Monday, February 15, 2021

That’s A Wrap

Okay, so the second impeachment of Trump is over and went the way we all knew it would.  I am not surprised that seven Republicans voted to convict: two of them have announced they’re retiring, and the others were just re-elected so they are relying on the notoriously short memory of the electorate so that when they are next up for re-election it will be in the middle of Joe Biden’s second term.  They get a golf-clap if not for their courage than for their political calculation.

As far as the focus of this entire exercise, I am determined to relegate him to the ash-heap of history.  In the last four years, I made it a small point to myself never to use the word “president” as a modifier or honorific for Trump (that does not include the articles I posted) because while I believe the office is more important than the occupant, he did everything he could to defile the space occupied by such men as Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, Dwight Eisenhower, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy who understood the burden they undertook.  None of them were perfect, and some had more success in office than others, but at the very least they did not attempt to remake the nation into an authoritarian state in their own perverted image.

I wish I could promise that I will never write about him again, but that’s irresponsible blogging (like there’s a rule about that), and I look forward to seeing the arc of justice bend down and bite him in the ass.  But for now, there’s too much work to do to get our normal back.  And to quote President Jed Bartlet, “what’s next?”

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Good Morning

It feels different already.  When I wake up, I turn on the radio next to my bed and listen to the BBC World Service, which is the overnight broadcast from the local NPR station.  For the last four years I’ve been hearing from them with their patented British understatement what’s been happening overnight, often leading with something Trump did or said that made me want to roll over and put the pillow over my ears.  But this morning…

Things are happening.  Good things.  Xenophobic and regressive policies are being rolled back.  Covid-19 is being taken seriously.  A press secretary at the podium in the White House briefing room is actually answering questions instead of making shit up on the fly.  People are smiling; you can see it under their masks.

It’s not just about policy, either.  It’s just a feeling that the confrontations, the bullying, the lying for the sake of one-upping, the brutal glare of petulant score-keeping even on those rare occasions when things go well, is now in the past.  The adolescent tantrums are being replaced by the steady hand of maturity and grace.

My jaw isn’t clenched.  I am still aware of the dangers of the pandemic, of those forces inside and out who are against us, but at least I don’t feel that we are teetering on the edge of a cliff.

I know that the euphoria won’t last, but now we can at least get back to work.  We have too much to do.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther KingToday is the federal holiday set aside to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday.

For me, growing up as a white kid in a middle-class suburb in the Midwest in the 1960’s, Dr. King’s legacy would seem to have a minimum impact; after all, what he was fighting for didn’t affect me directly in any way. But my parents always taught me that anyone oppressed in our society was wrong, and that in some way it did affect me. This became much more apparent as I grew up and saw how the nation treated its black citizens; those grainy images on TV and in the paper of water-hoses turned on the Freedom Marchers in Alabama showed me how much hatred could be turned on people who were simply asking for their due in a country that promised it to them. And when I came out as a gay man, I became much more aware of it when I applied the same standards to society in their treatment of gays and lesbians.

Perhaps the greatest impression that Dr. King had on me was his unswerving dedication to non-violence in his pursuit of civil rights. He withstood taunts, provocations, and rank invasions of his privacy and his life at the hands of racists, hate-mongers, and the federal government, yet he never raised a hand in anger against anyone. He deplored the idea of an eye for an eye, and he knew that responding in kind would only set back the cause. I was also impressed that his spirituality and faith were his armor and his shield, not his weapon, and he never tried to force his religion on anyone else. The supreme irony was that he died at the hands of violence, much like his role model, Mahatma Gandhi.

There’s a question in the minds of a lot of people of how to celebrate a federal holiday for a civil rights leader. Isn’t there supposed to be a ritual or a ceremony we’re supposed to perform to mark the occasion? But how do you signify in one day or in one action what Dr. King stood for, lived for, and died for? Last August marked the fifty-sixth anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech. That marked a moment; a milestone.

Today is supposed to honor the man and what he stood for and tried to make us all become: full citizens with all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship; something that is with us all day, every day.

For me, it’s having the memories of what it used to be like and seeing what it has become for all of us that don’t take our civil rights for granted, which should be all of us, and being both grateful that we have come as far as we have and humbled to know how much further we still have to go.

*

Today is also a school holiday, so blogging will be on a holiday schedule.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Sunday Reading

History Walks with Deb Haaland — by Charlie Pierce.

In 1972, a group of Native American activists occupied the abandoned prison on Alcatraz Island off San Francisco. They based their claim on the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, which stated that, under certain circumstance, unused federal lands could revert to their original owners. A Native-American health center in San Francisco had burned down recently, so the occupiers decided that the Rock would serve as a fine replacement. The occupation lasted almost two years and, though it ended roughly, it marked a new era in the relationship of the federal government and the Native peoples to whom that government had done so much injury over the previous 300 years. One particular offender down through the decades had been the United States Department of the Interior—the Bureau of Indian Affairs is lodged in there. And the Interior Department was tasked with enforcing the Dawes Act, which did so much to demolish tribal unity and identity.

So, all of American history, good and bad, echoed on Wednesday when President-Elect Joe Biden named New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland to be his Secretary of the Interior. Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo people, is the first Native American to be named to a Cabinet position and, as we’ve seen, her appointment to run Interior has a significance far beyond the ordinary Cabinet appointment. From the New York Times:

Ms. Haaland, a citizen of Laguna Pueblo, one of the country’s 574 federally recognized tribes, would helm the federal agency most responsible for the well-being of the nation’s 1.9 million Indigenous people. Among other things, the Interior Department runs the Bureau of Indian Education and the Bureau of Trust Funds Administration, which manages the financial assets of American Indians held in trust. For generations, Native Americans have fought the department’s policies and demanded a greater voice in its operation. In one instance, in 1972, about 500 activists took over the department’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., protesting living standards and broken treaties.

I have been excessively neutral on most of Biden’s Cabinet picks so far. If he wants a Cabinet with whom he feels comfortable, then I’m all right with that. Having sat through most of the confirmation hearings for the previous passel of crooks and mountebanks—Mnuchin, who forget to list assets, and DeVos and her grizzlies, and Interior nominee Ryan Zinke, who left after two years under a hail of writs—I’m willing to accept almost anybody Biden appoints. I have qualms about Lloyd Austin at Defense because of the whole civilian-military thing. I’m OK with Pete Buttigieg at Transportation because, what the hell, Biden wasn’t going to appoint a subway motorman or an airline pilot to the gig.

But, to me, anyway, Haaland is the home run pick that bounces onto Lansdowne Street. Not only is her appointment of profound historical resonance, but she’s a brilliant political organizer, and that’s what it’s going to take to wrench Interior back to its original mission and away from being the auction house that the departing administration had made of it.

Over the past two years, Ms. Haaland has served on the House Natural Resources Committee, which oversees the Interior Department. Under the Trump administration, the current and former Interior secretaries, David Bernhardt and Ryan Zinke, have used the agency to make it easier to mine and drill on public lands, while also weakening protections on endangered species. Just this week, the Interior Department finalized two rules that limit protections to animals and plants under the Endangered Species Act. Ms. Haaland has not held back in her fierce criticism of policies that have opened millions of acres to oil and gas drilling.

“The sad fact is that we have a president who is intent on selling off our public lands to his friends for fracking and drilling,” she said in a speech earlier this year. She noted that under Mr. Bernhardt and Mr. Zinke, the Interior Department slashed the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante, national monuments in Utah that are adjacent to Navajo nation territories and a Hopi reservation, opening up the land to mining and drilling.

The last time I saw Deb Haaland was at an pre-caucus event on the Meskwaki Settlement in Iowa. She was there as a campaign surrogate for Senator Professor Warren. This is part of what she said to her audience, most of whom were Meskwaki, a people that originally had lived on land in upstate New York only to get moved westward as the United States grew, often through the kind offices of the Department of the Interior.

“For a lot of my life,” she said, “I was the only Indian in the room. The only Indian in the classroom. The only one on the job site, or wherever. So it was nice to have someone else in Congress [Sharice Davids of Kansas, who was elected in 2018 just as Haaland was] who knows what it’s like to be me.”

History, good and bad, walks with this woman.

The Loser — Susan B. Glasser in The New Yorker.

In the six weeks since the Presidential election, various theories—many of them persuasive—have been advanced to explain President Trump’s refusal to accept Joe Biden’s victory. Trump’s decision to attack the legitimacy of the election has been seen, correctly, as an attack on democracy itself, and as a purposeful and brutally effective use of disinformation. And also as the behavior of a would-be dictator who is dragging an entire political party into a fever dream of denialism. Trump’s protracted post-election fit has been analyzed as preparation for a comeback bid in 2024 and as a fund-raising scam that has brought in hundreds of millions of dollars to support his post-White House political efforts. Very likely, Trump’s continued rejection of his defeat is some of all the above.

But in politics, and especially with this President, the simplest explanation for something is usually the best one. Whatever the other reasons are for his ongoing post-election temper tantrum, it couldn’t be more clear that Trump is also motivated by the simple psychological fact that he really, really hates being called a “loser.” It’s one of his favorite insults, and a label he would do anything to avoid having affixed to his own name. Just in the course of this election year, he has called Chuck Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader, “a totally overrated loser,” and George Conway, the conservative lawyer who became one of his sharpest critics, a “deranged loser of a husband” to his adviser Kellyanne Conway. He said that Cory Booker, Chris Cuomo, John Kasich, and John Kelly were losers, too. In September, The Atlantic reported that he had called American soldiers who died fighting overseas “suckers” and “losers.” When the Republican senator Mitt Romney has criticized Trump, the President has responded by reminding the former Republican Presidential nominee of his defeat in the 2012 election. “LOSER!” he tweeted, after one such episode, taunting Romney by attaching a video of his 2012 concession alongside Trump’s 2016 victory speech. Since November 3rd, however, the word has practically disappeared from his vocabulary.

“If I lost, I’d be a very gracious loser,” the President told a rally, in Georgia, on December 5th—more than a month after he did, in fact, lose. On Monday, the Electoral College met in all fifty state capitals to ratify that loss. Trump was not only not gracious; he continued to refuse to accept his defeat. A few weeks ago, in one of his few post-election comments to the media, a very testy Trump insisted that he would leave office if and when the Electoral College certified Biden’s victory. “Certainly, I will. Certainly, I will,” Trump said. “And you know that.” Now that the Electoral College has affirmed Biden’s win, however, Trump is no longer acknowledging that he will leave office. CNN even reported, the other day, that, in private, he has backed away from previous indications to his aides that he accepts his defeat.

Perhaps Trump believes that his continued rejection of the reality of his loss makes him appear to be a fighter. Perhaps he really has convinced himself that the outrageous claims he is making about an election conspiracy so vast that it involves millions of fraudulent votes, a dead Venezuelan dictator, and Republican officials in a half-dozen states are true. Many commentators—including me—have pointed with alarm to Trump’s success at convincing millions of Republican voters to doubt the legitimacy of Biden’s win, and the fact that two-thirds of the House Republican Conference last week signed onto the quickly dismissed Texas lawsuit to throw out the results in four key states—Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—where Biden prevailed. If Trump’s goal was proving that the Party remains loyal to him, he has succeeded extraordinarily. Who could have imagined four years ago that a large part of the national G.O.P. leadership would be so devoted to Donald Trump that it would follow him down the path of outright rejection when the election did not go his way?

But there is another way of looking at what Trump has been doing since November 3rd, and it does not suggest a strategy of political genius—or, really, much of a strategy at all. In pushing back so insistently and filing so many baseless lawsuits, Trump has forced dozens of conservatives at every level of American society to attest to the integrity of the vote—and highlight Trump’s loss. Republican governors in states such as Arizona and Georgia have affirmed that he lost—not only their states but the election over all. Republican-appointed judges have affirmed that he lost. So have many Republican officials who played a role in certifying the results in the states that handed the Presidency to Biden. “Voters, not lawyers, choose the President,” Stephanos Bibas, a federal appeals-court judge appointed by Trump, wrote, in throwing out one of the Pennsylvania cases. Trump, he noted, can’t just tweet his way to victory: “Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here. Calling an election unfair does not make it so.” The Wisconsin Supreme Court, in a ruling by a conservative Republican justice, warned that Trump, in seeking to “disenfranchise every Wisconsin voter,” was testing the “faith in our system of free and fair elections.” The two cases that Trump sought to bring to the U.S. Supreme Court were so weak that the nine Justices declined even to hear arguments on their merits.

The President’s extraordinary challenge to the electoral system has forced even some of Trump’s staunchest loyalists here in Washington to finally push back and defend the integrity of the vote. Attorney General William Barr stated publicly that there was no evidence of widespread fraud sufficient enough to overturn the election results, and, after Trump became furious about that comment, announced his resignation, earlier this week. On Tuesday, in the wake of the Electoral College’s decision, even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell belatedly affirmed that Trump had lost, congratulated Biden, and urged Republican senators not to go along with further efforts to contest the result, because they risked forcing the Senate into a political loser of a vote. A few hard-core Trump supporters in the House are now pushing for a last stand on January 6th, when Congress must meet to receive the Electoral College results. But that effort, too, is doomed to fail, and could only result in McConnell’s Republicans having to vote against it in the Senate—and showcasing, once again, that Trump was decisively and convincingly defeated. “I don’t think it’s a good decision right now,” John Thune, the Republican senator from South Dakota, who is McConnell’s deputy, told reporters, on Thursday. “And I don’t think it’s good for the country.”

