Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Debate Rap

I made it through the first hour and a half of last night’s Democratic candidates’ debate, which was more like an antic version of the lightning round of “Wait… Wait… Don’t Tell Me” without the bell and the final gong.  Whoever dreamed up this format was counting on a high Red Bull consumption quotient on the part of the candidates.

As I noted on Facebook, Bernie Sanders killed it with his impersonation of Larry David of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” but I will give him credit for being back in full cranky mode two weeks after having a heart attack.  Mayor Pete Buttigieg was calm and on point, Sen. Elizabeth Warren withstood being attacked for being the current front runner as well as she could, and Joe Biden, after weeks of being hammered by Trump as the current target of misdirection for his own crimes, didn’t seem a whole lot different than the previous debates, which is to say, stumbling over his answers as he tried to be the adult in the room.

I went to bed before it was over so I missed the final question that asked the candidates how they felt about Ellen DeGeneres being friends with George W. Bush.  Good thing, because I would have thrown something at the TV and scared the cat.  At a time with a White House being turned into the headquarters of the most corrupt enterprise since the end of Prohibition, with sea levels lapping at the foundations of Miami Beach, with mass killings turning shopping malls and schools into armed camps, the finale on this debate was something out of a truth-or-dare session from summer camp?  Who needs SNL when you have inanities like that?

We still have another year of this.  Giant meteor, anyone?

Monday, October 14, 2019

Make ‘Em Laugh

Sen. Elizabeth Warren got off a good one last week at CNN’s LGBTQ forum.

[Rim shot]

Now that’s how you tell a joke.  And a lot of people got it and thought it killed.  And it did.

Then again, there are those among the Very Serious People who neither know a good joke when they hear one or get all freaked out by whom it might offend.

The glitterati gushed. “The single greatest response to this question, in or outside politics,” wrote actress Minnie Driver. “Made my day,” added actress Alyssa Milano. Javier Muñoz, who recently played the title role in the smash musical “Hamilton,” posted seven emoji of clapping hands.

But Republicans and some Democrats warned that the quip at the CNN-sponsored forum would play poorly among a big swath of voters.

“It’s about telling people who don’t agree with you that they are backward by definition,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic strategist who advised Bill Clinton’s presidential reelection campaign. The line was a “stab” to those who don’t agree with her, he said, and “it is a battle cry for men to turn out against Elizabeth Warren.”

The 44-second exchange captured the promise and peril of Warren’s candidacy. She is quick-witted and sharp-tongued in a way that has played well in the Democratic primary and could prove effective against President Trump. But conservatives warn that she can come off as condescending and dismissive.

Oh, conservatives are warning about coming off as condescending and dismissive?  As if their current example of how to tell a joke is the headliner at the Laugh Factory.

The problem — and I’ve said this many times but obviously it needs repeating — is that the conservatives and the Trumpers do not understand the basic essence of humor or how to tell a joke, including the most important rule: punch up, not down.  Making fun of the snooty, the elite, the pompous, and the self-important works, but making fun of the poor, the downtrodden, the ones hurting does not.  This has been axiomatic in comedy since the ancient Greeks right up through today.

This also proves one cosmic truth about humor: it is the ultimate weapon against Trump and the base who support him.  They literally cannot take a joke, and every time someone gets off a laugh at their expense, it makes them look like the fools and trolls that they are, especially when they get all huffy about being made the butt of jokes.  And it proves the point that Mel Brooks and many others have known for time out of mind: if you really want to defeat someone, laugh at them.

Friday, September 20, 2019

This Could Be The Big One

Via TPM, it’s looking like the whistleblower complaint to the DNI has to do with Trump’s attempt to pressure Ukraine by withholding military aid unless they helped him go after Joe Biden and assist in Trump’s reelection.

Fierce denials from the White House, but they’re doing everything to keep anyone from investigating it, including courting contempt of Congress, so it sounds like we’re skating really close to the truth.

And then Rudy Giuliani let the cat out of the bag.

“No, I didn’t!  Yes, I did!”

Wow.  Happy Friday.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Save Your Pixels

No, Justice Brett Kavanaugh is not going to be impeached despite the reporting in the New York Times that brings forward more evidence and corroboration that he was a drunken horn-dog in college.

Josh Marshall is pushing the idea that the Democrats could nail him on perjury when he testified last year before the Senate.

Removing someone from the Supreme Court is extremely difficult. You need the same 2/3rds majority as you do to remove a president. But it’s crystal clear that Kavanaugh repeatedly perjured himself to get on the court. The incidents may have happened decades ago but the perjury was only last year.

I know that several Democratic candidates are calling for his removal, but if they couldn’t get rid of him during the original hearings after the testimony of Christine Ford and others, then it’s not going to happen.

And please, Democrats, stop e-mailing me for money to support your campaign along with this quixotic goal, which seems to be the only reason you’re calling for it in the first place.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Sunday Reading

Trust Exercise — Amy Davidson Sorkin in The New Yorker on the Democrats’ debate.

Resilience in the face of a personal setback was the subject of the final question in last Thursday night’s Democratic debate, in Houston. When it was the turn of Mayor Pete Buttigieg, of South Bend, to answer, he spoke about the years in which he lived with the fear that, as a military officer and an elected official in a socially conservative community, revealing that he was gay would end his career. But he reached a point, he said, where he was “not interested in not knowing what it was like to be in love any longer,” and he came out during the final months of a campaign. “When I trusted voters to judge me based on the job that I did for them,” he said, “they decided to trust me, and reëlected me with eighty per cent of the vote. And what I learned was that trust can be reciprocated.”

Buttigieg’s story was moving on its own terms, but it also threw into relief a fundamental question of the Democratic primary race: What vision of themselves—and of voters—are the candidates willing to trust? At a basic level, that question has to do with being able to convince voters that they’re being spoken to without deceit. Former Representative Beto O’Rourke, of El Paso, has that ability, and it was on display in one of his stronger moments on Thursday. Asked whether he was serious when he said that he would require the owners of military-style weapons to sell them to the government, he replied, “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.” Politicians are often anxious to offer assurances that no one is coming for anyone’s guns, but O’Rourke said he believed that these gun owners, too, were sick of seeing children dying in mass shootings. When he visited a gun show recently, he added, some people told him that they would be willing to give up their guns, because “I don’t need this weapon to hunt, to defend myself.” Doing the right thing, O’Rourke said, was not a separate task from bringing all Americans, including conservative Republicans, “into the conversation.”

The health-care segment of the debate also hinged on questions of trust. The Medicare for All bill, which Senator Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, wrote, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, signed on to, includes a provision—“on page eight,” as Senator Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, helpfully pointed out—that would effectively ban most forms of private insurance. In this respect, the bill is far more restrictive than not only the “public option” but also the European universal-health-care systems that Sanders admires. Both Buttigieg, who favors “Medicare for All Who Want It,” and Senator Kamala Harris, of California, who introduced a plan in July that includes a longer transition and a larger role for private insurers, maintained that people should be trusted to choose their own option. (Harris has zigzagged on the issue—she originally signed on to Sanders’s bill—raising a different question of trust. Senator Cory Booker, of New Jersey, who co-sponsored the bill, has also backed away from elements of it.) When Sanders said that workers whose unions had agreed to wage cuts in return for private health-care coverage would be able to recover that money from their employers, Vice-President Joe Biden told him, “For a socialist, you’ve got a lot more confidence in corporate America than I do.”

That exchange, like several others on Thursday, was largely about how radical, or just how ambitious, the Party is prepared to be. Is sweeping, structural reform the best way to effect change, or is Obamacare worth building on? (Some factions in the Party have been busy rejecting parts of Barack Obama’s legacy—in the area of immigration, for example.) Pervasive doubt about existing institutions could make it easier to persuade people to commit to entirely new ways of doing things; it could also lead them to give up on a political system that they think is irredeemable, or just mean. Julián Castro, the former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, did not help matters when, during a discussion of public-option insurance enrollment, he seemed gleeful at a chance to portray Biden as doddery—“Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago?” he asked. Castro later said that his approach was the way the primaries are supposed to play out. But his gibe seemed a crude bit of gaslighting, since Biden hadn’t quite said what Castro claimed he had. As Klobuchar put it in an interview following the debate, the remark was “not cool.”

