Category Archives: Character

So, where do you stand on carrying the bat to first base?

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Here’s a little thought experiment…

Earlier, some of you expressed disapproval of the crowd booing Trump at the World Series Sunday night, while others defended it.

Contemplating another Series controversy from last night’s game (and not the disagreement that led to the Nationals’ manager being ejected — it was quite a game), it occurs to me that it might be a sort of related issue.

I’d like to see y’all’s positions on the booing thing alongside your positions on whether it was OK for Alex Bregman and Juan Soto to carry their bats to first base after hitting home runs.

I have this theory that people who were disturbed by the booing would also disapprove of the bat-carrying, both being violations of certain standards of behavior. Likewise, anyone likely to approve of the “Lock him up” chant would be more inclined to let those young ballplayers strut a bit.

Me, I disapprove of both. I see both within a context of society fraying, becoming less civilized.

You?

soto

Is Donald Trump our ‘most honest president?’

"Believe me..."

“Believe me…”

Frank Bruni reminds me of this point I’ve been thinking about making for two or three years now, but I’ve just never gotten around to it.

We know that no one who has ever held the office of president — in our lifetimes, at the least — utters more falsehoods that this guy. Certainly, no one can boast more “Four Pinocchio” scores (OK, I tried to back that up with a link, and Google failed me. Oh, I saw that the Post had to come up with a new “Bottomless Pinocchio” just for him, and that in 2018 they broke his falsehoods into two categories to keep him from dominating the standings, but I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for. I think what I’m running into is the ancient horror journalists have of saying someone or something is the most anything ever — because someone might always come up with a worse example.).

He seems the personification of the old gag, “How can I tell when he’s lying? His mouth’s moving.”

The thing is, though, what if he’s not lying, technically? What if he actually believes all of these laughably false things that he asserts with such vehemence? The guy’s not terribly bright, and he’s such a narcissist that it’s possible that he convinces himself that any assertion that is helpful, or that he perceives as helpful, to Donald Trump is automatically true.

There’s plenty we can point to that supports this position on the matter. How else do you explain, just to grab a recent example, his repeated assertion that his July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president was “perfect?” Or that the whistleblower (remember the whisteblower, that guy whose role in all this long ago became redundant in light of subsequent revelations, a fact that has not yet penetrated the Donald’s skull?) is peddling untruths. He continues to assert both of these things even though the rough transcript the White House itself released shows him to be obviously wrong on both counts. Not to mention all of the subsequent revelations that show that phone call to be just one piece of a large, consistent pattern.

Maybe you want to say he’s crazy rather than dumb. Either way, you can say his ability to discern the truth is severely limited.

So in that case, is he a liar? Don’t you have to mean to lie for it to count?

Anyway, I’m thinking about this again after reading the recent Frank Bruni column headlined “‘Human Scum,’ ‘Lynching’ and Trump’s Tortured English.” (Subhed: “The president needs a thesaurus and a therapist, though not necessarily in that order.”)

It’s another piece addressing a thing that probably explains as well as anything why people who work with words tend to see Trump as dumb, while it is less obvious to certain other people:

The other day he turned to the bounteous trove of the English language for a pejorative worthy of his critics’ awfulness, at least as he sees it. He decided on “human scum.”

He sought to capture the horror and injustice befalling him. What he came up with was “lynching.”

There’s being crude with language, there’s being loose with it, and then there’s being Trump, who uses words the way a toddler does marbles, grabbing the ones that are most bluntly colorful and tossing them into the air just because he can.

Trump is as inept at English as he is at governing. He’s oxymoronic: a nativist who can’t really speak his native tongue….

And so on. But the passage that prompts this post is this:

I’ve written before that Trump, “in terms of the transparency with which he shows us the most eccentric and ugliest parts of himself,” may inadvertently be “the most honest president in my lifetime.” His language is obviously central to that. It’s a glimpse into his fury and fears…

Which is slightly different from what I said above. Basically, Bruni is saying that no matter how untrue and badly chosen his words are, the emotion behind them reveals the true Trump.

My point is that maybe we can’t label Trump’s perpetual flow of falsehoods as lies, because he really doesn’t know any better.

Either way, Trump comes across as less dishonest than a mere examination of facts would suggest.

What do y’all think?

 

The greater wonder is that there are people who don’t see it, or don’t care, or both

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Just this morning I got around to reading Frank Bruni’s Sunday column, which begins:

The wonder of the Trump administration — the jaw-dropping, brain-exploding phantasmagoria of it — is that it doesn’t bury its rottenness under layers of counterfeit virtue or use a honeyed voice to mask the vinegar inside. The rottenness is out in the open. The sourness is right there on the surface for all to see.

It’s at the president’s rallies, where he plays a bigot for laughs, a bully for applause.

It’s in the ballrooms and beds at Mar-a-Loco, where he mingles official government business with free marketing for his gilded club.

It’s in the transcript of his phone call with the president of Ukraine, for whom the quid, the pro and the Biden-ravaging quo couldn’t have been clearer.

It’s at the microphone in the White House briefing room, where his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, showed up on Thursday, announced that President Trump would host the next G7 meeting at one of his own golf resorts, and conceded that, yes, aid to Ukraine had been tied to that country’s indulgence of the president’s political obsessions….

Yeah, it’s pretty amazing, all right — in that we’ve never in American history seen anything like this.

But you know what is a greater wonder? The fact that there are all these people out there — Republican officeholders, and the “base” that terrifies them — who don’t see it, or claim not to see it, no matter how many times Trump slaps them in the face with it, compelling him to look.

People still defend him, in spite of all.

That’s the wonder of it…

Doesn't it make you proud to have a South Carolinian acting as White House chief of staff? For the moment, I mean?...

