Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Saturday Q&A

We got a lot of interesting answers to last week's reader question. To us, at least—here's hoping the readership agrees.

Also, if you need a little more help with yesterday's song theme, we'll say that we strongly considered using "Sitting on Top of the World" from the Cream album Goodbye, but it didn't fit any of the items.

Current Events

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, asks: I read that there are several bills circulating around Congress, both chambers, with bipartisan support that would keep government shutdowns from being used as a hostage situation. Evidently a number of Republicans are tired of taking the blame from their own insane party members. Who would have thought? What do you think of these attempts to defuse these types of hostage situations and their prospects of actually being passed?

(V) & (Z) answer: This seems plausible to us, but far from a slam dunk. The main choke points, we would guess, are the Republican Conference in the House and... the Republican Conference in the Senate. In the House, such a bill would need a simple majority, but it might be hard to find a half-dozen red teamers willing to cross the aisle, since they would forever after be attacked for enabling the Democrats' alleged spendthrift ways. In the Senate, it would take roughly 10 Republican votes to overcome a filibuster. We can imagine half a dozen Senate Republicans willing to put their foot down and put a stop to this nonsense. But 10? That's a bit taller order.

It is also at least possible that Democrats would not be willing to line up behind such a proposal. As a general rule, the blue team does not regard the threat of a shutdown as a useful political tool to be wielded against the Republicans. However, any law that "ends" government shutdowns would necessarily say something like "if there is no budget in place, then spending continues at current levels." That would be an invitation to Republicans to get a GOP-friendly budget in place (say, when they have the trifecta, as they did from 2017-19), and then to refuse ever again to pass a budget.

L.M. in Ottawa, ON, Canada, asks: With only a small number of days left, a government shutdown is looking likely. As a "worst case scenario," what happens if there is a motion to vacate the chair and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) gets bounced (either in the next few days, or actually during the shutdown). Do we end up in the same situation as the beginning of the year where no other House business can proceed (such as passing anything to get the government running again) until a new speaker is elected?

(V) & (Z) answer: Not exactly. If McCarthy was to be ejected, then it would mean a House in turmoil, and who knows what business might be handled, if any, before a replacement was chosen?

That said, now that the House has been officially organized, there is a workaround available that would not have been back in January. If 218 members sign a discharge petition, a bill (like, say, the budget) can be brought to the floor without the involvement of the Speaker.

T.J.C. in St. Louis, MO, asks: I've been reading that Donald Trump has been influencing the Freedom Caucusers with the intent of causing the government shutdown. Is this strictly to poke Joe Biden in the eye, or is there another motive? Would a shutdown affect the federal cases (or any additional investigations yet to be revealed) that he's currently facing?

(V) & (Z) answer: You can never know what, if anything, is in the mind of Donald Trump. He certainly likes chaos in general, and poking Biden in the eye, in particular. This could also be a show of his power over the GOP, and a reminder to Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). And he probably thinks this would help tank the economy, and increase his chances of winning the election next year.

As to Trump's legal cases, he might think that a shutdown would buy him some time, but if so, he's fooling himself. The government has already done most of the work it needs to do, and the courts' involvement only involves an hour or two here and there. Most of the heavy lifting right now is being done by the defense, which does not get its money from the U.S. Treasury. So, a shutdown wouldn't have much impact on the progression of the two federal cases. And, of course, the Georgia and New York cases are state-level.

Z.C. in Beverly Hills, CA, asks: Please explain why Kevin McCarthy doesn't go full bipartisan and work with the Democrats? Do you think there's any possibility that McCarthy can flip to be a dealmaker with the Democrats and end up being a generational leader?

(V) & (Z) answer: As we noted yesterday, we were open to the idea that we had misjudged McCarthy and that he is more skilled than we thought. In view of recent events, however, we simply cannot accept that he will ever be a "generational leader." That said, he could be the guy who brought bipartisanship back to the House, which would certainly be an accomplishment.

We have no doubt that even McCarthy knows that, sooner or later, he's going to have to work with the Democrats. So, it is best to think of his current approach as performative, so he can say "Hey, I tried everything else before finally reaching across the aisle. What do you want from me?" Why is this necessary? Because if he works with the Democrats out of any motivation other than alleged "desperation," he will permanently alienate the FCers, possibly some other members of the GOP conference, and Donald Trump. At that point, not only would he be the target of constant blowback from the Trumpers, but the Democrats would have McCarthy by the body part of your choice. And the Speaker has definitely internalized the view that the Democrats are not to be trusted.

S.B. in Hadley, MA, asks: In your item about Democrats not bailing out Kevin McCarthy, you wrote "Republican senators very much think their party will get blamed if Social Security checks stop going out and National Parks close on Oct. 1." A quick Internet search says that Social Security checks continue to go out if there is a shut down. In addition, one of your readers wrote something about Social Security continuing to be paid during a shut down. Since you didn't disagree with that reader, I concluded that you knew this to be true. Can you explain?

