is a big part of the fun, even though plenty of satirical writing cheats it by deploying irony in a way few readers could miss. The trick is to maintain a sort of plausible deniability. Irony doesn’t have to actually fool anybody, but we as knowing readers must be able to fool ourselves into believing it might. Satire can therefore be pretty heavy-handed, so long as the irony is not explicitly signaled. I mention this to introduce a convention of irony Twitter that has bled over into other sub-comunities: the practice of signaling irony with typographical errors. For example:
Is it cheating to explicitly signal irony in this way? Consideration after the jump.