Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Sunday Mailbag

We got a lot of feedback in response to the question(s) about thanking veterans for their service. There will be a slight appetizer today, and then a bunch more next Saturday. We also have many election reports that will run during the week; today's letters are assessments of what the results mean.

Politics: Tuesday's Elections

D.E. in Lancaster PA, writes: As a preamble to my comment, I would like to start out with a historical story, namely a story from the life of renowned astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler (1571-1630, roughly the equivalent times of Shakespeare, Cervantes and Galileo). He lived during a time when the fields of astronomy and astrology were very much blended in ways which would shock us now. It was also the time when the idea of a Copernican (or Sun-centered) solar system was beginning to take hold. He was a very religious and spiritual man who had experienced religious persecution for his Protestant beliefs. He seems to have been somewhat socially awkward, finding himself in positions and jobs that didn't match his love of the spiritual and his passion for astronomy and mathematics. One such job was being a teacher for young teenage boys, who probably hated being in his classes as much as he hated teaching them. One day, while teaching, inspiration hit him and he latched on to the theory that the motion of the then six known planets was influenced by the five Platonic solids, the octahedron, icosahedron, dodecahedron, tetrahedron and the cube. This idea appealed intrinsically to Kepler in that he believed that the laws of the universe were a reflection of the perfection of God, and to a mathematician, nothing was more perfect than the Five Platonic solids.

The only problem was that no matter which order he placed the solids in, no matter how much he fiddled with the orbits of the planets, the fact remained that the observational data of the planets moving through the night sky did not match with where his vision of the Platonic Solids said they should be. Most men, when faced with this kind of problem, would have blamed the observational data as incorrect and would have put the theory over observational facts. Thankfully, Kepler was not that sort of man, and despite his deeply felt belief about the perfection of the Solids being a reflection of God, he set aside his pet thesis and looked instead for the answers that would be supported by the facts. By letting his cherished ideas go, Kepler was able to discover the Three Laws of Planetary Motion. These laws are the fundamental understanding that made sure Apollo reached the Moon, that Voyager journeyed to the outer planets and that every communication satellite tracks a predictive orbit through space. His laws work perfectly every time and in every kind of situation.

You might be wondering what that has to do with the subject of politics. Well, the past week I have found myself thinking of Kepler and wishing there was more like him in our legacy media news outlets. More specifically to this past week, where the legacy media has given so much weight to their narrative that the 2024 presidential election will be tight and that President Joe Biden is in a great heap of trouble.

Consider some of the takeaways from Tuesday's elections: "Another good election for Democrats (when they really needed it)" (The Washington Post); Democrats big night—despite Biden's weak polling (CNN); "Biden polls poorly but other Democrats keep winning" (ABC); "Biden can breathe despite disappointing polling" (NBC); and "Questions remain about Biden's strength" (The Hill). Those are just the ones cited on this site—there were plenty of others. Another example, which I found on the Daily Kos, quoted a New York Times reporter, Peter Baker, who stated that the Democratic victories weren't all that impressive because when he looks at the Virginia results he saw that one of the Democratic victories, in the 21st District, was by only 830 votes. He uses that figure to show that the narrative that the Democrats are in deep trouble in 2024. What Baker fails to mention is that in the 82nd Virginia District the Republican candidate won by a whopping 228 votes, which really cancels Baker's argument. Two tight races are just that and the last I looked a tight race doesn't change the outcome.

All of the qualifications on the Democrats winning in Tuesday's elections seem to be based that the results of the election don't jive with that Siena College Poll released by The New York Times that shows Biden losing to Trump in the swing states in 2024. To me this is really enshrining the cart while letting the horse wander away.

An election result is hard observational data. It uses straightforward mathematics to determine if [X] has more votes than [Y]. It is the closest raw data that we have of what the mind of the general public is for a short period of time. Yes, Tuesday's elections took place in just a handful of states, so that makes extrapolating from that data even harder but still a win is a win is a win. On the other hand, polling is theory. We have hundreds of polling organizations and each one has its own secret formula in how it tweaks the raw data it takes in to best reflect in their minds what the actual makeup of the electorate looks like. This the reason why so many different polls produce different results. Polling is really closer to astrology than astronomy. Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for polling, but I don't take any single poll as if it was carved on stone tablets and brought down from Mt Sinai! Unfortunately, polling has not had its Hari Seldon yet to take it from theory into science, and perhaps it never will. It's why I have been drawn to polling aggregate sites, because a large number of polls seems to cancel out the outliers, as well as the fact that polling asks binary questions when most people don't really think in terms of "yes" or "no."

What I think is happening here with the legacy media, and I have seen it happen so many, many, many times in the past, is that the legacy media outlets decide what the narrative is for a coming election, usually based on one or two polls and they make this narrative sacrosanct, so much so that the observational data that doesn't comport with their narrative is ignored, cherry picked and/or discarded. The theory outweighs the fact and the legacy media outlets will continue to flog this one Siena College poll all the way to November of next year. It becomes the One Narrative To Rule Them All!

Another example of this from recent years, is think about on the every bit of economic news during Biden's presidency, which no matter if the news is good or bad, the legacy media outlets all interpret as a sign of the coming recession. Yet almost 4 years in, and despite all the crying about the coming recession, none has appeared. Funny how that works. These narratives have been predetermined and the media is not going to let some bit of reality get in its way. There is a cynical part of me that thinks these narratives come directly from the GOP. Then there is another equally cynical side that the reason that these narratives take precedent over facts is not because narratives are a better way to involved the reader but rather narratives that show more drama, with the facts be damned, sell more clicks, newspapers and ratings.