Doesn’t it make you proud to have a South Carolinian acting as White House chief of staff? For the moment, I mean?…

Those moderates I’ve praised? They’re now talking impeachment

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, former CIA case officer.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, former CIA case officer.

Remember when I wrote about Mikie Sherrill, the moderate Democrat who is emblematic of those whose elections tipped the House to the Democrats last year (in contrast to “The Squad,” whose elections meant nothing)? I described her as just the kind of person I’d jump at the chance to vote for, any time.

She’s an example of someone who steers clear of partisan combat, spending her energy on issues of concern to all her constituents, regardless of party. It’s for the sake of people like her that Nancy Pelosi has kept her foot on the brake with regard to impeaching Trump.

Well, she, and her friend Rep. Abigail Spanberger — whom I have mentioned in similar terms — and five other moderate freshmen have now had enough, as they explained in an oped today:

This flagrant disregard for the law cannot stand. To uphold and defend our Constitution, Congress must determine whether the president was indeed willing to use his power and withhold security assistance funds to persuade a foreign country to assist him in an upcoming election.

If these allegations are true, we believe these actions represent an impeachable offense. We do not arrive at this conclusion lightly, and we call on our colleagues in Congress to consider the use of all congressional authorities available to us, including the power of “inherent contempt” and impeachment hearings, to address these new allegations, find the truth and protect our national security.

As members of Congress, we have prioritized delivering for our constituents — remaining steadfast in our focus on health care, infrastructure, economic policy and our communities’ priorities. Yet everything we do harks back to our oaths to defend the country. These new allegations are a threat to all we have sworn to protect. We must preserve the checks and balances envisioned by the Founders and restore the trust of the American people in our government. And that is what we intend to do…

Why are they doing this? Because of what we’ve learned the last few days, about the possibility that the president of the United States used taxpayer money to pressure a foreign government to help him tar a domestic political opponent.

And because of who they are:

We have devoted our lives to the service and security of our country, and throughout our careers, we have sworn oaths to defend the Constitution of the United States many times over…

Because like the intelligence officer who blew the whistle, they are looking at something alarming to people who love their country.

Because duty demands it.

And that’s where things stand now…

Rep. Mikie Sherrill, former U.S. Navy helicopter pilot.

Rep. Mikie Sherrill, former U.S. Navy helicopter pilot.

A story that sheds light on why I’m for Joe Biden

Biden stump 1

Tonight Joe Biden (and others) will be at the Galivants Ferry Stump Speaking. I had thought seriously about going, but decided I had too much to do to take the trip — almost two hours each way. (If you’re closer, I urge you to go. The Stump is always interesting, and this special-edition gathering promises to be particularly so.)

So I’ll give you a picture or two from the last time I saw and interviewed Joe at the Stump, and give you a link to my column about it. It was in 2006. (Special bonus feature: The column quotes former blog regular Paul DeMarco, who happened to be at the Stump — as I noted in a separate post at the time.)

And to add a measure of substance, here’s something else I meant to post last week. I don’t expect it to change any minds among those of you who don’t like Joe for whatever reason, but I offer it as another window into why I’m for him, and really don’t have a second choice among the others running.

It’s a story from the NYT about the way he handled the process that ended in a vote against Reagan’s Supreme Court nominee, Robert Bork. An excerpt:

Joseph R. Biden Jr. was on the brink of victory, but he was unsatisfied.

Mr. Biden, the 44-year-old chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was poised to watch his colleagues reject President Ronald Reagan’s formidable nominee to the Supreme Court, Robert H. Bork. The vote was unlikely to be close. Yet Mr. Biden was hovering in the Senate chamber, plying Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, a Republican of modestly conservative politics and regal bearing, with arguments about Bork’s record.

Rejecting a Supreme Court nominee was an extraordinary act of defiance, and Mr. Biden did not want a narrow vote that could look like an act of raw partisan politics….

Mr. Biden’s entreaties prevailed: Mr. Warner became one of 58 senators to vote against Bork, and one of six Republicans.

That’s Joe. As the piece says, it was a moment when “Mr. Biden’s political ethos found its most vivid and successful expression.” At a moment when most partisans would be satisfied simply to win, Joe wanted to go the extra mile to win in a way less likely to tear the country apart. One more excerpt:

The strategy Chairman Biden deployed then is the same one he is now proposing to bring to the White House as President Biden.

In the 1980s, as today, he saw bipartisan compromise not as a version of surrender, but as a vital tool for achieving Democratic goals….

And in both defining moments — his leadership of the Bork hearings and his third presidential campaign — Mr. Biden made persuading moderates, rather than exciting liberals, his guiding objective….

Yep, that sets him part from the people in his own party and the other who tend to think it terms of getting 50 percent plus one and cramming their policy goals down the opposition’s throat.

I have little patience with such people. And that’s another reason why Joe is my guy. He’s the one candidate who is the polar opposite of what’s wrong with our national politics…

Biden stump 2

I am appalled that this man represented my country at the D-Day commemoration

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As y’all know, I generally don’t like to let the sixth of June go by without acknowledging it in some way. The events of that day in 1944 stagger the imagination, and loom large in my concept of my country and its place in the world.

It’s not just the bold stroke at dislodging Hitler from the Continent, from the world. For that matter, I’m not even sure it was the decisive battle of the war; I remain too ignorant of the titanic struggles on the Eastern Front to be able to peg that with confidence. Serious students of history can have lively arguments about that.

But it was monumental. In fact, it was, on almost any measurement or any scale, just possibly the most impressive thing the human race has done in one day in the past century. It’s absolutely astounding, not just as the aggregation of personal acts of courage it took, but the fact that human beings worked together that well to do a supremely difficult thing that was eminently worth doing. (So yeah, for me there’s a huge communitarian aspect to it.)

