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      •  Nikki Haley: Good, but Not Good Enough
      •  Sunday Mailbag

Nikki Haley: Good, but Not Good Enough

Nikki Haley went before the voters of her home state last night, and she did pretty well. But she did not do well enough to win a meaningful number of delegates, or to cause anyone to rethink their conclusion that her campaign is going nowhere.

With just shy of 99% of the vote in, Donald Trump has 59.8% of the ballots and 44 delegates. Haley has 39.5% of the ballots and 0, 3, or 6 delegates. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) has 0.4% of the vote and 0 delegates. We don't know if the DeSantis voters cast their ballots early, or if there are several thousand GOP voters in South Carolina who haven't seen a newspaper in the last month.

The reason that Haley's (and by extension, Trump's) delegate tally is unknown is that the South Carolina GOP awards 29 delegates to the overall winner of the state, plus 3 delegates to the winner of each individual congressional district. Because Haley did pretty well in South Carolina's most urban areas (the areas in and around Charleston and Columbia), it's not yet certain which candidate won SC-01 (Charleston) or SC-02 (Columbia). Some outlets have already awarded SC-01 to Haley, but not the AP, so we've given Trump 44 delegates and Haley 0 in our count above. Odds are she wins SC-01 and Trump wins SC-02, resulting in a final count of 47 for the former president and 3 for his former UN Ambassador.

We wonder what Haley, and the donors who are keeping her campaign alive, are telling themselves right now. She previously said she was going to stay in until Super Tuesday—which, OK, it's only a couple of weeks away, so might as well. More recently, however, she's suggested she'll stay in much longer than that. Obviously, she's not going to get the nomination, or even make it close. There's virtually nothing Trump could do in the next couple months to derail his march forward, short of dropping dead. Haley says she doesn't want the VP slot, which we believe is the truth. Even if it's not the truth, continuing to challenge Trump, and to take potshots at him, is no way to end up as his running mate. And if she's really running for the 2028 nomination, well, losing bigly in primary after primary is not the best way to make the case that she should be the Party's future standard-bearer.

Meanwhile, Trump had a good weekend, in that he won South Carolina convincingly, while also delivering a batsh** crazy speech at CPAC that the crowd mostly loved. That said, we are duty-bound to point out that if you think of him as effectively an incumbent, it's not a good sign that a faux challenger took 40% of the vote. And exit polls from yesterday make clear that the Haley voters are exactly who you think they are: moderate, college-educated, suburban Republicans who regard Trump as too extreme. Further, according to AP VoteCast (which we can't link to, because it's subscription only), 1 in 5 people who cast ballots yesterday won't vote Trump in the general election. Assuming they stick with that, that would mean that about half of Haley's voters aren't going to come home to the Republican nominee. Undoubtedly, some of them will re-think their NeverTrump stance, but we suspect that most of them will not. And while that won't matter in ruby-red South Carolina, it will most certainly matter in the swingier states.

We had a brief report from our correspondent O.E. in Greenville, SC:

Today was the Republican Presidential Primary in South Carolina. It was a great deal more busy than the recent Democratic primary, yet less busy than the 2016 Republican Primary. I was in the same precinct I was in 3 weeks ago. The vote totals were:
  • Trump: 237
  • Haley: 104
  • Vivek Ramaswamy: 2
  • Chris Christie: 1
  • DeSantis: 1
  • Ryan Binkley: 0
  • David Stuckenberg: 0
  • Undervotes (i.e., nobody) 1
The election went smoothly, with a few minor glitches involving paper. In addition, quite a few people found out that due to redistricting, moving, or forgetting, they had to vote at another polling place. Further, several people found out that the DMV failed to change their address (regardless of party, race, age, or geographic area, it is best to re-register at the local elections office when you move).

It went relatively well, but things may change in June or later.

Thanks, O.E.! We also had a comment from popular commenter D.E. in Lancaster, PA:

With 99% of the South Carolina GOP primary vote in, Donald Trump has 59.8% of the vote and Nikki Haley has 39.5%. Of course, the mainstream media is carrying Trump's water while bending over to kiss his mighty buttocks by declaring it a stupendous, huge, never-seen-in-the-history-of-humankind win! But really, is it? He is the all-but-certain GOP nominee yet he can't garner even 60% of the Republican vote. That's the kind of spread you might see in a general election, but for a primary for the Leader of the Party? Yes, it's true that South Carolina is the state that Haley used to govern, which probably accounts for her larger-than-usual showing, but still, we are talking about Republicans who usually fall in line once their party speaks, and the Party is owned and operated by Trump. Even given Haley's home-field advantage, Trump should have had a stronger showing. The number of people who bothered to vote was nothing that even Trump could brag about—this is the Glaring Bright Red, Heart of Dixie, Land Of Cotton South Carolina and Trump can't break a half million votes in a Republican primary! Vladimir Putin, who knows a thing or two about owning the political apparatus, must be laughing at Donald the Лох right now and suggesting to his henchmen that they should put their efforts behind Plan C instead.

Of course, with our MSM, if this was a Democratic primary and Joe Biden got 60% of the vote, the headlines would be blaring "Democratic Civil War," with the subhead "Can Biden Save His Failing Campaign?" Biden gets 80-90% of the vote and the press act like it's a case of sympathy for the senile old man. Of course, when it's a Republican primary, it's "Trump Deals Knockout Blow" with "Crushes Haley In Her Own Backyard!" The media, in their attempts to make this a horse race, just aren't reading the room right. Instead of talking about Biden's age or making their billionth visit to a rural diner, perhaps the press should be examining if there is Trump fatigue in the GOP and stop taking Trump's word on the matter as Gospel.

It was not only the South Carolina primary that caught my attention. I also listened to some of Trump's speeches to very friendly audiences this week. Now, I admit my bias against Trump, but I will always give the Devil his due. In the past, while I viewed his rally speeches as the horribly confused and nonsensical ramblings of a self-centered madman, they at least had a certain amount of energy and strange watchability to them, as in "Oh my God, is that truck carrying orphans going to crash into that truck carrying puppies?" kind of entertainment. But listening to Trump's speech to the National Religious Broadcasters convention earlier this week, and the one of a billion CPAC conventions (seriously, are these things weekly or daily events now?), they both had a listlessness to them that seemed surreal.

In the speech to the Religious Broadcasters, Trump sounded like he was drunk, constantly slurring over his words, having an impossible go at pronouncing "evangelicals" and generally mustering all the enthusiasm of a not so remarkable rock resting in some average dirt. The applause by the audience seemed scattered and thin—think the applause for PricewaterhouseCoopers during the Oscars. Unfortunately, the camera didn't include any shots of the crowd to see if they were paying rapt attention to Trump's slur-a-thon or if it they been distracted by a fresh coat of drying paint instead. These are His People, and yet they seemed bored with the whole affair.

For the CPAC speech, at least Donnie seemed like he was at least partially awake. Still, his ramblings must have caused Jeb! to declare, "And he called me low energy?" When Trump is being forced to say something he doesn't want to say, or he is generally bored, his voice gets that sing-songy quality to it and that was out in force for this one. Probably the most telling thing of the speech is that the video showed the audience's reactions. For Trump's end of speech "crescendo," a great portion of the attendees rose to their feet and enthusiastically applauded their God-Emperor, but still there were noticeable pockets of people who stayed in their seats, looking bored and defiant. Yes, for even the best of theatrical performances, there is going to be a contingency that refuses, either through laziness or lack of enthusiasm, to give a standing ovation. But we're talking CPAC here, where the crowd would bring down the House in uproarious adulation if Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) accidentally broke wind on stage. These aren't simply His People but also the most rabid and hardcore of the party, and yet a noticeable portion did not pay fealty to Dear Leader! In Mother Russia, that would earn a hearty push out the window or some glow-in-the-dark tea! It is unheard of... especially if you read the NYT or WaPo!

Thanks, D.E.!

