Harsh Your Mellow Monday: Commencements, Conniptions, and Crazy People
[HM1] With All the Rights and Privileges Appertaining Thereunto
Among the seemingly endless list of things canceled, postponed, and delayed, this weekend marked another of those things that should have been, but was not.
Most higher education institutions missed their commencements.
In the world of online opining, college students get more than their fair share flak for everything they do, most of which is pretty comparable to any other college kid of the modern era and more a symbol of the increased volume of our online flak generators.
But spare a thought and hold your tongue for the angst of our newest batch of college grads.
Most of them didn’t get their ceremony, and while in the grand scheme of things that’s not uber important, when the American education system is designed as a funnel to force you to that very moment after 16 years of formal education, it is to them. They also are entering the most volatile job market and economy of any of our lifetimes. On top of that, those seeking higher education might find that path more complicated than ever as the already bubble-ish business of Higher Ed, Inc might be yet another thing that gets a long predicted popping from the current situation.
Watching the “virtual commencement” of one school this weekend, it was inescapable that this very much was not business as usual. “Welcome to our first ever, and I hope and pray last, virtual commencement” the president intoned from what looked like his living room. They made the best of it, but for the graduates it was still a rather muted thud of an ending no matter the effort or intent put in. Learning to adapt and overcome is among the most important of life lessons, and this batch of newly-minted fully and certified adults are about to get a crash course in it.
On the diplomas that they will not be handed as they don’t walk across the stage, the words “With All the Rights and Privileges Appertaining Thereunto” appear along with their chosen course of study. They are entering a world where those terms — rights and privileges — are getting debated in ways most never considered before.
So give the kids a break; they aren’t alright in a lot of cases and they have plenty outside their control as to why. This formative experience in their lives is going to affect a generation of policies, politics, and preferences going forward. Sooner we recognize that, the better — and more accurate — our political viewpoint of them will be.
[HM2] VP Silly Season
With conventional politics at a stand still, the American tradition of “guess the VP” for a presumptive candidate has gotten even more silly this cycle than normal, and that’s a high bar to cross.
Oh I know, I know…this time is different. Biden is this…Trump is that…but Mercury is in retrograde this time…
It’s always different this time. Till it isn’t. So till then, let’s run through three examples of VP Silly Season you may encounter.
Let’s start with a rather run-of-the-mill example of the VP Silly Season: We will call this one the “Conventional Wisdom” take, laid out by By Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns at The New York Times:
The ramifications of Mr. Biden’s choice will be profound. Even if he loses in November, his decision will all but anoint a woman as the party’s next front-runner, and potentially shape its agenda for the next decade, depending on if she is a centrist or someone more progressive.
“Joe being 77, I think people are going to look to see who is the person who could be the next president,” said Harry Reid, the Democratic former Senate majority leader, calling Mr. Biden’s decision the most significant “in any election cycle I’ve seen.”
Former Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri was even blunter about what’s at stake: “You’re writing your ticket to be the first woman president.”
Oh that sounds so good, so insightful…until you realize we hear this every single campaign about the VP slot being the “ticket to the presidency.” Plus, historically your odds of becoming president are better if you weren’t VP. Oh, plenty of incumbent and former VP’s run for president, just most of them don’t become president by election. It’s been over 30 years since it happened last, when George H.W. Bush parlayed eight years as Reagan’s number two into one term at the helm of state. If Biden pulls off winning he would join Nixon as the only non-incumbent former VP to be elected in their own right. All the other VPs that got a run in the big chair since the Civil War did so because of resignation, death, or assassination. If you want to draw an analogy to Martin Van Buren, have at it. If you want to argue Biden is the next Adams or Jefferson, please seek help. There’s also the matter that any talk about VP getting a shortcut cannot occur without the liability of Joe’s age and questions of fitness, doesn’t help, but that’s a matter for later.
There is another variation on the “VP Sweepstakes” theme: Let’s call this one the “reliable sources” take, exemplified here by Brian Schwartz at CNBC:
Biden and his team, according to people familiar with the matter, have heard from many donors in the business community about who they think would be best to be chosen as his vice presidential nominee.
Those conversations have recently included attempts to push the campaign away from picking Warren and encouraging the choice of other candidates purportedly on his list, such as Sens. Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar, and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Many Biden contributors spoke on the condition of anonymity as these conversations, both with Biden and among his associates, were in private.
“I think a lot of the donor base, on board and coming, would prefer almost anyone but Elizabeth. I don’t see him choosing her for veep” said a longtime fundraiser for Biden who is regularly in touch with him.
They are talking about Senator Elizabeth Warren here, but the name is interchangeable to the fill-in-the-blanks template. Not to pick on Schwartz here, because everyone in media does this, but there are two questions and one principle you need to remember with this type of narrative: Who wants this information out there, why do they want it out there, and there is no such thing as a leak.
“People familiar” and “sources say” and “someone who” are all just code for “people with an agenda got on the phone to folks they have relationships with and put out the information they want out there.” People against Warren put out info against Warren. People for Stacy Abrams put out info for Stacey Abrams. Pick whatever name you want, the method is the same. Information that a campaign doesn’t want to get out, doesn’t get out. Information that fits perfectly into running story lines did not get there accidentally. Adjust your consumption of such stories accordingly.
