Surrogating the 2016 American Presidency

Tonight was the opening of the Democratic National Convention. It was a rather stunning difference from the scenes on the street yesterday and today, where there were minimal and well behaved cops in Philly as contrasted with the warrior cop oppressive stormtrooper presence in Cleveland. From my reporter friends from the Arizona Republic, the food is totally better in Philly too. Hey, armies move on food, and cheesesteaks rule.

Is everything coming up roses? Nope. There was the whole Debbie Wasserman Schultz thing. She was well advised by our friend David Dayen to stay away and excommunicate herself from the convention podium. But, crikey, the rest simply looks beautiful. Sanders supporters marching in the streets for change, mostly unfettered and unoppressed, other voices being heard, and all relative delegates meeting and co-existing in the halls. This ain’t the dysfunctional RNC bigoted shit show. That, in and of itself, would be worth this post. There is more.

Don’t let cable coverage and the relentless yammer of their panels of self interested toadies fool you, the few true camera pans at the RNC showed more than a few empty seats and a far smaller crowd (especially in the upper decks) than displayed tonight at the DNC.

The real tell, in difference, was in the quality of the speakers and presentation. The only lasting memory from the RNC’s opening night was the embarrassing plagiarism in Melania Trump’s speech. Honestly, my bet is that is not on her, but the understaffed and idiot handlers her narcissistic, yet bumbling, husband provided. That said, it was a res ipsa loquitur deal and, in the end, spoke for itself. What else do you remember from that night other than Tim Tebow did not appear? I got nuthin.

The first night of the DNC in Philly, however, came with a litany of decent and well presented folks presented to a full and energetic hall. Emphasis on full. The dynamics in staging and presentation were stark. As were the quality and mental coherence of the speakers. The first electric moment came when Sarah Silverman, who along with Al Franken, was doing a bit and intro to Paul Simon singing (a geriatric, albeit mesmerizing) Bridge Over Troubled Water. Silverman and Franken had to kill an extra 120 seconds or so and she blurted out some hard, and real, truth that her fellow Bernie Sanders supporters who refuse to help Clinton defeat Trump are flat out “being ridiculous”. Truer words have never been spoken.

But soon came Michelle Obama to the podium. I am not sure I have the words to describe how good Michelle was. As a convention speaker, a surrogate, a leader, a mother and as a First Lady embodying all of the above. Michelle Obama killed it. She blew the joint up. I don’t know how else to describe it, but if you did not witness it live, watch the video up at top. Just do it.

Frankly, at the conclusion of Michelle Obama’s speech, it was hard to see how the last two key speakers, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, could possibly top the moment. Sadly, they could not. Liz Warren gave a great, and often in depth, speech. One that absolutely slayed Donald Trump in nearly every way. On its own, it would have been noteworthy. But sandwiched between the brilliance of Michelle Obama and Sanders, with his acolytes cheering and hers still reeling, it seemed good, but not great.

Bernie Sanders caught a little more fire, but mostly because of his yuuge contingent of supporters. And that is not just a good thing, it is a great thing. Sanders did everything, and more, he should have done in this speech by ginning up the classic points and issues his campaign, and its followers, were built on…and then transferring them to Clinton.

It did not work perfectly, but this will be a process up until the election date on November 8. Bernie went a long way, gracefully and patiently, tonight. And, while the cheering crowd appeared to be much more than just the “Sandernistas”, all of the hall seemed to get on board. That, along with Sarah Siverman telling holdout Bernie Busters to wake up and not be ridiculous, were giant steps in unifying support for Clinton over Trump.

Listen, I have been around the block a few times, and know I am supposed to lead with the headline. Sorry, this one worked up to it, and here it is. The RNC and Trump got their lousy bounce because the media, once again, cravenly portrayed what happened in Cleveland as normal, and tit for tat, with what is happening, and will happen, in Philadelphia. That is simply a ratings and craven click germinated lie. The difference is stark.

