Two vital lessons from the election so far, about lies and force

Summary:  This campaign season has, as they should, taught us much about the condition of the Republic’s most vital political processes.  We should have learned that the Republic is dying.  Watch your TV and smell the rot.  Our leaders lie — big lies — and are willing to casually use overwhelming force to suppress protests. What will we learn in the remaining two months? We can re-take control, if we can muster the will to do so.

Sam Adams, 21 January 1776
Sam Adams, 21 January 1776

Wonderful is the effect of impudent & persevering lying. The British ministry have so long hired their gazetteers to repeat and model into every form lies about our being in anarchy, that the world has at length believed them, the English nation has believed them, the ministers themselves have come to believe them, and what is more wonderful, we have believed them ourselves.
— Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to William S. Smith, written from Paris on 13 November 1787


  1. Romney’s willingness to exaggerate, misrepresent, and lie
  2. Significance of the use of armed force at the Occupy Protests and Party Conventions
  3. For more information about the campaign, propaganda, fixing America

These are not partisan issues. No matter how pleasing the rhetoric, don’t accept lies from politicians you support. And our history shows that major public events in America need not be locked down by heavily armed troops (no matter if called police, SWAT, or national guard) like those in some tin-pot fascist state.  These things happen only because we allow them to happen. Speak out! Each of us is potentially a force for change.

(1)  Romney’s willingness to exaggerate, misrepresent, and lie

Among the froth of condemnation, few mention this is merely this is the logical growth of a long-standing trend. Going back at least to May 1960, with Eisenhower’s lies about the U-2 shot down over the Soviet Union.  Since then the lies have grown in size and frequency, from the Tonkin Gulf incident to Iraq’s nukes to the big lie of Afghanistan. Each success showing our weakness, encouraging further weakness.

A strong, proud people would not tolerate leaders who treated them with such contempt. Now our leaders have looked at this history and made a discovery of the kind that changes the destiny of nations.  Our leaders (both left and right) have discovered that they can routinely lie to us.  Not just without consequence, but their supporters will uncritically believe almost everything. Lie after lie after lie.


We can stop the lies!

Now both left and right lie constantly.  They’ve learned that even bizarre large lies work. The Left terrorizes us with exaggerated tales of climate change (unsupported by the climate science literature).  Administrations of both parties frighten us with carefully constructed terrorist incidents.

However, the most enthusiastic application of this insight appear (for now) on the right. Such as the lies about Obama’s birth certificate, his apology tour, his gutting of welfare work rules, his “You Didn’t Build That” remark — and in general describing Obama as a radical leftist Muslim foreigner.  Lies and obstructionism worked for them in the November 2010 election, as forecast in my post of February 2010 (Republicans have found a sure-fire path to victory in the November elections).

Now Mitt Romney takes the next stop, going so far that even the news media have noticed.  As in Abandoning the pretense of caring about facts, at The Maddow Blog, MSNBC — Excerpt:

Today, Team Romney abandoned the pretense of caring about honesty altogether.

Mitt Romney’s aides explained with unusual political bluntness today why they are spending heavily — and ignoring media criticism — to air an ad accusing President Barack Obama of “gutting” the work requirement for welfare, a marginal political issue since the mid-1990s that Romney pushed back to center stage.

“Our most effective ad is our welfare ad,” a top television advertising strategist for Romney, Ashley O’Connor, said at a forum Tuesday hosted by ABCNews and Yahoo! News. “It’s new information.”

The claims are “new,” of course, because the Romney campaign made them up. Sure, it’s “new information,” in the same way it would be “new information” if Obama said Mitt Romney sold heroin to children — when one invents a lie, its “newness” is self-evident.

Romney pollster Neil Newhouse added, “[W]e’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.”

Right. So, in early August, Team Romney believed “the various fact-checkers” should be the arbiters of rhetorical propriety, but in late August, Team Romney believes they’re irrelevant.

It’s important to realize there is no modern precedent for a presidential candidate rejecting the premise that facts matter. Mitt Romney is trying something no one has ever seen — he’s deemed the truth to be an inconvenient nuisance, which Romney will ignore, without shame, to advance his ambitions for vast power.

