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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Sunday Mailbag
      •  Today's Presidential Polls
      •  Today's Senate Polls

Sunday Mailbag

Again, there can't be too many sites that cover October Surprises, Van Halen, great speeches, "Evita" parodies, alternate history, and Mike Pence's genitals on the same day.

The 2020 Election

A.W. in Keyser, WV, writes: I know the October Surprise is a bit of a tradition in American politics, so I expected the Trump campaign to come up with one since they are trailing in the polls. I thought it would come earlier this year because so many people are voting early and by mail. As we get closer to the election, the surprise will seem more desperate.

It looks like the best they can do is releasing Hillary Clinton's e-mails from her tenure as Secretary of State. The same e-mails that were an issue because they were on a private server that our adversaries may have been able to access. That's correct. The Trump administration is going to publicly release the e-mails that our enemies are allegedly salivating to get their hands on. It seems that maybe the Republican party may have been disingenuous when they said the e-mail server was a security issue. No matter their motivation, it seems like poor timing since, as far as I can tell, Hillary Clinton isn't running for any office this year.

A.C. in Santa Cruz, CA, writes: I read your site daily and have been a reader for 10+ years, but I must say I object to the word "shenanigans," which makes illegal and immoral acts by the Republican party seem like a banana peel for Laurel and Hardy. I feel you should condemn disenfranchising, intimidation, and voter suppression in the strongest of terms. I believe the 2000 election, the 2004 election, and certainly the 2016 election relied on what I call stealing the election. It is, in my opinion, the Democratic party establishment's persistent inability or unwillingness to denounce this and fight it tooth and nail that has resulted in their failing to protect us, which is what I elect those politicians to do.

V & Z respond: You raise a fair point.

M.B. in Pittsboro, NC, writes: The phrase that has been running through my mind lately as the President becomes ever more erratic and unraveled is, "He is not, and has never been, a serious person." It isn't as if he used to be competent and now has come apart at the seams. The notion occurred to me while looking at the photo that appeared in the Time Magazine "Persons of the Year" edition with those four brave public servants who testified in the impeachment proceedings raising their right hands to be sworn in: Ambassadors Masha Yovanovitch and William Taylor, Dr. Fiona Hill, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. Now those four are serious individuals, competent, expert, committed to the truth and to serving their country. I remembered the rush of pride and hope I felt when Ambassador Taylor spoke from his copious real-time notes...and immediately, I thought of the contrast with the president: Trump wants no chance to be pinned down to any reality but his own ever-shifting, transactional needs. Every real corporation, every working committee, every PTA in the country keeps minutes of their proceedings...and Trump wants no record, not of everyday meetings, not of phone calls with Recep Erdogan or Vladimir Putin, and not of his own medical condition or treatment. NDA's all around. What happens in Helsinki, stays in Helsinki. Please let us have the will as a democratic society to extricate ourselves from this charlatan's grasp.

B.H. in Greenbelt, MD, writes: I'm writing in response to D.J. in Manchester, NH, who explained why there won't be a coup d'etat in favor of Donald Trump. I mostly agree, but there are a few points I'd like to raise.

First, D.J. said that Trump isn't trying to foment a coup, but is trying "to gin up an audience for a new 'reality' TV show after he leaves office." I had been thinking this, too, for almost Trump's entire term. Recently I came to the conclusion that this is no longer true. Trump realizes that if he loses, he will be open to prosecution. So, I think Trump will try to instigate a coup if he loses, no matter what the margin or how obvious it is that he's lost. Note that former CIA head John Brennan made this same point on NPR this past Tuesday.

Let me jump to D.J.'s third point, that soldiers are not "stupid cannon-fodder who will do whatever they are told by just anyone who claims to be President." I couldn't agree more. One thing I'd add is something I learned when on loan to one of the Intelligence Community agencies a few years back. Almost all of the intelligence community is part of the Department of Defense (CIA is the obvious exception). These agencies are staffed by military officers who rotate in and out to "get their tickets punched." I am certain that most of the IC veterans realize how dangerous is Trump's enthrallment with the Russians, and there are limits to what they will put up with. Thank God he hasn't crossed the line yet, but a coup attempt will certainly not be acceptable. And those officers talk to their brother officers who didn't serve in the IC.

But D.J.'s second point is that "a few hotheads...will get nowhere in a real fight." Again, D.J. is exactly on the mark here. The problem is that there may not be a few, and there may not be a real fight. In Michigan dozens (or hundreds, depending on your source) of heavily armed men stormed the Capitol, and no one forced them out. This was probably a case of "if we ignore them, they'll get tired and go home," which was a good idea. But if many thousands turn out nationwide, it may be a different story. The local police may be too sympathetic to the hotheads to put up much of a fight. Then the National Guard or active troops get called out. What worries me is that the National Guard may also be sympathetic to the hotheads to a great degree. And when it then comes to active troops, a lot of them are going to be sympathetic as well. A lot of the active duty troops are not only sympathetic, but also have rural backgrounds and may be very reluctant to shoot at someone who looks like Dad or Uncle Roy about to take them hunting. Personally, I think the hotheads would do better to paint "Brothers Don't Shoot" on bedsheets than brandish AR-15s, but that's just me. The point is, the more hotheads there are, the more likely that some military unit will refuse to do battle with the hotheads. How does that end up?

In summary, I think there will be an attempted coup by Trump, the National Guard and military officers will order their troops to put it down, and most likely those troops will put down the rebellion. But I wish I could be more certain.

D.K. in Iowa City, IA, writes: Many people are worried about Donald Trump not accepting the results of the election. I am worried about what he will do after he loses on Nov. 3, but is still President for the next more than two and a half months. He could do a great deal of damage and no one, except Paul Krugman, has been saying much about that. Given what Trump is like and his tendency for revenge, I fear for this country.

H.M. in East Lansing, MI, writes: Sigh...I really wish I just didn't live in a swing state anymore. The attention was cool to begin with in 2020, but no more.

Life would be otherwise so peaceful and tranquil for me and the suburban neighbors right now. But we've got some crazy COVID-infected guy who is running for re-election, maybe even flying into the state, for a super-spreader rally in the next couple of weeks. Which, incidentally, will be after most of us have already voted.

A.B. in Wendel, NC, writes: Why can't Donald Trump finally decide North Carolina can do without his bile-filled and lie-filled ads?

I am tired of my eyes and ears being assaulted.

S.K. in Chappaqua, NY, writes: You have provided very cogent analyses of betting markets as they may or may not presage electoral results. As an investor, I have been interested in reputed experts' often contradictory and incredible analyses of movements in stock markets. Well, I now feel no more ignorant than those "experts," so I'll offer my view.

Today, October 7, the Dow Jones rose more than 2% as negotiations on financial stimulus from Congress, so fervently desired by the Fed, stalled. What may, however, be feeding investors' optimism is Joe Biden's steadily increasing leads in polls of so-called "swing states."

As those "experts" to whom I refer above have often said, nothing precipitates business people's gloom more than uncertainty. And I cannot think of any relevant thing in the world today that is more uncertain than President Trump with his mercurial nature, often reversing his position on some important subject multiple times in a single day.

What investors most desire now, I believe, is the tranquility of a United States president such as they expect Joe Biden to be, and nothing can encourage them to "bet" on our economy more than increasing certainty that he will be that president beginning on January 20, 2021.

J.T. in Greensboro, NC, writes: With all due respect to Tim Alberta, as an "older" millennial I think his belief that we are non-partisan, don't follow political news, and don't care about party platforms is absurd. While, of course, the plural of anecdote isn't anecdata, my "older millennial" friends are laser-focused on this election. We can't stop reading the news. We spend our days "doomscrolling" and wondering when this nightmare will end. We're hoping for progressive and forward-thinking policies to help those of us who graduated college and spent our critical career development years living through the Great Recession and have now been decked by a second financial crisis. We want to be able to build savings and retirement plans and own homes like our parents did (or simply earn a living wage without having to take a second job in the gig economy), and while Biden isn't the progressive candidate of our dreams, we understand the value of harm reduction.

I suppose maybe this applies only to my bubble, but as long as we're talking about "yard sign" polling I figured I should stand up for my generation.

D.L.O. in North Canaan, CT, writes: I found your "Why Trump Does Well with Working-Class Democrats" item today, and the work you described that was done by Stephanie Muravchik and Jon Shields, enlightening.

