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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

We got quite a few letters on faith in Jesus vs. good works, so we're going to run some of those this week, and some more next week. The timing is good; he is the birthday boy, after all. Actually, he's one of three, since Otto the dachshund (Dec. 21) and Flash the dachshund (Dec. 25) both turn 11 this week. Anyhow, in addition to that, there's abortion, everyone's favorite Democratic senators, the blue team's (potential) great white hope, British politics, atomic bombs, and a bunch more. Today's mailbag is so full, in fact, that we're also going to push the return of the P.M. in Currituck Fan Club to next week.

Note also the request for feedback at the end of the section "You Win Some, You Lose Some"

Christ, Knowing You Ain't Easy, Part I

J.C. in General Trias, Cavite, Philippines, writes: As a graduate of Fuller Seminary and a Quaker, I loved the question from B.B. in St. Louis about Christ. This is the kind of thing that every follower of Christ should carefully consider.

I would first suggest that to many Christians one is not born Christian at birth. Instead, one chooses that path, early or later in life.

Secondly, I think followers of Christ could legitimately choose either of your choices, as Spirit leads, and as the Light speaks to everyone in different ways.

For myself ... I'm going to weasel out of the question with a "Both." I don't believe His divinity can be separated from His teachings. According to the records we have of Jesus, He declared to a fiercely monotheistic people, "Before Abraham was, I Am." That was a signal to those listening that He was calling himself God—and being so unusual, seems to lend credence to being an authentic saying. This is also a man who said that we should love our enemies, do good to them, go the extra mile, turn the other cheek. Radical ideas for anyone, but especially for an oppressed minority under the Roman thumb. I love Jesus because I find He is a holistic being, where His values spring from who He is. His words were what He said; His actions were who He was—and that was precisely a cornerstone to His teachings.

And I would say that the Early Church agreed. While there were later many unfortunate splits over in what manner Jesus was both human and divine, with the "Nestorians," Oriental Orthodox, and the rest of the Church taking different anathematic (antianathematical?) positions, they universally agreed that Jesus was both human and divine, and that those traits were intimately connected to some degree.

Thank you B.B. for asking me to consider this for myself. I appreciate your calling for contemplation.

F.M. in Hatfield, PA, writes: To answer B.B. in St. Louis, I quote James 2:26, which reads: "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."

S.S. in Clayton, CA, writes: As an Episcopal priest, let me offer my take on the question of which is more important to a Christian: belief in Jesus' divinity or following Jesus' teachings. I think most Christians would view this as a false dichotomy (either/or) and instead would consider them intertwined (both/and). It is true that Christians would probably connect these ideas sequentially (because Jesus is divine, we are to follow his teachings), but I don't think they would necessarily give greater weight to one proposition over the other.

What you do find in practice is that some Christian denominations seem to emphasize one aspect more than the other in their public rhetoric. Conservative denominations (Baptists, for instance) tend to focus on Jesus' divinity, while liberal denominations (such as my own) tend to focus on Jesus' teachings. This pattern, however, is a matter of degrees rather than absolutes.

The reason the belief in the divinity of Jesus is a crucial aspect to the Christian identity is partly due to the fact that there are plenty of people who admire the teachings of Jesus without identifying as Christians. Perhaps the most prominent example was Mahatma Gandhi, who praised the message of Jesus, while at the same time being harshly critical of Christianity, which he saw as another tool of oppression used by the British occupiers of India.

D.R. in Portland, OR, writes: The answer is clearly, "It depends on which Christian you ask." The question assumes Christianity is monolithic, which it certainly is not.

My brief take on how we got here: The earliest Christians were people who established communities based on Jesus's example and teachings (which involved passive resistance to the Empire). They had no established doctrines to hold anyone to. After the "corporate takeover" of Christianity by the Roman Empire, things got much more centralized and authoritarian, and that required defined creeds, so one could figure out who the heretics were. By design, those creeds emphasized a more spiritual Jesus and individualized faith based on concepts like sin and salvation. Today, the remnants of that "unholy alliance" between church and state are still around in varying degrees among different Christian communities. For those who adhere to the prominent traditions of the last 1,800 years, the divinity of Jesus is more important than what he taught. Others of us are attempting to follow Jesus more like the pre-Constantine folks did, and for us, Jesus's teachings are paramount, even if they lead us to resist today's empires.

M.S in Centennial, CO, writes: As a life-long Christian, and an amateur student of religious history, I will weigh in on the question from B.B. in St. Louis.

I feel that for the vast majority of Christians, it has been more important to believe in Jesus' divinity than to follow Jesus' teachings. I see this as an unfortunate, but inevitable consequence of Christianity's predominant role in Europe and the West over the last 1,700 years. It is very easy to profess a belief in Jesus' divinity, and this requires little sacrifice on the part of the believer. So this view will always appeal to those in power, and churches that follow this view will always be more popular to the establishment.

However there has always been strong theological view that belief in Jesus' divinity implies following his teachings, and that professed belief without following the teachings is meaningless self-deception. Instead, it is said that if you truly believe, than you will as a consequence follow the teachings and do good works.

This is not often used to chastise the powerful, however, and in practice the established church's teachings have often been concerned with the failings of the masses and with sexual immorality.

D.C. in Delray Beach, FL, writes: Yes, I am a Christian. I am even a preacher's kid and a son of a bishop.

It is far more important to study and follow the teachings of Jesus than believe in his divinity. Please bear in mind that the authors who wrote about the life of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, et alia) started writing around 40 years after the death of Jesus. They were writing mostly for a contemporary audience in the first and second century and were telling good stories that had been handed down a couple of generations. The divinity issue was introduced to help with credibility for the followers (a few readers and many listeners) of the day.

The fact that the writings survive and are followed closely by so many Christians is mostly a result of some sensible truths, good analogies, and careful story-telling that mark (pun intended) the Gospels and Epistles.

A quick example: There is the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 with five loaves and two fishes. As a long time camp and soup kitchen chef, I can tell you that the numbers just don't work. But saying that you can start small and grow big (like Christianity, the USA, Votes for Women, etc.) is an easily understood story that can encourage people to believe in themselves and the potential of humanity to advance with cooperation and sharing.

Dig out your copy of the musical Jesus Christ, Superstar and listen to "King Herod's Song" for a satirical take on these issues. Like most good satire, there are certain truths involved.

Then dig out your copy of "A Hundred Miles or More" collection by Allison Krause and listen to "Get Me Through December," especially the line that goes "Faith can move mountains, of that I am sure."

One can live a better life by following the teachings of Jesus. Believing in his divinity is not a requirement.

Have a merry and thoughtful Christmas.


A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: You listed some ideas for actions to maintain abortion rights even if Roe is struck down. The House has already passed the Women's Health Protection Act, which codifies a woman's right to an abortion and is currently stalled in the Senate (where all good legislation goes to die). Some senators are currently discussing whether to carve out an exception to the filibuster for voting rights legislation. As Jennifer Rubin points out, this exception should be broad enough to cover all civil rights legislation, including the WHPA.

We can't rely on boycotts or public pressure. The situation in Texas is instructive. Texas's abortion ban has been in place since September—thousands of women are currently being denied their fundamental right to decide whether to have children. We haven't seen any of the same reaction in Texas that we saw in North Carolina or Georgia with boycotts or even symbolic gestures like moving athletic events out of state. There was an uproar for about 2 weeks in the media, but now the silence is deafening. Meanwhile, women (mostly poor women) are having to travel hundreds of miles, spend thousands of dollars, find childcare and housing out of state, and take time off work for a simple and safe medical procedure. Most abortions take place within 10 weeks, but Texas's ban means unnecessary delays in scheduling an abortion, which means later-term abortions and greater risks of complications. For all intents and purposes, Roe has already been overturned in Texas and there has been little to no resistance on the ground.

And frankly, the time to start a state-by-state strategy was about 30 years ago, when the Supreme Court curtailed abortion rights in Casey by introducing the "undue burden" standard. I agree that it's never too late to do what we should have been doing all along but those are long-term strategies that won't help women whose rights are being denied now. Without federal legislation, too many women will be left with no options to end their pregnancy safely and many of these women will take matters into their own hands and attempt to self-abort. This is a public health crisis that requires urgent and immediate action. Congress has to get this done now, even if they have to end the filibuster to do it.

J.N. in Summit, NJ, writes: Regarding Newton's third law and abortion politics, yet more reaction from my congressman:

S.K. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I've been confused by your lack of concern over abortion potentially being outlawed in some states (if the Supremes fully strike down Roe). The abortion pill wasn't even available by mail until, well, today? And how will some states restrict it coming in by mail without opening packages and violating federal law? They don't have to—I remember adult toy companies refusing to ship to certain states because of those states' restrictive laws (looks like Texas's law was struck down, but I'm unsure if this is still a thing anywhere else). I suspect it'll be even harder to get the abortion pill than it was to get a dildo in Texas.

