Political Animal


September 18, 2011 11:10 AM Lindsey Graham forgets what ‘everything’ means

By Steve Benen

Lindsey Graham sure does sound confident about 2012.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham says the 2012 presidential election is the GOP’s to lose.

“President Obama has done everything he knows how to do to beat himself,” Graham said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “The reason people have little [confidence] in President Obama’s policies is they’re just not working. Everything is worse.”

Now, as I recall, Graham’s record of election predictions isn’t exactly sterling. A week before the 2008 election, Graham was in North Carolina touting John McCain’s chances. “[McCain] fits North Carolina like a glove…. I’ll beat Michael Phelps in swimming before Barack Obama wins North Carolina.”

A week later, Obama won North Carolina. Michael Phelps was unavailable for comment.

The senator’s track record notwithstanding, I still think Republicans are making a mistake with this “everything is worse” nonsense. Sure, Graham’s a hack, more concerned with cheap shots than telling the public the truth, but he should nevertheless realize he’s making the wrong argument.

“Everything is worse”? That might make more sense were it not for the fact that:

* American job creation is better now than when Bush left office.

* American economic growth is better now than when Bush left office.

* Al Qaeda is dramatically weaker now than when Bush left office.

* The American automotive industry is vastly stronger now than when Bush left office.

* The struggle for equality of the LGBT community is vastly better now than when Bush left office.

* The U.S. health care system is better and more accessible than when Bush left office.

* The federal budget deficit is better now than when Bush left office.

* The major Wall Street indexes and corporate profits are better now than when Bush left office.

* International respect for the United States is better now than when Bush left office.

Want to try that again, Lindsey?

Whether Graham realizes it or not, he and his cohorts are inadvertently making President Obama’s pitch to voters significantly easier. By that I mean, they’re creating a standard for the debate: either conditions have improved since Obama took office or they haven’t. What the right still doesn’t understand is that this is the best of all possible standards for Democrats.

If the message to voters is, “The status quo stinks,” that’s a tough message for Dems to argue against, because as much progress as there’s been since late 2008, conditions are still awful for much of the country. We were in a very deep hole, and we’re not done climbing out.

But if the pitch is, “Obama made it worse,” that’s a much easier message for Dems to argue against because it’s demonstrably ridiculous.

Republicans, who are usually better at messaging than this, are setting up the wrong question. Instead of asking, “Did Obama make things good?” they’re urging voters to ask, “Did Obama make things worse?” Democrats much prefer the latter for a reason.

If all Obama has to do is prove he didn’t make things worse, he stands a much better chance.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • Gandalf on September 18, 2011 11:28 AM:

    I guess if your from S Carolina things are much worse. Of course the state is run entirely by republicans.

    Still hate captcha!!!

  • Kiweagle on September 18, 2011 11:33 AM:

    An absolutely superb post, Steve, but the legendary and non-existent spine of the Democrats in office dictates that they will respond to this allegation by... apologizing for making the country worse and promising they will do better by acquiescing to the Republican Party's demands.

    Skeptical? Then apparently you haven't been paying attention to the appalling negotiating skills utilized by Obama and his congressional allies.

    Maybe things will be different now that the American Jobs Act is on the line, but I'm absolutely appalled that it took this long to start demanding more than you want before conceding everything prior to negotiations. It says a lot when you you have to admit that Bush was WAY better at getting what he wanted, even when his opponents controlled congress.

  • zeitgeist on September 18, 2011 11:35 AM:

    the problem is that Steve is entirely too logical and factual.

    undeniably, everything Steve says here is true. It is also true, however, that a poll came out earlier this week showing 58% of those polled said they were worse off then they were 3 years ago.

    now, that 58% may be completely wrong -- but that doesn't change how they feel about their situation or what they believe. And they will vote those beliefs, not the facts of which they are unaware or don't trust.

    the strategic problem the Democrats have long made is to assume that between Labor Day and Election Day in even-numbered years, they can roll-out "The Truth" and everyone will do the right thing. but these beliefs, once set, are hard to change. the time for the Dems to tell The Truth was a year ago -- and continually -- so that you never reach a point where 58% of the voting public believes something that isn't so. The "bikini graph" -- one of the best and easiest ways to make this point -- should have been plastered all over the airwaves (and lamp posts, and mailboxes) since the day Obama took office.

