Entry Eight: Dem Dems; A Post-Debate Primer On Hillary, Bernie, and Those Other Guys (Whoever They Are)

[NOTE: Yes, I’ve been lying low for more than a month. Yes, I’m back to semi-regular updates. Yes, I’m still writing. No, I’m not on the road, my traveling has paused for the winter. Yes, I still have stories to tell from the great American highway. Yes, I will. No, I will not father your children (most of you). That is all.]

candidates

So, the nominees for the Democrat side of the Presidential ticket had a debate nearly two weeks ago, and I watched it. Fortunately for everyone, I took notes. Unfortunately, it took me this long just to shake myself out of the internal mental screaming that followed the event so I could actually write a little about it. Now that the tortured wailing of my psyche has calmed down a bit, we can have a review. I sincerely hope everyone is ready, because I might need another round of therapy after muddling through this mountain of “holy shit these people want to be the President”. Remember, I do this for you, gentle reader. The tip jar is still on the left.

Okay, deep breath. And……. go.

JIM WEBB

It seems appropriate to start with the candidate who has, in the least surprising bit of political news of the past week, already dropped out of the race. Former Senator Jim Webb’s performance in last week’s debate was nearly the most awkward thing I’ve seen since losing my virginity, and involved twice as much nervous stammering.

Webb, seen here vowing to eliminate likability.
Webb, seen here vowing to eliminate likability.

From the outset, when he introduced himself to America by touting his record of “accomplishing different things” (wow), to the moment he answered a final group question by stumbling over a description of that time he totally killed an NVA soldier who had the audacity to throw a grenade him, Jim Webb seemed to be doing everything he could to alienate himself from the Democratic base, if not regularly-adjusted humanity in general.

To be fair, Webb is a guy of staggering intelligence and fortitude. He’s a military historian, has written ten books on the subject, and taught at both the US Naval Academy and Harvard. He’s also got enough combat medals and citations to write an action movie script, and probably possesses more foreign affairs experience than anyone onstage except Hillary.

You magnificent bastard, I read your book.
You magnificent bastard, I read your book.

Unfortunately, none of those attributes translate into a guy that can work a political image in his favor. By the end of it, Jim Webb looked as uncomfortable being there as he made everyone else feel. Given his comments on the subject, maybe he’s a little more in tune with general consensus than he seems. Either way, he’s out of the race, and the less said about this false-start of a campaign, the better.

lincoln chafee

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Did you know who Lincoln Chafee was before the debate aired? Me neither. Apparently, he’s from Rhode Island, and he used to be a mayor there, then a Senator, then the governor of the state. Did you know that Rhode Island was still a part of the United States before the debate aired? Me neither, I had to google all that shit. So…. yeah. Shout-out to Rhode Island. Glad you’re still with us. Don’t hear a whole lot from you guys. Keep it real.

Pictured: Pretty much all of Rhode Island, I think.
Pictured: Pretty much all of Rhode Island, I think.

The debate established two memorable things about Chafee. First, he changes party affiliation more often than I change mobile phone carriers (literally). He’s been a Republican, an Independent, and now finally a Democrat. I’m only sorry the Whigs aren’t still around, so he could check them out next. Chafee is either the least welcome guy around the party clubhouses, or a man who stands on principle. Either of those things is enough to disqualify him for the Presidency.

The second thing was that Chafee’s point of pride coming into this was a complete lack of scandal over the course of his political career. While this was clearly meant as a dig on Hillary, it remains a pretty sad fact of American politics that “hasn’t had a scandal” counts as a positive point for electability and not just, you know, a bare minimum for any public office higher than Rowan County Clerk of Court. Unfortunately, the spin he put on it came off less like “look at all the integrity I have” and more like “holy shit I’m so boring you may as well skip your ambien tonight”.

martin o’malley

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Coming directly out of his previous job as the governor of Maryland was Martin O’Malley. This is not a guy who likes downtime. Since 1991, he’s been a Baltimore city council member, the mayor of that same city, and then the governor of the state without so much as a year in between to just chill the hell out. Somewhere in that time, he managed to become one of the major influences for the Tommy Carcetti character on “The Wire”, who was played by the guy who would go on to portray Littlefinger on “Game of Thrones”. Make of that what you will.

