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Hunter Biden Indicted: Lawyers, Guns and Money

In a development that is so unsurprising it is barely news, Hunter Biden was indicted on federal gun charges yesterday by U.S. Attorney and Special Counsel David Weiss.

Most readers are presumably familiar with the details, but just as a reminder, Biden purchased the gun in question in 2018, following the legally mandated process for doing so. As part of that process, it is necessary to attest that you are not a user of illegal narcotics. Biden was a user, at that time, which means he lied on the form. That is a federal crime.

There are, however, two qualifiers. The first is that this crime is relatively rarely charged, and when it is, it is almost always to heighten the seriousness of (and thus the penalty for) other crimes. For example, if you lie on your gun form and then use the gun to rob a bank, THAT is generally when you get popped for breaking this particular law. The second is that the law is questionable enough that it's been struck down by the Fifth Circuit. That doesn't help the First Son in Delaware, which is part of the Third Circuit. However, the Fifth Circuit case is likely to end up before the Supreme Court, and they may strike the law down nationally. Alternatively, someone (maybe Hunter Biden) might challenge the law in a Third Circuit court. So, he could get a version of a Get Out of Jail Free card.

Needless to say, we have no idea exactly what Weiss' game is here. We do not believe he is carrying the water for the Republican Party. However, when one is appointed special counsel, one does generally feel the need to do... something (see Durham, John). Alternatively, Weiss could be putting pressure on Biden to reach a new plea deal. Or, Weiss could simply believe this is correct to pursue, as long as that law is still on the books. That said, it's easy to think that if this person was Hunter Smith instead of Hunter Biden, there would be no indictment here.

As to the political implications, in the short term, this is going to play into the whole "Biden crime family" narrative. In the longer term, an acquittal could serve to undermine that narrative. Further, the fact that Biden is not pulling strings to save his own son would seem to be pretty good evidence that he's not pulling strings to persecute Donald Trump. So, we're undermining that narrative, too.

There are, as yet, no details as to when Biden will surrender himself, be arraigned, etc. Note also that the child of a sitting president is entitled to Secret Service protection. So, if Hunter goes to the pokey, we should get an answer to how the U.S.S.S. will deal with a situation like that, should any other protectees be given a prison sentence in the future. You know, just hypothetically. (Z)

Trump Legal News: Sweet Southern Love

There hasn't been all that much Trump legal news this week, since we are sort of in the intermission between Act I ("The indictments") and Act II ("The trials"). Many Americans would prefer to jump ahead to Act III ("The verdicts"), but that's just not how this works. Maybe in Russia, but not in the U.S.

There has been a little bit of news, however, and the general theme is that things are going OK for Donald Trump when it comes to his Southern trials. To start, in Florida, Aileen Cannon is doing relatively little to dispel the notion that she's in the bag for the fellow who appointed her to the bench. She's doing quite a bit to support the conclusion that she's dragging her feet as much as she possibly can. This week, she finally approved the protective order necessary for Special Counsel Jack Smith and his team to turn classified materials over to the Trump defense team. This was always going to take some time, but the government was ready to start forking stuff over around the 4th of July. So, September 14 is a bit on the slow side. Maybe more than a bit. Cannon has also asked for several hearings whose purposes are unclear, and at the same time she's not dispensing with things already on the to do list, like ruling on the prosecution's motion that defense counsel has a conflict of interest in representing multiple clients while being paid by only one of those clients.

Meanwhile, over in Georgia, Judge Scott McAfee made official what everyone (except, possibly, Fulton County DA Fani Willis) already knew: There is no plausible way to try all 19 defendants at one time, which means that separate trials will be needed. In theory, Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro, who have exercised their rights to a (very) speedy trial, could be Trial 1 and the other 17 could be Trial 2. In practice, given the concerns expressed by McAfee about logistics and space, we're probably talking three or four or five separate trials (unless a bunch of defendants cop a plea).

This has two upsides from the perspective of the former president. First, it pushes back his trial date, probably by a lot. We are hardly experts in the timing of these things, but those who are experts say we could well be looking at late in 2024 or even early 2025 before Trump is tried in Georgia. And if he's returned to the White House, then overnight 2025 probably becomes 2029 (or never).

Second, when Trump does go on trial, his lawyers will have already seen the case the prosecution intends to build, and how the jury responded to the case. That is useful intelligence, to say the least. It also cuts both ways, in that some of Trump's co-defendants could end up scared witless, and could take a plea deal, particularly if the jury takes 2 hours to render a verdict. But since Trump is never going to be in that group, he's better having more information than less.

