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      •  Saturday Q&A

Saturday Q&A

Better late than never, right?

Current Events

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, asks: I'm curious as to your take on this item from the Huffington Post about CNN's Chris Wallace expressing skepticism over the effect of Thursday's 1/6 Committee hearing. The key quote "But for those who still deny the gravity of the revolt, [Wallace said,] I'm not sure this or anything will change your mind." I deeply fear he is right, and that 30-40% of the American people are too stupid and/or morally bankrupt to accept what is right in front of their eyes.

V & Z answer: To start, note that Wallace said that before the hearing. And, at that time, we kinda shared his view that this whole thing might end up being a case of preaching to the choir, not unlike the audience at a Michael Moore film or a Dinesh D'Souza film.

However, on watching the hearing, and learning that 20 million people tuned in, we are inclined to revise our initial response. The broadcast was, as we wrote, very compelling. The Committee really did nail Donald Trump and his acolytes to the wall, with evidence that is hard to undermine or explain away. That is why, we would guess, the response from the Trumpers has been vague and often kind of tepid. For example, the main thing the former president has offered up this far is the assertion that his daughter was checked out by the end of his term, and so isn't in a position to speak to what was going on in the Oval Office on 1/6. After 90 minutes of testimony, including claims like "Donald Trump incited an insurrection" and "Donald Trump spoke approvingly of having Mike Pence hanged," that's all he's got?

In the newspaper business, there's an old maxim that every copy sold reaches an average of 2.5 people. Given that these hearings were on TV, and that we're in the age of the Internet, we would guess the multiplier is even larger here, and that while 20 million people watched, there will be well over 100 million who receive a report from friends who watched or who watch a clip on YouTube or who read about it in the news. So, we suspect that the reach of the hearings is going to be significant. It is true that some percentage of the voting public is unreachable, and will never turn against St. Donald of Mar-a-Lago. However, like the Watergate hearings or the Kefauver hearings, there will be some people who decide they can no longer look the other way when it comes to the former president. Further, there are also some people who have been affected by Republican gaslighting ("it was just a dustup," "it was a protest that got a little out of hand," etc.) who will be snapped back to reality. And don't forget the Department of Justice, who probably shouldn't be influenced by something like this, but probably will be.

J.A. in Rutland, VT, asks: It seems to me there is a big flaw in the hearings' logic: that Trump engineered a sophisticated seven-part plan. Is that really believable? When has Trump ever been "sophisticated," let alone had a plan of more than 1 step?

V & Z answer: The Committee plainly made a choice to use "Donald Trump" when they mean "Donald Trump and those in his orbit who enabled him." And while nobody seriously believes that the former president is capable of hatching something like this, the Committee's argument is that he broadly encouraged the insurrection with his screw-the-rules behavior and his choice of intimates, he specifically encouraged it by making clear he wanted to stay in office at all costs, and that he deliberately did not take action when he should have in hopes of achieving that goal. In other words, he may not be responsible for the whole scheme, but he was the linchpin.

T.J.C. in St Louis, MO, asks: I am in no way a fan of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-CA), and I'm probably affording him more smarts than he has in this scenario. But knowing he's trapped appeasing a man he would prefer to go away forever—Aren't his actions regarding the January 6th Committee the perfect path out of this mess? Agree to the formation of the Committee, appoint absurdly partisan members, and then walk away when they are inevitably rejected. The Committee gets to do its work free from GOP interference, and the Trumpist wing is damned, perhaps prosecuted. I'm willing to bet when this blows over, that's what he will claim in his memoirs. What are your thoughts?

V & Z answer: He may eventually make that claim, but we are very skeptical. Not only is Trump taking damage here, but so are many members of McCarthy's caucus and so is McCarthy himself. He looked like a very small man, indeed, when Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) observed that he was afraid during the insurrection (they even showed footage of McCarthy's staff evacuating) but then turned around and became Speaker of the Trump.

If this was indeed the plan, it would be a case of accepting short-term pain for long-term gain. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is willing to play the long game like that, and has done so many times. Think of the outrage when he refused to give Merrick Garland a hearing, for example, and then think of how that blew over and worked out dandy for the Kentuckian. We have never seen any indication that McCarthy can, or does, play the long game. He seems to spend all of his time running around like a chicken with his head cut off, putting out whatever today's fires are.

