Main page    May 28

Pres map
Previous | Next | Senate page

New polls: (None)
Dem pickups: (None)
GOP pickups: (None)

Sunday Mailbag

It would appear that Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) have worked out a plausible debt-ceiling deal. Details are a little scarce, as the news broke late Saturday. So, while we would normally write up big news like this immediately, even over the weekend, we're going to wait until tomorrow, when things will be clearer.

Politics: The 2024 Presidential Race

R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: I'd bet that whenever the first Republican presidential debate takes place, every candidate will be asked if they'd pardon 1/6 terrorists. And any candiate who does NOT support pardoning the 1/6 terrorists, will likely be booed (or worse)...

I guess I'm not surprised at how far the Republican Party has fallen, but I wonder if the GOP will ever be able to be the party of Dwight Eisenhower, Nelson Rockefeller, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan again...

D.R. in Omaha, NE, writes: Am I the only one who is getting sick of this announcing that you are going to announce nonsense? (Or worse, announcing that you will, or may, be announcing that you are gonna announce?)

L.B. in Savannah, GA, writes: A few months ago, when Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) was the new kid on the block who would replace the aging orange loser and take his place as the GOP's great white hope (sorry, I couldn't resist), I predicted that he was peaking too early. It was obvious that the people supporting him knew almost nothing about him. When his polling numbers cratered, his feud with Disney turned into a fiasco, and his anti-LGBTQ policies engendered universal horror, (can you recall hearing anything positive about DeSantis recently?) I assumed he wouldn't run at all. So his "announcement" (yet another lead balloon) makes no sense unless he just wants to get his name out there to prepare for a run in 2028. There's a pattern in the GOP where the second-place finisher in one election is the frontrunner in the next. Regardless of what happens in 2024, Trump won't be a contender in 2028. DeSantis is clearly positioning himself for the next cycle. Maybe his handlers think he'll be able to point to a successful governorship, and he'll have mastered retail politics by then.

V.P. in New York City, NY, writes: I find it remarkable that the pundit class, including (V) & (Z) still fall into the trap of thinking an awkward candidacy announcement over a year before the election presages something important. Just ask President Clinton (45) how things turn out for her opponent who announced with an awkward descent down an escalator.

DeSantis got everyone talking about him for several news cycles, raked in a bunch of money, got everyone to know he's officially running. Mission fu**ing accomplished. MSNBC and ilk were always going to criticize him no matter what. As was Fox, now that they're back on Team Trump.

It might be a hard habit for old-timers to break, but TV ratings are all but irrelevant in the age of streaming. Who cares whether Fox has 1.4 million views and CNN has 400,000 views when your average TikTok or YouTube "influencer" generates tens of millions of views with every video release?

Pundits had best move on from their focus on the barometer of which ancient media empire is deflating the slowest. Or they should start drafting their 2024 postmortems. "There were SO many Hindenburg photos posted on MSNBC's MySpace page! How could DeSantis possibly have won?!"

I sincerely hope we're not in for a repeat of 2016, but I fear we haven't learned any lessons.

(V) & (Z) respond: We made very clear that the poor launch was not necessarily fatal, but also gave examples of early-campaign errors that did presage the failure of the campaign. Also, Trump was polling in the mid-20s after his launch, and trended upward thereafter. DeSantis is polling in the mid-10s right now, and is trending downward.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: You wrote: "So, as long as two not-Trump candidates remain viable through Super Tuesday, Trump is a virtual shoo-in for the nomination."

That was dropped in as rather an afterthought, but it seems to me to be an important observation: That it only takes two and that the whole thing can go down that fast. Don't forget that you wrote that, and that you noted that it only takes two through Super Tuesday to set Trump up for getting the nomination.

P.S. in Lanoka Harbor, NJ, writes: Donald Trump's (aka POS') second-term plans, as you laid them out, are absolutely, depressing, scary, fascist, and disgusting.

R.C. in North Hollywood, CA, writes: You've written on several occasions that you believe that Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) won't be chosen as Trump's running mate because he brings nothing to the ticket. Specifically, you mention that he has no chance of drawing Black voters to the GOP, especially when Biden's running mate is also Black. But I think there's another possible "benefit" to Scott that you may be overlooking: the ability to assuage white guilt over voting for Trump.

There are probably a small (but not insignificant) number of conservative-leaning white moderates who are unhappy about inflation, don't want to see their taxes raised, aren't big fans of undocumented immigration and aren't exactly comfortable around transgender people, but have a nagging feeling that voting for that Trump guy miiiiight just be downright racist. But he can't be a racist if he puts a Black man on the ticket, right? That might be enough to give them "cover" to vote for Trump. It's good ol' tokenism, but if it draws in a few of those coveted suburban swing voters, it just might work, as far as Trump's concerned.

Politics: Donald Trump's Legal Troubles

E.R. in Irving, TX, writes: D.P. in Pittsburgh asked "Do you think there's a chance Donald Trump will actually go to prison for his possession of classified documents and/or his obstruction of justice related to this?"

You answered: "Yes, we do."

This is a position we disagree on; I grew up in the New York City television market and saw the moniker "Teflon Don" develop in real time.

Juries in New York refused to convict mafia "Don" John Gotti for fear of what would happen to themselves and their families. Juries in the United States will likely refuse to convict this "Don" (Trump) for fear of what may happen to themselves, their families and the nation at large.