Of course, all of this Southern love notwithstanding, Trump's biggest problem right now is the decidedly non-Southern case in Washington, which is proceeding at a rapid pace. All the good news in the world from the South can't change that fact. (Z)

House Republican Conference: Breakfast Feud

Things are moving quickly in the soap opera that is As The House Turns. On Tuesday, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) tried to toss a bone to the Freedom Caucus, ordering that an investigation into impeaching Joe Biden be launched. On Wednesday morning, the FCers were up bright and early, probably even before they'd finished... whatever it is they eat for breakfast (Scrapple? Waffles from Waffle House? Liberal tears?). And they held a press conference to make clear that impeachment is a side show, and that they will not be put off what they really care about, which is the budget.

To give a sense of how crazy the FCers are on this issue, we will quote the linked Slate article:

"Let me be very clear: I will not continue to fund a government at war with the American people," Texas Rep. Chip Roy, the spicy policy chair of the Freedom Caucus, said.

And which government departments and agencies are the aggressors? It might be easier to ask Chip Roy which ones aren't. He said the Defense Department is "turning our military into a social engineering experiment wrapped in a uniform." The Food and Drug Administration is approving COVID boosters for children, "and we haven't even had clinical trials." The Inflation Reduction Act is handing out tax credits to "rich leftists" and the "Chinese Communist Party." The Justice Department is "advancing a politicized form of justice," targeting "President Trump" and "dads." And then, of course, there's the Southern border.

"How many girls have to get sold in the sex trafficking trade before this body"—he pointed at the Capitol—"will wake up and stop an out-of-control president? Enough! Why would we fund that?"

And remember, this is just one member of the FC. In any event, as any reader of this site knows, there is "reality." And then there is "political reality," in which a much reduced list of things is possible. Roy is not in touch with either form of reality. Virtually nothing he says here is even remotely plausible, politically, and much of it outright bat**it crazy. This is no basis for sausage-making.

In fairness to the Freedom Caucus (not a phrase we write very often), McCarthy's game here was obvious. An impeachment "investigation" (or blue-ribbon panel, or fact-finding team, or whatever) is just an empty gesture. Anytime a politician announces their intent to preliminarily look into possibly doing something on a provisional basis, maybe, then they aren't actually doing anything concrete and everyone knows it. In this case, there is zero chance that the votes for impeachment are there, and so the gesture is doubly empty. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer, but even he sees that the whole thing is "a mirage" and that McCarthy "has no real intent to follow through" on impeachment.

McCarthy, for his part, is more cautious than the FCers. So, while they responded to the impeachment "bone" before breakfast on Wednesday, he waited all the way until lunchtime Thursday to share his response to their press conference. At the regularly scheduled House GOP lunch meeting, he apparently blew his stack and told the FCers that if they want to try to vacate the chair (i.e., fire him), then they should "move the fu**ing motion." Needless to say, we can't wait to see what dinnertime on Friday brings (suppertime for our Southern readers).

As a matter of basic strategy, McCarthy was 100% correct to call the FCers out on their bluster. First because, in addition to bluster, it may also be a bluff. The FC gets to play this trump card (pun intended) one time. If it fails, then their power is effectively broken. If it succeeds, then it is very unlikely that another Republican speaker will agree to the terms that McCarthy did, even if it takes months for that speaker to get chosen. Actually, that would-be speaker would presumably just do what McCarthy would not, and find a way to get the necessary number of Democratic votes to render the FCers moot.

And that brings us to a second point. We've tended to assume that if the FCers move to vacate, the Democrats will join them in voting to remove McCarthy, so as to create chaos, a black eye for the GOP, etc. And while that might well happen, it's no slam dunk. Reader B.R. in Eatontown, NJ, wrote in with the counterpoint:

The Democrats under Biden ran in 2020 and 2022 as the party that can actually govern, and I can't imagine that Biden plans to change that song in any way in 2024. But if the blue team votes to take down McCarthy (particularly when it's as clear as it is that no one else could do better in that job, given the gap between the FC and the rest of the Republican caucus), then they will come across not as people interested in governing but rather as just another group of petulant children who would rather destroy than build. So much for pitching themselves as the party that can govern.

Furthermore, if the Democrats do that, they will share the blame with the FC for the problems that result—including the fact that government is shut down due to a lack of a continuing resolution. As you have written, the FC right now apparently believes that it won't be them blamed for the shutdown—and I share your assessment that they are completely wrong in that belief. But if the Democrats then join with them in removing McCarthy, they will become equally exposed with the FC. So much for pitching the Republicans generally as being so crazy they'd shut down the government—with the resultant loss of governmental benefits that many folks receive.

Furthermore, there seems to be some belief that even if McCarthy is removed the House could still continue to operate. While committees probably could meet, and other such lesser functions could continue, I can't imagine that anything could reach the floor for a vote without a Speaker. If nothing else, the FC folks will prevent it. And given what happened in January, does anyone really think that a replacement speaker would be elected promptly? Personally, I think the impasse would go on for months. And if, during that time, Biden could get absolutely nothing done, the FC folks would be dancing in the streets.

