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      •  Saturday Q&A

Saturday Q&A

Lots of twists and turns, from Ukraine to Henry Clay to misbehaving dachshunds to the NFL. Let's get 'er started.

Current Events

K.F.K. in Minneapolis, MN, asks: You wrote that should the U.S. simply let Vladimir Putin march into Ukraine, nearby countries would be his next target. This seemed totally reasonable to me until it seemed to be the same argument was given for why we had to be in Vietnam. I understand that we were not a part of an organization set up to protect Southeast Asia but can you still explain why this argument holds water here when it didn't seem to be regarding Vietnam? Or did it?

V & Z answer: Actually, the U.S. was part of an organization set up to protect Southeast Asia. It was called the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), and existed from 1954-77.

Anyhow, these are the sorts of questions that historians try to ask themselves, so as to understand the mindset of those who came before, and who made decisions that were "obviously" wrong with the benefit of hindsight. It is true that many Americans of the 1950s and 1960s believed in the domino theory—that if one nation fell to communism, the others around it would fall as well. It is also true that this belief was a major impetus for involvement in Vietnam. And people of that era had as much confidence in their assessment of the situation as we have in ours.

That said, the American leaders—from Lyndon B. Johnson on down—made two obvious errors in their assessment of the geopolitical situation in Vietnam. First, they overestimated the extent to which the Soviets could "convert" nations to communism if those nations were not already so inclined. Second, they underestimated the extent to which Ho Chi Minh and other North Vietnamese leaders were actually driving events in Vietnam. This was an error tinged with racism, and if it hadn't been made, it would have been clearer that the main objective of the NVA was to reunify the country, and not to help expand Soviet influence in Southeast Asia.

The situation with Putin is somewhat different. In Vietnam, the U.S. was guessing about the intentions of one nation (the U.S.S.R.) as expressed through the machinations of a different nation (North Vietnam). Here, there's only one layer of the decision-making, not two. Further, in Vietnam, there were two possible goals in play: expanding Russian influence and reunifying Vietnam. The U.S. just put the emphasis on the wrong one. In Ukraine, by contrast, there's only one goal: expanding Russian influence. And if Vladimir Putin is willing to grab that nation in service of that goal, then there's no particular reason to think that would be "enough" for him. There's every chance he'd go after some other nation, likely one that has been grabbed by past Russian leaders: Poland, the Baltic States, maybe Finland, etc. We don't even have to guess; Putin has verbalized his goal of re-creating Russia's historical sphere of influence on more than one occasion. By contrast, neither Ho nor any other North Vietnamese leader ever said that what they were really hoping to do was to spread communism to Laos, Cambodia, etc.

F.F. in London, England, UK, asks: What might explain why Vladimir Putin chose this time to mount an offensive against Ukraine vs. when Donald Trump was in office. Trump was anti-NATO and seemed to abhor the notion of paying for others' security, so this seems to be an epic mis-timing for the Russian.

V & Z answer: Only Putin knows for sure what's in his heart. Or for that matter, if he even has a heart. In any case, he may be an evil bastard, but he's a Lt. Col. in the KGB through and through—cautious, methodical, and leery of any unpredictable elements. When the Russians annexed Crimea, not a single shot was fired. That's about as KGB as a military invasion gets.

Over the course of several years of observation and interaction, Putin most certainly took the measure of Donald Trump and figured out two things: (1) Trump is a loose cannon, and (2) Trump is easily manipulated. Had Putin invaded Ukraine, Trump might have looked the other way. On the other hand, someone like John Bolton might have gotten to the former president and convinced him that lobbing a bunch of cruise missiles at Russia would look "strong." And even if Trump wasn't willing to attack, he loves, loves, loves economic sanctions. And some heavy-duty sanctions of that sort—say, Russia getting cut off from the SWIFT banking network—would be almost as bad for Putin as being bombed. So, we suspect there was just too much risk and too much uncertainty there for the Russian's taste.

Meanwhile, the NATO countries that concern Putin the most, besides the U.S., are Germany, the U.K., and France, in that order. Those three nations were in a pretty good place, say, 2 years ago. Even if the U.S. had looked away, the trio would likely have responded quickly and effectively to Russian aggression. Right now, however, Boris Johnson is enmeshed in scandal, Angela Merkel is retired and Olaf Scholz is learning the ropes, and Emmanuel Macron is worried about reelection, plus his relationships with both Joe Biden and Johnson are shaky due to the AUKUS submarine deal. Add to the equation the United States' less-than-stellar withdrawal from Afghanistan, and you can see how Putin might conclude that he was making his move at a moment of weakness for the key NATO players.

As it turns out, it hasn't worked out the way Putin planned. Putin's maneuvering has served to unify Europe and NATO in a manner that hasn't been seen in at least a decade, and probably more like two or three decades. He's created a real mess for himself, because if he invades now, he is going to get popped in the mouth by the U.S.-led coalition. And if he backs down, then he will lose face with the Russian people at a precarious time.

D.S.A. in Parish, NY, asks: As a loyal visitor to, I believe that every one of 700 or so people charged with federal offenses related to the 1/6 attack on democracy (and reality) are white—am I wrong?

V & Z answer: You are, but not by much. About 90% of those charged are white. The most notable nonwhite defendant is probably Oath Keepers founder Edward Vallejo, who is part Latino. Or, depending on how you define things, Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, who is both Black and Latino. Tarrio was not present on 1/6, but only because he was arrested in Washington, D.C. on 1/5. And his arrest was, in turn, in response to his encouragement of future 1/6 insurrectionists at a Proud Boys meeting in December of 2020.

J.O. in Williamsburg, MA, asks: Why did the Department of Justice try for a plea deal for the men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery? Why interfere, why try to tone down their punishment, why get involved at all?