If I were a juror, even if convinced of absolute guilt, a question weighing in my mind might be whether I want to instantly create a 100-year right-wing martyr and the "ABSOLUTE BIGGEST GREATEST POLITICAL PRISONER OF ALL-TIME, MORE THAN JESUS HIMSELF" of The Former Guy, or I want things to stay relatively as they are progressing, even if badly, and just hope The fu**ing Guy dies off on 10-15 years and I live to see the day.

I would also be considering what happens to people in our communities when they cross MAGA Republicans, from school board members to local elections officials, even up to the level of governor. The jury tampering has been going on for a long while now; it's why so many Republicans won't vote against their party—they're afraid to, and not always just from the fear of losing donors.

It only takes one holdout to hang a jury, and the profile of the person to do it might surprise everyone.

(V) & (Z) respond: We agreed there's a chance, not that it's a certainty. Further, Trump just lost a jury trial in New York in which the jury only deliberated for an hour or so, and in which the jurors' identities were (apparently with success) kept secret. The notion that Trump cannot lose a jury trial in New York City is simply not borne out by the available evidence.

M.C. in Newton, MA, writes: (Z) wondered What exactly made it worthwhile to take these insane risks [with Trump's classified documents]?"

I have a theory. As far as I know, Donald Trump has never faced real consequences for anything he's ever done. Sure, he's paid settlements and fines, in amounts that seem like a lot to normal people like us, but they're no big deal for someone as rich as he claims to be. There's never been any meaningful risk for him. So I think Trump saw the document situation not as an insane risk, but just another time where he could do whatever he wanted to and get away with it.

This entire saga would be pretty entertaining, if it didn't repeatedly make me question the very premises of our nation and its system of government.

H.J. in Victoria, BC, writes: Unlike (Z), who wrote: "[W]e also hope that, one day, we learn what [Trump's] motivations were..." I'm pretty sure I've known what TFG's motives have been since the beginning. It's not nuclear codes, or foreign government secrets, Donald Trump does not have the mental faculties to even assess the value of such information... plain and simple, it's KOMPROMAT.

Nothing is more valuable to a crook, bully and thug than the ability to eviscerate anyone who betrays you, neutralize anyone who competes with you or destroy anyone who tries to rein you in.

I think there are lots of hints to support my conclusion, but nothing more spectacular than Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-SC) 45-degree turn (180-degree in Trump's eyes) from a cautious Trump critic to a hollow shell of a human being who now rabidly speaks his praise and has even become a fundraising shill for the man.

I could of course be wrong, but if I'm not, remember you heard it here first.

B.R. in Eatontown, NJ, writes: G.W. in Oxnard, while conceding they are not a lawyer, speculated that the statements by Donald Trump during the CNN train wreck might not be admissible at trial.

Well, I am a lawyer. And to put it succinctly, that's absolutely wrong. The statements absolutely would be admissible. They relate to the very subject matter of the case, and so are unquestionably relevant. If they are in any way prejudicial, it is self-made prejudice, and judges do not allow this to support exclusion. To the contrary, the very fact that the defendant in a case voluntarily admitted to a crime is so probative that it's certainly admissible in this case.

The longer answer is that admission of evidence in most courts in this country is controlled by the jurisdiction's Rules of Evidence. While there are some differences, they are usually pretty similar. And one thing they share in common is a principle favoring admissibility—that evidence that is relevant, unless privileged, should be admissible. As noted, this evidence is certainly relevant. It is likewise certainly not within the scope of any recognized privilege. Privileges include things like conversations between attorney and client, health care providers and patients, confessor and penitent, and other relationships where the law has deemed it important to protect the communications from disclosure because of the importance of candor in the relationship. But among the things that will destroy a privilege, even when recognized, is disclosure to persons outside the relationship. So, for instance, a conversation between an attorney and a client in a room full of unrelated persons would not be privileged, and those persons could be called as witnesses. While there is a reporter-source privilege and it is recognized by at least some federal courts, the fact that the statements of Trump on CNN were before an audience negates the privilege.

The Federal Rules of Evidence (see Rule 403) permit a judge in their discretion to bar evidence that would be unduly prejudicial. There is a high burden to qualifying for this exception. Statements by the defendant in a criminal trial are almost never going to be excluded under this Rule—any prejudice is self-made, and so does not count.

The theory here is that the jury should hear the evidence. If the party making the statement has any argument to make in order to diminish the significance of the statement (such as that it was just boasting, or made in jest, or whatever), he/she can make that argument in open court and try to persuade the jury to disregard the statement. When this occurs, the jury is of course free to disregard those assertions, and to consider the statement for whatever value it wants. That is the nature of a trial by jury.

Politics: Jordan Neely

J.E. in Manhattan, NY, writes: I feel I must respond to R.E.M. in Brooklyn as a fellow New Yorker and one who has taken the subway almost as long as they have—and who started my commutes at a time when murders in the city numbered in the thousands per year (about five times as high as 2022, but you needn't take my word for it).

In any case, there was simply no justification for killing Jordan Neely. I have seen my share of loud, or weird-acting people on the subway. The usual response is to ignore them. Whether Neely had assaulted anyone in the past is not something his killer could have known. "[Daniel] Penny stopped him before he assaulted someone"—no, Penny straight up murdered a guy who hadn't attacked anyone there. Acting up in the subway is not an offense worthy of the death penalty. And R.E.M.'s stories reflect a New York Post view of the subways (which are, by the way, safer than they have been in decades). But again, to put this in some perspective, mentally ill people are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. And once again, crime on the subway is down.