Castro barely qualified for the debate; he is averaging about one per cent in the polls. Of the ten candidates on-stage, only three—Biden, Warren, and Sanders—are polling in the double digits. For some of the others, to continue competing seems to call for either an extraordinary amount of confidence in themselves or, especially in the case of Andrew Yang, in the resonance of their message. Yang, a businessman, presents a notable example of the twinned qualities of pessimism and hope. He believes that, in the face of automation, traditional responses to unemployment, such as retraining programs, are hopeless, but that, with a universal basic income of a thousand dollars a month and the “boot off of people’s throats,” Americans will not sink into inertia but remake their lives and their country. He undercut his own message on Thursday, however, by announcing, game-show style, that his campaign would give that money to ten American families so that they could try the plan. At its most developed, the strength of the case for basic income lies in how it would change the entire economic climate, not just the prospects of a few lucky winners.

There is also the reciprocal aspect of the trust equation: having faith in voters. The Democratic Party seems split on the question of how much of its resources should be directed toward certain voters, particularly white working-class men struggling with deindustrialization. The willingness of so many voters to cast their ballots for Donald Trump has been disorienting. But the case remains that some of those same people previously voted for Obama. The categories are rarely neat. As Buttigieg noted, “Where I come from, a lot of times that displaced autoworker is a single black mother of three.”

None of this is easy. Even Buttigieg’s decision to come out publicly, which he did in 2015, would likely have turned out very differently twenty years ago. But it is true that the victories surrounding L.G.B.T.Q. rights have been brought about by a combination of activism, litigation, and people telling their stories within their communities—through conversation, as O’Rourke put it, as well as confrontation. This is how primaries ought to play out. Every election is an exercise in trust.

Of Course It Is — John Nichols in The Nation on the House moving to open an impeachment inquiry.

Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Mark Pocan has been saying for months that “Congress must now do its job” and open a formal impeachment inquiry. It’s been a frustrating fight for the Wisconsin Democrat in the face of resistance from House Democratic Caucus leaders.

He’s not alone in his call. Most members of the caucus now support formal action that might lead to the impeachment in the House and a trial by the Senate. They know Mitch McConnell’s amen corner for this presidency might reject its duty to remove an errant executive whose presidency has turned into a daily assault on the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause.

But Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has it right: “I want to see every Republican go on the record and knowingly vote against impeachment of this president knowing his corruption, having it on the record.” Instead of worrying about holding the president to account, Democrats should be forcing the issue—if only to identify the Republican senators who are willing to “protect the amount of lawlessness.”

But even as the Democrats who matter—the members of the House Judiciary Committee—are acting on the issue, leaders of the party keep sending mixed signals. And the media, obsessed as it always is with the meanderings of the powerful rather than the actual news of the day, tends to go along with the charade. So there is still some confusion about whether the Judiciary Committee has launched an actual impeachment inquiry.

Let’s clear things up: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says that she’s “not answering any more questions about a possible inquiry, investigation, and the rest” because “there is nothing different from one day to the next.”

But something new did happen on Thursday. The Judiciary Committee’s Democratic majority voted to open an “investigation to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment with regard to President Donald J. Trump.” In so doing, they established guidelines for pursuing an inquiry—with committee chair Jerry Nadler noting, correctly, that “Some call this process an impeachment inquiry. Some call it an impeachment investigation. There is no legal difference between these terms.”

The “resolution for investigative procedures” that was approved by the committee allows its members to accept sensitive evidence in closed executive sessions. It clears the way for subcommittees to schedule hearings and question witnesses on impeachment-related issues. And it permits legally and technically experienced staffers to join in the questioning of witnesses during committee hearings.

This is how an impeachment inquiry works—no matter what Speaker Pelosi says or refuses to say about it.

Doonesbury — In the future.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Debate Aftermath

I still listen to my record player, you young whippersnappers.

My take is that Julian Castro’s fifteen minutes are up, and Andrew Yang can now hang out with all his doctor friends or explore a career as the next host of “The Price is Right.” Mayor Pete got in some great points, and Bernie’s somewhat bug-eyed rants took on the stuff of caricature.  I thought Elizabeth Warren had a good night; so did Cory Booker, and I think Beto O’Rourke at least got the attention of the NRA.

Other than that, what did you think of Dems 3.0?

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Sunday Reading

Leonard Pitts, Jr. in the Miami Herald:

If you’re going to lie, make it a good one.

Meaning, put some effort into it. Make it convincing. Make sure the truth is not easily discoverable. Don’t just draw on a weather map with a Sharpie.

That’s apparently what Donald Trump or someone in his employ did last week to prove he was right all along in claiming the state of Alabama lay in the path of Hurricane Dorian. He made this claim via Twitter Sunday morning and it was so alarmingly wrong that the Birmingham office of the National Weather Service quickly tweeted an emphatic correction: “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian.”

A smart person would have let it go at that. A smart person would have said, “Oops, my bad” and moved on. Trump, not to put too fine a point on it, is not a smart person. Worse, he is saddled with a congenital inability to admit when he is wrong.

So what followed Wednesday in the Oval Office was both predictable and pathetic. Trump trotted out a forecast map on which someone had used a black marker to extend the storm’s possible track across the southeastern tip of Alabama. Reporters asked if someone had drawn on the map. “I don’t know,” said Trump.

Later, he tried to further justify himself by trotting out raw computer model data indicating a low likelihood of Dorian striking Alabama. “I accept the Fake News apologies!” he crowed. But the data were from August 28 – four days before Trump’s lie. By then, everyone in the country knew Alabama was in no danger – everyone but him.

Yes, you’re right. The fact that Trump lies is hardly breaking news. The Washington Post says he’s made over 12,000 “false or misleading claims” since taking office. He’s lied on nations, public officials and presidents. Why not lie on a hurricane?

But it’s not the fact of the lie that occasions these words. It is, rather, the laziness of it.

As noted once before in this space, the quality of a lie is in direct proportion to the respect the liar has for the person being lied to. You would not tell your boss that the reason you’re taking a day off is that you’re needed to do repairs on the International Space Station. No, you put work into a lie, you make it credible, when you respect the person you’re lying to, when his or her good opinion matters.

Otherwise, you draw on a map with a Sharpie and call it a weather forecast.

Point being, we’ve grown so used to the fact that this guy lies that we forget to marvel at how truly bad at it he is. Meantime, the coterie of suck-ups and sycophants he calls an administration insists with a straight face that he’s telling the absolute truth and we’re somehow missing it. We are living the fable of the emperor’s new clothes, only it’s not a fable and the emperor has nuclear weapons.

It gets worse. Roughly coincident with Trump’s whopper, there appeared on Medium an article by psychiatrists David M. Reiss and Seth D. Norrholm, renewing concern about the state of his mental health. “We definitely believe that based upon his observed behaviors, it is clinically indicated that Trump undergo a full and comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation,” they wrote.

So maybe he’s not just lazy. Maybe he’s also mentally impaired.

It’s an alternative that offers a sobering sign of the depths to which we’ve been brought by the bigotry of Republican voters who put him in office and the spinelessness of Republican (and Democratic) lawmakers who keep him there: We face two options, one of which is that the president of the United States simply does not respect the presidency or the people.

And incredibly, that’s the best case scenario.

“I’m Outta Here” — Frank Bruni in the New York Times on Republicans quitting the House.

There was no home for Representative Will Hurd in Donald Trump’s Republican Party.

For a while he tried to make one. For a while he succeeded, if success means preserving some of your dignity while steering clear of Trump’s wrath and surviving politically. Although Hurd’s Texas congressional district voted narrowly for Hillary Clinton in 2016, he held on to his seat that year and again in 2018, but by slim margins. It was anyone’s guess how he’d fare in 2020, and now no one will know. Hurd, 42, isn’t seeking re-election — he and a big, expanding bunch of his Republican colleagues in the House.