(V) & (Z) answer: Sometimes, when you're knocking out 4,000-10,000 words a day, you end up writing something a bit imprecise (see below for another example). It is true that a shutdown does not affect the normal distribution of Social Security checks (in contrast to reaching the debt ceiling, which would). However, if federal agencies are unstaffed or understaffed, it does affect various things related to Social Security checks. For example, if a check does not arrive, or an auto-deposit doesn't happen, or a person needs to change their address, or if a person needs to enroll the first time, resolution will be more difficult than it would be absent a shutdown.

D.S. Oakton, VA, asks: You shared a "flier" published on TFG's boutique social media site addressed to liberal Jews in honor of the New Year. It outlines five ways he was a big supporter of Jewish interests during his 4 years in office. But, at the very bottom, with a heart, it says "Clearly, one of the greatest Anti Semites of our time!" I couldn't agree more. Was this done as tongue-in-cheek? Was it an honest admission? Or was it a lack of understanding of the word "antisemite"?

(V) & (Z) answer: It was meant sarcastically. The whole thing was set up along the lines of, "If Donald Trump was antisemitic, would he have done [X]?" It's like saying, "If Joe Biden is a failure as president, then I hope the next six presidents fail, as well."

F.F. in London, England, UK, asks: Could you please elaborate on why Donald Trump's Truth Social post confirms his fundamental antisemitism? As far as I can tell, he's not distinguishing between good and bad Jews, as you suggest. He's distinguishing between those that vote for him and those who don't, and saying the latter voted to destroy America and Israel. That's a political view I disagree with, but I don't see the racism.

(V) & (Z) answer: Because Trump did not address his remarks to all people, he addressed them only to Jewish Americans. He is presuming that he knows better than actual Jewish people how Jewish people should behave, and is declaring that those Jews who do not comport to his sense of things are "bad" Jews. If you accuse people of destroying two nations, that is clearly "bad" behavior, even if the word "bad" is not used explicitly.

Also, the notion of Jews as an insidious group that works to destroy nations from within (and from without) is a longstanding antisemitic trope.

E.B. in Seattle, WA, asks: Is there a reason other than tradition that military promotions are considered individually by the Senate?

Incidentally, my father was confirmed by the Senate as a foreign service officer (he was a mid-level bureaucrat in the U.S. Agency for International Development). I had no idea until the Tuberville antics that he was confirmed individually instead of as part of a big batch of names.

(V) & (Z) answer: We have addressed this before, but since we get the question a lot, we'll address it again. Clearly, some military positions (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Commandant of the Marine Corps, etc.) should be confirmed by the Senate. The only question is where the line between "worthy of Senate involvement" and "no Senate involvement needed" is drawn. And the decision has been made to draw it between ranks where the holder might act as an Officer of the United States and ranks where that will not happen.

An Officer of the United States is a person—civilian or military—who might exercise some portion of the sovereign power of the U.S. government. Sending someone to prison is an exercise of that power, so federal judges are Officers of the United States. Passing a law is an exercise of that power, so members of Congress are Officers of the United States. Signing a contract for goods and services, to be paid by the U.S. government, is an exercise of that power, too. Since a major/lieutenant colonel/colonel or lieutenant commander/commander/captain might execute such an agreement, they therefore get approved by the Senate. Officers of those ranks might also negotiate a treaty or armistice, which is another exercise of the sovereign power of the United States. Your father, as a foreign service officer, might also have performed some of these tasks (say, negotiating a trade agreement), hence the need for Senate approval.

Note also that, technically speaking, appointees are not confirmed in batches. Technically, they are always confirmed individually. However, the rules are often suspended such that individual cases can be considered in 3-4 seconds instead of 3-4 hours. That allows for dozens or hundreds of confirmations in a short time.

R.M. in Benson, AZ, asks: Thanks to Rudy Giuliani, I now know I am in a 1% social strata. Not the top 1% but the bottom 1%. You see, I read that the profligate Rudy Cazooti has a monthly spending of $250,000, while my monthly income is $2,500. I am thrifty and I am able to meet my obligations and I am even able to save $300 a month.

Anyhow, my mind is whirling like a dervish on two questions. What is the source and what type of income does one need to support $250,000 monthly spending on oneself, and what in the world does someone spend with an income of $250,000?

To show I am not some heartless person, I do have a spare bedroom in my mobile home should Rudy need a place to stay.

(V) & (Z) answer: It is somewhat easier to answer where his money came from than where it went to. After his time as America's Mayor, he took a "hero" tour, and was willing to show up anywhere they'd pay his speaking fee. In just one year (2006), he gave over 100 paid talks and brought in over $10 million. He also founded several businesses, including a consulting firm and an investment bank. At its high point, his salary from those ventures was in the range of $4 million. He also invested in the stock market, and in New York businesses, particularly restaurants. At peak operation, his cut of the restaurant profits was something like $3 million per year. However, the pandemic wiped most of that out.

