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December 23, 2022
Positively Dreadful
You've Got Mailbag

In This Episode

Erin Ryan joins Brian Beutler in a special mailbag episode to answer your questions about democracy, Republican obstruction, Kyrsten Sinema, and the best movies of the year.




Brian Beutler: Hi everyone welcome to Positively Dreadful with me your host, Brian Beutler. Good news. There will be no interminable introduction today because it’s our last show of the year. And so instead of talking about a thing, we’re going to break new ground in podcasting by opening the mailbag and taking a bunch of your questions. My dance partner for today is Crooked Media’s very own queen of Hysteria. And very smart question answerer, Erin Ryan. 


Erin Ryan: Hi. Hi. I’m excited to be here. 


Brian Beutler: Yeah, it’s great. I was, like, super excited when this idea came up in our in our secret, Positively Dreadful planning meetings. And now it’s happening. 


Erin Ryan: Yay. 


Brian Beutler: So I’m not going to pretend that, like, I’m getting these questions cold because I’m actually going to read them. And they’re about half on politics and half on other stuff. So I figure will like, start with the politics, since I can probably answer those more credibly and then switch gears. And then call it a year. How does that sound? 


Erin Ryan: Sounds great. 


Brian Beutler: All right. First question, it’s from Mark, and he asks the following hypothetical events are real concerns with the GOP led House and Democratic Senate. He notes it’s not a complete list, but they are one, we blow through the debt ceiling and crater the world economy and are paralyzed by not having control of both chambers. We, I suppose he means Democrats. Two. We avoid a debt ceiling showdown by striking a catastrophic deal that cuts the welfare state. Three. A parade of impeachments. Four. The Special Select Committee on the laptop from hell. So that’s the preamble. The question is how do Democrats get organized and situated to either contain these situations or stop them before they start? Given that they’re not even interested in raising the debt ceiling with full control of Congress. 


Erin Ryan: Hmm. 


Brian Beutler: Erin? 


Erin Ryan: Yeah. [laughs] Starting out small. 


Brian Beutler: Yeah. 


Erin Ryan: I see. 


Brian Beutler: Democrats. What the fuck? 


Erin Ryan: Uh, this is going to sound a little bit. I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe I’m just. I’ve been a little bit deliberately not engaging with all of the possible doomsday scenarios that are coming up. Because I feel like sometimes when we sit around and, like, ruminate on how things can go the very worst possible way. I feel like sometimes we give them ideas like and by breathing life into like the possibility of something like Republicans knowingly tanking the world economy, that kind of normalizes it in a way. I mean, of course, it’s something we should be worried about. But I also want to think about the way that we talk about news and the way that we approach news and the way that the discourse goes. I think that sometimes just brainstorming doomsday scenarios kind of normalizes them and serves as a kind of beta testing ground in a way. 


Brian Beutler: That’s very high minded of you. I completely disagree. [laughter] I mean, not just because, like, I spend all day, every day, like, in a sweat about what Republicans are going to do and how Democrats are going to get caught flat footed by it. But because, I mean, just in general, like the GOP is a is a is a well-oiled machine of coming up with rat fucking schemes, right? Like it’s kind of what the parties raise on debt is now they’ve done it with the debt ceiling. So there’s nothing new about the debt ceiling or impeachment or whatever that they haven’t already done before. Right. That’s that’s well-trod territory for them. I mean, I can even remember when Democrats lost the House in 2010, there was a whole question about like, well, it’s the Republicans and naturally they’re going to start taking hostages. The debt ceiling is coming up. What are you going to do about it? And I was in a scrum with Harry Reid and someone asked him about it. Maybe it was me. Somebody asked him about it and he said, we want Republicans to have buy in on the debt ceiling and it like set in motion this horrible chain of events that led to Republicans just kneecapping Obama. You know, it was horrible and it was also very foreseeable. And Obama and Democrats in the country would have been just better off with a better understanding of like how hardball Republicans were going to play and in trying to beat them back before they could could get there. And it’s like 12 years later, and it seems like they’re ready to make the same mistakes over again. 


Erin Ryan: Right. 


Brian Beutler: With like, I think some. Some exceptions, there’s there’s glimmers of like lessons learned from the Obama era that I think might prevent us from from hurtling into like a worst case scenario. But. If if I can rant a little bit longer. [laughter] It’s like the main root of my beef with Democrats is that they’ve like generally divorced this question about what to do about Republican nihilism from other questions about how to build the party. Right like. It’s like they think of it as separate from policy questions or other strategy questions. And so when they go out to like find candidates or plan, plan, party strategy, we can sort of take for granted that like, okay, we’re we’re dealing with a party that’s overwhelmingly pro-choice. They’re definitely for making sure that people have health insurance. They would raise the minimum wage if they had the votes. Right. And if the time comes, they’ll be ready to vote on stuff like that. But they never. Factor in the same way. Like what? What can we do to crush Republican authoritarianism? Right. Like, okay, maybe we need to investigate the bejesus out of Donald Trump or shut down debt limit sabotage strategies or, you know, we’re going to need our members to vote to abolish the filibuster, whatever. And so when like time comes to actually engage in partisan conflict with Republicans, they’re just not ready, like not ready to abolish the filibuster, not ready to abolish the debt limit. And so instead of taking care of that stuff now and beating Republicans at their own game, there’s going to be a big, messy thing. And we don’t know how it’s going to shake out. So that’s I think the problem that Mark is alluding to and I agree with it. And with all that said, I still think proactivity is going to be the Democrats best friend. Like they clearly took a pass on being as proactive as possible by not just getting rid of the debt limit now while they still control the House and the Senate. But so when the new Congress gavels in, like the leadership and the White House should all just say our offer is nothing like you will raise the debt limit with us because we’re responsible and it’s the United States of America and we don’t default on our debt. And if you rack the world over it, like, there will be a place in hell for you, but we’re not going to give you anything. And then by dint of having said no, there’s no negotiation here, the extortion scheme will become very clear because Republicans are going to keep saying, well, we demand this. They say, no, we don’t give you anything for this. And if that happens, then like I think there’s a reasonable chance, although who knows that Republicans will just do what they did after the first time Obama screwed this up. Where Obama after that stopped negotiating and Republicans were just like, oh, well, if we can’t trick him into negotiating, then we just actually have to raise the debt limit. The impeachment’s part of the questions. I don’t think you can’t stop House Republicans from doing an impeachment if they want to. But like Senate Democrats could announce their own investigations. Now, like Republicans are out there saying, we’re going investigate this, this, this and this. And like Senate Democrats just want their 51st vote. They could talk about what they’re going to spend their time investigating. And it could be like the $2 billion bribe Saudi Arabia gave to give Jared Kushner or Trump’s tax returns, which just came over to Congress from the IRS. Like whatever Elon Musk is doing with our DMS on Twitter, whatever, like they should say that stuff. The reason, Mark, the questioner knows about the laptop from hell is because Republicans talk about it constantly. So Democrats like, too can play that game. But first, Democrats have to realize that there’s a game being played. 


Erin Ryan: Well, you know, that kind of tired cliche when we talk about Democrats negotiating poorly in Washington as Lucy with the football, like Republicans are Lucy with the football. Why do we have to keep kicking it? I think is is a question you’re asking. Why do we why do we keep letting Lucy think we’re even going to try to kick the football? We don’t have to do that. You know what I mean? Like, I think that your point that they should just not negotiate and be like, this is what we’re doing. You’re raising the debt limit and nothing you get nothing in return because this is just what you’re supposed to do. I think that’s the that’s the right move. I also think to the, to the laptop criminal investigation and the impeachment investigation, my view on what I actually think that Republicans having the House is giving Republicans a great opportunity to make sure that 2024 is a blowout in favor of Democrats. This is like keeping them on that on the national stage, keeping them being as goat rodeo as possible. We know that it’s not going to be a well-run machine. We know that there are going to be people who all they want is attention for themselves. And they don’t really care about party priorities. They just care about getting attention. I don’t think that they are going to be efficient in accomplishing all of those goals. Obstructionism. Yeah. Easy to sit down in the middle of the road and don’t do anything and then you’re obstructing. But it’s a little bit more complicated to navigate through an entire Congress doing these investigations that are already kind of difficult politically to pull off, given the fact that not every single Republican is on board with with the fringes of the party. And do this Hunter Biden laptop investigation. When discussions with Hunter Biden inevitably bring up comparisons between, well, Joe Biden doesn’t even look, doesn’t work. He wasn’t given a government job by his dad. You know, I feel like it’s a it’s a kind of a Streisand effect move by Republicans to try to investigate Hunter Biden. 


