As usual, lots of interesting stuff from the readers.
This Week's Impeachment Thoughts
V & Z: I am amazed at how fast the House leaders want the impeachment vote, prior to the Christmas break. Waiting until after the holidays will allow full focus from the public. Plus, the final decision on Trump's financial records will be made, more items for the Mueller Report could be used, and any inspection of the involvement of the Vice President in the affair could be resolved. I understand the fear of 2020 Presidential Candidates missing campaigning in Iowa, but they can make being vocal jurors a political plus. By delaying until the middle of January, a pattern of corruption can be more visible to the general public. Also, the delay will place more pressure on the GOP to continue defending the impossible. D.H., Lisbon Falls, ME
V & Z: You wrote: "[A] presidential impeachment and removal would be an event of enormous consequence, one that effectively overruled tens of millions of voters."
I am so tired of this misleading trope. Impeachment was built into the constitutional system by the Framers because they knew there would be times when the nation should not or could not wait to remove a corrupt officer of the United States. Moreover, impeachment doesn't "overturn the results of the election," as Republicans are now chanting. Mike Pence would become President, just as the voters determined would happen if Trump could no longer occupy the office.
But you know what did overturn the election, trampling on the wishes of a plurality of the voters? The Electoral College. That's another anti-democratic provision of the Constitution that permits 538 individuals to decide that the candidate who doesn't get the most votes still gets to be President. The consequences there were also much greater: Hillary Clinton won the election, but Trump took office. Trump replacing Clinton was a much bigger change than would be Pence replacing Trump.
If you're ok with the Electoral College trampling on the will of the voters, you have to be ok with the Impeachment Clause doing the same with much less ultimate effect. R.M., Brooklyn, NY
Note: We are entirely in agreement with you. Hopefully it was clear that, when we wrote that, we were paraphrasing the main thrust of the memo written by Bill Clinton's lawyers, and not advancing our own opinion.
V & Z: In your discussion of the bribery charge against President Trump, I think you got it exactly backwards. It's not that Trump bribed the Ukrainians, it's that he solicited a bribe from the Ukrainians. A bribe is a personal payment in exchange for an official action. In this case, the personal payment was the announcement about investigating the Bidens, and the official action was releasing the aid that had been appropriated for Ukraine. M.T., Ann Arbor, MI
Note: Our "second way" of looking at things was meant to communicate this very point, but perhaps it was not as clear as we thought.
V & Z: I listened to the four professors speak during the impeachment hearing and found Jonathan Turley's arguments to be perplexing, at best. It sounded like he was saying that if only the Democrats would slow their roll, they could successfully impeach Trump. He also kept comparing it to the Johnson impeachment because that impeachment was, according to him, fast and highly partisan. The most important thing to me is: How can someone state with authority what makes a successful impeachment given that there are only 2-1/2 (I give Nixon the half since he resigned before the Impeachment vote took place) data points to draw from?
It seems to me that until America has a number of successful impeachments that one can't really make a determination of how best to proceed, and possibly not even then because of other influencing factors. Perhaps impeachment proceedings need to be like a good film, sometimes the story can be told in 90 minutes but other times it will take 3-1/2 hours. In other words, it takes as long as it needs to take. D.E., Lilitz, PA
Note: We are on the record as having a low opinion of Jonathan Turley's analysis, which seems to commit Sherlock Holmes' cardinal sin of twisting facts to suit theories rather than theories to suit facts. We're not the only ones; reader L.K. directs our attention to this CNN op-ed documenting that Turley's views on impeachment seem to depend an awful lot on whether it is a Democrat or a Republican who is under the microscope.
V & Z: You wrote: "And by the way, if it turns out (and can be proven) that he's deep in hock to the Russians, that could very well be the 'smoking gun' that tips the scales on impeachment."
