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What Did Jeffrey Epstein Know?

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Epstein Opts for the Expedited Track
      •  What Is the Second Amendment Really about?
      •  It's Party Time in Iowa
      •  The Gaffe Machine Rolls On
      •  What Do the Democrats Want?
      •  The Mooch Turns
      •  Not an Organized Party
      •  DHS Official Calls for Paper Ballots in 2020
      •  Monday Q&A

Epstein Opts for the Expedited Track

A lot of people were hoping Jeffrey Epstein would be tried, convicted, sentenced to death, and then executed for his heinous crimes against teenage girls. Epstein decided to speed up the whole process and jump to the end by killing himself. Is this a political story or just other big news (like, say, the Boeing 737 Maxes)? Well, at first, it was only a little bit political because Epstein and Donald Trump were friends at one time and Epstein might have had some dirt on Trump. However, it is unlikely that Epstein would ever have revealed the dirt in court because even if by cooperating he could get his sentence reduced from, say, 45 years to 30 years, what difference would that have made to a 66-year-old? More likely, if the dirt really existed, Epstein would have told his lawyers to make a deal with Trump: Silence in return for a pardon on his last day in office. But that is all moot now.

Rather than just letting the investigations take their course to try to answer some key questions (e.g., why wasn't Epstein under suicide watch with a prison guard observing him 24/7, given that he'd already tried to commit suicide once?), Trump decided to inject himself into the matter. He did it by embracing a kooky conspiracy theory blaming Bill Clinton for Epstein's death. A Clinton spokesman replied by asking whether this was enough to trigger the 25th Amendment, which allows the veep and cabinet to remove the president when they think the president has lost all his marbles. Generally speaking, presidents don't attack former presidents and former presidents don't attack the sitting president. However, Trump promised to shake things up and accusing a former president of murder is certainly new.

Did Trump have a reason for starting a new controversy? Maybe? After all, by putting crazy conspiracy theories on the front page of every newspaper in America, the stories about the killings in El Paso and Dayton will be pushed off them. Now the topic du jour is suicide watch, not gun control.

Predictably, Democrats lambasted Trump for his assertion, presented with no evidence at all. Equally predictable, Kellyanne Conway went on television yesterday (Fox News, of course) to defend him, saying that all he wants is an investigation. She also downplayed Trump's ties to Epstein. However, at least one Republican, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), has called on AG William Barr to investigate the cause of Epstein's death. In his letter, Sasse wrote: "Given Epstein's previous attempted suicide, he should have been locked in a padded room under unbroken, 24/7, constant surveillance. Obviously, heads must roll." A head may finally roll, but most likely it will be that of some low-level official who decided to end Epstein's suicide watch.

CNN's Jake Tapper, who is generally pretty neutral, opened "State of the Union" with this quote:

Hello, I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is appalled. We begin this morning with a retweet from the president of the United States. Not a message about healing or uniting the country, one week after two horrifying massacres, not about the victims of the tragedies, instead President Trump using his massive Twitter platform, 63 million followers, to spread a deranged conspiracy theory tying the death of pedophile Jeffrey Epstein in prison to the president's former political rivals, the Clintons.

Trump's behavior puts journalists like Tapper in a real bind. The honest ones try to be balanced, but when politicians tell outright lies, some see it as their job to call them out.

The story won't end here, though. Epstein's madam, Ghislaine Maxwell, the daughter of disgraced newspaper magnate Robert Maxwell, who stole hundreds of millions of dollars from his employees' pension funds, could yet be charged with crimes for procuring the girls, if not in federal court then in the New York or Florida state courts. However, she is undoubtedly hiding somewhere in Europe, so finding her and extraditing her won't be easy.

In addition, Gloria Allred's daughter, Lisa Bloom, who was formerly Harvey Weinstein's lawyer, has now switched sides and is representing some of Epstein's victims. She is going to sue Epstein's estate for damages on behalf of the victims. Those cases could take quite a while even if she wins because Epstein had a habit of hiding money offshore in places that are especially difficult to find.

