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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Bragg to House Committees: Nope
      •  Sinema Lays Her Cards on the Table
      •  The Word Cup: We Have a Winner
      •  The Word Cup Quiz: Answers
      •  Let the Madness Begin
      •  This Week in Schadenfreude: The Santos of the South?
      •  This Week in Freudenfreude: Don't Worry, Be Happy

Bragg to House Committees: Nope

Three different House committees thought they would score points with Donald Trump by "investigating" Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg, who is expected to indict Trump shortly, possibly next week. The three chairmen are Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH), James Comer (R-KY), and Bryan Steil (R-WI). They demanded a bundle of documents and an interview with Bragg. It didn't work. Bragg's general counsel, Leslie Dubeck, wrote the committee chairs a nice letter that said in part: "The District Attorney is obliged by the federal and state constitutions to protect the independence of state law enforcement functions from federal interference. In other words: No."

Here is a copy of her letter. She sent copies to the ranking members of each committee as well. Dubeck did offer to meet the chairmen, however, in case they don't understand what "no" means. She also said she would be willing to meet with staffers so they could explain what legitimate legislative purpose the members are working on and why they need information from the Manhattan D.A. to write whatever law they are considering. There is no way Bragg is going to give them inside information. Grand jury proceedings are secret. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), the lead grandstander, has a law degree. He knows that very well.

The committees also asked what federal funds the office uses, Dubeck didn't say whether the office gets any federal funds but said she would look into it and let them know. Of course, if the office does get some federal funding, that would be because Congress appropriated the funding. She also said that possible questions about the use of federal funds do not justify giving out nonpublic information related to an ongoing investigation.

The three chairs didn't say what their next steps would be. They could try to subpoena Bragg, but he would almost certainly refuse, leading to endless court battles that would go on forever, by which time the indictment would be public. Among other grounds for refusing to cooperate would be federal-state issues and whether Congress has any authority over New York State's law enforcement agencies. A case like that could easily go to the U.S. Supreme Court and take years. Probably every state would file an amicus brief supporting New York if it came to that. None of them want Congress mucking around with their law enforcement. Even the Texas AG understands that if House committees can interfere with a law enforcement in New York, what's to stop Senate committees from interfering the next time Texas is investigating some doctor for performing an abortion in violation of Texas law. It's Jordan's move now. (V)

Sinema Lays Her Cards on the Table

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) isn't a Democratic senator anymore, and it would seem she's barely an independent. A new report from Politico reveals a number of interesting things about her recent activities.

To start, it would seem that Sinema has concluded (undoubtedly correctly) that Democratic voters, particularly the sort who are enthusiastic enough to get our their wallets more than year before the elections, are done with her. So, she's been making the rounds among Republican groups, trying to shake them down for money. She's also been palling around with Republican senators.

In addition to associating with Republicans, Sinema has developed a habit of badmouthing her Democratic colleagues. She claims she does not caucus with the Party anymore, and that she only remains a nominal member because she wants to maintain her committee memberships. She is also prone to making snobbish jokes, like making fun of how old many Democratic senators are, and how, as a result, their preferred food is Jell-O.

The game here is clear; Sinema wants to be a fusion Republican-Independent candidate next year. It is extremely unlikely this will work, however. First, Republican leadership, starting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), is persuaded that she's still a Democrat, at heart. Second, even if the Republican leadership is ultimately convinced that she's turned traitor to the blue team, they can't control the nomination process (if they could, you would never have heard of Doug Mastriano, Dan Bolduc, or, most importantly, Kari Lake).

Sinema's only hope of forestalling a Republican opponent is to run as a Republican herself and win the nomination. But she surely can't do that, because she's way too much of a Democrat for Arizona Republicans. They aren't the type to say "We'd rather have someone who can win over someone who's ideologically pure." Further, if she runs as a Republican, she loses all of the Democratic votes, and most of the independent votes, she is hoping to hold on to right now. Meanwhile, if she stays an independent, she's still not going to pass the smell test with Arizona Republicans, and her pooh-poohing of the Democratic Party is going to alienate a lot of the Democratic voters who might still have stuck with her.

So even if the plan is clear, it's not going to work. Meanwhile, if Sinema really wanted to stay in the Senate, the easiest way would have been to just remain a loyal Democrat. After all, she already won election once that way. But now, with Sinema having scuttled a number of key Democratic initiatives during a time when the Party controlled the trifecta, that ship has sailed, and she's in no-politician's land. (Z)

The Word Cup: We Have a Winner

The race was very, very close; for quite a while the gap was less than a dozen votes. But then the ultimate winner opened up a small, but steady, lead. And so it is that "A New Deal for America" (51.8%) defeats "We Shall Overcome" (48.2%)

Here are some reader comments on the finale:

  • T.K. in Boston, MA: I may be a poor historian, but isn't what makes "A New Deal for America" so powerful is that it represented "Hope" in a very bleak period of time?