Nowhere is it more stark than in the picture painted as to the surrogates who will come out of the respective conventions to campaign for their respective candidate between now and November 8.

Um, let’s see, for the GOP we have Newt, Carson, Melania, Thiel, Flynn, Joe Arpaio and Chachi Baio. I excluded Ivanka because she might actually be competent. Seriously, that is basically it for Trump surrogates. From the whole convention. Even Clint Eastwood’s chair took a pass in this, the year of the Orange Faced Short Fingered Vulgarian Bigot.

Let’s compare that with what came out of the Democratic Convention’s first night. Sarah Silverman, Al Franken, Paul Simon, Eva Longoria, Corey Booker and, then, the big three…Michelle Obama, Liz Warren and Bernie Sanders. That is just the first night folks.

See a bit of a dichotomy in personality and credibility there?

Then picture that Clinton’s road warrior surrogates will include not just the above, but also Joe Biden, President Barack Obama and the Big Dog himself, Bill Clinton.

Elections are won in the trenches. Say what you will about Hillary Clinton, and I will probably join you on many negatives, but the Clintons do have a ground operation. And their surrogates are like the 1927 Yankees compared to the Bad News Bears for Trump and the RNC. How will Trump bolster his bench, by bringing in Roger Ailes to molest the women of America? Is there another ground plan for the Trump Juggalos?

Sure, Clinton can still muck it up and lose. She, and the DNC, have been beyond pathetic in how they have treated nearly half their party, and much of their activist base, during the primaries and aftermath. Not just ugly, but stupid. They deserve any hell they get for that, whether it comes from appropriately enraged Sanders supporters or from press reporting on hacks (THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING!!!)

Bottom line is this: Which set of surrogates would you think would do a better job spreading out over the country: Crazy Newt, Racist Flynn, Bigot Arpaio and Chachi, …. or Michelle Obama, Liz Warren, Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama and Joe Biden?

Think I will go with the latter, and I think they will reach a heck of a lot more voters who will actually engage than will the trite and petty bigots Trump will have on the public offer.

And the Dems have a laundry list of other quality surrogates who will stand up. Trump has apparent Klan worthy members like Jeff Sessions, felons like Don King and Mike Tyson, and people who seek to be them.

Who you gonna call when it comes time to vote?

Seems like an easy decision, especially when you consider that the next 30 to 35 years of ideological control of the Supreme Court hang in the balance.

(Re)Productive Conventions

In one way, the DNC was almost the same as the RNC last week. Almost every woman who spoke self-identified as a mother. (This is a point Irin Carmon also made in this piece.) Lily Ledbetter was one exception; she didn’t mention her daughters and grand-daughters until the end, until she had talked about her life as a tire factory worker. And Jared Polis–whose legal right to be one is contested in many states–is the one man I remember foregrounding his fatherhood. Thus, at conventions dueling over women’s votes, they appealed largely (though reproductive health was a key issue last night) through motherhood, not womanhood.

Which is funny, because Democrats, at least, are reaching out not just to soccer moms, but they’re also reaching out to single women who are not yet mothers.

All that being said, Ann Romney and Michelle Obama presented different pictures of motherhood–or rather, parenthood.

Here’s Ann Romney’s pitch to the plight of women–which in her case is very explicitly limited to mothers, even though she admits some mothers also happen to be sisters or maybe she treats sisters as mothers of a type.

Sometimes I think that late at night, if we were all silent for just a few moments and listened carefully, we could hear a great collective sigh from the moms and dads across America who made it through another day, and know that they’ll make it through another one tomorrow. But in that end of the day moment, they just aren’t sure how.

And if you listen carefully, you’ll hear the women sighing a little bit more than the men. It’s how it is, isn’t it?

It’s the moms who always have to work a little harder, to make everything right.

It’s the moms of this nation — single, married, widowed — who really hold this country together. We’re the mothers, we’re the wives, we’re the grandmothers, we’re the big sisters, we’re the little sisters, we’re the daughters.

You know it’s true, don’t you?