S.C. in Mountain View, CA, asks: I was struck by the contrast between the four officers chosen to testify at the July 27, 2021, public hearing of the January 6th Committee (four men—two white, one black, one Latino—that, while all male, subtly indicated that the United States has a diverse population), and the officer chosen to testify at Thursday's hearing: a blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman. Was this a subtle (or not-so-subtle?) attempt to better reach the predominately white MAGA crowd, those concerned that the United States is a diverse country and becoming more so? That this could be (for the older ones) your daughter or (for the younger ones) your sister? Or am I reading too much into their choice?

Also, in his testimony, documentarian Nick Quested explicitly said that he was there under subpoena. Was that to somehow preserve his credibility as a documentarian, that he normally does not reveal what his subjects ask him not to film, and he was doing so only because he was forced to do so?

V & Z answer: The Committee wanted to pick the two witnesses that gave the most bang for the buck. They had to be credible. They had to be compelling. They had to be complementary, but not so complementary as to be essentially redundant. We suspect that while the most important thing about Caroline Edwards was that she was on the front lines that day and was badly injured, her demographic profile was an additional selling point for some members of the Committee. Of course, even if that is true, they would never admit it, so we will never know for sure.

As to your second question, we think you have the right of it. The Committee wanted to make it clear Quested wasn't a "friendly witness," giving him additional credibility. And he wanted to maintain his professional integrity and emphasize that he's not a partisan who is looking to sell his subjects out. If we were called to testify, we would say the exact same thing, so as to protect our academic and intellectual integrity.

M.S. in Cupertino, CA, asks: Given the public hearings on the January 6th insurrection and also given this year's increase in mass shootings, it made me wonder why guns did not play a more obvious role in the attack on the capitol. The Proud Boys and the Oath Takers, for example, appear to have planned their participation carefully and thought about how to equip themselves, yet I am not aware that much shooting occurred. Is that your understanding too? If so, why do you think guns didn't play much of a role in this horrifying event?

V & Z answer: Quite a few people there were armed with weapons of various sorts, including guns. There are at least 300 confirmed cases of people carrying arms of some sort, and undoubtedly there are more who have not been uncovered. Reportedly, there would have been a far larger number of guns but for the fact that many rioters came straight from the Donald Trump speech that egged them on, and they had to be disarmed to be at the speech.

As to the fact that very few shots were fired by the insurrectionists, we think that is largely a practical matter. There weren't that many "opponents" there for the armed members of the crowd to shoot at. And the opponents who were there were almost entirely police officers. Shooting at a police officer is not a wise call for anyone concerned with their own life expectancy.

P.C. in Yandina Creek, QLD, Australia, asks: I know that lying to the public is fair game (and is considered good business for fundraising), but does lying to Congress constitute a disqualifying action by a sitting member? I refer to Vice Chair Liz Cheney's remarks about her colleagues, specifically their "dishonor." Can a vote, taken knowingly but based on false information, constitute perjury? Do you think this will this lead to attempts to disqualify these members who voted not to certify the election?

V & Z answer: If members of Congress could get in legal trouble, or could be expelled, for casting a vote under false pretenses, there would be no members of Congress left. Certainly, nobody is going to be able to turn that into an act of perjury.

And in any case, members of Congress are entitled to lie/gaslight/misrepresent themselves with impunity while on the floor of the House or the Senate. In the Speech or Debate Clause in Art. I, Sec. 6 of the U.S. Constitution, the framers decreed that, with regard to "for Speech or Debate in either House, [the members] shall not be questioned in any other Place." In other words, you can't be called into court to account for what you said in Congress. The only tribunal to which members answer, in this case, is Congress itself.

So, there's no way any member is going to be disqualified on the basis of having perjured themselves before Congress. Disqualified on the basis of sedition, on the other hand? Keep reading...

J.G. in Fredonia, NY, asks: My question is about the meaning of "sedition." Enrique Tarrio and other Proud Boys were indicted on seditious conspiracy charges this week. In that case, several people discussed the intended act ahead of time, violently carried out the act, an act that challenged the authority of the state: premeditation, violent action, undercutting government. On January 6, a dozen members of Congress, including some senators, acted to undermine the electoral votes of two states. This was premeditated, acted upon, and was contrary to intended electoral vote procedure, but not physically, bodily, violent. The Congress members involved are referred to as the Sedition Caucus. Is this a proper use of the word "sedition"?