Maybe Baltimore needs a Moon Door?
Maybe Baltimore needs a Moon Door?

I have a strong suspicion that O’Malley is an issue candidate. He seemingly turned every question into an excuse to talk about renewable energy like he was in the pocket of Big Solar (TM). This theory is only mitigated by the fact that I’m not entirely sure there’s even such a thing as Big Solar. Given his pattern, he’s more than likely using this hopeless campaign to interview for his next job. He seems to be shooting for Secretary of Energy under whoever winds up in the White House. Maybe he’s just looking for a job where he can finally stop getting shit on by David Simon.

hillary clinton v4.0

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And here we go again.

The latest entry into the Clinton Machine’s incessant effort to dominate all of American politics took to the stage in grand fashion. Hillary version 4.0 seemed to be a refined version of all the best aspects of the model’s previous iterations. She possessed the whimsical charm of Hillary the Candidate’s Wife and Hillary the First Lady (versions 1.0 and 1.5, respectively), the stoic resolve of Hillary the Faithful Wife (version 2.0), the blank unoffensive nature of 2.7’s Hillary the Senator, and the gregarious charisma of Hillary the ’08 Candidate and Hillary the Secretary of State (3.0 and 3.5). Truly, her programmers and image consultants have a lot to be proud of.

In keeping with her chameleonic ability to morph into whatever kind of politician she needs to be, Hillary pulled a “wasn’t me” on the first question. Anderson Cooper, who was generally about as useful in this debate as the referee at a WWE event, asked her point blank if she’ll say anything to get elected. Clinton managed to turn her answer into a six-minute long bragging session on her “consistency”. That was such a vintage example of Clinton-style bullshittery, I had a 90’s flashback and briefly forgot what my definition of “is” is.

Let's be real about this: If there were no such things as term limits, this man would still be the President.
Let’s be real about this: If there were no such things as term limits, this man would still be the President.

The impressive thing about the former Goldwater Girl’s performance was an ability to interweave her usual political brutality into this newly-found warm and fuzzy image. Without making it obvious, she took Bernie Sanders to task on his less-than-hard-line gun control record by referencing a mass shooting that was less than a month old.

With “only” a D rating from the NRA on the issue of pumping as many assault weapons as possible into the responsible hands of the American public, clearly the dead bodies in Roseburg were Bernie’s fault, after all. Nothing like leveraging the fresh tears of grieving families to score points against the guy who’s trouncing your poll numbers. Classy.

bernie sanders

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Here comes Bernie Claus, here comes Bernie Claus, right down Bernie Claus way. Free education, for everyone out there, don’t ask how we’ll pay.

Anyone with musical talent can feel free to complete that song and post a video of their performance in the comment section.

Yes, the darling of the internet came out swinging, or at least wildly gesticulating like Doc Brown talking about gigawatts of power. Senator Bernie Sanders clearly arrived at this debate with a message, and he wasn’t gonna let little things like volume control get in the way of that.

Bernie is not what you’d call a “realistic” candidate. Though his ideas obviously resonate, and might even be amazing if implemented, he seemed far more interested in outlining a vision for a new America than he was explaining how we were going to make the rest of Washington implement it. Even Jim Webb managed to shake himself out of torpor long enough to point out that Congress has to agree to all this shit before before we go shifting government spending toward domestic investment and away from bombing brown people. I’m paraphrasing, mostly.

On an impressive note, Bernie managed to work the crowd despite evoking the persona of an old man yelling from his front porch. At any given moment he sounded half a breath away from ordering Anderson Cooper off his lawn, and really, who could blame him?

But the most telling moment of the night was, unsurprisingly, the most misinterpreted by the punditry. Seriously, I stopped trying to figure out a long time ago which political commentators on the cable channels were willfully accepting scripted dialog and which really are that fucking daft.

