The psychodrama involving Mel Gibson’s admitted anti-Semitic and sexist outbursts during a DUI arrest is one of those few occasions wherein celebrity antics reveal something a bit deeper than the fatuousness of Celebrity Culture generally.Gibson has owned up to what he said to arresting officers during the bust, including a plenary indictment of Jews for being “responsible for all the the wars in the world,” and at least one nasty comment about a female officer on the scene. He’s abjectly apologized and all. But his suggestion that his bigoted remarks were attributable to Demon Rum, and to a “struggle with alcoholism,” are a bit strange, and represent an appeal to the Therapeutic Culture in whichno one is responsible for what they say or do Under the Influence of anything.It’s a well-established truism, based on millennia of human experience with hootch, that the kiss o’ the hops tends to peel back inhibitions and expose the true feelings of inebriants. Some would even say that up to a point (and Gibson’s blood-alcohol rating during the bust did not indicate black-out levels of drunkenness at all), inebriation tends to cultivate a certain clarity and honesty about Life in the Big Picture. So it’s not at all clear to me how taking the cure for booze-o-holia is going to cure Gibson of atavistic attitudes towards Jews or women.The whole issue, of course, stems from the well-founded concerns of Jews and Christians alike that Gibson’s self-proclaimed cinematic masterpiece, The Passion of the Christ, played into anti-Semitic stereotypes of the relationship between Jesus Christ and his fellow Jews–the very sterotypes that fed many centuries of Christian persecution of Jews, culminating in the Holocaust.It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Gibson decided to interpret the rejection of The Passion of the Christ by mainstream Hollywood as motivated by Jewish hostility to the lurid associations reinforced by his film. But given the vast profits he made, and the pervasive influence he’s had on the conservative Christians who flocked to the cineplexes to see the flick and held showings in their sanctuaries, he’s hardly in a position to pose as a victim.So: fine, let’s all accept Gibson’s apologies for what he said, and give him a chance to make amends. But it would be nice if ol’ Mel would stop blaming John Barleycorn for his issues, and maybe admit his ongoing complicity in the most ancient and horrific of Christian heresies: anti-Semitism. It comes out of an entirely un-Christlike heart, not out of a bottle.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
After absorbing a lot of Democratic gloom-and-doom about the midterms, I offered some silver lining at New York:
The 2022 midterms don’t look great for Democrats, who will try to buck history by hanging on to super-slim congressional majorities. Thanks to the particular lay of the land, Democrats have a decent chance of maintaining control of the Senate. But the House? Not so much: The two times since the New Deal when the president’s party won net House seats in a midterm (1998 and 2002), the president in question had sky-high job-approval ratings. Even if you believe Joe Biden’s plunge in popularity has been stemmed or even turned around a bit, he’s not going to have 60 percent-plus approval in November 2022 unless really crazy things happen. There’s just too much partisan polarization for that these days.
Thankfully for Democrats, even if they lose their congressional majorities next year, Biden himself won’t be an underdog for reelection in 2024. After all, the last two Democratic presidents were reelected after historically terrible midterms. Democrats lost 54 U.S. House seats in 1994 and 63 in 2010. Yes, they had bigger majorities going into those elections than Democrats have now. But they lost the national House popular vote by an identical 6.8 percent in both midterms, which is pretty bad, particularly since Democrats suffer from a voter-inefficiency problem in House elections (too many voters concentrated in too few districts).
It’s possible for a president’s party to lose a midterm so badly that bouncing back in the next cycle is all but impossible. Consider the man whose unique comeback accomplishment Donald Trump will be emulating if he runs in 2024, Grover Cleveland. The president Cleveland defeated in an 1892 rematch, Benjamin Harrison, was a Republican whose party lost an incredible 93 House seats in the 1890 midterms. This, mind you, was at a time when the House had only 332 members, which means the GOP lost over half their caucus in one cycle (an even worse percentage than in 1894, when Democrats lost a record 125 House seats during the midterm after Cleveland’s comeback triumph). In this era of polarization, nothing like that is going to happen to Democrats in 2022.
Looking more broadly at the power of incumbency, there have been 13 sitting presidents since World War II who were on the general election ballot. Nine of them won. The four losers all faced special circumstances. Gerald Ford had not previously been elected to anything more than the U.S. House; he ascended to the vice-presidency and then the presidency when disgraced predecessors resigned, and he pardoned the president who appointed him, the especially disgraced Richard Nixon. Jimmy Carter was caught up in a historical realignment that he had held off four years earlier by carrying his native South, which then resumed a massive Republican trend. George H.W. Bush suffered from a terrible economy but then also a party split (third-party candidate Ross Perot won a lot of previously Republican voters). And we all know about Donald J. Trump, who was impeached twice and seemed determined to offend swing voters.
In retrospect, what’s most remarkable is that Ford and Trump very nearly got reelected despite their handicaps, exhibiting not the weakness but the strength of incumbency. And it’s with that perspective that any early handicapping of a potential 2024 rematch should be considered. Trump benefited from incumbency in 2020, as will Biden in 2024. So the idea that the 45th president has some built-in advantage over the 46th — absent the renewed election coup so many of us fear — doesn’t make a lot of sense.