How did he blow through so much money (estimated to be between $45 million and $90 million)? Three alimony payments don't help, nor does losing a bunch of lawsuits, nor does living the high life (first-class seats on airplanes, eating at Michelin starred restaurants, wearing custom-made $10,000 suits, etc.). It appears, however, that much of his money was expended on high-priced trappings of wealth, including multiple yachts, a collection of 100+ luxury watches, and a whole bunch of high-end real estate.

W.S. in Austin, TX, asks: You wrote, of the Susanna Gibson Chaturbate videos: "[W]e don't want to get within 10 feet of that sort of slut-shaming behavior."

If you had been the editor-in-chief at a major outlet during Gary Hart's 1988 campaign for president, and confirmed information about his personal conduct involving Donna Rice came to your attention, would you have declined to report that story? Or would you have considered it relevant news, and reported it in full knowledge that a significant percentage of the public would react unfavorably?

As far as I'm concerned, Hart wasn't slut-shamed or even adultery-shamed. He was stupidity-shamed.

If you're considering whether to run for public office, you must expect this sort of investigation into your personal life and take the probability of unfortunate revelations into account. Hart apparently never studied probability theory and I doubt Susanna Gibson did either.

In this sense, they are quite similar to Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), who apparently somehow never considered that her public conduct might be documented on video and revealed to the world, and that if it was, that might hurt her reelection campaign. She is being stupidity-shamed right now, and she deserves it.

(V) & (Z) answer: Do you truly not see the differences here?

To start, we wrote about the Gibson story, and gave our views on it. We merely declined to link the videos. If people really want to see them, they are not hard to find.

Beyond that, Hart was betraying and dishonoring his wife, and he made that worse by lying about it. The public has the right to know if a political candidate has demonstrated their willingness to engage in dishonest and duplicitous behavior. By contrast, Gibson's husband knew about the videos because... he was in them. As we noted in our original write-up, there was nothing illegal or unethical about it. Some people, including readers of this site, asserted that it nonetheless speaks to bad judgment. If so, well, everyone uses bad judgment sometimes. And even if you think this was bad judgment, is this particular bad judgment worse than driving drunk, or smoking a joint, or cheating on an exam? Because we can guarantee you there are thousands of politicians today, including members of Congress, guilty of those offenses.

As to Boebert, the story there was the overall "performance," including the vaping and the singing and the boyfriend-fondling and the ejection from the performance. It speaks to a lack of maturity, one that has been on prominent display on the floor of the House on more than one occasion. If all Boebert had done was feel up her date, we wouldn't have written about it.


S.J.B. in Rolling Meadows, IL, asks: I cannot figure out why there is so much vitriol and dislike of Kamala Harris. She doesn't appear to have done more or less than any vice president in memory, except for being the wrong gender and color.

That said, why couldn't the VP be persuaded to take the California Senate seat for the rest of her life, and in a swap with the Golden State, Gavin Newsom would be the perfect VP-in-waiting.

(V) & (Z) answer: A lot of people seem to have the notion that some VPs emerge as powerful members of their presidential administrations, and end up as popular figures in their own rights. We would like to know which VPs these people are thinking of, because we cannot come up with any. Very popular presidents (Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama) tend to outshine their VPs. Unpopular presidents (George H.W. Bush, Donald Trump, Joe Biden) tend to drag their VPs down with them. Admittedly, there are some cases—Dan Quayle leaps to mind—where the VP doesn't need any help being dragged down.

As to your proposal, we see four problems: (1) Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) clearly has no interest in giving up the seat; (2) If all Harris wanted was a nice, long Senate career in a safe seat, she already had that and decided against it; (3) Just about everyone would see through these machinations as a way to boot Harris off the ticket, which would make Biden look bad; and (4) A two-white-guy ticket is probably not a winner for the Democrats, which is why the party has not had such a ticket since 2004.

E.R. in Colorado Springs, CO, asks: I was surprised to see your item in which you (emphatically) asserted that Trump did not donate his salary. There are numerous fact-checks that seem to contradict your claim (here's one). Could you please clarify?

(V) & (Z) answer: This is the second instance we refer to above. Writing a lot on a tight deadline sometimes produces a clumsy sentence or assertion. The odds go up when the writer has a bad head cold, as (Z) has had all week.

What the sentence should have said is that while Trump donated some of his salary, there is no proof he donated all of it (as promised), and a fair bit of evidence that he did not, as The Washington Post has written. Put another way, we wrote: "and he did NOT donate it, contrary to his promises to do so" and we should have written "and he very probably did NOT donate it all, contrary to his promises to do so."

E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, asks: In this age of massive spending on political campaigns, why are any significant federal or state positions (U.S. House, state Houses, state Senates) ever unopposed? After, couldn't the Republicans or Democrats find an activist, or a student, or a retiree to get on the ballot, just in case the other candidate turns out to be a woke transgender drag queen communist serial subway groper, or a MAGA-loving, evangelical Q-anon-supporting white supremacist puppy drowner, respectively? What happens if an office is unopposed and the candidate drops out or dies before the election but after all the filing deadlines are passed?

