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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

We'll start with another round of letters on Democratic messaging, and we may have a third installment next week. Beyond that, where else can you read about unpopular senators, Beyoncé, evangelicals, genocide, Devil's Night, and Pope Ringo, all on the same page? Note, however, that we are going to hold the turning points that turned out to be duds until next week, in case anyone else has suggestions.

Democratic Messaging, Part II

T.P. in Monmouth, OR, writes: I appreciate the response from R.L. in Alameda about how Democrats aren't trained to label their message as well as the Republicans. Our local NPR news people keep referring to the "Democrats' Massive Spending Bill," and not to the "Democrats' Massive Stimulus Bill." What a difference that would make at the ballot box!

R.P. in San Diego, CA, writes: I am a communications professional and I wholeheartedly agree that Democrats need to get their messaging house in order.

Here is an example of huge missed opportunities: Last summer, prior to the start of the Democratic National Convention, I was excited to see the live speeches by Joe Biden and Kamala Harris delivered to a large primetime audience. In the lead-up to their speeches, in the featured programming, there was a deep examination of the hardships many families face with immigration woes. While this is an important issue, there was no talk about new green jobs or support of unions or new educational opportunities or affordable healthcare initiatives.

So, while the red team was throwing an in-your-face alphafest on the White House lawn, the blue team was wallowing in its misfortunes. If you were a viewer at home, which would have been more appealing and impactful?

P.G. in Berkeley, CA, writes: I get about 100 solicitations per day from candidates running for office all over the country. Some are Senate races, some are House races, and a few are for governorships. Almost none are for candidates in my state. Here is the problem: all the messages are pleas for money to prevent a possible Republican takeover in 2022. But there seems to be no evidence that money has much to do with the weakness of the Democratic position (if it is indeed weak). Is Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) in danger of losing if I don't rush $20 to his campaign? Or if he is in danger of losing, might it have nothing to do with money? In either case, the Democratic Party is treating us as though we were fools. Is it possible that the risk (where there is a risk) is in the candidates themselves, or perhaps in the ineffectual (so far) performance of the slim majority that they do have? How can money solve those problems? All this is disheartening and just adds to my cynicism. I have no doubt that I would prefer Sen. Val Demings (D-FL) to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), but is money her problem?

B.R.D. in Columbus, OH, writes: I am so tired of hearing people say focusing on the price tag of the Build Back Better plan was a mistake. Yes, it was, but it wasn't the Democrats who focused on that! The media did. Now, you can argue that Democrats should somehow be able to control the media narrative, but I'm afraid that just doesn't fly. Not when there seems to be a news cycle driven by the desire for horse races, drama, and clickbait. Plus, at exactly the moment Joe Biden was planning to hit the road for the plan, which would have given all Democrats a chance to coalesce, explain, and so forth, the Afghanistan withdrawal narrative took over. Which again, was not balanced or nuanced or focused on the weeks and weeks and weeks of discussions that led up to it (see Peril for a good summary) or, when things started going better, able to praise the administration for an incredibly successful mission to evacuate. There was an "it's time to pile on Biden" frenzy. And people on the left joined in, giving ammunition to people on the right.

I understand the desire for better slogans—maybe hire more English majors?—but I also think the Democrats are wise to avoid one-size-fits-all slogans. It's a big tent party, it's more about nuance and governing (not sound bites), and trying to emulate the Republicans on this one could get us into real trouble. I would remind people that we have a good slogan for voting rights legislation, "For the People," and it hasn't helped us one iota. Further, it's difficult to be proactive—who knows what crazy slogan the Republicans will pin us with next? How do you come up with a slogan that will stand up to crazy? Ahead of time?

I understand our impatience, too. And yes, I wish we'd harp on investment, investment, investment: in people, communities, families. But frankly, I'd rather not see Democrats at crowds or rallies mindlessly chanting a slogan. I'd rather see them out registering voters, canvassing, writing letters to Congress people, and so forth. I'm with Heather Cox Richardson: building things takes long, hard work. And sometimes that hard work can't be explained or promoted in three words...

M.U. in Seattle, WA, writes: After reading the responses about Democratic messaging (or lack thereof), there was a simple point that I feel has been left out of the dialogue. Namely, that a lot of the "messaging" that people find so wrong—either as too extreme by those on the right or too clueless by those on the left—comes not from Democratic leaders but from the activist wing of the Party.

The two groups overlap somewhat but the activists will never be a comfortable fit in the Democratic Party. They fall along the lines of, "the Democrats are the worst political party in this country, except for all the other ones." The activist wing's agenda, whether it be the social justice warriors or environmental crusaders, will always be their number one priority and they certainly don't care if their messaging interferes with that of the Democratic Party. This is how you got "Defund the Police," which was widely and happily disseminated by the activists but made the party cringe at the electoral damage it was assumed to be doing.

And it's not true that no politicians on the left used or endorsed the idea, Reps. Cori Bush (D-MO) and Ilhan Omar (DFL-MN) come to mind; they happily endorse the rhetoric of the activist wing (I'm making no judgments here, incidentally, just stating facts). To wit, Omar was asked about how the slogan Defund the Police could be used against the Democrats and she responded, "It's not a slogan; it's a policy demand." So there you have it, the Democrats have a segment that simply won't conform to poll-tested and "safe" messaging. The Republicans scarcely have this problem, the-nuttier-the-better seems to work for them, and, indescribably, it never seems to hurt them... unless, of course, they're talking about witches or legitimate rape. Go figure.

D.L. in Uslar, Germany, writes: I think another factor in the problems the Democrats have with their messaging is that the bully pulpit just isn't that bully any more. When Ronald Reagan gave a speech from the Oval Office to explain/justify his policies, all three networks carried the speech in full, as did many radio stations. Unless you wanted to watch a rerun or an old movie on a local TV station or read a book, you watched the speech.