Here we are a year out from the elections and once again the news outlets are pushing this narrative of the tight horse race—can the inevitable announcement of the oncoming Red Wave election be that far behind? After all, the legacy news organizations have The One Poll that proves their preconceived narrative to be true. Dollars to donuts, next October, we will still have reporters basing all their coverage of the election on that one Siena College poll. That is so incredibly wrong. If we have to have reporting take the form of a narrative, then we need reporters who will constantly evaluate that narrative to make sure the facts base the theory being put forth. I other words, we need more Keplers in our newsrooms and fewer Miss Cleos!

T.L. in Newport, KY, writes: I'm wondering if the polling predicting doom and gloom is meant to motivate Democratic voters. If so, it worked. I was going to sit this election out, but after seeing the polling calling the race a dead heat, I didn't want to leave it to chance that a Trump disciple would become governor of Kentucky.

R.P. in Pullman, WA, writes: Your analysis that somehow Newsom was a loser Tuesday and that Gov. Andy Beshear (D-KY) has established himself as a truly viable presidential candidate for 2028, in my opinion, is foolishness.

My opinion rests on two things. First, what's going to be his base for support? As we know, the power within the Democratic Party is skewing younger all the time. And that younger cohort is more liberal. A white, male, moderate Southern Democrat from a conservative state is not exactly going to be the person that is going to energize young voters—and younger voters do now vote in primaries and off-year elections.

Second, when voters think white, male, moderate, southern governor (who is Democratic), they think of Bill Clinton. I have not seen one poll/survey that has said that young people like Bill Clinton (they also don't really like Hillary). Clinton's policies are partially why they can't find jobs, had families that struggled to get assistance, and why the number of prisoners exploded. He was the worst kind of political opportunist—the intellectually challenged Black man he flew back to Arkansas during the campaign to make sure he got executed will work like a millstone around Beshear, especially since we can get better Democrats.

Brashear would more likely wind up like Gore. He'd run, get the nomination, young people wouldn't vote for him in the numbers he needed, and the Democrats would lose.

L.O.-R. in San Francisco, CA, writes: I find the election analysis you included from Nate Cohn really odd and historically misleading. You write that he points out that "Wonky off-year elections like Tuesday's tend to bring out highly tuned in, highly motivated educated voters. These people are largely quite progressive."

That conclusion goes against everything we've seen for decades—but which has been changing in the Rump era. What actually happens is that wonky, off-year elections like Tuesday's tend to be very low turnout, attracting people who always vote, which favors older, wealthier, and more conservative voters (think the 2010 tea party revolution, for example, which saw a huge drop off in low propensity young voters).

It is only since 2018 that the off-year trend is getting shaken up. The takeaway from 2023, 2022, and 2018 is that the moderate left can counter historic trends if they get it right: create a powerful message, raise plenty of money, and do the leg work. That smart strategy and hard work has allowed them to both increase turnout and to appeal to the small number of swing voters, countering historic off-year trends that favor conservatives and anti-democrats. This is a change in moderate-left success, not part of a historic trend.

R.R. in Libertyville, IL, writes: The outcome of the Virginia legislative elections could have had some unintended consequences for those outside the state. I live in northern Illinois and my child is non-binary and a senior in high school planning to major in political science in college. They are very concerned with LGBTQA+, environmental, and voters' rights issues, and have been working for numerous local Democratic organizations. As it is fall, they are deep into the application process for college. One of the schools they are applying to is University of Richmond. Had the Virginia GOP managed to pull off the trifecta, my child would have instantly dropped Richmond from consideration. I do not believe that my child is the only prospective student that uses the political environment around their intended college as a factor in their decision.

Politics: Abortion

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Great results out of Ohio and potentially a playbook for pro-choice activists in other conservative states looking to enshrine abortion rights in their state constitutions. It's also great news for democracy because voters saw through and defeated every Republican dirty trick and misdirection, especially by Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R), who shamelessly used his government office to put the thumb on the electoral scale for his extremist views. He purged voters from the rolls after it was too late to re-register. He also changed the amendment language that appeared on the ballot to use inflammatory terms and mislead the voters.

Despite these tactics, voters spoke loudly and clearly in favor of abortion rights. In fact, Republicans made Ohio voters go to the polls twice to assert their rights—they first had to defeat a measure in August that would have raised the bar to amending the state constitution from a simple supermajority to a 60% majority.

If voters in "red" Ohio are willing to jump through all these hoops and still turn out in record numbers to affirmatively protect abortion rights, Republicans have to be asking themselves if there is any state where they can win on this issue. And remember, Ohio is the first conservative state where the voters were asked to amend their state constitution to expressly state that women have the right to an abortion. Other red states like Kansas and Kentucky, merely voted on measures to deny those rights in their constitutions.

So, Democrats all over the country should be running on this issue and putting it on the ballot wherever possible. Democrats should also seize this opportunity to have conversations with voters about the proper role of government. Where does the government belong—in the bedroom or the boardroom? The popularity that labor unions are enjoying by margins not seen in half a century and voters' rejection of culture wars and protection of individual liberties demonstrates that voters want corporations reined in and individuals left alone. Forget the polls and reach the voters where they live.