V & Z answer: On one hand, the three defendants are already going to spend most or all of their remaining days in prison. That means the cost-benefit analysis of mounting a prosecution—particularly on federal hate crimes charges, which are hard to prove—doesn't look too good on paper. On the other hand, the DoJ doesn't want to just drop the matter, particularly given how high-profile it is. The plea deal would have given the DoJ much of what it was looking for, including an explicit admission that the murder was motivated by racism, with a fairly minimal investment of resources. Now that the plea deal has been rejected by a federal judge, it looks like the DoJ will actually have to try the case.

J.C. in Lockport, IL, asks: Do you think FOX will air the Rudy Giuliani episode of The Masked Singer to avoid humiliating him? Since he's first out it seems like it would be easy to pretend it never happened. Or might they just not show the judges walking off?

V & Z answer: The chances that the episode airs are 100%. The chances that the judges are shown storming off stage are at least 90%. That episode is going to get big ratings, and maybe some of the folks who tune in for voyeuristic purposes will get hooked and stick with the show.

In fact—and we almost wrote this in our item on the Giuliani appearance—it is very likely that the leak came from the show's producers. Whenever information that is not supposed to be public becomes public, it is generally wise to ask "Who, among the people in possession of this information, would benefit from its being leaked?" In this case, the obvious answer is: the producers of The Masked Singer.

S.W. in St. Louis, MO, asks: I am an extremely liberal 68-year-old woman. In the Jeff Zucker story, one has to question why only the man in this relationship was let go. Both involved were top executives. Both admitted they did not report their affair in a timely fashion, but he is gone and she is not. (And, I am not saying I agree with the fact that Zucker is gone.) As an ardent feminist, I think this infantilizes women—this case deals with adults who were very close in the "power structure" of the company. His firing seems to put her in a position of being perceived as being taken advantage of, and I do not think that is the case. She was quoted as saying, forcefully, that she would not be leaving. I wonder why she thought that was appropriate? Fair?

V & Z answer: You raise a fair point. The presumption, particularly these days, is that romantic relationships between a boss and one of their employees are inherently problematic/abusive because of the power differential, and the possibility that "consent" in that situation isn't really consent. This is particularly true if the higher-ranking individual is male and is at or near the tip-top of the hierarchy.

This presumption does deprive the junior employee of some amount of agency, and even—as you argue—infantilizes them. Further, it tends to be a "one size fits all" presumption that doesn't take the specifics of the situation into account. Allison Gollust is nearly 50 years old, is herself a high-ranking executive (as you point out), and she and Zucker have been in a relationship for over a decade. This seems rather different from Sumner Redstone or Roger Ailes finding a 20-year-old "girlfriend" in the secretarial pool.

And in this case, it (probably) gets worse. Note what we said above about asking who might have a motivation to leak information. The Zucker-Gollust relationship was an open secret in the industry, so there were a lot of people who had the information. Is there someone who might have a reason to weaponize it right now? The answer is "yes" and, in fact, there are two prime suspects. Chris Cuomo is angry about his recent termination at Zucker's hands, obviously knew about the relationship, and would have plenty of friendly contacts in the media who would be happy to write a salacious story. Alternatively, CNN is merging with Discovery, which would have meant more power and influence for Zucker. He's been in a years-long pissing contest with Jason Kilar, who is (was) Zucker's boss, and who is about to leave his post as CEO of WarnerMedia. He may well have wanted to take the popular Zucker down before exiting. And if so, well, Kilar also knew about the relationship, and he also has plenty of media contacts.

If the whispers are true, and Cuomo and/or Kilar orchestrated this, then it would mean that powerful men had weaponized #MeToo as an instrument of revenge. And that is obviously far removed from the purposes of the movement.


D.C. in Brentwood, CA, asks: If one of the lovely senators from Kentucky were to really, tragically, super-unfortunately die, such that the Democratic governor has to appoint a replacement from the same party, i.e. a Republican, how would "same party" be defined? Could a Democrat head down to the DMV and update their party preference to Republican, then be appointed?

V & Z answer: No, that trick is too obvious and is too easily defeated. In the states that have these "same party" rules, including Kentucky, they generally require the departed senator's state party apparatus to submit a list of three acceptable candidates and the governor has to pick one of those. So not only does this process give Gov. Andy Beshear (D-KY) no opportunity to sneak a fellow Democrat in through the Senate's back door, it actually increases the odds of someone more extreme than Rand Paul or Mitch McConnell (both R-KY) being appointed, since the list of three would be compiled by state party members (i.e., hardcore Republican activists).

D.P. in Berkeley, CA, asks: Back in 2016, when the Republicans snuffed out the Merrick Garland appointment, I read that Barack Obama's mistake was not to appoint a black woman—that Mitch McConnell could not afford to interfere with without looking racist. We'll never know for sure, but do you think that hypothesis is on the mark?

V & Z answer: No, we don't. Given the party and state that McConnell represents, appearing racist may be a feature, and not a bug. But even if that is not the case, the "McConnell Rule" really covered all eventualities. If the then-Majority Leader had been concerned about potential racist overtones, he could have said: "The President's pick appears to be an excellent jurist. However, as we've noted, we simply cannot consider appointing anyone until the voters have had their say."

S.S. in Turlock, CA, asks: I have been following the ups and downs of the COVID-19 numbers on the Worldometer website. I have noticed a consistent pattern over the last few weeks. The most populous half dozen or so states routinely report daily new deaths in the triple digits. Except for Florida, that is. The Sunshine State is blessed with single digit counts each day, even though its case counts are on the same order of magnitude as the other states. Either Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) has discovered a medical miracle that he really ought to share, or he is a liar. I'm fairly certain I know which it is. Do you have any insight as to what his political game is here? It seems to me that if he tries to run on this record that it could very well backfire with accusations that he covered up the true death count in his state.

