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      •  Saturday Q&A

Saturday Q&A

We're going to go with this format for at least one more week. The reviews were mixed, and probably ran 55%-45% in favor of the change. If you have comments, in either direction, let us know.

S.K. in Holyoke, MA, asks: You wrote that the Democrats are juggling four things, and that two of them are "the $3.5 trillion reconciliation infrastructure bill" and "continued funding for the government." One thing that I'm unclear on is how these are separate items. Isn't a budget reconciliation bill basically establishing, or revising, the federal budget? And the budget involves funding government functions, right? I would expect that the reconciliation bill would fund things. What am I missing?

V & Z answer: The reconciliation bill does indeed revise the budget that is in effect right now. And it would theoretically be possible to revise the current budget to cover two years' worth of spending, but then it would be a $10 trillion reconciliation bill. And if a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill makes Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) skittish, and serves as a club to be wielded against "socialist" Democrats by Republicans, then what would a $10 trillion reconciliation bill do? The Democrats are quite right to insist that their colleagues across the aisle actually participate in governing, and actually help to hammer out a real budget, and not a backdoor budget.

C.S. in Newport, Wales, UK, asks: What is the difference between "funding the government" and the debt ceiling? I thought the debt ceiling had to rise, otherwise the government would run out of money to pay bills and staff. But clearly I was wrong.

Bonus question: Is it only me, or, in your view, what proportion of voters don't understand that either?

V & Z answer: This is why the debt ceiling is silly. Congress already agreed to spend that money, often many years ago. And now that the debt ceiling—an arbitrary number—has been reached, they have to agree once again to spend it. Put another way, "raising the debt ceiling" allows the Department of the Treasury to continue paying for things that have already been voted for, while "funding the government" approves new expenditures for the next year.

All of this stuff is pretty inside baseball. We would guess that, at this moment, maybe 5% of Americans understand it all. And most of those are in a profession, like financial services, where understanding it is a requirement.

J.S. in Cape Elizabeth, ME, asks: Could the Democrats simply repeal the 1917 law via reconciliation? If so, why don't they do that?

V & Z answer: The debt ceiling began life with the 1917 law (specifically, the Second Liberty Loan Act) but has since been expanded and codified by additional legislation. In any event, reconciliation can only tweak the current year's budget, including how much money is spent, and what it's spent on. It cannot implement new laws, nor repeal existing laws.

P.M. in Currituck, NC, asks: Your item on the debt limit prompted me to write in with a simple question I have long had, and no one has (as yet) ever been able to satisfactorily answer it.

You have noted before about the difficulty of human beings to envision large numbers, and I often use this simple, but informative, link to explain to my students what $1 trillion actually looks like.

When I was in high school, Ross Perot ran for president partially on the platform of the then-insane national debt amount of $4 trillion, and how that was unsustainable. He often appeared on television with color charts and graphs explaining practical ways where it could be paid off. Fast-forward 25 years. When Donald Trump took office, the national debt hovered around $20 trillion. Today, it is almost $29 trillion. That is an increase of $9 trillion in less than 5 years; or, put another way, almost a third of all debt the United States has was racked up within the last 5 years.

Republicans used to once howl about the debt, but that concern evaporated during the Trump years. The last time I ever heard anyone address this in a serious manner was Paul Ryan with some sort of cuts he had proposed (which never got through), and that was nearly 10 years ago.

My long-standing simple question is: how is this sustainable forever? And, as a follow-up, why does no one seem to care?

V & Z answer: The reason you haven't gotten a satisfactory answer is that there really isn't one. No country has ever had an economy as large as that of the United States. No country has ever had a debt as large of that of the United States. And so any assertion as to where this is headed, and how much debt is "too much," is just a guess. And more like a wild guess rather than an educated guess.

There is undoubtedly some breaking point, but—as generations of unfulfilled "we're in trouble with this national debt" declarations suggest—the U.S. probably isn't anywhere near that point. At the moment, the debt is around $28.8 trillion and the government collects about $3.5 trillion in revenue per year. That is roughly akin to someone making $50,000 being $400,000 in debt. In other words, it's like someone making $50,000 having...a fairly standard-sized mortgage, in many markets.