J.W. in North Canton, OH, writes: What a fantastic night for Ohioans! I wrote in August about the idea of revenge voting against politicians, in this case Republicans, who try to fool voters in an effort to push a personal agenda. This week we came full circle against Governor Mike DeWine (R) and Frank LaRose. Your call of 55% being the critical hurdle for Democrats was spot on as usual! I live in Stark County, whose voting pattern has become a bellwether to watch for many years. In my local community, I saw many more signs against Issue 1, but in Stark County it passed by a margin nearly identical to the overall margin in Ohio.

I believe I will celebrate this victory with some marijuana, because that's now legal in Ohio as well!

G.W. in Dayton, OH, writes: It is instructive that Ohio abortion and marijuana votes were not in lockstep. Overall approval (56.6% for abortion and 57% for marijuana) was similar, but abortion proved more urgent and more polarizing. Marijuana attracted about 30,000 fewer votes overall—3,858 fewer "yes" and 26,339 fewer "no." Twenty-five of 88 counties voted for abortion, while 40 approved recreational marijuana. Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) passed abortion by 74%, marijuana by just 67%. Franklin County (Columbus) voted for abortion 73%, marijuana 68%. In Ohio's far southern tip, 52% of Lawrence County voted for marijuana, while only 39% favored abortion. Very rural Putnam County defeated both, but by a striking difference: 83% opposed to abortion, 69% opposed to marijuana. Marijuana might be an interesting sidebar to 2024 elections, but the main draw will be abortion.

M.L. in Westchester, NY, writes: The recent election results and your item about the number of abortions actually increasing in this past year made me revisit a realization I had just after Dobbs. Like most disagreements I have with today's Republicans, it's about reality. The reality is, *I* own my uterus. I control it, I make decisions about it, and I take actions as I see fit. That will never change. Politicians can make any law they like, but it will not change the fact that I, and I alone, control my body.

Women will only lose control of their bodies in a Handmaid's Tale Gilead society, where we are enslaved and forced to reproduce. I don't believe that will happen, even though some red states sure are trying. They won't succeed. They have made it more dangerous, difficult, and expensive for women to get reproductive healthcare, but they have not and will never take away a woman's ownership of her body.

The anti-freedom-to-choose people lost a long time ago, and they will continue to lose. No matter how they stack the courts or wrangle the votes or reword the ballot measures or waive their Sky Being around or feel The Superior Person because they value a bundle of cells above any other consideration. They do not control my body, they do not own my lady parts, and they do not get to make decisions for me. My body is and will forever be MINE and I will find a way to exercise my freedom no matter how others try to take it away. That is true of every owner of a uterus.

That's just reality.

B.K. in Hell's Kitchen, New York, writes: The phrase "Pyrrhic Victory" is rather general in describing any event where winning or achieving a goal produces major negative results which end up outweighing the victory.

I think in the future whenever this happens politicaaly, it will be referred to as a "Dobbs Victory."

D.A.Y. in Troy, MI, writes: Watching the results the election as well as other elections, I believe it confirmed something I was thinking while reading your item on where Democratic support has gone. Americans, particularly rural whites who live in more insular communities, do not grasp the theoretical when it comes to politics.

Abortion was always an advantage for the Republicans because a life without Roe was theoretical. They could appeal to people's humanity for killed babies while the implications were just political bluster. Now that Roe has fallen and people are seeing women almost die from complications and girls raped by their uncles needing to flee to other states, abortion is now a millstone around their collective necks. It would be nice if people had seen this coming and not allow us to reach a point Roe would be overturned, but sometimes we need to be burned to know the glowing red poker is hot.

This week's results confirmed that abortion is not going away anytime soon. Even though they were not on the ballot last night, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) and Frank LaRose have probably sunk their political careers with their supporting a anti-abortion agendas to gain control of the Virginia legislature, and to stop Issue 1, respectively. Andy Beshear's ad featuring a young woman explaining how his opponent's policies would have forced her to carrier to stepfather's rape-induced baby at 12 will probably be replicated throughout next year across the country. Horror stories of what is happening to women through the South and Mountain West will continue to trickle in.

Perhaps, next time Americans are confronted with a glowing red poker, they should have the sense to not grab it.

Politics: The Debate

J.T. in San Bernardino, CA, writes: I watched Wednesday's debate because I watch all debates. I set up for them the same way I set up to watch a football game: get some chips, some beers, and sit down to enjoy the action. I follow election returns similarly. There's probably something unethical in treating politics this way, but that's what it is. Wednesday's was definitely the most boring debate I can remember.

As a political "sports fan" and a scholar of media spectacle, after the third debate I have two observations:

  1. For everybody but Nikki Haley, I think these debates have been a disaster for their presidential chances. Chris Christie and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) have simply been exposed as not ready for prime time, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) has been revealed as all-shtick and the debates have hastened his shtick becoming played out and boring, Vivek Ramaswamy has been revealed as an unserious hobgoblin (and there's only room for one unserious hobgoblin in this party).

  2. Donald Trump was wise to stay out of these debates and I actually wonder if holding so many debates was a canny strategy by the Trump-controlled RNC to allow his competitors to play their way right out of contention.

Maybe I'm thinking too conspiratorially, but I do wonder if the idea that the Wednesday debate was so boring was a "feature" rather than a "bug" as far as the RNC is concerned.

R.C. in Des Moines, IA, writes: After Vivek Ramaswamy directly insulted the moderators at Wednesday's debate, they should have given him no more questions. Any subsequent interjections by him should have been met with moderators telling him he'd have time later to respond. And then, à la the old Jimmy Kimmel bit about running out of time for Matt Damon, they should have said, "And now Mr. Ramaswamy let's hear from you... (place finger on earpiece)... Oh, I'm being told we are out of time. So sorry Mr. Ramaswamy. We'll reschedule you at a later date."