One also wonders if the Clintons might consider legal action against Trump. The bar for libeling a public figure is pretty high, but Trump likely crossed it. In essence, you have to prove that the libel: (1) was published, (2) clearly identified its target, (3) harmed its target, and (4) that the person/entity that published it either knew it was false or else was recklessly neglectful in verifying its accuracy. Normally, it is the fourth test that keeps most slurs against public officials from being libelous. However, Trump's tweet surely fails that test, as well as #1 and #2. That would leave #3 as the only real question on which a defense could be built. On one hand, one could argue that Bill Clinton has been accused of many things in his time, including abetting a murder, and that one more accusation doesn't change much. On the other hand, the past accusations did not come from the sitting president, and on a platform where they could instantly be seen by hundreds of millions of people. Undoubtedly, the Clintons do not need the money they might get in damages, but a high-profile lawsuit, in which a court castigates Donald Trump for being a reckless liar right in the middle of campaign season would not only be sweet revenge for them, it might work to the political benefit of the Democrats. (V & Z)

What Is the Second Amendment Really about?

On account of the shootings in El Paso and Dayton (and 249 other mass shootings in 2019 alone), the subject of gun control and the Second Amendment keeps coming up. The Second Amendment to the Constitution reads:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

What did the authors of the Amendment actually mean? As it turns out, they left a paper trail and explained quite clearly in Federalist 29, authored by Alexander Hamilton. It starts out with:

The power of regulating the militia, and of commanding its services in times of insurrection and invasion are natural incidents to the duties of superintending the common defense, and of watching over the internal peace of the Confederacy.

That makes it crystal clear that the well-regulated militia the founding parents had in mind was a group of civilians who, in time of insurrection and invasion, could be called up to defend the country. These people were expected to bring their own weapons, which is why the Constitution enshrines their right to own them. The entire content of Federalist 29 makes it clear that the purpose of the Amendment was to allow the country to defend itself in times of an emergency.

In modern terms, the well-regulated militia described there is what we now call the National Guard. There is nothing in Federalist 29 about the right of people to own guns to defend their lives and property. It is entirely about being called up when there is a national emergency to defend the country. That makes it more than a little bit surprising that the originalists on the Supreme Court completely disregarded the plain original intent discussed by Hamilton when ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller that citizens not part of a well-regulated militia could still own guns. If there is ever a majority on the Supreme Court that favors gun control, it is likely that Heller will be revisited, based on the clear content of Federalist 29.

One other historical note worth mentioning is this: The founding parents had a strong aversion to standing armies, which they felt were the tool that George III had used to exert his tyrannous rule. In fact, they strongly considered including a passage in the Constitution limiting the size of the U.S. no more than 5,000 soldiers. The primary reason they didn't do it is that George Washington smiled thinly and suggested they also put in a clause limiting invading armies to no more than 3,000 soldiers. Point being, they never envisioned a standing armed force of the size the United States currently has (1.35 million active personnel, 800,000 reservists).

Now, as rebels, Hamilton, Washington, et al., also had some concern about the possibility of a national government that overstepped its bounds and became tyrannous. After all, that is specifically what they were rebelling against, since George was their king. Someone like Thomas Jefferson, who took no part in the debates over the Constitution, might have argued that personal arms are a necessity for guarding against not only foreign aggression, but also possible domestic aggression from the federal government. In fact, people have invented pro-gun quotes from him, because they seem plausible coming from his mouth. However, he never expressed this view publicly, or in his published writings, and in any case, it would have been a minority position among the founding parents. They expected the Constitution itself, and not armed citizens, to protect against this sort of tyranny. Washington himself made this clear during his presidency, as armed citizens in Pennsylvania took up arms against the tyrannies of his administration, as they saw them. The President put together an army larger than any he had commanded during the Revolutionary War (13,000 men), and personally led them to Pennsylvania to put the rebellion down.

In short, the historical evidence is quite overwhelming. If you were to manage to resurrect Washington, or Hamilton, or James Madison, or John Jay, they would undoubtedly agree that the Second Amendment had outlived its purpose. Jefferson might grumble a bit about it, but even he would acknowledge that a citizenry armed with rifles and guns of various sorts is no serious threat to a government armed with tanks and planes and bombs and even bigger rifles and guns of various sorts. (V & Z)

It's Party Time in Iowa

Actually, it is both party time and Party time in the Hawkeye State. Every four years, the annual State Fair gets spiced up with politicians hovering about like horseflies in a stable, eating fried pork chops on a stick (or fried PB & J, if you're a vegan like Cory Booker), kissing babies, and posing for selfies with fairgoers. This year the Democrats own the show, with most of the presidential contenders expected to take part. The fair runs for 11 days.

