Warren Ellis on the dismal American election

It's been so long since Transmetropolitan ended that I sometimes forget how totally incandescent Warren Ellis is when he's talking politics. His latest Vice column, "My Last Column About the Presidential Election (Really)," was a good reminder.

President Obama's fairly grim, toothless, meandering and perfunctory presidency gained excellent contrast from an assemblage of GOP candidates so demented and corrupt that even to so describe them would be an insult to the many hard-working demented and corrupt politicians extant today. It was an array of desperate, shambling criminals (and Jon Huntsman, who presumably was there on a bet) that may have been unprecedented, even in the stinking cesspool of American politics, in its lunatic evil. The "winner" of the GOP race was always going to be the one who didn't shit themselves on stage. But the GOP itself couldn't win, because, of the bunch running, the best you could hope for was a candidate who didn't shit themselves on stage.

Which is exactly what the Republican party got. A man who's only coherent when he's lying. Any solid political points he might have made have been washed away in a tide of dissembling, flipflopping and outright bullshitting. Broad swathes of the party fail to summon enthusiasm for him. The Koch brothers, who could surely have amassed mighty forces to Romney's advantage, have provided only perfunctory support. And his mealymouthing about Big Government have put him on the wrong side of not only New York but also New Jersey, whose well-liked Republican governor Chris Christie has been effusive in his praise of the President even as Romney was being pelted with his own words about disbanding the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

My concern is this. The radical elements in the GOP will be able to claim that Romney was never their guy, and will take the next four years to place some genuine nutters, with serious backing, in line for the 2016 candidacy. Not the scrag-ends and barrel-scrapings they slapped on to the stage for this year's farce. The idea of the Democrats being conscious and organised enough to have a real player in place for 2016 – because there's no way in hell they can run Joe Biden -- is kind of funny.

My Last Column About the Presidential Election (Really)


  1. Bah. The complaint that, “This candidate is awful, and this one is boring” always seems like an apology for voter apathy. The implication is that a POTUS needs not simply be pretty good at what is arguably the toughest job in the world, but they need to be ENTERTAINING at it as well. 

    The less awful candidate still doesn’t get you EXCITED about politics? Cry me a river. As my country’s own Rick Mercer says: “When faced with a choice between two evils, it is ALWAYS vitally important that you CHOOSE the LESSER evil.”

    1. I think you might be missing some of the message here. A lot of what he’s saying seems to be linked to the important distinction that a candidate used to be focused on a message or platform. Now we have our POTUS focusing on pleasing every special-interest group and fragment of swing voters they can to ensure them excellent polling numbers. This terrible behavior that Clinton’s campaign introduced the world of politics to, with its voter focus groups and marketing experts. It just turns this race into a blase Face vs. Face – the winner who has the best specialists.

      Which leads to this important point:

      > Oh, the race will appear tight, because America is polarised — and, moreover, America has bought the generated narrative that it’s polarised. Tell people they hate those strange buggers over the road for long enough, and they’ll hate them good and hard. It’ll appear tight, but it really won’t be.

  2. Chris Christie is “well-liked”?  Mebbe so after his good work in the hurricane but he was about 50-50 in likability according to a September poll.

      1. In Ohio they just uploaded a last-minute undocumented and untested patch to the electronic voting machines.  Nothing fishy about that.

    1.  Obama’s going to win, fairly easily, even with the crap the GOP’s pulling in Ohio and Florida. The media has a tremendous stake in maintaining a horse-race narrative, and keeping eyeballs watching those ads.

  3. there’s no way in hell they can run Joe Biden

    that’s nonsense.

    Biden’s VP debate performance was maybe the best part of the whole campaign season. and should he run, given the usual wan Dem primary candidate roster, i’d vote for Biden without a second’s hesitation.

        1. Clinton, Warren, Booker…those are my early Dem picks. More likely there’ll be a couple Dem governors I’ve never heard of, maybe a Rep or two — senators rarely bother. 

    1.  You say that now, but you’ll change your mind when the democratic party establish someone else to be their candidate…

    1. I was taught at an early age in Sunday school to pretty much try and avoid people who talk about their magic sky person.  I mean, that wasn’t the lesson they wanted me to take away, but it’s the one I learned.

    2. The fact that tens of millions are gonna vote for Romney, the fact that according to Nate Silver he will get 48.5% of the popular vote, truly underscores the fact (yet again) that large numbers of The People will consume any polished corporate turd that’s put in front of their face.

      However, the late Monday afternoon FiveThirtyEight update raises the odds for an Obama reelection to 86.3%, a Romney upset lowers to 13.7%, so I think we can afford to not give ourselves a tachycardia today and tonight.

      1. Well, the Other Guy is a secret Muslim Kenyan socialist communist who is hell bent on taking away our guns and raising taxes on the rich people (I’m not rich yet, but when I get there, I don’t want to pay too much).  And he’s black.  So why would any Right Thinking American vote for him?

