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      •  Saturday Q&A

Saturday Q&A

We got some very interesting answers to the question of the week, we would say.

Current Events

P.S. in Gloucester, MA, asks: Why did the Biden administration approve the Conoco drilling operation in Alaska, after Biden had campaigned in 2020 on no new drilling in Alaska?

(V) & (Z) answer: First, because the Biden administration is tacking to the right, at the moment, in anticipation of next year's elections.

Second, because the Biden administration is scared to death about the possibility of another spike in gas prices, and will do nearly anything it can to forestall that, in anticipation of next year's elections.

If there's any clearer evidence that Biden is planning to run again in 2024, we don't know what it is.

J.L. in Baltimore, MD, asks: If Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk rules in favor of an injunction against mifepristone, can the FDA just ignore it, pointing to the real statistics that show how safe it is? I assume if he does rule that way, the government will appeal and it may eventually get to the Supreme Court. Could the FDA ignore their ruling as well?

(V) & (Z) answer: As we have written many times, the judiciary has no means of enforcing its rulings. Consequently, the executive branch can certainly ignore rulings it does not like and can get away with it.

That said, the executive branch wants to be able to insist that rulings that it agrees with be followed. That doesn't work so well if the administration is picking and choosing.

So, the likelier outcome is that if the courts rule against the FDA in the current case, thus declaring that the agency's "expedited approval" process is not legal, the FDA will quickly discover some other basis by which it may approve mifepristone. At very least, that would buy several more years as another bunch of court cases was filed, heard, and resolved.

S.G. in Fairfax, VA, asks: Your answer to S.R.G. in Playa Hermosa about the "new nation of North Idaho" seceding from the U.S. not being able to defend their newfound independence when the U.S. Army arrives to put them down raised a significant question in my mind: Would we even want them back? You've mentioned that most red states receive more money from the federal government than they pay in tax revenue—mightn't it be a better deal to just let them go? Okay, sure, it sets a bad precedent if suddenly a lot of other counties or possibly whole states might get the idea that it was okay to leave, but apart from that, is there any real reason we're better off forcing them to stay?

(V) & (Z) answer: You have hit on the exact problem. If the precedent is set that unhappy counties/regions/states can leave, then others will attempt to avail themselves of the opportunity, and chaos will ensue. And don't assume that it would only be nutty red counties/regions/states. Hawaii might decide it's tired of being part of a country that is so far away and is so much more conservative than Hawaii is. Vermont might decide it prefers to be part of Canada (after all, both places are full of commie pinkos, right?). San Francisco might decide it prefers to be the People's Republic of San Francisco.

Many people had this question during the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln's best and most famous attempt to answer that question is a little speech you might have heard of called the Gettysburg Address.

M.B. in Singapore, Singapore, asks: Could federal legislation be passed and signed into law that would eliminate a future president's ability to cut off aid to Ukraine or withdraw from NATO without congressional approval? The reckless rhetoric, as of late, coming out of Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) has effectively signaled to Putin that all he needs to do is wait this thing out for 2 more years and he may get a Republican president that will give him exactly what he wants. They've incentivized and emboldened him to continue his aggression towards Ukraine.

(V) & (Z) answer: The issue is not exactly dictating what future presidents can do, it's dictating what future Congresses can do. That is to say, if Donald Trump is reelected and wants to cut funding for Ukraine or wants to pull out of NATO, Congress has to approve that. So what you are really asking is: "Could this Congress prevent a future Congress from approving a cut in Ukraine finding or a withdrawal from NATO?" And the answer is: "No." That is called legislative entrenchment and it is not legal.

P.J.C. in Seattle, WA, asks: Why isn't there more coverage occurring with respect to Sen. Mitch McConnell's injury? An individual who bumps their head, or has a concussion, does not undergo therapy after being released from hospital unless something else has occurred.

(V) & (Z) answer: We will start by observing that doctors today prescribe physical therapy like it's candy. As readers will recall, (Z) suffered a relatively minor knee injury that was debilitating for a few days but had virtually no long-term consequences. And yet, his physician insisted on physical therapy.

As to the lack of coverage of McConnell, we would say there are two things going on: (1) There is much that is not known, like his test results, and so any critical story would necessarily be speculative and would be in poor taste, and (2) unless there is a reason to believe this injury will affect his ability to do his job, the man is entitled to privacy in this matter.

R.R. in Nashville, TN, asks: I want to ask this as tactfully as possible: If Leonardo's, Raphael's, Donatello's, and Michelangelo's distant, abased Kentucky cousin doesn't recover, would Gov. Andy Beshear (D-KY) be forced to go along with that stupid law about succession, or could he just defy it and let the shells fall where they may?

(V) & (Z) answer: You are referring, of course, to the recently adopted Kentucky law that says that if a U.S. Senate seat comes open, the party of the departed senator gets to submit a list of three replacement candidates for the governor to choose from.

If Beshear were to decide to ignore this, it would be a waste of his time and his political capital. First, the state legislature is very clearly empowered to set the terms for electing and/or replacing a senator, assuming those terms do not conflict with the Constitution or with federal law. So, Beshear would lose in court if he tried it. And before he could lose in court, the Senate would refuse to seat his pick, deeming the individual's credentials to be invalid. Yes, Democrats would love to have an extra senator for a year or two (before a special election could be held). But they do not want to set the long-term precedent that governors are free to do whatever the heck they want when it comes to picking replacement senators.