    A few ads showing it on screen for 30 seconds in October 2012 will be far too little too late.

  • RepubAnon on September 18, 2011 11:42 AM:

    One thing: President Obama hasn't spent the last few years talking about the Bush Economy the way that Ronald Reagan blamed Jimmy Carter for the economic woes of Reagan's first term.

    Additionally, your argument is based upon a reasoned analysis of the facts. Once Fox News and the Conservative media are done, the conventional wisdom will be that the Democrats failed to fix the economy.

    My guess is that the Republicans will win big in 2012, they'll pass massive austerity programs. These will cause massive damage to the economy. The Republicans, however, will stridently blame the Democrats in general and President Obama in particular for the damage that Republican programs have caused and will continue to cause. After all, it's worked for them so far...

  • Redshift on September 18, 2011 11:48 AM:

    My guess is that the Republicans will win big in 2012, they'll pass massive austerity programs.

    No they won't; you're making the mistake of thinking they actually care about fiscal responsibility, when all they actually care about is giving big tax cuts to their friends and contributors. They'll pass tax cuts and gut regulations, and say deficits don't matter. Actually cutting spending, and the hard work of picking which popular programs to cut, that's something they only try to make Democrats do.

  • zandru on September 18, 2011 11:49 AM:


    This is a great post. A great list. And, it has the added advantage of being true. Cut & paste it onto your "Desktop" - physical or virtual, however you "work".

    Rather than carping about how "the Democrats" (none of us fit that description, right?) will fail to take advantage of these facts, or about how "the mainstream media" will fail to report any of this, or whatever -

    WE (the People) need to be out there pushing these facts and arguments. Tell your co-workers at the water cooler. Tell your right wing relatives. Better yet, remind your "progressive" friends who are currently so down on the President and "the Democrats" and who "won't be voting" in 2012 (wah wah wah - poor babes).

    Then write or call to thank your Democratic Senators and Representatives, and suggest they talk more about this record of achievement. Let them know you approve of what they've accomplished, and want more of this, please - and not that "bipartisanship" thing the pundits keep talking about, which just means "capitulation."

    You can add that they could have done a lot more good without GOP obstruction - and you wish they'd talk about THAT, too, every day. Just as you yourself are.

    And then, do it. Democracy ain't a spectator sport.

    "part Atwork", Captcha sez. That's the problem - we need more than just "part" at work.

  • c u n d gulag on September 18, 2011 11:51 AM:

    "...thatís a much easier message for Dems to argue against because itís demonstrably ridiculous."

    And who's going to 'demonstrate?'
    CNN? Nah.
    FOX? HA!
    MSNBC - Yeah, in the evening, with Cup o' Schmoe rebuttal time on the following morning.

    If we had a reponsible MSM, then, yeah, the Luntz to Lindsey talking point of "Obama made it worse" wouldn't become a meme.

    But, give Drudge, Rush, Glenn, FOX, the WaPo and WSJ, etc, time, and it'll be on everyone's lips - if it's not already there.

    Our putrid, rancid, lazy, cowardly, compliant, and complicit MSM really should be on trial for assault on the country in the 1st degree.
    And after they help kill it - Murder One.

  • Grumpy on September 18, 2011 11:57 AM:

    The struggle for equality of the LGBT community is vastly better now...

    But why would Lindsey Graham care about-- oh, I get it. Wink wink.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on September 18, 2011 12:29 PM:

    This is precisely where Democrats lose. Precisely. Sure, what Graham is wrong. But why is he able to say it. Because Democrats haven't told their story. And they won't -- until the story has already gotten ingrained as another wrinkle in the public's mind that "EVERYTHING is worse" and it's too late to change the story.

    This is the sickening thing about Democrats that's lead me to despair for nearly two decades. They simply fritter away the story of the nation, and it's now reached the point that we're on the verge of losing 120 years of progress. Time is almost up, folks.

  • JJM on September 18, 2011 12:54 PM:

    Look, things just might be changing with the msm.

    I notice this morning that a much, much larger proportion of Democrats is on the Sunday talk shows, from Bill Clinton to Dick Durbin. Sure Cheney's up on Fox, but the rest seem to be dimly aware that the 19% approval rating for the congressional GOP may just need to be taken as a warning...