For a while, it looked like Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) were the only candidates seriously interested in winning the Iowa caucuses. Both have large ground operations in the state. In particular, Joe Biden hadn't been paying much attention to Iowa, probably in part because he is already widely known there. But he has decided that losing Iowa could be the beginning of the end for him, so he now has 75 full-time paid staffers on the ground and another 20 unpaid volunteers who have undergone an 8-week training program. He is planning to have 12 field offices open in Iowa before the end of the summer and 25 before the caucuses.

More noteworthy is that Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) has paid so little attention to Iowa that many observers just assumed she was skipping the (nearly all white) caucuses as hopeless, and betting on South Carolina and Nevada, which are more diverse, the former being heavily black and the latter being heavily Latino. But now that a Monmouth poll has put Harris in third place in Iowa, after Biden and Warren, she is apparently rethinking her strategy and making a real effort in Iowa. She is even running television ads in the state already. Her reasoning is undoubtedly for her to come in third in a state that is over 90% white would be a win, not a loss. Also providing some motivation is the fact that Sue and Bob Dvorsky, who command a great deal of influence among Iowa Democrats, just gave her their endorsement, with Sue declaring that the Democrats need the best candidate, not the one that they are scared into nominating because of their fear of losing to Donald Trump (i.e., Biden).

Iowa does have a track record of picking winners for the Democrats, but not so much for Republicans. Here are the recent winners:

Year Democrat Republican
2016 Hillary Clinton Ted Cruz
2012 Barack Obama Rick Santorum
2008 Barack Obama Mike Huckabee
2004 John Kerry George W. Bush
2000 Al Gore George W. Bush

The last time the winner of the Democratic Iowa caucuses wasn't the Party's nominee was in 1992, when favorite son Tom Harkin got 76% of the vote. In that year, Bill Clinton got only 3% in Iowa, and still went on to win the nomination and the White House. That might provide some consolation to this year's three-percenters, but not so much. (V)

The Gaffe Machine Rolls On

Joe Biden is famous for gaffes. He even called himself a "gaffe machine" earlier this year. They just keep coming, like these recent ones:

  • Those kids in Parkland came up to see me when I was vice president
  • Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids
  • We chose truth over facts

He also recently referred to Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister of the U.K. (confusing her with Theresa May) and talked about the killings in El Paso and Dayton by calling them: "the tragic events in Houston today and also in Michigan the day before." None of these remarks are lies. He didn't mean to deceive anyone, and when the gaffes were pointed out to him, he immediately corrected them.

Nevertheless, the gaffes could ultimately prove harmful to him as they suggest that, at 76, the cheese is slipping off the cracker. Donald Trump is clearly going to use his gaffes to paint him as unsuited to be commander in chief. Last week, Trump said: "Look, Joe is not playing with a full deck." The analogies are going to come fast and furious, and if enough Democrats begin to think that Biden is too old and confused to be president, they may start looking for someone else to head the 2020 ticket. (V)

What Do the Democrats Want?

Do you know:

  • Cory Booker's views on breaking up big tech firms?
  • Pete Buttigieg's position on nuclear power?
  • Elizabeth Warren's thoughts on marijuana?
  • Kamala Harris' program for trade?
  • Bernie Sanders' plans for bail in the criminal justice system?
  • Joe Biden's ideas about the Green New Deal?

If not, here is an article for you. Politico has tracked down the positions of 25 Democratic presidential candidates, and written a concise summary of each, on a wide gamut of issues including (but not limited to) criminal justice, cybersecurity, the economy, education, elections, energy and the environment, food and agriculture, gun control, health care, infrastructure, marijuana, the military, taxes, technology, and trade. All of the issues have subissues. For example, trade deals with China, NAFTA/USMCA, TPP 2.0, and tariffs. You can search by candidate or by issue.