S.M. in Morganton, GA, writes: J.T. in Marietta writes: "Not every pro-life person is an ignorant person screaming outside an abortion clinic; not every pro-choice person is a heartless baby killer," after making some very good points, many of which I agree with and are worthwhile contributions to the discussion.

But the bothsidesism of this closing statement cannot go unchallenged. There are people screaming outside of women's clinics within the forced-birth/"pro-life" movement. There are people who bomb women's clinics within the forced-birth movement. There are people who murder doctors within the forced birth movement. These are a loud and vocal minority within the forced birth movement and community.

I saw all of this growing up in Pensacola, FL, in the 80s and 90s, where three clinics that provided abortion care were bombed on Christmas Day 1984, abortion provider Dr. David Gunn was shot and killed in 1993, and abortion provider Dr. John Britton and volunteer clinic escort Jim Barrett were shot and killed in 1994. This is only the violence in one community over one 10-year period.

On the other hand, there are no examples of "heartless baby killers" in the pro-choice/abortion rights movement. Just none. That would be what is called a serial killer. I am pro-abortion care and do not shy away from the label. I believe that it should be a mandated procedure to learn in medical and nursing school. I think it should be 100% covered by all health insurance and forms of public assistance. I think it should be available on demand in every doctor's office, hospital, and clinic. I believe that pharmaceutical abortion care should be over the counter to everyone over the age of medical consent in their state.

I am not a heartless baby killer and they do not exist in the abortion rights movement and community.

D.M.C. in Seoul, South Korea, writes: I definitely agree with J.T. in Marietta that the philosophical issue of when human life begins is often ignored and/or simply accepted dogmatically as "the moment a zygote is formed." However, I don't think it's the only core issue in the debate. Another issue that's just as important is "Which is more important? A person's bodily autonomy or another person's life?" And with the exception of abortion, our society seems to accept that the former is more important. Even if giving your kidney would save another person's life you aren't required to do it. You aren't even required to give it in death. Nor does the issue of forced post-mortem organ donation seem up for debate. The reason why the bodily autonomy issue is treated differently in the case of forced pregnancy/birth seems to be tied to the fact that only a specific kind of person gets pregnant and, as J.A. in Austin points out, as punishment for sinful sex.

R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: Yes, a law allowing Joe Schmoe to sue Larry Law-Abiding over his possession of an "assault weapon" (however defined) is clearly unconstitutional under current Second Amendment jurisprudence. That is the entire point.

Why not a law enacting a bounty on people with red hair? That too would be unconstitutional, in an even more obvious fashion.

The government cannot ban red hair, but if the Texas bounty on abortion providers is allowed to stand, imposing a bounty on currently-constitutional behaviors, there is no logical reason that a bounty on Gingers would be any less allowable.

(This is not to say that some Supreme sophistry would not be able to draw a distinction, but they could not do so without everyone seeing the fingers crossed behind their backs.)

G.T.M. in Vancouver, BC, Canada writes: No longer having a dog in the fight (and never having one as far as I know), I stick with asking the "Bible Based" anti-abortion people three questions:

  1. Doesn't the Bible say "Judge not lest ye be judged"?

  2. Doesn't the Bible say that God gave mankind free will so that the choice to sin or not to sin was up to the individual person?

  3. And now that we agree that the Bible does say "Judge not lest ye be judged," and that God gave mankind free will so that the choice to sin or not to sin was up to the individual person, what gives you the right to supersede God's Will?

Those questions generally end the discussion.

C.T. in Carrollton, TX, writes: I've always considered myself a pro-life, centrist Democrat. I've voted for Republicans in the past (George W. Bush in 2000, Kay Bailey Hutchison whenever she was on a ballot, and Arnold Schwarzenegger when I lived in California in 2006). As far as being pro-life it's kind of been easy. I was born in 1982, and my whole life Roe has been around to protect us from the absolute chaos that illegal abortion would be. As I've considered the Supreme Court possibly overturning Roe I've reflected and changed my position. I can't say that I'm pro-choice, per se, but I'm absolutely pro-Roe. I wonder how many other people like me, 30-40 somethings have had a similar realization.

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: R.L. in Alameda writes: "My point is, and I can't believe that I'm still having to say this 48 years after Roe, is that this decision is none of anyone's damn business!"

No truer words have ever been spoken.

The Pandemic

G.M. in Acton, MA, writes: I read with your interest your response to A.L. in Osaka about the Biden administration's response to the Omicron variant of COVID-19. You wrote, "If Joe Biden were to get us on the phone tomorrow and ask 'What more should I be doing?', we are not sure how we'd answer him."

If you get that call, please send him over to me. I have a few things to tell him. To start, I agree with you that mask mandates are a contentious dead end, and that the administration is doing all it can on vaccine mandates.

That said, there is a lot more they could be doing on several fronts:

  1. COVID testing: You point to the recent directive for private health insurance to cover the cost of COVID tests. You must admit that this is a long way from the standard set by a number of other countries that bring rapid COVID tests within reach of the general population, with cost of around $1 per test, and ample supply. Biden may not have a magic wand but he does have tons of funding for COVID testing from the American Rescue Plan (ARP).

  2. Global vaccination campaign: The reason we have the Omicron variant, and the reason we need to be afraid of the next major variants to come, are because the virus is global. Americans won't be safe until most of the 8 billion people on the planet are safe. Altruism is important here, but so is self-interest.

    The vaccine manufacturers are unwilling to make it possible for anyone but them to make their own vaccines, using their intellectual property rights. There are lots of reasons to think that's overreaching on their part, but the imperative here is to get needles into arms around the world.

    Biden could use the Defense Production Act to enable a huge step-up in manufacturing of the vaccines to enable purchase by other countries. Lack of doses is still the biggest barrier to getting more people vaccinated. While more than half the world's population has now received at least one vaccination dose, when you look at the poorest countries, the figure is still well below 10%.

  3. The bully pulpit: The President makes news by virtue of his office. Whatever he does or says has to get coverage. Reagan was a master at this, making sure there was frequent messaging on the topics he cared about most. Even if the commentary was in opposition, if the visuals supported his message, he came out ahead. Biden is many things, but he is no Ronald Reagan when it comes to using the bully pulpit—and Americans are worse off for it.

The administration is past the point where they can point to the activities (or inactivity) of the Former Guy as an excuse for the current sorry state of affairs with COVID. It's true that they inherited a catastrophe but leadership is all about what you do in a moment of crisis. While Biden got off to a good start with the ARP and other actions, he's been lackluster at best on COVID ever since.

V & Z respond: A fair assessment. We will note that we've pointed out the need for a global vaccination campaign several times, and also that after you sent your letter in, the White House announced there would be a Tuesday presidential address on Omicron.

E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, writes: I agree. Wearing masks sucks. Also, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) sucks.

However, I've have come up with a few "upsides" of masks (but can't think of any for Ol' Cancun Ted):

  1. When I see celebrities, politicians, and other Very Important People wearing masks, it's a vivid reminder that we're all humans with lungs, we all breathe the same air, and we all have to share the same crazy messed up world. In a way, masks are a great equalizer...

  2. When I'm in a place where everyone around me is wearing a mask, it's a reminder of the fundamental decency of most people. Yes, masks are stifling and uncomfortable. Yes, they can fog your glasses (if you wear those). Yes, they make it hard to understand and relate to people sometimes. However, they also do give us a clue about who is and who isn't a decent human being. Fortunately, where I am in upstate New York, there are plenty of decent people around...

  3. Masks have shown us how remarkably resilient our children and young people can be. Masks are definitely not good for anyone's mental health, but I've been amazed at how well my kids and the kids in their school district have adapted to the new reality. Also, the college where I teach has now officially made it through three consecutive completely-in-person semesters with no major outbreaks or interruptions. I'm very proud of my students, even if it is hard to tell them apart with only the eyes and hair to go on.

So yes, masks do suck. But, most importantly...

    4. Think about how many more people would have died without them...

R.P. in San Diego, CA, writes: I like Kamala Harris, but think she needs to boost her presence and performance in a few simple, but impactful ways. Here's a nickel's worth of unsolicited advice:

  1. Hire a dialect coach: If you watch the movie The Iron Lady, near the beginning of the film depicting the early political life of Margaret Thatcher, she works with a dialect coach to improve the overall tenor of her voice—and makes it sound much more powerful. I believe Kamala could benefit in a similar way, to remove that nasal sound in her voice, and make it more pleasant and commanding. (Note: I hope this suggestion doesn't come off as sexist—there are male politicians who benefit from this practice.)

  2. Camp out at the Port of Long Beach for 2 weeks: She's not winning any favors jumping around Paris and hunkering down in D.C. Harris was formerly the state attorney general of, and senator from, California, so she should know how to cut through red tape in this state and improve the flow of goods from the ocean to the nation's highways and railcars. She could be located at a federal facility in Long Beach, and help make sure we're using every federal resource to improve the supply chain glut and work to reduce inflation. Lots of good photo-ops that are much better than, say, a border visit.