V & Z answer: Assuming that one believes the facts underlying the name Sedition Caucus, then yes, we would say it's a proper use of that word. It would be very difficult to actually prosecute a member of Congress for sedition, in part because none of them appears to have left themselves as badly exposed as the rocket scientists in the Proud Boys, and in part because members have pretty broad immunity for things done in the performance of their offices. However, the efforts to disqualify Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and others from future service are based entirely on the argument that they committed sedition, and so ran afoul of the Fourteenth Amendment, which disqualifies from federal office any individual who "shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies."

D.H. in Boulder, CO, asks: It's obvious that diplomacy often means you have to deal with the "bad guys." Because of the oil and economic situation we are dealing with currently it seems we are unabashedly working with the "bad guy" Saudis. It's the country where 18 of 19 9/11 murderers came from and the one that bone-sawed Khashoggi to pieces, among other atrocities and human rights violations. This week is the Summit of the Americas and the "bad guy" countries of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua are excluded over "rights abuses," but I have to believe it is really because they have seriously leftist-leaning and autocratic leadership. My question is: What's the difference? If we can engage with one "bad guy," why can't we engage with another?

V & Z answer: As a general rule, when the United States participates in any sort of visible diplomacy with another nation, that nation is getting some potentially valuable things, among them legitimacy and a real opportunity to advance that nation's interests. If the United States is going to grant this gift, there has to be something in it for the U.S. in return. This is why presidents avoided meeting with the Kim family of North Korea for generations; giving them a seat at the table would benefit them, while the U.S. would get little to nothing out of it. Donald Trump was either too ill-informed to understand this, or too self-absorbed to care; readers can decide for themselves which it is. Either way, Trump put himself in position to be played like a fiddle by Kim Jong-Un.

Turning specifically to the Summit of the Americas, the issue appears to have been, in effect, optics. And the Biden administration reportedly went back and forth for weeks on whether to include those three nations. On the one hand, including them would have meant that all of "the Americas" were represented (and that AMLO in Mexico and Jair Bolsonaro would not have a convenient excuse for skipping the Summit). On the other hand, promoting democracy was one of the stated goals of the Summit, and inviting three very undemocratic nations would have made the Biden administration appear unserious about that goal. Further, any time any Democrat makes nice with Cuba, even a little, the Marco Rubios and Ted Cruzes of the world are railing against that Democrat for selling out to the Castros, socialism, communism, etc. Ultimately—and again, after much discussion—the White House decided that "no invite" was better than "invite."


R.T. in Arlington, TX, asks: In your analysis of primaries, you've drawn a distinction between Trump and Trumpism at multiple points. Personally, I could not differentiate them and explain what Trumpism is as a political viewpoint and I doubt there is a consensus definition in the political media yet. So what I would like to know is what your working definition is so I understand what you mean by the term. Thanks.

V & Z answer: Trumpism is well-enough established that it has a Wikipedia entry. And as the intro observes (in agreement with you): "The exact terms of what makes up Trumpism are contentious and are sufficiently complex to overwhelm any single framework of analysis."

Anyhow, here's what we're going to do. At the bottom of this page, we will give you what we think are the three most significant elements of Trumpism. Before reading ours, if readers are interested in submitting their list of the three most significant elements of Trumpism, we'll run some of those tomorrow, or possibly next week.

D.K. in Iowa City, IA, asks: I am concerned that the January 6 investigation, although it could lead to indictment and conviction of Trump and his associates, might cause people to forget all of the other aspects of Trump's terrible history—his performance as president, his destruction of our environmental policies, his treatment of immigrants, his constant lying, his cutting taxes for the wealthy, etc., etc. How should the Democrats balance their attacks on Trump and the Republicans so that the full message is made clear?

V & Z answer: Generally speaking, we don't think the Democrats should attack Trump at all. His faults are well known, and running on "But Trump [X]!" and "Can you believe Trump [Y]?" has not proven to be a winner. It also tends to suggest that the Democratic Party doesn't have any virtues of its own to extol. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-PA) appears to be delivering an object lesson right now in the utility of avoiding negative campaigning.

Beyond that, when it comes to Trump's faults, the ones that are going to sink in are the ones that are going to sink in, and the Democrats (and the media, and the historians, etc.) can't do much to change that. For example, Watergate was not the worst thing that Richard Nixon did; his escalation of the Vietnam War and his illegal bombing of Cambodia were surely worse. However, Watergate stuck in the craw of people in a way that dead Cambodian civilians did not.