That said, we really shouldn't compare government debt to personal debt because they don't work the same way. Either the holder of the $400,000 mortgage has the money to service the loan or they don't. The U.S. government's debt is an abstraction, and it does not become problematic until investors—i.e., the people who buy U.S. bonds—decide it's problematic. That means that if the debt were to jump to $50 trillion next year, it would likely be a problem, because it would likely make investors skittish. On the other hand, if it rises $5 trillion a year for the next six years, such that it's at $50 trillion as we approach the end of the decade, it likely won't matter because nothing will happen to alarm investors.

Indeed, while having a $400,000 mortgage makes someone earning $50,000 a semi-bad risk for additional credit, since their salary only goes so far, having a big debt actually works in the federal government's favor, generally speaking. Beyond affording flexibility, it also makes bondholders (including many of the other nations, like China) stakeholders in the well-being of the U.S. economy. The U.S. is served by people believing that "all is well" with its balance sheet, and the people who hold U.S. debt are also served by believing "all is well." It's a symbiotic relationship; both lender and lendee have a vested interest in thinking that the U.S. can service its debts. This is a main point of several notable books on this subject, including Hamilton's Blessing: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Our National Debt and The Deficit Myth.

It is also worth noting that the number given as the United States' national debt is actually misleading. To return to the mortgage example, whenever someone applies for a loan at a bank, the bank not only reviews the person's debts, but also their ongoing expenses, like their utility bills. Well, the U.S. also has obligations beyond paying back the money it has borrowed. It is estimated that the cost of every liability the federal government has already accepted (repayment of bonds, but also social security payments, and operating costs of VA hospitals, etc.) is around $70 trillion.

At the same time, when you apply for that mortgage, the bank also asks about additional assets you own, like jewelry or stocks or a vacation house. Well, the federal government has assets, too. It obviously owns all the government buildings, and all the military equipment, and lots of roads and highways and bridges, and so forth. It's also far and away the largest landholder in the country; if the government could just sell the land it owns in California at market rates, that alone would raise enough to pay the entire debt off. That obviously can't happen, since flooding the market with supply would drive prices way down, but it's a useful way of illustrating that the federal government has assets well beyond just its annual income. In fact, its assets have a total value of about $270 trillion, or close to 10 times the national debt.

As to the final portion of your question, we will have to dispute your premise. People do care. However, take a look as to how much each president has increased the national debt each year of his presidency, on average:

President Increase/Year
Ronald Reagan 23.3%
Gerald Ford 18.8%
George H.W. Bush 13.5%
George W. Bush 12.6%
Jimmy Carter 10.8%
Barack Obama 9.3%
Donald Trump 8.3%
Richard Nixon 6.2%
Bill Clinton 4.0%
John F. Kennedy 3.2%
Lyndon Johnson 2.4%
Dwight Eisenhower 1.1%
Harry S. Truman 0.4%

A voter who cares about the debt, and who buys into the "Democrats are wasteful, socialist, spendthrifts" propaganda has a clear idea of which party to vote for. And a voter who cares about the debt, and who actually follows the numbers, also has a clear idea of which party to vote for. And some voters undoubtedly do allow this issue to influence their vote, in one direction or the other. However, it's not a hot-button issue the way it once was, so it doesn't get talked about nearly as much as abortion or global warming.

N.A. in Cary, NC, asks: The concept of a trillion-dollar coin intrigues me. I should probably do more background reading on it, but as someone without any real training in economics, a few things come to mind. I know that the face value of modern currency has less to do with its intrinsic value and is more of a guarantee of its worth by the government. I'm also guessing that the process would be more complicated than "Secretary Yellen just carries it to the bank."

Still, my question is: If the coin has a real face value of $1 trillion, what happens if someone steals it between the mint and the Fed? Whether or not this event would have any real significance, I could definitely see it becoming a Nic Cage movie.