D.M. in Burnsville, MN, asks: Holy Moley, Captain Marvel! I'm sure I'm not the only one who's commenting upon this in-your-face set of circumstances you wrote about in the Dutch elections. Did the BBB come out of nowhere (i.e. some unknown polders) to rack up 15 seats, up from (0)? (That's zero, zilch, nada, nichts, nothing, nowhere, man.)

And what happened, and why, to the FvD, which you described as a quasi-Fascist party that nobody wants to work with anyway? What did they do that allowed them to lose most of their dozen seats and retain only two?

Inquiring minds want to know.

(V) & (Z) answer: The people who voted for the BBB are unhappy with the state of the country and the state of the world. They are much like the Trump voters. Or maybe like the voters who listened to George Wallace when he said "Send them a message." It is doubtful that the BBB voters are really interested in farmers and their issues. The attraction of this party is that it is not part of the establishment. Most likely, many of the people who voted for it previously voted for the quasi-Fascist FvD, but now found a way to express their unhappiness without voting for Fascists. The BBB vote should be interpreted as a "motion of no confidence" in the government, just as Trump's nomination in 2016 was a "motion of no confidence" in the Republican Party, rather than support of Trump's platform.

M.H. in Seattle, WA, asks: I know little of the pressing issues facing the Netherlands. Is there much legislating that needs to be done there (asap)? I'm sure if some crisis was imminent—for example, a large caravan of Belgians approaching with plans to drink everyone's beer—the parties would put aside their differences and react appropriately (brew more beer).

The fact that an animal rights party has a seat at the table says to me that things must be running pretty smoothly overall. Not so in the U.S., where livestock are often afforded better healthcare than humans. Do you think having smaller parties in the U.S. would afford some political cover for representatives to vote in ways that would get them primaried in the current system?

(V) & (Z) answer: A pressing issue is the need to meet European Union limits on pollution (especially nitrogen emissions). Many "normal" activities, like farming, transportation, building houses, generating electricity, and more, add pollution. Thus, the battle is between the people who want more economic development and the environmentalists who want to slow it down (and meet E.U. limits). There is no way to satisfy both groups at the same time, which makes the environment a hot political issue.

The U.S. does have smaller parties, especially the Libertarian Party and the Green Party. Imagine how many ballots it would it take to elect a speaker of the House if Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) had to woo not only the Freedom Caucus but also the Libertarian Party. Or House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) had to capitulate to the Green Party. The Netherlands has a tradition of compromise, so it is usually possibly to cobble together a majority with a year of negotiations. The U.S. used to have such a tradition, but it is fading rapidly. Poll after poll has shown that Republican voters want their politicians to "stick up for their principles" rather than compromise. Having four parties in the House would make that difficult. Having 16 would make it impossible, while not really giving cover to people who voted in ways other than what their constituents wanted.

If you want another example of a badly fractured parliament, look to Israel, which changes governments on a yearly basis (or sometimes more often) these days.


J.C. in Silver Spring, MD, asks: Lately, I have seen TV ads (primarily on MSNBC) that variously claim that the Biden administration is proposing cuts to Medicare and/or that "Washington"is planning on "cutting our Medicare Advantage." The ads call on viewers to "call Joe Biden"or "tell Washington"not to cut Medicare or to leave our Medicare Advantage alone. I have seen no news reports about proposed cuts to Medicare, except for ones that Republicans favor. And I have seen nothing regarding changes to Medicare Advantage. Ami I missing something? What gives?

(V) & (Z) answer: This is a falsehood. It's a little weedy, but what the Biden Administration wants to do is change some of the rules and formulas that dictate how much federal money goes to Medicare Advantage insurers in various circumstances. The purpose of these changes is to make sure that the government's money is spent in the most effective ways possible. Overall, the Biden administration actually wants to increase spending on Medicare Advantage by 1%. If you want a full breakdown (again, weedy!), then here is an analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which is the foremost healthcare policy think tank.

Republicans are airing these commercials because they are trying to muddy the waters. They know Democrats are going to hammer them in 2024 for wanting to cut Medicare. This is semi-true (some Republicans want to cut Medicare, others do not). By peddling the entirely untrue notion that Democrats want to cut Medicare, too, the GOP hopes to neutralize the issue as best they can.

O.Z.H. in Dubai, UAE, asks: I'm sure this has been asked before but it is such an important question that, just in case it has not been previously addressed by you, I would like to pose it again. Why don't the House Democrats provide a guarantee to Kevin McCarthy that if he faces a revolt from the Freakdom Caucus because he does sensible and widely bipartisan things like call for a vote on the debt ceiling or continued aid to Ukraine, etc., the Democrats will vote for him as Speaker in the event of "no-confidence"motion? If the entire (or almost entire) Democratic caucus votes for him it seems unlikely that progressives will punish the Democrats for it. This would effectively defang the right-wing crazies and avoid various disasters that could occur if McCarthy continues to be beholden to them.

(V) & (Z) answer: We think you are significantly overestimating the benefits to the Democrats here. First, they do not wish to tie their hands in this way, particularly when the person on the other side of the deal is rather untrustworthy. Further, even if they gave McCarthy cover to ignore the Freedom Caucusers, he has no interest in governing as a centrist dealmaker in the mold of a Tom Foley or a Sam Rayburn. He wants to implement a staunchly right-wing agenda, just one a little less right-wing than what the Freedom Caucusers want.