V & Z answer: As he runs for reelection in 2022, and possibly the presidency in 2024, DeSantis wants credit for having gotten Florida "back to normal" more quickly than other state governors. Lower daily death counts can be used to justify the relaxation of preventative measures, and also to "prove" that his approach is working.

So, how does DeSantis do it? It's quite simple, actually, but it's a bookkeeping trick and not a medical one. Let us imagine that someone—say, a musician with the stage name "Leat Moaf"—dies of COVID on January 20. It usually takes a few days for the cause of death to be confirmed and for the paperwork to be completed, especially since the living are prioritized over the deceased. And so, Mr. Moaf may not become an "official" COVID death until, perhaps, January 26. If Mr. Moaf perishes in California, then he is reported to the CDC on January 26, as part of the January 26 total for the state.

In Florida, by contrast, since last September or so, Mr. Moaf would be reported to the CDC on January 26 as a January 20 death. That means that the only people who show up in the daily figures for Florida are those for whom the bureaucratic process happens to be completed on the same day they die. Everyone else gets pushed back into the past. If you look at the Florida numbers, you will see the state had triple-digit deaths for two weeks, starting January 9. It's just that many of them were never included in "today's total."

Since DeSantis is not faking the numbers, just changing how they are framed, then he's not breaking any laws, and he's not likely to get into much political trouble. The fact is, his manipulation is not a secret, and it certainly hasn't hurt him so far. Sure, it pisses off many Florida Democrats, but they already loathe him.

D.K. in Iowa City, IA, asks: Donald Trump is not likely to be the leader of a serious right-wing movement in this country, even if he escapes prosecution and prison, simply because he is too old. Adolf Hitler was 45 when he first took office in Germany in 1934 and Benito Mussolini was 49 when he took office in 1922. Trump will be 79 in 2025 and probably not in perfect health. Do you think there is any younger Republican who has the charisma to lead a serious and dangerous right-wing movement in the U.S.?

V & Z answer: To pull off something like what Hitler, or Mussolini, or Francisco Franco, or Tôjô Hideki did, there would seem to be three essential qualities. First, the person has to be charismatic enough to generate fanatical loyalty among followers. Second, the person has to be smart enough to plot successful strategy. And third, the person has to be ruthless enough to do... whatever it takes.

It is not common to find all three qualities in the same person. Indeed, even Donald Trump really only has one of the three; he's neither smart enough nor ruthless enough to be a Mussolini or a Franco. The obvious answer to your question, Ron DeSantis, certainly has the smarts, and might even have the ruthlessness, but doesn't inspire fanatical loyalty. And all of the other possibilities—Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), Donald Trump Jr., Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD), Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX), any of the half-dozen Trump fanatics in the House of representatives—appear to us to be very clearly lacking in at least one of these three necessities.

If you absolutely demanded that we come up with a name, then we would choose Tucker Carlson. And we would choose him because he seems to command followers' loyalty better than any of the other possibilities, plus he's something of a mystery—since he's never had any real power, we don't really know what he'd do if he actually got some. That said, we are unaware of any brutal dictator who wore a bow tie.

D.S. in Palo Alto, CA, asks: Do the little people who venerate TFG not realize that the first time they utter anything negative, even "He looks a little peaked today," he will turn on them in a heartbeat? Even the big people who pretend to venerate him don't seem to realize this until it, predictably, it happens to them.

V & Z answer: There are some folks—Mitch McConnell would be the obvious example—who know full well how Trump operates, but have no choice except to deal with him.

However, for most of the people in Trump's orbit, he's giving them access to power, and fame, and adulation that they otherwise could not possibly hope to attain on their own. And although a Michael Flynn or a Rudy Giuliani or a Dan Scavino is clever enough to see the pattern, they undoubtedly persuade themselves that "with me, it will be different." It is not especially different from the dynamic that often takes place when a person enters into a romantic relationship with a chronic abuser.

S.N. in Santa Clara, CA, asks: The Twenty-Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution begins "No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of President more than once." Since Donald Trump continues to claim that he won the election, could someone file suit to block him from running again? Would such a suit have any legal legs to stand on? My guess is that a reputable judge would simply say Joe Biden won and toss the suit. But it sure would be fun to file this before a Trumpy judge!

V & Z answer: Every judge in the land would toss this suit out so fast it would make the plaintiff's head spin.

The Twenty-Second Amendment is based on what actually happened, not on people's fantasies of what happened. Consider the mirror image of your hypothetical. What if Donald Trump filed a lawsuit claiming that because of the machinations of the deep state, he was effectively unable to serve as president between 2017 and 2021. Ipso facto, he's actually served zero terms, entitling him to two more. That would be just as ridiculous a fantasy, and would be tossed just as fast.

S.S-L. in Norman, OK, asks: Imagine for a second that Donald Trump genuinely believed he won the 2020 election and that democracy had already been subverted. What would a healthy, sane, legal response have been?

V & Z answer: The first thing to do was to go to the appropriate courts, state or federal, with actual evidence and with one or more plausible legal arguments. There are many cases of courts stepping in when actual electoral malfeasance can be proven.

Failing that, the second thing to do was to request permission to address a joint session of Congress, to lay out the case for chicanery to the 435 members of the House and the 100 members of the Senate, and to ask them to step in and right whatever wrong took place.

If that also failed, the third thing to do was to accept that the world is not always a fair place, and that justice is not always done. If the notorious hothead Andrew Jackson could suck it up in 1824, and accept his clearly dubious defeat without challenging even a single member of Congress to a duel, then certainly Donald Trump could do the same.

