Politicon 2015

Over this last weekend was the first of what will hopefully be an annual Politicon in downtown Los Angeles. The event was billed as “the Comic Con of politics,” and I would say it lived up to that name. There were a lot of big names in attendance including Newt Gingrich, David Axelrod, James Carville, Ann Coulter, Hugh Hewitt, Larry Elder, Cenk Uygur, Paul Begala, Edward Snowden, Trevor Noah, Jefferey Ross, Ben Shapiro, Milo Yiannopolous and much, much more. Here’s an attempt at a Jay Nordlinger style impromptu.

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 Day one

– First thing that strikes me is that it feels a bit empty. But, a lot of the rooms ended up crowded and standing room only. First stop was Kamala Harris at Politico Playbook California. Harris is going to be Barbara Boxer’s successor as Senator, and there won’t be much of a difference on issues. Hopefully she’ll be a lot less arrogant, though.

Harris was asked to address sanctuary cities and her response was that sanctuary cities exist because D.C. has not done comprehensive immigration reform. Figure that one out.

– Stopped over at the 870 The Answer room to catch some of Hugh Hewitt’s broadcast. A guy near me pulled out a recorder and loudly started talking into it about money and corporations and corporations and money and right wing talk radio and right wing talk radio corporations with money.

Some event staff asked him to be respectful and keep it down, to which he loudly responded “this is a public event and I have every right to practice my constitutional rights!” A couple of LAPD officers came in and asked him to step outside for a word, so he blustered his way out.

– At the Breitbart panel Alex Marlow, Robert Davi, Ben Shapiro and Milo Yiannopoulos were talking about Hollywood’s influence on politics and public opinion, launching off from Andrew Breitbart’s aphorism that politics is downstream from culture.

Robert Davi shared some insight on what it’s like being a conservative in Hollywood. He explained that the biggest downside isn’t usually outright hostility, but it’s what doesn’t happen that can hurt you. It’s the parties and functions – where a lot of business is done – that you don’t get invited to.

Milo predicted that Hollywood’s days of influence are numbered because people are turning to the internet and video games for their entertainment rather than the content put out by the traditionally powerful Hollywood studios. He says video games will help wear away the Left’s influence on Millennials because while you may start a game as a character who has been wronged, there is no game in which you are a victim. Thus, narratives of victimhood will have less purchase in the media, movies and TV. I hope he’s right.

Oh, and the same lefty heckler that made a scene at Hewitt’s broadcast was there, too. He said things during the Q&A which are too dumb and boring to repeat.

– I sat in on the “Women, Islamists and Islamophobia” panel with Ani Zonneveld, Mona Eltahawy and Nina Burleigh for a bit, but it was too slogan-y for my taste. Lots of F-bombs coming from those ladies as well.

– The “Religious Freedom: From Bakeries to Courthouses” debate between Clay Aiken and Brad Dacus was the least boring sounding choice for a while, and it was ok. I can’t say I learned anything but it was a civil discussion between two guys with completely opposite views.

– The next one was very interesting. Steven Ross was recording an episode of Spycast about his upcoming book dealing with Nazi spies in Southern California and the top secret Jewish spy ring that foiled their plots. I was unaware that SoCal was such a hotbed of Nazi activity and that LA was so big in the Nazi’s plans. Definitely watch for that book when it comes out. (No title yet.)

– I closed out the night with the USC – UCLA debate on US involvement in Syria. As a lifelong Bruins fan, it pains me to say that USC won. UCLA basically took the John McCain position, USC said we can’t trust any of the groups on the ground and our sole involvement should be protecting our NATO ally Turkey.

Day 2

– The second day was busier and more crowded. I started with the Edward Snowden interview. (I walked past Jose Antonio Vargas on the way in. He was punchable as ever. I hope Donald Trump deports him first and does it live on television.) It was conducted by The Yes Men who are performance artists/comedians. They began by saying breaking news had just come through that Snowden was granted a Presidential pardon that morning and he had been flown in just hours ago. So, since he was going to do the interview by Skype anyway, he chose to make Politicon his first US public appearance since his return.

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A Snowden look-alike came out and pretended to start the interview. People rushed up to get some photos. Everyone was faked out for a second, me included. As people started realizing it was a gag, the real Edward Snowden came on the big screen and said “hey guys, is this a bad time?”

One point for The Yes Men. Snowden didn’t say anything he hasn’t said in all his other interviews.

