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Biden Comes Out Firing

When we previewed Joe Biden's 1/6 address, we pointed out that some Democrats wanted him to keep things low-key and fairly neutral while others wanted him to get out his flamethrower. We weren't sure what the President would do, but we know now: flamethrower.

If you want to watch Biden's speech, you can do so here. If you want to read the transcript, you can do so here. From where we sit, he had three things he wanted to communicate, roughly in this order:

  1. Donald Trump Is a Loser: The 45th president's name did not appear in the text of the speech, but the man himself certainly did. In fact, it began in the first minute of the address, with this:
    For the first time in our history, a president had not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol.
    Things got even more biting later:
    He's done so because he values power over principle, because he sees his own interest as more important than his country's interest and America's interest, and because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution.
    We suspect Barack Obama has just been dethroned as Trump's least-favorite public speaker.

  2. Pushing Back against the Big Lies: Normally, the talk is of the Big Lie, namely the claim that the election results were fraudulent. Biden split it into three Big Lies: (1) that Election Day 2020 was the real insurrection, (2) that the elections returns were fraudulent, and (3) that the insurrectionists were (and are) great patriots. The President had strong words as he slapped down each of these lies. In particular, he highlighted a rather serious weakness in Big Lie #2:
    Just think about this: The former president and his supporters have never been able to explain how they accept as accurate the other election results that took place on November 3rd—the elections for governor, United States Senate, the House of Representatives—elections in which they closed the gap in the House.

    They challenge none of that. The President's name was first, then we went down the line—governors, senators, House of Representatives. Somehow, those results were accurate on the same ballot, but the presidential race was flawed?
    Democrats (and debate moderators) would be wise to keep that particular question in their back pockets, to be asked of Republican candidates during the 2022 election cycle. Because, of course, there is no good answer.

  3. A Call to Arms: The climax of the speech, as one might expect, was a dire warning about the threats to American democracy coupled with strong encouragement for Americans to push back. The heart of this portion of the address:
    I said it many times and it's no more true or real than when we think about the events of January 6th: We are in a battle for the soul of America. A battle that, by the grace of God and the goodness and gracious -- and greatness of this nation, we will win.

    Believe me, I know how difficult democracy is. And I'm crystal clear about the threats America faces. But I also know that our darkest days can lead to light and hope.
    There was a lot of additional stuff along these lines.

Biden spoke from Statuary Hall in the Capitol and he was, of course, the headliner. The opening act was VP Kamala Harris, whose address was much shorter (8 minutes as compared to 25 minutes). If you want to watch Harris' speech, you can do so here. If you want to read the transcript, you can do so here.

Harris' remarks were not as... notable as Biden's were. In part, that is because she had much less time, and she was clearly supposed to leave most of the pins up for the President to knock down. In part, it is because she's not an experienced speaker. In particular, she is clearly not used to the teleprompter, as the pauses in her delivery were awkward to the point of being distracting. That said, her argument was that the events of 1/6 were just as much an attack on democracy as the events of 9/11, or those of December 7, 1941. We assume everyone recognizes the latter date, but if not, that's the day that the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor.

Actually, the biggest Kamala Harris news of the day was not her speech. It was previously known that on Jan. 6, a pipe bomb was placed at DNC headquarters by a still-unknown person, and that the discovery of the bomb led to the evacuation of an unnamed non-Biden Secret Service protectee. Yesterday, Politico revealed that the person in question is Harris. In the end, that is not that shocking a revelation, since there can't be too many non-Biden Secret Service protectees hanging around the DNC's headquarters.

There was also a 1/6 commemoration held by members of Congress. It was a brief candlelight vigil with a very short address by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), a moment of silence, and a prayer. Because the legislature is out of session right now, there were only 50-60 Democratic members in attendance. There were also two Republicans there. One of them has the last name Cheney, and the other... also has the last name Cheney. That's right, it was Rep. Liz (R-WY) and her father Dick, and both were warmly received. It's a strange world, indeed, when the Cheneys are moderates and are popular with Democratic members of Congress. That certainly would not have been the case circa, say, 2005.

In terms of the new breed of extreme Republicans, the duo we alluded to yesterday held their event... and got zero coverage. We did not name these two Southern members whose last name starts with 'G' yesterday, and we don't really feel like doing so today, either. The less oxygen they get, the better. However, reader T.W. in Norfolk, England, UK sent us a picture that gives a clue as to both of their last names if you're struggling to figure it out:

A green-colored pair of gates

Well played, T.W.

Other Republicans avoided such obvious displays of theatricality, but most of the biggies made sure to get their talking points out there. Donald Trump, of course, blew his stack, and issued a statement asserting that Biden is just trying to distract people from his own failures. Newt Gingrich appeared on Fox, and said that the real villain of 1/6 is Pelosi. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) took to Twitter to share his view that Biden's speech probably helped enable the Taliban. Fox talking head Tucker Carlson mocked it all, decreeing that "Really not a lot happened that day if you think about it."

You get the sense that most or all of these Republicans would have said most or all of these things regardless of what Biden said in his speech. That means that, in the end, there was really no downside to him bringing the flamethrower. Republicans were going to be angry anyhow, and many Democrats are now thrilled. The question is where Biden goes from here. Was this a one-off, or will "protect the integrity of presidential elections" become a top agenda item for 2022, alongside "protect voting rights" and Build Back Better? (Z)

Menendez Jr. Is In...

It's been rumored for weeks, and now it's official: Robert Menendez Jr., son of Sen. Robert Menendez Sr. (D-NJ), is running for the House of Representatives in NJ-08, the district being vacated by the retiring Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ). "This is a generation defining moment. How we move forward in a time of insurrection, global pandemic, and economic uncertainty will define the America we leave for our children to inherit and will take all of us working together to succeed," Menendez Jr. declared in his candidacy announcement. He may not be fully aware how little power a freshman representative has in a chamber with more than 400 members.

The district, under the state's new district maps, is D+47. So, the only question is which Democrat will replace Sires. Menendez Jr. has no experience in elective office, but he does have name recognition, and his father has already lined up much of the Democratic establishment behind the candidacy, so Junior will be hard to beat. Senior held the seat before Sires did, and as you might gather from the last names of these three men, it's a majority-Latino district (52.7%). So, that likely further limits the pool of candidates who might plausibly defeat Menendez Jr.

It is very clear that Junior is being groomed to replace Senior, who will turn 71 just days before his current term runs out in January 2025. The odds are pretty good that the (attempted) baton pass happens then. (Z)

...and Kristof Is Out (at Least for Now)

The race to succeed the term-limited Gov. Kate Brown (D-OR) was set to be a real barnburner, involving two high-profile Democratic officeholders (Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek and State treasurer Tobias Read), a popular Pulitzer-prize-winning columnist (Nicholas Kristof), a gaggle of lower-tier Democrats, and at least 20 Republicans, most of whom nobody has ever heard of.

It will probably still be a barnburner. But it probably won't involve Kristof, who was informed yesterday that he's been kicked off the ballot. The problem is that candidate for office in Oregon must reside in the state for 3 years prior to the election. Kristof says he cleared that bar, but his argument is complicated by the fact that he was working for The New York Times, had a residence in New York, and has been voting in New York, including in 2020. To the untrained eye, that makes him seem like a resident of... New York. To the trained eye, too, in particular the trained eye of Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan (D), who is the final decider here. In a press conference explaining Kristof's disqualification, she said "it wasn't even a close call."

Kristof responded, of course, by filing a lawsuit and vowing that he will ultimately prevail in court. He's also going to continue campaigning while he waits for a decision. Presumably, given the time constraints involved (the deadline for being on the ballot is Mar. 8), the decision will be expedited. Kristof was outraising everyone in the race, Democrat and Republican, with nearly $3 million in receipts thus far. It won't be easy to increase that total, however, until such time that he becomes a valid candidate again. (Z)

Looking Forward: The Readers Predict 2022, Part II: Donald Trump's Family and Supporters

Time to look forward again. Here are the first eight entries in this series:

We've had several readers suggest that we should set the boldness points now, since now is a better time to make that judgment. This seems like a good idea, so we're going to do it. We will go back over the weekend and add that to the predictions we've already run.

And now, here's what the readers see in the year ahead for Donald Trump's family and supporters:

The predictions will be back next week. (Z)

This Week in Schadenfreude

Legendary football coach and commentator John Madden died last week. We strongly considered doing an obituary of him (and of Betty White), but the politics connection just wasn't there, no matter how much we stretched. Heck, we couldn't even figure out what political party Madden favored, as he almost invariably kept silent on political issues.

Anyhow, in addition to his work on the field and in the booth, Madden is well known—very possibly best-known—for lending his name to a wildly successful Electronic Arts video game. It was originally known as John Madden Football, and then in 1994 began to be numbered by year (e.g., Madden '94, Madden '95, Madden '96, etc.). The series' sales are well north of 100 million, and the total playtime is in the hundreds of billions of hours. (Z), for his part, mastered the art of throwing deep bombs from Stan Humphries to Vance Johnson in Madden '94, and then recovering onside kicks at a rate greater than 90%, resulting in very non-football scores like 106-3, 98-0, and 121-7.

When Madden passed, just about everyone who commented on it also mentioned the video game series. That includes Andrew McGregor, who teaches history at Dallas College. While approximately 99.999% of the comments on the Madden football franchise (and on Madden's life) were complimentary, however, McGregor decided to go for the throat. "I have lots of opinions on John Madden," he tweeted. "The creation of the Madden video game was not a great development for the U.S. It further glamorized violence and dehumanized Black athletes, helping to establish plantation cosplay that has grown worse in the era of fantasy football."

That tweet contains a trifecta of things guaranteed to piss people off: academic jargon, bending over backwards to "discover" racism, and an (implicit) attack on a beloved and recently deceased public figure. If only he'd waited a few days, he could also have gotten Betty White in there and really pushed some buttons.

Now, at this point, we want to tread lightly. Only McGregor knows exactly what his motivations were. However, he's a white guy, and—again, we're trying to tread lightly—any academic has had experience with caucasian colleagues eager to demonstrate how "woke" they are. It is certainly hard to accept that his sentiments were genuine and well considered. After all, there are over 1,000 Black athletes in the NFL at this very moment, and McGregor's tweet clearly implies that they are not clever enough to realize that they are modern-day slaves. It doesn't make things better that many Black NFL players are notable fans of the Madden franchise, up to and including participation in professional video gaming competitions.

As it turns out, Twitter was doubly not McGregor's friend here. He got blasted for his comment, of course. And then, it occurred to some folks to take a look through his past tweets. And when they did so, they found this:

A 2017 tweet from McGregor reads
'The fake kneel down is the exact kind of play I would have used against my brother in Madden. It would have perfectly 
complemented my fake punt offense.


It is certainly possible that McGregor has had a "come to Jesus" moment on Madden in the 4 years since he wrote that tweet, and that he really and truly is enraged by the racism that the former coach enabled by... putting his name on a video game. However, Occam's razor suggests that McGregor was performing a little political theater in search of some attention and/or "woke" cred, and he got caught red-handed talking out both sides of his mouth. If so, then that's certainly cause for some schadenfreude. (Z)

Foreign Elections to Watch

As it turns out—and you might not know this—there are other countries besides the United States. Some of them also have elections, and some of them even have important elections scheduled for this year. Seems a little rude to steal attention from the U.S. midterms like that, but there it is. Anyhow, here are some 2022 elections that should be of interest, listed in rough chronological order:

  1. South Korea (March 9): President Moon Jae-in is term-limited, so he's on his way out. He was popular at the start of his term, in significant part because he replaced a crook, Park Geun-hye, who was impeached and sentenced to prison. He became even more popular when he met with Kim Jong-Un to discuss possible reunification. Since then, however, Moon's approval numbers, along with those of his left-wing Democratic Party (DP), have cratered in response to the pandemic surge and ongoing economic turmoil. Playing the Jerry Ford role to the fullest, Moon has already announced that he's going to pardon Park before he leaves office.