A thing that hope for future freedom depended on to such a degree…

So I like to take note of it, I feel obliged to take note of it, particularly since I live in a world in which far too few people even care about having a concept of historical context, of what it took to form our present existence. And the 75th anniversary, likely the last major milestone that any of those few remaining veterans will see, is particularly important.

But I haven’t written about it before this late hour because I haven’t wanted to share the cloud of negativity that has overshadowed this event for me this week, this year.

All week, we’ve been building up to it. The man this country elected president has been slouching toward Normandy ever since the weekend, spewing his vulgarity, his grossness, his self-absorption and disregard for decency before him like the burning fuel from a flamethrower.

I’ve been so embarrassed for our country that Queen Elizabeth, the prime minister and other dignitaries of the best friend this nation has ever had have been forced, by respect for our relationship, to entertain this supreme vulgarian. The Brits have been doing what decency and respect for friends demands, and the fact that they’re having to lavish all this on Donald J. Trump is our collective fault for electing him.

I’m not going to recite all the mortifying things he’s said and done this week while representing our country among civilized people abroad. Go read about them yourself, here and here and here and on and on. I call your attention in particular to his constant evocation of himself, which is the only person on the planet he cares about.

All that has been bad enough.

But to know that this person was going to head our delegation to the commemoration of the Normandy landings was so much worse.

This was a day for taking stock of our country and what it has stood for, what it has meant to the world back before the ugly resurgence of “America First.”

This was a day for humbly acknowledging Courage and Honor and Duty and Sacrifice. And we sent a man who does not know what those words mean, who does not care that he does not know, a man who in fact is the embodiment of the opposites of those virtues.

Seventy-five years ago, we sent such good men over there, the best we had.

Look what we sent this week.

And yes, yes, I know we sent D-Day veterans as well, and I stand in awe of them. No one, not even Trump, can take the slightest scrap of honor from them. But look who we sent to stand in front of them…

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David Brooks is exactly right today about Joe

his Joeness

In today’s column, David Brooks gets Joe Biden exactly right.

The headline is “Your Average American Joe.

The subhed is, “Biden is not an individualist.”

Absolutely. And amen to that.

An excerpt from the end:

… The character issue will play out in all sorts of subterranean and powerful ways this election. We have lost our love for ourselves as a people, a faith in our basic goodness, and this loss of faith has been a shock. A lot of voters want to raise their children in an atmosphere marked by decency and compassion, not narcissistic savagery. Values are central to this race.

Here is what is subtly different about Biden. He’s not an individualist. He is a member. He belongs to his family; his hometown, Scranton; his Democratic Party; his Senate; his nation, and is inexplicable without those roots. He used the word “we” 16 times in his short video announcing his candidacy.

Some candidates will run promising transformational change. Biden offers a restoration of the values that bind us as a collective.

Yes! I could have done without the word “collective;” as it brings to mind the AOCs and Bernies of the world, and that’s definitely not who Joe is. I’d have gone with “a community,” or “a people.”

But otherwise, very nicely done.

We communitarian types may not have a party, but we have a candidate…

I support every 2020 hopeful you can find in this photo

Obama_and_Biden_await_updates_on_bin_Laden

Yesterday, Bud said “This year there is an embarrassment of riches among the Dems,” just before listing 18 people running for president.

I’m glad he’s pumped about it, and that’s certainly a bunch of names, but the fact is that until Joe Biden entered his name today, there wasn’t anyone who was even close to being ready for the job.

There is no one else who has been anywhere near the presidency or who has held any kind of position that prepares one for the presidency the way 36 years in the U.S. Senate and eight years at the right hand of our nation’s last sane, decent president do.

When I got to thinking about how to graphically demonstrated that fact, I thought of this picture.

I’m not saying Joe Biden went out and got bin Laden personally. I’m not saying he’s doing anything special in that picture. I’m saying that he happens to be in the room because of who he is, because of what he’s done, because of his experience and personal leadership qualities. His life experiences brought him to that room at that moment.

And those experiences — combined with his basic human decency, which is a quality more needed at this moment than at any other in our history — make him qualified to be president of the United States.

He’s not qualified because he’s in the picture. He’s qualified because of who he had to be and what he had to do to get there.

And yeah, Hillary Clinton was qualified, too. She was a pretty good secretary of state — not to mention the eight years she spent at the center of presidential power before that.

But she was a terrible candidate, badly lacking in the ability to relate to voters.

I think Joe will be different in that regard, if he’s not brought down by a million cuts by all the Lilliputians out there.

He’s a natural campaigner. And a decent human being.

But most of all, he’s the only person who is even remotely qualified. And the best person to replace the least qualified, least decent president in our history, by far.

Aw, lay off the kid with the funny name, will ya?

The State decided to run an “opinion” page today, which served the purpose of bringing to my attention this Doyle McManus column that The Los Angeles Times ran a week ago. An excerpt:

Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., could turn out to be the biggest, boldest surprise of the 2020 presidential campaign. But he’d better come up with some policies first.

Buttigieg was virtually unknown outside his home state until two months ago, but he has surged into third place in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire

There’s only one element missing from Buttigieg’s potentially meteoric campaign: positions on major issues.

That’s not an accident. He says voters aren’t looking for policy papers. They care about values and character, and knowing that a candidate cares about their lives….

Aw, lay off the kid, why don’t you?

I hold no particularly brief for Buttigieg. I’ve heard him on the radio and have found him surprisingly impressive, and I’m not at all shocked that he has risen in the polls in spite of his absurd youth and lack of relevant experience.

These pins are being offered by Annie Fogarty, @FoGaGarty.

These pins are being offered by one Annie Fogarty, @FoGaGarty.

But y’all know my candidate is announcing tomorrow.

Still, I don’t like to see anyone taken to task for failing to make specific campaign promises.

