‘Smoke-filled rooms’ would have been a blessing in 2016


On a previous post, one of our regulars (Bart) made a reference to “smoke filled room politics” that was, as usual when the phrase comes up, somewhat disparaging.

I’m going to run against the grain here, although I’m not claiming this as an original thought by a long shot…

This is the year in which we could have used some “smoke-filled-room politics.” We wouldn’t have been in nearly the fix we are in.

First, we absolutely would not have Trump as the GOP nominee. It would never have come even close to happening. Nor would Cruz have ever been a possibility. Had GOP leaders been able to meet behind closed doors and choose the nominee, we’d have ended up with Jeb or maybe, if the party elders had wanted to be bold and reach out to a new generation, Rubio. Or if they’d deadlocked and we got really lucky, John Kasich.

Kasich. That would have been great. And Jeb or even Rubio wouldn’t have been bad at all. Nightmare averted.

The difference on the Democratic side wouldn’t have been nearly as dramatic. Hillary would still have been the nominee (unless the leaders, worried about her baggage, had prevailed upon Joe Biden to accept their nod). But… and this is not a difference to sneeze at… Bernie would never have been a factor, even for an instant. Most of us would probably still not know his name, unless we were into trivia. And the impact of that? Hillary would not have been pulled to the left, and she’d be running a far more solid, viable general election campaign reminiscent of her husband’s embrace of the Third Way in the 90s.

So we’d be better off all around. We wouldn’t be staring into a black hole of despair on the Republican side, and the Democratic candidate would be more appealing to a broader swath of the country.

But perhaps you disagree…

40 thoughts on “‘Smoke-filled rooms’ would have been a blessing in 2016

  1. Claus

    So you’ve got the GOP figured out, too bad you came to the conclusion that Hillary Clinton is the best the Democrats have got.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Not the best, but the only viable person who ran. It would have been great if Biden had run, but it’s hard to blame him for wanting to stay out of it…

  2. Karen Pearson

    If they held the “smoke filled rooms” in Colorado, they might be calmer and generally more pleasant.

  3. David Carlton

    So you really think the big problem with Clinton is that she’s running too far to the left? Sorry, Brad, but that makes no sense. First, the big problem with Clinton is that people don’t trust her; I personally think that’s largely the product of a quarter-century of mostly bogus assaults on her character, but whatever. Second, she’s not really that far left; she’s feinted in that direction because she needs to shore up her left flank, but she’s not all that different from Obama, who’s basically center-left, whatever demonic fantasists might think. Third, I can’t imagine that some sort of Third Way campaign would work in this day and age. The DLC-led strategy of the 1990s made sense *then*; old-style Great Society liberalism had fallen into disrepute, and a new party strategy had to be developed to restore a place for positive government among voters suspicious of government because it was seen as eroding traditional cultural values and redistributing wealth to Those People. Well, such voters are still around, but (a) they’re firm Republicans who are ready to put a raging cantaloupe into the White House, and (b) they’re no longer decisive in elections. The issues confronting the country, too, are quite different; for that reason, not only is the DLC defunct, but the old DLCers have largely moved leftward themselves. Different times call for different approaches. There is no “center” to speak of any more; the right is both increasingly marginalized and impossible to woo. The future of the Democratic Party thus lies to the leftward, with all those young people and nonwhite people who reject cultural conservatism and think that issues such as economic inequality are important. One doesn’t want to pander too much to the left, but you can’t ignore them either (and isn’t that why you like the smoked-filled rooms? Because the *guys* in there look and think like you, and ignore the people you want to see ignored?). Actually, I think Clinton has done what she needs to do: create a broad center-left coalition that at the same time offers a clear alternative, not only to the Raging Cantaloupe, but to a Republicanism that is so intellectually exhausted, so wedded to the interests of the One Percent, that it can only have a chance at mass support by appealing to white tribalism–which is why we have the Raging Cantaloupe to begin with.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      “There is no ‘center’ to speak of any more…”

      I’m still here! I’m right here!

      But David — you and I have some great conversations, but you really have this penchant for insulting me in the most unfair ways…

      and isn’t that why you like the smoked-filled rooms? Because the *guys* in there look and think like you, and ignore the people you want to see ignored?

      Really, THAT’s what you think of me?

