Category Archives: Civic virtue

Enough with Trump’s call to the widow, please!

KIAs

Today, NPR raises the question, “After Controversy Over Condolence Calls, Can Trump And The White House Refocus?

The answer to that, we’ve all learned, is probably “no.” Even if the White House does everything it should, and resolves to move forward and concentrate on other things, Trump will get up at 6 the next morning, if not earlier, and blow it all with a Tweet. We know this.

But yeah, it would be nice not to have to hear about any of this any more, at all.

For the widow, Myeshia Johnson, the pain must go on. I pray that God send his healing grace upon her and help her through this nightmare, but we know the loss will always be with her. She has received the call that my family dreaded the full year of my Dad’s tour in Vietnam, and her loss is real and profound and permanent.

The best we can do for her right now is honor her fallen husband, and stop intruding on her grief, and stop dragging it into politics.

This whole thing has been SO unseemly from the start.

And how did it start? With Donald Trump trying to do something that has rightly or wrongly become part of the job of president, something he is particularly ill-equipped to do. But at least he was trying.

And, because he is so ill-equipped on so many levels, it went badly. The widow says he made things worse.

It’s not necessarily that the words he said were so awful. In defending him, Chief of Staff John Kelly said that the friend and fellow general officer who consoled him when his son was killed used similar words, telling him that that the young man was doing exactly what he wanted to do, that he knew what he was getting into by joining the military in wartime and that he was surrounded when he died by the “best men on Earth.”

(Kelly having to tell this story is another of the awful things about this controversy. Up until then, he had extremely careful to keep his grief private and out of the political sphere.)

Of course, that plays one way when one Marine says it to another Marine, his good friend, who himself has sent men in harm’s way. That’s a conversation within the brotherhood. It plays differently when Mr. Bone-Spur Deferment says it to a grieving widow.

Then we had the whole business of the Democratic congresswoman (who surprisingly is not from Texas) having been with the widow during the phone call and backing the story that the president had said the wrong things, then Trump lashing out childishly with lies about Obama not having made condolence calls. (This is standard with Trump and his supporters — when criticized, they yell, “Hillary! Obama!” It matters not at all to them that it’s almost always a non sequitur.)

You had Trump stating he had called all families of those killed in action, and the press checking it out and finding he’d called about half of the ones reporters could reach.

And then, at one point, we had the sideshow — leading The Washington Post‘s website for a time — about a grieving father whom Trump called. This father griped to Trump about not receiving survivor’s benefits — they were going to his ex-wife, the mother — and Trump promised to write him a personal check for $25,000, but the Dad says he didn’t. (The White House later said the check is in the mail.) I just don’t even know how to count up how many ways that story is tawdry and cringe-inducing…

Before the week was out, there was also the business of John Kelly helping Trump lash out at the congresswoman, and saying something untrue and unfair to her in the process. Then there was the funeral over the weekend, and just this morning the widow appearing on “Good Morning America” to share what she thought of Trump…

It’s just all so awful, so disheartening. Whether you care about respecting the sacrifice of a soldier, or the dignity of the presidency, or just normal, everyday human decency, it’s been an unpleasant spectacle.

And even though I know whatever this president moves onto next will probably be just as unseemly, I for one am ready for the moving-on part…

Rep. Caskey in May on the governor’s lack of leadership

With next year’s race for governor beginning to take shape in recent days, I got to thinking back to the moment when Henry McMaster lost me.

Speaker Jay Lucas and the rest of the GOP leadership in the House, eventually joined by the GOP-led Senate, had shown courage in stepping up to pass a bill that reformed our Highway department and, for the first time in 30 years, raised the tax on gasoline in order to pay for road repairs.

Lawmakers had hoped, after two governors in a row who were more about anti-government posturing than governing, that they would have a pragmatic partner in McMaster, someone who was serious about South Carolina’s needs and how to address them.

They were wrong. And they were bitterly disappointed.

I remembered reading at the time that that disappointment was eloquently expressed in a floor speech by an unlikely spokesman — my own rookie representative, Republican Micah Caskey. I missed his speech at the time. But I went back and watched it this week. Here it is. If you watch it, you can see why one observer responded this way, according to a reporter with The State:

Freshmen just don’t say things like this to their own party’s governor. But Micah did.

The relevant part of the speech — after Micah pays his respects to his new colleagues and notes this is his first time to take the podium — starts at 5:50.

His one prop, and the object of his scorn, was a copy of McMaster’s veto message, delivered the night before. Some excerpts:

“What this is,” he says of the letter, “is not leadership.”

“Its intellectual dishonesty is only outweighed by its intellectual bankruptcy.”

“The governor surely had an opportunity to lead on this issue. He knew there was a problem. He could have done it…. He didn’t do it.”

“He chose to remain silent. He chose not to act. He chose not to lead.”

“Had he put forth an idea, we could have gone from there…”

“I don’t like raising taxes… I didn’t want to have to vote ‘yes’ for this bill… but I did, because that’s what leadership requires: Admitting reality and stepping forward and addressing it.”

“What it is not is cowering below, hiding behind political pablum, waiting on somebody else to fix it because you were worried about your own career.”

Waving the letter aloft, he said “Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a serious message. This is not a serious proposal. This is not a serious alternative to what it is that ails South Carolina today. It is not. It is not.”

“What this is… this… is politics. South Carolina doesn’t need more politics. South Carolina needs serious answers to serious problems.”

Of the alternative the governor suggested, Caskey said: “We’re gonna bond out road paving over 20 years for something that’ll depreciate in 10. That’s his idea.”

“That’s not a serious answer.”

“What I am saying in my vote to override the veto is that this (holds up the letter), this is not good enough. We need more leadership.”

He tells his colleagues that however they vote, “I know you’ve been engaged. You led.” Unlike the governor.

He concluded by saying that a vote to override would say, “We deserve better. We deserve leadership. And you can take this message…”

(He crumples it and tosses it aside.)

… and keep it.”

After Micah’s speech, the House voted 95-18 to override the veto. The Senate followed suit, 32-12.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m proud to have Mr. Caskey as my representative. This video helps illustrate why.

tossRep. Micah Caskey throwing away the governor’s letter at the end of his speech.

 

About this kneeling thing…

kneel

As reluctant as I am to write about anything that happens on football fields, here goes…

Obviously, we have a different situation than we did when Colin Kaepernick first refused to stand during the national anthem.

Actually, to be technical, we had a different situation when Kaepernick switched from sitting to kneeling, way back when he still had a job. Obviously, kneeling is by definition less disrespectful.

And of course now, it’s no longer about the anthem or the flag, but about Donald Trump making a fool of himself yet again, as he is wont to do. Which is why serious essays on the subject have headlines such as “What Will Taking the Knee Mean Now?