V & Z answer: Well, if you want to read about trillion-dollar coin, you're in a golden (well, platinum) age for it, because everyone has a trillion-dollar coin article this week. Here's Fortune, Business Insider, and CNN, to take three examples, or you can just read the Wikipedia article on the subject.

It is not likely to happen. But if does happen, theft is a non-issue. After all, if someone showed up at their bank or their local liquor store with a $1 trillion coin, it would be pretty clear where they had gotten it. And even if it wasn't such a high-profile item, it still would be something that the U.S. government had not issued to the general public, and so would not be legal tender for public debts, since it remains the government's property in that circumstance. To take a non-trillion-dollar example, you cannot own or spend a 1933 double eagle coin unless you are the currently anonymous coin collector who just purchased the only specimen that is not in the possession of the U.S. government.

P.S. in Brooklyn, NY, asks: I was just reading about how Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) voted "present" on the Iron Dome funding for Israel. I understand a "present" vote is a soft "no" and counts as an abstention. Can you offer the history and political tactics behind voting "present?"

V & Z answer: In general, a vote of "present" means that the senator or representative has some conflict. That could be a literal conflict, like they would be voting on a company they own. Or it could be a political conflict, like they don't want to vote against their party but they also don't want to anger their constituents. Or it could be an ideological conflict, like they disagree with both sides and don't want to support either.

The historical purpose of voting "present" is to allow a quorum to exist without participating in the final result. For example, if there are 40 Democrats, 10 Republicans, and 1 Bernie Sanders (I-VT) voting on something in the Senate, the 40 Democrats might vote "yea," the 10 Republicans might vote "nay," and the 1 Sanders might vote "present" so that the vote is legal, but he's not responsible for the outcome. Or, at least, he's not as responsible for the outcome.

This situation rarely arises with votes on legislation these days, but it does sometimes come up with procedural votes, and it also sometimes arises at the committee level. Under normal circumstances, committees usually have [X] members of the minority party and [X+1] members of the majority. In that case, a member of the majority could vote "present" and stop a bill from moving forward without technically voting against the bill, since a tie vote usually means that the bill does not advance.

On other occasions, a person votes "present" to make a statement. For example, then-representative Tulsi Gabbard voted "present" on Donald Trump's first impeachment, ostensibly to make a point that both sides were wrong. Exactly what AOC was doing is not clear, because she has not explained herself. She is clearly an Israel skeptic, and so doesn't want to support anything that gives that nation guns and bombs (even defensive guns and bombs). At the same time, she clearly has aspirations of running for U.S. Senator, and given the rather sizable population of Jewish people in New York, it is not well to be voting against stuff that will allow Israel to defend itself. Since AOC was not needed for quorum purposes, she would seemingly have been best served by staying in her office and skipping the vote. However, maybe she really wanted people to see the tears in her eyes, so as to convey the general message "this is tough for me, because I really understand both sides."

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, asks: Whenever I read about another setback to immigration reform, I am once again infuriated at former Speaker John Boehner, the Ohio Republican. We had a comprehensive immigration reform bill which received the bipartisan support of 68 votes in the Senate, the President was ready to sign it into law, and had it come to the floor it would have received overwhelming support in the House, at least 250 and maybe as many as 280 or 290 votes. It did not become law for the sole and only reason that Boehner invoked the incredibly undemocratic Hastert rule, which is far worse than the filibuster since it allowed 26 or 27% of the House to block anything.

Yet when I read about reform efforts, reporters just say something like "this shows how hard it is to get reform through Congress." So my question is, why doesn't Boehner get blamed for sinking immigration reform? With the subsequent movement of the Republican Party to oppose all immigration, we are further away from reform than ever when it was right there for the taking. Reform passed then may well have prevented the rise of Trump, since he would have lost his top issue from 2016. So why isn't Boehner vilified for acting as Speaker of the Republican Caucus rather than Speaker of the United States House of Representatives?

V & Z answer: We can think of four reasons. The first is that people in general, and reporters in particular, have a hard enough time focusing on present-day legislation. Thinking about legislation that did not pass, and that was under consideration a decade ago, is a bridge too far for most.