  3. Mobilize the licensed commercial truckers in the National Guard: She could drive an initiative where existing National Guard members who already have commercial-grade driver's licenses could be enlisted to fill the truck driver shortage. She could work to give federal financial incentives for these National Guard members to supplement the existing drivers to help the movement of goods throughout the country—helping support the economy in both blue and red states by supporting these blue-color workers

F.S. in Cologne, Germany, writes: The question shouldn't be who the next Democratic presidential nominee will be. In my opinion, Democrats should be talking more about the qualities of their next presidential nominee. I mean, all Democratic presidents after Lyndon Johnson were nice people, but they got little or nothing done when it comes to progressive legislation. In this regard, Joe Biden seems to be on the same path as Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. So, Democrats should nominate a progressive who knows how to get things done. In other words: someone like LBJ. If the next Democratic presidential nominee isn't nice, that shouldn't be a problem.

B.C. in Farmingville, NY, writes: I think the student loan issue has not been getting enough attention. Although I realize I live in a millennial liberal bubble on social media, everyone seems to be talking about the promise not kept in regards to Joe Biden doing something about student loans. The fact that it was announced that the student loan payments will restart next month just goes to show how much mainstream Democrats are out of touch. The crazy thing is there is no Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) to overcome, since I am under the impression that Joe Biden can just clap his hands and get rid of the federal part of the debt. This seems like it's the "no new taxes" promise of Bush Sr., or the infamous "wear a sweater" speech by Carter. With the lagging personal economy, inflation on the rise, and housing costs through the roof it seems like a very poor decision to start up the loan payments.

D.S. in Palo Alto, CA, writes: It would be nice if we could have a policy of opposing all oil and gas extraction. But note what happened when ransomware caused a company to shut down a pipeline for a few days. All those gasoline and diesel vehicles are not going to magically grow batteries and electric motors overnight. As the digital camera revolution rapidly took over photography, Kodak still sold a lot of film. Presumably, reducing the distance and energy required to ship petroleum and natural gas is better for the U.S. and the planet than obtaining it from politically challenging places halfway around the globe. 'Tis a quandary, and those more educated on the subject than I may well be able to refute my sense that the Biden administration's move to grant more oil leases offshore is not as hypocritical as it is being characterized.

E.M. in Milwaukee, WI, writes: While I am not terribly fond of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), he has some interesting qualities. First, throughout the pandemic he has been very consistent about masking and pretty disdainful toward the Trump White House's posturing on this. He had no hesitation about saying that the infrastructure bill (which I believe he voted for) would be great for Kentucky. And just this week, he thanked Joe Biden for the rapid emergency declaration. So, while I hate his many machinations, there does seem to be some amount of sense and basic interpersonal decency in him.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: There's some truth in what M.M. in San Diego writes about politics: people get to say whatever they want about you, and you have to take it. As readers know, I am a transgender woman and a former and future candidate for my state Senate. I was, in fact, the first openly-trans woman ever to run for the North Carolina Senate (Grey Ellis was the first openly-trans man to run, having run in the same election cycle I did, but I filed first!)

As a transwoman in North Carolina, I am very used to some people saying very unfair and untrue things about transgender people (are you listening, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson? Are you listening, former Senator Andrew Brock?). These comments are very hurtful, and can and do foment violence against the target, and the group they represent (in the case of Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL-MN, my case, transgender Americans). I even had one political opponent do oppo-research on me and come up with my dead name, and then use it on me in a very public situation. I had to completely not react (the same happened to Danica Roem in Virginia, incidentally).

You sorta have to allow other people to speak up for you in these situations, you cannot react will be used against you if you do. Regardless of how right you are, it will come back to bite you. Now, Omar's Democratic colleagues have, verbally, come to her defense. I am not aware of any Republicans doing that, which I think is shameful. Similarly, here in NC, state Sen. Julie Mayfield (D) famously spoke up to our lieutenant governor.

Now, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) has absolutely shown a pattern of this kind of behavior, and has no intentions of stopping her antics. Likewise, her Republican colleagues have shown no intention of speaking out against Boebert's actions. Given that this is a pattern of behavior with Boebert, I believe it is incumbent on the Democrats to act, since her Republican colleagues will not.

When you make comments that endanger colleagues and foment violence against an entire group of people, there must be consequences. I am rather disappointed in the Democrats lack of action with regards to Boebert.

M.N. in Madison, WI, writes: I interpreted the question from R.S. in San Mateo about party imbalance in Congress differently than you did. You discussed which Congresses were the most lopsided towards one party or the other, but I think R.S. was asking for when were the two chambers most out of alignment with one another.

Using the data from Wikipedia, I calculated the most out of sync Congress as being the 52nd in 1891-1893, when the Republicans had 54.7% of the Senate but the Democrats controlled 72.4% of the House, for an impressive 27.1% difference.

Going the other direction, the most in-sync Congress was the 104th in 1995-1997, with a mere 0.005% difference between the chambers.


D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: Joe Manchin has gone so far beyond just being aggravatingly annoying that he's well into the land of being a Daily Plague of Pestilence. Every day the man has a new thing he objects to in the Build Back Never bill. Here's my first suggestion: Joe, why don't you make a list of what you do like about the bill, since that will probably fit on a post-it note? And yes, we'll accept "Everything that lines my own pockets" as your final answer because we expect no less from you. It's much preferable to your constant drip-drip-drip of grievances. We tire of you looking oh so serious as you discover yet another horrible thing in the bill: "That sentence in paragraph 24 is 53 words long, oh the horrors!" Take, for example, his latest cause for his daily temper tantrum: He's discovered he doesn't like banning offshore drilling. First and foremost, you represent a landlocked state so why the (bleep) do you care? And yes, that's a rhetorical question since we all know the reason why you care is because it adds some cha-ching to your portfolio. I get the idea that when Manchin isn't acting in high dudgeon at some "new flaw" in Build Back Never, that he spends his free time trying to steal candy from babies, pinching old ladies' purses and trying to tilt the Senate vending machine for loose change or a loose bag of Fritos.

If I could spend five minutes with Senator Moocher, I would ask him to recall what he said a few months ago: that the progressives need to elect more candidates if they want to enact their agenda. I would point out that his Nuisance Party of Perpetual Grifting only has two members and if he wants to pass his self-centered agenda of "Screw what's good for the country, I've got mine" then he needs to get more members elected. For someone who makes such a fetish of bipartisanship, Manchin seems to have little to no understanding that it takes compromise for bipartisanship to work. When was the last time anyone heard of Manchin compromising on anything? If you can't compromise with your own party, how can you expect anyone to take you seriously that when you claim you can compromise with the Republicans? The man is a tyrant, hypocrite and sleazy grifter. Really, West Virginia, he's the best you could do?

If I was in President Biden's shoes, I would invite the Moocher over to the White House for a final talk. I would lay out the bill and ask him "Yes or no, are you voting for the bill as is?" If Manchin starts his tired routine of "Look at me, Look at me, You're not looking at me enough," I would thank him for coming to visit. But before he had time to step out of the White House doors, I would be in front of the press saying that the Build Back Never bill was being withdrawn because Senator Manchin was not negotiating in good faith. I would then make a point to tell the families expecting a child credit check in January that they could thank Sen. Manchin themselves for getting nothing and I would then give his office contact info repeatedly. If anyone made the mistake of overspending at Christmas with an eye to receiving that stimulus check, then I would point out that Sen. Manchin surely has a perfectly good reason for playing the Grinch with their finances. Oh, and to be sure to ask the Senator about Enersystems and that "blind trust." Yes, this would mean that the Build Back bill will never get passed, but come on, who is kidding who? It's never going to get passed anyway. This Fatal Attraction bill, that never seems to really die and just keeps gasping for life, if by some miracle it does get passed, it will just be exhibit A through ZZZ of why the Democrats can't govern. A royal hash has been made and Biden needs to start readying himself for 24-hour-a-day investigation hearings into Hunter Biden, Afghanistan and why Biden is forcing our children to learn Critical Race Theory! Mr. President, that's your future, better get used to it now.

Of course, having said all that, I would take my words with a whole Dead Sea's worth of salt. I have long ago concluded that I have a horrible temperament to be the Leader of the Free World. The prime omen I use as the reason for that prediction is that a few years back, one evening, I was playing "Civilization." For this particular game, I decided that I would base all my decisions on taking the high road. I was "Lincoln" and my chief rival was "Gandhi"—a very un-Gandhi-like Gandhi, I might add. He was constantly attacking me. My response was to quickly win back my territory and sue for peace by bribing him with money! But "Gandhi" broke peace treaties with such regularity that I began to expect his treacherous behavior. Towards the end of the game, I was getting close to building my space ship to explore Alpha Centauri, when I noticed that someone was shining a bright light in the window beside my computer. To my dismay, I discovered that someone was a great gaseous ball of plasma about 93 million miles away rising above the horizon—I had gamed through the entire night! As I turned back to the screen to finish the game so as to slink off to bed, I saw that once more that vicious bastard "Gandhi" was attacking my cities!

