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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

Even by the standards of the Trump era, it's been a wild week.

Thoughts on Impeachment

V & Z: In response to a reader's question, you stated "the voting public does not generally do subtlety and nuance." While I agree that this is an unfortunate reality, I'm concerned that the "blue team" is allowing Republicans to frame the impeachment inquiry as sour grapes over Hillary Clinton's unexpected loss and an attempt at a political coup. I think this is a fundamental misunderstanding of why folks on the liberal side of the spectrum (and the John Kasichs and Justin Amashes out there) want Trump gone. If it were simply about election results and policy differences, Democrats would have been howling for impeachment through the entire George W. Bush administration. The impeachment inquiry is investigating abuse of power, plain and simple. Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney (quoting Barack Obama, ironically) said "elections have consequences." We know; we're all suffering those consequences. You know what else has consequences? High crimes and misdemeanors. J.K., Silverdale, WA

V & Z: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) had an explanation for the closed door testimony. In contrast to what happened with Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, the Justice Department declined to act on the criminal referrals related to Donald Trump, and so did not empanel grand juries to investigate or else ask the FBI or other intelligence to do it. Therefore, the House had to do the preliminary "deposition" phase of the investigation. Schiff has promised that public hearings will follow after the work that should have been done by others is completed. D.S., Palo Alto, CA

V & Z: In this week's Q&A, there was a question regarding Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) statement that he foresees the impeachment hearing starting right up after Thanksgiving and continuing through to Christmas. Of course McConnell wants it to take place then! It would be his dream time of the year for it to take place, given the fact that the public would be disengaged due to the holidays. McConnell has a better chance of getting away with shenanigans then. He is also cynically relying on people's sense of goodwill during the season, and people being repulsed that this unseemly impeachment proceeding is taking place when people are trying their best to be cheerful and forgiving. Also, McConnell is cynically relying on his members to be willing to take shortcuts with the hearings because they would rather preserve their holiday vacations. When dealing with the Majority Leader's motivations, people often forget to look at the most cynical reason imaginable, for there will lie the true motivating factors.

Personally I think Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is way too smart to fall for this cheap tactic of McConnell's. In fact, she has basically come out and said, "Nice try, Mitch, but I'm not playing your game." Actually, so the MAGAhatters won't accuse me of inventing a conversation, I should say that her actual words were: "I have no idea. The timeline will depend on the truth-line, and that's what we're looking for." And to be realistic, there is less than a month (27 days) between now and Thanksgiving. I don't see how, especially with the many roadblocks the White House is putting up, that the investigations are completed and then the public phase of the impeachment process in the House takes place in that small window. I think optimistically we should look for those public hearings to take place in January and February. People will be paying more attention, feelings of forgiveness and goodwill will be spent, and to be equally as cynical, it will put this hot potato right in McConnell's lap at the start of the 2020 election cycle. The Republicans who go out on a limb against Trump run the risk of losing their primaries leading to more unelectable candidates and those who remain loyal run the risk of losing independent voters in the general election. That's a no-win scenario for the Republicans. Personally, if I was McConnell, I would spend the time between the holidays convincing Donald Trump that he's accomplished 8 years of work in 3 and that he should quickly resign to focus on building TrumpTV. D.E., Lititz, PA

Making Sense of Trump

V & Z: I saw a video clip of Trump from about 15 years ago and his demeanor and the way he spoke was barely recognizable vs. current Trump. I'm surprised there isn't more speculation he's suffering from age-related brain degeneration. Losing the governor on his mouth, the lack of patience, impulsiveness, repeating himself, narcissism—all fairly common in elderly folks whose mental faculties are deteriorating. P.T., Jackson, MS

V & Z: I often read as you try to climb into Donald Trump's head to understand his thought process. Maybe I can help. Over 20 years ago, I was involved in a very toxic relationship with someone who had very similar behaviors as Trump exhibits. Being personally interested in what makes people tick, I discovered a book which seemed to explain the type of person I had been involved with. After reading this book, I am completely sure that people like this exist, and that we should be very afraid of them if and when they gain power—like, say, the presidency.

The book is People of the Lie (the Hope for Healing Human Evil). A brief description:

People who are evil attack others instead of facing their own failures. Peck demonstrates the havoc these people of the lie work in the lives of those around them. He presents, from vivid incidents encountered in his psychiatric practice, examples of evil in everyday life.