Brian Beutler: Yes. If if Democrats do the counter thing and like. Okay, let’s talk about Ivanka and Jared and let’s let’s let’s peel back the layers there. Yeah. You can feel Mitch McConnell like he wants to do it. You’re talking about like. Not let Biden have any more wins. Just kind of sit quietly. Don’t do any more dumb hostage taking. And Kevin McCarthy is just like how like like what Nazi title should I give Marjorie Taylor Greene? Like, she will be our obergruppenführer [laughter] of the House, House Republican Conference. And and McConnell just wants to because he’s been he’s been through this over and over and over again where Republicans like blow their chance to win the next election by acting like shitheads in the current Congress. But you’re right, it just seems like they’re going to do it. And the question is like, given that McCarthy controls the House, but McConnell can only filibuster in the Senate, like what damage is McCarthy going to do? And if it’s like doesn’t raise the debt limit, then. We don’t know what the future’s gonna look like in like any number of ways. So it’s scary and like in, you know, I think we’re not going to negotiate is the second best approach. The best approach is we’re taking this out of your hands because like you don’t get to trifle with us and we have the votes now and then not only is the like the threat diffused, but like you look strong. You won the fight they were threatening to do, like punch you in the face and you, like, beat them to it. And I like I just want the Democrats to be more like that all the time, knowing that Republicans are the way they are. And I probably won’t sleep well until they evolve into that. 


Erin Ryan: I think also, you know, one final thought on this question is right now is not a good time for politicians to look like they’re fucking around with economics. I think average Americans and the conversation about inflation is something that’s really people are talking about a lot people are thinking about it a lot. And if there is a way for Democrats in their messaging to tie Republican stunts to real world pain caused by, you know, cost to American families, I think that’s a way to make it so that Republican constituents are so upset by their representatives because they’re actually hurting. You know, I feel like there’s a messaging piece to this, too, but it’s not just about, you know, people legislatively making moves, negotiating, not negotiating. It’s also about people that are pro-Democrat or speaking about, you know, left wing issues tying Republican malfeasance to actual like I hate the phrase kitchen table issues because it’s so I, I find it to be condescending. But to to the real lives of average Americans who don’t spend 12 hours a day scrolling through Twitter or Mastodon or whatever we’re looking at now to get our news, I think they need to tie it to like real issues that real people experience. 


Brian Beutler: Yeah. Okay. Moving on [?] on Twitter, I don’t know if that’s a handle or like a reference to Street Fighter, I’m sorry to this questioner. After a few days thought, is there any new path to success for Dems regarding indepen-ema, which he defines as Kyrsten Sinema going independent? 


Erin Ryan: Huh? Is there a is there can you read the question again? 


Brian Beutler: Yes. Is there any new path to success for Dems regarding Sinema going independent? I think the question is, is can they figure out a way to like edge her out of politics so that they could run like a regular Democrat in Arizona in the next cycle so that, A, they have a better chance of keeping the seat and B, the new senator won’t be a crazy person. 


Erin Ryan: Yeah, that’s a tall order. But I think I have some, I have faith in Arizona voters. They’ve proven themselves to be, like, slightly more sane than insane over this last election cycle. So that’s good in the last two election cycles, actually. I am of the school of thought that Sinema did this because she wants to preserve her reelection possibility. It’s like she would obviously be primaried all the fuck if she were running as a Democrat in Arizona and she would probably lose out. Now she can run for reelection as an incumbent independent. You know, everybody pretty pretty easy to follow logic there. But I also think that the people that would vote for her would also be taking votes away from a Republican in Arizona, because Republicans in Arizona are so nuts that I feel like they’re kind of like self-styled people who believe themselves to be centrists, like a Meghan McCain type person who would maybe be drawn to cinema. But I can’t see any Democratic voters be like, you know what we need? 


Brian Beutler: That’s interesting, because, like, the thinking has always been, you know, like Republicans will vote, you know, whatever Kari Lake, just got in in Arizona in a race for governor or whatever, or what’s his name— 


Erin Ryan: Blake Masters? 


Brian Beutler: Blake Masters, the guy who looks like he smelled a fart always. [laughter] You know, they got 40 some percent right. Like, and that is probably representative of the hardcore GOP electorate. I think the thinking has been that if it’s a three way race between, say, Ruben Gallego, Kyrsten Sinema as an independent and Kari Lake or Blake Masters, that the hard core Republican is going to keep that 40 something percent. She’s going to get, who knows, a tiny amount, maybe even just 10%, but enough to cost the Democrat the race. But it is interesting to wonder, like if if you had put a sort of corporate centrist independent into the races that were just run in Arizona without like, like with very like low approval among Democrats where Democrats had rallied around someone else. Would you have maybe seen a different split than what I’m imagining? And that’s I don’t know. 


Erin Ryan: Yeah, I think that is I think that Arizona is a less. Look, I’ve spent a lot of time in Arizona, got married in Arizona. You know, I. I don’t think that it is as right wing fringe Facebook-ant as like the national media kind of makes it out to be. I think that there’s enough quiet people who think of themselves as centrist in Arizona that would vote for a independent Kyrsten Sinema and they’re mostly people who vote for Republicans now. That’s that’s just my my vibe read. 


Brian Beutler: All right. So I guess I kind of think that my my my hunch is that she’s kind of one like. I think Gallego or whoever, you know, seems like the best Democrat to run on the Democratic ticket should pay careful attention to the polling. And if it if it looks like Sinema loses no matter what, right. If it’s just Sinema versus a Republican and she’s losing. And there’s no Democrat in the race. Then go ahead. Enter the race. Like if the seats gone. Give it a sporting. Give it a fighting chance. Just enter the race. But if it if it looks like entering the race as a Democrat splits the Democratic ticket, probably throws the Senate race to Blake Masters. But just capitulating to Kyrsten Sinema and conceding that she outsmarted everyone allows like makes it possible to beat the Republican and keep her in the in the Democratic caucus. Then you probably just have to bite the bullet and let her let her, like, have her cake and eat it, too. I mean, it sucks, but she did a very shrewd thing. And—


Erin Ryan: That’s such a cynical take that I feel as though voters I mean, and maybe this is on Democrats to keep reminding voters or progressives to keep reminding voters what Kyrsten Sinema did like, who knows what she’s going to be the next time. 


Brian Beutler: Yeah. 


Erin Ryan: She’s not a known quantity. She is she is guaranteed wackiness. And, and—


Brian Beutler: Yes. 


Erin Ryan: It’s just not it’s not a good way for the constituents of a state to actually be served by their elected officials, to have their elected officials be erratic and completely like an unknown quantity. 


Brian Beutler: Yeah. I mean, even if even if, you know, it’s just an uncontested Democratic primary, the primary should still be against Kyrsten Cinema. Right? Like, if you’re going to run the race, you need to make it clear to the whatever it was, 49% of Arizonans who voted for Mark Kelly and Katie Hobbs like we need you to not be taken in by this independent thing. Like, she’s out of the party. Like she’s still caucusing with the Democrats in the Senate. Fine. That’s better than the seat being in Republican hands. But like you need a credible senator, somebody who, like, isn’t just friends with a bunch of her donors and doing whatever they want. 


Erin Ryan: Well she’s like the question marks dum dums, she’s the question mark dum dums flavor. Like, what flavor is this? [laughter] I don’t know. Like, why would you vote for a question mark? 


Brian Beutler: And like and like, probably walks around with that flavor of dum dum in her mouth. 


Erin Ryan: Oh. 


Brian Beutler: Yeah. 


Erin Ryan: She gives away question mark dum dums energy for sure. 


Brian Beutler: [laughs] All right. Well, sorry to [?] to not have like some sort of like there’s one cool trick Democrats can do to re, like, turn this back around on on Kyrsten Sinema. But like, it’s also like there’s time and we’ll like, Democrats will figure out what the optimal move is. Okay. Matt asks, Do you think Raphael Warnock made the right choice by not attacking Herschel Walker more forcefully, or would he have beaten him by a wider margin if he presented himself as more of a fighter? Similarly, Robert on Twitter asks, as a mixed race Southerner, whose politics are rather in line with Senator Warnock, his unwillingness to define, or you might say, speak the truth about Herschel Walker drove me nuts. What should we take from the fact of his light touch strategy ending in victory? 