As I’ve said many times before, I don’t want candidates making campaign promises, any more than they absolutely have to to get elected — and unfortunately they do have to, since most voters aren’t like me. (The Smith/Norrell campaign had some policy proposals out there before I joined. I did not push to elaborate upon them.) No one knows what kinds of situations a candidate might face in office if elected. I prefer that they keep their options open so they are free to choose the wisest course under those unpredictable circumstances.

My favorite example of why campaign promises are a terrible idea is “Read my lips: no new taxes.” Once in office, Bush found himself in a situation in which he found it advisable to compromise with Congress on a budget deal that in fact raised some existing taxes. That sank him politically. But acquiescing in a tax increase wasn’t his sin. His sin was in making the stupid promise to begin with.

So how do I choose a candidate? By the quality of his or her character, of course — at this moment in our history, considering what it in the White House, being a decent, honest human being is more important than ever.

Just as important is what we’ve seen that person do in the past, preferably in public service. It’s not just that such experience helps you know how to do the job. It’s that, if you have a significant record of such service, it means we the people have had the opportunity to observe how you have performed, and decide whether what we have seen inspires confidence that you will deal appropriately with future challenges in office, whatever they may be.

So to the extent Buttigieg has a problem in my book, it’s that lack of experience — in office, and in life. He’s an attractive candidate, but would be more so with more of a track record.

Just don’t get on his case for not laying out a bunch of specific policy proposals. To the extent that there’s a problem with him, that’s not it.

One of my favorite moments from the campaign

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While I’m sharing photos of James enjoying the campaign trail, I need to show you this sequence, which never went out on social media, but which was a favorite moment of mine.

This was at the Joe Biden fundraiser. This was after all the speaking, when the candidates and Joe were just meeting and greeting and posing for selfies and such.

A lot of politicians kiss babies. But I’ve never seen one get more of a kick out of a baby than this. And it didn’t seem to bother him that this baby was campaigning for someone else…

 

Amazingly, they’re actually getting the boys out of the cave

Ekapol and players

Ekapol Chanthawong and some of his players.

I really spoke too soon the other day when I celebrated the discovery of those boys missing in the cave in Thailand. I was far too sanguine.

Turned out their situation was still horrifically perilous. So perilous, in fact, that this just would not work as fiction. In “Lassie,” Timmy was always falling down an old mineshaft or something (this was such a common plot device in the late ’50s that as a little kid I had the impression the whole country was honeycombed with abandoned mines, all of them covered only with rotting boards that wouldn’t even hold a small boy’s weight). But all Lassie had to do was get within hearing of the shaft, hear Timmy yell, “Go for help, girl!” and the day was saved.

A fictional plot like this would be dismissed by the most credulous viewer as too contrived: It takes six hours, much of it underwater, even for an elite diver to get to the precarious shelf where the boys are, cut off by rising rainwater. It’s so difficult that a veteran diver, a former Thai Navy SEAL, died Friday just trying to place spare air tanks along the route. The boys can’t swim. Even if they could, they’re not trained SCUBA divers. Some of the passages through which they have to pass are so tight that air tanks would have to be removed for even the kids to get through them. It’s so hard to get them out that consideration was given to leaving them there for months until the rainy season is over, resupplying them for the duration. But no — the monsoons continue to fall, meaning the water in the cave will rise.

What else could possibly go wrong?

And yet, amazingly, things went wonderfully right today: They got four of the boys out! Which is just astounding as well as wonderful. But it will be hours, perhaps a day, before more get out. Imagining the terror, the physical exertion, the determination and courage it took those four weakened boys to get out makes me shudder.

But they got out!

A lot of attention has focused on the one adult with them, 25-year-old assistant soccer coach Ekapol Chanthawong, a former Buddhist monk. Some have been critical, saying he should never have gotten the boys into such a situation. But the story plays differently within Thailand itself:

But for many in Thailand, Ekapol, who left his life in the monkhood three years ago and joined the Wild Boars as an assistant coach soon after, is an almost divine force, sent to protect the boys as they go through this ordeal. A widely shared cartoon drawing of Ekapol shows him sitting cross-legged, as a monk does in meditation, with 12 little wild boars in his arms.

According to rescue officials, he is among the weakest in the group, in part because he gave the boys his share of the limited food and water they had with them in the early days. He also taught the boys how to meditate and how to conserve as much energy as possible until they were found.

“If he didn’t go with them, what would have happened to my child?” said the mother of Pornchai Khamluang, one of the boys in the cave, in an interview with a Thai television network. “When he comes out, we have to heal his heart. My dear Ek, I would never blame you.”…

During my brief stay in Thailand three years ago, I was often impressed by the straightforward piety that runs through the hearts of the people there. Just one of many illustrations: We spent two nights in the farmhouse of my daughters’ adoptive “grandparents” in the rural village in which she served her two years in the Peace Corps. In the corner of the room in which we slept on floor pallets there was a small Buddhist shrine.

On the morning we were leaving, before she would let us go, the “grandmother” kneeled before the shrine and let us know we were to kneel beside her. Of course we did, as she prayed for our safety during the rest of our journey. We were deeply touched.

And as it happened, we had a wonderful time, and our trip was remarkably free of untoward incidents.

Call that good luck if you like, but I think all good-faith efforts to reach out sincerely to the Divine have value, however you define the Divine and whatever your dogma. In any case, the presence of that spiritual young man seems to be helping to keep those boys going under the most trying of circumstances.

I don’t have a shrine in my house, but I’ll be going to Mass later today. And on this Sunday, I hope and pray the other nine boys get out as safely as the first four. And that Ekapol does, too…

We explored a cave while we were in Thailand, too. Here, our guide gives us some pointers at the entrance as we prepare to climb down into it. I don't think I'll do that again...