Has R.E.M. not noticed how often "feeling threatened" is used as an excuse to murder Black people out of hand? And the insinuation that the family is just out for money from the MTA is a pretty bad look. There are many reasons Neely's family mightn't have taken him in (in fact, Neely didn't want to move upstate with his mother when that was offered). Sometimes the problem isn't a fear of violence; it is managing a host of other issues that a mentally ill relative can present.

It should also be noted that Bernhard Goetz was white, his victims were Black, and the reaction might have been very different if Goetz had killed a white person. Similarly, Neely was a Black man, and the reaction to Penny's act of violence would have been starkly different if he had killed, for example, a white woman.

All that aside, Penny held Neely down for fifteen minutes and as someone who has trained people in the chokehold (I was a martial arts instructor for some dozen years) I can tell you that you never, ever apply a chokehold to someone for more than a minute if you don't want to kill them. In a "proper" hold, the pressure is on the carotid arteries that supply the brain with oxygen. Stress to that part of the neck can kill much more easily than anyone imagines. Either way, after four minutes with no oxygen the person you are choking will be stone dead.

I am not going to deny whatever R.E.M. is feeling about being mugged on the subway (the old joke about a conservative being a liberal who was mugged comes to mind). R.E.M. can feel however they want, and the feelings of anger and helplessness that accompany being a victim of crime are very real.

But the trope that any person, mentally ill or not, is fair game to some guy with a hero complex who wants to live out Charles Bronson fantasies needs to die.

Lastly, R.E.M. says if any subway riders are on the jury they will acquit Penny. I have my doubts; more than one person on the scene was telling Penny to let Neely go as he was killing him. I would offer that if there are any Black people on the jury, Penny will have a much tougher time.

M.L. in West Hartford, CT, writes: I know that R.E.M. in Brooklyn is somewhat of a VIP around here, but the comments on the murder of Jordan Neely really angered me. I grew up on Long Island, and as an adult I lived in New York City for almost a decade, so I'm quite familiar with how unpleasant it can be to ride the subway. But to use that to justify the murder of an unarmed, nonviolent man is disgraceful.

As R.E.M. notes, Neely had not committed any violence on that train, nor had he threatened to do so. "I'm not afraid to die!" is an expression of distress, not a threat. R.E.M.'s claim that passengers cannot escape from an unruly passenger is absurd because: (1) passengers are free to change cars at each station stop, and (2) none of the witnesses in this case have claimed that Neely was following anyone.

Finally, IIRC, then R.E.M. is a lawyer, and so should be aware that the Constitution does not suspend a person's Fourth Amendment rights because they are being loud on the subway. Any force used to detain a person must be only as much as is necessary to de-escalate the situation. Holding someone in a chokehold for 15 minutes and asphyxiating them is such an outrageously excessive use of force—by someone who was not even authorized to use force in the first place (since he wasn't acting in any official capacity)—that it both saddens and angers me that so many people seem to regard the murderer as a hero.

R.W. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: I write in response to the disgusting letter from R.E.M. concerning the murder of Jordan Neely. I too am a New Yorker and I too have been in subway cars when someone suffering from mental illness went off. Yes, it is frightening. No, you don't get to murder them. No, you don't get to mock their grieving families. We will never know whether Neely would actually have harmed someone, but here in the U.S. we don't execute people on the chance that they might commit a crime. (Parenthetically, I would love it if R.E.M., who is a regular contributor, would post evidence for the lie that "every week there are stories about the insane attacking passengers, throwing them to the tracks, stabbing them.")

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: See? I'm not kidding or exaggerating about this sort of thing happening every week. I'm hoping you'll see that Penny's actions did not happen in a vacuum.

(V) & (Z) respond: Note that this letter was sent in unprompted, and R.E.M. did not expect us to publish it; we only do so because it responds directly to the last line of R.W.'s letter above.

Similarly, no inference about our opinions on this subject should be drawn from our decision to publish this response. We will add, however, that the Metrorail in Los Angeles, where (Z) lives, is not especially different from the New York subways. And, although (Z) did not bring it up in the original item on the subject, he once did face a situation on the Metrorail wherein a mentally ill man was shouting and was clearly preparing to get violent, and was able to defuse the matter without, you know, killing the man.

Politics: The Times, They Are A-Changin'

S.S. in West Hollywood, CA, writes: I think M.B. in Cleveland is missing context when they say Democrats have changed radically in the last 20 years because of LGBTQ marriage equality/visibility, pronouns, more diversity in the Democratic Party, etc.

None of those changes M.B. listed happened because of the Democratic Party. They happened because people in those communities fought hard in the courts and in the streets to change laws and public opinion. Democrats never led on those or any other social changes, they followed. It's why progressives like me are constantly frustrated with the Party and never stop trying to pull the Party to the left.

The Party didn't support marriage equality until polls told them it was more beneficial to support it than not to. They never advocated for respecting students pronouns until students demanded to be heard and respected. is correct when they say, "The Democrats haven't changed so much. Their goals aren't so different now from what they were 20 years ago." The main issues for the Democratic Party today are the same as 20 years ago: healthcare, education, income inequality, fighting climate change, etc.