It is highly unlikely that Trump's debts to Russians will influence the impeachment or trial in the Senate. The House is moving fast, so it is not likely that Trump's finances or tax returns will be disclosed before the impeachment vote. That means the only probable influence would be on the trial in the Senate. Should damaging information on Trump's finances or taxes or money laundering or emoluments or other scandals come out in the interim, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will push the trial and acquittal through in a few days.
Trump's debts will certainly be complicated and confusing to the general public. There would be estimates of the debt that would be disputed by Trump and his defenders. Many of Trump's base will reject the information, as they have with the mountain of scandals that have unfolded thus far. It would not sway a large portion of the population in the short term, it would take time for the evidence to be accepted.
I think it would take information so damaging that Trump's company would be exposed as a house of cards and was dramatically collapsing as loans were called in, and investors and contractors abandoned the Trump company. G.W., Oxnard, CA
Maybe He Is Still Joe Cool
V & Z: Until this week, I didn't know that Joe Biden stuttered. Can't recall where I read about it (NPR, New Yorker, Electoral-Vote.com, somewhere else?) but the author of the article indicated that Biden's stutter: (1) isn't something he's interested in discussing AT ALL; and (2) may help to explain some of his pauses and odd speech patterns. In the item "Joe Loses His Cool," (Z) has several references to Biden's speaking patterns, including "a bit of stuttering," and "if he stumbles and mumbles." I'm not trying to be "snowflake-y" about this issue, but given that Biden may actually have a speech impediment, if I'm using my better judgment I'd probably either indicate that in the article, or not use those phrases. T.S., Memphis, TN
Note: This is a very tricky issue. On one hand, we don't want to be guilty of criticizing or mocking a handicap of any sort. On the other hand, Biden will be judged by voters for his less-than-stellar public speaking, whether that is fair or not. Further, if he's unwilling to discuss the stutter (as you note), but he also wants to be given extra leeway, that's dangerously close to trying to have it both ways. We don't have a great answer as to how to handle all of this, as yet, but we're going to have to come up with one if he's the nominee.
V & Z: I listened to the full footage and actually found that Joe Biden did not lose his cool at all, given the accusation and deliberate provocation that was made. As for the push-ups and the IQ, that was clearly unrelated to the Ukraine issue, but rather in response to the first part of the comments made by the voter, which was basically to say that Biden was too old. Offering to prove his mental and physical fitness is a perfectly sensible response to that. F.P., Paris, France
V & Z: In an obvious and very uncharacteristic mistake, you left out the "you're too old to be president" part of the commentator's (he was not a questioner) comment (more of an assault, really) to Biden. If you had not made this exclusion, the idea of "push ups" and "IQ tests", etc. would have been explained. The rest of the post was, characteristically, very good. J.K., Freehold, NJ
V & Z: It seems to me that in arguing with a questioner and using the word "damn," Joe Biden was channeling Harry Truman and others who have used emphatic semi-off-color language to appear tough and folksy. This, of course, serves to counter the perception that he's a colorless old white guy.
If this approach works, it wouldn't surprise me if we hear less of "malarkey" from Biden and more of the emphatic (and, for that matter, more common) "Bullshit!". J.F., Bala Cynwyd, PA
Note: We'll have to see if Biden threatens to kick someone in the testicles next.
The Horse Race Continues
V & Z: Regardless of whether Joe Biden's "offer" to consider Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) for the VP slot is serious or not, it makes a ton of sense to put the possibility out there at this point in time. With Harris gone, her voters are up for grabs. Her dropping out frees up maybe as much as 5 points nationally, and something like 8 points in California. If Biden could absorb most of those voters, it could make all the difference in the race. Since dropping out, we've heard lots of nice things being said about her by everybody else—Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend), even Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) managed the Twitter equivalent of a light pat on the back on her way out. They're all gunning for her supporters, but which of these candidates would pick her as their VP? Buttigieg maybe, but as you pointed out, they don't necessarily pair off that well. Ergo, Biden. Even if it's just to pander, the claim that Harris is on his short list for VP is perhaps believable enough to pull some of her fans into the fold. C.J., Honolulu, HI
Note: Politico had a pretty good item on this basic subject this week.
