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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  The Slow-Moving Coup, Part II: Six Crises, Vol. I
      •  Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged
      •  Harry Reid, 1939-2021
      •  Looking Forward: The Pundits Predict 2022
      •  Got to Admit, It's Getting Better, Part II
      •  A December to Rhymember (Parts 36-37)

The Slow-Moving Coup, Part II: Six Crises, Vol. I

This week, we're taking a careful look at the possibility that a Republican coup is brewing right under our very noses. Yesterday, we ran down the things that will make 2024 different from 2020, and that make a coup more plausible:

Today—and surely you saw this coming—we're going to talk a little bit about historical context. There have been 59 presidential elections. Of those, 19 resulted in the inauguration of a president who did not win a majority of the popular vote. And there have been six elections where the outcome was disputed by a large and/or outspoken segment of the populace. We intended to take a look at all six today, but the rundowns turned out a bit longer than expected. So, we'll do three crises today and three more, along with some observations, tomorrow:

The Election of 1800: Of the six elections on this list, this is the only one where there is no popular vote, per se. Only half a dozen states chose electors through direct plebiscite at that time. And even in those six states, nobody thought the final tallies were worth keeping for posterity. Jefferson "won" the popular vote, such as it is, but it's not clear by how many ballots, or what would have happened if there was a nationwide vote as there is today.

In any event, in a useful object lesson for originalists who fetishize the Constitution, this election showed everyone that the fellows who wrote the Constitution were most certainly fallible, and most certainly did not plan for every future contingency. The Framers thought it would be a good idea if presidential electors got two votes each, that the person who got the most votes should become president, and that the person who got the second most votes should become vice president. That way, if the chief executive died (or resigned, or was impeached and convicted), leadership would devolve upon the next best option. That may seem sensible, but the scheme neglected—perhaps naively—to account for the rise of parties and the resultant party discipline.

Once the electors had been awarded in 1800, and a dispute involving Georgia's certification had been resolved, Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans had 73 electors to 65 for Adams' Federalists. On the first vote, all 73 loyally voted for the Sage of Monticello. And on the second vote, all 73 voted, equally loyally, for Jefferson's running mate, Aaron Burr. That meant that the election was a tie, and that two men had a legal claim to being president. Everyone knew that Burr was supposed to be VP, and he might have forestalled a constitutional crisis if he'd announced that he did not expect to be made president. However, in 1800, it was already clear that the #2 slot was not worth a cuspidor of warm spit. Adams, who served as the very first Veep, said: "My country has contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." So, Burr decided that a promotion sounded dandy, even if it was unwarranted, and declined to yield his claim to the presidency.

If nobody "wins" the presidential election, then it is up to the House to pick a winner, of course. The problem is that the House was still controlled by the Federalists in 1801, and most Federalists really hated Jefferson. And so, over the course of 35 ballots, the eight Democratic-Republican controlled states voted for Jefferson, the six Federalist-controlled states voted for Burr, and the two divided states (Maryland and Vermont) cast blank ballots. As things lingered on into mid-February, it looked like there might not be a person with a clear legal claim to the presidency on Inauguration Day (Mar. 4 back then). In theory, Secretary of State John Marshall (F-VA) was next in line, and several of his fellow Federalists thought it would be great if he got back-doored into the presidency, but others were squeamish and, in any case, it was not clear that his appointment as Secretary was still in effect.

Eventually, although he was not then occupying political office, Alexander Hamilton got involved. He was an outspoken Federalist, yes, but he really hated Burr and he also did not wish to see a constitutional crisis. The former Secretary of the Treasury was eventually able to convince several Federalist representatives to abstain, with the result that Jefferson was finally anointed on Feb. 17, 1801, 10 states to 4, on the 36th ballot. We're not certain if Hamilton and Burr had any further dealings after that. Someone should really look into that; it might make for a good musical or something.

The Election of 1824: The second generation of American leaders was, as it turns out, not much better than the first when it came to thinking through the implications of partisanship. After 10-15 years with only one national political party, the system was realigning itself into the second party system by 1824, with the Democrats on one side and the Whigs on the other.