Meanwhile, it is very useful to the Democrats to let the dysfunction play out for all to see. If there comes a time when McCarthy desperately needs their help, they might offer it in exchange for generous concessions. But there's no need for them to commit to that until that time comes. And even then, they might not go for it. We think you might also be underestimating the damage that would be done with Democratic voters if their representatives started working with McCarthy.

J.C. in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, asks: Do the parties ever add individuals to the "Attack" and "Defend" lists as a misdirect to make the other party spend too much money on a race. In other words, a little 3-D chess?

(V) & (Z) answer: We're not going to say it never happens, but the purpose of publishing the list (as opposed to keeping it an internal strategy document) is to help the party's voters know where they should send their money. So, trickery like what you propose runs an equal risk of causing a party's own supporters to waste their cash.

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, asks: With some readers posting questions about SALT recently, I wanted to ask as to why the Democrats didn't repeal, or at least scale back, the Trump tax cuts when they had the trifecta. Was it related to SALT, or was it due to the Senate filibuster, or was it due to our favorite two Senators, Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ)?

(V) & (Z) answer: It was mostly the two senators. Manchin was not too worried about cutting taxes for "the little guy" but was willing to go after corporations, while Sinema was apparently willing to discuss "the little guy's" taxes, but was unwilling to discuss any increase in corporate taxes. Since the Democrats needed all 50 votes, there was no way to thread the needle. The filibuster wasn't an issue, really, because the change could have been achieved via un-filibusterable budget reconciliation if all 50 Democrats had gotten on the same page.

J.H. in Boston, MA, asks: You wrote this week that Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) gave a good speech during the speaker election. Is that something you covered on Can you put a link?

(V) & (Z) answer: We did note it at the time. Unfortunately, we can't link to his remarks because C-SPAN has taken the video offline. They must be able to afford only so many hard drives.

P.W. in Alamo, GA, asks: As an independent I try not to take sides in this political theatrical hearings. However, one has to see that one side is represented by a master class when it comes to oratorical skills. The other just seem as if a few simple homework assignments were skipped. In the words of the Aretha Franklin song "Who's Zoomin' Who": When picking a fight or shall I say debating a point, why would you not send your best to represent your point of view? Not one hearing of this Congress has been a fair fight. I am real close to aligning myself with the smarter party, for now.

(V) & (Z) answer: You know what the most important ingredient in being an effective public speaker is? Practice. Yes, some people have natural gifts, but like playing the piano or writing prose or cooking fine cuisine, those natural gifts cannot show themselves without being honed by a lot of practice.

If you think of the truly great political speechmakers of our time (or of any time, in fact), they all had vast amounts of practice before they came on to the national stage. Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer and longtime politician. FDR was a longtime politician. Ronald Reagan was an actor and labor leader and had nearly a decade in political office before entering the White House. Bill Clinton was a law professor and a long-serving state AG/governor of Arkanas. Barack Obama was a community organizer, a practicing lawyer and a college professor who also had more than a decade in political office before assuming the presidency. Oh, and all of these fellows except for Lincoln went to college, which also tends to help one refine one's skills when it comes to self-expression.

The people who dominate the Republican Party today tend to have limited education, or limited experience in political office, or both. No kidding that the high school dropout/former waitress Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) is not a talented public speaker. No wonder that the entrepreneur/gym owner Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) is not a talented public speaker. And even those Republicans who might have honed their skills, like Ron DeSantis, largely have chosen not to do so, perhaps because they are aware of their lack of natural talent. Meanwhile, the foremost public speaker, among modern-day Republicans, is Donald Trump. Yes, his speeches are often nonsensical, but they are delivered with charisma and with the skill of someone who has been on TV and radio, in various capacities, for 30 years.

We will add one other thing. Many current Republicans speak in a style reminiscent of a revivalist, evangelical preacher. You know, a lot of shouting, fire and brimstone, and all that. It is possible that the base of these officeholders responds to that style, and so would find a Greene or a Boebert to be a good public speaker, even if they are really not.

J.T. in Greensboro, NC, asks: You wrote about the Trump team's oppo research on Ron DeSantis. In the piece you linked, Politico interviewed former U.S. Representative Tom Marino (R-PA) who chaired Trump's campaign in Pennsylvania in 2016 but now seems to be bucking for a job in a future Ron DeSantis presidential campaign.

Marino is a man with a pretty good résumé as far as lesser-known politicians go and in the article he hails Trump as "a genius on policy." In another part of the article, Marino says "Trump was a good policy guy and I'd put him up there with Ronald Reagan on policy..."

You're fond, as I am, of using less glowing terms to describe Trump's general level of intelligence and his policy knowledge. Marino doesn't seem to be a dumb guy, Politico could have interviewed anyone, and he didn't have to say anything nice about Trump at all in theory.

So if you can put yourself in the head of a person like Marino, from what angle is it possible to imagine Trump as "a genius on policy"?

(V) & (Z) answer: We would suggest that there are two possible bases for labeling a policy to be "good": (1) the policy got broad support from the general public, including many voters from both parties, or (2) the policy, in some way, made the United States a better/stronger/safer country. Both Roosevelts pursued policies that check both boxes. So did Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. These men can be considered policy geniuses.

Reagan pursued (some) policies that got very broad support, though we are unpersuaded that his policies, on the whole, made America a better country. Still, if you use the first definition above, Reagan could be deemed a "policy genius." Trump, by contrast, failed to check both boxes, and there is no world in which The Donald can be called a "policy genius." And, by the way, outside of taxation and hostility to regulation, the policies of Reagan and those of Trump are miles apart, so it's also nonsensical to lump them together.

