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Sunday Mailbag

Unsurprisingly, messages about this week's elections dominated the mailbag. We're going to start with a third group of letters about Democratic messaging that were inspired by the events of this week. Then we'll move on to comments about specific localities, while also getting to some national politics, Facebook, the "turning points that weren't" from last week, and movies, among other subjects.

Democratic Messaging, Part III

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: My take on "defund the police": Past calls to reform the police have, in the eyes of the left, failed to produce meaningful reforms. Calls to "defund" or even "abolish" the police are escalations of the original "reform" demand, akin to a more forceful opening bid in a negotiation. I would never expect it to actually happen literally-as-stated. But yes, it is terrible, terrible messaging, since the literal reading gives far more ammunition to the tough-on-crime crowd than it does to the reform crowd.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: I have been watching Democrats screw up their messaging for 40 years now. I have written multiple letters to this site on this topic, as have many other readers. Here are a couple more gripes from me:

In short, the blue team consistently fails to meet people where they are at. People who pay close attention to politics, such as this reader base, may respond to a 20-point plan to fix what ails us in this country. But this is not how to reach the voters that the Democrats need. They could do both with targeted advertising. Show me the 20 point plan. And to the typical non-engaged voter who only pays attention a week before Election Day, they need simple, pithy statements that can fit on a hat.

E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, writes: With regards to Democratic messaging vs. Republican messaging, this cartoon from The Week says it both succinctly and humorously:

An angry-looking elephant shouts
'CRITICAL RACE THEORY' and then underneath that it says 'repeat, repeat, repeat,' while a bookish-looking donkey blathers on 
in a largely incoherent monologue about CRT.

J.A. in New York City, NY, writes: It's been a while since I sent something in, but I wanted to chime in on the elections this year.

You undoubtedly will be receiving some interesting commentary from the readers and probably a few notes saying "This shows how out of touch Democrats are with America" (cough, P.M. in Currituck, cough). Whether or not they are out of touch, or if Democrats just have some sort of allergic reaction to going outside on a non-presidential Election Day, the problem is (and stop me if you've heard this before) that the Democrats have an absolutely awful messaging team.

The Democrats constantly allow themselves to be painted by the Republicans as "out of touch", and allow them to define Democratic proposals. While the Democrats are fiddling about arguing among themselves, the Republicans are screaming with bullhorns about how the Democrats want to take away your guns (which has never happened), and how the Democrats want to kill all the babies (patently absurd), how the Democrats want to force Critical Race Theory on your kids (ignore that none of them know exactly what it is, and that no one is actually teaching it in any educational system below tertiary). Republicans scream that the Democrats are trying to tax the country to death, and they have somehow convinced middle- and working-class Republicans that they will be subject to a billionaires tax. Sorry to break it to them, but that's not a problem they nor any of us will ever have to worry about.

And yet it seems to work. We know that the Republicans in charge know all the things they are saying are bulls**t. What they know is that people will eat it up. Their messaging is clear. Save guns, save kids, save money, save 'murica. They hammer away at it and it works. I like to think I am a fairly news-conscious and election-savvy person, and I could not tell you what the Democrats were running on this cycle. Even though "remember that time that Trump tried to use 10,000 of his supporters to violently hang the Vice President and the Speaker and probably take dozens of hostages in order to enact a coup to retain power because he lost a legitimate democratic election" is enough for me to not vote for the party that enables him, I guess that is not quite enough for soccer moms and dads. Using slogans like "Defund the Police" (dumbest stupid idiotic messaging I have heard) is both inaccurate and damaging to trying to bring in voters.

Whoever is in charge of Democratic messaging should be fired. Democrats need a clear voice. Democrats need a rapid, loud, effective, and unified bullhorn of their own to shout down inaccuracies and take the narratives back from all corners, instead of just the cities and suburbs. Democrats need to be loud and aggressive in their messaging, as "detailed," "nuanced," and "wonky" do not do the trick with today's electorate.

P.M. in Currituck, NC, writes: Regarding James Carville's comment about the Democratic defeat in Virginia on Tuesday being attributed to "wokeness": absolutely! The type of language used by the left is just off-putting and annoying to a lot of people, as I have said many times before. Hopefully progressives will wake up and see that, instead of just shooting the messenger, turning a deaf ear to his message, and proceeding down the road of wokeness. Continuing to say "Latinx," telling people the term "mother" is transphobic and they should instead say "birthing person," and laughing at the working class for being so backwards and using terms like "breast-feeding" instead of "chest-feeding" will certainly not help with winning the votes of ordinary people.

B.K. in Dallas, TX, writes: My problem with the Democrats is that they haven't actually done anything since they've been in charge. They keep contacting me for money, but I haven't seen any results from the money I've already given them.

R.B. in Cleveland, OH, writes: I keep reading about how Democrats have a messaging problem, but I always felt it's more accurate to say that they have a propaganda problem.

K.K. in San Mateo, CA, writes: Back in January 2021, I was surprised that there was not more Democratic rebuttal to Trump's "stolen election" narrative by underscoring the fact that, aside from the presidential election, Republicans performed quite well in local and national races across the board in an election with unprecedented turnout.

If there were truly a concerted effort afoot to rig a presidential election, wouldn't the perpetrators aim higher than a 50-50 split in the Senate and small gains in the House? The whole "steal" premise in this context is analogous to cheating on a final exam in college and giving oneself a C+, or a bank robber risking a federal penitentiary sentence for a few bags of twenties without bothering to enter the vault. Close election losses such as Terry McAuliffe's (D) loss to Glenn Youngkin further refute the conspiracy theory of a Democratic shadow enterprise behind the scenes tipping the balances of power.

It seems to me that this is an opportunity to make some lemonade with a strong, harmonized message that democracy works when there is high turnout for elections. Yes, the Democrats suffered losses this time around and should take this moment to re-examine priorities. The fundamental principles of suffrage must remain front and center in this message. But so also should be the message that these Republican victories firmly reinforce that nobody has stolen any elections (along with the multitude of audit results, expert and judicial scrutiny, and lack of any substantive evidence whatsoever).

That said, I was demoralized by your item about the preposterous QAnon beliefs pertaining to a JFK Jr. resurrection vis-à-vis Donald Trump. The conclusion that neither cognitive dissonance nor any amount of logic or evidence can penetrate this amorphous, unnumbered cult is perhaps the most disheartening aspect of modern America.

Yes, Virginia, There Is a Republican Governor

S.K. in Bethesda, MD, writes: The exit polls I saw for Virginia showed that among voters in the Governor's race, their reported vote in the 2020 Presidential election was 46-46 (when it was 54-44 in 2020). What this says to me is that most of the post election analysis is hot air. What happened in Virginia—and probably in New Jersey—is that more Republicans turned out, and not that a lot of voters switched their votes because Terry McAuliffe was boring or because they blamed Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ) for Chris Christie's gas tax increase.

In fact, the overwhelming proportion of straight-ticket voting is further proof that it wasn't about people changing their votes from 2020 to 2021—it was just about who showed up. Inconsistent Democratic voters (largely young and minority) and Democratic-leaning Independents, showed up in lower quantities than inconsistent Republican voters and Republican-leaning independents (despite Donald Trump not being on the ballot). Some of this may be because they weren't happy with what the Democrats have accomplished—but most of it is probably because they were complacent or burned out. The focus for the Democrats between now and 2022 has to be on figuring out how to get those voters back to the polls.

R.S.B. in Ventura, CA, writes: I enjoyed reading and listening to all the talking heads regarding the terribly predictable loss in Virginia by Terry McAulliffe. I would like to point out just one thing: The Democratic Party had two Black candidates who ran in the primary. Either of them, one a women and one a man, would not have been a party hack from the 1990s who thinks parents should have nothing to say about the curriculum taught to their children.

So, let's take a look at the raw numbers, I do not have access to fancy exit poll data or race, income, location data, I did see there was a drop of around 700,000 Democratic votes from last November to this November. I also noticed there was only a drop of around 300,000 Republican voters from last year to this. So let's cut through the bull pucky: Terry McAulliffe lost this race, not because of Washington, President Biden, or Congress, as 90% of voters don't pay attention to any of that hoopla. He lost this race because he could not get 200,000 of those 700,000 Democratic voters to send in a simple little ballot that takes 5 minutes to fill out. I know I am simplifying the voting process, but only to make a point.

Why, you may ask, could Terry not get those folks to vote? Two rich white men trying to win an election to continue on with the same old, same old that has been going on for ever. Who wants to vote for that? It would seem 700,000 Democratic voters just don't seem to care which rich white man runs the state of Virginia for the next 4 years.

