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Our Long National Nightmare Is (Almost) Over

It happened a little quicker than we expected, as we assumed that the "show horse" senators would extend their preening and posturing into Friday before the "work horse" senators took care of business. In truth, however, the leadership of the upper chamber, on both sides of the aisle, tolerated just 3 hours of political performance art before approving the debt-ceiling bill.

The vote for the bill was 63 to 34; that's 44 Democrats, 17 Republicans and 2 independents in favor and 4 Democrats, 31 Republicans and 1 independent against. The four Democratic nays were John Fetterman (D-PA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). The Republican nays were pretty much exactly who you would expect; you can see a full list here. The independent nay, of course, was Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN) did not vote because he was attending his son's high school graduation.

The bill now heads to Joe Biden's desk for his signature. Lest we forget, if Donald Trump was still president, that would not be a guarantee, even if the bill was the work of his party, and even if he had previously supported it, and even if failing to sign would do economic harm to the U.S. and its people. We think it's rather unlikely that Biden will be petulant like that, however, and presume he'll sign first thing in the morning today. In fact, we're a little surprised he didn't sign Thursday night, just to put as much space between the bill and the drop-dead date as is possible.

The fact that 90% of the Democratic caucus, versus just 35% of the Republican conference, voted for the bill once again suggests that Joe Biden came out on top in his negotiations with Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). Yes, technically the U.S. economy was held hostage. But the President managed to give McCarthy an "out" while not deploying extraordinary measures (like $1 trillion coins) that might have riled the markets and the business sector, and also not giving up much of consequence. Biden also made sure this would not happen again during his first term, while making it rather difficult for the GOP to wield the "shutdown" hammer the next time a budget needs to be passed. "Wait. Didn't you resolve this during the debt-ceiling conflict?," voters will ask. Oh, and if they actually can't reach a deal in September or October or November? Then spending will rise, at least slightly, whereas it would remain level under a continuing resolution.

The basically meaningless nature of the spending caps that McCarthy negotiated was on display yesterday, as senators are already trying to find workarounds. The single biggest use of time, during that 3 hours of floor debate in the Senate, was by a Lindsey Graham (R-SC) led group that insisted on a written promise that defense spending could be increased beyond the caps, if and when it is necessary. That written promise was not secured, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) both said they would work on the issue, and were open to discussions during the next budget process. Needless to say, if the Republicans decide to ignore or work around the defense spending caps, then Democrats are going to want the same for the domestic spending caps. And as we pointed out earlier in the week, this is exactly the same thing happened the last time there was a game of debt-ceiling chicken that resulted in an agreement on spending caps.

In the end, the senators' weekends have been saved and so has the U.S. economy. Not too bad for a few hours' work on a Thursday. (Z)

DeSantis Blows His Lid

Well, that didn't take long. Yesterday, we had an item on the commencement of Gov. Ron DeSantis' (R-FL) presidential campaign. And in it, we wrote:

Once DeSantis starts to do retail campaigning, he is going to have reporters come up to him and ask questions. How he handles this could be critical. He may not want to answer pointed questions, but what should he do? If he is evasive, a decent reporter will ask follow-up questions until the Governor answers the first question. If he gets frustrated and tells the reporter to buzz off, the reporter is going to write a story saying that DeSantis is an obnoxious jerk—or worse. If this happens for a couple of months, his image nationally will become that of an obnoxious jerk. He will fail the "beer test" and it will be all downhill from there. His advisers have undoubtedly told him this many times, but changing your personality from an obnoxious jerk to a hail fellow, well met is tough. They don't teach that at Yale or Harvard.

That post went live around 6:00 a.m. ET.

Meanwhile, around 9:00 a.m. ET, DeSantis was delivering his stump speech to a crowd of about 100 people at a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Laconia, NH. Voters in New Hampshire are accustomed to being able to ask questions of wannabe presidents, but apparently nobody briefed the Governor on that, since he did not have a Q&A after the speech. As he moved through the crowd, DeSantis did talk to some people, which he apparently felt was good enough. He was eventually approached by Steve Peoples of The Associated Press, who wondered why DeSantis didn't take questions from the crowd. The candidate did not like that, and responded angrily. You can watch for yourself, if you wish:

In case you don't care to watch, DeSantis' response was: "People are coming up to me, talking to me. What are you talking about? Are you blind? Are you blind? People are coming up to me, talking to me whatever they want to talk to me about."