(V) & (Z) answer: It varies from place to place, but if a candidate becomes unavailable for whatever reason, a replacement is usually chosen by some organ of their political party (for example, the county Republican committee, or the state Democratic committee).

And it is rarer these days for a person to run unopposed than it was 10 years ago. The Republicans figured out that you might as well take a shot, and the Democrats learned from that after getting burned a few times. That said, it does take some work to find a candidate, and then some work or some money or both to get them on the ballot. In some circumstances, this is almost certainly a total waste of time. Even if the dominant-party candidate is outed as a lech, they will be able to either drop out and be replaced, or they will get elected anyway.


K.H. in Scotch Plains, NJ, asks: Hannibal Hamlin was Abraham Lincoln's vice president for the majority of Lincoln's presidency, but was dropped from the ticket and Andrew Johnson became VP when Lincoln's second term started. I know a lot more about 20th century American history than earlier American history, but I've been curious for some time now about what would have happened had Lincoln (who was, of course, inaugurated for his second term only about a month before he was assassinated) kept Hamlin on as VP, and had Hamlin succeeded Lincoln as president after he was killed. Knowing this is a hypothetical, what exactly do you think would have been the short-term and long-term implications of a Hamlin presidency, especially when it came to furthering Lincoln's original goals and following up on what he wanted to accomplish, given that Andrew Johnson is considered one of the worst and most inept U.S. Presidents in history?

(V) & (Z) answer: Lincoln was a centrist and pragmatist who both knew and believed that the enslaved people who had been freed needed some consideration, but who also felt that white Southerners remained fully American, entitled to resumption (at some point) of all the rights and privileges that entails. Perhaps, given his considerable political skill, not to mention the credibility that comes from winning a war, Lincoln might have navigated a course that worked out better for the country than the one that actually came to pass. Perhaps not.

Hamlin, had he become president, did not have "I won the Civil War" in his back pocket. Nor, by all indications, did he have a fraction of Lincoln's political skill. More skill than Johnson, but nothing close to Lincoln. Beyond that, Hamlin's problem was the mirror image of Johnson's problem. Ultimately, Johnson was too conciliatory toward the white South, which led to a backlash among Northerners, particularly Northern liberals. Hamlin, by contrast, was aligned with the radical faction of the Republican Party, and would likely have pursued policies that triggered a backlash among Northern conservatives. Add it up, and things probably turn out pretty similarly.

T.H. in Oakland, CA, asks: I am wondering if you would weigh in on two things that you frequently write about: the Civil War and popular music. With the recent passing of Robbie Robertson, I have been thinking again about The Band's song, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." As you argue that preserving slavery was the primary reason for the South seceding from the Union, do you think that the song is racist? There are certain songs, such as "Brown Sugar," that are overtly and disgustingly racist; in the case of this Rolling Stones' song, there is a bawdy celebration of slave owners raping their female slaves. The Band's song does not explicitly mention race but it certainly shows sympathy for the South losing the Civil War. Could you argue that the song is simply a narrative about a poor white Southerner, presumably not a slave-owner, who is reeling from the loss of his brother and the humiliation of living in defeated land? Or is that interpretation too generous? I hope you can remain fair-minded as most of the members of The Band were Canadian.

(V) & (Z) answer: The fact that The Band was mostly Canadian is actually a pretty strong argument that the song is not trying to cloak a racist message in more appealing clothing. A conservative white Southerner (say, Jason Aldean) might well be expected to engage in that kind of double-talk. There is considerably less reason for a Canadian to do so.

Beyond that, pointing out that the Civil War imposed a tremendous cost on Southern civilians and/or rank-and-file Southern soldiers does not constitute, in our view, a form of Confederate apologia. The song slots in alongside such films as Cold Mountain and Shenandoah, which are not considered to be, and do not comport with, Lost Cause thinking in the manner of a Gone with the Wind or a Gods and Generals.

L.O.-R. in San Francisco, CA, asks: I have lately been thinking about the way we use the term "plantation" in the United States and am increasingly bothered by the word. Whenever I see the term it strikes me as a Lost Cause-friendly word that we should stop using. Your recent discussions about Reconstruction and the Lost Cause have provoked me to ask: Have you considered using a better term for these large, slave-holding businesses? I am actively trying to use the term "slave camp" or "slave work camp" in order to strip away the glossy gentility that "plantation" invokes. Does this question come up in (Z)'s history courses? How have you grappled with this?

(V) & (Z) answer: (Z) can see the argument, but it hasn't come up in class, nor in any literature that he's familiar with. There are so many other Lost Cause-y weasel words and phrases, like "gallant" and "antebellum" and "War of Northern Aggression" and "Dixie," that one hasn't come under the microscope yet. Maybe one day it will.

