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      •  Saturday Q&A

Saturday Q&A

What do Stephen Breyer and Vladimir Putin have in common? They both inspired dozens of questions sent to us this week.

Current Events

M.M. in Bainbridge Island, WA, asks: With Ketanji Brown Jackson being Joe Biden's likely pick for the Supreme Court nomination, but J. Michelle Childs clearly being Jim Clyburn's (D-SC) choice, do you see a rift forming between Biden and Clyburn? How likely is it that Biden would choose Childs for the nomination simply to pay back Clyburn for his support during the 2020 primary, or that Clyburn would withhold his support should the president run again in 2024?

V & Z answer: This isn't Clyburn's first rodeo. He knows how politics works, and that when you're in the business, you rarely get 100% of what you want. The Representative is putting Childs forward in hopes that she will be the backup in case Jackson falters for some reason. However, any liberal Black woman will give Clyburn 90% of what he wants, and that will be more than enough to keep him happy.

Also: If Childs really was the only candidate acceptable to Clyburn, then that should have been the deal in the first place—he supports Biden, and Biden nominates Childs. To demand Childs now, when previously the agreement was just "a Black, female justice," would be changing the terms of agreement.

H.F. in Pittsburgh, PA, asks: Any chance President Biden will keep his campaign promise to appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court, but will also atone for his poor behavior in 1991 on the Senate Judiciary Committee and nominate Anita Hill? I'd give anything to behold the reaction of Justice Clarence Thomas should that happen!

V & Z answer: There is zero chance of this happening. First, Hill is 65, which is well above the acceptable age for nominees these days, since presidents want their justices to serve at least 20 years and ideally 30. Second, this sort of stunt nomination would be excoriated by folks on the left and on the right. Third, if Biden is looking to show that he's seen the error of his ways, and that he's more sensitive to these issues now, then putting Hill in a position where she would have to deal with her (accused) harasser on a daily basis is not a good way to communicate that.

J.F. in Fort Worth, TX, asks: Let's say that all 50 Senators who caucus with the Democrats approve of Biden's Supreme Court nominee and that, say, two Republican senators also vote to approve (Mitt Romney, R-UT, and Susan Collins, R-ME, for example). Could Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) engineer a bit of history here by allowing two Democratic senators to symbolically vote "no" so that Kamala Harris, the first Black woman vice president, gets to cast the deciding vote to put the first Black woman on the Supreme Court? The two symbolic "no" votes could be Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla (both D-CA), representing Harris's home state, for example.

V & Z answer: Speaking of stunts, we think that this—while certainly possible—would be unwise. Republicans would say "See! She only got 50 votes, and even two Democrats voted against her." Further, moving heaven and Earth to connect Harris and Jackson in this way would increase the number of slurs against the two women as "Affirmative Action candidates."

B.H. in Glastonbury, CT, asks: Given the possibility that the Senate will change to Republican control after the midterms, I have a question about the timing of Supreme Court nominations and the Senate's "advice and consent." Could the President nominate a justice for the Supreme Court, and could the Senate approve that nomination, before an opening actually occurs on the Court? If so, is there a viable path for Democrats to nominate and approve one or more justices while they control both the White House and the Senate, and then seat one of those justices later when there is an actual opening, assuming they still control the White House?

V & Z answer: No. When the 117th meeting of Congress (i.e., the current one) concludes on Jan. 3, 2023, then the slate is wiped clean: Any legislation, or appointment, or other business that has not been brought to completion disappears into the ether.

If this trick was possible, then when Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was Majority Leader, he would have queued up enough "approved, and just waiting for an open seat" justices to fill the Court three times over.

S.P. in Harrisburg, PA, asks: How does the Ukraine situation impact the United States? If Russia takes them, does it really matter to us?

V & Z answer: In other words, perhaps the U.S. should just appease Putin?

The Russian leader, who in many ways would be more at home in the 19th or 20th centuries, is an old-school imperialist and expansionist. If he were to take all of Ukraine, he would immediately set his eyes upon Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania, or possibly the Baltic States. And he would use the same basic argument that Adolf Hitler did: "These territories are historically a part of Russia" (in Hitler's case, it was "historically part of Germany," of course).

Further, every bit of territory that Putin claims unchallenged not only gives him more resources for mucking around in the world, but also emboldens him in doing so. Better to hold the line here than at the eastern border of Poland. Or the western border of Poland.

