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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Ron DeSantis... a Lost Cause?
      •  Ron DeSantis... and the Lost Cause
      •  Biden Once Again Atop the GOP Impeachment Rankings
      •  Unwinnable Issues, Part I: Immigration
      •  So Su Me?

Ron DeSantis... a Lost Cause?

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) was in a car wreck yesterday, but it was minor, and he's already fully recovered. His campaign, by contrast, is rapidly turning into a train wreck. And it is far less likely to recover.

One very bad sign for the Governor is the big DeSantis-campaign-related news of the day from yesterday, that DeSantis 2024 just fired one-third of its staffers (38 people got pink slips, in total). This is because the campaign is running short on money. And the campaign is running short on money because it's not doing well in terms of donations. And it's not doing well in terms of donations because DeSantis has always practiced a fundraising approach based on getting the support of a small cadre of well-heeled donors. That's fine for Florida, where his 42 billionaire donors can write checks of any size they wish for his campaign war chest. But for federal campaigns, they can give $3,300 for the primary, another $3,300 in hopes he makes it to the general, and then... they can give money to his super PAC. This is why his super PAC is doing fine, and is essentially starting to take over certain key campaign functions (like the bus tour through Iowa).

Kicking a bunch of staff to the curb, and letting the super PAC step forward, may be a short-term solution but it raises potential problems, long-term. To start, quality staffers are now going to be leery of working for the campaign or the PAC, since they now know there can be mass layoffs at any time. At the very least, they'd like to know they'll be employed through April or May of next year, but that's no longer a sure thing. A second problem is that DeSantis is going to push to the very limit the rule that says campaigns can't coordinate with PACs. And there's a good chance he's going to push it too far, and commit a crime. A third problem is that the billionaire (and multimillionaire) class expects to get something for its money. If they decide that the S.S. DeSantis is a sinking ship (to use another transportation disaster metaphor), then they will take their cash elsewhere (or just stop investing in this presidential cycle entirely).

A second sign that DeSantis 2024 is in trouble is his polling vis-à-vis Donald Trump. We've done this before, but here's an update on the average gap between Trump and the Governor in polls of the Republican primaries. Note that we only used national preference polls, and that when there was a choice, we chose the poll condition where the entire Republican field was included, as opposed to just Trump vs. DeSantis. Here are the numbers:

Month No. of Polls Average
January 29 Trump +14
February 36 Trump +15
March 36 Trump +20
April 34 Trump +30
May 38 Trump +33
June 33 Trump +33
July 17 Trump +36

As a reminder, the first Trump indictment (Alvin Bragg) came down on April 24, the second (Jack Smith) on June 9. Meanwhile, DeSantis spent much of the month of May teasing a run that everyone knew was coming, and then he made it official on May 25 with that disastrous launch on The Platform Formerly Known as Twitter. As you can plainly see, the more trouble Trump gets in, and the more DeSantis campaigns, the worse the gap gets. If we were running DeSantis' campaign, and were asked for ideas on how to fight back against this, we have no idea what we'd suggest. Maybe have DeSantis stay at home all the time, while trying to arrange a sainthood for Trump? Or more practically, drop out of the race and have Casey DeSantis enter it. She is a far better campaigner than he is and can easily distance herself from some of hubby's less popular decisions by saying: "That was his view, mine is ..."

And finally, a third sign that DeSantis is in trouble is that Fox has very clearly turned against him. There was a time when Rupert Murdoch & Co. hoped he would be the white knight (and we do mean white; more below) who would vanquish Trump. That's not looking likely, and the sorry state of DeSantis' campaign is now a frequent topic of conversation on Fox programs.

It is not very easy to create a narrative that one is a viable presidential candidate who should be taken seriously. However, it may be even harder than that to reverse a narrative that one reached for the stars, flew too close to the sun, and is now plummeting to Earth. There are certainly presidential contenders in the past who have been left for dead (or, at least, mostly dead), only to come roaring back to life. The guy in the White House right now is one example of that, in fact. Bill Clinton pulled that off as well. But campaign resurrections, when they happen, take place when the field is big and unwieldy and the identity of the frontrunner is murky. That's simply not the case with the 2024 Republican field, which means that if David is going to slay Goliath here, he's going to have to engineer a turnaround of the sort that has no real precedent in U.S. political history. (Z)

Ron DeSantis... and the Lost Cause

Last week, we noted that the state of Florida has come up with Black history standards that, among other things, try to pin some of the moral blame for slavery on African slavers, instruct teachers to point out that slavery was sometimes beneficial for slaves, and insist on the inclusion of Black misdeeds during race riots and other uprisings.