You described what they found as "a culture with crass, thin-skinned, nepotistic, corrupt, authoritarian Democratic leaders who delivered." You left out one very important adjective: paternalistic. The New York Times article acknowledges this by describing the relationship between elected officials and the local population as a "paternalistic social contract." This is exactly the culture that (not exclusively, but most likely in the main) believes that men should run the world because they are the important deciders with the requisite level of testosterone in their bodies, while women belong in the kitchen or, if not, in the less important, less skilled and lower paying jobs. Appearing Trumpian to the core, the men in this culture clearly have all the control and power in the political and economic sphere. Every single political figure that was mentioned or described, except for one lonely (and lowly) county clerk, was male. We can imagine that maybe references to how "citizens" feel and act includes women, but the female population in particular seems strangely absent and silent.

Maybe they are at home secretly browsing ActBlue to donate a few dollars to the Biden campaign.

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Someone asked about the motives of Arlene Guzman Todd. There is no way to know for sure without hearing from her. So, instead of trotting out that tired old trope about women scorned, how about we focus on the cliché of the male politician falling for the oldest trick in the book—the unlikely attentions of a strange woman 4 weeks out from a major election. I'd love to know the basis for why it "appears to be more likely" that she was "dumped." It's also untrue that if she did set him up that somehow makes her a prostitute. Again, there's an assumption that she was working for someone else. Couldn't she, of her own accord, as a political operative, have engineered this? Of course. And apparently, it wasn't that difficult.

V & Z respond: We weren't just speculating based on gender stereotypes. There has been reporting that she said "I'm just going to send to his opponent his naked photos. That will teach him," and "You don't deserve me Cal" and "He knows (that I) can tank his campaign."

On the other hand, if she traded sex for political dirt, whether for her own purposes or those of someone else, that seems at least prostitution-adjacent to us.

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: I just read the Cook Report moving the South Carolina Senate from "lean Republican" to "toss-up." They said that one of the best things Jaime Harrison did was to run a lot of early, positive, biographical spots introducing himself and showing that he's just a regular South Carolinian.

I wonder if, in a strange way, Tim Scott has helped Harrison. After all, to even run close, Harrison needs a certain number of Republicans to vote for him. Not long ago, after one look at his picture, many would have dismissed him out of hand. They knew they would never vote for a Black candidate. However, now that they have voted for Scott, it gives them permission to actually listen to Harrison, and it appears that a certain number of South Carolina Republicans like what they hear.

Of course, it's still a long way to an actual electoral upset, but still, once you've accepted that you can vote for Black people in your party, it's got to be a lot easier to at least give a hearing to those in the other party.

V & Z respond: An interesting argument, not dissimilar to the argument some cultural historians have made that The Cosby Show did much to advance race relations by giving many white Americans their first real exposure to a successful middle-class Black family.

Everyone Hates the Debates

C.F. in Nashua, NH, writes: The first two "debates" seemed almost worthless. The problem is, the moderator could have just said, "XXXX, you have Y minutes to recite your talking points," because the questions were almost completely ignored. Turning off people's microphones may help with talking too long, but really would not make the debates any more substantive.

I propose a different way to fix the situation. Rather than bothering with how to "cut off" someone not following the rules, institute a scoring system. At the end, there would be an objective "winner" and "loser" based on these scores:

  • +5000: For actually answering the moderator's question
  • +5000: For staying on the moderator's topic for your entire allotted time
  • +2000: For using at least half your allotted time on the moderator's topic
  • -10: For each second you talk over your time for the first 10 seconds
  • -100: For each second you talk over your time for the next 20 seconds
  • -1000: For each second you talk over your time past 30 seconds
  • -500*(times_interrupting_opponent-5): After 5 interruptions of your opponent, for each interruption

Imagine applying that scoring system to the two debates this year. I'm not sure anyone would have gotten a positive score, but the extreme losses by Donald Trump and Mike Pence would be epic!

G.W. in Oxnard, CA, writes: The performance of VP Pence at the debate was classic male dominance. He tried to talk over Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). I've seen this tactic many times in my career. The man talks over the woman until the woman stops talking and he has repeated his point. Harris would have none of that, so both talked until the moderator restored order, but Pence still got the last word. When Pence went over his time, he kept talking until the moderator stopped repeating "Thank you Mr. Vice President" and Pence had completed a sentence. Trump used similar tactics against Hillary Clinton. I was surprised when he lurked behind Clinton in the town hall and it worked for him. I expected that would work to his detriment.

When I saw this sort of thing happening in business meetings, I would intervene and moderate to give people a chance to talk. Sometimes, I would take the role of intermediary and listen to each person as they talked over each other, then intervene and reiterate each person's point in a calm way. I thought I was helping, but in retrospect, I realize I was just imposing a different kind of male dominance.

I was in a class at work once where we were assigned to groups and worked on assignments together. There were two other men and a woman in my group. The two other men ganged up to talk over the woman. It got progressively worse to the point that as soon as the woman said three words there was an instant shouting match. I took over and basically forced everyone to speak only to me. The woman didn't return to class after the lunch break. She was absolutely right, because she wasn't going to learn a thing from that class.

I did annual harassment prevention/sensitivity training this week for my part-time job and one of the videos was on sexual harassment. I believe the writer of the scenario was going for a takeaway along the lines of "when there is a hint of sexual harassment, take forceful action." The actual takeaways were at the slightest hint of sexual harassment, you must prevent the male from having access to the female and you must never allow a male and female to be in a room unsupervised (unchaperoned?).

The point is there is a long way to go for equality and fairness with the male dominance dynamic, including men like myself who are sympathetic to the women's plight, but just end up implementing a different kind of male dominance.

N.D. in Granville, OH, writes: Is it possible to spin the VP debate, for the Democrats, in a way that makes it seem that Pence made the ultimate case against four more years of President Trump? My thinking is that America seemed to feel great relief from absolute chaos by having a straight forward 'normal' debate.

We saw a couple of reasonable people. They acted like normal politicians. They appealed to their bases in a typical way. They were even mostly respectful of each other. It felt like a breath of fresh air for many people, from my anecdotal experiences. Pence couldn't be more different from Trump in terms of expression.

Yes, the normal appeals of partisanship were there, but it felt so normal, and this year that feels wonderful.

J.K. in Portland, OR, writes: Count me among those who were completely unimpressed with Susan Page's questions and behavior in the VP debate. She opened by explaining the rules and declared that one of her jobs was to enforce them. She never enforced the rules, not once. If a candidate talked too long, she would say "[Mr. Vice President]/[Senator], your time is up." If compliance was forthcoming (most of the time from Sen. Harris, never from VP Pence), she would repeat herself. Broken record is not an effective technique for dealing with a three-year old or a lying, misogynistic theocrat. Three times and time out to give the other side equal time would have been more appropriate. Actual follow-up questions instead of sticking to her self-defined timeline would also have been better. Harris won my heart (she already has my head) when she just smiled and said, "I'm speaking, Mr. Vice President." And her point was made when she said it for the second (and not the last) time.

B.D. in Columbus, OH, writes: I appreciated Susan Page's detailed questions, and here's why: For the voters who are just tuning in to the election—and yes, such people exist! Not everyone is like us, reading everything we can get our hands on and participating in this process since way before the primaries—they could learn a lot from her. She provided factual information, often to the detriment of Republican talking points, and lots of context. Also, those who were worried about her neutrality were surely reassured by her hard-hitting and fair questions.

Second, I thought Kamala Harris' comeback on "packing the courts" served the same function. Yes, she evaded the question as it related to the Supreme Court (and missed a chance to suggest different vocabulary or explain how the Court has contracted and expanded over the years), but she educated low-information voters about what the Republicans have been doing in their rush to fill federal judge positions nationwide: accept unqualified candidates, change the rules, make no pretense at choosing moderate or centrist or diverse judges. And she reminded people like us that such court positions nationwide are part of what is at stake in this election. I thought her turn on that question was actually quite effective.

L.M. in Pensacola, FL, writes: It's time to permanently dissolve the Presidential Debate Commission.

I turned off the debate at 8:23 pm CDT.

Obviously, the moderators cannot handle it. The microphone won't go off when time is up, and it's yet another disservice to the country. Once Mike Pence was allowed endless time about unrelated responses to the question on the clock, it became a waste of my time.

Besides, I already voted!

P.M. in Simi Valley, CA, writes: On Pence's appearance: it's not a bug but a feature.

Flies will always seek out the nearest piece of s**t.

D.K. in Oceanside, CA, writes: I've always thought that Mike Pence is what the "Ken" doll would look like in old age. Same anatomical correctness, too.