These days, those who don't want to hear it in the first place have a million other options. It's not even necessarily guaranteed that all the networks would carry the speech. I seem to recall Barack Obama giving an important speech, and there mostly being complaints about whatever regular programming was preempted. So along with everything else, it's simply harder to reach low- or even medium-information voters. Whether it's because they stay safely in their bubble and get a highly spun summary or because it's very easy to tune out, it is simply harder to get people to hear the message in the first place.

The Senatorial Class

A.C. in Columbus, OH, writes: I, like you, have been trying to figure out what Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's (D-AZ) end goal is. She has very obviously poisoned the well with Democrats to the point where it's almost certain she will be primaried (and will probably lose). This leads to the conclusion that she isn't overly concerned with her political future. She does seem, however, to be very interested in making as much money as she can for herself.

It has led me to believe I may have figured out what's really going on with her. She is accepting money from Republican groups to vote like a Republican on the big legislation that people pay attention to while voting like a Democrat on the smaller things like confirming judges, naming post offices, etc. If so, then the question becomes: why doesn't she just jump ship and formally become a Republican?

I would guess the answer is simply this: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told her on no uncertain terms not to do it. Why? Because it would give Democrats something to run on in 2022, which could fire up the Democrat base: "We were so close to passing our agenda, but we were betrayed by one of our own, now we need to you to elect more Democrats so we can finally, truly take control of the Senate and pass our agenda!" It would be a powerful message to run on Republicans obstructing everything and could lead to Democrat voters coming out in droves.

However, if Sinema remains a Democrat, then Republicans get an equally powerful message: The Do-Nothing Democrats. "Democrats have controlled the Senate for two years, but they can't get anything done. Vote Republican and we'll bring about real change!" Of course, Republicans only care about three things: conservative judges, cutting taxes for the rich, and obstructing Democrats, but since the average voter seems to have the memory of a goldfish, this message could get some independents on-board with the "throw the bums out" mentality, and also discourage Democrats from voting.

I am willing to bet that once the 2022 election season comes to an end, Sinema will jump to the Republican side, because she will have served her purpose in hurting Democrats by then. Or maybe not. She may envision herself as a "token Democrat" who will go on all the right-wing shows and do nothing but praise Republicans and blast Democrats, even though she herself will ostensibly still be one. But if that's truly her plan, she should take a long, hard look at how well it worked out for Tulsi Gabbard.

Either way, one thing is certain: Whatever her game is, her one and only goal is to come out of this will her bank account having a few more zeros on the end than when she first got elected to the Senate. Whatever helps bring that about, that's what she's going to do. She may lose in 2024, but she'll be laughing all the way to the bank.

D.G. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: All the discussions about Krysten Sinema's political future ignore one key item: She is extremely smart. Hence, she does not expect, nor is she working towards, a political future.

She is gaining notoriety, and making friends in high places (corporate wise) for a position on corporate boards and the like. That is where the money is, and that is where her fame will be most productive.

P.B. in Sønderborg, Denmark, writes: What on Earth is going on with your coverage of Kyrsten Sinema? Usually you guys take a straightforward, logical approach to your political commentary. It's the one thing I like most about your website. But with her, it's all these long, convoluted posts with wild speculation about why she's behaving the way she is.

As someone whom she represents, and who actually voted for her, let me help you out with a simple answer: Krysten Sinema is a senator from a swing state and is taking a centrist position on infrastructure. That's it. As for why she's laying low, well, you said yourselves that she's staying in contact with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Joe Biden, and the other important figures involved with the reconciliation bill. Otherwise, her desire for privacy seems to be out of concern for her personal safety. My family in Bisbee tells me that she was in town a couple weeks ago, attempting to officiate a wedding for a friend, and was shouted down by angry left-wing protesters.

Your juxtaposition of a sexy photo of her next to a stoic picture of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) was way below your usual standard. She's overly ambitious, you say? What's next, you find her voice to be grating or she reminds you of your grade-school teacher? A quick Google image search reveals that Manchin loves to have his picture taken on a motorcycle, and I challenge you to find a single politician who isn't ambitious. I'll leave it to your readers to speculate why you are treating Sinema so differently from Manchin.

V & Z respond: We will leave it to others if they wish to respond to the implication that we're sexist. However, we will point out that we did not refer to her as "overly ambitious" or even "ambitious" and that, in fact, we have never used the phrase "overly ambitious" on the site.

J.L. in Chicago, IL, writes: Definitely not meaning to pick on A.R. in Los Angeles, in particular, but the theory about Sens. Sinema and Tim Scott (R-SC) being seen walking together in an airport and apparently engaged in some form of friendly conversation, struck me as emblematic of a problem across the political spectrum. One can critique plenty about both of them but, absent other information, this sort of conversation seems like a good thing. There are only 100 Senators. They probably have at least somewhat similar travel schedules. I watched with the sound off so there may have been other clues, but the airport looked at least plausibly like National (I still have trouble calling it by its current name)—not in one of their home states or somewhere else that it would be notable for the other one to be. We should want elected officials, regardless of party, who happen to find themselves traveling at the same time, to walk and chat with each other. If they shared a ride to or from the airport, all the better—for the taxpayer, for the environment, and for the health of our democracy (which could really use it these days).

Although we may be there, it would be quite troubling if Democrats and Republicans felt they could not even engage in basic civility in public for fear of it costing them politically. Sinema definitely needs to talk more to her constituents but if she continues to talk the same amount or more with her Republican colleagues, I am good.

P.G. in Arlington, VA, writes: Some Sinema cinema for your amusement:


#kyrstensinema #senatorsinema #congress

♬ original sound - Chelsea Pope

K.F. in Framingham, MA, writes: The thought experiment proposed by J.I. in San Francisco, about what one might say to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Cancun) that could possibly get through to him and pull him back from the dark side was an interesting question, but I do agree that there really is nothing you could say to the man that would disabuse him of the lies and conspiracy theories he has espoused. You would be wasting your breath and putting unnecessary wear and tear on your vocal cords trying to reason with Cruz. He is one of many right-wing conservatives (see Carlson, Tucker and Shapiro, Ben) who are unfortunately too good at twisting words, putting words in your mouth, gaslighting, changing the narrative, turning your questions back on you, appealing to faux moral arguments, and abusing several logical fallacies.