C.P. in Silver Spring, MD, asks: Regarding the current situation in Russia and Ukraine, how much could it help Joe Biden and the Democratic Party in the midterms if Putin attempts to push into Ukraine and Biden is able to stop him due to some combination of sanctions and troop deployments? Additionally, how likely is it Putin is holding off serious action because he doesn't want to help Biden in the midterms?

V & Z answer: We would say that, in theory, the sky is the limit for Biden. On Jan. 6, 1991, George H.W. Bush's approval in the Gallup Poll was at 58%. Operation Desert Storm commenced on Jan. 17 and concluded on Feb. 28. On Mar. 3, Bush's approval in the Gallup Poll was at 89%. That's +31 points in the span of just under 2 months. If a U.S.-led coalition were to liberate Ukraine while administering an old-fashioned whipping to the Russian army, Biden could certainly see a similar gain.

We doubt that Putin is basing his decision-making on the midterms. 10 months is a very long time to keep the current state of affairs in stasis.

A.L. in Highland Park, NJ, asks: What is to prevent Vladimir Putin from slowing down oil production in western Siberia? He could threaten to keep that up through the summer. I suspect they have currency reserves to limit the suffering, and how much does Putin actually care about Russian citizens suffering anyway? I don't know much about the Permian or the Bakken fields but I doubt they could take up the slack of a couple of million barrels per day. As gasoline prices stabilize at $5/gallon, the U.S. and Western Europe rush to mollify Putin. Mohammad Bin Salman al Saud takes notes.

V & Z answer: It's certainly possible. This wouldn't affect the U.S. all that much, since it only imports about 20,000 barrels a month from Russia. That's about one day's worth of consumption, and could be made up by tapping other sources. It certainly could affect several European nations, notably Germany. However, the Biden administration has foreseen this possibility, and is already at work trying to arrange alternate petroleum sources, should the need arise.

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, asks: I was very surprised that Chuck Schumer didn't capitalize on the momentum and attention around voting rights to immediately use his remaining tool to get the legislation passed by keeping the Senate in session and forcing Republicans to talk, talk, talk thereby guaranteeing a vote, even if delayed. The timing seemed right since if all other business is suspended, it would only be for, at most, a few weeks, correct? Do you have any theories on why he's keeping this in his back pocket?

V & Z answer: We can only come up with five theories, none of them great. But: (1) Because this is a somewhat arcane maneuver, he may think (or know) that Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough won't allow it; (2) he had foreknowledge of Stephen Breyer's retirement, or had some other reason he did not want to clog up the Senate right now; (3) he has inside information that one of the Democrats in the Senate, most likely Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), would not abide by the scheme; (4) he fears that executing this maneuver will encourage the Republicans to do the same when they're running the show; or (5) he thinks that passing a voting rights bill won't help the Democrats in November as much as running on a platform of "the Republicans hate voting and hate democracy" will.

S.C. in Mountain View, CA, asks: You wrote: "Keeping in mind that the average Fox viewer is nearly 70, and would have been steeped in the 'cold warrior' culture of the 1960s and 1970s, these factors help explain how [Tucker] Carlson can spew such obvious Russian propaganda and have his audience eat it up."

I am confused. I thought that the "cold warrior" culture of the 1960s and 1970s was along the lines of "we've got to stop those godless commies and make the world safe for truth, justice, and the American way" (cue the theme from the 1950s Superman TV show). Why would such a person agree with Tucker Carlson that it's okay for Russia to get involved in Ukraine? What am I missing?

V & Z answer: This was a case of somewhat clumsy writing. What we were trying to say is that Fox's viewership would be expected to be reflexively anti-Russia and anti-Putin, but that their instinctive response is apparently being overridden by the current-day political concerns we listed.

F.S. in Cologne, Germany, asks: Is there Affirmative Action at UCLA? And is it true that Asian Americans (and not white Americans) will be the big winners if the Supreme Court outlaws Affirmative Action? What will be the long term consequences if the Supreme Court outlaws Affirmative Action?

V & Z answer: Public universities in California have been forbidden from using Affirmative Action in admissions decisions since the passage of Proposition 209 in 1996.

And because more than three dozen universities in the Golden State all flipped the switch at the same time, that affords some useful data on trendlines. In the short term, the demographics of UC and CSU student bodies did not change all that much. Longer term, the main trend has been a decrease in white students and an increase in... Latino students. That's surely due to population growth among Latinos and shrinkage among whites, though, and not to any changes in policy or relative levels of academic attainment. So, the data set suggests that the elimination of Affirmative Action won't have an enormous impact.