It seems to me that if the FC challenges McCarthy, the only smart move for the Democrats is to abstain, saying that it is an intra-party dispute among the Republicans and only they can solve it. Indeed, if I was Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), I would probably have the bulk of the Democratic caucus not even be on the floor—just one or two members present so that they could demand a quorum call if necessary—with the rest ready to report on a moment's notice.

Good analysis, B.R.!

So again, McCarthy was right to throw down the gauntlet. He can't do his job under these conditions, so better to take this to its denouement, whatever that might be. At worst, he ends up in a cushy K Street job at five times the salary.

We don't know where this internecine struggle is headed, but we do know that it's already causing casualties. Money for the Department of Defense is supposed to be the one thing that all Republicans (and most Democrats) can agree upon. However, the latest defense bill had to be pulled from the schedule due to a temper tantrum rebellion by the FCers. Maybe they get on the same page tomorrow, or maybe they never do. We are now just over 2 weeks from a government shutdown if they don't, however, and it's going to be even harder to pin that on the Democrats if the FCers are all over the right-wing media channels talking about what an a**hole McCarthy is. (Z)

Joe Biden and the Polls: No Means Yes

Last week, we wrote a fairly lengthy item about that allegedly-grim-for-Joe-Biden poll from CNN. Our opinion, in case you have forgotten: It doesn't mean anything. We are too far out from the election, and there are too many unknowns between now and then to be reaching firm, or even semi-firm, conclusions about the dynamics of the race.

Of course, the nation's most prominent psephologists are not paid to say "pay no attention to the polls," so they have to say something when new polls come out. And so, we would not expect to see too many of them agree with us 100%. That said, the other Nate (Cohn), the one who works for The New York Times, did write "Polls taken 15 to 27 months out don't necessarily augur much..." in his latest piece. That's actually pretty close to "pay no attention to the polls," especially since Cohn works for an employer who actually pays for polls and expects them to attract eyeballs.

Cohn also agrees with us that the demise of Joe Biden has been greatly exaggerated. In fact, looking closely at the numbers, he thinks that there's actually some pretty good news in there for the President (and some bad news for his predecessor). It is true that the two presumptive nominees are running roughly equal in national preference polls. However, don't assume that 2024 is the new 2020 or the new 2016. While acknowledging that the data is not entirely reliable, given how far we are from the election and how tough it is to tease fine-grained conclusions out of polling results, Cohn observes that Trump appears to be gaining strength among minority voters, while Biden is improving with swing state voters.

If this is true, then it could well be a zero-sum game (or close to a zero-sum game). That is to say, the number of minority voters moving in Trump's direction could be offset by the number of swing-state voters moving in Biden's direction. That would cause national preference polls to look the same, even if the actual coalitions were of a different character. Meanwhile, even if you didn't already read the Cohn piece, you probably see where this is headed. Minority voters tend to be concentrated in states that are already in the bag for one party or the other (blue, blue California and New York or red, red Texas and Alabama).

On the other hand, swing-state voters are, without exception, found in swing states. So, a "same old, same old" result in the top-level national number (say, 46% for Biden, 46% for Trump) might obscure a meaningful change in the projected electoral totals. The bottom line, as Cohn writes, is that "the demographic foundations of Mr. Trump's Electoral College advantage might be fading." Put another way, it may no longer be correct that if Biden and Trump are tied, then Biden's in trouble, because he has to win by at least 3-4 points to win the EC.

That said, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. And so it is that while Cohn sees silver linings for Biden, CNN number cruncher Harry Enten sees rain clouds. While we have no reason to think Enten is in the bag for Trump, and significant reason to believe that he's left-leaning, he's also made something of a cottage industry of pumping out "good polling news for Trump" pieces. In just the last 6 weeks, for example, he's published items under the headlines "The chance of Trump winning another term is very real," "Republican voters think Trump is electable. They may be right," and "The group that won Trump the election in 2016 may win it for him again in 2024." That's quite a lot for a guy who only produces 2-3 pieces a week.

The major argument of the last, and most recent, of those pieces is this: Among voters who really don't want to vote for Trump or Biden (which is about 20%), Trump is slightly more appealing (or, if you prefer, slightly less odious), roughly 53%-47%. Needless to say, if those voters ultimately decide to suck it up and vote for the lesser of major-party evils, and if they break the way they are feeling now, and if the other 80% of the electorate sticks with their current horse, then Trump would probably win. As Enten points out, the numbers here are similar to 2016, when there were also two widely disliked candidates on the ballot, and where the so-called double-haters broke pretty decisively for Trump, thus handing him the win.

If you are interested in which analysis we put more stock in, the answer is Cohn's. First, his analysis just generally tends to be better and more thoughtful than Enten's, especially since he spends most of his time writing, and does not spend a bunch of time on TV hits. Second, Cohn shows his work to a far greater extent than Enten does. That may be a byproduct of the outlets for which they work, and the audiences they are trying to reach, but the fact is that Cohn's piece takes you through the math with graphs and charts and everything, whereas Enten's is positively breezy. Third, and finally, we specifically don't love Enten's argument. Beyond the fact that 7 points is a relatively small spread, considering all the other X factors (something that the author himself concedes), it is also the case that double-haters tend to favor the status quo. There was no status quo in 2016, since neither candidate was a sitting president. There is now.