D.G. in Silver Spring, MD, writes: It struck me as interesting that in your answer to M.K from Dallas' question, you noted that both Dan Quayle and Mike Pence "were already seen as somewhat comical and unserious figures." Aside from being vice presidents in Republican administrations, they're both from Indiana. I hope that doesn't reflect poorly on the Hoosier State.

V & Z respond: Well, the good people of Indiana can also point to Hoosier VPs Schuyler Colfax, Thomas Hendricks, Charles W. Fairbanks, and Thomas R. Marshall. And maybe hope that Quayle and Pence will soon be as forgotten as those four are.

G.C. in South Pasadena, CA, writes: In the item "Second Debate is Kaput," you speculated on Trump's game plan. You had two options: (1) It's the base, stupid, and (2) He's afraid of Biden.

I've strongly felt there is a much more logical third option: He wants to lose.

I've strongly believed that he never wanted to win the presidency in the first place; rather, he wanted to cash in on what it could do to his hotels and golf courses, etc. I vividly remember his face the moment he was told he'd won and it didn't look like "Oh, boy!" It's safe to say he's not enjoyed pretending to be president, far too much responsibility and far too much work. But he does know marketing (the only thing he's good at) and he knows that his base will do lots for him. So for the past 3 years he's been doing dips**t things to screw his presidency while maintaining his base. And lately, it's as if shooting someone on Fifth Avenue seems to be pushing itself higher on the list.

If he lost this election he'd still have all of the fame and the pleasure of letting his lawyers push his case in court. He'd still be the center of attention. He could prime his empire to get ready for the $400-500 million in debt that's coming (and he doesn't want to be in office with the debt coming at the same time—he may be foolish but he's not that stupid). I could go on with reasons but it's safe to say he wouldn't/couldn't give up the office. But having it taken from him (25th amendment not withstanding), a loss in the election is fine because he could still argue for years that it was stolen from him. He doesn't need to be in office to be the center of attention and he doesn't need to be in office to manipulate his base around. Alas, he could ask his followers to send money to bail him out of debt, and they would.

The President is Sick

E.V. in Derry, NH, writes: There is so much about this worst of the worst of the worst weeks that could be commented on. One would think "President gets COVID" would be a pretty straightforward news story to deal with, but it only accentuated the dysfunction, the lies, the anti-expert attitude, and the alternate reality in the White House. It's like a TV series that is long past its expiration date, yet keeps coming up with more outlandish plots to keep it alive. Unfortunately for us, it is all real.

The one positive was the few days of no speeches and no tweets from the President—a real break from crazy-making. I just wish the network news branches would stop showing sound bites of Trump, and just state what he said and then do the fact check for us.

S.C. in Mountain View, CA, writes: Heard on the street, after Trump's COVID-19 drive-by in a hermetically sealed vehicle with two Secret Service agents on board: "The Secret Service is paid to take a bullet for the President, not from the President."

Also, I don't do social media, but after Trump's refusal to participate in any debate that he can't control, I'd love to see #TrumpIsACoward trending.

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: I will try to self-edit some of the profanity that wants to escape from my lips but what the hell is wrong with this idiot? First we have the Trump tweet video where it sounds like he's roaming the halls of Walter Reed greeting other patients and military personnel! Then he indulges in some stupid political stunt where he rides around in a hermetically sealed limo with two Secret Service agents so he can wave to about 20 of his most rabid supporters!

When I first heard the news about Trump's infection, I was a little bit skeptical since we are talking the Father of All Lies. Come Saturday, I was beginning to feel a bit of regret for my schadenfreude and think that the "man" was really sick. As someone who recently spent 8 days in the hospital and 4 in ICU from pneumonia, I know how scary it is to fight for your breath. Now I take all of that back what with his pathetic little stunt.

I'm also back to believing this whole COVID-19 incident was another sick little Trump scam. It's all just a lie, which would go to explain why the doctors are saying one thing and Mark Meadows is saying something worse—have to make the rubes think of how strong Dear Leader is! On Friday he's flown to the hospital but then on the third day, Sunday, he rode (word choice intentional) from the dead like Jesus bleeping Christ. On Saturday his video was full of his saying that he had to take on the disease for the American people, again like Christ. While I doubt Donnie is that well acquainted with the story of Jesus, there are in his White House plenty who are. This whole thing reeks of Trump/Republican planned stunt, like "Mission Accomplished." It is straight out of their playbook: Distract; Use your weakness against your opponent; and then turn it into a Photo-op! And we fell for it hook, line, and sinker! The press is running around in a tizzy. Biden out of respect cancels his Trump attack ads. No one is talking about his racist shout out to the Proud Boys; his brutal bully performance at the debate; his possible financial crimes and his tax returns. Instead all attention is on Dear Leader and how with his bigly superior white genes he beat that awful Coronavirus in three days. Oh and the 208,000 dead must have been weak libtards from blue states that deserved to die anyway. It was all a scam! I want to scream in rage!

K.H. in Milford, NH, writes: I'm beginning to think that Donald Trump may have had COVID-19 for over a week before his diagnosis was made public. Here's why:

  • Trump has been given dexamethasone. Steroids are harmful early in the disease, as they suppress immunity. They are only indicated for severe disease, once inflammation becomes a critical factor. This would be unlikely two days after diagnosis.

  • Neither the White House nor the doctors have been willing to say when Trump last had a negative COVID test.

  • Trump did not have a COVID test prior to the debate. He arrived late and claimed there was no time for one.

  • He returned to the White House three days after his diagnosis was announced. The most dangerous phase of the disease is 7-10 days after symptoms begin, so it would be imprudent to leave the hospital if he has had hypoxia within the first couple of days.

  • On Saturday, Dr. Sean Conley read a prepared statement claiming that Trump was 72 hours post diagnosis. On Sunday he corrected himself to say that he meant to say it was the third day. It seems more likely that the WH and spin doctors can't get their lies straight than that the prepared statement was incorrect.

  • There has been no contact tracing.

The simplest explanation is that he hid his disease until he was too sick to continue campaigning, and since he recklessly infected those closest to him, the truth would be kept under greatest secrecy. I can't come up with a better explanation.

R.D. in Austin, TX, writes: I've worked with HIPAA covered agencies for the last 10 years and it's hard for me to imagine an NDA having scarier penalties than are already included in HIPAA. Maybe Trump thought he was being intimidating, but that would be the delusion of an insecure old man.

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: There is an actual reason for a patient to seek an NDA from a doctor, even in light of HIPAA's prohibition of unauthorized medical disclosures: HIPAA has no private right of action. That is, a medical practitioner (not just doctors) can be punished for violating HIPAA, but the patient cannot collect damages unless the action also constitutes malpractice or some other tort, or is a breach of contract. Hence, an NDA would give such a private right of action to the patient for a HIPAA violation. I'm not suggesting demanding an NDA from your doctor as a condition of treating you is a good idea, but there is a legal logic to it.

A.B. in Chesapeake, VA, writes: No doctor would agree to the absurd motorcade we just witnessed. No one is saying it, but the term we use in medicine for what is going on with Trump's behavior is non-compliance. It may be a result of altered mental status due to disease or stress or medications, but the end result is usually we "fire" such a patient and formally terminate our relationship. The patient is given written notice and is given 30 days to find a new doctor, unless they also agree and allow the relationship to end at the time of notification.

G.W. in Oxnard, CA, writes: I have heard and read many times that Donald Trump is getting the best of care for his COVID-19. I'm not a medical professional, but you don't need to be a medical professional to know that can't possibly be true. The President has received a very aggressive treatment regimen including experimental treatment that should be available only to someone at death's door. Either he really was at death's door and should not have been up and around so soon or else he was exposed to extreme risk to be prescribed an experimental drug that was not indicated. The combination of treatments is unique, with no way to predict the drug side effects or interactions. That's not scientific and is potentially dangerous. He may have side effects like erratic behavior (though with him it's hard to tell) or euphoria that masks the severity of his symptoms. The president is not only not getting the best of care, he is not getting competent care.

T.S. in Memphis, TN, writes: When I heard the other day about all the treatments Trump may have received at Walter Reed Hospital, it made me contemplate whether Trump's permanent behavior pattern can be ascribed to ongoing treatments with steroids. Post-COVID steroids certainly explain his need to exhibit his "manliness" by striding up the stairs (huffing and puffing) to the Truman Balcony following his release from Walter Reed. But he hadn't received any treatment for COVID the previous 4 years, and yet we have disturbingly aggressive behavior—for decades. I know. Conspiracy theories! Or, he's just truly warped.