Just for the record:

  • Booker wants to study the big tech issue
  • Buttigieg is for nuclear power
  • Warren wants to legalize marijuana
  • Harris doesn't want to use tariffs to punish other countries
  • Sanders is against cash bail
  • Biden supports the Green New Deal

But that is only a handful of the hundreds of positions the candidates have taken. (V)

The Mooch Turns

Anthony Scaramucci, who was White House communications director for 11 days before being summarily fired by Donald Trump, used to be a big fan of the President, even after being canned. Yesterday Scaramucci, often called "The Mooch," tweeted:

Maybe Scaramucci is right, but Trump does seem to be consistent. As long as someone is 100% loyal to him and defends him all the time (see: Conway, Kellyanne, above) that person is safe. But as soon as anyone begins to have insufficient loyalty, he or she is out.

Scaramucci told the BBC yesterday that he didn't think Trump used to be a racist, but he is now turning into one. That is a strange position, given the President's long history of discriminatory remarks and actions, and should be interpreted as "the Mooch" giving himself cover for just now deciding to denounce Trump. (V)

Not an Organized Party

Many times, we have quoted one of the most famous quips in American political history, namely Will Rogers' remark that "I am not a member of any organized party—I am a Democrat." It's been close to a century since he said that, and yet the Party keeps finding ways to prove him correct. The latest object lesson is the wonky rules for the third and fourth candidates' debates. Both of those debates have the same bar to qualify, namely: (1) 130,000 unique donors, including at least 400 donors in 20 different states; and (2) recording at least 2% in at least four different recognized polls. However, the cutoff date for the fourth debate (two weeks before the October debate, which has not yet been scheduled) is considerably later than the cutoff for the third (Aug. 28). The result is that everyone who makes the third debate stage automatically makes it to the fourth debate, plus the field could expand by 1-5 candidates in between the two events.

The latest candidate of the nine who have made the cut is Andrew Yang, by virtue of his 2% showing in the recent Monmouth University poll of Iowa. Eight others had already punched their tickets: Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend), Kamala Harris, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN), Beto O'Rourke, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Elizabeth Warren.

The DNC hasn't yet said what it will do if only nine (or ten) people qualify. Will they hold a single event with everyone on stage, or will they split it across two nights? And what happens if only nine qualify for debate three, but then 11 or 12 qualify for debate four? Ten is pretty much the upper limit for one night; even at that number some candidates barely get to speak, and are practically left standing off stage. The only plausible solution, it would seem, is to simply commit to two more rounds of two nights' worth of debates. That avoids shrinking the schedule to one, only to have to expand it back to two a month later. But it also makes it very likely that the three leading candidates, namely Biden, Warren, and Sanders, will once again end up distributed across separate nights.

Incidentally, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), former HUD secretary Julián Castro, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) have already met the donor threshold, and are waiting, respectively, for three more polls, two more, and one more to clear the bar. Billionaire Tom Steyer has met the polling threshold, and is unleashing his financial might to make sure he clears the donor threshold. Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) hasn't met either threshold, but needs just 2 more polls, and is at least halfway on the donors, by virtue of having qualified for debate two. Same for John Hickenlooper, except he needs three more polls.

Presumably, the DNC will decide that enough is enough, and that while giving everyone a chance is nice, the time has come to limit the list, so that voters can get a good, long look at the people who are serious contenders for the nomination. Well, that's what an organized party would do, at least. Who knows what the Democrats will do? (V & Z)

DHS Official Calls for Paper Ballots in 2020

On Friday, Chris Krebs, the top cybersecurity official at the Dept. of Homeland Security, pushed for paper ballots for the 2020 election. Among other things, he told attendees of the DEFCON conference in Las Vegas: "Gotta get auditability, I'll say it, gotta have a paper ballot backup." This doesn't mean voting machines have no role. They could be used to help people record their preferences, but the end result of using the machine has to be a paper ballot that is printed out and then optically scanned. DEFCON is one of the top security conferences in the world and election security is a hot topic there.

Krebs also pointed out the problems getting from here to there. A number of states use voting machines that do not have a paper trail. Replacing them will cost money. Congress could supply the money, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has already made it very clear that he is not going to bring up an election security bill in the Senate. State legislatures could provide the funding, but they tend to be very miserly when it comes to something the legislators don't think is important, such as election security., a private group dedicated to making elections secure, has produced a map showing what kind of voting equipment is used in each state. Only four states—Delaware, Louisiana, Georgia, and South Carolina, three of them red, and having a long history of questionable elections—have no paper ballots at all and use exclusively voting machines that can't be audited. However, many states have a mixture of voting technologies, usually with each county doing whatever it wants to, and many counties opting with paperless options (e.g., only 2% of New Jersey's voters cast votes that leave a paper trail). (V)

Monday Q&A

As promised, we start with another round of gun-related questions.