With that said, the real point is this: Because the numbers are so fuzzy right now, it's easy enough to find analysts who will argue that bad numbers are good, good numbers are bad, bad numbers are even worse than they seem, good numbers are even better than they seem, up is down, left is right, black is white, no is yes, and the clocks are striking thirteen. Ok, maybe not that last one, but the rest of it. And so we're back at the same place we were last week: Polling numbers are fun to talk about and dissect right now, but don't take them too seriously. (Z)

(V) and (Z): From the Teacher to the Preacher?

Christiane Amanpour just celebrated her 40th year at CNN. That was long enough ago that the month she started, Ronald Reagan let the world in on a new toy the U.S. military had been working on called GPS, the Soviets shot down a Korean Air flight, The Big Chill was the top movie at the box office, Hill Street Blues won the Emmy for best drama series, Greg LeMond became the first American ever to win the men's Road Racing World Championship, the Detroit Lions' streak of years without winning the Super Bowl numbered just 16, and (Z) turned 9 years old.

As part of the festivities, Amanpour sat for a few interviews, including one with CNN's own Inside Politics. Host Dana Bash brought up a particularly notable moment from Amanpour's career, in which Amanpour held Bill Clinton's feet to the fire over the Bosnian War. In response to Bash's questions, Amanpour explained that the incident was formative in her thinking about journalism in general, and political journalism in particular. Her mantra, from that point forward: "Be truthful, not neutral."

We took note of this because, although we had not formulated it in quite so pithy a way, it's a pretty good description of the operating philosophy of this site. Truth be told, it is considerably easier to write about politics when partisans on both sides are basically reasonable, and are trying to pursue similar kinds of goals in similar ways. Then, it's not that much different than writing about a football game or a chess match. X won for this reason, Y lost for that reason.

It gets way, way harder when both sides are not operating in good faith. When, in fact, one side isn't even in the same good faith ballpark. Or neighborhood. Or universe. At some point during, say, the Civil Rights Movement, there was one side that was right and one side that was wrong, and pretending otherwise was not only dishonest but offensive. Put another way, bothsidesism is just a different form of bias, and often a particularly nefarious one. So, we do not, and generally will not, treat Joe Biden and his party as being roughly equivalent to Donald Trump and his party because it just isn't so. That said, it requires constant vigilance to make sure that we are picking the right things to talk about, and talking about them in the right way, and making sure to be as truthful as possible.

Needless to say, we are not perfect. Nobody is. And we get plenty of letters that remind us of that. Most of those speak to smallish slip-ups, where we fumbled one sentence, or one paragraph, or one item. Some of those letters, however, are targeted at our very foundation, and suggest—in various ways—that we have moved away from being the dispassionate academics we profess to being, and have moved into advocacy. That is to say, we have gone from being the teacher to the preacher. There was a letter of that very sort in this week's mailbag:

A.D. in Charleston, WV, writes: I have been a reader of the site since 2004, back when I was a youngster forced to report on "current events" as they were, in my high school history class, and not spend my afternoons playing on my Playstation 2. Back in the days of periodical posts on the site, I'd be excited to take Votemaster's take on the issues of the day, because it felt unbiased, honest, and to-the-point, and generally made me reconsider my own cognitive biases with the news and how I saw things. Being an independent voter (my voting record is McCain, Obama, Johnson, Biden...) I think the latest poll you mention in your item does, actually, matter, because it highlights people like me who are super dissatisfied with the current state of our national politics. I cannot fathom, out of 330,000,000 Americans, the best we can do is sour orange juice and spoiled milk, and not once do we have to pick between these two, but TWICE?! Give me a break, already!

Zenger, for your part, your bias and unwavering defense of the spoiled milk is just plain starting to stink at this point, and your constant dismissal of all the legitimate concerns that are raised about Biden (I can literally link these all day, if need be) is starting to undermine that aforementioned unbiased report blogging that made people like me come to to begin with. We get it. You don't like the orange one; me neither. I do, however, challenge you to pick a Democrat you like better than the incumbent president, because I assure you, there are way better options than him.

We generally do not comment on letters like this, unless they contain factual errors, because to do so is not especially instructive or appropriate.