John Quincy Adams was the sitting Secretary of State, an office whose occupant was generally regarded back then as "president-in-waiting." Though he would eventually become a Whig, Adams was still a Democratic-Republican in 1824. The opponents of the Secretary were also Democratic-Republicans in 1824, though Andrew Jackson and William Crawford were well on their way to becoming Democrats, while Henry Clay was another future Whig. None of the three thought they could knock off Adams single-handedly, so they each decided to run as "regional" candidates, with the Tennessean Jackson the candidate of the Upper South and the mid-Atlantic, the Georgian Crawford the candidate of the Lower South, and the Kentuckian Clay the candidate of the West. Adams was, by virtue of his state of residency, the candidate of New England.

On Election Day, Jackson got the most popular votes (151,271, or 41.4%) and the most electoral votes (99), but didn't come close to the 131 EVs required to be elected. He thought that would be enough to carry the day, an analysis that demonstrates his then-shaky grasp of national politics. As in 1800, the absence of a clear winner threw the election into the House, where the choice was Jackson, or second-place finisher Adams, or third-place finisher Crawford. Clay was eliminated but his consolation prize was that he was still the sitting Speaker of the House, and so in a position to play kingmaker (or presidentmaker). Clay swung the election to Adams, who came out on top on the first ballot of the contingent election in the House, winning 13 states to 7 for Jackson and 4 for Crawford.

It was bad enough that the clear favorite, namely Jackson, went down to defeat. What made it worse was that Clay was promptly appointed Secretary of State (recall: "president-in-waiting"). Jackson and his partisans howled that a "corrupt bargain" had been struck, but that's probably not true. As evidenced by their future Whigdom, Clay and Adams were much more on the same page than Clay and Jackson. Further, Clay was disdainful of the Tennesseean, remarking "I cannot believe that killing 2,500 Englishmen at New Orleans qualifies for the various, difficult, and complicated duties of the Chief Magistracy." The outcome caused Jackson to get serious about politicking and about organizing the modern Democratic Party, such that he swamped Adams in the rematch in 1828.

The Election of 1860: If there is one election on this list that's not like the others, it's either this one or the election of 2020. In the case of 1860, the underlying dynamics of the election are quite different from the other entries on the list, as is the outcome. Starting with dynamics, the tensions between the slave-holding South and the non-slave-holding North had been building for roughly four score years prior to the election. An anti-slavery passage was stricken from the Declaration of Independence on the insistence of Southern delegates. The writing of the Constitution was nearly derailed over the question of whether or not to count enslaved persons for purposes of representation. The admission of Missouri in 1820, debates over tariffs in the 1830s, and the Mexican-American War and admission of California in the 1840s/early 1850s all triggered near-existential crises for the nation.

The South knew that, as the smaller, less populous, and ultimately poorer section, they had the weaker hand. And so, the region's leaders had a Plan A, a Plan B, and a Plan C. Plan A was to exploit the American system of governance, which gives the minority a chance at outsized (often grossly outsized) power. And so, the region managed to seat 10 slaveholding (or formerly slaveholding) presidents among the first 12 (the New England-based Adamses were the exceptions), and then followed that by getting two doughfaces (Northerners who were staunchly pro-South) elected. The nearly unbroken string of pro-slavery/pro-South presidents meant that the Supreme Court was also dominated by pro-slavery/pro-South justices, including the two long-serving chief justices, John Marshall and Roger Taney, who between them occupied the big chair for more than six decades, from 1801 to 1864. Meanwhile, the South made certain they controlled half the Senate through the early 1850s, and were also skilled in the use of parliamentary tricks to keep the legislature pretty dysfunctional. Gumming up the works was pretty easy back then, since Congress only met for 3-4 months a year.

Over the course of the 1840s and 1850s, the Southern grip on power began to slip, and at the same time the anti-slavery Republican Party emerged as the replacement for the Whig Party. The Republicans opposed slavery on economic grounds more than moral grounds, but anti-slavery is anti-slavery. That meant that it was time for Plan B: violence. That's not to say that the South did not defend itself through violent means before the 1840s, merely that the use of violence became vastly more common. Slave patrols, which "protected" against runaways and/or rebellions, became much more sadistic. Abolitionist materials sent through the mails were seized and destroyed. Newspaper editors who spoke out against slavery, even mildly, risked having their presses destroyed, or possibly being killed. In Kansas, which was set to vote for an antislavery state constitution, open warfare broke out; Kansas was "bleeding" from 1854 up through the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. In Congress, Southern members sometimes assaulted antislavery Northerners, most famously the 1856 incident when Rep. Preston Brooks (D-SC) nearly beat Sen. Charles Sumner (R-MA) to death on the floor of the Senate chamber with his cane after Sumner had delivered a fiery antislavery speech.