Is any of this really serving Trump well? I know we’ve got used to thinking of Trump as a genius in turning bad news on its head, in creating grievance out of setbacks and then using those grievances to further cement his hold over his Party. I’ve watched him run this play over and over again. I get it. But the alternate way of looking at his post-election behavior is that he is cementing his reputation as the sorest of sore losers. Not only that, but he is crying so long and loudly about the unfairness of his loss that he is forcing officials at every level of government, across the country, to take sides—against him. His frenetic efforts to deny his defeat have simply underscored it. Trump really is leaving office on January 20th, and he really will go out as an impeached and defeated President, forevermore listed in the history books alongside Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter and all the other one-termers he disdains. He is now, and will always be, a loser.

Doonesbury — Who was that masked man?

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Sunday Reading

Ruth Bader Ginsburg — Jill Lepore in The New Yorker.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, scholar, lawyer, judge, and Justice, died on Friday at the age of eighty-seven. Born the year Eleanor Roosevelt became First Lady, Ginsburg bore witness to, argued for, and helped to constitutionalize the most hard-fought and least-appreciated revolution in modern American history: the emancipation of women. Aside from Thurgood Marshall, no single American has so wholly advanced the cause of equality under the law.

The change Ginsburg ushered into American politics began a half century ago, and reckoning with its magnitude requires measuring the distance between now and then. At the time, only three in a hundred legal professionals and fewer than two hundred of the nation’s ten thousand judges were women. In 1971, as Richard Nixon prepared to make two appointments to the Supreme Court, he faced a dilemma. Yet another Southerner he’d tapped had been nixed for an opposition to desegregation, so Nixon decided to look for someone who was, preferably, not a racist. He considered naming a woman. “I’m not for women, frankly, in any job,” he told his aides, in a little fit of hysterics. “Thank God we don’t have any in the Cabinet.” He didn’t think women should be educated, or “ever be allowed to vote, even.” But, given the momentum of the women’s-rights movement, he conceded the political necessity of naming a woman to the bench: it might gain him a small but crucial number of votes in the upcoming election. “It’s like the Negro vote,” he said. “It’s a hell of a thing.” Then Chief Justice Warren Burger, in a similar huff, told Nixon that, if he were to nominate a woman, he’d resign. In the end, Nixon named Lewis Powell.

While all these men were dithering, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was working for the A.C.L.U., writing the brief for a case set to go before the Court, Reed v. Reed. Decided on November 22, 1971, weeks after Powell’s confirmation hearings, Reed v. Reed upended a century of American jurisprudence and the entirety of political thought going back to the beginning of the Republic. Before 1971, as Ginsburg would later write, “Neither legislators nor judges regarded gender lines as ‘back of the bus’ regulations. Rather, these rules were said to place women on a pedestal.” Thomas Jefferson had taken the trouble to explain that women had no part in the Framers’ understanding of the government devised by the Constitution. “Were our state a pure democracy,” he wrote, “there would yet be excluded from their deliberations . . . women; who, to prevent deprivation of morals, and ambiguity of issues, could not mix promiscuously in the public gatherings of men.” Women were to be excluded for their own protection. The early women’s-rights movement, in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, had not defeated that argument, and the Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, did not explicitly—or implicitly, according to the Court—bar discrimination on the basis of sex. In 1873, ruling on a case in which Myra Bradwell had sued the state of Illinois for denying her the right to practice law, one Supreme Court Justice explained his logic this way: “The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life.” That, as Ginsburg liked to say, was a cage, pretending to be a pedestal.

Reed v. Reed, in 1971, involved an Idaho statute that gave preference to men—“males must be preferred to females”—in executing estates. The Court, following Ginsburg’s brief, ruled for the first time that discrimination on the basis of sex violated the equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Writing for the majority, Burger used language that had been introduced by Ginsburg: “To give a mandatory preference to members of either sex over members of the other, merely to accomplish the elimination of hearings on the merits, is to make the very kind of arbitrary legislative choice forbidden by the equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and whatever may be said as to the positive values of avoiding intrafamily controversy, the choice in this context may not lawfully be mandated solely on the basis of sex.” Just a few years later, Ginsburg was arguing her own cases before the Court, and the Chief Justice was stumbling over how to address her. “Mrs. Bader? Mrs. Ginsburg?”

Ruth Bader was born in Brooklyn in 1933 and went to Cornell, where she met Martin Ginsburg. They married and enrolled at Harvard Law School, which had only just begun admitting women. Ginsburg raised their baby, and also cared for Marty, who was diagnosed with cancer, and then she followed him to New York, finishing her law degree at Columbia. She faced discrimination on the basis of sex at every stage of her career. Tied for first in her class at Columbia, she was unable to get a job practicing law at a New York firm. But, far from being defeated by discrimination, she decided to study it. She began teaching at Rutgers in 1963; in 1969, the year her second child entered nursery school, she was promoted to full professor, and began volunteering for the A.C.L.U., where she later headed the Women’s Rights Project.

In 1972, just two months after the Court handed down its ruling in Reed v. Reed, Ginsburg became the first woman to hold a full professorship at Columbia. “The only confining thing for me is time,” she told the New York Times. “I’m not going to curtail my activities in any way to please them.” While teaching at Columbia, Ginsburg argued six cases before the Court, and won four. As Jeffrey Toobin reported in a Profile of Ginsburg, she took a crucial tip from the woman who typed her briefs. “I was doing all these sex-discrimination cases, and my secretary said, ‘I look at these pages and all I see is sex, sex, sex. The judges are men, and when they read that they’re not going to be thinking about what you want them to think about,’ ” Ginsburg said. She decided to rename this type of complaint “gender discrimination.”

Ginsburg sometimes said that tackling gender discrimination, case by case, was like “knitting a sweater,” a phrase perhaps meant to disarm her opponents. The actual sweater should have been a constitutional amendment. Ginsburg advocated, vehemently, for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, which had been passed by Congress in 1972; she argued that it looked “toward a legal system in which each person will be judged on individual merit and not on the basis of an unalterable trait of birth.” And she regretted the Court’s logic in Roe v. Wade, in 1973, a case decided not on an equal-rights argument but on a privacy one. (As I pointed out in a 2018 essay, when asked by the A.C.L.U. to take on the defense of Roe, Ginsburg declined.) In 1980, when Jimmy Carter nominated Ginsburg to the D.C. Circuit Court, an aide in Strom Thurmond’s office, at her confirmation hearings, called her a “one-issue woman.” Thurmond was the only member of the committee to vote against her.

Ginsburg’s position on Roe earned her the ire of many feminists who failed to support her nomination to the Supreme Court, in 1993. “My approach, I believe, is neither liberal nor conservative,” she told the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, chaired by Joe Biden. That her nomination had been uncontroversial is entirely a myth, as is the idea that her opinions, after her confirmation, were caustic and biting, the “Ginsburns” of her character on “Saturday Night Live.” Ginsburg believed in the body of the Court, in collegiality of argument, and in moderation of expression. She was famously, even maddeningly, careful. She took so much time thinking about what people said to her, and choosing her own words, Toobin reported, that “her clerks came up with what they call the two-Mississippi rule: after speaking, wait two beats before you say anything else.”

Her most significant opinions were those she wrote for the majority, including in U.S. v. Virginia, a 1996 case in which the Court ruled that the Virginia Military Institute’s refusal to enroll female students violated the equal-protection clause. Ginsburg’s opinion served as a history lesson, partly for the public and partly for her fellow-Justices. “Through a century plus three decades and more, women did not count among voters composing ‘We the People,’ ” she wrote. “Not until 1920 did women gain a constitutional right to the franchise. And for a half century thereafter, it remained the prevailing doctrine that government, both federal and state, could withhold from women opportunities accorded men so long as any ‘basis in reason’ could be conceived for the discrimination.” The turning point, she observed, had come in Reed v. Reed: “In 1971, for the first time in our Nation’s history, this Court ruled in favor of a woman who complained that her State had denied her the equal protection of its laws.”

Of course, the real turning point had come when Ginsburg joined the bench. For most of Ginsburg’s career, the Court had been fairly moderate. It was not until the nineteen-eighties, when Reagan appointed Antonin Scalia, that modern conservatives began to join the Court. During Ginsburg’s tenure, George W. Bush appointed Justices Roberts and Alito, and Trump appointed Gorsuch and Kavanaugh. As the Court shifted, Ginsburg was cast as its Great Dissenter, though the role went largely against her disposition. Ginsburg cherished honest disagreement, firmly expressed, but she disliked petty, scathing opinions. In “Speaking in a Judicial Voice,” a lecture she delivered in 1992, the year before she joined the Court, she condemned “the immoderate tone of statements diverging from the positions of the court’s majority.” “The most effective dissent,” she wrote, “spells out differences without jeopardizing collegiality or public respect for and confidence in the judiciary.”

She stood by that, even as she found herself writing more and more separate opinions, a turn that began with Bush v. Gore (2000), in which she objected to the majority’s decision to halt the recount in Florida. “The Court’s conclusion that a constitutionally adequate recount is impractical is a prophecy the Court’s own judgment will not allow to be tested,” she wrote. “Such an untested prophecy should not decide the Presidency of the United States.” At the conclusion of that opinion, she allowed a rare breach of decorum, writing not “Respectfully, I dissent,” but, with a quiet fury, “I dissent.”

Ginsburg’s dissents carried a particular power, not only rhetorically but politically. On the Roberts Court, she became the leader of the liberal wing, and, in 2007, in a case involving Lilly Ledbetter, a supervisor for Goodyear Tires, she wrote a dissent objecting to the majority’s denial of an argument about sex discrimination in employment. That opinion was so compelling that it led to the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, signed by Barack Obama in 2009. And perhaps Ginsburg’s most resonant dissent, in light of this year’s election, is the one she wrote in Shelby County v. Holder, in 2013, in which the majority all but struck down the 1965 Voting Rights Act, on the basis of the bizarre argument that it (and one of its features, known as “preclearance”) had effectively solved voter suppression for posterity. “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes,” Ginsburg wrote, “is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” When she read the dissent aloud in Court, as Jane Sherron De Hart observed in a recent biography, she added a conclusion that was not in the written version. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” she said, quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. But it only bends that way, she went on, “if there is a steadfast commitment to see the task through to completion.” Much that Ginsburg predicted about the stripping away of voting rights has come to pass.

During Ginsburg’s final two decades on the court, she fought colon cancer (first diagnosed in 1999), pancreatic cancer (2009), underwent heart surgery (2014), suffered injuries from falls (2012 and 2018), underwent surgery for malignancies on her left lung (2018), and had radiation when the pancreatic cancer returned (2019). She seldom missed a day in court. She also regrettably, and presumably thinking Hillary Clinton would defeat Trump in 2016, resisted calls to retire during Obama’s second term, when he could have appointed a liberal Justice as her successor.

The pleasure Ginsburg took in her own celebrity, as she became a feminist icon, is understandable, if also troubling. Historically, the Court is meant to be insulated from public opinion, which also requires of the Justices that they lead largely private lives. Ginsburg was by no means the first to flout this convention, but she flouted it considerably, appearing on late-night television shows and becoming the subject of documentaries, feature films, and books for children. She spoke, in the last years of her life, to crowds numbering in the tens of thousands. And she came to regret the changes to the Court itself, the way hyperpolarization had transformed the nomination and confirmation process. “I wish I could wave a magic wand and have it go back to the way it was,” she said in 2018, after the Kavanaugh hearings.

There is no magic wand, and there is no going back. The Supreme Court, like much of the rest of the federal government, is at risk of becoming an instrument of the executive instead of a check against it. Preserving the Court’s independence will require courage and conviction of Ginsburgian force. And there are changes, too, that most of us would never want undone. A century after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s pioneering career as a scholar, advocate, and judge stands as a monument to the power of dissent. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life. It took centuries, and tens of millions of women, to dismantle that nonsense. And no single one of them was more important than Ginsburg, warm-hearted, razor-sharp, and dauntless.

The Real Deal — Charlie Pierce says Attorney General William Barr is the real authoritarian.

No matter how you feel about El Caudillo Del Mar-a-Lago‘s gifts as an authoritarian, there’s no mistaking the fact that, for his entire public career, William Barr has been the genuine article. He really does believe that the Constitution bestows upon the president—even this burlesque of a president* that we have now—absolute power, or something close enough to it that still would allow the country to call itself a democratic republic without the rest of the world doing a spit-take you could hear on Mars. As a special prosecutor was closing in on President George H.W. Bush for the latter’s involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal, Barr was the one who told Bush to pardon everyone except Shoeless Joe Jackson on his way out the door because a cover-up was well within the powers of the presidency as described in Article II. This was so egregious that even the late William Safire, who wrote speeches for Nixon, for pity’s sake, called Barr the “Cover-Up General.”