V & Z respond: For what it's worth, there is a long-standing theory that he's a heavy Adderall user. Not a steroid, but it has some similar outward effects.

P.G. in Englewood, CO, writes: Hi, I'm a doc who used to work in kidney transplant. We gave high-dose steroids to patients at the time of transplant and for about 3 days after.

Patients would feel great on this! They would often tell me they didn't know they would feel so good a day or two after the transplant, so I would explain it's just the steroids talking. High dose corticosteroids can cause euphoria and even mania. Unfortunately, they can also cause psychosis and personality changes. In some cases, the mania turns to severe depression.

I think this explains some of President Trump's recent behavior and verbiage. It is also not getting enough attention; people forget that high-dose corticosteroids can have significant mental side effects.

Usually these pass fairly quickly.

L.B. in Brookline, MA, writes: I haven't seen anyone offer my interpretation of Trump's advice on COVID-19: "Don't be afraid of Covid. Don't let it dominate your life."

It sounds as if it's advice to the public, but I think it makes more sense to see it as a pep talk to himself, a reminder to stand firm in his preferred self-image of virile strength in hopes that will help win his own battle. That fits his consistent concern about himself rather than the public or anyone around him as well as his tendency toward magical thinking.

K.F. in Madison, AL, writes: I found this amusing:

A Twitter user named Lord
Scott Baxter Bowser offers $100 to anyone who will dress up as Herman Cain and visit Donald Trump with a warning that 
three ghosts are coming. In other words, it's a Scrooge joke.

V & Z respond: That reminds us of what we wrote yesterday about dark humor.

Legal Matters

J.M. in Nova Scotia, Canada, writes: I had a thought that one person likely to benefit enormously if Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed is Senior Associate Justice Clarence Thomas. As the longest serving justice, he decides who writes the opinion when he is in the majority and the Chief Justice isn't. Any future cases that go 5-4 with Roberts in the minority will allow Thomas to make the decision more conservative by assigning himself to write it.

S.K. in Bethesda, MD, writes: You heard it here first. When it's clear that Donald Trump is out and the Senate has flipped Democratic, Clarence Thomas will resign, and Trump will nominate a replacement and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will push to confirm.

L.O.R. in San Francisco, CA, writes: Regarding your item "Thomas and Alito Remind Everyone Where They Stand on Gay Marriage": Bigotry is still bigotry, even if there is a religious basis for it. Religion does not excuse bigotry, it just provides a justification for the bigot.

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: J.E. of Akron raises an interesting point in response to my comment. I agree that a general belief in religious principles as a guide to daily life should not be held against anyone, let alone a candidate for a high office, and it should not be assumed that a devout Catholic wants to engineer a theocracy. Joe Biden is a devout Catholic, for example, but he has demonstrated that he believes in the rule of law and the separation of church and state.

By contrast, when Amy Coney Barrett states that the goal of her legal career is to "advance the Kingdom of God", it is far from a benign statement of general values. J.E. posits that for her those principles could be "providing financial resources to care for adopted and special-needs children." Perhaps, and if that's the case, it's hard to imagine anyone faulting her for that. But her writings and judicial decisions go much further than that. Since we both agree that it is appropriate to question whether the demands of her faith can be reconciled with a judge's obligation to adhere to the Constitution and the rule of law, we can't ignore that she has demonstrated that her allegiance is first to her conservative evangelical Catholic sect. As a member of People of Praise, she believes that men should "head" all aspects of civic and private life, women must submit to their husbands, and that strict gender roles should be enforced. Similarly, the rights of LGBTQ people can be subverted by anyone who finds them offensive on religious grounds. She was outspoken in her opposition to the Obergefell decision, which overturned state bans on same-sex marriage. She is also a proponent of the death penalty and sees no contradiction between her alleged "pro-life" stance when it serves to oppress and subjugate women and federal executions, which resumed in July. Seven executions have been carried out since then (after only 4 in the last 60 years), all in the 7th Circuit on which she currently sits.

And these positions are a means to an end. She is in the same camp as other arch-conservative Catholics, like William Barr, who are trying to engineer a more autocratic government. Barr, speaking at Barrett's alma mater, the University of Notre Dame, said "free government is only suitable and sustainable for a religious people." Not only is that anathema to a democracy, it is also fundamentally incompatible with the Constitutional edict that Americans not only enjoy freedom of religion but freedom from religion. Barrett has made clear that if she is elevated to the Supreme Court she will do everything in her power to enshrine in American jurisprudence the dictates of her religious sect.

J.L. in Wanamingo, MN, writes: I don't understand how the Biden campaign hasn't yet been able to come up with a good answer to the question of "packing the courts." Two debates have yielded two terrible answers, and there's only one debate left. After Kamala Harris's answer Wednesday night, I spent a couple minutes thinking about it and came up with this:

The president can't "pack the court." According to the Constitution, the president can only nominate justices when openings occur. The current number of nine is not in the Constitution, it's a result of a law passed by Congress. If Congress passes another law that increases that number, then President Biden would fulfill his Constitutional duty and nominate justices to fill any openings. But I promise you, a Democratic-held congress will only pass such a bill if the American people support it, which may well happen if the court starts legislating from the bench. If the Court restricts the inalienable Constitutional rights of our citizens on issues like abortion, gay marriage, and voting, the American people will demand action. In that regard, the answer to your question will ultimately be answered by the current justices of the Supreme Court.

I don't know if this issue would sink the campaign with the lead they have, but I believe it's the biggest chink in their armor, and for them to not have an answer for it yet makes me worry about the brain trust in the Biden campaign.

T.B. in Richardson, TX, writes: Rather than avoiding the question of whether the Democrats would seek to pack the Supreme Court if elected, it seems like Joe Biden and Kamala Harris could instead remind people that it was due to the refusal of Republicans to seat Merrick Garland with ten months to go in an election year that this has become an issue. They could then speculate as to whether the Republicans would be packing the court if the situation were reversed.

J.L. in New York NY, writes: As a fan and regular reader, I was surprised at your response to a question from N.T. in Dallas. You wrote: "The real issue is that universities have neither the expertise nor the necessary legal powers to properly investigate sexual assault. They should be turning such cases over to the pros. But because image is very important, they often don't go to the pros, and instead do a poor job themselves."

You're correct that schools do not have the authority to conduct a criminal investigation of a campus sexual assault. But under Title IX, schools receiving federal money are obligated to investigate reported sexual misconduct that violates its policies and codes of conduct, regardless of whether that misconduct could also be prosecuted under criminal law.

Should the investigation reveal that the sexual misconduct creates a hostile environment for the reporting student, then under Title IX, the school must take steps to remedy the situation. If the school takes no action, then the reporting student can bring a Title IX lawsuit against the school in federal court.

Not sure who you mean by "the pros," but agree that schools often do a poor job investigating and adjudicating these cases, to the detriment of the reporting students and respondents. What's needed is comprehensive training for school Title IX administrators to ensure that they can conduct sexual misconduct investigations with fair process for all parties.

V & Z respond: Your remarks are not in conflict with ours. Our only point was that some schools (particularly private ones) fulfill their Title IX obligations, but sometimes choose not to involve the authorities when such a move is strongly indicated.

Notes on the State of Virginia (and Iowa)

K.Z. in Arlington, VA, writes: I read your item "To Gerrymander or Not to Gerrymander, That is the Question," about the upcoming Amendment 1 on the ballot which we in Virginia will vote on this November 3, and have the following to add.

The question being posed is:

Should the Constitution of Virginia be amended to establish a redistricting commission, consisting of eight members of the General Assembly and eight citizens of the Commonwealth, that is responsible for drawing the congressional and state legislative districts that will be subsequently voted on, but not changed by, the General Assembly and enacted without the Governor's involvement and to give the responsibility of drawing districts to the Supreme Court of Virginia if the redistricting commission fails to draw districts or the General Assembly fails to enact districts by certain deadlines?

As proposed, the redistricting commission would continue to be dominated by the legislature's party leaders, who would negotiate as many favorable terms as they can persuade the other party to accept. However, we deserve an independent commission composed of ordinary citizens and not politicians. Two legislators on the commission could paralyze the body's work, causing the map-making to be thrown to the state Supreme Court, without any criteria or guidelines for review. We already have an anti-gerrymandering law (HB1255 and SB717) which outlaws gerrymandering and binds the Legislature to certain criteria to ensure representation of all groups. The Virginia Supreme Court is not governed by this law.