Cruz is also a skilled debater and an attorney, so you will not win any debate with him. Instead of trying to confuse him with the facts and get drawn into a heated argument, if I were next to him on the plane, I might try a different tack: make him as uncomfortable and disgusted as possible. If I am feeling a little flatulent, maybe I just let loose a little. If I talk about anything with him, it would be non-political, but uncomfortable—maybe I make up some awkward personal problems and treat him as a therapist and talk his ear off. Maybe I tell him some inappropriate jokes, or just bad jokes. Maybe I pretend to sleep and snore loudly. Maybe I ask him if he has any good recommendations of what I should do when I visit Calgary...or Cancun. "I mean being from Canada and all, I thought you would probably know best..." Maybe I talk about my favorite book, "Green Eggs and Ham" and talk about how we have that favorite book in common. All the while, I could address him as Rafael and not by his title. If he starts to suspect that I am just playing him, I would gaslight him. "What do you mean? I'm just trying to have a pleasant conversation. No need to get feisty, sir."

Ok, in reality, I would do none of that. I would just request to move my seat because "this dude smells pretty foul."

M.D. in the Poconos, PA, writes: J.I. in San Francisco must be a masochist. Spending 2 hours on a plane sitting next to Ted Cruz? I wouldn't survive 2 minutes sitting next to the one guy who is sleazier and more disgusting than Donald Trump. Remember, they don't have showers on planes, even in First Class.

J.K. in Portland OR, writes: I continue to be unable to follow the logic of Sen. Manchin. He is in favor of the principle that the voters should determine who holds office and says that he is against disenfranchisement as a tool for winning elections. There is ample evidence that one of the two major parties in the United States is fully committed to the use of disenfranchisement as a way of gaining power—they even say it directly, as in, "If everybody could vote, no Republican would ever win a presidential election." Yet, by refusing to invoke an exception to the filibuster in the case of a voting rights law that he himself poissonally wrote (as Vigàta police officer Catarella might say), Manchin is saying that the party that is against fair voting must agree to have fair voting or else he won't let what he declares he stands for become law. I can't come up with any explanation for such illogical behavior except perhaps he's sleeping with Kyrsten Sinema and doesn't want her to have to take the hit by herself for sabotaging the Constitution.

L.E. in Santa Barbara, CA, writes: With Joe Manchin so much in the news, perhaps it's time to dust off this video to allow those of us who live in non-coal mining states to better understand coal lovers' views on coal mining.

Granted, it's seven years old and from Australia, but it certainly helps clarify his and the coal industry's perspective. Note that it is not safe for work.

All Politics Is Local

D.A.Y. in Troy, MI, writes: There is a story of prisoners kept in a pit with a ledge overlooking them and wall on the opposite side. Their captors controlled what they experienced completely. They lit a fire to make it day and extinguished it to make it night. They would use puppets to cast shadows on the wall on the daily goings on. The prisoners, unable to see it was a fire and not the sun, and puppets and not actual people, had no way of knowing the shadows on the wall were all a lie for their benefit.

Should Glenn Youngkin (R) win in Virginia, then Americans are those prisoners in the pit, and the Republicans are their captors telling them what is day and what is night, and putting on a show for their benefit. Youngkin has run a campaign based completely on lies. Critical race theory is not being taught in any K-12 school in Virginia. The "explicit book" is a Pulitzer Prize-winning work about the horrors of slavery assigned in a senior advanced placement literature class. Yet, these and other lies are what he and his campaign and the right-wing propaganda machine spew on blast 24/7. And if this works, then it's a sad statement about not just Virginia, which has been clawing itself into civilization for the past decade and a half, but of America as a whole.

The problem is the toxic relationship a large swath of the American people have with "personal freedom." Terry McAulffe's (D) major "gaffe" was saying parents shouldn't be able to dictate curricula to the school. He's right. The advertisement about "Beloved" in fact proves his point, as that mother would deprive her child and others in that district of an important part of our history because she doesn't like thinking about it. It's also only the personal freedom of white people that seems to be a concern, but that's a different topic.

The point is, a campaign of lies seems to be working in Virginia, if the polls are to be believed. If it does, then it seems we've learned nothing from 2016 and the Trump Administration.

Though the progressives need to realize it's time to get off the dime and pass something for Joe Biden to brag about. You're not going to get anything if the Republicans control Congress.

M.S. in Westchester, NY, writes: Regarding Glenn Youngkin speaking primarily about schools and McAuliffe speaking about Trump, you seem not to realize that the schools are the "red meat" for the Trump sect now. This is their leading argument: Critical race theory is making your kid feel badly about being white. Of course, this is nonsense. CRT is not taught in K-12. But it speaks to the Republican Party's sense of grievance. So, McAuliffe talking about Trump makes sense because Democrats need to understand who/what they are up against.

The Cold Civil War (or, "Let's Go Brandon!")

M.B. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: Calling it a "cold civil war" is clever, though I also like "uncivil war," as coined by Andrew Bird in his brilliant 2018 song Bloodless. You and your readers might enjoy its elegant though poignant lyrics.

J.F. in Fort Worth, TX, writes: Regarding the "Let's Go Brandon" item, I could not persuade a group of my liberal friends to chant "F**k Donald Trump," even if I absolutely had to. Much less at a public event. Even much less if that event were televised. My friends, while certainly passionate about politics and current events, aren't that mean-spirited and crass. (I am, they are not.)

Also, the first question out of their mouths would be, "Why exactly are we chanting 'F**k Donald Trump' at a baseball game?"

M.G. in Newtown, PA, writes: I think "Let's Go Brandon" is funny. Not rip-roaring, hilarious (they're Republican politicians, not professional comedians or writers) but still...kind of funny.