– David Zucker of Airplane! and Naked Gun fame was sharing some old film clips and political ads he has made over the years. He also talked about his transition from left to right. His story was a familiar, yet still very important one. It was 9-11 that was the big turning point in his life, and he couldn’t sympathize with liberals and Democrats anymore after he saw their response to the attacks. Some of the clips he showed:

– David Axelrod (who got Obama elected), Paul Begala (who got Clinton elected), Alex Castellanos (who got Bush 43 elected) and Democratic pollster Paul Maslin took the stage to discuss foreign campaigns they were hired to advise. They spent most of the time sharing some very interesting stories and what they think America can learn from and export to other countries in our respective electoral processes.

My big takeaway from this was that even though American elections can descend into utter silliness and stupidity, the process is actually very clean and straightforward in a global context. Political violence and assassinations, for example, are very rare here but somewhat common around the world.

– “Lol-itics: Using Comedy to Eviscerate Political Apathy” sounded pretty fun. I was wrong. The panel was one of the creators of The Daily Show, a writer from Last Week Tonight and some others. All of them under the impression that snarky means funny.

I have never understood why The Daily Show was held up as the standard of political comedy. It’s just slapstick. I like slapstick sometimes, and The Daily Show was better than that sometimes. But let’s stop pretending it was a lot smarter and deeper than it actually was. Last Week Tonight is better, but not by much.

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– I moved over to one of the big attractions of the convention – “Deconstructing ’16” with Newt Gingrich, James Carville, David Axelrod and Alex Castellanos. The hall was packed and it got very raucous. At one point Newt was talking about two parties and mentioned how the Democrats could be on their way to electing their first openly socialist candidate, to which most of the audience broke out in a loud, long, uproariously depressing applause.

Newt and Carville went back and forth on all sorts of things, but hell if I know what the Ragin’ Cajun was saying.

– Next door was the one on one with Cenk Uygur and Ann Coulter. I’ll just say it’s great that people still don’t get how she trolls. I was standing in the back watching and listening to the audience. Man, it was brutal some of the comments I heard. Ann is one of the bravest women in American media.

– The Obama campaign retrospective was a snoozefest. Not because I voted against Obama both times, it was just very boring hearing the panel pat themselves on the back.

– I caught another panel with Ann Coulter with Joe Klein, Steven Olikara, Cristobal Joshua Alex and Dan Spencer called “Refugees VS Immigrants: Is There A Difference?” This one was far more civil and interesting. Cristobal was talking about how we are the world and let’s just accept everyone and be nice. Ann was being a big meanie. Joe Klein was somewhere in between, making good sense about half the time. The other guys pretty much faded into the background while those three went at it.

– It was time for a little bit of history (not too distant history) so I popped into the Stars and Stripes Theater for the screening of “Best of Enemies” which tells the story of the William F. Buckley – Gore Vidal rivalry. The doc spent a lot of time on the ’68 debates, naturally, but it also dove into a lot of the context of what was happening in the country, the media and the two men’s lives.

Those debates are interesting in that they are simultaneously great television and the beginning of terrible television. It was the first version of the yelling matches you see on CNN, Fox and the rest of cable news entertainment. But, those Buckley/Vidal debates were a perfect balance in that there were two very erudite men and iconoclastic individuals taking the gloves off and having at each other while remaining substantive, charming and witty. It’s still a great model for what TV debates should be like. There are what I thought were a few cheap shots at Buckley, but it’s a very well done documentary that you should see.

5Larry telling everyone he’s here so it’s time to cut it out with the black jokes (really). 

I closed out the night and the event with another AM 870 The Answer panel with Barak Lurie, Ben Shapiro and the Sage of South Central, the Czar of Common Sense, the Prince of Pico-Union, the Great Elderski, the one and only Don Lorenzo, Larry Elder. I grew up with Larry Elder on in the car and he’s one of the reasons I’m a hateful right wing bigot – you might say I’m an Elder Baby – so it was great to see him live and meet him afterwards.

They discussed everything from the 2016 race to the Iran deal. I got in the last question during the Q&A and I asked them if they think events like Politicon will have any effect on California’s political climate since there seemed to be a lot of good cross-pollenization going on, and a lot of the LA leftys who came saw, maybe for the first time, people like Ann Coulter, Hugh Hewitt, Larry Elder etc. They were all of the opinion that nothing will change in California until there is a crisis that comes hard and fast is felt widely. Unfortunately, I think they’re right. Oh well, it was fun and I hope to do it again next year.

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