My problem with Kaepernick’s original action — the sitting — was first, that it was so upsetting to my friend Jack Van Loan. Secondarily, it arose from the problem I tend to have with nonverbal forms of protest. My attitude is, if you have a problem with something, use your words.

Words allow us to be very precise about what upsets us and why it does. They allow us to clearly advocate remedies for the problems to which we object.

But what does refusing to stand for the flag, or the National Anthem, say? Since the flag, and the anthem, represent the entire nation, it means your beef is with everything about the country. Your protest is entirely lacking in specificity. You’re saying you’re objecting to the entire country because some white cops committed acts of violence against some black citizens — or whatever legitimate locus of concern you started with.

You’re saying the whole country is as bad as the North Charleston cop who shot Walter Scott. Every bit of it, starting with the Founders and the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. You’re dissing Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass along with Robert E. Lee (despite the fact Douglass has been doing such a terrific job lately). You’re lumping in Martin Luther King with George Wallace. They’re all part of America, so you blame them all.

This is not helpful, to your cause or to anything else.

You have a complaint — express it clearly and specifically. Use your words — preferably, quire a few more of them than you could fit on a bumper sticker.

Words aren’t perfect — I can certainly testify to that. Someone will always misunderstand. If you write “up,” you will surely be loudly castigated for saying “down.” But at least with words, there’s a chance of clear communication, and perhaps even agreement– perhaps even changing someone’s mind! (See what a Pollyanna I am?)

Anyway, all that is sort of beside the point now, since obviously the kneeling of the last few days has been about Donald J. Trump. He saw to that. He has managed to focus something that previous lacked focus.

Now, it’s about whether people have the right to kneel — and obviously, they do — and whether the president of the United States is empowered to order them not to. Which, of course, he isn’t.

He’s not too good with words himself, but Trump certainly has a talent for clarifying things…

The way to bring Americans together is fairly obvious

Young_men_registering_for_military_conscription,_New_York_City,_June_5,_1917

As soon as I saw this headline this morning:

Americans are stuck in bubbles. Here’s a way to pop them.

I thought, “The answer is obvious: National service.”

Y’all have heard my theory before, I’m sure: That American politics starting being nasty, with Democrats and Republicans thinking of each other as “the enemy” rather than as fellow Americans, when men who had not served together in the military started rising to top leadership positions in both parties.

Civil deliberation, a process upon which our republic relies in order to work, went off a cliff about the time Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich rose to lead their respective parties. What did they have in common? Neither had had the melting-pot experience of military service. Before them, political leaders who had not served in uniform were rare. After them, that was the norm.

And from then on, the partisanship got worse and worse. Guys who had served together had had an early formative experienced that forced them to realize that they had something fundamental in common with other Americans, regardless of race, religion, social class, regional origin or political views. As different as they might have been going into the Army, basic training taught them they were all just dogfaces. (Those who went into the Navy, Marines and Air Force had similar leveling experiences.)

But never mind me and my theory. Richard Cohen’s column this morning makes the same point, as you can tell he’s going to do from the first graf:

I once had a very close friend named Charlie. We spent every day together, and much of the night, too. I got to learn about his family and old neighborhood, and he got to learn about mine, and then one day I saw him no more. I went my way, and he went his, and it has been many years, but I remember him still. We had been in the Army together….

I was 23, an erstwhile claims guy for an insurance company who had been plodding through college at night, six credits a semester. At Fort Dix and later Fort Leonard Wood, I got thrown in with country boys who had never had a toothbrush (the Army gave them false teeth) and tough city kids who strutted the barracks by day but cried for their mothers in their sleep at night.

I learned about their lives, even their sex lives (I will spare you), and I got to like them, and some of them liked me as well. We all had the same goal, which was to get through training. We all dressed alike, ate the same food, showered together and, over time, became a single unit. I mostly hated the Army, but I mostly loved those guys.

Now the Army is for volunteers only. Now affluent kids go to schools and colleges with similar people and, afterward, work is usually not much different. They don’t know anyone who never used a toothbrush or cries in the night for his mother or speaks in a Southern accent so thick in molasses it might as well be a foreign language. These folks do not, in short, know America….

OK, I’ll stop there lest I get in trouble with the Post for exceeding Fair Use. But you get the idea.

You should read the whole thing, and when you do you’ll find that Cohen is not advocating a reinstatement of the draft.

Nor am I, at least at this moment in our history. Reinstating the draft would be problematic today. To cite but one problem, it would be politically difficult to institute a draft of males only. I’m not going to get into why I’d oppose drafting women and girls today; I’ll just say that I (and a lot of other people, including many, I suspect, who wouldn’t admit that was why they opposed the draft) don’t hold with it. Besides, the generals don’t really want draftees anyway — they much prefer to command patriotic and motivated volunteers, and it’s hard to blame them.

So it’s hard to make the argument right now that it’s a national security necessity.

Another problem I have is that as great a unifier as the draft was in its time, it was far from perfect. For instance, it left out guys like me. I’ve always sort of resented that — I’m a fairly healthy guy who could have made a contribution. At the same time, I can understand not wanting a soldier who, separated from his medications, could have an asthma attack in the middle of a battle and let the unit down.

But surely I could have been useful. That’s why I join Cohen in calling for a broader sort of national service that includes everybody, as they have in such places as Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Norway.

It would be good for those involved, and good for the country.

And it would send my libertarian friends ’round the bend, so there’s that cherry on top as well… :)

Jeff Flake’s critique of the GOP under Trump

Approved CFF

 

Jeff Flake, the senator from Arizona that you don’t hear so much about, is getting a lot of buzz now for his new book calling out fellow Republicans for failing to stand up to Donald Trump.

Flake likens this action to that of his hero Barry Goldwater acting to keep the John Birch Society out of his conservative movement.

The Washington Post reported on the book this morning at some length. That piece is worth reading. An excerpt:

Just how bad have things gotten in his view? The Republican fears that the term Orwellian “seems quaint now” and “inadequate to our moment.” He muses about the need to devise a new word for the new age “to describe the previously indescribable.”

“Never has a party so quickly or easily abandoned its core principles as my party did in the course of the 2016 campaign,” writes Flake, who has never been known for hyperbole. “And when you suddenly decide that you don’t believe what had recently been your most deeply held beliefs, then you open yourself to believing anything — or maybe nothing at all. Following the lead of a candidate who had a special skill for identifying problems, if not for solving them, we lurched like a tranquilized elephant from a broad consensus on economic philosophy and free trade that had held for generations to an incoherent and often untrue mash of back-of-the-envelope populist slogans.”

