Category Archives: Elections

Well, I voted. Did you? If so, how did it go?

My polling place this morning. And no, I didn't throw Lindsey's sign to the ground. But I thought it interesting that someone had.

My polling place this morning. And no, I didn’t throw Lindsey’s sign to the ground. But I thought it interesting that someone had.

Well, that was easy enough. No lines, everybody wearing masks, walk right in and out. (I mean, as in and out as is possible when you’re as obsessively careful as I am about voting.)

Did you vote today? If so, how did it go for you?

As for how I voted: Well, y’all know that my priority was voting “NO” to that grossly devious effort by the state Republican Party to shut nonpartisans out of the electoral process. I did so, just as firmly and adamantly as my long cotton swab thingy would let me. It’s a wonder I didn’t break the stick.

By the way, I enjoyed Eva Moore’s take on the swabs:

Actually, they had me throw mine away before scanning my completed ballot. Seems to me we missed a big opportunity today. We could have had everyone test themselves for COVID with those after voting.

Anyway, so I voted “no” on that, and on the other, less consequential, “advisory question.” I don’t expect my vote to make the difference. It will probably pass, because of the shamefully deceptive way it is worded. The people who will see that question and fail to understand it far exceed the number I can reach (and persuade) with my blog, and for that matter, that Cindi and the Post and Courier can reach. We can only do so much, when parties stoop to be this sleazy.

Ditto with my votes against Lindsey Graham and Joe Wilson. I went for Joe Reynolds and Michael Bishop — both of whom I believe would do better jobs than the incumbents, if they had a chance. But the real chance — as difficult as that, too, will be — will come in November, when both incumbents have credible Democratic opposition.

I did not vote for either of the guys vying to oppose my senator, Nikki Setzer, nor in the sheriff race. I tried last night, but could not find enough information to be sure which way to go on sheriff. The challenger’s efforts to explain his candidacy were so lame that I had a slight tendency to vote for the incumbent, but I found so little information on him that I couldn’t be confident about it. (He probably has one, but I had trouble even finding a campaign website for Sheriff Koon.)

And I’m not about to ever fall into the “name recognition” fallacy of voting for somebody just because I’ve heard of him. That would be insupportable. I always have reasons — as imperfect as they may be — to vote the way I do.

Anyway, how’d it go for you? I mean, if you voted today. And even if you voted absentee like so many — how did that go?

Vote against S.C. GOP effort to disenfranchise you

File photo from 2018 primary.

File photo from 2018 primary.

I’m voting in the Republican primary on Tuesday. The choice of which primary, of course, was easy. Where I live, there is no Democratic primary this year. Not one contested race.

Not that the choices offered on the GOP ballot are anything to write home about. There are some candidates running against Lindsey Graham and Joe Wilson, but what do you think their chances are? I am going to look more closely into one of the candidates running challenging Graham, after Scout said supportive things about him the other day. But bottom line, on these two positions we DO have good alternatives for once in the fall, so I’m going to be voting for Jaime Harrison and Adair Ford Boroughs. Jaime is an excellent candidate and I’m really pleased to have the privilege of supporting him, and while I don’t know Ms. Boroughs as well, I can tell she’d be better than Joe. Way better.

Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon has opposition, but I know next to nothing about that. There’s the problem that the sheriff of the county I live in just doesn’t make news the way my twin over in Richland County does. He keeps a much lower profile than, say, Jimmy Metts did. So I need to try to get schooled up a bit by Tuesday. If I don’t learn enough to make an informed choice, I’ll skip that race.

But there’s one thing to vote on that I wouldn’t miss, that I would beat down doors to have the chance to have my say on: I’m going to vote against the Republican Party’s effort to take away my right to vote.

Oh, the wording seems innocuous enough, to anyone completely clueless about what’s going on: “Do you support giving voters the right to register to vote with the political party of their choice?”

Golly, who could be against that, right? Shouldn’t we have the right to back any party we want? Well, yeah — and it’s a right we already have, and one that is not even slightly endangered. There is no rule against backing a party, and no such rule is threatened.

What’s threatened here is the rights of those of us who don’t want to support a party, any party. If you know what’s going on, you read the question differently. I read it this way: “Do you support banning people like you from being able to vote?” Anyone who wishes to make his or her own decisions in future elections — rather than surrendering that power to a party — will read it that way.

Of course, what I mean is, vote in primaries. Which, the way Republicans have rigged things through the process of gerrymandering (as Democrats would have done if they’d had the chance, but they don’t, and haven’t had since the science of politicians choosing their voters got really sophisticated), are increasingly the only time we get a choice in who our legislators are.

That’s generally the case in congressional races, too — although as I said, this year is unusual in that Joe Wilson has a pretty good Democratic opponent in November. Of course, he and predecessor Floyd Spence have occasionally had other good opponents over the years (Jim Leventis in 1988, Jane Frederick in 2000) — but the district remains drawn for Republicans, so he still enjoys a great advantage in November.

As Cindi Scoppe explained in an enewsletter (let me know if you have trouble getting that link) the other day:

With obvious exceptions, primaries are probably more important than the general election. That’s because so many contests in South Carolina are decided in the primaries — a result of the GOP domination statewide along with the gerrymandering of congressional, legislative, county council and in too many places even school board district lines. (The gerrymandering sometimes benefits Republicans, sometimes Democrats and never, ever voters.)

But extremists in both parties want to make primaries private affairs, to make sure the nominated candidates are as extreme as possible. Used to be, party leaders opposed these efforts, and most elected officials still do, realizing that the way you win elections in November is by getting people bought into the candidates through the primaries. But the state Republican Party leadership was taken over a few years ago by people who want to stop the rest of us from voting in these most crucial elections unless we swear an oath of allegiance to their party, and again this year they’ve put a deceptively worded question on the GOP primary ballot aimed at locking us out….

Cindi was being rather mild there with that “deceptively worded question.” As the paper Cindi works for now put it in an editorial, it is “a grossly misleading question.” As that editorial continued:

The ballot question is designed by party officials who want to force all of us to register our allegiance to a political party — or else be barred from participating in primaries. The results have no force of law, but if a majority of Republican primary voters say “yes,” those party leaders will use it as ammunition to demand that the Republicans who control the Legislature change long-standing state policy to close the ballot to all but the most partisan among us.

That might not be such a huge problem if we had competitive elections in November, but we rarely do….

Oh, as for the business of this not being binding: Of course it isn’t. If it were an actual referendum, it would have to be worded differently to achieve its aim. But this not a legal device, it’s a political one, meant to achieve a political purpose. In this case, the purpose is to enable the party to say to its members in the General Assembly: How can you vote against our bill to close primaries? Didn’t you see how people asserted their right to partisan identity in the primary? Aren’t you, like them, proud to be a Republican?

The S.C. GOP has a long and shameful history of using this ham-handed device to bludgeon its own members into doing stupid and even terrible things. In case you’re forgotten, Cindi wrote a column a few days back to remind you how Henry McMaster, as party chairman, and other GOP leaders used their 1994 primary to wrap themselves in the Confederate flag for a generation. If you don’t remember that the way I do — as one of the most shameful things I’ve seen in SC politics in a long career — you should probably go read that piece, and be reminded.

sample

I have some sympathy for those poor wretches in Iowa. Some.