I am not alone in thinking this book explains our president. Here is an article written about Trump and the book. M.P., Cary, NC

Debating the Debates

V & Z: I hear you on how the moderators did, and you make some great points. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see different questions to different candidates, as well as the moderators giving candidates a chance to debate each other for brief periods, and to speak directly to each other on issues. It almost became at times like a real debate. J.C., Binan, Laguna, Philippines

V & Z: It's becoming increasingly clear that the debates are a waste of time. None of them so far have moved the needle for any of the candidates in a significant way, and there is still a bewildering number of them on stage. I realize that the DNC is bending over backwards to avoid giving the impression that anyone is "anointed" this time, as Clinton was in 2016, but this may not be the best way to do it. Town halls would be a better way to let people know what each candidate's ideas are, and would allow them to express themselves more coherently. The other option would be a round robin of one-on-one debates, as if the candidates were debating competitively. That would highlight their strengths and weaknesses far more clearly. L.B., Savannah, GA

V & Z: Thank you for including Fox's points this time in the media wrap up. You haven't always done that in the past. I must admit, though, I thought they were an SNL-generated list, but helpful to get a fuller picture of analysis. L.O.R., San Francisco, CA

Note: We always try to include at least one right-wing list, and at least one list from an international outlet. And we're thrilled to do more than one in each of those categories, when we can find them. The problem is that, for reasons that are not clear, right-wing outlets don't tend to do "takeaways" pieces. Sometimes Fox, and sometimes RedState, but beyond that they're pretty uncommon. And international outlets sometimes give only cursory coverage of the debates, or none at all.

More on, Fox News

V & Z: You wrote of Fox News, "The news operation is reasonably separate from the opinion operation at the network." This was in regard to the opinion side of Fox News not mentioning their own poll showing that 51% of voters want Trump impeached and removed, but I don't think it's a statement that survives any scrutiny of the big picture at Fox News. The news side is an operation often known for merely reporting on its own echo chamber; one of Fox's best-known phrases, "some are saying," is routinely used when Fox reports the musings of their own conservative commentators as though it were general sentiment. This is also an operation known for "accidentally" putting a "D" instead of an "R" after the names of Republican officials caught in misdeeds. I would submit to you that the separation between the news and opinion operations at Fox News is superficial rather than reasonable, and that what we're seeing when Fox News avoids mentioning their own poll when it is unkind to Trump is merely standard operating procedure. I would not debate your point that Fox News's polling in that case was legitimate, but your description of the division of their operations imbues a false legitimacy to Fox News itself. D.F., St. Paul, MN

Note: We think there are some real journalists at Fox, trying to do the job with integrity, but they are growing fewer and further in between. On top of that, the opinion side is what drives ratings and profits, and undoubtedly any legitimate journalist who rages against the Hannity/Carlson machine too much is not going to get their work on air or on the website. So, they have to pick their battles. The effect is much what you describe, that the legitimate coverage only bubbles to the surface occasionally.

Unfair and Imbalanced?

V & Z: You said, in response to a question:

Even if the principles behind Yang's ideas are centrist, his actual policies (or his actual policy, we should really say, since he only has one) is so far outside the mainstream that there is simply no way he could plausibly lay claim to the centrist lane.

This is actually an example of the question's premise, that you're not covering him properly. He has lots of policies, well beyond UBI, and it's really disappointing willful ignorance for you to continually mischaracterize his campaign. If you can name 6 things about Cory Booker, you should know more about Yang, considering the latter is polling higher.

I recommend you actually read his policy page. D.C., San Francisco, CA

Note: When we describe anyone as a one-issue candidate, that is not meant literally, it is meant to describe someone who has chosen to place overwhelming focus on a single issue. Similarly, Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) had many policy positions on his website, but we also described him as a one-issue candidate, because 95% of his oxygen was spent on global warming. Probably 95% of his carbon dioxide, too.

Also, the original question's premise was actually that we should consider Yang as a possible centrist. Clicking on that link, the first issue Yang highlights is UBI, and the second is his support for Medicare for All. We would submit that actually affirms our assessment that it is implausible he could claim the centrist lane.

V & Z: I partially disagree with your comments about Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI). While it's true her complaining about the debate requirements is not a good look, and her threatened debate boycott even less so, I don't think she "sounds more like a Republican than a Democrat". If anything she sounds like a Libertarian in her refusal to accept the Cheneyite/Clintonoid view of foreign policy, which all the "serious people" and "grownups in the room" of both of the Big Two parties insist upon. Indeed, this refusal is why Republicans (to the extent that they have) are turning against Trump and the main reason Gabbard's fellow Democrats can't stand her. D.B., Deer Park, NY

Note: In fairness to us, our wording was, "She sounds like a Republican more often than she sounds like a Democrat," which is slightly different from your version. Our point was that when she has a national platform (i.e., the debates), she tends to spend the majority of her time on Republican-sounding positions. Whether that speaks to her essence, or is merely a tactical decision meant to separate her from the pack, we do not know. In any case, your assessment may be right. On the other hand, it certainly didn't weaken our argument when Gabbard decided she wanted a platform to fire back at Hillary Clinton this weekend, and she chose...Tucker Carlson's show.