And so, we suspect that by "policy genius," what Marino really means is "someone whose policies I very much agreed with." That is usually what someone means when they identify alleged geniuses of various stripes.

R.C. in Des Moines, IA, asks: You wrote that voters in Iowa and New Hampshire expect to meet candidates for president. This has been mentioned umpteen times on your site and other outlets for a long time. It's part of the ritual of a presidential election. But I rarely hear this about other states. Do voters in South Carolina and Nevada, for example, expect to meet candidates face-to-face? These are small states with early primaries like New Hampshire and Iowa (although we in Iowa have these weirdo caucuses) so it would make sense if those voters shared the face-to-face expectation. Do any other states have voters in significant numbers who expect this or do we just hear about it with Iowa and New Hampshire because they go first (ish)?

(V) & (Z) answer: It's mostly because both the media and the American people ascribe vastly more meaning to the first two contests than they do to the subsequent ones. So, there is much more attention given to winning those two states than to winning Nevada or New Mexico or Louisiana (despite the fact that the latter three states have populations similar in size to Iowa, and are considerably more diverse). Ipso facto, politicians invest copious amounts of time in Iowa, New Hampshire, or both, and voters there have come to expect the personal touch. There's no other state for which that is true in any meaningful way.

Probably the obsession with those two states needs to end. The voters in those two places are wrong as often as they are right and, meanwhile, Joe Biden showed us in 2020 that South Carolina is more important than either. That said, wannabe presidents are scared witless that they'll be the next Rudy Giuliani. By that, we mean that he decided to focus his 2008 presidential campaign on Super Tuesday, and to ignore the early states. And by the time Super Tuesday came, everyone had decided he was a loser because he performed poorly in Iowa, etc., so his campaign collapsed.

There are, of course, many additional reasons to be scared witless of being the next Rudy Giuliani. This is just the one relevant to this particular question.

K.T. in Columbus, OH, asks: You wrote: "The deliberately unstated implication that the match will happen solely because you donated is false. In other words, if you donate $20, they are going to collect another $80 (FOUR TIMES MATCHING!). But they are also going to collect that same $80 if you don't donate $20."

Where does the other $80 come from? Is it just an anticipated amount based on overall expectations?

(V) & (Z) answer: Yup. Put another way, if you donate $20 to a campaign, there is zero chance it will be the final $20 that campaign ever receives.

D.T. in San Jose, CA, asks: Your discussion about candidate food blunders got me wondering: How is it possible for these campaigns to get caught so unprepared?

Why hasn't someone on the campaign staff coached the candidate on what food to expect and how to eat it? Despite being presented as candid and informal, these sorts of campaign photo-ops are actually highly choreographed.

By the time they advance to the general election, serious candidates all have Secret Service protection. I cannot imagine that the Secret Service simply allows some random person to unexpectedly hand the candidate something to eat, right? Presumably, the Secret Service and the campaign staff all know in advance that "The candidate will be served X by restaurant owner Y, which was prepared by chef Z."

Am I missing something here? Or is warning the candidate "You will be handed a tamale. Don't eat the husk!"one of the most avoidable blunders imaginable?

(V) & (Z) answer: This is a little more complicated than you might think. In general, the Secret Service does not exercise the level of oversight you are assuming, even for sitting presidents (much less presidential candidates). It is true that the USSS does not want anyone poisoned. However, they have a number of strategies they rely on to keep that from happening.

First, much of the time, only a few people know that a protectee will be visiting a particular restaurant/county fair/other food venue. It is therefore very unlikely that there will be someone with an agenda who just so happens to have a poisoned hamburger at their disposal. Second, in most cases, the USSS will watch the food being prepared to make sure it is safe and unadulterated. Third, if the food is being provided by a foreign government or similar entity, the USSS assumes that government's security protocols are adequate to keeping the food safe. And, if conditions one through three don't apply, and the USSS has reason to believe that food might potentially be compromised, they will sometimes step in and have someone test it (though there is no official food tester; it's done on an ad hoc basis). Alternatively, they will simply tell the president/candidate that they cannot eat the food. Usually, the USSS will come up with a lie that gives the candidate cover, like: "Mr./Madam Senator/President/Governor, don't forget that you have a blood test tomorrow, and can't consume sugar today."

It is unlikely that the tamale issue with Jerry Ford was due to a lack of planning. Maybe the USSS knew the tamale was coming, maybe they didn't. The real problem was surely that it just didn't occur to them that such a warning was necessary. Maybe it should have, though; Ford grew up in the early-20th-century Midwest, a time and place not exactly known for its wide variety of Mexican cuisine. It's not that much a surprise he didn't know the dish, in the same way that many Texans wouldn't necessarily recognize, say, hotdish or runzas or pączki.

F.D. in Tampa, FL, asks: My question is same as the one Bill Maher asked about Donald Trump and women a few months ago: There have been so many rumors and stories about Trump's sexual assaults and affairs before his presidency, but since he became president, I have not heard a single rumor or story on this front. It is hard to believe somebody with that background just started behaving as a family man and became faithful to his wife. What do you think is going on?