Eventually, the violent behavior of Southerners persuaded some Northerners that they were justified in responding in kind. Most notably, the radical abolitionist John Brown slaughtered five pro-slavery Kansans in cold blood in the so-called Pottawatomie Massacre of 1856. He followed that with a failed 1859 attempt to launch a widespread slave rebellion using federal arms stored in Harpers Ferry, VA. It didn't work, and Brown was hanged for his trouble.

By the time the Election of 1860 rolled around, the nation was hanging together by the merest of threads. Far from being intimidated, the all-Northern Republican Party ran Abraham Lincoln, who was openly anti-slavery (again, primarily on economic grounds). The Democrats ended up with two candidates, the moderate doughface Sen. Stephen Douglas (D-IL) and the much more staunchly pro-slavery Sen. John C. Breckinridge (D-KY). Former senator and Secretary of War John Bell, who at various times had been a Democratic-Republican, a Democrat, a Whig, and a Know-Nothing, ran as the candidate of the third-party Constitutional Union, which he founded for purposes of this election, and whose platform was, in so many words, "Can't we all just get along?"

When the votes were counted, Lincoln came out on top, of course. For a long time, textbooks reported that he only won because the Democrats split, but that's not true. The Democratic split meant that there wasn't much drama on Election Day but, as it turns out, because he dominated the more populous Northern and Midwestern states, Lincoln would have won even if the votes for all three of his opponents had been cast for a single opponent.

The Harpers Ferry incident, followed by the election of Lincoln, scared Southern slaveholders to death. They reasoned, quite rightly, that the institution's days were numbered if they remained a part of the United States. Maybe it would be 2 years, or maybe it would be 20, but there was little chance for the long-term survival of the "peculiar institution." That meant it was time for Plan C: leave the union. And that is precisely what the slave states did, with South Carolina leading the way on Dec. 20, 1860. Six others followed suit before Lincoln was inaugurated, and another four departed after Fort Sumter and the President's call for 75,000 troops to put down the rebellion. Those 11 states comprised the Confederacy, though there was also a number of soldiers from the Union states of Maryland, Kentucky, Delaware, and Missouri who fought on the side of the South.

We started this section by observing that 1860 was rather different from the other elections on the list, both in terms of dynamics and outcome. To make that perfectly clear, by "dynamics" we mean that there is no election beyond this one that was the culmination of 4-5 generations of tensions and struggle, and that followed on the heels of 15-20 years of horrifying partisan violence. And by "outcome," we mean that the minority faction did not make an attempt to impose their chosen president on the majority (other than leaving Lincoln's name off the ballots in Southern states, perhaps). Instead, once it was clear that the South had lost, they just quit the nation and formed their own government.

Tomorrow: The elections of 1876, 2000, and 2020. (Z)

Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged

The Supreme Court is the highest-profile exemplar of how politicized the appointment of federal judges has become. However, the lower levels are a clearer and possibly more consequential example. There are four things, in particular, that have made that possible:

  1. The dramatic expansion of the federal court system

  2. A recognition on the part of political actors—both those inside government, as well as non-governmental activists like the Federalist Society—of how important (and long-lasting) judicial appointments are.

  3. The end of judicial filibusters, thanks in large part to the gentleman whose passing is discussed below.

  4. The declining importance of blue slips. For many years, a single senator from the state in which a federal nominee would be serving could torpedo the nomination by returning a negative blue slip. Then, for a while, killing a nomination required both senators to agree. Now, the stated policy is that the blue slips will be taken "under advisement." In practice, that means that the party in power generally does what it wants to do.

Anyhow, as a result of these changes, it's now much easier for a president to get judges through the Senate, assuming the president, judge, and Senate majority are all of the same political party. More importantly, it is much, much easier to get a politically outspoken judge through the Senate. When the filibuster and the blue slips were in place, a nominee had to be nominally acceptable to at least some members of the minority party. Not anymore, though. And this becomes a vicious cycle, because it causes the Senate majority to become obstructionist if they think they can wait out a president of the opposite party.