NPR broadcast a soundbite from president Donald Trump yesterday, calling for increased restrictions on the mentally ill, so as to reduce gun violence. This was immediately followed by another soundbite, claiming that mental illness figures in only 7% of mass shootings. Are there good studies indicating the effectiveness of universal background checks, smaller capacity magazines, higher penalties for straw purchasers, etc.? For that matter, what is the effect of open carry laws, or restrictions on machine guns or silencers? Do we have any data? Or are we just "shooting from the hip"? M.M., San Jose, CA

There are a lot of studies, because there are a lot of pro-gun and anti-gun groups who want data to support their positions. That means a lot of research dollars are available. It also means that it's easy to find a study that supports just about any conclusion (although it's very clear that, as NPR pointed out, "mental illness" is almost entirely a red herring when it comes to mass shootings, albeit much less so when it comes to other kinds of gun-related deaths).

With that said, there was a very good study from a group of researchers at Boston University that was published earlier this year. It was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which is a public health advocacy group, and not a pro-gun or anti-gun lobby. The authors undertook a rigorous review of a dozen types of gun-control measures to address the same basic question you asked, namely: "What works?"

Their conclusion, in short, was that there are three things that tend to work much better than anything else: universal background checks, bans on gun ownership for violent offenders, and "may-issue" laws (which means that the police grant concealed-carry permits at their discretion, as opposed to everyone who applies). However, the other key finding of the study is that these three things only work well when they are done in concert. To put this another way, what they are arguing is that the most effective thing is not to limit guns or ammunition or large-capacity clips, it's to put strong limits on who can get those items. But if you don't do everything possible to keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them, then you're wasting your time.

Note also that the authors did not limit themselves to large-scale mass shootings. Those are rare enough that it's a bit hard to generalize. Further, far more people are killed in smaller-scale mass shootings. And even more than that are killed in individual shootings (murders, robberies, etc.). And even more than that die in gun-related suicides. To put a number on it, about 1,000 people a year are killed in mass shootings of various types, about 11,000 a year are killed in homicides, and about 20,000 a year die in suicides. So, any meaningful change should be focused primarily on the latter two categories.

In all the discussion of possible national gun control efforts, I never seem to hear anything about possible legislation creating a voluntary federal gun buyback program. It seems to me that if that were coupled with a ban on the future sale of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, it could actually have a positive effect. The guns could be distributed to the military and/or various law enforcement agencies, or otherwise destroyed. Why does this approach not seem to be on anyone's radar? G.E., Saratoga Springs, NY

You're describing the Australian model. In 1996, the infamous Port Arthur Massacre resulted in the deaths of 35 people at the hands of a lone gunman. The folks down under were horrified, and a carrot and stick approach was adopted, in which gun ownership became much more restrictive (the stick), but people were allowed to turn in their guns for cash (the carrot). Approximately 20% of all the arms in Australia were acquired by government authorities, including a large percentage of the most dangerous guns (assault rifles, etc.). In the next 7 years, the Aussies had a 42 percent decrease in homicide rates and a 57 percent decrease in suicide rates.

As to the U.S., it's not entirely true that nobody is proposing this. Beyond various municipal and anti-gun groups, Joe Biden has just embraced the idea as part of his platform (and some of his rivals, including Beto O'Rourke and Bernie Sanders, are moving in that direction). However, it is hard to be optimistic about how well this approach might work in the United States. First, when the Australians implemented their program, there were about 3 million guns in the country, meaning that the government bought back about 600,000 guns. In the U.S., by contrast, there are...393 million guns. To make any sort of meaningful dent in that would be very expensive, and would also be a massive logistical undertaking. Beyond that, it is likely that most of the most dangerous guns would not be turned in, because they are in the hands of people who would not surrender them voluntarily. That is to say, the exact sort of people who should not have been allowed to purchase a gun in the first place, if you believe the study we discussed in the answer above.

What does the latest polling show regarding universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons? S.D., Scottsdale, AZ

Well, the very latest poll was published a few days ago by Politico/Morning Consult, and found that more than 90% of voters support universal background checks. As to assault weapons bans, 70% of all voters, and 55% of Republicans, expressed support. This means that Donald Trump was either making it up, or lying, when he said there was "no appetite" for such changes among voters.