And is also correct when they say Republicans have gone off the deep end. Conservatives on the right don't have to keep pushing the Party to the right because they run the Party.

Sure, some people were irritated at the increased visibility of trans people, pronouns, etc., but for most Americans it wasn't a concern in their daily life. Not until the Republican Party told them it was. Most Americans weren't thinking too much about trans people or undocumented immigrants or voting rights or even abortion until the Republican Party made those issues their most important issues.

And that's the difference between the parties—Democrats don't lead, they follow their voters and only change when society changes. Republicans tell their voters what they want and think and who to hate/blame/lose sleep over. They're the party of distractions because it wins elections and changes the conversation from actually doing something productive about healthcare, education, income inequality, climate change, etc. You know, the things that really do affect Americans and their lives.

S.H. in Hanoi, Vietnam, writes: M.B. in Cleveland sees confirmation bias in (V)'s and (Z)'s assertion that "[t]he Democrats'... goals aren't so different now from what they were 20 years ago." The main evidence M.B. deploys is that members of the LGBTQ community live more openly, and advocate for the rights they had previously been denied, such as same-sex marriage. M.B. argues this is a radical shift, and thus, by supporting LGBTQ rights, the Democrats fueled "massive jumps" to the left.

What M.B. ignores, consciously or otherwise, is that the push for LGBTQ rights is no less threatening to many Americans now than previous civil rights struggles were in the past. A politician's support for either racial equality in the 1950s and 60s or sexual equality in the 1970s and 80s would have been considered no less socially disruptive. (One can practically hear Archie Bunker saying in 1975, "What's next? A Black President?!") Thus, in order to accord M.B.'s argument any merit, we have to suppose that there is something singular—and almost sinister—about LGBTQ rights compared to other civil rights movements. Otherwise LGBTQ rights are just another in a continuing series of political developments as modern cultures move away from religious-based, race-based notions of how the world should work, and it's less a massive jump to the left than it is a further acceptance of the underlying principles that drove social equality changes in the first place.

What is different about those previous (and ongoing) struggles is that there used to be members of both political parties who supported such changes. There were segregationist Democrats like Strom Thurmond and civil rights-supporting Republicans like George Romney; between the 1960s and 2000s, the parties gradually sorted themselves into constituencies that were, on the whole, either supportive of or hostile to civil rights (and Strom Thurmond changed parties with that realignment). Since then, Democrats have generally been consistent in their support of civil rights, and likewise have continued to support a political philosophy in place since FDR, one that champions federalism, some form of wealth redistribution, and support for policies based in nonpartisan expertise. This is more or less why (Z) and (V) wrote what they did.

However, in that same time, while Republicans have remained consistent in championing laissez-faire markets and opposing wealth redistribution, they have moved far to the right, in both rhetoric and tone, on matters of policy expertise, support for traditional allies abroad, and the use of political power with respect to the opposition. George H.W. Bush would have been considered insane to argue in public with the head of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration about the path of a hurricane, though this is precisely what Donald Trump did in 2019. Moreover, that wasn't an isolated event, and merely represented the culmination of a right wing campaign of hostility to virtually all forms of expertise. Likewise, if the Ukraine conflict had taken place a generation ago, there is little question that George W. Bush would have offered full-throated support for Ukraine and NATO, and the party would have followed suit. Now the majority of Republicans side with Trump and regard liberal European democracies as the enemy and Russia as an ideal ally. Finally, 20 years ago Republicans didn't talk openly about imprisoning their political opponents as part of an accelerated campaign of demonization. Now the desire to expel elected representatives of the opposition is considered perfectly acceptable behavior.

So, in sum: Yes, the Democratic Party has political goals that, for the most part, have not changed over the past 20 years. The Republican party, meanwhile, only resembles its previous iterations in a few respects, but otherwise has become an illiberal authoritarian party designed to assuage white grievance.

H.R. in Jamaica Plain, MA, writes: Since today happens to be the 19th anniversary of my wife's and my legal marriage in Massachusetts, I have to take exception to M.B. in Cleveland saying that, 20 years ago, "marriage equality was a pipe dream." The case that brought marriage equality to Massachusetts, Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, was filed on April 11, 2001, and was heard at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) on March 3, 2003. To quote Wikipedia:

On November 18, 2003, the SJC ruled 4 to 3 that the state's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The court said: "We declare that barring an individual from the protections, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage solely because that person would marry a person of the same sex violates the Massachusetts Constitution." It provided a definition of marriage that would meet the State Constitution's requirements: "We construe civil marriage to mean the voluntary union of two persons as spouses, to the exclusion of all others." The court stayed its ruling for 180 days (i.e. until May 17, 2004) to allow the General Court to "take such action as it may deem appropriate in light of this opinion."

My wife and I had a long-standing agreement with a Rabbi we knew to legally marry us on the first Friday following the first day that licenses became available, and thus we were legally married in front of our two daughters (ages 17 and 12), my parents, the Rabbi and his wife on May 21, 2004. (We had held a commitment ceremony on September 9th, 1989.) Marriage equality in Massachusetts was hardly a pipe dream 20 years ago, as the local LGBTQ community was avidly waiting for a decision from the SJC. Connecticut followed in 2008; Iowa and Vermont in 2009, New Hampshire in 2010 and New York in 2011, some by court decisions and some by legislation.

P.S. "General Court" is how the state legislature is referred to here.

(V) & (Z) respond: If we make take this opportunity without being gauche, Happy Anniversary to you and your wife!