      There are plenty of ways you could trash me that might stick, but the “guys who look and think like you” one is as far off the mark as you can get. This is one of the reasons why I don’t get the appeal of Identity Politics. I just don’t SEE people like me when I look around. Anyway, it’s a subject I’ve gone on and on about in the past, and rather than repeat myself, I’ll just link you to this column version from 2008.

      It’s particularly off the mark in THIS case. The people who gather in these smoke-filled rooms would be NOTHING like me, and not just because of my asthma. Think! We’re talking about PARTY people here. And you and I have gone round and round on what I think about parties.

      But I would trust party leaders, in their own self-interest, to pick strong candidates with broad appeal. That’s why I think such gatherings would be salutary for the polis. Of course, I’m assuming the bosses would be pragmatic types instead of true-believer ideologues — Nucky Thompson types — and that may be the big flaw in my thesis.

      As for Hillary running to the “left” as Sanders followers would define “left”…

      I wrote that right after having heard something on the radio today. Someone said something to President Obama about both Donald and Hillary opposing TPP, to which the president responded, “Right now, I’m president and I’m for it and I think I’ve got the better argument.

      Yes, he is, and yes, he does.

      So did Hillary Clinton before she decided she had to pander to the Sanders/Occupy Wall Street crowd. This pull away from sound, mature policy and toward know-nothing populism is one of the better examples of what I’m talking about when I speak of the harm Sanders has done to the Democratic ticket…

      1. bud

        Sorry Brad, I’ve known centrists. I’m a good friend with centrists. You are no centrist. Frankly you’re about as extreme as anyone I know on several issues. (1) War. Seriously man your views on Iraq just take my breath away they were so extreme. And you don’t condemn the drones, continue to advocate for more and more and more interventions. Want an even bigger military. You even said that it was a good idea to invade Iraq even absent the WMD!!!! That’s not centrist, that’s insanely extremist. (2) Abortion. Very few people argue for the prohibition of abortion even in cases of rape and incest. I agree its an intellectually consisten point of view. After all a life is a life regardless of how it came to be. Still, it’s an extremist position. (3) Healthcare. You advocate for single payer. I actually agree with you on this one but it’s still extremist. (4) Gay marriage. At one time the marriage between and man and woman was pretty centrist. Today it’s extremist. I assume you still advocate for that. (5) Blue Laws. Until the day they were finally eradicated in Lexington County you still clung to the very extremist idea that these were a good thing. Plus, you voted for Sarah Palin. Now that’s extremist. 🙂

        1. Harry Harris

          Very good, but you failed to mention the elitism that would lead one to favor party-chosen senators over popular election, question the right of less-informed citizens to vote, and speak well of “smoke filled rooms.” Normally favoring candidates who would give further advantage to the oligarchs and disparaging Sanders and his supporters as extremists are hardly indicators of centrism.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Dang, dang, dang! I wrote this somewhat involved, extremely insightful comment a little while ago on my iPad, and lost wifi in the middle of saving it. Let me see if I can reconstruct…

            Of course I’m a centrist, to the point that the term has meaning (more on that in a second). I’m an adherent of the postwar governing consensus, the area that Clinton and Blair tried to get us back to in the 90s. I disagree with those who would pull us way from it.

            That said, “left,” “right” and “center” are fairly silly terms. I really don’t HAVE a comfortable place on the artificial left-right continuum, and trying to place me, or anyone who THINKS about issues rather than buying them off the shelf prepackaged, can present problems. But since I’m not “left” or “right,” “center” is a convenient term to use.

            It’s also convenient because I am for CORE values, not those on the fringes. Here’s what I mean by that…

            Government is about solving problems together, or at least efficiently providing those basic functions that we have general agreement government should handle. So I’m interested in areas where the parties overlap, not the areas where they pull away from consensus. We need to identify and build upon those areas where we can work together. And if we get good enough at that, maybe we can branch out to some of the tough subjects.