        1. Remember how late-2008 was a boon for gun stores?  All the wingnuts went in droves and stockpiled ammo for the upcoming apocalypse due to the Obama election.  Now I hear they’re stockpiling ammo again, for the upcoming apocalypse due to the Obama reelection.
          Wonder what the fuck they did with all that ammo from four years ago.

          1. Maybe they shot it?  Not point buying ammo if you’re not going to shoot it. 

            The idea that he was waiting for this second term to suddenly care about guns is still dumb though.

          2. Exactly. If Giffords being shot in the head in broad daylight didn’t change any laws, Obama’s not coming after your stupid guns.

    3. I wish this was true; at least he would have a goal beyond his own venality and a motive to work on it.

      Romney is archbishop of a church that believes men (not women) already are gods, provided they have assets over $100m.  Or subhuman zombies, if they own less.

    4.  I’m pretty sure that, if true, such a belief is no more crazy than any other unscientific belief like reincarnation, or an afterlife, a magical person or group of persons controlling and creating existence, virgin births, ten plagues, etc.

      It’s pretty much bullshit for one group of people who believe in their own fake-ass mysticism to point fingers at another group for believing in fake-ass mysticism. The only difference between something like traditional Christian or Jewish or Hindu nonsense (other than basic dogma) and something like Scientology or Mormonism is we’ve had longer to get used to hearing that bullshit and ignoring the fundamental stupidity of it.

      1. Not to forget H. L. Mencken and Lester Bangs. Matt Taibbi is the only current journo I’d compare to Spider he’s less foul-mouthed but just as angry.

        I really need to buy the last 4 trade paperbacks of Transmetropolitan…

      2. There’s no need to be coy about it: Transmetropolitan is basically Fear and Loathing 2099, with a few bits of random transhumanism tacked on hither and yon. Ellis has barely acknowledged this, and the one time that he makes connection, here, he criticizes HST for committing suicide (he gravely informs us that when someone ends their own life, “There is often shit”, as if there generally isn’t anytime someone dies with a less-than-empty bowel). Given how many people still cite Transmet as their favorite Ellis work, a decade after its completion, it’s pretty inexcusable.


    1. That’s good stuff.  “Mitt Romney doesn’t even have the facility to be slippery. He just staggers down the corridor of ideology like a cheap drunk, bumping into the walls.”

      Ellis knows us too well.

    1. This is a plan I could get behind.  Can we grandfather it?  I’m missing a few of the later trades…

    2. I started re-readinf Transmetropolitan via Comixology on iPad a few weeks back, and I feel like tonight deserves a marathon session to complete it.

  4. Dear WE: Stop fucking about on Vice and finish Doktor Sleepless and Desolation Jones. I love you, but you’re failure to complete those works make me want to punch you in the cock.

  5. I don’t understand why Huntsman fared so poorly in the primaries.  He is experienced, well spoken, and has a spotless personal history.  He is conservative, but also comes across as eminently reasonable; a genuine statesman who puts country first. He was also clearly the best bet for the Republicans against Obama.  I am genuinely perplexed.  What did Romney bring to the table that Huntsman did not?

    1.  I believe you may have answered your own question. Does any of that sound like someone a Republican would want to vote for?

    2. A big part of the primary was how “exciting” the candidate was, and well, John Huntsman is the opposite of exciting.  OTOH, “exciting” turned out to be a codeword for “crazy”, so in the end everybody had to just go with the guy who stuck it out despite never polling better than the crazy candidates. 

    3. I don’t understand why Huntsman fared so poorly in the primaries.

      Although he certainly has some problems, I called him early on as the only one who wasn’t obviously batshit crazy or putting on a dog and pony show for the troglodytes. He never stood a chance.

      1. That’s what happens when your favored “news” channel is the Party, with the two-minutes hate with Obama playing the role of Emmanuel Goldstein.  Once enough rank-and-file become whipped up into a frenzy then it’s far too late for the cooler heads to prevail.  One can’t have a civil discourse about issues, it all becomes a race to the bottom, and there is no place for Huntsman or other actual thoughtful people with conservative tendencies.

        The Kochs are taking a risk.  They risk supersaturating angry people with guns while using them to expand the gap between the haves and have-nots.  They risk eventually triggering revolution while they attempt to manipulate for their personal advantage.  Right now they have reasonable control over the message and significant influence over the politicians that their movement has elected, but as they hijacked the party, someone else or some other movement could take over or expand beyond their control.  It’s possible that they’ll have made a monster.

    4. The office of POTUS is a corporate tool.  While the corporatocracy can buy and sell the office, we will get candidates, both Democratic and Republican, they think can best serve *their* needs, not that of the average citizen (the other 99%).

  6. ‘I actually find myself weirdly nostalgic for the authentic monsters of politics.’

    My first thought was of Johnson too and I grew wistful.  Whenever I think of LBJ, I picture him with one of those big paws of his thrown across some political victim’s shoulders, pulling him close in a hug/headlock, while he laid on some Texas charm to get a vote of support for one piece of legislation or the other.