Now, though, because he’s working for a president* who doesn’t know anything about anything, and who is proud of that fact, Barr has the perfect vessel through whom to exercise all those theories of his that wear armbands when they go to work. There simply is nothing that this president* can do that Barr can’t cloak in highfalutin’ lawyer-speak, which the president* will repeat, because he doesn’t know anything about anything. On Wednesday, though, Barr went out on his own and let his freak flag fly proudly in a Constitution Day speech at Hillsdale College. Quite simply, he went to war against the prosecutors in the Department of Justice that he purportedly leads.

The Justice Department is not a praetorian guard that watches over society impervious to the ebbs and flows of politics. It is an agency within the Executive Branch of a democratic republic — a form of government where the power of the state is ultimately reposed in the people acting through their elected president and elected representatives. The men and women who have ultimate authority in the Justice Department are thus the ones on whom our elected officials have conferred that responsibility — by presidential appointment and Senate confirmation. That blessing by the two political branches of government gives these officials democratic legitimacy that career officials simply do not possess.

The same process that produces these officials also holds them accountable. The elected President can fire senior DOJ officials at will and the elected Congress can summon them to explain their decisions to the people’s representatives and to the public. And because these officials have the imprimatur of both the President and Congress, they also have the stature to resist these political pressures when necessary. They can take the heat for what the Justice Department does or doesn’t do.

Line prosecutors, by contrast, are generally part of the permanent bureaucracy. They do not have the political legitimacy to be the public face of tough decisions and they lack the political buy-in necessary to publicly defend those decisions. Nor can the public and its representatives hold civil servants accountable in the same way as appointed officials. Indeed, the public’s only tool to hold the government accountable is an election — and the bureaucracy is neither elected nor easily replaced by those who are.

This is nothing less than the Attorney General of the United States cutting the legs out from under every federal prosecutor across the country. Moreover, in talking darkly about the “permanent bureaucracy,” Barr is plowing headlong into Caputoland. Michael Caputo resigned his post at the Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday because he’d gone bananas in a Facebook Live chat, yammering about “deep state” actors at the Centers for Disease Control. Here now comes William Barr saying pretty much the same thing about the career prosecutors under his nominal command, and arguing that only the Senate-confirmed officials at the top of the DOJ food chain have “democratic legitimacy”—in other words, only people like William Barr have the political credibility to resist political pressure.

By clear implication, Barr is defining the job of attorney general as a purely political post, an extension of the executive power of the president, a theory that has not worked out very well in practice over the past two or three Republican presidencies, and a theory that I will bet a buffalo nickel Barr would never apply to, say, Loretta Lynch. But it is a theory under which Barr can justify being this administration*’s primary manure spreader. For example, an AG has no business doing an interview in which he opines about what a big socialist Joe Biden is, which Barr did only this week. However, if Barr perceives his job as a political arm of the executive, then that is something he would feel free to do.

As far as putting these theories into practice, we only have to look in the New York Times to discover that Barr planned to bring the full weight of the Italian government of 1932 down on the United States of 2020.

The attorney general has also asked prosecutors in the Justice Department’s civil rights division to explore whether they could bring criminal charges against Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle for allowing some residents to establish a police-free protest zone near the city’s downtown for weeks this summer, according to two people briefed on those discussions. Late Wednesday, a department spokesman said that Mr. Barr did not direct the civil rights division to explore this idea.

The directives are in keeping with Mr. Barr’s approach to prosecute crimes as aggressively as possible in cities where protests have given way to violence. But in suggesting possible prosecution of Ms. Durkan, a Democrat, Mr. Barr also took aim at an elected official whom President Trump has repeatedly attacked…

“The power to execute and enforce the law is an executive function altogether,” Mr. Barr said in remarks at an event in suburban Washington celebrating the Constitution. “That means discretion is invested in the executive to determine when to exercise the prosecutorial power.”

Of course, Barr can legitimately sic the DOJ on the mayor of Seattle because Barr was confirmed by the Senate and, if the president* thinks he’s gone too far, he can be removed through the political process. I see nothing that can possibly go wrong with this.

Or, we only have to pick up the Washington Post‘s story about the government’s apparent desire to make a slaughter pen out of Lafayette Square so that the president* could walk across the street and hold up a Bible.

D.C. National Guard Maj. Adam D. DeMarco told lawmakers that defense officials were searching for crowd control technology deemed too unpredictable to use in war zones and had authorized the transfer of about 7,000 rounds of ammunition to the D.C. Armory as protests against police use of force and racial injustice roiled Washington. …

Just before noon on June 1, the Defense Department’s top military police officer in the Washington region sent an email to officers in the D.C. National Guard. It asked whether the unit had a Long Range Acoustic Device, also known as an LRAD, or a microwave-like weapon called the Active Denial System, which was designed by the military to make people feel like their skin is burning when in range of its invisible rays. The technology, also called a “heat ray,” was developed to disperse large crowds in the early 2000s but was shelved amid concerns about its effectiveness, safety and the ethics of using it on human beings.

Heat rays? Seven thousand rounds of live ammunition? Under an AG who hates the whole notion of federal prosecutors, largely because they inconvenienced the criminal-adjacent presidencies he has served? I’m sure there would be solid constitutional grounds of any ensuing bloodletting. William Barr means it. The sooner he’s pried loose from his job, the better.

Doonesbury — The true test.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Sunday Reading

The Legacy of John Lewis — David Remnick in The New Yorker.

John Robert Lewis was born in 1940 near the Black Belt town of Troy, Alabama. His parents were sharecroppers, and he grew up spending Sundays with a great-grandfather who was born into slavery, and hearing about the lynchings of Black men and women that were still a commonplace in the region. When Lewis was a few months old, the manager of a chicken farm named Jesse Thornton was lynched about twenty miles down the road, in the town of Luverne. His offense was referring to a police officer by his first name, not as “Mister.” A mob pursued Thornton, stoned and shot him, then dumped his body in a swamp; it was found, a week later, surrounded by vultures.

These stories, and the realities of Jim Crow-era segregation, prompted Lewis to become an American dissident. Steeped in the teachings of his church and the radio sermons of Martin Luther King, Jr., he left home for Nashville, to study theology and the tactics of nonviolent resistance. King teased him as “the boy from Troy,” the youngest face at the forefront of the movement. In a long career as an activist, Lewis was arrested forty-five times and beaten repeatedly by the police and by white supremacists, most famously in Selma, on March 7, 1965—Bloody Sunday—when he helped lead six hundred people marching for voting rights. After they had peacefully crossed a bridge, Alabama troopers attacked, using tear gas, clubs, and bullwhips. Within moments of their charge, Lewis lay unconscious, his skull fractured. He later said, “I thought I was going to die.”

Too often in this country, seeming progress is derailed, reversed, or overwhelmed. Bloody Sunday led directly to the passage of the Voting Rights Act––and yet suppressing the Black vote is a pillar of today’s Republican Party strategy. The election of the first African-American President was followed by a bigot running for election, and now reëlection, on a platform of racism and resentment. The murder of Jesse Thornton has its echoes in the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others. Indeed, to this day, the bridge where Lewis nearly lost his life is named in honor of Edmund Pettus, a U.S. senator who was a Confederate officer and a Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan.

And so there were times when Lewis, who died on Friday, at the age of eighty, might have felt the temptation at times to give up, to give way. But it was probably his most salient characteristic that he always refused despair; with open eyes, he acknowledged the darkest chapters of American history yet insisted that change was always possible. Recently, he took part in a Zoom town hall with Barack Obama and a group of activists, and told them that he had been inspired by the weeks of demonstrations for racial justice across the country. The protesters, he said, will “redeem the soul of America and move closer to a community at peace with itself.”

Dissent is an essential component of the American story and the American future. In that spirit, next week’s issue of The New Yorker will feature Profiles, reporting, essays, fiction, and poetry from the archives on this theme. Some of the figures written about here were dissenters in the public arena, like Dr. King, Margaret Fuller, and Cesar Chavez, who set out to battle the established order of racism, misogyny, and exploitation. Others were artists, like Langston Hughes and Toni Morrison, who provide the vision and the language to understand our predicament and, perhaps, to help transform it. And then there are those, like the scientist James Hansen, whose bravery is to insist on the validity of fact, when willful ignorance can lead to the catastrophic warming of the planet—or to the spread of a deadly virus. All of them persevered against countless obstacles even as they knew they might not live to see their most fundamental struggles concluded.

The Most Powerful Vice President in History — Christian Paz in The Atlantic.

If Joe Biden wins in November, his running mate could become the most consequential vice president in modern American history. The woman Biden picks could be seen as a potential president-in-waiting, a signal for the Democratic Party’s agenda in the years to come, and perhaps the most significant player trying to help Biden manage a country—and a federal government—in crisis.

Under normal conditions, the presidency and its manifold obligations are already too much for one person to handle. As Barack Obama’s vice president, Biden redefined the office by assuming a level of responsibility that his predecessors never had. If elected, Biden would likely follow a similar model, and potentially expand the authority of a constitutionally insignificant office beyond precedent.

Those responsibilities will be even more weighty as the country combats the coronavirus pandemic; endures the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression; and reckons with questions of race, policing, and discrimination reignited by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. “Joe Biden’s vice president will most likely be the most powerful vice president in history because the trend is toward more powerful vice presidents, Joe Biden knows the value of having a vice president with lots of responsibility, and Joe Biden is going to inherit an epic disaster,” Dan Pfeiffer, a former Obama senior adviser and co-host of Pod Save America, told me.

At the same time, with Biden planning to serve as a “transition candidate” for a new wave of younger and more racially diverse Democratic politicians, she’s also likely to face a degree of attention and scrutiny that few vice presidents ever have. The task for Biden come January would be to maintain a healthy partnership with his vice president—without worrying that she’ll outshine him.

“History tells us that consequential presidents and vice presidents come out at times where they’re tested and tried, and I can’t imagine a period of time where the president and vice president are going to be tested more than in January 2021,” Michael Feldman, a senior adviser to former Vice President Al Gore, told me. “There’s just no chance that the person who he picks is not a consequential vice president or consequential historical figure. They just will be.”

For most of American history, the vice presidency was an insignificant office famously described as a “bucket of warm piss” and as “useful as a cow’s fifth teat” (or “a fate worse than death,” according to the HBO comedy Veep). That changed in 1976, when Walter Mondale accepted Jimmy Carter’s VP offer and laid out a vision for how the vice president could play a more intimate and active role in White House politics. Mondale, who would be leaving a safe Senate seat and a position on a select committee conducting one of Congress’s first major oversight investigations of the intelligence community, made clear to Carter that he wanted real authority, and he didn’t want to be bound to a singular policy area.

“The one thing that was not always true was that the vice president had power—it was only to the extent that the president allowed it,” Mondale told me. “I was able to help a lot because Carter had not been in Washington … and I had quite a bit of experience there.”

Carter agreed to Mondale’s terms. He integrated Mondale’s staff with his own, gave him an office in the West Wing, set up weekly lunches for the two to discuss the president’s agenda, included Mondale in the flow of national-security paperwork, and assigned him to be his chief troubleshooter to manage relationships on Capitol Hill, in state governments, and with labor unions. “Mondale didn’t want to be in charge of any specific program or department, because he thought that would be infringing on somebody else’s turf,” Richard Moe, Mondale’s chief of staff and a former Carter senior staffer, told me. “He wanted to be a general adviser and to take specific assignments when required.”

To this day, vice presidents have kept their White House offices and weekly lunches (though Donald Trump and Mike Pence’s are no longer one-on-one), and successive administrations have expanded the Carter-Mondale model of power-sharing. Gore, for example, championed environmental reforms and the “information superhighway,” an effort to expand the internet’s reach. Dick Cheney wielded tremendous influence on national security and the War on Terror.

But Biden’s vice presidency was the biggest leap forward from the Carter-Mondale model yet. Unlike previous veeps, Biden sustained a high level of influence with the president throughout their two terms in office, Joel Goldstein, a vice-presidential scholar at St. Louis University, told me. As Goldstein has previously written, much of that prestige was derived from Biden’s public loyalty to Obama, which he accomplished “without surrendering his public identity and becoming lost in the president’s shadow.”

“It was a natural role for Biden because it involved a lot of dealing with governors and mayors and legislators, and Biden likes that,” Goldstein told me. “He was good at it.”

In addition to his weekly lunches with Obama, Biden’s schedule was packed with time with the president, in keeping with his request to be the “last man in the room.” On any given day, Biden would start the morning by joining Obama for the Presidential Daily Briefing in the Oval Office after making the crosstown drive from the Naval Observatory. He might have additional meetings in the Oval Office with Obama and a Cabinet secretary, or a Situation Room briefing with intelligence-agency heads. Depending on the day, he’d head out of town for an address, a tour, or a foreign visit, or stay in Washington for meetings with legislators.