M.W. in Orange County, CA, asks: In the comments on a travel website (yes, really), someone wrote about the media hiding Democratic voter fraud charges in Philadelphia. Can you please comment on the news and address how it feeds the right's perception of voting and American politics? Specifically, how this sort of fraud provides cover for new voting laws and potentially Trump's big lie?

(Here's a link to a right-wing article about it. There's also some news about it found via simple Googling. But this shows the talking points being spread.)

V & Z answer: Nobody disputes that voter fraud exists—barely. But to make the case that it's a "serious" problem, right-wing politicians and media (including the National Review, which is where your link comes from) grossly overgeneralize, so as to suggest the problem is much wider-spread than it is.

Consider this case. The guilty party is Michael "Ozzie" Myers, who is notorious for having been expelled from Congress due to the ABSCAM scandal. Following the logic employed by the "stop the steal" crowd, Congress has itself a huge problem with members taking bribes from wealthy Arabs, right? Because, after all, we have this one high-profile example. Case closed!

In reality, of course, Congress does not have this problem, which is why nobody else has been popped for this (or anything terribly similar) in the last 40 years. Similarly, pointing out a couple of dozen fraudulent votes nationwide doesn't prove anything, since—in the absence of a far, far greater number of examples—those are just one-offs and flukes. When 150 million people all do the same thing, there are going to be outliers and exceptions. We suspect that there are some people who show up to vote nude, and some who are badly injured in car wrecks on the way to their polling places, and some whose ballots are not properly tabulated because their names have more letters than voting systems allow for. But nobody is talking about the epidemics of nude voting, Election Day car crashes, or the cheating of voters named Hubert Blaine Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorff because they are extreme rarities.

It's also worth noting that in Myers' case, nobody is claiming that his shenanigans changed the outcome of any elections, or that anyone besides him knew about it (he was taking money for "consulting" and then, unbeknownst to his clients, using that to bribe the personnel at polling places). Further, the supposed "corrective" for fraudulent voting, namely voter ID laws, wouldn't have stopped Myers anyhow, since he was paying poll workers to stuff the ballot boxes after the polling places had closed.

J.S. in Cape Elizabeth, ME, asks: The Washington Post ran an interesting column about the possibility of candidates running on a fusion ticket, meaning more than one party label. New Jersey seems to be a test case. The idea is to encourage disaffected voters to support third party candidates so as to bolster the center without wasting their votes. Apparently this practice was common in the 19th century.

I would be interested in your comments.

V & Z answer: The author here is Jennifer Rubin, who's usually pretty careful about her wording, but who is a little sloppy here. We will attribute that to the need to meet deadlines and to be economical in prose.

Anyhow, Rubin does use the word "fusion" in the piece. And it's true that fusion tickets were common in the 19th century. Perhaps most famously, William Jennings Bryan was the candidate of the Democrats/Populists in the election of 1896. However, fusion tickets were largely outlawed in the early 20th century, primarily by politicians who wanted to defang third parties. The only remaining states that allow fusion tickets are California (only for presidential elections), Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Mississippi, New York, Oregon, Vermont.

There is also the possibility, which Rubin briefly alludes to, of a third party endorsing a major party candidate without formally "fusing" with the major party. But that already happens all the time.

What Rubin is really writing about is the possibility that a viable centrist third party will form, attracting both moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans. And in this case, it is literally called the Moderate Party. (The last time something like this got serious momentum, it was called the Reform Party. And the time before that, it was called the American Independent Party. And the time before that, it was called the Union Party.) We think Rubin is projecting and/or engaging in wishful thinking because she hates the Trumpublican Party, but she also doesn't want to be a Democrat. As we have written many times, U.S. history shows that the two current major parties aren't going to be knocked off their pedestals by an insurgent third party, even one with a vague-but-appealing centrist-sounding name.


J.C. in Binan, Laguna, Philippines, asks: I can't see anyone talking about this, and I hope you will. How does Kamala Harris' role change with the split Senate? Doesn't this mean that her non-constitutional duties that Biden might have assigned to her will have to be significantly scaled back, as well as possible international trips, so that she can be ready to break a tie at a moment's notice?

