Pondering Political Strategy

Fun fact for you: According to a study commissioned by the Palm Center back in 2014, there are (or were) somewhere around 15,000 transgendered people serving in the American military; another 134,000-ish veterans are also believed to be transgendered. According to that study, the overwhelming majority tend to be male-to-female. Even if you throw that out, it’s worth noting that at least one member of the SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden is transgendered, as is one of the highest-ranking civilians dealing with energy issues for the military.

Courtesy of HB2, none of these people can use the right bathroom if they go to North Carolina.

Why Cat
This is the only picture here. Enjoy it.

Sounds awful, doesn’t it? I don’t really have to go into detail on all the economic and social repercussions that North Carolina is facing right now; there’s a deluge of stories covering everything from Bruce Springsteen to PayPal and more. But what I can offer you is a possible long-view on why HB2 and bills like it keep getting pushed by state legislatures.

Put bluntly: The transgender bathroom issue is a smokescreen intended to move the Overton Window so that when one part of the bill is inevitably struck down, other parts will remain unchallenged, most likely because nobody will focus on anything but the transgendered bathroom issue.

Bear in mind that HB2 does not just target transgendered people – they’re simply the most vulnerable, visible population that it affects. The bill also goes so far as to effectively negate local laws on minimum wage. It also overturns existing local laws concerning discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, religion, or race and prevents cities from making or extending new ones. The Charlotte Observer has a nice rundown if you’re interested.

This isn’t the first time that this sort of thing has happened. It’s just that prior instances of it were mainly aimed at gun laws instead of things like minimum wage or discrimination. Something similar arguably happened with Indiana’s infamous Religious Freedom Restoration Act (additional reading here)– it effectively obliterated local laws in favor of state-wide ones, setting a certain precedent that could one day trickle down elsewhere, if it hasn’t already, all while providing a neat social smokescreen in the process. Other examples of this could be seen with the Arkansas RFRA and the Mississippi RFRA.

Proposed bathroom bills in South Carolina and Tennessee are almost refreshingly narrow by comparison – they actually limit their targets to transgendered people, and don’t appear to have a ton of leeway to be used for other purposes. That’s probably one of the main reasons why both states’ governors are pushing back against them. It’s probably also why South Dakota’s governor vetoed a bathroom bill outright. There’s nothing new about being mean-spirited in politics, especially if you have an easy hot-button target that can’t fight back, but if it doesn’t serve an actual strategic point then why bother? Sure, you might shore up some support among the dwindling older segments of your base, but young conservatives are leaning more moderate, if not outright liberal on social issues. They’re already less likely to identify as Republicans than their parents, presumably out of embarrassment for things like this. Wanna make that dissociation worse with nothing to show for it?

I’m of the opinion that the Wage and Hour Act – the part of HB2 that authorizes all of this – is intended to serve as a test bed for future legislative pushes in other states. If anything, HB2 is more honest in its actual intent than the RFRAs and its equivalents in other states – it actually includes the real long-term goal right there in the bill’s text, sandwiched between assorted slabs of nonsense aimed at hurting transgendered people. It’s not that different from how certain investment firms will propose absolutely ludicrous stuff to distract from attempts at splitting a company’s land ownership from their actual business, thereby forcing them to pay rent to themselves and increasing the firm’s profits in the process.

In horribly simple, probably not very accurate story terms, it’s a form of flaw exploitation. You know your opponents will focus on this one thing. Why the hell wouldn’t you try to make use of that to do something else?

And to be fair, it is within a state’s rights as a governing entity to overturn local laws for pretty much any reason. However, it’s worth noting that while most state legislatures right now are dominated by conservatives, a fair number of cities have been getting more and more liberal lately, oftentimes leading the way on certain social issues (see the many pushes for $15-an-hour minimum wage laws, especially in places like New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC; success there pretty much guarantees a measure of success elsewhere).

Now let’s look at this and say I’m a conservative political strategist and I can’t make headway in these major cities for whatever reason. I’m in this for the long haul so my next best bet is to stymie my urban rivals via state legislatures. Since a lot of my base voters don’t actually care about, or even stand to benefit from, minimum wage increases, I’ll wrap my actual goals up in something else, like pro-gun laws or religious freedom.

Odds are pretty good I’ll chant states’ rights and yell really loud about federal encroachment while I do it.


Batman vs. Superman Review

It took me about a week but I finally got around to seeing Batman vs. Superman.

I gotta say it was alright. Perhaps even terminally Alright. I wouldn’t call it a critical meh, but it wasn’t without its flaws. To paraphrase a review I gave it on Facebook: Go see it if you’re a DC fan. If you’re more into Marvel, specifically Marvel’s cinematic universe (with or without the Sony/Fox stuff), skip it.

There’ll be some spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned. I’m also a pretty gentle reviewer on comic book movies, so consider yourself warned there as well.

Just pausing to say this was a better Batgirl than Barbara Gordon. Fight me.