    One can only hope, no?

  • liam foote on September 18, 2011 12:56 PM:

    Thanks for the list. I'll add to my growing record of Obama accomplishments, including those listed last month by Jonathan Alter and in responese to his article.

    He has also recently attempted to reform the patent system to aid those who invent and create, and consumer protection (one result of which should give us Sen. Warren D-MA in 2012.) And we certainly can't forget that he managed to keep audio levels from increasing during commercials.

  • yellowdog on September 18, 2011 12:58 PM:

    @DisgustedWithItAll on September 18, 2011 12:29 PM:

    Interesting comment. "Democrats haven't told their story." I have some idea of what you mean, but I may be on a different track. What Democrats do you mean in particular? Why have they not met your expectations? What would you like to see change? Serious questions, not glib. I am curious.

  • liam foote on September 18, 2011 1:16 PM:

    I'd just like add that from the onset of his term Mr. Obama made things demonstrably better in the tone in Washington, as he had vowed to do during the campaign.

    Look at the list of Bush events that could have been investigated by Dems in Congress, including the obvious such as lies about Iraq, the outing of Valerie Plane, energy meetings in the WH, ignoring warnings of 9/11, and so on. He did not use the power of the WH or Congress to go after the GOP for political purposes.

    His attempts to reach across the aisle and be inclusive were then rebuffed by the GOP and responded to with record levels of filibusters and obstructionism. Yet he still managed to make things better, as noted above, in spite of such adversity. A noteworthy achievement.

  • Upper west on September 18, 2011 1:18 PM:

    In addition to the issues raised by the other commenters, I think the main problem is that the unemployment rate trumps all the other data. It's up above 9% and "Obama predicted 8%" has become a drumbeat from the media. Not to mention that lies by Rush et al that it was 5.7 and not 7.6% in jan. '09 are becoming false facts.

  • Elizabelle on September 18, 2011 1:28 PM:

    I don't think it's inevitable that the GOP makes major gains in 2012.

    At all.

    It's a huge danger, and reason enough to start pushing back -- gently -- when friends and relatives spout GOP nonsense and revisionist history. (Especially when younger voters are around; they may not know the conventional wisdom is too often false.)

    Maybe Elizabeth Warren will give some of the faint of heart cover.

    The Republicans cannot run on their record.

    So they need to tear down Obama and the Democrats.

    Again, the Republicans cannot run on their record. Period.

    Make them own that record.

    The GOP owns the narrative.

    But the public is on the side of Obama and (most) Democrats on the issues.

    At the risk of being rude, one has to bring that up in conversation. Again and again and again.

  • Roddy McCorley on September 18, 2011 1:36 PM:

    Want to try that again, Lindsey?

    You have to remember that all the accomplishments you list are in fact considered negatives by the Republican Party. So Graham's statement is factually correct from his own bizarro point of view.

    Also, once you let a black guy in the White House, by definition everything is worse. Cause what else is there?

  • navamske on September 18, 2011 3:24 PM:

    Your points are well taken, but you're not taking into account the frightening condition that you can no longer win arguments with objective facts. You can tell the Tea Partiers things that are indisputable -- say, "Obama didn't raise your taxes" -- and they will dispute them.

  • nemisten on September 18, 2011 3:43 PM:

    Agree w/ Disgusted and c u n d.

    That Graham and the other GOP shills can constantly spew these lies with little or no pushback from the msm or Dems is unbelievably frustrating.

    And Steve, while I appreciate your analysis, you really must stop assuming these guys believe the BS they spew. It's a SCRIPT, and they're actors READING the script. Whether they believe it or not is irrelevant -- they can't win on their record, so they spew BS, plain and simple.

  • ameshall on September 18, 2011 4:05 PM:

    Steve, it does not matter that Obama has made certain improvements. How many people are aware of these "improvements"? Thanks to the Dems' nonexistent political messaging and the GOP's ability to drive all media narratives, only news junkies like the readers of your blog are aware of Obama's accomplishments. The public DOES think things are worse. The GOP has successfully driven the narrative that Obama's stimulus failed, his big spending has ballooned an already huge deficit, the country is bankrupt, and his new jobs plan will do little to lower unemployment. And they still dislike the health care bill, largely because of GOP framing.