The second is that Boehner was surely taking a bullet for many members of his conference, who did not want to take a public stand on the bill, but who did not want to see it adopted either. Perhaps they sensed which way the winds were about to blow. Anyhow, it is unlikely that he bears sole blame, even if he was the public face of killing the bill.

The third is that Boehner has done a heckuva job rehabbing his public image. He did a funny "bro" video with Barack Obama, he's been critical of Donald Trump and other Republicans, and he wrote a somewhat charming and droll book that has a picture of him drinking wine and smoking a cigarette on the cover.

The fourth is that anyone who dislikes Boehner must really hate Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in particular, but also House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Newt Gingrich, and Paul Ryan. There's only so much venom to go around.

Note that we are not saying we endorse these reasons, merely that these things explain why Boehner basically gets a free pass.

J.H. in Boston, MA, asks: You have noted that Beto O'Rourke is considering running for governor of Texas. How can we talk about this without addressing the elephant in the room, namely that during the presidential primary he said he was going to come for our guns? Ever since then, we've heard, even from many Democrats, that they would never consider him. I know he came within a hair of beating Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in 2018, but after those comments in 2020, is he going to be anywhere near as competitive in Texas now?

V & Z answer: You're right, it's a huge problem for him. If he really does run, he's going to have to come up with something that will put Second-Amendment-loving Democrats' minds at ease. Maybe he tries to draw a distinction between a federal/national campaign and a state campaign? Maybe he signs some sort of "I won't touch the guns" pledge?

Alternatively, maybe he decides he can't get the gun lovers back, but that demographic change is such that he can win with non-gun folks, as long as he can get turnout up. You can bet his people are polling this six ways to Sunday, and the choices he makes will tell you what those polls revealed.

D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, asks: You make a great case for 1877 being a pivotal year (along with, I'd add, 1776) for U.S. history.

I've always thought that 1898 was the pivotal year, with the start of US imperialism replacing U.S. expansionism (along with the end of military wars against Native peoples, the final death knell of Reconstruction).

Are you being too "political" in your consideration of 1877? Or do you think that pivotal years (like 1877) result in followup pivotal years (like 1898)?

More commentary from the House Historian please!

V & Z answer: The year 1898 is another fine choice. In addition to the storylines you point out, there's also the last gasp of the Populist Party and the rise of the Progressive Movement, the development of the Fourth Party System, the emergence of the new mass medium of film, a transportation revolution propelled by the invention of automobiles and airplanes, a new era in labor activism, early expressions of what would come to be called feminism, and the rise to prominence of the first generation of civil rights leaders, including Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois.

Other years that one could make an argument for, besides the ones already named: 1789 (the Constitution), 1850/1861 (the outbreak of the Civil War), 1865 (end of the Civil War), 1914 (the end of the long 19th century), 1918 (the rise of a new world order), and 1945 (the emergence of modern America).

The choice of 1877 isn't political, really, it's practical. Not only does the dividing line need to be logical, it also has to put about half the material on one side and half the material on the other. Speaking from experience, (Z) can tell you that "origins to 1877" is already far harder to get through, time-wise, than "1877 to present." If one takes the Gilded Age and moves it on the other side of the line, then the first portion becomes...frighteningly difficult. Here is how (Z)'s early U.S. history course is organized:

Week 1: Introduction and pre-Columbian America
Week 2: Europeans and the Age of Exploration
Week 3: The Founding of the English Colonies
Week 4: The Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution
Week 5: The Constitution and the Presidency of George Washington
Week 6: Securing the Nation: The XYZ Affair, the Quasi-War, and the War of 1812
Week 7: The U.S. and the Natives: Early conflict, broken treaties, and the Trail of Tears
Week 8: The Second Great Awakening
Week 9: Temperance, Women's Rights, and Other Reforms
Week 10: Andrew Jackson and Popular Politics
Week 11: Sectional Tensions Emerge
Week 12: The Mexican-American War and the Road to Civil War
Week 13: The Civil War, 1861-63
Week 14: The Civil War, 1864-65
Week 15: The Reconstruction

Each class meets twice weekly for 75 minutes, and you have to make time for announcements, settling in, quizzes, etc., which means you end up with about 120 minutes' teaching time per week. It's already too much; then try to shoehorn in the 2-3 weeks it takes to do the Gilded Age...

