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      •  Saturday Q&A

Saturday Q&A

We got roughly a hundred questions about the Texas abortion law this week. Here's hoping we chose the most interesting ones.

Q: Could Joe Biden authorize the 15 military bases in Texas to perform abortions for the general public? I believe the bases are federal land, and the doctors working there are federal employees. And if the bases don't provide enough coverage, VA hospitals could be enlisted. J.S., Austin, TX

A: We would suggest that VA hospitals first, with the military bases as the backup, would actually make more sense. In any case, this should be possible if Biden wants to flex his muscles a bit. It used to be the case that doctors in government employ were subject to the laws, professional requirements, etc. of the states in which they were practicing. However, in the waning days of the Trump administration, with an eye toward creating maximum flexibility in the face of the pandemic, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced a new rule that says that government-employed physicians need only abide by federal standards of care, and are not bound by "conflicting State law ... that would unduly interfere with the fulfillment of a VA health care professional's Federal duties."

Q: I was wondering if Joe Biden could simply say that until a solution is in the works, he will pardon any woman or any person who assists a woman who chooses to have an abortion? Would that be a feasible option? It would certainly look like he is fighting. T.W., San Francisco, CA

A: In contrast to the workaround discussed in the previous question, this one would not work, since the president cannot pardon violations of state laws.

Q: Please enlighten me and pardon my ignorance. I have a general idea about which Supreme Court decisions Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln ignored, but which decisions did Eisenhower and Kennedy ignore? What were the consequences? E.W., Skaneateles, NY

A: Note that the passage you are referring to reads thusly:

Time will tell what they come up with, but it's probably going to boil down to how willing Biden is to push the limits of his powers and, quite possibly, how willing he is to tell the Supreme Court to take their rulings and shove them. There are presidents who have been willing to flex their muscles like this when push came to shove, from Andrew Jackson to Abraham Lincoln to Dwight D. Eisenhower to John F. Kennedy. We may soon learn if Biden is up for joining that list.

We intended "tell[ing] the Supreme Court to take their rulings and shove them" as a subset of "push[ing] the limits of his powers." Eisenhower and Kennedy did not defy the Supreme Court, but what they did do was come down hard on states that refused to abide by federal law. Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne to integrate Little Rock Central High School, and JFK threatened to pull federal funding for state roads if they did not integrate their public transit. We envisioned all of these possibilities—defying the Supreme Court, using the military, and yanking federal funding—as possibilities for Biden depending on how this unfolds.

Q: If someone in Texas sues someone for abetting in an abortion, does the plaintiff have to show they were harmed in some way to have a legitimate civil suit? B.W., Snellville, GA

A: They do not. The model here is "whistleblower" laws, where a person is rewarded for their services in helping to enforce the law.

This obviously opens many cans of worms, as there is really no penalty for filing a frivolous suit. If Texas did not expect their court dockets to get clogged by lawsuits from anti-abortion zealots, from people looking for a quick buck, and from protesters in- and out- of state looking to muck up the works, then they weren't thinking clearly.

Turning all private citizens into, in effect, law enforcement is one way in which the Texas law is very, very dangerous. Keep reading for more.

Q: Since this Supreme Court doesn't respect precedents, is there anything stopping a red state from banning gay marriage or criminalizing "sodomy"? J.W., Hillsboro, OR

A: The issue here isn't that the Supreme Court doesn't respect precedent. That might also prove to be an issue, long-term. However, the current issue is that five justices sat on their hands and allowed Texas to do an obvious end run around the Constitution.

As we all know, the Constitution contains many constraints on government behavior. By shifting responsibility for enforcement from the government to private citizens, Texas has effectively rendered much of the Bill of Rights (and other amendments, like the Fourteenth) moot. And by making every citizen a potential enforcer of whatever rule the state government chooses to come up with, then Texas is effectively creating a free-of-charge army of brownshirts for itself.