With that said, a number of readers were roused to respond to A.D. in Charleston. And they generally did so at some length. We don't particularly like to edit down letters for the mailbag, but we also can't get away with running multiple letters of this length. And since they speak to readers' perceptions of the site, and its operating philosophy, we thought it would be OK to share them on a weekday. And so:

S.H. in Hanoi, Vietnam, writes: A common complaint from those deeply dissatisfied with U.S. politics is a theme-and-variation of "voting from the two parties is choosing between the lesser of two evils." This is literally how Bernie Sanders characterized eventual Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton mere weeks before he lost the primary race to her. A.D. in Charleston chose a liquid simile instead, calling the parties "sour orange juice and spoiled milk." It provides a noxious image, and this kind of complaint strongly resonates with a certain type of voter, whether their lean is left, right, or center; the only question is which politician to whom they throw their support, but over the last 20 years, the beneficiaries have included Ralph Nader, Ron Paul, Jill Stein, A.D.'s favored libertarian Gary Johnson, the aforementioned Sanders, and, arguably, Donald Trump.

While it's evocative, the "pox on both their houses" trope almost always fails to offer a specific critique of why given politician X or political party Y is "evil." Certainly on the left, much of the appeal of the Greens is borne of a frustration with Democrats "not getting it done"—i.e. not putting more progressive policies in place. Prior to the Republican majority in the House, Democratic-sponsored bills required passage with the thinnest of margins for error, and needed to be approved by a Senate in which the requisite votes to create a majority came in the form of a business-friendly centrist who watered down the most lefty policies (Joe Manchin, D-WV) as well as a seemingly closeted Republican (Krysten Sinema, D-AZ/I-AZ). This is the reality, but the Greens draw the disaffected, who believe that "sending a message" to Dems by not voting for them will help pull the party further left. It won't, and in close races they end up throwing elections to ever-further-right Republicans making it even harder for even the mildest political programs to be implemented. A.D.'s politics are presumably more centrist than those who support the Greens, but the intellectual approach appears the same, and conveniently ignores the actual conditions in which U.S. politics currently finds itself, and likewise offers no actual solutions. It just complains.

I'll take the risk of sounding like (Z)'s personal apologist, and further risk projecting my own political biases onto (Z) and (V), but if I had to guess, I would guess that (Z), and probably (V), think that the single, defining issue of U.S. politics over at least the past 10 or more years has been the rise of a small-d anti-democratic, anti-expertise, pro-authoritarian, nationalist, protectionist view, which has coalesced into one of the two most powerful voting blocs in the country. Donald Trump did not create this movement, but he did understand how to resonate with these voters in a way that no Republican before had, and to channel it into the movement it is today. (Republican never-Trump apologists consistently fail to understand this point, and regard Trump as a hurricane out of nowhere instead of understanding the decades of culpability the Republican party had in creating this mindset.)

While there are certainly other issues that are important, and are often discussed on, everything about U.S. politics right now hinges on the question of whether democracy itself is an institution worth preserving, or whether "we" wish to go the way of, say, Hungary, which is a truly rigged system, and where anyone who stands in the way of Viktor Orbán and his cronies is essentially powerless. And it's pretty clear that (Z) thinks the ascension of this viewpoint, once on the margins of U.S. politics but now right at the heart of it, is a bad development. A very bad development.

With all that said, Biden's presidency is, effectively, an afterthought; in some sense, the most important thing that his administration can do to be considered a success by sane people is merely to observe the rule of law and avoid having profoundly corrupt advisors and cabinet members, which both he and Barack Obama have done well. Whatever else he accomplishes, given the razor-thin room for error with the legislature, is basically gravy. And it turns out that the Inflation Reduction Act was a fairly impressive piece of legislation given the current political environment.

None of that means that (Z) has turned into a personal Biden cheerleader. The understanding of Biden's re-election campaign, such as it is at the moment, involves the recognition that a sitting president with the smallest of Electoral-College advantages is highly likely to be the only hope the Democrats have of retaining the White House. If Biden were to step down, a bruising free-for-all significantly increases the chance of a Trump presidency, and the commentary on over the past several months reflects this analysis. That doesn't mean that (Z) and (V) are carrying the President's water, it means they understand that the most likely chance of countering the greatest threat to democracy since the Civil War lies in avoiding internecine Democratic warfare. And that means Biden is re-elected, whether Biden would be their first choice in an alternate world or not.

Again, this is a guess, but after years of reading their views, I would guess that (Z) as well as (V) are to Biden's left on most or even all major policy debates, and are likely at some level to have their share of disappointments regarding the state of the Democratic Party, which despite having a fairly liberal caucus in both the House and Senate, at present is essentially beholden to the two senators mentioned above (as well as Biden's near fetishism with institutionalism). But I think (Z)'s bias—and if I'm right, I share that bias—is that none of these frustrations hold a candle to the single most important problem facing America today, and until that problem gets resolved, everything else is commentary.

E.S. in Maine, NY, writes: Reading the letter from A.D. in Charleston, words like "naive" and "uninformed" come to mind. And worse, but I am too polite to describe a fellow reader as such. Joe Biden is the only choice we have. No one else will be the Democratic candidate, barring death or a serious health issue. And the thing is, he has done an amazing job. The fact that you and others do not see that seems to be due to a lack of perspective and a lack of understanding of how the world works.