It also seems harmless. The NASCAR fans weren't chanting "kill Joe Biden" or "lock him up" or anything that expressed or implied real harm. The fans at the event were venting their political hatred for Joe Biden in a way that's (sadly) much healthier than the many ways we've seen people on the right vent their political venom the last few years. And the GOP picked up on what kind of was turned into a funny situation by Kelly Stavast and ran with it. I might feel a little differently if the politicians in question created the "Let's go Brandon" meme on their own or were the ones chanting "F**k Joe Biden" but they weren't.

There's plenty of stuff Republicans are doing wrong that deserves our criticism and ire, I just don't think this is one of those things.

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: In regards to "Let's Go Brandon," I hope you guys saw The Daily Show's Jordan Klepper's report on the recent Iowa Trump Rally:

Two immediate thoughts: (1) Klepper is the bravest comedian in the world! and (2) If only we could turn Republican obliviousness into clean energy we would could power the world for centuries!

A.J. in Baltimore, MD, writes: Your continuing comments about the unilateral nature of the Cold Civil War actually reminded me of something that I recalled reading on your site about five years ago: A political scientist found that the most hated celebrity in blue states was Ted Nugent, whereas the most hated celebrity in red states was Beyoncé. To paraphrase your previous comment, Nugent is unpopular in blue states in part because he has done things like maligning children for their gun control activism, suggesting Barack Obama "suck on [his] machine gun," describing Obama as a "subhuman mongrel," and making so many other similarly controversial and threatening statements that the Secret Service has investigated him, whereas Beyoncé is unpopular in red states because, um, she's a famous black feminist? The only place these two can be equated is in the bubble that modern-day conservatives live in.

C.S. in Newport, Wales, UK, writes: You wrote about death threats, and noted that there seems to be many against women, but also some against men. I think it is worth pointing out that, just as in your example, threats against a man are often extended to the man's wife while threats against a woman are never extended to the woman's husband...

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: I live about a mile and a half from where the BLM protests happened in Brooklyn in 2020, and there were smaller marches down the avenue closest to my home. D.B. in Midlothian asked about American perceptions of BLM vs. 1/6. I'm only one data point, but for what it's worth, my perception is that the general point of BLM is to draw attention to the killings of and other abuses against Black people, usually (but far from exclusively) at the hands of white police officers. There was some property destruction, but it wasn't widespread, and my perception is that it was perpetrated by a small number of people (like the two lawyers who have pleaded guilty to tossing a Molotov cocktail into an empty police vehicle). I am opposed to violence or destruction of any kind. I don't see violence or destruction, however, as the point of BLM.

By contrast, the entire point of the 1/6 riot was violence and destruction in service of the goal of overturning the presidential election. It was not a basically peaceful protest with a small number of violent malefactors. It was terrorism perpetrated by hundreds of people trying to subvert American democracy. That's the difference in my mind.

T.W. in Murfreesboro, TN, writes: A cold civil war cartoon:

The cartoon shows some heavily 
armed and armored elephants about to attack two unarmed and unarmored donkeys who are talking about sending a strongly
worded letter to the editor but wondering if that's too harsh. The caption is: 'The war where only one side realizes there
IS a war'

S.R. in Ottawa, ON, Canada, writes: As I've mentioned in past comments, I spend too much wandering around right-wing sites like Gateway Pundit, OANN, and InfoWars for my health, but I like to know what they're up to over there. The whole "Let's Go Brandon" thing reminds me of some sophomoric inside-joke that insiders think is just the cleverest and funniest thing to ever exist, when in reality it's just sad. Especially when tied to their entire attempt to delegitimize Joe Biden's presidency and the 2020 election. The Trumpists will never accept their loss or Biden victory for one very important reason—he committed the one irredeemable sin, he beat Donald Trump. This Ben Garrison "cartoon," posted on InfoWars the other day, pretty much sums up the whole thing:

Joe Biden is shown as a magician
pulling a rabbit out of a hat; the rabbit is declaring 'Let's go Brandon!' There is smoke billowing around him that has 
the phrases 'fake mandates,' 'fake media,' and 'fake presidency.' Biden's reflection is shown in a mirror that is labeled
'Joe's popularity' and is broken. The caption is: 'smoke and mirrors.'

It might be look clever to a second-grader, but if you actually think about it doesn't make any sense.

V & Z respond: Political cartoonists are not always known for their subtlety, but even conceding that, Garrison's work is unbelievably ham-fisted and, as you point out, often lacking in coherence.

This Week in Trumpworld

F.S. in Cologne, Germany, writes: In your answer to the question from D.M. in Highland Park, IL, you wrote that the Republican Party will probably be more centrist 10 years from now. I'm not so sure. If you go back 10 years, the Tea Party had enormous influence on the Republican Party. If back then someone had asked (V) and (Z) the same question as D.M. did, I guess that (V) and (Z) would have written the same answer. But the times of the Tea Party are now the good old days. I mean, the GOP became increasingly extremist during the last 40 years or so. So the next logical step would be that Republicans become a completely undemocratic party.

V & Z respond: You wrote "become a completely undemocratic party" in future tense. We have news for you...

A.T. in Seattle, WA, writes: You referred to the rise of William Jennings Bryan as the removal of the grown-ups from the Democratic Party and the rise of a cult; yet the group they displaced were the racist, pro-business Bourbon democrats, definitely not the grown-ups. The rise of Jennings moved the party left by absorbing much of the left-populist People's Party and brought many of the lower classes into the party's tent, both of which helped lead to the New Deal era. Not sure how you can consider those at all similar to the rise of Trumpism on the right.

J.F. in Houston, TX, writes: You wrote: "Alternatively, they [Mastodon] could push out an update that is tailored to poking Trump in the eye."

This presumes that the Trump development team is savvy enough to apply an update to its software without a complete re-install that might wipe out the data in the existing system (wouldn't that be spectacular?). If the Trump team actually could get it up (ahem), my favorite system update would involve applying a tiny substitution to all displayed text that would alter the character string "Trump" to "Drumpf."

A.A. in Kingwood, TX, writes: I'll go out on a limb here and say that the intersection between the set of cops who are refusing to take the vaccine and the set of proverbial "bad apples" is fairly large. I can't prove it, of course, but it seems to me that there is some common causation going on here.