So as all the pundits and plaudits hem and haw, let's just be real: If the Democratic party wants to win elections the Democrats need to run candidates that can get Democratic voters to actually want to vote.

D.A.Y. in Troy, MI, writes: I was originally get to write in about how people should concentrate on the raw numbers in the Virginia race than the percentages, noting the much steeper decline in Democratic votes from a year ago compared to the Republican votes. However, I got into a spat with a right-wing acquaintance. The only thing in the exchange that matters is he made the hyperbolic point that he believes most of conservative America are well-meaning people who might not be 100% politically correct, while I believe they're literal Nazis. I was thinking of saying this to him, but I think I could better use my time trying to break through a diamond wall with my bare fists. So, I bring this to you and the readers.

It's easy to say "the modern Republican Party is nothing like the Nazis" because the common concept of Nazi Germany was it in its mature phase with the Final Solution and the invasion of Poland (and subsequently the rest of continental Europe). However, the world didn't wake up one day to this form of the Nazis. It was the result of a process that took years, as you have illustrated previously on this site.

What is concerning is the current iteration of the Republican Party seems to be operating from the playbook of the nascent Nazi party once Hitler began to take it over. Acts of violence (January 6th, check), scapegoating marginalized peoples (transphobia and anti-immigration sentiment, check), stoking fear with fictional boogeymen (CRT being taught in schools, check), and appealing to an ethnocentric mentality (white supremacy and worship of the Old Confederacy, check). And it's not like it's just me (and I never called people Nazis; he was just being hyperbolic because he has no real argument). Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican and a man who grew up in postwar Austria around actual Nazis, has pointed out there's not much difference from The Night of Broken Glass and the January 6th insurrection.

And the "well-meaning people" are complicit in their silence. Polls have showed Republicans gradually sliding into support for the insurrectionists. Some of the insurrectionists have been elected or reelected to office this past week. The same thing happened in Germany in the 20's and 30's.

However, this item is for the Democrats. Glenn Youngkin won Virginia because the Democrats didn't vote. Republican falloff was a fraction of that of the Democrats. And Virginia had gone out of its way to make voting easy, so the Democrats can't blame access to the ballot box. They just didn't vote. I don't know if it was because of political burnout, sheer laziness, or out of protest. However, the result is Governor Youngkin, who will push an agenda of whitewashing history, demonizing the trans community and curtailing their rights, and likely joining the states looking to limit or eliminate access to reproductive health. Fortunately, the Democrats still hold the slimmest of majorities in the Senate to stop him, but we'll have to see what happens in two years.

Democrats seem to not understand that elections are not quad-annual events regarding the President. It's pretty much yearly and includes your senator, representative, governor, state senator, state representative, county/state district/appellate/supreme court judges, county executive and commissioners, mayor, town/city council, prosecutor, sheriff, etc. All these positions have a say on how our country governs itself. Republicans get this. Democrats need to get this, too. Because there are troubling trends happening in this nation, and it looks like they will indeed outlive Donald Trump.

W.R. in Tyson's Corner, VA, writes: I thought I'd write in about what I observed living in northern Virigia's Fairfax County before the election last week.

First, even in this very blue county where Terry McAuliffe won 64% of the vote, there were visibly more Glenn Youngkin signs—not by a large margin, but noticeably more. This probably speaks to the enthusiasm of Youngkin's supporters.

Second, in the weeks running up to the election, we were bombarded with Youngkin campaign ads re-running clips of McAuliffe's "I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach" gaffe from the September 28th gubernatorial debate. Rightly or wrongly, this statement galvanized many people who think there is too much government control over their lives.

Third, I overheard many conversations from people upset about the mandates for federal, state, and county workers to receive the COVID vaccine. This deadline was set in many places for mid-November. Not the best time to tick off these voters.

Fourth, I have overheard many people complaining about inflation, particularly for gas and groceries—purchases that affect people's everyday lives.

Two things I never heard any voters here bring up were the infrastructure and reconciliation bills the Democrats have been trying to pass in Congress. The status of these bills was a non-existent factor in the Virginia election. All politics is local, and the Republicans had a clear and coordinated message (even if many here do not agree with it) when it came to local issues in Virginia.

D.B. in Bowie, MD, writes: Living in the D.C. media area, we have been inundated over the past month with ads for the Virginia election. Maybe 20 times a day I saw the Youngkin TV ad that ran the clip of Terry McAuliffe saying "I don't think that parents should be telling our schools what to teach." CNN exit polls indicated that 25% of voters said that "education" was the most important factor in their vote. A month ago, "education" was at the bottom of the list of important issues, but then McAuliffe made his comment in a debate. So, while there were a lot of issues in the final results, I'm sure that it was McAuliffe's statement(s) that drove a lot of folks, especially suburban mothers, to the polls.

While I know (and support) that the comment was aimed at the crazies at school board meetings, it sure didn't play well on TV. So while some voters seized on CRT and transgender rights, I am certain that thousands of Virginians took that statement literally and those "soccer moms" turned out in mass for Youngkin. Over 3,200,000 people voted for Governor and 25% of that would be over 800,000. I believe that had McAuliffe used different messaging, he could have won the 70,000 votes he needed to be elected.

C.B. in Ashburn, VA, writes: Hello from a resident of Loudoun County, Virginia—a county that went close to 65% for Joe Biden, but only 55% for McAuliffe in the Governor election held this past Tuesday. I kind of thought Glenn Youngkin would win and there are various reasons why. Though I will conclude by focusing on cultural ones, but I still think the difference in elections can be summed up as follows: Republicans or the independent-leaning Republicans are, for the most part, hard-right on issues in a way that will never allow them to vote for a Democrat. Democrats—well, it is like how you often quote Will Rogers: "I am not part of an organized political party I am a Democrat." My view, and I think polls back this up, is that most Democrats are fairly moderate, but the Party is moving harder to the left, whereas the Republican Party's mostly hard-right shift occurred years ago. But this push/pull within the Democratic Party between moderates and harder core liberals/progressives can more easily fracture a party and their independent support, especially when issues are galvanized to create that fracture... issues like schools.

While I understand CRT being taught in schools is a figment of Republicans' imagination, what I can tell you is there are culture-based activities going on in our Loudoun County schools that certainly can trigger backlash. Here are some personal ones I can note: (1) The Loudoun County School Board instituted a policy indicating students could be disciplined up to expulsion for a period of days for promoting or saying slurs against race or sexual orientation, yet my son asks me why African American students in his grade can call each other the "N****r" in front of school staff without any discipline or reprimand whatsoever; (2) My daughter has had to read two books for her regular English class (not AP)—one's main subject matter was how a girl felt liberated by becoming an atheist and turning her back on her overbearing Christian parents, while the other had a prominent transgender heroes teaching us the proper way to use pronouns—so much for teaching "Catcher In The Rye"; (3) A transgender policy has been approved by Loudoun County—my daughter has told me there has been an explosion of boys, but especially girls, identifying as LGBT.

From the non-school side of things, my wife got rear ended 3 months ago by an undocumented Latino man who had no driver's license and was driving a car owned by someone else with a lower-end insurance company. Needless to say, we haven't been reimbursed for our deductible yet. These type of things frustrate people. So when voting occurred this past Tuesday, I voted for McAuliffe because I simply cannot vote for a Republican now as I view the party as somewhere between embracing or tolerating overthrowing the government if doing so meets their end goals. But my wife, someone who loathes politics in general, but someone who teared up a bit when Joe Biden took office, is gratified that Donald Trump has been removed from office, and so pulled the lever for Youngkin—and I think I can understand why.

C.R. in Alexandria, VA, writes: I am 20+ year resident of Virginia (originally from New Jersey) and I voted this morning. While CRT might be a major election issue, I wanted to let you know that today I wrote myself in for all three major races (governor, lt. governor and attorney general).

During my early voting years, I tended to vote Republican as I liked the idea of strong national defense and fiscal responsibility. (I was impressed with Bush 41's decision not to go in to Baghdad.) The Republican party has abandoned those ideals. So starting around 2000, I moved away from the Republican Party, and that year I wrote in John McCain. In 2004, the Republicans went too far Christian-conservative-right, and I voted for John Kerry in the presidential election. Ever since, my voting record has been mostly Democratic. In statewide elections, Virginia Democrats aren't that left.

But this year, with Congress' inability to get infrastructure bill done and their push to the far progressive left, I could not support either party in this election. Therefore, I wrote myself in. I am tired about hearing about free this and free that. Everything has a price. Additionally, the solutions the progressive left propose only treat the symptoms of the disease affecting the U.S., not the disease itself. People like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) make my skin crawl.