While previous vice presidents did wield authority over special projects, they weren’t in charge of the defining issues for an administration, such as Biden’s role in implementing the Recovery Act after the Great Recession and leading efforts to whip Republican support to pass the Affordable Care Act. Biden also received major foreign-policy assignments throughout both terms, including his role as a chief adviser and surrogate as the administration debated its Afghanistan policy in 2009.

Obama has credited Biden’s influence in policy discussions before, telling The New Yorker that “there were times where Joe would ask questions, essentially on my behalf, to give me decision-making space, to help stir up a vigorous debate.” And, as far as is publicly known, he never lost the president’s trust, unlike Cheney, who was iced out after Bush’s reelection, or Gore, whose presidential ambitions strained his ties with Bill Clinton. Biden has already signaled that he hopes for a similarly close relationship with his vice president, saying he’ll pick a “simpatico” partner.

Reflecting on Biden’s broad portfolio as vice president, Pfeiffer told me that “one reason he had so many projects is because of what we inherited.” If Biden and his running mate win in November, he’ll “yearn for the good ole days of the 2009 financial crisis.”

The former campaign advisers and administration officials I spoke with said that in selecting his vice president, Biden should be thinking well beyond the campaign itself and focus instead on which person would best help him run the FDR-size presidency he’s alluded to building.

Just as it’s easy to imagine what the dynamic between them could be like, it’s possible to anticipate what kinds of responsibilities she’ll have. An Elizabeth Warren vice presidency, for example, could see her playing a major role in the economic recovery and implementing bankruptcy reforms that Biden adopted from her campaign platform. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the governor of New Mexico and the only Latina known to be still in the running, has been praised for her handling of the state’s coronavirus outbreak and could help Biden manage the federal response. Rising stars like Keisha Lance Bottoms, the reformist Atlanta mayor, and Val Demings, the police chief turned Florida congresswoman, could lead on criminal-justice reform. Kamala Harris, the apparent favorite to win the veepstakes, could do the same, while serving as a key congressional liaison.

What is almost certain about Biden’s pick is that, if he’s elected, she will be seen as the heir apparent, whether Biden is a one-term president or she runs in her own right eight years later, the longtime Republican strategist Charlie Black told me. “Whoever he picks is going to have even more scrutiny and testing than a normal VP nominee does,” Black said, “because of all the speculation there will be that they’re going to be the front-runner to be the president in four years.” That’s perhaps especially true if he picks a Latina or Black woman, positioning her to run as the face of a new, younger, and more diverse Democratic Party, and signaling to Black and Latino voters that their party cares about representation at the top of the ticket.

Biden has been careful on the question of whether he’ll seek a second term as president. But if he does forgo reelection, his vice president could establish another VP milestone by launching a presidential campaign in the middle of the first term, while still performing whatever duties Biden deputizes to her—something modern vice presidents have never done.

Launching a campaign so soon would mean she’d assume a level of influence over Democratic politics that vice presidents don’t usually have. In carving out an agenda for her own administration by about 2022, she’d set up a preview of what the Democratic Party could look like through the rest of the 2020s. If that agenda is more progressive, it could help energize the younger, more diverse voters the Democratic Party needs, attracting goodwill not only to her campaign, but to Biden too.

Still, the perception of Biden’s deputy as his successor could also challenge their relationship, regardless of how many terms he serves. If her vision of the Democratic Party meaningfully conflicts with Biden’s, it could create real or imagined tension between them. As my colleague Edward-Isaac Dovere recently wrote, Biden “wants to win, but he wants the win to be about him, not his running mate.”

She’ll have to spend time defining herself as a governing partner while fending off speculation about any conflicts in the West Wing, especially if the press begins to overanalyze her larger political ambitions, Jennifer Palmieri, the former communications director for the White House and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, told me. If she does her job well, she may be accused of trying to be too independent. If she tries to keep a low profile, she’ll be criticized for not having ambition.

Plus, she would be the first female vice president in history—a completely new experience for the country, on top of the fresh challenges of the pandemic, the economic crisis, and civil unrest. “It will be new and different because it’s a woman, but it is not going to be an easy relationship for either of them to balance, because of all the expectations and intrigue that will surround her,” Palmieri said. “Singular positions of power are subject to a lot of scrutiny and conflicting standards. So God love her. I think it’s going to be—it will be a lot.”

Doonesbury — Suitable for framing.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

That Moment Of Silence

There will be a lot of commemorations today to mark the first anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  Our school administration will hold a moment of silence in the entryway to our building that houses the offices of the fourth-largest school district in the country, and I am very sure that there will be sincere and meaningful words spoken to honor the memories of the people who were killed and comfort the families of the lost.  And well there should be; to forget them and the moment is as much as crime as the assault itself.

But we should also remember that not a whole lot has been done to prevent something like that from happening again, because since that horrible day in February, a lot more people have been killed or wounded in mass shootings both in schools and other places. Legislation has been passed in Florida to harden the schools so a gunman will find it harder to get in, and I know for a fact that millions of dollars are being allocated to beef up security, hire more school police, and buy closed-circuit TV equipment to see them coming before they enter the schoolyard.

That’s fine; I’m sure the people of Florida are all in favor of having safe schools, although based on some of the plans I’ve read about, the school is going to look more like a prison than a place of learning.  And in all the dollars being allocated for new door locks, new CCTV systems, new ID card readers, and new school resource officers (that’s “police” in educational lingo), I haven’t seen anything put up to prevent anyone from arming themselves and going off.

I don’t mean gun control; that’s not going to happen as long as the gun-rights people hold the strings of power in Tallahassee and Washington, and repealing the Second Amendment isn’t going to happen at all.  (We Americans love our anachronisms: the Second Amendment is from a time when the country was 98% rural and we had no standing army.  It has survived, just as our 18th century system of weights and measures has, and defiantly so.  We’re not giving an inch.)  And even if we did, it would only increase the black market for guns and ammo.  Take a lesson from Prohibition.  What I mean is that nothing is being done to seek out and get help for people who might commit harm to themselves and others.

That sounds hard to do, and it is, but in nearly every case after the horror and the smoke is clearing, someone steps up and says they saw signs that the shooter was having problems, but, and they always say this, “I had no idea they’d go this far.”

Does that mean we should all be paranoid and freaked out every time someone on the train starts talking to themselves or accosts you for whatever reason is causing their outburst?  Common sense can distinguish between someone listening to music on a Bluetooth or someone presenting a danger to themselves and others.  And we’re spending a lot of money to paper public places with “SEE SOMETHING SAY SOMETHING” posters.

I certainly do not have the answers, and I have yet to hear from anyone in or out of public office or in a position of authority come up with a way to stop a massacre before it happens.  But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.  So in the moments of silence that will be offered today, perhaps we should collectively seek out ways to end the torture, stop the carnage, and hold back the tears.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Sunday Reading

Meet Pete Buttigieg — Benjamin Wallace-Wells profiles the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who wants to be president.

Last week, Pete Buttigieg, the young mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who recently announced that he is exploring a Presidential candidacy, arrived in New York to meet the press. First up, on Thursday, was an interview on “CBS This Morning,” where the show’s hosts seemed slightly impatient, like college-admissions officers who had been asked to interview a benefactor’s son. Norah O’Donnell positioned her eyebrows skeptically. “You’re thirty-seven, you represent a town of a hundred and two thousand people—did I get that right? What qualifies you to be President of the United States?” Buttigieg, who has pale skin, thick brown hair, and a formal manner, gave a self-deprecating laugh. “I know that I’m the youngest person in this conversation, but I think that the experience of leading a city through a transformation is really relevant right now,” he said. “Things are changing tectonically in our country, and we can’t just keep doing what we’ve been doing. We can’t nibble around the edges of a system that no longer works.” John Dickerson pointed out that other Democratic candidates were proposing very big ideas—Medicare for All, the abolition of private health insurance—and asked, “What is your idea that is so big that nobody would mistake it for nibbling around the edges?” Buttigieg answered, “Well, first of all, we’ve got to repair our democracy. The Electoral College needs to go, because it’s made our society less and less democratic.” He went on in this vein, suggesting that electoral reform was essential, and promising that other policies, on security and health care, would follow. Viewers were left with the image of an impressive and fluent young politician, whose presence in the Presidential race, and on their screens, had never really been explained.

A few hours later, I met Buttigieg in a busy restaurant in the basement of Rockefeller Center, where the windows looked out at the ice-skating rink. He had taken off his sports coat for an appearance on “The View,” but put it back on for lunch, and he arrived carrying an enormous backpack over his left shoulder. “The View” had gone much better. The hosts were intrigued by the idea that Buttigieg, who came out three and a half years ago, could be the first gay President, and by his campaign’s main theme, which he calls intergenerational justice—he believes that millennials are suffering from their elders’ short-term thinking on climate change, economics, and other issues. Whoopi Goldberg wondered whether such a case could be made without alienating older Americans, and Buttigieg watched her intently, absorbing the criticism. “I think we really hit on something with this idea of intergenerational justice,” Buttigieg told me. “I think the trick for us—and this was a big part of what Whoopi Goldberg was asking about—is there should be a way to make a generational case without this all being about generational conflict. And I think there’s a way to do it.”

Buttigieg, who attended Harvard, studied philosophy, politics, and economics (P.P.E.) at Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, and did a tour in Afghanistan as a naval reservist, can seem like an “old person’s idea of a young person,” as Michael Kinsley once said of Al Gore. Certainly, against the image of the millennial left, and of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Buttigieg appears to be a more prosaic political character—he has a habit of giving answers in numbered sequence, and he uses phrases like “pathway to peace.” But, in his own understated way, he is suggesting a sharp break with the past. If you thought in terms of the effects of public policy on millennials, he said, you began to see generational imbalances everywhere. The victims of school shootings suffered because of the gun liberties given to older Americans. Cutting taxes for the richest Americans meant that young people, inevitably, would have to pay the bill. Climate policy, he said, was the deepest example of the imbalance, but the Iraq War was perhaps the most tangible. “There’s this romantic idea that’s built up around war,” he said. “But the pragmatic view is there are tons of people of my generation who have lost their lives, lost their marriages, or lost their health as a consequence of being sent to wars which could have been avoided.” Then he quoted, happily, from “Lawrence of Arabia”: “The virtues of war are the virtues of young men—courage and hope for the future. The vices of peace are the vices of old men—mistrust and caution.”

For much of his life, Buttigieg has been giving those around him the impression of extreme promise. Both of his parents were professors at Notre Dame, and he grew up in South Bend, near the campus. His father, Joe, was a translator of the Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci and a scholar of James Joyce. His mother, Anne Montgomery, is a linguist. At Harvard, Buttigieg was the student president of the Institute of Politics, a role sought by the most ambitious of the exceptionally ambitious, but he could also suggest a more inquisitive nature. His close friend Nathaniel Myers recalled that Buttigieg had become entranced by the Norwegian novel “Naïve. Super,” by Erlend Loe, taught himself the language to translate another work by the author, and then started periodically attending a Norwegian church in Chicago to keep up. He plays piano, and has sat in with the South Bend Symphony Orchestra and Ben Folds. He was elected mayor of South Bend, in 2011, when he was twenty-nine, and only came out in advance of his reëlection campaign, when he was thirty-three. His wedding, to Chasten Glezman, who was a Montessori middle-school teacher, was broadcast live online.

In 2015, Buttigieg gave a speech at Harvard, and David Axelrod, President Obama’s longtime chief strategist, was in the audience. The speech, Axelrod told me this week, was moving and thoughtful, and he noticed that, though Buttigieg had notes, he rarely consulted them. What struck him was a familiar kind of talent. “His story is an incredible story,” Axelrod said, “but more impressive than the story is the guy. At a time when people are aching for hope and a path forward that we can all walk, he is a relentlessly positive person.”

The following year, Frank Bruni wrote a column proposing Buttigieg as “the first gay President.” In an interview with David Remnick, Obama included Buttigieg on a short list of gifted rising Democrats. “If I told you he was anything other than a long shot, you’d hang up the phone,” Axelrod said, of the Presidential race, but he emphasized the possibility that, as he put it, lightning could strike. “The practical political point is it’s hard to see where he’s going in Indiana. If it doesn’t work out, if there’s a Democratic President looking for talent, I know Pete well enough to know he’s going to be high on the list, and higher for having run.” At the very least, Axelrod said, Buttigieg was likely to emerge from this as “an interesting voice from his generation.”

Part of the paradox of Buttigieg’s candidacy is that he has placed himself in a performative role, without the benefit of a performative personality. “He is reserved, and maybe that’s a hindrance,” Axelrod told me. Chasten Glezman, his husband, told a reporter that Buttigieg is “still coming out of some shells.” In our conversation, he seemed most practiced when talking about policy but most alive when discussing James Joyce. When I asked how he had made the decision to run for President, he brightened, and said that, though he wasn’t a Catholic, he made use of the “Ignatian process of discernment.” He pictured a world in which he became President—perhaps shy of using the word, he referred to it only as “the end state”—and then considered whether it gave him a feeling of “fulfillment or desolation.” Fulfillment, it turned out.

