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Stirewaltisms: Boris Johnson and the Survival of the Silliest
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Stirewaltisms: Boris Johnson and the Survival of the Silliest

How did two countries select such unserious leaders?

One of the most delightful things about Britons is their determined commitment to not ever be caught being too earnest or taking important things too seriously. It’s what allows a class-obsessed society to breathe a little easier. 

Scoffing at elites and their institutions provides a much-needed feeling of egalitarianism in a country that just blew it out to celebrate the 70th year of the reign of the great-great granddaughter of the niece of the great-great grandson of some German dude parliament picked to be king in 1714. The British even have a very useful and colorful term for the important work for not taking serious things too seriously.  

But even for a determinedly unserious people, Boris Johnson was a very, very silly person to make prime minister.  A decade ago, Johnson was an intentionally goofy, antic attention hound with a loose relationship with the truth who would have seemed a ridiculous choice for a premiership, including to himself. How he ended up in 10 Downing Street and persisted there for so long despite massive ineptitude and scandal is very much like how America ended up with a similarly silly president who nearly ended up winning re-election despite his chaotic, corrupt tenure.

The first, most obvious answer is about the terrible structural problems of the left in Britain, America, and the rest of the West. For a variety of reasons relating to, among other things, social media, the demographic bulge of the Millennial generation, and over-reliance on identity politics, American Democrats and their counterparts across the pond have lost the thread on patriotism and remain overly fixated on culture war issues that alienate working-class voters. For a dissembling goofball like Johnson or Donald Trump to acquire power in a major nation, the competition would have to be pretty bad. And, brother, it was. Hillary Clinton and Jeremy Corbyn were the pits, and their parties were overrun with radicals at just the wrong time.

But how did it come to pass that two of the West’s venerable major parties could select such obviously unfit, unserious people as their nominees? There are, again, many reasons, in this case including the inability of conservatives to get ahold of the immigration issue, the crankiness of aging Baby Boomers, and an increasingly rotten right-wing media. With left-wing parties unable to reach for the vital center on bread-and-butter economic issues, even men like Johnson and Trump could look like viable alternatives. (I should say here that I don’t mean to carry the comparison too far. Johnson eventually stepped aside when his party forced him out. Trump almost broke the republic and Republicans wouldn’t force him out even after January 6.)

There’s something else, though.

There are species of bacteria that actually thrive in the toxic emissions from hydrothermal vents deep below the ocean. What would be killing sulphuric acid to most animals is food for them. We have created a similarly hostile climate in media and politics: high pressure, extreme temperature swings, and a toxic atmosphere. We should not be surprised, then, that unlovely creatures are the only ones who can thrive in this space.

Decent people with dignity are easy marks for outrage mobs, cancel culture, and the clickbait press. But fools with no shame are impervious to such a climate. Men and women of character tend to stay away, and if they don’t, are much more subject to the extortionate pressures of the political world. If your reputation is already poor, you can chase celebrity, frolicking among the deep-sea plumes, while your more delicate competitors are floating on the surface, poisoned.     


Holy croakano! We welcome your feedback, so please email us with your tips, corrections, reactions, amplifications, etc. at STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. If you’d like to be considered for publication, please include your real name and hometown. If you don’t want your comments to be made public, please specify.


STATSHOT

Biden job performance

Average approval: 38.2 percent

Average disapproval: 57.0 percent

Net score: -18.8 points

Change from one week ago: ↓ 0.4 points

Change from one month ago: ↓ 2.6 points

[Average includes: Ipsos/Reuters: 36% approve-59% disapprove; Monmouth University: 36% approve-58% disapprove; AP-NORC: 39% approve-60% disapprove; NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist College: 40% approve-53% disapprove; American Research Group: 40% approve-55% disapprove]

Generic congressional ballot 

Democrats: 43.4 percent

Republicans: 42.6 percent

Net advantage: Democratic Party +0.8 points

Change from one week ago: Republican Party ↑ 0.4 points

Change from one month ago: Republican Party ↓ 1.6 points

[Average includes: Monmouth University: 46% Democrat, 48% Republican; NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist College: 48% Democrat, 41% Republican; Suffolk University/USA Today: 40% Democrat, 40% Republican; Fox News: 44% Democrat, 47% Republican; Ipsos/Reuters: 39% Democrat, 37% Republican]


TIME OUT: AN IPA POUR OVER, PLEASE 

Wall Street Journal: “Craft breweries are pitching old customers on a new kind of alcohol-free buzz: bespoke coffee. Biggerstaff Brewing Co. opened in September in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward neighborhood. Owners Sarah and Clay Davies say they had always planned on using coffee as an ingredient in Biggerstaff’s beer and some marinades for smoked and braised meats. They also realized they could cater to customers who might come in at 8 a.m. in no mood for an IPA. ‘If you’re paying rent, why not have something in-house that makes money during the day, not just at night like most brewpubs?’ Ms. Davies says. This is a difficult period to run a small business in the U.S. The Federal Reserve counted 130,000 more small businesses closing above average in the pandemic’s first year. … As a result, many have chosen to go outside their original expertise … For the beer business, this has meant finding ways to serve customers before noon.”