Screenshot 2020-02-04 at 11.33.09 AM

In 2000, there was “Palm Beach stupid.” Now, we have Iowa.

At least, I could swear there was such a (pre-social media) meme as “Palm Beach stupid,” a rather unkind reference to Floridians who lacked the ability to punch a hole in a card corresponding to the candidate of their choice. Yet I can’t find it by Googling, so maybe I dreamed it.

But we definitely have Iowa today, and similar scorn is being directed at it. Especially by Trump’s minions, such as his campaign manager:

Mind you, this is coming from a guy who can’t spell “Democratic.” But hey, Iowa sort of asked for it, right?

The good news is, all this scorn could have a salutary result: Maybe it will finally spell the end of the Iowa caucuses, at least as anything the rest of the nation pays attention to. That would be a good thing.

But while we’re slinging insults at them, and pondering a return to older, more legendary ways of picking leaders:

… I have to admit to a certain fellow-feeling for those poor losers up in Iowa. I’ve kinda been there.

I’ve been the guy in charge of election coverage at three newspapers in my career, in three states: Tennessee, Kansas and South Carolina. Pulling together results from a long ballot and publishing them accurately in the next days paper is — or at least, was in those days — an extremely complex affair that required a lot of different things to happen in different places simultaneously, and without a hitch.

My fellow editors would kindly surrender the resources of the newsroom to me — a hundred or so trained professional would be at my disposal — but it was always on me to figure out exactly who would do what at precisely what time, and how it would flow through the newspaper production process without things clogging up, so that the presses would roll on time and readers would actually receive their newspapers crammed with all that information.

One piece of that puzzle was getting the numbers and putting them into tables — candidate by candidate, county by county, and in the metro area, precinct by precinct. The numbers not only had to get into the charts, but to the reporters writing the stories, so our numbers would match. (We generally kept the use of numbers in the stories to a minimum, though, to simplify the coordination somewhat.)

In other words, a part of my job was doing what the people in Iowa have failed so spectacularly to do.

It usually went pretty well, but not always.

One of the lowest points of my professional life occurred in the early ’80s in Jackson, Tenn. The Jackson Sun was then an afternoon newspaper, which meant we had all night and part of the next morning to get things right before going to press, which meant our report needed to be more complete and accurate than what the morning papers had. And it generally was.

But one election, things went horribly wrong. After working all day on Election Day, and then all night pulling the results together, at mid-morning — about an hour before the presses were to roll — I realized the tables were wrong. Completely wrong. All the totals were wrong, and we couldn’t figure out why. We’re talking about full-page tables, densely packed with numbers.

I’d been up and going at full speed for more than 24 hours, and my brain just froze. What was I going to do? There was only one thing to do. Check every single number, and try to find a pattern that showed us what had gone wrong.

At that moment, my boss stepped in. Executive Editor Reid Ashe was and is a very smart guy, for whom I’ve always had the greatest respect. And he had a lot of respect for me, respect that I valued. For his part, he valued excellence. He had this art deco poster, a reproduction of one that had once hung in French train stations, that had this one word over the image of a locomotive: EXACTITUDE.

Precision.

It was, if I recall correctly, the only decoration in his office. His walls bore that one message for the world. This is what mattered to him. Therefore, we understood, it needed to matter to us.

With a rather grim look on his face, he sat down at a table in a conference room with a calculator, and started to crunch all the numbers.

While he did that, I sat on the floor against the wall with my face in my hands. I had tried to sort it out, but my brain was too fried at that point — those numbers were sort of dancing around before my eyes. I had to wait while Reid had his go at it, with — at least, I imagined — steam coming out of his ears.

He figured it out (hey, he had had some sleep!), and we got the paper out. Eventually, I went home  and crashed.

I don’t know if there’s ever been a moment in my life when I felt more like a failure.

So as I say, I have some sympathy for those people in Iowa.

But it would still be great if this was not the way we started presidential elections going forward…

He had this one poster in his office...

Reid had this one decoration in his office…

What has Joe Wilson done lately (or, for that matter, EVER)?

Mark Huguley introduces the candidate at the Jewish Community Center last night.

Mark Huguley introduces the candidate at the Jewish Community Center last night.

Several days back, I got an invitation to a political event from Mark Huguley, mayor of Arcadia Lakes and former top official at SLED. And I set it aside to read later, thinking maybe it would be something I’d go to. Then I received the same message again, forwarded to me by his wife Sally, my longtime colleague and friend, and decided I’d best pay attention.

So it was that I ended up last night at a gathering for Adair Ford Boroughs, a Democrat who is seeking to unseat Congressman-for-Life Joe Wilson in the 2nd District.

I’ve mentioned her here before, favorably, and I heard nothing last night to change my mind. How could Brad possibly support someone for Congress who has never held elected office before? Simple: I’ve been watching Joe for more than three decades, and I haven’t seen any indication that his time in office has made him a better legislator. And I’m impressed by this young woman’s intelligence and good intentions. I could be wrong, but I think it’s a pretty safe bet that she’d do a better job.

I’d show you video, but, well… I sat up on the front row and started to shoot some. But a) I realized that while this wasn’t overtly a fund-raiser, it was a similar sort of event, and I was probably making her staff guy in the back uncomfortable because they hate to see video shot at such events, b) I was shooting up at her from below (as with Obama here, only more so) as she stood above me, and I have back in 2018 that one always shoots ladies from above, and c) I was getting tired of holding it up, so I stopped.

But I recommend her campaign video, which I’ve shown here before. In it, you will learn that in his 18 years in Congress, Joe Wilson has gotten one bill passed — to rename a post office. That’s where my headline comes from.

Of course, this is not necessarily a reflection on Joe’s effectiveness as a legislator, because I’ve always assumed his do-nothing approach was completely intentional. He’s following in the footsteps of 2nd-District predecessor Floyd Spence, who in turn followed the Strom Thurmond approach: Don’t legislate; it might bother people. Concentrate on constituent service, and you can hold the office for the rest of your life.

You've noticed these, right?

You’ve noticed these, right?

(In Memphis back on Thanksgiving, I mentioned to a brother-in-law the fact that to my memory, Strom only got one law passed during the years I was responsible for covering him: the one putting health warnings on bottles and cans of alcohol. My brother-in-law said he had never noticed such labels. I pulled a beer out of the bin of ice out on the patio and showed him. I don’t think he was impressed, but hey, it’s bigger than renaming a post office.)

I only got a chance to ask one question of the candidate before the speaking started, and it was to ask whether we were still in the congressional district, way out northeast at the Jewish Community Center. And she and her staff guy assured me we were. Those GOP gerrymanders just went all over the place to draw white people into Joe’s district, and black people into Jim Clyburn’s.

But am I ever going to report on anything that was said last night beyond that? Yes, and it’s a partial answer to the one big question that matters: Does she have a chance? I’ve been watching Democrats dash themselves to pieces on the mathematical impossibility of this district ever since I saw Jim Leventis win all the early counties on election night in 1988, only to be sunk by Lexington when it came in.