  • K.K. in Clemmons, NC: I agree with M.L. in West Hartford that "Yes, we can!" would have made a better slogan to include in this contest than "Hope" and in many ways the sentiment is reminiscent of "We Shall Overcome." Then both evince energy and optimism and can be applied to a broader spectrum than originally intended. "A Neal Deal for America" was an important slogan but is much more static. I voted for "We Shall Overcome."

  • L.L. in Brighton, MA: I reluctantly voted for "We Shall Overcome." It is my impression that in the aftershock of the stock market crash and the Great Depression that the will for change was there. FDR could have (eventually) implemented his program regardless of what he called the program. On the other hand, I don't believe it was 'civil rights time" in 1945 or 1950, at least not in the white community. The slogan and song "We Shall Overcome" helped make the civil rights cause popular among some of the white masses. In its absence, the Civil Rights Movement may have turned out to be more like BLM has unfortunately become—consciousness is raised for a brief while and then everything goes back to the status quo ante.

  • S.D.R. in Raleigh, NC: This was not an easy one, to say the least. But in the end I went with "We Shall Overcome." The New Deal—that is, the program that went by that name—was of course a monumental change in American governance. But how much did the slogan "A New Deal for America" have to do with that? That's a little harder to measure, and when it comes right down to it, "A New Deal for America" promises change of some sort but doesn't specify what kind of change that will be. "We Shall Overcome," on the other hand, makes it clear that the goal is to overcome injustice in America.

    Furthermore, the New Deal was a series of governmental problems, and as such it only needed to inspire people to vote for Democrats and possibly write their representatives in Congress. The Civil Rights Movement was primarily a grassroots effort, so "We Shall Overcome" inspired people to do much more—to organize, to demonstrate, to boycott, to engage in civil disobedience—often in the face of government-sponsored violence.

    For these reasons, "We Shall Overcome" is, in my assessment, the Word Cup Champion.

  • C.H. in Montpelier, VT: I picked "We Shall Overcome" because it helped people do more, risk more, and endure more. Perhaps that's the inherent advantage of a movement slogan over a campaign slogan.

We know that some readers find these sorts of competitions silly or otherwise distasteful. But, as anyone who has been a teacher will tell you, it is very helpful to find new and interesting ways to look at information.

And this little competition tells us something, beyond "'A New Deal for America' is the best slogan in U.S. history." The two finalists are both hopeful, optimistic slogans. If we had not forgotten about the fact that the World Cup also features a third-place game, then the two competitors in that match—"Give Me Liberty of Give Me Death" and "Hope"—are in the same class. We do not think this is a product of the political slant of the readership, nor do we think it is coincidental. It is very difficult to rally people around hope. But when it happens, that is when we see real change and real accomplishment.

The alternative is to rally people around hate (or other negative emotions). This is much easier to do, but it's a short-term play. It's very hard to sustain, long-term, and the only leaders who keep it going for more than a few years tend to be those who don't have to worry about getting reelected. One also struggles to think of long-term accomplishments that can be attributed to demagogic leaders, either in the U.S. or in other nations.

That brings us to the 2024 presidential contest. Joe Biden might not be as inspiring as Franklin D. Roosevelt or Martin Luther King Jr., but his message is hopeful, and he's already gotten elected on it once. That is no small advantage. And even if he steps down, and some other Democrat runs in his place, that Democrat will likewise run on a hopeful message (and a non-insubstantial record of accomplishment by the Party in 4 years leading up to the election).

Donald Trump, for his part, looks to be running on fumes. He's bled off all but the loyal members of the base, and even those folks seem to be considerably less excited about him than they once were. He's not raising as much money, his rallies aren't attracting as many people, and the response to his allegedly imminent arrest has been considerably more tepid than he hoped and expected. This is what happens with demagogic types.

And then there's Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL). Given the relatively short shelf life of demagogic politics, he faces a daunting challenge in trying to wrest the movement away from Trump and then to keep the momentum going. It does not help that, like many demagogues, DeSantis appears to be preternaturally incapable of coming up with an original idea. Trump, at very least, somehow figured out that the thing that people wanted was a border wall (despite the fact that the U.S. already had a border wall). DeSantis' playbook, by contrast, is a "greatest hits" of demagogic techniques and Republican wedge issues. There's no imagination.

It's not too hard to predict that history will not look kindly on Trump, DeSantis and their ilk. But we think it's also correct to say that the window for their kind of politics is closing, at least for now. Maybe the Republicans squeeze one more presidential win out of the current moment, but the odds for them are not great. And the more time that passes, the harder it's going to be to win nationally with Trumpism (or DeSanity or whatever). Will the Republicans reinvent themselves, as they've done several times in the past (1950s, 1980s)? Or will they just spend a generation or two in the wilderness? On that point, your guess is as good as ours. (Z)

The Word Cup Quiz: Answers

OK, sometimes we write items that really are just for fun, and this is one of those. There's something to be said for a respite from normal order. Once again, anyone who disagrees has never been a teacher.