            For that reason, I generally don’t like dealing with Culture War stuff, and get upset when it looks like an election is going to be about such things. Bud says, for instance, he assumes I “still advocate” for traditional marriage. I wasn’t aware I HAD been advocating on that subject. Likewise Blue Laws. At one point I mad a gentle, passing reference to the fact that opposition to blue laws is one of the sillier overinterpretations of the 1st Amendment’s Establishment clause. Having an sensible agreement to have a day without commerce and hustle-bustle is hardly thrusting a particular form of religion on anyone. It’s just a gesture to basic human sanity. And I say that whenever Doug and Bud bring it up, which they do a LOT, because such a sensible suggestion is DEEPLY offensive to their libertarian reflexes. But I can’t recall advocating or campaigning for such.

            Seriously, when I start campaigning for something, everyone can tell.

            But back to my point — I don’t see it as productive to invest a lot of political capital in those things, because the fights over them drive us apart and make it harder to agree on the things that should be easy.

            The problem these days is that the parties and associated interest groups have polarized us so much that the area of consensus has gotten smaller and smaller.

            Bud thinks this is a GREAT year. Well, in a couple of ways it is, but not the ways he thinks.

            First, among thoughtful, informed participants and observers, there’s a greater willingness to step about from the stupid left-right, Democratic-Republican dichotomy and consider candidates on their merits. Once people do that, you see the Bushes (whom Bud despises so much), Graham, Sasse, Romney, et al., distancing themselves from Trump or opposing him outright. The latest encouraging manifestation of that is Meg Whitman declaring for Hillary, and the formation of a PAC to encourage Republicans to vote for the lesser of two weevils.

            Sure, there are still plenty of Republicans out there who think this is a normal, left-v.-right election and anyone who would support anyone but Trump is a liberal Democrat and therefore the enemy. But I prefer to celebrate the people out there who GET IT.

            Also, with Trump as their standard-bearer the GOP has so abandoned the flag-and-country ground that the Democrats were able to co-opt it and position themselves as the party of traditional patriotism last week. In other words, the Dems celebrated the things that USED TO unite us all, rather than just concentrating on differences (the usual Identity Politics and class warfare stuff).

            These are positive developments, to a “centrist” like me…

            1. Doug Ross

              “Having an sensible agreement to have a day without commerce and hustle-bustle is hardly thrusting a particular form of religion on anyone. ”

              My only response to a statement like that is: “What are you smoking?”
              The day without commerce is Sunday. And the reason the blue laws were implemented were specifically for religious reasons. Those who enacted the laws weren’t concerned with the “hustle-bustle”, they were concerned with church attendance and following a strict interpretation of the bible. They didn’t pick Wednesday. And your desire for everyone else (except apparently people who produce Sunday newspapers) to have a day off really has no bearing on what choices other people make. This is the ultimate “let me tell you what you should do” view of the world that isn’t about being a centrist or wanting people to work together to find a solution. It’s about Brad telling Doug and bud what they SHOULD do. That is the fundamental basis of your political thought – using the government to control the behaviors of others – no school vouchers, no abortion, wear seat belts or be fined, single payer healthcare, blue laws, gay marriage.

              1. Doug Ross

                And isn’t the fact that pretty much anyone who has a job DOES have at least one day off a week from work eliminate the need to mandate a SPECIFIC day?

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Nope. We need a day when no one could possibly expect us to do work and get things done. A day when the streets are quiet. A day when we can’t run out and pick up something at the store because they’re closed.

                  Just pick a day. Make it Monday if you like, and it’s SO important to you to demonstrate that religion isn’t involved. Saturday or Sunday would be less disruptive, since so many people already take those off, but if you can get a consensus to form around Monday (a day people hate working on already), more power to you…

                2. Doug Ross

                  I don’t want to pick a day for someone else. It’s none of my business what other people want to do.

                  And until you suggest that newspapers stop publishing on Sunday’s, I don’t believe you’re serious. How many jobs are you willing to see lost by your extremist view?

                3. Brad Warthen Post author

                  And of course, that’s the core problem. You object to the idea of rules that apply to all. You object to the basic organizing principle of representative democracy — that someone makes rules for all…

                4. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Oh, and regarding this…

                  “until you suggest that newspapers stop publishing on Sunday…”

                  What newspaper people do on SUNDAY is put out the MONDAY paper, not the Sunday paper. And I think doing away with Monday papers would be fine. There’s nothing in them anyway.