Therefore, many of us in Virginia intend to (or have already) vote against this amendment. If it is defeated, the Virginia Legislature will introduce a non-partisan redistricting plan in the upcoming session.

V & Z respond: Thanks for the more thorough explanation!

T.S. in Davenport, IA, writes: Although Iowa has been in the news lately for all the wrong (and deadly) reasons, we used to have a pretty stellar reputation for being fair and pragmatic. We are among only a handful of states that uses a nonpartisan commission to draw up legislative districts. Specifically, a computer program is used that tries to make the districts as compact as possible and follow county lines, while also attempting to keep relatively equal numbers throughout. This then has to be approved by the state legislature, or else they go back to the drawing board a few times before finally turning it over to partisan forces. Since the system has been in use, it has always been approved on the first go. If only there were a way to make this nationwide. Of course, some states have huge counties or other oddities that may preclude them from doing this exactly the same way, but this would be a great place to start a more serious and less partisan conversation. By the way, if anybody wonders how our four congressional districts stack up: one is very red, two are tossups, and one is slightly blue.

Rock the Vote

K.A. in Miami Beach, FL, writes: The media in general, and in particular, continue to convey the importance of Election Day. For example, on Thursday, Oct 8 (Z) wrote, "There is, as you may have heard, an election in less than a month."

I believe communication should be precise and state that the "Election Period" began on September 18th and ends on November 3rd.

The importance of this is vital in many ways. First, it precisely indicates the election is already underway. Second, it reminds voters that they can vote early, which could increase turn out. Third, it reminds everyone that things that typically should not happen close to Election Day (i.e SCOTUS appointments/confirmations and announcements of new FBI investigations) happened, or are actually happening. And fourth, it signals the Commission on Presidential Debates that they should have at least one debate, preferably one for POTUS and one for VPOTUS, before the Election Period starts.

So my suggestion would be to write, "There is, as you may have heard, an election underway that ends in less than a month."

V & Z respond: Good point.

E.K. in Brignoles, France, writes: I have been following this website for a few days. I find it interesting, and maybe it could be useful to your readers.

Two months ago, it was clear that the safest date to cast an absentee ballot by mail was Oct. 15. So, hurry up, folks, you have 5 days, and don't forget the secrecy envelope when it is required (like in Pennsylvania). If you can, the safest way is to vote early in-person, so we won't have a "red mirage" in some states at 11 p.m. (5 a.m. for me) on election night.

Thank you, folks. The world is watching.

V & Z respond: Thanks for the reminder. Get those ballots in the mail, folks!

R.H. in Macungie, PA, writes: Pennsylvania mail-in ballots were supposed to be sent out as early as 50 days before the election (9/14) but a lawsuit over the Green Party delayed printing the ballots. Now (10/7), with only 27 days until the election, I have just received an e-mail telling me that my ballot is being prepared for mailing and that I should expect it within 10 to 14 days.

Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) has alerted the media that the Lehigh Valley, where I live, is experiencing significant mail delays with some mail more than three weeks behind and being carted up to Scranton because it can't be processed here.

I had planned to mail my ballot promptly after receipt but now feel I must take it to the Election Office to ensure it will be counted. I have no doubt that voters in Pennsylvania will prefer Biden to Trump, but I no longer have confidence that mailed ballots will arrive in time to be counted, especially if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's approval of a 3-day extension for ballots to be delivered. That case is still pending.

V.G.D in Perrysburg, OH, writes: My wife and I live in Ohio and have voted early and in-person. It was a pleasant experience. The line never seemed to have more than half a dozen people waiting, and the voting machines had been moved into a wide hallway (compared to the relatively cramped room they used to be in).

There were poll watchers, but their presence was unremarkable, and upon our return after voting, a poll watcher with a pleasant smile just asked us if everything was OK, and that was it. There was something else that was hard for us to miss: The only place where parking was available was the metered city lot across from the Board of Elections office, but most meters seemed to have coins already put into them, reflecting credit for as much as two hours of parking time! We had to assume that the simple and kind gesture was the poll watcher's doing, and it made our day!

T.R. in Palo Alto, CA, writes: I placed my permanent absentee ballot in one of the over 200 ballot drop off boxes in Santa Clara County, CA. I wish every voter in every state had this kind of access to make their vote count.

It's not DeJoy, it's delivery!

R.B. in Long Beach, CA, writes: If your state offers BallotTrax to track your mail in ballots, I highly recommend using it:

A series of text messages confirming
receipt and processing of this voter's mail-in-ballot

H.M. in East Lansing, MI, writes: Here is a screenshot of how Michigan is handling absentee voting this year. I confirmed my ballot had been submitted and approved, thanks to our new Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson:

In this case, a website
lists all the key dates for the voter's ballot, from 'application received' on 1/17 to 'ballot received' on 9/28

C.E. in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, writes: If early in-person voting skews Democratic and in-person voting on the day splits as the polls presently indicate, such that Joe Biden is leading on election night and the result of the election can only be changed by the mail-in ballots, it will be interesting to see how quickly the Republicans pivot from "mail-in ballots are fraudulent!" to "mail-in ballots are the voice of the people!"

L.E. in Putnam County, NY, writes: My local newspaper, The Putnam County Courier, has a front page story quoting the county elections commissioners. The Republican cautions how easy it is for a mail-in ballot to be invalidated, citing past cases of a mustard stain and a bit of tape on the envelope being sufficient to do so. The Democrat announces all the opportunities for early voting.

T.I. in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, writes: The letter from W.F. in Orlando left me shaking my head at the hoops they had to jump through to get their son registered to vote. As a Canadian, I can't understand why U.S. governments put such roadblocks in the way of the right to vote.

When my son turns 18, he'll automatically be registered to vote, assuming he's had a part-time job (fingers crossed!). When he fills out his federal income tax return, he'll just need to tick a box to be registered as a voter. That box tick will put him on the voter rolls, both federally and provincially. Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy.

There are other ways to get on the voters' list, of course, for those who don't fill out an income tax form, but that's a very small percentage of adult Canadians.

S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: So, the governor of Texas says every one of Texas's 254 counties is allowed to have only one ballot drop box. That means:

Loving County, population 134: 1 box
Harris County, population 2,618,148: 1 box
Ratio of people per ballot box for these two counties: 19,538:1

Rockwall County, area 149 square miles: 1 box
Brewster County, area 6,193 square miles: 1 box
Ratio of square miles per ballot box for these two counties: 42:1

Dallas County, population density 2,695/square mile: 1 box
Loving County, population density 0.1/square mile: 1 box
Ratio of population density per ballot box for these two counties: 26,950:1

Rains County, population 11,762: 1 box
Gregg County, population 123,367: 1 box
Ratio of population per ballot box for these two counties: 10:1

Somervell County, area 187 square miles: 1 box
Brewster County, area 6,193 square miles: 1 box
Ratio of square miles per ballot box for these two counties: 33:1

In Bush v. Gore, a majority of the Supreme Court said: "When the state legislature vests the right to vote for President in its people, the right to vote as the legislature has prescribed is fundamental; and one source of its fundamental nature lies in the equal weight accorded to each vote and the equal dignity owed to each voter...The right to vote is protected in more than the initial allocation of the franchise. Equal protection applies as well to the manner of its exercise. Having once granted the right to vote on equal terms, the State may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person's vote over that of another."

To me, it does not seem that Texas is valuing the vote of a person in Harris County equally as the vote of a person in Loving County, or in Brewster County equally as in Somervell County, etc. County lines are, by their nature, arbitrary. Vast disparities existing in how easy or hard it is to vote deprive voters of equal dignity in the exercise of the franchise. Is there no lawyer in Texas who will make these arguments on a pro bono basis?

Of course, I can imagine the sophistic arguments that the majority of the Supreme Court would make to reject my arguments. And, reprehensibly, in Bush v. Gore the Court said that it was announcing a Constitutional principle that somehow would not count as a precedent in other cases. But it seems to me the Court's cynicism ought to be called out.

V & Z respond: We will note that this is, indeed, being fiercely litigated.

More Sign Polls

D.T. in Parsonsfield, ME, writes: I have been following with interest folks that have been passing along their observations concerning political yard signs seen in their travels.

I live in Parsonsfield in the southwestern part of Maine near the New Hampshire border. My town is in York county in the blue part of Maine, but this is a very rural area and is Trump country.