So, is she viable? Well, y’all know I don’t normally pay much attention to fund-raising, but I think it’s relevant that she has far outraised expectations and set new records.

I hate talking about money, but in this case, I’d say that’s a good sign for her candidacy.

I hope so, because I believe she’d be an improvement.

Adair 2

Yes, Pete: By all means, let the press into your fund-raisers

The event in Greenville on Sept. 17, 2018.

The event in Greenville on Sept. 17, 2018.

This takes me back to my own campaign experience last year:

Presidential contender Pete Buttigieg announced Monday that he would open his fundraisers to journalists and disclose the names of people raising money for his campaign, the latest step in an ongoing skirmish over transparency with Democratic rival Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Reporters will be allowed into Buttigieg’s large-dollar fundraising events starting Tuesday, and the South Bend, Ind., mayor will release a list of his “bundlers” — those who funnel large sums of money to campaigns — within a week, according to Buttigieg campaign manager Mike Schmuhl.

“From the start, Pete has said it is important for every candidate to be open and honest, and his actions have reflected that commitment,” Schmuhl said in a statement….

In the earlier days of my time on James Smith’s campaign, I found myself turning press away from fund-raisers, because that was what the staff wanted to do. I thought it was a rule — one I did not like.

I hated not having the press at these events, sometimes more so than other times. For instance, there was the big event in Greenville on Sept. 17 that had been put together in part by some folks who usually backed Republicans. It was a tremendous event under any circumstances. It was even more important because it was our first event after taking a hiatus because of the hurricane, and it would have been enormously helpful at that moment to have coverage of such an enthusiastic crowd gathering for us in the heart of Republican country.

As it was, an Upstate reporter did a story on the fact that the event was happening, and that caused some positive buzz for us, briefly. But it would have been so much better if we’d had actual coverage, with pictures.

We needed that bounce at that moment. I don’t know if it’s right or not, but there’s a school of thought (to be more specific, one very smart person said it to me shortly after the election, and I think she may have been right) that our week-long pause for the storm — during which we went dark, while Henry was constantly on live TV in a leadership role — killed our campaign. Before it, we were within the margin of error of a tie in polling (and rising, or so it felt); after it we had lost ground and never recovered.

There had been previous events where I’d wished we’d had coverage — including some reporters had specifically asked to cover, and I’d turned them away at the behest of colleagues. But after the Greenville event, I decided to try to change the rule. And when I brought it up to the candidates themselves, James and Mandy immediately said yes.

(Editor’s note: Before posting this, I sent a copy of it to James. I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t saying anything about the campaign that made him uncomfortable. His response was, “If the press was excluded that was done without our knowledge. Those were great events and I liked having the press there.” So did Mandy, he added. I guess I should have mentioned my beef with the policy earlier, now that he points that out. I didn’t know he didn’t know.)

Now let me be clear: This is not a case of Brad Knows Best, or if only they’d listened to me

In fact, on this thing they did listen to me, and we lost anyway. If anything, it looks like I’m to blame for not challenging this “rule” sooner, since it turns out James and Mandy were unaware of it, and agreed with me. So Brad should have gone with his gut to start with.

Why didn’t I? Remember that I was the amateur in this campaign, and before I came on board the staff was operating according to rules that a lot of professionals see as best practices. And from what I gathered, not letting media in to fund-raisers fits into that category. I’d seen it enough in other campaigns. I’ve never fully understood the rationale; maybe it was because of horror stories like Mitt Romney’s 47 percent debacle. (Of course, that’s only a problem if you have a candidate who will say stupid stuff like that.)

But my fellow staffers were the pros, and I respected that. The only professional qualification I had was experience as a journalist covering campaigns (and as an editor supervising people who covered campaigns). And the way the press was covering our campaign made me want to bang my head against a wall. Just one story after another about staffing and strategy and ad buys. I wanted to change the subject to why people would want to vote for James and Mandy, so I wanted reporters at events full of people who could and would eagerly speak to that. Also, I wanted the reporters to feel the vibe in the room. Maybe, just maybe, some of that would creep into the coverage.

Anyway, all that is to say that I think Pete is right to open things up. I applaud it. Of course, my man Joe was already letting the press in…

Greenville 2

Polls indicate Trump remains competitive in key states. Oh, yeah: And if Warren is the Democratic nominee, he wins

polling chart

Tonight I got a fund-raising text from Joe Biden that reminded me that I meant to share with y’all something I saw in The New York Times this morning. The text said:

BREAKING: A New York Times poll says that Joe Biden is the ONLY candidate who can beat Trump in some critical swing states that Trump won in 2016.

So if Joe Biden isn’t our nominee, Trump will be reelected again.

But Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have more money than us — even though they can’t defeat Trump. And if we can’t catch up, they might be the ones facing off against him….

And so forth.

Here’s what the Biden campaign is talking about. See the graphic above, which I hope the NYT doesn’t mind my showing you (I urge you to go read it on their site, and even subscribe, as I do). There are other informative graphics with the piece.

The Times emphasized Trump’s competitiveness, leading with:

Despite low national approval ratings and the specter of impeachment, President Trump remains highly competitive in the battleground states likeliest to decide his re-election, according to a set of new surveys from The New York Times Upshot and Siena College…

But the graphic (which I had to go grab from an old Tweet, because it no longer appears with the story), shouted something else: Democrats are nuts if they go with Elizabeth Warren.

Of course, I knew that already. Did you?

The story has an important caveat:

There is a full year before Election Day, and a lot can change.

But then, a caveat to the caveat:

But on average over the last three cycles, head-to-head polls a year ahead of the election have been as close to the final result as those taken the day before.

So I suppose we should take heed….

Thoughts on the marathon ‘debate’ last night?

NYT debate graphic

Or perhaps I should say, further thoughts, since some of y’all have started the discussion on the previous thread. Which is cool.

As a conversation starter, I thought I’d post an image of the graphic the NYT ran this morning to go with a piece they had about winners and losers, featuring some of their opinion writers.

I read that this morning, and several other accounts of the night, and the consensus of what I’ve read — and I don’t strongly disagree with any of it — goes kind of like this:

  • Warren had the best night. That’s the consensus. I thought she started strong — I liked her Mayberry approach, with talking about her Aunt Bee instead of her usual intense ranting — but wasn’t as great the rest of the time.
  • Bernie seemed more and more to observers what he has always seemed to me — the cranky uncle who puts people off.
  • Yang embarrassed himself right out of the running with his money-giveaway gimmick. Too bad. I liked him.
  • Castro was second-worst, they say. Personally, I’d put him dead last and move up Yang. Basically what he did was the equivalent of blowing himself up with a grenade, in the hope that he could also wound Joe Biden in the process. Most thought it was bad; I think it was worse. He hasn’t learned what Kamala Harris learned belatedly: In the end, Democrats won’t like you for attacking Biden — and, by extension, Obama.
  • Kamala Harris was too scripted and rehearsed. Pretty much everyone thought she came across as phony.
  • Klobuchar did fine, but it wasn’t enough. And as one writer said, she remains irrelevant as the moderate alternative, unless Joe blows up. I still think she did better than the graphic above indicates.
  • I liked what Gail Collins said about Cory Booker: “So intense he kind of runs you over.” He’s like a younger, slightly (but only slightly) cooler, version of Bernie.
  • Buttigieg did OK, I thought. But others seemed to think he had an off night.
  • Beto was Beto. Most seemed to think he had a strong night. He continues to seem the callow (but earnest) youth to me. In that age bracket, Buttigieg still outshines him.
  • Consensus seems to be that Joe did all right — not great, not badly. He’s still the front-runner — with Warren breathing down his neck.