We talk and write all the time about the Never Trumpers: those previously stalwart Republicans who cringed at Trump’s entry into the presidential race; grew increasingly apoplectic as he raged on; began to live, courtesy of him, in an unwavering state of unalloyed outrage; and scaled new media and sometimes financial heights as party turncoats, their antipathy toward the president more titillating and telegenic by dint of their loyalty to Republicans before him.

But they’re not the best gauges of his and the party’s political fortunes. Their estrangement and emotional pitch have been changeless.

The more interesting and maybe predictive group are the Republicans who, to varying degrees, tried to make do with Trump, found ways to rationalize him and still won’t acknowledge how offensive he is but have fled or are fleeing government nonetheless. He made their participation in political life joyless. He so thoroughly befouled their party’s image that they reek by association. And, thanks largely if not entirely to him, many of them faced or face punishment at the polls.

What to call this crowd? Maybe the Toppled Trumpers. Maybe the Shotgun Trumpers.

Maybe bellwethers.

In the cause of figuring out whether, in November 2020, Trump will be rewarded with a second term, many numbers and dynamics get tossed around: the unemployment figures, the Dow Jones, the trade war, the advantages of incumbency, the peculiarities of the Electoral College and Trump’s approval ratings, consistently low but not entirely static.

Democratic stumbles are raptly chronicled, and there’s much concern — I share it — that the candidates vying for the party’s presidential nomination are at this point tugging it farther to the left than is prudent for the general election. The decriminalization of unauthorized border crossings? Free health care for undocumented immigrants? An end to private health insurance? This is uncertain terrain, and I for one worry that Democrats could be sabotaging themselves and increasing the chances that Trump again prevails.

But at least one constituency is unconvinced of that: Republicans in Congress, especially in the House. They’re making their predictions with their feet, and they’re heading for the exit.

To recap: Before the 2018 midterms, 46 Republicans but only 20 Democrats decided not to seek re-election to their offices in Congress, and among those, 32 Republicans and 11 Democrats weren’t doing that in order to run for some higher, different post. They were just bolting. The discrepancy between the Republican and Democratic numbers amounted to a weather forecast — and an accurate one at that. Although Democrats didn’t improve their standing in the Senate, they picked up a whopping 40 seats in the House.

Heading into the 2020 election, 19 Republicans in Congress have already announced that they won’t seek another term in their current office, a number higher than at the same point two years ago. Of the 19, 17 aren’t retiring from Congress to pursue some kind of political promotion. Meanwhile, only four Democrats in all are retiring from Congress. To analyze these numbers in the context of what happened in the midterms is to conclude that Republicans are limping toward a disastrous Election Day.

Maybe Trump’s fortunes are untethered from his party’s. Maybe, as has happened so often over the course of his charmed life, he will soar while all around him plummet, and they instead of he will suffer for his sins. His campaign associates go to jail; he goes to the Group of 7. The most principled Republicans are driven from the fold; he reigns without principle over a party that has largely bent to his wishes rather than stand up for what it purported to believe.

“Most often I’m asked why so many Republicans aren’t running for re-election,” Dave Wasserman, who analyzes House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, told me. “But I ask why so many are. This isn’t the cruise they signed up for.” He noted that up until a few months before Trump effectively secured the Republican nomination in 2016, not a single Republican in Congress had endorsed him. The first two House members who took that icy plunge — Chris Collins of New York and Duncan Hunter of California — are now under criminal indictment (though not for anything having to do with Trump).

Both before the midterms and now, Republicans are leaving Congress for all sorts of reasons. But they outnumber Democrats on the way out because, generally speaking, they assume that Republicans will remain in the House minority and they’re exhausted by the tandem experiences of powerlessness and answering for Trump’s chaos and cruelties.

The departures this time around speak volumes about looming threats to the Republican Party. Five of the House Republicans who aren’t running again, including Hurd, are from Texas, a red state whose demographic composition fills Democrats with more and more hope. Two of only 13 Republican women in the House are stepping down. Hurd is the only black Republican in the House — a detail that he underlined in a sort of farewell note that he wrote and posted on his website.

That note, read carefully, is a warning to fellow Republicans and a kind of subtweet of Trump’s spectacularly divisive governing style. “I will stay involved in politics to grow a Republican Party that looks like America,” Hurd wrote, adding that he loves America because “we are neither Republican nor Democrat nor independent. We are better than the sum of our parts.”

Hurd announced his decision not to run again shortly after Trump attacked “the squad” of four congresswomen of color by tweeting that they should “go back” to where they came from. He was one of only four House Republicans who voted to condemn those remarks, which he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour were “racist and xenophobic.”

But he’s in a much larger crowd of House Republicans who, for all their usual silence, privately bristle or gasp at Trump’s behavior. After Trump’s “go back” ugliness, Representative Paul Mitchell of Michigan publicly tweeted to the president that it was “beneath leaders” and that “we must be better than comments like these.” He had previously taken Trump to task for comments after the violence in Charlottesville, Va., that some white supremacists were very fine people.

Mitchell has at this point apparently had enough. He announced in late July that he’d leave the House at the end of this term, which is only his second. He cited the “rhetoric and vitriol” that dominate our politics now. Make no mistake: Those are synonyms for President Trump.

Doonesbury — Woo woo?

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Sunday Reading

The Urgency of the 2020 Senate — Amy Davidson Sorkin in The New Yorker.

This summer, a Dallas Morning News poll asked Texas Democrats to pick their favorite from a list of declared candidates for the 2020 U.S. Senate race. The winner was: “Someone else.” This shadowy figure, who garnered nineteen per cent of the vote—almost twice that of the next nearest contender—was easily recognizable: he has the tall, lanky profile of former congressman Beto O’Rourke, of El Paso. About half of those polled said that O’Rourke should drop his Presidential bid and take on the Republican senator John Cornyn, whose approval rating is in the thirties. (Even Ted Cruz, whom O’Rourke almost defeated last year, does better than that.) “Beto, if you’re listening: Come home,” the Houston Chronicle said in an editorial after the poll was released. “Texas needs you.” He heard, but said that he would not run for the Senate “in any scenario.”

For many Democrats, that was a disappointing reply. Even if Donald Trump is defeated, the Democrats will need to pick up three Senate seats in order to gain control of the chamber and have a reasonable chance of turning their ambitious plans into legislative reality. If Trump wins, the crucial net gain will be four. (The Vice-President gets to break any tie; there would be an added complication should either Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders beat Trump—the Republican governor of the winner’s state would name an interim senator until a special election could be held.)

The urgency cannot be overstated. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer are both in their eighties; whether Trump has an unimpeded choice to replace one or both of them, potentially remaking the Court in his Constitution-defying image, could come down to a couple of seats. It’s not going to be so easy to get them. Republicans have to defend twenty-three of the thirty-five Senate seats on the ballot next year, but most of them are in deep-red states.

There are openings for the Democrats. One has already been taken: two weeks ago, in Colorado, the former governor John Hickenlooper abandoned his Presidential campaign, and he will now run against Senator Cory Gardner, instantly turning what had been a likely Republican win into a possible Democratic one. In Georgia, an increasingly purple state, there are now two Republican seats up for grabs. David Perdue, who is a cousin of Sonny Perdue, Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture, is running for reëlection, and Johnny Isakson announced last week that he would step down at the end of this year for health reasons. There is a Democrat who could be a formidable contender for either seat: Stacey Abrams, the former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives, who narrowly lost a highly contested governor’s race last year. Abrams has said that she is not interested, even though, as in Texas, no other candidate commands the field. She intends to stay focussed on her voting-rights work, but she did say that she would “be honored” to be considered as the Democrats’ Vice-Presidential candidate.

In Arizona, Mark Kelly, a former Navy combat pilot and astronaut, is running against Senator Martha McSally, who lost last year to the Democrat Kyrsten Sinema but was appointed by the Republican governor to fill John McCain’s seat after his death. Kelly is the husband of the former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was seriously wounded eight years ago in a mass shooting at an event with her constituents in Tucson, which left six people dead. Since then, Giffords and Kelly have become tireless advocates for gun control. He is a well-known figure with a strong message in a state that seems ready to hear it.