(V) & (Z) answer: We have no information whatsoever, so we can only speculate. We will give you four possibilities that we can come up with. The first, which we think is unlikely, is that Trump decided that further dalliances were too risky for him, politically. The second is that Melania Trump laid down the law (no pun intended) and said that if there were any more shenanigans, she would divorce him and spill her guts to the media. The third is that he has continued his sexual habits, but the USSS is really good at keeping things under wraps. (After all, you don't think that Monica Lewinsky was Bill Clinton's only dalliance, do you? Or that LBJ, who bragged about having more women by accident than JFK had on purpose, wasn't catting around? And yet you don't hear about any of their paramours.) The fourth is that Trump is now in his mid-seventies and isn't in great health, and doesn't have the physical capacity/desire for that kind of thing anymore.

Our guess is that it is Number 3, but that's just a guess.


J.C. in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, asks: What are the limits to presentism—when is it actually okay? It is well known that ancient Greeks were a homosocial culture (See: Plato's Symposium), and that's cool, but they were also heavy into pederasty. It was not frowned on in their culture at the time, but we rightfully frown on it now. Should we not judge that as just... wrong, at any time and place?

(V) & (Z) answer: From the vantage point of the professional historian, presentism is never OK. Or, perhaps to be more precise, it's never helpful. We can wag our fingers at the ancient Greeks or the medieval Chinese emperors or Enlightenment-era priests or 19th century Arabs, but what does that get us? It certainly doesn't advance our understanding of those times, places, and peoples.

That said, we can certainly identify things that are wrong in our time, but were also wrong in past eras. For example, the fact that racism and slavery were tolerated in the 19th century doesn't mean that extreme violence against slaves should be overlooked. That was widely frowned on then, too. It doesn't necessarily even mean that slave ownership should be overlooked, since the notion that it was wrong was certainly in wide circulation by 1770 or so.

K.A. in Madison, AL, asks: Rather than projection by the self-righteous "woke" being used to decide which historical figures should be "canceled," how about using what we know (and are still learning) now about those figures to glean some picture of how they would see today's world and their role in creating it? What, for example, would George Washington have to say about slavery and what he would have done differently? I think I could put together a very good research proposal for such a study—if y'all had money to grant, and if I were an historian and not a physicist, and etc.

(V) & (Z) answer: The historian David Lowenthal famously observed that "The past is a foreign country." And his point, as you might guess, is that things 100 years ago or 200 years ago or 300 years ago were much more different than they were similar. It is tempting to assume the human condition is universal, and that leads to a lot of universal truths, but it's really not so.

Consequently, trying to figure out what George Washington would think, or what he would do, about things that came after his time is basically just writing historical fiction. Consider, for example, the United Nations. In his final address as president, Washington famously warned against "foreign entanglements." On the other hand, he was a practical man who changed with the times as events dictated, and he was also keenly concerned with U.S. national security. So, if he was alive today, would he be pro-U.N. or anti-U.N.? Who knows? And it gets even harder when we talk about issues that did not exist in any meaningful form in his time. If you wanted to write about his views about global warming, trans equality, SALT deductions, keeping Social Security solvent, or Obamacare, you would just have to guess wildly. Although we do suspect he'd support socialized dental insurance.

Anyhow, posing such questions can be a fun thought exercise, and it might make for a fun op-ed or chapter in a collection of essays. But they aren't the basis for serious scholarship because they can't be answered with proper scholarly rigor.

P.F. in Fairbanks, AK, asks: What 19th Century president would be the most electable in a general election today and why? Would either of the current parties be willing to nominate him (their lack of being alive aside)?

(V) & (Z) answer: We are going to assume that retrograde views about women, people of color, etc. would largely not be held against these men, because they all said things that are wildly out of step with modern values. We are further going to assume that the person's fame does not convey, and that the answer to the question is not "Abraham Lincoln" simply because he's the great Abraham Lincoln.

With those caveats, we think the 19th century president who would be most satisfactory to Democratic voters is John Quincy Adams. He was very smart, very educated, a liberal on matters of race, a talented public speaker, a tireless worker, and an experienced diplomat. There is relatively little of his political program that would be anathema today. The 19th century president who would be most satisfactory to Republican voters is probably Andrew Jackson. He was charismatic, shot from the hip, was a populist even before that term existed, was more than willing to pander to racism, and was happy to pretend to be very religious even though he was not.

If you want someone who could plausibly appeal to both parties, then maybe... Thomas Jefferson? We would have to imagine, for this purpose, that his dealbreaker status as a slaveowner disappears, and is replaced with a modern analogue—say, he was once a segregationist, like Robert Byrd. In that case, as a Southerner and a person with a racist past and a small-government guy, he might get some conservative support. But as a brilliant intellectual who is liberal on nearly everything but race, he might get some Democratic support.

Note, incidentally, that George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt both missed the 19th Century by a few years, and so are not under consideration. Note also that Jackson was, like Jefferson, a slaveowner. So, we also have to assume for Old Hickory a modern analogue, probably something like "He was once a segregationist... and kinda still is, but has mastered the art of the dog whistle."

K.F.K. in CleElum, WA, asks: I am reading The Whiskey Rebellion by William Hogeland, and Alexander Hamilton comes off as a brilliant man who is more about keeping a class system in place by taxing poor farmers to pay interest on the government bonds he and his buddies are holding than a person committed to democracy. Right now, I can't stand the guy and I'm maybe a quarter into the book. I am curious what (Z) thinks of the book, and also if he believes the book by Chernow truly gives an unbiased take on Hamilton.

(V) & (Z) answer: There is, of course, no such thing as an unbiased take, particularly on Hamilton. That said, Hogeland is a lefty who does not try to hide his predilections, though he is a good writer who makes some interesting points. Chernow is writing for a mass audiences and, to paraphrase Michael Jordan, Republicans buy books, too. So, Chernow's personal views are far less evident in his books, including his book on Hamilton.