That’s about it. What did y’all think.

 

 

Oh, no! Is that three-hour ‘debate’ ordeal TONIGHT?

debate

On the radio this morning, a passing reference sort of ruined my day: It was mentioned that the three-hour Democratic “debate” is tonight.

And I don’t feel like I can’t watch it, and I probably won’t be able to avoid commenting on it, at least on social media, and there goes another perfectly good evening.

So you’ll probably find me on Twitter tonight. Unless ennui overtakes me, and I sit it out.

Top Five things I’d rather be doing tonight:

  1. Sleeping.
  2. Watching an episode of “Shetland” on Britbox.
  3. Reading a book I’ve read before.
  4. Reorganizing my sock drawer.
  5. Getting a root canal.

I’m not kidding. As I’ve said before, sometime back, I’m SO ready for this to be over. I’m only asking one thing of the Democratic Party: Nominate Joe Biden, and don’t damage him along the way (there are a number of ways they might do this, chief among them pressuring him to overcommit himself to the left wing). As I said in July:

I just want to fast-forward through this time in our history. I want to skim ahead to a time when Joe Biden has secured the Democratic nomination (and if the future holds something else, let me skim past the next four years of politics as well). No more enduring absurd “debates” with Joe on stage with a score of people, each of whom knows his or her way to victory lies through tearing Joe down, and not one of whom holds out much hope of doing what I think Joe can do — beat Trump.

But I guess I have to watch this thing. I guess…

Uh, should we rethink this democracy thing?

He IS known by three letters, but they aren't "AOC"...

He IS known by three letters, but they aren’t “AOC”…

I’ve confessed before that, unlike most American editorialists, I was always kind of ambivalent about urging people to get out to vote. Which made me kind of an iconoclast, if not a heretic.

This simple expression of civic piety (You know the drill: “No matter how you vote, vote!”) tended to stick in my throat, and here’s why: If you have to be goaded to do something as basic to your duty as a citizen as vote, then are you really somebody that I want to see voting?

And today, I’ve received a press release that makes me even more hesitant to urge the average apathetic America to get out there and have just as much a say in who our leaders are as I do. The headline on the email was, “18% of Americans believe AOC authored the New Deal.”

Before you call me a horrible elitist, just look over some of these numbers:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 9th, 2019
MEDIA CONTACT: Connor Murnane
PHONE: (202) 798-5450

America’s Knowledge Crisis: A Survey on Civic Literacy

Washington, DC — A national survey commissioned by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) draws new attention to a crisis in civic understanding and the urgent need for renewed focus on civics education at the postsecondary level.

Some of the alarming results include:

  • 26% of respondents believe Brett Kavanaugh is the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and 14% of respondents selected Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016.
    • 15% of the college graduates surveyed selected Brett Kavanaugh.
    • Fewer than half correctly identified John Roberts.
  • 18% of respondents identified Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), a freshman member of the current Congress, as the author of the New Deal, a suite of public programs enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s.
    •  12% of the college graduates surveyed selected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
  • 63% did not know the term lengths of U.S. Senators and Representatives.
    • Fewer than half of the college graduates surveyed knew the correct answer.
  • 12% of respondents understand the relationship between the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, and correctly answered that the 13th Amendment freed all the slaves in the United States.
    • 19% of the college graduates surveyed selected the correct answer.

ACTA’s What Will They Learn? report, an assessment of 1,123 general education programs scheduled for release tomorrow, helps to explain America’s civic illiteracy. Our analysis of 2019–2020 course catalogs revealed that only 18% of U.S. colleges and universities require students to take a course in American history or government.

”Colleges have the responsibility to prepare students for a lifetime of informed citizenship. Our annual What Will They Learn? report illustrates the steady deterioration of the core curriculum. When American history and government courses are removed, you begin to see disheartening survey responses like these, and America’s experiment in self-government begins to slip from our grasp,” said Michael Poliakoff, president of ACTA.

The survey was conducted in August by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, and consisted of 15 questions designed to assess respondents’ knowledge of foundational events in U.S. history and key political principles. The respondents make up a nationally representative sample of 1,002 U.S. adults. To view the full survey results, click here >>


ACTA is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to academic freedom, academic excellence, and accountability in higher education. We receive no government funding and are supported through the generosity of individuals and foundations. For more information, visit GoACTA.org, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, and subscribe to our newsletter.

If that doesn’t give you pause about this universal suffrage thing, then you’re not reading it right.

No, I’m not talking about taking away anyone’s right to vote. But data such as this makes me think twice about urging the average non-voter to exercise that right. At least, I hope the ones who credit AOC with the New Deal are non-voters. Ditto with the 63 percent who don’t know how long the terms of senators and House members are, even though that’s not quite as slap-you-in-the-face ignorant as the other thing…

Further proof, in case you needed it, that Trump supporters are anything but ‘conservative’

Donald_Trump_rally_in_Cedar_Rapids_(June_2017)_09

Warning: This piece contains the word, “nihilism.” That’s for Doug, who hates it when I use that word in this context. But it’s the right word.

That’s why it was included in the subhed to this Thomas Edsall story, as follows: “Political nihilism is one of the president’s strongest weapons.”

Bottom line is, while you might call Trump voters many things, no one with a respect for the English language would call them “conservative.”

The Edsall piece is about a paper presented last week at the American Political Science Association. Guessing that y’all probably did not attend (while this sort of thing is Tom Edsall’s bag, baby), I thought I’d bring the paper to y’all’s attention. The title was “A ‘Need for Chaos’ and the Sharing of Hostile Political Rumors in Advanced Democracies.”

We’ve all read elsewhere the assertion that people voted for Trump out of a deep-seated urge to blow up the system, but these two Danish political scientists, Michael Bang Petersen and Mathias Osmundsen, dug into the phenomenon more deeply that most. In short, they argue “that a segment of the American electorate that was once peripheral is drawn to ‘chaos incitement’ and that this segment has gained decisive influence through the rise of social media.”

Here’s the core of the piece:

How do Petersen, Osmundsen and Arceneaux measure this “need for chaos”? They conducted six surveys, four in the United States, in which they interviewed 5157 participants, and two in Denmark, with 1336. They identified those who are “drawn to chaos” through their affirmative responses to the following statements:

  • I fantasize about a natural disaster wiping out most of humanity such that a small group of people can start all over.

  • I think society should be burned to the ground.

  • When I think about our political and social institutions, I cannot help thinking “just let them all burn.”