J.H. in Boston, MA, asks: The question from J.K. in Haarlem seems to rely on an unstated assumption that the phrase "Dear Leader" is a throwback to Williams Jenning Bryan. I know almost nothing about Bryan. I always took it to be a reference to Kim Jong-Il or the father. I'm not sure why, since they are Korean and would presumably not have English language references. Maybe it's a translation?

(V) & (Z) answer: We don't think J.K. in Haarlem meant to suggest the phrase was developed in the nineteenth century. In any case, it is undisputed that Kim Il-Sung was known as "Great Leader" and that his son Kim Jong-Il acquired the monicker "Dear Leader" in order to distinguish between the two. Kim Jong-Un appears to have appropriated his father's nickname. We don't speak Korean, obviously, but are given to understand that the English version captures fairly well the Korean meaning.

We will add that it is sometimes useful, or even necessary, to use anachronistic language when discussing the past, because either a correct historical term doesn't exist, or the historical term is not familiar to modern people. To take just a few examples, (Z) has learned that students understand better if he describes Mark Twain as a "feminist" (rather than "suffragist"), Junípero Serra as an "old-school Catholic" (rather than "traditionalist"), Andrew Jackson as a "populist" (rather than a "Jacksonian democrat") and Boss William Magear Tweed as a "city councilman" (rather than "alderman"). (Z) always notes that these terms are not technically correct, but are the modern equivalent of the historical terms.

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, asks: I watched a documentary about Prohibition some years back on PBS. Unfortunately, I can't remember the title. The main thesis was that Prohibition, and the smuggling of booze, lead to the rise of the Mafia and organized crime in this country. Is that true or a misconception?

(V) & (Z) answer: You almost certainly saw Ken Burns' Prohibition. You may be well assured that the Mafia and organized crime predate Prohibition in the U.S. by at least 30 years. However, Prohibition did provide the Mafia with a serious injection of money and manpower that allowed the various criminal families to more fully entrench themselves and to extend their reach.


D.W. in Arden, NC: Am I the only one curious about the profession of R.P. in Kāneʻohe, HI and how it puts them in "activities that put me at elevated risk of experiencing hypoxia"?

(V) & (Z) answer: We know enough to give you a general answer, as we have biographical details that don't appear in the actual letters and questions we run. However, we thought it better to go right to the source. So, here is R.P. explaining:

I had figured people might be curious about that. I had noted in my contribution that I had some trepidation about commenting at all, due to the sensitivity of the topic, and I didn't want to reveal too much about who I was. However, I think (V) & (Z) handled the context of that commentary in last Sunday's posts extremely well, so I don't mind sharing more information on this. I am a marine biologist, and I use a form of life-support equipment called "closed-circuit rebreathers" to dive in underwater environments. Rebreathers differ from conventional SCUBA in that they recirculate the diver's breath. This has tremendous advantages for the work I do, but also comes with a significant risk. Unlike SCUBA, the oxygen concentration in the breathing mixture of a rebreather is controlled by oxygen sensors and computers. While there are many layers of redundancy and backup, such systems can sometimes fail—which is why it's important to be trained to recognize the subtle symptoms of hypoxia. My colleagues and I have used this equipment for three decades, and thankfully the unplanned exposures to hypoxia all happened early on in our respective careers. The equipment we use today is much more reliable.

Thanks, R.P.!

K.F. in Framingham MA, asks: There is something I've been wondering. In real-life, day-to-day interactions, how many people are aware of (V)'s and (Z)'s alter egos on In full transparency, you do provide a link on the site that reveals your true identities. But do you ever get reactions from students or others, who say, "Wow, professor... you mean to say you're the famous (Z)?" And for those who already know of your moonlighting gig, do any of your students or colleagues come up to you and provide unsolicited feedback on your posts? "Gee professor, I loved what you said about [X] on today!" or "Come on, do you really think [X] is likely to happen?", etc. Finally, are any of your students, colleagues, or friends ever featured in the Saturday Q&A or Sunday Mailbag?

(V) & (Z) answer: (Z) tells people, including his students, about the site, so it's not a secret or a surprise when someone he knows personally says (or e-mails) something about the site. In the case of students, in particular, neither of us share the site as a cheap way of getting some buzz. (Z) does it because some students are interested in their professors' work outside the classroom, and because if they do read the site, they get some ideas about how to organize information and use evidence. (V) doesn't tell students or colleagues generally, but doesn't deny it if someone discovers it. It's on the website, after all. He has told some politically aware friends, though.

It is not terribly unusual for someone who is a personal acquaintance to show up on the site. To take two recent examples, this question came from (Z)'s stepfather, while this question came from one of his students. (V)'s friends send in questions from time to time, but they don't get priority in being answered. They have to make it on their own merits.