What candidate, among those you think would be better, would have had the experience, knowledge, and skill to rally NATO, to confront the naked aggression of Russia without our forces firing a single shot? The extremely fine line of stopping Russia while not allowing World War III to happen is a existential achievement. Age brings experience and wisdom to some. Knowing how to do the job is important.

This also deters China from attacking Taiwan—which, if you think it is not our issue, then perhaps you do not know that just about ALL the most advanced microchips in the world are made there. Biden's bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act will work to eliminate that vulnerability. I could go on with many other areas of the world where Biden's administration is actively engaging, but let's get to the domestic side.

The economy is performing fantastically. Historic low unemployment, real wage growth, inflation reduced much better than other comparable economies. The Inflation Reduction Act, which has the biggest climate change package in history, is a step towards fixing another existential crisis. And he, and Nancy Pelosi (83) and Chuck Schumer (72) did it with Mr. Coal from West Virginia and who-knows-what-her-problem-is from Arizona "on their side". You really think your mythical better candidate would herd the cats better?

Remember, your mythical better candidate has not faced the harsh glare of a presidential campaign. Even people who would be good or great presidents can wither under the glare of national attention. I wanted Elizabeth Warren, voted for Bernie Sanders, and supported Biden, of course, over Donny. I did not expect to be extremely thrilled with what Biden has done. Would I like more? Of course! But, at this point, no one else has a proven track record of getting stuff done like Biden. All new candidates are unknown/untested until they are in the spotlight. No predicting how they will do—see Ron DeSantis, Jeb!, John Edwards, Gary Hart, America's Mayor etc.

And, by the way, I really do not agree that either of the writers "constant dismissal of all the legitimate concerns that are raised about Biden." (V) and (Z) address them; just because one reader thinks they are more, or less, important is not dismissing them.

P.S.: Sorry this is so long, and I know (V) and (Z) are more than capable of defending their own honor, but wisely let things like this go. My main issue is the people who fail to realize how much Biden has done. Your honor is just a side effect.

C.P. in Malden, MA, writes: A.D. in Charleston writes about the site's "dismissal of all the legitimate concerns that are raised about Biden." I'd be interested to hear what concerns those are. As far as I can tell, it all boils down to one of three things: (1) Hunter Biden, (2) he's too old, (3) He's not liberal enough for me.

(1) is irrelevant because Joe Biden himself hasn't been implicated in any improper conduct. If legitimate sources say otherwise I'd be interested to hear about it, but Fox News / Newsmax / Russian propaganda sources won't cut it.

(2) could be relevant. In my view, it's mitigated by two facts. First, Joe Biden has a great track record. I doubt any other 2020 candidate would have been able to do as good of a job on the climate crisis, the economy, energy independence, countering China's influence, and the war in Ukraine as Biden has. Second, Kamala Harris doesn't have any issues that I'm aware of. I am perfectly comfortable with the idea of her taking over as president in the (hopefully unlikely) case that Biden is unable to continue in the role.

(3) is a political question. I actually do agree with (3), but I also don't think anyone else could have won in 2020. Since then, Biden has proven himself a strong ally to liberal causes, with a good amount of practicality mixed in.

A.D. also writes "your bias and unwavering defense of the spoiled milk is just plain starting to stink at this point." I would say the bias against the Republican Party is a bias in reality. It's not bias to say the Republicans are anti-Democracy—that has been borne out plenty. It's not bias to point out that Donald Trump is a criminal and (Joe) Biden isn't. And it's not bias to point out that it's irrelevant if Hunter Biden is a criminal, as long as his father isn't involved.

M.V.E. in Kitchener, ON, Canada, writes: For someone who claims to read a lot of this site, I think A.D. in Charleston has missed a few things.

First, as much as the poll "matters" because it shows your dissatisfaction, let me ask (rhetorically, since it's kind of rude to ask and I'm Canadian), whom did you vote for? Biden? Then you've proven the point already made on this site many times over the approximately 20 years of this site's existence. Further, with "options" you mean "people you wish you could vote for." But when (V) and (Z) write, they are speaking to "people you are likely to choose from in 2024" (the whole point of the site).

Also, you note that you could "literally link these all day" and yet don't provide a single link, nor even a bullet list of the top 3 or 5 concerns. And I suspect any such have already been discussed on the site several times in the context of relevance for the likely ballot matchup.

I vaguely recall (V) and (Z) discussing their own bias a couple of times on the site over the years, and the fantasy that anyone is entirely unbiased. But you can be fair, transparent and open to criticism (which is exactly why your comment even appeared on Sunday for me to dispute).