If I were moderating the next debate, the first question I would put to Ramaswamy would be: "Does Vladimir Putin pay you in rubles or crypto?" When he tries to avoid answering I'd just interrupt him and demand he answer the question directly. After his third attempt to bloviate, his mic would be turned off, he'd get no more questions, and he'd be escorted from the stage.

That foul scumbag does not deserve any modicum of respect normally given to candidates.

S.R.G. in Grecia, Costa Rica, writes: You consistently appear to misspell Vivek's surname. It should be "Ramasmarmy", I believe.

E.R. in Irving, TX, writes: Debate observations:

  1. "Congress" is apparently shorthand for the bad $&!@ that their fellow Republicans have foisted on the American people for the last 50 years that they now want to correct because they are demonstrably failed policies adversely impacting their desired voting base.

  2. The candidates should be reminded that Democrats go to church, too; they just happen to do what Jesus would do more often than Republicans do, and they do it without reminding everyone how "Christian" they are. Oh, and they also understand that the United States is a secular nation.

  3. Deporting people and cutting higher education funding as punishment for exercising First Amendment rights sounds like fun.

  4. I agree with Nikki Haley: Vivek Ramaswarmy is scum. (Note this is an intentional misspelling of his name to more accurately reflect his persona.)

  5. That said, Ramaswarmy did confirm his belief that we need a wall on our northern border; clearly, he's the only candidate taking the Canadian threat seriously.

(V) & (Z) respond: His willingness to engage with the central issue of our day certainly has us taking a second look at his candidacy.

Politics: The 2024 Presidential Race

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: Why does a large chunk of the population think the economy sucks, contrary to major economic indicators? To expand upon James Carville's maxim, it's the food prices, stupid. If I were at a town hall with Joe Biden, I'd ask him if he knows how much a gallon of milk costs ($4.59), or a loaf of bread ($3.59), or a large box of Cheerios ($6.99), or a can of crappy Campbell's Soup ($2.00). And that 2.5 pound beef rump roast is $21! These aren't big-city gouge 'em prices, either.

While wholesale food prices might be dropping, retail prices haven't budged. The campaign needs to focus on speaking knowledgeably about ugly retail grocery prices to demonstrate it isn't completely out of touch. That's why "Bidenomics" is falling flat on its face.

Here's an ad idea: Take Joe grocery shopping, and let him react honestly to what he finds, air his working class sensibilities and his righteous indignation.

E.K. in Brignoles, France, writes: First of all, I'm sorry for the length of this letter. But I felt like it was time to send a note to this mostly-American community, from a French perspective.

The readers of this site are politically highly engaged, and highly educated. So maybe I'm just preaching to the choir. But something has to be done, and immediately.

"Why doesn't this frogeater mind his own business?," some might ask. The fact is that I've been following American politics for more than 25 years. I've been in the U.S. several times. I care about your country. Because you've been the ultimate defender of freedom and democracy during the 20th century. Because, to paraphrase Churchill, sometimes you've been wrong (who doesn't?), but in the end you always at least try to do the right thing. The United States is the beacon of democracy. Your wars are our wars and our wars are your wars. We fight the same enemies. We share the same happy days, we watch the same movies, we listen to the same music. I could go on and on.

And today, your country looks like a friend of mine having decided to take his own life, leaving me completely helpless and desperate.

The final nail in the coffin was the news about Sen. Joe Manchin's (D-WV) retirement. Not that I particularly admire this senator, so why is that so important? Well, because this automatic flip in favor of the Republicans means that under the best-case scenario, the Democrats will have 50 seats in the Senate on Jan. 3, 2025.

The Democrats have to hold Ohio, Montana, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan, AND Wisconsin AND keep the White House to prevent a Republican trifecta. "But the House can flip!," some will respond. Sure. Look at the redistricting in North Carolina. Look at Tuesday's numbers in Long Island (even assuming that the New York Court of Appeals allows a Democratic-friendly redistricting)...

I read what (V) wrote, that "The Siena College poll that has Democrats crying in their white wine showed the problem, but the elections yesterday showed the solution." I don't even know what to say, to be honest. This complacency is exactly the same that surrounded Hillary Clinton a few months before her devastating defeat. It's time to face the reality. No, the abortion issue alone won't save President Biden. It is delusional to believe that somehow it will stop Donald Trump from becoming president again. It is dishonest to dismiss a poll made by one of the most reliable pollsters simply because the election is a year from now, "many things can change," and because the Democrats scored victories this week. Many people worshiping Trump just don't care about legislative elections in Virginia, or about a referendum in Ohio. But you can be sure they will be in the line on November 5 next year.

The (false) narrative of an "old and feeble" Biden won't simply go away; it will be probably worse next fall. He must win not only against Trump, but against Cornel West (he with the ego the size of Jupiter), Jill Stein, the "No Labels" thing, and now possibly Joe Manchin. I'm not a "wine-sipping liberal," far from it, but I'm definitely a "bedwetter," yes. Because the reality is that the United States, as a constitutional republic, is on the verge of falling apart. What I read and watch in the media, or even on this site sometimes, seems like pure magical thinking.

Donald Trump, the man about whom everyone (including me) said in 2016 "there's no way this madman can be elected!" is probably your next president (again). I don't know if everyone realizes what this means. In the name of "fairness," the media is treating this existential decision like some kind of Clinton-Dole election, counting the leaves of a dying tree.