It also works in the reverse direction, sometimes. We've come to know personally a handful of folks we first knew as regular contributors to the site, like A.R. in Los Angeles, J.L. in Los Angeles and S.C. in Mountain View, CA.

Reader Question of the Week

Here is the question we put before readers last week:

J.K. in Silverdale, WA, asks: I am playing campaign manager for my friend's school board campaign. My friend, who is rational, supportive of all students, and against book bans, was appointed to fill a vacancy on the board and is running to keep the seat. This is for a relatively small district, and our campaign is a very small operation, as in three main people, including the candidate. So far, it has gone swimmingly. My candidate won almost 70% of the vote in a four-way primary.

Here's our current dilemma: My candidate has been invited to a forum hosted by our local Moms for Liberty chapter. Our district has an approximately 60/40 liberal/conservative split, and, as is the case across the country, our local M4L chapter is quite vocal at board meetings. There are pros and cons to attending the forum. My candidate has sincere concerns about legitimizing M4L. On the other hand, these people are constituents, and this would be an opportunity to provide a counter-narrative from outside their bubble.

I attribute much of our campaign's success so far to the political education I have received from this site. Hence, I thought I should reach out to the esteemed (V) & (Z) and this readership for advice. What say you, Should my candidate attend the forum? Why do you say so?

And here some of the many interesting answers we got in response:

A.M. in Olympia, WA: If your candidate won 70% of the vote in the primary, why rock the boat by having the candidate attend a forum sponsored by a bunch of whack jobs? Having personally worked on many political campaigns in your county, Kitsap, I can attest that little is gained by the candidate attending these fringe forums. The local newspaper, Kitsap Sun, may cover it but it will have minimal effect upon the electorate. Your candidate would be better served by knocking on the doors of targeted voters from your walking lists.

R.T. in Arlington, TX: Finally a question I can sink my teeth into. I'm cynical enough to think that the forum invitation is a set-up, but it isn't obvious what the trap is. The last person who seemed to have a knack for handling these situations in person was Jesus Christ. I wouldn't take pity on MFL as constituents because they have been perfectly capable of expressing their desires in the public comments of school board meetings. They already have their minds made up on their trigger issues, so the most honest intention they could have is to litmus-test your candidate against their list.

The more likely motivation (remember, I'm cynical) is to take your candidate down, since you already have a lead and are too rational and balanced for their tastes. I suggest you offer the equivalent to a "deposition by written questions," where they can present their questions in writing and you provide answers in writing. Then, if the questions smell fishy, answer them, but submit the entire thing as a press release on the day you deliver it to MFL. That protects you from being misrepresented by MFL. If they refuse to submit questions and whine that you are dodging them, your response is that you take their questions seriously and believed that they deserve more thoughtful replies than something off the cuff.

I'm not sure who actually said it (Churchill/Einstein/Gandhi/Groucho) but anytime you argue with a fool, you tend to look like a fool yourself.

D.C. in Delray Beach, FL: I ran successfully twice for town councilor in Falmouth, ME (population then about 9,000); I was elected in 1996 and re-elected in 1999.

One issue I championed was equal rights on the basis of sexual orientation. In 1998, our council passed an ordinance similar to one in place for the adjoining city of Portland. Statewide efforts to encode such rights had not succeeded at the ballot box.

A month before the 1999 election, an anti-gay zealot (now deceased) was able to secure time on our town's local cable tv outlet. He set up a forum to discuss the ordinance and invited the candidates for town council to join him.

All the candidates declined to appear. A handful of the zealot's friends did show up in the live audience. We have no way to measure how many people tuned in.

We candidates felt that we had been clear enough about our positions as printed in our own literature and interviews in the local paper and talking to voters in door to door visits. We knew we would not change any minds of live attendees at the forum. We did not choose to legitimize the zealot's actions, which had also included a tabloid full of anti-gay articles.

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY: I wouldn't go. While I do understand the lure of wanting to break their ideological bubble, it takes a very special public speaker to be able to pull that off. A counter-narrative is just going to piss them off. Maybe if you can couch your progressive/liberal positions as the natural consequence of conservative values, but even then, their ability to hold two completely contradictory positions at the same time ("Jesus is the one Lord" and "Donald Trump is our savior" for example) makes this very tricky to pull off.

After serving a three year term on my hometown school board (just across the state line in South Dakota), I gave an honest opinion of the local Do-Gooder Parents Club (not their real name) at the candidate forum and subsequently was not re-elected. If you're already getting 70% support, maybe you already have enough cushion you could take the chance, but there is very little chance of gaining any votes there. My advice: Make some kind of excuse and push for high turnout in the 60% liberal part of the electorate.

T.B. in Leon County, FL: Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) received, in 1983, a Moral Majority membership card via Reverand Falwell, and used it to finagle his giving a speech at Falwell's hyper-conservative Liberty College. He spoke on "Faith, Truth, and Tolerance in America." I suggest this would be a good place to start for any politician preparing to go into the lion's den.