As Flake sees it, “We were party to a very big lie.” “Seemingly overnight, we became willing to roll back the ideas on the global economy that have given America the highest standard of living in history,” he writes. “We became willing to jettison the strategic alliances that have spared us global conflict since World War II. … We gave in to powerful nativist impulses that have arisen in the face of fear and insecurity. … We stopped speaking the language of freedom and started speaking the language of power. … Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior was excused and countenanced as ‘telling it like it is,’ when it was actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified.

“Rather than fighting the populist wave that threatened to engulf us, rather than defending the enduring principles that were consonant with everything that we knew and had believed in, we pretended that the emperor wasn’t naked,” he adds. “Even worse: We checked our critical faculties at the door and pretended that the emperor was making sense. … It is a testament to just how far we fell in 2016 that to resist the fever and to stand up for conservatism seemed a radical act.”…

Meanwhile, Graham steps up with Dream Act

graham dreamers

Even as I was saying that with his particular friend John McCain out of action, the country really needed Lindsey Graham to step up… he was doing so.

Today, he and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin announced they were introducing the Dream Act. Here’s a release about it:

GRAHAM, DURBIN INTRODUCE BIPARTISAN DREAM ACT TO GIVE IMMIGRANT STUDENTS A PATH TO CITIZENSHIP

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) today introduced the Dream Act, which would allow immigrant students who grew up in the United States to earn lawful permanent residence and eventually American citizenship.  These young people, known as Dreamers, have lived in America since they were children, built their lives here, and are American in every way except for their immigration status.  However, under current law they live in fear of deportation and have no chance to ever become citizens and fulfill their potential.

“These young people have lived in America since they were children and built their lives here,” said Graham.  “There is support across the country for allowing Dreamers — who have records of achievement — to stay, work, and reach their full potential.  We should not squander these young people’s talents and penalize our own nation.  Our legislation would allow these young people – who grew up in the United States – to contribute more fully to the country they love.  They have a powerful story to tell and this may be an area where both parties can come together.”

“Hundreds of thousands of talented young people who have grown up in our country are at risk of deportation to countries they barely remember.  I’ll do everything in my power as a United States Senator to protect these Dreamers and give them the chance to become American citizens so they can contribute to a brighter future for all Americans,” said Durbin.  “I first introduced the Dream Act 16 years ago and I’ll continue fighting until it becomes the law of the land. I thank Senator Graham for partnering with me in this bipartisan effort.”

The Dream Act would allow these young people to earn lawful permanent residence and eventually American citizenship if they:

  • Are longtime residents who came to the U.S. as children;
  • Graduate from high school or obtain a GED;
  • Pursue higher education, work lawfully for at least three years, or serve in the military;
  • Pass security and law enforcement background checks and pay a reasonable application fee;
  • Demonstrate proficiency in the English language and a knowledge of United States history; and
  • Have not committed a felony or other serious crimes and do not pose a threat to our country.

A one-pager of the Dream Act is available here.  A section-by-section of the Dream Act is available here.

-30-

We’ve needed both Graham and McCain’s leadership on immigration, which had waned somewhat in recent years. Because if they don’t step up, who among the majority will?

Here’s video of Graham’s and Durbin’s announcement (It doesn’t actually start until 23 minutes in.):

This may be the most hateful thing I’ve ever seen in politics

Forget what I said about people hating on David Brooks. That was nothing next to this:

FYI, John McCain is the only guy in Washington calling on the parties to drop the partisan posturing and try to draft healthcare legislation that will benefit the whole country:

“One of the major problems with Obamacare was that it was written on a strict party-line basis and driven through Congress without a single Republican vote. As this law continues to crumble in Arizona and states across the country, we must not repeat the original mistakes that led to Obamacare’s failure. The Congress must now return to regular order, hold hearings, receive input from members of both parties, and heed the recommendations of our nation’s governors so that we can produce a bill that finally provides Americans with access to quality and affordable health care.”

So of course he’s hated. That’s how it works.

Of course, the stupid woman who did this is trying to walk it back. But there is no explaining away something that hateful. It just is what it is…

Why CAN’T I be a conservative-liberal, or liberal-conservative?

Lincoln was as radical a change agent as this nation has seen -- but his chief goal at every step was to conserve the union.

Lincoln was a conservative liberal. He was as radical a change agent as this nation has seen — but his chief goal at every step was to conserve the union.

The answer is, there’s no reason I can’t. In fact that’s what I am. But dang, it’s hard to explain to people, even though it seems natural to me.

Harry Harris and I were having a good discussion about political labels — ones that people apply to their opponents, and ones they apply to themselves (which can be just as irritating sometimes) — on a previous post. The thread started here.

The last thing Harry said about it was this:

My experience with self-labeled persons has been colored by encountering the very aspect of labeling that you parody. A frequent irritant is the conversion of an adjective (conservative, liberal) into a noun – “a conservative” or a whatever. What is it you want to conserve, Mr Conservative? What liberty do you want to unleash, Mr. Liberal? The assumption of a label, other than as a general description, often leads to a forced skewing of one’s understanding of many important ideas or issues. It often then promotes group-think and seeking-out only opinion or fact that would reinforce the prevailing attitude associated with that label. Many of us are overly binary in our thinking, and I believe the prevalence of self-adopted labels promotes such thinking as we basically throw ourselves in with that group. Then starts the name-calling. Now we feel almost compelled to label “those people” as leftists, liberals, commies, gringos, flat-earthers, knuckle-dragging reactionaries, or tree-huggers. I’m a liberal, Southern Baptist, Jesus-follower. The first few parts of my label are just adjectives. I’m probably more conservative on matters of church polity than my “conservative” Southern Baptist brothers and sisters. I’m more conservative on child-rearing related to behavior and decorum than most – but more liberal on allowing children to question and reject my theology and values. I ran a strict classroom with clear and strongly-enforced limits – but those limits allowed as much discretion and freedom as my students could handle – tailored to the situation. Was I liberal or conservative? I changed my mind and my practices on issues as experience dictated. Was I liberal or conservative? Or did I not let labels get in the way.
Labels can increase polarization, and self-adopting those labels equates to giving in to that polarization in my opinion.

Lots of good points there. My response ran along these lines…

The thing is, despite how irritating it has become to hear them, “conservative” and “liberal” are perfectly good words, implying perfectly good things. If only the people in and around our political system hadn’t dragged them through the mire over the past 50 years.

It’s a good thing to be conservative. It means, more than anything else, that you respect tradition — which is a value I cherish. It means respecting those who went before you, instead of assuming that “progress” means you’re better and wiser than those old dead dudes (which you’re not, especially if you have that attitude). It implies caution and responsibility. It means you don’t go off half-cocked. It means you respect the fundamental institutions of society — the family, the church, and yep, the government and its component institutions, such as the police, the military and the public schools.