    Obama will never win on an "Are you better off than you were 4 years ago?" platform. Most people will say no. The GOP has successfully sold their deluded reality to the public. Obama could try to start selling all the policies that he and the Democratic party failed to sell before, but it's much harder to convince people to change their minds than it is to shape an unformed opinion. As usual, Obama and the Dems stood idle as the Republicans created an alternate reality and now that this reality has been cemented in the minds of average Americans, the Dems swoop in and try to tell them that everything they think they know is wrong. It doesn't help that Democrats themselves have adopted the talking points spewed by Republicans. When Ed Rendell said on MSNBC last week that the country "is broke," I'm sure another GOP angel earned his wings.

  • golack on September 18, 2011 4:30 PM:

    Zeitgiest has it right--it's how people feel. The housing bubble was the last thing masking the large drop in true wages and buying power. And most people are waking up to it now. So even those who have a job and have kept their house are wondering what happened to their lifestyle, their money, their nest egg and why did the kids move back home...and this is "better?"

  • T2 on September 18, 2011 4:56 PM:

    I tend to agree with most posters, yes Obama has improved the inherited Bush disaster.
    But two major items are missing from Benen's list........Obama is still fighting Bush's two useless wars which consume more money (and lives) than all the rest. Until he does end, completely, our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan he'll be continuing the worst of Bush policies.

  • BO_Bill on September 18, 2011 5:00 PM:


    The budget deficit was ~$400 billion per year during Bushís last year and is now ~$1.3 trillion per year. The link you provide simply says that the deficit was $1.29 trillion in 2010 and $1.28 trillion this year. So let us be honest about the hard numbers.

    - Unemployment has nearly doubled.
    - Annual budget deficits have tripled.
    - The official national debt is has risen from ~$9 trillion to over $14 trillion.
    - The unofficial national debt has probably doubled.

    The neutral observer comes to the conclusion that this is all intentional.

  • Joe Friday on September 18, 2011 5:00 PM:

    Eric Schmidt, the Executive Chairman of Google, was on THIS WEEK saying that American companies could create millions and millions of jobs if they just had DEMAND.

    HUH. What a concept.

    He went on to say that the classic solution is for the government to step in and stimulate that demand.

    Double HUH.

    Eh, whats a guy at the top of a $100 billion company know anyway ?

  • DelCapslock on September 18, 2011 5:07 PM:

    * The federal budget deficit is better now than when Bush left office.

    where's the data for this? the link doesn't make any comparisons to when Bush left office that I could find.

  • Joe Friday on September 18, 2011 5:20 PM:


    "The budget deficit was ~$400 billion per year during Bush's last year and is now ~$1.3 trillion per year."

    Ah, the Bushies had lots of things OFF-BUDGET, like the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, the Corporate Welfare prescription drug program for the pharmaceutical companies, all the spending on creation of the Department of Homeland Security, all the spending on rebuilding after 9/11, and all the spending on the so-called "Global War on Terrorism", and MORE.

    The trillion+ dollar deficits were already there, they just LIED about them.

    "Unemployment has nearly doubled."

    Unemployment exploded during the previous administration.

    "Annual budget deficits have tripled."


    See previous post.

    "The official national debt is has risen from ~$9 trillion to over $14 trillion."

    And according to the independent non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the vast overwhelming majority of that debt is as a result of plummeting federal income tax revenue caused by the numerous rounds of failed tax cuts for the Rich & Corporate enacted by the previous administration and Republican Congressional Majority.

    "The unofficial national debt has probably doubled."

    The WHAT ?

    "The neutral observer comes to the conclusion that this is all intentional."

    Yes, but you would need to ask the Bushies and the Republican Congressional Majority why they intentionally did it.

    *HINT* I already know.

  • jjm on September 18, 2011 5:29 PM:

    To @T2:

    I wasn't aware that Obama was still fighting in Iraq. I recall tens of thousands of troops being brought out of that country and an end being put to combat missions.

    There should or could be no more than 3,000 troops there at this year's end.

    So does that count as 'still fighting Bush's TWO wars'?