  • We cannot fix the problems in our social institutions, we need to tear them down and start over.

  • Sometimes I just feel like destroying beautiful things.

Disturbing stuff. Like, “Helter-Skelter” disturbing. The piece continues:

In an email, Petersen wrote that preliminary examination of the data shows “that the ‘need for chaos’ correlates positively with sympathy for Trump but also — although less strongly — with sympathy for Sanders. It correlates negatively with sympathy for Hillary Clinton.”

In their paper, Petersen, Osmundsen and Arceneaux contend that “the extreme discontent expressed in the ‘Need for Chaos’ scale is a minority view but it is a minority view with incredible amounts of support.”

The responses to three of the statements in particular were “staggering,” the paper says: 24 percent agreed that society should be burned to the ground; 40 percent concurred with the thought that “When it comes to our political and social institutions, I cannot help thinking ‘just let them all burn’ ”; and 40 percent also agreed that “we cannot fix the problems in our social institutions, we need to tear them down and start over.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we’re on about when we use the word “nihilism.”

Note the bit about Bernie. Most of us sensed that his 2016 campaign was driven by some of the same destructive energy that drove Trump’s, but this provides some further evidence on that point.

Anyway, it’s an interesting piece, and you might want to read the whole thing

Candidates, please don’t promise to do anything for me.

Here's Bernie, seconds before he promised me my hearing aids...

Here’s Bernie, seconds before he promised me my hearing aids…

My family thought this was hilarious.

It was during the televised debate on the night of July 31. I was together with most of the fam down at the beach.

I had said something dismissive about Bernie Sanders, as I am wont to do. Then, I was busy writing a Tweet about something that had just been said, so my mind wandered from the next thing that was said (a hazard of real-time commentary).

My wife, who was sitting on the side of my bad ear, said, “See what Bernie’s going to do for you?” And I said, “What?” and she said, “Didn’t you hear? He wants Medicare to pay for your hearing aids!” And because she was on my bad side, I said, “He wants to WHAT?”

And everyone thought this was hilarious. They weren’t laughing AT me; they were really… Well, no, they were laughing at me. But fondly…

They all know that I have declined to look into getting hearing aids because a) conventional hearing aids wouldn’t solve the problem I have, and b) I discovered upon going on Medicare that it won’t pay for hearing aids. And personally, if I’m going to have to scrimp and save for something that expensive, I’d prefer it to be something like another trip abroad, like the one we took to Ireland earlier this year.

So now that I know Bernie wants to pay for them, I’ve gotta like Bernie a little better, right?

Wrong. In fact, I find it extremely off-putting, the idea that someone out there is making a campaign promise to do something that benefits me, personally. No, it’s not like Bernie called me on the phone and asked what Brad would most like to see changed in Medicare and then promised to do that in return for my vote, but it sort of feels like it to me.

And I don’t hold with that sort of thing.

In the universe of politics, there are few things that I find more offensive than the idea of voting for someone because you think it would benefit you personally, or “people like you” (another concept I find offensive, which is all tied up with my objections to identity politics, but that’s a whole other subject).

First, I don’t like campaign promises, period. We’ve discussed this. I vote for the person I trust most to do the job, and I’d like to see that person as unencumbered by promises as possible, so that he or she can simply do the right and smart thing with regard to any issue that arises.

But if you’re going to try to sell me on a campaign promise anyway, you’d better come prepared to persuade me that it’s the best course for the country as a whole. Don’t insult me by saying how it would benefit me personally.

Yeah, I know, I’m sounding really self-righteous, priggish even. And I know that there are a lot of people out there who are NOT middle-class white guys who feel a need for the government to redress some wrong that hurts them personally, and/or “people like them.” And I’m not judging them. I can only speak for me.

And to me, it feels just a small step away from the days when candidates handed out free booze on Election Day. There’s just too much quid pro quo to it.

Don’t try to buy my vote. Not with free hearing aids, or lower taxes, or free drinks, or whatever other goodies you have in mind. I won’t take kindly to it.

I first became all high-and-mighty about this in 1976, when I was talking about the upcoming presidential contest with a colleague at the newspaper where I worked then, my first job out of college. I mentioned that I really liked Jimmy Carter, and she said she was going to vote for Gerald Ford. With real interest, I asked why. Not because I was demanding justification for a wrongheaded act. I liked Gerald Ford, and I could think of plenty of legitimate reasons that a person might chose him. I was curious which ones mattered to her.

I was completely unprepared for what she said, which went kind of like this:

Well, my husband and I studied the candidates’ positions on issues, and we sat down and did some math, and we figured out that if Carter were elected, we’d have to pay a thousand dollars more in taxes a year. So we’re both voting for Ford.

Not, I think Carter might raise taxes, and that might have a chilling effect on the economy, or even, I think Carter might raise taxes, and on people across the country who can ill afford it. No, she was talking about a very specific effect that she expected on her pocketbook. And on that basis, she was willing to choose the Leader of the Free World (we used to call the president that back during the Cold War, kids).

I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped, although I don’t think she noticed. I was shocked. I was scandalized. I couldn’t believe that anyone — much less a fellow journalist (people who love money that much generally don’t choose to become journalists, and if they do, they must have been seriously misled by somebody) could possibly sell his or her franchise in such a mercenary manner. I was even more shocked that she would tell someone that, and not show any sign of being ashamed of herself.

Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Didn’t I know people think like that? No, I didn’t. It had never occurred to me that people could. And even though I’ve seen a thousand times since then that her way of looking at things is WAY more common than mine, I’ve never ceased to be appalled at that point of view.

I would worry that by writing this I might insult a lot of folks out there, but I justify it by telling myself that those pragmatical souls are more likely to scoff at my utterly absurd, stuffy, priggish, and completely unrealistic notion of what politics is all about. They’ll see this post as embarrassing me, not them. And all the people whose opinions they value will agree with them on this point.

Anyway, it’s been preying on my mind that I should say something, because a lot of the Democratic candidates vying to go against Trump have a tendency to make the kinds of promises I don’t like to hear.

Meanwhile, all I hear Joe Biden promising is to save our country from Trumpism. Oh, he might have a few policy positions out there (because some people out there hound him into it), but I’m ignoring them, and that’s easy to do because his main message is the one I want to hear: He wants to restore the presidency, and the country, to something reasonable human beings can respect.

And if any of the other candidates want my vote (something I’m sure they sit up nights worrying about), I just want to let them know that I don’t want to hear any promises that would benefit me, Brad Warthen, in any way, shape or form. My conscience it just too delicate to put up with that, weird as you might think I am for saying it.

Don’t ever say I didn’t tell you that.

Yeah, I realize there may be more votes in a strategy of promising folks stuff than there is in a high-minded strategy of not offending Brad.

But I can only speak for myself…

Thoughts on the Democratic debate(s)?

July 31 debate

Last night I got a text from a friend and colleague in Columbia, asking “Are you watching the debate? I was looking for your twitter commentary.”

(Yes, some real people actually LIKE it when I riff on social media during these events, and miss it when I don’t do it. So there.)