Finally, there is the unicorn humping version, as displayed by Douglas Mackinnon, who I don’t know much about but apparently has a supplier that is tapped into the really good stuff to be this high while writing in The Hill.
The process is actually fairly straightforward. If Biden quits the race right before the convention, delegates would select a new nominee. If he drops out right after the convention, members of the Democratic National Committee would pick their replacement candidate.
Who might be in consideration to become the new nominee — and who would be selected as the vice presidential running mate? Several likely combinations come to mind, starting in many minds with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but one particular, truly out-of-the-box combination stops the discussion in its tracks: Hillary Clinton as the nominee and Barack Obama as her running mate.
Now, before everyone rolls their eyes, let that sink in for a moment and do some fairly simple calculations about voters and swing states in your heads. No matter how you add it, subtract it or divide it, that math would spell trouble for the Trump campaign.
Could such a scenario come to pass? If Biden flames out and the Democrats don’t want to hand the election to Trump, they would need to do something incredibly creative in a flash.
Dude…just, no, stop. That sort of fantasy fulfillment should be conducted in the privacy of your own home. Seek help.
Some have pointed out, while defending Joe Biden from the current Tara Reade allegations, that the Obama campaign had ten lawyers vetting the then-senator from Delaware for two months. But that also gives the game away. You don’t put those resources into a maybe: Obama 2008 knew at least by June they were going with Biden barring something unforeseen, even if the announcement didn’t formally come till August.
If Team Biden doesn’t know their VP by now they are incompetent. They know the pick, the shot callers of the campaign and party know the pick, they have a backup just in case, and maybe a third person in case of emergency. So skip the noise that Joe is in his basement with a pin board and 30 names agonizing over the decision.
That’s not how this works. Someone you’ve never heard of in a room you don’t know about makes that call when you don’t even know it. Like most of the major decisions in the world.
And the rest of us, including the press, won’t know a thing about it till they want us too.
[HM3] Very Online v Not
I am a creature of dual existence.
There is the very online me — which you as the reader hopefully know and follow — of the writer, commenter, chronically tweeting, ghastly speller, lovable Philistine making his way among the towering intellects of our little corner of the internet.
Then there is the very offline me — most would call the real me — far less neat, tidy, presentable, ghastly speller, and less well manicured in appearance and function.
Most of the time those two things are purposefully kept apart. When I started writing publicly I sat down some ground rules which, for the most part, I’ve kept too. Twitter, and the subsequent writing that came from it, was meant to be a positive in my life. Overwhelmingly, it has been, in no small part to those same said rules and the help of friends and loved ones who make online life worth the living. Not that much different than offline folks doing the same.
I mention this because most of the time, the topics and matters we opine and fuss over online can mostly be just that — separate from our “real lives” and, hopefully, more important things. Politics and culture, while they certainly have important applications, have very little day-to-day implications in our life. Very Online politics is the ultimate participatory sport for the modern era; everyone can participate, it costs virtually nothing but the time to create an account, and has the veneer of grand importance without any prerequisite.
This current situation of COVID-19, quarantines, lockdowns, and widespread effects of a worldwide story, mean that line of separation doesn’t exist for the foreseeable future, even though some are pretending it does.
The Very Online folks are raging with a debate of “death by virus” vs “death by economy”. Most folks fear both.
The Very Online folks seek to blame the same enemies they would be fighting, regardless of circumstances. Most folks just want the problem solved.
The Very Online folks never let a crisis go to waste. Most folks just want the crisis to go away.
The Very Online folks are convinced everyone sees the world their way. Most folks have no clue the Very Online folks even exist.
It’s not all Very Online folks’ fault. The consequences of the medium are built in; instant takes and group think that is fed by the ability to consume only what you want to consume, and leading folks to have constant affirmation of their priors, makes for a rather shallow pool to splash around in. Various levels of anonymity bolstered by keyboard courage means the most serious of topics can be approached with little if any personal cost and even less social pressure to behave. Shame is easily cured by logging off, and accountability is in short supply. Freedom, you see, is not only not free; it’s rather messy, but if it gets too messy there is always the freedom to reject reality and substitute your own. Ain’t online life grand.
This pandemic should cause a re-evaluation of all that.
Very Online folks will continue to mostly use this crisis to confirm their priors, but they should be aware of what is happening to the far greater number of Not Very Online folks. The Very Online world is a linear — if not circular — world of news narratives, daily trends, and constant battle along well-defined trenches in both partisan politics and cultural divides. Very Online world isn’t equipped to understand, much less deal with, the assault from all angles that is occurring on the people across the street and around the world. The real world stuff that is driving events we have not seen before in our lifetimes. Arguing about the projections, the implications, the meanings is all well and good, and important, but it isn’t the main part of the story.
The main part of this, and every, story is the people. And Very Online folks really suck at keeping people the center of their variation-on-a-theme rants. Keeping focus on the fact that we are talking about people, not just abstract ideological concepts, obscure economic theories, or the Facebook/Twitter outrage du jour makes sure the story still has room for some empathy. After all, as everything from elected officials to celebrity singalongs to car commercials keep telling us… we are all in this together.