W.H. in San Jose, CA, asks: Okay, looking at your chart, why was turnout higher in midterm elections than in presidential elections before 1832 or so?

V & Z answer: Because people's lives were generally affected more by state and local officeholders than by federal officeholders, and many places held their state/local elections in midterm years.

S.B. in Hood River, OR, asks: What do you think of Ken Burns' statement that our current situation is similar to how it was before the Civil War?

V & Z answer: Well, "similar" is awfully broad. He says that the U.S. has had four great periods of crisis: The Civil War, the Great Depression, World War II, and the current era. That's a fair assessment, we suppose, but what will happen is that people are going to hear what Burns said and leap to the conclusion that another civil war might be imminent. That we do not agree with. In 1860, not only was the country divided, but the divisions broke down along pretty clear geographical lines. We may have red and blue states today, but the geographical lines between Trumpists and "everyone else" are nowhere near as clear. Further, the rebels in 1861 could legitimately hope to match (or nearly match) the firepower of the federal government. That is also not true today. Keep in mind that the 1/6 insurrection was put down with the authorities having one hand tied behind their backs. Maybe 1½ hands. That would not remain true if an entire state or confederation of states tried to secede.

G.H. in Melbourne Village, FL, asks: You answered a question, writing there would surely be Robert-Caro-style biographies of DJT, comparable to Caro's biography of LBJ. What political biographers should I, a Caro fan, try?

V & Z answer: Well, the obvious answer is Robert Dallek, who produced his own series of magisterial LBJ biographies (there was a Dallek-Caro arms race, of sorts), and who has also written books on most of the other big-name 20th century presidents. Then there is Doris Kearns Goodwin, who was a firsthand witness to some presidencies (JFK/LBJ) and who has written books about those chief executives and several others. Ronald C. White has written a bunch of very good books about Abraham Lincoln, along with a solid volume on Ulysses S. Grant. T.J. Stiles doesn't write about politicians, but he does write about prominent businessmen (Cornelius Vanderbilt) and soldiers (George Armstrong Custer) of the 19th century; we would suggest those folks are politician-adjacent. H.W. Brands is a very engaging writer; he's written books on political figures ranging from Benjamin Franklin to Ronald Reagan. And Jon Meacham also has a wide range, from Thomas Jefferson to George H.W. Bush.

F.S. in Cologne, Germany, asks: Who are the most influential artists in U.S. history, and how did they influence the U.S.?

V & Z answer: Ok, let's start with the ground rules. We are going to include painters, sculptors and illustrators of various sorts as "artists," but not authors, filmmakers, poets, playwrights, etc. Those folks we will hold for potential future lists. Second, you asked about influence on the U.S., and not influence on art/artists. This is good, because we are qualified to comment on influence on the U.S., whereas others are vastly more qualified to comment on influence on art/artists. Third, because the individuals we have chosen worked in different media, and influenced the country in different ways, we don't particularly want to try to rank them. So, we'll just present them in roughly chronological order, from oldest to most recent. Oh, and finally, we managed to narrow it down to 20 people. That's a lot, but we just couldn't slash the list any further.

And away we go:

John Trumbull: As we have written a number of times before, a key task for the United States upon declaring independence was to develop a national identity independent from its British roots. There is no artist who did more to help accomplish that than Trumbull, most notably in "Declaration of Independence," which still hangs in the Capitol rotunda, and is also on the back of the $2 bill.

John James Audubon: He is best known for his ornate volumes documenting the native bird species of North America in great detail. His methods were problematic (he killed his specimens and posed them), his books contain some serious inaccuracies, and he was also a slaveholder. Still, he inspired countless future ornithologists, naturalists, and biologists. And his books remain an invaluable resource for historians of science and of the early republic.