    Hoping to replace Moon are Lee Jae-myung of the DP and Yoon Seok-youl of the right-wing People Power Party (PPP). On domestic policy, the two candidates are quite different—Lee wants a universal basic income, and has said that he considers Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to be a personal hero. Yoon has not said that he considers Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to be a personal hero, but he might as well have, as his domestic platform is abolishing the minimum wage and the 52-hour workweek. In foreign affairs, both candidates favor closer relations with North Korea, possibly including reunification. Early in the race, Yoon led in nearly every poll, but since then, Lee has consistently been in the lead. As with the U.S., a big question is what turnout will be like among young people, who strongly favor Lee, but who often fail to show up to vote.

  2. Australia (March, April, or May): Prime Minister Scott Morrison has some discretion as to when this year's elections will be held, but they have to take place by May 21, and on a Saturday, and there has to be at least 33 days allowed for people to prepare their democracy, for campaigning. Morrison and his center-right Liberal Party are shooting for a fourth term, while Anthony Albanese and his center-left Australian Labor Party are hoping to take power for the first time since 2013, with a platform focused on combating global warming. Polls suggest that voters like the Labor Party better, but also that they like Morrison better, so this could go either way.

  3. Hungary (April or May): Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, like many other incumbents named here, is a right-wing populist. He's staunchly pro-Christian (and anti-Muslim), he loves to rail against foreigners, and he has very little regard for human rights or freedom of the press. You'll be shocked to learn that he already has Donald Trump's endorsement. On the other hand, Orbán was the only leader of an EU country not to be invited to Joe Biden's 2021 democracy summit.

    Orbán is seeking a fourth term as prime minister, and this will be the first time he faces a serious challenger. The Movement for a Hungary of Everyone, which might as well be called the Everyone Who Hates Orbán Party, went through a voting process that settled on Péter Márki-Zay as the unity candidate. Márki-Zay is center-right by European standards, which means he'd probably be a Democrat if he lived in the U.S. Currently, polls have the race as a dead heat.

  4. France (April 10 and 24): President Emmanuel Macron is eligible for reelection. He hasn't declared his candidacy yet, but he's expected to do so any day. Macron's approval is in the 40s right now, which is above average for a French president nearing the end of their first term. Despite not being a candidate yet, Macron has the support of 25% of voters. When the first round of voting is held on April 10, he's likely to advance, but not likely to get the 50.1% of the vote that would cause the April 24 runoff to be canceled.

    Who will be Macron's main challenger? Well, there are three folks on the right who are all polling at around 15% right now. The most moderate of the three is Valérie Pécresse of The Republicans. Her politics are quite similar to those of... Dwight D. Eisenhower. So, she's pretty centrist, though still to the right of Macron. Considerably less moderate is Marine Le Pen of the National Rally, whose main platform is xenophobia, but a kinder, gentler xenophobia than that of her father Jean-Marie, who was expelled from the Party by his daughter. Furthest right is Eric Zemmour, a former television personality whose signature issue is the French version of "replacement theory"—that the "true" French people are being supplanted by Muslims.

    Macrom is expected to defeat whichever of the three right-wingers makes it to April 24, though Pécresse could give him a real run for his money if it's her. Even if Macron does win, however, he could find himself handcuffed if his La République En Marche Party does poorly in June's parliamentary elections. Right now, polls and local election results are not promising for them.