My point is that even if CRT is a major issue, it is not the only big issue. If the Democrats continue with their push to the far left, the Party will have major challenges in the future.

M.V. in Fairfax, VA, writes: I'd like to raise a point, and it's something (V) and (Z) have been hitting all around all week—correctly, I might add.

First, it's a fairly simple Internet research exercise to confirm that since the 1980s (and really, since the 1960s for Virginia), both New Jersey and Virginia, when there's a Democrat in the White House, always elect a Republican governor in their strangely scheduled off-year elections. I've read good analysis, and it has the ring of truth to me here on the ground in Virginia, that the following factors matter most: (1) both VA and NJ are more purple than, let's say, New York or Massachusetts; and (2) when a newly elected Democrat sits in the White House, there is Democratic complacency among the local population, while the local Republicans are angry and fired up because "one of them" is "in charge of our country" and "must be stopped" so "I gotta vote." The exact opposite thinking occurs when a Republican is president. In short, in a purple state, voter turnout really, really does matter and it's largely driven by what are basically lizard-like responses to stimuli in people whose reptilian brain stems are motivating (or demotivating) them accordingly.

So we saw Christine Todd Whitman in New Jersey during the Clinton years and Chris Christie during the Obama years. The only time Virginia broke the cycle was 2013, when Terry McAuliffe won his first term with around 48% of vote because a libertarian candidate siphoned off enough votes from a weak goper candidate (Ken Cuccinelli), who even some Republican friends of mine saw as an extremist. (I didn't see him as an extremist; I just saw a jerk.)

So, to my point. This year, far from the dems being "on the run," as all the breathless and sophomoric CNN coverage keeps going on and on about, the real question to ask is: Why did the Republicans do so poorly in an environment set up so perfectly for them? Despite all the pundits' talk these last few months, the Republicans were supposed to win in New Jersey and Virginia this year. Instead, they lost in New Jersey for the first time in 40 years when these conditions were in play. Why? How did they blow it? And they barely won in Virginia (Youngkin by 2 points, legislature looks to be 51-49), when in 2009 through 2015 the Republicans built up an eventual 66-34 margin in the Virginia legislature as a backlash against Obama. Why? How did they come so close to blowing an easy layup? If this is their high-water mark in New Jersey and Virginia, and they can't win New Jersey anymore, and they can only recapture Virginia by the tips of their fingers, which political party is actually in trouble here?

And here's the thing. The Republicans are supposed to win the U.S. House of Representatives back next year, because, you know, opposite party in the White House and all that. Given their less than stellar performance in New Jersey and Virginia this year, I would say that's hardly a done deal.

M.B. in Menlo Park, CA, writes: You've written several times that if the Supreme Court overrules Roe v. Wade next June, the backlash will mobilize voters in favor of reproductive rights at the midterm elections. If Roe is overruled, many Republican-controlled states will enact laws outlawing most abortions, which will increase the backlash. Will one of those states be Virginia? With its new anti-abortion Republican Governor and the Republicans having gained control of the House of Delegates, Virginia might be only one vote away in the state Senate from being able to ban abortions. Imagine the outrage and backlash if a "purple" state like Virginia outlaws abortions, and how this will mobilize pro-choice voters at the polls in November 2022.

Over on the Jersey Side

J.Q. in Pequannock, New Jersey, writes: I've lived in New Jersey for 55 years so I'll give you my perspective on the governor's race. There's been a trend here in gubernatorial races where the opposing political party wins after a presidential election. George H.W. Bush carried the state and James Florio won in 1989. Christine Todd Whitman won in '93 after Bill Clinton carried the state. That continued all the way until 2021.

I don't why this happens, exactly. Maybe it has something to do with having a governor's race right after a presidential election. There might be a hangover effect. People might be tired of all the political activity from the previous year. The voter turnout is usually low in these off year elections, which hurts Democrats more than the Republicans. I think 2021 was the worst voter turnout in the history of New Jersey gubernatorial races.

There wasn't really any substance to Jack Ciattarelli's campaign. He said generic things like "New Jersey Is broken and I'm going to fix it." What exactly was broken and what he was going to fix was never specified. Then he followed the 40-year-old Republican playbook and painted Phil Murphy as a tax-and-spend liberal. Ciattarelli said he was going to "cut" taxes but never elaborated on which services he was planning to cut to balance the budget. The GOP uses all these subtle racial dog whistles with taxes or crime rates. They imply that the elite Democrats want to take money from hard-working people (wink, wink,) and distribute it on a bunch of freeloaders.

Another empty cliché was "New Jersey is off-track and I'm going to bring it back online." New Jersey Republicans usually stay away from the social conservative stuff during statewide elections. Ciattarelli distanced himself from Donald Trump even though he was a Trump supporter.

This is a weird state in general. It's small but it's densely populated. You can drive 5-10 miles and go from some of the richest towns and homes in the U.S. to some of the poorest places. You can have a small town with $1 million homes on one end and people on food stamps on the other end. You have the working-, middle- and upper-middle-class suburbs of New York City in the Northeast. You have the largely non-white population in the urban areas in the North. The Northwest section is basically Alabama. The Jersey Shore area is its own uniquely strange place. You have the Rutgers and Princeton areas. The Southern portion of the state has the middle-class Philly suburbs mixed in with one of the poorest areas in the U.S. in Camden. You have the lower Southeast rural section that feels like Louisiana. Then you have the Atlantic City area.

P.S.G. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I always read with interest why people vote the way they do. My response continues to be: "So a Republican is going to fix all of this? What is their track record?" In New Jersey, for example, Chris Christie was Governor for 8 years. None of these problems existed then? Honestly, it makes no sense.

D.K. in Parlin, NJ, writes: Wanted to comment a bit on what happened in my home state of New Jersey. Clearly, Democrats nationwide were exhausted by the last 4 years of constant aggravation, having to hear about Trump's shenanigans multiple times a day. The constant outrage...working hard to elect Democrats to oppose him by getting out the vote...everything was a crisis. Frankly, we're all exhausted.

What happened is Democrats took a break from politics after Biden became President. I know because I am one of these people. No news, no Trump, no nothing. News outlets slowly stopped talking about Trump and focused on the 1/6 insurrection. Even that slowly fell off. We then started hearing about Afghanistan withdrawal and it wasn't pretty. Those things never are, but it didn't go well. You hear in passing that Democrats are deadlocked on infrastructure and other things. Kind of annoying, but "just get it done already" is what most Democrats are saying.

So, basically, Democrats have tuned out the noise and are taking a mental break from politics. We're still here, just not fully engaged. I did drag myself out vote because access to the ballot in New Jersey is very easy, but I could see where many would not in an off year election, convincing themselves that New Jersey is such a blue state there is no way Murphy could lose, especially if he's up by 8 points. Imagine if access to the ballot was not easy or available? Murphy loses.

Anyway, it appears it's too soon still after the 2020 election for the Trump PTSD to have worn off. Simple as that. Let's hope that we all wake up before the 2022 election. Including myself!

S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: I'm glad you acknowledged the role of turnout in the surprisingly close New Jersey gubernatorial election. I suspect the Murphy people—voters and campaign pros—took his re-election as a foregone conclusion. The Ciattarelli yard signs greatly outnumbered the Murphy yard signs, which perhaps was a measure of enthusiasm and commitment. Otherwise, it was often hard to tell there was an election going on. Without Donald Trump on the ballot and without recent limits on deductions for SALT recently rubbed into New Jerseyans' chronic taxation wound, motivation to vote Democratic was way down.

Throw in people's short memories (like the shutdown or not, Murphy was great in the early horrible days of the pandemic) and a certain amount of suburban backsliding because of stirred-up resentment over schools, masks, and vaccines. The close election result was a surprise that should have been less of one.

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: It's been funny seeing the huge overreaction to Tuesday's elections results, just as you predicted. Doesn't mean the Democrats don't face strong headwinds for 2022, but the conclusions people are drawing seem way out of line with the facts.

People who read this site are well aware that Virginians have voted for the party out of the White House in something like 13 of the last 14 elections. Yet people act like Virginia has suddenly morphed from a blue state to a purple one. Interestingly, the past results didn't prevent a long string of Republican wins in presidential elections, followed by a growing string of Democratic wins.

Then take a look at New Jersey. Everyone is talking about the "huge swing" there. But look at recent history:

Year Presidential Result Year Gubernatorial Result Swing
2008 D+15.5 2009 R+3.6 R+19.1
2012 D+17.8 2013 R+22.1 R+39.9
2016 D+14.0 2017 D+14.1 D+0.1
2020 D+15.8 2021 D+1.2 R+14.8

Obviously, 2021 isn't complete yet, but in the end it's 2017 that looks like the outlier, not 2021. I also find it interesting that I've heard multiple news reports claiming that Joe Biden won New Jersey by 20 points. While his win was decisive, that is just another example of inaccurate reporting for greatest histrionic impact.