O.Z.H. in Dubai, UAE, asks: Regarding Affirmative Action, assuming the Supreme Court declares that such a policy is unconstitutional/illegal, how in practice would one prevent colleges from practicing it anyhow? After all, college admissions include a number of subjective criteria, in addition to objective criteria such as GPA/test scores. If Cornell/Brown/Columbia/USC decide to admit a Black student who has an inferior GPA/SAT score over a white student that they reject, how can it be proved that the admission was solely due to the admitted student being Black? Perhaps he wrote a better essay, or had more impressive life experiences, etc.

V & Z answer: In 2019 (the most recent year for which figures for all schools are known), Cornell got 41,907 applications, Brown got 30,397, Columbia got 36,250, and USC got 71,031 (only 68,342 of which came from applicants who drive BMWs). Given this mountain of paperwork, most of which has to be processed in a relatively short period of time, these universities have large staffs that handle admissions. These folks have to know what standards the university wants applied, which means that there would be dozens—or perhaps hundreds—of people who would know that the law was being flouted. A secret known to that many people does not generally remain a secret for long; it would take just one or two staffers who do not approve of Affirmative Action to spill their guts to The New York Times, and that university would have a heap of trouble.

Z.C. in Beverly Hills, CA, asks: You referred to cryptocurrentcy as "the greatest grift of the 21st century." While the crypto currencies are surely unstable and have had some shady elements, your assertion that it's grift seems to be oversimplifying it. It is a currency that has the same standard qualities of currency such as durability, portability, divisibility, uniformity, limited supply, and acceptability. I've never heard mention of crypto currencies on so I'm wondering how you came to this conclusion.

V & Z answer: First, note that we said crypto "might well be" the greatest grift, not that it unambiguously is the greatest grift. As to your question, fiat currencies have attributed value (the backing of a bank or government), which means they are vastly less volatile than cryptocurrencies. That's a big difference.

More importantly, it is not plausible for the average person to get into the fiat currency business. However, it is possible for them to issue their own cryptocurrency, which is why there are over 8,000 of them right now (by contrast, the United Nations recognizes just 180 fiat currencies). It's possible that some of the major cryptocurrencies stabilize and become useful vessels for holding value, but it's also the case that there are many cryptocurrencies out there which are clearly designed as proofs of the maxim that a fool and their money are soon parted. Examples include TrumpCoin, Let's Go Brandon coin, PutinCoin, Useless Ethereum Token, Garlicoin, and F**k Token.

G.W. in Altoona, PA, asks: When will the 1/6 Committee's promised public hearings commence? They even promised to put them in prime time, although that would be overkill.

V & Z answer: We haven't seen any comment from Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) or any other member of the Committee. However, the main purpose of this would be political theater aimed at garnering support for the report the Committee is going to produce. So, if the Committee does hold more public hearings, it will probably be close to when they issue the report.


V.L. in Grand Rapids, MI, asks: Kyrsten Sinema (D?-AZ) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D?-WV) give me serious "House of Cards" vibes, they have to be up to something. Tell me these two kooks aren't planning a presidential bid.

V & Z answer: That scuttlebutt is out there, as we noted yesterday. However, we seriously, seriously doubt it. Such a ticket might seem to make sense in the general election, but it is Democratic primary voters that get to pick their party's candidate. And most of those voters dislike the two apostate senators. The key state of South Carolina, where most Democratic voters are Black and do not like politicians who are passive on voting rights, would be a particular bloodbath.

D.E. in San Diego, CA, asks: You hear a lot in the news about how fragile the Democratic majority is in the Senate, such that one death could shift the power to the Republicans. But in a 50-50 Senate, that cuts both ways. A death across the aisle gives the Democrats a majority as well (without an assist from VP Kamala Harris).

So my question is: which party has more current members in the highest portion of the age bracket, and which ones are in states that mandate a replacement must be from the same party as opposed to it being fully in the governor's power, since some red states have blue governors and vice versa?