V & Z answer: In general, the possibility that Harris may need to break a tie does not seem to be a huge logistical problem. Since the Democrats control both chambers of Congress, they can coordinate with her to make sure she'll be around at the right time, and that nobody gets caught with their pants down. Certainly, she is in residence at her home in Los Angeles a lot, including for more than a week leading up to the Summit of the Americas. And the L.A. to Washington plane trip is not especially different from the trip from most European or South American or Middle Eastern locales to Washington. So, we take her regular presence in L.A. as an indication that she is not especially constrained. That said, there were one or two foreign trips she had to postpone or cancel because of key votes that were on the docket.

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, asks: Why was the special election to fill Kamala Harris's former California Senate seat scheduled for this year's primary/general elections? This will only determine the holder of this office for a period of about two months, an interval dwarfed by the approximately 21 months appointed Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) will have already held the office by then. It seems to me that for a special election to have been worth the voters' time, it should have been held last year (perhaps by consolidating either the primary or the general election with the gubernatorial recall); or if that option was deemed not worth the cost, then it should have been skipped entirely, to eliminate a potentially confusing, relatively inconsequential item from an already long ballot.

V & Z answer: The rules that used to govern Senate vacancies in California were written over a century ago, and have been rarely invoked. Before Harris gave up her Senate seat, the last California vacancy was back in 1991, when then-governor Pete Wilson (R) tapped John Seymour (R) to replace... Pete Wilson. And since 1991, there has been some jurisprudence, specifically involving similar procedures in Arizona and Illinois, that called into question the legality of California's approach to filling Senate seats. The appointment of Alex Padilla reminded everyone of the problem and caused the state legislature to pass, and Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) to sign, A.B. 1495, which overhauls the process to be clearly in line with the law. It used to be that an appointed senator in California could finish the entire term, now they can only serve until they win a special election to be called within 6 months of the vacancy, or until the next general election (whichever comes first).

In other words, Padilla is a fluke because the rules changed while he was in office. Under the old rules, this election-for-a-two-month-term would not have happened, as Padilla would have just finished out the term. Under the new rules, this election-for-a-two-month-term would not have happened, as Newsom would have called a special election last year.

S.W. in Colorado Springs, CO, asks: In your item "Sorry, Lanhee," you note that he is running for controller of California—a position I've never heard of. I've heard of a comptroller, but I'm not clear what that position is either. Could you explain these offices please?

V & Z answer: In the corporate world, there is sometimes a distinction, with a comptroller being more like a Chief Financial Officer and a controller being of lower rank, along the lines of "Accounting Manager."

In the public sector, there is no meaningful distinction. The office of Controller of California was created 170 years ago, at a time when the word "comptroller" was not in common use. Roughly a generation later, people began to use "comptroller" because it seemed to be related to "computer" or "computation," and computation is what comptrollers do. This corruption was widespread enough by the 1890s that The New York Times wrote a cranky editorial about it demanding that "the official title Controller, in all laws, public records, and documents, be spelled Controller, that being historically and etymologically the true and right spelling; and that the false and offensive form 'Comptroller,' born of ignorance and continued in darkness, be discarded."

The Times was ignored, and to this day, the office they were referring to is still known as the New York City Comptroller. But if you look at the list of duties of that office versus the list of duties of the Callifornia controller, they are substantively the same.

C.C. in Hancock, NH, asks: (Z) wrote: "MT-01, despite its numbering, is the new district created because the state picked up a second CD."

How can you tell? If a state goes from one district to two, both districts necessarily occupy the entire geographical area of the pre-split district. What basis is there to declare one of them the successor and the other new, if not numbering?

V & Z answer: Congressional districts do not have "dates of creation" the way that states have dates of admission. However, Montana used to have MT-AL, represented by Rep. Matthew Rosendale (R). Now they have MT-01, which is an open seat, and MT-02, where Rosendale is running for reelection. Which one looks like the new district to you?


S.L. in Glendora, CA, asks: Opponents of regulating guns often argue that we need guns to protect us from government tyranny. But have privately owned guns ever done anything to increase the freedom of the people? At least since the Civil War? (I don't actually know if soldiers used their own weapons in the Civil War.) After all, Jim Crow laws were pretty tyrannical, yet I don't recall gun owners taking up arms against them. And gun ownership doesn't seem to have played any part in getting rid of such laws. Nor does gun ownership seem to have had any role in expanding the voting franchise, or any other freedom, for that matter. Am I missing something?

V & Z answer: You're not missing anything. Up to and including the Civil War, the weapons available to civilians were basically equally matched with those available to the government. In that case, guns plausibly could be used to protect against government overreach. And yes, in answer to your sub-question, some Civil War soldiers did use their own weapons. This was particularly common in the Confederacy, but sometimes a well-heeled Northern officer would get out his wallet and spring for the newest and latest for the men under his command.