Erin Ryan: Well, I think that it’s really important to think about what type of person Reverend Warnock is and whether or not him attacking Herschel Walker more forcefully would have felt authentic to voters. Because I feel as though. Authenticity matters. And if Warnock is not like I feel like he and Tammy Baldwin have some similarities in that they’re both very progressive and, you know, good senators, but they’re not mud slingers, really. And it might have felt a little out of character to suddenly see Warnock slinging mud. I think all’s well that ends well in this case. He he ran the campaign. He ran. And it was a pretty tough fight against a really terrible candidate. A lot of people were pointing out how terrible a candidate Walker was. I don’t know that it was like a secret that Warnock would have been letting us in on if you were like, hey, this guy’s a fucking walking concussion. But I do think that in this case, you can’t really Monday morning quarterback a victory. You know, maybe it would have been like less. Maybe it would have been less stressful. Maybe it would have been less down to the wire. But I also think that he ran the campaign he wanted to run. He had so much money to run the campaign. So it’s not like, oh, he had limited resources. He ran the campaign he wanted to run and he won. So I guess that’s that’s kind of my take away from it. 


Brian Beutler: Yeah. I’m I’m generally in the like all’s well that ends well at camp and it’s fine to move on. I’m glad the question was asked because there was this sort of after action effort to. To treat Warnock’s victory as if it was somewhat extraordinary in the context of the midterms. And that’s why that’s where I feel like the first questioner, Matt, who suggested maybe would have won by a wider margin if he had gone negative, is worth dwelling on. And I get that you don’t want to ask a. Politician who’s a certain kind of character to act in a different way, in a way that makes them seem like uncanny to voters, and then they lose their appeal. But I also don’t I don’t think that it is like mutually exclusive to combine like rectitude, you know, the holiness that kind of the aura of godliness that surrounds. Raphael Warnock with blunt truths about somebody like Herschel Walker, like his, you know, his sins are carnal, like a reverend should be able to make the case against him to to the public. I, so that’s the backdrop. And I and I, I want to preface my larger point by saying, like, I think Raphael Warnock is one of the most admirable people like in America. And and the moral force of his politics are a huge asset to him. Like, he has this thing where when he starts to talk, like in a Senate floor speech or whatever, people who didn’t think they’d be interested become totally spellbound by what he’s saying. Right. And that’s an amazing talent. But. After he won the runoff, it was like maybe he’ll be the next Democratic presidential nominee. And if you’re going to go there, then I think you need to ask, like, did he run an extraordinarily successful Senate campaign? And I don’t think the evidence really supports that theory. Like, I think you have to compare him to that band of high profile statewide Democratic candidates, incumbents in particular, who ran against hyper MAGA challengers. So like Mark Kelly in Arizona, Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, John Fetterman in Pennsylvania, Maggie Hassan. And then you’ve got to acknowledge that of all of the MAGA candidates who ran against those people like Herschel Walker was probably the worst and I’d say definitely the worst, except Doug Mastriano might have been tied for as bad. And when you add those two things up, it looks to me like Warnock underperformed, like he won water under the bridge. As you say, all all’s well that ends well. And then you have to wonder, like, could it be a coincidence that Warnock was also the most reluctant to go negative and exploit Walker’s MAGA awfulness? And you could argue it, but I don’t think it would be a very persuasive argument. And so my hope for Democrats is that is that, one, they don’t get bamboozled by people who say that the key to Warnock’s victory was his, sort of like, I’m going to ignore Herschel Walker’s character, character problems and only talk about Medicaid like that. That would be a bad lesson to take. And my hope for Warnock is if he runs for president someday, he wrestles with what I was talking about a second ago, this like how to marry his rectitude with partisan politics, because, again, they’re not mutually exclusive. Right. And it’d be a super high stakes gamble that like we, the country, couldn’t really afford to lose if he were to go run a they go low we go high campaign in this day and age, especially like when the Republican bench is so dirtied up with cruelty and corruption just because he’s not comfortable being unkind to even bad people. I mean. 


Erin Ryan: Sure, sure. I mean. 


Brian Beutler: Yeah. 


Erin Ryan: So I think I think that there’s this there is sort of a this isn’t a black or white issue. It’s not every Democrat should run in every campaign by pointing out the bad things about their opponents at every turn. I feel as though maybe his strategy behind this and this is just. I feel as though the strategy behind it was Walker’s craziness speaks for itself. It’s why Katie Hobbs didn’t want to debate Kari. She didn’t. She was like, You know what? I don’t want to give her a bigger platform to just say her stuff. Like what she’s doing kind of speaks for her, speaks for itself. What she’s saying speaks for itself. Let her talk her way out of a lot of people that would otherwise vote for her. I think a place where a candidate this was, I think 2020 really missed the opportunity to. To not smear it, but to bring it home that their opponent was aligned with a really bad party was, I think, about the Sara Gideon Susan Collins race a lot and how Gideon just you didn’t you couldn’t really tell from her campaign materials like who she was running against or why. And Susan Collins is somebody who is a lot less on their face offensive than Herschel Walker and some of the things Herschel Walker said and Herschel Walker believed. So I think if a person is running against a Susan Collins, a palatable Republican, who nevertheless supports all of almost all of the same issues that the far right fringe Republicans support, I think it’s really important for candidates to bring that up a lot like, look, you think you’re voting for this nice lady, you think you’re voting for this nice person, but actually this and this and this with a Herschel Walker, I think you have a little bit more room to just say, like, how how much of this do I need to point out to voters and how much are they just getting from this candidate saving me the work of having to be a mudslinger? And this is, you know, devil’s advocate. But that’s a thought that I have about positive and negative campaigning. 


Brian Beutler: It’s, your point about Katie Hobbs is interesting, but I kind of think it cuts the other way. In that. Like, I don’t think it was the optimal strategy for Katie Hobbs. But if you say my opponent is such a liar, I am not going to debate her. Like you said, the thing that you claim you’re not going to say, right, like there’s a apophasis or something. There’s some literary term where you pretend you’re not saying the thing that you’re saying. And, you know, the best Warnock could muster was like my my candidate or my opponent has, like, a complicated relationship with the truth. You know, these wouldn’t even wouldn’t even go to say so far as to say, like, he’s an untrustworthy person. You can’t you know, I think I think he did get a little bit more comfortable with how dishonest Herschel Walker was in the runoff. But in the in the in the general election, he was really light touch about it. And I think going, you know, saying my opponent’s too dishonest to debate. I don’t know if it would have worked better or worse, but it would have been a more effective way of of shining a spotlight on Walker’s defects. And I think I think if you want to marry what makes Warnock such a good person and like such a good brand with the kind of politics, you know, necessary to let people know that you take seriously how dangerous your opponent is, is like Herschel Walker’s caught lying all over the place about terrorizing his exes and and then, you know, pressuring them to have abortions while running to criminalize abortion everywhere. And you can say something like, you know, I pray for Herschel Walker and his family. This has to be a trying time for them. But this is, this is—


Erin Ryan: Families, families. Plural.


Brian Beutler: The families. Yeah. [laughs] His his half of the Georgia electorate, which is his children. [laughs] You know, this is this is has got to be awful for them. But this also breaks faith with voters in an irreparable way. And he should drop out of the race like. I don’t think that that sacrifices the the air of rectitude that I think Warnock wants to carry himself with, while also. What is the media do with that? They I mean— 


Erin Ryan: Right. 


Brian Beutler: Multi-day feeding frenzy on whether Warnock should or whether Walker should drop out about how big of a liar he is. And there’s I don’t think that there’s like a great substitute for that kind of leadership from the top of a ticket. Just kind of hoping that your surrogates and the news media take care of it for you will result in like the news media moving on to something else at some point. 


Erin Ryan: Mm hmm. 


Brian Beutler: So anyway, it’s a bit of backseat driving. It’s over. He won 51 seats. Democrats get to subpoena stuff. It’s great. But if he’s going to use this victory as a springboard for the next highest office, then I think it’s an important conversation to have. And I hope that the people around him take it seriously, even though they’re doing this victory lap about how they won the they ran the best of all possible races. 


Erin Ryan: Right. Or at the very least, he should bring on an extremely passive aggressive speechwriter [laughter] who’s, like, really good at throwing shade. I think that. But having a speechwriter who’s really good at like just very delicately bless, bless his heart sort of Minnesota nice backing into the mean I think that’s that’s definitely a way to do it. 


Brian Beutler: That that works I volunteer you. 


Erin Ryan: [laughter] Thank you. 


Brian Beutler: Okay. Sam asks, can Brian share his thoughts on the ability of the environmental movement to shift from a defensive posture to a building posture? I worry that my movement is too stuck in blocking projects and doesn’t know how to build environmentally sustainable projects like solar arrays, wind farms, affordable housing projects. He named me, but I, I throw it to you. 