V & Z answer: We will limit ourselves to senators who are 70 or older; there are a total of 30 of them. In 19 of those cases, the replacement would be chosen by their state's governor, and the status quo would hold. Generally, this is because the governor is of the same party as the caucus that would be losing a member, but in some cases, as in Kentucky and West Virginia, it is because a governor of the opposite party is legally bound to pick a replacement from the same party as the senator who vacated their seat. Here is that list: Dianne Feinstein (D-CA; 88), Chuck Grassley (R-IA; 88), Richard Shelby (R-AL; 87), Mitch McConnell (R-KY; 79), Jim Risch (R-ID; 78), Ben Cardin (D-MD; 78), Angus King (I-ME; 77), Dick Durbin (D-IL; 77), Tom Carper (D-DE; 75), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH; 75), Mitt Romney (R-UT; 74), Joe Manchin (D-WV; 74), Mazie Hirono (D-HI; 74), Roy Blunt (R-MO; 72), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI; 71), Chuck Schumer (D-NY; 71), John Boozman (R-AR; 71), Deb Fischer (R-NE; 70), and Mike Crapo (R-ID; 70).

The other 11 senators over 70 would be replaced by a special election, generally 3-6 months after they vacated their seats: Jim Inhofe (R-OK; 87), Patrick Leahy (D-VT; 81), Bernie Sanders (I-VT; 80), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT; 75), Ed Markey (D-MA; 75), Ron Wyden (D-OR; 72), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA; 72), Jack Reed (D-RI; 72), Patty Murray (D-WA; 71), Roger Wicker (R-MS; 70), and John Kennedy (R-LA; 70). Special elections are wonky, and in theory anything can happen. Republican Scott Brown won a special election in Massachusetts in 2010 (before being dispatched by then-Harvard professor Warren in 2012). That said, none of the elections that would be triggered by the departure of the senators on this list would be expected to be close, unless it was one of the two Vermonters who departed and Gov. Phil Scott (R-VT) decided to enter the race to replace them.

In other words, it is likely that no senator above the age of 70 would be replaced by someone of the opposite party if they vacated their seat. There are a handful of senators in their sixties—Susan Collins (R-ME), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA)—whose seats would flip if they departed.

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, asks: I think we can agree that if the midterms were held today, the Republicans would likely win both the House and Senate. However, there are ten months between now and November, and anything can happen. There is still time for Pres. Biden and the Democrats to have their political fortunes turn around.

But is there a point this election season where afterwards it would be too late, say Labor Day? Or could they still have a chance up to November?

V & Z answer: First of all, we don't think you can make that assumption about the Senate right now. The map is favorable to the Democrats, and it's going to matter a lot which candidates on each side survive to the general election.

In any event, there is a reason that it's called an October Surprise and not an August Surprise. If something is really big, it can absolutely swing things, even if it comes to light a week or two before the election. Increased early voting makes that less likely, but not impossible. Then-FBI director James Comey revealed that there were "more Clinton e-mails" just 11 days before that election (Oct. 28), and that probably swung it to Donald Trump.

J.B. in Billings, MT, asks: I am a psychiatrist and was curious if you could share some perspective on the Goldwater rule ("prohibits psychiatrists from proffering diagnoses of current public and political figures who have not been professionally examined" from the American Psychiatric Association). My experience has primarily been with ethical discussions about this rule during residency training especially regarding the former president and originated after AuH2O's suit against the magazine Fact in 1964.

Although we psychiatrists (and perhaps other physicians and/or mental health professionals) may fret about this issue, do you think modifying the rule would change much?

V & Z answer: You've got your facts (and your Fact) right. And the article, headlined "1,189 Psychiatrists Say Goldwater Is Psychologically Unfit to be President!" was really sloppy from both a journalistic and psychological perspective. Because it was a takedown piece, respondents were encouraged to engage in wild speculation that often crossed the line into outright bigotry. For example, the psychiatrist who opined that Goldwater's mental issues stem from the fact that he "has never forgiven his father for being a Jew." Further, while 1,189 psychiatrists returned the survey the magazine sent them, over 10,000 did not. That means their results were not only invalid from a polling perspective but that they were based mostly on respondents who really wanted to share their "diagnosis" of Goldwater.

If the APA changed its rules, we would imagine that 99.9% of members would have enough integrity and professional decorum to avoid armchair diagnoses of politicians. But 99.9% is not 100% and, in particular, we could imagine Fox or some other right-wing outlet immediately hiring a "psychiatry contributor" to go on their airwaves and diagnose Joe Biden with dementia, or Kamala Harris with psychopathy, or Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with schizophrenia.