Next up, as you can see from the map above, is Michigan. Then a few states will have caucuses next Saturday, and then it will be Super Tuesday. Oh, and the State of the Union is 2 days after that. So, we have a couple of pretty big weeks coming up, and then after that, things are going to be pretty boring for a while. (Z)

Sunday Mailbag

Lots of Alabama IVF letters. Don't say we didn't warn you. We'll start with three readers who speak from personal experience.

Politics: The Alabama IVF Decision—It's Personal

B.H. in Southborough, MA, writes: As parents who suffered from secondary infertility, my wife and I are veterans of several increasingly invasive assisted-fertility techniques, ranging from artificial insemination (i.e. "Turkey Baster"), to IVF using my wife's eggs, and finally a donor-egg IVF procedure. This happened over a timeframe of 6 years, and at the end of the long, emotional slog we hit the proverbial jackpot and welcomed twins who are now 25 years old.

The politicians running to support IVF (and save their jobs) need to come to grips with some realities regarding discarded/destroyed embryos involved in this process. In some cases, these procedures fly directly in the face of the Dobbs decision, and will be highly objectionable to so called pro-lifers.

Truth in disclosure: We are not medical experts in these procedures; they may have changed since we underwent them, and there otherwise might be minor inaccuracies. But the spirit of what is written here is what we experienced.

During IVF, embryos can be discarded or destroyed either intentionally, naturally, or by accident, in any number of ways:

  1. They are not viable after the insemination process: After egg retrieval and subsequent insemination, every embryo is given a rating along two factors: the cell quality and number of cells. Quality is depicted by letters (A is best, B, C, D, etc.) and the numbers are self-explanatory. So, after an egg retrieval and insemination process, we might have embryos rated A6, B8, C4, and D2 (these are comparative samples only—again, we are not medical experts in this procedure). In this case, the D2 embryo has both a poor rating for cell quality and only two cells. This embryo might be discarded as not viable for implantation. The surviving embryos might be implanted right away or frozen for future use.

  2. Implanted embryos might fail and need to be aborted: Once we have an array of embryos to choose from, there is a selection process as to which embryos are implanted for a given cycle. We might choose an A8, a B6, and a C10 to implant with the hopes that one or more take hold. All the implanted embryo(s) might fail to develop and get flushed by the body, or require a D&C (i.e. an abortion) to flush the remains of the implantation process. Other possibilities are that only one of the three develops into a healthy fetus. Two out of three could develop and yield twins, as happened with us. Or, all three might develop but only two become viable fetuses, with the other one requiring "selective reduction" (a.k.a. abortion of the non-viable, but "alive," fetus). There are permutations of the above outcomes, of course.

  3. Embryos might be discarded after a successful IVF cycle, or if the couple gives up: Presuming a successful IVF cycle (resulting in twins in our case), couples won't need or want the remaining embryos and don't want to pay for their storage, so they would direct them to be destroyed. Likewise, maybe they've been through so many cycles that they deem it hopeless and give up IVF, and perhaps set out to adopt. They might have their remaining embryos destroyed in this case as well.

  4. The clinic mishandles the embryos: This is what happened in Alabama. The prospective parents, having gone through a costly and emotional egg retrieval and IVF cycle, sued and won. My wife and I strongly doubt they had any idea the chaos they would unleash.

If we are going to characterize an embryo created using the IVF process as a life, and thus deem its destruction a crime, each of the above scenarios becomes untenable to both the prospective parents and the IVF clinic. No wonder it spells the end of IVF assisted fertility as we know it.

As parents of two wonderful children, we do not know what we would have done without this option. It is our strong belief that no one has the right to deny infertile couples this path to parenthood.

A.B. in Andover, MA, writes: I don't write in often, but when I do it is when there is fire in my belly and a point to be shouted from the trees and hills. Today is such a time. This week has been full of reaction pieces and political fallout from the Alabama IVF decision, but I think I can add something useful. These things compel me to write today:

  1. I am a high school biology teacher.

  2. I am an egg-donor baby alongside my sister. I didn't find that out until a few years ago. Funnily enough, wanting to know about my past led me to my current career. I find meaning in teaching biology and how technology and society affect our understanding of life.

  3. I study politics and history, because both are baffling and somewhat random, like biology.

To be honest, I can't think of a ruling that has made me furious like this recently. The fact that Nikki Haley, the only Republican left running against Donald Trump for the Republican nomination, said that "Embryos, to me, are babies" is diabolical. It's a craven political move meant to appeal to the most anti-abortion or evangelical Republicans and she knows that. But I'm preaching to the choir here.

Barrels of ink (or perhaps now, millions of keystrokes?) have already been spent against the Alabama decision. I need not add much to that. It is wrong, irrational, and I hope it is overturned. But I want to add some personal thoughts. I'm most curious to talk with my parents about it. They are still the daily Fox-watching kind of Republicans and have been ever since I was born, and I'm in my early 20s. They are old, but had me using IVF. I'm curious what they will think about the party that they have supported since the Reagan era, and the increasingly authoritarian actions it takes up to threaten the right to have children in the way one chooses. I think there will be a reckoning that Republicans must have about the direction of their policies against IVF, birth control, and family rights the party is increasingly taking on.

I was reminded of a memorable article from Heather Cox Richardson about attacks on abortion rights, and I hope that what it concludes with doesn't become more true in the future. It might. It's a great article overall and I recommend it. I want to leave you with the implications of the last paragraph:

I wonder if Dobbs, with its announcement that when Republicans are given power over our legal system they do not consider themselves obligated to recognize an established constitutional right, will turn out to be today's version of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

History may not repeat, but it sometimes rhymes. Abortion rights remain an explosive force in American politics, and that seems to be only increasing in time. I have a feeling that the American public may have had enough of an authoritarian minority imposing its will on the Democratic majority, but I'm not sure.

Time will tell.

C.S. in Guelph, ON, Canada, writes: My wife and I started trying to have children shortly after we were married. After not having any success, we consulted our family doctor and were referred to a fertility specialist. Going through all of the steps, we eventually arrived at IVF. Firstly, let me say that this process is way harder on the woman. To get ready, she had injections every day and took an assortment of drugs. I remember walking into the pharmacy and filling a prescription for several thousand dollars.

When the day came, she was placed on a gurney and wheeled into a room for harvesting. I had one job. A pretty nurse showed me to a small room with an assortment of magazines and videos. Thankfully, I rose to the occasion.

This produced six embryos. We implanted two and nothing happened. Next, we implanted three and our son was born. The remaining one was discarded. After consulting with our doctors, it was decided that if we were to do another round of IVF, we would start from scratch. Over the years, I have occasionally thought about the embryo we discarded. However, this was the journey we took, together as a family. We have no regrets.

After the IVF, something changed in my wife and we were able to naturally conceive our daughter. Our "test tube" boy is now a strapping junior officer in the Canadian Army. Could not be prouder.

Politics: The Alabama IVF Decision—Consequences

S.B. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I am a criminal prosecutor. Your two items this week got me thinking that there are actually further dimensions to the criminal liability aspect beyond simple manslaughter if the Alabama Supreme Court position is taken to its logical conclusion. This (Friday) morning in the news, there was a woman interviewed who was in the middle of the IVF process in Alabama when the ruling came down. She said the clinic notified her they were immediately stopping her treatment, but also withholding the frozen embryos from her. That would potentially be false imprisonment or child endangerment. You wrote: "Three clinics in the state have suspended all IVF-related operations, at least for now. They are making plans to relocate currently existing embryos to another state, and then they will think about next steps." If it is done without the consent of the parents, that could be kidnapping and once you get across state lines that would then open them up to federal culpability. A messy can of worms, indeed.

M.R. in Placitas, NM, writes: Alabama's Supreme (?) Court says that a frozen embryo is a child. A woman has reported that in the aftermath of that ecclesiastical pronouncement, the entity holding their frozen "child" has refused to release it. It seems to me that the entity is guilty of kidnapping or false imprisonment (depending on how that state's laws are written). Just one of the myriad consequences of this insane decision.