Regardless, Bernie’s “everyone is tired of hearing about your damn E-Mails” moment was illuminating for a couple of reasons. First of all, it was the most factual statement I heard all night. Secondly, it showed a level of political acumen I didn’t know the man possessed. Rather than being “helpful to Hillary” as the talking heads seemed convinced, it was a subtle attempt to shut any talk of Clinton controversy down that night.

And good for him. Because Hillary knows from experience that nothing fires up the Democratic base as much as reminding everyone just how far the GOP will go to drag her in front of a committee for some insignificant reason or another. A protracted discussion of yet another Republican media circus starring Hillary Clinton would have only helped her that night, and Bernie knew it.

So maybe he’s not entirely the batty old man I thought he was. Maybe he DOES know how to work the political system to achieve nigh-impossible goals. He’s certainly been hanging around Congress long enough to have learned. And shutting down Hillary’s self-serving review of just how much the other side can’t stand her definitely qualifies as “nigh-impossible”.

in conclusion

All I know for certain is that we can all start counting the days till Chafee and O’Malley go the way of Jim Webb and into the category of “former Presidential candidate”. As for Bernie and Hillary, time will tell.

I will say that in the weeks since I did my write-up on the slowly diminishing GOP field of nominees, I’ve changed my wish list. Rand Paul is proving to be about as interesting as Norwegian television, and Donald Trump is proving to be cleverer than I thought. I now sincerely wish for a Trump vs. Sanders general election. If nothing else, I’ll have shit to write about through next November.

Let the memes commence.

Entry Seven: Rocky Mountain High

So, let’s talk about Colorado.

Yes, let's.
Yes, let’s.

Colorado is not my natural environment. It’s dry, the air is thin, and it’s full of people who own yoga mats and consider bicycling at two miles above sea level to be “light exercise”. Denver, in particular, is a frustrating clusterfuck. It’s a city with a LOT going for it, and a billion neat places to visit. Places that, unfortunately, traffic prevents anyone from getting to in a timely fashion. Colorado’s capital is bloated with new growth and follows the transportation philosophy that if eight lanes is good, sixteen lanes will be just frickin’ awesome. Fully half the city is under construction. It’s like Charlotte on steroids and without any black people. This is not the sort of place conducive to the prosperity of a whiskey-drinking, humidity fueled Southern boy whose most strenuous activity is your mom.

Look on the bright side: I went ten thousand feet above sea level and over six blog entries before I made a "your mom" joke.
Look on the bright side: I went ten thousand feet above sea level and over six blog entries before I made a “your mom” joke.

So, other than legal weed, why come at all? Well that’s an excellent question, whose answer speaks to the greater truth of life’s journey. Comfort zones are lovely and all, but we truly learn who we are when we roam outside them. In fact, it could be said that we become who we are outside our comfort zones. Bartholomew Roberts was comfortable in the merchant navy; he became Black Bart after pirates kidnapped him. Simo Häyhä was comfortable on his farm; the Winter War turned him into the White Death. Conan was comfortable on the Wheel of Pain… actually that’s a bad example. Anyone comfortable on the Wheel of Pain is pretty much already “The Destroyer”.

conan-wheel
Pictured: Comfort

So what did I become in Colorado? Dehydrated, mostly. But I honestly can’t complain. See, here’s the thing about Colorado, if you plan on travelling through there: There is a LOT of public land to camp on. I mean, a LOT. Like every twenty miles of state highway had an access road to forest service areas, most of which had no fees of any kind. Google search, pull off the road, pitch a tent. If you don’t mind sharing your evenings with the local wildlife (which I was relieved to discover only included black bears and not grizzlies) then you’re golden. And because of that, you get to experience this shit right here:

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And this:

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And of course this:

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What I’m trying to say is that this state is picturesque as fuck. You couldn’t move more than a few feet down the road before some new spectacular vista was laid out in front of you. In particular, Highway 160 across the southern part of the state is nothing but one postcard-worthy stop after another. There were enough soaring cliff faces and billowing clouds to keep bad landscape painters busy until the end of civilization. Honestly, it’s legitimately overwhelming. I discovered there’s a such thing as TOO much natural beauty. I started to get fatigued from all the awe. If that sounds weird to you, you try making that drive and see if the same thing doesn’t happen. I recommend doing it in warm weather like I did, though. I think the winter up there would be a hellish thing.