I had noticed that, in his interview on “CBS This Morning,” no one mentioned that Buttigieg could be the first gay President. I asked him whether he saw that as a measure of how quickly gay identity has become accepted. “Depends where you are,” he said, thoughtfully. “You quickly get plunged into this world where you’re supposed to represent your community,” but at that point he had little experience of the gay community. “Like, I will fight for the trans woman of color, but do I really know anything about her experience because I’m married to a dude?”

Coming out while he was mayor also helped emphasize to him the political importance of meeting people where they were. He mentioned an older woman in South Bend who had greeted him after a public event by saying how impressed she was with his “friend.” This could have been a moment to discuss the difference between a friend and a partner, or how important it is not to be euphemistic about love, but Buttigieg decided against it, because the woman obviously felt so good about recognizing his “friend”—for her, this was progress. “So much of politics is about people’s relationships with themselves,” Buttigieg said. “You do better if you make people feel secure in who they are.”

One reason that there are so many candidates for the Democratic nomination for President is that there is no longer much certainty about what qualifies a person for the role. The two Democratic phenomenons of 2018, Ocasio-Cortez and Beto O’Rourke, were a twentysomething activist and a congressman who emphasized his dissolute youth. The President is a former reality-show star. That Buttigieg can plausibly run for the Democratic nomination, as the thirty-seven-year-old mayor of a city that is roughly half the size of Yonkers, depends on this new uncertainty. But it also owes something, paradoxically, to his conventional political style and résumé, which can help persuade the Party’s elders that they are looking not at a revolution but at talent.

Buttigieg described it a little bit differently: part of the gift of being a young politician was what you simply could not remember. In South Bend, which Newsweek had listed among ten dying American cities as he announced his first campaign for mayor, his efforts had been focussed on converting a factory economy to a post-industrial one, and during his tenure the city’s unemployment rate halved. Buttigieg said the break with the past had been easier for him because he could not remember a time when the Studebaker factories that once dominated South Bend were open—they had always just been abandoned urban “furniture” to him.

The element of his generation that most people miss, Buttigieg said, is that it is essentially pragmatic. “Actually, sometimes pragmatism points you in a comparatively radical direction,” he added. “So take universal health care,” he went on. “It is very pragmatic to look around and say, well, the countries that do this tend to be better than the countries that don’t. The system we have isn’t working very well, we ought to try this other system. Politically, it’s never been possible, because it’s been considered socialism, and socialism was a kill switch. Our generation did not live through the Cold War in the same way.”

As I got deeper into lunch with Buttigieg, I began to see him not as a counterweight to the radicalization of his Party but as an expression of it. If the cautious, studious, improbably ambitious Rhodes Scholar in the race, who emphasized the necessity of meeting middle America where it was, was himself supporting the abolition of the Electoral College, then that suggested that the generational transformation of the Party had been completed. Looks deceive. “I am among the most surprised that, as a thirty-seven-year-old mayor, I am being taken at least a little seriously as a candidate for President,” Buttigieg said. “But that very fact reflects that there is something in this moment that calls for newness.”

John Dingell’s Farewell — The longest-serving congressman saved the best for last.

John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who served in the U.S. House from 1955 to 2015, was the longest-serving member of Congress in American history. He dictated these reflections to his wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), at their home in Dearborn, on Feb. 7, the day he died.

One of the advantages to knowing that your demise is imminent, and that reports of it will not be greatly exaggerated, is that you have a few moments to compose some parting thoughts.

In our modern political age, the presidential bully pulpit seems dedicated to sowing division and denigrating, often in the most irrelevant and infantile personal terms, the political opposition.

And much as I have found Twitter to be a useful means of expression, some occasions merit more than 280 characters.

My personal and political character was formed in a different era that was kinder, if not necessarily gentler. We observed modicums of respect even as we fought, often bitterly and savagely, over issues that were literally life and death to a degree that — fortunately – we see much less of today.

Think about it:

Impoverishment of the elderly because of medical expenses was a common and often accepted occurrence. Opponents of the Medicare program that saved the elderly from that cruel fate called it “socialized medicine.” Remember that slander if there’s a sustained revival of silly red-baiting today.

Not five decades ago, much of the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth — our own Great Lakes — were closed to swimming and fishing and other recreational pursuits because of chemical and bacteriological contamination from untreated industrial and wastewater disposal. Today, the Great Lakes are so hospitable to marine life that one of our biggest challenges is controlling the invasive species that have made them their new home.

We regularly used and consumed foods, drugs, chemicals and other things (cigarettes) that were legal, promoted and actively harmful. Hazardous wastes were dumped on empty plots in the dead of night. There were few if any restrictions on industrial emissions. We had only the barest scientific knowledge of the long-term consequences of any of this.

And there was a great stain on America, in the form of our legacy of racial discrimination. There were good people of all colors who banded together, risking and even losing their lives to erase the legal and other barriers that held Americans down. In their time, they were often demonized and targeted, much like other vulnerable men and women today.

Please note: All of these challenges were addressed by Congress. Maybe not as fast as we wanted, or as perfectly as hoped. The work is certainly not finished. But we’ve made progress — and in every case, from the passage of Medicare through the passage of civil rights, we did it with the support of Democrats and Republicans who considered themselves first and foremost to be Americans.

I’m immensely proud, and eternally grateful, for having had the opportunity to play a part in all of these efforts during my service in Congress. And it’s simply not possible for me to adequately repay the love that my friends, neighbors and family have given me and shown me during my public service and retirement.

But I would be remiss in not acknowledging the forgiveness and sweetness of the woman who has essentially supported me for almost 40 years: my wife, Deborah. And it is a source of great satisfaction to know that she is among the largest group of women to have ever served in the Congress (as she busily recruits more).

In my life and career, I have often heard it said that so-and-so has real power — as in, “the powerful Wile E. Coyote, chairman of the Capture the Road Runner Committee.”

It’s an expression that has always grated on me. In democratic government, elected officials do not have power. They hold power — in trust for the people who elected them. If they misuse or abuse that public trust, it is quite properly revoked (the quicker the better).

I never forgot the people who gave me the privilege of representing them. It was a lesson learned at home from my father and mother, and one I have tried to impart to the people I’ve served with and employed over the years.

As I prepare to leave this all behind, I now leave you in control of the greatest nation of mankind and pray God gives you the wisdom to understand the responsibility you hold in your hands.

May God bless you all, and may God bless America.

Doonesbury — Who said that?

Monday, January 21, 2019

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther KingToday is the federal holiday set aside to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday.

For me, growing up as a white kid in a middle-class suburb in the Midwest in the 1960’s, Dr. King’s legacy would seem to have a minimum impact; after all, what he was fighting for didn’t affect me directly in any way. But my parents always taught me that anyone oppressed in our society was wrong, and that in some way it did affect me. This became much more apparent as I grew up and saw how the nation treated its black citizens; those grainy images on TV and in the paper of water-hoses turned on the Freedom Marchers in Alabama showed me how much hatred could be turned on people who were simply asking for their due in a country that promised it to them. And when I came out as a gay man, I became much more aware of it when I applied the same standards to society in their treatment of gays and lesbians.

Perhaps the greatest impression that Dr. King had on me was his unswerving dedication to non-violence in his pursuit of civil rights. He withstood taunts, provocations, and rank invasions of his privacy and his life at the hands of racists, hate-mongers, and the federal government, yet he never raised a hand in anger against anyone. He deplored the idea of an eye for an eye, and he knew that responding in kind would only set back the cause. I was also impressed that his spirituality and faith were his armor and his shield, not his weapon, and he never tried to force his religion on anyone else. The supreme irony was that he died at the hands of violence, much like his role model, Mahatma Gandhi.

There’s a question in the minds of a lot of people of how to celebrate a federal holiday for a civil rights leader. Isn’t there supposed to be a ritual or a ceremony we’re supposed to perform to mark the occasion? But how do you signify in one day or in one action what Dr. King stood for, lived for, and died for? Last August marked the fifty-fifth anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech. That marked a moment; a milestone.

Today is supposed to honor the man and what he stood for and tried to make us all become: full citizens with all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship; something that is with us all day, every day.

For me, it’s having the memories of what it used to be like and seeing what it has become for all of us that don’t take our civil rights for granted, which should be all of us, and being both grateful that we have come as far as we have and humbled to know how much further we still have to go.

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Today is also a school holiday, so blogging will be on a holiday schedule.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Permanent Stench

Brett Kavanaugh begins his inevitable journey to confirmation on the Supreme Court today.

Hours before the start of hearings on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, the lawyer for former president George W. Bush turned over 42,000 pages of documents from the nominee’s service in the Bush White House, angering Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, who issued what is certain to be a futile call to delay the proceedings.

“Not a single senator will be able to review these records before tomorrow,” Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted Monday evening.

Taylor Foy, a spokesman for Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), responded that “our review team will be able to complete its examination of this latest batch in short order, before tomorrow’s hearing begins.” A few hours later, a tweet from the committee said that the “Majority staff has now completed its review of each and every one of these pages.”

The hearings are scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, with opening statements by committee members. No information was released on the subject matter of the documents, and Bush’s lawyer asked that they be kept from the public, made available only to committee members and staff.

Kavanaugh, appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit by Bush, served the president in the White House Counsel’s Office from 2001 to 2003 and as staff secretary from 2003 to 2006. 

The cable networks will cover this live.  Judge Kavanugh will give non-committal answers to questions on points of law and his views on hot topics like abortion, voting rights, and marriage equality, and Republicans will extol his virtues as a great car-pool dad and even-handed jurist who will spend the rest of his life running ours.

We’ve heard all of this before from both sides.  I’ve been through enough of these — the first one I remember was the attempt to put Abe Fortas on the court during the Johnson administration (Lyndon, not Andrew), followed by Bork, O’Connor, Thomas, and so on — to know that it’s all amateur theatre, and this appointment will go through as most of the others have.  Unless there’s some pretty hard-core surprises in the new batch of 42,000 pages (which the committee skimmed through the way most people read internet user service agreements), he’ll be wearing his robes by the first Monday in October.

One thing to remember: History will record that Brett Kavanaugh was appointed to the Supreme Court by the most corrupt and incompetent president in the history of the nation.  No matter how he acquits himself on the bench for the next forty years or so, it will be a stench that we will be smelling long after Trump is relegated to the dumpster.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Sunday Reading

Tech Note: We’ve been moving the site from one server another and we may have lost the first edition of today’s post in the transition.

Eulogy by Barack Obama for John McCain.  From the New York Times.

To John’s beloved family — Mrs. McCain; to Cindy and the McCain children, President and Mrs. Bush, President and Secretary Clinton; Vice President and Mrs. Biden; Vice President and Mrs. Cheney, Vice President Gore, and, as John would say, my friends:

We come to celebrate an extraordinary man – a warrior, a statesman, a patriot who embodied so much that is best in America.

President Bush and I are among the fortunate few who competed against John at the highest levels of politics. He made us better presidents. Just as he made the Senate better. Just as he made this country better. So for someone like John to ask you, while he’s still alive, to stand and speak of him when he’s gone, is a precious and singular honor.

Now, when John called me with that request earlier this year, I’ll admit sadness and also a certain surprise. But after our conversation ended, I realized how well it captured some of John’s essential qualities.

To start with, John liked being unpredictable, even a little contrarian. He had no interest in conforming to some prepackaged version of what a senator should be, and he didn’t want a memorial that was going to be prepackaged either.

It also showed John’s disdain for self-pity. He had been to hell and back, and he had somehow never lost his energy, or his optimism, or his zest for life. So cancer did not scare him, and he would maintain that buoyant spirit to very end, too stubborn to sit still, opinionated as ever, fiercely devoted to his friends and most of all, to his family.

It showed his irreverence – his sense of humor, little bit of a mischievous streak. After all, what better way to get a last laugh than to make George and I say nice things about him to a national audience?

And most of all, it showed a largeness of spirit, an ability to see past differences in search of common ground. And in fact, on the surface, John and I could not have been more different. We’re of different generations. I came from a broken home and never knew my father; John was the scion of one of America’s most distinguished military families. I have a reputation for keeping cool; John — not so much. We were standard bearers of different American political traditions, and throughout my presidency, John never hesitated to tell me when he thought I was screwing up – which, by his calculation, was about once a day.

But for all our differences, for all the times we sparred, I never tried to hide, and I think John came to understand, the longstanding admiration that I had for him.

By his own account, John was a rebellious young man. In his case, that’s understandable – what faster way to distinguish yourself when you’re the son and grandson of admirals than to mutiny?

Eventually, though, he concluded that the only way to really make his mark on the world is to commit to something bigger than yourself. And for John, that meant answering the highest of callings – serving his country in a time of war.