R.C. in Newport News, VA, writes: Mr. and Dr. X, he a nurse, she a primary care physician, were immigrants from some unknown African country to UAB Hospital in Birmingham, AL. (Name of Xs and the African country unknown because of historical drift.)

They created 15 frozen embryos as part of an IVF attempt. Unfortunately, the Xs died in a car crash and no relatives could be found in the war-torn African country they emigrated from. The facility Y (again name unknown) maintained the frozen embryos (a.k.a. "little people") because it could not dispose of them otherwise without murdering them. After several years of non-paying customers, Y became bankrupt and went out of business. The state of Alabama seized control of the little people and stored them in the Little People Orphanage. But the little people never grew up and tended to live indefinitely while maintained. After several centuries of climate disasters, small nuclear wars, and solar malfunction, it was not clear what the Little People Orphange was and why it was freezing hundreds of thousands of metal tubes.

The government of Trumplandia did not know what to do. It was part of the culture that these tubes were cursed and should never be tampered with. But the maintenance costs, especially the power needed to keep the tubes frozen, was getting more and more expensive because of the continuing shortages of fossil fuels. And then...

J.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: Now that embryos are people, can the Census Bureau count them in the Decennial Census, and then include them in Congressional re-districting?

Wouldn't that put some people's knickers in a twist?

D.K. in Oceanside, CA, writes: If frozen embryos are living children, surely they are tax deductible as dependents. Those deductions should more than pay for the expense of keeping them safely frozen.

J.M. in Markleeville, CA, writes: You listed several problems if embryos are people as the Alabama Supremes decided. One thing you didn't list is life insurance. Insure each embryo for a million. Each menstrual cycle another million. Great way to beat inflation.

E.B. in Baldwin, NY, writes: I would like to note the lovely concept of "malicious compliance." It refers to when someone makes a stupid rule, and another person or people comply with that rule forcing the rule-maker to suffer the consequences.

In the United States, around three quarters of a million eggs are harvested each year for IVF, many of which go unused. Fertility clinics fear they would have to shut down if they are not allowed to destroy unused embryos. I suggest they should instead simply comply with the rule. Malicious compliance.

Alabama, like probably every other U.S. state, has a Safe Haven law. It allows parents to safely and anonymously surrender any unwanted "child 45 days old or younger." The state takes custody of the child, including responsibility for all expenses, until the child is adopted or turns 18. In the case of an "embryo child," the state would be stuck with eternal maintenance expenses, unless they can find enough women each year in which to implant them all.

R.B. in Cleveland, OH, writes: Let's follow the IVF ruling in Alabama to its natural conclusion: manslaughter charges against women who experience miscarriages. If only Henry VIII knew it was this simple.

C.H. in West Linn, OR, writes: The Alabama court decision to declare that frozen embryos are children is absurd and beyond the pale. Consider just one scenario. My wife and I freeze 5 embryos. According to Alabama law, I will now get to take the child tax credit for 5 children each year they are frozen. A few years later, we decide we don't want children after all and wish to discard of the embryos but would be prohibited in doing so. The cost of storing a frozen embryo is about $500 per year, so for us, that would be $2500 a year. Because we wouldn't be able to afford it, we would apply for Social Security Disability for all 5 embryos. After all, being frozen is a disability and the government helps to pay for the costs associated with raising disabled children. A few years later we both die in a car accident. Who's on the hook for the yearly cost moving forward in infinity?

Alabama: First in college football, last in everything else.

A.R. in Raleigh, NC, writes: Just wanted to share this, as it'll certainly be seen in other states with similar policies pertaining to women's health: Dozens of Idaho obstetricians have stopped practicing there since abortions were banned, study says.

G.K. in Blue Island, IL, writes: Frozen zygotes are children? I usually get arrested when I try to freeze children. Where's the fairness?

A.R.S. in West Chester, PA, writes: Men in Alabama be forewarned.

Don't get caught masturbating. Some kook out there might try to get you arrested for destroying a potential child.

T.H. in Edmonton, AB, Canada, writes: In the Alabama Supreme Court IVF ruling, one sees the absurdity of taking a principle and stretching to a preposterously extreme. This is no more artfully exposed than in the brilliant Monty Python skit, "Every Sperm Is Sacred":

Politics: The 2024 Presidential Race

R.C. in North Hollywood, CA, writes: In your item on the Emerson poll in Pennsylvania that showed Donald Trump leading Joe Biden 45%-43%, you wrote that it was difficult to reconcile that poll with the nationwide Quinnipiac poll that had Biden ahead 49%-45%. Actually, it's not hard to reconcile them at all. All you have to do is look at the full results for the Quinnipiac poll, which note that the presidential result "includes leaners." In other words, when the undecideds are pushed to pick a candidate, Biden's share improves by 6 points, while Trump's remains the same.

What you've been saying all along appears to be true: The undecideds are mostly disgruntled Biden voters who are holding out hope for a better option, but who are not going to just up and vote for Trump. Provided the Democrats can actually motivate them to vote, they will most likely come home to Biden once they see he is their only choice.

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: For all the readers who are panicking because Trump is "leading" in current polls I offer one fact: In 2008, John McCain was leading Barack Obama in the polls in late September. If that doesn't speak to the meaninglessness of polls in February, I don't know what does!

If you want another fact, Michael Dukakis lead George H.W. Bush by 17 points in late August in 1988.

D.A.Y. in Troy, MI, writes: It is brought up from time to time that Nikki Haley beats Joe Biden easily in the polls. This is the argument that Republicans need to get their heads out of the sand and support her and not Donald Trump. However, I see many reasons her poll numbers are a mirage and do not reflect how a hypothetical November matchup would play out.

Haley's numbers are likely buoyed by people not paying attention. All they know is she is not Trump, not Biden, and her age starts with an "F." They are not paying attention to her actual views. This was demonstrated when they asked a person who said they supported her because of Biden's support for Israel's campaign in Gaza. This person apparently did not know Haley is on tape supporting the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian territories. Her stepping in it when it comes to the Alabama case on IVF is the first time that her voicing her extremist views has garnered national attention (and, as a side note, notice those coming out in support of IVF have not said the Alabama Supreme Court was wrong in their ruling).

She has also not been bloodied in this campaign. She succeeded in staying above the fray in the debates, Trump has not landed a serious blow on her, and Biden is largely ignoring her. If she was a serious threat to win the nomination, all her views and dubious actions in her career would be in every campaign ad against her.

There is also the fact a segment of the Republican Party would stay home if she was the nominee. They will not vote for a woman of color. Her ageist attacks on Trump and Biden also likely turn off older voters who do vote and will vote for Biden if that is the only alternative.

Basically, it is very early to read much into the polls, especially when it comes to Haley. There is also the little issue of her needing to win the primaries, and it is increasingly probably she will not win a single state.

K.F. in Framingham, MA, writes: Count me among those who will stick with Joe Biden. If Biden loses to Donald Trump, there will be a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking with claims that had Biden simply stepped aside, another Democrat would have won. However, the opposite can be said if a different Democratic nominee loses to Trump. "Oh, if only Biden had stayed in it!" Though polls at this stage should be taken with a whole spoonful of salt, we have not seen other Democrats necessarily perform much better against Trump, and in some cases, they were much worse off. I agree with you that the battle to replace Biden would be contentious, and even if Vice President Kamala Harris emerged with the baton, that doesn't suddenly make her the incumbent and she probably would struggle even more in November.

I am not overly sold on Alan Lichtman's "13 Keys" either, but I think both of you are right with respect to the incumbency factor. An incumbent seeking re-election with little to no real contest for renomination is in a far better position than a non-incumbent who emerges bloodied from a bruising primary fight. Things don't look great right now, but as you say, a week is a long time in politics. Remember, after the New Hampshire primary in 2020, Biden was all but written off. If Biden or another Democrat were way ahead of Trump right now, that might actually be a bad thing. This is the mistake that was made in 2016 when everyone assumed Hillary was going to win. This gave many Democrats the cover to vote third party or to stay home because they didn't think it would cost Hillary.