  7. My concern is this. The radical elements in the GOP will be able to claim that Romney was never their guy, and will take the next four years to place some genuine nutters, with serious backing, in line for the 2016 candidacy. Not the scrag-ends and barrel-scrapings they slapped on to the stage for this year’s farce. 

    I doubt it. If Repubs can’t manage to steal this election, they’ll likely go back to square one and try to rebrand themselves in a way that doesn’t signal Tea Party Crazy to most of America. It’ll be too clear that that dog don’t hunt anymore.

    1. You’re assuming that they still have the ability to maintain control of the party. If the Koch brothers want the Republican Party to be indistinguishable from the Tea Party, that’s what will happen.

    2. Tee-hee.  ‘Genuine nutters’? – I’ve found the lunacy of the  fakers that have run so far pretty convincing.

      Agree about the extent of the power of Koch brothers, however loudly Jim Hightower may want to sound the alarms.  He has a dog in that fight, selling books and newletters on the sidelines.

  8. “President Obama’s fairly grim, toothless, meandering and perfunctory presidency”

    What the hell does this even mean?

  9. I think there’s a fairly obvious question that people need to ask, that they’re failing to ask: why is it, that if the Republican campaign has been a rolling disaster, led by a mediocre candidate, and the Democratic campaign features a charismatic incumbent, that many of the polls are showing the two candidates in a dead heat?

    Such things keep happening. The 2008 election was the first US presidential election I can remember in which the two candidates weren’t in a dead heat on the eve of the election. At the lowest point for the Republicans during the latter years of the Bush administration, I remember even Saturday Night Live pointing out that the Democrats in Congress were in a position to roll right over the Republicans with any legislative agenda they cared to enact, and yet they did nothing whatsoever, and allowed the Republicans to recover.

    My suspicion is that this is deliberate. The two parties maintain a “gentleman’s agreement” not to really challenge each other. Too great a margin of victory in the US presidential election fosters popular expectations of effective action in the public interest. In fact, I think the generous margin of victory for Barack Obama in 2008 was unintentional, and regarded as a problem by politicians for the next few years. Obama had a lot of work to do to come up with an ineffective, unpopular health reform package, when he had a generous popular mandate and widespread calls by public intellectuals for a single-payer healthcare system, or at the very least a public option.

    1. If anyone’s “failing to ask” the question, it’s because the answer is staggeringly obvious to them: the election is closer than it should be because of money, shitloads of it, and much if not most of it going toward the guy who barely seemed as if he was interested in the job at all for much of the campaign. Over two billion dollars shoveled on, and how much of it by disgruntled billionaires who wanted to punish the president, who has AFAIK never done anything to affect their fortunes (so far), simply because they felt disrespected by him? 

      And this is why truth matters; this is why people who should have known better (like Warren Ellis) but still joined in the popular meme that caricatured John Kerry in ’04 as wooden and unelectable share part of the blame for the distorting effect of literal truckloads of money on the American electoral process. Because a re-elected George W. Bush selected Roberts and Alito for the Supreme Court, and Citizens United was decided the way that it was, and goodbye campaign spending limits. In the most optimistic predictions for tonight’s election, the GOP will still have control of the House, so good luck getting anything more done for at least another two years. 

      And, of course, millions of people getting access to health care isn’t “nothing whatsoever”, but maybe you already had it. And he had the devil’s own time getting even the imperfect solution that he got past the Blue Dogs in the Senate, but maybe that’s a little too much detail for you.

  10. Pointing at the money doesn’t explain the statistical dead heat that recurs so frequently. You frame it as if all the money is going to the Republican candidate. Enormous amounts of money are spent on each major party candidate. The question remains: why is there such precise titration, that presidential races are usually statistical dead heats. Bringing up the influence of corporate donors doesn’t answer the question. It raises the question of why it suits their interests to arrange things this way.

    I have mixed feelings about the frequent references to Citizens United. Certainly, that’s made things worse, and it would be good to see Citizens United overturned. But the dominance of corporations in US politics long precedes Citizens United, and will not end simply with its overturn.

    Whether Obama would have been able to overcome challenges from the most conservative Democratic Party politicians isn’t really at issue. The real issue there is that Obama didn’t even try, even in the honeymoon period after his election. He never discussed a single payer plan at all after the election. More than that: discussion of that idea was barred from the semi-public town hall meetings the White House organized. Obama didn’t meet with single payer advocates, but had a long series of private meetings with insurance company representatives. By most accounts, the resulting bill was largely drafted by insurance company lobbyists.

    As far as I’ve ever been able to make out, the only actual reform in the health care reform act was to make it more difficult for insurance companys to deny policies based on pre-existing conditions. Health insurance is still unaffordable. I’m uninsured; the last I checked, health insurance would cost more than I earn.

    1. I should acknowledge that the election results showed Obama had a significant margin of victory, so the basic assumption in my argument was false.

Comments are closed.