It's not going to be long before other red states follow Texas' lead. In fact, you could argue that they already have. Tennessee has a similar law wherein citizens can sue if they are compelled to share a bathroom with a transgender person. And the recent spate of "polling place monitor" laws are also in the same ballpark as the Texas abortion law.

Meanwhile, it won't take blue states long to adopt their own laws, either because they can, or to protest the Texas law. We have repeatedly brought up the example of allowing citizens to sue their neighbors for owning guns, and thus presenting a threat to public safety. The Second Amendment is a limit on the government's power to regulate firearms, not private citizens' power.

We did not go to a fancypants law school, the way the five justices who voted against an injunction did. But the implications of the new Texas law are painfully obvious to us. Do they not see it because they do not want to? Or do they see it, but have no problem with it? We honestly can't understand their thinking, although the dissent of Chief Justice John Roberts tells us we're not crazy to think this way.

Q: How are the authorities (now Texas citizens) supposed to know when a person has committed the crime of having/performing/abetting an abortion after six weeks? Don't HIPAA laws make it difficult to obtain that information? Just because a person enters a clinic and spends a few hours inside, that isn't evidence that an abortion occurred, is it? And now that it's a crime, if you asked a person if they received/performed/abetted an abortion, aren't they protected by Fifth Amendment rights? And if a clinic's record retention policy states that they destroy all records as soon as a patient is discharged, how do you ever prove that an abortion took place? M.S., Alexandria, VA

A: Well, there is some legal precedent for proving an abortion took place via circumstantial evidence. There's also the possibility that someone who was party to the abortion will be willing to talk; for example, the father of a fetus who did not want to see it aborted.

That said, the primary purpose of the law is to encourage harassment of women who might obtain abortions, and those who might try to assist them. And when that is the purpose, being able to win the suit doesn't matter too much, since it's a nuisance for the target of the suit either way.

Q: Is there anything within the text of the law that limits liability against corporations? For example, could someone sue an airline if a Texas resident flies out of state to get an abortion, since technically the airline is providing a means to escape the law? J.D., Olathe, KS

A: The law specifically says that "a person" may sue "another person," which appears to be an attempt to protect corporations. That said, corporations are "people" for many purposes. Further, it wouldn't be too hard to sue the pilot of the plane, or the person who sold the woman her plane ticket, or the attendant who helped her get seated. After all, they all "abetted" in obtaining the abortion. Such lawsuits would be absurd, but if counter-protesters want to muck up the Texas courts to make a point, there's no reason the suits could not be filed.

Q: I consider myself a pretty centrist person. My view of the current political environment led me to believe that the next election cycle was going to lean Republican due to the latest news story that can be milked for ages, namely "the botched Afghanistan withdrawal." However, did Texas just raise an equally and more compelling wedge issue that could swing things back to the center or pull left? If other states now start passing similar laws, abortion becomes an election and a national issue. What are your thoughts on this? R.L., Oakland, CA

A: There were quite a few op-ed pieces this week that decreed "Don't be so sure this is going to help the Democrats!" The basic argument is that the 52% of Americans who are pro-choice are already Democrats, and that if the 48% or so who voted Republican in the last presidential election weren't driven away by Donald Trump's various shenanigans, then why would they be driven away by this?

Time will tell, but we'll point out a few counterarguments. First, this is partly about abortion, but it's also about the use and abuse of power, and respect for the rule of law, and a host of other issues. It could well be that people react badly based on the other elements here, rather than the abortion issue, per se. Second, the Civil Rights Movement won over a bunch of converts because of the bad behavior of their opponents. There are 10% of Americans, give or take, who identify as neither "pro-choice" nor "anti-abortion." Maybe they will stop fence-sitting in response to this. Finally, it sometimes takes people several cycles to leave the political party they've known and been a part of for their whole lives. If this gets ugly, perhaps this will be the last straw for Republican voters who were hanging on by a thread, and perhaps hoping for a new and improved post-Trump GOP.