D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: Regarding the New Jersey gubernatorial race, you wrote: "Murphy was incumbent, and so his election was taken as a given." In fact, however, frequent mention was made in some of the news media that if Murphy won, he'd be the first Democrat in decades to get re-elected as governor. So how much a given it was is perhaps a question.

The other thing is that you wrote about "the Jersey surprise" as being a "casserole that you would never, ever want to eat". On the contrary. A true Jersey surprise would be a casserole that you would want to eat.

T.D. in Franklin, NJ, writes: New Jersey is a clearly a blue state, but we also have a long history of giving the middle finger to Democratic governors, who tend to come from the Wall Street world and often appear arrogant and out-of-touch. Phil Murphy's weak performance is a continuation of that long tradition.

Putting my cards on the table, I'm a registered Democrat and I voted for Joe Biden and will almost certainly vote for him again in 2024, but I voted for Jack Ciatarelli this year and feel no guilt about it whatsoever. He's a moderate northeast Republican, and frankly our best governors going back 40 years have been moderate Republicans (Tom Kean during the 80s, Christie Todd Whitman in the 90s, and even Chris Christie started off well in his first term before running into trouble in his 2nd term). Our Democratic governors have usually been plagued by scandal (Jim McGreevy resigned in disgrace in 2004, Jon Corzine had his traffic accident when he was illegally directing the police to drive super-aggressively in order to get him to a public event), and both Corzine (2010) and Jim Florio (1994) were defeated in their re-election bids and were brutally unpopular.

What hurt Murphy this time around? I'd say his heavy-handed COVID approach for starters, as NJ was one of the first states to shut down and small businesses were hurt big-time. He paid a price for that, fairly or not. Taxes were a big issue too, as Ciatarelli repeatedly aired a clip showing an out-of-touch Murphy saying that people who are concerned about taxes shouldn't be living in New Jersey. Yeah... that took a toll on him, deservedly. Murphy is also part of the long (unfortunate) Democratic tradition in our state of being a creature of Wall Street (Goldman Sachs in his case), and appearing elitist. Ciatarelli, in contrast, looked and sounded like a typical guy from New Jersey. It made for a close election. It shouldn't surprise anyone.

M.K. in Ewing, NJ, writes: I just read the item today where you quoted two people from New Jersey who gave their opinions on why the election was so close. I will give you mine. My politics are very different from what you and most of your readers' probably are, but I'd like to think that I can be pretty objective when writing this up for you.

I think your two writers were fairly accurate, but I'll add:

The high property taxes in New Jersey have been here forever. It would be nice to get some relief, but I don't blame Phil Murphy for our high property taxes.

T.J.R. in Metuchen, NJ, writes: I must strongly object to the letter (piece of fiction) you from J.K. in Short Hills that you ran on Thursday. As a longtime resident (34 of my 60 years), I feel I have a right to comment and correct more than a few of the... misconceptions J.K. presented when writing about the hypothetical "Mr. Smith":

I must say, for the first time ever, I must question your editorial acumen for printing such a screed during your daily digest. (If you had printed it on Sunday, well, I still wouldn't have liked it, but I would more likely have skipped over it.)

New Jersey is congested and is not cheap to live in. Granted. But it has some of the best food choices in America, easy access to both mountains and the ocean, a good transit system that can get you anywhere in the world (admittedly, when it works, which is most of the time), world class entertainment venues, etc., etc., etc. No, I do not work for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce or the Democratic Party or any other such entity. I'm just a person who loves the state I live in. And if the fictional Mr. Smith doesn't, then he should just move. Perhaps he'd like Florida and Governor Ron DeSantis (R) better...

J.H. in Boston, MA, writes: Not sure whether this is noteworthy enough that you were already planning a piece on this. But you ran one about how the Republicans flipped, along with the governorship, the lower chamber of the Virginia legislature. And given the much closer than expected gubernatorial result in New Jersey, I've been waiting to find out whether their legislature would also flip. (Experience suggests do to the nature of rural/urban divides, Republicans could win a majority of districts with less than a majority of the statewide vote.)

Anyway the results are mostly in, and it appears that the New Jersey Democrats will lose 4 to 8 seats in the lower chamber, and 1 in the upper. With a 52/80 majority in the lower, and 25/40 majority in the upper, their margins will tighten but neither chamber will flip.

V & Z respond: We were waiting for a final answer before writing this up, but now you've taken care of it for us!

D.R. in Ewing, NJ, writes: Now that Ed Durr (R) actually won, someone checked his Islamophobic, masking-is-a-new-Holocaust social media.

(Clean up has begun.)

Other Elections

H.R. in Jamaica Plain, MA, writes: From where I sit in Boston (yes, Jamaica Plain is one of the neighborhoods of the city of Boston), this past week's election showed considerable support for moving spending away from police and toward, as Mayor-elect Michelle Wu (D) put it, addressing the root causes of crime.

First of all, in stark contrast to Wu's position, Annissa Essaibi George called for hiring more police officers and increasing spending on police. (She earned the endorsement of the police union in light of this position.) A second data point is the district city council race in the district where I reside, where the winning candidate, Kendra Hicks, was directly attacked by her opponent for supporting "defund the police," and yet won by almost 12 percentage points.

The third and most significant example I would offer is the passage of an amendment to the city charter that allows the City Council to have much more power to allocate funds in the city budget. The 2020-21 budget was passed by the city council, in spite of the fact that most councillors (after the killing of George Floyd) felt that more money should have been moved out of the police budget. But the only option the City Council had was to approve the mayor's budget or not approve it. If the latter had happened, the previous budget would have stayed in effect, leading to more spending on police. The amendment to the city charter that passed last Tuesday, garnering 67% of the vote, changes this for the future and was a direct response to the frustrations people felt back in 2020. Time will tell how this plays out in practice (especially when the 2022-23 budget is enacted next June), but those citizens of Boston who want to prioritize spending on other services than the Boston Police Department spoke loudly during this week's election.

S.M. in Austin, TX, writes: You wrote:

While "defund the police" was not a winner on Tuesday, neither was "refund the police," at least not in Austin, TX. Several readers, including K.R. in Austin and R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, brought to our attention the defeat of Proposition A , which would have funded the hiring of more police, 68.4% to 31.6%. It's a limited sample size, but the general sentiment seems to be that many Americans don't want "more of the same" from their police departments, but they don't want radical change, either. Since "defund the police" isn't actually all that radical, even though it sounds like it is, this looks an awful lot like a messaging issue.

The reason this failed in Austin must be credited to the folks who correctly hammered home how expensive this would be. That money had to come from somewhere and this translated to cutting from the budgets of the paramedics, firefighters, libraries and parks. The signage around town was "Protect Austin parks and libraries—Vote No on Prop A."

A coalition of the departments at risk, along with a highly educated population, is the combination that stopped the Save Austin Now referendum. (Chair of the Travis County Democratic Party Katie Naranjo called Proposition A an "attack from the far right" and said Save Austin Now is a conservative machine in disguise.)

S.O.F. in New York City, NY, writes: I'm glad you mentioned Question 1 in Maine. I vacation in the region affected by the power line project every few years, and I was fascinated by how people were reacting to this project this summer. The locals are typical rural Republicans: no college, gun-owning, loggers, predominantly white, Trump signs. They often make cracks about tree huggers, etc., but they do take climate change seriously, having had some rude awakenings on the subject, such as a serious drop in the moose population and severe droughts due to reduced snowfall. Aside from logging, eco-tourism and hunting, are important components of their local economy. If you talk to them candidly, despite many of their political attributes, there is an opening here on this issue.

Maine, however, is ruled politically by coastal folks who are in large part a branch of the Boston liberals. But the rural folks were in full tree-hugger mode this summer. It was basically like the Keystone pipeline fight, but the antagonists were the crusading liberal global warming activists. Local Native American groups were even involved in opposition to the project. I pity the Lorax for having to make sense of it. If only Thneed production weren't disrupted by labor shortages, maybe he'd have ordered one in "Make America Great" red.

There was a hypocrisy element here, as off-shore wind projects have been canceled for years due to opposition from those same coastal folks. But besides the obvious Nimbyism at play here, I think there are pretty important lessons for environmental activists and Democrats to learn as they attempt to harness global warming as a political issue. What happened in South Texas in 2020 is a another perfect example, as Joe Biden drove away a loyal Democratic constituency by saying he wants to phase out fossil fuels. While it's easy for coastal urbanites to convince themselves (and I count myself among them), that phasing out fossil fuels is necessary, and that they are participating in some shared sacrifice for the greater good, our sacrifice is likely minor and temporary, and we get to justify buying an expensive electric car. By comparison, for someone in Laredo, TX or Jackman, ME, the "solution" is many times a total loss. To these folks, coastal liberals likely sound like Lord Farquaad from Shrek: "Some of you may die, but that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make."