I drive 30 miles to work and I took the opportunity to take a count of Trump signs that I passed. I only counted signs that were in people's yards, not the ones at intersections or at roundabouts. I counted a total of 21. The interesting thing to me, that I would like to pass on, is that a large percentage (10 out of the 21) were what I would call ostentatious displays. These include multiple signs, very large signs, flags, banners, or some combination of these.

I should hesitate to comment on the potential motivations for these displays but, what the hell, I will anyway! They are perhaps exhibitions of enthusiasm. They could represent some insecurities or overcompensation. They could be an attempt to "own the libs."

Whatever the basis for displays such as these I will comment that whoever created these large presentations only gets one vote just like everybody else.

V & Z respond: Interesting. One wonders if, as partisans get more desperate, their displays of partisanship grow more extreme. That certainly holds true for at least one person we can think of.

W.F. in Orlando, FL, writes: I've had a different experience with yard signs than most of the letters you've printed the past few weeks. Our neighborhood precinct trends slightly Democratic with lots of white collar professionals, IT entrepreneurs, and stay-at-home moms. It seems in this neighborhood that both Trump and Biden supporters are "shy" and people would prefer to keep their political opinions to themselves.

However, we also own some agricultural property about an hour west of Orlando. This area has historically been cattle and citrus country. The demographics are primarily the non-college white people that are Trump's base. This area is absolutely saturated with Trump signs—bumper stickers, regular yard signs, giant yard signs, flags, etc. It's like a giant tailgate party, except Trump has replaced football as the thing they love most. People here drive up and down the streets in giant pickup trucks with huge Trump flags flying behind. Gas stations and road-side stands sell Trump gear. It's absolutely ubiquitous. In this part of Florida, it's not at all unusual to see Confederate battle flags flying in front of people's homes. We also have one neighbor who literally replaced the Confederate flag on his flagpole with a Trump flag. I'm sure he didn't understand the irony of that act. The only place out here where we've seen any Biden signs is in a small historically black community. In that neighborhood, every house has a Biden/Harris sign.

There are many rural communities in my part of Florida. Unless there's a huge "shy Biden" vote here (and I mean really shy), Trump is going to roll up huge margins in this part of the state. This means that Biden will have to win big majorities in the rest of the state in order to compensate. I'm not saying that's impossible, but I hope the pollsters have taken this into account in their polls.

E.M. in Milwaukee, WI, writes: Yesterday, I went bicycling in Waukesha County, which is largely the yang to Milwaukee's yin. Where Milwaukee is urban, diverse, mostly rather poor, and very Democratic, Waukesha is suburban, mostly white with some Latinos, and at least comfortable economically (as well as being the birthplace of Les Paul). I was on a bike trail, so I mostly saw yard signs as I traveled through town. The poll results are: four houses with Biden signs, two Trump signs in front of a business, and one house with a Trump sign along with signs for every other Republican running in November's election. In general, Republicans should crush Democrats in Waukesha. This is not a good look for the Donald.

J.L. in Huntsville, AL, writes: Since you ran some informal polls recently, I have been noticing the political yard signs while driving around a bit in Huntsville:

  1. There aren't a lot.
  2. Most of them are for Doug Jones, Democratic senator running for reelection. I haven't seen any for opponent, Tommy Tuberville.
  3. Many of (2) are accompanied by Biden/Harris signs.
  4. In the parts of the city I've visited lately, Trump signs are rare.
  5. Outside the city, there are a few more Trump signs, but nowhere near the number displayed in 2016. (Note: In another part of the city, my son's Biden/Harris signs were stolen.)

I haven't traveled far and wide so this is very limited, and city vs rural is different, but it does give a glimmer of hope in Alabama.

R.H.D in Webster, NY, writes: For the second time this week, I've seen a sign that reads "BYE DON" with lettering seen on regular Biden signs. At first, I didn't think much of it. But then, a few minutes later, I was laughing hysterically because of how it sounded out. It's a classic example of a double entendre and is very clever! Nice job to whoever came up with this idea!

V & Z respond: In case readers are curious, here is a Florida version of that sign:

The Biden logo, wherein 
the E is three parallel red lines, has been transformed into 'Bye Don'

E.G in Norfolk, VA, writes: I visited the town of Cape Charles on the Eastern Shore of Virginia this week and did one of those informal yard sign surveys that others have reported to you. Biden/Harris signs easily outnumbered Trump signs by about 20:1. This surprised me, as I always thought of Cape Charles as a blue-collar town, built historically upon oystering, crabbing, a concrete plant, and a rail terminal. But in the last 20+ years, outsiders have fixed up old homes into bed and breakfasts, and Washingtonians have bought homes there for vacationing. I just didn't realize how profound the change had been.

T.H. in Portland, ME, writes: After reading the reader comment last week on Maine political signs, I thought you might find this political footnote interesting. Trump/Collins signs started popping up around Portland. Portland, as you may know, is as dark blue as a city can be, and the question isn't if you're progressive but exactly how progressive you are. Anyway, if you look closely, the signs are paid for by the Maine Democratic Party. Obviously they're trying to tie Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) to Donald Trump so that votes go to Sara Gideon (D). Perhaps the first time Democrats are campaigning for Republicans?

A Trump/Collins 2020 sign, and
at the very bottom it notes that it's paid for by the Democratic Party of Maine

V & Z respond: An interesting example of ratfu**ing, but definitely not the first one. The Democrats campaigned for Kansas' Kris Kobach earlier this year, for example. It did not work, though, as KKK lost.

J.B. in Wayne, NJ, writes: I live in a very Republican suburb in North Jersey less than 20 miles west of Manhattan. For the last 30+ years I can remember the town has been controlled by Republicans. Right now, there is a Republican mayor and 8 of the 9 council members are Republican. In that time we have only briefly had two Democrats on the council at the same time.

My reason for mentioning this is that I have never seen so many lawn signs for Democrats around town. Yes, to be sure, there are a fair number of Trump signs, but I would say that there is almost an equal number of Biden signs (when they are not being stolen). I have seen at least four properties in my neighborhood that had Biden signs that were gone suddenly—and it's not that the homeowners changed their minds. With so many Biden signs, I wonder if the suburban changes talked about are coming to my town. It won't matter in 2020, since Biden will win easily in New Jersey anyway, but I think this may bode well for the Democrats here in the future.

J.F. in Lake Forest, IL, writes: I am not a professional statistician (or even much of an amateur one), but it occurred to me that comparing 2016 polls to 2020 polls, tempting though it may be, is actually comparing apples to oranges. If the pollsters, after 2016, generally adjusted their samples to reflect the unexpected demographic shifts in the 2016 electorate (a higher-than-expected percentage of white non-college graduates, for example), then isn't it fair to conclude that, say, a 6-point Biden lead in Wisconsin this year is sturdier than a 6-point Clinton lead in Wisconsin was in 2016? Granted, hindsight is 20/20 and we know that many state polls in 2016 were way off, but if the pollsters have changed their methodology to reflect a more Trump-friendly electorate, it makes me feel even more confident in Biden's lead to know that the unexpected composition of the 2016 electorate has already been baked into the 2020 polling.

That said, VOTE. Vote vote vote.

The Civil War, Speechifying, and Other Historical Matters

S.S. in West Hollywood, CA, writes: Your comment yesterday that big changes often turn on small things reminded me how very different the world would be today if only Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections, Theresa LePore, chose not to use the butterfly ballot in 2000 that she designed. Voters confused by the butterfly ballot cost Al Gore Florida and thus the presidency. I wonder if that decision weighs on her today.

LePore registered as a Democrat when she first ran for that office in 1996 and won again in 2000. She changed it to "No Party Affiliation" when she ran for a third term in 2004, when she lost to the Democrat. She worked in the elections office for 33 years, starting as a file clerk at the age of 16.

I suspect few other local election officials are noteworthy enough to have a Wikipedia page.

B.C. in Philadelphia, PA, writes: In your answer to the question about turning points in the Civil War, you failed to mention the Battle of Chancellorsville. I know that it was a victory for the South, but it was also when Stonewall Jackson was killed accidentally by one of his own men. Lee never lost when Jackson was involved in the battle planning and never won a significant victory after Jackson's death. That's quite a turning point.

V & Z respond: That was in the running for fifth place, along with the Battle of Fort Wagner, the Battle of Shiloh, the fall of New Orleans, Robert E. Lee's decision to accept command in the South rather than the North, the elevation of U.S. Grant to overall command of all Union Armies, and the Passage of the 13th Amendment. However, choices had to be made, and First Bull Run got the nod.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: God forgive me, I don't want to add this one. I taught U.S. history for 40 years at college preparatory schools and one of the crosses I had to bear (the other was administrators; I had the best students a guy could get, excellent colleagues, and 97% of the parents were good parents) was people confusing presidents and Civil War battles with the substance of U.S. History. Particularly history as we approach it since the 1960s. But damn it, (Z), you chose to print the letter.