T.S. in Memphis, TN: Yes, your candidate should participate in the M4L debate if there are also other debates scheduled, but only with a well-considered plan that includes:

  1. Show up (because showing up matters)
  2. Maintaining an even temper, no matter what happens
  3. Determining ahead of the debate where is the "line in the sand" that the candidate won't cross
  4. A civil exit strategy if that line has been crossed ("Thank you for inviting me to participate in this debate, but it's clearly heading in directions I don't think are helpful for this school board." And walk off. No snark, maintaining an even temper even if goaded by M4L after the debate.)

M.A. in Park Ridge, IL: Go. Especially in local races, the more you can get out there in front of people, the better. Even if it's jerks like Moms for Liberty.

Over the past 20 years, I have run (and won) a contested race for City Council here in Park Ridge, and have also assisted people (some won, some didn't) in other races around town for school boards, City Council, and other positions. So I do have some experience, and I've seen what works and what doesn't.

As far as legitimizing M4L, they are an awful bunch, but they're having their event whether you go or not. Attend, speak your mind, don't back down, be respectful, stand for what you stand for, and let the chips fall.

You won't win over the M4L bunch, but you never know who else might be there for the convincing. And if you get off a few good lines, you can use them as you promote your own campaign.

Good luck. If good people like you don't stand up, we're all in trouble.

C.Z. in Sacramento, CA: It's a trap! Don't fall for it and potentially put your candidate in danger. The M4L group will simply scream their nonsense and not allow your candidate to answer. No matter what your candidate says, the M4L group's ranting will get all the press. Instead of attending the forum, invite M4L to provide your candidate with their questions or concerns in writing, and state that your candidate will be happy to provide them with thoughtful, reasoned, responses. MAGATs are incapable of reason, or civil discourse. So even if you set up rules for the forum, stating that only questions provided in writing will be addressed, they will violate the rules and turn the forum into either a circus or a barroom brawl.

As a cocktail waitress in the 1970's, I learned that you can't reason with a drunk, whether they are drunk on booze or drunk on power. Just get behind the bar and let the bouncer or the cops handle it.

A.H. in Newberg, OR: Why go into the "Lions Den"? For clarification; I have run for elected office several times, Won four times and lost more than I care to remember. Still serve on an appointed board:

  1. You are showing your supporters that you are able to confront the opposition and are willing to stand up for your positions.

  2. You are showing your supposed opponents that you are willing to stand up for your convictions and not back down from their slings and arrows.

  3. Most importantly, there will undoubtably be some undecided voters in attendance, you will show them that you are ready to take on the office for which you are running. If you don't show up, they may not get to know who you are. If they don't know who you are, they are less likely to consider you.

  4. When the party is over, or at least your portion of the interview, respectfully ask them for their vote, and THANK EVERYONE for participating, shake hands with your opponent (sometimes that is tough) kiss a few babies and make yourself available to talk to ANYONE that wants to speak to you, and answer their questions honestly and forthrightly without fear or equivocation.

You won't gain any votes by not being there, you will probably pick up a few just by showing that you care.

B.S. in Huntington Beach, CA: I believe very strongly that the newly elected board member should attend. A rational, well-reasoned response to the insanity coming from groups such as MFL may not convert them to sanity, but it resonates deeply with a broader audience and gives that broader audience vitally important perspectives on the issues of concern.

I am always so impressed when Pete Buttigieg appears on Fox as he destroys the latest right-wing propaganda that normally goes unrebutted by the usual panel of Kool-Aid drinkers. He does not shy away from what others consider a less than optimal audience for his views and perspectives. To further illustrate the value of engagement, watch the video of Sean Hannity interviewing Gavin Newsom. Hannity's intent was to bully, intimidate and expose Newsom. It didn't turn out that way. Newsom ate Hannity's lunch.

I am a firm believer in the James Carville adage that no accusation, slander, attack, or lie should remain unaddressed. You will not convert the true believers, but you may give them a headache while providing your more moderate constituency the information they need to do the right thing. It's a win-win.

R.D. in Cambridge, MN: I have worked on numerous school board elections in a district decidedly more conservative than the one described. I think there is no doubt that your candidate needs to show up at the M4L forum, not so much to win votes as to provide thoughtful, intelligent answers that will solidify support among the candidate's voters. I'd go further and suggest inviting as many supporters as possible to the forum. A more evenly balanced cheering section can only heighten the comparison that attendees experience. I think this is a great "turn the tables" opportunity. Good luck!

P.R. in Saco, ME: Yes, your candidate should attend, but he should bring with him a volunteer cadre of "Dads for Love/Education/Heroic Masculinity/Our Children's Future," etc. Provide them with t-shirts in large font. Allow them speaking time to counter the Moms' narrative, in deep and resonant baritone, respectfully, and well-versed in constitutional issues. Make sure local media attend.