Bill Keller at the New York Times sees that Romney goes beyond past precedents. “Lies, Damn Lies and G.O.P. Video“:

In another campaign season, the fact that the opposition edited the president’s voice to say something he didn’t say would be regarded as audacious. This year it’s almost unremarkable.

We’ll learn in November if my forecast of April 2011 proves correct:  Why Conservatives are winning: they use the WMD of political debate. If Romeny wins, America will have crossed another line marking the transition from the America-that-once-was into a New America.  Action now or forever

(2)  Significance of the use of armed force at the Occupy Protests and Party Conventions

Our police and security services have grown like weeds since 9-11. Not just in numbers and power, but also in their aggressiveness (which is impressive, since police in America have a long history of crushing protests with overwhelming force).

Protest carefully.

Anyone planning protests should plan on them being broken up brutally, unless they highly disciplined (difficult to do) or framed in a way generating wide public support (ie, as a late stage activity).

For more about this see:

For more information

See the FM Reference Page Politics in America – and the 2012 Campaign

Other posts about propaganda:

  1. Facts are an obstacle to the reform of America, 20 October 2011.
  2. Our minds are addled, the result of skillful and expensive propaganda, 28 December 2011
  3. More use of the big lie:  shifting the blame for the housing crisis, 29 December 2011

Three steps to fixing America:

  1. Fixing America: shall we choose elections, revolt, or passivity?, 16 August 2008
  2. Fixing American: taking responsibility is the first step, 17 August 2008
  3. Fixing America: the choices are elections, revolt, or passivity, 18 August 2008


31 thoughts on “Two vital lessons from the election so far, about lies and force”

    1. The New York Times has an editorial that politely points out the Republican party’s dishonesty. Paul Krugman also has a blog post that nicely distils the current platform of the Republican party. Any politician that’s willing to lie to the nation for the good of their party doesn’t deserve to be elected.

      It’s disgusting to see that large sections of the media are reluctant to call this dishonest behaviour what it is, instead preferring their post-modern position that all sides of a story are equally valid and all they have to do is report those sides.

      1. On the other hand, at least many in the news media are upfront about their new biz model — being snarky stenographers. Like the famous statement by the NYT editor or publisher that they’re not in the facts or truth biz.

        Love the honesty!

    2. Frankly, I’m not convinced that the new honesty is really something we should be all that happy about, FM. I recently posted a comment here on the site during a discussion of voter disenfranchisement to the effect that when this has happened in the past, it’s always been conducted in a very hush-hush and hole-and-corner fashion. Now, however, it’s taking place in broad daylight right out in the open for all the world to see — it’s so blatant that people in the news media are reporting it (which, especially given their new business model, almost suggests that the people who are doing it *want* us to notice).

      What does this say about how they view the American people? Nothing good…it suggests that they see us as being so lazy, so ignorant, so complacent, so apathetic, so self-absorbed, so sheep-like, so indifferent to each other, and so utterly abject that they’re free to do absolutely anything they like and the vast majority of Americans won’t even blink (let alone turn a hair). Sadly — as you yourself have been pointing out — this perception may not be all that far removed from the truth.

  1. I can’t find a major news outlet that supports the Rachel Maddow claim about the Romney campaigns decision to completely abandon the truth. This has me wondering if it is an info op by either the Democrats or their surrogates. Can you find a viable news source to support the allegation, FM?

    1. (1) My mistake! The MSNBC article had a link, which was broken when I pasted it. That’s now fixed.

      (2) The event was an ABC News-Yahoo News! Breakfast with Romney senior advisers Eric Fehrnstrom and Beth Myers, director of advertising Ashley O’Connor. and pollster Neil Newhouse. I see two stories: ABC News and Buzzfeed.

      They’re similar, although (as usual) the quotes don’t match exactly. It was probably televised, or a video distributed on the Internet (perhaps the source for the Buzzfeed article?). I’ll leave finding that to a read more skilled at such detective work!

    1. i was thinking of the NY Times, one of the great openings by a journalist: “Should The Times Be a Truth Vigilante?“, Arthur S. Brisbane (Public Editor), New York Times, 12 January 2012 — Opening:

      I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge “facts” that are asserted by newsmakers they write about. …

      You are, of course, right about Newsweek, which fired its fact-checkers in 1996. And of course there is this, from Politico:

      “Krugman is correct — the magazine, like many others, does not have a fact-checking department. “We, like other news organisations today, rely on our writers to submit factually accurate material,” Newsweek spokesman Andrew Kirk told POLITICO.”