The Battle of Shiloh is key to the progress of the Civil War. While the Union wasted time and ran up large casualties in the eastern theater of the war, it was winning the war in the West (and the naval blockade, diplomacy, and the factories). The Confederacy could not defeat the Union in the long run; the Union had to decide that prosecuting the war was no longer worth it. And in the dark days of 1864, popular opinion came close to that. Had the Confederate forces won a decisive victory at the Battle of Shiloh, the war would not have proceeded as successfully in the West, the progress would have been slower, and the dark days of 1864 would have been darker. The voters might have been unwilling to continue the war. Shiloh was the Confederacy's best chance to stop the Union advance.

Glad I got that off my chest.

Also, I don't know how FDR's "Four Freedoms" Speech can be left out of the top ten. It shaped the Atlantic Charter and later the charter of the United Nations. It defined the difference between western democracies and communist countries during the Cold War, and still defines western democratic liberalism.

V & Z respond: Good points, all.

M.L. in Huntington Woods, MI, writes:

Obviously. there is room for arguing about great speeches and their impact, but Lyndon B. Johnson's March 1965 "We Shall Overcome" address set the stage for the Voting Rights Act and ushered in a new era in U.S. politics. I think it has to be in the alternate list, if not the top 10!

Interestingly, it is ranked 10 on American rhetoric's list of the top 100 American speeches of the 20th century.

V & Z respond: It was under consideration, but it's a tad short in the eloquence department, in our view.

C.J. in Hawthorne, CA, writes: Woodrow Wilson's speech asking for a declaration of war on April 2, 1917 should be under consideration. Though often lawyerly, it contains phrases that have guided U.S. foreign policy for the last century, especially "The world must be made safe for democracy," which I have seen incorrectly attributed to FDR elsewhere. So, not only was it monumental at the time in getting the U.S. to join the Great War, it has been the cornerstone of our engagement in the world for decades.

I especially find the peroration of the speech moving. It's like a mission statement:

It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts—for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free. To such a task we can dedicate our lives and our fortunes, everything that we are and everything that we have, with the pride of those who know that the day has come when America is privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her birth and happiness and the peace which she has treasured. God helping her, she can do no other.

Doesn't get much better than that.

J.B. in Hutto, TX, writes: I am very surprised that you left Thomas Jefferson's First Inaugural Address off of your list of the 10 most important political speeches in American history. It didn't even merit a place in your list of "honorable mentions." In my view, it deserves top billing on any list of great American speeches. After all, Jefferson's assumption of the presidency in 1801 marked the first time in American history that there was a peaceful transfer of power from one political faction to another, certainly an event of massive consequence not only for America but for the world (and certainly very relevant to Americans in 2020, with Trump's talk of not respecting the outcome of the election). The late 1790s had been a time of high political tension, almost leading to violence, with Federalists conspiring with Aaron Burr to steal the election and Alexander Hamilton even envisioning some sort of military coup at one point. By winning the presidency and calming the partisan rancor that had shaken the republic, Jefferson made one of his greatest contributions to the future of America. His First Inaugural was a key element of this. Jefferson could have thrown gasoline onto the fire; instead, he threw cold water.

And I believe Jefferson's eloquent words should resonate with Americans in the early 21st Century as we try to emerge from a similarly bitter and partisan time period:

[E]very difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.

M.B. in Pittsboro, NC, writes: Don't you think JFK's Inaugural was consequential? It set the tone for optimistic positive action by individual Americans and inspired people around the world. People still proudly volunteer for the Peace Corps

V & Z respond: Thinking carefully about it, we were inclined to think that most or all of those things would have happened with or without the speech. In particular, that the Peace Corps would have been founded either way. That said, it was actually the last one cut from the top 10.

L.B. in Savannah, GA, writes: You have Kennedy's demise in Dealey Plaza, which is where he received the fatal gunshot wound, but it's very likely that he survived until his arrival at Parkland Hospital. I'm currently reading Reclaiming History, Vincent Bugliosi's definitive study of the assassination. He provides a detailed description of the heroic efforts by Parkland doctors to save Kennedy's life, along with their observations of his physical state. He was not dead on arrival by any means.

If Lincoln died in Petersen's Boarding House, and not Ford's Theater, it would be consistent to note that Kennedy died at Parkland Hospital rather than Dealey Plaza.

V & Z respond: For years, the scholarly consensus has been that Kennedy's wounds were instantly fatal, and that the ministrations at the hospital were out of: (1) desperation, and (2) a desire to keep him "alive" until he could have the last rites. This is the point of view adopted by Gerald Posner in Case Closed, for example. One can also find the pictures of the post-gunshot Kennedy in books and on websites, and if you see those photos (we don't recommend it), it is difficult to believe that he was still alive after the bullets hit.

As to Lincoln, he had a pulse and was breathing until the next morning, and so was certainly alive (if terminal) when brought to Petersen's.

R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: But the week of November 17-23, 1963, was quite a bit worse for JFK than the last one was for DJT, right?

V & Z respond: Of course, but that's apples and oranges. We were talking negative political impact. Once the concept is expanded to include major life events, then you have the weeks that the eight presidents who died in office, plus the week where Woodrow Wilson had a stroke, plus the week where Calvin Coolidge's son died (plunging Cal into a depression from which he never recovered), plus the week where Abraham Lincoln's son died, plus the week where Letitia Tyler died, etc.

L.K. in Mt. Washington, CA, writes: I would imagine you'll find a way to work in the death of Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr., especially since you had just mentioned grandpa.

V & Z respond: We were trying to find a way, and you just solved that problem for us. This means there is just one Tyler grandson still living.

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: D.A., my fellow Brooklynite, lays the racist and anti-Semitic Supreme Court Justice James Clark McReynolds at Woodrow Wilson's feet, and Wilson did, of course, put him on the Supreme Court. However, it was due to Wilson's erroneous belief that McReynolds, his first attorney general, was a liberal. He emphatically was not. But it's important to remember that Wilson also put Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish Justice, on the Court (whom McReynolds hated for that reason), and the obscure John H. Clarke, who was a progressive from Ohio.

Wilson should justly be condemned for his lack of vetting of McReynolds, but he was not selected for his bigotry. Moreover, Wilson should be lauded for Brandeis—one of the greatest Justices in history, in addition to breaking the religious glass ceiling—and for Clarke, who resigned after six years in part because of McReynolds' unpleasantness (McReynolds refused to sign the Court's farewell letter to Clarke). Wilson, for his part, came to regard his nomination of McReynolds as one of his biggest mistakes.

T.I. in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, writes: I respectfully have to disagree with the suggestion from G.W. in Boca Raton, FL, that Justice Hugo Black should be added to your list of non-collegial justices for his disdain of Justice Frankfurter.

There's no doubt that Black and Frankfurter strongly disagreed with each other on their approaches to the civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution, and both privately said cutting things about the other's jurisprudence, but that did not extend to their personal relationships.

When Black's first wife died at the early age of 50, Frankfurter wrote Black a short but heartfelt letter of condolence. And some years later, when Black read in the morning paper that Frankfurter had died, he said, "Ohhh, Felix is dead." And he burst into tears.

F.S. in Cologne, Germany, writes: In your answer to the question of S.L., West Babylon, you wrote "However, nobody has put together a 'perfect' map." And you added that for over 100 years, a truism in politics was: "As Maine goes, so goes the nation." That kind of took a hit in 1936 and died out." But Maine voted for the Republican in each presidential election from 1856 to 1960 with the exception of 1912. Nonetheless, Democrats won the presidential elections of 1856, 1884, 1892, 1916 and 1932, so the sentence "As Maine goes, so goes the nation" didn't make a lot of sense then, in my opinion.

V & Z respond: A lot of "folk" political wisdom doesn't actually stand up to scrutiny.

J.M. in Somerville, MA, writes: Vermont seems to often have had a complicated relationship with their political parties. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) might even come across as a loyal party man compared to long-serving Republican Senator from Vermont, George Aiken, who stated in his 1938 Lincoln Day address, "The Republican Party attracts neither the farmer nor the industrial worker. Why not? To represent the people, one must follow them. Lincoln did. The Republican national leadership today does not. The greatest praise I can give to Lincoln on this, his anniversary, is to say that he would be ashamed of his party's leadership today."