We gave descriptions of 10 of the 32 slogans that made the Word Cup, and now we reveal which slogans we were describing:

  1. The slogan drawn from a campaign song that mentions Kentucky and Indiana, but not the candidate's state of residence? (presumably because of rhyming issues)

    "Lincoln and Liberty, Too!" Old Abe was born in Kentucky, and spent a few of his formative years in Indiana, but lived his adult life in Illinois.

  2. The slogan that would have the highest value in Scrabble (57 points), assuming no limits on the amount of tiles you can use?

    We ran every slogan through a Scrabble calculator, and that is how we came up with the 57 points. What we did not notice is that the calculator we used cuts things off after 26 characters. Why set that limit, when there's no such thing as a 26-letter Scrabble play, we do not know.

    That does not actually change the answer, just the point value. The correct answer is "Segregation Now, Segregation Tomorrow, Segregation Forever," which is worth 71 points. It's followed closely by "Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Speech, Free Men, Fremont" at 69.

  3. The slogan that was created and used by liberals, but then coopted by conservatives, who merely flipped the order of the second and the final words?

    "Better Red than Dead" was popularized by the British philosopher Bertrand Russell, an outspoken liberal. It was turned into "Better Dead than Red" by conservatives.

  4. The slogan that helped power its candidate to the largest electoral vote total in U.S. history?

    "It's Morning Again in America" helped Ronald Reagan pile up 525 EVs in 1984. That is just ahead of the 523 that Franklin D. Roosevelt tallied in 1936. Of course, because Alaska and Hawaii were not states in FDR's time, his percentage of the EVs (98.49%) was higher than Reagan's (97.58%). Either one is a whooping, however.

  5. The slogan that was coined nearly 80 years before it caught fire, and was also deployed (with limited success) roughly 60 years and 40 years before catching on?

    "Make It Great Again" was first coined by Sen. Alexander Wiley (R-WI) for a speech he delivered in 1940. Barry Goldwater heard about it, liked it, and took it for a test drive in 1964 without much success. Ronald Reagan also tried a variant of it in 1980 ("Let's Make America Great Again"), but it did not catch on the way other parts of his messaging did. Donald Trump then made the slogan famous in 2015-16.

  6. The slogan that is also the title of a song performed by Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, The Kingston Trio, Donovan, and many others?

    "Remember the Alamo" was written by Texas folk singer Jane Bowers in the 1950s, and has since been covered many times.

  7. The slogan used by the first president to be sworn in by a former president, and also the only president (thus far) to be sworn in by a family member?

    "Keep Cool with Coolidge." He was sworn in by his father when Warren Harding died unexpectedly. And then, after winning election in his own right in 1924, Coolidge was sworn in for his second term by Chief Justice and former president William Howard Taft.

  8. The slogan that was not actually written down until more than 40 years after it was (allegedly) first uttered?

    "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death." News reporting did not really exist at that time, so nobody made a point of writing Patrick Henry's words down. He was not credited with coining the phrase until William Wirt published the book Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry in 1817. Wirt relied on the accounts of people who had been the room, though they were remembering events that took place four decades earlier. That said, their accounts were consistent enough that it's probable they were recalling Henry's words correctly.

  9. The slogan that can be anagrammed into the name of a broadcast TV network, a comic book publisher, and a popular candy (singular) OR into a Canadian province, a species of fish, and the last name a notorious former NFL quarterback?

    "Black Lives Matter" can be anagrammed into "ABC," "Marvel" and "Skittle" or "Alberta," "Smelt," and "Vick."

  10. And finally, on a similar note, the slogan that can be anagrammed into the last name of a British head of state who was neither a monarch nor a prime minister, a portion of a roof, and a word that Santa says repeatedly OR a Best Picture-winning film of the 21st century, a Sesame Street character, a species of fish, and a word that means "solemn promise"?

    "We Shall Overcome" can be anagrammed into "Cromwell," "Eaves" and "Ho," or "Crash," "Elmo," "Eel," and "Vow."

We will probably do something along these lines once the bracket tournament is complete (see below). (Z)

Let the Madness Begin

Today, we commence the NCAA Bracket-style competition meant to identify the greatest political blunder in American history. We thank the 600+ readers who sent in over 3,000 suggestions (including roughly 250 distinct suggestions; many of the 3,000 were repeated, of course). We must also correct an oversight; we never recognized reader J.S. in Wheaton, IL, who suggested this theme in the first place.