B.C. in Houston, TX, asks: In an item on Donald Trump's legal exposure in Georgia, you included a statement from Donald Trump about his phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R). The first sentence of it is "My phone call to the Secretary of State of Georgia was perfect, perhaps even more so than my call with the Ukrainian President, if that's possible," and the rest of what he said was equally ridiculous.

I was thinking is this from "The Onion" or "The Borowitz report." It is so over the top idiotic and absolutely hilarious... I guess it comes under the heading of "you can't make this stuff up."

That said, did he really, in fact, issue this statement? If so, I am surprised not to find more mention of it in mainstream media. I know people are tired of paying attention to him, but the sheer idiocy of this statement is newsworthy—the guy is taking himself down all by himself!

V & Z answer: Trump has made a living, for the past 50+ years, exaggerating everything to the point of absurdity. He's also a terrible writer, possibly the worst ever to occupy the Oval Office (which is really saying something for a position that was also held by Andrew Johnson and Warren Harding). Recall, this is the man who dictated a letter to be signed by physician Harold Bornstein that asserted that Trump's "laboratory test results were astonishingly excellent" and that Trump would be "the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency."

Anyhow, the statement is real, and it did get some coverage (see here, here, and here for examples). It is just that, as you note, his wild press releases are barely worth noting anymore. We only mentioned it because we were doing a piece on the special grand jury that Fulton County DA Fani Willis empaneled in Georgia.

B.B. in St. Louis, MO, asks: Whatever happened to that large loan that our former president had coming due from Deutsche Bank? Did they just write it off?

V & Z answer: It's actually six loans and not one, and they're not due until 2023 and 2024, so the exact disposition won't be known until then. It also appears that he may have dodged that particular bullet for now. He is 30% partner in two buildings (555 California St. in San Francisco and 1290 Avenue of the Americans in New York City) with the firm Vornado Realty Trust. Because the buildings are valuable and because the primary stakeholder is Vornado and not Trump, JPMorgan has apparently agreed to an equity loan of over $1 billion. It is not known how much of that will go to the former president, but it might be enough to pay off Deutsche Bank.

D.H. in Boulder, CO, asks: This article in The New York Times talking about coins with Donald Trump's likeness surprised even me, and I thought I was past being surprised. But I got over it quickly, so let's move on to the real question. What is the left's equivalent to this? Given the fact that grift must fall on both sides of the political ledger, what would a liberal like me be likely to encounter on Facebook or other social media forum? A coin that celebrates the George Floyd verdict? An NFT with Nancy Pelosi tearing up her notes at the State of the Union speech? Heck, I'd probably buy that type of memento if it really existed, although I would hate to think about where that money might be going.

V & Z answer: There are t-shirts and hats and posters and things like that which are clearly marketed at political liberals, but that's not quite the same thing. There are also some "collectibles" that are marketed at people on both sides of the aisle, like this godawful chess set where Donald Trump and Barack Obama are the kings, and Joe Biden and Mike Pence are the queens, and so forth.

However, the market for cheesy political/patriotic collectibles is clearly directed mostly at conservatives in general, and at Trumpers in particular. This includes coins like the one in the article, but also "fine art" featuring Trump and other right-wing imagery, and stamps, and statuary, and "patriotic knives," and so forth. And the sales pitch for this crap has three elements: (1) It's fun to collect, (2) it's a great investment, and (3) it's a status symbol that says something important about you.

It's not an exact match, but the one collectible we can think of that operates in a similar fashion, and that disproportionately targets liberal collectors is... fine wines and other high-end spirits. There are a lot of people—again, predominantly liberals—who pay hundreds or thousands of dollars a bottle for certain desirable brands and vintages, but who can't actually tell the difference between that and a $20 bottle. In fact, the Times just had a piece about counterfeit high-end bourbon.

R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, asks: Your mention of Orly Taitz reminded me of a couple questions I've had for quite some time: (1) Who paid for this dentist with a law degree to fly around the country filing frivolous lawsuits based on absolutely no facts or law or plausible arguments for extension of the law? (Yes, dentists make quite a bit more than the median US wage, but they don't make THAT much ...), and (2) Why does she still have her law license?

V & Z answer: Folks like Taitz are very good at exploiting willing marks in order to fund their nonsense. In her case, she founded a nonprofit called the Defend our Freedoms Foundation and then collected donations through that. And while she was investigated by the California Bar in 2010, no discipline was imposed. Her misdeeds were deemed to be short of the line required for disbarment, at least in part because she had been sanctioned by several judges already, and at least in part because her conduct took place mostly in states other than California.