Something within me snapped like a brittle twig. Now, when I say I played the game by taking the high road, I should clarify that, yes, I invested in the arts, sciences and the general welfare of my citizens; but I also spent "some" resources on a "few" intercontinental nuclear missiles. And by a few, I mean way too many for a person who has a deep loathing of the concept of nuclear war. It also was equally reprehensible of me that I hid those missiles in all my major cities. And you're probably guessing that when I said I snapped that I what I meant was that I nuked "Gandhi" back into the Stone Age. That isn't quite accurate, since he was able to attack me with a few WWI era airplanes after the first nuclear wave. After the second wave, he could only muster up a handful of marauder elephants. The Stone Age was reached finally with the third wave of nukes. One half of the game world glowed brightly with radioactive orange goo after my orgy of revenge and "Gandhi" perished along with his civilization. Intellectually, I was horrified with myself, especially the part that kept saying, "But he had it coming." Lincoln would be so ashamed of me!

So, Sen. Manchin should count his fossil fuels kickbacks that I'm not the President, because I would feel really really bad and horribly guilt-racked after dealing once again with his BS if West Virginia subsequently glowed in the dark.

H.B. in Acton, MA, writes: It seems ridiculous and like a lot of trouble, but perhaps someone should set up a gofundme for Joe Manchin. We all throw money at it and tell him it will be his when he signs the legislation. Maybe when the pot is bigger than his anticipated grift, he'll sign? It is beyond infuriating that one person's greed is causing so much loss of livelihood and life.

S.C-M. in Scottsdale, AZ, writes: As a financial supporter and a constituent of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), I sent her a letter indicating the logical fallacy of her continuing support of the filibuster, while at the same time supporting voting reform measures. In my view she cannot have it both ways. Her argument in favor of the filibuster in this time of extreme polarization is falling apart.

I am sure she is getting an earful from other Democratic supporters and I suspect a lot of people like me are withdrawing their support. Whether she sticks to her position remains to be seen. Without changing her current tack, she is toast in 2024 in the Democratic primary.

Oh, she did send me a holiday card, which was nice.

B.F.E. in Sierra Vista, AZ, writes: In regards to Sen. Sinema's seeming inexplicable filibuster support, she started her elected political career in 2005 in the Arizona legislature as a Democrat, then graduated to the U.S. House in 2012, then the U.S. Senate in 2018.

For her entire political career, up until the 2020 election, Sinema has been in the minority party. I'm not sure how much this influences her thinking, but it must influence it some. Looking at it from that point of view her stubborn defense of a tool that benefits the minority party makes a little more sense.

L.E. in Putnam County, NY, writes: If you're going to talk about minority power to block a bill, as J.L. of Baltimore asked about, let's not forget the ultimate example of Poland that led to its being carved off the map in the 1790s. Their elective monarchy led to would-be kings buying votes by promising the legislators more and more power, as exemplified by the "liberum veto." This meant that any legislator voting against any bill not only killed that bill, it dissolved the entire legislature and sent everyone home until a new legislature could be chosen. Just by reserving the right to object to a bill any member could hold everyone hostage until he'd said his piece. And the paralysis killed their independence.

Fetterman May Be the Better Man

K.F. in Framingham, MA, writes: In the item "What If Biden Doesn't Run in 2024," you listed reasons why Vice President Kamala Harris may not necessarily be a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg does certainly tick a lot of boxes, but he did struggle with Black voters, and being gay will not necessarily work to his advantage among many voters. He also is highly intelligent, which may turn off those who see Democrats as elitist.

You wrote that "[T]he ideal candidate would probably be a fairly (but not too) progressive young white man with a lot of charisma." Depending on how well Biden's bipartisan infrastructure plan is implemented, Infrastructure Czar and Former New Orleans Mayor (and Louisiana Lt. Governor) Mitch Landrieu could be a contender in 2024. He is much younger than Biden, smart, a white Southerner, and a talented speaker. Think Bill Clinton without the sexual escapades.

Another rising star on the Blue Team's bench is Lt. Governor John Fetterman (D-PA). The towering 6'8" Fetterman has the wee problem of having to first win a very competitive Senate race next November. And that is assuming he nails down the Democratic nomination, which is not guaranteed. But if Fetterman can win the Senate seat, he should instantly become a major contender in 2024 or 2028. His initial campaign ad is right on point.

Fetterman brings several advantages to the table. He checks the first set of boxes, being a fairly progressive young white dude. His wife is an immigrant from Brazil. He has a ton of charisma and is well-spoken. But to look at him, he does not look like your typical politician. Even though he's Harvard-educated, he definitely comes across as an outsider. He looks like he could be a MAGA Man or a member of Hells Angels. In other words, being tall and bald with a bad-ass half goatee, and unafraid to throw shade at Donald Trump and his sycophants, Fetterman may be the very definition of machismo. That could help win back some Latinos who seem to value a strong, masculine figure. He would make Trump and just about any other Republican look like a whiny shrimp. He has strong appeal to white-working class voters and seems to get it when it comes to messaging. He understands why Trump was able to get so many to vote against their best interests. He knows that it's about the working class (white, Black, brown, etc.) being kept down by the powerful and the elite and that many Democrats have forgotten this or ignored this.

There is every probability that many Democrats will be swept away in a red wave this year. If there is just one race Democrats should focus on most and assign the highest priority, it may be the Senate race in Pennsylvania. Regardless of what happens elsewhere, elevating Fetterman to the Senate may be the best investment they can make in their own future (and for the future of our democracy).

M.A. in Mansfield, TX, writes: This e-mail blast from the Fetterman campaign helps make clear why people love this guy:

A right-wing dark money group filed an official complaint with the state of PA about the flags I fly outside my Harrisburg office.

Let me help them out a bit. I have some supporting documentation for their evidence file here:

John Fetterman standing next to
the LGBTQ+ and pro-marijuana flags that fly outside his office

Let me be totally clear, Friend: I won't stop flying my weed + pride flags until both of these things happen, once and for all:
  • LGBTQIA+ folks are guaranteed equal justice under law here in PA and across the country

  • We legalize weed for adult use and expunge the records of every person imprisoned for using the plant
To me, those policies are no-brainers that I'll always fight for (despite the best efforts of the GOP and the flag police)...

John Fetterman

J.E. from Gilbertsville, PA, writes: I know it's a little early to make a prediction as to who will win the Pennsylvania primary for senator, but my money is on John Fetterman by a country mile. He is wildly popular with everyone I know here in Eastern Pennsylvania. Every Democrat I know loves him, my father the bomb-throwing independent loves him, my mother who was a die-hard Republican until Trump and is now a Democrat loves him, my son who thinks we should just burn the country down loves him. Those are just a few examples of why I think his appeal is so broad. Pennsylvania has a long history of milquetoast Democratic senators, and we are sick of it. That's why Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) is not terribly likely to win.

This Week in TrumpWorld

J.L. in Paterson, NJ, writes: I wouldn't be so quick to rule out Trump-DeSantis 2024. The residency obstacle was easily evaded in 2000, when the GOP wanted to put two Texans on its national ticket. Dick Cheney had been living in Dallas for several years after leaving government employment to run Halliburton. He simply changed his legal residence back to Wyoming. In a similar move, Mitt Romney, who owned several houses, was for a while claiming his legal residence in a basement apartment in his son's house to re-establish Massachusetts residency. Trump would have no problem "returning" to his Trump Tower apartment.

What about the ultra-alpha-male issue? It might please Trump's enormous ego for someone of Gov. Ron DeSantis's (R-FL) stature to accept being his subordinate. For DeSantis, of course, it's a no-brainer. Win or lose, he'd be the early frontrunner for the 2028 nomination. He might also have in mind the life expectancy of an overweight by-then 78-year-old with an unhealthy lifestyle.

G.M. in Manama, Bahrain, writes: M.C. in Newton had a question about Donald Trump being elevated to be Speaker of the House even though he is not a member of Congress. The only real benefit to the Republicans who would elect him would be to have him closer to the front of the line of presidential succession. Plus he would be a mere figurehead in the position due to his lack of experience. Can you imagine him calling votes? Counting votes? Coaxing and cajoling recalcitrant congressmen and women? Sitting behind the president during the State of the Union? It's a ridiculous idea.

S.M. in Pepperell, MA, writes: Democrats need to start calling the 1/6 Committee the "Trump Insurrection Commission." By not referencing the mastermind Trump or the word "insurrection," it feels like the Committee is just investigating a group of protesters in Washington. I don't think explicitly stating Trump's involvement is getting ahead of the skis, the televised events make it clear that Trump was at the center of the whole thing. It is also clear now that an insurrection was planned and attempted. The Republicans love to water down all the sound bites on the subject and the Democrats refuse to push back. The same thing happened during the first impeachment when the felony of withholding congressional funds in order to obtain fraudulent testimony about Biden's son was watered down to "quid pro quo." The Democrats seemed more than happy then to play along too, and could not even elevate the sound bites to include "blackmail" or "felony." More critical coverage and exposure of those involved would follow with better sounding headlines.