“Liberal” also means good things. It means you favor liberty. It means you believe in pluralism, and freedom of conscience — including the views of people who don’t share yours. It means openness to new ideas. It means a willingness to change things if they aren’t as good as they should be. It means being generous. ALL Americans should be liberal, including conservatives, because conservatives believe in our institutions and underlying principles, and the essence of our system is that it is a liberal democracy.

The ideal public servant, in light of all that, would be both liberal and conservative, and I see no contradiction in that. For instance, you can have a deep respect for, and deference to, existing institutions while at the same time wanting to improve them. It means you can be a change agent while being cautious and responsible in your approach to change.

But folks who’ve been brainwashed by our parties, and by media that cover politics like is HAS to be a competition between two mutually exclusive teams (the sports model of coverage, which I despise), aren’t able to conceive of the two concepts going together. Language that should bring us together builds walls between us.

This leads to a great deal of misunderstanding. A lot of folks thought I was nuts, back in 2008, when I said I was happy either way the presidential election came out. The two parties had nominated the two people who I thought were the best candidates — John McCain and Barack Obama. It was the greatest win-win situation I’d seen in my adult life — the choice in November was between the two people we had endorsed in their respective primaries. Force to choose, I chose McCain over Obama — but I was pleased with Obama’s victory. Of course neither man was perfect — no one is. But they were both awfully good.

That made some people think I’d lost it, but I enjoyed it while it lasted.

I am conservative, and I am liberal, or I try to be. We should all strive to be both, as I defined them above. We should use these fine qualities to unite us, not as a means of separating us — which is what I’ve seen, unfortunately, for most of my adult life.

John Adams was a conservative liberal. He was a revolutionary, but a conservative one, who cherished the rule of law.

John Adams was a conservative liberal. He was a revolutionary, but a conservative one, who cherished the rule of law.

A family more like the Corleones than the Waltons

How the GOP leadership probably sees itself.

How the GOP leadership probably sees itself.

The thing that really jumped out at me from The Washington Post‘s revelation that Kevin McCarthy told fellow GOP leaders last year (when there was time left to head off the disaster) he thought Vladimir Putin was paying Donald J. Trump was Speaker Paul Ryan’s reaction:

Ryan instructed his Republican lieutenants to keep the conversation private, saying: “No leaks. . . . This is how we know we’re a real family here.”

The remarks remained secret for nearly a year….

Family? Really? If that’s what it is, then this family is a lot more like the Corleones than the Waltons — complete with omertà.

Wait, wait: I take it back. This is more like The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight

How Paul Ryan made it sound in that meeting last year.

How Paul Ryan made it sound in that meeting last year.

This is what I mean about the degradation of the presidency

This was my initial reaction to the news about Donald Trump’s dinner party at the White House:

But then I thought, that’s not really fair to the Joker, et al. In their universe, they were the crème de la crème of Gotham criminal society, tops in their field, the elite.

These folks are anything but that. It’s more like Trump assembled this group in an attempt to look classy by comparison. And it almost worked.

The Batman analogy having failed, I’m at a loss. And I’m not going to let myself go down this road, no matter the temptation:

But folks, I will say that, for those of you who still don’t understand, this is the problem with Donald Trump being president — his desecration of the office. All other problems — the cluelessness, the lying, the utter disregard for ethics, the open hostility to wisdom and experience, the stunning carelessness with policy — spring from that source. It’s the shameful American love affair with anti-intellectualism made flesh.

A dinner table at the White House should have the wit of the Algonquin Round Table, tempered by the nobility of purpose of the original King Arthur version.

Instead, look what we’ve got. This is the level the presidency has sunk to.

Evenings at the White House should look like this:

Dinner for Nobel laureates, 29 April 1962.

Dinner for Nobel laureates, 29 April 1962.

Not like this:

21visitors-master768

Folks, let’s pay for our roads ourselves, OK?

SC House

Good for these House members:

A plan to raise S.C. gas taxes by roughly $60 a year was approved Tuesday by a panel of S.C. House members.

The bill will be considered by the full S.C. House budget-writing panel on Thursday.

The proposal is an effort to address the the $1 billion a year the Transportation Department has said it needs to repair and maintain the state’s existing road network….

And good for Speaker Jay Lucas and the other leaders who’ve gotten behind a bill to do the obvious: raise the gas tax to improve our roads.

I haven’t written about this courageous and rational move because I hadn’t fully made up my mind what to say about it. It’s basically a laudable, long-overdue proposal that is nevertheless seriously flawed.

The reasons why it’s laudable and long-overdue are obvious to all but those rendered blind by ideology:

  • This tax is our state’s mechanism for paying for roads.
  • We need road repairs, and don’t have enough money.
  • Our gas tax is one of the lowest in the country.
  • It hasn’t been raised since 1987.

So, you know, duh — raise it. Especially since we no longer have a governor who absurdly (and we’re talking Alice in Wonderland absurdity) threatened to veto a gas tax increase that wasn’t accompanied by a much larger decrease in other taxes, thereby more than erasing any benefit from raising the gas tax.

But here’s the rub: It’s not paired with reform of the state Department of Transportation. And it needs to be. That agency needs to be more accountable before we give it more money.

Unfortunately, after last year’s non-reform of the agency, the most recent in a long line of non-reforms our General Assembly has handed us, there’s little appetite or energy for trying again this year, knowing the same obstacles exist. As Cindi wrote today, “the reality is that if our best advocate, House Speaker Jay Lucas, isn’t pushing reform, we’re not going to get reform.”

So that’s that. (Oh, and if you decry the power Hugh Leatherman regained upon his re-election as president pro tem of the Senate, this is an issue where you have a point — he’s a big obstacle to reform.)

Bottom line, we need to raise the tax, and we need reform. I haven’t yet fully decided what I would do were I a lawmaker. But I do admire the courage of those who finally broke the ridiculous taboo in that committee vote today — while I hope against hope for some reform to get attached to it later in the process.

But while I’m torn on that, I’m not on this: I’m not in favor of “solving” the problem by asking our new governor’s buddy Donald Trump to just give us $5 billion for infrastructure.

To begin with, it’s not a solution. Since $4 billion of that would go to roads, that kicks the problem down the road four years, no more. Which, conveniently, would be after the date that Henry McMaster hopes to be elected to stay as governor.

Given what we’ve seen from this Legislature over the last two decades and more, it is highly unlikely that it will be in the mood to raise the gas tax or any other tax four years from now. The fact that the House leadership is ready to do so now is something of a miracle — possibly resulting from giddiness over the departure of Nikki Haley — and unlikely to be duplicated.