D.M. in Burnsville, MN, writes: I thoroughly applaud and recommend to all the recent comments by T.G. in Lee's Summit about the 2008 Al Smith Dinner. Their comment included the phrase: "After a long, ugly, and exhausting campaign season full of racial tropes and disinformation, John McCain rose up and became once again the maverick that everyone remembers."

How refreshing it was to return to those thrilling days of yesteryear when, from out of the past, come the familiar cadences of (former) Sens. McCain and Obama, when political rivals actually did respect (and show respect for) their opponents.

How much has been lost as that façade of respect, both felt and displayed, has disappeared from the public square? How much has been stolen from the national conversation as the populists who have hijacked the formerly respectable Republican Party continue to demean the national character?

Politics: What's in a Word (or Words)?

T.R. in Minden, LA, writes: It's only a few sentences at the beginning of the item but, as in your previous coverage of this story, you guys seem determined to downplay the seriousness of Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg's charges against Trump. You make it sound like a clerical error that really isn't worth anyone's time.

Trump allegedly falsified business and tax records—crimes in themselves that would surely merit charges against you or me—to gain an advantage in an election. An election that's had pretty disastrous consequences as far as the health of our body politic is concerned. It's understandable, if not excusable, that propaganda outlets like Fox would treat this as a nothingburger. But even a lot of Democrats still believe Hillary must really be pretty corrupt because she mishandled a couple of e-mails. Meanwhile, here we have Trump actually committing tax and bank fraud to pay hush money, through his own business and lawyer (who served federal time for his part in the scheme!), to bury a story about him cheating on his wife shortly after she gave birth to his child. This was done partly because there was still some heat on him for the Access Hollywood tape, so it probably did help him, and you'll recall the election was close. The filing shows Bragg has Trump pretty much dead to rights. A large part of the media though, allowing the right wing propagandasphere to set the narrative as usual, seems willing to let this slide. But it's a little surprising that would too. New York taxpayers and voters were harmed more than a little by these crimes, not to mention the rest of the world.

(V) & (Z) respond: We were not expressing our views, we were paraphrasing the political argument that Trump will make, in service of our point that it's going to be much harder for him to weasel out of the mess in Georgia.

A.S. in Chicago, IL, writes: The other day, you basically wrote that Hillary Clinton and Al Gore are not authentic. You do what many progressives do, eat their young. It's snide remarks like this which help Republicans win. You buy into the same memes the right does about some of our candidates, instead of getting behind them. Are you listening, Ralph Nader and Bernie Sanders? Nader gave us Bush and Sanders helped give us Trump. How did that work out for progressives?

(V) & (Z) respond: We assume you are referring to this item, in which we wrote that BILL Clinton (not Hillary) was a phony, while we wrote that Hillary and Al Gore were "highly educated know-it-alls." And, as with the item referenced in the above letter, we were not expressing our views, we were describing the image that the candidates were stuck with early in the election cycle.

S.D. in Acton, MA, writes: The word "conservative" is used so frequently, including at, that a reader might assume there's an agreed upon definition. I suggest that assumption would be erroneous, and that the word should be replaced. "Regressives" has a nice ring to it, but that suggests principle. How about "Vandalism"? wondered conservative is Florida really is, and compared specific laws to those in other states. Nice try, but what is conservative about concealed carry? What is conservative about draconian abortion restrictions? What is conservative about voter suppression? What is conservative about slavish devotion to the Laffer curve or the Federalist Society or legislating the use of pronouns?

Conservatism used to be, I think, a principled set of notions. Do Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), and the House "Freedom (another hijacked word) Caucus" have any principles that can be said to resemble those that animated Bob Dole or Dwight Eisenhower or St. Ronnie?

Please don't be a part of the language thieves.

(V) & (Z) respond: In English, and presumably in all languages, a writer is often left with the word or phrase that is as close as possible, since there is no perfect word or phrase available. If we tried to replace "conservative" with some other word, particularly one that is laden with judgment, it would create more problems than it would solve. That said, we do often choose to use "right-wing," "far-right," "reactionary" and "Trumpublican" in place of "conservative."

M.R. in Belleville, NJ, writes: After reading the letter from M.B. in Cleveland, and listening to a lot of the current political conversation, I have to conclude that I no longer understand what the terms "left" and "right" mean. All of M.B.'s examples had to do with LGBTQ rights and/or the legitimization of LGBTQ individuals in today's American society, and giving the credit/blame for these changes to the Democratic Party's extreme shift to the left. The focus lately seems to be almost exclusively on social issues (mostly issues of gender and/or sexual preference) rather than what I've heard called "kitchen table issues," and those social issues barely touch on the spectrum of left/right as I understood it. Maybe the problem is that what should be described as a plane, where we'd have one axis for economic policy and another for social policy, is instead described as if it were a line, which leads to absolute nonsense. The other problem I saw in M.B.'s letter is that, while they're looking at the absolute changes in societal norms, they're ignoring the first and second derivatives.

I'll throw out a set of issues that are still very important to me (as a 70-year-old white New-York-City-area social democrat from the days when people seemed to still know what "socialist" actually meant), and let's see how we come out as far as these are concerned: Protections for workers and the right to organize (we're moving backwards). Protections for consumers (we're moving backwards). Regulations to protect the environment (we're moving backwards). Access to affordable, quality healthcare (at best standing still, probably moving backwards). Protections of the social safety net, including Social Security (we've moved backwards, and are in danger of moving much further). Investing in education and infrastructure (moving backwards). Raising revenue to do all this stuff (we've moved far backwards with the Trump tax cuts, and don't seem to want to do anything about that). Reproductive rights (there's a battle going on, but the move backwards seems pretty inevitable).