Again, it's too soon to know. However, this is considerably more likely than Afghanistan to affect next year's elections, since it is a domestic issue rather than a foreign one, and since it's going to unfold over the next however many months, whereas Afghanistan is already in the rearview mirror.

Q: A cable news outlet ran four separate clips of Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) assuring everyone that Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh would not be a threat to Roe v. Wade. I guess my question is, in light of recent developments, should Sen. Collins be "concerned"? B.C., Walpole, ME

A: Not too concerned, since she's got 5 years left before she has to face the voters again, and since she might retire anyhow (she'll be 73 when her current term ends). The Senator knew full well she was shoveling manure when she said that, and any voter who bought it really has nobody but themselves to blame.

Q: After hearing how corruption undermined the mission in Afghanistan, is there anything we could have done differently to change that? Are there any instances in history where mass corruption has been reformed? J.H., El Segundo, CA

A: In high-corruption countries (and the majority of countries in the world are in that category), the corruption is deeply embedded into the economic and political system and, perhaps most significantly, into the culture itself. What that means is that in many such places, corruption is not even seen as a problem, exactly, but instead as "the normal way things are done."

Many people have studied this problem, for obvious reasons, and their conclusions are always grim: It's really, really hard to transform a high-corruption country into a low-corruption country. Change has to come from within (i.e., the citizens have to desire it) and it has to be sustainable long-term (i.e., outside money/support won't do it). This being the case, there is nothing the U.S. could plausibly have done to transform Afghanistan.

As to examples of external powers creating low-corruption countries, there are several entities that produce "corruption" rankings every year, and there are a fair number of former British colonies on the "very low corruption" list, including Singapore, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, Barbados, The Bahamas, and the United States. That said, it's not clear if the British actually deserve any credit for this; it could just be that they had a knack for finding prosperous places to colonize, and that prosperity tends to cancel out corruption.

Q: Your discussion of the extractions from Afghanistan got me wondering: is this the largest short-term evacuation in U.S. history? World history? N.F., Brussels, Belgium

A: There are different sorts of evacuations, undertaken under very different conditions. Technically, the largest evacuation in U.S. history took place in 1999, when roughly 3 million people fled Hurricane Floyd. Other hurricanes have also triggered evacuations that numbered in the millions. Or, if you want something quicker and non-hurricane related, then there's this: On Sept. 11, 2001, an armada of boats evacuated 500,000 New Yorkers in just 9 hours.

Of course, those evacuations utilized existing transportation networks and vehicles, and were not conducted in a war zone. Given the challenges of pulling 120,000 or so folks out of Afghanistan, what the Biden administration accomplished was certainly way up there in terms of degree of difficulty.

As to world history, there are numerous examples of millions of people fleeing incoming military forces. For example, over 8 million Japanese people fled that nation's cities in 1945 to avoid U.S. air attacks. In 1971, 18 million people fled Bangladesh to escape the Pakistani Army. Foreign nations have also executed very large-scale evacuations in response to natural disasters, such as the occasion in summer of 1998 when China relocated 14 million people.

Again, these evacuations took advantage of existing infrastructure and vehicles. In terms of "the government needs to come up with something fast in order to rescue a bunch of folks trapped in a war zone," the famous example is Dunkirk, from which 338,226 soldiers were evacuated from May 26-June 4, 1940.

Q: Now that the Afghanistan War is over, I imagine (hope) President Biden would like to close Gitmo and put that in the rearview as well. Do you see any way that closing Gitmo would be possible? D.D., Hollywood, FL

A: Gitmo occupies an...unusual space in the American system. It's relatively close to Washington, and so is accessible to military officials and FBI/CIA types who want to interrogate suspects. It's on a military base, so it's secure. And yet, it's not technically on American soil, so it's less constrained by U.S. laws, like the ones that say you have to charge a suspect with a crime in order to detain him.