Then there’s the fact that the federal government exists to fund and address national needs and priorities. There is no proposal currently on the table (that I know of) that would provide this level of funding nationally, so why should South Carolina — a state that with its super-low gas tax has refused even to try to pay for its own roads — be singled out for such largess? And no, “Because the president owes our governor big-time” is not an ethical answer. It probably makes sense in the deal-oriented private world Donald Trump has always inhabited, but to say the very least, it’s not good government.

My position on this is much the same as my reasoning against the state lottery way back when — public education is a basic function of the state, and if we want good schools, we should do what responsible grownups do: dig into our pockets and pay for them, not try to trick someone else into paying for them.

Similarly, if we want safe and reliable roads, we shouldn’t rely on some deus ex machina — or worse, cronyism — to deliver us from the responsibility of paying for them.

I see now that Henry is saying raising the gas tax should be the “last resort.” No, governor, trying to pay for our own needs ourselves should be our first resort. At least, it should come well before taking the begging cup to Washington. Besides, we’ve avoided doing this for 30 years now. How long do you go before it’s time for the “last resort?”

 

Did y’all watch Nikki’s State of the State? Thoughts?

15977395_10154298333428226_5727442610324759310_n

File photo from the governor’s Facebook page.

CAVEAT: When I wrote this post I had missed something important in the governor’s speech, something that had come during the part I missed. It has bearing on the points I make in the post, and here it is.

I had a Community Relations Council meeting last night, so I only heard the very last part of Nikki Haley’s last State of the State on the radio driving home.

It sounded fine, as fond farewells go. I was a little disappointed by one thing. I heard her talking in a roundabout, indirect way about getting the Confederate flag down:

But above all, I will remember how the good people of South Carolina responded to those tragedies, with love and generosity and compassion, and what that has meant for our state.

I spoke earlier of my dear desire to see the image of South Carolina changed for the better. Standing here tonight, I can say with every confidence that it has happened, that that desire has been fulfilled.

But not because of me. The people of South Carolina accomplished the highest aspiration I had for our state all on their own.

They did it by showing the entire world what love and acceptance looks like. They did it by displaying for all to see the power of faith, of kindness, and of forgiveness. They did it by stepping up to every challenge, through every tragedy, every time.

But I wish she’d spoken about it more directly. When I got a copy of her speech later, I found that it only contained the word “flag” once, and that was in reference to the Clemson flag she and her daughter had hoisted over the State House earlier this week. (NOTE: This counts officially as a sports reference, and fulfills the weekly quota! So if y’all want to talk about that football game the other night, here’s a place for you to do it.)

Which disappointed me. Why? Because I think getting that other flag down was her defining moment, the one when she became the leader of South Carolina, and led us to where our lawmakers had refused for too long to go.

Did you see Obama’s farewell speech the other night? He mentioned getting bin Laden, didn’t he? Of course he did. That’s when he made his bones as commander-in-chief. Well, the flag was when Nikki made hers, only as leader of a mature, rational state where people may not forget, but they forgive, and care about each other.

Yeah, I get that she wanted her speech to be sweetness and light, and didn’t want to say anything that stirred ill feeling — and there are those who resent taking down the flag, although they’ve mostly been fairly quiet. And it seems safe to assume there’s a bit of a correlation between those folks and the set that voted for her soon-to-be boss.

But that was her proudest moment. I think it’s easy for people to downplay her role, but I’m telling you, I’ve known too many governors who didn’t want to touch that flag, or even talk about it. And I’ve known others who started to do something, but backed away, or accepted a “compromise” that settled nothing — because they saw that as the best they could get out of our Legislature. And maybe they were right, at the time.

But the thing that Nikki did was recognize the moment when it came, and seize it without hesitation. (That’s a huge part of leadership — recognizing when people are ready to be led. One of the secrets of Lincoln’s extraordinary achievements was his uncanny ability to see exactly when he could lead the country to do things it had always refused to do before.)

It was a moment in which the whole state was in shock and morning. And there were those who protested that this wasn’t the time to act, before the dead had even been buried. But sometimes that exactly when one must act, because later would be much too late.

When she stood up and said, essentially, Let’s not let this summer pass without getting that flag down for good — no fooling around, no compromises, that made all the difference. It made what had been impossible possible, and made it happen.

So if she’d wanted to speak to that directly, I’d have applauded. Because I’m proud of her for that.

She didn’t have to brag or anything. She could have stuck to her theme of “I didn’t do it; y’all did.” And that’s true, in the sense that our state was ready to be led there. But without someone strenuously pushing it through the Legislature, it wouldn’t have happened.

I’ll close with that video my son did after the first anti-flag rally after the shootings, the one I did the voiceover on. It testifies to a mood sweeping through our state. But I still said, it took what Nikki did to translate that into action…

Apple stiffs America, kowtows to the Chinese

apple_logo_png_06

Remember how Apple told the U.S. government to take a hike when it made a perfectly legitimate request for help in a terrorism investigation?

By contrast, here’s how the company reacts when China asks it to help oppress the Chinese people:

BEIJING — Apple has removed the New York Times app from its digital store in China, acting on what it says were orders from the Chinese government.

The New York Times, which offers content in both English and Chinese, is one of a growing number of foreign news organizations whose content is blocked in China, although some people here use special software to bypass the censorship system.

The Times said the app was removed from Apple stores on Dec. 23, apparently under regulations issued in June preventing mobile apps from engaging in activities that endanger national security or disrupt social order.

That occurred as New York Times reporter David Barboza was in the final stages of reporting a story about billions of dollars in hidden perks and subsidies the Chinese government provides to the world’s largest iPhone factory, run by Apple’s partner Foxconn. That story went online on Dec. 29….

Another of the many basic things Trump has never thought about

realdonald

Trump voters wanted an outsider, but I doubt that they, or I, or anyone yet fully grasps just how out-of-the-loop this guy is.

I think I have a pretty good idea, based on the last year and a half. I’ve long known enough to see that — if you see the same things — you’d have to be stark, raving mad to want to put this guy anywhere near the Oval Office. But look what’s happened.

So, each day will bring us face-to-face with yet another thing that demonstrate that Donald Trump has never spent a moment of his garish life thinking about things that are second nature to people who — regardless of party or philosophy — possess the most basic qualifications to be president.

Sometimes it’s something small — but telling — such as this:

Now here’s a place where my own gut feelings are the same as those of our president-elect. The idea of someone showing such hatred and contempt toward the flag that our bravest Americans have given their lives to defend, and to raise over such places as, say, Iwo Jima — a flag that symbolizes the noble ideas upon which our nation was founded — is profoundly offensive, even obscene. I have utter contempt for anyone who would even consider such a thing.