We did not hit Ron DeSantis quite as hard as we could have for those standards (though reader M.S. in Canton did some of that work for us). The reason we did not scorch some Florida earth is that we weren't 100% sure exactly what the relationship between DeSantis and the standards was. Sure, he instigated the project. But was he actually OK with the end result? It did not seem quite apropos to hammer him until we were sure about his views.

As of this weekend, that semi-ambiguity is resolved. During his campaign events, the Governor was asked several times about the new standards. And he's made clear he likes what he sees. He insisted that the standards are rooted in the evidence, and that Florida's history courses are "probably going to show some of the folks that eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into, into doing things later in life."

Meanwhile, many Republican pundits have expressed shock and outrage that many people find the Florida standards to be shocking and outrageous. To give one example, here's what professional talking head Scott Jennings had to say:

This is a completely made-up deal. I looked at the standards. I even looked at an analysis of the standards in every instance where the word slavery or slave was used.

I even read the statement of the African-American scholars that wrote the standards, not Ron DeSantis, but the scholars. Everybody involved in this says this is completely a fabricated issue. And yet look how quickly Kamala Harris jumped on it.

So, the fact that this is her best moment, a fabricated matter, is pretty ridiculous, in my opinion.

Admittedly, Jennings is not the sharpest ax in the shed. Still, these remarks are pretty characteristic of what's been coming out of the right-wing mediasphere this week.

In view of this, and given that we just happen to have a history Ph.D. on staff, we thought we'd do a more thorough job of laying out the historical background here, and building on what M.S. in Canton wrote. Before we get to that, however, let us just put to rest two intellectually dishonest claims being advanced by DeSantis, Jennings, et al. First, historical evidence is messy stuff. It always points in ten different directions, and one can always summon up some evidence in service of whatever claim one wants to make. (Z) knew a professor who, as a demonstration, would "prove," with compelling evidence, that Theodore Roosevelt was actually a Muslim. The point that professor was making is that a historian has a duty not to "the evidence" but to "the weight of the evidence." And anyone who has studied American slavery knows that "Hey! They picked up some useful skills!" grossly misrepresents the overall story the evidence tells.

Second, we have no idea which people were behind the new Black history standards. Both DeSantis and Jennings allude to the involvement of Black "experts," and we assume that's true, especially since appointing some carefully chosen Black contributors is exactly the kind of thing DeSantis (or his underlings) would do to give the whole venture a veneer of legitimacy. But there's no way of knowing exactly what the contributions of those Black individuals were. Further, it is entirely possible for Black people to do mediocre Black history, for working-class people to do mediocre labor history, for women to do mediocre gender history, for Europeans to do mediocre European history, etc. (Z), for his dissertation, once interviewed a Black Civil War reenactor who dressed as a Confederate and said he would have no issue if slavery was re-established. That is a Black voice, but it obviously does not speak for any meaningful community of scholars, Black or otherwise.

And now, the history. In the lead-up to the Civil War, there was absolutely no question in the minds of Southerners (or of Northerners) about what the South was fighting for, namely slavery. The "peculiar institution" was deeply enmeshed in the Southern way of life, not only its economy, but its social system, its culture, its worldview, everything. Most of the Confederate states issued "declarations of causes" that made clear they were fighting to protect the slave system. However, the evidence that is usually used to make this point, because it is so clear and compact, is the "Cornerstone Speech" delivered by Confederate VP Alexander Stephens on March 21, 1861. The key passages:

But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other though last, not least. The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the "rock upon which the old Union would split." He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact...

Our new government['s] corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

Roughly 100% of white Southerners would have seen Stephens' ideas as obvious, albeit eloquently stated.

Just a shade over 4 years after that speech was delivered, Robert E. Lee surrendered, which marked the effective end of the Confederacy. With the Thirteenth Amendment having been passed by Congress just a couple of months prior to the surrender, it also marked the effective end of slavery. At the same time, it inaugurated a period of uncertainty for white Southerners. The most immediate question was which insurrectionists would be punished for their crimes, and how? Very few would be, but the Southerners did not know that in mid-1865. The medium-term question was how the Southern states would be re-incorporated into the Union, and indeed, whether they would be reinstated as equals.