You’re the ones who always have to do a little more.

You know what it’s like to work a little harder during the day to earn the respect you deserve at work and then come home to help with that book report which just has to be done.

You know what those late night phone calls with an elderly parent are like and the long weekend drives just to see how they’re doing.

You know the fastest route to the local emergency room and which doctors actually answer the phone when you call at night.

You know what it’s like to sit in that graduation ceremony and wonder how it was that so many long days turned into years that went by so quickly.

When Ann says, “you’re the ones who always have to do a little more,” she’s not directly addressing her example of the woman who has to “work a little harder” to earn the respect she deserves. Rather, she’s noting that the same woman who is treated unfairly at work also has to deal with kids’ homework when she gets home. The same woman has to deal with the troubles of elderly parents. The same woman has to know how to get her family to the emergency room–what happens if she herself has to go, I wonder?

Ann’s appeal to women only works–that extra sigh coming from women only happens–if women are expected to carry out more than half the nurturing roles in a family.

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White House Flowers: Make a Statement


The WaPo reports that White House Chief florist Nancy Clarke is retiring, after 31 years. The WaPo’s most interested in the change this may bring to the style of flower arrangements in the White House–rather than oversized balls of flowers, we may get leaner, more contemporary arrangements.

But observers note her departure allows the Obamas to try some new things.

"Basically what we’re looking at is less is more," said Robin Sutliff of Georgetown’s Ultra Violet Flowers. ‘There are all kinds of ideas for being more progressive."

"When I see flowers at the White House, they all seem to be these big round balls," said Allan Woods, a favorite florist of D.C. decorators. "They’re very stiff and formal. The flower look could become looser and more contemporary. It would be fun to see them do more edgy arrangements. On the other hand, it is the White House."

But I’m more interested in the one thing that, Clarke says, has changed the most during her tenure at the White House: the globalization of flower production.

The biggest change? Thirty years ago, the florists were limited to locally grown, seasonal blooms until they started flying in fresh flowers from around the globe. "The whole world opened up," she said.

Yes, the whole world opened up. And with it much needed trade for developing countries, along with some absolutely horrible conditions for the workers in those countries. Most notably, Colombia, which has grown to become the world’s second-biggest flower exporter (after the Netherlands). Over that time, workers have been fighting for some protection from some of the abuse–exposure to toxic pesticides, insecure working conditions, and repetitive work injuries. This video, Poisoned Flowers, portrays both the problem and the progress–largely in response to European pressure–towards certifying some of the flowers based on the work conditions used in production.

Michelle Obama set a great example by starting an organic White House garden. This is another area where she can make a statement (particularly against the background of ongoing discussions of a Colombian trade pact): pick a new edgier florist. But also pick one who will use only flowers that are certified to have been grown and processed under conditions that are safe for the workers.

Darrell Issa Fears Michelle’s Triceps, But Not Dick’s Guns

I’m honestly not surprised that Darrell Issa is so insecure in the face of Michelle Obama’s buff triceps that he is now trying to regulate her.

Under Issa’s amendment, any government policy group that Mrs. Obama or another first spouse regularly participates in would be subject to a law requiring meetings to be announced in advance and, in most instances, public.

At the March 10 markup, Issa’s proposal triggered more than 35 minutes of impassioned debate. I’ve linked video of the exchange below, but Democrats clearly seemed to be recoiling at what some viewed as an effort to target Mrs. Obama.


“We are trying actually to protect the historic role of the first lady,” Issa insisted, repeatedly invoking the “transparency” mantra of the Obama administration. “I believe this is open government at its finest.”


“We should have a set of rules that future presidents, vice presidents, first ladies and spouses of vice presidents, understand what their do’s and don’t’s are. Can they have an open meeting? Can they have a closed meeting?” Issa said. “Perhaps we need to get to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for an opinion.”

(Nor am I surprised that the Politico has titled this article as, "GOP transparency push seen as attack on Michelle O.")