Others this week and this morning have spoken to the depths of his torment, and the depths of his courage, there in the cells of Hanoi, when day after day, year after year, that youthful iron was tempered into steel. It brings to mind something that Hemingway wrote in the book that Meghan referred to, his favorite book:

“Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be. But what will happen in all the other days that ever come can depend on what you do today.”

In captivity, John learned, in ways that few of us ever will, the meaning of those words – how each moment, each day, each choice is a test. And John McCain passed that test – again and again and again. And that’s why, when John spoke of virtues like service, and duty, it didn’t ring hollow. They weren’t just words to him. It was a truth that he had lived, and for which he was prepared to die. It forced even the most cynical to consider what were we doing for our country, what might we risk everything for.

Much has been said this week about what a maverick John was. Now, in fact, John was a pretty conservative guy. Trust me, I was on the receiving end of some of those votes. But he did understand that some principles transcend politics. That some values transcend party. He considered it part of his duty to uphold those principles and uphold those values.

John cared about the institutions of self-government – our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, rule of law and separation of powers, even the arcane rules and procedures of the Senate. He knew that, in a nation as big and boisterous and diverse as ours, those institutions, those rules, those norms are what bind us together and give shape and order to our common life, even when we disagree, especially when we disagree.

John believed in honest argument and hearing other views. He understood that if we get in the habit of bending the truth to suit political expediency or party orthodoxy, our democracy will not work. That’s why he was willing to buck his own party at times, occasionally work across the aisle on campaign finance reform and immigration reform. That’s why he championed a free and independent press as vital to our democratic debate. And the fact that it earned him some good coverage didn’t hurt, either.

John understood, as JFK understood, as Ronald Reagan understood, that part of what makes our country great is that our membership is based not on our bloodline; not on what we look like, what our last names are. It’s not based on where our parents or grandparents came from, or how recently they arrived, but on adherence to a common creed: That all of us are created equal. Endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.

It’s been mentioned today, and we’ve seen footage this week of John pushing back against supporters who challenged my patriotism during the 2008 campaign. I was grateful, but I wasn’t surprised. As Joe Lieberman said, it was John’s instinct. I never saw John treat anyone differently because of their race, or religion, or gender. And I’m certain that in those moments that have been referred to during the campaign, he saw himself as defending America’s character, not just mine, for he considered it the imperative of every citizen who loves this country to treat all people fairly.

And finally, while John and I disagreed on all kinds of foreign policy issues, we stood together on America’s role as the one indispensable nation, believing that with great power and great blessings comes great responsibility. That burden is borne most heavily by our men and women in uniform – service members like Doug, Jimmy, and Jack, who followed in their father’s footsteps – as well as the families who serve alongside our troops. But John understood that our security and our influence was won not just by our military might, not just by our wealth, not just by our ability to bend others to our will, but from our capacity to inspire others, with our adherence to a set of universal values – like rule of law and human rights, and an insistence on the God-given dignity of every human being.

Of course, John was the first to tell us that he was not perfect. Like all of us who go into public service, he did have an ego. Like all of us, there were no doubt some votes he cast, some compromises he struck, some decisions he made that he wished he could have back. It’s no secret, it’s been mentioned that he had a temper, and when it flared up, it was a force of nature, a wonder to behold – his jaw grinding, his face reddening, his eyes boring a hole right through you. Not that I ever experienced it firsthand, mind you.

But to know John was to know that as quick as his passions might flare, he was just as quick to forgive and ask for forgiveness. He knew more than most his own flaws and his blind spots, and he knew how to laugh at himself. And that self-awareness made him all the more compelling.

We didn’t advertise it, but every so often over the course of my presidency, John would come over to the White House, and we’d just sit and talk in the Oval Office, just the two of us – we’d talk about policy and we’d talk about family and we’d talk about the state of our politics. And our disagreements didn’t go away during these private conversations. Those were real, and they were often deep. But we enjoyed the time we shared away from the bright lights. And we laughed with each other, and we learned from each other. We never doubted the other man’s sincerity or the other man’s patriotism, or that when all was said and done, we were on the same team. We never doubted we were on the same team.

For all of our differences, we shared a fidelity to the ideals for which generations of Americans have marched, and fought, and sacrificed, and given their lives. We considered our political battles a privilege, an opportunity to serve as stewards of those ideals here at home, and to do our best to advance them around the world. We saw this country as a place where anything is possible – and citizenship as an obligation to ensure it forever remains that way.

More than once during his career, John drew comparisons to Teddy Roosevelt. And I’m sure it’s been noted that Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” oration seems tailored to John. Most of you know it: Roosevelt speaks of those who strive, who dare to do great things, who sometimes win and sometimes come up short, but always relish a good fight – a contrast to those cold, timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

Isn’t that the spirit we celebrate this week?

That striving to be better, to do better, to be worthy of the great inheritance that our founders bestowed.

So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse, can seem small and mean and petty, trafficking in bombast and insult, in phony controversies and manufactured outrage. It’s a politics that pretends to be brave and tough, but in fact is born of fear.

John called on us to be bigger than that. He called on us to be better than that.

“Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be. But what will happen in all the other days that will ever come can depend on what you do today.”

What better way to honor John McCain’s life of service than, as best we can, follow his example?

To prove that the willingness to get in the arena and fight for this country is not reserved for the few, it is open to all of us, that in fact it’s demanded of all of us, as citizens of this great republic?

That’s perhaps how we honor him best – by recognizing that there are some things bigger than party, or ambition, or money, or fame or power. That there are some things that are worth risking everything for. Principles that are eternal. Truths that are abiding.

At his best, John showed us what that means. For that, we are all deeply in his debt.

May God bless John McCain, and may God bless this country he served so well.

Doonesbury — Pearls of wisdom.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Sunday Reading

The Lost Art of Decency — Todd S. Purdum in The Atlantic on John McCain.

He loomed as one of the last remaining larger than life figures in American politics, but it’s the small, human moments with John McCain that linger indelibly in memory now.

In his prime, before the compromises of his last presidential campaign shrunk him into a defensive crouch, his preferred method of controlling his image was to abandon all the modern methods of self-presentation, whether conducting a rollicking running seminar aboard his “Straight Talk Express” bus, or ruminating with a solitary journalist on a long flight in a small chartered plane.

“Most current fiction bores the shit out of me,” he once told me somewhere over New England, as I followed him around for weeks of stumping in the 2006 midterm elections that amounted to the beginning of his own 2008 campaign. As I wrote in a 2007 profile of McCain for Vanity Fair, he once allowed, to a gathering of midwestern businessmen, “I want to keep health-care costs down until I get sick, and then I don’t give a goddamn.” To a group of Wisconsin college kids waiting to have their pictures taken with him, he mock-grumbled, “All right, you little jerks!” And on an executive jet high above Iowa, he read aloud a USA Today headline: “Actor [Wesley] Snipes Faces Indictment on Tax Fraud Charges” and muttered: “All our childhood heroes—shattered!”

The Tao of John McCain was unlike that of any other politician I’ve ever covered. Ed Koch was as colorful, Mario Cuomo as smart, George W. Bush as human. But no one combined McCain’s unflinching mix of bracing candor, impossibly high standards and rueful self-recrimination when he (inevitably) failed to live up to the ideals he outlined for himself. Count me as a card-carrying member of the perennially fascinated constituency that McCain used to refer to as his base: the working press.

In his 2000 primary campaign against Bush in South Carolina, he at first denounced the Confederate battle flag as a symbol of racism and slavery, and then—after his advisers went berserk— took to reading aloud a statement explaining, “I understand both sides.” His maverick campaign never rebounded any more than his reputation ever completely recovered after he chose the palpably unqualified Sarah Palin as his 2008 running mate. But just as he later lashed himself for not picking his first choice— the Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman—so he analyzed his failure on the flag issue with an unsparing eye.

“By the time I was asked the question the fourth or fifth time,” he wrote in a memoir, “I could have delivered the response from memory. But I persisted with the theatrics of unfolding the paper and reading it as if I were making a hostage statement. I wanted to telegraph to reporters that I really didn’t mean to suggest I supported flying the flag, but political imperatives required a little evasiveness on my part. I wanted them to think me still an honest man, who simply had to cut a corner a little here and there so that I could go on to be an honest president. I think that made the offense worse. Acknowledging my dishonesty with a wink didn’t make it less a lie. It compounded the offense by revealing how willful it had been. You either have the guts to tell the truth or you don’t. You don’t get any dispensation for lying in a way that suggests your dishonesty.”

Show me a politician—any politician, anywhere—who still talks that way in the 21st century, or will ever talk that way again. In that sense, McCain’s death marks the passing not only of a spirited public servant, but the disappearance of a certain brand of decent self-awareness in public life, a recognition that politics isn’t a reality show, or any kind of show, but a real and serious business on which millions of lives and the fates of nations depend. Like his hero Robert Jordan, in Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls, McCain always believed that “the world is a fine place and worth the fighting for.”

Did McCain often fall short? Yes. He had his craven, infuriating moments. Fending off a conservative primary challenger in his 2010 Senate re-election campaign he, by turns, flip-flopped on overturning the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays serving openly; abandoned his support of comprehensive immigration reform; chose not to support a legislative fix after the Supreme Court overturned a key element of his signature campaign-finance reform law; and even went so far as to declare that he had never considered himself to be a maverick at all, prompting Jon Stewart to note that he had not only sold his soul, but sold it short.

I myself then wrote somewhat peevishly that it was possible to see McCain’s entire career as the story of a “ruthless and self-centered survivor,” who had never pursued an overriding philosophy or legislative agenda, but simply lived for the fight. He once told his press secretary Torie Clarke that his favorite animal was the rat, because it is cunning and eats well. For his part, in the thick of that primary campaign, McCain just said, “I’ve always done whatever’s necessary to win.”

When his North Vietnamese captors demanded the names of his flight squadron, McCain recited the names of the Green Bay Packers offensive line, knowing that the false information would suffice (for the moment) to end their abuse. “There’s no bar fight he will walk away from,” his onetime political strategist John Weaver once told me.

To the last, it’s that fighting spirit that defines McCain. Nearly alone among his Republican Senate colleagues, he stood up to Donald Trump, depriving the president of a deciding vote on the repeal of Obamacare, and repeatedly rebuking him in no uncertain terms when he felt like it, memorably declaring that the president had “abased himself” in front of Vladimir Putin, a “tyrant.”

In high school, one of McCain’s nicknames was McNasty, and his belligerence did not always endear him to either the Republicans or Democrats with whom he often feuded. But in the end, he out-fought and out-thought and outlasted most of them, and the evident courage with which he has faced his final illness prompted bipartisan expressions of admiration and respect that felt as unforced as his own outspoken pronouncements over the years. In his captivity in Vietnam, McCain endured more pain than most people could ever imagine. His wartime injuries left him unable to raise his arms above his shoulders; he could not comb his own hair without help.

Once, as we prepared to get out of a small airplane in Vermont, where McCain would be greeted by the governor, he struggled to put on his suit jacket. I turned away for a moment, only to notice that he was upset. He could sense that his coat collar was all bunched up, and he asked me matter-of-factly to help him straighten it. It was the smallest thing, but I’ll never forget the sudden, sharp, painful impression it made on me as McCain ducked down the stairs: I was standing behind a very big man.

Doonesbury — Dream on.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Night Martin Luther King Died

You have to be over the age of sixty to remember Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he was alive, but age doesn’t matter in order to understand why he was — and still is — an important person in our nation’s history. Growing up on the outskirts of a city with a large black population, I was aware of Dr. King’s work as a part of the daily news coverage in the 1960’s as we watched the march on Selma, the water hoses, the riots in Watts, Detroit, Newark, and Toledo, and heard the pleas for justice, equality, tolerance, and brotherhood during the March on Washington in 1963 and in every city where Dr. King spoke. And I knew that he was an inspiration to a lot of people outside of the black community; anyone who faced injustice based on their skin color or their sexual orientation or any other reason knew what he was talking about. In 1968 I was fifteen years old and wondering whether my attraction to other boys was just me or were there others who faced bullying and discrimination for the same reason. In some small way I knew that Dr. King was speaking to me, too.

I remember very well the night fifty years ago today — April 4, 1968 — when Dr. King was murdered. I was a freshman at boarding school, just back from spring break, when the dorm master, who was also the school chaplain, called us into the common room and announced with both sadness and anger that “They’ve killed Martin Luther King.” He didn’t explain who the “they” were, but we knew what he meant, and two months later, on the day that Bobby Kennedy was buried at Arlington, James Earl Ray was arrested. Ray pled guilty and went to his grave claiming he was part of a conspiracy, but no one else was ever arrested or came forward to back up his claim. But when the chaplain said “they,” he was talking not just about accessories to a crime but to the attitude of a lot of people in America then — as now — who still believe that Dr. King was a communist, an agitator, a rabble-rouser, and a threat to their way of life. And when Dr. King died, there were a lot of people who thought that at long last those uppity agitators would know what they were in for if they kept up their nonsense.