Ben Affleck was downright good as Bruce Wayne/Batman, thereby finally earning my forgiveness for the dumpster fire that was his Daredevil movie. He was actually one of the best parts of the movie and did a really good job carrying it overall, even with the bits that weren’t so good. They did something positively revolutionary this day and age by not blowing half the damn film on his freaking backstory, which allowed him to do so much more than he otherwise would have. The on-the-ground depiction of Bruce trying to keep up with Superman v. Zod from the first film was some of the best storytelling I’ve seen in a super hero flick; all that helpless anger was perfectly conveyed. The fact that he was willing to straight-up obliterate people was oddly refreshing, and drew a nice contrast to Superman’s freakout over killing Zod in the first movie.

Gal Gadot, though her screen time was sadly limited and her role was a little tacked on at times, radiated Wonder Woman when she was finally given the chance to throw down near movie’s end. She was okay before that, but when she started hacking bits off the Final Bad, getting chucked through buildings and grinning at the thrill of battle, I actually believed it. She fit. She was Diana, exiled Princess of the Amazons. I’d gladly support her starring in a Wonder Woman movie and hope she gets one.

BvS probably had one of the best Alfreds in the character’s history. He really sold the guy as Bruce Wayne’s grumpy surrogate father, up to and including the harping on Bruce’s life choices. I was pleasantly surprised by Lex Luthor – in no small part because he arguably wasn’t Lex Luthor. Alexander Luthor is a completely different character from the Lex that most people know and feel emotions about, and he really played the Magnificent Bastard aspects of his character to the hilt. Mega points for straight-up deducing Superman’s identity and hitting Clark right in the Kents. He slipped some towards the end, being reduced to a frothy, crazy, Hollywood atheist shadow of his earlier greatness, but I didn’t hold that against him. Luthor always has flimsy motivations when you peel enough layers off. It’s a core aspect of who he is.

Lois Lane was forgettable. I poke at government enough to have found her arc completely unbelievable, and not in an enthralling way. The continuity nods were nice though, and the actress tried to do her best with what she was given, but she was there to serve as an Achilles’ Heel and emotional enabler, not much else. Martha Kent getting dragged in was the real shocker, and one that I as a very jaded viewer did not see coming at all. Kudos to them for going after Superman’s mom and, at least briefly, seeming like they were going to kill her; that almost got me as much as the neckbreak from Man of Steel.

Henry Cavill, sadly, was the weakest member of the cast. He had a bad case of Hayden Christensen Syndrome: The guy is pretty much perfect for the role – he has the look, the presence, the body language, and the silent acting skills to give a stellar performance under the right circumstances – but the dialogue they gave him felt bad and Cavill himself felt like he knew it and had given up on trying to do better with it. At times, this made sense (re: Superman threatening Batman in their first meeting – of course it’d be lame, the guy’s a freaking boy scout trying to intimidate a back alley crank who burns his logo into people’s skin). Most of the time, not so much. He shined the most when he was allowed to be vulnerable, with the sole, glaring exception of when he went 1993 on Doomsday’s ass with the spear. They didn’t do a good enough job building up to that.

They didn’t do a good enough job building up to a lot of things. And I expected as much. I just didn’t expect how.

I said early on – about the same time I heard they were bringing in Luthor and Wonder Woman – that DC and Warner Brothers were trying to do too much with this film. And they were. It would have worked as either a Superman film (exploring his personality, weaknesses, failures, etc) or as a Batman film (which it mostly was; exploring an angry, desperate mortal trying to bring down a living god) or as both, but not with the add-ons. Luthor and Doomsday are headlining acts. You can’t just stick them on the sidelines until you need Clark and Bruce to be buddy-buddy. Wonder Woman felt somewhat tacked on at times, but might or might not have fit in a different movie; jury’s out on that. Trying to cram all that and then throw in build-up to the Justice League (Flash’s time travel, the meta human videos, etc) was just too much.

DC is trying to replicate Marvel’s success without putting in the footwork, and without generating movies that can absolutely stand on their own even without a huge blob of continuity behind them. That might work in the very long run – they’re doing arc-welding a helluva lot more tightly than Marvel did, for better or worse – but it’s going to make for weaker individual films that might threaten the whole project.

In a lot of ways, this almost mirrors the difference between Marvel and DC in comics. DC’s issues are often individually weaker, but if you read them all in grand arcs, they blow Marvel out the water. They’re written for the trade paperback, not the monthly. Marvel does it differently. Their individual issues are often better in one way or another, but their grand arcs have a sad habit of falling flat far more often than DC’s do. There are, of course, exceptions on both sides.

The other big flaw was that they just made up in an instant and Bruce’s after-combat guilt wasn’t really explored at all. I get why, but they didn’t really spend any time on it. It felt rushed, and not in a good oh-shit-we-all-might-die-if-we-don’t-team-up way.

Aside from that, yeah. Plot holes, real or imagined, ran a little rampant (like what the heck happened to Batman’s cyber-suit, for starters), but I’m willing to forgive them. As continuity-heavy as DC is compared to Marvel, some of them will probably come back to be explained in future movies.

And the very ending, with the coffin, was just way off, dude. If you wanna put that much effort into a downer finale, you don’t blow it in the final second of the film like that. You save it, you build up dramatic tension in a sequel, and you have Luthor play god by reviving god to kill something worse.

Either way, I’m looking forward to the next one. Hopefully they’ll do better with it, hopefully they won’t go Super Jesus again, and hopefully they’ll give Batfleck and Gadot Woman movies of their own in the meantime.