P.R. in Saco, ME, writes: You wrote: "Fox is simply not a news operation in any meaningful sense, it is an organ of the Republican Party." Which organ in particular did you have in mind?

C.P. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: If Ron DeSantis does not want students to be WOKE, does that mean he supports them sleeping through their education?

V & Z respond: It worked for him, apparently.

J.G. in Chantilly, VA, writes: Let me suggest a different theory as to why Donald Trump and Republicans made some inroads with Latino and Black voters in Florida and Texas, especially among males. I don't completely dismiss the culture wars explanations, but I think economics is a more important driver. Many, if not most, Latino and Black men work in jobs that cannot be performed remotely and are adversely affected by COVID. The Republicans' approach to dealing with Covid is to plow through it, and keep everyone working (even if a few expendables drop along the way). If you are desperate to work, you'll take your chances. And yes, it's also a macho mindset which resonates with some.

D.D. in Somers, NY, writes: A few years ago I was in Texas and happened to meet a husband and wife of Mexican descent who grew up on the Mexican border. They both told me they could never live in New York because of the strict gun laws. That may be why Trump did well with some Latinos.

C.Z. in Sacramento, CA, writes: For a dash of holiday cheer, here is an oldie but a goodie from Randy Rainbow:

Gonna Make My Red State...

R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: In reference to "Gonna Turn My Red State...Redder," I grew up in a small town in the rural South of the U.S. That town was settled 200-some years ago by a wagon train from Maryland containing 10-15 families.

Pretty much no one has moved there since then, unless they marry someone from there.

The smart kids go away to college—and very few of them ever go back.

Almost everyone who grew up there is related to almost everyone else who grew up there, usually in several different ways.

So kids who marry their high school sweethearts are almost without exception marrying their cousins, and since the smart kids leave without returning, the whole thing is a 200-year selective breeding experiment.

You have to expect a few... peculiarities.

G.W. in Oxnard, CA, writes: In the item "Gonna Turn My Red State...Redder," there is a discussion of trends turning low-population states redder as opposed to bluer due to migration from red states. As a consequence of the pandemic, people have been working remotely more and moving from high-population blue states to low-population red states with lower cost of living. Here in California, I have seen several news reports where they interviewed people who were moving out of the state to some red state and they usually said something about wanting to live among people who share their values or raise children among people with the proper values.

The implication is that the folks departing are among the conservative Californians (who are more common in California than people think). The plural of "anecdote" is not "data," so no conclusion can be taken from this, but it is at least plausible that a sufficient proportion of those fleeing blue states for red states are conservatives fleeing life among liberals, such that the migration is not going to have a significant influence on the political leaning of the red states.

C.Z. in Sacramento, CA, writes: I can attest to what R.L.D. of Sundance writes about the fantasy of turning Wyoming back to being blue, as it was until the early 1970's. My dad's family is from Wyoming (some starting as immigrants from Ireland in the 1800's), but they were "townies," not ranchers, living and working in Casper and Cheyenne. (BTW, they grew up with, and were not impressed by, Dick Cheney.) My uncle, an attorney and World War II vet, and my aunt (his wife), were both Democrats who served several times in the Wyoming legislature in the 1960s and early 1970s. However, their son, a brilliant civil rights attorney and Democrat in Cheyenne, has run unsuccessfully six times for the Wyoming legislature. My aunt, still a Democrat, started complaining about the Californians moving to Wyoming and raising the cost of housing, back in 2005, when she was in her eighties. While it may not be as expensive as the real estate in California, which has recently shot up astronomically once again, Wyoming real estate is not that affordable anymore.

Part of the reason Wyoming was once "blue" may be related to the fact that the railroad and railroad unions played a big part in the economy at that time, whereas now, it is the oil and gas companies that have the political muscle and money. That probably explains why my grandmother, daughter of a railroad worker, ordered my dad and his sister to vote for the Democratic ticket as soon as they came of age. Unfortunately, my father later succumbed to the lies spewed by the then-nascent right-wing talk-radio stations in the San Francisco Bay area, and became a rabid Republican.

My memories of snow fences were also revived by that post. My dad, out of desperation, put up a snow fence in our front yard in Omaha, NE, in the late '60s, to keep the snow from being completely blown off our front lawn and then deposited five feet deep on our below-grade driveway. Snow fences merely slow down the wind-driven snow, so that the snow drift will hopefully be deposited beside the fence, instead of on the highway. They do nothing about the snow falling directly down from above, and may do more harm than good if the wind direction is variable.

Democrats who are prepared for below-zero winters might be better accepted in Wyoming by wearing cowboy boots and Stetsons and never admitting they have lived in California. They might, for example, appeal to ranchers who have discovered that they do not own the mineral rights below their ranches. The ranchers are being paid a pittance by the oil and gas companies who destroy their property and their limited underground aquifers through fracking. But don't mention the word "environmentalist." Stick to talking about fairness and how you can help the individual voter. Also, if you're driving anywhere near Grand Teton National Park, make sure your vehicle is at least as large as a moose. Having worked there several summers while a college student, I can attest that moose have never understood traffic rules and therefore always have the right of way.

I've lived in a number of different states and, especially in the less populous states, I've observed that weather is a huge factor in shaping the general tone of society. In places where you can easily freeze to death if you don't plan ahead, people tend to be independent and self-sufficient, because they don't have a choice. But they are also ready to help a stranger, because they know how fragile life can be, and that they may be the ones needing help the next time.

Wishing for Wyoming...

Rule, Britannia?

R.H. in London, England, UK, writes: I predicted on this site that BoJo would be gone in this calendar year, and while I still might be right, I doubt it. I was going to write in with my thoughts on this but decided others would state my case more eloquently than I would, and several folks did so.

Having said that... A couple of those correspondents mentioned the by-election in North Shropshire, but that ignores the Christchurch by-election of 1993, which still holds the record for biggest anti-government swing, but which didn't stop John Major's government hanging on for another 4 years.

The biggest factor in Boris Johnson's success has been the belief from his fellow party members that he has a magic touch at the ballot box. It's always seemed to be true—he became mayor of usually left-wing London, and then leader of the Tories, and then won an 80-seat majority for his party.

But after one success in May, this year's elections have been a record of failure. The Tories lost with a huge swing in Chesham and Amersham in June, signally failed to win the Batley and Spen by-election in July, scraped though in Old Bexley and Sidcup in December, despite widespread sympathy for the previous MP, and then were thrashed in North Shropshire this week.

So his bubble has been burst. Even before this week's disastrous showing in North Shropshire (for U.S. readers: it's like the Democrats just won Wyoming) there had been rumors of Tory MPs contacting the 1922 Committee—that's the obscure way Tories get rid of leaders—but tonight brings news the Brexit minister Lord Frost has resigned from the government. He's been extraordinarily bullish about Brexit up until now, and if he's resigning it's for other reasons.

My view is that Johnson is a dead man walking. I'm going to lose on my prediction that he'll be gone this year, because I don't think the Tories want to start a leadership election during a massive upswing in the pandemic, and certainly not over Christmas. He's managed to brush off so much for so long, but if the view in the Conservative party is that he's now a liability in elections instead of an asset, it's only a matter of time.

Having said that, one of my favorite jokes is this:

A: Uncle Henry thinks he's a chicken.
B: Why don't you take him to the doctor?
A: We would... only we need the eggs.

It's applicable to so many political situations these days.

T.O. in Sheffield, England, UK, writes: Since you are inviting views on Boris Johnson from across the pond this week, here's mine.

One thing that could have been far worse about the Johnson incumbency is that he managed to stay more-or-less on-the-fence about Donald Trump, despite being something of a populist himself. However, I notice a certain admiration from our current cabinet for the Trump playbook—when our own BLM protests were at their zenith, Johnson gave interviews and wrote articles in which he spoke at length about statues rather than responding to the goals of BLM itself. More insidiously, I did start to hear during a brief period before it dropped out of the news cycle altogether, Johnson's ministers noting the difference between #blacklivesmatter the hashtag (well-intentioned, frivolous), and Black Lives Matter the organization (sinister, anarchic, massively overreaching in its political ambition), without ever really putting meat on the bones of why the latter was such a cause for concern.