It is here that the Lost Cause interpretation of the Civil War had its genesis. In a nutshell, it was very necessary to emphasize the positive qualities of the Confederacy, or at least the qualities that would resonate with Northerners of the mid-19th century—the great Robert E. Lee, the brave Confederate soldiers, people fighting for hearth and home, etc. At the same time, it was necessary to utterly downplay the negative parts of the story, particularly slavery. Lost Cause writers quickly got to work making the case that slavery had virtually nothing to do with the War, that it was a mere footnote. Among those who made that argument, in a forceful manner, was one Alexander Stephens. He wrote a very verbose, and somewhat hard to read, two-volume work in the late 1860s entitled A Constitutional View of the Late War Between the States; Its Causes, Character, Conduct and Results. As you can gather from the title, the now-former Confederate VP had somehow discovered that the real cause of the Civil War was disagreements over the meaning of the Constitution.

These Southern propagandists did their job very, very well. Over the course of a couple of generations, in both North and South, the Lost Cause became the predominant understanding of the Civil War. It would remain that way for close to a hundred years. And in a dynamic that brings to mind the old John Ford film quote—"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend"—the trends that began in the late 1860s were eventually taken to extremes. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Jeb Stuart and a few others were promoted from "hero" to "demigod." And, as to slavery, it was no longer enough to pretend that the institution was a mere footnote that should be ignored. No, eventually the argument was that the slave system was, in effect, a charitable endeavor undertaken by whites for the betterment of their less fortunate Black brothers.

You can see this basic presentation of slavery all over early-20th-century pop culture, most obviously Gone with the Wind. But it was also at the heart of academic scholarship on slavery. For decades, the definitive work on slavery was American Negro Slavery, by Ulrich Bonnell Phillips. The main thesis of the book:

The slaveholding regime kept money scarce, population sparse and land values accordingly low; it restricted the opportunities of many men of both races, and it kept many of the natural resources of the Southern country neglected. But it kept the main body of labor controlled, provisioned and mobile. Above all it maintained order and a notable degree of harmony in a community where confusion worse confounded would not have been far to seek. Plantation slavery had in strictly business aspects at least as many drawbacks as it had attractions. But in the large it was less a business than a life; it made fewer fortunes than it made men.

Some aspects of the book are on the mark, not the least of which is that the slave system grew less profitable over time. Still, American Negro Slavery is predominantly an apologia for the white, Southern slave-owning class.

So, this is the historical tradition that DeSantis, Jennings, et al. are channelling. Not just the early Lost Cause stuff, but the really icky "actually, slavery wasn't so bad" era of the early 20th century (an era that, not coincidentally, witnessed the resurgence of the KKK).

It is certainly possible that the right-wingers whose knickers are in a twist don't really know the history here. That's common, of course. The proper thing to do, when one inadvertently blunders into a dark corner of the past, is to say "Oops! Sorry!" (Z) had a student once who made a joke about writing essays, observing that "work will make you free." When (Z) took the student aside and explained where that comes from (the entrance of Auschwitz), the student was mortified and deeply apologetic. This is not what is happening with the Florida standards.

And really, we seriously doubt that the right-wingers are in the dark when it comes to their "What could possibly be offensive about this?" song and dance. We particularly doubt it in the case of DeSantis, who has a degree in history and has written books on the subject. The fact is that whether it's the Lost Cause version of Black history or it's the Florida version, there are still two key things going on. The first is the white apologia, which is not terribly admirable, but is the less harmful of the two. The second is that, by downplaying the racial sins of the past, one implicitly argues that there's no need to make amends today.

This comports nicely with large elements of the modern conservative political project, from weakening Affirmative Action to gerrymandering away majority-Black districts to gutting the Voting Rights Act to kvetching about "welfare queens" to faux outrage about reparations payments (which are never going to happen). This is how the minority party keeps its hold on power—ironically, by keeping minorities under their thumbs. It was true 150 years ago, and it's true today. The "Huh? There's nothing to see here!" shtick is just a dog whistle that makes a fundamentally racist argument socially acceptable. Put another way, DeSantis & Co. are gaslighting in their response to all of this, which is something worth knowing when deciding where to invest one's vote. (Z)

Biden Once Again Atop the GOP Impeachment Rankings

Yesterday, we had an item about the Faustian bargain that Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) struck with Donald Trump. In exchange for permission to stay out of the presidential endorsements game for now, the Speaker promised to bring up a bill that would "expunge" Trump's two impeachments from the Congressional Record.

It's understandable why Trump would make that deal, since he has an unusual, but very consistent, sense of what "vindication" looks like. On the other hand, there are plenty of Republican members of Congress who serve in swingy districts, and who don't want to bring up past history that is politically damaging to them, much less to cast a vote that says, in effect, that the 1/6 insurrection is no big deal. So the more moderate elements of McCarthy's conference rebelled against the proposition.