Also, for the record, I'm not counting the ones with legitimate medical reasons to not take the vaccine. Those are rational people.

E.F. in Baltimore, MD, writes: You pretty much nailed it, when you wrote that Donald Trump's "analysis" of the Georgia Senate race consisted of assuming a Black man who played football would get more votes than one who didn't. That, and Herschel Walker checks off Trump's "loyalty" item, having once worked for the former president back in the USFL days.

Reality is a little more complicated than that, but Trump doesn't do complex. He still sees Georgia in simplistic TV sitcom stereotypes. Football might motivate some white men who are still reliving their high school fantasies to show up on Election Day, but Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) will motivate a different demographic, churchgoers, from both sides of the racial divide. Georgia still has more than a few of them. Many of them take morality seriously.

Walker's personal flaws are already well-publicized, and I don't doubt there are more skeletons still hiding in his closet, with Democratic oppo researchers eagerly awaiting the perfect moment to get them out.

V & Z respond: So, anyone who scored four touchdowns in a single game while at Polk High is in Walker's demographic?

P.N. in Austin, TX, writes: One could argue that, for a narcissist like Trump, endorsees with troubled pasts are a feature and not a bug. If he can find someone who will win, but can easily be thrown away later, that's ideal. As a bonus, it takes focus off of Trump's misdeeds, or at least normalizes them.


B.N. in Canton, MI, writes: The last sentence of your item "'Is 'Evangelical' Just a Synonym for 'Republican'?" argues for a uniformity in evangelical politics that just isn't there. While the majority of those who call themselves by this name do tend to support Republicans, this is by no means unanimous. Before making such blanket claims, you might have tried googling something like "Evangelicals against Trump", which returns many examples, including this, this, this, and this.

You often argue against viewing racial or ethnic groups as monolithic voting blocks. You might try applying that same approach to religious groups.

C.C. in Nashville, TN, writes: You wrote an item wondering if the term "Evangelical" was just another word for "Republican." The answer to that is largely yes and I've been saying that for years. It amazes me how naive that some pundits and pollsters are to this. They express wonder and amazement that Republicans have captured the hearts and minds of "Christians" all over the United States. The truth is far more complicated.

The word "evangelical" is a loaded word. I'm a Protestant Christian, from a relatively conservative denomination. However, I would never tell a pollster (not that I've been asked) that I was an "evangelical" because I consider that code for "Republican." And I guarantee you that many, many more are like me. And it's curious that these same "Christians" have no problem with either chanting "F**k Joe Biden" or thinking that it's hilarious. Witness the very "evangelical" Ted Cruz on that very topic. These "evangelicals" thought that the libertine Donald Trump, who is much more akin to the Emperor Caligula than to the Apostle Paul, was great, but that the modest, mass-attending Joe Biden needs to have vulgar chants thrown his way. So yes, "evangelical" definitely means "Republican." It absolutely does not mean "Christian."

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: It should come as no surprise that a growing number of self-identified evangelicals do not attend church, or do not have any use for church, or any specific religion or Jesus. As an openly-transgender woman, I have been fighting this ilk for 30 years for my right to exist, and to be treated with dignity, respect and equality. So I have developed a pretty good read on these folks.

What it essentially boils down to is that they hold untenable positions and irrational beliefs. Their arguments do not stand up on their own merits, because their arguments actually have no merit... as data shows.

I speak, for example, of those in the North Carolina General Assembly, back when HB-2 happened. I speak of people like former Senator Andrew Brock (R-Mocksville), who made physical threats against transgender people while conflating us with pedophiles and predators all in the same statement. I was there in the gallery when he did this and not a single one of his colleagues rose to challenge him.

People like this find God and Jesus to be useful as an unassailable argument. How does one argue against God or Jesus, right? So they declare what they desire themselves to be edicts of God and Jesus, and put their strawman out there.

One thing I learned in high school debate was that only the person with an irrational and untenable position lacking all merit requires an unassailable defense. In short, that is what these so-called evangelicals are doing. Using God and Jesus to justify and/or excuse the fact that they just plain are shi**y humans.

J.C. in General Trias, Cavite, Philippines, writes: I loved your definition of "evangelical". I would just add that, in other places in the world, like the UK, the 2nd meaning is the norm.

Tax the Rich?

D.T. in Hillsboro, OR, writes: I suspect there's no better (or at least no constitutional) way to tax the rich than a sales tax on stocks and bonds. Also on derivatives and any loans or other transactions backed by stocks and bonds. There's tens or hundreds of billions of dollars exchanging hands every day in the stock and bond markets. Even a 1% tax would generate lots of revenue.

However, there's undoubtedly a optimal rate for this tax and it's probably not very high. Optimal, in this case, meaning that raising it higher would decrease trading to such an extent that tax revenues would also decrease. I understand the majority of transactions are made by computer programs with direct no human involvement. Those algorithms will make trades with razor thin profit margins, so even a 1% tax could drastically suppress their trading.

M.H. in Kirkland, WA, writes: As you note, unrealized gains are subject to all manner of creative accounting. Going the other direction, they also make for banner headlines about low tax rates, but, again, creative accounting is possible here and we don't generally talk about increases in home values as income. As you also note, maybe the Democrats just want a big potential tax number and don't care whether it survives. If, on the other hand, they really cared about hitting the mechanisms that ProPublica documented, it would seem more straightforward to make loans against assets count as taxable income. It seems like one should be able write relatively straightforward rules identifying when a loan is really just income by another name.

B.B. in Columbus, OH, writes: You responded to R.C. in Des Moines by writing that consumption taxes are regressive and therefore not a good way to ensure that ultra-wealthy people pay taxes. However, there's a simple solution to this: some large portion of the consumption tax revenue, but not all of it, can be paid out as a dividend, with an equal amount going to every American citizen. Given how much more the ultra-wealthy consume, it doesn't take much of this to make the net effect progressive. Further, this allows reduction of spending on welfare programs that it makes redundant, thus reducing some perverse incentives associated with those in-kind welfare programs. Ideally, this would be done through consumption taxes on things that have harmful secondary effects (Pigouvian taxes), thereby decreasing use of them, such as GHG emissions (a "carbon tax"), factory-farmed meat, sugary caffeinated drinks, and so on.