V & Z: I was somewhat bothered, as an African American that "generally supports" the President, about the remark that was made about the supposed 10% of Blacks that favored Trump over Lincoln.
Although I could never, ever put Trump on the same pedestal as Lincoln, I believe that black voters should never be put in a box when it comes to our political beliefs. Perhaps these 10% are constitutionally conscious, and don't like Lincoln because he suspended Habeas Corpus, or because he paid black Union soldiers less than their white counterparts. Who knows what their reasons were? Anyhow, I think that was an insensitive remark, especially since we know that there are educational barriers in communities of color. G.H., Calumet, WI
Note: A fair criticism. Our snark was directed more at the poll, which had many results that don't pass the smell test. But you're absolutely right that white folks (like us) should not presume to dictate or make assumptions about the historical understanding of black folks.
V & Z: This past Wednesday, Hillary Clinton was on the Howard Stern Show for a 2 hour, 24 minute interview. Besides talking politics, she talked about how she met Bill, her love of classic rock, and just had a great conversation with Stern. I can't help thinking had she done this interview in September 2016, perhaps 80,000 votes could have been swayed in MI, PA, and WI and we would not be in the mess we are in now. R.V., Pittsburgh, PA
Note: The same could be said of Al Gore, who removed the pole from...well, let's just call it a south pole, and made a very endearing appearance on Saturday Night Live after his defeat in 2000. If he'd shown that Al Gore before the election, he surely would have won.
V & Z: You said that people were being hypocritical interpreting Bill Clinton's acts as tolerable and condemning Donald Trump's. Wrong! Bill Clinton's affairs violated his marriage vows and were consensual. Many women have accused Trump of non-consensual sexual misconduct. Bill Clinton never had sex with anyone who did not consent. And no, the Paula Jones case was not sexual harassment, as the only legal opinion in the case has stated. A.S., Los Angeles, CA
Note: This is a case of not having time to make things quite as clear as we wanted. The hypocritical part was not drawing a distinction between Clinton and Trump, but "drawing a bright red line." There's a strong case that Clinton's misdeeds were far less problematic than Trump's. However, it's not a slam dunk—he was accused of rape, and one can argue that the power imbalance between Clinton and his sexual partners was great enough that the sex was coercive.
More Notes on Scandals
V & Z: In Andrew Jackson's duel in which he killed his opponent, my reading says that he aimed directly for the groin, not the chest, so he would inflict the most painful and protracted death he could.
In the election of 1824, William Crawford finished third, not fourth, in the electoral vote and was included in the voting by the House. Henry Clay finished fourth and threw his support to John Quincy Adams, thus infuriating Jackson with the idea of a "corrupt bargain". Van Buren's support of Crawford meant that he supported the only one of Jackson's three opponents that Jackson didn't despise. R.F., Eugene, OR
Note: Correct on all points. The guns of the early 19th century, which lacked rifling, were not terribly accurate. That was especially true if they were loaded incorrectly, and it's possible that Jackson's dueling pistol was.
V & Z: The New York Times printed portions of the Pentagon Papers. Then-Sen. Mike Gravel (D-AK) wanted the full text published so the public could read it all. A history of this can be found here; this is a quote from the article:Gravel wanted to make the papers widely accessible to the public and sought a private publisher to distribute them. Dozens of commercial and university publishing houses rejected Gravel's proposal, citing near-guaranteed political persecution and a bleak bottom line. Gravel, one of just two Unitarian Universalists in the Senate, then tried Beacon Press, a department of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Ideologically, Beacon felt compelled to publish and agreed to take on the Pentagon Papers, despite financial and political risks.