As we sorted through the suggestions (and added a few of our own), we had to make some decisions. To wit:

  • Although we got some very good suggestions for non-American blunders covering many millennia (from Ramses II's failure to free the Israelites from slavery to Liz Truss' mini-budget), and although we were tempted to devote one-quarter of the bracket to non-American blunders, we ultimately decided to keep the focus on the U.S. Including the non-U.S. stuff made things a little unwieldy, plus you run into an "apples and oranges" problem (e.g., how do you compare appeasing Adolf Hitler to Michael Dukakis posing for a silly photo?).

  • We also decided that foreign affairs matters would largely be excluded, unless those matters triggered a specific, domestic blunder. This is also an "apples to oranges" issue; how do you compare escalating the Vietnam War to, say, "binders full of women"? We also don't want to make a game out of things that led directly to mass deaths and/or suffering.

  • That said, we do recognize that some of the blunders we included might have led, or might in the future lead to, suffering, at least indirectly. The fact is that when you make errors at the level of the presidency, Congress, the Supreme Court, etc., there is very often going to be some sort of human toll.

  • We made judgment calls, as best we could, in an effort to distinguish what can reasonably be termed "errors" from what are more properly described as broad acts of malfeasance. For example, we don't think that Iran-Contra or Donald Trump's handling of COVID-19 can be considered "errors"; those were the product of conscious decisions to do amoral and self-serving things over an extended period of time.

  • However, we were willing to include key inflection points that were part of broader acts of malfeasance, if we believe those inflection-point blunders laid the groundwork for the larger act, or if the blunder dramatically increased the odds that the larger act of malfeasance would be uncovered and/or would lead to costs for the committer of the blunder.

  • We endeavored for a certain amount of breadth. It would be easy to fill half the bracket with sex scandals, but would that really be interesting? Similarly, it would be easy to fill at least one quadrant with Donald Trump stuff, but that starts to get very repetitive.

  • We did our best to divide the blunders into four "regions" with clear and distinct themes. Of course, we realize that some blunders could be placed in more than one region.

  • Once we had chosen the blunders that made the cut, and had organized them into groups, our copy editors served as a "selection committee" and helped us assign seeding.

  • Most of the selections won't actually be revealed until next week and the week thereafter, but once they are, we will be happy to answer questions as part of the Saturday Q&A about why we made the judgment calls we made, if readers care to ask them.

  • Readers, at least those who vote, will have to decide for themselves on what basis to compare blunders. For our part, we largely considered how foreseeable the negative consequences were, how much harm the blunder did to the person or people who committed it, and how much harm the blunder did to the country.

As those who follow the actual NCAA Tournament know, the competition begins with a "First Four" slate of contests between the teams that just barely made the cut. So, that is the plan for today. We are going to introduce the four bracket themes, and a First Four contest for each bracket, effectively pitting the 16th and 17th-seeded blunders in those brackets against each other. (We realize that this is not exactly how the NCAA Tournament works, but it's close enough.)

Thereafter, we'll have four items per week (on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays) as we work through the competition. There is, of course, zero chance we can adhere to the same schedule as the actual NCAA Tournament (which will be over next week), and we're not going to try.

And, without further ado:

Imagery Region: In this region, the blunder involved at least some forethought. The victim did not expect their words or actions to work out poorly, and yet those words or actions ended up doing significant damage to their public image, permanently painting them (with at least some voters) as stupid, or dishonest, or mean-spirited, or out-of-touch, or...


Jeb Bush looking morose
while speaking to a crowd while a 'Jeb!' sign is visible in the background and a screen capture of Jimmy Carter's televised
'Malaise' speech'

Jeb!: As a former governor of the supposed "swing" state of Florida and a member of the Bush dynasty, Jeb Bush was presumed to be a shoo-in for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, with a solid chance to be elected president. That would have made him the third president in five to be a Bush.

So, what went wrong? Maybe Jeb wasn't the politician that his father and brother were. Maybe nobody checked with the American people, who tend to be leery of political dynasties (see Revolution, American). Maybe Jeb represented a brand of politics that went obsolete around the same time that dot-matrix printers and pay phones did. Certainly, he never found an answer to the direct assaults launched upon him by Donald Trump, who slurred Bush as "low energy." Adopting the slogan "Jeb!" was supposed to be an answer, and the slogan had worked just fine during Bush's second gubernatorial campaign. In 2016, however, it made Bush appear ridiculous, while also affirming that he was squarely under Trump's thumb. The slogan did not kill the presidential bid all by itself, of course, it was more like the last nail in a coffin that was already nearly complete.

Malaise: Voters say they are annoyed by the politicians who are being dishonest. And that is probably true. But the presidency of Jimmy Carter shows that they are also annoyed by politicians who are being honest.