We'll start by noting that "Are you blind?," used in an insulting manner like that, is not really appropriate 21st-century language, as it is considered ableist. DeSantis presumably doesn't care too much about things like that, since that's "wokeness." However, it's not up to him to decide what voters should and should not care about, and there are definitely voters who will find this offensive. If the Governor can't self-police his language, even if he's personally convinced that doing so is stupid, he's setting himself up for a "macaca" moment one of these days.

Moving on, the big story here is DeSantis' borderline temper tantrum. Again, whether he likes it or not, taking questions from the audience is part of the game in New Hampshire. And so, when he decides to play by his own rules, it's entirely fair for a reporter to ask why (and, implicitly, whether this will be the practice going forward). After all, if there won't be Q&A sessions at DeSantis events, some voters might not want to attend. For the Governor to respond angrily, with so little provocation, when he's basically in his first day of campaigning, and he already has a reputation for being ill-tempered and having poor people skills? Wow. Our prediction was barely even 3 hours old before it came to pass.

A leopard can't change its spots, as the old aphorism goes. When Donald Trump ran for president the first time, there was much written, including by us, about when Trump v1.0 would be refined into Trump v2.0. It never happened, of course, and what you saw that day on the escalator was what you got for the rest of the campaign (and for the duration of his presidency). It looks more and more like DeSantis v1.0 is all the world is going to get. And, judging from the polls, DeSantis v1.0 is considerably less electable than Trump v1.0. (Z)

The Pride Goeth During the Fall

It is still graduation season, thanks to the many and varied timelines on which the semester system is implemented, not to mention those schools—primary, secondary, and postsecondary—that are on the quarter system. And so, Joe Biden was at the graduation ceremony for the Air Force Academy yesterday to hand out diplomas and to congratulate the graduates.

As the President wrapped up his ceremonial duties, he moved to return to his seat on the dais. Who knows why—there must have been some reason for it—but there was a black sandbag on the stage. Biden didn't see the sandbag in time, and so tripped and fell over it. Here is the video, if you wish to see it:

The whole thing lasted about 30 seconds.

This is not the first time someone (particularly someone wearing dress shoes) has fallen. It's not even the first time Biden has fallen in public since becoming president. We presume that those people who think he's a doddering old fool who is 50 years too old to be president will see much significance in this incident, and will make as much hay out of it as they can. We similarly presume that those people who think Biden is up to his job will shrug when they see this news and will move on.

We only mention this "news" because Gerald Ford's infamous fall down the stairs of Air Force One was absolutely disastrous for him, and you never know which moments will become meme-worthy and will take off. That said, a big part of the reason that Ford's fall hurt him so badly was that Saturday Night Live took it and ran with it, and Americans were treated to weeks and weeks of Chevy Chase's bumbling, stumbling, take-no-prisoners impression. Not too likely that will happen with Biden, because SNL has already been there, done that, and to have James Austin Johnson (the current Biden impressionist) falling over his podium would feel derivative. Also, even if the show was tempted, it's on indefinite hiatus right now (and probably for the duration of the summer) due to the writers' strike.

Biden, for his part, tried to make the best of it, and told reporters "I got sandbagged." We're not sure if that was a golf joke, or a lawyer joke, or a wrestling joke, or an inadvertent off-color joke resulting from Biden not being entirely familiar with the slang term he was referencing. Any of these seems possible. (Z)

California Republicans May Try Something Different

For the past several senatorial election cycles, California Republicans deployed the old trick: Find a wealthy person who can self-fund. Someone like that is not likely to win, but you never know, and even in the event it doesn't work out, the candidate is wasting primarily their own money. However, this has not only failed to work out for the Party, it's produced a series of spectacular, landslide losses. In fact, in the last three Senate elections in the Golden State, a Republican has survived to the general election just one time. And that one was Mark P. Meuser, who is enough an unknown that Wikipedia doesn't have a page (or even a photograph) for him. He lost to Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) last year by 22 points.