As the weapons available to governments have outpaced those available to civilians, the "resist tyranny" argument no longer holds. Now, when it comes to protest and social change, guns are what the military calls a "force multiplier." That is to say, they give small (or smallish) groups of people more power than their numbers would otherwise convey. Terrorism works on the same principle.

And so, effectively by definition, social change cannot come at the end of a gun barrel. If a movement is large enough to actually effect change (Civil Rights Movement, women's suffrage, anti-Vietnam War), they don't need the guns. And if the movement is smaller, and tries to get its way with bullets, it will be stomped out of existence, either via arrests or via return fire.

R.C. in Des Moines, IA, asks: Do you see any parallels to Harry Truman (especially his 1948 campaign's appeal to common people) in John Fetterman?

V & Z answer: Pretty much every politician claims to be the candidate of the "common man." Heck, Donald Trump is worth millions of dollars, lives in a luxury resort, uses a gold-plated toilet, flies in a private jet, and has quite clearly never had to worry about where his next meal is coming from. And yet, he ran as the "common man's" candidate and, by Jove, he actually sold tens of millions of people on that image.

The central theme of Truman's 1948 campaign was not his everyman bona fides (although that was a sub-theme), it was scapegoating what he called the "Do Nothing Congress." And so, a candidate who runs on a "Washington is broken" platform would be channeling Harry S., but that's not really what Fetterman is doing.

Instead, Fetterman is running on a message of "I may look like a ruffian, but the important thing is that I understand and care about the concerns of regular people, and I'm willing to fight for what's right." This does not sound as much like Truman '48 to us as it does Andrew Jackson in 1828.

P.R. in Arvada, CO, asks: In your Memorial Day quiz, in the answer to question 10, you wrote that "World War I really did come to an end at 11:11 (on 11/11)." I am curious where you got 11:11 a.m. from? I cannot remember ever seeing it as anything other than 11.00 a.m. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

Do you have a reference to the original treaty that has the eleventh minute mentioned?

V & Z answer: Because of the poetic symmetry the generals were going for, it was reported both ways in the newspapers of the time (11:00 and 11:11), and as a result, both versions have found their way into many history books. Specifically, in answer to your question, that is how it was recounted in (Z)'s 10th grade U.S. history text.

However, a number of people wrote in, some of them quite annoyed at this gross offense against the historical record. And so (Z) looked into it, and found the order from Marshall Ferdinand Foch, which clearly states an end time of 11:00 a.m. and not 11:11 a.m. So, it was a mistake, albeit not one that affected the answer to that question.

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, asks: Recently, you've twice mentioned the quote, "It's not who votes that counts, it's who counts the votes," remarking that it's "often (incorrectly) attributed to Joseph Stalin," but without giving the actual attribution. Well, out with it already: If Stalin didn't coin the phrase, who did?

V & Z answer: Nobody believes that Stalin said these exact words. He might have said something similar, namely: "I regard it as completely unimportant who in the party will vote and how, but it is extremely important who will count the votes and how." However, there's only one firsthand source for this, that source is unreliable (there are lots of other falsehoods in the book), and the quote doesn't make a lot of sense in context, in view of the fact that there were no meaningful public elections in Stalin's Russia.

It is also the case that the basic sentiment predates Stalin by at least 50 years, and probably more. For example, see this famous Thomas Nast cartoon from 1871:

The cartoon shows a shady-looking
Tweed standing next to a ballot box that says 'In counting there is strength!' It has the caption: 'As long as I count the Votes, 
what are you going to do about it?'

So, Stalin didn't think of it first, he never uttered those exact words, and while he might have said something similar, he probably didn't. It's unknown who first uttered the modern formulation of this particular maxim.


R.C. in Madison, WI, asks: I have to ask about your policies on anonymity. I know the identities of (V) and (Z) are given in an obscure corner of the site, and the identity of regular correspondent S.S. in Detroit was revealed posthumously. But the rest of your correspondents, even those whom you publish regularly, appear to be anonymous.

Do you have any ground rules for preserving the anonymity of your correspondents? Would there be any circumstances where a correspondent has revealed enough information, whether in one or in a series of letters, that we can assume the correspondent does not care to remain anonymous? Have you considered the possibility that a letter which contains enough information to identify a different contributor to your site might get through your editorial process without you knowing?