B.C. in Phoenix, AZ: I need to preface my response to J.K. in Silverdale by saying I, too, have received the vast majority of my education in the modern political process from And since I am a flaming liberal, I am cautioning J.K. to take my ideas with a Terex Titan-sized grain of salt, and rely on the responses of (V), (Z) and other, possibly more attuned readers, to see any glaring holes in my suggestions.

First, try to find a church in your area which is headed by a lesbian pastor who is willing to host the forum. If you can find one, continue on to 2.

Chat with the folks in the news department at a local TV station, and make sure they join you, with their cameras on, at that church and with the pastor present, so you can make an announcement.

In front of those cameras, say okay to the forum with Moms for Liberty, but demand your right to choose the venue. Then, of course, choose the church you're broadcasting from. If they balk, you get to characterize them as cowards without the courage of their convictions necessary to enter the lion's den. (Neat Biblical reference, eh? Choose more of them you can think of and have them ready to include in your subsequent op-ed.)

If M4L accepts, then the day of the forum make sure you have some of your constituents present with their elementary school-age children (so they can "learn how democracy works"). The M4L folks are much less likely to engage in frothing tirades if everyone else can see, on their television screens, that the only thing they're doing is frightening a bunch of little kids.

Some may feel my thoughts are too combative, but in the last few years I have become convinced that MfL, and their ilk, view attempts at reasoned dialog as weaknesses to be exploited. It's time for folks really interested in democracy to cowboy up.

R.S. in Olympia, WA: As a former professional political organizer, I would say that one of the first things use must decide is what ideas you support and what ideas you want to defeat.

Refusing to define the ideas you want to defeat is what leads to mealy mouthed politicians that people hate. It's also bad politics. Your victory needs to be seen as a rejection of the ideas you oppose if you're going to have the influence to enact the policies you support.

Moms For Liberty isn't a constituent group or open forum. They're an issue group like the NRA or NARAL. If you don't support their issues politically you don't do any favors by going to their forum.

It'd be like a pro-life politician going to a Planned Parenthood forum, or a gun control advocate going to an NRA forum.

D.A. in Brooklyn, NY: [Disclaimer: I have zero experience with this sort of thing and would probably not trust my own opinion. But what the hell.]

Advice: attend M4L with both a Plan A and a Plan B.

Plan A: Acknowledge very early in the forum that your perspective is substantially different from the M4L organization and leadership but you respect people's right to a point of view and that you want to learn more and listen. From that point on, do not make any statements or judgments, but have a lot of questions, mostly gentle ones, ready. And listen.

Continue with Plan A as long as there is a certain level of decorum and civility. If and when that ceases, carry out Plan B.

Plan B: State if possible that you had come to listen and learn but not to be abused nor to be part of a circus. If possible state that you hope that will be possible in the future. And then walk out, head held high.

R.M. in Pensacola, FL: As someone who had successfully run for my local school board at 19 and re-election at 23 in the early 2000s, I figured I would offer some advice to J.K. in Silverdale with regard to their friend's election campaign to their local school board.

Your friend is doing a great service for your community. He is using his experiences to help the youngest members of your town grow and develop and learn.

In his limited time already on the Board, he has likely met and talked with people who take an active interest in what is going on in their schools. They are the people who show up to every meeting. Those who ask questions at those meetings. These are the people that your friend wants to interact with and will get the most reasonable responses and information from.

However, he already knows the answer as to your question. You also know the answer. The Moms for Liberty are the people who get upset at something real or perceived and show up at the meetings hot as hell. No amount of rational explanation will satisfy what they are complaining about. They are at these meetings for one reason and one reason only. Once that particular issue has faded from the headlines, they will be gone. These people were around when I was on the school board 20 years ago and they will be around 20 years from now and beyond.

So, do not engage. Do not go to their forum, because regardless of what your friend says, he will not win over anyone or educate them or anything. He is only setting himself up to be trapped and to end up on some local viral video that distorts what he says.

If he does want to go to these type of forums, then go to established ones by established organizations. Go to ones set up by the League of Women Voters, not Moms for Liberty. Go to ones set up by the local Rotary Club, not the Tea Party and so on.

Trust me, nobody will notice if he isn't at the Moms for Liberty event. Chances are, most people in attendance will be people who identify themselves as being a member of the Moms for Liberty and not a candidate for local office or someone looking to learn about the candidates. Good luck!

Here is the question for next week:

O.Z.H. in Dubai, UAE, asks: Is there an alternative to RealClearPolitics? It's gone from a simple news aggregator to one that aggregates mostly right-wing media and/or right-wing articles from the token conservatives The New York Times and The Washington Post have on staff.

We almost answered this question ourselves. And if we had, we would have pointed out that: (1) RCP has always been skewed in this way, even if it's gotten worse recently, and (2) Taegan Goddard's Political Wire, which we link to each day (see the box at top), is a very good aggregator.

All of this said, we thought if we opened it up to the readership, we'd end up with a better list.

Submit your answers here!

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