T.M. in Downers Grove, IL, asks: Why can non-citizens vote in local elections in some locations? Does this fuel the stolen election lie?

V & Z answer: Non-citizens can vote because everyone is affected by the actions of the government, and folks in some municipalities thus decided that everyone should have a voice in shaping those actions.

It probably does fuel the stolen election lie, if only because the lie is based on hysterical xenophobia, and this plays into that. Just like Joe McCarthy declared that the communists aren't just plotting to destroy America, they're already here, the "stop the steal" folks are declaring that foreigners aren't just plotting to undermine elections, they're already doing it.

However, the truth is that these folks cannot vote in federal elections, as non-citizens are barred from doing so by federal law. There is also no state that has extended the franchise to non-citizens. So, all we're actually talking about is municipal voting, and even then it's in only in 15 cities and towns, all of them in very blue states. Of those cities and towns, 11 are in Maryland, 2 are in Vermont and San Francisco and New York City round out the list.

J.B. in Portland, OR, asks: Your item on Texas's supply-chain issues with voter registration forms made me wonder why online voter registration isn't an obvious substitute in Texas. In Oregon, we can register to vote online. Can you give us an overview of where online voter registration is possible or prohibited?

V & Z answer: You probably wouldn't guess the identity of the first state to allow online registration, but it was Arizona in 2005. Since then, another 41 states and D.C. have joined the party, with Maine the most recent (in July of last year).

The eight states that do not allow online registration: Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas (of course), and Wyoming. A bunch of very red states plus New Hampshire.

B.J. in Boston, MA, asks: Are there states whose gun laws allow patients or visitors to bring loaded guns into hospitals?

V & Z answer: We assume that this question is occasioned by the fact that the legislators who represent your neighbors in Vermont just passed a bill banning guns from hospitals. And the answer is that while federal law, specifically the Gun Control Act of 1968 and the Gun Free School Zones Act of 1995, declare certain spaces (like, say, schools) to be federal Gun Free Zones, hospitals are not included on the list.

And so, that question is left for the states to decide for themselves. Some of them do ban guns from hospitals. Others only ban them from mental hospitals. But most states do not have a specific prohibition against the practice.

J.K. in Bergen, Norway, asks: What is the background of Patrick Leahy's decision to rule the motion to change the filibuster "out of order"? That is, why did he make the decision, and did he have the option of reaching a different decision?

V & Z answer: All that "out of order" means is "the rules don't allow that." Then, if Leahy's ruling had been successfully challenged by 50 senators plus Kamala Harris, it would have set a new precedent that the rules do allow that. He had no leeway in making any other ruling than the one he did.

L.M.S. in Harbin, China, asks: Is a politician tied to one state for their entire political life? Can they switch to another state if they conclude they have no chance to compete in their home state? What inhibits them from doing so?

V & Z answer: There is nothing that stops a politician or a would-be politician from running in whatever state they want, though most states require them to have established residency, which sometimes takes a year or two. "State shopping" is what Nicholas Kristof is trying to do in Oregon and what Mehmet Oz and David McCormick are doing in Pennsylvania right now. A somewhat recent, fairly well-known example is Mike Gravel, who concluded he wasn't going to get elected in his home state of Massachusetts, and so moved to Alaska in the 1960s to launch a (successful) U.S. Senate campaign. Even more well known are Mitt Romney (Massachusetts to Utah) and Hillary Clinton (Illinois to Arkansas to New York).

The downside to state shopping is that the person might be out of touch with local issues, and could be regarded with suspicion as a carpetbagger by voters. Further, for someone who is already in office, it's hard enough to build up a base of support in one state, much less to jump ship and do it again in an entirely different state. So, Kyrsten Sinema to Alabama or Lisa Murkowski to Colorado is not too likely. In the 19th century, by contrast, it was much more plausible. In fact, James Shields represented three different states in the U.S. Senate—Illinois, Minnesota, and Missouri—between 1849 and 1879.


S.B. in Los Angeles, CA , asks: You made the point that one of the "whammys" of the Senate, for Democrats, is that it is "set up in such a way that smaller states are disproportionately represented, often grossly so..." You then contrasted Wyoming versus California Senate representation versus population.