There is an alternate "Hail Mary" strategy available, one that probably has a higher success rate than "run a rich person with a fat checkbook." Today's Republican voters are, on the whole, very willing to support a celebrity who has no actual political experience. Think J.D. Vance, Herschel Walker, Mehmet Oz and, of course, Donald Trump. And California Republicans practically invented this approach. Think Governors Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mayors Clint Eastwood and Sonny Bono, among others, all of whom were elected to their executive positions without a single day of political experience under their belts.

Of course, you have to find a celebrity who's willing to run and who is a Republican. And the California GOP thinks they might have just the right person. Embracing the hope that voters will cast their ballots based on nostalgia and/or sports fandom, the fellow that the red team is hoping might lead them back to the promised land is... former baseball player Steve Garvey, who spent his entire career with the Los Angeles Dodgers (1969-82) and San Diego Padres (1983-87).

Garvey hasn't officially decided to toss his hat in the ring, as he is still "talking to people." That means that the California Republican Party is polling voters to see if they might actually vote for him. We suspect they are going to be disappointed with what they learn. Garvey was popular enough in his playing days, but those ended close to 40 years ago, so quite a few voters will have little to no connection to him. There's also no reason to think he'll connect with voters in Northern California, which is Giants territory. He's 72, which may not be what voters have in mind given that they're replacing a senator who clearly aged out of the job. Oh, and if he does run, there's an excellent chance he'll be Herschel Walker v2.0. Garvey has something of a sordid sexual history (near the end of his career, he fathered children with two different women at the same time, neither of them his wife). He's been involved in some questionable business ventures (primarily shady infomercials). He's also, if we may be blunt, something of a meathead.

If Garvey does run, he may well get the nomination, and he will almost certainly give us some "Can you believe what Steve Garvey said?" news stories to write about. But there's no way he's going to be elected to the U.S. Senate. If California Republicans want to run a former Dodger and Padre, and they actually want to make things interesting, then they guy they should recruit is Fernando Valenzuela. We don't know what the former pitcher's politics are, but he became a citizen in 2015, he's considerably better in front of a microphone than Garvey is, he's 10 years younger, he's bilingual, and he's an icon in California's Mexican-American community. Valenzuela wouldn't win either, but he would at least make the Democrats sweat a little. Garvey won't even do that. (Z)

Talking about Abortion, Part VIII: They Lived It

We said another entry was coming this week, and here it is. Before we get to it, here's a rundown of the previous entries in this series:

And now, the stories of readers for whom abortion was not just an abstraction or a point of political debate, but a real crisis that they had to navigate. For various reasons that should not be too hard to infer, we've decided to run initials only, without cities:

Thanks to all of you for sharing your experiences; it's much appreciated. (Z)

This Week in Schadenfreude: Teach Your Children Well

At this point, the narrative being perpetrated by right-wing political and religious leaders is abundantly clear: Public schools, from kindergarten through PostDoc, are liberal indoctrination centers. For parents whose kids must attend these institutions, war must be waged against "problematic" books, teachers, subject matter, pronouns, etc. Even better is for parents to homeschool their children, and to avoid the Liberal-Educational Complex altogether.

It presumably goes without saying that this is nonsense. For the right kids, and the right parents, operating with the right set of goals, homeschooling can certainly work. But the notion that schools are propaganda mills, and that the very best corrective is to build a counter-propaganda mill at home, where kids are fed a steady diet of creationism, and American exceptionalist history, and "safe" literature, and the like? Certainly a case of the cure being worse than the alleged disease.

Of course, folks who embrace homeschooling for these reasons don't give a damn what a couple of college professors think. After all, we are part of the problem. But that brings us to an item published by The Washington Post this week, about Aaron and Christina Beall and their four kids. Reporter Peter Jamison explains:

Aaron and Christina had never attended school when they were children. Until a few days earlier, when Round Hill Elementary held a back-to-school open house, they had rarely set foot inside a school building. Both had been raised to believe that public schools were tools of a demonic social order, government "indoctrination camps" devoted to the propagation of lies and the subversion of Christian families.