But I wouldn’t use the power of the state to punish someone for it, certainly not to the extent of loss of citizenship, or a year of imprisonment. You might have me going for a moment on something such as writing the protester a ticket, but ultimately I’d even have to reject that. Why? Because of those very ideas that the flag stands for. If burning the flag causes a person to be burned or causes some other harm, then you have a crime. But if the expression itself is punishable, then it doesn’t matter whether the flag is burned because it doesn’t stand for anything.

(This is related to my opposition to “hate crimes,” one of the few areas where I agree with libertarians. Punish the crime — the assault, the murder, the arson, whatever the criminal did — not the political ideas behind it, however offensive.)

People who have their being in the realm of political expression have usually thought this through. And true, even people who have thought about it may disagree with my conclusion, wrong as they may be. Still others cynically manipulate the feelings of millions of well-meaning voters who haven’t thought the issue through themselves.

But I don’t think that’s the case with Trump. I think he’s just never really wrestled with this or thousands of other questions that bear upon civic life, so he goes with his gut, which as I admitted above is much the same as my own on this question. He engages it on the level of the loudmouth at the end of the bar: I’ll tell ya ONE damn’ thing… 

In a time not at all long ago — remember, Twitter didn’t exist before 2006 — we wouldn’t know this as readily as we do now. Sure, a political leader might go rogue during a speech, or get tripped up on an unexpected question during a press conference. But normally, the smart people surrounding a president would take something the president wanted to say and massage and process and shape it before handing it to a press secretary to drop into the daily briefing.

Now, the president-elect — or Joe Blow down the street — can have a gut feeling and without even fully processing the thought himself, immediately share it with the entire planet. As this president-elect does, often.

That’s a separate problem, of course, from the basic cluelessness of this president-elect. Not only does he not know a lot that he should, he has the impulse and the means to share that lack of knowledge and reflection with the world, instantly.

Quite a few people in public life haven’t figured out social media. They don’t understand something that editors know from long experience — that you have to be very careful about what you publish. (And yes, posting a random thought on Twitter does constitute publication.) Our governor, soon to be our U.N. ambassador, had a terrible time learning that, although to her credit she hasn’t done anything notably foolish on Facebook in a while.

As Aaron Blake writes on The Fix, it might be nice to think we could ignore these outbursts:

For the second time in two weekends, President-elect Donald Trump stirred controversy, bigly, using only his thumbs.

With a trio of tweets Sunday alleging millions of fraudulent votes and “serious” fraud in three states, Trump effectively hijacked the news cycle for the next 24 hours with baseless conspiracy theories. A week prior, it was Trump’s tweets demanding an apology from the cast of “Hamilton” for disrespecting Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who was in the audience the previous night.

It can all feel pretty small and sideshow-y at times. Some have a prescription: The media should resist the urge to cover Trump’s tweets as big news. Others even say we should ignore them altogether….

But we can’t. In the months and years to some — assuming no one gets control of him, and I doubt anyone will — we must treat them as seriously as if the president strode into the White House Press Room and made a formal announcement.

This is what we’ve come to. Our window into the mind of the most powerful man in the world will to a great extent be these spasmodic eruptions onto a tiny keyboard.

We might as well brace ourselves…

This is the right way to praise Trump, if one must

obama-on-trump

Bryan sent me an email headlined “Obama: Trump is ‘pragmatic’ – POLITICO,” followed in the body of the message by:

Don’t give me that look. I didn’t say it, Obama did.

http://www.politico.com/story/2016/11/obama-praises-trump-pragmatic-231361

Hey, I wasn’t giving him any look.

What the president said was completely correct, both in the sense of being the proper tone for a president to strike in speaking of his successor, and in terms of accuracy.

Trump is not an ideologue, and is indeed “pragmatic in that way.”

If I were in Obama’s predicament, in a situation in which I felt constrained to say something positive (or at least nonjudgmental) about the president-elect — and he is in that situation — I would say that very thing.

And it would come out sounding nice, because everyone would know how I look down on ideologies. Of course, there’s something that is often worse than an ideologue, which is someone who doesn’t deal in ideas at all. But it would sound nice, and it would be accurate, as far as it went.

Trump believes not in ideas, but in the moods that strike him. That makes him extraordinarily dangerous, but it also means he’s not a rigid ideologue like Ted Cruz. So there’s that. And in doing his duty to say calming, diplomatic things, POTUS hit on just the right thing to say.

He’s good at that. I’m really gonna miss this guy. Watch the video and see how thoughtfully and maturely he addresses the question, and you will likely agree. The nation is really, really going to miss that quality…

Why didn’t Graham, McCain and the Bushes stand up?

File photo

File photo

Lindsey Graham sent out this release yesterday:

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham on the 2016 Presidential Election

November 9, 2016

“Secretary Clinton’s concession speech, like President-elect Donald Trump’s last night, was appropriate in tone and substance.

“She should be congratulated on doing her part to bring about healing of our nation and setting the right tone in terms of working with President-elect Trump.  All Americans should follow her counsel and try to work with our next President.  I intend to do so.  President-elect Trump will need all the help he can get given the many challenges we face as a nation.

 “Secretary Clinton ran a hard fought campaign and I genuinely wish her well.”

#####

“Secretary Clinton ran a hard fought campaign and I genuinely wish her well.” Yeah, uh-huh, OK. So… Why didn’t you help her?

As I said in a response to a comment from Phillip

I’ve long had a lot of respect for Sen. Graham, and for John McCain, as readers of this blog will know. I’ve endorsed them, stuck up for them — a lot.

But I’m kind of ticked at both of them right now.

They’re part of that large group of Republicans Who Knew Better — and failed to lead in this election.

These are guys who have exhibited a lot of courage in the past, but that was not in evidence this year. They both failed to do the one thing that might have helped — stand up and declare that they were voting for Hillary Clinton, which was the only way to stop Trump (who they knew was a nightmare), and urge others to do the same.

I know why they didn’t — they wanted to keep getting elected, and a Republican most likely can’t do that after saying he’ll vote for someone the party despises so much.

But as much as I want both of them in the Senate, stopping Trump was more important. I suppose it’s human nature — human weakness — that they didn’t see it that way.

But if anybody could have done it, it would have been them. Anyone who paid attention could see that they both worked well with her when she was in the Senate. There was mutual respect there. Their willingness to step over the partisan boundary to try to get things done together made me feel better about all three of them.

They really should have stood up and told the truth, instead of playing along with the fantasy on the right that she was just as bad as Trump, if not worse.

At least they had an excuse, though. What’s the excuse of the two President Bushes? Their political careers are over. Both probably DID vote for Hillary. They should have come out and said so. What stopped them? A desire to protect Jeb’s political future? WHAT political future?

I suspect that all of them thought she was going to win anyway, and didn’t need them to step up.