Boris won a bunch of historically safe Labour seats (the so called "red wall") during the brief and highly unusual period in which the non-university educated, working-men's-club type voters of the post-industrial North had something in common with the likes of filthy-rich top-hat-wearing caricatures like the awful Jacob Rees-Mogg—namely a slowly spoon-fed hatred of the EU. I believe Johnson's culture wars kept those folk on board for a little while longer, but on a clear day without the fog of Brexit, the voter in the street can normally see that this band of Etonians and similarly posh, well-bred, old-fashioned millionaires don't actually have their interests at heart—and this is where Johnson's behavior becomes paramount. Our low-information voters are not interested in seeking a clear assessment of the impact of Brexit, or how to ethically handle the migrant crisis, and most of them won't actually look you in the eye and tell you that they're genuinely rattled about the left ripping down statues. But if there's one thing they do know it's that you can't throw a party when you've told the rest of the country they're not allowed one. In this country, everything takes a back seat to hypocrisy and sleaze.

I woke this morning to the news of the Tories' crushing defeat in the North Shropshire byelection, and I note that Johnson is railing at the press for "asking too many questions about politics and politicians and the running of government" and not talking about how he is "getting the job done"—a Trumpian tantrum. This stuff simply will not fly here, and I sense we are entering some sort of endgame.

I'd love to write more but I must go and adjust the croquet hoops before my afternoon Pimms and lemonade.

R.O. in Warwickshire, England, UK, writes: The whole Partygate scandal is only part of the problem; this is actually the culmination of half a dozen scandals, all of which have been exceedingly poorly handled by Boris Johnson. The issue isn't so much the scandals themselves; Tory MPs as a whole are exceedingly comfortable with sleaze and corruption in their ranks and generally aren't too upset about it. However, Johnson has the alarming habit of initially attempting to brazen these scandals out, but then suddenly changing his excuse when new evidence emerges.

Rather than admitting any fault whatsoever, he'll adopt the Trumpian tactic of flatly denying reality... but in contrast to Donald Trump's ability to just keep on denying it in the face of evidence to the contrary, Johnson will attempt to adapt his story when it's shown to be blatantly false. This makes him seem more dishonest to the public, since his story keeps changing. There's an extent to which the public has "priced in" lies from Johnson; he's been famous for 30 years and everyone is well aware that he has an only passing acquaintance with the truth. But changing your story every 5 minutes isn't just dishonest; it shows a genuine contempt for the audience.

The worst part of this is that his MPs are no longer happy to go out and peddle whatever lie Boris is currently telling, since they're now convinced he'll just change his story in a few hours when the press dig up the next thing that proves his latest excuse to be a lie, making them look foolish. They don't mind lying to the public, but they very much don't want people to think that Boris is also lying to them. This is worse when it concerns the appearance of "one rule for us and another rule for them," which touches on long-standing class conflicts that the newer Conservative MPs in previously Labour-dominated, working class Northern seats are deeply sensitive to.

This pattern of scandal, bad coverup, and then days of shifting excuses has repeated over and over, several times a week, for the last couple of months. It's a shame that this is what is going to bring him down, as opposed to the appalling bad handling of the pandemic, the repeated breaking of the government's bad-faith-negotiated Brexit agreements, the truly astonishing level of corruption which has been ushered in, or the increasingly authoritarian efforts to limit the right to free protest, but this has cut through to the public and the only thing which makes Johnson tolerable to his party is his alleged electability. His party are far more concerned about public approval ratings than is the case for most U.K. prime ministers.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: B.C. in Hertfordshire, England wrote: "[T]he current Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss...[of which] it is often said...that she is so dense light bends around her."

That would sort of give one a glowing halo effect, which must explain why Evangelicals think Donald Trump is heaven sent.

B.H. in Greenbelt, MD, writes: This week, The Washington Post ran an article on Boris Johnson with the following quote from Rob Ford, a professor of politics at the University of Manchester: "'If it becomes a settled view that, far from being an electoral Gandalf, he is an electoral Voldemort, he's not long for Number 10,' [Ford] added, referring to the prime minister's address at 10 Downing St. in London."

Am I old and out of touch for thinking that we have reached a sad state when we need an explanation for the reference to the British Prime Minister's residence, but not for the Lord of the Rings references? I will accept yes as a legitimate answer, but will be saddened by it.

V & Z respond: You did not note the Harry Potter reference. In any event, it's probably correct for an American newspaper to assume that readers would be familiar with internationally known elements of popular culture that have been featured in bestselling books and hit movies, but maybe not a fairly specific bit of British political culture.

B.C. in Halethorpe, MD, writes: I think your inclusion of German and UK election perspectives by readers from those nations is nothing short of outstanding for a number of reasons. Tip O'Neill's "All politics is local" may not hold up in terms of election themes or talking points, but I think it'll always be preeminent in shaping the forefront issues that subliminally factor into voters' decisions. So getting a local take on both is a series of rich additions, especially factoring into the regular workweek coverage.

I would furthermore like to, after many years, thank you for how often you include sports in your analysis, recognizing that it's intrinsically linked with culture and, like it or not, politics. Personally I've never found it too over the top, and instead it often constitutes the metaphorical "hook" of what history may look back on as your many years of online political lectures (as Z said: every lecture and speaking engagement needs a hook).

I'll also say that by putting your international readers toward the end and with the "just right" amount of voices and word-space is a winning and replicable formula. Politics is often looked at intranationally as "my team" vs. "their team" but as a registered non-partisan who loathes both major U.S. parties yet usually votes for one of them and never avoids voting, I just think of it as one, big, dysfunctional team that I worry will ruin its chances against other teams by being so divided. So reading how others around the globe consider their own countries' political "teams" helps build analysis for everyone, much like hearing another fan base's commentary on what they think their team is doing right.

V & Z respond: We're glad you like that material (not everyone does). It's also the rare opportunity for us to be the audience for someone else's political insights.

History Matters: Nuclear Bombs Edition

J.B. in Hutto, TX, writes: M.C. in Santa Clara writes: "I have difficulty calling myself an 'American' when I know my country has been responsible for war crimes and atrocities like this."

This comment is reflective of the strange self-loathing that many left-leaning Americans feel towards their own country in these bizarre times and which I have never understood. Does M.C. doubt that Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan would have hesitated a moment to employ nuclear weapons against us had they developed them before we did? Considering the enormity of the crimes those regimes were guilty of, the answer is obvious. M.C. doubts that the use of the atomic bomb saved lives, but every military analysis, not to say basic common sense, tells us that vastly more Japanese civilians would have died in a full-scale invasion of Japan than died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

On the other hand, consider what America did for Japan and Germany after the war. We provided emergency food and other assistance in the immediate aftermath of the war to prevent the people from starving to death. Rather than act the part of the conqueror and plunder the lands of their wealth and resources, we spent vast sums of our own money for many years to help rebuild their shattered economies. Rather than annex their territory or transform them into puppet states, we helped the people of Germany and Japan build up democratic governments that endure to this day. Had the Axis Powers emerged victorious, how do you think they would have treated a defeated America? For that matter, how did the Soviet Union treat the "liberated" peoples of Eastern Europe?

In considering our nation's role in World War II, I am very proud to call myself an American.

E.F. in Baltimore, MD, writes: In answer to M.C. from Santa Clara, I would point out that in their scale of death and destruction, those two atom bombings were not very different from the "conventional" bombings of Tokyo and Dresden. In fact, Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been largely spared previous bombings, to preserve them as targets to better gauge the A-bombs' effectiveness. Virtually every other Japanese city had already been destroyed. Vaporized by an A-bomb, or incinerated by napalm? Not much difference, except the number of B-29s involved.

As for the proposed "demonstration" bombing, if I were the Japanese high command, I doubt I would have accepted any U.S. invitation to be in a specific place at a specific time, lest I become the target.

S.C-M. in Scottsdale, AZ, writes: War is horrifying and World War II was particularly horrifying. I have read extensively about the atomic bombings and the decision-making which led up to them. With 20-20 hindsight, they were probably unnecessary, but the alternatives to force a Japanese surrender at the time—such as a blockade of the Japanese home islands—would have probably killed more Japanese via slow starvation. Please remember the conventional bombing of Japanese cities killed and maimed more people than the two atomic bombings. Curtis LeMay's firebombing attacks were also war crimes.

You explained well, in your answer to M.C. from Santa Clara, the decision making and the choices involved at the time. At one time I brought this debate up with my father, who served as a submarine officer in the Pacific. At the time of the atomic attacks, his submarine was doing mine surveying (a very dangerous task) for the Olympic operation. He bristled at even having a discussion about the bombings and said he probably would not have survived the war except for the atomic attacks.

In a very personal way, his pushback gave me a glimpse of the general feeling at the time among the servicepeople serving in the Pacific and those who were being shipped for the Olympic and the later Coronet operations.

D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: Prior to the dropping of the bomb, Japan had indicated its willingness to surrender with a very small number of conditions, one of which was that Hirohito would remain as the emperor. The U.S. demanded unconditional surrender (as it had in the case of Nazi Germany). After the bombs were dropped, the U.S. accepted a surrender that involved keeping Hirohito in his position as emperor. That tells me that the purpose of dropping the bombs had very little to do with getting Japan to surrender and nothing to do with avoiding the horrendous casualties of an invasion. That makes the act of dropping those bombs a war crime at the highest level.