Democrats have been framing concessions to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) on climate-related issues in the infrastructure bill as "caving" or "not doing enough." But I think the more important question they should be asking now is how beneficial to progress on this issue is it to alienate all the Laredos and Jackmans of the world? If the result of firing up the base on this issue (and many other issues lately) is inevitably making the tent smaller, can you really claim progress is being made?

J.E. in Whidbey Island, WA, writes: You wrote, of the Maine hydroelectric line: "[S]ome perceived it as a power grab."

Nice pun!

V & Z respond: We always wonder if readers will pick up on the more subtle ones.

R.B. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: I should have written this earlier, but: You were off-base in dismissing Curtis Sliwa (R), Eric Adams' opponent in the New York City mayoral race, as a forgettable Republican sacrifice.

Sliwa may not have had a snowball's chance in hell of winning, but he is anything but forgettable: Guardian Angels founder, defender of subway shooter Bernhard Goetz, right-wing radio host, purveyor of sexist and anti-immigrant rants, fabulist, con man, sh**-stirrer, attention junkie, crazy cat guy, and quite possibly a source for a few of Donald Trump's ideas and attitudes (although he apparently despises Trump and didn't vote for him). I took some pleasure in voting against Sliwa because I've wanted to smack him down some way or another for decades. What's fascinating is that he's who the Republicans ended up with in the mayoral race—normally they can drum up some sort of respectable sacrificial lamb from within the business community, but apparently nobody of that sort was willing to do it this time.

V & Z respond: Maybe they can run Rudy Giuliani next time. We hear he's available.

M.S. in Westchester, NY, writes: Regarding your various comments about lack of Democratic voter enthusiasm, that was pretty evident here in Westchester, where most voters who showed up appear to have retreated to their usual allegiances. Turnout was low. Democrats won most county races here, except for a county legislative seat. I worked for the Democratic incumbent in that race as a volunteer and it was a real heartbreaker. Her opponent is a nothingburger. No experience. Unvaxxed. Trumper who campaigned with Lee Zeldin, who voted not to certify the election results in Congress.

But my reason to send this letter was the defeat of the state constitutional voting rights proposals here in blue New York. Conservatives overwhelmed with publicity about election fraud and Democrats didn't even campaign for the measures. Activists cannot make up for dark money. No support by the Democratic politicians. Jay Jacobs, chair of the state Democratic Party, took some responsibility. Two years of work down the drain. Starting from square one again!

The 1/6 insurrection isn't a year old and we are on the precipice of losing our democracy if the Freedom to Vote Act doesn't pass somehow. This is very depressing.

R.H. in Macungie, PA, writes: I'm mystified and disappointed (disgusted?) with my fellow Democrats. Here in Pennsylvania we can vote by mail and we can sign up for perpetual mail ballots. My ballot arrived in a timely fashion and was received and acknowledged by my county in a likewise timely manner. I love that I can research the candidates and make my choices in the comfort of my home (although I do work the polls as a clerk for my district). Voting here is easy. Yet the vast majority of Democrats who voted by mail in the general election of 2020 just couldn't be bothered to complete their ballot and mail it in. Perhaps with a governor and senator on the ballot in 2022 it will be different, but I fear greatly for our future.

B.H. in St. Paul, MN, writes: An additional bit of info regarding Jacob Frey's reelection in Minneapolis: In addition to his win and the defeat of the "Public Safety" question, voters also passed a change to the city charter (called the "Strong Mayor" question) increasing the power of the mayor's office. The Star-Tribune, in recommending a "no" vote on the question, also produced a good summary of how Minneapolis' "weak mayor who is not as weak as other cites' weak mayors" system works.

What's interesting to me is that the City Council was driving the "Public Safety" question, and five of the 13 of them were voted out; Frey won, and was given more power in the process.

K.K. in Minneapolis, MN, writes: I have been a resident of Minneapolis for over 30 years and a resident of North Minneapolis for the past 7 years. We moved from a much trendier neighborhood to the northside to downsize to a smaller home in retirement. The northside is filled with good people and I enjoy neighbors who are Southeast Asian, Latino, Black, Somali, and white. When the "boogaloo bois" and their ilk began driving up and down our streets and torching cars in the days following George Floyd's murder, we hung together and supported one another. I am lucky to enjoy such a variety of great neighbors.

That said, a friend who lives 20 blocks north of me has decided to move as there have been two gunfights immediately in front of her house and she fears for her young daughter and herself. Many on the northside will vote against turning our police department into a department focused more fully on all public safety concerns because they are afraid and tired of the violence that has erupted and of the young lives that have been lost. Many blame the violence on our reduced police force and only heard the message to "defund the police," giving them the notion that a "yes" vote would mean no policing at all. It saddens me that this is the messaging that has been used to promote Yes4Minneapolis, but I surely understand their fear and their reasoning. Personally, I feel that there are complex issues at play including Coronavirus stress, which I think is not insignificant here. I also have, I believe, an understanding of how the new department would function. We are in the process of relocating back to our home state of Washington and so I was not a voter in this important election.

My main purpose in this letter is to give your readers more information about the fascinating history of this part of our city and to encourage them to look into what Eugene, OR, has done with their CAHOOTS program as an alternative to armed officers in some situations. People often argue that Eugene is too small for larger cities to see as a model, to which I would ask, "Does the size of a city make substance abuse or mental illness different somehow?" I encourage folks to put CAHOOTS in their search engine and find out more about this program. For a history of North Minneapolis, I suggest the PBS video "Cornerstones: A History of North Minneapolis." I also recommend "Fox 9 Presents: North at a Crossroads," an excellent explanation of how redlining impacted neighborhoods in this part of Minneapolis, and how it has continued to impact housing value and racial makeup of neighborhoods today. For yet more on the history of policing I recommend the book The End of Policing by Alex Vitale. This book is not a radical diatribe against police but a well reasoned exploration of how we got where we are today and suggestions for alternatives to our current practices.

C.P. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: You wrote: "A Wisconsin attempt to recall several school board members in the Milwaukee suburb of Mequon-Thiensville got national attention and featured over $50,000 in spending (an insane amount for a school board race of any sort)."

In Los Angeles, $50k is chump change. In 2017, I spent $3,114.30 in my campaign for a school district seat. The other challenger spent $12,302.00. $622,536.89 was spent in support of the incumbent.

In last year's school board race, $17,820,970.08 was spent on four races. The biggest spenders were the charter school industry looking to reduce oversight.

P.A. in Denver, CO, writes: You wrote: "Coloradans decided that they don't want to cut property taxes but also that they don't want to increase marijuana taxes. Hopes that legal weed will be a major profit center for the state government are going, going, ganj."

This is a bit misleading.

Property Taxes: The Republicans got three initiatives on the ballot that failed. Colorado's budgeting has been shackled with many initiatives like this for decades. This one was poorly written and reality wold not necessarily do what was advertised. Voters didn't buy it.

Marijuana Taxes: During the last six years, Colorado has generated $1.6 billion in pot taxes. This initiative was widely supported by former governors. There were many questions regarding this bill that really did not have anything to do with the funding source. For example: How the money would be managed, and would money be taken from public schools?

Meanwhile, Back in Washington

L.M. in Berkeley, CA, writes: It's great news the House passed the infrastructure bill last night. I thought Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the other five progressive holdouts were being unreasonable in voting against the bill after the moderates provided fairly strong assurances about voting for the reconciliation bill by mid-November. As Tuesday night's election results demonstrated, the Democrats need to start showing the American people that they are competent and can get things done.

You wrote that "There's little chance that Jayapal & Co. would have yielded unless they knew basically what's in the big bill, and that the bill's in line to get the votes it needs in the Senate." I'm not sure we are totally there yet in the Senate. From what I have been reading, it could be December before a Senate bill passes and it is likely to be somewhat different than the House bill because Manchin and Sinema don't like everything that is in the House bill and will try to reduce the overall size of it as well.

I agree that things are moving in a more positive direction and that it is likely that a reconciliation bill will pass the Senate. However, I do think it will take another month or so because the bill the Senate passes will first go through some more sausage-making and then will have to go back to the House for another vote.