N.E. in San Mateo, CA, writes: B.B. in Columbus wrote in to discuss what the Libertarian Party supports. Whatever their party platform has said a few times, as someone who used to be a member in my more idealistic younger days and who has never successfully gotten off of all the mailing lists, in practice the LPUSA writ large is a single issue party home to people for whom the Republicans are "too soft on taxes" and/or "too soft on deregulating business."

Peter Thiel is similar. I had the displeasure of hearing him expound on libertarian politics as the guest board member at a company-wide meeting several employers ago, and his "libertarianism" is all about unfettered capitalism and rights for the rich, ignoring any merits a libertarian social policy would have for the many and the uselessness of a libertarian economic policy when everyone else is the poor serfs he seems to be seeking.

Legal Matters

R.M.S. in Lebanon, CT, writes: I read with extreme relief that the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday rejected religious-based claims from some healthcare workers in Maine that they should be exempted from Maine's COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The court ruled against them by a 6-3 decision, in which Justices John Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett concurred with the 3 more progressive justices.

My Number One fear from the Roberts Court, after the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, was that justices appointed by Donald Trump would try to create hundreds of faith-based exemptions to statutory and common laws. We have already seen lawsuits such as the Hobby Lobby case, in which a business sued and won an exemption from the Affordable Care Act mandate to cover contraception prescriptions.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, in his dissent, tries to make another religious-based exemption to a rule. He writes that Maine must allow religious-based exemptions to vaccine mandates because it granted secular exemptions for people with allergies to vaccine ingredients. Following Gorsuch's line of reasoning, it's likely that religious objectors would be granted exemptions for almost any law. We exempt people from laws against shooting people if it is done in self-defense, so by Gorsuch's reasoning, we should allow for religious exemptions to shooting people as well.

I wrote to you last year talking about the dangers of believing in supernatural beings, and what I said then is playing out right now in the United States. I said that it is impossible to know what these supposed beings really want us to do, so adherents can say "God told me to do X," and then justify the action as a religious practice. Just because the Religious Right lost this case, I do not expect them to stop trying this in the 2020s under this Supreme Court. I expect as the country becomes more tolerant of sexual minorities, they will seek to justify homophobic discrimination and seek exemptions from laws meant to ensure equal rights and opportunities.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: In response your answer to G.W. from Oxnard, you described a few ways that a company can offer an initial public offering (IPO) dishonestly. While your answer was accurate in many ways, it is worth noting that The Former Guy's new "media" company правда (TRUTH) actually went public via special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). This is a publicly traded shell company whose sole purpose is to acquire non-publicly traded companies in order to bring them into the market. It's kind of an end-around to doing a proper IPO as it avoids all of the annoying disclosure that goes along with one. While it has been around for awhile, it has become all the rage lately on Wall Street. Companies that have recently gone public via SPAC that your readers may have heard of are DraftKings, the online gambling company, and SoFi, the FinTech company.

People with more knowledge than me about the stock market and finance can discuss the pros and cons of IPO vs. SPAC. To my layman's eye, it looks like the SPAC is tailor-made for The Former Guy because there is less disclosure and accountability. And yeah, I smiled inside and out when I learned that Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene (Q-GA) lost her lunch over this. Good for her!

History Matters

S.S. in West Hollywood, CA, writes: Regarding the discussion on using the word "genocide":

  • Language evolves: It may not exactly fit the original definition, but if there is a better word that accurately reflects what was done to Native Americans in the years that followed European settlers/invaders coming to this land, I have not heard it. And you have not provided it.

  • It doesn't matter: Making it all about the question, "Was what really happened to Native Americans genocide?" is a distraction from discussing what really happened to Native Americans. It's the same kind of word games some use to justify our history of slavery, defend honoring Confederate generals, and/or explain why our history of racism and institutional inequality shouldn't be taught in schools. I honestly don't know why you chose to put so much time and energy into this or what service you're providing your readers by doing so.

  • It's not a contest: Deciding it's not genocide because it wasn't as bad as the Holocaust or the Armenian genocide is a false equivalency. It reminds me of discussions I've had with friends who make the argument that what was/is done to Black Americans is far worse than what was/is done to LGBTQIA+ Americans. My answer is always the same, it's not a contest! It's all injustice and we should be learning from all our histories, as well as working together to protect all people who are still facing injustice and inequality in their lives.

V & Z respond: You have ascribed to us an argument that we did not make. There was no element of the original item that suggested that one circumstance was better or worse than another, merely that there are substantive differences what happened during the Holocaust and what happened to the Native Americans. Also, we generally let some pretty sharp criticism of us pass without comment, but to lump us in with Confederate apologists and anti-CRT fanatics is patently offensive.

S.C. in Geneva, Switzerland, writes: I find that your argument that the Indian Wars in the U.S. were not genocide hinges on the fact that there were a number of different tribes, each of which was massacred separately. But I think this is a viewpoint emerging from modern sensibilities. At the time those distinctions were secondary for the European-descendant U.S. population—for them all native peoples were just "injuns" and "the only good Indian is a dead Indian."

Which makes me think that genocide may depend on who is making the call: the perpetrators or the victims.

So it would be interesting to see wither the majority of Native Americans, irrespective of tribal identity, think. Otherwise your position is simply a defense argument for the European-descendant side of the issue.

V & Z respond: We will leave most of your letter for others to address if they see fit. However, we will note that it is simply not true that all European-descendant Americans were disdainful of the natives and wanted them dead. That is a serious overgeneralization.