Meanwhile, 2020 was a close race with an uncertain outcome. Unlike 2016, I feel most Democratic voters understood the perils of voting third party or in staying home even if they didn't love Biden. At the end of the day, the election will have less to do with Biden's approval rating or his age than so many other factors. There is a very real possibility that Trump wins, whether Biden is the nominee or not. If Biden were dumped and another Democrat wins, there is no way to prove that Biden couldn't have won. And if we stick with Biden and he loses, there is no way to guarantee that someone else would have fared better. No matter what, if we are truly concerned about the outcome in November, then it is going to require us to quit the bellyaching, put in the work, make the donations, and show up to the polls.

J.H. in Boston, MA, writes: T.B. in Detroit wants to know what else an antiwar leftist activist can do to register their disapproval of Biden's handling of Israel, without handing the presidency to Trump, other than reach out to the White House and vote against Biden or abstain in the Michigan primary.

Here are some more ideas. Join the campaign, and tell the higher-ups in the Biden campaign every day that you want Biden to offer stronger support to Palestine and opposition to Israeli depopulation machinations. Tell your community to do the same. The more often that message is heard, the higher it will rise and it will be more effective coming from inside the campaign apparatus than coming from some random White House letter from a non constituent.

If you do knock on the door of a bereaved Palestinian refugee in Michigan, tell them the truth: that you feel their pain deeply and oppose the action in Gaza and that you think the best chance to stop it is to reelect Biden and lobby him hard. Biden is susceptible to moving left on this issue in a way that Trump is not.

I'm sympathetic to the aims of third-party voters and have voted third-party myself many times. This year I will proudly vote for Biden. He has been the leftmost president of my lifetime. To the left of Barack Obama on almost every issue. Did the leftists withhold the vote from Obama for drone-bombing Yemen? No, not in numbers. I'm not a single issue voter and I think blaming Biden for Benjamin Netanyahu's policies is a category error, like blaming him for the repeal of Roe v. Wade. Imagine reelecting Trump because you oppose the overturning of Roe v. Wade?

It would be insensitive to offer this rationalization to someone personally affected by the actions in Gaza, but for the rest of the antiwar leftists and the Muslims and Palestinian supporters, there is plenty of reason to vote Biden while also acknowledging that he can do better. But only if he is in office.

H.N. in Worthington, OH, writes: In their question, P.W. in Springwater asserts that voting for a candidate other than Joe Biden helps Donald Trump. However, P.W. is from New York. If the national political situation has changed enough that Trump could plausibly win New York, Biden has already lost. Hence, P.W., and those with similar feelings in solidly Democratic and solidly Republican states, can safely vote their consciences. Only those living in Nevada, Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire need to vote strategically. (Maine is not on this list because it has solved the problem entirely.)

E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, writes: I don't agree with your answer to the question from J.L. in Baltimore about Joe Biden's lack of a pre-Super Bowl interview hurting him politically. While I doubt the interview would truly help Biden much, his seeming to dodge it merely feeds into the emerging Republican narrative that he's too old and demented to be president again. Although I don't agree with this logic, I can envision some voters telling themselves, "if Biden can't even make it through an easy softball interview, could he really handle the truly hard duties of the presidency?"

My big fear is that swing state Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents will simply stay home, whereas Trump's base has already shown us that they will vote for him no matter what he does. In a sense, I don't think Trump can win the election, but that Biden can certainly lose it.

(V) & (Z) respond: We will 100% guarantee you that, in 6 months, nobody will care one bit about the Super Bowl interview, or lack thereof.

V.P. in New York City, NY, writes: I do feel like Biden missed an opportunity for a memorable Super Bowl interview IF he is reasonably knowledgeable about football. He would have made serious headlines if he had said "Americans want a break from politics right now, but here's what I think about the upcoming game" and proceeded to talk football for the rest of the interview. It would have done wonders for burnishing his "guy you can have a beer with" credentials and made headlines for its novelty.

Of course, this assumes he knows enough to talk about it for 30 minutes without having a crudités moment.

Politics: Foreign Affairs

C.E. in Murrysville, PA, writes: In response to T.B. in Detroit and P.W. in Springwater, I think they don't realize what Joe Biden may be up to by "supporting" Israel. I think he is offering an aid package (which I don't think Israel actually needs) and public diplomatic support to try to maneuver the Israelis into what is probably in their long term interest: allowing a Palestinian state. This is the same thing as a salesperson trying to indebt a potential customer by buying them lunch (you might not think this works, but I beg to differ).

There probably needs to be a long-term buffer force between Israel any Palestinian state. Perhaps funding could come from Saudi Arabia. The Egyptians might be interested in being paid to do the work. There would also have to be a Marshall Plan to rebuild Gaza. These are not my original ideas. But they make sense to me.

Unfortunately, the probability of any of this happening in the near future seems very low. The Jewish Israeli public are not supportive. There are rumored to have been many warnings of something like the October 7th attack ranging from a few days to up to a year ahead. Netanyahu, the Trump of Israel (incompetent, corrupt, lizard-brained), is dead set on trying to make the Israeli public forget about his screw-up, warnings or not.

I think Biden's primary strategy has been to publicly support Israel, while pointing out the folly of their strategy (long term subjugation of Gaza) in private. For examples of a poor outcome, see Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, helpful guidance from the U.S. has not been working. Biden is slowly starting to say the private stuff out loud. I think this will continue.

If the Israelis continue down their apparent path, they doom themselves to a rinse and repeat cycle in a few years, as the Gaza survivors are now radicalized. Probably more new "recruits" than the number of Hamas combatants who have been killed. Even if all of the Gazans are killed or pushed out, the Palestinians (remainder of the Gazans, West Bank residents, Jordanians, etc.) will find another base from which to attack.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: To everyone who can't understand why the Biden administration hasn't done more to rein in the Israeli military response in Gaza, it's because they can't. Why? Because the Israeli military does whatever it pleases when it goes to war. Remember when the Israelis fired upon U.N. peacekeepers? Supposedly it was a friendly-fire accident, but in reality it was intentional in order to make sure there were no third-party observers. Remember when the Israelis fired on the U.S. Navy ship off the coast in the Mediterranean? Not an accident that time, either, because the navy vessel was there monitoring the war operations, which again Israeli military wouldn't allow. Then there was the time Ariel Sharon raided two Palestinian refugee camps with tanks and killed more than 650 people. The only way to curb their excesses is to threaten a complete cut off of both arms and funds. Also keep in mind that the military leadership is independent of the government, so Biden can complain to Benjamin Netanyahu all day long, and it will have no effect on military ops.

L.C. in Boston, MA, writes: You wrote: "When we wrote about Volodymyr Zelenskyy potentially trying to influence this year's election through his public appearances, we thought about including a paragraph on potential Ukrainian cyber shenanigans. However, we could find no evidence the Ukrainians have such plans. It's not that it's beneath them, it's that they don't have the resources or the infrastructure, particularly as compared to the battle-hardened pros in Russia's FSB and GRU."

Not only that, if they did have the ability to do this, it would still be extremely risky for them. When Russia does this and gets caught, the worst that happens is that they get hit with a few more sanctions, but if Ukraine does this and gets caught, sanctions mean no more aid for Ukraine, which means no more Ukraine. And this means that we should be wary of a Russian false-flag cyberattack: Again, if they get caught and properly identified, it just means at most a few more sanctions, but if they manage to get "caught" but succeed in placing the blame on Ukraine, they win.

Politics: Trump VPs

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: I suspect Donald Trump is very leery of choosing a woman running mate who could upstage him. I remember seeing him at one rally where Sarah Palin was onstage to introduce him. She was winding up the crowd very energetically, while Trump was standing off to the side glowering at her. I thought it was because she was going on too long. However, I think that's why Kari Lake tanked, too. While he wants someone who is attractive and telegenic, she can't be too vivacious or charismatic. Think how Hope Hicks presents herself—that's Trump's ideal model for female VP.