P.N. in Wilmington, NC, asks: After reading your recent post about Donald Trump's legal issues, I started to wonder about the logistics of arresting him. I assume that any charges from Georgia, New York, or the Department of Justice would allow him to turn himself in. What happens if he refuses? I assume the DoJ (or applicable state law enforcement agencies) wouldn't conduct a no-knock raid on Mar-A-Lago, but would agents go down and serve a warrant and perp-walk him out of his house? Would Georgia and New York need to get help from Florida law enforcement, and if so, could Ron DeSantis or someone else refuse to enforce the warrant? Would the Secret Service prevent arrest or even assist him if he tries to leave the country or otherwise escape the warrant?

V & Z answer: Nobody knows exactly what the answer to your question is because there's never been a need to arrest a former U.S. president. With that said, there was once a need to arrest a former C.S. president. And when Jefferson Davis was taken into custody in Georgia, it was Union troops that did the job. This was mostly a practical matter; Union soldiers happened to be the representatives of federal authority in closest proximity to Davis. If he'd tried to flee into, say, the Indian Territories, he probably would have been arrested by U.S. Marshals.

Our guess is that the same practical considerations would come in to play here, if Trump did not surrender willingly. Per 18 U.S. Code 3056, the Secret Service is empowered to "execute warrants issued under the laws of the United States," or even to "make arrests without warrant for any offense against the United States committed in their presence, or for any felony cognizable under the laws of the United States if they have reasonable grounds to believe that the person to be arrested has committed or is committing such felony." So, we assume the U.S.S.S. would get the job, and then they'd just hold Trump for whichever entity was trying to take him into custody. Keep in mind, the Secret Service works for the Department of Homeland Security, and not for Trump.

J.S. in Johnstown, PA, asks: Given that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) is a complete wild card these days and that Democrats in Arizona and around the country are lining up to defeat her in a primary, is it possible that she pulls off an act of sheer vindictiveness against the Democrats? My worst fear is that she switches parties before Joe Biden can fill Stephen Breyer's seat, thus giving Mitch McConnell the majority leadership and allowing him to hamstring yet another Democratic appointee to the Supreme Court. This seems like a stunt she would pull. She'd grab the attention she craves while simultaneously poking the Democrats and the donors who are abandoning her in the eye. I'm sure she could extract a king's (or queen's) ransom from McConnell in return for giving the red team the Senate. If you're the villain, why not embrace it? Does she have anything to lose at this point?

V & Z answer: She's pretty hard to read, but we doubt this will happen.

To start, if she was really willing to switch parties—either of her own volition, or because she is being "financially motivated" to do so—then there is no reason to wait. Every day she delays is one more day of Democratic Senate control and one less day of Republican control.

Further, she's still raising lots and lots of money for her reelection bid. By all indications, she plans to run for reelection, and she thinks she can win. If so, then her only plausible path—though it's a shaky one at this point—is to run as a Democrat. She isn't getting elected in Arizona (or anywhere else) as a Republican.

Finally, if she envisions a lucrative future career as a token Democrat—say, as a talking head on Fox, or on the board of some right-wing and/or petroleum company—then she has to stay a Democrat.


H.R. in Jamaica Plain, MA, asks: I recall reading that because Donald Trump couldn't be prosecuted while president, the statute of limitations would only start running on January 20, 2021, for his obstruction of justice crimes. But you wrote that the statute of limitations on some obstruction charges is coming soon. Is that correct?

V & Z answer: The technical term here is "tolling," as in "Trump's service as president may be justification for tolling the statute of limitations."

The federal courts have established a range of circumstances where tolling is apropos. For example, if the accused was mentally incompetent during some portion of the period during which they would have been charged. But when it comes to presidents, and to their qualified immunity while in office, the question has never been tested in court. And so, nobody really knows for sure if the clock on Trump started running back in 2017, or not until 2021.

That said, the majority legal opinion is that serving as president does not currently stop the clock. This is why the Democrats' Protecting Our Democracy Act specifically includes a provision that would toll the statute of limitations while a president is in office. It is also the case that the Department of Justice has more than enough information right now to make a decision about Trump and obstruction. So if they are going to file, it makes much more sense to file soon. That way, they would only have to win the criminal case against Trump. If they wait, they'd have to win on the question of tolling, and then win on the underlying criminal case. One win is much easier than two, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills just demonstrated for all to see.

D.R. in Omaha, NE, asks: In the event the Republicans do take control of the Senate following the 2022 elections...

All of us learned in junior-high level civics, that "The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate," and that these days the Veep seldom performs in that role, letting the President Pro Tempore most often preside.

Should the Senate end up with a Republican majority, with VP Kamala Harris still in office, what, if anything, is to stop Harris from asserting her Constitutional position of President of the Senate, in effect saying "Move over, Mitchie, and let Kami take over!"?

Are there any actual regulations to prevent this? Has this been done historically? Could, indeed, VP Harris act as the presiding officer of the Senate and therefore control what does and does not come to the floor?

V & Z answer: What stops Harris from doing this is the rules of the Senate, which strictly limit the powers of the President of the Senate, basically to breaking tie votes (actually, that's in the Constitution), and to managing the parliamentary operations of the Senate. If Harris were to assert herself and put aside the rules, then one of two things would happen: (1) her fellow Democrats would refuse to back her up, and she would suffer a humiliating and possibly career-ending defeat, or (2) Republicans would scream bloody murder, run against the Democrats' disregard for the rules, and probably win back the Senate. Then, at such point that Mitch McConnell & Co. regained control, they would put the Democrats to shame in terms of making a mockery of standard operating procedure. We're talking things like approving 100 right-wing judges in one day, or banning the Democrats from being on the Senate floor.

That is not to say that it is not theoretically possible. The position of Speaker of the House was once largely toothless until Henry Clay made it into the locus of power that it is today. However, that was back in 1811, when Americans were still figuring their new government out, and there was rather more tolerance for improvisation than there is today. Further, Clay presided over a House that was nearly 75% members of his own party. It's far easier to ride roughshod over the minority when your party outnumbers them 3-to-1.