Some of the folks at Gitmo, the U.S. doesn't particularly want to release, but doesn't have the goods to charge them with a crime and to convict them. So, the only plausible way to close the prison would be to move those prisoners to some other detention facility that is not in the U.S., which would basically just be putting lipstick on a pig.

Q: I enjoyed your item "FEAR in America, Part II: Afghanistan."

It seemed like it did not take much effort for you to refute Bret Stephens' inaccurate statements, which made me wonder about the lack of editorial oversight of such a piece. Of course I am sure The New York Times wants their opinion writers to have freedom to express their views, but how can they permit such inaccuracies to be published?
K.P., Brooklyn, NY

A: The Times would not let an opinion contributor say something that could get the paper in trouble, and would probably correct overt errors of fact, or would ask the author to do so. However, Stephens is clever enough to say things that aren't exactly falsehoods as much as they are lies of omission. For example, it's true that Joe Biden decided to abandon Bagram Air Base. Stephens just doesn't give any context for that decision, which makes it look much more damning.

Anyhow, the editors of the opinion pages use the same basic standard we use when we pick letters for the Sunday mailbag. We will let something through that we regard as misleading, or not logical, or internally inconsistent, or narrow-minded, or otherwise problematic as long as it's not patently offensive or fundamentally dishonest, and as long as we believe it represents a genuinely held viewpoint. Stephens believes most of what he says, even if a lot of it is obvious spin.

Q: Okay, we know that it is a 1,000,000% certainty that, come 2023, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) will launch one or twenty House Commissions to investigate Joe Biden's handling of Afghanistan, and these will make the Benghazi investigations look as tame as the naming of a post office in central Alaska. So assuming the inevitability of such political theater, would it not be a good idea for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to steal McCarthy's thunder and launch such a commission now while Democrats can still control the information requested, the witnesses called, and the ultimate conclusions reached and reported to the public? What would the pros and cons of this strategy be for both the Democrats and Republicans? J.L., Los Angeles, CA

A: We see no real benefit to this for the Democrats. Launching an investigation would merely affirm that something worth investigating took place. And Republican politicians, and the voters who elected them, would not care one bit what the non-Republican investigations found. Recall, for example, that there were four investigations of Benghazi, two of them by Democratic-controlled Senate committees, and two of them by government agencies (the State Department and the FBI), that exonerated Hillary Clinton of wrongdoing. That did not stop House Republicans from launching six additional investigations.

Q: In your recent items about people who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 yet, you mentioned the influence of right-wing propaganda. Earlier in the year, you also mentioned several times that a lot of Black people are skeptical about the vaccines. However, this aspect didn't appear anymore in the more recent postings. Has it changed? More generally, can you tell us the percentages of vaccinated and unvaccinated for the different ethnic groups? J.K., Bergen, Norway

A: Between pandemic surges in minority communities, and more effective vaccine outreach, the gap between various ethnic groups has shrunk a fair bit. According to the latest numbers from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which issues a report every couple of weeks, 67% of the nation's Asian population, 50% of its white population, 45% of its Latino population, and 40% of its Black population have gotten at least one shot. The white folks are the focus right now because there are more of them, and that is the population where the percentages are increasing most slowly.

Q: I noticed a considerable increase in the use of the expression "owning the libs" on your site recently. Until a few months ago I think I may have seen it perhaps a handful of times over the last few years, but nowadays you seem to use it several times per week. Am I mistaken? And if I am not—how come you rely on this expression so much more these days? Did you conclude or convince yourself that this is actually the number one motivation explaining the recent behavior of a big number of conservatives and GOP supporters? Was there some data that informed this pivot? Or more your gut feeling? M.F., Brussels, Belgium

A: We are indeed using the phrase more. And the primary reason is that we've written many, many pieces about pandemic responses. In trying to explain the motivations of Govs. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), Greg Abbott (R-TX), et al., this is really the only thing we've got, since basic public health measures did not become hyperpartisan until Donald Trump turned them into a wedge issue to be used against Democrats.