Pack this shit in ice and throw it at Ned Stark's head.
Pack this shit in ice and throw it at Ned Stark’s head.

But of course, cheap camping and scenic overlooks are hardly the first thing that come to mind whenever anyone mentions Colorado, right? There’s something much more interesting about the state that I’m sure everyone wants to hear about.

Ahem. Not yet.
Ahem. Not yet.

Of course, I’m talking about Mesa Verde. This place is some seriously deep shit, so let me give you a little background.

Here's one for your desktop.
Here’s one for your desktop.

Sometime before Jesus was born, ancient hunter-gatherers in what is today the Four Corners region of the American southwest began developing agriculture and settling down, like you do. By about 700 CE they had developed a complex culture with an intricate religion, knowledge of astronomy, and oh yeah ENTIRE GODDAMN CITIES BUILT INTO THE SIDES OF CLIFFS.

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Pictured: A goddamn city built into the side of a cliff. Holy shit.

Early Spanish explorers called them “pueblos”, the Spanish word for “town”, because apparently they were running low on imagination that day. You might have heard these people referred to as “Anasazi”. The Park Service is trying to get away from that term, because it’s a Navajo word that means something like “enemies of our forefathers”. This tells me that these people probably took precisely as much shit as you would expect from anyone who climbs two miles above sea level to carve their home out of solid fucking rock. In any case, this went on until the 12th century or so, when they got the hell out for unknown reasons that college professors probably argue over a lot.

Ran out of weed?
Ran out of weed?

Whatever the reason, they left behind these magnificent ruins, which are very well preserved due to the high and dry environment of their construction. And in the early part of the 20th century, equally magnificent badass Teddy Roosevelt established the US National Parks, with the pueblo cluster at Mesa Verde being among the first. Now, for a minimal fee, you can go camp at the base of this giant plateau by night and go hiking among the ruins by day. And you should, because holy shit.

Seriously.
Seriously.

It’s not too many places you can sit by firelight and listen to coyotes barking within reach of over two millennia of human history, but this park is just such a place. While I was there, I saw a working dig site…

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…stood in the bottom of a kiva (likely a religious chamber, like a sweat lodge)…

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…and basically roamed the canyons feeling like a dehydrated Indiana Jones.

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So yeah, go. If for no other reason, I’d love to wind up in just ONE national park that’s filled with someone other than vacationing Europeans.

As for the rest of Colorado, well… there was one more positive aspect.

Highly positive. (get it?)
Highly positive. (get it?)

Cannabis. Marijuana. Weed, herb, chiba, tea, dope, Mary Jane, reefer. There, I said it. It’s for sale legally in Colorado, and yes, out-of-state tourists can enjoy the hell out of it. You’re allowed a quarter-ounce with a valid and up-to-date ID, plus an indeterminate amount of edibles (I didn’t ask). If you’re curious where, I can only recommend a spot I visited, the cleverly named Altitude. The staff were friendly, knowledgeable, and totally willing to indulge an out-of-towner who was just dumbfounded he was buying weed in a fucking legal retail establishment. The prices are more than manageable, too.

Some of you will be happy to know most of their product are gluten-free.
Some of you will be happy to know most of their products are gluten-free.

And thus, upon experiencing endless scenery, ancient civilizations, and retail ganja did I find myself thoroughly exhausted. Overall, Colorado is a fine state with friendly people. But seriously, you fuckers need to get an atmosphere. I barely had the lung capacity to smoke my weed. But I managed.

You know the best part about this picture? Everything in it is completely legal.
You know the best part about this picture? Everything in it is completely legal.