Time is running short, since the promise to Trump comes due in August, and so the Speaker has apparently already moved on to Plan B (or maybe it's Plan C, or maybe Plan D, or possibly even Plan X—Brought to You by Elon Musk). The new plan is basically the same as the original plan when McCarthy first became speaker: impeach Joe Biden.

You can certainly see what McCarthy is thinking here. First, the Freedom Caucusers have been hungering for an impeachment, particularly of the President, and this would leave them tickled pink. Since they are the only ones likely to try to get McCarthy removed, keeping them happy would be good for the Speaker's job security. In addition, while Trump would undoubtedly prefer to be un-impeached (de-impeached? counter-impeached? -(impeached)? dehcaepmi?), he'd probably be pretty happy if he could go to his rallies and talk about how the corrupt Joe Biden has gotten himself impeached.

There is one small problem here, though, and perhaps it's already occurred to you. Say it with us: The moderates don't want to be seen as kowtowing to Trump. We cannot imagine why McCarthy thinks that the swing-district Republicans don't want to be asked about whether they support Trump, and don't want to be asked why they voted to expunge Trump's two impeachments, but would be perfectly happy to talk about their participation in an abuse of the Constitution that is clearly just political theater for the benefit of the Maharajah of Mar-a-Lago.

And that actually leads us to a second small problem. Recall that when the authorities look into a crime (whether a "high crime" or otherwise), they search for motive, means, and opportunity. Well, the case against Joe Biden lacks roughly three of those three things. It also lacks, you know, a crime. It's undoubtedly the case that Hunter Biden has run afoul of the law (and he will pay his debt to society for that). But there remains no evidence of any sort that links the President to anything that could be considered a high crime or misdemeanor. Well, unless it's a high crime or a misdemeanor for your dog to bite Secret Service agents.

As it happens, Biden has company, of a sort. We mean in terms of his alleged misdeeds, not in terms of his dog biting people. House Republicans are not happy with Mark Zuckerberg, as they think that he and his company (Facebook... er, Meta) did not submit all of the documentation demanded for various investigative purposes. So, they are planning to charge Zuckerberg with contempt, and they're hoping to send him to the hoosegow to cool his jets for a year or so. As recently as 9 months ago, House Republicans did not think subpoenas issued by committees were enforceable, and they thought the notion of being punished for ignoring a subpoena was positively absurd. Wonder what changed? (Z)

Unwinnable Issues, Part I: Immigration

Harry S. Truman probably didn't coin the observation that if you can't stand the heat, you should get out of the kitchen, but he certainly did popularize it. He knew that being president is not only a thankless job, but one where there's always angles of attack for your enemies, no matter how good a job you're doing. As an adjunct to the previous item, we thought we'd talk about some major public-policy issues where the people in office simply cannot win, no matter what they do.

Today, we take a look at the southern border. There are two immutable facts there, as things currently stand. First, there are going to be more people crossing the border than the U.S. government is able to handle. Second, there will be some unpleasantness, and usually a lot of unpleasantness, when it comes to enforcement. With these caveats, the Biden administration has managed to get illegal border crossings down to their lowest level in 2 years, while handling things in a considerably more humane fashion than the Trump administration did. Keep in mind that that is a low bar, and note that the Biden policy is still objectionable in many ways, not the least of which is making it very hard to request asylum. Still, things are moving in the right direction.

Unfortunately for the White House, its current approach just got smacked down by Judge Jon Tigar. Tigar's injunction is temporary, for now, but is likely to become permanent once the Judge hears the case. He struck down Trump's asylum policy, and has already said he sees little daylight between the Trump policy and the Biden policy.

Beyond that, the number of undocumented immigrants could be slowed by 90%, and still ambitious political opponents would use the issue to do some grandstanding. The particular case study for this week involves Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX), whose willingness to be cruel and to take the law into his own hands has no limits when it comes to scoring some political points. He ordered a bunch of barbed wire put up along the banks of the Rio Grande, while also instigating the construction of a chain of large buoys in the middle of the river that create a version of a fence. You can see a picture here, if you wish.

There are a few... issues with Abbott's approach. First, he doesn't have the authority to put up those sorts of barriers. Second, the barbed wire and the buoys aren't actually stopping anyone, but the former has scratched up a number of women and children, while the latter has nearly caused a handful of people to drown. Also, because of the unapproved obstacles, the U.S. Border Patrol is having trouble patrolling the river with their boats. The federal government told Abbott to take the stuff down, and he refused, with the result that the Governor and the DoJ will now fight it out in court.