But I wasn’t on the Twitters because a) I’m on vacation, and any time I spend on a keyboard is dedicated to something I just have to do for work or whatever (this post being a notable exception); b) it was my wife’s birthday, and we were having a family celebration; and c) having watched most of the debate the previous night (and Tweeted a bit), I was thoroughly fed up with this reality-TV mockery of our politics, and had no appetite for any more of it.

I had started Tuesday night willing to have fun with it…

…and ended up just disgusted:

So, even if I hadn’t been busy with more important things, I would not have watched Wednesday night with any, shall we say, gusto.

Anyway, today I’ve read a number of accounts of it, and I don’t think I missed much.

Here’s a summary: Joe did all right. That’s all that matters. He didn’t set the world on fire, but the consensus was that he wasn’t damaged and is unlikely to lose his dominant position in the polls — despite the increasingly desperate efforts of the wannabes to pull him down, extending to some really strategically stupid stuff like tearing down President Obama and his legacy.

For me, the only point in watching other than to make sure Joe’s OK would be to see if anyone emerges as a good backup option if he doesn’t make it. And that has not even come close to happening (based on my watching and reading). And not because my mind is closed. I’d like to have a backup plan. I don’t like not having a backup plan. I makes me uneasy. But I’m not going to lie to myself. I’m not going to pretend that someone else looks good just to ease my own mind.

Y’all know what I want. I look forward to the day that all this slapstick nonsense is over and Joe is the nominee and we can get on with the real business.

Anyway, what did y’all think?

I’m almost as tired of the Mueller saga as Mueller is

The first screen of The Post's homepage was all Mueller...

The first screen of The Post’s homepage was all Mueller…

At one point this morning, I Tweeted this:

But I wasn’t done with the Mueller hearing, or perhaps I should say it wasn’t done with me. There it was, wherever I turned — on social media, on the radio in my truck, even when I tried listening to NPR.org while I was getting some steps in in the middle of the day. (Fortunately, there were podcasts on other subjects.)

All of it was awful — the bits I heard, anyway:

  • I found it tiresome to listen to the Democratic questioners, because they were so eager to establish… what? OK, so they want to make sure that the public, which isn’t going to read a 400-page report, knows all the ways that it shows Donald Trump to be an ethical nightmare. But then what? Are you really convinced that this is going to change things so that impeachment proceedings are a good idea, one that leads to electoral success in 2020? I’m not sure how you could be.
  • It was far, far worse to listen to the Republican questioners. At my age, I’m more than tired of waking up each day and discovering that human beings can sink to depths I previously did not suspect. But hearing these guys adamantly, furiously, relentlessly trying to twist things so that Trump doesn’t come across as a slimeball is just so disheartening, so depressing….
  • Finally, it was pretty awful hearing Mueller himself, who sounded just as weary of it all as he looked when I saw him on that screen with the sound off this morning. The man’s done enough for his country. Let him go to his rest…

I just want to fast-forward through this time in our history. I want to skim ahead to a time when Joe Biden has secured the Democratic nomination (and if the future holds something else, let me skim past the next four years of politics as well). No more enduring absurd “debates” with Joe on stage with a score of people, each of whom knows his or her way to victory lies through tearing Joe down, and not one of whom holds out much hope of doing what I think Joe can do — beat Trump.

Let’s just get on with it. Because the country’s one real chance of putting Trump behind us awaits us in November 2020.

Oh, and if you doubt that Joe is the guy to beat Trump, let me tell you about this one podcast I listened to while walking.

It was brought to my attention by this Tweet from Third Way, which seems to be published by Democrats who have not lost their freaking minds:

So I went and listened to The Daily, and I heard some home truths laid out, including the mathematically obvious one mentioned in the Tweet. None of it was mysterious or anything. It was stuff like this:

  • The persuadable people Democrats have to reach, and flip, to beat Trump are white working-class (and to a lesser extent middle-class) voters in the Midwest, people who voted for Obama in 2008 but for Trump in 2016.
  • Right now Trump is positioned to possibly do slightly better in those areas — places such as the environs of Milwaukee — than he did in 2016.
  • Of course, he remains unpopular as ever, and may lose the national popular vote by even more than he lost to Hillary, but…
  • There’s this thing called the Electoral College (and rail about it all you want, Dems, but the rules of the game are not changing between now and Election Day next year), so all Trump needs to do is squeak by in those places that are neither entirely red nor blue.
  • Democrats are doing better in the Sun Belt than in the past, but not so much better that the Democrat will win there, and most states are Winner Take All in the Electoral College. So… back to the swing states…
  • So… what are you gonna do to reach those persuadable white voters in Flyover Land?

And the whole time I’m listening, I’m thinking the only thing you can possibly do if you have a lick of sense is nominate plain ol’ Joe from Scranton, PA.

And in fact, Michael Barbaro, the host of The Daily, finally has to just ask Nate Cohn — the guy running through the math — outright, So… you mean the Dems need to nominate Biden, right?

Cohn, if I recall correctly, was kind of noncommittal in his answer, but there really is no honest answer but this one: Right….

 

Supreme Court pulls a Pontius Pilate on gerrymandering

court

By which I mean, of course, that they have washed their hands of any responsibility for the single problem doing the most to divide our country and destroy our constitutional system:

I’ve got to go get some work done, but I thought I’d establish a place for talking about this shocking development.

As Kagan said in her dissent, “The practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government. Part of the court’s role in that system is to defend its foundations. None is more important than free and fair elections.”

Sending it to the states — that is to say, the legislatures who created the problem and are highly motivated to perpetuate it — is indeed, as Harry Harris said, the fox guarding the henhouse.

What are we going to do as a country?

Joe Wilson’s potential Democratic opponent

This came out a couple of months ago, but I just ran across it.

I knew former Justice Department attorney Adair Ford Boroughs had announced she was going to go after Joe Wilson next year, but hadn’t seen the video until now. It caused me to check out her website as well.

Random observations, in no particular order:

  • First, while I need to know more, she’s probably got my vote. Not because of this or that thing Joe has said or done, but because — as she correctly points out — Joe has done nothing in his almost 18 years in Congress. Joe loves being a congressman — he gets all breathless when he expresses how much he loves it — but he doesn’t seem interested in doing anything in the position.
  • Second, the odds are way, way against her. The district is drawn for a Republican, big-time. And once the Lexington County votes come in, it tends to be over for the Democrat.
  • This is neither here nor there, but I got a little confused, thinking “Adair” was her last name. Everywhere you look, it’s “Adair for Congress,” and since I’ve always seen it as a surname, well…. Interestingly, I can’t even find “Boroughs” on the home page of her website. It doesn’t mean anything; I just don’t remember seeing this before.
  • The video is OK, and probably the best part about it is the way it drives home the point I mentioned above — that Joe has gotten only one bill passed in all these years, and it was to change the name of a local post office. There are some things I’m not that crazy about, such as the populist cliches about “career politicians” and “good ol’ boy politicians.” Those are such tired expressions. If you’re going to go there, and least come up with a fresh way to say it.
  • Speaking of populism, I’m also not thrilled by the “going after corporations and millionaires who cheated on their taxes” stuff either. I’m all for getting people to pay the taxes they owe, but that smacks a bit of the class conflict stuff that’s so popular on the left now, which leaves me kind of cold. (By that I mean it seems to suggest she went after them because they were “corporations and millionaires” as much as because they were tax cheats. Maybe that’s unintentional, but the vibe is there.
  • I see she clerked for District Judge Richard M. Gergel, and I have a lot of respect for Richard, and if he chose to hire her, she must have something going for her.
  • Of course, I’d rather see someone who has done more in the public sphere — someone who has been a judge rather than a judge’s clerk, or someone who has held some lower office before shooting for Congress. Y’all know me. But when you’re going up against someone who has done as little as Joe has with the office, that’s not as important as it might be under other circumstances.