We explored a cave while we were in Thailand, too. Here, our guide gives us some pointers at the entrance as we prepare to climb down into it. I don’t think I’ll do that again…

Can it with the lame excuses for incivility

The president of the United States is a jerk. His loyal followers are jerks, as they eagerly demonstrate at the rallies where he laps up their adulation. His jerkiness is what they love about him, and theirs is what he loves about them — or would be, if he were capable of loving anyone but himself.download (2)

The people in his administration are, with occasional exceptions, also jerks.

And if you think that the way to defeat all these jerks — in elections, or merely in the court of public opinion — is to be a jerk yourself, then you’re an idiot.

Oops. There I go, being a jerk myself. But I’m pretty sick and tired of hearing people give stupid excuses for being uncivilized.

I sort of reached the end of my patience with the “They did it first!” argument this morning:

I don’t know about Democrats, but anybody who wants to turn back the tide of boorishness is going to have to start by acting like a grownup. That’s not all that’s required to win, of course, but it’s a prerequisite for my vote.

Poor Eugene Robinson. I normally don’t even read his columns. That headline of his just ended up being the straw on the camel’s back….

Where do nice guys finish? Watch James Smith to find out

James greet

James Smith greets supporters in Lancaster on the day of the announcement that Mandy Powers Norrell would be his running mate.

I appreciate my friend E.J. Dionne, who is also a nice guy, bringing this to my attention:

It’s the tale of how a little old lady who served as food critic for a newspaper in flyover land was lampooned by the “sophisticates” on the coasts because she unabashedly gave a rave review to an Olive Garden… then was defended by the late Anthony Bourdain.

Bourdain wrote of the then–88-year-old Marilyn Hagerty of Grand Forks:

“She is never mean — even when circumstances would clearly excuse a sharp elbow, a cruel remark,” he wrote. “In fact, watching Marilyn struggle to find something nice to say about a place she clearly loathes is part of the fun. She is, unfailingly, a good neighbor and good citizen first — and entertainer second.”

Bourdain added that the book “kills snark dead.”

“This is a straightforward account of what people have been eating — still ARE eating — in much of America,” he wrote. “As related by a kind, good-hearted reporter looking to pass along as much useful information as she can — while hurting no one.”

So you can see how the “snarkologists” would give her unmitigated hell. How dare she be a genuinely nice person?

Which brings me to James Smith.

This past week, the three candidates for the Democratic nomination for governor or South Carolina had their final “debate” — an occasion for Phil Noble and Marguerite Willis to snarl, slash and attack James Smith in their desperation (which continues to puzzle me) to tear down the only member of their party who has the slightest prayer of winning the election in the fall.

A number of people — some of them the sort who were just then starting to focus on the race (which is ominous) — thought Smith didn’t come out of the debate well — his opponents kept scoring hits on him, and he failed to deflect the hits and didn’t fight back. (Doug hates that kind of thing. Possibly others do as well.)

It didn’t strike me that way, but then I know James, and I knew that his opponents were making innocent things out to be scandalous. For instance, he has been friends with Rick Quinn, and he was Alan Wilson’s attorney at one point. These are both things that I’ve written about approvingly here in the past, because it shows the kind of guy James is — someone who doesn’t dismiss people because they belong to another political party. You know, exactly the quality you need in a Democrat who wants to get anything done as governor, seeing as how the GOP dominates the Legislature.

His opponents were doing this because with the kind of blind partisans who might (if misled sufficiently) choose them over Smith, it is a prima facie sin to be friends with Republicans. At this point, the snarlers would protest that the sin was the taint of scandal attaching to Quinn and Wilson — but the evidence of his association is from a time years before even the slightest hint of scandal wafted in their direction.

So what’s he going to say? Protest that he was friendly with them then, but not now? An opportunist would leap at the chance to do so. But that’s not James Smith.

James Smith is the kind of guy who offers nothing but positive reasons why he wants to be governor and would make a good one. He’s not interested in slashing out at anyone, or tossing anyone to the wolves.

He could, if he possessed a different sort of character. There are plenty of things he could say about the two spoilers (who will never be anything more) attacking him. I’m picturing, for instance, a pretty devastating ad with one Democrat after another stating clearly precisely what they think of Phil Noble, based on their dealings with him.

As for Marguerite Willis, I can think of a number of ways he could undermine her, but this one would do: He could, for instance, ask her to explain why she said, in their first debate back in the winter, that workers should not have the right to organize into unions. While running for the Democratic nomination, mind. It stunned me at the time (I’m no great fan of unions, but surely people have the right to join them), but the amazing thing is that no one has asked this corporate lawyer to explain that answer — not then, not now.

Unless I’ve missed it. If this has happened, I’d appreciate a link.

Can you imagine what Ms. Willis or Noble, who attack him without letup because the NRA doesn’t hate him, would be doing with such an advantage?

But Smith does not. Because he’s just not interested in doing that.

I imagine that in the fall, James will have some critical things to say about his Republican opponent — because then, there will be substantive differences on policy to discuss. But he’s not interested in playing a gotcha game to get his party’s nomination.

Which raises the question — do nice guys finish last, or does a guy who’s only interested in presenting the positives about himself, and not looking for ways to attack his opponents, have a chance in today’s poisonous political atmosphere?

To find out, watch James Smith on Tuesday.

Marquerite Willis’ race-baiting radio ad (and the debate, too)

Cynthia Hardy, Jim Felder, me and Jon Parker on the radio Sunday night.

Cynthia Hardy, Jim Felder, me and Jon Parker on the radio Sunday night. At this moment I’m apparently making a terribly cogent point that requires hand gestures, even on the radio.

(Editor’s note: I wrote this last night, but am just posting it today because of problems with the sound file. WordPress will take an MP3, but not a WAV.)