But the Democrats have their own vulnerabilities. Doug Jones won in a special election in Alabama last year against Judge Roy Moore, a far-right extremist who was accused of sexual misconduct with teen-age girls. (Moore has denied the allegations.) Jones must now defend that seat in a state where Trump’s approval rating is above sixty per cent. Unless Moore gets the Republican nomination again—and he’s trying—Jones may have a short Senate career. In Michigan, the junior Democratic senator, Gary Peters, is facing a strong challenger in John James, an Iraq War veteran and a businessman, who, if elected, would be one of only two African-American Republicans in the Senate. In these states—and in others that may be in play, such as Iowa, Maine, and North Carolina—the essential message is the same: the candidates matter.

There is no imperative, at this point, for every low-polling Presidential contender to drop out of the race. Andrew Yang, for example, is using his candidacy to spur a conversation about universal basic income. And he is from New York, which has no Senate race next year. But, if there’s a chance to take a seat, why not try? Governor Steve Bullock, of Montana, has been asked that question many times, because he could have a Hickenlooper-like effect on the Senate race in his home state. His answers boil down to this: the Senate is a miserable place, ill-suited for anyone who wants to “get things done.” The chamber has done much to earn that reputation, particularly under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Yet the present morass only underscores how important it is to elect better senators. (The Senate is also a place where Montana, with a population of one million, has the same representation as California, with forty million—something that might at least inspire Bullock.)

Even O’Rourke, for whom, just last year, being a senator was something of a dream job, said that running for the same office now “would not be good enough for El Paso and it would not be good enough for this country.” He made that comment soon after a mass shooting in El Paso, in which the gunman targeted what he called a “Hispanic invasion.” On a human level, it’s understandable that O’Rourke would want to directly take on Trump and his bigotry; on a political level, though, the logic is less clear. When Senator Kirsten Gillibrand left the Presidential race, last week, she said, “It’s important to know when it’s not your time, and to know how you can best serve your community and country.”

There are many fronts on which the battle against Trumpism can be fought. More broadly, too much is lost if legislative politics, as practiced in Washington, is simply scorned. The Senate can be a safety net for our democracy, and, at the moment, it needs saving. Someone has to do it.

Hurricanes Unite Us — Cynthia Barnett in The Atlantic.

The Louisiana writer Walker Percy got a lift from approaching hurricanes. The need to jump into action is so exhilarating that people forget their malaise and despair.

Will Barrett, the passive, autobiographical southerner in Percy’s 1966 novel, The Last Gentleman, had the impression that “not just he but other people felt better in hurricanes.” Even amid the eye, “everything was yellow and still and charged up with value.” A hurricane, Barrett thought, blew away life’s “sad, noxious particles.”

Percy captured a truth that is all but taboo in the fearsome path of a major storm like Hurricane Dorian. The days leading up to a hurricane bring a physical and emotional buzz. Sense of purpose rises as barometric pressure falls. Hurricane preparations fill some of the cracks in our fractured world, awakening a sense of belonging to a ragged and reluctant tribe that is nevertheless galvanized to deal with an emergency.

We talk with the neighbors we haven’t seen since Christmas. We share grim jokes with strangers in the gas line. Relatives we haven’t heard from in a while call, email, and text to check in, and we actually answer. Passive personalities like Barrett feel they have to become decisive

People also pay relentless attention to things they usually ignore—say, public-service announcements and the science of the atmosphere. The Dorian models now transfixing millions of Americans are generated by many of the same research organizations, such as the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that model climate change and the devastating track of warming.

Those climate models are in far closer agreement than the spaghetti strands that loop on weather maps a week out from a hurricane’s arrival. Here are just a few things they project in the latest worldwide analysis of hurricane and climate data published in the journal of the American Meteorological Society: Human-caused warming will likely worsen storm inundation because of sea-level rise. Human-caused warming will likely heighten the overall intensity of tropical storms around the world. Human-caused warming will likely increase the rainfall unleashed in such storms—on the order of 10 to 15 percent. Human-caused warming will likely increase the proportion of hurricanes that reach the most destructive levels, Category 4 and 5.

Public manipulation by the fossil-fuel industry has crippled action on those and other life-threatening projections. But we know we’d be fools to ignore the computer models urging us to prepare for the major hurricane on its way. I find hope in the extraordinary mobilization out front of Dorian, in the human charge that Percy felt from his home north of Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain. Our instinct to do what’s best for the human tribe, or at least for ourselves, will finally overcome the small cabal of special interests keeping us to the dangerous path of the status quo.

Desmond Meade, who spearheaded last year’s ballot initiative to restore voting rights to more than 1.4 million Floridians with past felony convictions, talked about hurricanes as he accepted the award for Florida Citizen of the Year from the University of Florida’s Bob Graham Center for Public Service in May. Amendment 4 was another extraordinary mobilization, crossing political and class boundaries. The effort reminded Meade of the communal energy sparked by storms. Counterintuitive though it may sound, he said that over a lifetime in Florida, some of the “brightest times” he remembered happened surrounding hurricanes.

“That’s when people just come together to engage with their neighbors,” Meade said.

Then he told the story of the heavyweight fighter Derrick Lewis of Houston, who drove around in his pickup truck following Hurricane Harvey, rescuing more than 100 stranded souls. One of them had nothing but the clothes on his back and a Confederate flag.

“That African American gentleman was able to look beyond that and just see another human being,” Meade said. “When you’re in an emergency situation, the first question is not going to be: ‘Did you vote for Donald Trump?’ It’s going to be: ‘Are you okay? How can I help?’”

Doonesbury — A detailed budget.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Even Then

Steve M argues that Trump is not — even now — losing his marbles despite Kevin Drum’s check list.

Understandably, there’s more “is Trump losing it?” talk today than usual. I’ve seen the speculation. I agree with some of the armchair diagnosticians. (Malignant narcissism? Yeah, he’s got that.) But I don’t believe we’re seeing manifestations of dementia, and I don’t think he’s lost “control of his faculties.”

First, dementia. Yeah, I’ve seen the comparison videos. Maybe, if you watch a long-ago Trump interview on Larry King’s show, he seems calmer and a touch more polysyllabic. But he can seem that way these days in an interview that takes place in what he considers a safe space.

But what persuades me that he’s not losing his grip is the way he performs at his campaign rallies. He’s still an effective insult comic. His jokes are terrible and obnoxious, but he lands them nearly every time. That riff about wind power, with the guy who’d like to watch television, but he can’t because there’s no breeze outside? It’s ignorant, but it kills. Trump delivers it with comedy timing every time out. He doesn’t forget where he is in the joke halfway through. The deplorables love it.

I’ll go even further than Steve M and say that even if Trump was to exhibit even more outward manifestations of mental disease or defect beyond what we see whenever he stops by to chat with the press on his way to Marine One, the base will stay with him.  The polling has had him within 40% of the popular vote since Day 1 and it’s not going anywhere.  The Republican leadership knows this, which is why their response to these piteous outrages has been [crickets].

There’s nothing to be gained by them raising red flags or primary challenges to Trump or even expressing concern about the soaring budget deficit, his invoking anti-Semitic tropes, even his claiming his divinity (“I am the chosen one”) because they know that he can easily turn his fire — and his base — against them.  Trump could win his second term by running not against Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden or Pete Buttigieg but by running against the mainstream GOP.

Thanks, Jay

Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) is dropping out of the presidential race.

Inslee, who made fighting climate change the central theme of his presidential campaign, announced Wednesday night that he was ending his campaign after nearly six months.

Inslee said that he was confident that Democrats would select a nominee who would champion climate change issues but that it had become clear that he wouldn’t be the person selected. Inslee said he was not endorsing anyone but would support whoever is the nominee.

“I believe we’re going to have a candidate to fight this battle,” he said on MSNBC. “I’m inspired by the people I’ve met across the country. I’m not going to carry the ball but we’re going to make sure somebody is.”

Yeah, a lot of people didn’t know he was in it in the first place.  That may have been his problem.

But I will give him credit for bringing up climate change at every opportunity, and I hope that in the next administration he can help bring the nation and the world closer to really grasping the immediate danger we’re in.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Sunday Reading

It’s Not Over Yet — Emma Green in The Atlantic on how LGBTQ rights are still up in the air.