L.B. in Savannah, GA, writes: I agree that Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL), and Mike Pence or Gov. Doug Burgum (R-ND), for that matter, aren't viable VP picks for Donald Trump. Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD) and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) are considered viable because they have government experience and are women. But I noticed that you didn't suggest any viable men. Everyone is assuming that Trump will pick a female VP to counter Kamala Harris. I'll go out on a limb and predict that he'll pick a male. His base doesn't care about "woke" and if he says "I didn't pick a woman just to satisfy some DEI requirement like the Democrats did; I picked the best person for the job," his supporters will eat that up. Trump has lost suburban women; with a male VP, he might pick up some suburban men.

It also helps if the VP has "gravitas"—remember that? Among governors, we have Brian Kemp (R-GA) and Glenn Youngkin (R-VA). Sure, Kemp isn't very Trumpy, but that won't matter if he's on the ticket and starts giving full-throated support to the orange god. In the Senate, we have Tom Cotton (R-AR). All three of these are viewed as serious politicians with solid conservative bona fides. No Republican voter would have any concerns with them being a heartbeat away from the presidency; I imagine many voters (and legislators) would prefer any of them to the guy at the top of the ticket. Their relative youth is also a selling point.

Of course, Trump could prove me wrong by picking RFK Jr. or Joe Rogan.

A.G. in Scranton, PA, writes: As we all sit here, debating whether a successful and wonderful old guy should be president again due to his cognitive abilities, I wonder, perhaps it was John McCain who needed the scrutiny... and perhaps it is ironic that Trump hates him so much. I get it. Anyone who represents real bravery, as McCain did so verily, is frightening to Trump and his GRAVY SEALS wannabe "men" playing dress-up followers with their assault rifles, but he owes that man a debt of gratitude that has nothing to do with McCain's heroism.

McCain might have been that nice old man with good intentions. He knowingly put an insane woman whose attitude, willfully ignorant viewpoints, and hatred of President Obama lies on a direct line to the appeal of President Trump.

John McCain, one of my heroes, created Trumpism. He wanted to shake up the race by nominating a maverick... and he might have taken down the country he loved so much by doing so.

I know McCain was appalled when he saw the turn his (or really her) supporters were taking, but did he really not see that allowing people like that to have a national voice was so incredibly perilous? He allowed himself to be taken in by wanting that "win" soooo very badly that he gave voice to the ugly underbelly of America that will now never crawl back under the rocks they appeared from...

That is irony in its truest form. He was willing to die for our country through an act of selflessness, and he killed our country through an act of greed.

Politics: Trump Shoes

R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: When someone is nominated for a federal judgeship, he or she goes through a background check before appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. One of the things they check for is if the nominee has extensive debt and to whom is that debt owed. It's a big red flag if a potential judge has a lot of debt, as he/she could be compromised.

Now imagine if a judicial nominee had a $450 million dollar lien against him/her. Nomination would probably be withdrawn...

So that fact that the likely GOP presidential nominee has $450 million in legal settlements owed should scare the hell out of the CIA, FBI and the NSA. Trump is ripe for the taking, The Trump team is probably preparing a catalog of items for sale to the Russians, Saudis and China. All cash transactions and no refunds. Whether they want weapons and/or military secrets, all is for sale.

Trump is starting the fire sale with shoes, but will probably end with nuclear weapons being sold to the Saudis...

Trump's debts should be regarded as a serious national security issue.

J.Z. in Arden Hills, MN, writes: Regarding Trump's new line of tacky shoes, say what you will, but they're clearly the best ones to wear if you aim to be the fascist runner.

Politics: Right-Wing Racism

J.L. in Albany, NY, writes: M.M. in San Diego asked if the right thinks that overt racism is the only kind of racism. I'm not on the right and I'm not Black. (I am Jewish and can speak to antisemitism, but I'll set that form of bigotry aside and focus on racism.)

My father is racist. He won't admit it. He'll declare that he "has black friends" and the like, but he shows it with various statements. When he sees white kids listening to hip-hop or rap, he'll comment how "black kids should be copying us, not white kids copying them" (no comment on the fact that many of the 1950's/1960's songs he loves were composed by Black people and then stolen/sung by white people). If he sees a Black man walking through his 99% white neighborhood, he'll ask "what's HE doing here." When I convinced him to try watching Hamilton, his comment was that it was "too Black."

No, he won't be marching with the KKK or the like. He wouldn't use the N-word. But he still engages in racist actions.

Growing up in his household, I started taking on his beliefs and bigotries. When I was in high school, I made a joke about a certain religious group. Someone sitting behind me said that THEY were part of that religious group. To this day, I don't know if they were or they weren't, but it was an eye-opening experience for me. I decided that I didn't like the person I was becoming and decided to root out any bigotry in myself.

It took years of hard work. It definitely wasn't easy. There were ingrained beliefs and behaviors that I needed to change. This was over 30 years ago and, although I've been very successful, I'll still occasionally find myself doing or saying something that I realize is rooted in bigotry. (Thankfully, my kids seem to have eclipsed my progress right from the start.)

And the hard work is part of the problem. It's hard to change yourself. I was lucky enough to realize what was going on when I was in high school. It would have been much harder to change at 40. It's the sunk-cost fallacy. Just like a Nigerian Scam victim finds it easier to believe that this $10,000 money transfer will unlock the millions and prove them right, a racist finds it easier to believe "news" sources that say that they are correct and "those others" are inferior. The alternative is to take a hard look at yourself and change. That's very hard to do and continuing down your current path is very easy.

Going back to the question: My father doesn't see his beliefs or actions as racist. If you asked him who a racist is, he would point to a KKK member burning a cross on a Black family's lawn. He wouldn't point to the hundred ways that society subtly (and often not so subtly) favors white people over Black people.

Few people see themselves as the villain. Most conservatives (going by my father) don't see themselves as racist. They justify it with one reason or another while pointing at someone further down the "bigotry spectrum" as being the true racists. Or, somehow, they'll try to call inclusiveness "reverse racism," which is just another way to justify their feelings to themselves. The alternative is to admit that they've been racist and try to change which is very hard. So they find justifications and decide that they aren't really racist because "the real racists" are other people.

All the while, they continue acting in racist ways, as they deny what they do.

J.E. in Manhattan, NY, writes: I have written to you about this before, so I will do it again because it needs saying: The problem with talking about racism—especially with people who say they are conservatives—is that Americans often view it as a personal failing, when it really has nothing to do with your personal feelings, at least not in the way it's usually framed.

When we ask whether someone is a racist, a lot of the time what we are really asking is whether they have any personal animus towards other people; but that is only a small piece of what racism is. What you are really describing is prejudice, and that is a rather different thing. Racism is prejudice, yes, but—and this is the very, very crucial bit that more of your readers need to understand—it needs to be coupled with social power.

Right-wing people don't get this at all; and there are several reasons.

One issue is that a lot of them do see Black people (and others) as inferior; it's not uncommon to see such people going on about how IQ tests prove that non-white people are lesser (the fact that such test scores can change over time if you practice is lost on them). You might also hear remarks like "That person was an affirmative action hire"—the premise of that comment is that there could not possibly be any white women, or people of color, that could be qualified for the job. (So I will ask other readers of this site to ask themselves if they have ever said such a thing, and to please stop). The thing is, they want cover, because even (some) right-wing people don't like to be called racists, they know it is a bad thing, so they try to find ways to make it more palatable and polite.

Another problem is that most right-wing people simply refuse to acknowledge power differentials can be built into the systems we live in; they see laws, hierarchies and societal arrangements as, perhaps, God-given or frozen. There's some fascinating work by George Lakoff about this, but generally conservatives look at the world through what might be called a "Strict Father" lens, while more liberal folks do so through what is called a "Nurturing Parent" lens. Without getting into too much detail here, it basically informs what is "common sense" among right-wing people and left-wing people. And part of that common sense is that if Black people in particular were more self-reliant, thrifty, or what have you, they'd be more successful. Many might say "well, my parents were able to get a job, buy a home, and pass on the wealth to their kids" without realizing that the generational wealth gave them a huge leg up and Black people were excluded from that. (It's notable that Black people were basically excluded from the New Deal, as well.)