But of course the dream did not die, and in spite of the tumult and anger that came with the loss there came a sense of purpose borne from the realization that if Dr. King had to die for his cause, it must be a powerful cause that touches more than just the lives of black citizens. What we take for granted today in terms of equality and voting rights is still under threat; human nature does not change that quickly in fifty or a hundred years. Dr. King, like the men who wrote the Constitution, knew that they were starting something that would outlive them and their generations; all they had to do was give it a good start.

If you don’t remember Dr. King when he was alive, you are certainly aware of his life and his legacy, and I don’t just mean because you might get the day off on his birthday in January. Regardless of your race, your religion, your sex, or your occupation, Dr. King’s work has changed it, either during your lifetime or setting the stage for it now. And no matter what history may record of his life as a man, a preacher, a father, a husband, or a scholar, it is hard to imagine what this country — and indeed the world — would be like had he not been with us for all too brief a time. And now, more than ever before, we must not forget.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

November 22, 1963

JFK 11-22-06Friday, November 22, 1963. I was in the sixth grade in Toledo, Ohio. I had to skip Phys Ed because I was just getting over bronchitis, so I was in a study hall when a classmate came up from the locker room in the school basement to say, “Kennedy’s dead.” We had a boy in our class named Matt Kennedy, and I wondered what had happened – an errant fatal blow with a dodgeball? A few minutes later, though, it was made clear to us at a hastily-summoned assembly, and we were soon put on the buses and sent home. Girls were crying.

There was a newspaper strike at The Blade, so the only papers we could get were either from Detroit or Cleveland. (The union at The Blade, realizing they were missing the story of the century, agreed to immediately resume publication and settle their differences in other ways.) Television, though, was the medium of choice, and I remember the black-and-white images of the arrival of Air Force One at Andrews, the casket being lowered, President Johnson speaking on the tarmac, and the events of the weekend – Oswald, Ruby, the long slow funeral parade, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” – merging into one long black-and-white flicker, finally closing on Monday night with the eternal flame guttering in the cold breeze.

I suspect that John F. Kennedy would be bitterly disappointed that the only thing remembered about his life was how he left it and how it colored everything he did leading up to it. The Bay of Pigs, the steel crisis, the Cuban missile crisis, the Test Ban Treaty, even the space program are dramatized by his death. They became the stuff of legend, not governing, and history should not be preserved as fable.

At the age of eleven, I never thought about being old enough to look back fifty-four years to that time. According to NPR, more than sixty percent of Americans alive today were not yet born on that day. Today the question is not do you remember JFK, but what did his brief time leave behind. Speculation is rife as to what he did or did not accomplish – would we have gone in deeper in Vietnam? Would he have pushed civil rights? Would the Cold War have lasted? We’ll never know, and frankly, pursuing such questions is a waste of time. Had JFK never been assassinated, chances are he would have been re-elected in 1964, crushing Barry Goldwater, but leading an administration that was more style than substance, battling with his own party as much as with the Republicans, much like Clinton did in the 1990’s. According to medical records, he would have been lucky to live into his sixties, dying from natural causes in the 1980’s, and he would have been remembered fondly for his charm and wit – and his beautiful wife – more than what he accomplished in eight years of an average presidency.

But it was those six seconds in Dealy Plaza that defined him. Each generation has one of those moments. For my parents it was Pearl Harbor in 1941 or the flash from Warm Springs in April 1945. Today it is Challenger in 1986, and of course September 11, 2001. And in all cases, it is what the moment means to us. It is the play, not the players. We see things as they were, contrast to how they are, and measure the differences, and by that, we measure ourselves.

Originally published in 2003.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Remembering Paul Wellstone

Martin Longman has a very nice tribute to the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN) who died 15 years ago in a plane crash while campaigning for re-election and running against Republican Norm Coleman.

As it happens, I’m reading Al Franken’s book “Giant Of The Senate,” which is a very funny and insightful story of his career both in comedy and in politics, which seem to be interchangeable.  A good deal of Mr. Franken’s impetus to run for the Senate was based on his reaction to Norm Coleman’s smug and snotty attitude about winning the election in 2002, and Mr. Franken’s determination to defeat Mr. Coleman in 2008.

Paul Wellstone was an inspiration to a lot of people and the legacy he established is still on-going.

(And yes, I remember where I was when I heard the news.  I was driving home from work, just getting off I-95 onto US 1 in Miami.)

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sunday Reading

Leslie Nielsen and The Meaning of Life — Josh Marshall.

Leslie Nielsen died 6 1/2 years ago at the age of 84, a respectable degree of longevity after a working life as an actor that stretched over 60 years. I started thinking about him today for no particular reason: I was paddling around the Internet, reading one thing and then another and then happened upon Leslie Nielsen. For what it’s worth, my browsing history shows a series of searches and pages tied to the firing of Reince Priebus followed by stuff about Leslie Nielsen. How I got from one to the other I do not know.

Today I poked a bit deeper into something I’ve thought about here and there many times. Nielsen began his career in 1950 during the so-called ‘Television Golden Age’. According to his Wikipedia page he appeared in 46 live TV episodes in 1950 alone. His first big success was in the 1956 sci-fi flick Forbidden Planet. From 1950 to 1980 he worked more or less in this vein as a successful TV and movie actor. But if his career had ended in 1980 he would be indistinguishable from and largely immemorable as one of hundreds or thousands of mid-grade actors and actresses who populated film and television over many years but who few of us today would remember or have any need to remember.

But in 1980 Nielsen appeared as Dr. Rumack, his first ever comedic role, in Airplane!, a wildly successful spoof of the then popular transportation disaster movie genre. (Nielsen had also appeared in one of the classics of the genre, 1972’s Poseidon Adventure.) The Dr. Rumack character was an early iteration of the deadpan/ridiculous Det. Frank Drebin character Nielsen went on to play in the Police Squad!/Naked Gun franchise, the character he is now known for.

If you’re my age or older you’re old enough to have some memory of the pre-Airplane! Nielsen, which I think is at least marginally necessary to fully get the magic of the characters he played for the next 34 years of his life. It wasn’t just that Nielsen wasn’t a comedy actor. Nielsen specialized in a genre of mid-20th century American male screen roles from which all traces of comedy or irony were systematically removed through some chemical process in pre-production or earlier. He was the straightest of straight men. That’s what made his comedic roles – playing against that type or rather playing the same type in a world suddenly revealed as absurd – just magic.

There’s a great life lesson here about hope and the unknown, I’ve always thought, for those willing to see it, whatever our age. When Airplane! premiered, Nielsen was 54 years old, well into mid-life and at a stage when most of us are thinking more about what we have accomplished than what we will. It is certainly not like Nielsen had been any sort of professional failure in life. Far from it. He’d worked successfully as an actor for three decades. And yet not only was the story not over; it was really only beginning.

Years later, after his true calling as a comedic actor was widely recognized, he told an interviewer that rather than playing against type, comedy is what he’d always wanted to do. He just hadn’t had a chance. This makes me think of a gay man who only lets himself come out in the middle or late in life and yet still has a chance – enough time – to live as himself. Hopefully, happily, this seems likely to be less of a type in the future than it was in the past. But it applies as much to anyone who finds their true selves or calling with enough time left in the race.

Two years after Airplane! in 1982, the same team of which created Airplane! cast Nielsen as Det. Frank Drebin in Police Squad! This is the ur-Nielsen comedic character, the straight ahead and no-nonsense character walking through and oblivious to a world that is only nonsense. I watched this show at the time and absolutely loved it. It was in 1982 and I was 13, lonely and deeply damaged without really knowing it, having lost my mother in a car wreck a year earlier. I needed comedy and I found it. I could scarcely believe when I was reading up on Police Squad! earlier this afternoon that not only did the show not make it past one season, it aired only 6 episodes! Six episodes! I remember looking forward to each new episode every week. It’s hard for me to believe it went on for such a short period of time. But memory plays tricks on us.

Let me quote at length from Police Squad’s wikipedia entry on the failure of the show (which of course wasn’t really a failure since it spawned the Naked Gun movies) with particular reference to Matt Groening on how the show was actually far ahead of its time …

ABC announced the cancellation of Police Squad! after four of its six episodes had aired in March 1982. The final two episodes were aired that summer. According to the DVD Commentary of “A Substantial Gift” (episode 1), then-ABC entertainment president Tony Thomopoulos said “Police Squad! was cancelled because “the viewer had to watch it in order to appreciate it.” What Thomopoulos meant was that the viewer had to pay very close attention to the show in order to get much of the humor, while most other TV shows did not demand as much effort from the viewer. In its annual “Cheers and Jeers” issue, TV Guide magazine called the explanation for the cancellation “the most stupid reason a network ever gave for ending a series.”[citation needed]

Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, has said, “If Police Squad! had been made twenty years later, it would have been a smash. It was before its time. In 1982 your average viewer was unable to cope with its pace, its quick-fire jokes. But these days they’d have no problems keeping up, I think we’ve proved that.”

This wasn’t the only way that Nielsen was and remained ahead of his time, even as the Drebin character and various permutations of that ur-Nielsen character became something on the level of pop cultural touchstones. Whoever wrote the lede of Nielsen’s wikipedia entry described his comedic oeuvre like this: “In his comedy roles, Nielsen specialized in portraying characters oblivious to and complicit in their absurd surroundings.”

I can scarcely think of a more concise description. That is also what makes Nielsen the great comedic interpreter of the Trump Era, even though he didn’t live to see it.

Can there be any description of our time, the last two years and especially the last six months, better than “characters oblivious to and complicit in their absurd surroundings.” I do not think so. It captures so much of the comedy, horror, absurdity and moral rot of our times. It is unquestionably why this “nothing to see here” gif of Nielsen as Det. Frank Drebin has become so ubiquitous a signifier during the Trump presidency.

While there’s life, there’s hope, as the aphorism has it. And humor, which Nielsen gave us so much of, is one of the things that makes life both joy (at the high moments) and endurable (at the low). You will never know till your life is over entirely what it meant or fully who you were. And sometimes not even then. There is always possibility.

Taking It To The Streets — Charlie Pierce on how resistance worked.

All week, the South Lawn of the Capitol had been the scene of protests of varying sizes, all of them directed at the U.S. Senate for the purposes of demonstrating how unpopular were that body’s attempts to slice and dice the Affordable Care Act. There were protests in Upper Senate Park, too, across Constitution Avenue, the home of the world’s most off-key carillon. On Wednesday evening, there was a big rally there supporting Planned Parenthood. Both Senator Al Franken and Senator Professor Warren spoke at that one. At odd moments, I’d wander out and talk to the people gathered there.

They were from all over the country. Some of them had been very sick. Some of them still were. All of them were very uneasy about their personal future. On Tuesday night, when it looked like Mitch McConnell had won his gamble against representative democracy, there were 15 people on the South Lawn, at midnight, chanting up at the empty Capitol. They were the stakes in McConnell’s gamble, and they were shouting at a vacant building. This was a scene that seemed suitable, and sadly symbolic, to the moment at hand.

All that changed early Friday morning, when 51 senators raided McConnell’s game. You could hear the cheers from outside in the halls of the Senate. Various senators, including SPW again, went outside and congratulated the people on the South Lawn. The last (for now) attempt to chloroform the ACA formally through legislation had failed. (Watch, however, how the campaign to sabotage it ramps up now, led by the White House, whose petulant occupant will gladly pull your temple down on his head.) As I walked back into the Capitol, what came to mind were all the people I have heard over the years who told me that political activism was a sucker’s game, a rigged wheel, a space for performance art with an audience of rich people. I agreed with a lot of the last part of that, and still do. But there are only two ways to go, even if you accept the latter part of the premise. You can accept that political activism is a sucker’s game and give up, or wrap yourself in the robes of ideological purity as though they were suits of armor. Or, you can accept that political activism is a sucker’s game and then engage in political activism to make it less so. And, as I went back and forth between the Senate chamber and the South Lawn in the dark of the early morning on Friday, I thought a lot about Alaska.

In 2010, the American people elected the worst Congress in the history of the republic. (This distinction held until 2014 when, against all odds, they elected a worse one.) One of the reasons this happened was that the well-financed AstroTurfed Tea Party movement took down a number of Republican incumbents in primary elections in favor of an odd lot of utter whackadoos. (This is how we got Sharron Angle’s running against Harry Reid on a platform of putting America’s currency back on the poultry standard.) Nowhere was this more clear than in Alaska, where incumbent Lisa Murkowski lost her primary to a militia-tinged meathead named Joe Miller. (Among his other deeply held positions, Miller was quite complimentary toward the late East Germany for how effectively its wall worked.) Instead of walking away, Murkowski organized a write-in campaign to run in the general election. Granted, it was better funded than most such efforts, but it was still the first successful write-in campaign for the Senate since 1954.

(And, let’s be fair, “Murkowski” is tough sledding for a write-in candidate. In fact, one of the causes of action in Miller’s subsequent endless litigation of the results was trying to disqualify any ballot on which Murkowski’s name was misspelled.)