Roughly half of Americans think federal law bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Despite four years of nationwide same-sex marriage, despite rapidly growing cultural acceptance for LGBTQ people, despite extensive annual Pride celebrations—these Americans are wrong. Now that all of this summer’s glitter floats have been dismantled and the rainbow confetti has been cleared, lawyers, legislators, and judges have turned back to the ongoing fight over whether federal law does, and should, specifically protect LGBTQ people from being fired, denied a rental lease, or refused service because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

This year will mark several important milestones in the battle over LGBTQ discrimination. In the spring, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, a sweeping bill that would prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in all aspects of public and commercial life, without any religious exemptions. While the bill has basically no chance of gaining traction in this Senate, if Democrats sweep Congress in 2020, it will likely be high on the party’s priority list. In the fall, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case R. G. & G. R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC & Aimee Stephens, about a former funeral director who was fired after coming out to her employer as transgender. The justices will consider whether existing workplace protections in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 already cover discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

And yet, the legal status of LGBTQ rights remains murky. As the movement has gained cultural momentum, activists have largely moved away from a posture of compromise—they believe they can win full protections for LGBTQ people in any context, without exceptions. A small but significant group of conservative religious leaders has been working the middle ground, trying to build support for a bill that would protect LGBTQ people but leave space for institutions, such as Christian colleges and Catholic hospitals, to operate according to their religious teachings. But they’ve faced resistance from their right, with prominent pastors and conservative legal groups opposed to any kind of bill that would mark sexual orientation and gender identity as special legal categories.

As America has largely moved on from its gay-rights moment, with many Americans believing everything got taken care of with same-sex marriage, legal advocates on both sides have been left with bitter disagreements about where the country should go next—and the possibility that the status quo will perpetually remain in place.

Americans don’t agree on whether LGBTQ discrimination actually happens. Conservative advocates argue that LGBTQ people face little to no discrimination, and that their identities have been normalized—LGBTQ folks are featured on TV shows and in movies, and many businesses have voluntarily crafted their own nondiscrimination policies. Ask LGBTQ people themselves, however, and they consistently see discrimination in their daily lives: A recent study from the Williams Institute at UCLA found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people reported much higher rates of being bullied, fired, or denied a job, promotion, or lease compared with heterosexual people. In a 2015 survey of transgender Americans, 30 percent of respondents with jobs reported experiencing workplace discrimination of some kind within the prior year; a quarter said they encountered some form of housing discrimination.

Still, these experiences can be subtle or hard to document. And the incentives for bringing a formal, legal complaint vary wildly, depending on where someone lives: 20 states fully prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, while 28 states don’t. (Two others—Wisconsin and Utah—bar some kinds of discrimination, but not others.) “Because it doesn’t look just like Jim Crow,” said Doug NeJaime, a law professor at Yale University who focuses on LGBTQ legal issues, conservatives argue that “it then doesn’t merit attention.” But, he said, “there’s lots of reasons why discrimination against LGBT people looks different than other forms of discrimination … [That] doesn’t mean it’s not discrimination that needs to be remedied.”

Early legislation proposing civil-rights protections for gays and lesbians was often hedged: Advocates focused on issues such as workplace discrimination, where they thought they had a greater chance of victory. Roughly five years ago, however, the strategy among advocates began to shift: Public perception had become much more favorable, and leaders believed they could set more ambitious political and legal goals. Activists began calling for a comprehensive bill without religious exemptions.

As all of this was happening on the legislative side, the courts were also working through what the law already says about LGBTQ rights. In the past 30 years, the Supreme Court has ruled sex stereotyping illegal; declared sodomy bans unconstitutional; struck down state measures blocking civil-rights protections for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals; and, of course, legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. But even as the inevitability of legalized gay marriage was becoming clear in the early 2010s, “the narrative really began to take hold that you could be married on Sunday and fired on Monday and lose your housing on Tuesday,” Sarah McBride, the national press secretary at the Human Rights Campaign, a prominent LGBTQ-rights advocacy group, told me. “That really brought into starker contrast the absurdity of the lack of explicit protections.”

This question has been particularly fraught for transgender people, such as the plaintiff who will go before the Supreme Court this fall. LGBTQ legal advocates have argued with mixed success that sex stereotyping, or discriminating against people based on their failure to live out societal norms for men and women, necessarily includes discrimination against transgender people. They argue that those who discriminate against transgender people because of their gender identity are already breaking the law—a claim the Supreme Court will soon consider in the Harris Funeral Homes case.

Because advocates are arguing that trans protections already exist in the law, but still need to be written into the law via the Equality Act, some critics have accused them of hypocrisy. Activists “are talking out of both sides of their mouths,” wrote Greg Baylor, the senior counsel for government affairs at the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal firm that advocates for religious liberty, in an email. “While arguing in court that Title VII already includes sexual orientation and gender identity, they are simultaneously urging Congress to add these categories.”

Mara Keisling, the head of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told me she is “confident the courts will eventually come down on our side.” Until that happens, however, “we do need these laws to explicitly name us, if for no other reason than it is better public education,” she added. “And public education is one of the most important parts about ending discrimination.”

Ironically, as LGBTQ rights have expanded, it has become harder for advocates to make their case to the public. Before the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, “people could see very clearly the fact that same-sex couples couldn’t get married,” McBride said. “People have a more difficult time understanding the way civil rights work in our country, the absence of protections.” The movement has also developed powerful allies from Wall Street to Hollywood, and those alliances have been used against advocates. “The way in which the business community has embraced LGBT rights has played into the narrative that some on the right want to put out, which is that the LGBT community is not some vulnerable minority,” NeJaime said. “The irony about antidiscrimination laws is: Vulnerable groups don’t get protected until they’re actually … [able to] muster the political power to gain momentum.”

Still, that momentum has redoubled the resolve of LGBTQ activists. Maybe they won’t win at the Supreme Court this time, or get nondiscrimination legislation passed through this Congress. But, they believe, theirs is a cause of progress. They will eventually win it all.

And that has left a number of their opponents very, very nervous.

When the Equality Act passed in the U.S. House of Representatives this spring, there were no amendments on the floor—it was just an up or down vote. “It’s what a lot of people would call a messaging bill,” said Tyler Deaton, a Republican strategist who works with GOP politicians to support LGBTQ rights. It was a powerful message indeed. The legislation won the vote of every Democrat in the House who participated in the roll call, along with eight Republicans—a clear sign of its broad support. The bill also sent another message: The days of compromise are over.

In recent years, claims of LGBTQ rights have been repeatedly brought into direct conflict with claims of religious conscience. Just this week, the Trump administration proposed a new rule that would allow federal contractors to make hiring and firing decisions based on their religious beliefs and practices; progressive advocates believe the rule will be used to target LGBTQ people. The most notable court cases have involved wedding vendors: conservative, religious cake bakers, photographers, and florists who don’t want to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies. The outcomes of these conflicts have been mixed, but they’ve made progressive LGBTQ advocates even more determined to eliminate the “gaping religious exemption,” as McBride put it. The Equality Act specifically bars any group from using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA, to try to opt out of the bill’s protections.

For religious groups and institutions that teach that homosexuality is a sin, and that men and women were created as such by God, the prospect of this kind of legislation is worrying. “It would be years of litigation—that’s what we would look forward to under the Equality Act as currently drafted,” Shirley Hoogstra, the president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), told me. For the nearly 140 Christian institutions that are members of her organization, she said, the bill “would put federal funding, it would put accreditation, it would put hiring rights, it would put campus student-life policies all at risk.” Fundamentally, these kinds of groups want to be able to preserve what they see as religious integrity in their own spaces—and they object when that is described as bigotry. “The Equality Act as currently drafted has caused Christian institutions to really wonder about whether their particular educational contribution is valued in America,” Hoogstra said.