J.P. in Kansas City, KS, asks: In order to save his political career, could Mike Pence have recused himself from the state ballot certification in January of 2021? And if so, who would've been assigned to take his place?

V & Z answer: We doubt this would have helped Pence's political career. Either way, most Democrats would dislike him. And the Trumpy Republicans would possibly be even angrier with him, since he would not only have failed to overturn the election, he would also have behaved like a coward.

As to your actual question, all the laws governing the counting procedure, including 3 U.S. Code 15 (a.k.a. the Electoral Count Act) very clearly specify "the President of the Senate," and not "the Vice President." And so, if the VP is not available for ballot counting for whatever reason, the duty devolves upon the President Pro Tempore of the Senate.

This is not merely theoretical, either; it's happened a number of times when the vice presidency was vacant, most recently in 1965. Thereafter, thanks to the adoption of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment in 1967, the vice presidency hasn't been vacant at EV-counting time. In fact, the only times it's been vacant since 1967 are Oct. 10-Dec. 6, 1973 and Aug. 9-Dec. 19, 1974. One of those was while Gerald Ford waited for approval as VP, and the other was while Gerald Ford waited for his choice of VP to be approved.

Incidentally, by custom, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate is usually the dean (oldest member) of the majority party. But it doesn't have to be; if the PPT is unavailable for some reason, they can designate a temporary acting PPT. Alternatively, the majority party is free to choose anyone they want as PPT. And as with the Speaker, the Constitution does not actually specify that the PPT must be a member of Congress. So, for the many readers rooting for President Pro Tempore of the Senate "Weird Al" Yankovic, it's not impossible.


T.T. in Bedford, NY, asks: The New York Times reported that Whoopi Goldberg said repeatedly that "the Holocaust was not about race..." The Times article went on to say that on the same day as the original broadcast, Goldberg appeared on Stephen Colbert's The Late Show, where she "apologized, explaining that, as a Black person, she thinks of racism as being based on skin color but that she realized not everyone sees race that way."

I think that most Americans see race in that way.

Race is now widely viewed as a human construct. That is exactly the point. The Nazis viewed the Jews as an "inferior race." The Nazis cast Jews as a "race" apart—a separate "other" in order to pursue their murderous ends. To view Jews as a race is a gift to antisemites everywhere.

Why do so many people fail to recognize that by saying that the Holocaust was about race, they are embracing the view on race held by the Nazis and by antisemites here and abroad?

V & Z answer: (Z) begins all of his lectures with a question for students that, in some way, helps introduce a key aspect of the day's subject. And the question that begins the World War I lecture is this: "In 1916, there were over 500,000 dachshunds in the United States. By the end of 1917, there were none. Why?" Also, to make sure the students know what a dachshund is, (Z) usually puts a photo of his dachshund Otto on the screen, like this one:

Otto has a guilty look and a large wad of cotton
hanging from his mouth

That was actually taken last night, as part of an investigation into the unknown individual who utterly destroyed a stuffed dog toy while (Z) was at the store. Does anyone have any leads?

Anyhow, the students usually first guess that all the dachshunds were put down, or that they were expelled from the country, and then eventually one of them figures out the correct answer, namely that the name of the breed was temporarily changed from "dachshund" to "liberty hound" as the Americans tried to downplay elements of German culture in the United States. German shepherds became "liberty shepherds," sauerkraut became "liberty cabbage," frankfurters became "hot dogs," German toast became "French toast," etc. Some of those things obviously did not change back once the war was over.

From there (Z) segues into the observation that while Americans today tend to see white/caucasian as a single ethnic group, that's a fairly modern construct, and that until the mid-20th century or so, many westerners perceived white folks as being of many different races: Celtics, Gallics/Latinates, Germanics, Slavs, Semites, etc. And the most important of these divides, in World War I, was between the Gallics/Latinates (the heirs of the Roman empire) and Germanics (the heirs of the people who destroyed the Roman empire). This is part of the reason why, when World War I began, the first thing the Germans did was attack France. In fact, all three of the major wars that the Germans have fought since the modern nation of Germany emerged were against France (Franco-Prussian, World War I, World War II). The racial/cultural divide was not the only reason for that, but it was a big one. In World War II, the Germanic-Gallic divide remained important, but in that case was not nearly as important as the German (Aryan)-Semitic divide that Adolf Hitler used to rise to power.

The British, and the English language, incidentally, are on both sides of the Gallic/Latinate-Germanic divide. The Romans colonized England, and then the Germanic peoples (Angles, Jutes, Saxons) took over from them, and then the French (starting with the French-speaking William of Normandy) took over from them. The English language is an amalgamation of roughly 50% of words of Germanic origin and 50% of words of French/Latin/Greek origin. Since the Brits provided the seed for the United States, not to mention the predominant language, that means that American culture is also on both sides of the Germanic-Gallic divide. Though, when that becomes uncomfortable, Americans sometimes downplay one side or the other. That is how dachshunds temporarily become liberty hounds, or how French fries temporarily become "freedom fries" (remember that?).

Also, note that Hitler was clearly able to overcome his racial ideology long enough to form alliances, to a greater or lesser extent, with the Spanish, the Italians, and the Japanese, all of which are most definitely not Aryan peoples. Perhaps that shows that racism is only skin deep, but fascism goes right to the bone.

Anyhow, many times in class, a student has asked (Z) if the Holocaust was about racism. And his answer is: "First, keep in mind that 'Holocaust' or 'Shoah' specifically refers to the persecution of Jewish people. Second, if we include all of the depredations committed by the Nazis, and we are speaking of racism as it is generally understood today, then the Nazis did target some non-white ethnic groups, most obviously Romani and Black people. Third, if we talk about race and racism as Hitler understood it, then the Holocaust was indeed about racism, since Hitler and the other Nazis regarded Jewish people (a.k.a. Semites) as a distinct and inferior race, despite their (predominantly) having white skin."