I'm not even an American and I know there may well be "better people" for the job, but the combination of those individuals and the electorate has not yet accomplished what it takes for such "better options" to be a likely choice at the 2024 ballot box. Right now, Biden's it. That's on you and the rest of the electorate. Your voting choices are not (V) and (Z)'s fault. (Z)'s "unwavering defense" (assumed in arguendo) seems to me to be only in comparison to the past and likely future alternatives. From where I'm sitting (and for democratic world leaders), the guy has done an amazing job for you despite monumental challenges. Could it be better? Get to your primaries and elections and show the world what you've got.

Again, we don't comment directly on letters like these, so we'll just say that we think they have some interesting thoughts about the site, and about American politics, enough to be worthy of doing what we just did. (Z)

My Gift Is My Song: Soul Bossa Nova

A song that blends American soul and Brazilian Bossa Nova, as Quincy Jones' "Soul Bossa Nova" does, is certainly borrowing from multiple musical traditions. And the same is true of the songs we incorporated into last Friday's headlines. We shall let reader F.Y. in Ann Arbor, MI, explain it:

Each song's music "borrows" heavily from a previous work, usually something classical.

  1. "It's Now or Never," by Elvis Presley, borrows from "O Sole Mio"
  2. "All By Myself," by Eric Carmen, borrows from Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto #2
  3. "Baubles, Bangles, and Beads," from Kismet, borrows from Alexander Borodin's "String Quartet in D"
  4. "Because," by The Beatles, borrows from Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata"
  5. "Annie's Song," by John Denver, borrows from Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, Second Movement
  6. "Don't You Know," by Della Reese, borrows from Puccini's La bohème
  7. "Oh What a World," by Rufus Wainwright, borrows from Ravel's "Bolero"

Here are the first 10 readers to get it right:

  1. J.L. in Hampton, VA
  2. J.N. in Zionsville, IN
  3. J.B. in Franklin, TN
  4. T.J.R. in Metuchen, NJ
  5. S.A. in Downey, CA
  6. D.F. in Vancouver, BC, Canada
  7. L.A.J. in Bourbonnais, IL
  8. B.P. in Arlington Heights, IL
  9. A.J. in Huddersfield, England, UK
  10. M.B. in Menlo Park, CA

The difficulty of this week's theme, on a scale of 1 to 10, is probably around a 6. One of the songs is a particularly big clue, and we suspect there are some readers, including two on the list above, who will have a distinct advantage. But these are just guesses.

In case it holds your interest, we usually start with one song that suits our needs perfectly. Then we examine what "commonality" might be developed based on that song, and work backwards to find additional songs that will work for the items we plan to write. For what it is worth, the song that inspired this week's theme is "Lawyers, Guns and Money," though that is NOT the song that's a particularly big clue. Also, it was a bit trickier than we expected to find songs that unambiguously fit the theme. We considered songs by Ye, Chaka Khan and Smashing Pumpkins, but they weren't exactly on point. In any event, if you have a guess for this week's theme send it here.(Z)

This Week in Schadenfreude: I Might Need Security

For the second time in as many days, we find a need to run this photo:

Lauren Boebert and Marge Greene heckling during the State of the Union

In yesterday's item, we noted that Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) has been cultivating a "Colorado persona" and a "Washington persona." The former is a more serious, constituent-oriented politician and the latter is a loudmouthed, grandstanding proto-theocratic fascist.

Before we continue, let us list some of the venues where the behavior above would not be acceptable:

In most of these contexts, you would be removed from the premises. In some, you might also be arrested. What makes it possible for Boebert and Greene to be so obnoxious is that lawmakers are largely a law unto themselves within the walls of Congress, and the only things that can really rein them in are their colleagues ("Ha!," in this case) or their sense of professionalism and decorum ("Double Ha!").

And that lays the groundwork for this week's schadenfreude, one which was submitted by a great many readers, for obvious reasons. It would seem that the Representative and her boyfriend bought tickets to see the touring company of the musical Beetlejuice in Denver. It would further seem that the Representative forgot she was at home, as opposed to D.C., and so was supposed to be using her "mature, serious Lauren" persona. And so, during the performance, she managed to squeeze in virtually every "obnoxious audience member" cliché possible:

Theaters don't like to kick paying customers out, but they can, and, in contrast to the U.S. House, they will. And if they do, they don't even have to worry about Fox and Newsmax and OANN devoting three full weeks of coverage to the matter, and how it shows how the evil socialists are trying to silence Christians and turn your children into trans Black Power activists.

In other words, Boebert managed to get herself tossed. And even then, the clichés did not stop. Playing the "Do you know who I am?" card? Check. Playing the "I have friends in high places!" card? Check. Specifically, Boebert threatened that she would use her pull with the Denver police and the Denver mayor. As if Mike Johnston (D) gives two craps about Boebert and her temper tantrum.

If you want to see footage of her being warned, then escorted out, then leaving the premises, it's here. If you forward to the 3:07 mark, you will see that as she and her date walked away, she was dancing and twirling. Given her overall behavior, we would be willing to bet any amount of money she was not straight that night. Alcohol? Probably. Something else? Maybe. But sober people do not behave like that.