Thomas Nast: America's most important political cartoonist did much to bring down William Magear Tweed, the most notorious political boss in American history. He also created much of the visual vocabulary of American politics, most notably establishing an elephant as the symbol of the Republican Party and a donkey as a symbol of the Democrats (guess which party Nast belonged to). In his spare time, he determined how this fellow would be portrayed in popular culture:

Santa Claus, with the rosy cheeks, white beard,
red suit, and jelly belly

Frederic Remington: The historian Frederick Jackson Turner created the notion that the West is what made America special. And Remington's drawings, paintings, and sculptures sold the bit, while elevating the cowboy in particular to iconic status.

James Montgomery Flagg and J. Howard Miller: Flagg's most famous work is on the left, Miller's is on the right:

WWI 'Uncle Sam wants you' poster and WWII 'Rosie the 
Riveter' poster

Nobody knows exactly how many young men and women were inspired to serve their country as a result of these images. But it's clear it was a lot, and that those folks made critical contributions to winning the two world wars.

Grant Wood: His "American Gothic" may be the best-known painting by any American artist:

American gothic, which shows a bald man and
his apparent 'wife' in a pastoral farm scene

Today, the work is the embodiment of down-home, old-fashioned American values. When it was painted, however, it looked backward about 50 years to a world that no longer existed: white farmers working the land without benefit of fancy-pants technologies, women who knew to stand behind their man and not equal with them, and an overwhelming sense of seriousness, discipline, and Christian religiosity. In other words, it's the original MAGA painting, and makes a rather aggressive argument about who is to blame for this damned depression the country finds itself in (hint: people who aren't white, or aren't farmers, or aren't deferential women, or aren't properly disciplined, or aren't sufficiently religious).

Gutzon Borglum: He's only got one famous work, but it's a big one. When it was created in the early decades of the 20th century, Mount Rushmore was a symbol of American ingenuity and technological progress. Eventually, particularly during the bicentennial, it assumed a place as one of the country's great patriotic symbols. Today, it's at the center of a number of culture wars issues, not the least of which is white Americans imposing themselves on Native lands. Not many sculptures have had such a long and prominent public career.

Norman Rockwell: Rockwell may be most famous for his nostalgic drawings and paintings of what America once was. Certainly, those are the ones sold as prints at Cracker Barrel and Walmart. However, he was at his most influential when his works embraced a clear political edge. He was, in many ways, the head artist of the Roosevelt administration (despite not being paid by team FDR), and there is a reason that Rockwell's painting of Ruby Bridges was placed right outside Barack Obama's Oval Office for the duration of his term in office:

A young Black girl is escorted to school by 
four adults; the word 'nigger' is scrawled on the wall behind her

Grandma Moses: There may be more talented artists, or more famous artists. But surely there is no artist who has been used more frequently to make two points: (1) making art is for everyone, and (2) life does not end at 65.

Bob Kane (Kahn), Jerry Ess (Siegel), and Stan Lee (Lieber): The creators of Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man, respectively, have entertained millions with their work. And surely, a great many people took solace and inspiration from a trio of superheroes that overcame much adversity, both personal and "professional." In particular, note that all three characters lost relatives suddenly and tragically, still tried to make a contribution to the world, and yet were forced to hide behind assumed identities to avoid prosecution and/or persecution. Perhaps not surprising that three Jewish gentlemen who lost relatives in the Holocaust, tried to contribute to the world, and yet had to adopt pen names due to pervasive antisemitism, came up with those characters. Later, in different hands, these characters became expressions of the fight for racial equality, and later still, they (and, in particular, Lee's X-Men) served as symbols of the fight for LGBTQ+ equality (see here for an example).

Charles M. Schulz: We thought long and hard about putting one of the great political cartoonists of the 20th century here, but we were ultimately persuaded that Schulz's reach was just too great to be ignored. Like the three men in the previous item, his art acts as light entertainment and yet also has some significant underlying messaging, like "it's ok to let your imagination run wild" (Snoopy), "don't be in such a rush to grow up" (Linus), "gay is ok" (Peppermint Patty and Marcy), and "sometimes everyone has a day where they miss the football" (Charlie Brown). Tens of millions of people heard him loud and clear.