In 1979, the United States was beset by the sort of problems that voters pay close attention to. There was the hostage crisis in Iran, and on the domestic front there was inflation and runaway gas prices. In the two weeks prior to Independence Day that year, Carter was invisible, leading to conspiracy theories that he was ill, or perhaps even that he'd fled the country. Why he would flee was never explained.

It turns out that the President was hard at work on a speech, which he delivered live on national TV on the evening of July 4, 1979. Taking a very clear cue from the Gettysburg Address, not to mention Franklin D. Roosevelt, Carter acknowledged that the country was facing serious problems, but argued that if Americans looked deep within themselves, and pulled together as a country, those problems could be overcome. The passage that was supposed to be the highlight of the speech:

The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.

Rather than a "highlight," however, the quote ended up as an anchor around Carter's neck. The address was quickly dubbed the "Malaise Speech," despite the fact that Carter never actually used that word. Americans, it would seem, wanted a "rah-rah" speech rather than a "hard truths" speech. The whole thing conspired to make Carter appear to be out of touch with reality, someone with his head too far in the clouds to understand the troubles of ordinary Americans. Since he left office, there's been a reappraisal of the speech and what Carter was trying to do. But that reappraisal did not come in time to help him in the presidential election of 1980, where he was soundly beaten by Ronald Reagan.

The Matchup: Both of these blunders were made by politicians who were already in a bad place with voters by the time the blunder was made. Jeb! was probably the dumber blunder, since no right-thinking political strategist should have expected that to miraculously fix what was wrong with his campaign. The thinking behind the "malaise" speech was much more sound, even if the gamble didn't work out. On the other hand, "malaise" was probably the more damaging blunder, since Carter might plausibly have won reelection in 1980, whereas Bush was all but a lost cause by the time he pulled Jeb! out of... well, wherever it is that the Bush family pulls things from.

Venality Region: In this region, political figures made choices that they knew, or should have known, were illegal, immoral and/or unethical, and saw those choices work out badly.


Clarence Thomas testifying at
his confirmation hearing and then-AG Alberto Gonzales and George W. Bush at the press conference where the firing of U.S. Attorneys was 

Clarence Thomas: When the ailing Thurgood Marshall was forced to resign due to ill health, it handed then-President George H.W. Bush an unexpected gift. That said, the needle had to be threaded carefully. On one hand, Marshall had vacated the "Black" seat on the Court, and so a Black replacement was needed. On the other hand, Bush needed to keep the conservative wing of his conservative political party happy. Black judges were something of a rarity on the federal judiciary back then (and they are still not as common as they should be, relative to the U.S. population). Conservative Black judges were even more scarce. The other places where a justice might be drawn from, like law school leadership teams and white shoe law firms, were no better stocked with conservative Black candidates. In Thomas, Bush thus chose one of a very small number of candidates (less than five) who checked the boxes that simply had to be checked.

This is not to say that Thomas was a good candidate, merely that he cleared the bar that needed to be cleared. He had just a bit more than a year's experience on the federal bench, and he was pretty obviously put onto the D.C. Court of Appeals by Bush in order to be available as a Supreme Court candidate, as Marshall's poor health was not a secret. During his confirmation hearings, of course, Thomas was credibly accused of sexual harassment and of creating a hostile workplace environment. The nomination should have been withdrawn, but it wasn't. The bending-over-backwards effort to put the "right" person on the Court rather than the best person (or even someone in the top 1,000 best people) is why we put this in the Venality bracket.

Would Thomas be confirmed today, if the same set of circumstances came to pass? Hard to say. On one hand, there is far less tolerance for sexual harassment today than there was in 1991. On the other hand, Republican fealty to the party line is much greater. Our guess is that, if a Thomas clone were to be nominated by a Republican president today, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) would express "concern" and then would vote to confirm the nomination.

U.S. Attorneys Fired: U.S. Attorneys, like many employees of the executive branch, serve at the pleasure of the president. That said, because of the general desire to maintain the appearance of impartiality, it is not common for presidents to be hands-on the management of the U.S. Attorney corps, unless one of them engages in some sort of deeply problematic behavior. So, it was big news when then-president George W. Bush and then-AG Alberto Gonzales held a press conference on December 7, 2006, and announced that seven U.S. Attorneys would be summarily dismissed.

The folks who lost their jobs had relatively little in common, other than having raised the ire of conservative activists in the Republican Party. To this day, it is not entirely clear what the primary motivation was for the move. Was Bush merely trying to keep the Republican Party unified? Did he want lieutenants that would vigorously implement his political agenda? Was he trying to give some promising young conservatives a chance to improve their résumés? It was probably all of these things.

The only thing that is certain is that the move was motivated by politics; several investigations into the matter reached that conclusion, including a Department of Justice investigation whose findings were published in July 2010. The DoJ also found that, while the firings were unethical, they weren't illegal. So, the only person to pay a price for this particular act of venality was Alberto Gonzales, who absorbed most of the blowback produced by the scheme, and was compelled to resign his post on September 17, 2007.