Maybe the comparison point, i.e. 20 years ago, is the wrong one to use, particularly in describing trends. I'd offer the Lyndon B. Johnson era as the comparison, where the trends seemed to be solidly in favor of extending the economic programs of the New Deal, as well as advancing civil rights (including equality of the sexes). While that wasn't the peak of progress in an absolute sense, it was probably the peak of the first derivative. We've had 30+ years of both Democratic and Republican neoliberal rulers, and we've come to accept their policies as normal. And the bulk of the Democrats in power are perfectly ok with it—the entire "center-left mainstream". So we ignore those kitchen-table issues and focus on what sort of plumbing the person in the next stall to us happens to have... who is defining this debate for us?

N.E in San Mateo, CA, writes: You wrote: "The Libertarian Party is unlikely to accept [Donald] Trump because it has principles and he opposes all of them."

I was briefly registered as Libertarian back in 1996. Their platform back then was—on paper—ahead of the Democrats on some social issues I cared about like drug legalization.

I re-registered as "decline to state" after a few months, basically as soon as I started getting things on their mailing list. At the time, their real platform was as a single-issue party for people who felt that the Republicans were too soft on the issue of cutting taxes. I continued to get things from their mailing list for years, even after moving.

It's quite possible that's changed, but I don't see much sign of it.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: Regarding Rita Mae Brown: If no one has yet, you need to come up with some astute observation—the " Rule" or something—that sooner or later, all wise sayings get attributed to Albert Einstein or Winston Churchill.

(V) & (Z) respond: Don't forget Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and George Carlin.

F.H. in St. Paul, MN, writes: You wrote, of Fulton County DA Fani Willis' apparent plans to indict Donald Trump in August: "In case you were planning to hike the Appalachian Trail in mid August, you are likely to miss all the action."

Back in my day, hiking the Appalachian Trail meant something totally different.

All Politics Is Local

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: I am a former Texan, living in Austin at the time that Ken Paxton (R) was elected to the AG's office. I appreciate that E.S. in Maine is kind of dumbfounded that there could be such corruption and scandal, and I congratulate them for living in a polity where such a situation is scandalous. Paxton was re-elected despite being already under indictment, which came as his first term was ending. This kind of thing is about par for the course, from my perspective, in what I've come to call the Banana Republic of Texas. Just one of several reasons I fled the state.

J.B. in Hutto, TX, writes: I found it frankly hilarious that Ken Paxton accused Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) of being drunk on the House floor. It didn't surprise me that nobody cared. If the 6 years I worked in Texas politics taught me anything, it is that pretty much everybody involved, Republican and Democrat, is drunk most of the time.

B.D. in Niceville, FL, writes: In your item "There's Never Been a President from Florida," you wrote: "For the first century of its membership in the union, it was viewed as an alligator-and mosquito-infested backwater full of ignorant hicks... Florida's image has changed somewhat over the years, but many people still see it as a gun-shaped paradise for grifters, rejects, weirdos, and people who went there to die."

Maybe the Florida's image has changed over the years, but sadly, in the Gaetz land (UGH) where I am, a blue dot in the sea of red, it still feels like living in "an alligator-and mosquito-infested backwater full of ignorant hicks," and it still is a "paradise for grifters, rejects, weirdos, and people who went there to die." Just saying.

(V) & (Z) respond: Your home city must be the most ironic place name in the history of the mailbag.

M.S. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: ABC News had an item last night on the banning of Amanda Gorman's inaugural poem, "The Hill We Climb," in Miami Lakes, FL, at the request of one (count 'em, one) parent. While I get that Ron DeSantis is immensely proud that Florida is where "woke goes to die," I do not understand how he can simultaneously claim the "courage to be free" moniker when a single person can control what is approved to be said in a school Certainly not "free," and even less so "courageous." And this puts aside (and ABC didn't report this), the stupidity of the request. The complainant claimed that Oprah Winfrey was the author and when asked, "What do you believe is the function of this material?" replied, "To cause confusion and indoctrinate students." And so is it banned. How can freedom be claimed when it is this trivially easy to ban a book or a poem? Oh, and the irony is that this occurred less than 35 miles from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: I am glad to see that some of your astute readers noticed what I absolutely feared to make public—because I do not want to give them ideas—but, yeah, Florida is setting up a system by which they can legally execute trans people!

I really DO think this was their intent all along, but just in case it was not... I did NOT want to give those fascists more ideas.

E.S. in Maine, NY, writes: We are in the rural part of Broome country, in upstate New York. Pop 192,000, it went +3,000 Trump in 2016 and +3,000 Biden in 2020. A swing county. As is true of most of us, I travel the same roads 90-95% of the time. Here is my total unscientific MAGA flag poll.

Over the last 4 years, most of the Trump flags have faded, shredded and disappeared. The "F**k Biden" flags generally stayed up for only a short time, neighbors or wives, I suspect, put a stop to that. One house with multiple MAGA flags now has a "Lions not Sheep" flag, whatever that is suppose to mean. But recently I have seen a couple new MAGA flags. Seems like after the indictment and being found liable, but hard to tell for sure.