You may or may not like Joe Biden. But he's a decent, honest man. And there's no magical recipe against inflation, crime or out-of-control immigration. Believe me, we have the exact same issues here in France. Emmanuel Macron's second term seems completely pointless. I'm deeply dissatisfied with him, for many reasons. But guess what? I would vote for him again if he could run for a third term. Because if I had cancer, I wouldn't let my life in the hands of some crazy quack.

It is truly beyond my comprehension why or how so many Americans can even only consider a vote for someone else than Joe Biden. I don't think there's a lot of Trump voters around here, but if you vote for West, Stein, "No Labels," or any kind of "But-Biden-is-old" candidate, you vote for Trump. Period. And you should enjoy your vote, because I'm not sure you'll be able to express your discontent in 2028. I will never understand why so many people are ready to throw democracy away just because Joe Biden can't solve by himself all the crises the whole world is dealing with.

I really, truly hope more than anything else that this letter will be laughable in 2025 or 2026. But what I'm seeing right now is a driver ready to plunge off a cliff because their car is not perfect.

Please, my American friends, wake up before it's too late. It is still time to do something. The world is watching.

J.A. in Puerto Armuelles, Panama, writes: In addition to the impossibility of knowing how accurate polls one year out are, because there are no actual votes to measure them against, I would add that they are trying to measure something that doesn't really exist.

Only a small minority of people actually follow politics closely, something that is easy to forget if you are a regular reader of this site. Most of the people who will decide the 2024 election are low-information voters, low-engagement voters or both. Those people (mostly) aren't thinking about the election yet—at least not seriously—or they have no idea whether they will actually will turn out, no matter what they might tell a pollster.

So the idea that there is a "state of the race" this far out is fundamentally flawed, let alone one that can be measured accurately.

P.R. in Saco, ME, writes: I would invite L.C. in Saugatuck to play much higher stakes calculus by considering, as I'm sure the staff mathematician has for entertainment in dull moments, a Haley/Romney ticket versus a Whitmer/Newsom ticket (as opposed to the other way around as L.C. suggested). As you yourselves said, Newsom is slick and elitist, and Whitmer could out-heel Haley (and DeSantis) to make herself taller than all the other three, waltzing backwards to the White House. But if I were Whitmer (kidnapper-slayer), I'd choose Barbie as running mate. Better hair and voice than Newsom.

S.B. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I read the question from A.S. in Bedford about changing out Kamala Harris for another VP and your response. I don't agree with A.S. in the first part. that voting for Biden is an automatic vote for Harris at some latter part of the term. However, for the second part of the question and answer, if we're going to engage in this thought exercise, my vote would be... appoint Harris to the Supreme Court.

Of course, an opening would have to occur, but if that did happen, this would potentially be a win-win situation for all involved. Harris is a lawyer and was the Attorney General of California and a U.S. Senator. She would have a lifetime appointment to the highest court of the land, where she could help preserve the Constitution. In some quarters this is a promotion. This would buttress the Supreme Court's female contingent. She would also be the first person of Indian descent on the court. President Biden would then be able to appoint a stronger candidate for VP. He still would have to follow the recommendations about younger, female and/or non-white. This scenario is one way to make the Harris switch possible and palatable.

B.W.S. in Pleasant Valley, NY, writes: Naz Hassan for president!

Politics: Third-Party Voting

P.K. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Recently, you and your readers have repeatedly referenced "protest votes" for third parties, which feels very condescending. A vote may balance ideologies with practical concerns, may be a crass calculation in paying less in taxes, or could "protest" many things. I have voted for third-party candidates on occasion when they best represented my values and were the person I wanted to hold the office, but never as a protest; same for friends and family who made that choice. You encourage everyone to use their franchise, and have urged major parties to contest every seat to have a chance to win. Please then explain why it's any less a "protest" to vote Biden or for a Democrat for senate in the 18 reddest states, or for the House in the 180-odd congressional districts with a PVI redder than R+6. And aren't you casting a "protest vote" for the Republican candidate for president or Senate in the 18 bluest states, or for the House in most of the 180 D+3 congressional districts?

It sure seems like a "protest vote" if you know a party is going to lose, and I see no logic in pretending it matters if it's a major or minor party. By that logic, why even vote unless the polls are tight? Isn't it all futile "protest votes" if one party is way ahead, or if your district or state has a strong lean? I ask your readers to consider that no one knows the future, that things change as movements build over time, and that third-party votes can be just as valid as your vote (even if some don't understand them). Without third-party candidates and voters, we'd see little movement towards innovations like ranked-choice voting. And as much as Democrats like to blame third-party voters for costing them presidential elections, remember: (1) the GOP loses far more votes to Libertarian candidates than Democrats do to the Green Party; and (2) far more Democrats vote for the GOP candidate than for the Green Party.

M.H. in Boston, MA, writes: I have been reading your site for nearly 20 years, and I think this is the first time I've written to you.

I want to respond to some of the commentary around third-party voting, both from your readers and you directly. You've presented the opinion that, at best, it's wasting your vote, and at worst, it's actively helping the candidate that the voter least wants to win.

This is the kind of belittling viewpoint that pushes so many people to vote third party in the first place. "You're an idiot if you don't suck it up and vote for the major-party candidate, at least they're not as bad as the other one" is about as uninspiring a message as you could possibly deliver. Is it any wonder that younger voters are often disillusioned, when they are told that supporting a candidate they actually believe in is stupid?