In short, there is a clear answer to the question that students ask, but it's also a somewhat complicated answer. Whoopi Goldberg is not a professional historian. In fact, she does not even have a college degree. Actually, she didn't even graduate high school. And while she is obviously very intelligent, there is no particular reason to expect her to be fully versed in these nuances. Further, when you put someone on a television stage, and ask them to talk/debate with four other people, they may misstep on occasion. Clearly, Goldberg's words were not coming from a nasty/antisemitic place. And she quickly recognized her error and apologized on national TV that same night. Actually, she apologized just hours later, since the late night shows tape in the afternoon.

In short, we are not on board with how harshly she was treated—subjected to a public flaying, suspended for two weeks, etc. This seems disproportionate to the "crime," as it were. And perhaps it is not for (Z), who is writing this, to reach such conclusions as a non-Jew, but the Anti-Defamation League accepted her apology, and numerous Jewish celebrities, such as Sarah Silverman, have come to her defense.

Meanwhile, we agree with you that unless a person is paying close attention to the whole controversy, or they have someone to give a rundown on the historical background, they might well come away with the idea that Jewish people are a race, and that it is OK to say that. They could very well miss it that "The Nazis regarded the Jews as a separate race" is a historical truism, while "The Jewish people are a race" is a white supremacist trope. And so, you might argue that the people who are attacking Goldberg are doing as much to mangle people's understanding of the Holocaust as she did with her remarks.

M.B. in Pittsboro, NC, asks: What a strange time for our country—when great courage and statesmanship and charisma are desperately called for...and we seem to be stuck with a cast of characters not quite up to the job.

Have there been periods like this before...and then an Abraham Lincoln or Ulysses S. Grant or Franklin D. Roosevelt emerged to save our bacon? In history, do we tend to skip over the scary hair-raising times when it looked possible we could lose it all? (Douglas MacArthur? Joseph McCarthy? Nixon is recent enough that people still remember...)

This avid reader would be interested in the long view from the resident historian!

V & Z answer: Let's start by talking about Omar Bradley (bet you didn't see that coming). He was the last American to be promoted to five-star rank, and he was the last to hold five-star rank (since five-star officers cannot legally leave active duty in the United States, he was an active-duty five-star general until he died in 1981). After Bradley shuffled off this mortal coil, the rank of General of the Army was retired.

At this moment, in 2022, it is theoretically possible for an American soldier to rise to five-star rank and to win a world war. Similarly, it is theoretically possible for a bigoted Austrian to overthrow the government of Germany and to establish a fascist dictatorship. But there is virtually no chance of those things happening because the necessary underlying conditions do not exist—Germany is not smarting from the loss of a world war and a decade of privations thereafter, the United States is not currently engaged in or interested in a third world war, five-star rank is currently not active, etc.

This discussion is meant to give a brief introduction to the historical notion of contingency: that events are a product of both circumstances and of the people who respond to those circumstances. In other words, to turn our attention to a different five-star general, Dwight D. Eisenhower would not have risen to command of the most powerful military force in world history, would not have become world famous, and would not have become president of the United States if not for the fact that he was born at the right time, and that he graduated West Point at the right time, and that he reached professional maturity at the right time that those accomplishments were available to be seized. At the same time, if Eisenhower was never born, or never joined the military, or retired from the service in 1930, maybe the Allies wouldn't have won World War II. You might say that the war and Eisenhower needed each other.

In other words, it generally takes extraordinary times in order for there to be extraordinary heroes, or extraordinary villains. It seems fair to say that we're living in extraordinary times now, and it's possible that these times have given us extraordinary villains (they usually come along before the heroes do). It's also possible that these times have also given us extraordinary heroes, and that maybe we just don't know it yet. Sometimes, it is very clear when a person is on the path to greatness (or to eternal villainy). Surely, U.S. Grant would have been an excellent bet for greatness anytime after his victory at Vicksburg in July 1863, and possibly anytime after his victory at Shiloh in April 1862. Sometimes, it's not clear until late in their lives, or until after they are done. Lincoln, for example, was only widely recognized as a great man for the last week or two of his life. And Christopher Columbus was a footnote for multiple centuries after he died, became a great hero roughly 250 years after his demise, and then became a great villain roughly 500 years after he died.

D.M.C., in Seoul, asks: As regards your answer to D.D. in Carversville, why do Democrats lack credibility on communism/Russia? More specifically, what event(s) lost them credibility on the issue?

I would think if anything, it should be the other way around, given that Democrats like Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson got the U.S. involved in proxy wars in Korea and Vietnam and Republicans improved relations with communist China (Richard Nixon) and railed against the military-industrial complex (Dwight D. Eisenhower).

V & Z answer: The most important events that wrecked the Democrats' credibility on Communism were the Yalta Conference of 1945 (and the subsequent establishment of Soviet authority over eastern Europe), the Soviets' first nuclear test in August of 1949, and China's switch to communism in October of 1949. These developments frightened many Americans, and Republican politicians—observing that all three events took place under the leadership of Democratic presidents (FDR for Yalta, Harry S. Truman for the other two)—were happy to seize on that political opportunity. And so, the GOP began a sustained campaign of attacks against Democrats, arguing that members of the party did not take the threat posed by communism seriously, or that they were communist apologists, or maybe even that they were secretly communists. The most common expression of this line of attack was the claim that the Democrats are/were "soft on communism."