One sign still up is a F**k Biden, which is hard to see from the road and almost impossible to read without stopping and using binoculars. The same house has a small statue of a black person fishing in their pond. I thought those went out of style in the 60s. The sign is scrawled on a white-ish sheet. Very appropriate, all things considered.

History Matters

K.C.W. in Austin, TX, writes: I was really quite surprised by your response to D.V. in Columbus regarding newspapers and "letters to the editor." While what you write is in some respects true, especially for the U.S. (and, if I'm not mistaken, echoes Jill Lapore), it certainly is not true of Europe or Spanish America (the latter being my speciality, especially print culture in Spanish America). Printed news sheets appeared almost simultaneously with Gutenberg in the 15th century. The Columbus letter announcing his "discovery" of the New World, essentially a precursor of the newspaper, was printed in Barcelona almost immediately after his return in 1493. Conversely, news sheets arriving from Spain were often put immediately to press in Mexico and Lima. Regularly issued, news-driven newspapers were published in many European cities as early as the early 17th century if not before.

There are various claimants to being the "first" regularly issued newspaper in the Americas: The Boston News-Letter, The Gazeta de Mexico, The Gazeta de Lima, all of which date to the first quarter of the 18th century and are primarily news-based, not opinion or ad based, for example. In Spanish America, the opinion-driven periodicals arose in the last quarter of the 18th century and peaked in the years leading up to independence and the first few years following during the tumultuous period of state formation. (Not unlike in the U.S., with the pamphleteering response to the Stamp Act, that you mention).

While it is true that the steam press and telegraphy drove an efflorescence of newspapers—news-based, opinion-based, and ad-based—it would be incorrect to dismiss almost 400 years of journalism prior to the 1850s.

(V) & (Z) respond: We understood the question to be asking specifically about American newspapers, as it made reference to William Randolph Hearst. We have gone back and adjusted the answer to make that explicit. Also, when we address multiple hundreds of years of history in a couple of paragraphs, the answer is necessarily going to be generally true, not universally true. Certainly, given that most American papers were either official or de facto organs of the political parties until the 1850s, opinion and political spin was going to be the focus.

G.T.M. in Vancouver, BC, Canada, writes: The first successful American colony was the Jamestown colony, founded in Virginia in 1607.

In 1605, Johann Carolus had founded the Relation aller Fürnemmen und gedenckwürdigen Historien in Strasbourg, Germany. In 1631, La Gazette commenced publication in Paris. In 1665, The Oxford Gazette (still published today, under the name The London Gazette) commenced publication in Oxford, England. In 1690, Berrow's Worcester Journal (still published under that name) commenced publication in Worcester, England.

In 1764, The Quebec Gazette (still published under the name of the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph) commenced publication. This is the oldest continuously published newspaper in North America and beats the Hartford Courant by about four months.

Any more nits that you want picked?

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: Thank you for the opportunity to submit names of important war leaders and evaluations of their effectiveness. Using the 1-10 scale and the three categories of effectiveness (Tactical, Strategic, Administrative), I have three entries:

George Pickett (T: 6; S: 8; A: 9). In the Great Pig War of 1859, Captain George Pickett was despatched to the Pacific Northwest to prevent the British from seizing San Juan Island. He receives high marks for fulfilling that mission. Initially, he built his fortification within easy gun range of a British warship, but he then realized his error and moved to a different location, so a middling score on tactics. Strategically, he got high marks for siting his fortification with view to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and for not provoking a shooting war with the British, who had more men and heavier guns. We gave him an administrative score of 9 for being able to control his whole contingent of 66 men and move all those cannons around, while also facing off the British and wisely waiting for reinforcements.

Robert Jenkins (T: 4; S: 8; A: 8). This is the very man for whom the infamous War of Jenkins' Ear is named. We gave him a low score on tactics because, after all, the Spanish boarded his ship, the brig Rebecca, and cut off his ear. But we gave him a much improved score for strategy, because, while he may have lost an ear, he did not lose his head. When called to testify before a committee of the House of Commons, seven years later, Captain Jenkins not only answered the call, but according to some sources, he brought the ear as evidence. If that's true, then he certainly deserves a high score for administration. Right now, I can't even find my glasses. What? Oh, my wife says they're on top of my head. As every schoolboy knows, the War of Jenkins Ear morphed into the War of the Austrian Succession, one of the great global conflicts of the 18th century which ended with the treaty of Aix-la-Chappelle, a status quo, antebellum peace treaty that rendered the war rather pointless, as did the War of 1812's Treaty of Ghent. Still, he stands out among his peers. (Full disclosure: I'm an active member of a War of the League of Augsburg Reenactor group.)

Bill Mauldin (T: 10; S: 10; A: 10). The most famous cartoonist of the Second World War, creator of the characters "Willie and Joe," Pvt. Bill Mauldin managed to spend the war as a cartoonist, at the U.S. Army's expense, and got them to embed him with the troops which gave him plenty of ideas for his cartoons, all great tactical maneuvers on his part. Strategically, he published in the GI newspaper, Stars and Stripes. Gen. George Patton wanted him stopped, and there were people back home who wanted him censored, but the very independence of Stars and Stripes made the paper popular with GIs; top brass like Gen. Omar Bradley recognized the paper as a morale booster, so Mauldin was never censored, even for his wicked satires of Army officers, such as Patton. ("Sir, would you mind not drawing fire while you're inspiring us?") Mauldin's administrative genius is demonstrated by the fact that he was able to get the very institution he satirized, the U.S. Army, to provide his food, shelter, clothing, medical care, transportation costs, salary, and position. Today, Mauldin's cartoons stand as a great tribute to the power of cartoons, to the resilience, flexibility, determination, and sense of humor of American military personnel, and the importance of a free press. And the cartoons are still very, very funny. ("Able Fox Five to Able Fox Leader. I have a target for you, but you'll have to be patient.")