Well, if so, they were wrong

We are what are called ‘voters,’ period.

polling-place

I liked this Tweet from Nu Wexler this morning:

Amen to that, Nu!

I’ve written about this a few time before, but to me, standing in line with my neighbors — some of whom I might not see years on end otherwise — is a core experience of citizenship, a moment when the communitarian element of life in our republic is most palpable. It makes me feels kind of like a character in a Frank Capra movie.

Not to condemn folks who vote early, because so many of them have good reasons. But those who do so simply in order to avoid the Election Day experience are in many cases — I suspect; I have no data to support this — somewhat more likely to think of themselves as consumers rather than citizens. I’ve had some things to say about that as well.

As I wrote awhile back:

I think this country is full of people — left, right, and middle — who don’t take voting seriously enough. This is why I oppose early voting, and virtual voting, and just about anything other than heading down to the polls and standing in line with all your neighbors on Election Day, being a part of something you are all doing together as citizens. I believe you should have to take some trouble to do it. Not unreasonable amounts of trouble, just some…

So I was happy to reTweet Nu this morning with an enthusiastic “Yes!” And was gratified when my friend Mary Pat Baldauf Tweeted this, apparently in response:

As I replied, what we should be properly called is “voters,” period. Voters who take the process seriously, and cherish and savor it.

The queue at my polling place in 2008.

The queue at my polling place in 2008.

Oh — one other, somewhat related, point: Robert Samuelson had a column recently urging us all to “Split your ticket.” I still marvel that voting for candidates of more than one party is sufficiently rare (shockingly rare, in fact) as to be remarked upon, and have a special name.

You know what I call ticket-splitting? “Voting.” True voting, serious voting, responsible voting, nonfrivolous voting. I am deeply shocked by the very idea of surrendering to a party your sacred duty to pay attention, to think, to discern, to discriminate, to exercise your judgment in the consideration of each and every candidate on the ballot, and make separate decisions.

If you don’t go through that careful discernment, you aren’t a voter, you are an automaton — a tool of the false dichotomy presented by the parties, a willing participant in mindless tribalism.

Sure, you might carefully discern in each case and end up voting only for members of one party or the others. And that’s fine — kind of weird, given the unevenness of quality in both parties’ slates of candidates — but if that’s where you end up.

But pressing the straight-ticket button, without going through the ballot and making individual decisions in each race — that’s unconscionable, and an abdication of your responsibility as a citizen…

i-voted

Zuckerberg’s right about diversity, although I question his judgment

In defending Facebook for having Trump supporter Peter Thiel on its board, Mark Zuckerberg said:

“We care deeply about diversity. That’s easy to say when it means standing up for ideas you agree with. It’s a lot harder when it means standing up for the rights of people with different viewpoints to say what they care about,” Zuckerberg wrote in a post visible only to Facebook employees, a photograph of which was shared on Hacker News on Tuesday.

“We can’t create a culture that says it cares about diversity and then excludes almost half the country because they back a political candidate,” Zuckerberg continued….

Absolutely. Diversity of thought is the most important kind — and too often, the kind people have the greatest trouble accepting. If you have a wide variety of skin colors and a perfect balance of gender, but everyone in your group thinks exactly alike, you have utterly failed to achieve a diverse result, and your group is weaker because of it.zuckerberg

Zuckerberg probably should have stopped there, though. He kind of lost me when he went on to say, “There are many reasons a person might support Trump that do not involve racism, sexism, xenophobia or accepting sexual assault.”

Are there? At this point, it’s getting a little hard to see those “many reasons.” Hard for me, anyway; perhaps the vision of others is sharper.

So let’s assume those many reasons exist. There’s another problem here.

Diversity of thought, of ideas, is indeed critically important. It is essential, in a liberal democracy, to respect those who see things differently. (And to accept it if they win an election.)

But in 2016, we’re not experiencing a contest of ideas. We’ve gone well past that. We’re experiencing an election in which one of the major-party nominees is a man of demonstrably contemptible character, not just somebody you or I may disagree with on matters of policy.

And there’s a point at which, to the extent that we respect our own ability to reason and to form opinions that may or may not differ from the opinions of others, we have to make a judgment.

And in doing so, it’s legitimate for us to question Mr. Thiel’s judgment in continuing to support Mr. Trump despite shock after shock. And to question Mr. Zuckerberg’s for defending having someone of such questionable judgment on his board.

Mr. Thiel, and Mr. Zuckerberg, are entitled to their opinions. And we are entitled to ours…

Again, Trump completely disqualifies himself

They set the precedent, and Trump could not care less...

They set the precedent, and Trump could not care less…

Sorry I haven’t had time to post today, ere now… Anyway, to business…

As bizarre and grotesquely inappropriate as some of the things Donald Trump said in the second debate were (“tremendous hate in her heart”), the most important and instructive was his threat to imprison his opponent if he wins the election.

Similarly, as agog as we may be from such outbursts as “Such a nasty woman!”,  the one thing we heard in the third and final (thank the Lord) debate last night that was easily the most important, and instructive, was that Trump will not agree to abide by the results of the election. Something that was not a slip of the tongue or a momentary lapse, as he doubled down on it today.

As I said via Twitter last night:

If there were referees in American politics, Trump would have been thrown out of the game for the offense in the second debate (actually, much sooner, but let’s stick with the debates). He completely and utterly disqualified himself.

And if the refs had been deaf and blind in that instance, they would have tossed him out for the offense last night. He showed in both instances that he has no idea at all what elections are about in this country.

The gift that America gave to the world was not merely the promise, but the fact, of the orderly and peaceful transfer of power from one person, party or faction to another. As I said above, the miracle of the election of 1800 — one that for sheer nastiness at least deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as this one — was that Jefferson took over from rival Adams, and everyone accepted it.

This miracle has been repeated every four years, with one exception: South Carolina, and a number of other Southern states, refused to accept the results of the election of 1860. Thanks to the preternatural wisdom, leadership and political skills of the man who won that election, and the blood of hundreds of thousands, the nation was saved. But that was the central crisis of our history, as Lincoln himself explained. It was the great test as to “whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”

So we got through that and made it all the way to 2016, and Donald Trump — a man who does not have a clue what this nation is all about, and does not care. Trump, the nominee of the party of Lincoln. God help us.

When he is asked whether he will accept the results of the election if he loses, he thinks it is a question about him, and what he wants, and how he feels. Because in his universe, everything is all about him.

The nation, and the things that make it exceptional and wonderful, matter not at all…

The interesting debate we could have had, under other circumstances

immense-power

Let’s set aside for a moment this contest of character and pretend we have the luxury of talking about ideas in this presidential election.