In fact, I'd say that because conservatives tend to frame racism—when they even acknowledge that it exists—as an individual moral failing, they have a strong tendency to say it is something of the past, that the Civil Rights Act, or anti-discrimination laws, solved all the problems. They will say things like "I have (insert group here) friends, therefore I can't be racist." The problem is this isn't the case; anyone who has read William Faulkner knows that it's very possible to be deeply racist and have Black friends.

One thing that really irks any conservative is the idea that even if you aren't "personally racist," one can still be complicit in racist systems, and therefore bear some responsibility for changing them. Once again turning it into an issue of individual moral failings, the usual rejoinder is "Am I a bad person for being white?" or some variant thereof ("Should white people feel guilty>" is another). The point is not whether you feel individually bad about something; your feelings are not relevant to the discussion. But again, right-leaning people cannot seem to escape the language of individual moral responsibility; there's no sense that people don't live in an individualistic vacuum (see above about what constitutes "common sense").

Getting back to the issue of social power, I have said it before and I will say it again: Racism is not about your feelings as a white person. It's about the simple, brute fact that many rights you take for granted are not enjoyed by Black people in particular, and people of color generally, to varying degrees. For example, most white people can take for granted that if a police officer sees them they will live through the encounter; no Black citizen can make that assumption in the same automatic, don't-have-to-think-about-it way. None of that has a whit to do with whether an individual cop is "personally racist"—it has to do with centuries worth of assumptions and cultural expectations and a culture of policing that took a century to build. When Timothy McVeigh killed 195 people in Oklahoma City, nobody suggested rounding up all the white people from his part of Michigan or putting every right-wing militia group under 24-hour surveillance. Yet some right-wingers (I'm looking at you, Michelle Malkin) were more than willing to revive the idea of internment after 9/11. This is not something that any conservative I have spoken to even sees as an issue.

This is why talking about people of color being racist is of very limited utility—a Black person (or Asian person. or any other PoC) can hate white people all they want, but they have little ability to make life difficult for white people generally. It is not a situation like physics were you can have equal and opposite charged particles. But this is something that no conservative ever recognizes. Right-wing people simply don't acknowledge at all that systems can be racist, and even if the entire country was instantly repopulated with non-racist people those systems would still be there.

And for those that might be wondering, yes, we live in a society that is racist not because individual white people are bad people, but because much of the edifice of our society was built on the exclusion of people who were not white men, and while there have been many steps to change that, we're still a long way from finished. The fact that Bill Cosby or Oprah or LeBron James got rich doesn't really alter the situation. This is again, something that conservatives simply will not see.

It's worth getting into something here that also a lot of conservatives (and many liberals) miss: It's possible to internalize racist ideas for all kinds of reasons, it's possible for a person of color to hitch their wagon to right-wing movements for any number of reasons; it's not because they are fools. Michelle Malkin is one example; Candace Owens and Clarence Thomas are others. The fact that such people exist doesn't mean that conservatives won't advocate for racist policy or systems, or that such things (like immigration laws that give preferential treatment to people from Europe) are not racist.

Lastly, there's another interesting aspect of conservative thinking: They see any gains made by one group as necessarily at the expense of another, as though human rights and prosperity were some kind of zero-sum game. They see loss of privilege as necessarily a gain of privilege by someone else at their expense, when in fact extending rights to more people is turning a privilege into a right. (As Billy Bragg sang in The Internationale, "freedom is merely privilege extended unless enjoyed by one and all").

One useful thing to do, I have found, is not to describe people as racist or not; it's not a useful descriptor that way except maybe as shorthand. It's far more useful to say whether or not you did something racist. That way nobody is engaging in mind-reading and you're not buying into the right-wing frame of "I am not racist in my heart" or whatever other excuse gets trotted out. Because a lot of the time whatever your inner motivations are don't matter; the effects, on the other hand, do. Crucially, you can change your actions; you can apologize for them, you can try to repair the harm you have done. Your inner thoughts don't really matter at that point.

And for any readers of the site who are interested, I can offer the following reading suggestions:

  • Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehsi Coates
  • Stamped from the Beginning, by Ibram X. Kendi
  • Women, Race and Class, by Angela Davis
  • Literally anything by James Baldwin; that man should be required reading for every American schoolchild
  • The 1619 Project. While a few historians have their differences with it I'd suggest it as a way to see history from the perspective of people you might not otherwise engage with.
Politics: Right-Wing Websites

G.Z. in San Francisco, CA, writes: While it's true that Facebook's shift in article promotion, as well as the other factors you cited, are reasons for the observed decline in traffic to right-wing websites, I believe there is a related additional factor in their decline that shouldn't be underestimated.

The business model of right-wing websites is, and always has been, to provide an echo chamber for their intended audience that will keep that audience coming back for more to spend time with others who tell them how right they are. This is why right-wing websites' comment threads tend to be much, much longer and better-attended than those of left-wing or straight news sites. The echo chamber is a much greater part of the total experience, and the sites know this and use it to drive traffic and get ads in front of eyeballs.

At their inception in the early aughts, right-wing commentary websites were absolutely the masters of this craft, having pushed the art forward into an entirely new incarnation. Fox doesn't let you call into their shows and interact with the hosts in real time, and Rush Limbaugh could only take one caller at a time, so the echo chambers provided by Breitbart and Gateway Pundit were state of the art—a brand-new, universally interactive form of chamber far more satisfying to their user base than anything anyone else could deliver.

No longer. Today, their method of providing that space is rapidly becoming obsolete, supplanted by the one pioneered by competitors for their audience's attention that dispense even with, for example, the publishing of articles for people to comment on. All or select parts of Reddit, 4chan, 8chan, Telegram, Discord and others are, for those who want it, pure, unadulterated echo chamber, with not even the thinnest layer of latex between the ids of their users.

For the last five years, these fora have increasingly become the wellspring of conservative ideas, with your list of suffering websites doing their part to spread those ideas but less and less to actually originate them. They're just hangers-on in the right-wing world now. They didn't lose their audience to Bari Weiss and Andrew Sullivan, they lost it to Nick Fuentes and Ron Watkins. Neither expanded his audience via a site with defined borders that yield trackable unique visitor figures, but a review of the increasing popularity of certain social media channels over time should make this perfectly clear.

Politics: Fani Willis

A.B. in Nashville, TN, writes: I feel compelled to send a note about your piece on the Fani Willis case and your response to a reader's claim of bias therein today. I had a similar reaction as V.S. in Charlottesville, but for somewhat different reasons. It was these last lines of your piece that really rankled me:

All in all, Willis flubbed the biggest case of her life and may well lose her bid for reelection this year. Willis was divorced from her ex, Fred Willis, in 2005. Maybe she is lonely. That is an argument for acquiring Wade as a boyfriend, not one for hiring him as an employee. We all know that love is blind. Now we also know that love is stupid, too.

While I generally enjoy the flippant commentary with which you pepper your pieces, I feel that extra care is warranted when talking about successful women of color. At the risk of sounding condescending, the word "flubbed" means "botched or bungled." By saying that Willis "flubbed the biggest case of her life," it implies incompetence, which is very different from poor personal judgment in a matter of the heart (even if it does have broader ramifications). Although the last line of your piece refers to "love" being stupid, the clear implication is that Willis is as well—thereby amplifying the prior use of "flubbed" in the context of her work on the case.

Finally, you note that Willis is divorced and might be lonely as a result. Yes, that might very well be true—and while I would not want to presume anything at all about her love life—she might find it quite difficult to meet compatible bachelors. If so, I imagine beginning a relationship with one in her orbit who shares interests and experiences would be very compelling. How "stupid" the choice to do so in Willis' case depends heavily on the status of the relationship before Wade was hired (which, as I understand it, has not yet been definitively established). You might argue it is stupid either way, but without walking in her shoes as a divorced middle-aged woman of color, I personally find it difficult to judge.

