I spent most of the weekend driving around Virginia attending to various chores, and didn’t see or hear any news, so it wasn’t until today, when I was driving my kid, Jack, back to school in Richmond, that I learned that Richard Pryor had died. Jack broke the news to me in a quiet way, knowing how much I adored this man. In fact, Jack bought me a Pryor box set for Christmas last year, after discovering for himself that this icon of the 70s and 80s was a lot funnier than the people that come and go on Comedy Central these days.That was appropriate, since I bought my own father a couple of early Pryor albums–yes, the ones with the n-word in the title, which provided some additional comedy as I struggled to find a way to ask for them from an African-American store clerk–back in the mid-1970s.You want to know how powerfully funny Richard Pryor was? After memorizing these albums, my father, a middle-aged southern white man from a very conservative background, became Richard Pryor for about a year. Everytime I’d see him, we’d go through a complex call-and-response greeting based on some Pryor routine. (And Pryor also supplied the right thing to say for virtually every occasion; if I’d screwed up in some way, my father was likely to lightly rebuke me with the words of Pryor’s wino accosting a Martian: You done landed on Mr. Gilmore’s property!)And to this day, nearly thirty years later, we both know the whole oeuvre by heart. And so does Jack.A lot’s been said, and is being said today, about how Pryor stretched the boundaries of taste in comedy, and in particular, how he confronted the realities and absurdities of race, and that’s very true. Indeed, his routine on the experience of being a black man pulled over by a white traffic cop (Get out of the car; raise yo’ hands, drop yo’ pants, spread yo’ cheeks. A gas station’s been robbed, and you look just like the n—- who done it!) probably provided a lot of white people with their first understanding of racial profiling, and what it’s like to be a permanent suspect in your own country.But Pryor was ultimately not just a “great black comic;” he was simply the funniest man alive, by a large margin. If, like me, you agree with the late Hunter Thompson that “a sense of humor is the only prima facie evidence of sanity,” then Richard Pryor was, for all the foibles in his personal life, one of the sanest men alive, and one who helped keep the rest of us sane as well.May God give him rest, and return to him the joy he gave so many others.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
Like most California political junkies, I’m already looking forward to a vibrant 2024 Senate race. I wrote up the latest development at New York:
In the conservative imagination, California is sort of an evil empire of leftism. It’s where white people have been relegated to a minority for decades; where tree-hugging hippies still frolic; where Hollywood and Big Tech work 24/7 to undermine sturdy American-folk virtues; where rampaging unions and arrogant bureaucrats make it too expensive for regular people to live.
But in truth California’s dominant Democratic Party has as many mild-mannered moderates as it does fiery progressives. One of them, Dianne Feinstein, has held a Senate seat for over 30 years. As the 89-year-old political icon moves toward an almost certain retirement in 2024 (though she now says she won’t announce her intention until next year), another ideological moderate has just announced a bid to succeed her. Los Angeles congressman Adam Schiff, though, has an asset most centrist Democrats (those not named Clinton or Biden, anyway) can’t claim: the rabid hatred of Donald Trump–loving Republicans, giving him the sort of partisan street cred even the most rigorous progressives might envy.
It’s why Schiff begins his 2024 Senate race with something of a strategic advantage. The first-announced candidate in the contest, Congresswoman Katie Porter (also from greater L.A.), is a progressive favorite and more or less Elizabeth Warren’s protégé as a vocal enemy of corporate malfeasance. Another of Schiff’s House colleagues, Oakland-based Barbara Lee, has told people she plans a Senate run as well; Lee is a lefty icon dating back to her lonely vote against the initial War on Terror authorization following September 11. And waiting in the wings is still another member of California’s House delegation, Silicon Valley–based Ro Khanna, who is closely associated with Bernie Sanders and his two presidential campaigns.
Obviously, in a Senate race featuring multiple progressives, the national-security-minded Schiff (who voted for the Iraq war authorization and the Patriot Act early in his House career) might have a distinct “lane,” particularly if he draws an endorsement from Feinstein. (Schiff is already suggesting his campaign has her “blessing.”) But he may poach some progressive votes as well by emphasizing the enemies he’s made. Indeed, his campaign’s first video is mostly a cavalcade of conservatives (especially Donald J. Trump) attacking him.
It’s probably not a coincidence that Schiff is announcing his Senate bid immediately following his expulsion from the House Intelligence Committee by Speaker Kevin McCarthy for his alleged misconduct in investigating Russia’s links with Trump and his campaign (and in making the case for Trump’s impeachment). Schiff was also a steady prosecutorial presence on the January 6 committee that McCarthy and most Republicans boycotted).
Complicating the contest immeasurably is California’s Top Two primary election system. Schiff and his Democratic rivals will not be battling for a party primary win but for a spot in the 2024 general election, given to the top two primary finishers regardless of party affiliation. The Golden State’s Republican Party is so weak that it might not be able to find a candidate able to make the top two in a Senate primary; two Democrats competed in two recent competitive Senate general elections in California (in 2016, when Kamala Harris defeated Loretta Sanchez, and in 2018, when Feinstein trounced Kevin DeLeon). If that’s the case, though, it’s unclear which Democrat might have the edge in attracting Republicans. Porter’s campaign is circulating a poll showing she’d beat Schiff in a hypothetical general election because Republicans really hate Schiff despite his more moderate voting record.
For all the uncertainties about the 2024 Senate field, it is clear that the two announced Democratic candidates will wage a close battle in one arena: campaign dollars. Both Schiff and Porter are legendary fundraisers, though Porter had to dip deeply into her stash of resources to fend off a tougher-than-expected Republican challenge last November. Big remaining questions are whether Lee can finance a viable race in this insanely expensive state with its many media markets, and whether Khanna, with his national Sanders connections and local Silicon Valley donor base, enters the contest. There are racial, gender, and geographical variables too: Until Harris became vice-president, California had long been represented by two Democratic woman from the Bay Area. With Los Angeles–based Alex Padilla now occupying Harris’s old seat, 2024 could produce a big power shift to the south and two male senators.
In any event, nobody is waiting around for Feinstein to make her retirement official before angling for her seat, which means a Senate race that won’t affect the partisan balance of the chamber at all (barring some wild Republican upset) will soak up a lot of attention and money for a long time. At this early point, Schiff’s positioning as the moderate that Republicans fear and despise looks sure to keep him in the spotlight.