And, the notion that a third-party vote is a waste is also simply not true. Each candidate has to earn your vote. If a sizable chunk of the electorate is opting to not support either major party candidate, then the response should be for those candidates to re-evaluate their policy positions to reflect the constituency they're trying to reach. If a candidate cannot consolidate enough support, then that's the candidate's fault, not the fault of the voters who do not feel represented. This is the point of third-party voting—to push candidates toward policy positions that are important to you.

And a final point here. Much of the argument against third-party voting is based from a strategic perspective—that the likely outcome should drive your decision-making (and thus you should only vote for a candidate with a reasonable chance of winning). If these anti-third-party voters are so interested in outcomes, then I'd imagine they'd be pursuing the most effective means to get more people to vote major party, but their strategy for doing so is deeply flawed—Has calling people stupid and belittling them ever been a winning formula to get people to come over to your side? (Also, doesn't this sound quite a bit like the same issue Democrats face with many disaffected Republican/Independent voters, that perception of "you're too dumb to vote for what's good for you"? Is it any wonder that so many dig their feet in deeper when they hear that message?)

The way you win people over is by listening to them, understanding what drives them, and responding in a way that makes them feel heard and respected. I relate to wanting to keep the most harmful people out of office—I get it. But the hostile stance taken by many anti-third-party voters is undermining that very goal.

S.B. in Hood River, OR, writes: I read with dismay the intention of a number of readers to vote third-party next year for president. If it is pertinent, I am a secular Jew who is often critical of Israel, and feel that Israel's current conduct in Gaza is reprehensible. To cut off essential resources and aid for example is inexcusable. I also feel Joe Biden could be more neutral in his approach to the conflict.

Yet I am reminded of 2016. We read then, with great concern, the intentions of a number of Democrats to vote third party. They hated Trump, but "just couldn't vote for Clinton." The votes Jill Stein received (and the people who just stayed home), could have made the difference in the swing states. And what did we get as a result from a Trump presidency? A comprehensive list would be impossible in a short letter, but notable were tens of thousands of preventable deaths from COVID, human rights violations at the border, and an attempted coup. Trump's administration was more pro-Israel than Biden's could ever be, and his actions in office arguably influenced Hamas to attack last month.

Trump has already set out plans that if re-elected, he will attack democracy to a far greater extent than he ever did before.

A vote for a third party candidate or staying home is a vote for Trump, full stop.

He has to be prevented from ever being president again, if we want to preserve our democracy. It is that simple.

Politics: Mongolian Ballots

J.M. in Silver Spring, MD, writes: You wrote, when discussing the advantages of the Mongolian every-ballot-gets-scanned approach to elections: "Later, when some politician claimed that the votes were counted wrong or more people voted in some precinct that there are voters there, these could be debunked easily."

While I like the idea of posting ballot images, as the Mongolians do, I feel that the underlying problem, today, is not the inability to prove that the election was not rigged but the inability to convince people to believe that which has been demonstrated. With as many court cases and government officials (e.g., Bill Barr) stating that the election was not rigged, I think we have a pretty solid indication of that fact and yet Trumpists believe what they wish. If we posted images like this, they would simply claim that the machine altered the images or that corrupt election officials altered the images.

Sorry for being so cynical, but these appear to be cynical times.

T.H.R. in Asheville, NC, writes: The idea of scanning all of the ballots the way you suggest has merit, but there are a couple of problems.

The first is ballot styles (i.e., ballot variation based on the set of candidates and questions a voter is entitled to vote on). In Pitkin County, CO, which has a population of about 17,000, there were about 50 ballot styles made up of various state, county, school district, fire district and other special district candidates and initiatives. Some ballot styles have the precinct problem you mentioned, where there are under 20 voters that have a specific combination of candidates and questions on their ballot. Publishing those ballots would or could "out" the voters with that ballot style, especially to each other.

The second problem is that in states with all-mail ballots or large numbers of absentee ballots, the mail-in voters couldn't choose a ballot at random. This may not be a problem, since being able to see ALL the ballots would allow a suspicious person to see that there wasn't a sequence number embedded in the random numbers.

Other than that, this is a good idea.

T.M.M. in Odessa, MO, writes: You noted a potential problem with posting ballots on-line was the unanimous or near-unanimous small precinct. That should not be a problem.

In many states, the record of who voted is already a public record. In those states, if a precinct were unanimous, who voted for candidate [X] is already not secret.

Likewise, if the record of who voted is not a public record, then, even if all the ballots are public, you still do not know who the voters in that precinct were (as it is unheard of, in most places, for turnout to also be 100%).

Obviously, the issue will be how to assure that the number assigned to each ballot (and correspondingly to the voter) is truly random. If states are going to publish the ballots, they will need to draft laws to make that ballot number a closed record (i.e., only available if an election contest is filed and only then under strict conditions). That will be a change in some states with Freedom of Information/Sunshine Laws that generally make election records open. But, in theory, it is doable.

While this idea seems like it should work to prove that elections are valid, however, we currently live in an alternative facts politics. Those who believe that the 2020 election was stolen will still believe that the posted ballots are false despite how many court cases or investigative news stories prove that the election was valid.