With that said, take those numbers with a grain of salt, as they always spike right after a high-profile mass shooting. If you want a more comprehensive picture, Gallup has compiled the results of their gun-related polls from the last 20 years. If you look over the data, you will notice the following:

  • The trendline on households that own guns is headed downward over time; these days about 40% of households have at least one gun.
  • The trendline on support for more gun restrictions is headed upward over time; these days, about 2/3 of Americans consistently support stricter laws.
  • There is somewhat consistent support for a partial ban on assault weapons; roughly 60% feel that way.
  • However, a total ban on assault weapons has not had majority support in 20 years. You can thank the NRA for that.
  • Support for background checks is pretty consistently in the 90s.

In short, because the furor over Dayton and El Paso will die down, and because the NRA is very powerful, and because gun advocates tend to be single-issue voters, don't hold your breath waiting for an assault weapons ban (particularly a total ban—and what would be the point of a partial ban?). On the other hand, background checks just might happen (although the NRA has already warned Trump to knock off that kind of talk).

I saw the question about California's new law requiring presidential/gubernatorial candidates to submit their tax returns, and I agree, it is hard to come up with a hypothetical that the red states could use that would pass muster with the courts but I still worry they'll come up with something:

   • Disclose if you are a gun owner or have a hunting license?
   • Disclose the groups you are a member of, including whether or not you are a member of a church?
   • Grades? Obviously not what Trump would want, but maybe in the future?
   • Disclose if you have ever accepted government assistance?

But again, that's my imagination. When it is Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller doing the imagining, it could go to a pretty dark place.
J.G., San Diego, CA

We're going to stick with our answer, namely that it will be hard to craft a red-state counter-move. In fact, we would suggest that you're actually helping us to prove our point.

Recall that the two tests for legal ballot access laws, established by extensive jurisprudence, are these: (1) Does the law discriminate? and (2) Does the law serve the public good? Nearly all of your hypotheticals clearly fail the first test. For example, requiring a candidate to announce if they've ever accepted government assistance would discriminate on the basis of class. Requiring information about church membership would not only discriminate on the basis of religion, it would almost certainly violate a candidate's First Amendment rights, not to mention the Article VI prohibition against religious tests as a qualification for office.

Another issue that we raised in the last answer is, for lack of a better term, practicality. For example, it would not be hard to acquire (or to get rid of) a gun/hunting license, should the circumstances call for one scenario or the other. As to grades, what if a person went to a school that no longer exists? Or one that did not use grades? What if they didn't go to college? Requiring college grades from someone like that would discriminate against them; waiving that requirement for someone like that would discriminate against those who do have a college degree. As to government assistance, what does that mean? Unless it was limited to something like food stamps (which would, again, be discriminatory) then just about every candidate for office has taken out student loans, or has gone on unemployment. Even Donald Trump has gotten federal assistance, such as the post-Hurricane Maria funds that were used to "rebuild" Mar-a-Lago. In short, it would be difficult to apply these things fairly to all candidates, and to make certain that meaningful information was gleaned.

There is, we think, one thing that makes tax returns basically unique: precedent. If a state were to force candidates to reveal their church membership, or their grades, or their credit rating, or their shoe size, or whether they are a Gryffindor or a Slytherin, then the attorneys for the ACLU would be able to make an excellent argument in terms of public good: How come these things were never necessary before? When it comes to candidate finances, however, there is now a generations-long tradition of (nearly all) candidates submitting their tax returns (or a financial statement). And before that, presidents (e.g., Herbert Hoover) often put their assets into a blind trust. In other words, since the rise of the industrial economy, and with it ultra-complicated personal finance, the public has been getting some sort of reassurance about presidents' financial situations. All California is doing is taking longstanding custom and tradition and enshrining it into law.