V & Z answer: We maintain general anonymity because we think it makes it a little easier for people to share their views without concern for recrimination. However, we're not Woodward and Bernstein trying to protect Deep Throat, here, and we don't generally prune responses to eliminate identifying features. We assume that if a person includes enough information to make themselves identifiable, they are OK with the fact that someone might figure out who they are. There are also cases where someone indirectly, and knowingly, outs themselves. Most obviously, if they include a link to their personal website or book.

On very rare occasions, when we know the person really wants to make sure they are anonymous, we remove details that we think are a potential giveaway. But that happens maybe 3-4 times a year.

J.M. in Silver Spring, MD, asks: Do either of you have any idea at all what G.T.M. in Vancouver was talking about when they wrote "The position of the U.S. government is that "For around 98.13% of the earth's land surface, the inhabitants have the absolute right to declare that they no longer wish to belong to the country..."?

Am I just being dense?

V & Z answer: Earth's surface is 196.9 million square miles. The United States is 3.797 million square miles. That means that the non-United States portion of the globe is 193.1 million square miles, or 98.1% of the total. G.T.M.'s numbers work out slightly different from ours (98.13% vs. 98.07%), but that's undoubtedly a Canadian thing. You know, the metric system.

As regards the question above, (Z) thinks the three core elements of Trumpism are xenophobia, disdain for democratic institutions, and the view that all "truth" is subjective. (V) thinks it's white grievance and overt racism, owning the libs, and pissing on the establishment. We will be interested to see what readers think.
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun10 The 1/6 Committee Hearings, Day 1: It Was Carnage
Jun10 The 1/6 Committee Hearings, Day 1: Takeaways
Jun10 The 1/6 Committee Hearings, Day 1: The Response from the Right
Jun10 Michigan Gubernatorial Candidate Arrested
Jun10 Zinke Survives
Jun10 Lawton Tries to Salvage His Career
Jun10 This Week in Schadenfreude
Jun09 It's Showtime
Jun09 What Should the Select Committee Do?
Jun09 Election Takeaways
Jun09 Letitia James Has Subpoenaed Trump and His Kids
Jun09 How Bad Will the Midterms Be for the Democrats?
Jun09 Can Glenn Youngkin Be Cloned?
Jun09 Fetterman Is Advertising on Fox
Jun09 Ratf**king in the Mountains
Jun08 The Tipping Point
Jun07 Senators Wrestle with Gun Control
Jun07 Insurrections Have Consequences
Jun07 Trumps Fire Shot Across Rick Scott's Bow
Jun07 Louisiana Map Struck Down
Jun07 You Lose Some to Win Some?
Jun07 Johnson Cut Down to Size
Jun07 Guest Columnist: Thoughts from a Texas Marine
Jun06 Lots of Primaries Tomorrow
Jun06 Oz Wins GOP Primary in Pennsylvania
Jun06 Election Deniers Are Running to Run Elections
Jun06 How to Establish an Establishment
Jun06 Sasse Wants an Optimistic GOP
Jun06 Trump Faces a Dilemma in Alabama
Jun06 Democrats Face a Dilemma in Ohio
Jun06 Nevada GOP Senate Primary May Not Be a Done Deal
Jun06 Supreme Court Will Issue 33 Decisions This Month
Jun05 Sunday Mailbag
Jun04 Saturday Q&A
Jun03 Democrats "Tackle" Gun Violence
Jun03 Biden to Meet with Saudi Crown Prince
Jun03 DeSantis' Map Will Stand, at Least for This Cycle
Jun03 Michigan Gubernatorial Candidates Will Stay off the Ballot
Jun03 Trump Endorses in Arizona Senate Race
Jun03 "Stop the Steal" Descends into Predictable Madness
Jun03 This Week in Schadenfreude
Jun02 Supreme Court Orders Pennsylvania to Stop Counting Ballots
Jun02 The Investigation of the Leak is Leaking
Jun02 Republicans' Plans to Steal the 2024 Election Have Leaked Out
Jun02 Republicans Will Start Investigations Immediately if They Win the House
Jun02 Select Committee Gives Jordan More Time to Comply with Subpoena
Jun02 Raffensperger Will Testify
Jun02 South Texas Special Election on Flag Day Could Be a Bellwether
Jun02 Top Impeachment Lawyer Is Running for the House
Jun02 Californians May Vote on Numerous Ballot Initiative in November