                  Which is a sore point for me. It points to laziness. There was a period at The State, before editorial, when I had Sunday duty on a regular basis. Somehow, I always managed to find something to cover and get some significant NEWS into the paper. Most editors who have weekend duty are content to just plug in the boring evergreen stories that were left behind for them on Friday just to fill Monday space. Even a layman should be able to tell that by looking at the Monday paper. I was never content to do that…

                  But finding news on Sunday isn’t easy, I’ll grant. (And why? Because we still have a fairly firm consensus that we don’t want to do stuff on Sunday.) And for the most part, everyone would be fine without a Monday paper…

              2. Brad Warthen Post author

                “This is the ultimate “let me tell you what you should do” view of the world that isn’t about being a centrist or wanting people to work together to find a solution. It’s about Brad telling Doug and bud what they SHOULD do”

                Actually, it’s about me thinking that y’all’s extreme irritation at the idea of there being rules that you have to abide by is ridiculous.

                Having a generally agreed-upon day off is no big deal, but y’all think it is. And I can’t resist noting what an overreaction that is.

                1. Doug Ross

                  You’re joking, right? Who :generally agreed” that there has to be a specific day off when stores are closed? It didn’t happen — or if it did, it was in the context of religious beliefs of a select few people.

                  You think you’re being benevolent but it’s about pushing your views on someone else. If I run a business and want to sell something on Sunday, it doesn’t matter what you and the rest of the “general” public think. Why is that so hard for you to grasp?

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    “a select few people?” Really? It wouldn’t have been Buddhists, Doug. To the extent that it was a religious thing, it was a consensus thing. Come on; you’re losing the thread of the classic libertarian argument here. You’re supposed to say, “What’s wrong is that the majority was imposing its religious practices on the nonChristian minority.” Saying it was “a select few” doesn’t make sense from ANY perspective. Consult your playbook.

                    But for me it’s not a religion thing. It’s me thinking people over-reacting to the historic association with religion is ridiculous.

                    Remember, Bud brought this up. And whenever he does so, in his usual hyperbolic terms, I just can’t help dissenting…

                2. Doug Ross

                  A consensus of whom? A few political leaders with strong Christian beliefs who felt the need to impose them on others, It wasn’t put to the vote of the general public (spare me the representative government excuse).

                  It’s the same “consensus” that put laws on the books regarding interracial marriage, sodomy, gambling, etc. All those laws look archaic now and those who hold onto the idea that it is their duty to enforce their beliefs on others are thankfully in the very small minority of sanctimonious busy bodies.

                  But, no, keep pushing for that day of rest. Shut down hotels, restaurants, theme parks, movie theaters, television and radio stations, police and fire departments, hospitals, pharmacies, and any other business currently open on Sunday for the day. We can all sit around and, I don’t know, contemplate our navels or read from the Good Book. As long as you can stop me from buying a pair of pants on Sunday, we’re all better off.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    Again, I’m not “pushing” anything. I’m just pointing out that it’s silly for you and Bud to get so worked up about it.

                    And there was no “few” to it. Politicians in this country do their best to attune their policies to the liking of the majority of their constituents — as you’re always telling me about things they do that I don’t like — and they always have.

                    While most people wanted us to have blue laws, we had them. When most people didn’t want them anymore, we didn’t have them anymore. Them’s the breaks.

                    It’s no big deal. It’s just if you ask me, I prefer to have them. The world is too much with us

              3. Brad Warthen Post author

                If you want to insist it’s about religion, fine, let’s talk religion for a moment.

                Here’s what Jesus told us about the Sabbath: He told us it wasn’t a God thing, and we should chill about it. He said it was a basically humanistic thing. To the people who wanted to make a big pedantic thing about it, with obsessive rules about what we could and couldn’t do because GOD had mandated it, he said, “The Sabbath was made for Man, not Man for the Sabbath.”

                So just be cool, people. It’s about relaxing, not getting all uptight…

                1. Doug Ross

                  And we already have that. Nobody works 7 days of the week. So what’s the point if it’s not about Sunday being the day of rest according to Jesus? All blue laws should be abolished.

      2. Bill

        Quoth Brad:

        “The Center, c’est moi!”

        Problem is, on many issues, he’s definitely NOT at the center of the political spectrum.

        1. Doug Ross

          It’s an average of all views that makes Brad think he’s a centrist. “I’m far, far, right on war and abortion but far, far, left on single payer and amnesty for illegals. So that makes me a centrist!”