Bob Ross: Like Grandma Moses, Ross—on his wildly popular PBS show—preached the message that making art is for everyone, not just the chosen few. And millions of people took up painting as a result, even if they weren't quite as adept as Ross was at painting lakes and bushes and trees, and adjusting for happy little accidents. Further, his calming presence must have brightened millions of people's days at times when they needed a lift. The man died almost 30 years ago, and yet his show is still on the air in reruns, and is also available to stream. Clearly he was doing something right.

Maurice Sendak: If Mr. Rogers had been a children's book author and illustrator, he would have been Maurice Sendak. Sendak's masterwork is "Where the Wild Things Are" (1963), which tells the story of a high-spirited boy named Max who wreaks havoc in his house, is sent to bed without dinner, makes a visit to a jungle full of "wild things," becomes king of the "wild things," calms down, and returns home to discover that he will be allowed to eat dinner after all. Adults hated it when it came out, thinking that the book encouraged rebellion against authority and acting out without suffering consequences. However, kids sought out the book anyhow, receiving Sendak's actual message, about having difficult and confusing feelings and learning to manage them. Since then, the book has never been out of print, and has been read by tens of millions of young people. Undoubtedly the artist would have been delighted by this tribute paid after his death:

Street art where someone has painted a wild things
character along with the message 'I'll always be a wild thing, RIP Maurice Sendak

Jean-Michel Basquiat: Before the Civil Rights movement, Black artists generally had to be very subtle in their treatment of political themes. Basquiat, born in 1960, was fortunate to live in a time where he could be more frank. He began his public career as one of the original creators of graffiti art, which in turn became a core element of hip-hop culture. Thereafter, he painted works that addressed Hollywood's portrayal of Black people, the legacy of slavery, urban poverty, and police misconduct. This is 1983's "The Death of Michael Stewart," executed by Basquiat in a long-ago time when police officers sometimes killed Black men without benefit of a trial:

Two barely human looking 
cops assault a black figure

The artist died young, at age 27, of an overdose, making him something of an American Van Gogh. His work was appropriated by the art establishment thereafter, something that likely would not have pleased Basquiat. However, as a result, he's the only person on this list to have had a work sell for more than $100 million, and he's had two of them: "Untitled" and "Boy and Dog in a Johnnypump."

Keith Haring: Like Basquiat, Haring began as a street artist and a graffiti artist. And like Basquiat, his work struck a nerve, achieving widespread popularity, and making him the successor to Andy Warhol's pop art throne. Haring used his work for social activism, in particular promoting gay equality, safe sex, and AIDS awareness. When he was taken by the disease in 1990, joining Rock Hudson (1985), Liberace (1987), Freddie Mercury (1991), and Arthur Ashe (1993) among its first high-profile victims, it helped awaken Americans to the fact that they had a crisis on their hands.

Shepard Fairey: Did his most famous work get Barack Obama elected?

Barack Obama 'HOPE' poster


Jony Ive: The world's most influential industrial designer and sculptor, he is responsible for the look of nearly all of Apple's most iconic products, including the iPad, iMac, and iPod. And, in turn, his aesthetic was ripped off by a gaggle of Apple competitors and pretenders. As a result, his work, or stuff derived from his work, is surely in more American residences than any other artist's.

So, who did we miss? Should you have a suggestion, don't forget to explain your views on why the person has been influential beyond the world of art.

B.C. in Huntsville, AL, asks: You did not mention Virginia's motto. Since it makes no sense without the accompanying seal, and has no Virginia historical connotation, how would you classify it?

V & Z answer: Well, it was A.J. in Baltimore who came up with those categories, not us. That said, we would say that "Sic Semper Tyrannis!" both (1) makes sense in context, and (2) is aggressively militaristic. It means "thus always with tyrants," it is what Shakespeare had Brutus say before killing Julius Caesar, due to Brutus' belief that Caesar had assumed more power than was his due. Virginia adopted that motto in 1776; presumably it's obvious which power-hungry "tyrannis" they had in mind...