Reading both books is the best way to advance your understanding, because then you'll know what things there is something of a consensus upon, and what things are still debated.

W.E.G. in Salem, OR, asks: You wrote about Robert Smalls. I have for years been interested in the astonishing life of this man. There are a lot of books out there about him. Can you recommend a good history of his life?

(V) & (Z) answer: Actually, most of the books out there are children's books. There's always a need for stories for that purpose that are interesting, and are about someone other than a white man.

In terms of non-children's books that are still in print, you really only have two options worth considering. If you want something more scholarly, then you'll want Gullah Statesman: Robert Smalls from Slavery to Congress, 1839-1915 (2008) by Edward A. Miller. If you want something written for more of a popular audience, then you'll want Be Free or Die: The Amazing Story of Robert Smalls' Escape from Slavery to Union Hero (2018) by Cate Lineberry.

T.T. in Bedford, NY, asks: Do you have any thoughts as to why there seems to be no commentary on the ending of the new "All Quiet on the Western Front"film? In both the 1928 book and the 1930 film, Paul Baumer dies of a gunshot wound. In the current film, he dies of a bayonet wound after being stabbed in the back by an enemy soldier.

In post-1918 Germany, the Nazis and others on the far right loudly and continuous pushed the "Stab in the Back"trope that blamed the Jews and leftist politicians for Germany's defeat in the war. Have you any idea as to why a German-made film today would make such a change in the story and why we are hearing no voices raised in protest?

(V) & (Z) answer: There's one other change you are missing that, we think, will answer your question. In the book, Paul Baumer dies about a month before the war ends. In the new movie, he dies basically the same moment the war ends (i.e., "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day.")

This was undoubtedly done, in part, for dramatic purposes. It was almost certainly also done to communicate to audiences that the end of the war was not the end of the story, and that more violence was in the future, as was vicious antisemitism and antisemitic rhetoric. Such references to the late 1930s/early 1940s would not have been possible in the original book (published 1929) or the original movie (released 1930), as the author/filmmakers were creating their work before the rise of Adolf Hitler, and so did not know what was coming down the pike.

At the same time, it is wildly unlikely that the filmmaker meant to suggest, in any way, that Hitler and the other antisemites were on to something when they claimed that Germany was stabbed in the back. Since that was very clearly not the intent, that is why there has been no complaining.

H.F. in Pittsburgh, PA, asks: Here's a small historic detail that's been nagging me for the longest time: In the iconic photograph of the spontaneous celebrations of Americans hearing the news of the end of World War II, why were some of the sailors in the picture wearing navy blue uniforms and others wearing their summer whites?

Sailor kissing nurse on V-J Day

The word "uniform" literally means "all the same"! Why were any of them wearing winter uniforms on August 14th in New York City? I'm guessing maybe they were coming off an honor guard assignment, where wool uniforms are preferred because they take and hold a crease better than cotton twill. Any Swabbies out there who could enlighten me, I'd appreciate it.

(V) & (Z) answer: You can read the U.S. Navy's World War II-era uniform regulations here. They have a few things that we suspect are relevant to this question:

  1. Whites are for warm weather
  2. Blues are for special/formal occasions
  3. If a judgment needs to be made, it's up to the sailor's commanding officer
  4. If the commanding officer is not around, it's up to the sailor's judgment

Because the weather was warm, but this was also a special occasion (but not one of the specific types of special occasions listed in the regs), we suspect that many COs and many individual sailors came down on one side of the question, and many came down on the other. That said, if there are vets who have additional insight, we are happy to have it.


D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, asks: You wrote: "If he [Pence] and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) somehow end up on the same debate stage, it's entirely possible that the charisma void will be so profound that it will spontaneously trigger a black hole."

Black holes triggered by charisma voids? Can you get that fact-checked? Maybe consult Randall Munroe?

(V) & (Z) answer: We tried to check with the staff astronomer, but he said he was only willing to see us on the dark side of the moon. So, we'll have to wing it. Clearly, a lack of charisma can't really create a black hole. If so, then there'd be a new one whenever the American Historical Association has a meeting, or whenever Kevin McCarthy dines alone.

Reader Question of the Week

Here is the question we put before readers last week:

G.O. in New York City, NY, asks: Who will be the first female President of the United States? I am just now reading an article on Gov. Katie Hobbs (D-AZ), who doesn't seem to have a big national profile (yet). Curious who you (or readers) think it might be.

And here some of the answers we got in response:

D.T. in San Jose, CA: The obvious (albeit unimaginative) answer is, of course, "Kamala Harris."

Regardless of her own popularity, there are some pretty significant political benefits, in a future campaign, that come from the name recognition due to her high profile job.

But Harris's biggest advantage is simple statistics. She is already the VP. If my math is correct, 20% of all U.S. presidents have needed to be replaced by their vice president. Not to be too grim, but there is a non-zero chance that Kamala Harris becomes the first female president without needing to be elected to that office herself.

This may not be a likely outcome. But if we are just playing the odds, Kamala Harris has a far better chance of becoming president than any other specific woman on a list of "possible future presidents."

P.R. in Saco, ME: The first female president will be: (1) tall and (2) Black. I read somewhere a long time ago that the tallest person gets the presidency. Whichever woman wins, she'll be tall. Michelle Obama would fit the ticket, but we all know that's not happening. I really hope it doesn't take 300 years, as U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the other day.