  • Terry Gibson on September 18, 2011 5:34 PM:

    Don't waste your time trying to make sense of anything Lindsey Graham says. Why the media gives him any attention at all is strange. The man hasn't had a logical thought in years.
    Unfortunately, he's my senator, along with Jim DeMint. That tells you the situation we are in in South Carolina.

  • MuddyLee on September 18, 2011 5:46 PM:

    My wife wrote Sen Graham in 2007 (i think) to support the Kucinich "impeach Cheney" legislation. Graham wrote her back a stupid letter that talked about what a great public servant Cheney was. And Graham passes for a moderate in South Carolina. I used to think it was better to have him as a senator than Strom Thurmond, but Thurmond didn't go on television all the time saying dumb stuff. Graham equates being on television with representing the state I guess. Hey Lindsey - you said Obama went on tv too much - we had to see you every day during the Clinton impeachment.

  • DelCapslock on September 18, 2011 6:53 PM:

    Joe Friday:
    Ah, the Bushies had lots of things OFF-BUDGET, like the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, the Corporate Welfare prescription drug program for the pharmaceutical companies...

    I'd love to know that the difference between the $400 billion and $1.3 trillion is due to accounting tricks by the Bush admin. If it's true Obama's admin should be shouting it from the rooftops. The problem is that nothing in Steve's post or your comment goes beyond an assertion.

  • chi res on September 18, 2011 7:51 PM:

    Kiweagle: you have to admit that Bush was WAY better at getting what he wanted, even when his opponents controlled congress.

    No, actually, I don't. You can't produce a Bush list that's even half as impressive as Obama's. (even though Bush had more than twice as much time to compile it)

  • Joe Friday on September 18, 2011 8:28 PM:


    "I'd love to know that the difference between the $400 billion and $1.3 trillion is due to accounting tricks by the Bush admin."

    Forgot to add that the Obama administration put everything I mentioned ON-BUDGET.

    "If it's true Obama's admin should be shouting it from the rooftops."

    He repeatedly, from when he took office, has pointed out the federal budget deficit was more than $1.3 trillion on the DAY he was inaugurated.

    "The problem is that nothing in Steve's post or your comment goes beyond an assertion."

    Ah, because it’s common knowledge ? You obviously can go back to the previous administration’s budgets and see what isn’t in there, and to the numerous OFF-BUDGET supplemental budgets to see for yourself what is in there.

  • DelCapslock on September 18, 2011 8:46 PM:

    Joe Friday,

    I really, really want to believe that what you are telling me is accurate, but when I do a search on Google ("Bush off-budget spending" or similar) all I get is the anti-Obama spin from conservative websites. This makes me think the Obama team hasn't communicated the information as effectively as you are suggesting. Do you have a link you can point me to?

  • exlibra on September 18, 2011 9:04 PM:

    DelCapslock, @6:53PM,

    Here you go, fella:

    And another, later, one, on when things changed and how:

    And I -- your basic 'puter illiterate -- was able to find that info by simply typing "Bush supplemental war funding" into Google's intertubes.

    Joe Friday is right; the way Bush cooked the books on war funding was common knowledge as well as common practice. There was some squawking about ti the first time he requested those "emergency" funds but, after that... It was voted on, 2-3 times a year, like a clock. And never, ever, put in the "budget proper".

    It's true that Obama doesn't blow his own horn often enough or loudly enough; doesn't scream, daily, about promises kept. But that's Obama. Nor am I sure it would have helped any. Those who have a vested interest in taking Obama down would have continued to peddle their lies as usual and, also as usual, would find dupes a-plenty.

  • exlibra on September 19, 2011 12:44 AM:

    I thought we're putting up with Craptcha because it saved us from spam? Like this stuff?
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    I'm reminded of the feel-ups (and/or exposure to "safe" radiation) at the airports; lots of inconvenience for uncertain results. Craptcha, BTW, agrees: "Taunting anizescu", it says, in pseudo Rumanian.

  • joel hanes on September 19, 2011 2:20 AM:

    You can't produce a Bush list that's even half as impressive as Obama's.

    Oh, sure I can, if you'll accept evil accomplishments.
    If you've joined the Dark Side, these are truly monumental achievements:

    The PATRIOT Act (especially the renewal with the retroactive FISA immunity that essentially guaranteed that felons in the Bush 43 Administration would never be investigated for illegally wiretapping vast numbers American citizens without FISA authorization).