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: If Donald Trump is the Republican nominee in 2024, it seems like the ads write themselves. Clips of Trump promising infrastructure "the greatest ever, like no one has ever seen." A voiceover calling out the number of times Trump declared "Infrastructure Week" without producing even a beginning proposal. A note that Biden needed less than 10 months to deliver a major infrastructure bill. Tag line: "Trump promised, Biden delivered."

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Merrick Garland is an excellent prosecutor and was a zealous advocate for the government in its case against Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing case. I suspect he was also an excellent judge on the D.C. Circuit. What that tells me is that he's a good foot soldier—he follows orders and rules and appreciates structure and can execute the jobs he's given and is probably a good administrator. But those skills are very different from the skills needed to sit in the big chair and lead and make the hard decisions about which cases to bring and how best to run the Department of Justice.

I was recently promoted to head up a department where now I have to make the difficult decisions about what legal positions to take and what cases to bring, etc. And the calculations are much different than when you're just an attorney who is asking the office to take a certain legal position or action, but the buck doesn't ultimately stop with you. So, I can appreciate somewhat Garland's situation and the hard choices he has in front of him. But at the same time, those decisions must still be made and their difficulty is no excuse for paralysis. He's getting paid precisely to make those tough calls and to be accountable for the consequences. Sadly, I'm not sure he has the necessary mettle to make a firm decision, defend it and stick to it when it comes to the insurrection on Jan. 6. If he's going to lead the DoJ, then he has to be out front to do that. And I'm not sure he's comfortable being out front. For example, whether he concludes Steve Bannon should or should not be indicted, he needs to explain his decision, defend it and take whatever hits come with that.

But he needs to make a decision—that's the biggest part of the job. And the more it appears that he's shirking his responsibilities, the more it looks like he's afraid to go after the rich and the powerful and that there are different laws for different people depending on their position and resources, the more he seems to be playing politics even if his intention is to stay above it. In that job, someone will always fault him for something. But that's no excuse for doing nothing.

This Week in TrumpWorld

D.M. in Berlin, Germany, writes: You wrote: "Isn't it remarkable how the goals of the American right, the petroleum industry, and the Russian government are almost completely in alignment?" It's not remarkable at all.

First, the Russian government literally is a petroleum industry.

Second, one of the methods it uses to stay in control of Russia is to distract from the problems it isn't solving by pointing to scapegoats. That's much easier if done from the right ("you can't have nice things because you're losing your privileged status as men, or as respectable wives, and that is because of the gays, the trans people, the promiscuous young women and so on; and also because you're losing your privileged status as Russians, which is because of the immigrants from the Caucasus, the Jews in general and Soros in particular, the EU, NATO...") than from the left ("you can't have nice things because you're being robbed blind by the big corporations and billionaires like... us: the president and his court oligarchs").

R.R. in Slippery Rock, PA, writes: I was walking through the Iggle (Giant Eagle) grocery store parking lot here in Slippery Rock. I overheard a senior citizen having a conversation with her friend. She was thanking her friend for helping with the strawberries and ended by saying "a Democrat would have never helped me." Hearing that, I stopped and said "Ma'am, I'm a Democrat and I would have helped you." She said "I doubt it." I responded with, "Yes, I really would have helped." We then had a one-sided conversation. She hated that Joe Biden was in the White House, and knew I had voted for him. Just look at the last 6 months, he's done nothing. She began to raise her voice. "Did you see the price of gas (pointing to a gas station)? And what about that pipeline we were supposed to get?" Her husband then told her, "Get in the car," which she did. She sincerely can't believe that a Democrat could be altruistic.

S.M. in New York City, NY, writes: In light of what I'm sure will be a small tsunami of condemnation for your Jesus/Donald Trump mashup image, I would like to observe that it was but a mere 2,000 years ago that the "Christian" cult was initiated, on either a myth created whole-cloth, or else on an otherwise unremarkable execution of an obscure dissident. Over time, of course, the story was rewritten and embellished while becoming more and more preposterous and convoluted. The Jesus cult enjoyed a rapid rise in popularity that was aided by a breakdown of social norms and services (end of Western Roman rule), an extreme dumbing-down of general literacy and thought, and by brute force (either by goon squads of the growing church, or converted warlords and rulers). Voila! In less than a thousand years, a major new religion was born. Another thousand years later, here we are; with a kooky cult like Qanon existing within a larger chauvinistic cohort who exhibit almost messianic devotion to a clownish grifter and his junta of thugs and criminals. In yet another thousand years, after climate catastrophe, the dissolution of the U.S. and an end to nominal democratic rule, what will Western society look like? I shudder to think.

V & Z respond: Normally we would link to the item being referenced, but we struck the image you're referring to. More below.

Complaints Department

P.E. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: Although I've never been a Trump fan, and never will, your transposed image of Trump's face on a holy card is, at best, crass.

You guys are better than this.

V & Z respond: As we note above, we struck that line, and that image, because it clearly upset some people. However, we did not create it; we got it from a pro-Trump Facebook feed. We thought people knew that it is quite common for pro-Trump folks to photoshop his head into images that either highlight his heroism or his victimhood (or both).

K.J. in Chicago, IL, writes: I started reading this site regularly during Barack Obama's first run. I'm a center-left, middle-aged black guy. It was refreshing to have a place to get political facts without a strong left or right bias. Over the past 2-3 years, this blog has become polarized, just like the rest of the country. You have guys are morphing into a mini-HuffPost. You still present facts, but then you add a spin just like every other media outlet. Maybe that's necessary to get readership these days. I miss the days of just facts, though.

A bigger problem for me is that I'm also a Christian. Your anti-Christian references are unwelcome and unacceptable for me. It's like going to a favorite restaurant and having the server spit in my soup... right there at my table. It doesn't matter how good the soup is at that point.

For this reason, I'll stop reading your site. But I felt I should write this email since there's a good chance I'm not the only reader that takes great offense to this. Many democrats are Christians, too, even if not "evangelical" Christians.

P.M. in Currituck, NC, writes: Your site professes to report stories in a non-partisan way, yet evidence to the contrary is rather damning. You reported extensively about Major League Baseball moving the All-Star Game away from Atlanta to economically "punish" Georgia because of the tough voting laws passed by that state's legislature (see here, here, and here for examples), yet nary a word about the World Series champion Atlanta Braves, who brought at least $24 million into the state's coffers (and a corresponding amount into Texas, another state derided by the left for its tough abortion law)? So, you only report on stories that are advantageous economically to causes held dear by Democratic-leaning readers? And, if it does not fit that category, you don't mention it?

This seems to put you squarely in the same category as NPR—a media organization that claims to be neutral, yet is clearly biased heavily toward left-leaning viewpoints. Given the propensity of so many readers here to refer to former President Trump as "The Former Guy" and other unflattering appellations (such as your own cheeky "El Donaldo"), rather than a proper term befitting the office, you ape another tendency of the biased folks at Nothing but Politics and Race: they refer to Joe Biden as "President Biden", whereas Donald Trump is called "former President Trump," and Barack Obama is termed "President Obama." News flash to your readers, as well as to the NPR folks: Obama is also a former President, and should be properly referenced as such. Sly and snarky comments which reveal your own bias don't help matters at all, and are just as idiotic as the right-wing foolishness exemplified by "Let's Go Brandon!".

V & Z respond: We will let the readers respond to your general arguments, should they choose to do so. However, we will point out that: (1) we generally try to retain letter-writers' authorial voice, particularly when they choose phrasing that is clearly part of the point being made, and (2) we dislike referring to any former president as if they are current, and while it's possible we slipped up once or twice, Google thinks the only time that the phrase "President Obama" has been used on the site in the last 2 years is in letters from readers.

Facebook Is Pretty Meta

P.V. in Kailua, HI, writes: Facebook is "kinda evil"? Facebook is evil. Full stop. Great evil is causing physical or psychological pain for one's own pleasure or material benefit; somewhat lesser evil is preying on the fears and weaknesses of people for one's own pleasure or material benefit. Facebook does both—mostly for material benefit, but pleasure at the pain of others can't be ruled out.

To be accurate though, it is not Facebook that is evil. Facebook is an entity without consciousness, will, or self-awareness (as of yet, anyway). It is the people who make the decisions at Facebook who are evil. In my opinion, Mark Zuckerberg is worse than Donald Trump. Trump has committed many evil deeds but I believe that he merits at least a small measure of our pity because he is a sick old man who is not very smart. Zuckerberg, on the other hand, is a genius who knows exactly how much damage he is inflicting on the world—he just doesn't care. To add insult to injury, my phone insists on suggesting "Zuckerberg" as an auto-correct every time I try to type "zucchini"—something that I do with surprising frequency.