As you can infer from that excerpt, the duo began to have doubts about homeschooling their kids, and so decided to enroll 6-year-old Aimee in the local public school. When that worked out swimmingly, they added 5-year-old Oliver and 9-year-old Ezra to the list (their fourth child is still too young for school of any sort).

If this subject holds your interest at all, you should consider reading the whole piece, which is very well reported (sorry for the soft firewall). But the upshot is that the Bealls have reached the conclusion that public schools are actually pretty even-handed, and that it's the homeschooling where the real distortions and brainwashing take place. The couple still follows their religion, but they won't be going back to homeschooling ever again, and they have become outspoken critics of the practice.

Again, homeschooling can work well under the right circumstances. But the type of homeschooling that has become popular on the right (especially since the pandemic) is a sorry excuse for an education, and doesn't prepare kids for college or for most careers, especially since politicians are largely unwilling to hold parents accountable for content when they homeschool. On top of that, the homeschooling system facilitates various abuses—unscrupulous profiteers who sell largely worthless educational materials, physical abuse of children who literally have no one to go to in order to report the abuse, and sometimes even sexual predators (as noted in the WaPo article). For these reasons, it is very good to see people who came through the right-wing homeschooling system working to change (or even destroy) it from within. (Z)

This Week in Freudenfreude: The Show Must Go On

There was a fellow in England, a few years back, who liked to play around with gender roles in his plays. He did it in As You Like It, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice and Cymbeline. Of course, what would Bill Shakespeare know about drama? Meanwhile, there is also a long literary tradition of re-envisioning classic works from the perspective other than the one featured in the original text. One thinks of the various spins on the Sherlock Holmes canon that make Dr. Watson, or Irene Adler or Mycroft Holmes the true protagonist of the stories. Or of Wicked, which presents The Wizard of Oz from the viewpoint of the Wicked Witch of the West (and her sister). Or of Heartless, which creates a substantial (and sympathetic) backstory for the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland.

We say this as prelude to an item that, by chance and not by any sort of plan, works as a pretty good complement to the item above. Carroll High School is in Fort Wayne, IN, and the theater students there worked hard to mount a production of a play entitled Marian, or The True Tale of Robin Hood. As you might infer from the title of the work, or from the setup in the previous paragraph, the play turns the story of Robin Hood on its head, and makes Robin's romantic interest the true protagonist. There are also several LGBTQ characters, including one who is trans. Once (some) parents got wind of the details, complaints were lodged, and the show was canceled.

Now, time for a sidebar. As (Z) has mentioned once or twice, he was heavily involved in theater in high school. And, at risk of being immodest, he was pretty good at it, to the point that he was named Orange County's Artist of the Year when he was a senior. And during that time, there was nothing more obnoxious than complaining parents (which happened a fair bit, since Orange County was still pretty conservative back then). The parents almost invariably did not really understand the material they were complaining about, and had children who were barely connected (or not connected at all) to the theater program. Further, they could never really answer this question: "If you don't like A Streetcar Named Desire or The Secret Life of Walter Mitty or A Company of Wayward Saints, then how about you just stay home and not subject yourself to it?" None of (Z)'s shows was canceled outright, but there were certainly line and scene changes, some of them imposed at the last minute. Sadly, (Z) sometimes "forgot" to deliver the new line correctly, though he definitely tried to look directly at the parent in question, so they knew he was surely trying his very best to accommodate their delicate sensibilities. (When you win Artist of the Year, and it gets in all the papers, it affords a certain amount of leeway.)

Anyhow, the kids at Carroll High got canceled outright. And they certainly could have given up, since it's not like properly equipped theaters are to found on every street corner. But they did not give up; they raised $85,000, which was enough to rent an off-campus venue for the performance. And it's fair to say that the show was a success, and was apparently to the liking of the community, since it attracted an audience of... 1,500 people. Anyone who's ever done high school theater (or, in fact, community theater of any sort) knows that is an enormous crowd.

In short, the Carroll High drama crowd stood up to the anti-woke crowd, did their show despite being canceled, and made national news, all at the same time. There's an awful lot of freudenfreude in that. And if you would also like a side of schadenfreude to go along with it, head over to Fox and read the pearl-clutching comments on their article about the play.

Have a good weekend, all!(Z)

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