We must admit, also, that we've never heard the word 'Clintonoid' before. And yet, neither of the spell checkers that we use flagged that word, so clearly it's legit. We must have been living under a rock.

V & Z: You seem to obsess on Joe Biden's mental fitness. You make a medical diagnosis that you have no qualification to make (are you auditioning for Fox News?) and you go on and on, as in your analyses of previous debates, about his straying off topic and verbally meandering. You give Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) kudos for the same behavior. One of my frustrations with watching Elizabeth Warren in this and previous debates is that she won't answer a question. She just launches into her talking points. At times I wonder if she listens to anyone.

It appears that you have already decided that Warren is a winner and Biden is finished. Your analysis seems like a lot of confirmation bias. L.V.A., Idaho Falls, ID

Note: We are happy to receive corrections, critiques, and contrary points of view. We really are! But as with the two correspondents above, we would suggest you have misrepresented our words. If you click on the link, and reread, you will see that we took no actual position on Biden's mental fitness, but said that if he continually appears to be mentally unfit, he will be judged thusly by "millions of armchair physicians," regardless of whether or not that is correct or fair. We are not inventing this issue, and we would be remiss if we did not comment on it, just as we would be remiss if we did not talk about whether Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) heart issues seemed to have affected him, or whether Warren was able to deal with the spotlight that comes with frontrunner status. Oh, and there is a significant difference between being evasive (an art that all politicians practice) and being meandering and unfocused.

Trump and World War II Parallels

V & Z: The Munich Agreement is actually a closer parallel to what happened with the Kurds than you give credit for. First, Hitler did not occupy any of Czechoslovakia until October 1, 1938, which was the day after the Munich Agreement was signed. Hitler, like Turkey, had armed forces ready to go on the border, so as to occupy what he wanted (the Sudetenland region). Further, France and Czechoslovakia were formal allies, with the Treaty of Alliance and Friendship signed on January 25, 1925. Like the United States, the French gave up some territory of an ally without consulting them. I see Munich being just as shameful as what happened to the Kurds, since it also later led to the full occupation of Czechoslovakia less than 6 months later by Hitler (Slovakia became a protectorate and lost some territory to Poland and Hungary). C.R., Racine, WI

V & Z: The big practical difference between the Munich Agreement and what happened with Trump and the Kurds is that Czechoslovakia was a recognized independent state with its own relatively powerful military. Good article here outlining why the Munich example can be over-used. P.M., Grahamstown, South Africa

V & Z: (Z) postulated that the alleged "sell-out" by Roosevelt at Yalta might excuse Trump's abandonment of the Kurds. Specifically he wrote:

Trump is hardly the first U.S. president to be put in this position. At Yalta, for example, the stakes were even higher when another strongman—namely Joseph Stalin—made clear that the U.S. could either leave Eastern Europe, or could fight him for it. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was just a tad bit better at dealing with bullies than Trump is, nonetheless concluded that he had no choice but to bow to reality. So he too turned his back on former allies, and he too responded by slapping sanctions on his new nemesis.

It is incorrect to imply that Roosevelt left Eastern Europe or that Stalin outnegotiated him at Yalta. In February 1945, the atom bomb was an unknown, but the fierce Japanese resistance at Palau had already given portent of losses to come on Iwo Jima, Okinawa and in Japan itself. Too, the Red Army had twice timed the launching of major offensives to help the Allies get out of tight spots (D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge) and by February 1945 had already occupied Poland, Rumania and Bulgaria. By April 1945, when the Red Army and the Allies met in Germany along the Elbe River, U.S. troops had only penetrated the Western edge of Czechoslovakia while Hungary, Slovakia and Vienna had been occupied by the Red Army. Furthermore, even in early 1945 with Patton on the Rhine, the Red Army was tying up 3 times as many Wehrmacht and SS divisions as the Allies were and a sudden halt to the Soviet advance via a separate peace would have freed large numbers of Wehrmacht forces to face the Allied armies.