I refuse to use Facebook myself, but I understand its legitimate value for many people. To function in the modern world one cannot avoid consorting with evil (side note—this is a major plot point in The Good Place, a show I highly recommend). I am dependent on the evil entity that is Amazon Prime's free shipping, so I can't be judgmental of those who use Facebook in a non-toxic manner. Amazon beat out Facebook for #1 on Slate's 2020 Evil List, though I wouldn't be surprised to see their positions flip in future assessments.

R.C. in Newport News VA, writes: Facebook is also in legal jeopardy with its new name: it is violating a trademark of MetaCompany.

Apple had the same trouble with its iPhone, but paid the Big Bucks necessary to buy the trademark name from Cisco. The billionaire Mark Zuckerberg is too arrogant, cheap, and unethical to do the same.

C.M. in Hillsboro, OR, writes: Re: Meta and we Hebrew speaking folk:

Toda Raba!

History Matters

D.K. in Chicago, IL, writes: In response to the question from F.S. in Cologne regarding "What would have happened if the Confederacy had won the American Civil War and conquered the Northern states?", there is an alternate-history and "mockumentary" on YouTube called C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America, for those who are interested in that genre.

E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, writes: In response to the question from F.S. in Cologne about what might have happened if the South had won the Civil War and conquered the North, I pass along a 2004 mockumentary called C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America. The film, complete with "commercials," outlines exactly this kind of alternative history, starting with the capture and execution of Harriet Tubman and Abraham Lincoln and moving through the World Wars, the Cold War and Space Race, all the way to the present day (2000s). The alternative history itself was interesting enough, but what really stood out to me were the faux commercials, which ranged from the sci-fi (e.g., an electric collar for your slaves) to what turned out to be real-life examples of jaw-droppingly racist commercials from our timeline. It's definitely worth a viewing!

V & Z respond: We thought about mentioning that film, but (Z) actually didn't much care for it, beyond finding the commercials interesting. That said, we got several messages suggesting it, so we'll pass it along.

D.H. in Pueblo, CO, writes: E.F. in Brussels included in their question: "Is it possible that slavery was in fact a drag on its economy? In other words, in addition to being the horrible crime that it was, did slavery also hamper the economic development of the South?"

I would like to point E.H. and their son to a contemporary source on that question, Democracy In America by Alexis de Tocqueville. While I do not recall de Tocqueville addressing the specifics of automating cotton-related work, he does address the larger question of the impact of slavery on the economy of the South. In context, he is discussing the Ohio River valley near the Mississippi, circa 1830. In this quote, the right bank is the free state of Ohio and left bank is the slave state of Kentucky:

Thus the traveller who floats down the current of the Ohio to the spot where that river falls into the Mississippi, may be said to sail between liberty and servitude; and a transient inspection of the surrounding objects will convince him as to which of the two is most favorable to mankind. Upon the left bank of the stream the population is rare; from time to time one descries a troop of slaves loitering in the half-desert fields; the primeval forest recurs at every turn; society seems to be asleep, man to be idle, and nature alone offers a scene of activity and of life. From the right bank, on the contrary, a confused hum is heard which proclaims the presence of industry; the fields are covered with abundant harvests, the elegance of the dwellings announces the taste and activity of the laborer, and man appears to be in the enjoyment of that wealth and contentment which is the reward of labor.

This quote comes from Chapter XVIII: Future Condition Of Three Races, though de Tocqueville discusses the question in several places, including the end of the preceding chapter.

This is only one view on a large and complex picture, but there are other plenty of other works arguing that slavery was economically destructive.

V & Z respond: We probably should have mentioned some of the contemporary works on the question. Another important pre-Civil War critique of the economy viability of slavery is Hinton Rowan Helper's The Impending Crisis of the South (1857). There were also works arguing that slavery was the superior economic system, most notably George Fitzhugh's Sociology for the South (1854).

D.L. in Uslar, Germany, writes: Looking at your response to S.R.G. in Playa Hermosa, about the Great Awakening periods in U.S. history, it strikes me that the term is so broad as to be nearly useless. Indeed, it might be more instructive to look at the inter-Awakening periods than the Awakenings themselves. There are approximately 200 years from the start of the First to the end of the Third and only about 50 years that aren't lumped into one Awakening or another. Almost all of that time is between the First and Second, and roughly half of that is bound up with the events leading up to the Revolution, the Revolution itself and the development of the Constitution. The gap between the Second and Third borders on "blink and you'll miss it" and looks more like a reorientation of the nature of the Awakening than an actual completely new era.

I see the arguments against a Fourth Awakening, but there's clearly some sort of religious movement going on there. Two, actually. You have the role of churches in the Civil Rights movement with a through line to the Liberation Theology of the 1980s on the left, and the general rightward trend of evangelical Protestantism from the 1970s to today.

I'm submitting this as a comment, since I don't really have a specific question, but I would be interested in (Z)'s thoughts on whether or not the concept of a Great Awakening has any real historical meaning or use.

V & Z respond: American religion is always evolving, and the "Awakenings" probably would be more instructive if they were applied to much narrower timeframes when there was dramatic change in a short time. For example, the Red River Camp Meeting of 1800, and the rise of revivalism, clearly marked a dramatic change in how Americans experienced religion.

J.C. in General Trias, Cavite, Philippines, writes: I recall learning in my Revivalism and Social Reform class at Occidental that the Fourth Great Awakening was at a time when the U.S. was no longer as much of a Christian nation, and therefore the religious/spiritual awakening of the time was no longer tied into just the Christian tradition. It was about more than just politics, but was a true religious awakening. just not a Christian one. I recall we read William McLoughlin's Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform for the class.

K.H. in Ypsilanti, MI, writes: One thing I haven't seen addressed in the recent discussions of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is that they not only averted a bloody invasion, but may well have prevented an even greater nuclear conflagration later on. If the world had not seen the devastation and horrific injuries caused by those bombs, the abhorrence that developed toward the use of nuclear weapons would not have been nearly as great and the urgency to avoid superpower conflicts would have been far less pronounced.

That's not to dismiss the horror of what happened or excuse the inhumanity of those attacks, but only to note that they made us a bit wiser.

Game Changers that Didn't Change the Game

C.L. in Washington, DC, writes: Poor John Adams: "The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival." Okay, so the Continental Congress's vote for independence on July 2 isn't exactly a footnote, but it has been totally obliterated by cultural and popular understanding of July 4 (the day the press release came out) as America's Independence Day.

T.S. in Mansfield, OH, writes: Medicine: Through the first half of the paragraph, I thought you would mention Thalidomide. It was pivotal, though not for the expected reasons.

Culture: The Warner Cable QUBE experiment that started in Columbus, OH in December of 1977. Reading to the end of the Wikipedia article, QUBE wasn't successful in the way it was intended, but it did appear to have some knock-on effects (I want my MTV?). Or how about any movie hyped as a "blockbuster event" that crashed (I'm looking at you, Ishtar and Waterworld).

Commerce: The DeLorean? It made for an unforgettable movie prop.

D.C. in Delray Beach, FL, writes: Computer Technology: If you watch the beginning trailer of the 1960s show "Mannix" you will see the IBM punch card being pushed as the latest way computers would help us with gathering information. Ten years later they were mostly gone, although a later version of them did rear its ugly head in Florida in 2000. Likewise, floppy disks came and went in a hurry.

Popular Music: Disco was all the rage in the late 1970s, but hasn't been anywhere near as big a piece of the industry in 40 years now.

Sports: The Continental Baseball League was announced in the summer of 1959 as a competitor to the American and National Leagues. There were significant wealthy backers to the scheme. Play was supposed to begin in 1961, but not a single game was ever played. In the meantime the AL and NL did expand, probably most importantly bringing an NL team back to New York.

Treasure Hunting: Remember in 1986, Geraldo Rivera busting into a vault in the Lexington Hotel in Chicago that was supposed to reveal a big stash of money that was left behind by Al Capone? 30 million viewers tuned in for two hours to watch Rivera find a small pile of debris.

Engineering: In 1875, both the British and French parliaments approved the start of work on a tunnel under The English Channel/La Manche. Entrance shafts were sunk, but then the project was stopped by the British War Office. The modern Chunnel began serious work a century later. Imagine if it had been in place for Kaiser Wilhelm and/or Hitler to use?

C.A.K. in Louisville, KY, writes: One (recurrent) dud that was supposed to be transformational was the U.S. conversion to using the Metric System—proposed many times over many decades. This time we're really gonna finally do it.... Not!

B.B.D. in Sonora, CA, writes: The mother of all turning point duds: Y2K. Proposed as the end of the world as we knew it. (A magazine I was reading at the time went all in: "Guns, dried food, seeds and head for the hills!" became its mantra.) Seems our computer geniuses had very little problem with this one. But Y3K is coming soon! Are we prepared?