All Politics Is Local

J.K. in Silverdale, WA, writes: An update from the Central Kitsap School Board election: Thank you again to the readers who chimed in with their thoughts about whether or not my candidate should have attended the forum hosted by Moms For Liberty. My candidate won with over 72% of the vote, and she was the only incumbent to retain her seat. While I feel a sense of accomplishment for this victory, I am saddened that our board president lost by about 2% of the vote. This means that of the three seats up for election, two were won by pro-inclusivity candidates, and one was won by a candidate who espouses Moms-For-Liberty positions. I'm still processing what this says about our electorate. My main suspicion is that most voters skim the voters pamphlet and don't delve much deeper.

(V) & (Z) respond: Congratulations!

S.A. in Clinton, WA, writes: Just a reminder that your vote does matter. Tuesday, we had a school bond issue on the ballot. Per state law it needs 60% +1 "yes" votes to pass. The election night results showed the measure to be 41 votes short of passing. Friday night, the new report from County Elections had it 16 votes short. Opinions are strong on both sides and everyone is on the edge of their seats waiting for the final tally. We are probably a couple of weeks from getting the final results as a recount will probably be needed.

A.D. in Charleston, WV, writes: Well, well, well.

Now that it's official and's favorite Senator, Joe Manchin, has called it quits, it's important that Americans know who West Virginia is about to place in Robert Byrd's (and Manchin's) fabled Senate seat: Gov. Jim Justice (R-WV). He was the girls basketball coach at my high school in Greenbrier County, WV, a job he kept even as Governor. In this role he was humble and folksy, friendly and charming, but one does not need to be deceived by such coy mannerisms (he plays this tidbit even today).

Justice ran as Governor in 2016 as a Democrat, a party affiliation he held for a whole 9 months before returning to his true form as a proud conservative in the Republican Party. This was calculated on his part, as in the previous two election cycles in West Virginia, the Democrats who had held all the keys to power in the Mountain State for generations had been rendered extinct by the Republicans with their highly successful "War on Coal" campaign. Desperate Democrats readily took Jim in as unexpected savior for the party, and Jim readily took their money and ran a successful campaign with it, only to shaft them just a few months into his first term as Governor. You'd be forgiven if this type of behavior calls to mind another Republican politician, as rest assured, they are best buddies.

For his part, during this time, Justice himself played a role in the "War on Coal" shenanigans. In 2008, Jim sold his coal mines to the Russians (yes). Mechel Bluestone ran the coal until it was exhausted, shuttering the mine facilities. Yet during his run as governor, Jim bought the mines back from the Russians and reopened the mine and ran it at a financial loss to 'prove' to West Virginians that coal wasn't dead, it was just President Obama's policies causing all the mines to close. This same kind of chicanery has been repeated over and over by this man, as he loves publicity stunts as much as his best friend Donald Trump does. So if we thought Tommy Tuberville like grandstanding in the Senate, I can only imagine all the obstruction coming from Sen. Justice in 2024 and beyond, especially if his buddy wrestles the White House back in 2024. With the future more bleak now, and Democrats certainly down a critical Senate seat (there are even fewer Democrats in office in West Virginia today than in 2016), maybe we must consider that Manchin wasn't so bad after all.

M.W. in Richmond, VA, writes: Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney may talk like a progressive, but he acts and governs like a centrist. He twice supported a referendum on a Richmond casino, a predatory enterprise which exploits the poor and gambling addicted. This was rejected by city voters in 2021 and 2023 (the latter by 58% to 42%). He turned down Group Violence Intervention, a proven solution to gun violence. Instead, there is a gun buyback program which has not worked. He proposed with much secrecy and little public input a $1.5 billion Navy Hill project to redevelop downtown. The city council voted it down 7-2. He budgeted less than $10 million of city funds over 7 years towards affordable housing. Experts say a minimum of $10 million is needed annually. He supported a civilian review board to respond to police misconduct. The board lacks power to discipline officers, audit police spending or change police operating procedures. He proposed tax breaks of $2 million per year for 30 years for four housing developments. None of these are affordable for households with less than half of the city's median income. This is not progressive. At least when centrists talk, they act and govern like centrists.

Veterans Day

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: You have graciously printed a couple of my comments in the past, most memorably last Memorial Day. I have prefaced a couple of them with my family's history. There were family members in the military in the revolt for our independence, there is a Medal of Honor recipient from the Civil War (War of Northern Aggression for your Southern readers), and a couple from that insurrection buried at Andersonville National Cemetery in Georgia. My father received a battlefield commission in Europe. My father-in-law was in the Philippines with Douglas MacArthur. I have the flag that draped my father's casket and my wife has the flag that graced her father's casket. About a dozen aunts and uncles served in World War II. Several more in Korea. Numerous cousins and a brother and brother-in-law, served during the Vietnam War, as I also did. Two schoolmates were killed in action in the jungles of Southeast Asia. I know at least two who suffer from exposure to Agent Orange, a couple more that I know of suffer from PTSD. Just last week I received word of a classmate passing from cancer. Was it a result of his service in Vietnam? I don't know. Our son retired after 20 years as a Gunny Sergeant, our daughter is going on 21 years in the Air Force. Several more nieces and nephews are in uniform. I am proud of my heritage and of all of those who have, do or will continue to serve.