C.S. in Arlington, VA, writes: You published a letter by G.H. in Newport, OR in which they said in passing that they wondered "if the U.S. winning the Revolutionary War was really a good thing." Aside from the question of what country Washington and Oregon are in, this is a popular question among fans of alternate histories, and is hard to answer comprehensively. Who can say how much of American prosperity has been due to a unique national character that developed due to and after the Revolutionary War? Or how much is due to abundant natural resources that were present regardless?

But there are two arguments that are hard to disagree with:

The slave trade came to an end due to the U.K. Slave Trade Act 1807. The effects of this were actually felt in the U.S., because the Royal Navy established a West Africa squadron and suppressed the slave trade. Of course, domestic slavery endured and actually expanded in the United States. Slavery itself then became illegal throughout the British Empire under the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, almost 30 years before the American Civil War. When you consider the economic situation of the American South at that time, its dependence on the British textile industry, and the incredible resources that could be brought to bear from outside of North America, it is very hard to imagine an outcome other than an early, swift, and bloodless end to that peculiar institution.

About 100 years later, on September 3, 1939, Great Britain declared war on Germany. FDR did what he could to support the British through lend-lease and other programs, but he was highly constrained by isolationist factions within the U.S. Even after war was declared in 1941, it took time for the American economy to retool to a wartime footing. In contrast, if American men and materiel had been prepared and moved to Europe in 1939, how much could that conflict have been shortened? Would France even have fallen in 1940? Perhaps Hitler would not have had a chance to implement the Final Solution from 1941 on? Could Anglo-American forces have brought the Axis to its knees before the Soviet Union began its offensive, isolating the Soviets from what became their eastern European client states, and perhaps avoiding the entire Cold War? Today, instead of contemplating an ascendant China, would we be entering the third century of the Pax Britannica? And, of course, it's fun to imagine silly vignettes such as Governor-General Roosevelt ordering HMS Arizona and her sister ships to the Atlantic to help establish a blockade.

These are just a few of the known unknowns, but there is certainly an argument to be made against American independence!

V & Z respond: Sounds like more insidious Canadian propaganda to us. Are you sure you're not writing from Arlington, Nova Scotia? Or Arlington, Yukon, eh?


B.J.L. in Ann Arbor, MI, writes: With Eddie Van Halen's passing, I read the first sentence of Saturday's edition, which included "Jump," and I was immediately expecting to see references to the GOP "running with the devil," to Cal Cunningham being "hot for teacher." I also figured that Donald Trump's comments would be "unchained" at the debate and fearing another "eruption," the CPD put the kibosh on future debates. I would have struggled to include a reference to "ice cream man" or "atomic punk," so I leave it to you.

V & Z respond: We just don't have time "right now." Can't you "finish what ya started"? If you can't figure it out then, well, "you really got me."

J.G. in Upper Hanover, PA, writes: In the book version of The Shining, Jack Torrance used a croquet mallet. While less bloody, it was more painful and torturous to be repeatedly bludgeoned by a mallet and have body parts crushed.

I think Trump is the croquet mallet type. It is also a more "high-class weapon" than a blue-collar hatchet and 45 is all about image.

V & Z respond: Maybe a gold-plated mallet?

E.D. in Dansville, NY, writes: I was the top duplicate bridge player in our county until I gave it up in 2007. The Phillies were doing well, and I wanted to watch them.

My visceral hate toward a man who wants to be dictator is so intense I would have trouble playing now. "What suit is trump?" "There is no trump."

V & Z respond: Waiting until the Phillies play well to make major life changes seems like a wise plan. That way, you have 10 years to adapt until the next occasion comes along.

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: You have to link this Lincoln Project video in an upcoming post!

V & Z respond: A parody of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Evita," updated for Donald Trump and COVID? Done.

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: To W.B. in London, when just a single word won't do, may I suggest a favorite website of mine, the unpretentious Random Political Rhetoric Generator? For example: "My opponent is receiving money from military-industrial warmongers, 24-hour news networks and porn stars."

Not just political expression but also Biblical, Academic, Financial, Wine Reviews, Shakespeare dialog, and more to suit your exasperated needs.

V & Z respond: Our first two tests generated "I will not stand for an America where terrorists and MSNBC cronies can destroy our job creators" and "I will work for an America where illegal immigrants and Muslim extremists cannot corrupt our Christian traditions." Do you think they have direct access to Donald Trump's Twitter account, or that he just copies and pastes?

Today's Presidential Polls

Baldwin Wallace is another one that barely makes our cut, but in this case, they are saying pretty much the same things that other pollsters are saying, albeit with slightly less favorable numbers for Joe Biden.

State Biden Trump Start End Pollster
Georgia 47% 46% Oct 08 Oct 09 PPP
Michigan 50% 43% Sep 30 Oct 08 Baldwin Wallace U.
Ohio 45% 47% Sep 30 Oct 08 Baldwin Wallace U.
Pennsylvania 50% 45% Sep 30 Oct 08 Baldwin Wallace U.
Wisconsin 49% 43% Sep 30 Oct 08 Baldwin Wallace U.

Today's Senate Polls

Georgia is going to be very interesting, although it's one of the states that is going to take multiple days to have any results. If there is a runoff for the other Senate seat, that runoff will be held on Jan. 5, 2021. (Z)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Georgia Jon Ossoff 44% David Perdue* 43% Oct 08 Oct 09 PPP
Michigan Gary Peters* 48% John James 42% Sep 30 Oct 08 Baldwin Wallace U.

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct10 Second Debate Is Kaput
Oct10 Saturday Q&A
Oct10 Today's Presidential Polls
Oct10 Today's Senate Polls
Oct09 Takeaways from the Vice Presidential Debate
Oct09 Next Presidential Debate Will Be Virtual--If It Happens
Oct09 Whitmer Kidnapping Plot Is Foiled
Oct09 Trump Will Return to the Campaign Trail Next Week
Oct09 Appeals Court Rejects Extended Deadline for Receiving Ballots in Wisconsin...
Oct09 ...But District Court Smacks Down Ohio Ballot Box Policy
Oct09 Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball Has Biden over 270 Electoral Votes...
Oct09 ...And So Does CNN's Electoral College Outlook
Oct09 Pelosi Decides to Play a Little Hardball
Oct09 A Stand-Alone Bill to Bail Out the Airlines Is on the No-Fly List
Oct09 Trump Required His Doctors to Sign Nondisclosure Agreements in 2019
Oct09 New England Journal of Medicine Makes Its First Presidential (Anti-)Endorsement
Oct09 Today's Presidential Polls
Oct09 Today's Senate Polls
Oct08 Pretty Fly, for a White Guy
Oct08 Trump Can't Make Up His Mind About the Stimulus
Oct08 Biden Delivers Gettysburg Address
Oct08 Vance Gets Closer to Having Trump's Tax Returns
Oct08 Three National Polls Have Biden Up Big
Oct08 Trump Campaign Cancels Ad Buys in Ohio and Iowa
Oct08 Puerto Rico's Governor Endorses Trump
Oct08 Arizona Senate Debate Is All About Trump
Oct08 Today's Presidential Polls
Oct08 Today's Senate Polls
Oct07 The Veep Debate Is Tonight
Oct07 Biden is Running Ads--for Harris
Oct07 CNN Poll: Biden Leads by 16 Points
Oct07 Four Million People Have Already Voted
Oct07 If Trump Still Has COVID-19 Next Week, Biden Won't Debate Him
Oct07 Stimulus Talks Are Over Until after the Election
Oct07 What If the Voters Elect a Dead Man?
Oct07 Funny Feelings about 2020
Oct07 Dexamethasone Comes with Serious Risks
Oct07 Miller Is the Latest White House Staffer to Test Positive
Oct07 Trump's Tax Returns Indicate a Hair-Raising Crime
Oct07 Looks Like It Wasn't Just Texts
Oct07 Today's Presidential Polls
Oct07 Today's Senate Polls
Oct06 Trump Discharged from Walter Reed
Oct06 Thomas and Alito Remind Everyone Where They Stand on Gay Marriage
Oct06 The Ballot Wars Are Well Underway
Oct06 Trump Campaign Microtargeted Black Voters
Oct06 Black Voters' Absentee Ballots Much More Likely to Be Rejected
Oct06 All the Way with LBJ
Oct06 To Gerrymander or Not to Gerrymander, That Is the Question
Oct06 Today's Presidential Polls