    Worse yet, the "Military Commissions Act", with its abrogation of the Great Writ of habeus corpus for those whom the President or his designees declare, without review, to be "enemy combatants".

    If measured by the number of Constitutional rights traduced and liberties given up, these odious bills rank high in the list of all-time leaders.

    Yes, many Democratic lawmakers were complicit in these shameful acts. That's what we mean when we say that Bush was good at getting what he wanted.

  • The Oracle on September 19, 2011 2:49 AM:

    Those Republicans with their silly, lying talking points. Goebbels would be so, so proud of them. But the "clear and present danger" represented by these Republicans with their silly, lying talking points is that certain Americans believe their crap.

    For instance, a Republican told me the other day that things are worse under President Obama because Bush left Obama with 7.1 unemployment in early 2001, which now is at 9.1 unemployment, so Obama's made things worse, increasing unemployment by 2 percent. Yup. Yup. On the other hand, I've seen the chart showing that unemployment was rising sharply at the end of 2008, continuing to rise through the first several months Obama was in office, with only Obama's and Democrat's actions in early to mid-2009 stopping this bleeding of jobs and reversing things, otherwise we'd have seen another full-blown Great Depression by year's end.

    Oh, I get it. This 7.1 unemployment figure that Republicans keep floating doesn't indicate whether it was stationary, falling or rising, so the implication is that it was stationary, which it wasn't at the time Obama became president. What Bush really left Obama was unemployment shooting up past 7.1, but this fact doesn't fit in with the right-wing's smear campaign, it's swiftboating campaign against President Obama. Silly me, I thought the Republicans might stop lying for a change.

  • DelCapslock on September 19, 2011 6:37 AM:


    Interesting links, but still don't answer the question, which is to the substance of Steve's claim that the federal deficit is "better" now than it was when Bush left office.

    Factoring in Bush's off-budget maneuverings, is the annual federal deficit now less than it was when Bush left office? That's the link I'm looking for.

    back atcha, fella.

  • Ron Byers on September 19, 2011 7:17 AM:

    An unopposed lie repeated often enough becomes the truth. The problem is that Graham's lie is and will continue to be unopposed.

    We can no longer blame the MSM. It isn't their job to push our message. It is the job of our party to push the MSM as hard as the Republicans push theirs.

    The Democratic party is lousy at messaging because it wants to be. We need some new Democrats with passion. The same old corporatist shills running the Democratic party we have suffered for decades aren't interested in the future or the American people. It is time we took over the Democratic party and replaced them with people who will fight for us. If not the Democrats need to go the way of the Whigs. We need new energy at the National Democratic party.

  • eve on September 19, 2011 9:49 AM:

    One of our president biggest problem is Democrats, because Democrats are self destructive they don't know how to stick together and have one voice and fight, they always want the president to do the fighting why don't they standup and fight with him instead of against him.

    All week their have been republicans on all the media channels and radio but no Democrats. Its the Liberals and so call Democrats that are doing this president more harm than good because they are always going after him to do more, and not pointing out all the good he has done so far and how hard he is working to do more, they should be going after the republicans for standing in the way for doing nothing.

  • Joe Friday on September 19, 2011 10:46 AM:


    "Factoring in Bush's off-budget maneuverings, is the annual federal deficit now less than it was when Bush left office? That's the link I'm looking for."

    Benen provided the link, did you not check into it ?

    Congressional Budget Office Says Annual Deficit Has Shrunk

    The budget deficit for fiscal 2011 has shrunk to $1.28 trillion from the previous year's shortfall of $1.29 trillion...

    Sooooooo, $1.3+ trillion the day Obama was inaugurated, $1.29 trillion last fiscal year, and $1.28 this fiscal year.

    Got that ?

  • DelCapslock on September 19, 2011 5:00 PM:

    Joe Friday,

    No, I don't "got that". Steve's link makes zero comparisons to Bush's deficit numbers. You are pulling the $1.3 trillion number out of your ass based on generalizations about Bush's "off-budget" accounting. You have no real data.

    And...you're kind of a douche, aren't you?