F.D. in Portland, OR, writes: With regard to the question of Christopher Columbus and an American genocide, I haven't seen any reference to the—I believe—widely held belief that upwards of 90% of all the Native Americans who died, post-European discovery, were the victims of diseases brought by Europeans, for which the natives had no immunity. No matter what the intentions of the succeeding governments were, in both North and South America, the vast majority of the natives were always going to die from this encounter between Old World and New, whenever it occurred. I am certainly not making light of this horrific elimination of the native populations of the newly discovered lands, nor of the many deliberate actions noted by your readers to accomplish the same end, just recognizing that it was all-but-inevitable.

A.J. in Baltimore, MD, writes: Americans are obsessed with labels even when they're useless, or actively harmful, to discourse. They'll talk about Bernie Sanders being a "socialist" as if he wants the U.S. to be more like the Brezhnev-era Soviet Union, when he actually wants the U.S. to be more like the modern European democracies that are thriving.

Also, earlier this year Tim Scott said "America is not a racist country," which caused prominent Democrats to come out and express agreement with that position, and caused other commentators to take the position that America is, in fact, a racist country. But the statement is meaningless. There are so many events and people, past and present, that are encompassed in the concept of "America" that the statement has no serious practical or rhetorical significance, and debating its truth or falsity is pointless.

I feel the same way about the responses to the Native American genocide piece. I'm not going to express an opinion as to whether it was or wasn't a genocide—I don't possess enough knowledge of this subject for that. But while I read the piece and the letters with great interest, my ultimate conclusion was: "How much does this label really matter?" Can't we acknowledge that events which are not called "genocide" can be just as horrific as genocide? That the history of European colonization of the Americas resulted in 500 years of oppression of natives, involving countless events with various governmental and non-governmental perpetrators and varying degrees of brutality, but with circumstances that may have been different from the Holocaust (which seems to fit more neatly into the traditional and colloquial definition of "genocide")?

I also feel like (Z)'s suggestion that there were "dozens of smaller" genocides over centuries against the natives sounds just as atrocious and impactful, if not more so, than one shorter-term genocide. Why does it matter that we not only use the term "genocide" but also commit to the idea that it was just one far-reaching genocide?

P.K. in Marshalltown, IA, writes: I admit to going back and forth on the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, particularly the second one, after the first had shown the devastation possible from the use of this weapon. Of course, had Tokyo been the target, that's a whole different discussion. Anyway, I read several months back that in the planning for an invasion of the Japanese homeland itself, a significant number of Purple Heart medals were manufactured for the anticipated number of casualties the operation would likely have produced. When a serviceman or servicewoman receives a Purple Heart today, they still come from that stockpile. Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, the Middle East, and various other adventures have not used up the supply created for invading Japan. From a practical standpoint, because we dropped the A-Bombs, a lot of people did not have to die.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: Reading the account from P.B. in Gainesville about their trip to Japan and conversation with a Hiroshima survivor, I am prompted to relay this anecdote. The U.S. Navy has a training program with the Japanese Navy in which young Japanese junior officers get a bit of classroom instruction from American naval officers. While imparting a brief summary of U.S. naval history, the young Japanese lieutenants were shocked and dumbfounded to learn that Japan had started the war in the Pacific with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor! That shameful incident isn't taught in Japanese schools today. Much to their credit, these young gentleman were outraged that they had been deceived by their schools and government. I guess we aren't the only ones who don't teach an honest history of ourselves.

R.C. in Newport News, VA, writes: Regarding the conflict between (Z) and his history professor, Max Planck once wrote, "a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."

Paul Samuelson made the saying pithy: "As the great Max Planck, himself the originator of the quantum theory in physics, has said, science makes progress funeral by funeral: the old are never converted by the new doctrines, they simply are replaced by a new generation.

Did You Ever Dance with the Devil by the Pale Moonlight?

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: In response to the question from B.B. in St. Louis, I grew up in the Detroit suburbs during the 70's and remember a time when Devil's Night was more—shall I say—innocent. I remember pulling harmless pranks on neighbors like covering a house and the trees in front of it with many rolls of toilet paper. It left a big mess to clean up but really did not do any damage. This devolved over the years into throwing raw eggs at windows and even at cars carelessly left on driveways. This often damaged the finish on the cars, so not so innocent.

As I grew older, my friends and I got more creative and bold, and we did other stuff that I won't mention here. (Nothing illegal as far as I know, but I'm ashamed to admit that we inflicted some minor damage.) By the 80's people were setting vacant houses in Detroit on fire (and now being a teenager, I had moved on from Devil's Night and trick-or-treating to house parties and girls). I recall an urban legend that much of the arson was perpetrated by property owners looking for an insurance settlement, under cover of the one night of the year when there would be too many arsons to count, let alone prosecute. Eventually the city cracked down and my understanding is that Devil's Night is nothing but a bad memory now. When I moved to the Bay Area 13 years ago, I learned that Devil's Night did not occur everywhere but was a Detroit-specific tradition. Given what it turned into, I'm glad it's over.

G.R.C of Southfield, MI, writes: "Devil's Night" in the Detroit area was for many years a children's tradition of mischief on the eve of Halloween. Since the traditional "trick" or treating was by the 1950s completely "treating," there had to be a chance to soap windows, toilet-paper trees, ring doorbells, egg houses, etc. Those activities migrated to the night before and were more likely perpetrated by teens. In fact, in my part of Detroit, we never said "trick or treat." We called out "Help the Poor" (or, "Help the Poooooooor" was our more plaintive call). I have to think it was some sort of Catholic school-softening of the "trick" idea, which was not acceptable for good children. With this in mind, during the 1980s, Devil's Night started to take on a darker note as prankster-ism grew into destruction and arson, particularly for the many abandoned buildings and houses in the city.

This is no longer an issue on Devil's Night. But there is still concern by the fire department, as there definitely will be more fires that night. I remember at least one year, HBO was offered free of charge that night to encourage people to stay home! Detroit itself has bounced back from its dark days and will continue to remake its reputation as a desirable city again.

D.H. in Boulder, CO, writes: Got this e-mail today. Good to see that voting doesn't have to be a dry, joyless affair!