          The libertarian view is truly the centrist view. Socially liberal, fiscally conservative, and non-interventionist covers more people than the right or left do.

  4. JesseS

    With the GOP I see it kind of like the NRA. It’s insular in that it opposes change. It’s structured to avoid change and embrace self-destruction before letting any of those dirty hippies near the tree house. It’s open in that it lets the crazies run wild –mostly to prevent more change.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Whatever happened to John Cusack? I enjoyed him in the recent “Love and Mercy,” but that was hardly in the same classic-Cusack vein as “Say Anything,” “Grosse Pointe Blank,” or “High Fidelity.”

        Lately, it seems like he has tended to play dark hit-man types — like Martin Blank without the humor…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          He did an interesting turn as Nixon in “The Butler.” But that was just like, I don’t know, something you do on a dare. There was none of the Cusack flash in it, not a trace of Lloyd Dobler and his “nervous talking thing:”

  5. bud

    I would have to disagree strongly with the theme of this post. This year might turn out to be the most successful in terms of the good of the country in my lifetime. We actually have a chance, thanks to the success of Trump, to eradicate the odious Republican party in its current form. Perhaps out of the ashes of this dead party a new and reasonable party can rise to take it’s place. That would not have happened with the nomination of Jeb Bush. Shudder the thought of another Bush in the White House. Not sure even Donald Trump makes my skin crawl quite as much as that. Plus, the whole Bernie movement has indeed worked to move the Democratic party in a positive direction. Sadly it didn’t go far enough given the excessive militaristic bravado on display at the convention. Still, the important issues related to income inequality are now part of the platform. Consequently I’m very much an optimist going into the election. And the smoke filled rooms should remain in the dust heap of history where they belong.

    1. Bart

      bud, thanks to you and others like you, by your own admission, each one contributed to Trump’s success by crossing over and voting for him in the primary. Sanders and Clinton supporters wanted to insure the worst possible candidate from the Republican field won the nomination and with your assistance, he did. If the estimated percentages are accurate, just in South Carolina, approximately 30%+ crossed over and voted for Trump. Brad deleted my earlier comment about how I view crossover voting for the purpose of helping a candidate like Trump to win so I won’t repeat it. Maybe this will give you and idea of how I feel about it. 🙁 to the 10th power.

      Now we have one Donald J. Trump as the Republican nominee and he is performing just as expected, a bull in a china shop and no one to stop him from destroying civility, honor, truth, and all of the other traits we expect or at least hope for in our candidates for POTUS.

      He has no respect for opinions other than his own and in the end, he will destroy a large segment of the Republican party much to the delight of Democrats, liberals, and avowed socialists like Sanders. Out the window goes any sense of balance once Trump completes the task he has been chosen to accomplish. Donald Trump has never been a Republican and never will be. He is an opportunist with a message that appeals to voters who truly believe he can “Make America Great Again” and ones who truly believe they have been disenfranchised. Don’t look too close but there are a lot more of them out there than you think.

        1. Bart

          bud, you have my apology for the mistake and make no excuses for it. It was a misread on my part and I take your word for it. If anything, you have always been honest and truthful about your position on issues.

          Thank you,


    1. Bart


      My comment was based on an article I read after the primaries and I am trying to find it to support my comment. If I cannot, then I will apologize to you as I did to bud. The one thing I do not want to do is to offer inaccurate information or something I cannot support with backup. I place a high value on accuracy and when I am not, I do not run away from owning up to it.

  6. Dave

    Presumably that smoke-filled room better not have included South Carolina’s Lieutenant Governor. Because after a week in which Trump attacked a Gold Star mother, called Hillary Clinton the devil, implied that Khizr Khan wants Muslim terrorists to come into the U.S., taken a soldier’s Purple Heart and said he was happy to have taken it and gotten one the easy way, been revealed to want to use nuclear weapons, and I’m sure I’m forgetting any number of other things, the sum total of Henry McMaster’s response to this is:

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      “I’m sure I’m forgetting any number of other things.”

      Yeah, you forgot about him lashing out at the baby.

      And refusing to endorse Ryan and McCain, after they suppressed their consciences sufficiently to endorse him…

Comments are closed.