L.S.-H. in Naarden, The Netherlands, writes: Thank you to V.S. in Charlottesville for writing about your bias reporting regarding what I also feel is your inappropriate use of "unhinged" and other characterizations of Fani Willis, who is trying to not be deterred further in her quest to hold Trump and his various associates accountable in her huge RICO case. You stated that "we do not have any bias here because we don't have any opinion here," but everyone has bias. As a woman, I wholeheartedly agree with A.R. in Los Angeles that Fani Willis was "forceful and understandably angry" in her testimony. I would be, too, in that situation.

Further, I have a question about/an issue with something that both of your lawyer-readers wrote. A.R. wrote about the illogical argument of the defendants that "Willis brought this case against Trump so she could hire her boyfriend, who would then take her to Belize on the taxpayer's dime." R.E.M. in Brooklyn similarly wrote about the absurd theory that "Willis decided to prosecute 19 people (four of whom have pleaded guilty) not because they committed crimes, but because she wanted to put her boyfriend on the payroll so she could receive kickbacks in the form of free vacations." I fail to see how Willis' then-boyfriend Wade paying for airline tickets, hotels, etc., with his legitimately earned income constitutes "the taxpayer's dime" or a "kickback." But this, of course, goes to how Judge Scott McAfee evaluates the applicability of these ridiculous defense arguments. It is plain to me that the defendants brought this baseless conflict-of-interest question at the request of or in coordination with Trump. Their only aim is to delay, delay, delay. And Fani Willis is justifiably pissed off about that. Talk about wasting the taxpayer's dime!

S.B. in Hadley, MA, writes: Fani Wilis appears to have made some less than brilliant choices, but I ask you this: If we were talking about a man, probably a white man, in her position making the same or similar questionable choices, what would be happening? I suspect the other side would still be on the attack, but I think the public narrative would be different and in general there would be more eye-rolling, sighing and then a collective unspoken agreement to ignore it and move on.

T.G. in Salem, OR, writes: A lot has been made of Fani Willis' testimony about paying cash (sometime high dollar amounts) and how implausible that is. I would like to offer a possible answer.

Willis' father testified that he advised Fani to have enough cash on hand, at all times, to survive 6 months, if necessary. (Z) indicated that his own father carried a lot of cash, speculating it may have been due to his enjoyment of going to the casinos, where cash was required. However, he did indicate that his father had this habit even before casinos opened in California.

I would offer the following ideas as to why (Z)'s father and Willis' father thought like this. My grandfathers lived through the Depression and World War II. They frequently had substantial amounts of cash in their pocket all of my life. When I asked why they would do that, instead of using some of the other options available, I was told that because they had issues in their youth of not having access to money they made it a requirement that would never happen to them again.

I would offer that both Willis' father and (Z)'s father were of an age that this would be their mentality. Passing this philosophy onto their children would not be uncharacteristic.

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, writes: When DA Fani Willis decided to prosecute Donald Trump and others in Georgia, she should have known that she would be under intense scrutiny. This includes her personal life.

You have done a terrific job so far in analyzing the ramifications of her involvement with Nathan Wade. This is a big deal and folks need to pay attention on what Judge Scott McAfee does with either disqualifying her or not.

I wish to comment from the perspective of how Willis's conduct impacts those she is representing in court: the good people of the State of Georgia. Remember, a sitting U.S. president and his cronies cooked up a scheme to overturn the results of a free and fair election in that state. They too are entitled to have their day in court in a fair trial. I'm afraid that Willis has now muddied the waters to the point where it might affect the jury pool and hence being able to reach a verdict free from controversy.

So far, I've found Judge McAfee as being very thorough and fair. He knows he's also in the spotlight. As you have written, he could plausibly rule in favor of Willis or against her. It's truly a coin flip, and I wouldn't be surprised with whatever he decides.

What upsets me the most about the Willis/Wade saga is this was the best chance to really hold Trump, et al., accountable. This is a state case and he couldn't pardon himself out of this one. Now, it will be delayed some more, or even crumble because of some poor choices made by the DA.

Sometimes it's not the act that gets one into trouble. It's the optics of it.

All Politics Is Local

A.C. in Kingston, MA, writes: Regarding the age thing being a losing issue, another one for the books that probably flew below the radar for anyone outside Massachusetts was Joe Kennedy III's sad tilt at the Ed Markey windmill. Most of the time, though not always (see Brown, Scott in 2010), all the action in deep blue Massachusetts is in the Democratic primary, the winner of which goes on to embarrass the GOP candidate by 20+ points. Kennedy's run split the establishment, but the results weren't all that close; Markey beat him by 11 points. Kennedy's main pitch, which felt forced and untrue, was that he was "fresh blood" (that's the age part) and an "outsider." Which is pretty rich when you're a Kennedy, in Massachusetts, with Roman numerals after your name. In the end, younger progressives, and some not-so-young progressives like myself, turned out in droves for Markey, and he went on to beat his GOP opponent by more than a two-to-one margin.

B.C. in Farmingville, NY, writes: As a Democrat in Suffolk County, NY, district NY-01, I feel utterly abandoned by the state and national Democratic parties. Sure, their interest has been getting less and less, but this past local (November 2023) election was at an all-time low. I had to literally seek out who the candidates were, and there were barely any yard signs by me for the Democratic candidates. Very little information was available online. I did volunteer, but they kind of gave me the impression that I am on my own in terms of organization. Just on this alone, I am not surprised that Long Island is now in the grasp of the GOP.

According to our news, the main issues were local ones that drove the results. Locally, the state has been looking to house immigrants being bussed to our area, and every time they propose a site the local populace flips out. Another big issue is the perceived level of crime. Although violent crime in the area is very low, the news pushes the idea that all the stores are getting raided by hordes of hoodlums.

History: Presidential Rankings

C.J. in Redondo Beach, CA, writes: You wrote in your post that specifically Richard Nixon was underrated because of Watergate, etc., and that figures like Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Dwight D. Eisenhower's had their foibles overlooked. I must disagree, in that I think all presidents have some big black marks on their records (maybe not William Henry Harrison, but the poor man only lived a month in the White House). If you want to go searching for them, and someone is always there to point them out.

Besides, Wilson has obviously been dinged in the last decade or so as his race record has become more criticized. It wasn't that long ago that Wilson routinely was listed in the top ten on these sorts of lists.

M.C. in Santa Clara, CA, writes: "We choose to go to the moon in this decade, and do the other things, not because they are easy—but because they are hard!"

Really, John F. Kennedy should be #1 or maybe #2 (behind Franklin D. Roosevelt).

It's difficult to be reminded that JFK was what we all once thought a President should be: Vigorous. Charismatic. Athletic. Witty. Brilliant. An Orator. A Statesman. A "Model American" for the world to admire and imitate.

No one since has been as "presidential," has inspired generation upon generation of young folks, has made such a profound difference to the world.

P.S.: He saved us from nuclear annihilation. Not bad, eh—and not even one full term.

P.M. in Port Angeles, WA, writes: I think that Kennedy is not overrated for one reason alone: He committed the U.S. to put a man on the moon. This underscored the tremendous investment the Federal government made to science and technology for fighting the scourge of communism. It provided a focal point for technological advancement unparalleled in history. With all the downside of nuclear annihilation, we received transistors, integrated circuits, Star Trek and flip phones, VCRs, DVDs personal computers, cable and satellite TV and last, but not least, the Internet. Do not discount the power of a vision for the nation.

P.D.N. in La Mesa, CA, writes: Ok, George H.W. Bush at 19 is too high. Clarence Thomas will be remembered as the worst Supreme Court Justice ever. The Persian Gulf War ended inconclusively, so Bush's son thought, foolishly, he'd finish the job. He found out he could start a war but he didn't know how to end it. The elder Bush also presided over the end of the Cold War but didn't have any vision about transforming a conflict that had gone on far too long and had wasted far too much of the world's resources and goodwill into a better path for humanity. As George Will said, Bush wanted to be president. He just didn't want to do anything as president.

Richard Nixon at 35 is also too high. With Nixon, the corruption and the cynicism were a mile deep. Or two miles. There was no peace and there was no honor at the end of the conflict in Vietnam. And his Southern Strategy did tremendous damage to all Americans, white or Black, for 40 years, until Barack Obama. Yet, the damage and the hostility and the racial resentment are still with us.