What it boils down to is that "undocumented immigration" is a nebulous idea, and one where a huge number of Americans are: (1) convinced the problem is out of control, and (2) convinced that they, their families, their livelihoods, etc. are being done irreparable harm. That the idea (egged on by mostly right-wing politicians) is far more significant than reality is indicated by the fact that anti-immigrant sentiment tends to be most profound in states that have relatively few immigrants. No matter how well Biden (or any Democrat) does on this issue, it's very hard to kill an idea. And so, there's no way to take that cudgel away from Abbott, Ron DeSantis, and other opponents of the administration.

We have a few other areas to cover on future days. For now, however, if you have thoughts as to other issues/problems where Democrats just can't win, we'd like to hear them. Similarly, if you have thoughts as to issues/problems where Republicans just can't win, we'd like to hear those, too. (Z)

So Su Me?

We might have mentioned it before, and even if we haven't, many readers will know that when Apple Computer launched the Macintosh in 1984, the company was in breach of an agreement with the Beatles over the use of the name "Apple." Thanks to a deal hammered out in the 1970s, the computer company was allowed to use the name, but they couldn't go into the "recording business." The Macintosh could record and play sound, so... oops. Apple Computer knew it had breached, and so the original version of the Mac OS included a system sound called "Sosumi" (i.e., "So sue me"). The Beatles did, of course, and while the matter was resolved, the sound remained a part of the Mac OS until just last year, when they finally renamed it "Sonumi." Who knows what "So new me" means.

We could not help but think of that story thanks to the drama surrounding Secretary of Labor-designate Julie Su this week. Joe Biden chose her to replace Marty Walsh because while she's got some black marks on her record, she also has vast experience apropos the job, plus she spent two years working as Walsh's right-hand woman. Since being tapped for the big job, Su has twisted in the wind due to opposition to her nomination.

As a general rule, we tend to think presidents should be able to pick the subordinates they want to work with, assuming those folks are not corrupt, bigoted, etc. We also tend to think that Republicans should be allowed to choose as ultra-conservative a Secretary of Commerce as they want and Democrats should be allowed to choose as ultra-liberal a Secretary of Labor as they want. But we don't get a vote, and apparently Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) are opposed to Su. They join a unanimous Senate Republican Conference, where some members don't like outspoken liberals, some don't like women of color (ahem, Mr. Tuberville) and some are just taking a prime opportunity to poke Biden in the eye.

Anyhow, Su isn't likely to be confirmed. In fact, she's already set the record for longest pending nomination (5 months) when the White House and Senate are controlled by the same party. And yet, Biden is unwilling to move on from her. So, the White House announced this week that Su would stay on indefinitely as acting secretary. Donald Trump was, of course, famous for bending the rules about acting secretaries to their breaking points. However, Biden has some cover here, in that there is a Department of Labor rule adopted in 1946 that allows acting secretaries to stay on the job beyond the deadline imposed on acting secretaries in other departments. This rule exists so as to discourage management or labor from trying to "wait it out" if an acting secretary is arbitrating a labor dispute.

That said, it is somewhat unclear exactly how freely an acting secretary is allowed to exercise the powers and prerogatives of the office. To take one example, one that came up a number of times during the Trump years: Is an acting secretary in the line of succession or not? These things have largely not been dealt with by the courts, so nobody really knows what the answer is.

That said, the Su situation provides an opportunity for certain business interests, who don't particularly want to be told what to do by the federal government. Already, a lobbyist group that represents gig-based companies (DoorDash, Uber, etc.) is insisting that Su has no legal authority to issue rules about gig workers. This is not unlike the Donald Trump legal strategy—maybe you'll win in the end, and maybe you'll lose, but along the way try to throw up as many obstacles as is possible so as to put off an ultimate resolution. One suspects that if Jeff Bezos was Acting Secretary of Labor, and he issued a guideline instructing that gig workers should be treated like cattle, up to and including branding, that the gig-based companies would suddenly discover they are just fine with acting secretaries making decisions.

In any event, this is another item for the "it's really no fun to be president' file. Also, while kvetching about secretaries vs. acting secretaries is probably a little too inside baseball to be wielded as a campaign issue, all of this is going to serve to remind the business class that while they don't like Trumpism, they also don't like these pinko Democrats. The moneyed interests may very well sit 2024 out. (Z)

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