The specific examples that you point out are quite relevant, but they actually speak to the opposite conclusion of the one you reached. Because Republicans persuaded the American people that they were "strong on Communism," Republican presidents had a wider range of policy options. They could flex America's military muscle, yes, but they could also negotiate treaties, agree to disarmament, relax sanctions, criticize the military-industrial complex, etc. By contrast, if Democratic presidents adopted anything other than an aggressive posture, they ran the risk of being fatally wounded by a new round of "soft on communism" attacks. It is not a coincidence that the two proxy wars of the Cold War era began (or, in the case of Vietnam, dramatically escalated) under Democratic presidents and ended under Republicans. It is also not a coincidence that only Nixon could go to China, and that only Reagan could thaw the chilly relationship with the Soviet Union.

Although the U.S.S.R. is long gone, Democrats are still attacked for being communist apologists/sympathizers, or for being closet communists, though often "socialist" is now used in place of "communist." And if Joe Biden is dealing with a communist or socialist nation—Cuba, or China, or Venezuela, most obviously—he has a narrower range of options than a Republican would. Look what happened when Barack Obama tried to normalize relations with Cuba. Nearly all Republicans, and even some independents and Democrats, went nuts. There would have been far less blowback if it had been George W. Bush.


G.W. in Oxnard, CA, asks: I got a letter from a pollster named and they were offering $2 gift cards if they choose to include you in subsequent surveys. Is this a fake poll where they create a population with the views they want and then use that population to get the poll results they want for subsequent polls? Or is this the future of polling and they are just getting a population that will respond when they want to run a poll?

V & Z answer: This is not inherently problematic. The most difficult (and thus expensive) part of polling is getting enough people to respond. And so, if a pollster finds reliable people, paying them a pittance to stay in the loop can be cheaper and more efficient than finding new people each time. This isn't even a new approach; the Nielsen ratings—to take one example—have operated on this model for decades.

That said, we took a look at, and we weren't terribly impressed. The incredibly generic name of the organization, and the paucity of information on their website, gives us serious pause (and is why we did not link to their URL). If you decide to work with them, proceed with caution, and be very careful about any personal information you give them. Since they already have your e-mail address, you can collect your $2 though PayPal or Venmo and be safe. But don't give them your address or any information about your bank account.

S.Y. in Skokie, IL, asks: I'm asking to self-judge in a sense, but I'm wondering how much influence you believe you have over the electorate outside of your readership—specifically among the decision makers and influencers in the political parties.

You're running a series on how the Biden administration can correct the negatives that are damaging the party in advance of the November midterms. You quoted James Carville as recommending that leftist activists be placed in a "woke recovery program" because of how incredibly dense they are when reading the electorate. A friend of mine, who before retirement was the managing editor of a major Chicago newspaper, agreed that "defund the police" is as politically stupid as it gets.

Joe Biden was handed a crap sandwich the day he took office: clogged supply lines and pent up demand in a post pandemic economy ripe to trigger inflation, the "big lie," Jan. 6, raging COVID variants, rabid anti-vaxxers, and parasitic Republicans eager to pounce on the ignorance.

Biden has been pushing a large rock uphill ever since Jan. 20, 2021. Your suggestions on how to improve his public image make sense, and I agree with you, but are you reaching the right people? Do you get responses from people who work on Democratic campaigns, maybe who work in D.C., even on Biden's staff? I'm a progressive Democrat, have worked in the gun-control movement for 25 years, and I'm more informed than the average citizen. You guys make a lot of sense when it comes to messaging and who should be listening. But do you think the right people can hear you?

V & Z answer: We don't know much more than you do. We've certainly heard from some folks who are in politics, or in politics-adjacent fields. We've heard from some media folks (and seen the occasional written piece that may have been shaped by our write-up). We know we have a lot of academics who are readers.

However, in talk radio, the general rule is that only 1-2% of the audience will ever call in. We would say that also holds for us; we know roughly how many readers we have, and roughly how many have e-mailed us at least once, and we know there's a large "silent majority" out there. Some of them are probably in politics, but haven't announced themselves because most readers haven't announced themselves.

In any event, we all play to our strengths, and in our case, our strengths are assimilating, analyzing, and communicating information about politics (and other subjects). So we do what we do, and let the cards fall where they may. Even if a politician were to call us up and ask to hire us as a consultant, we wouldn't take the offer because that isn't what we do, and because we wouldn't want to be constrained in what we write.

That said, we do have one anecdote that might be relevant. The only requirement for being a presidential elector is not being an employee of the U.S. federal government. Her Majesty the Queen or, for that matter, her great granddaughter Princess Charlotte (who is 6) would be perfectly qualified to be an elector if some party wanted to put either of them in their slate of electors. In 2004, Ohio Democrats put then-Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in the slate of Ohio electors. Brown was most definitely a federal employee. If the election had gone John Kerry 270, George W. Bush 268, Brown's electoral vote would have been challenged in court and thrown out. The tally would then have been Kerry 269, Bush 268, so neither candidate would have the required majority, and the House would have picked the president, with each state getting one vote. The House would have chosen Bush. We had an item about that on Oct 28 of that year (search for "Stupidity" since we didn't have separate items with hyperlinks back then). Within an hour, Brown resigned as an elector and was replaced by someone who was not a federal employee. This suggests that someone close to Brown read that item and called Brown mighty fast. We have also received e-mail from members of state parties and various politicians over the years.

D.V. in O'Fallon, IL, asks: Given the depth of knowledge you both have in politics, have either of you ever appeared or been invited to appear on any talk shows or panel shows? I would love to see you on Real Time with Bill Maher, for example.

V & Z answer: Inasmuch as we are academics, we've both given politics-themed talks. But to get on the TV shows, you have to get on their radar. And in order to do that, you generally either have to write a New York Times bestseller, or win a Pulitzer, or be involved in some major controversial incident, or have an agent to get you booked. You might be surprised how many of these academic talking heads are represented by a talent agency.