    2. “’We, like other news organisations today, rely on our writers to submit factually accurate material,’” Newsweek spokesman Andrew Kirk told POLITICO.”

      Which is essentially the equivalent of an employer saying to a job applicant “we rely on you to submit truthful information on your resume so we won’t actually bother checking your references” — which is basically a license to lie provided that they’re not too blatant about it and don’t get caught.

      1. Which is, with the NYT Editor’s similar statement, visible evidence of the news media’s broken business model. Interesting, they don’t appear to see this. See, for example, Jay Rosen’s work. Brilliant, but he’s blind to the journalists’ own responsibility for the collapse of their guild. It’s not just new tech.

        We need journalists, and might be willing to pay for them. But we no longer need stenographers, passing on the equivalent of press releases. We can get those from free services of the Internet.

  2. Lies.

    It is quite interesting that so many people who partake in organized politics (like the folks on the Convention Floor, Party “Regulars” etc.) seem so tolerant of the magnitude of lies and sheer distortion. What does it mean or signify? Who has even begun to delve into that?

    However, the general population is not so tolerant and express it by refering to “all Politicians as liars” and they simpy dismiss them and thus tune out.

    Well, it is foreboding to me, no doubt but it struck me tonight while watching a bit of RNC Convention how this is probably the opening scene of the final act of some part of American Politics.

    The plethora of old time white males with their jauntily clad white wives accompanied by their cloned sons and daughters was actually quite anachronistic in its essence and in its setting. Literally these people are up against the march of demographics…..they know it, too. Is this why the lying is not only tolerated but willfully expected? Is this the result of a deep fear that ride astride the Horse of Time in America is simply not quite right anymore?

    The Lying aside—neither Candidate seems to really “want” the Job. Neither has begun (it is getting quite late) to take the Narrative Pulpit and lie their way to the New Land. The exhortations ring quite dully, the clang seems deadened; the platitudes seem disconnected from a reality that is there but rarely spoken about in Public.

    There is a clear lethargy involved here. An older engine …. all the parts are there but it just seems to lack the old get up and go—-for the hills ahead. So we talk louder and stretch credibilty/truth?

    Keep your head down until there is a singular issue to take your chance with! The Gendarmes are ready!


  3. Quote = ” Watch your TV and smell the rot. ”

    How do you detect the rot if you dont watch TV? Not an idle question as I’d like to see the rot (in print or internet) seen or commented upon.

    Its kinda hard to take back your words on the internet.

    1. See the rot on TV, or (as we do in posts documenting these things on the FM website) on YouTube videos and in transcripts of TV shows and news.

      And, of course, I meant “smell the rot” as a metaphor. Our senses collect data, but sight, smell, hearing are created by the mind.

  4. AP: "Police throng Tampa with GOP convention in town"

    We see it and understand its significance, but prefer to forget and pretend. “Police throng Tampa with GOP convention in town“, AP, 29 August 2012 — Excerpt:

    They seem to be on every street corner. Police officers riding bicycles, horses and golf carts that look like baby Humvees. Metal barricades surround all of Tampa’s government buildings. State police, FBI, the Secret Service — some in riot gear — throng the city’s streets surrounding the Republican National Convention.

    Some, from visitors to downtown business owners, wonder if the convention security is all a little too much.

    “I think it’s overwhelming,” said Ellen Brown, the owner of a bookstore in downtown Tampa. “It seems oppressive to me.”

    “It’s overdone,” said Tom Neal, a guest of the Texas GOP delegation. “Once you go this far, you’re only a step away from becoming a police state.”

    … the city looks somewhat like it’s under siege. Helicopters fly almost constantly overhead and packs of police cruise by on bicycles. Fast boats whiz by the region’s three bridges, looking for unseen threats. Tall chain-link fences shield the pretty parks along the Hillsborough River from view. The main library is closed.

    Brown said she spoke with one protester who spotted the fences and long green tarps blocking the view of the city’s waterfront. He was carrying a sign that said, “Is this what democracy looks like?” “Welcome to Tampa,” sighed Brown.