I studied constitutional law in college and law school and I seem to remember that this was actually meant to be a feature not a flaw, purposefully put in place by the founding parents. The legislative branch needs to be considered in toto—the House and the Senate. The small states (Connecticut, Rhode Island, etc.) were afraid of being constantly outvoted by the larger more populous states (Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, etc.) so the two chambers were set up to allow small and large states to have converse powers depending on population versus equal representation.

That's why certain powers were reserved for each chamber—for example, tax bills must start in the House (the People's chamber) and the Senate (equal representation) considers treaties and presidential appointments.

Incidentally, I do support modifying or eliminating the filibuster. Just for the sake of historical accuracy, would you please outline your understanding of this facet of our legislature?

V & Z answer: Your understanding is entirely correct. However, when the Constitution was written, the most populous state was Virginia, with about 690,000 people. And the least populous state was Delaware, with about 60,000. Clearly, the Framers were comfortable with a certain amount of imbalance. But there's also a case to be made that they would have proceeded differently if they had anticipated imbalances of 40-to-1, or 50-to-1, or 60-to-1. Also, one notes that they did not write the filibuster into Article I, which means they did not intend for 41 senators to be able to outmuscle the other 59 (or, in their time, 11 to be able to outmuscle the other 15).

D.D. in Carversville, PA, asks: Has there been a re-evaluation/devaluation of Ronald Reagan? He used to be a saint among Republicans and admired (solely) for his media skills by Democrats. These days, Democrats continue to complain about Reagan policies leading to the wealth inequality of today, and Republicans have forgotten him, since Donald Trump never ever mentioned him (didn't want the competition). Would "Communist Russia" (and Republicans by implication) be a useful bogeyman for the Democrats now? And has there been such a quick minimalization of a consequential former president (only 30-35 years)?

V & Z answer: Reagan is still honored by Republicans as a symbol of nationalism and patriotism. However, his actual policy agenda, beyond tax cuts, doesn't align well with the current iteration of the GOP. Reagan was OK with some tax increases, with some gun control, and with international alliances. He did not approve of cozying up to Russia, border walls, refusing to reach across the aisle, and other things that characterize much of the modern Republican Party.

We think that many Democrats have always regarded Reagan with suspicion. There's a certain conservative element in the party (think: Joe Manchin) that liked him, and still does, but they are not the majority in the Party.

We doubt that railing against Communism would work for the Democrats. There are some issues on which the Republicans will likely never have credibility again, like environmentalism. And there are some issues on which the Democrats will likely never have credibility again, and fighting Communism/Russia is one of those.

And finally, there have been many big swings in presidential reputations, including in the years immediately following their time in office. Harry S. Truman went from "awful" in 1953 to "near great" by 1970, for example. Ulysses S. Grant went from "great" in 1869 to "awful" by 1896, to give a second example. But perhaps the most dramatic swing was with Warren Harding. When he died in 1923, he was regarded as one of the greatest U.S. presidents. But in under a decade, thanks to Teapot Dome and the belief that he'd helped lay the groundwork for the Great Depression, he had sunk to the bottom of the list.

S.D. in Atlanta, GA, asks: Can you explain the impact of the vice president, historically? The media seems obsessed with Kamala Harris, but when did the VP ever really do anything substantive? I suppose an argument can be made that Dick Cheney was the most influential VP in recent times. But did he change the expectation for the office?

It just seems the media expects more of the VP today than has been the case historically.

V & Z answer: For a long time, the Veep was mostly used to balance the ticket, and was regarded as more of a member of the legislative branch (as President of the Senate) and not the executive branch. Rarely were they a member of the president's inner circle, and often they didn't even bother to reside in Washington, D.C.

The practice of treating the Veep as a valued member of the administration, and an asset in governance, really began with Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale. Since that time, the two things that VPs do most often are serve as the point person on key initiatives or policy goals and act as liaison to Congress. It is not a coincidence that the four most consequential veeps thus far—Mondale, Al Gore, Dick Cheney, and Joe Biden—were all former members of Congress, while three of them served under presidents who were not.

That said, nearly all of the power of the vice presidency is informal and is at the discretion of the president under which they serve. We do think that the media have been unduly interested in tearing Harris down.

J.E. in Boone, NC, asks: M.M. in San Diego posed an interesting question about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' (R-FL) tough-guy-with-a-squeaky-voice dilemma. (Loved the cartoon humor observation!) It got me wondering about other Presidents' voices. Listening to all of them from the first known recording of Benjamin Harrison to the present, I'd say that several had voices that were higher pitched and nasal, e.g. Grover Cleveland, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Dwight D. Eisenhower (sort of), John F. Kennedy, and George H.W. Bush. Additionally, I think I remember reading a piece on another site that suggested Kamala Harris should get a voice coach to tone down the shrillness of her voice. Similar items have been written about other female politicians. (Clearly sexist in my mind.)