B.A.R. in South Bend, IN: I'd put my bets on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI). Big Gretch is a badass and has handled Michigan politics deftly. She has withstood the far right in the state and they are scared enough of her that they had a plot to kidnap her (a foiled one, thankfully).

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY: It should be Gretchen Whitmer in 2028, but I don't think the sexism that stopped Hillary Clinton and that is behind the contempt for Kamala Harris will abate by then, and Whitmer either won't get the nomination or will lose in the general election. So, I am betting on another Michigander, State Senator Mallory McMorrow (D), 36, self-described as "straight, white, Christian, married, suburban mom," and a liberal on policy issues. She is a powerful and dynamic speaker, with a striking look. I'd like to see her run for governor when Whitmer is term-limited in 3 years. That should line up well for 2036 (Morrow would be 50 on Election Day), give or take 4 years.

J.C. in Washington, DC: Amy Klobuchar. She's a fairly moderate, popular and relatable woman from the upper Midwest who has previous experience running a presidential campaign. She'll be 70 is 2028 but I think we've all learned that age is not as much of a liability as it used to be.

J.M. in Portland, OR: Taylor Swift. Remember she started out country then went pop. That covers a majority of Americans.

D.A. in Brooklyn, NY: Nikki Haley will become president in the summer of 2027. Ron DeSatan will have offered her the #2 spot after securing the Trumpublican nomination in a tumultuous but nonetheless first-ballot victory at their 2024 convention. Tacking away from the super-crazy-s**t in the general election and pushing "youth over age" DeSatan/Haley win a squeaker of a general election with 270 EVs. A deranged (is there any other kind?) group of Trumper-diehards outwit the Secret Service (oh, I bet that's real hard) in the summer of 2025, and—horrible, horrible, horrible on all counts—but there it is.

The aftermath: Trump-cultism is finally and permanently discredited, and for months, different Trumpublicans (even Kevin!) will make all sorts of claims how they had never been taken in but had resisted. Haley will use the power of incumbency, the "martyrdom" of DeSatan, and the revulsion against Trump-cultism to restore the Republican Party to being just a normal horrible reactionary ultra-right party and drive out the bats**t-crazy types. She will be re-elected in 2028 with the GOP gaining a federal trifecta. The massive worldwide depression and financial meltdown that result in 2030 from 5 years of Haley-conomics moderates but doesn't forestall the global climate catastrophe that is accelerated by Haley/GOP environmental deregulation and increased fossil fuel subsidies. The ensuing super-storms and droughts that decimate food production in multiple continents in the middle 2030s lead to food riots and mass migrations that create enough political turmoil to even overwhelm the government of the United States. President Haley will be not only the first, but the last woman president.

S.H. in Hanoi, Vietnam: Assuming G.O. is asking for probabilities rather than posing an office-pool type of question, my thoughts are, "one can't know, but the path for a woman in the Democratic party is highly likely to be different than a woman in the Republican party."

Let's start with the Democrats, because that calculus is in some sense easier. Excluding incumbent presidents running for re-election, looking at the Democratic candidates dating back to Adlai Stevenson (an arbitrary choice but trying to get a sense of "modern" trends), there were 14 separate candidates (15 if you count Stevenson twice since he ran in '52 and lost, and then gained the nomination again in '56). Five were current or former VPs at the time of nomination, five were sitting senators, and four were current or former governors. That being said, all five VPs came to the VP slot from the Senate chamber, so in an important sense, since World War II, Democratic voters have preferred either a senator or a senator/VP as their standard-bearer over governors in a 2-to-1 manner, and those have been the only two paths to the nomination. So as a raw calculation this would suggest that key potentials for 2028 (assuming Biden runs again) would be Harris (VP/Sen), Amy Klobuchar (Sen) and, assuming she remains in office, Gretchen Whitmer (Gov, MI).

Obviously you can populate the list with other senators and governors, but if trends hold or if Biden chooses to bow out, these would be among the top three names of becoming president should they throw their hats into the ring, and if it isn't specifically one of them, it will be someone very much like them from one of those offices. The odds of someone like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) running directly from her position as a House member are about as long as they were for Beto O'Rourke (TX-16, 2020 campaign fizzled), and if Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) has her eye on the big chair, she really needs to become either Senator or Governor Porter first (which she is obviously trying to do).

For Republicans, I would argue that it's a more complicated calculation for two principal reasons: (1) the Republicans' slightly greater interest in unconventional candidates; and (2) the resistance of a voting bloc that strongly favors men over women. In the same span of time as noted above, the Republicans have gone with at least three candidates whose résumé can only be described as unusual: Eisenhower in '52 (retired general); Nixon in '68 (former VP, but out of office 8 years and lost two most recent elections); and, obviously, Trump. To that you could consider adding Gerald Ford who, although a sitting VP, had recently ascended from the House Minority Leader perch. After former VPs and these candidates are eliminated, there were three governors and three senators left, but the governors fared much better than the senators in their races—Ronald Reagan left office with high popularity, while Barry Goldwater suffered a crushing defeat, for instance. So if we were going to handicap any given woman running for the Republican nomination, the breakdown would probably something like: Kay Ivey (AL)/Kristi Noem (SD)/Sarah Huckabee Sanders (AK) as governors; Marsha Blackburn (TN) or Katie Britt (AL) as senators; and Kari Lake as the Eisenhower/Trump non-office-holding 3rd-lane candidate, or perhaps Lauren Boebert (CO-3). And yes, I just lumped Eisenhower and Trump together in one category, please shoot me.