    City officials maintain the massive show of force — more than 3,000 officers — is needed to ward off possibly violent protests, pointing to several clashes with police at the 2008 Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn.

    Civil liberties advocates have worried about the amping up of security at political events, where dissenters are kept in so-called “protest zones,” fenced enclosures often far from the actual event. In Tampa, the protesters and city-sanctioned parade routes are blocks away from the RNC and the nearby media center. The installation of surveillance cameras on public streets (a few dozen are in place in Tampa) also give some free speech advocates pause.

    Ron Krotoszynski, a professor of law at the University of Alabama, said that security at conventions has grown since 1988, when more than 300 anti-abortion protesters were arrested after blocking clinics during the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta that year. Since 9/11, “measures have become even more draconian,” he said. “Organized dissent has been banished from downtown areas.”

    The American Civil Liberties Union expressed concern about Tampa’s ban of poles, posts and rope from the so-called “event zone.” The items can be used to hang banners, prop up signs and make puppets (mostly protesters have used hand and sock puppets, but larger ones are made of papier mache and held together with planks or 2 X 4s).

    “Some of these restrictions make sense from a security standpoint,” said Baylor Johnson, a spokesman for the Florida ACLU. “But who are you keeping safe by telling someone they can’t bring in a puppet?”

    … “I was taken aback by just the sheer numbers,” said 56-year-old Amie Crawford of Chicago, who was in Tampa to protest and advocate for raising the minimum wage. “It was a little intimidating to be surrounded by police on foot, on horses, on bicycles.”

    Even some of the Republicans in town are shocked. “It does feel kind of, how shall I put it, a little claustrophobic,” said Andrew Richner, 20, from Detroit, whose father is a Michigan delegate. “We’re all closed in.”

    Rob Hinjosa, a 31-year-old San Antonio, Texas resident who is part of the Texas delegation support staff, was even more critical. “It’s a complete waste of resources,” he said. “There’s probably more police people here than protesters. It doesn’t make me feel safe, it makes me feel paranoid.”

    But many downtown workers said Tuesday that they’re glad the officers are there. Some, like Mollie Powell, said if she hadn’t seen the officers she might not even set foot on the street. Instead, Powell, who works in a Tampa high-rise, stood on the street on her lunch break, eating a chocolate ice cream and watching a half-dozen members of the Westboro Baptist Church protest against gays and lesbians. “We feel so safe,” she said. “I didn’t realize how prepared the police were going to be. They’re anticipating everything. I’m loving it.”

    1. Enter the Romney jobs program. Making you safer while feeling more threatened by your own police force.

  5. I quote from the Progressive platform: “Behind the ostensible Government sits enthroned an invisible Government, owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible Government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics, is the first task of the statesmanship of the day…. This country belongs to the people. Its resources, its business, its laws, its institutions, should be utilized, maintained, or altered in whatever manner will best promote the general interest.”

    Theodore Roosevelt 1913 Appendix to his Autobiography. I saw this quote for the first time in the dystopian novel, Freedom, by Daniel Suarez

  6. “The main library is closed.”

    I get the fences, the closed parks, the no-drive roads, the patrols. From a “security” perspective, all this makes some sort of sense.

    But closing the main library? What is going on in the minds of those in charge?

    1. “…..all this makes some sort of sense. ”

      Surely this is sarcasm? America, the once proud republic full of brave citizens.

      Now we see the reality of NURTURING fear as a direct result of the Global War on Terror. If one fails to see the erosion of personal liberties as a these examples of Militarization of basic civilian agencies clearly demonstrate, then I submit, you are already lost.

      If you have never been to the old OWS events, you cannot begin to understand the massive overreach the DHS has come to utilize .

      “Good job, Brownie”
      How ironic that on Katrina’s Anniv we see this madness in Tampa. Heck, lets just send them over to Havana after the DNC and end that sordid mess we call Cuba! THEN we will get a full bang for our Security Dollar!


  7. I don’t know about “the Romney campaign’s decision to completely abandon the truth” because that’s a vague statement that isn’t really fact-checkable. What I can document is that Mitt Romney has told 533 lies in 30 weeks.