My questions are these. How important to you think the sound of a Presidential candidate's/President's voice is, or is this mostly just DeSantis' issue with the whole macho shtick? Who do you think had the most "presidential" voice in modern memory?

Finally, just so everyone knows, Daniel Day-Lewis did an excellent job, but Royal Dano will always be the voice of Abraham Lincoln!

V & Z answer: It's true that a great many presidents had somewhat high-pitched voices. As we've noted a few times, it was something of a necessity to be successful in the pre-amplification era, since otherwise their speeches would not be heard by folks in the back rows.

Our guess is that voice probably does matter some, though it would be hard to quantify that. The same goes for overall attractiveness, or being overweight. When it comes to voice, Margaret Thatcher famously took steps to deepen her voice, and believed it was a critical step forward in her political career.

And the president who probably got the most mileage out of his voice was Franklin D. Roosevelt. He sounded very patrician, and his fireside chats undoubtedly created warm associations for many Americans. Probably the most soothing voice was Ronald Reagan's. And probably the most commanding voice was Barack Obama's.


K.P. in Grand Rapids, MI, asks: I love reading daily. Are there any political related podcasts that you all tend to listen to? I do enjoy "Cafe Insider" with Preet Bharara and Co., but beyond that the NYT Daily, NPR Politics daily, and Crooked Media just don't do it for me.

What do y'all enjoy?

V & Z answer: (V) doesn't listen to many podcasts, and as for (Z), he mostly listens at times when he's trying to clear his mind. So, the only politics-related podcast he subscribes to is "Now and Then," with Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Freeman, which is another CAFE network podcast. Beyond that, it's a couple of Star Trek-themed podcasts, "M*A*S*H Matters," "Handel on the Law," "ICYMI," "Stuff you Should Know," "Freakonomics Radio," "Trivia Time," and a couple of podcasts about game show history.

If readers have politics-themed podcasts they like, send us the name, and ideally a few sentences explaining the subject matter/why you recommend it, and we'll run some recommendations tomorrow.

C.E. in San Francisco, CA, asks: As someone who grew up in Rhode Island, I was pleasantly surprised to see three letters from Rhode Islanders in Sunday's mailbag (including one from my childhood hometown of East Greenwich). That got me wondering: what state has the most active readers, in terms of Q&A and mailbag letters published, per capita?

V & Z answer: Technically, the answer is Wyoming, but that's because the state has a small population, and we have a couple of fairly frequent e-mailers from there, most notably R.L.D. in Sundance. If we decree that a state has to have a minimum of, say, 10 different correspondents in order to be considered, then the answer is Oregon.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan28 The Day After
Jan28 BBB Was Only Mostly Dead, It Would Seem
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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...
Jan26 ...While Cuellar Has Trouble...
Jan26 ...And Cooper Is Out
Jan26 The Slow-Moving Coup, Part VI: The Good News, Vol. II--The Republicans
Jan25 The Slow-Moving Coup, Part V: The Good News, Vol. I--Time
Jan25 Biden's Trajectory, Part II
Jan25 Biden Has a Reagan Moment
Jan25 It's Still Donald Trump's Party...
Jan25 ...And It's Getting More Authoritarian by the Day
Jan25 Supreme Court to Hear Affirmative Action Case
Jan24 January 6 Was Just the Beginning
Jan24 Blinken: We're Ready No Matter What Russia Does
Jan24 Thompson: We Will Share Information with the Dept. of Justice
Jan24 Arizona Democratic Party Censures Sinema
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Jan23 Sunday Mailbag
Jan22 Saturday Q&A
Jan21 Rudy Giuliani Is in Trouble...
Jan21 ...Of Course, So Is Donald Trump...
Jan21 ...And Maybe Rep. Henry Cuellar, While We're at It
Jan21 This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things
Jan21 Biden's Trajectory, Part I
Jan21 This Week in Schadenfreude
Jan21 Looking Forward: The Readers Predict 2022, Part V: The Supreme Court (and Other Legal Matters)
Jan20 Manchin and Sinema Meant What They Said, and They Said What They Meant
Jan20 Three Strikes and Trump Is Out
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