Anyway, it’s early, and I’m going to watch this with interest…

Adair

Where am I going to put my Joe Biden bumper sticker?

my truck

The above picture, which I posted randomly a couple of days ago, reminds me:

I need to figure out where to put my Joe Biden sticker when I get one. Which I expect will be soon. A couple of weeks back, I ran into my friends Sally and Mark Huguley. Mark was pulling up to the curb in front of St. Peter’s after Mass to pick up Sally, and Sally told him to pull up a few more feet so I could see the Biden sticker on the back of their vehicle.

I was, of course, envious. I need to reach out to Kendall Corley or Scott Harriford, two Smith campaign alumni who are now running the Biden operation in SC, to see if they can get me one. And a yard sign, when they’re available. Time’s a wastin’!

But then I look at the back of my truck, and think, where should I put it? I mean, it’s going to spoil my perfect bipartisan symmetry. All through the campaign, I had my James Smith sticker and my Micah Caskey sticker. And while I was a bit self-conscious parking it at HQ at first, that wasn’t my target audience.

My idea was this: Our single greatest obstacle to winning — and in the end, this is what defeated us probably more than any other factor — was that most white voters in the state have some kind of disability, a mental block. They are incapable of conceiving of voting for someone with a D after his name. They don’t think it’s a thing that a person can do.

If I could just get ONE voter, driving behind me, to think, “Whoa! This guy who votes for Republicans just like I do is also voting for James Smith. I wonder why,” then it would be worth any dirty looks I got from Democrats.

Oh, and if you think people don’t have thoughts like that, you’re wrong. Humans are hugely suggestible. Maybe they shouldn’t be, but the Bandwagon Effect is one of the most reliable factors in politics (as ridiculous as I think that is). If people see that other people are voting for someone, they are at least slightly more likely to do so themselves.

I know that some people noticed. The first time I had occasion during the campaign to meet with Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson, I mentioned something about my bumper stickers, and he said, “Yeah, I’ve heard about that.” And I thought, Yeah, I’ll bet you have. I knew by that time that there were some Democrats who didn’t like that James had hired someone like me, and it wasn’t surprising that some of them would have brought such a detail to Trav’s attention.

But again, Democrats weren’t my target audience. I was trolling for persuadable Republicans. (And yes, that’s a thing. Here’s one of our Republican endorsements, and a video to go with it.)

Anyway, now I have to figure out where to put my Biden sticker. My first thought is to put it right in the middle, but then my tailgate will be 2/3 Democratic. Which is not the effect I’m going for. But then, does that matter, since Joe is running in the Democratic Primary? I mean, what do I care what Republicans think in this context? Worrying about being perfectly bipartisan is more about worrying about what people think of ME, isn’t it? And that shouldn’t be a factor.

I could put it over the Smith sticker, since the campaign’s over and all, but I won’t do that. My experience last year is something I’m proud of, and I’m going to continue to wear it on my sleeve. Or tailgate.

Anyway, look how shiny and new it still is. It looks good. By contrast, Micah’s sticker has faded considerably.

Of course, being focused on the Democratic primary, I could just cover Micah’s sticker until after Feb. 9. But I’m not going to do that. I don’t want to abandon my representative, even for a short while. He’s got re-election next year.

So… I’m thinking the Biden sticker needs to go in the middle. And I need to get with Micah to get a fresher sticker sometime between now and next spring…

OK, I have now heard the word ‘progressive’ used too many times. You can stop saying it now. Please…

argument

For many years, the word was “conservative.” It was said so often — generally by a politician seeking to ingratiate himself with people who don’t think much about words but for some reason love clinging to that one — that it was like fingernails on a blackboard for me.

It still is. It’s still hugely popular here in S.C., waved as a proud banner by people who have no business associating with the word — people who identify with Donald Trump or the Tea Party or the Freedom Caucus or some other phenomenon that bears no relationship to the sobriety of actual conservatism.

It gets used as a password. It is brandished to say, “I am an acceptable person, like you.” It performs a function like that of the word “Christian” in the early 19th century — referring not to a set of religious beliefs, but to a state of being a normal, acceptable person of reasonable breeding and education, someone who knows the ropes of life in Western civilization. Patrick O’Brian used it to mild comic effect in his Aubrey/Maturin novels. The sailors in that world would lament the fact that the perpetual landlubber Stephen Maturin never could learn to board a ship “like a Christian,” which was to say, like a normal person of basic good sense. He was always contriving to fall into the water instead.

Anyway, “conservative” gets used kind of like that, only it’s more obnoxious.

I’ve tried dealing with it with humor, but sometimes it’s just not funny. Sometimes it’s downright nasty, used to try to separate the world into people who are acceptable and those who are not. In any case, it continues to occupy a lofty position on my list of peeves.

And now, another word is laboring mightily to catch up to it: “progressive.”

Again, it’s a slippery word. It’s meant many things, sometimes apparently contradictory things. It’s been attached to muckraking authors in the early 1900s, and Teddy Roosevelt. I also associate it with a sort of early- to mid-20th century form of pro-business boosterism, connecting capitalism with human “progress.” Then, 30 years or so ago (did it predate Reagan, or follow him?), it became something liberals called themselves because the rise of “conservative” came with a denigration of the otherwise innocent word “liberal.”

At that point, it seemed to be trying to suggest a particularly mild, moderate, nonthreatening form of liberalism, as in, “Don’t be scared! We’re not liberals; we’re just progressive!”

Now, it’s gone in another direction. Now, it’s used to refer to people for whom liberalism — certainly the beleaguered postwar liberal consensus — is not enough. It attaches to socialists, and socialist wannabes. It suggests a fierce, uncompromising leftward march. (And ominously, it suggests the element in the Democratic Party that seems determined to blow the nation’s chance of turning Donald Trump out of office in 2020.)

And it’s reached its saturation point with me.

This happened suddenly, while I was listening to a podcast while on a walk yesterday.