    The sadder aspect of this current farce of an election remains the fact that Barack Obama is also telling lies left and right, just not as many as Romney. For example: Obama claims that the ACA will bend the cost curve of the American medical-industrial complex. There’s no evidence to support that claim and a great deal of evidence from the state of Massachusetts (on whose medical “reform” the ACA is based) that costs in MA have gone up, and not down, as promised.

    Obama claims that the drone strikes are necessary for national security. That’s a flat-out lie. In reality, the drone strikes are creating terrorists and endangering national security.

    Obama claimed in a speech not long ago that America was like a family and had to balance its budget. Completely wrong, faux economics, and a lie to boot. Since Keynes’s General Theory in 1936 economists have known that the way to deal with a recession is to increase government expenditures, not to decrease them in order to balance the budget. (In fact, austerity policies produce bigger budget deficits, because government spending cuts remove so much aggregate demand from the economy that the GDP shrinks rather than expanding.)

    Obama claimed in his recent state of the union speech earlier this year that free trade was the key to growing the American economy. Growing the American GDP, yes, but free trade is destroying the middle class and if continued will eventually wreck the American economy because we won’t have a tax base left to fund our military or social security or medicare or anything else. So that’s another lie.

    And last but not least, Obama has repeatedly claimed that the answer to the erosion of America’s middle class is A) more education and B) retraining. These have been tried since the 1980s and haven’t worked. In fact, America already produced more people with advanced degrees than our economy can absorb, and as for retraining, it’s been a bust since day one. People who don’t have the temperament for algebra courses aren’t going to be able to retrain from assembly line workers to, say, programmers. America current sends 27% of its population to college (A.S. degree or higher) and that’s about as good as we’re going to get. See “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower” from The Atlantic magazine, and “The Great College Degree Scam” from The Chronicle of Higher Education by Richard Vedder, 2012.

    approximately 60 percent of the increase in the number of college graduates from 1992 to 2008 worked in jobs that the BLS considers relatively low skilled—occupations where many participants have only high school diplomas and often even less. Only a minority of the increment in our nation’s stock of college graduates is filling jobs historically considered as requiring a bachelor’s degree or more. — Vedder, “The Great College Degree Scam,” op. cit.

    So Obama is also telling lie after lie after lie — just not as many as Romney, or with as poisonous intent.

    Color me depressed this election season.

    1. I don’t believe calling those statements by Obama “lies” is useful. For example, about Free Trade. You believe that Free Trade has harmed America. But standard textbooks and most economists disagree. There’s a stronger basis for Obama to say you’re lying than vice versa.

      In fact its an area of policy disagreement, not disagreement about facts. Very different than the sort of lies we’re seeing at the GOP convention, or in the Climate Change scaremongering. Which is what I believe your underlying point: each side in America (Left, Right) lies about the things than most concern them. Because that’s how one gains support in early 21st century America.

      It’s like talking to an audience of dogs. Logic and fact are wasted on them. Throw bones and rotting meat; that’s what gets them excited.

  8. I saw an extremely disheartening bumper sticker yesterday: LEGALIZE THE CONSTITUTION.


    1. They’re popular among Tea Party and Ron Paul’s supporters, and are an expression of the fetishization of the Constitution that’s characteristic of our post-Constitutional era. Probably chariots in late Republic Rome had similar bumper stickers.

  9. Both parties have not had one word to say about the execrable behavior, the political corruption by, the fraud perpetrated by, and the transfer payments from taxpayers to, our bankers and financiers.

    “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”
    — voltaire

    1. About the Voltaire quote. I see no source for this, nor does it appear in any of Voltaire’s works available online.

      From the Big Apple, not a reference website but often with useful information:

      {This quote} suddenly became the subject of “Quote of the Day” on several websites in 2012, even though Voltaire lived from 1694-1778. The quotation does not appear at all in the Google News Archive. There is no evidence for the quotation in any of Voltaire’s writings. The origin of the quotation is unknown.

      Several website forums have posters, posting from 2010 and slightly earlier, who have added the “Voltaire” quotation to their posts. However, the dates might not be accurate and the quotation might have been recently added to the signature of these old posts.

      1. I strongly suggest you use Wikiquote. Reliance on solid knowledge is the beginning of wisdom.

        “Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.”
        — Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), entry for 11 November 1854 It refers to an 1849 dairyman’s strike, during which there was suspicion of milk being watered down.