Q: I remember in about 2006 or so that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. co-hosted a radio show on Air America. I liked most of the Air America content, but I never really cared for his show. This is partly because he really doesn't have a voice for radio, but mostly because I didn't feel he had any great insight or analysis on the day's news. That said, it never struck me as conspiratorial, just out of touch. Has he always been a conspiracy theorist and I just missed it? Was there a particular event that led him to conspiratorial thinking? Why is he so rabidly anti-vaxx? Was he always an anti-vaxxer (i.e., before COVID) or is it all just about the grift? R.G. in Alexandria, VA

A: The best way to predict if someone will believe in a conspiracy theory is...if they already believe in some other conspiracy theory. That may seem obvious, but it's actually an important point: the first conspiracy theory that one embraces is the gateway to a world of conspiratorial thinking.

In RFK Jr.'s case, his first foray into the world of conspiracy appears to have come in 2003, when he wrote an article for The Atlantic Monthly in which he argued that the wrong man was in prison for the murder of Martha Moxley. The "innocent" person here is Michael Skakel, who just so happens to be Kennedy's cousin. Still, this was RFK Jr.'s first exercise in crafting alternate narratives.

By 2005, around the time he began work for Air America, RFK Jr. was first dipping his toes into the anti-vaxx waters. It's not clear where this came from, exactly. A sizable percentage of anti-vaxxers are parents with autistic kids who feel some level of guilt, and want someone or something to blame for their child's diagnosis. RFK Jr.'s kids are not autistic, although one of them does have severe, potentially life-threatening allergies, so maybe there's a connection there. It's also the case that his day job is environmental lawyer/advocate, and there's a lot of conspiracy or conspiracy-adjacent thinking among the environmentalists, from chem trails to the nefarious nature of GMOs.

Kennedy didn't go full-blown conspiracist until after he quit his radio career, so you didn't miss anything or forget. Whether he foresaw the profit in being the nation's most prominent anti-vaxxer, or that was merely a pleasant surprise, only he knows.

Q: Your piece on the conspiracies surrounding RFK's assassination (which I honestly wasn't aware of until now), along with all the conspiracies surrounding JFK's assassination, raises the question: Is this sort of phenomenon a relatively modern thing?

I don't remember ever hearing any conspiracy theories saying that the assassins of Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, and William McKinley were anybody other than John Wilkes Booth, Charles Guiteau, and Leon Czolgosz, respectively. Has television and modern media made everyone an "eyewitness" to tragedy? Are Americans just more suspicious and conspiracy-minded nowadays? Did the JFK assassination trigger some sort of mass delusion that has never dissipated?
J.F., Fort Worth, TX

Q: I was struck by your piece on the Sirhan Sirhan parole. Is there something unique to the Kennedy family that attracts and sustains conspiracy theories? Are there other families that have attracted this level of conspiracy attachment? The Clintons come to mind, but maybe there are others? J.W., Los Angeles, CA

A: We're going to start with J.W.'s question, because it puts us in a better position to answer J.F.'s question. One reason that conspiracy theories emerge is that some people find particular truths hard to accept, and prefer a more palatable truth instead. For example, some people are uncomfortable with the idea that people as powerful and well-connected as JFK and RFK could have their lives snuffed out by one random nobody. After all, if they couldn't save themselves, what chance do the rest of us have? It's much more comforting, for some folks, to believe that there was some sort of grand conspiracy, and that there is thus order to the universe, and not the randomness implied by "unknown loser wipes out one of Earth's most powerful men." The Kennedy family is both prominent and has had more than its share of tragedy, so that is why they get a lot of this.

Another reason conspiracy theories emerge is that some people have a deep-seated fear or hatred of someone or something, and they want some justification for it. This is why the Clintons get targeted. You'll notice that there aren't that many Bill Clinton conspiracy theories, other than Vince Foster perhaps, since he did actual things that people can hold against him, like conduct an affair with Monica Lewinsky. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has kept her nose much cleaner. And so, it was necessary to make mountains out of e-mail molehills, or to make up crap like Pizzagate out of thin air.