James K. Polk at 25 is also too high. He started the Mexican-American War and that led, more or less directly, to the Civil War.

Ronald Reagan at 16 is also too high. He did a lot of damage to America's middle class, as noted. Americans got beguiled by a likable personality—and an insubstantial movie star wife.

Bill Clinton at 12 is too high. He had tremendous political instincts, maybe the best of anyone since Lyndon Johnson, and navigated hostile national conservative headwinds deftly but, as Howard Zinn noted, he had no domestic accomplishments. He did, though, knock off an incumbent and manage to get past his predecessor's recession.

Barack Obama at 7 is a tad too high, yes. But he delivered America from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, he also delivered the ACA that has helped millions of Americans, and he killed Osama bin Laden, something George W. Bush couldn't or wouldn't do. He was also the most eloquent president since JFK or even Abraham Lincoln. His speech in Charleston after the massacre of the 10 churchgoers was breathtaking. I'd put him on Mount Rushmore. (I've always said the wrong Roosevelt is up there.)

Teddy Roosevelt at 4? I never liked him. He was an imperialist and a racist who considered non-white people inferior, despite inviting Booker T. Washington to the White House. He actually said the Panama Canal was there so we took it. Can you imagine an American president saying that today?

Eisenhower at 8 is also too high. He did enforce Brown v. Board of Education in Little Rock and that was a good thing. Federal power had not been exercised on behalf of racial equality in the South since Reconstruction. But beyond the Federal Highway System, which states loved anyway, what else did he do? He left it to Lyndon Johnson as Senate Majority Leader to take down Joe McCarthy.

I agree with Lyndon Johnson at 9 and JFK at 10. After FDR, Johnson accomplished more and did more for more people than any other president in the 20th century. Maybe ever. Johnson certainly understood power and how to use it, and he knew how to exploit the Kennedy charisma for his Great Society. Kennedy had no legislative achievements, but he was superb during the Cuban Missile Crisis. How do you think Richard Nixon would have done? And Kennedy was able to call forth and guide the young nation's idealism into the Space Program and the moon landing. He'll be remembered forever for that.

B.J.L. in Ann Arbor, MI, writes: Shocked to see so many recent presidents ranked higher than expected.

George H.W. Bush may have organized the first Gulf War but that didn't prevent a second one by his son, and when presented by a 90% approval rating, he proved paralyzed by an inability to do anything. He ran on Reagan's coattails and not very well. He was simply a tool who happened to be available to be the head of the RNC when Dick Nixon went down, authorized the Willie Horton ads and put Clarence Thomas on the bench. Not a good president. Not one raising all boats.

Jimmy Carter might have a great ex-president, but he was also a lousy president. Rampant inflation, no good answers for the oil crisis and simply outmaneuvered. Yes, dirty tricks kept the hostages in Iran while he was trying to get them home, but there was a pervasive pall on things during most of his term. A great ex-president, but if we're ranking what he did as president, he's a little like William Howard Taft.

Joe Biden, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, I have no problem with. Obama might be a little high, but overall, look at the excrement show he was handed and for the Republicans to turn around and not help dig out, blaming him for their dirty deeds, was reprehensible. He did well as he could. Biden is viewed in the same lens. JFK, always ranked too high.

History: Other Matters

M.L. in West Hartford, CT, writes: You wrote, of George Washington: "We're not ever going to be able to give him the obituary treatment, since—and you might not know this—he's been dead for 225 years."

I didn't even know he was sick.

(Tip of the hat to the late, great Norm Macdonald).

L.B. in Savannah, GA, writes: While George Washington may have been "personally uncomfortable" with slavery, this apparently didn't apply to one of his slaves, Oney Judge. Judge was part of the "dower share" inherited by Washington's wife Martha from her first husband, Daniel Parke Custis, and could not be freed without reimbursing the Custis estate. However, on a trip to Philadelphia, Judge absconded to avoid being transferred to Martha's granddaughter, Elizabeth Parke Custis Law, who was known to have a bad temper. Washington made several attempts to have Judge returned, although he avoided several potentially successful methods as they would have attracted unwanted attention.

At one point, Judge offered to return to the Washingtons if she could be guaranteed her freedom upon their deaths, but George refused on the grounds that this would put her on the same footing as other slaves he had promised to free who had not absconded. Washington continued to pursue Judge's return for the rest of his life, and while she successfully evaded capture, she was never formally freed and was still legally enslaved when she died.

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: George Washington died in December 1799. At that time, there were 16 states. Seven of them had abolished slavery by that time. You wrote: "[A]bolitionism was barely known in Washington's day." I respectfully suggest you reconsider that statement.

Washington's greatness in many contexts is undeniable, but he, like all of us, was flawed, and it is a disservice to the past, present and future to whitewash his role as an enslaver. A lot of the "men of his times," including wealthy and powerful men sitting in state legislatures, decreed that slavery should be no more within their borders.

(V) & (Z) respond: We had to say something about the enslaved people and, since time was running short, we made it the tenth item on the list. That was too limited a space to do the point justice, and we should have dealt with it separately.

S.M. in Milford, MA, writes: Wilson Miscamble is a bit too uncritical of Truman for my taste. In his other works, he is argued that Truman should outrank Franklin D. Roosevelt in scholars' assessments of U.S. presidents. Another brief but much more balanced and well reasoned account is Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs Against Japan by J. Samuel Walker. He incorporates the best scholarship on the bomb decision from all sides of the debate to produce an excellent and readable synthesis.

D.N. in Elgin, IL, writes: R.M. in Norwich asks: "As I approach my 70th birthday..."

I'm in a related position, except that I turned 70 in 2016, and actually wrote a little summary of significant events in my seventy years on the planet at that time. Among the notable events to me were all the rights movements I experienced, from civil rights through women's rights, gay rights, rights of handicapped people, awareness of neurodiversity, and ongoing acceptance of differences. I thought the progress was far from complete, but I didn't perceive it as reversible. The election and success of Barack Obama's presidency seemed to confirm my optimism. I was completely unprepared for the Trump presidency and the complete collapse and surrender of the Republican Party to its worst elements. I still don't understand it.

Having said that, I want to affirm your idea that the 60s and 70s as we think of them don't align with those date ranges. I started college in 1963, which was, from my experience as a female, still the 1950s. We had all kinds of rules that did not apply to male students. (It was called "in loco parentis.") We had "hours" every night, when the dorm doors were locked and we had to be in our rooms for a head count. No ordering pizza at 1 am for us! Our beds had to be made every morning. We could wear pants to class, but had to change into skirts for meals in the dorm cafeteria. Women couldn't live in off-campus apartments without supervision until they turned 21. Most women were planning careers as teachers or nurses—nothing else seemed plausible. Birth control pills were newly available, but not in the college health center! We didn't like the restrictions, but there seemed no possibility that they could change.

Then, very suddenly, they did! Not soon enough for my college experience, but soon enough that I was able to start a career as a computer programmer rather than teach. Within a few years it even became illegal to ask (married) women in job interviews if they were using birth control or planned to become pregnant in the near future. 1973 brought Roe v. Wade, and 2022 saw it overturned. I remain baffled by where we find ourselves.


D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: You are totally correct when you state that the Victorians were the master of sexual euphemisms. My favorite is one of their euphemisms for prostitutes: "soiled doves of the evening."

Of course, all their euphemisms for sexual matters where just one of the many symptoms for their obsession with sexual prudery. Victorians were such censors that they would put cloth coverings over the legs of their pianos. The idea behind this was that a young person on viewing the bare legs of the stool while practicing the piano would be driven to sinful thoughts. As a proud, randy young lad, engaging in much fetching mettle, never once did I experience a pearly shower while contemplating naked piano legs!

Final Words

J.C. in Daytona Beach, FL, writes: "I see that you have made three spelling mistakes."

Marquis de Favras, upon reading his death sentence before being executed in 1790.

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