But with the possibility of Kari Lake in that group, I am at least a little skeptical that, if all other things are equal, a woman candidate is going to have as easy a time winning the Republican nomination. I base this on gut instinct rather than evidence, but given the tendency of a significant chunk of Republican voters to favor a cultural model where men are naturally heads of the household and therefore women politicians are something of an aberration, I don't see how a woman becomes the standard-bearer of the Republican Party during primary season. Which means that if the first woman president is a Republican, she's likely to be a sitting Veep, in which case, given current chatter (heavy speculation here), that person could be Kristi Noem.

J.T. in Marietta, GA: It could have been Condoleezza Rice, had she been interested in 2008. She was by far the early favorite among Republicans in 2007, including my racist, reactionary father. He loved her, and she led in all the polls at the time. She had a lot of crossover appeal—a lot of independents saw her as the sensible centrist in the Bush administration. But she had no such ambitions.

At this point, my preference would be Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), who's able to get Donald Trump's goat like no other. It won't be Kamala Harris. (I've never liked her since I heard her being a grandstanding, smug a-hole during confirmation hearings for Jeff Sessions.) But probably the most likely is Gretchen Whitmer. She'll almost certainly be a candidate in 2028, and could well succeed.

S.M. in Louisville, KY: Whoever she is, she has been born, but no one knows her name.

L.S. in Greensboro, NC: I hate to say this, because I would love to see a woman president, but I think the correct answer is "no one." In 2016, one of the most qualified candidates ever to run for the office was opposed by a complete boob who had zero qualifications for the office, and the boob won. So I don't believe any woman will win unless both parties nominate a woman, or a male president dies in office and a female VP ascends to the office, I just don't see this country ever having a woman president. Hope I'm wrong!

C.J. in Lowell, MA: I'd like to offer the snarky answer that maybe we have already had a woman president. Edith Wilson pretty much ran the show following her husband's stroke and seemed to make a lot of decisions on his behalf. She was very restrictive about who could see him. I would not be at all surprised if we one day discover she even forged his signature from time to time.

Here is the question for next week:

G.W. in Oxnard, CA, asks: What does "woke"mean?

We've gotten many variants of this question, and have been holding them for the right week. In view of yesterday's "This Week in Schadenfreude," now seems like the right time.

Submit your answers here!

If you wish to contact us, please use one of these addresses. For the first two, please include your initials and city.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar17 DeSantis Uses Ukraine to Put Daylight between Himself and Other Republicans
Mar17 Republican Primary Is Going to Be Grim
Mar17 Kentucky Legislature Wedges Anti-Trans Bill into Its Schedule
Mar17 Why The Trans Hate?, Part VIII: Grab Bag
Mar17 The Word Cup, Round 3: Non-Presidential Slogans
Mar17 This Week in Schadenfreude: Who Saw That Question Coming?
Mar17 This Week in Freudenfreude: Pat Schroeder, 1940-2023
Mar16 Trump Has a Massive Oppo Dump on DeSantis
Mar16 Biden Plans to Run against the Freedom Caucus
Mar16 Chip Roy Endorses Ron DeSantis
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Mar16 "George Santos" Files for Reelection
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Mar16 North Carolina Supreme Court May Re-allow a Republican Gerrymander
Mar16 Democrat Is Infinitely Outspending Republican in Wisconsin Supreme Court Race
Mar16 Young and Independent Latino Voters Are a Growing Force
Mar16 Sarah Sanders Signs Bill Effectively Ending Trans Care for Minors
Mar16 Dutch election for Provincial Legislatures Were Held Yesterday
Mar15 Taking It to the Bank
Mar15 Republicans Announce Their House Targets
Mar15 Mike Pence Reminds Us Why He'll Never Be President
Mar15 Take That, Will Rogers
Mar15 Trans Bill on Tap in the House
Mar15 Why the Trans Hate?, Part VI: Stories of the Trans-Adjacent
Mar15 Word Cup, Round 3: Presidential Slogans
Mar14 Who Broke the Bank?
Mar14 Trump Officially Declines Bragg's Invitation
Mar14 Nikki Haley Is a Pretty Mediocre Politician
Mar14 Pennsylvania Republicans: More of the Same, Please!
Mar14 Neo-Nazis' Newest Target? Trans People and Drag Queens
Mar14 Why the Trans Hate?, Part V: Trans Analogies
Mar14 The Votes Are In
Mar13 DeSantis Visits Iowa
Mar13 Trump's Support in Iowa is Slipping
Mar13 Trump's Legal Problems Mount
Mar13 Freedom Caucus Finally Says What It Wants
Mar13 Pence Enters a Brave New World
Mar13 Manchin Keeps Tweaking Biden
Mar13 Fox Is Still Going Strong
Mar13 Democrats Announce Their List of Frontline Incumbents
Mar13 Colorado GOP Picks an Election Denier to Run the State Party
Mar13 Boebert Will Be a Grandmother Next Month
Mar12 Sunday Mailbag
Mar11 Saturday Q&A
Mar10 Biden Unveils His 2024 Platform... er, His Budget
Mar10 Bragg about to Win Trump Indictment Marathon?
Mar10 Still More Trouble for "George Santos"
Mar10 The Daily Wire Is Trans Hate Headquarters
Mar10 Why the Trans Hate?, Part IV: Trans Readers Weigh In
Mar10 The World Cup, Part XIV: Group C vs. Group G