Anyhow, the psychological underpinnings of conspiracy thinking have been a part of the human brain for a very long time; well before the 1960s. And so, the past is chock full of conspiratorial thinking. Antisemitism has fueled conspiracies about Jews in general, and specific Jews in particular (from the Rothschilds to George Soros) for millennia. This includes "the Jews killed Jesus," which might be the world's oldest extant conspiracy theory. Europeans also spent centuries obsessed with the existence of shadowy secret societies, and hidden codes in the Bible, and all sorts of other fanciful things. On the somewhat less dangerous side, a lot of folks simply couldn't accept that a basically regular fellow from a relatively podunk English town could be the greatest poet the language has ever produced, so they cooked up a whole host of conspiracies that William Shakespeare didn't really write the plays, and that any of two dozen other fellows actually did. We presume that Asia, Africa and other continents also had conspiracy theories; we just don't know those cultures as well as we know Western cultures.

U.S. history is also full of conspiracies, dating back to the very beginning of the country. Quite a few folks in the 18th and early 19th century believed the Masons were really pulling the strings, which eventually gave rise to the antebellum Anti-Masonic Party. There were also all sorts of claims of a Southern "slave conspiracy" trying to take over the U.S. government. This is an example of a conspiracy theory that proved to be basically true, which happens sometimes. Each of the presidential assassinations gave rise to conspiracy theories of various sorts. The best known was that John Wilkes Booth was not killed in 1865, but in fact lived to a ripe old age, under one of a dozen or so assumed identities. The same basic conspiracy also attached itself to Jesse James, by the way.

Q: As someone who is going to vote against the recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA), I'm still confused about what to do about the second part of the ballot. What is the "best" or decent strategy, if one prefers a Democrat? I have a vague recollection that y'all wrote some guidance on this topic in a previous weekend edition, but Google search failed me. Thoughts? M.R., Oakland, CA

A: Leaving the second part of the ballot blank is unwise, even if Newsom and other Democrats continue to advocate for that, so as to avoid giving publicity to any of the possible Democratic replacements. If there was one Democrat who had substantive experience in governance, and a second who was doing the best in the polls, you could perhaps debate which of the two to support. But none of the replacement Democrats has such experience. And the only one who has made any sort of showing in the polls is Kevin Paffrath, the only Democrat to break double digits in any poll (and, in fact, the only one to register support in excess of 5%). So, if you want to maximize the chances of the governor's mansion staying in Democratic hands, you should vote no on the recall and then Kevin Paffrath as your preferred replacement candidate.

Q: In your item "2024 Senate Map is Deadly for Democrats," and in other stories where you evaluate election odds or maps, you cover a lot of useful information that I find interesting and makes me ponder perhaps the dumbest question ever. Do the political parties look at information like this, or in any more detail than you do? I ask this because it often seems to me that the actions taken by the parties don't overtly match what I would expect them to do, knowing what you know. In 2022 or 2024, will the political parties spend any energy looking at the Senate or House map and determining the best strategy to win seats, or is it ad hoc and whatever happens, happens? E.D., Columbia, IL

A: As a general rule, the parties and their leaders try to stay out of the primaries for fear of offending any voters, or of alienating their ultimate candidate. However, the involvement of Donald Trump may force Republicans to violate that practice, for fear of being saddled with poor candidates like Herschel Walker.

Once the primaries are over, it is the literal job of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (and its current chair, Sen. Gary Peters, D-MI), the National Republican Senatorial Committee (and its current chair, Sen. Rick Scott, R-FL), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (and its current chair, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-NY), and the National Republican Congressional Committee (and its current chair, Rep. Tom Emmer, R-MN) to examine the maps and the polls, and to decide where best to invest their resources. That includes cash, of course, but also the services of political operatives, as well as campaign visits from prominent party members. The Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee also take an interest in these questions, but it's the four congressional committees that really play the map chess game.