  10. FM asserts: “I don’t believe calling those statements by Obama “lies” is useful. For example, about Free Trade. You believe that Free Trade has harmed America. But standard textbooks and most economists disagree. There’s a stronger basis for Obama to say you’re lying than vice versa.”

    “A new study by Nobel Prize-winning economist Michael Spence finds that globalization has resulted in wage and job stagnation for U.S. workers. As Reuters’s correspondent Chrystia Freeland explains, globalization is `making U.S. companies more productive, but the benefits are mostly being enjoyed by the C-suite. The middle class, meanwhile, is struggling to find work, and many of the jobs available are poorly paid.”
    — Source: “New study says globalization hurts the middle class,” April 2011

    The National Employment Law Project has a paper out today that provides a pretty substantial set of evidence… Called `The Low-Wage Recovery and Growing Inequality,’ the report shows that the majority of jobs which have returned since the Great Recession have been low-wage jobs, as businesses hold more and more of the profits away from their labor force:

    During the recession, employment losses occurred throughout the economy, but were concentrated in mid-wage occupations. By contrast, during the recovery, employment gains have been concentrated in lower-wage occupations, which grew 2.7 times as fast as mid-wage and higher-wage occupations. Specifically:

    • Lower-wage occupations were 21 percent of recession losses, but 58% of recovery growth.
    • Mid-wage occupations were 60 percent of recession losses, but only 22% of recovery growth.
    • Higher-wage occupations were 19 percent of recession job losses, and 20% of recovery growth.

    — Source: “Most New Jobs Are Low-Wage Jobs,” firedoglake, 31 August 2012

    “While a majority of jobs lost during the downturn were in the middle range of wages, a majority of those added during the recovery have been low paying, according to a new report from the National Employment Law Project. The disappearance of midwage, midskill jobs is part of a longer-term trend that some refer to as a hollowing out of the work force, though it has probably been accelerated by government layoffs. “The overarching message here is we don’t just have a jobs deficit; we have a ‘good jobs’ deficit,” said Annette Bernhardt, the report’s author and a policy co-director at the National Employment Law Project, a liberal research and advocacy group.
    — Source: “Majority of New Jobs Pay Low Wages, Study Finds,” The New York Times, 30 August 2012

    …[A]s Steven P. Jobs of Apple spoke, President Obama interrupted with an inquiry of his own: what would it take to make iPhones in the United States? Not long ago, Apple boasted that its products were made in America. Today, few are. Almost all of the 70 million iPhones, 30 million iPads and 59 million other products Apple sold last year were manufactured overseas.

    Why can’t that work come home? Mr. Obama asked.

    Mr. Jobs’s reply was unambiguous. “Those jobs aren’t coming back,” he said, according to another dinner guest.

    The president’s question touched upon a central conviction at Apple. It isn’t just that workers are cheaper abroad. Rather, Apple’s executives believe the vast scale of overseas factories as well as the flexibility, diligence and industrial skills of foreign workers have so outpaced their American counterparts that “Made in the U.S.A.” is no longer a viable option for most Apple products.

    Source: “Apple, America, and a squeezed middle class,” The New York Times, 21 January 2012

    Obama is lying when he claims that any of his free trade globalization outsourcing offshoring policies are going to help the middle class. The evidence is overwhelming and the studies prove it. Obama and Romney are both members of the top 1% who are well aware that America’s middle class is dying because of globalization and automation, and both candidates view themselves as filling the role of nurses in a hospice to make the final days of dying patient as painless as possible. This includes plenty of sugar-coated lies designed to make the dying patient feel better.

    1. You are missing the point very radically, but in a way that’s become common — pathologically so — in America today. Public policy debates differ from discussions about pi or the shape of the earth because there are experts on both sides. Hence calling those on the other side “liars” is both factually incorrect and obstructive.

      This is M.O. commonplace on both sides of the climate change debate (or whatever it’s called this week). They have some scientists who agree with them, therefore their side becomes scripture — and all who disagree are deniers, liars, thieves, and rogues.

      So that US political debates are conducted on the intellectual level of middle school debate clubs, when they’re not black comedy. Like Eastwood’s performance of a cranky old guy arguing with an empty chair, a perfect demonstration of American’s inability to understand that their opponents might have some substance on their side of the ledge.

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