Sunday, October 18, 2015

Missing The Zeitgeist: Vin Weber & Tom Emmer at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs

Part One: Vin Weber 

Last month I attended public appearances of both Vin Weber, well known lobbyist and disgraced former Congressman, and Rep. Tom Emmer, newly elected to the House of Representatives from Michele Bachmann's old district, Minnesota's Sixth.

I wanted to see what each had to say at this particularly interesting moment in political time. Weber appeared over the noon hour on a Thursday and Emmer did the same the following Monday. Neither appearance was linked to the other but I thought the scheduling by the Humphrey School allowed me an opportunity to see what each man had to say and to reflect upon their presentations, mostly Q & A after they made short introductory remarks.

It must be said that Professor Larry R. Jacobs, who heads up the Humphrey School and its annual roster of mediocrities known as Humphrey Fellows, is even more unimpressive in person than he is on television and in print. That local media routinely uses him as one of their two go to guys for political analysis is an indictment of them both. His questioning of both men was shockingly poor and incurious. Remember, he teaches students about politics and people wonder why the U of M is held in low regard academically?

* * * *

Vin Weber's remarks were, on balance, remarkably banal. Perhaps I was mistaken in having any expectation that he would be astute, deep or insightful. He's a lobbyist, after all, who left Congress rather than run for reelection after he passed 253 bad checks in the infamous House banking scandal. One of his current clients is Vladimir Putin's Gazprom. Weber is not synonymous with ethics. I had thought, though, that he might be with political insight. Not so.

A friend asked me, several days after his appearance, if my assessment of him changed. I responded honestly and said that I realized I had made him a caricature instead of a real person. That's not nothing but, at the end of the day, it didn't alter my fundamental view of Weber as a creature of his time, his milieu. " The vision thing" would never be his thing, even as a political prop.

Weber professed to being concerned that more than 70% of Americans think the system is corrupt and that the right track/wrong track numbers have been heavily underwater for years. He then blithely proceeded to predict that, the hoi polloi notwithstanding, Americans would have a robust choice between Jeb & Hillary. No wonder GOPe hasn't the faintest clue. 

The phenomenon of Trump, he held forth, was nothing more than a message being sent by the American people. How that message could possibly be answered with a dynasty ticket Weber left unsaid and Jacobs' mind doesn't work fast enough to ask that question.

He had little use for Trump, lest anyone in the audience be in doubt. And use is what lobbyists deal in, no? Weber said, accurately in my view, that people are very engaged at this early stage. He marveled that the kind of large audiences in various states that Trump was already generating is most usually found toward the end of general election campaigns. That Trump, on any number of levels, was already running a general election campaign was a possibility that never crossed Mr. K Street's mind. 

Remarkably, he said that Trump's support wasn't ideological. Except that it manifestly is, albeit in a form heretofore unknown, and hence unrecognizable, to Weber. He did make one of the few astute observations in his appearance when he said Bernie Sanders' supporters supported him for what he was saying; that Sanders' support was not merely derivative of Hillary antipathy. I think this is true and was glad to hear it said out loud. Several of the most astute Minnesota progressives that I follow on Twitter have long been for Bernie. Hillary who? He won't win, of course, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. 

Jacobs asked Weber what he thought was the source of the widespread alienation of the American people from their elected officials and the political system writ large. 

I was astounded at Weber's answer: new technology. 

"How do we talk about politics?" he plaintively asked. In Weber's insulated view, new technology gave rise to only "extreme" views. He gave no evidence for this except to state the country is polarized, the parties included. Welcome to 1776 and forward. 

What new technology does, of course, is arm and inform the American citizenry, on both the Left & the Right. Weber never expressed an understanding that the contempt many on both sides of the political aisle feel is revulsion toward an unresponsive, parasitic political class and its handmaidens, of which he is a corpulently successful one. 

Media, said Vin Weber, is the problem. One that needed to be "solved." Somehow I didn't think he meant the New York Times. That Larry Jacobs didn't immediately pounce and ask him what he really meant is a testament to his stupidity. Then again, Weber is on the Dean's Advisory Counsel of the Humphrey School so abject deference was the name of the game that day. It wasn't Kabuki but you knew you were taking part in a play. The lines were delivered flawlessly. 

Weber had watched the GOP presidential debate the night before and he felt confident enough to say: "People don't watch reruns of reality tv." True but do you really think that this is that? Because few others do. Or is that simply an indication of the low thought processes that occurs among your sleazy and not very bright profession?

Weber's remarks were made September 17th, which politically seems so long ago as to not be remembered. How many weeks in a row has Trump been leading since the moment he first announced? I understand the resentment from the ancien régime but have they no appreciation for the astonishment of it all? What are they, joyless liberals?

People aren't watching reality TV, they're changing political reality by supporting Trump. The smart set shouldn't have been surprised by this development save for the fact that they aren't smart. The usual reaction has been to savage Trump's supporters. That's a new, corrosive and consultant driven development in republican party politics.

And you wonder why they hate you?

* * * * 

Image: "Natura Morta" by Paulette Tavormina 

No comments: