We wrote two items on Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and the 1/6 footage this week. Maybe that was not enough, because there was enormous interest in the story among the readers.
M.B. in Pittsboro, NC, asks: Can you explain under what authority Kevin McCarthy could grant exclusive access to Capitol security tapes to a strongly partisan entity? Aren't those tapes government property? What a horror!
(V) & (Z) answer: The short answer is that there is no law or House rule that allows him to release the tapes. However, crucially, there is also no law or House rule that forbids him from releasing the tapes.
In other words, what we have here is yet another one of those situations that have previously been governed by custom and by members' sense of decorum. This week, a spokesperson for the Capitol Police was asked how the release was legal, and said: "we cannot control what congressional leaders or the oversight committees do with the materials we provide." The Democrats, when they were in charge, took strong steps not to abuse that privilege. While the 1/6 Committee was operating, there was a single, secure computer terminal from which the video could be accessed, and that was it. The Republicans, by contrast, were happy to trample all over that privilege.
S.S. in West Hollywood, CA, asks: Can news organizations and/or public interest groups, other than Mike Lindell, also sue Kevin McCarthy for the right to have the 40,000+ hours of camera surveillance footage he gifted to Tucker Carlson? After all, McCarthy doesn't own the footage, it's still the property of the U.S. government. What's the likely outcome of such suits?
And how was the footage delivered? Is it safe to assume they got a copy and not the original? Who protects the original footage from being deleted or "lost"?
(V) & (Z) answer: Yes, they can. And they surely will, assuming they haven't already. Media outlets don't generally love to publicize their own Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits, so it's entirely plausible that suits have been filed, but haven't been widely reported.
The courts have recognized nine exemptions to FOIA requests, most of which clearly don't apply here. For example, the footage clearly does not contain "geological and geophysical information and data, including maps, concerning wells."
There are really only two good arguments for keeping the footage secret. First, FOIA exemption 7, which has to do with information that may be need to remain secret for law enforcement purposes. Second, the notion that Congress has special privacy rights, over and above the FOIA rules. Various news media have already been fighting in court about exemption 7 as relates to the 1/6 footage, and for McCarthy to release the recordings to Fox pretty much nullifies Congress' side of that argument. Similarly, special privacy is an all-or-none situation; either the information needs to be kept private from everyone, or it needs to be kept private from no one. There's no argument that Congress can invoke privacy rights so as to shield everyone... but Fox. So, these FOIA lawsuits are going to succeed, sooner rather than later, which is why Tucker Carlson's staff is working overtime to squeeze whatever value they can out of their exclusive window.
We can find no reporting that reveals how the footage was delivered. However, 40,000+ hours of video, even at fairly low resolution, would be more than 30 terabytes of data. If it's higher resolution, which is certainly plausible given that the government has plenty of money for storage and for high-res cameras, then it could be 100 TB or more. The only way to transfer that much data in an efficient way would be a bunch of hard drives. Even if the total amount of data was at the lower end, and even if Fox had a T3 internet connection, it would still take over 80 days to download all the footage from a remote server.
And the custodian of the original footage is the Capitol Police. So, you can be confident it is not going to "disappear."
B.D. in Nantucket, MA, asks: You wrote about Dominion's lawsuit against Fox. My question: Can the Tucker Carlsons of the world be sued for defamation individually? Obviously, one would need standing to do this, but given the e-mails it seems clear that Carlson personally knew he was lying and damaged Dominion's reputation in doing so. It would be great if he was held personally accountable for his actions. It would also send a message to similar "personalities" that disseminating misinformation that they know to be untrue could have personal consequences.
(V) & (Z) answer: Yes, but there are two reasons that Dominion and Smartmatic are not likely to try it. First, while Carlson is well off, his pockets are nowhere near as deep as those of Fox. Better to go after the whale than the medium-sized fish.
Second, Carlson has already been sued for defamation (by Trump paramour Karen McDougal) and he won. The argument that Fox and Carlson made is that he is an entertainer and not a journalist, and no reasonable person should believe he is providing factual information, as opposed to his personal opinions. By going after the entire Fox lineup, Dominion and Smartmatic are forestalling this defense, since there is at least some Fox programming that is supposed to be news, and not opinion.
O.Z.H. in Dubai, UAE, asks: Ok. so what is the deal with incriminating text messages turning up 2 years later? For example, in the recent Fox exposé, did the hosts (entertainers) really not think to delete these messages? Or were they recovered notwithstanding the deletions?
(V) & (Z) answer: Dominion has not made entirely clear how they got the texts. However, we will point out the following:
- Deleted texts often aren't actually deleted until you perform a second "empty trash" (or similar) command. There are plenty of people who do not recognize this.
- Every party to a text conversation has a copy of the messages. There may be additional copies as well, depending on backup strategies and who is providing the text service.
- Some parties who have copies of the texts may be honest, or may have some sort of ulterior motive for sticking it to Fox.
- In view of all of the above, people who delete large numbers of text messages, or who destroy their phones, after they know a lawsuit has been filed are putting themselves at significant risk of getting popped for destruction of evidence.
One or more of the items in the list above likely explains why the texts saw the light of day.
C.J. in Lowell, MA, asks: I agree, for reasons others have stated, that Kevin McCarthy's decision to hand Tucker Calson uncut security footage of the insurrection is problematic, but the question I still have is: "Qui bono?" I don't understand what Republicans get from this. I assume even they don't really want the Capitol invaded again, so what do they believe the footage will reveal? It certainly won't show the insurrection didn't happen, or wasn't so bad, nor will it unprove anything that has already been proven. I also don't see it working to anyone's exculpatory benefit. If anything, I can only imagine more footage making the events of that day look worse than we already know, and we already know it was terrible. What am I missing?
(V) & (Z) answer: First, recall that the instigators of this are the members of the Freedom Caucus. These folks are often driven by emotion rather than logic, and so they may not have a plan here. Or, they might very well want to lay the groundwork for another insurrection. You really can't put any possibility past them.
For the Republicans who actually are thinking strategically, the goal is to muddy the waters, either for the benefit of the Party in general, or for the benefit of Donald Trump in particular. The GOP propaganda apparatus, of which Carlson is the crown jewel now that Rush Limbaugh is gone, is very good at creating counter-narratives out of thin air.
S.L. in West Babylon, NY, asks: So, are we gonna go to war? My feeling is "yes." Scary, yes. But do either of you think war will happen?
(V) & (Z) answer: If you mean an all-hands-on-deck, all-encompassing war like World War II, then the answer is "no." First, since Vietnam, war has been broadly unpopular with the American public. In particular, it is difficult to imagine that Americans will ever again tolerate a military draft. Second, even when war was less unpopular and a draft was still possible, the leadership of the U.S. and the other major countries decided that a direct war was just too risky, and that even a victory would likely be so costly so as to not be worth it.
So, what the U.S. and its allies, and the U.S.S.R. and its allies, tried to do was to find ways to fight indirectly. Spying, economic sanctions, arms races, propaganda, proxy wars, etc. If this is what you mean by a war, then the war is already here, because most of these things are already happening. That said, they are not as aggressive as they were in the post-World War II years because the world's economy is so much more intertwined.
R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, asks: There's been talk lately about the possibility of China supplying Russia w/weapons in its terror campaign against Ukraine. Were that to happen, would that be the equivalent of another Cold War, the start of World War III, or something in between?
(V) & (Z) answer: The second paragraph of the previous answer is pretty much the definition of a cold war. We'd say that one already exists; if China starts supplying arms to Russia, then it makes the argument even stronger (last time, of course, the arms flowed in the other direction). However, as we also note above, World War III is extremely unlikely.
M.O. in Chicago, IL, asks: Should we regard the Belarus annexation memo as bonafide? While the contents are wholly believable, most western countries have incentives for such a memo to be released, if not invented out of whole cloth, hoping Belarus's support for Russia may falter when its sovereignty is at stake. It may also be a Kremlin "test balloon" to see if such a plan is palatable to Belarus's citizens and if that would satisfy the expansionist faction within Russia in lieu of total victory in Ukraine.
(V) & (Z) answer: The Russians haven't denied the veracity of the memo, and it's passed the smell test for many (though not all) media outlets. Further, given that Belarus is already dangerously close to being a Russian client state, and given that Russia would very much love to have a longer border with Ukraine, and a border with Poland, and a border with Lithuania, the plan is very believable.
That said, you lay out the reasons for skepticism very effectively. We would say, that, in the end, the specifics of the memo might well be true, and the broad strokes of the memo are almost certainly true.
Z.C. in Beverly Hills, CA, asks: I'm definitely not advocating for the crazy lady's idea, and I know you're trying to ignore her, but I am curious your opinion on whether there is even any plausible way to peacefully divorce the country?
I imagine a legal proceeding agreeing to terms of separation would be untenable on the red/blue state level because cities in red states would never allow themselves to be governed by President MTG. But what about a county-by-county national referendum? Some sort of constitutional amendment that allows a one-time-only vote for counties to leave to be part of a new country with say, 60% of voters in a particular county voting to leave? Then there could be some period after the vote for negotiating international relations, similar to the U.K. and E.U. after Brexit.
Again, not saying I'm advocating for this, but just curious if this or some other scenario is even plausible.
(V) & (Z) answer: Obviously, countries have split up before. India and Bangladesh and Pakistan. Sudan and South Sudan. Indonesia and East Timor. The Koreas. The entire Soviet Union. The British Empire. So, it is at least theoretically possible.
That said, we don't think it's realistic. All of the splits above, and all the others we can think of, involved the creation of two geographically contiguous entities. The "county-by-county" plan you lay out, or the state-by-state plan that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) seems to want, would not produce a clean division of territory. And that is problematic on a number of levels.
On top of that, consider that the United States isn't just any country. It's got the world's most powerful and important economy, and along with that, the world's largest national debt. It's also got the world's most powerful military, and diplomatic and tactical commitments all of the world. Figuring out how to divide up all of those things would be a mess, and would, without question, trigger a massive, worldwide depression.
Finally, if some sort of plebiscite was held, we think Greene might be surprised by the results. First, Americans are generally resistant to radical change. Second, those red states who might secede know full well that they are being subsidized by the blue states, and some residents would be fearful of cutting off access to the federal teat. Add it up, and we can't imagine secession getting majority support (much less supermajority support) in very many states. And the Confederate States of Wyoming, Alabama, and South Dakota is not a viable nation.
S.R. in Chicago, IL, asks: In regards to the "word" changes that are being made by the estate of Roald Dahl... do you think these changes (which, in my mind, are either worse than the original words or, at best, are neutral) are just a PR stunt? The PR that has been created certainly is bringing attention to the author's works. Maybe the hope was that more conservative people would buy the original version and that more liberal people would buy the new version?
(V) & (Z) answer: No, we don't think this is M&M's, Part II. If the Roald Dahl estate were to announce "Surprise! We've changed our minds!" the blowback would make the current controversy look like a day at the park.
In Roald Dahl's time, white Britons, including him, often embraced sexism, racism, colonialism and antisemitism. His attitudes, while not as retrograde as those of some of his contemporaries, came through in his writings and are out-of-step with the 21st century. Clearly, his literary executors felt this problem was going to get worse rather than better and they decided to bite the bullet. They want to keep raking in the bucks between now and 2060, when the copyrights will expire.
This is the same choice that, say, the Cleveland Guardians (nee Indians) and Washington Commanders (nee Redskins) made. And it's similar to the choice that the estate of Dr. Seuss made.
T.C. in Burlingame, CA, asks: Do you think there is any path to a Democratic majority in the House over the next 20 months? What is the most likely path?
(V) & (Z) answer: Well, five Republican seats would have to flip to Democratic seats. This is considerably more possible than, say, flipping 12 seats. But it's still a longshot.
You know how many seats were vacated prematurely in the previous Congress? The answer is... 20. And that's pretty close to average. When you see that figure, you might think "Well, then, flipping the right five seats is certainly doable." But you know how many of those seats actually switched from one party to the other? The answer is... 2. The seat that Don Young (R) left open when he died went to Rep. Mary Peltola (D-AK), and the seat that Filemon Vela Jr. (D) vacated to become a highly paid lobbyist went to Mayra Flores (R), who then lost it in the next regular election. That means that the net shift in membership was... zero.
The first problem is that most seats that come open are in red or blue districts that are unlikely to change hands. This is due, in part, to the fact that most districts are red or blue districts that are unlikely to change hands. It's also due to the fact that members are more likely to resign before their term is up if they believe their party will hold the seat.
There's also a second problem, and that is that if a seat comes vacant late enough in the cycle, it's left unfilled until the next general election. Of the 20 seats in the last Congress that were vacated prematurely, six stayed that way until the current Congress was sworn in.
So, not only would five seats have to open up, but they would have to be the right five seats, and they would have to come open before March or so of next year. Also, if the House were to get close to flipping parties, resignations would become that much more unlikely, and partisans of the majority Republican Party would be that much more likely to turn out for special elections to hold on to their majority.
That said, if you want a scenario, we'll give you one. This is very, very unlikely, but it's not impossible. In June or so of this year, AG Merrick Garland announces that he is indicting 20 GOP members of the House for their participation in the 1/6 insurrection. Then, in the 6 months thereafter, some sizable number of them accept plea deals or are convicted in court, and are expelled from the House. In the special elections this triggers, the voters return a bunch of Democratic members in order to send a message to the Republican Party.
D.C. in Clayton, GA, asks: At what polling popularity level do you think it makes zero sense for President Biden to run? Conversely, at what polling popularity level does it make zero sense for President Biden not to run? I assume that the answer is more of a table, with polling popularity on one axis and closeness to early voting on the other axis.
(V) & (Z) answer: For reasons that are not entirely clear as yet, both the ceiling and the floor for presidential ratings appear to have been permanently lowered. So, one could look at the fact that Harry S. Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Jimmy Carter were all in the 40s a year out and either lost or dropped out, but the 40s seems to mean something different today than it did 40 or 60 or 80 years ago. That means Biden would have to be very, very low—maybe mid-30s—to definitively conclude it's hopeless. Meanwhile, he's not ever going to get to a number so high that a second run is a slam dunk. That sort of approval (70 or so) just doesn't happen these days.
And really, what matters is not how popular Biden is, but how popular his would-be opponent is. It's much like the old joke about the camper who discovers a bear is about to attack, and hurriedly puts on his shoes. "Why are you bothering," says his companion, "You're not going to be able to outrun a bear." "I don't have to outrun the bear," says the first man. "I just have to outrun you."
T.V. in Portland, OR, asks: I recently read something that leads me to believe that Nikki Haley isn't running as a serious GOP candidate for President, but rather as a "fake" candidate. In other words, she is running not to win but is (allegedly) conspiring with Trump to dilute the "other than Trump lane" to such an extent that Trump could win the GOP nomination with less than 33% of the GOP electorate support. Even though Haley (and others such as Chris Christie) know they don't have a snowball's chance of winning the race, they would be willing to accept VP or cabinet positions as a reward for running interference in the primary. Could this be a reasonable strategy to attain higher offices to sweeten their CV's for, say, 2028? If someone like Chris Christie thought they could make such a bargain with Trump, they should be reminded that Trump has a history of not honoring "verbal" contracts. What say ye? (As opposed to "what say Con-Ye"?)
(V) & (Z) answer: We doubt it. First, if Haley's heart isn't actually in it, it will be hard for her to hide that from voters and from her staff for over a year. Second, we can't believe she'd be dumb enough to make this kind of deal with Trump; not only is he untrustworthy, he's far from a sure thing to either get the nomination or the presidency. Third, if this was the plan, then there's no reason for Haley to start right now. She could start in December, avoid 7-8 months of grueling campaigning, and still have the same basic impact.
I.H. in Washington, DC, asks: I appreciate your running my thoughts about Sen. Tim Scott's (R-SC) chances to capture the GOP nomination last weekend, but really I was hoping to hear why you think he has no chance. If you are inclined to share I am still interested.
(V) & (Z) answer: First problem: The current Republican approach, on the national level, involves winning by narrow margins. The GOP candidate has won the popular vote just once in the last eight presidential elections. They need all hands on deck to have a chance.
Second problem: Trumpism was built on a foundation of racism and/or racially reactionary attitudes. A lot of while folks did not like that the "uppity" Barack Obama became president. A lot of white folks resented how many Mexicans were coming into the country, and how many Muslims, and how many other people from sh**hole countries.
We have no doubt that a lot of people whose views on race are something less than enlightened would nonetheless vote for Scott, for various reasons. But not all of them would. Certainly not the David Dukes of the world, and there are a lot of Duke types among the Trumpers. Republicans would hope to make up those losses with crossover Black votes, but Scott's own history shows that doesn't actually happen. As it turns out—shockingly!—Black voters prefer a non-Black person with ideas they find agreeable over a Black person with ideas they find odious.
K.C. in West Islip, NY, asks: On Wednesday, on another site, I read about Vivek Ramaswamy joining the 2024 field of Republican candidates for president. As I'd never heard of him before, I read the article before my usual "go straight to the comments before reading the article" policy. Once I headed to the comment section, I saw a take that I see all the time on political articles. In short, the writer was saying that we need to do away with political parties because this would somehow attract more moderate independent candidates and not extremists who have seemingly taken over (or at least taken all the space in the news) like your MAGAs on the right and your Squad on the left.
I understand the Founders didn't want political parties to be a thing, but it was inevitable that competing ideologies would exist and people would sort themselves into one group or another. Even from the nation's onset, we had Federalists and Anti-Federalists. They could shout from the rooftops that they didn't want parties but they've always existed. So my question is, when people suggest doing away with political parties, what could that possibly accomplish? Just because someone doesn't have a "D" or an "R" (or an "F" and an "A-F") after there name doesn't mean it's not immediately obvious which side of the fence they're on the minute they open their mouths. There's not a single conservative alive who would listen to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) or a single liberal alive who would listen to Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) with zero prior knowledge of their party affiliation and magically start agreeing with them. They would know right away which was the Democrat and which was the Republican and that would continue to guide their voting decisions even in the absence of a two party system.
Maybe the Yahoo commenters aren't quite articulating what they envision clearly enough or maybe I'm just misunderstanding their logic. What difference does it make if the candidates do or don't have that letter after their names?
(V) & (Z) answer: Some people like to believe that all of the problems with the U.S. political system, or with the country in general, can be solved by taking some simple step. The folks who advocate for the abolition of parties are demonstrating their ignorance of the political system and its history, as well as their inability to anticipate (or even consider) the consequences of their policy proposals.
Starting with the first of those, and as you point out, every time the U.S. has tried to exist without parties, it hasn't worked out. The party-hating Founders figured out very quickly that a nonpartisan utopia wouldn't work, and so quickly formed partisan organizations. When the U.S. went back to a single-party system from roughly 1816-26, Congress was constantly deadlocked because it was made up of 20 factions rather than two. This also laid the groundwork for the fiasco that was the Election of 1824.
Even in modern times, nonpartisan doesn't work. We noted, just this week, that in the "nonpartisan" judicial elections in Wisconsin, everyone knows what party the candidates are. The same thing is true in other "nonpartisan" judicial elections, and in "nonpartisan" mayoral elections across the country.
Meanwhile, even if parties were somehow outlawed or otherwise done away with, it would not produce more moderate candidates. What it would do is produce large fields of candidates, with some small percentage of the vote needed to survive to the general. And that is not a situation that favors calm, level-headed, centrists. No, it favors outspoken types who get 10% of the electorate excited even if the other 90% is turned off. It's a situation where a Sarah Palin or a Kris Kobach would be viable. And then, when two nutters advanced (both lefty, both righty, or one left and one right) then the "let's get rid of parties" folks would be complaining about how there are no good candidates to vote for.
S.G. in Fairfax, VA, asks: What's up with New Hampshire's state law requiring it to have the first primary? Obviously, I get where they can choose whatever date they want, but having the first one would seem to have an impact on other states, over which they have no jurisdiction. What stops another state from passing the exact same law, and what would happen if one did? Has that, or something like it, ever happened before?
(V) & (Z) answer: New Hampshire's law is not binding on anyone outside of New Hampshire. The Granite Staters passed it in order to make a strong statement about how important it is to them to go first, and how they are willing to bend over backwards to keep their spot at the front of the line.
And another state HAS passed that same law (or a similar one, at least). Back in 2021, Nevada adopted a law that would put its voters first in line. The Nevadans did that by committing to an early date, rather than decreeing "we are first, no matter how early we have to go." So, New Hampshire could still outdo them, especially since there is a new Republican governor in Nevada who is not invested in helping the Democrats out. Still, it's a clear sign that the era of deferring to New Hampshire is nearly at an end.
T.B. in Leon County, FL, asks: Can we claim to be American (Uhmericun) if we got only one president right on the quiz (and that one identifying a Democrat)?
(V) & (Z) answer: It was a tough quiz. Not because we wanted readers to do poorly, but because the answers are more interesting if they are unexpected.
D.E. in Lancaster, PA, asks: I really enjoyed the President's Day quiz, especially about Presidential Last Words! Any other famous or memorable last words by other presidents or political figures? Of course that's a set up for John Adams and Thomas Jefferson's last words; but was wondering about any others. Do you suppose we don't have any last words for some presidents was because they were in the throws of dementia? One can understand why Nancy would deem her husband's last utterance of "Bonzo" as not befitting the image of Saint Ronnie.
All kidding aside, my favorite English professor in college loved to read murder mysteries and collect famous and infamous last words. His favorite that he loved to quote was the last words of convicted NYC cop killer, George Appel, who before they flicked the switch to the electric chair said, "Well, gentlemen, you are about to see a baked Appel."
My favorite is most likely apocryphal but I love it anyway. Oscar Wilde is reported to have said on his death bed, "My wallpaper and I are having a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go." Also reportedly from Wilde while on his sick bed, but probably days earlier than his death, was a tale he told about his doctor prescribing a diet of a bowl of fresh greens along with a small glass of spirits. When the doctor checked up on how Wilde was doing with his diet, Wilde said "Doctor, I regret to inform you, I am several days behind on my bowl of fresh leafy greens but I am proud to let you know that I am several years ahead on my small glass of spirits!"
(V) & (Z) answer: Few, if any, could outpace Wilde when it came to wit. Meanwhile, in addition to the (fairly famous) Appel quote, there's also Frederick Charles Wood, who said: "You will see the effect of electricity on Wood. Enjoy yourself."
As to presidential last words, there aren't a lot of great ones, beyond Jefferson's acknowledgment of the Fourth of July, and Adams' same-day (but actually incorrect) "Thomas Jefferson survives." As we pointed out in the quiz answers, there are 7 presidents whose last words are unknown or were not revealed (Reagan's wife was not there when he died, but his daughter was, and she's not telling). There are a bunch of presidents, including the eight who died in office, who did not know the end was nigh. Among those who did know the end was nigh, many chose to go with a more pedestrian remark about going to heaven and/or being reunited with loved ones. There are also the six presidents who are still alive.
That said, George Washington departed with "I die hard doctor, but I am not afraid to go" and then "'Tis well." John Quincy Adams' last were "This is the last of earth. I am content." U.S. Grant's last words, which had to be written down because of his throat cancer, were "There was never one more willing to go than I am." Grover Cleveland famously concluded with "I have tried so hard to do right." Those are pretty much all the ones that stand out.
J.P.R. in Westminster, CO, asks: I should think that Gerald Ford's relatively brief time in office as POTUS, plus his considerable time spent as a generally liked congressman and party leader, would make the 12 overridden vetoes sting all the more. To what might you contribute this? Stagflation? Shadows of Nixon?
(V) & (Z) answer: There's no clear pattern, although he was more often overriden by his former colleagues in the House than he was by the Senate (both chambers have to agree, of course, for the override to actually happen).
Generally speaking, Ford tried to govern like an old-school, small government conservative and the folks on the Hill were not having it. So, among the bills where Congress overrode him are the Electric Vehicle Research, Development, and Demonstration Act; the Department of Labor and Health, Education, and Welfare Appropriation Act (twice); the Education Division and Related Agencies Appropriation Act; and the Vocational Rehabilitation, Educational, and Training Allowances for Veterans Act. The vetoes were scattered across Ford's entire term, so they weren't a knee-jerk reaction to the Nixon pardon.
L.S. in Greensboro, NC, asks: Given the news about President Carter, there is a lot of focus on his post-Presidency career. This made me think about which presidents had highly successful post-presidencies.
Now, you may well disagree, but to me the four most successful Presidents after leaving office would be John Quincy Adams, William Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, and Jimmy Carter. Interestingly, all four were defeated for re-election, and all four are generally considered to be less than outstanding Presidents.
Do you agree with this assessment, and do you think there is any link to one-term less-than-outstanding presidencies and highly successful post-presidencies?
(V) & (Z) answer: Adams (long-serving member of Congress and leading abolitionist), Taft (Chief Justice of the Supreme Court), Hoover (senior statesman, helped clean up corruption in Europe after World War II), and Carter (Carter Center, Nobel Peace Prize, Habitat for Humanity, 30 books) are all good choices. Undoubtedly, it helps if a president leaves office alive, and with 4 less stress-filled years on the odometer. Plus, if you blow it as president, you're probably extra motivated to salvage your reputation.
That said, there are some more-than-one-term presidents who were awfully good ex-presidents, too. Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia and served as counselor to the three presidents who immediately succeeded him. U.S. Grant toured the world as an American goodwill ambassador and wrote a brilliant memoir. Theodore Roosevelt explored a the only river in the world that had yet to be mapped, wrote books, and raised funds for World War I. Richard Nixon wrote many books, and served as an emissary on behalf of many presidents. Bill Clinton did some very good work as part of the Clinton Global Initiative.
H.F. in Pittsburgh, PA, asks: Last week's mailbag was interesting and enjoyable but quite lengthy, at almost 11.500 words. Is that a record?
(V) & (Z) answer: Not even close. We checked in at above 15,000 words quite a few times, and we pushed 20,000 at least once or twice. We were getting a lot of e-mails about how the mailbag was enjoyable, but was sometimes a bit of a slog. So, we tried to break it up into more manageable chunks (ideally, 2-4 letters per section, and rarely more than 6), to keep the number of sections at roughly a dozen or so, and to limit the number of long letters each week down to one or two at most. In this way, we were able to get it down to 6,000-10,000 words in most weeks, which is not that much different from one of our daily posts (4,000-7,500). Last week, we got more than two long letters that we felt were worth running, so that's why we went a little over par.
M.W. in Northbrook, IL, asks: I know that you've answered this before but: (1) I don't recall the answer and (2) I wonder if it's changed. What's the hit rate for questions (i.e., how many do you get and how many do you answer)? I thought mine might make the cut and didn't last week so was just curious.
(V) & (Z) answer: Something like one in five e-mails in the questions inbox end up making the Q&A. However, many of those have more than one question, so it's probably one in ten questions that make the cut.
There are a lot of factors that go into choosing questions, and sometimes we don't use perfectly good questions because they just don't fit that particular week, for one reason or another. People are free to submit the same question again; it doesn't offend us or anything, and sometimes we do use a question on the second go-round.
You didn't specifically ask, but these are the things that increase the odds a question gets used:
- Not including a partial answer in the question. Those are much harder to respond to.
- Making sure to include initials and hometown, so we don't have to hunt that information down
- Avoiding "What's your reaction to" [Article X] questions. Better to send those to the items e-mail address.
- Making sure to send questions to the questions e-mail address. Sometimes people send them to one of the other addresses, and we don't see the question in a timely fashion.
R.B. in Calgary, AB, Canada, asks: (V) & (Z) often seem to present a single editorial "we" answer, tho sometimes we get just a "(V)" or a "(Z)"—for academics, let alone politically engaged folks, it seems a rather unlikely degree of unanimity. Are there topics you don't quite see eye to eye on? Things you agree not to agree on, and presumably agree not to discuss, at least on Electoral-Vote.com? There's gotta be at least one contentious area?
It's pretty clear neither of you is a MAGA true believer, or even much of a fan of the current version of the Republicans, but perhaps one of you feels the other shades into being a little Bernie-bro-ish whilst the other feels sometimes his colleague leans a little blue-dog? C'mon, do tell!
(V) & (Z) answer: To the dismay of those who would like something juicy, not really.
We are of different generations, and we live in different continents, and thus in different cultural contexts. So, there are a few differences, albeit generally subtle ones, that emerge from that. For example, although (Z) wrote the item on Roald Dahl this week, he's generally got a higher tolerance for P.C. verbiage because there's a lot more of that in U.S. schools than in European schools. Also, (V) has written 23 books and has experienced P.C.-censorship personally.
We sometimes differ in terms of what news items we think are worth writing about, but that usually reflects differences in interests and expertise rather than philosophical differences. For example, if something comes up about voting machine security, then (V) will almost certainly be the author of that item. If some politician says something stupid about the Civil War, then (Z) will almost certainly be the author of that item. Sometimes we coordinate on such things, but normally it just shakes out naturally.
We do sometimes differ on the particular wording of a prediction or conclusion. Sometimes, in those cases, the non-author of the piece just defers to the author. Sometimes, the non-author tweaks the wording to be more acceptable. For example, "There is no chance that Iowa will be allowed to go first in 2024" might be adjusted to "There is little chance that Iowa will be allowed to go first in 2024."
On very rare occasions, one of us will veto an item the other has written. That might happen because the item is imprecise in the non-author's view, or maybe a little too far afield, or maybe is deemed to be inappropriate. But that happens very rarely; maybe once or twice a year. The only specific example we can remember at the moment is that (Z) wrote an April Fool's Day post a couple of years ago and (V) put the kibosh on it.
Here is the question we put before readers last week:
L.J. in Los Angeles, CA, asks: If there was an app or a site that read E-V.com to us, which performer would be best to read it and why?
Here some of the answers we got in response. There were three particularly popular choices; exemplars for each of those appear as the three last entries:
L.D. in Petaluma, CA: Whose voice can carry the weight of seriousness and snarky light comedy?
Since they both already do this, clearly Jon Stewart or Trevor Noah.
J.S. in Wadenoijen, The Netherlands: Jeremy Irons would be my voice of choice. Clear diction, outstanding expressive range.
T.C. in Stone Mountain, GA: Jerry Seinfeld. In today's political environment, you must either laugh or cry. And I prefer to laugh.
D.W. in Los Angeles, CA: I'd go for the lilt of Amanda Pays, or the calm authority of Tom Hanks.
G.W. in Oxnard, CA: Donald Trump/Tucker Carlson. It would be a joy to listen to these men's voices be forced to say some of the reasonable things on E-V.com.
M.M. in Alexandria, MN: Wil Wheaton. I recently listened to his audiobook, Still Just a Geek, and his voice is great. You might get some sci-fi geeks interested in politics too. Plus, he's a geek! What's not to like?
L.R.H. in Oakland, CA: Oh, this one is easy; Alan Cumming as Eli Gold from The Good Wife. Unless it's Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart, from the same show.
D.D. in Carversville, PA: Jennifer Coolidge, because her voice always can "bend and snap" the material to get the attention of anyone.
K.H. in Corning, NY: Peter Sagal—the host of Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! would do a great job on most of the topics in a short answer format that E-V is famous for, and his tone of voice that evokes, "there's more—you'll love this."
G.G. in Shreveport, LA: Daniel Day-Lewis in his Lincoln voice.
T.L. in West Orange, NJ: Alan Rickman, if we can get around the fact that he's dead. Why? Why the hell NOT?
J.A. in Puerto Armuelles, Panama: Definitely Bob Ross! If his dulcet tones can't take some of the acrimony out of politics, nothing can.
Yes, yes, unfortunately Bob kicked the oxygen habit quite some time ago, but surely this is exactly the reason people have invested billions of dollars in A.I.?
D.M. in Burnsville, MN: Liam Neesom, for sure. I realize that each of you does possess "a very particular set of skills."
Failing the above, I might suggest a certain Scottish gentleman also associated with the spy trade, but very much in the public eye, a certain Mr. Sean Connery. Unfortunately, he is not able to participate due to his current state of being dead.
S.R. in Hoboken, NJ: I'll go with the obvious choice: (Z) should read (Z)'s entries and (V) should read (V)'s, with joint entries by both (perhaps like a conversation). I do have one notable exception: on April Fools' Day, I suggest that Otto and Flash be the guest readers.
P.R. Somerville, MA: One person immediately came to mind for me: Al Franken. There's simply no one better to convey the brilliant snark that keeps me (and, I suspect, a whole lot of other readers here) eagerly awaiting each day's post at E-V.com. Nobody else even comes close. Other than perhaps the late, great Phil Hartman, in his Bill McNeal persona.
B.J. in Arlington, MA: James Earl Jones. Obviously.
M.P. in Leasburg, MO: Oh man, it has to be Morgan Freeman. Not only does he have an incredible voice, his political and environmental activism align with this site. In fact, I would not be surprised if he was a regular reader.
Before we decided to make this a question of the week, we had written out an answer, and our answer was: "Morgan Freeman. He is both the voice of God and of Nelson Mandela. How much more authoritative can you get than that?"
Here is the question for next week:
J.G. in Dallas, PA, asks: I've noticed that you guys like to use the phrase "tossing red meat to the base" quite a bit these days when referring to conservative talking points. It has always seemed like a slightly pejorative insinuation that partisans on the right are nothing but a mindless pack of ravenous predators.
I am curious if you have a symmetrical term for progressive talking points? When Bernie or AOC pitch a $20 minimum wage, or propose a 90% tax on billionaires to fund the Green New Deal, what exactly are they throwing at their base? Blue water? Personally, I prefer "Moon Pies." (Get it? Pies from the sky?)
Submit your answers here!