I was in my final year of college when word came through the grapevine that the local draft board was hot after my body. Discretion being the better part of valor, I hauled my young and tender a$$ off to the recruiter and enlisted in the Air Force. Basic training in Texas, assigned to Moody AFB in Georgia. Orders for, in order, Taiwan, Vietnam and Thailand. All were changed over time and I finally ended up on a small island roughly 800 miles southwest of Hawaii: Johnston Atoll, nuclear and biological weapons test site, Thor, IBM anti-satellite missile facility, storage site for chemical weapons and Agent Orange, satellite tracking site, and Coast Guard LORAN station. Two miles long and half a mile wide, 600 men and zero women. Most of the island was occupied by the runway and associated taxiway and parking ramp. Stationed there, I was an AFSC 79151, Radio and Television broadcast specialist, for Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS). Our mission was to "educate, inform, and entertain" the personnel stationed in Asia, military and civilian. Think Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam. AFRTS, and its predecessors and successors, has existed since early in World War II. My son listened to AFRTS in Kandahar and Fallujah, our daughter tuned in from Al Udeid, Okinawa and Crete.

My driver's license has a notation that I am a veteran, I carry a VA "veterans' identification" card. We have our checking and savings accounts and insurance with USAA. I donate to "Vote Vets." I use my veterans discount at Lowe's. I am not fond of some of their political stances, but appreciate their policy of hiring vets. I DO NOT use the parking spaces "reserved for Veterans;" I am not disabled and I can walk the few extra feet to get into whatever store I am shopping at. There are others who are more in need of that courtesy than am I.

I was just a DJ, morning man on Radio Free Johnston Atoll. Was I in imminent danger? Not really, unless there was a major leak in the chem weapons storage areas. The biggest threat was boredom, which was part of my job to alleviate. Well, and keeping the Coasties from raiding our beer supply (I think they were Canucks in disguise). Was my job important, in the grand scheme of things? Yes, I think so. Did I, myself, personally, do anything exemplary or important? NO. I was called to serve, I swore to uphold the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic, I put on the uniform and I performed my duties to the best of my abilities. Do I deserve to be thanked? No, I was just performing one of the responsibilities that I as a citizen of this nation are called upon to perform. When I perform a particular act to assist you, I would appreciate your thanks. The fireman, or policeman also usually get the "thanks for your service" commendation. How about the senior citizens who routinely are poll workers on Election Day, or the clerk in the water and sewer billing department, or the electric utility lineman who goes out to make sure you have lights and power, or the service worker who stocks the shelves at your local store and knows that the cheese is on Aisle 4 to go with your whine or the child daycare worker who cleans up your kids' poopie pants?

"Thank you for your service" just goes over my head, kind of like water off a duck's back. I rarely even acknowledge it anymore.

Just don't call me "sir." My father was a "sir." To quote Stripes: "I was a sergeant, damn it, I worked for a living!"

P.S.: My daughter made me apply for VA disability benefits under the PACT act, for my time at Johnston Island (thank you, Democrats!). I was there during an eligible time period. Any of you vets on should check your potential eligibility if you were in Southeast Asia or numerous other sites in the 60's and 70's.

C.Z. in Sacramento, CA, writes: This is my attempt to take back our flag from the Creepublicans, who have co-opted it for their own purposes. Our national flag used to be a symbol of freedom and democracy, but they have turned it into a symbol of repression and fascism:

It is as described; a U.S.
flag with 'indivisible' badges sewed on it.

I sewed the word "Indivisible" on it back when the grassroots "Indivisible Movement" started, which opposes Donald Dump and those of his ilk. However, it is also a reminder of the words of the Pledge of Allegiance. I enjoy the double meaning, especially since I doubt if any Republicans will get it.

International Politics

A.L. in Sudbury, MA, writes: Thanks to G.S. in Basingstoke (known to me only via Ruddigore, from the other G.S.) for the note on Tamworth and my chuckle of the day. Again, I know Tamworth through a different route: home of the eponymous pig. Well known to be lean. Apparently unlike the human inhabitants.

M.F. in Burlington, ON, Canada (formerly of the Anglican Diocese of Qu'Appelle whose patron is St. Chad), writes: A.B. in Lichfield, writing about the U.K. by-elections, said: "Lichfield... was founded in its current form... by St. Chad of Mercia (not the patron saint of contested Florida elections)."

While he may not be the patron saint of contested Florida elections, St. Chad's story does involve a contested election. Chosen to be Bishop of the Northumbrians (in essence, Bishop of York), his appointment was disputed and he was forced to withdraw in favor of St. Wilfrid. Chad's gracious handling of the matter resulted in him subsequently being offered (undisputed) appointment of Bishop of the Mercians. Moving his see eventually to Lichfield, he is counted as the first Bishop of Lichfield.

So it seemed entirely appropriate that a disputed election in Florida in 2000 should come down to a matter of "hanging (St.) Chads."


C.P. in Silver Spring, MD, writes: I stumbled across this video and had to send it in. Are the staff dachshunds this hard working?

(V) & (Z) respond: Well, to even raise the possibility of being hard working, first you have to do some actual work. So...

Final Words

P.N. in Austin, TX, writes: Smiths Station Mayor F.L. "Bubba" Copeland, who was also a pastor at First Baptist Church of Phenix City, took his own life last Friday after being outed by 1819 News.

I know next to nothing about Mayor Copeland. I don't know if he was a good man. I don't know if he supported LGBTQ rights. I don't know how he treated his family or community (although the early evidence is that they cared about him very much). What I do know is that he was a victim of an attack that took his life within the last week.

I don't know if these were his final words, they almost certainly were not, but this is his final sermon:

I've queued up the video to the start of his sermon. He speaks twice during the video. I don't know if these words are profound. I can't say how they affected other people. But I can say it's worth taking a moment, for respect, for compassion, and to remind ourselves what matters, to listen. RIP Mayor and Pastor Copeland.

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