The Matchup: It's a Bush blunder versus a Bush blunder. Like father, like son, we suppose. The son's blunder did not hurt him electorally, as it was carefully timed to take place weeks after the final midterm election of his term-limited presidency. As to the father, his approval rating was 89% in January 1991. By October of 1992, it was down to 29%. This is customarily attributed to the downturn in the economy that took place during that time, but sticking with Thomas may well have been part of the problem, too. Surely, many women voters were not happy with what they heard during his confirmation hearings.

Meanwhile, both blunders have had some long-term consequences that, by all indications, would trouble even the two men who made them. Thomas has done more than any other person, save perhaps Mitch McConnell, to damage the reputation of the Supreme Court as a neutral arbiter of balls and strikes. And as to the U.S. Attorneys, do you know what the main complaint was of the conservative activists who wanted them fired? That they weren't doing enough to combat alleged "voter fraud."

Strategery Region: This region features blunderers who tried to play 3-D chess as best they knew how, but blew it and checkmated themselves with their unwise strategic choices.


A political cartoon 
that shows FDR trying to pack the court while Uncle Sam looks on in shock and the cover page of the Senate's report on the impeachment
of Samuel Chase

Court Packing: The story here is likely familiar to most readers. Franklin D. Roosevelt had enormous success at getting his legislative program, the New Deal, through Congress. And when Congress wouldn't play ball, he would sometimes do things through executive order. There's a good case to be made that he was the most powerful president in U.S. history.

The one brick wall that FDR kept running into was the Supreme Court, where the "Four Horsemen"—Justices Pierce Butler, James Clark McReynolds, George Sutherland, and Willis Van Devanter—were almost invariably hostile to New Deal programs. All they needed was one more vote, and they often got it from the moderately conservative Justice Owen J. Roberts or the moderately liberal Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes (the other three justices—Louis Brandeis, Benjamin Cardozo, and Harlan Stone, known as the "Three Musketeers"—were safe votes for FDR).

Roosevelt did not like to lose, in general. He did not like to lose key parts of the New Deal, in particular, as he regarded himself as being on something of a crusade to save the United States (this was not an unreasonable line of thinking). So, he proposed the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937, which would have allowed presidents to appoint an additional justice to the Court for every justice above the age of 70. The Four Horsemen, at that point, were 78 (Van Devanter), 75 (McReynolds and Sutherland), and 71 (Butler). Undoubtedly that is just a coincidence.

Though FDR tried hard to sell the legislation, devoting most of his March 1937 Fireside Chat to the subject, public reaction to the proposal was overall poor. Quite a few voters took it as a sign that the President had grown too big for his britches, and was looking to acquire near dictatorial power. The caption of the political cartoon to the left is: "Do we want a ventriloquist act in the Supreme Court?," and many Americans thought that sentiment was pretty on-point.

Congress, which had previously been fairly pliant clay to be molded by FDR's hands, pushed back against the proposed bill and ultimately torpedoed it. In particular Sen. Henry F. Ashurst (D-AZ), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, tied the bill up in hearings for more than 6 months. Meanwhile, the primary senatorial champion of the bill, Majority Leader Joseph Taylor Robinson (D-AR), died on July 14, 1937. FDR ultimately got what he wanted the normal way, as the Four Horsemen all retired between 1937 and 1941, leaving the President to pick their replacements.

Samuel Chase Impeachment: George Washington was a Federalist in all but name. John Adams was a Federalist in name. Between them, they stacked the judiciary with judges friendly to their political ideas. This did not please the Democratic-Republicans, particularly once they elected one of their own as president, namely Thomas Jefferson.

The most famous thing Jefferson (and his secretary of state, James Madison) did in order to try to solve this problem was refuse to deliver a bunch of last-minute commissions made by Adams (leading to Marbury v. Madison). However, the Democratic-Republicans also repealed the Judiciary Act of 1801, trying to end life tenure for federal judges. Jefferson & Co. also planned to use the impeachment power to kick a bunch of Federalist judges to the street. And the test case they chose was Associate Justice Samuel Chase.

Chase was an obvious target. The Democratic-Republicans wanted a big fish, and there were only six Supreme Court justices to choose from. Of those six, Chase had been far and away the most intemperate in keeping his political opinions to himself while sitting on the bench. He didn't actually pop off all that much while sitting as a Supreme Court justice, in part because SCOTUS didn't sit all that often back then. Where he did pop off was while sitting as a circuit judge in Baltimore (all Supremes did circuit work at that time). In particular, Chase did not approve of the repeal of the Judiciary Act, and did not hide his feelings on that subject.