Erin Ryan: [laughs] You know, I was just thinking recently about the proliferation of driverless cars and how they’re really environmentally bad. Like, why are we trying to put more cars on the road when really the solution to fighting, you know, environmental decay and the death of the earth is to have less fossil fuels on the road are fossil fuel driven vehicles on the road. And I was thinking about how the reason that the environmental movement always seems to be playing defense is because there are there’s like years and years and years of investment and backup and promises to people who are throwing money at innovations that enable more fossil fuel burning, that are not environmentally friendly solutions. You know, we have all of this money and left behind like, you know, driverless cars is just one example. But there are other other projects that are not environmentally good. And so what has to happen is we have to to to fight against the progress of these environmentally bad projects rather than coming up with our own things. I feel like that’s not it’s just kind of the state of things right now. I think what needs to happen is that there needs to be a lot of money behind innovating bold green projects, and then there needs to be a bold leadership in actually getting them started so that it’s not I don’t know that it’s something that individuals really can do beyond, like pressuring the representatives to just just start the project. You know, like the Keystone pipeline was something that I cannot imagine. There is no Democratic equivalent of like there’s no green equivalent of like the Keystone pipeline. Republicans sometimes for people who are not on the pro-environment side of things, will just start a project and like let people fight it out after they’ve already started doing it. And I think it goes back to what you were saying about Democrats and the answer to the first question, what Democrats using their position to just like play to win instead of play by the rules, just playing to win. And I think that that’s what needs to happen is it needs to be giant money, green projects that Democrats don’t trip over themselves, thinking about all the ways they can fail before they even start. Just get started and— 


Brian Beutler: Yeah. Okay, so so what you what you say there about, about not like tripping over their own shoelaces is essentially like my thought on this too. I do think that there are probably there probably is an equivalent of like the Keystone pipeline out there. That’s a green thing that you could get all Democrats behind. And then Republicans would try to stop it out of spite. But in the spirit of you saying, don’t give them ideas, I won’t give them ideas. The so I think it’s. Timely that the question comes on the same day, like we’re recording this the day that the Department of Energy announced that we’ve harnessed fusion power, the like huge deal and like possibly world changing. And also, as you mentioned, like the Keystone pipeline sprung a big leak and for the 2010s, like a big organizing project of the environmental left was trying to block the Keystone pipeline on the grounds that it would leak everywhere. And like here we are. So on the one hand, they’re vindicated. On the other hand, like, what is the added value now of focusing a lot of. Resources on that kind of thing when you have. Electric cars everywhere. Solar. Solar panels so cheap that you could basically, like, put every house where there’s sun give them some solar panels, then they’re clean, right? Now we have fusion power. And I think that like particularly in the post Inflation Reduction Act era, my main thought is, is that progress is going to keep chugging along and it’s not principally being driven by activists. And that’s, that’s fine. Like activists don’t need to do a ton of heavy lifting for people to see what superior about electric cars or solar powered homes and so on. Right. And that. The movement would just end up in a healthier place if they declared a kind of partial victory and then got out of the way. Like, there’s this weird. Perverse alliance between NIMBYs and right wingers, and then also social justice environmental activists who will like bog down progress towards like a more environmentally sustainable future in community planning meetings. And what we really need is what you were getting at. Like swift deployment of these technologies and like we need it so that the incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act can easily get from where the energy is to where the users are. And like, we need to make it easier for people to live happily in cities where carbon footprints are smaller, like we should be using nuclear power until we can replace it with fusion power, I guess. And I, I feel like even though we’ve locked in many terrible long term effects of climate change and should be felt like we should now be focused on decarbonization as rapidly as possible with with the achievements that we’ve just locked in and that keep unspooling right they’re everywhere. Like get those out of the world as quickly as possible. And if that’s your focus, like you’ll A, mitigate the amount of harm from climate change that we cause by mid-century and simultaneously like get us more quickly to a place where we have like energy abundance so that like the adaptation to climate change will be easier the quicker we deploy this stuff because there will be clean energy everywhere and we can use it to help make living in a two degrees Celsius hotter world easier. So if I could. Yeah, if I could, like, offer the environmental movement [laughter] that’s such a big concept, but like environmentalists, like a piece of advice, it would be to to like switch energies to that because like, as bad as the Keystone oil spill is, it’s like, not that big a deal compared to getting all the all the tools we already have at our disposal deployed. 


Erin Ryan: Yeah. And I also want to say one quick final thought is that it’s it’s a it was a real we really fell for it kind of oil industry propaganda when we enabled them to drive the conversation about conservation, to be about individual consumer choice. And I would love to see the environmental movement embrace the fact that, like you, inconveniencing yourself slightly as a consumer is not the not the big way to make progress in in the environmental fight like there are. I’m thinking about like when Austin had its blackout because a couple years ago. 


Brian Beutler: Right. 


Erin Ryan: Yeah. And the lights downtown were on and people were like freezing cold in their homes. And I feel as though that really was a stark example of what entities are able to use energy however they want. And I think it reminded people that like commercial buildings use a lot more, waste a lot more than individual residences. And I feel as though we we should. And I’ve seen that the conversation around this turning a little bit to be like, wait a second, most of the pollution is caused by X, Y, Z, big polluters. I think rather than making environmentalism something that individuals need, oh, now I need to like have a stinky thing of compost on my, on my like counter in order to I think it should be focused more on like, look, these are the big polluters. Here is a list of them as voters, as consumers, as citizens, we can put pressure on our elected officials and on these corporations to change their practices. It’s not the environment isn’t, the world isn’t dying because of us. It’s dying because of them. And we can unite to fight against giant polluters rather than trying to change our individual. I’m not saying don’t recycle, but I’m just saying like the giant polluters are the culprits. It’s not you, you know, it’s not you taking one flight to go see your in-laws once a year. It’s like there are giant corporations that are responsible and it’s not like it’s not your fault. 


Brian Beutler: Amen, sister. Definitely fly to see your in-laws— 


Erin Ryan: Once a year. [laughter]


Brian Beutler: —but feel guilt about it and, and fly coach. [laughter] Okay. Landon asks, what is your version of the end game in our current political warfare? What do you think are the most plausible 2 to 3 scenarios where we achieve a new equilibrium in our political structures? I love this question in particular because it feels like give me a few predictions that are almost definitely not going to pan out. 


Erin Ryan: Yeah. Okay. I could shoot from the hip here. I think that the biggest world changing events are things that are totally unpredictable or that nobody saw coming. COVID was a huge, you know, changed everything. 9/11 changed everything. There are there is some giant event in our future near or far, whatever is going to realign the way that things are done or have been done. We don’t know what that is because if we did, we would be doing things to stop it because. The inertia of the system won’t, hates change. So the only thing that can actually change things is something like giant and rocking. So yeah, that with that being said, I think what’s going to happen is there’s going to be some giant calamity and whoever has more strength in the aftermath of the calamity is going to gather the most power. And hopefully the people that have their wits about them the most after the next calamity are going to be people that have their hearts in the right place. But who’s to say? Nothing is guaranteed. 


Brian Beutler: Yeah, it it’s you know, we’re just talking about. Harnessing the power of nuclear fusion like possibly the— 


Erin Ryan: By the way, they barely got any power out of that. It’s not like— 


Brian Beutler: Well, okay but like, but like the margins. The margins— 


Erin Ryan: —thousands and thousands. We need like giant, we’re like years away from, like, fusion generators. 


Brian Beutler: Yes, but like but like this is this is this is a question with the horizon of years, right? 


Erin Ryan: It is yes. It is very cool. 


Brian Beutler: Like what is what is the world? What is the world? Okay. But what does the world look like? If like you can just say peace out to the petrostate. 


Erin Ryan: Mm hmm. 


Brian Beutler: Right. People like what does a like a United States of America without an extractive fossil fuel industry look like? What is the United States of America look like when the baby boomers die? Like who? What’s the GOP like in that? Like. So that’s why I feel like the question is setting both of us up to be wrong. 


Erin Ryan: Uh huh. 