The latter tendency was on full display for the last couple years of the Obama presidency, over and above the famous case of Merrick Garland. Then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) brought the approval process to a standstill, leaving scores of judgeships open for years. When Donald Trump took office, he and his party filled those vacancies with great alacrity, often with Federalist Society-approved extremists. The five presidents before Trump averaged between 41.7 (Obama) and 50.2 (Reagan) judicial appointments per year. Donald Trump averaged 61.3, which means he seated between 40 and 80 judges more than he would have, if everything else was equal.

The problem for Trump, McConnell, and the Republican Party is that as ye sow, so shall ye reap. The Democrats were largely not in a position to drag their feet on Trump appointees, since they did not control the Senate during any portion of his presidency. However, the general turmoil of the Trump years sometimes slowed the pace of approvals. Meanwhile, the advent of a Democratic president, accompanied by a Democratic Senate, spurred a wave of retirements. The result is that in his first year in office, Joe Biden has already seen 40 judges approved, more than any other president, including Trump (19), Obama (13), George W. Bush, or Bill Clinton (both 28). And the folks Biden is getting approved are delighting progressives (see here and here for examples), in part because of the appointees' diversity, and in part because of their lefty politics. Biden has been particularly successful in filling slots on the appeals courts—11 so far—which decide far more cases than the Supreme Court does, even if those decisions are not precedent-setting outside of their circuits.

The point is that the Republicans played hardball for the last couple years of the Obama presidency, and the entire Trump presidency, and now Biden and the Democrats are doing the same. That said, we will soon learn exactly how hard this administration plans to play. Thus far, Biden's appointees have all been to seats in D.C. or in blue states. Up soon will be Andre Mathis, who is nominated to a seat in Tennessee, and who is opposed by both of that state's Republican senators. If the Democrats ram Mathis through, then the blue slips are really and truly dead. The risk, of course, is that the Republicans retake the upper chamber and repay the "favor" by refusing to confirm any judges in 2023 and 2024.

Whatever happens, and however willing the two sides are to be Machiavellian, the Republicans have the problem that there have been fewer years of Republican presidents in recent decades than of Democratic presidents. As a consequence, there are currently 445 active federal judges appointed by Democrats (40 Biden + 316 Obama + 88 Clinton + 1 Carter) as compared to 424 appointed by Republicans (232 Trump + 163 W. Bush + 13 H. W. Bush + 16 Reagan). And, of course, the gap will grow; Biden has another 35 nominees awaiting consideration, including six who have already been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. This is a pretty significant hedge against the current Republican domination of the Supreme Court. (Z)

Harry Reid, 1939-2021

It's been a rough month for former Senate Majority Leaders. Bob Dole passed away on December 5, and yesterday, Harry Reid joined the Kansan on the big dais up in the sky. Reid's health had been poor for several years and, following a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, he was blunt in telling people that he knew his number would be up soon. For example, in 2019, he told The New York Times: "As soon as you discover you have something on your pancreas, you're dead."

These days, U.S. Senator is often treated as an entry-level job, but when Reid came of age, high office had to be earned. And so, he slowly climbed the ladder, the old-fashioned way. He was born into poverty at the tail end of the Great Depression; his father was a miner and his mother a laundress who often cleaned the linens for the local house of ill repute. Reid fought his way through high school—literally, he was a letterman in boxing—and then put himself through college, graduating Utah State University with bachelor's degrees in political science and history and then George Washington University Law School with a J.D. While matriculating at the latter, Reid paid his tuition by working as a Capitol police officer. He later guessed that he was the only person to have been both a U.S. Senator and a Capitol cop. We can find no evidence that he was wrong about that.

Reid spent his entire post-university life either serving in public office or else campaigning for public office. His first job, after law school, was as city attorney of Henderson, NV; he served for nearly 5 years. That was followed by 2 years as a member of the Nevada Assembly (1969-71), 4 years as lieutenant governor of Nevada (1971-75), 4 years chairing the Nevada Gaming Commission (1977-81), and four years in the U.S. House of Representatives (1983-87). The good news for Reid was that his service in these many and varied positions allowed him to build a powerful political network (some would say machine) that ultimately served as his power base for multiple decades. The bad news is that Nevada, in the 1960s and 1970s, was home to some pretty shady customers, which meant that politicians—particularly those who served on the Gaming Commission—often made the wrong sort of enemies. Reid was targeted for assassination more than once, including an occasion where a bomb was found attached to the family car. The assumption is that it was planted by one of the mafiosi that Reid crossed, but this has never been proven.