And that happened to be how Lisa Murkowski was even in the Senate at all this week to stand firm against the pressure from her caucus and against clumsy threats from down at Camp Runamuck. That happened to be how she was even in the chamber at all to stick to John McCain like his shadow through the long run-up to the climactic vote. That happened to be how she was in the Senate at all—because, in 2010, a lot of people in Alaska went the extra mile to keep her there. That’s how political activism works—one little ripple seven years earlier becomes a kind of wave at the most unexpected time.

And that is the final and lasting lesson of this week in Washington. The primary force driving the events of Thursday night and Friday morning was the energy and (yes) persistence of all those people who swamped town hall meetings, who wrote, or called, or e-mailed various congresscritters to show them what real political pressure felt like. I remember watching town halls in Maine, to which people drove hundreds of miles to tell Susan Collins what they thought. Those people bucked up vulnerable Democratic senators so that Chuck Schumer could count on a united Congress.

They brought pressure on Republican governors, too. People like Brian Sandoval in Nevada and John Kasich in Ohio were handed put-up-or-shut-up choices from their constituents. Perhaps the most significant Republican governor was Doug Ducey of Arizona, whom McCain repeatedly said he would consult before voting. Late on Thursday afternoon, Ducey came out strongly against the bill. But it all begins with the people who put themselves in the streets, and the people in wheelchairs who got roughed up on Capitol Hill, and all those impassioned voices on the phone, just as Lisa Murkowski’s continued political survival depended on all those Alaskans who took the extra time to write in her name on a ballot.

We all decide, ultimately and individually, if the country is worth saving, one heavy lift at a time, knowing that, if the country is worth saving, we never will come to the last of them.

Crazy On Line 1 — Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker got a phone call.  Warning: for those of you who don’t like harsh language, move on.

On Wednesday night, I received a phone call from Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director. He wasn’t happy. Earlier in the night, I’d tweeted, citing a “senior White House official,” that Scaramucci was having dinner at the White House with President Trump, the First Lady, Sean Hannity, and the former Fox News executive Bill Shine. It was an interesting group, and raised some questions. Was Trump getting strategic advice from Hannity? Was he considering hiring Shine? But Scaramucci had his own question—for me.

“Who leaked that to you?” he asked. I said I couldn’t give him that information. He responded by threatening to fire the entire White House communications staff. “What I’m going to do is, I will eliminate everyone in the comms team and we’ll start over,” he said. I laughed, not sure if he really believed that such a threat would convince a journalist to reveal a source. He continued to press me and complain about the staff he’s inherited in his new job. “I ask these guys not to leak anything and they can’t help themselves,” he said. “You’re an American citizen, this is a major catastrophe for the American country. So I’m asking you as an American patriot to give me a sense of who leaked it.”

In Scaramucci’s view, the fact that word of the dinner had reached a reporter was evidence that his rivals in the West Wing, particularly Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, were plotting against him. While they have publicly maintained that there is no bad blood between them, Scaramucci and Priebus have been feuding for months. After the election, Trump asked Scaramucci to join his Administration, and Scaramucci sold his company, SkyBridge Capital, in anticipation of taking on a senior role. But Priebus didn’t want him in the White House, and successfully blocked him from being appointed to a job until last week, when Trump offered him the communications job over Priebus’s vehement objections. In response to Scaramucci’s appointment, Sean Spicer, an ally of Priebus’s, resigned his position as press secretary. And in an additional slight to Priebus, the White House’s official announcement of Scaramucci’s hiring noted that he would report directly to the President, rather than to the chief of staff.

Scaramucci’s first public appearance as communications director was a slick and conciliatory performance at the lectern in the White House briefing room last Friday. He suggested it was time for the White House to turn a page. But since then, he has become obsessed with leaks and threatened to fire staffers if he discovers that they have given unauthorized information to reporters. Michael Short, a White House press aide considered close to Priebus, resigned on Tuesday after Scaramucci publicly spoke about firing him. Meanwhile, several damaging stories about Scaramucci have appeared in the press, and he blamed Priebus for most of them. Now, he wanted to know whom I had been talking to about his dinner with the President. Scaramucci, who initiated the call, did not ask for the conversation to be off the record or on background.

“Is it an assistant to the President?” he asked. I again told him I couldn’t say. “O.K., I’m going to fire every one of them, and then you haven’t protected anybody, so the entire place will be fired over the next two weeks.”

I asked him why it was so important for the dinner to be kept a secret. Surely, I said, it would become public at some point. “I’ve asked people not to leak things for a period of time and give me a honeymoon period,” he said. “They won’t do it.” He was getting more and more worked up, and he eventually convinced himself that Priebus was my source.

“They’ll all be fired by me,” he said. “I fired one guy the other day. I have three to four people I’ll fire tomorrow. I’ll get to the person who leaked that to you. Reince Priebus—if you want to leak something—he’ll be asked to resign very shortly.” The issue, he said, was that he believed Priebus had been worried about the dinner because he hadn’t been invited. “Reince is a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac,” Scaramucci said. He channelled Priebus as he spoke: “ ‘Oh, Bill Shine is coming in. Let me leak the fucking thing and see if I can cock-block these people the way I cock-blocked Scaramucci for six months.’ ” (Priebus did not respond to a request for comment.)

Scaramucci was particularly incensed by a Politico report about his financial-disclosure form, which he viewed as an illegal act of retaliation by Priebus. The reporter said Thursday morning that the document was publicly available and she had obtained it from the Export-Import Bank. Scaramucci didn’t know this at the time, and he insisted to me that Priebus had leaked the document, and that the act was “a felony.”

“I’ve called the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice,” he told me.

“Are you serious?” I asked.

“The swamp will not defeat him,” he said, breaking into the third person. “They’re trying to resist me, but it’s not going to work. I’ve done nothing wrong on my financial disclosures, so they’re going to have to go fuck themselves.”

Scaramucci also told me that, unlike other senior officials, he had no interest in media attention. “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock,” he said, speaking of Trump’s chief strategist. “I’m not trying to build my own brand off the fucking strength of the President. I’m here to serve the country.” (Bannon declined to comment.)

He reiterated that Priebus would resign soon, and he noted that he told Trump that he expected Priebus to launch a campaign against him. “He didn’t get the hint that I was reporting directly to the President,” he said. “And I said to the President here are the four or five things that he will do to me.” His list of allegations included leaking the Hannity dinner and the details from his financial-disclosure form.

I got the sense that Scaramucci’s campaign against leakers flows from his intense loyalty to Trump. Unlike other Trump advisers, I’ve never heard him say a bad word about the President. “What I want to do is I want to fucking kill all the leakers and I want to get the President’s agenda on track so we can succeed for the American people,” he told me.

He cryptically suggested that he had more information about White House aides. “O.K., the Mooch showed up a week ago,” he said. “This is going to get cleaned up very shortly, O.K.? Because I nailed these guys. I’ve got digital fingerprints on everything they’ve done through the F.B.I. and the fucking Department of Justice.”

“What?” I interjected.

“Well, the felony, they’re gonna get prosecuted, probably, for the felony.” He added, “The lie detector starts—” but then he changed the subject and returned to what he thought was the illegal leak of his financial-disclosure forms. I asked if the President knew all of this.

“Well, he doesn’t know the extent of all that, he knows about some of that, but he’ll know about the rest of it first thing tomorrow morning when I see him.”

Scaramucci said he had to get going. “Yeah, let me go, though, because I’ve gotta start tweeting some shit to make this guy crazy.”

Minutes later, he tweeted, “In light of the leak of my financial info which is a felony. I will be contacting @FBI and the @TheJusticeDept #swamp @Reince45.” With the addition of Priebus’s Twitter handle, he was making public what he had just told me: that he believed Priebus was leaking information about him. The tweet quickly went viral.

Scaramucci seemed to have second thoughts. Within two hours he deleted the original tweet and posted a new one denying that he was targeting the chief of staff. “Wrong!” he said, adding a screenshot of an Axios article that said, “Scaramucci appears to want Priebus investigated by FBI.” Scaramucci continued, “Tweet was public notice to leakers that all Sr Adm officials are helping to end illegal leaks. @Reince45.”

A few hours later, I appeared on CNN to discuss the overnight drama. As I was talking about Scaramucci, he called into the show himself and referenced our conversation. He changed his story about Priebus. Instead of saying that he was trying to expose Priebus as a leaker, he said that the reason he mentioned Priebus in his deleted tweet was because he wanted to work together with Priebus to discover the leakers.

“He’s the chief of staff, he’s responsible for understanding and uncovering and helping me do that inside the White House, which is why I put that tweet out last night,” Scaramucci said, after noting that he had talked to me Wednesday night. He then made an argument that journalists were assuming that he was accusing Priebus because they know Priebus leaks to the press.

“When I put out a tweet, and I put Reince’s name in the tweet,” he said, “they’re all making the assumption that it’s him because journalists know who the leakers are. So, if Reince wants to explain that he’s not a leaker, let him do that.”

Scaramucci then made a plea to viewers. “Let me tell you something about myself,” he said. “I am a straight shooter.”

Since this article was published, Reince Priebus was fired as Chief of Staff and Mr. Scarmucci’s wife filed for divorce.

Doonesbury — Those parts are gone.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Let This Be His Legacy

Charles P. Pierce on what’s left of John McCain’s record.

… But the ugliest thing to witness on a very ugly day in the United States Senate was what John McCain did to what was left of his legacy as a national figure. He flew all the way across the country, leaving his high-end government healthcare behind in Arizona, in order to cast the deciding vote to allow debate on whatever ghastly critter emerges from what has been an utterly undemocratic process. He flew all the way across the country in order to facilitate the process of denying to millions of Americans the kind of medical treatment that is keeping him alive, and to do so at the behest of a president* who mocked McCain’s undeniable military heroism.

For longtime McCain watchers, and I count myself as one of them, this is something of a pattern. In 2000, George W. Bush’s campaign slandered him and his young daughter, and radical fundamentalist Christians joined in so eagerly that McCain delivered the best speech of his career, calling those people “agents of intolerance.” By 2006, he was on Meet The Press, which ultimately always was the constituency he cared most about, saying that the late Jerry Falwell was no longer an agent of intolerance. He was hugging Bush, and he was speaking at Liberty University. All of this seems to support the theory that the best way to win over John McCain is to treat him as badly as possible.

So he got a standing ovation when he walked into the chamber, and that was all right, and then he cast the vote to proceed. And then, having done so, he climbed onto his high horse and delivered an address every word of which was belied by the simple “yes” he had traveled so far to cast.

[…]

I wanted this to be different. In 2000, I thought McCain might be the person to lead his party back to marginal sanity at least. But he wanted to be president, so he became like all the rest of them. Yes, he scolded that person who said Barack Obama was a Muslim, but he chose as his running mate a nutty person who still may believe he is. Yes, he put his name on a campaign finance reform bill, but he also voted for every member of the Supreme Court who subsequently eviscerated that law, and others like it, and he’s been absent from that fight ever since. There have been very few senators as loyal to the party line as John McCain. He has been a great lost opportunity to the country. Now, he will end his career as the face of whatever wretchedness is brought on the country by whatever the bill finally is.

The comparisons to Jefferson Smith end now.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther KingToday is the federal holiday set aside to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday.

For me, growing up as a white kid in a middle-class suburb in the Midwest in the 1960’s, Dr. King’s legacy would seem to have a minimum impact; after all, what he was fighting for didn’t affect me directly in any way. But my parents always taught me that anyone oppressed in our society was wrong, and that in some way it did affect me. This became much more apparent as I grew up and saw how the nation treated its black citizens; those grainy images on TV and in the paper of water-hoses turned on the Freedom Marchers in Alabama showed me how much hatred could be turned on people who were simply asking for their due in a country that promised it to them. And when I came out as a gay man, I became much more aware of it when I applied the same standards to society in their treatment of gays and lesbians.

Perhaps the greatest impression that Dr. King had on me was his unswerving dedication to non-violence in his pursuit of civil rights. He withstood taunts, provocations, and rank invasions of his privacy and his life at the hands of racists, hate-mongers, and the federal government, yet he never raised a hand in anger against anyone. He deplored the idea of an eye for an eye, and he knew that responding in kind would only set back the cause. I was also impressed that his spirituality and faith were his armor and his shield, not his weapon, and he never tried to force his religion on anyone else. The supreme irony was that he died at the hands of violence, much like his role model, Mahatma Gandhi.

There’s a question in the minds of a lot of people of how to celebrate a federal holiday for a civil rights leader. Isn’t there supposed to be a ritual or a ceremony we’re supposed to perform to mark the occasion? But how do you signify in one day or in one action what Dr. King stood for, lived for, and died for? Last August marked the fifty-third anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech. That marked a moment; a milestone.

Today is supposed to honor the man and what he stood for and tried to make us all become: full citizens with all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship; something that is with us all day, every day.

For me, it’s having the memories of what it used to be like and seeing what it has become for all of us that don’t take our civil rights for granted, which should be all of us, and being both grateful that we have come as far as we have and humbled to know how much further we still have to go.

*

Today is also a school holiday, so blogging will be on a holiday schedule.