Q: As a follow up to the question last week from R.B. in Minneapolis, was there a non-violent way that the American colonies might have remained part of the British empire following the implementation of the hated laws/taxes? For example, would the colonists have peacefully acquiesced to remaining part of the British Empire had they been granted fair representation in Parliament? D.M.C. in Seoul, South Korea

A: In the short term, there were certainly opportunities to defuse the tensions. And representation in Parliament would have quieted the colonists...for a while.

Long term, however, it simply couldn't have worked out. The whole British theory of colonialism was that the colonies were subservient to the mother country. That included economic matters; per the theory of mercantilism, the mother country was to produce manufactured goods and the colonies were to purchase them. Americans were legally forbidden from developing their own manufacturing capabilities. And given the Americans' aspirations, they would not have tolerated such an arrangement forever.

Meanwhile, North America is vastly larger and more abundant than Great Britain is. Eventually, the population of the American colonies was going to far surpass that of Britain herself. Would Americans have consented to having most of the political power invested in a much smaller number of people, living on an island thousands of miles away? Would Britain have consented to having most of the political power invested in colonists living thousands of miles away? The answer to both questions is "no," and so independence was inevitable sooner or later, and probably sooner, even if it did not come in the 18th century.

Q: I know this is a somewhat loaded question, and the answer may be too complex to answer in a relatively small space, but, could a relatively good argument be made that the U.S. would be better off today if Lincoln had simply let the Confederate states leave the Union and fostered strong trade and diplomatic relations with the Confederacy rather than conquering it? It certainly wouldn't have been a positive outcome for the millions of enslaved blacks, but I can see serious benefits (historically but especially today) of letting the South do what it wanted, provided it remained a benign and weaker neighbor like Mexico (but not like Canada). O.Z.H., Dubai, UAE

A: Donald Trump lost last year's presidential election. There is zero question about that. And yet, look at all the bad behavior that has been enabled by his assertion that he was cheated, and that if his followers don't like the result, they don't have to believe in it and they are free to fight back against it.

Now imagine what would have happened if Abraham Lincoln had tolerated the notion that if one or more states does not like the outcome of an election, they are free to leave the country rather than abide by the results. Maybe, if it's just that one time, there would be no serious harm done. But there is no possibility it would be just that one time. There would come another election, maybe in 4 years, or 20 years, or 40 years, in which one part of the country voted one way, and the other part of the country voted the other, and the loser would say "The hell with this, we're outta here!"

In short, Lincoln understood full well that part of the deal with democracy is that if you come up short in the current election, you accept the results, and you marshal your forces for the next election. Otherwise, the whole thing falls apart.

Q: If Eugene McCarthy (DFL-MN) was never a serious or viable candidate in 1968, how do you explain the polling results from that year? Harris had McCarthy leading in a hypothetical 3-way with Nixon and Wallace by 8 points on July 20 and again on July 31. There were polls prior to June suggesting that Hubert Humphrey would be stronger—and Robert F. Kennedy weaker—with Nelson Rockefeller in place of Nixon. But how can you conclude that McCarthy was nonviable when no Democratic candidate polled better in hypothetical 3-ways with Nixon and Wallace? Are you just taking the position that he had no chance of becoming the party nominee? G.H., Chicago, IL

A: That is exactly the position we are taking. The Democratic heavyweights stayed out of the race because they thought Lyndon B. Johnson was running. Once the relatively unknown McCarthy embarrassed LBJ and caused him to drop out, it was open season for the heavyweights to jump in. And when they did, they started to dominate the winning of delegates, since that was still substantially controlled by party pooh-bahs. On the day RFK died, Humphrey had 561 delegates pledged to him, Kennedy 393, and McCarthy just 258, despite McCarthy having collected far and away the most primary votes (2.9 million to Kennedy's 2.3 million and Humphrey's 166,000). If McCarthy had come along two or three election cycles later, when the primacy of primary voters had been established, he might have had a puncher's chance. But he didn't, so he didn't.