Reid's first run for the U.S. Senate came in 1974, when he lost to Republican Paul Laxalt (grandfather of current Nevada Republican U.S. Senate candidate Adam Laxalt) by just 700 votes. After spending 12 years building up his name recognition and his credentials, Reid tried for the seat again, which was open due to Grampa Laxalt's retirement. The Democrat easily dispatched Republican Jim Santini, thus commencing a U.S. Senate career that lasted three decades (1987-2017). A quick study, Reid became part of the Democratic leadership during his second term, became his party's leader in the Senate during his third term, and became Majority Leader during his fourth term, serving in that position for 8 years. Beyond being historic in his own right as a key member of the legislative branch, Reid is also, to date, the highest-ranking LDS Church member in American political history.

Reid generally shifted positions as the political winds dictated although, coming from a state that was red or red/purple for nearly all of his career, he usually took care to align himself with the conservative wing of the Democratic caucus. He personally opposed Roe v. Wade and, for most of his career, spoke out against the legalization of same-sex marriage. He was also a staunch supporter of gun rights, and was generally hawkish in foreign affairs. That said, Reid was a Roosevelt-style New Dealer, and so supported expansion of the social safety net. In particular, he was key in shepherding the Affordable Care Act through the Senate. A politician like that—someone just a shade to the right of Joe Manchin (D-WV)—would not have an easy time getting elected to the Senate as a Democrat today, and surely could not become the party's Senate leader.

Throughout his career, Reid courted controversy—sometimes deliberately, sometimes not. He was not shy about sharing his belief in UFOs, and was accused on more than one occasion of supporting legislation that would help to line his own pockets (speaking of Joe Manchin). Reid's views on racial matters would best be described as "generally enlightened...for someone born in the 1930s." In other words, he sometimes said things that were meant to be positive, but were out of step with the 21st century. For example, Reid once opined that Barack Obama had an excellent chance of becoming president because he is "light skinned" and doesn't speak with a "Negro dialect" (Reid apologized directly to the then-candidate, and Obama accepted). Perhaps the most controversial thing that Reid did was invoke the nuclear option for non-Supreme Court judicial nominees, allowing people to be appointed to the federal bench with just 51 votes (see above for more).

Normally, when a formerly prominent politician dies—Dole, or Johnny Isakson on Dec. 19, to take two examples—it's mostly an occasion to look back at "how things were." However, Reid's death has some potentially significant implications for how things are, and how things will be. Even though he "retired" in 2017, he maintained a firm grip on his political network to his dying day. Nevada Democrats are in disarray right now, and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) has a tough reelection campaign ahead of her. She was Reid's handpicked successor, and could really have used his muscle this cycle. Now she will have to go it alone, relying on her own network (and the fact that Nevada Republicans are also in disarray right now). Every poll thus far has been from a partisan pollster, so it's not clear exactly how things stand, merely that it is, and will be, a close one. (Z)

Looking Forward: The Pundits Predict 2022

As noted yesterday, for the next several weeks we're going to look back at 2021 predictions on Tuesdays and Thursdays and we're going to look ahead with 2022 predictions on Wednesdays and Fridays. Yesterday, it was:

And now, some pundit predictions for 2022:

  • S.E. Cupp, CNN: "A gallon of gas and a gallon of milk will each cost $3.15 by the end of 2022."

    Boldness: 3/5. We're going to give her credit if she's in the ballpark, but even then, this is somewhat bold because $3.15 is pretty low.

  • Paul Callan, CNN: "Democrats will retain control of the House. Republicans will gain control of the Senate."

    Boldness: 4/5. The latter part is not too bold, but the former part certainly is.

  • Peniel Joseph, CNN: "Republicans will win the U.S. House of Representatives. Democrats will retain control of the US Senate."

    Boldness: 2/5. This is a less bold than the previous, because the Senate is much closer to a coin toss than the House is.

  • Nicole Hemmer, CNN: "[Barack Obama]'s approval was at 48% at the end of 2010, even after the shellacking he took in the midterms. That seems to be about where [Joe] Biden will land as well at the end of 2022."