Hoogstra has been part of a coalition pushing an alternative to the Equality Act called Fairness for All. Her organization, along with groups such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Seventh-day Adventists, believes federal LGBTQ discrimination protections are inevitable—the Equality Act’s passage “was a proof point,” Hoogstra said. They want the final law, whenever it passes, to reflect their needs. Broadly speaking, Fairness for All–style legislation would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, but provide exceptions for certain religious institutions, including schools—much like exceptions that were written into parts of the original Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

So far, this effort has not won any of the public Republican support necessary to make Fairness for All a plausible competitor to the Equality Act. Many Republicans may not see this as a worthwhile way to spend political capital, or remain opposed to establishing any LGBTQ rights in federal law. But the bill’s boosters still see the possibility of a strong coalition between religious-freedom advocates and LGBTQ-rights supporters. “If you canvass LGBT activists or professional LGBT organizations, some of the people that are the most favorable … are heads of equality organizations in red states,” said Tim Schultz, the president of the First Amendment Partnership, a group that has worked on crafting consensus between LGBTQ-rights advocates and religious conservatives.

LGBTQ people in these states generally have no legal recourse against discrimination outside of local and municipal ordinances, which provide only a patchwork of protection. Jeff Graham, the executive director of Georgia Equality, an advocacy group in the state, said he doesn’t necessarily support sweeping religious exemptions, but “I do support us being in dialogue and having a respectful conversation with people of faith … We need to make sure that small-business owners understand that there is not a big agenda out to … hurt them or their businesses.”

Before Fairness for All has truly even launched, however, those seeking an accord have faced major backlash from their backyard. When the evangelical World Magazine broke the news that the CCCU and the National Association of Evangelicals, which claims to represent roughly 45,000 churches, had voted to support the Fairness for All effort, a prominent group of conservative religious leaders signed a letter of condemnation. Laws that provide specific protections for sexual orientation and gender identity “empower the government to use the force of law to silence or punish Americans who seek to exercise their God-given liberty to peacefully live and work consistent with their convictions,” they wrote, and “treat reasonable religious and philosophical beliefs as discriminatory.” The signers included Franklin Graham, the evangelist Billy Graham’s son, who has been known to make inflammatory comments about homosexuality; but also Russell Moore, the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s political arm, who is often seen as a moderating voice in the evangelical world. The NAE has since backed away from full support, citing its “desire to appropriately acknowledge and respect differences among evangelicals.”

All of this complicates the picture of what might come next. If the Democrats make a full electoral sweep in 2020, holding on to the House, taking back the Senate, and winning the White House, it seems likely that the Equality Act will be on their agenda—and it’s unlikely the party’s leadership will be open to finding a middle ground. Meanwhile, the groups totally opposed to this kind of legislation are preparing for legal war. The hard dichotomy between religion and LGBTQ rights is false—a majority of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are themselves religious, and many faith groups welcome and affirm them in their congregations. When it comes to the legal and legislative battlefield, however, that nuance all but disappears.

It’s as true in culture as it is in physics: For any action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, and America seems to be going through one such moment now. In the past five years, public support for people refusing to serve LGBTQ people when it violates their religious beliefs has crept up steadily: Almost a third of Americans, and nearly half of Republicans, say this should be legal, compared with 16 percent and 21 percent, respectively, in 2014. The story of the LGBTQ movement has lately been one of triumph, but it’s not clear whether that will continue. Graham, of Georgia Equality, told me he believes some kind of federal legislation will eventually protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, “but I’m not optimistic that it will happen quickly,” he added. In this political environment, the possibility of moderation and dialogue seems almost antiquated. “It really feels,” he said, “like everything is a battle for the soul of the nation.”

Elizabeth Warren’s Populism For Professionals — Benjamin Wallace-Wells in The New Yorker.

There is a distinct flavor to an Elizabeth Warren campaign event. The energy will be high. The candidate may take the stage at a run; at intervals during her speech, she will clench a fist, thrust it skyward, and cry out, “Yes!” The program will unfold so punctually that certain amused reporters will time its elements with stopwatches on their phones, the way old-timey football writers measured the hang time on punts. When it is time for audience questions, Warren will call out ticket numbers from a raffle-style blind draw (“Four-four-four-two? Who has four-four-four-two? Oh, there you are!”) with a little bit of tension in her voice: Who will ask the questions, and how long they will take to get to the microphone? They do not take long; Warren’s crowds want to impress her. At the end, the campaign’s well-documented selfie line will form, and everyone who wants a photo with Warren will get one. The country can’t really be slipping toward a sloppy authoritarianism if there are this many adults devoted to doing all the little things carefully, can it? Not every Warren event takes place in New England, but they all suggest a New England of the mind.

On Wednesday afternoon, Warren did happen to be in New England, on a Franconia, New Hampshire, farm with a majestic view of the White Mountains. Five hundred white folding chairs had been neatly laid out on the lawn, as if awaiting a wedding. The crowd was a bit bigger than that (“The count is seven hundred,” a press aide whispered to me), and, from walking through it, I would guess that the audience was more than ninety-five per cent white. There were retirees, students, schoolteachers, a few young families on vacation. A youngish man with a blond ponytail wore a T-shirt that read “Warren has a plan for that.” That was the slogan Warren settled on this past winter and spring, when she was introducing a new policy idea seemingly every week, and steadily climbing in the polls. This posture, the politician as expert, seemed to offer some reassurance to Democratic voters that there was an adult in charge. “A woman of substance,” a warmup speaker called Warren, a candidate with “reasonable plans.”

But Warren does not sound, as Hillary Clinton often did, like someone whose aim is to seem reasonable. She runs hotter than that. In her stump speech, she does not read out inequality statistics, as Bernie Sanders does, but instead turns them into an emotional drama, at first through the by-now-familiar story of her mother donning her lone formal dress to apply for her first job, at the age of fifty, to save the family house. Warren remembers her mother crying outside her bedroom door each night and being obviously “terrified.” In Franconia, when Warren addressed the threat of climate change, she did not talk about degrees of warming but about the parental experience of “vulnerability.” (It reminded me a little bit of the way that George W. Bush talked about the threat of terrorism, as part of a successful effort to persuade suburban so-called security moms, in 2004.)

She is running a famously single-minded campaign, with an emphasis on wealth and corruption. In Franconia, the word she kept returning to was “money”; her villain was not Donald Trump, whom she referred to only once, in a parenthetical, before taking questions, but the Koch brothers. (“Oh! You’ve heard of them,” she said, in a tone of mock surprise.) Democracy, she said, has been captured by politics, and politics by greed; big, structural change is required. Toward the end of her stump speech, Warren said, heavily, “Boy, we’re also running out of time on this democracy.” I glanced out at the crowd. Seven hundred people were sitting attentively, in neat rows of white chairs—men in late-model Birkenstocks and women in navy jumpsuits—ready to line up to ask precise and well-planned questions. It was the picture of a prosperous, working democracy with plenty of time.

At this summer’s debates, Warren seemed to make a point of insuring that there was as little space as possible between her and Bernie Sanders. When MSNBC’s hosts asked the candidates whether they supported abolishing the private health-insurance system—an article of faith for Sanders but controversial with the general public, and very unlikely to happen anyway—Warren raised her hand. The two progressives have so loyally stuck to a nonaggression pact between them that it is at once obvious and difficult to fully comprehend that they are not actually competing for the same voters. According to a national Morning Consult poll from last week, the second choice for Sanders voters is not Warren but Joe Biden; Warren is the second choice for those voters who support Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg, who are ideologically more moderate. (Among Warren’s voters, Sanders was the second choice of twenty-five per cent, only slightly more than the twenty-two per cent whose second choice was Harris and the improbable seventeen per cent whose second choice was Biden.) When the election analyst Nathaniel Rakich, of FiveThirtyEight, wrote last month that the Democratic field was finally sorting into some general lanes, they were not defined by ideology—Biden and Sanders seemed to be competing for each other’s voters. In another lane altogether, Harris, Warren, and Buttigieg were competing among themselves. Rakich wrote, “Perhaps what is happening here is that this is the ‘well-educated white liberal lane,’ as polls have generally shown these three candidates doing well with those demographic groups.” You might, more broadly, say that the primary race so far has somewhat less to do with ideology or race than with class.