B.B. in Madison, SD, writes: An interesting perspective on the effects of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki can be found in Charles Pellegrino's book To Hell and Back: The Last Train from Hiroshima.

Imagine surviving being near, but not directly under, the first blast, fleeing Hiroshima to your home town of Nagasaki... and arriving just in time for the second bomb, and surviving that.

It was interesting to learn the first bomb was essentially a dud. It fizzled, and that design was never used again.

L.R.H. in Oakland, CA, writes: Readers who are interested in issues relating to the U.S. nuclear weapons program, including the use of atomic bombs against Japan, the Manhattan Project, and the president's prerogatives regarding nuclear weapons, might find Restricted Data, the blog of historian of science Dr. Alex Wellerstein, interesting and worth a read (I certainly have). He has recently published a book of the same name, which is based on his doctoral dissertation, and he can be followed on Twitter (@wellerstein).

You Win Some, You Lose Some

P.J.T. in Raton, NM, writes: I say this respectfully. I am truly distressed whenever anyone refers to Las Vegas as "the worst mass shooting in U.S. history" and Oklahoma City as "the deadliest domestic terrorist attack," as though the number is assessed only when white people are the primary victims. Colorado's Sand Creek Massacre saw the cold-blooded murder of 150-200 Arapaho and Cheyenne, and at the Wounded Knee Massacre, approximately 300 Lakota were gunned down. And that's only scratching the surface. How long can the United States remain willfully blind to the extermination of its First Peoples? What surprises me is that participates in that denial, which is not only counter-historical, but racist.

There is no U.S. history that does not rest upon the (often brutal) extermination of native peoples. While we laud the trapper Kit Carson in our romanticized view of American manhood (there's even a public sculpture of him just across the Colorado border, in Trinidad), we gloss over his lucrative career of scalping Crow and Blackfoot Indians, and ignore his leadership at the Sacramento River Massacre, resulting in the killing of an estimated 210 Wintu, which Carson himself called "a perfect butchery," and the Long Walk wherein 8,000 Diné (Navajo) were forcibly relocated, the stragglers (the elderly, the weak, the young) executed and many of the women raped. We justly call the Trumplican cry of a stolen election a "Big Lie," but the lie we tell ourselves when repeating erroneous claims like "the worst mass shooting" or "the deadliest domestic terrorist attack" while ignoring the frequently larger mass killings of American Indians, is much larger, and to our deep disgrace.

S.S. in Tampa, FL, writes: I am one of those rare political junkies that like to get a full range of political opinions, not just the ones from "my side" of the aisle. I stumbled across your website years ago and while it clearly had a leftward bent, I felt that you guys wrote your columns very fairly and mostly tried to give both sides of the argument with as much impartiality as one could expect.

I came across your website again after "taking a break" from politics and was a bit dismayed at your clearly biased opinion that seems rooted in pejoratives and not a fair take of events or the motivations from the "other side."

Sometimes you do very well. For example, several weeks ago you wrote a very balanced article about the results of some polls and focus groups with regards to the results of the Virginia gubernatorial election. You didn't claim racism or Trumpism leanings of the participants (which you sometimes do), you explained how the people felt, what issues motivated them, and why they felt the way they did about the candidates (not necessarily that you agreed with them, but you reported on how they interpreted the issues at hand). You need to get back to this style of writing, it just makes you more credible.

Not for this e-mail to get too long, but in case you were wanting some examples of what I mean, here are a few:

  1. Coup attempt: Please stop referring to the January 6th attacks as a "coup attempt." January 6th was a terrible day, but "coup attempt" is a leftist accusation and talking point. There was no attempt to take over the government; it was a protest that got out of hand. The protesters legitimately believed (wrongly) that they were preserving democracy and protesting a fraudulent election. In a sense, many believed they themselves were preventing a coup from the Democrats. The January 6th assault was over in a couple of hours and the only one killed was an unarmed female protester. Further, if anyone in our federal legal system legitimately believed it was a "coup attempt," then why has no one been charged with that crime or anything like it? Call it the "January 6th protest" or I'd even settle for "January 6th attack on the Capitol." But calling it a "coup attempt" just doesn't fit the facts as we know them.

  2. Filibuster: Please stop claiming or making the assertion that retaining the filibuster is an "assault on democracy," or using any of the other leftist catchphrases you like to use. I'm not necessarily defending the filibuster, but I see the issue for what it is. The present attempt to eliminate the filibuster is nothing more than the Democrats seeing that they will likely not survive the 2022 midterms with their majority in Congress, and they want to get as much left-wing legislation passed while they have the chance. The filibuster has been around (in one form or another) for decades and previous Congresses figured out how to work with it.

  3. Critical Race Theory: Please stop referring to people who are opposed to grade/high schools teaching CRT as being somehow racist or opposed to history being taught. Nothing could be further from the truth. People are not opposed to teaching the history of racism, slavery, Jim Crow, etc. Those things happened, and we should always learn and study our history. What people are opposed to is how much of the CRT curriculum focuses (or at least asserts) that certain ethnic groups are born oppressed or oppressors simply by their skin tone. Many honest parents believe that CRT should not be taught to young children that cannot fully appreciate the nuances of such teachings. So, if you want to make a case for CRT, at least be honest on why some well-intentioned Americans oppose it, and do not ascribe their criticism to some sort of hidden racist agenda or something.

If you made it this far in the e-mail, I'm impressed. As I've said before, your writings in the past seemed far more balanced and fair. Please try to return to that and honestly share the motivations and reasons for the conservative opposition to many Democrat ideas. The "right" isn't evil or dim-witted. They are good Americans who just disagree with many of the proposals and ideas of the Left. This is nothing new. We need to stop attacking Conservatives (for example) as hating poor people when they oppose more social programs, when they honestly believe that expanding such programs do more harm than good.

Both sides want the best for their country. It is somewhat analogous to two coaches on a football team. Both want to score touchdowns and win the game, we just disagree on the best plays to get into the end zone.

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: In your response to M.C. in Santa Clara, you wrote: "One more thing. We are sometimes reluctant to get into touchy issues, whether the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or genocide, or slavery, or whatever because that inevitably produces a bunch of e-mails attacking us as propagandists, apologists, colonialists, racists, neo-Confederates, antisemites, etc. Being attacked like that—and we've gotten all of those—is a little bit of a downer, but we can handle it. The real downer is that we're clearly not reaching anyone who resorts to these sorts of attacks, either because we did a poor job of communicating or because they are too fully set in their views. Either way, as teachers, that's the real downer."

I believe I have expressed this before, but it never hurts to reiterate my opinion. I have been elected and appointed to public office. I have always tried to do my job to the best of my abilities. Sometimes there are difficult calls and, like it or not I am in the position to make that call. Sometimes it is balls and strikes, sometimes it is a judgment call. Rarely do I ever recall getting an "Atta Boy" from the public for my decisions. I have been pilloried in the local paper and called out in the grocery store. Frequently the communication is not printable in a newspaper of general circulation. I am not a soccer coach, a scout leader, or a teacher's aide, this is how I have given back to my community for over 40 years. Yes it is painful and it hurts, but it is what I do. You have my sympathy, support, and appreciation for your work.

V & Z respond: Thanks for the kind words! Note that we actually get far more positive feedback than negative. And we don't mind the negative, except when it suggests that our point/argument was missed.

L.E. in Santa Barbara, CA, writes: I wanted to comment on two items, voicing support for you and your site.

First, after reading your response to M.C. in Santa Clara, I am actually saddened that any of your readers attack you as "propagandists, apologists, colonialists, racists, neo-Confederates, antisemites, etc." The objectivity in how you express your views somehow is being missed by these folks. Besides, your site is a blog, for heaven's sake. It is not a news site, contrary to what many of your readers write. You are simply providing an analysis, as you see it, of current events with excellent historical perspective. My spousal unit and I come to your site to learn and to see a more expanded view of topical issues that are of concern to us. You help us get out of our own bubbles, a tiny bit.

Thus, my sadness stems from any of your readers being so angry that they feel the need to attack you or your positions. Although I am, in one respect, glad that they are reading your site and being exposed to other views. Perhaps, if they are so unhappy, they should move on to other sites. Unfortunately, that means they probably would be going into an echo chamber, which is one of the huge problems in our world today. However, if they lash out on your blog, then clearly they aren't really reading and absorbing what you are sharing.

And this leads me into my second comment topic: the Sunday Mailbag. Like J.K. in Las Vegas, this is not my favorite blog posting of the week. Like J.K., I tend to skim those posts. By Sunday of each cycle, I am ready to disengage a bit from the news, so this allows me to choose to engage or not. And I do see benefit in allowing some of your readers to share their perspectives—just another way to pull us out of our bubbles. Besides, (V) never wrote on weekends, pre-TFG (The Former Guy), so I consider it a bonus that you publish anything on weekends. Since this is your blog, and since you are willing to curate such a huge influx of letters, I say more power to you!