Did y’all watch that Democratic gubernatorial debate tonight? I didn’t get to see most of it, but I heard a good bit on the radio while I was driving first to a program at my youngest grandchildren’s school, then over to my parents’ house to check on my Dad (he had a fall recently, but is doing better), then home. A few seconds after I turned on the TV, it was over.

I did pull over a couple of times to Tweet about what I was hearing. I Tweeted this at the end:

Speaking of unpleasantness…

Sunday, I was a guest on Cynthia Hardy’s show on the Big DM (you can watch the show here). Before the show started, Cynthia asked whether Jim Felder and I had heard the “race-baiting ad” — as she said some had called it — that Marguerite Willis was running. I said no, and she played it for us.

Give it a listen. And (let me know if you had technical difficulties.)

When it was done, I said, “So… I suppose she’s playing that mostly on the country stations…” As soon as I said it, it occurred to me that my joke might fall flat, although Jim Felder laughed politely.

That’s really something. And it’s totally consistent with what I heard of the debate, which at another point caused me to Tweet:

But that ad was something — grossly unfair, misleading and desperate. But the issue remains, will she and Noble manage to inflict enough damage on a good man so as to ensure a GOP victory in the fall? Because surely the two Democratic challengers are bright enough to know neither of them would have a chance in a general election…

Good for you, John Brennan…

I very much appreciated this column today from John Brennan, former director of Central Intelligence, headlined “I will speak out until integrity returns to the White House.” An excerpt:

My first visit to the Oval Office came in October 1990, when I was a 35-year-old CIA officer. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait two months before, and President George H.W. Bush wanted to discuss the implications of a U.S.-led military coalition that would ultimately push the Iraqis out.

John Brennan

John Brennan

I remember the nervousness I felt when I entered that room and met a president of the United States for the first time. By the time the meeting ended, his intellectual curiosity, wisdom, affability and intense interest in finding the best policy course to protect and promote U.S. interests were abundantly evident.

Over the next quarter-century, I returned to the Oval Office several hundred times during the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The jitters that accompanied my first Oval Office visit dissipated over time, but the respect, awe and admiration I held for the office of the presidency and the incumbents never waned. The presidents I directly served were not perfect, and I didn’t agree with all of their policy choices. But I never doubted that each treated their solemn responsibility to lead our nation with anything less than the seriousness, intellectual rigor and principles that it deserved. Many times, I heard them dismiss the political concerns of their advisers, saying, “I don’t care about my politics, it’s the right thing to do.”

The esteem with which I held the presidency was dealt a serious blow when Donald Trump took office. Almost immediately, I began to see a startling aberration from the remarkable, though human, presidents I had served. Mr. Trump’s lifelong preoccupation with aggrandizing himself seemed to intensify in office, and he quickly leveraged his 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. address and his Twitter handle to burnish his brand and misrepresent reality.

Presidents throughout the years have differed in their approaches to policy, based on political platforms, ideologies and individual beliefs. Mr. Trump, however, has shown highly abnormal behavior by lying routinely to the American people without compunction, intentionally fueling divisions in our country and actively working to degrade the imperfect but critical institutions that serve us….

I’ll have to stop excerpting there because I suspect I’m already pushing the outside of that ol’ envelope on Fair Use.

Suffice to say that eventually he notes that people question why he keeps speaking out on this subject. They seem to think it’s not fitting for a career intelligence officer to be mixing in politics this way.

Those people don’t get it. And the amazing thing to me is that there are so many people who still don’t get it. They think this is politics as usual — sometimes your guy wins, sometimes the other guy wins.

That’s why we need people such as Brennan who are outside the stupid Democrats-vs.-Republicans game to tell us that the problem we face right now is most assuredly NOT about that game.

For the first time in the history of our nation, the most powerful position in the world is held by a grossly unqualified, unfit, unstable man with no priorities but serving himself and what he perceives to be his personal interests. For the first time in living memory and probably ever, our chief magistrate is a person that devoted public servants such as Brennan cannot possibly respect.

And that has to be said again and again until the people who don’t get that — and amazingly, such people are legion — finally do get it…

Caskey hit by shockingly dishonest political attack

Scan1

This is one of the most unfair, unwarranted attacks on a political candidate I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of trash in my day.

And in terms of showing contempt for the intelligence of voters, I’m sure it’s the worst. I’m insulted that it came to my home, because it is aimed at idiots. And in keeping with the times, at a particular variety of idiot — the kind that will believe a painfully obvious liar when he accuses someone else of “lyin’.” There are obviously some of those about, but most people know I’m not one of them.

To be anything other than insulted by this mailer, a person would have to be completely ignorant of the following:

  • That Micah Caskey didn’t somehow pass this long-overdue measure alone. When he voted for the gas tax increase — our state’s first in three decades, which came as part of legislation that also reformed the unaccountable Department of Transportation — he was doing so as part of an overwhelming Republican, conservative majority. He was supporting something that only unprincipled political cowards, such as our feckless governor, opposed.
  • That the gas tax increase is to be phased in over six years, and the first one-sixth of it was implemented less than a year ago.
  • That even if the entire amount had magically been raised at once, it’s far too early for anyone to expect the work it was meant to pay for to have been completed.
  • That NO ONE has ever said anything to suggest that Lexington County roads would be first in line to be fixed, and even if they had been, again, this would be awfully early to expect the work to be done.
  • That Micah Caskey has never said, to my knowledge, a false word about roads or taxes or anything else that’s come up since he’s been in office.
  • More specifically, that he has not only never said, he has never even hinted, anything that anyone, even the biggest idiot in the world (this mailer’s intended audience), could possibly interpret as suggesting that within 11 months of the first sliver of the tax increase being implemented, the road problems of his district would be solved.