Warren’s campaign rests on the theory that the past decade has transformed the way class is felt in America, so that instead of the uneducated against the educated, or the heartland against the coasts, it is now also possible to run a widely inclusive, populist campaign against the ultra-rich. If you keep your eye on what the capitalists get away with, you can run on economic populism with the support of doctors and lawyers and the P.T.A. “Your first fifty million, you get to keep. Good for you,” Warren said on Wednesday, explaining her signature wealth-tax proposal. From the ultra-rich—only “a tenth of a tenth of a per cent” of Americans—the government would take two per cent of every dollar after the first fifty million. By the way, she went on, most Americans already pay a wealth tax. “How many people here own their own homes?” Warren asked, and virtually the whole crowd put its fingers to the sky. Looking affirmed, Warren told them that their property taxes were effectively wealth taxes, just for a lesser level of wealth. She wanted to go after the guys “with the Rembrandts and the yachts.”

The Times ran a report from Warren’s campaign this week about the uniquely anxious place she occupies in the imagination of Democratic voters, under the headline “Many Democrats Love Elizabeth Warren. They Also Worry About Her.” The anxieties were that she would make a poor general-election candidate because she is too liberal, because she is a woman, because her disputed claims of Native American ancestry make her seem like a fraud. Most campaign reporters have heard these anxieties. But a different way to describe them would be to say that they are about the gap between the campaign and its cause—about voters’ uncertainty that a wealthy white Ivy League professor can lead a class-based crusade against wealth and its corruptions. Whether the law professor is the right person to pick a fight over the Rembrandts and the yachts.

But Warren is the only candidate in the race whose fortunes have materially improved over the past six months, which suggests that the vein she’s found has less to do with what is permanent within the Democratic electorate than with what is changing. When FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver analyzed polling data from Emerson College last month, he found that Warren, alone among the major contenders, drew support from 2016 Sanders and Clinton voters in equal measure. The signal story of the past decade—of the financial crisis, of Donald Trump, of the #MeToo movement—is about how wealth, power, and depravity have been concentrated in the hands of a very few. The Warren campaign is a test of how broadly that story has resonated, and how much the country has been transformed. As the selfie line formed in Franconia, I saw a new national poll on my phone, from the Economist and YouGov—Biden had fallen to twenty-one per cent, in their accounting, and Warren was up to twenty per cent. Not the front-runner—at least not yet—but the race’s central figure.

Doonesbury — Read much?

Friday, August 16, 2019

Good Move

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is ending his presidential campaign and will challenge Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO).

Good call.  He had no chance at all in the presidential contest, but Gardner is very vulnerable and the Democrats need to take back the Senate if they hope to do anything.

(PS: I called it.  Way back when I said he’d be the first to go.  Yes, Rep. Eric Swalwell came and went, but I made the call before he got in.)

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Wishful Thinking

Via Digby, here’s the result of the election if it were held today and based on approval ratings.

Except the election isn’t being held today and the votes aren’t based on approval ratings.  So this is not really a good indicator of what’s going to happen in fifteen months.

What it does show is that the Republicans have a lot of windward to make up, and we know how they’ll do it: keep pushing the hate, xenophobia, and divisiveness.  And it’s not like we haven’t seen that coming.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

“Beat Them”

Former Rep. David Jolly of Florida, and formerly a Republican, lets fly on MSNBC:

I find myself today offering the same insight I did at the night of the Parkland shooting a few hours from our home in Florida, which is this: Republicans will NEVER do anything on gun control, nothing, EVER. They won’t. Think about Las Vegas. They did nothing when 500 people were injured. The Pulse nightclub, 50 killed. The question for the nation was, do we allow suspected terrorists to buy firearms? Republicans did nothing. Parkland, they did nothing. Emanuel AME in South Carolina, nothing. Go to Sandy Hook in Connecticut, nothing. Jewish temple in Pittsburgh, nothing. Jewish temple in San Diego, nothing. Sutherland Springs, evangelical church in Texas, nothing. Now you have Texas, now you have Ohio in the same weekend and all we get is silence. I say that because if this is the issue that forms your ideology as a voter the strength to draw in this moment is to commit to BEATING Republicans, BEAT them. Beat every single one of them. Even the safe ones in the House, BEAT them. Beat them in the SENATE. Take back the Senate.

Welcome to the club, David.  We’re having jackets made.

I think a few current GOP office holders are getting the hint: there are now upwards of twelve in Congress who have announced that they see the train heading towards them and are now planning to spend more time with their family.  And as the Democratic presidential field narrows, those who are pulling less than stellar ratings but still have a chance to win in a local race, e.g. Senate, should figure out a graceful way to turn their sights on doing that. That is where the true difference can be made.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Democrats Debate Round 2 Second Night

I saw snippets, but I’ll take a spin around the pundit’s playpen and see what I come up with.

So far it seems that Cory Booker redeemed himself, as did Julian Castro, and Joe Biden surprised some chin-strokers by actually showing some spryness.  I’ll dig in deeper and update as I get into the weeds (and worry about mixing metaphors later, when I’ve had some more coffee).

Okay, after consulting the tea-leaves and coffee grounds, the consensus seems to be that Joe Biden didn’t do any harm to himself but didn’t make a huge leap, which is about all you can hope for when the field is so crowded, and that it’s high time for the folks drawing 1% in the polls make other plans or suck up to the eventual nominee for a cabinet position or run for the Senate, especially in states where the GOP is facing a tough re-elect such as Colorado (hi, John Hickenlooper).

I did watch the first few minutes with the WWE-style introductions and the color guard parade complete with the Pledge of Allegiance.  (What, no jet flyover?)  That was to shore up any questions about Democrats being patriotic. To run that idea into the ground, Tulsi Gabbard ran an ad during the first commercial break where she recited the Pledge of Allegiance in her military uniform.  Okay, we get it.  The question is, why bother?  We know that Trump and the Republican minions will call them traitors anyway.

I get it that this is all a ritual that we’re going through and it’s fun to mock the crowd.  But this is a very strange way to select someone to take out an existential threat to our nation, and doing it like an event in Las Vegas only heightens the triteness.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Democrats Debate Round 2 First Night

Owing to the fact that I was asleep by 7:30 pm EDT, I missed it.  So I will have to catch up and rely on the punditocracy for their insight.

Did you watch?  Who won?  Who lost?  Who will become an answer on “Jeopardy” next year, and who will end up in the next Democratic president’s cabinet, assuming we still have a functioning democracy after 2020?

Here’s a sum-up by Josh Marshall:

On balance I thought this was a pretty productive, good debate for the simple reason that a series of central debates in the Democratic party and this campaign were joined clearly, in a generally well argued and illuminating way. Former Rep. John Delaney was clearly the odd man out on the stage (possibly with Gov. Bullock a runner up). He frequently seemed like he was in a time warp back to the 1990s. But he provided an effective foil to Warren and Sanders; he even leveled some reasonable critiques. In so doing he managed to garner wildly more time on air than his non-candidacy possibly merits. But I thought it was good because you had a series of set piece exchanges which really captured the broader debate in a clear and illuminating way.

On balance, I would say Warren was the big winner of the evening. I continue to think and worry that her embrace of Medicare for All, with a deep clarity about the prohibition of private insurance, could be a major electoral liability if she becomes the nominee. But to me she had a clarity and energy that owned the stage. She had directness, moments of memorable humor and compelling explanation. I didn’t think she did as well in the first debate as some others did. In this case I think she had a very strong night.

Mayor Pete made a good point:

“It is time to stop worrying about what the Republicans will say,” Buttigieg said at one point. “It’s true that if we embrace a far-left agenda, they’re going to say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists. If we embrace a conservative agenda, you know what they’re going to do? They’re going to say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists.”

Whoever it is, he/she/they/them will be running against the most dangerous and racist occupant of the office since Andrew Jackson.  All the policies and ideas are fine for discussion, but Job 1 is getting that stain on democracy and civilization out of office.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Now And Forever

November 2020 is a long way off but we’re already seeing the rumblings of punditry telling us that Trump has a lock on the Electoral College and the Democrats are in total disarray.  I’m not sure if there’s methodology to this, but it seems that like a summer heat wave — both predictable and unprepared for — the plotting and the hand-wringing comes along with it.

Right now you can pick and choose your poison and night sweats about about Trump in office for another term, or you can take a deep breath, exhale, and get to work coming up with candidates and policy ideas that are less a response to the spasms of this id-driven narcissist and more grounded in what the country actually needs.