Thus, far from exposing U.S. troops to risk of needless casualties as Trump has done in Syria, Roosevelt's accommodation of Soviet security requirements served to minimize U.S. casualties. Whether those requirements were reasonable is perhaps debatable but given Soviet losses in the war they cannot be blithely dismissed. E.C., Helsinki, Finland

AOC Endorses Bernie

V & Z: While I agree that traditional endorsements are not worth as much as they used to be, I see two reasons why Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's (D-NY) endorsement of Bernie Sanders breaks the mold of other politicians'.

First is the pre-debate Quinnipac poll. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) got 50% of very liberal voters, while Sanders got only 14%. Similarly, Warren got 34% of somewhat liberal voters while Sanders pulled in half that.

Second is the new nature of endorsements. While endorsements do not hold the same power with voters that they used to, the ability to sway voters on a candidate now rests with a specific group—powerful political personalities who often receive mainstream media attention and have large social media followings—think Trump and his single-handed ability to sink a Republican candidate.

Ocasio-Cortez's influence extends to the young liberal wing of the Democratic Party; her endorsement may revitalize his numbers with a key demographic that is, as of late, swinging away from him. J.P., Atlanta, GA

V & Z: I always enjoy your wit and insight, which are often coupled. However, be careful about going into the Dingleberry Don hole of factless statements that sound so good for the base.

I live on a farm, wear a cowboy hat when out of the house, have several old Dodge pickups all with Oklahoma license plates, and I sure as hell didn't vote for Dingleberry Don, nor any other Republican in the past 42 years (since I turned 18). And I am not an island, there are plenty others of us here. A minority, for sure, but we exist nonetheless.

Many of us are strong, proud Warren supporters that will stand enthusiastically with whoever gets the Democratic nomination for President.

Yes, I am biased, but I think there are cracks in Trump's teflon here in the heartland. His Ag policies are even drawing the ire of the Chamber-backed Farm Bureau. I don't expect a mass change of voter patterns, but there are growing rumblings in the local feed stores and diners. With that said there are still plenty—too many—Trump flags, hats and bumper stickers. T.B., Nowata, OK

Note: We wondered if we would hear from any pickup-driving anti-Trump Oklahomans. We actually got messages from four of them! Anyhow, we did not mean to imply that folks like you do not exist. What we were trying to say is that AOC endorses Sanders/Truck-driving Oklahoman votes for Trump is kind of in "dog bites man" territory. On the other hand, AOC endorses Biden/Truck-driving Oklahoman votes against Trump is much closer to "man bites dog" territory.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct19 Saturday Q&A
Oct18 Mike Pence Practices "The Art of the Deal"
Oct18 "Mick the Knife" Stabs Trump in the Back
Oct18 Sondland Points the Finger at Giuliani
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Oct17 The Parade of Witnesses Goes Marching On
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Oct17 Ohio Debate Takeaways
Oct16 Democratic Debate Tour Stops in Ohio
Oct16 Kent: "Three Amigos" Ran Ukraine Policy
Oct16 No Formal Vote on Impeachment Inquiry, for Now
Oct16 Ocasio-Cortez to Endorse Sanders
Oct16 Aspiring Collins Challenger Is Raking It In
Oct15 Fiona Hill Piqued By Giuliani's Behavior
Oct15 Trump Sanctions Turkey
Oct15 Trump Reportedly Wanted to Release His Tax Returns in 2013
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Oct15 Hunter Biden Tries to Quell the Storm
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Oct15 Will the Democrats Find New Ground to Cover Tonight?
Oct14 It's a Real Mess in Syria
Oct14 Schiff: Whistleblower May Not Testify
Oct14 Tomorrow's Debate Could Be Crucial
Oct14 CBS Early States Poll: Warren 31%, Biden 25%, Sanders 17%
Oct14 NBC Poll: 55% Want Impeachment Inquiry
Oct14 If Trump Isn't the 2020 GOP Nominee, Who Might Be?
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Oct14 Warren Buys Facebook Ads to Show the Need for "Censorship"
Oct14 General Election Debate Schedule Is Now Available
Oct14 Louisiana Gubernatorial Race Will Go to a Runoff
Oct13 Sunday Mailbag
Oct12 Three-Judge Panel: Surrender the Tax Returns
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Oct12 Trump Has a (Trade) Deal, Sort Of
Oct12 Kevin McAleenan Quits Team Trump
Oct12 Shephard Smith Quits Fox News
Oct12 Saturday Q&A
Oct11 Two of Giuliani's Buddies Are Arrested
Oct11 Rick Perry Gets Subpoenaed
Oct11 Fox News Poll: 51% of Voters Want Trump Impeached and Convicted
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