    Boldness: 1.5/5. Predicting middling approval? For a modern president? Not exactly going out on a limb there.

  • Raul Reyes, CNN: "Biden's approval rating is low now due to Covid-19, inflation and the rushed pullout of Afghanistan. If he can sell a new version of his Build Back Better program, he can get his approval rating up to 55% by the end of 2022."

    Boldness: 3/5. 55% would be nearly 20 points above Donald Trump's average. Possible, but not likely.

  • Idres Kahloon, The Economist: "The Biden presidency is likely to be heading towards gridlock."

    Boldness: 1/5. This is too general to be all that meaningful.

  • Elliot Williams, CNN: "In July, U.S. employment will return to pre-pandemic levels."

    Boldness: 2/5. They say this daily on CNBC, so it isn't exactly a unique insight.

  • Shep Hyken, Forbes: "Employees will return, but they will demand to be treated the right way. Companies will find ways to offer employees fair compensation and treat them better."

    Boldness: 1/5. Since this has already been the trend for over a year, and since this is virtually impossible to prove or disprove, we have to give low boldness points.

  • Emily Tamkin, The New Statesman (UK): "The Iran nuclear deal negotiations will break down for good."

    Boldness: 2/5. Given that the U.S./Iran relationship and, in fact, the everyone but Russia/Iran relationship, has been fraught for generations, this is not too bold a prediction.

  • Matthew Gagnon, Bangor Daily News: "There will be a major international incident involving either Russia or China."

    Boldness: 0.5/5. In other news, the sun will rise in the east tomorrow.

  • Irwin Stoolmacher, The Trentonian: "Russia will invade the Ukraine and the United States will dramatically increase military aid after the fact. President Biden will be attacked by the Republicans for not taking preemptive action prior to the invasion."

    Boldness: 2.5/5. Given how clear the tea leaves are at this point, this isn't too much of a stretch.

  • Christina Greer, Gotham Gazette: "Kathy Hochul will cruise to victory and Bill de Blasio will garner an embarrassing single-digit percentage of Democratic primary voters."

    Boldness: 2/5. It's New York, so predicting a Democratic romp is not exactly a high-risk proposition. And he's Bill de Blasio, so predicting that he will be unpopular is an even lower-risk proposition.

  • Carl P. Leubsdorf, Bozeman Daily Chronicle: "In the multi-candidate Missouri GOP Senate primary, Trump-backed former Gov. Eric Greitens will emerge as the winner and will face ex-state Sen. Scott Sifton."

    Boldness: 4/5. There are a lot of candidates in the race, so committing to a specific one on each side is pretty bold.

  • Antonia Lopez, Ipsos: "More than 80% of the world's population will receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine."

    Boldness: 4/5. Given how powerful anti-vaxx sentiment seems to be, this is pretty bold.

  • Bill Gates, billionaire philanthropist: "[T]he acute phase of the pandemic will come to a close some time in 2022."

    Boldness: 3/5. This seems moderately bold to us, although people are so tired of the restrictions that maybe it's not.

  • Ric Edelman, financial analyst: "By the end of the year, more than 500 million people worldwide will own bitcoin."

    Boldness: 3/5. A somewhat outlandish projection, but not totally outlandish.

  • Nostradamus, French mystic: "Sacred temples of the Roman time, will reject the foundations of their foundation." (Nostradamus whisperers say this means the EU will collapse.)

    Boldness: 5/5. If Nostradamus is right, particularly from the vantage point of nearly 500 years ago, he can have full boldness points.

  • Baba Vanga, Bulgarian mystic: "There will be another pandemic, this time discovered in Siberia, that is caused by a frozen virus that will be released by climate change."

    Boldness: 5/5. This is so specific, that he surely gets the full five if he's right.

We'll see how these folks do. Some of the predictions seem a wee bit more plausible than others.

Remember also that we are in need of 2022 predictions from readers. (Z)

Got to Admit, It's Getting Better, Part II

This week, we are also running reader responses to the question from C.S. in Linville, asking for advice and optimism in advance of their upcoming parenthood. Here is the first set of responses:

And here are five more:

From A.B. in Plano, TX: I was struck by the similarity to my situation 20 years ago. I was pushing 40, my wife of two years (who brought a 7- and 4-year-old to our new marriage) was 37. 9/11 was still very much in the headlines and I had serious concerns about my first addition to the gene pool.