V & Z respond: Thanks to you, too!

E.K. in Brignoles, France, writes: Just a follow-up to the question (and your answer) from J.K. in Las Vegas: I'm not a fan of the Sunday mailbag, either (too much endless and repetitive letters from the usual suspects, and the P.M. in Currituck vs. the rest of the world battle is not very healthy), but I really love the weekly Q&A...

So, here's my proposal: a light regular post on Saturdays, followed by a Q&A on Sundays. That would be a great scheduling.

But I guess some people who want to send their opinion on just about anything and everything will demand the status quo.

Anyway, that's your call. You know what's best for you.

V & Z respond: We get a fair number of letters, including the two here, from people who say the mailbag is boring, that they skip it or skim it, that they don't like it, etc. At the same time, we get a lot of letters from people who like it very much. We also get hundreds and hundreds of submissions each week.

In any event, putting the mailbag together is a lot of work—more work than any other post. We try to run a representative sample of letters, to make sure an array of perspectives/issues/opinions are represented, to keep up the flow, to keep it interesting, etc. But perhaps we need to think about whether that work is actually worthwhile. We're considering some other changes in the near future, and this is a good time to think about Sundays, as well. So, we are open to any comments, questions, suggestions, etc. that people might have on the matter. It this feature just right? Could something be done to make it better? Should we jettison it?

More Weird Science

R.R. in Pasadena, CA, writes: Your answer to T.C. in Kittery suggests that the staff physicist was drunk when you asked them about a good example of a simplistic assumption in physics. If they were sober, they would have told you that in basic physics we don't talk about assuming a perfect vacuum. The apocryphal basic assumption is "assume a spherical cow," which has been around for decades now.

J.H. in Boston, MA, writes: Maybe the physics conversation has run its course, but for the record, here's my response to K.H. in Orlando: Are we to believe that particle physicists don't work in theory either?

Yes, of course particle physics is theory, and yes, of course symmetry breaking is theoretical physics. And so is BCS theory. I conceded as much in my original message. My original point was that, despite the theoretical value of BCS theory, the bulk of John Bardeen's career was in applied semiconductor design, which one of his Nobels was for. He did have a theoretical breakthrough, but it pales in both quantity and influence to the theoretical breakthroughs of Albert Einstein.

For the record, if there were a vote among physicists for most influential theoretician, I would expect Steven Weinberg and Richard Feynman (in addition to Einstein) to come ahead of Bardeen. But people in high energy physics have a bias towards their field, and maybe I'm blinded by mine.

B.G. in Houston, TX, writes: Disclaimer: I was a TA for two years in the physics dept at Harvard before going into medicine; my perspective is purely that of a spectator. I've literally seen a Nobel laureate jump up on a table and scream "I've got you now!" That was a theoretical physicist yelling at an experimental guy, FWIW.

The world needs to understand what the condensed matter folks bring to the table. Solar panels, battery electrodes, all sorts of semiconductor nonsense, these guys drive the world as we know it.

All of that having been said, the counterpart to Einstein is assuredly not John Bardeen, but Bill Shockley. Experimental physics is all about interacting with the real world. Bill Shockley was: (1) the first guy who moved to Silicon Valley and (2) was such an a**hole that his employees who left named their company Fairchild Semiconductor.

Fairchild is pretty much the origin of everything that Silicon Valley has produced—they were the first people to use silicon instead of germanium for all this stuff. That's really the only special sauce that the Valley has ever had, despite the fact that people from there want to act like they're really smart because they have a lot of money.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: Condensed Matter-Schmatter. Nonlinear Dynamics rules, Condensed Matter drools. (And you thought this nonsense was confined to schools and sports rivalries!)


M.C. in Oak Ridge, TN, writes: While R.P. in Gloucester City is correct to point out that "The Sound of Music" is based on the von Trapps' true story of escaping the Nazis, "loosely inspired by" may be more apropos. For example, for the escape itself, they hardly fled by foot to Switzerland under a cloud of suspicion, they simply took the train to Italy. Many details about the family and events were changed for the sake of profitable entertainment, enough that moving it in time and place could hardly stretch the story much further. That's not to say there weren't some good songs, though.

M.B. in San Antonio, TX, writes: There was a time when the weekly magazines, namely Time and Newsweek, were serious news and politics outlets, on par with The New York Times and other news sources. My parents always had a subscription to both, and when I graduated college in the 1980s, I too subscribed. But in the 1990s, they began drifting into fluff territory, emphasizing popular trends, celebrity gossip, and mindless fun features, becoming almost indistinguishable from People Magazine or Entertainment Weekly. The last straw for me occurred in 2001, when Time failed to select Osama bin Laden as Person of the Year (POTY), even though he was clearly the most significant person that year. It was clear to me that Time, who had in previous decades had courageously—and correctly—selected Adolf Hitler and the Ayatollah Khomeini as POTY, was now only interested in selling magazines at any cost and pleasing its increasingly disconnected audience. I quietly let my subscription lapse, and only read it now in dentists' waiting rooms.

A.M.S. in Silverdale, WA, writes: Thank you C.E. in San Francisco, for making me laugh with your brilliant haiku!

J.K. in Sandy Spring, MD, writes: G.S. in Basingstoke, England, UK wrote: "But then I should probably do well to remember that America has coined plenty of 'creative' interpretations of the English language ... and calling football 'soccer'..."

This playful poem needling aspects of our American vernacular made me chuckle (particularly its audacious disregard of the limerick structure). That said, I must point out (in a similarly playful manner), that the term "soccer" actually originated in G.S.'s own beloved England upon the game's invention in the mid-to-late-1800s, to distinguish it from its similarly novel sporting cousin of the time, rugby.

C.T.P. in Lancaster, PA, writes: My answer to the readers who were unnecessarily critical of the quality of the limericks created by other readers:

J.A. in Austin, TX, writes: You ended on Friday with "Actually, when it's cold, Ted Cruz flees to Cancun. Then he sucks."

No. He's always sucked. His Cancun trip is in the middle of the line, Human centipede-style.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec18 Saturday Q&A
Dec17 Build Back Better Will Wait Until Next Year
Dec17 FDA Makes More Relaxed Abortion-Pill Rules "Permanent"
Dec17 Rep. Jim Jordan Sent Insurrectionist Text Message
Dec17 Gonna Turn My Red State...Redder
Dec17 This Week in Schadenfreude
Dec17 Is BoJo about to BoGo? Readers Weigh In...
Dec17 A December to Rhymember (Parts 22-23-24)
Dec16 Is This The 1/6 Committee's Endgame?
Dec16 Senate Democrats Are Pushing Hard to Change the Filibuster Rules
Dec16 DeSantis Announces His Christmas Stunt
Dec16 Voter Fraud Is Almost Nonexistent
Dec16 When Fox Says "Jump," Oz Says "How High?"
Dec16 Jackson to Bow Out of North Carolina Senate Race
Dec16 Is BoJo about to BoGo?
Dec16 A December to Rhymember (Parts 19-20-21)
Dec15 Corporations Are Giving to Republicans--Again
Dec15 Trump Loses in Court--Again
Dec15 Debt Ceiling Crisis Averted--Again
Dec15 House Votes to Hold Meadows in Contempt
Dec15 Omicron Is Bad News for the Democrats
Dec15 Name Calling Works
Dec15 Trump: Mike Pence is Mortally Wounded
Dec15 Delaying North Carolina Primaries Could Affect Many Races
Dec15 Nevada Democrats Play Defense
Dec15 D.C. Sues Proud Boys and Oath Keepers for Damages
Dec15 Biden Nominates a Black Woman to Run Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
Dec15 What Does Chris Wallace's Departure Mean for Fox News?
Dec15 Rick Perry Is Running for Governor of Texas
Dec15 A December to Rhymember (Parts 17-18)
Dec14 House 1/6 Committee Recommends Contempt Charges for Mark Meadows
Dec14 A Moment of Silence for the COVID Dead...
Dec14 ...And a Very Different Moment of Silence in South Dakota
Dec14 Don't Pack the Court
Dec14 This Doesn't Look Good for the Biden Administration...
Dec14 ...And This Doesn't Look Good for Joe Manchin
Dec14 A December to Rhymember (Parts 15-16)
Dec13 Protecting Our Democracy Act Passes the House
Dec13 What Can People Do If the Supreme Court Repeals Roe v. Wade?
Dec13 Pack the Court
Dec13 Democrats Are Losing the Culture Wars
Dec13 Democrats Are Also Losing the Generic Poll
Dec13 Georgia Republicans Take Aim at Atlanta
Dec13 California Copies Texas
Dec13 Pelosi Will Run for Reelection in 2022
Dec13 What If Biden Doesn't Run in 2024?
Dec13 Chris Wallace Will Leave Fox News
Dec13 A December to Rhymember (Parts 13-14)
Dec12 Sunday Mailbag
Dec11 Saturday Q&A