I think Frank Bruni makes a couple of good points here.

The Democratic Party and the Democratic candidates for president need to be smarter, more realistic and more disciplined than they are now. Enough with internal feuding. Enough with taking the president’s bait and bumbling into his traps. If he sets the terms of the political discussion, he wins.

He wants to spend the 15 months between now and Election Day talking about “the squad”: Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley. Democrats mustn’t follow suit. Absolutely they should defend the four congresswomen, and make clear that they are every bit as American as Trump is. In taking issue with his leadership and finding fault with our country, they’re exercising and honoring our most dearly held rights, which the president is trampling on.

So say that once, loud and clear. Maybe say it twice. Then move on. Trump wants to define all Democrats in terms of the squad, when they’re but a part of a diverse party and hardly its ideological proxies. So don’t let him. Don’t let all the other issues get muscled off the stage. If everyone’s talking about Omar, no one’s talking about health care or jobs: the stuff that actually turns elections and will turn this one. If Trump has his way, this campaign will be a bogus referendum on a bastard definition of patriotism. It will be a race-obsessed and racist jubilee. Don’t play along.

[…]

…Reeling from the ugliness of his actions and words — which are meant to make them reel — Democrats want to repudiate him as forcefully as possible. But that can lead to a reaction that’s neither smart politics nor good policy.

Nancy Pelosi knows this. It’s why she hasn’t been talking up the Green New Deal, single-payer insurance or impeachment, and the suggestion that this makes her some squishy centrist pushover — some musty relic from a timid era — is bunk. She has her eyes on the most meaningful prize, one she pursued successfully in the midterms: Democratic victory. And she can see that in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll published a little over a week ago, just 21 percent of registered voters said that there was enough evidence for Congress to begin impeachment hearings.

[…]

I wonder what would happen if the Democratic nominee simply refused to talk about Trump. No responding to whatever stupid nickname he comes up with. No sweeping denunciation of some deed of his that any sensible American already knows is wrong. Just the articulation of better solutions to America’s problems. Trump would go mad with the lack of attention. And maybe then, thank heaven, he’d go away.

I wouldn’t so blithely say he’d go away; even if he’s dragged kicking and screaming from the West Wing, we’ll have to endure his tweets and his plotting to come back like a bad repeat of Grover Cleveland’s second term, so far the only president to win again after losing re-election.  So this has to be a permanent win; not just the White House and the Senate in 2020, but for the next two to four election cycles.  Democrats have the numbers to be a permanent majority and they’re growing all the time.  They just have to use them.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Too Late To Turn Back Now

The New York Times:

Nervous Republicans, from senior members of Congress to his own daughter Ivanka, urged President Trump on Thursday to repudiate the “send her back” chant directed at a Somali-born congresswoman during his speech the night before at a rally in North Carolina, amid widespread fears that the rally had veered into territory that could hurt their party in 2020.

In response, Mr. Trump disavowed the behavior of his own supporters in comments to reporters at the White House and claimed that he had tried to contain it, an assertion clearly contradicted by video of the event.

Mr. Trump said he was “not happy” with the chant directed at Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a freshman Democrat who is Muslim. At the rally Wednesday evening, he had been in the middle of denouncing her as an anti-American leftist who has spoken in “vicious, anti-Semitic screeds” when the chant was taken up by the crowd.

Pressed on why he did not stop it, Mr. Trump said, “I think I did — I started speaking very quickly.” In fact, as the crowd roared “send her back,” Mr. Trump paused and looked around silently for more than 10 seconds as the scene unfolded in front of him, doing nothing to halt the chorus. “I didn’t say that,” he added. “They did.”

Of course nothing he does is ever his fault and if someone takes it the wrong way, that’s their fault, not his.  Remember, he doesn’t have a racist bone in his body.  (Easy to say when you have an exoskeleton.)

And now the Republicans are getting nervous?  Oh, they think that this might somehow reflect on them and what they believe?  Gee, how could that happen?  None of them were tweeting about sending people back where they came from, so how could anyone think they agree with that?  “We saw nothing!  We know nothing!”

Via.

Mr. Trump’s cleanup attempt reflected the misgivings of political allies who have warned him privately that however much his hard-core supporters in the arena might have enjoyed the moment, the president was playing with political fire, according to people briefed on the conversations.

Among them were House Republican leaders, who pleaded with Vice President Mike Pence to distance the party from the message embraced by the crowd in Greenville, N.C. Mr. Pence conveyed that directly to Mr. Trump, according to people familiar with the exchange.

“That does not need to be our campaign call, like we did the ‘lock her up’ last time,” said Representative Mark Walker, Republican of North Carolina, a top official in the party’s messaging arm, referring to the chant that routinely broke out whenever Mr. Trump mentioned Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign. Midway through that race, Mr. Trump told reporters he did not approve of that chant, but he never intervened.

Mr. Walker, who attended the rally on Wednesday night, later posted on Twitter that he had “struggled” with the chant. “We cannot be defined by this,” he said.

Well, guess what, pal.  It’s too late to suddenly realize that every Republican now running for office is lashed to this particular mast.  Or tree.  Or cross.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Fast Start

Amy McGrath has gotten off to a rousing start in her Senate race in Kentucky against Mitch McConnell.

WASHINGTON — Kentucky Democratic Senate candidate Amy McGrath raised more than $2.5 million in the first 24 hours of her campaign against Mitch McConnell — over $1 million of it coming in just the first five and a half hours after she announced, according to her campaign.

McGrath campaign manager Mark Nickolas said it’s the most ever raised in the first 24 hours of a Senate campaign. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee says the next closest was former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, who raised $1 million in his first day of his campaign in Arizona.

The haul is a sign of just how deep Democratic antipathy toward McConnell, the Senate majority leader, runs in the Trump era.

All of the $2.5 million came in online donations with an average donation of $36.15, her campaign manager said. The $2.5 million total doesn’t include any additional traditional fundraising money that may have been raised in the form of checks or promised campaign contributions.

McGrath’s race against McConnell promises to be one of the most expensive Senate races of the 2020 election cycle. McConnell, as the Senate majority leader, has a formidable fundraising machine — in 2014, he raised and spent over $30 million in his race against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Add in all the usual caveats about early money not meaning a lot later on (e.g. President Phil Gram), but it does indicate that an attractive and strong candidate has a lot of potential.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Going After McConnell

It’s about damn time.

Democrats are increasingly focused on making Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a political villain as they attempt to win back control of the Senate in next year’s election and galvanize the party’s liberal base.

That effort gained new momentum on Tuesday as Amy McGrath, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel and combat pilot, announced she would challenge McConnell (R-Ky.) and blamed him for turning Washington into “something we despise” in a campaign video that drew millions of views.

While McGrath faces a steep climb against McConnell in ruby-red Kentucky, which President Trump carried by 30 percentage points in 2016, she is expected to raise significant funds from national Democrats and provide the party with a relentless and high-profile opponent.

Yes, of course it’s going to be hard to beat McConnell; he’s got a lot of very rich right-wingers and coal interests, not to mention Fox News and their mighty Wurlitzer, but at least they’ve got a viable candidate in Amy McGrath.  And you know she’s scaring the crap out of him because his campaign jumped on her before the credits rolled.  If she wasn’t a threat, they’d ignore her.

The Democrats should have had McConnell in their sights long before this.  It wasn’t just the sandbagging of Merrick Garland; it goes back to the first days of the Obama administration when he let it be known that his goal in life was to make him a one-term president.  That may be a viable political aspiration, but if you run the Senate like that, what the hell is the difference between us and Zimbabwe?  He’s not just a “political villain.”  He’s a villain, pure and simple.

Winning back the Senate is the key to getting rid of Trumpism, or at the least shrinking it down to where, as Grover Norquist so pithily put it, drowning it in a bathtub.  And if we can’t beat McConnell, the next best thing would be to make him minority leader and wipe that lipless smirk off his face.  Which is why I implore all those nice folks running for president from states with senate races next year to politely direct their attention to a far more likely obtainable goal and doing the rest of us the favor of saving the country.