TRUMP BID LOOMS OVER MIDTERMS

The Hill: “Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) made clear they want the 2022 midterms to be a referendum on [President Joe Biden] and his handling of inflation and the economy. But that strategy will run into trouble if [former President Donald Trump] announces his plans to run for president again in 2022. An early Trump campaign kickoff would give plenty of opportunity for Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other Democrats to make November a referendum on Trump instead of Biden. Republican and Democratic strategists say Trump will also provide a shot of energy and motivation to a dispirited Democratic base that right now feels less enthusiastic than Republicans about voting in the midterms. … The former president is now motivated to announce a bid as polls show he is losing popular support amid the damaging revelations from the House select Jan. 6 committee’s hearings.”

Ryan ducks Biden in Ohio: Bloomberg: “When President Joe Biden visited Ohio on Wednesday, the top Democrats seeking statewide office in November both had other places to be. Democratic Senate hopeful Tim Ryan and gubernatorial aspirant Nan Whaley’s decisions to steer clear of the president in a state Biden lost by more than 8 percentage points in 2020 exposes a gap between how the White House views Biden’s political clout and the view for candidates on the ground. ‘There are no accidents when it comes to campaigns,’ said Nathan Gonzales, editor of the non-partisan analysis publication Inside Elections. ‘The bottom line is that if President Biden was politically more popular that you would see more candidates wanting to appear with him.’”

Bennet can’t count on abortion to bail him out of tough race: AP: “Though [Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet] represents a state that has voted solidly Democratic in several consecutive elections, he could still be vulnerable in November if a Republican wave materializes. The GOP has nominated a challenger who…backs abortion rights. Bennet has relied on Colorado voters’ strong support of abortion rights to win his two prior elections, and he knows he cannot afford complacency or apathy among his voters. … Bennet spoke about the Supreme Court ruling and addressed Democrats’ frustration and despair. … After talking to reporters offstage, Bennet spoke with the demonstrators. … He agreed with them on ending the filibuster and codifying Roe but opposed packing the court. If Democrats did that, he said, ‘we will guarantee the majority in the Senate will be an anti-choice Senate.’ When the demonstrators continued to be frustrated that Bennet wouldn’t agree to court-packing, he advised them, ‘There are not remotely 50 votes to do what you’re suggesting in the Senate.’”

State supreme court races heat up after Dobbs: New York Times: “Over the past decade or so, the national Republican Party and other conservative groups have spent heavily to move both state legislatures and courts rightward. The party’s Judicial Fairness Initiative says it has spent more than $21 million since its formation in 2014 to elect conservatives to state courts, and will spend more than $5 million this year. The Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative advocacy group that has been a principal backer of recent Republican nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court, also has invested money in state supreme court races. The Democratic Party has also poured growing sums of money into court elections, as have allies like labor unions — but not as much, and not for as long, as have Republicans. But the rightward lurch of federal courts increasingly is leading progressives to see state courts as potential bulwarks against more conservative gains, said Joshua A. Douglas, an elections and voting rights scholar at the University of Kentucky.”

Gun control advocates reveal targets for November: Politico: “A prominent gun [control] group is ready to spend big to boost Democrats who last month supported Congress’ most significant gun policy package in nearly 30 years — and attack Republicans who opposed it. The $10 million investment by Giffords PAC…will go toward local, state and federal elections in Texas and Florida, which have both seen tragic mass shootings, as well as Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Colorado, all key battlegrounds that will determine whether Democrats keep their majority. Giffords PAC has already endorsed Democratic incumbents Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Raphael Warnock of Georgia and backed Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman to replace retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania. The group has not endorsed in Wisconsin’s open Democratic primary to take on Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). … The money is expected to go toward television and digital ads, as well as organizing efforts and public events.”

Pritzker, Newsom leaning in on 2024: The Hill: “Democrats are sizing up President Biden’s chances of winning reelection in 2024 — and prominent figures are weighing their own prospects too. … California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) ran TV commercials over July 4 in Florida…hitting the Sunshine State’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. DeSantis is widely seen as a possible GOP presidential contender, and Newsom’s unusual move made sure his name would be in the 2024 frame as Democrats mull Biden’s strengths and weaknesses. … Last month, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) journeyed to New Hampshire — traditionally the second state to vote in the primary process. … Pritzker’s fiery response to the mass shooting in Highland Park, Ill., on Monday also seemed much more in step with liberal America’s sentiments that Biden’s milder reaction. … Even if Biden were to surprise by stepping aside, there is an additional complication for outside Democrats who have their eyes on the top job: Vice President [Kamala Harris].”

BRIEFLY

Pennsylvania Republicans walk away from Mastriano—NBC News

Warnock used campaign cash to pay personal legal fees—Politico

Manchin joins Schumer in last ditch effort to negotiate drug prices—ABC News

WITHIN EARSHOT: SIR, THIS IS AN ARBY’S 

Gavin Newsom might as well light a pile of cash on fire. Pass the popcorn for his desperate attempt to win back the California refugees who fled the hellhole he created in his state to come to Florida.” —Dave Abrams, campaign spokesperson for Gov. Ron DeSantis, in response to Newsom’s recent ad encouraging Floridians to move to California.