I was listening to an episode of “The Argument,” the NYT podcast featuring opinion writers David Leonhardt, Ross Douthat and Michelle Goldberg. It was one that I’d missed a couple of weeks ago, featuring an extensive conversation with Pete Buttigieg.Buttigieg

I recommend you go listen to it. I learned some things about Buttigieg and formed a fuller opinion of him. In short, here’s what I’ve decided thus far: I like the guy, but when he talks specifics about policy, I disagree with him on one thing after another. (Which is bad from his point of view, since he likes to project himself as a substance-over-style guy.) And not just the wacky stuff, like expanding the Supreme Court, or (the horror!) the size of the U.S. House of Representatives. (Did I hear that last one right? I’m finding proposals to do that on Google, but not associated with Mayor Pete…)

Also — and I’d heard this before about him — while he talks a good game on getting past the Culture War, time and again it sounds like he believes the way to end the conflict is for everyone to accept that his side has won the arguments. He does this on a number of issues, but one that sticks in my mind is his bland assertion that the nation, and even folks in Alabama, are closer to his doctrinaire pro-choice position on abortion than they are to the recent anti-abortion measure passed there.

That one sticks in my mind because just that morning before hearing this, I had conincidentally read something by one of the hosts of The Argument, David Leonhardt. It was about the fact that polls show we are as divided as ever on abortion, that “Public opinion isn’t where either side wants it to be.” Look at the numbers. Clearly, no one — neither Buttigieg nor someone with a diametrically opposed position on the issue — should be congratulating himself or herself on having won that national argument.

But let’s get back to my point. Time and again, whenever the mayor wanted to speak of ideas or proposals or attitudes or people that were agreeable to him, he used that word: “progressive.” It seemed to sum up rightness and goodness for him, very neatly.

And at some point — I don’t know know exactly how many times he’d said it when this happened — I reached my saturation point. I’d heard the word too many times.

So, everyone do me a favor: If you want to propose an idea, argue the idea on its merits. Tell me why it’s a good idea. Telling me it’s “progressive” or “conservative” gets you nowhere with me, and in fact will dig you down into a hole you’ll have to work to climb out of.

Words should encourage people to think. But these two are used too often now as a substitute for thought, as a signal to members of a tribe that they shouldn’t bother straining their brains, because this idea has the official seal of approval.

I just thought I’d let y’all know where I am on this now…

How many of these candidates do you recognize?

candidates

The above image was included in an email I received today, showing most (but not quite all) of the Democrats running for president.

I gave myself a test: How many could I name, without thinking about it, just from these mug shots?

I didn’t do too great. I got 12, I think. I might even be wrong on one or two. Of course, I’m at a disadvantage because I follow the campaign through the written word, and to a lesser extent by radio and podcasts. So I’ve read or heard a good deal about people I’ve seldom if ever seen pictured.

At the same time, if I don’t recognize you, you might have a bit of an uphill climb.

Here are the ones I could name, with question marks next to ones I wasn’t 100 percent sure of:

  1. Bernie Sanders (or maybe Larry David; it’s hard to tell)
  2. Kamala Harris
  3. Elizabeth Warren
  4. Cory Booker
  5. Amy Klobuchar?
  6. Kirsten Gillibrand
  7. Beto O’Rourke
  8. Tulsi Gabbard?
  9. Seth Moulton
  10. Pete Buttigieg
  11. Andrew Yang?
  12. Joe Biden

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.

Dear Democrats: Stop talking about ways to rig the system; give me reasons to vote for you

stupid questions

Joe Biden has the right idea, staying out of it so far. At least he hasn’t had to answer the Stupid Question of the Day. Not that he doesn’t get answered questions, and not that they aren’t awkward. But at least he doesn’t yet have to pick a position on no-win litmus-test questions.

At least, he didn’t in this story.

I was thinking that when I saw the above array of candidates, and noticed that Joe wasn’t pictured, despite being, you know, the front-runner in the polls. And then I looked at what the story was about and realized he lucked out there. The headline and a link: Kill the electoral college? Stack the Supreme Court? Frustrated Democrats push ideas for rewiring U.S. politics.

I have one overall answer to the questions being posed by and to Democrats: Stop trying to change the rules. If you can’t come up with a candidate who can beat Trump — under the present rules — then maybe you deserve to lose. Or maybe the country is so far gone that it can’t be saved anyway.

But just to show I don’t dodge the tough (but stupid) questions, here are my answers:

  1. Do you support eliminating the electoral college in favor of the popular vote? No. But if you want to talk seriously about returning the college to the way Hamilton et al. envisioned it — you might get me on board.
  2. Should Democrats eliminate the Senate filibuster the next time they control of Congress? Eliminate it how? I need details. I think it’s ridiculous to have to get 60 votes to pass anything, but I’m sentimental enough about “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” to hesitate at eliminating a minority’s way of being heard.
  3. Would you support adding justices to ‘pack’ the Supreme Court? No. And please, whether you’re on the left or the right, stop maneuvering to impose your political will on a body that is supposed to be immune to such — that’s its role.
  4. Would you support term limits for Supreme Court justices? Absolutely not. The court must remain independent, and lifetime appointment is the best mechanism I can think of for protecting it from the predations of the political branches.
  5. Should citizens be automatically registered to vote when they turn 18? No. But if you’d like to make the age 28 — or maybe 38 — I might be tempted to make a deal with you.
  6. Should Election Day be a national holiday? I don’t care. Although it seems to me that federal workers get enough days off already. Populists will label me a blue meanie for this, but I’m not convinced that people who really want to vote can’t do so currently. Maybe you can present enough evidence to the contrary to change my mind.
  7. Should Washington, D.C., be granted statehood? No. Let me explain the concept behind the District of Columbia, as I understand it: The United States is a union of, you know, states. It’s a good idea for the capital of the country to be on neutral ground. That neutral ground is the District of Columbia. To have another state that consists entirely of the nation’s capital would be weird, and I suspect unwise, on a number of levels. It would be awkward. The other states would likely make fun of it.
  8. Should Puerto Rico be granted statehood? I’m ambivalent. Needs study.
  9. Should the voting age be lowered from 18 to 16? You’re joking, right? See my answer to No. 5. Seems to me the electorate hasn’t been exhibiting a great deal of maturity lately, and this would be the opposite of a good way to fix the problem.
  10. Should all formerly incarcerated people be granted the right to vote? Another one on which I need more info. Certainly in the abstract I agree with the idea that once someone has paid his debt to society, etc… And I’m certainly concerned about how black men, for instance, have historically been over-represented in our prisons. But I need to know more about which felons are currently denied a pathway to the franchise, and why. Maybe some of y’all can enlighten me. If it’s just a matter of certain people not wanting those people to vote (which would seem to be the reason why we’re hearing about this), then I’m with you on making the change.

OK, so not all the questions are stupid. But most of them are. And even the ones that aren’t stupid tend to play stupid in our politics today, with answers being based on the passions of one crowd or another and not on reason.

Perhaps unfairly, I’m lumping in these questions with questions like “Do you want to abolish ICE?,” which I got asked during the campaign even though it had NOTHING to do with being governor, and everything to do with trying to back a candidate into a corner.

Maybe it’s an unfair association. But then again, since that pretended to be about an actual issue, maybe these questions are worse.

Anyway, tell me what sort of president you would be. Talk to me about some real issue — health care, or the real biggie, international relations. Or cite what it is in your background that qualifies you and make me trust you. Don’t bore me with talk about re-rigging elections themselves to try to give this or that group a greater advantage. Just play the game straight, please…