A Halloween-themed e-mail
to voters with links like 'Election Day is HAUNTINGLY Close!,'Did something truly TERRIFYING happen to your ballot?,' and
'Are you CURSED with forgetting to update your registration. Come in or update your registration online and use our ballot-to-go service,'
accompanied by appropriate photos, like a guy sitting up in bed in terror.

S.S-L. in Norman, OK, writes: In response to the letter about Captain Planet, I was recently having this very conversation with less fortunate millennial friends who never had the opportunity to watch it. Allow me to convince you. The ultra-conservative antagonist of the series looks and sounds like a humanoid pig. The American teenager has the ability to create fire, and tends to default to anger and foolhardiness. The group's leader is a Black boy from Africa. The teenager who controls "heart," the often unrecognized fifth element, is an effeminate boy from Latin America whose best friend is a monkey. The children's mentor is Gaia—Mother Earth herself—and Captain Planet is a muscular man formed from every color of the rainbow. In short, everything modern conservatives hate. I really can't recommend the series enough.

S.B. in New Castle, DE, writes: I love when you sneak in a human interest piece! I had never heard of Mort Sahl, but have long been a fan of late night monologues—Johnny Carson, David Letterman, and Seth Meyers are among my favorites. I'm so glad you found and shared a video clip of Mort on The Ed Sullivan Show. I am amazed at just how similar his style was in 1961 to the Late Night hosts today. One small travesty is that the clip had only 188 "likes." I added number 189. I hope your readers might take 7 minutes of time to watch Mort and give his memory some love.

A.B. in Lichfield, England, UK, writes: You wrote: "too bad there was no Pope Ringo so we could complete the set" (of Papal and presidential photographs of Jorge, John, and Paul).

But Ringo Starr's real name is, of course, Richard Starkey—and there is a Pope Richard. Of a sort, anyway.

Not that I think either Ringo Starr or the Papacy would want to be associated with Pope Richard's 2020 album "Blasphemic Hellsorcery of the Necrogoat Deathlegion," recorded under the name Lord Goatcorpse. Incidentally, did I mention that Pope Richard is Canadian?

V & Z respond: It took you a while to get to the real problem.

K.R. in Austin, TX, writes: Ringo played the Pope in a 1973 movie:

Ringo Starr, dressed as the pope, and sitting
on a chair that looks like the papal throne.

C.D. in Chattanooga, TN, writes: I'm a little disappointed you forgot Peter, the first and Best pope.

V & Z respond: We are reminded of this, which fans bought because they were led to believe it was the "Best of the Beatles," even though it was actually "Best, of the Beatles":

An album entitled 'Best of the
Beatles' in giant red letters, though the songs listed at the bottom--in small letters--and with titles like 'Casting a
Spell' and 'I'm Blue' are clearly not Beatles songs.

R.P. in Gloucester City, NU, writes: You wrote: We won't survive once people know the deep, dark secrets of the staff mathematician and Otto the dachshund.

Aha! Otto IS your staff mathematician, right?

V & Z respond: Well, the mathematician is always soused, and dachshunds are of German descent. Reach your own conclusions, particularly given that this is the month of Oktoberfest.

If you wish to contact us, please use one of these addresses. For the first two, please include your initials and city.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct30 Saturday Q&A
Oct29 Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
Oct29 What Is Kyrsten Sinema Doing?
Oct29 Joe to Meet with Jorge
Oct29 This Week's 2022 Candidate News
Oct29 Fox Weather Channel Sloganeering, Part I
Oct29 This Week in Schadenfreude
Oct29 Back to the Back to the Future, Part XII: Other
Oct28 The Sausage Making Continues
Oct28 Former Trump Staffers Are Spilling the Beans
Oct28 McConnell Concedes and Endorses Herschel Walker
Oct28 Trump Endorsees Have Troubled Histories
Oct28 Biden Nominates and Senate Confirms Two Top Trump Targets
Oct28 Secretaries of State Targeted by Trump Are Scared to Death
Oct28 Top Washington Republican Election Official Joins Biden Administration
Oct28 Three New Gubernatorial Candidates Are In
Oct28 Is "Evangelical" Just a Synonym for "Republican"?
Oct27 The Democrats' Nightmare Situation?
Oct27 The Democrats' Dream Situation?
Oct27 Let's Go Brandon
Oct27 This Is How They Do It in Brazil
Oct27 Mort Sahl, 1927-2021
Oct27 Fox to Launch Weather Channel
Oct27 Back to the Back to the Future, Part XI: Domestic Affairs
Oct26 The Insurrection Will Soon Be Televised
Oct26 Some Presidents Get to Keep Their Secrets, Others Don't
Oct26 Democrats Go Boldly Where No Tax Has Gone Before
Oct26 The Facebook Papers Drop
Oct26 Biden Finally Gets His FCC House in Order
Oct26 Back to the Back to the Future, Part X: Foreign Affairs
Oct25 One of These Is Not Like the Other
Oct25 Biden Met with Manchin Again
Oct25 Democrats May Be Barking Up the Wrong Tree
Oct25 Some Senators Don't Belong There
Oct25 The Jan. 6 Riot Was Only a Small Part of the Coup Attempt
Oct25 Vance Whacked for Formerly Being Anti-Trump
Oct25 Montana Gets a New House District--and a Big Fight over It
Oct25 North Carolina is Also Gearing Up to Redraw the Maps
Oct25 Virginia Could Be A Split Decision
Oct24 Sunday Mailbag
Oct23 Saturday Q&A
Oct22 Biden Goes to Town
Oct22 Bannon Held in Contempt
Oct22 Social Media News, Part I: TRUTH
Oct22 Social Media News, Part II: LIES
Oct22 The Proof Is in the Pudding, Part I: Kyrsten Sinema
Oct22 The Proof Is in the Pudding, Part II: The Supreme Court
Oct22 Don't Know Much about History: The American Genocide?
Oct21 Republicans Block Voting Rights Bill
Oct21 Democrats Are Working on Plan C