  5. The Philippines (May 9): Rodrigo Duterte is a right-wing populist with authoritarian impulses who has encouraged violence against his enemies, been criticized for mismanaging the pandemic, and caused a minor scandal when he became the first presidential candidate in generations to refuse to disclose his assets. That seems familiar, though we're struggling to put our finger on who else might match that description. In any case, Duterte is term-limited, and it looks like there will be about a dozen candidates vying to replace him. One of those may be the most famous Filipino in the world, namely boxer Manny Pacquiao, who currently serves in the Senate of the Philippines.

    However, as much as Filipinos might like boxing, they apparently like political dynasties even more. Polls say the overwhelming favorite is Bongbong Marcos, son of two former leaders of the Phillipines, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. Bongbong is consistently polling in the 50s, nobody else is above 15%. The vice president is elected separately, and the leader in that race is... Sara Duterte-Carpio, daughter of Rodrigo.

  6. Colombia (May 29, with a possible runoff in June): President Iván Duque, a staunch right winger, is both term-limited and unpopular, thanks to—wait for it—the pandemic, and the resulting economic upheavals. In addition, he's been rather passive about adherence to the peace accords that ended the country's decades-long civil war, and has tolerated extreme acts of police violence against protesters. There are more than 60 candidates in the race to succeed Duque, and nearly all of them are leftier than he is, to varying degrees. The clear favorite, at the moment, is Sen. Gustavo Petro, a former guerilla and member of the leftist-progressive Humane Colombia Party. Petro is polling at about 20%, which may seem low, but is more than four times more support than any other candidate is getting.

  7. Kenya (August 9): There are 44 federally recognized tribes in Kenya, and during elections voters tend to prioritize tribal identity over political parties. The problem is that when an election turns tribal, and those tribes have a history of violent conflict, then the elections often turn violent. Blood has been spilled during every Kenyan election since 1992.

    The most recent election, a 2017 contest that pitted President Uhuru Kenyatta against four-time candidate Raila Odinga, was particularly ugly. The counting of the votes was... questionable at best, and Odinga filed suit. However, in a somewhat shocking turn of events, Odinga decided he did not want more blood to be shed and so he dropped his suit and joined with Kenyatta in supporting electoral reforms meant to reduce tribal tensions. Odinga's right-hand man, William Ruto, opposed the reforms, which did become law, but then were struck down by Kenya's Supreme Court.

    Kenyatta is now term-limited, but Odinga will be back for a fifth bite at the apple, while Ruto will be trying for a promotion. Kenyatta is expected to back his former rival, Odinga, even though they are from different parties and different tribes. Ruto and Kenyatta are of the same party and tribe, and used to be close, but now they hate each other. At the moment, polls give Ruto a solid lead, but that could change if Kenyatta does indeed line up behind Odinga.

  8. Brazil (October 2 and October 30): The President of Brazil is Jair Bolsonaro, yet another right-wing populist. He switched political parties shortly before running for president. He downplayed the pandemic and then promoted quack cures. He has rallied against foreigners. He has questioned the security of Brazil's election system, and said that he will question the legitimacy of any election he loses. He fetishizes the military. As with Duterte in the Philippines, this description may bring some other politician to mind.

    Unlike Duterte, Bolsonaro is not term-limited, and so he is running again. He's got a fair bit of baggage, though; beyond negative responses to his leadership and his political program. The Brazilian legislature charged him with crimes against humanity due to his pandemic mismanagement, and the Brazilian judiciary is conducting several criminal investigations of Bolsonaro. There will be many candidates challenging him, but the main rival is likely to be the very lefty Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is usually known as Lula. Lula also has some baggage, having been busted for corruption in 2017. However, he managed to convince the courts that the conviction was a snow job, and so it was vacated. Polls currently put Lula in the 40s and Bolsonaro in the 20s or 30s, with no other candidate breaking 10% on a regular basis.

There are some clear themes here; the issues du jour are the pandemic, the economy, immigration, and global warming. And, more broadly, many voters will be helping to decide if the global "authoritarian moment" continues, or begins to draw toward its close. (Z)

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