Twenty years later, our 19-year-old is in college, and we've all learned from our shared experiences. I taught him to catch a fly ball and ride a bike; he taught me what it takes to be in a marching band and become an Eagle Scout.

Is the world better or worse now than 20 years ago? Yes.

But it's all good—learning to deal with loss and change and triumph through a separate set of eyes is amazing!

Congrats and best of luck!

From R.L. in Alameda, CA: I could go on at length on this topic. Becoming a parent is one of those events that will forever change a person. There is "before" and there is "after." And you will never be the person you were before. I have a 17-year-old daughter, a 19-year-old stepdaughter and a 21-year-old son (well, offspring, as he/they is dabbling with identifying non-binary). I've been doing this awhile.

I'm straight and writing in hetero-normative language. However, I feel that, with a few tweaks, this is just as applicable to same-sex parenthood.

I'd say the most important thing to know is that your children are always watching you. They will model your behavior. It matters much more what you do and how you live your life than what you tell them. If you are a generous person, they will learn generosity. If you own up to your mistakes, apologize and make relational repair when you have wronged or hurt the feelings of another human being, they will learn that. For the dads, if you treat your wife like an equal partner in your relationship and participate in the dull chores of running a household and raising your children, your sons will become respectful men who treat women right. And your daughters will seek out relationships with men who treat them right.

It's the most challenging and often frustrating job I've ever had. And the most rewarding.

From S.D. in Winter Park, FL: My main advice is to come to grips with the Gretchen Rubin quote: "The days are long, but the years are short."

Being a parent is both the most boring and most exciting thing you will ever do. Often at the same time. That's what's great about it. So congrats and have fun!

P.S.: You will have 10% less money for yourselves as parents. This is almost without regard to your income level. So plan on one less holiday, one less bathroom renovation, etc., each and every year. I also became a parent at your age and nobody warned me of this financial "sacrifice" that must be made. So, you've been warned. But that is an easy "sacrifice," as going to a Christmas nativity play your child is in is a lot more interesting, as a parent, than a two-week Cancun holiday. (Oh, and just accept you will never again have a clean car.)

From A.C. in Kingston, MA: Some thoughts as the mom of two teenagers (ages 13 and 15) and a high school teacher.

This generation of young people gives me great hope. As a mathematics teacher, I have first-hand experience with how much better educated kids (at least, kids from my state) are than my own young Gen X and "geriatric" Millennial generations are. For example, take math, the subject I teach: When I was in high school, there were a whopping 12 of us enrolled in AP Calculus AB, the only calculus course at my high school. Today, all the local schools offer both AB and BC calculus at the AP level, and one or two non-AP options on top of that, which the majority of students take. Further, almost all kids in my state now graduate high school having been exposed to trigonometry and transcendental functions. I realize this is but one benchmark, but math being math, it is fairly objective and thus illustrative in a way that raw numbers can't be in humanities courses.

Further, these kids are more thoughtful, more compassionate, less tolerant of bullying, and far more tech-savvy than previous generations. I see worse bullying both online and in-person from the 50-plus crowd; I also see older folks regularly making complete fools of themselves online by oversharing and demonstrating a lack of understanding of just how many people have access to their rude behavior. The young adults today, those who will be in charge as C.S.'s child grows up, have grown up in a world where everything is online, have just survived 2½ years of disrupted schooling, and actually have a stake in the health of the environment.

I don't think they'll be able to fix everything, nor do I think that we don't have some really serious challenges ahead of us. I have grave concerns about the state of our democracy. We really can't be ignoring environmental issues to the degree that the current powers that be seem to want to. All these horrible middle aged folks who are bullying... also have kids, and those kids are being raised with values very different from those I'm trying to impart to my own kids. But I do have a lot of hope that we'll be in capable hands when they take over.

From J.K. in Silverdale, WA: I was pregnant with my first child in late 2005 and 2006. At that time, I would listen to NPR on my way to a rewarding but emotionally draining job, and I would weep. While pregnancy hormones were partly responsible, the news was grim, and listening to the horrors of the war in Iraq shook my faith in humanity daily. One day I walked into work dejected and stated that I questioned the wisdom of bringing life into this world. A kindly colleague told me that he had the same doubts when he and his wife were expecting at the height of the Vietnam War, but he has never regretted having children for a single moment. His sincerity was evident and I felt better.