Were that the case, the most interesting moment in last night’s debate would have come at this point:

RADDATZ: … This question involves WikiLeaks release of purported excerpts of Secretary Clinton’s paid speeches, which she has refused to release, and one line in particular, in which you, Secretary Clinton, purportedly say you need both a public and private position on certain issues. So, Tu (ph), from Virginia asks, is it OK for politicians to be two-faced? Is it acceptable for a politician to have a private stance on issues? Secretary Clinton, your two minutes…

Let’s set aside the loaded wording of the question (“two-faced”), and look at the underlying issue, which speaks to the nature of leadership and the ways we communicate in a representative democracy.

Can an honest person have a public position that differs from what he thinks in his heart of hearts? Yes, he (or she) can. In fact, there are times when he or she must.

As a longtime editorial page editor, I’m quite familiar with this. Most of the time, our editorial position was consistent with my own personal position. But we operated by consensus — I was not the only member of the board — and what we ended up with was not always exactly what I thought. I deferred to my colleagues, at least to the extent of modifying the position so that we could get everybody on board. And once the decision was made, I did not publicly say things to contradict it, because that would have militated against our consensus. I had a duty as leader of the board not to undermine its positions — even on the extremely rare occasions when our official position was very different from my own, such as when we endorsed George W. Bush over John McCain in 2000.

But my care with my utterances in order to keep the board together was nothing compared to what a president faces.

The president of the United States daily, if not hourly, faces situations in which it would be grossly impolitic, unwise, and even harmful to the country to say precisely what he or she personally thinks or feels about a situation. A president must be diplomatic, not only with representatives of other nations, but with multiple contending and overlapping constituencies right here at home. This is why a president is surrounded by people who are talented at helping choose precisely the right words needed to help move things in a desired direction. It would be grossly irresponsible, indeed a dereliction of duty and perhaps a deadly danger to the country, for a president simply to spout off from the gut without pausing to temper the message (see “Trump, Donald”).

People who don’t work professionally with words are sometimes pleased to call carefully moderating one’s speech “lying.” Those of us who work with words know better. You can say the same true thing many different ways, and how you choose to say it can make all the difference between communicating effectively and having the desired effect, or failing miserably.

Back to the debate

Secretary Clinton responded this way to that loaded question:

As I recall, that was something I said about Abraham Lincoln after having seen the wonderful Steven Spielberg movie called “Lincoln.” It was a master class watching President Lincoln get the Congress to approve the 13th Amendment. It was principled, and it was strategic…

Did you see the film? If so, you know there was a lot more to Lincoln than the fine words in the Gettysburg Address. He may have been the most skilled, determined, clear-eyed, illusionless man ever to hold the office — and the most effective. (The only two men I can imagine coming close to him in these regards were FDR and LBJ.)

The film shows Lincoln involved in the noble task of permanently saving our country from the stain of slavery, going beyond what fine words or even four years of unbelievable bloodshed could accomplish. The Emancipation Proclamation had been a stratagem in winning the war (and one he had held back from issuing, with flawless timing, until the political climate was ripe for it), an ephemeral, self-contradictory thing that did not truly free the slaves. He needed something that went far beyond that; he needed to amend the Constitution.

And he pulled out all the stops — all the stops — in getting that done. Set aside the unseemly spectacle of promising government jobs to lame-duck congressmen — that was routine horse-trading in that day. Let’s look at the central deception — and the word is apt — that was essential to getting the 13th Amendment passed.

Lincoln knew that once the war ended, Congress would see little need to ban slavery — and the war was in danger of ending before he could get it done. In fact, a delegation led by Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens was on its way to Washington to sue for peace. It would in fact have arrived if Lincoln hadn’t ordered Union troops to detain it some distance from the capital. While the delegation cooled its heels, Lincoln worked feverishly to get his amendment passed.

At a critical moment in the debate in Congress in the film, a rumor spreads that there is a Confederate peace delegation in the city. This threatens to defeat the amendment. Lincoln tells Congress that not only is there no such group in Washington, but that he does not expect there to be. He conveniently leaves out the fact that the reason he doesn’t expect there to be is because he has issued orders to that effect.

Another instance in which Lincoln has a public position differing from his private position is with regard to Republican power broker Francis Preston Blair. The reason the Confederate delegation started on its journey to begin with was that Lincoln had reluctantly allowed Blair to reach out to Richmond. Why had he done that? Because Blair urgently wanted peace, and Lincoln needed his support to keep conservative Republicans in line on the amendment.

So… Lincoln did these things — playing every angle, and saying what needed to be said to the people who needed to hear them –, and rather drawing our disapprobation for having done so, he is rightly revered.

As I said above, the only two presidents I can see even coming close to Lincoln in terms of political skill and effectiveness were Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. Which reminds me of a contretemps from 2008. An excerpt from my column of January 20 of that year:

It started when the senator from New York said the following, with reference to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.:
“Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It took a president to get it done.”
The white woman running against a black man for the Democratic Party nomination could only get herself into trouble mentioning Dr. King in anything other than laudatory terms, particularly as she headed for a state where half of the voters likely to decide her fate are black.
You have to suppose she knew that. And yet, she dug her hole even deeper by saying:
“Senator Obama used President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to criticize me. Basically compared himself to two of our greatest heroes. He basically said that President Kennedy and Dr. King had made great speeches and that speeches were important. Well, no one denies that. But if all there is (is) a speech, then it doesn’t change anything.”…

Hillary Clinton was not my choice for president that year. Several weeks later, we endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination (right after endorsing John McCain — whom we would later endorse in the general — for the Republican).

Her point was that fine words (such as those with which her opponent excelled) are well and good, but if you want to see a good thing get done, you need someone who will roll up sleeves, dig in and do what it takes. Which LBJ never shied away from.

When she was a fresh grad at Wellesley, Hillary Clinton was dismissive of politics being the art of the possible. As she grew up, ran into brick walls of opposition and in other ways found how resistant the world could be to fine words and finer sentiments, she learned. Her concept of what it took to get things done — and of what things were doable — matured.

Hence what she said in that leaked speech.

I don’t say this to defend Hillary Clinton personally. As I said, I wanted to raise a point that we might discuss were we in a different situation. But we’re not in a different situation. Right now, our representative democracy faces supreme degradation, and possibly worse, if Donald Trump is elected. So we have that appalling threat to deal with, and fine points and ethical ambiguities are not the order of the day.

So pretend that speech — the one to the paying audience, not to Wellesley grads — was delivered by someone else. Think for a moment about the ideas being expressed, not the person expressing them.

It’s a question that all of us should wrestle with as we grow and mature. When I was a young and cocky editor, very free with my thoughts on everything, and to hell with whether others agreed, my then-boss posed me a question: Would you rather be right, or effective?

Of course, I wanted to be both. But what about when you can’t be?