As a result of publishing the papers, President Nixon personally attacked Beacon Press, the director of the press was subpoenaed to appear at Daniel Ellsberg's trial, and J. Edgar Hoover approved an FBI subpoena of the entire denomination's bank records.
My family is Unitarian, and my parents made many financial donations to the church (I was 15 in 1971). My mother was very proud to be on Nixon's "enemies list." L.B., Friendswood, TX
V & Z: Your summary of Chappaquiddick says that Ted Kennedy's "passenger" did not survive. But what if she was the driver?
One plausible theory has been advanced by Sports Illustrated author Jack Olsen and others. Deputy Chris Look spots Kennedy's car, and is in uniform as he gets out to see if they need help. Kennedy spots Look and takes off. He drives out of sight towards the bridge and then stops the car. He tells Mary Jo to drive around for a bit and then come back for him; that way they won't be found together and he won't be behind the wheel (possibly drunk) should Look happen to intercept them.
Mary Jo is 5 foot 1 and usually drives a VW bug. Kennedy is 6 foot 2 and is driving a big Oldsmobile. Suddenly she is alone in a car where her feet barely touch the pedals driving down an unlit road she does not know. The bridge pitches off the road at a fairly sharp angle, but she doesn't know that. She keeps driving straight and the car goes off the bridge. Kennedy is back up at the corner and waits and waits and waits and finally goes back to the cottage for help. By the time they find the car they do have to dive into "a strong current" to examine the car. But around midnight when Kennedy was first allegedly at the bridge, the tidal charts tell us the water was flat calm.
Several other facts fit this theory. But Markham and Gargan and Kennedy concocted another story they hoped would put Kennedy in a better light. D.C., Delray Beach, Florida
V & Z: Growing up in a Catholic family in the tiny Western New York town of Cattaraugus, my family was in the minority, surrounded by United Methodists and Wesleyan Methodists...and Republicans. But I was a smart girl and could generally hold forth in current events discussions. That is, until the candidacy of John F. Kennedy came up one day, and then I saw for the first time how strict party allegiance can transform reality utterly.
I'm old enough to remember seeing Kennedy for the first time on TV at the Democratic National Convention in 1956 when he went up against Kefauver for the VP spot, and being smitten at age 13. The TV was relatively new in our household, and my dad was a news hound, so I was allowed to watch as much coverage of politics as I wanted. He and my mother were pretty conservative, and I was shocked that they were going to vote for boring Dwight D. Eisenhower when Adlai Stevenson seemed so much more lively.
In any event, when the 1960 election came around, I was a senior in high school and I was all-in. The nuns that taught us Catholic kids in a little release-time class once a week were all in. And I'm sure my mother, born Margaret Elizabeth Kelly, voted for JFK regardless of my father's opinion. We were so proud of him, we of Irish descent, who had suffered the prejudice against our forebears as poor drunken louts. We were all taken in by the wonderful looks, that hair!, the charm and wit, the grace, the Gift of Gab, the Common Touch—a lovely talent that not so many politicians have now, but the best do (maybe Biden a little?) Back then, we were spared all the unsavory aspects of entitled men.
No, the scandalous headlines were not about sex, but rather Rome: the Pope would be running the country! Being a Catholic (long since fallen!), I had been taught that the Pope could only be infallible in questions of faith and morals, and so would have no say in government policy. So, when JFK's ability to govern was called into question in social studies class, it was a big surprise to me when the jocks, who in any other discussion would be shooting paper wads or staring out the window, suddenly had all kinds of knowledge and insight into what a Catholic president would be compelled to do .They even deferred to a poor girl who was truly intellectually handicapped and usually treated as a dunce, but because her family was Catholic (and her father was the county GOP chair.) she became "The Expert" that day, and my opinions counted for nothing. It was a good lesson, but very painful at the time.