G.L. in Hyattsville, MD, writes: My favorite technology footnote (that touches government, culture, and commerce) is Solar! Freakin'! Roadways!, whose promotional video was everywhere for a few weeks in 2014. I don't know if anyone who had any kind of knowledge about road engineering thought it was legit—I was working sort of adjacent to the field at the time, and it obviously promised way more than it could possible deliver. It's a shame, because it's an intriguing innovation that might be practical in some applications, even though heavy-use roads are not among those applications.

K.S. in Harrisburg, PA, writes: Cold fusion was going to change everything... if it only worked.

And, of course, who can forget New Coke?

Hooray for Hollywood

Note: We clearly overlooked an opportunity here. So, anyone who would care to send in a list of their dozen favorite films, please do, and we'll compile a master ranking of readers' favorite movies, to run later this week. Feel free to include comments, if you are so inclined. Note, however that this is just favorites; we'll follow up next week with recommendations for "films everyone should see" (e.g., most important films).

E.W. in Mill Valley, CA, writes: I liked your list, but I'm hoping that The Princess Bride was #13.

V & Z respond: (Z) can't believe he forgot to include that film. Also, Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

D.F. in Norcross, GA, writes: After looking at (Z)'s list of his top dozen favorite movies, I knew there was a reason I really enjoy this site so much, aside from the fact it is one of the best when it comes to the nuts and bolts of polling, politics and history, among other things as it comes.

There are at least eight films on (Z)'s list that, while I'm not sure they'd all make my top dozen, they'd definitely be in my top two dozen. My only disappointment is not seeing any Mel Brooks movies on it. Oh well, maybe one of these days I'll get a "harumph" out of that guy.

V & Z respond: If it had been 15 films, Blazing Saddles would have made the cut, along with the two mentioned above.

S.B. in New Castle, DE, writes: At last! I finally understand why I as a deeply spiritual woman have grown to love your site so much. You're on a Mission from God!

V & Z respond: We also hate Illinois Nazis.

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: Number #1 or the last on your list is The Blues Brothers from 1980.

I have been married, mostly happily, for 50+ years. She is one tough mother. My wife is known as GAWD, either in the spoken or written messaging.

Family know this, friends know this, and my wife puts up with it.

It all derives from Jake and Elwood and their mission to save the orphanage. They were on a mission from God. Now, when GAWD sends me out for a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread or anything else, everyone knows I am on a "Mission from GAWD."

I have been asked occasionally why I refer to my wife in this manner (even by our pastor) and that is always my explanation, so help me GAWD.

And yes, The Blues Brothers is an all time great.

And yes, I have seen all of the films on your list, the only one I would add would be Orson Welles' Citizen Kane.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: Re: Dr. Strangelove: Anyone who enjoys this movie should also see the lesser-known straight version of the same plot (Wheeler and Burdick's novel), namely Fail-Safe. The sub-plots get in the way, but it's still a must-see for Strangelove fans. And while you're there, another novel-turned movie from the late 1950s with a nuclear disaster plot, On the Beach with Gregory Peck, and Fred Astaire of all people in a dramatic role.

D.A. in Santa Clara, CA, writes: Ok. Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade is a good film. But better than Raiders of the Lost Ark? I suppose people of good will could disagree on that, but Return of the Jedi?!?

Every true American knows the best Star Wars film is The Empire Strikes Back. Perhaps (Z) is secretly Canadian. That would explain his getting the correct Back to the Future film on his list. See what I mean? (Z) correctly promotes the Canadian-influenced picture and sows chaos within the American-led films. In fact, that whole list is beginning to look suspicious. Scratch that. It is alarming. I see through your nefarious plot to take over our country. First Hollywood, then the TV and Youtube and TikTok, and the next thing you know, we'll be eating poutine while "owe-uht and abow-uht."

Not on my watch!

And it's Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Either your staff copy editor had the day off, or you have succumbed to revisionist school of Star Wars Studies. Base largely in the University of Toronto. Coincidence? I don't think so!

V & Z respond: (Z) was born in 1974, which means Star Wars came out when he was 3, Empire when he was 7, Raiders when he was 8, Jedi when he was almost 10, BTTF when he was 12, and Last Crusade when he was 15. The opportunities to promote pan-Canadianism are just serendipitous.

M.B. in Cleveland OH, writes: (Z)'s list of movies clearly pegs him, like me, as a white male who was a teenager in the 1970s/80's. And I agree that all of his movie choices are fantastic, including having The Blues Brothers ranked #1. Orange whip?

I do think it's worth noting that only two of those movies pass the Bechdel Test—two female characters who have a conversation that's not about a man—The Grapes of Wrath and To Kill a Mockingbird. None of the movies from the 1970's and 1980's does. That they are still favorites and classics says quite a bit about Hollywood, culture, and the enduring power of systemic sexism in the USA.

A.S. in Enfield, NH, writes: Wow, that is a very male movie list. If you want some classic movie ideas that feature strong female performances, check out the Be Kind Rewind YouTube channel.


J.L.J. in San Francisco, CA, writes: K.F. in Framingham asked about the second-in-command, and it reminded me of something I figure I'd share. The term "lieutenant" is one of those words I heard my whole life but never put any thought into it until it came to define me. Then I had my mind blown. It's so obvious as to be embarrassing if, like me, you never put any thought into it before. A tenant is one occupying a position. We hear it all the time, with things like "tenant's rights" and such. And one who steps in to serve in place of (in lieu of) the one occupying the position (the tenant) is a lieutenant. Thus a lieutenant serves in place of the captain, should they be indisposed; same with the lieutenant colonel if the colonel goes down, and the lieutenant general should the general fall. The name is the meaning. When I learned this, I slapped my forehead and thought myself a fool.

This led to another question: why does a lieutenant general outrank a major general, when majors outrank lieutenants? Because the major general derives its name from the sergeant major, who are outranked by lieutenants but also serve in their place should the lieutenant fall or take over for a captain. BOOM! Mind blown.

If you did not already know this stuff and now feel stupid upon learning it, you may now do as I did, and quietly go flog yourself for an hour.

R.M.S. in Lebanon, CT, writes: In response to S.S-L. in Norman: Another thing that was great about Captain Planet was how many excellent voice actors participated. It gave the series a sense of seriousness and fame that it might otherwise not have achieved. Gaia, the Spirit of the Earth, is voiced by Whoopi Goldberg. Kwame, the African planeteer, is LeVar Burton. The piggish villain mentioned, Hoggish Greedly, was voiced by the recently deceased Ed Asner. Martin Sheen, Meg Ryan, and Sting also participated.

One of the best aspects of the show was that it portrayed very serious situations that are almost never covered in children's programming. One 1991 episode, "Mind Pollution," involves addiction to prescription pain pills. Linka, the European planeteer, invites her cousin Boris to Washington, D.C., where they visit Congress. While visiting, Boris becomes addicted to opiate pills under the influence of a villain, spikes Linka's food with the drug, and they distribute the drug throughout the capital. The city becomes engulfed by drug-fueled riots, and Boris dies from a drug overdose on screen. It is very unusual for a children's show to depict drug overdose deaths on screen and even today I don't think many shows would do it.

Another episode from 1992 is called "A Formula for Hate." It involved the HIV pandemic. A teenage boy, voiced by Neil Patrick Harris, becomes infected with HIV, and when this is discovered at his school, he is shunned by the community. Students belittle him and they try to prevent him from participating in school sports. It is very unusual for a children's show to depict a teenager with a sexually transmitted disease and even today I don't think any animated series would do it.

Shows like this are why, 25 years later, I am still a planeteer. I still watch the shows online in reruns and I have a Captain Planet shirt.

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: You wrote: "If we have some firmer basis for a prediction than just our best guess, we try to be clear about what that something is."

I will acknowledge that my first level of experience is in the construction industry (25 years in downtown Portland office towers), particularly tenant improvement remodeling in existing buildings. A lot of times when preparing a bid for a project you are given plans of existing space with the requested changes. (I have seen it hand-drawn over the old plans and I have accused the leasing agent of using crayons.) In the final analysis we often use a level of confidence and a technical term called a "SWAG" proposal. Also referred to as a "Scientific Wild Ass Guess." Hopefully this will help clarify your predictions.

M.G. in Newtown, PA, writes: Welcome Back, Kotter? It's past time for (V) and (Z) to watch Brooklyn 99, one of the funniest shows on television.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: Why not kill two stones with one bird? Pornographic video games, whereby you get more bang for your bucks.

Luckily, Tracy Jordan has solved that problem.

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