Brian Beutler: And I like I appreciate your tack of saying the world is unpredictable and some shit is going to happen and hopefully like we’re, like when the wheel stops turning, we’re going to be on top and not the bad guys. But, but in the spirit of trying to, like, shoehorn the analysis into things that are like the current state of affairs, um, I, I sort of penciled this out and it basically all revolves around my sense that the GOP is, is in a spiral away from democracy that either will end in ruin and rebuilding for them or in like semi-permanent dictatorial victory. Like the thing you say, some shit will happen, they’ll win an election and then never give up power. Right. Like there’s no scenario I can think of where they do kind of bad in the next election too. And then they start thinking, well, this Trump stuff is really bad. And all this lying and incitement and Fox News bullshit isn’t working. So we’re going to slowly deleverage ourselves and feel our way back to something a little bit more ethical. Like, I don’t think that’s in the cards. And like, if they were to try, like, I just think that more Marjorie Taylor Greene type people would come out of the woodwork and beat them in primaries and we’d be right back into the spiral. So it’s like either catastrophic collapse for the Republican Party or catastrophic victory for them. Right. And so the the the scenario that keeps me at this job, despite all the damage it’s done in my health, is one where, like, Democrats just have to slug it out forever and basically never let the GOP win total power again. And like, that sounds awful. But it’s also, I think probably like the sort of main scenario. And then the other scenario is one where. The economy goes south or something, Republicans win and then they pick up where Trump left off. They bring major media to heel. They cement their juristocracy. Liberals like find public life to be a less rewarding field to enter because it’s a totally rigged game. So the best of us just kind of find other things to do with our time. And then we muddle through with a corrupt, incompetent kleptocracy. Until it fails, because it eventually will fail. The the third scenario is like the only hopeful one. And it would also kind of feel like, I think a just ending for the past decade or so would be for for Donald Trump to lose the GOP primary in the next couple of years and that he would then have a tantrum and leave the GOP and break the party in half. So that’s like the Republican Party collapses fantasy where where they not only do that, can they not win an election, but they like lose horribly. And in that circumstance you could have like a purging and a cleansing and then maybe a regrouping around like something more like good faith politics. You know, the bad news there is that I think that when they did regroup, they’d be a pretty strong party. But it would be like the John Kasich party and it wouldn’t be like you were trapped in a room with an abuser. And we wouldn’t be worried about like bodies falling out of helicopters and stuff like that. But I also just. You know, I would not put any money on like justice being done kind of outcome for Republicans going all in for Trump like I think it’s it’s just as likely that if somebody beats him in the primary. That person is going to get given a huge boost and dividend for having beat Trump. And he’ll like even if it’s Ron DeSantis who’s just like stealing from Trump. Right. Like he and the mainstream press will treat it as like the ushering in of a new era where GOP finally turned the page on Donald Trump. And then DeSantis will have a pretty good shot at winning. [laughs] So. 


Erin Ryan: Right. 


Brian Beutler: Yeah. So those are like the ways I can kind of see this going. But as you say, like, it seems like a really dumb thing to try to predict. Not a dumb question. Just a dumb thing for me to have chosen to answer. [laughter]Because who the who the fuck knows what’s going to happen, right? 


Erin Ryan: Right. 


Brian Beutler: New pandemic, economic collapse. God only knows.


Erin Ryan: I just think that there are I think there are too many moneyed interests in too many different parts of the world to enable. And I don’t want us to enable U.S. to descend into some like Pinochet hellscape. I don’t I don’t think that that’s ever going to happen in our lifetimes. At least. There would have to be a long time of instability before that actually came to pass. I do want to say that I think we’ll know more. I think that right now the Supreme Court is kind of a wild card here that we didn’t really talk about. Not really a wild card. But right now, the American people see the Supreme Court as a partisan institution, an unelected partisan institution that is Republican controlled. And all of these people have lifetime appointments. And so that factors into who voters perceive as in power in Washington, because the Supreme Court can just like there’s no checks and balances on them, they can basically say, like, that’s not a lot, that is a law and basically legislate from the bench, which is what they did when they when they overturned 50 years of precedent in Dobbs. I think that for as long as the American public perceives the Supreme Court to be a Republican conservative fringe out of step with the general ideas that most people have about how this country should be run, I don’t think Republicans have a chance of that catastrophic victory that you’re talking about. I think that for as long as there’s a perception among the American public that this is this is what the court is and is going to be we’re going to kind of be in this divided the state of closely divided, slightly leaned Democrat and like a slight upside surprise for Democrats from from top to bottom of the ballot because what we saw with with Dobbs and what we would see with other, you know, extremely right wing moves. If, you know, if this North Carolina case ends up whatever, if there’s a break, I just I cannot see Republicans winning elections because of the Supreme Court. And I don’t think that’s what Alito thought when he was, you know cockily leaking Dobbs in May. [laughter] But I mean, it was either Alito or Ginni Thomas. And we agree that it was probably— 


Brian Beutler: I think you’re probably right. 


Erin Ryan: Yeah. 


Brian Beutler: You know, you know, we’ll run a correction if it if the leaker is revealed to be someone else. 


Erin Ryan: Yeah, yeah. Prove it, Alito. [laughter] But I just I really think that we saw this election cycle something that I think that Republicans should feel really. Oh, shit about. And that is that long game where they were like, what we need to do is like, load up the judiciary and, you know, set the chess pieces up so that there’s absolutely no winning. It’s not a long term winning strategy because they’re not going to win elections as long as they are so locked into power in the judiciary. 


Brian Beutler: I hope you’re right about that. It’s also like a really good tie in to the next question, which is from [?] on Instagram, who asks, how do we talk about the majority when we have such an uneven population distribution? And I take that question to mean to allude to the fact that mal apportionment in the Senate and Elector— In the Electoral College make it harder for Democrats than it should be to turn voting majorities into victories. 


Erin Ryan: Well, I’ve talked about this before, but I think we need to purple up some red states. I think that we need to do mass migration to different parts of the country. No, but short of that, you know, one thing that we’re sort of not talking about here is that a lot of the people that are the biggest problem are also among the oldest people in the country. And, you know, Donald Trump is not going to live forever. People who are the most ardent Trump supporters, although they are between 45 and 60, which is a little troubling for Generation X, they’re not going to live forever. You know, there is you know, time passes and things evolve just because the same people aren’t going to be around. Next cycle. Two cycles. Three cycles from now than were around before. I also think remote work is changing things, remote work and crazy real estate prices in places like Los Angeles, New York, D.C., Boston, whatever. I think eventually are going to drive people to places that are like shoulder states like Montana, places that have the culture that a person from like a coastal city would want to enjoy, but that don’t they don’t have the super high cost of living. But I think that’s going to be a little bit of a slow process. We already I mean, I hate to be like we’re going to drive up the real estate prices everywhere, but I do think we’re going to see more people take advantage of remote work by choosing a standard of living that involves that that is accessible to them in states that maybe have more red voting patterns in general. Also, climate change is going to flood Florida, so they got to go somewhere. Yeah. [music break]




Brian Beutler: All right. The plan is pack up our shit, move our move our whole lives to red states that are maybe trending purple. Wait for Gen X to die. And then when, like you and I are sixty, [laughter] when you and I are 60, we finally take control of the country. 


Erin Ryan: Yeah, that’s the plan. That’s the plan. 


Brian Beutler: No, I mean, look, like I am not quite that, like, fatalist about the future of the country or the democracy or like the mal apportionment problems. And I do think that like. You know, just apart from the unpredictable and natural churn of things like, you know, the people our age are becoming regular voters and we’re much more progressive than the people who are dying. And so that’s just going to, you know, like put positive pressure on outcomes in the country in the immediate term to the sort of question like how do you talk about it? Like if you were going to try to intercede, take a shortcut to a fairer democracy? I think the way to talk about it is just to talk about it like. We think Americans should be politically equal. And because of that, we should reform our political system to do that. So we should abolish the filibuster. We should add states to the Union. We should abolish partisan gerrymandering or have like multi-member House districts or whatever you want to do so that you know Marjorie Taylor Greene isn’t guaranteed a seat in the house for life. You can do it by adopting the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which essentially is an end run around the Electoral College, so that the winner of the popular vote for president always wins the presidency. You can do it by adding seats to the Supreme Court. Right. And the key is, is that and I assume we’re talking Democrats here, because Republicans are obviously happy with the anti-democratic status quo. But the key is that you have to do those things. Even in cases where it’s not in your partisan interests to do it right, it has to be about the principal or the whole thing is revealed to be an artifice and it collapses. And I think that, like, you know, it’s it’s it’s a slightly different thing to notice that an electorate is like we will punish Republicans when they nominate fascists to saying we will reward Democrats when they change the rules of the system to be more fair. But it’s like it’s on the same spectrum. And I do think that if Democrats could be like the party I talked about in question one, where they’re organizing themselves around solving those challenges and not just the like kitchen table stuff or or like responding to Dobbs or whatever, that that it will be popular. It’ll be galvanizing to people because it’s there’s like a there’s like a really inspiring logic underneath it. It’s not just dumb process stuff. Like one person, one vote is like, you know, people give up their lives to to achieve that. And so. If you could get the party talking about it in that way, I think it might hasten our arrival at a place where we’re like, okay, we don’t have to worry every election about the possibility that we’re going to, like, win more votes but not gain power. Like, it’ll just. It’ll happen. And then. And then. And then we can stop doing politics forever. 