The eight articles of impeachment against Chase were adopted on March 12, 1804. It was almost entirely a party-line vote, with 81 Democratic-Republicans and a sole Federalist voting for and 30 Federalists and a pair of Democratic-Republicans voting against. As to the Senate trial, it was held over to the next meeting of the upper chamber (at that time, Congress did not meet in summer or fall). Once the senators had returned to Washington, an inordinate amount of time was spent figuring out how to properly stage and decorate the Senate chamber. Chase's trial finally commenced February 4, 1805, and it was quite thorough, with more than 50 witnesses giving testimony. Chase's defense was that expressing political opinions, and even making bad rulings, did not rise to the level of "high crimes and misdemeanors."

In the end, enough senators agreed with Chase to save his bacon. To convict, 23 votes would have been necessary. There were 25 Democratic-Republicans in the Senate at that time (against just 9 Federalists), so a party-line vote would have cost Chase his job. However, on each of the eight articles of impeachment, at least 6 Democratic-Republicans voted to acquit. This failure caused Jefferson to conclude, quite correctly, that he wasn't going to be able to use impeachment to reshape the federal judiciary. This was the only time a Supreme Court justice was subject to an impeachment trial, and it's the only time a federal judge has been impeached for offenses that were not criminal.

The Matchup: There are at least three rather important questions here. The first is: "How serious was FDR about court packing?" It's possible he really wanted to do it, or it's possible that he just wanted to send a warning to SCOTUS, and that he didn't work nearly as hard as he could have to whip votes for the legislation. Only Roosevelt knows for sure, and he isn't talking.

The second is: "How much damage did this do to Roosevelt?" He had his triumphs at the start of his time in office, and then he finished by triumphing in World War II. However, it is worth recalling that his second term (1937-41) was his worst; he took a beating in the 1938 midterm elections, and he also failed to pass any major legislation following the promulgation of the court packing scheme. But for a fellow named Hitler, it's possible we might remember Roosevelt's presidency somewhat differently.

The third question is about the Chase impeachment: "But for that trial, would the only real power Congress has when it comes to holding judges accountable be somewhat more useful?" There have been plenty of federal judges since 1805 who were incompetent. There have been plenty of federal judges since 1805 who behaved in unethical ways. But the overtly partisan Chase trial effectively drew a bright, red line between criminal conduct and all other conduct.

Parapraxery Region: Everyone knows that a Freudian Slip is an inadvertent error, but one that potentially reveals some larger truth about the blunderer. Over time, that particular term has acquired a connotation that the error has something to do with sex, since sex was kinda Freud's obsession. Parapraxery refers to the same basic phenomenon, except without the sexual connotation. This region is made up entirely of things that were expressed extemporaneously, without apparent forethought, and that turned disastrous.


A person holding up a sign 
that says 'Covfefe is unpresidented' and a picture of Joe Biden speaking

Covfefe: As we've already noted, we could have included an awful lot of Donald Trump in this competition. However, we chose to limit ourselves, at least some. That said, there had to be at least one tweet included, and this is the one.

It's been a few years, but recall that late on May 30, 2017, Trump tweeted: "Despite the constant negative press covfefe." That was it; the best guess is that he meant "coverage," though that doesn't explain what happened to the rest of the tweet. In any case, the tweet quickly took off, and within 24 hours the hashtag #Covfefe had been tweeted nearly 2 million times.

In true Trumpy fashion, he simply could not admit he'd made an error, despite deleting the tweet 6 hours after he sent it. He tweeted "Who can figure out the true meaning of 'covfefe' ??? Enjoy!" That day, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who never failed to tote whatever water he was told to tote, insisted that the tweet was intentional and said "I think the president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant."

Maybe it really was intentional, and Trump was performing some sort of demonstration of how easily he could create a major news story. Or maybe it really was intentional, and Trump was mocking his many and varied critics. Or maybe it was an accident, and Trump is a small, thin-skinned man with a fragile ego who insists that he's so perfect that he is incapable of making even so small an error as a typo. Who knows? In any event, the whole thing engendered much mockery, which is usually not good for one's ego or one's political prospects.

Jackie Walorski: On Sept. 28 of last year, Joe Biden was delivering the opening remarks at the White House conference on hunger, nutrition and health. This was a cause close to the heart of Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN), and so Biden decided to acknowledge her by name: "Jackie, are you here? Where's Jackie? She was going to be here." It's true, she probably was going to be there, but those plans came to an end when she died in a car wreck a month before the conference.

It's not clear exactly what happened here. A president knows and talks to a very large number of people, and it's certainly plausible that the President did not immediately recall Walorski's passing in that particular context. It's also possible that he really meant to say something like, "I had hoped to see Jackie here, and now that won't be possible," but he garbled his words. In any case, it wasn't a great moment for someone whose age is his greatest political liability, and whose opponents have consistently questioned his mental fitness.