You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes and always good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let me know in the email if you want to keep your submission anonymous. My colleague, the courageous Abbey Black, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack! 


MAILBAG

“We’ve got a bit of a clown car primary in [the 4th Congressional District] in Central Washington that I think might be a forebearer of a bigger conflict in MAGAverse post Trump. There are seven Republicans running in it and one Democrat. Because of our open primary system, the top two go to the general election. Dan Newhouse, the incumbent who signed an Amicus brief for Texas’s lawsuit [seeking to swipe Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes], then voted to certify the election and impeach Trump. Here’s a link to my local paper that is doing a Q&A with all the candidates. [Loren Culp] (who declined to participate) also lost the last gubernatorial election. My prediction for how this will all turn out is pretty simple. Too many clowns and not enough seatbelts.”Travis Morrill, Yakima, Washington

I would certainly defer to your local knowledge as a Yakaman (would it also be Yakawoman?) but the view from the other Washington suggests to me that this contest should produce a win for the incumbent. The anti-anti-Trump faction is pretty obviously splintered and Newhouse, dating back to his time as state agriculture secretary, is very well known and still popular in an overwhelmingly Republican district. The two most obvious scenarios are 1) that Newhouse and Democrat Doug White make the general and Newhouse wins by more than 30 points or that Newhouse and Culp will advance to the general and Newhouse will win by 10 points. Maybe the district has radicalized since 2018, but I still think of it as a pretty mainstream GOP district. The potential trouble spot for Republicans in Washington looks to me like the neighboring 3rd Congressional District where Democrats seem to be lining up behind a candidate from the Portland suburbs to take on Jaime Herrera Beutler, who also voted to impeach Trump and in support of a January 6 commission. Her primary challenger, Joe Kent, is a telegenic kook and the district is much less Republican than yours. It’s easy to see how Kent, whom Democrats love to call attention to, could do enough damage to Beutler to either win the primary outright and thereby hand the seat to Democrats or, more likely, divide Republicans and make a contest that should be an easy win for the GOP into an expensive slog. The challenger for the near future for the GOP is in suburban districts like Beutler’s. The primary electorate in competitive districts may be even more radical than in bright red ones because of the different incentives for moderate voters and partisan affiliation, which then runs smack into the problem in convincing persuadable voters.    

“You write: ‘If Biden, as expected, moves to admit thousands more asylum seekers into the country…’ Thousands would pose no problem! It is ‘hundreds of thousands’ each month that makes for chaos and even when we have a pressing shortage of labor. Consider how that problem would be magnified if the Fed precipitates a sharp downturn in the economy as a byproduct of its efforts to contain inflation, and unemployment exceeds job openings!” Peter Samuel, Frederick, Maryland

I could be a pedant and point out that “hundreds of thousands” are still “thousands,” Mr. Samuel. But instead I will say: Thank you for reading and taking the time to write.


CUTLINE CONTEST: UP TO SCRATCH 

Multiple readers took the Seinfeld route with last week’s photo of President Biden nostril nudging, but this week’s winner tweaked the dialogue for the character:

“‘C’mon man, I am telling you it was a scratch and not a pick!’ -Joe Biden”—Rachel Manley, Northborough, Massachusetts 

Winner, Christmas in July Division:
“And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.”—Chris Lee, Corvallis, Oregon

Winner, Boxy Suit Division:

“And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife

And you may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?’” —Allan Rutter, Prosper, Texas

It’s also time to announce our winner for the month of June! Reader Michael Johnson of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, had the correct answer for a photo of President Biden looking pained: “Does anyone remember where we parked Air Force One?”

Congratulations, Mr. Johnson! Appropriately for a resident of the capital of America’s tobacco industry, you are the winner of what appears to be a pair of matchbooks from Air Force One during the Reagan era. If you’re going to smoke on board the flying White House, do it with style! Please email us your address and we will send your prize along straight away.

Send your proposed cutline for the picture that appears at the top of this newsletter to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. We will pick the top entrants and an appropriate reward for the best of this month—even beyond the glory and adulation that will surely follow. Be hilarious, don’t be too dirty, and never be cruel. Include your full name and hometown. Have fun! 


DRIVES THEM CRAZY 

ABC News: “For decades, Judy and Ed Craine parked their car in the driveway in front of their San Francisco home. … That is, until they received a $1,542 fine for parking on their own property — with the threat of a $250-per-day fee if they didn’t get the car off their carpad. … The Craines believe the space has been used for parking since the house was built in 1910.  …. The planning department was alerted to the Craines’ use of their driveway by an anonymous complaint that was lodged against the Craines and two of their neighbors, who were also tagged with the same violation. In the end, the city closed the case against the Craines and threw out the fines after the couple agreed to no longer use the carpad… City officials told the Craines that the couple can build a cover for the carpad, or a garage, if they want to continue to park there.”

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of Broken News, a new book on media and politics. Abbey Black contributed to this report.

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the politics editor for NewsNation, co-host of the Ink Stained Wretches podcast, and author of Broken News, a book on media and politics.