Q: To inject a note of levity, I'd like to ask who you would choose as your favorite political cartoonists. I'll show my age and choose Herblock and Jules Feiffer. In addition to his political cartoons, Feiffer also did wonderful illustrations for Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth, which should be required reading for every family with small children, and even those without. B.B., St. Louis, MO

A: This is more of a (Z) question. And (Z)'s answer is Berkeley Breathed, who has much in common with Feiffer.

Q: In last week's Q&A, it was noted that (Z) has both an evangelical Christian background and has taught history of religions.

Does (Z) have a favored religion or could he put religions on some kind of spectrum? I will leave it to (Z) to determine the metrics used to create the spectrum and place religions along same.
M.O., Arlington, VA

A: (Z) used to tell students in history of religions, on the first day of class, that if they worked hard all quarter, he would reveal God's one true religion to them at the end of the quarter. That was just a joke, though. All of the world's religions have admirable elements and not-so-admirable elements, and admirable adherents and not-so-admirable adherents.

As to a favored religion, Thomas Jefferson always said that he belonged to "a religion of one." (Z) belongs to that same religion.

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Sep03 This Week's 2022 Candidacy News
Sep03 Newsom Is Surging in Polls
Sep03 Angelenos Are Underwhelmed by Their Mayoral Options
Sep03 This Week in Schadenfreude
Sep02 Biden Blasts Texas Abortion Law
Sep02 Early Snapshot of Recall Election Looks Good for Newsom
Sep02 Iowa Is Full
Sep02 A Simple Fix to the Voter ID Issue that Nobody Wants
Sep02 The Electoral Count Act Needs Some Updating
Sep02 Why Southerners Aren't Vaccinated
Sep02 Miami-Area House Races Will Be a Key Battleground in 2022
Sep02 2024 Senate Map is Deadly for Democrats
Sep02 The Battle of the Fed Heats Up
Sep01 Biden Speaks on Afghanistan
Sep01 FEAR in America, Part II: Afghanistan
Sep01 Abortion Is Now Basically Illegal in Texas
Sep01 GOP House Members Rattle their Sabers
Sep01 Where In the World Is Kamala Sandiego?
Sep01 Today's California Recall Drama
Sep01 When The News Breaks--Today's News Media, Part I: Sometimes the Reporter Is In the Story
Aug31 The War Is Over
Aug31 Under the Roe-dar
Aug31 750,000 Households Could End Up Losing Their Homes
Aug31 A Fine Time for Feinstein to Resign?
Aug31 Cawthorn "Worried" about Bloodshed
Aug31 FEAR in America, Part I: The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy
Aug30 Biden Is Pushing His Prescription Drug Plan
Aug30 Healthcare Industry Starts Pushing Back on Reconciliation Bill
Aug30 It's Deja Vu All Over Again
Aug30 Texas House Passes Bill to Restrict Voting
Aug30 "H" Is for Hypocrisy, and Also for Hawley
Aug30 Too Many Progressives Spoil the Broth
Aug30 Redistricting the Great Lakes States
Aug30 Longshot Candidates Sometimes Raise Huge Amounts of Money
Aug30 Old Testament Meets New Testament--with Newsom in the Middle
Aug29 Sunday Mailbag
Aug28 Saturday Q&A
Aug27 From Bad to Worse
Aug27 Who Saw This Coming?
Aug27 SCOTUS Nixes Eviction Moratorium
Aug27 TrumpWorld Legal Blotter, Part I: Trump Sued
Aug27 TrumpWorld Legal Blotter, Part II: Trump's Lawyers Sanctioned
Aug27 The Grift of the Magai
Aug27 This Week in Schadenfreude
Aug26 Jan. 6 Select Committee Starts Asking for Documents
Aug26 House Passes H.R. 4
Aug26 The Census Has Some Good News for Democrats