(V) & (Z) respond: We intended to run this yesterday, obviously. It was mis-sorted, and that is why it runs today instead.

You Say It's Your Birthday? It's My Birthday Too, Yeah

F.S. in Cologne, Germany, writes: It's already May 24 in Germany, so I am probably one of your first readers who can legitimately write: Happy Birthday,! Maybe now is a good time to start a discussion about the future of the site.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: May 24, 2004. I don't think I joined the site until August of that year. I'm going to dig through my hard drive and see if I can verify that; I don't think it was as late as 2008. Loved the electoral map right from the start; I'd been looking for that my whole life. I always remember, back from the days when did not publish most of the year, going to the site one election year August, and it had just come up with the first entry, and it was on my birthday. Happy birthday to me.

By the way, I took the quiz and every time I answered a question, a green check mark appeared in the upper right corner. I assume that means that I got every single question right. Right?

(V) & (Z) respond: Feel free to interpret the check marks in that way. And if there's anyone who wants to try their hand at the quiz and hasn't done so, it will remain available until midnight tonight.

S.D. from Westerlo, Belgium, writes: It took me until I was filling out the quiz to realize that your site shares its birthday with me, May 24th.

Congratulations to you, and thank you for your insightful, witty, snarky and frankly addictive content!

(V) & (Z) respond: Thanks to all who sent in good wishes, and happy birthday to you, S.D.!


D.K. in Oceanside, CA, writes: Harley wanted me to convey his displeasure at your use of the term "fat-cat" to describe a wealthy political donor. Harley himself is a healthy 20 pound feline with large bones:

Harley the cat; he's a very large
tortoiseshell laying on a plaid blanket

M.G. in Chicago, IL, writes: Abby Bailiff is sure making you two look like underachievers. If only she was Canadian... (I have already resigned myself to that fact.)

(V) & (Z) respond: She's making 99.99% of us look like underachievers.

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: You wrote: "...we'll be reading (DeSantis' old) book soon to see if a biting critique would be interesting."

I'm imploring you both, whatever you do don't speak any of the lines out loud; repeat any of the lines three times in front of the mirror; or say any of the passages backwards for fear that you will summon forth Asmodeus; Bloody Mary; Cthulhu; the Merkin, Mother of Spiders; or Dormammu! Some dark times are not to be trifled with.

(V) & (Z) respond: BeetleSantis, BeetleSantis...

R.M. in Pensacola, FL, writes: I popped over to the unofficial reddit page for, and I was greeted with this:

A popup asks what
adult themes appear on the site, and suggests, among other possibilities, sex, profanity, violence, 
alcohol, and gore

Just what kind of shenanigans is the Staff Mathematician up to when you two aren't around?!

M.D. in the Poconos, PA, writes: You wrote: "This seems as good a time as any to announce our new corporate partners: Balance of Nature, MyPillow, Home Title Lock, LIV Golf and Tim Horton's. Welcome to the team!"

I assume to keep these new incredibly generous sponsors happy the column will now be edited by Tucker and Sean. I'm sure we will now get real fair and balanced information on the site. Congratulations on cashing out, you've sold your souls, which is the American way. Thankfully it wasn't those sneaky rich Canadians.

(V) & (Z) respond: Um, Tim Horton's? Or maybe not; keep reading.

S.W. in Ottawa, ON, writes: You joked about receiving new sponsorships from a host of scammers, and Tim Horton's, the bafflingly popular Canadian donut chain (I live in Canada, and even I am baffled).

But Tim Horton's is now majority owned by Brazilians!

"Black Creek Coffee: Is Tim Hortons Still Canadian?" (admittedly a biased source).

(V) & (Z) respond: At least, they want you to THINK they are owned by Brazilians; keep reading.

D.J.M., Salmon Arm, BC, Canada, writes: I would like to remind L.S. in Greensboro that the first principle of subversive ways is to make the enemy believe they are winning. Over sixty players listed on the rosters of the four American teams vying for the Stanley Cup this year are Canadians. As for the cup itself, it remains in Canada permanently in the Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame. The cup presented to the American winner will be a replica—kinda like a participation trophy.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: P.M. in Edenton, I see your 2005 Ford Focus and raise you my 1988 Ford Bronco II and my 2001 Ford Explorer, both of which regularly pass California's stringent emissions testing. (I do not regard automobiles as disposable goods.)

Final Words

S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: When I was a kid, New York Magazine had "The New York Competition," a regular feature at the back of the magazine that invited and then published witty reader responses to some challenge or other. One of these competitions asked readers to submit epitaphs for famous people.

It was more than fifty years ago. Only one answer has stuck with me all this time. Here goes. For Henny Youngman:

"I said wife!"

If you have suggestions for this feature, please send them along.

Previous | Next

Main page for smartphones

Main page for tablets and computers