The Matchup: It's not terribly surprising that the seeding committee put these at the bottom of the list. Either gaffe may have damaged the blunderer a bit, by contributing to an overall impression of them. It's hard to make the case, however, that either of these blunders led to specific consequences for the respective presidents.

And so it begins. The ballot for this round is here. If you have comments on any or all of these matchups, and why you voted as you did, send them here. (Z)

This Week in Schadenfreude: The Santos of the South?

It seems that Rep. "George Santos" (R-NY) might not be the only member of the House whose biography is more fiction than fact. On that point, we give you Rep. "Andy Ogles" (R-TN).

Perhaps "Ogles" angered someone at WTVF, which is a local station in Nashville. Whatever the case may be, the news staff there has been all over the congressman in the last few weeks (see here, here, and here for examples).

As with "Santos," virtually every claim "Ogles" has made about his qualifications for office is either a gross exaggeration or an outright lie. The core of his campaign pitch was that he is an "internationally recognized expert in economics, with multiple degrees in the subject." He's only got one degree, as it turns out, and it's in international relations. His "study" of economics was limited to one community college course. As to his professional work, he spent about a year at an economics-centered think tank (he was not the executive director, as he has claimed). As to his "international recognition," he wrote a grand total of three op-eds for the kinds of sites that run lots and lots of op-eds. It is very doubtful that anyone outside the U.S. has ever heard of him.

There are other holes in "Ogles'" biography. He also claims to have "extensive" law enforcement experience. In fact, he was a volunteer sheriff's deputy for a short period, and was dismissed from the program due to not showing up for training and not attending mandatory meetings. As a result, he never got to the point of, you know, enforcing any actual laws. "Ogles" has also said he is an expert in sex trafficking, and that he was COO of an organization dedicated to fighting that particular crime in 12 different countries. The group in question is Abolition International, and he was never COO. He was a part-time staffer for a few months, and left long before it had become involved in 12 different nations. So, if "Ogles" has any expertise in sex trafficking, it's because he's been chatting with his colleague Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL).

Of course, "Santos" is an alleged grifter in addition to being a liar. And, guess what? "Ogles" is, too. He is, he says, father to a stillborn child. This may well be true, though you probably shouldn't take that to the bank. In any event, he posted a picture of a stillborn child to social media, and used it to raise $25,000 for a burial garden. There is no garden, however, and no public record of what happened the money. When pressed for an explanation, "Ogles" refused comment.

In the end, "Santos" and "Ogles" both appear to be sociopathic jerks, and hopefully they will be booted out of office by voters at the next available opportunity. Certainly there is some schadenfreude in their shenanigans being made public for all to see. But more important, now that it is clear that people sometimes lie with impunity when running for office, the amount of scrutiny of wannabe officeholders' claims should increase dramatically. And that is surely a good thing. (Z)

This Week in Freudenfreude: Don't Worry, Be Happy

Most every year for the last decade, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network has released a World Happiness Report. This is an examination of how happy people in various nations report they are, across various dimensions. The actual data collection is done by Gallup.

The newest report was released this week. This would seem to be tailor-made for this particular feature, so let's run down the list of the 20 happiest nations for 2023:

  1. Finland
  2. Denmark
  3. Iceland
  4. Israel
  5. Netherlands
  6. Sweden
  7. Norway
  8. Switzerland
  9. Luxembourg
  10. New Zealand
  11. Austria
  12. Australia
  13. Canada
  14. Ireland
  15. United States
  16. Germany
  17. Belgium
  18. Czech Republic
  19. United Kingdom
  20. Lithuania

Finland comes out on top pretty much every year; this is six in a row for them. Must be the sautéed reindeer (poronkaristys). And you wondered why you didn't see Rudolph's red nose this year. Lithuania is the only new entry compared to last year's list; they knocked France down to #21. Meanwhile, we can't be the only ones who suspect infiltration of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network by agents from the Great White North.

The main finding is that despite the challenges of the past few years (e.g., COVID, Ukraine), world happiness is steady. It would seem that humans are a resilient bunch. It does help to be in a nation with a stable government, of course. The countries at the end of the list, which ends at #137 Afghanistan, don't have that.

The report was actually released on Monday, which happens to be World Happiness Day. We did not know, and we suspect that most readers did not know, either. Hopefully, however, you can celebrate it over the weekend. Have a good one, all. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar23 Donald Trump Will Soon Get Some Good News
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Mar21 The Word Cup, Round 4: The End Is Nigh
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Mar19 Sunday Mailbag
Mar18 Saturday Q&A
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
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Mar17 This Week in Freudenfreude: Pat Schroeder, 1940-2023
Mar16 Trump Has a Massive Oppo Dump on DeSantis
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Mar16 Chip Roy Endorses Ron DeSantis
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Mar16 "George Santos" Files for Reelection
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