Erin Ryan: Yeah, that’ll be great. One more quick thing. One thing that we that Georgia is a good example of why the way we think of votes being distributed in the way that we think of a state being a red state or a blue state isn’t necessarily an end all, be all. And I think that Georgia is a great example of how investing in local get out the vote efforts, mobilization efforts can turn a state from red to purple in a couple of cycles. I’ve heard Texas described as a state that isn’t a red state. It’s a suppressed state. So I think that in the meantime, as we’re waiting for my like Pollyanna vision of of people just going and living in the grassy fields of Kansas because, you know, they want to they want a nice house in the yard for the dogs to play in. I think realistically, what we can do in the short term is invest and get out the vote efforts locally in places where the vote is historically suppressed. 


Brian Beutler: Agreed. Agreed. Next question is on is from Byron on Instagram. But I think he knew what you were going to say and you already answered it. [laughs] Is that what what can a Canadian do to help? And the answer is move to Wisconsin and apply for citizenship, right? 


Erin Ryan: Absolutely. Absolutely. Learn how to make cheese. You get fast tracked into Wisconsin citizenship if you are a cheesemonger. No, I’m just kidding, that’s not true. [laughs] What can a Canadian do? This is a fun this is a fun question. One of my I have an ex-boyfriend who is like the only one that I’m still friends with. He’s great who is Canadian. And he was really he’s a big Crooked Media fan too. Loves, you know, very invested in the American political system. And he will help volunteer for for campaigns. He would. I mean, you can’t give money if you’re a foreign, national or to campaigns, but you can give your time, you can give your effort. You can you know, Vote Save America has like a million ideas for how to participate at all different levels of the of of the system. I also think that this is just a general idea for people. Too much energy is given to national politics in the national media, and not enough energy is being given to local politics anywhere because local media is dying. I think that one thing you can do is engage in your local politics, pay attention to what’s going on, subscribe to your local newspaper, understand all of the different levels where you can make a difference and and and get engaged that way. 


Brian Beutler: All right. We’re going to turn the page on politics questions to fun questions now. That’s how that’s how they were divided. 


Erin Ryan: Yeah, politics is absolutely not fun. Anyone who says it’s fun is is a sociopath. 


Brian Beutler: In the end, the note sheet I was given, politics and fun. Maybe we should have like started with the fun. [laughter] But Patrick on Twitter asks, What were some of your favorite films you saw for the first time this year? Could be new releases. Could be old ones. Also, have you watched Andor and if so, thoughts? Before kicking it over to you, I have not watched Andor, I’m like in my in my like a cohort of people I grew up with, there was like a split. Like we were all like Star Wars fans when we were kids. And then like half of us turned into like video game, comic book sci-fi people who still keep up on the Star Wars stuff. And then like I’m part of the other cohort that turned into an adult [laughter] and I just I stopped with all that. 


Erin Ryan: You stopped having fun entirely. You devoted your entire career to engaging in misery. 


Brian Beutler: Yeah. Just giving myself ulcers and shit. Movies? Did you watch movies? Do you have time to watch movies? I understand— 


Erin Ryan: Not. 


Brian Beutler: —you’re preoccupied with other stuff. 


Erin Ryan: Yeah. So I’m. I’m like a part time. I mean, I have a freelancer schedule, but I also have a one year old. And that means, like, and my husband works outside of the home. So that means that I am taking care of the kid a lot of times during the day. And we’re watching Bluey so she doesn’t scream. Bluey great, great cartoon Australian. [laughs] I hope that she learns to talk with an Australian accent. That would be so cute. I did watch Barbarian though. Have you seen Barbarian? 


Brian Beutler: Oh Barbarian was good. Yes. 


Erin Ryan: I—


Brian Beutler: Big horror movie fan. Like, especially like good quality, thoughtful horror movie. 


Erin Ryan: Yeah, I really, I really liked Bar— I’m kind of a wimp about horror movies, but I love them. I’m drawn to them like a moth to the flame. So I like have to like before I saw Hereditary, I had to, like, read a synopsis so that I wouldn’t be too scared. And then I went and saw it anyway, and it still scared the shit out of me. But Barbarian, I thought, was I could. First of all, I couldn’t believe it was written by man. It was. It’s one of those movies that is like, wow, this captures so many things about the experience of like, not only like femaleness but like motherhood specifically. I thought it was like really, really well done, really impressive. I loved it. I thought it was like funny at certain parts. It was terrifying at parts. I loved Barbarian. 


Brian Beutler: I agree. And if anyone listening is like a fan of just like, really unsettling, scary movies, Smile is like a super effective horror movie. Like, really hard to watch. Scary. And I’m like, don’t get scared by horror movies. I just enjoy them. But those two in the, like, late, late entries for for like, good, scary movies. I saw both of those in theaters. No, that’s not true. I saw Smile in theaters and I saw a Barbarian at home. But they’re both like, I highly recommend. 


Erin Ryan: The Batman. The Batman was good and so was Top Gun Maverick. Those were awesome. 


Brian Beutler: Okay, Top Gun Maverick is is on my list. I feel bad because I’m certain like the questions like, did you see other movies that weren’t released this year and you just found them great. And I think the answer is probably yes, but I’m like an inveterate like Netflix and scroll person. 


Erin Ryan: Yeah. 


Brian Beutler: So like I can’t remember most of the movies I watch on my TV because probably at some point I got distracted, so I had to draw on movies that I saw in the theater. And so I picked one highbrow, one middlebrow, one lowbrow as just like just a way to simplify things. The low brow movie I actually just saw this past weekend, or I guess it’ll be two weekends ago when this comes out. It’s called Violent Night. It’s, it’s—


Erin Ryan: Oh, that was fun. 


Brian Beutler: It’s great. It’s it’s like it’s like Home Alone meets, Die Hard meets like How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I think I will be watching it for many Christmases to come. Total joy, also not a lot to dwell on here about it, but like in the next two weeks, just check it out. You’ll have so much fun. 


Erin Ryan: Okay. 


Brian Beutler: Middlebrow is where I picked Top Gun Maverick, I think I’m like the the exact target demographic, middle aged white guy [laughter] experiencing crisis but also wants the good old days back. But it worked in that way. Like I kind of felt like it was a beacon from better old days when we could still organize society around, like gathering people in a place. Have them watch something broadly entertaining and appealing. And then talk about that instead of, like, griping or privilege checking or whatever. Or like, you know, I saw some shit on Instagram and it made me feel inadequate. Like, in the period when Top Gun Maverick was the thing people were seeing, and then people would go talk about that movie. It was just better, like. 


Erin Ryan: Mm hmm. 


Brian Beutler: And what that might be like. I don’t know. Simplistic of me or not particularly high minded, but I just like that the place that mass appeal movies had in society that I feel like has been lost a bit. And I hope that that was a sign that there’s still like a market for it. 


Erin Ryan: Yeah, they’re like radio. I think it’s just like radio used to be like the thing that was the center of everyone’s lives and radio, you know, was surpassed by TV, but radio never went away. I feel like that is popcorn movies. I think going to see a popcorn movie in a theater is maybe not going to ever be as big as it was, but I don’t think it’s ever going to go away. 


Brian Beutler: I hope you’re right because it’s like very, very essential to like my growing up too, so I, you know, movie theaters closing down, hit harder than like restaurant closes down even if you love it, it’s like there will be more. 


Erin Ryan: Mm hmm. 


Brian Beutler: There’s no shortage of, like, brilliant chefs. 


Erin Ryan: I can cook food at my house. You can’t make a movie. I can’t make a movie at your house. 


Brian Beutler: Well, I just mean that I don’t think that the experience of communal dining can go away, but, like, I think the experience of movie theaters could economically go away. And if I just want them to be saved, [laughter] like it’s my one, my one reactionary idea. And then I like wrote a whole treatise about the best highbrow movie, and I don’t know if I should go into it or not because it’s kind of spoiler ish and I’m not sure if you’ve seen it and it, the movie is Tár.  


Erin Ryan: Okay. Dont tell me, I want to. I like I’m so excited to see this movie. 


Brian Beutler: Okay. 


Erin Ryan: Can you just like, allude can you allude to some of the stuff that happens? It’s like about a crazy conductor right? 


Brian Beutler: Yes. 


Erin Ryan: [laughter] I mean, you can spoil it. It’s fine. It’s your podcast. 