Yeah, that last sentence was kind of involved. It got away from me a little and got kinda repetitive. Chalk it up to the fact that I am really ticked off to see this.

It’s not just that no candidate, even a bad one, deserves to have this kind of scurrilous crud flung at him.

It’s not just that Micah Caskey is about as far as you can get from being a bad candidate. In fact, he may be the best representative I’ve ever had. He’s one of only two political candidates whose signs I have put up in my yard ever.

No, my fury has an added edge because these out-of-state sleazebags (the organization is based in Virginia) had the unmitigated gall to cite ME as a source. They quote something Micah said that was perfectly true and reasonable, and follow it with this transparent, pernicious, entirely unsupported falsehood: “Look around… he lied.”

This is beyond disgusting.

At this point I could use a laugh, so let’s end with this: The group claims that it “does not endorse, support or oppose candidates for elected office.”

So I guess they just do things like this to good people, a couple of weeks before the primary, for the sheer fun of it…

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You can be ‘bold,’ OR you can be ‘conservative.’ Choose.

Just caught Catherine Templeton’s latest ad. At the end, she says:

It’s time for a governor as bold and conservative as the people of South Carolina.

Um… you can’t be both of those things at the same time. You can be bold if you choose. Or you can be conservative instead. You have to choose.

Otherwise, words have no meaning. And who wants to live in a world like that?

“Bold and conservative” is as nonsensical as, well, “conservative buzzsaw.” Again, you can be one of those things, but not both…

Cath

Archie Parnell’s shameful secret (which hasn’t shamed HIM enough to get him to bow out)

headshot

Well, I guess I feel pretty foolish for having given Archie Parnell a hard time for not shaving his beard.

But you know why political consultants will tell you to do that? So that voters won’t wonder what you’re hiding.

It turns out Parnell has been concealing something far, far worse than a weak chin:

Top South Carolina candidate refuses to quit congressional race after abuse discovery

Archie Parnell, a Democratic congressional hopeful who earned national attention after nearly winning in deep red South Carolina last year, is resisting pleas to withdraw after his campaign staff discovered that he physically abused his ex-wife in the 1970s.

In divorce records obtained by The Post and Courier, Kathleen Parnell said the marriage deteriorated after two years in 1973 because of “unwarranted accusations” from her husband.

In October 1973, Archie Parnell, then a University of South Carolina student, was locked out of some friends’ apartment to protect Kathleen Parnell, who was staying there. At 2 a.m., Archie Parnell used a tire iron to break a glass door, the complaint said. He made more unspecified accusations to Kathleen Parnell before striking her several times. She said she was beaten again later that evening.

After the “acts of physical cruelty,” Kathleen Parnell said she feared for her life and did not want to stay married. She obtained a restraining order against Archie Parnell after seeking the divorce, according to court documents. The divorce was finalized in early 1974….

When this came out his campaign manager immediately quit, saying “He has no business running for Congress and he never did.”

But Parnell himself won’t quit.

I feel ridiculous for having to say this, but he should. A man doesn’t hit a woman. Ever. Even when it was a long, long time ago.

Oh, and by the way — his party agrees with me:

SCDP CHAIR STATEMENT ON ARCHIE PARNELL
Columbia, SC –South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson released the following statement on Monday after the Post & Courier reported that he physically abused his then-wife in 1973:
““In light of this sad revelation, Archie Parnell has no choice but to withdraw from the race for the 5th Congressional District. His actions, though long ago, directly contradict the values of the Democratic Party.”
###

That 2010 picture was an expression of something good, and rare, in our politics

My original caption on this picture was, "Dogs and cats, living together -- Republican Rick Quinn and Democrat James Smith at the Benjamin victory party."

My original caption on this picture was, “Dogs and cats, living together — Republican Rick Quinn and Democrat James Smith at the Benjamin victory party.”

Remember the night Steve Benjamin was elected mayor back in 2010? It was a heady evening, and a lot of people, including people you might not expect, were excited about it.

There were the usual suspects, of course. A lot of black voters were thrilled to have had the chance to elect the first black mayor of a major South Carolina city, only 15 months after seeing Barack Obama become president. And even though this was a nonpartisan election (as all elections should be), it was quite natural that white Democrats would be happy, too. Steve had been their party’s nominee for attorney general several years earlier, and had also served as an agency head in Gov. Jim Hodges’ administration.

But Benjamin’s appeal was much broader than that. There were some very prominent Republicans at his celebration, and they were as happy as anybody. In all my years in South Carolina, I had never seen these people at the same victory celebration:

But the best part of all? Seeing the happy Democrats (James Smith, Anton Gunn, Boyd Summers, etc.) and Republicans (Rick Quinn, Butch Bowers, Kevin Hall — at least, I heard Kevin was there) together there, and hearing the chant, begun by the mayor-elect, of “ONE Columbia.”

Reminds me of that awesome night in that same building when the people chanted “Race Doesn’t Matter!” in celebrating the Obama victory in the SC primary…

(By the way, if you’re not all that involved in politics, you might not know just how Republican Butch Bowers and Kevin Hall are. They were law partners at the time, and their clients included pretty much every statewide elected official in the state — all Republicans, of course — as well as much of the congressional delegation. We’re talking big-time GOP lawyers and movers and shakers behind the scenes.)

What I meant by that observation about Obama’s SC victory was, it was almost like people at the Benjamin thing were chanting, “Party doesn’t matter.” And you know what music that would be to my ears, feeling as I do about parties. I definitely got caught up in it myself, in a way I wouldn’t have back when I was at the paper:

It was pretty awesome being in the room when Steve made his victory speech. I was right up front, and when I congratulated him, I got one of those regular-guy combination handshake-hugs — which was also embarrassing for a serious journalist, but I was happy for him. In fact, I was caught up enough in the moment to Tweet this, which DID actually post, during his speech:

This is awesome. I’m happy for Steve, for everybody in this room, and for Columbia…

And I meant it. It was a big moment. I mean, the man had tears coursing down his face as I sent that out. And if you didn’t get a contact high from being in that crowd, you’ve got ice water in your veins….