He was right. My faith in the future of the humans is still shredded, and my children are the threads my faith hangs by. I do not tell them this as it's an unfair burden to place on them. But honestly, they are far more compassionate and far better people than I was at their ages, and I have become a better person because they require that of me. I think of bringing a life into this world as the ultimate act of hope and hubris. The thoughtfulness of your question suggests to me that you will be a thoughtful parent, and the Earth your child will inhabit will be an Earth that will need people like the person your child is likely to become.

So, thank you in advance for accepting the challenge of this incredible endeavor, and congratulations!

Another five responses tomorrow! (Z)

A December to Rhymember (Parts 36-37)

Three more days after today. Here are the previous entries:

We've gotten a fair number of complimentary verses, so we're going to run a pair of those today, starting with one from A.S. in Bedford, MA. This submission also connects with the previous section, as A.S. has recently learned—like C.S. in Linville—that their first child is on the way:

There once was a cadre of menschen
who were tromping along at their best when
four brutal Trump years
and a pandemic of tears
turned us here for some poetry med'cine.

That one's complimentary in a subtle way; this one from S.C. in Mountain View, CA, is more direct:

E-V Dot Com I'm happy to say
Is a blog that I read every day.
So it's easy to see
Why for (V) and for (Z)
I must give a loud "Hip Hip Hooray!"

Thanks for the kind words, and congratulations to A.S.! (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec28 The Slow-Moving Coup, Part I: The Bad News
Dec28 Redistricting Going Surprisingly Well for Democrats, Maybe Not So Well for Democracy
Dec28 Larry Hogan Toying With Senate Run
Dec28 Looking Backward: How Did The Pundits Do?
Dec28 Got to Admit, It's Getting Better, Part I
Dec28 A December to Rhymember (Parts 34-35)
Dec27 Far Right Denounces Trump
Dec27 Republican Legislatures Are the New Death Panels
Dec27 Democrats Are Trying to Get Voters Focused on State-Level races
Dec27 Trump Broke the Mold
Dec27 Biden Is Quietly Reversing Some of Trump's Actions
Dec27 Biden Picks Two More Black Women for the Appellate Courts
Dec27 Another Reaction to the Texas Abortion Law
Dec27 Americans Are Lukewarm on Biden Running in 2024
Dec27 A December to Rhymember (Parts 32-33)
Dec26 Sunday Mailbag
Dec25 Saturday Q&A
Dec24 More Good News on the COVID Front
Dec24 Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows, Part 413
Dec24 The Courts Are Busy
Dec24 Biden Administration Pushes Back on Uyghur Genocide
Dec24 Cruz for President, Part II (and III, and IV...)
Dec24 Arizona Adopts New District Maps
Dec24 This Week in Schadenfreude
Dec24 A December to Rhymember (Part 31)
Dec23 Schumer Promises a Vote on the Reconciliation Bill in January
Dec23 McConnell Is Actively Courting Manchin
Dec23 Thune Might Retire
Dec23 Hope Hicks Joins Team McCormick
Dec23 Jan. 6 Select Committee Wants to Hear from Jim Jordan
Dec23 FDA Approves COVID Pill
Dec23 Biden Extends Student Loan Pause
Dec23 Democrats Get Their New Jersey Congressional Map
Dec23 A December to Rhymember (Parts 29-30)
Dec22 Biden Speaks
Dec22 Scott Perry, by Contrast, Declines to Speak
Dec22 Biden Administration Finally Has Its Ambassadors
Dec22 Dominion 1, Fox 0
Dec22 Trumper vs. Non-Trumper Senate Races Already Getting Ugly
Dec22 Iowa May Get a Temporary Reprieve
Dec22 A December to Rhymember (Parts 27-28)
Dec21 The Day After
Dec21 Pandemic: Deja Vu All Over Again?
Dec21 1/6 Committee Turns Inward
Dec21 Trump Sues Letitia James
Dec21 Democrats Get Good News from California...
Dec21 ...But Bad News from Florida
Dec21 A December to Rhymember (Parts 25-26)
Dec20 Manchin Doesn't Want to Build Back Better
Dec20 Democrats Are Hoping They Lose Only 10-20 Seats in the House