G.A. in Albany, NY, asks: I know you don't reveal the full name of the author of any question or comment. But last Sunday, a J.L. from Los Angeles, CA, wrote a comedy piece about state mottos. I'm not asking for The name, but is there any way, either today, Tonight or tomorrow, you could Show us a hint as to who the author of that comedy piece might be?

V & Z answer: As chance would have it, (Z) has met, in person, both the J.L. that authored that item and the J.L. you're thinking of, and can confirm that they are different people.

L.V.A. in Idaho Falls, ID, asks: I have noticed when you occasionally publish a submission of mine you omit phrases or words that (usually subtly) alter my intended meaning, while I have seen other submissions with obvious grammatical or spelling errors. As example, from a recent comment I submitted "As for Greg Abbott, only one person can have any conception of the difficulties he might encounter during a presidential campaign, Greg Abbott." (emphasis mine) On September 22 you published "As for Abbott, only one person can have any conception of the difficulties he might encounter during a presidential campaign: Greg Abbott." Subtle yes, but it depersonalizes the statement just a bit. I understand "editorial license" but do you have an editorial "policy" or is it just "play it by ear"?

V & Z answer: We do our best to honor authorial intent. However, we also edit for length, clarity, and consistency with the grammatical style of the site. We also serve as, in effect, the first readers of any letter or question, and if something seems unclear or a little clunky to us, we assume that some (maybe many) others who read will have the same response. In this particular case, Abbott's full name appeared earlier in the comment as well, for a total of three. And while full name on first reference is our usual style, and the choice to repeat the name in the third reference at the end clicked for us, the second full usage did not, so we cut it to his last name only.

Note also that editing the Sunday page is far and away the most difficult editing task of the week, and for every error that slips through, at least 20 were caught and repaired.

D.M. in Austin, TX, asks: You guys write a lot. Have y'all written any books that are available for purchase, or do you plan to write one?

V & Z answer: (V) has authored a number of books on computers and computer networking. And (Z) edited (and wrote much of) The Early Republic and Antebellum America: An Encyclopedia of Social, Political, Cultural, and Economic History and Global Social Issues: An Encyclopedia. That said, all of those books are really meant for niche audiences. (Z) has a number of book projects on the back burner that will be of more general interest (think something along the lines of the "Famous Scandals" series he wrote for the site, and actually still needs to finish). When those books move to the front burner, you can be certain an announcement will be made.

F.A. in Belmar, NJ, asks: How do you make money on I don't see advertising or sponsors.

V & Z answer: We get this question a lot, and we got it doubly or triply as much this week because we mentioned in the last Q&A that we do not answer to advertisers.

Anyhow, the answer is that we don't make money on the site, excepting the small "donate" button that appears on the right hand side of the page, next to "today's headlines." Even that is just used to publicize the site. We both see this project as part of our responsibility as academics to be "public intellectuals" and to engage with the larger world. Some of our colleagues prefer to remain ensconced in the ivory tower 100% of the time, but not us. Ivory really isn't our color.

That said, we do have some plans to make it a little easier for readers to support the site financially, because there are some things we'd like to do that, in various ways, will require some funding. Be clear, though, that the content that is available for free right now will remain so. We will not be throwing up a pay wall. Or a border wall. Or any other sort of wall. Anyhow, watch for some news of this sort in upcoming weeks. And this is another area where we welcome comments or suggestions, though of course you don't know details yet.

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
Sep24 Biden Wins Arizona
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Sep24 Grift, for Lack of a Better Word, Is Good
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Sep24 Though the News Was Rather Sad...Well, I Just Had to Laugh
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Sep22 (Back to the) Back to the Future: Reader Predictions, Part IX: The Economy
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Sep20 Biden Cares about the Quad, Not the Squad
Sep20 The Midterm Electorate Shift May Not Hurt the Democrats This Time
Sep20 Voting Begins in Close Virginia Gubernatorial Race
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Sep18 Saturday Q&A
Sep17 "Justice for J6" Quickly Turning into a Fiasco
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Sep16 Takeaways from the California Recall
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