We have not done any of those things, nor have we tried to. And even if we did, we'd never accept a booking on Bill Maher's show. One of us lives in the Netherlands, which makes that impractical, and the other of us thinks that Maher has turned into a bitter, old crank who might as well spend his entire show telling kids they need to get off of his lawn. Now, if Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert or Conan O'Brien were to come calling...

Actually, in 2004, when the Votemaster was anonymous until Election Day and this was the only site in the country tracking the electoral vote day by day (and getting 600,000 unique visitors/day) (V) got many, many requests to appear on radio and TV shows, but he turned them all down.

W.G. in Coatesville, PA, asks: I recognize it's beyond the general scope of, but I know (Z) is a football fan (well, maybe just a Packers fan...) and I would love to hear your thoughts on the current state of the NFL (building on your "Commander Decision" item).

Between the obvious owner discrimination against Black coaches (despite a dependence on Black players) and lawsuit from former coach Brian Flores, all of the cover-up happening with the WFT/Commanders, the head trauma issues, etc., it's getting really difficult for me to justify my continued support of the league and game. But football is such an American powerhouse of a sport and business that there doesn't seem to be anything that will take the NFL/football down enough to bring about the fundamental change in the game and culture that seems necessary. And, any change that does come about will, as you've discussed, surely be blamed by the red team on "woke culture." As if being against discrimination, sexual harassment, and head trauma is a "political issue." Ugh. Anyhow, would love to hear more from you about this.

V & Z answer: The NFL is not the world's most admirable business concern, that is for sure. So, we can understand your leeriness about continued fandom, and your notion that maybe you should withdraw your support. That said, there are a lot of sleazy companies doing a lot of sleazy things. Boycotting all of them, or even a large portion, is impractical. You can't fight every battle you might like to.

You are generally right that viewers are going to stick with the NFL, because pro football is so beloved. This year's playoffs have gotten the best ratings in years, making very clear that most or all of the Trumpers who said they were done with the NFL because of the kneeling athletes are now back.

That said, there are other ways that change can come—through lawsuits, like the one Flores just filed, and through government investigations like the one that the, Commanders are enmeshed in, and through the NFL Players' union standing up for themselves, and through highly focused fan/sponsor outrage, such as that which forced the Commanders to change their team name.

In short, change will be coming to the NFL. It may not be instantaneous, but it will happen, and the issues you list will be improved upon. It's also very possible, given the Flores lawsuit and the revelations therein (the privileging of white coaches, but also the alleged tanking of games), that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's head will roll in the near future. If so, that's a big change for the better right there.

M.V. in Kitchener, ON, Canada, asks: I don't recall a week with as many late postings as this week. I don't usually start reading until about 8:30 a.m. Eastern, 30 minutes before most of my meetings start. I hope you guys are OK. Or is this a change of schedule? Either way, stay safe and hope you're all well, even your staff mathematician, a.k.a. the lush.

V & Z answer: Thanks for the kind words and the concern. Nothing is wrong, and there's been no change. Weeks like last week are the kind of thing that happen when one of us needs to take the week off, and the other is resuming his teaching load, and dealing with enrollment issues, and syllabus preparation, and all the myriad stuff like that. It does not make it easier when instruction commences with one mode (online), but that the faculty is told that maybe, hopefully there will be a mid-February switch to a different mode (face-to-face). That complicates things.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb04 Ukraine Crisis May Be Nearing its Denouement
Feb04 The Thrill of Victory, the Agony of Beijing
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Feb04 Mark Zuckerberg Gets Popped in the Facebook
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Feb04 This Week in Schadenfreude
Feb04 Looking Forward: The Readers Predict 2022, Part VII: Congress, the People
Feb03 Biden to Relaunch "Cancer Moonshot"
Feb03 Mo Money, Mo Problems
Feb03 New Mexico Senator Out 4-6 Weeks
Feb03 Vindman Files Suit
Feb03 The Inscrutable Lindsey Graham
Feb03 Zucker Out at CNN
Feb03 Looking Backward: How Did The Readers Do?, Part VII: Congress, the People
Feb02 Trump Looked Into Seizing Voting Machines
Feb02 SCOTUS Derby Is Underway
Feb02 Senator's Stroke Brings to Mind Democrats' Worst Nightmare
Feb02 Democrats Release Electoral Count Act Proposal
Feb02 The Filibuster Does Not Facilitate Debate
Feb02 Commander Decision?
Feb01 Talkin' New York
Feb01 The Biden Trajectory, Part III: He's Out of Touch
Feb01 The Walls Are Closing In
Feb01 Sorry, Mike Pence
Feb01 Sorry, Boris Johnson
Jan31 Biden Gets Lemons in Pittsburgh, Makes Lemonade
Jan31 Pennsylvania Senate Race Is Up for Grabs...
Jan31 ...And So Is the Ohio Senate Race
Jan31 Why Do They Say These Things?
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Jan31 Pennsylvania Court Strikes Down Absentee Ballot Law
Jan31 Socialists Win Big in Portugal
Jan30 Sunday Mailbag
Jan29 Saturday Q&A
Jan28 The Day After
Jan28 BBB Was Only Mostly Dead, It Would Seem
Jan28 Sinema's Sinking
Jan28 Biden: The Least Bad Option?
Jan28 Maybe Trump Has Finally Hit His Floor
Jan28 This Week in Schadenfreude
Jan28 Looking Forward: The Readers Predict 2022, Part VI: Congress, the Legislation
Jan27 Breyer to Disrobe
Jan27 The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh Away
Jan27 Those Texans Sure Are... Inventive
Jan27 Barns Will Burn in Georgia
Jan27 A Useless Idiot?
Jan27 Looking Backward: How Did The Readers Do?, Part VI: Congress, the Legislation
Jan26 Looking Under Rocks for White Grievance
Jan26 The Filibuster May Linger a While Longer, but It's on Life Support
Jan26 Pelosi Is In...