In your August 8th post, there's a Quinnipiac poll that has respondents broken down by political ideology (Very Liberal, Somewhat Liberal, and Moderate) where Warren won the Very Liberal folks, Biden won the Moderates, and the Somewhat Liberal folks were not sure where to turn. I'm curious if there's any data on how much of the Electorate (or Primary voters) identifies in each category (assuming those are valid). If that population is known, would it be easier to predict things like state results? For that matter, do Independents line up Liberal or Moderate? It would make sense that population in each camp would be the best indicator of electability, don't you think? M.L., Kuwait City, Kuwait

In the Thursday Q&A, you took a question from a reader in Mountain View, CA. One of the central concerns was the effort to "excite the base" vs winning over Trump voters. I feel like an opportunity was missed here to discuss something critically important in this election: Who is the base of the Democratic Party? Unless I've read everything completely wrong, polling clearly shows that the overwhelming majority of Democratic voters identify as moderate. The progressive wing is on the order of 25% or less of the party. Am I wrong about that? It's an important distinction in talking about how to win the election. D.F., Birmingham, AL

As is sometimes the case, we thought these questions were similar enough that they should be presented together, but different enough that they should both be answered.

Anyhow, there is data on how various Democrats identify (albeit using categories slightly different from those used by Quinnipiac). Here's a chart, put together by the folks at FiveThirtyEight, and based on Gallup's polling data:

In the 1990s, 
about 50% of Democrats identified as Moderate, while about 25% each identified as Liberal and Conservative. Today,
a little over 50% identify as Liberal, while 35% identify as Moderate and only 15% identify as Conservative

As you can see, the majority of today's Democrats identify as Liberal. That's the first time that has been true since the early 1970s. The Moderate faction is shrinking, and the Conservative faction is now a small minority.

The problem with these labels is that it is hard to know what they mean. There is no question that part of the movement leftward is because younger people coming into the Party are more likely to be liberal, while folks leaving the Party (either due to death or re-registration) are more likely to be conservative. But it is also the case that part of the movement leftward isn't movement at all; it's people redefining themselves in relation to Donald Trump and/or the rightward movement of the Republican Party. And if it is not possible to tease out the real movement from the movement caused by changes in perception, it's hard to know if there is really substantially greater support for progressive policies/candidates, or less support for moderate policies/candidates. Further, on an election-by-election basis, it's hard to know which faction is most likely to hold its nose and vote for a less-than-ideal candidate.

As to independents, that label is largely meaningless. The vast majority of "independents" are actually loyalists to one party or the other (more commonly, to the GOP) who like to think of themselves as fair-minded and not beholden to partisan politics, but are as much a part of Team Red or Team Blue as actual members of the parties. Of the remainder that don't match that description, there are too few of them, and they are too eclectic, for purposes of meaningful political analysis, or maneuvering.

Can you recommend any resources that tell a fair story of the Clintons? Resources that separate the facts from the hype about the Clintons legacy and culpability? Everything seems weighted to one side or another. For example, The Hunting of the President has some good information, yet seems written to paint Bill as a victim. Of course, the Epstein arrest and death brings this up now, but I've long wondered what is known about allegations such as Whitewater, sexual abuse allegations, Hillary's treatment of accusers, Susan McDougal and so on. Usually, conspiracy theories have a sliver of truth to build from. I'd like to know what is real and what isn't. M.R., Cascade, CO

Not an easy task. There are some significant obstacles when it comes to the production of a book like the one you describe. To start, there is so much information. Robert Caro and Robert Dallek each managed to crank out 3,000 pages on Lyndon Johnson, and he was just one guy whose first 20 or so years were not that well documented. The Clintons are two people and live in the Information Age. Beyond that, there is enormous pressure on popular authors to produce strongly anti-Clinton or strongly pro-Clinton screeds, because those are what sell. As to academic authors, the Clintons are generally a little recent for them, in part because much of the documentary evidence that would be needed is not available to researchers yet.

That said, we can give you a few suggestions. David Maraniss writes very good and very fair works, and although his biography of Bill is a little outdated (written 1995), it's a solid overview of the President, his marriage, and his career. The best companion to that, by the political scientist Gil Troy, is Hillary Rodham Clinton: Polarizing First Lady, which covers the White House years, as you might expect. Susan Bordo's The Destruction of Hillary Clinton starts with the assumption that most of the mud was hurled at her unfairly, and is interested in figuring out where the mud came from and why (answer, most of the time, per Bordo: sexism). Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox is a collection of essays which would, at very least, give you a bunch of different perspectives. Or, if you want it short and sweet, you could read Bill's volume in the American Presidents series, which was edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (the longtime dean of U.S. political historians) before he passed away.

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