Brian Beutler: I don’t think it. I think you might enjoy it more. Look like that’s condescending. You are probably smart enough that you will get it right on first viewing. The issue I had with it is when I saw it, I. I actually didn’t like it. I like made it through, watched it at home not not at a movie theater. But I think I didn’t like it because I fell into a trap that I think that the people who made the movie set for everyone watching. And I think the trap is like this. And the reason I didn’t like it is this is like the movie is set up as like. A story about this brilliant person who’s also highly predatory and I don’t think that gives way too much. And so your inclination is to go to that like sort of central MeToo place where we argue about or think about how much redemptive value we should place on the artistic gifts of people who do bad things. So in this case, it’s the it’s the title character, Tár. Like, she does bad things. Does she deserve to lose her place at the top of the heap for that? And when the movie was over, I was like, okay, that’s a fine question, it’s an important question. It’s like one we’ve all kind of grappled with for two or three years now. But if you’re going to make that movie, you really ought to give us the whole character, right? And like, what is it like to be a genius? What is it like when that amount of power. Like starts creating bad incentives and temptations. What is it like when a person who’s feeling those temptations gives in? Do they feel remorse? Do they think that they’re just they can get away with it because they’re they’re the shit, right? And I’m watching it and I’m like, the movie doesn’t give me any of that. And so I was like, I’m done with this. I’m like, I’m not going to recommend it. I think it’s totally crazy that everyone’s hyping it up. But I ended up having this long conversation with my wife and in-laws at Thanksgiving about it. And as we were talking my like, I stumbled upon what I think is actually happening in the movie, and I still think I’m not going to over spoil it, but slightly maybe. The movie never actually shows you the main character’s talent. It only tells you about it. You keep hearing about how she’s brilliant, right? And then we get taken in by that and start on our own, kind of assuming, well, she’s brilliant, so we should run this moral calculus about whether her gifts to the world cancel out her sins in some way. And I think that the actual point of the movie is to make us question whether she was, like, accurately judged in the first place as being brilliant. And and I, I think the answer when you watch the whole movie is no. And that the point of the movie is that is that people, including bad people, build reputations of their own brilliance on the force of personality. And then that creates this own its own momentum and suddenly, you know, such and so is just hailed as a genius and it’s taken for granted. And then we, the public, like imbue them with like being deserving of forgiveness because they’re talented. Right. And like, how many people taken down in MeToo were actually just mediocrities who had heart like, fostered their own reputations for being geniuses. I think it’s probably, probably most of them. And so I think the movie is indicting its audience, us, me, for like sort of taking leave of our ability to to be critical about the characters in the movie and just taking it for granted that the main character is it is a genius who’s also a predator. And it’s really actually like, no, you’re just falling into the trap that Tár is setting for everyone else. And if that’s what the movie is about, then I think it’s like an incredible commentary on how we treat bullshitters who make it to the top in society. I admittedly am not certain that that’s what the people who made the movie intended the lesson of the movie to be. But you should watch it. And then we can talk about it. And you can, you can tell me if I spoiled it for you. If I wrecked it for you. I’m sorry if I did, but after chewing it over, that’s what I was left with. And I think that that is just such a like a rich vein to mine for a filmmaker, a book writer, a critic like. Why do we skip straight ahead to having this debate about whether MeToo villian— MeToo, villains or predators of any kind deserve some sort of offsetting forgiveness if they’ve made big contributions to the world and not just be a little bit less credulous about who’s actually brilliant and more like we could use more of that. And if we are like Leon Wieseltiers. 


Erin Ryan: [laughs] Okay, now, that sounds super interesting. I, I was planning on watching it over this break, and now I definitely will. 


Brian Beutler: Okay, good. I I’ve been wanting to like. Put this out there in the world like I haven’t read much of the like the, the, the movie criticism about Tár. I know that it’s widely acclaimed and like I wanted to test drive this theory of the movie because I normally don’t have like interpretations of movies that kind of veer wildly off of what everyone else is saying. But I did in this case, and I didn’t want to keep it bottled up. Honorable mention The Menu is really fun, good withering satire of foodies. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a Nicolas Cage movie that I thought was it’s a super meta movie about Nicolas Cage basically. Super fun and Banshees of Inisherin. Also really good. 


Erin Ryan: Hmm. Fun. 


Brian Beutler: Yeah. For anyone listening. Also for you. For your interminable road trip. 


Erin Ryan: Yeah I want to watch Glass Onion. That’s. That’s going to be a holiday lay around. 


Brian Beutler: That’s the that’s—


Erin Ryan: The new, the new Knives Out. 


Brian Beutler: Right. Yeah. I enjoyed Knives Out. So I I guess I’ll be watching it in the next two weeks. Okay. Sorry to go on interminably about Tár and probably ruin it for some of the listeners, but Allie on Instagram wants to know what’s the best part about working at Crooked. 


Erin Ryan: What’s the best part about working at Crooked? Well, like, I don’t know. This is a little bit of a peek under the hood, but like I’m a host of a Crooked show and I do a lot of like guest hosting and stuff, but I’m not like going into the office. I don’t have a desk. So the best part for me is that I get kind of the best of both worlds. Like I am both an employee and not an employee. I get to like hang out with all the cool people that work there. It is the highest concentration of cool and nice people of any place I’ve ever worked. And I mean that like people are legitimately like stylish, cool, funny, interesting, super smart and totally not assholes. The people at Crooked are just great. Top to bottom, it’s just the way that the company is. And yeah, and also because, you know, because I’m not like a full time employee coming in and like, you know, having lunch at my desk or whatever. That means that like I kind of can still have, I have a pretty free schedule. The only time that I really have to do anything is when I’m recording or prepping for the show. So that’s a pretty nice there’s some freedom to. 


Brian Beutler: I don’t get the like to go into the office almost ever. And so I get to see my colleagues like well, pre-pandemic, maybe three or four times a year and now only like once this past year. And so I think I like actually didn’t even get to meet some people who cycled in and out between when pandemic started and when I when I visited. And so, like, for me, it’s it’s. I guess how Crooked has made it feasible to hold it together as a as as part of the company for Jesus over five years now—


Erin Ryan: Wait, you came on, you came on like, what, 2017? 


Brian Beutler: Yeah, like— 


Erin Ryan: Right away. 


Brian Beutler: I was like maybe like the seventh employee or sixth employee, like early and, you know, like a lot’s changed like Democrats were. It’s it was much more political, like politically focused company then. Democrats were like in and out of power, and Trump was the president. And like, everything was sort of geared towards like fighting America’s way out of that mess. Right. And then 2018 happens. Democrats get some power back and like. You know, that’s when it’s like, okay, what should Democrats do now that they have this power? And that gave rise to some disagreements among like those of us who are doing the politics stuff, at least on the content side. And what I think is great about working at Crooked is when my bosses reluctantly admit that I was right about something. [laughter] But no, it’s it’s it’s that even though I’m like out here in D.C. and everyone else basically is out in L.A. and like. These things happen from time to time. It’s that no one has ever let disagreement get the better of creative production. And so we can just turn. Dissenting opinions into more good work. So like the Positively Dreadful episode I did a couple weeks back with with Favreau, I think is like a good testament to that. We had been kind of like slacking each other like an ongoing debate about Democrats, the kind of stuff that we were talking about when we were talking about Raphael Warnock a few minutes ago. And rather than just like stew and, you know, whatever, like, let’s just turn it into a podcast. And I think it was like a really good episode, I think is one of our best episodes and it’s like that gives you some sense of the spirit of the place. So I hope that answers Allie’s question. Yes. 


Erin Ryan: Yeah, it seems, it seems. Yeah. 


Brian Beutler: Okay. All right. Good. Well, then Olivia asks. We’ve had some incredible movies and TV shows come out post-COVID lockdown, but I’ve been really underwhelmed by new music. Do you agree with that premise and why do you think the pandemic inspired better TV and movies than music? 


Erin Ryan: Yes, I agree with that premise. But I thought it was just because I’m starting to get old and my brain is losing—


Brian Beutler: That’s what I said. 


Erin Ryan: —neuroplasticity. [laughs] That’s so funny. I’m like, yeah, no, I, I’m like, none of the music is good anymore. But I’m also like, you know, marching toward 40, I think— 


Brian Beutler: I just I just got there. 


Erin Ryan: Oh. 


Brian Beutler: You might just want to, c— You just, no.


Erin Ryan: Dont do it? 


Brian Beutler: No. 


Erin Ryan: Dont do it, okay.  


Brian Beutler: Stay away. 


Erin Ryan: Okay. Well, I hope I make it to 40 because you would feel real bad if I, like, died tragically. 