But I want to know where the fuck Darrell Issa was when we were trying to protect "the historic role of the Vice President" for the last eight years?!?!? I mean, Issa had no problem with Mr. Fourth Branch conducting major policy work in hiding. But apparently he has decided now is the time to regulate Veeps and First Ladies. 

Michelle’s Triceps Continue to Disarm Critics


Jodi Kantor and Lauren Beckham Falcone shriek insecure scolds about Michelle exposing muscles in February.

Boston Herald columnist Lauren Beckham Falcone wrote to Obama, "It’s February. Going sleeveless in subzero temperature is just showing off. All due respect."

But elsewhere, Michelle’s triceps are inspiring women to actually exercise.

Rylan Duggan, a personal trainer who runs Go Sleeveless, a blog that instructs women how to tone up flabby arms and "eliminate bat wings," said that in addition to asking how to get "Madonna arms" or "Kelly Ripa arms," clients are now asking about getting "Obama arms."

"The Obama effect has been that women of all ages have been inspired to take responsibility for their health and their body," said Duggan. "As the first lady of the United States, at 44 years old, and with two young children, Mrs. Obama has shown the world that you are never too busy to take care of yourself and look good doing it too," he said.

Exercise advocates are also fans. "She’s a great role model," said Jessica Matthews, a continuing education coordinator for the American Council on Exercise. "Women shy away from strength training, because they’re afraid of big muscles. She shows nice toned arms and that it’s not going to lead to this myth of a bodybuilder type."


But others were amazed, like 25-year-old Jessie Rosen. After seeing Obama at the speech Tuesday, she went to the Adidas store in New York and bought two five-pound dumbbells. "It was her arms being so toned in spite of her life," she said.

"This woman is redecorating White House, trying to raise two children and backseat driving the nation," Rosen said. "She seems to have time to keep her arms toned, so why can’t I?"

I can think of many less productive things for a First Lady to do than encouraging women to do the weight-bearing exercise that will help them avoid osteoporosis.

Next thing you know it, though, she’ll be encouraging her lanky girls to play hoops. I can see Don Imus now joining Kantor and Beckham Falcone in their shrieks.

Michelle’s Buff Arms


Forgive me, because I am about to be cattier than I have ever been on my blog.

On the left is a picture of Jodi Kantor wearing short sleeves to a Batsheva Dance Company event (Panache Privee photo).

Below is the picture that accompanies Kantor’s latest blog post, taking Michelle Obama to task for her preference for sleeveless dresses (Doug Mills/NYT photo).

Nancy Reagan wore spangled ballgowns. Barbara Bush had fake pearls. Michelle Obama wears her bare arms.

It is February and Washington is freezing, but in appearance after appearance, the first lady displays her long, muscular arms. She is sleeveless on the cover of the new Vogue, she was sleeveless when she discussed menus on Sunday in the White House kitchen, and last night she was sleeveless again, in the House chamber for her husband’s first address to Congress. (All of the other women in the room seemed to be wearing long sleeves; a few even wore turtlenecks). If she keeps going at this rate, Mrs. Obama may do to dresses with sleeves what President John F. Kennedy did to men’s hats.



So Michelle Obama is athletic and disciplined. Yes, fine, but that was pretty clear before we started examining her triceps on a daily basis. Instead, those bare arms seem like a reminder of everything about her we can’t see.

In two years, she has shown us a great deal of herself, more than most of us would share, and yet right now, we actually don’t know that much about her. What does she think of the White House, and what does she do all day? Does her husband consult her on any of the difficult decisions he faces? Is the “Mom-in-chief” really, totally confident that her children are going to come through this just fine? In a few years, will she still look as confident as she did last night, or will she reach for cover? And is she comfortable as she looks in those skimpy tops, or is she actually freezing?

Now, as someone who has pretty decent arms myself (though not as great as Michelle’s), let me explain something to Ms. Kantor that she is likely unable to relate to: those of us that got ’em proudly flaunt ’em. There’s no need to look for some hidden meaning about that. Read more