So, in that atmosphere, with everyone enjoying the moment, I ran into James Smith and Rick Quinn at the same time and said something to them like, “This is not a sight you see every day. I’ve got to get a picture of this!”

So that political Odd Couple, in the spirit of the moment, gladly posed for me, and then went back to the celebration.

Why were so many different kinds of people happy about this result? Well, Rick’s motive was pretty clear — his Dad’s political consulting business had worked to get Benjamin elected. But the next question is, Why would the Quinn’s — as solidly identified with Republican candidates as anyone in South Carolina — work for this Democrat, even in a nonpartisan election?

I can’t answer that precisely because I don’t think I ever asked. But it seemed natural to me that such lines were crossed. My impression at the time as to why his support was so broad was because his message had been so unifying. Check out my shaky video from his victory speech, which he started out by repeating his campaign slogan: “We are ONE Columbia.”

His campaign had been about pulling together a fragmented community — not just split by party and race and class, or by town and gown or government and private sector, but by the fact that government itself here is the most fragmented I’d ever seen in my career when I arrived at The State to become governmental affairs editor in 1987. I came here from Wichita, Kansas — a city of about the same size at the confluence of two rivers, with a deep cultural split between the east and west sides of the water. Sound familiar? But it was easy for Wichita to move forward together because it was one city in one county with one school board and so on.

The economic community of Columbia is split not only between two politically incompatible counties, but into about 10 municipalities, seven school districts, and a confusing array of little special purpose districts that provide services cities and counties should provide (Richland County Recreation Commission, anyone?).

Benjamin had spoken of all of that as ONE Columbia, with optimism about what we could do together, with eloquence and Kennedyesque vigor (vigah?), and people were pumped about it.

So it was a night when it looked like it was possible to sweep aside all the usual garbage that divides us and causes so many of us to become depressed at the mere mention of the word, “politics.”

Speaking of all that garbage — that’s what causes me to bring up the subject of that night eight years ago.

I hear that someone is about to use MY photograph of James with Rick Quinn — without my permission, of course — to attack, to smear, to malign James Smith, to damage his chances of becoming governor, or even of getting his party’s nomination in the June 12 primary.

The photo couldn’t possibly damage him among people who know him or his record or his character. No, this would be a smear based on exploiting and manipulating voter ignorance, an attempt to generate this sort of reaction: I don’t know that James Smith, but he sure seems to be buddy-buddy with that Rick Quinn, and while I don’t recall exactly what Quinn DID, I’ve heard he’s some kinda crook or something! I better find somebody else to vote for…

Or, the hoped-for reaction could be as simple and stupid as this: That Rick Quinn’s a Republican! That James Smith must be one, too…

If this attack emerges, and it’s anything like what I’m hearing (I hope the rumors are wrong) it will be an expression of the things that make our politics ugly, relying on such things as blind partisanship, mistaken impression, damning a person for incidental association rather than for anything he ever did….

Will Folks predicted something like this would happen several months ago, having gotten wind of a group that was prepared to spend a lot to try to take down James Smith’s candidacy, by trying to make him appear to be something he’s not. I don’t know if what I’m hearing about now is the same thing. We’ll have to see when it emerges.

The thing is, James Smith is that rare thing in politics — a guy who not only looks like a Boy Scout, but really is one. He’s always been a clean, honest, diligent public servant. To try to suggest he is something else would be disgusting. And it would be especially appalling if a photo of mine was misleadingly used to do that.

I just hope what I’ve been hearing is wrong…

Steve Benjamin on that heady night in 2010 when he was elected mayor.

Steve Benjamin on that heady night in 2010 when he was elected mayor.

Ambition does weird things to people

Doug was talking about Hillary Clinton always being in the news, and I was saying stuff like Hey, I never see her in the news, but then I remembered that last weekend, I read something in The Washington Post about a new book by the lead NYT reporter who covered her campaign.

And then, having read that, I read a piece by that reporter, Amy Chozick, in the NYT itself, sharing observations about her experience.

And the part that really struck me was this:

In July 2013, Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of The New York Times, put me on the “Hillary beat” ahead of the 2016 election. It was 649 days before Mrs. Clinton would announce she was running for president again, 1,226 days before she would lose to Mr. Trump…

No, not that part. That part’s normal enough, although it’s a little weird that she’d counted the days and all. But then the piece continues:

Every major life decision in my 20s and 30s — when to get married, where to buy an apartment, whether to freeze my eggs until after the election — had revolved around a single looming question: What about Hillary Clinton?…

Really? You let what most of us would consider to be the most important things in our lives be dictated by what this stranger did and what you’d have to do in order to be prepared to cover her?

Amy Chozick

Amy Chozick

Hey, I know back in my reporting days, almost four decades ago, I wasn’t covering politics on that level, but the difference between the way I approached the job and the way she did makes me feel like a member of another species. Back in 1978, my editor was like, I want you to go travel with this gubernatorial candidate next week, and then follow his opponent the following week.

And I was like, yeah, OK, sounds like more fun than what I’d be doing otherwise. And it was. But I didn’t rearrange my life in order to do it.

The idea of making such decisions based on how it affected my readiness to cover one person boggles my mind….

The name of Amy Chozick’s book is Chasing Hillary. Writing about it in The Washington Post, Carlos Lozada said, “Yes, she chases Hillary. But it is Chozick who gets caught.”

Yeah, no kidding…