Brian Beutler: Yeah, no, I I genuinely would. And I dont know I— 


Erin Ryan: I’ve, I’m excited to be in my forties. I think life begins at 40, man. Like, I’m just really looking forward to just not having it looming over me anymore. So, yeah, I do think music has gotten worse and or it’s just not less good, I think is a better way of putting it. And I think part of that is because movies and TV are things that when you’re writing them, you it’s very lonely to write. Movies and TV eventually, like even if you start in a writer’s room or you’re brainstorming or you have like punch up rooms or whatever, there’s always a very lonely, bleak time when it’s you and a deadline and you’re just in an office and you’ve got like a wall full of Post-it notes and you’re just by yourself writing. If during COVID, we were all like, stuck inside. So there was no feeling of like, oh, I could be out in the world doing this stuff. This is I did not get any good TV writing done during COVID, just putting that out there. But I’d imagine that some people would benefit from the fact that there’s nothing else for them to do but to be closed up and write and actually devote the time necessary to putting up something, putting out something that’s like really high quality. Music is something that is inherently something that you do with people watching you do it. It’s like a commun— It’s it’s more of a community. The process of making it, putting on a show is, is more about being in the same place with people. And I also think music tends to influence other music. And, you know, like you go to a show, you’re in a band, you go to a show, you hear a band, and like, they influence you or you influence them. Like with less concerts, less music events, festivals, less places for musicians to actually mingle artistically. Music has kind of become this, like, lonely thing. And I don’t think lonely music is always good unless it’s like Phoebe Bridgers or like Bon Iver. [laughter] But for the most part, lonely music is not as good as like music that you want to listen to in a big room full of people. 


Brian Beutler: Our thoughts on this are super compatible, but like your experience as like an actual TV writer and sort of like drawing out how the COVID experience might— 


Erin Ryan: That’s conducive, it’s conducive. 


Brian Beutler: Sort of like could be conducive to it. Totally news to me. Like fascinating insight. I would not have thought of that if anything. Like I might have even thought the opposite where like you need a writer’s room and writer’s rooms are shut down. But like, every, every, like, asshole with an acoustic guitar can sit alone in his house and come up with music. But apart from just like I’m 40 now and all the music seems bad and has for 15 years, [laughter] because, because everything was better when I was in my twenties. The theory that I have kind of pulled out of my ass about this. Is that pandemic coincided with this technological watershed that helped preserve the market for good TV and movies. And it left people in a place where they were hungry for televised entertainment. Right. Pandemic. Suddenly everyone’s at home. Okay. Couch time. TV time. So there’s demand there for people who make TV and movies to put out good stuff. Music, by contrast, of like what you were saying, like we have Spotify and we have Apple Music. But on the one like, A, those services are are really mostly good for siloing people in their own tastes and playing them the same kinds of shit that they like over and over again. And, B, the climate of diminished socializing just I don’t think is a good one for discovering new music. Like when I was stuck at home during the pandemic, I was definitely in the market for good new TV shows and movies to watch, but not like sitting there listening to music the way I would if I were commuting or at a concert or whatever. And. You know, when you’re when you’ve got months of boredom staring in the face, you want emotional tension, you want cliffhanger endings, you want drama and action. And you get that from TV shows and movies, but you don’t really get it from music like. Wonderful as music is, it doesn’t provide that specific kind of satisfaction. So I think maybe pandemic just kind of created a demand side problem for music. And like that is sad if it’s true. But also now that everyone’s just going to concerts again and you can imagine, like the revival of music scenes in cities where talent is happening or whatever, that like it won’t necessarily be a permanent condition. And I mean, we’ve had pandemics in the past before there were movies and television, but there were there was definitely music and there continued to be music afterwards. So, like, I’m not I think I think it’s probably just a blip. And I think our theories about why seems seem smart. 


Erin Ryan: You know, am I am I going to be the Debbie Downer of this? Because I don’t think it’s a blip. I think that the economics of being a musician are really challenging and there’s no sign that they’re ever not going to be challenging. And so fewer people are trying to make music. Fewer people who don’t already have like a financial cushion have the ability to like be a professional musician because it’s just not profitable to be a professional musician. Screenwriting TV writing. On the other hand, if you are a person, is working steadily in screenwriting and TV, you are making a decent living, and so economically it is a feasible pursuit. So more people are you know, it’s more people are going to try to do screenwriting, TV, writing, the quality of the project is going to be higher because it’s more competitive with music. Fewer people are trying to do it because it is not a feasible way to earn a living. That’s and I don’t, yeah. Like, I don’t see that changing. 


Brian Beutler: I feel like that has been true since before the internet. Maybe the internet made it more acutely true, but also it also gave talented musicians a way to make maybe not like rich person money, but like, enough to keep being musicians. And like, there have been poor, brilliant musicians in all of history. And they kept making music. And like some of it’s Mozart. And, like, I don’t know— 


Erin Ryan: Yeah, but Mozart. Mozart was never trying to, like, rent a house in Los Angeles and everything [laughter] is like $4,000 a month. Like, I’m just saying cost of, cost of living—  


Brian Beutler: I don’t know what the land use situation in Vienna was in 17 whatever. 


Erin Ryan: Cost of living is, in in places with a big enough market to support a music career is really out of reach for a lot of working musicians. 


Brian Beutler: I agree. I mean, obviously, I don’t I don’t want to like trivialize that how hard it is, but also like. You know, there was a Seattle scene back when Seattle was a cheap place to live and it changed music maybe for the worse, depending on your perspective. But it did. Liverpool was similar, like Detroit, New Orleans, like there. There will be like the economics of music I think will help find musicians in places that we don’t think of as like entertainment hubs yet. But then those places will arrive, you know, with the innovative sounds of the place. And I don’t think that that process is over, even though, like, you know, it won’t sound like rock and roll or nineties hip hop or jazz anymore it’ll sound different, but it’ll still be good. And I also like just really like that I’m ending on the optimistic note here [laughter] after you were just music is done. 


Erin Ryan: No, it’s not done. I just think that it’s on a really like something. I mean, in Canada you can be a working musician because the state subsidizes people who are like professional artists and musicians in Canada. 


Brian Beutler: And I, Byron from Canada, stay in Canada, make music. Don’t move to Wisconsin and become a cheesemonger. 


Erin Ryan: Yes. Do really good music that makes everyone really excited to vote for progressive. That’s what you can do as a Canadian is, is like— 


Brian Beutler: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Incept America like Wind Of Change but for American voting minds. [laughter]


Erin Ryan: Do, do an Arcade Fire, just do that real quick. [laughter] 


Brian Beutler: I am out of questions. Should we just call it a call it a mailbag episode? 


Erin Ryan: We can call it a mailbag episode. 


Brian Beutler: Do you have any closing thoughts for Positively Dreadful listeners? 


Erin Ryan: Ooh, closing thoughts for Positively Dreadful listeners. This is just good. I’m just going to give a piece of advice that’s just good advice year round, no matter who you are, if you’re feeling really out of sorts. And you have like an hour before you have to do something, you know, like hour anxiety phase. Like before a conference call or whatever. Lie down for 20 minutes and close your eyes. Like, just set a timer for 20 minutes and don’t look at your phone and just, like, light on and close your eyes for 20 minutes. And that’s, like, nine out of ten times. Like, helps bring me enough out of the funk that the next the rest of the day isn’t— 


Brian Beutler: I’m going to have to try that. It’s going to become like a daily thing for me because that just describes me before any deadline or any meeting. 


Erin Ryan: It just. Yeah, just don’t look at your phone. Eyes closed for 20 minutes, like set an alarm and then wake up when the alarm or get up when the alarm goes off. It doesn’t matter if you sleep or not. Just 20 minutes of, like, just sensory deprivation for a short period. 


Brian Beutler: Yeah, it’s the anticipation always like I like just spending 90 minutes recording this podcast is like the best and most productive and most with it I felt all day— 


Erin Ryan: Oh good. 


Brian Beutler: —and it usually is the case and that usually is the case. When I’m recording podcast, it’s like the prep is really hard to get started and as I’m prepping, I’m like, oh god, this is bad, like not going the way I want it to go or how am I going to carry this conversation? But then like— 


Erin Ryan: Once it gets going. 


Brian Beutler: Talking, talking to someone, you just kind of enter a flow state. And it’s like, if I could harness that for all eight, ten, 12 working hours of my day, I’d be more productive and I’d feel better. Like I would just feel like I was like. Crushing it, but most of the time I feel like I need that 20 minute lying down with that my phone thing that you just talked about. 


Erin Ryan: [laughter] Well, I hope it’s helpful. Let me know how it goes and I’ll fill you in on Tár after I see Tár. 


Brian Beutler: Yeah, yeah. For a real for real. Erin, Ryan, thank you for doing the mailbag with me. 


Erin Ryan: Yeah, thank you for having me. This was fun. [music break]


Brian Beutler: Positively Dreadful is a Crooked Media production. Our executive producer is Michael Martinez. Our producer is Olivia Martinez and our associate producer is Emma Illick-Frank. Evan Sutton mixes and edits the show each week. Our theme music is by Vasilis Fotopoulos. Thank you so much for hanging out with us this year and we’ll be back in January.