Boebert's staff, along with the Representative herself, are trying mightily to spin this, and to explain that: (1) she just had a little too much fun, and (2) she is being singled out by... the commies? The haters? The deep state? Beetlejuice himself? One of those. In any event, behaving in such a manner that security gets called on you multiple times does not much comport with the image she's supposedly trying to project. And there's unquestionably a lot of schadenfreude that, at long last, she is paying a price, even if it's a small one, for this kind of jerk behavior. (Z)

This Week in Freudenfreude: Along Comes A Woman

Today is one of those days that we're going to use this space to talk about a notable historical figure, namely Martha Rountree. There's a fair chance that most readers don't know her, as she died more than two decades ago, and her period of maximum notability came before most readers were born.

Rountree was born in Florida and raised in South Carolina, and attempted to get a college education at the University of South Carolina. The bad news for Rountree is that she and her family had little money, and she was unable to afford the required BMW. No, wait. Wrong USC. What she was actually unable to afford was her tuition. The good news is that it was still reasonably plausible, with just a high school diploma, to land jobs that would be impossible to get without a college diploma today. So, she found employment with The Tampa Tribune in 1938. Women reporters were not unheard of back then; the unusual part, which perhaps foreshadowed future trailblazing, was that Rountree was hired by the sports department. As many women writers did back then, she used her first and middle initials in her byline. Presumably the more chauvinistic readers never realized that M.J. Rountree was sans penis.

In the early 1940s, Rountree relocated to New York City, where she did some freelancing and founded a production company, Radio House, with her sister. Their first big success was Leave It to the Girls, in which female celebrities responded to questions sent in by the audience. Rountree also became associated with the New Yorker-like magazine The American Mercury, eventually rising to become a roving editor (and leaving not long before the publication veered hard right, and went full-on antisemitic).

In 1945, given that Rountree had experience with both radio and print journalism, Mercury publisher Lawrence E. Spivak suggested that she put together a public-affairs-focused radio program. Rountree liked the idea and, after properly fleshing out the concept, debuted The American Mercury Presents on June 24, 1945. It was the first program of its kind, and did very well with listeners. It was also dirt cheap to produce. In view of this, the program was a natural for one of the TV networks, as they looked to get off the ground. It was NBC that landed the program, and the first episode of the TV incarnation aired on November 6, 1947:

Martha Rountree, sitting with a microphone in front of her

Rountree stayed with the program through the change in media, and through a change in names, hosting it until 1953. In that capacity, she was a part of several historic TV "firsts." For example, she welcomed Rep. John F. Kennedy (D-MA) for his first national television appearance, on December 2, 1947. She also hosted Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) on August 7, 1951, for a widely watched interview. Since the Senator was rather unpopular with some people, and since he feared for his life, he did the entire interview with a gun sitting in his lap (though it was only visible to the host, not the TV audience).

Between her public platform, her Southern charm, and her gender, Rountree spent years as a central figure in Washington society gatherings. When she bought a new house in D.C. in 1952, the guest list for her housewarming party (not to mention the fact that Life magazine showed up to photograph the event) was a testament to her influence. There were no fewer than four presidential candidates there (including eventual major-party nominees Adlai Stevenson and Dwight D. Eisenhower), along with Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn and the other party leaders in Congress. The menu was a testament to Rountree's no-nonsense style. She served hamburgers and plain potato salad.

After leaving the program she'd created, Rountree kept busy as a freelancer and an activist. She covered the presidential conventions of the 1950s and 1960s, started a magazine and a radio station, hosted a couple of other TV shows, and founded the Leadership Foundation (which works to cultivate future leaders among young people) and Leadership Action (which lobbies Congress). Rountree, once described by Millicent Willson (a.k.a. Mrs. William Randolph Hearst) as "a diesel engine under a lace handkerchief," didn't begin to slow down until the late 1980s, by which time she was nearly blind due to damage done to her eyes by the very bright klieg lights used in the early days of TV. She eventually succumbed to Alzheimer's disease in 1999.

And that's the story. Although, reading things over, it would seem that we forgot to mention the name that Rountree's program eventually acquired. We'll have to rectify that, now won't we? The American Mercury Presents, on its move to TV, became a little show called... Meet the Press. It is now the longest-running program in U.S. television history, at 75 years and counting. That puts it at a little less than 6 months older than CBS Evening News, which debuted on May 3, 1948. And in a sign of how far ahead of her time Rountree was, the next time that Meet the Press would have a permanent female moderator would be... this weekend, when Kristen Welker takes over for Chuck Todd. The 11 moderators between Rountree and Welker have all been... well, avec penis.

Whether you tune in on Sunday to watch Welker interview Donald Trump or not, have a good weekend! And look for something of a sequel to this item in a couple of weeks. (Z)

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