And, by hook or by crook, JFK won the presidency. The charm of the First Family, a record album for God's sake, the sweet children in the rocking chair, on the boat...all destroyed in a horrible barrage of gunfire in Dallas under totally suspicious circumstances. Black Jack behind the hearse with the boots turned around, the panicky feeling that our country was out of control. To this day, I cannot listen to The Navy Hymn without tearing up. We were lucky to have Lyndon B. Johnson, as it turned out, but at the time it felt like a miserable step down, a descent from grace into corn pone and holding a beagle up by its ears for the cameras.
And then to lose Bobby, too. And MLK. Assassination taking these unique leaders' lives...leaving us bereft.
So then, when Chappaquiddick became a household word on a summer night, it was too much to look at very closely. Horror and shame and disgust...mixed in with all the other losses...so painful.
And he waited 9 hours to call the police.
And lived to do quite a lot of good in the world.
But the poor families, poor weak human nature. Sophocles would have known how to write it all. M.B., Pittsboro, NC
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec06 Pelosi Marches Forward
Dec06 Joe Loses His Cool
Dec06 Kim Promises "Christmas Gift"
Dec06 Warren Has Definitely Fallen Off
Dec06 Kerry Endorses Biden
Dec06 Democrats Try to Sweet Talk Bullock
Dec06 Graves Joins the Crowd Headed for the Exit
Dec05 House Learns What "High Crimes and Misdemeanors" Are, or Maybe It Doesn't
Dec05 Democrats Hint at Three Articles of Impeachment
Dec05 Giuliani Is Still at It
Dec05 Biden Says He Will Consider Harris as His Running Mate
Dec05 Kemp Defies Trump and Appoints Loeffler to the Senate
Dec05 Graham: Russia Interfered with the 2016 Election, Not Ukraine
Dec05 Horowitz: Russia Probe Was Legitimate
Dec05 Trump Calls Trudeau "Two-Faced"
Dec05 Heck Won't Run for Reelection
Dec04 House Intelligence Committee Releases Report on Ukraine
Dec04 Who Will Be the Impeachment Managers?
Dec04 Trump Loses Another Ruling Related to His Finances
Dec04 Harris Has Her Kamala to Jesus Moment
Dec04 Steyer Makes the Debate Cut
Dec04 Democrats Can't Sleep on Michigan Senate Seat
Dec04 I Am Not a Crook: A Look at History's Most Scandalous Scandals, Part VI
Dec03 Republicans Close Ranks Around Trump
Dec03 Page and Zelensky Speak Out
Dec03 Trump Readies for Another Trade War
Dec03 Steve Bullock Exits Democratic Presidential Race
Dec03 Garland Tucker Exits North Carolina Senate Race
Dec03 Duncan Hunter to Plead Guilty
Dec03 Assessment of Open House Seats
Dec03 I Am Not a Crook: A Look at History's Most Scandalous Scandals, Part V
Dec02 Intelligence Committee Will Circulate Draft Report Today
Dec02 Ranking Republican on Judiciary Committee Wants Schiff to Testify
Dec02 Biden Will Crisscross Iowa for 8 Days
Dec02 Booker is Desperate for Donors
Dec02 Candidates on the Cusp
Dec02 Joe Sestak, We Hardly Knew Ye
Dec02 Disinformation Will Run Rampant in 2020
Dec02 Adam Schiff's Star Is Rising
Dec02 The Youngest Potential Voters Are Not Interested in Voting
Dec02 Poll: Republican Voters Think that Trump Is a Better Leader than Abraham Lincoln
Dec02 I Am Not a Crook: A Look at History's Most Scandalous Scandals, Part IV
Dec01 Sunday Mailbag
Nov30 Saturday Q&A
Nov29 Trump Paints Impeachment as an Attack on All Conservatives
Nov29 Nadler Invites Trump to the First Judiciary Committee Hearing on Impeachment
Nov29 The Knives Are Coming Out for Buttigieg
Nov29 Yang Releases His Tax Returns
Nov29 Richard Spencer Is Not Going Gentle into that Good Night